OVER THE FELLS
When day dawned, and the snowed-up travellers began to look around them, they found that, though the snow was not descending nearly as heavily as on the night before, the wind was still strong and the weather bitterly cold.
On the windward side of the train the snow had drifted almost up to the window panes, but on the leeward there was considerably less. Looking up and down the line, they could see their train surrounded by its dazzling environment, and the drifts were so high that they had filled the low cutting stretching towards Lowbay level to its top.
The train was an island in a sea of snow.
The Amorians, stiff and cramped with their narrow quarters of the night, dropped off into the snow on the sheltered side and explored as far as the overturned engine, now stark and cold, with wonder and awe.
“Why, we’re like rats in a trap!” exclaimed Gus Todd.
“We’ll have a council of war now,” said Acton, as he saw the driver and his mate floundering towards them, “and then we can see what’s to be done—if anything can be done.”
It seemed the result of the council was to be the decision that there was nothing to be done. To go back to Lowbay, or forward to Lansdale, was plainly impossible, and neither guard nor driver thought they could be ploughed out under two days at the earliest. “And yet,” concluded Acton, “we can’t starve and freeze for two days. Look here, guard, isn’t there a fell farm somewhere hereabouts? I begin to fancy——”
“There’s one over the hills yonder, three or four miles away. Might as well be three hundred, for they’ll never dream of our being snowed up here.”
“Well, but can’t we go to them, if you know the way?”
“That’s just what I don’t know, with all this snow about. The farm is behind that hill somewhere; but I could no more take you there than fly. Besides, who could wade up to their necks in snow for half a mile, let alone three?”
“But the snow won’t be so deep on the fells as in these cuttings.”
“That’s true, I suppose. But get into a drift on the fell—and, Lord, that would be easy enough—you’re done. And there’s becks deep enough to drown a man, and you’ll never see them till you’re up to your chin in their icy waters. I wouldn’t chance it for anything. We mun wait here till we’re dug out, sir, and that’s all about it.”
“Where is that farm, guard? Behind which shoulder of the fell?”
“Look here, Acton,” began Dick Worcester, apprehensively, “I’m hanged if we’re going to let you go groping about for any blessed farm in this storm. We’ll eat the coals in the tender first!”
“Thanks, Dick. Which shoulder, guard?”
The man explained as fully and elaborately as if he might as well talk as think. The shoulder of the fell was noted by Acton exactly and carefully, even to borrowing a compass pendant off Todd’s historic watch—chain.