Friday, May 27, 2022


David McCullough
Mornings on Horseback
Touchstone Books, New York, 1982
Pages 346–347

        Earlier in March, having just returned to the Elkhorn after a winter in New York, Theodore was informed by Sewall one morning that a boat, a light, flat–bottomed scow that they kept on the river, had been stolen in the night by someone who had obviously taken off in it downstream. They suspected the culprit was a man named Finnegan,  who lived upriver, toward Medora, with two cronies of equally bad reputation. So in the next few days Sewall and Dow put together a makeshift boat, and after waiting for a blizzard to pass, the three of them took off in pursuit, pushing into the icy current on March 30, Sewall steering.

        It was a matter of principle, Theodore later said. “To submit tamely and meekly to theft or to any other injury is to invite almost certain repetition of the offense…”

        They were three days on the river before catching up with the thieves, their boat charging along between snow–covered buttes and weird Bad Lands configurations that looked to Theodore like “the crouching figures of great goblin beasts.” He had brought along some books to read and his camera, expecting there might be a magazine article in the adventure. Each man had his rifle. The second night the temperature dropped below zero.

        The next day, at a point about a hundred miles downstream from where they had started, they spotted the missing boat and going ashore found Finnegan and his partners, who surrendered without a fight. (“We simply crept noiselessly up and rising when only a few yards distant covered them with cocked rifles.”) From there they spent another six days moving on down the river, making little headway now because of ice jams, and taking turns at night guarding the prisoners, who because of the extreme cold could not be bound hand and foot. Food ran low and the cold and biting winds continued. But not the least extraordinary part of the story is that during these same six days after catching the thieves, Theodore, in odd moments, read the whole of Anna Karenina, and “with very great interest.”

No comments:

Post a Comment