Grace Hill.

The Corner House Girls Snowbound





Wait a while. You can see better pretty soon. Your eyes get used to the dark just like you went down cellar at night for a hod of coal.

Oh, I wouldnt! declared Dot. But Im not afraid of the dark. Its nothing you can feel.

So they were very cozy and fairly warm under the tree. Soon the snow had heaped so thickly over the mouth of their shelter that they could not even hear the wind.

They had eaten a good lunch. Sammy had some nuts in his pockets. It was now about four oclock. They were not likely to suffer for anything needful for some time. And, of course, neither of the three thought that their stay under the spruce tree would be for long.

If the snow doesnt stop pretty soon, and so we can get out and find the way home, Neale ONeil and Aggie will come for us, Dot said, with considerable cheerfulness for her. Im all warm now, and I dont care.

Sammy did not feel altogether as sure that they would escape from the difficulty so easily; but he did not openly express his belief. He was, like the little girls, glad to have found shelter. With provisions and a fire, he said, they could stay here like Crusoes.

You know, Robinson Crusoe lived in a cave, and in a hut. And he was all alone till he got some goats and a Man Friday.

We might have brought Billy Bumps along, said Dot thoughtfully.

I guess I wouldnt want to live with an old goat, Tess observed, with scorn.

They had no means of measuring the passage of time, and of course it seemed that hours and hours must have passed before Sammy tried to look out through the opening the first time.

And this was no easy work. The snow had gathered so quickly and packed down so hard upon the sled that the boy could scarcely raise it. Finally, by backing under the sled and rising up with it on his shoulders, the sturdy little fellow broke through the drift.

I got it! he shouted back to Tess and Dot. But, oh, Je-ru-sa-lem! aint it snowin though? Bet it never snowed so hard before. I guess well have to stay here till they dig us out.

Oh, Sammy! All night? gasped Dot.

Well, I dont know about that. But until this old snow stops, anyway.

He, nor the little girls, scarcely appreciated the fact that the worst blizzard of the winter had broken over that territory, and that trails and paths were being utterly obliterated. The keenest scented dog, and the most experienced woodsman, could not have traced the three children to their present shelter.

Sammy came in and fixed the sled again to keep out the snow. He felt pretty serious for him. Sammy Pinkney was not in the habit of looking for the worst to happen. Quite the contrary.

Yet he could not throw off anxiety as easily as Dot could. As long as she was not hungry, and was warm, the smallest Corner House girl felt quite cheerful.

They could see a little better in their cozy nest now, and being assured that there were no mice, thought of other wild creatures of the forest did not disturb Dot Kenway.

Lets play something, said Dot.

Cum-ge-cum!

What do you come by? asked Tess quickly. This was an old, old game of guessing that Aunt Sarah Maltby had taught the little folks.

I come by the letter S, declared Dot.

Snow, guessed Sammy promptly.

No.

Its got to be the nitial of something in this this house, Tess observed. Shoes, Dottie?

No. Tisnt shoes. And tis in the house if you call this a house.

Shirt, Sammy declared.

Nopy!

Sled? guessed Tess.

No, it is not sled, said the littlest girl.

Stockins? suggested Sammy. Ive got a hole in one o mine. Feels like my big toe was stranglin to death, so it does.

S-s-s

Oh, stop! shrieked Dot suddenly. Whats that at the door?

The two little girls shrieked again and scrambled behind the trunk of the tree. Sammy was just as scared as a child could be, but he sat right where he was and watched the dim light grow at the hole over which he had pulled the sled.

Something was scratching there, dragging the sled away from over the hole in the snowdrift. Sammy did not know that even the hungriest animal in the forest was snugly housed during this storm. The creatures of the wild do not hunt when the weather is so boisterous.

It might have been a wolf, or a bear, or a lynx, or a tiger, as far as the small boy knew. Just the same, having the responsibility of Tess and Dot on his mind, he had to stay and face the unknown.

Suddenly a voice spoke from without. It said with much disgust:

Oh, shut up your squalling. Im not going to bite you.

Je-ru-sa-lem! murmured Sammy. Whats this?

In a minute he was reassured, for the sled was torn away and a head and shoulders appeared down the opening through the drift.

Hello! exclaimed the voice again. How did you get here? How many of you are there?

Two girls and a boy. And we slid here, said Sammy, gulping down a big lump in his throat.

Girls? gasped the stranger, who seemed to be very little older than Sammy himself. Girls out in this blizzard?

No. Were all safe in here under the tree, said Sammy, with some indignation. I wouldnt let em stay out in the storm.

Oh! exclaimed the stranger. And do you intend to stay here till it stops snowing?

Why not? demanded Sammy.

That wont be until tomorrow maybe next day, was the cheerful response. I guess you dont know much about storms up here in the woods.

