CHAPTER XIV. A PATIENT AMID THE CATARACTS
An hour or so after making our camp, we began to doubt the wisdom of our choice of a location, for a downpour of rain threatened to send a stream of water under the tent. The stream was easily turned aside, while a door and numerous boards found in the drift pile, made a very good floor for the tent and lifted our sleeping bags off the wet sand. We had little trouble in this section to find sufficient driftwood for fires. The pile at this camp was enormous, and had evidently been gathering for years. Some of it, we could be sure, was recent, for a large pumpkin was found deposited in the drift pile twenty-five feet above the low-water stage on which we were travelling. This pumpkin, of course, could only have come down on the flood that had preceded us.
What a mixture of curios some of those drift piles were, and what a great stretch of country they represented! The rivers, unsatisfied with washing away the fertile soil of the upper country, had levied a greedy toll on the homes along their banks, as well. Almost everything that would float, belonging to a home, could be found in some of them. There were pieces of furniture and toilet articles, children's toys and harness, several smashed boats had been seen, and bloated cattle as well. A short distance above this camp we had found two cans of white paint, carefully placed on top of a big rock above the high-water mark, by some previous voyager. The boats were beginning to show the effect of hard usage, so we concluded to take the paint along. At another point, this same day, we found a corked bottle containing a faded note, undated, requesting the finder to write to a certain lady in Delta, Colorado. A note in my journal, beneath a record of this find, reads: "Aha! A romance at last!" Judging by the appearance of the note it might have been thrown in many years before. Delta, we knew, was on the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Grand River. The bottle must have travelled over two hundred miles to reach this spot.
A letter which I sent out later brought a prompt answer, with the information that this bottle and four others with similar notes were set adrift by the writer and four of her schoolmates, nearly two years before. An agreement was made that the one first receiving an answer was to treat the others to a dinner. Our find was the second, so this young lady was a guest instead of the host.
Emery took but little interest in our camp arrangements this evening, and went to bed as soon as it was possible for him to do so. He said little, but he was very weak, and I could tell from his drawn face that he was suffering, and knew that it was nothing but nervous energy that kept him at his work - that, and a promise which he had made to build a fire, within a stated time now less than two weeks away, in Bright Angel Creek Canyon, nearly three hundred miles below this camp, a signal to his wife and baby that he would be home the next day. I was worried about his condition and I feared a fever or pneumonia. For two or three days he had not been himself. It was one thing to battle with the river when well and strong; it would be decidedly different if one of us became seriously ill.
For the first time in all our experiences together, where determination and skill seemed necessary to success, I had taken the lead during the past two days, feeling that my greater weight and strength, perhaps, would help me pull out of danger where he might fail. In two or three rapids I felt sure he did not have the strength to pull away from certain places that would smash the boats. After running the Defiancethrough these rapids I suggested to him that; he would take a picture while I brought the Edith down. He would stay near the Defiance, ready to aid in case of emergency. After being once through a rapid I found it quite a simple matter to run the second boat, and the knowledge that he would save me in case of an upset greatly lessened any danger that might have existed. He was too nervous to sleep, and asked me to take a last look at the boats before going to bed. They were pulled well up on the shore and securely tied, I found, so that it would take a flood to tear them loose. The rain, which had stopped for a while, began again as I rolled into the blankets; the fire, fed with great cottonwood logs, threw ghostly shadows on the cliffs which towered above us, and sputtered in the rain but refused to be drowned; while the roar of rapids, Nos. 22 and 23 combined, thundered and reverberated from wall to wall, and finally lulled us to sleep.
The rain continued all night, but the weather cleared in the morning. Emery felt much the same as he had the day before, so we kept the same camp that day. We took some pictures, and made a few test developments, hanging the dark-room, or tent, inside the other tent for want of a better place to tie to.
Sunday, October the 29th, we remained at the same place, and by evening were both greatly benefited by the rest. On Monday morning we packed up again, leaving only the moving-picture camera out, and pictured each other, alternately, as the boats made the Plunge over the steep descent in rapid No. 23. Both boats disappeared from sight on two or three occasions in this rapid and emerged nearly filled with water.
The section just passed is credited with the greatest descent on the rivers, a fall of 75 feet in 3/4 of a mile. This includes the three rapids: Nos. 21, 22, and 23.