NAN SHERWOOD'S WINTER HOLIDAYS
Or, Rescuing the Runaways
ANNIE ROE CARR
DOWN PENDRAGON HILL
Ta-ra! ta-ra! ta-ra-ra-ra! ta-rat!
Professor Krenner took the silver bugle from his lips while the strain echoed flatly from the opposite, wooded hill. That hill was the Isle of Hope, a small island of a single eminence lying half a mile off the mainland, and not far north of Freeling.
The shore of Lake Huron was sheathed in ice. It was almost Christmas time. Winter had for some weeks held this part of Michigan in an iron grip. The girls of Lakeview Hall were tasting all the joys of winter sports.
The cove at the boathouse (this was the building that some of the Lakeview Hall girls had once believed haunted) was now a smooth, well-scraped skating pond. Between the foot of the hill, on the brow of which the professor stood, and the Isle of Hope, the strait was likewise solidly frozen. The bobsled course was down the hill and across the icy track to the shore of the island.
Again the professor of mathematics—and architectural drawing—put the key-bugle to his lips and sent the blast echoing over the white waste:
Ta-ra! ta-ra! ta-ra-ra-ra! ta-rat!
The road from Lakeview Hall was winding, and only a short stretch of it could be seen from the brow of Pendragon Hill. But the roof and chimneys of the great castle-like Hall were visible above the tree-tops.
Now voices were audible—laughing, sweet, clear, girls' voices, ringing like a chime of silver bells, as the owners came along the well-beaten path, and suddenly appeared around an arbor-vitae clump.
"Here they are!" announced the professor, whose red and white toboggan-cap looked very jaunty, indeed. He told of the girls' arrival to a boy who was toiling up the edge of the packed and icy slide. Walter Mason had been to the bottom of the hill to make sure that no obstacle had fallen upon the track since the previous day.
"Walter! Hello, Walter!" was the chorused shout of the leading group of girls, as the boy reached the elevation where the professor stood.
One of the girls ran to meet him, her cheeks aglow, her lips smiling, and her brown eyes dancing. She looked so much like the boy that there could be no doubt of their relationship.
"Hello, Grace!" Walter called to his sister, in response.
But his gaze went past the chubby figure of his shy sister to another girl who, with her chum, was in the lead of the four tugging at the rope of the gaily painted bobsled. This particular girl's bright and animated countenance smiled back at Walter cordially, and she waved a mittened hand.
"Hi, Walter!" she called.
"Hi, Nan!" was his reply.
The others he welcomed with a genial hail. Bess Harley, who toiled along beside her chum, said with a flashing smile and an imp-light of naughtiness in either black eye:
"You and Walter Mason are just as thick as leaves on a mulberry tree, Nan Sherwood! I saw you whispering together the other day when Walter came with his cutter to take Grace for a ride. Is he going to take you for a spin behind that jolly black horse of his?"
"No, honey," replied Nan, placidly. "And I wouldn't go without you, you know very well."
"Oh! wouldn't you, Nan? Not even with Walter?"
"Certainly not!" cried Nan Sherwood, big-eyed at the suggestion.
"Only because Dr. Beulah wouldn't hear of such an escapade, I guess," said the wicked Bess, laughing.
"Now! just for that," Nan declared, pretending to be angry, "I won't tell you—yet—what we were talking about."
"You and Walter?"
"Walter and I—yes."
"Secrets from your chum, Nan! You're always having something on the side that you don't tell me," pouted Bess.
"Nonsense! Don't you know Christmas is coming and everybody has secrets this time of year?"
"Hurry up, girls!" commanded the red-haired girl who was helping pull on the rope directly behind the chums. "I'm walking on your heels. It will be night before we get on the slide."
"We're in the lead," Bess flared back. "Don't be afraid, Laura."
"That may be," said Laura Polk, "but I don't want Linda Riggs and her crowd right on top of us. They're so mean. They came near running into us the other day."
"But the professor called 'em down for it," said the fourth girl dragging the bobsled, who was a big, good-natured looking girl with a mouthful of big white teeth and a rather vacuous expression of countenance when she was not speaking.
"He ought to send Linda Riggs and her friends down first," Nan Sherwood suggested.
"No, ma'am!" said Bess Harley, shrilly.
"We're here ahead of 'em all. We can go first, can't we, Professor Krenner?"
"Certainly, my dear," responded the professor. "Look over the sled, Walter, and see that it is all right."
The handsome sled was almost new and there could be nothing the matter with it, Walter was sure. Other parties of girls from the Hall, dragging bobsleds, were appearing now. They were all the bigger girls of the school, for the younger ones, or "primes," as they were designated, had their own particular hill to slide on, nearer the Hall.
Dr. Beulah Prescott, principal of Lakeview Hall, believed in out-of-door sports for her girls; but they were not allowed to indulge in coasting or sleighing or skating or any other sport, unattended. Professor Krenner had general oversight of the coasting on Pendragon Hill, because he lived in a queerly furnished cabin at the foot of it and on the shore of the lake.
He marshalled the sleds in line now and took out his watch. "Three minutes apart remember, young ladies," he said. "Are you going with your sister's sled, Walter?"
"This first time," said the boy, laughing. "Grace won't slide if I don't, although Nan knows how to steer just as well as I do."
"Of course she does," said Bess, with assurance. "We don't need a boy around," she added saucily.
"They're very handy animals to have at times," said the professor, drily. "Wait a bit, Miss Riggs!" he added sharply. "First come, first served, if you please. You are number three. Wait your turn."
"Well, aren't those girls ever going to start?" snapped the tall girl, richly dressed in furs, who had come up with a party of chums and a very handsome "bob."
Professor Krenner was quite used to Linda's over-bearing ways, and so were her fellow-pupils. They made the rich and purse-proud girl no more beloved by her mates. But she could always gather about her a few satellites—girls who felt proud to be counted the intimates of the daughter of a railroad president, and who enjoyed Linda Riggs' bounty.
Not that there were many girls at Lakeview Hall whose parents and guardians were not well off. The school was a very exclusive school. Its course of instruction prepared the girls for college, or gave them a "finish" for entrance upon their social duties, if they did not elect to attend a higher institution of learning.
On this occasion Professor Krenner paid no further attention to Linda Riggs. Walter Mason had already taken his place on his sister's sled at the steering wheel in front, with his boots on the footrests. His sister got on directly behind him and took hold of his belt. Behind her Nan, Bess, little, fair-haired Lillie Nevins, who was Grace's particular chum, and who had ridden over on the sled from the Hall, Amelia Boggs, the homely girl, and Laura Polk, the red-haired, sat in the order named. There were rope "hand-holds" for all; but Grace preferred to cling to her brother. The first trip down the hill was always a trial to timid Grace Mason.
"All ready?" queried Walter, firmly gripping the wheel.
"Let her go!" cried Laura, hilariously.
"And do give somebody else a chance!" exclaimed Linda.
Professor Krenner's watch was in his hand. "Go!" he shouted, and as the red-haired girl's heels struck into the hard snow to start the creaking runners, the old gentleman put the bugle to his lips again and blew another fanfare.
"We're off!" squealed Bess, as the bobsled slipped over the brow of the descent and started down the slippery slide with a rush.
Fifty feet below the brink of the hill a slight curve in the slide around a thick clump of evergreens hid the sled from the group at the top. They could hear only the delighted screams of the girls until, with a loud ring of metal on crystal, the runners clashed upon the ice and the bobsled darted into view again upon the frozen strait.
The first bobsled ran almost to the Isle of Hope before it stopped. By that time Professor Krenner had started the second one, and the impatient Linda was clamoring for what she called her "rights."
"We'll show 'em how to speed a bobsled, if you'll give us a chance," she complained. "That thing of the Mason's didn't get to the island. We'll show 'em!"
Nan Sherwood and her friends piled off the first sled upon the ice with great delight and much hilarity.
"I declare!" gasped Laura. "I left my breath at the top of the hill. O-o-o! What a ride!"
"It's ju-just like swinging too high!" burst out flaxen-haired Lillie.
Nan and Bess had brought their skates slung over their shoulders by the straps. Before getting up off the sled the chums put these on and then were ready to draw the heavy sled back across the ice to the shore.
"Get aboard—all of you!" Bess cried. "All you lazy folks can have a ride!"
"And do hurry!" added Nan. "Here come some more bobs."
The second sled did not gain momentum enough to slide half-way across the strait between the mainland and the Isle of Hope. But now appeared the "Linda Riggs' crew," as Laura called them, and their shiny, new sled. Out of the enveloping grove which masked the side of Pendragon Hill it came, shooting over the last "thank-you-ma'am" and taking the ice with a ringing crash of steel on crystal.
"Got to hand it to 'em!" exclaimed Walter, with admiration. "That's some sled Linda's got."
"So's ours," Bess said stoutly. "See, they're not going to run farther than we did."
"I don't know about that," murmured Nan, honestly.
"Come on!" Bess cried. "Let's get back and try it again. I know those horrid things can't beat the Sky-rocket."
The other girls had already piled upon the bobsled. Walter started them with a push and called a "good-bye" after them. He was going to put on his own skates and skate up the strait to the Mason house. The family was staying here on the shores of Lake Huron much later than usual this year.
Nan Sherwood and Bess Harley had no trouble at all in dragging their mates across the ice upon the Sky-rocket. Linda's sled, the Gay Girl, did go farther than the first-named sled, and Bess was anxious to get to the top of the hill to try it over again.
"It will never do in this world to let them crow over us," Bess declared.
She and Nan slipped off their skates at the edge of the ice and all six laid hold of the long rope to pull the Sky-rocket up the hill.
A fourth bobsled rushed past them, the girls screaming and laughing; and then a fifth flew by.
"Mrs. Gleason said she would come over before supper time," Laura Polk said. Mrs. Gleason was the physical instructor at the Hall.
"Let's get her on our sled!" cried Bess.
"Let's!" chorused the others.
But no teacher save Professor Krenner was on the brow of the hill when the Sky-rocket was hauled into position again. This time Nan steered, with firmly braced feet, her mittened hands on the wheel-rim, and her bright eyes staring straight down the course.
"Are you ready?" cried the professor, almost as eager as the girls themselves. Then he blew the warning blast to tell all below on the hillside that the Sky-rocket was coming.
Ta-ra! ta-ra! ta-ra-ra-ra! Ta-rat!
