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Harper's New Monthly Magazine, No. XXIII.—April, 1852.—Vol. IV. online

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HARPER'S NEW MONTHLY ***




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HARPER'S

NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.

No. XXIII.-APRIL, 1852. - VOL. IV.




RODOLPHUS. - A FRANCONIA STORY.

BY JACOB ABBOTT.




CHAPTER II.


I. THE SNOW-SHOES.

As soon as Martha had gone, Ellen began to make such preparations as she
thought necessary for the night. She placed the furniture of the room in
order. She brought in some wood from the back room and laid it down very
gently by the side of the fire, so as to have a sufficient supply of
fuel at hand. She also brought the water pail and put it under the seat
of the settle, in order that the water might not freeze, and by means of
a long-handled tin dipper she filled the tea kettle full, in order that
there might be an ample supply of hot water, should any occasion occur
requiring any. She then brought a small blanket and held it to the fire,
and when it was very thoroughly warm, she put it very gently under the
counterpane, around her aunt's feet, fearing that her feet might be
cold. In fact they were very cold. Ellen extinguished the lamp, too, and
put it away upon her table near the window, lest the light of it should
shine upon her aunt's eyes and disturb her sleep. The light of the fire
was sufficient to illuminate the room. The light of the fire, too,
seemed more cheerful to Ellen than that of the lamp. It flashed brightly
upon the walls and ceiling, and diffused a broad and genial glow all
over the floor.

Ellen made all these arrangements in the most quiet and noiseless manner
possible. During all the time her aunt lay silent and motionless, as if
in a profound slumber.

After Ellen had extinguished the lamp, she paused a moment, looking
around the room to see if there was any thing which she had forgotten.
She could not think of any thing else to do, and so she concluded to sit
down and watch by her aunt until Martha should return.

She took a cushion from a great rocking chair which stood in a corner of
the room, and put it down upon the bear skin rug. She then sat down upon
the cushion and laid her head upon the pillow by the side of her aunt.
She then gently took her aunt's hand and laid it upon her cheek, in the
position in which her aunt herself had placed it, when Ellen had laid
her head down there before. She looked timidly into her aunt's face as
she did this, to see whether any signs that she was awake could be
observed. The eyes of the patient opened a very little, and a faint
smile lighted up her pale features for a moment, and Ellen thought that
she could perceive a gentle pressure upon her cheek from her aunt's
hand. In a moment, however, both the hand and the face returned to their
state of repose, as before.

Ellen remained quiet in this position a few minutes, looking into the
fire, and wondering when Martha would come back, when she felt something
gently touching her upon the shoulder. She looked round and found that
it was Lutie climbing up upon her. Lutie had jumped up from the floor to
the couch, and had crept along to where Ellen was lying, and was now
cautiously stepping over upon her.

"Ah, Lutie," said she. "Is it you? It is time for you to go to bed."

Lutie's bed was out in the back room. There was no door leading from the
room where Ellen was, directly into the back room. It was necessary to
go into a sort of entry first, and from this entry into the back room by
a separate door. All this may be clearly understood by referring to the
plan.

It happened, however, that there was an old window in the partition
between the great room and the back room. The reason why this window was
in the partition was this. The house was first built without any back
room, and then the window on that side looked out upon the yard. When at
last the back room was built, the window was rendered useless, but it
was not closed up. There was a curtain over it, and this curtain was
always left drawn. The back room was used for storage of various things,
and for rough and heavy work on extraordinary occasions.

Lutie's bed was in a box in a corner of this room. The place is marked L
in the plan. The bed was made of carpets and was very warm. Lutie was
always put out there every night at nine o'clock. She was not allowed to
remain at the fireside all night, lest she should do some damage to the
various things which were placed there on cold nights to keep them warm.
Lutie was accustomed to remain quietly in her bed until Martha got up in
the morning. She always knew when Martha got up, however early it might
be, for she could see the glow of the fire which Martha made, shining
through the old window in the partition between the rooms. When Lutie
saw this light she would go to the window, jump up upon the sill
outside, and mew for Martha to let her in.

Although it was not yet nine o'clock, and though Ellen would have liked
Lutie's company as long as she remained alone with her aunt, she thought
she would put her out.

