Read CHAPTER IX - PREPARING FOR THE WORST of Afloat on the Flood , free online book, by Lawrence J. Leslie, on ReadCentral.com.

Upon making further inquiries Max learned that there was a trap in the roof, through which the girls had crept, with many fears and misgivings, when the encroaching water within warned them that it was no longer safe to stay there.

Looking through this he could see that the place was fully inundated. Chairs and table were floating, and even the ladder which the girls had used was partly washed out of a window.

“Nothing much doing down there for us,” Max informed Bandy-legs, who had crept over to the hole in the roof along with him, in order to satisfy his curiosity.

He had heard Max ask questions of the girls, and was deeply interested in learning what the next step might chance to be. Bandy-legs was still secretly mourning the fact that they had been compelled to let all that wreckage of the bridge get away from them. It had served them so splendidly up to that time, and still thinking of the Crusoe affair, he could not help believing that it had been a big mistake not to have at least made some effort to hold on to what they could.

“And to think,” said Bandy-legs, sadly, “I’ve got the best sort of a life preserver at home you ever saw; but what good is it to me now?”

“But you can swim, all right,” remarked Max.

“Oh! I wasn’t thinking about myself that time, but what a fine thing it’d be to strap it around one of the girls right now. I say, Max, whatever are we agoin’ to do with the three, if the old coop does take a notion to cut loose?”

“Not so loud, Bandy-legs,” warned Max, with a little hiss, and a crooked finger. “We don’t want them to know how tough things really are. If the worst does come we’ll have to do what we can to keep them afloat; but I’m still hoping we may get some doors out that would be better than nothing, to hold on to in the water.”

“I heard Bessie tell you that there was a clothesline hanging to a hook inside there, before the water came, and that it might be there yet if not washed away,” Bandy-legs went on to remark.

“Yes, it wasn’t very encouraging,” Max informed him; “but I’m going inside and see if I can find it.”

“You’ll want help with the doors, too, of course, Max?”

“And I know where to look for it when you’re around, Bandy-legs, because you’re one of the most accommodating fellows on earth,” the other told him.

“I’m about as wet as can be, so it doesn’t matter a whiff what happens to me from now on,” remarked the other boy; “but if we have to do more or less swimmin’ while we’re in there, Max, hadn’t we better take our shoes off? I never could do good work with the same on.”

“That’s what I’m meaning to do, Bandy-legs; and there’s no need of our waiting around any longer, so here goes.”

Saying which Max proceeded to remove his wet shoes and socks, rolling his trouser legs up half way to his knees.

“What’s all this mean?” asked Steve, crawling over to where the other two had gone; “looks like you had a scheme in mind.”

He was quickly told what Max purposed doing.

“It doesn’t seem like it’d amount to a great deal,” he suggested.

“Huh! can you knock your coco and think up anything better, then; we’d sure be delighted to hear it,” Bandy-legs told him; but Steve was not very fertile when it came to planning things, and he shook his head sadly.

“Wish I could, that’s right,” he said; “I’d give a heap right now to be able to snap my fingers, and have a nice little, power-boat happen along, so I could invite everybody to take a cruise with me. But there’s no such good luck, And, Max, when you duck inside here, count on me to be along with you to do whatever I can.”

“I knew you’d say that, Steve,” observed the other, as though pleased to hear such a hearty response to his mute appeal.

Then came the other two, wondering what the plan of campaign might be; for even Shack Beggs, finding himself so strangely thrown in with these boys whom in the past he had hated and scorned; was already as deeply interested in the outcome as any of the chums might be; and Bandy-legs no longer frowned at his proximity, for he could not forget how it was Shack’s strong hand that had helped him make a landing on the sloping roof just a short time before.

They dropped inside the house, and immediately found themselves up to their necks in water. Max took his bearings, and was pleased to discover that the coil of clothes line still hung from the hook, the water not having disengaged it as yet. Somehow the small success of finding this seemed to give him renewed courage.

“Things are beginning to come our way, fellows!” he called out, as he held the coil up above his head triumphantly.

“Hurray!” gurgled Toby, for it happened that just then he made a slip, and had a mouthful of muddy water come aboard, almost choking him.

“And here’s this door swung loose,” called out Steve, who had been working for several minutes, with the aid of Shack, to get the article in question off its hinges.

“Wait till I tie one end of the line to it,” Max told them, “and then we can push it out and let it float behind the house. There isn’t so much strength to the current there, on account of the eddies.”

This was speedily done, and the floating door anchored, thanks to the friendly offices of the clothes line.

“That might do to hold up one of the girls,” remarked Bandy-legs.

“It will,” put in Steve, quickly; “and pretty fairly at that, because Bessie isn’t so very heavy, you know.”

Well, no one blamed Steve for pre-empting the first raft for the use of Bessie, because he had been chiefly instrumental in securing it.

“We ought to have two more, anyway,” suggested Bandy-legs.

“And we’ll get ’em, never fear,” Steve assured him; “because there’s just that many in sight. Here, Shack, give me another lift, will you? There isn’t a fellow along got the strength in his arms you have, and that’s the truth.”

Shack Beggs looked pleased. It must have been a novel sensation for him to hear his praises sung by one of the chums of Max Hastings. They had called down anything but blessings on his head for many moons, yes, years, on account of the way he had annoyed them.

It was no easy task removing those doors, what with having to wade around in water almost up to their necks, so that at times they were even swimming. But it was no time to be squeamish, and every one of the boys meant business; so that in the end they had three doors anchored back of the shaky building.

They looked only a poor apology for boats, and no wonder the girls shuddered at the very idea of finding themselves afloat on the raging flood, with only a bobbing door to buoy them up.

Max was plainly worried. He admired the spirit which both Bessie and Mazie displayed when they declared that they would feel quite safe, if only the boys kept swimming alongside, to direct the floats toward the shore; at the same time he realized what tremendous difficulty they would have to keep the doors from “turning turtle,” for there were many cunning eddies in the flood, that would strive to baffle their best efforts.

Besides, the girls would quickly find themselves wet through, and altogether the prospect was a pitiable one. Again and again did Max try to conceive of a better plan. He even went prowling around down below again, hoping to make some little discovery that would turn out to be of benefit to the three girls; but when he once more rejoined the others on the roof his face failed to announce any success.

Still Max did not allow himself to show signs of anything bordering on despair. In the first place the boy was not built that way, and had always shown a decided disposition to hold out to the very last gasp, as every fellow should, no matter how fortune frowns down on him. Then again Max understood that his face and his manner were bound to be considered a barometer by the others; who would be sure to gauge the prospects for a safe landing by what they saw reflected in his demeanor.

For this reason, if no other, Max forced himself to smile once in a while, and to assume a confident manner that he was far from feeling.

The question now seemed to be in connection with their leaving their perch. Of course they were better off on the roof than could possibly be the case once it had to be abandoned; but there was also the possibility of a sudden collapse on the part of the farm-house to be taken into consideration.

Max would not like to have this happen while the girls were still crouching on the shingled roof; because there could be no telling what would happen, once the building began to roll onward with the flood. All of them might be pitched headlong into the water, and it would be a difficult thing for them to save Mazie and the other two girls. Besides, the anchored doors might be lost, and though only makeshifts for boats, these were bound to be much better than nothing to help keep the helpless ones afloat.

The water must be rising still; at least it seemed to be coming against the exposed side of the partly submerged building with greater energy than before, Max was certain. The waves would strike the wall, and leap upward as though eager to engulf those who were just beyond their reach; so it seemed to the frightened girls at the time; though their terror would undoubtedly have been much greater but for the presence, and the inspiring words uttered by the boys.

There seemed nothing else to be done but embark, dangerous though that undertaking must prove. Max hated to announce this dictum to the girls, for he could easily understand what a fresh source of alarm it must cause to sweep over them. They had already gone through so much, calculated to inspire terror in their hearts, that any addition looked like rank cruelty; and yet what other solution could there be to the problem?

