Chapter XIII. Lost in the Snow
 

"The ice-boat's gone!"

"Get back, boys, or we'll all be in the water!"

Ca-a-ac-ck! A long warning sound rang through the snow-laden air and the party of five felt the surface of the ice parting beneath them. They turned and sped away from the water with all the speed at their command, and soon the dangerous spot was left behind, but not before poor Hans had lost his cap and Sam had gotten his left foot wet to the ankle.

"By jinks! but that was a narrow shave!" gasped Dick, when they were safe. "A little more and all of us would have been under the ice."

"And that would have cost us our lives!" said Frank solemnly. "Boys, I don't believe I'll ever want to go ice-boating again."

"Mine cap vos gone," growled the German cadet dismally. "How vos I going to keep mine head from freezing, tole me dot, vill you?"

"That's rough on you," said Tom. "Here, take my tippet and tie that around your head and ears." And he took the article in question and handed it over.

"Dank you, Tom, you vos a goot feller. But vot you vos do to keep your neck varm, hey?"

"Here's a silk handkerchief, he can wear that," said Dick. "But I say, fellows," he went on. "I think we are mixed up now and no mistake."

"I am sure I am," answered Frank. "I haven't the least idea where the shore is."

"Nor I," came from Tom. "We'll have to go at it in a hit-or-miss fashion."

"No miss for me," put in Sam. "I am not prepared for a watery grave just now."

"We must be cautious," said Dick. "I've got an idea. Has anybody a rope with him?"

"I've got a heavy cord," answered Frank.

"Then let us tie that to each fellow's right wrist. Then we can string out in a line, like the Swiss mountain climbers, and if the boy in front gets into trouble the others can haul him out."

"Hurrah! Dick, has solved the problem of how the lost cadets are going to get to safety," cried Sam. "Let us have the cord by all means."

It was quickly produced and proved to be about forty feet in length. Dick tied himself fast to one end and Sam the other, and the others came between.

"Now then, forward march!" shouted Dick. And on they moved, in Indian file.

"Route step!" shouted Frank. And they broke up as ordered--that is each walking to suit himself, so that their feet should not come down on the ice at the same time, something which might have cause another cracking.

The snow still came down as hard as ever -- indeed, to Dick it appeared to come down harder. The wind was beginning to rise again and blew the blinding particles directly into their faces.

"What's the use of walking right in the teeth of the wind," grumbled Tom. "Why not try the other way?"

"I think the wind comes from off shore, that's why," answered his elder brother.

"I don't. I think it's coming down the lake."

"I believe Dick is right," ventured Frank. "The wind came that way before -- that is why we were blown out so far."

The matter was put to a vote and all but Tom agreed that they must be heading for the western shore of the lake. So the weary tramp was resumed.

It was not without its incidents. Once Hans' feet went from under him and he went flat on his back, taking Tom with him. This caused the line to tighten and all went on top of the pair and a grand melee resulted. Then Tom playfully filled Sam's neck with snow, and Hans let a little snowball drop into Tom's ear, and in a second all were at it in a snow fight which lasted several minutes.

At last Dick arose and shook himself. "Hi! this won't do!" he cried, brushing himself off. "Unless we hurry we'll be late in getting back."

"Late in getting back?" repeated Frank. "I shall count myself lucky if we don't have remain here all night."

"Great Caesar, Frank, do you mean that?" came from Sam.

"I do. Here we have been tramping I don't know how long, and we seem to be as far from shore as ever."

"Exactly so," grumbled Hans. "I dink ve must pe moving around in a ring, hey?"

"Can that be possible?" asked Tom.

"I don't think so," answered Dick, "for I have been watching the ice very closely and I haven't seen the first sign of our doubling our steps."

"Let us keep out in a straight line," said Tom. "That will keep us away from the circle business."

Once more they pushed on, but the snow was now several inches deep, and the ice very slippery and all of the party could scarcely drag one foot after the other. It was Sam who called another halt.

"I'm getting winded!" he panted. "Boys, I guess we are lost in the snow."