"I may fall asleep myself," said she, "and then you will creep along
upon Aunt Anne, and disturb her. So you must go, Lutie."

She accordingly took up the kitten and carried her out. When she opened
the door into the entry, she saw quite a little drift of snow, which had
blown in under the edge of the door from the outer platform.

"Ah, it is a cold and stormy night," said she, "but you must get into
bed as soon as you can, and get warm."

Ellen stopped a moment to listen to the sound of the storm, as it howled
and roared among the trees of the forest, and then went back again to
her place at the fireside.

She moved her cushion and rug to the foot of the couch, and then
bringing a pillow from the bedroom, she put it upon the couch, at the
foot of it, so that she could sit upon the cushion, and lay her head
upon her own pillow, without any danger of incommoding or disturbing her
aunt. She then sat down and laid her head upon this pillow, with her
face toward the fire. She determined, however, though she thus laid her
head down, not to go to sleep, but to keep awake, if she possibly could,
until Martha or Hugh should return.

She did go to sleep, however, notwithstanding all her resolution. She
was asleep in fifteen minutes after she had laid her head down.

[Illustration: ELLEN ASLEEP.]

Lutie fell asleep too, very soon, in her bed in the back room, and
Ellen's aunt was asleep, so that all were asleep. There was no one
watching or awake in all the house.

Ellen slept several hours. In the mean time the wind and storm raged
more and more violently without, and the snow fell from the skies and
was driven along the ground faster and faster. Great drifts formed upon
the roofs and around the chimneys; and below, the yards, the fences, the
woodpiles were all covered. Great banks of snow were formed too, behind
the house, in the whirling eddy produced by the wind in turning round
the corner. One of these banks rose gradually up against the windows on
that side. At ten o'clock the whole lower sash of each window was
covered; at half past ten the snow had risen half way up the upper sash,
and at eleven one window was entirely concealed, while only a little
corner of the other was left, and even that was fast disappearing. The
bucket in the well was filled, and the snow was banked up against the
sides of the curb, till at last the crest of the drift began to curl
over at the top, as if seeking to bury up the well entirely. The fences
were all hidden from view, and a cart which had been left standing in
the corner of the yard, was so entirely covered, that nothing remained
but a white and shapeless mound to mark the place where it lay buried.

At last Ellen opened her eyes again. She was at first frightened to find
that she had been asleep. She feared that some mischief might have
happened, while she had been insensible. The fire had burned entirely
down, and the room was almost dark. Ellen threw on a small stick of wood
to make a little blaze, and by the light of this blaze she looked at her
aunt. She was lying, she found, in the same posture as when Ellen went
to sleep. Ellen put her ear down to listen, and found that her aunt was
breathing - very gently, indeed - but still breathing.

Ellen looked at the clock; for there was a large clock standing in a
corner of the room. It was twelve.

"It is midnight," said Ellen; "I did not think it was so late."

Ellen next put some large sticks of wood upon the fire. The room, she
thought, was getting cold. The wood was dry and it blazed up very
cheerfully and illuminated the whole apartment with a very cheerful
light. Lutie saw the light shining through the curtain, and she supposed
that it was morning, and that Martha had built the fire. So she
stretched her paws and rubbed her face, and then after listening a
moment to the sound of the storm, she stepped over the side of the box
where her bed was made, walked to the window, leaped up upon the
window-sill, and mewed, according to her usual custom, expecting that
Martha would come to let her in.

Ellen went and opened the window for Lutie. Then she went back again to
the fire. She stood at the fire a minute or two, and then went to the
front window of the room, to look out; she wondered what could have
become of Martha. She listened at the window. The storm was roaring
dreadfully down the valley, but nothing could be seen. The panes of
glass were half covered with the snow, which was banked up upon the sash
on the outside. Ellen concluded that she would go to the door, where
she thought that perhaps she might see a little way down the road, and
if she could not see, at least she could listen. So she put a shawl over
her shoulders and went out into the porch. She shut the door leading
from the porch into the room, and then unlatched the porch-door which
opened to the outer air.

