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'Hoops on the Rafts': Johnny Darling gets a wife

A Johnny Darling tale

Posted 10/1/19

 In his 1949 book, “The Marvelous Adventures of Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling,” M. Jagendorf includes this tale of one of Johnny’s rafting adventures.

‘Hoops on the …

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'Hoops on the Rafts': Johnny Darling gets a wife

A Johnny Darling tale

Posted

 In his 1949 book, “The Marvelous Adventures of Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling,” M. Jagendorf includes this tale of one of Johnny’s rafting adventures.

‘Hoops on the Rafts, Johnny Gets a Wife’

Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling was a little fellow, and Martha Ann Minard was a tall girl, but he loved her mighty strong.

Many’s the time he asked her to be his wedded wife, but she had just one reply.

"Johnny, you're a little fellow with a big, big name. Do some work that'll earn us a living, and I'll marry you quick."

It did Johnny little good to tell how he gathered and threshed eighteen acres of buckwheat in a single day, and how he shot a panther in the woods while eating corn mush at home, and the many other marvels he had wrought. She'd just laugh at him with her twinkly eyes and shiny teeth and tell him he'd have to do something she could see with her own brown eyes and that would earn a living for two.

Days and weeks Johnny thought about this; about some great deed he could do for Martha Ann to see, which would earn him money enough to make her his wedded wife. He just couldn't live without her, he loved her so much.

She was pretty as a daisy and gay as a bird. Sometimes her eyes were gray, and Johnny'd look at them and think of the little rhyme he'd heard from peddlers.

"If a woman's eyes are gray,

Listen quick to what she's got to say."

Sometimes her eyes were brown, and he'd remember:

"If a woman's eyes are brown

Never let your own fall down."

Now, there were many things a man could do to earn money. There was peeling bark or tanning skins, but that was only fit for those'd plod the livelong day. Cutting slats or driving teams was not for one who had done such deeds as Johnny had. But there was one thing few men could do well in those parts because it was mighty dangerous work, and that was—rafting.

It wasn't easy to send rafts of logs down the Beaverkill River around Purvis where it met the Willowemoc, running and whirling in wild-foaming eddies that would tear any raft to pieces. The swift, treacherous water often tangled up the colts like rattlesnakes on a cool day, and 'twas mighty dangerous to untangle 'em.

Sometimes it'd take days to free rafts so they would go down in Beaverkill. That was the reason few men did rafting in those towns.

"And it's just what I'm aiming to do," cried Johnny Darling. "It'll bring me good money, I'll do something fitting to my name, and Martha Ann'll marry me."

He lighted out quick, went up the mountains, and the next four days he was cutting trees day and night. It's no brag, but there wasn't a man along the Beaverkill or Delaware had the power and skill to cut trees like Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling, little as he was. Even the biggest and strongest trees he'd fell with three or maybe four blows of his axe. Next he'd trimmed 'em and then pulled 'em down to the river all by himself.          Not a breathing man, woman or child had seen him, just the birds and the furry animals of the woods. He'd gotten together all by himself three rafts, each twenty-three feet wide and two hundred and five feet long, which is as much as would take ten men to do in a long time. Maybe Paul Bunyan or Tony Beaver, the greatest loggers

ever lived in America, might've done it after a good day's rest. "Now," Johnny said to himself, "the trick is to get this wood­whumping mess down the river without entanglements, Just when Martha Ann and her family'd see it."

So he sat down to put his thinking pan to work. It was no easy nut to crack, and he had to do a lot of calculating. He'd been sitting there from the time the sun was in the middle of the sky till way after sunset when the moon came over the mountains.         The sweet smell of wild, ripe apples and the leaping song of gladness coming from the river kept his mind clear and awake, and just when the moon struck his sandy-colored hair he had the right kind of thought.           It came to him like a revelation in Holy Writ.

"I know the proper way to do it, and I'll pray to the Lord to send me the right kind of a freshet, come Saturday. Then Martha can’t say ‘no’ no more.”

He cut young, strong saplings thick as his arm end put 'em round­wise like half hoops, on the side logs and front and back in a way no raftsmen ever did before.         Fact is, they were so queer, the logs sent out a kind of sighing complaint against them, but it didn't help 'em, for Johnny was set on getting Martha Ann for his wedded wife.

Now, I must tell you, Saturday of that week there was one of those donation parties at the Old Inn at Purvis on the small island where the little Beaverkill joins the Willowemoc. It was the worst place thereabouts for rafts—the spot they'd jam up and tangle around the worst way along the river. Just the right kind of place for Johnny to show Martha Ann Minard that he could do what no man could do, and earn good money besides.

Old and young, short and tall came from far and near to the frolic. They came from Cattail and Frog’s Hole, from Little Ireland and Butternut Grove, from Whirling Eddy and Shinhopple, and other places in New York counties, as well as from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And of course Martha Ann Minard and her whole family were there.

Gilbert and his band of clarinets, fiddles and drums furnished the music and there was plenty of up-and-down dancing and singing. Everybody had a scrumptious time.

But Johnny wasn't there.     Martha Ann looked all over for him, but he was nowhere in sight.

The sun was going down over the mountains, and the noise and pleasure were at their highest when from afar up the river came a sharp, clear, clarion cry of "Halt! Straightaway!" That cry was sounded again and again until everybody stopped to see why the rumpus.

There, coming down the river, were three rafts of giant logs. Everybody ran to see who was bringing 'em down.

"Wonder who's rafting such long logs?" was heard on all sides. "Whoever it is, he must be plump crazy; they'll sure be caught and tangle up around the island so that even the angel Gabriel can't get ‘em off again."

Right then the first raft came down the rapid flow, and on it stood little Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling with no cant hook or oars et each end, or anything—just a long pole, nothing else.

"Good lands, if it isn't Johnny Darling! Bet he’s up to gullywhumping tricks. Wonder what that nimsi's trying to do now," came from all around.

There were loud laughs, and there were even more laughs when they saw the queer contraption on the sides and the front and back of the logs. All along both sides of the rafts and on the ends were sticking out half hoops, the kind rich ladies of the big cities used in their skirts! Only these were made of strong saplings.     Down came the first raft to the island, and the others close behind. Each banged into the others, and against the rocks, as rafts always did around there, but, instead of snarling and breaking up, they just bounced off one another like balls. The first raft went clean past the island and te others followed quick behind.       It sure was a sight, each raft going along smooth as a snake on a warm rock.

The catfish meowed, and the dogfish barked, and the people, there for jollification, cheered themselves hoarse, crying Johnny Caesar Cicero Darling was the seventh wonder of the world.

And do you think    Martha Ann, the big, likesome girl, told Johnny, that little fellow with the big name, "NO," when he asked her the next time to be his wedded wife? By almighty, she did not! There was the grandest wedding with the grandest feast that there had ever been in York State when these two were married—which was right soon after Johnny want rafting to get him a nice and handsome bride.

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