Travels Without a Donkey

Early next evening, after a morning of poling and an afternoon of bush-whacking, we pulled into the town called Dead River Post Office.

It was just that–a post office. Half a mile or so down the road was a farm. Two miles the other way, another farm. That was the town.

We walked into the post office, and it seemed that the floor gave way giddily beneath our hobnailed boots. We slid a little, and regained balance. We wondered if being in the woods so long had somehow unfitted us for floors; then we saw that this floor sloped decidedly nor’-nor’-east.

The postmaster, having seen us go in, had come from his house next door and was busy unlocking the office. He fumbled with his keys, seemed unused to them. The office was festooned with cobwebs.

“You folks been hikin’, I s’pose?”

We told him we had come down from Katahdin.

“My, that be some ways, that be,” the old fellow commented, nodding his head.

“We’ve a great liking for the woods and hills,” we confided.

A smile brightened his wrinkled face. “Wal, I’ve a likin’ for ’em meself,” he told us. “You know, one time I lived way down south in Floridy. Ever been to Floridy, you folks? Wal, there ain’t a mountain in sight bigger ‘n an ant-heap. Many’s the time I’ve waked up in the mornin’ wishin’ I could look into the side of a mountain. There’s somethin’ about mountains–and the big trees. I been loggin’ hereabouts most o’ my life.”

“You know Jim Kennedy at The Forks, don’t you?” we asked. “If you’re Sam Parsons, he wanted to be remembered to you.”

“Sam Parsons I be. Let’s see, now…. Jim Kennedy… sure, I remember! I used to log with Jim and all the rest o’ them boys, years back. Sure!”

We said we’d like a couple of stamps–added apologetically that we hated to bother him, but we’d been in the woods a pretty long time now, and had some letters to get off. He nodded, and seemed to sympathize, but the whole problem evidently baffled him. He bent down out of sight behind the window of his little cage. We waited. We heard papers rattling; we ventured to look in. Sam Parsons was in the midst of a dusty wreckage of folders, cards, slips of different colors–all the post office paraphernalia in chaotic disorder.

“Wonder where I could have put them blessed things!” He unlocked drawers, peered into dim corners.

We were worried now–afraid we were imposing on him, asking altogether too much. “Oh, never mind,” we said hastily. He reappeared from the depths.

“Sorry, folks, I can’t think… guess I must be all sold out o’ stamps.”

We asked him if there was any chance of buying a little food somewhere hereabouts. He stood considering.

“Well, I guess my wife would sell you a few things–nothing fancy, you know.”

“Oh, all we want is a little corn meal and some sugar,” we assured him.

We bought these from a smiling, rosy-cheeked woman who consulted us conscientiously as to what we thought a pound of sugar ought to cost.

In the end we pitched our tent in Sam Parsons’ apple orchard, and for supper brewed our largest pot full of apple-sauce. The next day we did the same. We could not bring ourselves to leave while there were still so many apples lying on the ground; so we rested our weary muscles, and mended our weary clothes, and ate apple-sauce all day.

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