Roy Glashan's Library
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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS CHRISTOPHER BECK)

THE HOUSE IN THE SAND

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Franz Bischoff (1846-1929)


Ex Libris

First published in The Children's Newspaper, 25 November 1939

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-09-22

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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THE gust was so furious that the windows of the lonely farm house rattled, and the house shook so that soot poured down the chimney into the grate. The tall, broad-shouldered young fellow who sat on a stool close to the fire whistled softly.

"I say, Fred, do you often get it like this?"

Fred Algar, a stocky, red-headed boy, looked up from his book.

"Yes, and worse, Jack. Wispers gets these south-easterly gales stronger than any place on the coast. It was a sou-easter that ruined us."

Jack Godfrey turned and stared at his friend.

"Ruined you! What do you mean?"

Fred closed his book. "Didn't I ever tell you?"

"Not a word."

"I'll show you tomorrow—the sandhills, I mean." He stopped a moment then went on. "The big storm was in my great-grandfather's time. He was well off. He owned eight hundred acres, and Wispers was a mansion house. It was closer to the sea than this. The great gale came, and lasted three days and three nights. It broke down the high sand dunes along the coast and blew them inland. When it was over almost the whole of Wispers was covered deep in sand. Even the house was buried."

Notice to Quit

JACK expressed surprise. "The house was buried?" he echoed.

"Yes. I'll show you where it was. My great-grandfather and his people got out alive, but everything they had was lost: furniture, plate, everything. This house was one of three farmhouses on the estate, and it was saved by the wood and by the Ley Brook, which was in flood. We've been living here ever since, but"—Fred stopped again and his usually cheery face took a very grim expression—"we shan't be here much longer."

"Why not?"

"We have notice to quit. James Curnock, who owns Crendon, has bought up the mortgage on this land and demands payment. Dad can't pay. Farming's been simply dreadful the past three years." He shrugged. "So we have to go."

"How rotten!" Jack exclaimed. "And after all these years! But, Fred, what about that plate, the stuff that's in the old house. That belongs to you. Couldn't you get it?"

"Not a hope. I said I'd show you where the house was, but even that we only guess at. In some places the sand is 200 feet deep."

Another gust, even more furious than the last, made the old farmhouse quiver. Below a bell rang and Fred got up.

"That's supper. Come on."

All night the great gale raged, but morning dawned clear, bright, and cold. The gale had blown itself out and a few light clouds drifted across the pale blue sky.

After breakfast the two boys set out. A wooden bridge took them across the Ley Brook, which was in fine flood. Beyond they climbed a slope covered with old trees. They reached the top, and Jack Godfrey stopped short, gazing at a scene of such desolation as he had never before seen. Acre on acre of yellow sand, rolling in great dunes away to the coast. Not a green thing grew anywhere, but here and there in the hollows the twisted tops of dead trees rose forlornly from the sand drift.

"It's a desert," he said. "Whereabouts was the house, Fred?"

"About a mile east. I'll show you."

The sand was wet now and firm on top, so walking was easy. Fred led the way, and in a quarter of an hour stopped on top of a low ridge. He stiffened.

"What's that?" he asked sharply.

"Looks like a chimney," Jack answered.

"It is a chimney. Jack, that's a chimney of the old house. Last night's gale has shifted the sand above it, and we are the first people to see it for a hundred years."

They ran forward. Jack was as excited as Fred. As they came nearer they saw not one but three chimneys emerging from the drift. They were standing above the roof of the old mansion of Wispers. Jack turned to Fred.

"Do you know anything about the house? How big was it? How many storeys?"

"Two. We have a print of it. I say, Jack, could we dig down and get that plate? Old silver is worth a lot of money. You don't know what it would mean to Mum and Dad. The idea of having to leave is simply killing them. And they don't know where to go."

Jack shook his head.

