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´╗┐Title: Afloat on the Flood
Author: Leslie, Lawrence J.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Afloat on the Flood" ***

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AFLOAT ON THE FLOOD

by

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



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

    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


CHAPTER I

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.



CHAPTER II

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.



CHAPTER III

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.

Max laughed.

"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!



CHAPTER IV

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!"



CHAPTER V

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.



CHAPTER VI

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?"



CHAPTER VII

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."

All of them fell silent after that.  They were watching the way the
floating timbers of the lost bridge were being steadily swept toward
the west shore, or rather where that bank had once been, because a
great sea of water now covered the fertile farmland for a distance of a
mile or so, to where the hills began.

Shack Beggs had recovered his usual ability to look after himself, and
while he did not say anything, there was a look on his face that set
Max to thinking, as he thrust the strap into the hand of his rescuer,
as though he would have no further need of it, and disliked appearing
weaker than the rest in that he had to be fastened to the railing.

Shack had just passed through a thrilling experience that was fated to
make a decided impression on his mind.  He had hated these boys for
years, and done all he could to make life miserable for them; it
remained to be seen whether there would be any material change in his
habits after this, or if he would forget his obligations to Max
Hastings, and go right along as before.

Max would have pondered this matter, for it must have presented
exceedingly interesting features to a fellow like him; but there was
really no time for considering such things now.  They would have all
they could do to find a way to gain the shore, and cheat the flood of
its prey.  Max could not forget that some twenty miles below where they
were now the river plunged over a high dam; and even in time of flood
this might prove to be their Waterloo, if they were prevented from
getting on land before the broken bridge timbers reached that
obstruction.

"Now, look, everybody, because we're turning the bend!" Steve called
out, in his great excitement hardly knowing what he was saying.

Eagerly they strained their eyes.  The strange craft swung around the
bend, and continued to keep edging toward the west side of the river.
A broad expanse of turgid water met their eyes, broken here and there
with a few objects such as treetops.

Once there had been numerous barns and out-buildings connected with the
French farm, but everything had apparently been swept clean away saving
the house itself, and that still stood, although the flood was even
then three quarters of the way up to the gutters of the roof, and must
be exerting a tremendous pressure that could not much longer be baffled.

"Oh! it's still standing, Max!" shouted Steve, hoarsely; "who'd ever
think it could have held out so long?  I tell you that's a bully old
house, and built like a regular Gibraltar.  But, Max, don't you glimpse
something up there clinging to the roof?  Somehow I don't seem able to
see as clear as I might; I don't know what's the matter with me."

But Max knew that Steve was blinking as fast as he could, to dry the
tears that had come unbidden into his eyes under the excess of his
emotions.

"I honestly believe it's the girls!" he exclaimed, startled himself at
making such a thrilling discovery.

Steve gave a cry of dismay.

"Whatever can they be doing up there; and where's Bessie's Uncle Asa,
that he's left them all alone in the storm?  Oh!  Max, we've just got
to work over to the house and help them.  Do you think we're heading
that way fast enough?  Ain't there any way we could help the old raft
to hurry up, and strike the house so we could climb up there?  Well, if
the worst comes I'm meaning to swim for it, current or no current."

"Wait and see!" cautioned Max; "I'm still thinking we'll swing far
enough around to strike against the upper side of the house.  I only
hope the blow doesn't finish things, and topple the submerged building
over."

This gave Steve something new to worry over.  He started to shouting,
and waving his hat vigorously, and received answering signals from
those who were perched on the sloping roof of the farmhouse.

Doubtless the ones in peril may have been praying for rescuers to heave
in sight, but certainly it could never have entered into their heads to
conjure up such a strange way for assistance to come to them, in the
shape of a raft composed of the timbers of the wrecked Carson bridge.

But so great had been their terror, when surrounded by those wild and
rising waters, that no doubt they gladly welcomed the possibility of
help in any shape.  Besides, the coming of those four husky and
resourceful lads was a thing not to be despised.  Though they may not
have owned a motorboat, or even a skiff, they had sturdy arms and
active brains, and would surely find some way to serve those who just
then seemed to be in great need of assistance.



CHAPTER VIII

REFUGEES OF THE ROOF

"Hi! here's more trouble!" cried Bandy-legs, while they were
approaching the inundated farmhouse, borne on the sweeping current of
the flood.

"What's the matter now?" called Steve, so anxious about the safety of
those who clung to the sloping roof of the doomed building that he
would not even turn his head all the way around, but shot the words
back over his shoulder.

"Why, the blooming old wreck's going all to pieces, so that we'll each
have to pick out a timber, and straddle mighty soon, if it keeps on
this way!" Bandy-legs informed him.

This caused Max to take a little survey in order to satisfy himself
that what the other said was true.  What he discovered did not bring
much assurance of comfort.  Just as the sharp-eyed chum had declared,
the remnant of the broken bridge was being by degrees torn apart by the
violence of its fall and the subsequent action of conflicting currents
of water.

It materially changed his plans, formed on the spur of the moment, when
they had discovered the victims of the flood on the roof of the
farmhouse.  Instead of taking them off, as he had at first intended, it
now began to look as though he and his comrades would be compelled to
seek refuge alongside the girls.

This was not a pleasant thought, for Max could see that the building
was very near the collapsing point as it was, and might topple over at
any minute.

Max was, however, a boy who would accept what fortune offered, and do
the best he could with it.  Once on the roof, they could turn their
attention to some other method of escape; at any rate they had no
choice in the matter.

"We've got to climb up where they are, that's plain," he observed; "and
if this stuff strikes the end of the house we'll be lucky enough."

"Then do we have to let it go, and be marooned up there?" asked
Bandy-legs, in a forlorn tone.

"Looks that way," Steve went on to say, and somehow he did not seem to
share the gloom that had gripped Bandy-legs, possibly because it began
to look as though the glorious chance had come at last to show the
girls he could do his duty without any boasting, and never meant to
pose as a great hero.

"But why can't we hold on to some of these timbers, and make a jolly
old raft?" Bandy-legs continued eagerly.

"Hurrah! that's the t-t-ticket!" Toby was heard to remark; "I never yet
read about a R-r-robinson C-c-crusoe but what he made him a r-r-raft!"

"It might be a good idea, boys," admitted Max, "but I'm afraid you'll
find it more than you can manage.  Then besides, even if you did get
some of the timbers to stick there, how could you fasten them together
so as to make that raft?  Show me your ropes and I'll join in with you
mighty quick.  But it isn't going to be the easiest thing going to
climb up that wobbly roof; and we'll all be glad to find ourselves
perching up on that ridge-pole with the girls, I think."

That dampened the enthusiasm and ardor of Bandy-legs considerably.
Like the rest of them he realized that what Max said was about true,
and that they could not expect to pay much attention to the parting
timbers, once they reached the house.  It would be all they could do to
get up on the roof.

"Are we going to hit up against it, Max?" asked Steve, struggling
between hope and fear, as they rapidly bore down toward the partly
submerged farm building.

"Yes, there's no doubt about that," came the quick reply; "and come to
think of it, we can get up where they are better by working our way
around to that lower end to the right.  Every fellow look out for
himself when the time comes."

"Give us the word, Max?" Steve asked.

"All right, when you hear me shout 'now,' make your jump, and be sure
you've picked out the right place beforehand, or you may drop back
again."

Max could say no more, because they were so close to the little island
in the midst of the raging flood that he had to conserve his breath in
order to make a successful leap himself.

On the roof crouched the two girls, Bessie French and Mazie Dunkirk,
together with a little lame cousin of the former, a girl of about
eight.  All of them were greatly interested in the coming of the boys,
and stared eagerly at the remarkable craft that was bearing them on the
surface of the flood.  Perhaps they may have already jumped to the
conclusion that the whole town of Carson had been inundated and swept
away, and that these five lads might be the sole remaining survivors.
That thought would in part account for their white faces; though of
course their own perilous situation was enough to give them pale cheeks.

Max was on the alert.  Just as the timbers came alongside the lower
edge of the roof he shot out that one energetic word:

"Now!"

Immediately every fellow was in motion, and as they had selected their
landing places beforehand, they fortunately did not interfere with each
other's movements.  Such a remarkable scrambling as followed; if you
have ever watched a cat that has made too risky a jump, barely get her
claws fastened on a limb, and then strain to clamber up, you can
imagine something of the efforts of Toby and Bandy-legs in particular,
as they did not seem to be quite as fortunate as the others.

But none of them dropped back into the river, and that was worth
noticing.  The girls continued to utter various exclamations of alarm
and excitement as they watched their supposed-to-be rescuers trying to
join them on the roof.  Bessie even clapped her hands when Bandy-legs
after a series of contortions that would have done credit to a
professional athlete, managed to crawl over the edge, assisted by a
hand given him, not from Max, nor yet Steve, but the despised Shack
Beggs, who seemed to have had no difficulty whatever in making the
landing, for he was a muscular fellow, and as wiry as a cat.

So they climbed up the slope of the submerged farm house, and joined
those who were already perched along the ridgepole, like so many birds
awaiting the time for flight.

Bandy-legs watched the timbers bumping against the side of the house
until they parted company, and floated swiftly away in smaller
sections.  He felt like waving a sad farewell after the strange craft
that had borne them all the way down the valley; never would he forget
how it looked, passing away in pieces, as though its mission had been
completed after allowing them to reach the farm-house.

There had been three refugees of the flood on the roof before; now
their number had increased to eight.  But whether the coming of the
boys added anything to the hopefulness of the situation remained to be
proved.

At least it seemed to have cheered up both girls considerably.  Mazie
welcomed the coming of Max when he climbed to a place beside her, with
a look that was intended to be sunny, but bordered on the pitiful.
Truth to tell the poor girl had just passed through the most terrible
experience of her young life, having had responsibility crowded upon
her in the absence of older heads.

"Oh!  I am _so_ glad you have come to help us, Max!" she told him,
after they had shaken hands like good friends, which they always had
been.

Max tried to laugh at that; he thought there was altogether too much
gloom in the gathering, and it would be better for all hands to
discover some sort of rift in the clouds.

"A queer old way of coming to help you, I should say, Mazie," he told
her.  "What you saw floating off after it carried us here was all that
is left of the Carson bridge, which was carried away by the flood an
hour or so ago."

"Oh! were there many people on it when it fell?" asked Bessie French,
her eyes filled with suspense; she had pretended not to pay any
attention to Steve, who had deliberately found a place beside her, and
was sitting there as though he had a perfect right, and that nothing
disagreeable had ever come up between them; but in spite of her seeming
indifference she was watching him out of the tail of her eye all the
same, just as a girl will.

"I'm glad to say that we were the only ones who went down with the
bridge," Max hastened to tell her, knowing that she had loved ones in
Carson, about whose safety she must naturally feel anxious.

"And all of you managed to cling to the timbers of the bridge?"
questioned Mazie, looking with open admiration, first at Max, and then
those with him, until a puzzled frown came on her pretty face, for she
had finally noticed Shack Beggs, and could not understand how a boy of
his bad reputation chanced to be in the company of Max and his chums.

"Yes, it wasn't so hard, after we got settled in the water," Max
explained.  "We had the railing to help us out.  And a little later we
managed to help Shack in out of the wet, for he was on the bridge at
the same time, being thrown into the water when it collapsed."

"What a strange thing that you should be carried right down to where we
were in such dreadful need of help; and on such a remarkable boat,
too," Mazie went on to say, with a tinge of color in her cheeks now,
which spoke volumes for the confidence she felt in the ability of this
particular boy to discover some means for bringing about their eventual
rescue.

"Well, it does seem so," Max replied; "and the funny thing about it was
that Steve here, just a short time before the bridge fell, was saying
he would give anything he had in the wide world for the loan of a
motorboat, so he could run down here and see if you girls needed help."

That was cleverly meant for Bessie's ears; trust Max to put in a good
word for his chum, because he knew how matters stood, and that Bessie
was treating poor Steve rather shabbily.  The girl flushed, and then
slowly turning her face until her eyes, now dim with unshed tears, met
the eager ones of the boy at her side, she leaned her head forward and
said in a low voice:

"I'm going to ask you to forget all that's happened between us, Steve;
and let's start over being friends.  I'll never laugh at you again when
you're honestly trying to do something for me.  I was a little fool
that time; but it'll never happen again, Steve.  You'll forgive me,
won't you?"

Of course, when Steve felt that little hand in his, he laughed
good-naturedly, and was heard to say in return:

"Never bother myself thinking about it again, Bessie; give you my word
on it.  When I got home that time, and saw myself in a glass, I made up
my mind that I looked like a scarecrow, and that any girl would be
ashamed to have such a tramp stop her horse, whether he was running
away or not.  And we're all mighty glad we were on the old bridge when
she took that drop, because it's been kind enough to carry us to you
girls down here."

All this may have been very interesting, but Max knew they had no
business to be wasting time in talking when confronted by a renewal of
perils.  The farm-house had stood out against the pressure of the flood
in a way that was wonderful; but it must have a limit to its endurance,
which he did not doubt had been nearly reached.

What would happen to them if it should suddenly collapse was not a
pleasant subject for thought; and yet there could be no dodging the
responsibility.

At the same time he was curious to know how it happened that the two
girls and the little crippled cousin of Bessie came to be there alone;
when it might have been expected that Asa French, or his farm hand,
would be along, capable of rendering more or less assistance.

"How do you come to be here alone, you girls?" he hastened to ask of
Mazie.

"It was just through a succession of accidents," the girl replied.
"You see, Mr. French and his wife received a message from Alderson
yesterday calling them over in great haste to visit an old aunt who was
sinking, and from whom they expected to inherit quite a large sum of
money.  They disliked leaving us here, but we insisted on it; and
besides the faithful old man who had been with them for just ages,
Peter Rankin, promised to guard us well.  They were to come back this
morning, but I suppose the floods kept them from setting out, as the
roads must all be under water between here and Alderson."

"And you've had a night of terror, with the water creeping up all the
while," observed Max; "but what became of Peter Rankin; I hope he
wasn't drowned?"

"We don't know," replied Mazie, with a tremor in her voice.  "Three
hours ago he left us, saying that the only hope was for him to try and
swim to the shore, so as to get a boat of some kind, and come to our
rescue before the house was carried away.  We saw the brave old man
disappear far down the river, and we've been hoping and praying ever
since that at least he managed to get ashore.  Then we discovered all
that timber coming around the bend above, with people aboard, and none
of us could even guess what it meant."

"Well," said Max, "we're here, all right, and the next thing to do is
to find some way of getting to the bank below."

"Then you're afraid the house will go before long?" Mazie asked him;
"and that's what I've been thinking would happen every time that queer
tremble seemed to pass through it.  We shrieked right out the first
time, but I suppose we've become partly used to it by now.  But, Max,
what can we do?"

"I suppose there's nothing inside that could be used in place of a
boat?" he asked, thoughtfully.

"Nothing but the furniture that is floating around the rooms; though
some of that has been washed out, and disappeared," Mazie told him.

"Then we'll have to look around and see what can be done to make a
raft.  There are five of us boys, all stout enough to do our share of
the work.  We might manage to get some doors off their hinges, and
fasten them together some way or other, if Bessie could only tell us
where a clothes line was to be found."

Max tried to speak quietly, as though there was no need of being
alarmed; but after experiencing one of those tremors Mazie mentioned,
he realized that the foundations of the farm-house were being rapidly
undermined by the action of the swift running water, so that it was in
danger of being carried away at any minute.

No one could say just what would happen when this catastrophe came to
pass; the house might simply float down-stream, partly submerged; or it
was liable to "turn turtle," and become a mere wreck, falling to pieces
under the attacks of the waters.

And if they were still clinging to that sloping roof when this occurred
they would find themselves cast into the flood, half a mile away from
shore, and at the mercy of the elements.

Yes, there was sore need of doing something, by means of which they
might better their condition; and Max Hastings was not the one to waste
precious minutes dallying when action was the only thing that could
save them.



CHAPTER IX

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

Upon making further inquiries Max learned that there was a trap in the
roof, through which the girls had crept, with many fears and
misgivings, when the encroaching water within warned them that it was
no longer safe to stay there.

Looking through this he could see that the place was fully inundated.
Chairs and table were floating, and even the ladder which the girls had
used was partly washed out of a window.

"Nothing much doing down there for us," Max informed Bandy-legs, who
had crept over to the hole in the roof along with him, in order to
satisfy his curiosity.

He had heard Max ask questions of the girls, and was deeply interested
in learning what the next step might chance to be.  Bandy-legs was
still secretly mourning the fact that they had been compelled to let
all that wreckage of the bridge get away from them.  It had served them
so splendidly up to that time, and still thinking of the Crusoe affair,
he could not help believing that it had been a big mistake not to have
at least made some effort to hold on to what they could.

"And to think," said Bandy-legs, sadly, "I've got the best sort of a
life preserver at home you ever saw; but what good is it to me now?"

"But you can swim, all right," remarked Max.

"Oh!  I wasn't thinking about myself that time, but what a fine thing
it'd be to strap it around one of the girls right now.  I say, Max,
whatever are we agoin' to do with the three, if the old coop does take
a notion to cut loose?"

"Not so loud, Bandy-legs," warned Max, with a little hiss, and a
crooked finger.  "We don't want them to know how tough things really
are.  If the worst does come we'll have to do what we can to keep them
afloat; but I'm still hoping we may get some doors out that would be
better than nothing, to hold on to in the water."

"I heard Bessie tell you that there was a clothesline hanging to a hook
inside there, before the water came, and that it might be there yet if
not washed away," Bandy-legs went on to remark.

"Yes, it wasn't very encouraging," Max informed him; "but I'm going
inside and see if I can find it."

"You'll want help with the doors, too, of course, Max?"

"And I know where to look for it when you're around, Bandy-legs,
because you're one of the most accommodating fellows on earth," the
other told him.

"I'm about as wet as can be, so it doesn't matter a whiff what happens
to me from now on," remarked the other boy; "but if we have to do more
or less swimmin' while we're in there, Max, hadn't we better take our
shoes off?  I never could do good work with the same on."

"That's what I'm meaning to do, Bandy-legs; and there's no need of our
waiting around any longer, so here goes."

Saying which Max proceeded to remove his wet shoes and socks, rolling
his trouser legs up half way to his knees.

"What's all this mean?" asked Steve, crawling over to where the other
two had gone; "looks like you had a scheme in mind."

He was quickly told what Max purposed doing.

"It doesn't seem like it'd amount to a great deal," he suggested.

"Huh! can you knock your coco and think up anything better, then; we'd
sure be delighted to hear it," Bandy-legs told him; but Steve was not
very fertile when it came to planning things, and he shook his head
sadly.

"Wish I could, that's right," he said; "I'd give a heap right now to be
able to snap my fingers, and have a nice little, power-boat happen
along, so I could invite everybody to take a cruise with me.  But
there's no such good luck, And, Max, when you duck inside here, count
on me to be along with you to do whatever I can."

"I knew you'd say that, Steve," observed the other, as though pleased
to hear such a hearty response to his mute appeal.

Then came the other two, wondering what the plan of campaign might be;
for even Shack Beggs, finding himself so strangely thrown in with these
boys whom in the past he had hated and scorned; was already as deeply
interested in the outcome as any of the chums might be; and Bandy-legs
no longer frowned at his proximity, for he could not forget how it was
Shack's strong hand that had helped him make a landing on the sloping
roof just a short time before.

They dropped inside the house, and immediately found themselves up to
their necks in water.  Max took his bearings, and was pleased to
discover that the coil of clothes line still hung from the hook, the
water not having disengaged it as yet.  Somehow the small success of
finding this seemed to give him renewed courage.

"Things are beginning to come our way, fellows!" he called out, as he
held the coil up above his head triumphantly.

"Hurray!" gurgled Toby, for it happened that just then he made a slip,
and had a mouthful of muddy water come aboard, almost choking him.

"And here's this door swung loose," called out Steve, who had been
working for several minutes, with the aid of Shack, to get the article
in question off its hinges.

"Wait till I tie one end of the line to it," Max told them, "and then
we can push it out and let it float behind the house.  There isn't so
much strength to the current there, on account of the eddies."

This was speedily done, and the floating door anchored, thanks to the
friendly offices of the clothes line.

"That might do to hold up one of the girls," remarked Bandy-legs.

"It will," put in Steve, quickly; "and pretty fairly at that, because
Bessie isn't so very heavy, you know."

Well, no one blamed Steve for pre-empting the first raft for the use of
Bessie, because he had been chiefly instrumental in securing it.

"We ought to have two more, anyway," suggested Bandy-legs.

"And we'll get 'em, never fear," Steve assured him; "because there's
just that many in sight.  Here, Shack, give me another lift, will you?
There isn't a fellow along got the strength in his arms you have, and
that's the truth."

Shack Beggs looked pleased.  It must have been a novel sensation for
him to hear his praises sung by one of the chums of Max Hastings.  They
had called down anything but blessings on his head for many moons, yes,
years, on account of the way he had annoyed them.

It was no easy task removing those doors, what with having to wade
around in water almost up to their necks, so that at times they were
even swimming.  But it was no time to be squeamish, and every one of
the boys meant business; so that in the end they had three doors
anchored back of the shaky building.

They looked only a poor apology for boats, and no wonder the girls
shuddered at the very idea of finding themselves afloat on the raging
flood, with only a bobbing door to buoy them up.

Max was plainly worried.  He admired the spirit which both Bessie and
Mazie displayed when they declared that they would feel quite safe, if
only the boys kept swimming alongside, to direct the floats toward the
shore; at the same time he realized what tremendous difficulty they
would have to keep the doors from "turning turtle," for there were many
cunning eddies in the flood, that would strive to baffle their best
efforts.

Besides, the girls would quickly find themselves wet through, and
altogether the prospect was a pitiable one.  Again and again did Max
try to conceive of a better plan.  He even went prowling around down
below again, hoping to make some little discovery that would turn out
to be of benefit to the three girls; but when he once more rejoined the
others on the roof his face failed to announce any success.

Still Max did not allow himself to show signs of anything bordering on
despair.  In the first place the boy was not built that way, and had
always shown a decided disposition to hold out to the very last gasp,
as every fellow should, no matter how fortune frowns down on him.  Then
again Max understood that his face and his manner were bound to be
considered a barometer by the others; who would be sure to gauge the
prospects for a safe landing by what they saw reflected in his demeanor.

For this reason, if no other, Max forced himself to smile once in a
while, and to assume a confident manner that he was far from feeling.

The question now seemed to be in connection with their leaving their
perch.  Of course they were better off on the roof than could possibly
be the case once it had to be abandoned; but there was also the
possibility of a sudden collapse on the part of the farm-house to be
taken into consideration.

Max would not like to have this happen while the girls were still
crouching on the shingled roof; because there could be no telling what
would happen, once the building began to roll onward with the flood.
All of them might be pitched headlong into the water, and it would be a
difficult thing for them to save Mazie and the other two girls.
Besides, the anchored doors might be lost, and though only makeshifts
for boats, these were bound to be much better than nothing to help keep
the helpless ones afloat.

The water must be rising still; at least it seemed to be coming against
the exposed side of the partly submerged building with greater energy
than before, Max was certain.  The waves would strike the wall, and
leap upward as though eager to engulf those who were just beyond their
reach; so it seemed to the frightened girls at the time; though their
terror would undoubtedly have been much greater but for the presence,
and the inspiring words uttered by the boys.

There seemed nothing else to be done but embark, dangerous though that
undertaking must prove.  Max hated to announce this dictum to the
girls, for he could easily understand what a fresh source of alarm it
must cause to sweep over them.  They had already gone through so much,
calculated to inspire terror in their hearts, that any addition looked
like rank cruelty; and yet what other solution could there be to the
problem?

Just then Max and his chums would have gladly given every cent they had
in the bank--and it was quite a goodly sum, for they had received
rewards on account of certain services performed, as well as sold the
pearls found in the fresh water mussels for a fine price--if they could
only have been able to secure any kind of a boat capable of
transporting those helpless ones safely to land.  At another time they
would have probably been more particular, and demanded a high-powered
motor launch; or at the least one of those Cailie Outboard Motors to
clamp on the stern of a rowboat; but right now it was a case of "my
kingdom, not for a horse, but any sort of boat capable of floating."

Max heaved a sigh.  He felt that he might as well wish to be given
wings with which to fly ashore, as a boat.  What few there were along
the Evergreen River under normal conditions must either have been
swamped in the sudden rising of the waters, or else be kept busy
succoring imperiled people who had been caught in their homes by the
flood, and threatened with drowning.

Just then the sun peeped out from a rift in the clouds.  Strange what a
remarkable difference even a fugitive glimpse of the sun may have on
people, after the king of the day has refused to shine for forty-eight
hours, while the rains persist in descending.

Like magic everybody seemed to become more cheerful.  Things lost some
of their gloomy aspect; even the rushing water looked far less bleak
and threatening when those slanting shafts of sunlight glinted across
the moving flood.

"Now, I take it that's a good sign!" said Steve, who persisted in
remaining as near to Bessie as he could, in all reason, considering
that he was dripping wet, and certainly could not look very
presentable; but fortunately Bessie had come to her senses now, and to
her mind Steve never appeared to greater advantage, because she knew he
was doing all this on account of his friendship for her.

Really Steve did not know at what minute the calamity might swoop down
upon them, and he wanted to be handy so that he could look after
Bessie.  Max would take care that Mazie Dunkirk did not suffer; and the
other two chums had been privately told to attend to the lame child, so
that all were provided for.

"And I do believe there's going to be a rainbow over in the west!"
exclaimed Bessie, showing considerable interest, which seemed a pretty
good sign that hope was not lying altogether dead within her girlish
heart.

"I'm glad of that," said Max; "not because it will help us any, but if
the rain that was promised passes over, there'll be a chance of the
flood going down sooner.  In fact, I don't believe it's going to get
much higher than it is now."

"You never can tell," Bandy-legs remarked, showing a strange lack of
proper caution, though Max tried to catch his eye, and would have given
his foot a vigorous kick had he only been closer; "it all depends on
whether they got the rain up in the hills where most of the water that
flows down our old river comes from."

"Well, let's hope they didn't get any, then," said Max, quickly, as he
saw a slight look of new fear creeping across the faces of the
listening girls; "and on the whole I think we've got a heap to be
thankful for.  As long as we're here we'll see to it that the girls are
taken care of; and if we do have to go ashore, why, we can make a
regular picnic out of it; and you fellows will have a chance to show
how much you know about camping in the woods without making any
preparations beforehand."

"I'd just like to do that same!" exclaimed Steve, bravely; "nothing
would please me better than to make a camp-fire, build a bark shelter
for the girls, forage through the surrounding country for something to
cook, and prove to everybody's satisfaction that we knew our business
as amateur woodsmen.  Don't you say the same, Bandy-legs and Toby?"

"I sure do," replied the former, with considerable fervor, as the
pleasant times spent in former camps seemed to flash before his mind;
"but what ails Toby here, fellers; he's going to have a fit if he don't
get out what's sticking in his throat!  Look at him gasping for breath,
would you?  What's the matter, Toby; seen another sea serpent have you;
or is it a hippopotamus this time; perhaps a twenty foot alligator.
Here, give one of your whistles, and get a grip on yourself, Toby!"

