Captain Johnson seemed to be the only person who had his wits about him, and who was in a condition to render any assistance. As soon as he could pick himself up he made his way to the other end of the boat and dragged the canvas from off the struggling family. First Mr. Elmer emerged from the confusion, then Mrs. Elmer and Ruth were helped out, and last of all poor Mark, who had been buried beneath the entire family, was dragged forth, nearly smothered and highly indignant.
“It’s a mean trick, and I didn’t think—” he began, as soon as he got his breath; but just then his eye fell upon the comical figure of Jan. He was walking towards the fire, dripping mud and water from every point, and Mark’s wrath was turned into hearty laughter at this sight. In it he was joined by all the others as soon as they saw the cause of his mirth.
After the Elmers had been helped up the steep incline of the boat, and were comfortably fixed near the fire, Captain Johnson and Jan, who said he didn’t mind mud now any more than an alligator, took light-wood torches and set out to discover what had happened. As Jan climbed down the bank into the mud, and held his torch beneath the boat, he saw in a moment the cause of the accident, and knew just how it had occurred.
As the tide ebbed the lighter had been gradually lowered, until it rested on the upright branches of an old water-logged tree-top that was sunk in the mud at this place. The water falling lower and lower, the weight upon these branches became greater and greater, until they could support it no longer, and one side of the lighter went down with a crash, while the other rested against the bank. Jan, who had been sleeping on the upper side of the boat, was thrown out into the water when it fell, as some of the Elmers doubtless would have been had not their canvas shelter prevented such a catastrophe.
The rest of the night was spent around the fire, which was kept up to enable Jan to dry his clothes. By daylight the tide had risen, so that the lighter again floated on an even keel. By sunrise a simple breakfast of bread-and-butter and coffee had been eaten, and our emigrants were once more afloat and moving slowly up the tropical-looking river.
About ten o’clock Captain Johnson pointed to a huge dead cypress-tree standing on the bank of the river some distance ahead, and told the Elmers that it marked one of the boundary-lines of Wakulla. They gazed at it eagerly, as though expecting it to turn into something different from an ordinary cypress, and all felt more or less disappointed at not seeing any clearings or signs of human habitations. It was not until they were directly opposite the village that they saw its score or so of houses through the trees and undergrowth that fringed the bank.
As the Bangs place, to which the children gave the name of “Go Bang”—a name that adhered to it ever afterwards—was across the river from the village, the lighter was poled over to that side. There was no wharf, so she was made fast to a little grassy promontory that Captain Johnson said was once one of the abutments of a bridge. There was no bridge now, however, and already Mark saw that his canoe was likely to prove very useful.