Nope. We come from Milton.

Oh! exclaimed the other. Youre some of that bunch from Red Deer Lodge, arent you?

Ye yes, sir, Tess interposed politely. Do you suppose you could show us the way home?

Just now I couldnt, said the other, wriggling his way into the shelter. This is pretty good in here. But youd better come to my cave.

Oh! do you live in a cave? asked Sammy.

Isnt it dark? asked Tess.

Are there fishes in it with blind eyes? demanded Dot, who had heard something about the fish of the streams in the Mammoth Cave, and thought all caves were alike.

Fish? snorted the newcomer. I guess not! Wish there were. Wed eat them. And we need meat.

Is is your cave far? asked Sammy, in some doubt.

No. Just back of this tree. And wed better get back there quick, or the door will be all snowed under. This is a big, big storm.

Who are you? Tess asked. If you dont mind telling us. This is Sammy Pinkney; and Im Tess Kenway; and this is my sister, Dot.

Huh! said the stranger. I Im Rowdy.

Rowdy? repeated Tess, wonderingly.

Thats what they call me, said the other hastily. Just Rowdy. And wed better go to my cave.

But you dont live out here in the woods all by yourself, do you? asked Sammy, in much surprise.

No. But but my fathers gone a long way off. The boy hesitated a moment, and then added: Gone to Canada trapping. Wont be back for ever so long. So I live in the cave.

Oh, my! murmured Tess.

Je-ru-sa-lem! exclaimed Sammy. Aint you afraid to live here alone?

Im not afraid, said their new friend. And theres nobody to boss you all the time here. Come on. You follow me. Drag along the sled. We might need that after the snows stopped.

He started to crawl out through the hole into the storm again, and the trio from Red Deer Lodge decided that there was nothing better to do than to follow him.

CHAPTER XXII IN THE CAVE

The snow beat down upon them so when they were outside of the shelter that the little girls could scarcely get their breath. Dot clung to Tess hand and bleated a few complaining words. But the strange boy said sharply:

Dont be blubbering. Well be all right in a minute. I want to hunt for something around here. Thats what I come out of the cave for.

Am not blubbering! muttered Dot, quite indignant. But this old snow

Oh, Ive got it! shouted the strange boy, leaping ahead through the snow with great vigor. Come on! Dont lose sight of me.

You bet we wont, said Sammy, urging Tess and Dot on ahead of him and dragging the sled after.

What is it? asked Tess, curiously.

A trap, said the other.

Oh!

What kind of a trap? asked the eager Sammy.

Rabbit trap. Box trap. Rafe and I brought it down here with us and set it this morning. I put a handful of corn in it and I saw rabbit tracks all about just before it began to snow so hard. Here it is.

The speaker had knelt down in the snow and was uncovering some long, narrow object with his hands.

Its sprung, anyway. You see, the doors dropped, he said. The rabbit pokes right in after the corn, and when he begins to eat the bait clear at the end of the box, he trips the trigger and the door falls. Yes! Hes here!

Oh, Je-ru-sa-lem! A real rabbit? gasped Sammy Pinkney.

A poor little bunny? murmured Tess, her tender heart at once disturbed at the thought of the trapped animal.

Huh! If we are snowed up in that cave for a week or so, said the boy called Rowdy, youll be mighty glad I caught this rabbit.

He had lifted the door and thrust in his left hand to seize the animal.

Oh! Oh! squealed Dot. Wont it bite you?

It doesnt bite with its hind legs, said Rowdy with scorn. Ah! I got him.

He drew forth the rabbit, kicking and squirming. The little mouse-like cry the poor beast made sounded very pitiful to Tess. She murmured:

Oh, dont hurt him!

Je-ru-sa-lem! exclaimed Sammy to Rowdy. Aint girls the worst ever?

Huh! said the strange boy, suddenly glaring at Sammy Pinkney, what do you know about girls?

He was a dark boy, with ragged black hair that had evidently been sheared off roughly by an amateur barber. He was dressed warmly and in good clothes. He wore leggings that came up to his hips. He was bigger, and must have been older than Sammy.

He stood up now, with the kicking rabbit held by the hind legs. The trapped animal was fat and was of good size.

Oh! Oh! cried Dot. Hell get away from you.

Like fun he will.

How are you going to kill him? Sammy, the practical, asked.

Break its neck, was the prompt reply.

Oh! How awful! gasped Tess. Wont it hurt him?

It wont know anything about it, said Rowdy.

He was already holding the rabbit away from him almost at arms length and poised his right hand, edge out, for the blow that was to finish the creature. Sharp and quick was the blow, the outer edge of the boys hand striking across the back of the rabbits neck just at the base of the brain. The vertebra was snapped in this way and the creature instantly killed a merciful and sudden death. The rabbit kicked but once, and then was still.

