Storm-Bound: or, A Vacation Among the Snow Driftsскачать книгу бесплатно
"Wait and see, and be ready to laugh, though it's never a laughing matter to the fellow with the snowshoes!"
As Elmer had expected would be the case they presently discovered something floundering in the snow, which upon closer inspection proved to be Toby's feet. He had lost his balance while negotiating a big drift, and in spite of the assistance afforded by the long staff he carried, had taken a plunge, so that when they arrived his feet were where his head should be.
Elmer knew how to go about it in order to right the novice. Toby was no longer bubbling over with enthusiasm as he once more started off. He was learning that even innocent looking snow-shoes may have traps concealed about them for the unwary; and afterward he conducted his advance with much more caution.
In spite of this, however, the others had to rescue him regularly about once every fifteen minutes, until finally even Toby was ready to call the experiment off for the time being.
"I'll get there yet, see if I don't," he assured the others, as they gathered around to watch him take the big cumbersome things off his feet, and sling them over his back. "Uncle Caleb'll teach me how to use 'em; and besides, Elmer, didn't you say this was mighty poor snow for a learner to start out with? Gimme time, and I'll master the trick yet, see if I don't."
Elmer did not doubt in the least but what he would, because this sort of talk showed the determined spirit that always gets there in the end, no matter how many difficulties may be encountered by the way.
They found it hard traveling through all that accumulated snow, even though the pilot of the expedition made it a point to pick out the easiest course, avoiding most of the drifts, though keeping on the course he had laid out in the beginning.
As they went they used their eyes to the best advantage, hoping to discover something in the shape of game, little they cared whether it might be a covey of partridges, a rabbit that was out of its burrow at the wrong time, a deer, or even so small a thing as a gray squirrel.
As the afternoon began to wear on, and their progress was becoming slower all the while, on account of weariness, and the difficulty of pushing through the snow, their hopes took a downward turn with the drop of the sun toward the horizon.
Everywhere lay that unending white blanket. The breeze had stopped, and it seemed as though a deathly silence lay upon all the region roundabout them, now and then disturbed when some rotten limb broke under the weight of snow, and crashed to the ground; for in the beginning, before it became so cold, the falling flakes had clung tenaciously wherever they dropped, and thus the trees were in places bending double with their burden.
Still not the slightest sign did any of the boys discover of human presence. If only they could have caught the ringing echo of a woodman's ax, or hear the hello of a hunter returning to camp with game on his back, what a thrill must have passed through their whole bodies; but to have that terrible silence around them was discouraging, to say the least.
All of them were staggering more or less by now.
It was the absence of hope as much as the fact of their being tired that caused this. Could they have glimpsed smoke curling upward a mile ahead, to tell them of succor, doubtless even George, who was more worn out than any of the others, would have started on a mad rush to reach the coveted camp where comfort and plenty awaited them.
But that was not fated to be just then. The scouts had by accident found themselves entangled in a network of difficulties, and there were still other experiences awaiting them before they could expect to reach the end of their adventure.
All of them seemed to be holding up as well as could be expected. George could forget his weakness when he chose, and show that he had the right sort of stuff in him, just as Elmer had known all along. He did not complain even as much as Toby did; though perhaps that worthy was soured by his keen disappointment in connection with his wonderful snow-shoes, which after all had only been a delusion, a snare, and a burden up to date.
They knew that this sort of thing could not keep up a great while longer, for the sun would soon be ready to set in the west, and they must think to prepare for another dismal night in the endless snow forest.
Somehow no one mentioned anything about the prospect ahead now. They dreaded it more than ever, because the conditions were gradually getting harder all the while. When a parcel of well grown boys, with the healthy appetites of their kind, are reduced to cutting their rations down to one-half, they do not face the future with anything approaching enthusiasm.
Their manner of march was about like this: Elmer went in front, breaking a way, as it might be described, and his was the eye that had to pick the course, avoiding all the difficult drifts as much as possible, though heading into the near-northwest as arranged at the time they laid their plans.
Immediately after him came Toby, puffing like a porpoise at times, being short of breath; and occasionally floundering about when he lost his footing or made a miscalculation.
On his heels George plodded along, looking this way and that, ever ready to call to Elmer did he but discover a moving, dun-colored object that might turn out to be the deer they had missed.
Lil Artha brought up the rear, though with those long waders of his it must have been an easy task for him to have taken the lead, since they seemed particularly adapted for carrying their owner through floods of snow or water. Lil Artha kept his gun ready at all times. If game that had been made to hide because of the coming of Elmer attempted to slink away later on, the tall scout was on hand, ready to take advantage of the first opportunity.
So far nothing had rewarded their vigilance, much to their keen disappointment. That there was game to be found in the forest they did not question; but after such a heavy fall of snow it wisely remained in den or hollow tree, waiting for a change in the weather before venturing forth. Hunger would eventually compel most of the animals that did not hibernate like the bear to issue forth and seek their accustomed food; but they could abstain for days, and meanwhile what was to become of the four scouts?
As they moved along the stillness was disturbed by the noisy cawing of a flock of crows that seemed to be disputing some matter. Often had the boys watched the queer actions of crows when holding what Toby called a "cawcus," as though trying one of their number that had been caught doing something unfair, according to crow laws; but never had they anticipated they would begin to observe the noisy black fellows with hungry eyes.
"If it comes to the worst, crow mightn't go so very bad," suggested Lil Artha.
"Well, we haven't got to that point yet, remember!" hastily cried George. "I'm willing to stand for nearly anything, but eating crow is too, too much. What d'ye take us for, Lil Artha; think we're a bunch of defeated politicians, do you, that have to pay an election wager? No crow for me until I'm at the last gasp. Get out, you black rascals;" and he waved his arms in order to make them fly before Lil Artha could conclude to fire his gun.
IN THE FROZEN MARSH
Perhaps it was just as well that the crows took the alarm, and flew noisily away. If Lil Artha had taken a shot at them and secured one or more, there might have been a peck of trouble, not only for the crows but some of the scouts as well.
They pushed on for some little time after this in silence. Elmer was constantly on the watch for a possible camping spot. He hardly expected they would be as highly favored as on the preceding night; but then, as no storm threatened, this was not absolutely necessary. He anticipated that they would be able to put up some sort of barrier to keep the keen wind off, clear a place of snow, and do the best possible with what they found.
"Looks like we might be on the border of a sort of marsh," suggested Lil Artha, as he made an extra effort, and caught up with the plodding leader.
"Yes, I began to notice that about ten minutes ago," replied Elmer.
"I only mention the fact," continued the lanky scout, "because it strikes me that several times when Toby read out long descriptive letters he had from his uncle up here the old gentleman told of getting some of his best views when lying out in a marsh, and watching the little animals play tag, or some game like that, build their nests, and have their scraps. Am I right about that, Elmer?"
"Yes, and I can see what you're hinting at, Lil Artha. You've got an idea this may be that marsh?"
"Correct!" admitted the tall scout.
"And that if we've finally managed to work around, and strike Uncle Caleb's favorite stamping grounds, there's a pretty good chance the cabin can't be a great ways off?" Elmer concluded, while his words brought vigorous nods of approval from the other.
"Wish we could set up a holler that'd reach him!" ventured Lil Artha.
"We might try a few shots and see if they had any result, though I'd rather wait till dark before doing that," the scout master remarked, thoughtfully.
Lil Artha pondered over this for a minute before he made any further remark.
"I reckon you mean you still hope we might run foul of some sort of game that would give us a supper?" he finally observed.
"Well, here's the marsh, and while the snow is deep in most places, we might manage to run across one of their queer little winter houses, you know."
Lil Artha must have been thinking along the same lines as Elmer, if one could judge from the rapidity with which he took the other up.
"You mean muskrats, don't you, Elmer?"
"Just what I do," came the reply. "Beggars mustn't be choosers, they say; and it looks like that, or go hungry to-night, because we haven't got enough stuff on hand for two, much less four."
"I wonder if they are so very bad eating?" mused the tall scout, wistfully; for prejudice is a hard thing to conquer; and habit backed by imagination is responsible for the choice of many a man's food. What appeals tremendously to one may cause another to shrink.
"I've heard many men say they think musquash as good as almost anything to be had in the woods or swamps up north. The Indians always consider them a dainty," he told his chum.
"Oh! yes, but they are also mighty fond of baked dog," remonstrated Lil Artha.
