A STALLED TRAIN
For a few moments the children could scarcely believe that Skyrocket was not in the automobile with them. Janet and Lola had been so busy watching the boys kick loose the stones, and Ted and Tom had been so occupied in this work, that none of them had paid much attention to the dog. Uncle Toby had also watched the boys, and as for Trouble, catching an occasional snowflake on his tongue gave him so much to do that he did not look after Skyrocket.
"But where is our dog?" asked Ted, when it became certain that the pet was not in the car.
"Maybe he's under the seat asleep," suggested Lola.
They looked, but Skyrocket was not there.
"He must have jumped out when the door was open," said Tom.
"I'll go back and look for him," offered Ted. He made a move to leave the car, but Uncle Toby stopped him.
"If any one goes back after that dog, I'm going!" said the old sailor, for that is what Uncle Toby had once been. "The snow is too deep for your legs," he added, looking at Ted's short ones. "And you two lads have already done work enough in getting the stones to block the wheels. You know how fond I am of pets, so I'll go back and get Skyrocket. I suppose he's looking for us all this while."
"You'll be sure to get him, won't you, Uncle Toby?" asked Jan.
"Of course I will; unless he's gone full speed ahead back home, and I don't believe he has. Now you children stay here in this car until I come back. And don't go outside. It's snowing harder and it is getting colder. So stay inside."
The Curlytops and their playmates promised to do this, and then Uncle Toby stepped out into the storm. He turned up his coat collar and tramped off through the drifts, which were, each moment, getting deeper and deeper. So fast was the snow coming down now that he could hardly see the marks left by the wheels where he had driven up the hill.
The children looked out through the back window in the automobile and watched Uncle Toby. He was soon out of sight below the top of the hill, and all that Ted and the others could see was the cloud of swirling flakes of white.
"I—I hope he finds Skyrocket," faltered Janet.
"I hope so, too," added Ted.
"He sure is a good dog!" declared Tom.
Then all the Curlytops could do was to wait for Uncle Toby to come back.
Meanwhile the old sailor was trudging back through the storm, going down the hill up which he had lately driven the big car.
"It's easy now," thought Uncle Toby to himself, "but it won't be so easy going back. I'll have the wind in my face and I'll have to go uphill. But never mind! We'll have jolly good times—the children and I—when we get to my cabin out at the Lake."
As he walked along through the storm Uncle Toby looked on each side of the road for a sight of Skyrocket. But he did not see the dog. Nor was there any answering bark in reply to the shrill whistles uttered by Uncle Toby.
"Here, Sky! Here, Skyrocket!" the old sailor would call every now and then, but no dog appeared.
"He must have jumped out away back where I stalled the car," thought Uncle Toby. "Poor dog! He'll freeze if he has to stay out all night. And I don't know what I'll do with those children if I don't find their pet for them. Skyrocket, where are you?"
On and on went Uncle Toby, through the whirling snow. He was almost back to where the car had stopped when suddenly he heard a series of barks off to one side of the road, in a clump of trees.
"That sounds like him!" exclaimed the sailor. "Hello there, Skyrocket!" he cried.
The barking became louder. Uncle Toby floundered through the drifts, off the road and over toward the clump of evergreen trees. As he neared them a dog came dashing out, capering about in the fluffy drifts.
"Hello, Skyrocket! I've found you all right!" said Uncle Toby. "But what in the world are you doing back here? What made you jump out of the car?"
All the answer Skyrocket made was to bark. He leaped about Uncle Toby and seemed very glad to see him. But when the man started back toward the road, thinking the dog would follow, Skyrocket only barked more loudly and raced back toward the clump of trees.
"What's the matter? Is there some other dog back there you'd rather play with than come to the Curlytops?" asked the old sailor. "What's the idea?"
Skyrocket acted in such a queer way that Uncle Toby turned back to see what the matter was. And this was just what the wise dog seemed to want, for he wagged his tail joyfully and raced back ahead of Uncle Toby.
When the old sailor reached the clump of trees, under the heavy branches of which the snow was not so thick, he heard a faint mewing sound.
"Bless my heart! A kitten!" cried Uncle Toby.
And a kitten it was! A dear, cute, little kitten, half way up one of the trees, cuddled down in the thick, green branches.
"Well, no wonder you didn't want to come back and leave this poor little kitten here in the cold and storm," said kind Uncle Toby. "You're a good dog, Skyrocket!"
At this Skyrocket wagged his tail harder than ever, so it seemed a wonder that it did not fly off, and his throat must have ached with all the barking he did.
The kitten mewed and stood up when it saw Uncle Toby. It did not appear to be afraid of Skyrocket, who was capering around on the ground under the tree.
