Read CHAPTER VI - THE LONE SCOUT’S CHRISTMAS of A Little Book for Christmas, free online book, by Cyrus Townsend Brady, on

Wherein is Set Forth the Courage and Resourcefulness of Youth

A Story for Boys

Every boy likes snow on Christmas Day, but there is such a thing as too much of it.  Henry Ives, alone in the long railroad coach, stared out of the clouded windows at the whirling mass of snow with feelings of dismay.  It was the day before Christmas, almost Christmas Eve.  Henry did not feel any too happy, indeed he had hard work to keep down a sob.  His mother had died but a few weeks before and his father, the captain of a freighter on the Great Lakes, had decided, very reluctantly, to send him to his brother who had a big ranch in western Nebraska.

Henry had never seen his uncle or his aunt.  He did not know what kind of people they were.  The loss of his mother had been a terrible blow to him and to be separated from his father had filled his cup of sorrow to the brim.  His father’s work did not end with the close of navigation on the lakes, and he could not get away then although he promised to come and see Henry before the ice broke and traffic was resumed in the spring.

The long journey from the little Ohio town on Lake Erie to western Nebraska had been without mishap.  His uncle’s ranch lay far away from the main line of the railroad on the end of the branch.  There was but one train a day upon it, and that was a mixed train.  The coach in which Henry sat was attached to the end of a long string of freight cars.  Travel was infrequent in that section of the country.  On this day Henry was the only passenger.

The train had been going up-grade for many miles and had just about reached the crest of the divide.  Bucking the snow had become more and more difficult; several times the train had stopped.  Sometimes the engine backed the train some distance to get headway to burst through the drift.  So Henry thought nothing of it when the car came to a gentle stop.

The all-day storm blew from the west and the front windows of the car were covered with snow so he could not see ahead.  Some time before the conductor and rear brakeman had gone forward to help dig the engine out of the drift and they had not come back.

Henry sat in silence for some time watching the whirling snow.  He was sad; even the thought of the gifts of his father and friends in his trunk which stood in the baggage compartment of the car did not cheer him.  More than all the Christmas gifts in the world, he wanted at that time his mother and father and friends.

“It doesn’t look as though it was going to be a very merry Christmas for me,” he said aloud at last, and then feeling a little stiff from having sat still so long he got up and walked to the front of the car.

It was warm and pleasant in the coach.  The Baker heater was going at full blast and Henry noticed that there was plenty of coal.  He tried to see out from the front door; but as he was too prudent to open it and let in the snow and cold he could make out nothing.  The silence rather alarmed him.  The train had never waited so long before.

Then, suddenly, came the thought that something very unusual was wrong.  He must get a look at the train ahead.  He ran back to the rear door, opened it and standing on the leeward side, peered forward.  The engine and freight cars were not there!  All he saw was the deep cut filled nearly to the height of the car with snow.

Henry was of a mechanical turn of mind and he realized that doubtless the coupling had broken.  That was what had happened.  The trainmen had not noticed it and the train had gone on and left the coach.  The break had occurred at the crest of the divide and the train had gone rapidly down hill on the other side.  The amount of snow told the boy that it would not be possible for the train to back up and pick up the car.  He was alone in the wilderness of rolling hills in far western Nebraska.  And this was Christmas Eve!

It was enough to bring despair to any boy’s heart.  But Henry Ives was made of good stuff, he was a first-class Boy Scout and on his scout coat in the trunk were four Merit Badges.  He had the spirit of his father, who had often bucked the November storms on Lake Superior in his great six-hundred-foot freighter, and danger inspired him.

He went back into the car, closed the door, and sat down to think it over.  He had very vague ideas as to how long such a storm would last and how long he might be kept prisoner.  He did not even know just where he was or how far it was to the end of the road and the town where his uncle’s ranch lay.

It was growing dark so he lighted one of the lamps close to the heater and had plenty of light.  In doing so he noticed in the baggage rack a dinner pail.  He remembered that the conductor had told him that his wife had packed that dinner pail and although it did not belong to the boy he felt justified in appropriating it in such circumstances.  It was full of food-eggs, sandwiches, and a bottle of coffee.  He was not very hungry but he ate a sandwich.  He was even getting cheerful about the situation because he had something to do.  It was an adventure.

While he had been eating, the storm had died away.  Now he discovered that it had stopped snowing.  All around him the country was a hilly, rolling prairie.  The cut ran through a hill which seemed to be higher than others in the neighbourhood.  If he could get on top of it he might see where he was.  Although day was ending it was not yet dark and Henry decided upon an exploration.

