The Corner House Girls Snowbound
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“But these here young ones you brought with you – well, they don’t know nothin’ about the woods. If they started up that road to have a slide, no knowin’ where they are now. They’ve got to be found and brought home. Yes, sir!”
Ruth and the other girls had come running to the back kitchen where the party was making ready for departure. Agnes and Cecile were in tears; but although Ruth felt even more keenly that she had neglected the little folks, and because of that neglect they were lost, she kept her head.
The oldest Kenway hurried matters in the kitchen, and before Ike was ready to start with his crew, she brought two big thermos bottles, one with hot milk and the other with hot coffee.
“That’s a good idee, Miss,” said the woodsman, buttoning up his leather coat. “But we’ll probably get them youngsters so quick they won’t be much cold. Scared, mostly.”
All the members of the searching party did not feel so confident as Ike’s expression pictured his feelings. And perhaps Ike said this only to help ease the minds of those who remained at the Lodge.
Neale and Luke walked side by side as they set forth against the wind that now blew so hard. The snow sheeted them about so quickly that they were lost to the vision of the girls and Mr. Howbridge before they had gone twenty yards.
The boys were right behind M’Graw. The other men trailed them.
“Don’t you fellers stray off the road we’re goin’ to follow,” advised the old woodsman. “This is a humdinger of a storm, and it’s goin’ to get worse and worse from now on.”
“Those poor kids will be buried in it,” Luke shouted in Neale’s ear.
“We’ll dig ’em out, then,” returned Neale, confidently. “Don’t give up the ship before we’ve even started.”
But there was not much talk after getting into the road up which they knew Sammy and the little girls had started with the sled. In fact, they could not talk. By this time the blizzard was at its height, and it was blowing directly in their faces as they advanced.
Over boot-tops, over knees, even leg-deep where the drifts were, the searchers pressed on. Hedden overtook the backwoodsman and shouted:
“Hadn’t we better separate, Mr. M’Graw, and beat the bushes on either side of this road?”
“No. Don’t believe it’s safe. And I don’t think them little shavers separated. They’ve holed-in together somewhere by this time, or – ”
He did not finish his remark, but plowed on. He did not pass a hummock or snow-covered stump beside the road that he did not kick into and quite thoroughly examine. Every time Neale O’Neil saw one of these drifts he felt suddenly ill. Suppose the little folks should be under that heap of snow? Nor did Luke bear the uncertainty in lighter vein. There were tears frozen on his cheeks as they pressed on.
The falling snow and sleet, driven by the wind, seemed like a solid wall ahead of them. This buffeted the searchers with tremendous power. It took all their individual force to stand against the storm.
When they finally reached the summit of the road, where the young people had started the bobsled for the long slide that forenoon, they had found no sign of Sammy and the little girls.
Lawrence, one of the men, was completely exhausted.Ike made him sit down in the shelter of a tree and dosed him with a big draught of the hot coffee.
“Don’t want to have to lug you back in our arms, young man,” snorted the old woodsman. “You city fellers ain’t got much backbone, I allow.”
Meanwhile the other members of the searching party examined every brush pile and heap of snow for a circle of twenty yards around the point where Ike and Lawrence waited. Neale and Luke shrieked themselves hoarse calling the names of the trio of lost children.
“Do you suppose any wild animal has attacked them, or frightened them, Mr. M’Graw?” Hedden asked.
“Lynx and them is holed up, all right,” declared the backwoodsman with conviction. “Nothing would bother them while this storm lasts. But I declare I don’t see why we ain’t found ’em,” he added, shaking his head. “Not if they come this way.”
“I don’t think they would have gone beyond this spot, do you?” Neale asked. “Here’s the top of the hill. They must have started for this place with the sled.”
“’Twould seem so,” agreed Ike M’Graw.
“I doubt if they could have walked so far from the house,” said Luke.