Oh! Oh! murmured Tess.

Oh, dont worry, said Rowdy. Ike MGraw showed me how to do that.

Oh! cried Dot. We know Mr. Ike MGraw so we do.

How did you come to know him? demanded Rowdy, quickly and suspiciously, it seemed. He isnt at home now.

Yes, he is, said Sammy. He was up at Red Deer Lodge last night and he was there again this morning.

Oh! ejaculated Rowdy, standing and holding the rabbit as though the information gave him considerable mental disturbance. I I thought hed gone away for good.

Then he turned suddenly and plunged into the drifting snow. Come on! he exclaimed again. This snow is drifting awfully.

Sammy drove the little girls ahead of him again. Aw, go on! he muttered. Hes all right. Hes got some kind of a hide-out.

I dont believe I like that Rowdy, said Tess softly. He hes real cruel. All boys are, I spose.

They have to be, returned Sammy.

Why? demanded Tess, in wonder.

Cause girls are such softies, declared the impolite Sammy.

They plunged ahead, wading far above their waists now. Behind the trees the hillside rose abruptly. It towered so above their heads in the snow that the children were almost scared. Suppose that hill of snow should tumble right down on top of them!

Goodness! exclaimed Tess, with some exasperation. Where is your old cave?

Come on, said Rowdy, patiently. Its here somewhere. But the old snow Ye-e yi, yi! he suddenly yelled.

Faintly there came an answering voice half smothered, wholly eerie sounding.

Oh! Whos that? demanded Sammy.

Him, said Rowdy shortly.

Then dont you live alone? Tess demanded.

I have my brother with me, said Rowdy, plunging on to the right.

The snow beat into their faces and eyes, almost blinding them and wholly stopping their chatter. Above their heads the huge trees rocked, limbs writhing as though they were alive and in pain. And from these writhing limbs the snow was shaken down in avalanches.

One great blob of snow fell square on Sammy, trudging on behind the procession, and he went down with a howl like a wolf, buried to his ears.

Oh, Sammy! Sammy! shrieked Tess, above the wind. Are you hurt?

I Im smothered! groaned the boy, struggling to get out of the heap of snow. Hey, you Rowdy! Get us out of this, or well be buried and lost.

Come on! sang out the bigger boy from up ahead. O-ee! Rafe! he shouted.

A figure appeared before them the figure of a boy not much bigger than Rowdy.

What have you there? a hoarse voice demanded.

A rabbit.

I mean who are those behind you? and the hoarse voice was very tart now.

A couple of girls and a boy, said Rowdy. I picked em up back there by the trap.

Well! But we dont keep a hotel, said the second boy.

Hush! commanded Rowdy. Where are your manners? And they come from the Lodge, he added.

How are we going to feed so many people? was the rather selfish demand of the second boy from the cave.

Mercy! youre a regular pig, Rafe, exclaimed Rowdy. Go on. Take this rabbit. Ill help the little girl. Shes almost done for.

Dot Kenway really was breathless and almost exhausted. She was glad to be taken in the strong arms of Rowdy. He staggered along behind the one called Rafe, and so came to an opening behind a bowlder which seemed to have been rolled by nature against the hillside.

The hole was sheltered from the direct effect of the wind that was drifting the snow in a huge mound against the bowlder. Rafe, with the rabbit, dived first into the hole. Rowdy followed, with Dot in his arms.

Oh! Oh! cried the littlest girl with delight. Heres a fire.

Isnt that splendid? demanded Tess, who came next and saw the blaze at the back of the cave, between two stones. Why! what a nice cave youve got here.

The fire lit up the cave, for it was only about a dozen feet square. Only, it was not really square, being of a circular shape at the back. The smoke from the fire rose straight up and disappeared through a hole in the low roof through which there must have been considerable draught.

Of course, there was a strong smell of wood smoke in the cave; but not enough smoke to make ones eyes smart. There were some old blankets and rugs on the floor for carpet. Against one side wall was a great heap of balsam boughs, over which were flung robes.

When Sammy came staggering in with the sled he fairly shouted his approval of the cave.

Je-ru-sa-lem! what a jim-dandy place. Say! I bet Neale ONeil would like to see this.

Well, you neednt be bringing anybody here and showing it. This is our own particular hideout Rowdys and mine. So now, observed Rafe, who seemed to be less friendly than his brother.

Oh, hush, pleaded the latter. Do be hospitable, Rafe. Dont you know these kids are our guests?

Guests! snorted the other.

Yes, they are.

Oh, please dont quarrel about us, urged Tess Kenway gently. Well go right away as soon as it stops snowing, and well never tell anybody about this cave if you dont want us to.

Dont mind him, said Rowdy. Hes got a cold and a grouch. Come on, Rafe; help me pluck this rabbit.

