Chapter XII. Winter Days at Putnam Hall
 

After the trial of Josiah Crabtree the days flew by swiftly at the Hall. Bound to make a good showing, each of the Rover boys applied himself diligently to his studies, and all made rapid progress.

Thanksgiving came and went, and a week later there came a fairly heavy fall of snow.

"Hurrah! winter is knocking at the door at last!" cried Sam joyfully. "Now for some snowballing, skating, and all the rest of the winter fun."

Snowballing was already going on, and the white balls were flying in all directions. Dick had his hat taken off by Frank, and in return filled Frank's ear with snow. Tom and Fred got into a regular war at close quarters, and in the end Tom threw his opponent flat and stuffed snow down his neck. But then Larry came up with a huge cake of snow and nearly smothered Tom, and then a dozen leaped in, and a good-natured melee resulted, lasting for the rest of the playtime.

It was very cold that night, and two days later the ice on the lake was two inches thick. Still the captain made the boys wait until the following Saturday, when the ice was strong enough to bear a horse.

In the meantime skates had been brought out and polished up, and soon the edge of the lake was alive with skaters, all moving swiftly from one spot to another, and shrieking and laughing at the top of their voices. George Strong, the assistant master, also came down and showed some of the older boys how to cut fancy figures. Dick was a good skater, and took to the fancy figures with ease. As for Tom and Sam, they preferred straight skating, and entered half a dozen trials of speed down the lake to the old boathouse and back.

"If it gets much colder, so that the ice thickens, I am going to build an ice-boat," said Frank to Dick that night. "Captain Putnam said I could have all the old lumber I want. You know the carpenters left a lot when they fixed over that burnt part of the Hall."

"Hurrah, an ice-boat!" cried Dick. "Just the thing. Let me help, you, Frank. Perhaps the captain will let us have an old camping-out tent for a sail."

"Yes, I've asked him about that already, and he told Mrs. Green to get me one from the storehouse."

"And what about nails and runners?"

"Peleg Snuggers is going to give me the nails and lend me the tools. The runners I will have to buy down to the blacksmith shop."

"There is an old cask down at the boathouse. We can take the hoops from that and have the blacksmith straighten them out, and they will do first rate for runners."

So the talk ran on, and on the following Monday, as the cold continued, the boys set to work, during the off-time, to build the ice-boat. Tom, Sam, and Hans joined in, and as soon as the frame was put together the boat was christened the Fiver, because, as Frank declared, it was built to hold just five and no more.

There was a class devoted to manual training at the Hall, so all of the boys were acquainted with the use of tools. The building of the iceboat progressed rapidly, and soon all that were wanting were the sail and the runners. Frank and Dick procured the hoops and had the blacksmith straighten them out and punch holes into them, and Mrs. Green kindly transformed an old tent into a mainsail of no mean proportions. As a matter of fact it would have been better for the boys had the sail been smaller.

It was a rather cloudy Saturday half-holiday when the boys placed the ice-boat on rollers and rolled it down to the lake front. All of the other cadets watched the proceedings with interest, and were sorry they could not go on the proposed trip. But Frank promised that all should have their turns later on.

A fair breeze was blowing, and no sooner was the mainsail raised than the Fiver, moved off in such a lively fashion that Tom, who had lingered behind, had all he could do to run and get on board.

"We're off! Hurrah!" yelled Sam, and the others took up the cry, and both those on board and those left behind waved hats and caps in the air and set up a cheer.

"And now where shall we go?" asked Frank, as they whizzed along.

"That will depend upon the wind," came from Tom. "Remember, we must get back before seven o'clock."

"Yah, der vint is eferydings," put in Hans. "Supposin' ve git far avay und der vint sthops plowing, vot den?"

"Then we'll set you on the rear seat to blow the sail yourself," replied Frank. "This wind is good for all day, and I know it," he added emphatically.

"Let us follow the shore for the present," said Tom. "Perhaps the Pornell students are skating below here and we can show them what we are up to."

So on they went along the shore, until the wind began to change and carry them out into the lake. Here the ice was, however, far from safe, and they began to tack back.

"It's snowing!" cried Sam presently. He was right, and ere long the flakes were coming down thickly. With the coming of the snow the wind died out utterly.

"Here's a pickle," muttered Tom, in disgust. "Frank, I thought you said this wind was good for all day?"

"Frank must haf had his schleepin' cap on ven he said dot," put in Hans, and the others set up a laugh.

"Well, I did think the wind would hold out," replied Frank, with a wry face. "This is going to spoil everything. Did anybody bring his skates?"

Nobody had, although all had calculated to do so. In the excitement every pair had been forgotten.

"Now we can't even skate home," said Dick.

"And I rather think it will be a long walk -- at least three miles."

"That's not the worst of it," came from his youngest brother. "Look how heavily it is snowing."

"Poch! who's afraid of a little snow?" blustered Tom.

"Nobody, but if we can't see our way --"

"By Jove! I never thought of that!" groaned Frank. "Just look around, boys. It's awful, isn't it?"

Much startled, all looked around. On every hand the snow was coming down so thickly that they could not see a distance of two rods in any direction.

"We seem to be cut off," observed Dick soberly. "I reckon the best thing we can do is to make for shore."

"And leave the Fiver behind?"

"No. Let us lower the sail and push her in front of us."

This was considered good advice, and much put out over the sudden termination of their sport, the five cadets lowered the sail and tied it up, and then leaped to the ice.

"Now then, all together!" cried Frank, but to his surprise Tom and Hans pushed in a different direction to the others.

"Why, Tom, that's not the way!" cried Frank.

"Isn't it?" burst out Tom. "Why not?"

"Because it isn't."

"Of course dot is der vay," cried Hans. "Der shore vos ofer dare."

"Yes, the other shore. But not the one we left and the one we want to get back to."

A long discussion followed, and it was soon realized that either Tom and Hans, or else the others, were sadly mixed up. "The majority rules," said Frank. "So let us go this way."

"All right, I will," grumbled Tom. "But I still think you are wrong."

"And I vos sure of him," added Hans.

However, they took hold willingly enough, and soon the whole party were moving slowly through the snowstorm, shoving the Fiver in front of them. The snow had now become blinding, and absolutely nothing was to be seen around them.

A half hour had passed, and they were wondering why the shore did not appear, when suddenly Dick uttered a warning cry.

"Look out! We are going into the open water! Back all of you!"

They leaped back, fairly tumbling over each other in their efforts to escape the water, which crept up to their feet without warning. As they pushed themselves back they naturally sent the Fiver flying forward, and an instant later they heard a crashing of ice and saw the ice-boat topple over into the water and disappear from view!