Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Every boy likes snow on Christmas Day, but there is such a thing as too much of it. Henry Ives, alone in the long railroad coach, stared out of the clouded windows at the whirling mass of snow with feelings of dismay. It was the day before Christmas, almost Christmas Eve. Henry did not feel any too happy, indeed he had hard work to keep down a sob. His mother had died but a few weeks before and his father, the captain of a freighter on the Great Lakes, had decided, very reluctantly, to send him to his brother who had a big ranch in western Nebraska.

Henry had never seen his uncle or his aunt. He did not know what kind of people they were. The loss of his mother had been a terrible blow to him and to be separated from his father had filled his cup of sorrow to the brim. His father's work did not end with the close of navigation on the lakes, and he could not get away then although he promised to come and see Henry before the ice broke and traffic was resumed in the spring.

The long journey from the little Ohio town on Lake Erie to western Nebraska had been without mishap. His uncle's ranch lay far away from the main line of the railroad on the end of the branch. There was but one train a day upon it, and that was a mixed train. The coach in which Henry sat was attached to the end of a long string of freight cars. Travel was infrequent in that section of the country. On this day Henry was the only passenger.

The train had been going up-grade for many miles and had just about reached the crest of the divide. Bucking the snow had become more and more difficult; several times the train had stopped. Sometimes the engine backed the train some distance to get headway to burst through
the drift. So Henry thought nothing of it when the car came to a gentle stop. The all-day storm blew from the west and the front windows of the car were covered with snow so he could not see ahead. Some time before the conductor and rear brakeman had gone forward to help dig the engine out of the drift and they had not come back. Henry sat in silence for some time watching the whirling snow. He was sad; even the thought of the gifts of his father and friends in his trunk which stood in the baggage compartment of the car did not cheer him. More than all the Christmas gifts in the world, he wanted at that time his mother and father and friends.

"It doesn't look as though it was going to be a very merry Christmas for me," he said aloud at last, and then feeling a little stiff from having sat still so long he got up and walked to the front of the car. It was warm and pleasant in the coach. The Baker heater was going at full blast and Henry noticed that there was plenty of coal. He tried to see out from the front door; but as he was too prudent to open it and let in the snow and cold he could make out nothing. The silence rather alarmed him. The train had never waited so long before. Then, suddenly, came the thought that something very unusual was wrong. He must get a look at the train ahead. He ran back to the rear door, opened it and standing on the leeward side, peered forward. The engine and freight cars were not there! All he saw was the deep cut filled nearly to the height of the car with snow. Henry was of a mechanical turn of mind and he realized that doubtless the coupling had broken. That was what had happened. The trainmen had not noticed it and the train had gone on and left the coach. The break had occurred at the crest of the divide and the train had gone rapidly down hill on the other side. The amount of snow told the boy that it would not be possible for the train to back up and pick up the car. He was alone in the wilderness of rolling hills in far western Nebraska. And this was Christmas Eve! It was enough to bring despair to any boy's heart. But Henry Ives was made of good stuff, he was a first-class Boy Scout and on his scout coat in the trunk were four Merit Badges. He had the spirit of his father, who had often bucked the November storms on Lake Superior in his great six-hundred-foot freighter, and danger inspired him. He went back into the car, closed the door, and sat down to think it over. He had very vague ideas as to how long such a storm would last andhow long he might be kept prisoner. He did not even know just where he was or how far it was to the end of the road and the town where his uncle's ranch lay.

It was growing dark so he lighted one of the lamps close to the heater and had plenty of light. In doing so he noticed in the baggage rack a dinner pail. He remembered that the conductor had told him that his wife had packed that dinner pail and although it did not belong to the boy he
felt justified in appropriating it in such circumstances. It was full of food--eggs, sandwiches, and a bottle of coffee. He was not very hungry but he ate a sandwich. He was even getting cheerful about the situation because he had something to do. It was an adventure.While he had been eating, the storm had died away. Now he discovered that it had stopped snowing. All around him the country was a hilly, rolling prairie. The cut ran through a hill which seemed to be higher
than others in the neighbourhood. If he could get on top of it he might see where he was. Although day was ending it was not yet dark and Henry decided upon an exploration. Now he could not walk on foot in that deep and drifted snow without sinking over his head under ordinary conditions, but his troop had done a great deal of winter work, and strapped alongside of his big, telescope grip were a pair of snow-shoes which he himself had made, and
with the use of which he was thoroughly familiar.

"I mustn't spoil this new suit," he told himself, so he ran to the baggage-room of the car, opened his trunk, got out his Scout uniform and slipped into it in a jiffy. "Glad I ran in that 'antelope dressing race,'" he muttered, "but I'll beat my former record now." Over his khaki coat he put on his heavy sweater, then donned his wool cap and gloves, and with his snow-shoes under his arm hurried back to the rear platform. The snow was on a level with the platform. It rose higher as
the coach reached into the cut. He saw that he would have to go down some distance before he could turn and attempt the hill. He had used his snow-shoes many times in play but this was the first time they had ever been of real service to him. Thrusting his toes into the straps he struck out boldly.

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