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Title: The Last of the Flatboats - A Story of The Mississippi and its Interesting Family of Rivers
Author: Eggleston, George Cary, 1839-1911
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: THE RESCUE OF THE CASTAWAYS.

“The rescue occupied considerable time and work.” (See page 283.)]



  The Last of the Flatboats

  _A Story of the Mississippi and its
  interesting family of rivers_

  By

  GEORGE CARY EGGLESTON

  Author of “The Big Brother,” “Captain Sam,”
  “The Signal Boys,” “The Wreck of
  the Red Bird,” etc., etc.


  BOSTON
  LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY


  COPYRIGHT, 1900,
  BY LOTHROP
  PUBLISHING
  COMPANY.


  Norwood Press
  J. S. Cushing & Co.--Berwick & Smith
  Norwood Mass. U.S.A.



  _TO MY LAST-BORN BOY_

  CARY EGGLESTON

  _A brave, manly fellow
  Who knows how to swim
  How to catch fish
  How to handle his boat
  How to shoot straight with a rifle
  And how to tell the truth every time_

  I Dedicate

  _This Story about some other Boys of his kind_

  GEORGE CARY EGGLESTON

  _Culross-on-Lake-George_



Preface


Vevay, from which “The Last of the Flatboats” starts on its voyage down
the Mississippi, is a beautiful little Indiana town on the Ohio River,
about midway between Cincinnati and Louisville. The town and Switzerland
County, of which it is the capital, were settled by a company of
energetic and thrifty Swiss immigrants, about the year 1805. Their
family names are still dominant in the town. I recall the following as
familiar to me there in my boyhood: Grisard, Thiebaud, Le Clerc,
Moreraud, Detraz, Tardy, Malin, Golay, Courvoisseur, Danglade, Bettens,
Minnit, Violet, Dufour, Dumont, Duprez, Medary, Schenck, and others of
Swiss origin.

The name Thiebaud, used in this story, was always pronounced “Kaybo” in
Vevay. The name Moreraud was called “Murrow.”

The map which accompanies this volume was specially prepared for it by
Lieut.-Col. Alexander McKenzie of the Corps of Engineers of the United
States Army. To his skill, learning, and courtesy I and my readers are
indebted for the careful marking of the practically navigable parts of
the great river system, and for the calculation of mileage in every
case.

  G. C. E.



Contents


   Chapter                                       Page

        I.  The Rescue of the Pigs                  9

       II.  How it All Began                       17

      III.  Captain Phil                           27

       IV.  A Hurry Call                           33

        V.  On the Banks of the Wonderful River    40

       VI.  The Pilot                              47

      VII.  Talking                                56

     VIII.  The Right to the River                 62

       IX.  What happened at Louisville            71

        X.  Jim                                    77

       XI.  The Wonderful River                    86

      XII.  The Wonderful River’s Work             95

     XIII.  The Terror of the River               105

      XIV.  In the Home of the Earthquakes        118

       XV.  In the Chute                          131

      XVI.  “Talking Business”                    147

     XVII.  At Anchor                             161

    XVIII.  At Breakfast                          170

      XIX.  Scuttle Chatter                       179

       XX.  At Memphis                            190

      XXI.  A Wrestle with the River              198

     XXII.  In the Fog                            209

    XXIII.  Through the Crevasse                  219

     XXIV.  A Little Amateur Surgery              228

      XXV.  A Voyage in the Woods                 236

     XXVI.  The Crew and their Captain            245

    XXVII.  A Struggle in the Dark                251

   XXVIII.  A Hard-won Victory                    261

     XXIX.  Rescue                                278

      XXX.  A Yazoo Afternoon                     291

     XXXI.  An Offer of Help                      304

    XXXII.  Publicity                             312

   XXXIII.  Down “The Coast”                      324

    XXXIV.  A Talk on Deck                        336

     XXXV.  Looking Forward                       348

    XXXVI.  The Last Landing                      361

   XXXVII.  Red-Letter Days in New Orleans        370

  XXXVIII.  “It”                                  379



The Last of the Flatboats



CHAPTER I

THE RESCUE OF THE PIGS


“Give it up, boys; you’re tired, and you’ve been in the water too long
already. And, besides, I’ve decided that this job’s done.”

It was Ed Lowry who spoke. He was lying on the sand under a big sycamore
tree that had slid, roots and all, off the river bank above, and now
stood leaning like a drunken man trying to stand upright.

Ed was a tall, slender, and not at all robust boy, with a big head, and
a tremendous shock of half-curly hair to make it look bigger.

The four boys whom he addressed had been diving in the river and
struggling with something under the water, but without success. Three of
them accepted Ed’s suggestion, as all of them were accustomed to do,
not because he had any particular right to make suggestions to them, but
because he was so far the moral and intellectual superior of every boy
in town, and was always so wise and kindly and just in his decisions,
that they had come to regard his word as a sort of law without
themselves quite knowing why.

Three of the boys left the river, therefore, shook the water off their
sunburned bodies,--for they had no towels,--and slipped into the loose
shirt and cottonade trousers that constituted their sole costume.

The other boy--Ed’s younger brother, Philip--was not so ready to accept
suggestions. In response to Ed’s call, he cried out in a sort of mock
heroics:--

“Never say die! In the words of the immortal Lawrence, or some other
immortal who died a long time ago, ‘Don’t give up the ship!’ _I’m_ going
to get that pig if it takes all summer.”

The boys all laughed as they threw themselves down upon the sand by Ed.

“Might as well let him alone,” said Will Moreraud; “he never will quit.”

Meantime Phil had dived three or four times more, each time going down
head first, wrestling with the object as long as he could hold his
breath, and each time manifestly moving one end or the other of it
nearer the shore, and into shallower water, before coming to the surface
again.

When he had caught his breath after the third or fourth struggle, he
called out:--

“I say, boys, it isn’t a pig at all, but a good average-sized elephant.
‘Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish,’ _I’m_ going to get that
animal ashore.”

“He’ll do it, too,” said Constant Thiebaud.

“Of course he will,” drawled Irving Strong. “It’s a way he has. He never
gives up anything. Don’t you remember how he stuck to that sum in the
arithmetic about that cistern whose idiotic builder had put three
different sized pipes to run water into it, and two others of still
different sizes to run water out? He worked three weeks over that thing
after all the rest of us gave it up and got Mrs. Dupont to show us--and
he got it, too.”

“Yes, and he can do it now backwards or forwards or standing on his
head,” said Constant Thiebaud; “while there isn’t another boy here that
can do it at all.”

“Except Ed Lowry,” said Irving Strong. “But then, he’s different, and
knows a whole lot about the higher mathematics, while we’re only in
algebra. How is it, Ed? You’ve been sick so much that I don’t believe
you ever did go to school more than a month at a time, and yet you’re
ahead of all of us.”

Just then Phil came up after a long tussle under the water, and this
time stood only a little way from shore where the water was not more
than breast high. He cried:--

“Now I’ve ‘met the enemy and it’s ours,’ or words to that effect. I’ve
got the elephant into three feet of water, but I can’t ‘personally
conduct’ it ashore. Come here, all of you, and help.”

The boys quickly dropped out of their clothes, and went to their
comrade’s assistance.

“What is the thing, anyhow?” asked Irving Strong.

“I don’t know,” said Phil. “All I know is that it’s got elbows and
wrists and all sorts of burs on it, on which I’ve been skinning my shins
for the last half hour; and that it is heavier than one of your
compositions, Irv.”

The thing was in water so shallow that all the boys at once could get at
it merely by bending forward and plunging their heads and shoulders
under the surface. But it was so unwieldy that it took all five of
them--for Ed too had joined, as he always did when there was need of
him--fully ten minutes to bring it out upon shore.

“I say, boys,” said Ed, “this is a big find. It’s that ferry-boat shaft
the iron man told us about, and you remember we are to have fifty
dollars for it.”

“Then hurrah for Phil Lowry’s obstinate pertinacity!” said Irving
Strong. “That’s what Mrs. Dupont called it when she bracketed his name
and mine together on the bulletin-board as ‘Irreclaimable whisperers.’
Phil, you may be irreclaimable, but you’ve proved that this shaft
isn’t.”

It was just below the little old town of Vevay on the Ohio River, where
Swiss names and some few Swiss customs still survived long after the
Swiss settlers of 1805 were buried. To be exact, it was at “The Point,”
where all Vevay boys went for their swimming because it lay a little
beyond the town limits, and so Joe Peelman, the marshal, could not
arrest them for swimming there in daylight without their clothes.

During the high water of the preceding winter a barge loaded with
pig-iron had broken in two there and sunk. The strong current
quickly carried away what was left of the wrecked barge,--which had
been scarcely more than a great oblong box,--leaving the iron to be
undermined by the water and to sink into the sand and gravel of the
bottom.

The agent who came to look after matters quickly decided that at such a
place very little of the cargo could ever be recovered--not enough to
justify him in sending a wrecking force there. He thought, too, that by
the time of summer low water--for the Ohio runs very low indeed in July
and August--the iron would have settled and scattered too much to be
worth searching for.

But Phil Lowry not only never liked to give up, he never liked to see
anybody else give up. So what he looked upon as the iron man’s weak
surrender gave him an idea. He said to the agent:--

“That iron’s where we boys go swimming in summer-time. If we get any of
it out during the low water, can we have it? Is it ‘finder’s keeper’?”

“Well, no,” said the man, hesitating. “But I’ll tell you what I’ll do.
If you boys get out any considerable quantity,--say fifty tons or
more,--enough to justify me in sending a steamboat after it, I’ll pay
you three dollars a ton salvage for it.”

So the boys formed a salvage copartnership. Long-headed Ed Lowry, in
order to avoid misunderstandings, drew up an agreement, and the iron man
signed it. It gave the boys entire charge of the wreck, and bound the
owner to pay for recovered iron as he had proposed. Just before signing
the paper the agent remembered the ferry-boat wheel shaft, which had
been a part of the cargo; and as it was a valuable piece of property,
which he particularly wanted to recover, he added a clause to the
contract agreeing to pay an additional fifty dollars for it, if by any
remote chance it should be saved.

During the summer the boys had been specially favored by circumstances.
The river had gone down much earlier that year than usual, and it
went at last much lower than it had done for many years past. As a
consequence they had prospered well in their enterprise. Their pile of
iron “pigs” on the shore when the shaft was found amounted to three
hundred tons, and the agent was to arrive by the packet that night to
pay for it and take possession. This was, therefore, their last day’s
work, and thanks to Philip Lowry’s “obstinate pertinacity” it was the
most profitable day’s work of them all.



CHAPTER II

HOW IT ALL BEGAN


When the wheel shaft was tugged ashore, the boys slipped on their
clothes again and retired to the shade of the big sycamore tree, where
Ed Lowry had left the book he had been reading. Ed Lowry always had a
book within reach.

Philip threw himself down to rest. He was not only tired, he was
physically “used up” with his labors under water in tugging first one
and then the other end of the heavy shaft toward the shore.

It would have been very hard work even in the open air. Under water, and
without breath, it had completely exhausted the boy. Just now he was
bent upon sleep. So in spite of the sun glare, and in spite of the
chatter around him, and still more, in spite of a sense of triumph which
was strong enough in him to have kept anybody else awake, he fell into a
profound slumber.

“Well, we’ve finished the job,” said Constant Thiebaud after a while.
“What’s the result, Ed?”

Ed Lowry pulled a memorandum out of his pocket and studied it for a
while.

“We have saved a trifle over three hundred tons of pig-iron,” he
replied, “and for that, at $3.00 a ton, will get a little over $900.
We’re to get $50 more for the shaft, which makes $950. It’ll be a trifle
more than that, but not enough more to count. My calculation is that we
shall have about $190 apiece when the agent settles with us
to-night--possibly $195.”

“And a mighty good summer’s work it is,” said Will Moreraud.

“Especially as it’s been all fun,” said Irv Strong, “to a parcel of
amphibious Ohio River boys who would have stayed in the water most of
the time anyhow. It’s better fun diving after pig-iron than after
mussel-shells, isn’t it?”

Irving was the only boy in the party whose people were comparatively
well-to-do, and who could therefore afford to think of the fun they
had had without much concern for the profits. But Irv Strong had no
trace of arrogance in his make-up. He could have dressed, if he had
chosen, in much better fashion than any other boy in town. But he chose
instead to wear blue cottonade trousers and a tow linen shirt, and to
go barefoot just as his comrades did. So in speaking of the pleasure
they had had, he put the matter in a way that all could sympathize
with. For truly they had had more “fun” as he called it, than ever
before in their lives. Ed Lowry could have told them why. He could have
explained to them how much a real purpose, an object worth struggling
for, adds to the enjoyment people get out of sport; but Ed usually kept
his philosophy to himself except when there was a need for it. Just now
there was no need. The boys were as happy as possible in the completion
of their task, just as they had been as happy as possible in performing
it. Satisfaction is better than an explanation at any time, and Ed Lowry
knew it.

There was silence for a considerable time. Perhaps all the boys were
tired after their hard day’s work. Presently Constant Thiebaud spoke.

“A hundred and ninety dollars apiece! That’s more money than any of us
ever saw before. I say, boys, what are we going to do with it?”

There was a pause.

“Let him speak first who can speak best,” said Irv Strong. “So, Ed
Lowry, what are you going to do with _your_ share of the money?”

“I’m going shopping with it--shopping for some ‘bargain counter’
health,” replied the tall boy.

“How do you mean?” asked two boys at once, and eagerly.

“Well, my phthisic was very bad last winter, you know. It isn’t phthisic
at all, I think. Phthisic is consumption, and I haven’t that--yet.”

He spoke hopefully, rather than confidently. He hoped his malady might
not be a fatal one, but sometimes he had doubts.

Let me say here that his hope was better founded than his fear. For at
this latter end of the century, Ed Lowry--under his own proper name and
not under that which I am hiding him behind in this story--is not only
living, but famous. His bodily strength has always been small, but the
work he has done in the world with that big brain of his has been very
great, and his name--the real one I mean--is familiar to everybody who
reads books or cares for American history.

“But whatever it is,” Ed continued, “the doctor wants me to go South for
this winter, and now that I’ve got money enough, I’m going to do it.”

“But you haven’t got money enough,” said Irv Strong. “A hundred and
ninety dollars won’t much more than pay your steamboat fare to New
Orleans and back. What are you going to live on down there--especially
if you get sick?”

The irrepressible Phil selected this as the time to wake up. “Well,” he
said, sitting up in the sand and locking his muscular arms around his
knees, “_I’m_ in this game a little bit myself. I’ve got one whole
hundred and ninety dollars’ worth of stake in that big pile of iron; and
from Mrs. Dupont down to the last one-suspendered chap in the lot of
you, you are all always talking about my ‘obstinate pertinacity.’ Well,
my ‘pertinacity’ just now ‘obstinately’ declares that Ed shall take my
share in the stake and spend it for his health. He shakes his head, but
if he won’t, then I ‘solemnly swear or affirm’ that I’ll take every
dollar of it out to the channel there and throw it in. I’ll--”

But Phil had broken down. His affection for his half-invalid brother was
the one thing that nothing could ever overcome. He didn’t weep. That is
to say, none of the boys saw him shed tears, but instead of finishing
the sentence he was uttering, he suddenly became interested in the
pebbles along the river shore, fifty yards lower down the stream.

Ed, too, found it difficult just then to say anything. Ed had always
been disposed to worry himself about Phil--to regulate him, and when he
couldn’t do that, to suffer in his own mind and conscience for his
brother’s misdeeds--which, after all, were usually nothing worse than
manifestations of excessive boyish enthusiasm, the undue use of slang,
and an excessive devotion to purposes which Ed’s calmer temper could not
quite approve. Just now Ed had made a new discovery. He had found out
something of the rattling, restless, reckless boy’s character which he
had never fully known before. For he did not know, as the other boys
did, how Phil, a year ago, had waited for half an hour behind the
schoolhouse, and armed with stones had wreaked a fearful vengeance upon
the big bully twice his size, who had used his strength cruelly to
torment Ed’s weakness. That story had been kept from Ed, because it was
well understood that he did not approve of fighting; and the boys, who
fully sympathized with the little fellow’s animosity against the big
bully, didn’t want him censured for his battle and victory.

So there was silence after Phil’s declaration of his purpose, which
every boy there knew that he would fulfil to the letter. At last Ed
said:--

“On my own share of the money I could go by taking deck passage.”

“Yes,” cried Phil, suddenly reappearing in a sort of wrath that was very
unusual with him--“yes, and live on equal terms with a lot of dirty,
low-lived wretches--ugh! Now see here, Ed! I’ve told you you are to take
my share of the money. If you don’t, I’ll do exactly what I said,--I’ll
get it changed into coin, and I’ll drop it into the river at a point
where no diving will ever get it. I’ve said my say. I’ll do my do.”

“Look here,” drawled Irv Strong, after a moment. “Let’s _all_ go to New
Orleans, and don’t let’s pay any steamboat fare at all except to get
back!”

“But how?” asked three boys, in a breath.

“Let’s run a flatboat! In my father’s day, pretty nearly all the hay,
grain, bacon, apples, onions, and the like, grown in this part of the
country, were sent to New Orleans in flatboats. I don’t see why it
wouldn’t pay for us to take a flatboat down the river now. We’ve more
than enough money to build and run her, and we can get a cargo, I’ll bet
a brass button.”

The boys were all eagerness. They knew, of course, what a flatboat was,
but they had seen very few craft of that sort, as the old floating
flatboats had almost entirely given place on the Ohio to barges, towed,
or rather pushed, by big, stern-wheel steamboats. For the benefit of
readers who never saw anything of the kind, let me explain.

A flatboat was simply a big, overgrown, square-bowed and square-sterned
scow, with a box-like house built on top. She could carry a very heavy
cargo without sinking below her gunwales, and the house on top, with its
roof of slightly curved boards, was to hold the cargo. There was a
little open space at the bow to let freight in and out, while a part of
the deck-house at the stern was made into a little box-like cabin for
the crew. The scow part, or boat proper, was strongly built, with great
timber gunwales, and a bottom of two-inch plank tightly caulked. The
freight-house built on it was so put together that only a few of the
planks were required to have nails in them, so that when the boat
reached New Orleans she could be sold as lumber for more than she had
originally cost.

She was simply floated down the river by the current. There were two big
oars, or “sweeps,” as they were called, with which the men by rowing
could give the craft steerage way--that is to say, speed enough to let
the big steering oar throw her stern around as a rudder does, and guide
her course. All this was necessary in making sharp turns in the channel
to keep off bars; but as the flatboats usually went down the river only
at high stages of water, the chief use of the oars was to make landings.

Ed could have told his comrades some interesting facts concerning the
enormous part that the flatboats once played in that commerce which
built up the great Western country; but, as Irv Strong said, there was
“already a question before the house. That question is, ‘Why can’t we
five fellows build a flatboat, load her, and take her down the river?’
We’ll be the ‘hands’ ourselves, and won’t charge ourselves any wages, so
we can certainly carry freight cheaper than any steamboat can. We’ll
earn some more money, perhaps, and if we don’t, we’ll have lots of fun,
and best of all, we’ll ‘bust that broncho,’ or bronchitis of Ed’s--for
that’s what it is. They call it phthisic only because that’s the very
hardest word in the book to spell.”

The sun was getting low, but the boys were deeply interested. They would
have determined upon the project then and there but for Ed’s caution. As
it was, they made him a sort of committee of one to inquire into
details, to find out what it would cost to build a flatboat, what living
expenses would be necessary for her boy crew, what it would cost them
for passage back from New Orleans, and on what terms they could get a
cargo.

This is how it all began.



CHAPTER III

CAPTAIN PHIL


Ed’s report was in all respects favorable to the enterprise. Perry
Raymond, who in the old days had built many scores of flatboats, was now
too old to undertake an active enterprise. But he told Ed, to the very
last board, how much lumber would be required, and the price of every
stick in it. He volunteered, as a mere matter of favor and without any
charge whatever, to superintend and direct the work of the boys in
building a boat for themselves. The result was that they could build a
boat for a very small fraction of their money, and Perry promised to
show them how to caulk it for themselves.

Ed had seen the principal merchants of the place, also. It was their
practice to exchange goods for country produce--any sort that might come
to them, whether hay, or onions, or garlic, or butter, or eggs, or
wheat, or wool, or corn, or apples, or what not.

It was their business to know pretty accurately how much of each kind of
produce they were likely to get during any given season in return for
their goods, and how best to market it. They knew to a nicety how much
butter and how many eggs or how many bushels of onions or how many
pounds of hay they could get for a parasol or a bit of lace or a calico
dress or a sack of coffee. Their chief problem was how to sell all these
things to the best advantage afterward. Usually they found their best
market down the river.

So when Ed Lowry presented the case to them they were quick to see
advantage in it. His proposal was that the boys should provide the
flatboat and take her to New Orleans at their own expense; that the
merchants should furnish a cargo to be sold on commission either at New
Orleans or on “the coast,” as the river country for a few hundred miles
above that city is called, the boys to have a certain part of the money
as freight and a certain other part as “commission.”

Every merchant in town was ready to furnish a part of the cargo, and it
seemed altogether probable that the boys would easily secure more
freight than they could carry, though their flatboat was to be one of
the biggest that ever floated down the river. As she was likely also to
be one of the last, coming as she did long after that system of river
transportation had been generally abandoned, Irv Strong, in a burst of
eloquence, proposed that she should be called _The Last of the
Flatboats_, in order, he said, “that she may take rank with those noble
literary productions, ‘The Last of the Barons,’ ‘The Last of the
Mohicans,’ ‘The Last of the Mamelukes,’ ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ and
‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel.’”

Ed Lowry laughed, and the other boys voted for the name proposed.

As the boat was nearing completion, a few weeks later, and indeed had
already received a part of her cargo, the question arose, who should be
her captain.

The first impulse of everybody concerned was to say “Ed Lowry,” but Ed
vetoed that.

“I’m an invalid,” he said, “or half an invalid at the best, and this
thing isn’t play. There are very serious duties for the captain of a
flatboat to do. He must be able to expose himself in all weathers, which
I can’t do. He must be ready in resource and very quick to decide. In an
emergency, it is far more important to have a quick decision than a wise
one, and especially to have the one who decides a resolute person who
will carry his decision into effect.”

“I see,” said Irving Strong. “What we need in a captain is ‘obstinate
pertinacity.’ I move that Phil Lowry, as the possessor of a large and
varied stock of that commodity, be made captain of _The Last of the
Flatboats_.”

As Phil was the very youngest of the group, and as he had always been
regarded rather as a ready than a discreet thinker, there was a moment’s
hesitation. But a little thought convinced every one of the boys that
Phil was by all odds the one among them best fit to undertake the
difficult task of command--the one most likely to bring the enterprise
to a successful termination, especially if any serious difficulties
should arise, as was pretty certain to happen.

“It’s an awful responsibility for Phil to assume,” said Ed that night to
their widowed mother, a woman of unusual wisdom.

“Yes,” she replied; “but, after all, he is the one best fit, and that
ought to be the only ground on which men or boys are selected for places
of responsibility. Besides, it will educate Philip in much that he needs
to learn. No matter what happens on the voyage, he will come back the
better for it. He ought to have the discipline that responsibility
gives. The one lesson he most needs to learn is that he is not merely an
individual, but a part of a whole: that his conduct in any case affects
others as well as himself, and that he is, therefore, responsible to
others and for others. It is well that you boys have made him your
captain. Now remember to hold up his hands and obey him loyally in every
case of doubt. That will be hard for you, Edward, because of your
superior knowledge--”

“No, it won’t, mother, pardon me,” responded Ed: “first, because I know
too much about some things not to know that other people know more than
I do about others; and secondly, because I thoroughly understand what
Napoleon meant when he said that ‘one bad general in command of an army
is better than two good ones.’ The most unwise order promptly executed
usually results better than the wisest order left open to debate. Phil
will never leave things open to debate when the time comes for quick
action, and besides, mother, I have a much better opinion of Phil’s
capacity for command than you think. His readiness and resourcefulness
are remarkable. He may or he may not get us safely to New Orleans. But
if he doesn’t, I shall be perfectly certain that nobody else in the
party could.”

So it was that Phil Lowry, the youngest of the party, and the most
harum-scarum boy in all Vevay, was chosen captain of _The Last of the
Flatboats_ by those who were to voyage with him, simply because they all
believed him to be the one best fit for the place.



CHAPTER IV

A HURRY CALL


Without theorizing about it, and, indeed, without knowing the fact, Phil
began at once to rise to his responsibility. The success of the
enterprise, he felt, depended in a large degree upon him, and he must
think of everything necessary in advance.

One night, late in September, he asked his comrades to meet him “on
business” in Will Moreraud’s room over a store. When they were all
gathered around the little pine table with a smoky lamp on it, Phil drew
out a carefully prepared memorandum and laid it before him. Then he
began:--

“As you’ve made me responsible in this business, I’ve been studying up a
little. The river’s going to rise earlier than usual this year, and in
two weeks at most there’ll be water enough to get the boat over the
falls at Louisville.”

“How do you know that?” broke in Constant Thiebaud, incredulously.

“Because there has already been a smart rise all along, as you know, and
heavy rains are falling in the West Virginia and Pennsylvania mountains.
The Allegheny River is bank full; the Monongahela is over its banks; and
the Muskingum and the Big Kanawha and the Little Kanawha are all rising
fast. There’ll be lots of water here almost before we know it.”

“Whew!” cried Irving Strong, rising,--for he could never sit still when
anything interesting was under discussion,--“but how in the name of all
the ’ologies do you know what’s going on in the Virginia mountains, and
the rivers, and all that?”

“I’ve been reading the Cincinnati papers every day since you made me
‘IT’; that’s all. Mr. Schenck lends them to me.”

“Well, Gee Whillicks!” exclaimed Constant, “who’d ’a’ thought of that!”

“No matter,” said Phil, a little abashed by the approbation of his
foresight which he saw in all the boys’ eyes and heard in all their
voices. “No matter about that; but I’ve more to say. The sooner we can
get away with the flatboat, the better.”

“Why? What difference does it make?”

“Well, for most of the things we are taking as freight the prices are
apt to be much higher in the fall than later, after the steamboats load
up the market. That’s what Mr. Shaw says, and he knows. So we must get
the boat loaded just as quickly as we can, and go out as soon as there
is water enough to get her over the falls.”

“But we can’t do that,” said Ed, “because most of the produce we are to
take hasn’t been brought to town yet. The hay is here, of course, but
apples have hardly begun to come in--”

“That’s just what I’m coming to,” interrupted Phil. “I’ve been studying
all that. We could get enough freight for two cargoes by waiting for it,
but the best figuring I can do shows only about three-quarters of a load
now actually in town. I propose that we go to work to-morrow and get the
other quarter. That’s what I called you together for.”

“Where are we to get it?”

“Along the river, below town--in the neighborhood of Craig’s Landing.”

“But how?” asked Ed.

“By hustling. I’ve made out a list of everybody that produces anything
for ten miles down the river and five miles back into the hills,--Mr.
Larcom, Captain John Wright, Johnny Lampson, Mr. Albritton, Gersham
McCallum and his brother Neil, Algy Wright, Mr. Minnit, Dr. Caine, Mr.
Violet--and so on. Craig’s Landing is the nearest there is to all of
them, and they can all get their produce there quickly. I propose that
every boy in the crew take his foot in his hand early to-morrow morning,
and that we visit every farmer in the list and persuade him to send his
stuff to the landing at once. I’ve already seen Captain Wright,--saw him
in town to-day,--and he promises me thirty barrels of apples and seventy
bushels of onions with some other things. I’ll go myself to Johnny
Lampson. He has at least a hundred barrels of apples, and I’ll get them.
They aren’t picked yet, but I’ll offer him our services to pick them
immediately for low wages, and so--”

“I say, boys!” broke in Irv Strong, “I move three cheers for ‘obstinate
pertinacity.’ It’s the thing that ‘goes’ in this sort of business.”

“And in most others,” quietly rejoined Ed Lowry. “I’m afraid I’ve never
properly appreciated it till now.”

Phil had some other details to suggest, for he had been trying very
earnestly to think of everything needful.

They would need some skiffs, and he reported that Perry Raymond had six
new ones, of his own building, which he proposed to let them have as a
part of the cargo. They were to use any of them as needed on the voyage,
and their use was to offset freight charges. They were to sell the
skiffs at New Orleans or above, and to have a part of the proceeds as
commission.

“I move we accept the offer,” said Will Moreraud. “It’s a good one.”

“It is already accepted,” replied the young captain a trifle sharply.
“_I_ closed the bargain at once.”

His tone was not arrogant, but it was authoritative. It was a new one
for him to take, and it rather surprised the boys, but on the whole it
did not displease them. It meant that their young captain intended to be
something more effective than the chairman of a debating club; that
having been asked to assume authority, he purposed to exercise it; that
being in command, he meant to command in fact as well as in name.

Some of them talked the matter over later that evening, and though they
felt a trifle resentful at first, they finally concluded that the boy’s
new attitude promised well for the enterprise, and, better still, that
it was right.

“You see he isn’t ‘cocky’ about it at all,” said Will Moreraud; “it just
means that in this game he’s ‘IT,’ and he’s going to give the word.”

“It means a good deal more than that,” said shrewd Irv Strong, who had
been born the son of an officer in a regular army post. “It means we’ve
picked out the right fellow to be our ‘IT,’ and I, for one, stand ready
to support him with my eyes shut, every time!”

“So do I,” cried out all the lads in chorus. “Only you see,” said
Constant, “we didn’t quite expect it from Phil. Well--maybe if we had,
we’d have voted still louder for him for captain; that is, if we’ve got
any real sense.”

“It means,” said Ed, gravely, “that if we fail to get _The Last of the
Flatboats_ safely to New Orleans, it will be our own fault, not his.”

“That’s so,” said Irving Strong. “But who’d ever have expected that
rattlepate to think out everything as he has done?”

“And to be so desperately in earnest about it, too!” said another.

“Well, I don’t know,” responded Irving. “You remember how he stuck to
that cistern sum. It’s his way, only he’s never before had so serious a
matter as this to deal with, and I imagine we have never quite known
what stuff he’s made of.”

“Anyhow,” said Will, “we’re ‘his to command,’ and we’ll see him
through.”

With a shout of applause for this sentiment the boys separated for
sleep.



CHAPTER V

ON THE BANKS OF THE WONDERFUL RIVER


It was a busy fortnight that followed. The boys visited every farmer
within six miles of the landing to secure whatever freight he might be
willing to furnish. They picked and barrelled all of Lampson’s apples,
dug and bagged and barrelled all the potatoes in that neighborhood, and
got together many small lots of onions, garlic, dried beans, and the
like, including about ten barrels of eggs. These last they collected in
baskets, a few dozen from each farm, and packed them at the landing. Of
course every shipper’s freight had to be separately marked and receipted
for, so that the proper returns might be made.

During all this time the boys had lived in a camp of their own making at
the landing, partly to guard the freight against thieves, partly to get
used to cooking, etc., for themselves, partly to learn to “rough it,”
generally, and more than all because, being healthy-minded boys, they
liked camping for its own sake.

Their little shelter was on the shore, just under the bank. They
occupied it only during rains. At other times they lived night and day
in the open air. They worked all day, of course, leaving one of their
number on guard, but when night came, they had what Homer calls a “great
bearded fire,” built against a fallen sycamore tree of gigantic size,
and after supper they sat by it chatting till it was time to sleep.

They were usually tired, but they were excited also, and that often kept
them awake pretty late. The vision of the voyage had taken hold upon
their imaginations. They pictured to themselves the calm joy of floating
fifteen hundred miles and more down the great river, of seeing strange,
subtropical regions that had hitherto been but names to them, seeming as
remote as the Nile country itself until now.

And as they thought, they talked, but mainly their talk consisted of
questions fired at Ed Lowry, who was very justly suspected of knowing
about ten times as much about most things as anybody else in the
company.

Finally, one night Irv Strong got to “supposing” things and asking Ed
about them.

“Suppose we run on a sawyer,” he said. Ed had been telling them about
that particularly dangerous sort of snag.

“Well,” said Ed, “we’ll try to avoid that, by keeping as nearly as we
can in the channel.”

“But suppose we find that a particularly malignant sawyer has squatted
down in the middle of the channel, and is laying for us there?”

“I doubt if sawyers often do that,” said Ed, meditatively.

“Well, but suppose one cantankerous old sawyer should do so,” insisted
Irv. “You can ‘suppose a case’ and make a sawyer anywhere you please,
can’t you?”

Everybody laughed. Then Ed said: “Now listen to me, boys. I’ve been
getting together all the books I can borrow that tell anything about the
country we’re going through, and I’ll have them all on board. My plan is
to lie on my back in the shade somewhere and read them while you fellows
pull at the oars, cook the meals, and do the work generally. Then, when
you happen to have a little leisure, as you will now and then, I’ll
tell you what I’ve learned by my reading.”

“Oh, that’s your plan, is it?” asked Phil.

“Yes, I’ve thought it all out carefully,” laughed Ed.

“Well, you’ll find out before we get far down the river what the duties
of a flatboat hand are, and you’ll _do_ ’em, too, ‘accordin’ to the
measure of your strength,’ as old Mr. Moon always says in experience
meeting.”

“But reading and telling us about it is what Ed can do best,” said Will
Moreraud, “and that’s what we’re taking him along for.”

“Not a bit of it,” quickly responded Phil. “We’re taking him along to
make him well and strong like the rest of us, and I’m going to keep him
off his back and on his feet as much as possible, and besides--”

“But, Phil, old fellow,” Ed broke in, “didn’t you understand that I was
only joking?”

Ed asked the question with a tender solicitude to which Phil responded
promptly.

“Of course I did,” he replied. “You always do your share in everything,
and sometimes more. But I don’t think you understand. You know we
started this thing for you. I don’t know--maybe you’ll never get well if
we don’t do our best to make you--” but Phil had choked up by this time,
and he broke away from the group and went down by the river. A little
later Ed joined him there and, grasping his hand, said:--

“I understand, old fellow.”

“No, you don’t; at least not quite,” replied the boy, who had now
recovered control of his voice. “You see it’s this way. You and I are
_twins_. You’re some years older than I am, of course, but we’ve always
been twins just the same.”

“Yes, I understand all that, and feel it.”

“No, not all,” persisted the younger boy. “You see I’ve got all the
health there is between us, and it isn’t fair. If you should--well, if
anything should happen to you, I’d never forgive myself for not finding
out some way of dividing health with you--”

“But, my dear brother--” broke in Ed.

“Don’t interrupt me, now,” said Phil, almost hysterically, “because I
must tell you this so that you will understand. When we made up this
scheme and you fellows chose me captain, I got to thinking how much
depended on me. There was the cargo, representing other people’s money,
and I was responsible for that. There was the safety of the boat and
crew, and that depended upon me, too. But these weren’t the heavy things
to me. There was your health! That depended on me in a fearful way. I
felt that I must find out what was best for you to do and then _make_
you do it.” He laughed a little. “That sounds funny, doesn’t it? The
idea of my ‘making’ you do things!--Never mind that. I went to Dr.
Gale--”

“What for?” asked Ed, in astonishment at this new revelation of the
change in Phil’s happy-go-lucky ways.

“To find out just what it would be best for you to do and not to do, in
order to make you well and strong like me.” He choked a little, but
presently recovered himself and continued. “I found out, and I mean to
_make_ you do the things that will save you, even if you hate me for
my--”

He could say no more. There was no need. Ed, with his ready mind and
big, generous heart, understood, though he wondered. He grasped his
brother’s hand again and said, between something like sobs:--

“And I’ll obey you, Phil! Thank you, and God bless you! Be sure I could
never hate you or do anything but love you, and you must always know
that I understand.”

Then the two turned away from each other.

On their return to Vevay a few evenings later, Ed said to his mother:--

“You were right, mother; responsibility has already worked a miracle in
Phil’s character.”

“No, you are wrong,” said the wise mother. “It is only that you have
never quite understood your brother until now. Nothing really changes
character--at least nothing changes it suddenly. Circumstances do not
alter the character of men or women or boys. They only call out what is
already there. Responsibility and his great affection for you have not
changed your brother in the least. They have only served to make you
acquainted with him as you never were before.”

“Be very sure I shall never misunderstand him again!” said the boy, with
an earnestness not to be mistaken.

[Illustration: LOADING THE FLATBOAT.

“They worked like beavers getting cargo aboard.”]



CHAPTER VI

THE PILOT


The boys went hurriedly back to Vevay. They had cargo enough and to
spare. Indeed, they feared they might have difficulty in bestowing it
all on their boat. And the rise in the river was coming even earlier and
faster than Phil had calculated. They must get the Vevay part of their
load on board and drop down to Craig’s Landing before the water should
reach their freight there, which lay near the river. So they hired a
farm hand to watch the goods at the landing and hastened to town.

There they worked like beavers, getting cargo aboard, for it was no part
of their plan to waste money hiring anybody to do for them anything that
they could do for themselves. They loaded the boat under Perry Raymond’s
supervision, for even the tightest and stiffest boat can be made to leak
like a sieve if badly loaded.

Finally, everything was ready. The town part of the cargo was well
bestowed. Ed Lowry had deposited his books on top of tiers of hay bales,
in between barrels, and in every other available space, for there was no
room for them in the little cabin at the stern, where the boys must
cook, eat, sleep, and live. The cabin wasn’t over twelve feet by ten in
dimensions, and a large part of its space was taken up by the six
sleeping-bunks. For besides themselves there was a pilot to be provided
for.

His name was Jim Hughes. Beyond that nobody knew anything about him. He
had come to Vevay, from nowhere in particular, only a few days before
the flatboat’s departure, and asked to be taken as pilot. He was willing
to go in that capacity without wages. He wanted “to get down the river,”
he said, and professed to know the channels fairly well.

“If he does,” said Ed Lowry, “he knows a good deal more than most of the
old-time flatboat pilots did. With the maps I’ve secured I think we can
float the boat down the river without much need of a pilot anyhow. But
as Hughes offers to go for his passage, we might as well take him
along. We may get into a situation where his knowledge of the river, if
he has any, will be of use to us.”

So Jim Hughes was shipped as pilot of _The Last of the Flatboats_.

When all was ready that gallant craft was cast loose at the Ferry street
landing, and as she drifted into the strong current, there was a cheer
from the boys on shore who had assembled to see their schoolmates off.

“She floats upon the bosom of the waters,” cried Irv Strong, “with all
the grace of a cow learning to dance the hornpipe.”

Irv was in exuberant spirits, as he always was in fact. He was like soda
water with all its fizz in it, no matter what the circumstances might
be, and just now the circumstances were altogether favorable.

“I say, boys,” he cried, “let’s have a little dance on deck! Tune up
your fiddle, Constant.”

Constant dived into the cabin and quickly returned with his violin,
playing a jig even as he emerged from the little trap-door at the top of
the steps.

Phil did not join in the dance, for he had discovered a cause of
anxiety. Their pilot was making a great show of activity where none
whatever was needed. From the Ferry street landing to “The Point” the
current ran swiftly in a straight line, and if let alone, the boat would
have gone in precisely the right direction. But Hughes was not letting
her alone. With long sweeps of his great steering-oar he was driving her
out dangerously near the head of the bar, now under water but still a
shoal.

Phil, who was observing closely, called out:--

“I say, Jim, you must run further inshore, or you’ll hit the head of the
bar.”

“Lem me alone,” said Jim. “I know the river.”

Just then the boat scraped bottom on the bar. Phil called out quickly:--

“All hands to the larboard oars! Give it to her hard!” and himself
seizing the steering oar, he managed by a hair’s breadth to swing the
great box--for that is all that a flatboat is--into the deep and rapid
channel near the Indiana shore.

As she drifted into safe water, Phil said:--

“That’s incident number one in the voyage.”

“Yes, and it came pretty near being chapter first and last in the
log-book of _The Last of the Flatboats_,” replied Irv Strong.

For several miles now there was nothing to do but float. But Phil was
closely watching Jim Hughes and observed that that worthy made three
visits to the hold,--as the cargo part of the boat is called,--going
down each time by the forward ladder and not by the stairs leading to
the cabin.

When the boat reached the big eddy about half a mile above Craig’s
Landing, it was necessary for all hands to go to the oars again in order
to make the landing.

Presently Phil observed that Hughes was steering wildly. His efforts
with the steering oar were throwing the boat far out into the river,
away from the shore on which they were to land, and directly toward the
head of a strong channel which at this stage of water ran like a
mill-race along the Kentucky shore on the farther side of Craig’s bar.
Should the boat be sucked into that channel, she would be carried many
miles down the stream before she could ever be landed even on the wrong
side of the river, and she could never come back to Craig’s Landing
unless towed back by a steamboat.

Phil, seeing the danger, asked: “Why don’t you keep her inshore?”