Just then Max and his chums would have gladly given every cent they had in the bank and it was quite a goodly sum, for they had received rewards on account of certain services performed, as well as sold the pearls found in the fresh water mussels for a fine price if they could only have been able to secure any kind of a boat capable of transporting those helpless ones safely to land. At another time they would have probably been more particular, and demanded a high-powered motor launch; or at the least one of those Cailie Outboard Motors to clamp on the stern of a rowboat; but right now it was a case of “my kingdom, not for a horse, but any sort of boat capable of floating.”

Max heaved a sigh. He felt that he might as well wish to be given wings with which to fly ashore, as a boat. What few there were along the Evergreen River under normal conditions must either have been swamped in the sudden rising of the waters, or else be kept busy succoring imperiled people who had been caught in their homes by the flood, and threatened with drowning.

Just then the sun peeped out from a rift in the clouds. Strange what a remarkable difference even a fugitive glimpse of the sun may have on people, after the king of the day has refused to shine for forty-eight hours, while the rains persist in descending.

Like magic everybody seemed to become more cheerful. Things lost some of their gloomy aspect; even the rushing water looked far less bleak and threatening when those slanting shafts of sunlight glinted across the moving flood.

“Now, I take it that’s a good sign!” said Steve, who persisted in remaining as near to Bessie as he could, in all reason, considering that he was dripping wet, and certainly could not look very presentable; but fortunately Bessie had come to her senses now, and to her mind Steve never appeared to greater advantage, because she knew he was doing all this on account of his friendship for her.

Really Steve did not know at what minute the calamity might swoop down upon them, and he wanted to be handy so that he could look after Bessie. Max would take care that Mazie Dunkirk did not suffer; and the other two chums had been privately told to attend to the lame child, so that all were provided for.

“And I do believe there’s going to be a rainbow over in the west!” exclaimed Bessie, showing considerable interest, which seemed a pretty good sign that hope was not lying altogether dead within her girlish heart.

“I’m glad of that,” said Max; “not because it will help us any, but if the rain that was promised passes over, there’ll be a chance of the flood going down sooner. In fact, I don’t believe it’s going to get much higher than it is now.”

“You never can tell,” Bandy-legs remarked, showing a strange lack of proper caution, though Max tried to catch his eye, and would have given his foot a vigorous kick had he only been closer; “it all depends on whether they got the rain up in the hills where most of the water that flows down our old river comes from.”

“Well, let’s hope they didn’t get any, then,” said Max, quickly, as he saw a slight look of new fear creeping across the faces of the listening girls; “and on the whole I think we’ve got a heap to be thankful for. As long as we’re here we’ll see to it that the girls are taken care of; and if we do have to go ashore, why, we can make a regular picnic out of it; and you fellows will have a chance to show how much you know about camping in the woods without making any preparations beforehand.”

“I’d just like to do that same!” exclaimed Steve, bravely; “nothing would please me better than to make a camp-fire, build a bark shelter for the girls, forage through the surrounding country for something to cook, and prove to everybody’s satisfaction that we knew our business as amateur woodsmen. Don’t you say the same, Bandy-legs and Toby?”

“I sure do,” replied the former, with considerable fervor, as the pleasant times spent in former camps seemed to flash before his mind; “but what ails Toby here, fellers; he’s going to have a fit if he don’t get out what’s sticking in his throat! Look at him gasping for breath, would you? What’s the matter, Toby; seen another sea serpent have you; or is it a hippopotamus this time; perhaps a twenty foot alligator. Here, give one of your whistles, and get a grip on yourself, Toby!”

And the stuttering boy, brought to his senses by the admonition of his chum, did actually pucker up his lips, emit a sharp little whistle, and then working the muscles of his face as though trying to make a grimace, managed to utter just one word, which however thrilled the balance of the shivering group through and through, for that word was the magical one:

“Boat!”