Now he could not walk on foot in that deep and drifted snow without sinking over his head under ordinary conditions, but his troop had done a great deal of winter work, and strapped alongside of his big, telescope grip were a pair of snow-shoes which he himself had made, and with the use of which he was thoroughly familiar.

“I mustn’t spoil this new suit,” he told himself, so he ran to the baggage-room of the car, opened his trunk, got out his Scout uniform and slipped into it in a jiffy.  “Glad I ran in that ’antelope dressing race,’” he muttered, “but I’ll beat my former record now.”  Over his khaki coat he put on his heavy sweater, then donned his wool cap and gloves, and with his snow-shoes under his arm hurried back to the rear platform.  The snow was on a level with the platform.  It rose higher as the coach reached into the cut.  He saw that he would have to go down some distance before he could turn and attempt the hill.

He had used his snow-shoes many times in play but this was the first time they had ever been of real service to him.  Thrusting his toes into the straps he struck out boldly.

To his delight he got along without the slightest difficulty although he strode with great care.  He gained the level and in ten minutes found himself on the top of the hill, where he could see miles and miles of rolling prairie.  He turned himself slowly about, to get a view of the country.

As his glance swept the horizon, at first it did not fall upon a single, solitary thing except a vast expanse of snow.  There was not a tree even.  The awful loneliness filled him with dismay.  He had about given up when, in the last quarter of the horizon he saw, perhaps a quarter of a mile away, what looked like a fine trickle of blackish smoke that appeared to rise from a shapeless mound that bulged above the monotonous level.

“Smoke means fire, and fire means man,” he said, excitedly.

The sky was rapidly clearing.  A few stars had already appeared.  Remembering what he had learned on camp and trail, he took his bearing by the stars; he did not mean to get lost if he left that hill.  Looking back, he could see the car, the lamp of which sent broad beams of light through the windows across the snow.

Then he plunged down the hill, thanking God in his boyish heart for the snow-shoes and his knowledge of them.

It did not take him long to reach the mound whence the smoke rose.  It was a sod house, he found, built against a sharp knoll, which no doubt formed its rear wall.  The wind had drifted the snow, leaving a half-open way to the door.  Noiselessly the boy slipped down to it, drew his feet from the snow-shoes and knocked.  There was a burst of sound inside.  It made his heart jump, but he was reassured by the fact that the voices were those of children.  What they said he could not make out; but, without further ado, he opened the door and entered.

It was a fairly large room.  There were two beds in it, a stove, a table, a chest of drawers and a few chairs.  From one of the beds three heads stared at him.  As each head was covered with a wool cap, drawn down over the ears, like his own, he could not make out who they were.  There were dishes on the table, but they were empty.  The room was cold, although it was evident that there was still a little fire in the stove.

“Oh!” came from one of the heads in the bed.  “I thought you were my father.  What is your name?”

“My name,” answered the boy, “is Henry Ives.  I was left behind alone in the railroad car about a mile back, and saw the smoke from your house and here I am.”

“Have you brought us anything to burn?” asked the second head.

“Or anything to eat?” questioned the third.

“My name is Mary Wright,” said the first speaker, “and these are my brothers George and Philip.  Father went away yesterday morning with the team, to get some coal and some food.  He went to Kiowa.”

“That’s where I am going,” interrupted Henry.

“Yes,” continued Mary, “I suppose he can’t get back because of the snow.  It’s an awful storm.”

“We haven’t anything to eat, and I don’t know when father will be back,” said George.

“And it’s Christmas Eve,” wailed Philip, who appeared to be about seven.

He set up a howl about this which his brother George, who was about nine, had great difficulty in quieting.

“We put the last shovelful of coal in the stove,” said Mary Wright, “and got into bed to keep warm.”

“I’ll go outside while you get up and dress,” said Henry considerately, “and then we will try and get to the car.  It is warm there, and there is something to eat.”

“You needn’t go,” said the girl; “we are all dressed.”  She threw back the covers and sprang out of bed.  She was very pretty and about Henry’s own age, he discovered, although she was pale and haggard with cold and hunger.

“Goody, goody!” exclaimed little Philip, as his feet landed on the floor.  “Maybe we’ll have some Christmas, too.”

“Maybe we will,” said Henry, smiling at him.  “At least we will have something to eat.”

“Well, let’s start right away then,” urged George.

This brought Henry face to face with a dilemma.  “I have only one pair of snow-shoes,” he said at last, “and you probably don’t know how to use them anyway, and you can’t walk on the snow.”

“I have a sled,” suggested George.

“That won’t do,” said Henry.  “I’ve got to have something that won’t sink in the snow-that will lie flat, so I can draw you along.”

“How about that table?” said the girl.

“Good suggestion,” cried Henry.

