Alan Douglas.

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



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Taken in all, they would never be apt to forget that same afternoon. Their genial host seemed to be so delighted to have such a wideawake pack of boys up there with him, that he could not do too much for them. Many were the yarns he spun connected with his nomadic life under different suns; and since settling down to this peculiar state of existence he had known a multitude of adventures, both great and small.

"Right now," he told them, as the afternoon light began to fade with the drawing near of the time for sunset, "you might say I am a marked man; not that it gives me any great amount of concern, because I hardly believe that Zack Arnold will ever get his courage up to the sticking point, and attempt to carry out the wild threats he made against me."

"I remember hearing a man speaking that name on the train when we were nearing your station, Uncle!" exclaimed Toby; "he talked as though the fellow might be a sort of woods guide, though a tough rascal feared by every one, even the game wardens, who were afraid to try and arrest him for shooting game out of season."

"All of which is about as true as it can be," was the reply. "Six months ago I had the misfortune to run foul of this same Zack. He was even then half under the influence of liquor, and very abusive. I could have stood it for myself, but when the big brute raised his hand, and knocked down a half-grown girl who had chanced to stumble, and fall against him, in the store, it was too much for my blood."

"You gave him what he deserved, didn't you, Uncle?" demanded the exultant Toby.

"Well, I knocked him down three times in succession, for he had come at me with a knife the second and third times. After that he lay there, and was counted out. Now I was never proud of having upset a brawling bully like that when half-seas over, but it had to be done to pay him for striking that poor child. I heard afterwards that he was furious at me, and vowed he would get even, if he had to come all the way up here to where I held out, and settle his debt."

The boys exchanged looks.

"But he might take a sudden notion to visit you, when feeling in a particularly ugly mood, Uncle," Toby remarked, soberly, "and no one would ever know who had set your cabin on fire, and perhaps burned you in the same."

"Well, I thought of that and for a time never went outside these walls without carrying a gun along; but months have passed, and he does not show up, which I take it means he is too big a coward to risk his ears trying to do me an ill turn. And of late I've neglected any of those precautions. When first I saw my fox trap had been tampered with, and that valuable prize taken, I thought of what Zack Arnold had sworn, and was sure it must be his work. But let's forget about such an unpleasant subject, and have a little music for a change."

It seemed that among his many other accomplishments Uncle Caleb was something of a musician; that is, he loved music, and could play very well on a banjo, as well as on a guitar.

The boys had found this out, through Toby, and looked forward to having good times listening to their genial host during evenings, as they sat before a crackling fire, and cared not for the weather without.

It was getting pretty sharp again, as George announced after coming in with an armful of wood; but little they cared, with such comfortable quarters, and plenty to eat in the family cupboard.

As if to dismiss an unpleasant subject from his mind Uncle Caleb started in to amuse his young guests with various popular selections, most of which the scouts knew as well as they did their own names. From these he presently drifted to older airs from the operas, and sentimental serenades that afforded the boys considerable pleasure. In the end he played a few such favorites as "Home, Sweet Home," with so much effect that he had one or two of them secretly winking rapidly in order to keep the tears from filling their eyes.

"Come, we've had enough of this for the present," said the player, suddenly, on catching sight of Toby blowing his nose with great vehemence, "and as it's getting dark outside, suppose we start our preparations for supper. I've got a few wrinkles I'd like to show you, although I rather expect some of you boys will turn out such good cooks that you'll make my little efforts look primitive."

All the same they did not. Uncle Caleb excelled in nearly everything he undertook, from science, music, and photographing wild animals in their native haunts, all the way down to cookery – perhaps George and Toby and Lil Arthur might object to using that word, and on their own account say "up to cookery."

At any rate he certainly gave the scouts a supper they would not soon forget; and they admitted in private afterwards that they must look to their laurels if they did not want to be considered "back numbers." Uncle Caleb had done his own cooking for a good many years, and being of an investigating turn of mind, had not been content to go along beaten paths, like most bachelors left to their own devices, but had studied cook-books, and made a success of many fine recipes.

After the meal was over, and things cleaned up, they gathered before the burning logs, and looked forward to an enjoyable evening. Every one was to have a part in entertaining the company, with story or song, as the case might be; and Elmer had a long list of questions which he wanted answers for, mostly pertaining to the habits of the little woods and swamps animals in which Uncle Caleb had become so vitally interested.

Before they could get fully settled down, however, there was a shuffling sound heard at the door, and then came a hesitating sort of knock from without.

CHAPTER XIII
THE OBJECT LESSON

"Wasn't that a knock?" asked George, who apparently had not heard the sound so plainly as the others.

"Seemed like it to me," replied Toby, "but say, neighbors can't be so plenty up here in the woods, to have one running in after supper for enough coffee to last over breakfast. P'raps, after all, it was only a limb scraping against the roof; or a squirrel up in the loft huntin' nuts Uncle's laid away."

"It is some one at the door!" remarked the owner of the cabin, quietly.

Elmer saw him getting to his feet. There was a sparkle in the eyes of Uncle Caleb; and his jaw seemed set in a determined way. This suddenly caused Elmer to remember what had been recently told about the tough hard-drinking guide who believed he had a grudge against the old scientist – Uncle Caleb.

"Let me go to the door for you, Uncle Caleb," said Elmer, hurriedly.

"It is my cabin, son, and therefore my duty to answer any summons," was the steady reply of the old gentleman; "so please stay where you are, unless I need any assistance."

"Great governor! what if it should be that man?" Lil Artha was heard to mutter as he reached out a hand, and clutched his own Marlin, which chanced to be standing in a corner conveniently near by.

Every one fairly held his breath as Uncle Caleb was seen to move toward the door. He had not thought it worth while to arm himself, and Elmer considered this positive evidence, going to prove the other's bravery. He himself hardly knew what to expect, and his whole frame fairly quivered with a mixture of eagerness and dread as he saw the owner of the cabin start to open the door, which had been secured by a simple old-fashioned bar that fell into a brace of sockets, one on either side.

Immediately the barrier was removed they saw a figure stagger into view. Uncle Caleb stretched out his hand, and took hold of it. Then the sound of muttered words came to their ears, after which the old gentleman turned, closed the door, and led his unexpected guest toward the fire.

The staring scouts saw that this was a very large man. He seemed to be coarsely dressed as might a woods guide, wearing a heavy sweater under his outer coat. No weapons were visible, and one of his arms hung limply at his side as though it might have been broken in some sort of accident.

The man's face was distorted by pain, but they could see that it was bearded, and looked bearish. In fact, every one of the boys' first impression was that they would not care to meet this fellow while wandering through some lonely part of the forest, and do anything calculated to excite his anger; for he appeared to be a man with a violent temper.

"It's him, I just bet you, Elmer!" whispered Lil Artha in the scout master's ear and Elmer nodded as though he fully agreed with the other.

There seemed to be no need to mention names, for the memory of what Uncle Caleb had recently told them was fresh in every fellow's mind. Curiously they watched what was going on. Lil Artha still caressed his gun. He had hardly made up his mind whether or not this might be a clever trick on the part of Zack Arnold, calculated to gain him an entrance to the cabin of the man he hated so bitterly, though without any reasonably just cause.

It was only the other day that Lil Artha had been reading in school of the wooden horse which played such an important part in the capture of Troy in olden times, being filled with the enemy, who, issuing forth in the night-time, opened the gates of the fortified city to their allies without. Perhaps that was what made the boy suspect the visitor might be shamming in order to catch Uncle Caleb off his guard.

But if this idea had seized hold of Lil Artha he soon realized its utter absurdity. Men may go to considerable lengths in order to carry out their schemes; but he certainly did not believe even a determined fellow like Zack Arnold would deliberately break his arm in the effort to divert suspicion.

It was an ugly break, too, as was shown as soon as Uncle Caleb had divested the other of his garments, with the assistance of Elmer, who sprang to his side when he realized what was needed. That thick, hairy arm was covered with blood, and the sight of it made Toby and George shudder.

"Get a kettle of water on the fire in a hurry, please!" said Uncle Caleb, "because the first thing to be done is to wash this arm so we can see how to set the bone. Toby, at the same time start that coffee to going again, will you? A few hot drinks would take some of the chill out of this poor fellow. He's had a terrible tumble, and is covered with bruises, besides this broken arm. But we'll fix him up as comfortable as we can; and he luckily managed to get to my cabin before it was too late!"

While the old gentleman was speaking in this way the keen black eyes of Zack Arnold kept following his every move. Elmer wondered what must be passing through the mind of the vindictive man just then. He did not doubt in the least but what some terrible plan to revenge himself upon Uncle Caleb for what the other had done to him on that previous occasion had been the cause for his coming to this particular region, for his own camping grounds lay many miles away to the west, where sportsmen congregated in the season for either fly fishing or deer hunting.

