IN THE STORM
Seeing the Curlytops and their playmates coming from the restaurant with Uncle Toby, the boy who had been watching the automobile got out, followed by Skyrocket.
"Well, I see you didn't let anyone take the car," said Uncle Toby with a smile, as he paid the boy, giving him more money than the lad had asked for.
"Oh, no! They couldn't take this car while I was in it," was the reply. "Though I guess your dog would make a fuss, too, if anybody tried it. Two or three men just sort of stepped up to look at the car, and Firecracker growled."
"Firecracker?" exclaimed Ted, with a laugh.
"Yes. Isn't that the name you called your dog?" asked the boy.
"No; it's Skyrocket," answered Jan.
"Well, I knew it had something to do with fireworks," laughed the ragged lad.
"But this is too much money," he said to Uncle Toby.
"That's all right, I guess you've earned it," was the reply. "Sitting in a car doing nothing isn't much fun."
The snowflakes kept on sifting down, swirling faster and faster as the automobile started off, the children calling their good-byes to the boy who had watched the car. They had left him much better off than when they first met him, for he had had a good meal and earned some money.
"Sit tight now, everybody!" ordered Uncle Toby, as they left the busier part of the village where they had stopped for a meal, and drew near the open country. "Sit tight, for I'm going to drive faster, and I don't want you falling off the seats."
"What you goin' to drive fast for?" Trouble wanted to know. "Is you goin' to have a race, Uncle Toby?"
"A sort of race, yes, Trouble," was the answer. "I'm going to race and see if we can get home ahead of the big storm that I'm afraid is coming down on us."
"Do you think it will be a very big storm?" asked Ted, and he looked with laughing eyes at Tom.
"I shouldn't wonder," was the answer. "And, though we have a strong car here, we don't want to get stuck in a snow drift and have to stay all night."
"I should think that would be lots of fun," said Tom.
"What? With nothing to eat except a few chocolate cakes Jan and Lola have in a bag?" exclaimed Uncle Toby. "That is if they have any of the cakes left."
"Oh, yes, we have them," Jan hastened to say, for she and her girl chum had bought some just before reaching the restaurant, and had not eaten them.
"Well, that's all we'd have in the way of 'rations,' as the soldiers call them, if we got stuck in the storm," declared Uncle Toby.
"Then we don't want to get stuck," decided Ted, and Tom agreed with him. The boys were fond of eating. Most boys are, I believe.
What Uncle Toby said and feared about the storm seemed to be coming true. Of course the automobile was very far from being caught in any drift, for the snow had not yet begun to pile up very much. But the flakes were coming down thicker and faster, and the wind was beginning to blow. It did not blow inside the cozy car, which was warm and comfortable, so that the boys and girls could unbutton their wraps. But they could hear the wind swishing around outside, and they could see the flakes of snow dashed against the glass windows.
After riding about an hour, the party was out in a country district where the houses were few and far apart. It was rather lonesome, for they went many miles without meeting another automobile. The snow was deeper here, and, more than once, the wheels of the Martin car ran through little piles of white crystals.
"They've had a storm here before this one that's blowing now," said Uncle Toby, as he looked at what were really quite high drifts on some parts of the road. "It may be worse farther on."
"Shall we get stuck?" Ted wanted to know.
"There's no telling," answered Uncle Toby.
Ted and Tom did not want to say they were glad of it, but they were real boys and they felt that they would not a bit mind being caught in a big drift so they would have to dig their way out. They forgot, for the time, about having nothing to eat.
Passing through a small village, which was now thickly covered with snow from the storm that was getting worse and worse all the while, Uncle Toby drove the car once more out in the country. Suddenly he leaned forward and shifted the gear lever.
"What's the matter?" asked Ted.
"I'm going into second speed," was the answer, and the boys knew what this meant. "There's quite a hill ahead of us," Uncle Toby went on. "Though I could take it on high if it wasn't for the snow, I can't do it now. We'll try it on second, and if that won't bring us up we'll have to go back into first speed."
"Shall we get to your house tonight?" asked Jan.
"Oh, yes," answered Uncle Toby. "Don't worry!"
