2. To The Rescue

The accident at the bridge had occurred so suddenly that, for the instant, neither Rover boy knew what to do. They saw that the farther end of the bridge had given way completely. Just where the end rested in the water they beheld several small objects floating about, one of them evidently a cap, and another a small wooden box. But the automobile with its driver was nowhere to be seen.

"My gracious! That fellow will surely be drowned!" gasped Sam, on recovering from the shock. "Tom, do you see him anywhere?"

"No, I don't." Tom took a few steps forward and gazed down into the swiftly- flowing stream. "Perhaps he is pinned under the auto, Sam!"

"Wait, I'll get the searchlight," cried the younger Rover, and ran back to their automobile. The boys made a point of carrying an electric pocket searchlight to be used in case they had to make repairs in the dark. Securing this, and turning on the light, Sam ran forward to the river bank, with Tom beside him.

To those who have read the previous volumes in this "Rover Boys Series" the lads just mentioned will need no special introduction. For the benefit of others, however, let me state that the Rover boys were three in number; Dick being the oldest, fun-loving Tom coming next, and sturdy Sam being the youngest. When at home, which was only for a short time each year, the boys lived with their father, Anderson Rover, and their Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha on a farm called Valley Brook, in New York State.

While their father was in Africa, the boys had been sent to Putnam Hall Military Academy, as related in the first volume of this series, entitled "The Rover Boys at School." There they had made quite a few friends, and, also, some enemies.*

*For particulars regarding how Putnam Hall Military Academy was organized, and what fine times the cadets there enjoyed even before the Rovers appeared on the scene, read "The Putnam Hall Series," six volumes, starting with "The Putnam Hall Cadets."-- Publishers

The first term at school was followed by an exciting trip on the ocean, and then another trip into the jungles of Africa, where the boys went looking for their parent. Then came a journey to the West, and some grand times on the Great Lakes and in the Mountains. After that, the Rover boys came back to the Hall to go into camp with their fellow-cadets. Then they took a long journey over land and sea, being cast away on a lonely island in the Pacific.

On returning home, the boys had imagined they were to settle down to a quiet life, but such was not to be. On a houseboat the lads, with some friends, sailed down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, and then found themselves on the Plains, where they solved the mystery of Red Rock ranch. Then they set sail on Southern Waters, and in the Gulf of Mexico discovered a deserted yacht.

"Now for a good rest," Sam had said, and the three lads had returned to the home farm, where, quite unexpectedly, more adventures befell them. Then they returned to Putnam Hall; and all graduated with considerable honor.

It had been decided by Mr. Rover that the boys should next go to college, and he selected an institution of learning located in the Middle West, not far from the town of Ashton. Brill College was a fine place, and the Rovers knew they would like it as soon as they saw it. With them went their old-time school chum, Songbird Powell, already mentioned. At the same time, William Philander Tubbs came to the college from Putnam Hall. He was a dudish fellow, who thought far more of dress than of gaining an education, and he was often made the butt of some practical joke.

It did not take the Rover boys long to make a number of friends at Brill. These included Stanley Browne, a tall, gentlemanly youth; Bob Grimes, who was greatly interested in baseball and other sports; Max Spangler, a German-American youth, who was everybody's friend; and Will Jackson, always called "Spud" because of his unusual fondness for potatoes. Spud was a great story-teller, and some of his yarns were marvelous in the extreme.

During their first term at Putnam Hall, the Rover boys had become well acquainted with Dora Stanhope, who lived near the school with her widowed mother, and, also, Nellie and Grace Laning, Dora's two cousins, who resided but a short distance further away. It had not been long before Dick and Dora showed a great liking for each other, and, at the same time, Tom often "paired off" with Nellie, and Sam as often sought the company of Grace. Then came the time when the boys did a great service for Mrs. Stanhope, saving her from the wicked plotting of Josiah Crabtree, a teacher at Putnam Hall. Crabtree was exposed, and lost no time in leaving the school, threatening at the same time that, sooner or later, he would "square accounts with the Rovers."

But a few miles away from Brill College was located Hope Seminary, an institution for girls. When the Rover boys went to Brill, Dora, Nellie and Grace entered Hope, so the young folks met almost as often as before. A term at Brill was followed by an unexpected trip Down East, where the Rover boys again brought the rascally Crabtree to terms. Then the lads became the possessors of a biplane, and took several thrilling trips through the air. About this time, Mr. Anderson Rover, who was not in the best of health, was having much trouble with some brokers, who were trying to swindle him out of valuable property. He went to New York City, and disappeared, and his three sons went at once on the hunt for him. The brokers were Pelter, Japson & Company, and it was not long before Dick and his brothers discovered that Pelter and Japson were in league with Josiah Crabtree. In the end the boys found out what had become of their parent, and they managed to bring the brokers to terms. But, during a struggle, poor Tom was hit on the head by a wooden footstool thrown by Pelter, and knocked unconscious. Josiah Crabtree tried to escape from a garret window by means of a rope made of a blanket. This broke, and he sustained a heavy fall, breaking a leg in two places. He was taken to a hospital, and the doctors there said he would be a cripple for life.

"There is no use in talking, Dad," Dick had said to his father, "you are not in a fit physical condition to take hold of these business matters. You had better leave them entirely to me." And to this Mr. Rover had agreed. Then, as Dick was to leave college and spend most of his time in New York, it had been decided that he and Dora should get married. There had followed one of the grandest weddings the village of Cedarville had ever seen.