With a rush the sled was off. It disappeared around the evergreen clump. The hum of its runners was dying away when suddenly there sounded a chorus of screams, evidently from the Sky-rocket crew. Following this, a crash and a turmoil of cries, expressing both anger and fright, rang out upon the lower hillside.
THE FAT MAN WITH HIS GROUCH
Nan Sherwood had steered this big bobsled down Pendragon Hill many times. She had no fear of an accident when they started, although the rush of wind past them seemed to stop her breath and made her eyes water.
There really was not a dangerous spot on the whole slide. It crossed but one road and that the path leading down to Professor Krenner's cabin. At this intersection of the slide and the driveway, Walter Mason had erected a sign-board on which had been rudely printed:
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
Few people traversed this way in any case; and it did seem as though those who did would obey the injunction of the sign. Not so a heavy-set, burly looking man who was tramping along the half-beaten path just as Nan and her chums dashed down the hill on the bobsled. This big man, whose broad face showed no sign of cheerfulness, but exactly the opposite, tramped on without a glance at the sign-board. He started across the slide as the prow of the Sky-rocket, with Nan clinging to the wheel, shot into view.
The girls shrieked in chorus—all but Nan herself. The stubborn, fat man, at last awakened to his danger, plunged ahead. There was a mighty collision!
The fat man dived head-first into a soft snow bank on one side of the slide; the bobsled plunged into another soft bank on the other side, and all the girls were buried, some of them over their heads, in the snow.
They were not hurt—
"Save in our dignity and our pompadours!" cried Laura Polk, the red-haired girl, coming to the surface like a whale, "to blow."
"Goodness—gracious—Agnes!" ejaculated the big girl, who was known as "Procrastination" Boggs. "What ever became of that man who got in our way?"
Nan Sherwood had already gotten out of the drift and had hauled her particular chum, Bess Harley, with her to the surface. Grace Mason and Lillie Nevins were crying a little; but Nan had assured herself at a glance that neither of the timid ones was hurt.
She now looked around, rather wildly, at Amelia Boggs' question. The fat man had utterly disappeared. Surely the bobsled, having struck him only a glancing blow, had not throw him completely off the earth!
Bess was looking up into the snowy tree-tops, and Laura Polk suggested that maybe the fat man had been only an hallucination.
"Hallucination! Your grandmother's hat!" exclaimed Amelia Boggs. "If his wasn't a solid body, there never was one!"
"What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?" murmured Laura.
"Both must be destroyed," finished Bess. "But I see the tail of our bob, all right."
Just then Nan ran across the track. At the same moment a floundering figure, like a great polar bear in his winter coat, emerged from the opposite drift. The fat man, without his hat and with his face very red and wet, loomed up gigantically in the snow-pile.
"Oh! Nan Sherwood!" cried Laura. "Have you found him?"
The fat man glared at Nan malevolently. "So your name is Sherwood, it is?" he snarled. "You're the girl that was steering that abominable sled—and you steered it right into me."
"Oh, no, sir! Not intentionally!" cried the worried Nan.
"Yes, you did!" flatly contradicted the choleric fat man. "I saw you."
"Oh, Nan Sherwood!" gasped Amelia, "isn't he mean to say that?"
"Your name's Sherwood, is it?" growled the man. "I should think I'd had trouble enough with people of that name. Is your father Robert Sherwood, of Tillbury, Illinois?"
"Yes, sir," replied the wondering Nan.
"Ha! I might have known it," snarled the man, trying to beat the snow from his clothes. "I heard he had a girl up here at this school. The rascal!"
Professor Krenner had just reached the spot from the top of the hill. From below had hurried the crews of bobsleds number two and three. Linda Riggs, who led one of the crews, heard the angry fat man speaking so unfavorably of Nan Sherwood's father. She sidled over to his side of the track to catch all that he said.
Nan, amazed and hurt by the fat man's words and manner, would have withdrawn silently, had it not been for the last phrase the man used in reference to her father. Nan was very loyal, and to hear him called "rascal" was more than she could tamely hear.
"I do not know what you mean, sir," she said earnestly. "But if you really know my father, you know that what you say of him is wrong. He is not a rascal."
"I say he is!" ejaculated the man with the grouch.
Here Professor Krenner interfered, and he spoke quite sharply.
"You've said enough, Bulson. Are you hurt?"
"I don't know," grumbled the fat man.
"He can't tell till he's seen his lawyer," whispered Laura Polk, beginning to giggle.
"Are any of you girls hurt?" queried the professor, his red and white cap awry.
"I don't think so, Professor," Bess replied. "Only Nan's feelings. That man ought to be ashamed of himself for speaking so of Mr. Sherwood."
"Oh, I know what I'm talking about!" cried the fat man, blusteringly.
"Then you can tell it all to me, Ravell Bulson," bruskly interposed the professor again. "Come along to my cabin and I'll fix you up. Mrs. Gleason has arrived at the top of the hill and she will take charge of you young ladies. I am glad none of you is hurt."
The overturned crew hauled their bobsled out of the drift. Linda Riggs went on with her friends, dragging the Gay Girl.
"I'd like to hear what that fat man has to say about Sherwood's father," the ill-natured girl murmured to Cora Courtney, her room-mate. "I wager he isn't any better than he ought to be."
"You don't know," said Cora.
"I'd like to find out. You know, I never have liked that Nan Sherwood. She is a common little thing. And I don't believe they came honestly by that money they brought from Scotland."
"Oh, Linda!" gasped Cora.
"Well, I don't!" declared the stubborn girl. "There is a mystery about the Sherwoods being rich, at all. I know they were as poor as church mice in Tillbury until Nan came here to school. I found that out from a girl who used to live there."
"Not Bess Harley?"
"No, indeed! Bess wouldn't tell anything bad about Nan. I believe she is afraid of Nan. But this girl I mean wrote me all about the Sherwoods."
"Nan is dreadfully close-mouthed," agreed Cora, who was a weak girl and quite under Linda's influence.
"Well! Those Sherwoods were never anything in Tillbury. How Bess Harley came to take up with Nan, the goodness only knows. Her father worked in one of the mills that shut down last New Year. He was out of work a long time and then came this fortune in Scotland they claim was left Mrs. Sherwood by an old uncle, or great uncle. I guess it's nothing much to brag about."
"Bess said once it might be fifty thousand dollars," said Cora, speaking the sum unctuously. Cora was poor herself and she loved money.
"Oh, maybe!" exclaimed Linda Riggs, tossing her head. "But I guess nobody knows the rights of it. Maybe it isn't so much. You know that there were other heirs who turned up when Nan's father and mother got over to Scotland, and one while Nan thought she would have to leave school because there wasn't money enough to pay her tuition fees."
"Yes, I know all about that," admitted Cora, hurriedly. She had a vivid remembrance of the unfinished letter from Nan to her mother, which she had found and shown to Linda. Cora was not proud of that act. Nan had never been anything but kind to her and secretly Cora did not believe this ill-natured history of Nan Sherwood that Linda repeated.
Those of my readers who have read the first volume of this series, entitled "Nan Sherwood at Pine Camp, Or, The Old Lumberman's Secret," will realize just how much truth and how much fiction entered into the story of Nan's affairs related by the ill-natured Linda Riggs.
When Mr. and Mrs. Sherwood started for Scotland to make sure of the wonderful legacy willed to Nan's mother by the Laird of Emberon's steward, Nan was sent up into the Peninsula of Michigan to stay with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Kate Sherwood at a lumber camp. Her adventures there during the spring and summer were quite exciting. But the most exciting thing that had happened to Nan Sherwood was the decision on her parents' part that she should go with her chum, Bess Harley, to Lakeview Hall, a beautifully situated and popular school for girls on the shore of Lake Huron.
In "Nan Sherwood at Lakeview Hall, Or, The Mystery of the Haunted Boathouse," the second volume of the series, were narrated the incidents of Nan's first term at boarding school. She and Bess made many friends and had some rivals, as was natural, for they were very human girls, in whom no angelic quality was over-developed.
In Linda Riggs, daughter of the rich and influential railroad president, Nan had an especially vindictive enemy. Nan had noticed Linda's eagerness to hear all the ill-natured fat man had to say about Mr. Sherwood.
"I do wish Linda had not heard that horrid man speak so of Papa Sherwood," Nan said to Bess Harley, as they toiled up the hill again after the overturning of the Sky-rocket.
"Oh, what do you care about Linda?" responded Bess.
"I care very much about what people say of my father," Nan said. "And the minute I get home I'm going to find out what that Bulson meant."
AN ADVENTURE ON THE RAIL
That adventurous afternoon on Pendragon Hill was the last chance the girls of Lakeview Hall had that term for bobsledding. School closed the next day and those pupils who lived farthest away, and who went home for the holidays, started that very evening by train from Freeling.
Nan and her chum, Bess Harley, were two who hurried away from the Hall. Tillbury was a night's ride from Lakeview Hall, and the chums did not wish to lose any of their short stay at home.
It had already been planned and agreed to that Nan and Bess were to go to Chicago to visit in the Masons' home during a part of this vacation, and the two friends, who knew very little of city life, were eager indeed for the new experience.
Walter and Grace had started for Chicago that morning, and when the two Tillbury girls saw how hard it was snowing when Charley, with his 'bus on runners, drove them to the station, they wished that they had asked the privilege of Dr. Beulah Prescott, the principal, of going early, too.
"This yere's goin' to be a humdinger of a storm," prophesied Charley. "You gals'll maybe get snowed up on the train."
"Oh! What fun!" cried the thoughtless Bess.
"I hope not!" proclaimed Nan.
"I think it would be fun, Nan," urged her chum.
"Humph! How about eating?" queried the red-haired girl, Laura Polk, who would be one of the party as far as the Junction.
"Oh, there's a dining-car on this train," said May Winslow, who was to speed away to the South to spend Christmas, where there was no ice or snow, and where the darkeys celebrate the holiday with fire-crackers, as Northern people do the Fourth of July.
"That's all right about the dining-car," said Nan. "All right for you girls who are going to Chicago. But our train from the Junction has no 'eats' attached and if we get snowed up—"
"Ugh!" cried her chum. "Don't suggest such a horrid possibility. I'm going right now to buy out the lunch counter and take it along with us."
"And break your teeth on adamantine sandwiches, harder than Professor Krenner's problems in algebra?" suggested May.
The red-haired girl began to laugh. "I thought Bess never would carry a shoe-box lunch again. 'Member that one you two girls from Tillbury brought to school with you, last September?"
"Will we ever forget it?" groaned Nan.