But Jan could not help feeling a bit anxious. She was more worried over what might happen to Trouble than herself, her other brother or her playmates, for they were all older. But Trouble was used to his mother at night.
How he would behave now, away from home for the first time, remained to be seen. Jan wondered what her father and mother were doing now, and she hoped Daddy Martin would not lose that money.
However, her ideas and those of the others were suddenly switched into new places, for the big car gave a lurch to one side and came to a stop with a jolt, awakening Trouble.
"What's matter?" he asked sleepily.
"I am afraid we are stuck," said Uncle Toby.
"There's a big drift right in front of us," announced Ted.
"Yes," agreed Mr. Bardeen. "I thought I could go through it but it's deeper than I had any idea of. No you don't!" he quickly cried as the automobile seemed about to slip backward. He put on both brakes and brought the car to a stop.
"Oh, is anything going to happen?" asked Lola.
"No! No!" laughed Uncle Toby. "Don't be afraid. I didn't change into first speed quickly enough and stalled, or stopped my engine. I'll start up again in a minute. But I guess I'd better put some stones under the wheels, to block them so they won't slide downhill as I start up again with the brakes off."
"We'll get some stones!" cried Ted. "I know how to do that! I often do it for dad on a hill. Come on, Tom!"
The two boys scrambled from the car out into the storm. As the door was opened in came a swirl of white flakes, and Trouble tried to catch them by sticking out his red tongue.
"I guess you'll have hard work to find any stones," said Uncle Toby, looking at Tom and Ted floundering around in the snow. "But it won't be safe to take the brakes off until we get something to block the wheels."
The reason for that was this. The car was now held from sliding backward downhill because Uncle Toby had put on the brakes. But to start up again, even in first or lowest speed, he would have to take off the brakes, and the car might begin to slide down before the engine could begin pulling it up. With stones blocked behind the rear wheels, this would not happen.
"Oh, we'll find some stones!" cried Tom, kicking about in the snow, moving his feet from side to side. Soon he felt something big and hard. Reaching down with his hands, he began clearing away the snow and discovered a stone. But it was frozen fast to the ground, and Tom could not move it.
"I'll help you!" offered Ted, running over to his chum. Ted had not yet found any stone.
As the boys kicked away at the stone, hoping to loosen it, Trouble called out through the crack of the door:
"Is you playin' feetball?"
"It does look like it, doesn't it?" laughed Ted, and then, with a last hard kick, he loosened the stone that Tom had found.
"Good boys!" cried Uncle Toby. "Put it back of the wheels and look for another." He had to stay in the car lest the brakes might slip and let it back down the hill.
Tom and Ted put this one stone behind the left wheel, and then began kicking about in the snow to find another. This time Ted had the luck, finding a larger stone than the one uncovered by his chum.
With hard kicks the two small chaps worked away at the frozen stone. More than once they missed their aim, and they kicked up clouds of snow, making Lola and Janet laugh, Trouble joining in. But at last the second stone was loosened and placed behind the other wheel.
"Now I can take off the brakes and start up the hill," said Uncle Toby. "Hop in, boys!"
Standing on the running board Ted and Tom knocked the snow from their shoes and took their places inside the warm car. They were breathing hard from their labors, and their cheeks were red with the cold, while their coats and caps were covered with snowflakes.
The engine had not stopped running, though it was out of gear. But now Uncle Toby took off the brakes and began to go into first speed, and slowly the car moved up the hill. The snow was very slippery and more than once the hind wheels spun around uselessly.
"I'll put chains on when we get to the top of the hill," said Uncle Toby. "I ought to have done it before."
Slowly the car went up through the storm, the children almost holding their breaths, as if that would help. But finally the summit of the hill was reached and the danger was over for the present.
"Now we can speed up, after I put on the chains," said Uncle Toby, bringing the car to a stop beneath some overhanging evergreen trees that grew on one side of the road. "Ch'is'mus twees," Trouble called them.
But as Mr. Bardeen was getting out Ted uttered a cry of alarm.
"Where's Skyrocket?" he asked.
Then, for the first time, every one noticed that the dog was not in the car.
Where was Skyrocket?