"So would you be, if you'd been brought up that way. Some people can't bear the thought of eating frogs' legs, and yet those same folks will sit down and calmly swallow a dozen oysters or clams on the half shell. Now, I've always said that the first man who ever gulped down a live oyster had more nerve even than Napoleon. Then, if you only travel around, from China to France, you'll find that things we scorn are called dainties there. Take snails, which bring a high price in Paris markets – have you ever eaten one in all your life?"
"Hold on there, Elmer," exclaimed Lil Artha; "bring on your musquash. I'm ready to give him a fair trial, and if he tastes good, after this you won't hear me draw the line even at baked dog – or crow. Yes, I've heard of people who say they've made a meal off crow, and liked it. Why, down our way the black rascals live on corn, and I don't see why they shouldn't be eatable, especially when a fellow has nothing else along."
"Then I tell you what our programme should be," the scout master continued, as though this ready admission on the part of the other gun-bearer had settled the question with him; "we'll make up our minds about stopping close by here, and on the border of the marsh. While George and Toby are fixing camp, and beginning to gather wood, the two of us can start out and enter the marsh, keeping within calling distance of each other. If there's anything doing we'll bag some game for our supper to-night. How does that strike you?"
"Tip-top, Elmer, and because the sun is getting pretty low over there in the west we'd better be finding that camp-site in a hurry."
"I think I see as good a place as any right now," the scout master declared, as he pointed straight ahead. "You can glimpse what I mean by looking just past that birch that is bent nearly double with the snow. A dead tree lies on the ground, and I should think it would give us all the wood we'll need to-night. That's the main thing to make sure of."
"And there's a heavy growth in sight, Elmer, that would serve as a windbreak in case it got to blowing great guns before morning, which I don't think will happen though. Shall I tell the other fellows we're at the end of our day's tramp?"
"Yes, because they're both about as tired as can be, and will be glad to hear the news," Elmer replied.
So Lil Artha fell back in order to get in communication with Toby and George, who were plodding along with many a sigh and grunt; for their packs were heavy, and the going rough, with all that deep snow to struggle through.
"Hi! hurry along there, fellows!" he called out; "we're meaning to camp right ahead here. Plenty of wood for a fire, and a windbreak in the bargain."
"Tell us something about the visible grub supply, won't you, Lil Artha?" asked Toby, beseechingly. "Is there a good grocery around the corner, and does the butcher call for orders every morning, or just three times a week?"
"Oh! you have to go after your fresh meat," laughed the tall scout, "and that's what me'nd Elmer propose doing, leaving you two to fix the camp."
"All right," replied the weary Toby, "just as you say. Anything to oblige; and here's hoping you run up against the best of success. A broiled partridge, or three slices of juicy venison in the fryingpan would about suit my taste."
"They don't grow juicy venison up here, you ought to know, Toby; every kind I ever heard of was as dry as tinder, and had to be cooked with slices of bacon to make it taste just right. But considering that we've made way with the last scrap of cured pork I guess we'll take it any old style."
Lil Artha did not think it wise to spring the muskrat idea too suddenly on those unsuspecting fellows. He had a vague idea that should Elmer and himself meet with success, and knock over several of the marsh dwellers with the unenviable name, they might skin them, and let their chums imagine that they were eating squirrel or rabbit or something like that. Afterwards, when they had set the stamp of approval upon the dish, the truth could come out. Prejudice by then would have been overcome by the knowledge that "musquash," the Indian dish, was all right.
When the little struggling party reached the spot Elmer had selected, and every one had a chance to survey the situation, a unanimous approval of his choice was the result.
"You couldn't have done better if you'd tried," said George.
"Don't believe there's as good a camp-site within five miles," Toby added; but perhaps the tired condition of the boys had something to do with this endorsement on their part; just then any place would have satisfied their desires, which were not very exacting.
The heavy packs were quickly hung from the lower limb of a tree under which the camp fire was to be made. It was a pine, and beneath it the ground seemed to be fairly clear of snow, most of what had fallen still clinging to the tree itself.
"Better not waste any more time, had we, Elmer?" asked the tall scout, as he nervously handled his Marlin gun, anxious to start out after game.
"No, get busy, please," said Toby; "don't bother about us, for we know how camp ought to be made. All we ask is that you come back loaded down with something to eat."
"We don't care much what it is, if only you cut out crow," George added.
