The goats had already scattered and were nibbling tufts of wet grass, when the two children crawled out from under the rock. Leneli's dress was quite muddy where the rain had come through the crack and poured down her neck, and she was twisting herself round, trying to see the extent of the damage, when suddenly there was a terrific roar and rumble as if the thunder had begun all over again, though the sky was blue and clear. Crash followed crash, and there was a sound of great rocks falling from dizzy mountain-heights far above them.
The children clung to each other in terror, the goats trembled, and Bello crept farther under the rock. "The avalanche!" gasped Leneli, shaking with fright. "Father thought there wouldn't be any more this spring! Oh, I wish we were home!"
Far down the mountain-side there were sounds of mighty trees being torn up by the roots and of rocks broken from the cliffs and bounding from ledge to ledge.
It seemed as if the whole world were being torn to pieces. At last the terrible roar ceased and a terrible silence settled over the mountains. The children knew well the awful dangers of the avalanche. Ever since they could remember they had heard stories of travelers buried alive under masses of snow and ice, and of whole villages swept away, or so covered with stones, trees, and, earth that not a sign of them was ever seen again.
Their first thought was of their mother.
"Oh," shuddered Leneli, "do you suppose our house was in the path of it?"
Seppi thought a moment; then he said soberly, "No, that couldn't be, for there is a wide hollow between our farm and the mountain-slope that would have to be filled first. I'm quite sure no avalanche could possibly carry the house away."
"Father—Fritz," sobbed Leneli.
"They are far round on the other side of the mountain by this time," said Seppi, "where the sun has not yet had so much chance to melt the snow and start avalanches. They could not have been harmed by this one, for it fell on our side of the mountain."
"Let us start home anyway," said Leneli, "even if it is early. I can't wait until night to know that Mother and Baby Roseli are safe."
"We ought to keep the goats up here eating all day," objected Seppi, "or they won't give any milk to-night."
"They may not give much anyway," answered Leneli, "because they've been so frightened, but we will let them go slowly and they can get a bite here and there as they go."
She took up her alpenstock, a long stick which she always carried with her, hung the little bundle of lunch, tied up in a cloth, from the end of it, put the stick over her shoulder, and, calling Bello, began at once to herd the goats together.
Seppi followed her a little doubtfully, and soon they were all on their way down the steep mountain path. The sun was now shining again as brilliantly as ever; the white clouds were floating lazily across the deep blue sky, and it did not seem as if anything unusual could possibly have happened.
Seppi's conscience troubled him. "It was only a thunder-storm after all," he said to Leneli, "and the avalanche is past and gone. It can't do any more harm. I'm afraid Father wouldn't like us to give up and go home now. He might think we were no better than babies to be so scared when we know we aren't hurt."
Leneli did not answer, but she kept right on going, and for a time they trudged along in silence. They had reached the Giant Pine where the trails divided, and had rounded a bend in the path, when Bello, who was a little way ahead with the goats, suddenly set up a furious barking.
"It's that Nanni, I do not doubt," said Seppi. "She's probably trying to break her neck somewhere." He dashed ahead and disappeared around a high rock, Leneli following him at a slower pace.
In a moment Seppi came running back to her, his face pale with surprise and alarm. "It isn't Nanni," he gasped, "it's the avalanche! It's all across the pass! We can't get by."
He seized his sister's hand and dragged her to the top of the rock which overlooked the pass, and there they gazed in dismay at the scene before them. Where that morning the procession from the village had so gayly followed the winding trail up the mountain-side, there was now a great mass of rocks, ice, and snow completely blocking the path. Worse than that, the avalanche had made a dam across the bed of the mountain stream where the cattle stopped to drink, turning it into a little lake which was growing wider and deeper every moment. The goats were huddled together on the brink, bleating anxiously, while Bello, completely bewildered, ran back and forth, barking wildly.
The children knew well how serious their situation was; they were alone on the mountain, the only pass to the village closed, and without food except the lunch they had brought from home that morning. For a few moments they watched the water rising steadily in the little lake, too terrified to speak; then Leneli said, "Let's go back to the Giant Pine and think."
Seppi blew his little horn, but, instead of rounding up the goats, Bello only looked at him and whined. It had been a day of tremendous surprises to Bello. First Fritz had left him; then came the thunder-storm; then starting home in the middle of the day instead of at the proper time; and now the path itself was gone! No wonder he was bewildered. Seppi dashed down to the water's edge and drove the goats up the trail again himself, and while they snatched stray mouthfuls here and there about the pine tree, he and Leneli sat down under it to think.
"We can't get home that way; that's certain," said Seppi, pointing to the buried pass.
"And we can't stay here either," moaned Leneli; "not if there is a way out in any direction."
"There's the path Father and Fritz took this morning," said Seppi. "We might try that. It must go somewhere."
"Perhaps that is blocked too," said Leneli.
"I'll go a little way and see," said Seppi. "You stay here and watch the goats."
"Give me your horn, then," said Leneli, "and I'll blow it every little while so you can find your way back. You know Father always tells us not to leave the path because it's so easy to get lost."
"That's a good idea," said Seppi. "See if you can blow it."
Leneli put it to her lips and blew until her face was purple, but achieved only a dismal squawk.
"I'll keep the horn myself," said Seppi, taking it from her, "and every little while I'll blow it. You can answer by blowing on a grass stem the way you did up yonder. Girls can't manage a horn anyway."
Leneli was too miserable to reply, and in another minute Seppi had disappeared up the strange path. For what seemed to her a very long time, Leneli answered the horn, as it grew fainter and fainter in the distance. Finally she could not hear it at all.
"Oh, what shall I do if Seppi's gone too?" she moaned when her desperate signals brought no answer.
Then her Mother's words came back to her, and, plumping herself down on her knees among the goats, she sent up a fervent prayer.
"Oh, dear God," she cried, clasping her hands, "Mother said we should be very close to you on the mountain and I suppose you can see me and Seppi both at the same time, from where you are. Please, please send him back for I'm scared. Dear God, do please hurry and help us find the way down the mountain before it gets dark and you have to go away to watch the other side of the world. Amen."
She rose from her knees and listened. Far away there came the sound of Seppi's horn. "Oh, thank you, God! There he comes!" she dried joyfully, and, snatching a grass-blade, she put it between her thumbs and gave an answering blast.
Soon Seppi himself came bounding into sight. "Come along," he shouted, waving his hand frantically toward the path, and Leneli at once called Bello, and together they started the goats. "The avalanche must have begun on the other side of our pass," said Seppi when Leneli caught up with him. "There's no sign of it on this side."
"Maybe if we follow far enough we'll find Father and Fritz," said Leneli, brightening.
"I thought of that, too," answered Seppi, "but if there is any way to get down the mountain, I think we ought to do it on Mother's account. Father and Fritz won't know about it, so they won't be anxious, but if we don't get home Mother will think we are killed."
"Oh, I wish we could fly," said Leneli.
"Then we must wish for wings on the goats too," said Seppi, "for you know Father said we must take care of them whatever happens."
Sad and frightened though she was, Leneli giggled a little at that. "Wouldn't they look funny flying through the air with you and me and Bello all flopping after them?" she said. "Anyway, they might go a little faster than they do now," she added impatiently, giving Nanni a poke with her stick.
"They are hungry," said Seppi. "They hardly had time to eat anything before the storm came up."
Then a bright idea came into his head. "I'm hungry, too," he said, "and so are you. Let's eat our lunch while the goats get a few mouthfuls among the rocks, and then we shall all have more strength and shall get along faster."