Chapter III. Sams Adventure at Humpback Falls
 

For several minutes after Dick leaped overboard to Tom's assistance, Sam's one thought was of his two brothers. Would they reach the tree or the shore in safety? Fervently he prayed they would.

The tree went around and around, as a side current caught it, and presently the whirlings became so rapid that Sam grew dizzy, and had to hold tight to keep from falling off.

He saw Dick catch Tom from the back and start for shore, and then like a flash the realization of his own situation dawned upon him. He was on the tree with no means of guiding his improvised craft, and sweeping nearer and nearer to the rapids of which he had heard so much but really knew so little.

"I must get this tree to the river bank," he, said to himself, and looked around for some limb which might be cut off and used for a pole.

But no such limb was handy, and even had there been there would have been no time in which to prepare it for use, for the rapids were now in plain sight, the water boiling and foaming as it darted over one rock and another, in a descent of thirty feet in forty yards.

"This won't do!" muttered the boy, and wondered if it would not be best to leap overboard and try to swim to safety. But one look at that swirling current made him draw back.

"I reckon I had best stick to the tree and trust to luck to pass the rocks in safety," he muttered, and clutched the tree with a firmer hold than ever.

The strange craft had now stopped circling, and was shooting straight ahead for a rock that stood several feet above water. On it went, and Sam closed his eyes in expectancy of an awful shock which would pitch him headlong, he knew not to where.

But then came a swerve to the left, and the tree grated along the edge of the rock. Before Sam could recover his breath, down it went over the first line of rapids. Here it stuck fast for a moment, then turned over and went on, throwing Sam on the under side.

The boy's feet struck bottom, and he bobbed up like a cork. Again he clutched the tree, and on the two went a distance of ten feet further. But now the tree became jammed between two other rocks, and there it stuck, with Sam clutching one end and the water rushing in, a torrent over the other.

For the moment the boy could do little but hold fast, but as his breath came back to him he climbed on top of the tree and took a look at the situation.

It was truly a dismaying one. He was in the very center of the rapids, and the shore on either side of him was fifty to sixty feet away.

"How am I ever to get to the bank?" he asked himself. "I can't wade or swim, for the current is far too strong. I'm in a pickle, and no mistake. I wonder if Dick and Tom are on solid earth yet?"

He raised his voice into a shout, not once, but several times. At first only the echoes answered him, but presently came a reply from a distance.

"Sam! Sam! Where are your?" It was Dick calling, and he was running along the bank alone, Tom being too exhausted to accompany him.

"Here I am -- in the middle of the falls!"

"Where?"

"Out here -- in the middle of the falls!"

"Great Caesar, Sam! Can't you wade ashore?"

"No; the current is so strong I am afraid to."

In a minute more Dick reached a spot opposite to where the tree rested. As he took in the situation his face clouded in perplexity.

"You are right -- don't try wading," he, said. "If you do, you'll have your skull cracked open on the rocks. I'll have to get a rope and haul you off."

"All right; but do hurry, for this tree may start on again at any instant!"

To procure a rope was no easy matter, for nothing of that sort was at hand, and the nearest farmhouse was some distance away. Yet, without thinking twice, Dick set off for the farmhouse, arriving there inside of five minutes.

"I need a rope, quick, Mr. Darrel," he said. "My brother is in the middle of the Humpback Falls on a tree, and I want to save him."

"Why, Dick Rover, you don't tell me!" cried Joel Darrel, a farmer who had often worked for Randolph Rover. "Sure I'll get a wash line this minute!" and he ran for the kitchen shed.

Luckily the line was just where the farmer supposed it would be, and away went man and boy, Dick leading, until the river bank was again reached.

"There he is, Mr. Darrel. How can we best help him, do you think?"

The farmer scratched his head in perplexity.

"Hang me if I jess know, Dick," he said slowly.

"If we try to pull him straight to shore the current will carry him over the rocks in spite of the line."

"How long do you suppose the line is?"

"It is fifty yards, and all good and strong, for I bought it of Woddie only last week."

"Fifty yards -- that is a hundred and fifty feet. Do you see that spur of rock just above there?"

"I do."

"Is it more than a hundred and fifty feet from that rock to the tree?"

"Hardly; but it's close figuring."

"Let us try the line and see."

Both walked up to the spur of rock they had in view. It jutted out into the river for several yards, and was rather wet and slippery.

"Take care, or you'll go in too," cautioned Joel Darrel. "Shall I throw the rope out?"

"You might try it," answered Dick. "I'll hold fast to your leg," and he squatted down for that purpose.

The line was uncoiled and thrown three times, but each time it fell short and drifted inshore again.