"It would need a steam shovel, and would cost a lot. You see, we'd have to go down all of 30 feet, and sand is wicked stuff to dig because it all slides back into the hole."

Fred's face fell. "We could never afford a steam shovel. Don't say anything to Dad about what we've seen. It would only make him feel worse. Probably the next gale will cover it all up again."

"Just as you say," Jack answered, but as they walked back home he was very silent and thoughtful.

When they reached the Ley Brook Jack stopped.

"How does this get to the sea?" he asked.

"Right through the dunes. It's cut quite a deep channel."

"I wish you'd show me."

Fred looked surprised. "All right, but I don't see what you're after."

Jack smiled. "I'm not sure myself. But come on."

They went all the way down the brook nearly as far as the sea, then came back, and Jack walked up it for quite a long way. What he was after Fred could not imagine. It was nearly lunch-time before they turned back to the house. Then Jack spoke.

"How many men have you on the farm?"

"Only two, and one's old."

"Not enough. How many could you get?"

"Not many. There aren't many men about here."

Jack frowned thoughtfully, then looked up quickly.

"What about boys? You're a Scout."

"Yes, we have a troop of Scouts."

"How many could you get by to-morrow?"

"Eight or ten, I expect, but I'd have to round them up."

"I've got a bike and so have you. We'll go straight off after lunch and collect them. As you know, I'm a Patrol Leader."

"But what are you going to do with them, Jack?"

"I'll tell you. It's a crazy sort of idea, but it might work. My notion is to turn the Ley Brook. We dam it up at the north edge of the sands and cut a fresh channel into that big gully. That should take the water right down to the old house, and I'm hoping it may wash the sand away and give us a chance to get at the lower rooms."

Fred's eyes widened.

"It—might—work," he said slowly. "I believe it will work."

On the Job

EARLY next morning ten boys, including Jack and Fred, were busy with shovels.

Jack had noticed that the wind-driven sand had buried the old bed of the stream, forcing it to make a great loop and find another course. He had seen that, by cutting a channel through a bar of sand which was not more than 50 feet wide, the little river could be turned into its old bed, which ran quite close to the buried house.

Whether it would work as he hoped Jack could not tell, but it seemed worth trying. The boys, to whom he explained his plan, were keen as mustard. They all liked Fred Algar, but James Curnock, a crusty, purse-proud man, was not popular with any of his neighbours. Ten grown men could hardly have done more work in a day, and by evening a channel had been cut right through the sand bank.

Fred had had to tell his father what they were doing for these boys had to be fed. Dinner was sent out to them, and tea they had in the farmhouse.

Next morning they were all on hand in good time. Some were stiff and sore, but they soon worked that off. Jack had got a quantity of sacks, and these were filled with sand. When they were all ready the boys started building them into a dam, to turn the river.

The House Reappears

IT was a wet, messy job, but they did it at last, and stood by in silence watching the current eat its way into the new channel. There was a good run of water, and as it ponded up its weight washed away the fallen sand until at last the brook was running in its old channel. By this time it was almost dark.

"Come on, fellows," Jack called. "Time for tea."

"Think it will work?" asked Bob Cannon, one of the Scouts.

"Haven't a notion, Bob," Jack said. "The sand may suck up all the water. But we shall see in the morning."

It rained that night, it was raining next morning, yet every single Scout was at Wispers early. They hurried off in a bunch to see what had happened. Fred got there first.

"My word, look at it!" he shouted.

The stream had risen two feet and a muddy torrent was rushing through the new bed. They followed it down and were amazed at what the water had done in a few hours. The old bed was open, and in some places thick bars of sand had been swept away.

They fairly raced to the old house, and when they got there all pulled up and stared. A great gully yawned close to the south wall of the building. The river was rushing through it, and masses of sand kept sliding down into the torrent and were swept away towards the sea. Fred turned to Jack Godfrey.

"You've done the trick, Jack. Before night we'll be able to go inside."

