Read an Excerpt
Sugar Creek Gang 4 The Lost Campers
By Paul Hutchens
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1997 Pauline Hutchens Wilson
All rights reserved.
There was a big flood in Sugar Creek that spring. Do you remember the time we went to see Old Man Paddler at his cabin in the hills? I guess there never was a snowstorm like that one either. It snowed and snowed and kept on snowing nearly all winter, and that's the reason there was such a big flood in Sugar Creek when all that snow melted.
But if there hadn't been a flood in which Little Jim and I almost got drowned, then later on in the summer—when the gang was up north on our camping trip—maybe Poetry and Dragonfly and I all three would have drowned. Poetry and Dragonfly and Little Jim are the names of some of the boys in our gang. I'll introduce you to them in a minute. So before I can tell you about the tangled-up adventures we had up north, I'll have to give you a chapter or two on the famous Sugar Creek flood.
You see, all that snow melting and running across the fields and down the hills into Sugar Creek made him angry. After he woke up out of his long winter's sleep, he got out of bed (creek bed) and ran wild all over the country. His fierce brown water sighed and hissed and boiled and roared and spread out over the cornfields and the swamp and the bayou like a savage octopus reaching out his long, brown water-fingers. He caught pigs and cows and logs and even barns and whirled them all downstream, turned them over and over, and smashed them against rocks and cliffs.
Well, a boy isn't always to blame for all the trouble he gets into. Certainly Little Jim and I weren't to blame for there being so much snow that winter, and we couldn't help it that it rained so hard and so much in the spring and caused the flood that was actually the worst flood in the history of Sugar Creek.
Although maybe I shouldn't have put Little Jim into a big washtub and towed him out through the shallow water to his dad's hog house, which was standing in water about two feet deep. But Little Jim's kitten was up on the top of the hog house, meowing like everything, and it looked like the water might get higher. Maybe the kitten—which was a very cute blue-and-white one with an all-white face and a half-white tail—would be drowned, we thought, so we decided to rescue it before the water crept up any higher. And we might just as well have a lot of fun while we were doing it.
Even a boy knows better than to make a raft and float on it out into a mad creek, and we wouldn't have tried to do such a silly thing, but what we did do turned out to be almost as dangerous. You see, Little Jim's dad's low, flat-roofed hog house was standing in very quiet water that had backed up from the bayou into their barnyard. It didn't look a bit dangerous to do what we decided to do. In fact, it wasn't, when we started to go out to where the kitten was. And it wouldn't have been at all, if the dike way up along Sugar Creek hadn't broken and let loose a wall of water about three feet high. It came rushing upon us and—but that's getting ahead of the story.
Let me introduce the gang first, in case you've never heard about us. There were just six of us up until the time Tom Till joined, and when he joined that made the number seven, which is a perfect number.
First, and best, in our gang was Little Jim, a good-looking kid with shining blue eyes, and a great little Christian. For a while he had about all the religion there was in the Sugar Creek Gang, until the rest of us woke up to the fact that to be a Christian didn't mean that you had to be sad and wear a long face or be a girl. And we found out that Jesus Himself was a boy once, just our size, and He liked boys even better than our parents do.
Then there was Big Jim, our leader, who had a baby-sized mustache that looked like the fuzz that grows on a baby pigeon. He was the best fighter in the county, and he'd licked the stuffings out of Tom Till's big brother, Bob. Did I tell you the Till boys' dad wasn't a Christian?—that being the reason Tom and Bob didn't know anything about the Bible and were as mean as an angry old setting hen when you try to break up her nest.
Big Jim and Little Jim weren't brothers but were just friends, liking each other maybe better than any of us liked the rest of us. Unless it was the way I liked Poetry, which is the name of the barrel-shaped member of our gang, who knows 101 poems by heart and is always quoting one and who has a mind that is like a detective's. Poetry had a squawky voice like a young rooster learning to crow, and he growled half bass and half soprano when he tried to sing in church.
Then there was Circus, our acrobat, who turned handsprings and somersaults and liked to climb trees better than a healthy boy likes to eat strawberries. Circus's dad had been an alcoholic, you know, but something happened to him, which the pastor of our church called being "born again," and after that he was the grandest man a boy could ever have for a father. Except, of course, my own dad, who must have been the best man in the world or my mom wouldn't have picked him out to marry.
Boy oh boy! You ought to meet my brownish-gray-haired mom and my neat baby sister, Charlotte Ann. Mom isn't exactly pretty like Little Jim's mom, but she's got the nicest face I ever saw. Even when she isn't saying a word to me, I can feel her face saying nice things to me and Dad and Charlotte Ann, kind of like wireless telegraphy or something.