"Hurry up!" suddenly yelled Sam. "The tree is beginning to turn, and it will break loose before long."

"Let me try a throw," said Dick, and took the wash line. As he made the cast, Tom came up on a walk, his head tied up in a handkerchief.

"Where is Sam?"

"Out there," said Joel Darrel, and watched the casting of the line with interest. Again it fell short, but Dick's second throw was a complete success, and soon Sam held the outer end of the line fast.

"It reaches, and we have about fifteen feet to spare," said Dick joyfully. "Sam, tie it around you." Scarcely had the word left the younger brother's lips than the tree upon which he rested wobbled and went over, and he found himself thrown into the foaming water.

"Pull away, all hands!" cried Dick, and hauled in desperately, while Joel Darrel did the same. Tom was not equal to the task, but contented himself with holding fast to Dick's coat, that his elder brother might not slip from the rock.

It was no light work to get Sam up the first rise of the rapids, but once this rise was passed the rest was easy by comparison. They pulled in steadily, and presently the boy reached the rock and came up, looking very much like a dripping seal as he clambered to safety.

"Thank fortune, you are safe!" cried Dick when it was all over; and Tom said "Amen," under his breath. Joel Darrel looked well satisfied as he coiled up the wash line.

"It was a narrow escape," he remarked presently. "You want to be careful how you try to cross the river at this point. What were you doing on the tree?"

"I was after a thief," answered Sam, and then he looked at Dick and Tom. "Where is he?"

"Gone," returned Dick.

"A thief!" ejaculated Joel Darrel. "Whom did he rob?"

"He robbed me."

"Do tell, Dick! When?"

"About half an hour ago. I was coming from the Corners with the mail, when he pounced on me near our berry patch and knocked me down. He took my pocketbook and my watch, but Sam and Tom came up, and we chased the fellow and got the pocketbook back."

"But he kept the watch?"

"Yes."

"Was it a good one?"

"It was a gold watch that my father paid sixty-five dollars for -- and the chain was worth ten; and, what is more, the watch was one my father used to wear; and as he is gone now, I thought a good deal of it on that account."

"That's natural, my boy. But where did the thief go?"

"Came across the river about quarter of a mile above here."

"Then he had a boat?"

"Yes -- a craft painted brown, with a white stripe around her."

"That's Jerry Rodman's boat. He must have stolen her in the first place to cross to your side."

"More than likely."

"But where did he go after he crossed the river?"

"Into the bushes, I guess. You see, Tom went overboard from the tree and got struck, and I went to his assistance, so I didn't notice exactly. I want to get back now and follow the rascal."

"I'll go along."

"I wish you would."

"In that case I won't try to keep up with you," put in Tom. "My head is aching fit to split."

"Yes, you may as well take it easy," answered Dick. "But, say, why not, walk up to the river road and see if the rascal heads in this direction?"

"So I will, Dick. Will you go too, Sam?"

It was arranged that Sam should accompany and they set off immediately, while Dick and Joel Darrel ran along the river bank to where the rowboat had been abandoned.

Down where it was muddy it was easy to trace the tramp's footprints, and they led through a meadow and across a cornfield, coming out at a side road leading to the town of Oak Run.

"Well, where to next?" questioned the farmer, as he and Dick came to a halt.

The youth shook his head. "It's so dry here the footprints are lost," he returned slowly.

"That's true, Dick. But I reckon he went to Oak Run."

"Why?"

"Because he could catch a train from there which would take him miles away -- and I guess that is what he wants to do just about now."

"There is something in that."

"Besides, you know, the other end of the road ends up in the woods. He wouldn't go there."

"I had best start for Oak Run, then."

"I'll go along."

The distance was a mile and a half, and they thought they would have to walk it, but hardly had a dozen rods been covered than they heard the sound of wagon wheels, and a grocery turn-out and came into sight driven by a boy Joel Darrel knew well.

"This comes in just right," observed Darrel to Dick. "Hi there, Harry Oswald. Give us a lift to Oak Run, will you?"

"Certainly, Mr. Darrel," answered the grocery boy, and brought his store wagon to a stop. The farmer leaped to the seat, and Dick followed.

On the way Harry Oswald was made acquainted with the situation, and he drove along with all possible speed. They were just entering the outskirts of Oak Run when the whistle of a locomotive was heard.

"That's the down train for Middletown cried Joel Darrel. "Hurry up!"

The horse was whipped up, and they swept along to the depot at a speed which made the constable of the town shake his fist at Harry and threaten to arrest him for fast driving.

"Too late!"

The words came from Dick, and he was right. Before the depot was reached the long train had pulled out. Soon it was lost to sight in the distance.

The thief was on it; and his escape, for the time being, was now assured.