As she opened the door a great bank of snow which had been piled up on
the outside of it, fell in about her feet. Ellen stepped back a little,
and then, standing still, she looked out into the storm and listened.
She had not listened long before she thought she heard a distant cry. It
came from down the road. She listened again. There came a blustering
blast of wind which rocked the trees, whirled the snow in her face,
roared in the chimneys over her head, and for a moment drowned all other
sounds. When this had passed, Ellen listened again. She was sure that
she heard a distant cry.

"It is my father and mother!" she exclaimed; "they are out in the
storm!"

Ellen's aunt had taught her to be collected and composed in all sudden
and alarming emergencies, and always to take time to consider calmly
what to do, however urgent the case might be. She stood for a moment,
therefore, quietly where she was, and then determined to go and wake her
aunt, and tell her what she had heard, and ask her what she had better
do.

She tried to shut the door but she could not. The snow that had fallen
in prevented its closing. So she left it open and went through the porch
to the inner door, and so back into the room, taking care to shut the
inner door as soon as possible after she had passed through.

She went to the couch, and kneeling down before it, she put her hand
softly upon her aunt's cheek and said, speaking in a low and gentle
tone,

"Aunt! - Aunt Anne!"

There was no answer.

"Aunt Anne!" she repeated. "Wake up a moment; - I want to speak to you a
moment."

There was still no answer. Ellen looked at her aunt's pale and beautiful
face for a moment, in doubt whether to speak to her again; and then she
determined to give up the attempt to awaken her, and to decide herself
what to do.

After a little reflection she concluded that she would go, a little way
at least, and see if she could learn what the cries were that she heard.
She accordingly went to a closet in her aunt's bedroom, and took down a
cloak which was hanging there, and also a warm quilted hood. These she
put on. She then went into the back room and got a pair of snow-shoes
which hung against the wall there. She carried these snow-shoes into the
porch, and put them down upon the floor.[1]

[Footnote 1: Snow-shoes are of an oval form and large and flat. They are
made of basket-work or of leather straps braided together. They are worn
by being fastened to the soles of the feet, and prevent the feet from
sinking down into the snow.]

"Now," said she, "I will get the horn." The horn which she referred to
was made of tin. It was kept hanging upon a nail near the back-door, and
was used for calling Hugh to dinner, when he was far away from the
house. It was very hard to blow for one who was not accustomed to it,
but when it was blown skillfully it could be heard a great way.

Ellen took down the horn from its nail, and went back into the porch.
She fastened the snow shoes to her feet, and drawing the cloak around
her, she sallied out into the storm.

She could scarcely see where to go. The wind blew the snow in her face,
and every thing was so covered that all the usual landmarks were
concealed from view. The snow was very light, but the snow-shoes
prevented her from sinking into it. She walked on toward the road,
without however knowing exactly on what course she was going. In fact,
in coming out of the yard, she inclined so far to the left, in her
bewilderment, that instead of going out at the gateway, she passed over
a corner of the fence, without knowing it - fence and gateway being both
alike deeply buried in the snow.

[Illustration: THE SNOW SHOES.]

As soon as Ellen found that she was in the road, she stopped, and
turning her back to the wind, blew a long and loud blast with her horn.
She then immediately paused to listen, in order that she might hear if
there should be any reply. She heard a reply. It sounded like one or two
voices calling together. The voices were shrill. As soon as the response
ceased, Ellen blew her horn again.

There was a second response - louder than the preceding one. Ellen was
very much pleased to find that her signals were heard, and she
immediately began to walk on down the road, in the direction from which
the sounds had proceeded.

One makes but a slow and laborious progress when walking upon
snow-shoes. It is true that the shoes do not sink far into the snow, but
they sink a little, and they are so large and unwieldy that it is quite
difficult to walk upon them. Besides, the snow-shoes which Ellen wore
were too large for her. They were made for a man. Still Ellen advanced
without any serious difficulty, though she was obliged to stop now and
then to rest. Whenever she stopped she would blow her horn again, and
listen for the response. The response always came, and it became louder
and louder the farther she proceeded down the valley.

At length Ellen arrived at the place from which the cries that she had
heard proceeded. She found there a horse and sleigh almost buried in the
snow, with her mother and Rodolphus in the sleigh. It would be hard to
say which was most astonished, Ellen, to find her mother and Rodolphus
in such a situation, or Mrs. Linn, at finding Ellen coming to their
rescue.

