When a jutting point shut out the last of the town lights, they poled in closer to the shore, and began to cast about for some friendly tree to which the hawser could be attached.
“There’s a shanty-boat tied up yonder,” whispered Thad, suddenly, pointing to a place where the gleam of a light through a small window could be seen.
“Let her float down a bit farther. We don’t want too close neighbors, especially when we know nothing about them. There, listen to that dog bark; the little rat sees us all right. That’s where we made a mistake not to get a dog to go with us on the trip; they’re good company, and fine for guarding the boat. First chance I get I mean to have one, no matter if it’s a mongrel yellow cur.”
A man stepped out of the cabin of the boat that was tied up and looked across the little stretch of water separating them.
“Hello!” he said, as if seeing them clearly. “Going to tie up below?”
Maurice rather liked the ring of his voice, and so he made answer.
“We want to—is there good holding ground or a convenient tree, do you know?” he asked.
“Yes, half a dozen of ’em. I saw the lot before dark; and the swing of the current pushes in toward the bank. Don’t get too far in, as she’s lowering right along,” continued the friendly flatboatman.
Maurice thanked him, for it was a pleasure to run across a chap so different from the usual type of selfish, envious and profligate drifters.
They quickly sighted the trees, and Thad, jumping ashore, soon had a line fast around one that would hold them safely until daylight.
The man on the other boat had glimpsed them sufficiently to have his interest aroused, for they could hear him throwing a pair of oars into a small boat, and sure enough he quickly came alongside.
“Anything I can do to help you, boys?” he asked with so much heartiness that Maurice warmed toward him immediately.
Of course there was really no need of assistance, since everything had been already accomplished; but Maurice asked the other to come aboard and join them in a friendly little chat.
The trip promised to be lonely enough, with suspicions directed toward nearly all those encountered, so that it was a real pleasure to run across a good fellow like this who felt some interest in them.
Hard put to keep warm.
The big, broad-shouldered man proved to be a machinist and clock mender, who was in the habit of plying his trade along the river every winter; he had his family aboard the boat that served him as a workshop, and there were certain localities on his route where they looked for him regularly—he was, it seemed, a jack-of-all-trades, and could after a fashion even tune a piano if pushed.
Our two boys enjoyed an hour or two in his company very much, and learned considerable about matters connected with the lower river that might possibly prove valuable to them later on.