Alan Douglas.

Storm-Bound: or, A Vacation Among the Snow Drifts



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All around it they banked up the loose wood, until Toby declared they had fully enough to do an army.

"Don't you believe it," said Lil Artha, an authority on fires among his fellow scouts; "you'd be s'prised to see what an enormous amount of wood a fire eats up in a single night; and like as not we may have to hold the fort a week, just as Elmer said. Keep on fetching it a little while longer, boys."

"You're on the safe side there, Lil Artha," the cautious scout master decided; "we can't have too much burning wood, with that sky threatening us. And to run out, with the snow piled up hip-high over everything wouldn't be the nicest job in the world. Let's work at it for another ten minutes. By then it will be so near dark that we can lay off, and get our camp fixed."

So they labored on industriously until Elmer called a halt. George was a good enough worker, and usually did his share when the necessity arose. His grumbling really sprang more from force of habit than a desire to make himself disagreeable. Sometimes Elmer seriously considered whether it would pay them to try and cure George of his fault-finding, and then as often decided that, given time, it must surely die out. Things of that sort generally thrive on opposition.

To Lil Artha was given over the task of making the fire. It was lucky indeed in this pinch that Elmer had thought to bring his pet camp hatchet along. Though its weight had added to his weariness on the march, he had had what he called a "hunch" that it might come in handy, though hardly expecting to be compelled to fall back on the little tool the first thing in order to supply fuel for a camp.

So the tall scout began to hack at a couple of promising fragments of thick limbs which would make good sides for the cooking fire, and upon which their coffeepot could rest; for they had such a thing along, as well as a skillet, both made of aluminum, and weighing next to nothing.

Elmer, assisted by George and Toby, meanwhile started to see how some sort of shelter could be arranged with the four rubber ponchos which they carried. He knew how soldiers on the march are in the habit of fastening two of these together by means of the grummet holes along the edges, forming a little shelter called a "dog-tent," under which the pair can at least keep the upper halves of their bodies from the rain.

By skillful work they managed to cover the cavity behind the upturned roots of the fallen forest monarch in such a fashion that it would shed most of the snow, even though some might drift through the cracks.

"A pretty good job!" Lil Artha told them, as he suspended operations in connection with his fire, which was by now sending out a grateful warmth, and much good cheer in addition.

"Next thing is to get the birds plucked, and ready for the spit," announced Toby, as he took up the one that had been apportioned to him.

George followed suit, but was evidently a poor hand at stripping the feathers off, to judge by the gingerly way he went at it.

Lil Artha had to show him just how to grip hold, and make things fly; but even then George looked anything but happy.

"And I'd feel safe in wagering," said Toby, with a laugh, as he held up his partridge, beautifully cleaned, and ready to be broiled before the fire, after he had split it down the back, "that if we were anywhere near home George would be willing to spend his last dime in bribing some boy to finish his job; but that don't go here; no work no pay. Those who expect to dine on partridge must prepare the same. You hear me speaking, George. But I don't mind showing you again how I do it, which according to my notion is a better way than Lil Artha has."

And as George, seeing his opportunity, commenced to compliment Toby, and engage his attention, the result was that he got his partridge not only completely denuded down to the last pinfeather, but split along the back in the bargain.

After that a busy scene that glowing, snapping fire saw, with the coffeepot sending out a delightful aroma, and the four hungry boys each holding out his game near the flames, turning it often in order to allow every part to receive an equal share of the intense heat that was browning the outside so beautifully.

Finally Toby gave a groan.

"Can't stand for it any longer, and that's a fact, fellows!" he announced; "please fill my cup with coffee, Elmer, and let me get started or I'll cave in. George, pass that package of crackers, will you; and, Lil Artha, I'd like to sample that cheese if you don't mind!"

"For goodness' sake everybody wait on Toby, and get him shut off, or he'll give us no peace!" exclaimed Lil Artha, though he had already put his own teeth into one half of his sizzling partridge, to find that it was as tender as could be, and perfectly delicious.

In another minute or two all of them were busily engaged. It was such a pleasant duty, partaking of this forest meal, and amidst such romantic surroundings, that for the time being they forgot all the dismal prospects ahead of them, and were quite merry. Toby joked, and Lil Artha laughed aloud, while Elmer joined them, and even George, placated by having his gnawing pains satisfied, for the time being looked contented with the world. He would not have made any objection had he been offered a second edition of that game supper; for when his bird had been reduced to a mere lot of well-picked bones his taste for broiled partridge seemed as keen as ever.

Possessed of hearty boyish appetites it can readily be understood that they had made a pretty good hole in their limited supplies by the time all of them admitted that they were satisfied. Toby professed to be greatly concerned because of this growing scarcity of rations, and as for George, his gloom had returned, since he was already talking of the time, near at hand most likely, when the cupboard would be as bare as it was when Old Mother Hubbard went to get her dog a bone.

"Gee! whiz! look at it coming down, would you!" burst out Lil Artha, as having finished attending to that clamorous appetite, he thought it worth while to take an observation, in order to learn what the weather might be.

"Never saw it snow harder," admitted Toby.

"Be over our heads by morning, see if 'tain't," George prophesied.

"Well, p'raps you may have a chance to use those snow-shoes sooner'n you thought you would, Toby," ventured Lil Artha, as they all crouched there, staring out at the dark forest, and watching the myriads of big flakes steadily falling, as though a storm of the greatest magnitude had come down from the far northwest, where the weather man keeps this brand of thing in tap for scouts who are incautious enough to be caught napping, away off in a strange woods, and with only rations for one day in their haversacks.

CHAPTER III
THE LONG NIGHT

"Let me tell you this is going to be the queerest old camp any of us ever found ourselves stuck in," Toby ventured to remark, some time later.

"I should say it was," grumbled George, as he rubbed his ears, and then held both hands out toward the fire to warm them again.

"I know one thing we ought to do right away," said Elmer, "and that's get out those warm skating tuques; they'll keep the air off our heads, and can be drawn down to protect our ears."

"That's a good idea, Elmer," Lil Artha told him, "because I don't want to have one of my wigwags frozen off. You see, I'm so much taller than the rest of you it takes harder work for my poor heart to pump warm blood all the way up; and so I'm likely to suffer from cold extremities. Seems like that off ear is frosted right now."

"If it is," cried George, hurriedly, as though he thought Lil Artha meant all he said, "take my advice, and rub it hard with a lot of snow. That'll take the frost out, and start circulation again. Brr! but this is going to be a tough night, when you think of it."

"I don't know," Elmer told him; "seems to me we've got a whole lot to be thankful for, with this fine fire, and a protection against the storm. Perhaps we may run up against something harder than this before we're done."

"But we haven't got a tent, and our grub is pretty skimpy, say what you will," the grumbler went on to protest.

"Yes, that's all very true," continued Elmer, "but how wise we were to fetch our blankets along, for fear that Toby's uncle mightn't have enough in stock to go around. They felt pretty heavy when we carried them, soldier fashion, around one shoulder, and tied them under the other arm; but here's where they come in dandy."

"Well, believe me, it was the smartest trick we ever did," Lil Artha hastened to comment, "and if we'd only glimpsed this sort of box ahead, so as to lay in three times as much grub, it'd be all right."

"It is all right as it stands," the leader went on to say, "and we'll show how scouts can take things as they come, without making mouths. So let's see how we're going to fix ourselves for the night."

"Guess none of us care much to sit up late, and gabble over the fire," suggested Toby; "though it seems a fellow can't get enough of that heat in him."

"I want to shut out the whole business," affirmed George, in sheer disgust, "and I hope that after my eyes close I won't know a blooming thing till morning."

George was a good sleeper as a rule, and his troubles seldom kept him from getting a fair share of rest. Nor was he like his cousin, Philander Smith, also a member of the Wolf Patrol, and who had been known to walk in his sleep; George, once he snuggled down, with his blanket tucked all around him, was like a regular Indian mummy. The others, knowing this from past experiences, paid little attention to his complaints concerning a disturbed night, because they knew it never had any real basis of fact.

For some little time the four boys busied themselves getting "fixed." George was as hard to suit as any old maid. He found something wrong with every corner of the depression that he tried; here it was a root that jabbed him in the ribs; in another place the point of a big stone made it impossible for him to curl up, and maintain a comfortable attitude.

After he had made the complete round, the others allowing him his choice, he was finally compelled to accept the first position he had tested.

"Now let's hope we've heard the last kick from you, George," Lil Artha told him, severely, after submitting to all this fussing; "I don't see what you've got to complain about after all. Your bones are well covered with a pad, while mine stick out like the joints of a scarecrow. And say, don't you think I'm going to have a tough time of it stowing these long legs of mine away? Chances are they'll push out in the night, and when I wake up again I'll find the lower part of poor Lil Artha as stiff as a board. Subside, George! Give the rest of us a chance to get settled down. If we all took as long as you did it'd be near morning before we fixed things."

Finally, however, they seemed to have made the best of a bad bargain. Taking Elmer's advice they all kept as close together as possible. In this way perhaps they might not secure a great abundance of decent sleep, but the fact of their being in touch with each other would add to their comfort in the way of warmth.

Elmer, with characteristic generosity, had chosen last, and hence he lay nearer the outside of the shelter than any of his mates. But having known what it was to be exposed to the rigors of a cold storm, since he had braved a Canadian winter while up on that ranch, the young scout master also knew how to make use of his blanket as though it were a sleeping bag.

The hours dragged slowly along.

Afterwards they would always look back, and shudder as they remembered how terribly long that night did seem. And yet none of them really suffered, save that it was impossible to sleep, only in snatches.

This was on account of several things. In the first place, they were jammed together in a way to which they were wholly unaccustomed; and when one stirred on becoming cramped it aroused all the others in turn. Then their strange surroundings had more or less influence upon them. Not that there was any furious noise, such as would have accompanied a summer gale; but the weird moaning of the wintry wind through the leafless branches of the oaks, and the bending tops of the pines, made a music that kept them thinking they heard human voices calling for help.

Another reason why Elmer had chosen the outside place when lying down was his desire to keep watch upon the fire.

It was his intention to keep this going as long as possible, though a fellow built on the order of George would have complained bitterly had he been compelled to crawl out of his snug nest several times in order to face that pitiless storm, and pile more fuel on the smouldering logs.

Elmer was one of those boys who, knowing his duty, always went about it without any brag or bluster, and could be depended on to sacrifice his own comfort in order that his chums might benefit. In other words Elmer was what you might call an ideal scout. He seldom had any trouble about practicing those twelve cardinal principles that govern the working day of a scout – to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. They came naturally to him.

Three times did he perform this fire-building act. The last occasion must have been well on toward the hour of three in the morning, as he judged from certain conditions, though he could not bother looking at his little silver watch.

At that time the storm was keeping it up just as wildly as ever, and there was much more than a foot of snow on the ground, where it had not drifted; with any quantity still to come down.

After that Elmer must have secured better sleep, for he did not wake up again until a movement accompanied by a voice aroused him.

"Great Scott! let me tell you the bottom's dropped out of the mercury tube this time, boys!" the voice went on to bellow, and he recognized the tones as belonging to George, who had not been heard from ever since he first curled up in the folds of his warm blanket.

He was raising his head now, and observing his breath as it congealed in the frosty air. Elmer knew that the time to sleep had passed, because it was daylight.

"How about that snow, has it stopped?" asked another voice, as Toby sat up, and began to stretch his arms upon which he may have been lying so that they felt more or less numb.

"Still coming down as hard as ever," Elmer told him, shaking quite a lot of the feathery stuff out of the folds of his blanket; and then struggling to his feet.

There was no lounging around that morning. It was so cold that every fellow was glad to get into action immediately he came out of his blanket. George begged to be allowed to lie there until the fire got good and warm. He urged every plea he could think of, saying they would only get in each others' way by crowding; and that too many cooks always spoiled the broth, anyway; but Toby and Lil Artha declared they had no use for a shirker; and if he did nothing else he could stand up and serve as a windbreak for the "willing workers."

The fire had gone completely out, and several inches of snow covered the spot; but wise, long-headed Elmer had provided against such a contingency on the evening before, for he had a handful of fine wood, light and dry, handy, with which to make a fresh start.

After things got to moving it was not so bad. The scouts soon felt even a little cheerful over the situation, because a crackling fire is one of the greatest inducements to raising one's spirits ever discovered. When shivering with the cold, and hungry as well, the world looks pretty blue to any one; but let that same person come in close contact with a fire that warms him up, and things quickly take on quite a different hue.

Then there was that fragrant odor of coffee and bacon cooking on the fire that tickled the noses of the boys; nothing could beat that for good cheer – "if only they had more of the same," as George constantly reminded them, even when enjoying his share.

