MoboReader> Literature > Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways

   Chapter 6 A SERIOUS PROBLEM

Nan Sherwood's Winter Holidays; Or, Rescuing the Runaways By Annie Roe Carr Characters: 8627

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The chums from Tillbury looked at each other in awed amazement. Nothing just like this had ever come to their knowledge before. The healthy desire of a vigorous appetite for food was one thing; but this child's whimpering need and its mother's patient endurance of her own lack of food for nearly twenty-four hours, shook the two girls greatly.

"Why, the poor little fellow!" gasped Nan, and sank to her knees to place her cheek against the pale one of the little French boy.

"They-they're starving!" choked Bess Harley.

The woman seemed astonished by the emotion displayed by these two schoolgirls. She looked from Nan to Bess in rather a frightened way.

"Monsieur, the conductor, say it cannot ver' well be help'," she murmured. "It is the snow; it haf overtaken us."

"It just can be helped!" cried Bess, suddenly, and she whirled and fairly ran forward into the chair car. Nan did not notice her chum's departure at the moment. The baby had seized her finger and was smiling at her. Such a pretty little fellow, but so weak and ill in appearance.

"Oh, madame!" Nan cried in her best French, "is it not terrible? We may be here for hours."

"As the good God wills," said the woman, patiently. "We cannot devise or shape Fate, mademoiselle."

Nan stood up and shook her head, saying vigorously, and in her own tongue, for she was too much moved to remember Mademoiselle Loro's teaching:

"But we need not accept Fate's determination as final, I am sure! There is a good God, as you say, madam. This child must have food, and-"

At the moment Bess rushed in carrying the paste-board box containing the remains of their lunch. "Here!" she cried, dramatically. "Give the poor little fellow this."

"Oh, little ladies!" responded the woman, "have a care. You will have need of this food yourselves."

"No, no!" cried Bess, the impetuous. "We are stuffed to repletion.

Aren't we, Nan?"

"We have certainly eaten much more recently than madam and the little one," agreed Nan, heartily.

The woman opened the box. The child sat up with a crow of delight. The mother gave him one of the stale crullers, and he began gnawing on it with all the gusto of a hungry dog on a bone.

"Take something yourself, madam," commanded Nan. "And more for the little fellow."

"Let 'em have it all, Nan," whispered the impulsive Bess. "Goodness! we can get on somehow."

But Nan was more observant than her chum. There were other children in the car besides this little fellow. In fact, in the seat but one behind the French woman and her baby, a girl of six or seven years was clinging to the seat-back and staring with hungry eyes at the broken food in the box.

"Gracious!" gasped Bess, seeing this little one when Nan had nudged her and pointed. "Gracious! that's the picture of Famine, herself."

She seized one of the greasy little pies and thrust it into the child's hands. The latter began devouring it eagerly. Bess saw other hungry mouths open and eager hands outstretched.

"Oh, Nan!" she almost sobbed. "We've got to give them all some. All the poor little children!"

Her chum did not try to curb Bess Harley's generosity. There was not much of the food left, so there was no danger of over-feeding any of the small children who shared in the generosity of the chums. But when the last crumb was gone they found the conductor at their elbows.

"Well, girls!" he exclaimed grimly. "Now you've done it, haven't you?"

"Done what, sir?" asked Bess, rather startled.

"You've given away all your own lunch. What did I tell you? I warned you to take care of it."

"Oh, sir!" cried Nan. "We couldn't have eaten it, knowing that these little folks were so hungry."

"No, indeed!" agreed Bess.

"If you had remained in your own car," the conductor said, "you would have known nothing about these poor kiddies."

"Well, I'm glad we did find out about 'em before we ate our lunch all up," declared Nan.

"Why, I'd like to know, Miss?" asked the man.

"It would have lain heavily on our consciences-"

"And surely injured our digestions," giggled Bess. "That pie was something awful."

"Well, it's all gone now, and you have nothing."

"Oh, that's not the worst," cried Bess, suddenly. "Oh, Nan!" and she clasped her gloved hands tragically.