And the stuttering boy, brought to his senses by the admonition of his
chum, did actually pucker up his lips, emit a sharp little whistle, and
then working the muscles of his face as though trying to make a
grimace, managed to utter just one word, which however thrilled the
balance of the shivering group through and through, for that word was
the magical one:

"_Boat!_"



CHAPTER X

"ALL ABOARD!"

"Where away?" cried Steve, with his customary impetuousness.

"Don't you dare fool us, Toby Jucklin!" exclaimed Bandy-legs,
menacingly; for if the truth be told, he felt a twinge of envy because
it had not been his sharp eyesight that had first detected the coming
of a rescue party.

Max noticed just where Toby was pointing, and without wasting his
breath in asking useless questions he applied himself to the task of
ascertaining just how much truth there might be in the assertion.

Sure enough, he did manage to discover something that had the
appearance of a boat; but as it rose and fell with the waves, now
vanishing altogether from his sight, and then again being plainly seen,
Max made it out to be a rowboat.  There were no oars working in the
sunlight, nor could he discover the first sign of life about the
bobbing craft that was coming down on the flood.

"It is a boat, all right!" admitted Steve, presently, while all of them
continued to stare eagerly at the advancing object; "but a derelict you
might say, because there's not a sign of anybody aboard.  And from the
way she rolls so logy, I bet you she's half full of water right now."

The girls began to utter little plaintive exclamations.

"But notice that she floats all right, Steve," Max hastened to tell
him; "and we'll soon find a way to empty that water out, if only we're
lucky enough to lay our hands on that craft."

"But d'ye think it'll come this way?" asked Bandy-legs; "because I'm
ready to swim out after it if there's any chance of the bloomin' old
tub giving our crowd the go-by."

"We've _got_ to get it, that's all," said Max, firmly; "I'd go after it
myself if I thought it would miss hitting the house here.  But let's
watch, and see how that comes out.  And, Bandy-legs, slip that noose at
the end of the balance of the rope under your arms.  If you do have to
swim out to waylay the boat, we can pull you back again whether you get
aboard or not."

"Now, that's a good idea, Max," Steve admitted.  "It sure takes you to
think up the right thing at the right time and place.  I don't reckon
there'll be such good luck as to be oars aboard a runaway boat; but
even then it's going to be better for the girls than a floating door."

"Oh!  I do hope you can get it then!" declared Bessie; and Steve
hearing her say this felt as though he ought to be the one to have that
noose fastened under his arms, rather than Bandy-legs, who could not
swim quite as good.

There was intense excitement on the roof of the imperiled farm-house
about that time.  Every one of them seemed to be watching the coming of
that bobbing object as though the fate of the world depended on its
taking a direct course for the building standing alone in the flood.

"Seems like she was coming right along over the same course we did; how
about that, Max?" called out Steve, presently, as the boat drew
steadily closer to the fugitives of the wash-out.

"Yes, as nearly as I can decide that's what she's doing, Steve," Max
replied.

"Oh! let's hope so," Mazie remarked, with a tremor in her voice, that
told of quivering lips, and rapidly beating heart.

"Looky there!" burst out Bandy-legs just then; "if she ain't takin' a
shoot this way even while we're sitting here wishing for the same to
happen.  I tell you she's going to hit the house ker-flop, too.  No
need of anybody jumpin' over and swimmin' out to her.  But I'll leave
the rope where it is, because I'll be in condition to roll off the
roof, and grab her before she c'n slide past."

Nearer and nearer came the boat.  It was easy to see that the craft was
partly waterlogged, though still having her gunnels a considerable
distance above the water.  Either the boat leaked terribly, or else
this water had splashed in from time to time as rougher places were
encountered.

"Ready, Bandy-legs!" cried Max.

"Watch your eyes, old fellow!" warned Steve.

"And d-d-don't you l-l-let her g-g-get away on your l-l-life!" added
Toby, who was greatly aroused, and had been edging down toward the
gutter for several minutes now, evidently bound to be ready to lend a
helping hand, if the other chum needed it.

It really seemed as though some unseen hand might be guiding that half
swamped rowboat, in the interest of those who were so greatly in need
of assistance; for it came heading in toward the house, urged on by the
grip of the changing current, and finally actually bumped confidingly
against the wall below the edge of the roof.

Bandy-legs was on the alert.  He dropped over instantly, and they heard
him utter a whoop of delight as he found himself actually in possession
of a boat.

His first act was to slip the noose from under his arms, and his next
to secure that end of the rope to the bow of the boat.  Then he started
in to make the water fly like everything, using his hat as a bailing
bucket.

When he had to rest for a minute Bandy-legs stood up so that his head
and shoulders came above the gutter of the roof, and grinned at the
rest.

"How does she seem to be, Bandy-legs?" asked Steve.

"Course I can't just say for certain yet," came the reply; "but looks
like our boat might be watertight, and that the waves have been
splashing aboard all the time she's been adrift.  Wait till I get the
rest of the stuff out, and then I'll know for sure."

"How about oars?" asked Max.

"Ain't nary a sign of the same around, and I'm afraid they must a been
washed overboard when--but hold on there, what's this I'm knocking
against every time I dip deep?  Say, here's luck in great big gobs,
fellers; it's an oar stuck under the thwarts, as sure as you live!
What, two of the same, seems like!  Well, well, what do you know about
that?  Couldn't have asked for anything better, could we?  Oh! don't I
wish I had all this water out, though."

He had hardly spoken when some one else dropped into the boat, and
started to hurling the water in great quantities over the side.  It was
Shack Beggs, and he had a tin basin in his hands.  Max remembered
having seen it floating around in the interior of the house, along with
many other things; but at the time, as none of them wanted to take a
wash, he had not bothered securing it.  Shack must have remembered the
basin, and realizing how well it might be utilized now as a bailing
bucket, he had slipped through the scuttle and secured it.

The water began to go down rapidly under their united efforts; though a
little kept coming in over the exposed side of the boat, as it rubbed
against the wall of the farm-house.

Seeing this Max managed to help the other boys shift the location of
their valued prize, and presently it was dangling alongside the three
floating doors, no longer of any moment in their eyes.

"When will we go aboard?" asked Steve, as a more violent shiver passed
over the doomed building than at any previous time.

"Right away," replied the other, who had felt his own heart stop
beating for a brief space of time, as he actually feared that the
catastrophe was about to overwhelm them.

"I'm willing, Max," said Mazie, trying to speak bravely.

"Then come, let me help you down; and the boys in the boat will be
there to do their part; after which we'll get the other girls aboard,"
and saying this Max proceeded to give Mazie his hand, so that she might
creep down the slope of the roof securely.

It was no easy task to manage things so that the three girls were all
taken on board without any accident; but then Shack Beggs again proved
himself invaluable, for it was his strong arms that held the boat close
to the house while the transfer was being made.  Max was secretly
delighted with the way Shack was turning out.  He actually believed
there would be another vacancy in the ranks of that gang of young
toughs in Carson after this; and was determined that if any friendly
word or act of his could induce Shack to turn over a new leaf, they
would certainly not be withheld.  Presently all of them had embarked.

The water by how was well out of the boat, and so far as they could see
not much more was coming in; and that could be readily handled, thanks
to the possession of that dented basin which Shack had twisted into a
handy scoop.

Max had fixed the rope so that by releasing one end it would allow the
boat to drop down the stream with the swift current.

Steve had one oar and Bandy-legs the other, thrust out, and ready for
use.

"Well, here's where we have to say good-bye to the French farm-house,"
and saying this Max let go the rope; "now, pull away, boys, and head
for the shore!"

It had already been decided which bank they must aim to reach; there
was really very little choice between them so far as nearness went; but
the boys thought it would be wiser to make for the west shore.  Carson
lay on that side, and then the ground as a whole lay somewhat higher,
so that once they landed they would be less liable to come across
impassable sloughs and lagoons formed by the back-water of the flooded
river.

Both rowers bent their backs, and the boat began to make progress.
They had not been laboring in this fashion three minutes when Bessie
gave utterance to a bubbling cry of anguish.

"Oh! see there what is happening to Uncle Asa's place!" she exclaimed.

The little lame girl set up a loud cry, and sobbed as though her heart
would break, because that farm-house had been her home all her life;
and it was now toppling over into the river.

They could see it moving, at first slowly, then with a sudden rush.  It
careened far on one side, and then surged to the other dreadfully.  Had
they still been clinging to the ridge the chances were that they would
have been thrown into the water; and besides, there was always great
danger that the house would fall to pieces before long.

"Well, we've got a whole lot to be thankful for, anyway!" Steve
presently remarked, as he patted Bessie's, hand with one of his, using
the oar with the other meanwhile.

"I should say we had!" declared Bandy-legs; "I'd rather be here in this
bully old boat ten times over, to squattin' up on that old roof,
seesawin' along every-which-way.  Here, pull harder, Steve; you're
lettin' her yaw around terrible.  We want to head for the shore and not
down-river way."

As the two rowers continued to work regularly they kept gradually
nearing the western shore of the flood.  Of course this was far removed
from what the bank must be under ordinary conditions, in places as much
as a quarter of a mile further inland.  The water was sweeping through
the lower branches of trees that all their lives had been far removed
from the influence of the river; and there would be many changes in the
aspect of things when the flood eventually subsided.

The girls sat there silent, and absorbed in watching the dizzy
evolutions of the drifting farmhouse that was rapidly passing away from
them down-stream.  Of course it meant more to the lame child than any
one else, and Max could feel sorry for her.  He had only to put himself
in her place, to realize the sadness that would be sure to overwhelm
him should he watch his loved home carried off, never to be seen again.

However he had many other things to think of, and could not spend any
time in crying over spilt milk.  Nothing they could do would mend
matters so far as saving the French home was concerned; and they had
enough to do in looking out for their own safety.

"If you get tired, let some of the rest of us spell you, boys," Max was
saying to the pair of rowers, who had all they could do to stem the
furious current that every now and then caught them in a pocket, from
which they could only drag the boat by desperate labor; "I'm a good
hand with the oar, and I know Shack is a regular crackerjack at the
business.  Just say the word when you get played out, and we'll change
places with you."

Shack shot him a grateful look.  It seemed as though he appreciated
what Max had said, and which seemed to place him on the same level as
the rest of the fellows.  Somehow Shack was feeling differently from
any time in the past; why, all this business of getting soaked through,
and battling with the flood was in the nature of a picnic to him,
accustomed to rubbing up against hard knocks as he was.  And it felt
pretty nice to be looked on as a "comrade" by these fellows whom he had
always fought tooth and nail in the past; much nicer than loafing with
that old crowd once led by Ted Shatter but now under the guidance of
Ossie Kemp.

They had struck another bad place in the flood, where cross currents
made it difficult work rowing.  Both boys strained themselves to the
utmost to resist the grip of the stream.  Once across this section, and
possibly they would have it easier all the way to the shore.

Steve was working with his accustomed fits and starts.  He would allow
things to go against him, for a short interval, and then throwing on
all his reserve power into the breach make his oar fairly bend with the
furious strain he put upon it.

Suddenly there was a sharp snap.  One of the girls gave a cry; it was
Bessie, for she had been watching Steve at the time, and saw instantly
what had happened.

Indeed, it was manifest to every one, because Steve almost took a
"crab" by falling backwards.  His sudden splurge had been too much for
the strength of the oar he was handling; and it had broken in two!

The catastrophe staggered them all for the moment; because they could
readily understand what it would mean; since with but one oar they
could hardly expect to continue rowing the boat to the shore, still
some little distance away.



CHAPTER XI

GOOD CHEER BY THE CAMP FIRE

Toby made a quick lurch, and managed to snatch up the broken blade of
Steve's now useless oar.  As they had no way of mending it, tin, nails,
or hammer, it was next-door to useless to them.

Already that fierce current was seizing them in its remorseless grip;
and the overloaded boat began to spin down-stream, turning around and
around in its helplessness.

"Gee! whiz! what can we do now, Max?" asked Bandy-legs, ready to jump
overboard if the other but said the word, and urge the boat toward the
shore by swimming on his back.

Before Max could frame a reply something happened.  Shack leaned
forward from toward the stern and took the oar from the hands of
Bandy-legs.

"Let me show yuh how tuh do it!" he said, not roughly at all, but
eagerly, as though just too well pleased to have it in his power to
assist.

Max understood what he meant to do; in fact, he had been about to
suggest the very same remedy for their ills when Shack made his move.

"There's a sculling hole in the back of the stern seat, Shack!" he
called out, being more up in the bow himself.

The oar upon being fitted in the cavity could be rapidly turned to the
right and to the left, with a peculiar motion known to those who have
learned the art of successfully sculling a craft in this way.  It is
wonderful what progress can be made in that fashion.  Shack seemed to
know all about it, for presently Bandy-legs emitted a whoop that would
have shamed an Indian brave.

"Say, you're making her just walk along, Shack, that's right!" he
exclaimed.

"And that oar going bad didn't knock us out at all, did it?" demanded
Steve, who felt sorely distressed because it had been his bungling way
of rowing that had brought about their trouble, and with Bessie on
board too, which cut him worse than anything else.

"Seems like it wouldn't," Max told him, feeling quite satisfied himself.

Shack kept working away like a good fellow, and the boat drew closer
and closer to the shore all the time.  There was now no reason to
believe that they would have any more trouble in landing; and Max began
to take closer notice of the shore than he had up to that time done.

"None of us have ever been as far down the river as this," he remarked;
"I know I haven't, anyway."

