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CHAPTER VI


THE EFFECTS OF A BIG STORM


"Tom!" cried Dick, as he saw his brother swept from view.

There was no answer to this call, and, much alarmed, the eldest Rover leaped over a limb of the fallen tree and ran to the edge of the houseboat.

The rain was again coming down in torrents and for the moment Dick could see little or nothing. He heard a cry from the cabin of the Dora, and this increased his dismay.

At last he caught sight of Tom's head, about ten feet away from the houseboat. A glance showed him that his brother was unconscious and on the point of sinking again.

"I must save him!" muttered Dick to himself, and, without an instant's hesitation, he leaped overboard.

"Dick! Tom!" The cry was uttered by Sam as he came running out of the houseboat, hatless and in his shirt sleeves.

The fallen tree obstructed his view, and it was several seconds before he caught sight of his brothers in the water.

"Dick!" he yelled. "What's the matter?"

"Throw me a rope," was the answer, and it did not take Sam long to obey instructions. Then Dick caught Tom under the shoulders, and both were hauled back to the side of the Dora.

"Did the tree knock you overboard?" asked Sam anxiously.

"It knocked Tom over," answered Dick.

Just as he was placed on deck again, Tom opened his eyes and stared around him.

"Who—where am I?" he demanded faintly.

"You are safe, Tom," answered Dick kindly. "Don't you remember, the tree knocked you overboard?"

"Oh!" The fun-loving Rover drew a long breath. "Did you fish me out?"

"I jumped in after you, and Sam fished us both out."

"Good enough."

By this time some of the others were stepping forth from the wreck of the cabin. All were more or less excited, and the girls and ladies came out hatless and coatless despite the rain, which now seemed to come down with renewed fury, as if to add to their misery.

"Is anybody hurt?" demanded Dick.

"I was hit by a broken board," answered Mrs. Laning. "But it scared me more than anything else."

"One of the broken windows came in on me and covered me with glass," came from Songbird. "But wasn't that a crack of thunder! I thought it was the crack of doom!"

"And were you really hurled overboard?" asked Nellie, rushing up to Tom and almost embracing him. "You poor boy! How glad I am that you were not drowned!"

"Well, come to think of it, I'm glad myself," he returned with a little smile.

"Oh, Tom, it's nothing to joke about!"

"That is true, Nellie."

"Say, I ton't vont no more excitements like dot!" cried Hans. "I vos schared out of mine vits alretty, ain't it!"

"We were all scared," said Fred. "But hadn't we better get inside again? We are all getting wet to the skin."

"The cabin is in an awful mess," declared Dora, and she told the truth. Daylight was streaming through a hole in one corner and the rain was entering in a stream.

"Let us get a tarpaulin and cover that hole," said Dick. "I'll do it," he added. "I can't get any wetter than I am," and he gave a short laugh.

"And I'll help," said Tom, who had recovered rapidly from his involuntary bath.

"We shall need a carpenter to make repairs," said Captain Starr, who had been working to shove off the fallen tree. "This smash-up is a pretty bad one."

The boys remained outside, and all went to work to remove the tree trunk and to cover the hole with a heavy tarpaulin. It was a task lasting the best part of an hour, and when it had come to an end, the rain was slackening up.

"We shall certainly have to lay up somewhere for repairs," said Fred. "We can't continue the journey in this condition."

"Let us hire a carpenter at the next town we stop at," suggested Sam, and to this they agreed.

The mess in the cabin was left for Aleck to clean up, and then the ladies and the girls straightened things out as best they could. As soon as the storm cleared away, the journey down the Mississippi was continued.

"I can't help but think of what might have happened if that stroke of lightning had hit the houseboat," said Songbird. "It makes me shiver."

"We certainly had a narrow escape," answered Dora. "I never wish to get quite so close to another stroke."

On the following day, they stopped at a place which I shall call Ramontown. From one of the dock owners, they learned where they could find a master carpenter, and they called upon this individual and had him look at the damage done.

"I can fix up the craft as good as she ever was," said he. "But it will take at least a week, and it will take several days more to give her two good coats of paint."

The matter was talked over, and they decided to remain tied up and have the houseboat put in first-class condition once more. Then Mrs. Stanhope sent a long letter to her friends at Braxbury, stating she would call with some others, and mentioned the houseboat trip.

Just twenty-four hours later, a middle-aged man came down to the houseboat and shook hands warmly. His name was Carson Denton and he was the husband of Mrs. Stanhope's friend.

"I am more than glad to see you," he said. "I just got your letter to Clara, and as she wanted me to open any letter that might be at the Braxbury post-office for her, I read it. We do not live in Braxbury any longer, but further west, at a place called Silver Creek, where I have a good-sized plantation."

"Is that so? When did you move, Mr. Denton?"