“None o’ yer business. I’m steerin’,” answered the pilot.

One quick, searching glance showed Phil the extent of the man’s
drunkenness,--or his pretence of drunkenness,--for Phil had doubts
of it. There were certain indications lacking. Yet if the fellow was
shamming, he was doing it exceedingly well. His tongue seemed thick, his
eyes glazed, and his walk across the deck appeared to be a mere stagger,
supported by the great oar that he was wielding to such mischievous
effect.

There was not a moment to be lost if the landing was to be made at all.
Phil called all the boys to the larboard sweep and went to take
possession of the steering-oar. Jim Hughes resisted violently. Phil,
with a quietude that nobody had ever before seen him display under
strong excitement, picked up a bit of board from the deck, and instantly
knocked the big hulking fellow down by a blow on the head.

The man did not get up again or indeed manifest consciousness in any
way. If this troubled the boy, as of course it must, he at least did
not let it interfere with his duty. He had a difficult task to do and he
must do it quickly. He gave his whole mind to that. The boys obeyed with
a will his shouted orders to “pull hard!” then for two of them to go to
the starboard oar and “back like killing snakes.” In a little while the
boat swung round, and Phil called to Will Moreraud to “take a line
ashore in the skiff and make it fast.” The youth did so, just in time to
prevent the boat from grounding in the shoal water below the landing.

When everything was secure and the strenuous work done, the boy sank
down upon the deck and called to his brother.

“See if I’ve killed him, won’t you, Ed? _I_ can’t.”

A very slight examination showed that, while the blow from the bit of
plank had brought some blood from the pilot’s head, it had done no
serious damage. His stupor, it was Ed’s opinion, was due to whiskey, not
to his chastisement.

Nevertheless it was a very bad beginning to the voyage, and Phil was
strongly disposed to discharge the fellow then and there, and trust, as
he put it, to “a good map, open eyes, and ordinary common sense, as
better pilots than a drunken lout who probably doesn’t know the river
even when he is sober.”

But the other boys dissuaded him. They thought that Jim’s intoxication
was the result of his joy at getting off; that they could find his jug
in its hiding-place and throw it overboard,--which presently they
did,--and that after he should get sober, Jim’s experience in
flat-boating might be of great advantage to them.

“You see,” said Ed Lowry, “we’ve taken a big responsibility. All this
freight, worth thousands of dollars, belongs to other people, and I
suppose half of it isn’t even insured because the rates on flatboats are
so high. Think if we should lose it for lack of a pilot!”

“Yes, think of that!” said two or three in a breath.

“Very well,” said Phil. “I yield to your judgment. But my own opinion is
that such a pilot is worse than none. I’ll keep him for the present. But
I’ll watch him, and if he gets any more whiskey or plays us any more
tricks, I’ll set him ashore once for all if it’s in the middle of an
Arkansas swamp.”

The river was rising now, more and more rapidly every hour. There was
three days’ work to do getting the rest of the cargo aboard and making
room for it in the crowded hold. But at Ed Lowry’s suggestion the boys
avoided overtaxing themselves. The energetic Swiss blood in the veins of
Constant Thiebaud and Will Moreraud prompted them to favor long hours
for work on the plea that they could make it up by rest while floating
down the river.

But under Ed’s advice Phil overruled them, and it was decided to
breakfast at six o’clock, work from seven to twelve, dine, rest for an
hour, and work again till five.



CHAPTER VII

TALKING


The pleasantest part of the day, under this arrangement, was that
between five o’clock and bedtime.

The boys talked then, and talking is about the very best thing that
anybody ever does. It is by talk that we come to know those about us and
make ourselves known to them. It is by talk that we learn to like our
fellows, by learning what there is in them worth liking. And it is by
talk mainly that we find out what we think and correct our thinking.

Ed Lowry was reading a book one day, when suddenly he looked up and
said:--

“I say, fellows, this is good. Lord Macaulay said he never knew what he
thought about any subject until he had talked about it. Of course that’s
so with all of us, when you come to think of it.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Phil. “I often talk about things and don’t
know what I think about ’em even after I’ve talked. Here’s this big
bond robbery, for example. I’ve read all about it in the Cincinnati
newspapers and I’ve talked you fellows deaf, dumb, and blind concerning
it. Yet, I don’t know even now what I think about it.”

“I know what I think,” said Will Moreraud. “I think the detectives are
‘all off.’”

“How?” asked all the boys in chorus.

“Well, they’re trying to find the man who is supposed to be carrying the
plunder. It seems to me they’d better look for the other fellows first;
for if they were caught, they’d soon enough tell where the man that
carries it is. They wouldn’t go to jail and leave him with the stuff.”

“The worst of it is they’re publishing descriptions of the fellow and
even of what they’ve noticed concerning his clothes and beard, as if a
thief that was up to a game like that wouldn’t change his clothes and
part his hair differently and wear a different sort of beard, especially
after he’s been told what they’re looking for.”

“Yes, that’s so,” said Irving Strong, reading from one of Phil’s
Cincinnati newspapers:

“‘Red hair’--a man might dye that--‘parted on the left side and brushed
forward’--he might part it in the middle and brush it back, or have it
all cut off with one of those mowing machines the barbers use, just as
Jim Hughes does with his--”

“Now I come to think of it,” continued Irv, after a moment’s thought,
“Jim answers the description in several ways,--limps a little with his
left leg, has red hair when he permits himself to have any hair at all,
has lost a front tooth, and speaks with a slight lisp.”

“Oh, Jim Hughes isn’t a bank burglar,” exclaimed Will Moreraud. “He
hasn’t sense enough for anything of that sort.”

“Of course not,” said Irv. “I didn’t mean to suggest anything of the
kind. I merely cited his peculiarities to show how easily a detective’s
description might lead men into mistakes. Why, Jim might even be
arrested on that description.”

“But all that isn’t what Macaulay meant,” said Ed. “He meant that a man
never really knows what he thinks about any subject till he has put his
thought into words and then turned it over and looked at it and found
out exactly what it is.”

“I guess that’s so,” drawled Irv. “I notice that whenever I try to think
seriously--”

The boys all laughed. The idea of Irv Strong’s thinking seriously seemed
peculiarly humorous to them.

“Well, I do try sometimes,” said Irv, “and whenever I do, I put the
whole thing into the exactest words I can find. Very often, when I get
it into exact words, I find that my opinions won’t hang together and
I’ve got to reconstruct them.”

“Exactly!” said Ed Lowry. “And that is the great difficulty animals have
in trying to think. They haven’t any words even in their minds. They
can’t put their thoughts into form so as to examine them. It seems to me
that language is necessary to any real thinking, and that it is the
possession of language more than anything or everything else that makes
man really the lord of creation.”

“Yes,” said Phil. “Even Bre’r Rabbit and Bre’r Fox and all the rest of
them are represented as putting their thoughts into words.”

“Perhaps,” said Irv, “that’s the reason why educated people think more
soundly than uneducated ones. They have a nicer sense of the meaning of
words.”

“Of course,” said Ed. “I suppose that is what President Eliot of
Harvard meant when he said that ‘the object of education is to teach a
man to express his thought clearly in his own language.’”

“Very well,” said Phil. “My own thought, clearly expressed in my own
language, is that it’s time for supper. Come, stir your stumps, ye
philosophical pundits! Bring me the skillet and the frying-pan, the salt
pork to fry, and prepare the apples and potatoes and eggs to cook in the
fat thereof. In the classic language of our own time, get a move on you,
and don’t forget the coffeepot; nor yet the coffee that is to be steeped
therein!”

The boys were ready enough to respond. Their appetites, sharpened
by hard work in the open air, were clamorously keen. The supper
promised--fried pork, fried apples, fried eggs, and coffee with a
short-cake--seemed to them quite all that could be desired in the way of
luxury. They could eat it with relish, and sleep in entire comfort
afterward. Probably not one of my readers in a hundred could digest such
a supper at all. That is because not one reader in a hundred gives
himself a chance for robust health by working nine hours a day and
living almost entirely in the open air.

Jim came out when supper was ready and helped eat it there on the shore.
At other than mealtimes it was his custom to stay on board the flatboat,
and not only so, but to keep himself below decks, although the weather
was still very warm. He had got over his drunkenness, but he was still
moody, apparently in resentment of the rough-and-ready treatment he had
received at Phil’s hands.

He rarely talked at all; when he did talk, it was usually in the dialect
of an entirely uneducated person. But now and then he used expressions
that no such person would employ.

“He seems to slip into his grammar now and then,” was Irv Strong’s way
of putting it.



CHAPTER VIII

THE RIGHT TO THE RIVER


By the time that the last of the cargo was bestowed, the boat was so
full that there was scarcely a place in which to hang the four
fire-extinguishers which Mr. Schenck had supplied for the protection of
the cargo, of which he owned a considerable part.

The river by this time was bank full. Indeed, the flatboat lay that last
night almost under an apple tree, and directly over the place where
three days before the boys had cooked their meals.

When the final start was made, therefore, it was only necessary to give
three or four strokes of the great “sweeps” to shove the craft out into
the stream. After that she was left free to float. The biggest bars were
at least ten feet under water, and the boat “drew” less than three feet,
heavily laden as she was. For the rest, the current could be depended
upon to “keep her in the river,” as boatmen say, and the boys had
nothing to do, between Craig’s Landing and Louisville, fifty or sixty
miles below, except pump a little now and then, cook their meals, and
set up the proper lights at night. Of course someone was always “on
watch,” but as the time was divided between the five, that amounted to
very little.

As the boat neared Louisville, Ed suggested to his brother that he had
better land above the town, and not within its limits.

“Why?” asked Phil. “We’ve got to get some provisions as well as hire a
falls pilot, and it will be more convenient if we land at the levee.”

“But it will cost us five or ten dollars in good money for wharfage,”
replied Ed.

“But if we land above the town, how do we know the man owning the land
on which we tie up won’t charge us just as much?” asked Irv Strong, who
had never seen a large city and wanted to get as good a glimpse as he
could of this one.

“Because the Mississippi River and its tributaries are not ‘navigable’
waters, but _are_ ‘public highways for purposes of commerce,’” responded
Ed. “If they weren’t that last, we couldn’t run this boat down them at
all.”

“Not navigable?” queried Will Moreraud. “Well, looking at that big
steamboat out there, which has just come from Cincinnati, that statement
seems a trifle absurd.”

“Let me explain,” said Ed. “The English common law, from which we get
ours, calls no stream ‘navigable’ unless the tide ebbs and flows in it.
And as the tide does not ebb and flow in the Mississippi much above New
Orleans, neither that great river nor any of its splendid tributaries
are recognized by the law as navigable.”

“Then the law is an idiot,” said Irv Strong.

“One of Dickens’s characters said something like that,” responded Ed,
“when he was told that the law supposes a married woman always acts
under direction of her husband. But both he and you are wrong,
particularly you, as you’ll see when I explain. It is absolutely
necessary for the law to determine just how far a man’s ownership of
land lying along a stream extends. You see that?”

“Of course,” was the general response.

“Yes,” continued Ed, “otherwise very perplexing questions would arise as
to what a man might or might not do along shore. Now in England, where
our law on the subject comes from, it is a fact that the tide ebbs and
flows in all the navigable parts of the rivers and nowhere else. So the
law made the tide the test, or rather recognized it as a test already
established by nature.

“Now in order that commerce might be carried on, the law decreed that
the owner of land lying on a navigable stream should own only to the
edge of the bank--or to the ‘natural break of the bank,’ as the law
writers express it. This was to prevent owners of the shores from
levying tribute on ships that might need to land or anchor in front of
their property.

“But on streams that were not navigable, no such need existed. On the
contrary, it was very desirable, for many reasons, that the owners of
the banks should be free to deal as they saw fit with the streams in
front--to straighten or deepen them, and all that sort of thing. So the
law decreed that on streams not navigable the owner of the bank should
own to ‘the middle thread of the water,’ wherever that might happen to
be.

“Now as all these great rivers of ours, the very greatest in the world,
by the way, are in law non-navigable, it follows that the men who own
their banks own the rivers also, the man on each side owning to the
middle thread of water. Naturally, these men could step in and say that
nobody should run a boat through their part of the river without paying
whatever toll they might choose to charge. Under such a system it would
be impossible to use the rivers at all. It would cost nobody knows how
many thousands of dollars in tolls to run a boat, say from Cincinnati to
New Orleans.”

“Well, why don’t it, then?” asked Will Moreraud. “Why can’t every farmer
whose land we pass come out and make us pay for using his part of the
river?”

“For the same reason,” said Ed, “that the farmer can’t come out and make
you pay toll for passing over a public road which happens to cross his
land.”

“How do you mean? I don’t understand,” said Irv.

“Well, the only reason the farmer can’t make you pay toll for crossing
his land on a public road is, that the road is made by law a public
highway, open to everybody’s use, and it is a criminal offence for
anybody to obstruct it, either by setting up a toll-gate, or building a
fence, or felling trees across it, or in any other way whatever. And
that’s the only reason a man who owns land along these rivers can’t
charge toll for their use or put any sort of obstruction in them without
getting himself into trouble with the law for his pains.”

“How’s that?” asked one of the boys. “This river isn’t a public road.”

“That is precisely what it is,” said Ed. “Realizing the difficulty
created by the fact that this great river system is not legally
navigable while its actual navigation is a common necessity, Congress
early passed a law making the Mississippi River and all its tributaries
‘public highways for purposes of commerce.’ That’s why nobody can
prevent you from running boats on them, or charge you for the
privilege.”

The boys were deeply interested in the explanation, which was new to
them, and so they sat silent for a while, thinking it over, as people
are apt to do when they have heard something new that interests them.

Presently Phil said:--

“That’s all very clear and I understand it, but I don’t quite see what
it has to do with where we land at Louisville.”

“Well,” said Ed, “I can explain that. As the river is a public highway
for purposes of commerce, nobody can charge you for any legitimate use
of it, or its shores below high-water mark, such use, for example, as
landing in front of his property, a thing which may be absolutely
necessary to navigation. But if a man or a city chooses to spend money
in making your landing easy and convenient, say by building a levee or
wharf, putting in posts for you to make your boat fast by, or anything
of the kind, that man or city has a right to charge you, not for
landing, but for the use of the improvements and conveniences.”

“Oh, yes, I see,” said Phil. “Every city does that, and so if you land
at its improved landing, you must pay. Well, we’ll land on unimproved
shores above Louisville, and above or below every other town that we
have occasion to land at. That’s business. But I don’t see why Congress
didn’t solve the whole riddle by adopting a new rule as to what are and
what are not navigable streams.”

“What rule?” asked Ed.

“Well, the common-sense rule, that a stream which is actually navigable
shall be regarded as navigable in law.”

“Actually navigable by what?” asked Ed. “There isn’t a spring branch in
all the country that isn’t actually navigable by some sort of boat. Even
a wash-basin will float a toy boat.”

“Oh, but I mean real boats.”

“Of what size?”

“Well, big enough to carry freight or passengers.”

“Any skiff drawing three inches of water can do that. Such a rule would
include Indian Creek and Long Run, and even all the branches we go
wading in, as navigable streams. And then again, some streams are
practically navigable even by steamboats at some seasons of the year,
and almost or altogether dry at others. This great Ohio River of ours,
in its upper parts at least, goes pretty nearly dry some summers. No, I
don’t see how any other line than that of the tide could have been
drawn, or how the other difficulty could have been met in any better way
than by declaring the Mississippi and all its tributaries ‘public
highways for purposes of commerce.’ That was the simplest way out, and
the simplest way is usually the best way.”[1]

  [1] Ed’s exposition of the law and the reason for it is sound enough.
      But different states, by statutes or court decisions, have
      somewhat modified it, particularly as regards the extent of bank
      ownership. Probably Ed knew this, but didn’t think it necessary
      to go into details, which, after all, do not change the general
      truth.--_Author._

“Yes,” said Irv Strong, “and as the simplest way to relieve hunger is to
eat, I move that we stop talking and get dinner.”

The suggestion was accepted without dissent, and the two whose turn it
was to cook went below to start a fire in the stove.



CHAPTER IX

WHAT HAPPENED AT LOUISVILLE


Just before the landing was made at Louisville, Jim Hughes was seized
with an attack of cramps and took to his bunk, where he remained until
near the time for the boat to be afloat again. The boys had feared that
he might go ashore there and get a new supply of liquor, and they had
even made careful plans to prevent him from bringing any aboard. His
sudden sickness rendered all their plans superfluous.

At Louisville Phil got a fresh supply of newspapers, giving all the
latest news concerning the great bond robbery, and took them aboard to
read at leisure. He learned that there was no need of hiring a pilot to
take the boat over the falls, which in fact are not falls at all, but
merely rapids. At very high water such as just then prevailed, the only
difference between that part of the river called the falls and any other
part was that that part had a much swifter and far less steady current
than prevailed elsewhere.

“I could take your money for piloting you over the falls,” said the
genial old pilot to whom Phil had applied, “but it would be robbery. I’m
a pilot, not a pirate, you see. All you’ve got to do, my boy, is to put
your flatboat well out into the river and let her go. She’ll amble over
the falls at this stage of the water as gently as a well-built girl
waltzes over a ball-room floor. She’ll turn round and round, just as the
girl does, but it’ll be just as innocent-like. There’ll be never less
than twenty-five foot o’ water under your gunwales, and there simply
can’t any harm come to you. Don’t pay anybody anything to pilot you
over. Do it yourself, and if anything happens to you, just let old Jabez
Brown know where it happened, please. For if there’s any new rocks
sprouted up on the falls of the Ohio since the water rose, an old falls
pilot like me just naterally wants to know about ’em.”

After laying in the provision supply that was needed, including
especially a big can of milk packed in a barrel of cracked ice, Phil
returned to the boat and announced his purpose of “running the falls”
without a pilot. It was at supper in the cabin that he made the
announcement, and Jim Hughes, who had been lying in his bunk with his
face toward the bulkhead, suddenly sat up.

“Good!” he said. “They ain’t no use fer a pilot when the river’s bank
full this way. When’ll you start, Phil?”

“Just after daylight to-morrow morning,” replied the captain.

“Well, I feel so much better,” said Jim, getting out of his bunk, “I
think I’ll sample the pork and potatoes and throw in just a little o’
that hot corn bread and the new butter for ballast.”

“For a man who a few hours ago was violently ill with an intestinal
disorder,” remarked Irv Strong a little later with a very pronounced
note of sarcasm in his tone, “it seems to me, Jim, that you’re eating a
tolerably robust supper. Now if I’d had the cramps you’ve been suffering
from to-day, I really wouldn’t venture upon cabbage and potatoes boiled
with salt pork. I’d try something ‘bland’ first, like a half pound of
shot or a pig’s knuckle, or a bologna sausage or a few soft-boiled
cobble-stones.”

But Jim was deaf to the sarcasm and went on eating voraciously.

“Wonder what that fellow is afraid of,” said Phil to Irv as they went
out on deck to set the lights and make ready for the night.

“Don’t at all know,” responded Irv, “unless he owes money to somebody in
Louisville. All I know is that he must have feigned that attack of
cramps, else he couldn’t eat now in the way he does. He didn’t want to
go ashore with you as you proposed, to hunt for a falls pilot.”

“Yes,” said Ed Lowry, “I’ve known all day that he was shamming, because
he hasn’t had the slightest touch or trace of proper symptoms. Even when
he professed to be in the most excruciating pain his pulse wasn’t in the
least bit disturbed. I’m no doctor, but I know enough to say positively
that a man with any such cramps as he pretended to have simply couldn’t
have kept his pulse calmly beating seventy-two times a minute as his
did. I timed it three times and then quit bothering with the fellow
because I knew he was shamming.”

“Wonder what he meant by it,” said Will.

“Shoo!” said Constant; “he’s listening at the top of the gangway.”

“And _I_ wonder what _that_ means,” said Phil, whose alert observation
of the professed pilot had never been relaxed since the episode at
Craig’s Landing; “I wonder what he’s listening for.”

There was naturally no response, for the reason that nobody had anything
to suggest. So the boys went toward the bow where the anchor-light hung,
to hear Phil read in his newspapers all the latest details about the
great bond robbery. They read on deck rather than in the cabin, because
one boy must at any rate remain there on watch, and they all wished to
hear.

The newspapers related that one of the gang of robbers was believed to
have got away with the stolen bonds and money, and that the main purpose
now was to find him. One man connected with the crime was already in
custody, and from hints given by him it was hoped that he might turn
state’s evidence in his own resentment against the “carrier of the
swag,” who, it was believed, had deserted his fellow thieves, or some of
them, and meant to keep the whole of the proceeds of the robbery for
himself and one or two others. At any rate, the man in custody had given
hints that were thought to be distinctly helpful toward the discovery
of the “carrier” and his partners who had betrayed the rest of their
fellows.

The case was very interesting, but the boys must be up early in the
morning, so at last they broke up their little confab, and all but one
of them went to bed. Constant Thiebaud, who first reached the
ladder-head, found Jim Hughes seated there with his head just above the
deck.

“I thought you were in bed long ago,” said Constant.

“So I was,” said Jim; “but I got restless and came out for some air.”

It wasn’t at all the kind of sentence that Jim Hughes was accustomed to
frame, and the boys observed the fact. But they had got used to what Irv
Strong called Jim’s “inadvertent lapses into grammar,” and so they went
to their bunks without further thought of the matter.



CHAPTER X

JIM


It didn’t take long to “run the falls.” From where the flatboat lay
above Louisville to the lower end of the rapids was a distance of about
eight or ten miles. Not only was the river bank full, but a great wave
of additional water--a rise of four or five inches to the hour--struck
them just as they pushed their craft out into the stream. There was a
current of six miles an hour even as they passed the city, which
quickened to eight or ten miles an hour when they reached the falls
proper.

The boat fully justified the old pilot’s simile of a girl waltzing. She
turned and twisted about, first one way and then the other, and now and
then shot off in a totally new direction, toward one shore or the other,
or straight down stream.

It all seemed perilous in the extreme, and at one time Jim Hughes
hurriedly went below and brought up his carpet-bag, which he deposited
in one of the skiffs that lay on deck.

“What’s the matter, Jim?” asked Phil, who was more and more disposed to
watch the fellow suspiciously. “What are you doing that for?”

“Well, you see we mout strike a rock, and it’s best to be ready.”

“Yes,” said Phil, “but what have you got in your carpet-bag that you’re
so careful of?” and as he asked the question he looked intently into
Jim’s eyes, hoping to surprise there a more truthful answer than he was
likely to get from Jim’s lips.

“Oh, nothin’ but my clothes,” said Jim, hastily avoiding the scrutiny.

“Must be a dress-suit or two among them,” said Phil, “or you’d be
thinking less about them and more about your skin. Let’s see them!” he
added suddenly, and offering to open the bag.

Jim snatched it away quickly, muttering something which the boy didn’t
catch. But by that time the falls were passed and the flatboat was
floating through calm waters between Portland and New Albany. So Jim
retreated to the cabin and bestowed his precious carpet-bag again under
the straw of his bunk, where he had kept it from the first.

“Wonder what he’s got there, Phil,” said Irv Strong, who had been
attentive to the colloquy.

“Don’t know,” replied Phil; “but if things go on this way, the time will
come when I’ll decide to find out.”

“By the way,” broke in Will Moreraud, “did any of you see him bring that
carpet-bag aboard?”

Nobody could remember.

“Guess he sneaked it aboard as he did that jug,” said Phil, “and as he
did his cramps.”

“Don’t be too hard on the fellow, boys,” said Ed, whose generosity was
always apt to get the better of his judgment. “Remember he’s ignorant,
and ignorance is always inclined to be suspicious. Probably he hasn’t
more than a dollar’s worth or so in that carpet-bag; but as it is all he
has in the world, he’s naturally careful of it. He’s afraid some of us
will steal his things. If he knew more, he would know better. But he
doesn’t know more. So he guards his poor little possessions jealously.”

There was silence for a minute. Then Phil said:--

“See if he’s listening, Constant;” and when Constant had strolled to the
gangway and reported “all clear,” Phil had this to say:--

“I’m not over-suspicious, I think. I don’t want to be unjust to anybody.
But I’m responsible on this cruise, and it’s my duty to notice things
carefully.”

“Of course,” said Irv Strong, the other “irreclaimable.” “I haven’t a
doubt you noticed that I ate four eggs and two slices of ham for
breakfast this morning. But before you ‘call me down’ for it, I want to
say that I’m going to do the same thing to-morrow morning, because,
since I came on the river, I’ve got the biggest hunger on me that I ever
had in my life, and not at all because I have any diabolical plot in my
mind to starve the crew of this flatboat into submission or admission or
permission or any other sort of mission.”

But Phil did not smile at the pleasantry. He hesitated a moment before
replying, as if afraid that he might say too much; for Phil, the
captain, was a very different person from the happy-go-lucky Phil his
comrades had hitherto known. After a little while he said:--

“You remember, don’t you, that Jim Hughes wanted to ‘get down the river’
so badly that he shipped with us without pay? If he is so poor that he
has only that carpet-bag and only a few dollars’ worth of stuff in it,
why didn’t he try to ‘strike’ us for some sort of wages? Does anybody
here know where he came from, or why he came, or where he is trying to
go to, or why he wants to go there, or in fact who he is, or anything
about him? Can anybody explain why he shammed cramps yesterday?”

“To all the highly interesting questions in that competitive
examination,” said Irv Strong, “I beg permission to answer, in words
made familiar to one by frequent school use--‘not prepared to answer.’”

All the boys laughed except Phil. He was serious. The _boy_ hadn’t at
all gone out of him, as was proved by the fact that in spite of the
October chill in the air he just then slipped off his clothes and “took
a header” into the river. But the serious _man_ had come into him with
responsibility, as was shown by the fact that he used a towel to rub
himself with after his bath. Having donned his clothes, he continued:--

“There may be nothing wrong about Jim Hughes. I don’t say there is
anything wrong. But there is a good deal that is suspicious. So, while I
accuse him of nothing, I’m watching him, and I have been watching him
ever since we left Craig’s Landing. I don’t believe he was drunk there,
for one thing.”

“Don’t believe he was drunk!” exclaimed the boys in a breath. “Why, you
had to knock him down yourself to save the landing!”

“Yes, of course,” said Phil. “But I took pains afterward to smell his
breath while he was supposed to be in a drunken stupor, and there wasn’t
a trace of whiskey on it.”

“But you remember we found his jug hid among the freight.”

“You did,” replied Phil; “and you reported to me, though you may have
forgotten the fact, that it was ‘full up to the cork.’ Those were your
own words, Will.”

Will remembered, though he had not before thought of the significance of
the fact.

“Well, Phil, what was the matter with him, then?” asked Ed.

“Shamming, just as he shammed the cramps yesterday.”

“But for what purpose?”

“I don’t know, any more than you know why he pretended to have cramps.
My theory is that he was so anxious to get down the river that he tried
to make us miss Craig’s Landing entirely. The sum and substance of the
matter is this. At Craig’s Landing I wanted to put the fellow ashore.
Now I don’t want to do anything of the kind, and I won’t either, till I
can read a good many riddles that he has given me to puzzle over.”

“Can we help you to read the riddles?”

“Yes. Watch him closely, and tell me everything you observe, no matter
how little it may seem to mean.”

Just then Jim Hughes came up out of the cabin scuttle, and all the boys
except Phil found occasion to go to other parts of the boat. When you
have been talking unpleasantly about another person, you naturally
shrink from talking to him.

Phil, however, stood his ground. “Hello, Jim!” he called out. “How are
the cramps, and how’s the carpet-bag? Going to try to earn your board
now by steering a little?”

Jim hesitated in embarrassment. Suddenly Phil began bombarding him with
questions like shots from a rapid-fire gun.

“Where did you come from, anyhow, Jim? What’s your real name? What are
you hiding from? How much do you know about the river? and about
flatboating? Have you really ever been down the river before, or was
that all a sham like your cramps yesterday? Who are you? What are you?”

Jim struggled for a moment. There was that in his face which might have
appalled anybody but a full-blooded, resolute, dare-all boy. But he
quickly mastered himself.

“See here, Phil,” he said in persuasive tones, “you’re mighty hard on a
poor feller like me, and I don’t know why. That was a vicious clip you
hit me at Craig’s Landing.”

Phil instantly responded, and again after the fashion of a
breach-loader. “So you remember that, do you? Then you were not so drunk
as you pretended.”

“Well,” said Jim, “I was pretty full, but of course I knew who hit me.”

“You were not drunk at all,” said the boy. “You hadn’t even been
drinking. I smelt of your breath, and the blow I struck didn’t knock you
senseless, for an hour, as you pretended, or for six seconds either. Now
look here, Jim, I don’t know what your purpose is in all this shamming,
but I know for a fact that it is shamming, and I’ve had quite enough of
it.”

With that the boy turned away in that profound disgust which every
healthy-minded boy or man feels for a lie and a liar.



CHAPTER XI

THE WONDERFUL RIVER


As the “Knobs”--which is the name given to the high hills back of New
Albany--receded, the day was still young. It was also overcast and cool.
So Ed, who was always studying something, brought his big map up on deck
and, spreading it out, lay down on his stomach to study it. He worked
over it till dinner time, and in the afternoon he spread it out again.

The boys having gathered around him, he said:--

“I say, fellows, we are making a journey that we ought to remember as
long as we live. We are going over a small but important part of the
greatest river system in the world.”

“‘Small but important part,’” said Will, quoting. “Well, I like that.”

“What’s your objection,” said Ed Lowry, for the moment borrowing Irv
Strong’s playful method,--“what’s your objection to my carefully chosen
descriptive adjectives?”

“Well, we’re going over pretty nearly the whole of it, aren’t we?”

“Not by any manner of means,” responded Ed. “We aren’t going over more
than a small fraction of it.”

“Why, the Ohio River alone is thirteen hundred miles long,” said Will;
“I remember that much of my geography; and most of the Mississippi lies
below the mouth of the Ohio, doesn’t it?”

“It’s lucky you’ve passed your geography examinations in the high
school, Will,” said Ed. “Now come here, all you fellows, and take a
look. This map shows the entire system of rivers of which the
Mississippi is the mother. It is the greatest river system in the world.
There is nothing, in fact, to compare it with but the Amazon and its
tributaries, and they have never done anything for mankind, because they
lie almost wholly in an unsettled and uncivilized tropical region that
has no commerce and no need of any, while the Mississippi and its
tributaries have built up an empire. They have in effect _created_ the
better part of this vast country of ours that is feeding the world
and--”

“Oh, come now,” said Irv Strong. “You aren’t writing a composition or an
editorial for the Vevay _Reveille_.” This was in allusion to the fact
that Ed sometimes published “pieces” in the local newspaper.

“Well, no,” said Ed, laughing at his own enthusiasm. “Besides, I’ll come
to all that some other time perhaps. At present I want to give Will some
new ideas about the bigness of our river system. True, the Ohio is
twelve or thirteen hundred miles long, but about half of it lies above
Vevay, so we’re covering only six or seven hundred miles of it. From
Cairo to New Orleans--the part of the Mississippi we shall traverse--is
about one thousand and fifty miles long. So we’re only going to travel
over sixteen or seventeen hundred miles of river. Now there are about
fifteen or sixteen thousand miles of this river system that steamboats
can, and actually do, navigate, and nobody has ever really reckoned the
length of the rest--the parts not navigable. We’re going over only about
one-tenth of the navigable part--one twenty-fifth part perhaps of the
whole.”

By this time the boys were all lying prone around the big map, their
feet radiating in every direction from it, like light-rays from a star.

“See here,” said Ed; “here’s the Tennessee River. It’s a mere tributary
of the Ohio, yet it is about two-thirds as long as the main river. Its
head waters are in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. It
starts out through Tennessee and tries, in a stupid sort of fashion, to
find its way to the Gulf of Mexico through Alabama. But it gets
discouraged by the mountains down there, turns back, throws a dash of
water into the face of the state of Mississippi, returns to Tennessee
and travels north clear across that state and Kentucky, and finally in
despair gives up its effort to find the sea and turns the job over to
the Ohio. Look at it on the map!”

“And as if it thought the Tennessee had more than it could do to drain
so great a region,” said Phil, studying the map, “the Cumberland also
went into the business and after pretty nearly paralleling its sister
river for a great many hundreds of miles, fell into the Ohio only a few
miles above the mouth of the Tennessee. The two together are longer than
the Ohio itself.”

“Very decidedly,” said Ed. “And then there are all the other
tributaries of the Ohio,--look at them on the map. Together they again
exceed its total length.”

The boys looked at the map and saw that it was so. Then Ed resumed:--

“But, after all, the Ohio and all its tributaries combined amount to a
very small part of the great system. The lower Mississippi itself from
Cairo to the mouth is almost exactly as long as the Ohio. Then there
are the upper Mississippi,--stretching clear up into Minnesota,--the
Illinois, the Wisconsin, etc., the Missouri and its vast tributaries
flowing from the Rocky Mountains, the Arkansas, the Red River, the
Ouachita, the White, the St. Francis, the Yazoo, the Tallahatchie, the
Sunflower, the Yalobusha--and a score of others, to say nothing of the
vast bayous that connect with the wonderful river down South. Here they
all are on the map. Look!”

The next fifteen minutes were given up to a study of the map, interested
fingers tracing out the rivers, and a continual chatter contributing,
after the manner of boys’ talk, to the general stock of information.
Presently Irv Strong spoke. He had never before in his life been silent
so long.

“I remember, at this stage of the proceedings, the wise remark of our
honored teacher, Mrs. Dupont, that ‘eyes are excellent to see with, but
one interpretative brain means more than many additional pairs of
eyes.’”

“What’s all that got to do with it?” asked Constant. “She was talking
about Darwin and Spencer when she said that. What’s either of them got
to do with this river?”

“Ah, Constant!” said Irv, in mock melancholy. “You grieve me to the
heart. You never will see the inward and spiritual meaning of my outward
and visible quotations. I mean that Ed Lowry has studied out this whole
thing and knows ’steen times more about it and what it means than we
blockheads would find out by studying the map for a dog’s age. I venture
that assertion boldly, without having the remotest notion of what
constitutes a dog’s age. My idea is that we fellows ought to shut up,
though I’m personally not fond of doing that, and let Ed gently distil
into our minds his information about all these things. Let’s have the
benefit of the ‘interpretative brain’!”

“Let’s take a header first,” cried Phil, shedding his clothes again.
“I’ll beat the best of you in a swim around the boat, or if I lose, I’ll
wash the dishes for a whole day.”

And with that he went head foremost overboard, Will and Irv following
him.

When they reappeared on deck, blowing like porpoises and glowing like
boiled lobsters, Ed said:--

“You fellows are regular water-rats; Phil is, anyhow. He’s in this water
half a dozen times a day, no matter how cold the wind is.”

“That’s just it,” said Phil. “The water isn’t anything like so cold as
this October air.” Then, with mock seriousness: “Believe me, my dearly
beloved brother, it is to escape the frigidity of the atmosphere, or, as
it were, to warm myself, that I jump into the river. You were reading a
poem the other day in which the stricken-spirited scribe said:--

  ‘For my part I wish to enjoy what I can--
  A sunset, if only a sunset be near,
  A moon such as this if the weather be clear,’

and much else to the like effect. As you read the glittering, golden
words, I said in my soul: ‘Bully for you, oh poet! I’m your man for
those sentiments every time.’ And just now the poet and I agree that
nothing in this world would minister so much to our immediate enjoyment
as to jump off the boat again on the larboard side, dive clear under her
and come up on the starboard. Here goes! Who’s the poet to follow me?”
And overboard the boy went, feet first this time, for after striking the
water and sinking to a safe depth, he must turn himself about and swim
under water for fifty or sixty feet before daring to come to the surface
again.

Nobody tried to perform the feat in emulation of the reckless fellow. It
involved a great many dangers and a still greater many of disagreeable
possibilities such as broken heads, skinned backs, and abraded shins. Of
that I can give my readers full assurance because I’ve done the thing
myself many times, and bear some scars as witnesses of its risks.

But it was Phil’s rule of life never to let anybody “do anything in the
swimming way” that he couldn’t do equally well. He had once seen
somebody dive under a steamboat and come up safely on the other side.
So he straightway dived under the same steamboat and came up safely on
the other side. After that, diving under a flatboat was a mere trifle to
him.

[Illustration: MAP OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER AND ITS TRIBUTARIES.

Prepared expressly for this work under the personal direction of
Lieut.-Col. Alexander McKenzie, Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army.

_Note.--Navigable part of the river in red._]



CHAPTER XII

THE WONDERFUL RIVER’S WORK


“Now, then,” said Phil, wrapping a blanket around his person, for the
air was indeed very chill, and prostrating himself over the map, “now,
then, let the ‘interpretative brain’ get in its work! I interrupted the
proceedings just to take a personal observation of the river we are to
hear all about. Go on, Ed!”

“Wait a bit--I’m counting,” said Ed; “twenty-five, twenty-six,
twenty-seven, twenty-eight. There. If you’ll look at the map, you’ll see
that the water which the Mississippi carries down to the sea through a
channel about half a mile wide below New Orleans, comes from
twenty-eight states besides the Indian Territory.”

“What! oh, nonsense!” were the exclamations that greeted this statement.

“Look, and count for yourselves,” said Ed, pointing to various parts of
the map as he proceeded. “Here they are: New York, Pennsylvania, West
Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee,
Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa,
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado,
Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and the Indian
Territory. Very little comes from New York or South Carolina or Texas,
and not a great deal from some others of the states named, but some
does, as you will see by following up the lines on the map. The rest of
the states mentioned send the greater part of all their rainfall to the
sea by this route.”

“Well, you could at this moment knock me down with a feather,” said
Irving Strong. “Aren’t you glad, Phil, that we jumped in away up here
before the water got such a mixing up?”

“But that isn’t the most important part of it,” said Ed, after his
companions had finished their playful discussion of the subject.

“What is it, then? Go on,” said Irv. “I’m all ears, though Mrs. Dupont
always thought I was all tongue. What is the most important part of it,
Ed?”

“Why, that this river _created_ most of the states it drains.”

“How do you mean?”

“Why, I mean that but for this great river system it would have taken a
hundred or more years longer than it did to settle this vastest valley
on earth and build it up into great, populous states that produce the
best part of the world’s food supply.”

“Go on, please,” said Will Moreraud, speaking the eager desire of all.

“You see,” said Ed, “in order to settle a country and bring it into
cultivation, you must have some way of getting into it, and still more,
you must have some way of getting the things it produces out of it,
so as to sell them to people that need them. Nobody would have taken
the trouble to raise the produce we now have on board this boat, for
instance,--the hay, grain, flour, apples, cornmeal, onions, potatoes,
and the rest,--if there had been no way of sending the things away and
selling them somewhere. Unless there is a market within reach, nobody
will produce more of anything than he can himself use.”

“Oh, I see,” said Irv. “That’s why I don’t think more than I do. I’ve
no market for my crop of thoughts.”

“You’re mistaken there,” said Constant, who was slow of speech and
usually had little to say. “There’s always a market for thoughts.”

“Where?”

“Right around you. What did we go into this flatboat business for except
to be with Ed? He can’t do half as much as any one of us at an oar, or
at anything else except thinking, and yet we would never have come on
this voyage--”

“Oh, dry up!” said Ed, seeing the compliment that was impending. “I was
going to say--”

“And so was I going to say,” said Constant; “and, in fact, I _am_ going
to say. What I’m going to say is that there isn’t a fellow here who
would be here but for you, Ed. There isn’t a fellow here that wouldn’t
be glad to do all of your share of the work, if Phil would let him, just
for the sake of hearing what you think. Anyhow, that’s why Constant
Thiebaud is a member of this crew.”

It was the longest speech that Constant Thiebaud had ever been known to
make, and it was the most effective one he could have made, because it
put into words the thought that was in every one’s mind. That is the
very essence of oratory and of effective writing. All the great speeches
in the world have been those that cleverly expressed the thought and the
feeling of those who listened. All the great books have been those that
said for the vast, dumb multitudes that which was in their minds and
souls vainly longing for utterance.

When Constant had finished, there was silence for a moment. Then Irv
Strong said impressively:--

“AMEN!”

That exclamation ended the silence, and expressed the common sentiment
of all who were present. For even Jim Hughes, who was listening, had
begun to be interested.

Ed was embarrassed, of course, and for the first time in his life words
completely failed him. He sat up; then he grasped Constant’s hand, and
said, “I thank you, fellows.” And with that he retreated hurriedly to
the cabin for a little while.

Constant went to the pump, and labored hard for a time to draw water
from a bilge that had no leak. Will went to inspect the anchor, as if
he feared that something might be the matter with it. Phil and Irving
jumped overboard, and swam twice around the boat.

Finally, all came on deck again, and Will said:--

“Go on, Ed. We want to hear.”

Ed at once resumed, Jim Hughes meantime working with the steering-oar.

“Well, this great river gave the people who came over the mountains,
and afterward the people who came up it from New Orleans, not only an
outlet to the sea, but a sort of public road, over which they could
travel and trade with each other. When the upper Ohio region began to
be settled, a great swarm of emigrants from the East poured over the
mountains, and made a highway of the river to get themselves and all
that belonged to them to the upper Mississippi, the lower Mississippi,
and the Missouri River country. My father once told me, before he died,
that in his boyhood you could tell a steamboat bound from Pittsburg or
Cincinnati to St. Louis from any other boat, because she was red all
over with ploughs, wagons, and all that sort of thing. Agricultural
implements were all painted red in those days, and as they weren’t very
heavy freight they were bestowed all over the boat,--on the boiler deck
guards, on the hurricane deck, and sometimes were in the cabin, and on
top of the Texas.[2] Now, without these ploughs, wagons, harrows, and
so forth, how could the pioneers ever have brought the great Western
country under cultivation? And without the river how could they ever
have got these necessary implements, or themselves, for that matter, to
the regions where they were needed?”

  [2] The “Texas” of a western river steamer is an extra cabin,
      built above the main cabin and under the pilot-house, for the
      accommodation of the boat’s officers. It was named “Texas” because
      about the time of its naming Texas was added to the Union. This
      cabin was also something added.--_Author._

“Couldn’t they have taken them overland?”

“Only in a very small and slow way. There were no railroads, no
turnpikes, and even no dirt roads at that time. It would have cost ten
times more to take a wagonload of ploughs through the woods and across
the prairies, from Pittsburg or Cincinnati to Missouri or Iowa, than the
wagon and the ploughs put together were worth when they got there. But
the river came to the rescue. It carried the people and all their
belongings cheaply and quickly, and then it carried their produce to New
Orleans; and so the great West was settled.

“In the meantime the people in Pittsburg, Cincinnati, and other towns
saw that they could make all the wagons, ploughs, and other things
wanted by the people further west much cheaper than the same things
could be sent over the mountains from the East. Thus, factories and
foundries sprang up, new farms were opened and new towns built.”

“Were there steamboats from the first?” asked one of the boys.

“No; when Vevay was settled, Fulton hadn’t yet built the first steamboat
that ever travelled, and when steamboats did appear they were few and
small. Flatboats, just like this one, carried most of the produce to New
Orleans; but as flatboats couldn’t come back up the river, there were a
good many keelboats that brought freight and passengers up as well as
down stream.”

“What are keelboats?”

“Why, they were large barges built with a keel, a sharp bow, and a
modelled stern--in short, like a steamboat’s hull. These keelboats
floated down the river, and the men then pushed them back up stream
with long poles. When the current was too strong for that they got out
on the bank and hauled the boat by ropes. That was called ‘cordelling.’
The steamboats grew, however, in number and size when they came, and as
long ago as 1835 there were more than three hundred of them on the
Mississippi alone. In 1850 there were more than four thousand on these
rivers. They drove the keelboats out of business, but the flatboats
continued because of their cheapness till after the Civil War, when the
great towboats came into use. These, with their acres of barges, could
carry freight even cheaper than flatboats could. For a long time the
steamboats carried all the passengers, too, and many of them were
palaces in magnificence. But the railroads came at last and took the
passenger business away, and much of the freight traffic also, because
they are faster, and still more because they don’t have to go so far to
get anywhere.”

“Why, how’s that? I don’t understand,” said Irv.

“Yes, you do, if you’ll think a bit,” responded Ed.

“Couldn’t _think_ of thinking. I’m too tired or too lazy so tell me,”
was Irv’s rejoinder.

“Well, you know the river is crooked, and the steamboats must follow all
its windings, while the railroads can run nearly straight.”

“Yes, I know,” said Irv, “but the crookedness of the river isn’t enough
to make any very great difference.”

“Isn’t it? Well, down in Chicot County, Arkansas, there is one bend in
the river so big that from the upper landing on a plantation to the
lower landing on the same plantation, the distance by river is seventeen
miles, while you can walk across the neck from one landing to the other
in less than a mile and a half!”

“Whew!” said Phil. “And are there many such trips round Robin Hood’s
barn for us to make on the way down?”

“That’s best answered by telling you that from Cairo to New Orleans the
distance by river is about one thousand and fifty miles, while by rail
it is a little over four hundred miles. But come. It’s getting dark, and
I’ve got to bake some corn pones for supper, so I must quit lecturing.”



CHAPTER XIII

THE TERROR OF THE RIVER


For the next few days the voyage was uneventful. There was very little
to be done at the sweeps--only now and then a ten minutes’ pull to keep
the boat off the banks and in the river. For the water was now so high
that there was no such thing as a channel to be followed.

In many places the stream had overflowed its banks and flooded the
country for miles inland on either side. Sometimes a strong current
would set toward the points where the water was going over the banks,
and a constant watchfulness was necessary to prevent the boat from being
drawn into these currents and “going off for a trip in the country,” as
Irv Strong expressed it. Whenever she manifested a disposition of that
kind, all hands worked hard at the sweeps till she was carried out of
the danger.

During these days Ed read a great deal, and the other boys read a little
and talked not a little. On one or two days there were heavy all-day
rains, and at such times Ed would have liked to remain in the cabin when
not needed at the sweeps, and the other boys, hearing him cough so
frequently, pleaded with Phil to let him stay under cover.

“We never really need him for rowing,” said they, “and he ought to stay
down below all the time when it’s wet, for the sake of his health.”

“That’s just where you differ in opinion from the doctor,” responded
Phil. “_He_ says I’m to keep Ed in the open air on deck all the time.
Air is his only medicine, the doctor insists, and I’m going to give him
his medicine, for I’ve made up my mind to take him back to Vevay a much
‘weller’ fellow than he’s ever been before. So on with your rubber
goods, Ed, and out with you!”

“You’re entirely right, Phil,” said the elder brother. “And I’m much
‘weller,’ as you call it, already. I don’t cough so much or so hard as I
did. I sleep better and eat better and feel stronger. I guess I’ve been
too much taken care of.”

“Oh, as to that, I expect to make an athlete of you yet,” said Phil.
Then turning to Irving, with moisture in his eyes, as Ed mounted to the
deck, he added: “I don’t know, Irv, but I’m doing what the doctor told
me was best. It _hurts_ me, but I do it for _his_ sake.”

“Of course you do. And of course it’s best, too. Ed really is getting
better. I’ve watched him closely.”

“Have you?” asked Phil, eagerly. “And are you sure he’s getting better?
Oh, are you _sure_?”

“Of course I am,” said Irv, beginning to feel the necessity of lapsing
into light chatter to escape an emotional crisis. “Of course I am. Why,
haven’t you noticed that since we ran out of milk and sugar he’s drunk
his coffee clear like an honest flatboatman? And haven’t you noticed
that he rebukes my ignorance and your juvenility with a vigor that no
really ill fellow could bring to bear? He’s all right--Look!” as the two
emerged on deck. “He’s actually trying to teach Jim Hughes how to splice
a rope! Nobody but a man full of robust energy to the bursting point
would ever try to teach that dullard anything.”

“He isn’t a dullard,” replied Phil. “He shams all that, I tell you.”

Irv didn’t argue the point. He didn’t care anything about it. He had
accomplished his purpose. He had diverted Phil’s and his own thoughts,
and prevented the little emotional breakdown that had been so imminent.

Why is it that boys are so ashamed of that which is best and noblest in
their natures?

They were nearing Cairo now, and there was no time for further talk.
With the river at its present stage, and with a high wind blowing, and a
heavy rain almost blinding them, it was not an easy thing to get their
boat safely into the pocket between Cairo and Mound City, amid the
scores and hundreds of coal barges that were harboring there. For the
flatboat even to touch one of the coal barges, unless very gently
indeed, meant the instant sinking of many hundreds of tons of coal, and
in all probability, the loss of the flatboat also.

At one time Phil--for he had ceased to think of Jim as a pilot, or even
as a person who could lend any but merely muscular assistance
anywhere--was on the point of giving up the idea of landing at all. He
debated with himself whether it would not be wiser to float on past
Cairo, into the Mississippi. But the boat was really very short of
provisions. The milk supply had given out two days after passing the
falls; their meal was almost exhausted; their salt had got wet; they had
no butter left; there was only half a pound of coffee in their canister;
and no flour whatever remained. There was a little bacon in their cargo,
and there were flour, eggs, cornmeal, onions, and potatoes also. But it
was their agreed purpose not to risk complications in their accounts by
taking any of their cargo for their own use except in case of extreme
necessity.

“And as for eggs,” said Irv Strong, “I fear that those in our cargo are
beginning to be too far removed from the original source of supply,--too
remotely connected with the hens of Switzerland County, Indiana, as it
were,--too--well, they seem to me far more likely to give satisfaction
to educated palates in New Orleans ‘omelettes with onions’ and the like,
than on our frugal table. Besides, our cabin is rather small and it
would be troublesome to have to go up on deck every time the cook wanted
to break an egg.”

“You forget, Irv,” said Ed, “we aren’t more than ten or twelve days out
yet, and eggs keep pretty well for a much longer time than that.”

“True,” said Irv; “but it seems to me that we’ve been on the river for a
month. At any rate, Phil’s plan of not eating up our cargo is a good
one.”

Between Cairo and Memphis lay about two hundred and forty miles of
difficult river, and in all that distance there was not a town of any
consequence, at least as a market in which to buy boat stores. So the
necessity of landing at Cairo for supplies overrode all considerations
of difficulty and danger in the young captain’s mind, and after some
very hard work and some narrow escapes, he succeeded in securely tying
up _The Last of the Flatboats_ in the bend.

During their stay at Cairo Jim Hughes was again ill, afflicted this time
with chills and fever. But he angrily refused to have a doctor called,
and as Ed could find no trouble with his pulse or temperature, the crew
did not insist upon summoning medical assistance.

“Let’s put him ashore and be rid of him,” suggested Will Moreraud.

“Yes, let’s!” said Constant. “He’s of no use to us, and he spoils the
party by his presence.”

“No,” decided Phil, “I wanted to put him ashore at Craig’s Landing, but
I’ve got over that desire. He interests me now in his way. I’ve
discovered a good deal about him, and I mean to find out more. He’s
going somewhere, and I want to find out where it is. No, boys, we’ll
keep him on board for a while.”

At Cairo Phil bought a large supply of newspapers from Chicago, St.
Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans. They reported increasing floods in
every direction. The upper Mississippi was at a tremendous stage. The
Missouri was pouring a vast flood into it. The Tennessee and Cumberland
were adding enormously every hour to the great volume of water that was
pouring down out of the overflowed and still swelling Ohio. In short,
one of those great Mississippi floods was at hand which come only when
all the rivers--those from north, west, east, and south--“run out” at
the same time.

The river was full of drift; great uprooted trees and timbers from
houses and barns that had been swept from their foundations and reduced
to wreckage; driftwood from thousands of miles of shore. Flotsam of
every conceivable kind covered the face of the waters so completely that
it looked as if one might almost walk across, stepping from one floating
mass to another.

And there was a menace in it, too, that was ever present. The uprooted
trees refused to float steadily. They turned over and over like giants
troubled in their sleep with Titanic nightmares. They lashed their
wide-reaching limbs in fury, while currents and cross-currents caused
the floating stuff to rush hither and thither, now piling it high and
grinding it together with destructive energy, now scattering it again
and leaving great water spaces clear.

Now and then a house or a barn would float by, crushed half out of
shape, but not yet twisted into its original materials. Altogether the
river presented a spectacle that would have inspired any old Greek
poet’s imagination to create a dozen new gods and a score of hitherto
unknown demons to serve as the directors of it all.

So _The Last of the Flatboats_ tarried in the bend above Cairo, waiting
for the worst of the drift to run by before again venturing upon the
bosom of the great flood.

“I say, Ed,” said Phil, looking out upon the vast waste of water with
its seething surface of wreckage, “nothing in all that you have told us
about the river has given me so good an idea of its tremendous power as
the sight of that,”--waving his hand toward the stream.

“Of course not,” replied the elder. “Nothing that anybody could say in a
lifetime could equal that demonstration of power. Nobody that ever lived
could put this wonderful river into words. I have told you fellows only
of the good it has done--only of its beneficence. You see now what power
of malignity and destructiveness it has. This single flood has already
destroyed hundreds of lives and swept away scores and hundreds of homes,
and obliterated millions of dollars’ worth of property. Before it is
over the hundreds in each case will be multiplied into thousands. Even
now, right here at Cairo, a great disaster impends. Every able-bodied
man in the town has been sent with pick or shovel or wheelbarrow to work
night and day in strengthening and raising the levees. There are ten
thousand people in this town. With the Mississippi on one side and the
Ohio on the other, and with their floods united across country above the
town, these helpless people have nothing in the world but an embankment
of earth between them and death. Their homes lie from twenty to thirty
feet below the level of the water that surrounds them on every side. And
that level is rising every hour, every minute. It is already several
inches above the top of their permanent levees. The flood is held in
check only by a temporary earthwork, built on top of the permanent one.
It is no wonder that the embankments are ablaze with torches and that a
thousand men are working ceaselessly by night and by day to build the
barriers higher.”

“What if a levee should break?” asked Will, in awe.

“Ten thousand people would be drowned in ten minutes,” answered Phil,
who had been studying the matter even more closely than Ed had done.
“Cairo lies now in a triangle, with the floods on all three sides. If
the levee should give way at any point on any side, Niagara itself would
be a mere brook compared with the torrent that would rush into the
town. One of the engineers said to me to-day that the pressure upon the
levees at this stage of water amounts to thousands of millions of tons.
Should there be a break at any point, it would give to all this ocean of
water a sudden chance to fall thirty feet or so. Now think what that
would mean! The engineer, when I asked him, answered,--‘Well, it would
mean that in ten minutes the whole city of Cairo would be swept
completely off the face of the earth. Not only would no building be left
standing in the town, but there would be literally not one stone or
brick left on top of another. Indeed, the very land on which the city
stands, the entire point, would be scooped out fifty feet below its
present level and carried bodily away into the river. The site of the
town would lie far beneath the surface of the water.’”

“And all this may happen at any moment now?” asked Constant.

“Yes,” said Phil. “But it is not likely, and brave men are fighting with
all their might to prevent it. Let us hope they will succeed.”

“Why do people live in such a place?” asked Will.

“Why do men live and plant vineyards high up on the slopes of Vesuvius,
knowing all the time the story of what happened to Herculaneum and
Pompeii?” asked Irv.

“It’s sometimes because they must, because they have nowhere else to
live.”

“Yes,” said Ed, “but it is oftener because they have the courage to face
danger for the sake of bettering themselves or their children in one way
or another. Did it ever occur to you that all that is worth while in
human achievement has been accomplished by the men who, for the sake of
an advantage of one kind or another, were willing to risk their lives,
encounter danger in any form, however appalling, endure hardships of the
most fearful character, and take risks immeasurable? That is the sort of
men that in frail ships sailed over the seas to America and conquered
and settled this country, fighting Indians and fevers and famines and
all the rest of it. It was that sort of men,--and women, too,--for don’t
forget that in all those enterprises the women risked as much as the men
did and suffered vastly more,--it was that sort of men and women who
pushed over the mountains and built up this great West of ours. Talk
about the heroism of war! why, all the wars in all the world never
brought out so much of really exalted heroism as that displayed by a
single company of pioneer emigrants from Virginia or North Carolina,
crossing the mountains into Kentucky, Tennessee, or Indiana.”

“Then these Cairo people are heroes in their way?” asked Irv.

“Yes,” replied Ed, “though they don’t know it. Heroes never do. The hero
is the man who, in pursuit of any worthy purpose,--though it be only to
make more money for the support of his family,--calmly faces the risks,
endures the hardships, and performs the tasks that fall to his lot. The
highest courage imaginable is that which prompts a man to do his duty as
he understands it, with absolute disregard of consequences to himself.”

That night Phil read his newspapers very diligently. Especially, he
studied the portraits and the minute descriptions given of the man who
was “carrying” the proceeds of the great bank robbery. Somehow, Phil was
becoming more and more deeply interested in that subject.



CHAPTER XIV

IN THE HOME OF THE EARTHQUAKES


One night soon after _The Last of the Flatboats_ left Cairo, Phil’s
compass showed that the Mississippi River, whose business it was to run
toward the south, was in fact running due north. Phil recognized this as
one of the vagaries of the wonderful river. Consulting his map, he found
that the river knew its business, that the boat was in New Madrid Bend,
where for a space the strangely erratic river runs north, only to turn
again to its southerly course, after having asserted its liberty by
running in a contrary direction as it does at Cairo, where a line drawn
due north from the southerly point of Illinois cuts through a part of
Kentucky, a state lying to the south of Illinois. No ordinary map shows
this, but it is nevertheless true. Illinois ends in a hook, which
extends so far south and so far east as to bring a part of Illinois to
the southward of Kentucky.

Phil had fully grasped this fact. He had reconciled himself to the
eccentricities of the wonderful river, and was entirely content to float
northward, so long as that seemed to be the river’s will.

But about midnight there came a disturbance. First of all there was a
great roar, as of artillery or Titanic trains of cars somewhere in the
centre of the earth. Then there were severe blows upon the bottom of the
flatboat, blows that threatened to break its gunwales in two. Then three
great waves came up the river, curling over the flatboat’s bow and
pouring their floods into her hold, as if to swamp her. Then the boat
swung around, changed her direction, and for a time ran up the stream,
while waves threatened at every moment to overwhelm her.

Phil, who was on watch at the time, ran to the scuttle to call his
comrades, but there was no occasion. The tremendous thumps on the bottom
of the boat and the swaying of everything backward and forward had
awakened them, and, half clad, they were rushing on deck.

Just then the boat struck upon a shore bar and went hard aground. The
water that had come in over her bow had more than filled the bilge; but
how far the disturbance had made the boat leak, Phil could not find out,
for she was now resting upon a sandbank near the shore, and of course,
supported as she was by the river bottom, she could not settle farther.
So Phil ordered all hands to the pumps, in order to get out the wave
water, and to find out as soon as she should float again what water
there might be coming in through leaks caused by the disturbance just
experienced.

A little pumping showed that the boat was not leaking seriously. The
water in the hold went down in about the same proportion that the pumps
poured it out, thus showing that no additional supply was coming in
anywhere.

In half an hour the pumps ceased to “draw.” That is to say, no water
came out in response to their activity. But the flatboat was still
aground.

“Never mind about that,” said Irv Strong. “The river is still rising
rapidly, and it will soon float us.”

“Yes,” answered Phil, “if we are on a level bar and if the boat has
undergone no strain. You see as long as we have bottom under us, we
shan’t leak to any serious extent. But when we float again, the great
weight of our cargo will make every open seam admit water to its full
capacity.”

“Of course,” said Irv. “But what makes you think there are any open
seams?”

“Nothing,” answered Phil, “except a general impulse of precaution. We
went aground very easily. In fact, I didn’t know we were aground till I
saw the water flowing by, and by the way, it is RUNNING UP STREAM!” As
he said this he leaned over the side and observed the water carefully.

The other boys joined him and observed the same phenomenon, largely
in wonder, but almost half in fright. The Mississippi River was
unquestionably running the wrong way, and that, too, when a great flood
was pouring down it and seeking its way to the sea.

“What does it all mean, Ed?” asked Will Moreraud. “Tell us about it, for
of course you know.”

“I don’t know whether I know or not,” responded Ed, with more of
hesitation than was usual in his tone. “I think we have had a small
earthquake. We are in the midst of a region of small earthquakes. We
are in New Madrid Bend, and for the best part of a century that has been
a sort of earthquake nest.”

“The river is running down stream again,” called out Constant, “and we
are beginning to float, too.”

“So we are,” said Irv Strong, going to the side and inspecting. “Let’s
go below and find out whether or not we’re leaking.”

The suggestion was a timely one. Phil indeed had anticipated it, and
when his comrades went below they found him there with a lantern,
minutely inspecting every point where incoming water might be looked
for.

Their search clearly revealed the fact that the flatboat--which was now
again floating down the stream--was not leaking more than she did
ordinarily, not so much that a few minutes’ pumping now and then could
not keep her bilge empty.

Having satisfied themselves of the boat’s safety, the boys returned to
the deck, and renewed their demands upon Ed for an explanation.

“Well, you see,” said Ed, “we’re in New Madrid Bend. Now, as I said a
while ago, for the best part of a century, and probably for all the
centuries before that, this region has been the home of earthquakes, not
very great ones, but such as we have just experienced. Along about 1811
and 1812 it was distressed with much severer ones in an uncommon degree.
We have just had the Mississippi River running up stream for five or ten
minutes as a result of one of these disturbances. In 1811 it ran up
stream for three full days and nights. Great fissures were opened in the
earth all over the country round about, and as they always, or at least
generally, ran north and south, the settlers used to fell trees east and
west, and build their cabins upon them, so that they might not be
swallowed up by the earthquakes.”

“Why didn’t they run away from so appalling a danger?” asked Irv Strong.

“Because they were pioneers,” answered Ed, “because they were the sort
of heroes we were talking about at Cairo, men who took all the risks
that might come to them in order that they might secure advantages to
themselves and their children. Men of that sort do not run away from
earthquakes, any more than they run away from Indians, or fevers, or
floods, or any other dangers. And by the way, these same people had
Indians to contend with, in their very ugliest moods.”

“How so?” asked two of the boys at once.

“Why, in the time of the great earthquakes, all of Western Tennessee
and Kentucky, and the greater part of Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama
were inhabited by savage Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and other hostile
tribes. At that time the great Indiana chief, Tecumseh, conceived
his plan of uniting all the tribes from Indiana--then a part of the
Northwest Territory--to Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina,
and Florida, in a league for determined resistance to the westward
advance of the whites.

“It was an opportune time, for a little later the British, being at war
with us, came to Florida and undertook to form an offensive and
defensive alliance with the Indians, whom they supplied with guns and
ammunition, for the destruction of the United States. And but for
Jackson’s superb war against the Creeks, and later his victory at New
Orleans, they would have succeeded in splitting this country in two.

“When Tecumseh went south to secure the coöperation of the Creeks,
Choctaws, and Seminoles in this plan for the destruction of our country,
he told the Muscogees that on his return to the north he would ‘stamp
his foot’ and they would feel the earth tremble.

“The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, which extended into
Alabama and Georgia, came just in time to fulfil this prophetic threat,
and there is no doubt that they played a great part in provoking the
most dangerous Indian war this country ever knew--the most dangerous
because, before it was over, there came to our shores a great British
army, the flower of English soldiery, under command of Pakenham,
Wellington’s most trusted lieutenant--to capture New Orleans and secure
control of our wonderful river, and all the region west of it.”

“And why didn’t they do it?” asked Will Moreraud.

“Because of Andrew Jackson,” answered Ed. “He went to New Orleans
to meet them. He had no army, but he created one mostly in a single
afternoon. His only experienced troops were three hundred Tennessee
volunteers under Coffee, one of his old Indian fighters. But he had
some backwoods volunteers, and he enlisted all the merchants he could
in New Orleans, and all their clerks, all the ragamuffins of the city,
all the wharf rats, and all the free negroes there, and armed them as
best he could. Half of Pakenham’s force had moved from Lake Borgue to
a point a few miles below the city. Without waiting for a force fit
to fight them with, Jackson cried ‘Forward’ to his motley collection
of men, and on the night of December 23, 1814, he attacked the great
veteran English army in the dark. It was a fearful fight, and the vigor
of it and its insolence as a military operation so appalled the British,
that they waited for more than two weeks for the rest of their forces
to come up before trying again to capture the city,--a thing which they
had intended to do the next morning without the loss of a man. In the
meantime, Jackson had fortified himself, and reënforcements had come to
him, so that when the British were at last ready, on the 8th of January,
1815, to advance to what they still expected to be the easy conquest
of the city, they were ‘licked out of their boots.’ That, in brief, is
the story of the battle which for the second time decided American
independence. For the British in the War of 1812-14 had nothing less in
view than the re-conquest of our country, and the restoration of the
states to the condition and status of British colonies.”

“But how about the earthquakes?” asked Irv; “why is this region subject
to them more than others?”

“I’m not sure that I know,” said Ed. “But countries in the neighborhood
of volcanoes are usually either peculiarly subject to earthquakes or
especially exempt from them. It seems that sometimes the volcanoes act
as safety valves, while sometimes they don’t work in that way till after
the region round about has been greatly shaken up, preparatory to an
eruption.”

“But what have volcanoes got to do with New Madrid Bend?” asked Phil.
“There aren’t any volcanoes in the United States.”

“No,” said Ed, thoughtfully; “but there are some hot springs over in
Arkansas, not very far from here, and they are volcanic of course in
their origin and character. Perhaps if the Arkansas hot springs were a
robust volcano, instead of being what they are, there would not be so
many earthquakes in this part of the country. If they threw out stones
and lava and let off steam generally as Vesuvius and Etna and the others
do, perhaps this part of the country wouldn’t have so many agues.”

Just then the boat heeled over, the river was broken into great waves
again, and all creation seemed to be see-sawing north and south. Phil
called the boys to the sweeps, as a matter of precaution, but the boat
was helpless in the raging river. She was driven ashore again; that is
to say, she was driven over the brink of a submerged river bank, where
she stuck securely in the mud.

This second earthquake did not last more than thirty or forty seconds,
but that was long enough to get _The Last of the Flatboats_ into the
worst trouble that she had yet encountered. She seemed to be bending in
the middle as if resting upon a fallen tree with both ends free.

Phil quickly manned the skiffs and instituted an inspection. By the use
of poles and lead lines he soon discovered that two-thirds of the boat’s
length lay upon a reasonably level bank, the remaining third overhanging
it. It was this that was bending her so dangerously.

“Get inside, boys, quick,” he called to his comrades. “The boat’s bow
overhangs the bank. We must get all the freight out of it as quickly as
possible.”

Then in brief sentences he gave his commands.

“Roll those apple barrels into the cabin! Carry those bags of meal on
deck and well astern! Take the anchor there, too! Lighten the bow all
you can!”

The boys worked like beavers, and after a while the entire forward part
of the boat was free of freight. The cabin as a consequence was full,
and the deck so piled up with bags and barrels that ordinary navigation
would have been impossible. But at any rate, the danger of breaking the
boat in two was averted.

Phil then got into a skiff with Irv, and armed with some lanterns, went
carefully all around the boat, measuring depths and looking for possibly
open seams or other damage. When he returned to the deck he reported:--

“We are lying in about six inches of Missouri mud with two and a half
feet of water above it, trespassing to that extent upon somebody’s farm.
But the reports from up the rivers when we were at Cairo were that at
least twelve inches more water might be expected within forty-eight
hours, and as it is raining like Noah’s flood now, and we only need a
few inches of water to set us free, we’ll be afloat again by morning if
we don’t have another earthquake to send us still farther out into the
country.”

The event justified Phil’s prediction. About five o’clock in the morning
the flatboat floated again, and with a few vigorous strokes of the
sweeps she was sent out into the middle of the river. Then Phil gave
orders for the restoration of the freight to its proper place. Not until
that was done was it possible to get breakfast, for the cabin had been
piled full of freight, and when it was done, Phil devoted himself for an
hour or more, before he would eat, to an inspection of the boat. He
found and stopped a few leaks that had been made by the strain, which
had caused the oakum to loosen in the seams.

The rain continuing, the boys had a dull day of it, but at any rate
their boat was in good condition, and was now again floating down stream
toward her destination.



CHAPTER XV

IN THE CHUTE


Below New Madrid the swollen river was so full that only the line of
trees on either side indicated its borders. In many places it had so
completely overflowed its banks that it was forty or fifty miles wide in
fact. In other places, where the banks were high, the river was confined
for brief spaces within its natural limits, and rushed forward with the
speed of water in a mill-race.

The driftwood had by this time largely run out, and while there was
still much of it in the river, its presence no longer involved any
particular danger. Still, it was necessary to observe it; and it was
especially necessary to keep a close watch on the boat’s course, lest
she should be drawn into some bayou or pocket, where danger would
impend.

Nevertheless, the boys had considerable leisure, and Ed devoted a good
deal of the time, at their request, to expounding to them all the lore
that he had gathered from his books. One day he brought out his map
again, and got them interested in it until they lost sight of
other things around them. For that matter, Jim Hughes was on the
steering-bridge, and was supposed to be directing the course of the
boat. It was his duty, of course, to call attention to anything that
might need attention; so the boys allowed themselves to become absorbed
in Ed’s explanations and in their own study of the map.

It was about sunset when Phil raised himself and took a look ahead. He
suddenly sprang to his feet and called out hurriedly, but not excitedly,
“Starboard sweep, boys.”

He himself ran to the steering-oar, and, in spite of some remonstrance
from the pilot, took possession of it.

“What are you doing, Jim,” he called out, “running us into this chute?
Give it to her, boys, with all your might.”

But it was of no use. It was too late. The boat had already been driven
into the chute behind an island, and must now go through it. Jim Hughes
had successfully managed that.

A chute is that part of the river which lies between an island and the
shore nearest to it. At low water, the chutes in the Mississippi are not
usually navigable at all. But when the river is high, they are deep
enough and wide enough for a steamboat to pass through; and, as passing
through the chute usually saves many miles of distance against a strong
current, the steamboats going up the stream always “run the chute” when
they can. But as these chutes are rarely wide enough, even in the
highest water, for two boats to pass each other safely within them, the
law forbids boats going down the river to run them at all.

Phil had been instructed in all this by Perry Raymond, and he was
therefore much disturbed when he found the flatboat hopelessly involved
in the head of the chute.

He explained in short, crisp, snappy sentences to his fellows the
violation of law they were committing, and the danger there was of
snags, fallen trees and other obstructions, in running the chute under
the most favorable circumstances.

But he was in for it now, and there was only one thing to be done. Go
through the chute he must. The problem was to get through it as quickly
and as safely as possible. If he could get through it without meeting
any up-coming steamer and without running the boat afoul of any snags or
other obstructions, all would be well enough, except that it would still
leave Jim Hughes’s action unexplained and puzzling. Should he meet a
steamboat in the narrow passage, he must take the consequences, whatever
they might happen to be. He kept the boys continually at the sweeps, in
order to give him good steerage way; and earnestly adjured them to be
alert, and to act instantly on any order he might give, to all of which
they responded with enthusiasm.

“How long is this chute, Jim?”

“How do I know?” answered that worthy, or more properly, that unworthy.

“I thought you knew the river. You shipped as a pilot,” said the boy.
“Hard on the starboard, boys; hard on the starboard! There, that’ll do.
Let her float now!”

Then turning to Jim, he said again:--

“You shipped as a pilot. You pretended to know the river. Probably you
do know it better than you now pretend. You deliberately ran us into
this channel. You did it on purpose. You must know the chute then. What
did you do it for? What do you mean by it?”

“Yes, I shipped as a pilot,” answered the surly fellow, “but I shipped
without pay, you will remember. I was careful to assume no obligation
for which I could be held responsible in law.”

Phil started back in amazement. Neither the sentence nor the assured
forethought that lay behind it fitted at all the character of the
ignorant lout that the man who spoke had pretended to be. Phil now
clearly saw that all this man’s pretences had been false, that his
character and his personality had been assumed, and that, for some
purpose known only to himself, the fellow had been deceiving him from
the start. Not altogether deceiving him, however, for Phil’s suspicions
had already been so far aroused that it could not be said that he had
been hoodwinked completely. But for these suspicions, indeed, he would
not now so readily have observed the man’s speech and behavior. He would
not so accurately have interpreted his truculence when he commanded him
to “go to a sweep,” and the man answered, “Not if I know it!” and went
to the cabin instead.

But at that moment Phil had no time to deal further with the fellow, or
even to think of him. For just as dark was falling, the flatboat swung
around a sharp bend in the chute, and came suddenly face to face with a
great, roaring, glaring, glittering steamboat that was running the chute
up stream at racing speed.

The steamboat whistled madly, and reversed her engines full force. The
captain, the pilot, both the mates, all the deck-hands, all the
roustabouts, and most of the male passengers on board shouted in chorus,
with much of objurgation for punctuation marks, to know what the
flatboat meant by running the chute down stream.

Phil paid no attention to the hullabaloo, but gave his whole mind to the
problem of navigating his own craft. The steamboat’s wheels, as she
backed water so mightily, threw forward great waves which, catching the
flatboat under the bow, drove her stern-on toward the bank. By a
vigorous use of the sweeps, and a great deal of tugging on his own part
at the steering-oar, Phil managed to slew the boat around in time to
prevent her going ashore; and fortunately there was just passageway
enough to let her slip by the steamer, grazing the guards in passing.

It was the work of a very few minutes, but it seemed an age to
the anxious boy; and as the steamer resumed her course, her crew
sending back a volley of maledictions, his only thought was one of
congratulation that he had escaped from so desperate an entanglement.

Just then, however, he observed Jim Hughes at the stern, climbing into
the towed skiff, into which he had already thrown his carpet-bag. He
observed also that before engaging in this manœuvre the pilot had set up
a handkerchief at the bow, apparently as a signal, and that some
rough-looking men were gathered on the shore just astern.

Quick as a flash Phil realized that for some reason Jim Hughes was
quitting the boat, and was in communication with the men on shore.

Without quite realizing why he should object to this, he proceeded to
put a stop to it. He called to his comrades, who could now leave the
oars, as the boat was floating out of the chute and into the main river
again, to come to his assistance. Without parley they tumbled over the
end of the boat into the skiff, which had not yet been cast loose, and
there seized the runaway. He fought with a good deal of desperation, but
five stalwart Hoosier boys are apt to be more than a match for any one
man, however strong and however desperate he may be. They quickly
overcame Jim Hughes and hustled him back on board the flatboat. There
they held him down, while one of them, at Phil’s request, ran for some
rope. A minute later they had their prisoner securely tied, both as to
arms and as to legs, and dropped him, feet first, down the cabin stairs.

No sooner was he out of the way than the men on shore began firing at
the flatboat. They had refrained prior to that time, apparently, lest
they should hit their comrade, for such he manifestly was. Their firing
was at long range, however, and it was now nearly dark. The swift
current soon carried the boat wholly beyond reach of rifle-shots and out
into the river. Lest the desperadoes on shore should follow in skiffs or
otherwise, Phil ordered the boys to the sweeps again, and kept them
there until they had driven the boat well over toward the opposite
shore. Then he summoned a council of war.

[Illustration: THE FIGHT WITH THE PILOT.

“A minute later they had their prisoner securely tied.”]

“What are we going to do with that fellow?” he asked.

“Well,” said Ed, “you have got him well tied and--”

“Yes, but,” said Irv, “have we any right to tie him? He hasn’t committed
any crime.”

“Yes, he has,” said Phil. “At least, we caught him in the act of
committing one. He was trying to steal one of Perry Raymond’s skiffs.
That’s worth twenty-five dollars. If he hadn’t anything worse in his
mind, his attempt on the skiff was grand larceny.”

“That’s so,” said Ed, “and we can turn him over to a magistrate at the
first landing for that.”

“I don’t think I shall make any landing,” said Phil, “until we get to
Memphis, and in the meantime I am going to know all there is to know
about this fellow. When he came on board he had his hair shaved close
with a barber’s mowing-machine, but, unfortunately for him, he didn’t
bring one of the machines with him. His hair is growing out again now,
and I have been comparing several of its little peculiarities closely
with descriptions and portraits in the newspapers I got at Cairo of the
fellow who is running away with that swag. Boys, I believe we have got
the man.”

Phil’s comrades were positively dumb with astonishment. At last the
silence was broken.

“If we have,” said Irv Strong, “this voyage will pay, for the rewards
offered for this man are very heavy.”

“Yes,” said Phil; “I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s so. There are
five thousand dollars on his capture.”

Just then there was a flash in the dark from the cabin scuttle, and a
bullet whistled over the heads of the boys. Jim Hughes had managed to
extricate himself, in part at least, from his bonds, and had begun to
use a weapon which he had doubtless hidden before that time, and of
which the boys had known nothing.

Ed was the first to act. He was always exceedingly quick to think. He
called to the boys to follow him, and, disregarding Jim’s fusillade, ran
to the scuttle.

In an instant, by their united efforts, they pushed the fellow back and
closed the lid that covered the stairs. Then Ed remembered that there
was a door leading out of the cabin into the hold of the boat. He
suggested to two of the boys that they go below, and close that with
bales of hay and the like. They did so hurriedly, piling the hay and
some apple barrels against the door, until it would have required the
strength of half a dozen men to push it open. In the meantime Ed had
possessed himself of a hatchet and nails, and had securely nailed down
the scuttle.

Just then Irv Strong thought of something.

“Suppose he gets desperate? He could easily set fire to things down
there.”

“That’s so,” said Phil, who had just returned from the hold. “Bring the
fire-extinguishers.”

By the time they got the four large carbonic acid receptacles a new
thought had occurred to Ed.

“Bring an auger, boys. There’s one lying forward there. The big one.”

It was quickly brought, though none of the boys could guess what Ed
intended to do. He took the auger, and quickly bored an inch hole in the
scuttle. A flash and a bullet came through it, but nobody was hurt.

“Now, give me an extinguisher,” said Ed.

Putting the nozzle of the hose through the hole, he turned the apparatus
upside down, and allowed its contents to be driven violently into the
little cabin. When the first extinguisher was exhausted he turned on the
hose of another, and after that of a third.

For a while the imprisoned man, shut up in a box ten feet by twelve and
not over five or six feet high, indulged in lusty yells, but these soon
became husky, and presently ceased entirely. The moment they did, Ed
called out:--

“Rip off the scuttle quick, boys; he’s suffocated.”

The boys did not at all understand what had happened, but they acted
promptly in obedience to their wisest comrade’s order. When the scuttle
was opened and a lantern brought, Jim was seen lying limp at the foot of
the little ladder.

“Now, be careful,” said Ed. “Irving, you and Phil--you’re the
strongest--go down, hold your breath, and drag him up. Be sure to hold
your breath. Do just as you do when you’re diving.”

They made an effort, but almost instantly came back, gasping for air,
sneezing, and with eyes and noses tingling.

“Catch your breath quick,” said Ed, “and go down again. You must get him
out, or he will be dead, if he isn’t dead already.”

They made another dash, this time acting more carefully upon the
instruction to treat the descent as if it were a dive, and carefully
holding their breath. In a brief while they dragged the body of the
pilot out upon the deck, and Ed gave directions for restoring life by
artificial respiration.

“You see, he’s practically a drowned man,” he said.

“Drowned?” said Will Moreraud. “Why, he’s not even been in the water,
and that little dash with the hose wouldn’t drown a kitten.”

“Never mind that,” said Ed; “quick now; he’s drowned, or just the same
thing. We must bring him to life.”

“Well, slip that rope around his arms and legs while we do it,” said
Phil, “or we’ll have trouble when he comes to.”

This was a suggestion which they all recognized as altogether timely,
and so the apparent corpse was carefully secured by two of the boys,
while the rest worked at the task of restoring him to life.

He “came to” in a little while, and lay stretched out upon the deck,
weak and exhausted. Then, at Ed’s suggestion, the boys went below by the
forward door, rolled away the obstructions, and threw open the door of
the cabin, so that all the air possible might pass through it. It was
half an hour at least before breathing became comfortable in that little
box. Then Phil made a thorough exploration of Jim’s carpet-bag, bunk,
and everything else that pertained to him. His only remark as to the
result of his personal inquiry was:--

“I guess we needn’t trouble ourselves about having arrested this man.”

While waiting for the air to render the cabin habitable again, Constant
said, “But, Ed, how did he _drown_ without going into the water? I don’t
understand.”

“Neither do I,” said Will Moreraud; “but he was drowned all safe enough.
I’ve seen too many drowned people not to know one when I see him.”

Then Ed explained:--

“That cabin is a little box about ten feet by twelve, and six feet high,
and when shut up it’s nearly air tight. It contains only a little over
seven hundred cubic feet of air. These chemical fire extinguishers are
filled with water saturated with soda or saleratus. There is a bottle in
each one, filled with oil of vitriol, or a coarse, cheap sort of
sulphuric acid. It is so arranged that when you turn the thing upside
down the bottle breaks, and the acid is dumped into the water. Now when
you pour sulphuric acid into a mixture of water and soda, the soda gives
off an enormous quantity of what is commonly called carbonic acid gas,
though I believe its right name is carbon dioxide. At any rate, it is
the same gas that makes soda water ‘fizz.’ But when you turn one of
these machines upside down you get about ten or twenty times as much of
the gas in the water as there is in the same quantity of soda water; and
when you turn this doubled and twisted soda water loose it gives off its
gas in enormous quantities. Now this gas is heavier than air, so when it
was set loose down in the cabin there, it sank to the bottom, and the
air floated on top of it. As the cabin filled up with the gas the air
came out through the hole in the scuttle and the cracks round it.
Pouring that gas into the cabin was just like pouring water into a jug;
the gas took the place of air just as the water in the jug takes the
place of the air that was in it at first.

