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THE SMASH AT THE BRIDGE.
During the conversation recorded above, Ralph had been at work in the dooryard of the cottage, while his mother was busy tying up the honeysuckle vines which grew over the porch. It was a bright summer day, with a stiff breeze blowing from the southwest.
"There's a sloop coming up Silver Lake, Ralph!" cried his mother, presently, as she looked across the water from the cottage porch. "I guess you will have to open the bridge."
"I haven't heard any horn," returned Ralph, as he dropped his rake and ran up to look at the craft.
"Nor I. But the boat is heading for the draw."
"Perhaps it's one of those summer-boarder pleasure parties, that don't know anything about blowing for a bridge tender," said the son, after a few seconds of silence. "I'll go down and make sure."
Ralph was as good as his word. Leaving the door, he walked rapidly along a footpath which led directly to the bridge, arriving there in less than a minute and a half.
As he walked on the bridge a carriage from Eastport, containing several ladies, came over. They paid the toll to Bob Sanderson, an old man who helped Ralph in this way during the slack hours of the day. In return for the work Sanderson was allowed an attic room and board at the Nelson cottage.
"Sixteen cents since you went away, Ralph," said Sanderson, as he handed over the amount in pennies. "Ain't many folks out this morning."
"There will be more toward noon, Mr. Sanderson. Travel is always light between nine and eleven."
"That's so. My! but there's a stiff breeze a-blowin', ain't there?"
"Yes. If it keeps on we'll have a regular gale by night."
"What brought you back so soon? I thought you was goin' to whitewash your side fence?"
"I came down to see if that sloop wanted to go through. It's sailing right for the draw."
"They didn't blow no horn."
"Perhaps they don't know enough for that. I declare! What's he up to now?" went on Ralph, a second later.
He had espied a single man standing in the stern of the sloop. The man had commenced to work at the mainsail, the managing of which appeared to bother him not a little.
"He don't seem to know the ropes," returned Bob Sanderson. "I guess he's tryin' to lower sail and can't."
"He is carrying too much canvas for this breeze."
"I agree with you, Ralph. But most of them chaps with sloops are a daring set. They always want to sail at racing speed."
"He wants to go through that draw, that's certain," responded Ralph.
Going into the little house at the end of the bridge, he got out the key and the handle-bar. He unlocked the chain which held the end of the bridge in position, and then inserting the bar into the turnpost or capstan, began to walk around with it.
Slowly but surely the bridge began to swing loose from the side which connected with the permanent portion on the Eastport end and moved toward the solid foundation which was built directly in front of where the Nelson dooryard ran down to the water's edge.
It was hard work to move the bridge around, but Ralph was used to it, and he did not mind. As he walked around with the bar before him he kept his eyes on the sloop and the man sailing her.
The bridge was three-quarters open when the boy noted with some surprise that the man on the sloop had thrown over the mainsail half against the wind. Instantly the sloop began to swing around, heading full for the stone pier upon which the bridge swung.
"Why, what's the matter with him?" he cried, in dismay.
"Guess he don't know how to manage his boat," replied Bob Sanderson. "He's comin' chuck-a-block for this place!"
"Hi! hi! what are you up to?" cried Ralph, as he dropped the bar, and rushed over to the side of the bridge. "Do you want to run into the stonework?"
"I can't manage the sail!" replied the man on the sloop. "My arm is lame, and the ropes are all twisted."
"Well, throw your tiller over, and be quick, or----"
Ralph had not time to say more, nor was the man able to profit by his advice. An extra heavy puff of wind caught the mainsail of the boat, and with a loud crash she clashed into the stone pier, bow first.
The shock was so great that the bowsprit was smashed to pieces, as was also the woodwork around it. The man, who had been standing partly on the stern sheets, was thrown overboard by the accident, and he disappeared beneath the water.
Fearful that the fellow, who was evidently a city person, might not be able to swim, Ralph leaped down from the bridge into the sloop and went to his assistance.
"Save me! save me!" called out the man, frantically, and he threw his hands up over his head.
"Catch hold of the boathook," replied Ralph, and he reached out with the article as he spoke.
The man grasped the curved iron nervously, and Ralph at once drew him to the side of the sloop.
"Now give me your hand and I will help you up."
And without waiting he caught the man by the right arm.
"Don't! don't! Take the other arm, please! That was broken less than six weeks ago."
"Oh, then give me the left," replied Ralph; and by his aid the man was soon aboard the sloop once more.
He was a fellow not over twenty-five years of age, and his clothing and general appearance indicated that he was well-to-do.
"Phew! But that was a narrow escape!" he ejaculated, as he brushed the water from his face. "I was afraid I was a goner, sure!"
"Couldn't you keep away from the stonework?" questioned Ralph, curiously.
"No. The ropes got twisted into a knot and my right arm hurt so I could only use my left hand. Besides, I am not much of a sailor."
"I seen you wasn't," put in Bob Sanderson, who did not hesitate at times to speak out bluntly. "If it hadn't been for Ralph you would have been drowned."
"I don't doubt it, for I cannot swim."
"How came you to be out in such a blow and all alone?" asked Ralph, as he began to lower the ship's sails.
"It didn't blow so when I started from Chambersburgh, and I fancied I could manage the Magic without half trying. But I have found out my mistake now," and the man gave a sorry little laugh. "Are you the bridge tender?"
"And what is your name?"
"Mine is Horace Kelsey. You are rather young for this position, are you not?"
"It was my father's before he died. I am serving the rest of the time for which he was appointed."
"I see. Does it pay you?"
"I earn six dollars a week at it. That's considered pretty good here in Westville. There are many who would like to get the job."
"I came up here from New York to spend a few weeks boating and fishing," said Horace Kelsey, during a pause, in which he dried off his face and hands, and wrung the water from his coat. "This is my first day out, and it has ended rather disastrously."
"I guess your sloop can easily be repaired," replied Ralph.
"I suppose it can. Is there any one here in the village who does such work?"
"That's in my line," put in Bob Sanderson, promptly.
"Yes, Mr. Sanderson repairs boats," replied Ralph. "He will give you a good job at a reasonable price."
"Then you can go to work at once," said Horace Kelsey, turning to the old fisherman. "Do your best, and I will pay whatever it is worth."
"I will, sir."
"When can you have the work completed?"
"Not before to-morrow night. I'll have to paint the parts, you know."
"I am in no hurry. I wished to spend a day or two around Westville and Eastport before going up into Big Silver Lake."
"Then I'll take the sloop around to my boat-house right now," replied Bob Sanderson; and off he went with the craft, leaving Ralph and the newcomer on the bridge.
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