Saturday, May 18, 2024

Reading The River

April 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Prose

Lulled to sleep by the pleasant murmur of the river as it prattled and chortled over the shallows, the two boys slept the sleep of the young.

Their makeshift camp, just an old scrap of tarpaulin held up by a stick at each corner, enabled them to look out in every direction, for it had no walls. Their imagination converted it into a ship at sea, an Indian tepee, or a soldier’s bivouac on the North West Frontier. It had been their home for a week now, and was just far enough away from their real homes to be exciting, but near enough to dash home when the craving for food became too strong.

They practically lived in the river: a swim in the morning instead of a wash, a run along the bank to dry themselves. Then the fire lit, a hunk of bread toasted and burned almost black, dipped in the old frying pan to soak up some fat. Butter rations disappeared on the first day! Water boiled and poured over the dregs of last night’s tea, no milk or sugar, the old enamel jug scalding hot. What a feast to start the day.

Towards afternoon the clouds up the valley appeared to be crowding in, black and threatening. Like true explorers, the weather was gravely discussed. ‘Rain in the hills at the head of the valley, no worry to our camp.’

After a quick dash up to the village, fish and chip supper and a bottle of lemonade, they settled down for a long sleep, listening to the prattling of the river as it gurgled and murmured over the shallows. Surely no one could wish for a sweeter lullaby.

They woke at dawn to see the sun beginning to emerge behind the hills, but what was wrong? The two intrepid explorers both felt it -something had happened in the night. On going to the river for their usual swim-wash, it became obvious that there had been rain, a lot of rain, up in the hills. The river had risen in the night. Now it was about a foot deeper, the sound of it changed completely. Instead of the gentle lullaby sounds of the night before, it was now swishing along in a swift menacing manner and had taken on a darker, deeper colour. Too cold for a swim, a quick face splash would have to suffice. The two boys would always remember how to read the sounds of the river.

Years later, one of the boys, a soldier at war in Belgium, would have cause to bless that day he learned to read the sounds of a river. His Company, after a lot of fierce fighting, had managed to secure a bridge over a small river. Now they had to hold it secure to ensure a quick advance the following day. The river was too shallow for any danger from underwater frogmen to attempt an explosive attack. Awakening from an uneasy sleep, the soldier immediately sensed that something was wrong. And then it came to him. He was once more a lad camping by the river and that river had changed just as this one was doing now, and in a flash he realised the significance. The enemy had prepared a diversion somewhere up-stream, causing a two foot rise in depth, and still rising. There had been no rain. Obviously something was about to happen. Sure enough, a short patrol up-stream came upon an enemy contingent preparing for a frogman approach to blow up the bridge.

Reading the sounds of the river had truly paid off. The next day, the Brigade transport crossed the bridge without difficulty to relieve another part of the Belgian countryside.


One Response to “Reading The River”
  1. Barry says:

    What a fascinating story! It sounds like something out of a movie. Thanks for sharing it David.