E-text prepared by Al Haines
AFLOAT ON THE FLOOD
LAWRENCE J. LESLIE
[Frontispiece: They were being swept downstream at a tremendous pace]
M. A. Donohue & Company Chicago ———— New York
Copyright, 1915, By The New York Book Company
I THE EVERGREEN RIVER ON THE RAMPAGE II LENDING A HELPING HAND III ON THE TREMBLING BRIDGE IV A BRAVE RESCUE V THE PRICE THEY PAID VI COMRADES IN DISTRESS VII THE SUBMERGED FARM-HOUSE VIII REFUGEES OF THE ROOF IX PREPARING FOR THE WORST X "ALL ABOARD!" XI GOOD CHEER BY THE CAMP FIRE XII THE WILD DOG PACK XIII THE DEFENCE OF THE CAMP XIV UNWELCOME GUESTS XV BOSE PAYS FOR HIS BOARD XVI AFTER THE FLOOD—CONCLUSION
AFLOAT ON THE FLOOD
THE EVERGREEN RIVER ON THE RAMPAGE
"What's the latest weather report down at the post office, Max?"
"More rain coming, they say, and everybody is as gloomy as a funeral."
"My stars! the poor old town of Carson is getting a heavy dose this spring, for a fact; nothing but rain, rain, and then some more rain."
"Never was anything to beat it, Bandy-legs, and they say even the oldest inhabitant can't remember when the Evergreen River was at a higher stage than it is right now."
"Here comes our chum, Toby Jucklin, and he looks as if he might be bringing some news with him. Hi! Toby, what's the latest?"
The new arrival, who was somewhat out of breath with hurrying, surveyed the two boys who stood there awaiting his arrival, with an expression of almost comical uneasiness on his face. Truth to tell, whenever Toby became in any way excited, and often when he was perfectly calm, his tongue played him cruel tricks, so that he stuttered, and stumbled fearfully; until suddenly stopping he would draw in a long breath, give a sharp whistle, and having thus obtained a grip on himself often proceeded to speak as intelligibly as any one.
"M-m-mills and s-s-shops all closed down, so's to let w-w-workers have c-c-chance to save their h-h-household goods!" he went on to say in a labored manner.
The boy who had been called Bandy-legs by Max, and whose rather crooked lower limbs were undoubtedly responsible for the nickname among his school fellows, gave a whistle to indicate the depth of his feelings.
Toby may have had an obstruction in his vocal cords, but he could run like a streak; on the other hand, while Bandy-legs could not be said to have an elegant walk, which some hateful fellows compared to the waddle of a duck, there was nothing the matter with his command of language, for he could rattle on like the machinery in one of Carson's mills.
"And," he went on to say, excitedly, "the last news I heard was that school would have to stay closed all of next week, because the water is on the campus now, and likely to get in the cellars before the river goes down again. Which means we'll have a week's vacation we didn't count on."
Somehow even that important event, which at another time would have caused the boys to throw their hats into the air with glee, did not seem to create a ripple of applause among the three young chaps. Carson was threatened with a terrible disaster, the greatest in all her history, and even these boys could experience something of the sensation of awe that had begun to pass through the whole community.
The Evergreen River that ran past the town was already bank-full; and all manner of terrifying reports kept circulating among the panic-stricken people of that section of the State, adding to their alarm and uneasiness. More rain meant accessions to the flood, already augmented by the melting of vast quantities of snow up in the mountains, owing to the sudden coming of Spring. Besides this, some people claimed to know that the great reservoir which supplied water to many towns, was not as secure as it might be, and they spread reports of cracks discovered that might suddenly bring about another Johnstown disaster.
It was a strange spectacle that the three boy friends looked upon as they stood on the street corner that Saturday morning. Water had already invaded many of the buildings in the lower section of the town, and in every direction could be seen excited families moving their household goods to higher levels.
Horses and wagons were at a premium that morning, and from the way things looked just then it might not be long before every boat that was owned within five miles would be needed to rescue people imprisoned in their homes, or to carry valuable goods out of the reach of the terrible flood.
The three young fellows whom we meet on this dark morning in the history of the enterprising little town of Carson were chums who had for many moons been accustomed to spending their vacations together in the woods, or on the waters. In all they were five close friends, but Owen Hastings, a cousin of Max, and who had made his home with him, was at present away in Europe with another uncle; and Steve Dowdy happened to be somewhere else in town, perhaps helping his father remove his stock of groceries from his big store, which being in the lower part of town was apt to suffer from the rising waters.
In previous volumes of this series we have followed the fortunes of these chums with considerable pleasure; and those who have been fortunate enough to have read one or more of these stories will need no further introduction to the trio. But while they may have passed through numerous exciting episodes in the days that were gone, the outlook that faced them now seemed to promise even more thrilling adventures.
No wonder all of them showed signs of excitement, when all around them men and women were moving swiftly to gather up their possessions, or standing in groups watching the swiftly passing flood, if their homes chanced to be safely out of reach of the river's utmost grip.
A heavy wooden bridge crossed the river at Carson. This had withstood the floods of many previous Springs, but it was getting rather old and shaky, and predictions were circulating that there was danger of its being carried away, sooner or later, so that the more timid people kept aloof from it now.
The four chums had only a short time before returned from an Eastern camping trip up amidst the hills about fifteen miles from town. They had experienced some strange adventures while in camp, most of which hinged upon an event that had taken place in Carson one windy night, when the big round-top of a visiting circus blew down in a sudden gale, and many of the menagerie animals were set free.
At the time of their home-coming the boys had certainly never anticipated that there would be a renewal of activity in such a short time. Why, it seemed that they had hardly become settled again at their studies when the rapid rising of the Evergreen River on Friday night brought the town of Carson face to face with a threatened disaster that might yet be appalling.
"Does anybody know where Steve is?" asked Max, when they had been observing the remarkable sights that were taking place all around them for some little time, now laughing at some comical spectacle, and again springing to help a little girl who was staggering under a heavy load, or a woman who needed assistance, for all of them had generous hearts.
"He told me early this morning that his father had a dozen hands employed carrying the stuff up out of the basement of the grocery store and taking it to the second story," Bandy-legs replied.
"I wish I'd known that," remarked Max; "for I'd have offered to help, because my house happens to be well up on the highest ground in town, and nothing could hurt us, even if the reservoir did burst, which I surely hope it won't."
They exchanged uneasy glances when Max mentioned the possibility of that disaster coming upon the unhappy valley, which would suffer seriously enough from the flood without that appalling happening coming to pass.
"D-d-don't mention it, Max, p-p-please," said Toby, with a gloomy shake of his head; "because while my f-f-folks might be out of d-d-danger from a regular f-f-flood, if a monster wave of water came a s-s-sweepin' along down here, it'd sure ketch us, and make our p-p-place look like a howling wilderness."
"Same with me," added the third boy; "but I don't believe that reservoir's goin' to play hob with things, like some people say. They're shaking in their shoes right now about it; but if the new rain that's aheadin' this way'd only get switched off the track I reckon we'd manage to pull through here in Carson without a terrible loss. I'd say go down and help Mr. Dowdy, Max, but I just heard a man tell that everything in the cellar had been moved, and they were cleaning out the lower floor so's not to take chances."
"But we might get around and see if we couldn't help somebody move," suggested Max; "it would be only play for us, but would mean a whole lot to them."
"S-s-second the motion," assented Toby, quickly. "And say, fellows, I was just thinking about that poor widow, Mrs. Badger, and her t-t-three children. Her house is on low g-g-ground, ain't it; and the water must be around the d-d-doorsill right now. G-g-give the word, Max, and let's s-s-scoot around there to see."
Max was the acknowledged leader of the chums, and as a rule the others looked to him to take command whenever any move was contemplated.
"That was a bright thought of yours, Toby," he now said, as he shot a look full of boyish affection toward his stuttering chum; "if you do get balled up in your speech sometimes, there's nothing the matter with your heart, which is as big as a bushel basket. So come on, boys, and we'll take a turn around that way to see what three pair of willing hands can find to do for the widow and her flock."
They had to make a little circuit because the water was coming up further in some of the town streets all the tune, with a rather swift current that threatened to undermine the foundations of numerous flimsy buildings, if the flood lasted long.
"Whew! just look out there at the river, would you?" exclaimed Bandy-legs, when they came to a spot where an unobstructed view could be obtained of the yellow flood that was whirling past the town at the rate of many miles an hour, carrying all sorts of strange objects on its bosom, from trees and logs, to hencoops and fence rails.
They stood for a minute or so to gaze with ever increasing interest at the unusual spectacle. Then as the three boys once more started to make their tortuous way along, avoiding all manner of obstacles, Max went on to say:
"Pretty hard to believe that's our old friend the Evergreen River, generally so clear and pretty in the summer time, and with such good fishing in places up near where the Big Sunflower and the Elder branches join. And to think how many times we've skated for twenty miles up and down in winter; yet look there now, and you'd almost believe it was the big Mississippi flowing past."
"And mebbe you noticed," observed Toby, warmly, "how f-f-funny the b-b-bridge looks with the w-w-water so near the s-s-span. Let me tell you, if ever she does g-g-get up so's to wash the roadway, g-g-good-bye to b-b-bridge. I wouldn't want to be on it right then."
"Nor me, either," Max added; "but that bridge has weathered a whole lot of floods, and let's hope it won't go out this time either; though we do need a new one the worst kind. But here's the widow's place, boys, and seems like she does need help. The water's creeping up close to her door, and inside another hour it would be all over the floors of her cottage. There she is, looking out now, and with three kids hanging to her dress. Let's ask her where we could take her stuff near by. She hasn't got so much but that we might save most of it."
