CHAPTER XI. FROM CAPE FEAR TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.
A PORTAGE TO LAKE WACCAMAW. - THE SUBMERGED SWAMPS. - NIGHT AT A TURPENTINE DISTILLER - A DISMAL WILDERNESS. - OWLS AND MISTLETOE. - CRACKERS AND NEGROES. - ACROSS THE SOUTH CAROLINA LINE. - A CRACKER'S IDEA OF HOSPITALITY. - POT BLUFF. - PEEDEE RIVER. - GEORGETOWN. - WINYAH BAY. - THE RICE PLANTATIONS OF THE SANTEE RIVERS. - A NIGHT WITH THE SANTEE NEGROES. - ARRIVAL AT CHARLESTON.
To reach my next point of embarkation a portage was necessary. Wilmington was twelve miles distant, and I reached the railroad station of that city with my canoe packed in a bed of corn-husks, on a one-horse dray, in time to take the evening train to Flemington, on Lake Waccamaw. The polite general freight-agent, Mr. A. Pope, allowed my canoe to be transported in the passenger baggage-car, where, as it had no covering, I was obliged to steady it during the ride of thirty-two miles, to protect it from the friction caused by the motion of the train.
Mr. Pope quietly telegraphed to the few families at the lake, "Take care of the paper canoe;" so when my destination was reached, kind voices greeted me through the darkness and offered me the hospitalities of Mrs. Brothers' home-like inn at the Flemington Station. After Mr. Carroll had conveyed the boat to his storehouse, we all sat down to tea as sociably as though we were old friends.
On the morrow we carried the Maria Theresa on our shoulders to the little lake, out of which the long and crooked river with its dark cypress waters flowed to the sea. A son of Mr. Short, a landed proprietor who holds some sixty thousand acres of the swamp lands of the Waccamaw, escorted me in his yacht, with a party of ladies and gentlemen, five miles across the lake to my point of departure. It was now noon, and our little party picnicked under the lofty trees which rise from the low shores of Lake Waccamaw.
A little later we said our adieu, and the paper canoe shot into the whirling current which rushes out of the lake through a narrow aperture into a great and dismal swamp. Before leaving the party, Mr. Carroll had handed me a letter addressed to Mr. Hall, who was in charge of a turpentine distillery on my route. "It is twenty miles by the river to my friend Hall's," he said, "but in a straight line the place is just four miles from here." Such is the character of the Waccamaw, this most crooked of rivers.
I had never been on so rapid and continuous a current. As it whirled me along the narrow watercourse I was compelled to abandon my oars and use the paddle in order to have my face to the bow, as the abrupt turns of the stream seemed to wall me in on every side. Down the tortuous, black, rolling current went the paper canoe, with a giant forest covering the great swamp and screening me from the light of day. The swamps were submerged, and as the water poured out of the thickets into the river it would shoot across the land from one bend to another, presenting in places the mystifying spectacle of water running up stream, but not up an inclined plain. Festoons of gray Spanish moss hung from the weird limbs of monster trees, giving a funeral aspect to the gloomy forest, while the owls hooted as though it were night. The creamy, wax-like berries of the mistletoe gave a Druidical aspect to the woods, for this parasite grew upon the branches of many trees.
One spot only of firm land rose from the water in sixteen miles of paddling from the lake, and passing it, I went flying on with the turbulent stream four miles further, to where rafts of logs blocked the river, and the sandy banks, covered with the upland forest of pines, encroached upon the lowlands. This was Old Dock, with its turpentine distillery smoking and sending out resinous vapors.
Young Mr. Hall read my letter and invited me to his temporary home, which, though roughly built of unplaned boards, possessed two comfortable rooms, and a large fireplace, in which light-wood, the terebinthine heart of the pine-tree, was cheerfully blazing.
I had made the twenty miles in three hours, but the credit of this quick time must be given to the rapid current. My host did not seem well pleased with the solitude imposed upon him. His employers had sent him from Wilmington, to hold and protect "their turpentine farm," which was a wilderness of trees covering four thousand acres, and was valued, with its distillery, at five thousand dollars. An old negro, who attended the still and cooked the meals, was his only companion.
We had finished our frugal repast, when a man, shouting in the darkness, approached the house on horseback. This individual, though very tipsy, represented Law and Order in that district, as I was informed when "Jim Gore," a justice of the peace, saluted me in a boisterous manner. Seating himself by the fire, he earnestly inquired for the bottle. His stomach, he said, was as dry as a lime-kiln, and, though water answers to slake lime, he demanded something stronger to slake the fire that burned within him. He was very suspicious of me when Hall told him of my canoe journey. After eying me from head to toe in as steady a manner as he was capable of, he broke forth with: "Now, stranger, this won't do. What are ye a-travel'ing in this sort of way for, in a paper dug-out?"
I pleaded a strong desire to study geography, but the wise fellow replied: