Chapter XVII. Henry Burdock
 

With the wind blowing about them, whirling the snowflakes into their faces, and with night fast coming on, the four young folks stood close together, looking at one another. Bert's solemn words had filled the hearts of the others with fear. Then Harry, sturdy country boy that he was, exclaimed:

"Oh, don't let's give up so easily, Bert. Many a time I've been off in the woods, and thought I was lost, when a little later, I'd make a turn and be on the road home. Maybe we can do that now."

"Oh, I do hope so!" murmured Dorothy.

"Let's try!" exclaimed Nan, taking hold of her brother's arm.

"Wait a minute!" exclaimed Bert as Harry and Dorothy were about to start off. "Do you know where you're going?"

"We're going back that way," declared Harry, pointing off to the left.

"Why, that way?" asked Bert.

"I think that's the way to Snow Lodge," was the answer. "We've tried lots of other ways, and haven't struck the right one, so it can't do any harm to go a new way."

"Now just hold on," advised Bert. "I don't mean to say that I know more than you about it, Harry, but it does seem to me that it won't do any good to wander off that way, especially if you're not sure it's the right path. We'll only get more lost than we are, if that's possible."

"Well, maybe you're right," admitted Harry. "But we can't stay here all night, that's sure."

"Of course not," added Dorothy, looking around with a shiver. The snow seemed to be coming down harder than ever and the cold wind blew with greater force.

"We may have to stay here," said Bert. "But don't let that scare you," he said quickly, as he saw Dorothy and his sister clutch at each other and turn pale. "We can build a sort of shelter that will keep us warm, and there won't be any danger of freezing."

"No, but how about starving?" asked Harry. "I'm real hungry now."

"We had a good dinner," observed Dorothy. "If we don't get anything more to eat until morning I guess we can stand it. But I do hope we can find some sort of shelter."

"We'll have to make one, I guess," said Nan, looking about her.

"That's right," cried Bert. "It's the only way. If we go wandering about, looking for a shelter, we may get into trouble. We'll make one of our own. There's a good place, over by that clump of trees. We can cut down some branches, stand them up around the trees and make a sort of tent. Then, when the snow has covered it, we'll be real warm."

"Well, let's start building that snow tent," proposed Harry. "It will give us something to do, and moving about is warmer than standing still. I know that much, anyhow."

"Yes, it is," agreed Bert. "Come on, girls. Harry and I will cut the branches and you can stack them up."

Bert led the way to where three trees grew close together in a sort of triangle. The trees had low branches and it would be an easy matter to stand other branches up against them, one end on the ground, and so make a fairly good shelter.

With their pocket-knives Ben and Harry began cutting branches from the evergreen trees that grew all about. As fast as they were cut the girls took them, and piled them up as best they could. All the while the wind blew the falling snow about, and it became darker.

"Oh, if we only had some sort of a fire!" exclaimed Nan.

"A fire?" said her brother.

"That's so," agreed Dorothy. "It would not be so lonesome then, and it--would scare away--the bears!" and she looked over her shoulder in some fear.

"Bears!" cried Bert "There aren't any within a hundred" miles, unless they're tame ones. But we might as well have a fire. I never thought of that. I've got a box of matches. Harry, if you'll gather wood, and the fire, I'll keep on cutting branches. We've got almost enough, anyhow."

"Sure, I will!" said the other boy, and soon he had scraped away the snow from a spot on the ground, and had piled some sticks on it. He managed to find some dry twigs and leaves in a hollow stump, and these served to start a blaze. The wood was rather wet, and it smoked a good deal, but soon some of the fagots had caught and there was a cheerful fire reflecting redly on the white snow that was falling faster than ever.

"That's something like!" cried Bert, coming over to the blaze to warm his cold fingers. "We'll get a pile of wood and keep the fire going all night. Then, if any of our folks come looking for us, they can see it."

Harry, who had just come up with an armful of wood, plunged his hands into his pockets to warm them. The next moment he uttered a joyful cry, and drew out two small packages.

"Look!" he cried. "Here's our supper!"

"Supper?" asked Bert, slowly. "What do you mean?"

"It's chocolate candy," went on Harry. "I forgot I had it, but it's fine stuff when you're hungry. Lots of travelers use it when they can't get anything else to eat. Here, I'll divide it, and we'll imagine we're having a fine feast."

He was about to do this when Bert suddenly exclaimed:

"Wait a minute! I have a better plan than that if I can only find a tin can. Everybody look for one. There may have been picnickers here during the summer, and they may have left a lot of tin cans."

"But what do you want of one?" asked Nan.

"I'll tell you if I find one," said her brother. "If I told you now, and we didn't pick up one, you'd be disappointed."

But they were not to be, for a little later Harry, kicking about in the snow, turned up a rusty tin can.

"That's it!" cried Bert. "Now we'll put some snow in it, and melt it over the fire. That will give us water, and when it boils we'll be sure the can is clean. Then we'll melt snow and have hot chocolate. We'll dissolve the chocolate candy in the water, Harry, and drink it. That will be something hot for us, and better than if we ate the cold candy. I've got a folding drinking cup we can use."

"Say, that's a fine idea!" cried Dorothy. "Bert, you're wonderful."

"Oh, no, the idea just popped into my head," he replied.

The can, with some snow in it, was soon on the fire, and in a little while steam arising from it told that the water, formed from the melting snow, was boiling. They rinsed the can out carefully, made more hot water, and then put in the chocolate candy, saving half for another time.

Nan and Dorothy took turns stirring it with a clean stick until the mixture was foamy and hot. Then it was passed around in the single drinking cup.

"Oh, but I feel so much better now," sighed Nan, after taking her share. "So warm and comfortable!"

"So do I!" exclaimed Dorothy, and the boys admitted that the drink of chocolate was very good, even though it had no milk in it.

Then they finished making the shelter, brought up more wood for the night, and went in the little snow-tent. Though it was only partly covered with a coating of white flakes, it was already warm and cozy, and they knew that they were in no danger of freezing.

As much of the snow as possible was scraped away from the ground inside, and thick hemlock branches were laid down for a sort of carpet. Then, with the cheerful fire going outside, the four young people prepared to spend the night. That it would be lonesome they well knew, but they hoped Mr. Bobbsey would come and find them, perhaps with a searching party.

The warm chocolate, the warmth of the fire, the effect of the wind, weariness of the long walk, and the work of making a shelter, all combined to make the boys and girls sleepy in spite of their strange situation. First one and then the other would nod off, to awake with a start, until finally they were all asleep.

How long he had been slumbering thus, in little snow-tent, Bert did not know. He suddenly awoke with a start, and listened. Yes, he heard something! The sound of someone tramping through the woods. A heavy body forcing its way through the bushes!

At first Bert's heart beat rapidly, and he thought of wild animals. Then he realized that none was near Snow Lodge. He glanced about. The campfire was burning only dimly, and by the light of it, as it came in through the opening of the shelter, the boy could see the others sleeping, curled up on the soft branches.

The sound of someone approaching sounded louder. Bert looked about for some sort of weapon. There was none in the tent. Then he almost laughed at himself.

"How silly!" he exclaimed, "Of Course it's father, or someone looking for us. I'll give a call."

He crawled to the edge of the shelter, looked out, and raised his voice in a shout:

"Hello there! Here we are! Father, is that you?"

Those inside the little snow-covered tent awoke with a start. Bert tossed some light wood on the fire and it blazed up brightly. By its glow the boy saw, coming into the circle of light, a man dressed in thick, heavy garments, with a coonskin cap on his head. Over his shoulder was a gun, and he had some rabbits and birds slung at his back.

"Hello!" called the man to Bert, who was now outside the little tent. "Who are you?"

"Bert Bobbsey," was the answer. "My sister and cousins are here. We got lost and made this shelter. Were you looking for us?"

"Well, not exactly," said the hunter slowly, as he leaned on his gun, and looked at the fire, then at Bert and next on Nan, Dorothy and Harry, who by this time had come from the tent. "Not exactly, but maybe it's a good thing I found you. The storm is growing worse. What did you say your name was?"

"Bert Bobbsey."

The hunter started.

"Any relation to Mr. Richard Bobbsey?" he asked.

"He's my father."

"You don't say so! Well, I'm glad to hear that. It will give me a chance to do him a good turn. I'm Henry Burdock," the hunter went on.

It was the turn of Bert and Nan to be surprised.

"Henry Burdock!" repeated Bert. "Are you the nephew of Mr. Carford?"

"Yes," was the low reply. "Do you know him?"

"Why, we're stopping at his place--Snow Lodge," said Bert. "We got lost coming from there to take some pictures. Oh, Mr. Burdock, can you take us back there?" "Snow Lodge--Snow Lodge," said the hunter slowly. His voice was sad, as though the place had bitter memories for him.