Chapter VII. To the Rescue.
 

Rapidly the water rose in the boat. It had now set the bottom boards more fully afloat, and the girls in vain tried to raise their feet out of the incoming flood. They stared at the swirling water, fascinated for the moment.

"Girls, we simply must do something!" cried Betty, usually the one to take the initiative.

"Row ashore! Row ashore!" begged Amy. "It's so deep out here."

"It isn't much shallower near shore," remarked Mollie. "What can have become of that plug?" and, pulling in her oars she began feeling about in the bottom of the boat, moving her hand around under the water.

"Maybe the twins took it to make a cat's cradle with," suggested Grace.

"No, it couldn't have been out when we started or the water would have come in at once," said Mollie. "It has come out only a few minutes ago. We simply must find it!"

"Row ashore--row ashore!" insisted Amy.

Betty had swung the boat's head around, but the craft was now badly water-laden, and did not move quickly. The current of the river was carrying them down the stream.

"Oh, girls!" cried Amy, her voice trembling somewhat, "it's getting deeper!"

"It certainly isn't stopping from coming in," murmured Mollie. "Where is that plug!"

Desperately she continued to feel about, while the other girls cast anxious eyes toward the shore, that now seemed so far away.

"And there's not another boat in sight!" exclaimed Betty. "We must call for help!"'

"I have it! I have the plug!" suddenly cried Mollie, pulling on something.

"Ouch! That's my foot--my toe!" cried Grace. "Let go!"

"Oh, dear!" sighed Betty, in disappointed tones.

"I thought I had it!" said Mollie. "Wait until I catch those twins!"

"We--we never may see them again," faltered Amy, whose recent rather tragic experience; had gotten on her nerves.

"Stop that!" commanded Betty, a bit sharply.

"Oh, how fast the water is coming in!" moaned Grace. "I'm going to faint--I know I'm going to faint!"

"Don't you dare!" cried Mollie, quickly. "If you do I'll never speak to you again! There! Take that!" She reached over on the seat beside Grace, caught up a chocolate from a bag and thrust the confection into the tall girl's mouth. "That will keep you from saying such silly things, and also from fainting," remarked Mollie, practically. "Now, girls, since we can't find that plug, we've got to do the next best thing."

"If we could only whittle one!" said Betty.

"If we had a knife we might cut a piece off one of the oars, or the side of the boat," went on Mollie, "but as we haven't--we can't. We must arrange to take knives with us on our tour, though!"

"It's no time to talk about tours now!" moaned Amy. "We--we'll never get ashore."

"Nonsense!" cried Betty. "We've got to. If we can't find a plug, or make one, we'll have to stuff something in the hole. Girls, your handkerchiefs!" She seemed to have a sudden inspiration.

She began rolling hers into a sort of cylindrical shape as she spoke. The other girls saw her idea, and passed over their tiny squares of linen, which Betty rolled with her own.

"That's one of my best ones," sighed Grace, as she parted with hers. "I got it on my birthday."

"It's in a good cause--never mind," remarked Betty, firmly. "And you'll get it back, you know--when we get ashore."

"If we ever get ashore, you mean," spoke Amy.

"Stop it!" commanded the Little Captain, sharply. "Of course we'll get ashore. Now, Billy, where is that hole?"

"Wherever the water seems to be coming in fastest," replied the owner of the boat. "Oh, be quick, Betty. We can't float much longer!"

"Well, we can swim," coolly replied Betty, as she began feeling about for the hole in the bottom of the boat. Meanwhile she looked closely at the surface of the water in the craft, which had now risen until it was close to the under side of the seats. The girls were quite wet. The boat was harder than ever to row.

"That plug ought to be floating somewhere hereabouts," she murmured.

"It's probably caught in a crack, or under one of the seats," said Mollie. "Hurry up, Betty. The hole is right near where you were feeling that time."

"Yes, you can see the water bubbling up," added Amy. "Oh, do hurry, or we'll sink!"

"Well, then we can swim," said Betty, coolly. "It's a good thing we all know how."

"But--in our clothes!" protested Amy.

"Oh, I guess we can do it if we try," went on Betty. "There, I have the handkerchiefs in the hole!" she exclaimed, as she forced the wadded-up linens into the aperture. "Now let's row harder!"

"Oh, but I'm soaked!" sighed Grace. Indeed, they were all in no very comfortable plight.

They succeeded in heading the boat for shore, but they had only rowed a short distance when Grace cried:

"The water is still coming in!"

There was no doubt about it. They all stared at the place where, under water, Betty had thrust in the handkerchiefs. There was a string of small bubbles, showing that the river water was still finding its way into the boat.

"Help! Help! Help!" suddenly called Amy.

"Why--what's the matter?" demanded Betty, in alarm.

"Oh, there's someone on shore, near a boat! It's a man--or a boy! He must come out and rescue us!" said Amy, and there was a trace of tears in her voice.

"What's--the--matter?" came the hail from the one on shore.

"We're--sinking!" called Betty, making a megaphone of her hands. "Come out and save us!"

"All right!" and then the following words were lost as the wind carried them aside. The youth on shore--the girls could now see that he was a youth--began shoving out a boat. He did not seem very adept in the knowledge of rowing, and took quite a little time to get under way.

"Oh, it's that Percy Falconer!" cried Betty. "He'll never get to us! Girls, I guess we'll have to swim for it, after all!"

"Look--there comes someone else!" suddenly cried Amy. "Oh, Grace, it's your brother Will!"

"Thank goodness for that," murmured Betty. "Now we have some chance. If he can only make Percy listen to reason, and put back for him."

"They seem to be having some argument," said Grace. "Oh, if that Percy isn't the--"

She did not finish, for they were all vitally interested in what was taking place on shore. Will and Percy seemed to be having a difference of opinion, and it appeared that Percy wanted to shine as a lone hero in the rescue that must be performed quickly now, if it was to be performed at all.

"Come back with that boat!" Will could be heard to cry. "You don't know how to row!"

"I do so!" retorted Percy, the wind now carrying the words to the girls.

"Come back here!" insisted Will, firmly, "or I'll--"

"We'll be too late!" almost whined Percy. "They said they were sinking!"

"Come back here!" fairly shouted Will. "I can row twice as fast as you, and we'll make better time even if you do put back. Come on, or I'll jump in and swim out to you, and chuck you overboard! Come back!"

This argument proved effective. Possibly Percy was thinking what would happen to his clothes if Will put his threat into execution. At any rate, he swung the big boat around and a few moments later Will and he, the former pulling vigorously on the oars, were on their way to rescue the now thoroughly frightened girls.