Alan Douglas.

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



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CHAPTER IV
SNOW-BOUND

"I don't believe there ever was such a furious snow-storm as this before!" Toby remarked, after a while, with a little pensive sigh, as though he had already begun to repent having conceived that brilliant idea, in the following out of which they had fallen into their present serious predicament.

"Oh! that's because the wish is father to the thought, Toby," Elmer told him. "We all like to stand up ahead of the other fellows. If you were home right now I reckon you'd just say that it was a pretty decent sort of a storm; but being cooped up here in the woods makes things look different."

"How deep do you think she is on the level, Elmer?" asked Lil Artha; "as much as three feet?"

"Nothing like that," replied the other, quickly; "you mustn't judge by seeing what's piled up there. That's a drift, and the eddies of wind have been piling it up all night long. You see the snow is as dry almost as powder, owing to the cold. It's quit falling in big flakes, and is sifting down now in fine stuff."

"Yes, and it gets down your back every time, if you don't look out," complained George. "This beats my time all hollow. I wonder how it'll end."

Elmer purposely made out to mistake the croaker's meaning; he knew that George was thinking of the dismal outlook by which they were confronted, but chose to pretend it was something else that was intended.

"What, this storm, George?" he said, cheerily; "oh! it'll wind up before a great while. They all have their innings, you know, some longer than others."

"I should say this was one of the longest, then," George affirmed.

"But after it does stop we can make up our plans, and start to carry the same out," Elmer continued, knowing that if he kept the minds of his companions employed in some fashion they would not find much time to worry. "I'm going to settle down pretty soon by the fire here, and figure things out again. This time we want to make a sure job of it. I know the wiggly route we've taken to get here, following that little creek, and I've settled it in my mind just which way we ought to go to remedy our blunder."

"It wasn't so much a mistake as false tips we received, you remember, Elmer," Lil Artha was quick to say.

"Yes, that skunk told us wrong just to have what he thought would be a silly joke on scouts," Toby added. "Guess he thought we considered ourselves some punkins because we wore khaki suits, and he was mean enough to want to take us down a peg. I'd like to see that same chap again. What I wouldn't do to him wouldn't be worth telling."

"At any rate he's forced us to have a novel experience," Elmer told them. "Only for his sending us on a false scent we wouldn't have had the chance to know what scouts can do when storm-bound in a snow forest. Some time, when it's all away back in the past, and you can sit and think of it without getting furious, perhaps none of us may feel quite so hard about that young scamp's work."

"Huh! about that time begin to feel of your shoulders," grunted George, "because I reckon the wings will have started to sprout.

If I had my way I'd condemn that rascal to spend a whole week in a snow camp, with only six matches along, and just enough grub to keep him from starving. Half rations and George Robbins don't seem to agree very well."

"Nothing seems to agree well with you this morning, George," remarked Lil Artha; "I hope it don't turn out to be catching."

"What do you mean by saying that, Lil Artha?" demanded the other, suspiciously.

The tall scout shrugged his shoulders as he went on to cautiously explain.

"Why, you know we were talking about shipwrecked sailors a while back, and how they often had to go on half rations because they carried so little in the boat with them?"

"Yes, go on," urged George.

"Once in a while it gets even worse than that," Lil Artha continued, gravely, "and they have to draw lots to see who will be sacrificed, so that the rest of the bunch can live."

"Aw! come off, and quit that!" cried George; "you're just trying to scare me, and it don't go worth a cent. Nobody is going to starve here in the woods where we can find some sort of meat to eat, even crow, if we have to come to it, or perhaps muskrat. That's a mighty poor joke, Lil Artha, let me tell you."

"Well, of course I'm hoping myself that things'll never get just that bad," the tall scout went on to say, "but only supposin' they did, and the choice fell on you, I'm wondering if ever afterwards the three of us would have to go around all our lives finding fault with everything. I wouldn't like that, George."

"But what about yourself?" demanded the other; "you might happen to be the first victim after all, Lil Artha."

"That makes me smile," he was informed, coolly; "d'ye think now anybody with eyes in his head would be so silly as to pick out a bony scarecrow like me when they could settle on a nice plump chicken of your build?" and he playfully dug his fingers in George's ribs as he said this.

"Let's change the subject," Toby broke in with; "this always talking of eatin' seems to jar on my nerves. It sets me to thinkin', and that empty larder stares me in the face. Something's got to be done about it."

