Snowed In. A Tale of New Brunswick

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Snowed In. A Tale of New Brunswick
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SNOWED-IN. A Tale of New Brunswick. One cloudy winter morning, not less than twenty years ago, there was an unusual commotion about a certain little old house standing far up on the St. John River. Within, Mrs. Grace sat before the great fire-place and the fore-room, so bundled up in shawls and blankets and hoods that she could scarcely stir. In a warm corner of the hearth lay three of four hot bricks, well wrapped in newspapers, and two home-made robes were hanging across a chair to warm – everything indicating preparations for a long, cold journey. Without, Mr. Grace was hitching the old red mars into the thills of the still older red pung that looked as if it might have come over in the “Mayflower.” His round good-natured face wore a troubled expression, and he jerked at old Dolly’s bit once or twice in an ungentle way which wasn’t like himself. The small part of Mrs. Grace’s face that was visible among the folds of her home-knit hood showed the same look of anxiety; and her voice trembled a good deal when she spoke to the children, and gave Charly her last directions. There were four of the children, Dean and Emmy, and Joe and Charly – though Charly was not one of the Grace children. Mrs. Grace had taken her, a wee lame mite, when there was no one else to take her, and she often declared that she couldn’t and didn’t love one of her own little ones better than she could and did love Charly. Emmy and Dean and Joe were round, rosy little bodies, of three and five and seven years, blue-eyed and yellow-haired. Charly was eleven, she was neither round nor rosy. Her face was thin and her eyes were big and shadowy. And Charly was lame; there was a pair of tiny crutches always by her chair “I couldn’t think of going,” said Mrs. Grace, “if Charly wasn’t the wise, patient little mother I know she is. I never was so worried in my life. But what can I do!” It was a hard question to answer, indeed. For the night before had come a letter to Mrs. Grace from her sister in a distant town saying that her mother – the children’s dear old grandmamma – was very, very ill. “Come at once,” the letter read; and it was a week old when Mr. Ringgold, who lived two miles above them, but was yet the nearest neighbor in the sparely settled region, brought it from the post-office, five miles below. It was little to be wondered at the tears filled poor Mrs. Grace’s eyes, that her lips quivered, and her voice shook. “I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for trusting in Charly so,” she repeated time and again, in tones that brought a pretty glow to Charly’s thin little face. “I know you’ll take good care of them dear. There’s bread enough baked, and I’ve left the jar of doughnuts in the closet.” “Oh good again!” cried Joe. “Can we have all we want? Won’t it be fun, Charly?” “You must have what Charly gives you,” said Mrs. Grace, “and attend to what Charly says. I’ve locked the pantry door so you can’t bother her by running in and out. Now-” She looked at Charly as the outer door opened. “I’ll do just the best I can,” said Charly, bravely. “I know you will, dear. Be good children, all of you.” “There’s wood enough piled up in the entry to last you,” said Mr. Grace, a little huskily. “We shall be back day after to-morrow night, sure. All ready, wife.” And a few minutes later, old Dolly was jogging at her best pace down the snowy level of the river. It was thirty long miles to Dunbar Corner. “I wish they were home again,” said Joe. “They will be before you know it,” laughed Charly. “Now I’ll tell you a story.” So the three little ones cuddled around Charly’s chair before the open fire while she told them the wonderful tale of the “Three Tiny Pigs”; and from first to last they listened breathlessly, though they had heard the same story many times before, no doubt. Charly had a wonderful gift for telling stories, Mrs. Grace often declared. And Charly had a gift for something besides story-telling. When the stories came to an end she smiled. “Bring me my box will you, Joey, please?” Charly asked. Her poor little limbs were so weak and misshapen that it was with difficulty she could move about, even with the aid of her crutches. Joe obeyed, climbing up on the wide four posted bed in the corner, and taking from a shelf above it a square wooden box with a sliding cover. Dean and Emmy knew what was coming then. “Give me the kitty,” pleaded Emmy. “And me the mooses,” said Dean. “They’re deers, goosey,” said Joe, with a scornful sniff. “Let me see all of ‘em, won’t you, Charly?” Charly smiled in the brighest way, and pulled off the cover. Shall I tell you what was there? The daintest little images under the sun, carved all in wood, and the largest one only four inches high. It is true, they were the work of a single awkward tool in untaught fingers, but if you had seen them I am sure you could not have helped