Chapter XVI. The Flood

The heavy downpour of rain had ceased now, and everybody ran to the barn to see what damage the fire had done.

"It almost caught my pigeon coop!" said Harry, as he examined the blackened beams in the barn near the wire cage his birds lived in.

"The entire back of this barn will have to be rebuilt," said Uncle Daniel. "John, are you sure you didn't drop a match in the hay?"

"Positive, sir!" answered John. "I never use a match while I'm working. Didn't even have one in my clothes."

Bert whispered something to Harry. It was too much to have John blamed for their wrongdoing.

"Father!" said Harry bravely, but with tears in his eyes. "It was our fault; we set the barn afire!"

"What!" exclaimed Uncle Daniel in surprise. "You boys set the barn afire!"

"Yes," spoke up Bert. "It was mostly my fault. I threw the cigarette away and we couldn't find it."

"Cigarette!" exclaimed Uncle Daniel. "What! - you boys smoking!"

Both Bert and Harry started to cry. They were not used to being spoken to like that, and of course they realized how much it cost to put that nasty old cigarette in their mouths. Besides there might have been a great deal more damage if it hadn't been for the rain.

"Come with me!" Uncle Daniel said; "we must find out how all this happened," and he led the unhappy boys into the coach house, where they all sat down on a bench.

"Now, Harry, stop your crying, and tell me about it," the father commanded.

Harry tried to obey, but his tears choked him. Bert was the first able to speak.

"Oh, Uncle Daniel," he cried, "we really didn't mean to smoke. We only rolled up some corn silk in a piece of paper and - "

His tears choked back his words now, and Harry said:

"It was I who rolled the cigarette, father, and it was awful, it almost made us sick. Then when Bert put it in his mouth - "

"I threw it away and it must have fallen in the hay!" said Bert.

"Why didn't you come and tell me?" questioned Uncle Daniel severely. "It was bad enough to do all that, but worse to take the risk of fire!"

"Well, the storm was coming," Harry answered, "and we went to help John with the hay!"

"Now, boys," said Uncle Daniel, "this has been a very serious lesson to you and one which you will remember ail your lives. I need not punish you any more; you have suffered enough from the fright of that awful fire. And if it hadn't been that you were always pretty good boys the Lord would not have sent that shower to save us as He did."

"I bet I'll never smoke again as long as 1 live," said Harry determinedly through hid [sic] tears.

"Neither will I," Bert said firmly, "and I'll try to make other fellows stop if I can."

"All right," answered Uncle Daniel, "I'm sure you mean that, and don't forget to thank the Lord to-night for helping us as He did. And you must ask His pardon too for doing wrong, remember."

This ended the boys' confession, but they could not stop crying for a long time, and Bert felt so sick and nervous he went to bed without eating any supper. Uncle Daniel gave orders that no one should refer to the fire or cause the boys any more worry, as they were both really very nervous from the shock, so that beyond helping John clear things up in the burned end of the barn, there was no further reference to the boys' accident.

Next day it rained very hard - in fact, it was one of those storms that come every summer and do not seem to know when to go away.

"The gate at the sawmill dam is closed," Harry told Bert, "and if the pond gets any higher they won't be able to cross the plank to open up the gate and let the water out."

"That would be dangerous, wouldn't it?" Bert asked.

"Very," replied Harry. "Peter Burns' house is right in line with the dam at the other side of the plank, and if the dam should ever burst that house would be swept away."

"And the barn and henhouse are nearer the pond than the house even!" Bert remarked. "It would be an awful loss for a poor man."

"Let's go up in the attic and see how high the pond is," Harry suggested.

From the top of the house the boys could see across the high pond bank into the water.

"My!" Bert exclaimed; "isn't it awful!"

"Yes, it is," Harry replied. "You see, all the streams from the mountains wash into this pond, and in a big storm like this it gets very dangerous."

"Why do they build houses in such dangerous places?" asked Bert.