It was nothing but a common kitchen table.  He turned it upside down, took his Scout axe from its sheath, knocked the legs off, fastened a piece of clothesline to the butts of two of them.

“Now if I could have something to turn up along the front, so as not to dig into the snow,” he said, “it would be fine.”  He thought a moment.  “Where is that sled of yours, George?”

“Here,” said George, dragging it forth.  The runners curved upwards.  Henry cut them off, in spite of Philip’s protests.  He nailed these runners to the front of the table and stretched rope tightly across them so that he had four up-curves in front of the table.

“Now I want something to stretch on these things, so as to let the sled ride over the snow, instead of digging into it,” he said to the girl.

She brought him her father’s old “slicker.”  Henry cut it into suitable shape and nailed and lashed it securely to the runners and to the table top.  Now he had a flat-bottomed sled with a rising front to it that would serve.  He smiled as he looked at the queer contrivance and said aloud:  “I wish Mr. Lesher could see that!”

“Who is Mr. Lesher?” asked George.

“Oh, he’s my Scoutmaster back in Ohio.  Now come on!”

He opened the door, drew the sled outside, pushed it up on the snow and stepped on it.  It bore his weight perfectly.

“It’s all right,” he cried.  “But it won’t take all three of you at once.”

“I’ll wait,” said Mary, “you take the two boys.”

“Very well,” said Henry.

“You’ll surely come back for me?”

“Surely, and I think it’s mighty brave of you to stay behind.  Now come on, boys,” he said.

Leaving Mary filled with pleasure at such praise, he put the two boys carefully into the sled, stepped into his snow-shoes and dragged them rapidly across the prairie.  It was quite dark now, but the sky was clear and the stars were bright.  The storm had completely stopped.  He remembered the bearings he had taken by the stars, and reached the high hill without difficulty.  Below him lay the car.

Presently he drew up before the platform.  He put the boys in the car, told them to go up to the fire and warm themselves and not to touch anything.  Then he went back for the girl.

“Did you think I was not coming?” he asked as he re-entered the cabin.

“I knew you would come back,” said the girl and it was Henry’s turn to tingle with pride.

He wrapped her up carefully, and fairly ran back to the car.  They found the boys warm and comfortable and greatly excited.

“If we just had a Christmas tree and Santa Claus and something to eat and a drink of water and a place to sleep,” said the youngest boy, “it would be great fun.”

“I am afraid we can’t manage the Christmas tree,” said Henry, “but we can have everything else.”

“Do you mean Santy?”

“Santy too,” answered the boy.  “First of all, we will get something to eat.”

“We haven’t had anything since morning,” said the girl.  Henry divided the sandwiches into three portions.  As it happened, there were three hard-boiled eggs.  He gave one portion to each of his guests.

“You haven’t left any for yourself,” said Mary.

“I ate before I looked for you,” answered Henry, although the one sandwich had by no means satisfied his hunger.

“My, but this is good!” said George.

“Our mother is dead,” said Mary Wright after a pause, “and our father is awful poor.  He has taken out a homestead and we are trying to live on it until he gets it proved up.  We have had a very hard time since mother died.”

“Yes, I know,” said Henry, gravely; “my mother died, too.”

“I wonder what time it is?” asked the girl at last.

Henry pulled out his watch.  “It is after six o’clock,” he said.

“Say,” broke in George, “that’s a funny kind of a uniform you’ve got on.”

“It is a Boy Scout uniform.”

“Oh, is it?” exclaimed George.  “I never saw one before.  I wish I could be a Scout!”

“Maybe you can,” answered Henry.  “I am going to organize a troop when I get to Kiowa.  But now I’m going to fix beds for you.  Of course we are all sleepy after such a hard day.”

He had seen the trainmen lift up the bottoms of the seats and lay them lengthwise of the car.  He did this, and soon made four fairly comfortable beds.  The two nearest the stove he gave to the boys.  He indicated the next one was for Mary, and the one further down toward the middle of the car was for himself.

“You can all go to bed right away,” he said when he had made his preparations.  The two boys decided to accept this advice.  Mary said she would stay up a little longer and talk with Henry.

“You can’t undress,” she said to the two boys.  “You’ll have to sleep as you are.”  She sat down in one of the car seats; Philip knelt down at one knee and George at the other.  The girl, who was barely fifteen had already taken her mother’s place.  She laid her hand on each bent head and listened while one after the other the boys said their prayers.  She kissed them good-night, saw them comfortably laid out on the big cushions with their overcoats for pillows and turned away.

“Say,” began Philip, “you forgot something, Mary.”

“What have I forgotten, dear?”

“Why, it’s Christmas Eve and we must hang up our stockings.”