With some black plan in his mind the man had started to even up his score with Uncle Caleb; but a strange fate had caused him to meet with a terrible accident; and now he was compelled to actually seek shelter and assistance from the very man he had been about to injure.

It was a remarkable freak of fate, and Elmer found himself wondering what the outcome of it all might be.

Lil Artha had quietly replaced his Marlin in the corner when he first glimpsed that tortured arm, for he realized then that there was going to be no need of weapons. When Uncle Caleb called for a kettle of warm water he was the first to leap to his feet and place one on the fire; while Toby, just as eager to help, began to brew the coffee.

This latter was ready even before the kettle began to sing, and Uncle Caleb himself poured a brimming cup of the beverage, which he handed to the wounded man. No doubt Zack Arnold needed some stimulant the worst kind. He must have exhausted his pet flask on the way, for he did not seem to have a drop about him; and when the fragrant Java beverage was placed in his possession he swallowed the contents of the big aluminum cup in great gulps, as though his throat might be made of cast iron, which no hot stuff could scald.

Uncle Caleb asked no questions. He must know very well what had brought this revengeful guide so far out of his beaten track; but to see him tenderly washing that arm, and then gently setting the broken bones, after which he bound it up with a splint almost as well as any professional surgeon could, you might have thought he was attending his best friend instead of a bitter enemy.

Lil Artha could hardly keep his eyes off the man's face. He, too, had finally managed to grasp the same idea that had come long before to Elmer; and now he wondered again and again what the outcome of this remarkable adventure was going to be. He even chuckled a little to himself as he saw those eyes of Zack following Uncle Caleb back and forth, as the other went to get more bandages, or it might be the soothing salve which he wished to rub upon several ugly black-and-blue spots visible on the left side of the brawny woodsman.

"Huh! I've heard before about heaping coals of fire on your enemy's head," Lil Artha whispered to Elmer, when he found a good chance, "but I never just understood what it meant. Now I know to a fraction. Say, did you ever hear of such a queer thing in all your life? And I bet you he was coming up here to make a lot of trouble for Toby's uncle, too. Well, this is an object lesson for scouts, ain't it, Elmer?"

"Just as you say, Lil Artha, but better not try and talk any more about it. He might hear something you wouldn't want him to. Just keep your eyes and ears open, and you'll be well paid."

So after that the tall scout sat still and kept on the alert. He was enjoying things exceedingly. In fact he could not remember having ever felt such a keen interest in anything before as he did in this coming of Zack Arnold to the cabin of his hated enemy, and under such queer conditions.

When in the end Uncle Caleb finished attending to his injured guest, and with the help of Elmer the guide's sweater had been secured in such fashion that it gave him the required warmth, he seemed to remember something else looking to the comfort of Zack Arnold.

"Do you think you could manage to eat something if we cooked it for you, Zack?" he asked, with such an earnest manner that the man writhed in his seat, and his eyes fell in what Lil Artha believed to be utter shame, though he quickly spoke up in reply.

"Ye've made me feel so comfy-like, suh, that I jest reckon I could take a few bites. Hain't had nawthin' sence mornin'. Ye see, I took this tumble 'long 'bout noon, an' I lost nigh everything I had with me in the way o' eatin's an' same with the drinkin's. Been jest walkin' ever sence, ahopin' I mout hold out long enuff ter strike yer shack; but I kim near throwin' up the sponge an' lettin' the freeze do the bizness for me."

George saw a chance to get his hand in had come at last.

"What shall I cook him, Uncle Caleb!" he hastened to ask.

"I've got just two eggs left from the lot I fetched back with me," said the old scientist, without hesitation, "and you can fry them for him with a slice of ham. You'll find the eggs in that can where I keep my rice, the one with the name on the front, George. And there's plenty more coffee in the pot. In his present exhausted condition it will be the best thing he can take, far better than liquor!"

The guide opened his mouth as though about to say something, but his emotions must have overcome him, for he gulped several times, blinked his eyes quickly, and then sat there staring hard at the fire, possibly with strange thoughts surging through his mind.

