The Corner House Girls Snowbound
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“They’re awful mean not to have taken us slidin’ with them,” declared Sammy, sitting on the front step and making no effort to continue the work of snow man building.
“I love to slide,” repeated Dot, sadly.
“And now it’s going to snow,” said Tess, biting her lip. “If it snows a lot we can’t slide tomorrow.”
“Awful mean,” reiterated Sammy. “Say! Aggie said there was a small sled back there where they found the big one. Let’s go and see it.”
Any idea seemed good to the disappointed little girls. Even just looking at the sled they could use, if nothing happened, was interesting. They followed Sammy.
But Sammy had more in his mind than just the idea of looking at the sled. Only, from past experience, he knew that to get Tess and Dot Kenway to leave the path of rectitude took some sharp “figuring.” So he, like Ike M’Graw, was exercising his faculties.
They came to the shed.
“Oh, what a nice sled!” cried Dot, as Sammy drew out a shiny sled, big enough for three or four little folks, and with a steering arrangement in front.
“It’s a better sled than the one I have at home,” admitted Sammy.
“I guess we could slide all right on that,” said Tess slowly.
“Guess we could!” agreed the boy.
“I’d like a ride on it,” said Dot wistfully.
“Get on, kid. Me and Tess will drag you,” said Sammy.
Dot overlooked the objectionable way in which Sammy had addressed her and hurried to seat herself on the sled. Sammy and Tess took hold of the rope. It was not very hard to pull such a light body as that of the fairylike Dot through the soft snow.
Sammy wisely turned away from the Lodge and followed the tracks of the bobsled. In two minutes they were out of sight of the Lodge, and even of the sheds. At that time Neale and the old woodsman had not come out for the purpose of searching the vicinity of the Lodge for the footprints of the Birdsall twins.
Sammy and the two smallest Corner House girls moved up the woods path which the other sledding party had found and followed. If Ruth and the others had gone this way, surely they could safely follow the same route. Although the snow was increasing, even the cautious Tess Kenway saw no danger menacing the trio.
But at first she had no idea just what Sammy had determined upon. In fact, Sammy Pinkney had taken the bit in his teeth, and he was determined to do exactly what they had been forbidden to do. If the older ones could slide downhill, why could he and the little girls not have the same pleasure?
He and Tess drew Dot for a long way, much to that little girl’s delight. Then the uphill grade tired Tess so much that she had to stop.
“Shift with Dot,” Sammy said. “Come on, Dot. You and I will drag Tess a piece.”
The little girl was willing, and she and her sister changed places. Dot could not do much to aid Sammy, but he buckled down to the work and pulled manfully.
When he had to stop, puffing, they were then so far up the hill that his suggestion that they keep on to the top and slide back, met with even Tess’ approval.
“We’ve come so far, we might’s well finish it,” she said.
“Well, I hope it isn’t much farther,” said Dot, “for it’s awful hard walking in this snow.And it’s snowing harder, too.”
“Don’t be a ’fraid-cat, Dottie,” snorted Sammy. “I never saw such a girl!”
“Am not a ’fraid-cat!” declared the smallest Corner House girl, prompt to deny such an impeachment. “Snow don’t hurt. But you can’t see where you are going when it snows so thick,”
“Shucks!” said Sammy. “We can’t get lost on this road, can we, Tess?”
“No-o,” agreed Tess. “I guess we can’t. We can’t get off the path, that’s sure. And we can see the marks the big sled made all the way.”
These tracks, however, were rapidly being effaced. The children were not cold, for as the snow increased it seemed to become warmer, and the hard walking helped to keep them warm.
They had to put Dot back on the sled and draw her the final two or three hundred yards to the top of the hill. There, fast as the snow was gathering, they could see where the other coasters had turned the bobsled around and prepared to launch themselves from the top of the hill.
“I guess they slid almost all the way home,” said Tess, with some anxiety. “I hope we can do as well, Sammy.”
“Sure,” agreed Sammy. “Ain’t no need to worry about that. Now I’m goin’ to lie right down, and Dot can straddle me. Then you push off and hang on at the back end of the sled, Tess. Don’t you kids fall off.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me a kid, Sammy Pinkney,” complained Dot. “And don’t wiggle so if I’ve got to sit on you.”
“Well, I got to get fixed,” Sammy rejoined. “Hang on now. All ready, Tess?”
“Yes. My! how the wind blows this snow into your face.”
“Put your head down when we get started. I’ve got to keep lookin’ ahead. Bet this is a dandy slide – and such a long one!”
“Here we go!” cried Tess, pushing with vigor.
The sled started. It seemed to slide over the soft snow very nicely. She scrambled on, and, sitting sideways, clung with both hands to the rails. Dot was hanging to Sammy’s shoulders.
“Choo! Choo! Choo! Here we go!” yelled Sammy, wriggling with eagerness.