"I was down once years ago, and saw the big falls where we might have
taken a header if we'd kept drifting," Bandy-legs explained; "but say,
I don't seem to remember the first thing about the country.  You could
lose me down here without any trouble, I guess.  Plenty of forest all
right, eh, Max; and we won't have any great time makin' a fire, if only
we get matches?  Mine are all wet."

"I carry a few in a waterproof case," Max told him; "so don't let that
worry you any, Bandy-legs.  The question is with us, after the fire,
what?  We'll all be hungry and the girls haven't had a bite to eat
since early morning."

"Well, there's a house, surrounded by water," suggested Steve; "guess
we'll have to cabbage anything we can find around loose.  In times like
this you can't wait to ask permission.  Eat first, and pay for it
afterwards, that's the motto we'll have to go by.  If we're on the
right side of the luck fence we might even run across a smoked ham
hangin' from the rafters.  They keep all kinds of good things sometimes
in these cabins along the shore."

"Seems to be something like a hencoop back of the house," added
Bandy-legs.

"Oh! s-s-say, don't go to g-g-getting a feller's m-m-mouth all made up
for nice r-r-roast chicken, and then never find any," objected Toby.

"Course we'll find all sorts of good things," declared Bandy-legs,
stoutly; "why, look what's happened to us already; and tell me that
this ain't our lucky day.  We went down with the old bridge, but not
one of us got thrown into the water.  Then we sailed twenty miles, and
dropped in on the roof of the French house just like we'd been drawn by
a magnet, which p'raps some of us must a been, hey, Steve?  And then,
by George! just when we wanted a boat the worst ever, along came this
tub, and heading straight in for our shaky roost like it was being
piloted by hands none of us could see.  Luck?  Why, we've got it
plastered all over us, from head to foot.  Chickens, ham, anything you
want, just ask for it, and then wait and have faith!"

"We're glad that you feel so certain," Mazie told him, "because I'm
ready to own up that I'm awfully hungry, and could eat almost anything
just now."

"And I'm beginning to feel a little weak myself," admitted Bessie;
"which, I suppose, is caused from going without any regular meal.  None
of us dared go back down through that trap once we got on the roof,
because we were afraid the house might float off while we were below.
Yes, we hope there will be something you can get in that house."

"Seems to be abandoned, all right," Steve remarked, shading his eyes
with his hands in order to see better.

"There's somebody over on the bank beyond, and as near as I can make
out it's an old woman," Max told them just at that point; "perhaps
she's guarding some of the stuff that was saved from the cabin when the
water came up around it; while her man has gone to get a horse and
wagon, or a boat."

"Well, we're going to land here," Bandy-legs ventured; "and it won't be
hard to go up and interview the old lady.  P'raps we can make a bargain
with her for some of her grub.  I've got a dollar along with me, and I
reckon some of the rest ought to make as good a showing."

"There'll be no trouble about that part of it, if only the food is
around," Max assured them.  "If the worst comes we'll have to
commandeer the food market, and settle afterwards.  Can you make it all
right, Shack?"

"Easy as fallin' off a log," replied the stout boy, who was still
wielding the sculling oar back and forth with that peculiar turning
motion that presented the broad surface of the blade to the water all
the time, and induced the boat to move forward with a steady action.

He made his words good a few minutes later, for the stem of the boat
ran gently up against the bank, where a log offered a good chance for
disembarking.

No one would want a better landing stage; and so the three girls
managed to go ashore without wetting their feet any more than they had
been before.

Every one seemed glad to get on solid ground again.  Even Max secretly
admitted that it did feel very good to know he had no longer to depend
on the whims of the current, but could go wherever he willed.

"Let's hunt out a decent place to make a camp," he remarked, "and then
after we get the shelter started, and the cheery fire warming things
up, two of us ought to wander off up the bank and see what's doing
around that house."

"I'll go with yon, Max," said Bandy-legs hastily, as though more or
less afraid that he might come in a poor second, as it was a case of
"first come, first served."

They drew the boat well up, and fastened it with the length of rope
that served as a painter; the clothes-line Max thought to take along
with him, as there was a possibility they might need it before through
with this adventure.

Then they started through the woods, which just at this point happened
to be unusually dense, with great trees rearing their crests a hundred
feet or so above the heads of the shipwrecked Crusoes.

It was not long before Max called attention to a certain spot which he
claimed would answer all their present needs.

"There's plenty of stuff to make a shelter of brush and branches with,"
he observed, "though it would be easier all around if we had a hatchet
along."

"That's right," added Steve; "and if I'd only had any idea that old
bridge was going to dump us all into the drink the way it did I'd have
had lots of things fixed different, give you my affidavy I would.  But
we ought to be able to work a fairly decent brush shanty without.  It
won't be the first we've put up, and I certainly hope it isn't goin' to
be the last, either."

Filled with this winning spirit the boys quickly busied themselves.
Shack gathered brush with the rest, and really did more than his share
of the work.  This was right in his element, and no one had to tell him
how to proceed.

Max waited to see things progressing before he started off.  A fire had
already been started, and the cheery flames did much toward dispelling
the feeling of gloom that had begun to gnaw at their hearts.  There is
nothing in the world better calculated to dissipate worry and liven
things up than a genuine camp-fire.  It seems to dissipate doubt, give
the heart something to grip, and in every way make the prospect
brighter.

After escaping from the flood without any serious damage they were all
full of enthusiasm now.  Even the two older girls insisted on helping
later on; if only food could be procured the boys must let them do all
the cooking.  That was only a fair distribution of the labor; it was
what happened in Indian camps, with the warriors securing game, and the
squaws preparing the meals.

Presently Max, catching the eye of Bandy-legs, crooked his finger, and
made a significant gesture with his head.  The other understood just
what was in the wind for he dropped the armful of fuel he happened at
the time to be carrying toward the fire, and hastened to reach the side
of the leader.

Max knew that just then they could not think of walking any distance in
order to seek aid.  The day was pretty well along, and as more rain
might come with the night, it seemed the part of prudence that they
prepare in advance to meet further trials.  If only they managed to
come across something that could be made to do for a supper, all else
could for the time being be forgotten.

"We're off, Steve," Max called out, after he had waved his hand in the
direction of the girl whose eyes followed him wherever he went; "you
three keep right along as you're doing now.  Make the shack as snug as
you can; and if it'll shed water, so much the better; though I don't
think we're going to get any more rain just at present."

Bandy-legs was at his side, and together they strode away.  It was no
great task to keep heading up-stream, because they had frequent
glimpses of the heaving surface of the flood, which was ever at their
right, because they had landed on the western shore, and were heading
north at the time.

"Thought I heard dogs abarkin' just then," observed Bandy-legs, who had
good ears as well as sharp eyes.

"Yes, I did too, but somewhere away up on the wooded hills there.  Like
as not this flood has chased plenty of dogs away from their homes, and
they may be running in packs, hunting something to eat."

"Huh! hope we don't happen to run foul of a pack then," Bandy-legs
insinuated; "and for fear that we do I'm going to be ready."

With that he picked up a rather stout cudgel which he swung a few times
as if to accustom his arm to the motion.

Apparently Max did not think there was any particular reason for alarm.
He must have figured that the dogs they had heard were hunting game a
mile or two back in the woods, and that there was little chance of
their coming closer to the river.

"I can see the house ahead there," he announced five minutes later.

"Yes, and it's surrounded by water too," added his chum; "no wonder the
folks got out and left; they'd be silly to stay till it was too late.
Why, that cabin might be carried off any time like the other house was,
even if it ain't so far out I reckon we must have drifted half a mile
further down when we kept rowing so hard; because that was a stiff
current, believe me."

"Fully half a mile, Bandy-legs," Max assured him, and then fell to
craning his neck in the endeavor to locate the woman they believed they
had seen among the trees at a point where the water ended.

Two minutes later and Max uttered a satisfied exclamation.

"I see the woman," he told his companion, "and just as we thought she's
an old person, bent over considerably.  Perhaps she couldn't go far
away after she had to quit her house; perhaps she's nearly as helpless
as the crippled French child.  If it wasn't for Mabel being unable to
walk we might be trying to find shelter back in the country right now.
Come on and we'll interview her.  She may be glad to go with us, and
spend the night in camp; it would be good for her and the girls would
like it too."

The old woman had seen their approach.  She looked anything but happy,
and Max really began to believe that the poor soul stood in danger of
losing all she owned in the wide world, if her little cabin went out
with the flood.

"How do you do, ma'm?" he said, cheerily, as he and his chum came up.
"We're all from the town of Carson.  The bridge went out, and we were
on it at the time.  It carried five of us down to where the French
farm-house was standing, half under water, and there we found three
girls on the roof, two of them friends of ours from town.  A boat
happened to drift within reach, and we have come ashore.  But as Asa
French's little daughter, Mabel, is lame and weak the chances are we'll
have to camp in the woods for the night, and go for help in the
morning.  Now, wouldn't you like to join us to-night, because it'll be
a lonely time for you here, and it may start in and rain again?  We
want to get something to eat the worst kind, and have money to buy
whatever you happen to have handy, chickens, ham, potatoes or anything
at all.  The girls are nearly starved they say.  Now how about it,
ma'm?"

The little old woman had listened to him talking with a sparkle of
interest in her eyes.  Apparently she admired the lad from the very
start.  Bandy-legs was hardly prepossessing enough to hope to make a
favorable impression on a stranger at first sight; you had to know the
boy with the crooked legs in order to appreciate his good qualities;
but Max won friends by the score even before they understood how clever
he could be.

"You're perfectly welcome to anything you can find in my cabin,
providing that you can get out there, and secure it," the little old
woman told them.  "Perhaps you might manage with the aid of the boat.
And I believe I'll accept your kind invitation to accompany you back to
your camp.  I'm accustomed to being by myself, but inside a house, not
out in the open woods, and on the brink of a dreadful flood.  So
consider it a bargain, son.  Show me the way to get there, and after
that it may pay you to bring your boat up so as to reach my little
house out there surrounded by water."



CHAPTER XII

THE WILD DOG PACK

This prospect pleased the two boys very much.  Max believed that they
could manage to drag the boat up along the shore, and then scull out to
where the house stood, surrounded by water.

Accordingly they first of all led the old woman to where the others
were making as comfortable a camp as the meager conditions allowed.  It
turned out that the little lame girl, Mabel French, knew her very well,
and addressed her as Mrs. Jacobus.  She took occasion to tell Max aside
that the old lady had lived alone for many years, but that instead of
being poor as she seemed, in reality people said she was very rich,
only eccentric.  Perhaps she had a history, Max thought, as he looked
at the wrinkles on her face, and noticed the kindly eyes, and wanted to
hide her pain away from a cruel world.

He and Bandy-legs proceeded to drag the boat up to a point above the
cabin, and then pushing out, headed for their goal.  The current was
fully as swift as before, but as they had taken all proper precautions
they did not have a great deal of difficulty in making it.

Once they had secured their boat by the kitchen door, and they entered,
wading with the water up to their waists.  As soon as they had entered
Bandy-legs gave a wild cheer.

"Great governor! look at the fine ham hanging from the rafters, with
strings of garlic, and all sorts of things!" he cried out.  "You
rummage around in closets, Max, while I'm climbing up, and grabbing
that same smoked pork.  Say, the country is saved, and those poor girls
can have something worth while to eat.  I've learned a new way to fry
ham without even a pan; though chances are we'll be able to pick up
something along that line in the kitchen here."

They did, and all sorts of other things besides, which Max fancied the
girls could make use of, and which were really in danger of being lost,
if the cabin was carried away.  He rooted in every cupboard, secured a
lot of dishes and tinware, knives, forks and spoons, even a loaf of
bread and some cake that he found in a japanned tin box high up on the
shelf of a closet, coffee, sugar, and condensed milk, butter, potatoes,
onions and a lot of other things too numerous to mention, but which
attracted the attention of the hungry boys.

Bandy-legs was fairly bubbling over with delight, and kept declaring
that it was the greatest picnic ever known.  All the perils of the past
had apparently vanished from his mind, and he was as happy as any one
could be over the prospect of enjoying a regular camp meal by the glow
of a jolly woods fire.

"Guess we'd better hold up about now, Max," he went on to say, when
they had piled the stuff in the boat until it looked as though moving
day had come around again, or an eviction was in progress.

"You're right there, Bandy-legs, because if we kept on much more there
wouldn't be standing room for the two of us, and you'd have to swim
alongside.  So let's call it a day's work and quit.  Besides, we'll
have our hands full getting our stuff ashore.  You stand ready to spell
me if I play out, will you?"

"I'd like to have a chance at that sculling racket, anyhow, Max; never
took a turn at the same, and so you'd better let me try it when we get
in closer to shore."

"Only too glad to fix you up," replied the other, as he started to work.

It turned out all right, and they managed to reach land about as close
to the spot where the camp had been pitched as it was possible to get.
When the two came staggering along, laden down with all sorts of stuff,
there was a whoop from Steve and Toby, who stopped work on the shack to
run and help them.

"Well, this is great shakes, for a fact!" exclaimed the former, as he
relieved Max of a part of his load; "I declare if you haven't fetched
enough junk to fit us up in housekeeping for a year.  And I guess the
little old lady won't be sorry, either, because p'raps you've been and
saved some of her property that would have gone floating down the river
to-night."

Mrs. Jacobus smiled and nodded her head when she saw what the boys had
found.

"I had that fowl killed and dressed yesterday, meaning to make a dinner
off it to-day, but the coming of the flood took all thought of eating
out of my head," she remarked, as Bandy-legs exposed the featherless
bird, which had been found hanging from a beam, just like the ham and
other things.

