Read CHAPTER VII - THE SUBMERGED FARM-HOUSE of Afloat on the Flood , free online book, by Lawrence J. Leslie, on ReadCentral.com.

“Gee whiz! where is it, Toby?” cried Steve. “And none of us got a gun along, worse luck. Hey, show me the sea serpent, and p’raps my camera ain’t so wet but what I might crack off a picture of the same; because nobody’s ever going to believe you when you tell that yarn. Show me, Toby!”

Toby was only too willing to comply. He had always had a decided weakness for collecting all sorts of wild animals, and that might explain why he displayed such extraordinary excitement now.

“There, right over past the end of the r-r-raft, where it s-s-sticks up like a c-c-church spire!” he stuttered, pointing as he spoke. “Now watch everybody, when he pokes his old h-h-head up again. There, don’t you s-s-see? And s-s-say, he seems to be s-s-swimmin’ this way, don’t he?”

Steve broke out into a yell.

“Why, bless your old timid soul, Toby, that isn’t any snake at all, only one of those big wild-grape vines, like enough, that’s ketched on to that floating tree trunk close by. She’s all twisted and turned, and I reckon a fellow as crazy over wild animals and things, like you are, might be excused for thinkin’ it was a regular sea serpent.”

Bandy-legs too was showing amusement.

“Guess that’s the way nearly all sea serpents are discovered,” he remarked, trying to make it appear as though he had not been almost as excited as Toby, when the other burst out so suddenly with his announcement.

“Well, we haven’t lost any snakes,” commented Max, “and so we won’t try to rescue that floating vine. We’ve had our turn at saving menageries, seems to me, enough for one season anyway.”

What Max referred to was a series of remarkable adventures that came to the four chums at a time when a storm blew down the tents belonging to a circus about to exhibit in Carson, and liberating many of the animals connected with the menagerie; but full particulars of this thrilling experience have already been given in the volume preceding this, so that further explanation would seem to be unnecessary here.

Toby did not make any reply. He rubbed his eyes pretty hard, as though wondering how they could have deceived him so strangely. But then a fellow who was devoting so much of his thoughts to the mania for strange pets in the shape of wild animals might be expected to see things in a different light from his chums, who were not addicted to that weakness.

“For one,” said Bandy-legs, “I’m real glad it wasn’t a snake, because they always give me the creeps, you remember, I hate ’em so. Just think what a fine pickle we’d be in now if a monster anaconda or a big boa constrictor or python, broke loose from a show, should climb up on our bridge boat, and start to chasin’ us all overboard. Things look bad enough as they are without our takin’ on a bunch of new trouble. So, Toby, please don’t glimpse anything else, and give us fits, will you?”

Steve seemed to be intently watching the shore, especially whenever the revolving timbers brought them in a line with the western bank, because that was more familiar to the boys than the other, since Carson lay on that side of the river toward the setting sun.

“I’m trying to make out where we are, Max,” he explained, upon seeing that the other was observing him curiously.

Bandy-legs uttered a loud and significant grunt.

“Say, Steve,” he remarked with a touch of satire in his voice, “I can tell you that much, if you’re all mixed up. We’re squattin’ on the remains of our bloomin’ bridge, which used to cross the river in front of Carson; yes-siree, and we seem to be takin’ an unexpected voyage downstream, without a port in sight. ’Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,’ as the ship-wrecked sailor used to sing; only we could manage with this muddy stuff if we had to, because it ain’t salty, you know.”

“How far have we come, Max?” Steve continued, anxious to know, and pretending to pay no attention to Bandy-legs’ humorous remarks.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself, Steve,” admitted the other, who had also been studying the shore line, though everything was so changed during the high water that it was difficult to recognize land marks that had previously been quite familiar to him; “and the best I can make out is that we must be somewhere near Dixon’s Point, where the river makes that first sharp curve.”

“And, Max, that’s about fifteen miles below Carson, isn’t it?” Steve added, as he twisted his head the better to look down-stream again.