“’Twasn’t snowin’ like this when they was on the way. But if they come up here and slid down again, why didn’t we find ’em on our way up? Beats me!”
“Perhaps we should have brought Tom Jonah with us,” Neale observed. “He might have nosed them out.”
“The old dog couldn’t scurcely git through this here snow,” said M’Graw. “I don’t guess he can help us much till the storm’s over. But let’s go back. Them young ones must have turned out o’ this road somewheres. Stands to reason the snow scared ’em and they started back. They must have got out o’ this woodroad, and then – ”
He slowly shook his head. His anxiety was shared by all. Wherever the children had gone, they were surely overtaken by the storm. If they had found some shelter they might be safely “holed up” till the storm stopped. But if not, neither Ike M’Graw nor the others knew where to look for them.
And the blizzard was now sweeping so desperately across the ridge that the sturdiest of the party could scarcely stand against it. Had it not been at their backs as they headed for Red Deer Lodge again, it is doubtful if they would have got to their destination alive.
The last few hundred yards the party made by holding hands and pulling each other through the drifts. It was a tremendous task, and even M’Graw was blown when Red Deer Lodge was reached.
Lawrence was the worst off of them all. Neale and Luke literally dragged him through the storm from the sheds to the rear door of the Lodge. He would probably have died in the drifts had he been alone.
The girls and Mrs. MacCall, as well as Mr. Howbridge, were awaiting the return of the searchers with the utmost anxiety. Not only were they disturbed over the loss of the three children, but the possibility of the men themselves not returning had grown big in their minds. The rapidity with which the snow was gathering and the fierceness of the gale threatened disaster to the searchers.
When M’Graw fell against the storm door at the rear of the house and burst it open, everybody within hearing came running to the back kitchen. When Ruth saw that they did not bring with them the two little girls and Sammy, she broke down utterly.
Her despair was pitiful. She had held in bravely until now. To think that they had come up here to Red Deer Lodge for a jolly vacation only to have this tragedy occur!
For that it was tragedy even Ike M’Graw now admitted. There was no knowing when the storm would cease. If the children had not been providentially sheltered before the gale reached this high point, it was scarcely possible that they would be found alive after the blizzard was over.
At this hour no human being could live for long exposed to the storm which gripped the whole countryside.
There was anxiety in the cave in the valley as well as at Red Deer Lodge about this same hour. But it must be confessed that the children who had taken refuge in the cave were mostly anxious about that rabbit stew!
Was there going to be enough to go around? And had Rowdy made the dumplings all right and seasoned the stew so that it would be palatable?
“Why, you’re all sitting around here and sniffing at that stew every time I lift the pot cover like hungry dogs,” declared Rowdy. “I guess if it doesn’t turn out right, you’ll eat me.”
“Oh, no,” said Dot. “We wouldn’t like to do that, for we aren’t cannon balls.”
“You aren’t what?” cried the boy, amazed.
“Oh, dear, Dot! Why will you get so mixed up in your words?” Tess wailed. “She doesn’t mean ‘cannon balls,’ Rowdy; she means cannibals. And we aren’t. It is bad enough to have to eat rabbit when it looks so much like a cat.”
This very much amused Rowdy and Sammy Pinkney; but Rafe, the grouchy brother, would not be even friendly enough to laugh at the smallest Corner House girl.
“I don’t know what’s got into him,” said Rowdy. “He never was this way before.”
Rafe lay on the bed of balsam branches, and when his brother tried to stir him up he growled and said: “Let me alone!” But when the stew was done he was ready for his share.
The housekeeping arrangements of the cave were primitive. There were a few odd plates and dishes. But knives and forks were not plentiful, and the tea had to be drunk out of tin cups, and there were only three of them.
There was condensed milk for the tea; and besides the dumplings which Rowdy had made, there were crackers and some cold cornbread left from a previous meal.
Rowdy seemed to be a pretty good cook for a boy of his age. And he was just as handy with dishes and in housekeeping matters as a girl.
The visitors praised his rabbit stew. They really had to do that because they ate so much of it. Rafe grumbled that they took more than their share.
“I’d like to know what’s got into you!” Rowdy said to his brother in great disgust. “You are just as mean as poison ivy – so there!”
“I am not!”
“Yes, you are. And what are you scratching that way for?”
“Because my chest itches. What does anybody scratch for?” growled Rafe.
After eating, Rafe rolled up in a robe and went to sleep at one end of the bed. The others helped Rowdy clean up; and, as he said, “just to pay Rafe off for being so mean,” they had dessert which Rafe had no part in. Rowdy produced a can of pears and they opened and ate them all!
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” ejaculated Sammy, when this was finished, “ain’t it fun living in a cave? I’d rather be here than up to that Red Deer Lodge place. Hadn’t you, Tess?”
“No-o,” admitted the honest but polite little girl. “I can’t say just that. But I think Rowdy’s cave is very nice, and we are having a very nice time here.”
Dot frankly yawned. She had been doing that, off and on, all through supper.
“I’m afraid there won’t be anybody to put my Alice-doll to bed tonight,” she said. “And I haven’t any nightgown with me. Why, Tess! what shall we do?”
“I guess you wouldn’t want to take off your clothes here. It isn’t warm enough,” said Rowdy.
“But can’t we say our prayers?” murmured the startled Dot. “Of course, Tess and I spent the night once right out under a tree – didn’t we, Tessie? Last summer, you know, when we went on that tour in our automobile. But we said our prayers first.”
“I guess we’d all better say our prayers and go to bed,” said Rowdy. “This is a pretty big storm, and maybe it won’t stop snowing for ever so long. The more we sleep, the less we’ll know about it.”
Therefore, a little later, the four joined the already slumbering Rafe upon the heaped up branches; wrapping themselves as best they could in the torn robes and pieces of carpet.
It was not a very comfortable bed or very nice bedding; but they were all too weary to criticize the shortcomings of Rowdy’s cave. At least, it was shelter from the storm.
CHAPTER XXIV – RAFE IS CROSS
Sammy Pinkney awoke to hear barking. But it was not Tom Jonah, as he had dreamed it was. He was chilly, too, and when his eyes got used to the semi-darkness of the cave he was sleeping in, Sammy discovered that Rafe had deliberately removed the share of the bedclothes that had been over Sammy and spread them over himself.
“Aw, say!” muttered Sammy. “Ain’t he fresh?”
Then Rafe barked again.
“He certainly has one fierce cold!” muttered Sammy. “I ain’t got the heart to start nothing on him.”
Instead he got up and crept over to the fireplace where there were still some red embers. Rowdy, or somebody, had evidently been up more than once to put fuel on the fire, and now Sammy did the same and blew the coals until the wood caught and blazed.
Beside the fireplace was a great stack of billets of seasoned wood. Evidently this cave had been used as a living place for a long time; or perhaps it had merely been stocked with fuel for a long time.
Sammy hoped it was well stocked with food, too. For Sammy was hungry, right then! It seemed to him that the rabbit stew had been eaten a long time before. There was no clock; but judging from the way he felt he thought he must have slept the clock around.
He wondered if the storm had ceased. Was there likelihood of their being able to get back to Red Deer Lodge this morning (if it was morning), or would they have to remain until some one came to dig them out?
The fire having sprung up now, and the flickering light aiding him to see his way about the cavern, Sammy moved toward the entrance. This aperture beside the huge bowlder was scarcely higher than Sammy himself. Before it Rowdy and Rafe, the two strange boys, had hung a piece of matting. When Sammy pulled this matting away he saw snow – snow that filled the hole “chock-er-block,” as he expressed it.
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” muttered the startled Sammy, “I guess it did snow some. How are we ever going to dig out of here?”
There was a slab of wood standing beside the opening, leaning against the rock. Sammy seized this and began to dig desperately at the snow.
So interested did he become in digging through the bank that filled the cave entrance that he did not pay much attention to where he flung the snow behind him. He was still digging like a woodchuck when Rowdy’s voice reached him:
“What are you trying to do? Going to fill this cave with snow?”
“Say!” said Sammy, “it’s getting-up time. And there’s an awful lot of snow here. I guess we’re buried alive, that’s what I guess!”
Just then Rafe coughed again, and his brother hopped up and went to him.
“Don’t scatter that snow all about, Sammy,” he commanded. Then to Rafe: “What’s the matter, Rafe, dear? Don’t you feel any better?”
“I’m – I’m chilly,” chattered the boy with the cough.
“I’ll cover you up better,” said Rowdy, getting his own blanket. “And we’ll have more fire and some breakfast. Are you hungry, Rafe?”
“I’m thirsty,” said Rafe, rather whiningly. “I want some – some coffee.”
“I’ll make some right away. Don’t be sick, now, Rafe. I don’t see what we should do for you if you got sick. What are you scratching for?”
“Because I itch,” replied Rafe drowsily.
But he snuggled down under the coverings until the coffee should be made. He seemed in a pleasanter humor, at least, than on the evening before.
Rowdy bustled about, making coffee and stirring up some kind of bread by the light of the fire. Soon the fuel heaped upon the blaze made the cave warm again, although the smoke set them all to coughing.
The two little girls woke up. Dot demanded a light.
“I don’t like this old smoky fire to see by,” she complained. “Why don’t you keep your fire in a stove, Rowdy?”
“Haven’t a stove,” replied Rowdy promptly. “How did you girls sleep?”
“All right, I guess,” Tess replied. “What are you doing, Sammy? Can we go home this morning?”
Sammy was still digging. He tramped the snow into a corner behind him. But the more snow he dug out of the hole the more there seemed to be. He took a round stick as tall as he was himself and pushed it up through the snowbank, and it let in no light at all.
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” he cried. “There’s all the snow in the world blown into this hole, I guess. We’ll never get out of here!”
“Oh!” squealed Dot, “don’t say that, Sammy. Of course we must get out. It’s coming Christmas, you know, and I’ve got to finish my motto that I’m making for Ruthie. It’s got to be done, and I didn’t bring it with me.”
“But,” said Tess, yet with some hesitation now, “the folks will surely come to find us. Don’t you say so, Rowdy?”
“If they know where you are,” said Rowdy.
“But we didn’t tell ’em,” growled Sammy, coming to the fire to get warm.
“That’ll be all right,” Dot declared, seeing no difficulty. “Tom Jonah will find us. You know, we never can hide from Tom Jonah.”
Tess explained to Rowdy that Tom Jonah was a dog, and a very good dog, too. But she secretly had some doubts, as did Sammy, that the old dog would be able to find them away down at the bottom of this hole where they had coasted. She was careful to say nothing to frighten Dot, or to discourage her.
They were all much interested in Rowdy’s preparations for breakfast. He produced a strip of bacon and he fried some of this in a pan while the bread was cooking. There was no butter, and the coffee was rather muddy; but not even Dot complained, as long as she got her share.
While they ate, they talked. At least, Rowdy and the visitors talked. Rafe drank the coffee and ate his share of the breakfast, and then went back to the bed and heaped almost all the coverings over him. He had little red specks on his chest and arms, and he said he could not get warm.
Sammy was desirous of getting out through the cave entrance to see if it had stopped snowing and what the prospect was for clear weather. But he dug for an hour after breakfast without accomplishing much. Then Rowdy came to help him.
“I tell you what I think,” said the Milton boy, in a low voice, so the girls would not hear. “I b’lieve all that snow that was up on that hill has just come tumbling down before this cave – so there!”
“An avalanche!” gasped Rowdy.
“I don’t know what you call it. But that’s what I think,” repeated Sammy. “We’ll never dig out of here in this world.”
“But I guess we’ve got to,” said Rowdy sharply. “We can’t live here long.”
“It ain’t a bad sort of a place,” said Sammy cheerfully. “I guess Robinson Crusoe didn’t have a better cave.”
“He had more food than we have,” said Rowdy thoughtfully. “And you kids do eat a lot. If I’d known you were coming here to live I’d have brought more stuff to eat – I surely would!”
“Can’t we catch any more rabbits?” suggested Sammy.
“How are you going to catch rabbits when we can’t get outside this cave?” returned Rowdy. “I guess all boys are foolish. That sounds just like Rafe.”
“Say! You’re a boy yourself,” said Sammy, in surprise. “You needn’t talk.”
“Oh!” rejoined Rowdy, and said nothing more for a time.
But they gave up digging through the snowbank. The snow seemed packed very hard, and it was difficult to dig with a slab of wood. If there had been an avalanche over the mouth of the cave their chances for digging out were small, indeed. Luckily none of the children realized just what that meant.
Living in the cave was some fun, as Sammy declared. At least, it had the virtue of novelty. The time did not drag. They played games, paid forfeits, and Tess told stories, and Rowdy sang songs. He had a very sweet voice, and Tess told him that he sang almost as well as Agnes did.
“And Agnes sings in the church chorus,” explained Tess.
“And I think you cook ’most as good as a girl,” said Dot. “I guess you cook ’most as good as our Linda, at home, in Milton.”
If Rowdy considered these statements compliments he did not say so. Indeed, he seemed to be very silent after they were made. He sat beside Rafe on the bed for some time, and they whispered together. Rafe seemed to get no better, and he slept a good deal.
So did the other children sleep, after a while. Having no means of telling whether one day or two had passed, after eating a second time they all curled down, covering themselves as best they could, and found in slumber a panacea for their anxiety.
It was not Sammy who awoke the next time, but Tess. She became wide awake in a moment, hearing a sound from somewhere outside of the cave. She sat up to hear it repeated.
Something was scrambling and scratching in the snow. She even heard a “woof! woof!” just as though some animal tossed aside the snow and blew through it. Tess was badly frightened.
“Sammy! Rowdy! Oh, please!” she cried. “Is it a bear?”
“Is what a bear?” demanded Rowdy, waking up in some confusion. “I guess you’ve been dreaming, Tess.”
“That isn’t any dream!” cried the Corner House girl, and she sprang up, seizing Dot in her arms.
Rowdy screamed now; not at all like a boy would cry out. He leaped from the bed and ran to the other side of the room. There, hanging on two pegs, was a small rifle. Sammy had eyed it with longing. But Rafe, awakened as well, shouted:
“No good taking that, Rowdy! It isn’t loaded. You know I shot away the last cartridge at that old fox.”
“Oh, Rafe! I told you then you were foolish,” said Rowdy. “What shall we do?”
“What is it?” yelled Sammy, tumbling out of bed.
“It’s a wolf!” replied Rowdy. “I can hear it! Listen!”
Dot added her voice to the din. “Tell that wolf we haven’t anything to throw to him, so he might’s well go away,” she declared.
Rowdy ran to the hole in the snow. It seemed to be suddenly lighter there. Was the beast that was scratching through letting daylight into the cave?
Rafe shrieked and leaped out from under his coverings.
“You’ll be killed, Rowdy! Don’t go there!” he cried.
Dashing across the floor of the cave, he seized Rowdy and pulled him out of the way.
“Give me the gun!” he ordered, wresting it from Rowdy’s hands. He seized it by the barrel and poised it as a club.
“Get out, Rowdy!” he commanded. “This isn’t any place for a girl!”
At that amazing statement the little girls from the old Corner House and Sammy Pinkney were so utterly surprised that they quite forgot the savage animal that seemed to be trying to dig into the cave to attack them.
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî