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   Chapter 4 THE PERIL ON THE RIVER

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 12856

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"What do you think of it, boys?" asked Bluff, as he stood there, still holding up the board over the cabin door.

"Couldn't have picked out a better name if you'd looked over the whole dictionary," declared Frank. "It strikes right at the heart of things."

"We're sure going to take pot-luck while we're aboard this jolly rover!" remarked Jerry, with a rollicking laugh, as he swept his hand around at the bare condition of the cabin's interior. "Your uncle must have known what sort of boys we were, and how we'd manage to get along with a makeshift boat."

"Well," said Bluff, "I'm glad you like my choice. Just happened to think of it, you know; and seemed like it covered our case. And so Pot Luck goes; eh, boys?"

"There's a hammer, and some nails on a shelf inside here, so you can hang it up where it belongs in a jiffy," remarked Will, darting inside to bring the articles he mentioned to Bluff, who was still standing there with his arms extended.

And a few lusty blows from the hammer served to fasten the board up securely.

"Hurrah! three cheers for the good old Pot Luck!" cried Jerry; and they were given with a will, much to the amusement of some ship carpenters repairing a tugboat near by.

"If we had our flag hoisted now," observed Bluff, "I'd dip the colors to the christening of the houseboat. As it is, we take off our hats to her."

"Long may she wave; or, rather, ride the waves!" commented Frank.

"And safe may she carry the Outdoor Chums on their voyage to the Sunny South," remarked Will. "May no tempest toss her about like a chip; and may she skip all the sand bars they say are always lying in wait to grip a floating boat."

The arrival of the wagon carrying their supplies put an end to further talk; and for some little time all of them were as busy as bees storing the things on board.

"Never mind where they go now," Frank had said, in the beginning. "After we get fairly afloat we can stow them in a better way. All we want now is to make sure they don't get under our feet."

"Or else drop overboard," added Jerry, who had made sure to hang a canvas-covered ham where it would be particularly safe; for fried ham was one of his favorite dishes; and Jerry had dozens of them in his list of prize feeds.

Finally the empty wagon told that all had been taken aboard. Frank checked off the articles, and announced that nothing they had paid for was forgotten.

"And now to see about getting pushed out in the current, where we've got to work our passage," he observed; at which the others manifested their delight.

Will, true to his passion, had seized upon his camera, and seemed ready to get some sort of snapshot of the "launching," as he termed it. Whenever anything out of the usual was about to take place, Will could be depended on to show up, eager to transfer the scene to a plate or film, and so insure its being enjoyed for all time to come, affording much amusement and often laughter.

Jerry was already going around the inside of the cabin, with a mysterious look on his face, sounding the wooden walls, and evidently trying to locate some place of concealment where a queer old fellow would be apt to hide a lot of valuables, and then forget all about them until stricken down by some accident in far-away New Orleans.

Apparently the others would never hear the end of that idea until the cruise came to a termination, or the persistent Jerry unearthed a solution of the mystery.

The boat builder had a way of warping the houseboat out of his enclosure, and setting it adrift on the bosom of the Mississippi. At this point the river looked to be quite a good-sized stream to the boys; but later on they would deem this next door to a creek, after they had navigated the lower reaches, where it is sometimes twenty miles across from bank to bank.

The last word was said, and Mr. Whittaker waved his hand to the four young voyagers, wishing them the best of luck.

"Whoop! we're off at last!" cried Bluff, as the current took the floating houseboat in its grip, and began to carry the unwieldy craft slowly along.

"Take a hand here, and be ready to swing her further out into the river," called Frank. "It's dangerous to keep near the shore, the boat builder said. All together, now, boys; away she goes!"

When four stout young college boys put their shoulders to the task, something has just got to be doing. And as they toiled at that big sweep the clumsy houseboat slowly but steadily lurched away from the shore, and began to get more of the force of the current, that always runs stronger toward the middle of the river.

The city lay behind them now, and none of the boys felt the least bit of regret. They loved the open, and outdoor life was with them a passion.

Looking back, they could admire the picture that was presented to Will when he snapped his camera upon the last glimpse they would have of St. Paul, lying on the upper reach of the mighty river.

"Oh! don't I feel like whooping it up, though!" cried Jerry; "because we've made a start on our long voyage!"

"Makes me think of that other trip we took down in Florida, when we had that fine little launch to handle, and saw something of life along the coast after we came out of that river," Frank was saying, as he kept pushing with the sweep, so as to clear the shore more than ever.

"Sure it does," echoed Bluff, enthusiastically. "Fact is, fellows, we've been through so many exciting affairs that nearly everything that happens is bound to make us remember some other adventure. Hey! me to sound the well here, and see if she's taking water fast. Wouldn't be a very nice thing to have our boat go down with us, before we'd been moving an hour."

"Oh! no danger of that, Bluff," Frank remarked, reassuringly; "Mr. Whittaker told me he had himself looked her all over while she was there in his basin; and he gave me to understand that there wasn't a piece of rotten wood in all her timbers. Fact is, he said she was good for many years yet."

"That sounds all right, Frank, but the best of boats will take water; and I can pump it up right now," Bluff insisted.

"Well, suppose you keep at work," the other continued, obligingly. "I like to have everybody satisfied when I'm sailing a boat. Pump away till you're tired, if you feel that way. It's silly to carry a cargo of water, when we've got such a lot of better things aboard."