The poor woman looked white and frightened, and indeed there was reason she should with that flood closing in on her little home and her helpless family. When the three chums proposed to carry the best of her belongings to higher ground she thanked them many times. It happened that she had a friend whose home was not far away, and on a good elevation; so anything that could be taken there she might have stored in their barn, where doubtless the friend would allow her to stay temporarily, until the river receded.
Accordingly the stout boys settled down to business, and were soon staggering under heavy loads, just as many other people in Carson chanced to be doing at that time. It was slow and laborious work, and Max knew that they would never be able to get some of the heavier articles to a place of safety. Although they did not represent any great commercial value, still they were all in all to Mrs. Badger.
Just then an idea came into his head which he hastened to put into execution. An empty wagon was passing, and Max recognized it as belonging to his father. Mr. Hastings, realizing the need of all the conveyances that could be obtained, had sent his man down town with the conveyance, so as to be of assistance to those in distress.
Calling to the man Max soon had him backing up to the cottage, and the heavier things, such as the cook stove, beds, wash tubs and other household articles were soon loaded. In this fashion the possessions of the widow were saved from being water soaked, for before they had taken the last thing out the river was lapping her doorstep greedily, and steadily rising all the while.
Having dismissed the driver with his wagon, to go and make himself useful elsewhere, Max and his two chums were walking slowly along, wondering what next they might do, when a fourth boy was seen hurrying toward them.
"There comes Steve," announced Bandy-legs, whose quick eyesight had discovered the approach of the other chum, "and chances are he's bringing some news, because he carries the map on his face. 'Touch-and-Go Steve' we call him, because he's ready to fly off his base at the first crack of the gun; but he's sure got plenty now to excite him. Hello! Steve, how's things getting on at the store?"
"Oh! my dad's got his stock out of reach of the water, all that could be hurt by a soaking; and he thinks the brick building will stand if the reservoir don't give way; but did you hear that the river is above the danger line by two feet; higher than ever before known, and rising like a race-horse all the time? Gee whiz! what's the answer to this question; where's this thing going to end?" and Steve looked at his three chums as he put this question; but they only shook their heads in reply, and stared dolefully out on the swiftly rushing river.
LENDING A HELPING HAND
"What we see here isn't all of the trouble by a lot," Max ventured, as they stood and watched the remarkable sights all around them.
"I should say not," Steve quickly added; "already they've begun to get reports of washouts down below, where houses have left their foundations, and gone off on the current; while barns, chicken coops, pig pens and fences are being swept away by dozens and scores. It's going to be the most terrible flood that ever visited this section. I only hope nobody gets drowned in it, that's all."
"I met Gus French a while back," Bandy-legs happened to remember, though he had said nothing of the circumstance before, there being so many exciting events taking place right along, "and he told me they were a heap worried at their house."
"What for?" demanded Steve, who had a weakness for the pretty sister of Gus, though of late there had existed a foolish coolness between them, founded on some small happening that grew into a misunderstanding; "their house stands higher than a whole lot in town, and I don't see why they'd worry."
"Oh! it ain't that," the other boy hastened to say; "but p'raps you didn't know that yesterday Mazie Dunkirk and Bessie French went to stay over Sunday with an aunt of the French girl's about twenty miles down the river; and they say that the old house is on pretty low ground, so that if the river rises much more she might be carried off the foundation!"
Steve gave a half groan, and Max too turned a little white, for the Mazie whom Bandy-legs referred to was a very good friend of his, whom he had always escorted to barn dances and singing school, and also skated with winters.
"If I had a friend who owned a good motorboat now," said Steve, between his set teeth, "I give you my word I'd like to borrow the same."
"W-w-what for?" demanded Toby, appalled at the thought of any one venturing out on that swirling river in a puny powerboat.
"I'd take chances, and run down below to see if I could be of any help to the folks there," Steve went on to say, gloomily; "but I don't know anybody that I might borrow even a skiff from."
"Yes, and if you did, the chances are he'd think twice before loaning you his boat," Max told him. "In the first place he'd expect you to snag the craft, and sink the same, because you do everything with such a rush and whoop. And then again, the way things look around here every boat that's owned within five miles of town will be needed to rescue people from second-story windows before to-morrow night."
"D-d-do you think it's g-g-going to be as b-b-bad as all that, Max?"
"I'm afraid so, Toby, if half of all that rain gets here, with the river more than out of its banks now. But, Steve, I wouldn't worry about the girls if I were you. Long before this Bessie's relatives have taken the horses, and made for the higher ground of the hills. Even if you did manage to get down there you'd find the house empty, and have all your work for nothing."
Steve did not answer, but his face remained unusually serious for a long time, since he was doubtless picturing all sorts of terrible things happening to the girls who were visiting down the river.
As the morning advanced more and more discouraging reports kept circulating through the stricken town. The river was rising at a rate that promised to cause its waves to lap the roadway of the bridge by night-time; and everybody believed this structure was bound to go out before another dawn.
It was about the middle of the morning when the four chums, in wandering around bent on seeing everything that was going on during such exciting times, came upon a scene that aroused their immediate indignation.
Several rough half-grown young rowdies had pretended to offer to assist a poor old crippled storekeeper remove his stock of candies and cakes from the threatened invasion of the waters, already lapping his door and creeping across the floor of his little shop. Their intentions however were of a far different character, for they had commenced to pounce upon the dainties on his shelves, despite his weak if energetic protests.
"What you shoutin' about, old codger?" demanded one of the three bullies, as he crammed his pockets with whatever he fancied in the line of candy; "the water's coming right in and grab all your stock, anyway; so, what difference does it make if we just lick up a few bites? Mebbe we'll help get the rest of your stuff out of this, if so be we feels like workin'. So close your trap now, and let up on that yawp!"
Max and the others heard this sort of talk as they stopped outside the door of the little candy shop in which, as small lads, they could remember having spent many a spare penny.
It filled them with indignation, first because they thought a good deal of the poor old crippled man who made a scant living selling small toys and candies to the school children; and second on account of the fact that they knew this set of rowdies of old, having had many disputes with them in the past.
Their former leader, Ted Shatter, had been missed from his accustomed haunts for some time now, and it was whispered that he had been sent to a reform school by his father, who wielded considerable power in political circles, but could not expect to keep his lawless boy from arrest if he continued to defy the authorities as he had been doing.
Since then the "gang" had been led by a new recruit, named Ossie Kemp; and the other two with him were the old offenders, who have appeared before now in the stories of this series, Amiel Toots and Shack Beggs.
"Back me up, boys," said Max, hastily turning to his three chums, "and we'll run that crowd out of there in a hurry, or know the reason why."
"We'll stand by you, Max," replied Bandy-legs, quickly.
"You b-b-bet we will," added Toby, aggressively doubling up his fists.
"To the limit!" echoed Steve, stooping down to secure a stout stick his roving eye chanced to alight upon, and which appealed to his fighting instincts as just the thing for an emergency like this.
Max immediately pushed straight into the little store, and, as he expected would be the case, his eyes fell first upon the raiding bullies, and then the slight figure of the distressed crippled storekeeper, wringing his hands as he faced complete ruin, between his inhuman persecutors and the pitiless flood.
At the entrance of a new lot of boys the poor old man gave a cry of despair, as though he believed that this would complete his misfortune; then as he recognized Max Hastings a sudden gleam of renewed hope struggled across his face; for Max had a splendid reputation in Carson, and was looked up to as a fine fellow who would certainly never descend to inflicting pain on a helpless cripple.
"What's going on here?" demanded Max, as the three rowdies turned to face the newcomers, and, made cowardly by guilt, looked ready to sneak away. "We're the advance guard of those coming to help you, Mr. McGirt; what are these boys doing here, and did you tell them to fill their pockets with your stock?"
"No, no, not at all!" cried the storekeeper, in a quivering voice; "they burst in on me and I asked them to please carry some of the stock I've tied up in packages to higher ground, for I shall be ruined if I lose what little I've got; but they just laughed at me, and started to taking whatever they fancied. I would not mind if only they saved my property first, and then treated themselves afterwards."
Max frowned fiercely at the three skulking boys. He had purposely spoken as if there might be men coming on the run to assist old Mr. McGirt; for he knew the aggressive natures of at least Shack and Ossie, though Amiel Toots was a craven who generally struck behind one's back and then ran off; and Max did not care to engage in any fight at such a time and with such a crew.
"If you don't empty every pocket, and then clear out of here, I'll see that you are accused of robbery; and when there's a flood like this they often hang looters to the lamp-posts, perhaps you know? The people won't stand for anything like that. Hurry and put everything back or I'll see that you land in the lock-up. Steve, be ready to step out and give the signal to the Chief if I tell you to. Turn that other pocket inside-out, Amiel Toots. You did expect to make a fine haul here, didn't you? Instead of helping the poor old man save his stock you thought you might as well have it as the water. Are you all through? Then break away, and good riddance to the lot of you for a pack of cowards and thieves!"
Amiel Toots slunk away with a cowed look; Shack Beggs and Ossie Kemp followed him out of the door, but they were black in the face with rage and fear; and the look they shot at Max showed that should the opportunity ever come to even the score they would only too willingly accept chances in order to wipe the slate clean.
"And now, Mr. McGirt, we're ready to help you any way we can," continued Max, once the three young desperadoes had departed to seek new pastures for exploiting their evil natures; "where could we carry these packages you've got done up? And while we're on our way, perhaps you could get the rest of your stock ready. We'll fetch back the empty baskets."
The poor cripple's peaked face glowed with renewed hope, for he had been hovering on the brink of despair.
