The Corner House Girls Snowbound
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CHAPTER XXV – HOLIDAYS – CONCLUSION
It was rather fortunate that Ralph Birdsall had shot way his last cartridge in killing the fox three nights before from the garret window of Red Deer Lodge. Otherwise he might have hurt Tom Jonah.
For the old dog scrambled through the drift ahead of the searching party that had started out as soon as the gale ceased. Tom Jonah was pretty near crazy – or he acted so.
Barking and leaping, the dog threw himself upon Ralph and tumbled him over. He was prodigal with his expressions of joy and affection, going from one to the other of the five children, and in his boisterousness tumbling them in heaps.
“I never did! Tom Jonah! why don’t you behave?” demanded Tess. “And I have been telling Rowdy and Rafe, these nice boys, just how good and smart you are.”
“Je-ru-sa-lem!” gasped Sammy, finally getting his breath. “They ain’t boys!”
“Who aren’t boys?” asked Tess, wonderingly.
“Well – well, this one isn’t,” said Sammy, pointing at Rowdy. “He’s a girl, that’s what he is.”
“Why, Rowdy! I thought there was something funny about you,” Tess Kenway said. “You – you were so much nicer than boys are. I declare!”
But this point was discussed no further at the time. For into the entrance to the cave came tumbling Neale O’Neil and Luke Shepard, covered with snow and shouting their joy, while behind them was Ike M’Graw.
“Ralph! Roweny!” shouted the old timber cruiser. “Jest what sort of doin’s do you call this?”
Neale and Luke greeted the three lost Milton children with vehemence. Afterward Sammy confessed that maybe it was a good thing to get lost, for then you found out how much folks thought of you.
These three, with Tom Jonah, made up the searching party this time. They had come away from Red Deer Lodge without letting the others know where they were going.
It was really Agnes who started them off on the right trail. While the gale still rocked Red Deer Lodge in its arms and nobody could go out of doors, Agnes remembered about the fork in the road where she and her friends had coasted.
“If the little ones tried to slide, they might have taken that wrong road,” she said. “They could have slid right into it without knowing. Where does it go, Mr. M’Graw?”
It did not take Ike long to study out what she meant. Then he did some more “figgering.” He knew exactly where the branch road led to.
He was so successful in this figuring that he encouraged the young people from Milton to believe as he did. He saw a chance for the three little folks who had gone sliding to be safely housed in the cave that he called “Ralph and little Missie’s playhouse.”
The Birdsall twins had often camped out in that cave hollowed in the hillside at the bottom of the valley. If Sammy and Tess and Dot had slid down there, more than likely, so Ike said, they had found the cave and had taken refuge there.
In addition (but this was his own secret) the timber cruiser believed that the twins, having been in Red Deer Lodge, had started for that very cave some hours before the gale broke.
If the young Birdsalls were there, the lost children would be safe enough.This had proved to be the case.
Nevertheless, the old woodsman scolded Ralph and Rowena heartily.
“What d’you mean?” he demanded, “by running way from your guardian! Mr. Howbridge is as fine a man as ever stepped in shoe-leather. I’m ashamed of you children. And when you did come clean up here, why didn’t you come to my shack and stay?”
“We did go there; but you were away. Then we thought we had a right to live in our own house. You know papa built it,” said Rowena, bravely. “We didn’t know anybody was coming there this winter. And we brought some food with us from Coxford. Then those people came, and we waited till we could get out without being caught at it.”
“Some young ones! Some young ones!” groaned M’Graw. “Well, now, you’ll go back to the Lodge and see what Mr. Howbridge has to say to you. And you dressed like a boy, Roweny!”
“I don’t care,” said “Rowdy.” “Ralph dressed up like a girl at first. We came up here that way. But other kids picked on us so that I thought I’d better be a boy as well as Ralph. And we had these clothes at Red Deer Lodge. I make as good a boy as he does a girl.”
“Say!” asked Neale O’Neil, vastly interested, “you two stopped a week at the village on the ice and fished, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Rowena.
“And you were girls there?”
“Well,” said Neale, laughing now, “what I want to know is, which of you it was that thrashed those two boys that tried to steal your set-lines?”
“That was Rowena!” croaked Ralph from the bed. “I acted just like a girl ought to and let them take the lines; but Rowena fought them, and licked them good, too!”
There was a deal of talk after that, but most of it was done following the arrival of the party at Red Deer Lodge. As soon as that had occurred, however, and Mrs. MacCall had heard Ralph cough and heard about the itching, she made an examination.
“There!” she declared, half an hour later after she had put the boy between blankets and given him a hot drink, “I might have known something would happen if we came up to this out-of-the-world place.”
“I should think something had happened!” murmured Ruth, who still held Dot in her lap and hugged her as though she could not let her go again. “What is the matter with Ralph?”
“Chickenpox. And it’s coming out thick on him right this minute.”
“Oh! Oh! Chickens?” gasped the smallest Corner House girl. “Are they roosting on him? No wonder Rafe scratched.”
“And like enough you’ll be scratching my lassie,” said the Scotch woman. “One an’ all of you. I never knew it to fail. If one bairn gets it, all the others in the neighborhood catches it.”
Nor was she a poor prophet. All the little folks, even Rowena, developed mild cases of chickenpox and were kept in the house for most of the holidays.
Holidays they were, nevertheless. Perhaps the little Corner House folk had never had so good a time over Christmas and New Year’s. Ralph and Rowena Birdsall proved to be rollicking, good-natured children, and they felt themselves at home at Red Deer Lodge and could entertain Tess and Dot and Sammy Pinkney.
“We won’t blame them for giving us chicken scratches,” said Dot to Tess. “At least, Ralph did. But he couldn’t help it. And mine’s most gone, anyway.”
The “older young folks,” as Mr. Howbridge called them, had most delightful times out of doors, as well as in. There was four or five feet of snow on the ground, on the level, and it was packed hard enough to make splendid snow-shoeing.
Ike M’Graw had plenty of snowshoes, and he taught them all how to use them. When they became adept he led them in short jaunts all about the section in which Red Deer Lodge was situated.
The boys went out with him at night, hunting. Neale and Luke both killed rabbits, and Neale shot a bigger fox than the one Ralph Birdsall had knocked over.
Those were wonderful days; but the nights were still more wonderful, for they were moon-lighted for most of the holiday time.
There is nothing better than coasting by moonlight, and of that sport Ruth, Agnes and Cecile, as well as the two boys, had their fill.
Nor did they overlook the two holidays, Christmas and New Year’s. Ike cut and trimmed a huge Christmas tree and that was set up in the main hall of the Lodge and decorated in a most beautiful manner. Presents had been brought up from Milton for everybody. And although Ralph and Rowena Birdsall and Ike M’Graw were “added entries,” as Luke said, they were not allowed to feel slighted when the presents were given out on Christmas night.
A big sledge came through from Coxford two days after Christmas, and this brought additional supplies for the party at Red Deer Lodge. There came on the sledge, too, the red-faced Mr. Neven who wished to buy the standing timber on a part of the Birdsall tract.
There was much talk between the lumberman, Mr. Howbridge and M’Graw regarding the timber. But Ike proved himself a good “figgerer” in more ways than one. The lawyer remained determined to accept the old timber cruiser’s report as correct and finally Neven came to their terms.
Before the holiday of the Milton party was ended, a big gang of lumbermen came up the tote-road from Coxford and the lake, ready to set up a camp in the valley near the twins’ cave, and finish the season by cutting over several acres of the Birdsall piece.
“I won’t want to see our place up here again until the new timber is grown,” cried Rowena, mournfully.
“Then you’ll have to wait till we get through college,” Ralph told her. “Mr. Howbridge is going to have us live with him till we go to college. But I expect he’ll bring us up here once in a while if you change your mind, Rowdy, and want to come.”
“Don’t call me ‘Rowdy,’ Ralph,” said his sister. “That was only for our trip up here. And, anyhow, I am not going to be a boy – never – any more!”
“We’re going to have a lot to tell the kids back home,” remarked Sammy Pinkney one day before they left Red Deer Lodge. “Je-ru-sa-lem! think of that long slide, Tess.”
“But it ended bad,” said Tess.
“It ended good!” cried the boy. “Didn’t we find Ralph and Rowena, and live in a cave, and eat rabbit stew, and – ”
“And get chicken scratches,” put in Dot. “But mine don’t scratch any now. The chickens went away quick.”
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