"Sure it has," echoed Lil Artha, eying George closer so that the other squirmed uneasily, and edged further away from him.

"If we stay right where we are nothing will come to us, will there, Elmer?" Toby pursued.

"If you mean anything in the way of game we could hardly expect it," replied the scout master. "The fellow who generally gets there is the one who goes out and finds what he wants, and doesn't hang around home waiting for something to turn up. That's what wideawake scouts believe in."

"Hurrah! that's the ticket! And when can we make a start?" demanded Toby.

"If there's any sign of the storm letting up by noon, we'll clear out and take our chances of finding Uncle Caleb's shack before night-time," he was told.

"And as the snow's so deep," Toby rattled on, "what's to hinder me from trying my bully snow-shoes?"

"Nothing that I know of," Elmer remarked; "only I'm afraid you won't find the going as easy as you expect."

"I won't, eh? What's the reason?" asked Toby, who always wanted to be shown.

"You're a new beginner, in the first place, and a knowledge of how to walk on snow-shoes is something that's got to be gained by experience. I've been on them up in Canada; and they had to dig me out lots of times before I learned how to stand straight. If once you slip it's good-bye to you. Down your head goes, and you can't get up alone because of the clumsy big shoes. They always carry a long stick to keep from taking these headers, especially when going it alone."

"Anything else?" asked the aspiring one, as he took up the pair of splendid snow-shoes Uncle Caleb had sent him, and made as if to secure his toe in place with the thong intended for that purpose.

"Yes, there's another thing that will make it doubly hard," Elmer informed him. "Dry snow like this is the toughest kind to walk over. When hunters go after deer or moose on snow-shoes they always pick a time after a thaw, when a return of the cold has frozen the wet surface of the deep snow. Over this thin ice they can run three times as fast as the poor deer, which breaks through with every jump, and flounders almost helplessly."

"That sounds almost like plain murder, do you know," Lil Artha vehemently declared, frowning at the idea.

"Well, if you were hungry, and that was the only way to get near a venison mebbe you wouldn't feel so particular," George told him. "I know right now that I wish a splendid buck was doing some of that same floundering near us, and Elmer had a chance to settle his hash for him. It'd sure do me a heap of good just to know we had enough grub for a week, and then some."

"That's a forbidden subject, George," remonstrated Elmer, who wanted to get the minds of his chums directed in more pleasant channels; "let's all get together and compare notes about direction. I said I had a plan, but then I might be off my base, and some of you could correct me. Four heads are better than one all the time."

His scheme succeeded, for presently he had managed to get them deeply interested in the subject of location, so that one after another put forward some plan.

It was about all they could do, under the circumstances, that and keeping the fire burning. Even George so far forgot his troubles as to suggest several things that were well weighed before being rejected.

As it turned out, after the conference, Elmer had changed his figures a little, and the latest plan was to head a point south of northwest when they started forth in hopes of finding shelter from the storm.

No one knew the grim necessity for action better than Elmer. While he tried to assume a pleasant face in order to keep the courage of the others up, he understood the serious character of their condition far more than he was willing to openly admit.

They could not expect any one to come and find them, if they continued to stay where they were; and besides the scantiness of their provisions entailed the necessity for doing some sort of hunting in the snow forest in hopes of securing a new supply.

As the morning dragged on many anxious glances were cast out to where that fine powdery substance was showering steadily down, adding to the tremendous quantity that was already on the ground. If it would only begin to slacken how thankful they would be.

On several occasions some one would exclaim that it looked as though the snow might be coming down in lessened quantities, but no sooner did they begin to pay close attention than the storm seemed to start in again as furiously as ever.

So the time drew near the middle of the day, and as yet they could not say that there was any hopeful sign.

"If it gets along past noon we're in for another night here, I'm afraid," Lil Artha argued, "because, you remember the old saying, 'between eleven and two, it'll tell you what's it's going to do.' Needn't chuckle that way, George, because I've often seen that proved. Seems like that's a turning point most times, if there's going to be any change."

"All silly bosh!" George went on to say, for at least he was not given to believing in "signs" and such things; "haven't I many a time seen a storm go on past noon, and look as black as a pocket, only to clear handsomely about four or five, with the grandest rainbow in the west you ever saw? Those sayings are all bunco, Lil Artha. I'm surprised at as sensible a scout as you admitting that you believe in any of the same. I'm not superstitious, whatever else I may be."