“Suppose you let a lighted lantern down into the cabin, Will,” suggested
the older boy, “and see what happens.”

Will did so, and the lantern went out as promptly as it would have done
if plunged into water.

“You see,” said Ed, “this gas puts out fire, and it puts out life in the
same way. It smothers both. It absolutely excludes oxygen, and neither
animal life nor fire can exist without oxygen. Do I make the thing
clear?”

“Perfectly,” said all the boys.

“Then that’s why we choked so when we went down the ladder?” said Phil.

“Certainly. Your air was as completely cut off as if you had dived into
water. That’s why I cautioned you to hold your breath just as if you had
been diving into the river.”



CHAPTER XVI

“TALKING BUSINESS”


Naturally the boys were too much excited over their capture to talk of
anything else, and for a time they did not even think or talk of the
most important phase of that. They discussed the shooting, which all of
them saw to be reason enough for the arrest, but it was not until well
on into the night that any of them thought to ask Phil about the results
of his search of Jim’s satchel.

Meantime they had carried the pinioned man below and securely bound him
to his bunk. Then they had cooked and eaten their supper, talking all
the time, each playfully describing his own consternation at every step
of the late proceeding. Finally Will Moreraud said:--

“By the way, what does it all mean?”

“Yes,” joined in Irv Strong, “it at last begins to dawn upon my hitherto
excited consciousness, that we have not yet heard the results of Phil’s
explorations among Jim’s effects. Tell us all about it, Phil.”

They were sitting in the cabin, or half way in it. That is to say, Phil
was sitting in the mouth of the scuttle above, watching the river and
the course of the flatboat; Irv sat just below him on the steps, and the
other boys were gathered around the little table at the foot of the
ladder.

“One of you come up here, then,” said Phil, “and keep the lookout while
I tell you about it. I thought you’d ask after you got through relating
your personal experiences.”

Ed volunteered to take the place at the top of the stairs, although his
frail nerves were now quivering after the strain he had been through.
Phil seized the carpet-bag which he had instinctively kept under his
hand all the time, and descended the ladder.

There he opened it and spread its contents on the table.

“These are what I have found,” he said, suppressing his excitement.
“This big bundle of government bonds,” laying it on the table; “this big
bundle of railroad and other securities,” laying that down in its turn;
“this great wad of greenbacks, and, best of all, _these_!”

As he finished, he held up a bundle of letters.

“What are they? Why are they the best part of all?” queried the boys in
a breath.

“They are letters from Jim Hughes’s fellow criminals. I called them
‘best of all’ because they will enable the authorities to catch and
convict the whole gang!”

The exultation of the crew was great.

“We shall have rendered a great service to the public, shan’t we?” asked
Constant.

“A very great service, indeed. And that’s what we must rejoice in,”
answered Ed. “But we mustn’t fail to render it. We mustn’t let the thief
slip his bonds and escape.”

Hughes was lying there in his bunk all the while, but they paid no
attention to him. They had ceased to think of him as a man. To them he
was only a criminal, just as he might have been an alligator or a
rattlesnake.

“Oh, we’ll take good care of that,” responded Phil. “From this moment
till we deliver him to the officers of the law, we’ll keep one fellow
always right here on guard over him. It will mean double duty for some
of you to-night, for I’m going ashore presently.”

“Going ashore! What for, and where?” was eagerly asked.

“There’s a little town down here somewhere, as I see by the map, and
when we get to it I’m going ashore to send telegrams. You see, Hughes’s
‘pals’ might have somebody at Memphis armed with a _habeas corpus_ or
something of that sort, and take him away from us. I’ve a mind to
deliver the fugitive myself. So I propose to have officers to meet us
with warrants and things when we reach Memphis.”

“Good idea,” said Irv.

“And there’s the town just a little way ahead,” called out Ed, from the
top of the ladder.

Phil went at once on deck, leaped into the skiff and rowed rapidly ahead
of the slowly floating flatboat, or as rapidly as the drift would let
him. When he reached the village he found to his disappointment that
there was no telegraph office there. But he learned that there was one
at the hydrographic engineer’s station a few miles below, on the
opposite side of the river.

By this time the flatboat had passed him, and he had a long “stern
chase” through the darkness and drift before he could overtake and board
her again.

Then, assigning Ed to guard their prisoner in the cabin, he called the
other boys to the sweeps.

“The river is very wide here,” he explained, “and the telegraph station
is on the other side. We must take the boat well over there.”

The boys pulled with a will, and long before the station came in view
the flatboat was close in shore on the farther side of the river.

Meantime, or a little later, something happened in the cabin. Ed was
reading a book, when suddenly the prisoner called out:--

“Ed.”

“Yes?” said the boy, laying down his book.

“I’m awfully tired, lying in one position. Can’t you turn me over a
bit?”

Ed went at once to his relief. His torture was no part of the purpose of
anybody on board. But after Ed had readjusted the ropes so that the
fellow could rest more comfortably, the prisoner said:--

“See here, Ed, I want to talk to you. You fellows have made a tremendous
strike, for of course there’s no use in disguising the truth any longer,
to you at least, or pretending to be what I have tried to appear. You’ve
got your man and you’ve got the proofs dead to rights. You’ve found me
with the swag in my possession. If you turn me over to the law, I’ll go
up for ten or twenty years to a certainty. There is no use in defending
myself. The case is too clear, too complete. Do you see?”

“Certainly” responded Ed. “You must pay the penalty of your crime. We
have no personal hard feeling against you, Jim, except that you ought
not to have tried to involve us boys as you have done, and--”

“Well, you see, Ed,” interrupted the bound man, “I was desperate. There
was a big price on my head, and hundreds of men were looking for me
everywhere. On the one hand, a prison stared me in the face, on the
other was freedom with abundant wealth to enjoy it with. If I could get
down the river, I thought I should have everything snug and right. I
didn’t mean to get you boys into any trouble--really and truly I didn’t,
Ed. My plan was to blunder into that chute, and while you fellows were
all scared half to death about it, to slip ashore. I had those men on
the bank just for safety’s sake. They don’t really know anything about
me or what I’ve got--what I did have,” he corrected, with sudden
recollection that his carpet-bag was no longer in his possession.

“Those men were hired by my partners to have horses there and run me off
into Mississippi, and I was to give them a hundred or two for the job,
besides paying for the horses we might ride to death. Really and truly,
Ed, that’s all there was of that.”

“I see no particular reason to doubt your statement, Jim,” replied the
boy. “But what of it?”

“Well, you see, I want to talk business with you, Ed, and I wanted you
to know, in the first place, that I hadn’t tried to harm you boys in any
way--at least, till I was caught in a trap by that sharp brother of
yours.” There was a distinct touch of malignity in the man’s tone as he
mentioned Phil, to whom he justly attributed his capture.

“Never mind that,” he resumed after a moment. “I want to talk business
with you, as I said. Here are you five boys, all alone on the river.
Anything might happen to a flatboat. You’re likely to make, as nearly as
I can figure it out from your talk, about fifty or a hundred or at most
a hundred and fifty dollars apiece out of the trip, after paying
steamboat passage back. Now you’ve caught me. If you surrender me--”

“Which of course we shall,” broke in Ed, in astonishment.

“As I was saying” continued Jim, “if you surrender me, you’ll probably
get the reward offered, though that’s never quite certain.”

“What possible difference can that make?” asked Ed, indignantly. “You’re
a thief. We have caught you with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth
of other people’s property in your possession. We have only one thing to
do. We must deliver you to the officers of the law. We should do that if
not a cent of reward was offered. We should do it simply because we’re
ordinarily honest persons who think that thieves ought to be punished
and that stolen property ought to be returned to its owners. What has
the reward to do with it?”

“I’m glad you look at it in that way,” said the prisoner. “At most the
reward is a trifle, as you say. Five thousand dollars to five of you
means only a thousand dollars apiece. Now I’ve a business proposition to
make. Suppose you let me slip ashore somewhere down here, I’ll leave
behind me--I’ll put into your hands all the coupon bonds. They’re better
than cash--they are good for their face and a good deal more anywhere.
You boys can sink the old flatboat down the river somewhere, sell out
the bonds to any banker, and go ashore rich--worth more than anybody in
Vevay’s got, or ever will have.”

The man spoke eagerly, but not excitedly, and he watched closely to see
the effect of his words.

Ed preserved his self-control. Indeed, it was his habit always to grow
cool, or at least to seem so, in precise proportion to the occasion for
growing hot. He waited awhile before he spoke. Then he said:--

“Jim Hughes,--or whatever your name is--well, I’ll simply call you
Thief, for that name belongs to you even if nothing else that you
possess does,--you thief, if you had made such a proposition as that to
my father, he would have--well, he was said to be hot-headed. I’m not
hot-headed--”

“No. You’re reasonable. You’re--”

“Stop!” shouted Ed. “If you weren’t tied up there and helpless, you’d
make me hot-headed, too, like my father, and I’d do to you what he would
have done. As it is, I’m cool-headed. I’ll ‘talk business’ with you; and
the business I have to talk is just this: I forbid you from this moment
to open your mouth again, except to ask for water, while you are on this
flatboat. If you say one other word to me or to any of my companions
I’ll forget that I am not my hot-headed father, and--well, it will be
very greatly the worst for you. Now not a word!” seeing that the fellow
was about to speak. “Not a word, except the word ‘water,’ till my
brother turns you over to the officers of the law. I’m not captain, but
this particular order of mine ‘goes.’ I’m going to ask my brother to
pass it on to the others, and it will be enforced, be very sure. They
are not cool-headed as I am, particularly Phil. He’s like my father
sometimes. Remember, you are not to speak any word except ‘water’ till
you pass from our custody.”

The high-strung boy tried to control himself, but he was livid with
rage. He choked and gasped for breath as he spoke. Weak as he was
physically, he would certainly have assaulted the man who had
deliberately proposed to make him a partner in crime, but for the fact
that the fellow was bound, hand and foot, and therefore helpless. In his
rage Ed ran up the ladder and called for his brother, meaning to ask
that the man be released from his bonds in order that he, Ed Lowry,
might wreck vengeance upon him for the insult.

Phil had gone ashore to send his telegrams. Irv Strong had been left in
command of the boat. He asked Ed what was the matter. Ed, still choking
with rage, explained as well as he could, growing more excited every
moment, and ended by demanding:--

“Let the scoundrel loose! cut the ropes that bind him, and give me a
chance at him!”

“Hold on, Ed,” said Irv. “The wise Benjamin Franklin once said: ‘No
gentleman _will_ insult one; no other _can_.’ This thief, burglar, bank
robber, that we’ve got tied in a bunk down there, _can’t_ insult _you_.
He doesn’t know our kind. He isn’t in our class. It never occurs to
his mind that anybody is really honest. It seems to him a question of
price, and he thinks he has offered you mighty good terms. If any man
who understood common honesty and believed in its existence had made
such a proposition to you, your wrath would be righteous. As it is,
your wrath is merely ridiculous. Of course a trapped bank burglar tries
to buy his way out with his swag. Of course such a creature doesn’t
know what honest people think or feel--he has no capacity to understand
it any more than he could understand Russian. Go below, Constant, and
watch that thief. Ed, you must recover yourself. Phil will come aboard
presently, and I really don’t suppose you want to tell Phil precisely
what has happened and leave _him_ to--well, let us say to _discipline_
Jim Hughes.”

“No, no; oh, no!” said Ed, suddenly realizing what that would mean.
“Phil would--oh, I don’t know what he wouldn’t do. For conscience’ sake
don’t tell him what happened!”

“Suppose you go forward then,” suggested Irv, “and sit down on the
anchor and cool off, and so far recover yourself that Phil won’t notice
anything or ask any questions when he comes aboard.”

The suggestion was very quietly given, quite as if the whole matter had
been one of no consequence. But it was instantly effective. Irv well
knew that Ed’s greatest dread was that Phil’s fiery temper might get the
better of him sometime. So Irv had shrewdly appealed to that fear.

“I will; I’ll cool down at once,” said Ed, rising in his earnestness.
“Nobody knows what Phil would do or wouldn’t do if he knew of this. Irv,
you must prevent that. Make all the boys pledge themselves not to let
him know, at least till Hughes is out of our hands.”

Irv was glad enough to make the promise and to fulfil it. For he, too,
knew with what reckless fervor the high-mettled boy would be sure to
inflict punishment for the insult should he learn of it.

“Phil is the jolliest, best-natured fellow in the world,” explained Irv,
when he asked the other boys not to tell their captain what had
happened, “but you know what a temper he has--or rather you don’t know.
None of us does, because nobody has ever made the mistake of stirring
him up with a real, vital insult.”

“No,” said Will, “and I pity the fellow that ever makes that particular
mistake.”

“We’ll never tell him,” said Constant. “If we did, we mightn’t be able
to deliver our prisoner.”



CHAPTER XVII

AT ANCHOR


Phil had sent two telegrams,--one to the authorities at Memphis, and
the other to the plundered bank in Cincinnati. In each he had announced
his captures,--the man and the funds,--and in each he had asked that
officers to arrest and persons to identify the culprit should be waiting
at Memphis on the arrival of the flatboat.

On his return to the flatboat he felt himself so excited and sleepless
that he sent his comrades below to sleep and by turns to watch the
prisoner. He would himself remain on duty on deck all night. As the
night wore away, the boy thought out all the possibilities, for he felt
that for any miscarriage in this matter he would be solely responsible.

Among the possibilities was this: that should the flatboat arrive at
Memphis before some one could get there from Cincinnati to identify the
prisoner, he might be discharged for want of such identification. It
would take a day or two to send men by rail from Cincinnati to Memphis,
while the fierce current of this Mississippi flood promised to take the
flatboat thither within less than twenty hours.

After working out all the probabilities in his mind as well as he could,
Phil called below for all his comrades to come to the sweeps. He did not
tell them his purpose; they were too sleepy even to ask. But studying
the “lay of the land” on either side, he steered the flatboat into a
sort of pocket on the Tennessee shore, and to the bewilderment of his
comrades, ordered the anchor cast overboard.

By the time that the anchor held, and the boat came to a rest in the
bend, the boys were much too wide awake not to have their minds full of
interrogation marks.

“What do you mean, Phil?” “Why have we anchored?” “How long are we to
remain here?” “What’s the matter, anyhow?” “Have you gone crazy, or what
is it?”

These and a volley of similar questions were fired at him.

He did not answer. He went to one side of the boat and then to the other
to observe position.

“How much anchor line is out, Will?” he presently asked.

“Nearly all of it,” answered his comrade.

“This won’t do,” said Phil. “Up anchor.”

The boys were more than ever puzzled. But they tugged away at the anchor
windlass till the flukes let go the bottom and the anchor was halfway
up. Then Phil called out:--

“That will do. Put a peg in the windlass and let the anchor swing in the
water. To the sweeps! Hard on the starboard! We must push her inshore
and into shallower water, where the anchor will hold her, and where no
steamboat is likely to run over us. Who would have thought it was so
deep over here?”

The boys now began to understand why the first anchorage had been
abandoned and a shallower one sought for, but they did not yet know what
their captain meant by anchoring at all. They did not understand why, on
so clear a night, with a river so generously flooded, he did not let
things take their course and get to Memphis as quickly as possible.

Presently the anchor, dragging at half cable, fouled the bottom and,
with a strain that made the check-post creak, the flatboat came to a
full stop.

“That will do,” said Phil. “This is as good a place as any. Pay out some
more anchor line and let her rest.”

“But what on earth are you anchoring for?” asked the others, “and how
long are we going to lie here?” queried Ed.

“Nearly two days and nights,” was the reply,--“long enough to let
somebody travel from Cincinnati to Memphis who can identify Jim Hughes
and take him off our hands. I suppose it would be all right if we went
on without waiting. But I’m not certain of that, and I’m not taking any
chances in this business, so we’ll lie at anchor here for nearly two
days. Go to bed, all of you except the one on watch over Jim Hughes. I’m
not sleepy, so I’ll stay on deck for the rest of the night.”

But by that time the boys were not sleepy either, so they made no haste
about going to their bunks.

“We’ll be pretty short of something to eat by that time,” said
Constant, who was just then in charge of the cooking. “We have only a
scrap of bread left. The eggs and fresh meat and milk are used up, and
we’ll have to fall back on corn-bread and fried salt pork.”

“Well, that’s food fit for the gods,” said Irv Strong, “if the gods
happen to be healthy, hungry flatboatmen. But how important the food
question always is in an emergency! How it always crops up when you get
away from home!”

“Yes, and at home too,” said Ed; “only there we have somebody else to
look after the three meals a day. It’s the most important question in
the world. If all food supplies were cut off for a single month, this
world would be as dead as the moon.”

“That’s true,” broke in Will. “And really, I suppose the world isn’t
very forehanded with it at best. I wonder how many years we could last,
anyhow, if the crops ceased to grow.”

“Not more than one year,” replied the older boy. “There never was a time
when mankind had food enough accumulated to last for much more than a
year, and probably there never will be. If there should be no crop for
a single year, hundreds of thousands would starve every month, and a
second failure would simply blot out the race. As for forehandedness, we
actually live from hand to mouth, especially the people in the big
cities. Only last winter a great snowstorm blockaded the railroads
leading into New York for only three or four days, and even in that
short time the price of food went up so high that the charitable
institutions had all they could do to keep poor people from starving. So
far from the world generally being forehanded for food, there never was
a time when the food on hand was really sufficient to go round.”

“Well, of course,” said Will, meditatively, “there are always some
people so ‘down on their luck,’ as the saying is, that they can’t earn a
living, but there’s always enough food for them if they could get hold
of it.”

“You’re mistaken,” said Ed. “There is nearly always something like a
famine in parts of India and Russia, and even in Italy and other parts
of Europe there are great masses of very hard-working people who never
in their lives get enough to eat.”

There were exclamations of surprise at this, but Ed presently
continued: “In many European countries the peasants do not see a piece
of meat once a year, and in hardly any of them do the poorer people get
what we would think sufficient for food. In fact, their food is not
sufficient. They are always more or less starved, and that’s the reason
so many of them are the little runts they are.”

“Then we are better off than most other nations?” said Irv.

“Immeasurably!” said Ed. “Ours is the best fed nation in the world. It
is the only nation in which the poorest laborer can have meat on his
table every day in the year, for even in England the poorer laborers
have to make out with cheese pretty often.”

“What’s the reason?” asked Phil, who had acquired the habit of using
short sentences and as few words as possible since his burden of
responsibility had borne so heavily upon him.

“There are several reasons. Our soil is fertile--but so is that of
France and Italy, for that matter. I suppose the great reason is that we
do not have to support vast armies in idleness. In most of the European
countries they make everybody serve in the army for three or four
years. It costs a lot of money to support these armies and it costs the
country a great deal more than that.”

“In what way?” asked Constant, who, being on sentry duty over Hughes,
was sitting halfway down the ladder.

“Why, by taking all the young men away from productive work for three
years. Take half a million young men away from work and put them in the
army, and you lose each year all the work that a man could do in half a
million years, all the food or other things that half a million men
could produce in a year?”

“And the other people have to make it all up,” drawled Irv. “I don’t
wonder they’re tired.”

“And besides making it all up, as you say,” responded Ed, “those other
people have to work to feed and clothe and house and arm all these men,
besides transporting them from one place to another, and paying for
costly parades and all that sort of thing. Why, every time one of the
big modern guns is fired at a target it burns up some man’s earnings for
a whole year! Some man must work a year or more to pay the expense of
doing it!”

“Then why don’t the people of those countries ‘kick’?” asked Will, “and
abolish their armies?”

“Because the people of those countries have masters, and the masters own
the armies, and the armies would make short work of any ‘kick.’ In our
country the people are the masters, and they have always refused to let
anybody set up a great standing army. When we have a war, the people
volunteer and fight it to a finish. Then the men who have been doing the
fighting are mustered out, and they go back to their work, earn their
own living, and put in their time producing something that mankind
needs.”

“Cipher it all down,” said Irv, “it’s liberty that makes this the best
country in the world to live in.”

“Precisely!” said Ed, with emphasis. “And about the most important duty
every American has to do is to remember that one, supreme fact, and do
his part to keep our country as it is.”



CHAPTER XVIII

AT BREAKFAST


The day was dawning by this time, and the conversation was broken up.
Constant set to work to prepare breakfast while the others extinguished
the lanterns, trimmed them, filled them with oil, and “cleaned up”
generally.

When breakfast was served, the scarcity of supplies was apparent.
There were some “cold-water hoecakes,”--that is to say, bread made of
corn-meal mixed up with cold water and a little salt, and baked in cakes
about half or three quarters of an inch thick upon a griddle. There was
a dish of fried salt pork, and with it some fried potatoes. And there
was nothing else, except a “private dish” consisting of two slices of
toast made from the scrap of stale wheat bread left, with a poached egg
on each of them. There was no coffee and no butter, the last remains of
that having been used upon the toast.

The “private dish,” Constant explained, was for Ed. “You see, we’re
out to get him well, and his digestive apparatus doesn’t take kindly
to fried things. I’ve saved four more eggs for him--the last we’ve
got,--and six more slices of stale wheat bread. The rest of you are
barbarians, and you’ll wrestle with any sort of hash I can get up till
we get to Memphis.”

Ed protested vigorously against the favoritism shown him, but the others
supported Constant’s plan, and the older boy had to yield.

“Well, I am deeply grateful for your kindness, boys,” he said, “and I’m
duly grateful also to the thousands of men in various parts of the
country who have worked so hard to furnish me with these two slices of
toast.”

The boys looked up from their plates.

“Here’s another revelation,” said Irv. “My ill-furnished intelligence is
about to receive another supply of much-needed rudimentary information.
Go on, Ed. Tell us about it. How in the world do you figure out your
‘thousands’ of men who have had anything to do with those two slices of
toast?”

“Oh, that was a joke,” said Will.

“It was nothing of the kind,” answered Ed. “I can’t possibly count up
all the people who have worked hard to give me this toast, but they
certainly number greatly more than a thousand.”

“We’re only waiting for wisdom to drop from your lips--” began Irv, with
his drawl.

“O, quit it, Irv!” said Phil; “you’ll learn more by listening than by
talking.”

“That is probably so,” said the other, “though I remember that we heard
something away up the river, about how much a person learns of a subject
by talking about it.”

“Yes, but--”

“Listen,” said Ed, “and I’ll explain. The wheat out of which this toast
was made was grown probably in Dakota or Minnesota. There was a farmer
there, and perhaps there were some farm-hands also, who ploughed the
ground, sowed the seed, reaped the wheat, threshed it, winnowed it, and
all that. Then--”

“Yes, but all that wouldn’t include more than half a dozen,” said Phil.

“Yes, it would,” said Irv, “for there’s all the womenfolk who cooked
the men’s meals and--”

“Never mind them,” said Ed, “though of course they helped to give me my
toast. Let’s count only those that contributed directly to that kindly
end. These farmer people used ploughs, harrows, drills, reapers,
threshing-machines, wagons, and all that, and somebody must have made
them. And back of those who made them were those who dug the iron for
them out of the ground, and cut the wood in them out of the forest, and
the men who made the tools with which they did all this, and--”

“I see,” said Irv. “It’s the biggest endless chain imaginable.
Thousands? Why, thousands had a hand in it before you even get to the
farmer--the men who made the tools, and the men who made the tools that
made the tools, and so on back to the very beginnings of creation. And
if we face about, there are the men that ran the railroads which hauled
the wheat to mill, and the millers, and all that. Oh, the thousand are
easy enough to make out.”

“Yes,” said Ed, “and then the railroads and the mills had to be built.
The men that built them, the engineers, mechanics, and laborers, all
helped to give me my two slices of toast. So did the men behind them,
the men who made their tools and their materials, the woodsmen who
chopped trees for ties, the miners who dug the iron, the smelters, the
puddlers, the rolling-mill men, who wrought the crude ore into steel
rails; then there are all the men who made the locomotives, and the
cars, and the machinery of the mills, and--”

“Oh, stop for mercy’s sake,” said Will. “It’s no use to count. There
aren’t thousands, but millions of them. And of course the same thing is
true of our clothes, our shoes, and everything else.”

“But with so many people’s work represented in it,” asked Irv,
reflectively, “why isn’t that piece of toast an enormously costly
affair?”

“Simply _because_ so many people’s work is represented in it,” answered
Ed. “If one man had to do it all for himself, it would never be done at
all. Just imagine a man set down on the earth with no tools and nobody
to help him. How much buttered toast do you suppose he would be able to
turn out in a year? Why, before he could get so much as a hoe he would
have to travel hundreds of miles, dig some iron and coal, cut wood with
which to convert the coal into coke, melt the iron out of its ore,
change it into steel, and shape it into a hoe. Why, even a hoe would
cost him a year’s hard work or more, while a wagon he could hardly make
without tools in a lifetime. Now he can earn the price of a hoe in a few
hours, and the cost of a wagon in a few days or weeks, simply because
everybody works for everybody else, each man doing only the thing that
he can do best.”

“Then we all work for each other without knowing it,” said Will.

“Of course we do. When we fellows were diving for that pig-iron, we were
working for the thousands of people who will use or profit by the things
that somebody else will make out of that pig-iron and--”

“And for the somebody else,” said Irv, “that will make those things out
of the pig-iron, and for all the ‘somebody elses’ that work for them,
and so on in every direction! Whew! it makes my head swim to think of
it. But what a nabob you are, Ed! Just think! Thousands and even
millions of people are, at this moment, at work to make you
comfortable!”

“Yes, and each one of the millions is at work for all the others while
all the others are at work for him. Theorists sometimes dream out
systems of ‘coöperative industry,’ hoping in that way to better men’s
condition. But their very wildest dreams do not even approach the
complex and perfectly working coöperation we already have in use.”

“Just think of it!” said Irv. “Suppose that every man in our little town
of two or three thousand people had to do everything for himself! He
would have to raise sheep for wool, card, spin, and weave it, and
fashion it into clothes. He would have to raise cotton and linen in the
same way, and cattle too, and keep a tannery and be a shoemaker and a
farmer and a mason and a carpenter and all the rest of it. And then he
would have to mine his own iron and coal, and make his own tools
and--well, he wouldn’t do it, because he couldn’t. He’d just wander off
into the woods hunting for something that he could kill and eat, and
he’d try to kill anybody else that did the same thing, for fear that the
somebody else would get some of the game that he wanted for himself.
He’d be simply a savage!”

“Well, but even savages go in tribes and hunt together and live
together,” said Will.

“Of course they do,” answered Ed, “and that’s their first step up toward
civilization. When they do that they have learned in a small way the
advantage of working together, each for all and all for each. The better
they learn that lesson, the more civilized they become.”

“Then the theorists are right who want the state to own everything and
everybody to work for the state and be supported by it?” asked Phil.

“Not a little bit of it,” said Ed. “That would be simply to go back to
the tribal plan that savages adopt when they first realize the
advantages of working together, and abandon when they grow civilized. We
have worked out of that and into something better. With us, every man
works for all the rest by working for himself in the way that best
serves his own welfare. Under our system every man is urged and
stimulated by self-interest to do the very best and most work that he
can. Under a communistic or socialistic or tribal system, every man
would be as lazy as the rest would let him be, because he would be sure
of a share in all that the others might make by their labor. It is
sharp competition that makes men do their best. It is in the ‘struggle
for existence’ that men advance most rapidly.”

“Wonder if that wasn’t what Humboldt meant,” said Irv, “when he called
the banana ‘the curse of the tropics,’ adding that when a man planted
one banana tree he provided food enough for himself and his descendants
to the tenth generation, in a climate where there is no real necessity
for clothes.”

“Exactly,” said Ed. “Somebody once said that ‘every man is as lazy as he
dares to be.’”

“Well, I am, anyhow,” yawned Irv, “and so I’m going up on deck under the
awning to make up some of that sleep I lost last night.”



CHAPTER XIX

SCUTTLE CHATTER


The pocket in which _The Last of the Flatboats_ lay at anchor was well
out of the path of passing steamboats. It was also pretty free from
drift-wood, except of the smaller sort. So there was nothing of any
consequence to be done during the two days of waiting. It was necessary
to pump a little now and then, as the very tightest boat will let in a
little bilge water, especially when she is as heavily loaded as this one
was. There were what Irv Strong called “the inevitable three meals a
day” to get, but beyond that there was nothing whatever to do.

Ed’s books were a good deal in demand at this time. Irv and Phil managed
to do some swimming in spite of the drift-wood and the coldness of the
water. For the rest, the boys lounged about on the deck, with now and
then a “long talk” at the scuttle or in the cabin if it rained. Their
“long talks” on deck were always held around the scuttle, so that the
one on guard over Hughes might take part in them. There were only five
steps to the little ladder that led from deck to cabin, and by sitting
on the middle one the boy on guard could keep his feet on the edge of
the prisoner’s bunk and let his head protrude above the deck.

They had naturally been thinking a good deal about what Ed had told them
concerning food, and now and then a question would arise in the mind of
one or another of them which would set the conversation going again.

“I wonder,” said Will Moreraud, “how men first found out what things
were good to eat?”

“By trying them, I guess,” said Phil. “I read in a book somewhere that
whenever the primitive man saw a new beast he asked first, ‘can he eat
me?’ and next, ‘can I eat him?’”

“Yes,” said Ed, “and that sort of thing continued until our own time,
when science came in to help us. You know where the jimson weed got its
name, don’t you?”

None of them had ever heard.

“Well, ‘jimson’ is only a corruption of ‘Jamestown.’ When the early
settlers landed at Jamestown they found so many new kinds of grain, and
animals, and plants that they began trying them to see which were good
and which were not. Among other things they thought the burs of the
jimson weed--the poisonous thorn-apple of stramonium--looked rather
inviting. So they boiled a lot of the burs and ate them. Like idiots,
they didn’t confine the experiment to one man, or better still ‘try it
on a dog,’ but set to work, a lot of them at once, to eat the stuff. It
poisoned them, of course, and made a great sensation in Jamestown. So
they named the plant the Jamestown weed.”

“I remember,” said Irv, “my grandfather telling me that when he was
young, people thought tomatoes were poisonous, and he said it took a
long time for those that tried them to teach other people better.”

“That’s what I had in my mind,” said Ed, “when I said that there was no
known way to find out whether things were good to eat or not except by
trying them, till modern science came to our aid.”

“How does modern science manage it?” asked Will.

“Well, if any new fruit or vegetable should turn up now, a chemist would
analyze it to find out just what it was composed of. Then the doctors
who make a study of such things would ‘try it on a dog,’ or more likely
on a rabbit or guinea pig, to find out if it had any value as a
medicine. They try every new substance in that way in fact, whether it
is an original substance just discovered or some new compound. They even
tried nitro-glycerine, and found it to be a very valuable medicine. So,
too, they have got some of our most valuable drugs from coal oil, simply
by trying them.”

“Good for modern science!” said Phil. “But, Ed, what were the other new
things the colonists found in this country?”

“There were many. But those that have proved of most importance are
corn, tobacco, tomatoes, watermelons, turkeys, Irish potatoes, and sweet
potatoes.”

“Oh, come now,” said Irv, raising his head and resting it on his hand,
“you said _Irish_ potatoes.”

“And why not? They are a very important product, and the crop of them
sells for many millions of--”

“_But_ they didn’t originate in this country, did they? Weren’t they
brought here from Ireland?”

“Not at all. They were taken from here to Ireland.”

“Then why are they called Irish potatoes?”

“Because they proved to be so much the most profitable crop the Irish
people could raise that they soon came to be the chief crop grown there.
I don’t know whether the colonists found any of them growing wild in
Virginia or not. They are supposed to have originated in South America
and Mexico. At any rate, they are strictly native Americans. By the
way,” said Ed, “the people who thought tomatoes poisonous were not so
very far out in their reckoning. Both the tomato and the potato are
plants belonging to the deadly nightshade family, and the vines of both
contain a virulent poison.”

“Perhaps somebody tried tomato vines for greens,” said Phil, “and got
himself ready for the coroner before the tomatoes had time to grow and
ripen.”

“That isn’t unlikely,” said Ed. “At any rate, an experiment of that kind
would have gone far to give the fruit a bad name.”

“However that may be,” said Irv, “it is pretty certain that men must
have found out what was and what wasn’t good to eat mainly by trying.
There’s salt now. It is the only mineral substance that men everywhere
eat. All the rest of our foods are either animal or vegetable.”

“And that’s a puzzle,” replied Ed. “Man must have got a very early taste
of salt, or else there wouldn’t be any man.”

“How’s that?”

“Why, the human animal simply can’t live without salt. He digests his
food by means of an acid which he gets from salt, and from nothing else
whatever. So he must have had salt from the beginning.”

“The Garden of Eden must have been a seaport then,” mused Phil. “Adam
and Eve probably boiled their new potatoes in water dipped up from the
docks.”

The boys laughed, and Ed continued:--

“It is a curious fact that the ancients, even as late as Greek times,
knew nothing about sugar; at least, in its pure state. They got a good
deal of it in fruits and vegetables, of course, and the Greeks used
honey very lavishly. They not only ate it, but they made an intoxicating
liquor out of it which they called mead. But of sugar, pure and simple,
they knew nothing whatever. Their language hasn’t even a word for it.
Yet in our time sugar is one of the most important products in the
world, so important that many nations pay large bounties to encourage
its cultivation.”

“By the way,” asked Phil, after a few moments’ meditation, “what is the
most important crop in this country?”

“Wheat”--“cotton,” answered Will and Constant respectively.

“No,” said Ed, “corn is very much our most important crop.”

“More so than wheat?”

“Four to one and more,” said Ed. “Our corn crop amounts to about two
thousand million bushels every year--often greatly more. Our wheat crop
averages about five hundred million bushels. And as corn has more food
value in it, pound for pound, than wheat has, it is easy to see that not
only for us, but for all the world, our corn crop is quite four to one
more important than our wheat.”

“But I thought corn wasn’t eaten much except in this country?” queried
Irv. “The Germans and French and English don’t eat it.”

“Don’t they, though?” asked Ed, with a quizzical look. “Don’t they eat
enormous quantities of American pork, bacon, and beef? And what is that
but American corn in another shape?”

“That’s so,” said Irv, this time sitting bolt upright. “I’ve heard that
the big farmers all over the West keep tab on the price of meat and
corn. If meat is high and corn low, they bring up all their hogs from
the woods, fatten them on the corn and sell them. But if meat is low or
corn high, they sell the corn.”

“And they know to the nicest fraction of a pound,” added Ed, “how much
corn it takes to make a given amount of pork.”

“Well, even if we didn’t sell any corn at all to other nations,” said
Phil, “I should think our crop would help them. _We_ eat a great deal of
it, and if we hadn’t it, we’d eat just so much wheat instead, and so we
should have just that much less wheat to sell to them.”

“Exactly,” said Ed. “Every thing that feeds a man in any country leaves
precisely that much more to feed other men with in other countries.”

“And what a lot it does take to feed a man!” exclaimed Will.

“Not so much as you probably imagine,” said Ed. “A robust man requires
about a pound and a half of meat and a pound and a half of bread per
day. Vegetables are simply substitutes for bread and cost about the
same. Eggs, milk, etc., take the place of meat and cost less. So by
reckoning on three pounds of food a day, half meat and half bread, or
their equivalents, we find that a strong, healthy, hard-working man can
be fed at a cost of about fifteen cents a day. The coarser and more
nutritious parts of beef and mutton and good sound pork can be bought at
retail at an average of eight cents a pound--often much less. The man’s
meat, therefore, will cost him twelve cents a day or less. Good flour
can be had at about two cents a pound. The man’s bread will, therefore,
cost him about three cents a day, making the total cost of his food
about fifteen cents a day, or less than fifty-five dollars a year.”

“But it costs something to cook it,” said Phil.

“Yes, but not much. I have calculated only the actual cost of the raw
materials, but my figures are too high rather than too low, for corned
beef and chuck steaks are often sold at retail as low as three or four
cents a pound, and neck pieces, heads, hearts, livers, and kidneys even
lower, while I have allowed eight cents a pound as an average price for
all the meat that the man eats. Now, allowing for the cost of cooking
and for unavoidable waste, I reckon that a strong, healthy American
citizen can feed himself abundantly on less than seventy-five dollars a
year.”

“But what if he can’t get the seventy-five dollars?” asked Will.

“In this country any man in tolerable health can get it easily. There is
no excuse in this country for what somebody calls ‘the poverty that
suffers,’ at any rate among people who have health. Why, one hundred
dollars a year is a good deal less than thirty cents a day, and anybody
can earn that.”

“What does cause ‘the poverty that suffers,’ then?” asked Will.

“Drink, mainly,” broke in Phil.

“By the way,” said Irv, looking up from some figures he had been making,
“does it occur to you that our corn crop alone, even if we produced
nothing else in the world, would furnish food enough for all the people
in this country?”

“No; how do you figure it, Irv?” asked Will.

“Why, Ed says the corn crop amounts to 2,000,000,000 bushels. There are
56 pounds in a bushel, or 112,000,000,000 pounds in the crop. That would
give every man, woman, and child in our 70,000,000 population 1600
pounds of corn per year, or pretty nearly four and a half pounds apiece
each day in the year, while Ed says no man needs more than three pounds
of food per day. So the corn crop, whether eaten as bread or partly in
the shape of meat, furnishes a great deal more food than the American
people can possibly eat. No wonder we ship such vast quantities of
foodstuffs abroad!”

“That’s encouraging,” said Phil; “but it’s bedtime. Hie ye to your
bunks! Whose watch is it?”

And so the scuttle chatter ended.



CHAPTER XX

AT MEMPHIS


About ten or twenty miles above Memphis the flatboat met a steamboat. It
was out looking for the flatboat. Not only had bank officers and law
officers arrived at Memphis, but they had become so apprehensive at the
delay of the flatboat that they had chartered the steamboat and gone in
search of her.

One of the bank officers came aboard, and to him Phil explained the
situation, receiving in return the warmest congratulations upon the
capture.

“We’ll take you in tow,” said the bank officer. “That will hurry
matters, and we’ve men waiting at the wharf with all the necessary
papers and arrest warrants.”

“But you must land us above or below the town,” said Phil.

“Why? Why not at the wharf?”

“Because we’re making this voyage as cheaply as possible, and mustn’t
pay any unnecessary wharfage fees.”

“Wharfage fees be hanged!” replied the man. “I’ll take care of all
that. Why, I’d pay your wharfage fees at every landing from here to New
Orleans. I’d buy your flatboat and all her cargo ten times over. Why,
my boy, you don’t know what a big piece of work you’ve done, or how
grateful we are. Wharfage fees!” with an accent of amused disgust. “What
are wharfage fees when you’ve caught the fellow and secured the plunder?
And even that isn’t the best of it. The letters you’ve got”--for Phil
had outlined their contents in his telegram to Cincinnati--“have enabled
us to arrest the whole gang already. We’ve got ’em all, and you’re
entitled to the credit of enabling us to break up the strongest band of
bank robbers that was ever organized in this country. So--” signalling
to the steamer--“send a line aboard and we’ll be at Memphis in an hour
or two. In the meantime you and your companions must take breakfast on
the steamboat.”

The flatboat was quickly made fast at the side of the steamer, and three
of the boys went aboard for breakfast, the other two following when the
first three returned. For until all legal forms should be completed, and
Jim Hughes safely delivered to the officers of the law, Phil had no
notion of leaving that worthy or the flatboat holding him, in charge of
anybody except himself or his comrades. When he himself went to
breakfast, he left Irv Strong in command, with Constant for his
assistant, and Ed as guard over Hughes in the cabin.

At Memphis the legal formalities were conducted on the part of the boys
by a lawyer whom Phil employed to see to it that their interests should
be guarded. They lay there for two days. Jim Hughes was delivered to the
authorities. The reward of five thousand dollars was paid over to Phil
in currency. He divided the money equally among the crew. But as it
would never do to carry so great a sum with them on the flatboat, they
converted it into drafts on New York, which all the boys sent to the
bank in Vevay, the money to be held there till their return.

As to supplies for the flatboat, the Cincinnati banker made some lavish
gifts. He sent on board fresh beef enough to last several days, four
hams, two strips of bacon, two pieces of dried beef, ten pounds of
coffee, five pounds of tea, a bag of flour, a sack of salt, a dozen
loaves of fresh bread, a big box of crackers, five pounds of butter, a
basket of eggs, two or three cases of canned vegetables and fruits, some
canned soups, a large can of milk packed in ice, a sack of dried beans,
a bunch of bananas, a box of oranges, and finally, a large, iced cake
with miniature American flags stuck all over it.

“I can talk now,” said Hughes to Ed, after the law officers had received
and handcuffed him; “and I’ve got just one thing to say. I never had
anything against any of you fellows except that brother Phil of yours.
But for his meddling, I’d be a free man now. I’ve ‘got it in for’ him.”

“Oh, as to that,” drawled Irv Strong, “by the time you’ve served your
ten or twenty years in State Prison, I imagine Phil will be sufficiently
grown up to hold his own with you. He’s a ‘pretty sizable’ fellow even
now, for his age.”

“Tell us something more interesting, Jim,” said Will Moreraud. “Tell us
why you tried to run us on Vevay Bar and again on Craig’s Bar.”

“I didn’t try to run you on them. I tried to run you behind them into
the Kentucky shore channel.”

“What for?”

“Oh, I was in a hurry to get down the river, and I didn’t want you to
make that long stop at Craig’s Landing. If I could have run you behind
those bars, you’d have been at Carrollton before you could pull up, and
of course it wouldn’t have paid you to get the boat towed back up the
river. I was trying to hurry, that’s all; and I knew the river better
than Captain Phil suspected.”

That was all of farewell there was between the crew of _The Last of the
Flatboats_ and her late pilot. When some one suggested to Phil that he
should speak for the party and express regret at the necessity that had
governed their course, Phil said:--

“But I don’t feel the least regret. I am glad we’ve secured him and his
gang. It restores a lot of plunder to the people to whom it belongs; it
breaks up a very dangerous band of burglars; and it will help teach
other persons of that kind how risky it is to live by law-breaking.
Perhaps it will help to keep many people honest. No, I’m not sorry that
we’ve been able to render so great a service to the public, and I’m not
going to pretend that I am.”

“You’re right, Phil,” said Ed.

“Of course he is,” said Irv; “and as for Jim Hughes, he will get only
what he deserves. If there were no laws, or if they were not enforced by
the punishment of crime, there wouldn’t be much ‘show’ for honest people
in this world.”

“There wouldn’t be any honest people, I reckon,” said Will, “for honest
people simply couldn’t live. Everybody would have to turn savage and
robber, or starve to death.”

“Yes,” said Ed. “That’s how law originated, and civilization is simply a
state of existence in which there are laws enough to restrain wrong.
When the savage finds that he can’t defend himself single-handed against
murder and robbery, he joins with other savages for that purpose. That
makes a tribe. It must have rules to govern it, and they are laws. It is
out of the tribal organization that all civilized society has grown,
mainly by the making of better and better laws, or by the better and
better enforcement of laws already made.”

“Then are we all savages, restrained only by law from indulging in every
sort of crime?” asked Phil. “I, for one, don’t feel myself to be in
that condition of mind.”

“By no means,” replied the elder boy. “We are the products of habit
and heredity. We have lost most of our savage instincts by having
restrained them through generations, just as cows and dogs have done.
You see, it is a law of nature that parents are apt to transmit their
own characteristics to their children. As one of the great scientific
writers puts it, ‘the habit of one generation is the instinct of the
next.’ If you want a dog to hunt with, you choose one whose ancestors
have been in the habit of hunting, because you know that he has
inherited the habit as an instinct. Yet the highest-bred setters,
pointers, and fox hounds are all descended ultimately from a common
ancestry of wild dogs, as fierce, probably, as any wolf ever was.
They have been for many generations under law,--the law of man’s
control,--and so they have not only lost their wildness, but have
acquired new instincts, new capacities, and a new intelligence.”

“I see,” said Phil, meditatively. “It is a long-continued course of
timely spanking that has slowly changed us from savages into fellows
able to run a flatboat and inclined to wear trousers.”

“Ah, as to that,” said Irv, “we haven’t quite got rid of our savage
instincts even yet. I for one am savagely hungry for some of that beef
our Cincinnati friend sent on board, and I suspect the rest of the tribe
are in the same condition.”



CHAPTER XXI

A WRESTLE WITH THE RIVER


After the boat left Memphis it was necessary to proceed with a good deal
of caution. A new flood had come down the river, bringing with it a
dangerous drift of uprooted trees and the like. Moreover, in many places
there were strong currents setting out from the natural river-bed into
the overflowed regions on either side, and constant care was necessary
to avoid being drawn into these.

Memphis is built upon the high Chickasaw bluffs, but a little way
farther down the river the country becomes low and flat, and in parts it
grows steadily lower as it recedes from the river, so that at some
distance inland the plantations and woodlands lie actually lower than
the bed of the great river. It has been said, indeed, with a good deal
of truth, that the Mississippi River runs along on the top of a ridge.

“How did it come to do that?” asked Will. “Why didn’t it find its level
as water generally does--”

“And as men ought to do, but usually don’t,” said Irv.

“It did at first, of course,” said Ed. “But whenever it got on a rampage
like this, it took all the region along its course for its right of way.
It spread itself out over the country and went whithersoever it chose.
Then came men who wanted its rich bottom lands for farms. So they built
earth levees to keep the river off their lands. As more and more lands
were brought under cultivation, more and more of these embankments were
built, and the river was more and more restrained. Now there is nothing
in the world that resists and resents restraint more than water does. So
the river breaks through the levees every now and then and floods the
plantations, drowning cattle, sweeping away crops and houses, and
creating local famines that must be relieved from the outside.”

Before beginning his explanation Ed had dipped up a glassful of the
river water and set it on the deck. It was thick with mud, so that it
looked more like water from a hog wallow than water from a river. He
turned now and gently took up the glass. There was a deep sediment in
the bottom and the water above was beginning to grow somewhat clearer.

“Look here,” said the boy. “If we let that water sit still long enough,
all the mud would sink to the bottom and the water above would become
clear. That’s what we should have to do with our drinking and cooking
water on this boat if we hadn’t brought a filter along. Now you see that
the water of this river is carrying more mud than it can keep dissolved.
This mud is sinking to the bottom all the way from St. Louis to New
Orleans. It is building up the bottom, raising it year by year, and so
raising the river higher and higher. When the river was left free, the
same thing happened, but whenever a flood came it would leave its
built-up bed, run over its banks, and cut new channels for itself in the
lowest country it could find. There are many lakes and ponds well away
from the present river that were obviously a part of the channel once.

“When men began confining the river within its banks at all but the
highest stages of water, and in many places at all stages, it couldn’t
leave its old channels for new ones, no matter how much it had built up
the bottom, and so the bed of the river steadily rose from year to year.
That made the surface of the flood water higher, and so men had to build
higher and higher levees to keep the floods from burying their
plantations. As they have nothing better to make their embankments out
of than the soft sandy loam of the bottom lands, the levees are not very
strong at best, and the higher they are raised, the greater is the water
pressure against them when the river is up. So they often give way, and
when they do that the river rushes through the gap, or crevasse, as it
is called, rapidly widening and deepening it, and pouring a torrent over
all the country within reach. In such a flood as this men are kept
watching the levees day and night to stop every little leak, lest it
become a crevasse, and it is often necessary to forbid steamboats to
pass near the shore, because the swells they make would wash over the
tops of the levees and start crevasses in that way. Sometimes a strong
wind pushes the water up enough to break a levee and destroy hundreds of
lives and millions of dollars’ worth of property, for when a levee
breaks, the region behind it is flooded too rapidly to permit much more
than escape alive, and often it doesn’t permit even that.”

“What a destructive old demon this river is!” said Irv.

“Yes, at times,” replied the elder boy. “But it does a lot of good work
as well as bad. It created all the lands that it overflows, and if man
tries to rob it of its own, I don’t see why it is to be blamed for
defending its possessions.”

“How do you mean that it created all the lands that it overflows?” asked
Constant, who always wanted to learn all he could.

“Why, the geologists say that the Gulf of Mexico used to extend to
Cairo, covering all the flat region in the Mississippi Valley south,
except here and there a high spot like that on which Memphis stands. The
high spots were islands in the Gulf.”

“But where did the land come from then?”

“Why, the Mississippi built it with its mud. It carries enough mud at
all times to make half a state, if it were all brought together. When
the river’s mouth was at Cairo, the river kept pouring mud into the
Gulf. The mud sank, and in that way the shore-line was extended farther
and farther south, spreading to the right and left as it went. The river
is still doing this down at its mouth below New Orleans, and it has been
doing it for millions of years. It has simply filled in all that part of
the Gulf that once covered eastern Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and
the lower parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri.”

“But why don’t other rivers do the same thing?” asked Constant.

“They do, in a degree,” said Ed. “You know there is always a bar in the
sea just off the mouth of a river.”

“Yes, but--”

“Well, most rivers carry very little mud in their water, and that little
goes to make the bar at the mouth. The Mississippi carries so much mud
that its bars become land, and the river cuts a channel through them,
carrying its mud still farther into the sea. Then again, the Mississippi
has floods every year or twice a year, and in some years three times,
such as most rivers never have. This is because it carries in a single
channel the water from twenty-eight states and a territory, as we saw on
the map one day up the river. Now as soon as the river mud forms a bar
that shows above water, vegetation begins to grow on it. When the next
flood comes, it covers the new-made land and builds it higher by
depositing a great deal more mud on top of it and among the vegetation,
which, by checking the current at the bottom, helps the mud to lodge
there. In that way, all the lowlands for hundreds of miles along this
river were created. It took hundreds of thousands of years--perhaps
millions of years--to do it, but it was done.”

Ed did not give this long explanation all in one speech. He was
interrupted many times by Phil’s call of all hands to the sweeps, when
rowing was necessary, and by other matters of duty, which it has not
been necessary to detail here.

Whenever it was possible to land the boat for the night, the boys did
so, and when no banks were in sight where a mooring could be made, they
sought for some bend or pocket reasonably free from the more dangerous
kinds of drift, and came to anchor for safety during the hours of
darkness. Navigation was difficult and perilous now even in daytime when
they could make out the course of the river by sight and keep away from
treacherous shore currents, for the drift was very heavy. By night it
was doubly dangerous.

Even in the daytime Phil kept the entire crew on deck at all times
except when one of them went below to prepare food. Their meals were
eaten on deck with a broad plank for table, even when it rained heavily,
as it very often did. They slept on deck, too, under a rude shelter made
of the tarpaulin. All this Phil regarded as necessary under the
circumstances. Even when tied up to the trees or anchored in the
snuggest cove to be found, it was sometimes necessary to jump into
skiffs and “fend off” great threatening masses of drift. To this duty
the calls were very frequent indeed.

Poor Phil got scarcely any sleep at all during these trying days and
nights. The sense of responsibility was so strong upon him that he
scarcely dared relax his personal watchfulness for a moment. But under
the urgent pleadings of his comrades he would now and then leave another
on duty in his place and throw himself down for a nap. He did this only
when the conditions seemed most favorable, and usually even then he was
up again within the half hour.

The escapes of the boat from damage or destruction were many and narrow,
even under this ceaseless watching, and the strain at last began to show
its effects upon the tough nerves of Captain Phil. He almost lived upon
strong coffee. The coffee was an excellent thing for him under the
circumstances, but his neglect to take other food was a dangerous
mistake. He was still strong of body, but he was growing nervous and
even a trifle irritable.

His comrades remonstrated with him for not sleeping, and begged him to
eat.

“I don’t want to eat, I tell you,” he said, with much irritation in his
voice.

“But you’ll break down, Phil, if you keep this up,” said Ed, “and then
where shall _we_ be? Without your judgment and quickness to see the
right thing at a critical moment this boat would have gone to the bottom
days ago. We _need_ you, old fellow.”

The boys all joined in the pleading, and Phil at last sat down with them
and tried to eat, but could not.

“No, no, don’t drink any coffee yet,” said Will, almost pulling the cup
out of his hands. “It’ll kill the little appetite you’ve got. Eat
first, and drink your coffee afterward.”

“Wait a minute,” said Irv, stretching out his long legs, and with a
spring rising to his feet. “Wait a minute, and I’ll play Ganymede, the
cup-bearer.”

He went below, where he broke an egg in a large soda-water glass and
whipped it up with an egg-beater. Then he filled the glass with milk, of
which they still had a gallon or so left, and again using the
egg-beater, whipped the whole into a lively froth, adding a little salt
to give it flavor and make it more digestible.

“Here, Phil,” he said, as he reappeared on deck, “drink this. You’ll
find it good, and it is food of the very best sort, as well as drink.”

Phil took the glass, tasted its contents, and then drained it at a
draught.

“Make me another, won’t you, Irv?” said Phil about five minutes later;
“somehow that one has got lonely and wants a companion.”

Irv was glad enough to do so, and by the time Phil had slowly swallowed
his second glass, he not only felt himself fed, but he was so. His
nerves grew steady again, there was no further irritation in his voice,
and by the time that the next meal was ready the boy had regained his
appetite.

The boat came to anchor for the night a little after supper, and as the
anchorage was particularly well protected behind a heavily timbered
point of submerged land, Phil consented to take a longer sleep than he
had done for several days past.

Irv and Constant remained on duty for several hours, after which Ed and
Will took their places. Only twice during the night did Phil awake. Each
time he arose, went all around the deck, inspecting the situation, and
then lay down again upon the boards.

By morning he was quite himself again.



CHAPTER XXII

IN THE FOG


The boat was now in a part of the river where the land on both sides
lies very low, behind very high levees. These are the richest cotton
lands in the world, and their owners have tried to reclaim all of them
from the river floods instead of taking only part of them for
cultivation. Along other parts of the stream there are levees only here
and there, leaving the river a chance to spread out over great areas of
unreclaimed land, thus relieving the levees of much of the pressure upon
them. Here, however, the line of embankment is continuous on both sides
of the stream. For long distances the river is held between the two
lines of artificially made banks.

The water was now within a few inches of the top of the levees, and
twenty or thirty feet above the level of the lands in the rear. The
strain upon the embankments was almost inconceivably great, while the
destruction which any break in that long line of earthworks would
involve was appalling even to think of.

The boys could see gangs of men at work wherever any weakness showed
itself in the embankments, while sentinels, armed with shotguns, were
everywhere on guard to prevent mischief-makers from cutting the levees.
For, incredible as it may seem, men have sometimes been base enough to
do this in order to let the river out of its banks, and thus reduce the
danger of a break farther up stream where their own interests lay. For,
of course, when a crevasse occurs at any point it lets so much water run
suddenly out of the banks that the river falls several inches for many
miles above, and the strain on the levees is greatly reduced.

As the boys were floating down the middle of the flood, watching the
work on the levees with keen interest, the air began to grow thick. A
few minutes later a great bank of dense fog settled down upon them,
covering all things as with a blanket. The shores and the great trees
that grew upon them were blotted out. Then as the fog grew thicker and
thicker, even the river disappeared, except a little patch of it
immediately around the boat. On every side was an impenetrable wall of
mist, and ragged fragments of it floated across the deck so that when
they stood half the boat’s length apart the boys looked like spectres to
each other.

“I say, Phil, hadn’t we better go ashore or anchor?” said Constant.

“Where is the shore?” asked Phil, quietly.

“Why, there’s a shore on each side of us.”

“Certainly. But in what direction? Which way is across the river, which
way up the river, which way down the river?”

“Why, the current will tell that,” said Constant.

“How are we going to find out which way the current runs?” asked Phil,
with a quizzical smile.

“Easy enough; by looking at the driftwood floating by,” said the boy,
going to the side of the boat to peer at the surface of the river
through the fog. Presently he called out in amazement:--

“Why, the whole thing has stopped--the drift, the river, and the
flatboat! We’re lying here just as still as if we were on solid
ground.”

“On the contrary,” said Phil, “we’re floating down stream at the rate of
several miles an hour.”

“But--”

“Think a minute, Constant,” said Phil. “We are floating just as fast as
the river runs. The drift-wood is doing the same thing. The water, the
drift, and the flatboat are all moving in the same direction at
precisely the same speed.”

“Oh, I see,” said Constant, with an astonished look in his eyes. “We’ve
nothing to measure by. We can’t tell which way we’re going, or how fast,
or anything about it.”

“Why not come to anchor, then?” asked Irv. “If we keep on floating,
nobody knows where we may go to. If there should be any gap in the line
of levees anywhere, we might float into it. It would just tickle this
flatboat to slip off on an expedition of that sort. Why not anchor till
the fog lifts?”

“First, because we can’t,” said Phil. “The water is much too deep. But
even if we could, it would be the very worst thing we could do. It would
bring us to a standstill, while everything else afloat would keep on
swirling past us, some of it running into us. If we should anchor here
in the strong current, _The Last of the Flatboats_ would soon have as
many holes in her as a colander.”

“Then what do you intend to do, Phil?” asked Ed.

“Precisely nothing whatever,” answered the young captain. “Anything we
might do would probably make matters worse. You see we were almost
exactly in the middle of the river when the fog came down on us. Now, if
we do nothing, the chances are that the current will carry us along
somewhere near the middle, or at least well away from the shores. If it
don’t, we can’t help it. The only thing we can do is to keep as close a
watch as we can all around the boat, for we don’t know which end or
which side of her is in front now. I want one fellow to go to the bow,
one to the stern, and one to each side, and watch. If we are about to
run into a bank or anything else, call out, and we may save ourselves at
the last minute. That’s all we can do for the present. So go now!”

The wisdom of Phil’s decision to do nothing except watch alertly was
clear to all his comrades, so they took the places he had assigned them,
while he busied himself first at one point and then at another,
thinking all the while whether there might not be something else that
he could do--some precaution not yet thought of that he could take. He
went to the pump now and then and worked it till no more water came up.
He went below two or three times to see that nothing was wrong with the
cargo. The boys, meanwhile, were walking back and forth on their beats,
each carrying a boat-hook with which to “fend off” the larger bits of
drift which the eddies, cross currents, and those strange disturbances
in the stream called “boils,” sometimes drove against the gunwales.

The “boils” referred to are peculiar to the Mississippi, I believe. They
are whirlpools, caused by the conflict of cross currents, and, as Will
Moreraud said during this day of close watching, they are “sometimes
right side up and sometimes upside down.” That is to say, sometimes a
current from beneath comes to the surface like water in a boiling kettle
and seems to pile itself up in a sort of mound for a half minute or so,
while sometimes there is a genuine whirlpool strong enough even to suck
a skiff down, as old-time flatboatmen used to testify.

These were anxious hours for the young captain and his crew, but worse
was to come. For night fell at last with the fog still on, and between
the fog and the darkness it was no longer possible to see even the water
at the sides of the boat from the deck.

The crew had eaten no dinner that day. They had forgotten all about
their meals in the eagerness of their watching. Now that watching was no
longer possible they remembered their appetites, and had an evening
dinner instead of supper.

They set their lights of course, though it was of little use from any
point of view. They could not be seen at a distance of twenty yards, and
moreover there was nobody to see them.

“There’s not much danger of any steamboat running into us now,” said
Phil, who had carefully thought the matter out.

“Why not?” asked Ed.

“Because this fog has lasted for nearly twelve hours now, and by this
time every steamboat is tied up to some bank or tree. For no pilot would
think of running in such a cloud after finding any shore to which he
could make his boat fast.”

“But how can a steamboat find the shore when we can’t?” asked Will.

“Because she can keep running till she finds it; and if she runs slowly
she can back when she finds it till she makes an easy landing. She has
power, and power gives her control of herself. We have none, except what
the sweeps give us. In fogs like this steamboats always hunt for the
shores and tie up till the fog lifts. So after ten or twelve hours of
it, there are no steamboats prowling around to run into us.”

“Another advantage the steamboats have in hunting for the shore,” said
Will, “is that they can blow their whistles and listen for echoes. They
can tell in that way not only in which direction the shore is, but about
how far away it is.”

“How do steamships manage in fogs out at sea?” asked Constant.

“Theoretically,” replied Ed, “they slow down and blow their whistles or
their ‘sirens,’ as they call the big steam fog-horns that can be heard
for many miles. But in fact the big ocean steamships drive ahead at full
speed--twenty miles an hour or more--blowing their sirens--till they
hear some other ship’s siren. Then they act according to fixed rules,
each ship turning her helm to port--that is to say to the left--so that
they sail well away from each other.”

“But what if there are sailing vessels in the way?”

“They also have fog-horns, but they sometimes get themselves run down by
steamships, and once in a great while one of them runs into the side of
a steamship. The Cunard steamer _Oregon_ was sunk in that way by a
sailing craft. That sort of thing would happen oftener if the big
steamships were to stop or run very slowly in fog. By running at full
speed they make it pretty sure that they will themselves do any running
down that is to be done. With their enormous weight and great speed they
can cut a sailing vessel in two without much danger of serious damage to
themselves, and as they have hundreds of people on board while a sailing
ship has a very few, the steamship captains hold that it is right to
shift the danger in that way.”

The night dragged slowly along. Now and then a little conversation would
spring up, for the boys were sleeping very little, but often there would
be no word spoken for an hour at a time.

The fog made the air very chill, and the boys, who remained on deck all
night, had to stir about frequently to keep reasonably warm.

The fog began whitening at last as the daylight dawned, and all the boys
strained their eyes to see through it.

But it showed no sign of lifting.



CHAPTER XXIII

THROUGH THE CREVASSE


As the daylight increased, it became possible to see a little further
into the fog, and there was now a little air stirring in fitful fashion,
which tore holes in the thick bank of mist, but only for a moment or two
at a time.

Through one of these brief openings Phil presently made a startling
discovery. The flatboat was running at an exceedingly rapid rate along a
nearly overflowed levee on the Mississippi side of the river, and within
fifty or sixty feet of it. The crest of the embankment rose only a few
inches above the level of the water, and the current was swifter than
any that Phil had seen since the flatboat had left the falls of the Ohio
behind. What it all meant Phil did not know, nor could he imagine how or
why the boat had drifted out of the main current to the shore in this
way; but he felt that there was danger there, and calling his comrades
to the sweeps, made every effort to regain the outer reaches of the
river. But try as they might at the oars, the boat persisted in hugging
the bank, while her speed seemed momentarily to increase. Men on the
levee were calling to Phil, but so excitedly that he could not make out
their meaning.

Presently there was another little break in the fog-bank, and Phil saw
what was the matter. Just ahead of the boat the levee had given way, and
the river was plunging like a Niagara through a crevasse, already two or
three hundred feet wide, and growing wider with every second. The boat
had been caught in the current leading to the crevasse, and was now
being drawn into the swirling rapid.

Phil had hardly time to realize the situation before the boat began
whirling about madly, and a moment later she plunged head foremost
through the crevasse and out into the seething waste of waters that was
now overspreading fields and woodlands beyond. As the land here lay much
lower than the surface of the river, and as the country had not yet had
time, since the levee broke, to fill to anything like the river level,
passing through the crevasse was like plunging over a cataract, and
after passing through, the boat was carried forward at a truly fearful
speed across the fields. Fortunately, she encountered no obstacle. Had
she struck anything in that mad career, the box-like craft would have
been broken instantly to bits.

As she receded from the river she left the worst of the fog behind. It
was possible now to see for fifty or a hundred yards in every direction,
and what the boys saw was appalling. There were horses and cattle
frantically struggling in the water, only to sink beneath it at last,
for even the strongest horse could not swim far in a surging torrent
like that.

There were cross currents of great violence too, and eddies and
whirlpools created by the seemingly angry efforts of the water to find
the lowest levels and occupy them. These erratic currents took
possession of the boat, and whirled her hither and thither, until her
crew lost all sense of direction and distance, and everything else
except the necessity of clinging to the sweep bars to avoid being
spilled overboard by the sudden careenings of the boat to one side and
then the other, and her plungings as the water swept her onward.

Once they saw a human being struggling in the seething water. A moment
later he was gone, but whether drowned or carried away to some point of
rescue there was no way of finding out.

Once they swept past a stately dwelling-house, submerged except as
to its roof; what fate had befallen its inhabitants they could never
know, for the next instant a strong current caught the boat, and drove
it, side first, straight toward a great barn that had been carried off
its foundations and was now afloat. For a moment the boys expected
to be driven against the barn with appalling violence--an event that
would have meant immediate destruction. But the currents changed in an
instant, so that the barn was carried in one direction and the boat
in another. As the two drifted apart there were despairing cries from
the floating building, which had been badly crushed in collision with
something, and was in danger of falling to pieces at any moment. The
boys looked, and caught a glimpse of a number of negro children clinging
to the wrecked structure. An instant later the barn disappeared in what
was left of the fog.

The boys were sickened by what they had seen and by what they felt must
be its sequel. It is a fearful thing to have to stand still, doing
nothing, when human creatures are being carried to a cruel death before
one’s eyes. But as yet the boys could do nothing except cling to their
own boat. Two of their skiffs had been carried away, and it would have
been certain death to make even an effort to launch any of the others.

They were swept on and on for miles. They had passed beyond the
cultivated lands and out into a forest. Here the danger was greater than
ever, as a single collision with a tree would have made an end of
everything. But the turbulence of the water was slowly subsiding at
last, and the boat floated, still unsteadily indeed, but with less
violent plungings than before. It was possible now, by exercising great
care, to move about a little, and Phil quickly seized the opportunity to
get some things done that he deemed necessary.

“Irv, you and Constant go to the starboard pump,” he said hurriedly; “Ed
and Will to the other; the boat must be badly wrenched, and she’ll fill
with water. Pump like maniacs.”

The boys went to their posts, and managed to work the pumps, though with
difficulty. Water came freely in answer to their efforts, showing that
Phil’s conjecture was correct.

Phil himself climbed down the little companionway, receiving some
bruises and one rather ugly cut on the head as he did so, for the sudden
tossings of the boat still continued, though less violently than before.
He found matters below in rather better condition than he had feared.
The space under the flooring--or the bilge, as it is called--was full,
and there was a good deal of water washing about above the floor. The
boat was too unsteady for Phil to estimate the depth of the leakage,
or to discover the rapidity with which the water was coming in. But he
hoped that diligent pumping might yet save the craft.

Having hurriedly made his inspection, he proceeded next to fill a basket
with food, taking first that which could be eaten without further
cooking,--canned goods, dried beef, and the like,--and, returning to the
deck, deposited his stores in one of the skiffs. He repeated this
several times, till he had fully provisioned two of the boats. It did
not require many minutes to do this, and they were minutes that he could
not use to better advantage in any other way, for there was still no
possibility of directing the flatboat’s course by using the oars, and
Phil deemed it wise thus to provision the skiffs, so that if the boat
should sink, he and his comrades, or some of them, at least, might have
a chance of escape in them without starving before reaching dry land
somewhere.

The boat had passed safely through the first stretch of timber lands,
and was now floating over a broad reach of open plantation country. But
the fog was gone now, and, as there was woodland in sight a few miles
farther on in the direction in which the current was carrying them, Phil
and his friends felt that their respite was likely to be a brief one.

He relieved Ed at the pump, and ordered him to rest. But the boy
protested that he was still fresh, and would have worked on if Phil had
permitted. Even in this time of danger and hurried effort, Phil could
not help thinking how greatly his brother’s health and strength had
improved.

“Ed’s getting well,” he said to Irv, as the two tugged at the pump.

“Yes,” rejoined the tall fellow; “a month ago he couldn’t have done such
work as this to save his life.”

“And twenty-four hours of such a fog as we’ve been through would have
killed him to a certainty. Now he doesn’t even cough.”

A little later, as the boat began floating more steadily, Phil called
out:--

“Go below, Ed, and see how much water is in the hold.”

Ed’s report convinced the young captain that the leaks were at least not
gaining upon the pumps. An hour later, the boat having become quite
steady again, Phil found that the pumps were gaining on the water, which
by that time did not rise above the flooring.

The boat had by this time passed again into a forest, and, while the
current was now a steady one, it was still very strong. Phil considered
the situation carefully, and decided upon his course of action.

“Take a line in a skiff, Will, and pass it once around a tree, then run
off with the end of it and hold on, letting it slip as slowly as
possible on the tree till the boat comes to a halt. Then make fast.”

To the others he explained:--

“We must check her speed gradually. In such a current as this to stop
her suddenly would sling her against some tree like a whip cracker.”

Then he turned to Irv, and said, “Take another line, and do the same
thing on another tree.”

By the time that Irv pushed off in his skiff Will had got his line in
place around a tree, and had rowed away fifty yards with the end of it.
As it tightened, the rope began slipping on the tree, dragging the skiff
toward it. Phil called to Will:--

“Don’t get hurt, Will! Let go your rope when you are dragged nearly to
the tree.”

Will did so just in time to save himself from an ugly collision, but his
efforts had considerably checked the flatboat’s speed, and by the time
he let go the line Irv had the other rope around a tree and was
repeating the operation. This second line brought the boat to a
standstill, and under Phil’s direction she was securely made fast both
bow and stern, so that she could not swing about in any direction.



CHAPTER XXIV

A LITTLE AMATEUR SURGERY


“The first thing to be done now,” said Phil, “is to find out what damage
we have suffered, and repair as much of it as we can.”

“Better begin with your head then,” said Will. “It seems to have
sustained more damage than anything else in sight.”

The cut Phil had received had covered his face and shoulders with blood,
and his head was aching severely. But he was not ready to think of
himself yet. He must first do everything that could be done for the
safety of the boat and crew and cargo. So he dismissed Will’s
suggestion, saying:--

“Never mind about my head. I’ll wash the blood off when other things are
done. There’s plenty of water, anyhow.”

With that he went below again to inspect. He found that the water there
had risen since the pumps were stopped until now it stood about two
inches above the false bottom or floor on which the cargo rested.
Putting his head out through the scuttle, he called:--

“Two of you go to the pumps--one to each pump. Don’t work too hard, but
keep up a steady pumping. As soon as the two get tired, let the other
two take their places.”

He withdrew his head, but in a few moments after the pumps were started
he thrust it out again to say:--

“Don’t pump so hard! You’ll break yourselves down, and we can’t afford
that now.”

He went below again, lighted a lantern and made as thorough an
examination of the boat as possible, even moving a good deal of the
freight about in order to get at points where he suspected the principal
leaks to be. Two of these he closed by nailing blocks of inch board over
them.

Meantime he made frequent observations of the water mark he had set, and
was rejoiced to find that the pumps were taking water out more rapidly
than it was leaking in.

He went on deck and announced the results of his inspection.

“The boat is leaking, of course, but not one-half so badly as there was
reason to fear. The bilge is full, and the water stands about an inch
deep or a little less on the false bottom. But it stood two inches deep
there an hour ago, so I expect that in another hour or so we shall get
it down to the bilge, leaving the floor clear. It is important to do
that quickly so that the wet part of our cargo, particularly the lower
tier of hay bales, may have a chance to dry out. If it stays long in
water, of course it will be badly damaged.”

“Well, now,” said Irv, “I’m going to take care of something else that’s
badly damaged. Get a pair of scissors, Ed, and some rags, and help me
repair Phil’s head.”

Then, taking Phil by the arm, he continued:--

“Come to the bow, Phil, where we can get at the water easily. It will
require a young lake to clean you up properly. Off with your shirt,
young man!”

Irv treated the matter lightly, but he did not think of it in that way
by any means. In common with the other boys, he was deeply concerned
over the young captain’s wound. The bleeding had long since ceased, but
the boy’s hair was matted, his face covered, and the upper part of his
clothing saturated with blood.

The clothing was first removed. Then with wet cloths the face and
shoulders were hastily sponged off.

“Now, Ed,” said Irv, who lived, when at home, in the house with his
uncle, a physician, and therefore knew better than any one else on the
boat what to do for a wound, “you take the scissors and shear off Phil’s
hair just as close to the scalp as you can, particularly around the
wound. Hair is always full of microbes, you know.”

With that Irv passed through the hold and was absent for some little
time. When he returned, he brought with him a teakettle of hot water
which he had waited to boil, a basin, and a little box of salt.

“What are those for?” asked Ed, who had by this time reduced Phil to a
condition of baldness.

“How much water is there above the false bottom now?” queried Phil,
whose mind refused to be diverted from his duty as captain.

“The water to cleanse the wound, the salt to disinfect it, and I didn’t
notice any water above the floor,” said Irv, replying to both questions
in a single breath.

Ed laughed, but Phil eagerly asked, “You mean that the water doesn’t
come over the flooring at all,--that there’s no water above the bilge?”

“I didn’t observe any,” said Irv, “but I wasn’t thinking particularly
about it. I’ll go and look again.”

“No,” said Phil; “I’ll go myself if you’ll get me a lantern, for it’s so
nearly dark now that it must be quite dark inside.”

When the lantern came, Phil made a hurried inspection with a blanket
thrown over his otherwise bare shoulders. Then he thrust his shaven head
above the deck and called to the two boys at the pumps:--

“I say, fellows, you can stop one of the pumps now, and keep only one
going. One of you go below and get supper. Make it a hearty one, for we
haven’t eaten a mouthful in twenty-four hours.”

In the day’s excitements not one of them had thought about food, but now
that supper was mentioned they all realized that their appetites were
voracious.

Having given his orders, Phil submitted himself again to the hands of
his surgeons. Irv poured some of the hot water into a basin and added a
tablespoonful or so of salt.

“You see,” he explained, “the trouble with wounds is that germs get
into them, so the most important thing of all is to cleanse them
thoroughly, and after that to keep them clean. I’m using boiled
water”--he was sponging the wound as he talked,--“because boiling kills
all the microbes there may be in water.”

“But what is the salt for?” asked Ed.

“To disinfect the wound. You see there must be lots of microbes in it
already, and salt kills them. That’s what we salt meat for when we wish
to preserve it. The salt kills microbes, and so the meat keeps sound.”

“Then it is the presence of microbes that causes decay in meat?”

“Yes, or decay in anything else. If we hadn’t thrown Jim Hughes’s
whiskey overboard, I’d wash this wound with that. It would make Phil
jump, but it would do the work. You know nothing decays in alcohol.
However, the salt will do, I think.”

When Irv had satisfied himself that the wound was sufficiently cleansed,
he drew the edges of the cut together and held them there with sticking
plaster.

“Now, Ed,” he said, “won’t you please bring me some cloths that you’ll
find in the oven of the stove?”

Ed went at once, but wondering. When he returned, Irv finished dressing
the wound, and all went to supper.

“Why did you put the rags in the oven, Irv?” asked Ed. “I noticed you
didn’t even try to keep them warm after I brought them to you.”

“Oh, no. I roasted them for the same reason that I boiled the water--to
sterilize them.”

“You mean to kill the microbes?”

“Yes. You see everything is likely to be infested with disease germs, so
you must never use anything about a wound without first sterilizing it
with heat or some chemical. You can use unboiled water, of course,
because water cleanses things anyhow, but it is better to use boiled
water if you can get it, and every bandage should be carefully
sterilized. That’s why I started the fire, boiled the water, and put the
rags in the oven to roast.”

At supper Ed ate as voraciously as the rest, and the boys observed with
satisfaction that the long fast, the very hard work, the severe strain
of anxiety, and the prolonged exposure to the fog had in no way hurt
him. Ed declared, indeed, that he was growing positively robust, and
his comrades agreed with him.

“What’s the programme now, Phil?” asked one of the party when supper was
done.

“A good night’s sleep,” answered the young captain. “In the morning
we’ll consider further proceedings with clear heads. One pump is
sufficient to keep ahead of the leaks now, and we shall have to keep
that going night and day as long as we remain afloat. So usually we’ll
keep two men awake to alternate at the pump, but for to-night we’ll
stand short watches, keeping only one man awake at a time. Two watches
of an hour each for each of us will take us through the night. I’ll take
the first watch, as my head is aching too badly to sleep yet. So get to
sleep, all of you. I’ll wake one of you in an hour or so.”

The boys objected. They wanted Phil to treat himself as an invalid, and
let them do the watching and pumping, but he was obstinate in his
determination to do his full share. So they stretched themselves in
their bunks and were soon sleeping the sleep of very tired but very
healthy young human animals.



CHAPTER XXV

A VOYAGE IN THE WOODS


It was long past midnight when Phil aroused one of his comrades to take
his place on watch and at the pump. For the young captain had a good
deal of careful thinking to do, and he could do it better alone in the
dark than when surrounded by his crew. Moreover, he knew that until his
thinking should be done he could not sleep even if he should try.

“I might as well stay on deck and let the other fellows sleep,” he said
to himself, “as to lie awake for hours in my bunk.”

In the morning Phil called a “council of war.”

“Now listen to me first, without interrupting,” he said. “I’ve thought
out the situation as well as I can, and have made up my mind what we
ought to do. After I’ve told you my plan and the reasons for it, you can
make any suggestions you like, and I’ll adopt any of them that seem good
to me.”

“That’s right,” said Irv. “Let’s hear what you’ve thought and what your
plan is. Then we’ll carry it out.”

“No,” said Phil. “I want you to criticise it first, so that if it’s
wrong I can change it.”

“All right. Go ahead.”

“First of all, then, we’re out here in the woods. It isn’t a comfortable
or a proper place for a flatboat to be in, and we must get out of it as
quickly as we can.”

“But how?” broke in Will. “We’re ten or twenty or maybe thirty or forty
miles from the river, and we can’t possibly get back again.”

“I don’t know so well about that,” said Phil. “Of course we can’t get
back to the river at the point where we left it. But I’m not so sure
that we can’t get back to it somewhere else, and at any rate, I’m going
to try. Listen, now! The water we’re in is thirty-five feet deep.”

“How do you know?” asked Constant.

“I’ve sounded it. So we’ve plenty of water, and there is no danger of
our going aground. But we’re not in any river, for we’re in the midst of
the woods, and woods don’t grow in rivers. But this water that we’re in
is running toward somewhere at the rate of six or eight miles a hour,
and we must go with it. Somehow or somewhere it must run into some
river, and that river must somewhere and somehow empty itself into the
Mississippi.”

“Why?” asked Constant.

“Because there isn’t anything else for it to run into, and of course it
can’t stop running. Now my idea is this. We must cast the boat loose and
let her float with the current. It will be very hard work to keep her
from smashing into these big trees, but we must do all the hard work
necessary. We’ll tie up every night so long as we’re in the woods, and
we’ll float all day. Sooner or later we’ll run out of the woods and into
a river, and when we do that we’ll follow the river to its end, wherever
it may happen to be.”

“But have you any idea where we are?” asked Will.

“No,” said Phil, “except that we are somewhere in the northern part of
the state of Mississippi.”

“I know where we are,” drawled Irv Strong.

“Where?”

“We’re in the woods.”

“I’m pleased to observe that you still have ‘lucid intervals,’ Irv,”
said Ed Lowry. “But I have a rather more definite idea than that of our
whereabouts. I studied it out on the map early this morning.”

“Good, good! Where are we?” cried out all the boys in a breath, and with
great eagerness.

“Come here and see,” said Ed, unrolling his great river map. “You
observe that a number of rivers originate in northern Mississippi and
western Tennessee, almost under the levees of the Mississippi. There are
the Big Sunflower, the Coldwater, and the Tallahatchie, with the
Yalobusha only a little way off. All of them run into the Yazoo, which
in its turn runs into the Mississippi near Vicksburg. All of them are
marked on my map as navigable for a part of their course. All of them
lie in a great flat basin or lowland swamp. But for the levees the
Mississippi would flow into them whenever it rises to any considerable
extent. In fact, they must originally have been mere bayous of the great
river, running out of it and back into it again. The Mississippi levees
have stopped all that ordinarily, but the levees have given way this
time, and so the Mississippi is now pouring its water into these rivers,
and as there is too much of it for them to hold, it has filled the
entire swamp country between them, making one vast stream of them all in
effect. We are somewhere in between those rivers, and if we can keep our
flatboat afloat and not wreck her among these trees, the current will
sooner or later carry us into the natural channel of one or the other of
them. That I understand to be Phil’s idea, and he is right.”

“That’s all right,” said Phil, who was restlessly pacing up and down the
deck. “But has anybody any suggestion to make?”

Nobody had anything to offer.

“Very well, then,” said the young captain, “let’s get to work. We’ve
talked enough. We must keep one fellow at a pump all the time. We can’t
do much with the sweeps while we’re in the woods, and our greatest
danger is that of running the boat into one of these big trees and
wrecking her. To prevent that I want you, Irv, and you, Constant,--for
you are the stoutest oarsmen,--to get into a skiff and carry a line
about a hundred feet in advance of the boat. She slews around pretty
easily under a pull, and I want you two to guide her with a line. I’ll
tell you when you are to row to right or left to avoid trees, and the
rest of the time you’ve only to keep the line taut so as to be ready for
emergencies. Get into the skiff at once, and take a light line with
you.”

As soon as the skiff was in position and the guiding line stretched,
Phil directed Will Moreraud to jump into another skiff and release the
flatboat from her moorings.

It was perilous business navigating thus through a dense subtropical
forest. Phil stood at the bow, intently watching and giving his commands
in a restrained voice and with an apparent calm that sadly belied his
actual condition of mind. Will and Ed “stood by” the sweeps, working the
pumps, but holding themselves ready to pull on the great oars whenever
Phil should find that mode of guiding the boat practicable.

Every now and then Phil would call to Irv and Constant in the skiff
ahead, to pull with all their might to the right or left, and many times
the flatboat, in spite of this diligence, had narrow escapes from
disaster.

It was terribly hard work, and the mental strain of it which fell upon
Phil was worse even than the tremendous physical exertion put forth by
the other boys. There was no midday meal served that day, for it would
have meant destruction for any one of the boys to leave his post of duty
long enough even to prepare the simplest food.

About four o’clock in the afternoon Phil suddenly called to Irv:--

“Carry your line around a tree and check speed all you can!” Then
turning to Will:--

“Jump into a skiff, Will, and take out another line, just as you did
yesterday. When the boat stops, make fast!”

The boys obeyed promptly, and a few minutes later _The Last of the
Flatboats_ was securely tied to two great trees--one in front and one
astern.

Then Phil threw himself down on the deck and closed his eyes as if in
sleep, and the boys in the skiffs came back on board.

The captain was manifestly exhausted. The strain of watching and
directing the course of the boat through so many hours and under
circumstances so difficult, the still greater strain put upon his mind
by his consciousness that he alone was responsible for the safety of
boat and crew and cargo, and finally the sudden relief caused by a
glimpse ahead which his comrades had been too busy to share, had brought
on something very like collapse.

The boys said nothing, lest they disturb him. He lay still for a quarter
of an hour perhaps. Then he got up, stripped off his clothing, and
leaped overboard.

Five minutes later he returned to the deck refreshed by his bath, and
almost himself again.

As he dried himself with a towel, he said:--

“Two of you go below and get supper. Make it a big one, for we are all
starving. And get it as quickly as you can.” Then, after a brief pause,
he added:--

“You didn’t notice it, I suppose, but we’re out of the woods!”

“How so?” asked Ed and Irv in unison.

“There’s an open river just ahead,” replied Phil. “Go forward and look.
I’m going to sleep now. Wake me up when supper is ready.”

And in a moment the exhausted boy was sound asleep, stretched out upon a
hard plank, without pillow or other comfort of any kind.

“Poor fellow!” said Irv. “He’s got the big end of this job all the
time.”

With that he dived below, and returning, placed a pillow under Phil’s
bandaged head, and spread a blanket over him, for the air was chill.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE CREW AND THEIR CAPTAIN


Utterly worn out as he was, it was not a part of Phil’s purpose--it was
not in his nature, indeed--to neglect any duty. He ate a hearty supper
with the boys, during which he talked very little. Once he said,
suddenly:--

“I suspect it’s the Tallahatchie.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ed.

“Why, the river we’ve reached. It lies to the left of our course. If it
was the Sunflower, it would lie to the right. Anyhow, it runs into the
Yazoo, and that’s all we ask of it.”

“By the way, Ed,” said Irv, “how long is the Yazoo?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure,” said Ed. “I’ll get the map after supper, and
look.”

“Don’t bother,” said Phil. “The navigable part of it is one hundred and
seventy-five miles long.”

“How did you come to know that?” asked Will. “I thought Ed was the
geographer of this expedition.”

“So he is. But I’m captain, worse luck to it, and it’s my first business
to know what lies ahead. So I looked this thing up on the map. The
Yalobusha and Tallahatchie run together somewhere near a village called
Greenwood, which is probably a hundred feet or so under water just
now,--we may even float over the highest steeple in that interesting
town, when we get to it,--and those two streams form the Yazoo. By the
way, that little side issue of a river happens to be considerably
longer, in its navigable part, than one of the most celebrated rivers in
the world--the Hudson.”

“You don’t mean it?” exclaimed Irv, for once surprised out of his drawl.

“Maybe I don’t. But I think I do. Ask Ed to study it out. I’m too tired
to talk. I’m going to sleep for ten minutes now. Wake me up at the end
of that time. Don’t fail!”

With that the exhausted boy rolled into a bunk, and in an instant was
asleep again.

Ed got out his maps and studied them for a while.

“He’s right, boys,” said the older one, after some measurements on the
map.

“Of course he is,” said Constant. “He’s got into the habit of being
right since we chose him to be ‘IT’ for this trip. But go on, Ed. Tell
us about it.”

“Well,” said Ed, still scrutinizing the map, “the navigable part of the
Hudson, from New York to Troy, is about one hundred and fifty-six miles
long. The navigable part of the Yazoo is, as Phil said, one hundred and
seventy-five miles long. Oh, by the way--”

“What is the thought behind that exclamation?” said Irv, when Ed paused;
for Irv’s spirits were irrepressible.

“It just occurs to me,” said Ed, “that this wonderful river of ours, the
Mississippi with its tributaries, is almost exactly one hundred times as
long--in its navigable parts--as the greatest commercial river of the
East.”

“In other words,” said Irv, “the East isn’t in it with us. Its great
Hudson River would scarcely more than make a tail for the Mississippi
below New Orleans. It would just about stretch from Cincinnati to
Louisville. It would cover only a little more than half the distance
from St. Louis to Cairo, or from Cairo to Memphis.”

“True!” said Ed, “and pretty much the same thing is true of every great
river in Europe. Not one of them would make a really important tributary
of our wonderful river. All of them put together wouldn’t compare with
the Ohio and its affluents.”

“Phil’s ten minutes are up,” said Will. “I hate to wake him, but that
was his order.”

Phil had come, in this time of stress, to live mainly within himself. He
was too much absorbed with his responsibilities to be able to put them
aside, or even to treat them lightly.

“I’m ‘IT,’ and so I’m responsible,” he had said to Ed, “and I must
think. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to talk, and sometimes I’m too tired to
talk. I must just give orders without explaining them. You explain it
all to the other fellows, and don’t let them misunderstand. I don’t like
the job of commanding, even a little bit. But you fellows set me at it,
and I accepted the responsibility. I’ll bear it to the end, but--”

“We all understand, Phil,” said Irv Strong, who had joined the
brothers. “Your crew was never better satisfied with its captain than it
is to-day. But it will be still more loyal to-morrow and next day, and
every other day till the voyage is ended.” Then in lighter vein--for Irv
never liked to be serious for long at a time--he added: “Why, I wouldn’t
even whisper if you told me not to, and you remember Mrs. Dupont posted
me first, and you next, as irreclaimable whisperers.”

But to return to the night in question. When Phil was waked he took a
lantern and made a minute inspection of the boat, inside and outside.
Then he dropped into a skiff and rowed away to examine the moorings
critically. On his return he said to his comrades:--

“The boat is leaking a good deal more than I like. The strain she
received back there, yesterday or the day before, or a thousand years
ago--I’m sure I don’t remember when it was--is beginning to tell upon
her. One pump is no longer quite enough to keep the water in the bilge.
We must keep both going--not quite all the time, of course, and not very
violently, but pretty steadily. So that’s the order for to-night. Two
fellows on watch all the time, and both pumps to be kept going most of
the time. I’ll sleep till two o’clock. Then wake me, and I’ll take my
turn at a pump.”

The boys would have liked to exempt him from that duty. But his tone did
not invite question or protest of any kind. It did not admit even of
argument. It was a command--and Phil was commander.



CHAPTER XXVII

A STRUGGLE IN THE DARK


But Phil was up long before the hour appointed. It was not yet midnight
when he got out of his bunk to get a drink of water. As he did so he
stepped into water half way up to his knees.

He instantly aroused his companions.

“The boat is sinking,” was his explanation. “Get to the pumps quick.”

Then lighting a lantern he made a thorough search of the hold in the
hope of finding and stopping the leaks, but it was without avail.

With two boys at each pump the water could be kept down. That fact was
established by an hour’s hard work.

“But we can’t keep up that sort of thing,” said Phil. “We must stop the
leaks or abandon the boat.”

He thought for a while. Then he said to Ed:--

“Get some ropes, Ed, and make them fast to the four corners of the
tarpaulin. Bring each pair together about twenty feet away from the rag,
and fasten them to another rope.”

“What’s your plan?” asked Irv, who was diligently pumping.

“I’m going to stretch the tarpaulin under the boat. Sailors stretch a
sail that way sometimes to stop a leak.”

But this was much more easily said than done. When the tarpaulin was
ready, Phil took all hands away from the pumps and, sending them to the
skiffs, made an effort to force the great stiff cloth under the bow. It
was a complete failure. The current was much too strong.

Then he went to the stern, where he hoped that the current would be of
assistance. But that attempt also failed. The current doubled up the
tarpaulin against the end of the boat, and it refused to slip under. The
effort was several times repeated, but always with the same
result--failure.

Finally Phil ordered all hands back to the flatboat. He went below and
presently returned with a ball of twine. Unwinding its entire length and
carefully coiling it on deck, he told Ed to fasten its farther end to
one of the ropes attached to the tarpaulin strings.

“What are you going to do, Phil?”

“I’m going to put my swimming to some practical account. Two of you
fellows get into a skiff,--yes, three of you,--and lie off the larboard
side of the boat.”

As they obeyed, the boy removed his clothes and tied the twine securely
around his person.

“Watch the coil, Ed,” he said to his brother, “and don’t let it foul.
Give me free string from the moment I go overboard. A very little pull
would drown me!”

Then, taking a lantern, Phil scanned the water on both sides of the boat
carefully for drift that might be in the way. When all was ready he
leaped overboard, and after an anxious wait on the part of the boys he
came to the surface again on the other side of the boat. He had repeated
his old feat of diving under the flatboat, but this time it was harder
than ever before. The strong current helped him a little, for the
flatboat, tied bow and stern, lay almost athwart it. But a deal of
difficulty was created by the necessity of dragging the twine after him.
Ed saw to it that no tangle should occur, but the string dragged upon
the deck and over the side and again upon the bottom of the boat, so
that a much longer time and far more exertion was necessary for the dive
than had ever been required before. Indeed, when Phil came up he was
barely clear of the gunwale and his ability to hold his breath was
completely at an end. A second more and he must have inhaled water and
drowned. He was for the moment too much exhausted to climb into the
skiff that was waiting for him, or even to give directions to his
companions.

Seeing his condition, Irv and Will leaped overboard with their clothes
on, and actually lifted the boy into the skiff, pushing him over its
side as if he had been a log or a limp sack of meal.

As soon as he was able to gasp he helped his comrades into the little
boat, and called out:--

“Pull away on the string, boys, as fast as you can, otherwise the
current will carry it out from under the boat, at one end or the other.”

They obeyed promptly and presently had the end of the rope in their
grasp. Pulling upon this, they succeeded in getting the edge of the
tarpaulin under the starboard side of the flatboat. But there the thing
stuck, and their tugging at the rope only resulted in drawing their
skiff up to the flatboat’s side. Phil quickly saw that “pulling without
a purchase” was futile. He called out:--

“Row to that tree yonder, and we’ll make fast to it.”

When that was done the pulling was resumed, this time “with a purchase.”
But it was of no avail. The tarpaulin was drawn halfway under the boat,
but there it stuck.

After a little Phil evolved a new idea. Releasing the skiff, he rowed to
the flatboat and directed Irv to go aboard. Then returning to his former
position, he again made the skiff fast to the tree.

“Now, Irv,” he called out, “you and Ed go below and bring up two or
three barrels of flour.”

“What for?” asked Ed.

“Never mind what for. Do it quick,” was the answer.

When the barrels of flour were on deck, Phil said:--

“Find the middle of the tarpaulin as nearly as you can, and roll a
barrel of flour overboard into it.”

The thing was quickly done. The weight of the barrel of flour caused the
tarpaulin to sink below the flatboat’s bottom, and it became possible to
drag it under her for a further space.

“Roll another barrel overboard,” said the captain, when the tarpaulin
refused to come farther. This enabled the boys to drag the sheet still
farther, and finally, with the aid of a third barrel, they brought its
edge ten feet beyond the gunwale.

“Now,” said Phil, “we’ve got to spill those flour barrels out of the
cloth, or it won’t come up to the boat’s bottom and stop the leaks.”

How to do this was a puzzle. After studying the problem for a while,
Phil directed Ed and Irv on board the flatboat, and Will and Constant in
the skiff, to relax the tension on the great square of sailcloth.

“I’m going down on top of it,” he said, “to push the barrels off.”

“But when you do that, it’ll close up to the bottom of the boat and
catch you in it,” said Will. “Don’t think of doing that!”

“I must,” said Phil, “we’re sinking; it’s our only chance, and I must
take the risk. Let me have your big knife, Constant.”

“What are you going to do with it?” asked the boy, as he handed it to
Phil.

“Cut my way out if I can, or perhaps cut a way out for the flour
barrels. Good-by, boys, if I never get back. And thank you for
everything.”

With that he stepped upon the tarpaulin and slid down it under the boat.
Presently he came back, gasping and struggling.

“I got one barrel out,” he said. Then he waited awhile for breath, and
went under again. This time he was gone so long that his comrades feared
the worst, with almost no hope for a better result. But they could do
nothing. Presently Phil came up, but so exhausted that he could only
cling in a feeble way to the edge of the canvas. The boys dragged him
into the skiff, and he lay upon its bottom for a time like one almost
drowned, which indeed he was. When he had somewhat recovered, Irv called
to him:--

“I’m going down next time, Phil. You shan’t brag that you’re a better
water-rat than I am.”

“No, you mustn’t,” said the boy; “I’ve found out how to do the trick
now. But I’ve lost your knife in the shuffle, Constant. Cast the skiff
loose and let’s go aboard for another.”

The boy was so exhausted that his companions simply forbade him to make
another attempt.

“You shan’t go down again,” said Irv, “and that’s all there is about it.
If you’ve found out how to do the trick, as you say, save my life by
explaining it to me, for I’m going down, anyhow.”

The boy was too weak to insist. So he explained:--

“Don’t go down on top of the sheet as I did. Dive under it. Find the
barrels,--they’re almost exactly in the middle,--and slit the tarpaulin
under them so that they can drop through. Oh, let me do it, I’m all
right now.”

But Irv was overboard with a big butcher knife in his grasp, and the
skiff was again securely fastened to its tree.

Irv dived three times. On coming up for the third time, he said with his
irrepressible vivacity, “One, two, three times and out! Third time’s the
charm, you know. I beg to announce that there’s a big slit in the
tarpaulin and that the two barrels of triple X family flour are calmly
reposing in the mud that underlies _The Last of the Flatboats_.”

“Good!” said Phil. “But we must hurry.”

And he gave rapid orders for drawing up the canvas on each side of the
flatboat. Then he secured some tackle blocks and carried ropes from the
two ends of the tarpaulin to the anchor windlass, and set the boys to
draw it as tight as possible.

Then he went below, and found the water almost up to the level of the
gunwales. That is to say, the boat proper, the part that floated all the
rest, was very nearly full of water. A few inches more and the craft
would have gone down like an iron pot with a hole in it.

There was hurried and anxious work at the pumps. At the end of an hour
the gauge below showed that the water in the hold had been reduced by an
inch or two.

“This will never do,” said the young captain. “We can’t keep on pumping
like demons day and night till we get to New Orleans. We simply must
find the leaks and stop them. The tarpaulin helps very greatly, but it
isn’t enough.”

“But how?” asked Ed.

“First of all cast the flatboat loose and let her float,” said skipper
Phil. “It’s daylight now.”

“What good will that do?” asked one.

“None, perhaps. Perhaps a great deal. It will put us into a river for
one thing. We’re in about as bad a place for sinking as there could be.
Maybe we shall float into a better one. Maybe we shall come to some
place where the land is still out of water and let the boat sink where
we can save part of the cargo. Maybe anything. Cast loose, while I study
things below.”



CHAPTER XXVIII

A HARD-WON VICTORY


Phil’s further explorations below, which occupied perhaps half an hour,
convinced him that the pumps, if worked to their utmost capacity, were
capable of emptying the hold of water within three or four hours,
possibly somewhat sooner, as the tarpaulin was doing its work better,
now that the flatboat was cast loose. The current was no longer
interfering, as the boat was now moving with the stream, and the weight
of the craft was pressing it closer to the canvas beneath.

Phil realized that to keep the pumps at work to the full for so long a
time would fearfully tax the crew’s strength, taxing it perhaps even
beyond its capacity of endurance. But he saw no alternative. The water
simply must be got out of the hold. Till that should be done there would
be no possibility of finding and stopping the leaks.

So going again on deck, he said to his comrades:--

“I’ll tell you what, boys, we’ve got to work for all we’re worth now for
the next two or three hours. We must get at the inside of the bottom of
the boat and find these leaks. We can’t do that till we empty her of
water, or get her pretty nearly empty.”

“But how in the world are we to get at the leaks under all our freight?”
asked Will Moreraud.

“We have got to move the freight,” said Phil.

“But where?” asked Irv.

“Well,” said Phil, “we’ve got to throw part of it overboard, I suppose,
in order to give us room. Then we’ve got to shift the rest of it little
by little from one spot to another, exposing a part of the bottom each
time. We must find every leak that we can, and stop every one that is
capable of being stopped. It will take two or three hours to pump the
water out, and, I suppose, it will take two or three days to get these
leaks fully stopped. In the meantime, we are all going to be enormously
tired, and of course--”

“And of course we’ll all be as cross as a sawbuck,” said Irv Strong;
“tired people always are; what we’ve got to do is to look out and not
quarrel.”

“Oh, well,” said Phil, “I will take care of that. I am as cross as two
sawbucks already, but I haven’t quarrelled with anybody yet, and I don’t
mean to. And I’ll keep the rest of you too busy to quarrel. We will
postpone all that until we get to New Orleans--”

“If we ever do get to New Orleans,” said Ed.

“Ever get to New Orleans? Why, we have got to get to New Orleans. We
have undertaken to do that job for the owners of this cargo, and we are
going to do it, if we have to pump the Mississippi River three times
through this boat in getting there. Our present task is to reduce the
necessity for pumping as much as we can.”

Phil found by experiment that one boy at each pump was nearly as
efficient as two, and as the work of pumping was exhausting, he decided
to keep only two boys at it, one at each pump. Then, taking the other
two with him, he went below and with buckets they began dipping water
from the hold and pouring it overboard at the bow. In this way they
added largely to the work of the pumps, and every fifteen minutes or so
two of the boys handling buckets would go to the pumps, and the two
tired fellows at the pumps would come below and work with buckets.

It was wearisome work, but there was at any rate the encouragement of
success. By one o’clock in the afternoon the water in the hold was so
far reduced that it was no longer possible to dip it up with buckets
with any profit. So Phil stopped that part of the work, and decided to
keep the boys on very short shifts at the pumps, leaving them to rest
completely between their tours of duty. He let two of them work for ten
minutes. Then another pair took their places for ten minutes. Then the
fifth one of the party--for Phil did his “stint” like the rest--became
one of the relief pair, thus giving one boy twenty minutes’ rest instead
of ten. This extra rest came in its turn of course to each of the boys,
so that each boy worked forty minutes--ten minutes at a time--and
rested sixty minutes out of every one hundred minutes or every hour and
two-thirds.

About five o’clock in the afternoon Phil made one of his frequent
journeys of inspection in the hold. He came on deck with an encouraged
look in his tired face.

“We’ve got the water pretty nearly all out now, boys. Our next job is to
keep it out by stopping leaks. We’ll work one pump all the time. I think
that will keep even with the leaks, or pretty nearly so. If we find the
water gaining on us, we’ll set the other pump going for a while.”

“And what’s your plan for stopping leaks, Phil?” asked Irv.

“First of all we’ll find the leaks,” said Phil. “Then we’ll do whatever
we can to stop them.”

“Oh, yes, we know that,” said Irv, with a touch of irritation in his
voice, “but you know I meant--”

“Come, Irv, no quarrelling!” said Will Moreraud. “You’re tired and
cross, but so are the rest of us.”

“I own up, and beg pardon,” said Irv, regaining his good nature by an
effort, but instantly. “Phil, may I take time for a cold plunge before
you assign me to my next duty?”

“Certainly,” said Phil. “And I’ll take one with you. Come, boys, we’ll
all be the better for the shock of a shockingly cold bath. Jump in, all
of you!”

And they all did, for, to the surprise of every one, Ed leaped overboard
with them and swam twice around the boat before coming out of the very
cold water and into the still colder air.

“Ed’s getting well, Phil,” said Irv.

“Yes,” said Phil, as he watched his brother rubbing himself down. “Two
weeks ago he would have come out of that water shivering as if with an
ague, and the color of a table-cloth. Now look at him! He’s as red as a
boiled lobster, and he’s actually laughing as he rubs the skin off with
that piece of sanded tarpaulin that he has mistaken for a Turkish towel.
Here, Ed, take a towel, or would you rather have some sandpaper or a
rasp?”

“Thanks, old fellow,” said Ed, who had of course heard all the remarks
concerning himself, “but this cloth feels good. I believe I am getting
better. I’ve quit ‘barking’ anyhow.”

“That’s so,” said Irv. “You haven’t dared utter a cough since that
morning when _The Last of the Flatboats_ tried to make the last of
herself by quitting the river and coming off on this little picnic in
the Mississippi swamps.”

“If you young gentlemen have quite finished your discussion of past
happenings, and are ready to give attention to present exigencies,” said
Phil, in that mocking tone which he sometimes playfully adopted, “you’ll
please put your clothes on and report for duty in the hold, where
there’s some important work to be done. It’s your turn at the pump,
Constant. Get thee to thy task, and don’t forget to remind me when your
time’s up.

“Now,” said Phil, when they threw open the forward door of the flatboat
to open a passage for taking out freight, “I suppose we ought to divide
up the loss by throwing out about an equal quantity of each owner’s
freight. But we can’t do it, so there’s an end of that.”

“Oh, the law will take care of all that,” said Ed.

“The law? How?”

“Why the law requires everybody interested in the boat or the cargo to
share the loss, when freight must be thrown overboard to save the ship.”

“But how can that be done?” asked Irv.

“Why, we must keep account of what we throw overboard. When we sell the
rest at New Orleans, we shall know just what was the value of the part
jettisoned,--that’s the law term for throwing things overboard, I
believe,--and that loss must be divided among the owners of the boat
herself, the owners of cargo on board, and the insurance companies, if
any of the freight is insured. Each one’s share of the loss will be in
precise proportion to his interest.”

“Illustrate,” said Will Moreraud.

“Well,” rejoined Ed, “suppose we find the boat and her total cargo to be
worth one thousand dollars--”

“Oh, rubbish! It’s worth many times that,” broke in Will. “Why, I should
value--”

“Never mind that,” said the other. “I’m ‘supposing a case,’ as Irv says,
and simply for convenience I take one thousand dollars as the total
value of the boat and everything in her. Now, suppose we have to throw
overboard one hundred dollars’ worth. That is one-tenth of the whole.
That tenth must be divided, not equally, but proportionally, among all
the persons interested. Suppose the boat is worth two hundred dollars.
That is one-fifth the total value, and so the boat owners must bear
one-fifth of the one hundred dollars’ loss. That is to say, we fellows
should have to ‘pony up’ twenty dollars among us, or four dollars
apiece. A man owning three hundred dollars’ worth of freight would be
charged thirty dollars, and so on through the list.”

“Oh, I see,” said Phil, who in the meantime had been studying ways and
means of accomplishing the practical purpose in hand. “And a very good
arrangement it is. Now stop talking, and let’s heave out some of these
bales of hay.”

“Why not take some of the other things instead?” asked Irv. “They are
heavier, and to throw them over would lighten the boat more.”

All this while the boys were at work getting the hay out.

“We aren’t trying to lighten the boat,” replied Phil. “We’re only trying
to make room, and the hay takes up more room, dollar’s worth for
dollar’s worth, than anything else. So it’s cheapest to ‘jettison’
hay--thanks for that new word, Ed. Now, heave ho!” And the first bale of
hay went over the bow into the water.

“Now, another!”

In a brief time a considerable space was cleared.

“That will do, I think,” said Phil. “We shan’t have to ‘jettison’
anything more, if you fellows will stop your chatter and get to work. If
you don’t, I’ll jettison some of the crew.”

This brought a needed smile, for the boys were by this time almost
exhausted with work and loss of sleep. Phil thought of this. He had not
himself slept a moment since his discovery that the boat was sinking at
midnight of the night before, while all the rest had caught refreshing
little naps between their tours of duty at the pumps. But he left
himself out of the account in laying his plans.

“See here, boys,” he said, “there isn’t room for more than one of you to
work here with me at these leaks. One must stay at the pump on deck, of
course, but the other two might as well go to sleep till we need you to
move freight again.”

“Oh, I like that,” said Irv. “But why shouldn’t _you_ do a little of the
sleeping, instead of shoving it all off on us, as you’ve done all day?”

“Oh, never mind about me. I shan’t sleep till we get things in shape, so
you and Ed go to sleep. You go and relieve Constant at the pump, Will,
and let him come and help me.”

“You said there was to be no quarrelling,” said Irv, “and I have thus
far obeyed. I have even stood Ed’s exposition of the law about throwing
freight overboard, without a murmur, but now I’m going to quarrel with
the skipper of this craft, if he doesn’t consent to take his full and
fair share of the sleeping that simply has to be done. He always takes
his full share of the work, even to the cooking. It was only yesterday
that he made the worst pot of coffee we’ve had yet. I insist that he
shall not be permitted basely to shirk his fair share of the sleeping.”

The other boys echoed the kindly sentiment that Irv had put in that
playful way, and Phil was touched by their consideration. Instinctively
holding out his hands to them, he said:--

“Thank you, fellows. It’s awfully good of you. But I simply could not
sleep now. I cannot close my eyes till I see this work of stopping leaks
so well advanced as to be sure that the boat is safe. I promise you
that just as soon as that is accomplished I’ll let you fellows go on
with the work, and I’ll take even a double turn at sleeping.”

“You’ll promise that?”

“Yes. And by way of compromise, and to keep you from quarrelling, Irv,
I’ll let you postpone your first sleeping turn till you can get me
something hot to swallow--a canned soup with an egg in it, or something
else sustaining. I’m hungry.”

During the day’s excitements there had been no regular meals served on
the boat, but as there happened to be a cold boiled ham in the larder
and plenty of bread, the boys had indulged frequently in sandwiches. But
it now occurred to them that Phil, in his anxiety, had quite forgotten
to do this, and had, in fact, eaten nothing whatever for more than
eighteen hours. So Irv hastened to prepare him some food of the kind he
had asked for.

In the meantime, Phil and Constant, armed with hammers and nails, and
bits of board which they from time to time sawed or cut to fit spaces,
were busy at the leaks. When they had done all they could in that way
within the space laid bare by the removal of the hay, they rolled other
freight into that space, thus exposing another part of the bottom.

[Illustration: A TOUR OF INSPECTION.

“‘Hello! Irv; we’ve found the crevasse at last.’”]

In this way the work went forward during the night, all of the boys
except Phil securing some sleep in brief snatches, and all of them
ministering, so far as they were permitted, to their captain’s need for
tempting food.

About daylight, in making a shift of freight, Phil suddenly came upon
something that made him call out:--

“Hello! what’s this? I say, Irv,”--for Irving was then working with
him,--“we’ve found the crevasse at last.”

“I should say so,” said Irv, with a slower drawl than usual, as he held
up his lantern and looked. “The Mississippi River and all its large and
interesting family of tributaries seem trying to come aboard here.”

Just where the gunwale joined the bottom planks of the boat a great seam
had been wrenched open, and the water was actually spouting and spurting
through it.

“There’s one consolation,” said Phil. “There isn’t any other leak like
this anywhere.”

“How do you know?”

“Why, if there were two such, we should have gone to Davy Jones’s
locker long ago.”

Then the two boys set to work trying to fasten a board over the open
seam, but their efforts failed completely. Their united strength was not
sufficient even to press the board against the timbers, much less to
hold it in place long enough to nail it there. For the whole weight of
the boat and cargo was pressing down into the river and forcing this jet
of water upward through the opening.

“Call the entire crew, Irv,” said Phil. “We shall need them all for this
job--including the fellow at the pump.”

Then, while Irv went to summon the boys, Phil secured a piece of plank
three inches thick, very green and very heavy, which had been purchased
at Vevay to serve as a staging over which to roll freight in taking it
on or discharging it.

“Get me the brace and bit, Will--the quarter-inch auger bit. And, Ed,
see if you can find the spikes that were left over in building the boat.
Bring the heaviest hammers we’ve got too, some of you.”

All this while the boy was measuring, calculating, sawing, and hewing
with an axe to fit his great plank to its place. He bored holes in it
at intervals, to facilitate the driving of spikes through its tough and
tenacious thickness.

When all was ready, the boys made a strenuous effort to force the timber
down against the crack, but to no purpose. Their strength and weight
were not sufficient.

Presently a happy thought struck Will Moreraud.

“Wait a minute,” he said, and with that he rolled several barrels of
corn meal into the open space.

“Now,” he cried, “three of you stand on one end of the plank while I
drive it into place. Let the other end ride free of the bottom, but one
of you hold it so that it can’t slew away from the gunwale.”

The boys did this, and Will succeeded in driving one end of the timber
into place while three of his comrades stood upon that end of it. The
other end was held up by the waterspout a foot from the bottom of the
boat, but Ed was holding it against the gunwale, in the place where it
was desired to force it down.

“Now, hold it so,” said Will, “and I’ll force it down.”

With that he turned a two-hundred-pound barrel of meal on end upon the
plank just beyond the point where the three boys were standing. This
pressed the timber down somewhat, and Will helped it with another
barrel. Then he began bringing heavy sacks of corn and oats, so heavy
that he could scarcely handle them. These he piled high on top of the
meal barrels, and the combined weight forced the plank down to within an
inch of the bottom.

With one end securely weighted down, he began piling freight in the same
way upon the other. Now and then the resisting water would push the
heavy and heavily weighted plank away from the gunwale and force a
passage for itself between. But when the plank was securely weighted
down upon the bottom, two or three of the boys, acting together, were
able, with axes and heavy hammers, to drive it finally and firmly
against the side of the boat.

Then with the long wrought-iron spikes it was firmly secured in its
place, but Phil decided not to remove any of the freight that was piled
on top of it, lest the tremendous water pressure from below should force
even the great iron spikes out of their sockets and set the leak going
again. Indeed, to prevent this he directed his comrades to pile all the
freight they could so that its weight should fall upon the protecting
timber.

By the time that all this was done it was eleven o’clock in the morning,
and Irv Strong turned to Phil with an earnest look in his eyes, and
said:--

“We claim the fulfilment of your promise, Phil. You must go to sleep
now.”

The other boys stood by Irv’s side with faces as earnest as his own. It
was obvious that he spoke for all of them and as the result of an
understanding. Phil hesitated for a moment. Then he said:--

“Thank you, fellows, all of you. I’ll do as you say.”

As he almost staggered toward the cabin in his exhaustion, he paused,
still thoughtful of the general welfare, and said:--

“Irv, you take charge while I sleep, and call me if anything happens.”

Two minutes later the lad was deeply slumbering.



CHAPTER XXIX

RESCUE


When Phil at last waked, Ed was putting supper on the table, and it was
rather a late supper too, for the boys had purposely postponed it in
order to let Phil get all the sleep possible. He had in fact slept for
fully eight hours.

“Well, how do you feel now, skipper?” asked Will.

“I don’t know exactly,” answered the boy, yawning and stretching.
“Stupid for the most part, hungry for the rest of it. I say, what time
of day or night is it?”

“It’s about eight thirty P.M.,” answered Constant, pulling out his
antique Swiss watch and consulting it.

“Yes, but _what_ P.M.? What day is it? When did I go to sleep?”

The boys soon straightened things out in their captain’s temporarily
bewildered mind. The effort to do so was aided by the sight and smell of
a great platter which Ed at that moment set upon the table. It held a
“boiled dinner.” There was a juicy brisket of corned beef on top. Under
it were peeled and boiled potatoes, boiled turnips still retaining their
shape, and beneath all was the last cabbage on board, the remains of a
purchase made at Memphis a week or ten days before, though to the boys
it seemed many moons past.

As Phil eyed the savory dish he became for the first time fully awake.

“I say, fellows,” he broke out, “what does this mean? Why didn’t you
have this sort of thing for dinner instead of keeping it for supper?”

“Because you weren’t awake at dinner time to help us eat it, Phil. It’s
the last really good meal we’re likely to see for days to come, and
we--”

“You see,” broke in Irv Strong, “we’re bound to build you up again,
Phil, if we have to do it with a hammer and nails. But how recklessly
you expose your country breeding!” as he helped all round; “if you were
captain of an ocean liner now instead of a flatboat, you would know that
dinner before six o’clock is impossible to civilized man, and that the
actual dinner hour in all those regions where dress coats and culture
prevail, ranges from seven to eight o’clock.”

“You are unjust in your mockery, Irv,” said Ed. “And by that you in your
turn simply expose your provincialism--and ours, too.”

“How?” asked Irv, chuckling to think that he had succeeded in diverting
the conversation from channels in which it might easily have become
emotional. For all the boys had been for hours under a strain of severe
anxiety on Phil’s account. They were full of admiration for the
self-sacrificing way in which he had worked and thought and planned for
the common welfare. They had been touched to the heart by his exhaustion
after his strenuous work was done, and they had been anxious all that
afternoon, lest the breakdown of his strength should prove to be
lasting. His appetite at supper relieved that fear, but the very relief
made them all the more disposed to be a trifle tender toward him. Irv
had prevented a scene, so he didn’t mind Ed’s criticism.

“How’s that, Ed?”

“Why, when you sneer at people because their customs are different from
those that we are used to, don’t you see you are just as narrow-minded
as they are when they sneer at us because our customs are not theirs.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to sneer,” said Irv. “But, of course, it does seem
odd for people to eat dinner at six or seven o’clock in the evening,
instead of eating it about noon.”

“Not a bit of it. The dinner hour is a matter of convenience. In a
little town like ours it is convenient for everybody to go home to
dinner at noon, and so everybody does it. In a big city where people
live five or ten miles away from their places of business, it is
impossible. In such cities business doesn’t begin till nine or ten
o’clock in the morning, when the banks and exchanges open, and it is in
every way handier to have dinner after the day’s work is done. Our
habits are just as odd to city people as theirs are to us.”

“Oh, yes, I see that,” said Irv, “and ‘Farmer Hayseed’ is just as
snobbish when he laughs at ‘them city folks’ as the city people are when
they ridicule him. It reminds me of the nursery story about the town
mouse and the country mouse.”

“How about the leaks, fellows?” asked Phil, who was now quite himself
again.

“There aren’t any to speak of,” reported Irv. “We’ve gone over the whole
bottom of the boat now, stopping every little crack, and now she’s as
dry as a bone. Five minutes’ pumping in an hour is quite enough.”

“All right!” said the captain. “Then we’ll take off her bandages in the
morning. With that tarpaulin wrapped around her she looks like Sally
Hopper when she comes to school with a toothache and a swelled jaw bound
up in flannel.”

But the next morning brought with it some other and more pressing work
than that of removing the tarpaulin.

At daylight the boat was floating easily and rapidly down the middle of
the overflowed river, when Phil, who was on deck, saw half a mile ahead,
a group of people huddled together upon a small patch of ground that
protruded above the water. It was, in fact, the top of one of those very
high Indian mounds that abound in the Sunflower swamp country.

Calling the other boys on deck, Phil took a skiff and rowed ahead as
rapidly as he could. When he reached the little patch of dry land,
which was circular in shape, and did not exceed twenty feet in diameter,
he found a family of people in a woful state of destitution and
wretchedness.

They had no fire and no fuel. They had been for several days without
food and were now so weak that they could scarcely speak above a
whisper. The party consisted of a father, a mother, three big-eyed
children, and a negro man.

The negro man, great stalwart fellow that he was, was now the most
exhausted one of the party, while the youngest of the children, whom the
others called “Baby,” as if she were yet too small to carry a name of
her own, was still chipper and full of interest in the strange things
about her when she was taken on board the flatboat.

The work of rescue occupied a considerable time and cost the boys some
very hard work. The people on the mound were too feeble from hunger and
long exposure even to help in their own deliverance. The negro man had
to be lifted bodily into a skiff and laid out at full length upon its
bottom. The rest, except “Baby” were not in much better condition. The
man could walk indeed, in an unsteady way, but he was so dazed in his
mind that it required force to keep him from dropping out of the skiff
on the way to the flatboat.

The woman and the two older children were chewing strips of leather, cut
from the man’s boot tops. The baby continually sucked its thumb.

People in such condition are very difficult to manage. They are
physically incapable of doing anything to help themselves, and mentally
just alert enough to interfere querulously with the efforts of others to
help them. To get such a company into frail, unsteady skiffs, to row
them away to the flatboat, and then to “hoist them aboard,” as Phil
called the operation, required quite two hours of very hard work, but it
was accomplished at last.

But to get them aboard was only the beginning of the work of rescue.
They were starving and they must be fed. Phil was for setting out the
remainder of the last evening’s boiled dinner at once and bidding them
help themselves. But Irv’s superior knowledge of such matters prevented
that disastrous blunder.

“Why, don’t you know, Phil, that to give them even an ounce of solid
food now would be to kill them! Open a can of consomme, and heat it
quick.”

When the soup was ready he peppered it lavishly, explaining to Ed:--

“The problem is not merely to get food into their stomachs, but to get
their stomachs to turn the food to some account after we’ve got it
there. In their weakened condition they can’t digest anything solid, and
it is a serious question whether their stomachs can even manage this
thin, watery soup. So I’m putting pepper into it as a ‘bracer.’ It will
stimulate their stomachs to do their work.”

As he explained, he fed the soup to the sufferers--a single spoonful to
each. They were clamorous for more, but Irv was resolute.

“Wait till I see how that goes,” he said. “You can’t have any more till
I say the word.”

The children cried. The woman hysterically laughed and cried
alternately. The man sat still with bowed head and with the tears
trickling down his face--whether tears of joy, of distress, or of mere
weakness, it was hard to say.

The negro man was too far gone even to swallow. Irv had to turn him on
his back and literally pour a spoonful of soup down his throat. Then he
said to Ed and Constant:--

“I’m afraid this man is dying. His hands are very cold and so are his
feet--cold to the knees. Take some towels--no, here,” seizing a
blanket from one of the bunks,--“take this. Dip it into boiling
water,--fortunately we’ve got it ready,--wring the blanket out and wrap
his feet and legs in it, from the knees down. Then take towels and
do the same for his hands. Pound him, too, punch him, roll him
about--bulldoze and kuklux him in every way you can till you get his
blood to going again! It’s the only way to save the poor fellow’s life.”

By this time Irv deemed it safe to give each of his other patients
another spoonful or two of the soup, and he even ventured to pour three
more spoonfuls down the throat of the negro.

“He’s reviving a little,” Irv explained. “And as a strong man, with a
robust stomach accustomed to coarse food, he can stand more soup than
the others.”

Thus little by little Irv and Ed, with such assistance from the other
boys as they needed, slowly brought the starving party back to life. As
the negro man had been the first to succumb to starvation,--perhaps
because his robust physical nature demanded more food than more
delicately constructed bodies do,--so he was the first to recover. By
nightfall he was walking about on the deck, while all the rest were
still lying in the bunks below as invalids.

After awhile Irv stopped him.

“Did anybody ever tell you that you’re an exceptional personage?”

“Lor’ no, boss. Well, yes, some o’ de black folks in de chu’ch done took
’ceptions to me sometimes ’cause I wouldn’t give enough to de cause, but
fore de court, boss--”

“That isn’t what I mean,” broke in Irv, with smiles rippling all over
him, and running down even to his legs. “I mean, did anybody ever notice
that you were,--oh, well, never mind that; but tell me, would you like a
good big slice of cold corned beef before you go to sleep?”

The negro answered in words. But his more emphatic answer was not one of
words. He threw his arms around Irv in a giant’s embrace that almost
crushed the youth’s bones.

“There, that will do,” said Irv. “You have an engagement as a cotton
compress or something of that sort, when you’re at home, I suppose. But
now, if I let you have a good big slice of cold corned beef to-night,
will you eat it just as I tell you, take a bite when I tell you and at
no other time, and stop whenever I tell you? Will you promise?”

“Shuah, sar, shuah,” eagerly responded the man.

“But ‘sure’ isn’t enough,” replied Irv, half in amusement and half in
seriousness, for he felt that his experiment was very risky, and he
wanted to be able to regulate it, and stop it at any point. “Sure isn’t
enough. Will you promise me on the isosceles triangle?”

“Yes, boss.”

“On the grand panjandrum?”

“For shuah.”

“And even on the parallelopipedon itself?”

“Shuah, boss. I dunno what dem names mean, but for shuah I’ll do jes’
what you tells me to if you’ll lem’ me have de meat.”