"Oh! how glad I am you came when you did," he said, in trembling tones; "I would have lost everything I had in the world, between the water and those young ruffians. One of them even had the audacity to ask me why I had bothered cleaning out my cash drawer. If I could only move my stuff up the hill to Mr. Ben Rollins' print shop I'm almost sure he would find a corner where I could store the packages until the river went down again, for he is a very good friend of mine."
"All right," said Steve, "and we know Mr. Rollins well, too. I've even helped him gather up news for his weekly paper, Town Topics. So load up, fellows, and we'll see what can be done. It wouldn't only take a few trips to carry this lot of stuff up there."
Each boy took all he could carry and started off, while the store-keeper commenced hurriedly packing the balance of his stock in trade into bundles, pleased with the new outlook ahead, and grateful for these young friends who had come so unexpectedly to his assistance in his darkest hour of need.
After all it was hardly more than fun for Max and his comrades, because they were all fairly stout fellows, and accustomed to an active outdoor life. They were back again before the owner of the little shop expected they could have gone half the distance.
"It's all right, sir," Bandy-legs hastened to assure Mr. McGirt; "the editor of the paper happened to be there, hurrying out some handbills warning people to prepare for the worst that might come; and he said you were quite welcome to store your stuff in his shed. He only wished everybody else down in the lower part of town could save their belongings, too; but there's bound to be an awful loss, he says. Now, let's load up again, fellers; I feel that I could stagger along under what I've gathered together here; and this trip ought to pretty well clean things up, hadn't it, Max?"
"I think it will," replied the other, also collecting a load as large as he believed himself able to carry. "And if I can find our man with his wagon, Mr. McGirt, I'll have him take what furniture you've got in that little room back there, and put it with your stock in the print shop."
"Thank you a thousand times, Max," said the old cripple; and somehow those four lads fancied that they had been repaid many times over for what they had done as they saw his wrinkled face lose its look of worry and taken on a smile of fresh hope and gratitude.
It happened that Max did run across their hired man busily engaged in carrying some one's furniture up the hill; and he agreed to look after the cripple the very next thing.
"Be sure you make him ride with you, Conrad," was the last thing Max told the man, who faithfully promised to look after the little old storekeeper, and see that he got to a place of-safety.
It was now getting along toward noon. No sun shone above, indeed, they had seen nothing but a leaden sky for a number of days; which of course added to the gloom that surrounded the unfortunate town, as well as the farms and hamlets strung along the valley through which the Evergreen River flowed.
"Get together again after we've had some lunch!" Steve told his three mates, as they started for their respective homes—rather reluctantly; because so many exciting things seemed to be happening every half hour that none of them wanted to miss any more than they could help. Indeed, it is a question whether anything less serious than satisfying the cravings of hunger, always an important subject with a growing boy, would have induced them to go home at all.
"How high was it the last report?" asked Bandy-legs; for somehow there always seems to be a peculiar fascination about learning the worst, when floods rage, and destruction hovers overhead.
"Two feet, nine inches above the danger line, and still coming up an inch an hour, with another big rain promised soon!" replied Steve, promptly, though he did not seem to take any particular pride in the fact that all previous records had already been broken by the usually peaceful Evergreen stream.
"G-g-gosh!" gasped Toby, "there never was, and never will be again such a fierce time in old Carson. B-b-beats that morning I found all them animals from the c-c-circus a gathered in my back yard where I had my own little m-m-menagerie. S-s-see you later, everybody," and with that he actually started on a run for home, doubtless only thinking that he might in this way shorten the time he would be forced to stay away from the river front, where things were happening it seemed, every minute of the day.
Few regular meals were served in Carson that day. People were too much alarmed over the dismal prospect facing the manufacturing town to think of taking things easy. They stayed on the streets, and gathered in groups, talking about the flood, and trying to find some loophole of hope; but many pale faces could be seen among the women, and there was an increasing demand for wagons to haul household goods from the lower sections to places of safety.
That was certainly a day never to be forgotten in Carson; and what made it even worse was the gloomy outlook which the weather predictions held out to those already in the grip of the greatest flood in the history of the valley.
ON THE TREMBLING BRIDGE
Once more the four chums came together at a given point, filled with a desire to see with their own eyes the strange sights that were transpiring continually all around them.
The excitement constantly grew in volume, and everywhere groups of men and women, as well as children, could be seen discussing the latest news, or it might be industriously trying to save their possessions from the greedy river.
Many of the younger generation failed to realize the gravity of the situation. All this bustle was in the nature of a picnic to them. They shouted, and called to one another, as they ran hither and thither, watching the unusual scenes. Many times they had to be warned of the danger they ran when playing close to the swift current that was eddying through the lower streets.
Steve Dowdy was always eager to collect the latest news. He had more than once declared that he meant to be a reporter when he grew up, for he practiced the art of cross-questioning people whenever he had a chance; and Max, who had noticed how well he did this, more than once told him he would make a good lawyer instead.
When he joined the others they fully expected that he would have something new to tell them, nor were they mistaken.
"Last word is that the railroad has gone out of commission," Steve announced.
"In the name of goodness, do you mean it's been washed away, where it runs along the river?" exclaimed Bandy-legs, his face showing more or less dismay.
"Well, I don't know that it's as bad as that," Steve admitted; "but the water's up so deep over the tracks that orders have been given to abandon all trains until there's a change."
"Which I should think would be a wise thing to do," Max remarked; "because they couldn't tell but what they'd run into a gap, and a train be lost. Railroads have troubles enough without taking such risks."
"But what if the river keeps booming along like this for a week?" suggested Bandy-legs, prone to imagine things much worse than they were in truth.
"Not much danger of that," ventured Steve; "but even then why should it matter to us if trains couldn't run?"
"Huh! how long d'ye think the town of Carson could live without grub?" was what the other flung at him. "Every day the visible food supply would keep on getting lower and lower, with everything going out and nothing coming in. And deliver me from running up against a regular famine. A feller has got to eat if he wants to live, don't he?"
"You do, we know that, Bandy-legs, and so does Toby here," jeered Steve; "but it strikes me you forget the farmer community when you talk about our going hungry. A good many might be kept from coming into town with loads, but there'd be enough to keep things moving along. What's the use bothering about that; plenty of other things to keep you guessing. It'd ease my mind a heap for instance if I just knew the girls had left that house of Asa French down below, and taken to higher ground. Can't help thinking they might be foolish enough to try and stay there till the water got so high all around that only a boat could be of any use, and they mightn't have one. I even tried to see if I could borrow a boat of any kind, but you couldn't right now, for love or money. Everybody's holding on to what they've got."
"W-w-well, when it's f-f-flooding like it is now, don't you reckon it's the right thing to keep an ark, if so be you g-g-got one? Where'd old Noah a been if he'd allowed himself to be tempted to b-b-bargain for his b-b-boat when the rain started to come down? Wish I had even a canoe myself; I'd feel easier a h-h-heap, let me tell you."
Toby was beginning to take the thing very seriously. He seldom laughed now, and many of the rather pitiful sights he saw all around him made an indelible impression on his mind.
"Worse luck we can't see all that's coming down the river," ventured Steve, presently. "The water's getting so high that it's hard to find a place where you can look out over the whole valley. And I've fetched my camera along, too, hoping to snatch off a few pictures to remember this flood by. Tell you what, fellows, I've got a good notion to go out on the bridge, and snap off some views."
"Pretty risky!" suggested Max.
"They're warning everybody to keep away from the bridge," added Bandy-legs, as he shook his head dubiously, yet seemed inclined to side with Steve; for like all boys, the spirit of daring and love for adventure lay strong within him.
To the surprise of the others Toby piped up just then in a strain they had not imagined would appeal to him.
"That's what the t-t-timid ones keep on saying," he observed; "but I d-d-don't think the old bridge'll get shaky till the current of the r-r-river really hits up against the roadway hard. Now, mebbe some of you've been awonderin' what made me fetch this coil of new clothes line along, danglin' from my arm? W-w-want to k-k-know?"
"To be sure we do, Toby, so rattle it off, won't you?" said Steve.
"All r-r-right, I will," the accommodating Toby assured him. "Well, you s-s-see, there's so many hencoops afloatin' along seems like there might be a dog or a rooster settin' on top of one, and I thought if I had a chance to get out on the b-b-bridge span I'd try and rope one of the same. I've p-p-practiced throwing a lariat some, and I t-t-think I might snatch somethin' from a watery g-g-grave."
The others laughed at the suggestion. In imagination they could see Toby tossing his noosed rope wildly out over the rushing waters, and only to make many a miss.
At the same time Steve chose to encourage him for reasons of his own. With Bandy-legs hesitating, if only he could get Toby to support his suggestion, there was a pretty good chance that conservative Max would give in to superior numbers.
So Steve commenced to handle his little camera, which he had slung over his shoulder with a stout strap.
"The sun don't shine, but it's pretty light right now at one o'clock," he went on to say, meaningly; "and I'm dead sure I could pick up some dandy pictures of the river, and also of poor old Carson, flood-bound. Bandy-legs, how about you; won't you come along with Toby and me out on the bridge?"
The appeal proved to be the finishing stroke, since Bandy-legs had been balancing on the fence.
"All right, Steve, count on me; and, Max, say you'll go along too, if all the rest of us do," he hastened to say.
"Do you know what you make me think of, you fellows?" he told them; "well, of the time Steve here went in swimming, when there was even a suspicion of ice along the edge of the pond. I can see him now, up to his neck, nearly frozen stiff with the chill, and his teeth rattling in his head as he tried to grin, and called out to the rest of us: 'Come on in, fellows; the water's fine!' But if my three chums are bent on taking risks with that old bridge, I reckon I'll have to join the procession, and go out there along with you. Besides, I've been thinking that we might have a chance to do some rescue work, because any old time somebody is apt to come down the swollen river hanging to a floating log or a frame house. I'm surprised that it hasn't happened before now."
