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´╗┐Title: Raftmates - A Story of the Great River
Author: Munroe, Kirk, 1850-1930
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 "Raftmates - A Story of the Great River" ***

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RAFTMATES

A Story of the Great River

by

KIRK MUNROE

Author of
"Dorymates" "Campmates" "Canoemates" Etc.

Illustrated



[Frontispiece: "Winn dashed away with the speed of a deer."]



New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers
1902
Copyright, 1893, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER

       I. THE RAFT
      II. WINN ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY
     III. A MUD-BESPATTERED ARRIVAL FROM CALIFORNIA
      IV. BILLY BRACKETT STARTS DOWN THE RIVER
       V. HOW THE VOYAGE WAS BEGUN
      VI. MR. GILDER AND HIS RUDE RECEPTION
     VII. A GANG OF "RIVER-TRADERS"
    VIII. DISAPPEARANCE OF THE RAFT
      IX. ALONE ON THE ISLAND
       X. A NIGHT OF STRANGE HAPPENINGS
      XI. BILLY BRACKETT'S SURPRISING SITUATION
     XII. THE TRAPPERS TRAPPED
    XIII. WINN'S LONELY CRUISE
     XIV. A PEAL OF GIRLISH LAUGHTER
      XV. "CAP'N COD," SABELLA, AND THE "WHATNOT"
     XVI. BIM MAKES AN ENEMY
    XVII. THE TRUTH, BUT NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH
   XVIII. FOLLOWING THE TRAIL
     XIX. A CURIOUS COMPLICATION
      XX. BIM GROWLS
     XXI. EVERY ONE EXPLAINS
    XXII. A "MEWEL" NAMED "REWARD"
   XXIII. REWARD RUNS AWAY WITH THE PANORAMA
    XXIV. WINN DISCOVERS HIS LONG-LOST RAFT
     XXV. THE RAFT AND SHOW-BOAT CHANGE CREWS
    XXVI. A DISASTROUS COLLISION
   XXVII. IS THIS OUR RAFT OR NOT?
  XXVIII. THE RESCUE OF SABELLA
    XXIX. BIM BRINGS ABOUT A JOYFUL MEETING
     XXX. IN CLOD'S CABIN
    XXXI. CAMPMATES TURN RAFTMATES
   XXXII. THE "RIVER-TRADERS" ATTEMPT TO REGAIN POSSESSION
  XXXIII. WHERE IS BIM?
   XXXIV. A BLAZE ON THE RIVER
    XXXV. BIM'S HEROISM
   XXXVI. THE MASTER OF MOSS BANK
  XXXVII. BIM'S COON
 XXXVIII. THE GREAT RIVER AND ITS MISCHIEF
   XXXIX. HURLED THROUGH THE CREVASSE AND WRECKED
      XL. A MEETING OF MATES



ILLUSTRATIONS.


   "WINN DASHED AWAY WITH THE SPEED OF A DEER" . . . _Frontispiece_

   "WINN SECURED ONE END OF THE CABLE TO THAT
     PART OF THE BOOM RESTING AGAINST THE SNAG"

   "'WHY, THE RAFT HAS GONE!' EXCLAIMED ELTA"

   "'HOLD ON, YOUNG MAN!  ONE AT A TIME IS ENOUGH'"

   "A BROAD STREAM OF WHEAT RUSHED OUT ON DECK"

   "'WATCH HIM, BIM!'"

   "'WHO'S THERE?' CRIED THE OLD MAN"

   "BILLY BRACKETT UTTERED A CRY OF AMAZEMENT"

   WINN'S INTRODUCTION TO SABELLA

   BILLY BRACKETT IS A FRIEND IN NEED

   "THE MULE WAS PURCHASED THAT AFTERNOON"

   "WITH A PRODIGIOUS LEAP HE LANDED SQUARELY ON REWARD'S HEAD"

   "'THE RAFT HAS GONE, AND WE ARE AFTER IT'"

   THE RESCUE OF SABELLA

   "THE NEXT INSTANT HE SPRANG TO HIS FEET WITH A CRY"

   "THE STRONG ARMS LIFTED HIM AS THEY WOULD A CHILD"

   "LIKE YOUNG TIGERS THE BOYS TUGGED AT THE HEAVY SWEEPS"

   "'YO' CALLIN' DAT AR PLANTASHUN MOSS BACK?' EXCLAIMED SOLON"

   "THE LANTERNS OF THE WORKING GANG GLANCING HERE AND THERE
     LIKE FIRE-FLIES"

   A REUNION OF "MATES"



RAFT MATES.


CHAPTER I.

THE RAFT.

Although the _Venture_ was by no means so large a raft as many that
Winn Caspar had watched glide down the Mississippi, he considered it
about the finest craft of that description ever put together.  He was
also a little more proud of it than of anything else in the whole
world.  Of course he excepted his brave soldier father, who had gone to
the war as a private, to come home when it was all over wearing a
major's uniform; and his dear mother, who for four weary years had been
both father and mother to him, and his sister Elta, who was not only
the prettiest girl in the county, but, to Winn's mind, the cleverest.
But outside of his immediate family, the raft, the _Venture_, as his
father had named it, was the object of the boy's most sincere
admiration and pride.  Had he not helped build it?  Did he not know
every timber and plank and board in it?  Had he not assisted in loading
it with enough bushels of wheat to feed an army?  Was he not about to
leave home for the first time in his life, to float away down the great
river and out into the wide world on it?  Certainly he had, and did,
and was.  So no wonder he was proud of the raft, and impatient for the
waters of the little river, on a bank of which the Caspar's lived, to
be high enough to float it, that they might make a start.

Winn had never known any home but this one near the edge of the vast
pine forests of Wisconsin.  Here Major Caspar had brought his New
England bride many years before.  Here he had built up a mill business
that was promising him a fortune in a few years more at the time when
the war called him.  When peace was declared, this business was
wellnigh ruined, and the soldier must begin life again as a poor man.
For many months he struggled, but made little head-way against adverse
fortune.  The mill turned out lumber fast enough, but there was no
demand for it, or those who wanted it were too poor to pay its price.
At length the Major decided upon a bold venture.  The Caspar mill was
but a short distance from the Mississippi.  Far away down the great
river were cities where money was plenty, and where lumber and farm
products were in demand.  There were not half enough steamboats on the
river, and freights were high; but the vast waterway with its ceaseless
current was free to all.  Why should not he do as others had done and
were constantly doing--raft his goods to a market?  It would take time,
of course; but a few months of the autumn and winter could be spared as
well as not, and so it was finally decided that the venture should be
undertaken.

It was not to be a timber raft only.  Major Caspar did not care to
attempt the navigating of a huge affair, such as his entire stock of
sawed material would have made, nor could he afford the expense of a
large crew.  Then, too, while ready money was scarce in his
neighborhood, the prairie wheat crop of that season was unusually good.
So he exchanged half his lumber for wheat, and devoted his leisure
during the summer to the construction of a raft with the remainder.

This raft contained the very choice of the mill's output for that
season--squared timbers, planks, and boards enough to load a ship.  It
was provided with two long sweeps, or steering oars, at each end, with
a roomy shanty for the accommodation of the crew, and with two other
buildings for the stowing of cargo.  The floors of these structures
were raised a foot above the deck of the raft, and were made
water-tight, so that when waves or swells from passing steamboats broke
over the raft, their contents would not be injured.  In front of the
central building, or "shanty," was a bed of sand six feet square,
enclosed by wooden sides, on which the camp-fires were to be built.
Much of the cooking would also be done here.  Besides this there was a
small stove in the "shanty" for use during cold or wet weather.

The "shanty" had a door and three windows, and was in other ways made
unusually comfortable.  The Major said that after four years of
roughing it, he now meant to take his comfort wherever he could find
it, even though it was only on a raft.  So the _Venture's_ "shanty" was
very different from the rude lean-to or shelter of rough boards, such
as was to be seen on most of the timber rafts of the great river.  Its
interior was divided into two rooms, the after one of which was a tiny
affair only six by ten feet.  It was furnished with two bunks, one
above the other, a table, two camp-chairs, and several shelves, on one
of which were a dozen books of travel and history.  This was the
sleeping-room that Winn was to share with his father.

A door from this opened into the main living-room of the "shanty."
Here were bunks for six men, a dining-table, several benches, barrels,
and boxes of provisions, and the galley, with its stove and ample
supply of pots, pans, and dishes.  The bunks were filled with fresh,
sweet-smelling wheat straw, covered with heavy army blankets, and the
whole affair was about the most comfortable "shanty" ever set up on a
Mississippi timber raft.  To Winn it seemed as though nothing could be
more perfect or inviting, and he longed for the time when it should be
his temporary home.

For a whole month after the raft was finished, loaded, and ready to set
forth on its uncertain voyage, it remained hard and fast aground where
it was built.  To Winn's impatience it seemed as though high-water
never would come.

"I don't believe this old raft is ever going to float any more than the
mill itself," he remarked pettishly to his sister Elta one day in
October, as they sat together on the _Venture_ and watched the sluggish
current of the little river.

"Father thinks it will," answered Elta, quietly.

"Oh yes.  Of course father thinks so; but he may be mistaken as well as
other folks.  Now if I'd had the building of this craft, I would have
floated all the material down to the mouth of the creek.  Then
everything would have been ready for a start as soon as she was
finished."

"How would you have loaded the wheat?" demanded Elta.

"Why, boated it down, of course."

"And so added largely to its cost," answered the practical girl.  "You
know, Winn, that it was ever so much cheaper to build the raft here
than it would have been 'way down there, and, besides, father wasn't
ready to start when it was finished.  I heard him tell mother that he
didn't care to get away before the 1st of November.  Anyhow, father
must understand his own business better than a sixteen-year-old boy,
even if that boy's name is Winn Caspar."

"Oh, I never saw such a girl as you are!" exclaimed Winn, impatiently.
"You are always making objections to my plans, and telling me that I'm
only a boy.  You'd rather any time travel in a rut that some one else
had made than mark out a track for yourself.  For my part, I'd much
rather think out my own plans and try new ways."

"So do I, Winnie; but--"

"Oh, don't call me 'Winnie,' whatever you do!  I'm as tired of pet
names and baby talk as I am of waiting here for high-water that won't
ever come."

With this the petulant lad rose to his feet, and leaping ashore,
disappeared among the trees of the river-bank, leaving Elta to gaze
after him with a grieved expression, and a suspicion of tears in her
brown eyes.

In spite of this little scene, Winn Caspar was not an ill-tempered boy.
He had not learned the beauty of self-control, and thus often spoke
hastily, and without considering the feelings of others.  He was also
apt to think that if things were left to his management, he could
improve upon almost any plan proposed or carried out by some one else.
He had mingled but little with other boys, and as "man of the family"
during his father's four years of absence in the army, had conceived a
false estimate of his own importance and ability.

Absorbed by pressing business cares after resuming the pursuits of a
peaceful life, Major Caspar had been slow to note the imperfections in
his boy's character.  He was deeply grieved when his eyes were finally
opened to them, and held many an earnest consultation with his wife
concerning the son, who was at once the source of their greatest
anxiety and the object of their fondest hopes.



CHAPTER II.

WINN ASSUMES A RESPONSIBILITY.

It was during one of these conversations with the boy's mother that
Major Caspar decided to take Winn with him on his raft voyage down the
Mississippi.

"If I find a good chance to place the boy in a first-class school in
one of the large cities after the voyage is ended I shall do so," said
the Major.  "It is only fair, though, that he should have a chance to
see and learn something of the world first.  After all, there is
nothing equal to travel as an educator.  I honestly believe that the
war did more in four years towards educating this nation by stirring
its people up and moving large bodies of them to sections remote from
their homes than all our colleges have in fifty."

"But you mean that Winn shall go to college, of course?" said Mrs.
Caspar, a little anxiously.

"If he wants to, and shows a real liking for study," was the reply;
"but not unless he does.  College is by no means the only place where a
boy can receive a liberal education.  He may acquire just as good a one
in practical life if he is thoroughly interested in what he is doing
and has an ambition to excel.  I believe Winn to be both ambitious and
persevering; but he is impulsive, easily influenced, and impatient of
control.  He has no idea of that implicit obedience to orders that is
at the foundation of success in civil life as well as in the army; and,
above all, he is possessed of such an inordinate self-conceit that if
it is not speedily curbed by one or more severe lessons, it may lead
him into serious trouble."

"Oh, John!" expostulated the mother.  "Do you realize that you are
saying these horrid things about our own boy--our Winn?"

"Indeed I do, dear," answered the Major, smiling; "and it is because he
is our boy, whom I love better than myself, that I am analyzing his
character so carefully.  He has the making of a splendid fellow in him,
together with certain traits that might easily prove his ruin."

"Well," replied Mrs. Caspar, in a resigned tone, "perhaps it will do
him good to go away and be alone with you for a while.  It is very hard
to realize, though, that my little Winn is sixteen years old and almost
a man.  But, John, you won't let him run any risks, or get into any
danger, will you?"

"Not knowingly, my dear, you may rest assured," answered the Major.
But he smiled as he thought how impossible it was to keep boys from
running risks and getting into all sorts of dangerous positions.

So it was decided that Winn should form one of the crew of the
_Venture_ whenever the raft should be ready to start on its long
voyage; and ever since learning tins decision the boy had been in a
fever of impatience to be off.  So full was he of anticipations
concerning the proposed journey that he could talk and think of nothing
else.  Thus, after a month of tiresome delay, he was in such an
uncomfortable frame of mind that it was a positive trial to have him
about the house.  For this reason he was encouraged to spend much of
his time aboard the raft, and was even allowed to eat and sleep there
whenever he chose.  At length he reached the point of almost
quarrelling with his sister, whom he loved so dearly; but he had hardly
plunged into the woods, after leaving her on the raft, before he
regretted his unkind words and heartily wished them unsaid.  He
hesitated and half turned back, but his "pride," as he would have
called it, though it was really nothing but cowardice, was too strong
to permit him to humble himself just yet.  So, feeling very unhappy, he
tramped moodily on through the woods, full of bitter thoughts, angry
with himself and all the world.  Yet if any one had asked him what it
was all about, he could not have told.

Winn took a long circuit through the silent forest, and by the time he
again reached the river-bank, coming out just above the mill, he had
walked himself tired, but into quite a cheerful frame of mind.  The
mill was shut down for the night, its workers had gone home, and not a
sound broke the evening stillness.  The boy sat on a pile of slabs for
a few minutes, resting, and watching the glowing splendor of sunset as
reflected in the waters of the stream at his feet.  At length he
started up and was about to go to the house, where, as he had decided,
his very first act would be to ask Elta's forgiveness.  The house stood
some distance from the river-bank, and was hidden from it by the trees
of a young apple orchard.  As Winn rose to his feet and cast a
lingering glance at the wonderful beauty of the water, he noticed a
familiar black object floating amid its splendor of crimsons and gold.

"I wonder how that log got out of the boom?" he said, half aloud.
"Why, there's another--and another!  The boom must be broken."

Yes, the boom of logs, chained together end to end and stretched
completely across the creek to hold in check the thousands of saw-logs
that filled the stream farther than the eye could see, had parted near
the opposite bank.  The end thus loosened had swung down-stream a
little way, and there caught on a snag formed of a huge, half-submerged
root.  It might hold on there indefinitely, or it might get loose at
any moment, swing wide open, and set free the imprisoned wealth of logs
behind it.  As it was, they were beginning to slip through the narrow
opening, and those that had attracted Winn's attention were sliding
downstream as stealthily as so many escaped convicts.

The boy's first impulse was to run towards the house, calling his
father and the mill-hands as he went.  His second, and the one upon
which he acted, was to mend the broken boom and capture the truant logs
himself.  "There is no need of troubling father, and I can do it alone
better than any number of those clumsy mill-hands," he thought.
"Besides, there is no time to spare; for if the boom once lets go of
that snag, we shall lose half the logs behind it."

Thus thinking, Winn ran around the mill and sprang aboard the raft that
lay just below it.  Glancing about for a stout rope, his eye lighted on
the line by which the raft was made fast to a tree.  "The very thing!"
he exclaimed.  "While it's aground here the raft doesn't need a cable
any more than I need a check-rein, and I told father so.  He said there
wasn't any harm in taking a precaution, and that the water might rise
unexpectedly.  As if there was a chance of it!  There hasn't been any
rain for two months, and isn't likely to be any for another yet to
come."

While these thoughts were spinning through the boy's brain, he was
casting loose the cable at both ends and stowing it in his own little
dugout that was moored to the outer side of the raft.  Then with strong
deep strokes he paddled swiftly upstream towards the broken boom.
After fifteen minutes of hard work he had secured one end of the cable
to that part of the boom resting against the snag, carried the other to
and around a tree on the bank, back again to the boom, and then to the
inshore end of the broken chain.  Thus he not only secured the boom
against opening any wider, but closed the exit already made.

[Illustration: "Winn secured one end of the cable to that part of the
boom resting against the snag."]

"That's as good a job as any of them could have done," he remarked to
himself, regarding his work through the gathering gloom with great
satisfaction.  "Now for the fellows that got away."

It was a much harder task to capture and tow back those three truant
logs than it had been to repair the boom.  It was such hard work, and
the darkness added so much to its difficulties, that almost any other
boy would have given it up in despair, and allowed the three logs to
escape.  But Winn Caspar was not inclined to give up anything he had
once undertaken.  Having determined to do a certain thing, he would
stick to it "like a dog to a root," as one of the mill-hands had said
of him.  So those logs had to go back inside of that boom, because Winn
had made up his mind that they should; but they went so reluctantly,
and gave him so much trouble, that it was long after dark and some
hours past supper-time before the job was completed.

When Winn at length returned to the raft he was wet, tired, and hungry,
though very proud of his accomplished task.  He was shivering too, now
that his violent exertions were ended, for the sky had become overcast,
and a chill wind was moaning through the pine-trees.

"I wonder if I can't find something to eat here?" he said to himself.
"I'm good and hungry, that's a fact, and they must have had supper up
at the house long ago."  Entering the "shanty," and feeling carefully
about, the boy at length found matches and lighted a lamp.

Hello!  There was plenty to eat; in fact, there was a regular spread at
one end of the table, with plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork, and
napkin, all neatly arranged as though he were expected.  "What does it
mean?" thought Winn; and then his eye fell on a bit of folded paper
lying in the plate.  It was a note which read as follows:

"DEAR BROTHER,--As you didn't come home to supper, I thought perhaps
you were going to spend the night on the raft, and so brought yours
down here.  You can heat the tea on the stove.  I'm awfully sorry I
said anything to make you feel badly.  Please forget it, and forgive
your loving sister,----ELTA."


"Bless her dear heart!" cried the boy.  "She is the best sister in the
world.  The idea of her asking my forgiveness, when it is I who should
ask hers.  And I will ask it, too, the very minute I see her; for I
shall never be happy until we have kissed and made up, as we used to
say when we were young ones.  I guess, though, I'll eat the supper she
has brought me first.  And that's a good idea about heating the tea,
too.  I can get dry by the stove at the same time.  I'll have a chance
to see Elta before bedtime, and she'd feel badly if I didn't eat her
supper anyway."

All of which goes to show how very little we know of what even the
immediate future may bring forth, and that if we put off for a single
hour doing that which ought to be done at once, what a likelihood there
is that we may never have a chance to do it.



CHAPTER III.

A MUD-BESPATTERED ARRIVAL FROM CALIFORNIA.

Acting upon the suggestion contained in Elta's note, Winn lighted a
fire in the galley stove, and was soon enjoying its cheery warmth.
When the tea was heated, he ate heartily of the supper so thoughtfully
provided by the dear girl, and his heart grew very tender as he thought
of her and of her unwearying love for him.  "I ought to go and find her
this very minute," he said to himself; "but I must get dry first, and
there probably isn't any fire up at the house."

To while away the few minutes that he intended remaining on the raft,
Winn got one of the books of exploration from a shelf in the little
after-room, and was quickly buried in the heart of an African forest.
Completely lost to his surroundings, and absorbed in tales of the wild
beasts and wilder men of the Dark Continent, the boy read on and on
until the failing light warned him that his lamp was about to go out
for want of oil.

He yawned as he finally closed the book.  "My! how sleepy I am, and how
late it must be," he said.  "How the wind howls, too!  It sounds as if
we were going to have a storm.  I only hope it will bring plenty of
rain and high-water.  Then good-bye to home, and hurrah for the great
river!"

By this chain of thought Winn was again reminded of Elta, and of the
forgiveness he had meant to secure from her that evening.  "It is too
late now, though," he said to himself.  "She must have gone to bed long
ago, and I guess I might as well do the same; but I'll see her the very
first thing in the morning."

With this the tired boy blew out the expiring flame of his lamp, and
tumbled into his bunk, where in another minute he was as sound asleep
as ever in his life.

In the mean time the high-water for which he hoped so earnestly was
much nearer at hand than either he or any one else supposed.  The storm
now howling through the pines had been raging for hours about the
head-waters of the creek, and the deluge of rain by which it was
accompanied was sweeping steadily down-stream towards the great river.
Even as Winn sat by the stove reading, the first of the swelling waters
began to rise along the sides of the raft, and by the time the storm
broke overhead the _Venture_ was very nearly afloat.

Although Winn slept too soundly to be disturbed by either wind or rain,
the storm awoke Major Caspar, who listened for some time to this
announcement that the hour for setting forth on his long-projected
journey was at hand.  He had no anxiety for the safety of the raft, for
he remembered the stout cable by which he had secured it, and
congratulated himself upon the precaution thus taken.  "Besides, Winn
is aboard," he reflected, "and he is almost certain to rouse us all
with the joyful news the minute he finds that the raft is afloat."
Thus reassuring himself, the Major turned over and went comfortably to
sleep.

Elta knew nothing of the storm until morning, but hearing the rain the
moment she awoke, she too recognized it as the signal for the
_Venture's_ speedy departure.  From her window she had heretofore been
able to see one corner of the raft; but now, peering out through the
driving rain that caused the forest depths to appear blue and dim, she
could not discover it.  With a slight feeling of uneasiness, she
hastily dressed, and went to Winn's door.  There was no answer to her
knock.  She peeped in.  Winn was not there, nor had the bed been
occupied.

"He did spend the night on the raft, then, and so of course it is all
right," thought the girl, greatly relieved at this discovery.  "The
_Venture_ must be afloat, though.  I wonder if father knows it?"

Just then Major Caspar appeared, evidently prepared to face the storm.

"Well, little daughter," he said, "high-water has come at last, and the
time of our departure is at hand.  I am going down to see what Winn
thinks of it."

"Oh, can't I go with you, papa?  I should dearly love to!" cried Elta.

"Well, I don't know," hesitated the Major.  "I suppose you might if you
were rigged for it."

This permission was sufficient, and the active girl bounded away full
of glee at the prospect of a battle with the storm, and of surprising
Winn on the raft.  Three minutes later she reappeared, clad in rubber
boots and a water-proof cloak, the hood of which, drawn over her head,
framed her face in the most bewitching manner.

The Major attempted to protect her still further with a large umbrella;
but they had hardly left the house before a savage gust swooped down
and gleefully rendered it useless by turning it inside out.  Casting
the umbrella aside, the Major clasped Elta's hand firmly in his.  Then
with bowed heads the two pushed steadily on towards the river-bank,
while the wind scattered bits of their merry laughter far and wide.

It took them but a few minutes to reach the little stream, when their
laughter was suddenly silenced.  There was the place where the
_Venture_ had been put together, there was the tree to which it had
been so securely moored; but the raft that had grown into being and
become a familiar sight at that point no longer occupied it, nor was it
anywhere to be seen.  Only a flood of turbid waters, fully two feet
higher than they had been the evening before, swept over the spot, and
seemed to beckon mockingly towards the great river.

"Why, the raft has gone!" exclaimed Elta, in a dismayed voice.

[Illustration: "'Why, the raft has gone!' exclaimed Elta"]

"It certainly has," answered the Major, grimly; "and as it cannot
possibly have floated up-stream, it must have gone towards the
Mississippi.  I only hope that Winn managed in some way to check and
hold it before it reached the big water; otherwise we may have a merry
hunt for it."

While he spoke they had been hurrying to a point a short distance
down-stream, around which the creek made a bend.  From here they could
command a view of half a mile of its course, and somewhere along this
stretch of water they hoped to see the raft safely moored.  They were,
however, doomed to disappointment; for as far as the eye could see
there was no sign of the missing craft.  Full of conjectures and
forebodings of evil they reluctantly turned back towards the house.

The mill-hands, some of whom were to have formed the crew of the
_Venture_, had already discovered that it was gone.  Now they were
gathered at the house awaiting the Major's orders, and eagerly
discussing the situation.

Mrs. Caspar, full of anxiety, met her husband and daughter at the open
door, where she stood, regardless of the driving rain.

"Oh, John!" she cried, "where is Winn?  What has become of the raft?
Do you think anything can have happened to him?"

"Certainly not," answered the Major, reassuringly.  "Nothing serious
can have befallen the boy on board a craft like that.  As to his
whereabouts, I propose to go down to the mouth of the creek at once and
discover them.  That is, just as soon as you can give me a cup of
coffee and a bite of breakfast, for it would be foolish to start off
without those.  But the quicker we can get ready the better.  I shall
go in the skiff, and take Halma and Jan with me."

Nothing so allays anxiety as the necessity for immediate action,
especially when such action is directed towards removing the cause for
alarm.  So Mrs. Caspar and Elta, in flying about to prepare breakfast
for the rescuing party, almost worked themselves into a state of
hopeful cheerfulness.  It was only after the meal had been hastily
eaten, and the Major with his stalwart Swedes had departed, that a
reaction came, and the anxious fears reasserted themselves.  For hours
they could do nothing but discuss the situation, and watch for some one
to come with news.  Several times during the morning Elta put on her
water-proof and went down to the mill.  There, she would gaze with
troubled eyes at the ever-rising waters, until reminded that her mother
needed comforting, when she would return to the house.

On one of these occasions the girl was surprised to see a saddle-horse,
bearing evidences of a hard journey, standing at the hitching-post near
the front door.  But this first surprise was as nothing to the
amazement with which she beheld her mother clasped in the arms of a
strange young man who was so bespattered with mud that his features
were hardly recognizable.  Mrs. Caspar was laughing and crying at the
same time, while both she and the young man were talking at once.  Near
them, and regarding this tableau with the utmost gravity, was a
powerful-looking bull-dog, who would evidently be pure white when
washed.

For a full minute Elta stood in the doorway gazing wonderingly at this
strange scene.  Then her mother caught sight of the girl's wide-eyed
bewilderment, and burst into a fit of laughter that was almost
hysterical.

"It's your uncle William!" she cried, as soon as she could command her
voice.  "My little brother Billy, whom I haven't seen for twelve years,
and he has just come from California.  Give him a kiss, dear, and tell
him how very glad we are to see him."

Then Elta was in turn embraced by the mud-bespattered young man, who
gravely announced that he should never have recognized her.

"No wonder, for she was only a baby when you last saw her!" exclaimed
Mrs. Caspar; "and I'm sure I should never have recognized you but for
your voice.  I don't know how you look even now, and I sha'n't until
you wash your face."

"What's the matter with my face?  Is it dirty?" asked the young man.

For answer Mrs. Caspar led him in front of a mirror.

"Well, I should say it was dirty!  In fact, dirty is no name at all for
it!" he laughed.  "I believe I look about as bad as Binney Gibbs[1] did
when he covered himself with 'mud and glory' at the same time, or
rather when his mule did it for him."

"Who is Binney Gibbs?" asked both Mrs. Caspar and Elta.

"Binney?  Why, he is a young fellow, about Winn's age, who went across
the plains with me a year ago.  By-the-way, where is Winn?  I want to
see the boy.  And where is the Major?"

Then, as Mrs. Caspar explained the absence of her husband and son, all
her anxieties returned, so that before she finished her face again wore
a very sober and troubled expression.

"So that is the situation, is it?" remarked the new-comer,
reflectively.  "I see that Winn is not behind his age in getting into
scrapes.  He reminds me of another young fellow who went campmates with
me on the plains, Glen Matherson--no, Eddy.  No; come to think of it,
his name is Elting.  Well, any way, he had just such a habit of getting
into all sorts of messes; but he always came out of each one bright and
smiling, right side up with care, and ready for the next."

"He had names enough, whoever he was," said Elta, a little coldly; for
it seemed to her that this flippant young uncle was rather inclined to
disparage her own dear brother.  "Yes, he certainly had names to spare;
but if he was half as well able to take care of himself as our Winn is,
no one ever had an excuse for worrying about him."

"No, indeed!" broke in the young man, eagerly; "but I tell you he was--
Why, you just ought to have seen him when--"

"Here comes father!" cried Elta, joyfully, running to throw open the
door as she spoke.



[1] See _Campmates_, by the same Author.



CHAPTER IV.

BILLY BRACKETT STARTS DOWN THE RIVER.

It needed but a glance at Major Caspar's face, as, dripping and weary,
he entered the house, to show that his search for the raft had been
fruitless.  His wife's mother-instinct translated his expression at
once, and the quick tears started to her eyes as she exclaimed,

"My boy!  What has happened to him?"

"Nothing serious, you may rest assured, my dear," replied the Major.
"I have not seen him; but I have heard of the raft, and there is no
question as to its safety.  We reached the mouth of the creek without
discovering a trace of it.  Then we went down the river as far as the
Elbow, where we waited in the slack-water to hail up-bound steamboats.
The first had seen nothing of the raft; but the second, one of the
'Diamond Jo' boats, reported that they had seen such a raft--one with
three shanties on it--at daybreak, in the 'Slant Crossing,' ten miles
below.  If I could have got a down-river boat I should have boarded her
and gone in pursuit, sending the men back to tell you what I had done.
As we were unable to hail the only one that passed, I gave it up and
came back to report progress."

"Oh, I am so glad you did!" cried Mrs. Caspar.

"So am I," said the young stranger, speaking for the first time since
the Major's entrance.  The latter had glanced curiously at him once or
twice while talking to his wife, but without a gleam of recognition.
Now, as he looked inquiringly at him again, Mrs. Caspar exclaimed:

"Why, John, don't you know him?  It's William--my own brother William,
just come from California."

"So it is," replied the Major, giving the young man a hearty
hand-shake--"so it is, William Brackett himself.  But, my dear fellow,
I must confess I was so far from recognizing you that I thought your
name was--"

"'Mud' I reckon," interrupted the other, laughing; "and so it will be
before long, if I don't get a chance to clean up.  But, Major, by the
time both of us are wrung out and dried, and sister has looked up some
dinner, I'll be ready to unfold a plan that will make things look as
bright for you and Winn and the rest of us as the sun that's breaking
away the clouds is going to make the sky directly."

Mrs. Caspar's brother William, "Billy Brackett," as all his friends
called him, was a young civil engineer of more than usual ability.  He
had already gained a larger stock of experience and seen more of his
own country than most men of his age, which was about twenty-six.  From
government work in the East and on the lower Mississippi he had gone to
the Kansas Pacific Railway, been detailed to accompany an exploring
party across the plains, and, after spending some time on the Pacific
coast, had just returned to the Mississippi Valley--out of a job, to be
sure, but with the certainty of obtaining one whenever he should want
it.  From the moment of leaving San Francisco he had intended making
the Caspars a visit, and had directed his journey towards their home.
In Chicago he had run across an engineering friend named Hobart, who
was at that moment regretting the pressure of business that forbade his
trying for what promised to be a most profitable contract.  It was one
for furnishing all the bridge timber to be used in the construction of
a new railway through Wisconsin.  The bids were to be opened in Madison
two days later.  Acting upon the impulse of the moment, Billy Brackett
hastened to that city and tendered a bid for the contract, which, to
his surprise, was accepted.

In doing this the young engineer had counted upon the assistance of his
brother-in-law, from whose mill he expected to obtain the timber he had
thus contracted to furnish.  As the work must be begun immediately, he
hurried on to the Major's house with an offer of partnership in this
promising undertaking, and arrived as we have seen.

"It's a big thing Major," the young man said in conclusion, after
explaining these details at the dinner-table; "and it's not only a big
thing in itself, but it will lead to other contracts equally good."

"I should like nothing better than to join you in such an enterprise
Billy," replied the Major; "but I don't see how I can go into it just
now, with this affair of Winn and the raft on my hands.  You say the
work must be begun at once?"

"Yes.  It really should be started this very day, and it can, if you'll
agree to the rest of my plan.  You see, I've only told you the half I
thought out before getting here.  Since then I have added as much more,
which is something like this: Suppose you and I change places.  You
take my horse and go to Madison in the interests of the contract, while
Bim and I will take your skiff and start down the river in the
interests of Winn and the raft.  You know a heap more about getting out
bridge timber than I do, while I expect I know more about river rafting
than you do.  Not that I'm anything of a raftsman," he added, modestly,
"but I picked up a good bit of knowledge concerning the river while on
that government job down in Arkansas.  If you'll only give me the
chance, I'll guarantee to find the raft and navigate it to any port you
may choose to name--Dubuque, St. Louis, Cairo, New Orleans, or even
across the briny--with such a chap as I know your Winn must be for a
mate.  When we reach our destination we can telegraph for you, and you
can arrange the sale of the ship and cargo yourself.  As for me, I've
had so much of dry land lately that I'm just longing for a home on the
rolling deep, the life of a sailor free, and all that sort of thing.
What do you say?  Isn't my scheme a good one?"

"I declare I believe it is!" exclaimed the Major, who had caught a
share of his young kinsman's enthusiasm, and whose face had visibly
brightened during the unfolding of his plans.  "Not only that, but I
believe your companionship with Winn on this river trip, and your
example, will be infinitely better for him than mine.  I have noticed
that young people are much more apt to be influenced by those only a
few years older than themselves than they are by persons whose ideas
they may regard as antiquated or old-fogyish."

"Oh, papa, how can you say so?" cried Elta, springing up and throwing
her arms about his neck.  "How can you say that you could ever be an
old fogy?"

"Perhaps I'm not, dear, to you," answered the Major, smiling at his
daughter's impetuosity; "but to young fellows mingling with the world
for the first time nothing pertaining to the past seems of any value as
compared with the present or immediate future.  Consequently a
companion who is near enough of an age to sympathize with the pursuits
and feelings of such a one can influence him more strongly than a
person whose thoughts are oftener with the past than with the future."

"I can't bear to hear you talk so, husband," said Mrs. Caspar.  "As if
our Winn wouldn't be more readily influenced by his own father and
mother than by any one else in the world!  At the same time, I think
William's plan well worth considering, for I have hated the idea of
that raft trip for you.  I have dreaded being left alone here with only
Elta, too, though I wouldn't say so when I thought there wasn't
anything else to be done."

With this unanimous acceptance of the young engineer's plan, it took
but a short time to arrange its details, and before dark everything was
settled.  The Major was to leave for Madison the next morning, while
Billy Brackett was to start down the creek that very evening, so as to
be ready at daylight to begin his search for the missing raft at the
point where it had been last reported.  By his own desire he was to go
alone in the skiff, except for the companionship of his trusty Bim, who
made a point of accompanying his master everywhere.  The young man was
provided with an open letter from Major Caspar, giving him full
authority to take charge of the raft and do with it as he saw fit.

Both Mrs. Caspar and Elta wrote notes to Winn, and gave them to Billy
Brackett to deliver.  The major also wrote a line of introduction to an
old soldier who had been his most devoted follower during the war.  He
was now living with a married niece near Dubuque, Iowa, and might
possibly prove of assistance during the search for the raft.

Thus equipped, provided with a stock of provisions, and a minute
description of both the raft and of Winn, whom he did not hope to
recognize, the young engineer and his four-footed companion set forth
soon after supper on their search for the missing boy.  An hour later
they too were being swept southward by the resistless current of the
great river.



CHAPTER V.

HOW THE VOYAGE WAS BEGUN.

When Winn Caspar turned into his comfortable bunk aboard the raft on
the night of the storm, it never once occurred to him that the
_Venture_ might float before morning.  She never had floated, and she
seemed so hard and fast aground that he imagined a rise of several feet
of water would be necessary to move her.  It had not yet rained where
he was, and the thought that it might be raining higher up the stream
did not enter his mind.  So he went comfortably to bed, and slept like
a top for several hours.  Finally, he was awakened so suddenly that he
sprang from the bunk, and by the time his eyes were fairly opened, was
standing in the middle of the floor listening to a strange creaking and
scratching on the roof above his head.  It had aroused him, and now as
he listened to it, and tried in vain to catch a single gleam of light
through the intense darkness, it was so incomprehensible and uncanny,
that brave boy as he was, he felt shivers creeping over his arms and
back.

Could the sounds be made by an animal?  Winn knew there were wild-cats
and an occasional panther in the forests bordering the creek.  If it
was caused by wild-cats there must be at least a dozen of them, and he
had never heard of as many as that together.  Besides, wild-cats
wouldn't make such sounds.  They might spit and snarl; but certainly no
one had ever heard them squeak and groan.  All at once there came a
great swishing overhead and then all was still, save for the howling of
the wind and the roar of a deluge of rain which Winn now heard for the
first time.

The boy felt his way into the forward room and opened the door to look
out, but was greeted by such a fierce rush of wind and rain that he was
thankful for the strength that enabled him to close it again.  Mingled
with the other sounds of the storm, Winn now began to distinguish that
of waves plashing on the deck of the raft.  Certainly his surroundings
had undergone some extraordinary change since he turned in for the
night, but what it was passed the boy's comprehension.

After a long search he found a box of matches and lighted the lamp,
forgetting that all its oil had been exhausted the evening before.  It
burned for a few minutes with a sickly flame, and then went out.  Even
that feeble light had been a comfort.  It had showed him that
everything was still all right inside the "shanty," besides enabling
him to find and put on the clothes that he had hung near the stove to
dry.  As he finished dressing, and was again standing in utter darkness
puzzling over his situation, he was nearly paralyzed by a blinding
glare of light that suddenly streamed into the window nearest him.  It
was accompanied by the hoarse roar of steam, a confusion of shoutings,
and the loud clangor of bells.  Without a thought of the weather, Winn
again flung open the door and rushed into the open air.  So intense and
dazzling was the flood of yellow light, that he seemed to be gazing
into the crater of an active volcano.  It flashed by as suddenly as it
had appeared, and the terrified boy became aware that a big steamboat
was slipping swiftly past the raft, but a few feet from it.  The
bewildering glare had come from her roaring furnaces; and had not their
doors been thrown open just when they were, she would have crashed at
full speed into the raft, with such consequences as can easily be
imagined.  As it was she was barely able to sheer off in time, and a
score of voices hurled back angry threats at the supposed crew of the
raft, whose neglect to show a lantern had so nearly led to death and
destruction.

So long as he could detect the faintest twinkle of light from the
rapidly receding boat, or hear the measured coughings of her exhausted
steam, Winn stood gazing and listening, regardless of the rain that was
drenching him to the skin.  He was overwhelmed by a realization of his
situation.  That steamboat had told him as plainly as if she had spoken
that the _Venture_ was not only afloat, but had in some way reached the
great river, and was drifting with its mighty current.  He had no idea
of how long he had thus drifted, nor how far he was from home.  He only
knew that the distance was increasing with each moment, and that until
daylight at least he was powerless to help himself.

As he turned towards the door of the "shanty," he stumbled over
something, which, by stooping, he discovered to be the branch of a
tree.  To the keen-witted boy this was like the sight of a printed page.

"That accounts for the noise on the roof that woke me," he said to
himself.  "The raft was passing under those low branches at the mouth
of the creek, and I can't be more than a mile or so from there now."

For an instant the idea of paddling home in his canoe and leaving the
raft to its fate flashed across his mind, but it was dismissed as
promptly as it had come.  "Not much I won't!" he said, aloud.  "I've
shipped for the voyage, and I'm going to see it through in spite of
everything.  Besides, it's my own fault that I'm in this fix.  If I
hadn't carried away that cable this thing never could have happened.
What a fool I was!  But who would have supposed the water could rise so
quickly?"

The thought of his little dugout caused the boy to wonder if it were
still attached to the raft where he had made it fast the evening
before.  Again he ventured outside to look for the canoe, but the
darkness was so dense and the violence of the storm so bewildering
that, after a narrow escape from stepping overboard, he realized that
without a light of some kind the undertaking was too dangerous.  "There
must be a lantern somewhere," he thought.  "Yes, I remember seeing one
brought aboard."  Finally he discovered it hanging near the stove, and,
to his joy, it was full of oil.  By its aid his search for the canoe
was successful, and he was delighted to find it floating safely
alongside, though half full of water, and in danger of being stove
against the timbers of the raft by the waves that were breaking on
deck.  With infinite labor he at length succeeded in hauling the little
craft aboard and securing it in a place of safety.  Then, though he
would gladly have had the comfort of a light in the "shanty," the
thought of his recent narrow escape warned him to guard against another
similar danger by running the lantern to the top of the signal-pole,
and leaving it there as a beacon.

He could do nothing more; and so, drenched, chilled, and weary, the
lonely lad crept back into the "shanty."  How dreary it was to be its
sole occupant!  If he only had some one to talk, plan, and consult
with!  He felt so helpless and insignificant there in the dark,
drifting down the great river on a raft that, without help, he was as
incapable of managing as a baby.  What ought he to do?  What should he
do?  It was so hard to think without putting his thoughts into words.
Even Elta's presence and counsel would be a comfort, and the boy
laughed bitterly to recall how often he had treated the dear sister's
practical common-sense with contempt because she was only a girl.  Now
how gladly would he listen to her advice!  It was pretty evident that
his self-conceit had received a staggering blow, and that self-reliance
would be thankful for the backing of another's wisdom.

As Winn sat by the table, forlorn and shivering, it suddenly occurred
to him that there was no reason why he should not have a fire.  There
was plenty of dry wood.  How stupid he had been not to think of it
before!  Acting upon this idea, he quickly had a cheerful blaze
snapping and crackling in the little stove, which soon began to diffuse
a welcome warmth throughout the room.  By a glance at his watch--a
small silver one that had been his father's when he was a boy--Winn
found the night to be nearly gone.  He was greatly comforted by the
thought that in less than two hours daylight would reveal his situation
and give him a chance to do something.  Still, the lonely waiting was
very tedious, the boy was weary, and the warmth of the fire made him
sleepy.  At first he struggled against the overpowering drowsiness, but
finally he yielded to it, and, with his head sunk on his folded arms,
which rested on the table, was soon buried in a slumber as profound as
that of the earlier night.

At daylight the unguided raft was seen in the "Slant Crossing" by the
crew of an up-bound steamboat, and they wondered at the absence of all
signs of life aboard it.  Every now and then the drifting mass of
timber touched on some sand-bar or reef, but the current always swung
it round, so that it slid off and resumed its erratic voyage.  At
length, after floating swiftly and truly down a long straight chute,
the _Venture_ was seized by an eddy at its foot, revolved slowly
several times, and then reluctantly dragged into a false channel on the
western side of a long, heavily-timbered island.  Half-way down its
length the raft "saddle-bagged," as the river men say, or floated
broadside on, against a submerged rock.  It struck fairly amidship, and
there it hung, forming a barrier, around the ends of which the hurrying
waters laughed and gurgled merrily.

With the shock of the striking Winn awoke, straightened himself, and
rubbed his eyes, wondering vaguely where he was and what had happened.



CHAPTER VI.

MR. GILDER AND HIS RUDE RECEPTION.

After emerging from the "shanty," it did not take the solitary occupant
of the raft long to discover the nature of his new predicament.  The
water was sufficiently clear for him to make out an indistinct outline
of the rock on which the raft was hung, and as the rain was still
falling, he quickly regained the shelter of the "shanty," there to
consider the situation.  It did not take him long to make up his mind
that this was a case in which assistance was absolutely necessary, and
that he must either wait for it to come to him or go in search of it.
First of all, though, he must have something to eat.  He had no need to
look at his watch to discover that it was breakfast-time.  The
condition of his appetite told him that.

Now Winn had never learned to cook.  He had regarded that as an
accomplishment that was well enough for girls to acquire, but one quite
beneath the notice of a man.  Besides, cooking was easy enough, and any
one could do it who had to.  It was only necessary to put things into a
pot and let them boil, or into an oven to bake.  Of course they must be
watched and taken from the stove when done, but that was about all
there was to cooking.  There was a sack of corn-meal in the "shanty,"
and a jug of maple syrup.  A dish of hot mush would be the very thing.
Then there was coffee already ground; of course he would have a cup of
coffee.  So the boy made a roaring fire, found the coffee-pot, set it
on the stove, and filled a large saucepan with corn-meal.

"There may be a little too much in there," he thought; "but I can save
what I can't eat now for lunch, and then fry it, as mother does."

Having got thus far in his preparations, he took a bucket and went
outside for some water from the river.  Here he remained for a few
minutes to gaze at a distant up-bound steamboat, and wondered why he
had not noticed her when she passed the raft.  Although the river
seemed somewhat narrower than he thought it should be, he had no idea
but that he was still in its main channel, and that the land on his
left was the Wisconsin shore.

Still wondering how he could have missed seeing, or at least hearing,
the steamboat, the boy reentered the "shanty."  Thinking of steamboats
rather than of cooking, he began to pour water into the saucepan of
meal, which at once began to run over.  Thus recalled to his duties, he
removed half of the wet meal to another pan, filled it with water, and
set both pans on the stove.  Then he poured a stream of cold water into
the coffee-pot, which by this time was almost red-hot.  The effect was
as distressing as it was unexpected.  A cloud of scalding steam rushed
up into his face and filled the room, the coffee-pot rolled to the
floor with a clatter, and there was such a furious hissing and
sputtering that poor Winn dropped his bucket of water and staggered
towards the door, fully convinced that he was the victim of a boiler
explosion.

When the cloud of steam cleared away, the boy ruefully surveyed the
scene of disaster, and wondered what had gone wrong.  "I'm sure nothing
of the kind ever happened in mother's kitchen," he said to himself.  In
spite of his smarting face, he determined not to be daunted by this
first mishap, but to try again.  So he wiped the floor with a
table-cloth, drew another bucket of water from the river, and resolved
to proceed with the utmost care this time.  To his dismay, as he
stooped to pick up the coffee-pot, he found that it had neither bottom
nor spout, but was a total and useless wreck.  "What a leaky old thing
it must have been," soliloquized the boy.

Just then his attention was attracted by another hissing sound from the
stove and a smell of burning.  Two yellow streams were pouring over the
sides of the saucepans.

"Hello!" cried Winn, as he seized a spoon and began ladling a portion
of the contents from each into a third pan.  "How ever did these things
get full again?  I'm sure I left lots of room in them."

At that moment the contents of all three pans began to burn, and he
filled them with water.  A few minutes later all three began to bubble
over, and he got more pans.  Before he was through with that mush,
every available inch of space on the stove was covered with pans of it,
the disgusted cook was liberally bedaubed with it, and so was the
floor.  The contents of some of the pans were burned black; others were
as weak as gruel; all were lumpy, and all were insipid for want of salt.

For a moment Winn, hot, cross, and smarting from many scalds and burns,
reviewed the results of his first attempt at preparing a meal with a
comical expression, in which wrath and disgust were equally blended.
Then, yielding to an impulse of anger, he picked up one of the messes
and flung it, pan and all, out through the open door.  He was stooping
to seize the next, which he proposed to treat in a similar manner, when
a hand was laid on his shoulder, and he was almost petrified with
amazement by hearing a voice exclaim:

"Hold on, young man!  One at a time is enough.  It's very pleasant to
be greeted warmly, but there is such a thing as too warm a reception.
I'll allow you didn't see me coming, though if I thought you did, I'd
chuck you overboard for that caper."

[Illustration: "'Hold on, young man!  One at a time is enough.'"]

The speaker, who stood in the doorway striving to remove the mess of
sticky mush that had struck him full in the breast and now covered a
large portion of his body, including his face, was a man of middle age
and respectable appearance, clad in a rubber suit and a slouched hat.

Filled with shame and contrition at this unexpected result of his
foolish action, Winn was profuse in his apologies, and picking up the
useful table-cloth that had already served him in one emergency,
stepped forward with an offer of assistance.  The stranger waved him
back, and removed the greater part of the mess by taking off his rubber
coat.  At the same time he said:

"There's no harm done, and worse might have happened.  You might have
been pitching stove lids, or hot soup, or knives and forks, you know.
So, you see, I'm to be congratulated on getting off as well as I have.
But where is the boss of this raft, and the crew?  How did you happen
to run in here out of the channel?  You are not alone, are you?"

"Yes, sir," replied Winn.  "I'm captain and crew and everything else
just at present--excepting cook," he added, hastily, as he noted the
stranger's amused glance at the stove and its surroundings.

"Who is cook, then?"

"There isn't any," answered Winn; "and for that reason there isn't any
breakfast, nor likely to be any, for I'll starve before I try my hand
at it again."

"There seems to be plenty of breakfast, such as it is," said the
stranger, gravely, indicating by a glance the many pans of spoiled
mush.  Then seeing that the boy was really in distress, and not in a
joking humor, he added, "But let me help you set things to rights, and
then I'll see if I can't show you how to get up some sort of a
breakfast.  I'm not a regular cook, as perhaps you may guess; but then,
again, I am one, in a way, as all we river-traders have to be."

"Are you a river-trader?" asked Winn.

"Yes; and there are three of us.  But I'll tell you all about it, and
you shall tell me your story after we've had breakfast."

To Winn, the expeditious manner in which his recent culinary disasters
were repaired and a simple but well-cooked breakfast was made ready by
this stranger was a source of undisguised admiration.  Even coffee,
clear and strong, was made in a tin can.  One edge of the can was bent
into the form of a rude spout; then it was filled two-thirds with
water, and set on the stove.  When the water came to a boil, half a
cupful of ground coffee, tied loosely in a bit of clean muslin, was
dropped into it, and allowed to boil for three minutes.  A kind of
biscuit made of flour, water, shortening, baking-powder, and salt, well
mixed, and rolled thin, was quickly baked, first on one side and then
on the other, in an iron skillet on top of the stove.  At the same time
a single cupful of corn-meal, well salted, and boiled for half an hour,
furnished a large dish of smoking mush.  Half a dozen thin slices of
bacon broiled on a toaster completed what Winn enthusiastically
declared was the very best breakfast he had ever eaten.  Still, the boy
was so ravenously hungry that it is probable even his own burned and
lumpy mixture of corn-meal would not have tasted so bad as it looked.

While he was busy with the breakfast, the stranger, who said his name
was Gilder, talked pleasantly on many subjects.  At the same time he
managed somehow to learn all about Winn and his family, the raft and
how it happened to be where it was, without giving a single item of
information concerning himself in return.

When Winn finally declared that he could eat no more, Mr. Gilder also
pushed back his chair, and said:

"Now, then, for business.  First, I must tell you that you are in a
very serious predicament.  I examined the position of this raft before
coming aboard, and arrived at the conclusion that both it and its cargo
are in a fair way of becoming a total loss.  As soon as the river falls
again, which it is likely to do at any time, the raft will probably
break in pieces of its own weight.  In that case you would lose both it
and your wheat.  The only plan I can suggest for saving the raft is to
lighten it until it floats clear of the rock on which it is hung, by
throwing the wheat overboard; or, if you can manage it, land your wheat
on the island, where it can remain until you can take it away.  Of
course the decision as to which of these things you will do rests
entirely with yourself; but you must make up your mind quickly, for
with this uncertain state of water there isn't an hour to lose."



CHAPTER VII.

A GANG OF "RIVER-TRADERS."

For a whole minute Winn sat silent, while from the opposite side of the
table Mr. Gilder regarded his perplexed countenance with an expression
that was not altogether pleasant.  Winn, suddenly looking up from his
hard thinking, was a bit startled by it; but as it instantly melted
into one of smiling sympathy, his confidence in the man remained
unbroken.  Had he seen Mr. Gilder two hours earlier, instead of one,
his opinion of the individual who had just prepared such a capital
breakfast, expressed so great friendliness, and now showed him so
plainly the unpleasant predicament into which he had fallen, would have
been decidedly different.

At that time Mr. Gilder was kneeling beside an opening in the floor of
a log-hut, in the centre of the island, and lifting from it a tray of
odd-looking but beautifully made tools.  The hut was small and rudely
constructed.  It was surrounded by a dense forest growth, and stood in
a tiny clearing from which no road or trail could be seen to lead.  All
its appointments were of the most primitive description, and yet a
single glance into its interior would have impressed one with the
belief that its occupants were millionaires.  The effect of piles and
stacks of greenbacks, enough to form the capital of a city bank or fill
the vaults of a sub-treasury, amid such surroundings, would certainly
have startled even those accustomed to the handling of great wealth.
The bills, all of which were new and crisp, were done up in neat
packages, each of which was marked with the number of hundreds or
thousands of dollars it contained.  In one corner of the room stood a
small printing-press of exquisite make.  Besides this press, a
work-bench, table, and several rude stools, the single room of the hut
contained only the piles of greenbacks.

A man sat beside the table counting and sorting a large number of
bills, the worn appearance of which showed them to have been in active
circulation for some time.  This man was small, and had a weazened face
devoid of hair except for a pair of bushy, iron-gray eyebrows, beneath
which his eyes gleamed as cunningly bright as those of a fox.  He
answered to the name of Grimshaw; and as he counted bills with the
deftness and rapidity of a bank cashier, he also paid a certain amount
of attention to the remarks of his companion, who was talking earnestly.

"I tell you what it is, Grim," the other was saying, as he bent over
the secret opening in the floor, "it's high time we were moving.  This
is a first-class location, and we've done well here; but you know as
well as I do that our business requires a pretty frequent change of
scene, and I'm afraid we've stayed here too long already.  One of those
mill fellows said only yesterday that we must have collected a powerful
lot of stuff by this time, and asked if we weren't about ready to
invite him up to inspect and bid on it.  I told him we were thinking of
putting it into a raft and taking it down-river.  Never had such an
idea, you know, but the notion just popped into my head, and I'm not
sure now but what it's as good a one as we'll strike.  What do you
think?"

"It'll take a heap of hard work, and more time than I for one want to
spare, to build a raft large enough for our purpose," answered
Grimshaw.  "Still, I don't know as the idea is wholly bad."

"It would take time, that's a fact," answered Mr. Gilder, lifting his
tray of tools to the table and proceeding to polish some of them with a
bit of buckskin.  "And it looks as though time was going to be an
object with us shortly.  That last letter from Wiley showed that the
Chicago folks were beginning to sniff pretty suspiciously in this
direction.  I've been asked some awkward questions lately, too.  Yes,
the more I think of it, the more I am convinced that we ought to be
getting out of here as quickly as we can make arrangements.  We must
talk it over with Plater, and come to some decision this very day.
He's--  Hello!  Something's up.  Plater was to stay in camp till I got
back."

Again came the peculiar, long-drawn whistle that had arrested the
attention of the men, and which denoted the approach of a friend.  Mr.
Gilder stepped to the door and answered it.  Then he looked expectantly
towards a laurel thicket that formed part of the dense undergrowth
surrounding the hut.  In a moment the dripping branches were parted
near the ground, and a man, emerging from the bushes on his hands and
knees, stood up, shook himself like a Newfoundland dog, and advanced
towards the open door.  He was a large man with long hair and a bushy
beard.  He was clad in flannel, jeans, and cowhide boots, and was
evidently of a different class from Mr. Gilder, who appeared to be a
gentleman, and was dressed as one.  "What's up, Plater?" asked the
latter.

"Big raft, three shanties on it, in false channel, saddle-bagged on the
reef pretty nigh abreast of camp.  Can't see nobody aboard.  Reckon she
broke adrift from somewheres while her crew was off on a frolic."

"You don't say so!" cried Mr. Gilder, excitedly.  "Perhaps it's the
very thing we are most in need of, sent by a special providence to
crown our labors with success.  I'll go down and have a look at her,
while you stay here and help Grim pack up the stuff.  We might as well
be prepared for a sudden move, and he'll tell you what we have just
been talking about."

So Mr. Gilder, donning his rubber coat, a garment that Plater would
have scorned to wear, left the clearing through another bushy thicket
on the opposite side from that by which his confederate had entered it.
An almost undiscernible path led him to the shore of the island that
was washed by the main channel of the river.  Here he struck into a
plainly marked trail that followed the water's edge.  In this trail Mr.
Gilder walked to the southern end of the island, and up its other side
until he reached a comfortable camp that bore signs of long occupancy.
It stood high on a cut bank, and just below it a rude boom held a
miscellaneous assortment of logs, lumber, and odd wreckage, all of it
evidently collected from the stray drift of the great river.

From the edge of the bank, a short distance from this camp, the man
commanded a good view of the stranded raft, and for several minutes he
stood gazing at it.  "There's the very thing to a T, that we want," he
said to himself.  "Not too big for us to handle, and yet large enough
to make it seem an object for us to take it down the river.  I can't
see what they want of three shanties, though; one ought to be enough
for all the crew she needs.  Our first move would be to tear down two
of them, and lengthen the other; that alone would be a sufficient
disguise.  We haven't got her yet, though, and she isn't abandoned
either, for there's smoke coming from that middle shanty.  I reckon the
cook must be aboard, and maybe he'll sell the whole outfit for cash,
and so give us a clear title to it."  Here Mr. Gilder smiled as though
the thought was most amusing.  "I'll go off and interview him anyway,
and I'd better be about it too, for the river is still rising.  She
won't hang there much longer, and if the fellow found his raft afloat
again before a bargain was made he might not come to terms.  In that
case we should be obliged to take forcible possession, which would be
risky.  I'm bound to have that raft, though.  It is simply a case of
necessity, and necessity is in the same fix we are, so far as law is
concerned."

While thus thinking, Mr. Gilder had stepped into a light skiff that was
moored near the boom, and was pulling towards the stranded raft.  He
first examined its position, and assured himself that very little labor
would be necessary to float it; then he stepped aboard, and very nearly
lost his customary self-possession upon the receipt of Winn's warm
greeting.  He was on the point of returning it in a manner that would
have proved most unpleasant for poor Winn, when he discovered that his
supposed assailant was only a boy, and that the act was unintentional.
It took the shrewd man but a few minutes to discover the exact state of
affairs aboard the raft, and to form a plan for gaining peaceful, if
not altogether lawful, possession of it.  This plan he began to carry
out by the false statement of the situation made to Winn at the
conclusion of the last chapter.  This beginning was not made, however,
until he had first gained the lad's confidence by a deed of kindness.

When Winn looked up from his hard thinking he said, "I hate the thought
of throwing the wheat overboard, even to save the raft.  There are two
thousand bushels of it, and I know my father expects to get at least
fifty cents a bushel.  So it would seem like throwing a thousand
dollars into the river.  Then, again, I don't see how it will be
possible to land it, and so lighten the raft.  It would take me a month
to do it alone with my canoe.  Besides, father is sure to set out on a
hunt for the raft the moment he finds it is gone, and so is likely to
come along most any time."

"All the greater need for haste," thought Mr. Gilder; but aloud he
said, "That is very true, but in the mean time your raft will probably
break up, and your wheat be spilled in the river anyway.  Now suppose
you agree to pay me and my partners a hundred dollars to get the wheat
ashore for you and reload it after the raft floats."

"I haven't a cent of money with me," replied Winn.

"That's bad," said the other, reflectively.  "It's awkward to travel
without money.  But I'll tell you what we'll do.  I hate to see a
decent young fellow like you in such a fix, and I'm willing to take a
risk to help him out of it.  Suppose I buy your wheat?  I told you that
I and my partners were river traders.  To be sure, our business is
mostly in logs, lumber, and the like; but I don't mind taking an
occasional flyer in wheat, provided they are willing.  You say your
father expects to get fifty cents a bushel for this wheat.  Now I'll
give you forty-five cents a bushel for it; that is, if my partners
agree.  That will leave five cents a bushel to pay us for landing it,
transferring it to some other craft, and getting your raft afloat.
What do you say?"

"I wish I could ask father about it," hesitated Winn, to whom, under
the circumstances as he supposed them to exist, the offer seemed very
tempting.

"Oh, well," sneered Mr. Gilder, "if you are not man enough now to act
upon your own responsibility in such an emergency, you never will be.
So the sooner you get home again and tie up to your mother's
apron-string the sooner you'll be where you belong."

The taunt was as well worn as it was cruel, and should have given Winn
an insight into the true character of his new acquaintance; but on a
boy so proud of his ability to decide for himself, and so ignorant of
the ways of the world as this one, it was sufficient to produce the
desired effect.

Winn flushed hotly as he answered: "The wheat is my father's, and not
mine to sell; but for the sake of saving it as well as the raft, I will
let you have it at that price.  I must have the cash, though, before
you begin to move it."

"Spoken like the man I took you to be," said Mr. Gilder, heartily.
"Now we'll go ashore and see my partners.  If they agree to the
bargain, as no doubt they will, we'll get to work at once, and have
your raft afloat again in no time."



CHAPTER VIII.

DISAPPEARANCE OF THE RAFT.

When Winn and his new acquaintance stepped outside of the "shanty," it
did not seem to the boy that the river was falling, or that the raft
was in a particularly dangerous position.  He would have liked to
examine more closely into its condition, but his companion so occupied
his attention by describing the manner in which he proposed to remove
the wheat, and so hurried him into the waiting skiff, that he had no
opportunity to do so.

The "river-traders'" camp was not visible from the raft, nor did Mr.
Gilder, who handled the oars, head the skiff in its direction.  He
rowed diagonally up-stream instead, so as to land at some distance
above it.  There he asked Winn to wait a few minutes until he should
discover in which direction his partners had gone.  He explained that
one of them had been left in camp at a considerable distance from that
point, while he and the third had been rowing along the shore of the
island in opposite directions, searching for drift-logs.  Thus he alone
had discovered the stranded raft.  Now he wished to bring them to that
point, that they might see it for themselves before he explained the
proposed wheat deal.  With this Mr. Gilder plunged directly into the
tall timber, leaving Winn alone on the river-bank.

It was fully fifteen minutes before the man returned to the waiting
lad, and he not only looked heated but anxious.

"I can't think what has become of those fellows!" he exclaimed,
breathlessly, as he wiped the moisture from his forehead with a cambric
handkerchief.  "I've been clear to camp without finding a trace of
either of them.  Now there is only one thing left for us to do in order
to get them here quickly.  You and I must start around the island in
opposite directions, because if we went together we might follow them
round and round like a kitten chasing its tail.  If you meet them,
bring them back here, and I will do the same.  If you don't meet them,
keep on until you are half-way down the other side of the island, or
exactly opposite this point; then strike directly into the timber, and
so make a short-cut back here.  In that way you will reach this place
again as soon as I, for the island isn't more than three hundred yards
wide just here.  Be spry, now, and remember that the safety of your
raft depends largely upon the promptness with which we get those other
fellows here."

With this Mr. Gilder began to walk rapidly down the shore in the
direction he had chosen.  Carried away by the man's impetuosity, Winn
did not hesitate to obey his instructions, but started at once in the
opposite direction.  Mr. Gilder, noting this by a backward glance over
his shoulder, instantly halted and concealed himself behind a large
tree-trunk.  From here he peered at the retreating figure of the boy
until it was no longer visible.  Then he gave vent to the same peculiar
whistle with which Plater had announced his own approach to the log-hut
in the woods.  The sound was immediately answered from no great
distance, whereupon Mr. Gilder hastened in that direction.  A minute
later he returned, bringing a coil of stout rope, one end of which he
made fast to a tree on the bank.  At the same time both Grimshaw and
Plater appeared, each bearing a large package securely wrapped in
canvas on his shoulder.

All three men entered the skiff and pulled out to the raft, carrying
the loose end of the rope with them.  Mr. Gilder and Grimshaw quickly
returned to the land, leaving the burly Plater to make a vigorous
attack with an axe against the sides of one of the wheat bins.  He soon
splintered and tore off a board, leaving an aperture through which a
broad stream of wheat rushed out on the deck of the raft.  This Plater
began to shovel overboard, working with furious energy, as though
combating a hated enemy.  In ten minutes both bins were empty, and so
much of the wheat had gone into the ever-rising waters that the raft,
which had been on the point of floating when Plater began his
operations, now did so, and swung in close to the bank at the end of
its new cable.

[Illustration: "A broad stream of wheat rushed out on the deck"]

In the mean time the other men had brought several skiff-loads of their
peculiar merchandise to the raft, and now it took but a few minutes to
transfer what remained on the bank directly to it.  Even the tent,
which had been hastily torn down, together with a portion of their camp
outfit, was tossed aboard, and within fifteen minutes from the time of
Winn's departure the _Venture_, with its new crew at the sweeps, was
moving slowly out from the island, and gathering impetus from the
current for a continuance of its eventful voyage.

Without a suspicion that the gentlemanly stranger who had so kindly
smoothed away his culinary difficulties, and, while apparently willing
to assist him, was also anxious to make a good bargain for himself, was
anything but what he appeared to be, Winn made his way briskly towards
the head of the island.  It was only after rounding it and starting
down the opposite side without seeing a sign of those whom he sought
that he began to have misgivings.

"I wonder if it is all right?" he said to himself.  "What could be the
man's object in telling me that the raft was in a dangerous position if
she isn't?  I declare I don't believe she is, though!  She didn't look
it when I left, and I do believe the river is still rising.  I wonder
if I haven't done a foolish thing in leaving the raft?  If I have, the
best thing to do now is to get back as quickly as possible."

By this time the boy had worked himself into a fever of apprehension,
and, remembering what he had been told concerning the narrowness of the
island, he determined to make a short-cut across it.  This was exactly
what the far-sighted Mr. Gilder had anticipated, and Winn fell an easy
victim to his artfully planned trap.  For nearly an hour the boy,
versed in wood-craft as he was, wandered and struggled through the
dense undergrowth of that island forest.  Suddenly, as he burst his way
through a thicket, he was confronted by the log-hut so lately occupied
by the "river-traders."  Winn shouted as he approached it; but, of
course, received no reply.  It had the lonely look of a place long
deserted, and the boy paused for but a single glance into its
uninviting interior.  Then, getting his bearings anew by the sun that
was beginning to struggle through the clouds, he pushed his way
resolutely towards the western side of the island, which, somewhat to
his surprise, he reached a few minutes later.

He emerged from the timber at the abandoned camp of the traders; but
without stopping to examine it, he ran to the water's edge, and gazed
anxiously both up and down stream.  There was no sign of the raft nor
of any moving object.  "It must be farther up, around that point,"
thought Winn, and he hurried in that direction.  From one point to
another he thus pursued his anxious way until the head of the island
was once more in sight.  Then he knew that he must have passed the
place where the raft had been, and that it was gone.

As a realizing sense of how he had been duped and of his present
situation flashed through his mind, the poor boy sat down on a log, too
bewildered to act, or even to think.



CHAPTER IX.

ALONE ON THE ISLAND.

Winn Caspar was indeed unhappy as he sat on that log and gazed
hopelessly out over the sparkling waters, on which the sun was now
shining brightly.  Although he had explored only a portion of the
island, he felt that he was alone on it.  But that was by no means the
worst of the situation.  The raft in which he had taken so much pride,
his father's raft upon which so much depended, the raft on which he had
expected to float out into the great world, was gone, and he was
powerless to follow it.  All through his own fault, too!  This thought
was the hardest to bear.  Why, even Elta would have known better.  Of
course she would.  Any one but he would, and she was wiser than almost
any one he knew.  How dearly he loved this wise little sister, and to
think that he had parted with her in anger!  When was that?  Only last
evening!  Impossible!  It must have been weeks ago.  It wasn't, though!
It was only a few hours ago, and his father had hardly had time to come
and look for him yet.  Perhaps he was even now on his way down the
river, and might be passing on the other side of the island.

With this thought the boy sprang to his feet, and hurrying to the head
of the island, eagerly scanned the waters of the main channel.  There
was nothing in sight, not even a skiff or a canoe.  "Even my dugout is
gone," thought Winn, with a fresh pang, for he was very fond of the
little craft that was all his own.  Then he wondered how he should
attract his father's attention, and decided to build a fire, with the
hope that Major Caspar might come to it to make inquiries, and thus
effect his rescue.

Having a definite object to work for cheered the boy somewhat, and his
heart grew sensibly lighter as he began to collect wood for his fire.
But how should he light it?  He had no matches.  For a moment this new
difficulty seemed insurmountable; then he remembered having seen the
smouldering remains of a fire at the abandoned camp on the other side
of the island.  He must go back to it at once.

Hurrying back around the head of the island, Winn reached the place
just in time to find a few embers still glowing faintly, and after
whittling a handful of shavings, he succeeded, by a great expenditure
of breath, in coaxing a tiny flame into life.  Very carefully he piled
on dry chips, and then larger sticks, until finally he had a fire
warranted to live through a rain-storm.  Now for another on the
opposite side of the island!

He could not carry lighted sticks the way he had come.  It was too far.
He thought he could get them safely across the island, though, if he
only knew the most direct path.  He would first discover this and then
return for his fire.  Quite early in the search he stumbled across a
very narrow trail that seemed to lead in the right direction.  By
following it he came once more to the deserted log-hut in the forest,
but search through the little clearing as he might, he could not see
that it went any farther.

Taking his bearings, after deciding to open a trail of his own from
there to the river, the boy attacked a thicket on the eastern side of
the clearing with his jack-knife.  A few minutes of cutting carried him
through it, and, to his amazement, he found himself again in an
unmistakable trail.  It was narrow and indistinct, but it was none the
less a trail, leading in the right direction, and the boy was woodman
enough to follow it without hesitation to the river-bank.  A steamboat
was passing the island, but though Winn waved frantically to it and
shouted himself hoarse, no attention was paid to him.  With a heavy
heart he watched it out of sight, and then began another collection of
wood for his signal-fire.

When it was made, he again crossed the island, selected a blazing stick
from the camp-fire, and started to retrace his steps.  By the time he
reached the log-hut he found it necessary to stop and renew his blaze
by building a fire in the rude chimney.  By thus establishing a relay
station he finally succeeded in getting a blaze to the desired spot on
the channel side of the island, and in starting a brisk fire at that
point.

Here the boy would have stayed and watched for the craft that he fondly
hoped would come to his deliverance; but it was now a long time since
breakfast, and his hard work had made him very hungry.  He might find
something to eat at that abandoned camp, which he had not yet examined.
At any rate he would go and look.  So he piled logs on his fire until
satisfied that it would last for some hours.  Then picking up a bit of
shingle from the beach, he wrote on it with the stump of a lead-pencil:

"I am on the island.  Follow the trail and you will find me.----WINN
CASPAR."


This note he stuck in a cleft sapling, from which he first cut the top,
and which stood so near the fire that it was certain to attract
attention.  Then feeling that he could do nothing more in that place,
he set forth in search of something with which to satisfy his hunger.
On his way back he stopped at the hut, and made a thorough but vain
search for food.  There was not so much as would have fed a mouse, and
the only thing of value that the boy discovered was a rusty fish-hook
stuck into one of the wall logs.  Before leaving the hut he replenished
the fire in the chimney-place, thinking that perhaps he might return
there to sleep.  Then he went on to the camp.

Here Winn's search for food was as unsuccessful as it had been at the
hut.  He found a number of cooking utensils, battered and smoked, and
discovered an old axe still sticking in the log on which it had been
last used.  He also found some bits of rope and cord.  He knotted
together enough of the latter to make a rude line, attached his
fish-hook to it, cut a pole, dug some bait, and began to fish just
above the "river-traders'" boom.  For some time he sat there,
patiently, but got no bites.  The poor boy began to grow desperate with
hunger.

"I declare!  I've a great mind to swim for the main-land," he said,
aloud.  "No I won't, though.  I can do better than that.  Besides, the
water is cold enough to give me a cramp.  I can make a raft of these
logs.  Why didn't I think of it before?"

Thrusting the butt end of his pole into the soft earth of the bank, and
weighting it with a good, sized stone, the boy went to the boom to
examine its contents.  There were plenty of logs suitable for the
foundation of a raft, and more than enough lumber to deck it
handsomely.  But what was that brown stuff filling so many of the
crevices between the logs and timbers?

"Wheat, as I'm a living boy!" exclaimed Winn, stooping and gathering
some of the stuff in his hands.  "Wheat! but where can it have come
from?  Did the _Venture_ suddenly break up and go to pieces after all,
as Mr. Gilder said she would?"  If so, then the situation was worse
than he had supposed, for until now the boy had entertained some hopes
of being able to follow and perhaps recover the raft, especially if his
father should come along and discover him.  But if the raft were broken
up, as the presence of this wheat seemed to indicate, then its loss was
indeed total and irreparable.

"But if they have not gone off with the raft, what has become of those
river traders?" argued the boy with himself.  "They might have followed
the broken sections, or even gone off on one of them.  I believe that's
what they have done!" he exclaimed aloud.  "That accounts for their
leaving in such a hurry, and taking their provisions with them.  I
didn't think that Gilder was such a bad sort of a chap after all.  Now
he is pretty sure to come back for me after he has secured what he can
from the wreck.  But what am I to do for something to eat in the mean
time?  If I could only catch a fish!"

Just then there was a great commotion in the water, and the pole left
sticking in the bank began to bend ominously.  Winn sprang towards it;
but as he stretched out his hand it flew back into position, and the
flurry in the water subsided.  The wretched line had parted, and the
big catfish, from which the boy could have made such a capital supper,
was seeking the deepest hole in the river.  The worst of it all was
that he had taken Winn's only hook with him, and so put an end to any
further efforts for his capture.

The boy could have cried with hunger and vexation.  It wouldn't have
done him any good, though, and he knew it; so he began to gather a tin
cup full of the water-soaked wheat instead.  This he set on a bed of
coals to boil, and was so hungry that he could not wait for it to be
done, but ate it half raw, without salt, butter, sugar, syrup, milk, or
anything that serves to render such food palatable, and only partially
cooked at that, it still seemed to Winn one of the best things he had
ever eaten, and he immediately started the cooking of another mess.
There was not much of the wheat in sight, and to secure a second cupful
the boy scraped up every grain that he could find.

"After this comes starvation," thought Winn; "unless I can get away
from this island, and I am going to begin work on that raft at once."

He carefully collected every bit of rope he could find, and thus
secured enough to lash together four of the largest logs.  Above these
he laid a platform of boards, and longed for some nails with which to
fasten them in place.  He did remarkably well considering his limited
means, and by sunset had completed a raft that would more than support
his weight.  If he could only keep it clear of snags and reefs it would
also bear him in safety down the river, to some place where there were
suppers and breakfasts to be had.

It would not do to attempt the voyage on such a frail structure in the
dark, of course; and so, at sunset, Winn reluctantly began his
preparations for passing a night of loneliness on the island.



CHAPTER X.

A NIGHT OF STRANGE HAPPENINGS.

Winn's preparations for the night were of the simplest description,
because he had so little to prepare.  The boy tried to console himself
with this thought.  "If I had provisions I should have to cook," he
said to himself; "and if there is one thing in this world meaner than
another it is cooking.  I never realized before what mother has to go
through with every day.  Never complains of it, either.  She's a
regular angel, though, and things always seem to go right with her.
Now with boys it's just the other way.  See what a fix I've got into
all on account of being a boy, and trying to do things.  Seems to me
that Gilder must have been a pretty patient sort of a boy to learn to
cook the way he does.  I wonder if he ever gets into scrapes?  He'd be
in one if he was in my place now, and I wish I knew how he'd get out of
it."

While thus thinking Winn was by no means idle.  He cut a number of
bushes and leaned them against the ridge-pole of the "traders'" tent,
the frame of which they had left standing.  This shelter was so
arranged as to form a wind-break on the north side of the fire, the
grateful warmth being thus reflected from its inner surface.  An armful
of twigs and another of dry grass formed the boy's bed, and a drink of
river-water his supper.  He had thought of passing the night in the
log-hut; but as darkness came on he could not bear the thought of its
lonesomeness.  It was bad enough to be alone on the river-bank, with a
broad expanse of star-dotted sky to look at; but that forlorn little
hut, shut in on all sides by the dark forest!  Ugh!  It made him shiver
to think of it.  No; he was decidedly better off where he was, and even
if his father came along during the night, which Winn did not think
probable, he could not fail to see the notice posted beside the
signal-fire.  It was important that he should remain near his new raft
too, so that at the first streak of daylight he could board it and be
off.

After a while the lonely lad fell into a sleep filled with troubled
dreams.  An owl came and hooted above him; the night wind sighed
weirdly through the tall timber behind him; while queer gurglings,
mysterious splashings, and other strange sounds came from the
swift-flowing river close at hand.  Although none of these sounds
wakened the boy, they tinged his dreams with their uncanniness.

For some hours he slept, and then woke with a start.  He was sitting
bolt upright, and felt certain that something cold and wet had just
touched his face.  He put a hand to his cheek.  Yes, there was a wet
spot.  What were those two bright points shining in the dim fireglow!
They looked like eyes.  Winn sprang to his feet.  At his movement the
glowing eyeballs vanished.  Some animal uttered an indescribable sound,
something between a bark and a snarl, there was a rustling of dead
leaves, and then all was still.

While the boy stood trembling with the vague fear that always
accompanies a suspected but unknown danger, and staring blankly into
the darkness, there came to his ears from the forest depths a sound
that was almost as terrifying as the recent presence of the unknown
animal.  It seemed a mingling of howls, cries, and groanings.  It rose
and fell, now loud, and then almost inaudible; but it always came from
the direction of the deserted log-hut.  At length it ceased, and now
Winn noticed for the first time that a faint light was beginning to
tinge the eastern sky above the tree-tops.

"Daylight is coming," thought the boy, "and it is high time for me to
be off."  He was glad of an excuse for leaving a place that had all at
once become filled with such unexplained terrors.  Feeling his way
cautiously to the river-bank, he reached the little raft without
mishap.  It took him some time to get it clear of the boom; but at
length he succeeded, and with a very decided feeling of relief he
pushed off into the current, and proceeded on his journey.

Winn's spirits rose as his clumsy craft moved out from the heavy
shadows of the island, and he began to whistle to convince himself that
he had not been afraid of anything after all.  Suddenly he heard low
voices close beside him, a dark object dashed up to his raft, and a
dazzling light was flashed full in his face.  The next instant two men
sprang to his side, threw him down, searched him for arms, secured his
knife, which was the only thing resembling a weapon that he possessed,
and forced him into a large skiff containing several other men.

"Close the lantern," ordered one of these in a low but stern voice,
"and pull for that fire on shore.  No doubt we'll bag some more of them
there."  Then to Winn the man said, "So you thought you could give us
the slip, did you, young fellow?  Well, you found us up too early,
didn't you?  Now the best thing you can do is to afford us all possible
aid in capturing the rest of your gang.  It'll count big in your favor
with the Judge, I can tell you.  How many are there on the island?"

"I don't know what you mean--" began Winn, indignantly; but a heavy
hand was instantly clapped over his mouth.

"Shut up!" whispered the man, hoarsely, but with terrible distinctness.
"If you speak another loud word I'll brain you.  You'll find out what I
mean when we've landed you safely in Dubuque jail.  Now answer me in a
whisper.  How many of your pals are on the island?"

"I haven't any pals," replied Winn, putting as much force into his
whisper as he dared, "and there isn't any one on the island.  This is
an outrage, and--"

"That will do," answered the man, sternly.  "If that's the tone you are
going to take, we don't want to hear any more of it."

Just then the bow of the skiff was run on the bank, and the man,
grasping Winn's arm, stepped ashore, saying, "Now make yourself useful,
young fellow, and lead us to your mint or den or whatever you call it.
If you don't want to I'll find a way to compel you, and if you try any
low-down tricks, I'll make you wish you'd never been born."

"Do you mean the log-hut?" asked Winn.

"Yes, if that's what you call it; but you want to get a move onto you
in a hurry."

Bewildered and indignant as he was, Winn was yet cool enough to realize
the folly of resistance.  He also reflected that when these men found
the hut deserted, and that there was no one besides themselves on the
island, they would be willing to listen to his story.  At any rate, so
long as he was in their power it was best to do as they directed.  So,
with the leader's hand still grasping his arm, the boy led the way into
the narrow trail that he had already traversed so often.

Proceeding slowly, and with such extreme caution that not a sound
betrayed their presence, the men followed in single file.  At the edge
of the little clearing Winn halted, and was about to speak, when a hand
was again clapped over his mouth with the force of a blow.

"Whisper!" came the order.

"Well there's your hut," whispered the boy, as soon as he was given the
chance, "and if you find any one in it, then I'm a liar, that's all."

The hut was plainly visible by the firelight that streamed from its
open window.  Winn wondered at the brightness of this light, for it
seemed as though the fire he had left there the evening before ought to
have burned out long ago.  He also wondered that he did not remember
having closed the door.  As no light came from its direction, it
certainly appeared to be closed now.  As these thoughts flashed through
the boy's mind, the man who held him, and who was evidently the leader
of the party, whispered,

"You say there isn't anybody in there, but it looks to me as if there
was.  Anyhow, we'll find out in another minute, and if you've led us
into a trap or played us false, I'll see that you swing for it, or my
name's not Riley.  Bill, you stay here and see that this chap doesn't
put up any game on us while we surround that den of thieves.  Have your
guns ready for use, men."

Although all this was spoken in a whisper, inaudible beyond its
immediate group of hearers, there was no mistaking the man's stern
meaning, and Winn experienced an uneasy dread such as he had not
heretofore felt throughout this strange adventure.

Suppose there should be some one in the hut?  Suppose the
"river-traders" had returned to the island and should resent this
intrusion even to the point of resisting it?  In such a case what would
happen to him?  If his captors were triumphant they would declare he
had led them into a trap, for doing which they had promised to hang
him.  If, on the other hand, the "river-traders" had returned and
should make a successful fight, would not their wrath also be directed
towards him for leading their assailants to the hut?  In either case,
it seemed to the bewildered boy that his position was decidedly
unpleasant, and he awaited the immediate developments of the situation
with no little anxiety.

Those who had followed him had disappeared like shadows, and Winn could
not detect a sound save the suppressed breathing of the man who had
been detailed to guard him, and who now held his arm.

Suddenly a dog's bark broke the stillness, and a loud challenge,
followed by a pistol shot, rang out through the night air.  There was a
confused trampling; the forest echoed with a roar of guns; the door of
the hut was burst open, and a furious rush was made for the interior.

In his excitement Winn's guard loosed his hold of the boy's arm and
took a step forward, the better to distinguish what was going on.

Winn was free, and acting upon the impulse of the moment, he slipped
behind a great tree-trunk, stole noiselessly a few paces farther, and
then dashed away with the speed of a deer back over the trail leading
to the river.  He did not pause when he reached the camp in which he
had passed the night so unhappily, but bounded down the bank to the
water's edge.  Here he cast loose the painter of the skiff that had
brought Mr. Riley and his men to the island, and, with a mighty shove
towards the channel, gave a spring that landed him at full length in
its bottom.  Here he lay breathless and almost motionless for the next
thirty minutes, or until his craft had drifted below the tail of the
island, and was spinning down the main channel of the great river.



CHAPTER XI.

BILLY BRACKETT'S SURPRISING SITUATION.

When Billy Brackett set forth on his search for a nephew and a runaway
raft he did not anticipate any difficulty in finding them.  The
appearance of the raft had been minutely described to him, and,
according to this description, it was too distinctive in its character
to be mistaken for anything else.  Three shanties, and they of unusual
construction, on a raft of that size formed a peculiarity sufficient to
arrest the immediate attention of all river men.  Thus the young
engineer felt certain that by making an occasional inquiry and
proceeding at a speed at least double that of the raft, he could easily
trace and overtake it, even though it should not run aground, which he
thought more than likely to happen early in its voyage.

So Billy Brackett rowed down the creek without a trace of anxiety to
mar the pleasure of the adventure into which he had so unexpectedly
tumbled.  One peculiarity of this light-hearted young man was that no
proposition to leave a beaten track and strike into an unexplored
trail, even though it led in exactly the opposite direction, could be
too absurd or unexpected to meet with his ready approval, always
providing it promised plenty of adventure.  At the same time he never
lost sight of the fact that he had a living to earn, besides a
professional reputation to win and maintain.  Consequently he generally
managed to make his adventures keep step with his duties.  In the
present instance he felt that Major Caspar's aid was necessary to the
fulfilling of his timber contract.  He also realized that the only way
to obtain it was by taking his brother-in-law's place in searching for
the lost raft and navigating it down the river to a market.  He had no
family ties to bind him to times or places, and with Bim for company he
was ready to start at any moment for any portion of the globe.

"Bim" was a diminutive of Cherubim, a name bestowed by its present
owner upon the wretched puppy that he had rescued from an abandoned
emigrant wagon high up in the California Sierras, because like Cherubim
and Seraphim he "continually did cry."  The little one was nearly dead,
and its mother, lying beside it, was quite so, when they were
discovered by the tender-hearted engineer.  He had fought his way
through a blinding snowstorm and high-piled drifts to the abandoned
wagon on the chance of finding human beings in distress.  When he
discovered only a forlorn little bull-pup, he buttoned it warmly under
his blanket overcoat and fought his way back to camp.  During that
struggle the helpless creature won its way to Billy Brackett's heart,
as all young things, human or animal, were sure to do, and assumed a
place there that had never since been resigned.

From that day Bim, or "U-Bim," as he was sometimes called, had so
thrived under good feeding, kind care, and judicious training that when
he started with his master to voyage down the great river he was as
fine a specimen of a full-blooded bull-dog as could be found in the
country.  He was pure white, bow-legged, and broad-chested.  His upper
lip was drawn slightly back, so as to display his teeth; but this
expression of ferocity was relieved by the almost human intelligence of
his eyes.  He was absolutely fearless, but as loving and gentle as he
was brave.  He understood every word spoken within his hearing, and his
master declared that for his wisdom he ought to be named "Solomon."  He
never made an unprovoked assault upon a living creature, and would
stand any amount of abuse from children or those weaker than himself.
Let an indignity be offered to his beloved master in his presence,
though, and his fury was as terrible as that of a young lion.  Then woe
to the unfortunate in whose flesh those gleaming teeth were once
fastened.  From the vise-like grip of the powerful jaws behind them
nothing but death or Billy Brackett's command could effect a release.