Irv was satisfied. He went below and prepared a sandwich. Returning, he
allowed the man to eat it in bites, with long intervals between. It not
only did no harm, it restored the man to such vitality that Phil decided
to get some information out of him as to the flatboat’s whereabouts.

He learned first that the rescued family sleeping below was that of a
well-to-do planter; that the flood, coming as it did as the result of a
crevasse, and therefore suddenly, had taken them completely by surprise,
in the middle of the night, four or five days ago; that they had with
difficulty escaped to the Indian mound in a field near by, and that they
had not been able to take with them any food, or anything else except
the clothes they had on. This accounted for the fact that the woman wore
only a wrapper over her nightdress, that the man was nearly naked, and
that the children were clad only in their thin little nightgowns.

Then Phil learned that _The Last of the Flatboats_ was now in the
Tallahatchie River, as he had guessed, not far from the point where it
enters the Yazoo, at Greenwood. A little study of the map showed Phil
that if this were true, he might expect to reach Vicksburg within four
or five days, which in fact is what happened, not on the fourth or
fifth, but on the sixth day thereafter, early in the morning.

In the mean time the crew and their guests had eaten up pretty nearly
all the boat’s store of provisions, and _The Last of the Flatboats_ had
been stripped of her unsightly swaddling-cloth, the tarpaulin. Phil tied
her up at the landing near the historic town as proudly as if she had
not run away, and misbehaved as she had done.

“She has only been showing us some of the wonders of the Wonderful
River, that we should never otherwise have known anything about,” he
said.

But this is going far ahead of my story. The boys and their boat were
still in the Yazoo, nearly a week’s journey above Vicksburg. So let us
return to them.



CHAPTER XXX

A YAZOO AFTERNOON


There were no difficulties of any consequence to contend with after _The
Last of the Flatboats_ entered the Yazoo. The boys’ guests were well
now, and joined them in their long talks on deck. These talks covered
every conceivable subject, and the planter, who proved himself to be an
unusually well-informed man, added not a little to their interest.

“I say, Ed,” said Phil one day, holding up one of his newspapers, “you
were all wrong about the crops.”

“How do you mean, Phil?”

“Why, you put corn first, as the most valuable crop produced in this
country.”

“Well, isn’t it?”

“Not if this newspaper writer knows his business and tells the truth.”

“Why, what does he say?” asked Ed, with an interest he had not at first
shown in Phil’s criticism.

“He says that in Missouri, which I take to be one of the great
corn-growing states--”

“It is all that,” answered Ed. “What about it?”

“Why, he says that in Missouri the eggs and spring chickens produced by
what he calls ‘the great American hen’ sell every year for more money
than all the corn, wheat, oats, and hay raised in the state, twice over.
And he gives the figures for it too.”

“That is surprising,” said Ed, “but it is very probably true. The
trouble is that we have no trustworthy statistics on the subject. No
ordinary farmer keeps any account of his crops of that kind. Not one
farmer in a hundred could tell you at the end of a year how many dozens
of eggs or how many pairs of chickens he had sold. Still less could he
tell you how many of either his family had eaten. So it must all be
guess-work about such crops, while practically every bushel of wheat,
corn, and oats and every bale of cotton or hay, and every pound of
tobacco is carefully set down in official records.”

“That reminds me,” said Irv, “of the remark a farmer once made to me,
when deploring the poverty of himself and his class.”

“What was it?” asked Will.

“Why, he said that lots of men in the cities got two or three thousand
dollars a year for their work, while he never yet had got over five
hundred dollars for his. I questioned him a little, and found that he
didn’t take any account of his house rent and fuel free, or of all the
farm produce that his family ate. He thought the few hundred dollars he
had to the good at the end of the year, after paying for his groceries
and dry goods, was all he got for his labor.”

“Speaking of these unconsidered crops,” said the planter, “I fancy it
would astonish us if we could have the figures on them. It is said, for
example, that more than a million turkeys are eaten in New York City
alone every winter. Now, if we count all the other great cities and all
the little ones, and all the towns and all the country homes where
turkeys are eaten, it will be very hard to guess how many millions of
these fowls are raised and sold and eaten in this country every year.”

“It’s hard on the turkeys,” moralized Will Moreraud.

“Well, I don’t know,” answered Phil. “I remember reading a story by
James K. Paulding called ‘A Reverie in the Woods.’ He tells how he fell
half asleep and heard all the animals and birds and fishes holding a
sort of congress to denounce man for his cruelties to them. After a
while the earthworm got so excited over the matter that he wriggled
himself into the brook. Thereupon the trout, who had also been one of
the complainants against man’s cruelty, snapped up the worm, and
swallowed him. Seeing this, the cat grabbed the trout, and the fox
caught the cat, and the eagle caught the fox, and the hawk made luncheon
on the dove, and so on through the whole list. I imagine that that is
nature’s way. Everything that lives, lives at the expense of something
else that lives. It is all a struggle for existence, with the survival
of the fittest as the outcome. And as a man, or even a commonplace boy
like me, is fitter to live than a turkey, I think the slaughter of those
innocents is all right enough.”

“You are entirely right, Phil,” said Ed. “A pound of boy is certainly
worth fifty or fifty thousand pounds of turkey, because one boy can do
more for the world than all the turkeys that were ever hatched. And
when a boy eats turkey he converts it into boy, and it helps him to grow
into a man.”

“Precisely!” said Irv Strong. “It cost the worthless lives of many pigs,
turkeys, chickens, sheep, and cattle to make George Washington. But
surely one George Washington was worth more than all the pigs, turkeys,
chickens, sheep, and beef-cattle that were killed in all this country
between the day he was born and the day of his death. But pardon us,”
added Irv, turning to the planter, “you were going to say something more
when we interrupted.”

“It was nothing of any consequence,” answered their guest, “and your
little discussion has interested me more than anything I had thought of
saying. But I was going to say that according to a New York newspaper’s
careful calculation, that city pays more than a million dollars every
spring for white flowers for Easter decorations alone, while its
expenditures for flowers during the rest of the year is estimated at not
less than five millions more. Then there is the peanut crop. Who ever
thinks of it? Who thinks of peanuts in any serious way? Yet it was the
peanut crop that saved the people of tidewater Virginia and North
Carolina from actual starvation during the first few years after the
Civil War. And every year that crop amounts to more than two and a half
million bushels!”

“What luck for the circuses!” exclaimed Will Moreraud.

“But the circuses do not furnish the chief market for peanuts,” said
Irv, who was somewhat “up” on these things.

“Where are they consumed, then?” asked Will.

“Well, the greater part of them are used in the manufacture of ‘pure’
Italian or French olive oil--most of it ‘warranted sublime,’” said Irv.

“Are we a nation of swindlers, then?” asked Phil, whose courage was
always offended by any suggestion of untruth or hypocrisy or dishonesty.

“I don’t know,” said Irv, “how to draw the line there. The men who make
olive oil out of peanuts stoutly contend that their olive oil is really
better, more wholesome, and more palatable than that made from olives.”

“Why don’t they call it peanut oil, then, and advertise it as better
than olive oil, and take the consequences?” asked upright, downright,
bravely honest Phil.

“Men in trade are not always so scrupulous about honesty and
truthfulness as you are, Phil,” said Ed. “But sometimes--they excuse
their falsehoods on the ground--”

“There isn’t any excuse possible for not telling the truth,” said Phil.
“Men who tell lies in their business are swindlers, and that’s the end
of the matter. If they are making a better article than the imported
one, they ought to say so, and people would find it out quickly enough.
When they offer their goods as something quite different from what they
really are, they are telling lies, I say, and I, for one, have no
respect for a liar.”

“You are right, Phil, of course,” said Ed. “But there is a world of that
sort of thing done. The potteries in New Jersey, I am told, mark their
finer wares with European brands, and they contend that if they did not
do it they could not sell their goods.”

“A more interesting illustration,” said the planter, “is found in the
matter of cheeses. Cheese, as at first produced, is the same the world
over. But cheese that is set to ‘ripen’ in the caves of Roquefort is
one thing, cheese ripened at Camembert is another, and so on through
the list. Now of late years it has been discovered that the differences
between these several kinds of cheese are due solely to microbes. There
is one sort of microbe at Roquefort, another at Brie, and so on. Now
American cheesemakers found this out some years ago, and decided that
they could make any sort of cheese they pleased in this country. So they
took the several kinds of imported cheeses, selected the best samples of
each, and set to work to cultivate their microbes. By introducing the
microbes of Roquefort into their cheeses they made Roquefort cheeses of
them. By inoculating them with the Brie microbe, or the Camembert
microbe, or the Stilton or Gruyère microbe, they converted their simple
American cheeses into all these choice varieties. And it is asserted by
experts that these American imitations, or some of them at any rate, are
actually superior to the imported cheeses, besides being much more
uniform in quality.”

“That’s all right,” said Phil. “But why not tell the truth about it?
Surely, if their cheeses are better than those made abroad, they can
trust the good judges of cheese to find out the fact and declare it.
And when that fact became known they could sell their cheese for a
higher price than that of the imported article, on the simple ground of
its superiority. How I do hate shams and frauds and lies--and especially
liars!”

“What bothers me,” drawled Irv, “is that I’ve been eating microbes all
my life without knowing it. I here and now register a solemn vow that
I’ll never again eat a piece of cheese--unless I want to.”

“Oh, the microbes are all right,” said Ed, “provided they are of the
right sort. There are some microbes that kill us, and others that we
couldn’t live without. There are still others, like those in cheese,
that do us neither good nor harm, except that they make our food more
palatable. For that matter the yeast germ is a microbe, and it is that
alone that makes our bread light. Surely we can’t quit eating light
bread and take to heavy baked dough instead, because light bread is made
light by the presence of some hundreds of millions of living germs in
every loaf of it while it is in the dough state.”

“Coming back to the question of crops,” said the planter, “does it occur
to you that there would be no possibility of prosperity in this country
but for the absolute freedom of traffic between the states?”

“Would you kindly explain?” said Ed.

“Certainly. The farmers of New York and New Jersey used to grow all the
wheat, and all the beef, mutton, and pork that were eaten in the great
city, and they made a good living by doing it. But the time came when
the western states could raise wheat and beef and all the rest of it
much more cheaply than any eastern farmer could. This threatened to
drive the New York and New Jersey farmers out of business, and
naturally, if they could, they would have made their legislators pass
laws to exclude this western wheat and meat from competition with their
crops. This would have hurt the western farmer; for what would in that
case have happened in New York would have happened in all the other
eastern states. But it would have hurt the people of the great
cities--and indeed all the people in the country still more. It would
have made the city people’s food cost them two or three times as much as
before. That would have compelled them to charge more for their
manufactured products and for their work in carrying on the foreign
commerce of the country. That would have crippled commerce,--which lives
upon exceedingly small margins of profit,--and the prosperity of the
country would have been ruined. It was to prevent that sort of thing
that our national government was formed, with a constitution which
forbade any state to interfere with commerce between the states.”

“What became of the New York farmer, then?” asked Irv.

“When he found that he couldn’t raise wheat, corn, etc., as cheaply as
the western farmer could sell them in New York, he quit raising those
things and produced things that paid him instead.”

“What sort of things?”

“Fruits, poultry, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, vegetables, buckwheat,
honey, etc., and in producing these the New York farmer grew richer than
ever. Since New York quit raising on any considerable scale the things
that we commonly think of as farm products, that state has become the
richest in the country in the value of its agricultural production,
simply because the New York farmer raises only those things for which
there is a market almost at his front gate.”

“That is very interesting,” said Will. “But how is it that the far West
can furnish New York and Philadelphia and the rest of the eastern cities
with bread and meat cheaper than the farmers near those cities can sell
the same things?”

“The value of land,” said the planter, “has much to do with it. The
value of a farmer’s land is his investment, and first of all, he must
earn interest on that.”

“Pardon me,” said Ed, “but that, it seems to me, is a very small factor.
The value of good farming lands in the East is not very different from
that of similar lands in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the other great
farming states of the West.”

“What is the key to the mystery, then?” asked Irv.

“Transportation,” answered Ed. “The western farm lands, with an equal
amount of labor, produce more wheat, corn, pork, and the like, than
eastern lands do, and it costs next to nothing to carry their wheat,
corn, pork, etc., to the East.”

“What does it cost?” asked Will.

“Well, I see that the rate is now less than three mills per ton per
mile. At three mills per ton per mile, ten barrels, or a ton, of flour
could be carried from Chicago to New York for three dollars, or thirty
cents a barrel. Even at half a cent per ton per mile it would cost only
fifty cents.”

“While the railroads are engaged in transporting that flour to the
hungry New Yorkers at that exceedingly reasonable rate,” said Irv,
slowly rising to his feet, “it is my duty to go below and convert a few
insignificant pounds of the flour on board into a pan of biscuit, while
you, Ed, fry some salt pork, the only meat we have left, and heat up a
can or two of tomatoes.”

This ended the long chat, for besides the preparation of supper there
was much else to do. There were the lights to be hung in their places,
and more occupying still, there was the difficult task of tying up the
boat for the night. For experience had taught Phil caution, and he had
decided that until _The Last of the Flatboats_ should again float upon
the broad reaches of the Mississippi, she should be securely moored to
two trees during the hours of darkness. With the Yazoo ten feet above
its banks, it would have been very easy indeed for the flatboat to drift
out of the river into the fields and woodlands. And Phil had had all the
experience he wanted of such wanderings.



CHAPTER XXXI

AN OFFER OF HELP


On the day before they reached Vicksburg, the planter whose family had
been rescued was able to have a long conversation with Phil. His first
disposition had been to recognize Irv as the master spirit of the crew,
because of his controlling activity in the matter of restoring the
starved party to life and health, but he was quickly instructed
otherwise by Irving himself.

He explained to Phil just who and what he was.

“I have lost a great deal, of course, by this overflow, but fortunately
the bulk of my cotton crop was already shipped before the flood came, so
that that is safe. Moreover, I am not altogether dependent upon my
planting operations. In short,--you will understand that I say this by
way of explanation and not otherwise,--I am a fairly well-to-do man,--I
may even say a very well-to-do man,--independently of my planting
operations.”

“I am glad to hear that,” said Phil, “because it has troubled me a good
deal, especially as I have looked at Baby and the other children. I have
wondered what was to become of them, and in what way we boys might best
help you and them over the bridge.”

“I am glad you said that,” the planter responded. “That gives me the
opportunity I am seeking. In the same spirit in which you have been
thinking of helping me, I want you to let me help you and your comrades.
I don’t know anything of the circumstances of the young men who
compose this crew, yourself or the others; but I assume that if your
circumstances were particularly comfortable, you would hardly be engaged
in the not very profitable business of running a flatboat. At your ages,
you would more probably be in school.”

“So we are,” said Phil; “we are none of us particularly well-to-do, but
we are able to stay at home and go to school. This trip is a kind of a
lark--or partly that and partly a thing done to restore my brother’s
health; but we are obliged to make it pay its own way, anyhow, because
we could not afford the trip otherwise. Of course, we are out of school
for the time being, that is to say, for a few months, but we all expect
to make that up. As to college, I don’t know. Probably not many of us
will ever be able to afford that.”

“That, then, is exactly what I want to come to,” said the gentleman.
“You are obviously boys of good parentage. I cannot offer to pay you for
the great service you have done to me and mine--no, no; don’t interrupt
me now; let me say this out. I should not think of insulting you in any
such way as that; but why should you not let me contribute out of the
abundance that I still possess to the expense of a college course for
all five of you very bright young fellows? Believe me, nothing in the
world could give me a greater gratification than to do this. You have
rescued me and mine from a fate so terrible that I shudder to think of
it even now. Let me in my turn help a little to advance your interests
in life.”

Phil thought for a considerable time before he replied. Not that he had
any notion of accepting the offer thus made, but that he did not want,
in rejecting it, to hurt the feelings of a man so generous, and one who
had made the offer with so much delicacy. At last the boy said:--

“Believe me, sir, I appreciate, and all my comrades will when I tell
them of it, the good feeling and the generosity that have dictated your
offer, but we could not on any account accept it. I am sure that in this
I speak for all. I believe that any boy in this country who really wants
an education can get it, if he chooses to work hard enough and live
plainly enough. My brother has not been able to go to school much at any
time in his life, because of his ill-health, and yet he is much the best
educated one among us, and if he lives, he will be reckoned a
well-educated man, even among men who are college graduates. As for the
rest of us, we can get a college education, as I said, if we choose to
work hard enough and live hard enough. If we don’t choose to do that,
why, we must go without. But we thank you all the same, and I want you
to know that we recognize the generosity of your offer, though we cannot
accept it. Now, please don’t let’s talk of that any more, because it
isn’t pleasant to refuse a request such as yours; for I take it from
your manner and tone that you mean it as a request rather than as an
offer of aid.”

With that, Phil walked away, and there was naturally no more to be said.
But an hour later the gentleman, who was still feeble from his late
exposure and suffering, asked Phil again to sit down by him. Then he
said:--

“I am not going to reopen the question that we discussed a while ago,
because I understand and honor your decision with regard to it. But
there is another little service that I am in position to render you, and
that I might render to anybody with whom I came into pleasant contact.
My name counts for a good deal with my commission merchant in New
Orleans; for how much it counts, it would not be quite modest for me to
say; but, at any rate, I want to give you a letter to him, if you will
allow me. When you get there, you will wish to sell your cargo, and of
course you will be surrounded by buyers, but most of them will be
disposed to take advantage of your youth and of your inexperience in the
market. I cannot imagine how, in their hands, you can escape the loss
of a considerable part of the value of what you have to sell. Now the
commission merchant to whom I wish to give you a letter is a man of the
very highest integrity, besides being my personal friend and my agent in
business. I suggest that you place the whole matter of the sale of your
boat and cargo in his hands, and I am confident that the difference in
the results will be many hundreds of dollars in your favor. This is, as
I said, a service that I might render even to a casual acquaintance.
Surely, you will not deny me the privilege of rendering it to a group of
young men who have done for me what you boys have.”

Phil rose and stood before him embarrassed.

“I suppose,” he said, “I ought to consult my comrades before accepting
even this favor at your hands, but I shan’t do anything of the kind. I
understand what you feel and what you mean, and if you won’t ask
anything of your commission merchant except that he shall sell us out on
his usual terms, I shall frankly be very much obliged to you for the
letter you offer; for it has really been a source of a good deal of
anxiety to me, this thing of how to sell out when we get there.”

It was so arranged; and as the gentleman and his family were to quit the
boat at Vicksburg, the letter was written that day.

At Vicksburg the boys offered the hospitality of their boat to their
guests until such time as proper clothing could be provided for them,
their condition of destitution being one in which it was impossible for
them to think of going ashore. This offer was frankly accepted, and as
the boys were themselves in sad need of supplies, the delay of two or
three days was not only of no consequence to them, but it introduced a
new element of life on board _The Last of the Flatboats_. The lady sent
into the town for dressmakers and seamstresses in such numbers as might
enable her quickly to equip herself and the children for a reappearance
among civilized human beings. The cabin became a workroom, and two
sewing-machines were installed even upon the deck. It looked a little
odd, but, as Irv Strong put it, “it’s only another incident in a voyage
that began with Jim Hughes and promises to end we do not know with what.
Anyhow, we’ve had good luck on the whole, and if we don’t come out
ahead now, it’ll probably be our own fault.”

This was the feeling of all the boys. They had the open Mississippi
before them for the brief remainder of their journey. The river was
still enormously full, of course, but it was falling now, and below
Vicksburg it had been kept well within the levees, so that there was no
further probability of any cross-country excursions on the part of _The
Last of the Flatboats_. They had nothing to do, apparently, but to cast
the boat loose and let her float the rest of the way upon placid waters.
But this again is getting ahead of my story. The boat is still tied to
the bank at Vicksburg. Let us return to her.



CHAPTER XXXII

PUBLICITY


As soon as the first necessities of their business were provided for at
Vicksburg, Phil wandered off in search of newspapers. He had become
interested in many things through his newspaper reading in connection
with Jim Hughes, and concerning many matters he was curious to know the
outcome. So he sought not only for the latest newspapers, and not
chiefly for them, but rather for back numbers covering the period during
which _The Last of the Flatboats_ had been wandering in the woods. He
secured a lot of them, some of them from New York, some from Chicago,
some from St. Louis, and some from other cities.

To his astonishment, when he opened the earliest of them,--those that
had been published soon after the affair at Memphis,--he found them
filled with portraits of himself and of his companions, with pictures
of _The Last of the Flatboats_, and even with interviews, of which
neither he nor Irv Strong, who was the other one chiefly quoted, had
any recollection. Yet when they read the words quoted from their lips,
they remembered that these things were substantially what they had
said to innocent-looking persons not at all known to them as newspaper
reporters, who had quite casually conversed with them at Memphis.
Neither had either of them posed for a portrait, and yet here were
pictures of them, ranging all the way from perfect likenesses to
absolute caricatures, freely exploited.

Phil and Irv were so curious about this matter that they asked everybody
who came on board for an explanation. Finally, one young man, who had
come to them with an inquiry as to the price at which they would be
willing to sell out the boat and cargo at Vicksburg instead of going on
to New Orleans, smiled gently and said, in reply to Phil’s questions:--

“Well, perhaps you don’t always recognize a reporter when you see him.
Sometimes he may come to you to talk about quite other things than those
that he really wants you to tell him about. Sometimes your talk will
prove to be exactly what he wants to interest his readers with, and as
a reporter usually has a pretty accurate memory, he is able to reproduce
all that you say so nearly as you said it, that you can’t yourself
afterward discover any flaw in his report. Sometimes, too, the reporter
happens to be an artist sent to get a picture of you. He may have a
kodak concealed under his vest, but usually that does not work. It is
clumsy, you know, and generally unsatisfactory. It is a good deal easier
for a newspaper artist who knows his business to talk to you about
turnips, or Grover Cleveland, or Christian Science, or the tariff, or
any of those things that people always talk about, and while you think
him interested in the expression of your views, make a sketch of you on
his thumb nail or on his cuff, which he can reproduce at the office for
purposes of print. By the way, have you talked with any reporters since
you arrived at Vicksburg?”

“No,” answered Phil; “none of them have come aboard.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Well, yes; I haven’t seen a single man from the press.”

“Well, if any of the papers should happen to ‘get on’ to the fact that
you are here, and print something about it, I will send you copies in
the morning.”

The next morning the promised copies came. One of them contained not
only a very excellent portrait of Phil and a group picture of the crew,
but also an almost exact reproduction of the conversation given above.

A new light dawned upon Phil’s mind.

“After all, that fellow was a reporter and a very clever one. He didn’t
want to buy the boat or its cargo or anything else. But I wonder if he
was an artist also. If not, who made those pictures?”

“Well,” said Irv, “you remember there was a young woman who came on
board about the same time that he did. She was very much interested in
Baby, but I noticed that she went all over the boat, and when you and
that young fellow were talking, she sat down on the anchor, there, and
seemed to be writing a letter on a pad. Just then, as I remember, we
fellows were gathered around the new lantern you had just bought and
examining it--and, by the way, here’s the lantern in the group picture.”

All this was a revelation to Phil, and it interested him mightily. As
for Irv Strong, he was so interested that he made up his mind to beard
the lion in his den. He went to the office of one of the newspapers and
asked to see its editor. But out of him he got no satisfaction whatever.
The editor hadn’t the slightest idea where the interviews or the
pictures had come from.

“All that,” he said, “is managed by our news department. I never know
what they are going to do. I judge them only by results. But I do not
mind saying to you that there would have been several peremptory
discharges in this office if this paper had not had a good picture of
_The Last of the Flatboats_, a portrait of your interesting young
captain and other pictures of human interest tending to illustrate the
arrival of this boat at our landing, although we rarely print pictures
of any kind in our paper. This is an exceptional case. And I think that
the chief of our news department would have had an uncomfortable quarter
of an hour if he and his subordinates had failed to secure a talk with
persons so interesting as those who captured Jim Hughes, as he is
called, and secured the arrest of the others of that bank burglar’s
gang, and afterward rescued one of the most distinguished citizens of
Mississippi and his family from death by starvation. Really, you must
excuse me from undertaking the task of telling you how our boys do these
things. It is not my business to know, and I have a great many other
things to do. It is their business to get the news. For that they are
responsible, and to that end they have control of adequate means. Oh, by
the way, that suggests to me a good editorial that ought to be written
right now. Perhaps you will be interested to read it in to-morrow
morning’s paper. I am just going to write it.”

As it was now midnight, Irv was bewildered. How in the world was he to
read in the next morning’s paper an editorial that had, at this hour,
just occurred to the man who was yet to write it? How was it to be
written, set up in type, and printed before that early hour when the
newspaper must be on sale?

The editor knew, if Irv did not. He knew that the hour of midnight sees
the birth of many of the ablest and most influential newspaper
utterances of our time. Irv’s curious questions had suggested to him a
little essay upon the value of Publicity, and it was upon that theme
that he wrote. He showed, with what Irv and Phil regarded as an
extraordinary insight into things that they had supposed to be known
only to themselves, how their very irregular reading of the newspapers,
from time to time, as they received them, had first awakened their
interest in a vague and general way in the bank burglary case; how, as
their interest became intenser, and the descriptions of the fleeing
criminal became more and more detailed, they had at last so far coupled
one thing with another as to reach a correct conclusion at the critical
moment. He showed how, but for this persistent and minute Publicity,
they would never have dreamed of arresting the fugitive who was posing
as their pilot--how, but for this, the criminals would probably never
have been caught at all; how their escape would have operated as an
encouragement to crime everywhere by relieving it of the fear of
detection,--and much else to the like effect. It was a very interesting
article, and it was one which set the boys thinking.

“After all,” said Ed, “we owe a great deal more to the newspapers than I
had ever thought. And the more we think of it, the more we see that we
owe it to them. I don’t know whether they are always sincere in their
antagonism to wrong or not, but at any rate in their rivalry with each
other to get the earliest news and to stand best with the public, they
manage pretty generally to expose about all the wrongs there are, and to
rouse public opinion against them. I suppose that, but for the
newspapers, we should not have a very good country to live in,
especially so far as big cities are concerned.”

“As to those sentiments,” said Irv, “I’m afraid one Thomas Jefferson got
ahead of you, Ed. I remember reading that he said somewhere, that he
would rather have a free press without a free government than a free
government without a free press. I imagine his meaning to have been that
we could not long have a free government without a free press, and that
if we have a free press it must pretty soon compel the setting up of a
free government.”

“But the newspapers do publish such dreadful things,” said Constant.
“They make so many sensations that their moral influence, I suppose, is
pretty bad.”

“Well, is it?” asked Irv. “If there is a pest-hole in any city, where
typhus or smallpox is breeding, and a newspaper exposes it, it is not
pleasant reading, of course, but it arouses public attention and brings
public opinion to bear to compel a remedy. If there is a health board,
the newspapers all want to know what the health board is doing; if there
isn’t a health board, the newspapers all cry out, ‘Why isn’t there a
health board?’ and presently one is organized. Now I suppose it is very
much the same way about moral plague spots. If vice or crime prevail in
any part of the city, the newspapers print the news of it and call upon
the police to suppress it. This arouses public attention and brings
pressure to bear upon public officials until the bad thing is done away
with, or at least reduced to small proportions.”

“Yes,” said Ed, thinking and speaking slowly, “and there is another
thing. Even when the newspapers print the details about scandals, and we
say it would be better not to publish such things, it may be that the
newspapers are right; because every rascal that is inclined to do
scandalous things knows by experience or observation that the
newspapers, if they get hold of the facts, will print them and hold him
up to the execration of mankind. If the newspapers did not print the
news of such things, every scoundrel would know that he could do what he
pleased without fear of being made the subject of scandal. The first
thought of every rascal seems to be to keep his affairs out of the
newspapers. Now perhaps it is better that he cannot keep them out; as he
certainly cannot. In very many cases, without doubt or question, men are
restrained from doing outrageous things merely by the fear that their
conduct will be exploited with pictures of themselves and fac-similes of
their letters and everything of the kind, in so-called sensational
newspapers.”

“Well, all that is so, I suppose,” said Will, “though I hadn’t thought
of it quite to the extent that you have, Ed. I have always been told
that the newspapers were horribly sensational and immoral, but, now that
I think of it, when they publish a story of immorality, it is because
somebody has been doing the immoral thing that they report; and as you
say, the fact that the newspapers are pretty sure to get hold of the
truth and publish it in every case is often a check on men’s tendency to
do immoral things.”

Before parting with their rescued friends at Vicksburg, the boys had to
go ashore and be photographed, at the planter’s solicitation.

“I want my children always to think of you young men as their friends,”
he said,--“friends to whom they owe more than they can ever repay. I
don’t want ‘Baby’ to forget you as she might--she is so young still--if
she did not have your portraits to remind her as she grows older. As for
myself and my wife--I cannot say how much of gratitude we feel. There
are some things that one can’t even try to say. But be sure--” He broke
down here, but the boys understood.

Irv Strong, whose objection to anything like a “scene” is a familiar
fact to the reader, diverted the conversation by saying:--

“It would be a pity to perpetuate the memory of these clothes of ours,
or to let the little ones learn as they grow up what a ragamuffin crew
it was with whom an unfortunate accident once compelled them to
associate for a time. So suppose we have only our faces photographed
now, and send you pictures of our best clothes when we get back home.”

The triviality served its purpose, and the party went to the
photographer’s.

When the time of leave taking came there were tears on the part of the
mother and the children, while “Baby” stoutly insisted upon remaining
on the flatboat with “my big boys,” as she called her rescuers. She was
especially in love with Phil, who, in spite of his absorbing duties,
had found time to play with her and tell her wonderful stories. During
the clothes-making wait at Vicksburg, indeed, Phil had done little
else than entertain the beautiful big-eyed child. He repeated to her
all the nursery rhymes and jingles he had ever heard in his infancy
or since, and to the astonishment of his companions, he made up many
jingles of his own for her amusement. He made up funny stories for her
too,--stories that were funny only because he illustrated them with
comical faces and grotesque gestures.

So when the time of parting came the child clung to him, and had to be
torn away in tears. I suppose I ought not to tell it on Phil, but he too
had to turn aside from the others and use his handkerchief on his eyes
before he could give the command to “cast off” in a husky and not very
steady voice.



CHAPTER XXXIII

DOWN “THE COAST”


The moon was gibbous in its approach to the full when the boat left
Vicksburg. So all the way to their journey’s end the boys had moonlight
of evenings except when fog obscured it briefly, and that was not often.

As they floated down the river, with subtropical scenery on either hand,
with palms and live-oaks and other perennial trees giving greenery of
the greenest possible kind at a season of the year when at their home
not a leaf remained alive and all the trees were gaunt skeletons, the
boys lived in something like a dream. And at night the moonlight,
immeasurably more brilliant than any they had ever seen, additionally
stimulated their imaginations and captivated their fancy.

“That is Baton Rouge,” said Ed, as they came within sight of a city on
the left side of the river. “It means ‘red stick.’”

“Why in the world did anybody ever name a town ‘red stick’?” asked Irv.

“Why, because when Tecumseh came down this way to persuade all the
Indians to join in a war upon the whites, as I told you up in New Madrid
Bend, he offered red sticks to the warriors. All that accepted them were
thereby pledged to join in the war. It was here that the first red
sticks were distributed, and so this spot was called ‘Baton Rouge.’”

“But why didn’t they call it ‘Red Sticks’ and have done with it?” asked
Will. “Why did they translate it into French?”

“The Indians didn’t know English,” answered Ed. “The French first
explored the Mississippi, and they not only gave French names to
everything, but they taught a rude sort of French to the Indians. There
is a town on the upper Mississippi called ‘Prairie du Chien.’ That means
‘the prairie of the dog.’ Then there is ‘Marquette’ in Wisconsin, named
after a great French missionary and explorer. And there is Dubuque, and
there are half a dozen other places with old French names. In Arkansas
there is a river called the ‘St. François.’ And the name Arkansas itself
was originally a French effort to spell the Indian word ‘Arkansaw.’ By
the way, the Legislature of that state has passed a law declaring that
the proper pronunciation of the state’s name is ‘Arkansaw.’ It is said
that when James K. Polk, afterward President, was speaker of the House
of Representatives, there were two congressmen there from Arkansas. One
of them always pronounced his state’s name ‘Arkansas,’ as if it were
English, and with the accent on the second syllable, while the other
always called it ‘Arkansaw.’ Polk was so excessively polite that when
either of the two arose to speak, he recognized him as ‘the gentleman
from Arkansas’ or as ‘the gentleman from Arkansaw,’ accordingly as the
gentleman recognized was in the habit of pronouncing the word.”

“That’s interesting,” said Phil. “And I suppose the same thing is true
about the ‘Tensaw’ country in Alabama. I see that it is spelled on most
maps ‘Tensas,’ but on some it is spelled ‘Tensaw,’ and I suppose that is
the right pronunciation.”

“It is,” said Ed. “And then there is the Ouachita River. Its name is
pronounced ‘Washitaw,’ but spelled in the French way. I once heard of a
man who stayed in New Orleans for six weeks, looking every day for
the advertisement of some steamboat going up that river. He saw
announcements of boats for the Ouachita River, of course, but none for
the ‘Washitaw.’ Finally, somebody enlightened him. You see these French
names were bestowed when French was the only language of this region,
and they have survived.”

The boys were studying the map by the almost superfluous light of a
lantern. Presently one of them said:--

“A little way down the river, on the western bank, is a place called
Plaquemine. That also is French, I suppose?”

“Certainly,” answered Ed, “and it is a region with an interesting
history. It was there that the Acadians went when they were driven out
of their home in British America. Longfellow tells all about it in the
poem ‘Evangeline.’ I’ll read some of it,” he added, rising to go below
for the book.

“No, don’t,” pleaded Irv. “That poem gives me ‘that tired feeling.’ Its
story is beautiful. Its sentiment is all that could be desired. But its
metre makes me feel as if I were stumbling over stones in the dark.”

“I’ll bet your favorite wager, a brass button, Irv, that you can’t quote
a single line of the poem you are so ready to criticise,” said Will
Moreraud, who was Longfellow mad, as his comrades said.

“Well, I’ll take that bet,” said Irv. “And I’ll give you odds. I’ll bet
seven brass buttons to your one that I can, off hand, repeat the worst
and clumsiest four lines in the whole poem.”

“Go ahead,” said Will. “I’ll buy a glittering brass button in New
Orleans, ‘scalloped all the way round and halfway back,’ as the boy said
of his ginger cakes, and pay the bet if I lose.”

“All right,” said Irv. “Here goes:--

  ‘Every house was an inn, where all were welcomed and feasted;
  For with this simple people, who lived like brothers together,
  All things were held in common, and what one had was another’s.
  Yet under Benedict’s roof hospitality seemed more abundant.’”

“It really doesn’t sound like poetry,” said Phil. “But then, I’m no
judge. All the same, Irv wins the bet, and I’ll exercise my authority as
commander of this craft and company to compel you, Will, to buy and
deliver that brass button.”

“But how do you know that those four lines are the worst in the poem?”
asked Will.

“Because there simply couldn’t be worse ones,” said Phil, “and unless
you produce some others equally bad, I shall hold these to be the
worst.”

“Now,” said Ed, “you fellows are very free with your criticisms. But
perhaps you don’t know as much as you might. Longfellow undertook to
write in hexameters. We all know what hexameters are, because we have
all read some Latin poetry. But there is this difficulty: a hexameter
line must end in a spondee--or a foot of two long or equally accented
syllables. Now there is only here and there a word in the whole English
language that is a spondee. The only spondees available in English are
made up of two long, or two equally accented monosyllables. That is why
the metre of Evangeline is so hard to read with ease, or at any rate it
is one of the reasons. Longfellow uses trochees--that is to say, feet
composed of one long and one short syllable, instead. In one case he
uses the word ‘baptism’ as a spondee, but in fact it is a dactyl,
consisting of one long and two short syllables. Edgar Allan Poe pointed
that out.”

“Why did he write in that metre, then,” asked Will, “if it is impossible
in English?”

“Because he was a Greek and Latin scholar, and was so enamored of the
hexameter verse that he tried to reproduce it in English. He didn’t
accomplish the purpose, but he wrote some mighty good things in trying
to do it.”

“But tell us, Ed,” said Constant, “why did Evangeline’s people come all
the way down here?”

“They were French, and they naturally sought for a country where the
French constituted the greater part of the population. This wasn’t
English territory then. By the way, that reminds me of a good Vevay
story. When I was a very little boy, I used to go occasionally to pay my
respects to the oldest lady in town--‘Grandmother Grisard,’ as we all
reverently called her. She was a lovely old lady, and she once told me
how she came to Vevay. She set out from Switzerland very early in this
century, being then a young girl, to come to this French-settled Red
River country, where her people had friends. But there are two Red
Rivers in America, this one and the Red River of the North, which runs
from Minnesota northward into Manitoba. Europeans were rather weak on
American geography in those days, so instead of bringing this young girl
to the Red River of Louisiana, the transportation people took her to the
Red River of the North. That region was then entirely wild. Indians and
Canadian half-breeds were practically its only inhabitants, and so the
young Swiss girl was in the greatest peril.

“She learned, after a while, that some Swiss people had settled at
Vevay, in what was then the wild, uninhabited Northwest Territory. So
she set out to find Vevay, and to find people that could talk her own
mother tongue. It was an awful journey across the wild, savage-haunted
prairie region that now constitutes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and
Indiana, but she made it. It required months of time. It involved
terrible hardships and fearful dangers from the Indians. But after the
long struggle the young Swiss girl reached Vevay and was again among
people of her own race, who spoke her own language. She soon after
married the most prosperous man in the village, Mr. Grisard, and, as you
all know, her sons and her grandsons have ever since been men of mark in
the town.”[3]

  [3] This story is true in every particular.--_Author._

“Good for you, Ed!” said Will Moreraud. “We fellows of Swiss descent
thank you. We are all more or less akin to Grandmother Grisard, after
two or three generations of intermarriages, and now that we know her
story we shall cherish it as a family legend of our own. In fact, I
suspect that our Swiss forefathers and foremothers made a pretty good
place out of Vevay before the Virginians and Yankees and Scotch-Irish
from whom you fellows sprang ever thought of settling there.”

“Of course they did,” said Ed; “that’s why our people settled there.
The Swiss settlers must have been people of the highest character, or
their descendants wouldn’t be the foremost citizens of the town, as they
are to-day. It is a curious fact, by the way, that when they settled
at Vevay they tried to do precisely what they and their ancestors had
always done in their own country,--they planted vineyards, and set
out to make wine. My father, before he died, told me that in his
boyhood four-fifths of the lands cultivated by the Swiss were planted
in vineyards. Henry Clay was greatly interested in their work, and
tried hard to introduce Vevay wine in Washington, and to secure tariff
protection for it.”

“What became of the vineyards?” asked Constant.

“Why, the temperance wave destroyed them. It came to be thought wrong,
and even disreputable, to make or sell wine, or anything else that had
alcohol in it. So, little by little, the Swiss people, who were always,
above all things, reputable and moral, dug up their vineyards, and
planted corn instead.”

“Yes,” said Will Moreraud. “I remember hearing a rather pretty story on
that subject concerning a kinsman of my own. He had his dear old
grandmother--or great-grandmother, I forget which--as an inmate of his
house, and when the movement to convert the vineyards into cornfields
was at its height, the old lady strenuously objected. She said that she
had been born in a vineyard, and had all her life looked out upon
vineyards through every window. My kinsman was very tender of his
grandmother’s feelings. But at the same time he was resolved to change
his vineyards into cornfields. He knew that the old lady could never
leave the house, owing to her great age and infirmities. So he went to
every window in every story of the house and studied the landscape.
Having ascertained precisely how far it was possible for the old lady to
see from the windows of the house, he ordered all the vineyards beyond
her line of vision destroyed, and all within it preserved.”

“Beautiful!” cried Phil. “There ought to be more men like that one, if
only to make the dear old grandmothers happy in the evening of their
lives.”

“Perhaps there are more of them than you think,” said Constant. “It’s my
impression that men generally are pretty good fellows, if you really
find out about them.”

“Of course they are,” said Ed. “Does it occur to you that when we
fellows undertook this flatboat enterprise, every man in Vevay stood
generously ready to help? It is always so. Men are usually kindly and
generous if they have a chance to be. As for women--”

“God bless them!” cried Irv, rising to his six feet of height.

“_So-say-we-all-of-us!_” chanted Phil, to the familiar tune, while the
rest joined in.



CHAPTER XXXIV

A TALK ON DECK


The latter end of the voyage was uneventful in outward ways at least,
but it led to some things, as we shall see later on, that were of more
consequence in the lives of the five boys than all the strenuous
happenings which had gone before.

