"Just hear him toot!" cried Jan, putting her hands over her ears, for the automobile was now quite close to the train stuck in the big snow drift. The drift was much deeper here than at any other point along the railroad, because the narrow cut between the high rocks held the white flakes tightly packed.
"Sounds as if it was calling us," said Lola.
"I believe it is!" exclaimed Ted, as the toots of the whistle kept up. "Do you s'pose he could want us to help him, Uncle Toby?"
"How could an auto pull a stalled train out of a snowdrift?" asked Tom.
"Course we couldn't pull the train," admitted Ted. "But we could sort of—now—do something, couldn't we, Uncle Toby?" he asked.
"I believe we could, and I think that is what the engineer is trying to signal us for," was the answer. "I know this railroad cut. It is a bad place in a storm. Often trains have been stuck here for days. The engine would ram its pilot, or cowcatcher, into a drift, then snow would pile up behind the last car and the train couldn't go ahead or back up."
"Maybe that's happened now!" exclaimed Lola.
"I shouldn't be a bit surprised," said Uncle Toby.
"But what do the passengers do when the train is stuck, like this one is now?" Tom wanted to know.
"Oh, sometimes they get out and walk, as it isn't very far to the station. Or if they have something to eat, and can keep warm in the cars, they stay there until men come with shovels to dig out the train. I guess that's what this engineer wants me for—to go on to the station and have a gang of men sent to dig out his train. We'll soon find out," Uncle Toby remarked.
The automobile road ran close to the tracks and near the deep cut which was filled with snow. The storm was getting worse, but on the level there was not yet enough snow to have stopped a train. It was only in the cut that the drift was deep enough for this.
Uncle Toby stopped the automobile as near the stalled train as he could go, and waited. Soon the engineer and a man with gold braid on his cap came floundering through the deep snow at the side of the train until they were within calling distance of Uncle Toby, who opened the car door to listen.
"Could you oblige us by going to the next station and having the telegraph operator send word to headquarters that we're stalled?" asked the man with the gold braid on his cap. He was the conductor of the train.
"Yes, I'll do that for you," said Uncle Toby. "I thought you were whistling for help," he added to the engineer.
"That's what I was," came the answer. "I saw you just in time. 'Tisn't often that an auto has to come to the help of a steam engine, but it happened this time," he added, with a smile. “Thank you very much, Mr. --
"Oh, I’m sorry,” said Uncle Toby. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Toby Bardeen from Pocono and these are the Curlytops and their playmates, at your service. Is there anything else we can do for you?" asked Uncle Toby, as he prepared to start off again. The station was a little out of his way, but he didn't mind that.
"Well, I’ll be," replied the conductor slowly. "We haven't many passengers on board, and I expect, they will be all right. But, I do have a little brother and sister in my charge that concern me a bit. The way it is now we'll hardly get there tonight, or anyhow, not until late, and they are traveling alone. They expect to be met at Pocono by—let me see—I have his name here somewhere," and he began searching among the papers in his pocket. "The children are in my charge," he went on. "Their mother had to go to a hospital and—"
"She did?" cried Uncle Toby so suddenly that the engineer and conductor looked at him in surprise. "This is quite unexpected. I believe you may find the name on that paper you search for might just be mine, Toby Bardeen?" went on the old sailor.
"Why, yes, that's is the name. I have it here on a piece of paper," said the conductor. "This is quite unexpected, but very much welcome. I was beginning to worry for the dear little children."
"And to be sure, the children are Harry and Mary Benton?" went on Uncle Toby.
"Those are indeed their names," the conductor admitted.
"I didn't expect Mary and Harry for nearly a week", continued Uncle Toby.
"Well, the society that gave them in my charge, to see that they got safely to Pocono and to Mr. Bardeen, told me their mother had to go to the hospital sooner than she expected," reported the conductor. "I was going to telegraph you when I got to the next station to make sure you'd be on hand. They said—that is, the lady of the Fresh Air Society said she'd written you to expect the children earlier."
"Well, I didn't get the letter, because I left home to go to visit the Curlytops," said Uncle Toby. "However, it's all right now. I'll take the children right into the auto with me and soon have them home. It's lucky I met you."
"Very lucky, indeed!" agreed the conductor. "I'll go back and get the children ready for you. Poor little things, they're quite sad and forlorn. What with their father missing and their mother having to go to the hospital."
"Yes," agreed Uncle Toby. "I used to know their mother many years ago, but I haven't seen her for some time. She and the Fresh Air Society requested my help. I thought the Curlytops were just the bunch to help out too."
"If you'll drive along the road, around the cut, to the rear of the train, the snow won't be so deep for the children," said the engineer. "I'll help you carry them out," he added to the conductor.
The rocky cut, in which the train was stuck in the snow drift, was about twice as long as the engine and cars, and in front of the cut, as well as behind it, the snow was not very deep, though it was getting deeper all the while as the white flakes came sifting down faster.
Uncle Toby started the automobile again, going to the rear of the train, as near to it as he could get. A little later the conductor and engineer came tramping through the drifts, each man carrying a child, the conductor with the girl and the engineer with the boy. The children were so wrapped up in shawls that it could scarcely be told which was the boy and which was the girl.
"There you are, my dear!" said the conductor, as he set his passenger down inside the automobile.
"And one more!" added the kind-faced but grimy engineer, putting the little boy in next to his sister.
"Is this Pocono?" the boy asked freeing himself from the shawl that wrapped him. "The lady said we weren't to get out except at Pocono."
"And we want Uncle Toby," added the girl.
