The Speedwell Boys and Their Ice Racer: or, Lost in the Great Blizzardñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“We needn’t get into a tussle with them,” said Dan, quickly. “We’ll just get on their trail – if we can.”
“We can,” cried Billy, confidently, and ran out of the cabin at once.
His brother was soon after him. They unleashed the bigger iceboat and pushed her off from the dock. There was a strong gale blowing, but they had been out in some pretty keen blows with the Fly-up-the-Creek, and knew well how to manage her.
“Sure they went up stream?” asked Dan, as he helped Billy raise the big sail.
“Then – We’re off! Look out for yourself, Billy, when the boom swings over.”
Dan barely caught the stern of the craft and scrambled in. The wind had filled the canvas suddenly, and she shot out from the dock. He had her in hand in a minute, however, and sent the boom creaking over and they got upon the right tack.
Almost at once the iceboat set a pace that made the boys cower and cling as they could to the rocking, wrenching timbers of the craft. The gale did not show its fury until they were well out of the lee of the land.
Then the boys discovered that it was snowing, too. The few flakes that had whistled past them while they were riding down to the dock had gathered in infinite numbers now. The gale whipped them along so speedily that they did not seem to touch the ice at all; yet the air was soon filled with hurrying, stinging ice particles which blinded them.
Somewhere ahead they believed three robbers were flying up the river in the stolen motor iceboat. Of course, they would carry no lamps, and it would be difficult to see the runaway until they were right upon it.
But if they continued to use the motor Dan and Billy knew they would soon be able to place the Follow Me. They strained their ears to distinguish the put-put-put of the exhaust.
ON ISLAND NUMBER ONE
Dan Speedwell, naturally more thoughtful than his brother, realized immediately that they were up against a difficult proposition.
The storm was gathering rapidly and through the curtain of snow it was impossible to see far. It was true the falling flakes lightened the scene greatly; yet they interposed a white wall that was impenetrable a few yards beyond the bow of the iceboat.
In which ever direction the thieves had gone with the Follow Me, the pursuers’ only chance of overtaking them was to follow by sound – not sight. Therefore the thickly falling snow did not balk the Speedwell boys much. It only would serve to deaden the sound of the motor iceboat’s engine.
Although the bulk of the falling snow was swept on upon the breast of the gale, and little stuck to the ice, the big iceboat made less noise than usual. Her shoes did not clog; But the scale of new snow upon the river smothered the shriek of the steel. Billy, standing on the crossbeam, strained his ears to catch the faintest sound from the motor of the boat they were pursuing.
If the robbers continued to use the motor only, both boys knew that the Fly-up-the-Creek would soon overhaul the stolen craft.
For they were now tearing up the river at a furious pace.
On, on, on – the boat rocking and bounding – often shooting into the air completely when the runners struck a “hubbly” piece of ice – peeling the miles off under the runner-shoes with nerve-racking speed.
Directly they saw the gaunt outline of tree-tops on the right hand. They were passing some island; but which one, neither boy could have told at the moment. The usual landmarks were wiped out.
For what point along the upper reaches of the Colasha were the robbers headed? That was a disturbing query in Dan’s mind. Had the fellows prepared some hide-out for the motor iceboat, even before they had stolen her?
And the puzzle was: What did they want of the Follow Me? Was the robbery merely for the sake of keeping the Speedwell boys out of the regatta – which was now but a week away? Or, was the crime committed for an entirely different reason?
Unless the scoundrels removed the boat from the river it would be rather difficult to hide her for long.
“But they can make us a whole lot of trouble – that’s a dead certainty,” muttered Dan, striving to clear his goggles of the wet and clinging snowflakes.
“D’ye hear anything, Dan?” yelled Billy at that moment.
“Not a thing.”
“Crickey!” cried the younger boy. “Mebbe those fellers have run her under the ice.”
Dan caught most of what his brother said, but only shook his head. Billy, as he stood clinging to the leather hand-hold, was outlined by the snow, which made his figure bulk hugely in the uncertain light.
Standing there, Billy should be able by now to hear the motor’s exhaust – if ever! Unless, of course, the thieves had put canvas on the Follow Me, too.
Dan was trying to puzzle the thing out. If the robbery was solely for the purpose of putting him and his brother out of the regatta, why this long run up the river? Suppose the three men had merely motored over to one of the islands, or to the far shore of the river? There they could have hidden, or destroyed, her before this. A few strokes of an ax would have put an end to the usefulness of the motor and machinery on the stolen boat – and that might have been done at Bromley’s dock.
No; it looked very much to Dan as though, had the intention merely been to keep her out of the race, the thieves never would have taken the Follow Me out on the river on such a blustering night as this.
