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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve gave a cry of dismay.

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VIII

REFUGEES OF THE ROOF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IX

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was quickly told what Max purposed doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Boat!"



CHAPTER X

"ALL ABOARD!"

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

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

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

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

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

The girls began to utter little plaintive exclamations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ready, Bandy-legs!" cried Max.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How about oars?" asked Max.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XI

GOOD CHEER BY THE CAMP FIRE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two minutes later and Max uttered a satisfied exclamation.

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XII

THE WILD DOG PACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bandy-legs started chuckling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIII

THE DEFENCE OF THE CAMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max went back and secured more of the same kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XIV

UNWELCOME GUESTS

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

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

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

Max smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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