25. Snowed In.
 

With the coming of night the downfall of snow increased until it was impossible to see a dozen feet in any direction. The wind also increased in fury until it blew a regular gale. At first this was in their favor, being directly on their backs and sending them over the ice at a furious pace, but soon it shifted, first to the left and then to in front of them, and now further progress appeared out of the question.

"I'm afraid we can't make it!" gasped Dick, turning to catch his breath. "I'm almost winded now."

"I've got to stop," came from Sam. "I'm ready to drop."

"I can't see a thing," said Tom. "And I'm in mortal terror of skating into some big air-hole."

"You are right, lads, we'll have to give up the idea of reaching camp to-night," came from John Barrow seriously. "But where to take you to out of this awful storm I scarcely know."

"Any kind of shelter will do," said Sam. "We can rig up a hut under some big cedar tree."

"In that case, let us stick as closely to the river as possible."

"Why?"

"We can get fish then, if we need 'em."

No more was said, and the guide at once led the way to a thick clump of cedars growing but a rod away from the edge of the river. The cedars formed something of a circle, about fifteen feet in diameter, and by clearing out some brushwood in the center they made quite a cozy resting place. On the outside the cedars were laced together, and the snow was banked up on all sides, leaving but one opening, two feet wide and several feet high, for the purpose of supplying them with fresh air.

By the time the shelter was ready for use all the boys were so fagged out they could scarcely stand. Dick and the guide had brought blankets with them, and one of these was placed over the opening temporarily, to keep out a large part of the wind. Then a candle was lit and John Barrow burnt up a little brushwood, "jest to take the chill outer the place," as he explained. They did not dare to let the flames grow too high for fear of setting fire to the cedars themselves.

As the boys lay on the brushwood resting, they heard the wind outside increasing in violence, and saw the cedars bend to and fro, and listened to them creak dismally.

"Mr. Barrow, how long do you reckon this storm will last?" questioned Tom.

"There is no tellin', lad. Perhaps through the night, an' perhaps for a couple o' days."

"If it lasts two days, we'll be snowed in for keeps!" came from Sam.

The guide shrugged his shoulders. "True, Sam, but we've got to take what comes."

"Let us take account of our provisions," said Dick. "If there is any prospect of our being snowed in we'll have to eat sparingly, or run the risk of being starved to death."

There was not much to count up: some meat and crackers Dick and the guide had brought along, and the meat, crackers, and the rabbit in Tom and Sam's store. In his pockets John Barrow also carried some coffee, sugar, and some salt.

"Not such a very small lot," was Dick's comment. "But it might be more."

A scanty evening meal was quickly disposed of, and then the candle was blown out, and all retired to rest. The boys were soon sound asleep, and presently the guide followed, but with his hand on his gun, ready for any attack by man or beast, should it come.

The night passed quietly enough, for presently the wind went down. The snow grew thicker than ever, until it covered the river to a depth of two feet and more. Around the cedars there was a huge drift, burying the shelter completely.

It was Dick who roused up first, to find all pitch-dark around him. Bringing out a match, he lit the candle and looked at his watch.

"Seven o'clock!" he murmured. "Guess I'll go out and see what the weather is."

Stretching himself, he walked to the blanket which had been placed over the opening, and tried to thrust it aside. At once a mass of snow came tumbling down and sifted in all directions, a good share on Tom's face.

"Hi! who's washing my face with snow?" cried Tom, as he opened his eyes and sat up. "That's a mean trick, Dick, on a fellow who is dead tired out."

"I didn't mean to do it, Tom. I was going outside, to see how the weather is. I reckon the snow is pretty deep."

The talking aroused the guide and Sam, and soon all were on their feet. The snow in the opening was pushed back and they forced their way outside, to find themselves in a drift up to their waists.

"Gosh, but we are right in it!" was Tom's comment. "See, the river is completely covered. That settles skating."

"And the worst of it is, it is still showing," came from Dick.

