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Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 17595

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

There had been several light and fleecy falls of snow since the arrival of the "city cousins" at the farmhouse, but they had been only about enough to keep the sleighing in good order. The weather was bracingly cold; but, for all that, aunt Judith more than once felt called upon to remark,-

"The winters nowadays ain't nothin' at all to what they used to be."

"We'll have more snow yet," said the deacon. "Don't you be afraid."

"Snow, Joshaway! Well, if you've forgotten, I haven't. I've seen this place of ourn jest snowed in for days and days, so't you couldn't git to the village at all till the roads was broke."

Mrs. Stebbins had had a great deal more to say about it, all in the same strain; and the only consolation seemed to be, in the language of Deacon Farnham,-

"It's the best kind of a winter for the lumbermen. The choppers haven't had to lose a day of time, and the haulin's the best you ever heard tell of."

Just snow enough, and no more. That sort of thing was not to be securely counted on, however, as they were all about to learn. The very Saturday after the spelling-match, the morning opened with a sort of haze creeping over the north-eastern sky.

It seemed to drift down from somewhere among the mountains, and by noon the snow began to fall.

"Boys," said the deacon, "it's going to be a big one this time, real old-fashioned sort. We must get out the shovels, and keep the paths open."

It hardly seemed necessary to do any shovelling yet; but the white flakes fell faster and faster, hour after hour, and night came on earlier than usual.

"Now, Port," said Corry, "if you and I know what's good for ourselves, we'll lay in all the wood we'll need for to-morrow and next day. Every thing'll be snowed clean under."

"That's so, but I wouldn't ha' missed seeing it come."

Neither would Susie; and she and Pen watched it from the sitting-room windows, while even aunt Judith came and stood beside them, and declared,-

"There, now, that's something like;" and Mrs. Farnham remarked in a tone of exultation,-

"You never saw any thing like that in the city, Susie."

"Never, aunt Sarah. It's splendid. It's the grandest snow-storm I ever heard of."

There was very little wind as yet, and the fluttering flakes lay still where they fell.

"All the snow that couldn't get down before is coming now," said Pen. "There's ever so much of it. I like snow."

More and more of it; and the men and boys came in from the barns after supper as white as so many polar bears, to stamp and laugh and be brushed till the color of their clothes could be seen.

Then the wind began to rise, and the whole family felt like gathering closely around the fireplace; and the flames poured up the wide chimney as if they were ready to fight that storm.

The boys cracked nuts, and popped corn, and played checkers. The deacon read his newspaper. Mrs. Farnham and aunt Judith plied their knitting. Susie showed Pen how to crochet a tidy. It was very cosey and comfortable; but all the while they could hear blast after blast, as they came howling around the house, and hurled the snow fiercely against the windows.

"Isn't it grand?" said Port at last. "But we'll have some shovelling to do in the morning."

"Guess we will!"

"And you'll have a good time getting to school."

"School! If this keeps on all night, there won't be any going to meeting to-morrow, let alone school on Monday."

It did keep on all night; and the blinding drifts were whirling before the wind with a gustier sweep than ever, when the farmhouse people peered out at them next morning.

Every shovel they could furnish a pair of hands for had to be at work good and early, and the task before them had a kind of impossible look about it.

The cattle and sheep and horses had all been carefully sheltered. Even the poultry had received special attention from their human protectors. They were all sure to be found safe and warm, but the difficulty now was in finding them at all.

There was a drift nearly ten feet high between the house and the pigpen, and a worse one was piled up over the gate leading into the barnyard.

How those pigs did squeal, while they impatiently waited for the breakfast which was so very long in coming!

"They're nearest, father," said Corry. "Hadn't we better stop that noise, first thing we do?"

"You and Port go for them."

They dug away manfully at that drift, or, rather, at the hole they meant to make through it, while the grown-up shovellers toiled in the direction of the barnyard-gate.

"Corry," said Port, "don't you think this is pretty hard work for Sunday morning?"

"Those pigs don't know any thing about Sunday. The cows don't either. They get hungry, just the same."

"I s'pose it's all right."

"Right! You trust father for that. He says the Lord made Sunday, and the Lord sent the snow, and we needn't worry about it. The Lord wants all his cattle fed regularly."

"Did your father say that?"

"Yes, I heard him saying it to aunt Judith."

"It's all right, then. But don't you think it's pretty hard work for any kind of day?"

"Yes, but it's fun. Hear those pigs! They know we're coming."

It sounded a great deal as if the hungry quadrupeds in the pen were explaining their condition to all the outside world, or trying to, and cared very little how much work it might cost to bring them their breakfast.

Their neighbors in the stables and barn made less fuss about the matter, but they had even longer to wait. Before the great drift at the gate could be conquered, it was breakfast-time for human beings, and there was never a morning when coffee and hot cakes seemed more perfectly appropriate.

While the human workers were busy at the breakfast-table, the snow and wind did not take any resting spell, but kept right on, doing their best to restore the damaged drifts.

"Susie," said Port, "doesn't this make you think of Lapland?"

