“Will we ever forget it?” groaned Nan.
“I don’t care!” exclaimed Bess. “You can’t have a bite of what I buy, Laura Polk!” and she marched away to the lunch counter and spent most of her remaining pocket money on greasy pies, decrepit sandwiches, soggy “pound-cake” and crullers that might have been used with success as car-seat springs!
The train was late in arriving at Freeling. It rumbled into the station covered with snow, its pilot showing how it had ploughed through the drifts. The girls were separated at once, for Nan’s seat and her chum’s were in one car, while the girls bound Chicago-ward had a section in another.
Nan and Bess would be in their berths and asleep when their car should be switched to the southern line to be picked up by the other train at the Junction. So they bade their friends good-bye at once and, after a false start or two, the heavy train blundered into the night and the storm, and Freeling was left behind.
The train did not move rapidly. A few miles out of Freeling it became stalled for a while. But a huge snow-plow came to the rescue at this point and piloted the train clear into the Junction.
The sleeping-car porter wanted to make up the girls’ berths at the usual hour—nine o’clock. But Nan begged hard for more time and Bess treated him to a generous lunch from the supply she had bought at Freeling. Afterwards she admitted she was sorry she was so reckless with the commissary.
Just now, however, neither Bess nor Nan worried about supplies for what Laura Polk called “the inner girl.” Through the window they saw the drifts piling up along the right of way, wherever the lamps revealed them; country stations darkened and almost buried under the white mantle; and the steadily driving snow itself that slanted earthward—a curtain that shut out of sight all objects a few yards beyond the car windows.
“My! this is dreadful,” murmured Bess, when the train halted again for the drifts to be shoveled out of a cot. “When do you s’pose we’ll ever get home?”
“Not at eight o’clock in the morning,” Nan announced promptly. “That’s sure. I don’t know just how many miles it is—and I never could tell anything about one of these railroad time-tables.”
“Laura says she can read a menu card in a French restaurant more easily,” chuckled Bess. “I wonder how their train is getting on?”
“I’m so selfishly worried about our own train that I’m not thinking of them,” admitted Nan. “There! we’ve started again.”
But the train puffed on for only a short distance and then “snubbed” its nose into another snow-bank. The wheels of the locomotive clogged, the flues filled with snow, the wet fuel all but extinguished the fire. Before the engineer could back the heavy train, the snow swirled in behind it and built a drift over the platform of the rear coach. The train was completely stalled.
This happened after eleven o’clock and while they were between stations. It was a lonely and rugged country, and even farm-houses were far apart. The train was about midway between stations, the distance from one to the other being some twenty miles. The weight of the snow had already broken down long stretches of telegraph and telephone wires. No aid for the snow-bound train and passengers could be obtained.