"Well, come on, and don't let's stand around here talking so long," Steve urged, for he was nearly always in a great hurry, which fact had been the main cause for his school mates dubbing him "Touch-and-Go-Steve."
As the four boys approached the bridge they must have felt more or less qualms of nervous apprehension, because the prospect was appalling, with the river up only a comparatively few feet below the centre of the span. But each hesitated to let his companions see that he felt timid in the least; and assuming a carelessness that he was far from feeling, Steve was the first to set foot on the approach to the bridge that spanned the Evergreen River.
Several men called out to warn them that it was dangerous, but no one really attempted to stop them from walking out. As the water was already commencing to lap the roadway at the end, they had to pick their steps; but once out toward the middle it seemed as though confidence began to return.
Pride kept all of the boys from allowing anything like a tremor to appear in their voices when they exchanged remarks. At the same time all of them felt the quivering of the structure, and could understand what a mighty force was commencing to pluck at its supports. When these were undermined, if such a thing should happen, the whole affair would go with a rush, and they realized what that would mean.
Steve immediately busied himself in snapping off several pictures, posing his chums so that they would enter into his views of the flood as seen from the river bridge. In this interesting work he forgot the peril he was running; while Max and Toby and Bandy-legs found plenty to do in looking all around, and watching the strange spectacle of floating trees or logs wedge up against the bridge at various places until they began to form quite a barricade.
"That's what will tell against the bridge more than anything else," Max remarked, as he pointed to where a tree was being pressed by the rush of the water, so that it kept striking against the abutment on the side toward Carson. "When a certain quantity of floating stuff begins to exert all its push against the bridge it'll have to go. We've got to keep our eyes open, boys, and be ready to skip out of here if we see another big tree coming down."
"There's another hencoop, and, Toby, what do I see on the bridge but a big Plymouth Rock rooster!" exclaimed Bandy-legs, excitedly, "so Johnny get your gun, or else your rope, and let's see what sort of a cowboy you c'n be."
Toby ran along the upper side of the bridge, and with his rope coiled awaited a chance to let fly. The conditions were not as favorable as he might have liked, for the railing seemed to be somewhat in the way; and an object moving swiftly toward him did not offer any great hope for his success in casting the lariat; but when the proper time had arrived he bravely let fly.
"Whoop! see it drop right over the old rooster would you?" yelled Bandy-legs; "pull as quick as you can, Toby! Aw! you're slow as molasses in winter, and it just slipped over his back. And now he's running under the bridge, and you won't have fricasseed chicken for supper to-night, as you expected."
"B-b-but you all saw how I d-d-dropped the n-n-noose right over him, didn't you? And that c-c-counts some. When I g-g-get the hang of the thing I expect to do a heap b-b-better. Watch out for another hencoop, Bandy-legs, that's a good feller. I'm sure enjoying myself first-rate."
"Well, looks to me like something coming along up there again," remarked Bandy-legs, who had splendid eyesight, and was sometimes called "Eagle Eye" by his comrades.
"A dog this time, seems like," suggested Steve, carelessly. "I wonder now if I could get his picture when he comes closer? It'd be worth keeping, just to show what sort of things you'll meet up with when there's a big flood on. I reckon I'll try it anyhow; no damage done if I make a foozle."
He hunted up a suitable place, where he thought the light would be most serviceable, and then started to focus his camera on a spot which he selected; when the drifting piece of wreckage reached that position it would be at the proper distance for effective work, and he could press the button with the belief that he had obtained a good picture.
Max was intently looking up the river.
All these things interested him, naturally, though deep down in his heart he knew that they were taking big risks in remaining out on the bridge when others more sensible or less adventurous carefully refrained from trusting themselves to view the flood from so dangerous a standpoint.
The three other boys heard Max give utterance to a startled exclamation. It was not his nature to betray excitement unless there was some very good excuse for doing so, and consequently Steve turned his head to look over his shoulder and ask: "What ails you, Max, old chum? The shaking didn't feel any worse, did if? I'd hate some myself to go with the old bridge, if she does take a notion to cut loose from her moorings, and head down the valley; and, Max, if you reckon we'd better quit this monkey business, and go ashore, why, I'll call it off, though I did want to get this one picture the worst kind."
"Wait!" said Max, quickly; "we couldn't go now, no matter how much we wanted to!"
"Oh! why not?" exclaimed Bandy-legs, looking anxious, as he fancied he felt a new and sickening swaying to the bridge; and unconsciously he gripped the railing while speaking, as though desirous of having something substantial to hold on to.
"Because, unless I'm away off in my guess," said Max, positively, "that object on that roof of a cabin you thought was a dog is a little child; and we've got to try our level best to save it when the wreckage gets down to the bridge!"
His words almost stunned the others. They stood and gazed at the swiftly approaching floating object as though unable to believe their very eyes; but soon Steve managed to find his voice, for he bellowed:
"Max, it is, for a fact, a poor little abandoned child, crouching there, and like as not nearly frightened out of its life. Oh! I wonder what's become of its mother and father? P'raps they've been drowned. Max, what can we do to save it? Think as fast as ever you did in all your life. I'd never get over it if we let that helpless child sweep under the bridge like that rooster did. It'd haunt me the rest of my days. Max, haven't you thought up a plan?"
"Yes, and it's the only way we can have a chance," replied the other, quickly. "Here, let me have the noose end of your rope, Toby; I'm going to slip it around under my arms. Then you three get hold, and I'll climb over the railing here, just where that cabin roof is going to pass under. Too bad that there's so much room, because it won't stick fast; so I must drop down on the roof and grab the child. Everything depends on how you can get me up again. It's all got to be done like a flash, you see. And if the rope holds, I'll do my part, I promise you."
"Count on us, Max, and here's hoping you do get hold of the poor little thing!" said Steve, who had laid his camera aside, the better to use both hands.
They nerved themselves for the coming ordeal. Teeth were tightly clenched, and every muscle summoned to do its full duty. Nor could the emergency be long delayed, because that drifting wreckage of a cabin was approaching them swiftly, borne on the wild current of the flood, and in another ten seconds would have reached the middle of the span of the bridge!
A BRAVE RESCUE
They could hear shouting on the shore, though not daring to pay any attention to it just then, lest it distract their minds from the dangerous business they had on hand.
No doubt some one had discovered that a little child was coming floating down on the swollen current of the river, and the startling news was being communicated from mouth to mouth with the astonishing celerity with which such things can travel.
Had the boys but glanced toward the bank they would have seen people running madly to and fro, and gathering in larger clusters than ever wherever they could get a chance to see out upon the raging waters.
Max had calculated things carefully. He did not want to make any mistake when he clambered over the railing, because such a thing might be fatal to whatever hope he had of rescuing the child.
They could now see plainly that it was a little boy. He was clinging to some part of the surging roof, which seemed to be in danger of capsizing at any moment, for it wobbled fearfully. Max prayed that it would hold its own until he had been given a chance to do his part. He also hoped that he would have sufficient strength in his arms to snatch the child, and then hold him, while his chums tugged and pulled to get them both safely up to the bridge.
As he watched the coming of the fragment of a roof, he was doing some nice calculating, making up his mind just how he must seize upon the one he wished to save, and allow nothing to keep him from obtaining full possession. He had feared that the child might have been tied there by his mother, and had such proven to be the case a rescue must have been well nigh hopeless; but the closer the onrushing object came the more Max assured himself that there did not seem to be any obstacle to his success.
He was over the rail now. Those on shore must have seen what the boy meant to try and accomplish, for all of a sudden a terrible hush had fallen on the gathered groups. Every eye was doubtless glued on the figure that clung to the rail out there, over the rushing waters, waiting for the proper second to arrive. Women unconsciously hugged their own little ones all the tighter to their breasts, perhaps sending up sincere thanks that it was not their child in peril; and at the same time mute prayers must have gone out from many hearts that the brave boy succeed in his mission.
"Steady, Max, old pal!" said Steve, who was braced there for the expected strain. "Don't worry about us, for we'll back you up. Get a clutch on him, and the rest is going to be easy. Ready now!"
Max heard all this but was paying no attention to what was being said. His whole mind was concentrated on the swaying roof of the wrecked cabin, and the piteous sight of that frightened little fellow clinging desperately there.
He could not depend on anything his chums might decide, but must himself judge of the proper time to drop down. The swiftness of the current had to be taken into consideration, as well as the swaying of the wreckage.
When he felt sure of himself Max suddenly let go his precarious hold on the lower part of the railing. It was a bold thing to do, and must have sent a shudder through many a breast ashore, as men and women held their breath, and stared at the thrilling spectacle.
Fortunately Max Hastings was no ordinary lad. He not only had a faculty for laying out plans, but the ability to execute the same as well. And besides that, his love of outdoor life had given him such a muscular development that athletic feats were possible with him such as would have proven rank failures with many other boys.
His judgment proved accurate, for he dropped exactly upon the fragment of the cabin roof, and directly in front of the crouching child. The little fellow must have been watching him, for instantly two hands were outstretched toward Max as though some intuition told the child that his only hope of escape from the angry flood lay in the coming of this boy.
Like a flash Max swooped down upon him. His movements were wonderfully quick, because he knew that this was absolutely necessary when coping with such a treacherous enemy as that moving flood.
He snatched the child up in one arm and held him almost fiercely to his breast. If the little fellow gave utterance to any sort of cry Max failed to hear it, though that in itself might not be so very strange, for there were all sorts of roaring sounds in his ears just then.