There was great rejoicing in the camp.  Bessie and Mazie immediately
took charge of all the stuff that had been brought ashore.  If they
wanted any assistance they called on one of the boys, as happened when
the ham was to be sliced.  Fortunately Max had secured a large knife in
the kitchen, and with this he managed splendidly, cutting around the
bone, as they lacked a saw.

Mrs. Jacobus had told the boys where there were some stray boards lying
in the woods not far away, and already the shack builders had paid
several visits to the pile, returning each time dragging spoils after
them.  These they could use to splendid advantage in their work, and
when the shelter was finally completed it promised to be amply large
enough for the three girls and Mrs. Jacobus, to keep them from the
night air.  Should it storm possibly all of them could crawl under,
though the boys declared they meant to keep the camp-fire burning
throughout the night, and would not need anything over them.

"Things are looking some different from what they did while we were
drifting along on that wobbly old piece of the broken bridge, eh,
fellows?" Steve wanted to know, as later on, when it began to grow dim
with the approach of night, the boys sat down to rest, and watch their
force of cooks getting supper ready.

"Couldn't be a bigger change anyway you fix it," assented Bandy-legs;
"and let me tell you these girls certainly know how to go at things the
right way.  Now, as I've been taking lessons from our cook, Nora, I
ought to be considered something of a judge, and I want to say right
here that I never whiffed more appetizing smells around a camp-fire in
all my born days than are filling the air this very minute.  I don't
see how I can stand it much longer; seems that I'm possessed with a
wild desire to jump up and begin eating like a cannibal."

"Well, don't you pick out Bessie when you do," Steve warned him
solemnly; "she may be sweet enough to eat, but not for you, Bandy-legs.
But just think how the girls must suffer getting all these rations
ready, and not having had a mouthful of food since breakfast-time while
all the rest of us had lunch at noon."

"Max, you said you had a bell somewhere, so please ring it, because
everything's ready," Mazie called out just at that minute.

Whereupon Max picked up an extra skillet that had come with the other
kitchen stuff, and pounded on it loud and long with a great big stick;
while the rest of the party hastened to find places around the
makeshift camp table, formed out of some of the best boards, laid on
the ground, because they had neither hammer nor nails with which to
construct a real table.

It was a merry sight to see them all, and much laughing was indulged
in.  Young hearts may not long stay depressed; and the loss of Mr.
French's home, while it may have seemed too bad in the eyes of all of
them, was not irreparable, since he was considered well-to-do, and
later on could build a newer and better house in place of the one swept
away.

No lives had been lost, and hence there was really no occasion for them
to pull long faces and make themselves miserable.

Mrs. Jacobus was smiling all the while.  This was evidently a new as
well as novel experience with the little old lady who had lived alone
so many years.  She could hardly take her eyes off the face of Max, she
seemed so greatly interested in the boy; and the three girls also had a
share of her attention.  Perhaps after this she might make somewhat of
a change in her mode of living; she had discovered that there were
people worth knowing in this dreary world, after all; and that it was
foolish to hide away from everybody, just because of some bitter stroke
of fortune away back in the past.

Steve was the life of the party.  He felt so overjoyed because of the
kind fate that had allowed him to be of considerable use to Bessie
French, so that their old friendship was renewed, this time to remain,
that he seemed to be fairly bubbling over with spirits.  He made witty
remarks about most of the food they had, and kept the others laughing
from the beginning of the meal until it reached its conclusion, with
the dishes well cleaned out.

Everybody had an abundance, and the boys seemed never to weary of
declaring how glad they were to have the proper kind of cooks along.
Their own style of camp cookery might do in an emergency, when they
were cast upon their own resources; but it lacked something or other
that a girl somehow seemed to know instinctively how to put in it, and
make all the difference imaginable in the taste.

Steve even volunteered to favor them with a song, and it would have
required very little encouragement to have extended this to a dance, so
light-hearted was he feeling.  No one would ever have believed that
this was the same Steve whose face had been long-drawn with anxiety
only a comparatively few hours back, while they were drifting on the
swift current of the flood, with their strange craft in danger of going
to pieces at any moment, and leaving them struggling in the wilderness
of rushing water.

There were some other things that wise Max had secured from the
abandoned cottage of Mrs. Jacobus.  These had been left down by the
boat, and when he presently walked over that way, and came back laden
down with blankets there was a loud cheer from the other boys,
accompanied by much hand-clapping from the girls.

"Why, this is just delightful," Mazie told him, after he had first of
all made her choose the best blanket, which she immediately turned over
to the crippled child, taking another for her own individual use; "and
if we'd only known how nice it was all going to come out, you can be
sure none of us would have allowed ourselves to cry as we sat there on
the roof waiting to be drowned.  We'll never forget this experience,
will we, Bessie?"

"I should say not," came the prompt answer; "and the boys have done
themselves proud through it all.  Just to think of their being on that
bridge when it fell into the flood, and none of them even thrown into
the river.  I never heard of such great good fortune.  And then to be
taken straight to where we were hoping and praying for some one to come
along and save us.  Well, after this I'm not going to be so silly as to
doubt it any longer."

"What?" asked Steve, quickly, but in a low voice.

"Oh! just that there must be a sweet little cherub aloft watching over
me," she replied, giving him a saucy look.

"I thought you might mean that it was wicked for people to quarrel, and
that it never could happen again between two persons that I know,"
Steve went on to say.

"Well, perhaps I did mean that too; but no matter, I've seen a great
light, and sitting there on that terrible roof so many hours was a good
thing for me, Steve.  I'm never going to be such a spitfire again; and
I'll never condemn anybody unheard, I give you my word.  But what's the
matter with you, Bessie; you are shaking like a leaf.  I hope you
haven't taken cold."

"No, it isn't that, Mazie," replied the other Carson girl; "but listen
to the horrid wolves up there on the hill; and it seems to give me a
bad feeling when I get to thinking of what would happen if they should
come down here and attack us, when we haven't a single gun to defend
ourselves with."

Bandy-legs started chuckling.

"Wolves don't yelp like that, Bessie," he remarked; "what you hear is a
pack of wild dogs hunting something to eat.  Since the water got so
high, like as not they haven't had their meals as regular as they'd
like, since lots of places are flooded out; so they've got together,
and are rampaging around in search of grub.  They do seem to be making
a regular circus up there; and Max, I believe they're workin' down this
way."

"Oh! dear! then this camping out isn't such great sport as it seemed!"
cried pretty Bessie French, looking appealingly toward Steve, as though
she expected him as her knight to stand between should any danger
threaten.

"I was thinking that myself, Bandy-legs," Max admitted; "it may be that
their keen scent has gotten wind of the smell from our cooking supper
at last, and started them this way, bent on making a raid on our
stores."

"Whatever can we do?" entreated Mazie, looking to Max to get them out
of this new difficulty, for as everybody knew he always had a plan
ready.

"If they should come this way you girls would have to climb up among
the lower branches of this tree here," said Max.  "You could make it
without the least trouble, and keep out of reach of the dogs' teeth.
Do you understand that, Mazie, Bessie, Mabel?  Yes, and you too, Mrs.
Jacobus."

The old lady took something out of her pocket and carefully handed it
over to Max.  To his astonishment he discovered that he was holding a
brand new automatic quick-firing revolver of the latest pattern.
Undoubtedly then Mrs. Jacobus, while living alone, had not taken any
chances.  Tramps or dogs might molest her, and she probably meant to be
in a condition to defend herself.  Perhaps, too, she may have carried
quite a good-sized amount of money about her person, and wished to be
in a condition to keep yeggmen from robbing her by day or by night.

Somehow the feel of the weapon gave Max a sensation of renewed
confidence.  With such a reliable tool he fancied that there would be
little cause for anxiety, even should that pack of snapping hungry dogs
dash into the camp, seeking to raid their larder, and ready to attack
them if prevented from carrying out their design.

"Get hold of clubs, boys, if you can find them!" he told the others;
"because the yelping and barking is certainly coming straight this way,
and we'd better be ready to beat them off if they try to rob us.
Anything that will make an impression will do; and when you strike, do
it with vim!"

"Will we?" cried Steve, who still had a splendid club he had picked up
some time back; "just let me get a single whack at a dog, I don't care
what his breed or size or color, and his name will be Dennis, or Mud, I
don't know which.  But just as you said, Max, they are coming this way
full tilt.  Whew! sounds like there might be a round dozen in the
bunch, and from a yapping ki-yi to a big Dane, with his heavy bark like
the muttering of thunder."

"Leave that big one to me, remember," said Max; "and you fellows look
after the smaller fry.  We'll have to show them that because they're
running loose and in a pack, they don't own the woods by a long shot.
Now, climb up into that tree, girls, because they'll be here in a
minute or so, I'm afraid!"



CHAPTER XIII

THE DEFENCE OF THE CAMP

"Mabel first, please, Max!" said Mazie, as all of them hastened over to
the tree that had been selected as the harbor of refuge on account of
the fact that its lower branches seemed to invite an ascent.

Max gave Steve a knowing nod, and the two of them quickly whisked the
little lame French girl up in the first crotch like magic.

Before Mazie really knew what they were going to do she was following
after the first climber; and as they made room for the others, first
Mrs. Jacobus, and then last of all Bessie found lodgment there.

"If you can manage to get up a little higher it would be safer all
around," Max told them, though he tried his best not to alarm the girls
by intimating that the lower limb of the tree might still be within
jumping distance of an agile hound.

Immediately after performing his duty Steve picked up his club again.
Meanwhile the other three boys had brushed around and armed themselves
with the most available weapons the dead wood afforded.  Bandy-legs was
fortunate in having one already to his suiting, and the others did the
best they could; so that there was quite a formidable assortment of
cudgels swinging back and forth as the owners tested their capacity for
mischief; much as the intending batter at a critical stage of a
baseball game may be seen to practice with two clubs before stepping up
to the plate.

There could no longer be any doubt as to the speedy coming of the dog
pack, as their eager yelps and barks sounded very close.  It must have
been that in their hungry condition they had picked up the odor of food
far away, because a dog's sense of smell is remarkably acute,
especially when half starved.

Max only waited in order to throw plenty of dry fuel on the fire before
joining the battle line.  If they were compelled to put up a stiff
fight in order to keep their food supply intact, he knew that they
would need all the light they could get, because with the coming of
night, darkness had settled upon the forest lining the western bank of
the flooded river.

"Whee! listen to the way they're tearing along, would you?" exclaimed
Bandy-legs, as the noise drew rapidly nearer.

Every fellow seemed to take in a big breath.  It was as though he meant
to nerve himself for the exciting times to follow.

"Remember, leave the biggest dog to me!" Max told them, desirous of
impressing this fact upon their minds; for with that powerful little
automatic pistol in his possession, handed over to him by the owner of
the abandoned cabin, he felt much better able to cope with a monster
Dane or a huge mastiff than any of those who simply carried sticks
might have been.

Max did not fancy the job before him.  He had always confessed to a
great liking for dogs of almost all kinds, and the thought of being
compelled to shoot one, even in self-defense, did not appeal to him;
though it was a grim necessity that forced him to contemplate such a
massacre.

These animals having been shut off from their regular food supply
because of the flood that had driven their masters from home, were only
following out the dictates of their natures, in seeking to satisfy the
demands of hunger.  Under ordinary conditions they may have been the
most desirable of companions, and valued highly by those who owned them.

There was no other way to meet the emergency save by dispersing the
savage pack.  And Max knew that the animal of the heavy bark must be a
powerful brute, capable of inflicting serious damage to any one upon
whom he descended; hence he must in some way manage to dispose of the
beast before he could leap on his intended prey.

"I see 'em!" suddenly almost shrieked Bandy-legs; and all of the boys
might have echoed his announcement, for they caught sight of a confused
scrambling mass approaching at a furious pace.

This almost immediately developed into separate units, as the dogs
rushed directly into the camp.  Max could see that there were no two
alike, and in the lead was a mastiff as large as any wolf that ever
followed in the wake of a wounded stag, a tawny colored animal, with
wide-open jaws that must have filled the watching girls with a sense of
abject horror, even though they were apparently safe from attack up
among the branches of the tree.

Max had eyes for no other after that.  Let his chums and Shack Beggs
take care of the New Foundland, the Irish setter, the beagle, the
rabbit hound, and several more, even to a sturdy looking squatty
bulldog that must have used his short bowlegs to some advantage to keep
pace with the rest of the pack; his duty was to meet the oncoming of
that natural leader, and wind up his career.

The five boys had stationed themselves partly in front of the shelter
where all of their food supplies had been placed, though at the same
time they stood between the tree and the rushing dogs.

Straight at them the pack went, helter-skelter.  It may not have been
so much a desire to attack human beings that animated the animals as
the keen sense of smell telling them that provisions were to be found
back in that rustic shack.

Max waited until the big leader was almost upon them before he started
to use his automatic.  Indeed, one of the girls in the tree, gasped his
name in terror, under the impression that Max may have been so
petrified with astonishment at sight of the size of the mastiff that he
could not pull the trigger of his weapon.

But it was not so, and Steve, who was alongside, knew it full well,
because he could hear Max saying steadily all the while:

"Hold firm, boys; don't get rattled!  I've got that big thief potted!
Steady now, everybody; and hit the line _hard_!"

That was the encouraging way Max used to call out to his players on the
high school eleven when they were fighting for victory on the gridiron
with a rival school.  It did much to nerve those who heard; and Steve
especially needed some such caution to keep him from springing to meet
the coming attack halfway.

Then there sounded a peculiar snapping report.  It was the automatic
doing its duty.  Firm was the hand that gripped the little weapon, and
unflinching the eye back of the same.

