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- Tales of Trail and Town - 36/36 -


or else they had traveled in a circle--they knew not which, but the snow was in their faces now. But, worst of all, the snow had changed too; it no longer fell in huge blue flakes, but in millions of stinging gray granules. Julian's face grew hard and his eyes bright. He knew it was no longer a snow-squall, but a lasting storm. He stopped; the boys tumbled against him. He looked at them with a strange smile.

"Hev you two made up?" he said.

"No--o!"

"Make up, then."

"What?"

"Shake hands."

They clasped each other's red, benumbed fingers and laughed, albeit a little frightened at Julian. "Go on!" he said, curtly.

They went on dazedly, stupidly, for another hour.

Suddenly Provy Smith's keen eyes sparkled. He pointed to a singular irregular mound of snow before them, plainly seen above the dreary level. Julian ran to it with a cry, and began wildly digging. "I knew I hit him," he cried, as he brushed the snow from a huge and hairy leg. It was the bear--dead, but not yet cold. He had succumbed with his huge back to the blast, the snow piling a bulwark behind him, where it had slowly roofed him in. The half- frozen lads threw themselves fearlessly against his furry coat and crept between his legs, nestling themselves beneath his still warm body with screams of joy. The snow they had thrown back increased the bulwark, and drifting over it, in a few moments inclosed them in a thin shell of snow. Thoroughly exhausted, after a few grunts of satisfaction, a deep sleep fell upon them, from which they were awakened only by the pangs of hunger. Alas! their dinners--the school dinners--had been left on the inglorious battlefield. Nevertheless, they talked of eating the bear if it came to the worst. They would have tried it even then, but they were far above the belt of timber; they had matches--what boy has not?--but no WOOD. Still, they were reassured, and even delighted, with this prospect, and so fell asleep again, stewing with the dead bear in the half-impervious snow, and woke up in the morning ravenous, yet to see the sun shining in their faces through the melted snow, and for Jackson Tribbs to quickly discover, four miles away as the crow flies, the cabin of his father among the flaming sumacs.

They started up in the glare of the sun, which at first almost blinded them. They then discovered that they were in a depression of the table-land that sloped before them to a deep gully in the mountainside, which again dropped into the canyon below. The trail they had lost, they now remembered, must be near this edge. But it was still hidden, and in seeking it there was danger of some fatal misstep in the treacherous snow. Nevertheless, they sallied out bravely, although they would fain have stopped to skin the bear, but Julian's mandate was peremptory. They spread themselves along the ridge, at times scraping the loose snow away in their search for the lost trail.

Suddenly they all slipped and fell, but rose again quickly, laughing. Then they slipped and fell again, but this time with the startling consciousness that it was not THEY who had slipped, but THE SNOW! As they regained their feet they could plainly see now that a large crack on the white field, some twenty feet in width, extended between them and the carcass of the bear, showing the glistening rock below. Again they were thrown down with a sharp shock. Jackson Tribbs, who had been showing a strange excitement, suddenly gave a cry of warning. "Lie flat, fellers! but keep a- crawlin' and jumpin'. We're goin' down a slide!" And the next moment they were sliding and tossing, apparently with the whole snow-field, down towards the gullied precipice.

What happened after this, and how long it lasted, they never knew. For, hurried along with increasing momentum, but always mechanically clutching at the snow, and bounding from it as they swept on, they sometimes lost breath, and even consciousness. At times they were half suffocated in rolling masses of drift, and again free and skimming over its arrested surface, but always falling, as it seemed to them, almost perpendicularly. In one of these shocks they seemed to be going through a thicket of underbrush; but Provy Smith knew that they were the tops of pine- trees. At last there was one shock longer and lasting, followed by a deepening thunder below them. The avalanche had struck a ledge in the mountain side, and precipitated its lower part into the valley.

Then everything was still, until Provy heard Julian's voice calling. He answered, but there was no response from Tribbs. Had he gone over into the valley? They set up a despairing shout! A voice--a smothered one--that might be his, came apparently from the snow beneath them. They shouted again; the voice, vague and hollow, responded, but it was now surely his.

"Where are you?" screamed Provy.

"Down the chimbley."

There was a black square of adobe sticking out of the snow near them. They ran to it. There was a hole. They peered down, but could see nothing at first but a faint glimmer.

"Come down, fellows! It ain't far!" said Tribbs's voice.

"Wot yer got there?" asked Julian cautiously.

"Suthin' to eat."

That was enough. In another instant Julian and Provy went down the chimney. What was a matter of fifteen feet after a thousand? Tribbs had already lit a candle by which they could see that they were in the cabin of some tunnel-man at work on the ridge. He had probably been in the tunnel when the avalanche fell, and escaped, though his cabin was buried. The three discoverers helped themselves to his larder. They laughed and ate as at a picnic, played cards, pretended it was a robber's cave, and finally, wrapping themselves in the miner's blankets, slept soundly, knowing where they were, and confident also that they could find the trail early the next morning. They did so, and without going to their homes came directly to school--having been absent about fifty hours. They were in high spirits, except for the thought of approaching punishment, never dreaming to evade it by anything miraculous in their adventures.

Such was briefly their story. Its truth was corroborated by the discovery of the bear's carcass, by the testimony of the tunnel- man, who found his larder mysteriously ransacked in his buried cabin, and, above all, by the long white tongue that for many months hung from the ledge into the valley. Nobody thought the lanky Julian a hero,--least of all himself. Nobody suspected that Jackson Tribbs's treatment of a "slide" had been gathered from experiments in his father's "runs"--and he was glad they did not. The master's pardon obtained, the three truants cared little for the opinion of Hemlock Hill. They knew THEMSELVES, that was enough.


Tales of Trail and Town - 36/36

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