Lil Artha gave his fellow Nimrod a quick look, as much as to say, "that lets us out, and we can fetch home the musquash with a clear conscience – if so be we're lucky enough to bag any."
They went away in company. The last words George flung after the departing comrades was a caution.
"For goodness' sake now, don't go and get lost in that marsh, or we will be in a bad scrape. Things are hard enough as it stands without our getting separated. If you don't just know where the camp is located give three yells, or fire three shots as fast as you can. We'll answer you back, and keep hollering till you show up. Three shots, remember."
Once the two scouts entered the frozen marsh they kept together for a short time.
"How'll I know a muskrat house when I see it, Elmer?" asked Lil Artha.
"Oh! you've seen them often around home, only you forget," replied the other, but in order to make sure, he continued: "you know, they build their nests or houses a little after the same style as beaver do, only of course not so big or secure. If when you're passing a marsh or swampy tract, and spy a number of what look like irregular mounds, or heaps of dead rushes, you can make up your mind muskrats live there. If it's a lake or a stream they can be found in among the rocks too, but not as a rule, because there they are apt to run up against the otter, weasel and the mink, and there's no love lost between those sharp-toothed animals and the muskrat. He's a hard fighter, too, as his jaws tell you, Lil Artha, but hardly a match for a mink in a stand-up scrap. There's a muskrat house right now; let's stop and see if the old fellow is at home."
Accordingly they surrounded the accumulation of dead rushes and leaves and other refuse, after which Elmer tore it to pieces, while Lil Artha stood guard, ready to take snap judgment should the occasion arise.
It turned out to be a disappointment, however, for the mound was empty.
"Nothing doing, eh?" grunted the tall scout, lowering his gun, which he had been keeping half elevated all the while.
"No, and I didn't believe we'd have any success here soon after I started tearing the thing down," replied Elmer. "It showed all the signs of being a deserted shack."
"What could have happened to the former inhabitant, do you think?" continued the disappointed one, to whom even musquash stew was beginning to appeal more and more, as the chances of securing any sort of game diminished in proportion.
"I might guess that he chose to change his place of residence," said Elmer, "or, it might be that Uncle Caleb fancies the old Indian dish once in a while. But let's be moving along. The mill will never grind again with the water that is past; and we're not going to get our supper by standing over a muskrat house that hasn't got any owner."
Another start was accordingly made. Elmer kept track of the direction they were taking. He did not mean to find himself in a quandary when they were ready to turn back again, and not be able to say where the camp lay. Lil Artha knew he could depend on his chum in that respect, and hence he did not concern himself in the slightest degree about such a thing as becoming bewildered. It is a nice thing to have some one to lean upon at all times, though the scout master often took Lil Artha to task because of his willingness to let another do his thinking for him.
"Let's separate a little," Elmer suggested, presently, when they had gone along for quite some distance and found nothing at all. "We ought to be able to keep in sight of each other easily enough; and the same time cover a lot more ground, and in that way increase our chances."
"I'm agreeable," chirped Lil Artha, not suspecting how great an influence on their future fortunes even that little incident was going to prove; "I'll swing off to the right here, and follow this swale, while you keep straight on. I rather like the looks of things over this way, and p'raps I'll run across a colony of those r – I mean musquash."
"Give me the wolf call if you do," Elmer told him, smiling at the quick way Lil Artha had corrected himself when about to give that unpleasant name to the furry little denizen of the marsh they were seeking so eagerly, so as to improve the looks of their larder, and satisfy a craving they felt for making his acquaintance in a stew.
Elmer watched the tall scout move along the swale he had mentioned. He fancied that Lil Artha was about right when he declared it looked as though something might be found in that direction, if signs stood for much.
"I certainly hope, then, he strikes it," Elmer mused as he rambled on, dodging all the drifts whenever he could, and straining his eyes for a sight of welcome signs; "because we need it worse than we ever needed anything before."
He had just succeeded in evading a bad place, and was about to look again in order to learn where his chum might be, when without warning there came two reports in quick succession right beyond a bunch of thick brush and not two hundred feet away.
Elmer immediately started toward the spot as fast as he could go. He thought he heard loud words spoken, and was in a fever of suspense, fearing Lil Artha might have hurt himself, until rounding the obstruction he saw the other standing there, holding his Marlin gun dejectedly while he stared into space.скачать книгу бесплатно
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