The Rover Boys on the Plains/Chapter 1

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"Say, Tom, what's that big thing coming down the river?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Sam. It's big enough to be a house," replied Tom Rover.

"Maybe it is a house," came from Dick Rover, who was standing beside his brothers on the rear deck of the houseboat which was taking them down the Mississippi River.

"A house?" broke in a distinctly German voice. "Did you mean to said dere vos a house floating der rifer town, Dick Rofer?"

"Why not, Hansy, my boy?" replied fun-loving Tom Rover, before his big brother could answer. "Hasn't a house got a right to take a float if it wants to? Perhaps it's out for its health."

"Ach, you vos choking, Tom!" cried Hans Mueller. "Of a house been der rifer on, dere peen somedings wrong mit him alretty."

"It's a lumber raft, Hans," said Dick. "And a whopping big one, too," he added, as he took another look at the object that was approaching the houseboat.

"Hope it doesn't give us such a close shave as that raft we met two days ago," said Sam anxiously. "I was almost certain they were going to run into us."

"They have got no business to run so close to this houseboat," grumbled Tom. "They know well enough that we can't turn out of our course very well. I think some of those lumbermen are the toughest kind of citizens."

"If they get too close, I'll shout a warning through the megaphone," went on Dick, after a brief pause. "It certainly does look as if they intended to crowd us," he continued anxiously.

"Oh, Dick, do you think there is any danger?" came from a girl who had just joined the crowd.

"Not yet, Dora."

"Perhaps we had better run in close to shore until the raft has passed," continued Dora Stanhope, with an anxious look in her pretty eyes.

"Don't do it!" cried Tom. "We have as much right to the river as they have. Tell 'em to keep their distance, Dick."

"I shall when they get close enough."

"If that raft hits our houseboat, we'll be smashed to kindling wood," was Sam's comment. "I'd rather they'd give us a wide berth."

The Rover brothers were three in number, Dick being the oldest, fun-loving Tom coming next and Sam coming last. When at home, they lived with their father and their uncle and aunt at Valley Brook Farm, pleasantly located in the heart of New York State. From this farm they had been sent to Putnam Hall, as related in the first volume of this series, entitled, "The Rover Boys at School." At this institution of learning they had made a large number of friends, and also some enemies.

A short term at Putnam Hall had been followed by a chase on the ocean and then a trip to the jungles of Africa, in search of Mr. Anderson Rover, who has disappeared. Then came a trip out West and one on the great lakes, followed by some adventures during a winter in the mountains.

After being in the mountains, the Rover boys had expected to go back to school, but a scarlet fever scare closed the institution, and they took a trip to the Pacific, as related in "The Rover Boys on Land and Sea," the seventh volume of this series. They were cast away on an island and had many thrilling adventures, but escaped, to re ceive a warm welcome when they arrived home.

The scarlet fever scare was now a thing of the past, and the boys went back to Putnam Hall, to participate in the annual encampment, as told of in "The Rover Boys in Camp." Here they had plenty of sport, and the outing was voted "the best ever."

What to do during the summer vacation was a question quickly settled by the brothers. Their uncle, Randolph Rover, had taken a houseboat for debt, and it was voted to go aboard this craft, which was located on the Ohio River, and take a trip down that stream, and also down the mighty Mississippi.

"It will be the outing of our lives," said Tom. "We can just take it easy, and float, and float, and float."

The arrangements for the outing were quickly completed. With the Rover boys went their old school chums, "Songbird" Powell, who was always making up doggerel which he called poetry; Hans Mueller, already introduced, and Fred Garrison. The houseboat was a large one, and to make the trip more pleasant, the boys invited two ladies to go along, Mrs. Stanhope and Mrs. Laning. With Mrs. Stanhope came her only daughter, Dora, whom Dick Rover thought the nicest girl in the world, and with Mrs. Laning came her daughters, Nellie and Grace, intimate friends of Tom and Sam.

As those who have already read "The Rover Boys on the River" know, the trip on the houseboat started pleasantly enough. But, before long, one of their old enemies, Dan Baxter, turmed up, accompanied by an evil-minded boy named Lew Flapp. These fellows succeeded in making prisoners of Dora Stanhope and Nellie Laning, and ran off with the houseboat. But they were followed by the Rovers and their friends, and, in the end, the girls were rescued, the houseboat recovered and Lew Flapp was made a prisoner, to be sent East to stand trial for his various misctaeds. Dan Baxter escaped, and for the time being there was no telling what had become of him. But he was destined to show up again, as the chapters to follow will prove.

After the houseboat was once again in the possession of the Rovers and their guests, there was a general jollification on board, lasting several days. All felt much relieved, to think that matters had turned out so well for them.

"We are well out of that mess," had been Dick Rover's comment.

"And I hope we never get into such another," answered Dora Stanhope. "I was really frightened to death when I was a prisoner."

"I would feel a great deal better if Dan Baxter had been captured."

"Oh, Dick, do you think he will try to harm us further?" and Dora's face paled a trifle.

"Well, he seems to be like a bad penny—he turns up when you least expect it."

"Anyway, he won't have Flapp to aid him."

"That is true. But I never feared Flapp—he was too much of a coward at heart."

"Then you do fear Baxter, Dick?" and Dora looked at her best friend curiously.

"It's not exactly that, Dora. I don't want you to have any trouble. I don't care for myself."

"I shall do my best to keep out of his way. What a pity it is that Baxter can not turn over a new leaf."

"It isn't in him to do so," put in Fred Garrison, who had come up.

"But his father has reformed," said Dora.

"I really think Dan is worse than his father," returned Dick. "There is a certain viciousness about him that is lacking in his father's make-up."

"Dan Baxter doesn't believe in forgiving or forgetting an injury," put in Sam, who had joined the crowd. "Once, after something went wrong, he said he'd get square if it took a hundred years. I believe he remembers that injury yet."

"He might do well, if he'd only settle down to something," said Fred. "He isn't dumb, by any means."

"He is not smart, only cunning, Fred," answered Dick. "In regular business I don't believe he'd ever make his salt."

"Do you think he is still following the houseboat?" was the question put by Songbird Powell.

"I can't say as to that. If he is, he must hustle pretty lively, for we are now making a good many miles a day."

After this conversation, the days had gone by swiftly and pleasantly enough. Soon the broad Ohio River was left behind, and the houseboat started down the Mississippi. Stops were made at various points, and the young folks, as well as the two ladies, enjoyed themselves to the utmost. They had a few friends in the South, and, whenever they stopped off to see these, they were treated with great cordiality.

"No more troubles of any kind for us," said Sam one day, but he was mistaken. That very afternoon a lumber raft came close to hitting the houseboat, frightening all who chanced to be on the deck at the time.

"Phew!" was Tom's comment. "No more such close shaves for me. That raft might have smashed us to smithereens!"

Two days went by, and the boys and girls enjoyed themselves by going fishing and by watching the sights on the river and along the shore. The weather was ideal for the outing, and they had not a care until the second big lumber raft came into sight, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, and threatened, as the first had done, to run them down