Up The Ohio Canal

by BlueBook

Lock 21: Staircase to Akron

We came at last to Lock 21, the last lock before the long climb into Akron. Beyond, one could see a staircase of water, stretching up to the town faint on the horizon.

Canal boats waited in lines for the chance to ascend; two boats could fit in the locks, so for speed they traveled in pairs up or down the locks. After some wait, perhaps of a half hour, our turn to ascend came. The team started up once more, and we inched forwards into the lock. I turned my head to the boat following us. She was the Sterling, a freight boat with three cabins on her deck, connected by a thin walkway. As we moved forward, she dropped her towline, and her team of mules walked forward. A deckhand sent a line spiraling out to our stern, and Mr. Garfield caught it and began to bring her alongside. He nodded to me, proud of his strength, and dragged it forward toward the bow of the Sylph. I glanced back at Rosemary: her eyes were following the Sterling as the other boat nosed its way into the lock, and hove to alongside us. 

Suddenly, there was a clatter, and our towline went slack. A combination of whinnying and oaths shattered the still air of the summertime afternoon.

“What was that?”

“Hold this!” Rosemary barked, abandoning her post at the rudder, and racing forward.

I sprang to my feet, and seized the rudder. I turned in time to see Rosemary leap from the bow to the towpath.

Now I saw what had happened. The teams of the two boats had, by some accident, gotten their harnesses intertwined. The two teams were now standing, unable to move, eyes wide with fear. 

The crews were nearly as jumbled as the teams, a knot of humanity rolling about on the ground.

“G-d- you! Stop!” Rosemary roared her oath loud enough for Akron to hear, and with hooves flying leapt into the fray.

Men scrambled to their feet in all directions, forming a ring around the remaining assailants. Mr. Garfield was in the clutches of another man, suspended in the air by his shirt collars, and flailing about like a fish. His tormentor was some three sizes larger, vertically and horizontally, as if he were in fact three men jam-packed into the same frock coat. His rotundity was capped by a crazy tuft of fiery hair, and spotty whiskers framed a most gruesome countenance. 

“Drop him!” Rosemary shouted.

The giant turned to the small pony, glowering down at her. “‘He ‘it me firs’.”

“Drop him.” She mouthed, her words as pointed as a bayonet. 

Suddenly, a sadistic smile crept across the man’s face. “Wha’ever ye say, Lass.”

And with that, he propelled the unfortunate Mr. Garfield into the canal. His boyish frame sailed over the side of the lock, and landed in the greenish waters with a splash, as if he were little more than a great rock cast into a basin.

Rosemary whipped about, and kicked up her heels. The blow landed squarely on the Irishman’s jaw. He froze, as if struck by lightning, then with a sound like a felled tree collapsed to the ground. 

All in attendance stared in silence. Rosemary regained her composure, and shot back a glance at them brimming with fire. “Git back to work! Free up those teams!”

Mr. Garfield floundered about the water, gesturing wildly for assistance. Rosemary sighed audibly, but leaned over the side of the canal. “Grab my hoof!”

The boy needed no command, for he practically climbed the pony like a ladder in his haste to extricate himself. In the end, the soaking wet Garfield was draped across Rosemary’s back, and in this state the two trotted back to the boat. Gingerly, Rosemary stepped aboard, and motioned her head to me.

With some effort, I helped pull the shivering Garfield back aboard, and lay him out across the warm roof of the Sylph. He coughed and sat upright, rubbing the back of his neck. 

Rosemary once more took control of the rudder. She narrowed her eyes at the boy as he stripped off his wet and heavy clothes. “D-d it, Jim! How many times is this now you’ve fallen in? Six? Seven?”

Mr. Garfield spat out a puddle of muddy water. “L-lost c-count. A-and anyhow I  w-was thrown in!”

Rosemary shook her head, and pointed at the hatch on the roof. “Just get some dry clothes on, and warm up by the stove.”

“I’m f-fine! I can s-still work!” He protested, but his chattering teeth betrayed the truth.

“That’s an order!” Rosemary barked. Mr. Garfield snapped a salute, and disappeared into the Sylph’s cabin, his head hanging as he left.

The Captain turned her attention back towards me, just as the team began to move us forward again. “Sorry you had to see that. Kids, ‘ya know, they need a firm hand.” 

I nodded at her sage statement. “Indeed.”