Almost at the same instant he felt himself roughly plucked off his feet, and being swung upward. His comrades were tugging at the rope savagely, knowing that unless they were very speedy Max would find himself engulfed in the waters; and the work of rescue be made doubly difficult.
The rope proved equal to the terrific strain, thanks to Toby's good judgment when selecting a braided line with which to play the role of cow puncher and lariat thrower.
Max felt the water around his legs, but that was all, for he did not go down any further than his knees; and yet the suction was tremendous even at that.
He was now being slowly but surely drawn upward, and this was a task that called for the united powers of the three who had hold of the rope. Bandy-legs had been wise enough to wrap the end around a beam that projected from the flooring of the bridge. He did not know what might happen, and was determined that Max should not be swept away on the flood, if it came to the worst.
When they had drawn their comrade far enough up so that Steve, calling on the others to hold fast, bent down and took the child from the grasp of Max, it was an easy matter for the latter to clamber over the rail himself.
Steve was already holding the rescued child up so that those on shore could see that the attempt at rescue had met with a glorious success; for he was naturally proud of his chum's work.
A deep-throated hum broke out; it was the sound of human voices gathering force; and then a wild salvo of cheers told that the good people of Carson could appreciate a brave deed when they saw it, no matter if disaster did hover over the town, and kept them shivering with a dread of what was coming next.
Some of the more impetuous would have started to rush out on the bridge, in order to tell Max what they thought of him; only that several cool-headed men kept these impulsive ones back.
"Keep off!" they kept shouting, waving the crowd away; "if you rushed out there now it would be the last straw to send the bridge loose from its moorings. Stay where you are, men, women! You would only invite a terrible tragedy by going on the bridge!"
"Bring the child to us, boys!" some of the men shouted, waving to the little group out there; since the mountain was not to be allowed to come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain.
"Take him across, Max!" said Bandy-legs. "Steve, you take him!" urged Max, not wishing to be lionized, because he happened to be an unusually modest lad, and it bothered him to have men and women wanting to shake him by the hand, telling him how brave he was, and all that.
Steve wanted to protest, but he could see that his chum really meant it, and did not intend to allow himself to be made a hero of, if he could help it.
"Oh! all right then, I'll go, Max, while you look out for my camera, like a good fellow. But see here, if you think I'll let anybody mistake me for the one who grabbed up this baby from the raft at the risk of his life, you've got another guess coming to you, that's right. I'm meaning to tell everybody that it was Max Hastings did it. Huh! any fellow could just keep hold of the end of a rope, and pull up like we did. That was the easiest part of it. You wait and see if you get out as slick as you think you will. They'll remember, and lay for you later on. If you will do these things, why, you've got to take your medicine, that's all."
So saying Steve hurried toward the shore, carrying the little child tenderly in his arms. Doubtless some one would be sure to recognize the small chap who had had such a narrow escape from a terrible fate; and if not just then, he would be well looked after until his folks turned up later on.
The wildest sort of reception was given Steve when he once got ashore. He could be seen trying to fend off the many hands that were outstretched to seize upon his digits, and give them a squeeze of approval, for deeds like this arouse the warmest sentiments in the human heart. In vain did Steve declare that it had been Max who had taken all the risks in the endeavor to save a precious little life; but the crowd would not keep back, and insisted that he let them do him honor. He had done his part in the rescue work at least, and was entitled to their congratulations, and they would not be denied.
Steve hastened to push his burden into the arms of the first woman who manifested the least desire to get hold of the child; and after that he pressed his way out of the crowd, heading once more for the imperiled bridge.
"Better come off there, now, Steven!" warned a gentleman who was standing near the approach to the structure; "there isn't one chance in a thousand that she'll hold out much longer, and it might be all your lives are worth to go down with the wreck when the time comes!"
But Steve was young, and filled with the spirit of adventure. Besides, after having been out there so long he had become partly used to the sickening tremor, and did not mind its warning as much as before.
"That's for Max to say, Mr. Harding," he called back. "If he thinks it's getting too dangerous for us, we'll sure come in right away. I've got to leave it with Max."
Two minutes later and he joined his chums, who were still near the middle of the bridge, again looking up the river anxiously.
"See another baby coming along?" demanded Steve, as he joined them.
"Not yet, I'm glad to say," replied Max, who was not so inflated over the grand success that had attended his first life saving effort that he wanted other opportunities to confront them immediately.
"L-l-looked like they came near p-p-pulling you to p-p-pieces, Steve," remarked Toby, with a grin.
"That's right," agreed Steve, frowning; "everybody tried to grab my hand at the same time, and me a telling them all the while I didn't have a thing to do with saving the child, only hauling on the rope. Say, I know now why you wouldn't go ashore, Max; you didn't want to be mobbed, did you? It's just terrible I'm telling you all. If I ever save anybody's life I'm going to take to the woods right away, till everybody forgets it."
"I saw Mr. Harding talking to you; what did he say?" asked Max, smiling a little to find that Steve was so modest.
"Oh! like a good many more of 'em he thinks we're taking too big chances staying right along out here, and that we ought to come ashore," Steve replied.
"He means it for our good, all right," ventured Bandy-legs, "and you know, fellers, he had a boy drowned year before last, so I reckon he's worried about us more than a little. What did you tell him, Steve?"
"That I'd leave it to Max here," came the reply.
"Which is putting a lot of responsibility on my poor shoulders," remarked that worthy, with a shrug.
"Well, you're our leader, and as long as we believe you know best we expect to follow out your ideas," Steve went on to say.
"That sounds pretty fine, Steve," observed Max; "but right now if I told you I thought we'd better go ashore you'd kick like a steer."
"Oh! well, you see there doesn't seem to be any very great danger as long as a big tree ain't swooping down to strike the bridge a crack; and besides, what if another baby happened to come sailing along on a raft, what'd we think of ourselves if we'd gone up on the bank, and couldn't even make a break to save it?"
Steve argued fairly well, and Max did not attempt to press the matter. To tell the truth he was tempted to linger to the very last in the hope of being instrumental in doing more good. If one child had been sent adrift in the flood, perhaps there might be others also in need of succor. And so Max, usually so cautious, allowed himself to be tempted to linger even when his better judgment warned him of the terrible risks they ran.
"Some of that crowd think we're sillies for staying out here, don't they, Steve?" Bandy-legs asked, after a little time had elapsed, without their sighting any more precious cargoes coming down on the flood.
"Yes, I heard a lot of 'em say things that way, because they've got a notion in their heads the bridge is agoin' out any old minute. But there's another lot that don't believe shucks. I heard one boy say there wasn't a bit of danger, and that we got all the credit of being mighty reckless and brave without taking any big risk."
"Bet you I can give a guess who that was," ventured Bandy-legs, instantly.
"Let's hear, then," Steve told him.
"It sounds like that braggin' Shack Beggs," was the guess Bandy-legs hazarded.
"Go up head, old scout," chuckled Steve; "because you hit it the first shot. Yes, that's who it was, Shack Beggs, and both the other bullies were along with him, watching everything we did out here, and looking like they'd be mighty well pleased if the old bridge did break loose and carry us all down river, hanging on like a parcel of half drowned rats."
"I wouldn't put it past them to help things along, if only they knew how they could start the bridge loose," Bandy-legs affirmed, positively, which showed what sort of an opinion he had for the trio of tough boys whom they had chased off, at the time they were robbing poor old Mr. McGirt, who kept the little candy shop that had been invaded by the rising waters.
"L-l-lucky for us they d-d-don't know h-h-how," said Toby, vigorously.
"It seems that when you get to talking about any one they're almost sure to appear," Max told them; "and look who's coming out on the bridge now."
"Why, it's Shack Beggs, sure it is!" declared Steve.
"Wonder what's he's up to?" muttered Bandy-legs. "We'd all better keep our peepers on that feller if he comes around. Why, I wouldn't put it past him to give one of us a sudden shove, and then laugh like he was crazy to see what a splash we made when we fell in. If I ketch him trying anything like that, mark my words Shack Beggs'll take a header into the river as quick as a flash. He'll find that two c'n play at that game!"
THE PRICE THEY PAID
"Look at him, would you?" ventured Bandy-legs, a minute later. "He acts like he was trying to see if the bridge was steady, the way he's trying to shake it. Bet you he feels that quivering, and it's giving him a bad case of cold feet already. They went and dared him to come out here, and Shack never would stand for a dare, you know. But he's sorry he came."
The other boy approached them. He was looking more serious than most people had ever seen him appear. Just as Bandy-legs said, no doubt he had been forced into testing the bridge by some dare on the part of his cronies, who had told him he didn't have the nerve to go Max and his crowd one better by walking all the way across the bridge, so as to be the last who could say he had done it.
While still keeping a sharp lookout up the river the four chums awaited the coming of Shack Beggs; and that the caution given by Bandy-legs had fallen on good ground where it took root, was proven by the way they moved back from the railing.
If the young desperado had any bold intention of trying to upset one of the three chums into the river, he would not find it so easy to carry out his reckless plan, for they were evidently on the alert, and ready to match cunning with cunning.
Shack shuffled forward slowly. He may have originally thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to walk across the bridge and back; but that was before he had set foot on the quivering planks, and experienced the full effect of that sickening vibration. Now he walked as though he might be stepping on eggs. Several times he even stopped, and looked around. Perhaps he simply wanted to know how far out from the shore he might be; or else he felt an almost irresistible yearning to hurry back to safety and tell his cronies they could try the trick for themselves, if they wanted.
Some sort of pride caused him to come on. Max and his friends were there, and Shack Beggs would sooner die than let them see he lacked the stamina they were so freely showing.
