Read CHAPTER III - OUT OF THE DEPTHS of Fred Fenton on the Track / The Athletes of Riverport School, free online book, by Allen Chapman, on ReadCentral.com.

The two boys turned to look at one another; and if they showed signs of alarm it was hardly to be wondered at.

“Oh! there it is again, Fred!” whispered Bristles, as a second sound, that was certainly very like a groan, came from the well.

Fred caught his breath.  It was an unpleasant experience, to be sure; and might have tried the nerves of much older persons than two half-grown lads; but, after all, why should they be afraid?

“Somebody may have fallen down the well, and can’t get out again,” Fred remarked, with just the least tremor to his usually steady voice.

“Say, that’s so,” Bristles hastened to admit, as he cast a quick glance at the almost ropeless wooden windlass; “don’t you see the bucket’s away down?  Whoever it is, Fred, they just can’t climb up again.  It takes you to get on the inside track of things, Fred.”

“If that’s so, it might account for the fact that nobody seems to be around the place,” Fred went on to say.

“P’raps an old man lives here all alone, and he tripped over these stones when he went to lift the bucket of water out, and fell in himself.  Gee!  Fred, then it’s up to us to get him out!”

The other stepped directly up to the edge of the old well.  He saw that the coping was uneven, some of the stones being loose.  It looked very much as if what Bristles had suggested might be the truth, and that some person, when striving to raise a heavy bucket, had lost his balance, slipped on the treacherous footing, and toppled into the well.

And, even as Fred Fenton bent down, he was thrilled to hear a third groan come out of the depths.  Nevertheless, instead of starting back, he bent over further, as though hoping to look down and discover the truth.

“Can you see him?” asked Bristles, very white in the face, but bent on sticking it out as long as his chum did.

“Sorry to say I can’t,” replied the other, calmly now, and with an air of business about him that inspired Bristles to conquer his own weakness.  “My eyes have been so used to the sun that it looks as black as a pocket down in this well.  But perhaps he might answer a call.”

“Give the poor fellow a hail, then, Fred, please.  Just think how he must have suffered, hollering all this time, with nobody to help him out,” and Bristles, who really had a very tender heart himself, leaned over the curbing of the well.

“Be careful not to push one of these big stones in, or you’ll finish the poor fellow,” warned Fred; and then bending low he called out very loudly:  “Hello! down there!  We want to help you get out.  Are you badly hurt?”

“Oh!  I don’t know, but I’m so cold.  Please hurry, or I’ll die!” came in a faint voice from far below.

“Good gracious!” gasped Bristles; “did you hear that, Fred?”

“I certainly did,” replied the other.

“But ­the voice; it was a woman’s or a girl’s!” continued the amazed Bristles.

“Just what I thought; and that makes it all the more necessary that something be done in a hurry to get her out.  That rope looks pretty sound; doesn’t it, Bristles?”

“What do you mean to do now, Fred; go down there?” and the boy shuddered as he looked at the gaping hole.

“Somebody’s got to, and what’s the matter with my doing it?” Fred demanded.  “I’ll tell you what to do while I’m sliding down the rope; just carefully take away all these loose stones, so none of ’em can drop on top of me.  And, Bristles, when I give the word, buckle down to turn that windlass for all you’re worth!”

“I’ll do it, Fred. Gosh! if it don’t take you to think of things that wouldn’t come to me in a thousand years.  Say, he’s gone, as quick as that!  I guess I’ll get busy with these stones.”

Fred was indeed already slipping carefully down the rope.  He believed it was fairly new, and could easily sustain the weight of himself, and another as well, if only the stout Bristles could turn the handle of the windlass long enough to bring them to the top.

Once below the region of sunlight his eyes began to grow more accustomed to the surrounding gloom.  He could make out the rough stones all about him that went to form the well itself.

Then he stopped, wondering if he must not be pretty nearly down to the water.  The rope still went on, and he could hear what seemed like heavy breathing not far away.

Bristles was working like a beaver above, taking away the loose stones, but exercising great care so that not even a bit of loose earth, or mortar, should fall down the shaft to alarm his chum.

“Hello! where are you, below?”