Let me see—where was I? Oh, yes. I was telling you about the gang. Dragonfly's the only one I haven't mentioned. He's the pop-eyed one of the gang. He has eyes that make me think of a walleyed pike and especially of a dragonfly, which has two great big eyes that are almost as large as its head, which of course Dragonfly's aren't. But they're big anyway, and his nose doesn't point straight out the way a boy's nose ought to but turns south right at the end. But after you've played with him a few times and know what a great guy he is, you forget all about him being as homely as a mud fence, and you like him a lot. Well, that's us: Big Jim and Little Jim, and Poetry and Circus, and Dragonfly and red-haired me, Bill Collins. Maybe I ought to tell you that I have a fiery temper that sometimes goes off just like a firecracker and is always getting me into trouble.
And now, here goes the story of the flood that was the worst flood in the history of Sugar Creek. Even Old Man Paddler, the kind, white-whiskered old man who lives up in the hills and was one of the pioneers of the Sugar Creek territory, can't remember any flood that was worse.
That old man knows so many important things, and he can tell some of the most exciting tales of the Sugar Creek of long ago. Maybe someday I'll see if I can coax him into writing about the terrible blizzard of 1880 and of the old trapper whom the Indians got jealous of because he caught so many more beavers than they did. They shot him through the heart with an arrow one morning while he was setting his traps. Old Man Paddler has told us boys that story many times.
Well, after we'd saved the old man's life that cold, snowy day, which I told you about in my last book, The Winter Rescue, and after my dad and Circus's dad and a lot of other men had waded through the storm up into the hills to get us—and after we finally got home safely the next day—it began to snow and snow, and all the roads were blocked, and we had to actually dig a tunnel through the big drift next to our barn before we could get in.
After a while, though, a nice long while in which Charlotte Ann kept on growing and learning to say "Daddy" and to sit up without being propped with a pillow, spring began to come. First, there 'd be a nice warm day, then a cold one, then rain and more rain, and a warm day again. Then one day in late March, old Sugar Creek started to wake up from his long winter's nap.
About a week before the actual flood, when the creek was still frozen, our gang was standing on the big bridge that goes across the deepest and widest part, looking down at the dirty, snow-covered, slushy-looking ice. And all of a sudden we heard a deep rumbling roar that started right under the bridge and thundered all the way up the creek toward the spring, sounding like an angry thunderclap with a long noisy tail dragging itself across the sky.
Little Jim cried out as though someone had hurt him. "What is that?" He looked as if he was afraid, which he is sometimes.
And Big Jim said, "That? That's the ice cracking. It's breaking up, and in a few days maybe it'll all break and crack up into a million pieces and go growling downstream, and when it does, it'll be something to look at! See those big ugly scars on that old elm tree over there? Away up high almost to the first limb? That's where the ice crashed against it last year. See where the paint is knocked off the bridge abutment down there? The ice was clear up there last year."
Crash! Roar-r-r-r-zzzz! The ice was breaking up all right because it was a warm day and all the snow was melting too.
We stayed there watching Sugar Creek's frozen old face, and I thought about all the nice fish that were down under there. And I was wondering if maybe the radio report was right, that it was going to rain for a week beginning that very night, and what'd happen to the little fishies who got lost from their parents and in the swift current were whirled away downstream to some other part of the country.
Well, the radio was right. It began to rain that night, and it kept right on. The ice melted and broke and began to float downstream. It gathered itself into great chunks of different sizes and shapes and looked like a million giant-sized ice cubes out of somebody's refrigerator, only they acted as though they were alive. The brown water of Sugar Creek pushed them from beneath and squeezed its way out through the cracks between pieces and ran over the top, churning and boiling and grinding and cracking and roaring and sizzling and fussing like an old setting hen.
I tell you, it was a great sight to see and great to listen to, and we had the feeling all the time that something was going to happen.
And something did happen—not that day but soon after that, on a Saturday. I had gone over to Little Jim's house on an errand for Mom, although she and I had just made up an errand so I'd have a good excuse to go over there.
You see, Little Jim's pet bear had had to be sold to the zoo. It was getting too big to be a pet and was sometimes very cross and might get angry someday and hurt somebody. Little Jim's parents had bought a blue-and-white kitten for him so that he wouldn't be so lonesome. As I told you, the kitten's face was all white, and it had a half-white tail, making it about the prettiest kitten I ever saw.
I had on my hip-high rubber boots when I came sloshing into Little Jim's backyard about two o'clock that afternoon, just as he was finishing practicing his piano lesson, which was a hard piece by somebody named Liszt.
The sun was shining down very hot for a spring day. I could hear Sugar Creek sighing about a fourth of a mile down the road, and I wished we could go down there and watch the flood. But our parents wouldn't let us stand on the bridge anymore, because it wasn't safe. Some bridges farther up the creek had actually been washed out.
The water had filled up the old swamp and the bayou that was on Little Jim's dad's farm, backing way up into their barnyard and making their straw stack look like a big brownish-yellow island in a dirty brown lake.
Little Jim finished his piano lesson and came out to where I was.
"Hi, Little Jim," I said, and he said, "Hi, Bill."
He still had a sad expression on his face because he didn't have any baby bear to play with.
"I came over to borrow some baking soda," I said. "How's the new kitten today? Where is he? I want to see him. Boy, it sure is a pretty day. Wish we could go down and watch the flood."
He grinned at all the different things I had said, and he sighed and mumbled, "I'd rather have my bear back."
"You could have a bare back if you tore your shirt on a barbed wire," I said, trying to be funny and not being.
And just then I saw his little blue-and-white cat out in their barnyard on top of the hog house. It was a brand new hog house about four feet high and had a board floor, Little Jim told me. He knew because his dad and he had built it themselves. They hadn't even set it up on its foundation yet.
The kitten looked lonesome. How it got up there we didn't know, unless it had been trying to catch a mouse and the water had crept up on it unawares. Anyway, there it was, and it was meowing like everything and looking like a boy feels when he's lost.
It looked like a rescue job for lifeguards, which all of a sudden Little Jim and I decided we were.
"Let's go out and get him," I said.
There really wasn't any danger, for the water wasn't moving. It had backed up from the bayou and was just standing there making a big dirty lake in their barnyard.
"We ought to have a boat," I said, looking around for something that might be good to ride in.
It was Little Jim's idea, not mine, to get his mom's washtub. It wouldn't be big enough for two of us, but it would hold Little Jim, and I had on boots anyway and could pull him. Then when we got there, we could put the kitten in the tub too, and I could pull them both back to shore, the "shore" being the side of a little hill right close to the barn.
It didn't take us more than a jiffy to get the tub and to get Little Jim squatted down in the middle of it and me on the other end of a long rope, pulling him out to the hog house.
Squash, squash, slop, splash went my big rubber boots, and Little Jim floated along behind me, grinning and holding onto the sides of the tub with both hands and with his teeth shut tight, trying not to act scared.
"Where's your dad?" I asked when we were halfway out to the kitten, which was meowing even worse than before.
"He and Big Jim's daddy are up at the other end of the bayou piling up sacks of sand," Little Jim said, "so the water won't break over and flood our cornfield. Because if it does, it'll wash out all the wheat Dad sowed between the rows last fall."
Well, we didn't know very much about floods, except that when we were little we'd heard about one on the Ohio River. But anyway, we were having a lot of fun, so we went on out through the muddy water toward the hog house.
Pretty soon we were there, and Little Jim and I climbed up on top of it and sat there in the sun, pretending we were on an enchanted island and were pirates. Then we were shipwrecked sailors.
We put the cute little fuzzy kitten in the tub and pushed it out into the water—the tub, I mean—with the kitten in it. Kitty didn't seem to mind that, so we left him there while we told stories we'd read in books and talked about our coming camping trip up north and how much fun we'd have and a lot of things. I tied the end of the rope around my leg so Kitty wouldn't drift away.
And all the time, time was passing, and the snow up in the hills was melting, and all the little rivers and branches that ran into Sugar Creek kept on emptying themselves. And all the time, the men were up there at the head of the bayou stacking big sacks of sand on the levee that protected Little Jim's dad's field from the flood.
Then, just as time does when a boy is having a lot of fun, two whole hours went past, and all of a sudden Little Jim said, "Look, Bill! The water's getting higher! It's almost—look out!" And then he began to scream, "We're moving! We're—" He turned as white as a piece of typewriter paper, and he grabbed hold of me so tight his nails dug into my arm.
I believed it and didn't believe it both at the same time. I looked down at the water, which was certainly a lot higher than it had been. The back side of the hog house was sliding down deeper. I knew what had happened. That back end was set right at the edge of a little hill, and the water had crept up and washed the dirt away from underneath it. And quick as a flash I knew we were in for it.
I looked toward the river and the bayou, and there was a big log spinning toward us. The dark, swirling, muddy water was carrying cornstalks and tree branches and pieces of wood and all kinds of debris, and the log was headed toward us.
Straight toward us, faster and faster! It looked as if all of Sugar Creek was running over the cornfield below us and that it had picked up all the woodpiles in the country and was carrying them away.
Excerpted from Sugar Creek Gang 4 The Lost Campers by Paul Hutchens. Copyright © 1997 Pauline Hutchens Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.