There was something else behind it. Because he believed that somebody had gotten hold of the plans he had drawn for the boat Dan, like Billy, had jumped to the conclusion that this incident was along the same line – that somebody who was afraid of their prowess wished to keep them out of the ice races.
His mind had suddenly shunted back to the repeated conversation between the strange man that afternoon on Bromley’s wharf, and Old John himself. The man had connected him and Billy with Island Number One. There was a mystery about that island – and the unfortunate lad who spent at least a portion of his time in that locality.
The connection between this present affair and the stranger’s conversation was suddenly clinched in Dan’s mind. The mist of uncertainty which had bothered him was dissipated on the instant.
“Those fellows aren’t trying to do us out of the races,” he thought. “It’s something about Island Number One and the dummy. They never came up the river as far as this – and that’s good reason why we don’t hear the motor.”
His decision brought about instant action. He yelled to Billy and the latter heard:
“Look out, boy! I’m going to swing her over!”
Dan took up the sheet and for a few moments the boat lost headway. Then the stiffened canvas filled again and they shot away on the other tack.
Billy shouted some objections; but Dan gave him little attention until he had swung her clear across the river and they were headed down stream, and on the other side of the chain of islands.
“Don’t give it up! don’t give it up, Dan!” begged the younger lad.
“I’m not. But I’ve got a hunch, Billy,” returned Dan. “See where we are. What light is that?”
“Must be the light at Benzinger’s Inn,” sang out Billy, after a moment. “But it’s hard to tell. Landmarks seem different when the river’s frozen – ”
“You’re right! you’re right!” cried Dan. “It’s the Inn. I see the big oak beside it.”
“That white staff – ?”
“Yes. It’s the snow makes it look so ghostly. Now we’ll slip across nearer the islands.”
“Because we’re going to try to make Island Number One,” declared Dan, emphatically.
There seemed to fall a lull in the gale. The iceboat creaked over the gathering drift of snow that had sifted down here and lay in a thick sheet upon the ice in the lee of the islands.
And how deep it was! How fast it had gathered! It actually amazed Dan and Billy that so much snow had banked up here in so short a time; for on the other side of the islands – between them and the river bank – there were but small, thin patches.
“There’s Island Number One!” shouted Billy, pointing ahead.
Dan shook his head at his brother and put a finger for a moment on his own lips in warning.
The Fly-up-the-Creek, at greatly reduced speed, crossed the open space between the two islands. They saw nothing of the missing Follow Me; but in a very few minutes their own craft staggered into a tiny cove and the runners plowed into a two-foot drift.
Dan dropped the canvas, and it came down stiffly and creakingly. Billy trampled it into some sort of a bundle on the main beam of the craft. He grumbled meantime:
“What are you doin’, Dan? We’ll never catch those fellows – never!”
“How about if they’re here?” queried Dan.
“Where’s the Follow Me?”
“We’ll look,” grunted Dan, stamping his feet and trying to slap some life into his numbed hands.
“This is some storm, Dan.”
“It sure is.”
“Regular old blizzard – just as you said.”
Dan seized his brother’s arm suddenly, and held it tight. “What d’ye know about that, Billy?” he asked, pointing with his free hand into the tops of the snow-masked trees above them.
There was a faint, rosy glow just above the tree-tops on the high hogback of the island. This dim, ghostly light was twenty feet above the ground, at least, and all of forty feet above the ice where the two boys stood.
“That – that beats me!” chattered Billy.
“What does it look like?”
“A fire in the air.”
“Isn’t that just about where you thought you saw the smoke that other day?”
“I bet you!” gasped Billy. “A fire in the air,” he repeated.
“No. The reflection in the air of a fire, I grant you,” Dan chuckled.
“But – but – Say, just what d’ye mean, Dan?”
“It means that there is somebody on this island,” Dan said, gravely. “Whether it is that poor dumb chap, or these robbers – or both! – we’ve got to find ’em.”
“But the Follow Me isn’t here,” objected Billy, weakly.
“How do you know?” returned his brother. “Mean to tell me you can see all over this island – into every cove and inlet – from where we stand?”
“No-o – ”
“Then don’t be foolish, Bill! Maybe the boat isn’t here. But I’m going to find out what that light means – ”
“It’s gone!” exclaimed Billy.
“Yep. The fire was so fierce for a minute that its rosy hue reflected on the smoke. We can’t see the smoke now – the snow drives altogether too hard.”
“Crickey, old man!” ejaculated Billy. “We’ll be buried here if we stand much longer.”
“Then let’s keep moving. Come on!”
Dan started for the higher part of the island at once. It was a rocky, steep ascent, and the snow covering everything made the way more arduous. As they panted along Billy whispered:
“D’ye suppose that dummy and the three men that stole the boat are in cahoots, Dan?”
“Give it up,” returned Dan. “But we’ll find out.”
“Maybe they’ll treat us as badly as they did Old John – if they’re here,” suggested Billy, showing more caution than usual.