All the same he looked anything but happy as he drew closer. It was one thing to stand on a firm foundation ashore, and look out at the heaving flood, and another to find himself there surrounded by the waters, with but a slender thread connecting him with either bank, and all that furious flood trying its best to break this asunder.
"Better come back, Shack!" could be heard in a rasping voice from the shore, and Ossie Kemp was seen making a megaphone out of his two hands.
Shack would no doubt have liked to do this same thing; but he felt that it must look too much like cowardice in the eyes of Max, whom he hated so bitterly. Besides he had started out to show the people of Carson that these four chums did not monopolize all the courage in town; and it was really too late to turn back now.
So Shack came slowly on until he had reached the others.
Under ordinary conditions he would never have ventured to say a single word to any one of the four chums; or if he did, it would have probably been in the nature of an ugly growl, and some sarcastic comment on their personal appearance, with the sinister hope of provoking a dispute that might lead to a scuffle.
Things somehow seemed different now. Shack must have left most of his pugnacious disposition ashore; when his nerves were quivering with each sickening shake of the bridge he could not find it in him to assume his customary boastful look.
And seeing Max close Shack even ventured to speak decently to him, something he would never have dreamed of doing had the conditions been other than they were.
"The fellers they sez I dassent cross over tuh t'other end uh the bridge; an' I allowed it could be done easy like," he went on to say; "what d'ye think 'bout me adoin' the same? Is she safe enough?"
"We wouldn't be here if we didn't think so," Max told him; "and I guess there isn't any more danger on the other side than in the middle."
"T'anks!" Shack jerked out; and then as the bridge gave a little harder quiver than usual he looked frightened, and even clutched frenziedly at the railing.
Bandy-legs must have fancied that the other was reaching out to lay hands on him, for he immediately shouted:
"Keep back there! Don't you dare touch a finger to me, or I'll see that you go over the railing head-first! We're on to your sly tricks, Shack Beggs! You didn't come out here for nothing, I take it!"
Shack however had managed to overcome his sudden fear. He shot a black scowl in the direction of Bandy-legs, and then once more started to move along; but by now his timidity had over-mastered his valor, as was made manifest in the way he kept moving his hand along the railing, as though unwilling to try to stand alone.
Although they no longer had any reason to feel that the other meant them any ill turn, the four chums watched him curiously.
"I'd just like to be able to give the bridge a good shake," Bandy-legs declared, "to see him crumple up, and yell. Chances are it'd scare him out of a year's growth."
"Huh! better not try any fool play like that," suggested Steve; "because there's too much tremble to the old thing right now to suit me. If Max only said the word I'd be willing to skip out of this, that's right."
"S-s-s'pose we all did run for it," remarked Toby, who had been silent a long time; "wouldn't Shack come c-c-chasing after us like h-h-hot cakes, though?"
"We'll limit our stay to another five minutes, no more," Max told them. "I put it at that because I believe before then we'll be able to say whether that thing coming down the river is a raft with somebody aboard, or just a jumble of logs, and stuff set afloat by the high water."
Apparently none of the others had up to then noticed what Max referred to, and consequently there was a craning, of necks, and a straining of eyes, until Steve was fain to call out "rubber!" in his jocular way.
There was something in sight, far up the river. If they only had their field glass along with them it would be easy to tell the nature of the object; but lacking so useful an article they could only possess their souls in patience, and wait.
The seconds passed, and all the while the current of the river was bringing that object closer to them. Max found himself wishing it would hasten, for truth to tell he did not much like the way the bridge was trembling now. Instead of occasional vibrations it seemed to be a steady pull, as though the force of the flood had reached a point where it could not be much longer held back.
Some of those ashore were shouting to them again, as though their fears had broken out once more, and they wished the boys would not persist in taking such great chances, even though in a good cause.
A minute had gone.
"Looks like a raft to me," announced Bandy-legs, presently, and the others were inclined to agree with him that far.
"But is there any one aboard?" asked Max.
"I c'n see something there, but just what it might be I wouldn't like to say," the boy with the eagle eye announced.
Still they lingered, although those heavings were gradually growing a trifle more pronounced all the while. They must have shattered what little nerve Shack Beggs had remaining, for although he had not gone more than half way between the four chums and the further shore, he had turned around, and was now approaching them again. His face looked strangely ghastly, owing to his deadly fear; and the way in which Shack tried to force a grin upon it only made matters worse.
He had the appearance of one who was solemnly promising himself that if only he might be allowed to reach a haven of safety again he would never more be guilty of attempting such a silly act on account of a dare.
In fact, Shack was watching the chums eagerly every second of the time now. He depended on them to serve as his barometer. Should they make a sudden move toward the Carson side of the river he was in readiness to fairly fly along, in the hope of catching up with them.
Max turned his attention once more up the stream, and toward that approaching floating object. He wondered whether he was going to be called upon to once more make use of that friendly rope in rescuing some flood sufferer from peril.
After all Bandy-legs was not so sure about its being a raft. He began to hedge, and change his mind.
"Might be only a bunch of fence rails, and such stuff, that's got driven together in the flood, and is coming down on us in a heap," he announced. Max had about come to the same conclusion himself, though hesitating to announce his opinion while the others seemed to have an entirely different idea about the thing.
"But do you see that dark object on it move any?" he asked Bandy-legs.
"Well, now, seemed to me it did move just then," came the answer, that caused the boys to once more rivet their gaze on the approaching float, while their nerves began, to tingle with suspense.
A few seconds later and Toby declared that he too had seen the thing raise its head; though he hastily added:
"But it didn't act like a h-h-human b-b-being any that I could notice."
"What in the dickens can it be?" Steve was asking, and then he gave a sort of gasp, for the bridge had actually swayed in a way that caused. his heart to seemingly stand still.
"She's agoing to move out right away, I do believe, boys!" cried Bandy-legs, as he looked longingly toward the shore.
There was Shack Beggs almost half-way to the end of the bridge, and walking as fast as he could. From his manner it looked as though Shack would only too gladly have sprinted for the land, only that he hated to hear the jeering remarks which his cronies were sure to send at him for showing the white feather; so he compromised by walking ever so fast.
"Hadn't we better be going, Max?" asked Steve.
"That's the stuff!" muttered Bandy-legs.
"M-m-me too!" added Toby.
Max took one last look up the river. As he did so he saw that there was now a decided movement aboard the floating mass of stuff that was coming down toward the bridge.
Whatever it was that had been lying there now struggled to its feet.
"Oh! would you look at that?" exclaimed Steve.
"Must be a calf!" echoed Bandy-legs.
"I'd s-s-say a yeller dog!" Toby declared.
"Anyhow it's an animal and not a human being," said Max; "and things are getting too shaky for us to stay any longer out here, and take chances, just to try and save a dog or a calf or a goat. Let's put for the shore, boys!"
"And every fellow run for it too!" added Steve, as again they felt that terrible shudder pass through the wooden structure that had spanned the Evergreen Elver as far back as they could remember; and which somehow forcibly reminded Max of the spasm apt to run through the muscles of a stricken animal before giving up the ghost.
That was enough to start them with a rush. Once they gave way to the feeling that it was close on the breaking point for the bridge and what might be likened to a small-sized panic took possession of them all.
Shack Beggs somehow seemed to scent their coming. Perhaps he felt the vibrations increase, or else the shouts that both Steve and Bandy-legs gave utterance to reached his strained hearing.
At any rate Shack twisted his head, and looked back over his shoulder. If he had been anxious to reach the shore before, he was fairly wild now to accomplish that same object. They could see him take a spurt. He no longer deigned to walk, but ran as though in a race; as indeed all of them were, even though as yet they hardly comprehended the fact.
It might be possible that this was the worst thing the boys could have done, and that had they been contented to walk quietly toward land they might have spared the already badly racked bridge a new strain.
Max, looking back later on, came to this same conclusion; but, then he always declared that if one only knew how things were about to come out, he could alter his plans accordingly; in other words he quoted the old and familiar saying to the effect that "what wonders we could accomplish if our foresight were only as good as our hindsight."
The shaking of the structure by the scampering along of five boys must have been pretty much like the last straw added to the camel's pack.
"Faster, everybody!" Max shouted, as he heard a strange grinding noise that struck a cold chill to his very heart.
Bandy-legs was in front, and really setting the pace, and as everybody in Carson knew full well, he was the poorest pacemaker possible, on account of his exceedingly short and rather bent legs. This caused them to be held back more or less, though when it came down to actual figuring nothing they could have done would have altered the complexion of conditions.
The grinding noise turned into a frightful rending that sounded in their ears as though all sorts of superstructures might be separating. All the while there was a swaying of the timbers of the stricken bridge, a sickening sensation such as might be experienced when out at sea and caught in a cross current.
Max realized that it was useless for them to think of reaching the safety of the shore which was too far away; even Shack Beggs had been unable to accomplish the end he had in view, though he was still staggering on.
"Grab something, and keep holding on for all you're worth!"
That was about all Max could say, for hardly had the last word left his lips when there came a final jerk that threw them all down; and only for having caught hold of the railing one or more of the boys might have been tumbled into the river.
At the same time one end of the bridge broke away, the entire structure swung around so that it started to point down stream; then the strain caused the other end to also free itself from its moorings; after which the whole fabric fell over with a mighty splash, while the crowds ashore stared in horror at the spectacle, knowing as they did that the boys had been engulfed with the falling timbers.
COMRADES IN DISTRESS
It was all a confused nightmare to the boys who went down with the bridge that the rising flood had finally carried away. They involuntarily gripped the railing tenaciously, because they had the last words of Max ringing in their ears; and no doubt it was this more than anything else that enabled them to come through the adventure with fair chances.
Max with his other hand had seized hold of Toby's arm, because they happened to be close together at the time. So it was that when he could catch his breath, after swallowing a gulp or two of muddy water, he called out:
"Are you all right, Toby?"
"Y-y-yep, s-s-seems so, Max!" he heard close to his ear in reply.
"What about the others? Steve, Bandy-legs, how is it with you?" continued Max, unable to see as yet, for his eyes were full of the spray that had dashed around them at the time the bridge carried them down.
Faint replies came to his ears, one from the left, and the other welling up in the opposite direction; but they cheered the heart of the leader greatly. It seemed almost like a miracle that all of them should have come through with so little damage. Looking back afterwards Max was of the opinion that much of this wonderful luck resulted from the fact that when the bridge swung around and allowed itself to be carried away it did not actually turn over.
They were being swept down-stream at a tremendous pace. Their strange craft rose and fell on the heaving flood with a sensation that might cause one to believe he had taken passage on the ocean itself, and was about to endure the discomforts of sea sickness.
Turning to look toward the shore Max realized for the first time how rapid was their passage; for when his eyes remained fixed on the water itself, which was making exactly the same speed as their craft, he seemed to be standing still.
"Max, oh! Max!" came in Steve's voice, a minute later.
"Hello! there, that you, Steve? Can't you make your way over here closer to us?" was the answer Max sent back; for now he could manage to glimpse the crouching figure from which the excited hail proceeded.
"Sure I can, easy as anything," Steve told him, and immediately proceeded to work along the railing, which fortunately remained above the water.
Bandy-legs had heard what was said, and from the other side he too came crawling along, moving like a crab backward, for he wished to keep his face toward the danger, since every dip of the whirling raft threatened to allow the waves to overwhelm him, as his position was not so secure as that of the others.
In this fashion, then, they gathered in a clump, gripping the railing with desperate zeal. Somehow or other the mere fact of getting together seemed to give each of the chums renewed courage.
"Ain't this a fierce deal, though?" Steve was saying, as drenched from head to foot he clung there, and looked at the swirling flood by which they found themselves surrounded, with the shore far away on either hand.
"B-b-beats anything I ever s-s-struck!" chattered Toby, whose teeth were apparently rattling like castanets, either from cold or excitement, possibly a little of both.
"We're in a tight hole, that's a fact," Max admitted, "but we ought to be thankful it's no worse than it is. One of us might have been swept loose, and drowned, or had a hard time getting around. We're all together, and it'll be queer if we can't figure out some way to get ashore, sooner or later."
"That's the ticket, Max; 'never give up the ship,' as Lawrence said long ago," was the way Steve backed the leader up.
"Huh!" grunted Bandy-legs, who had bumped his head, and because it felt sore he was not in the happiest mood possible; "that's just what we're wantin' to do, if you c'n call this turnin' twistin' raft a ship. Makes me dizzy the way she reels and cavorts; just like she might be trying one of them new fangled dance steps."
"Listen! what was that?" exclaimed Max, breaking in on Bandy-legs' complaint.
"What did you think you heard?" asked Steve, eagerly; "we're too far away from either shore right here to hope for anything, because you remember the banks of the Evergreen are low after passing our town, and the water's had a chance to spread itself. Whew! it must be half a mile across here, and then some."
"There it came again," said Max. "And seems to me it sounded like a half-drowned shout for help."
"What, away out here?" cried Steve; "who under the sun could be wanting us to give him a helping hand, d'ye think, Max?"
"I don't know, but at a time like this you can look for anything to happen. Perhaps there were other people carried away on the flood. Look around, and see if you can glimpse anything."
The water was not quite so riotous now, since it spread over a wider territory; and the boys had succeeded in getting their eyes clear; so that almost immediately Bandy-legs was heard to give a shout.
"I see him, fellers!" he announced, excitedly; "over yonder, and swimmin' to beat the band! He's tryin' to make the floating bridge we're on, but seems like the current keeps agrippin' him, and holdin' him back. Looks like he's mighty near played out in the bargain."
"Why, however could he have got there, and who is he, d'ye reckon, Max?" Steve inquired, turning as usual to the leader when a knotty problem was to be solved.
"I think I know," replied Max, without hesitation; "you seem to have forgotten that we weren't alone on the bridge when it fell."
"Oh! shucks! yes, you mean that Shack Beggs!" Bandy-legs suggested, and there was a vein of disappointment and indifference in his voice that Max did not like.
True, that same Shack Beggs had been one of the most aggressive of their foes in Carson. From away back he in company with a few other choice spirits of like mean disposition had never let an opportunity for annoying the chums pass. On numerous occasions he had planned miserable schemes whereby Max, or some of his best friends, would be seriously annoyed.
All the same that could be no excuse for their turning a deaf ear to the wild appeal for help which the wretched Shack was now sending forth. He was human like themselves, though built on different lines; and they could never hold their own respect if they refused to hold out a helping hand to an enemy in dire distress.
"We've just got to try to get Shack up here with us, boys, if the chance comes our way," said Max, firmly.
"S'pose we have," muttered Bandy-legs, moodily; and his manner was as much as to say that in his opinion the young scoundrel struggling there in the water was only getting something he richly deserved; and that if it rested with him he would feel inclined to let Shack stay there until the extreme limit.
"But how can we do anything for him, Max?" asked Steve, who was not so bitter as Bandy-legs, and already began to feel a little compassion toward the wretched boy struggling so desperately in the agitated water, and nearly exhausted by his efforts.
"There's a small chance," said Max, who had been looking more closely than any of his chums. "You see this piece of the broken bridge keeps on turning around in the water all the while. Now we've got the west shore on our right hand, and pretty soon we'll have the east side that way. Well, perhaps we'll swing around next time far enough for us to stretch out and give Shack a helping hand."
"I believe you're right, Max," admitted Steve; "yes, she's swinging right along, and if he's wise he'll work in this way as much as he can. But, Max, if we do pass him by without being able to reach him, it's going to be hard on Shack, because he looks like he's nearly all in, and won't be on top when we come around again."
"Then we've just got to reach him, you see!" returned Max, with that glow in his eyes the others knew so well, for it generally meant success to follow.
The fragment of the broken bridge continued to move around as the swirl of the waters kept turning it. Max was watching eagerly, and making his calculations with as much earnestness as though it were one of his chums in peril instead of their most bitter enemy.
He believed there was a good chance for him to reach Shack, if he could manage in some way to stretch out from the end of the railing just beyond where Toby clung. And acting on this inspiration he hastily clambered past the other.
"What's doing, Max?" demanded Toby, immediately.
"If I can reach him at all it's got to be from the end of the raft here, the further point, don't you see?" Max replied, still pushing along, with Toby close at his heels, ready now to assist to the best of his ability.
So Max, on reaching the extreme tip of the uneasy raft, climbed out as far as he could go, and called back to Toby to grip him by the legs so that he might have both hands free to work with when the critical moment arrived.
It could not be long delayed, for as they swung slowly in the grip of the swirling current he could see the swimming Shack's head close by. Once the almost exhausted boy disappeared, and Max felt his heart give a great throb as he thought it was the very last he would ever see of Shack; but almost immediately afterwards the head came in sight again, for Shack was a stout fellow, and desperation had nerved him to accomplish wonders.
Presently Max gritted his teeth together for the effort he meant to put forth, and upon which so much depended.
"Swim this way as hard as you can, Shack!" he had shouted again and again, and the boy in the river was evidently bent on doing what he was told, though hardly able to sustain himself on account of complete exhaustion, added to a severe case of fright.
Then the crisis came. Max had figured nicely, and knew to a fraction of a second just when he must make his clutch for the swimmer. Shack saw what was coming, and as though ready to give up and sink if this effort to save him failed, he threw out one of his hands despairingly toward Max.
As he managed to clutch the swimmer's wrist Max braced himself, and gradually drew Shack toward the woodwork of the floating bridge, an inch as it were at a time, but constantly coming.
Presently he had him close enough for Steve, who with Bandy-legs was near by, to get a frenzied grip on the other arm of the exhausted boy; and then together they managed to help him aboard.
It was necessary that they change their position quickly, since their combined weight at one end of the wreckage of the bridge was causing it to sink in an ominous way.
"Move along there, Bandy-legs and Steve!" called Max; "or we'll be under water!"
Fortunately the other boys realized what was meant, and they hurried away, constantly clinging to the friendly railing which had proven so valuable all the while, in keeping them from being washed overboard.
Max helped Shack crawl along, for the boy was panting for breath, and almost choked with the vast quantities of water he had swallowed.
In this way they presently reached their old positions about the middle of the floating timbers. It was a wild picture that confronted them as they now took the time to look around them. The river was narrowing somewhat again and of course the current became considerably swifter on this account, so that the bridge raft rocked violently back and forth, sometimes even threatening them with a fresh disaster in the shape of a jam, and consequent overturn.
"My stars! what's the answer going to be to this thing?" Steve called out, after one of these exciting experiences, during which it was with considerable difficulty that the whole of them maintained their hold.
Max had seen to it that the tired Shack was fastened to the rail with a strap he chanced to have in his pocket at the time; only for that possibly the other might have lost his weakened grip, and been carried off.
"Oh! don't think of giving up yet, Steve," Max sang out cheerily; "the further we get downstream the more chances there are that we'll either be rescued by men in boats, or else find a way ourselves to get ashore. We've got so much to be thankful for that it seems as if we'd soon hit on a way out. Keep watching, and if some eddy in the current happens to throw us on a bar close to the shore, we'll hustle to reach land the best we know how, no matter where it is, or how far from home."