"Oh! well, it doesn't matter which one's right," the tall scout observed; "the thing is there's always a fair chance of its breaking around noon; and let's hope it'll be kind enough to do that same to-day. I know Elmer wants to make a move as much as any of us, don't you, Elmer?"

"Yes, and I don't care how soon it comes along, either," he was told without the slightest hesitation.

"There's one comfort we've got," said Toby.

"I'd like to hear it, then," George muttered, disconsolately, eying the other half suspiciously, as though he feared another trap intended for his unwary feet.

"We've got stacks of coffee along, and can always have a cup to cheer us up. I think that counts a lot. It not only warms you inside, but gives you courage to face your troubles like a true scout."

"And yet some scouts are never allowed to drink tea or coffee," suggested George.

"I'm sorry for them, that's all," Toby continued; "we don't happen to fall in that class, do we, fellows? My folks let me have one cup every morning; and when I'm in camp I c'n drink all I want. There, look and tell me if you don't think it seems to be lightening in the northwest, Elmer; because that's where all this awful snow is coming from."

"It does look a little better, for a fact!" admitted the scout master, after he had taken a critical observation; "of course I'm not a weather-sharp; and my prediction may not be worth a pinch of salt; but if you asked me I'd like as not say I really believe it was going to break."

"Hurrah!" shouted both Lil Artha and Toby in concert; for this was the first time Elmer had committed himself to saying what he thought about a possible change in the weather.

More anxiously than ever they waited and watched. The snow did not come down quite so heavily, and was constantly lessening in force. A stiff wind had arisen that cut like a knife; they hoped this was blowing the gray clouds away, and that soon the cheery face of the sun would peep forth through a gap in the curtain overhead. All of them stood ready to greet his advent with a rousing cheer.

"Here, let's get our coffee started, so we can move out right away, if things look good to us!" Elmer told them; and it seemed as though there were four times as many cooks as the supply of food warranted, because every one wanted to have a hand in preparing their scanty lunch.

As one of them had said it promised to be pretty much "coffee and point," and of course he was compelled to tell how the poor Irish during famine times were accustomed to hanging a bit of bacon over the table, and as they ate their potatoes they would point the same at it, as though in imagination they might get some of the flavor that way.

"The Irish were long on praties, and short on bacon," Lil Artha commented, "and with us it's a case of plenty of coffee, and a famine in other kinds of grub; but better times are coming soon, boys, when we'll have plenty," and he managed to cast another of his wicked looks in the direction of George, which being seen by that worthy caused him to curl his lips in derision, and return the hint with an expression that seemed to say: "you'll have to wait a long time before you taste me, Lil Artha, and don't you forget that!"

Things got better and better as the cooking progressed; that is to say, overhead the clouds were plainly showing ragged signs, as though they must presently break, and the storm be of the past.

This fact gave the four boys some reason for cheering up. It was a bleak immediate future that stared them in the face, but being young and full of hope they easily found many things to pin their faith on. Youth is apt to be buoyant, and see only the present; George's habit of complaining, and being a pessimist, doubtless sprang from a poor digestion, and could easily be remedied if he went on a plain diet.

"Watch the smoke, how it goes straight up when the wind stops," Elmer told them. "That's a good sign, and every old hunter knows it. Smoke hugs the ground when the air is heavy with moisture, and ascends when it's dry. I'm more certain than ever now that we're seeing the tail-end of our storm."

"The worst is yet to come," croaked George.

"Smells pretty fine to me," said Lil Artha, sniffing the air, which was charged just then with a delightful aroma of coffee.

"I only wish all of you were as lucky as me," Toby broke in with, showing that he could not tear his mind away from contemplating his present. "Think how slick we'd go skimming along over the big drifts on our snow-shoes, and not caring five cents whether school kept or not."

"Mebbe we would, and again mebbe we'd be sorry," George told him. "Things ain't always just what they seem. Lots of times you think you're going to have a nice swell drink, and swich! the glass drops, and is broken into bits."

"Well, we've got aluminum drinking cups, so there's no danger of that thing happening to us," practical Lil Artha assured him, for he never bothered his head about evil omens, and all such nonsense.

Toby, who had been bending over the fire, happened to look around presently. Perhaps it was his intention to add some brilliant remark to what he had already said in connection with snow-shoes; but if this were so the thought was driven completely out of his head by something else.

"Oh! my stars! would you see that?" he almost shrieked.

Startled by his exclamation, and half believing that he must have discovered at least a hungry lynx about to spring into the camp, the others whirled around and then they in turn stared as though hardly able to believe their eyes.

A splendid stag had come bounding along through the deep snowdrifts, unaware of the fact that human enemies were so near by, since the wind carried the scent of their presence, as well as the smoke from the fire, in another direction. He had apparently just discovered them at the instant they all looked, for with a flirt of his antlered head he was making off, jumping gracefully through the deep snow, and doubtless picking his way, even though dreadfully alarmed.

Elmer had started to look for his Marlin, but realizing the hopelessness of getting a shot he desisted, and watched the splendid animal vanish from view.

CHAPTER V
WANDERING THROUGH THE DRIFTS

It was a chagrined and sadly disappointed lot of scouts who turned and looked at each other after the last had been seen of the fleeing buck.

"What a splendid set of antlers he had!" Lil Artha exclaimed.

"To think of how close we came to having a supply of fresh meat!" groaned Toby, shaking his head dismally, as he put a hand on the pit of his stomach, just as if he wished to call their attention to its depressed appearance.

"Was it really a deer?" asked George. "Now, you needn't all turn on me so savagely, like you think I'm away off my base. I've known hungry people to imagine they saw things. Ain't it always the thirsty traveler who sees the mirage on the desert, and thinks he can hear the gurgle of the running water as he looks at the river boiling among the rocks? Course it is; and so I say again, was it really a deer, or did we just think we saw one?"

Knowing the folly of trying to convince George when he chose to question even his own eyes, the others made no attempt to swing him around to their way of thinking.

"That goes to show us the meaning of our motto 'Be Prepared,'" Lil Artha continued. "Now, if either Elmer or me had happened to have a gun in our hands how easy it would have been to bowl that fine buck over. And then think what it would mean to all of us. Wow! after this I'm meaning to stick even closer to my gun than a brother."

"We always shut the door after the horse has been stolen," said Elmer, "but even in our misfortune you can see the silver lining to the cloud if you look."

"Then for goodness' sake, Elmer, point it out, so George can get that sour frown off his face. He don't believe what he sees, and yet he's grieving worse than any of us because we didn't get that venison when we had the chance."

"If there's one deer up here in this forest there must be others," Elmer told them. "You may have noticed that he went off in about the same direction we expect to head in when we start. We may see him again, and if that luck comes our way we'll try and be ready next time."

Ten minutes later and chancing to look out over the snow Elmer saw a moving object that gave him a start, until on looking a second time he made it out to be only George, who was prowling around, looking for any signs the deer may have left as he broke through the deep snow drifts.

Evidently George must have been convinced, for when he came in later there was a satisfied expression on his face; and noticing Elmer observing him the doubter nodded his head, and simply said:

"It was a deer all right; I saw his tracks out there!"

They had been sitting by the fire eating their frugal lunch for something like five minutes when the sun suddenly looked down at them, dazzling their eyes with his bright beams glinting from all that snow.

Of course the four boys immediately broke out into a shout, they were so glad to see the cheerful face of the sun again. The meal was finished in record time; but then perhaps that was not to be wondered at, for the supply had run far short of the demand; and Lil Artha, after polishing his pannikin until he could almost see his face in the same, jocosely remarked:

"The sample was pretty fine; now bring on the dinner!"

They were so eager to get moving that they did not allow their state of hunger to give them much concern. The rude shelter was taken down, though they had some trouble with the rubber ponchos, as they seemed to be frozen stiff under the accumulated snow, which from time to time had thawed in the heat of the fire, only to congeal again later on.

In the end, however, everything was packed as before, and having secured their blankets over their shoulders again, the scouts were ready to make a start. Toby had made his threat good, and had his wonderful snowshoes on. He struck out bravely enough, and at first seemed to be able to easily outstrip his companions. This caused him to feel an unnatural exultation, for he began calling back at them, and derisively telling them to "hurry up," that they were "too slow a bunch for him," and all that sort of nonsense.

Then suddenly this tirade ceased.

"Wonder what's happened to him now?" Lil Artha remarked, turning a grinning face toward Elmer, who simply replied:



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