"Bless your hearts, I'm Uncle Toby!" cried Mr. Bardeen. "This isn't exactly Pocono, but you'd never get there tonight if you stayed on that train. I'm going to take you off and drive you to my home in Pocono in this auto. See, here are the Curlytops and some other playmates for you," for now the two strangers could see the Curlytops and their friends, Tom and Lola.
"Curlytops!" exclaimed Harry Benton, wonderingly.
"It's on account of our hair," explained Ted, taking off his cap.
"Oh, I see!" laughed Mary. "It's lovely hair! I wish mine curled."
"I'm glad mine doesn't," her brother exclaimed. "It's too hard to comb."
"It is hard," admitted Jan, while Trouble stared open-mouthed at the new playmates.
"Is he a Curlytop, too?" asked Mary, looking at Baby William.
"He belongs to the family, but his hair doesn't curl," said Uncle Toby, with a laugh. "But now that I have you children safe in here I'd better be going," he added. "I'll tell the telegraph operator to send you help as soon as he can," he added to the engineer and the conductor, who started back to the stalled train.
"Please do," begged the conductor. "We'd like to get dug out of here before night."
"Isn't it lovely in here, Harry?" asked Mary Benton, looking around inside the comfortable automobile.
"I should say so!" he exclaimed. "I never was in a car like this before."
The two children were poor—one need but look at their clothes to see this. But they were clean and neat.
"And, oh, look! A dog!" cried Harry.
"That's Skyrocket! He likes you," said Ted, for the dog, after sniffing at the two new playmates, wagged his tail in friendly fashion.
"I like him!" said Harry.
"And, oh, look at the kitten!" cried Mary, reaching her hand down to pat the little bunch of fur that was purring on the seat between Lola and Jan.
"Uncle Toby just found it in the woods," Jan explained.
"What's its name?" asked Mary.
"We haven't named it yet," Ted answered. "Skyrocket saw it up a tree and barked."
"I think Fluff would be a nice name for the kitty," said Mary. "He's such a fluffy ball of fur."
"Oh, that would be a lovely name!" cried Lola. "Why don't you call it that?"
"I guess we will. You may name the kitten Fluff, Mary, and it'll be part your cat."
"Oh, how nice!" murmured the poor little girl. "I never had even part of a cat before."
"Uncle Toby has a cat and his name is Snuff!" said Trouble. "An' he's got a monkey and a parrot!"
Mary and Harry looked as though they did not know whether or not to believe this. Seeing the doubt on their faces Ted exclaimed:
"That's right! Uncle Toby has a lot of pets out at his place, and we're going to take them to Crystal Lake with us, aren't we, Uncle Toby?"
"Oh, I guess if we take your dog that will be enough," chuckled the old sailor. "The others will be better off in Pocono. But you'll have a chance to see them," he added to the new children, noticing how disappointed they looked. Then Harry and Mary smiled.
"Well, I must be getting on if I'm going to send help to the people on the stalled train," remarked Uncle Toby, as he turned the automobile around. "And then we'll go on to Pocono. Aunt Sallie will be getting anxious about us."
"Is Aunt Sallie a monkey or a parrot?" Harry asked.
"Neither one!" answered Uncle Toby, with a laugh, in which the Curlytops joined. "She's my housekeeper; and she'll go with us to Crystal Lake for the holidays."
"What will you do with your pets?" asked Ted.
"I'll get someone to look after them. I haven't as many as when you Curlytops played circus with them. But there's enough. Too many, so Aunt Sallie thinks."
It was not a very long ride to the station from where word could be sent that help was needed by the stalled train. The agent promised to telegraph for snow shovelers at once.
Uncle Toby was about to drive on again when Janet stopped him by saying:
"Maybe the station agent could give us a little milk for the kitty."
"Maybe he could," agreed the old sailor. "I'll ask him."
As it happened, the agent kept a cat in the station on account of the mice, and that day he had brought a little milk for his pet—more milk than Choo-Choo, as he called his cat, wanted.
"I'll give you some for your kitty," said the agent, after he had telegraphed for the snow shovelers.
I wish you could have seen Fluff lap up the milk, which was warmed for him and put in a saucer on the floor of the automobile. He was hungry—was the little stray kitten that had come down out of the evergreen tree—and his little sides seemed to swell out like balloons as he lapped up every drop of milk.
"I hope your cat Choo-Choo won't get hungry," said Jan, as the last of the milk disappeared.
"I can get him some more," said the agent. "Anyhow, he isn't as hungry as your kitty was."
"Good-bye!" called Uncle Toby, as he started off once more. "I hope the stalled passengers will soon be shoveled out."
"I guess they will be," the agent said.
It was almost dark when the big automobile reached the village of Pocono where Uncle Toby lived.
"Now we'll soon be snug and warm," he told the children. "I have more of a load than when I started, but I'm glad I found you two," he said to Mary and Harry. "You're going to have a good time with my Curlytops."
Harry and Mary, who had never had much of a good time in all their lives, were beginning to be happy. They had been very small when their father went off to war—they hardly remembered him, in fact. Mr. Benton need not have gone, had he wished to stay at home, for he could have been excused, or have done some other war work than fighting. But he was a brave man and wanted to do his best for his country. So he had gone to France. After awhile he was missing, and though his wife was helped by her friends and by the government, still she had hard work to get along and there was not much money with which to give Mary and Harry good times. But happier days were ahead of them.
"There's Uncle Toby's house!" cried Ted, as the automobile turned into the driveway.
"Oh, but something has happened!" exclaimed Jan. "Look! There's a crowd out in front!"
And surely enough, a throng of people could be seen standing in the dusk and storm in front of Uncle Toby's home.