Such were the occupants of the skiff that soon after dusk shot out from
the mouth of the Caspar Creek on the broad bosom of the great river.
Billy Brackett talked to his dog as he would to a human companion, and
at that moment he was saying:

"Look here, Bim, I've a great mind to play a joke on that young nephew
of ours when we find him.  You see, he won't know us from Adam, and
probably doesn't remember that he has an Uncle William in the world.
Now what is to hinder us from working the stranger racket on him?
Wrecked, or broke, or something, and want to earn a passage down the
river on a raft, it being easier as well as more sociable and
pleasanter in every way than a steamboat.  What's to hinder us from
doing it, eh?  Nothing?  Right you are, old dog, and we'll do it, too,
if we get the chance.  Thus will we discover what sort of stuff he is
made of, and get acquainted with his inside self, as Glen Eddy used to
say.  So you understand, U-Bim, that you are not to give us away or let
on that we are any kin to the Caspars.  _Sabe_?  All right.  Now for a
twenty-mile spin down-stream, and then we'll hunt a place to lie by for
the night."

With this the young man bent lustily to his oars, while Bim sat in the
stern of the skiff, alert to every movement made by his master, and
swaying his body like that of a genuine cockswain.

Billy Brackett recognized the "Slant Crossing," when they reached it,
from the description he had received of its length and direction; but
below that point the river for a thousand miles was a blank so far as
his personal knowledge of it was concerned.

Although the night was dark, and there were but few guide-lights on the
river in those days, he found no difficulty in keeping the channel
until the skiff passed through the chute at the head of Winn's island.
At this point the false channel seemed, in the darkness, to be as wide
and desirable as the true one, and for a minute he was puzzled as to
which he should take.  "Not that I suppose it would make any great
difference," he remarked to Bim.  "It's about time to tie up, though,
and we want to be sure to do that on the main channel, so as not to
miss a chance of seeing the raft at daylight."

For answer Bim left his seat, ran to the bow of the boat, uttered a
short bark, and fixed his gaze pointedly down-stream.

"A light, as sure as you are a dog of wisdom!" cried Billy Brackett,
looking in the direction thus indicated.  "I vow, Bim, your name ought
to be 'Solomon Minerva,' and I must have a 'howl' engraved on your
collar the first chance I get.  That is, if you ever arrive at the
dignity of owning any collar besides that old strap.  Your light looks
as though it might proceed from a camp-fire, and I reckon it's on the
main channel too.  At any rate, we'll pull down there and make
inquiries."

A few minutes later the skiff was run ashore near the beacon blaze that
Winn Caspar had left on the eastern side of the island, and its
occupants were searching the vicinity for those whom Billy Brackett had
so confidently expected to find near it.

"It is very strange," he muttered.  "Some one must have built this
fire; but why he did so if he didn't want to camp beside it beats me.
Hello!  What's this?  Hooray; we are on the right track after all!  But
what foolishness is that boy up to?  and what can he be doing on this
island?  Thirdly, where is the raft?  Eh, Bim!  You haven't seen a
stray raft round here, have you?  No.  I thought you would have
mentioned it if you had.  So he is on this island is he? and leaves
word that we can find him by following the trail?  Perhaps the trail
leads to the raft; but where is the trail?  Hello! you've struck it,
have you?  Good dog!  Here, let me tie this bit of twine to your
collar.  There, now you're better than a lantern."

As we all know, the trail upon which Billy Brackett and Bim were thus
started led directly to the log-hut in the forest.  When the former
discovered this, he fully expected to find his nephew within.  To his
surprise, although a fire smouldered on the hearth, there was no other
sign of human occupancy.  Then the young man searched in vain for some
hit of writing, such as had guided him to this point.

"I declare!" he exclaimed at length; "the corollary is worse than the
theorem, and things are becoming so decidedly mixed that we must begin
to go slow.  I for one propose to replenish that fire, and then bunk
down right here for the rest of the night."

With this the young man went out into the darkness and began groping
about for wood with which to keep up the fire until morning.

In the mean time, Bim, left to his own devices, had struck the trail
leading from the hut to Winn's camp, and started along it, probably
thinking that his master was following him as before.  The dog soon
discovered Winn, and undertook to establish friendly relations with him
by rubbing his cold nose against the boy's cheek.  The suddenness with
which Winn started up caused the dog to spring back into the darkness,
from the shelter of which he regarded his new acquaintance
distrustfully.  Just then Billy Brackett, to cheer the loneliness of
his log-hut, began to chant the ballad of "The Baldheaded Man," and
Bim, hearing his master's voice, darted off in that direction.

Now Billy Brackett, though very fond of music, and possessed of an
inextinguishable longing to produce melodious sounds, could not sing
any more than Bim could.  His efforts in this line had so often been
greeted with derisive shouts and unkind remarks by his engineering
comrades that he no longer attempted to sing in public.  When alone,
however, and out of hearing of his fellows, he still sometimes broke
forth into song.  Bim always howled in sympathy, but the effect of
their combined efforts had never been so surprising as upon the present
occasion, when they caused the precipitate flight from the island of
the very nephew for whom the young engineer was searching.

In blissful ignorance of this unfortunate result of their performance,
Billy Brackett and Bim sang and howled in concert, until their
repertory was exhausted, when they lay down on the floor of the hut,
and with the facility of those to whom camp life has become a second
nature, were quickly asleep.  From this slumber Billy Brackett was
startlingly awakened, some time later, by Bim's bark, and a pistol shot
that rang out from the profound stillness of the forest like a
thunder-clap.  He grasped the dog's collar and sat up.  Before he could
rise any farther there came a roar of guns, a trampling of feet, a
confusion of voices, a rush, and a crashing of wood.  The next instant
the door of his hut was burst in, and the room was filled with armed
men, every one of whom seemed to be pointing a rifle or a pistol
straight at his devoted head.



CHAPTER XII.

THE TRAPPERS TRAPPED.

When the leader of the party by whom Winn had been made prisoner (as
related in the last chapter but one) peered cautiously in at the open
window of the log-hut to make certain that it was occupied, he was
disappointed to discover but one man, where he had confidently expected
to find several.

This leader, who had told Winn that his name was Riley, was a Sheriff,
though such a new one that this was his first important undertaking
since assuming office.  Consequently he was most anxious for its
success, and also somewhat nervous from anxiety.  He had laid his plans
well, the hut was completely surrounded, and he was elated at the
thought of the prize so surely within his grasp, as well as of the
glory that would be his for effecting this important capture.  He
expected to find several men in the hut, and counted upon their being
desperate characters who would make a stout resistance before yielding
themselves prisoners.  The Sheriff had therefore prepared his followers
for a fight, and made all his arrangements with this in prospect.  Now,
to discover but one man, and he peacefully sleeping, caused these
warlike preparations to appear ridiculous, and called for a decided
modification of Mr. Riley's plans.

Having satisfied himself by a careful survey that the man had no
companions, and that the hut contained no rifles nor other fire-arms,
the Sheriff retired noiselessly from the window and rejoined his
followers.  He explained the situation in a whisper, and then proposed
that as they could not fight a single unarmed man, they should paralyze
him with terror.  As the Sheriff expressed it, they would "scare him
stiff" by a general discharge of guns, a yell, and a rush for the door.
These were to follow a signal that he would give from his post at the
open window, through which he would cover the sleeping man with his
revolver.

The new programme being understood, the Sheriff returned to his
station, pointed his pistol at Billy Brackett's head, and was about to
order him to throw up his hands and surrender, when he made a slight
movement that aroused Bim.  This faithful sentinel sprang up with a
loud bark.  In the dim light Sheriff Riley had not noticed the dog, and
he was so much upset by this unexpected challenge that his finger
closed on the hair-trigger of his revolver.  Fortunately his aim was so
wild that no harm was done by the shot that followed.  It was all the
signal that the Sheriff's followers needed, and they immediately
carried out their part of the programme to the letter.

When the tumult subsided, the situation was as already described.
Billy Brackett sat on the floor, grasping Bim's collar, and awaiting
further developments as calmly as though he were merely a disinterested
spectator of this unique performance.  The dog, with teeth displayed to
an alarming extent, stood ready to fly at the invaders whenever he
should be released.  In front of this group, and a few paces from it,
stood half a dozen men, all of whom held guns that were pointed at the
young engineer.  The form of the Sheriff, with pistol still levelled at
his prisoner, appeared at the open window.

"Do you surrender?" he demanded.

"Certainly," replied Billy Brackett, cheerfully; "if you desire it.
I'm always ready to accommodate, especially when it's no trouble to do
so."

"Throw up your hands, then," commanded the Sheriff.

"To do that," argued the prisoner, without moving, "I shall be obliged
to let go my hold of this bull-dog.  The moment I do so our friends
with the empty guns will be apt to fancy that about a yard of
particularly hot and well-greased lightning has been forged for their
especial benefit.  Still, if you insist--"

"Oh, hang your dog!" exclaimed Mr. Riley.  "You must hold on to him, of
course, until we can find a rope to tie him with.  Where are your pals?"

"This is the only one I have at present," answered Billy Brackett,
indicating him by a glance; "but I am in search of another, and have
reason to believe that he is on this island at this very minute.
Haven't seen anything of him, have you?  He is a young fellow, about
sixteen, named Caspar, son of Major Caspar, of Caspar's Mill, up the
river a bit.  He left home yesterday on a raft, and I was to join him
hereabouts."

"What sort of a raft?" asked the Sheriff.

"Big timber raft.  Two sweeps at each end, and three shanties on it,
two of them filled with wheat."

"No," replied Mr. Riley, in a relieved tone; for on hearing the
well-known name of Caspar his men had exchanged meaning looks and
smiles, which indicated their belief that the Sheriff might be getting
into hot-water.  "I did arrest a young rascal of about that age half an
hour ago," he continued, "just as he was leaving this island on a raft;
but it was only a small affair, built of two or three logs, and not at
all such a raft as you describe.  I've got the boy out here now, and I
believe him to be one of your pals, in spite of your cheeky talk.  Yon
don't want to give me any more of it, either," he concluded, in a
fierce tone, assumed to reassert the dignity of his office.  "So just
cork up, and come along quietly, or you may find yourself in trouble."

"All right," replied Billy Brackett, calmly; "but first, perhaps you'll
be kind enough to tell me who you are, why you are taking such an
interest in me, and where you want me to go."

"I am the Sheriff of Dubuque County, Iowa," was the answer.  "I have a
warrant for your arrest as a member of the most dangerous gang of
counterfeiters that has ever operated in this section of country, and I
want you to go with me to the county jail, which will be only a
stopping-place on your journey to State-prison."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Sheriff, and obliged for
your courtesy," said Billy Brackett, politely.  "Now if you will do me
the favor to read the names mentioned in your warrant, I shall have
nothing further to request."

"William Gresham, _alias_ Gilder, _et al._," replied Mr. Riley.

"Good.  But suppose I can prove to you that I am not the person you
take me to be, and that my name is neither Gresham nor Gilder, _et
al._, but that I am a civil engineer, William Brackett by name,
brother-in-law of Major Caspar, whom I am certain you must know, and
that you are making a rather sizable mistake in connection with this
business.  Supposing, also, I state that I am just now engaged on an
important mission which will not admit of delay, and that in case you
insist on taking me to jail, I can and will make you suffer, even to
the extent of losing your office."

By this time Billy Brackett was standing up, while Bim, reluctantly
obeying his stern command, lay motionless at his feet.  The men of the
Sheriff's posse had ceased to level their guns at the young engineer,
and even Mr. Riley was so impressed with this bold attitude and
declaration of innocence that he consented to come inside the hut and
examine the papers offered for his inspection.  He was about to declare
his satisfaction with them, and admit that perhaps he had made a
mistake, when the man whom he had left to guard Winn rushed up with the
announcement that his prisoner had escaped.

At this the Sheriff's face clouded angrily.  "We'll find him if he is
still on the island!" he exclaimed.  "If he has left it we'll follow
him; and, at any rate, Mr. Brackett, I must now insist upon your coming
to Dubuque, where you will be granted every opportunity for proving
what you please.  In the mean time, you and I will await here the
result of the search for the escaped prisoner that my men will at once
proceed to make."

To this Billy Brackett returned no answer, but stood silently
considering how he should avoid the vexatious delay that now appeared
inevitable.  While he was thus cudgelling his brains, one of the
searching party returned to report that the skiff in which they had
come up the river was missing.

The Sheriff became furious.  "I don't believe it!" he cried.  "Here,
you!  Stop and guard this prisoner, while I go and take charge of the
search myself."

As Mr. Riley departed, the new guard entered the hut, leaned his rifle
against the wall, and took a seat near the door.

Then Billy Brackett stooped and whispered to his ever-faithful comrade,
"Watch him, Bim!" and the dog answered with a low growl that spoke
volumes.  Turning to the guard the young engineer said, "My friend, if
you make the slightest motion or shout for help, that bull-dog will fly
at your throat.  I am going to leave you alone with him for a minute,
and as you value your life, I beg of you to keep perfectly quiet until
you hear from me."  With this the prisoner leaped lightly from the
window and disappeared.

[Illustration: "'Watch him, Bim!'"]

For two minutes the guard sat as motionless as though carved from
stone, his fascinated gaze fixed on the gleaming teeth and bloodshot
eyes of the bull-dog that stood rigidly before him.  Then a shrill
whistle rang out on the still air, and at its sound the dog, dashing
past him, disappeared like a flash.  In another minute Billy Brackett's
lusty strokes were sending his own skiff dancing out towards the middle
of the main channel, while Bim, thumping with his tail in appreciation
of his master's praises, occupied the stern seat as calmly as though
with him such events as those just recorded were of every-day
occurrence.



CHAPTER XIII.

WINN'S LONELY CRUISE.

During the half-hour that Winn allowed to elapse before he considered
it safe to rise from his recumbent position in the bottom of the skiff,
he had ample opportunity to recover his breath, and reflect upon the
new situation into which he had been so strangely forced.  At first he
fancied that he heard sounds of pursuit, and momentarily expected to be
greeted by a stern order from the bank to bring the skiff ashore.  He
wondered if a failure to comply would be followed by a rifle-shot, and
then began to calculate the chances of being hit in such a case.  But
why should he be shot at?  What had he done that he should be arrested,
threatened with jail and hanging, and treated like an outlaw generally?
Whom did these men take him for? and who were they?  By the manner in
which they had spoken of a judge, they must represent the law in some
way; but why he should be an object of their pursuit puzzled the boy
more than a little.

To be sure, he had now laid himself open to the suspicion of being a
river thief, by carrying off their skiff.  Would it not be well to
return it at once?  He could talk to them, and explain how he happened
to be on the island, while still at such a distance from shore as to be
beyond their reach.  They might shoot, though, and if they really
considered him the rascal they pretended, it was almost certain that
they would.  No, that plan would not work.  The only thing left to be
done was to take the skiff to Dubuque, telegraph to his father from
there, or try and find one of the Major's friends in that city who
would do so for him, and at the same time provide him with food and
shelter until his father came.  Yes, that was the best plan.

Having reached this determination, Winn sat up and looked about him.
The light which he had mistaken for dawn was that of a late-rising
moon, and it hardly penetrated the mist hanging low over the river.
There was nothing in sight; not even the dark mass of timber on the
island.  Winn might have been in the middle of the ocean for all that
he could see or hear.  Never in his life had the boy felt so utterly
forsaken and alone.  He decided to pull diagonally across the current
towards shore, the mere sight of which would be reassuring.  But where
were the oars?   Until this moment he had not noticed that there were
none in the boat.  For some unknown reason they had been taken from it
when the party landed on the island; and now the lonely navigator was
utterly without the means of propelling or even guiding his craft.  He
tried to tear up one of the floor boards, with the idea of using it as
a paddle; but it was nailed in place so firmly as to resist his utmost
efforts.  Finally, faint for want of food, exhausted, and disheartened,
the poor boy threw himself in the bottom of the skiff and yielded to
his despair.  At length he fell asleep.

So the dawn of Winn's second day on the river caught him napping, as
the first had done.  In its gray light the skiff drifted past the
little city of Dubuque, perched high on the bluffs of the western bank,
but no one saw it.  There were several steamboats and trading scows
tied to the narrow levee, but their crews were still buried in slumber.
Even had they been awake they would hardly have noticed the little
craft far out in the stream, drifting with the hurrying waters.  In a
few minutes it was gone, and the sleeping city was none the wiser for
its passing.  So for hours it drifted, now bow on, then broadside to,
and as often stern first; here caught and spun round by an eddy, then
tossed aside and allowed to proceed on its unguided course.  The
cotton-woods on the tow-heads beckoned to it with their trembling
fingers; but it paid no heed.  Grim snags lay in wait for it, but it
nimbly avoided them, and as the hours passed each one of them saw the
drifting skiff some miles farther away from the island at which this
strange voyage was begun.

When Winn finally awoke, he was so bewildered, and so much at a loss to
account for his surroundings, that for a minute he lay motionless,
collecting his scattered senses.  It certainly was late in the day, for
the sun was shining full upon him from high in the heavens.  He had
that comfort at least; but oh! how he ached from lying on that hard
floor, and how faint he was from hunger.

The boy's head rested on a thwart, and he faced the after-end of the
skiff.  As he was about to rise, his glance fell on something wrapped
in newspaper and tucked under the stern seat.  If it should only prove
to be food of any description, "even burned mush," thought Winn,
grimly, how happy it would make him!  In another second he was undoing,
with eager fingers, the lunch of crackers and cheese that Sheriff
Riley's wife had so thoughtfully thrust into her husband's hands as he
left the house the morning before, and which he had as thoughtfully
tucked under the stern seat of his skiff.  He was probably thinking of
it, and wishing he had it, at this very moment.  As for Winn, he was
eating it as fast as possible, and thinking that he had never tasted
such good crackers or such a fine piece of cheese in his life.  With
each mouthful his spirits rose and his strength returned, until, when
the last crumb had disappeared and been washed down with a double
handful of sweet river-water, the boy's pluck and cheerfulness were
fully restored.

Now what should he do?  He did not know that he had passed Dubuque,
though he feared that such might be the case.  Thinking of it brought
to mind the island with those upon whom he had so recently turned the
tables, and left as prisoners within its limits.  He even laughed aloud
as he pictured them toiling, as he had toiled the evening before, to
construct a raft on which to escape.  "I wonder if they found any one
in that log-hut," he thought, recalling its lighted window.  "And, oh!
if it should have been father!  It might have been.  He might have seen
my signal-fire, found my message, and got as far as the hut.  Now what
will he do?  Oh, how I wish I could get back!  Why didn't I think of
all this before leaving the island?  That was a horrid sound in the
woods, though.  And that animal!  I wonder what it could have been?"

By this time the current had carried the skiff close in to the drowned
bottom-lands of the Illinois shore.  They were covered with a heavy
growth of timber, and Winn knew that in many places the wellnigh
impassable swamps which this concealed extended back a mile or more
from the channel.  Otherwise he would have abandoned the skiff and made
the attempt to swim ashore.

The Iowa bluffs rose invitingly on the opposite side of the river.  On
them he saw a few scattered settlements, but they were too far away,
and he must wait until the current set him in that direction before
thinking of making a landing.  He saw an occasional ferry-boat making
its slow way across the river, but it was always either too far above
him or too far below him for his signals to be noticed, and so the
hours dragged on until it was late afternoon, and Winn was again
beginning to feel the pangs of hunger.

"I can't spend another night in this wretched boat!" he exclaimed
aloud, when he saw that the sun was within an hour of its setting.
"I'll swim the whole width of the river first!"

During the day he had passed a number of small islands, but had not
cared to attempt a landing on them.  He knew that he would be even
worse off on an island than in the skiff, and so he had watched them
glide by without giving them any particular thought.  Suddenly it
occurred to him that on any one of these islands he might pick up an
oar, a paddle, or at least something that would answer in place of
these, and from that instant they acquired a new interest.

The next one that he approached was only a tow-head, which is a
sand-bar on which has sprung up a thick growth of slender cotton-woods,
or other quick-shooting, water-loving trees.

"I might find what I want there as well as on a larger island," thought
Winn, "and, at any rate, I'll make a try for it."  So when the skiff
had drifted as near the tow-head as it seemed likely to, and was
rapidly sliding past it, the boy threw off his coat, kicked off his
shoes, and, taking one end of the skiff's painter with him, plunged
overboard and began to swim towards the desired point.

The distance was not more than a hundred feet, but the current swept
him down so much more rapidly than he expected that he was barely able
to catch one of the very last of the tow-head saplings and cling to it.
While his own progress was thus checked, that of the skiff was not, and
in a second the painter was jerked from his hand.

Exhausted as he was, Winn was on the point of letting go his hold on
the sapling and making a desperate effort to overtake the rapidly
receding skiff.  Fortunately he had enough practical sense, though this
is not generally credited to sixteen-year-old boys, to restrain him
from such a rash act.  So he crawled out on the sand beach, and sat
there watching what he considered to be his only hope grow smaller and
smaller until it finally disappeared.  As it did so, the sun slowly
sank behind the western bluffs; and though the boy did not look up from
the wet sand on which he had flung himself, he knew instinctively that
another night, with its darkness, its chill, and its nameless terrors,
was upon him.

He was so numbed by this latest disaster that he had not the heart even
to seek a place of shelter for the night.  What good would anything
that he could find or construct do him?  He had neither matches nor
food, dry clothing nor bedding.  What did it matter, though?  He would
probably be dead before the sun rose again, anyway.  So the poor lad
nursed his misery, and might, in truth, have lain on those wet sands
until he perished, so despairing was he, when all at once he was
aroused by a sound so strange to hear in that place that, though he
raised his head to listen, he thought he must be dreaming.  He wasn't,
though, for there came again to his ears, as distinct as anything ever
heard in his life, a merry peal of clear girlish laughter.  Not only
that, but it sounded so close at hand that the boy sprang to his feet
and gazed eagerly in the direction from which it came, fully expecting
to see its author standing near him.



CHAPTER XIV.

A PEAL OF GIRLISH LAUGHTER.

In vain did Winn gaze in every direction, up and down the river, across
its darkening waters, and into the shadowy thicket behind him.  There
were no objects in sight, save those with which he was already only too
familiar.  Again he began to doubt the evidence of his senses, and wonder
if his mind had not become somewhat unsettled by his misfortunes.  But
no, there was the ringing peal of laughter again.  This time it was
accompanied by a strange chattering sound such as he had never heard
before.  At the same moment a most delicious whiff of frying bacon
reached the hungry boy, mingled with the unmistakable and equally
enticing odor of coffee.  There was no doubt as to the direction from
which these came, and plunging into the cotton-wood thicket, Winn made
his way diagonally up and across the tow-head.

In less than a minute he reached its opposite side, where he halted to
gaze with amazement at the very strangest-looking craft he had ever seen.
At first he thought it a small stern-wheeled steamboat.  She certainly
had such a wheel, but then there was no chimney.  Perhaps she was a
trading-scow.  Who ever heard, though, of a trading-scow with a
pilot-house such as this nondescript craft had on the forward end of its
upper deck?  Besides, there were no sweeps, nor was she in the least like
any trading-scow Winn had ever seen.  A low house occupied her entire
width, and extended along her whole length except at the curve of her
bows, where there was room left for a small deck.  A structure with a
door and windows, that was somewhat larger than the pilot-house, rose
from the upper deck near its after-end.  There were three doors on each
side of the main house, a large one well forward, a small one nearly
amidship, and another large one well aft.  There were also six small
windows on each side, and from three of those nearest Winn a cheerful
light was streaming, while the other three were dark.  There was a name
painted on the boat's side in such large black letters that even in the
fading twilight Winn managed to read it--"_W-H-A-T-N-O-T_," he spelled
slowly--"_Whatnot_!  Well, if that isn't the queerest name for a boat I
ever heard of!"

Just then, however, there were things of far greater importance to a boy
in his situation than queer names.  The tantalizing odors that were
pouring from that after-window, for instance, and the sound of voices
that rang out merrily from the two just beyond it.  The boat was moored
to a tree, with her bows pointed up-stream, and had swung in so close to
shore that by standing on a half-submerged log, which served as a fender
to keep her off a few feet from the bank, Winn could look into one of the
open windows.  It was evidently that of the galley, for the odor of
frying came from it, and half hidden in a cloud of fragrant steam was the
form of a negro bending over a small stove.

This was a welcome and comforting sight; but hungry as he was, Winn's
curiosity was stronger than his appetite.  He must see into those other
windows, and discover the source of the merry laughter that had so
suddenly banished his loneliness and despair of a few minutes before.
Cautiously advancing a few steps along the slippery log, he reached a
point that commanded a view of the room or compartment next forward of
the galley.  It was of good size, and occupied the entire width of the
boat.

In the centre of this room was a table spread for supper, and beside it,
so as to take advantage of its bright lamp, was a group that to Winn
appeared both extraordinary and fascinating.  A white-haired old man was
seated before an easel, on which was stretched a large canvas.  A young
girl stood near him watching the movements of his brush with deep
interest, and at the same time evidently restraining, with gentle but
firm hands, the impatient struggles of something which she addressed as
"Don Blossom," but whether it was a child or an animal Winn could not
see.  In his effort to do so he stood on tiptoe, and just as the old man
began to say, "There, Sabella, that will do for this sitting," the boy's
treacherous footing slipped from under him.

With a half-suppressed cry and a loud splash he was plunged headlong into
the narrow space of water between the boat and the shore.

A frightened exclamation came from the interior of the boat, and then the
small door on that side was flung open.  At the same instant a woolly
head was thrust out of the galley window, and a trembling voice cried,
"Golly, Marse Cap'n!  Wha' dat ar?  Yo' heah um?"

"Yes, Solon, I heard it, and you want to come here as quick as you can.
Some one is in trouble," answered the old man, who was standing with the
girl in the open doorway.  He held a lamp above his head, and was peering
anxiously in the direction of the splashings and flounderings that Winn,
sitting in the shallow water, but tightly wedged between the log and the
boat, was making in his efforts to extricate himself.

"Who's there?" cried the old man, who could not yet make out what was
taking place; "and what are you doing?"

[Illustration: "'Who's there?' cried the old man"]

"It's me!" returned Winn, regardless of his grammar; "and I am sinking in
this awful mud.  Hurry up and push your boat away from the log, or I
shall be drowned!"

While the old man and the negro exerted all their strength at the pole,
with which they finally succeeded in pushing the boat a foot or so out
into the stream, Sabella was also busy.  Though greatly excited, and
somewhat alarmed by the unexpected appearance of a human being in that
place, and his perilous situation, she still had presence of mind enough
to run for a rope, one end of which she fastened to the table.  She
carried the other end out through the door, and tossed it over the side
just in time for Winn to catch it, as the moving of the boat once more
gave him freedom of action.

Hauling himself up by this welcome rope, and at the same time being
assisted by the two men, the boy quickly gained the open doorway, where
he stood blinking in the bright lamplight, while mud and water ran from
him in streams.  He faced the occupants of the boat, who, standing a few
steps back in the room, regarded him with undisguised wonder, not unmixed
with suspicion.  On the table behind them stood a small, gaudily-dressed
object, that Winn at first took to be a child.  Upon his appearance it
remained motionless for a few seconds, and then, with a frightened cry,
it sprang to the little girl's shoulder, from which it peered at the
stranger, chattering angrily all the while.

"Well, I am blest if this isn't a most extraordinary situation!"
exclaimed the old man.  "It suggests a tableau of Venus rising from the
sea."

"Or a alligator," said the negro.

Sabella wanted to laugh at the comical spectacle presented by the
dripping, coatless, hatless, bare-footed, and generally woe-begone boy;
but pitying his evident embarrassment, she exclaimed:

"Uncle, how can you!  Don't you see that he is shivering?  You must go at
once and find him some dry clothes.  Solon, show this boy to the
engine-room, where he can change his wet things.  Don Blossom, be quiet,
sir!  Aren't you ashamed of yourself!"  Then, turning to Winn with a
cheery smile, she said, "We are very sorry for your accident, and should
like to know all about it after you are dry again.  If you will go with
Solon to the engine-room, he will do everything he can for you."

The Captain had already hastened away on his quest for dry clothing.  As
he left the room, Winn noticed that he had a wooden leg.  It was not one
of the modern kind, so carefully constructed as to closely resemble the
real article, but an old-fashioned, iron-shod stick of timber strapped to
his right knee.

As Sabella finished speaking, she too left the room, running after the
Captain, and smiling cheerfully as she went at the mud-streaked boy, who
still stood speechless and motionless in the doorway.

Now, at Solon's invitation he followed the negro into what had been
called the engine-room, though to Winn's eye it looked as little like an
engine-room as any place he had ever known.  At one side was a
horse-power treadmill, such as he had often seen used for the sawing of
wood.  Half of it was sunk below the level of the deck, and covered with
a removable floor.  It was geared in the most direct and simple manner to
a shaft that disappeared through the rear wall of the room, and
presumably connected with the stern wheel he had previously noticed.
There was also a belt extending to a shaft pulley overhead, but beyond
this there was no trace of machinery, nor was there either boiler or
furnace.  There was what looked like a stall at one end of the room, but
it contained only bales of hay and sacks of oats.

"Yes, sah, we uses a mewel-ingine when we hab um.  We hain't got no mewel
at de present time, but we 'specs ter contrac' fer one shortly,"
explained the negro, noting Winn's inquiring glances, as he assisted him
to remove his wet garments.

Before the boy had a chance to ask the questions that were at his
tongue's end, he, as well as the other occupants of the boat, was
startled by a loud hail from the river.

"Hello!  What steamer is that?"

"The _Whatnot_, of Dubuque," was the answer.

"Do you know the Sheriff of Dubuque County?"

"Who--Riley?  Yes, I know him."

"Do you know his skiff?"

"As well as I know my own boat, for I built it."

"Have you seen it pass down the river to-day, containing only a boy
between sixteen and seventeen years old?"

"No.  Haven't seen it or any other skiff.  What's the matter?  Has it
been stolen?"

"That'll do, thank you.  Good-night," came the reply, without an answer
to this last question, and then the stranger passed out of hearing down
the river.



CHAPTER XV.

"CAP'N COD," SABELLA, AND THE _WHATNOT_.

In order to explain the presence beside that tow-head of the queer
craft on board which Winn had found shelter, and of its several
occupants, who were making such kindly efforts to relieve his distress,
it is necessary to take a twenty-year glance backward.  At that time
Aleck Fifield, a Yankee jack-of-all-trades, who had been by turns a
school-teacher, sailor, mechanic, boat-builder, and several other
things as well, found himself employed as stage-carpenter in a Boston
theatre.  He had always been possessed of artistic tastes, though they
had never carried him beyond sign-painting, and of dramatic longings,
which had thus far been satisfied with a diligent reading of
Shakespeare and attending the theatre at every opportunity.  Now, being
regularly connected with the stage, both these tastes expanded, until
through one of them he blossomed into a very passable scene-painter.
Through the other he overwhelmed himself with despair, and convulsed an
audience with laughter, by appearing once, and once only, as Captain
Thomas Codringhampton in the popular sea drama of "Blue Billows."  His
failure as an actor was so dismal and complete as to be notorious.
Unkind comparisons of other bad acting with that of Cap'n Cod became
stock jokes in every theatre of the country.  From that day the stage
name clung to him; and though it galled at first, the passage of time
soothed the wound, until finally Aleck Fifield became proud of the
name.  As he grew older, it represented to him the fame for which he
had longed when young.  When the war broke out and he became one of the
bravest defenders of the Union, he was everywhere known as "Cap'n Cod."
After the war, in which he managed to lose a leg, he went to Iowa to
live with his only relative, a widowed niece, who had but one child, a
little girl.

Between this child, Sabella, and the white-haired veteran, who could
tell more tales than a fairy-book, and construct more toys than Santa
Claus ever dreamed of, there sprang up an affection that could not have
been stronger had they been father and daughter.  On one side it was
based upon boundless love and admiration, and on the other upon
admiration and boundless love.  When Sabella went to school, the
Captain's business kept him within sight of the school-house; and when
school was out, the little girl was nowhere happier than in his
company.  For her sake he was the friend of her friends, and among the
children of Dubuque no one was so popular as Cap'n Cod.  They did not
live in the city, but on a small farm a few miles from it, and this
Cap'n Cod was supposed to manage.  Farming was, however, the one
occupation for which he had no taste, and but for his capable niece the
annual crops would not have paid the expense of raising them.

When Sabella was twelve years old and rapidly developing into beautiful
girlhood, her mother died, leaving her and her little property to the
unrestricted guardianship of Cap'n Cod.  Now matters went from bad to
worse so far as the farm was concerned, until, to save it from the
hammer, it was deemed best to rent it to a more practical farmer than
the child's devoted guardian.

This gave Cap'n Cod the opportunity and an excuse for carrying out a
cherished scheme that, but for the opposition of his niece, he would
have put into operation long before.  It was the painting of a
panorama, the building of a boat to hold it, and thus equipped, to
float away down the great river in search of fame and fortune.  Now
Sabella must of course be included in the plan; for not only did she
and Cap'n Cod consider it impossible to get along without each other,
but the latter declared that such a bit of travel would be the very
best kind of an education for his grand-niece.

This scheme had been in the old man's mind for so long that the
panorama, worked on at odd moments for more than two years, was nearly
finished at the time of his niece's death.  With his own savings, and
largely by his own labor, he now built his boat, the _Whatnot_.  When
she was completed, his money was gone.  But what of that?  Was he not
prepared to realize a fortune?  He knew that it would shortly be
theirs, and Sabella's faith was strong as his.  She never for a moment
doubted that her dear guardian was the artist he claimed to be, or that
the panorama he had painted was the most perfect thing of its kind ever
seen.  So she was as enthusiastic concerning the project as the old man
himself, and eagerly aided in his preparations to the full extent of
her ability.  There was but one point on which they disagreed.  When
Cap'n Cod had exhausted his own resources, and the motive power of the
_Whatnot_ still remained unprovided, Sabella begged that he would draw
some of her money from the bank and use it, but this the old man firmly
declined to do.

"No, Sabella," he would say; "what is mine is yours; but what is yours
is your own, and it would be as bad as stealing for me to touch it."

"But it is mine," the girl would argue; "and if I want to give it to
you, more than I want to do anything else with it, I don't see why you
shouldn't let me."

"No, dear," her guardian would reply.  "It is not yours.  It is only
held in trust for you until you become of age, by which time you will
have many other uses for money besides gratifying an old man's whim."

"But you will pay it back long before then."

"I might, and then again I might not.  There is nothing more uncertain
than the things we think we are sure of."

Then the girl would throw her arms about his neck and exclaim, "Oh, you
dear old stupid!  How horridly honest you are! and what a beautiful
world this would be if everybody in it was just like you."

"Yes, my dear; Stupidity and Honesty are apt to be comrades, and
undoubtedly they would make a beautiful world if left to themselves;
but it would be frightfully dull.   Now don't you worry your pretty
head about the mule, for we can drift with the current until we have
given two or three exhibitions, and so made money enough to buy one.
Then, having earned him, how much more shall we enjoy him than if he
were only a borrowed mule?"

Cap'n Cod would have preferred a steamboat to one propelled by
mule-power, but the expenses of machinery and an engineer were too
great to be considered.  He made the _Whatnot_ look as much like a
steamboat as he could, and even proposed ornamenting her with an
imitation chimney as soon as he could afford such a luxury.  He also
hoped soon to be able to engage some active young fellow as deck hand
and general assistant.  In the mean time the _Whatnot's_ crew consisted
of himself, Sabella, and Solon, an old negro who had been cook of the
mess to which Cap'n Cod had belonged in the army, and who had followed
his fortunes ever since.

As nearly every one in Dubuque who was at all interested in such things
had seen the panorama during its painting and construction, and as
Cap'n Cod's dramatic reputation was well known there, he deemed it
advisable to give the first exhibitions of his show in some smaller and
less critical places.  He called it a "show," because, even at the
outset, it contained two attractions besides the panorama, and he hoped
in the course of time to add still others.

Those already on hand were a monkey and a hand-organ, both of which
were much greater rarities in the Mississippi Valley at that time than
they are now.  They formerly belonged to an Italian, who, sick,
penniless, and friendless, had sunk exhausted by the road-side a few
miles from Dubuque.  Several persons passed him without heeding his
feeble appeals for aid before Cap'n Cod happened along and discovered
him.  The old soldier at once engaged a team, carried the dying
stranger home, and there, with Sabella's pitying aid, cared for him
until the end, which came a few days later.  During these last days his
monkey was the man's inseparable companion.  It cuddled beside him in
bed, and answered his feeble terms of endearment with voluble
chatterings.  With his latest breath the dying stranger consigned his
helpless pet to the same pitying care that had helped him over the
bitterest of all human journeys.  He said, "Monka, Don Bolossi, you
keep-a him alway."

So Don Bolossi, Americanized to "Don Blossom," transferred all his
affections to Sabella, and with the hand-organ, for which no claimant
could be found, was added to the attractions of "Cap'n Cod's Great
Panoramic Show."

One of the Captain's last bits of work in Dubuque was to build a skiff
for Sheriff Riley, and with the money thus earned to defray immediate
expenses, the _Whatnot_ started on her voyage down the river at sunrise
of the very morning on which Winn Caspar unconsciously drifted past
Dubuque in that very skiff.  Being deeper in the water, the show-boat
drifted somewhat faster than the skiff, and so had nearly caught up
with it by the time the tow-head was reached.  Here Cap'n Cod
determined to tie up for the night, as he did not wish to stop at a
town until his final preparations for an exhibition were made.

Among these was the painting of a life-sized representation of Don
Blossom hanging by his tail from the limb of a tree, which was to be
displayed on the outside of the boat as an advertisement.  This was the
labor upon which the Captain was engaged when Winn Caspar discovered
the _Whatnot_.  Sabella had undertaken to hold the restless little
model from which the white-headed artist was painting, and the peals of
laughter that attracted Winn's attention were called forth by the
absurdities of this situation.



CHAPTER XVI.

BIM MAKES AN ENEMY.

Billy Brackett's satisfaction at his escape from a situation that
promised to cause him a vexatious delay was tinged with a new anxiety
concerning Winn.  As he pulled swiftly across the river, so as to be
lost to view from the island as quickly as possible, he expressed his
feelings aloud to Bim:

"What new scrape can that young rascal have got into now--eh, old dog?
It was bad enough to start down the river alone on a big raft without
even bidding his folks good-bye; but now he seems to have lost the raft
somewhere, to have landed on that island, to have been arrested for
something, to have escaped, and to have run off with the Sheriff's
boat.  It looks as though he had the same happy faculty for getting
into scrapes that distinguished my young friend Glen Eddy.  Somehow I
have a fellow-feeling for such boys.  It is strange, too, for I can't
remember ever getting into any scrapes myself.  We must put a stop to
it, though, in Winn's case.  It will never do for him to be cavorting
about in this scandalous manner, so long as we are responsible for his
decent behavior and safe return.  We shall surely find him, and
probably the raft also, at Dubuque.  Then we will take our nephew in
hand, and by simple force of example instruct him in that dignity of
deportment that steers clear of scrapes.  Eh, Bimsey?"

At this Bim sprang from his seat, and made such a violent effort to
lick his master's face that the latter was very nearly tumbled over
backward.  By the time order was restored, daylight was beginning to
appear, and the young man saw that he was far enough below the island
for it to be safe to again cross the river and head for Dubuque.  He
reached this place soon after sunrise, or about an hour after Winn
passed it, and a few minutes after the departure of the _Whatnot_.

A hasty inspection of the various craft lining the water-front of the
city convinced him that the raft was not among them.  He found several
persons who knew Sheriff Riley's skiff, but none of them had seen it
that morning.  This, however, did not discourage the young engineer,
for a skiff is so much smaller than a raft as to be easily overlooked.
He would make a more thorough search after visiting the hotel, where he
hoped Winn might also have gone for breakfast.

On his way he stopped at the telegraph office, and sent the following
despatch to both Mrs. Caspar and to the Major at Madison:

"Have heard of Winn, and am on his track.  The boy is all right.----W.
B."


"That is true so far as it goes," soliloquized Billy Brackett, "and
will relieve their present anxiety.  By to-morrow, or perhaps within a
few minutes, I shall certainly have something more definite to wire."

At the hotel he was greatly disappointed to find no trace of the
missing lad, and after eating a hearty breakfast he made a thorough
search of the water-front, though of course without avail.  He had
intended dropping a hint here and there of the predicament in which he
had left Sheriff Riley and his followers, but on second thoughts
concluded to let them work out their own plan of escape from the
island, rather than run the risk of further delay.

By noon he was ready to depart from Dubuque, satisfied that there was
no information to be gained in that place concerning either Winn or the
raft.  Although he was not discouraged, he was puzzled, and was even
beginning to feel anxious at the strange aspect this affair of the lost
_Venture_ was assuming.

Until sunset he rowed steadily and swiftly downstream, hailing the
ferrymen as he passed, and stopping at the settlements on both sides of
the river to make inquiries.  He also hailed passing boats, and boarded
several rafts that he discovered tied to the western bank, but all in
vain.  He failed to learn anything about Winn, and heard that but one
raft had passed down the river the day before.  It was described as
having a single "shanty," a tent, and a crew of three men.  As that was
not the kind of a raft he was looking for, this information only added
to the young man's perplexity.  It never occurred to him that the raft
might have been stolen and disguised.  So, as he was certain he had not
passed it, there was but one solution to the problem.  The _Venture_
must have been wrecked and gone to pieces during the storm of that
first night, and Winn must have escaped to the island.

Even with this explanation the mystery of Winn's second disappearance
remained as great as ever, and by the time Billy Brackett hailed the
_Whatnot_, as has already been noted, he was as thoroughly bewildered
as ever in his life.  Nor could he decide on any plan of action that
seemed in the least satisfactory.  He knew there was a town a mile or
so below where the _Whatnot_ lay, and there he had determined to spend
the night.  But for his desire to reach this place before darkness
should wholly shut in, he would have boarded the _Whatnot_ merely to
gratify the curiosity excited by her strange appearance.  As it was, he
felt that he had no time to spare, and so hastened on.

It was quite dark as he approached the lights marking the town he was
seeking; but as he drew near he discovered what appeared like a part of
the levee slowly moving out from shore.  Above it rose dimly a white
object that he had taken for a house, and still above this shown a
lantern.  In a moment he saw that it was a raft resuming its voyage
down the river, and he determined to make an inquiry from its crew
before landing.

Pulling his skiff alongside, the young man sprang aboard.  As he did so
he noticed that the white object was a tent, and that there was a
single "shanty" amidship.  It was the very raft that had been described
to him as being the only one to pass down the river the day before.
These details so occupied his attention that he did not notice a skiff
made fast to the side of the raft just forward of where he tied his
own.  Not seeing it, he did not, of course, ask any questions
concerning it.  If he had, he might have learned that the raftsmen had
just picked it up, floating, empty and ownerless, down the river.
There had been no oars in it, but they had rowed it to the raft with an
extra pair from their own skiff.  In their preparations for departure
they had not yet found time to examine it, and knew nothing of its
contents.

As Billy Brackett walked towards the "shanty," there was a sudden
commotion at its entrance.  A gruff voice exclaimed,

"Get out of here, you cur!"

This command was evidently accompanied by a savage kick, which was
immediately followed by a yell and a heavy fall as Bim's white teeth
sank deep in the calf of one of Mr. Plater's legs.

