Read CHAPTER II - TURNED ADRIFT of The Rival Campers Ashore The Mystery of the Mill , free online book, by Ruel Perley Smith, on

Soon they were on their way again, with the sky lightening a little and the rain almost ceased. They plunged through the tangle of dripping brakes, down to the shore; pushed off once more in midstream, and started back the way they had come.

There was not quite so much spirit to their paddling as there had been on the way up. Every stroke had meant to their minds, then, just so much of their journey accomplished. Now they knew they were striving only to put themselves on the right track again, and that there would be four wet miles of wasted effort. However, they were still strong, and the canoe went rapidly down stream.

The two miles seemed nearer four when Henry Burns suddenly pointed with his paddle ahead and said, soberly, “There’s the place, Jack. I saw it, coming up, but I thought it was only a patch of bull-rushes. We can’t get a canoe through, anyway. Let’s go ashore and have a look at the country.”

They paddled in and scrambled up the bank. Sure enough, there was what would be a small brook, at some stages of water, coming in from across country; doubtless with water enough, in the spring of the year, to float a canoe; but now impassable. They followed it up through a wheat field to a road, from which, to their relief, a stream of about the dimensions of the one they had been following not quite so large was to be seen. A horse drawing a wagon at a jog trot came down the road, and they accosted the occupant of the seat.

“How many miles to Mill Stream by the way of Dark Stream?” he said, repeating their question. “Well, I reckon it’s fifteen or sixteen. Water enough? Oh, yes, mebbe, except p’raps in spots. Goin’ round to Benton, you say? Sho! Don’t esactly envy yer the jaunt. Guess there’ll be more rain bime-by. Good day. Giddap.”

“Wall, I reckon,” said Henry Burns, dryly, imitating the man’s manner of speech, “that I don’t ask any more of these farmers how many miles we’ve got to travel. According to his reckoning, we’d get to Benton sometime to-morrow night. The next man might say ’twas fifty miles to Benton, and then you’d want to turn back.”

“Never!” exclaimed Jack Harvey, grimly. “Let’s go for the canoe.”

They got the canoe on their shoulders, and made short work of the carry. But it was after ten o’clock when they set their craft afloat in Dark Stream; and the real work of the day had just begun.

Knowing they were really on the right course, however, cheered them.

“Say,” cried Harvey, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, “we’ll not stop at Benton, at all, perhaps; just keep on paddling down Mill Stream past the city, down into Samoset river, into the bay, and out to Grand Island. Make a week of it.”

But even as he spoke, a big rain drop splashed on his cheek, and another storm burst over them. Down it came in torrents; a summer rainfall to delight the heart of a farmer with growing crops; a shower that fairly bent the grass in the fields with its weight; that made a tiny lake in the bottom of the canoe, flooded back around Harvey’s knees in the stern, and which trickled copiously down the backs of the two boys underneath their sweaters.

“What was you saying about Grand Island, Jack?” inquired Henry Burns, slyly.

“Grand Island be hanged!” said Harvey. “When I start for there, I’ll go in a boat that’s got a cabin. I guess Benton will do for us.”

They looked about for shelter, but there were woods now on both sides of the stream, and through them they could get no glimpse of any farmhouse.

“Well, I wouldn’t go into one if I saw it, now!” exclaimed Harvey. “I can’t get any wetter. Pretty soon we’ll begin to like it. I’ll catch a fish, anyway. This rain will make ’em bite.”

He unwound a line from a reel, attached a spoon-hook, cast it over and began to troll astern, far in the wake of the canoe. It was, in truth, an ideal day for fishing, and the first clump of lily pads they passed yielded them a big pickerel. He came in fighting and tumbling, making the worst of his struggle after the manner of pickerel when he was fairly aboard. Once free of the hook, he dropped down into the puddle in the canoe and lashed the water with his tail so that it spattered in Jack Harvey’s face worse than the rain. Harvey despatched the fish with a few blows of his paddle.

“Guess I won’t catch another,” he said shortly. “I can’t stand a shower coming both ways at once.”

Henry Burns chuckled quietly to himself. “Let’s empty her out,” he suggested.

They ran the canoe ashore, took hold at either end, inverted the craft and let the water drain out. Then they went on again. It was a fair and pretty country through which the stream threaded its way, with countless windings and twistings; but the rain dimmed and faded its beauties now. They thought only of making progress. Yet the rain was warm, they could not be chilled while paddling vigorously, and Henry Burns said he was beginning to like it.