"I don't care!" exclaimed Bess. "You can't have a bite of what I buy, Laura Polk!" and she marched away to the lunch counter and spent most of her remaining pocket money on greasy pies, decrepit sandwiches, soggy "pound-cake" and crullers that might have been used with success as car-seat springs!
The train was late in arriving at Freeling. It rumbled into the station covered with snow, its pilot showing how it had ploughed through the drifts. The girls were separated at once, for Nan's seat and her chum's were in one car, while the girls bound Chicago-ward had a section in another.
Nan and Bess would be in their berths and asleep when their car should be switched to the southern line to be picked up by the other train at the Junction. So they bade their friends good-bye at once and, after a false start or two, the heavy train blundered into the night and the storm, and Freeling was left behind.
The train did not move rapidly. A few miles out of Freeling it became stalled for a while. But a huge snow-plow came to the rescue at this point and piloted the train clear into the Junction.
The sleeping-car porter wanted to make up the girls' berths at the usual hour—nine o'clock. But Nan begged hard for more time and Bess treated him to a generous lunch from the supply she had bought at Freeling. Afterwards she admitted she was sorry she was so reckless with the commissary.
Just now, however, neither Bess nor Nan worried about supplies for what Laura Polk called "the inner girl." Through the window they saw the drifts piling up along the right of way, wherever the lamps revealed them; country stations darkened and almost buried under the white mantle; and the steadily driving snow itself that slanted earthward—a curtain that shut out of sight all objects a few yards beyond the car windows.
"My! this is dreadful," murmured Bess, when the train halted again for the drifts to be shoveled out of a cot. "When do you s'pose we'll ever get home?"
"Not at eight o'clock in the morning," Nan announced promptly. "That's sure. I don't know just how many miles it is—and I never could tell anything about one of these railroad time-tables."
"Laura says she can read a menu card in a French restaurant more easily," chuckled Bess. "I wonder how their train is getting on?"
"I'm so selfishly worried about our own train that I'm not thinking of them," admitted Nan. "There! we've started again."
But the train puffed on for only a short distance and then "snubbed" its nose into another snow-bank. The wheels of the locomotive clogged, the flues filled with snow, the wet fuel all but extinguished the fire. Before the engineer could back the heavy train, the snow swirled in behind it and built a drift over the platform of the rear coach. The train was completely stalled.
This happened after eleven o'clock and while they were between stations. It was a lonely and rugged country, and even farm-houses were far apart. The train was about midway between stations, the distance from one to the other being some twenty miles. The weight of the snow had already broken down long stretches of telegraph and telephone wires. No aid for the snow-bound train and passengers could be obtained.
Before this, however, the porter had insisted upon making up the girls' berths and, like most of the other passengers in the Pullman, Nan and Bess were asleep. While the passengers slept the snow continued to sift down, building the drifts higher and higher, and causing the train-crew increasing worriment of mind.
The locomotive could no longer pierce the drifts. The train had been too heavy for her from the first. Fuel supply had been renewed at the Junction, as well as water; but the coal was now needed to keep up steam for the cars—and it would not last long for that purpose.
If the storm continued until morning without change, it might be several days before the road could be opened from either end of the division. Food and fuel would be very hard to obtain in this waste of snow, and so far from human habitation.
The two conductors and the engineer spent most of the night discussing ways and means. Meanwhile the snow continued to fall and the passengers, for the most part, rested in ignorance of the peril that threatened.
CAST AWAY IN THE SNOW
It was Bess who came back from the ladies' room on the Pullman and startled Nan Sherwood by shaking her by the shoulder as she lay in the upper berth, demanding:
"Have you any idea what time it is, Nan? Say! have you?"
"No-o—ouch!" yawned her chum. "Goodness! That was my elbow. There's not much room on these shelves, is there?"
"Do you hear me?" shrilled Bess. "What time do you suppose it is?"
"Oh, dear me! Is that a conundrum?" asked Nan, with but faint interest.
"Wake up!" and Bess pinched her. "I never knew you so stupid before. See my watch, Nan," and she held the small gold time-piece she had owned since her last birthday, so that her chum could see its face.
"A quarter to eight," read Nan from the dial. "Well! that's not so late. I know we're allowed to remain in the car till eight. I'll hurry. But, oh! isn't it dark outside?"
"Now, you're showing a little common sense," snapped Bess. "But do you see that my watch has stopped?"
"Oh! so it has," agreed Nan. "But, then, honey, you're always letting it run down."
"I know," said Bess, impatiently. "And at first I thought it must have stopped last evening at a quarter to eight. When I woke up just now it was just as dark as it was yesterday morning at six. But I took a peep at the porter's clock and what do you think?"
"I'll shave you for nothing and give you a drink," laughed Nan, quoting the old catch-line.
Bess was too excited to notice her chum's fun. She said, dramatically:
"The porter's clock says half-past nine and half the berths are put up again at the other end of the car!"
"Mercy!" gasped Nan, and swung her feet over the edge of the berth. "Oh!" she squealed the next moment.
"What's the matter now?" demanded her chum.
"Oh! I feel like a poor soldier who's having his legs cut off. My! isn't the edge of this berth sharp?"
"But what do you know about its being half-past nine?" demanded Bess.
"And the train is standing still," said Nan. "Do you suppose we can be at Tillbury?"
"Goodness! we ought to be," said Bess. "But it is so dark."
"And Papa Sherwood would be down in the yards looking for me before this time, I know."
"Well! what do you think it means?" demanded her chum. "And b-r-r-r! it's cold. There isn't half enough steam on in this car."
Nan was scrambling into her outer garments. "I'll see about this in a minute, Bess," she said, chuckling. "Maybe the sun's forgotten to rise."
Bess had managed to draw aside the curtain of the big window. She uttered a muffled scream.
"Oh, Nan! It's sno-ow!"
"What? Still snowing?" asked her chum.
"No. It's all banked up against the pane. I can't see out at all."
"Goodness—gracious—me!" ejaculated Nan. "Do you suppose we're snowed in?"
That was just exactly what it meant. The porter, his eyes rolling, told them all about it. The train had stood just here, "in the middle of a snow-bank," since midnight. It was still snowing. And the train was covered in completely with the soft and clinging mantle.
At first the two chums bound for Tillbury were only excited and pleased by the novel situation. The porter arranged their seats for them and Bess proudly produced the box of lunch she had bought at Freeling, and of which they had eaten very little.
"Tell me how smart I am, Nan Sherwood!" she cried. "Wish we had a cup of coffee apiece."
At that very moment the porter and conductor entered the car with a steaming can of the very comforting fluid Bess had just mentioned. The porter distributed waxed paper cups from the water cooler for each passenger's use and the conductor judiciously poured the cups half full of coffee.
"You two girls are very lucky," he said, when he saw what was in the lunch-box. "Take care of your food supply. No knowing when we'll get out of this drift."
"Why, mercy!" ejaculated Bess. "I don't know that I care to live for long on stale sandwiches and pie, washed down by the most miserable coffee I ever tasted."
"Well, I suppose it's better to live on this sort of food than to die on no food at all," Nan said, laughing.
It seemed to be all a joke at first. There were only a few people in the Pullman, and everybody was cheerful and inclined to take the matter pleasantly. Being snow-bound in a train was such a novel experience that no unhappy phase of the situation deeply impressed any of the passengers' minds.
Breakfast was meagre, it was true. The "candy butcher," who sold popcorn and sandwiches as well, was bought out at an exorbitant price by two traveling men, who distributed what they had secured with liberal hand. Bess, more cautious than usual, hid the remains of her lunch and told Nan that it was "buried treasure."
"Castaways ought to find treasure buried on their island to make it really interesting," she told her chum. "Think of poor Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday. Wouldn't they have been just tickled to death to have found anything like this for their Sunday dinner, say?"
"I don't believe Friday would have cared much about railroad lunch apple pies," said Nan. "One's palate has to become accustomed to such delicacies."
"Now, don't be critical, Nan Sherwood, or I sha'n't give you any more pie," cried Bess. "B-r-r-r! isn't it cold in here?"
"We really ought to speak to the janitor about it," said Nan, demurely. "He isn't giving us enough steam. I shall move into another apartment before next winter if they can't heat this one any better."
They whiled away the morning in conversation and reading. They had to sit with their furs on. Nan looked like a little Esquimaux in hers, for her Uncle Henry Sherwood had bought them for her to wear in the Big Woods the winter before. Finally Bess declared she was too fidgety to sit still any longer.
"I've just got to do something. Here's the conductor again. Let's stir him up about the heat."
"I wouldn't," said more thoughtful Nan. "He looks as though he had his own troubles."
"I don't care! We can't sit here and freeze to death. Say, Mr. Conductor, can't we have any more heat? We're really almost frozen."
"Can't help it, little ladies," responded the man, rather gruffly. "You'll find it worse when the coal gives out entirely."
"Oh, mercy!" Bess exclaimed, when he had gone on. "What a bear!"
But Nan looked suddenly disturbed. "Do you suppose that is possible?" she asked.
"That the coal may give out?"
"What if it does?" queried her chum, blankly.
"Goodness me! How will they make steam if there's no fuel for the fire?"
"Oh!" gasped Bess, "I never thought of that. Goodness, Nan, we'll be frozen to icicles!"
"Not yet, I hope," said Nan, getting up briskly. "Let's see if we can't stick our heads out of doors. I'm aching for a breath of fresh air."
They went forward and opened the vestibule door. The outside doors were locked and the snow was piled against the little windows, high up in the door panels.
"I believe this snow is piled completely over the cars," declared Nan.
"Isn't that funny?" said Bess. "How do you s'pose they'll ever dig us out?"
"I wonder if it has stopped snowing?"
"I hope so!"
"We can't hear anything down here," continued Nan. "But we naturally couldn't, if the train is buried in the snow."
"Dear me, Nan!" said her chum, in a really worried tone. "What do you s'pose will happen to us?"
"And our folks! They'll be awfully worried. Why! we should have been at Tillbury by eight o'clock, and here it is noon!"
"That is so," Nan said, with more assurance. "But of course they know what has happened to the train. We're in no real danger."
"We—ell, I s'pose not," admitted Bess, slowly. "But it does seem funny."
Nan chuckled. "As long as we see anything funny in the situation, I guess we shall get along all right."
"Oh! you know what I mean," her chum said. "I wonder where that door leads to?"
"Into another car," Nan said demurely.
"Is that so, Miss Smartie?" cried Bess. "But what car?"
She tried the door. It gave entrance to a baggage coach, dimly lit by a lantern swinging from the roof. Nobody was in the car and the girls walked hesitatingly forward.
"Oh!" squealed Bess, suddenly. "Here's my trunk."
"And here's mine," Nan said, and stopped to pat the side of the battered, brown box stenciled "N.S." on its end. Nan had something very precious in that trunk, and to tell the truth she wished she had that precious possession out of the trunk right then.
"It's awfully cold in here, Bess," she said slowly.
"I guess they haven't got the steam turned on in this flat, either," returned Bess, laughing. "Nothing to freeze here but the trunks. Oh! oh! what's that?"
Her startled cry was caused by a sudden sound from a dark corner—a whimpering cry that might have been a baby's.
"The poor thing!" cried Nan, darting toward the sound. "They have forgotten it, I know."
"A baby in a baggage car?" gasped Bess. "Whoever heard the like?"
WAIFS AND STRAYS
"What a cruel, cruel thing!" Nan murmured.
"I never supposed the railroad took babies as baggage," said her chum wonderingly.
At that Nan uttered a laugh that was half a sob. "Silly! reach down that lantern, please. Stand on the box. I'll show you what sort of a baby it is."
Bess obeyed her injunction and brought the light. Nan was kneeling in the corner before a small crate of slats in which was a beautiful, brown-eyed, silky haired water spaniel—nothing but a puppy—that was licking her hands through his prison bars and wriggling his little body as best he could in the narrow quarters to show his affection and delight.
"Well, I never!" cried Bess, falling on her knees before the dog's carrier, and likewise worshipping. "Isn't he the cunning, tootsie-wootsie sing? 'E 'ittle dear! Oh, Nan! isn't he a love? How soft his tiny tongue is," for the puppy was indiscriminate in his expressions of affection.
"I believe the men must have forgotten him," said Nan.
"It's a murderin' shame, as cook would say," Bess declared. "Let's let him out."
"Oh, no! we mustn't—not till we've asked leave."
"Well, who'll we ask?" demanded Bess.
"The baggage-man, of course," said Nan, jumping up. "I believe he's hungry, too."
"Who? the baggage-man?" giggled Bess.
"The puppy, of course," returned Nan.
"We'll feed him some of our pie," suggested Bess.
"He ought to have some warm milk," Nan said seriously.
"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed her chum. "Well, Nan Sherwood, I don't think anybody's thought to milk the cow this morning."
"Oh, be good, Bess," Nan admonished her. The pup began to whimper again. "Come on; let's find the man."
The girls ventured farther forward. When they opened the door of the car at that end, Bess screamed outright.
"Why! it's a tunnel, Nan," she ejaculated. "Do you see?"
"What a lot of snow there must be above us," her chum rejoined, with gravity.
"Why, this is just the greatest adventure that ever happened," Bess continued. "The men have tunneled through the drift from one car to the other. I wonder how thick the roof is, Nan? Suppose it falls on us!"
"Not likely," responded her chum, and she stepped confidently out upon the platform. The door of the forward car stuck and after a moment somebody came and slid it back a crack.
"Hullo, young ladies!" exclaimed the brakeman, who looked out. "What do you want forward, here?"
"We want to speak to the baggage-man, please," Nan said promptly.
"Hey, Jim!" shouted the brakeman. "Here's a couple of ladies to see you. I bet they've got something to eat in their trunks and want to open them."
There was a laugh in chorus from the crew in the forward baggage and express car. Then an older man came and asked the girls what they wished. Bess had grown suddenly bashful, so it was Nan who asked about the dog.
"The poor little thing should be released from that crate," she told the man. "And I believe he's hungry."
"I reckon you're right, Miss," said the baggage-man. "I gave him part of my coffee this morning; but I reckon that's not very satisfying to a dog."
"He should have some milk," Nan announced decidedly.
"Ya—as?" drawled the baggage-man. He had come into the car with the girls and now looked down at the fretting puppy. "Ya—as," he repeated; "but where are you going to get milk?"
"From the so-called cow-tree," said Bess soberly, "which is found quite commonly in the jungles of Brazil. You score the bark and the wood immediately beneath it with an axe, or machette, insert a sliver of clean wood, and the milky sap trickles forth into your cup—"
"How ridiculous!" interposed Nan, while the baggage-man burst into appreciative laughter.
"Well," said Bess, "when folks are cast away like us, don't they always find the most wonderful things all about them—right to their hands, as it were?"
"Like a cow-tree in a baggage car?" said Nan, with disgust.
"Well! how do you propose to find milk here?" demanded her chum.
"Why," said Nan, with assurance, "I'd look through the express matter and see if there wasn't a case of canned milk going somewhere—"
"Great! Hurrah for our Nan!" broke in Bess Harley, in admiration. "Who'd ever have thought of that?"
"But we couldn't do that, Miss," said the baggage-man, scratching his head. "We'd get into trouble with the company."
"So the poor dog must starve," said Bess, saucily.
"Guess he'll have to take his chance with the rest of us," said the man.
"Oh! You don't mean we're all in danger of starvation?" gasped Bess, upon whose mind this possibility had not dawned before.
"Well—" said the man, and then stopped.
"They'll come and dig us out, won't they?" demanded Bess.
"Then we won't starve," she said, with satisfaction.
But Nan did not comment upon this at all. She only said, with confidence:
"Of course you can let this poor doggy out of the cage and we will be good to him."
"Well, Miss, that altogether depends upon the conductor, you know. It's against the rules for a dog to be taken into a passenger coach."
"I do think," cried Bess, "that this is the very meanest railroad that ever was. I am sure that Linda Riggs' father owns it. To keep a poor, dear, little dog like that, freezing and starving, in an old baggage car."
"Do you know President Riggs, Miss?" interrupted the baggage-man.
"Why—" began Bess, but her chum interposed before she could go further.
"We know Mr. Riggs' daughter very well. She goes to school where we do, at Lakeview Hall. She was on this train till it was split at the Junction, last evening."
"Well, indeed, Miss, you tell that to Mr. Carter. If you are friends of Mr. Riggs' daughter, maybe he'll stretch a point and let you take the dog into the Pullman. I don't suppose anybody will object at a time like this."
"How could you, Nan?" demanded Bess, in a whisper. "Playing up Linda Riggs' name for a favor?"
"Not for ourselves, no, indeed!" returned Nan, in the same low tone. "But for the poor doggy, yes."
"Say! I wonder what she'd say if she knew?"
"Something mean, of course," replied Nan, calmly. "But we'll save that poor dog if we can. Come on and find this Conductor Carter."
They left the puppy yelping after them as they returned to the Pullman. The cars felt colder now and the girls heard many complaints as they walked through to the rear. The conductor, the porter said, had gone back into the smoking car. That car was between the Pullman and the day coaches.
When Nan rather timidly opened the door of the smoking car a burst of sound rushed out, almost startling in its volume—piercing cries of children, shrill tones of women's voices, the guttural scolding of men, the expostulations of the conductor himself, who had a group of complainants about him, and the thunderous snoring of a fat man in the nearest seat, who slept with his feet cocked up on another seat and a handkerchief over his face.
"Goodness!" gasped Bess, pulling back. "Let's not go in. It's a bear garden."
"Why, I don't understand it," murmured Nan. "Women and children in the smoker? Whoever heard the like?"
"They've turned off the heat in the other two cars and made us all come in here, lady," explained a little dark-haired and dark-eyed woman who sat in a seat near the door. "They tell us there is not much coal, and they cannot heat so many cars."
She spoke without complaint, in the tone of resignation so common among the peasantry of Europe, but heard in North America from but two people—the French Canadian and the peon of Mexico. Nan had seen so many of the former people in the Big Woods of Upper Michigan the summer before, that she was sure this poor woman was a "Canuck." Upon her lap lay a delicate, whimpering, little boy of about two years.
"What is the matter with the poor little fellow, madam?" asked Nan, compassionately.
"With my little Pierre, mademoiselle?" returned the woman.
"Yes," said Nan.
"He cries for food, mademoiselle," said the woman simply. "He has eaten nothing since we left the Grand Gap yesterday at three o'clock; except that the good conductor gave us a drink of coffee this morning. And his mother has nothing to give her poor Pierre to eat. It is sad, is it not?"
A SERIOUS PROBLEM
The chums from Tillbury looked at each other in awed amazement. Nothing just like this had ever come to their knowledge before. The healthy desire of a vigorous appetite for food was one thing; but this child's whimpering need and its mother's patient endurance of her own lack of food for nearly twenty-four hours, shook the two girls greatly.
"Why, the poor little fellow!" gasped Nan, and sank to her knees to place her cheek against the pale one of the little French boy.
"They—they're starving!" choked Bess Harley.
The woman seemed astonished by the emotion displayed by these two schoolgirls. She looked from Nan to Bess in rather a frightened way.
"Monsieur, the conductor, say it cannot ver' well be help'," she murmured. "It is the snow; it haf overtaken us."
"It just can be helped!" cried Bess, suddenly, and she whirled and fairly ran forward into the chair car. Nan did not notice her chum's departure at the moment. The baby had seized her finger and was smiling at her. Such a pretty little fellow, but so weak and ill in appearance.
"Oh, madame!" Nan cried in her best French, "is it not terrible? We may be here for hours."
"As the good God wills," said the woman, patiently. "We cannot devise or shape Fate, mademoiselle."
Nan stood up and shook her head, saying vigorously, and in her own tongue, for she was too much moved to remember Mademoiselle Loro's teaching:
"But we need not accept Fate's determination as final, I am sure! There is a good God, as you say, madam. This child must have food, and—"
At the moment Bess rushed in carrying the paste-board box containing the remains of their lunch. "Here!" she cried, dramatically. "Give the poor little fellow this."
"Oh, little ladies!" responded the woman, "have a care. You will have need of this food yourselves."
"No, no!" cried Bess, the impetuous. "We are stuffed to repletion. Aren't we, Nan?"
"We have certainly eaten much more recently than madam and the little one," agreed Nan, heartily.
The woman opened the box. The child sat up with a crow of delight. The mother gave him one of the stale crullers, and he began gnawing on it with all the gusto of a hungry dog on a bone.
"Take something yourself, madam," commanded Nan. "And more for the little fellow."
"Let 'em have it all, Nan," whispered the impulsive Bess. "Goodness! we can get on somehow."