exclaiming with Joe and Dean and Emmy, “Oh, Charly, how pretty they are!” They were exceedingly true to life too. There was the old house cat, which Emmy instantly appropriated- why, you could almost hear her drowsy purr- and there were Dean’s “mooses” with their delicate branching horns, and a pair of rabbits eating clover, and a cunning creepy baby, and there was old Dolly herself standing with drooping head and lopped ears- lazy Dolly. “I’d know here anywheres,” laughed Joe. Charly laughed too, and fingered her treasures lovingly. Her cheeks glowed and her eyes were starry. “Do you think there’re nice?” she asked-“as nice as some they have at the stores at Christmas-time, Joey?” “Nicer,” returned Joe, in a tone expressive of great wisdom and experience-“a whole heap nicer.” “Well,” pursued Charly, “I’m going to make all I can, and when I get enough, I’ll send them to sell. Mrs. Ringgold said they ought to be half a dollar apiece.” “O-oh!” cried Joe, quite taken aback by this prospect of unbounded wealth. “What’ll you do with so much?” “I know,” put in Dean. “You’ll get cured, won’t you, Charly?” The quick tears sprang to Charly’s dark eyes. “I will, If I can,” said she, and she pulled Emmy to her, and hid her face in the baby’s yellow curls. “Maybe I can’t.” “Mr. Perks said you could if you could go see Dr. Lester. He can cure everything.” “But it’ll cost a great lot of money – maybe a hundred dollars,” said Charly. “I’d have to make two hundred of these, Joey.” “Well you ain’t going to wait that long,” declared Joe, stoutly. “Father says just as soon’s this old farm pays anything, he’s going to take you to Fredericton to see Dr. Lester. Maybe ‘twill pay next summer; we’re going to have a cow then. And we haven’t been here long enough yet, you know.” “That’ll be real nice,” said she. “Now, after dinner, I’ll cut out something more.” “I think it’s real fun,” said Joe. But Charly only shook her head and smiled again. Well that day passed, and the next and all the time the sun did not show his face. The clouds hung heavy and black, and dark came early, and weather-wise Joe, with his nose against a window-pane, prophesied a storm. “I hope ‘twon’t come, though, till father and mother are home,” said he. It did, however. When the children awoke next morning the snow was falling fast and steadily in large flakes. It had grown very much colder, too, in the night. Poor little Joe’s teeth chattered spitefully even after he had raked open the bed of coals in the fire place, and built a roaring fire. The wind came up with the sun; it whistled and raved along the bleak river-shore in a way that set the timbers of the old house to creaking dolefully. “I don’t believe they’ll come tonight,” said Joe, when the dark began to fall. “Won’t they, Charly?” “Oh, Charly, won’t ‘em?” “Do you s’pose a wolf chased father an’ mother?” asked Joe, with a dismal quiver, breaking in upon the narrative of the “Tiny Pig.” “A wolf couldn’t catch our old Dolly,” said Dean, quickly; “she’s too smart – and big.” Charly laughed, For the world she would not have acknowledged that such a possibility had occurred to her own mind. “It’s the storm that keeps them,” she said, cheerily. “It’s a dreadful storm, you know. They’ll be here to-morrow – I know they will.” But to-morrow came and went – a long, dreary, freezing day, and the fifth morning dawned. How bitterly cold it was, and how the wind whistled through and through the house! The storm had ceased, but of this the children could not be sure, since the windows were banked high with snow and when Joe tried to open the outer door a white wall repelled him. Their store of provision, too, was nearly exhausted and that seemed worse then all the rest, until Joe came in from the entry with his arms full of wood and his eyes full of tears. “That’s every bit there is,” he quavered. “Oh, Charly, why don’t father come?” “He will,” said Charly, with a brave, bright smile, thought her heart was like lead. “Now we’ll be real saving of this wood, and only put on one stick at a time.” Oh, how cold the room grew!- colder and colder while time dragged on, and those last sticks were burning slowly away. They ate their last bits of bread then, and because Charly said she could not eat, there was a little more for Emmy and Dean and Joe. But Joe, though as he looked wistfully at the frozen morsels, was struck with a sudden recollection. “You didn’t eat any breakfast, Charly, nor any last night, because your head ached. Ain’t you hungry?” “Never mind, said Charly, cheerily. “I’ll eat enough when they come home.” The bread disappeared then to the last crumb. “I’m awful hungry yet, said Joe. “So’m I,” echoed Dean, with a pitiful pusker, “and I’m awful cold.” Charly hugged Emmy tighter and looked around. There were the chairs – stout oaken ones. “Can’t you break up a chair, Joey?” she asked. But he couldn’t though he tried manfully – poor little Joe – with tears standing on his cheeks. “Never mind,” said Charly again. And then the forlorn little group huddled