The boat no longer leaked. A few minutes’ pumping once in every two or
three hours was sufficient to keep her bilge free from water. The river,
though falling rapidly, was still full, but the levees were keeping it
within bounds, and there were no crevasses to avoid. There were fogs now
and then, but the flatboat floated through them without any apparent
disposition to run away again. There were the three meals a day to cook,
and the lanterns to keep in order, but beyond that and the washing of
clothes, sheets, and the like, there was literally nothing to do but
talk.

And how they did talk! And of how many different things! We have heard
one of their conversations. Suppose we listen to some more of them.

“I say, Ed,” said Irv, “with this wonderful river bringing the products
of a score of states to New Orleans for a market, how is it that New
Orleans isn’t the greatest port in the country?”

“It came near being so once. It was New York’s chief rival, and some day
it may be again. So long as there were no railroads New Orleans was the
chief outlet, and inlet as well, for all this great western and southern
country. Not only did most of the western produce and southern cotton
come to it for sale at home or shipment abroad, but most of the foreign
goods imported for the use of the West and South came in through New
Orleans, and so did most of the passengers who wanted to reach any point
west of the Alleghenies.”

“Why didn’t it go on in that way?” asked Constant.

“In the first place, a wise governor of New York, De Witt Clinton,
persuaded the people of that state to make some artificial geography.
They dug canals to connect the Great Lakes with the Hudson River. This
enabled them to carry western produce to New York all the way by water,
and as cheaply as it could be carried down the river--more cheaply, in
fact, so far as that part of it grown far away from the rivers was
concerned. This gave New York a very great advantage. For New York is a
thousand miles or more nearer to Europe than New Orleans is, and so if
grain could be landed in New York at smaller expense than in New
Orleans, that was the cheapest as well as the shortest route to Europe.

“Then again New Orleans lies in a much hotter climate than New York, and
so do the seas over which freight from New Orleans must be carried. In a
hot climate grain is apt to sprout and spoil, or it was so until
comparatively recent years, when means of preventing that were
discovered.”

Ed stopped, as if he had finished. Will wanted more and asked for it.

“Go on,” he said. “Tell us all about it.”

“Yes, do,” echoed the others.

“I am not sure that I know ‘all about it,’” answered Ed, “but I have
been reading some articles concerning it since our trip awakened my
interest, and if you want me to do so, I’ll tell you what I have
learned from them.”

“Do!” cried Irv. “This party of young Hoosiers has often been hungrier
for corned beef and cabbage, with all that those terms imply, than for
intellectual pabulum of any kind whatever. But at present our
physical systems are abundantly fed. What we want now is intellectual
refreshment, all of which, being interpreted, means ‘Go on, Ed; we’re
interested.’”

Ed laughed, and continued:--

“Well, the war damaged New Orleans, of course, not only by shutting up
the port for some years, but by impoverishing the southern states which
New Orleans supplied with provisions and goods and from which it drew
cotton. Then, again, New York had and still has most of the free money
there is in this country, the money that is hunting for something to do.
You know that money is like a man in this respect. It always wants to
earn wages. Now, when the western farmer sells his grain and the like to
a country merchant, he wants money for it. As a great many farmers sell
at the same time, the country merchant naturally hasn’t enough money of
his own to satisfy them all. So he ships the grain, etc., as fast as he
receives it, and makes drafts upon the commission merchants to whom he
is sending it. That is to say, he makes them pay in advance for produce
shipped in order that he may have the money with which to buy more when
it is offered. The commission merchants in their turn borrow the money
from the banks in their cities, giving liens on the grain for security.
This is a very rough explanation, of course, but you can see from it how
the city that has the largest amount of money ‘hunting for a job’ must
draw to itself, when other things are anywhere near equal, the greater
part of all the produce that can go at about the same cost to that or
some other city.”

“That’s clear enough,” said Phil. “But what about the railroads? Why do
they all seem to run to New York?”

“That’s an interesting point,” answered Ed. “I’m glad you reminded me of
it. When the railroads were built, each little road was independent of
all the rest. But each of them wanted to reach New York, because the
artificial geography created by New York’s canals had made that the
country’s greatest port, and because New York had more money to lend on
produce, as I have explained, than any other city. So as the numberless
little railroad lines consolidated themselves into great trunk lines,
they all made for New York as eagerly as flies make for an open sugar
barrel. Even the Baltimore and Ohio road, which was built by Baltimore
people to make Baltimore a rival of New York, spent money in lavish
millions to secure a New York terminus and make Baltimore a way station.
To sum it all up, the farmer wants to sell to the local merchant who
will pay him in cash; the local merchant ships his purchases to Chicago
or any other intermediate city whose commission merchants will make the
biggest and quickest advances of money on the grain, etc., before it
arrives; the merchants in the intermediate cities ship to the port whose
commission merchants will make them the largest advances in their turn
and thus enable them to go on buying while the opportunity lasts. That
city is New York. Of course this is only a general statement. There is
often plenty of money to lend in Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore,
and lately those cities and Newport News in Virginia have taken a good
deal of New York’s grain trade. But what I have said will explain to
you one of the reasons why New Orleans ‘isn’t in it,’ in this matter.”

“Then our wonderful river no longer renders a service to the country?”
said Constant, interrogatively.

“Oh, yes, it does,” answered Ed, eagerly. “It still carries vast
quantities of goods to New Orleans, not only for consumption in the
South, but for shipment abroad. And even if it carried nothing, it would
still be rendering a service of incalculable value to the country.”

“How?” asked all the boys, in a breath.

“By compelling the railroads to carry freight at reasonable rates. Let
me tell you some facts in illustration. Somewhere about the year 1870--a
little before, I think it was--the railroads were charging extortionate
prices for carrying freight to eastern cities. Some great merchants and
steamboat owners put their heads together to stop the extortion. They
organized the Mississippi Valley Transportation Company, to carry
freight down the river to the sea. They built great stern-wheel
steamboats, and set them to push vast fleets of barges loaded with
freight to New Orleans. This so enormously cheapened freight rates that
the railroads were threatened with ruin, and New Orleans seemed likely
to take New York’s place as the country’s great grain-exporting city.
The railroads began at once to reduce their rates in self-defence, and
from that day to this they have had to reduce them more and more, lest
the water routes, and chiefly the Mississippi River, should take their
trade away from them. So you see that even if not one ton of freight
were carried over our wonderful river, which, in fact, carries hundreds
of millions of tons, it would still be rendering an enormous service to
the country by keeping railroad freight rates down.”

The boys pondered these things awhile. Then Irv said:--

“But you said awhile ago that New Orleans might some day again become
New York’s rival as a shipping port. Would you mind telling us just what
you meant by that?”

“Why, no,” said Ed, hesitating. “I suppose I was thinking of the time,
which is surely coming, when this great, rich Mississippi Valley of ours
will be as densely populated as other and less productive parts of the
earth are.”

“For instance?” said Will, interrogatively.

“Well, I suppose,” said Ed, “that the great Mississippi Valley fairly
represents our whole country as to population. We have in this country,
according to a statistical book that I have here, about 20 people, big
and little, to the square mile, or somewhat less. Now the Netherlands,
according to the same book, have about 351, Belgium about 529, and
England about 540 people to the square mile. In other words, we must
multiply ourselves by 26 or 27 before we shall have as dense a
population as England now has. When we have 27 times as many people in
the Mississippi Valley as we now have, I don’t think there is much doubt
that New Orleans will be just as important a port and just as big a city
as her most ambitious citizen would like her to be.”

The boys sat silent for a while. Then Irv took out a pencil and paper,
and figured for a few minutes. Finally he broke silence.

“Do I understand that this country of ours is capable--taking it by and
large--of supporting a population as great to the square mile as that of
England, or anything like as great?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Ed. “Our agriculture is in its infancy, we
are merely scratching the surface, and not a very large part of the
surface at that. We have arid and desert regions, of course, but on the
other hand, we have a richer soil and an immeasurably more fruitful
climate than England has. England can’t grow a single bushel of corn,
for example, while we grow more than two billion bushels every year. It
seems to me clear that our country, taken as a whole, and this rich
Mississippi Valley especially, can support a much larger population to
the square mile than England can.”

“Well, if it ever does,” said Irv, referring to his figures, “we shall
have a population of about two billion people, or very many times more
than the greatest nations in all history ever had.”

“Why not?” asked Phil. “Isn’t ours the greatest nation in all history in
the way it has stood for liberty and right and progress? Why shouldn’t
it be immeasurably the greatest in population and wealth and everything
else? Why shouldn’t we multiply our seventy millions or so of people
into the billions?”

“Well, yes, why not?” asked Irv. “It would only mean that twenty or
thirty times as many men as ever before would enjoy the blessing of
liberty.”

“It would mean vastly more than that,” said Ed.

“What?” asked Irv.

“It would mean that twenty or thirty times as many men _stood_ for
liberty throughout all the earth; it would mean that twenty or thirty
times as many men as ever before were ready to fight for liberty and
human right. It would mean even more than that. It would mean that the
Great Republic, planted upon the theory of absolute and equal liberty,
would so enormously outweigh all other nations combined, in numbers and
in physical and moral force, that no nation and no coalition of nations
would ever dare dispute our country’s decisions or balk her will. We
should in that case dominate the world by our numbers, our wealth, and
our productiveness. For in the very nature of things, countries that
already have from twenty to twenty-five times our population to the
square mile cannot hope to grow as we inevitably shall.”

“But what if we don’t continue to stand for liberty and human right?”
asked Phil. “What if we forget our national mission, and use our vast
power not for freedom, but for conquest; not for the right, but for the
wrong?”

“That is what every American citizen owes it to his country to guard
against by his vote,” answered Ed.

“In other words,” said Irv “that’s what we are here for.”

“Precisely,” said Ed. “But it is time to get supper, and I, for one, am
hungry.”

“So am I,” responded Irv, as he went below to bear his share in the
supper getting.



CHAPTER XXXV

LOOKING FORWARD


It was on the last night of the voyage that Phil broached the thought
that he had been turning over in his mind ever since his talk with the
rescued Mississippi planter. The journey was practically finished. _The
Last of the Flatboats_ would reach New Orleans about ten o’clock the
next morning. The big round moon illuminated the broad, placid river.
Supper was ended. The lights were in their places. There was no water in
the bilge. The day’s work was done, and the hardy young fellows were
lolling about the deck, talking all sorts of trivial things, when Phil
introduced the subject.

“I say, boys, does it occur to you that we fellows have a splendid
opportunity before us if we choose to accept it?”

“Are you meditating a jump overboard?” asked Irv, “or did you just now
remember the great truth that fills my mind, namely, that there’s
enough of that beef pie left to make a good midnight supper all round?”

“No, for once I’m serious, Irv,” said Phil, whose new habit of
seriousness had grown upon him with increasing responsibility, until all
the boys observed the change in him with wonder, not unmixed with
amusement.

“All right, then,” said Irv; “go ahead. We’re ‘at attention.’”

“What is it, Phil?” asked Will Moreraud, seeing that Irv’s light chatter
annoyed the boy, or at the least distracted his attention. “You’ve
something worth while to say. So we’ll listen.”

Phil broke into the middle of his subject.

“Why shouldn’t we fellows all get a college education?” he asked.

“Our parents aren’t able to give it to us,” answered Constant.

“No, but we are able to get it for ourselves,” answered Phil. “That
gentleman up there in Mississippi wanted to help us do it, but I refused
that offer for the whole party.”

Then he reported the conversation he had had with the planter, and his
comrades heartily approved his course in refusing assistance.

“But we can do the thing ourselves,” Phil continued. “Let me explain.
After we built this flatboat and equipped her and made up a purse for
our running expenses, we each had about a hundred dollars of our
pig-iron money left. Since then we have made one thousand dollars apiece
out of the Jim Hughes affair. So when we get back home we shall have
eleven hundred dollars apiece to the good, besides whatever we make
clear out of the trip. That ought to be considerably more, but we won’t
count it because it’s a chicken that isn’t hatched yet. At any rate, it
will more than pay our fares back to Vevay, so when we get home we shall
have eleven or twelve hundred dollars apiece. Now that is plenty to take
us through college.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Irv. “I hear of young college men who spend
from one thousand to five thousand dollars a year.”

“Yes,” replied Phil, “and I read in a newspaper the other day of a man
who paid five hundred dollars for a bouquet to give to the girl he was
about to marry. But we aren’t young men with ‘liberal allowances’ and we
aren’t bouquet buyers. Listen to me. I have figured it all out
carefully. At many colleges there is no charge at all for tuition. At
others there are scholarships that can be made to cover tuition. At most
of the colleges in the West and South the tuition fees are very small,
even if we must pay them. The principal things we’ve got to look out for
are board, clothes, and books. We can wear the same clothes at college
that we should wear at home, and our parents will provide them, or if
they can’t, we can earn them during vacations. Our necessary books for
the whole course won’t cost us more than fifty or sixty dollars apiece
if we work together as I’m going to suggest. That leaves only the
question of board.”

“Well, board will cost us five dollars a week apiece or two hundred a
year, at any decent boarding-house,” said Irv.

“Of course,” answered Phil. “But I propose that we shan’t live at any
decent boarding-house.”

“How, then?”

“Why, you see we’re an exceptional lot of young fellows in some
respects. Our classmates in college, when we go there, may know a great
deal more than we do about many things, and probably they will. But we
know some very valuable things that they do not. We know how to take
care of ourselves. For a good many weeks now we have bought and cooked
our own food and washed our own dishes, and even our own clothes. At
college we could hire the laundry work done, but why shouldn’t we do all
the rest for ourselves?”

“Go on,” cried Irv when Phil paused. “I for one am interested, and it’s
obvious you’ve thought out the whole thing, Phil. Tell us all about your
plan.”

Phil hesitated a little, abashed by the approval and admiration which he
easily detected in Irv’s eager tone and in the faces of his comrades. At
last he resumed:--

“Well, you see, we five fellows not only know how to cook and all that
sort of thing, but we know how to live together without quarrelling, and
how to work together for a common purpose. Why shouldn’t we go to some
college where there are no tuition fees, or very small ones, hire two
rooms, one to cook and eat in, and the other to sleep in, buy the ten or
twenty dollars’ worth of plain furniture necessary, and board ourselves
just as we are doing now?”

The other boys paused, interested in the idea. Presently Constant
asked:--

“How much apiece do you reckon the cost of board to be?”

“I haven’t figured it out in detail,” said Phil. “I’ve left that for Ed
to do. You remember he made a calculation away up the river as to how
much it costs to feed a man for a year.”

“Yes,” said Ed, speaking the word slowly as if thinking; “but that
calculation hardly fits the case. It related to a single person, and we
are five persons. We can live more cheaply together than five persons
could live separately. Besides, that calculation up the river was made
on a guess-work basis. It is very much better to base the calculation on
facts, and fortunately I have the facts.”

“What?” “Where did you get them?” These and like exclamations greeted
Ed’s announcement.

“Well, you see,” said Ed, “I have been keeping accounts in order to find
out what it has cost us just to live on this voyage. I’ve set down the
exact cost of everything we started with and everything we have bought
since, including the two cords of wood we bought for the cooking-stove,
and which we haven’t used up yet. I’ll figure the thing up and tell you
exactly what it will cost us to board ourselves at college, provided we
are willing to live as plainly there as we do on this boat.”

“Why not?” called out Irv. “We’ve lived like fighting cocks all the way
down the river--except that we’ve run out of milk pretty often.”

“Do fighting cocks consume large quantities of milk, Irv?” asked Phil.

“No, of course not. You know what I mean. I’m satisfied to live in
college precisely as we have lived on the flatboat, and if I drink more
milk, I suppose I shall make it up by eating just so much less of other
things.”

“Do you hear that, boys?” called out Constant. “Irv agrees that if we go
to college together he’ll eat one pancake less for every extra glass of
milk he drinks. Remember that. We shall hold him rigidly to his
bargain.”

By this time Ed, who had gone to the forward lantern to do his
figuring,--for one really cannot “see to read” by even the brightest
moonlight, as people often say and think they can,--was ready to report
results. He said:--

“Counting in everything we have bought to eat, and everything that the
Cincinnati banker gave us at Memphis, and the cost of our fuel, I find
that it has cost us for our table, precisely $3.98 per week, as an
average, since the day we left Vevay to drop down to Craig’s Landing.
Let us say $4.00. That’s 80 cents apiece per week, for we won’t reckon
Jim Hughes’s board. The college year is forty weeks, or a little less.
At 80 cents a week apiece, we can feed ourselves on $32 a year each, or
only $128 each for the whole four years’ course.”

“Good,” said Phil, “now let’s figure a little.” With that he went to the
light and made some calculations. On his return he said, “I reckon it
this way:--

  Rent $10 a year for each, or for the course      $40
  Board for each, $32 a year, or for the course    128
  Fuel, lights, and incidentals--say for each       40
  Tuition, if we have to pay it, for each          100

or a grand total of $308 apiece for the whole course. For safety, and to
cover miscalculations and accidents and illness and all the rest of it,
let’s just double the figures. That gives us a total possible expense
of $616, or just about one-half the money that each of us has in hand,
and that we ought to be ready to spend to make the best men we can out
of ourselves.”

“Boys!” said Will Moreraud, rising in his enthusiasm, “I move this
resolution right here and now:--

“‘Resolved, that Phil Lowry is a brick! Resolved, that we five fellows
shall go together to a college of Phil Lowry’s selection, live in the
economical way he suggests, and so diligently do our work as to take all
the honors there are going in that college, and astonish the fellows
whose education has not included a flatboat experience in the art of
taking care of oneself.’”

The resolution was adopted without dissent. Then Phil had something more
to say:--

“Now, fellows, I’m a good way behind the rest of you in some of my
studies. I’m younger than you--but that’s no matter. I’ll not ‘plead the
baby act,’ anyhow. All of you can easily prepare yourselves for college
between now and next fall. You probably don’t believe it, but so can I,
and so I will. I have never set myself to study in earnest. I’m going
to do it now. When we get home, I’ll bring to bear all that ‘obstinate
pertinacity’ that you and Mrs. Dupont credit me with or blame me
for--whichever way you choose to put it. If I don’t pass entrance
examinations next fall with the best of you, you can count my share of
the money as a voluntary contribution to the expenses of the mess. But
you’d better not count on it in that way, I warn you.”

“Of course we hadn’t,” said Irv Strong, as Phil went below to look after
things. “I’ve got a great, big, rosy-cheeked, candy apple at home,
and I’ll wager it against the insignificant head of any fellow in the
party--yours included, Ed--that when we five fellows present ourselves
for our entrance examinations next fall, Phil Lowry will knock the spots
out of every one of us.”

“You expect too much of him, Irv,” said Ed. “It isn’t fair. He’s from a
year to two years behind us, and he is the youngest and most immature in
the party.”

“Is he?” asked Irv, with challenge in his voice. “He may have been so
when we left Vevay, but he isn’t now. He’s the oldest of us now and the
most mature among us. You saw how he managed things in the woods, and
how he handled Jim Hughes, and how he managed the difficult problem of
the tarpaulin, and all the rest of it. I tell you, Ed, that, while Phil
Lowry was much the youngest boy in this company when we made him ‘IT’
for this voyage, he is several years older to-day than any of us. He may
be a class behind some of you fellows in mere book work, but he won’t
stay so long. I’ll tell you what, Ed, you’ll have to stir all your
stumps to keep up with that fellow in college. He has got his mettle up
now.”

“I believe that is so,” said Ed, thinking, and speaking slowly. “I
hadn’t thought of it, Irv, but Phil has developed in his mind
surprisingly during this voyage.”

“So much so,” replied Irv, “that nobody in this crew is his equal when
it comes to real, hard, clear-headed thinking.”

“That is so,” said Ed, reflectively; “but in book study he is behind all
of us because he is younger. He says he’ll catch up and--”

“And we now know him too well to doubt that he will do all that he
says,” broke in Will Moreraud, whose admiration for Phil had grown day
by day until now it scarcely knew any bounds. “But I say, fellows,”
continued Will, “we’ve got to help Phil catch up. For that matter, there
isn’t one of us that hasn’t a lame duck of some sort. Even you, Ed--”

“Don’t say ‘even’ me,” said Ed. “I’m in fact the worst of the lot. I’ve
gone ahead of you fellows,--in my irregular fashion, of course,--but
I’ve skipped a lot of things, and I’ve got to bring them up before I can
pass my examinations for college.”

“That’s all right,” said Will, who was now enthusiastic. “Why shouldn’t
we fellows form a ‘study club’ this fall, and work together? Of course
the high school won’t and can’t prepare us for college by next year. But
we can and will prepare ourselves; and now that Mrs. Dupont is out of
the regular teaching harness, she’ll be delighted to help us. She will
be in a positive ecstasy when she finds that five of ‘her boys’ have
undertaken a job of this kind. By the way, let us stand up and bow low
to Mrs. Dupont--the best and most loving teacher that any set of boys
ever had or ever will have in this world!”

The obeisance to their teacher was made, and Will’s idea of a “study
club” was resolved upon. The idea, as developed, was to do much more in
a year than the school course marked out, especially to help Phil
forward to the level of his fellows, and to help Ed repair the
deficiencies that lay back of his irregular attainments. For Ed was now
so robust that neither he nor any of his comrades thought of him as an
invalid. Instead of spending the winter in the South, as he had
intended, Ed had made up his mind to go back with the others, to join
them in their “study club,” and to be one of the five when they should
enter college.

It was long past midnight when this conversation was over. And the
morning had active duties for the crew of _The Last of the Flatboats_ to
do.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE LAST LANDING


As _The Last of the Flatboats_ passed the upper part of New Orleans, the
boys were disposed to gaze at the strangely beautiful city. It was
greater in size than any city that they had ever seen; for none of them
had visited Cincinnati, though they had lived all their lives within
sixty or seventy miles of it. New Orleans was different in architecture,
situation, and everything else from Louisville and Memphis, cities at
which they had looked up from the river, while at New Orleans they found
themselves looking down, and taking almost a bird’s-eye view of the
city. Then, too, the palm gardens, the evergreen trees, and glimpses
every now and then of great parterres of flowers, growing gayly in the
open air even in late autumn, filled them with the feeling that somehow
they had come into a world quite different from any they had ever
dreamed of before.

Finally, there were the miles of levee, thickly bordered with steamships
and sailing craft of every kind, all so new to them as to be a show in
their eyes. The forests of masts, the towering elevators, the wharves
piled high with cotton in bales and sugar in hogsheads and great piles
of tropical fruits, appealed strongly to their imaginations. There was a
soft languor in the atmosphere, and the red sunlight shone through a
sort of Indian summer haze, which made the city look dream-like, or as
if seen through a fleecy, pink veil.

Presently Phil put an end to their musings.

“Stand by the sweeps!” he called, himself going to the steering-oar. “We
must make a landing, if we ever find a vacant spot at the levee that’s
big enough to run into.”

“I say, Phil,” said Irv, presently, “there comes somebody in a skiff to
meet us; perhaps it’s some wharf-master to tell us where to land.”

A few minutes later the skiff, rowed by a stout negro man, reached the
boat, and a carefully dressed young man who had sat in the stern
dismissed the negro and his skiff, and came aboard.

To Phil he handed his card, introducing himself as one of the freight
clerks of the commission merchant to whom the planter had recommended
them. It appeared that the planter had not been content with giving them
a letter of introduction, but had written by mail from Vicksburg, and
this was the result.

“Mr. Kennedy thought you might have some difficulty in finding the
proper landing, so he told me to board you and show you the way.”

Phil thanked him, and under the man’s guidance _The Last of the
Flatboats_ made the last of her landings.

The young man seemed to know what to do about everything and how to do
it. First of all he called an insurance adjuster on board to inspect the
cargo. This, he explained, was necessary so that all insurance claims
might be adjusted.

“I’m afraid the flour must be pretty wet,” said Phil.

“Why? is it in bags?” asked the clerk.

“No, in barrels.”

“You can rest easy, then,” said the clerk. “You can’t wet flour in a
barrel. See there!” and he pointed to a ship that was taking on flour
near by. “That’s flour for Rio Janeiro, and you observe that the crane
souses every barrel of it into the river before hoisting it to the
ship’s deck.”

“So it does,” said one of the boys. “But what is that for?”

“To make the flour keep in a hot climate,” answered the clerk. “Wetting
the barrel closes up all the cracks between the staves, by making a
thick paste out of the flour that has sifted into them. That makes the
barrel water-tight, insect-tight, and even air-tight.”

“But I should think the water would soak into the flour inside,” said
Will.

“Can’t do it. Wouldn’t wet an ounce of flour if you left a barrel in the
river for a month. Flour is packed too tight for that.”

“I say, Phil,” said Irv. “Let’s go back and get those three barrels we
left in the river when we were putting the tarpaulin on.”

“Have you a memorandum of your freight, captain?” asked the clerk. “If
so, please let me have it, and I’ll make out a manifest.”

Phil handed him the little book in which he had catalogued the freight
as it was received. Phil had not the slightest idea what a “manifest”
might be, but he asked no questions. “I prefer to find out some things
through my eyes,” he said to himself. So he watched the clerk, who
spread out some broad sheets of paper on the little cabin table and
proceeded to make out a formal manifest, or detailed statement of the
freight on board what the manifest called “the good ship _The Last of
the Flatboats_.” It was all arranged in columns, and it showed from whom
each shipment came, and that each was consigned to the house of Mr.
Kennedy. Having finished this, the clerk proceeded to make out a
duplicate, which he explained was to be sent to the Exchange, so that an
accurate record might be made there for statistical purposes.

“I see,” said Phil. “That is the way statistics are got together,
showing how much of every kind of product is shipped into and out of
each commercial city.”

“Certainly,” answered the clerk, “but, excuse me, here come the
reporters. Here, boys, make your own manifests,” and with that he handed
one of his copies to the newspaper men. They scribbled rapidly on paper
pads for a brief while and then returned the manifest. Phil wondered,
but asked no questions. “What these men wrote is for publication in
newspapers, so I’ll look in the newspapers to-morrow and see what it
is.” When he did so, he found under the headline “Manifest,” merely a
condensed list of the boat’s freight with the name of the Kennedy
commission house as “consignees.” This condensed statement of freights
and consignees is published daily with reference to every boat that
arrives, for the information not only of the consignees, but also of
other merchants and speculators who want to buy, and to that end want to
know who has things to sell.

The boys were deeply interested, but their studies in commercial methods
were destined to be of brief duration. For the clerk left them almost
immediately. Later in the day he came again and said to Phil:--

“You’re rather in luck, captain. The market for western produce is up
to-day. Apples were particularly high.”

“Will they stay up long enough for us to work ours off?” asked Phil.

“Work yours off?” exclaimed the clerk, in astonishment. “Why, you’ve
sold out, bag and baggage, flatboat and all, two hours ago. I came down
to make delivery. The buyer’s clerk will be here immediately.”

It was all astonishing to the western boys, but the clerk was
good-natured, and explained while he waited for the buyer’s clerk. He
told them how Mr. Kennedy went to a big room called “’change,” where all
the other merchants were gathered, showed his manifest, and in five
minutes had sold out everything.

“But,” said Irv, “nobody has been here to look at the goods. How does
the buyer know what the things are like?”

“Why, produce is all classified, and we sell by classes. I looked
over this cargo and reported quality and condition. We made sales
accordingly. When we deliver, the buyer’s clerk will look at the things,
and if any of them are not up to the grade represented, he’ll reject
them or take them at a reduction, and so on. If we can’t agree, the
matter will be referred to a committee of ’change, and their decision is
final. Both sides are bound by it.”

“But what if either refused?”

“Well--” hesitated the clerk, “that couldn’t very well happen; but if it
did, the merchant refusing would have to leave ’change, and go out of
business. You see, all business of this kind is done on ’change, and if
a merchant isn’t a member there, he simply can’t do any business at all.
But pardon me, here comes the buyer’s clerk. I must get to work. Oh, by
the way, here’s the card of a comfortable, inexpensive hotel; Mr.
Kennedy told me to give it to you. He’ll call to see you there.”

“But why can’t we stay on the boat till her buyer is ready to take her
away?”

“Oh, he’ll do that this afternoon. He’ll drop her down to his own
warehouse, unload her, and by this time to-morrow she’ll be nothing but
a pile of lumber on shore somewhere.”

“It fairly makes my head swim,” said Irv, “to see the way these city
people go at things.”

“Mine too,” said Phil. “But I see clearly that that’s the way to get
things done, and it’s the way we ought to manage in our study club when
we get home.”

“But how? We can’t have a big ’change and all that sort of thing.”

“I didn’t mean as to details,” said Phil. “I referred to the spirit of
the thing. When these people have anything to do, they do it at once
and with all their might. Then they drop that as something done for, and
without an instant’s delay they turn to something else. That’s the way
we must manage.”

“All right,” said Will Moreraud. “Now that we’re done with the flatboat
let’s go at once to the hotel. First thing is to pack baggage.”

So they all set about getting their little belongings together.

“What about our blankets, and the stove, and the cooking-utensils
and the remains of our food supplies, and our water filter, and the
fire extinguishers, and the tools?” asked Constant Thiebaud, in
consternation. “It’ll take a day or two to sell them out.”

“Not if we set the right man at it,” said Phil. “I’ll go and see him.”

So he went to the merchant’s clerk, who instantly said:--

“Pile ’em all out on the levee there, and put a card on top saying, ‘For
sale--inquire on board the flatboat.’ I’ll sell ’em and render you an
account.”

“All right,” said Phil, “but you’ll accept your commission, of course?”

“Of course. Business is business. We never work for our health on the
levee.”



CHAPTER XXXVII

RED-LETTER DAYS IN NEW ORLEANS


Once comfortably settled at the little hotel near Dryades Street, the
boys proceeded to equip themselves for seeing the city. They bought a
new suit of clothes and a hat apiece, together with such underclothes,
linen, shoes, and socks as they needed. Indeed, they bought more than
was necessary for their immediate wants, because they would need the
clothes on their return home, and they could buy them much cheaper in
New Orleans than in Vevay. Phil decided to indulge himself in an
overcoat, the first that he had ever owned, and the others followed his
example.

“Not that we are likely to need overcoats very pressingly in New Orleans
at this autumn season,” said Irv, “but I for one have a lively
recollection of how cold it is in Vevay every winter.”

By appointment they called at the office of Mr. Kennedy, the commission
merchant, the next day, for a settlement. He furnished them with
carefully detailed accounts, made out by his bookkeepers, and gave them
drafts on New York for the money coming to them.

“You’d better send your drafts by mail to your home bank,” he said. “If
you need any money for your expenses while here, I’ll furnish it, and
you can remit it from home.”

“Thank you!” responded Phil. “We shan’t need any money for expenses
here. We’ve enough left of the money we started with, which we call our
‘campaign fund,’ for that. But how about our passage home? Do you happen
to know, sir, about how much that will cost us?”

“Whatever you choose to make it cost you, from nothing at all up,”
answered the merchant.

A query or two brought out this explanation:--

“You’ve dropped some hints in our conversations”--for he had talked with
them at their hotel the evening before--“concerning your educational
plans, and I gather that you want to keep all you can of the money you
have made.”

“Precisely!” said Phil. “Except that we mean to stay here for a week to
see all we can of the city, we don’t intend to spend a dollar that we
can save.”

“So I thought,” said the merchant. “I have therefore taken the liberty
of making some inquiries for you. It happens that I am freighting a
steamboat with cotton, sugar, molasses, coffee, and fruits, for
Louisville. The captain is a good friend of mine. As he will have no
way-freight,--nothing to put on or off till he gets to Louisville, where
the stevedores will unload the boat,--he has very little for deck hands
or roustabouts to do. But there will be some ‘wooding up’ to do now and
then,--taking on wood for the furnaces,--and there will be the decks to
keep clean, the lanterns to keep in order, and all that sort of thing.
Now as you young men are stout fellows and pretty well used by this time
to roughing it, he has agreed, if you choose, to take you instead of the
roustabouts and deck hands ordinarily carried. There won’t be any wages,
but you’ll have your meals from the cook’s galley and your passages to
Louisville free. Passage from there to Vevay will be a trifle, of
course.”

The boys were more pleased with the arrangement than they could explain
in words. But Phil tried to thank Mr. Kennedy, ending by saying, “I
don’t know why you should take so much trouble for us, sir, as we’re
complete strangers to you.”

“You don’t know why?” asked the merchant, with smiles rippling over his
face. “Well, let me tell you that the man you rescued from a horrible
death up there in the Tallahatchie swamp is my brother-in-law, the woman
you saved is my sister, and the children my nephew and nieces. Now you
will understand that whatever you happen to want in New Orleans is
yours, if I know of your wanting it. We should all be more than glad to
do vastly more for such good friends as you if we could. But my
brother-in-law writes me that he talked with you about that, and
concluded that boys of your sort are likely to do much better for
themselves than anybody can do for them. Now, not a word more on that
subject, please,” as Ed, with his big eyes full of tears, arose,
intending to say something of his own and his comrades’ feelings. “Not a
word more. Besides, there’s a clerk waiting for me at the door. Go to
the opera to-night, and hear some good music. One of my clerks will
leave tickets at the hotel for you. And be ready at noon to-morrow for a
drive. I’ll call for you, and show you our town. Good-by now,
good-by--really, I mustn’t talk longer. Good-by.”

And so the overwhelmed youngsters found themselves bowed out into Camp
Street without a chance to say a word of thanks.

The next day, in two open carriages, Mr. Kennedy drove the boys
for hours over the beautiful and picturesque old city--up into the
Carrollton district, where are fine residences and broad streets; down
through the French Creole region, where the quaintness of the city is
something wholly unmatched in any other town in America; and out over a
beautiful road to Lake Pontchartrain, with luncheon at the Halfway
House.

“This will be enough for to-day,” said their host, as they rose from
their meal. “To-morrow morning, if you young gentlemen like, we’ll drive
down to the battlefield, where Jackson won his famous victory and saved
the Mississippi River and all the region west of it from British
control. We’ll drive into the city now, and you would do well to rest
this afternoon, for driving in this crisp autumn air makes one tired and
sleepy.”

The boys protested that he was unwarrantably taking his time for their
entertainment, but he had a way of turning off such things with a laugh
which left nothing else to be said.

So the trip to the battlefield was made, but this time they had a second
companion in the person of a young professor from Tulane University,
whom Mr. Kennedy had pressed into service to explain the battlefield and
all the events connected with it.

On the following day Mr. Kennedy took his young friends down the river
on a little steamer, on board which they passed a night and two days,
seeing the forts and hearing from the professor the story of the part
they had played in Farragut’s celebrated river fight, and visiting the
jetties--those stupendous engineering works by which the government
deepened the mouth of the river so as to permit large ships to come up
to the city.

On the way back from this two days’ trip Mr. Kennedy invited the boys to
dine with him at his home on the next evening. With a queer smile upon
his lips, he said:--

“I ought to have asked you to my house sooner, perhaps, but I wasn’t
ready. There were some little details that I wanted to arrange first.”

When the dinner evening came, the boys entered the stately mansion with
more of embarrassment than they would have cared to confess. It was the
finest house they had ever seen,--a stately, old-fashioned structure,
with broad galleries running around three of its sides, and with a
spacious colonnade in front. It stood in the midst of a garden of palm,
ilex, and magnolia trees, occupying an entire city block, and shut in by
a high brick wall, pierced by great gateways and little ones.

Inside, the house was luxuriously comfortable, filled with old-fashioned
furniture, time-dulled pictures, and here and there a bit of statuary,
but with none of that painfully breakable looking bric-a-brac that one
finds so often and in such annoying profusion in the houses of the rich
or the well-to-do. There was nothing here that meant show, nothing that
did not suggest easy use and comfort.

Mr. Kennedy himself followed the servant to the door to receive his
young friends. When he had ushered them into a homelike, “back-parlor”
sort of a room, he excused himself for a brief time and left them. About
a minute later they heard little feet pattering down the great hall,
and, an instant later, “Baby” toddled in. She paused a moment, and then
rushing into Phil’s arms called aloud:--

“My boys! My big boys!” Then she raised her little voice, and cried:--

“Come, papa! Come, mamma! My boys is come!”

This was the “little detail” that Mr. Kennedy had waited to arrange. He
had induced his sister and her husband to bring the children to New
Orleans, to await the flood’s subsidence; and he had waited for their
arrival before inviting the boys to dinner, in order that their welcome
might be eager, and their enjoyment of his hospitality free from
embarrassment.

In company with their flatboat guests, the lads felt completely at home,
and perhaps their shrewdly kind host aided toward this result by having
the dinner served in the most homelike and informal way that he could
manage.

As the steamboat on which they were to “work their way” up the river
was to sail the next afternoon, this evening at Mr. Kennedy’s was their
last in New Orleans.

“And what a delightful finish it has been to all our experiences!” said
Irv, when they all got back to their hotel.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

“IT”


There is not much more of this story for me to tell. The voyage up the
river involved very little of work, and nothing at all of adventure. The
steamboat was a slow one. She plodded along, day and night, never
landing except when it was necessary to take on fifty cords or so of
wood, with which to make steam.

Phil and his comrades took pride in keeping the decks in most
scrupulously clean condition, and doing with earnest care the other
tasks--mostly very small ones--which fell to their lot.

It took about nine days for the pottering old freight steamer to make
the journey to Louisville; for although the great flood had considerably
subsided, the Ohio was still sufficiently full for the boat to pass over
the falls and land her cargo at the city, instead of discharging it at
Portland, four miles below.

Bidding farewell to their captain, the crew of _The Last of the
Flatboats_ donned their new clothes, and took passage for Vevay on the
mail boat.

They landed at their home town late in the afternoon, hired a drayman to
haul their small baggage to their several homes, and proudly marched up
Ferry Street like the returning adventurers that they were, while all
the small boys in town trudged along with them precisely as they would
have followed a circus parade.

After briefly visiting their homes and having reunion suppers there with
their families, the boys reassembled in their old meeting-place, Will
Moreraud’s room over a store. There they made out all their accounts,
trying hard to make them look like those prepared by Mr. Kennedy’s
bookkeepers in New Orleans. They were then ready to settle, on the next
day, with all the owners of the cargo they had carried.

When all was arranged, Phil figured a while, and then said:--

“Fellows, we’ve netted a profit of exactly four hundred and fifty
dollars clear, by our trip. That’s ninety dollars apiece to add to our
college fund. The money’s in bank to my credit. I’ll draw a check for
each fellow’s share.”

When he had delivered to each of his comrades a check for ninety
dollars, he rose and stretched himself and said, with accents of
relief:--

“Now I’m not ‘IT’ any longer.”

“Oh, yes, you are,” said Irv. “We fellows are going to stick together
now, you know. There’s the study club, you remember. That will need an
‘IT,’ and you’ll be the ‘IT,’ won’t he, boys?”

“You bet!” said all in a breath.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Irv and Ed reported the voyage and the study club plan to Mrs.
Dupont, she entered enthusiastically into the scheme.

“Don’t go to school at all this year,” she said. “Come to me instead.
When bright boys have made up their minds to study as hard as they can
without any forcing, all they need is a tutor to help them when they
need help. I’ll be the tutor. The old schoolroom in my house, where I
taught you boys and your fathers the multiplication table long before
graded schools were thought of in this town, is unoccupied. Everything
in it is just as it was when you boys were with me. I’ll have the maids
dust it up, and it shall be the home of the ‘Study Club.’”

When the boys told the wise old lady how Phil had been made “IT” on the
voyage, and how splendidly he had risen to his responsibilities, she
smiled, but showed no surprise.

“I’m glad you boys had the good sense to choose Phil for your leader,”
she said. “If you had asked me, I should have told you to do just that.
I am older than you by nearly half a century. I have taught several
generations of boys, and I think I know boys better than I know anything
else in the world. Now let me tell you about Phil. He was born to be
‘IT,’ he will always be ‘IT,’ though he will never try to be. He has a
gift--if I didn’t detest the word for the bad uses it has been put to,
I’d say he has a ‘mission’ to be ‘IT’ in every endeavor that he may be
associated with. Whenever you’re in doubt, be very sure that Phil is
your best ‘IT.’”

Here this story comes to an

END



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


Where the original work uses text in italics, this e-text uses _text_.
Small capitals in the original work are represented here in all
capitals.

Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to directly below the paragraph
to which they belong.

Illustrations that were located mid-paragraph in the original work were
moved below the including paragraph.

This text has been preserved as in the original, including archaic and
inconsistent spelling, punctuation and grammar, except as noted below.

Obvious printer’s errors have been silently corrected.

Page 12: ‘tussel’ changed to ‘tussle’.

Page 90: ‘Ouashita’ changed to ‘Ouachita’.

Pages 100, 101 and 102: ‘Pittsburg’ is likely referring to ‘Pittsburgh’.

Page 140: ‘fusilade’ changed to ‘fusillade’.

Page 124: ‘spliting’ changed to ‘splitting’.

Page 337: ‘Alleghanies’ changed to ‘Alleghenies’





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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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