The Speedwell Boys and Their Ice Racer: or, Lost in the Great Blizzardñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He spoke to the horses then, and the blacks switched their tails and “let out a notch” in their speed. They seemed as eagerly desirous of covering the distance to the Biggin farm in a short time as their master.
The girls cowered down behind the high back of the front seat, and so had the wind broken for them. But it was awfully cold. Now and then a flake of snow slanted down upon them, and the girls’ shoulders were nicely powdered before the sheriff turned the horses’ heads toward the far side of the river, and they found an easily sloping bit of bank up which they could drive.
This was beyond the last of the string of islands, and the lights of Meadville – on the other bank – were in sight. Just ahead, as the horses struggled into a well traveled highway, where the runners gritted on the half-bare ground, was a lamp in a window.
“Biggin’s place,” said the sheriff. “And the folks are up yet.”
The snow was gathering by this time, for it had taken them more than two hours to drive from Riverdale, spry as the horses had been. And, without doubt, the blacks were glad of the breathing spell promised them when the sheriff drove directly under the wind-shelter beside the farmhouse. This shed offered a warm spot even to the guests the sheriff had brought.
“Don’t want to take you to the house till I find out how the land lies,” he whispered, handing the reins to Mr. Parker, and slipping out from under the robe.
“O-o-o! doesn’t it make you feel de-lic-ious-ly shivery?” whispered Lettie to the doctor’s daughter. “Just like being on a regular man-hunt with the sheriff? We’re his posse.”
“Goosey!” returned Mildred. “I’m on the point of shivering, all right. But only from cold.”
“Are you well wrapped up, girls?” asked the county clerk.
“Oh, yes, sir,” answered Mildred. “And the bricks are still warm at our feet. But I’m afraid it’s going to snow dreadfully hard.”
“What’s a little snow?” demanded the careless Lettie. “Who’s afraid?”
“I wouldn’t want to be caught out on the river in a heavy storm – would you, sir?” asked Mildred of Mr. Parker.
“It’s a straight road home,” said the gentleman, quite as careless as his daughter. “The river ought to be better than the road, as far as that goes.”
“But just suppose we got turned around in this snow?” Mildred objected, turning her head to watch the flakes falling thicker every moment. “Did you ever see it snow so hard, Lettie?”
“Lots of times – sure. Don’t be a ’fraid cat, Milly.”
The doctor’s daughter kept her fears to herself thereafter. Mr. Parker produced a vacuum bottle filled with hot milk. He had been thoughtful enough to supply himself with that before leaving the house for this long ride. The hot drink helped the girls immensely.
“Now I can stand anything,” declared Lettie, happily. “When are we going to be called into action by the sheriff, Pa?”
“He does seem a long time; doesn’t he?” returned her father, as the horses stamped, and shook their heads, and tinkled the bells on the harness.
Finally they heard a door shut, and in a moment Sheriff Kimball appeared.
He looked pretty serious in the light of the sleigh lamps.
“What do you know about that?” he said, crossly. “They swear Harry hasn’t been here, and invited me to search the house for him. And I did it, too. I’ve got it in for that boy, when I do catch him. He’s only scared; but he knows more hide-outs in the wild country between here and Barnegat than anybody else. He’s run wild in the woods most of his life.
“He left a message for me, though. Tells me to go to Island Number One and see the dummy. Now, I’ve been there – twice. I couldn’t find hide nor hair of that boy either time.”
“We might stop going back?” suggested Mr. Parker.
“I mean to. But, I declare! it’s come on to snow hard.”
“Oh, a little snow won’t hurt us. We’re neither sugar nor salt,” cried Lettie. “And chasing outlaws is awfully interesting,” and she giggled again, seeing her chum’s serious face.
“I guess we won’t wait long at that island to-night,” observed Sheriff Kimball, when he had backed the sleigh out of the shed and got the impatient horses headed around again.
“Will you go back by the river, or the road?” asked Mr. Parker.
“Oh, the river. This road is half bare yet, you see,” as the runners scraped over a “sand-bar.” “We’ll slip along on the ice twice as fast, you know. Come up, Dandy! Steady, Poke!”
The blacks got into step and they spun away along the short stretch of road and then down upon the river. At first they did not realize how hard the wind was blowing, being sheltered to a degree by the high bank. But when Mr. Kimball headed out into the middle of the stream, intending to cross to the Riverdale side of the river, the travelers quickly discovered that they were in the heart of a severe storm.
“Some blow – eh?” shouted Mr. Parker, into the sheriff’s ear.
“This is a bad storm, Parker. I – had – no – idea – ”
He was having trouble with his spirited team. The gusts of wind which drove the snow down upon them, fired the blacks with a desire to run. They ran in the right direction for a while; but soon they were winded, for the sleigh pulled heavily through the gathering drifts.
