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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 2. Her First Trip In A Blizzard
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A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 2. Her First Trip In A Blizzard Post by :mimiabas Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :549

Click below to download : A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 2. Her First Trip In A Blizzard (Format : PDF)

A Little Norsk; Or, Ol' Pap's Flaxen - Chapter 2. Her First Trip In A Blizzard

CHAPTER II. HER FIRST TRIP IN A BLIZZARD

At half-past two the feelings of the silent watcher began to change. He thought more about his partner out there in the rising wind and thickening snow. The blast roared round the little cabin with a deep, menacing, rising moan, and laid to the stove-pipe a resounding lip, wailing and shouting weirdly. Bert's nervous walk quickened, and he looked so often through the pane that the frost had not time to close up.

Suddenly, out of the blinding, sweeping snow, not ten rods distant, the burly form of Anson burst, head down, blindly staggering forward into the teeth of the tempest. He walked like a man whose strength was almost gone, and he carried a large bundle in his arms.

Gearhart flung the door open, and called in a cheery voice to guide the struggling man to the house. He knew what it was to face such a wind.

"Here ye are, ol' man! Right this way! Keep y'r head down!"

Then, seeing that Anson hardly made headway against the terrible blast, he rushed out, bare-headed as he was, and caught and hurried him in and shut the door.

Reeling blindly, his breath roaring like a furnace, his eyebrows hung with icicles, his face masked with crusted snow, Anson staggered in, crying hoarsely, "Take her!" then slid to the floor, where he lay panting for breath.

Bert caught the bundle from his arms. A wailing, half-smothered cry came from it.

"What is it, Ans?" he asked.

"A kid; warm it," said the giant, trying with his numbed fingers to undo the shawl which wrapped the bundle. Bert hurriedly unwound the shawl, and a frightened child, blue-eyed and flaxen-haired--flossy as unfrosted corn-silk--was disclosed like a nubbin of corn after the husks are stripped off.

"Why, it's little Flaxen Hair! Wha' d'ye bring her over for?"

"'Sh!" said Anson hoarsely. "Mind how y' git her warm! Don't y' see she's froze?"

The little creature was about five, or possibly six years old, scantily clad, but neat and pretty. As her feet began to get warm before the fire, she wailed with pain, which Bert tried to stop by rubbing.

"Put her hands in y'r hair, hold her feet in y'r hands--don't rub 'em," commanded Ans, who was stripping the ice from his eyelashes and from his matted beard, which lay like a shield upon his breast. "Stir up the fire; give her some hot coffee an' some feed. She hain't had anything to eat."

Bert tried to do all these things at once, and could not, but managed finally to get the child a piece of bread and a cup of coffee, and to allay her fears. Ans began to recover from his horrible journey and was able to speak, though his lungs were still painful.

"Ol' man," he said solemnly and tenderly, "I came jest as near stayin' in that last gully down there as a man could an' not. The snow was up to my armpits, an' let me down wherever the weeds was. I had to waller; if it hadn't be'n for her, I guess I'd 'a' give up; but I jest grit m' teeth an' pulled through. There, guess y' hadn't better let her have any more. I guess she'll go to sleep now she's fed an' warmed. Jest le' me take her now, ol' man."

"No: you git rested up."

"See here, it'll rest me to hold that little chap. I'm all right. My hands is frosted some, an' my ears, that's all, but my breath is gittin' back. Come on, now," he pleaded.

Bert surrendered the child, who looked up into the bearded face of the rough fellow, then rested her head on his breast, and went to sleep at last. It made his heart thrill as he felt her little head against his breast. He never had held a child in his arms before.

"Say, Bert, reckon I'm a purty fair picture of a fam'ly man, now, eh? Throw in a couple o' twists more o' hay----"

Bert stirred up the fire.

"Well, now the little one is off, what's up over to the Norsk's? Wha' d'ye bring the child for?" he asked at last.

"Because she was the only livin' soul in the shanty."

"What?" His face was set in horror.

"Fact."

"Where's the Norsk?"

"I don't know. On the prairie somewhere."

"An' the mother?"

"She's----" Here the little one stirred slightly as he leaned forward, and Ans said; with a wink, "She's _asleep_." He winked significantly, and Bert understood what the sleep was. "Be a little careful what y' say--jes' now; the little rat is listenin'. Jest say _relative when y' mean her--the woman, y' know."

"Yes; sir," he resumed after a moment; "I was scart when I saw that house--when I knocked, an' no one stirred 'r come to the door. They wasn't a track around, an' the barn an' house was all drifted up. I pushed the door open; it was cold as a barn, an' dark. I couldn't see anythin' f'r a minute, but I heard a sound o' cryin' from the bed that made my hair stand up. I rushed over there, an' there lay the mother on the bed, with nothin' on but some kind of a night-dress, an' everythin'--dress, shawl, an' all--piled on an' around that blessed child."

"She was sleepin'?"

"Like a stone. I couldn't believe it at first. I raved around there, split up a chair an' the shelves, an' made a fire. Then I started to rub the woman's hands an' feet, but she was cold an' hard as iron." Bert shuddered in sympathy. "Then I took the child up an' rubbed her; tried to find somethin' f'r her to eat--not a blessed thing in that house! Finally I thought I better bolt f'r home----"

"Lucky you did. Hear that wind! Great heavens! We are in for another two-days' blow of it. That woman, of course, stripped herself to save the child."

