Alone in a Blizzard
B ILL did not eat any supper. The deep dull ache of his broken leg was almost unbearable. Several times he reached for a piece of wood to put on the dying fire. Each time the effort made him groan with pain.
"It's no use," he said to himself, "I can't do it."
He tried to go to sleep again. He was sure that he could not. But in the morning the first light of day crept in through the windows of the dugout and fell on the golden curly hair of a sleeping boy.
When Bill awakened, he was feeling better. The pain in his leg was still severe, but he was hungry.
"That's a good sign," he said, laughing a little as he eased himself to the edge of the bunk. "I'll start a fire and cook breakfast."
He had to be careful so as not to move his leg. It took him a long time to build the fire and to cook his breakfast.
"Dave certainly put everything I need within reach," he said to himself. "I hope he doesn't have a hard trip. He said that it would take him about twenty days to make the trip, but I wonder how many days it will really take him to do it."
Slowly the days and nights dragged on. Bill kept a record of the days by cutting a notch in a stick for each day. He spent most of his time reading the books which he had brought with him on the trip.
One morning, Bill was awakened by the touch of a hand on his shoulder.
"Dave!" he exclaimed, "are you—?" The words died on his lips.
Bending over him was an Indian brave. Four other warriors stood at the foot of his bunk. All were in full war paint. Quivers filled with arrows hung at their left sides and each carried a long bow and a tomahawk. The feathers of their war bonnets almost touched the roof of the dugout.
Bill held his breath. Then slowly he pulled himself to a sitting position.
"Why are you here?" he demanded.
The warriors stood silent and motionless.
The door opened and other warriors entered the little room. They crowded around the bunk. The braves talked together in low voices.
Bill leaned forward. "They are Sioux," he said to himself.
"We wait for chief," said a brave, "then we kill white boy."
"I will not let them know that I understand their language," Bill said to himself. "I, too, will wait for chief."
Suddenly from outside came the sounds of galloping horses and a Sioux war whoop. The braves rushed to the door and shouted to the Indians on horseback. The horses were reined in by the door of the dugout. Then there was silence.
A tall, dignified old chief entered the dugout and gave an order. Instantly the braves by Bill's bunk moved aside. Their chief strode toward Bill.
"Rain-in-the-Face," smiled Bill to himself. "I am in luck." But his smile disappeared when he looked into the cold eyes of the old chief.
"We take food and guns from white boy," said the chief without taking his eyes off Bill. "We go."
"No," spoke up a brave. "We kill white boy. See long yellow hair. Make nice scalp."
The chief shrugged his shoulders.
"Chief Rain-in-the-Face, don't you remember me?" asked Bill.
"You speak Sioux?" exclaimed the chief.
"Yes," nodded Bill. "Don't you remember me?"
"Your son is my friend. I am Bill Cody."
"I don't know you," said the chief coldly.
"I met your son at Fort Laramie," explained Bill. "We are good friends. I have many friends among your young braves."
"I remember now," said the chief. "You here alone?"
"Yes," answered Bill. "I broke my leg." He pointed to the bandaged leg and continued, "you would not kill a boy who is unable to defend himself. You are a Sioux chief."
"My braves say we kill white boy."
"They will obey your orders. You are their chief."
Chief Rain-in-the-Face turned to his braves and said, "We not kill white boy."
The braves protested.
"Silence!" thundered the chief. "We not kill white boy," he repeated. "We take food and guns."
"If you take my food I will starve to death," broke in Bill. "You may as well kill me as to do that."
"I spare your life," said the chief. "I leave some meat. That is all. Give me your guns."
Bill made no move to obey the chief's order.
"Give me your guns!"
Bill turned back the blankets on his bunk and slowly uncovered the brace of revolvers and his rifle. He handed them to the chief.
"Ugh," grunted the chief. He gave Bill's rifle to a brave. "Fine guns," he nodded as he buckled Bill's brace of revolvers around his waist. Then without another word he turned, signaled to his braves, and left the dugout.
Silently Bill watched the Indians take his food, matches, ammunition, and some of his clothes. When they had taken everything they wanted they left the dugout, mounted their horses, and rode away.
"Now, what am I going to do?" Bill asked himself. "They didn't leave me enough meat to last a week. And I'll have to keep the fire going day and night for I have no matches. How many days has Dave been gone?" he asked reaching for the stick. "Eleven days. This is the twelfth," he added, and cut another notch in the stick. "That means eight more days before I can expect Dave back."
Two days later a heavy snowstorm swept over Prairie Creek. It snowed all day. Great drifts covered the windows and blocked the doorway. The wind blew the snow through the cracks of the dugout. The snow made the firewood wet and Bill had a difficult time trying to keep the fire going.