There were flaws in the gale. Suddenly the wind shifted from point to point of the compass. The two men could not see a light upon either bank of the river. Indeed, before long it was difficult to know whether the horses were dragging them down the stream, or up.
The snow fell faster and faster. The girls, locked in each other’s arms on the rear seat, were covered with a fresh blanket. They did not know that the men in front robbed themselves to do this.
The cold was penetrating – horribly so! Now and then a swirling, whirling eddy of wind and snow fell upon the sleigh, the horses, and all, and well nigh turned them around. The men were choked by the storm; the horses snorted and plunged, and were able to move on but slowly.
“Dickens of a mess we’ve got into, Kimball!” shouted Parker in the sheriff’s ear.
“I’m sorry I ever suggested taking these children with us. It’s awful, Parker,” said the worried sheriff.
At that instant there came a sudden lull in the storm. The wind fell, and the soft “sh-sh-sh” of the snow seemed rather soothing. But there was a sharper sound discernible, now that the tempest was lulled.
“Put! put! put-a-put!”
“What d’ye know about that?” cried the county clerk, seizing the sheriff’s arm. “It’s a motor – what?”
“It is. It’s that motor-iceboat. I heard it to-day when the Speedwells were trying it out.”
“Then it’s Dan and Billy,” declared Mr. Parker. “Well, now! what do you think of that? Out on the river in such a storm. Shall we shout to them?”
“My goodness, do!” cried Lettie, poking her head over the back of the seat. “If Billy Speedwell is out there, he’ll know the way home – sure. Let’s all shout, Pa!”
“NEVER SAY DIE!”
It was, of course, Billy who first found his tongue after the three robbers had left the trio of boys bound in the cavern on Island Number One.
“We got into a nice mess this time; didn’t we?” he complained.
Dan was silent; and it was not strange that the tongue-tied youth was likewise dumb.
“We’ll have a nice time getting away, too,” growled Billy. “Dad will have something to say about it, Dan. He’ll have to go on the milk route in the morning – ”
“Is that all that’s worrying you?” demanded Dan, in his quiet voice.
“If the storm continues, and nobody gets out here to the island to find us, it looks to me as though we’d be in quite a pickle. What do you think? Getting the milk to the customers around Riverdale isn’t bothering me.”
“Crickey! we’ll be hungry bye and bye, I suppose,” admitted Billy.
“We must find some way of getting out of this place, or we’ll be more than hungry. Can you stretch those cords a little bit, Billy?”
“Crickey!” exclaimed the younger lad again. “I’ve done all of that I want to. Don’t you see my wrists are bleeding?”
“I know, Billy. So are mine. And Dummy – ”
He rolled over with an effort to look at the strange lad. The latter was weeping softly, the tears running unchecked down his dusty face. His legs still hurt him most woefully, without doubt.
“Well,” grunted Dan, “I guess we needn’t look to him for much help. If we are going to get out of this mess, Billy, we’ve got to do it ourselves.”
“I have a sharp knife in my pocket, Dannie – ”
“So have I. Sharper than yours. But how’ll we get at either of them – and how use them?” demanded Dan.
“Well! what else is there?”
“Let me think,” said Dan.
“A lot of good thinkin’ will do us,” growled Billy.
“Never say die!” quoted Dan. “There’s got to be a way out of it.”
“Out of this cave? Sure!” snorted his brother. “The way we came in. And I wish to goodness we hadn’t come in at all!”
“They’d have burned Dummy badly if we hadn’t.”
“And is he any better off? Besides,” added Billy, “those scamps got what they were after, just the same. What do you suppose was in that box, Dan?”
“Ask Dummy,” suggested Dan, with a grim smile.
“Huh! And how far will they get with the box through this storm?”
“Maybe the storm has eased up,” said Dan. “If they try to walk to the shore – either shore – they’ll have a job; for I fancy there is a lot of snow on the ice by this time.”
“They said they’d take our boat,” declared Billy.
“And they’ll have a nice time sailing her through the drifts.”
“Just the same, they are better off than we are right now,” declared Billy.
Dan only grunted. He had been at work during the past few minutes, and was rolling himself over and over on the floor.
“My gracious!” exclaimed his brother, “do you expect one part of this hard floor is any better than another?”
Dan made no reply. Billy and the dummy watched him. Dan was gradually working himself near to the hearth.
The overturning of the forge with the live coals in it had done no harm, after the smoke had cleared away. There was nothing for the coals to set afire. But the heap of ash-covered coals was still hot underneath.
Dan was very well aware of this; yet Billy saw him rolling quite close to the embers. He called out:
“Look out, Dan! You’ll be burned!”
“Never mind yelling about it,” growled the older youth, between his set teeth.