"Or Greenland, or Siberia?"

"Tell you what," said Corry, "I don't believe the Russians get any thing much better than this."

"If they do," said aunt Judith, "I don't want to live there. There won't be any going to meeting to-day."

"Meeting!" exclaimed the deacon. "There'll be a dozen big drifts between this and the village. All hands'll have to turn out to breaking roads, soon as the storm lets up."

No end of it was reached that day; but the barn was reached, and all the quadrupeds and bipeds were found, safe and hungry, and were carefully attended to.

"We sha'n't get into the woods again right away," said Corry; and he was right about that, but there was a thoughtful look on Susie's face as she remarked,-

"I wonder how Mrs. Stebbins is getting along. There's nobody there but Vosh."

"He's a worker," said the deacon. "He's very strong for his age,-likeliest youngster in the whole valley. We can't get over there to-day, but we will to-morrow."

That had indeed been a busy time for Vosh, hard and late as he had worked the night before; and his mother came out to help him.

"It ain't no time to talk, Lavawjer," she said to him; "but I do wish I knowed how the deacon's folks was a-gettin' on. They must be pretty nigh snowed under."

"Guess they're all right, but it'll give Susie and Port some notion of what snow can do in the country."

Away on into the night the great northern gusts worked steadily; but towards morning it seemed as if the storm decided that it had done enough, and it began to subside. Now and then it again took hold as if it had still a drift or so to finish; but by sunrise every thing was still and calm and wonderfully white.

"This'll be a working-day, I guess," said the deacon; "but all the paths we make'll stay made."

There was some comfort in that; for all they had made on Sunday had to be shovelled out again, and the pigs were as noisy as ever.

The deacon insisted on digging out every gate so it would swing wide open; and all the paths were made wide and clear, walled high on either side with tremendous banks of snow. It was after dinner, and the workers were getting a little weary of it, before they could open the front-gate.

Susie was watching them from the windows, and Pen was in the front-yard, vigorously punching a snow-bank with a small shovel, when aunt Judith suddenly exclaimed right over Susie's shoulder,-

"Sakes alive! There's somethin' a-stirrin' in the road. What can it be?-Sarah, call to Joshaway! There's a human critter out there in the snow."

Susie almost held her breath, for there was surely a commotion in the great drift a few rods beyond the gate. The boys saw it too, and they and the deacon and the hired man began to shout, as if shouting would help a fellow in a deep snow.

"Father," said Corry,

"shall we go and see who it is?"

"Not as long as he can thrash around like that. He'll get through."

"He's gone away under," said Port. "There he comes-no, he's under again. It's awful deep."

"He'll be smothered."

Susie was watching that commotion in the snow as she had never watched any thing before, and just then a fleecy head came out on this side of the high drift.

"Aunt Judith!-Aunt Sarah!-It's Vosh Stebbins!"

"They're all snowed under, and he's come through to tell us. Oh, dear!"

"Hurrah, boys!"

There was nothing at all doleful in the ringing shout Vosh sent towards the house the moment he got the snow out of his mouth.

"Have you got any snow at your house? There's more'n we want up our way. Let ye have loads of it, and not charge a cent."

"Come on, Vosh," said the deacon. "How'd you find the roads?"

"Sleighin' enough to last all summer, if you don't waste it. More like swimming than walking."

"I'd say it was. Come on in and warm yourself."

Both the boys were brushing the snow from him as soon as he got to the gate, and all the women-folk were out on the stoop to welcome him. Aunt Judith talked as fast as his own mother could have done, and insisted on his sitting down before the fireplace while she brought him a cup of coffee, and a glass of currant-wine, and a piece of pie, and then she said she would make him some pepper-tea.

"Now, Miss Farnham," said Vosh, "I ain't hurt a bit."

"And your mother?"

"Never was better; but she was worried about you folks, and I said I'd come over and see.-Susie, did you know it'd been snowing a little out of doors?"

"How did you ever get through?"

"I just burrowed most of the way, like a wood-chuck."

"You can't go back by the same hole," chuckled Corry.

"I could if it was there. Guess I won't stay long, though: mother'll be afraid I'm lost in the drift."

He was right about that; and, after a few minutes of merry talk, they all gathered at the front-gate to see him plunge in again.

"He'll get through," said the deacon. "There's the makin' of a man in Vosh. He goes right straight ahead into any thing."

The last thing he had said before starting was,-

"All Benton Valley'll be out a-breakin' roads to-morrow."

"That's so," said the deacon; but, after Vosh had gone, he added, "and snow-ploughs won't be of any kind of use."

"How'll we work it?" said Corry.

"Teams and sleds. It'll be a tough job, and the roads'll be pretty rough for a while."

"Corry," said Port, "how'll they do it,-cart the snow away?"

"Where'd they cart it to? You just wait and see."

They were all tired enough to go to bed early, but the first rays of daylight next morning saw them all rushing out again. Port felt a little stiff and sore, but he determined to do his part at road-breaking.

The snow lay pretty level in the roads, for the greater part; and you could see the top rails of the fences here and there, enough to go by.

A little after breakfast the wide gate was swung open, and then the deacon's hired man came down the lane, driving the black team at a sharp trot, with the wood-sleigh behind them.

Faster, faster, through the gate, and out into the snow, with a chorus of shouts to urge them on.

The spirited, powerful fellows reared and plunged and snorted; but before long they seemed almost disposed to call it fun, and enjoy it.

"Up the road first!" shouted the deacon. "We'll break that way till we get beyond Stebbins's."

There was work for men and boys, as well as horses; and the snow-shovels were plied rapidly behind the plunging team. Porter Hudson quickly understood that a great deal of road could be opened in such a way as that, if all the farmers turned out to do it. They were likely to; for none of them could afford to be blocked in, and public opinion would have gone pretty sharply against any man who dodged his share of such important work as that.

It was hardest on the horses, willingly as they went at it; and at the end of an hour or so the deacon brought out his second team, a pair of strong brown plough-horses. When they were tired, out came the best yoke of oxen; and it was fun enough to see the great, clumsy creatures, all but buried in a deep drift, slowly but strongly shouldering their way forward, and every now and then trying to turn around and get out of the scrape.

"A skittish yoke wouldn't do," said Corry. "They wouldn't move any way but backwards."

Long before that, the road had been opened "beyond Stebbins's," and Vosh had joined them with his snow-shovel. His paths were all in a condition that spoke well for his industry, and the deacon told him so. Mrs. Stebbins was at the gate, and she remarked,-

"Tell ye what, deacon, if you think my Vosh can't do any thing but spell for dixinaries, you're mistaken. He's a worker, he is."

"That's so."

But there was no need of his saying much more, for there in the road behind him were Mrs. Farnham and aunt Judith, and Susie and Pen; and you could have heard every voice among them, till the front-door shut behind the last one.

That was Pen, and her last word had been a shout to Vosh in the road:-

"We've got more snow in our front-yard than you have, anyhow."

They were now pushing their work towards the village, and could already catch glimpses of other "gangs," as Vosh called them, here and there down the road. In some places, where the snow was not so deep, they made "turnouts" wide enough for loaded sleighs to pass each other.

"If we didn't," said Vosh, "one team'd have to lie down and let the other drive over it."

He could not tell Port that he had ever seen that done, but he added, "I've had to burrow through a drift, team and all, when there wasn't any turnout made."

That was very much like what they had been doing all day, and they kept it up through all the next; but, when Tuesday night came, it was pretty clear that "the roads were open." A sleigh came up from Benton with a man in it who had business with the deacon, and who had some remarkable yarns to tell about the depth of the drifts on the other side of the valley.

"Deacon Paulding's house was just drifted clean under, barns and all. He had to make a kind of a tunnel to his stable, before he could fodder his critters."

"You don't say!" exclaimed aunt Judith. "Snowed under! I've known that to happen any number of times when I was a girl. Good big houses too; not little hencoops of things, like that there house of old Deacon Paulding's. He's a small specimen too. He'd need a tunnel to git through most any thin'. I must say, though, this 'ere's a right good old-fashioned snow, to come in these days."

It was new-fashioned enough to Porter and Susie, and the former remarked,-

"Oh, but won't there be some water when all this begins to melt!"

Others were thinking of that very thing, for the sun had been very bright all day. It was brighter still on the day that followed; and towards night a dull, leaden fog arose in the west, for the sun to go down in.

"Father," said Mrs. Farnham, "do you think there's more snow coming?"

"Guess not, Sarah. It looks more like a rain and a thaw."

"There's most always a thaw in February, but it 'pears as if it was a little early in the month."

So it was, and the weather made a sort of failure for once. To be sure, there were several hours next day when the winter seemed to have let go its hold, and while a dull, slow, cold rain came pouring down upon the snow-drifts. They settled under it a little sullenly, and then the wind shifted to the north-east, and it grew cold enough for anybody.

"I've known it to do that very thing when I was a girl," said aunt Judith. "There'll be the awfullest kind of a crust."

"Glad we had all our breaking done before this came," said her brother. "It'd be heavy work to do now."

The hard frost of that night was followed by a crisp and bracing morning, and aunt Judith's prophecy was fulfilled. The crust over the great snow-fall was strong enough to bear the weight of a man almost anywhere.

"Hurrah!" shouted Corry, as he climbed a drift, and walked away towards the open field beyond. "We'll have some fun now."

"What kind of fun?" asked Port.

"What kind? Well, all kinds,-sliding down hill, snow-shoeing in the woods, all sorts of things."

"Hurrah for all that!"

"Boys!" shouted Vosh from the front-gate, "the mill-pond was flooded yesterday, and it's frozen hard now. There's acres and acres of the best skating you ever heard of, glary as a pane of glass."

There was a shout then that brought aunt Judith and Susie to the window, and Porter was saying to himself,-

"Well, I am glad we brought along our skates, after all. There'll be a chance to use 'em."

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