"T-t-that's what I s-s-say," stammered Toby; "all I w-w-want is to feel the g-g-good old g-g-ground under my f-f-feet again. I never thought it could be so n-nice as it seems right now."
"You never miss the water till the well runs dry!" chanted Bandy-legs, now getting over his fit of depression, and beginning to pluck up new courage and spirits.
"We are whooping it up at a mile a minute clip, ain't we, Max?" Steve asked, a short time later.
"Well, I'd hardly like to say that, Steve," answered the other; "but we're certainly making pretty swift time, twenty miles an hour, perhaps nearer thirty, I'd say. And that's going some, considering that we haven't any motor to push us along."
"And didn't they tell me it was about twenty miles down the valley that Asa French lived?" Steve went on to say, showing that even in the dreadful grip of the flood he had remembered that Bessie French was somewhere down below, and possibly also exposed to the perils that threatened all who lived along the banks of the furious Evergreen River.
Max too had given more than a few thoughts to this fact during the earlier part of that eventful day.
"The way we're going," he told Steve, "we ought to be down there before a great while; and let's hope we'll strike luck, and get a chance to go ashore."
"And also find the girls all right," added Steve, who had apparently quite forgotten how Bessie had recently cut him cruelly, while suffering from an unfortunate misunderstanding.
"But what ails Toby there; he seems to be excited over something?" Max went on to exclaim; for Toby was bending forward, and showed plain evidences of growing interest.
"Hey! fellers!" he now burst out with, "just looky there, will you? We're in for a f-f-fresh lot of t-t-trouble seems like. W-w-watch him p-p-pop up again, would you? Whew! but he's a b-b-bouncer, too, biggest I ever saw in my born days, and must be twenty feet long. Max, it's a s-s-sure enough s-s-sea serpent, ain't it, now?"
THE SUBMERGED FARM-HOUSE
"Gee whiz! where is it, Toby?" cried Steve. "And none of us got a gun along, worse luck. Hey, show me the sea serpent, and p'raps my camera ain't so wet but what I might crack off a picture of the same; because nobody's ever going to believe you when you tell that yarn. Show me, Toby!"
Toby was only too willing to comply. He had always had a decided weakness for collecting all sorts of wild animals, and that might explain why he displayed such extraordinary excitement now.
"There, right over past the end of the r-r-raft, where it s-s-sticks up like a c-c-church spire!" he stuttered, pointing as he spoke. "Now watch everybody, when he pokes his old h-h-head up again. There, don't you s-s-see? And s-s-say, he seems to be s-s-swimmin' this way, don't he?"
Steve broke out into a yell.
"Why, bless your old timid soul, Toby, that isn't any snake at all, only one of those big wild-grape vines, like enough, that's ketched on to that floating tree trunk close by. She's all twisted and turned, and I reckon a fellow as crazy over wild animals and things, like you are, might be excused for thinkin' it was a regular sea serpent."
Bandy-legs too was showing amusement.
"Guess that's the way nearly all sea serpents are discovered," he remarked, trying to make it appear as though he had not been almost as excited as Toby, when the other burst out so suddenly with his announcement.
"Well, we haven't lost any snakes," commented Max, "and so we won't try to rescue that floating vine. We've had our turn at saving menageries, seems to me, enough for one season anyway."
What Max referred to was a series of remarkable adventures that came to the four chums at a time when a storm blew down the tents belonging to a circus about to exhibit in Carson, and liberating many of the animals connected with the menagerie; but full particulars of this thrilling experience have already been given in the volume preceding this, so that further explanation would seem to be unnecessary here.
Toby did not make any reply. He rubbed his eyes pretty hard, as though wondering how they could have deceived him so strangely. But then a fellow who was devoting so much of his thoughts to the mania for strange pets in the shape of wild animals might be expected to see things in a different light from his chums, who were not addicted to that weakness.
"For one," said Bandy-legs, "I'm real glad it wasn't a snake, because they always give me the creeps, you remember, I hate 'em so. Just think what a fine pickle we'd be in now if a monster anaconda or a big boa constrictor or python, broke loose from a show, should climb up on our bridge boat, and start to chasin' us all overboard. Things look bad enough as they are without our takin' on a bunch of new trouble. So, Toby, please don't glimpse anything else, and give us fits, will you?"
Steve seemed to be intently watching the shore, especially whenever the revolving timbers brought them in a line with the western bank, because that was more familiar to the boys than the other, since Carson lay on that side of the river toward the setting sun.
"I'm trying to make out where we are, Max," he explained, upon seeing that the other was observing him curiously.
Bandy-legs uttered a loud and significant grunt.
"Say, Steve," he remarked with a touch of satire in his voice, "I can tell you that much, if you're all mixed up. We're squattin' on the remains of our bloomin' bridge, which used to cross the river in front of Carson; yes-siree, and we seem to be takin' an unexpected voyage downstream, without a port in sight. 'Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,' as the ship-wrecked sailor used to sing; only we could manage with this muddy stuff if we had to, because it ain't salty, you know."
"How far have we come, Max?" Steve continued, anxious to know, and pretending to pay no attention to Bandy-legs' humorous remarks.
"I'm trying to figure it out myself, Steve," admitted the other, who had also been studying the shore line, though everything was so changed during the high water that it was difficult to recognize land marks that had previously been quite familiar to him; "and the best I can make out is that we must be somewhere near Dixon's Point, where the river makes that first sharp curve."
"And, Max, that's about fifteen miles below Carson, isn't it?" Steve added, as he twisted his head the better to look down-stream again.
"Something like fifteen or sixteen, Steve."
"And if Asa French's place is twenty, we ought to strike in there right soon, hadn't we, Max?"
"Before ten minutes more, like as not," Max told him.
Steve drew in a long breath. He was undoubtedly wondering what the immediate future had in store for them, and whether some strange fortune might not bring him in close touch with Bessie. He doubtless had been picturing this girl friend of his in all sorts of thrilling situations, owing to the rapidly rising river, and always with some one that looked suspiciously like Steve Dowdy rushing valiantly to the relief of the helpless ones.
Steve had once tried to play the hero part, and stopped what he believed was a runaway horse, with Bessie in the vehicle, only to have her scornfully tell him to mind his own business after that, since he had spoiled her plans for proving that their old family nag still had considerable speed left in him.
Steve had never forgotten the scorn and sarcasm that marked the girl's face and voice when she said that to him. It had come back to his mind many times since that occasion; and he had kept aloof from all social events ever since, because he did not mean to be snubbed again. And even now, when he was picturing Bessie in real trouble, he kept telling himself that he meant to make sure she was surely in danger of drowning, or something like that, before he ventured to try and succor her. "Because," Steve told himself, "once bit, twice shy; and not if I know it will I ever give any girl the chance again to say I'm trying to show off."
All the same his eyes seldom roved in any other quarter now but down-stream, which was mute evidence that Steve was thinking about other peoples' troubles besides his own.
"We couldn't do anything to help move this old raft closer to shore, could we, Max?" Bandy-legs was suggesting.
"Hardly, though I'd like to first-rate," he was told; "but it's too cumbersome for us to move it, even if we pulled off some boards to use as paddles. So it looks as if we'd have to trust to luck to take us in the right quarter for making our escape."
"Well, we can be ready, and if the chance comes, make the plunge," Bandy-legs continued, "We're all so wringing wet as it is that if we had to jump in and swim a piece it wouldn't hurt any. Just remember that I'm ready if the rest of you are. I'm not caring any too much for this sort of a boat. It keeps on turning around too many times, like a tub in a tub race, and you never know what minute you're going to be dumped out, if it takes a notion to kick up its heels and dive."
"Don't look a g-g-gift horse in the m-m-mouth, Bandy-legs!" advised Toby.
Steve was manifesting more and more restlessness.
"Max, you've been down this far before, I reckon, even if most all our camping trips were to the north and west of Carson?" he asked, turning to the leader.
"Yes, several times, to tell you the truth," admitted Max; "but with the flood on, things look so different ashore that it's pretty hard to tell where you are. Why do you ask me that, Steve?"
"Do you remember whether there's a bend about a mile or so above the French farm house?" continued Steve.
After reflecting for several seconds Max gave his answer.
"Yes, you're right, there is; and I should say it must lie about a mile or so this side of the place."
"I was trying to figure it all out," Steve told him, "and it's this way it looks like to me. The current will sweep us across the river when we swing around that same bend, won't it?"
"Pretty far, for a fact, Steve, because it's apt to run the same way even if the river is far out of its regular channel now."
"Well, don't you see that's going to bring us pretty close to where the French house used to lie?" Steve remarked, inquiringly.
"Yes, it might, just as you say," Max replied; "but why do you speak of it in that way—used to lie?"
"Because," said Steve, moodily, "I'm scared to think what might have happened to that same house by now, and wondering if it's been swept clean away; though it was a strongly built place, and ought to stand a heap of pounding before it went down."
"But even if it isn't in sight, Steve, that doesn't mean the girls have been carried away on the flood, or else drowned. Of course Asa French would be warned long enough ahead to hitch up his horses, and pull-out for higher ground with everybody in his family. They're all right, the chances are ten to one that way."
Max said this for a purpose. He saw that Steve was feeling dreadfully about it, and knew the discovery would be doubly hard should they come upon the place where the French farm house had stood, to find it missing; and so he wanted to prepare the other chum against a shock.
"It's kind of you to say that, Max," Steve faltered, swallowing a lump that seemed to be choking him; "and I'm going to try and believe what you tell me. We ought to know the worst soon, now, because we're just above that bend, and already I can see how the current sets in as swift as anything toward the other shore."