"Strikes me this is a mighty slim breakfast," he remarked, as he found that he had already caused more than half that was on his pannikin to vanish, and yet his appetite seemed as sharp as ever.

"You never spoke truer words, George," said Toby, soberly, "but when you stop to think what a small amount of stuff we've got along with us, and the bad fix we're in, you can understand that we've got to cut the allowance down."

"Yes," added Lil Artha, "of course you've heard of shipwrecked mariners being in a boat, and drifting around on the big ocean for days and days. Well, they always have to go on half rations, both with food and fresh drinking water. Anyhow we won't have to bother our poor heads about that last, because all we have to do is to melt snow and get what we want."

"Hang it, I wish we could melt all the old white stuff; I hate it!" George continued, being a poor loser.

"And yet I've heard you fairly raving over the beautiful snow," chuckled Lil Artha, "but then that was when you were out sleigh riding with Polly Brett. Makes considerable difference what your condition is, how you look at things. For my part I don't hanker after snow one bit right now. Seen all I want to of it to last me all winter; but then what's the use bothering your head about things that can't be changed. It's a condition, not a theory, that confronts us, and what we want to do is to set our minds to work wrestling with the question of how we're going to crawl out of this difficulty and find Uncle Caleb's shack."

"Whew! mebbe I don't wish we were there now, snug under his roof, and telling him all about our adventure, as well as how Elmer here found a way to pull his chums out of a hole, like he always does," and Toby, while saying this, gave the scout master a sly look, as though begging him to tell them some hopeful news that would buoy their sinking spirits up.

"I wish I had as much confidence in myself as you seem to feel in me, Toby," was what Elmer told him, "but I couldn't say the storm is nearly over, because it's coming down as hard as ever, and goodness knows when it means to let up. But we're a lively bunch, you know, and we're bound to find some way of getting out of this scrape."

"We've been in others just as tough, remember," Lil Artha declared, "and always did get to the top of the heap in the end."

"That's the way to talk," Elmer continued; "confidence is always one half of the battle. We've proved that on many a hard-fought field, baseball, football and hockey as well. If you can force yourself to believe you will win, the chances are improved three-fold."

"Well," said George, drily, as he stared very hard at his now empty platter, "I'm doing my level best to force myself to believe this pannikin is heaped high with beefsteak and fried onions and fried potatoes; now if I've got a third of a chance to get what I'm wishing for, even that much would fill a long-felt want. But say, none of you see any grub coming along on my dish do you? Well, wishing don't seem to do any good. I'm as hungry as ever, too, worse luck. Even speaking of such splendid eatings seems to make my mouth water."

"Then stop it!" cried Toby; "think all you want to, but the rest of us have feelings as well as you, and it's cruelty to animals to even mention such things as – "

"Hold on there! don't you aggravate things by mentioning that list again, or I'll proceed to roll you out of this hole into the snow drifts!" threatened Lil Artha, pretending to make a threatening gesture, while Toby threw up both hands in token of abject surrender.

"I'm dumb as an oyster, Lil Artha," he protested. "I haven't got another word to say; but if there's got to be any ejecting done let's grab the right party, and see that he gets his full dose."

George had meanwhile managed to pick up a couple of extra crackers, and having his mouth full did not make any reply. Lil Artha deftly snatched the box away from him, and closing it, calmly placed it out of reach.

"No hogging, now, George," he went on to say; "share and share alike is the rule we've got to go by from now on. If there's any hungry feeling swinging around, it's going to be no one-sided game. Others can feel empty as well as the Robbins family pet. But let's hope that before another night we'll all be sitting around a table in Uncle Caleb's shack, as warm and cozy as four bugs in a rug."

The mere thought of having to spend a second night amidst those enormous snow drifts gave the boys an unpleasant feeling. They turned and looked out from under their rude shelter. The fire itself was cheery; but beyond this lay the piles of snow, the grim trees with their white arms extended like monuments in the burying ground at Hickory Ridge, and with the air full of still rapidly falling flakes, as though the weather man up aloft had an unlimited supply of white geese to pluck on this special occasion.

For a short time no one said a word. They were all busy with thoughts, perhaps connected with their happy homes, so far removed; or it might be trying to picture the cheery scene Lil Artha had spoken of when he mentioned that cabin of Uncle Caleb, the man of science, and the small animal photographer and trapper.



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