together over the dying fire. How cold it was! and how the wind rocked the old house and blew its freezing breath in through every chink! “I’m sleepy,” murmured Emmy, drowsily. Charly looked at her in sudden terror. She had been sobbing with cold and hunger, and now her baby face looked pinched her hands blue with cold. But the golden head drooped heavily against Charly’s arm – and Emmy never went to sleep at this time in the day. A dull red coal winked among the ashes. Charly say it, and straightened Emmy up with a little shake. “We’ll have a funny fire,” said she, with a catch in her voice. Bring the- the box, Joey.” “Oh, Charly, no!” “Yes,” said Charly. “I can make plenty more. Wake up, Emmy.” And in a minute Emmy was wide awake enough to see a tiny bright blaze upon the hearth. They burned the box first, and then the pretty carvings one by one. All too soon they were gone, and there only remained a few ashes. "I'm just as cold," whispered Dean. “I’m sleepy, too, Charly.’ "Well, you shall go to sleep," said Cbarly; “and when you wake up I know they'll be here. But we'll have some nice fun first. 'Who wants a doughnut?" "Oh, Charly Grace, you haven't got one!" “Yes, I have," returned Charly, with a triumphant little laugh. "I saved those out of mine." She stood Emmy on the hearth, and hobbled as briskly as could be across the floor, placing two chairs, one at each end of the room. "'Now you run a race around those till I say its enough, and I'll give you one apiece. Run just as fast as you can." At first the children demurred, they were so cramped and tired and drowsy; but the sight of three brown, delicious-looking cakes which Charly produced from her pocket nerved them lo action. Around and around the chairs they ran, Joe ahead, Emmy in the rear, breath¬ing out little clouds of steam. And Charly laughed and clapped her hands and cheered them on, until at last they stopped from sheer fatigue, puffing like three small locomotives, and with their pulses beating in a lively way. Charly hobbled over to the bed. "Get in, all of you." she said; "then I'll give you your cakes. I know they'll be here when you wake up." She tucked them in warmly, and then she went back to her chair. She put the ends of her crutches upon two or three lives coals and blew them into a tiny blaze. Pretty soon, when she had warmed herself a little, she would creep in beside Emmy. She listened to the deep regular breathing from the bed. "They are going to sleep," she murmured. "I've done the best I could - the best I could." The words echoed from the walls of the old little room, and rang themselves over and over in her brain. How warm the place was growing and how dark! She thought she would crawl over to the bed and get in with Emmy and Dean and Joe. But she did not stir She sat there still, a white little figure, with a pair of half-burned crutches at her feet, when less than an hour later a man with frosty beard and hair forced himself through the snow-bank at the door. It was Mr. Grace, alone, for the storm had rendered the road impassable, and he had tramped the whole distance from Dunbar Corner upon snow-shoes. It was a long, wearying walk, no doubt, and he had been about it two days. But when he opened the door of his home he forgot it all In less than a minute he had made kindling wood of one of the chairs, and in another one or two a brisk fire was roaring on the hearth, and Mr. Grace, in terrible fear was rubbing Charly's hands and forcing some brandy from the little flask he carried down her throat. She opened her eyes presently, and looked up into the kind face above her in a bewildered way. “Emmy-Dean-Joe-are” “All right – all right!” yelled Mr. Grace, nearly beside himself with delight, and then he went down upon his knees before Charly and cried, “We’re all right, my dear.” And so, indeed, they were. I haven’t space to tell you all that happened – what Mrs. Grace said and did when she came, a few days later, with the welcome news that grandmamma was better, and heard what Mr. Grace had already heard from Joe, Emmy and Dean; how the story was told throughout the settlement over and over, and how Charly was praised on all sides; nor of how the people of Grand Fork, the little village five miles below, got up a fair for Charly’s benefit, which gave her enough to take her to Dr. Lester that very next spring. And though Dr. Lester could not entirely cure her, the weak limbs grew so much stronger and better than she was able to walk without crutches, by limping a very little. When Dr. Lester, too, came to know who Charly was – for the story of that winter’s day had already reached his ears – he refused to take his fee, but, instead, added to the little roll of bills, and put the whole in a bank – for Charly. “She will want to go to school in a little while,” said he. “I think she must study art.” “Why, what makes every body so good to me?” asked Charly, with happy tears; “I didn’t do anything.” “Didn’t you!’ asked Mrs. Grace, in return, kissing the glad little face – didn’t you?”