Mary threw up her hands.  “I am afraid this is too far away for Santa Claus.  He won’t know that we are out here,” she said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Henry, thinking rapidly, “let them hang them up.”

Mary looked at him in surprise.  “They haven’t any to hang up,” she said.  “We can’t take those they’re wearing.”

“You should have thought of that,” wailed Philip, “before you brought us here.”

“I have some extra ones in my bag,” said Henry.  “We will hang them up.”

He opened the bag and brought out three stockings, one for each of his guests.  He fastened them to the baggage racks above the seats and watched the two boys contentedly close their eyes and go to sleep.

“They will be awfully disappointed when they wake up in the morning and do not find anything in them,” said Mary.

“They’re going to find something in them,” said Henry confidently.

He went to the end of the car, opened his trunk and lifted out various packages which had been designed for him.  Of course he was going on sixteen, but there were some things that would do for Philip and plenty of things for George and some good books that he had selected himself that would do for Mary.  Then there were candy and nuts and cakes and oranges galore.  Mary was even more excited than he was as they filled the boys’ stockings and arranged things that were too big to go in them.

“These are your own Christmas gifts, I know,” said the girl, “and you haven’t hung up your stocking.”

“I don’t need to.  I have had my Christmas present.”

“And what is that?”

“A chance to make a merry Christmas for you and your little brothers,” answered Henry, and his heart was light.

“How long do you suppose we will have to stay here?” asked the girl.

“I don’t know.  I suppose they will try to dig us out to-morrow.  Meanwhile we have nuts, oranges, crackers, and little cakes, to say nothing of the candy, to live on.  Now you go to bed and have a good sleep.”

“And what will you do?”

“I’ll stay up for a while and read one of these books and keep the fire going.”

“You are awfully good to us,” said Mary, turning away.  “You are just like a real Santa Claus.”

“We have to help other people-especially people in trouble,” answered the boy.  “It is one of the first Scout rules.  I am really glad I got left behind and found you.  Good-night.”

The girl, whose experience that day had been hard, soon fell asleep with her brothers.  Henry did not feel sleepy at all; he was bright and happy and rejoiced.  This certainly was an adventure.  He wondered what Dick and Joe and Spike and the other fellows of his troop would think when he wrote them about it.  He did not realize that he had saved the lives of the children, who would assuredly have frozen to death in the cabin.

When he was satisfied that Mary was sound asleep, he put some things in her stocking and then piled in the rack over her head two books he thought the girl would like.  It was late when he went to sleep himself, happier than he had dreamed he could be.

He awoke once in the night to replenish the fire, but he was sleeping soundly at seven o’clock in the morning when the door of the car opened and half a dozen men filed in.  They had not made any noise.  Even the big snow-plough tearing open the way from Kiowa had not disturbed the four sleepers.

The first man in was the conductor.  After the trainmen had discovered that the coach had been left behind they had managed to get into Kiowa and had started back at once with the rotary plough to open the road and to rescue the boy.  Henry’s uncle had been in town to meet Henry, and of course the trainmen let him go back with them on the plough.  The third man was Mr. Wright.  He had been caught by the storm and, as he said, the abandoned coach must be near his claim, he asked to be taken along because he was afraid his children would be freezing to death.

The men stopped and surveyed the sleeping boys and girl.  Their glances ranged from the children to the bulging stockings and the pile of Christmas presents in the racks.

“Well, can you beat that?” said the conductor.

“By George!” exclaimed Rancher Ives, “a regular Christmas layout!”

“These are my children safe and well, thank God!” cried Mr. Wright.

“Boy,” said the conductor, laying his hand on Henry’s shoulder, “we came to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Father!” cried Mary Wright, awakened by the voice, and the next minute she was in his arms, while she told him rapidly what Henry had done for them all.

The boys were awake, too, but humanity had no attraction for them.

“Santa has come!” shouted Philip making a dive for his stocking.

“This is your uncle, Jim Ives,” said the conductor to Henry.

“And this is my father,” said Mary in turn.

“I am awfully sorry,” said Henry to the conductor, “but we had to eat your dinner.  And I had to chop up your kitchen table,” he added, turning to Mr. Wright.

“I am glad there was something to eat in the pail,” said one.

“You could have chopped the cabin down,” said the other.

“By George!” said the ranchman proudly.  “I wrote to your father to send you out here and we’d make a man of you, but it seems to me you are a man already,” he continued as Mary Wright poured forth the story of their rescue.

“No, I am not a man,” said Henry to his uncle, as he flushed with pride at the hearty praise of these men.  “I am just a-”

“Just a what?” asked the conductor as the boy hesitated.

“Why, just a Boy Scout,” answered Henry.