Chapter XXX. The Rescue--Conclusion
 

The Rovers and the others on the steam tug could scarcely wait for the old man in the dilapidated rowboat to come up alongside.

"You have a message for us?" said Dick. "Hand it over, quick."

"The message says as how you-uns will pay me twenty-five dollars fer delivering of it in twenty-four hours," said the old man, cautiously.

"Who is it from?"

"It is signed Dora Stanhope and Nellie Laning."

"Give it to me--I'll pay you the money," cried Tom.

"All right, reckon as how I kin trust you-uns," said the old man.

It was Jake Shaggam, who had received the message the evening before. He had read it with interest and started out at daylight to find out something about the Rovers and where they might be located. Good fortune had thrown him directly in our young friends' way.

"This is really a message from the girls!" cried Tom, reading it hastily. "It is in Nellie Laning's handwriting."

"And Dora Stanhope has signed her name too," added Dick. "I know her signature well."

"Of course you do," put in Fred, dryly, but nobody paid attention to the sally.

"They are on the houseboat, and the craft is hidden up Shaggam Creek," put in Sam. He turned to the captain of the tug. "Where is Shaggam Creek?"

"This ere is Shaggam Creek, an' I'm Jake Shaggam," answered the hermit. "But you-uns said you'd pay me thet twenty-five dollars."

"I will," said Tom, and brought out the amount at once.

"Thank you very much."

"If you'll take us to that houseboat without delay I'll give you another five dollars," put in Dick.

"I'll do it. But I don't want them fellers on the houseboat to see me."

"Why not?"

"Cos Pick Loring and Hamp Gouch thinks I am their friend. Ef they knowed as how I give 'em away they'd plug me full o' lead."

"Then the two horse thieves are with Baxter and Flapp," said Songbird. "If we bag the lot we'll be killing two birds with one stone, as the saying goes."

"Come on!" cried Paul Livingstone. "I want to get those two horse thieves by all means. Why, there is a reward of one thousand dollars for their capture, dead or alive."

"By golly, I'se out fo' dat reward!" came from Aleck, and he pulled out a horse pistol which he was carrying. "Jess let me see dem willains." And he flourished the weapon wildly.

The steam tug was led up the creek by Jake Shaggam for a distance of two miles.

"See that air turn yonder?" he said.

"Yes," said Captain Carson.

"Thet houseboat is behind the trees and bushes around the p'int. Now whar's the five dollars?"

"There you are," said Dick, and paid him.

"Much obliged. Now I reckon I'll go home an' let you-uns fight it out," added Jake Shaggam, and tying up his rowboat he stalked off, just as if he had accomplished nothing out of the ordinary.

"We had better approach with caution," said Paul Livingstone. "Those horse thieves are desperate characters. They would not be above shooting us down rather than give up to the law."

In the meantime Baxter and Flapp were much disturbed by the condition of affairs on board the houseboat. Both Loring and Gouch had been drinking more or less all night and were in far from a sober condition.

"I don't mind a drink myself, but those chaps make me sick," growled Dan Baxter.

"I guess we made a mistake to take them into our scheme," said Lew Flapp. "Look how Gouch blabbed to that old man last night."

"Where are they now?"

"In the captain's stateroom opening a new bottle of liquor. Neither of them can stand up straight."

"For two pins I'd pitch them overboard. Where is Sculley?"

"He is with them, drinking hard, too."

"If we only knew how to run that launch we could leave them behind and sail out of here."

"Perhaps we'll have to do that--if the three keep on drinking."

Baxter and Flapp were on deck. They had had their breakfast, but had given nothing more to the girls.

"I'm going to tame 'em," grumbled Flapp, who had not forgotten how the door had been slammed in his face.

"That's right, we'll make 'em come to terms," added Baxter. "We'll have 'em on their knees to us before we get through."

Presently both walked to the window of the stateroom Dora and Nellie occupied.

"Well, how do you feel--pretty hungry?" questioned Baxter.

"Not so very hungry?" said Dora, as lightly as she could.

"Don't you want a nice hot breakfast?"

"I'd rather have some fruit."

"Oh, by the way, we've got some nice harvest apples on board--and some berries. Wouldn't you like some berries, with sugar and cream?"

"And some fresh breakfast rolls?" put in Flapp.

"Not if you baked them," came from Nellie. "You can have a good breakfast, if you'll be a little more civil to us," resumed Dan Baxter.

"We are more civil than you deserve," said Dora.

"Do you want to be starved?"

At this both girls turned a trifle pale.

"Would you dare to starve us?" cried Nellie.

"Why not--if you won't be friendly?" asked Lew Flapp. "You've been treating us as if we were dogs."

