Its current was smooth and slow. Its speed, which could be judged by the downstream travel of fragments of dead tree limbs, was like that of someone walking at a leisurely pace.
At this point the riverbank rose slightly to one side of the creek outflow. They could see from the thicker and different woods that the bluff was just high enough to escape all but the most intense floodwaters following heavy rain upstream. On the side facing the riverfront it dropped steeply, its face free of foliage and colored pale yellow by its sandy clay. On each side the bluff sloped more gradually, giving way to a mud bank that -gently led to the water’s edge.
A half dozen rowboats, unpainted and about ten feet in length, rested on the bank. Lashed to small sweet-bay trunks growing higher on the rise, their arrangement was clear: when the river flooded, which was often on coastal rivers like the Chicobee, the little boats would float up and move about, but were unlikely to break free and be carried downstream by any but the most powerful floodwaters.
Junior strode to one of the boats and began to untie the rope holding it. Raff followed closely. Looking inside the boat, he saw a cross-plank seat and, leaning against it, two oars.
“Who does this belong to?” Raff asked.
“I got no idea.” Junior was beginning to work loose the knot on the mooring rope.
Raff laid a hand on Junior’s arm. “Hey, wait a minute! We’re not just going to steal a boat. We could get into big trouble.”
“Relax, will ya?” Junior replied. “Who said we’re stealin’ it? We’re just goin’ to borrow it. We’ll take it all the way down to the Potomo Landing and leave it there. Who owns it’ll just pick it up there. Ever’body knows if you borrow a boat from here you leave it at the Potomo Landing.”
Raff didn’t believe Junior for one second. He knew his cousin well enough to figure Junior was just plain stealing. He also wondered how anybody could row upstream in a river as strong as the Chicobee, but then he saw that in addition to the oarlocks there was a mount on the stern of the boat that could hold an outboard motor. But they didn’t have an outboard motor. How would he and Junior return the boat?
But in the end it didn’t matter. Raff was swept up in the excitement of the moment. The shining river flowed deep a few feet away, and the Chicobee Serpent might be close by. Raff figured if they were caught with the boat, he could say Junior told him it was okay. He was obviously younger than Junior and so could avoid the blame and let Junior do the explaining.
Junior finished untying the line, and the boat came free. The two boys pushed and pulled it off the mud bank and into shallow water. Then they climbed over one side and began their journey. Picking up the oars and pointing the boat downstream, they worked it to stay close to the wooded river edge. They saw no one else on the river and heard no powerboats coming toward them, either up or down.
“On an average day you might see two or three fishermen,” Junior said. “My dad brought me’n my sister along here once, and he said that’s how it’s always been.”
“That’s really strange,” Raff replied. “It’s so beautiful along here, and I bet the fishin’s good.”
“Yeah,” Junior concurred. “But it’s real hard to get onto this part of the river through all that mud, and it’s really terrible when the water’s up. People like to go into the river farther down. Most just skip the Chicobee, like to drive farther south to the Escambia. Lot more landings down there too.”
Raff studied the riverine forest as far as he could see into it, and it looked like wilderness. They passed a fisherman’s shack. Its single tiny room rested over the water on poles, and it looked deserted. Farther down, they came upon a rope dangling from the overhanging branch of an enormous swamp tupelo.
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