03 July 2008

from Peter Duck (Arthur Ransome)

book II, chapter 20, Blazed Trail

'Who blazed that tree?' said Titty.

'What tree? Where?' cried Captain Flint and a moment later was scrambling and slipping down over a slope of rock to a ragged pine-like tree, one of the forest's outposts on the mountainside, to look at a large scar where the rough bark had been sliced away.

'It wasn't a woodman did that,' said Captain Flint eagerly. 'He took two blows at it from above.'

Titty found herself wondering who it was who asked the executioner to sharpen his axe and cut boldly, when the clumsy fellow got nervous and took three blows to lop off a head of English chivalry or something like that. It was queer the way things came shooting into your mind just when you were really thinking of something quite different.

'It might be a ship's carpenter,' said Peter Duck, picking his way carefully down.

book II, chapter 32, Whose Steps in the Dark?

Nancy and John, pulling short, hard strokes, and lifting their oars well clear of the water between them, drove the Swallow shorewards. There was very much less swell than on that evening when he had sailed round here with Captain Flint, but there was still enough to break on the low reef outside Duckhaven. As they came nearer, John, when he glanced over his shoulder, could see the white splash of the spray over the rocks, and was glad to see it, because it gave him something to steer for. He was rowing with a bow oar and keeping time with Nancy. Now giving a harder pull or two, now easing a little, he was able to keep Swallow heading for the end of the reef. Nancy left the steering to John. She set herself only to pull as steady a stroke as she could, and did not allow herself even once to look over her shoulder.

'Is he there already?' she asked breathlessly, for they were putting all they could into their rowing.

'I can't see anybody,' John panted back.

They plugged on. Even for Nancy's lurid taste things had been happening too fast. Besides, it was all very well to be the Terror of the Seas, but real pirates, like Black Jake and his friends, were altogether different. Bullies. Cowards and bullies, five of them together going for an old man and a boy. Nancy clenched her teeth and dug in so hard with her oar that she all but made John get out of time with her. She did, indeed, feel his oar just touch her back.

'Sorry,' said John.

'My fault,' said Nancy.

They would have said just that if they had got out of time while rowing together on the lake at home. They said it now, though they were rowing in at dusk to an island of landslide and earthquake and half-mad pirates roaming about with stolen guns. Still, some things were the same as usual. Wherever you were you said 'Sorry' if you bumped 'stroke' in the back with the bow oar, and you said it was your fault if you had happened to change the time unexpectedly because you were thinking of something else.

They plugged on.

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