Elmer noted these things. He felt that a revolution might be taking place within the soul of that tough woodsman.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised," was what Elmer told himself, as he later on watched Zack devouring the supper George had prepared, "but what this is going to turn out to be the making of that man. He's surely seen a great light, and already looks at things in a different way from what he ever did before. And if I know Uncle Caleb, as I think I do from having studied him, the chances are ten to one he'll wait his chance, and all he'll ask in return for what he's done will be for Zack to get on the water wagon, and stay there the rest of his life. Well, I hope it does turn out that way. But who'd ever think we'd run across such a wonderful object lesson away off up here in the snow forest?"

And yet later on, when Elmer allowed himself to survey the matter at closer range, he was not greatly surprised; for he realized that occasions are apt to spring up at the most unexpected times when observing scouts can read a lesson in passing events, if only they keep their wits about them.

CHAPTER XIV
THE QUEER ACTIONS OF ZACK ARNOLD

Room was found for the newcomer later on in the half-circle before the fire, and though Zack Arnold took no part in the conversation, he sat there listening, and hearing things that must have given him many new impressions. As a rule his eyes were fastened upon the beaming and genial face of Uncle Caleb, who, however, made out not to notice this attention he was receiving, though naturally he could not help knowing it.

The boys told their host numerous things connected with the organization of the troop of Boy Scouts in their town, and what wonderful things it had already done for many of those who had signed the muster roll. He was keenly interested, and asked questions so fast that it kept them all busy answering; for Elmer would never consent that his chums simply sit there while he spoke for all; he wished them to have a part in the telling.

On his part, Uncle Caleb related a lot about his life in the past, touching upon some of the remarkable things that had happened to him. Strange as some of these might be reckoned, Elmer was privately of the opinion that nothing more singular could ever have happened to the traveler and scientist than the dramatic coming to his cabin door on this bitter cold winter's night of one who believed himself to be the old gentleman's enemy, sorely wounded, almost ready to die, and wholly dependant upon Uncle Caleb's bounty for his very life.

When later on some of the scouts manifested signs of drowsiness and exhaustion, by sundry yawns and nods, the host declared it was time they thought of getting some sleep.

"I'd put you on the cot here, Zack," he told the guide, "only it isn't as strong as it might be, and you're rather heavy. If it happened to give way you'd get a bad wrench to that arm of yours that wouldn't be very pleasant. So I'm going to fix you out with a bunk on the floor near the fire. I happen to have some spare blankets, and here are some furs that will make things feel easy for you. I don't suppose you object to sleeping on the floor, do you?"

At that the man grinned, for the first time since entering the cabin.

"Won't be the fust time by a thousand thet I've slept on boards, suh," he went on to say, "an' right hyar I wants to tell ye how much 'bleeged I am ter yer fur all ye done by me. I don't deserve a bit o' the same. I'm a bad man, suh, I been thinkin' all manner o' rotten things 'bout ye, sence ye guv me what I reckons I desarved, if ever a mean skunk did; an' thet's what."

"Don't mention it, Zack," said Uncle Caleb, pleasantly; "I know you looked at things from the wrong side, and at one time thought I'd done you harm; but since then you've seen a better light; and I wouldn't be surprised if you were coming out of your way to my cabin to tell me so, when this accident happened."

The big guide's jaws worked several times as though he might be trying to say something; but it was of no use, for not a word escaped him. He did heave a deep sigh, however, and gave his kind benefactor a long look before allowing his eyes to drop.

Elmer felt satisfied, for he believed the cure must be working. Indeed, he could not for the life of him understand how any one could withstand friendly advances from such a splendid old gentleman as Uncle Caleb. His very eyes were full of benevolence and the kindly spirit that filled his heart. The man who would take the keenest delight in binding up the broken leg of a poor little rabbit that he found in distress, certainly could not bear malice toward an uneducated woodsman, who had never had half a chance to learn better things than entertaining an unreasonable desire for revenge.

Under the direction of the owner of the cabin Lil Artha made up a mighty comfortable bed on the floor. When it was finished the scout tested his work, and declared he would not mind sleeping there all the rest of his stay, if Uncle Caleb thought one of the bunks would be better for the wounded guide.

Zack, however, would not hear of it. He declared that he preferred the floor for many reasons. Lil Artha managed to shoot a suggestive look toward Elmer, upon which the other shook his head in the negative. He knew that the lengthy scout suspected Zack might be thinking of taking French leave while they slept, and perhaps help himself to some of their stores in the bargain. But Elmer had no such fear.



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