"Only a few weeks ago, which accounts for you not having known of the change. I had a good chance to trade my place in town for a plantation, or ranch, as my son Bob calls it, and I took it. We have a fine place, and Clara will be much pleased, I am sure, to have you and your friends pay us a visit."

"Oh, mamma, let us go!" cried Dora. "I don't wish to stay on the houseboat while the repairs are being made."

The matter was talked over for an hour, and the boys and girls took Mr. Denton over the houseboat, from end to end.

"I've heard of you Rover boys," said he to Dick, Tom and Sam. "Mrs. Stanhope has written to us about you, and how you once saved her from a fellow named Josiah Crabtree. If you and your chums wish to visit our place, I'd like you to do so. I've got a son Bob who, I know, would like to meet you."

"Well, I wouldn't mind taking a trip inland," answered Dick.

"Can't we go on horseback?" put in Sam eagerly.

"We might do that."

"Certainly, you could make the trip in that way," said Mr. Denton. "But it would take some time, for the roads are not of the best down here. We usually take a train as far as Docker Crossing, and then ride the rest of the distance, twelve miles, in a carriage or on horseback."

"I'll tell you what's let do," suggested Tom., "The girls and the ladies can go with Mr. Denton on the train, and all us boys can hire horses and make the trip that way. We can leave Captain Starr and Aleck in charge of the houseboat until we get back. We need not hurry ourselves, for our time is our own."

When talked over, this plan met with universal approval, and it was decided to put it into execution without delay. Mr. Denton wished them to make an extended stay at his plantation, and the boys decided to take their own time in getting there.

"It will be just the outing on horseback that I have been looking for," said Sam. "I hope we have nothing but clear weather."

"We ought to have, after such a storm," said Fred. "See how clear the sky is to-day."

"That trip to the plantation on horseback will take about five days," said Dick. "That will make quite an outing."

"Puts me in mind of our trip out West," said Tom. "What are we going to do when night comes on? Go to some ranch, or make our own camp?"

"Oh, let us go into our own camp!" cried Songbird. "It will be such fun!"

"That's the talk," chimed in Sam.

"We can camp out on the way if the weather proves good," decided Dick. "But if it rains good and hard, I reckon all of you will be glad enough to get under cover."

"Pooh! who's afraid of a little rain," put in Fred. "Why, that will make us grow!"

So the talk ran on, and finally all arrangements were completed for the trip inland. Aleck Pop was sorry he could not accompany the boys, but Dick thought it best that he remain behind.

"You know how Captain Starr is, Aleck—a bit queer at times. The Dora is a valuable craft, and I shall feel safer if I know you are helping to keep watch over her."

"All right, Massa Dick. I will do my best to see dat no harm comes to de houseboat. But I'd like to be wid you boys, no use er talkin'."

"Perhaps you can go along next time," said Dick, and with this the colored man had to be content.

It did not take the ladies and the girls long to get ready for the trip, and they left on the following morning, the boys going to the railroad station to see them off. There was a hearty handshake all around. Then the train came in and the party was off with a waving of handkerchiefs.

"And now to get ready for our own start," came from Tom.

Through the carpenter who had taken the contract to repair the houseboat, they were introduced to a man who owned a number of horses, and for a proper consideration this individual let them have the use of the steeds they wanted. They were all good animals and used to the saddle, and the man guaranteed that the lads would not have any trouble whatever with them.

"But I want to tell you beforehand that the road is none of the best," said the horse owner. "It is pretty fair for the first fifteen miles or so, but then it is bad for thirty miles after that. You want to beware of sink holes."

"We've been on some pretty bad roads before this," answered Sam. "I guess we'll know enough to take care of ourselves."

"Well, I didn't think there would be any harm in telling you."

"Oh, that's all right."

The Rover boys were so used to traveling and to camping out that they knew exactly what to take along. The other lads were also well informed, because of the military encampments in which they had participated. They carried only what was necessary, so that their steeds might not be too heavily burdened.

"Looks like yo' was ready fo' a reg'lar outin',: remarked Aleck when they were ready for a start, "I dun hopes yo' all come back safe and sound."

"Why, of course we'll come back safe and sound!" exclaimed Sam. "What put that into your noddle, Aleck?"

"I dunno, Massa Sam. But dis am a queer country, ain't it?"

"Not in the least. We expect to have a fine outing, and nothing else."

"And we'll be back here inside of two weeks," added Dick. "That is, unless we make up our minds to stay at Mr. Denton's place for a while."

"All right, sah."

"And when we get back, I shall expect to see the houseboat in first-class order," continued Dick to Captain Starr.

"I shall do my best," answered the captain.

A moment later, all of the boys mounted their horses and the journey inland was begun. Little did they dream of the strange adventures and perils which lay ahead of them.