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- The Rover Boys on the Great Lakes - 3/37 -
"Shall I try to turn the yacht around?" questioned his brother, as he, after several unsuccessful attempts, caught the spokes of the wheel, which was flying back and forth with every pitch of the craft.
"No! no! We will be swamped if you do that. Keep her up to the wind."
Regardless of the danger, Tom flew across the deck to where there was a life-preserver, attached to a hundred feet of small, but strong, rope. Once at the stern again, he threw the life-preserver as far out as possible.
"Catch the lifeline!" he shrieked. But if Dick heard he gave no answer.
"Can't we fire a rocket?" said Sam. "We ought to do something," he added, half desperately.
Lashing the end of the lifeline to the stern, Tom ran down into the cabin and brought forth several rockets. With trembling hands he set off first one and then another. The blaze was a short one, yet it revealed to them a large mass of lumber rising and falling on the bosom of the turbulent waters.
"A lumber raft. It is going to pieces in the storm."
"Did you see Dick?"
"I saw two persons on the lumber, but I don't know who they were. They looked more dead than alive."
"Oh, I hope Dick isn't dead!" burst out Sam, and the tears stood in his eyes as he spoke.
"Wot's dat you dun said?" came from out of the darkness.
"Dick's overboard," answered Tom.
"No!" A groan of genuine regret came from Aleck Pop. "How it dun happen?"
"We must have struck a lumber raft and the shock knocked him over," answered Sam. "Oh, Tom, what shall we do?"
"I'll try another rocket, Sam--I don't know of anything else."
It took fully a minute to obtain another rocket, and some red fire as well. The red fire made quite an illumination, in spite of the storm.
"I don't see nuffin," said Pop.
"Nor I," added Tom. "The raft has disappeared."
As the light died out all set up a loud shout. But only the howling wind answered them. And now Sam noticed that the lifeline was drifting idly at the stern, and there was nothing to do but to haul it in again.
The hours which followed were full of agony to Tom and Sam, and the warm-hearted colored man was scarcely less affected.
"What if Dick is drowned?" whispered the youngest Rover. "Father will never forgive us for coming on this trip."
"Let us hope for the best," was his brother's answer. "Dick has been in a tight fix before. He'll come out all right, if he has any show at all."
"Nobuddy kin lib in sech a storm as dis!" put in Pop. "Why, it's 'most as bad as dat dar hurricane we 'perienced in Africa. Jest see how it's beginnin' to rain."
Pop was right; so far the rain had held off for the most part, but now it came down steadily and soon turned into little short of a deluge. All were speedily soaked to the skin, but this was a discomfort to which, under the circumstances, no one paid attention.
The _Swallow_ heaved and pitched, and fearful that Sam would be lost overboard, Tom told him he had better go below again.
"You can do nothing up here," he said. "If anything turns up, I'll call you."
"But you must be careful," pleaded Sam. "If I were you, I'd tie myself to the wheel," and this is what Tom did.
Slowly the night wore away, and with the coming of morning the storm abated somewhat, although the waves still lashed angrily around the _Swallow_. With the first streak of dawn all were on deck, watching anxiously for some sign of the lumber raft or of Dick.
"Nothing in sight!" groaned Sam, and he was right. The raft had disappeared completely, and all around them was a dreary waste of water, with a cloudy sky overhead.
Feeling that he must do something, Aleck Pop prepared a breakfast of broiled fish and hot coffee, but, when summoned to the repast, both of the Rovers shook their heads.
"I couldn't eat a mouthful," sighed Sam. "It would choke me."
"We must find Dick first, Aleck," said Tom. "Go ahead yourself and have breakfast. Don't mind us."
"'Deed, I aint no hungrier dan youse is," replied the colored man soberly. "But youse had bettah drink sum ob dat coffee, or youse might cotch a chill." And he made each sip some of the beverage, bringing it on deck for that purpose.
At half-past seven Tom espied a cloud of smoke on the horizon. "I think it's a lake steamer," he said to his brother, and he proved to be right. It was a freighter known as the _Captain Rallow_, running between Detroit and Buffalo. Soon the steamer came closer and they hailed her.
"Seen anything of a lumber wreck, with some men on it?" questioned Tom eagerly.
"Haven't seen any wreck," was the answer, from the captain of the freighter. "Whose raft was it?"
"I don't know. The raft hit us in the darkness and a young man on our yacht was knocked overboard. We lit some red fire and saw two people on the raft, which seemed to be going to pieces."
This news interested the owner of the freight steamer greatly, since he had a brother who was in the business of rafting lumber, and he asked Tom to give him the particulars of the affair.
"We can't give you any particulars. We were taken completely by surprise, and it was too dark to see much," said Tom. Nevertheless he and Sam told what they could, to which the freight captain listened with close attention.
"I'll keep my eye open for the raft," said the latter. "And if I see anything of your brother I'll certainly take him on board."
"Where are you bound?"
"I am going to stop at Cleveland first. Then I go straight through to Buffalo."
A few words more passed, and then the captain of the freight steamer gave the signal to go ahead.
The stopping of her engines had caused the steamer to drift quite close to the _Swallow_, and as she swung around those on the yacht caught a good view of the freighter's stern deck.
There were a small number of passengers on board, and as Sam looked them over he gave a sudden start.
"My gracious, can it be possible!" he gasped.
"Can what be possible, Sam?" queried Tom.
"At the passengers on the steamer. Am I dreaming, or is that--he is gone!" And Sam's face fell.
"Who are you talking about?"
"Arnold Baxter! He was on the steamer, just as sure as I stand here. And we both thought him dead!"
ON A LUMBER RAFT.
"You think you saw Arnold Baxter?" demanded Tom.
"Yes, I saw Arnold Baxter, just as plain as day."
"Sam, you must be--"
"No, I am not dreaming. It was Arnold Baxter, true enough. As soon as he saw I had spotted him he drew out of sight."
"But we thought he was dead--buried under that landslide out in Colorado."
"We didn't find his body, and he isn't dead. Why, I would never make a mistake in that rascal's face, never," and Sam shook his head to emphasize his words.
"Was Dan with him?"
"I didn't see the son."
"If it was really Arnold Baxter we ought to let the authorities know at once, so that they can arrest him for getting out of prison on that bogus pardon."
"Yes, and we ought to let father know, too, for you may be sure Baxter will do all he can to get square with us for keeping the Eclipse mining claim out of his grasp."
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