"This is bad," he said to himself. "I don't know how long this storm will last. It will delay Dave's return. He may not be able to get back at all. I thought the first days and nights would never come to an end but now—"
The storm stopped almost as quickly as it had begun. The howl of the wind died down. Once more the howls of the hungry wolves filled the night air.
Thirteen days, fourteen, fifteen, and then at last the twentieth day came. Bill was awake early. All day he listened for a sound that would tell him that Dave had returned. Slowly the long hours passed. Night came on and the only sounds were the howls of the wolves.
Bill was desperate. He was sick from hunger and worn out from loss of sleep.
"I could stand this," he said clenching his teeth, "if I only knew that Dave was all right. But I am afraid that something terrible has happened to him. He might be dead—frozen to death in this storm."
Twenty-five days, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight days passed. And each day was a day of torture. The meat was gone and only a little wood was left for his fire.
"Twenty-nine days," said Bill as he cut another notch in the stick. Suddenly, he stiffened. The stick fell from his hands. "I thought I heard someone," he said aloud.
"Hello, Bill," called a voice from outside.
"Dave!" shouted Bill. "Dave, are you really there?"
"Sure," Dave's laughing voice answered. "Are you all right, Bill?"
"I am fine," called Bill. He leaned back in his bunk and drew a deep breath. "I am fine—now."
"As soon as I clear the snow away from the door I'll be in," called Dave. "Get the fire going. I'm almost frozen."
Bill threw on the last of the wood. He had a big fire blazing by the time Dave flung open the door and rushed into the dugout.
"I am glad to see you," laughed Bill. "I was almost sure that you would never make it."
"So was I," grinned Dave holding his hands out to the warmth of the fire. "But how did you get along by yourself, Bill?"
"I'll tell you later. First, I want to hear about your trip."
Dave pulled a box over by the fireplace and sat down. "Well," he began, "I had a tough trip. I was caught in the blizzard and delayed three days. The trails were covered with snow. The drifts made it almost impossible to travel. Some days I walked less than five miles because of the deep snow.
"But here I am," he laughed, "and we'll start for home as soon as we can. The old settler was very kind to me. He sold me a yoke of oxen. And he wants us to spend a few days at his cabin on our way back home."
The boys laughed and talked for hours. Bill told about his unexpected visit from Rain-in-the-Face and how the old chief had spared his life but had taken his guns. He told how the braves had taken most of his food and all of his matches. He told how he had to stay awake day and night to keep his fire burning.
"I was all right until the day of the blizzard," said Bill. "But I knew that you were out in it and from then on I have been worrying about you, Dave. I'll never forget what you have done for me. You risked your life to save mine."
"Forget it, Bill."
"But you did, Dave. You made a round trip on foot of two hundred and fifty miles to get help for me. Few men could have made the trip through that blizzard; and I'll never forget it."
Dave laughed. "It's a good thing that I brought some food back with me. The settler's wife insisted
that I bring it to you. I didn't want to take it, but at that time I didn't know that you were going to give all our food to the Indians."
A few days later they started on the long trip back to Bill's home. Their furs were loaded in the wagon and Bill was lying on a bed inside the wagon. Dave drove the oxen.
"How many furs do we have?" asked Bill.
"Three hundred beaver skins," answered Dave, "and one hundred otter skins. We will sell them in Leavenworth and we will each make several hundred dollars."
"Good!" exclaimed Bill. "It wasn't such a bad trip after all, was it?
"It was a fine trip," grinned Dave.
On the way they stopped at the old settler's cabin and stayed several days. They gave the settler twenty-five beaver skins to pay for the oxen. Then they said good-by to the settler and his family and headed for Leavenworth.
Ten days later they reached Bill's home. Bill told his mother and sisters how Dave had saved his life.
That night Mrs. Cody said to Dave, "I know your mother and father are dead and that you have no real home. I want you to make your home with US.
"Thank you," smiled Dave. "I shall be happy to make my home here with the Cody family."
A few weeks later Dave became ill. Mrs. Cody sent Bill for the doctor. But, in spite of the medical attention and Mrs. Cody's constant nursing care, Dave grew steadily worse. Day and night for a week, Bill remained at Dave's bedside. He refused to believe that his friend would not get well. But early one morning Dave died.
"He was my friend, Mother," said Bill as he struggled to keep back the tears. "Dave was a real plainsman and I shall miss him."
1. What did Mrs. Cody say when Bill told her that he was to be a scout?
2. What were Bill and Dave's plans for the winter?
3. How did Bill save Dave's life?
4. Why were they forced to change their plans?
5. How was Bill able to care for himself alone in the dugout?
6. How did he keep count of the days?
7. Who was the Indian chief who spared Bill's life?
8. What do you think would have happened if the chief had been Yellow Hand?
9. Tell all you can about Dave's trip to get the oxen from the settler.