The dog, tired of his long confinement in the skiff, had eagerly leaped
aboard the raft, and with friendly inquisitiveness had poked his nose
into the open doorway of the "shanty" just as Plater was emerging from
it.

Bim's master realized in a moment what had happened, and sprang to the
scene just as two other figures came running in the same direction from
the forward end of the raft.

Mr. Plater, though on his back, had nearly succeeded in drawing a
pistol from his hip pocket.  In a few seconds more poor Bim's earthly
career would have been ended, but his owner's movements were quick
enough to save him, and before the pistol could be drawn, Billy
Brackett had seized the dog's collar.

"Let go, sir!" he ordered, sternly, and Bim instantly obeyed the
command.  Then realizing that discretion is the better part of valor
when the odds are three to one, the young engineer, with the dog in his
arms, ran to the side of the raft, sprang into the skiff, and shoved
off.  He was followed by a storm of threats and angry imprecations, at
which he only smiled, as he took to his oars and pulled through the
friendly darkness towards the landing from which the raft had already
drifted quite a distance.

Making his way to the wharf-boat, and giving the watchman a quarter to
look out for his skiff until morning, Billy Brackett, weary and
disheartened, sought such accommodation as the only hotel of the little
town afforded.  All night he tossed sleeplessly on his uncomfortable
bed, striving in vain to unravel the mystery in which the fate of his
nephew and of Major Caspar's raft had become enshrouded.

In the morning he strolled undecidedly down to the wharf-boat, and,
missing his skiff, asked the watchman, who was just going off duty,
what he had done with it.

"Why, there it is, sir, just where you left it," answered the man, in a
surprised tone, pointing to a skiff that Billy Brackett was certain he
had never seen before.

"That is not my boat," he said.

"It is the one you came in last night," answered the watchman.  "And
here is the coat you left in it.  I took the liberty of bringing it in
out of the dew."

The young engineer looked at the coat the man was holding towards him,
and shook his head.

"That is not mine, either," he said.

"Whose is it, then?"

"I'm sure I don't know.  You'd better look in the pockets.  They may
contain some clew."

Acting upon this suggestion the watchman thrust his hand into a
breast-pocket of the coat and drew forth a note-book.  He opened it.

"Here's something writ in it," he said; "but as I'm not quick at making
out strange writing, maybe you'll read it, sir."

Taking the book from the man's hand, and glancing carelessly at its
title-page, Billy Brackett uttered a cry of amazement.  There, written
in a clear boyish hand, was the inscription:

"Winn Caspar.  His Book."

[Illustration: "Billy Brackett uttered a cry of amazement."]



CHAPTER XVII.

THE TRUTH, BUT NOT THE WHOLE TRUTH.

Winn was greatly perturbed by hearing from the _Whatnot's_ engine-room
the inquiries concerning Sheriff Riley's skiff, and Cap'n Cod's
replies.  He had not meant to steal the boat, of course, but it now
seemed that he was regarded as having done so, and was being hotly
pursued by some one interested in its recovery.  It was not the Sheriff
himself, for the voice was a strange one; so it was probably one of his
men, who undoubtedly had one or more companions.  Winn was too ignorant
of the world to know whether escaping from a sheriff who had unjustly
arrested him, and running off with his boat, would be considered a
serious offence or not.  He only knew that while perfectly conscious of
his own innocence, he yet felt very much as though he were fleeing from
justice.  He had not even known until that minute that his late captor
was a sheriff, nor could he imagine why he had been arrested.  What he
did know was that some one well acquainted with the fact that he had
taken a skiff not his own was now searching for it and for him.  This
was sufficient to alarm him and fill his mind with visions of arrest,
imprisonment, and fines which his father would be compelled to pay.

Then, too, the Captain of this strange craft on which he had just found
an asylum, but from which he would already be glad to escape, had
declared himself to be a friend of Sheriff Riley, and well acquainted
with his boat.  Of course, then, he would gladly aid his friend in
recovering his property, and would not hesitate to make a prisoner of
the person who had run off with it.  In that case he would be taken
back to Dubuque in disgrace, his father would have to be sent for--and
who knew where he might be by this time?--and there would be a long
delay that he would probably have to endure in prison.  In the mean
time what would become of the raft lost through his carelessness and
self-conceit?

Decidedly all this must be prevented if possible; and though the boy
would have scorned to tell a lie even to save his life, he determined
to tell as little of the truth as would be necessary to answer the
questions that he knew would shortly be put to him.

While Winn was puzzling over this situation, and trying to frame a
plausible story that would account for his presence on the tow-head
without overstepping the bounds of truth, the door of the engine-room
opened, and Cap'n Cod stumped in.  He brought an armful of dry
clothing, and was beaming with the satisfaction that he always felt
when engaged in helping any one out of trouble.

"Well, my muddy young friend," he exclaimed, good-naturedly, "how are
you getting on?  Has Solon taken good care of you?  Here are some
clothes that, I guess, you will have to make the best of until your own
can be dried.  They probably won't come within a mile of fitting, but
clothing does not make the man, you know, and we are not very critical
as to appearances aboard the _Whatnot_.  By-the-way, my name is
Fifield--Aleck Fifield.  What did you say yours was?"

"I don't think I said," answered the boy, slipping into a woollen shirt
many sizes too large for him; "but it is Winn."

"Winn, eh?  Good name.  Belong to the Massachusetts Winns?"

"My parents came from there, but I was born in Wisconsin."

"Yes, yes.  Just so.  But, there!  I musn't hinder you.  Supper is
ready, and if you haven't any better place to go to, we should be most
happy to have you join us."

"Thank you, sir," replied Winn.  "I shall be only too glad to do so,
for I haven't had any supper, and the raft to which I belong has
probably gone off down the river without me."

"So you belong to a raft, eh?  And what happened?  Did you tumble
overboard from it?"

"No, sir.  I came to this island in the skiff, and was trying to make a
line fast, when the skiff got away from me."

"And they didn't notice it through the gloom until it was too late to
do anything, and so you got left!  Yes, yes.  I see just how it all
happened!  Such accidents are of common occurrence on the river, and
you were very fortunate to find us here.  I shall be delighted to have
you for a guest tonight, and in the morning your friends will
undoubtedly return to look for you."

As he thus rattled on in cheery fashion, Cap'n Cod gathered up Winn's
wet clothing, preparatory to taking them to the galley to be dried.
Not finding either coat or shoes in the water-soaked pile, he inquired
if the boy had left the raft without them.

"No, sir," replied Winn; "but I took them off, and left them in the
skiff."

"You did!  That's bad; for when your friends find the skiff with your
clothes in it, they will be apt to imagine you are drowned.  Then
they'll search the river below here for your body, instead of coming
back to look for you.  Never mind, though," he added quickly, mistaking
the expression of relief which this suggestion brought to Winn's face
for one of dismay, "we'll soon relieve their anxiety.  We'll get a
mule, and put him in here as quick as our show earns his price.  Then
we'll go humming down the river faster than any raft that ever drifted.
We may be several days in overtaking them, but I shall be only too
happy to have you remain with us for that length of time, and longer,
too, if you will.  I am greatly in need of an assistant to help me run
the show.  So if you are willing to take hold and work with us, the
obligation will be wholly on my side."

"Of course I will, sir!" exclaimed Winn, whose spirits were rising as
the difficulties of his situation began to disappear.  "I will do
anything I can, only I didn't know this was a show-boat, and I'm afraid
I am pretty ignorant about shows anyway."

"That will be all right," replied the Captain.  "My own experience in
the dramatic line has been so extensive that I shall have no difficulty
in posting you.  I am surprised, though, that you did not recognize
this boat as having been built by one of the profession, and especially
adapted to its requirements.  There are certain features about the
_Whatnot_--which, by the way, I consider a most original and attractive
name--that are intended to indicate--"

"Suppah, sah!  An' Missy Sabel awaitin'," interrupted Solon, thrusting
his woolly head into the doorway at that moment.

Glad as Winn was of this diversion, and though he was as thankful as
only a famished boy can be that a bountiful meal awaited him, he would
willingly have gone hungry a little longer rather than enter that
dining-room just then.  Although the engine-room did not afford a
mirror, he was conscious that he must present about as absurd a figure
as can well be conceived.  He was bare-footed, and the left leg of his
trousers was turned up to keep it from the floor, while the right,
owing to the Captain's misfortune, barely reached his ankle.  A
checkered woolen shirt hung about him in folds, and over it he wore a
garment that Cap'n Cod was pleased to style his "professional coat."
It was a blue swallow-tail, with bright brass buttons.  As worn by Winn
the tails hung nearly to the floor, the cuffs were turned back over his
wrists, and the collar rubbed against his ears.

"A pretty costume in which to appear before a strange girl," thought
poor Winn, who was noted at home for being fastidious concerning his
dress and personal appearance.  "I know I must look like a guy, and she
can't help laughing, of course; but if she does, I'll never speak to
her as long as I live, and I'll leave this craft the very first chance
I get."

While these thoughts were crowding fast upon one another, the boy was
being dragged into the dining-room by Cap'n Cod, and formally presented
as "Mr. Winn, of Massachusetts," to "my grand-niece Sabella, sir."

[Illustration: Winn's introduction to Sabella.]

Winn will never know whether the girl laughed or not, for at that
moment Don Blossom, who had been seated on the floor daintily nibbling
a sweet biscuit, sprang chattering to her shoulder and buried his face
in her hair, as he had done upon the boy's first appearance.  This
episode formed such a seasonable diversion that by the time the girl
succeeded in freeing herself from the clutches of her pet, Winn was
seated at the table with the most conspicuous portion of his absurd
costume concealed beneath its friendly shelter.

During the meal Winn and Sabella exchanged furtive glances, which each
hoped the other would not notice, and the boy, at least, blushed
furiously whenever one of his was detected.  Although neither of them
said much, the meal was by no means a silent one; for the Captain
maintained a steady and cheerful flow of conversation from its
beginning to its end.  He told Sabella a thrilling tale of Winn's
narrow escape from drowning, and how his friends were at that moment
drifting far away down the river, anxiously speculating as to his fate.
Then he told Winn of the painting of the panorama, the building of the
_Whatnot_, and of his plans for the future.

When the meal finally came to an end, on account of Winn's inability to
eat any more, the boy was surprised to find how much at home he had
been made to feel by the unaffected simplicity and unobtrusive kindness
of these strangers.

While Sabella and Solon cleared the table, the Captain lighted a
lantern and showed him over the boat.  Thus the boy discovered that
while its after-part was devoted to the engine-room and quarters for an
animated, one-mule-power engine, a galley, and the general living-room,
the remainder of the house was arranged as an entertainment hall, with
a small curtained stage at one end, and seats for one hundred
spectators.  Cap'n Cod informed him that this was to be his sleeping
apartment so long as he remained with them.  The Captain slept in the
pilot-house, while Sabella's dainty little room was in the after-house
on the upper deck, and was connected with the living-room by a flight
of inside stairs.



CHAPTER XVIII.

FOLLOWING THE TRAIL.

The next morning, when Winn opened his eyes after the first night of
undisturbed sleep he had enjoyed since leaving home, he was for a
moment greatly puzzled to account for his surroundings.  His bed had
been made down in the exhibition hall on two benches drawn close
together, and as he awoke, he found himself staring at a most
marvellous painting that occupied the full height and nearly the entire
width of the stage at the farther end of the hall.  It was a lurid
scene, but so filled with black shadows that to a vivid imagination it
might represent any one of many things.  While the boy was wondering if
the young woman in yellow who appeared in the upper corner of the
picture, with outstretched arms and dishevelled hair, was about to
commit suicide by flinging herself from the second story of the
factory, and only hesitated for fear of crushing the badly frightened
young man in red who from the street below had evidently just
discovered his peril, a door opened, and his host of the evening before
tiptoed into the room.

The expression "tiptoed" is here used to indicate the extreme caution
of Cap'n Cod's entrance, and his evident desire to effect it as
noiselessly as possible.  As he could only tiptoe on one foot, however,
and had neglected to muffle the iron-shod peg that served him in place
of the other, his progress was attended with more than its usual amount
of noise.  He appeared relieved to find Winn awake, and advancing with
a cordial greeting, he laid the boy's own clothing, now cleaned and
dried, within his reach.  "I should have sent Solon in with these," he
explained, "but for fear he might make a noise that would rouse you,
and I noticed last evening that you were sadly in need of sleep.  So,
if you had not been awake, I should have stolen away as noiselessly as
I entered, and left you to have your nap out.  Now, however, I think
you had better come to breakfast, for Sabella and I finished ours some
time ago."

"Thank you, sir," said Winn.  "I will be out in half a minute; but will
you please explain that painting?  I have been studying it ever since I
woke."

"That," replied the Captain, with an accent of honest pride, "is what I
consider one of my _chef-dovers_.  I term it a 'Shakespearian
composite.'  In order to please the tastes of certain audiences, I
shall describe it as the balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet.  Yon
may note Romeo's mandolin lying at his feet, while over the whole falls
the melancholy light of a full moon rising behind the palace.  To suit
a less-intelligent class, it would perhaps be described as the escape
of a Turkish captive by leaping from the upper floor of the Sultan's
seraglio into the arms of her gallant rescuer, who would be American,
British, French, German, or Spanish, according to the predominating
nationality of my audience.  Or it might be called 'A Thrilling
Incident of the Great New York Fire,' in which case Juliet's moonlight
would be spoken of as 'devastating flames,' and Romeo's mandolin would
figure as a fireman's helmet.  It is a painting of infinite
possibilities, any one of which may be impressed upon an audience by a
judiciously selected title and the skilful directing of their
imagination.  Although I am proud of this picture, I have a number of
other 'composites' that are even more startling than this in the
variety of scenes that they can be made to illustrate.  By studying
them you will learn that the whole secret of artistic success lies in
the selection of titles that appeal to and direct the imagination of
the critic, the spectator, or the would-be purchaser.  I would gladly
exhibit and explain them to you now, but business before pleasure; so,
if you are dressed, let us to breakfast."

While Winn was eating his late breakfast, Billy Brackett, only a couple
of miles away, was gazing with an expression of the blankest amazement
at his nephew's note-book.  "How in the name of all that is mysterious
and improbable did this book happen to be in that coat, that coat in
that skiff, that skiff on that raft, and that raft here?  It certainly
seems as though I had brought the skiff from the raft--at least this
man says I did.  You are certain that I came in that identical boat,
are you?"

"Certain, sir," replied the watchman to whom this question was
addressed.

"No one else could have come in this skiff, and then gone off in mine
by mistake?"

"Impossible, sir.  I have been wide-awake all night, and there has not
been another soul aboard this wharf-boat until just now.  Besides, I
took that coat from the skiff just after you left it last evening."

"Then," said Billy Brackett, "the chain of evidence seems to be
unbroken, incredible as it may appear, and it stretches from here
straight away down the river--book coat, coat skiff, skiff raft, raft
Winn.  Now, in order to bring its ends together, and recover my
long-lost nephew, I must again overtake that raft.  I must start as
soon as possible after breakfast, too.  I don't know whether the game
Winn and I are playing is blind-man's-buff or hide-and-seek, but it
certainly resembles both."

Musing over this new aspect of the situation, the young engineer
hastened back to his hotel and breakfast.  In the dining-room, a few
minutes later, a waiter was leaning over him, and asking, for the third
time, "Tea or coffee, sir, an' how'll you have your eggs?" when the
inattentive guest suddenly caused him to jump as though galvanized, by
bringing his fist down on the table with a crash, and exclaiming, "No,
by the great hornspoon, it can't be that way either!  What's that you
say?  Oh yes, of course.  Coffee, soft-boiled, and as quick as you
can."  Having delivered this order, the young man fixed his intent gaze
on a brown spot ornamenting the table-cloth, and resumed his thinking.

It had just occurred to him that, according to all accounts, the raft
from which he had taken that skiff had come down the river to this
point two days before.  So how could Winn Caspar, who had only escaped
from the island a few minutes before he and Bim made good their own
retreat, have reached the same place and joined that raft without
attracting attention?  Both the day and night watchmen at the
wharf-boat had assured him that no such boy as he described had been
seen on the water-front.  They also said that the raft had been there
all the day before, and that when it left it held only the three men
who came with it.  "Of course he might have been inside the 'shanty'
when I was aboard, though I can't see how he got there, nor why he
should join a strange raft anyway," argued the young man.  "At any
rate, it's my business to find out whether or not he is aboard it now.
How about using the skiff, though?  If it is the one Winn ran off with,
it belongs to that Sheriff fellow.  Like as not, he has already sent
word down the river to have it picked up.  In that case, if I was
picked up in it, I might be accused of stealing it, which would never
do in the world.  No; to be on the safe side I must leave the skiff
here, and take the first down-river steamboat that stops at this
landing.  First, though, I'll advertise for Winn in this town, and if I
don't find him on the raft, there may be news waiting for me here when
I come back."

This was the plan upon which the young engineer decided to act, and
immediately after breakfast he proceeded to put it into execution.

There was no paper published in the place, but it did contain a
makeshift sort of a printing-office, and towards this Billy Brackett
directed his steps, after learning at what hour the next down-river
boat was expected.  Here he spent some time in composing a small
circular, of which he ordered five hundred copies to be struck off, and
distributed broadcast.  His boat came along and he had to leave before
this was ready for press; but he had engaged the services of his new
acquaintance the night-watchman, who promised to place the bills
wherever they would do good.

Poor Bim, tied up on the wharf-boat, and nearly heart-broken at his
master's desertion, was also left in charge of this man.  Billy
Brackett was desirous of establishing friendly relations with the
raftsmen when he should overtake them, and feared that would be
impossible in case they should recognize him.  This they would
certainly do if he were accompanied by the bull-dog, whom one of them
at least had reason to remember so well.

At another small landing, nearly a hundred miles farther down the
river, Messrs. Gilder, Grimshaw, and Plater were rendered somewhat
uneasy, late on the following day, by the appearance on board their
raft of a young man who asked questions.  Billy Brackett had
experienced considerable difficulty in finding this raft, and was
greatly disappointed that his search in this direction should prove
fruitless.  The raftsmen had never heard of Major Caspar, nor of Winn
Caspar, his son.  They were lumbermen from far up on the Wisconsin
River, and were taking this raft to New Orleans as a speculation.  They
knew nothing of Sheriff Riley or his skiff.  Yes, they had picked up an
empty skiff two days before, but it had been taken away and another
left in its place by a young fellow with a dog, who had boarded their
raft without invitation, set his dog on one of them, and then skipped.
They would like to meet that party again--yes, they would--and they'd
make things pretty lively for him.

Then they began asking questions in turn, and assuming such a hostile
tone that Billy Brackett concluded he might as well leave then as
later.  So, after asking them to keep a sharp lookout for a raft with
three "shanties," two of which were filled with wheat, he bade them
good-evening, and started back up the river by rail.

In the mean time the _Whatnot_ had reached the town to which he was
returning, and was now tied up just below the wharf-boat.  It had been
decided that the first exhibition of the "Floating Panoramic Show"
should be given here, and Cap'n Cod went up into the town as soon as
they arrived to have some bills printed.  Winn, at the same time,
started along the water-front to search for traces of his lost raft;
and Sabella, who was very fond of dogs, went aboard the wharf-boat to
make the acquaintance of a fine bull-dog she had noticed there as they
passed.

At supper-time they all gathered again in the living-room of the
_Whatnot_, where Sabella reported her new friend to be the most
splendid bull-dog she had ever seen, and that his name was Bim.

This name at once attracted Winn's attention, and he said he had an
uncle somewhere out in California who owned a dog named Bim.  Then the
boy reported that nothing had been seen or heard of his raft, though he
did not tell them he had discovered Sheriff Riley's skiff.

Cap'n Cod remarked that if he could only claim all the rewards he had
just seen offered, he could afford to run the _Whatnot_ by steam.
"There is one of a thousand dollars," he said, "for any information
that will lead to the capture of a gang of counterfeiters, supposed to
be operating in this vicinity.  Then there is one of a hundred dollars
for the arrest of the fellow who ran off with Sheriff Riley's skiff,
and who is supposed to be a member of the same gang.  There is still
another, of an equal amount, for any information as to the whereabouts,
if he is still living, or for the recovery of the body of a boy named
Caspar, the only son of my old friend, Major John Caspar, of Caspar's
Mill, in Wisconsin.  He has disappeared most unaccountably, together
with a raft owned by his father.  By-the-way, his first name is the
same as your last one, which is a little odd, for Winn is not a common
name.  That's what it is, though, 'Winn Caspar.'"



CHAPTER XIX.

A CURIOUS COMPLICATION.

"So that is what I was arrested for, is it?" thought Winn.  "I was
supposed to be one of a gang of counterfeiters, and a pretty desperate
sort of a character.  That will be a pretty good joke to tell father.
But I wonder who is offering a reward for me as plain every-day Winn
Caspar, besides the one that would be paid for the young counterfeiter
who ran off with the Sheriff's boat?"

This is what Winn thought.  What he said was, "My! but that is a lot of
money!  Wouldn't it be fine if we could earn those twelve hundred
dollars?"

"Indeed it would," answered the old man.  "Even one of the smaller
rewards would buy us a mule."

"Who is offering them?" asked Winn.

"The Government offers the first, Sheriff Riley the second, and the
third is offered by some one named Brickell.  'W. Brickell,' the bills
are signed.  I saw them up at the printing-office, but they are being
distributed all over the place."

Sure enough, in that wretched little printing-office the compositor had
made "Brickell" out of Brackett, and as he was his own proof-reader,
the mistake was not discovered.

"Brickell," repeated Winn, slowly.  "That is a queer name, and one that
I never heard before."

"Yes, it is one that has puzzled me a good deal," said Cap'n Cod.  "I'm
sure I never heard Major Caspar mention any such person."

"You know this Major Caspar, then?"

"Know him!  Well, I should say I did.  We were in the same regiment all
through the war, and a better officer never commanded men.  Know him!
I know him to the extent of a leg, lost when I was standing so close
beside him that if I hadn't been there the ball would have taken his
instead of mine.  Know him!  Didn't I know him for three months in the
hospital, where he came to see me every day?  Indeed I do know Major
Caspar, and I should be mighty glad to know of any way in which I could
help him out of his present trouble."

"It is strange that I never heard father speak of any Aleck Fifield,"
thought Winn.  He was about to ask some more questions, but was
restrained by the remembrance of his present peculiar position.  The
same thought checked his inclination to say, "I am Winn Caspar, sir,
the son of your friend Major Caspar, of Caspar's Mill."  Instead of
that he said to himself, "I will wait until we get away from this
place; or, at any rate, until I can receive a letter from home that
will prove who I am.  Otherwise he might find out about the Sheriff's
skiff, and think I had made up the story to escape arrest as a thief."

So Winn held his peace, and only asked his host if he would furnish him
the materials for writing a letter home.  Provided with these, he wrote
to his mother as follows:

"MANDRAKE, IOWA.

"MY OWN DEAR MOTHER,--I write to you instead of to father, as I suppose
he must be somewhere on the river hunting for me by this time, though I
have not seen him yet.

"I am all right, and having a fine time, but have lost the raft.  I am
on board a boat called the _Whatnot_, with some very kind people--a
gentleman named Fifield, a girl named Sabella, a funny old darky named
Solon, and a monkey named Don Blossom.  I am bound to find the raft
again if it is still afloat, and am going to keep on down the river in
this boat until we catch up with it.

"I shall be here long enough for you to answer this letter; and send me
some money, please, and tell me all about everybody.  Give my dear love
to Elta, and tell her I wish she knew Sabella and Don Blossom.  She is
just the kind of a girl, and he is just the kind of a monkey, a fellow
likes to know.

"Now it is late, and I must turn in, for I am working my passage on
this boat, and Solon and I must take the place of a mule to-morrow, and
till we can earn money enough to buy one.  So good-bye, from your
affectionate son,----WINN."


While the boy was writing, Cap'n Cod went ashore, and when the former
took his letter to the post-office, he met his host there with two
letters in his hand.  They followed Winn's into the box, but he did not
see the address on either of them.  If he had, he would have been more
troubled than ever, for one was addressed to the Sheriff of Dubuque
County, and the other to his own father.

The old man had seen and recognized the skiff that he had built for
Sheriff Riley as it lay tied to the wharf-boat, but had thought it best
to keep this discovery to himself until he could communicate with its
owner.  By cautious inquiries he learned that the skiff had been left
there by a young man calling himself Brackett, who had gone on down the
river, but was expected back in a day or two.  Cap'n Cod would have
telegraphed to Sheriff Riley but for the fact that the wires had not
yet been extended to Mandrake.  So he wrote and begged the Sheriff to
hasten down the river by first boat.

He also wrote to Major Caspar, expressing his sympathy, telling him
that he was now travelling down the Mississippi in his own boat, the
_Whatnot_, asking for full particulars concerning the lost boy, and
offering to make every effort to discover his whereabouts.

On the morning of that very day, just before his departure from
Mandrake, Billy Brackett had also written and mailed a letter that read
as follows:

"MY DEAR SISTER,--I am up a stump just at present, but hope to climb
down very soon.  In other words, your boy is smarter than I took him to
be.  He has not only managed to hide the raft, but himself as well, and
both so completely that thus far I have had but little success in
tracing them.  I have reason to believe that he and I spent some time
very close to each other on an island the night I left you, but before
daylight he had again disappeared, leaving no trace.  After that I
learned nothing concerning him until reaching this place, when I again
struck the trail.  I am now following a warm scent, and expect to run
the young fox to earth within a few hours.

"So much for the boy.  As for the raft, its disappearance is even more
complete and unaccountable than his.  There is absolutely nothing to
report concerning it.  I have boarded several rafts, but none of them
bears the slightest resemblance to the _Venture_, which I am certain I
should recognize at a glance.  However, when I find Winn he will of
course be able to put me on the right track, and the subsequent
recovery of the raft will prove an easy matter.

"If you have any news, send it to me at this place, where I shall
remain until I hear from you.

"Love to Elta.  Tell her that last evening I ran across the queerest
craft I ever saw, with the queerest name I ever heard of.  It is called
the _Whatnot_.  Of course its Captain knew nothing of Winn, and I did
not expect he would; but I make it my business to inquire of every one
I meet or pass.

"Hoping to be able to send you better news within a day or two, I am
your loving brother,

"WILLIAM."


As this letter reached Caspar's Mill in the same mail with those from
Winn and the owner of the _Whatnot_, who, in writing to the Major, had
used his old army name, and signed himself "Respectfully yours, Cap'n
Cod," it may easily be imagined that Billy Brackett's perplexity was as
nothing compared to that of his sister.  What could it all mean?  Winn
was alive and well; his letter brought that comfort.  But what did he
mean by stating that he was on board that boat with the absurd name,
when both William and Captain Cod stated that he was not there.  Then,
too, how could it be possible for those three persons, each of whom was
anxious to find one of the others, to be in a small place, such as this
Mandrake must be, for several days without running across each other?
Such stupidity was incredible, and could only be accounted for by the
fact that all three were of the masculine sex.  Well, she would soon
set things to rights, and the fond mother smiled to herself to think
that it was left for her, who had remained quietly at home, to discover
the missing boy after all.

She had but a few minutes in which to catch the return mail; but when
it left, it bore three notes in her handwriting.  The one directed to
Mr. Winn Caspar, Mandrake, Iowa, read as follows:

"MY DARLING BOY,--How could you leave us as you did?  And why don't you
come home?  Don't lose a minute in hunting up your Uncle Billy, who is
now in Mandrake.  He will supply you with money, and tell you what to
do.

"Ever lovingly, but in great haste,

"YOUR OWN MOTHER."


To the Captain of the _Whatnot_ Mrs. Caspar wrote:

"Sir,--In the absence of my husband, I took the liberty of opening your
note to him of the 1st inst.  In it you write that you are anxious to
discover our boy's whereabouts, when, by the same mail, I am advised by
him that he is on board the very boat of which you claim to be Captain
and owner.  I of course take my boy's word in preference to that of any
stranger.  Having thus detected the hollowness of your sympathy, and
the falseness of your pretended friendship for my husband, I must
request you to refrain from further meddling in this matter.  Yours
etc.,----ELLEN CASPAR."


Fortunately, as this letter was addressed to Captain Cod, Esq., instead
of to Mr. Aleck Fifield, the old man never received it, and in due time
it was returned to the writer from the Dead-letter Office.

To Billy Brackett Mrs. Caspar wrote:

"MY DEAR GOOSE OF A BROTHER,--I have just received a letter from Winn
written at Mandrake.  He is on the _Mantel-piece_, and out of money.
Please supply him with whatever he needs, and bring him home to me as
quickly as possible.  As for the raft, I am sorry, of course, that you
cannot find it; but so long as Winn is safe, nothing else seems to
matter.

"John writes full of enthusiasm concerning the contract, and I shall
tell him nothing of your absurd doings until you and Winn are safely
back here.  Ever lovingly your sister,----ELLEN."



CHAPTER XX.

BIM GROWLS.

During the following day, while these letters were on their way to the
little Iowa town in which the principal actors in this story were
playing at such cross-purposes, active preparations were being made on
board the _Whatnot_ for the first exhibition of its panorama.  In those
days the panorama filled the place now taken by the stereopticon; and
though its crude pictures lacked the photographic truth of lantern
slides, they were by no means devoid of interest.  In fact, their
gorgeousness of color, and the vagueness of detail that allowed each to
represent several scenes, according to the pleasure of the lecturer,
rendered them quite as popular, if not so instructive, as their modern
successors.

The success of a panorama, however, depended largely upon the person
who explained its pictures.  If he were witty, and knew how to tell the
good story of which each one was certain to remind him, all went well,
and the fame of that panorama spread far and wide.  If, on the other
hand, he was prosy, and offered only dry explanations of his pictures,
the impatient river-town audience did not hesitate to express their
dissatisfaction, and the exhibition was apt to close with a riot.

All this was well known to Cap'n Cod; but twenty years of absence from
the stage had caused him to lose sight of his first and only
humiliating appearance before an audience, and had restored all his
youthful confidence in his own abilities.  He was therefore to be the
lecturer of his own show, while Winn and Solon were to enter the
treadmill, and supply, as well as they could, the place of a mule in
furnishing power to move the heavy roll of paintings.  Sabella was also
to remain out of sight, but was to grind out music from the hand-organ
whenever it might be needed.  This was only a temporary position, and
would be filled by either Winn or Solon after a mule had been obtained
for the treadmill.  Sabella's real duty was to dress Don Blossom, and
see that he went on the stage at the proper time.

The hour for giving these arrangements a public test finally arrived.
By eight o'clock the exhibition hall of the _Whatnot_ was packed with
an audience that contained a number of raftsmen and steamboat hands
from the water-front.  These were good-naturedly noisy, and indulged in
cat-calls, stampings, and other manifestations of their impatience for
the curtain to rise.  An occasional lull in the tumult allowed the
droning notes of the "Sweet By-and-By," then new and extremely popular,
to be heard, as they were slowly ground out from the hand-organ by the
invisible Sabella.

At length they ceased; the little drop-curtain was slowly rolled up so
as to expose the first picture, and Cap'n Cod, pointer in hand, in all
the glory of the blue swallow-tail with brass buttons, stepped on the
stage.  His appearance was greeted with a silence that was almost
painful in its contrast with the previous tumult.

Now for the neat introductory speech that the old man had prepared so
carefully and rehearsed until he knew every word by heart.  He stepped
forward, and gazed appealingly at the silent audience; but no word came
from his dry lips.  He swallowed convulsively, and appeared to be
struggling with himself.  A titter of laughter sounded from the back of
the room.  The old man's face became fiery red and then deathly pale.
He looked helplessly and pitifully from side to side.

"Wind him up!" shouted a voice.

"He's stopped short, never to go again," called another.

"He's an old fraud, and his show's a fake!"

"Speech! speech!"

"No; a song!  Let old dot-and-carry-one give us a song!"

"Oh, shut up!  Don't you see he's a ballet-dancer?"

And so the derisive jeerings of this audience, like those of another
twenty years before, hailed Cap'n Cod's second failure.  His confidence
in himself, his years of experience, the memory of what he ought to
say, all vanished the moment he faced that mass of upturned faces, and
he was once more the dumb, trembling Codringhampton of twenty years
before.  A mist swam before his eyes, he groped blindly with his hands,
the derisive yells of the river-men, who were endeavoring to secure
their money's worth of amusement from this pitiful spectacle, grew
fainter and fainter in his ears.  He tottered backward, and would have
fallen, had not a young man from the audience sprang to his assistance.

Very tenderly he helped the old man from the stage and into the
friendly shadows of the side scenes.  In another moment he reappeared.
With flashing eyes he stepped in front of the turbulent audience and
held up his hand.  The curiosity of the river-men was sufficient to
produce an almost instant silence, which in another second might have
changed into an angry roar.

Who was this young fellow?  What business had he to interfere with
their fun?  What was he going to say?  He'd better be careful!  They
were not in a humor to be trifled with.

For a moment he looked steadily at them.

Then he said:

"Boys, I am surprised, and if I thought for a moment that you really
meant to worry that old man, I should be ashamed of you.  But I know
you didn't.  It was only your fun.  He has been a soldier, and lost a
leg fighting for you and me and to preserve the glorious Union, that
you and I are prouder of than anything else in life.  He has a daughter
in there too--a young girl, for whom he is trying to make a living with
this show.  I saw her just now, and if you could have seen the look of
distress and terror on her face as she sprang to the old man's side you
would feel as I do about this business.  Yon would know, as I do, that
this was no fake, but a square--A, number one--show, packed full and
running over with good things, worth ten times the price of admission.
You'd know that it was just the bulliest show ever seen on this little
old river, and you'd turn in with a will to help me prove it.  I am a
stranger, just arrived in town, and never set eyes on this outfit
before; but I'm willing to put up my last dollar on the fact that this
show is so much better than I've said that as soon as you've seen it
once, you'll want to see it right over again, you'll come to it every
evening that it stays here, and then you'll follow it down the river on
the chance of seeing it again.  Hello, inside!  Turn on your steam, and
set your whirligig to moving."

By this time the good-nature of the audience was fully restored, and,
amid encouraging cries of "That's the talk!"  "Ring the jingle-bell and
give her a full head!"  "Sweep her out into the current and toot your
horn, stranger!" the panorama began slowly to unroll.  The young man
picked up the pointer, and the moment the second picture--a lurid scene
that Cap'n Cod had entitled "The Burning of Moscow"--was fully exposed
to view, he began:

"There you have it, gentlemen!  One of the most thrilling events of
this century.  The great San Francisco fire of '55.  City swept clean
from the face of the earth, and built up again, finer than before,
inside of a month.  I tell you, fellows, those Californians are
rustlers!  Why, I met a man out in 'Frisco last month whom I knew, two
years ago, as a raftsman on this very river at twenty a month and
found.  To-day he is worth a cool million of dollars, and if you want
to know how he made it, I'll let you into the secret."

And so the young stranger rattled on with story and joke, never pausing
to study the panoramic scenes as they moved slowly along, but giving
each the first title that suggested itself, and working in descriptions
to fit the titles.  He kept it up for more than an hour; and when
Sabella, who was watching him from the side scenes with admiring
wonder, called out softly that the picture he was then describing was
the last, he gracefully dismissed as delighted an audience as ever
attended a river show, and disappeared with them.

[Illustration: Billy Brackett is a friend in need.]

Billy Brackett had come up the Illinois side of the river by rail and
stage, and had been ferried across to Mandrake just in time to be
attracted by the incipient riot aboard the _Whatnot_.  Led to the scene
by curiosity, his generous indignation was aroused by the sight of the
helpless old man and his tormentors.  Now, to avoid being thanked for
what he had done, he hurried away, released Bim from his confinement on
the wharf-boat, to that bow-legged animal's intense joy, and went to
the hotel for the night.

The next morning, when he came down into the office, the clerk handed
him Mrs. Caspar's letter.  He stood by the desk and read it.  Then he
read it again, with a frown of perplexity deepening on his forehead.
"Winn here, on board the _Mantel-piece_, and out of money!  What can
Ellen mean?  She must be losing her mind."

The young man was so engrossed with this letter that he paid no
attention to the other occupants of the room.  Thus he did not see
Cap'n Cod and his niece enter the front door, nor notice that the
former was greeted by two men who had been talking earnestly together
and watching him with great interest.  Nor did he see Sabella stoop to
pat Bim, who had gone to meet her.  He did not notice the entrance a
moment later of a boy with a very puzzled expression of countenance and
an open letter in his hand.  Neither did he see that the boy was
accompanied by the printer who had furnished his reward notices, and
who now pointed in his direction, saying, "That's him there.  That's
Mr. Brickell."

At the same moment Sabella exclaimed, "Oh, Winn, here's Bim!  Isn't he
a dear dog?"  Then she too caught sight of Billy Brackett, and pulling
Cap'n Cod by the sleeve, whispered, "There he is, uncle.  That is the
gentleman you have come to thank for helping us so splendidly last
evening."

While she was thus whispering into one ear, the night watchman of the
wharf-boat, who stood on the other side of the old man, was saying, in
a low tone, "Yes, sir.  As I was just telling the Sheriff, that's the
man as stole his skiff, for I saw him when he landed here in it."

Sheriff Riley, who had only reached Mandrake half an hour before, was
staring at Winn, and saying to himself, "There's the young rascal now.
I knew it wasn't that other fellow, though somehow his face is
strangely familiar too."

There was a momentary hesitation on all sides.  Then, as though moved
by a single impulse, Winn started towards Billy Brackett to ask him if
his name was Brickell, Cap'n Cod stepped up to express his heart-felt
gratitude for what he had done the evening before, and Sheriff Riley
moved towards Winn with the intention of arresting him.  At this Bim,
recognizing the Sheriff, stationed himself in front of his preoccupied
master, erected the bristles on the back of his neck, and growled.



CHAPTER XXI.

EVERY ONE EXPLAINS.

At Bim's growl, Billy Brackett said "Be quiet, sir!" and looked up.  He
wondered somewhat at the number of persons advancing towards him, and
was also surprised to note that, with one exception, they were all
people whom he knew.  He recognized Sabella and her uncle, the
wharf-boat man, the printer, and even the Sheriff of Dubuque County.
The only one of the group whom he had not seen before was the
gentlemanly and thoroughly honest-looking young fellow upon whose
shoulder the Sheriff had just laid his hand, saying,

"I want you, my boy."

"I expect I want him more than you do, Sheriff," remarked Billy
Brackett, quietly, stepping forward and laying a hand on Winn's other
shoulder.  "You take him to be a thief, while I take him to be my
nephew; and, of course, if he is the one, he can't be the other.  Isn't
your name Winn Caspar?  Answer me that, you young rascal!"

"Yes," replied Winn, slowly, "that is my name.  But what a stupid I
have been!"

"You mean in allowing yourself to be carried off by the raft, and then
losing it, and getting arrested, and running off with the Sheriff's
skiff, and letting it go adrift with your coat in it, and shipping
aboard some craft that your dear mother calls the _Mantel-piece_ for a
cruise down the river, instead of getting along home and relieving the
anxiety of your distressed parents, to say nothing of that of your aged
uncle.  Yes, it does seem to me that in this instance the general
brilliancy of the family is somewhat clouded."

"I don't mean anything of the kind," answered Winn, stoutly.  "All
these things might have happened to any one, even to an uncle of your
advanced years and wisdom.  So I am sure I don't consider them proofs
of stupidity.  The only stupid thing that I am willing to acknowledge
is that I didn't recognize Bim, after I'd been told there was a dog of
that name here, too.  That's the thing I can't get over."

"But you had never seen him!" exclaimed Billy Brackett.

"That makes no difference," was the calm reply.  "I'd heard so much
about him that I ought to have known him, and I can't forgive myself
that I didn't."

"How about running off with my boat?" queried the Sheriff, who did not
at all understand the situation.

"I didn't run off with your boat.  It ran off with me first, and ran
away from me afterwards.  If you hadn't taken the oars out I should
have rowed into Dubuque and sent some one back to the island with her.
As it was, I had to go wherever she chose to take me, until she set me
ashore on a tow-head, and went on down the river by herself.  I'm glad
of it, though, for if she hadn't, I should never have found the
_Whatnot_."

"The _Whatnot_!" exclaimed Billy Brackett.  "Are you living on board
the _Whatnot_?"

"Yes, sir, this young gentleman is a guest on board of my boat," said
Cap'n Cod, who now found his first chance to speak; "and glad as I have
been to have him, it would have made me many times happier to know that
he was the son of my old friend and commander.  Why didn't you tell me
the truth in the first place, boy?"  And the veteran gazed
reproachfully at Winn.

"I did tell you the truth so far as I told you anything.  I didn't dare
tell you any more, because I heard you say you were a friend of Sheriff
Riley, and knew his skiff.  So I was afraid you would have me arrested
for running off with it, and in that way delay me so that I would never
find the raft.  Besides, I wanted to wait until I could get a letter
from home to prove who I am, and I hadn't a chance to write until we
got here."

"With me, the simple word of Major Caspar's son would have been
stronger than all the proof in the world," said the loyal old soldier;
"and though you did, as you say, tell the truth so far as you told
anything, you did not tell the whole truth, as your father certainly
would have done had he been in your place."

"The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," quoted the
Sheriff, in his most official tone.  "But look here, Cap'n Cod," he
continued, "you haven't yet explained what you know of this young
fellow, and his suspicious, or, to say the least, queer performances on
the river."

"Cap'n Cod!" interrupted Winn.  "Is your name Cap'n Cod?"

"It is a name that I have been known to answer to," replied the owner
of the _Whatnot_; "and after my performance of last evening I don't
suppose I shall ever be allowed to claim any other."

"If you had only told me all your names in the first place," said Winn,
with a sly twinkle in his eyes, "I should probably have done the same.
I have so often heard my father speak of Cap'n Cod's goodness and
honesty and bravery, that I should have been perfectly willing to trust
him; though I was a bit suspicious of the Sheriff's friend, Mr. Aleck
Fifield."

"It's not the Sheriff's friends you need be suspicious of, my lad, but
his enemies," interrupted Mr. Riley; "and I wonder if you haven't
fallen in with them already.  As I now understand this case, you came
down the river on a raft until you reached the island near which I
found you.  What became of your raft at that point?"

"That is what I would like to know," replied the boy.

"What!" cried Billy Brackett.  "Do you mean to say that you don't know
where the raft is?"

"No more than I know how you happen to be here instead of out in
California, where I supposed you were until five minutes ago.  I
haven't set eyes on the _Venture_, nor found a trace of her, since the
first morning out from home."

"Well, if that doesn't beat everything!" said the young engineer, with
a comical tone of despair.  "I thought that after finding you the
discovery of the raft would follow as a matter of course; but now it
begins to look farther away than ever."

"But in finding me," said Winn, "you have found some one to help you
find the raft."

"You?" said the other, quizzically.  "Why, I was thinking of sending
you home to your mother; that is, if the Sheriff here will allow you to
go."

"I don't know about that," said the officer.  "It seems to me that I
still know very little about this young man.  Who is to prove to me
that he is the son of Major Caspar?"

"Oh, I can speak for that," replied Billy Brackett.