"Oh, you see, that house of Burns' has stood there maybe one hundred years - long before any dam was put in the pond to work the sawmill," said Harry.

"Oh, that's it - is it?" Bert replied. "I thought it was queer to put houses right in line with a dam."

"See how strong the water is getting," went on Harry. "Look at that big log floating down."

"It will be fun when it stops raining," remarked Bert. "We can sail things almost anywhere."

"Yes, I've seen the pond come right up across the road down at Hopkins' once," Harry told his cousins. "That was when it had rained a whole week without stopping."

"Say," called Dinah from the foot of the stairs. "You boys up there better get your boots on and look after that Frisky cow. John's gone off somewhere, and dat calf am crying herself sick out in de barn. Maybe she a- gettin' drownded."

It did not take long to get their boots and overcoats on and hurry out to the barn.

"Sure enough, she is getting drownded!" exclaimed Harry, as they saw the poor little calf standing in water up to her knees.

"Where is all the water coming from?" sked Bert.

"I don't know," Harry answered, "unless the tank upstairs has overflowed."

The boys ran up the stairs and found, just as Harry thought, the tank that supplied all the barns with water, and which also gave a supply for the house to be used on the lawn, was flowing over.

"Is there any way of letting it out?" asked Bert, quite frightened.

"We can open all the faucets, besides dipping out pailfuls," said Harry. "But I wish John would get back."

Harry ran to get the big water pail, while Bert turned on the faucet at the outside of the barn, the one in the horse stable, another that supplied water for the chickens and ducks, and the one John used for carriage washing. Frisky, of course, had been moved to a dry corner and now stopped crying.

Harry gathered all the large water pails he could carry, and hurried up to the tank followed by Bert.

"It has gone down already," said Harry, as they looked into the tank again. "But we had better dip out all we can, to make sure. Lucky we found it as soon as we did, for there are all father's tools on the bench right under the tank, besides all those new paints that have just been opened."

"Here comes John now," said Bert, as he heard the barn door open and shut again.

"Come up here, John!" called Harry; "we're almost flooded out. The tank overflowed."

"It did!" exclaimed John. "Gracious! I hope nothing is spoiled."

"Oh, we just caught it in tine," Harry told him, "and we opened up the faucets as soon as we could. Then we began dipping out, to make sure."

"You were smart boys this time," John told him, "and saved a lot of trouble by being so prompt to act. There is going to be a flood sure. The dam is roaring like Niagara, and they haven't opened the gates yet."

"I'm glad we are up high," Bert remarked, for he had never seen a country flood before, and was a good deal frightened at the prospect.

"Hey, John!" called Freddie from the back porch. "Hey, bring me some more nails, will you? I need them for my ark."

"He's building an ark!" laughed Bert. "Guess we'll need it all right if this keeps on."

Harry got some nails from his toolbox in the carriage house, and the boys went up to the house.

There they found Freddie on the hard cement cellar floor, nailing boards together as fast as his little hammer could drive the nails in.

"How's that?" asked the little fellow, standing up the raft.

"I guess that will float," said Bert, "and when it stops raining we can try it."

"I'm going to make a regular ark like the play one I've got home," said Freddie, "only mine will be a big one with room for us all, besides Frisky, Snoop, Fluffy, and - "

"Old Bill. We'll need a horse to tow us back when the water goes down," laughed Harry.

Freddie went on working as seriously as if he really expected to be a little Noah and save all the people from the flood.

"My, but it does rain!" exclaimed somebody on the front porch.

It was Uncle Daniel, who had just returned from the village, soaking wet.

"They can't open the gates," Uncle Daniel told Aunt Sarah. "They let the water get so high the planks sailed away and now they can't get near the dam."

"That is bad for the poor Burns family!" exclaimed Aunt Sarah. "I had better have John drive me down and see if they need anything."

"I stopped in on my way up," Uncle Daniel told her, "and they were about ready to move out. We'll bring them up here if it gets any worse."

