IN GREAT PERIL
As those who have had any experience know, a squall on a lake encircled by hills sometimes comes up very quickly, and this is what happened in the present case. Hardly had the two rowboats covered a quarter of the distance to the shore, when the wind came whistling across the bosom of the lake, sending the whitecaps tumbling in all directions.
"Oh, dear, just look how rough the water is getting!" remarked Ruth in alarm.
"And how the wind is blowing!" added May.
In the other boat the girls were even more fearful, and Andy and Randy had all they could do to make them sit still.
"Don't shift," pleaded Randy. "We don't want to ship any water."
"Oh, dear! If only we were safe on shore!" wailed Alice.
"I didn't think it looked like a storm when we left the school," added Annie, in dismay.
"This is only a squall. It may blow itself out in a few minutes," returned Randy, although to himself he admitted that the squall looked as though it might last for some time.
Battling as best they could against the wind and the whitecaps, the Rover boys strove to reach the shore in the vicinity of the girls' school. But the wind was blowing directly down Clearwater Lake and threatened more than once to capsize them.
"Gee, Jack, this is getting serious!" panted Fred, as he looked questioningly at his cousin.
The same thought had come into the minds of each of the boys. Could the girls swim? They wished they knew, but did not dare to ask any questions for fear of further alarming their passengers.
"I guess we had better head up into the wind. It's the safest thing to do," cried Jack. And then, raising his voice to be heard above the whistling of the elements, he added: "Head up! Don't take those waves sideways! Head up!"
The others understood, and in a minute more both of the boats were heading directly into the wind. This prevented either of the craft from swamping, but caused the spray to hit the bow more than once, sending a shower of water over everybody.
"Oh, dear! I'm getting wet!" wailed May.
"Do you think you can reach shore?" questioned Ruth of Jack; and her wide-open eyes showed her terror.
"We can't head for the school just now," he answered. "We'll have to keep pulling up against the wind until it lets up a little."
"Oh, but we sha'n't upset, shall we?" came from Spouter Powell's cousin.
"I don't think so. Anyway, we are going to do our best to prevent it," answered Fred.
Keeping as close together as they dared, the two rowboats continued to head up into the wind, which still blew as hard as ever. In the sky the clouds were shifting, and Jack and his cousins had great hopes that ere long the sudden squall would blow itself out.
"Here comes a motor boat up behind us!" cried Ruth, presently.
All looked in that direction and saw a fair-sized craft coming up the lake. She was making good speed in spite of the whitecaps, and was sending the spray flying in all directions.
"I think that is the boat Jennie Mason was going out in," remarked Annie to Randy. "Yes; I am sure it is," she added a minute later, as the motor boat came closer. "There is Mr. Martell at the wheel now."
The discovery that Nappy Martell was running the oncoming motor boat had also been made by those occupying the other rowboat.
"It's Martell! And there is Slugger Brown with him!" cried Fred.
"Isn't one of those girls Miss Mason?" questioned Jack.
"Yes. And Ida Brierley, one of our girls, is with her," answered Ruth. Her manner indicated that the discovery did not altogether please her.
"Maybe we can get that motor boat to pull us in," suggested May. "They could do it easily enough."
"So they could," answered Fred. "But I doubt if those two fellows who are running it would like to undertake the job. They go to Colby Hall, but they are no friends of ours."
"Yes, but they ought not to let their enmity stand between us in a time like this," said Jack. "If they were in the rowboats and I was in the motor boat, I'd give them help quick enough."
As the motor boat drew nearer, it prepared to pass close to the craft manned by Jack and Fred. As it came closer, Jennie Mason gave a cry of surprise.
"Oh, look! look! There are those Rover boys, and some of our girls are with them!"
"I'm glad I am not out in a rowboat," said Ida Brierley. "I'd be afraid of getting a good ducking."
"Ahoy there, on the motor boat!" sang out Fred, as the craft came alongside. "Can't you fellows give us a tow? We have plenty of rope."
"This motor boat wasn't built for towing," answered Nappy Martell, roughly.