"That's true, Sam," said Frank. "The shore seems to be as far off as ever."

"I told you that you were wrong," put in Tom. "If we had been walking toward shore we would be on land long ago."

"I don't know but what Tom's view is correct," said Frank slowly,

"Unless we've been moving in a crooked line, as Hans suggested," said the elder Rover.

One and another of the little party gazed at his companions and then at the desolate scene around them. Yes, they were lost in the snowstorm, and what the end of the adventure would be they could not imagine.

"Well, we can try Tom's course," said Dick, after another careful look around which is not saving much as the snow was coming down as thickly as ever.

"I notice that it is getting dark," observed Frank, as they trudged on. "I wonder what time it is?"

A watch was consulted and they learned to their chagrin that it was half-past four.

"I vos gitting hungry," came from Hans.

"Don't say a word!" cried Tom. "I could eat a doughnut a month old."

"Don't speak about it," put in Dick dryly. "It will only make you feel more hungry."

Darkness was coming on rapidly, and all of the boys were beginning to despair when suddenly Dick gave a shout of joy.

"The shore, boys! The shore at last!"

"Where?" came from all of the others.

"Over to our left. Come on!"

The others followed Dick willingly and in less than half a minute found themselves on solid earth once more, but at some point where the ground was little more than a stretch of flat meadow land.

"Hurrah!" shouted Sam. "How good to be on land once more!"

"Perhaps we might have been on land long ago if we had turned to the left," observed Frank. "We may have been skirting the shore for half the afternoon!"

"Never mind, we are here at last so don't let's grumble," said Tom. "What's that ahead, a barn?"

"Some kind of a building," answered Dick. "Let us go forward and investigate."

They did so, and found a half tumbled down building, which had once been used for the storage of meadow hay and also as a boathouse. The door was gone and the window broken out, and the snow lay on the floor to the depth of an inch or more.

But still it was more pleasant inside than out, for the wind was rising and the large flakes of snow had given place to fine hard particles which came swishing down like so much sharp salt, so Dick said. It cut into their faces and made them thankful that some shelter had been found, no matter how humble.

It was too dark now to see anything, and sitting on some old hay in the most sheltered corner of the building the five boys held a consultation.

"I move we stay here until morning," said Tom. "If we go out again we may be lost and frozen to death."

"That is true," commented Frank. "But what will Captain Putnam say?"

"He can't blame us for what has happened," said Dick. "We tried our best to get back."

"Yah, und he vos know ve ton't stay here nildowit suppers for noddings," was the manner in which the German cadet expressed himself.

"Oh, Hans, how can you!" broke from Tom, who could eat at any time, and who now felt more hungry than any of them. "Do you mean to say we'll have to remain here all night without our suppers!"

"Vell, vot else you vos going ter do, hey?"

"We'll have to go without something to eat, unless we can find something close at hand," said Frank.

One after another went out to the doorway and to the open window and gazed forth. But the howling wind and blinding snow soon made all glad enough to get back to the sheltered corner. It was now pitch dark.

"We are in for it, so make yourselves as comfortable as possible," observed Frank. "My, how the wind does blow!"

"It's like a hurricane in an African forest," said Sam. "I believe it's almost strong enough to take a fellow off his feet."

The wind kept increasing in violence, until the old barn seemed to rock back and forth. It arose in a low moan and mounted steadily to a shriek, gradually dying away in the distance, followed by the slish-slishing of the fine snow across the rotted shingles of the roof.

"It's a tempest not to be forgotten," said Frank. "I can't remember when I've heard the wind make such a noise before. If it gets any worse it --"

Frank got no further, for the shrieking of the wind drowned out every other sound. Then came a strange grinding and creaking overhead, and the barn rocked more than ever.

"Get out, boys," yelled Tom. "The old shebang is going to pieces!"

Tom had scarcely spoken when the shock came, and beams, boards, and shingles flew in all directions. It was a terrifying occurrence and not knowing what else to do the five boys dug into the loose hay and threw themselves flat. Each felt as if the end of the world had come.