He knew he had a peculiarly unpleasant job to perform; but Dan was just brave enough to do it. Once he had won a motorcycle race with flames eating into his leg while he covered the last lap – and he bore the scar of that yet.
He judged his distance well, gritted his teeth, and rolled close to the heap of embers. He could feel them scorching his back, while his tied wrists were right over the stirred embers.
At once a flame sprang up. There was the smell of scorching flesh. Billy, suddenly understanding what his brother was about, screamed aloud as though it were he who was being burned.
He tried to throw himself across the floor of the cave to reach Dan, by his action forcing the cords deeper into his own flesh.
And then Dan Speedwell flung himself over and over on the floor, still silent but in evident agony. His hands, however, were free!
“Oh, Dan! Dan!” sobbed Billy. “What have you done?”
He wouldn’t have cried for himself; but that his brother should have sacrificed himself in this way cut Billy to the heart.
“I know what I’ve done,” said Dan, shakenly, at length sitting up and trying to get a hand into his trousers pocket. “I know what I’ve done. I’ve made a chance for us to get free. Shut up your bawling, Billy! Somebody had to do it.”
He got out the knife, despite his burned wrist – and the burn was deep and angry. The skin of both wrists for at least half the way around was scorched.
Dan’s face worked with pain as he opened the blade, then cut the cords that bound his own ankles, using both hands. It hurt him dreadfully to use his hands at all.
But he was free, and he proceeded at once to free the other boys. Billy fairly hugged him, when once his arms were loose again.
“Oh, Dan! you’re the best fellow – the very best one! – who ever lived,” he cried. “I wouldn’t have had the pluck to do that – ”
“Shucks!” grunted Dan. “Yes, you would. You didn’t just happen to think of it. We’ve got to get out of here quick, it seems to me; we couldn’t wait for rescue.”
“But in this storm – ?”
“Well, if those fellows dared venture out into the blizzard, I guess we can follow them; can’t we?” the older Speedwell demanded.
“Of course. I’m not going to lose the Follow Me if I can help it. And that box, too – ”
“We don’t know what’s in it!” cried Billy.
“Whatever it was, it didn’t belong to them,” cried Dan, his eyes flashing with anger.
“Ask Dummy,” suggested Billy, as Dan bent over the other boy to cut his lashings. Dan did so. But all they got was a mumble which meant nothing, and many head shakes.
“Oh!” cried Dan, “I don’t believe he knows.”
“And yet he had charge of it?”
“Of the box?”
“Well, didn’t he? Remember that paper he dropped at our house? He was taking that message to somebody – and it wasn’t to any of those three who got the box – not much!” exclaimed Billy.
“He did his best to keep the place secret from those who shouldn’t know, I reckon,” Dan agreed. “I bet something big depends upon that box.”
“Money in it!” exclaimed Billy, his eyes sparkling.
“Never mind what. Those fellows oughtn’t to have it. Let’s find out where they’ve gone.”
“Oh, I’m with you, if you’re bound to try following them,” agreed Billy. “But not before you’ve had those wrists bound up. I’ve a clean handkerchief in my pocket.”
“Guess your own wrists need a little attention, too,” returned Danny, making a grimace of pain. “And how about Dummy’s legs?”
The kettle, hung on the hook over the open fire, was steaming cheerfully all this time. Dan threw on some more wood, and Billy unhung the kettle and poured some water into a pan. They laved the burns with just as hot water as they could bear, to take the sting out.
Dummy’s trousers were burned in great holes between his ankles and his knees. His legs were merely scorched and blistered, however; his burns were not as deep as Dan’s.
Billy had crawled out of the cave for some snow with which to fill the kettle and reduce the temperature of the water poured into the pan. He reported the snow as blinding and the wind howling in the higher trees like a pack of wolves.
“If those fellows got away from this island, they’ve got pluck – that’s all I got to say,” he grunted.
“You bet they got away,” Dan returned, quickly. “Otherwise they’d be back here to the cave – don’t you see? No other place of shelter; is there, Dummy?” he asked the third boy.
The latter shook his head vigorously. He watched Dan with the eyes of a devoted dog. Evidently he was ready to fall down and worship Dan Speedwell.
It had been Dan who interfered and saved him from his captors. Dan had released him from his bonds. And now, it appeared, he was ready to follow the Speedwells in their attempt to trail the three robbers who had borne away the ironbound chest.
“You understand, Dummy?” demanded Billy. “We’re going to chase those men. Mebbe we’ll have another fight with them.”
He was whittling a handle on a husky stick of firewood, and showed by his motions what he purposed to do with the weapon if he caught up with the men who had so abused them.
It did not, however, shake Dummy’s determination. He was ready to start when the Speedwell boys were ready.