Presently, in the far distance, a village clock sounded the hour. It struck twelve o’clock.

“My, I didn’t know it was getting so late,” said Henry Burns. “What do you say to a bite to eat?”

“I could eat that fish raw,” said Harvey.

“No need. We’ll cook him,” responded Henry Burns. “There’s the place,” and he pointed in toward a grove of evergreens and birches. “That village is a mile off. We don’t want another walk through this drenching country.”

They were only too glad to jump out ashore.

“You get the wood, Jack, and I’ll rig up the shelter and clean the fish,” said Henry Burns. Drawing out a small bag made of light duck from one end of the canoe, they untied it and took therefrom two small hatchets, a coil of stout cord, a fry-pan, a knife and fork apiece and a strip of bacon; likewise a large and a small bottle. The larger contained coffee; the smaller, matches. They examined the latter anxiously.

“They’re all right,” said Harvey, shaking the bottle. “Carry your matches in a bottle, on a leaky boat and in the woods. I’ve been in both.”

Taking the cord and one of the hatchets, Henry Burns proceeded to stretch a line between two trees; then interlacing the line, on a slant between other trees, he constructed a slight network; upon which, after an excursion amid the surrounding woods, he laid a sort of thatch of boughs.

“That’s not the best shelter I ever saw,” he said at length, surveying his work, “but it will keep off the worst of the rain.”

It did, in fact, answer fairly well, with the added protection of the heavy branches overhead.

In the mean time, Harvey, having hunted for some distance, had found what he wanted a dead tree, not so old as to be rotten, but easy to cut and split. Into the heart of this he went with his hatchet, and quickly got an armful of dry fire-wood. He came running back with the wood, and a few sheets of birch-bark the inner part of the bark with the wet, outer layer carefully stripped off. They had a blaze going quickly, with this, beneath the shelter of boughs.

They put the bacon on to fry, and pieces of the fish, cut thin with a keen hunting-knife. The coffee, poured from the bottle into a tin dipper, they set near the blaze, on some brands. They they gazed out upon the drizzle, as the dinner cooked.

Harvey shook his head, gloomily.

“We’re in for it,” he said. “It’s settled down for an all day’s rain.”

“I hope so,” responded Henry Burns, with a twinkle in his eye, “I like it but I wish I could feel just one dry spot on my back.”

They ate their dinner of fried bacon and pickerel and coffee beside a fire that blazed cheerily, despite an occasional sputtering caused by the rain dripping through; and when they had got half dry and had started forth once more into the rain, they were in good spirits. But the first ten minutes of paddling found them drenched to the skin again.

They ran some small rapids after a time, and later carried around a little dam. The afternoon waned, and the windings of the stream seemed endless. It was three o’clock when, at a sudden turn to the right, which was to the eastward, they came upon another stream flowing in and mingling with the one they were following. Thenceforth the two ran as one stream, the banks widening perceptibly, the stream flowing far more broadly, and with increased depth and strength. The way from now on was to the eastward some three or four miles, and then almost due south to Benton, a distance of ten of eleven miles more.

They were soon running swiftly with the current, shooting rapids, at times, of an eighth of a mile in length, going very carefully not to scrape on submerged rocks. And still the rain fell. There were two dams to carry around, and they did this somewhat drearily, trudging along the muddy shores, climbing the slippery banks with difficulty, and with some danger of falling and smashing their canoe.

Five, six and seven o’clock came; darkness was shutting in, and they were three miles from Benton. To make matters worse, with the falling of night the rain increased, pouring in such torrents that they had frequently to pause and empty out their canoe.

A few minutes after seven, and a light gleamed from a window a little distance back from the stream, less than a quarter of a mile.

“There’s our lodgings for the night, Jack,” said Henry Burns, pointing up through the rain. “I don’t mind saying I’ve had enough. It’s three miles yet to Benton, or nearly that, there are three more dams, and as for walking, the road must be a bog-hole.”

“I’m with you,” responded Harvey. “If it’s a lodging house, I’ve the money to pay three dollars in the oiled silk wallet. If it’s a farmhouse, we’ll stay, if we have to sleep in the barn.”

Presently they perceived a landing, with several rowboats tied up. They ran in alongside this, drew their canoe clear up on to the float, turned it over, and walked rapidly up toward the house from which the light shone.

“We’re in luck for once,” said Harvey. “There’s a sign over the door.”

The sign, indeed, seemed to offer them some sort of welcome. It bore an enormous hand pointing inward, and the inscription, “Half Way House.”

“I wonder what it’s half way between,” said Henry Burns, as they paused a moment on the threshold of the door. “Half way between the sky and China, I guess. But I don’t care, if the roof doesn’t leak.”

The picture, as they entered, was, in truth, one to cheer the most wretched. Directly in front of them, in line with the door, a fire of hickory logs roared in an old-fashioned brick fireplace, lighting up the hotel office almost as much as did the two kerosene lamps, disposed at either end. An old woman, dozing comfortably in a big rocking chair before the blaze, jumped up at their appearance.

“Land sakes!” she ejaculated, querulously. “What a night to be comin’ in upon us! Dear! Dear! Want to stay over night, you say? Well, if that ain’t like boys canooering, you call it, in this mess of a rain. Gracious me, but you’re wet to the skin, both er yer. Well, take them wooden chairs, as won’t be spoiled with water, and sit up by the fire till I make a new pot of coffee and warm up a bit of stew and fry a bit of bacon. Canooering in this weather! Well, that beats me.”

“The proprietor, you say? Well, he’s up the road, but he’ll be in, soon. You can pay me for the supper, and fix ‘bout the stay in’ over night with him. I jes’ tend to the cookin’. That’s all I do.”

She called them to supper in the course of a quarter of an hour, and had clearly done her best for them. There was coffee, steaming hot, and biscuit, warmed up to a crisp; bacon, freshly fried, with eggs; a dish of home-made preserves, and a sheet of gingerbread.

“Eat all yer can hold,” she chuckled, as they fell to, hungry as panthers. “Canooering’s good fer the appertite, ain’t it? It’s plain vittles, but I reckon the cookin’s good as the most of ’em, if I say it, who shouldn’t.”

She rambled on, somewhat garrulously, as the boys ate. They did full justice to the cooking, stuffed themselves till Henry Burns said he could feel his skin stretch; paid the old woman her price for the meal “twenty-five cents apiece, an’ it couldn’t be done for less” and went and seated themselves comfortably once more by the fire in the office. They settled themselves back comfortably.

“Arms ache?” inquired Harvey of his comrade.

“No,” replied Henry Burns, “but I don’t mind saying I’m tired. I wouldn’t stir out of this place again to-night for sixteen billion dol

The door opened, and a bulky, red-faced man entered, stamping, shaking the rain from his clothing like a big Newfoundland dog, and railing ill-naturedly at the weather.

“It’s a vile night, gran’,” he exclaimed; then espying his two newly-arrived guests, he assumed a more cordial tone.

“Good evening. Good evening, young gentlemen,” he said. “Glad you got in out of the storm hello! what’s this? Well, if it don’t beat me!”

At the sound of the man’s voice, Henry Burns and Jack Harvey had sprung up in amazement. They stood beside their chairs, eying the proprietor of the Half Way House, curiously. He, in turn, glared at them in astonishment, fully equal to theirs, while his red face went from its normal fiery hue to deep purple, and his hands clenched.

“Colonel Witham!” they exclaimed, in the same breath.

“What are you two doing here?” he cried.

“What new monkey-shine of yours is this? Don’t you know I won’t have any Henry Burnses and Jack Harveys, nor any of the rest of you, around my hotel? Didn’t yer get satisfaction enough out of bringing bad luck to me in one place, and now you come bringing it here? Get out, is what I say to you, and get out quick!”

“You keep away, gran’,” he cried to the woman, who had stepped forward. “Don’t you go interfering. It’s my hotel; and I wouldn’t care if ’twas raining a bucket a drop and coming forty times as hard. I’d put ’em out er doors, neck and crop. Get out, I say, and don’t ever step a foot around here again.”

Henry Burns and Jack Harvey stood for a moment, gazing in perplexity at each other.

“Shall we go, or stick it out?” asked Harvey, in a low voice.

“Why, it’s a public house, and I don’t believe he has a right to throw us out this way,” said Henry Burns. “But it means a fight, sure, if we try to stay. I guess we better quit. It’s his own place, and he’s a rough man when he’s angered.”

Ruefully pulling on their sweaters at least dry once more and taking their paddles, which they had brought with them, from behind the door, they went out into the night, into the driving rain.