"And I suppose he is ready to vouch for you; but that won't do.  You
see, you are both suspicious characters, and unless some one whom I
know as well as I do Cap'n Cod here can identify you, I must take you
both back to Dubuque."

"Captain Cod," repeated Billy Brackett, thoughtfully.  "I seem to have
heard that name before.  Why, yes, I have a note of introduction from
Major Caspar to a Captain Cod, and I shouldn't wonder if you were the
very man.  Here it is now."

"I am proud to make your acquaintance, sir," said the veteran,
heartily, after glancing over the note thus handed to him.  "It's all
right, Sheriff.  This is certainly the Major's handwriting, for I know
it as I do my own, and I don't want any better proof that this
gentleman is the person he claims to be."

"Would you be willing to go on his bond for a thousand dollars?" asked
Mr. Riley.

"I would, and for as much more as my own property, together with what I
hold in trust for my niece, would bring," answered the old man,
earnestly.

"And would you be willing that your money should be risked on any such
a venture?" asked the Sheriff, turning to Sabella with a smile.

"Indeed I would," answered the girl, promptly.  "After the splendid way
Mr. Brackett helped us last evening, I know whatever he says must be
so."

"That will do," said Mr. Riley.  "With such sureties I am well content,
and am willing to make public acknowledgment that these gentlemen are
what they represent themselves to be.  Now, for their future guidance,
I will tell them what I have not yet hinted to a living soul.  It is
that their raft has probably been stolen and taken down the river by
the most noted gang of counterfeiters that has ever operated in this
part of the country.  There are three of them, and I thought I had
surely run them to earth when I traced them to the island just above
Dubuque.  You must have seen them there, didn't you?"

"No, sir," replied Winn, to whom this question was addressed.  "I only
saw one man on the island.  He said he was a river-trader, and would
help me float the raft.  We went to look for his partners, and when I
came back, it and he were both gone.  After that I did not see a soul
until you came along and arrested me."

"That confirms my belief that they have appropriated your raft to their
own uses," said the Sheriff; "and it is a mighty good scheme on their
part, too.  We were watching all the steamboats, and even the trading
scows, but never thought of finding them on a raft.  They have probably
disguised it, and themselves too, long before this, so that to trail
them will be very difficult.  I suppose you will try to follow them,
though?"

"Certainly I shall," answered Billy Brackett, promptly.  "I haven't
undertaken this job only to give it up after a week's trial.  As for
Winn, though, I don't know but what I really ought to send him home."

"Now look here, Uncle Billy.  You know you don't mean that.  You know
that, much as I want to see mother and Elta, I simply _must_ find that
raft, or, at any rate, help you do it.  You couldn't send me home,
either, unless you borrowed a pair of handcuffs from the Sheriff and
put me in irons.  Anyway, I don't believe you'd have the heart.  If I
thought for a moment that you had, I'd--well, I'd disappear again,
that's all."

"All right," laughed Billy Brackett.  "I'm willing you should go with
us if Bim is.  What do you say, old dog?  Speak, sir!"

And Bim spoke till the echoes rang again.



CHAPTER XXII.

A "MEWEL" NAMED "REWARD."

It being thus settled that the search for the raft was to be continued,
the Sheriff said: "I wish I could go with you, Mr. Brackett, and see
this affair through; but those fellows are beyond my hunting-ground
now, and I've got important business to attend to up the river.  I'll
tell you what I will do, though.  I'll appoint you a deputy, and give
you a bit of writing witnessed by a notary, as well as a badge.  The
paper will identify you, and state that you are engaged on government
business, which entitles you to official aid wherever you may demand
it.  I will also give you samples of the bills those fellows are
circulating.  They are fives and tens, and by far the best specimens of
that kind of work I have ever seen.  Of course, if you don't catch them
it will be all right; but if you do, perhaps you'll remember old
friends when the reward is paid."

Billy Brackett thanked Mr. Riley, and accepted these friendly offers,
though he afterwards remarked to Winn that as they were searching for a
lost raft, and not for a gang of counterfeiters, he thought it unlikely
that he should ever play the part of Sheriff.

"But you'd try for that reward if you had the chance, wouldn't you?"
asked Winn.

"No, I would not," was the prompt reply.  "Man-hunting, and especially
man-hunting for money, is not in my line.  It is a duty that Sheriffs
are obliged to perform, but, thank goodness, I am not a Sheriff."

At the conclusion of all these explanations and arrangements, the
entire party adjourned to the _Whatnot_, to which Sabella had already
returned, and where they were to dine, by Cap'n Cod's invitation.

What a good dinner it was, and what a merry one!  How Solon, who in a
speckless white apron waited at table, grinned at the praises bestowed
upon his cooking!  How they all chaffed each other!  Winn was
ironically praised for his success in losing rafts, and the Sheriff for
his in capturing counterfeiters; Cap'n Cod was gravely congratulated
upon the result of his efforts to entertain the public, and even
Sabella was highly praised for her skilful performance on the
hand-organ.  With all this banter, Cap'n Cod did not lose sight of the
obligation under which Billy Brackett had placed him the evening
before, and so sincerely regretted that he and Winn were not to
continue their voyage down the river on the _Whatnot_, that the former
finally said:

"Well, sir, if you really want us to, I don't see why we shouldn't
travel with you until we overhaul our raft.  I am rather taken with
this show business myself, and have always had a desire to appear on
the stage.  As for Winn, and that other young monkey, Don Blossom--"

"All right," laughed Winn.  "I'd rather take the part of monkey than of
mule, any day."

"Other young monkey," continued Billy Brackett, gravely, without
noticing this interruption, "we'll hitch them together and exhibit them
as Siamese twins.  Oh, I tell you, gentlemen, we'll give a show such as
never was seen on this little old river.  I don't suppose this craft is
as fast as some of the larger steamboats, but she can certainly
overtake a raft, and we might just as well have some fun out of the
trip as not."

"But she is not a steamboat," confessed Cap'n Cod.

"Not a steamboat!  What is she then, and how do you propel her?"

"She is only a mule-boat, and at present, as we have no mule, we merely
drift with the current."

At this Billy Brackett became thoughtful, and asked to be shown into
the engine-room.  He had not appreciated Winn's reference to acting the
part of a mule until now; but at sight of the treadmill, and a sudden
realization of the part his nephew had taken in the performance of the
preceding evening, he laughed until the tears filled his eyes, and the
others laughed in sympathy.

"Oh, Winn, Winn!" he cried.  "You'll be the death of me yet!  I wonder
if ever an uncle was blessed with such an absurd nephew before?"

"That's all right, Uncle Billy," said Winn; "but you just step in and
work that treadmill for an hour.  Then see if you'll laugh.  Eh, Solon?"

"No, sah.  Ole Solom he don' git in dere no mo'.  He gwine strike, he
am, agin dish yer mewel bizness."

"Look here, Winn," said Billy Brackett, when he had recovered his
gravity, "didn't I offer a reward for your discovery?"

"To be sure you did; and I meant to claim it, too.  That's what I got
the printer to point out Mr. 'Brickell' for.  So I'll take it now, if
you please."

"That is one of the rewards I expected to earn," remarked Cap'n Cod.
"And I wrote to your father for full particulars concerning your
disappearance; but I don't suppose there is any chance for me now, so
long as you have discovered yourself, unless you could make it
convenient to get lost again."

"I was rather expecting to come in for that reward myself," said the
Sheriff.

"While I," said Billy Brackett, "had about concluded that if any one
was entitled to it, it was the young rascal's worthy uncle.  But I'll
tell you how we will settle these several claims.  Solon here is almost
the only one who has not applied for the reward, though I am convinced
that he is as well entitled to it as any of us.  Therefore I am going
to pay it to him--"

At this the old negro's eyes grew wide as saucers.  He had never been
possessed of a hundred dollars in his life.

"On condition," continued the young engineer, "that he immediately
invests it in a mule, which he shall offer to our friend Cap'n Cod as a
substitute for himself and Winn in the treadmill.  I shall receive my
reward by being permitted to travel on the _Whatnot_ and study for the
stage, while the Sheriff shall be rewarded by being allowed to name the
mule."

Although they all laughed at this scheme and considered, it a good
joke, Billy Brackett was deeply in earnest beneath all his assumed
frivolity.  He realized that finding the raft and taking possession of
it were no longer one and the same thing.  The fact that it was in the
hands of a gang of men who were at once shrewd and desperate rendered
its recovery an affair requiring all the discretion and skill that he
could command.  For the purpose in view, a boat like the _Whatnot_,
with which he could stop when and where he pleased, as well as visit
places unattainable by larger craft, was much better suited than a
steamboat that would only touch at certain fixed points.  Then again he
and Winn would be less likely to arouse the suspicion of those whom
they sought if attached to Cap'n Cod's show than if they appeared to
have no definite business or object in view.  He calculated that by
using mule-power in the daytime and drifting with the current at night
the _Whatnot_ could be made to reach St. Louis as soon as the raft, and
still allow time for several exhibitions of the panorama on the way.
From the outset he had expected to take the raft at least as far as St.
Louis, and now was perfectly willing that its present crew should have
the labor of navigating it to that point.  Thus the plan of travelling
by the _Whatnot_ commended itself strongly to his judgment, besides
proving highly satisfactory to all those interested in it.

Even Bim approved of it, for in addition to showing a decided
appreciation of Sabella's friendship, this intelligent animal evinced a
desire to become more intimately acquainted with Don Blossom, who was
the first of his race he had ever encountered.

The mule selected by Solon, and guaranteed by that expert in mules to
be "a turrible wukker, 'kase I sees hit in he eye," was purchased that
very afternoon, and immediately introduced to the scene of his future
labors.

[Illustration: "The mule was purchased that afternoon."]

Sheriff Riley named him "Reward."  Then bidding these strangely found
friends good-bye, and taking his recovered property with him, he
boarded an up-bound steamboat and started for home.

As there was no reason why the others should not also begin their
journey at once, the _Whatnot_ was got under way at the same time, and
headed down the stream.

Cap'n Cod proudly occupied the pilot-house; Solon attended to the
four-legged engine; Sabella was making preparations for supper; while
the two who would be raftmates, provided they only had a raft, paced
slowly back and forth on the upper deck, enjoying the scenery and
discussing their plans.

"If we only knew how those fellows had disguised the raft, and what she
looked like now!" remarked Billy Brackett.

"I'm certain that I should recognize it under any disguise," asserted
Winn, positively.

"That may be, but it would simplify matters if we could have some
definite description of the craft.  Now we shall have to board every
raft we overhaul, on some pretence or other, and make inquiries.  And
that reminds me that the _Whatnot_ does not seem to be provided with a
skiff."

"Yes, Solon said there was one on this deck, covered with canvas.  That
must be it there," replied Winn.  As he spoke he lifted an edge of the
bit of old sail that protected some bulky object from the weather, and
looked beneath it.  Then he uttered a cry of amazement, and tore the
canvas completely off.

"It's my canoe, as sure as I'm standing here!" he shouted.  "The very
one that was carried off on the raft!"



CHAPTER XXIII.

REWARD RUNS AWAY WITH THE PANORAMA.

There was not the slightest doubt that the canoe, covered by a bit of
canvas, which had rested all this time on the upper deck of the
_Whatnot_, was the very one whose loss had grieved Winn almost as much
as that of the raft itself.  If he had needed proof other than his
certain knowledge of the little craft, it was at hand; for, as he
pointed out to Billy Brackett, there were his initials, rudely cut with
a jack-knife, just inside the gunwale.  How well he remembered carving
them, one sunny afternoon, when he and Elta were drifting down the
creek!  Yes, indeed, it was his canoe fast enough, but how came it
there?  There was but one way to obtain an answer, and in another
minute Cap'n Cod was being plied with eager questions as to when,
where, and how he came into possession of the dugout.

"That canoe?" he questioned slowly, looking from one to the other, and
wondering at their eagerness.  "Why, I bought it off a raft just before
leaving Dubuque.  You see, I didn't have any skiff, and didn't feel
that I could afford to buy one.  So I was calculating to build one
after we'd got started.  Then a raft came along, and the fellows on it
must have been awfully hard up, for they offered to sell their canoe so
cheap that I just had to take it.  Two dollars was all I gave for it;
and though it isn't exactly--"

"But what sort of a raft was it?" anxiously interrupted Winn.

"Just an ordinary timber raft with a 'shanty' and a tent on it, and--"

"You mean three 'shanties,' don't you?"

"No; one 'shanty' and a tent.  I took particular notice, because as
there were only three men aboard, I wondered why the 'shanty,' which
looked to be real roomy, wasn't enough."

"Three men!" exclaimed Billy Brackett--"a big man, a middle-sized man,
and a little man, like the bears in the story-book.  Why Winn, that's
our raft, and I've been aboard it twice within the last four days."

"You have!  Where?  How?  Why didn't you tell me?  Where is it now?"

"Oh, I have been aboard it here and there.  Didn't mention it because I
haven't been acquainted with you long enough to post you in every
detail of my previous history, and now that raft is somewhere down the
river, between here and St. Louis."  Then changing his bantering tone,
the young engineer gave a full explanation of how he happened to board
the _Venture_ twice, and when he finished, Winn said,

"But you haven't mentioned the wheat.  Didn't you notice it?"

"Wheat!  Oh yes.  I do remember your father saying he had put some
wheat aboard as a speculation; but I didn't see anything of any wheat,
nor was there any place where it could have been concealed."

"Then they must have thrown it overboard, as I was afraid they had, and
there was a thousand dollars' worth of it, too."

"Whew!  Was there as much as that?" said Billy Brackett, thoughtfully.
"So those rascals first stole it, and then threw it away, and now there
is a thousand dollars reward offered for information that will lead to
their capture.  I declare, Winn, circumstances do sometimes alter
cases."

"Indeed they do, and I think we ought to accept that reward, for
father's sake.  I know I feel as if I owed him at least a thousand
dollars."

"Did you ever cook a rabbit before you caught it, Winn?"

"Of course not.  How absurd!  Oh, I see what you mean, but I don't
think it's the same thing at all.  We can't help finding the raft, now
that we know where it is, and just what it looks like."

Billy Brackett only laughed at this, and then, in obedience to
Sabella's call, they went down to supper.  The engine was stopped that
it also might be fed, and for an hour the _Whatnot_ was allowed to
drift with only Solon on deck.  Then Reward was again set to work, and
until ten o'clock the unique craft spun merrily down-stream.  From that
hour the engine was allowed to rest until morning; and while they
drifted, the crew divided the watches of the night between them, Cap'n
Cod and Winn taking one, and Billy Brackett with Solon for company the
other.

At midnight Sabella had a lunch ready for the watch just coming below,
as well as for the one about to turn out; and then, wrapped warmly in a
blanket, she sat for an hour on the upper deck with Cap'n Cod and Winn,
fascinated by the novelty of drifting down the great river at night.
The lights that twinkled here and there along the shores earlier in the
evening had disappeared, and the whole world seemed asleep.  The
brooding stillness was only broken by the distant hooting of owls, or
the musical complainings of the swift waters as they chafed impatiently
against some snag, reef, or bar.

They talked in hushed voices, and Sabella related how the man from whom
her uncle purchased Winn's canoe had told her that she reminded him of
his own little daughter, who lived so far away that she didn't even
know where her father was.  "He loves her dearly, though," added
Sabella.  "I know from the way he talked about her; but I can't think
what he meant when he said I ought to be very grateful because I didn't
have any father, and that it would be much better for his little girl
if she hadn't one either."

"I suppose he meant because he is such a bad man," suggested Winn.

"I don't believe he is a bad man," protested Sabella.  "If he was, he
just couldn't talk the way he did."

"But he stole our raft, and he is a counterfeiter, and there's a reward
offered for him."

"How do you know?  Only yesterday some people thought you had stolen a
boat, and were a counterfeiter, and there were two rewards offered for
you," laughed Sabella.  "So perhaps this man isn't any worse than you
were.  Anyhow, I'm going to like him for his little girl's sake, until
I find out that he is really a bad man."

"I wonder if it could have been Mr. Gilder?" thought Winn, as he
remembered how that gentleman had won his confidence.  Then he
entertained Cap'n Cod and Sabella by relating the incident of his warm
reception to the first and only one of the "river-traders" whom he had
met.

By noon of the next day they reached the point at which Billy Brackett
had last seen the raft, and they knew that here their search for it
must begin in earnest.  For five days more they swept on down the
mighty river at the rate of nearly a hundred miles a day.  They no
longer ran at night, for fear of passing the raft in the darkness, but
from sunrise to sunset they hurried southward with all possible speed.
They made inquiries at every town and ferry landing; they scanned
critically every raft they passed, and boarded several that appeared to
be about the size of the _Venture_, though none of them showed a tent
in addition to its "shanty."  During every minute of daylight either
Billy Brackett or Winn watched the river from the upper deck, but at
the end of five days they had not discovered the slightest trace of the
missing raft.

Cap'n Cod became so interested in the chase that he would willingly
have kept it up by night as well as by day, without stopping to give
exhibitions anywhere; but this Billy Brackett would not allow.

"We are certainly travelling faster than they," he argued, "even if
they are not making any stops, which is improbable, considering the
nature of their business.  So we must overtake them sooner or later,
and we can't afford the risk of missing them by running at night.
Besides, this is a show-boat, and not a police patrol boat.  Its
reputation must be sustained, and though we don't take time enough at
any one place to advertise, and so attract a crowd, we can at least pay
expenses."

So the panorama was exhibited every evening, and Billy Brackett, acting
as lecturer, pointed out the beauties of the "composite" paintings, in
his own witty, happy-go-lucky way, to such audiences as could be
collected.

At one of these exhibitions, given at Alton, only twenty miles from St.
Louis, and just above the point where the clear waters of the
Mississippi disappear in the turbid flood of the greater Missouri, an
incident occurred that, while only regarded as amusing at the time, was
productive of most important results to our friends.  At Billy
Brackett's suggestion, Don Blossom, dressed to represent the lecturer,
had been trained to slip slyly on the stage after the panorama was well
under way.  Provided with a bit of stick, he would walk behind the
lecturer, and gravely point at the picture in exact imitation of the
other's movements.  For a minute or so Billy Brackett would continue
his remarks as though nothing unusual were happening.  At length, when
he had allowed sufficient time to elapse for an audience to fully
appreciate the situation, he would turn as though to learn the cause of
their uproarious mirth, discover the monkey, and chase him from the
stage with every sign of anger.

In rehearsal, this act had been done to perfection; but the first time
Don Blossom heard the storm of cheers, yells, and laughter, with which
his appearance was greeted by a genuine river audience, he became so
terrified, that without waiting to be driven from the stage he fled
from it.  Darting behind the scenes and on through the living-room, he
finally took refuge in the darkest corner of the engine-room, where
Reward was drowsily working his treadmill.  The monkey was so
frightened that a moment later, when Sabella went to find him, he
sprang away from her, and with a prodigious leap landed squarely on
Reward's head, where, chattering and screaming, he clung desperately to
the long ears.

[Illustration: "With a prodigious leap he landed squarely on Reward's
head."]

The next instant a frantic mule was performing the almost impossible
feat of running away on a treadmill.  At the same time, to Billy
Brackett's dismay and to the astonishment of his audience, the several
pictures of the panorama were flitting by in a bewildering stream of
color, the effect of which was kaleidoscopic and amazing.

This was Don Blossom's first and last appearance on the stage in
public, for he was so thoroughly frightened that, after being rescued
from his unhappy position, nothing could induce him to enter either the
exhibition hall or the engine-room again.  An hour later he managed to
evade the watchfulness of his young mistress, slip from the boat, and
scamper away through the darkness.  His absence was not discovered
until the next morning, and at first it was supposed that he was in
hiding somewhere on board.  When a thorough search failed to produce
the little rascal, all except Sabella declared he would never be found,
and they must proceed down the river without him.  Against this
decision the little girl, who had become deeply attached to her pet,
protested so earnestly that Cap'n Cod finally agreed to devote an hour
to searching the town and making inquiries for the lost monkey.  In
order to make the search as thorough as possible, he, Billy Brackett,
Winn, and Solon went ashore and started in different directions,
leaving Sabella alone on the _Whatnot_.



CHAPTER XXIV.

WINN DISCOVERS HIS LONG-LOST RAFT.

The morning was gray and chill.  The low-hanging clouds were charged
with moisture, and a thick fog hung above the river.  Sabella was so
filled with anxiety concerning the fate of Don Blossom that she was
unable to settle down to any of the light domestic duties with which
she generally occupied her mornings.  She wandered restlessly from door
to window, with the vague hope that her missing pet might be somewhere
in sight.  If the weather had not been so unpleasant, she would have
started out on a private search for him in the immediate vicinity of
the landing.  All at once, as she was gazing from the window of her own
little room on the upper deck at the dreary-looking houses of the
river-front, and as far as she could see up the one muddy street that
came within her range of vision, she heard shouting and laughter, and
saw a group of persons approaching the boat.

For a few minutes she could not make out who they were, or what they
were doing.  Then she saw that the one taller than the others was a
man, and that he was surrounded by a group of boys.  Several of them
ran backward in front of him, and all of them seemed greatly excited
over something that he bore in his arms.  It was a red bundle that
squirmed and struggled as though it was alive.  Sabella looked for a
moment longer, then she darted down the short flight of steps leading
to the living-room, and flung open the outer door.

"It's Don Blossom!  It's my own dear, sweet Don Blossom!" she cried,
almost snatching the trembling little animal from the man's arms in her
eagerness.

The man stepped inside, and closed the door to shut out the boys, who,
after lingering a few minutes, gradually dispersed.

"Oh, you dear monkey!  How could you run away?  You naughty, naughty
Don Blossom!  Was he cold and wet and hungry and frightened?  But he's
safe now, and he shall have his breakfast directly; so he shall, the
dear blessed!"

While Sabella was so much engrossed with her pet as to be unmindful of
all else, the man who had restored him to her stood just within the
doorway and watched her, with an amused smile.

"So he is your monkey, is he?  I thought he must be when I first saw
him," he said at length.

"Yes, indeed, he is; and I have been feeling so badly at losing him.
But where did you find him, and how did you know he was mine?"  Here
the little girl looked for the first time into the stranger's face.
"Why, you are the very same one--"

"Yes," he replied, quietly, "I am the very same one whom you reminded
of his own little girl, and who has thought of you very often since.  I
didn't know that you had reached this place, or I should have come to
see you before.  I found this monkey a little while ago in possession
of some boys who were teasing him, and thought I recognized him as soon
as I saw him.  I became certain he was yours when some of the boys said
they had seen him on a show-boat last evening, and that, after they had
had some fun with him, they were going to bring him down here and claim
a reward.  As I wanted the pleasure of bringing him back to you myself,
I bought him of them, and here he is."

"Then you are not a bad man, as Winn said, but a very good one, as I
told him, and now I can prove it!" exclaimed Sabella, with a note of
joyous triumph in her voice.  "I'm ever and ever so much obliged to
you, and I only wish I could see your little girl to tell her what a
splendid father she has."

"Who is Winn?  And what makes him think I am a bad man?" inquired the
stranger, curiously.

"Oh, he's a boy, a big boy, that has lost a raft that we are helping
him find, and he thinks you stole it.  So he says you are a bad man;
but I know you are not, and you wouldn't do such a mean thing as to
steal a boy's raft, would you?"

"Well, no," hesitated the stranger, greatly taken aback by this
unexpected disclosure and abrupt question.  "No, of course not," he
added, recovering himself.  "I wouldn't steal a raft, or anything else,
from a boy, though I might occasionally borrow a thing that I needed
very much.  But where is this Winn boy now?  And where is your uncle?"

"They have gone out to find Don Blossom, and Mr. Brackett and Solon
have gone too, but they'll all be back directly, and then you can tell
them that you only borrowed Winn's raft, and where you have left it.
Oh, I am so glad it was you that found Don Blossom!"

"Who is Mr. Brackett?" inquired the stranger, glancing uneasily out of
the window.

"Mr. Brackett?  Why, he is Winn's uncle, though you wouldn't think he
was an uncle, or any older than Winn, he is so funny, and he is helping
find the raft.  But you'll see him in a few minutes, for they said
they'd only be gone an hour."

"I think I'll go and find them, and tell them they needn't hunt any
longer for the monkey," said the stranger, hurriedly.

Then, before Sabella could remonstrate, he had bent down and kissed
her, saying, "Good-bye, and God bless you, little one," opened the
door, and was gone.

"Seems to me that is very foolish, when he might have seen them by just
waiting a few minutes," said Sabella to herself, as she pulled off Don
Blossom's gay but soaked and mud-bespattered coat.  "Now perhaps he
will miss them after all."

The stranger had hardly disappeared before Solon returned to the boat,
grumbling at the weather, the mud, and, above all, at the rheumatism
that forbade him to remain out in the wet any longer.

"Hit hain't no use, honey," he said, as he opened the door, "dat ar Don
monkey gone fur good an' all dish yer time.  Yo' nebber see him no mo'.
Wha--wha--whar yo fin' him?  He ben yeah all de time, while ole Solon
ben er traipsin' fro de mud, an' er huntin', an' er huntin'?"

"No, indeed, he hasn't!" cried Sabella, laughing merrily, as she held
Don Blossom up to the astonished gaze of the old negro.  "He has just
come home."  Then she explained at length how her pet had been brought
back to her by such a good kind man.

"Well, ef dat ar ain't a beater!" ejaculated Solon.  "I's mighty glad
de lil rasc'l is foun', anyway, 'kase now we kin be gittin' outen dish
yer rheumatizy place.  I'll go an' hitch up dat mewel, so to hab him
ready to start when de Cap'n come."

Upon leaving the _Whatnot_, Cap'n Cod had turned to the left, or up
along the river-front of the town; Billy Brackett had plunged directly
into its business portion, intending to keep on until he reached the
hills beyond, on which stood the better class of residences; and Winn
had turned to the right.

The young engineer, closely followed by Bim, walked for several blocks
without seeing or hearing anything of the runaway monkey.  Suddenly,
with a low growl, Bim started across the street.  His master was just
in time to see a man spring into the open doorway of a store, and slam
the door to as the dog leaped furiously against it.

The glimpse he caught of the man's face was like a lightning flash, but
it was enough.  He knew him to be the raftsman who had kicked Bim, and
whom he had rescued from the dog's teeth at Mandrake, more than a week
before.  "He is one of those scoundrels who stole the _Venture_, and if
I can only trace him I'll find the raft," thought the young man, as he
dashed across the street after Bim.

Seizing the dog's collar, and bidding him be quiet, he opened the door
of the store and stepped inside.  There was no one to be seen, save the
proprietor and two or three startled-looking clerks.

"Where is he?" demanded Billy Brackett, hurriedly.  "The man, I mean,
who ran in here just now!"

"That dog ought to be killed, and if you don't take him out of here at
once I'll call the police," said the proprietor of the store,
indignantly.  "It's an outrage to allow such brutes to run at large."

"That's the reason I'm holding him," said Billy Brackett; "but where is
the man?"

"I don't know; but I hope he has gone for his gun, and will know how to
use it too.  If he don't, I--"

The young engineer did not wait to hear more, for at that moment he
spied a back door standing partly open.  That was where his man had
gone, and without paying any further attention to the irate shopkeeper,
he dashed out through it with Bim at his heels.

Winn searched high and low, with the utmost faithfulness, until he
reached the outskirts of the town, but without finding a trace of the
missing Don Blossom.  There was a growth of timber lining the
river-bank, just beyond the houses, and the boy ventured a little way
into this, arguing that a monkey would naturally take to trees.  It was
so wet and dripping in the timber that he only remained there a few
minutes; but as he turned to retrace his steps, his attention was
diverted by a new object of interest.

He was on a bank of the river, beside which was moored a raft.  It was
a timber raft, with a single large "shanty," that had a strangely
familiar look, standing amidship.

"It isn't the _Venture_, of course," thought Winn; "but I'll just step
aboard and inquire if they have seen anything of a raft with a 'shanty'
and a tent on it.  It will save us some time when we get started down
the river again."

So thinking, the boy stepped lightly aboard.  His footfalls were
deadened by the wet, so that he gained the forward end of the "shanty"
without attracting attention.  The door was closed, and Winn was
startled to note how very familiar that gable end of the building
looked.  He raised his hand to knock at the door, when suddenly it was
flung open, and a harsh voice asked, "What do you want? and what are
you doing here, young man?"

As Winn was about to reply his glance penetrated the interior of the
"shanty," and for an instant he stood speechless.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE RAFT AND THE SHOW-BOAT CHANGE CREWS.

It must be remembered that while Winn would have recognized Mr. Gilder,
he had not seen the other "river-traders," Plater and Grimshaw.  Of
these two, the former had not set eyes on the lad whose raft they had
stolen; but the latter had caught a glimpse of him, and now, as he
noted Winn's startled glance into the interior of the "shanty," it
flashed into his mind who this intrusive boy was.

The "river-traders" had not really expected Winn to follow them.  They
imagined that after he escaped from the island, which they hoped he
would not do for several days, he would be glad enough to make the best
of his way home.  Still, they had taken the precaution of disguising
the _Venture_ by throwing the wheat overboard, tearing down the
buildings in which it had been stowed, and erecting a tent in place of
one of them.  As they were well provided with various changes of wigs
and beards, they felt quite safe until Billy Brackett boarded the raft
for the second time, and made inquiries for one having three
"shanties."  Then they realized that a search was being made for them,
or, at least, for the craft from which they were operating.

They felt somewhat easier when one of their number, detailed to watch
the movements of their unwelcome visitor, returned and reported that he
had gone back up the river.  Still, they thought it well to again alter
the appearance of the raft by removing the tent, and so lengthening the
"shanty" as to materially change its aspect.  They also allowed the
raft to drift night and day for nearly five hundred miles without a
pause.  Then, again feeling safe from pursuit, they tied up just below
the City of Alton, Illinois, and prepared to resume their dishonest
business.

Their plan of operations was to purchase goods wherever they stopped,
but always in such small quantities that for the bills they tendered in
payment they received a certain amount of good money in change.  A
little farther along they would offer the goods thus accumulated for
sale so cheaply that they readily disposed of them.  In this way they
not only did a thriving business, but kept up the appearance of being
what they claimed to be--"river-traders" and raftsmen.

In this wicked scheme of cheating and stealing, Plater and Grimshaw
felt no scruples nor regrets; but with Mr. Gilder, especially after his
meeting with Sabella, the case was different.  He was a man of
gentlemanly instincts, and was a skilful engraver, who had worked in
the Government Printing-office at Washington for several years.  There
he was extravagant, got into debt, yielded to the temptation to make a
fortune easily, and became a counterfeiter.  The present undertaking
was his first experience in that line of wickedness, and he was already
heartily sick of it.  While on the island, where his part of the work
was engraving and printing, he had not realized the contemptible nature
of his unlawful business.  He had merely been filled with pride in his
own skill, which feeling his associates took good care to encourage by
artful praise.

When he met Sabella, it flashed across him for the first time that his
own little girl, far away in an eastern city, was the daughter of a
criminal, and from that moment he was a changed man.  Through the long
days and longer nights, as the raft drifted down the great river, these
thoughts were ever with him: "What will she say when she finds it out?
How will she act?  Will she ever kiss me, or even speak to me again?  I
have made her very name a disgrace.  What shall I do to wipe it out?
What shall I do?"

His companions noticed his strange mood, and jeered at him, but failed
to change it.  Finally they became suspicious, and held secret
consultations as to how they should rid themselves of him.  They
finally determined to accomplish this in some way at St. Louis, and so
matters stood when they made their stop at Alton.  Here they intended
remaining until they had transacted a satisfactory amount of business.
Thus, on the foggy morning following Don Blossom's escape from the
_Whatnot_, Messrs Gilder and Plater had gone into the town to
familiarize themselves with its localities, while Grimshaw was left to
look out for the raft.  Now Winn Caspar had accidentally discovered it,
and recognized it as the _Venture_.

He did not know the man standing in the doorway and looking so
curiously at him, nor did he suppose himself known by the other.  So,
with a great effort, he strove to conceal the tumult of his feelings,
and to appear natural and self-possessed.  He answered the man's curt
inquiry regarding his business there by saying, in as pleasant a tone
as he could command, that he was searching for a lost monkey, which he
thought might have taken to the timber beside which this raft was
moored.  "You startled me by throwing open your door so suddenly just
as I was about to knock," he continued; "but you haven't seen anything
of a stray monkey this morning, have you?"

"Not until this moment," answered the man, surlily, "and I don't want
to see any more of him.  Good-day."

With this he slammed the door in the boy's face, and then, stealing on
tiptoe to a window, watched for his departure from the raft.

To say that Mr. Grimshaw was rendered uneasy and apprehensive by this
sudden appearance of one whom he suppose to be hundreds of miles away,
and who was also the very person he was most anxious to avoid, would by
no means express his feelings.  He was so terrified and unnerved that
for a moment he thought of leaving the raft to its fate, and making
good his own escape while he had time.  Then he wondered if it would
not be better to cast it loose and drift away through the fog to some
new hiding-place.  It would never do to go without his partners,
though; for, in the first place, he could not manage the raft alone,
and in the second there was no knowing what Gilder would do if he
thought himself deserted and perhaps betrayed.  No, he must find his
associates without delay, and warn them of this unexpected danger.  He
wondered if the boy were alone.  Perhaps he had friends in hiding near
by, to whom he had gone to report.  In that case his own safety
demanded that he discover them before they reached the raft.  The boy
had already disappeared in the timber, and there was no time to be lost
in following him.

Thus reasoning, Grimshaw left the "shanty," locking its door behind him
as he did so, and springing ashore, hastened up the trail, along which
Winn had disappeared a few seconds before.  It took him about three
minutes to reach the far edge of the timber and outskirts of the town.
Here several streets began, and as he could not follow them all, he was
brought to a halt.  Which way should he go now?  He had seen nothing of
the boy, whom he certainly ought to have overtaken before this, nor of
any other person.  Could he have passed them?  Where should he look for
Gilder and Plater?  Would it not be better, after all, to await their
return on the raft?  Of course it would.  He had been a fool to leave
it, and now his best plan was to get back to it as quickly as possible.

These thoughts occupied less than a minute, and so impatient was the
man to regain the raft he had just left that inside of two minutes more
he again stood on the river-bank.  He had been gone barely five
minutes, and in that time he had not seen a human being.  Now he could
not see the raft.  He rubbed his eyes and looked again.  He could see a
few rods of water, but beyond that the fog was impenetrable.  He
shouted, but there was no answer.  Perhaps this was not the place.  He
ran a little way up the shore, and then as far in the opposite
direction, but without success.  Then he returned to his
starting-point, and found the end of a rope.  It was attached to a
tree, and had been cut.  It was a bit of the line that had held the
raft, and the raft was gone.

The blow was a heavy one, and for a few minutes Grimshaw stood like one
who is stunned.  The loss of that raft, under the circumstances, meant
ruin.  It meant the loss of everything he had or cared for in the
world.  At first the realization of this loss rendered him speechless.
Then he began to rave and revile his own carelessness.  After a few
minutes devoted to this he again started up the trail.  He was
determined to procure some craft and start in instant pursuit of the
raft.  He would go in company with his partners if he ran across them,
but alone if he did not.  Before he reached the far edge of the timber
he met Plater running and breathless.

"Get back to the raft!" shouted the new-comer.  "They're after us!"

"They've got us," was the bitter answer.  "At least they've got the
raft, and we must hunt some boat in which to follow them at once."

A few words more explained the situation, and, angry as he was, Plater
did not stop to waste time in idle reproaches just then.   He only
said, "It's that sneak Gilder's doings, I'll bet my pile."

Grimshaw agreed to this, and as they hurried along they both thought of
their partner as floating down the river on the raft in company with
their enemies and glorying over their discomfiture.

"We'll get even with him, though," growled Plater.

"Yes, we _will_," snarled Grimshaw.

And then they met the object of their anger hurrying away from the
levee which they were approaching.

"Where are you fellows going?" he cried, and then, in a lower tone, he
added, "We've got to get out of here in a hurry, for they are in this
very town and looking for us.  I've just come from their boat."

"Who have they left aboard?" asked Grimshaw.

"Only a child," was the answer.

"Let us take a look at it, then, so we will know it as well as you the
next time we see it."

So Mr. Gilder went back to point out the _Whatnot_ to his companions,
and when they sprang aboard and began to cast off the lines that held
it to the levee he followed them, with a vague idea of protecting
Sabella.

The next moment, Solon, who had just finished hitching up Reward, was
startled by the ringing of the engine-room bell.  It was the signal to
go ahead.  Thinking that the others must have returned and were ready
to start, he obeyed it.  Thus the _Whatnot_, in full possession of the
"river-traders," moved slowly out into the stream, and again started in
pursuit of the raft she had followed for so long.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A DISASTROUS COLLISION.

The running off with that boat from the waterfront of a city in broad
daylight was a bold thing to do.  But these men were accustomed to
taking desperate risks, and had done many more reckless things than
this in the course of their lawless careers; besides, they expected to
overtake the raft within an hour or so, when they would send the boat
back to its owner, or leave it where he could find it.  They did not
yet understand the connection between Cap'n Cod, whom they knew as the
proprietor of the _Whatnot_, and those who were interested in the
recovery of the raft.  That made no difference, however.  It was enough
that this boat had been used in their pursuit, and that by taking it
they might delay this pursuit until they should recover the raft and
make good their escape.  Besides, it happened to be the only available
boat lying at the levee just then, and they would have taken it even
though they had been obliged to use force to gain its possession, so
eager were they to recapture the _Venture_.

This was the reasoning of two of the "river-traders;" while the third
sprang aboard because the others did, and without stopping to reason.
Grimshaw made his way at once to the pilothouse, where Mr. Gilder
followed him, in order to learn his plans.  Plater walked aft, and
through the engine-room window saw that the mule was already in his
treadmill, where Solon had just completed his harnessing.  Without
alarming the negro by making his presence known, the big man stole
away, and gaining the pilot-house, rang the engine-room bell that meant
"Go ahead."  To the great satisfaction of at least two of the
"river-traders" this order was promptly obeyed.  Within a couple of
minutes the city had disappeared, and the _Whatnot_ was slipping down
the fog-enshrouded river.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded Mr. Gilder, as he followed
Grimshaw into the pilot-house.  "Are you crazy that you are going off
with this boat and leaving the raft behind?  Or do you mean to run in
to where it is, take our stuff aboard, and continue the cruise in this
craft?  Because if you do, you can count me out.  This is too
conspicuous a boat for my use.  Why, man, she'll be spotted by the
police inside of twenty-four hours!"

"I expect it's about time we counted you out, anyway," answered the
other, gruffly.  "Plater and I have about made up our minds that you
are playing a double game, and had some hand in the disappearance of
the raft."

"The disappearance of the raft?" exclaimed the other, blankly.  "What
do you mean?  How did the raft disappear?  And when did it disappear?
And where were you, whom we left to look after it?  If you have lost
that raft you'll answer to me for my share in it, and I'll see that you
make it good too, you sneaking--"

"Come, come, Gilder!  Simmer down!" interrupted Plater, who had entered
the pilot-house in time to hear these angry words.  "This isn't the
time nor place for us to quarrel.  We've too much at stake.  The raft
has gone, and we are after it.  That's all Grim and I know.  Whatever
information you can give concerning its disappearance will be
gratefully received."

[Illustration: "'The raft has gone, and we are after it.'"]

The interchange of high words that followed had almost led to blows,
when Mr. Gilder suddenly became silent, and stepped quickly to the
pilot-house door.  He had just caught sight of Sabella holding Don
Blossom in her arms, and staring through the open doorway with an
expression of frightened bewilderment.  She had expected to find her
uncle and Billy Brackett and Winn, and had hastened to announce the
joyful news of Don Blossom's safety.

Now as Mr. Gilder led her aft and down into the living-room, he strove
to banish that frightened look by gentle words and reassuring promises.

"But where is my Uncle Aleck?  And where are Mr. Brackett and Winn?  I
can't find them anywhere.  Solon said they were in the pilot-house."

"They are on the raft, and we are going to find them," was the answer.

"Oh, I'm so glad they've got the raft again!  And I'm glad you gave it
back to them, too.  Now, Winn can't say you are a bad man any longer.
But you've only borrowed the _Whatnot_ for a little while, haven't you?"

"Yes, only for a little while."

"I don't think those others are very nice-looking men, and I was
awfully afraid until I saw you.  Then I knew it must be all right."

"It is all right, little one, and there is nothing for you to be afraid
of.  No harm shall come to you so long as I am here, and I promise to
see you safe with your friends again before leaving you.  You see, I am
making believe that you are my own little girl, and I want you to feel
just as safe and happy as she would if she were here in your place."

"Of course I feel safe now," answered Sabella, promptly.  "I have, ever
since I found out it was you who had borrowed the _Whatnot_.  For a
minute, though, I was afraid those disagreeable--"  Here the child
hesitated.  She did not want to hurt her new friend's feelings.  "I
mean," she added, hastily, "that those other gentlemen had stolen it.
And I will make believe I am your own little girl, for I haven't any
papa, and only one uncle in the world.  I wish you would tell me your
name, though.  I don't think I ever knew any one so well before without
knowing his name."

The man hesitated, and looked curiously at the sweet face upturned to
his.  Then, as though arrived at a sudden conclusion, he said,

"My name is Gresham, William Gresham, but my little girl calls me 'Papa
Billy.'"

"Then we'll make a bargain!" exclaimed Sabella, joyfully.  "That's the
very name of Winn's uncle; and if I make believe you are my uncle, I
shall have an Uncle Billy as well as he.  I think that's better, too,
because you know a girl couldn't have but one own papa, but she might
have a hundred uncles if she wanted.  So we'll make that a bargain, and
I'll give you a kiss if you like, because Uncle Aleck says that's
always the other part of a bargain."

With the kiss of the innocent child warm on his lips, William Gresham
returned to the upper deck.  His heart was very tender at that moment,
and though he did not express any resolve in words, he knew that a
black page of his life had just been closed, never to be reopened.  He
met Plater coming to find him, for he was wanted to aid in keeping the
sharp lookout that the fog rendered necessary.

With all their senses alert and strained, the "river-traders" kept on
for two hours without discovering a trace of the raft.  Then they knew
they must have passed it, and so headed the _Whatnot_ up-stream again,
hoping to meet it.  Now they barely held their own, without making any
progress, for they knew the raft would drift in the channel with the
strongest current, and therefore that where the water ran swiftest they
must await its coming.

Solon, fully occupied with his duties as engineer and with preparations
for dinner, paid little heed to Sabella when she looked in at the
galley door to inform him that her Uncle Billy said everything was all
right.

"I specs so, honey, I specs so, an' of co'se hit's all right ef yo'
Unc' Billy say so.  Him a mighty knowin' young gen'l'man, dat ar Unc'
Billy am, fo' shuah."

As the day advanced, there were occasional rifts in the fog, and in one
of these Mr. Gilder, as we will still call him, caught a momentary
glimpse of the raft.  It was drifting at some distance to the right of
them, and in a few moments would be again out of sight.  His first
impulse was to announce this discovery to his companions, and his
second was to remain silent.  He acted upon the second, and was almost
doubtful if he had really seen the raft at all, so quickly did it again
disappear.  Suddenly there came a sound of blows, as though some one
were chopping wood on board the raft.