“Do keep still, Sammy!” begged Dot.
But the sled did not gain speed. The gathering snow impeded the craft even on the down grade.
“Kick! Kick behind, Tess!” yelled Sammy. “Kick hard.”
“I – I am kicking,” panted his friend. “Why don’t the old thing go better?”
“This snow is loadin’ right up in front of it,” sputtered Sammy. “It’s too de-e-ep! Aw – shucks!”
The sled almost stopped. Then it went over a thank-you-ma’am and slid a little faster. The slide was nowhere near as nice as they had expected. Why! they were not going downhill much faster than they had come up.
The snow was sifting down now very thickly, and in a very short time the trio was likely to have to drag the empty sled through deep drifts. Even Sammy was secretly sorry they had come such a long way from the Lodge. Although it was barely mid-afternoon, it seemed to be growing dark.
They struggled to make the sled slide, however; neither Sammy nor Tess was a child who easily gave up when circumstances became obstinate. Tess continued to dig her heels into the snow, and when the sled almost stopped, Sammy plunged his arms elbow deep into the snow to aid in its movement.
But suddenly they went over a hummock. It seemed a steep descent on the other side. In spite of the gathering snow the sled got under better headway.
“Hurrah, Tess!” yelled Sammy. “We’re all right now.”
“I – I hope so!” gasped the older girl.
“Oh! Oh!” shrieked Dot. “We’re going!”
They really were going – or, so it seemed. Faster and faster ran the sled, for the hill had suddenly become steep. It was snowing too thickly for any of them to notice that this part of the track was entirely new to them.
They shot around a turn and took another dip toward the valley. Sammy did not mind the snow beating into his face now. He yelled with pleasure. The little girls hung on, delighted. The sled sped downward.
All marks of the bobsled’s runners were long since lost under the new snow. The hill grew steeper. Sammy’s yells were half stifled by the wind and snow.
It did seem as though that slide was a very long one! In climbing the hill the trio had had no idea they had walked so far. And how steep it was!
Over a level piece the sled would travel at a moderate rate, and then shoot down a sudden decline that almost took their breath. Surely they must have traveled almost to the Lodge from which they had started.
Finally the path became level. Great trees rose all about them. They could see but a short distance in any direction because of the falling snow.
The sled stopped. The girls hopped off and Sammy struggled to his feet and shook the snow out of his eyes.
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” he choked. “What a slide! Did you ever, Tess?”
“No, I never did,” admitted Tess quite seriously.
“Oh!” cried Dot. “Let’s go home. I’m co-co-o-old. Why – why – ” she gasped suddenly, looking about on all sides.
“Well, don’t cry about it,” snorted Sammy. “Of course we’ll go home. We must be almost there now – we slid so far.”
“Oh, yes. We must be near Red Deer Lodge,” agreed Tess.
It did not look like any place they had ever seen before. The trees were much taller than any they had noticed about the Lodge. Yet there was the open path ahead of them. They set Dot upon the sled again, and Tess helped Sammy drag it and her sister straight ahead. Somewhere in that direction they were all three sure Red Deer Lodge was situated.
CHAPTER XX – FOLLOWING ANOTHER TRAIL
After all the activities of the forenoon both by the older boys and girls of the vacation party at Red Deer Lodge, and by the children as well, the soft snow was considerably marked up by footprints around the premises.
Ike M’Graw and Neale O’Neil, searching for prints of the feet of those who they thought had left the vicinity of the house early that morning, struck directly off for the edge of the clearing.
“The best we can do,” M’Graw declared, “is to follow the line of the woods clean around the clearing. Somewhere, whoever ’tis got that fox and lifted the canned goods, must have struck into the woods. They ain’t hidin’ in the barns or anywhere here. I’ve been searchin’ them. That’s certain.”
Neale had very bright eyes, and not much could escape them; but the snow was coming down fast now and even he could not distinguish marks many yards ahead.
Here and there they beheld footprints; but always examination proved them to be of somebody who belonged at the Lodge. The prints in the snow Luke and his sister and Ruth had made soon after breakfast fooled Neale for a moment, but not for long.
They saw the woodsman’s big prints, too, where he had been looking for the marks of the fox hunter. There were the marks Neale himself and Agnes had made when they had followed the “deer.”
All these various marks bothered the searchers; and all the time, too, the snow was falling and making the identification of the various prints of feet the more difficult.
“This here’s worse than nailing the animals that they say went into the ark that time Noah set sail for Ararat,” declared Ike, chuckling. “Whoever followed them critters up to the gangplank must have been some mixed up —
“Hello! What’s this?”
They had come around behind the sheds. Here was the entrance to the road on which Neale and Luke with the three older girls had coasted that forenoon. The woodsman was pointing to marks in the snow, now being rapidly filled in. Neale said:
“Oh, we were sliding on this hill, you know.”