"Why, mother!" exclaimed Ellen; "is this you?"

"Why, Ellen!" said her mother; "is it possible that this is you?"

"Why, mother!" said Ellen, more and more astonished; "did you undertake
to come up in all this storm alone, with only Rodolphus?"

"No," said her mother, "Hugh came with us. We have been four hours
getting so far as here, and when Hugh found that we could not get any
further, he left us and went away alone to get some help."

"And you are almost frozen to death, I suppose," said Ellen.

"No," said her mother, "we are not very cold; we are well wrapped up in
buffalo robes, and the bottom of the sleigh is filled with straw."
Rodolphus peeped out from beneath the mass of coverings with which he
was enveloped, unharmed, but yet pale with anxiety and terror, though
now overjoyed at seeing Ellen.

"But I don't see now what we are to do, to get home," said Ellen. "There
is only one pair of snow-shoes, and there are three of us to go."

"We must go one at a time, then," said Rodolphus.

"But when one has gone, how can we get the snow-shoes back?" asked
Ellen.

"I don't know, I am sure," said Mrs. Linn. "I don't know what we shall
do."

"Why did not father come with you?" asked Ellen, despondingly.

"He was gone away," said her mother. "We waited for him a long time, but
he did not come, and so Hugh said that he would leave his team in the
village for the night, and come with me. But he went away some time ago,
and I don't know what can have become of him."

While this consultation had been going on, the storm had continued to
rage around them in all its fury. The track behind the sleigh had been
wholly obliterated, the horse was half-buried, and the snow was fast
rising all around the sleigh and threatening before long to overwhelm
the party entirely. They were entirely at a loss to know what to do. So
they paused a moment in their perplexity, and during the pause, Ellen
thought that she heard another cry.

"Hark!" said she.

They all listened as well as the howling of the wind around them would
allow them to listen. It was certainly a distant shout that they heard.

"Yes," said Ellen.

"It must be Hugh," said her mother.

Ellen raised the horn to her lips, and blew a long and loud blast,
turning the horn as she did so, in the direction of the voice. They all
listened after the sound of the horn had ceased, and heard a reply.

"Yes," said Ellen, "it must be Hugh. I will go down to him on my
snow-shoes."

"No," said Rodolphus, "you must not go and leave us here alone."

"Yes," said Ellen, "I will go. I can give him the snow-shoes and then he
can go and get some help for us."

Rodolphus declared that Ellen should not go, and began to scream and cry
in order to compel his mother to prevent her, but his mother said
nothing, and Ellen went away. She said, as she went,

"I will blow the horn now and then, mother, and as long as you hear it,
you will know that I am safe."

Ellen went toiling on down the road, stopping every few minutes to blow
her horn, and to listen to the responses of the voice. She soon found
that she was rapidly drawing near to the place whence the sound
proceeded. She perceived that the voice was that of a man. She had no
doubt that it was Hugh, and that he had lost his way, and was calling
for help. She still felt great anxiety, however, for she did not see, if
it should prove to be Hugh, what he could do with only one pair of
snow-shoes for four, to extricate such a party from their perilous
condition. She thought of her aunt, too, lying sick and alone upon her
couch, and of the distress and anxiety which she supposed the helpless
patient would feel, if she should wake up and find that both Martha and
Ellen had gone away, and left her, sick as she was, in absolute
solitude.

She, however, pressed diligently forward, and at length found herself
drawing nearer and nearer to the voice. Presently she began to see a
dark mass lying helplessly in the snow just before her.

"Hugh," said she, "are you here?"

"I am here," replied the voice, "but it is not Hugh."

"Why, Antonio, is it you?" said Ellen. She had recognized Antonio's
voice. "How came you to be here?"

"How came _you_ to be here, is the question, I think?" rejoined Antonio.

"I have got snow-shoes." said Ellen. "I heard cries and I came out to
see. My mother and Rodolphus are up the road a little way, in a sleigh,
and the snow is covering them over very fast. I'll blow my horn for
them."

Here Ellen blew another long and loud blast with her horn, and
immediately afterward she heard the distant call of her mother and of
Rodolphus answering it together.