THE CRY FOR HELP
After the fight in the cave Dan and Billy were sore and tired, and their wrists and ankles very painful. But it seemed to them both that it was their business to follow the outlaws, if they could, and learn what disposition was made of the “treasure box,” as Billy insisted upon calling the chest that had been hidden under the hearthstone in the cave.
Besides, the boys were very anxious about their new iceboat. The robbers, if they used it to get to the mainland, as they evidently intended, might hide the Follow Me where Dan and Billy would be unable to find it before the races, a week away.
“Though right now,” Billy remarked, as they crept out of the passage leading into the cavern, “it doesn’t look as though we’d hold iceboat races next week on the Colasha. Goodness, Dan! did you ever in your life see so much snow?”
“It’s worse on this side of the island, don’t you see?” said his brother. “The snow is drifting this way. The high back of the island breaks the wind and the snow piles up here in drifts.”
“But our Fly-up-the-Creek is on this side of the island,” complained Billy. “She’s buried a mile deep, I bet!”
The boys started up the hill, but the snow beat down upon them so heavily, and the wind was so boisterous, they were glad to lock arms. Although Dummy made a “bad botch” of talking, as Billy said, he proved to be pretty muscular and the trio got along famously until they reached the summit.
They had come in this direction because Dan pointed out that it was not likely the three robbers, burdened with the heavy box, would face the gale either with the Follow Me, or afoot.
“And I don’t believe they will go towards Riverdale,” he observed. “You see, they knew old John Bromley was stirring things up over the ’phone when they burst into his house and captured him. Although they left him bound, they realized that whoever John was ’phoning to would look the old man up pretty quick.
“Now, naturally, the whole of Riverdale would be aroused by the robbery – and it sure would be if we hadn’t started right out after the Follow Me. Even now perhaps Bromley has called people up on the ’phone because we are out in the storm so long.
“So, it seems to me,” concluded Dan, with an effort, “that the three robbers are more likely to try for Meadville and the railroad.”
Dummy nodded violently and tried to speak his agreement with this statement. Billy only grunted. He had all he could do to plow through the drifts without wasting any breath in discussion.
They got over the ridge and slid down the steep rocks for several feet until the island itself broke the force of the gale. The wind did not blow directly across the island, but the slant being from up stream the heights acted as a windbreak.
“Now where?” asked Billy, with a sigh.
“Listen!” commanded his brother, unexpectedly.
Dan held up his hand and all three strained their ears for several moments. Then, simultaneously, the trio heard again the sound that had startled Dan. It was the distant explosions of the motor – the motor of the Follow Me!
“They have taken her,” growled Dan. “There they go,” and he pointed up stream.
“But they’re not so far away,” returned the surprised Billy. “And it’s more than an hour since they cleared out and left us in the cave.”
“I guess they had trouble in digging the boat out of the snow and getting her started. It’s a wonder the motor wasn’t frozen up on a night like this.”
It was in a sort of lull of the blizzard that they heard the explosions of the engine. Now the wind and snow swooped down again, and muffled the sound. But Dan started straight down the hill.
“Are you going after them?” yelled Billy.
“Surest thing you know!”
“I believe we’re crazy! We’ll be lost in this snow.”
“Not much we won’t,” declared his brother. “I’ve got a compass.”
He showed it – a very delicately adjusted instrument which he kept in a case in his pocket. At the edge of the ice (there was not so much snow on this side of the island) he waited to hear the sound of the engine again. Then he took his bearings, and at once set forth into the storm.
This time Dan led, Billy hung to his coat-tail, and Dummy brought up the rear. Thus, keeping literally in touch with each other, they would not be likely to drift apart while battling with the elements. And battle they actually had to.
The moment they got from under the shelter of the island the snow and wind almost overwhelmed them. Never had the boys experienced such a gale. Sometimes they were beaten to their knees, and had they not clung together, one or the other surely would have been driven away and lost.
“No wonder those men have gotten no farther from the island!” yelled Dan, with his lips close to Billy’s ear.
“Right-O!” agreed the younger boy. “And can we catch up with ’em?”
“We don’t want to; we want to trail ’em,” returned Dan.
On they pressed, taking advantage of every flaw in the gale. Had it not been for Dan’s compass they would have become turned about and lost their way ere they had left the island behind them ten minutes.
The wind blew between the points of Island Number One and the next above it with such force that the boys made very slow progress. When at last they got in the lee of the second island, they stopped to breathe, and to listen.
They did not at once hear the exhaust of the engine on the Follow Me; but they did hear something else. Voices were shouting – seemingly far out on the frozen river.
Again and again they heard the sounds. “Ahoy! Ahoy!” came plainly to their ears. Then – and much to the Speedwells’ amazement – the boys heard their own names called – and in accents whose note of peril was not to be doubted:
“Dan! Billy! Help us Dan and Billy Spe-e-e-dwell! He-e-e-lp!”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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