But Nan was more observant than her chum. There were other children in the car besides this little fellow. In fact, in the seat but one behind the French woman and her baby, a girl of six or seven years was clinging to the seat-back and staring with hungry eyes at the broken food in the box.
"Gracious!" gasped Bess, seeing this little one when Nan had nudged her and pointed. "Gracious! that's the picture of Famine, herself."
She seized one of the greasy little pies and thrust it into the child's hands. The latter began devouring it eagerly. Bess saw other hungry mouths open and eager hands outstretched.
"Oh, Nan!" she almost sobbed. "We've got to give them all some. All the poor little children!"
Her chum did not try to curb Bess Harley's generosity. There was not much of the food left, so there was no danger of over-feeding any of the small children who shared in the generosity of the chums. But when the last crumb was gone they found the conductor at their elbows.
"Well, girls!" he exclaimed grimly. "Now you've done it, haven't you?"
"Done what, sir?" asked Bess, rather startled.
"You've given away all your own lunch. What did I tell you? I warned you to take care of it."
"Oh, sir!" cried Nan. "We couldn't have eaten it, knowing that these little folks were so hungry."
"No, indeed!" agreed Bess.
"If you had remained in your own car," the conductor said, "you would have known nothing about these poor kiddies."
"Well, I'm glad we did find out about 'em before we ate our lunch all up," declared Nan.
"Why, I'd like to know, Miss?" asked the man.
"It would have lain heavily on our consciences—"
"And surely injured our digestions," giggled Bess. "That pie was something awful."
"Well, it's all gone now, and you have nothing."
"Oh, that's not the worst," cried Bess, suddenly. "Oh, Nan!" and she clasped her gloved hands tragically.
"What is it now?" asked her chum.
"The poor little dog! He won't have even railroad pie to eat."
"What dog is this?" demanded the conductor.
"Oh!" cried Nan. "Are you Mr. Carter?"
"Yes, I am, Miss. But this dog?"
"Is in the baggage car," Nan said eagerly. "And he's so cold and hungry and lonesome. He's just crying his heart out."
"Won't you let us take him into our car where it is warmer and take care of him?"
"That nuisance of a pup?" demanded the conductor, yet with twinkling eyes that belied his gruffness. "I know he's yapping his little head off."
"Then let us have him, sir, do!" begged Nan earnestly.
"Take him into the Pullman, you mean?"
"Yes, sir, we'll take the best care of him," promised Nan.
"Against the rules!" declared the conductor, briskly.
"But rules ought to be broken at times," urged Nan. "For instance, can't they be relaxed when folks are cast away on desert islands?"
"Oh, ho!" chuckled the conductor. "I see the point, Miss. But the captain of the ship must maintain discipline, just the same, on the desert island as aboard ship."
"I s'pose you've got to enforce the rule against passengers riding on the platform, too, even if we are stuck in a snowdrift?" Bess said a little crossly. They had come out into the vestibule, and she was cold.
The conductor broke into open laughter at this; but Nan was serious.
"Suppose anything happens to the poor little fellow?" she fumed. "He may get cold. And he certainly will starve."
"Have you anything more in the line of food to give away?" demanded the conductor.
"Not a crumb," sighed Bess. "By the time the cannibals arrive at this desert island we'll all be too thin to tempt them to a banquet."
"But there may be something on the train with which to feed that poor doggie," insisted Nan.
"If you mean in the crew's kettles," said the conductor, "I can assure you, young lady, there is nothing. This crew usually eats at the end of the division. It's not like a freight train crew. We'd be a whole lot better off right now," added the conductor, reflectively, "if we had a caboose attached to the end of this train. We'd stand a chance of rustling up some grub for all these hungry people."
"Oh, dear!" gasped Bess. "Do you s'pose we're going to be hungry long?"
"They say one doesn't notice it much after about eight days," her chum said, chuckling.
"Ugh!" shivered Bess, "I don't much care for your kind of humor, Nan Sherwood."
The conductor suddenly glanced at Nan more keenly and asked, "Are you Nancy Sherwood, Miss?"
"Why, yes, sir."
"And you go to school somewhere upon the shore of Lake Huron?" he pursued.
"Why, yes, sir."
"We go to Lakeview Hall. And we know Linda Riggs," blurted out Bess, remembering what the baggage-man had advised them to say to the conductor.
"Oh, indeed?" said Mr. Carter; but his interest remained fixed on Nan. "You didn't go to school last September over this division, did you?" he asked.
"No, sir. We went from Chicago," replied the wondering Nan.
"Your train was broke in two at the Junction to put in a car?"
"And what did you do at the Junction?" asked the conductor, quickly.
"Oh, I know!" cried Bess, as her chum hesitated. "She got off the train and killed a big rattlesnake that was just going to bite a little girl—yes, you did, Nan Sherwood!"
"You're the girl, Miss!" declared Mr. Carter, drawing out his notebook and pencil. "There have been some inquiries made for you."
"Mercy!" ejaculated Nan. "I don't want to hear anything more about that old snake."
The conductor laughed. "I fancy you won't hear anything unpleasant about the snake," he said. "Where do you live, Nancy Sherwood?"
"I live at Tillbury," Nan said. "But I sha'n't be home much this vacation."
"Where will you be, then, about the first of the year?"
"I'll tell you," Bess cried briskly, and she gave Mr. Carter Mr. Mason's address in Chicago.
The conductor wrote it down carefully in his notebook. Nan was impatient.
"Can't you find something among the express packages to help us out, sir?" she asked. "Canned goods. For instance, a case of canned milk?"
"We'll see, Miss," said the conductor, starting forward again. "At any rate, I'll let you two girls have the dog."
THE FAT MAN INTERPOSES
The people in the Pullman car, who were much more comfortably situated than those in the smoking car, or than the crew of the train hived up in the first baggage coach, were beginning to complain a good deal now. The colored porter, with rolling eyes and appealing gestures, met the conductor and the two girls.
"Ah kyan't stan' this no longer, Mistah Ca'tah," he almost sobbed. "Da's sumpin' got t' be did fo' all dese starbin white ladies an' gemmen—ya-as sah! Dey is jes' about drivin' me mad. I kyan't stan' it."
"What can't you stand, Nicodemus?" demanded Mr. Carter, good-naturedly.
"Dey is a-groanin' an' a-takin' on powerful bad 'cause dey ain't no dining kyar cotched up wid us yet."
"Dining car caught up with us?" gasped Nan and Bess together.
"What sort of a yarn have you been giving these passengers, Nick?" demanded the conductor.
"Well, Ah jes' done got t' tell 'em sumpin' t' pacify 'em," whispered the darkey. "No use lettin' 'em think dey gwyne t' starb t' death. Ah tell 'em yo' done sent back t' de Junction for a car-load ob eats an' dat it's expected t' arrive any hour. Ya-as, sah!"
"Why, you atrocious falsifier!" ejaculated Mr. Carter.
"Wot! me?" exclaimed the porter. "No, sah! Ah ain't nottin' like dat—no, sah! Ah reckon Ah done save dat little man's life. Yo' know, dat little drummer wot's trabelin' wid de big man. Dey was castin' lots t' see which one should be kilt fo' to be et by de odder—"
"Oh, mercy!" screamed Bess, and stuffed her handkerchief into her mouth.
"Ya-as, indeedy, Miss! Dey was gettin' mighty desprit. An de big feller, he says, 'Hit don't much matter which way de dice falls, I'm de bigges' an' I certainly kin holt ma own wid a little runt like you!' He says jes' lak' dat to his friend, de littles' feller."
Nan and Bess both hid their faces behind Mr. Carter's broad back.
"Ah got nerbous," pursued the darkey. "Dat big man looked lak' he was jes' going t' start right in on his fren'. An' de luck turns his way, anyhow, and de lil' feller loses. 'I gibs yo' 'twill six-thirty to-night,' de big man says. 'Dat's ma reg'lar dinner hour, an' I'm moughty savage ef I go much over ma dinner time.'
"Golly, boss!" added the porter, "Ah jes' 'bleeged tun say sumpin', an Ah tells 'em de dinin' kyar'll sho'ly obertake us fo' six-thirty. Ya'as, indeedy. An' den, dar's dat lady up dar wid de sour-vinegary sort o' face. Ah jes' heard her say she'd be fo'ced tuh eat her back-comb if she didn't have her lunch pu'ty soon. A' yo' knows, Mistah Ca'tah, no lady's indigestion is a-gwine tuh stan' up under no sech fodder as dat."
"You old silly!" ejaculated the conductor. "These people have been fooling you. I'll separate those two drummers so that they won't eat each other—or concoct any more stories with which to worry you, Nick. Come on, young ladies. We'll see about that dog."
"And look through the express matter—do!" begged Nan.
"Surely will," replied the conductor. "But I expect we'll have to tie and muzzle the express messenger."
Bess thought this funny, too, and she giggled again. In fact, Nan declared her chum had a bad case of the "giggles" and begged her to behave herself.
"I don't believe that castaways set out to explore their island for food in any such light-minded manner as you display, Elizabeth," Nan observed.
"Oh, dear! I can't help it," Bess gasped. "That darkey is so funny. He's just as innocent as—as—"
"The man, Friday," finished Nan.
"Goody! that's who he is," agreed Bess. "He's Friday. Oh! if Laura Polk were only here, wouldn't she have lots of fun with him?"
"Seems as though those two drummers were bothering poor Friday quite enough."
They heard the little spaniel yelping the moment they opened the baggage car door.
"The poor 'ittle sing!" cooed Bess, running to the corner where the puppy was imprisoned. "Oh! how cold it is in here. It would be a little icicle, so it would be, in a little while."
"Let's see where he's going, and whom he belongs to," Mr. Carter said. "I'll have to make a note of this, and so will Jim, the baggage-man. You want to take good care of this little tyke, for the railroad is responsible for him while he is in transit."
He stooped down and brought his light to bear upon the tag wired to the top of the crate. "Ravell Bulson, Jr., Owneyville, Illinois," he read aloud, making a note of it in his book.
"Oh!" ejaculated Nan.
"Oh!" repeated Bess.
Then both together the chums gasped: "That fat man!"
"Hullo!" observed the conductor, slipping the toggles out of the hasp, which kept the door of the dog crate closed. "Do you girls know the owner of this pup? You seem to know everybody."
"We know a Mr. Ravell Bulson by sight, Mr. Carter," Nan said quietly.
"And he's just the meanest man!" began impulsive Bess; but her chum stopped her with a glance.
"Well! Mr. Ravell Bulson, Jr., has a fine pup here," declared the conductor, releasing the agitated little creature.
The spaniel could not show his delight sufficiently when he was out of the crate. He capered about them, licking the girl's shoes, tumbling down in his haste and weakness, and uttering his funny little bark in excited staccato.
Bess finally grabbed him up and, after kissing her, suddenly, right under the ear, and making her squeal, he snuggled down in her arms, his little pink tongue hanging out and his eyes shining (so Bess declared) like "two brown stars."
"'Brown stars' is good," chuckled Nan. "You'll be talking about a cerise sky next, with a pea-green sun."
"Such a carping critic!" returned Bess. "But what care I? His eyes are brown stars, so now! And if you're not very good, Nan Sherwood, I'll make him bite you."
Mr. Carter was leading the way to the forward car, and the girls followed with the spaniel. It seemed a little lighter under the tunneled snow-bank between the two cars, and the conductor said, with some satisfaction:
"I believe it has stopped snowing and will clear up. I do surely hope that is the weather programme. We want to get out of here."
"And walk to Tillbury?" cried Nan.
"It would be one good, long walk," responded the conductor, grimly. "Hi, Jim!" he added to the baggage-man, whose face appeared through the tobacco smoke that filled the forward baggage car. "Jim, these young ladies are going to take care of the pup. Belongs to Ravell Bulson, Jr., Owneyville, Illinois. Make a note of it."
"Sure!" Jim said.
"Say! that's a funny thing," put in another man, who wore the lettered cap of the express company. "I've been looking over my way-bill, Carter, and a man named Ravell Bulson of that same address has shipped a package to himself from the Bancroft Creamery siding, up above Freeling. Package marked 'Glass—handle with care.'"
"Bully!" exclaimed the conductor. "That's condensed milk in glass jars, I bet. A number-one product. I've seen it. Anything else eatable on your list?"
"Not a thing, Carter."
"How far will twenty-four cans of condensed milk go among this gang of starving people?" growled a man in overalls and a greasy cap, whom the girls knew must be the engineer.
"You keep the fire up, Horace, so's we can melt snow," said the conductor, "and we can dilute the milk all right. It's good stuff."
"Fire!" exclaimed the engineer. "How do you expect my fireman to keep up a blaze under that boiler on the shag-end of nothing? I tell you the fire's going out in less than an hour. She ain't making a pound of steam right now."
"Great Peter, Horace!" ejaculated Mr. Carter, "don't say that. We have got to have fire!"
"Well, you show me how to keep one going," said the engineer. "Unless you know some way of burning snow, I don't see how you're going to do it."
"Take it from me, we must find a way to keep steam up in these cars," said Mr. Carter. "We've shut off the last two cars. The smoker's packed with passengers as tight as a can of sardines."
"Oh! I wish he wouldn't talk about things eatable," groaned Bess, in Nan's ear.
"Better put the women and the children in the Pullman," suggested the baggage-man.
"Can't. Their tickets don't call for first-class accommodations," said the conductor, stubbornly, "and none of them wants to pay the difference in tariff."
"You've got your hands full, Carter," said the express messenger. "How about the case of milk?" and he dragged a box into the middle of the floor.
"Say! you fellows let that case alone," exclaimed an unpleasant voice. "That's mine. You the conductor? I have been hunting all over for you."
Nan and Bess had both turned, startled, when this speech began. It came from the fat man whom they had seen asleep in the smoking car. And, now that his face was revealed, the chums recognized Mr. Ravell Bulson, the man who had spoken so harshly of Nan's father the day of the collision on Pendragon Hill.
"Say! this is the expressman, I guess," pursued Mr. Bulson. "You're the man I really want to see. You'll see my name on that box—'R. Bulson, Owneyville, Illinois.' That's me. And I want to open that box and get something out of it."
SI SNUBBINS DROPS IN
"Do let's get out of here before he sees us," whispered Nan to her chum.
"No, I won't," returned Bess, in the same tone. "I want to hear how it comes out."
"Of course that horrid man won't let them use the milk for the poor little children on the train. And, goodness, Bess! you've got his dog right in your arms this moment."
"Well," said the stubborn Bess, "if that fat man takes a jar of condensed milk out of that box for himself, I'll make him give this poor little puppy some of it. Now you see if I don't!"
At first it did not look as though the fat man was going to get any of the milk even for his own consumption. The expressman said gruffly: "I can't let you open the package. It's against the rules of the company."
"Say! I shipped this package to myself. Here's the receipt," blustered Mr. Bulson. "I guess I can withdraw it from your care if I like."
"Guess again, mister," returned the expressman. "You've got three guesses, anyway."
The fat man was so assertive and over-bearing that it amused the chums from Tillbury to hear him thus flouted.
"I guess you don't know who I am?" cried the choleric fat man.
"You say your name is Bullhead—"
"Bulson!" roared the other. "Ravell Bulson. I own that milk."
"So it is condensed milk in that box, Mr. Bulson?" here interposed Mr. Carter, the conductor.
"Yes, it is," said Bulson, shortly. "I had business up near the Bancroft Creamery, and I stepped in there and bought a case of milk in glass, and shipped it home. I saw it being put aboard the express car of the other train and I had an idea it would be transferred at the Junction to this train. And here it is, and I want it."
"You're a public spirited citizen, Mr. Bulson," the conductor said suavely. "I expect you want to get this milk to divide among your fellow passengers? Especially among the children on the train?"
"What's that?" exclaimed Bulson, his eyes fairly bulging out with surprise.
"You are going to open the case of canned milk for the benefit of all hands?" said Mr. Carter, sternly.
"Wha—what do you take me for?" blurted out the fat man, indignantly. "Why, that's my milk! I'm not going to give it to anybody. What do you take me for?" he repeated.
The disgust and indignation with which Mr. Carter eyed him must have plainly shown a less thick-skinned mortal just what the conductor's opinion was. But Mr. Ravell Bulson, like most utterly selfish men, saw nothing.
"You must think I'm silly," pursued Bulson. "I shall want but a can or two for myself. Of course they'll come and plow us out before long. And I promised my wife to send that milk home."
"Wouldn't you even give any of that milk to this poor little puppy?" suddenly demanded Bess, whose anger at the fat man had been gradually rising until now, before Nan could stop her, it boiled over.
"Heh? Who are you, Miss, if I may inquire?" snapped the fat man.
"It doesn't matter who I am," proclaimed Bess. "I wouldn't take a drop of that milk from you, anyway. But this poor little puppy is starving."
"Why, I declare!" interrupted Bulson. "That's the little dog I shipped to Junior."
"It's your own dog, Mr. Bulson," Bess declared. "And he's almost starved."
"And what are you doing with him?" demanded the fat man, rage suddenly narrowing his eyes again. "What kind of actions are these?" and he swung on the members of the train crew once more. "My dog is given to any Tom, Dick, and Harry that comes along, while I can't get at my own case of milk. Preposterous!"
The express messenger had received a signal from Mr. Carter, and now said:
"I tell you what it is, Mr. Bulson; I can't help you out. The matter is entirely out of my hands. Just before you came in the conductor levied on all my goods in transit and claimed the right to seize your case of milk for the benefit of the passengers. You'll have to send in your claim to our company, and it will get the value of the milk from the railroad people for you. That's all there is to it."
"What?" roared Mr. Bulson, aghast at these words.
"You heard me," responded the expressman, handing Mr. Carter a hammer and nail puller.
The conductor kneeled down and proceeded to open the box. The fat man would have torn his hair only he was bald and there was none he could spare.
"Get away from that box! get away!" he commanded, fairly dancing about the car. "Do you know what I'll do? I'll sue the company."
"All right. Begin suit at once," growled Mr. Carter. "Get out an injunction right away. Don't fret; you'll get your share of the milk with the rest of us."
"Why, it's all mine," croaked the fat man, hoarse with wrath. "I'll show you—"
"Go 'way," ordered a burly brakeman, pushing him aside, and stooping to help pull off the cover of the box. "You ought to be taken out and dumped in the snow, mister. It would cool you off."
"Come, Bess!" urged Nan, anxiously. "Let's go away. We'll get the milk for the puppy afterward. I'm afraid there will be trouble."
"I wish they would throw that mean old Bulson into the snow. He deserves it," Bess returned bitterly.
"Do let's go away," Nan said again, as the men's voices became louder.
"Oh, dear me! you never will let me have any fun," declared Bess, her eyes sparkling.
"Do you call a public brawl, fun?" demanded Nan, as they opened the door of the car.
At that moment, just as the two girls with the squirming, shivering puppy, were about to step out upon the platform between the baggage cars, they were startled by a muffled shout from overhead.
"Oh! what's that?" gasped Bess.
Both she and Nan looked up. Lumps of snow from the roof of the tunnel began to fall. Then came a louder shout and a pair of booted legs burst through the roof.
"Goodness—gracious—me!" cried Nan. "Here comes—"
"An angelic visitor!" squealed Bess.
With another shout of alarm, a snow-covered figure plunged to the platform. The cowhide boots landed first, so the man remained upright. He carried a can in each hand, and all around the covers was frozen milk, betraying at once the nature of his load.
He was a slim, wiry man, in a ragged greatcoat, a cap pulled over his ears, sparkling, little, light-blue eyes of phenomenal shrewdness, and a sparse, strawcolor chin-whisker.
"Wall, I vow to Maria!" gasped the newcomer. "What's this I've dropped into?"
Bess was now laughing so that she could not speak, and the puppy was barking as hard as he could bark. Nan managed to ask:
"Who are you, sir, and where did you come from?"
"Si Snubbras is my name," declared the "heavenly visitor." "And I reckon I'm nearer home than you be, Miss, for I live right east of the railroad-cut, here. I was jest goin' across to Peleg Morton's haouse with this yere milk, when I—I sorter dropped in," and Farmer Snubbins went off into a fit of laughter at his own joke.
AN ANGEL WITH CHIN WHISKERS
Mr. Si Snubbins was a character, and he plainly was very much pleased with himself. His little, sharp eyes apprehended the situation quickly.
"I vow to Maria!" repeated the farmer. "Ye air all snowed up here, ain't ye? A hull trainful o' folks. Wall!"
"And oh, Mr. Snubbins!" said Nan Sherwood, "you have milk in those cans, haven't you?"
"Sure have, Miss."
"Oh, Mr. Carter!" called Nan, running back into the forward car; "here's a man with fresh milk. You don't have to take Mr. Bulson's."
