“Goodness!” gasped Bess, pulling back. “Let’s not go in. It’s a bear garden.”
“Why, I don’t understand it,” murmured Nan. “Women and children in the smoker? Whoever heard the like?”
“They’ve turned off the heat in the other two cars and made us all come in here, lady,” explained a little dark-haired and dark-eyed woman who sat in a seat near the door. “They tell us there is not much coal, and they cannot heat so many cars.”
She spoke without complaint, in the tone of resignation so common among the peasantry of Europe, but heard in North America from but two people—the French Canadian and the peon of Mexico. Nan had seen so many of the former people in the Big Woods of Upper Michigan the summer before, that she was sure this poor woman was a “Canuck.” Upon her lap lay a delicate, whimpering, little boy of about two years.
“What is the matter with the poor little fellow, madam?” asked Nan, compassionately.
“With my little Pierre, mademoiselle?” returned the woman.
“Yes,” said Nan.
“He cries for food, mademoiselle,” said the woman simply. “He has eaten nothing since we left the Grand Gap yesterday at three o’clock; except that the good conductor gave us a drink of coffee this morning. And his mother has nothing to give her poor Pierre to eat. It is sad, is it not?”
A SERIOUS PROBLEM
The chums from Tillbury looked at each other in awed amazement. Nothing just like this had ever come to their knowledge before. The healthy desire of a vigorous appetite for food was one thing; but this child’s whimpering need and its mother’s patient endurance of her own lack of food for nearly twenty-four hours, shook the two girls greatly.
“Why, the poor little fellow!” gasped Nan, and sank to her knees to place her cheek against the pale one of the little French boy.
“They—they’re starving!” choked Bess Harley.
The woman seemed astonished by the emotion displayed by these two schoolgirls. She looked from Nan to Bess in rather a frightened way.
“Monsieur, the conductor, say it cannot ver’ well be help’,” she murmured. “It is the snow; it haf overtaken us.”
“It just can be helped!” cried Bess, suddenly, and she whirled and fairly ran forward into the chair car. Nan did not notice her chum’s departure at the moment. The baby had seized her finger and was smiling at her. Such a pretty little fellow, but so weak and ill in appearance.
“Oh, madame!” Nan cried in her best French, “is it not terrible? We may be here for hours.”
“As the good God wills,” said the woman, patiently. “We cannot devise or shape Fate, mademoiselle.”
Nan stood up and shook her head, saying vigorously, and in her own tongue, for she was too much moved to remember Mademoiselle Loro’s teaching: