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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is it, Bandy-legs?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What makes you think so?" asked Max.

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

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



CHAPTER XV

BOSE PAYS FOR HIS BOARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bandy-legs!" snapped Max.

"Here!" answered the one addressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER XVI

AFTER THE FLOOD—CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE END

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