"Why don't they go to the gates in a boat?" asked Bert.

"Why, my dear boy," said Uncle Daniel, "anybody who would go near that torrent in a boat might as well jump off the bridge. The falls are twenty- five feet high, and the water seems to have built them up twice that. If one went within two hundred feet of the dam the surging water would carry him over."

"You see," said Harry, explaining it further, "there is like a window in the falls, a long low door. When this is opened the water is drawn down under and does not all have to go over the falls."

"And if there is too much pressure against the stone wall that makes the dam, the wall may be carried away. That's what we call the dam bursting," finished Uncle Daniel.

All this was very interesting to Bert, who could not help being frightened at the situation.

The boys told Uncle Daniel how the tank in the barn had overflowed, and he said they had done good work to prevent any damage.

"Oh, Uncle Daniel!" exclaimed Freddie, just then running up from the cellar. "Come and see my ark! It's most done, and I'm going to put all the animals and things in it to save them from the flood."

"An ark!" exclaimed his uncle, laughing. "Well, you're a sensible little fellow to build an ark to-day, Freddie, for we will surely need one if this keeps up," and away they went to examine the raft Freddie had actually nailed together in the cellar.

That was an awful night in Meadow Brook, and few people went to bed, staying up instead to watch the danger of the flood. The men took turns walking along the pond bank all night long, and their low call each hour seemed to strike terror in the hearts of those who were in danger.

The men carried lanterns, and the little specks of light were all that could be seen through the darkness.

Mrs. Burns had refused to leave her home.

"I will stay as long as I can," she told Uncle Daniel. "I have lived here many a year, and that dam has not broken yet, so I'm not going to give up hope now!"

"But you could hardly get out in time should it break," insisted Uncle Daniel, "and you know we have plenty of room and you are welcome with us."

Still she insisted on staying, and each hour when the watchman would call from the pond bank, just like they used to do in old war-times: "Two o'clock - and - all is - well!" Mrs. Burns would look up and say, "Dear Lord, I thank Thee!"

Peter, of course, was out with the men. He could not move his barns and chicken house, but he had taken his cow and horse to places of safety.

There were other families along the road in danger as well as the Burnses, but they were not so near the dam, and would get some warning to escape before the flood could reach them should the dam burst.

How the water roared! And how awfully dark it was! Would morning ever come?

"Four o'clock - the water rises!" shouted the men from the bank.

"Here, Mary!" called Peter Burns at the door of their little home, "you put your shawl on and run up the road as fast as you can! Don't wait to take anything, but go!"

"Oh, my babies' pictures!" she cried. "My dear babies! I must have them."

The poor frightened little woman rushed about the house looking for the much-prized pictures of her babies that were in heaven.

"It's a good thing they all have a safe home to-night," she thought, "for their mother could not give them safety if they were here."

"Come, Mary!" called Peter, outside. "That dam is swaying like a tree-top, and it will go over any minute." With one last look at the little home Mrs. Burns went out and closed the door.

Outside there were people from all along the road. Some driven out of their homes in alarm, others having turned out to help their neighbors.

The watchmen had left the bank. A torrent from the dam would surely wash that away, and brave as the men were they could not watch the flood any longer.

"Get past the willows quick!" called the men. "Let everybody who is not needed hurry up the road!"

Mr. Mason, Mr. Hopkins, Uncle Daniel, and John, besides Peter Burns, were the men most active in the life-saving work. There were not many boats to be had, but what there were had been brought inland early in the day, for otherwise they would have been washed away long before down the stream into the river.

"What [sic] that?" called Uncle Daniel, as there was a heavy crash over near the gates.

Then everybody listened breathless.

It was just coming daylight, and the first streak of dawn saw the end of the awful rain.

Not one man in the crowd dared to run up that pond bank and look over the gates!

"It's pretty strong!" said the watchman. "I expected to hear it crash an hour ago!"

There was another crash!

"There she goes!" said Mr. Burns, and then nobody spoke.