“Uh-huh? Who was?”
“Five of us. With a big bobsled.”
“Now, you don’t tell me that bobsled made them marks,” interposed the old man. “I know that bobsled.”
“Why – I – ”
“Them runner marks was made by little Ralph Birdsall’s scootin’ sled. I know that, too. Who’s gone up to slide this afternoon?”
“That must be the kids!” exclaimed Neale. “I wonder if Ruth knows they are out here playing! I remember now I didn’t see them at the front of the house.”
“You don’t suppose they’ve gone far?”
“Oh, I guess they will come to no harm around here. Ruth would not let them go away from the Lodge to play.”
“Humph!” muttered the old man.
But he went on. There was really no reason for Neale to be worried about the children. They were almost always well behaved. At least, they seldom disobeyed.
Besides, it was only a few minutes later when Mr. Howbridge, well muffled against the storm, appeared with Tom Jonah on a leash. The old woodsman had just got down on his knees in the snow to examine two lines of faint impressions that left the path John’s footprints had made to the farther shed.
“Now, what’s this? A deer jumped out here – or what?”
Neale waited and Mr. Howbridge held the dog back. Ike got up and followed the half-filled impressions a little farther. They headed directly for the thicker woods to the north of the Lodge premises.
“Might have been feet – small feet. And two sets of ’em,” said Ike. “Hi, Mister! did you find anything up in that closet belongin’ to the twins?”
“Here is a pair of bed slippers. Knitted ones. They are much too small for a grown person,” the lawyer declared.
M’Graw took the articles thoughtfully into his big hands. “Humph! Look like little Missie’s slippers. Certainly do. Roweny, you know. Wonder if this old dog knows anything.”
He offered the slippers to Tom Jonah to sniff. The dog had been used to following a scent in times past; often they would send him after Dot or Tess or Sammy. He snuffed eagerly at the knitted shoes.
“Don’t know how strong the scent is on ’em. It’s been some time, p’r’aps, since little Roweny wore ’em. But – ”
Tom Jonah whined, sniffed again, and then lifted up his muzzle and barked, straining at the leash.
“Looks like he understands,” said the old man, reaching for the leash and taking the bight of it from Mr. Howbridge’s hand. “Good dog! Now, go to it. These here footprints – if that’s what they are – are fillin’ in fast.”
Tom Jonah put his nose to the marks in the snow. He sniffed, threw some of the light snow about with his nose, and started off. He followed the faint trail into the woods. But Neale doubted if the dog followed by scent.
Once in the thicket the marks were only visible here and there. The fresh snow was sifting down faster and faster. The dog leaped from one spot to another, whining, and eagerly seeking to pick up the scent.
“It’s awful unlucky this here snow commenced as it has. Hi! I don’t see what we can do,” sighed Ike.
“Do you really believe those marks were the twins’ footsteps?”
“I do. I believe they was in the house when your folks came, Mr. Howbridge,” M’Graw said. “But now – ”
Tom Jonah halted, threw up his shaggy head, and howled mournfully.
“Oh, don’t, Tom Jonah!” cried Neale O’Neil. “It sounds like – like somebody was dead!”
“Or lost, eh?” suggested Ike. “Ain’t no use. He – nor a better dog – couldn’t follow a scent through such snow. We’re too late. But I’d like to know where them children went, if these is them!”
They turned back toward the Lodge, rather disheartened. If the two Birdsall children, who had been left to the care of Mr. Howbridge, were really up here alone in the wilderness – and perhaps shelterless at this time – what might not happen to them? What would be the end of this strange and menacing situation?
Nobody spoke after M’Graw expressed himself until they came to the path on which they had previously seen the marks of the small sled and the footprints of Sammy and the two youngest Corner House girls. These traces were now entirely obliterated. It was snowing heavily and the wind was rising.
“Hi gorry!” ejaculated the old woodsman, “how about those other children? Are they at home where they ought to be?”
“Whom do you mean?” asked the lawyer, rather startled.
But Neale understood. He looked sharply about. Not an impression in the snow but that of their own feet was visible.
“I’ll go and see if the sled is returned to the place they got it from,” he said, and dashed away to the shed.
Before Mr. Howbridge and M’Graw had reached the Lodge Neale O’Neil came tearing after them.
“Oh, wait! Wait!” he shouted. “They haven’t come back with the sled. What do you suppose can have happened to Sammy and Tess and Dot?”
CHAPTER XXI – ROWDY
About the time Neale O’Neil was asking his very pertinent question about the whereabouts of Sammy and Tess and Dot, that trio had stopped, breathless and not a little frightened, in a big drift at what seemed the bottom of a deep hole.
The snow swirled about them so, and they seemed to have come so far down from the place where they had pushed off on the sled, that they believed it was a deep hole; and there seemed no possibility of getting out of it.
