[...] The river was full of logs — long, slender, barkless pine logs — and we leaned on the rails of the bridge, and watched the men put them together into rafts. These rafts were of a shape and construction to suit the crookedness and extreme narrowness of the Neckar. They were from fifty to one hundred yards long, and they gradually tapered from a nine-log breadth at their sterns, to a three-log breadth at their bow-ends. The main part of the steering is done at the bow, with a pole; the three-log breadth there furnishes room for only the steersman, for these little logs are not larger around than an average young lady's waist. The connections of the several sections of the raft are slack and pliant, so that the raft may be readily bent into any sort of curve required by the shape of the river.
The Neckar is in many places so narrow that a person can throw a dog across it, if he has one; when it is also sharply curved in such places, the raftsman has to do some pretty nice snug piloting to make the turns. The river is not always allowed to spread over its whole bed — which is as much as thirty, and sometimes forty yards wide — but is split into three equal bodies of water, by stone dikes which throw the main volume, depth, and current into the central one. In low water these neat narrow-edged dikes project four or five inches above the surface, like the comb of a submerged roof, but in high water they are overflowed. A hatful of rain makes high water in the Neckar, and a basketful produces an overflow.
There are dikes abreast the Schloss Hotel, and the current is violently swift at that point. I used to sit for hours in my glass cage, watching the long, narrow rafts slip along through the central channel, grazing the right-bank dike and aiming carefully for the middle arch of the stone bridge below; I watched them in this way, and lost all this time hoping to see one of them hit the bridge-pier and wreck itself sometime or other, but was always disappointed. One was smashed there one morning, but I had just stepped into my room a moment to light a pipe, so I lost it.
While I was looking down upon the rafts that morning in Heilbronn, the daredevil spirit of adventure came suddenly upon me, and I said to my comrades:
"I am going to Heidelberg on a raft. Will you venture with me?"
Illustration: RAFTING ON THE NECKAR.
shape of the river
Neckarfloss bei Zwingenberg.
Illustration: SCHLOSS HOTEL.
Illustration: IN MY CAGE.
faces paled a little, but they assented with as good a grace as they
could. Harris wanted to cable his mother — thought it his duty
to do that, as he was all she had in this world — so, while he
attended to this, I went down to the longest and finest raft and hailed
the captain with a hearty "Ahoy, shipmate!"
which put us upon pleasant terms at once, and we entered upon business.
I said we were on a pedestrian tour to Heidelberg, and would like to
take passage with him. I said this partly through young Z, who spoke
German very well, and partly through Mr. X, who spoke it peculiarly.
I can understand German as well as the maniac that invented
it, but I talk it best through an interpreter.
Illustration: THE CAPTAIN.
It was a deep and satisfying pleasure to see the sun create the new morning, and gradually, patiently, lovingly, clothe it on with splendor after splendor, and glory after glory, till the miracle was complete. How different is this marvel observed from a raft, from what it is when one observes it through the dingy windows of a railway-station in some wretched village while he munches a petrified sandwich and waits for the train.
he ... waits for the train
Illustration: WAITING FOR THE TRAIN.