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By Stewart Edward White
Now the VOA Special English Program American Stories. Our story today is the Riverman, it was written by Stewart Edward White. Here is Shep O'Neal with our story.
I first met him in a small lumber town; I was sitting in front of a hotel watching people pass by. It was a warm day, now and then a group of laughing rivermen marched by. One group especially caught my eye, they wore bright red shirts and heavy boots. Suddenly one of them came up to me, "Say, Mister," he said," You look mighty interested. Are we your long lost friends?" His voice was friendly enough, but he seemed ready for any answer, trouble if I wanted it or help if I needed it.
"Can you tell me where all these people are going?" I asked. He pushed his little cap farther back on his head. "Burling match," he said, "come on." I joined him and we followed the crowd to the river. There we saw 6 men running toward a river with the peaveys they used to control logs. They used the round metal hooks on the end of the peaveys to push a heavy log into the water. Then one of the men took a long leap and landed on the end of the log. The force of his jump pushed the log out into the middle of the river. The man, arms folded over his chest, stood straight up like a statue of bronze. The crowd roared its approval.
The man's name was Darrell. He was a small man, but he had wide shoulders and long arms. He walked to the center of the long heavy log and turned to face the crowd. Then slowly he began to walk, not forward or backward, but in the same place, in the center of the log. The log began to turn under his feet. His folded arms, his straight back did not move only his legs and feet. Soon the log was spinning. Suddenly the man jumped up in the air, he came down on the log with both feet, the log stopped turning. It rested under him like a great moving animal. The man on the log then dropped his arms and stood still for a moment, he jumped into the air again, but this time he turned completely over in the air then landed on the log with both feet. The crowd roared again. Someone then pushed a long pole out toward the log. The log with Darrell on top was pulled toward shore. Another man then ran to the river and jumped on the log with Darrell. They stood facing each other. Then they began to walk, slowly at first, then faster. The log began to turn around under them, spinning faster and faster, soon it became clear that the other man could not keep up with Darrell. The man was being forced off the top of the log. Suddenly the man fell backward into the water.
"Cling burl." my friend said. 12 other men one after the other tried to get Darrell to fall into the water, but none of them could move their feet as fast as he could. The crowd now shouted for someone to stop Darrell. It wanted the best and began to shout," We want Powers." Jimmy Powers was my new friend. He got up and ran to the river and jumped onto the log with Darrell. At first the two men just stood looking at each other waiting for the first move. Suddenly Darrell burled the log three times quickly then jumped up and down to stop it. The log shook under Powers but he kept his balance. The battle started. Sometimes the log rolled left to right, then right to left. They moved their feet together, faster and faster. At every move the crowd shouted for Powers to throw Darrell into the water. Suddenly there was a big splash. There was Powers swimming toward shore. I walked over to him.
"How did he do it?" I asked. He turned to me and I saw the anger in his red face. "Ah, it's you, well that's how he did it." and he showed me a row of holes in his boot, blood was running from the holes. He jumped on my foot with his boots and pushed the metal spikes right through. "Why didn't you say something?" I asked. "Look, Mister," he said. "I am big enough to take care of myself. Don't lose any hair over this, I'll stop Darrel on next time."
The following year, I visited the old lumber town again. But this time, the town was empty. "Everybody has gone to see the logjam." said an old woman. The jam was up the hill above the town. When I got there, everybody was looking down at the river. There in the middle of the water was a mountain of logs, thousands of them, one on top of the other, blocking the river. About 50 men were using peaveys to free the logs. Sometime one would break loose and 10 others followed, all floated down the river away from the jam. At noon the men came to shore for lunch.
"Hello, Powers," I said," Do you remember me?" "Sure," he said," aren't you a little bit early this year?" "No," I said, "this is better than a burling match, it will be a great sight when the logs break loose." "You bet it well." he said. We talked of many things and finally I asked, "Did you ever get a chance to burl Darrell off a log?" "Mister, " he said, "those little marks are still on my foot. Just you remember this, Dick Daral will get his from me."
About 3 o'clock that afternoon, the logjam began to break up, there was no warning just a loud cracking sound that got louder and louder as the rows of logs began to hit each other. At first a few hundred broke loose and fell into the swift water. Others quickly followed, the rivermen separated, they raced away in all directions, leaping and hopping from log to log to get to shore. One man fell into the water and started to swim to shore. It was Darrell, he was caught in the river. A thousand logs were rushing toward him. Suddenly another riverman raced across the floating logs, seized Darrell by the coat collar and started to climb up the mountain of logs, pulling Darrell with him. It was an exciting rescue. The logs were falling and rolling down toward them, but they finally got to the top of the pile. Without stopping for thanks or shaking hands, the two men immediately went to work. They pushed and pulled the logs on top to keep the others moving. 40 other men attacked the logs. Then with a mighty roar, the mountain broke free. The falling logs leaped forward like animals down into the swift water. The logjam was broken.
One by one, the town people left. The sun moved down behind the trees. A cool evening breeze came up to the river. Jimmy Powers walked toward me. "And now," he said," the owner of the largest lumber mill saw me work today and offered me a job as a boss. Imagine that, me, a boss." There was a strange look on his face. "Well," I said, "You earned it. I'm not going to call you a hero because you wouldn't like that. But what you did this afternoon showed courage. It was a brave act. But it was better because you saved your enemy. You are a leader of men." I stopped. Jimmy kept looking at me. "Mister," he said, "if you are going to hang stars on my Christmas tree, just start right now. I didn't rescue Darrell because I had a Christian feeling for him. I was just saving him. For the burling match next fourth of July.