“We’ll be careful,” said Dan, in the same low tone. “They won’t be expecting us, I bet!”
“That’s right. They’d never look for pursuit in this storm.”
“B-r-r-r! I guess not,” grumbled Dan. “It’s not fit for a dog to be out in.”
“Well – if there’s a fire – ”
“And there must be some shelter,” added the older lad. “If it’s only the dummy we’ll get under cover all right.”
“And let the Follow Me go?” groaned Billy.
“My goodness, Billy!” muttered Dan. “It’s snowing so hard now that we could not see our hands before our faces. Lucky we beached the Fly-up-the-Creek as we did.”
Just then Billy fell over something. It was a section of tree trunk. Beside it was quite a heap of split wood, too.
“What do you know about this?” asked Dan, helping his brother to his feet.
“Cord wood, by crickey!” exclaimed Billy.
“But who’s been cutting wood over here on this island – ? Why! the dummy – if he’s the one that’s got the fire,” muttered Billy, asking and answering his own question.
“Correct!” agreed Dan.
By this time they were among the trees that covered the backbone of the island. There was quite a thick grove at this point.
“Step softly,” begged Dan.
“The snow will come pretty near deadening our footsteps,” whispered Billy. “Hullo! here’s a hollow stump.”
“What’s that?” exclaimed Dan, under his breath. “A hollow tree?”
“Stump, I said. About twenty feet high. It was a big tree once, you bet,” whispered Billy. “When Lettie and I were ashore here the other day we found it. I know it’s only a shell, for I pounded on it.”
He lifted his fist, but Dan stopped him. “Don’t pound on it now, you chump!” ordered the older boy.
He put out a tentative hand himself and touched the black tree trunk. He had already noticed that no snow clung to it. The bark was still on the wood and there was no mark to show that the big stump was hollow.
But when Dan placed his bare hand upon the bark it seemed to him as though the hollow stump was warm!
This was both a startling and unexpected discovery. Dan gripped Billy’s arm again, enjoining silence, and the two boys crept away from the vicinity of the hollow stump.
The rosy glow above its summit – the smoke rising above the tree-tops – the warmth of the dead tree, so that the snow did not stick to it while the rough bark of the live trees was now crusted with the fast falling flakes – these facts were all to be pieced together. And the dovetailing did not take long when Dan put his mind to it!
“It’s a smokepipe – a chimney,” he whispered.
“What is?” muttered Billy, puzzled.
“That hollow stump.”
“Crickey! where’s the fire?” demanded Billy, in amazement.
“Under the ground – somewhere. There’s a cave – a den in the rocks. Somehow a smoke flue has been dug to the hollow tree – ”
“If it was hot enough to reflect upon the snow above the top,” objected Billy, “the old tree would be afire.”
“Not if they had lined it with clay, and baked the clay first,” responded Dan.
“Gee, Dan! you’ve got a head!”
“I hope so,” returned Dan, laughing.
“But could the dummy have done all that – ?”
“How do we know who is in the cavern?” snapped Dan. “And take it from me – it was somebody beside that dumb fellow who contrived this hide-out. These people must be outlaws of some kind, Billy – surest thing you know!”
“Of course they are – if they stole our boat,” agreed Billy.
“We don’t know who they are,” said Dan, thoughtfully. “And we don’t know how to get into their camp, anyway. Goodness, Billy! maybe we’ll wish we did know, even if they are pretty tough citizens. Where are we going to find shelter in this blizzard?”
The storm was increasing mightily. The snow drove down through the branches with a startled “sh-sh-sh.” This drowned even the whining of the wind through the taller tree-tops.
The boys made little sound as they moved about, for the snow deadened every other noise. They stood together for some moments without speaking.
To be out in such a time as this was neither pleasant nor safe. The cold was stinging, and one might easily freeze to death on such a night. Even the idea of being covered up in the snow was no comfortable thought, although they might remain thus sheltered till morning without any serious injury. Many times Dan and Billy had uncovered their sheep after a serious snowstorm, and the lads knew that a snowdrift was porous and the heat of the body thus mantled would keep them from freezing.
“Besides,” whispered Dan, at last, “we can find our way down to the boat again, and cover ourselves with a part of the sail.”
“But how about this dummy?” muttered Billy. “Suppose he’s alone? I believe he’d give us shelter.”
“We’ll look,” agreed Dan. “But for goodness sake be careful.”
“How are we going about it, Dan?”
“Round and round. Take that hollow stump for the center. We’ll circle around until we find the entrance to his den.”
“But Lettie and I were all over this island,” objected Billy.
“You didn’t know what you were looking for; did you?”
“Humph! I suppose not.”
“Now we know,” chuckled Dan. “We’re looking for a hole in the ground where there is a fire. Goodness! won’t it be fine to be warm again?”