“I – I guess,” quavered Dot, “that we’ll just have to lie right down here and let the snow cover us all – all up.”
“I do wish, child, when you get into trouble that you wouldn’t give up all hope, right first off!” exclaimed Tess, rather exasperated at her sister. “Of course we are not going to give up and lie down in this snow.”
“Of course not!” echoed Sammy Pinkney.
Nevertheless, Sammy experienced a chill up and down his spine, and the short hairs at the back of his neck stiffened. It was borne upon his mind all of a sudden that they were lost – utterly lost! He could not understand how they had got off of the straight path to Red Deer Lodge; but he was very sure that they had done so and, as far as he knew, they were miles and miles away from that shelter and from their friends.
Yet there seemed nothing to do but keep on through the snow – as long as they could press forward. Tess was quite as plucky as he made believe to be. And they could haul Dot a little way at a time on the sled.
“But we’re going on, Sammy, without getting anywhere,” was Tess’ very wise observation. “I think we ought to scrouge down under something until the snow stops.”
“Just like the Babes in the Woods,” wailed Dot, who knew all the nursery stories.
“Do be still!” cried her sister, quite tartly. “Sammy and I are going to find you a nice place to stop, Dot.”
“Well, I hope it’s a place with a fire in it, ’cause I’m cold,” complained the smallest Corner House girl.
They all wished for a fire and shelter, but the older ones feared with reason that both comforts would not be immediately found. Sammy had not ventured forth this time prepared for all emergencies, as he had the time that Dot and he ran away to sail piratically the canal. He had no means of making a fire, even if he could find fuel.
Sammy was not without fertility of ideas, however; and these to a practical end. It must never be said of him, when the lost party got back to Red Deer Lodge, that he had not done his duty toward his companions.
He saw that the lower branches of some of the big spruce trees swept the snow – indeed, their ends were drifted over in places. Under those trees were shelters that would break both the wind and the snow. He said this to Tess, and she agreed.
“But we must keep a hole open to look out of,” she said. “Otherwise we won’t see the folks when they come hunting for us.”
“Je-ru-sa-lem! If they come along this road while it’s snowing like this lookin’ for us, we’d never see ’em,” muttered the boy.
But he kept this opinion to himself. Vigorous action claimed Sammy Pinkney almost immediately. While Dot “sniffled,” as he called it, on the half-buried sled, Sammy started to dig under the boughs of a tree near at hand.
The wind seemed to be less boisterous here, but the snow was drifting rapidly. Back of the tree the steep hillside rose abruptly, somewhat sheltering the spot.
Sammy burrowed through the drift like a dog seeking a rabbit. He found a way between two branches of the spruce, over which the snow had packed hard at a previous fall. He had to break away fronds of the tough branches to open a hole into the dark interior.
“Come on!” he shouted, half smothered by the snow he was pawing out. “Here’s a hole.”
“Oh, Sammy! suppose there should be something in there?” gasped Tess, her lips close to his ear.
At this suggestion Master Sammy drew back with some precipitation.
“Aw, Tess! what d’you want to say such things to a feller for?” he growled. “If there is anything in there we’ll find it out soon enough.”
Dot’s sharp ears had heard something of this. She shrieked:
“Oh! Is it mice? I am afraid of mice, and I won’t go in there till you drive them all out, Sammy.”
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” murmured Sammy, with vast disgust. “Don’t girls beat everything?”
“I don’t care! I don’t like mice,” reiterated the smallest Corner House girl.
“Huh!” declared Sammy, wickedly, “maybe there’ll be wolves under there.”
“Wolfs? Well, I haven’t my Alice-doll here, so I don’t care about wolfs. But mice I am afraid of!”
At that Sammy took a deep breath, gritted his teeth, and dived out of sight. He found that there was quite a sharp incline over hard snow to the bottom of the hole. All around the trunk of the tree, and next to it, was bare, hard ground. It made a roomy shelter, and it was just as warm as any house could be without a fire.
There was a quantity of dry and dead branches under here to scratch him and tear at his clothing. Sammy broke these off as he crawled around the tree, making the way less difficult for the little girls when they should enter.
A little light entered by the hole down which he had plunged. It made the interior of the strange shelter of a murky brownness, not at all helpful in “seeing things.”
Sammy was quite sure there was no wolf housed in here; but about the mice or other small rodents he was not so sure.
However, he called to the little girls cheerfully to come down, and Dot immediately scrambled in, feet first. Tess followed her sister with less precipitation. Like Sammy, she felt the burden of their situation much more than did Dot. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” was Dot’s opinion.
Sammy crawled out again and rescued the sled which was already buried in the snow. He dragged it to the opening and left it right over the hole so as to keep the snow from drifting in upon them.
“But it makes it so dark, Sammy!” said Tess, a little sharply.
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