"Yes, and we--" began Dan Baxter, when he chanced to look through the bushes and down the creek. "Great Scott, Flapp!" he yelled.

"What's up?"

"The game is up! Here comes a tug with the Rovers and a lot of other people on board!"

"The Rovers!" faltered Lew Flapp, and for the instant he shivered from head to feet.

"Oh, good! good!" cried Nellie. "Help!" she screamed. "Help!"

"Help! help!" added Dora. "Help us! This way!"

"We are coming!" came back, in Dick's voice, and a moment later the steam tug crashed into the side of the houseboat, and the Rovers and several others leaped on board.

"Stand where you are, Lew Flapp!" cried Tom, and rushed for the bully of Putnam Hall. "Stand, I say!" and then he hit Flapp a stunning blow in the ear which bowled the rascal over and over.

In the meantime Dan Baxter took to his heels and made for the front of the houseboat. From this point he jumped into the branches of a tree and disappeared from view.

"Come on after him!" cried Sam, and away he and Fred went after Baxter, leaving the others to take charge of Flapp, and round up the horse thieves and Sculley.

But Dan Baxter knew what capture meant--a long term of imprisonment in the future and, possibly, a good drubbing from the Rovers on the spot--and he therefore redoubled his efforts to escape.

"Follow me at your peril!" he sang out, and then they heard him crashing through the bushes. Gradually the sounds grew fainter and fainter.

"Where did he go to, Sam?"

"I can't say," said Sam. "We'll have to organize a regular party to run him down."

It was an easy matter to make Lew Flapp a prisoner. Once captured the former bully of the Hall blubbered like a baby.

"It was Dan Baxter led me into it," he groaned. "It was all his doings, not mine."

When Loring, Gouch, and Sculley were confronted by the party the intoxicated evil-doers were in no condition to offer any resistance. Roundly did they bewail their luck, but this availed them nothing, and without ceremony they were made prisoners, their hands being tied behind them with stout ropes.

"Are you hurt?" asked Dick, of the girls, anxiously.

"Not in the least, Dick," answered Dora. "But, oh! how thankful I am that you came as you did!"

"And I am thankful too," came from Nellie.

"And we are thankful to be on hand," said Tom.

And the others said the same.

Here let me bring to a close the story of "The Rover Boys on the River." The trip had been full of adventures, but it now looked as if all would end happily.

Without loss of time Dora and Nellie were taken care of and the houseboat was put into proper order for use by the Rovers and their friends.

"Dat galley am a mess to see," said Aleck Pop. "But I don't care--so long as dem young ladies am saved."

As speedily as possible, messages were sent to the Lanings and to Mrs. Stanhope, carrying the news of the girls' safety and the recovery of the missing houseboat. After that Paul Livingstone saw to it that Pick Loring, Hamp Gouch, and their accomplice, Sculley, were turned over to the proper authorities. For this the whole party received the reward of one thousand dollars, which was evenly divided between them.

"Dot's der first money I receive playing detecter," said Hans, when he got his portion. "Maybe I vos been a regular bolice detecter ven I got old enough, hey?"

Lew Flapp was taken back to New York State, to stand trial for the robbery of Aaron Fairchild's shop, but through the influence of his family and some rich friends he was let out on bail. When the time for his trial arrived he was missing.

"He is going to be as bad as Dan Baxter some day," said Sam.

"Perhaps; but he is more of a coward than Baxter," answered Dick.

"Wonder where Baxter disappeared to?" came from Tom.

"We'll find out some time," said Sam; and he was right. They soon met their old enemy again, and what Baxter did to bring them trouble will be told in the next volume of this series, to be entitled "The Rover Boys on the Plains; or, The Mystery of Red Rock Ranch." In this work we shall meet many of our old friends again and learn what they did towards solving a most unusual secret.

Two days after the missing houseboat was found there was a re-union on board in which all of our friends took part. There was a grand dinner, served in Aleck Pop's best style, and in the evening the craft was trimmed up with Japanese lanterns from end to end, and a professional orchestra of three pieces was engaged by the Rovers to furnish music for the occasion. Mr. Livingstone and his family visited the houseboat, bringing several young folks with them. The girls and boys sang, danced, and played games, while the older folks looked on. Songbird Powell recited several original poems, Fred Garrison made a really comic speech, and Hans Mueller convulsed everybody by his good nature and his funny way of talking.

"I never felt so light-hearted in my life!" said Tom, after the celebration had come to an end.

"We owe you and the others a great deal," said Mrs. Laning.

"Yes, and I shall not forget it," put in Mrs. Stanhope. "All of you are regular heroes!"

"Heroes? Pooh!" sniffed Tom. "Nothing of the sort. We are just wide-awake American boys."

And they are wide-awake; aren't they, kind reader?

THE END