Chapter III. On a Lumber Raft.
 

"You think you saw Arnold Baxter?" demanded Tom.

"Yes, I saw Arnold Baxter, just as plain as day."

"Sam, you must be--"

"No, I am not dreaming. It was Arnold Baxter, true enough. As soon as he saw I had spotted him he drew out of sight."

"But we thought he was dead--buried under that landslide out in Colorado."

"We didn't find his body, and he isn't dead. Why, I would never make a mistake in that rascal's face, never," and Sam shook his head to emphasize his words.

"Was Dan with him?"

"I didn't see the son."

"If it was really Arnold Baxter we ought to let the authorities know at once, so that they can arrest him for getting out of prison on that bogus pardon."

"Yes, and we ought to let father know, too, for you may be sure Baxter will do all he can to get square with us for keeping the Eclipse mining claim out of his grasp."

"He can't do anything about that claim now. Our claim is established by law, and he is nothing but an escaped jailbird. But I agree he may give us lots of trouble in other directions. I presume he would like to see us all hung for the way we got ahead of him and his tools."

"If the steamer wasn't so far off we might hail her," continued Sam, but this was now out of the question.

Both lads were very much disturbed, and with good reason. Arnold Baxter had been an enemy to Mr. Rover for years, and this meant a good deal when the desperate character of the man was taken into consideration. He was a well-educated fellow, but cruel and unprincipled to the last degree, and one who would hesitate at nothing in order to accomplish his purpose.

"Dat's de wust yet," was Aleck Pop's comment. "I was finkin' dat rascal was plumb dead, suah. And Dan, too! Suah yo' didn't see dat good-fo'-nuffin boy?"

"No, I didn't see Dan."

"He must have been with his father when the landslide occurred," went on Tom. "And if one escaped more than likely the other did, too. My, how I despise that chap! and have, ever since we had our first row with him at Putnam Hall."

"I wonder what brought Arnold Baxter back to this section of the country? I shouldn't think he would dare to come back."

"He always was daring to the last degree in some matters, just as he is cowardly in others. I would give something to know if Dan is with him."

"We might follow up the steamer, if it wasn't for poor Dick."

The boys talked the matter over for some time, and while doing this the sails of the Swallow were again hoisted, and they turned the yacht back to the vicinity where Dick had gone overboard.

And while Tom and Sam are looking for their elder brother, let us turn back and learn what really did become of Dick.

He was waiting for Tom to come on deck with the lanterns when, of a sudden, something black and threatening loomed up out of the darkness to the starboard of the Swallow.

The mass was the better half of a monstrous lumber raft, which was rapidly going to pieces in the storm.

The raft, or rather what was left of it, hit the Swallow a glancing blow, otherwise the sailing craft must have been stove in and sunk.

The shock caught Dick with one hand off the wheel, and, before he could catch hold again, the youth found himself flung heels into the air and over the Swallow's stern.

Down and down he went into the lake waters, until he thought he would never come up.

The turn of affairs bewildered him, and he did not come fully to his senses until his head struck one of the timbers of the raft.

He clutched the timber as a drowning man clutches the proverbial straw, and tried to draw himself to the surface of the lake, only to discover, to his horror, that there were timbers to both sides of him, cutting off his further progress upward.

"Must I be drowned like a rat in a trap!" was the agonizing thought which rushed through his brain, and then he pushed along from one timber to another until the last was reached and he came up, almost overcome and panting heavily for breath.

"Help! help!" he cried feebly, and presently heard his brothers answer him. Then the lifeline was thrown, but it fell short and did him no good. By the red fire and the rockets he saw the position of the Swallow, and saw his brothers, but was too weak to even signal to Sam and Tom.

It was with an effort that he at last drew himself to the top of some of the lumber. This movement came none too soon, for a moment later one of the outside chains of the raft broke, and fully a third of what was left of the lumber was scattered in all directions.

"Hullo, Bragin! is that you?"

The cry came from out of the darkness and from the other end of the top lumber.

"Are you calling to me?" replied Dick, in as loud a voice as he could muster.

"Is that you, Bragin?" repeated the voice.

"I am not Bragin," answered Dick. "Where are you?"

"Here." And the unknown repeated the cry until Dick located and joined him. He was a burly lumberman of forty, with a heavy black beard and an equally heavy voice. He gazed at the youth in astonishment.

"Hullo! Where did you come from?" he demanded.

"From the yacht this lumber raft just struck."

"Did the shock knock ye overboard?"

"It did."

"Humph! I thought ye was Bragin."

"I came pretty close to being drowned, for I came up under the lumber."

"Well, we aint out o' the woods yet, young man. Didn't see nuthin o' Bragin, did ye?"

"I've seen nobody but you."

"Then he must be down to the lake bottom by this time."

"He was on the raft with you?"

"Yes. He and I left the tug to see to the chains when the storm came up."

"Where is the tug?"

"The raft broke away from her at the fust blow. A fool of a greenhorn was a-managin' of the thing, an' this is the result. Come here--it's safer."

Dick was perfectly willing to crawl closer to the burly lumberman, who was a good fellow, as could be seen by a glance.

"We'll be all right, if this section o' the lumber keeps together," went on the lumberman. "There are four chains here, so it ought to hold."

Once safe, for the time being, Dick began to wonder about the fate of the Swallow.

"Did the yacht go down?" he asked anxiously.

"I reckon not, young man. They burned red fire, you know. They wouldn't do that if there was much trouble aboard."

"That is true." Dick was silent for a moment. "I wish I could get back to her."

"Be thankful that ye aint at the bottom o' the lake. If we kin outride this storm we'll be safe enough, for the tug will be lookin' for the raft when it gits light."

Slowly the hours wore away, and in the meanwhile Dick learned that the lumberman's name was Luke Peterson and that he was from the timberlands of Michigan.

"I used to be in the United States service on the lakes, hunting down smugglers between here and Canada," said Peterson. "But that was years ago."

"Do they do much smuggling?" asked Dick.

"More than most folks think," was the decided answer.

The lumberman listened to Dick's tale with interest. Of course the story had to be short, and was frequently interrupted, as high waves would come along and almost sweep them into the lake. Both lay flat, clutching at the lumber and at the huge chains which held it, and which had thus far refused to part, although the strain upon them were tremendous.

It was about two o'clock in the morning when the storm, according to Dick's calculation, reached its height. The waves literally drove over the raft from end to end, and it was all both he and Luke Peterson could do to keep on the timbers.

"Hold on tight, young man, if ye value your life!" roared the lumberman. "An' if the raft parts, stick to the fust timber ye lay hands on."

Peterson had scarcely spoken when the raft went up to the top of a mighty wave and then came down with a dull boom in the hollow below. The shock was terrific, and it was followed by loud reports as the chains they had been depending upon snapped, one after another. Immediately the lumber loosened up and began to drift apart.

"Take care a' yerself!" shouted the lumberman, and hung fast to an extra long and heavy log. Dick heard him, but could not answer for fear of getting his mouth full of water. The youth turned over and over, clutched at one log and missed it, missed a second and a third, and then touched a fourth, and clung with a deathlike grip that nothing could loosen.

It was a soul-trying time, and one which poor Dick never forgot. The storm roared all around him, mingled with the thumping and bumping, grinding and crashing, of the sticks of timber. Once his left leg was caught between two sticks, and for the instant he was afraid the limb would be crushed. But then the pressure lessened and he drew the foot up in a hurry. The water washed into his face and over him, and he caught his breath with difficulty. Each instant looked as if it might be his last.