"I'll get you down and take you back with me," said the old sailor. "Come on, kitty! I don't know where I am going to get any milk to give you until we get to my place in Pocono. But I guess you'll stand it until then. I wonder how you got out here in the woods all alone?"
There was no way of finding this out, and there was no house near from which the little kitten might have wandered. Uncle Toby had an idea it might have been lost out of some car in which some children, like the Curlytops, had been riding. Then the little animal wandered into the clump of evergreens for shelter, and Skyrocket had trailed it there. The dog had probably discovered the kitten as he was racing around after he had slipped out of the car, unseen by the children or Uncle Toby.
"But you'll be all right now," said the kind old sailor. "Come to me, kitty!"
The kitten arched its back, seeming glad of a chance to stretch after being cramped on the limb. Reaching up, Uncle Toby lifted it down and put it snugly in the pocket of his big overcoat.
"Well, I wonder if you'll come back with me now?" asked Uncle Toby of Skyrocket, when the kitten had been rescued.
Skyrocket seemed very willing, for he no longer hung back, but followed with joyful barks and waggings of his tail as Uncle Toby strode through the storm with the kitten he had rescued.
It was hard work tramping back up the hill through the storm and drifts of snow with the wind blowing in his face, but the old sailor managed it, and soon the Curlytops and their friends, who had been anxiously watching through the back window, saw him looming into view.
"Here comes Uncle Toby!" cried Jan, who was the first to spy him.
"Has he got Skyrocket?" asked Ted.
"Yes, I see him!" said Tom. "He's got your dog all right."
A little later Uncle Toby was knocking the snow off his shoes on the running board of the car, and soon he was safely inside with the dog.
"Where was he?" Ted wanted to know. "What were you doing back there, Skyrocket?" he asked his pet.
"He was guarding this," said Uncle Toby, and out of his pocket came the little kitten.
"Oh! Oh!" murmured Lola. "Isn't it a darling!"
"How cute! Oh, what a dear!" exclaimed Jan.
"My kitten! Mine!" cried Trouble, always ready to claim any new pet he saw.
"Did you really find it?" asked Tom, as Jan took the kitten into her lap while she and Lola rubbed it, Trouble getting an occasional finger or two on the soft fur.
"Skyrocket found it, and I got it down out of the tree," explained the old sailor, with a laugh. "Now I guess we can move along again. I wish we had some milk for you," he went on, looking at the little cat. "But we'll be home before dark—if we have good luck," he added, as he glanced out into the storm.
Once again the automobile started, with a new passenger on board. Skyrocket was used to cats, and after he had taken part in the rescue of the kitten he paid no more attention to it but curled up and went to sleep. As for the kitten, it did not seem to mind the dog in the least.
"I guess it isn't very hungry, Uncle Toby," said Jan in a low voice, after they had ridden several miles. "See, it's going to sleep."
And the little kitten, with eyes closed, was curled contentedly in her lap.
Uncle Toby's main thought now was to drive as fast as he could with safety, so he would get the children to his home in Pocono before the storm grew any worse and before night came.
Once in his house at Pocono they could remain until the weather cleared before going out to the cabin at Crystal Lake to spend the holidays.
They passed through a small town, and Jan suggested they might stop and get some milk for the kitten, which had awakened, and was mewing a little.
"I think we'd better not stop now," said Mr. Bardeen. "It is better for the kitten to be a little hungry for a time than for us to get stuck in the snow with night coming on. We'd all be hungry then. We'll soon be home."
They came to a railroad track, almost hidden under the snow, and Uncle Toby stopped the automobile, and, opening the door a little way, seemed to be listening.
"What's the matter?" asked Ted.
"I wanted to hear if the train was coming," was the answer. "One is due here about now, and I didn't want to cross the tracks if it was too near. But I guess it's late on account of the storm. It will be safe to cross."
He drove over the tracks and was just speeding up again when they all heard a distant whistle.
"There's the train!" exclaimed Tom.
Then came several more whistles, long toots and short toots in such a queer combination that they all knew something must be the matter.
"Maybe there's been an accident," said Ted.
"Maybe," agreed Uncle Toby. "But I think that the train is stuck in a deep cut not far from here. The cut may be filled with snow so the train can't get through. It's probably stalled there."
"Will anybody be hurt?" asked Janet.
"No, only delayed for a while. Men will come with shovels to dig out the train. We can soon see what has happened, for the auto road passes near the railroad cut."
A little later they saw that what Uncle Toby had guessed at had come to pass. The children saw a passenger train with the front part of the engine buried deep in a pile of snow that filled a cut between two rocky hills on either side of the track.
As the automobile came in sight of the train the engineer blew several more shrill whistles, waking up Skyrocket, who began to bark loudly.