A shriek from the tree told that the girls were watching every move in
the exciting game that was being played.  The mastiff was seen to stop
in his headlong rush, and roll over in a heap; then he struggled to his
feet again, only to have another flash directed into his eyes; and this
time Max must have made sure work of it, because the huge animal did
not attempt to rise again.

Meanwhile the rest of the pack had continued its forward progress, and
as those waiting clubs began to swing and play there was a confused
exchange of shouts, yaps and yelps that must have filled a listener's
heart with wonder, providing he did not know the meaning of the fracas.

Deprived of the dominating spirit of their leader, and met with such a
furious bombardment at the hands of the four boys, the balance of the
pack could not hold out long.  Their hunger did not seem to be equal to
their fear of those clubs striking with such tremendous vim that in
many cases the victim was hurled completely over.  The attack became
weaker and weaker; first one animal went howling away completely cowed,
and then another took flight, until presently the bulldog was the only
one left.

He had managed to seize Toby's club and was holding on with a death
grip, straining his best to pull the same out of the hands of the
owner.  Steve was for turning on him, and belaboring the beast with his
own cudgel; but Max, who knew the nature of the beast better than any
of the others, felt sure that this sort of treatment would only result
in a general fight, and that in the end the animal would either have to
be shot, or else he must bite one of them seriously.

"Wait!" he called out; "keep back, the rest of you, and leave him to
me!"

Thinking of course that he meant to advance, and use his firearm in
order to finish the stubborn bulldog, the three other boys backed away,
leaving only Toby standing there, holding one end of his club, while
the canine enemy maintained that savage grip on the other, and sought
to wrest it away.

But Max had had enough of dog killing for one night, and meant to try
other tactics in this case.  He dodged into the shelter, and almost
immediately reappeared bearing with him some food that had been left
over, scraps of bread and fragments from their supper.

These he tossed close to the nose of the stubborn bulldog, while the
rest of the party watched to see the result.  Would hunger prevail, or
the disposition to continue fighting cause the animal to keep on
chewing the end of Toby's club?

Presently they saw the unwelcome visitor begin to sniff eagerly.  Then
he suddenly released those terrible teeth of his, the iron jaw relaxed,
and the next thing they knew the ferocious bulldog was devouring the
food Max had thrown down, with every symptom of satisfaction.

Max went back and secured more of the same kind.

"We can get plenty, once we leave here in the morning," he told
Bandy-legs when the latter showed a disposition to murmur against the
seeming extravagance; "and I'd hate to kill that dog.  I'm sure from
his looks he must be of fine stock, and worth a heap to his owner.
Besides, I've knocked one over, and that's one too many to please me.
Now watch what I'll do."

With that he approached, and offered the dog the rest of the food.  In
another minute he could have patted the heretofore savage beast on the
back, only that Max was too wise to trouble a feeding dog.

"Nothing more to be feared from him, I guess," remarked Steve, who had
watched all this with distended eyes; "you know dogs from the ground
up, Max.  But do you think it's safe to have that terror around?  The
girls won't want to come down out of the tree while he's in camp."

"You're mistaken there," said Bessie, as she dropped beside him; "I'm
not at all afraid of dogs when they're natural; and besides, I know
this fine fellow quite well.  He belongs to a neighbor of my uncle, and
he used to come to me as though he rather liked me; didn't you, Bose?"

At mention of his name the ferocious looking bulldog with the bowed
legs actually wagged his crooked stub of a tail, and gave the girl a
look.  As he was now through feeding, and seemed to be in a contented
frame of mind, Bessie continued to talk to him in a wheedling way; and
presently was able to slip a hand upon his head, though it gave Steve a
cold chill to see her do it.

Max had meanwhile dragged the other dog out of sight in the bushes,
though Toby had to help him, such was the size of the wretched mastiff
that had been brought to a bad end through his hunger, and a
determination to raid the camp of the flood fugitives.

The balance of the pack had apparently been taught a severe lesson, and
would not return again.  Their barking continued to be heard at
intervals throughout the night, but always at a considerable distance.

As it was so very uncomfortable up in the tree, and the bulldog seemed
to have made up his mind to be friendly with those who had kindly
attended to his wants, Mazie, the lame girl, and Mrs. Jacobus finally
consented to be helped down.  They kept suspicious eyes on the
four-legged visitor however, and insisted that Bose be rigorously
excluded from the rustic shelter under which they soon purposed seeking
their rest.

Max finally managed to rig up a collar, which was attached to the rope,
and Bessie secured this around the dog's neck, after which Bose was
anchored to another tree.

He must have been accustomed to this sort of treatment, for he speedily
lay down and went to sleep, as though satisfied to stay with these new
friends.  Floods as well as politics, often make strange bed-fellows.

Having brought his party safely through this crisis Max was again
busying himself making plane looking toward their future.  He knew that
the country was so disturbed by the inundation of the river, with its
consequent damage to many homes, that they must depend to a great
extent on their own efforts in order to reach Carson again.  Still it
seemed necessary in the start that one of their number should start out
to seek help in the way of some conveyance by means of which the girls
and Mrs. Jacobus might be taken to Carson, because he and his chums
were well able to walk that distance.

On talking this over with the rest, and Shack was invited to join them,
much to the secret satisfaction of the "black sheep" of Carson, Max
found that they were all opposed to his being the one to go forth.
They claimed that he would be needed right along in order to continue
the management of affairs.

Of course Shack could not go, because his former bad reputation would
serve to set people against him, for the whole country knew of the
doings of the gang to which he had belonged; Toby was debarred from
serving on account of his infirmity in the line of speech, and so it
must lie between Bandy-legs and Steve.

"I'm the one to go, Max," declared the latter, so resolutely that while
Bandy-legs had just been about to volunteer, the words died on his
lips; for he knew that when Steve really wanted a thing he must have
it, or there would be trouble in the camp; so that Bandy-legs, being a
wise youth, shrugged his shoulders and yielded the palm.

Once more Max talked it all over with them.  They knew next to nothing
about the lay of the land around that section, but in a general way
that could be figured out; and Steve was cautioned what to avoid in
looking for a habitation where he might manage to hire a rig of some
sort.

Max even made him a rough map, showing some features of the river bank
as it was now constituted, so that the messenger would know where to
return if he was fortunate enough to secure help.

"If we're gone from here," said Max, in conclusion, "we'll manage to
leave such a plain trail after us that you can follow as easy as
anything."

So Steve went around solemnly shaking hands with every one, though he
lingered longest when it came to Bessie; and she must have said
something pleasant, for he was smiling broadly as though satisfied when
he waved them good-bye, and stick in hand, vanished amidst the trees of
the forest.



CHAPTER XIV

UNWELCOME GUESTS

After Steve had been gone for some little time those who had been left
in the camp under the forest trees prepared to spend the night as best
the conditions allowed.

Fortunately there were enough of the blankets and covers to go around,
so that each one would have some protection against the chill of the
night.  Max had been wise enough to look out for this when skirmishing
around in that abandoned cabin belonging to Mrs. Jacobus.

"Will we have to keep any sort of watch, d'ye think, Max?" Bandy-legs
asked, after the girls had crawled beneath the rustic shelter, and amid
more or less laughter made themselves fairly comfortable.

Max smiled.

"Yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean any of us will have to stay
awake," he went on to say, which remark caused the other to look
puzzled until he saw Max nod his head over toward the spot where the
ferocious bulldog calmly reposed, with his square head lying between
his two forepaws.

"Oh!  I see now what you mean," Bandy-legs announced; "and that's where
your head was level, Max, though for that matter it always is.  Sure
he'll be the best sentinel agoing.  But then there isn't one chance in
a thousand we'll be bothered with visitors, unless of the hungry dog
kind."

"That's so," agreed Max, "but you never can tell; and while the roads
are all more or less flooded, and even the railroad blocked, tramps are
apt to bob up in places where they've never been known before.  We'll
be keeping our fire going all night, you know, and that would be a
signal to any one passing."

The four boys fixed themselves so that they really surrounded the
shelter; constructed of boards and branches, in which the girls were
snugly settled down.  Max had told Mazie they meant to do this, for he
felt that the fact would add more or less to the peace of mind of those
whom they were protecting.

"Better get settled, you fellows," Max told the others, "and after that
I'll attend to the fire so it'll keep burning a long time.  Shack,
what's that rag around your finger for?  I hope now you didn't get
bitten by one of the dogs when we had our row, because that might turn
out to be a bad job."

"Oh! shucks, that ain't nawthin' much," Shack replied, with scorn; "I
on'y knocked me fin against a tree when I was smackin' that setter a
whack.  He ducked too quick for me, yuh see, an' I lost him, worse
luck; but second time I gives him a poke that made him howl like fits."

It apparently pleased Shack considerably to have Max notice that he had
his finger bound up in part of a much soiled handkerchief.  And by now
even Bandy-legs seemed to have accepted the other as a companion in
arms, whom the fortunes of war had thrown into their society.

Max took a look around before finally lying down.  He saw that clouds
still obscured the sky, but at least it was not raining, and there
seemed a fair chance that the anticipated renewal of the storm would
not materialize.

There must have been thousands of anxious eyes besides those of Max
Hastings surveying that overcast sky on this particular night, because
so much depended on whether the sun shone on the morrow, or another
dripping day were ushered in, to add to the floods, and increase the
discomfort and money loss.

He knew that the girls must all be dreadfully worried because messages
could not be sent to their respective homes, so as to notify their
loved ones of their safety; but it could not be helped.  When morning
came they would do everything in their power to get in touch with
civilization, and if the wires were in working order perhaps they might
be able to let their people know how wonderfully they had come out of
the turmoil and peril.

When Max told the others there was always a possibility that the light
of their fire would draw attention to the camp, he hardly dreamed how
true his words would prove; yet such was the case.

He had managed to get to sleep himself, having found a fairly
comfortable position where he could lie wrapped in his blanket, when
the growling of the tied bulldog aroused him.  As he sat up he saw that
Bose was on his bowed feet, and continuing to growl savagely.

"Keep quiet there, you ugly sinner!" grumbled a voice close to Max, and
which he recognized as belonging to Bandy-legs; "ain't you meanin' to
let a feller have any sleep at all to-night?  Whatever do you want to
growl that way?  Wait till breakfast time and you'll get another feed."

"There's somebody coming!" said Max, quietly, "and the dog has sensed
them."

"Gee whiz! then he's an all right sentry after all, ain't he?"
exclaimed Bandy-legs, immediately sitting up.

Toby had also been aroused, as was also Shack; and the four boys gained
their feet at almost the same time.

"Wonder who it is?" Bandy-legs was speculating, even as he leaned over
so as to pick up his war club.

"B-b-bet you it's Steve c-c-coming back!" ventured Toby, and he voiced
what was in the mind of Max just then.

"There's two on 'em!" declared Shack Beggs joining in with the talk;
"yuh c'n see 'em over there aheadin' this way!"

Max was glad that he had not thought to return the little weapon
entrusted to his care by Mrs. Jacobus.  He allowed his hand to pass
back to the rear pocket in which it reposed, and the very feel of the
steel seemed to give him a sense of security.

All of them could easily see the advancing figures now.  The closer
they came to the circle of firelight the stronger did the convictions
of Max become that the campers were in for another unpleasant
experience.

First it had been half-starved dogs hunting in a pack, having gone back
to the primeval habits of their wolfish ancestors; and now it looked as
though they were about to suffer from an invasion of tramps.

The two men who came boldly forward certainly had a hobo look.  Their
clothes were tattered and torn, as though they might only be fit for
scarecrows in the newly planted corn field; while their faces were
unkempt with beards of a week's growth; which helped to make them look
uglier than might otherwise have been the case.

"Whew! they look hungry enough to eat us out of house and home,"
Bandy-legs was muttering, as he saw the pair pushing forward; and
seemingly sniffing the air after the manner of those who have not
broken their fast for many hours.

If Max could feel sorry for a dog that needed food he certainly would
not think of allowing human beings to go without refreshments as long
as they had enough and to spare.  So that already his mind was made up
not to refuse should the tramps put in a pitiful plea for assistance.

Of course their coming would make it necessary for the boys to give up
thoughts of finding any further rest; because it would hardly be wise
to allow the camp to remain unguarded with such tough looking customers
around.

The men were scrutinizing the campers closely as they came up.  Max saw
one of them turn to the other and say something; just what it was he
did not know; but he rather fancied it might have been along the order
of calling his attention to the fact that they had only "kids" to deal
with.

"Hello! boys!" the foremost of the men called out as he strode into the
circle of light; "seen your fire when we was makin' our way through
these here old woods, and allowed that p'raps we might get a bite to
eat if we came over.  Hain't had nawthin' since mornin', and we're nigh
famished, that's straight goods; ain't it, Bill?"

"I'm that near gone I could chaw on a dog biscuit and like it!"
grumbled the shorter man.

"This flood's knocked honest laborers out of their jobs right along,
boys," the taller hobo continued, unable to repress a slight grin as he
spoke, for he must have been pretty positive that he had not deceived
the young fellows by such an absurd suggestion; "and we're trying to
git acrost country so's to find work in another quarry.  If now youse
could only let us have a snack it'd be doin' a real kindness, and we'd
thank you straight; wouldn't we, Bill?"

"Sure thing, Pepper, we would; got to have somethin', or we'll cave in;
and like enough you wouldn't want our spooks to come back and ha'nt ye
allers, kids.  So here's hopin' ye'll give us a hand-out without more
parleyin'."

Max did not fancy the manner of the two men.  It smacked of a demand
rather than a request for assistance; as though they would not take no
for an answer, but might be expected to make trouble if refused.

While something within him rebelled against being compelled to accede,
at the same time Max was ready to make allowances.  He fancied that
when men were really very hungry they might be excused for showing an
irritable disposition.  On that account then he repressed his desire to
speak sharply.