For the boys were badly chilled by now. Billy could scarcely keep his teeth from chattering.
From where they stood the boys could dimly see the black trunk of the hollow tree which Dan believed was the chimney of the mysterious den in the rocks.
“You go one way; I’ll go the other. Don’t lose sight of the tree,” advised the older Speedwell.
They separated. The snow sifted down so thickly that it was not long before they lost sight of each other. It was no easy matter to get about among the boulders and roughage of the hillside. Big rocks cropped out in places; and there were many stumps, and masses of vines and bushes to trip them. That all these obstructions were pretty well masked in the fallen snow made the going all the harder.
Billy had every confidence in his brother’s judgment; and it did seem as though Dan must be right about the cave and the strange chimney connected with it. Somewhere underneath where they trod was a warm hollow, sheltering, perhaps, only the boy whom they called “Dummy.” If he was alone, Billy was sure he would give Dan and himself shelter.
But they wanted to be sure of that. Billy wasn’t desirous of “mixing in” with those three masked robbers who had treated old John Bromley so roughly.
And so thinking, as he crept on over the higher part of the island above the hollow stump, Billy suddenly stepped right out into space. At least, so it seemed. He put his foot upon a bank of snow, and “slumped right in”!
The snow had treacherously filled a narrow cut between two boulders. Billy dropped to his chin in the soft, cold mass, and then found that he was wedged so tightly that he couldn’t get out.
He dared not shout to Dan. That might be their undoing indeed. If there were men about whom they must perforce consider enemies, Billy was determined not to bring them out here.
So he struggled, and panted, and wrenched himself from side to side, and tried his very best to seize upon the edge of the rock above him and draw his body up. All to no purpose!
He was just as much a prisoner as though he were bound with cords. The snow was fast drifting over him, too. Billy was already badly chilled, and the thought of being covered completely by the snow made him shake all the more.
Indeed, he was in a bad way. He was too courageous to yell for his brother and thus run the risk of attracting others in the neighborhood; but it did seem to Billy as though he were doomed to be smothered, standing erect between the two rocks.
Above the imperilled boy the snow whirled in ghostly forms. Like shrouded figures of lost spirits the snow drifted through the open grove, passing the frightened lad in a dreary procession. The “sh-sh-sh” of the falling flakes seemed now like an actual voice.
There came a white figure more certain in its outlines than the others. Billy struggled to raise himself again, his lips parted, tempted to shriek. The figure came nearer.
“Goodness gracious! what’s the matter with you?” gasped Dan’s anxious voice. “I’ve been hunting for you everywhere.”
“Crickey! is that you, Dannie?” returned Billy. “I thought I was done for.”
“Why didn’t you yell?” demanded Dan, laying hold of his brother’s wrists.
“And start something, maybe?”
“Well! you plucky young duffer,” exclaimed Dan, in some pride. “Now! out you come!”
Billy lay panting at his feet for some moments. Dan examined the hole into which his brother had fallen.
“Don’t suppose that’s a way into the den, do you?”
“So – solid under my feet, Dan,” gasped Billy. “That’s no entrance, I bet.”
“Come on, then. We’ll keep together this time. Haven’t found a sign of the way in yet.”
They took a wider circle about the hollow stump. Stumbling on, arm in arm (for Billy was getting exhausted, although he would not own up to it), the Speedwells made another complete round without discovering anything.
The way was so rough that it was impossible to recall just where the hollow stump stood. The boys had reached the bottom of the hill and the shore of the island was near at hand. But in that direction they could see but a short distance. The snow was like a thick curtain before their eyes.
“Crickey, Dan!” groaned Billy. “We’ve lost it.”
“Oh, I guess the old stump hasn’t moved,” said Dan, cheerfully. “It’s up yonder – somewhere!”
At that moment they again caught sight of the rosy glow in the tree-tops. “See!” exclaimed Dan. “More heat. Jingo! that must be a great draft.”
“They must have some way of shutting off the draft, and then opening it again,” said Billy, in a puzzled tone. “There! it’s gone.”
“I’ve got it” exclaimed Dan, suddenly. “I bet that’s a forge.”
“A forge?” repeated Billy, in wonder.
“They’d want a tall chimney for a forge on account of needing a strong draft,” declared Dan. “That’s what it is.”
“But a forge in a cave?” queried his brother, doubtfully. “What for?”
“Ah! that’s another question,” returned Dan. “I don’t see that far, yet.”
But in secret Dan believed he had guessed the business of the men who had once, at least, occupied the cave, whether they were there now, or not. He said nothing to Billy about this, however.
The younger boy had stumbled into a heap of split wood. Dummy – or somebody else – had spent some time in preparing a great heap of fuel against just such a storm as this that now raged over the valley of the Colasha.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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