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- The Rover Boys at School - 4/38 -
and it was fully a minute before Tom reappeared -- twenty feet away and minus his pole.
"Hi! help me on board, somebody!" he spluttered, for he had gone overboard so quickly that he had swallowed a large quantity of water.
Both Sam and Dick tried to reach him, but could not. Then the current caught the tree and whirled it around and around until both boys began to grow dizzy.
Seeing they could not aid him, and getting back a little of his wind, Tom struck out for the tree. But the water running over his face blinded him, and ere he knew he was so close the tree came circling around and struck him on the side of the head.
"Oh!" he moaned, and sank from sight.
"Tom's hit!" gasped Sam. "He'll be drowned sure now!"
"Not if I can help him!" burst out Dick, and leaped overboard to his brother's assistance. But Tom was still out of sight, and for several seconds could not be located.
Sam waited anxiously, half of a mind to jump into the river himself. The tramp was now forgotten, and landed on the opposite bank unnoticed. He immediately dove into the bushes, and disappeared from view.
At last Dick caught sight of Tom's arm and made a clutch for it. Hardly had he taken hold than Tom swung around and caught him by the throat in a deathlike grip, for he was too bewildered to know what he was doing.
"Save me!" he groaned. "Oh, my head! Save me!"
"I will, Tom; only don't hold me so tight," answered Dick. "I -- can't get any air."
"I can't swim -- I'm all upset," was the reply; and Tom clutched his elder brother tighter than ever.
Seeing there was no help for it, Dick caught hold of the fingers around his throat and forced them loose by main force. Then he swung himself behind Tom and caught him under the arms, in the meantime treading water to keep both of them afloat.
"Sam, can't you bring that tree closer?" he called out.
There was no reply, and, looking around, he saw that the tree and his younger brother were a hundred yards away, and sailing down the river as rapidly as the increasing current could, carry them for quarter of a mile below were what were known as the Humpback Falls -- a series of dangerous rapids through which but few boats had ever passed without serious mishap.
"I reckon Sam is having his hands full," he thought. "I must get Tom to the shore alone. But it is going to be a tough job, I can see that."
"Oh, Dick!" came from Tom. "My head is spinning like a top!"
"The tree hit you, Tom. But do keep quiet, and I'll take care of you,"
"I can't swim -- I feel like a wet rag through and through."
"Never mind about swimming. Only don't catch me by the throat again, and we'll be all right," was Dick's reassuring reply, and as his brother became more passive he struck out for the bank upon which the thief had landed.
The current carried them on and on, but not so swiftly as it was carrying the tree. Soon they were approaching the bend. Dick was swimming manfully, but was now all but exhausted.
"You can't make it, Dick," groaned Tom. "Better save yourself."
"And let you go? No indeed, Tom. I have a little strength left and -- Hurrah, I've struck bottom!"
Dick was right: his feet had landed on a sandbar; and, standing up, both boys found the water only to their armpits. Under such circumstances they waded ashore with case, and here threw themselves down to rest.
"That thief is gone," said Dick dismally.
"And my watch too!"
"But where is Sam?" questioned Tom, then looked at his brother meaningfully.
"The Humpback Fall!" came from Dick. "Sam! Sam!" he yelled; "look out I where you are going!"
But no answer came back to his cry, for Sam had long since floated out of hearing.
SAMS ADVENTURE AT HUMPBACK FALLS
For several minutes after Dick leaped overboard to Tom's assistance, Sam's one thought was of his two brothers. Would they reach the tree or the shore in safety? Fervently he prayed they would.
The tree went around and around, as a side current caught it, and presently the whirlings became so rapid that Sam grew dizzy, and had to hold tight to keep from falling off.
He saw Dick catch Tom from the back and start for shore, and then like a flash the realization of his own situation dawned upon him. He was on the tree with no means of guiding his improvised craft, and sweeping nearer and nearer to the rapids of which he had heard so much but really knew so little.
"I must get this tree to the river bank," he, said to himself, and looked around for some limb which might be cut off and used for a pole.
But no such limb was handy, and even had there been there would have been no time in which to prepare it for use, for the rapids were now in plain sight, the water boiling and foaming as it darted over one rock and another, in a descent of thirty feet in forty yards.
"This won't do!" muttered the boy, and wondered if it would not be best to leap overboard and try to swim to safety. But one look at that swirling current made him draw back.
"I reckon I had best stick to the tree and trust to luck to pass the rocks in safety," he muttered, and clutched the tree with a firmer hold than ever.
The strange craft had now stopped circling, and was shooting straight ahead for a rock that stood several feet above water. On it went, and Sam closed his eyes in expectancy of an awful shock which would pitch him headlong, he knew not to where.
But then came a swerve to the left, and the tree grated along the edge of the rock. Before Sam could recover his breath, down it went over the first line of rapids. Here it stuck fast for a moment, then turned over and went on, throwing Sam on the under side.
The boy's feet struck bottom, and he bobbed up like a cork. Again he clutched the tree, and on the two went a distance of ten feet further. But now the tree became jammed between two other rocks, and there it stuck, with Sam clutching one end and the water rushing in, a torrent over the other.
For the moment the boy could do little but hold fast, but as his breath came back to him he climbed on top of the tree and took a look at the situation.
It was truly a dismaying one. He was in the very center of the rapids, and the shore on either side of him was fifty to sixty feet away.
"How am I ever to get to the bank?" he asked himself. "I can't wade or swim, for the current is far too strong. I'm in a pickle, and no mistake. I wonder if Dick and Tom are on solid earth yet?"
He raised his voice into a shout, not once, but several times. At first only the echoes answered him, but presently came a reply from a distance.
"Sam! Sam! Where are your?" It was Dick calling, and he was running along the bank alone, Tom being too exhausted to accompany him.
"Here I am -- in the middle of the falls!"
"Out here -- in the middle of the falls!"
"Great Caesar, Sam! Can't you wade ashore?"
"No; the current is so strong I am afraid to."
In a minute more Dick reached a spot opposite to where the tree rested. As he took in the situation his face clouded in perplexity.
"You are right -- don't try wading," he, said. "If you do, you'll have your skull cracked open on the rocks. I'll have to get a rope and haul you off."
"All right; but do hurry, for this tree may start on again at any instant!"
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