To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 16

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When the line parted, Foster Portney and Randy were thrown flat on their backs in the six inches of slush and water in which they had been wading along the edge of the rapids. But they did not care for this, the one thought of both was of Earl and how the boat would fare now that there was only one line by which to guide her.

As for Earl, the shock also caused him to lose his balance, and he went down heavily on one of the packs with which the Wild Goose was freighted. But he recovered instantly, and sprang to the bow, oar in hand. The craft had swung around, as has been related, and was on the point of smashing on the rocks when he put out the oar and tried to sheer off.

"Hold her! hold her!" roared Captain Zoss to Earl. "Take the line, but don't pull!" he added to the doctor, and the next instant he was in the icy water up to his waist. He could not reach the bow of the boat, but he gained the stern, and catching hold of the rudder he swung the Wild Goose in toward a rock and held her there.

"Throw the broken line to Earl and let him tie it, quick!" he shouted to Foster Portney; but the broken line was floating amid the loose ice, and it was several seconds before it could be secured. In that time the current again caught the boat from another direction, and sheering along the rocks in front, the craft made a wild plunge ahead and downward, dragging the captain in her wake.

"Earl will be killed!" groaned Randy, and his heart leaped into his throat as the Wild Goose seemed swallowed up in the foaming and boiling waters below them. His uncle did not reply, but darted out of the water and down the bank of the river as fast as his feet could carry him. Dr. Barwaithe, who had been compelled to let go the line in order to save himself, was also running, and now Randy likewise took to his heels.

Fortunately for Earl he kept his wits about him, even though he realized the great peril he was in. In previous years he had helped raft lumber in Maine during the spring freshets, so that the situation was not such a novel one. But there was a vast difference between steering logs which could not be harmed and navigating a boat loaded with all their possessions, and he felt the responsibility. He clung to the long oar and used it as best he could, whenever the opportunity offered, which was not often.

In less than ten minutes the ride was over and the Wild Goose shot with a swish into Lake Bennett. By this time Captain Zoss had managed to crawl on board and give Earl a helping hand. The craft had struck a dozen times, twice rather sharply, but beyond a scraping on one side and a slight crack in the bow, which was speedily caulked up, she escaped injury. The two on board ran to one shore, to take Dr. Barwaithe on board, and then stood over to where Mr. Portney and Randy awaited them.

"That was a providential escape!" were Foster Portney's words, when he saw that Earl was safe. "I wouldn't have you run such a risk again for a fortune!"

"And I don't want to run such a risk again," replied Earl, with rather a sickly smile. He was greatly shaken up, and it was a long while before he felt like himself. Randy could hardly keep from hugging his brother because of the escape.

"It was a fool move of ours from the start," said Captain Zoss, speaking plainly, for the icy bath had not improved his temper. "We should have packed our outfits along the river and let the boat take care of herself, with plenty of lines to guide her. I won't stand fer any such move as that ag'in; not much, eh?"

"You are right, captain," said Foster Portney, gravely. "We'll be more cautious in the future."

"Yes! yes!" broke in the doctor. "What should we have done had this young man been killed and all our traps been lost? It would have been better to have carried boat and all around from one lake to the next."

It was a sober party which went into camp that night on the rather rocky shore of Lake Bennett, sober and rather out of sorts in the bargain. The captain insisted on building an immense fire, and while he sat drying himself by it he found fault with everything which came into view. Later on the others of the crowd found that the captain got these moods every once in a while and never meant all he said, but now they did not know this and it made the two boys, at least, unhappy.

"Might have knowed it," grumbled Captain Zoss, "with two kids along, instead o' nothing but growed-up men as know their business. The next time I jine a crowd it will be o' those as has at least voted, eh?"

"I can't agree with you that it was the boys' fault," replied Dr. Barwaithe. "The line broke, and that started the whole thing."

"Well, boys is boys, and men wouldn't have let sech a thing happen!" snapped the captain. "See yere, I want my coffee hot!" he roared to Randy, who was preparing supper. "No lukewarm dishwater fer me, eh?"

"I'll give it to you as hot as the fire will make it; I can't do any more," was Randy's short answer. He was as much out of sorts as any one. Then the captain turned to Earl, and found fault with the timber in the boat; and by the time they sat down to eat, all felt thoroughly put out.

The doctor tried to enliven matters by relating some of his experiences in college, and he even gave them a song or two, for he was a good singer with a sweet tenor voice. All enjoyed the singing, but the captain looked as glum as ever.

"I'm sorry we've got that old curmudgeon along," said Earl, as he and Randy turned in together, on the rubber blanket. "Gracious, I never imagined he could be so disagreeable!"

"Nor I," grumbled his brother. "And to think that we have got to put up with him until we reach the gold diggings!"

The tent had been pitched in the shelter of a number of high rocks and at some distance from the lake front. The Wild Goose rested in a tiny cove, secured by a painter attached to a stake driven deeply into the sandy shore. There was a little swell on the water, caused by the rising wind, but no one supposed this would prove sufficient to do the craft any harm.

As they expected to remain in that camp but one night only, a single tent had been erected for the entire party, so all hands were huddled closely together. It was not long before they were all asleep.

When Earl awoke it was still dark. He roused up with a start, to find the wind blowing violently. Outside it was raining and snowing together, and it was some snow on his face which had caused him to awake. He was about to get up, when Randy called to him.

"What's up?"

"There's a storm on, snow and rain, and I guess we'll have to look to the fastenings of the tent," answered Earl.

The talking awoke the others. The wind was increasing rapidly, and already the front left end of the tent was flapping violently, torn loose from its pegging. Earl donned his overcoat and ran outside to hold it down, while he called to Randy to bring the hammer with which to bury the pegs anew.

"Fasten her tight; I'll take a look after the boat!" cried Captain Zoss, and rushed off in the darkness, followed by Foster Portney. By this time the doctor was also out, and he and the boys began the task of securing the shelter. A heavy gust of wind came on, and in a flash the canvas was sailing high in the air, held down only by the pegs on one side. To secure the cloth was no mean work, and they had to wait for fully a minute in the rain and snow, until the wind abated.

"This is going to the gold diggings with a vengeance," murmured Dr. Barwaithe.

"A fellow could 'most fly there in this wind!" panted Randy. "Earl, have you a peg handy?"

"Not a one."

"Neither have I, and it's as dark as pitch."

"Here are two pegs," said the doctor. "I wonder if I can stir up that fire," he added, starting to where the campfire had been. The fire was out, and the sheet-iron stove lay over on its side, with a mess of beans overturned in the oven. To light a new fire under existing circumstances was out of the question, and the medical man went back to assist the boys.

The tent had hardly been secured when there came a great flurry of snow which almost blinded them. Randy had been for running down to the lake, but now he crawled under the canvas and hesitated. In the meantime Dr. Barwaithe set the stove up once more and tried to rescue such of the beans as were worth it.

"The rain is giving way to snow—" began Earl, when he stopped short, as a faint shout reached them through the whistling wind. "It's Uncle's voice! We are wanted down there!" he added, and started off on a run. As the cry was repeated Randy followed. A minute's run and they reached the beach a hundred feet above where Captain Zoss and Foster Portney were standing.

"What's the matter?" demanded Earl, quickly.

"The boat is gone," was his uncle's alarming reply. "She has drifted off in the storm, and we can't catch sight of her anywhere!"