There was an exulting shout from the pilot-house, the steering-wheel
was put hard over, and the boat began to swing slowly at right angles
to the current.  She was headed in the direction of the raft, and Mr.
Gilder knew that, owing to those ill-timed blows, it had been
discovered.  Yes.  Now he could see it again.  There it was, not a
hundred yards away, and the _Whatnot_ was headed so as to intercept it
as it came down.  What should he do?  It would be foolish to struggle
for possession of the wheel against the two desperate men in the
pilot-house.  He could stop the machinery though, or, better still,
reverse it, and so give the raft a chance to drift past and again
disappear in the mist.  For Sabella's sake he would make the attempt.

He had already started for the lower deck, when his steps were arrested
by a second shout from the pilot-house, and another sound that smote on
his ear like a death-knell.  It was the hoarse note of a deep-toned
whistle apparently at his side.  There was a jangling of bells, a wild
yelling, the roar of escaping steam, and then the dim form of a great
up-river packet loomed above the little craft on which he stood like
some awful fog monster intent upon its destruction.

The man stood at the head of the steps leading down into the
living-room, where Sabella, unconscious of the impending peril, was
singing a quaint old hymn as she set the table for dinner.  He had
heard his mother sing that hymn when he was a boy at home.  So long
ago, and so far away.  A second more and this sweet young life would be
blotted out, and the little body, crushed beyond recognition, would be
buried deep beneath the waters of the great river, while he would be
safe on the lower deck of that steamboat.  He could easily spring to it
from the upper deck of the _Whatnot_, as he saw Plater and Grimshaw
were about to do.

"I promise to see you safe with your friends again."  That was what he
had said, and it was to that child he had said it.  In another instant
the man had entered the living-room, seized Sabella in his powerful
arms, and had gained the outer door on the side farthest from the
steamboat.

Then came the shock.  There was a moment of horrible grinding,
crashing, and splintering, a mad surging of brown waters, and then the
little showboat passed beneath the monster that had crushed out its
life.  It was gone as utterly as the flame of a candle is extinguished
by a puff of wind, and the great river was its grave, as it has been of
thousands of other craft, and will be of thousands yet unbuilt.



CHAPTER XXVII.

IS THIS OUR RAFT OR NOT?

So anxious was Winn Caspar for the recovery of the raft lost through
his carelessness and over-confidence in his own ability that, having
found it again, he could not bear to lose sight of it, even though he
had no idea of how he might regain its possession.  Therefore, as he
stepped ashore after his rebuff by Grimshaw, he only went so far up the
trail through the timber as to be concealed from the man's view.  Then
he darted into the undergrowth and crept back to the river-bank.  He
reached it just in time to see Grimshaw lock the door of the "shanty,"
leave the raft, and start up the trail that he himself had taken but a
minute before.

How long would the man be gone?  Was there any one left on the raft?
These were the questions that came into the boy's mind.  There was no
sign of life on the _Venture_, and by running a short distance up the
trail Winn became convinced that the man had gone at least as far as
the edge of the timber.  Would he ever again have so good a chance of
recovering his father's property?  Besides, what a fine thing it would
be for him to recapture the raft alone, without the aid of Billy
Bracket!  or any one else.  This latter thought decided the boy, and
caused him to hastily retrace his steps.

Never had Winn been so excited!  As he sprang aboard the raft and tried
to cast off its fastenings he momentarily expected to hear a shout from
the bank or a gruff demand from the interior of the "shanty" as to what
he was about.  Perhaps the summons would take the form of a
pistol-shot, for men who would steal a raft and destroy a thousand
dollars' worth of wheat would not be likely to hesitate at anything.
At this last thought Winn seemed to feel the deadly sting of a bullet,
and in his nervousness only made more intricate the knot he was trying
to untie.  At length he whipped out his jack-knife and cut the rope.

Now to head the raft out into the stream.  He picked up a long
set-pole, thrust one end into the bank, braced himself, and began to
push.  Oh, how he strained and panted!  How the veins stood out on his
forehead!  Still the great mass of timber seemed immovable.  Again and
again he tried, and at length felt a slight yield.  A more desperate
effort than before, and he could take a step; then another, and
another, until he had walked half the length of the pole.  The head of
the raft was swinging off, at first so slowly that the motion was
almost imperceptible, then faster, until finally it felt the full force
of the current.  Now for one more effort!  If he could only work her
out from the bank and into the friendly shelter of the fog without
discovery, he would feel safe even from pistol-shots.  For two minutes
Winn labored as never before in all his life.  But the minutes seemed
hours, and he felt that he might as well attempt to push away the bank
itself as the mass of timber on which he stood.  Suddenly he heard that
which he expected and dreaded, a shout, so loud that it seemed to be
uttered on the raft.  The set-polo fell from his nerveless grasp as he
looked up, fully expecting to gaze into the black muzzle of a pistol.

At first he saw--nothing.  He must be turned around.  No; the view of
the opposite direction was equally blank.  Then, for an instant, he
caught a glimpse of shadowy tree-tops just dissolving into formless
mist.  The blessed fog had folded its protecting arms about him, and he
was safe.

Hurrah! he was once more in undisputed possession of the raft, and once
more floating on it down the great river.

Wildly happy, the exhausted boy flung himself down on the wet planks,
and yielded to pleasant reflections.  It was only twenty miles to St.
Louis.  The current was carrying him at the rate of five miles an hour,
so that he ought to reach the city soon after noon.  There he would
hail some steamboat or tug, and get it to tow his raft to a safe
mooring-place.  Then he would telegraph to both his father and his
Uncle Billy.  After that he would engage some stout man to help guard
the raft until his friends arrived.  Or perhaps he would buy a revolver
and guard it himself, and when his father and Uncle Billy came along,
he would challenge them before allowing them to step on board.  Yes,
that would be the scheme, and the boy became very proud of himself as
he thought of the praises in store for him.

At length Winn rose from his moist resting-place, and began to examine
his surroundings.  How strange the raft did look, to be sure.  He
wouldn't have believed its appearance could have been so altered, and
now wondered that he had ever recognized it.  In fact, the only feature
that seemed at all familiar, as he studied it, was the forward gable
end of the "shanty."  But somehow the building itself appeared much
longer than when he last saw it.  Still, there was that interior.  He
had seen the partition, with its door leading into his own little room,
and he never heard of a raft "shanty" with a partition in it until this
one was built.  He must have another look at that interior.

The locked door baffled him.  It was of such solid construction, and
its lock was so well made, that it resisted all his efforts to force
it.  The windows were provided with heavy wooden shutters that were
fastened on the inside.  For an hour Winn busied himself with vain
efforts to effect an entrance.  At the end of that time he was
discouraged.  He was also uneasy.  He had heard steamboats pass him,
but could see nothing of them on account of the fog.  The last one
passed very close.  The next might run him down.  How he wished the
raft were safely tied to some bank or levee.  It was awful to be thus
blindly drifting, right in the track of steamboats.  The fog hung so
low over the water that their pilots were lifted well above it, and
could see the landmarks by which they were guided.  They could also see
other steamboats; but such things as scows and rafts had no business to
be moving at such a time.  They were supposed to be snugly tied up, and
consequently no pilot would be on the lookout for them.  Winn knew this
as well as any one, and the knowledge did not tend to reassure him.

If he only had some one with him to help work the heavy sweeps by which
the raft's course might be directed, or even to advise him what to do.
It was dreadful to be alone.  What a foolish thing he had done, after
all, in attempting to manage this affair by himself.  If he had only
gone back for Billy Brackett.  But his boyish pride in his own ability
had again overcome his judgment, and now he must abide by the
consequences.

"I only hope, if I do get run down and killed, they will find out who I
am," thought the poor boy.  "It would be horrid to disappear and have
folks say I was a coward, who had run away for fear father would be
angry with me for losing his raft.  As if _my_ father would ever do
anything to make me afraid of him!  And mother!  How badly she would
feel if I should disappear without ever giving her the comfort of
knowing I was dead.  There is Elta, too, and the very last time I saw
her I was ugly to her.  Oh dear!  I wish--well, I wish, for one thing,
that I could get inside that 'shanty,' and out of this miserable
drizzle.  I wonder if I can't pick the lock?"

Full of this new idea, Winn obtained a bit of stiff wire from the
handle of a lantern that stood outside the "shanty."  This he bent as
well as he could into the rude form of a key, and thus equipped, he
worked patiently at the lock for another hour.  At length he threw away
the useless implement in disgust.

"I was never cut out for a burglar, that's certain!" he exclaimed.
"There's one thing I can do, though, and I will, too.  I can smash down
the door, and get inside that way."

An axe lay beside a pile of wood near the forward end of the raft; and
armed with this, the boy began to rain vigorous blows upon the stout
door.  Before these it quickly yielded, and he thus gained the interior.

Once inside, he gazed about him blankly.  Nothing looked familiar;
nothing was as he had expected to find it.  There was the partition,
with a door in it, to be sure, and there was the small room beyond the
main one; but there was also another partition, and another door beyond
this.  There had been but two rooms in the _Venture's_ "shanty," while
here were three.  Then again the "shanty" that he had helped to build
was only boarded up on the outside, while the interior had been left
unceiled, with the frame exposed.  The interior on which he now gazed
was wholly ceiled, so as to make the walls of double thickness, and
conceal every bit of the framing.

The perplexed boy noticed these details at a glance; and as he stood
staring blankly about him, the uncomfortable suspicion began to force
itself into his mind that perhaps this was not the _Venture_ after all.

"If I have run off with some one else's raft, I declare I shall just
want to disappear!" he exclaimed to himself.  "I do believe I shall be
too ashamed ever to go home again.  Oh dear!  There is another
steamboat."

The notes of a deep-voiced whistle, evidently near at hand, caused the
boy to hasten outside.  He could see a huge confused mass dimly looming
out of the fog ahead, and a little to one side of him.  At the same
moment he heard the wild jangling of bells, the terrified shoutings,
and then the awful crash that denoted a collision.  A big up-bound
steamboat had run down and sunk a smaller boat of some kind.  That much
he could see, and he was filled with horror at the nearness and
magnitude of the disaster.

He had heard agonized screams, and knew that lives had been sacrificed.
One shrill cry that came to his ears with startling distinctness
sounded as though uttered by a woman or a girl, and Winn shuddered at
the thought of her fate.

The raft was drifting rapidly away from the scene of the catastrophe,
and the dimly discerned steamboat was just disappearing from his view,
when the boy thought he heard a gurgling cry from the water.  Could
some bold swimmer have escaped?  He bent his head to the water's edge
and listened.  Again he heard the cry.  And this time it seemed nearer.
Some human being was struggling in the river.  Now, if ever, was the
time for his promptest action, and with Winn thought and action went
hand in hand.

In another moment he was in the skiff belonging to the raft, and
pulling with all the strength of his stout young arms in the direction
of the cries.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE RESCUE OF SABELLA.

Strongly as Winn pulled, the cries grew very faint and almost inaudible
during the few seconds that elapsed before he discovered the struggling
forms from which they proceeded.  A glance over his shoulder showed him
a man swimming with one arm, while the other supported a
child--apparently a girl.

With a final powerful stroke the skiff shot alongside the drowning
figures, the oars were jerked in, and Winn, leaning over the side,
seized the girl's arm.  At the same moment the man grasped the gunwale
of the skiff.  It was no slight task for Winn to get the girl into the
boat, for she was unconscious, and formed a dead weight, that was made
heavier by her soaked clothing.  He finally succeeded; and as he laid
the limp form in the bottom of the skiff and took his first good look
at her face, he uttered a cry of amazement, and doubted the evidence of
his senses.  How was it possible that Sabella could be there, and in
such a predicament?  Could the boat that had just been run into be the
_Whatnot_?  If so, who was this man?  He turned to look, and to help
him into the skiff; but, to his horror, the man had disappeared.

William Gresham had redeemed his promise with his life.  From a cruel
wound, made by a splintered timber, he had bled so freely that his
fast-failing strength was barely able to hold Sabella's head above the
surface until Winn came to her rescue.  He recognized the boy, and as
the little girl was lifted from his arms, he closed his eyes with the
peaceful expression of one who is weary and would sleep.  Then his
grasp of the skiff relaxed, and without a struggle he slipped across
the invisible line dividing time from eternity.  The hurrying waters
closed about him as gently as a mother's arms, and who shall say that
in his death the man had not atoned for his life, or that in the tawny
flood of the great river his sin was not washed away as though it had
never been?

[Illustration: The rescue of Sabella.]

As for Winn, he was overwhelmed and stunned.  It was so sudden, so
terrible, and so pitiful.  At one moment the man was there, and in the
next he was gone without a word.  In vain did the boy look over both
sides of the skiff and over its stern in the hope that the man might
still be clinging to it.  Only the swift-flowing waters met his gaze,
and seemed to mock at his efforts to wrest their secret.

The man was gone; there was no doubt of that; and now came the
harrowing question, who was he?  Winn had not seen his face.  It could
not have been the owner of the _Whatnot_, because, with his wooden leg,
he could not swim.  It was not Solon, for the head had been that of a
white man.  Could it have been his mother's only brother, his Uncle
Billy, the brave, merry young fellow who was to have been his raftmate?
Winn had already learned to love as well as to admire Billy Brackett,
though how much he had not known, until now that he believed him to be
gone out of his life forever.

He tried to believe that it was some one else, but in vain.  The girl
whom he had just rescued was certainly Sabella, so of course the boat
that he had seen crushed like an egg-shell must have been the
_Whatnot_.  Oh, if he had only been a little closer, or if the fog had
not been so thick!  The boat was almost certain to have been the
_Whatnot_ though, and in that case the brave swimmer, who had missed
safety by a hair's-breadth must have been--

Here a moan diverted Winn's attention from his own unhappiness, and
caused him to spring to the side of the little girl.  She opened her
eyes and looked at him.  "Oh, Sabella!" he cried, "tell me who saved
you?  Was it Mr. Brackett--my Uncle Billy, you know?"

"My Uncle Billy," she murmured faintly; then she again closed her eyes
wearily, and seemed to sleep.

"It was he, then; it was he!"  And Winn, breaking down, sobbed aloud.
"And all my fault that he came on this trip!  My fault, my fault!" he
repeated over and over again.

At length he became conscious of the selfishness of thus giving way to
his feelings while Sabella was still in such urgent need of his aid.

"I must get her to the raft at once!" he exclaimed, starting up and
looking about him.  But there was no raft, nor was there any steamboat.
There was nothing but the skiff with themselves in it, a small circle
of brown water, and the fog.  He had no idea of direction, not even
whether his skiff was heading up-stream or down, or drifting broadside
to the current.  If the fog would only lift!  It had been so kind to
him, but now was so dreadful.

The boy took off his coat, folded it, and put it under Sabella's head.
Then he sat beside her and rubbed her cold hands.  He knew of nothing
else that he could do for her, and so he waited--waited for the fog to
lift or for help to come.

At length he began to hear sounds from every direction, the sound of
whistles, bells, and hundreds of other noises.  He must have reached
St. Louis, and it would never do to drift past it.  Besides, the danger
of being run down was now greater than ever.  So the boy took to his
oars, and began to pull in the direction from which the loudest sound
of whistles appeared to come.

Suddenly he was hailed.  "Look out dar, boss!"

"Hold on!" shouted Winn.  "I am in trouble, and will give you a dollar
to pilot me ashore."

A skiff came alongside.  It contained but a single occupant, a negro,
who appeared nearly as old as Solon.  He listened with open-mouthed
wonder to the boy's hurriedly told story, and not only expressed a
ready sympathy, but promised to have "de young gen'l'man an' der lilly
lady lamb on de sho' in free minutes.  Ole Clod, him know de way.  De
frog can't fool him on desh yer ribber."

With renewed hope Winn followed closely behind his dusky pilot, and in
another minute caught sight of the welcome land.  It was East St.
Louis, on the Illinois side of the river, at that time a great railroad
terminus, and Clod's little cabin stood at the edge of high-water-mark;
for he was a boatman, and gained his living from the river.

"Now, young marse, you mus' come up to my house, whar my ole 'oman
fixin' de lilly gal all right in no time."  So saying, the negro lifted
Sabella in his strong arms and started towards his cabin, to which Winn
was only too glad to follow him.  The boy had never felt so utterly
helpless and forlorn.

He no longer thought of taking matters into his own hands, but was
thankful to accept even the humble guidance of this negro.  Under the
circumstances he could not have fallen into better hands.  Not only was
Clod strong, willing, and possessed of a shrewd knowledge gained by
rough experience, but his "ole 'oman," Aunt Viney, a motherly soul of
ample proportions, was accounted the best all-round nurse of the
neighborhood.  She was never happier than when bustling about in a
service like the present; and within five minutes Sabella was nestled
in the snowy centre of a huge bed, with Aunt Viney crooning over her
like a brooding tenderness, and rapidly restoring the color to the
child's pallid cheeks.

At the same time Winn was sitting by the kitchen stove in a cloud of
steam from his own wet clothing, absorbing warmth and comfort, and
relating his adventures at length to the sympathetic old man.

Clod's interest and wonder at the boy's story were shown by uplifted
hands, rolling eyes, and such ejaculations as "How yo' talk, chile!"
"Well, I nebber!"  "Dat's so, bress de Lawd!"  "Ef dat ar ain't de
beatenest!"

At length Aunt Viney tiptoed heavily into the kitchen with the joyful
announcement that Sabella, fully restored to consciousness, was
sleeping naturally and quietly.

"When she wakin she be all right an' hongry, de honey lamb!  An' I
reckin dis young gen'l'man hongry now, an' ef he ain't he orter be, for
eatin' am de bestes t'ing in de worl' when yo' is in trouble," she
added, as she bustled softly about, making preparations for a simple
meal.

Winn did not think he could eat a mouthful, so full was he of grief and
trouble; but on making the attempt, merely to gratify the kindly soul,
found that he not only could but did dispose of as hearty a meal of
bread and milk, coffee, bacon, and sweet-potatoes, as any he had ever
eaten in his life.  Not only that, but as his faintness from hunger
disappeared his hopefulness returned, and by the time he had finished
eating fully half of his troubles had vanished.  He was still
overwhelmed with grief at the supposed loss of his brave young uncle,
but he had already resolved upon a plan of action, and felt better for
having done so.  He would send a telegram to his father hinting at the
great sorrow that had overtaken them, and asking him to come on at
once.  Then he would notify the police of the collision, with its
probable loss of at least three lives, and ask them to keep a watch for
the bodies.  He would also tell them of the lost raft.

After great searching, Clod finally produced an old pen, some very
thick ink, and a few sheets of paper quite yellow with age.  Then he
watched with respectful admiration the writing of the telegram, for
penmanship was an art he had never acquired.  He offered to take the
message to the telegraph office while Winn was preparing a statement
for the police, and as he was evidently anxious to be of service, the
boy allowed him to do so.

The nearest telegraph office was in the railway station, and as Clod
approached it he found himself involved in the crowd of passengers just
brought in by a newly-arrived train from the North.  He dodged here and
there among them, but finally, in escaping a truck-load of baggage, he
stumbled over the chain by which a gentleman was leading a dog, and
plumped full into the arms of a white-headed negro who was close behind
it.

"Scuse me, sah!" began poor Clod, most politely.  Then he stared,
stammered, tried to speak, but only choked in the effort, and threw his
arms about the neck of the old negro, laughing and sobbing in the same
breath.

"Doesn't yo' know me, Solom?" he gasped.  "Doesn't yo' know yer own
br'er Clod?  Doesn't yo' 'member de ole plantashun 'way down in
Lou'siana, befo' de wah, an' Clod?--yo' own br'er Clod?"

Then Solon recognized his only brother, long mourned as dead, and the
two old men embraced, and wept, and held each other off at arm's-length
to get a better look at the other's changed but still familiar face.
The hurrying passengers smiled at this spectacle at once so ridiculous
and so pathetic, but good-naturedly made way for the old men, while
Bim, sharing the general excitement, barked and danced about, until his
chain was entangled with the legs of at least half a dozen persons at
once.



CHAPTER XXIX.

BIM BRINGS ABOUT A JOYFUL MEETING.

Even with Bim's aid, Billy Brackett failed to find the man who had
escaped him in Alton by running through the store and out of its back
door.  The young engineer was convinced that he was one of those who
had stolen the raft, and it was certainly very trying to recover the
trail, as he had just done, only to lose it again immediately.  So
loath was he to abandon the search that it was very nearly noon before
he did so, and retraced his steps to the river.  As he approached the
place where the _Whatnot_ had been moored, he was surprised not to see
the boat, and turned towards a group of men, all of whom seemed to be
talking at once, to make inquiries.  At that moment the group opened,
and from it Cap'n Cod, red-faced and anxious, came hastily stumping in
his direction.

"Where is the _Whatnot_?" asked Billy Brackett.

"That's what I want to know," replied the other, excitedly.  "And where
have you been all this time?  I have been here, and in a state of mind,
for more than an hour, not knowing what to do.  Some of these men say
they saw three fellows go off with the boat soon after we left here,
and of course I thought they must be you, Winn, and Solon; but I
couldn't understand it at all.  Now that you are here, I understand it
still less.  Where is Winn?"  Here the old man paused, quite out of
breath, but still questioning his companion with anxious eyes.

"I haven't seen anything of Winn since we all left the boat," replied
Billy Brackett, who could hardly comprehend the startling information
just given him.  "Do you mean to say that the _Whatnot_ has been
stolen?  Great Scott!  I wonder if those fellows can have had a hand in
it?"

"What fellows?"

Then Billy Brackett told of his fleeting glimpse of Plater, and of his
consequent belief that the raft and all three of the "river-traders"
must be in that vicinity.

"There's a raft, with three men aboard it, who call themselves
'river-traders,' moored at the edge of that timber, just below the
city," volunteered one of the by-standers, who had overheard the young
man's remarks.

"Will you go with me and point it out?" asked Billy Brackett, eagerly.

"Yes, I don't mind, seeing that this weather makes a bit of slack
time," replied the man.

So requesting Cap'n Cod to wait there until his return, and promising
to be back as quickly as possible, the young engineer and his guide,
followed by several curiosity-seekers, started in search of the raft.
It is needless to say that they failed to find it, though another hour
elapsed before Billy Brackett returned.  He was disappointed, but was
possessed of a theory.

"I believe Winn has found that raft," he said to Cap'n Cod, as they sat
together in the small hotel to which they had repaired for a
consultation and dinner.  "But he probably discovered it just as those
fellows, alarmed at meeting me, were putting off for another run down
the river.  Then he hurried back here, and not finding us, took the
responsibility of starting after them in the _Whatnot_, hoping in that
way to keep them in sight.  It was a crazy performance, though just
such a one as that boy would undertake.  He is a splendid fellow, with
the one conspicuous failing of believing that he knows what to do under
any circumstances just a little better than any one else.  So he has
persuaded Solon that it is their duty to keep that raft in sight until
it is tied up again, and then he'll telegraph to us.  It is more than
likely that the raft will stop at St. Louis, in which case they must be
nearly there by this time, and we ought to hear from Winn very soon.
That is my theory, and now I'll run up to the telegraph office and see
if a despatch has come."

There was no message for any one named Brackett, and so, after leaving
word to have anything that came for him sent to the hotel, the young
man hastened back.  An up-river steamboat had just made fast to the
levee, and the two anxious men went down to see if her pilot had seen
anything of the _Whatnot_.  As they approached they saw by her
splintered bows that she had been in a collision.  Others had noticed
this also, and already a crowd of people was gathered about her
gang-plank to learn the news.  Forcing a way through for himself and
Cap'n Cod, Billy Brackett boarded the boat, and went directly to the
Captain's room.

The Captain was inclined to be ugly and uncommunicative; but, with a
happy thought, Billy Brackett displayed the badge with which Sheriff
Riley had provided him.  At sight of it the man at once expressed his
readiness to impart all the information they might require.

Yes, he had been in collision with a trading-scow, but there were no
lives lost, and the damage had already been satisfactorily settled.  It
happened a couple of miles above St. Louis, and the fog was so thick
that she was not seen until they were right on her.  She was crossing
the channel, and they struck her amidship, sinking her almost instantly.

Her name?  Why, according to this paper, it was the _Whatnot_.  Queer
sort of a name, and she looked to be a queer sort of craft.

At this Billy Brackett's face grew very pale, while poor Cap'n Cod sank
into a chair and groaned.

"No lives lost, you say?  What then became of the people who were on
board that trading-scow?"

"There were only three," answered the Captain; "her owner, a Mr.
Caspar, a deck hand, and the cook, a black fellow.  The first two saved
themselves by leaping aboard this boat just as she struck, and we
picked the nigger up in the skiff that we immediately lowered to look
for survivors."

"You say the owner was a Mr. Caspar?"

"Yes, here is the name signed to this paper.  You see, though we were
in no way to blame, they might have sued for heavy damages and bothered
us considerably.  So when her owner offered to compromise and waive all
claims for three hundred dollars, I thought it was the cheapest way out
of the scrape, and took him up.  I had this paper prepared by a lawyer
who is on board, and witnessed before a notary, so that it is all
square and ship-shape.  See, here is Mr. Caspar's signature."

Sure enough, there at the bottom of the paper exhibited by the Captain
was the name "Winn Caspar," written clearly and boldly.  It certainly
looked like Winn's signature.

Billy Brackett was staggered.  What could it all mean?  Something was
evidently wrong; but what it was he could not determine.

"Where is this Mr. Caspar now?" he asked.

"Went ashore the moment we touched here," was the reply.  "Said he must
hurry back to St. Louis.  Took his man with him."

"Was he a young fellow; a mere boy, in fact?"

"Oh, bless you, no!  He was past middle-age.  Small, thin man, with a
smooth face; and the other was a big man with a beard."

"And what became of the cook, the negro, whom you rescued?"

"He's down below somewhere, getting dry.  I told the mate to look after
him."

"But where is my niece Sabella?  The little girl that was on board the
_Whatnot_," asked Cap'n Cod, with a pitiful quaver in his voice.

"Little girl?" repeated the steamboat Captain, in surprise.  "There
wasn't any girl on board.  This is the first mention I have heard of
any such person, and Mr. Caspar would surely have spoken of her if she
had existed.  What are you men driving at, anyway?"

With a forced calmness, and ignoring this question, Billy Brackett
asked if they might see the rescued negro.

"Certainly, I've no objections.  Only you'll have to be spry about it,
for I'm going to pull out of here inside of a couple of minutes.  I
only stopped to land Mr. Caspar."

They found Solon just getting into his dried clothing, and the faithful
fellow's face lighted as he saw them.  There was, however, a
reproachful tone in his voice as he exclaimed, "T'ank de Lawd, yo' is
safe, Marse Cap'n, an' Marse Brack.  Ole Solon feelin' mighty bad when
yo' ain't comin' to see him, an' Marse Winn too.  But dese yeah folk
ain't tellin' me nuffin of Missy Sabel.  She gettin' saved same as de
res' of us, ain't she?  Say de good word, Marse Cap'n, an' don't tell
de ole man dat honey lamb done got drownded.  Don't tell him dat ar?"

There was no time for explanations then, so they hurried Solon ashore
and up to the hotel.  There his replies to their questions, and his
questions in turn, only served to deepen the mystery in which the fate
of the _Whatnot's_ passengers had become involved.  He could not be
persuaded that they had not been on board at the time of the accident.
Sabella had boon talking to him of what her "Uncle Billy" had just told
her only a few minutes before it occurred.  He was also positive that
Winn had been on board the ill-fated craft.  He was certain that Reward
died at his post of duty, though of Don Blossom's fate he knew nothing.
How he himself had escaped he could not explain, for he remembered
nothing after the shock of the collision.

"It is evident," said Billy Brackett, at length, "that we must get to
St. Louis as quickly as possible, and strive to unravel this mystery
there."

Cap'n Cod agreed that this seemed the best thing to be done, and as
there was a train about to leave for the South, they hurried to the
station.

As Bim was forced to ride in the baggage-car, and his master declined
to leave him, both Cap'n Cod and Solon rode there as well.  All three
spent the hour's run to East St. Louis in discussing the strange
occurrences of the day, and trying to discover some ground for belief
that either Winn or Sabella, or both, might still be alive.  In this
effort they met with so little success that, by the time they reached
their destination, they had wellnigh abandoned all hope of ever again
seeing either the boy or girl who were so dearly loved.

Poor Cap'n Cod was broken-hearted, while Billy Brackett resolutely
refused to think of the sad telegram he must send back to Caspar's Mill.

If it had not been that Bim compelled them to ride in the baggage-car,
they might have discovered the two "river-traders," Grimshaw and
Plater, who were also on the train.  Bim did discover them on the
platform at East St. Louis, and he was in the act of springing towards
Mr. Plater, when the old negro Clod stumbled over his chain and into
Solon's arms.

In his joyful excitement at this wonderful meeting with the brother
whom he had never expected to see again, Clod allowed a slip of paper
to fall unheeded to the ground, and Billy Brackett picked it up.  He
glanced carelessly at it, and then his shout of amazement as he saw
written on it the name "Winn Caspar" startled not only his companions,
but every one on the station platform.

Two minutes later four excited men, accompanied by a white bull-dog
straining at his chain and barking as joyfully as though he understood
the whole situation, were hurrying with all speed in the direction of
Clod's cabin on the river-bank.



CHAPTER XXX.

IN CLOD'S CABIN.

Aunt Viney heard Bim's joyful voice, and glancing anxiously towards the
door of the room in which Sabella lay, she muttered, "Drat dat ar dorg!
He sholy wake up missy wif he barkin'."

The barking did waken Sabella, and as she lifted her head to listen,
she whispered wonderingly to herself, "It's Bim!  It's dear old Bim.  I
know his voice."

Winn, bending wearily over the statement he was preparing for the
police, heard the barking, and looked up with a startled expression on
his troubled face.  "If I didn't know that it couldn't be, I should say
that was Bim's bark.  Poor old dog!" he thought.

The next instant he sprang to his feet with a cry.  Could the dead come
to life?  Could the drowned be resurrected?  Could the handsome,
smiling, eager figure in the doorway be that of the young uncle whose
untimely death he had so truly mourned?  A quick step, a joyful shout,
and the two were face to face, with hand clasped in hand.

[Illustration: "The next instant he sprang to his feet with a cry."]

"It has been a terrible lesson, Uncle Billy, but I think I have learned
it," said Winn.

"Thank God, my dear boy, that the experience has been gained so
cheaply; for I feared it had cost you your life."

"But where is my little one, my Sabella?" asked Cap'n Cod, anxiously.
"They told me she was here."

"Here I am, Uncle Aleck," came the dear voice from the inner room.
Then there was another glad reunion of those who had thought never
again to meet in this life; while the old man counted as nothing the
loss of all he had possessed, so long as this child was left to him.

When Aunt Viney was told who Solon was, she made him a deep courtesy,
and then, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she began to sing:

  "Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
  Praise Him all creatures here below.
  Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
  Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Before she finished the first line they were all singing with her, and
never did this grand old hymn of thanksgiving find a more fervent
utterance.

As for Bim, there never was a happier bull-dog in this world.  He
barked as long as his voice held out, and jumped up on every one, and
tore wildly about the room until his chain fastened itself to a table
leg.  Then, with a few spoke-like revolutions, he became completely
wound up, and lay panting on the floor, only waiting to be released
that he might again go through with the entire performance.

After comparative quiet had been restored, though every one was still
talking at once, the questions arose, "Who saved Sabella?  Was any one
drowned?  If so, who was it?  Did Winn bring the _Whatnot_ down the
river?  If not, how did he reach the scene of the catastrophe?  How did
the boy's signature happen to be attached to the paper in possession of
the steamboat Captain?"  These and a dozen other questions were asked
in a breath, and then all began to answer them at once.  Finally, Billy
Brackett called the meeting to order, and asked each one to tell his
story in turn, beginning with Cap'n Cod.

The most interesting stories, and those throwing the most light on the
situation, were Winn's and Sabella's.  At first they were all puzzled
to know who Mr. Gresham could have been.  Then Sabella said, "Why,
don't you know, Uncle Aleck?  He was the one who sold you the canoe,
and the one Winn said was a bad man.  He brought Don Blossom back, and
I told him all about Mr. Brackett and Winn and the raft and everything,
and he was so glad he started right off to find them.  Then he came
back with two other men, and said you were all on the raft, and they
borrowed the _Whatnot_ to go and find you with.  He was one of the very
nicest and kindest and best men I ever knew, and was going to be my
'Uncle Billy,' so I could have one as well as Winn, and now he's
drowned, and--"

Here the little girl began to sob bitterly, while Billy Brackett and
Winn and Cap'n Cod looked at each other, and almost simultaneously
pronounced the name "Gilder."

They did not speak it very loud, for the last splendid act of the man's
life had won for him the right to an unstained name.  Hereafter they
would only remember him as William Gresham the hero.

Thus was cleared up most of the mystery that, like the fog, had
enveloped the proceedings of that memorable day.

Now what was to be done next?  Where was the raft, and was it the
_Venture_ or not?  At one moment Winn was certain that it was, while
the next found him again doubtful.

At length it was decided that Solon should remain with his brother for
the present, while the others should go to a hotel in the city across
the river.  From there Billy Brackett would telegraph to the
authorities of towns farther down, asking them to watch for an
abandoned raft, and if they found it to hold it until he could go on
and prove ownership.  The raft being described as belonging to a Major
Caspar, Winn's name was signed to all these despatches, in order to
prevent confusion.

From the hotel Billy Brackett also thought it best to telegraph Major
Caspar of their safe arrival in St. Louis, though, as they had not yet
recovered the raft, it would be unnecessary for him to come on, and a
promise to write full particulars at once.  In the Major's absence from
home this despatch was opened by Mrs. Caspar, who had been growing very
anxious of late concerning the voyagers on the great river.  The moment
she read it she sat down and wrote another despatch to her husband, who
was in Chicago.  It was:

"Raftmates in St. Louis.  Southern Hotel.  Please join them
immediately."


"Just ten words," she said to herself, with a complacent sigh, as she
handed this to the waiting messenger.  "Now if John acts promptly, he
may catch those crazy boys before they have the chance to start off on
any other absurd expedition.  I only hope to goodness that he'll have
the sense to bring them home, and let that wretched raft drift where it
likes."

Major Caspar could not start for St. Louis the next day, but he did so
on the following morning, and late that same evening he walked into the
office of the Southern Hotel.  He was beginning to make inquiries at
the desk, when his hand was seized and violently shaken.  Turning
quickly, he at once recognized his faithful old army friend Cap'n Cod,
and gave him a cordial greeting.

"But where are the others?" he inquired at length.

"Gone down the river an hour ago, by the Short Line," was the
unexpected reply.  "You see, we only got word this evening that an
abandoned raft, answering our description, had just been picked up near
Cairo, and Mr. Brackett thought it best that he and Winn should go on
at once to indentify it.  It was also decided that Sabella and I should
remain here until we heard from them, because it might not be the
_Venture_, you know, and then I'm not sure that we want to go any
farther down the river, anyway.  You see, since losing the _Whatnot_,
I've rather lost interest--"

"Losing the _Whatnot_!" interrupted the Major.  "What do you mean?"

"Why, haven't you heard?"  Then they sat down, and the old man related
all that had happened to the _Whatnot_ and her passengers since leaving
Dubuque.

When the recital was ended, the Major drew a long breath, and
exclaimed, "Well, for mysterious happenings, incidents, and rapid
changes of scene, that beats anything in the line of Mississippi
rafting that ever I heard of.  So now they are off again, and goodness
knows what scrapes they will get into next; while here I am, as
helpless to prevent them as an old hen with a brood of ducklings.
There is one thing I can do, though.  I must return to Caspar's Mill at
once, and I want you and your niece to go with me.  With my recently
increased business, I need just such a man as you to look after my home
interests, while my daughter Elta, needs just such a girl as your
Sabella is described to be for a companion."

Tears stood in the old soldier's eyes as he realized all that this
offer meant to him and to the girl who was so dear to him; and, in
accepting it, he blessed the kindly heart by which it had been prompted.

The Major sent a despatch to the address in Cairo left by Billy
Brackett, directing that young man to dispose of the raft as he thought
best, to take care of Winn, come home as soon as they could, and
telling of his plans for Cap'n Cod and Sabella.  He also telegraphed to
Mrs. Caspar that he should be at home the next day but one, bringing
strangers with him.

She, of course, thought he meant the "raftmates," as she had called
Winn and Billy Brackett from the first, and was amazed to see an old
man and a young girl seated in the carriage with her husband as it
drove up to the house.  At first she was greatly disappointed, but
within a few days she became reconciled to the new arrangement, for she
could not help loving the gentle old man who was so fond of her boy,
nor rejoicing in the warm friendship that almost immediately sprang up
between Elta and Sabella.

In the mean time Billy Brackett and Winn reached Cairo early in the
morning, and after breakfast at a hotel, they called on the City
Marshal, who had sent the despatch relating to the raft.  To their
surprise, he received them coldly, and informed them that Mr. Caspar
had already been there, had expressed his willingness to pay a hundred
dollars reward for the recovery of his raft, and had just gone down to
take possession of it.

This was an astounding bit of information, and Winn was about to let
his rapidly rising indignation break forth, when Billy Brackett
restrained him, and asked, mildly, if the Marshal had any objections to
their looking at the raft in question simply to gratify their curiosity.

"Oh no.  You can look at her as much as you like, and you will find her
just around the point there, in possession of the two young men who
picked her up--that is, if they haven't already turned her over to her
rightful owner."

Again Winn would have exploded, but again his companion restrained him,
at the same time leading him from the office.

They found the raft without much difficulty, and walked on board.  Just
then the broken door of the "shanty" opened, and two young fellows,
hardly older than Winn, stepped out.  As they did so one of them turned
and said, politely, "Well, good-bye, and a pleasant voyage to you, Mr.
Caspar."  Then they both faced the new-comers.

Such an expression of blank amazement as flashed over their faces Winn
thought he had never seen.  For an instant they stood spellbound.  Then
there was a yell of recognition, or rather a chorus of yells from both
sides.

"Billy Brackett, as I'm a sinner!  Whoop!  Hooray for the Baldheads and
the Second Division!"

"Billy Brackett, or his ghost!"

"Glen Eddy!  Grip, old man!  How?  When?  Where?  Why?

  "'Oh, gimminy crack, come hold me tight.
    It makes me laugh and shout.
  It fills my heart with gay delight
    When--'"



CHAPTER XXXI.

CAMPMATES TURN RAFTMATES.

"Wow wow w-o-w-w!" howled Bim, with his ridiculous nose uplifted and a
most melancholy expression of countenance.  He felt in duty bound to
accompany his master's singing, but on this occasion, at least, he
brought it to a sudden conclusion, for no one could possibly sing in
face of the uproarious laughter that greeted his outburst.

"That's always the way," remarked Billy Brackett, with a comical
expression.  "I never am allowed to prove what I am really capable of
in the vocal line.  But what are you boys doing here?  Where did you
come from, where are you going, and how in the name of all that is
obscure and remarkable do you happen to be on board our raft?"

"Your raft?" echoed Glen Elting.  "What do you mean by your raft?  We
called it our raft until a few minutes ago, and now we call it Mr.
Caspar's raft."

"Yes, I know.  Major Caspar's raft.  But it's all the same as ours, for
I am his brother-in-law, and have his written authority to dispose of
it as I see fit.  Besides, this is his son, and we have been hunting
this raft for the best part of a month.  By-the-way, Winn, these are
two old, or rather two young, campmates of mine, Mr. Glen Eddy--I mean
Matherson; no, I beg pardon--Elting is the name at present, I believe."

"Do you know him intimately?" interrupted Winn, slyly.

Billy Brackett made a dive at the boy, but as the latter leaped nimbly
aside, he continued: "And Mr. Binney Gibbs, popularly known as 'Grip.'
Gentlemen, this impudent young vil-ly-an is my nephew, Mr. Winn Caspar."

Instead of acknowledging this introduction, Glen and Binney looked
curiously at each other.  Then the former said, "There seems to be
something wrong here, Billy, for we have just turned this raft over to
its owner, Mr. Winn Caspar, and he is in the house here at this moment."

"That's all right," replied Billy Brackett.  "I rather expected to find
that gentleman here, and now we will go inside for an interview with
him."  So saying, he tried to open the door, but found it fastened.  In
spite of its splintered condition, it was secured so firmly that it
took them several minutes to force it open.  When this was
accomplished, and an entrance was effected, the four gazed blankly
about them and at each other.  The large room was empty.  So were the
two smaller ones beyond, while an open window in the last showed the
manner in which Messrs. Plater and Grimshaw had effected their escape.

"It's too bad," said Billy Brackett; "for having had several
interesting interviews with those gentlemen, I should have been glad of
another.  I think Winn would have been pleased to meet his namesake
too."

"Indeed I should," replied the boy.  "I'd like to collect rent for the
use of my signature, and find out where he learned to copy it so
perfectly."

"But I don't understand all this at all," said Glen Elting.  "If this
raft isn't theirs, why did they want it badly enough to pay three
hundred dollars reward for its recovery?"

"Whom did they pay it to?" asked Billy Brackett.

"A hundred to the City Marshal, and a hundred each to Binney and me.
We didn't want to take it, but they insisted, and said they should feel
hurt if we refused.  So, of course, rather than hurt their feelings--
But really, Billy, they are most gentlemanly fellows, and I think
behaved very handsomely."

"Will you let me see the hundred dollars they gave you?" asked the
young engineer.

"Certainly," replied Glen, with an air of surprise, and adding, rather
stiffly, "though I didn't think, Billy, that _you_ would require proof
of my truthfulness."

"I don't, my dear boy, I don't!" exclaimed Billy Brackett.  "I would
believe your unsupported word quicker than the sworn statement of most
men.  I want to look at that money for a very different purpose."

So a roll of brand-new bills was handed to him, and he examined them
one by one with the utmost care.

"There are two hundred dollars here," he said at length.  "Is this
Binney's share of the reward as well as your own?"

"No.  I had a hundred-dollar bill, and Mr. Caspar seeing it, asked if I
would mind taking small bills for it, as he wanted one of that amount
to send off by mail; so, of course, I let him have it."

"Oh, my children! my children!" murmured Billy Brackett, "why will you
persist in attempting to travel through this wicked world without a
guardian?  Of all the scrapes from which I have been called to rescue
you, this might have proved the most serious."

"I don't see how," said both Glen and Binney.

Winn knew, and he smiled a little self-complacent smile as he
reflected, "This is a little worse than any mess I ever got into."

"You would have seen quickly enough if you had tried to spend this
money," said Billy Brackett, "for you would undoubtedly have been
arrested on the charge of counterfeiting.  Those same fellows put Winn
here in that fix a short time since, besides getting away with a
thousand dollars' worth of wheat that he had in charge, and now they
have come very near serving you the same trick."

Here Winn's smile faded away rather suddenly, while Glen exclaimed,

"Do you mean to say that these bills are counterfeit?"

"I do," replied Billy Brackett; "and if you doubt it, take them to the
first bank you come across and ask the cashier."

"But the City Marshal took some just like them," argued Glen, catching
at the only straw of hope in sight.

"So much the worse for the City Marshal, and I for one shall let him
suffer the consequences.  He had no business to accept a reward for
performing a simple act of duty, in the first place; and in the second,
the readiness with which he delivered this raft to the first claimants
who came along makes it look very much as though he could be bribed."

