The Bobbsey Twins at Snow Lodge/Chapter 18
"Are we very far from Snow Lodge?" asked Nan, after a pause. "We didn't think we would have any trouble getting back to it."
"You're about three miles away, and the path is hard to find in the darkness and storm," said the young hunter slowly. "Let me think what is best to do."
He remained leaning on his gun, staring into the fire, which was now burning brightly. Then he spoke again.
"You youngsters certainly have made this a fine shelter. I couldn't have done it much better myself. It's just the thing to keep out the cold wind."
"We thought we'd have to stay here all night," said Bert. "We made some hot chocolate. We've got a little left. Will you take some?"
"No, thank you," replied Henry Burdock. "I generally carry a little to eat with me, and I just finished my night lunch. I had some cold coffee that I warmed up, too. I'm sorry, but if I had known I was going to meet you folks I'd have saved some."
"Oh, we're all right," declared Harry. "We can finish our chocolate, and then perhaps you can show us the way back to Snow Lodge."
"Yes," spoke Henry Burdock, slowly, "I could do that. I know the way well enough. But it's a hard path to travel in the storm, and after dark. I don't believe you girls could manage it," and he looked at Nan and Dorothy.
"Oh, yes, we could!" Nan exclaimed. "We've had a good rest, and papa and mamma will be so anxious about us!"
"I'd like first rate to take you all home," said the hunter, "but I think I have a better plan. My shack isn't far from here. I could take you all there, and you could stay until morning. Then I could go to Snow Lodge and tell them you were all right. When it was daylight they could come for you in the sled."
"Maybe that would be best," agreed Bert.
"But won't it be too much of a trip for you?" asked Nan.
"No, I'm used to roaming about the woods," said Mr. Carford's nephew, with a sad smile. "A few miles more or less won't make any difference, and I know every inch of this forest. I've had to," he added. "It's the only home I have now."
"Yes, we—we heard about you," said Nan quickly, and there was kindness in her voice. "It's too bad your uncle acted as he did, and sent you away."
"Well, he thought he was doing right," said Henry. "I don't know as I blame him. Your father, though, he stuck to me, and I'm glad I can do his children a favor."
"Indeed, it seems too much to ask," spoke Dorothy, for Nan had whispered to her and Harry the details of the story of the missing money which Henry Burdock was suspected of taking.
"I don't mind," said the hunter. "I didn't do much walking to-day. Game was not very plentiful, though I got some. Now I'll lead you to my shack. It's small, but it's warm, and you can be comfortable there until daylight. I was walking through the woods, when I saw the flicker of your fire, and came up to see what it was."
"And I couldn't imagine what it was I heard when I woke up," said Bert. "I was a bit frightened at first," he admitted, with a smile.
"I don't blame you," said Henry. "And, since we are talking about Snow Lodge, I want to say that I never took that money. It was on the mantel in the living room, just as my uncle says it was, for I saw it. I don't deny but what I would have been glad to have it, for I had been foolish, and I owed more than I could pay. But I never took that roll of bills."
"Have you any idea who did?" asked Bert.
"Not in the least. And as I was the only one in the house, besides my uncle, of course, it made it look as if I had taken it, especially as the money totally disappeared. But I never laid a hand on it."
"It is too bad," said Bert. "Maybe some day the bills will be found and you will be cleared."
"I hope so," sighed Henry. "But it's been some years now, and my uncle has considered me a thief all that while. I've gotten so I don't much care any more. Living in the woods makes you sort of that way. You do a lot of thinking.
"But there!" exclaimed the young hunter, straightening up. "This isn't doing you children any good. I'd better be taking you to my place instead of staying here. Have you anything to carry?"
"My camera—that's all," said Nan. "I'll get it," and she darted into the shelter after it. Then, when the fire had been extinguished so there would be no danger of it spreading, the young folks set off after Henry Burdock, who led the way. He seemed to know it, even in the darkness, but of course the white snow on the ground made the path rather easy to pick out.
In a short time they came to a log cabin, which was the "shack" the hunter had mentioned. It was the work of but a few minutes to open it, and blow into flames the fire that was smouldering on the hearth. A lamp had been lighted and the place was warm and cozy enough for anyone.
"Oh, this is fine!" cried Nan. "If the folks knew we were here we would be all right, and not worry."
"They'll soon know it," said Mr. Burdock. "I'm going to set off at once for Snow Lodge. Will you be afraid to stay here?"
"Not a bit of it!" exclaimed Bert, and the others agreed with him.
Leaving the game he had shot, Henry Burdock started off again through the stormswept woods, while Bert and the others made themselves at home in the cabin. Mr. Burdock had showed them where he kept his food, and the boys and girls enjoyed a midnight lunch, for it was now after twelve o'clock.
It was about three in the morning when the hunter came back, to find his young friends asleep. He let himself in quietly, and not until daylight, when they awoke, did he tell them of his trip.
He had reached Snow Lodge safely, there to find Mr. and Mrs. Bobbsey almost distracted over the absence of the children. Mr. Bobbsey and Sam had searched as well as they could, and they were just going off to arouse some nearby farmers and make a more thorough hunt when Mr. Burdock came in.
That his news was welcome need not be said, and Mrs. Bobbsey wept for joy when she knew that her children and the others were safe. They wanted the young hunter to remain until daylight, and go back with them in the sled, but he said he would rather go on to his cabin now. Perhaps he did not feel that he should remain in Snow Lodge, from where his uncle had driven him in anger years before.
Mr. Burdock gave Mr. Bobbsey directions how to find the cabin, and, as soon as the first streak of daylight showed, the lumber merchant and Sam set off in the big sled. Flossie and Freddie were not awake, or they might have been taken along.
And a little later Bert, Nan, Dorothy and Harry were safe in Snow Lodge once more.
For some days after this the weather was stormy, so that the young folks could not go far from Snow Lodge. But they managed to have good times indoors, or out in the big barn.
Then came another thaw, and a freeze followed some days later, making good skating. One afternoon Bert proposed to Harry that they go for a trip on the ice-boat.
"But not too far," cautioned his father. "We don't want you to get lost again."
"No, we'll only go a mile or so," said Bert. "Want to come, Nan and Dorothy?"
The girls did, and so, also, did Flossie and Freddie, but their mother would not allow this. So Freddie got out his engine and played fireman, while his little sister put her walking and talking doll through her performance. Snap, the trick dog, with many barks, raced off with Bert and the older children.
The Ice Bird sailed well that day, skimming over the frozen lake at a fast pace, and the children greatly enjoyed the sport. Snap sat on with the others, looking as though he liked it as well as anyone.
They sailed up the lake for some distance and then got out to look for a cave which Bert had heard was a short distance from shore. They did not find it at once, but while they were climbing up a little hill, thinking the cave might be somewhere near it, Harry was suddenly startled to receive a snowball on his ear.
"Ouch!" he cried. "Who threw that?"
They all stopped and looked around. No one was in sight.
"Maybe it fell off a tree," suggested Nan.
"It came too hard for that," declared Harry. "It was thrown."
They looked about again, but, seeing no one, went on. Then, suddenly there came another ball, and Dorothy cried:
"There, that came out of a tree, for I saw it. Right over there," and she pointed.
"Then if it came out of a tree someone is up the tree!" declared Bert, "and I'm going to see who it is."
As he rushed forward a snowball struck him full in the face.