The Boys of Columbia High on the River/Chapter 1
THE BOYS OF COLUMBIA HIGH
ON THE RIVER
"I call it a punk boat, Frank, to go back on us like this!"
"Well, it does seem a bit rough. Lanky, that's a fact."
"Rough? Wow! here we are, marooned like a couple of innocent babes on Rattail Island, and two big miles from home! Rough!"
Lanky Wallace put on one of his most woe-begone looks as he bent over to help drag the boat out of the river, and up on a shelving shore.
Frank Allen, his chum, laughed as though more amused than distressed.
"I agree with every word you say, old fellow—all but that innocent babe part. That's drawing it too strong for my blood," he observed; "and now, suppose we turn the boat over to let the water out and see just what is the matter with her."
"And there's the sun gone out of sight. Lucky for us this is a warm July night, if we have to camp on Rattail Island," grumbled Lanky.
"Oh! shucks! that's all humbug, and you know it" chuckled his companion, as he bent over to examine the bottom of the upturned water craft.
"Well, if the old boat can't be fixed up, it's either stay here, or swim ashore for us," complained the tall chap, who secretly loved to find cause for growling at times.
"All right, the swimming is fine! But just wait before you tumble overboard and try it. We'll find a way to mend the boat, I guess," said Frank, seriously.
"If anybody can do it I reckon you will. There's mighty little that feazes you—excuse me for saying it to your face, though," chuckled Lanky.
"Now, that's odd!" muttered Frank.
"What, my casually remarking that I always had faith in my chum to pull through any difficulty? I don't see how you make that out," remarked the other, pretending to be provoked, when in truth he was secretly amused.
"Why, no, I was referring to something strange about this hole in the bottom of my boat, that's ail," answered the other.
"Hole?" cried Lanky. "Well, according to my notion a hole's only a hole. Perhaps we knocked it in on a snag while rowing up this beastly old river; or perhaps I wore the planking through with my heel, trying to keep pace with your pulling."
"Got a match, Lanky?" asked Frank, ignoring this pleasantry.
"Sure, a dozen of them, if you say so. Always carry a bunch along," and as he spoke, with cheerful alacrity he brought out several.
"That's lucky, for I left my safe in my other coat at the boathouse," and Frank struck one of the matches.
"What about this funny old hole?" demanded Lanky, thrusting his head down.
"Look at it; don't you see something strange about it?" asked his comrade.
"Why, yes, it's as round as a ten-cent piece!" exclaimed Lanky.
"Ever see a snag push through planking like that? The wood's as sound as a dollar all around it, too. Don't it look different from any hole you ever doctored up in a rowboat?"
"It certainly does. I should say the worm that bored that hole—"
"Worm!" echoed Frank, with a laugh; "this worm turned, and was at the end of a brace, and known to carpenters as a quarter-inch bit!"
"Wow! you surprise me, you sure do! If I get your meaning clear you're intimating that some fellow bored that hole through your boat on purpose?" said Lanky, with rising indignation.
"That's just what I believe. I know for a fact that there was no such round opening in that garboard streak three days ago, for I went over every inch of it with a varnish brush, and examined it closely."
"This is something interesting you're telling me. But why didn't we notice it long ago—why didn't the river slip in early in our trip up over the race course?" and Lanky pushed his nose closer to the gap to examine it better.
"I don't exactly know. But evidently there must have been a plug fixed in the hole, and so arranged that sooner or later the feet of a rower would be apt to dislodge the same. Then the water would run in fast," muttered Frank, looking moodily at the work of a vandal.
It was not so much the wanton destruction of his property that made him angry, as the malicious spirit back of the thing. He could give a good guess, too, as to whom he might thank for the mean trick.
"I see now. It just held in till we were about to land on Rattail Island, and then let go. That plug was in the conspiracy to maroon us here, all right. But it's a measly old game, whoever did it. Where d'ye suppose the plug has gone to, Frank?"
"I was looking; but it isn't in sight. We turned the boat over before it was all the way out of the water, so I reckon the piece of wood floated downstream. That doesn't matter much, anyhow, for there must have been a plug, you know, Lanky."
"Seems like it. But what are we going to do now," asked the tall boy, usually depending on his friend to suggest remedies in an emergency like this.
"Cut a plug and drive it in. Anything will hold till we get back to the boathouse. It's getting dusk too, so we'd better hurry."
"I tell you what, I'm going to make a little fire so that you can see to work. It is a weakness of mine, you know, Frank. Never get chances enough building fires. Any objection?" queried Lanky, eagerly.
"Not a bit, so go ahead. I may have some trouble finding a piece of wood suitable for a plug, and the light will help out," and Frank began to hunt around on the shore for signs of driftwood, thinking thus to discover a block that might have been cast on the island by the river at its higher stage in the spring.
While both lads are thus engaged it might be well to say a few words in connection with their object in ascending the Harrapin river at this late hour on a July day, and also concerning their aims and ambitions.
Frank Allen was the son of a merchant in Columbia, a thriving town of more than twenty thousand inhabitants, and situated on the bank of this same broad river. Lanky Wallace was one of his particular chums, and had also been a junior in the famous high school during the year just closed.