"We're having a terrible time of it against this wind," put in Jack. He would not have asked for assistance on his own account, but he was thinking of the girls. He knew that all of them were badly frightened.
"Oh, yes! please tow us in!" came from May.
"Yes! please do!" added Ruth.
"It's so far to the shore!" came from Annie.
"And we're afraid we'll get wet through and through!" cried Alice.
"You ought to do something for them," declared Jennie Mason, who had herself become frightened over the roughness of the lake.
"I'm not going to tow those Rovers in," muttered Nappy Martell. "You wouldn't do it, would you, Slugger?"
"Not much! Let 'em take care of themselves," was the heartless answer.
"Oh! but they may be drowned!" gasped Jennie.
"Nothing of the sort. This is only a little wind, and it will soon die down. If those Rovers have to break their backs rowing, it will do 'em good!"
"If you don't tow us in, you'll be the meanest fellow on earth," sang out Andy.
"I wouldn't have your disposition for a million dollars," added his twin.
"Aw! go chase yourselves!" retorted Slugger Brown, heartlessly.
"We're not helping fellows like you," came from Nappy Martell. Then the motor boat passed on and was soon all but lost in the distance.
"Of all the mean people!" cried Ruth.
"I shouldn't think Jennie Mason would stand for such meanness," declared May. "Nor Ida Brierley, either."
The motor boat having gone on and left them to their fate, the Rover boys continued pulling on the oars. It was hard, laborious work, and soon Andy and Fred were all but exhausted. Jack and Randy, however, had now gotten their second wind, so to speak, and they continued their efforts with unabated vigor.
"It was as mean as dirt for them to leave us out here when they could have towed us in with ease," panted Fred. "Just you wait--I'll let the whole school know of this!"
"Don't talk! Save your wind. We can talk afterwards," returned his cousin.
The next quarter of an hour was one which none of the girls or boys ever forgot. The Rovers continued to battle with the wind and the waves with all the energy left to them, while the girls crouched down on the seats almost speechless with fear. Occasionally, the waves would hit the bow of one rowboat or the other, sending a shower of water over the occupants.
"I--think--it's--letting up--a--bit," panted Jack, presently, and glanced up at the sky.
"Oh, if only it would!" breathed Ruth.
The boat containing the others had dropped slightly behind, but now Jack and Fred held back until it was once more alongside.
"Oh, did you ever see such a storm!" wailed Alice.
"I don't think I'll ever want to go out in a rowboat again," was Annie's bitter comment.
"I think the wind is beginning to die down," said Ruth, encouragingly.
"Let--us--hope--so," came in jerks from Jack. He was still rowing, but his arms felt as if they were being torn from their sockets.
They had now covered nearly half the distance to the upper end of the lake, but they were just as far from the western shore as ever. Now, however, as the wind began to die down, they turned slightly in the direction of Haven Point.
"It won't matter where we land," declared Ruth. "We can easily walk back to the school."
The sun was still under a cloud, but now the wind went down more than ever. The surface of the lake, however, was still much troubled, and the boys had all they could do to make any progress towards the shore.
"Oh, you must be very tired!" said Ruth to Jack.
"Never--mind--we'll--reach--shore--somehow," he answered. Then she said no more, because she knew it was painful for him to speak.
The four boys continued to row on, and in about a quarter of an hour came within plain view of the shore, at a point some distance beyond Clearwater Hall and the town.
"Oh, look! Something is the matter down by the lumber yards," remarked Alice, presently. "See the men running!" She pointed, and those in both rowboats looked in that direction.
"I don't see anything wrong," said Ruth.
"I do!" cried May, and gave a little shriek. "Look! look! A whole lot of lumber is drifting this way!"
"Some--thing--broken--lose," gasped Jack. "Maybe--a--lumber--raft."
And that was just what had happened. In a manner to be explained later, a lumber raft being towed up the lake by a steam tug had not only broken away, but likewise had broken apart, and the timbers which had composed it were now floating around over a large area of Clearwater Lake.
In another minute the two rowboats were in the very midst of the drifting timbers and in great danger of being upset.
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