"Yes: she did."

"Jes' like a woman! Why didn't she rip down the shelf an' split up the chairs for fuel, or keep walkin' up an' down the room?"

"Now, there it is! She _had burnt up a lot o' stuff, then took to bed with the child. She rolled her up in all the quilts an' shawls an' dresses they was in the house; then laid down by the side of her, an' put her arm over her--an' froze--jes' like a mother--no judgment!"

"Well, lay her down now, an' eat some thin' y'rself, while I go out an' look after the chores. Lord! it makes me crawl to think of that woman layin' there in the shanty all alone!" he turned and said in a peculiar hesitating voice. He shivered a little as he spoke. "Say, did y' shut the door?"

"Yes: an' it shuts hard. The wind n'r wolves can't open it."

"That's good. I couldn't sleep nights if I thought the coyotes could get in." Bert's imagination seized upon that lonely cabin and the figure lying cold as iron upon the bed. It appealed to him more than to Anson.

By four o'clock it was dark, and the lamp was lighted when Bert came in, bringing an immense load of hay-twists. The ferocious wind, as if exulting in its undisputed sway over the plain, raved in ceaseless fury around the cabin, and lashed the roof with a thousand stinging streams of snow. The tiny shanty did not rock; it shuddered as if with fright. The drifts rose higher on the windows, and here and there through some unseen crevice the snow, fine as bolted flour, found its way like oil, seeming to penetrate the solid boards; and to the stove-pipe the storm still laid hoarse lip, piping incessantly, now dolorously, now savagely, now high, now low.

While the two men sat above the fire that night, discussing the sad case of the woman, the child slept heavily, muttering and sobbing in her sleep.

"The probabilities are," said Anson, in a matter-of-fact way, "the Norsk took his oxen an' started f'r Summit f'r provisions, an' got caught in this blizzard an' froze to death somewhere--got lost in some gully, probably."

"But why didn't he come an' tell us to look after his fam'ly?"

"Well, I s'pose he was afraid to trust us. I don't wonder, as I remember the treatment their women git from the Yankees. We look a good 'eal worse than we are, besides; an' then the poor cuss couldn't talk to us, anyhow, an' he's be'n shy ever since he came, in October."

After a long silence, in which Gearheart went over and studied the face of the sleeper, Anson said: "Well, if he's dead, an' the woman's dead too, we've got to look after this child till some relative turns up. An' that woman's got to be buried."

"All right. What's got to be done had better be done right off. We've only one bed, Ans, an' a cradle hasn't appeared necessary before. How about the sleepin' to-night? If you're goin' into the orphan-asylum business, you'll have to open up correspondence with a furniture store."

Ans reddened a little. "It ain't mine any more'n yours. We're pardners in this job."

"No: I guess not. You look more like a dad, an' I guess I'll shift the responsibility of this thing off onto you. I'll bunk here on the floor, an' you take the child an' occupy the bed."

"Well, all right," answered Anson, going over in his turn and looking down at the white face and tow-coloured hair of the little stranger. "But say, we ain't got no night-clothes f'r the little chap. What'll we do? Put her to sleep jes' as she is?"

"I reckon we'll have to to-night. Maybe you'll find some more clothes over to the shanty."

"Say, Bert," said Ans later.

"Well?"

"It's too darn cold f'r you to sleep on the floor there. You git in here on the back side, an' I'll take the child on the front. She'd be smashed flatter'n a pancake if she was in the middle. She ain't bigger'n a pint o' cider, anyway."

"No, ol' man. I'll lay here on the floor, an' kind o' heave a twist in once in a while. It's goin' to be cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass bull by daylight."

Ans bashfully crept in beside the sleeping child, taking care not to waken her, and lay there thinking of his new responsibility. At every shiver of the cowering cabin and rising shriek of the wind, his heart went out in love toward the helpless little creature whose dead mother lay in the cold and deserted shanty, and whose father was wandering perhaps breathless and despairing on the plain, or lying buried in the snow in some deep ravine beside his patient oxen. He tucked the clothing in carefully about the child, felt to see if her little feet were cold, and covered her head with her shawl, patting her lightly with his great paw.

"Say, Bert!"

"Well, Ans, what now?"

"If this little chap should wake up an' cry f'r its mother, what in thunder would I do?"

"Give it up, ol' boy," was the reply from the depths of the buffalo-robes before the fire. "Pat her on the back, an' tell her not to cry, or somethin' like that."

"But she can't tell what I say."

"Oh, she'll understand if y' kind o' chuckle an' gurgle like a fam'ly man." But the little one slept on, and when, about midnight, Bert got up to feed the fire, he left the stove door open to give light, and went softly over to the sleepers. Ans was sleeping with the little form close to his breast, and the poor, troubled face safe under his shaggy beard.

* * * * *

And all night long the blasting wind, sweeping the sea of icy sands, hissed and howled round the little sod cabin like surf beating on a half-sunken rock. The wind and the snow and the darkness possessed the plain; and Cold (whose other name is Death) was king of the horrible carnival. It seemed as though morning and sunlight could not come again, so absolute was the sway of night and death.

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