"You've struck a party of flood sufferers, and we're not overly well
supplied with grub," Max went on to say; "but I guess we can spare you
something to keep the wolf from the door.  Just sit down there, and
we'll cook you a little supper, though you might call it breakfast,
because it must be long after midnight."

The men exchanged low words, and then sat down.  Max noticed that they
seemed to choose their places as with some motive in view, and he did
not like it at all.  He even saw them glance toward the shelter shack,
as if wondering what might be inside, for the girls were awake, and low
whispering could be heard within.

The food had been taken from the shack and hung from the limb of a
tree, where it would be safe from any prowling animal; so that Max did
not have to disturb the inmates of the rude shelter when he wished to
cut some more of the ham, and get the coffee in the pot.

It was a strange experience, this cooking a supper at such an hour of
the night for a pair of ugly-looking trampish customers; but Max was so
thankful over the wonderful run of good luck that had followed himself
and chums that he felt willing to put himself to considerable trouble
in order to assist any other sufferer.  In times like that it was
really a duty they owed to the community to stretch out a helping hand
to every one who professed to be in need.

Bandy-legs, Toby and Shack Beggs wanted to assist as best they could,
but probably their main object was to keep moving, and in this way find
chances for the exchange of a few sentences half under their breath,
when it happened that their heads came close together.

"Look like tough nuts to me!" Bandy-legs told Max the first opportunity
he had, as he poked the fire and induced it to burn more brightly.

"That's right," replied Max, in the same cautious manner; "so keep your
eyes about you all the while; and be ready to swing your club if it
turns out to be necessary."

"Bet you I will, Max!" muttered the other; "I wonder now if they've got
any gun between 'em?  Gosh! if we ain't meetin' up with a trail of
happenings these days and nights!  I say, Max?"

"What is it, Bandy-legs?"

"Hope now you ain't never give that jolly little automatic back to the
lady?" continued Bandy-legs, eagerly.

"I've still got it handy, make your mind easy on that score," was what
the other told him, and Bandy-legs evidently breathed considerably
easier on that account.

"Keep shy of 'em when you go to hand over the grub, Max; 'cause I
wouldn't put it past that crowd to try and grab you.  They just
understand that you're the boss of this camp, and if they could only
get their hands on you it'd be easy to make the rest of us kowtow to
'em."

"You've got a knife in your pocket, haven't you?" asked Max, as he
leaned over to give the fryingpan another little shove, as though
wishing to hurry matters along, because the two intruders were hungrily
watching the preparation of the midnight meal, and looking as though
they could hardly wait for the call.

"Yes, I always carry one, you know, Max."

"Pretty good edge, has it?" pursued the other.

"Sharp as a razor, right now," was Bandy-legs' assurance.

"All right, then," Max told him; "keep staying close to where the dog's
tied, and if you hear me shout out to you, draw your knife blade across
the rope when he's drawn it taut.  I've got an idea he'll look on all
of us as friends, and make for one of the men like a flash!"

"Fine!  I'll do it, see if I don't!"

"Well, get away now, and take up your station," cautioned Max.  "Keep
watching how they act, but don't give it away that you're looking too
close.  That's all!"

Upon that Bandy-legs moved off.  Presently he had passed over to where
Bose was tied to the tree.  The bulldog had ceased to strain at his
leash.  He lay again with his massive square head resting on his
forepaws, a favorite attitude with him; and his bulging eyes seemed to
be fixed on the two newcomers.  Evidently he did not trust the ragged
tramps, but as his protectors seemed to be granting them the privileges
of the camp, far be it from him to interfere; all the same he was going
to watch them closely.

Max was becoming more and more disturbed.  From the manner of the men
he felt positive that they would refuse to quietly quit the camp after
they had been duly fed.  That would mean they must be told to go away,
and such an order coming from mere boys would be apt to arouse their
evil natures so that trouble must ensue.

While he was finishing the cooking of the ham, with the coffee boiling
merrily near by on a stone that lay close to the fire, Shack came up
with some more fuel.  As there was really no need for additional wood
Max understood that the other wished to get close enough to him to say
something; so he managed things in a way calculated to bring this about.

Sure enough Shack quickly lowered his head as he pushed a stick into
the fire, and Max heard his whisper, which naturally gave him something
of a thrill.

"Jailbirds, I sure reckons they be!" was what Shack said.

"What makes you think so?" asked Max.

"Both got on ole cloes took from scarecrows in the medders; and then if
yuh looks right sharp at the left wrist o' ther short coon yuh kin see
he's awearin' a steel bracelet.  Been handcuffed tuh a sheriff, likely,
an' broke away.  They'll like as not try tuh run the camp arter they
gits filled up.  Yuh wanter keep shy o' lettin' 'em git hold o' yuh,
Max.  They'll be a reg'lar mixup hereabouts if they tries that same on."

And this information from Shack, who must know what he was talking
about, was enough to make Max draw his breath uneasily.



CHAPTER XV

BOSE PAYS FOR HIS BOARD

When he had set the supper on the ground, and then backed away, Max was
simply taking precautions.  Doubtless the men noticed what he did, and
knew from this that he did not trust their professions of friendliness;
for they exchanged further talk in low words that were not intelligible
to any of the boys.

The girls, unable to longer restrain their natural curiosity, had
thrust their heads from the shelter to see what it all meant; and the
men must have seen them, though they were savagely attacking the food
that had been placed before them.

It was astonishing how quickly they cleared their pannikins of the
cooked ham and potatoes, as well as gobbled what crackers Max had been
able to spare.  Each swallowed two cups of scalding coffee without a
wink.

When the entire amount of food had been made to vanish as though struck
by a cyclone, Max expected there would be something doing.  He knew the
crisis was close at hand, and his cough warned the others to be on the
alert.  Bandy-legs shuffled a little nearer the recumbent bulldog, and
the hand he held behind him really clutched his open knife, with the
keen blade ready to do its duty by that rope.  Shack and Toby sat close
together.  They had their hands clasped around their knee but were
prepared to bound to their feet like a flash; and close beside them lay
their war clubs "ready for business at the old stand," as Toby would
have said had he been given the chance to express his opinion.

The men were now very close to the end of their meal.  It had been a
fairly bountiful spread, considering the conditions, but from the
rapidity with which those two unwelcome guests caused it to vanish it
looked as though they might still be far from satisfied.

The taller one began to crane his neck after the manner of a diner in a
restaurant looking to see whether the next course was on the way or not.

"Hopes as how that ain't all you means to hand out, younker?" he went
on to say, with a little menace in his manner that did not seem to be
just the right thing for one to display who had been treated so well.

"As our stock of food isn't so very large, and we don't know just how
long we may have to camp out, it's all we can spare just now," replied
Max, in as amiable a tone as he could command.

After all it was a mistake to suppose that men like these desperate
rascals would allow themselves to feel anything like gratitude.  Their
instincts were brutal to the core, and they only knew the law of force.
These boys and girls had plenty to eat, and they were far from
satisfied.  If further food was not forthcoming through voluntary
means, they would just have to take things as they pleased.  They could
have nothing to fear from interruptions, in this lonely neighborhood;
and as for these four half-grown boys putting up a successful fight
against two such hardened characters as they were, was an absurdity
that they did not allow to make any impression on them.

Still the taller man did not want to rush things too fast.  There was
something about the cool manner of Max Hastings that warned him the
conquest might not be the easy task they thought, he may have sensed
the fact that the young leader of the camping party was not an ordinary
boy; and then too Shack Beggs had a husky sort of look, as though he
knew pretty well how to take care of himself.

The bulldog had kept so quiet all this time that the men did not pay
much attention to him, lying there peacefully.  They probably
calculated that if things came down to an actual show of hands it would
mean two boys apiece; and surely they should be equal to overcoming
such opposition.

"Hain't that same kinder rough on us, young feller?" demanded the hobo
or escaped jailbird, whichever the taller man might be.  "Wot yer gives
us only makes us hungrier'n 'ever.  Wisht you'd look 'round an' see if
yer cain't skeer up somethin' more in the line o' grub.  Then we'll
stretch out here nigh yer fire, an' git some sleep, 'cause we needs the
same right bad."

"You've had all we can let go," said Max; "and as your room is better
than your company, perhaps you'll feel like moving on somewhere else
for the night.  If it happens that you've no matches to make a fire to
keep warm by, there's part of a box for you," and he coolly tossed a
safety-match box toward the taller man, one of a number he had found on
a shelf in Mrs. Jacobus' cabin.

Somehow his defiant words caused the men to turn and look dubiously at
each other.  They hardly knew what to expect.  Could that shack shelter
several men besides the girls whose frightened faces they could see
peeping out?  There did not seem to be any chance of that being the
case, both decided immediately.  After exchanging a few muttered
sentences the two men began to slowly gain their feet.

Shack Beggs and Toby also scrambled erect, holding their cudgels behind
them prepared for work.  Those men looked dangerous; they would not be
willing to leave that comfortable camp at the word of a boy, a mere
stripling, at least not until the conditions began to appear more
threatening than at present.

Max was watching their every action.  He had nerved himself for the
crisis, and did not mean to be caught napping.  Should either of the
men show a sudden disposition to leap toward them Max was ready to
produce his weapon, and threaten dire consequences.  The hand that had
not quivered when that huge mastiff was in the act of attacking them
would not be apt to betray Max now, as these rascals would discover to
their cost.

"That's kind in yer, kid, amakin' us a present o' matches when we ain't
got nary a one," remarked the spokesman of the pair, as he turned
toward Max, and took a step that way.

"Hold on, don't come any closer!" warned the boy, threateningly.

"What's the matter with yer?" snarled the man, suddenly dropping the
mask that he had been figuratively wearing while using soft words.

The bulldog must have seen that the danger line had been reached, for
he was erect again, and pulling ferociously at his tether, gnashing his
ugly white teeth together with an ominous sound, and showing his red
open mouth.

"Just what I said before," returned Max, steadily; "you came here
without any invitation from us.  We've warmed you, and fed you the best
we could afford, and now we tell you that we want your room a heap more
than your company.  That's plain enough English, isn't it, Mister, or
do you want me to tell you to clear out?"

The taller man laughed, but it was a very unpleasant sort of a laugh,
which must have made the listening girls shiver with dread of what
might be coming when those two burly men flung themselves at the boys
in the attempt to capture the camp with its spoils.

"Oh! so that's the way the thing runs, is it, kid?" sneered the man;
and then changing his manner again he went on to demand harshly: "What
if we don't mean to clear out?  Supposin' we takes a notion this here
is comfy enough fur two ducks that'd like to stay to breakfast, and
share yer stock o' grub?  What'd ye do 'bout that, younker?"

He took another forward step, and from his aggressive manner it was
plain to be seen that he meant to attack them speedily.  Max waited no
longer.  He did not want matters to work along until they reached the
breaking point, for that would mean a nasty fight; and while he and his
chums would undoubtedly come out of this first-best there must be some
bruises received, and perhaps blood might have to be shed.  So he
concluded to stop things where they were.

Accordingly he brought his hand to the front and made so as to let them
see he was armed.  As the hobo did not advance any further it looked as
though he may have taken warning; the sight of that up-to-date weapon
was enough to make any one pause when about to precipitate trouble, for
it could be fired as fast as Max was able to press the trigger.

"Bandy-legs!" snapped Max.

"Here!" answered the one addressed.

"Have you got your knife laid on the rope?" continued the leader of the
camp.

"You just bet I have, and when you say the word he's goin' to jump for
that biggest feller's throat like a cyclone; ain't you, Bose?" turning
toward the dog.

The ugly looking bulldog gave a yawp that may have been intended for an
affirmative answer; and his appearance was so very fierce that it
helped the hobo make up his mind he did not care for any closer
acquaintance with such an affectionate beast.

"Hold on there, don't you be in too big a hurry 'bout slittin' that
same rope, kid!" he called out, shrinking back a step now, and half
raising his hands as if to be in readiness to protect his neck against
those shining teeth.

"Then you've changed your mind about wanting to sleep here in this
camp, have you?" asked Max, quietly.  "We'll allow you to do it on one
condition, which is that you let us tie you both up, and hold you here
until the sheriff comes to-morrow."

From these words it became apparent to the men that the fact of one of
them was wearing a broken handcuff must have been discovered by the
boys.  They looked as black as a thunder cloud, but realized that they
were up against a blank wall.

"Excuse us 'bout that same, kid," the taller man said, bitterly; "we'd
rather take the matches an' go to make a camp somewhere else, where we
won't bother youse any.  But p'raps ye'll be sorry fur actin' like that
by us, won't he, Bill?"

"He will, if ever I has anythin' tuh say 'bout it," growled the shorter
rascal, shaking his bullet-shaped head, which the boys now saw had been
closely shaven, which would indicate that he must in truth be some
escaped convict.

"We're waiting for you to move along," remarked Max.  "Don't bother
thanking us for the little food we had to spare you.  It may keep you
from starvation, anyway.  And see here, if so much as a single stone
comes into this camp after you've gone I give you my word we'll cut
that rope, and start the dog after you.  Now just suit yourselves about
that!"

The men gave one last uneasy look at the bulldog, and as though he knew
he was in the spotlight just then Bose growled more fearfully than
ever, and showed still more of his spotted throat, and red distended
jaws, with their attendant white, cruel looking fangs.

It was enough.  The taller man shook his head dismally as though,
knowing that neither of them possessed the first weapon, he judged it
would be something bordering on suicide to provoke that fierce beast to
extreme measures.

"There'll be no stone throwin', make yer mind easy on that score,
younker," he told Max, between his teeth; "but if ever we should happen
to meet up with you er any o' yer crowd agin, look out, that's all!
Kim erlong, Bill, we quits cold right here, see?"

