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 Ц 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.
УI never did! Tom Jonah! why donТt you behave?Ф demanded Tess. УAnd I have been telling Rowdy and Rafe, these nice boys, just how good and smart you are.Ф
УJe-ru-sa-lem!Ф gasped Sammy, finally getting his breath. УThey ainТt boys!Ф
УWho arenТt boys?Ф asked Tess, wonderingly.
УWell Ц well, this one isnТt,Ф said Sammy, pointing at Rowdy. УHeТs a girl, thatТs what he is.Ф
УWhy, Rowdy! I thought there was something funny about you,Ф Tess Kenway said. УYou Ц you were so much nicer than boys are. I declare!Ф
But this point was discussed no further at the time. For into the entrance to the cave came tumbling Neale OТNeil and Luke Shepard, covered with snow and shouting their joy, while behind them was Ike MТGraw.
УRalph! Roweny!Ф shouted the old timber cruiser. УJest what sort of doinТs do you call this?Ф
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.
УIf the little ones tried to slide, they might have taken that wrong road,Ф she said. УThey could have slid right into it without knowing. Where does it go, Mr. MТGraw?Ф
It did not take Ike long to study out what she meant. Then he did some more Уfiggering.Ф 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 УRalph and little MissieТs playhouse.Ф
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.
Nevertheless, the old woodsman scolded Ralph and Rowena heartily.
УWhat dТyou mean?Ф he demanded, Уby running way from your guardian! Mr. Howbridge is as fine a man as ever stepped in shoe-leather. IТm ashamed of you children. And when you did come clean up here, why didnТt you come to my shack and stay?Ф
УWe 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,Ф said Rowena, bravely. УWe didnТt 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.Ф
УSome young ones! Some young ones!Ф groaned MТGraw. УWell, now, youТll go back to the Lodge and see what Mr. Howbridge has to say to you. And you dressed like a boy, Roweny!Ф
УI donТt care,Ф said УRowdy.Ф УRalph dressed up like a girl at first. We came up here that way. But other kids picked on us so that I thought IТd 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.Ф
УSay!Ф asked Neale OТNeil, vastly interested, Уyou two stopped a week at the village on the ice and fished, didnТt you?Ф
УYes,Ф said Rowena.
УAnd you were girls there?Ф
УWell,Ф said Neale, laughing now, Уwhat I want to know is, which of you it was that thrashed those two boys that tried to steal your set-lines?Ф
УThat was Rowena!Ф croaked Ralph from the bed. УI acted just like a girl ought to and let them take the lines; but Rowena fought them, and licked them good, too!Ф
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.
УThere!Ф she declared, half an hour later after she had put the boy between blankets and given him a hot drink, УI might have known something would happen if we came up to this out-of-the-world place.Ф
УI should think something had happened!Ф murmured Ruth, who still held Dot in her lap and hugged her as though she could not let her go again. УWhat is the matter with Ralph?Ф
УChickenpox. And itТs coming out thick on him right this minute.Ф
УOh! Oh! Chickens?Ф gasped the smallest Corner House girl. УAre they roosting on him? No wonder Rafe scratched.Ф
УAnd like enough youТll be scratching my lassie,Ф said the Scotch woman. УOne anТ all of you. I never knew it to fail. If one bairn gets it, all the others in the neighborhood catches it.Ф
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 YearТs. 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.
УWe wonТt blame them for giving us chicken scratches,Ф said Dot to Tess. УAt least, Ralph did. But he couldnТt help it. And mineТs most gone, anyway.Ф
The Уolder young folks,Ф 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 MТGraw 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 YearТs. 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 MТGraw were Уadded entries,Ф 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 MТGraw regarding the timber. But Ike proved himself a good УfiggererФ in more ways than one. The lawyer remained determined to accept the old timber cruiserТs 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 twinsТ cave, and finish the season by cutting over several acres of the Birdsall piece.
УI wonТt want to see our place up here again until the new timber is grown,Ф cried Rowena, mournfully.
УThen youТll have to wait till we get through college,Ф Ralph told her. УMr. Howbridge is going to have us live with him till we go to college. But I expect heТll bring us up here once in a while if you change your mind, Rowdy, and want to come.Ф
УDonТt call me СRowdy,Т Ralph,Ф said his sister. УThat was only for our trip up here. And, anyhow, I am not going to be a boy Ц never Ц any more!Ф
УWeТre going to have a lot to tell the kids back home,Ф remarked Sammy Pinkney one day before they left Red Deer Lodge. УJe-ru-sa-lem! think of that long slide, Tess.Ф
УBut it ended bad,Ф said Tess.
УIt ended good!Ф cried the boy. УDidnТt we find Ralph and Rowena, and live in a cave, and eat rabbit stew, and Ц Ф
УAnd get chicken scratches,Ф put in Dot. УBut mine donТt scratch any now. The chickens went away quick.Ф
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