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Afloat on the Flood

John C. Hutcheson




  [Frontispiece: They were being swept downstream at a tremendous pace]

  M. A. Donohue & CompanyChicago -------- New York

  Copyright, 1915, ByThe New York Book Company







  "What's the latest weather report down at the post office, Max?"

  "More rain coming, they say, and everybody is as gloomy as a funeral."

  "My stars! the poor old town of Carson is getting a heavy dose thisspring, for a fact; nothing but rain, rain, and then some more rain."

  "Never was anything to beat it, Bandy-legs, and they say even theoldest inhabitant can't remember when the Evergreen River was at ahigher stage than it is right now."

  "Here comes our chum, Toby Jucklin, and he looks as if he might bebringing some news with him. Hi! Toby, what's the latest?"

  The new arrival, who was somewhat out of breath with hurrying, surveyedthe two boys who stood there awaiting his arrival, with an expressionof almost comical uneasiness on his face. Truth to tell, whenever Tobybecame in any way excited, and often when he was perfectly calm, histongue played him cruel tricks, so that he stuttered, and stumbledfearfully; until suddenly stopping he would draw in a long breath, givea sharp whistle, and having thus obtained a grip on himself oftenproceeded to speak as intelligibly as any one.

  "M-m-mills and s-s-shops all closed down, so's to let w-w-workers havec-c-chance to save their h-h-household goods!" he went on to say in alabored manner.

  The boy who had been called Bandy-legs by Max, and whose rather crookedlower limbs were undoubtedly responsible for the nickname among hisschool fellows, gave a whistle to indicate the depth of his feelings.

  Toby may have had an obstruction in his vocal cords, but he could runlike a streak; on the other hand, while Bandy-legs could not be said tohave an elegant walk, which some hateful fellows compared to the waddleof a duck, there was nothing the matter with his command of language,for he could rattle on like the machinery in one of Carson's mills.

  "And," he went on to say, excitedly, "the last news I heard was thatschool would have to stay closed all of next week, because the water ison the campus now, and likely to get in the cellars before the rivergoes down again. Which means we'll have a week's vacation we didn'tcount on."

  Somehow even that important event, which at another time would havecaused the boys to throw their hats into the air with glee, did notseem to create a ripple of applause among the three young chaps.Carson was threatened with a terrible disaster, the greatest in all herhistory, and even these boys could experience something of thesensation of awe that had begun to pass through the whole community.

  The Evergreen River that ran past the town was already bank-full; andall manner of terrifying reports kept circulating among thepanic-stricken people of that section of the State, adding to theiralarm and uneasiness. More rain meant accessions to the flood, alreadyaugmented by the melting of vast quantities of snow up in themountains, owing to the sudden coming of Spring. Besides this, somepeople claimed to know that the great reservoir which supplied water tomany towns, was not as secure as it might be, and they spread reportsof cracks discovered that might suddenly bring about another Johnstowndisaster.

  It was a strange spectacle that the three boy friends looked upon asthey stood on the street corner that Saturday morning. Water hadalready invaded many of the buildings in the lower section of the town,and in every direction could be seen excited families moving theirhousehold goods to higher levels.

  Horses and wagons were at a premium that morning, and from the waythings looked just then it might not be long before every boat that wasowned within five miles would be needed to rescue people imprisoned intheir homes, or to carry valuable goods out of the reach of theterrible flood.

  The three young fellows whom we meet on this dark morning in thehistory of the enterprising little town of Carson were chums who hadfor many moons been accustomed to spending their vacations together inthe woods, or on the waters. In all they were five close friends, butOwen Hastings, a cousin of Max, and who had made his home with him, wasat present away in Europe with another uncle; and Steve Dowdy happenedto be somewhere else in town, perhaps helping his father remove hisstock of groceries from his big store, which being in the lower part oftown was apt to suffer from the rising waters.

  In previous volumes of this series we have followed the fortunes ofthese chums with considerable pleasure; and those who have beenfortunate enough to have read one or more of these stories will need nofurther introduction to the trio. But while they may have passedthrough numerous exciting episodes in the days that were gone, theoutlook that faced them now seemed to promise even more thrillingadventures.

  No wonder all of them showed signs of excitement, when all around themmen and women were moving swiftly to gather up their possessions, orstanding in groups watching the swiftly passing flood, if their homeschanced to be safely out of reach of the river's utmost grip.

  A heavy wooden bridge crossed the river at Carson. This had withstoodthe floods of many previous Springs, but it was getting rather old andshaky, and predictions were circulating that there was danger of itsbeing carried away, sooner or later, so that the more timid people keptaloof from it now.

  The four chums had only a short time before returned from an Easterncamping trip up amidst the hills about fifteen miles from town. Theyhad experienced some strange adventures while in camp, most of whichhinged upon an event that had taken place in Carson one windy night,when the big round-top of a visiting circus blew down in a sudden gale,and many of the menagerie animals were set free.

  At the time of their home-coming the boys had certainly neveranticipated that there would be a renewal of activity in such a shorttime. Why, it seemed that they had hardly become settled again attheir studies when the rapid rising of the Evergreen River on Fridaynight brought the town of Carson face to face with a threateneddisaster that might yet be appalling.

  "Does anybody know where Steve is?" asked Max, when they had beenobserving the remarkable sights that were taking place all around themfor some little time, now laughing at some comical spectacle, and againspringing to help a little girl who was staggering under a heavy load,or a woman who needed assistance, for all of them had generous hearts.

  "He told me early this morning that his father had a dozen handsemployed carrying the stuff up out of the basement of the grocery storeand taking it to the second story," Bandy-legs replied.

  "I wish I'd known that," remarked Max; "for I'd have offered to help,because my house happens to be well up on the highest ground in town,and nothing could hurt us, even if the reservoir did burst, which Isurely hope it won't."

  They exchanged uneasy glances when Max mentioned the possibility ofthat disaster coming upon the unhappy valley, which would sufferseriously enough from the flood without that appalling happening comingto pass.

  "D-d-don't mention it, Max, p-p-please," said Toby, with a gloomy shakeof his head; "because while my f-f-folks might be out of d-d-dangerfrom a regular f-f-flood, if a monster wave of water came as-s-sweepin' along down here, it'd sure ketch us, and make ourp-p-place
look like a howling wilderness."

  "Same with me," added the third boy; "but I don't believe thatreservoir's goin' to play hob with things, like some people say.They're shaking in their shoes right now about it; but if the new rainthat's aheadin' this way'd only get switched off the track I reckonwe'd manage to pull through here in Carson without a terrible loss.I'd say go down and help Mr. Dowdy, Max, but I just heard a man tellthat everything in the cellar had been moved, and they were cleaningout the lower floor so's not to take chances."

  "But we might get around and see if we couldn't help somebody move,"suggested Max; "it would be only play for us, but would mean a wholelot to them."

  "S-s-second the motion," assented Toby, quickly. "And say, fellows, Iwas just thinking about that poor widow, Mrs. Badger, and her t-t-threechildren. Her house is on low g-g-ground, ain't it; and the water mustbe around the d-d-doorsill right now. G-g-give the word, Max, andlet's s-s-scoot around there to see."

  Max was the acknowledged leader of the chums, and as a rule the otherslooked to him to take command whenever any move was contemplated.

  "That was a bright thought of yours, Toby," he now said, as he shot alook full of boyish affection toward his stuttering chum; "if you doget balled up in your speech sometimes, there's nothing the matter withyour heart, which is as big as a bushel basket. So come on, boys, andwe'll take a turn around that way to see what three pair of willinghands can find to do for the widow and her flock."

  They had to make a little circuit because the water was coming upfurther in some of the town streets all the tune, with a rather swiftcurrent that threatened to undermine the foundations of numerous flimsybuildings, if the flood lasted long.

  "Whew! just look out there at the river, would you?" exclaimedBandy-legs, when they came to a spot where an unobstructed view couldbe obtained of the yellow flood that was whirling past the town at therate of many miles an hour, carrying all sorts of strange objects onits bosom, from trees and logs, to hencoops and fence rails.

  They stood for a minute or so to gaze with ever increasing interest atthe unusual spectacle. Then as the three boys once more started tomake their tortuous way along, avoiding all manner of obstacles, Maxwent on to say:

  "Pretty hard to believe that's our old friend the Evergreen River,generally so clear and pretty in the summer time, and with such goodfishing in places up near where the Big Sunflower and the Elderbranches join. And to think how many times we've skated for twentymiles up and down in winter; yet look there now, and you'd almostbelieve it was the big Mississippi flowing past."

  "And mebbe you noticed," observed Toby, warmly, "how f-f-funny theb-b-bridge looks with the w-w-water so near the s-s-span. Let me tellyou, if ever she does g-g-get up so's to wash the roadway, g-g-good-byeto b-b-bridge. I wouldn't want to be on it right then."

  "Nor me, either," Max added; "but that bridge has weathered a whole lotof floods, and let's hope it won't go out this time either; though wedo need a new one the worst kind. But here's the widow's place, boys,and seems like she does need help. The water's creeping up close toher door, and inside another hour it would be all over the floors ofher cottage. There she is, looking out now, and with three kidshanging to her dress. Let's ask her where we could take her stuff nearby. She hasn't got so much but that we might save most of it."

  The poor woman looked white and frightened, and indeed there was reasonshe should with that flood closing in on her little home and herhelpless family. When the three chums proposed to carry the best ofher belongings to higher ground she thanked them many times. Ithappened that she had a friend whose home was not far away, and on agood elevation; so anything that could be taken there she might havestored in their barn, where doubtless the friend would allow her tostay temporarily, until the river receded.

  Accordingly the stout boys settled down to business, and were soonstaggering under heavy loads, just as many other people in Carsonchanced to be doing at that time. It was slow and laborious work, andMax knew that they would never be able to get some of the heavierarticles to a place of safety. Although they did not represent anygreat commercial value, still they were all in all to Mrs. Badger.

  Just then an idea came into his head which he hastened to put intoexecution. An empty wagon was passing, and Max recognized it asbelonging to his father. Mr. Hastings, realizing the need of all theconveyances that could be obtained, had sent his man down town with theconveyance, so as to be of assistance to those in distress.

  Calling to the man Max soon had him backing up to the cottage, and theheavier things, such as the cook stove, beds, wash tubs and otherhousehold articles were soon loaded. In this fashion the possessionsof the widow were saved from being water soaked, for before they hadtaken the last thing out the river was lapping her doorstep greedily,and steadily rising all the while.

  Having dismissed the driver with his wagon, to go and make himselfuseful elsewhere, Max and his two chums were walking slowly along,wondering what next they might do, when a fourth boy was seen hurryingtoward them.

  "There comes Steve," announced Bandy-legs, whose quick eyesight haddiscovered the approach of the other chum, "and chances are he'sbringing some news, because he carries the map on his face.'Touch-and-Go Steve' we call him, because he's ready to fly off hisbase at the first crack of the gun; but he's sure got plenty now toexcite him. Hello! Steve, how's things getting on at the store?"

  "Oh! my dad's got his stock out of reach of the water, all that couldbe hurt by a soaking; and he thinks the brick building will stand ifthe reservoir don't give way; but did you hear that the river is abovethe danger line by two feet; higher than ever before known, and risinglike a race-horse all the time? Gee whiz! what's the answer to thisquestion; where's this thing going to end?" and Steve looked at histhree chums as he put this question; but they only shook their heads inreply, and stared dolefully out on the swiftly rushing river.