"Well," said Glen, in a despairing tone, "if what you say is true, and
I know it must be, we are in a fix.  That hundred dollars was to pay
our expenses to New Orleans; now I don't know how we shall get there."

"New Orleans!  Are you bound for New Orleans?"

"Yes, and that's how we happened to be here, and to find this raft.
You see, my father, General Elting, you know, is going to Central
America to make a survey for the Nicaragua Canal, and Binney and I are
to go with him.  The party is to sail from New Orleans some time in
January, but he had to go to New York first.  As there were a lot of
instruments and heavy things to be sent to New Orleans, he thought it
best to ship them by boat; and as we wanted to take the river trip, he
let us come in charge of them.  We knew we should have to transfer from
the Ohio River boat at this point, but we didn't know until we got here
that we must wait three days for the New Orleans packet.  As there
wasn't anything else to do, we have put in the time hunting and
fishing, and last evening we ran across this abandoned raft about a
mile up the Mississippi.  We had a time getting it in here, I can tell
you.  When we did, and reported it to the City Marshal, he showed us a
telegram from a Mr. Winn Caspar, asking him to look out for just such a
raft.  We knew this must be the one, for we had found this book lying
on the table, with the name 'Winn Caspar' written all over the
fly-leaf, as though some one had been practising the signature.  Sure
enough, a man who said his name was 'Winn Caspar' turned up this
morning, bringing a friend with him.  They told a straight enough story
of how their raft had been stolen near St. Louis, and described it
perfectly.  They even described the interior of this 'shanty' and
everything in it, including this identical book, as though they had
lived here all their lives.  So, of course, both the Marshal and we
thought it was all right; and I don't see even now, if this is your
raft, how those fellows knew all about it as they did.  The only thing
they slipped up on was the broken door, and they owned they couldn't
account for that.  It seems as if some one must have boarded the raft
before we did and broken into the 'shanty.'  The men said there wasn't
anything missing, though.  Perhaps you can tell us what has been
stolen."

"No," replied Billy Brackett, "I can't tell that, but I can tell who
broke in that door.  I can also relate a tale of adventure and
misadventure in connection with this raft that would excite the envy of
any member of the Second Division, including even the Baldheads, and
you, who were the most reckless young scapegrace of the lot."

Whereupon the young engineer told these interested listeners the whole
history of the _Venture_ from the time the raft was put together down
to the present moment.  In it he included the _Whatnot_, Cap'n Cod,
Sabella, Solon, Reward, and Don Blossom, Sheriff Riley, the
"river-traders," Clod, Aunt Viney, and, above all, Bim, who barked
loudly, and rushed wildly about the room at this honorable mention of
his name.

When the story was finished, Glen Elting heaved a deep sigh, and said
to Winn, "Well, you have had a good time.  I thought we had about the
best times any fellows could have when we crossed the plains with Billy
Brackett last year, but it seems to me that you are having just about
as much fun right here on this muddy old river as we had out there.  I
only wish we had a raft."  Then turning to Billy Brackett, he asked,
"What are you going to do next?"

"I don't know," was the reply.  "What are you going to do?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

"Then lend me your ears.  You want to get to New Orleans, and so do we."

"Do we?" interrupted Winn, in surprise, looking up from the book of
travels on the title-page of which his name was written so many times,
and which was the very one he had been reading the last evening he had
spent on this raft.

"You do!" exclaimed both Glen and Binney.

"Certainly," was the calm reply.  "It is the only market for timber
rafts that I know of south of St. Louis, and as we can't go back, we
are bound to go ahead.  So, as I was saying when rudely interrupted,
both you and we want to go to New Orleans.  You have no money--real
money, I mean--with which to get there, and we need at least two extra
pair of hands to help us get this raft there.  So why not ship your
stuff on board here, and help us navigate this craft to our common
destination?"

"Do you truly mean it, Billy Brackett?"

"I truly mean it.  And if you are willing to go as raftmates with us--"

"Are we willing?  Well, I should smile!  Are we willing?  Why, Billy
Brackett, we'd rather go to New Orleans as raftmates with you and Winn
Caspar than to do anything else in the whole world just at present.
Eh, 'Grip'?"

"Well, rather!" answered Binney Gibbs.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE "RIVER-TRADERS" ATTEMPT TO REGAIN POSSESSION.

So it was settled that the three who had been campmates together on the
plains should now, with Winn Caspar to complete the quartet, become
raftmates on a voyage of nearly a thousand miles down the great river.
It is hard to say which of the four was happiest during the busy day
that followed the making of this arrangement.  Winn was overjoyed at
recovering the raft lost through his over-confidence in his own wisdom,
and at the prospect of taking a trip so much longer than he had
anticipated at the outset.  He had also conceived a great fancy for the
two manly young fellows whose fortunes had become so strangely
connected with those of the _Venture_, and was glad they were to be his
companions on the voyage.

Billy Brackett was not only rejoiced that he had at length been
successful in finding both Winn and the raft, but was delighted to meet
again those with whom he had already shared so much of peril and
pleasure.  That they had again become his mates in such a peculiar
manner, and amid such different scenes, was proof, as he quaintly
expressed it, that "Truth can give the most expert fiction points, and
still beat it at its own game."

Glen and Binney were raised from a depth of dismay, caused by the loss
of their money and the resulting predicament into which they were
thrown, to a height of felicity at the prospect of a raft voyage down
the Mississippi, under the leadership of their beloved campmate, Billy
Brackett.  They also liked Winn; and, judging from what had already
happened to him, regarded him as a boy in whose company a variety of
adventures might reasonably be hoped for.

Owing to their past experience with the "river-traders," Billy Brackett
and Winn were somewhat uneasy at the presence of Grimshaw and Plater in
town, and their manifest desire to regain possession of the raft.  They
were puzzled by this, and wondered what reason the men could still have
for wanting the raft.  Certainly their connection with it was now too
well known for them to hope to make any further use of it in pursuing
their unlawful business.  Nor did it seem likely that they would choose
it merely as a conveyance down the river.  No; it must be that they had
hoped to sell the _Venture_, and realize a considerable sum by the
transaction.  This was the conclusion finally reached by our raftmates,
though it was not one with which they were entirely satisfied.

Still, they felt that, as they were now four to two, they might
reasonably hope to be left in undisturbed possession of the raft for
the future, and so did not allow thought of the "river-traders" to
trouble them to any great extent.  They decided that two of them should
stay constantly on board the raft, at least so long as they remained in
that locality, and that Bim should also be added to the protective
force.

To begin with, Binney and Winn remained on guard while Billy Brackett
and Glen went into the town to telegraph for Solon, send down the
instruments, and make other arrangements for the voyage.  It had been
decided that as their crew was incomplete without a cook, Solon should
be sent for, and that they could not make a start until he arrived,
which would probably be early the next morning.

Winn and Binney found plenty to occupy them during the absence of the
others in becoming acquainted, learning each other's history, and
arranging the interior of the "shanty."  From Binney, Winn learned what
a splendid fellow his young uncle was, and how much he was respected as
well as admired by all who were so fortunate as to be counted among his
friends.  "He is a fellow," concluded Binney, "who couldn't do a mean
thing if he tried.  One thing I like especially about him is that he is
just as careful in his attention to trifles, if they come in the line
of his duty, as he is to big things, and Billy has already had some
pretty important positions too, I can tell you.  He is full of fun, and
was the life and soul of the Second Division all the time they were
crossing the plains.  Glen knows him better than I do, though, because
they were 'bunkies' together, and from what he has told me I regard
myself as mighty lucky to have the chance of taking a trip in his
company."

"He has told me a good deal about you and Glen on that trip," said
Winn, "but I don't remember hearing anything about his own adventures."

"That's just what makes fellows like him.  He is always ready to listen
to what they have to say, or to tell of anything they have done, if it
is worth telling; but he never puts himself forward as one who knows it
all or has done it all and can't be taught anything."

This conversation set Winn to thinking, with the result that in one
instance, at least, he had been too hasty in his conclusions.  He had
been somewhat ashamed that his uncle should act the part of showman
with a river panorama, and had supposed that it was done from a desire
to display his own accomplishments.  Now he wondered if, after all,
this was not the one delicate and unobtrusive way in which Cap'n Cod's
poor little undertaking could have been saved from a ridiculous and
mortifying failure.  He had been inclined to regard his young relative
as rather frivolous; but perhaps there were depths to Billy Brackett's
character that he was not yet wise enough to fathom.  He would study it
more carefully hereafter, and how doubly thankful he now was that his
chance to do so had not been lost with the wreck of the _Whatnot_.

Although the interior of the _Venture's_ "shanty" still seemed
unfamiliar to Winn, he could no longer doubt that the raft was his
father's.  In the small room that he was to have occupied he now found
most of his own possessions just where he had left them.  Among the
things that he was particularly glad thus to find were several changes
of clothing, of which he stood greatly in need.

The "shanty" was in great disorder; but the two boys worked so
faithfully at sweeping, cleaning, and putting things to rights, that by
the time the others returned with a dray-load of freight the interior
was thoroughly clean and inviting.  The afternoon was spent in laying
in a store of provisions for the voyage, repairing the splintered door,
and mending one of the sweeps, which was on the point of breaking.

By sunset everything was in readiness for a start, and all hands were
gathered about the galley stove, each superintending the cooking of his
specialty for supper.  Billy Brackett could make griddle-cakes, or
"nip-naps," as he called them.  He fried them in an iron spider, and
the deftness with which he turned them, by tossing them in the air, so
excited the admiration of his raftmates that they immediately wished to
engage him as regular cook for the trip.

"This isn't a circumstance to what I can do in the culinary line,"
remarked Billy Brackett, modestly.  "To know me at my best, you ought
to be around when I make biscuit.  My heavy biscuit are simply
monuments of the baker's art.  They are warranted to withstand any
climate, and defy the ravaging tooth of time.  They can turn the edge
of sarcasm, and have that quality of mercy which endureth forever.  A
quartz-crusher turns pale at sight of them, and they supply a permanent
filling for aching voids or long-felt wants.  In fact, gentlemen, it is
universally acknowledged that my biscuit can't be beat."

"Neither can a bad egg," said Glen, who was trying to make an omelet.

"Let us defer the biscuit for this time, and have a smoking dish of
corn-meal mush instead," suggested Winn.  "It is one of the hardest
things in the world to cook, but I know the trick to perfection."

"Mush, mush, mush, tooral-i-addy," sang Binney.  At that moment Bim
began to growl, and to sniff at the bottom of the door.  They opened it
and looked out.  No one was there, nor did they hear a sound.  Darkness
had already set in, and they could see nothing.  Bim ran to the edge of
the raft, barked once or twice, and then returned to his place near the
stove.

"It must have been your singing that excited him, Grip," remarked Billy
Brackett.  "He generally acts that way when a person sings, and I have
heretofore attributed it to envy, though I don't see how it could have
been in this case."

After supper Billy Brackett went into town to call on the telegraph
operator, with whom he had established friendly relations, and to
receive some despatches that he was expecting.  He had not been gone
long before Bim, who had been left behind, again began to show signs of
uneasiness, and intimate a desire to be let out.

Again the door was opened for him, and again he rushed out into the
darkness.  This time retreating footsteps and the rustling of bushes on
the bank were distinctly heard.  With a low growl Bim sprang ashore and
disappeared.  The next instant the boys saw a flash of lantern-light a
few rods below the raft, heard a smothered yelp, the sounds of a
confused struggle, and a moment later a loud splash in the water.  Then
all was again buried in darkness and silence.

"Something has happened to Bim!" exclaimed Winn, in a low but excited
tone, "and I am going to find out what it is."  With this the boy
leaped ashore, and hurried in the direction from which the sounds had
come.

"It's a mighty foolish thing to do, but you sha'n't go alone," said
Glen Elting, quietly, as he started after Winn, adding, as he left the
raft, "You stay behind and stand guard, Binney."

The boy, thus suddenly left alone, stood guard for about fifteen
seconds, when all at once two dark figures sprang aboard the raft from
the bank, and he had barely time to utter a single cry of warning
before he was engaged in a furious struggle with one of them, who had
seized him from behind.

"Drop him overboard!"

Although the command was given in a low tone, Binney heard and
understood it.  Then the strong arms in which he was struggling lifted
him as they would a child, and bore him towards the edge of the raft.

[Illustration: "The strong arms lifted him as they would a child."]



CHAPTER XXXIII.

WHERE IS BIM?

Billy Brackett was in a particularly contented frame of mind, and
whistled softly to himself as he tramped through the muddy streets of
one of the muddiest cities in the United States, towards the telegraph
office.  He was well satisfied with the results of his expedition thus
far, and with its prospects of a successful termination.  He did not
notice the curious looks with which several persons regarded him as the
bright light from a store window fell on his face, nor would he have
cared if he had.  His conscience was clear, and he had nothing to fear
from observation, curious or otherwise.

As he entered the telegraph office, the operator glanced up with a nod
of recognition.  A few seconds later, having finished sending the
despatch with which he had been busy, he turned his key over to an
assistant and said,

"Will you step this way a moment, sir?  I wish to speak to you in
private."  With this he led the way into a room behind the office,
where, after the other had entered, he closed the door.

"What's up?" asked the young engineer, wondering at these proceedings.

"Have you or any of your companions any counterfeit money in your
possession?" asked the operator, abruptly.

"No--that is, yes.  One of my friends has quite a lot of it that was
passed on him for genuine this morning, and I have a few samples for
purposes of comparison."

"But you haven't passed, or tried to pass, any of it in this place?"

"Certainly not!  Why do you ask such a question?"

"Because I have taken a liking to you.  Have not you in your possession
a note of identification from a certain Iowa Sheriff?"

"Yes; I have such a note from a Sheriff named Riley, of Dubuque; but
how did you know anything about it?" asked Billy Brackett, greatly
surprised.

"In a very simple way.  Sheriff Riley happens to be my brother, and he
wrote to me all about your little affair up the river.  So I know you
to be an honest man, and want to give you a warning.  You may be very
sure, however, that I should not do so were I not confident of your
innocence."

"Innocence of what?"

"Passing counterfeit money.  A good bit of it has suddenly appeared in
circulation here, and your raft has been identified by some men from
up-river as one on which suspicion has already fallen in connection
with a similar state of affairs elsewhere.  You have made a good many
purchases to-day, and at least one bad bill has been traced directly to
you.  Of course you may have received it in change, and passed it again
unknowingly.  I believe that is how it happened.  If I did not, I
should hold my tongue and let you suffer the consequences.  In addition
to this, all sorts of queer stories regarding you have been circulated
about town to-day, and such a feeling has been aroused against you that
a number of the worst characters in the place have determined to pay
your raft a visit to-night.  I don't know what they intend doing, nor
do I think they know themselves, but I am certain if they find you the
result will be most unpleasant.  They are to be led by a couple of
strangers, who have been secretly watching you all day.  These men
claim to be 'river-traders,' who have suffered serious losses through
you, including that of the raft now in your possession, which, they
say, was stolen from them.  I can't tell you how I gained all this
information, but it is at your disposal.  If I were in your place, I
would take advantage of the darkness to drop down the river, and I
wouldn't lose any time about it either."

"You advise me to run away like a coward, instead of remaining to
defend myself against these abominable and absolutely unfounded
charges!" exclaimed Billy Brackett, indignantly.  "I shall do nothing
of the kind."

"Not 'run away;' simply continue your voyage before it is unpleasantly
interrupted," returned the other, with a smile.  "If you remain until
morning, your raft, with its contents, will certainly be destroyed by
an unreasoning mob, at whose hands you and your companions may suffer
bodily injury.  In this case action would come first and inquiry
afterwards.  I am convinced you could easily prove your innocence, but
doubt if you could obtain any redress for the losses you would have
suffered in the mean time.  Now I must get back to my desk.  You will
of course act as you think best, but I sincerely hope that you will
accept my advice, and decide that an honorable retreat is better than a
lost battle."

"But there is Solon, the man whom I telegraphed to join us here.  I
don't expect him before morning."

"Why, he is here already!  Haven't you met him!  He arrived on the
evening train, and came in here to inquire where you could be found.  I
gave him directions, and started him off not fifteen minutes ago."

"I don't see how he managed it," said Billy Brackett, who had been
thinking rapidly while the other spoke; "but if he is already on board
there is no reason why our departure should be delayed.  Therefore I am
almost inclined to accept your advice, for which, as well as for your
timely warning, I am sincerely grateful.  I will, at any rate, get back
to the raft at once."

With this the young man shook hands with the operator, and left the
office.

"There!" exclaimed the other, looking after him with a relieved sigh;
"I believe I have done that young fellow a good turn.  At the same time
I have given myself a chance to capture the thousand-dollar reward that
Ned wrote about, and which I was afraid this chap was after for
himself."

As for Billy Brackett, the more he reflected upon the situation, as he
hastened towards the place where the raft was moored, the more puzzled
he became as to what course he ought to pursue.  He now had not only
Winn, the raft, and himself to consider, but Glen and Binney, and the
valuable instruments belonging to General Elting.  Certainly it would
not do to allow these to fall into the hands of an excited and
irresponsible mob.  Still, the thought of running away was hateful.

As he neared the raft an undefined apprehension caused him to quicken
his steps; and at the sound of Binney Gibbs's shout of warning, he
broke into a run.  Then he heard another shout of "Hol' on, Marse Winn!
I comin'!" and the noise of a struggle, in another moment he was in the
thick of it.

Solon had reached the raft just in time to save Binney, who he thought
was Winn, from being dropped overboard by Plater, the "river-trader."
The old negro attacked the big man so furiously with tooth and nail
that the latter gave the lad in his arms a fling to one side, sending
him crashing with stunning force against the "shanty," and devoted his
entire attention to this new assailant.  He had just stretched Solon on
the deck with a vicious blow of his powerful fist, when Billy Brackett
appeared and sprang eagerly into the fray.  Even Plater's brute
strength was no match for the young engineer's science, and the latter
would have gained a speedy victory, had not Grimshaw, who had been
engaged in casting off the lines that held the raft to the bank, come
to his partner's assistance.

Now, with such odds against him, Billy Brackett was slowly but surely
forced backward towards the edge of the raft.   In another moment he
would have been in the river, when all at once two dripping figures
emerged from it, scrambled aboard, and with a yell like a war-whoop,
ranged themselves on the weaker side.   A few well-planted blows, a
determined rush, and the struggle for the possession of the raft was
ended.  The fighting ardor of Messrs. Plater and Grimshaw was being
rapidly cooled in the icy waters through which they found themselves
swimming towards the shore.  At the same time the _Venture_ was gaining
speed with each moment, as, borne on by the resistless current, it
drifted out over the mingling floods of the Ohio and Mississippi.
Billy Brackett, still panting from his exertions, was bending over
Binney Gibbs, who was struggling back to consciousness.  Solon was
sitting up, tenderly feeling of his swollen features, and declaring,
"Dat ar man hab a fis' lak de hin laig ob a mewel."

Glen and Winn had manned one of the sweeps, and were trying to get the
raft properly headed with the current.  Thus the voyage was really
begun, and the young engineer, who hated to run away, was spared the
necessity of making a decision.  It was a start, too, with all hands on
board.  To be sure, two of them were battered and bruised, while two
more were soaked to the skin; but all were there, and none was greatly
the worse for the recent exciting experience.

Suddenly Billy Brackett spoke up and asked:

"But where is Bim?  Is it possible that we have left him behind?"

For a moment no one answered.  Then Winn said: "That's what Glen and I
were ashore for.  We are afraid he is lost."

"Lost!  Bim wouldn't get lost!  He has too much sense."

"I expect he is this time, though," said Glen, "and we don't believe he
will ever be found again, either."  Then he told of Bim's rushing
ashore, the smothered yelp, the loud splash that followed, and of their
unsuccessful search for him in the darkness.  "So it looks as though
the poor dog were done for," concluded Glen, "and I expect it was by a
trick of those same fellows who tried to capture the raft."

Billy Brackett listened closely, without a word, and when he had heard
all there was to tell, he turned abruptly away and walked into the
"shanty," muttering through his clinched teeth, "The scoundrels."

It certainly would have gone hard with the "river-traders" could the
stalwart young engineer have laid hands on them at that moment.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

A BLAZE ON THE RIVER.

As Messrs. Plater and Grimshaw will not appear again in this story, it
may be as well to dismiss them at once.  The well-conceived and
desperate effort to gain possession of the raft just described was
their last attempt in that direction.  They had watched Billy Brackett
leave it, had enticed the ever-faithful Bim from it, and when, from a
place of concealment, they heard two of its remaining defenders go
ashore in search of the brave dog, their satisfaction was complete.
Now they were sure of the prize for which they were willing to risk so
much.  Stealing silently to the raft without attracting Binny Gibbs's
attention, they leaped aboard, proceeded to dispose of him, and at the
same time to set the _Venture_ adrift.  Had not Binney's shout guided
Solon to the scene, success would have crowned their efforts.

The old negro was not a fighter by nature, but in defence of those he
loved he could be bold as a lion.  Consequently he rushed to the rescue
of the boy whom he supposed was Winn Caspar without hesitation, and
careless of the odds against him.  His coming, followed so quickly by
that of Billy Brackett and the arrival of the two boys, turned the tide
of battle.  Glen and Winn were compelled to plunge overboard and swim
for the raft, as it was already a rod or so from shore when they
regained the place where it had been tied.

The "river-traders" were unwillingly compelled to take the same plunge
a moment later, and as they swam towards the shore, which, fortunately
for them, was still near at hand, their hearts were filled with
bitterness at their defeat, while plans for future vengeance were
already forming in their minds.  But these were never carried out, for
the reason that, as they were making their dripping way into town, they
came across the mob bent on a deed of destruction that they themselves
had instigated.  With it was Joe Riley, the operator, and as these were
the very men he was most desirous of meeting just then, he persuaded
his associates to devote a few minutes of attention to them.

As a result of this interview with one who knew so much about them and
their business, their career as "river-traders" ended then and there.
A few days later they left Cairo in company with Sheriff Riley, of
Dubuque, who had come down the river on purpose to escort them north.
Why they had been so anxious to recover possession of the _Venture_ was
for a long time an unsolved puzzle to the crew of that interesting
raft.  That the reason was finally explained will be made as clear to
us as it was to our raft mates before the end of this story of their
unique voyage down the great river.  When it is, we shall probably
wonder, as they did, that so simple a solution of the mystery had not
occurred to us before.

In the mean time the raft, once more in full possession of its rightful
crew, is gliding swiftly with the mighty current through the starlit
darkness.  Billy Brackett, with a heart full of sorrow over the loss of
his four-footed but dearly loved companion, is on watch.  The lantern,
lighted and run to the top of the flag-staff, sends forth a clear beam
of warning to all steamboats.  In the "shanty," which looks very bright
and cosey in comparison with the outside darkness, Binney Gibbs is
lying comfortably in one of the bunks, Solon is making himself
acquainted with the arrangements of his new galley, and the other two
are changing their wet clothing, while carrying on an animated
conversation regarding the stirring events just recorded.

"How jolly this would all be if it wasn't for poor Billy's melancholy
over the loss of his dog," remarked Glen Elting, as he turned the
steaming garments hanging in front of the galley stove.  "It was a
splendid start, wasn't it, Grip?"

"Yes, I suppose so," answered Binney, a little doubtfully; "though I
don't believe it would seem quite so fine to you if you ached all over
as I do."

"Perhaps not, old man.  But you'll be all right again to-morrow, after
a good night in 'dream-bags;' and anyway, you must admit that this
beats steamboating all to nothing.  Just think, if we hadn't been lucky
enough to fall in with this blessed raft, and Billy and Winn, and all
the rest, we should at this very moment be just ordinary
ten-o'clock-at-night passengers, shivering on the Cairo wharf-boat, and
waiting for the New Orleans packet to come along.  She's due there some
time this evening, yon know."

"Yes; and instead of that, here I am--"

"Here you are," interrupted Glen, seeing that his friend was about to
utter a complaint; "and thankful you ought to be to find yourself here,
too.  Why, we'll be as merry as this muddy old river is long, as soon
as Billy ceases to mourn for his dog.  I'm a little surprised that he
should take it so much to heart, though.  It isn't like Billy B. to be
cast down over trifles."

"Trifles!" cried Winn.  "When you call dear old Bim a 'trifle,' you are
making one of the big mistakes of your life, and you wouldn't do it
either if you had known him as well as I did.  There never was another
dog like him for wisdom and gentleness and pluck and--well, and
everything that makes a dog lovely.  Why, that Bim would reason his way
out of scrapes that would stump a man, and the word 'fear' was never
printed in his dictionary.  Somehow I can't help thinking that he'll
turn up all right, bright and smiling, yet."

"I don't see how," said Glen.

"Neither can I, and I don't suppose I could if I were in his place; but
unless Bim is uncommonly dead, I'll guarantee that he'll come to life
again somehow and somewhere.  In fact, I shouldn't be one bit surprised
to see him aboard this very raft again before our voyage is ended."

"I must confess that I should," said Glen.

"That's because you don't know him," responded Winn.  "Isn't it, Solon?"

"I 'spec's hit must be, Marse Winn," answered the old negro.

"And wasn't he the very wisest dog you ever knew?"

"Yes, sah, he suttinly was, all 'ceptin' one, an' hit war a yallar
'coon dawg wha' I uster own down in ole Lou'siana.   I 'spec's he war
jes a teenty mite more knowin' dan eben Marse Brack's Bim dawg.  He
name war Bijah."

"How did he ever prove his wisdom?" asked Winn, incredulously.

"How him provin' it!" exclaimed the old negro, warming to his subject.
"Why, sah, him provin' it ebbery day ob he life more ways 'n one."

"Well, give us an example, if you can remember one."

"Yes, sah, I kin.  An' I tell you-all one ob de berry simples' t'ings
what dat ar Bijah ebber done.  He war jest a ornery, stumpy-tail, 'coon
dawg, Bijah war, an' him know he warn't nuffin else.  Dat's why he
won't go fer nuffin 'ceptin' 'coons--no rabbits, ner 'possum, ner fox,
ner b'ar, ner nuffin--jes 'coons.  But 'coons!  Don' talk, gen'l'_men_!
I reckin dat ar Bijah done know ebbery 'coon in twenty mile ob de Moss
Back plantashun.  An' he knowed some fer 'coons wha' didn' 'low dey war
'coons no way."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Winn.

"Dat's wha' I comin' to, Marse Winn, but yo' mus'n' hurry de ole man.
One day I takin' de ole kyart inter town wif a load er wood, an' Bijah
he gwine erlong.  When we comin' to der place whar de wood kyarts
stops, I onyoked, an' Bijah he lyin', sleepylike, ondur de kyart.   I
passin' de time er day 'long some udder cullud fellers, an' tellin'
wha' kind ob a 'coon dawg Bijah war, an' how he ain't know nuffin no
way 'ceptin' 'coons.  Suddint I see dat ar dawg kin' er wink he eye,
an' raise up an' sniff de yair, an' den lite out licketty cut down
erlong.  Dey ain't nuffin on de road 'ceptin' jes a cullud gal, an' she
a-turnin' inter de sto'.

"Dem fellers laff fit to bus' deirselfs, an' say, 'Hi dar! wha' dat
fine 'coon dawg gwine fer now?'

"I say, 'Him gwine fer a 'coon, gen'l'men, he suttinly am.'  Yo' see, I
jes nacherly 'bleeged ter say so.  Same time, I kin' er jubious.

"Afo' we comin' ter de sto', I heah ole Bijah gibbin tongue lak mad,
an' I say, 'Him treed um' gen'l'men! him treed um fer sho'.  But when
we comin' dar, an' look in der do', I feelin' mighty sick.  Dat ar
cullud gill she up in er cheer er-shyin' she umbrel at Bijah, an' him
jes a dancin' 'roun', an' er-yelpin'.

"Well, ef dem fellers ain't laff!  Dey jes roll deirselfs in de dus'.

"'Whar yo' 'coon dawg now?  Whar yo' 'coon dawg?' dey axin; but I kep'
on sayin' nuffin.  I know dat gal, an' when I hit Bijah er clip to stop
he noise, I say, berry polite, 'Mawnin', Lize.  Yo' got any 'coon 'bout
yo' pusson?'

"Den she say, snappylike, 'How I gwine get 'coon, yo' fool nigger!  No,
sah, I ain't got no 'coon 'ceptin' my ole man wha' I marry yistiddy he
name _Coon_.'"

The shout of laughter that greeted this story was interrupted by the
appearance of Billy Brackett at the door.

"Come out here, boys!" he cried.  "There's a steamboat on fire and
coming down the river!"

This startling announcement emptied the "shanty" in a hurry.  Even
Binney Gibbs forgot his aches and joined his mates outside.

There was no doubt as to the meaning of the column of flame that turned
the darkness into day behind them.  It was so near that they could hear
its ominous roar, while the black forest walls on either side of the
river were bathed in a crimson glow from its baleful light.  A vast
cloud of smoke, through which shot millions of sparks, trailed and
eddied above it, while, with the hoarse voice of escaping steam, the
blazing craft sounded its own death-note.

As the monster came tearing down the channel of crimson and gold that
opened and ever widened before it, our raftmates were fascinated by the
sight of its sublime but awful approach.  They stood motionless and
speechless until roused to a sudden activity by Billy Brackett's shout
of "Man the sweeps, fellows!  She is unmanageable, and headed for us as
straight as an arrow.  If we can't get out of the way she'll be on top
of us inside of two minutes more!"

Like young tigers the boys tugged at the heavy sweeps; but they might
as well have tried to extinguish the floating volcano that threatened
them with destruction as to remove that mass of timber beyond reach of
danger within the time allowed them.  The task was an impossible one;
and as they realized this fact, the crew of the _Venture_ prepared to
launch their skiff, abandon the raft, and row for their lives.

[Illustration: "Like young tigers the boys tugged at the heavy sweeps."]



CHAPTER XXXV.

BIM'S HEROISM.

As the burning steamboat swept down towards the low-lying raft the
destruction of the latter appeared so certain that its crew abandoned
all hope of saving it; and, taking to their skiff, sought by its means
to escape the threatened danger.  It was a forlorn hope, and promised
but little.  Even with Billy Brackett's strong arms tugging at its
oars, the heavily laden skiff seemed to move so slowly, that but for
the ever-widening space between them and the raft they would have
deemed it at a stand-still.  They gazed in silence and with fascinated
eyes at the on-coming terror.  At length, with a sigh of thankfulness,
they saw that they were beyond its track, and Billy Brackett's labors
were somewhat relaxed.

Suddenly, as though endowed with a fiendish intelligence, the blazing
fabric took a sheer to port, and headed for the skiff.  A hoarse cry
broke from the old negro, whose face was ashen gray with fright.  It
was echoed by Binney Gibbs.  The others kept silence, but their faces
were bloodless.

By a mighty effort Billy Brackett spun the skiff around, and with the
energy of despair pulled back towards the raft.  The stout oars bent
like whips.  If one of them had given way nothing could have saved our
raftmates from destruction.  Had the tough blades been of other than
home make, and fashioned from the best product of the Caspar Mill, they
must have yielded.  With each stroke Billy Brackett rose slightly from
his seat.  Arms, body, and legs made splendid response to the demands
of the invincible will.  Years of careful training and right living
were concentrated into that supreme moment.  Another might have sought
personal safety by plunging overboard and diving deep into the river.
Glen and Winn might have followed such an example.  Binney and Solon,
being unable to swim, could not.  But Billy Brackett was too true an
American to consider such a thing for an instant.  Generations of
Yankee ancestors had taught him never to desert a friend nor yield to a
foe; never to court a danger nor to fear one; to fight in a righteous
cause with his latest breath; to snatch victory from defeat.

As the skiff dashed alongside the _Venture_ the vast, glowing, seething
mass of flame, smoke, and crashing timbers swept by so close that the
raftmates were obliged to seek a shelter in the cool waters from its
deadly heat.  Clinging to the edge of the raft, with their bodies
entirely submerged, they gazed breathlessly and with blinded eyes at
the grandest and most awful sight to be seen on the Mississippi.  It
was a huge lower-river packet, and was completely enveloped in roaring
flames that poured from every opening, and streamed furiously from the
tall chimneys the trailing banners of the fire-fiend.  The boat was
under a full head of steam, her machinery was still intact, and the
great wheels, churning the glowing waters into a crimson foam, forced
her ahead with the speed of a locomotive.  The back draught thus caused
kept the forward end of her lower deck free from flame.  Here, as she
rushed past, the boys caught a glimpse of the only sign of life they
could discover aboard the ill-fated packet.  It was a dog leaping from
side to side, and barking furiously.

They had hardly noted his presence when a curious thing happened.
There came an explosion of steam, a crash, and the starboard wheel
dropped from its shaft.  Thus crippled, the blazing craft made a grand
sweep of half a circle in front of the raft.  Then, as the other wheel
also became disabled and ceased its mad churnings, the boat lay with
her head up-stream, drifting helplessly with the current.  The packet
was not more than a couple of hundred feet from the raft when its wild
progress was thus checked, and now the barkings of the dog, that had
already attracted the boy's attention, were heard more plainly than
before.

All at once Billy Brackett, who had regained the wave-washed deck of
the raft, called out, "It's Bim!  I know his voice!"

With this he again sprang into the skiff, with the evident intention of
attempting to rescue his four-footed comrade.  Winn Caspar was just in
time to scramble in over the stern as the skiff shot away.  "I may be
of some help," he said.

As they neared the burning boat, they saw that the dog was indeed Bim.
He answered their calls with frantic barks of joy, but refused to leap
into the skiff or into the water, as they urged him to.

He would run back out of their sight instead, and then reappear,
barking frantically all the while.  Once he seemed to be dragging
something, and trying to hold it up for their inspection.

"The dear old dog has some good reason for acting in that way," said
Billy Brackett, "and I must go to him."

Winn had not the heart to remonstrate against an attempt to aid Bim,
even though its extreme danger was obvious.  The blazing hull, from
which most of the upper works were now burned away, was liable to
plunge to the bottom at any moment, and the boy shuddered at the
thought of being engulfed in the seething whirlpool which would thus be
created.  He involuntarily cringed, too, at the thought of the red-hot
boilers ready to burst and deluge all surrounding objects with scalding
steam and hissing water.  Still, he would not have spoken a single word
to deter Billy Brackett from his daring project even had he known it
would be heeded.

While these thoughts flashed through Winn's mind, his companion was
clambering up over the low guards, and Bim's joyful welcome of his
master was pitiful in its extravagance.  The dog seemed to say, "I knew
you would come if I only waited patiently and barked loud enough.  Now
you see why I couldn't leave."

The object to which Bim thus directed attention, as plainly as though
possessed of speech, was a little curly-haired puppy, a Gordon setter,
so young that its eyes were not yet opened.

Billy Brackett picked it up and dropped it over the side into Winn's
arms.  Then he tried to do the same by Bim; but, with a loud bark, the
nimble dog eluded his grasp, and dashed away into the thick of the
smoke.  Tongues of flame were licking their cruel way through it, and
as Bim emerged, his hair was scorched in yellow patches.  He dragged
out a dead puppy, laid it at his master's feet, and before he could be
restrained had once more dashed back into the stifling smoke.  Again he
appeared, this time weak and staggering, every trace of his white coat
gone.  He was singed and blackened beyond recognition; but he was a
four-footed hero, who had nobly performed a self-imposed duty.  As he
feebly dragged another little dead puppy to his master's feet, Billy
Brackett seized the brave dog in his arms, and sprang over the side of
the doomed steamboat into the waiting skiff.  Tears stood in the young
man's eyes as the suffering creature licked his face, and he exclaimed,
"I tell you what, Winn Caspar, if this blessed dog isn't possessed of a
soul, then I'm not, that's all!"

Meanwhile Winn was pulling the skiff swiftly beyond reach of danger.
It was none too soon; for before they reached the raft, the glowing
mass behind them reared itself on end as though making a frantic effort
to escape its fate.  Then, with a hissing plunge, it disappeared
beneath the turbid flood of the great river.  A second later there came
a muffled explosion, and a column of water, capped by a cloud of steam,
shot upward.  At the same time the scene was shrouded in a darkness
made absolute by the sudden extinguishing of the fierce light, while
the silence that immediately succeeded the recent uproar seemed
unbroken.

Then the momentary hush was invaded by the sound of many voices, some
of which were uttering groans and cries of pain.  A score of fortunates
from the burned packet, who had been driven by the flames to the
extreme after-end of the boat, where they were hidden from the view of
those on the raft, had leaped into the water as they were swept past,
and managed to reach it while Billy Brackett and Winn were away.

Now, by means of the skiff, others whose cries for help located them in
the darkness were picked up.  Many persons had escaped soon after the
breaking out of the fire by means of the small boats and life-raft
carried by the packet; while still others, comprising nearly half the
ship's company, were lost.  It was one the most terrible of the many
similar disasters recorded in the history of steamboating on the
Mississippi; and to this day the burning of the _Lytle_ is a favorite
theme of conversation among old river men.

When Glen Elting learned the name of the ill-fated craft, he started
and turned pale.  "The very packet for which we were waiting!" he
cried, with bated breath.  "Oh, Binney, how many things we have to be
thankful for!"

"Indeed we have," answered the boy; "and not the least of them is that
we are in a position to help these poor people, who have been overtaken
by the misfortune that was reaching out for us."

These two were tearing sheets into bandage strips, and dressing wounds
with the salve and ointments found in Major Caspar's medicine chest.
Solon was providing a plentiful supply of hot-water over a roaring fire
in the galley stove, and bustling about among the forlorn assembly,
that, drenched and shivering, had been so suddenly intrusted to his
kindly care.  Billy Brackett and Winn rowed in every direction about
the raft so long as there was the slightest hope of picking up a
struggling swimmer.

Their last rescue was that of a man clinging to a state-room door, and
so benumbed with the chill of the water that in a few moments more his
hold must have relaxed.  Beside him swam a dog, also nearly exhausted.

When the man was carried into the "shanty," the dog followed him, and
was there seen to be of the same markings and breed as the puppy saved
by Bim.  Noting this, Winn hunted it up and brought it to her.  It was
hers, and no human mother could have shown more extravagant joy than
did this dog mother at so unexpectedly finding one of her lost babies.
She actually cried with happiness, and fondled her little one until it
protested with all the strength of its feeble voice.  Then she lay down
with the puppy cuddled close to her, and one paw thrown protectingly
across it, the picture of perfect content.

Bim had been almost as excited as she, and in spite of his burns, had
circled about the two, and barked until the puppy persuaded its mother
to be quiet.  Then Bim and she lay down, nose to nose, and while the
former told his friend how he had found her deserted babies on the boat
and had determined to save them, and how his own dear master had come
in answer to his barks for assistance, she told him how she had been in
the after-part of the boat getting her supper when the flames broke
out, and had gone nearly crazy at finding herself separated from her
little ones.  She assured him she would have gone through fire and
water to reach them had not her master thrown her overboard, and
immediately afterwards jumped into the river himself.  Then she
believed that all was lost, for in her distress of mind she had
entirely forgotten her brave friend Bim.  If she had only remembered
him, she would have been quite at ease, knowing, of course, that he
would find some way of saving at least one of her puppies, which, under
the circumstances, was all that could be expected.

At which Bim jumped up and barked for pure happiness, until his master
said, "That will do, Bim, for the present."



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE MASTER OF MOSS BANK.

The Gordon setter's name was Nanita, while that of her master was Mr.
Guy Manton, of New York.  Within a short time after the final plunge of
the burned packet, several steamboats, attracted by the blaze, reached
the raft, and offered to carry the survivors of the disaster to the
nearest town.  This offer was accepted by all except Mr. Manton, who
asked, as a favor, that he and his dogs might be allowed to remain on
board the _Venture_, at least until morning.  Of course the raftmates
willingly consented to this, for Mr. Manton was so grateful to them,
besides proving such an agreeable companion, that they could not help
but like him.

From him they learned how Bim happened to be on board the ill-fated
steamboat, a situation over which they had all puzzled, but concerning
which they had heretofore found no opportunity of inquiring.  According
to Mr. Manton's story, he was on his way to a plantation on the
Mississippi, in Louisiana, which he had recently purchased, but had not
yet seen.

Wishing to learn something of the great river on a bank of which his
property lay, he had come by way of St. Louis, and there boarded the
fine New Orleans packet _Lytle_.  He had brought with him a supply of
machinery, provisions, and tools for the plantation, all of which were
now either consumed by fire or lay at the bottom of the river.  He had
also brought his favorite setter Nanita and her litter of three young
puppies, which he had proposed to establish at his new winter home.

During the stop of the packet at Cairo he had taken Nanita ashore for a
run.  On their way back to the boat he discovered that she was not
following him, and anxiously retracing his steps a short distance,
found her in company with a white bulldog, to whom she was evidently
communicating some matter of great interest.

Mr. Manton saw that the strange dog was a valuable one, and when it
showed an inclination to follow them, tried to persuade it to return to
its home, which he supposed was somewhere in the town.  As the dog
disappeared, he thought he had succeeded, and was afterwards surprised
to find it on the boat, in company with Nanita and her little ones.
Believing, of course, that the bull-dog's owner was also on board, he
gave the matter but little thought, and soon after called Nanita aft to
be fed.

While he was attending to her wants, the cry of "fire" was raised.  The
flames burst out somewhere near the centre of the boat, in the vicinity
of the engine-room, and had already gained such headway as to interpose
an effectual barrier between him and the forward deck.  He supposed
that the boat would at once be headed for the nearest bank, but found
to his dismay that almost with the first outbreak of flame the
steering-gear had been rendered useless.  At the same time the
engineers had been driven from their post of duty, and thus the
splendid packet, freighted with death and destruction, continued to
rush headlong down the river, without guidance or check.

Amid the terrible scenes that ensued, Mr. Manton, followed by his
faithful dog, was barely able to reach his own stateroom, secure his
money and some important papers, wrench the door from its hinges, throw
it and Nanita overboard, and then leap for his own life into the dark
waters.

At this point the grateful man again tried to express his sense of
obligation to his rescuers, but was interrupted by Billy Brackett, who
could not bear to be thanked for performing so obvious and simple an
act of duty.  To change the subject the young engineer told of Bim's
act of real heroism in saving one and attempting to save the other
members of the little family, which he evidently considered had been
left in his charge.

To this story Mr. Manton listened with the deepest interest; and when
it was concluded, he said, "He is a dear dog, and most certainly a
hero, if there ever was one.  I shall always love him for this night's
work."

Then Bim, who was now covered with healing ointment and swathed in
bandages, was petted and praised until even Nanita grew jealous, and
insisted on receiving a share of her master's attention.

All the while the brave bull-dog looked into the faces of those
gathered about him with such a pleading air of intelligence and such
meaning barks that his longing to tell of what had happened to him
after he started from the raft in pursuit of the odious "river-trader"
who had once kicked him was evident to them all.  If he only could have
spoken, he would have told of the cruel blow by which he was
momentarily stunned, of finding himself in a bag in the river, of how
he had succeeded by a desperate struggle in escaping from it and
finally reaching the shore, of his distress at not finding the raft,
and the sad search for his master through the town, of his meeting with
Nanita, and of his decision to accept her advice and take passage with
her down the river, in which direction he was certain his floating home
had gone.  All this Bim would have communicated to his friends if he
could; but as they were too dull of comprehension to understand him,
they have remained in ignorance to this day of that thrilling chapter
of his adventures.