With that they stalked moodily away, and the boys seemed able to draw
freer breaths after their departure.  Max stood ready to carry out his
threat should the men attempt to bombard the camp with stones, and for
some little time he kept Bandy-legs standing there, knife in hand,
ready to sever the rope that kept Bose from his liberty.

There was no need, it turned out.  The two men had realized that they
were in no condition to carry matters to a point of open hostilities
with those who had fed them and given them a helping hand; and perhaps
that vague threat of detaining them there until the coming of the
officers may have added to their desire to "shake the dust of that
region from their shoes," as Bandy-legs expressed it, although Toby
told him he would have a pretty hard time finding anything like dust in
those days of rain-storms and floods.

It took a long time to reassure the girls, and coax them to try and
sleep again.  As for Max he was determined to keep awake, and on guard
until dawn arrived; which in fact was exactly what he did.



CHAPTER XVI

AFTER THE FLOOD--CONCLUSION

"Well, it's come morning at last, and for one I'm right glad to see
it," and Bandy-legs stretched himself, with numerous yawns, while
making this remark.

Max admitted that he felt pretty happy himself to see the day break in
the far east, with a prospect for the sun appearing speedily, since the
clouds had taken wings and vanished while darkness lay upon the land.

Everybody was soon moving around, and the girls insisted that breakfast
should be given over entirely to their charge.

"From what you've told us," Bessie French declared, when there were
some plaintive murmurs on the part of Bandy-legs and Max to the effect
that they wished to save their guests from all hard work, "we expect
that you find plenty of times to do all the cooking that's good for
you.  Now it isn't often that you have girls in camp to show you what
they know about these things; so I think you'd better tell us to do
just as we feel like; and that's going to be take charge of the meals
as long as we're together."

Of course secretly Max and Bandy-legs were just as well pleased as
anything could be over this dictum from the fair ones; they simply
wanted to do their duty, and show that they meant right.

Well, that breakfast was certainly the finest the boys had ever eaten
while in the woods at any time; and they voted the cooks a great
success.

"We'd be happy to have you with us always, when the camping fever came
along," Bandy-legs informed them, as he came in for his third helping;
"though of course that would be impossible, because we sometimes get
away off out of touch with everything, and girls couldn't stand what we
put up with.  Besides, I don't believe your folks would let you try it.
So we'll always have, to remember this time when we get our grits
burned, or, something else goes wrong, as it nearly always does when
I'm trying to play _chef_."

After the meal was over they held a council of war to decide upon their
next move.  It seemed folly to stay there doing nothing to better their
condition; and that sort of thing did not correspond with the habits of
Max, who believed in getting out and hustling for business, rather than
wait for it to come to him.

"We'll get our stuff together, such as we might need in case we do have
to stay another night in the forest," he told them in conclusion, when
every one had been heard, and it was decided to make a start; "and then
head in a certain direction that I told Steve I thought would take him
to a road marked on my rough map.  If we're real lucky we may even meet
Steve headed for this place, with some sort of vehicle that will carry
the whole crowd."

No one appeared very enthusiastic, for truth to tell it was not at all
unpleasant camping in this way; and only for the fact that they knew
their folks would surely be dreadfully worried concerning them the
girls secretly confessed to one another that they might have wished the
experience to be indefinitely prolonged.

"I'll never forget that cute little shelter," Mazie told Max, as they
found themselves about ready to say good-bye to their night's
encampment; "and although we did have a bad scare when those two tramps
came around, I think I slept almost as well as I should have done at my
own home.  That's because we all felt such confidence in our guardians.
Now, don't get conceited, and believe we think you're perfect, because
boys have lots of faults, the same as girls."

"I wonder what became of those two poor fellows?" mused Bessie, who
still believed that the men were just ordinary, lazy, good-for-nothing
hoboes, with a dislike for hard work, and resting under the conviction
that the world owed them a living; for the boys had decided that there
was no use telling them about the broken handcuff they had noticed on
the wrist of the smaller scamp.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they were miles away from here by now,"
said Max, with a knowing wink toward Toby, who chanced to be standing
near.

"Then they're more active than most tramps I've seen appeared to be,"
remarked Bessie; "but I do hope we meet Steve coming with some sort of
conveyance, because twenty miles over poor roads fills me with horror,
though I'll try the best I know how to keep up with the rest of you.
Think of poor little Mabel, though; she would be tired before we had
gone three miles."

"Never fear but what we'll get hold of some sort of vehicle, sooner or
later," Max assured her; "when we strike the road we are bound to run
across farms occasionally; and surely they will not all have been
deserted.  Some of them must be on high land, and safe from the floods."

It was in this spirit that they said good-bye to the pleasant camp, and
turned their backs upon the modest but serviceable shack.

"I honestly believe it would shed rain like the back of a duck,"
Bandy-legs declared, proudly, as though satisfied to know that he had
had a hand in building the shelter.

"But we're all glad it wasn't put to the test," Mazie observed, as she
looked up at the clear sky with the greatest of pleasure.

It may not have mattered so much to the boys whether or not the rains
had stopped for good, but they could understand that there were hosts
of people who would be mighty thankful the morning had broken so
promising, for if clear weather prevailed the floods would of course
have a chance to go down.

Max had laid out his plans as well as he could, on the preceding night,
so that he was prepared to move right along the line of least
resistance; that is, from the conformation of the country, as marked
upon the little map he had drawn of the neighboring region, he meant to
select a route that would keep them away from the lowlands, now flooded.

They did not find any great difficulty in making fair progress,
although the little lame girl had to be assisted often.  She was very
brave, however, and anxious to prove that she must not be looked on as
helpless.

Inside of an hour they had come upon a road, just as Max had figured
would be the case.  So far nothing had been seen of Steve, though
according to promise they were careful to leave a broad trail behind
them, so that if he should visit the camp after their departure he
would find no difficulty about following in their wake.

If Steve had faithfully carried out the directions given him, Max knew
that he certainly must have reached this same road, and possibly not
far from the point at which they too struck it.  As he walked along Max
was keeping a bright lookout for certain signs which he had arranged
Steve should leave on the right-hand side of the hill road to tell them
he had been there.

These he discovered inside of ten minutes after they started to travel
along the highway, which was in fair condition considering the bad
weather.  A branch had been partly broken, and as it lay seemed to
point ahead.  When a short distance beyond they came upon the same
thing repeated, there no longer remained the slightest doubt but what
it was the work of their absent chum.

Max explained all these things to the girls, partly to cheer them up;
and then again because he knew Bessie would be interested in everything
that Steve did.

After that they all watched the road at every bend, and hope kept
surging up in their hearts as they fancied they heard the distant sound
of wheels.  What if disappointments came many times, they knew that
Steve must be ahead somewhere, and would exhaust every device in the
endeavor to accomplish the more important part of his duty.

Just about an hour afterwards they all caught the unmistakable sound of
wheels, and then came a well known voice calling to the horses to "get
busy"; after which a big hay-rick turned the bend a little way ahead,
with Steve wielding the whip, and a boy perched on the seat alongside
him, possibly to bring back the rig after they were through with it.

Loud were the cheers that went up, and no one shouted with more vim
than Shack Beggs, who seemed to have gradually come to believe that
from this time on there was no longer going to be anything in the shape
of a gulf between him and Max, as well as the other chums.  He had been
through peril in their company, and there is nothing in the wide world
that draws people closer together than sharing common dangers.

So the hay-rick was turned around, and the girls made as comfortable as
could be done.  The boys managed to perch almost anywhere, and were as
merry as though they had not a care or a worry in the world.

"Can we make Carson in a day?" Bessie demanded, when the two horses
toiled slowly up a rather steep hill.

"I think we will," Max assured her; "if we're lucky, and don't get
stalled by some washed-out bridge.  But at the worst we ought to get
where we can use the wires to send the news home; and find decent
shelter to-night, at some farmhouse."

"Now watch us make time!" called out Steve, who was still doing duty as
driver, though Bandy-legs and Shack Beggs had both offered to spell him
when he got tired.

The grade being down-hill they covered the ground much more rapidly,
and amidst more or less shouting the next mile was put behind them.

So they went on until noon came, and Max was of the opinion that more
than one-third of their tedious journey had been accomplished.  This
they learned was a fact when they stopped at a farmhouse, and coaxed
the good wife to cook them a glorious dinner, allowing the horses to
have a good rest, so that they would be equal to the balance of the
day's work.

Max, as usual, improved the opportunity to pick up pointers, and in
this way no doubt saved himself and friends more or less useless work;
for they heard about a bridge that had been carried away, and were thus
enabled to take a branch road that kept to the higher ground.

Once more they were on the move, and headed for home.  It was
encouraging to learn that the water seemed to be already lowering, as
the worst of the freshet had spent its force, and the promised storm
had been shunted off in another direction by a fortunate change of wind.

As the afternoon began to draw near its close they found themselves
getting in very familiar country, and this told them Carson and home
could be only a few miles distant.  There was no longer any doubt about
making it that evening, though it might be sunset before they arrived
at their destination.

Of course this gave the girls more or less happiness, though they
protested that they were enjoying themselves hugely.  It was far from a
comfortable ride at the best, however, and often Bessie and Mazie would
gladly get out and walk with some of the boys, while they were climbing
hills.  This eased the strain on the tired horses, and at the same time
gave their own cramped limbs a chance to secure the much needed
exercise.

Finally the last hill had been mounted, and there lay Carson bathed in
the glow of the setting sun.  The boys greeted the welcome sight with
lusty cheers, in which two of the girls joined.  Mabel did not feel so
happy, because she could not forget how her own beloved home had been
carried away in the flood; though there was little doubt but that Asa
French was able to build him a far better house, and stock his farm
afresh, for he had plenty of money out at interest.

The day was over, but the light still remained as the hay-rick, with
that little company of boys and girls aboard, reached the streets of
Carson.  Shouts attested to the interest their coming aroused; for
every one knew about the fall of the bridge, and how Max and his
comrades were carried away with it.  No word having come from them
since, of course their families were almost distracted; and it can
easily be understood that the warmest kind of welcome awaited all of
the castaways on their arrival home.

Carson was already beginning to recover from the shock occasioned by
the rising waters.  All sorts of "hard luck" stories kept coming to
town from neighboring farmers, who were so unfortunate as to live in
the lowlands, where the soil's richness had tempted them to make their
homes.  It seems to always be the case that where danger lurks in the
way of floods or volcanic eruptions, there the wonderful productiveness
of the soil serves as a lure to tempt people to accept risks.  As a
rule these folks are able to laugh at their neighbors on the higher
lands; but sooner or later there comes a time when things do not look
so rosy, and perhaps they lose all their accumulation of years.

Already plans were being discussed to take advantage of the misfortunes
that had come upon the community so as to build better.  The new bridge
would be a beauty, and so staunch that no flood could ever dislodge it.
Houses that had been swept away, or ruined in other ways were to be
replaced by more commodious and up-to-date buildings, and the new barns
would also far outclass those that had gone.

It was perhaps a much needed lesson, and Carson inside of a few years
was bound to profit by what at the time had seemed to be the greatest
calamity that had ever visited the community.

Max Hastings and his chums would never forget their strange
experiences.  They had to relate the story many times to the good
people of Carson, as well as their schoolmates.  That cruise on a
floating bridge would go down in the annals of the town as one of the
most remarkable events that had ever happened.

Of course Mabel found a chance to communicate with her almost
distracted parents and assure them of her safety.  None of the three
girls suffered in the least as the result of their exposure and
privations.  They always declared that it had in many ways been the
most delightful experience in their lives; and whenever this was said
in the presence of Steve or Max of course those boys smiled
contentedly, because they took it as a compliment that Mazie and Bessie
considered camping in their company, under such discouraging
conditions, as a genuine picnic.

It was perhaps a rather remarkable fact that some of Steve's pictures
did actually turn out fairly well.  He had tried the best he knew how
to keep the little camera from being submerged in the water; and while
outwardly the leather case had suffered, the films were very little
injured.

They were more than glad of this, because it gave them something
tangible as a reminder of the eventful trip, and the strange adventures
that followed their being kidnapped by the runaway bridge.

Later on that summer, when they had a chance to make a day's tour in an
automobile, Max, Steve, Bandy-legs, and Toby invited both Mazie Dunkirk
and Bessie French to accompany them; and in fine style they visited
along the route of their homeward journey after leaving the camp under
the forest trees.

Nothing would satisfy the two girls but that they must leave the car
somewhere and foot it through the well remembered aisles of the dense
woods until finally they came upon the dear shack where they had spent
that never-to-be-forgotten night.

There they cooked dinner, and enjoyed a real picnic.  Every little
event of that delightful past was gone over again with exactness; and
all of them pronounced the day one of the happiest of the calendar.
The shack was still in serviceable condition, and the girls were
pleased to pretend that they might still have need of a shelter
whenever a cloud as big as a boy's pocket appeared in the sky.

Max never learned what became of the two men who had invaded their
camp.  Doubtless the annals of some penitentiary might disclose the
fact that they had escaped from its walls; but whether they were
recaptured or not none of the boys ever knew.

Of course Max and his chums were looking forward to other outings when
the vacation period came around again; and we trust that it may be our
good fortune to be given the privilege of placing before the reader
some account of these stirring happenings.  Until such time we can only
add that Shack Beggs was surely making good, having completely severed
his relations with those cronies who had so many times led him along
crooked, ways; and whenever Max has the chance he does not hesitate to
hold out a friendly hand to the struggling lad, knowing that it is this
encouragement on the part of his boy friends that will do more than
anything else to plant Shack's feet firmly on solid ground.





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