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- Ruth Fielding at Snow Camp - 20/27 -
and hid all objects within ten feet.
"Come on!" roared Bob. "This is no fun. Let's beat it to the house."
"Oh, it can't last long this way," said Isadore Phelps. "My goodness! did you ever see it snow harder in your life?"
"That I never did," admitted Tom. "I wonder if the girls have come back?"
"If they haven't," said Bob, "they'd better wait where they are until this flurry is over."
"I hope they have returned," muttered Tom, as they made their way toward the rear of Snow Camp.
The snow came faster and faster, and thicker and thicker. Bob bumped square into the side of one of the out-sheds, and roared because he found blood flowing from his nose.
"What do you say about this?" he bellowed. "How do we know we're going right?"
"Here!" cried Isadore. "Where are you fellows? I don't want to get lost in the back yard."
Tom found him (he had already seized the half-blinded Bob by the arm) and the three, arm in arm, made their way cautiously to the kitchen porch. They burst in on Janey and Mary with a whoop.
"Have the girls got back?" cried Tom, eagerly.
"I couldn't tell ye, Master Tom," said Mary. "But if they haven't come in, by the looks of you boys, they'd better."
Tom did not stop to remove the snow, but rushed into the great central hall which was used as a general sitting room.
"Where's Helen--and Ruth--and the rest of them?" he demanded.
"Why, Thomas! you're all over snow," said Mr. Cameron, comfortably reading his paper before the fire, in smoking jacket and slippers.
"Is it snowing?" queried Mrs. Murchiston, from the warmest nook beside the hearth. "Aren't the girls out with you, Tom?"
"What's the matter, my son?" demanded his father, getting up quickly. "What has happened?"
"I don't know that anything has happened," said Tom, swallowing a big lump in his throat, and trying to speak calmly. "The girls have not been with us. They went into the woods somewhere to get stuff for their pillows. And it is snowing harder than I ever knew it to snow before."
"Oh, Tom!" gasped the governess.
"Come! we'll go out and see about this at once," cried his father, and began to get into his out-of-door clothing, including a pair of great boots.
"Is it snowing very hard, Tom?" queried the lady, anxiously. "What makes you look so?"
For Tom was scared--and he showed it. He turned short around without answering Mrs. Murchiston again, and led the way to the kitchen. The other boys had shaken off the snow and were hovering over the range for warmth.
"Found 'em all right; didn't you?" demanded Bob Steele.
"No. They haven't come in," said Tom, shortly, and immediately Bob began pulling on his coat again.
"Oh, pshaw!" said Isadore. "They'll be all right"
"Where are Jerry and the others?" Mr. Cameron asked the maids.
"Sure, sir," said Mary, who was peering wonderingly out of the window at the thick cloud of snow sweeping across the pane, "sure, sir, Jerry and the min went down in the swamp to draw up some back-logs. And it's my opinion they'd better be in out of this storm."
"I agree with you, Mary," returned Mr. Cameron, grimly, as he opened the door and saw for the first time just what they had to face. "But perhaps they'll pick up the girls on their way home. Trust those woodsmen for finding their way."
Tom and Bob followed him out of the house. They faced a wall of falling snow so thick that every object beyond arm's length from them was blotted out.
"Merciful heavens!" groaned Mr. Cameron. "Your sister and the girls will never find their way through this smother."
"Nor the men, either," said Tom, shortly.
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed Bob, "It can't snow like this for long; can it?"
"We have never seen a right good snowstorm in the woods," quoth Mr. Cameron. "From what the men tell me, this is likely to continue for hours. I am dreadfully worried about the girls--"
"What's that?" cried Tom, interrupting him.
A muffled shout sounded through the driving snow. In chorus Mr. Cameron and the two boys raised their own voices in an answering shout.
"They're coming!" cried Bob.
"It is Long Jerry Todd and the men--hear the harness rattling?" returned Tom, and he started down the steps in the direction of the stables.
"Wait! we'll keep together," commanded Mr. Cameron. "I hope they have brought the girls with them."
"Oh, but the girls didn't go toward the swamp," returned his son. "They started due north."
"Shout again!" commanded Mr. Cameron, and the two parties kept shouting back and forth until they met not far beyond the outbuildings belonging to the lodge. The great pair of draught horses were ploughing through the drifts and the three men were whooping loudly beside them.
"Dangerous work this, for you, sir," cried Long Jerry. "You'd all better remained indoors. It's come a whole lot quicker than I expected. We're in for a teaser, Mr. Cameron. Couldn't scarce make out the path through the woods."
"Have you seen the girls, Jerry?" cried Tom Cameron.
"Bless us!" gasped the tall guide. "You don't mean that any of them gals is out of bounds?"
"All six of them went into the woods--toward the north--about two hours ago. They went on snowshoes," said Tom.
The three woodsmen said never a word, but standing there in the driving snow, at the heads of the horses, they looked at each other for some moments.
"Well," said Jerry, at last, and without commenting further on Tom's statement; "we'd best put up the horses and then see what's to be done."
"To the north, Tom?" said his father, brokenly. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir. I am sure of it."
"Is there any house in that direction--within reasonable distance, Jerry?" asked the gentleman.
"God bless us, sir!" gasped the guide. "I don't know of one betwixt here and the Canadian line. The wind is coming now from the northwest. If they are trying to get back to the camp they'll be drifted towards the southeast and miss us altogether."
"Don't say that, Jerry!" gasped Tom. "We _must_ find them. Why, if this keeps up for an hour they'll be buried in the drifts."
"Pray heaven it hold's off soon," groaned his father.
The men could offer them no comfort. Being old woodsmen themselves, they knew pretty well what the storm foreboded. A veritable blizzard had swept down from the Lakes and the whole country might be shrouded for three or four days. Meanwhile, as long as the snow kept falling, it would be utterly reckless to make search for those lost in the snow.
Jerry and his mates said nothing more at the time, however. They all made their way to the stables, kicked the drift away from the door, and got the horses into their stalls. They all went inside out of the storm and closed the doors against the driving snow. In five minutes, when the animals were made secure and fed, and they tried to open the doors again, the wind had heaped the snow to such a height against them that they could not get out.
Fortunately there was a small door at the other end of the barn, and by this they all got out and made their way speedily across the clearing to the house--Long Jerry leading the way. Tom and Bob realized that they might easily have become lost in that short distance had they been left to their own resources.
Mr. Cameron was very pale and his lips trembled when he stood before the three woodsmen in the lodge kitchen,
"You mean that to try to seek for the girls now is impossible, Jerry?" he asked.
"What do you think about it yourself, sir?" returned the guide. "You have been out in it."
"I--I don't expect you to attempt what I cannot do myself--"
"If mortal man could live in it, we'd make the attempt without ye, sir," declared Long Jerry, warmly. "But neither dogs nor men could find their way in this smother It looks like it had set in for a big blizzard. You don't know jest what that means up here in the
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