The Boys of Columbia High on the River/Chapter 21
MAROONED ON THE ISLAND
"Let's drag this boat up on shore. I want to examine it!" said Frank, who was just as pale as his companion, for a dreadful fear seemed to be tugging at his heart.
"Perhaps they found it leaking, and had to wade ashore when it went down right here," suggested Paul, as he scanned the wooden bank.
Frank shook his head, and sighed.
"It might be," he said, "but if they were close by don't you think they'd call out to us, and let us know?"
"But they were wet, and might have started for home by land. The road doesn't keep in sight of the river all the way, and we may have missed them."
They had already dragged the boat in closer to the shore now.
"Why, what's this—the anchor's down!" exclaimed Paul, suddenly.
"So it is. Now, that's odd. How do you suppose that ever came? And so far as I can see up to now, there's not a sign of a smash, so it doesn't look as if they had been run into. Pull again, until we'll get her up on the shore and turned over to let the water out."
As he spoke Frank jumped out into a foot of water, and laid hold with a will. Paul ran the bow of his craft up on the sandy beach and followed suit. Between them the green boat was pulled high on the shore.
"What did I say—nary a break, do you see. Paul, there's something mighty mysterious about this affair. Who sunk this boat, I'd like to know, and anchored her so securely she couldn't drift away downstream?"
"And, where are Helen and Minnie?" echoed the other, looking over the surface of the running river with an expression of dire dismay.
"I don't believe any accident has happened to them at all," declared Frank, stoutly, as he shut his teeth hard together.
"Then tell me how do you account for this?" and Paul pointed to the green boat.
"Perhaps they went ashore somewhere, and while they were gone some mean fellows came along and stole their boat, sinking it in this way just to plague the owner. Yes, they may even have thought I had come down in it. There are some chaps we happen to know who would only be too willing to annoy me in that way."
What Frank had just said seemed to give his chum new hope. His face lighted up; and he even breathed without that horrible sound as though he were gasping for air.
"What if that happened to be so, where would the girls be likely to land and wait up for us?" asked Paul, eagerly.
"I was just thinking about that island down below," replied the other, quickly.
"Frank, I believe you're right. Let's pull for it and see. It was a mean trick if they did leave the girls there all this time. They must be frightened half to death. Come along!" exclaimed Paul, jumping into his boat.
"Lend me a pair of oars, will you?" asked Frank, as having turned the green craft over he started pushing it into the water again.
"Going to take it along, are you? A clever idea, and it may save us from coming back here again. Take this pair that you've been using. I hope we find the girls on the island; and won't they be glad to see us, though?"
In a minute or so both boats had been launched, and the boys were pulling for all they were worth toward the bend of the river.
"There, I can just see the head of it now!" announced Paul, who happened to be a trifle in the lead.
Ten seconds later he cried out again, saying:
"Frank, there's something white waving from the island! I do believe it's them, and they're waving a handkerchief, hoping to attract the attention of some one!"
"I see what you mean. It's the girls all right. There's Minnie right now, and she sees us too, for she waves her hat!" said Frank, his voice trembling with sincere gratitude.
"Bully! It's all to the good, then! But all the same I could hammer that fool who played such a low trick on a couple of girls. Run you a race to the island, Frank!" exclaimed Paul.
"Go it, then. I'm game," replied his chum.
How the water did churn as the oars dipped deeply and the prows of the boats glided with the current! After the amazing time made in the cedar shell of the morning their speed must have seemed tame indeed. Besides, they were so very anxious to reach the island and hear what the girls had to say that seconds must have fairly dragged.
Frank had the heavier boat. Moreover, his muscles were a bit sore from the rough experience he had been through in connection with his adventure with Martin and Joey. Still, he held his own with his chum, and when they reached the shelving shore at the head of the island, the only spot where a landing could be easily made at that point, both boats grated on the gravel at the same time.
Helen and Minnie were there waiting for them, and laughing, though Frank had an idea there was a little of the hysterical in his sister's merriment, as if she had recently passed through somewhat of a scare.
"Where did you find it?" demanded Minnie, pointing to the green boat.
"Up above the bend, near the left bank, and sunk! How did you come to lose it?" asked Frank in return.