"With no signs of letting up," finished John Barrow. "Boys, I am afraid we are snowed in, or snowed up, just as you feel like calling it."

"Do you mean we'll have to remain here?" questioned Sam quickly.

"For the present. We are a good four miles from the pond, and we can't tramp that in this storm."

The wind was rising again, with a dull moaning through the timber, and sending the flakes whirling in all directions, and they were glad enough to get back to the shelter of the cedars.

"We'll clear a space in the snow and start a fire," said the guide. "A hot cup o' coffee will do us all good."

"And we can cook that other rabbit Tom and I brought along," put in Sam.

Brushwood was handy, and Tom helped to cut some of this with the hunting knife he had brought along. Soon a lively blaze was warming them up, and water was boiling for the coffee, while the rabbit was cleaned, and broiled on a long fork in the guide's outfit. Crackers were running low, and they had but two apiece.

"I'll try fishing as soon as I'm done," said John Barrow, and was as good as his word.

It was no easy task to cut a hole through the ice, but once this was accomplished the fish were found to be lively enough, despite the storm and the cold. Inside of an hour they had a mess of nine, sufficient to last them for several meals. And while the others were fishing, Dick caught sight of a flock of birds, and brought down three.

"There, we won't starve yet awhile," said Dick, as he began to clean his game.

"That's true," answered Tom, "although we may get pretty tired of birds and fish before we get out of here and strike something different."

"I wonder how the Baxter crowd is faring," said Sam. "Unless they got back to the cave they can't be having a very good time of it."

"They don't deserve a good time of it," grumbled Tom. "They deserve to suffer."

"Bill Harney is a good enough guide to know what to do," put in John Barrow. "He will pull them through somehow--that is, if he knows enough to remain sober."

They had hoped that the storm would let up by noon, but twelve o'clock found the snow coming down as fast as ever, blotting out the landscape on every hand. Outside of the moaning of the wind all was as silent as a tomb.

There was but a little for the boys to do, and after the fishing was over they were glad enough to take it easy in the shelter and listen to several stories John Barrow had to tell. The guide also related what he knew concerning Goupert and the various hunts made for the missing treasure.

"He must have been a fierce sort of a man in his day," observed Dick. "I don't wonder the most of the folks in this region were content to leave him alone."

It was almost nightfall when the snow stopped coming down, and then it was too dark to attempt the journey to Bear Pond.

"We'll have to make another night of it here," said John Barrow. "Then, if it's clear, we can start for the pond early in the morning."

"Hark!" cried Tom, rousing up. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" came from the others.

"I thought I heard somebody calling."

All listened. For a few seconds silence reigned, then came an uncertain sound from a considerable distance.

"There it is!"

"That's somebody calling, sure," said the guide. "Must be down along the river. I'll go out an' look."

"Can I go along?" asked Dick. "You may want help--if somebody is in trouble."

"All right. Bring your gun with you."

In another minute they had started out, each with his gun, and with his trouser legs tied up with bits of cord, to keep the deep snow from reaching up to their boot-tops. Their course was directly for the river.

It was so dark they could see little or nothing, saving the whiteness which spread in all directions.

"Hullo! hullo!" yelled John Barrow, when the river was gained.

"Help!" came back faintly. "Help!"

"Somebody over thar!" said the guide, and pointed a short distance up the stream. "Guess he's in a peck o' trouble, too."

He started in the direction, and Dick came close behind. The party in distress was a man, whose cries for aid were gradually becoming weaker and weaker. Before they reached the individual his voice ceased entirely.

"He has fainted from exhaustion," said John Barrow, as he reached the wayfarer.

"Why, it's Jasper Grinder, our old teacher," ejaculated Dick.

The eldest Rover was right. The unfortunate man was indeed the former teacher of Putnam Hall, but so pinched and haggard as to be scarcely recognized. He had fallen on a bare rock, and this had cut open his left cheek, from which the blood was flowing.