S

o Bluff amused himself with the pump as long as he could get any considerable stream to respond to his muscular efforts.

The other three hung about the sweep; and when Frank thought they ought to work out still further from the shore below the city, he found a pair of eager assistants to help him man that guiding oar.

Frank could see the time coming when he might not have such willing hands; and when the task of pushing that sweep would bring out many a grunt and groan from Bluff and Jerry. But everything was new now, and they actually thought it fun to throw their sturdy young shoulders against the long handle, and bending to the job, urge the boat sideways through the swirling water.

"About when do we think of getting supper?" asked Jerry, after a little time had elapsed, and they could no longer see signs of the city that was situated on the eastern shore of the river.

"Listen to him; would you, Frank?" cried Bluff. "Always wanting to eat, and cut down our stock of rations. Why, it isn't more'n four o'clock yet, and at this time of year it won't get dark till near eight."

"Four hours more!" called out the indignant Jerry; "do you mean we don't get any of that good grub till then? I just won't stand for it, that's what! And I give you fair warning right now, that at five, sharp, I start the fire a-going in that stove. I'm going to get the first meal aboard, because Frank said I might; so don't either one of you open your mouths to say a word."

"Oh! all right," returned Bluff; who had really been managing matters so as to coax Jerry to undertake this part of the drudgery; when he would praise up his cooking in such a way that the other could hardly wait for another meal-time to roll around; "we know there isn't a fellow aboard who can hold a candle to you when it comes to slinging dishes together; that is, if you haven't forgotten, since going to college, all you ever knew in the old days."

"Me forgot how to cook?" ejaculated Jerry, warmly, and falling into the neat little trap in a way that made Frank turn to Will, and wink his eye several times. "Why, I tell you I'm a better hand at it than ever I was. After you've tasted my supper just you tell me the honest truth; that's all."

"I will, Jerry," said Bluff, keeping a straight face, though Frank knew he was chuckling with delight over the success of his little dodge, "and you can depend on it I'll never try to deceive you. If you can beat the meals you used to dish up in the old times, sure you must be a wonder."

"There's smoke around that bend there, Frank; what do you suppose makes it?" Will asked at this interesting moment.

"I suppose some steamboat is coming up the river," replied Frank.

"That's right," added Bluff, who had very good ears. "The breeze is dead against us, but I can hear the whoof of her escape steampipes as she butts up against the stiff current. I reckon we'll all get used to that grunting sound before we wind up this trip."

"I hope she gives us plenty of room," continued Will, a little nervously, as he planted himself where he thought he could get the best view of the oncoming river boat, so that he could snap a picture of the very first craft they met after starting on their long voyage.

Bluff, being more daring by nature, started to laugh at what Will said.

"You're sure the timid one, Will," he remarked, contemptuously, perhaps, or it might be in a sort of condescending way; "why, the river is big, and there's plenty of room for a dozen steamboats to pass us by; unless the pilots happen to be taking a snooze at the wheel."

"There she pokes her nose around the bend!" called out Jerry.

"Seems to me, Frank, that she's heading right at us, like there was only one little channel in this big river, and we happened to be sailing down the same. Say, don't you think we ought to get a move on, and pull farther over to the shore?" and Will dropped his camera to the deck, as he laid a hand on the steering oar, which Frank had started to push against once more.

"Jump in, boys, and go at it with all your might!" Frank called out.

Bluff and Jerry began to realize that, after all, a river may be narrow, even if the banks do seem to be far apart; since there can be only fifty or one hundred or two hundred feet in which a steamboat drawing a certain amount of water may with safety proceed.

The boat that was pushing up the river was indeed heading directly for them. Perhaps the pilot was doing something else in his little cage aloft, for just at the minute none of them could see him there. He may have stooped down to light his pipe, having secured the wheel meanwhile.

"Oh! we're going to be run down right in the start of the trip!" exclaimed Will, whose face had turned white as he saw the steamboat continuing to head in a direct line for the Pot Luck.

"Push harder, boys!" cried Frank, shutting his teeth tight together, and throwing his weight against the bending oar with the ferocity that a bucking "tackle" might show in a battle on the gridiron, when the fate of the game depended on his grappling with the fellow who was running with the ball for a decisive touchdown.

Bluff and Jerry saw how serious the situation was, and they bent every energy in their frames toward doing something that would cause the clumsy houseboat to move out of the way of the oncoming craft.

Already, in imagination, they could hear the crash as the bow cut them down; and the next instant they would be struggling in the current, away out from the shore, and likely to be drawn under the stern wheel of the unattached towboat.

Just then the steersman raised up his head in view in the frame that marked the window of the pilot house. They saw him stare at them as though hardly able to believe his eyes. Then he started to frantically whirl the wheel around, as if hoping to yet avert the accident that seemed so sure. The boat began to respond to his demand, but so slowly that it still looked as though only by what would be next door to a miracle could the Pot Luck avoid being smashed into kindling wood against the bow of the advancing power craft.

And yet, such was the boy's passion for his hobby, that Will, leaving the sweep, at which he could not find room beside his chums, sprang over to his camera, and took a picture of the nearby towboat, even while expecting to hear the shock of collision the next minute.

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