"It looks like it," Jack agreed. "Let's get to work and help out the river."

All had their shovels, and they worked desperately. It was a job to get them to stop and eat dinner.

By three in the afternoon the south wall of the house was clear down to the lower windows. Jack stopped them to have a look round.

"There's a bad crack in the wall," he told Fred. "We'll have to be careful."

"Here's a man coming," Bob Cannon called out.

"It's Mr Curnock," Fred said. "Now there'll be trouble."

James Curnock came striding up. He was a powerful man with a short stiff moustache, and it was plain he was in a great rage.

"What are you boys doing here?" he demanded harshly. "Clear out at once or every one of you will be prosecuted for trespass."

Fred faced him. "This is Wispers land, Mr Curnock. It's not yours yet."

"You know nothing whatever about it. I hold a mortgage on the whole property. Nothing may be touched without my consent."

He spoke with such certainty the boys were staggered. Jack cut in.

"I'd like to have a lawyer's opinion on that, sir. The land isn't yours until the mortgage is foreclosed."

"It is foreclosed. The land is mine. Stand aside. I am going into the house."

"You'd better be careful," Jack warned him. "The wall's cracked."

But Curnock, who had heard of the plate and was mad to own it, merely laughed.

"You think you can frighten me. I'll show you that you are mistaken." He went forward, took up a shovel, and began to break away the sash of a window.

Under Curnock's powerful blows the sash broke away and fell inward. They saw him cross the sill and enter a room that was so dark they could hardly see what was inside, except that old-fashioned furniture still stood there covered with thick dust.

Jack's eyes were on the wall. The water was now eating away the foundations and the crack was widening. Other cracks too were showing.

"He'd better be quick," Jack said.

"He's gone through into another room," Fred told him. Fred's voice shook a little. The others said nothing. They were as still as statues.

A couple of minutes passed. They seemed like a couple of hours.

"He's coming back," Fred whispered.

"He's carrying something. It's a chest. Jack, it's the silver! He mustn't get away with it."

"He won't," said Jack confidently. "It's not his. I know enough about law to be sure of that. Your father has another week to pay the money. He told me."

Curnock came to the window. He was panting under the weight of the chest. With a great effort he lifted it on to the sill. He paused to take breath.

"You'd better be quick," said Jack sharply. "The wall's beginning to bulge. You chaps stand back."

Back to the Farm

AS he spoke there was a crunching sound and a part of the upper wall gave way. About a ton of masonry came smashing down, past the window. With a yell of terror, Curnock let go the chest and made a wild leap through the window. He caught one foot on the ledge and fell forward on the steep bank. His head struck a lump of the stone which had fallen from above and his body rolled over and over and splashed into the flood below.

The boys sprang after him. They managed to get hold of him and drag him out, but he lay quite still, with his eyes closed.

Jack glanced at the wall again. "I think we have time," he said quietly. "Fred, give a hand."

He and Fred sprang forward; they got hold of the chest. Two other Scouts helped, and between them they lifted out the chest. Staggering under its weight, they carried it to safety, and had hardly done so when there was a roar and all the upper part of the wall and a portion of the roof came thundering down.

When the dust cleared Jack looked round. "All safe?" he asked.

"We're all right," Bob answered.

"Then I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll bury the chest in front of the house and mark the spot. When Curnock comes to he'll think it's still in the ruins."

A chuckle rose from the crowd of boys; the job was done in a matter of minutes and the sand smoothed above the grave.

It was nearly half an hour before Curnock came round, and then he was so shaken that the boys had a job to get him back to the road where he had left his car. Jack drove him home.

That was a great evening at Wispers. With a hand-cart the boys brought the plate chest back to the old farmhouse, and when it was opened Mr Algar saw at once that the contents were worth a fortune.

"You shall all share in my luck, boys," he told them; and he kept his promise. The mortgage was paid off, Wispers was restocked, and soon became a most prosperous farm.<


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.