“Something like fifteen or sixteen, Steve.”

“And if Asa French’s place is twenty, we ought to strike in there right soon, hadn’t we, Max?”

“Before ten minutes more, like as not,” Max told him.

Steve drew in a long breath. He was undoubtedly wondering what the immediate future had in store for them, and whether some strange fortune might not bring him in close touch with Bessie. He doubtless had been picturing this girl friend of his in all sorts of thrilling situations, owing to the rapidly rising river, and always with some one that looked suspiciously like Steve Dowdy rushing valiantly to the relief of the helpless ones.

Steve had once tried to play the hero part, and stopped what he believed was a runaway horse, with Bessie in the vehicle, only to have her scornfully tell him to mind his own business after that, since he had spoiled her plans for proving that their old family nag still had considerable speed left in him.

Steve had never forgotten the scorn and sarcasm that marked the girl’s face and voice when she said that to him. It had come back to his mind many times since that occasion; and he had kept aloof from all social events ever since, because he did not mean to be snubbed again. And even now, when he was picturing Bessie in real trouble, he kept telling himself that he meant to make sure she was surely in danger of drowning, or something like that, before he ventured to try and succor her. “Because,” Steve told himself, “once bit, twice shy; and not if I know it will I ever give any girl the chance again to say I’m trying to show off.”

All the same his eyes seldom roved in any other quarter now but down-stream, which was mute evidence that Steve was thinking about other peoples’ troubles besides his own.

“We couldn’t do anything to help move this old raft closer to shore, could we, Max?” Bandy-legs was suggesting.

“Hardly, though I’d like to first-rate,” he was told; “but it’s too cumbersome for us to move it, even if we pulled off some boards to use as paddles. So it looks as if we’d have to trust to luck to take us in the right quarter for making our escape.”

“Well, we can be ready, and if the chance comes, make the plunge,” Bandy-legs continued, “We’re all so wringing wet as it is that if we had to jump in and swim a piece it wouldn’t hurt any. Just remember that I’m ready if the rest of you are. I’m not caring any too much for this sort of a boat. It keeps on turning around too many times, like a tub in a tub race, and you never know what minute you’re going to be dumped out, if it takes a notion to kick up its heels and dive.”

“Don’t look a g-g-gift horse in the m-m-mouth, Bandy-legs!” advised Toby.

Steve was manifesting more and more restlessness.

“Max, you’ve been down this far before, I reckon, even if most all our camping trips were to the north and west of Carson?” he asked, turning to the leader.

“Yes, several times, to tell you the truth,” admitted Max; “but with the flood on, things look so different ashore that it’s pretty hard to tell where you are. Why do you ask me that, Steve?”

“Do you remember whether there’s a bend about a mile or so above the French farm house?” continued Steve.

After reflecting for several seconds Max gave his answer.

“Yes, you’re right, there is; and I should say it must lie about a mile or so this side of the place.”

“I was trying to figure it all out,” Steve told him, “and it’s this way it looks like to me. The current will sweep us across the river when we swing around that same bend, won’t it?”

“Pretty far, for a fact, Steve, because it’s apt to run the same way even if the river is far out of its regular channel now.”

“Well, don’t you see that’s going to bring us pretty close to where the French house used to lie?” Steve remarked, inquiringly.

“Yes, it might, just as you say,” Max replied; “but why do you speak of it in that way used to lie?”

“Because,” said Steve, moodily, “I’m scared to think what might have happened to that same house by now, and wondering if it’s been swept clean away; though it was a strongly built place, and ought to stand a heap of pounding before it went down.”

“But even if it isn’t in sight, Steve, that doesn’t mean the girls have been carried away on the flood, or else drowned. Of course Asa French would be warned long enough ahead to hitch up his horses, and pull-out for higher ground with everybody in his family. They’re all right, the chances are ten to one that way.”

Max said this for a purpose. He saw that Steve was feeling dreadfully about it, and knew the discovery would be doubly hard should they come upon the place where the French farm house had stood, to find it missing; and so he wanted to prepare the other chum against a shock.

“It’s kind of you to say that, Max,” Steve faltered, swallowing a lump that seemed to be choking him; “and I’m going to try and believe what you tell me. We ought to know the worst soon, now, because we’re just above that bend, and already I can see how the current sets in as swift as anything toward the other shore.”

All of them fell silent after that. They were watching the way the floating timbers of the lost bridge were being steadily swept toward the west shore, or rather where that bank had once been, because a great sea of water now covered the fertile farmland for a distance of a mile or so, to where the hills began.

Shack Beggs had recovered his usual ability to look after himself, and while he did not say anything, there was a look on his face that set Max to thinking, as he thrust the strap into the hand of his rescuer, as though he would have no further need of it, and disliked appearing weaker than the rest in that he had to be fastened to the railing.

Shack had just passed through a thrilling experience that was fated to make a decided impression on his mind. He had hated these boys for years, and done all he could to make life miserable for them; it remained to be seen whether there would be any material change in his habits after this, or if he would forget his obligations to Max Hastings, and go right along as before.

Max would have pondered this matter, for it must have presented exceedingly interesting features to a fellow like him; but there was really no time for considering such things now. They would have all they could do to find a way to gain the shore, and cheat the flood of its prey. Max could not forget that some twenty miles below where they were now the river plunged over a high dam; and even in time of flood this might prove to be their Waterloo, if they were prevented from getting on land before the broken bridge timbers reached that obstruction.

“Now, look, everybody, because we’re turning the bend!” Steve called out, in his great excitement hardly knowing what he was saying.

Eagerly they strained their eyes. The strange craft swung around the bend, and continued to keep edging toward the west side of the river. A broad expanse of turgid water met their eyes, broken here and there with a few objects such as treetops.

Once there had been numerous barns and out-buildings connected with the French farm, but everything had apparently been swept clean away saving the house itself, and that still stood, although the flood was even then three quarters of the way up to the gutters of the roof, and must be exerting a tremendous pressure that could not much longer be baffled.

“Oh! it’s still standing, Max!” shouted Steve, hoarsely; “who’d ever think it could have held out so long? I tell you that’s a bully old house, and built like a regular Gibraltar. But, Max, don’t you glimpse something up there clinging to the roof? Somehow I don’t seem able to see as clear as I might; I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”

But Max knew that Steve was blinking as fast as he could, to dry the tears that had come unbidden into his eyes under the excess of his emotions.

“I honestly believe it’s the girls!” he exclaimed, startled himself at making such a thrilling discovery.

Steve gave a cry of dismay.

“Whatever can they be doing up there; and where’s Bessie’s Uncle Asa, that he’s left them all alone in the storm? Oh! Max, we’ve just got to work over to the house and help them. Do you think we’re heading that way fast enough? Ain’t there any way we could help the old raft to hurry up, and strike the house so we could climb up there? Well, if the worst comes I’m meaning to swim for it, current or no current.”

“Wait and see!” cautioned Max; “I’m still thinking we’ll swing far enough around to strike against the upper side of the house. I only hope the blow doesn’t finish things, and topple the submerged building over.”

This gave Steve something new to worry over. He started to shouting, and waving his hat vigorously, and received answering signals from those who were perched on the sloping roof of the farmhouse.

Doubtless the ones in peril may have been praying for rescuers to heave in sight, but certainly it could never have entered into their heads to conjure up such a strange way for assistance to come to them, in the shape of a raft composed of the timbers of the wrecked Carson bridge.

But so great had been their terror, when surrounded by those wild and rising waters, that no doubt they gladly welcomed the possibility of help in any shape. Besides, the coming of those four husky and resourceful lads was a thing not to be despised. Though they may not have owned a motorboat, or even a skiff, they had sturdy arms and active brains, and would surely find some way to serve those who just then seemed to be in great need of assistance.