The girls shook their heads.
"We just don't know. It was all right when we left it here, and walked into the woods to see if that bird had taken her young ones away. They were still there, and we stopped, how long was it, Helen, about ten minutes, to take another snap-shot of the little family? Then, when we got back here the boat was gone."
"Well, undoubtedly somebody came along while you were away, and stole your boat. I suspect however they thought I was on the island; for I can't believe any fellow would be so low and mean as to maroon a couple of pretty girls here on purpose. But after this I can see your finish, sister mine. Never again must you go off on the river without a manly protector along."
Frank looked at Paul as he spoke, and winked violently. But Paul was not at all abashed, for he thrust out his chest immediately and said:
"Behold the said manly protector, able, and a willing worker. But didn't you see any boys in a boat while you were here? There were so many afloat this morning it would be strange if none were on the river this afternoon. Think hard, now, girls, and tell us," he said.
"Why, yes," answered Minnie, promptly, "just as we came out here and found the boat gone, we heard the popping of a motor-boat passing down. It went out of sight before we could think to call out, because you see at first we were dazed, and thought we must have landed further down along the side of the island."
"A motor-boat, eh?" cried Frank. "Then it's very evident to my mind that the fellows in that must have amused themselves carrying your boat off and sinking it. And it wouldn't surprise me much if you told me the said boat was the property of—"
"Lef Seller!" put in Paul, promptly.
Minnie noded her head violently.
"That's just who it was. I recognized him holding the wheel. Besides, I know the Red Fox well, for I've been aboard many times. It was Lef. Oh! how mean to steal our poor little boat; and then to sink it too! I'll never even speak to him again, I vow. It's perfectly contemptible, there!"
"Well, it was a nasty piece of business; but to be honest with you I'm sure Lef couldn't have dreamed that you girls were here alone. He just saw the green boat, and couldn't resist the temptation to give me another jab. It's a part of his nature, you know. When he runs up against me it acts on the fellow just like a red flag does with a bull in Spain. So of course he did it, and went on his way laughing to think he had put me in a hole."
Frank believed what he was saying to be the truth. He had little use for the skipper of the Red Fox, but at the same time could not bring himself to believe that any fellow could descend to injuring the girl he made a pretense of liking.
Minnie's scornful face told what she thought of such things.
"And to think that I once called him my friend; yes, and often went out with him to parties, and skating on the river! Oh! I'm glad I found him out. What a contemptible nature he has; and such a coward too. Please don't let's talk of Lef Seller any more. I'm shaking all over with indignation even now."
"Agreed! There are subjects more to my taste, I tell you," laughed Frank.
"And girls, you will be interested in hearing that Frank has been up to his old tricks again, and doing stunts," said Paul, eagerly; for he would much rather be allowed to praise his chum than hear himself lauded.
"Oh! come now, none of that stuff! The girls have had an adventure themselves, and don't want to hear any more about my doings. Chuck it, Paul!" cried Frank.
"Tell us all about it, Paul. Now that you've excited our curiosity do you think we could exist in ignorance? What has he been doing since we left home? Helen said he had gone off to carry a message for his father, over to Squire Prentice, and on his wheel, too. Whatever could have happened to him?" demanded Minnie, stepping in between Frank and his chum, as though to prevent interference.
Paul was nothing loth. He fairly burned to relate the story of how Frank had been waylaid on the road, taken prisoner by the two fugitives from justice, and last but not least assisted in the capture of the men. Indeed, he had even opened his mouth to start in, when Helen suddenly pointed out on the river and cried:
"Look, there comes that launch now; it's the Red Fox, surely!"
"It is, as sure as you live!" muttered Paul, as he turned to look at the dapper racing craft stealing up alongside the island with a constant rapid popping from the exhaust.
"But how's this? I thought you said you saw Lef Seller at the wheel when it went down the river a while ago? That doesn't look like Lef now, does it?" cried Frank.
"How strange! Helen, look, isn't that Lanky Wallace at the wheel?" said Minnie.
"It surely is," came the dazed reply.
"I begin to smell a rat," muttered Frank, remembering the strange absence of Lanky after the races had been run; "wait till I give him a hail, and we'll find out what he's doing, running another fellow's launch!"