"All right," said Antonio, "they answer. Now the first thing to do is
to get up to them. Give me the snow-shoes, and I think I can carry you
right along."

"Oh, no," said Ellen, "I am too heavy."

"Let us try," said Antonio. So saying he climbed up out of the snow, as
well as he could, and put on the snow-shoes. They were very easily put
on. Antonio found that the snow-shoes bore him up completely, but Ellen
had sunk down into the drift when she was deprived of them. Antonio,
however, soon raised her again, and took her in his arms. Enveloped as
she was in her cloak, she made a rather large looking load, though she
was not very heavy. Still it was difficult to carry even a light load,
walking with such shoes, on such a yielding surface, and in such a
storm. Antonio was obliged to stop very often to rest and to take
breath. At such times, Ellen would blow her horn, and listen for the
answer. Thus they gradually got back safely to the sleigh.

As they had thus come up the hill, Antonio, in the intervals of his
conversation with Ellen, had determined on the course which he would
pursue. He knew that there was a snow-sled at Mr. Randon's house; that
is, a hand sled made light and with the shoes of the runners very broad
and flat. By means of this construction, the sled had, like the
snow-shoes, the property of not sinking much in the snow. Antonio
determined to go himself up to the house on the snow-shoes - leaving
Ellen with Rodolphus and her mother in the sleigh - and get this sled,
and he hoped, by means of it, to draw them all up safely one by one. The
poor horse, he thought, would have to be left in the drifts to die.

Antonio's plan succeeded completely. He put Ellen under the buffalo
robes in the sleigh and covered her entirely in, except that he allowed
one little opening on one side for the horn, which he advised her to
blow from time to time, as it might possibly help Hugh to find his way
back to them. He then left the party in the sleigh, and was soon lost
from view. He went toiling up the hill to the house. He walked into the
yard. He groped his way to the barns and sheds, but the doors were all
blocked up with snow, so that he could not get them open. He, however,
contrived to climb up upon a roof, and by that means to get into a barn
window. He left his snow-shoes on the scaffold, and then groped his way
down in the dark to the place where Ellen had told him that the
snow-sled was kept. Every thing was in such perfect order that he met
with no difficulty on the way. He found the sled, and carrying it back
to the barn window, he contrived to heave it out there, throwing the
snow-shoes out after it.

He followed himself, descending as he had ascended, by the roof of the
shed. As soon as he got into the road, he mounted upon his sled, and
guiding himself by the sound of the horn, which he heard from time to
time, and by the dark forms of the firs which grew upon the sides of the
road, he slid quite rapidly down to the sleigh. To his great relief and
joy he found that Hugh was there.

It proved that Hugh had lost his way, and he would, perhaps, have
perished had he not heard the sound of the horn. The horn attracted his
attention just as he was about giving up in despair. He supposed that
the sound came from some farmer's house, where the people were, for some
reason or other, blowing a horn. He succeeded at last in making his way
to the place from which the sound proceeded, and was greatly astonished
to find himself back at the sleigh.

Antonio took Hugh home first. Each took the snow-shoes by turns and drew
the other on the sled. When they reached the house, Antonio left Hugh
there, and returned himself, for the others. The second time he took
Rodolphus, the third time, Ellen. Their mother insisted on being left to
the last. By the time that the party were all safely conveyed to the
house, Hugh had got the barn-doors open, and had brought out a yoke of
oxen, with a lantern and shovels. He then took the snow-shoes from
Antonio, and putting them upon his own feet, he walked on, to mark the
way, while Antonio followed with the oxen. Antonio was, however, obliged
to go behind the oxen in driving them, so as to walk in the path which
they had broken. The snow was up to the sides of the oxen all the way,
and in some places they came to drifts so deep, that Antonio and Hugh
were obliged to shovel the snow away for a long time, before the oxen
could get through. At length, however, they reached the place where the
horse and sleigh had become foundered. The horse was nearly exhausted
with fatigue and cold. Hugh and Antonio trod down and shoveled away the



Online LibraryVariousHarper's New Monthly Magazine, No. XXIII.—April, 1852.—Vol. IV. → online text (page 1 of 33)