Among the two hundred and fifty students of Columbia High School were many who loved athletic sports, and during the preceding winter there had existed quite a rivalry between certain of the boys as to which could take the lead both in the gymnasium and on the ice of the frozen Harrapin. Some of these fiercely-fought contests will be found related in the first volume of this series, called, "The Boys of Columbia High; or, The All Around Rivals of the School."
Later on, in the spring, the one subject for every boy in Columbia who loved clean sport, was baseball. There had been a league formed between the teams of Columbia High and those of sister towns along the river, Bellport and Clifford. These rival high school nines fought hard and bitterly for supremacy, and the concluding game had only been recently played.
How that pennant was won, and what part Frank had in bringing it to Columbia High can be discovered by reading the second story, just preceding this, and called "The Boys of Columbia High on the Diamond; or Winning Out by Pluck."
A great regatta had been planned for the glorious Fourth, now but two days distant, in which the boat clubs of the three schools were entered, and a bitterly-contested race loomed up.
Frank, being the coxswain of the Columbia High School crew, had been desirous of going over the course once again, to note any change in conditions since his last trip. All the way up he had paid particular attention to each little current and swirl, knowing that even such minor things were apt to help or mar the work of a crew in a close contest.
Lanky was a member of the crew, and equally interested in learning every yard of the course; which was to be up to Rattail Island and back again to the railroad bridge at Columbia, a distance of four miles, counting the crooks in the river.
The fire was soon blazing brightly, and Lanky seemed to be getting a vast amount of delight over his feat of playing fireman.
"Found the right kind of wood yet, Frank?" he questioned, seeing that the other appeared to be whittling something.
"I think so. Now to see if I can tap it smartly enough with this rock, so as to fill in. The wood I selected is rather soft, for it must swell and fill the hole tight. After all, it's just a temporary job, and meant to hold only long enough to get us safe back home."
As he spoke, Frank began to use the stone he had picked up, giving several taps on the head of the long plug.
"Now, wait till I cut it off close down, and I guess there's no danger of the thing giving out in a hurry," he remarked, satified with his work.
"Well, it's pretty near dark, too, with all that rim of a new moon up there in the west. Say, wouldn't it be a rough deal if we had an upset going back? Guess I'll keep my swimming rules in hand, and try not to be surprised if we find ourselves in the drink all of a sudden. The Harrapin isn't the nicest river in the world to navigate in the gloom, you know," observed Lanky, wisely.
"I guess there's as much chance of catching a weasel asleep as to find you unprepared for trouble. Why, I imagine you sit up nights looking for it," Frank remarked, knowing his friend's peculiarities only too well.
Lanky did not deign to notice the slur.
"Who do you suppose did that neat job, Frank?" he asked, suddenly.
"I wouldn't like to say what I think, because you see I haven't a single bit of evidence, and the party might have me prosecuted for libel," suggested the other.
"Libel!" said Lanky, with a snort of disgust; "as if anybody could ever say things too strong to cover the case of Lef Seller, the meanest boy in Columbia, and a fellow who has tried to injure you for a whole year."
"Well, I wouldn't mention his name again until we find some proof that he did it. Take hold now, and we'll get afloat once more, Lanky," remarked Frank, quietly, though his eyes were flashing the indignation that filled his soul in connection with this new evidence of spite work on the part of his inveterate foe.
"Huh! perhaps he didn't actually gouge that hole himself, but ten to one he hired some crony of his to do it, Bill Klemm, Tony Gilpin, or maybe that sly sneak of an Asa Barnes. Oh ! I know the breed all right."
Thus grumbling, Lanky picked up one of the oars and climbed into the boat, which was speedily passing down the darkened river.
"Better not try to hurry. Lanky. The current is nearly strong enough to carry us along; and remember, we counted lots of snags around when we came up," cautioned Frank.
"We aren't the only ones on the river, I reckon," announced the other, presently.
"So it seems. I heard that chugging of a motor-boat up-stream as much as a full minute ago; and it's coming pretty fast too, seems to me," ventured Frank.
"Hey! don't you think we'd better pull in nearer the shore? The idiots might run us down out here! Some reckless Clifford chaps heading for Columbia I reckon, to get something decent to eat," ejaculated Lanky, uneasily.
"It's too late now, for they're right on us, and seem to be heading straight this way. Get out a match and give them a flare. Perhaps they don't see this green boat on the water. Quick! Lanky!" said Frank, seizing the oar from his companion's hand, and thrusting it into the rowlock on his left.
Lanky fumbled for a second or two, muttering at his hard luck in getting an obstinate matchsafe open. Meanwhile Frank had partly turned the boat toward the nearest shore, hoping that they might yet get out of the way of the power craft that was coming bustling along so noisily.
"Hey! there, sheer off you fellers!" shouted Lanky, as he finally scratched one of his matches along the leg of his trousers, and held the flame aloft so that it would illumine the faces of the occupants of the rowboat.
The furious popping of the power-boat's exhaust ceased, but there was little abatement to the speed of the craft, Frank was sure he heard a low laugh as of fiendish glee just as the prow of the speed launch crashed against the side of the rowboat. The next instant both he and Lanky found themselves floundering in the water of the Harrapin, as the force of the collison turned their boat turtle!