"What's that?" demanded the baggage-man, Jim, in surprise. "Where'd he get it? From that cow-tree your friend was telling us about?"
"What's this about fresh milk?" asked Mr. Carter. "Be still, Bulson. You roar to fit your name. We can't hear the little lady."
"Who's that?" snarled the excited Bulson, glaring at Nan. "How came that girl on this train? Isn't that the Sherwood girl?"
But nobody paid the fat man much attention just then. The crew crowded after Nan and Mr. Carter toward the open door of the car.
"Hul-lo" exclaimed Mr. Carter, when he saw the farmer and realized how he had "dropped in." "That milk for sale?"
"Why, mister," drawled Snubbins, "I'm under contrac' ter Peleg Morton ter deliver two cans of milk to him ev'ry day. I wasn't goin' to have him claim I hadn't tried ter fulfil my part of the contrac', so I started 'cross-lots with the cans."
"How's he going to get the milk to the creamery?" demanded Mr. Carter, shrewdly.
Si's eyes twinkled. "That's his part of the contrac'; 'tain't mine," he said. "But if ye ax me, I tell ye honest, Mr. Conductor, I don't see how Peleg's goin' ter do it. This is a sight the heaviest snow we've had for ten year."
"What'll you sell that milk for?" interrupted the anxious conductor. "Fresh milk will be a whole lot better for these kiddies we've got in the smoker than condensed milk. Just the same," he added, "I shall hold on to Bulson's shipment."
"What'll I take for this milk, mister?" repeated Snubbins, cautiously. "Wall, I dunno. I'spect the price has gone up some, because o' the roads being blocked."
"That will do—that will do," Mr. Carter hastened to say. "I'll take the milk, give you a receipt, and you can fight it out with the claim agent. I believe," added Mr. Carter, his lips twisting into a grim smile, "that you are the farmer whose cow was killed by this very train last fall, eh?"
"Ya-as," said Si Snubbins, sorrowfully. "Poor Sukey! She never knew what hit her."
"But the claim agent knew what hit the road when you put in your claim. That old cow wasn't worth more than ten dollars and you demanded fifty. Don't raise the tariff on this milk proportionately, for I'm sure the agent will not allow the claim."
Mr. Snubbins grinned and chuckled.
"I'll run my risk—I'll run my risk," he responded. "You kin have the milk for nawthin', if ye want it so bad. Bein' here all night, I expect ye be purty sharp-set, the whole on ye."
Mr. Carter had picked up the cans and had gone forward to have the milk thawed out at the boiler fire. Some of the brakemen had cleared away the snow by now and there was an open passage to the outside world. The keen kind blew in, and the pale, wintry sunshine lighted the space between the baggage cars. Mr. Snubbins grinned in his friendly way at the two girls.
"I reckon you gals," he said, "would just like to be over to my house where my woman could fry you a mess of flap-jacks. How's that?"
"Oh, don't mention it!" groaned Bess.
"Is your house near?" asked Nan.
"Peleg's the nighest. 'Tain't so fur. And when ye git out on top o' the snow, the top's purty hard. It blew so toward the end of that blizzard that the drifts air packed good."
"Yet you broke through," Bess said.
"Right here, I did, for a fac'" chuckled the farmer. "But it's warm down here and it made the snow soft."
"Of course!" cried Nan Sherwood. "The stale air from the cars would naturally make the roof of the tunnel soft."
"My goodness! Can't you see the train at all from up there?" Bess demanded. "Is it all covered up?"
"I reckon the ingin's out o' the snow. She's steamin' and of course she'd melt the snow about her boiler and stack," the farmer said. "But I didn't look that way."
"Say!" demanded Bess, with some eagerness. "Is that Peleg's house near?"
"Peleg Morton? Why, 'tain't much farther than ye kin hear a pig's whisper," said Mr. Snubbins. "I'm goin' right there, myself. My woman wants ter know is Celia all right. She's some worrited, 'cause Celia went over to visit Peleg's gal airly yesterday mornin' an' we ain't seen Celia since."
Mr. Carter came back with one of the brakemen just then, bearing a can of milk. The kindly conductor had found a tin plate, too—a section of the fireman's dinner kettle—and into this he poured some of the milk for the hungry little spaniel.
"There you are, Buster," he said, patting the dog, beside which Nan knelt to watch the process of consumption—for the puppy was so hungry that he tried to get nose, ears and fore-paws right in the dish!
"You're awfully kind," Nan said to Mr. Carter. "Now the little fellow will be all right."
"You better get him out of the way of that fat man," advised the conductor. "He owns the dog, you know. Bulson, I mean. He's forward in the other car, gourmandizing himself on a jar of condensed milk. I let him have one can; but I'm going to hold the rest against emergency. Now that the snow has stopped falling," he added cheerfully, as he passed on, "they ought to get help to us pretty soon."
The puppy was ready to cuddle down in his carrier and go to sleep when he had lapped up the milk. Nan wiped his silky ears with her pocket handkerchief, and his cunning little muzzle as well, and left him with a pat to go and seek Bess.
She found her chum still talking with Mr. Snubbins in the opening between the two cars. "Oh, Nan!" cried the impulsive one, rushing to meet her chum. "What do you think?"
"On what subject, young lady—on what subject?" demanded Nan, in her most dictatorial way, and aping one of the teachers at Lakeview Hall.
"On the subject of eats!" laughed Bess.
"Oh, my dear! Don't talk about it, please! If you drew a verbal picture of a banquet right now," Nan declared, "I'd eat it, verb and all."
"Do be sane and sensible," said Bess, importantly. "We're going out to supper. Now, wait! don't faint, Nan. This Mr. Snubbins is a dear! Why, he is a regular angel with chin whiskers—nothing less."
"He's never invited us to his house for supper?"
"No. His home is too far. But he says we can come along with him to Peleg's house and they will welcome us there. They are very hospitable people, these Mortons, so our angel says. And he and his daughter, Celia, will come back with us. And we can buy something there at the Mortons' to help feed the hungry children aboard the train."
That last appealed to Nan Sherwood, if nothing else did. There was but a single doubt in her mind.
"Oh, Bess!" she cried. "Do you think we ought to go? Shouldn't we ask permission?"
"Of whom?" demanded Bess, in surprise. "Surely the train won't steam off and leave us," and she broke into a laugh. "Oh, come on, Miss Fussbudget! Don't be afraid. I've been asking permission a dozen times a day for more than three months. I'm glad to do something 'off my own bat,' as my brother Billy says. Come on, Nan."
So Nan went. They found Mr. Si Snubbins, "the angel with chin whiskers," ready to depart. He climbed up first and got upon the crust of the snow; then he helped both girls to mount to his level. So another adventure for Nan and Bess began.
The almost level rays of a sinking sun shone upon a vast waste of white when the two girls from the snow-bound train started off with the farmer toward the only sign of life to be seen upon the landscape—a curl of blue smoke rising from a chimney of a farmhouse.
"That's Peleg's place," explained Mr. Snubbins. "He's a right well-to-do man, Peleg Morton is. We don't mind havin' our Celia go so much with Sallie Morton—though her mother does say that Sallie puts crazy notions into our Celia's head. But I reckon all gals is kinder crazy, ain't they?" pursued the farmer, with one of his sly glances and chuckles.
"Always!" agreed Bess, heartily. "Half of our girls at Lakeview Hall have to be kept in straightjackets, or padded cells."
"Mercy, Bess!" whispered Nan. "That's worthy of extravagant Laura Polk herself."
"Thank you," responded Bess, as the farmer recovered from a fit of "the chuckles" over Bess Harley's joke. Bess added this question:
"What particular form of insanity do your daughter and Sallie Morton display, Mr. Snubbins?"
"Movin' picters," ejaculated the farmer. "Drat 'em! They've jest about bewitched my gal and Sallie Morton."
"Goodness!" gasped Nan. "There aren't moving picture shows away out here in the country, are there?"
"Oncet a week at the Corner," said Mr. Snubbins. "An' we all go. But that ain't so much what's made Celia and Sallie so crazy. Ye see, las' fall was a comp'ny makin' picters right up here in Peleg's west parster. Goodness me! there was a crowd of 'em. They camped in tents like Gypsies, and they did the most amazin' things—they sure did!
"Dif'rent from Gypsies," pursued the farmer, "they paid for all they got around here. Good folks to sell chicken an' aigs to. City prices, we got," and Mr. Snubbins licked his lips like a dog in remembrance of a good meal.
"An' I vow ter Maria!" the man went on to say, with some eagerness. "We 'most all around here air in them picters; ya-as'm! Ye wouldn't think I was an actor, would ye?" And he went off into another spasm of chuckles.
"Oh, what fun!" cried Bess.
"Paid us two dollars a day for jest havin' our photographts took, they did," said Mr. Snubbins.
"And they paid three to the gals, 'cause they dressed up. That's what set Celia and Sallie by the ears. Them foolish gals has got it in their heads that they air jest cut out for movin' picter actresses. They wanter go off ter the city an' git jobs in one o' chem there studios! Peleg says he'll spank his gal, big as she is, if she don't stop sich foolish talk. I reckon Celia won't go fur without Sallie."
"My! it must be quite exciting to work for the pictures," said romantic Bess.
"Sure it is," chuckled the farmer. "One feller fell off a hoss while they was up here an' broke his collarbone; an' one of the gals tried ter milk our old Sukey from the wrong side, an' Sukey nigh kicked her through the side of the shed," and Mr. Snubbins indulged in another fit of laughter over this bit of comedy.
He was still chuckling when they climbed down from the hard eminence of a drift into a spot that had been cleared of snow before the Morton's side door. At once the door was opened and a big, bewhiskered man looked out.
"Well, well, Si!" he ejaculated. "I thought them was your Celia and my Sallie. Them girls air strangers, ain't they? Some more of that tribe of movin' picture actresses?"
"I vow ter Maria, Peleg!" ejaculated Mr. Snubbins. "What's happened to Celia? Ain't she here?"
"No. Nor no more ain't Sallie," Mr. Morton said. "Come in. Bring in them young ladies. I'll tell ye about it. Sallie's maw is mighty upsot."
"But ain't Celia here?" reiterated Mr. Snubbins, as he and the chums from Tillbury passed into the warm, big kitchen.
"No, she ain't, I tell you."
"But she started over for here yesterday morning, figgerin' to spend the day with your Sallie. When she didn't come back at night my woman an' me reckoned it snowed so hard you folks wouldn't let her come."