The blow on Tom's head proved more serious than was at first anticipated. Through it the poor lad suddenly lost his mind, and while in that state he wandered away from Brill College, and went on a long journey, as related in detail in the volume preceding this, entitled "The Rover Boys in Alaska."

As their father was too ill to take part in any search for the missing one, Dick and Sam took up the hunt, and after many thrilling adventures on the ice and in the snow, managed to locate their brother and bring him back home.

"And now, Tom, you must take a good long rest," his kindly Aunt Martha had said, and she had insisted upon it that he be put under the care of a specialist. Tom had rested for several months, and then, declaring that he felt as good as ever, had returned to Brill. Sam was already in the grind, and soon Tom was doing his best to make up for the time he had lost on his strange trip.

Of course, Nellie Laning had been very much worried over Tom's condition, and his disappearance had caused her intense dismay. Since he had returned to Brill, she had asked that he either call on her or write to her at least once a week. Tom preferred a visit to letter-writing, and as Sam was usually ready to go to Hope to see Grace whenever the opportunity afforded, the brothers usually took the trip together, as in the present instance.

Searchlight in hand, the Rover boys peered out over the surface of the swiftly- flowing river, which at this point was about seventy-five feet wide. The bridge was built in three sections, and it was the middle span which had collapsed at the farther end, so that the automobile had plunged into water which was at least eight feet deep.

"Do you see anything of him?" asked Sam, eagerly, as the rays from the light flashed in one direction and then in another.

"If he managed to get out of the auto, perhaps he floated down with the current," responded his brother. "Anyhow, he doesn't seem to be around here."

"Maybe he was caught under the wheel. If so, we had better get him out without delay."

"Look! Look!" And now Tom pointed. down the river. There in the moonlight, both boys saw a form coming to the surface. The fellow was beating the water wildly with his hands, and now he set up a frantic cry for aid. Turning the searchlight in that direction, the Rover boys left the vicinity of the broken bridge, and made their way down to something of a footpath that ran along the water's edge. Tom was in the lead. Here and there the bushes hung over the stream, and both lads had to scramble along as best they could.

"Help! Help!" The cry came faintly, and then the two boys saw the fellow in the water throw up both arms and sink from view.

"He has gone under!" gasped Sam. "Hurry up, Tom, or we'll be too late!"

Scrambling wildly through the last of the bushes and onto some flat rocks that, in this vicinity, ran out into the river, the Rover boys soon gained a point which was less than four yards from where the unfortunate youth had disappeared. Leading the way, Tom leaped from one flat stone in the stream to another. Sam followed closely, holding the searchlight on the spot where both hoped the fellow in the water might reappear.

"Here he is!" cried Tom. And, as he spoke, Sam saw a dark object turn over in the stream close to the rock on which his brother had leaped. The next instant Tom was down on his knees and feeling through the water.

"Hold my hand, Sam," said the older Rover. And as Sam took his left hand, Tom clutched with his right the coat of the party in the river. Then came a hard pull; and a moment later Tom had the dripping form on the rock.

"Is he-- he-- dead?" questioned Sam, hoarsely.

"I don't think so, but he certainly has had a close call. We must get him ashore and work over him as soon as possible. You light the way; I think I can carry him alone."

The fellow who had been hauled out of the river was a slightly-built youth, not over twenty years of age. As Tom was both big and muscular, it was an easy matter for him to throw the stranger over his shoulder. Sam led the way to the shore, keeping the light down on the rocks so that his brother might be sure of his footing.

Once safe, the boys placed the stranger on the grass and started to work over him. He was unconscious, and had evidently swallowed considerable water. Fortunately, the lads had taken lessons in how to resuscitate a person who had been close to drowning, so they knew exactly what to do.

"It's a mighty lucky thing that we were here to aid him," remarked Sam, as he and Tom proceeded with their efforts. "Another minute, and it would have been all up with this poor fellow."

"Well, he isn't out of the woods yet, Sam, but I think he is coming around." And even as Tom spoke the stranger gave a gasp and a groan, and tried to sit up.

"It's all right, my friend," cried Sam, reassuringly. "We've got you, you are safe."

"Oh, oh!" moaned the young man who had been so close to drowning. And then as he sat up and stared at the brothers, he added: "Did-- did you sa-- save me?"

"Well, we hauled you out of the river," replied Tom, simply.

"You did!" The young man shivered as he glanced at the swiftly-flowing stream. "The bridge-- it was broken, but I didn't notice it in time."

"We tried to warn you," said Sam, "but you were coming too fast."

"I know it, but I-- I----" And then the young man, having tried to get to his feet, suddenly collapsed and became unconscious again.

"Phew!" came from Sam in surprise. "He must be worse off than we thought."

"Perhaps he got struck when he went down," suggested Tom. "See here, there is blood on his hand; it is running down his sleeve!"

"Maybe his arm is broken, Tom. I guess the best thing we can do is to get him to some doctor."

"Why not take him right down to Ashton to Doctor Havens?"

"Good idea; we'll do it."

Tom again took up the unconscious young man, and, with Sam leading the way, both hurried to their automobile. The stranger was deposited on the seat of the tonneau, and then Tom lost no time in turning the machine around and heading for town.

"I wonder who he can be?" remarked Sam, as they sped along.

"I'm sure I don't know," was Tom's reply. Neither of the boys dreamed of the surprise in store for them.