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- The House Boat Boys - 1/33 -








"I say, what's gone wrong now, Maurice, old fel?"

The speaker, a roughly clad boy of about fifteen or over, caught hold of his companion's sleeve and looked sympathetically in his face.

The lad whom he called Maurice was better dressed, and he seemed to carry with him a certain air of refinement that was lacking in his friend, who was of a rougher nature. Despite this difference he and Thad Tucker were the closest of chums, sharing each other's joys and disappointments, small though they might be.

They had met just now at the post-office of a little country town not many miles below Evansville, Indiana, as the afternoon mail was being sorted.

The yellow flood of the great Ohio River could be seen from where they stood, glowing in the early November sunshine.

Upon being greeted with these words Maurice Pemberton shook his head dolefully.

"It's come, just as I've been half expecting it these four months, Thad. The old couple I live with have sold their house and leave for Chicago in a week. That turns me out into the Streets, for you know they've given me a home ever since mother, who was a friend of Mrs. Jasper, died; and in return I've tried to make good by doing all their gardening and other work between school hours. Now a son has sent for them to come and make their home with him. Pretty tough on a fellow not to know where he's going to sleep after a single week."

But Thad was smiling now, as though an idea had flashed into his head that gave him reason for something akin to pleasure.

"Well, I don't know; if it comes to the worst, Pard Maurice, you're a dozen times welcome to share my old bunky on the shanty- boat. I'd just love to make another cot like mine, and have you there. Say, wouldn't it be grand? Of course, though, you'd find it a pretty poor contraption alongside the house you've lived in; but if it was a thousand dollar launch still you'd be just as welcome, and you know it," he said with a heartiness that could not be misunderstood.

The other looked at him affectionately, and was about to say something in return when the window of the post-office was thrown open as a signal that the mail had been distributed. So Maurice stepped up to secure the usual papers, together with an occasional letter, that came for the Jaspers.

Thad saw him start and look curiously at one letter, and then begin to tear the end off as though it were meant for him.

Watching curiously, all unaware how history was making at that identical moment for himself and Maurice, he saw the other smile and nod his head, while an expression of delight gradually crept over his face.

Then Maurice remembered that his chum was standing there waiting for him to come, and together they passed out of the little office.

"If that doesn't beat the Dutch!" Maurice was saying, half to himself, as he looked at the letter he was holding in a hand that trembled a little despite his efforts to seem composed.

"It cert does," declared Thad, positively; and then both laughed.

"Excuse me, old fellow, for not speaking up and letting you into the facts; but you can see for yourself that the thing's kind of staggering me a bit. Just to think of its coming today of all times, when I'm most in need of a home. Talk to me about chance; I guess there's something better than accident about this."

"All right; I agree with you, Pard Maurice; but suppose you let a little light in on my dumb brain. Where's the letter from, and what does she say?" observed the other, eyeing the envelope dubiously, for he had a sudden fear that it meant the sundering of the ties that bound them together.

"New Orleans, and it comes from Uncle Ambrose--you've often heard me speak of him, and that he was a captain on a tramp steamer that went all over the world picking up cargoes. For three years I've lost track of him, but he hasn't quite forgotten his nephew Maurice it seems. Listen to what he says, after telling me how he's beginning to feel lonely without a relative near, and growing old all the time. Sit down here where we can look out on the bully old river, while I read."

Thad dropped beside him on a stone, and cuddled his arms around his knees in a favorite attitude of his, while he prepared to listen.

"We are billed to be back here in New Orleans about the fifteenth of February, and if you can make it, my boy, I'd like to see you here then. I've got a berth as supercargo open to you, and there's a fine chance to see something of the world; for in the course of three years we are apt to visit the seven seas, and many strange countries. Be sure and come if you care to take up with your old uncle. The older I grow the stronger the ties that bind to the past appeal to me, and it will make me happier to have one of my own blood aboard to share my travels. From your affectionate uncle. AMBBOSE HADDON.

"On board the Campertown.

"Bully! That's just fine for you, Maurice; but don't you think the captain forgot one thing?" declared Thad.

"What's that?" asked his friend, looking puzzled.

"Why didn't he think to enclose the price of a ticket from here to New Orleans? He might have known money didn't grow on bushes around here."

Maurice laughed.

"I always heard Uncle Ambrose was forgetful of small things, and I guess it's true. Never once entered his head when he was writing. Perhaps it may later, and he'll think to enclose the money from some foreign port. Why, would you believe it, he didn't even mention where the steamer was going to next; only remarked that they sailed in a day or so. But the tone of the letter is warm, and--why, of course I must accept the invitation. It just seems to come in now at the one time I need it most. You wouldn't want me to let it pass, would you, Thad?"

"I should say not, even if it does hurt some to think of you going away and me staying in this bum old place," said his friend, quickly giving Maurice an affectionate look that spoke volumes.

"If I could only go, too. I'm dead sure uncle would be glad to have you with me on board; and think of the glorious times we could have. Why, it seems too good to be true, doesn't it?"

"I guess it does for me. I'd like to go the worst kind, but where would I pick up the money to pay my way? Of course I might float down the Mississippi on the Tramp all right, given time enough; but that would be kind of lonely business for one; now if you could only--say, I wonder--oh, bosh, of course you wouldn't want to even think of it," and he dropped his head dejectedly.

"Wouldn't think of what? Why don't you go on and finish? You've got some sort of a fine scheme in your head, so explain," demanded Maurice, quickly.

"I was just thinking, that's all, what a great time we might have if we did start out in my little bum boat to make New Orleans. There's three months ahead of us, and scores of shanty-boats float down from Cincinnati to Orleans every fall and winter--you know that. Gee! what fun we could have!" and the two boys started at each other for half a dozen seconds without saying a word; but those looks were more eloquent than all the language ever uttered.

Then Maurice thrust out his hand impulsively.

"Shake! Do you really think we could do it, Thad?" he exclaimed.

"Do I? Why, it would be as easy as pie. Think of it; all you have to do is to let the current carry you along. It's a snap, that's what!" cried the other, brimming over with enthusiasm.

Ah! Thad was yet to learn that a thousand unforeseen difficulties lay in wait for those floating craft that drifted down the great water highway every winter; but "in the bright lexicon of youth there is no such word as fail," and to his eyes the enterprise was a veritable voyage of pleasure, nothing less.

"Then we'll go!" declared Maurice, with vim, shaking his chum's hand furiously. "Given a week to get my traps together, sell what I don't want, lay in some provisions, buy a few things, like a flannel shirt and corduroy trousers after the style of those you wear, and I'll be ready. Say, Thad, what a day this has turned out after all, and I was just thinking it the blackest ever."

The House Boat Boys - 1/33

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