“Close by you now.  Oh! do you think you can get me up again, mister?” came in a quavering voice.

Fred let himself slip down a little further, inch by inch as it were.  He was afraid of striking the one who must be clinging to the rope below, undoubtedly chilled to the bone, and sick with fear.

Even at that moment the boy was filled with amazement, and could not imagine how a girl could have gotten into such a strange situation.  But his first duty was to get her out.

Ten seconds later and he could feel her beside him.

“Don’t be afraid, we’ll get you on dry land in a jiffy,” he said, as cheerfully as possible.  “Can you hold on to the rope if my friend turns the windlass?  I’ll do all I can to help you.  If only the bucket could be used for you to stand on!  It’s the only way to work it, I guess.”

“Yes, yes, anything you say, I’ll do, mister.  Oh! what if they have hurt him, and me such a coward as to run away like I did and hide.  But pop made me, he just said I must.  He’ll tell you that same, mister, if so be he’s alive yet.”

The girl said this in broken sentences.  She was almost in a state of complete collapse, and Fred knew that unless he hurried to get her up where she could obtain warmth, she would be a dead weight on his hands.

“Hello!  Bristles!” he called out.

“Yes; what d’ye want, Fred?  Shall I begin to wind up?” came from above, accompanied by the musical clank of the iron brake falling over the cogs that were intended to hold it firmly, and prevent a slip, should the one at the handle let go suddenly.

“Go slow, Bristles, and stop when you hear me shout!”

“O.  K. Fred; slow she is!  Are you coming now?”

Fred had felt the rope slip through his hands inch by inch.  He was feeling with his dangling feet for the bucket, and presently discovered it.

“Hold on till I tilt the bucket, and empty out the water; we have to use it to stand on as you pull us up!” he shouted.

With more or less difficulty he managed to accomplish this task.  It would relieve Bristles considerably; and even as it was, the straining boy up there would have a tremendous task ahead of him, raising two persons at a time.

Fred threw his arm around the girl, whom he could just dimly make out.  She clung wildly to him, as though realizing that all her hopes of getting out of this strange prison rested in the boy who had come down the rope so daringly.

“Now once again, old fellow, and do your level best!” Fred sang out.

So they went up, foot by foot.  He held the girl in a tight clasp, and kept hoping the rope would not break, or any other accident happen.  Bristles was tugging wildly away at the handle of the windlass, doubtless with his teeth set hard together, and every muscle of his body in play.

Now they were close to the top, and Fred called out, to caution his chum to slacken his violent efforts.

So once again Fred’s eyes came above the curbing of the old well, and he found Bristles, panting for breath, but eager to assist still further in the work of rescue.

“Reach down,” Fred said, quietly, wishing to calm the other; “and get your arms around her, if you can; then lift for all you’re worth!  She isn’t heavy, only her clothes are soaked with water.  There you are, and well done, old chap!”

Bristles had actually plucked the girl from the grasp of the boy who had to cling to the rope with one hand; she was already placed upon the ground, while he turned to assist Fred, starting to climb out unaided.

But the girl had not fainted, as Fred suspected.  She was now on her knees, and trying to get upon her feet.

“Oh! what can have happened to him?” she muttered.

“Who is it you are talking about?” asked Bristles.

“My poor sick father,” she replied.  “They came in on us, and made me get a meal.  Then they began to hunt all over the house for money, just as if we ever had any such thing hidden.  Oh! the terrible threats they made; father was afraid for me, and ordered me to watch out for the first chance to run away, to go to the nearest neighbor for help; but he lives two miles away.  I was afraid to leave the place, because I thought they might set the house on fire.  So I tried to hide just below the curbing of the well; but the brake wasn’t set, and I went down with the bucket.  I might have drowned, only I held on all these hours, hoping and fearing.  Oh!  I wonder if he is still alive!”

“Who was it came and did these things?” asked Fred, indignantly.

“Three tramps; and they were bad men, too,” she replied, starting toward the old farmhouse, where the door stood open.  A few whiffs of smoke curled up from the chimney, yet there was no sign of life.

And, wondering what they would find there, the two boys strode along beside her, ready to catch her should she show signs of falling.  But a great hope seemed to sustain the girl they had rescued from the well.