Besides telling the raftmates of his cruel experience, Mr. Manton
related some of the incidents of a canoe voyage even then being made
down the river by his only son Worth and the boy's most intimate
friend, Sumner Rankin.  These two had made a canoe cruise together
through the Everglades of Florida the winter before, and had enjoyed it
so much, that when Mr. Manton proposed that they should accompany him
to Louisiana, they had begged to be allowed to make the trip in their
canoes.

"They started from Memphis," continued Mr. Manton, "and have had some
fine duck and turkey shooting among the Coahoma sloughs and
cane-brakes.  With them is a colored man named Quorum, who crossed the
Everglades with them, and who now accompanies them, in a skiff that
they purchased in Memphis, as cook and general adviser.  I have heard
from them several times by letter, and so know of their progress.  It
has been so good that unless I make haste they will reach Moss Bank
before me.  That is the name of our new home," he added, by way of
explanation.

"Wha' dat yo' say, sah?" exclaimed Solon, who had been an interested
listener.  "Yo' callin' dat ar plantashun Moss Back?"

[Illustration: "'Yo' callin' dat ar plantashun Moss Back?' exclaimed
Solon" (missing from book)]

"Yes, 'Moss Bank' is the name it has always borne, I believe," replied
Mr. Manton.  "But why do you ask?  Do you know the place?"

"Does I know um!  Does I know de place I war borned an' brung up in?
Why, sah, dat ar' my onlies home befo' de wah.  Ole Marse Rankim own
um, an' me an' he boy, de young marse, hab de same mammy.  So him my
froster-brudder.  He gwine away fer a sailor ossifer, an' den de wah
comin' on, an' ebberyt'ing gwine ter smash.  He name 'Summer.'  Yo'
know dat young gen'l'man?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Manton, "I knew him intimately.  He has been dead
for several years; but I am well acquainted with his family, and it is
his son who is now travelling down the river in company with my boy.
In fact, it was through him that I came to purchase this old
plantation, with a view to making it our winter home."

"Praise de Lawd, I gwine ter see a Rankim once mo'!" exclaimed the old
negro.  "Yo' is gwine stop at de ole Moss Back place, Marse Winn?  Yo'
sholy is?"

"Why, yes; if Mr. Manton would like to have us, I think we should be
very happy to stop there when we reach it," said Winn.

"Stop!  Of course you will," exclaimed Nanita's master.  "I have
already planned for that, and should feel terribly disappointed if you
did not.  I want to see more of you, and I want you to meet and know my
boys.  Besides, I was going to ask you to allow Nanita and her pup to
complete their journey down the river on this raft in company with Bim,
who will, I know, take good care of them.  If you should consent to
this plan, of course you will be obliged to stop at Moss Bank to land
them.

"We shall be delighted to have them," said Billy Brackett; "and, on
behalf of Bim, I hereby extend a formal invitation to them to become
his raftmates for the remainder of the cruise.  At the same time, I am
certain that my companions, as well as myself, will be most happy to
visit you in your new home, and there make the acquaintance of your
boys."

By the time this arrangement was concluded it was daylight, and Mr.
Manton insisted on the raftmates turning in for a nap, while he and
Solon kept watch.  He remained on board the _Venture_ all that day, and
by sunset the current had borne the raft forward so rapidly that they
were able to tie up near Columbus, Kentucky.  At this point the owner
of Moss Bank bade his new-made friends _au revoir_, and started by rail
for his Louisiana home.

After his departure, and during the month of drifting that followed,
the raftmates talked so much of Moss Bank, and listened to so many
stories concerning it from Solon, that to their minds it grew to be the
objective point of their trip, and seemed as though it must be the one
place towards which their whole voyage was tending.  Much as they
anticipated the reaching of this far-southern plantation, however, they
would have been greatly surprised and decidedly incredulous had any one
told them that it was indeed to mark the limit of their voyage, and
that there the good raft _Venture_, from Wisconsin for New Orleans, was
destined to vanish, and become but a fading memory.  But so it was, as
they found out, and as we shall see.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

BIM'S 'COON.

Through the last week of November and the first three of December our
raftmates drifted steadily southward down the great river.  Although it
was the most unpleasant season of the year, and they encountered both
cold rains and bitter winds that chilled them to the marrow, the boys
thoroughly enjoyed their experience.  They could always retreat to the
"shanty," which Solon kept well filled with warmth and comfort, and
they had the satisfaction of an uninterrupted progress.  The management
of the raft called for a vast amount of hard and monotonous work; but
it gave them splendid muscles and tremendous appetites.  They were
obliged to maintain a constant lookout for bars, reefs, snags, and
up-bound river craft, and by means of the long sweeps at either end of
the raft head it this way or that to avoid these obstacles and keep the
channel.  They were always on the move from sunrise to sunset, and
generally travelled on moonlit nights as well.  If the night promised
to be dark or stormy they tied up at the nearest bank.

At such times the outside blackness, the howling wind, driving
rain-squalls, and dashing waves only heightened the interior cosiness,
the light, warmth, and general comfort of their floating home.  In it
they played games, sang songs to the accompaniment of Solon's banjo,
told stories, taught the dogs tricks; or, under Billy Brackett's
direction, pegged away at engineering problems, such as are constantly
arising in the course of railway construction.  Even Winn tried his
hand at these; for under the stimulus of his companions' enthusiasm he
was beginning to regard the career of an engineer as one of the most
desirable and manly in which a young fellow could embark.

This voyage into the world, with such guides and associates as Billy
Brackett, Glen Elting, and Binney Gibbs, was proving of inestimable
value to this boy.  Not only were his ideas of life broadened and his
stock of general information increased by it, but he was rapidly
learning to appreciate the beauty of modest pretensions, and a
self-reliance based upon knowledge and strength, as compared with the
boastfulness and self-conceit of ignorance.

Sometimes the _Venture_ was tied up for the night near other rafts, and
its crew exchanged visits with theirs.  The regular river raftsmen were
generally powerful young giants, rough and unlettered, but a
good-natured, happy-go-lucky lot, full of tales of adventure in the
woods or on the river, to which the boys listened with a never-failing
delight.  Nor were the raftmates at all behindhand in this interchange
of good stories; for they could tell of life on the Plains or in
California, of Indians, buffalo, mountains, deserts, and gold-mines, to
which their auditors listened with wide-open eyes and gaping mouths.
During the pauses Solon was always ready with some account of the
wonderful performances of his long-ago 'coon dog Bijah.

So wise did our raftmates become concerning 'coons and their habits,
from Solon's teachings, that finally nothing would satisfy them but a
'coon hunt of their own.  Billy Brackett was certain that Bim, who by
this time had fully recovered from the effects of his burns, would
prove as good at finding 'coons as he had at everything else in which
he had been given a chance.  Solon was doubtful, because of Bim's color
and the length of his tail.

"I hain't nebber see no fust-class 'coon dawg wha' warn't yallar an'
stumpy tail lak my Bijah war," he would remark, gazing reflectively at
Bim, and shaking his head.  "Of cose dish yer Bim dawg uncommon
knowin', an' maybe him tree a 'coon 'mos' ez good ez Bijah; but hit's a
gif, an' a mighty skurce gif 'mong dawgs."

"Oh, come off, Solon!" Billy Brackett would answer.  "You just wait
till you see Bim tree a 'coon.  He'll do it so quick, after we once get
into a 'coon neighborhood, that your Bijah would be left a thousand
miles behind, and you won't ever want to mention his name again."

So one night when the _Venture_ was well down towards the lower end of
the State of Arkansas a grand 'coon hunt was arranged.  They drew lots
to decide who should be left behind in charge of the raft, and, much to
his disgust, the unwelcome task fell to Glen.  So he remained on board
with Nanita and Cherub, as the pup had been named in honor of Bim,
though it was generally called "Cheer-up," and the others sallied forth
into the woods.

They were well provided with fat pine torches and armed with axes.  Bim
was full of eager excitement, and dashed away into the darkness the
moment they set foot on shore.  His incessant barking showed him to be
first on this side and then on that, while once in a while they caught
a glimpse of his white form glancing across the outer rim of their
circle of torchlight.

"Isn't he hunting splendidly?" cried Billy Brackett, with enthusiasm.

"Yes, sah," replied Solon; "but him huntin' too loud.  We ain't gettin'
to de place yet, an' ef he don' quit he barkin', him skeer off all de
'coon in de State."

So Bim was called in, and restrained with a bit of rope until a
corn-field was reached that Solon pronounced the right kind of a place
from which to make a start.  Then the eager dog was again set free, and
in less than a minute was heard giving utterance to the peculiar
yelping note that announced his game as "treed."

"What did I tell you?" shouted Billy Brackett, triumphantly, as he
started on a run for the point from which the sounds proceeded.  "How's
that for--" but at that instant the speaker tripped over a root, and
measured his length on the ground with a crash that knocked both breath
and powers of speech from his body.  The others were so close behind
that they fell on top of him like a row of bricks, and in the resulting
confusion their torch was extinguished.

Hastily picking themselves up, and without pausing to relight the pine
splinters, they rushed pell-mell towards the sound of barking, bumping
into trees, stumbling over logs, scratching their faces and tearing
their clothes on thorny vines.  But no one minded.  Bim had treed a
'coon in the shortest time on record, and now if they could only get
it, the triumph would be ample reward for all their trials.

Finally, bruised, battered, and ragged, they reached the tree which
Bim, with wild leapings, was endeavoring to climb.  Their first move
was to illumine the scene with a huge bonfire.  By its light they
proceeded to a closer examination of the situation.  The tree was a
huge moss-hung water-oak, evidently too large to be chopped down, as
all the 'coon trees of Solon's stories had been.  So Winn offered to
climb it and shake out the 'coon.  As yet they had not discovered the
animal, but Bim was so confident of its presence that they took his
word for it.

Solon had raised a false alarm as the first gleam of firelight
penetrated the dark mass of foliage above them by exclaiming:

"Dar he!  Me see um!  Lookee, Marse Brack, in dat ar crutch!"

But what the old negro saw proved to be a bunch of mistletoe, and when
Winn began his climb the 'coon's place of concealment was still
unknown.  Up went the boy higher and higher, carefully examining each
limb as he passed it, until he was among the very topmost branches of
the tree.  The others stood on opposite sides of the trunk, with axes
or clubs uplifted, and gazed anxiously upward until their necks ached.

At length Winn became aware that from the outermost end of a slender
branch just above his head a pair of green eyes were glaring at him.
The glare was accompanied by an angry spitting sound.  "I've found him,
fellows!  Look out below!" he shouted, and began a vigorous shaking of
the branch.  All at once the animal uttered a sound that caused a
sudden cessation of his efforts.  It also caused Winn to produce a
match from his pocket, light it, and hold the tiny flame high above his
head.  Then, without a word, he began to descend the tree.

As he dropped to the ground the others exclaimed in amazement, "What's
the matter, Winn?  Where's the 'coon?  Why didn't you shake him down?"

"He's up there," replied Winn, "but I don't want him.  If any of you
do, you'd better go up and shake him down.  I'd advise you to take a
torch along, though."

Not another word of explanation would he give them, and finally Binney
Gibbs, greatly provoked at the other's stubbornness, declared he would
go up and shake that 'coon down--in a hurry, too.  He so far accepted
Winn's advice as to provide himself with a blazing knot, and then up he
started.  In a few minutes he too returned to the ground, saying that
he guessed Winn was about right, and they didn't want that 'coon after
all.

"What in the name of all foolishness do you mean?" cried Billy
Brackett, impatiently.  "Speak out, man, and tell us, can't you?"

But Binney acted precisely as Winn had done, and advised any one who
wanted that 'coon to go and get it.

"Well, I will!" exclaimed the young engineer, almost angrily; "and I
only hope I can manage to drop him on top of one of your heads."

With this he started up the tree, and disappeared among its thick
brandies.  He quickly made his way to the top.  Then the rustling of
leaves ceased, there was a moment of silence, followed by a muttered
exclamation, and Billy Brackett came hastily down to where the others
were expectantly awaiting him.

"Let's go home, boys," he said, as he picked up his axe and started in
the direction of the river.  "Come, Bim; your reputation as a 'coon dog
is so well established that there is no need to test it any further."

Poor Solon, who was too old and stiff to climb the tree, was completely
mystified by these strange proceedings; but his expostulation of,

"Wha--wha's de meanin' ob dish yer--!" was cut short by the departure
of his companions, and he was obliged to hasten after them.

A few minutes after the 'coon hunters had gone a big boy, and a little
girl with a tear-stained face, who had come from a house just beyond
the corn-field, reached the spot, to which they had been attracted by
the firelight.  As they did so, the child uttered a cry of joy, sprang
to the water-oak, and caught up a frightened-looking little black and
white kitten that was cautiously descending the big trunk backward.

To this day the outcome of that 'coon hunt remains a sealed mystery to
poor Solon, while Bim has never been invited to go on another.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE GREAT RIVER AND ITS MISCHIEF.

The scenery amid which the good raft _Venture_ performed its long and
eventful voyage changed almost with the rapidity of a kaleidoscope, but
was ever fascinating and full of pleasant surprises.  The flaming
autumnal foliage of the forest-lined banks through which the first
hundred miles or so were made, gave way to masses of sombre browns or
rich purples, and these in turn to the flecked white of cotton-fields,
the dark green of live-oaks, and the silver gray of Spanish moss.  The
picturesque cliffs of the upper river, rising in places to almost
mountainous heights, were merged into the lowlands of canebrakes and
swamps, broken by ranges of bluffs along the eastern bank after the
Ohio was passed.  On these bluffs were perched many cities and towns
that were full of interest to our raftmates; among them, Memphis,
Vicksburg, Natchez, and Baton Rouge.  Every here and there in the low
bottom lands of the "Delta" below Memphis they saw the rounded tops of
great mounds, raised by prehistoric dwellers in that region as places
of refuge during seasons of flood.  They passed from the great northern
wheat region into that of corn, then into the broad cotton belt, and
finally to the land of sugar-cane and rice, orange-trees, glossy-leaved
magnolias, and gaunt moss-hung cypresses.

Of more immediate interest even than these ever-changing features of
the land was the varied and teeming life of the mighty river itself.
The boys were never tired of watching the streams of strange craft
constantly passing up or down.  Here a splendid packet in all the glory
of fresh paint, gleaming brass, gay bunting, and crowds of passengers
rushed swiftly southward with the current in mid-channel; or, up-bound,
ploughed a mighty furrow against it, while the hoarse coughings of its
high-pressure engines echoed along many a mile of forest wall.

Smaller up-bound boats hugged the banks in search of slack water.  Most
of the main-stream packets were side-wheelers; but those of lighter
draught, bound far up the Red, the Arkansas, the Yazoo, the Sunflower,
or other tributary rivers, were provided with great stern wheels that
made them look like exaggerated wheelbarrows.  Then there were the
tow-boats, pushing dozens of sooty coal-barges from the Ohio;
freight-boats so piled with cotton-bales that only their pilot-houses
and chimneys were visible; trading-scows and "Jo-boats;" floating
dance-houses and theatres; ferryboats driven by steam, or propelled by
mule-power, like the _Whatnot_; some large enough to carry a whole
train of cars from shore to shore, and others with a capacity of but a
single team.  There were skiffs, canoes, pirogues, and rafts of all
sizes and description.

Most interesting of all, however, were the Government snag-boats, which
constantly patrolled the river, on the lookout for obstructions that
they might remove.  These boats were doubled-hulled; and when one of
them straddled a snag, no matter if it was the largest tree that ever
grew, it was bound to disappear.  With great steam-driven saws it would
be cut into sections, that were lifted and swung aside by powerful
derricks planted near the bows.  These useful snag-boats also gave
relief to distressed craft of all kinds; blew up or removed dangerous
wrecks; dislodged rafts of drift that threatened to form inconvenient
bars; and in a thousand ways acted the part of an ever-vigilant police
for this grandest of American highways.

And the great restless river needed watching.  It was as full of
mischievous pranks as a youthful giant experimenting with his new-found
strength.  It thought nothing of biting out a few hundred acres of land
from one bank and depositing them miles below on the other.  If these
acres were occupied by houses or cultivated fields, so much the more
fun for the river.  For years it would flow peacefully in a well-known
channel around some great bend, then decide to make a change, and in a
single night cut a new channel straight across the loop of land.  By
such a prank not only were all the river pilots thoroughly bewildered,
but a large slice of one State, with its inhabitants and buildings,
would be transferred to another.  If at the same time an important
river-town could be stranded and left far inland, the happiness of the
mischief-making giant was complete; and for many miles it would swirl
and eddy and boil and ripple with exuberant glee over the success of
its efforts.

Above all it delighted in secretly gathering to itself from tributary
streams their vast accumulations of protracted rains or melting snows,
until it was swollen to twice its ordinary size, and endowed with a
strength that nothing could withstand.  Then with mighty leaps it would
overflow its banks, cover whole counties with its tawny floods, burst
through levees, and riot over thousands of cultivated fields, sweep
away houses, uproot trees, and drown every unfortunate creature on
which it could lay its clutching fingers.  Whenever its fleeing victims
managed to reach some little mound or bit of high land that it could
not climb, then it found equal pleasure in surrounding them and mocking
them with its plashing chuckles, while they suffered the pangs of slow
starvation.

At these times of overflow not only the snag-boats but such other craft
as could be pressed into the service were despatched in every direction
to the relief of the river giant's victims.  While on this duty they
carried provisions, clothing, and other necessaries of life into the
most remote districts; effected rescues from floating houses, or those
whose roofs alone rose above the flood and afforded uncertain refuge
for their inmates; removed human beings and live-stock from little
muddy islands miles away from the main channel of the river, carried
them miles farther before reaching places of safety, and in every way
strove with all their might to mitigate the calamity of unfettered
waters.

Our raftmates had witnessed the effect of all these freaks and
caprices, except that of a widespread and devastating flood, during
their voyage, and as they drew near its end they became aware that an
acquaintance with this most terrible of all the river's efforts at
destruction was to be added to their experience.  The drought of summer
had been followed by an almost unprecedented rainfall during the
autumn.  The earth in every direction was like an oversoaked sponge,
and the surplus water was pouring in turbid torrents into the rivers.
From every quarter of the vast Mississippi Valley these watery legions
were hurried forward to join the all-conquering forces of the great
river.

It had been high-water in the Ohio when the _Venture_ lay at Cairo.
When it passed the mouth of the Arkansas its crew were amazed at the
mighty volume of its muddy flood.  From this on they floated in company
with ever-increasing masses of drift--trees, fences, farming
implements, straw-stacks, cotton-bales, out-buildings, and every now
and then a house, lifted bodily from its foundations, and borne away in
the resistless arms of the ever-swelling tide.  Most of the houses were
empty, but from several of them the ready skiff of the _Venture_
effected rescues, now of a solitary individual driven to the verge of
despair by the lonely terrors of his situation, and then of whole
wretched families who had lost everything in the world except their
lives.  A cow, several pigs, and dozens of barn-yard fowls also found
an asylum on the friendly raft, until, as Billy Brackett said, it
reminded one of the original and only Noah's ark menagerie.

Besides supplying the raft with passengers, the river helped to feed
them.  Floating straw-stacks and shocks of corn were always in sight,
while fresh milk and eggs, pork and chickens, drifted with the current
on all sides.  In vain were these passengers landed at the nearest
accessible points.  A new lot was always found to take the place of
those who had left, and for ten days the raft resembled a combination
of floating hotel, nursery, hospital, and farm-yard.  The resources of
our raftmates were taxed to their utmost during this time to provide
for the manifold wants of their welcome but uninvited guests, while
Solon declared, "I hain't nebber done sich a sight er cooken durin' all
de days ob my life."

By the time the mouth of the Red River was reached, half of Concordia
Parish was flooded, and but for the forest trees rising from the water,
the boys would have thought themselves afloat on a vast inland sea.
The low bluffs on which the capital of Louisiana is seated, and beyond
which the cane lands extend in almost a dead level to the Gulf, were
occupied by the tents and rude shelters of hundreds of refugees from
the drowned districts.  Here our raftmates began to entertain fears for
the safety of their friends at the Moss Bank plantation, which lay but
a day's journey farther down the river.

At Baton Rouge they cleared the raft of its living encumbrances, and
then pushed ahead.  From this point to the Gulf the great river is
enclosed between massive levees, or embankments of earth, behind which
the level of the far-reaching cane-fields is much lower than the
surface of high-water.  Thus the raft was borne swiftly along at such
an elevation that its crew could look over the top of the eastern levee
and down over a vast area of plantation lands.  These were dotted with
dark clumps of live-oaks or magnolias, and at wide intervals with
little settlements of whitewashed negro quarters, grouped behind the
broad-verandaed dwellings of the planters.  Near each was the mill in
which the cane from the broad fields was crushed and its sweet juices
converted into sugar.  These mills were surmounted by tall iron
smoke-stacks, and near each stood the square, tower-like bagasse
(refuse) burner, built of stone, and looking like the keep of some
ancient castle.

All along the levee they saw gangs of men at work strengthening the
embankments and raising them still higher.  They were often hailed and
asked to lend assistance, but they felt that their own friends might be
in need of them, and so passed on without answer.  So changed was the
aspect of the country since Solon had last seen it, and so excited did
the old man become as he neared the scenes of former years, that it was
evident he could not be depended upon to recognize Moss Bank when they
should reach it.

The day was nearly spent before they arrived at what they felt sure
must be its immediate vicinity.  They had decided to tie up at the
first good place, and there wait for morning, when Winn called out:

"What is that just ahead?  I thought it was a log; but it seems to be
moving towards us, and I believe it is some sort of a small boat with a
man in it."

The object to which their attention was thus directed proved to be a
decked canoe, the very daintiest craft any of them had ever seen,
bearing the name _Psyche_ in gold letters on either bow.  In it sat a
boy of about Winn's age, urging it forward with vigorous strokes of a
double-bladed paddle.

The raft was close to the levee as he shot alongside.

"Hello!" he shouted; "is this the raft _Venture_?"

"Yes.  Are you Worth Manton?"

"No; but I am Sumner Rankin.  Worth is down there with his father and
all the hands we could raise, working on the levee; but we are afraid
it can't stand much longer.  I have been out here hailing every raft
that passed, and watching for you for the last three days.  I'm awfully
glad you've come, for our men are discouraged, and about ready to give
up.  Now, perhaps you will help us."

"Of course we will!  Come right aboard and show us where to tie up,"
answered Billy Brackett, heartily.

By the time the raft was made fast near the scene of greatest danger,
and Mr. Manton, with Worth, had come aboard, the night was as dark as
pitch.  The lanterns of the working gang glancing here and there like
so many fire-flies were feebly reflected in the angry waters that slid
stealthily by with uncanny gurglings and muttered growls.

[Illustration: "The lanterns of the working gang glancing here and
there like fire-flies."]

"If the bank will only hold until morning!" said Mr. Manton, about
midnight, as he and Billy Brackett entered the _Venture's_ cosey
"shanty" for a brief rest.  All but these two and Solon were asleep,
laying in a stock of strength for the labors of the next day.

Suddenly there came a frightened shouting from the bank.  Then all
other sounds were drowned in the furious roar of rushing waters, while
the raft seemed to be lifted bodily and hurled into space.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

HURLED THROUGH THE CREVASSE AND WRECKED.

During the earlier hours of that eventful night Billy Brackett had
brought all his engineering skill to bear upon the problem of how to
save the Moss Bank levee.  His cheery presence, and the evident
knowledge that he displayed, inspired all hands with confidence and a
new energy.  Under his direction the raftmates worked like beavers, and
Mr. Manton was more hopeful that the levee could be made to withstand
the terrible pressure of swollen waters than he had been from the
beginning.  But it was very old and had been neglected for years.  By
daylight the young engineer might have noted its weak spots, and
strengthened them.  He would have seen the thin streams that silently,
but steadily and in ever-increasing volume, were working their way
through the embankment near its base.  In the inky blackness of the
night they were unheeded; and while spade and pick were plied with
unflagging zeal to strengthen the higher portions, these insidious foes
were equally busy undermining its foundations.

Shortly before midnight everything seemed so secure that the boys were
sent to the _Venture's_ "shanty" to get a few hours of sleep.  Then
Billy Brackett and Mr. Manton came in for the hot coffee Solon was
preparing for them.  They had hardly seated themselves at the table
when the catastrophe occurred.  Without warning, a quarter of a mile of
the water-soaked levee sank out of sight, and dissolved like so much
wet sugar.  Into the huge gap thus opened the exulting waters leaped
with the rush and roar of a cataract.  On the foaming crest of this
tawny flood the stout timber raft was borne and whirled like an autumn
leaf.  A few of the working gang managed to reach it and save
themselves, but others were swept away like thistle-down.

The boys thus rudely awakened from a sound sleep sprang up with
frightened questionings, while Solon sank to his knees, paralyzed with
terror.  Nanita stood guard over her puppy, while Bim, with a single
bark of defiance, leaped to his master's side and looked into his face
for orders.

"Steady, boys!  Steady!" shouted Billy Brackett, as coolly as though
nothing unusual were happening.  "No, not outside.  Keep that door
closed.  It is safer in here.  We can do nothing but wait patiently
until the raft fetches up against something solid or grounds.  Hear the
waves boiling over the deck?  There's a big chance of being swept off
and dashed to bits out there."

For five minutes the raft was hurled forward and tossed with sickening
plunges, as though in a heavy seaway, until its occupants were nearly
prostrated with nausea.  Then came a crash and a shock that piled them
in headlong confusion on one side of the room.  There was a grinding
and groaning of timbers.  One side of the raft was lifted, and the
other forced down, until the floor of the "shanty" sloped steeply.
With a single impulse all hands rushed to the door and into the open
air.

The raft seemed to be stranded at the base of a rocky cliff that
towered directly above it to an unknown height.  Against it the mad
waters were dashing savagely.  Beneath their feet the stout timbers
quivered with such uneasy movements that it seemed as though the end of
the _Venture_ had come, and that a few more seconds or minutes must
witness its total destruction.  Still they clung to it and to each
other, for they had no other refuge, and in the absolute darkness
surrounding them it would have been worse than folly to seek one.

After a while the first rush of waters passed, and they settled into a
strong smooth flow like that of the great river from which they came.
The uneasy movements of the raft ceased, and its shivering occupants
again began to breath freely.

"I guess it is all right, boys!" called out Billy Brackett.  "I believe
we are stranded at the foot of the bagasse-burner; but the old craft
has evidently made up its mind to hold together for a while longer, at
any rate.  So I move that we crawl into the 'shanty' again.  It's a
good deal warmer and more comfortable in there than it is out here."

So, very cautiously, to prevent themselves from slipping off the
steeply-sloping deck, our raftmates worked their way back into the
little house that had for so long been their home.  They found the
lower side of the floor about two feet under water.

All hands were greatly depressed by the calamity that had overtaken
them.  Mr. Manton, Worth, Sumner, and old Solon grieved over the ruin
of Moss Bank.  Glen and Binney feared for the safety of General
Elting's valuable instruments.  Billy Brackett wondered if Major
Caspar, or any one else, would ever again have confidence in him as the
leader of an expedition, while Winn, who had never ceased to reproach
himself for the manner in which the voyage of the _Venture_ had been
begun, was now filled with dismay at its disastrous termination.

He, as well as the others, realized that the raft was a fixture in its
present position, that it would never again float on the bosom of the
great river, and that all dreams of selling it in New Orleans must now
be abandoned.  He knew how greatly his father was in need of the money
he had hoped to receive from it.  He knew what a blow the loss of the
wheat had been.  Now the raft was lost as well.  As the unhappy boy's
thoughts travelled back over the incidents of the trip, and he
remembered that but for him the wheat would not have been lost, and but
for him the raft would probably have been sold in St. Louis, his
self-accusations found their way to his eyes, and trickled slowly down
his cheeks in the shape of hot tears.  The others could not see them in
the darkness, and he would not have cared much if they could.

But Billy Brackett was not giving way to his grief.  There was too much
to be done for that.  He was trying to set up the overturned stove, and
make things more comfortable.  At the same time his cheery tones were
raising the low spirits of his companions, and causing them to take a
brighter view of the situation.

The young engineer, with Glen and Solon to aid him, worked in darkness,
for the lamp had rolled from the table when the raft struck the stone
tower, and been extinguished in the water that flooded part of the
"shanty."  In spite of this drawback, they finally succeeded in getting
the stove into position.  Then they began to feel for fuel with which
to make a fire.  Everything was wet.  Some one proposed breaking up a
chair, but Billy Brackett exclaimed,

"Hold on!  I have thought of something better."

With this he caught hold of one of the thin boards used by the
"river-traders" to ceil the room, and, with a powerful wrench, tore it
off.  This particular board happened to be near where Winn was sitting
on the floor, so filled with his own sad thoughts that he paid but
slight attention to what was going on about him.  As the board was torn
from its place several soft objects fell near him, and one of them
struck his hand.  It seemed to be paper, and when Billy Brackett sung
out for some paper with which to start the fire, Winn said, "Here's a
wad that's dry," and tossed the package in the direction of the stove.
The young engineer slipped it under the wood, struck a match, and
lighted it.  The next instant he uttered a startled exclamation,
snatched the package from the stove, and beat out the flame that was
rapidly eating into it.

"What is the matter?" asked Winn.

"Matter?" returned Billy Brackett.  "Oh, nothing at all; only I can't
quite afford to warm myself at fires fed with bank-bills.  Not just
yet.  I wouldn't hesitate to dissolve all my spare pearls in vinegar,
if I felt an inclination for that kind of a drink, but I must draw a
line at greenback fuel.  Where did you get them?  Whose are they?  And
why in the name of poverty do you want them burned up?  Has your wealth
become a burden to you?"

"Are they really bills?" asked Winn, incredulously.

For answer Billy Brackett struck another match, and all saw that he
indeed held a package of bank-notes with charred ends.  The same light
showed Winn to be surrounded by a number of similar packages.

The expression of complete bewilderment that appeared on the boy's face
as he saw these was so ludicrous that, as the match went out, a shout
of laughter rang through the "shanty."

"As long as they are so plenty, I guess we might as well burn them,
after all," said Billy Brackett, quietly.  With this he struck another
match, relighted the little bundle of bills in his hand, and again
thrust it into the stove.

For a moment the others believed him to have lost his senses.  Winn
made a wild dash at the stove door, but Billy Brackett caught his arm.

"It's all right, and I'm not half so big a fool as I may appear," he
said, laughing.  "Do you remember our late friends the 'river-traders'?
And that they were counterfeiters?  And that they occupied this very
'shanty' for several weeks?  And that, after losing it, they made
desperate attempts to regain its possession?  And that we wondered why
they had ceiled this room; also, what had become of their stock in
trade?"

To each of these questions Winn gave an affirmative answer.

"Well," continued Billy Brackett, "the mystery is a mystery no longer.
They ceiled this room to provide a safe and very ingenious hiding-place
for their goods; they wished to regain possession of the raft, that
they might recover them.  They failed, and so lost them.  Now, by the
merest accident, we have found them."

"Do you mean--" began Winn, slowly.

"I mean," said Billy Bracket, "that while we are apparently possessed
of abundant wealth, it is but the shadow of the substance.  In other
words, every one of those bills is a counterfeit, and the sooner they
are destroyed the better."

In spite of this disappointing announcement, the desire of the
raftmates to discover the full extent of the "river-traders'" secret
hoard was so great that, having found a candle, they proceeded by its
light to tear off the whole of the interior sheathing of the room.
They found a quantity of the counterfeit money, which Billy Brackett,
sustained by Mr. Manton, insisted upon burning then and there.  They
also found, carefully hidden by itself, a package containing exactly
one hundred genuine one-hundred-dollar bills.

"Enough," said Billy Brackett, quietly, "to refund the hundred they got
from Glen and Binney, to repay Major Caspar for the wheat they dumped
overboard, and to make good the loss of the _Whatnot_, which so nearly
broke the heart of our brave old friend Cap'n Cod."

The justice of this disposition of the money was so evident that not a
single dissenting voice was raised among those who had found it, for
they all knew that an effort to trace it to its rightful owners would
not only be fruitless, but would cost more than the entire amount.

The knowledge that his father was thus to be recompensed for the loss
of which he had been the direct cause so raised Winn Caspar's spirits
that when daylight came, although their situation remained unchanged,
he felt himself to be one of the very happiest boys in all Louisiana.

The coming of daylight, while gladly hailed by the occupants of the
wrecked raft, also disclosed the extent of the devastation caused by
the flood.  As they had surmised, the _Venture_ was stranded at the
foot of the huge stone bagasse-burner.  The mill near by was partly
demolished.  The great house, standing amid its clumps of shrubbery and
stately trees, a quarter of a mile away, was surrounded by water that
rose nearly to the top of the stone piers by which it was supported.
The quarters and other out-buildings had disappeared.  Even at that
distance they could see a throng of refugees on the verandas and at the
windows of the great house.

"Unless speedy relief comes they will starve," said Mr. Manton,
anxiously, "for our provisions had nearly run out yesterday."

"We are in about the same fix," said Billy Brackett, who had been in
earnest consultation with Solon.  "I didn't realize until this minute
that we had given away nearly the whole of our own supply.  Now I find
that the few things we had left are under water, and most of them are
spoiled."

At this announcement every one suddenly discovered that he was
intensely hungry; while Bim, seated on his haunches and waving his
fore-paws, began to "speak" vigorously for his breakfast.



CHAPTER XL.

A MEETING OF MATES.

With starvation staring our raftmates in the face, the problem of how
they were to escape from their present predicament became a most
important one.  The first suggestion was that they construct a small
and easily managed raft from a portion of the material contained in the
_Venture_.  They foresaw that it would be impossible for them to propel
even this against the swift current and reach the river, where they
might procure relief from some passing boat.  Still, even to drift with
the current, or at the best to work their way diagonally across it,
with the hope of reaching some source of food supply, seemed better
than to remain where they were, and accordingly they began to collect
material for a raft.

They had hardly started at this when Worth called out that he saw a
canoe lodged in a clump of shrubbery.

They all looked where he pointed, and all saw it.  Although it was not
more than a hundred yards from them, the full force of the current must
be encountered for the entire distance before one could reach it.

All were agreed that they must obtain it, if possible, and that their
very lives might depend upon getting that canoe.  First Billy Brackett
threw off his clothing, and plunging into the chill waters, attempted
to swim to it.  He had not covered half the distance before he was
compelled to turn back utterly exhausted.  Then Glen Elting and Sumner
undertook the task together, but splendid swimmers as they were, they
could no more stem that resistless flood than they could have flown to
the canoe.

As they were dejectedly resuming their clothing in the "shanty" they
were startled by a shout from outside.  Winn Caspar had solved the
problem.  While the others were watching the fruitless struggles of
Glen and Sumner from one side of the raft he had slipped overboard from
the other, and swam diagonally across the current to a hedge of
oleanders, the tops of which were still above water.  This hedge
extended to the river, and passed within fifty yards of the shrubbery
in which the canoe was caught.

When Winn reached the oleanders he was considerably below the raft, and
of course nearly twice as far from the canoe as when he started.  He
had anticipated this, however, and now began to work his way back
against the current by pulling himself from one bush to another.  When
he reached a point abreast the raft the others saw him and shouted.  He
only waved his hand in reply and kept on, while they watched him with
eager interest.  As he gained a position opposite the canoe they
shouted again, but still he kept on, until he was nearly a hundred
yards above it.

Then, after a long rest, he left the friendly oleanders, and struck out
with brave strokes for the coveted object.  He was now again swimming
diagonally across the current, and knew that even should he miss the
canoe, he would be borne down to the raft.  But he did not miss it.  He
had calculated too well for that; and when he again reached the raft,
he brought the _Psyche_ with him.

He was chilled to the bone, numb, and sick with exhaustion; but for
such a royal cheer as greeted him, and the praises that his companions
showered upon him, he would have dared and suffered twice as much.  At
the same moment, as if to encourage such brave deeds, the sun shone out
warm and bright, transforming the whole character of the scene with its
cheery warmth.

Sumner Rankin was ready, and with a light heart he stepped into his
beloved craft.  Then, with vigorous strokes of his double-bladed
paddle, he shot away towards the river, where he was to remain until he
could persuade a boat of some kind to come to the relief of his
fellow-sufferers.

In spite of the sunlight and their hopes of rescue, the long hours
passed slowly aboard the _Venture_.  There was little to do, and
nothing to eat, though Solon did succeed in making a pot of coffee,
which they drank without sugar or milk.  In one respect, however, it
was the most successful day of the _Venture's_ entire cruise; for
during those tedious hours Billy Brackett and Winn accomplished the
object for which it had been undertaken.  They sold the raft.  In
gazing over his flooded plantation and planning for its future, Mr.
Manton realized that with the subsidence of the waters he would have
immediate use for a large quantity of lumber.

"Why not buy ours?" suggested Winn.

"Why not?" answered Mr. Manton.

Five minutes later the bargain was completed that transferred the
ownership of the _Venture_, and crowned Major Caspar's undertaking with
success.  It was such a satisfactory arrangement that they only
wondered they had not thought of it before.

"Here the lumber is, just where I want it, and not a cent of freight to
pay," said Mr. Manton.

"Now you and I can get back to Caspar's Mill, and help your father out
with that contract; and it is high time we were there too," said Billy
Brackett to Winn.  "Hello!  What's this?  The _Psyche_ coming back
again?  If it is, young Rankin must be having a fit, for he's black in
the face."

"It's Quorum!" shouted Worth.  "In the _Cupid_, too!  Of all things,
that is the very last I should ever have expected to see!"

Sure enough, it was the faithful negro progressing slowly and with such
awkwardness that the anxious spectators expected to see him upset at
each moment.  Nevertheless, he finally succeeded in reaching the raft;
and as they hauled him aboard he gasped, with thankfulness,

"Dat de seckon time dish yer nigger ebber bin in one ob dem ar cooners,
an' him hope he be good an' daid befo' him ebber sperimentin' wif um
agen!"

Quorum had come from the great house, where the _Cupid_ was the sole
craft to be had.  It was only after hours of persuasion and
semi-starvation that he had been induced by the other refugees to make
the trip to the raft, which they had discovered soon after daylight.
He described a pitiful state of affairs as existing among the hungry
throng he had just left, and declared that another day without food
would witness great suffering in the crowded house.

Even as he related his story, those gathered about him were startled by
the shrill note of a steam-whistle coming from the direction of the
river.  Sumner had found relief, and was bringing it to them.

During the hours that passed so slowly on the raft, the brave little
_Psyche_ had cruised here and there over the broad Mississippi sea, now
hailing some boat that refused to stop, and then chasing another that
it failed to overtake.  Finally, late in the afternoon, Sumner
discovered a trail of black smoke coming up-stream and towards him.  As
he anxiously watched it, trying to decide which way he should go to
head it off, he discovered a white banner with a scarlet cross flying
out cheerily just beneath the trail of smoke.  Then he knew that help
was at hand, and no matter what other boats might do, that one would
stop at his signal.

As it drew near, he was amazed to see that instead of a river steamer,
such as he had expected, the red-cross boat was a fine sea-going yacht;
and as she came dashing towards him, her sharp stem cleaving the brown
waters like a knife, her shining black hull, varnished houses, polished
metal, and plate-glass flashing in the light of the setting sun, this
sailor son of a sailor father thought her the most beautiful thing he
had ever seen.  She slowed down at his signal, and in another minute he
was alongside.

A line was flung to him, and making it fast to the _Psyche's_ painter,
he clambered up a ladder that had been dropped from the gangway.  As he
reached the deck, a fine-looking young fellow, apparently but little
older than himself, and wearing a natty yachting uniform, stepped
forward to meet him.

Sumner briefly explained his errand, and pointing to the red-cross flag
at the foremast-head, added that he believed aid might be expected from
those who sailed under it.

"Indeed it may," responded the other, heartily; "and our present
business is to discover just such cases as you describe.  Although the
_Merab_ is, as you see, a private yacht, in which we happened to put
into New Orleans during a winter cruise to the southward, she is at
present in the service of the Red Cross Society, of which I am a
member, and devoted to the relief of sufferers by this awful flood.
May I ask your name?  Mine is Coffin--Tristram Coffin; though I am
better known as Breeze McCloud, and that of my friend (here he turned
to another young man, also in navy blue) is Mr. Wolfe Brady."

Half an hour later the beautiful _Merab_ lay at anchor as near the
stranded raft as it was safe to venture, and its occupants were being
transferred to her hospitable deck by one of her boats.  Another boat,
laden with provisions, was on its way to the starving refugees in the
great house.

The young owner of the _Merab_ insisted that all those who came from
the raft should be his guests, at least for that night.

The invitation was accepted as promptly and heartily as it had been
given, and soon afterwards two very hungry but very merry parties sat
down to bountiful dinners in two entirely distinct parts of the yacht.

Along the mess-table of the galley--or the "camboose," as the yacht's
cook insisted upon calling it--were ranged three gentlemen of color,
each of whom treated his companions with the greatest deference, though
at the same time believing himself to be just a little better posted in
culinary matters than either of the others.

"Dish yer wha' I calls a mighty scrumptious repas'," exclaimed Solon,
after a long silence devoted to appeasing the pangs of his hunger.
"But fo' de true ole-time cookin' gib me de Moss Back kitchin befo' de
wah."

"I specs dat ar' berry good in hits way," remarked Quorum; "same time I
hain't nebber eat nuffin kin compare wif de cookin' er dem Seminyole
Injuns what libs in de Ebberglades.  Dat's whar I takin my lesson."

"Sho, gen'l'muns! 'pears to me lak you don't nebber go on er deep-sea
v'yge whar you gets de genuwine joe-flogger, an' de plum-duff, an' sich
like," said Nimbus, the yacht's cook.  "Ef you had, you wouldn' talk."

In the luminous after-saloon the other party was seated at a table
white with snowy damask, and gleaming with silver, which was at once
the pride and care of old Mateo, the Portuguese steward.

It was a party so overflowing with merriment and laughter, jokes and
stories, that from one end of the table the young owner of the yacht
was moved to call to his friend at the other,

"I say, Wolfe, this reminds me of the mess aboard the old _Fish Hawk_,
when we were 'Dorymates' together off Iceland."

"It reminds me," said Glen Elting, "of the jolly mess of the Second
Division, when Billy Brackett and Binney and I were 'Campmates'
together in New Mexico."

Said Sumner Rankin, "It reminds me of the cabin mess of the _Transit_,
when we went 'Canoemates' together, through the Everglades.  Eh, Worth?"

"While I," chimed in Winn Caspar, "am reminded of the happy mess-table
of the good ship _Venture_, on which we 'Raftmates' have just floated
for more than a thousand miles down the great river."

[Illustration: A reunion of "mates."]

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Manton, rising, and holding high a glass filled
with amber-colored river-water, "as I seem to have become a shipmate of
Dorymates, Campmates, Canoemates, and Raftmates, I am moved to propose
a toast.  It is, 'Long life and prosperity, health and happiness, now
and forever, to all true mates.'"





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