Oh, Ill do that! cried the red-faced Sammy. Let me!

While the little girls were glad to sit before the fire on the blankets, he wished to make himself useful. Besides, to help skin a real rabbit was a height of delight to which Sammy Pinkney had never before risen.

All right, said Rowdy. You get the potatoes and onions ready, Rafe. We have salt and pepper and we can have a nice rabbit stew.

Just fry it, recommended the other cave dweller. Thats less trouble.

You do as I say! exclaimed Rowdy, sternly. There are five of us instead of two to eat, and weve got to make this rabbit go a long way.

Well, who brought them in? I didnt, said Rafe, angrily. You knew we didnt have any too much to eat.

You are a nice one! began Rowdy, when Tess broke in with:

Im awful sorry we came if we are going to make trouble. We can go back under that tree cant we, Sammy?

Im not going back there, Dot said stubbornly. Theres no fire there. If this other boy doesnt like us because we are girls, cant he go out and live under the tree himself?

This idea seemed to amuse Rowdy a good deal. He laughed aloud and the laugh did not sound just like a boys laugh, either. Tess stared at him wonderingly.

If Rafes going to be so mean, he said, he ought to be put out. Go ahead and peel the potatoes and onions, Rafe.

Shant. Thats girls work, growled Rafe.

Oh! If youve got a knife Ill peel them, said Tess. I dont mind.

All right, Rowdy said. Give her the knife, Rafe. Put over the pot with some snow in it. The little girl can feed that till there is a lot of water ready. Well want some for tea.

Dont want tea, growled Rafe. I want coffee.

Oh, stop that, Rafe, or Ill slap you good! promised Rowdy, his vexation finally boiling over. I never saw such a boy. Come on here, Sammy. Hold this rabbit by the hind legs and Ill skin it in a jiffy.

With the help of a knife to start the rabbits hide, Rowdy plucked the bunny very handily. It was drawn and cleaned, too, and soon Rowdy was disjointing it as one would a chicken, using a flat stone for a butcher block.

It it looks so much like a kitten, murmured Tess. Do you suppose it is really good to eat?

You wait till you taste it, chuckled Rowdy, who seemed to be a very practical boy indeed. Im going to make dumplings with it, too. I have flour and lard. Well have a fine supper by and by. Then Rafe will feel better.

Rafe merely coughed and grunted. He seemed determined not to be friendly, or even pleasant.

Tess was an experienced potato peeler. She often helped Linda or Mrs. MacCall at home in Milton. In the matter of the onions she was quite as successful, although she confessed that they made her cry.

I dont see why onions act so, Dot said, wiping her own eyes. There ought to be some way of smothering em while you take their jackets off. Oh, Tess, that one squirted right into my face!

Youll have to take your face away from me, then, said her sister. I cant tell where the onions going to squirt next. They are worse than those clams we got down at Pleasant Cove, about squirting.

Goodness sake! exclaimed Rowdy. Clams and onions! Never heard them compared before. Did you, Rafe?

Dont bother me, growled Rafe, from the bed where he had lain down.

Rowdy kept right on with his cooking. There being plenty of snow melted, he put down the disjointed rabbit with a little water and pepper and salt to simmer. Later he put in the onions and the potatoes. But they all had to simmer slowly for some time before the dumplings were made and put into the covered pot with the rabbit stew.

The children were all very hungry indeed (all save Rafe, the grouch) before Rowdy pronounced the stew ready to be eaten. By that time it was late in the evening. It seemed to the younger children as though they had been living in the cave already for a long, long time!

CHAPTER XXIII ANXIETY

In this valley into which Sammy and the two youngest Corner House girls had coasted without realizing their unfortunate change of direction, the blizzard that had swept down from the north-east upon the wilderness about Red Deer Lodge did not reveal to the castaways its greatest velocity.

The wind was mild in the valley compared to the way it swept across the ridge on which the Birdsalls home had been built. Already, when Neale ONeil discovered the absence of the small sled Sammy and Tess and Dot had taken, the storm was becoming threatening in the extreme.

Urged by Mr. Howbridge, Neale ran into the house to make sure that Sammy and the little girls were really gone. Nobody indoors knew anything about the trio. Instantly anxiety was aroused in the minds of every one.

Hedden, John and Lawrence, as well as Luke Shepard, soon joined in the search. Ike MGraw of course took the lead. He knew the locality, and he knew the nature of the storm that had now developed after forty-eight hours of threatening.

No use lookin for them twins, he had told Mr. Howbridge bluntly. If they got away from here this mornin with grub and a gun, theyll likely be all right for a while. They know where to hole up, its likely, over this storm. Taint as though they hadnt lived in the woods a good deal, winter and summer. When this storm is over Ill have a look for them twins, and like enough Ill find em all right. They air smart young shavers specially little Missie.





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