"What is it now

?" asked her chum.

"The poor little dog! He won't have even railroad pie to eat."

"What dog is this?" demanded the conductor.

"Oh!" cried Nan. "Are you Mr. Carter?"

"Yes, I am, Miss. But this dog?"

"Is in the baggage car," Nan said eagerly. "And he's so cold and hungry and lonesome. He's just crying his heart out."

"He is?"

"Won't you let us take him into our car where it is warmer and take care of him?"

"That nuisance of a pup?" demanded the conductor, yet with twinkling eyes that belied his gruffness. "I know he's yapping his little head off."

"Then let us have him, sir, do!" begged Nan earnestly.

"Take him into the Pullman, you mean?"

"Yes, sir, we'll take the best care of him," promised Nan.

"Against the rules!" declared the conductor, briskly.

"But rules ought to be broken at times," urged Nan. "For instance, can't they be relaxed when folks are cast away on desert islands?"

"Oh, ho!" chuckled the conductor. "I see the point, Miss. But the captain of the ship must maintain discipline, just the same, on the desert island as aboard ship."

"I s'pose you've got to enforce the rule against passengers riding on the platform, too, even if we are stuck in a snowdrift?" Bess said a little crossly. They had come out into the vestibule, and she was cold.

The conductor broke into open laughter at this; but Nan was serious.

"Suppose anything happens to the poor little fellow?" she fumed. "He may get cold. And he certainly will starve."

"Have you anything more in the line of food to give away?" demanded the conductor.

"Not a crumb," sighed Bess. "By the time the cannibals arrive at this desert island we'll all be too thin to tempt them to a banquet."

"But there may be something on the train with which to feed that poor doggie," insisted Nan.

"If you mean in the crew's kettles," said the conductor, "I can assure you, young lady, there is nothing. This crew usually eats at the end of the division. It's not like a freight train crew. We'd be a whole lot better off right now," added the conductor, reflectively, "if we had a caboose attached to the end of this train. We'd stand a chance of rustling up some grub for all these hungry people."

"Oh, dear!" gasped Bess. "Do you s'pose we're going to be hungry long?"

"They say one doesn't notice it much after about eight days," her chum said, chuckling.

"Ugh!" shivered Bess, "I don't much care for your kind of humor, Nan

Sherwood."

The conductor suddenly glanced at Nan more keenly and asked, "Are you

Nancy Sherwood, Miss?"

"Why, yes, sir."

"And you go to school somewhere upon the shore of Lake Huron?" he pursued.

"Why, yes, sir."

"We go to Lakeview Hall. And we know Linda Riggs," blurted out Bess, remembering what the baggage-man had advised them to say to the conductor.

"Oh, indeed?" said Mr. Carter; but his interest remained fixed on Nan. "You didn't go to school last September over this division, did you?" he asked.

"No, sir. We went from Chicago," replied the wondering Nan.

"Your train was broke in two at the Junction to put in a car?"

"Yes, sir."

"And what did you do at the Junction?" asked the conductor, quickly.

"Oh, I know!" cried Bess, as her chum hesitated. "She got off the train and killed a big rattlesnake that was just going to bite a little girl-yes, you did, Nan Sherwood!"

"You're the girl, Miss!" declared Mr. Carter, drawing out his notebook and pencil. "There have been some inquiries made for you."

"Mercy!" ejaculated Nan. "I don't want to hear anything more about that old snake."

The conductor laughed. "I fancy you won't hear anything unpleasant about the snake," he said. "Where do you live, Nancy Sherwood?"

"I live at Tillbury," Nan said. "But I sha'n't be home much this vacation."

"Where will you be, then, about the first of the year?"

"I'll tell you," Bess cried briskly, and she gave Mr. Carter Mr. Mason's address in Chicago.

The conductor wrote it down carefully in his notebook. Nan was impatient.

"Can't you find something among the express packages to help us out, sir?" she asked. "Canned goods. For instance, a case of canned milk?"

"We'll see, Miss," said the conductor, starting forward again. "At any rate, I'll let you two girls have the dog."

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