"Oh, lawk!" exclaimed Mr. Morton. "They was off yesterday mornin' just as soon as your Celia got here. Planned it all a forehand—the deceivin' imps! Said they was goin' to the Corner. An' they did! Sam Higgin picked 'em up there an' took 'em along to Littleton; an' when he plowed past here jest at evenin' through the snow he brought me a note. Hi, Maw, bring in that there letter," shouted Peleg Morton.
That the two men were greatly disturbed by the running away of their daughters, there could be no doubt. Nan was sorry she and Bess had come over from the train. These people were in serious trouble and she and her chum could not help them.
She drew the wondering Bess toward the door, and whispered: "What do you think, Bess? Can't we go back to the train alone?"
"What for, Nan?" cried Bess.
"Well, you see, they are in trouble."
At that moment Mrs. Morton hurried in with a fluttering sheet of paper in her hand. She was a voluminous woman in a stiffly starched house dress, everything about her as clean as a new pin, and a pair of silver-bowed spectacles pushed up to her fast graying hair. She was a wholesome, hearty, motherly looking woman, and Nan Sherwood was attracted to her at first sight.
Even usually unobservant Bess was impressed. "Isn't she a love?" she whispered to Nan.
"Poor woman!" Nan responded in the same tone, for there were undried tears on the cheeks of the farmer's wife.
"Here's Si, Maw," said Mr. Morton. "He ain't been knowin' about our girl and his Celia runnin' off, before."
"How do, Si?" responded Mrs. Morton. "Your wife'll be scairt ter death, I have no doubt. What'll become of them foolish girls—Why, Peke! who's these two young ladies?"
Mr. Morton looked to Mr. Snubbins for an introduction, scratching his head. Mr. Snubbins said, succinctly: "These here gals are from a railroad train that's snowed under down there in the cut. I expect they air hungry, Miz' Morton."
"Goodness me! Is that so?" cried the good woman, bustling forward and jerking her spectacles down astride her nose, the better to see the unexpected guests. "Snowed up—a whole train load, did you say? I declare! Sit down, do. I won't haf to put any extry plates on the supper table, for I did have it set, hopin' Sallie an' Celia would come back," and the poor mother began to sob openly.
"I vow, Maw! You do beat all. Them gals couldn't git back home through this snow, if they wanted to. And they likely got to some big town or other," said Mr. Morton, "before the worst of the blizzard. They've got money; the silly little tykes! When they have spent it all, they'll be glad to come back."
"Celia will, maybe," sobbed Mrs. Morton, brokenly. "She ain't got the determination of our Sallie. She'd starve rather than give in she was beat. We was too ha'sh with her, Paw. I feel we was too ha'sh! And maybe we won't never see our little gal again," and the poor lady sat down heavily in the nearest chair, threw her apron over her head, and cried in utter abandon.
"A RURAL BEAUTY"
Nan Sherwood could not bear to see anybody cry. Her heart had already gone out to the farmer's wife whose foolish daughter had left home, and to see the good woman sobbing so behind her apron, won every grain of sympathy and pity in Nan's nature.
"Oh, you poor soul!" cried the girl, hovering over Mrs. Morton, and putting an arm across her broad, plump shoulders. "Don't cry—don't, don't cry! I'm sure the girls will come back. They are foolish to run away; but surely they will be glad to get back to their dear, dear homes."
"You don't know my Sallie," sobbed the woman.
"Oh! but she can't forget you—of course she can't," Nan said. "Why ever did they want to run away from home?"
"Them plagued movin' picters," Mr. Snubbins said gruffly, blowing his nose. "I don't see how I kin tell my woman about Celia."
"It was that there 'Rural Beauty' done it," Mr. Morton broke in peevishly. "Wish't I'd never let them film people camp up there on my paster lot and take them picters on my farm. Sallie was jest carried away with it. She acted in that five-reel film, 'A Rural Beauty.' And I must say she looked as purty as a peach in it."
"That's what they've run away for, I bet," broke in Si Snubbins. "Celia was nigh about crazy to see that picter run off. She was in it, too. Of course, a big drama like that wouldn't come to the Corner, and I shouldn't wonder if that's what took 'em both to the city, first of all. Still," he added, "I reckon they wanter be actorines, too."
Bess suppressed a giggle at that, for Si Snubbins was funny, whether intentionally so or not. Nan continued to try to soothe the almost hysterical Mrs. Morton. Mr. Morton said:
"Let's have that letter, Maw, that Sallie writ and sent back by Sam Higgins from Littleton."
Mrs. Morton reached out a hand blindly with the paper in it. Nan took it to give to Mr. Morton.
"You read it, Si," said Mr. Morton. "I ain't got my specs handy."
"Neither have I—and I ain't no hand to read writin' nohow," said his neighbor, honestly. "Here, young lady," to Nan. "Your eyes is better than ourn; you read it out to us."
Nan did as she was asked, standing beside Mrs. Morton's chair the while with a hand upon her shoulder:
"'Dear Maw and Paw:—
"'Celia and me have gone to the city and we are going to get jobs with the movies. We know we can—and make good, too. You tell Celia's Paw and Maw about her going with me. I'll take care of her. We've got plenty money—what with what we earned posing in those pictures in the fall, the Rural Beauty, and all. We will write you from where we are going, and you won't mind when you know how successful we are and how we are getting regular wages as movie actresses.
"'Good-bye, dear Paw and Maw, and a hundred kisses for Maw from
"'P.S.—I won't be known by my own name in the movies. I've picked a real nice sounding one, and so has Celia.'"
"There! You see?" said Mrs. Morton, who had taken the apron down so she could hear Nan the better. "We can't never trace 'em, because they'll be going by some silly names. Dear, dear me, Peke! Somethin' must be done."
"I dunno what, Maw," groaned the big man, hopelessly.
"What city have they gone to?" asked Bess, abruptly.
"Why, Miss," explained Mr. Morton, "they could go to half a dozen cities from Littleton. Of course they didn't stay there, although Littleton's a big town."
"Chicago?" queried Bess.
"Perhaps. But they could get to Detroit, or Indianapolis, or even to Cincinnati."
"There are more picture making concerns in Chicago," suggested Nan, quietly, "than in the other cities named, I am sure. And the fare to Chicago is less than to the others."
"Right you air, Miss!" agreed Si Snubbins. "That's where them pesky gals have set out for, I ain't a doubt."
"And how are we goin' to get 'em back?" murmured Mr. Morton.
"The good Lord won't let no harm come to the dears, I hope and pray," said his wife, wiping her eyes. "Somebody'll be good to 'em if they get sick or hungry. There! We ain't showin' very good manners to our guests, Peke. These girls are off that train where there ain't a bite to eat, I do suppose; and they must be half starved. Let's have supper. You pull up a chair, too, Si."
"All right, Miz' Morton," agreed Mr. Snubbins, briskly.
Nan felt some diffidence in accepting the good woman's hospitality. She whispered again to Bess:
"Shall we stay? They're in such trouble."
"But goodness!" interrupted Bess. "I'm hungry. And we want to get her interested in the kiddies aboard the train."
"Yes, that's so," agreed Nan.
"Come, girls," Mrs. Morton called from the other room. "Come right in and lay off your things—do. You are pretty dears—both of you. City girls, I'spect?"
"No, ma'am," Nan replied. "We live in a small town when we are at home. But we've been to boarding school and are on our way home for Christmas."
"And after that," Bess added briskly, "we're going to Chicago for two—whole—weeks!"
"You air? Well, well! D'you hear that, Peke?" as her husband came heavily into the room.
"What is it, Maw?"
"These girls are going to Chicago. If our Sallie and Si's Celia have gone there, mebbe these girls might come across them."
"Oh, Mrs. Morton!" cried Nan. "If we do, we will surely send them home to you. Or, if they are foolish enough not to want to come, we'll let you know at once where they are."
"Of course we will," agreed Bess.
"If you only had a picture of your daughter?" suggested Nan.
"Of Sallie? Why, we have," said Mrs. Morton. "She's some bigger now; but she had her photographt took in several 'poses', as they call 'em, when she was playin' in that 'Rural Beauty'. I got the prints myself from the man that took 'em."
But when she hunted for the pictures, Mrs. Morton found they were missing. "I declare for't!" she said, quite vexed. "I do believe that Sallie took 'em with her to show to folks she expects to ask for work. Jest like her! Oh, she's smart, Sallie is."
"There's that picter she had took the time we went to the County Fair, three year ago, Maw," suggested Mr. Morton, as they prepared to sit down to the bountiful table. "I 'low she's filled out some since then; she was as leggy as a colt. But these gals can see what she looks like in the face."
While he was speaking his wife brought forth the family album—a green plush affair with a huge gilt horseshoe on the cover. She turned over the leaves till she found Sallie's photograph, and displayed it with pride. Nan secretly thought her father's description of Sallie at twelve years old or so was a very good one; but Mrs. Morton evidently saw no defects in her child's personal appearance.
"Sallie wore her hair in curls then, you see," said Mrs. Morton. "But she says they ain't fashionable now, and she's been windin' her braids into eartabs like that leadin' lady in the movie company done. Makes Sallie look dreadfully growed up," sighed the troubled woman. "I sartainly do hate to see my little girl change into a woman so quick."
"That's what my woman says," agreed Snubbins. "Celia's 'bout growed up, she thinks. But I reckon if her mother laid her across her lap like she uster a few years back, she could nigh about slap most of the foolishness out o' Celia. Gals nowadays git to feel too big for their boots—that's what the matter."
"Mercy!" gasped Bess. "I hope my mother won't go back to first principles with me, if I displease her. And I'm sure your Celia can't be really bad."
"Just foolish—just foolish, both on 'em," Mr. Morton said. "Let me help you again."
"Oh, I'm so full," sighed Bess.
"I'm afraid ye ain't makin' out a supper," Mrs. Morton said.
"Indeed we are," cried Nan. "I only wish the children on that snow-bound train had some of these good things."
This turned the current of conversation and the Mortons were soon interested in the girls' story of the castaways in the snow. Mrs. Morton set to work at once and packed two big baskets with food. A whole ham that she had boiled that day was made into sandwiches. There were hard boiled eggs, and smoked beef and cookies, pies and cakes. In fact, the good woman stripped her pantry for the needy people in the stalled train.
Her husband got into his outer garments and helped Si Snubbins carry the baskets across the snow. Mrs. Morton's last words to the girls were: