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Ned's Snow House, A True Story

 

Little Ned Bancroft stood by the window, and as he looked at the fast-falling snow and the sidewalks deeply covered, he thought, "What a fine time I shall have this afternoon shovelling snow, for it is Friday, and I shall have no lesson to learn!"

His mamma then called to him, "Come, Ned, it is nearly nine o'clock; you must start for school."

So off he trudged, delighted with the idea of battling the storm, his feet well protected with high rubber boots, and his hands covered with warm mittens made by his loving grandmamma.

Ned was an only child, the pride of his papa and mamma, and the great pet of aunties and uncles. As for grandmamma, she never tired of kissing his sweet round little face.

Not long after he had gone to school it stopped snowing, and men with large shovels were seen in the streets, pulling the door-bells, and asking, "Want your snow shovelled?"

Mrs. Bancroft engaged one of these men, and ordered him, before cleaning the sidewalk, to clear up the back yard by shovelling the snow into a pile in one corner, as Jane wanted to hang out the clothes.

When Ned came home to lunch, he saw with delight the great mound of snow the man had made, and he resolved to make a house in it when school was over.

His aunt Lou, who lived in New York, came in on her way to grandmamma's while Ned and his mamma were eating their lunch, and Ned heard auntie ask his mother to go with her, and mamma consented, and he heard her say, "I will not get home before six o'clock." How well he remembered this remark, some hours afterward, we shall see, but at the moment he paid little heed to it, as his mind was full of the afternoon's sport. He kissed them good-by as he left the table, and was soon back at school, which was only a few blocks off.

Ned was only ten years old, but his mother had taught him to be careful with his books and toys, and put them in their proper places when he had done with them.

When school was out he ran home, put his spelling-book on the shelf in his little room, took out his shovel from the box where he kept his playthings, and went into the yard.

He began to work immediately, digging out a hole in the bottom of the pile of snow, which was to be his house. His shovel was small, and it took a long while to make a place large enough to creep into. But he enjoyed the sport, tossing each shovelful of snow as high as he could, and across the yard.

For a short time he had a companion, Eva Roslyn, a little girl who lived next door, who peeped through a crack in the fence, and could just see him at work.

"Didn't I throw that shovelful high, Eva?" he called out.

"Oh, I can hardly see you," said Eva. "I wish you would cut this hole larger, Ned."

"I will some day," replied Ned. "But run and ask your mother to let you come in here and help me dig out my house."

"Well," said Eva, and went in-doors, and up stairs to her mamma, whom she found in the parlor talking with a lady who had brought her little girl to play with Eva.

Eva and her friend were soon busy with their dolls and baby-house, and poor Ned was entirely forgotten. He had by this time made his house just large enough to allow him to get inside. He said to himself, "I will try it myself before Eva comes," and bending his head quite low, crept into the hole.

The stooping position was very uncomfortable, and he thought, "I must make my house higher inside," and moved slightly backward, intending to get out. Suddenly he found himself unable to stir, and entirely surrounded with darkness: his house had caved in, and the poor boy was deeply buried in the snow.

The brave little fellow, although terribly frightened, began at once to consider what was best for him to do. He thought there were three ways in which he might get released from his imprisonment. He had seen the clothes hanging on the lines; Jane would come out to take them down, and when she did, he would call to her for help. If she didn't hear him, then—oh, how well he remembered the hour!—mamma would be home at six o'clock. He knew she always closed her blinds before lighting the gas; he would call to her as loud as he could, and she might hear him. But he began to wonder a little how long should he have to wait. If neither Jane nor mamma heard him, he must then wait for papa, who would surely not sit down to dinner without searching for his little son. He thought of Eva, but didn't expect any assistance from her, because he knew when she came to the door and didn't see him in the yard she would return home.

Then he happened to remember what his teacher had told the class in school that very day—that any one would soon smother to death unless he could have fresh air to breathe, and he thought, "I shall soon use all the air in here. If I could only make a little hole to let in some fresh air from outside!" He felt very tightly packed in, his chin resting on his knees, and his back almost bent double. He tried so hard to change his position, but could at first only move backward and forward the fingers of his right hand; this he continued to do until he could slightly move his arm. He worked with it until at last he felt the cold air blowing upon his hand. How cold it felt! but he kept it outside, making as much motion with it as he could, hoping Jane would see it when she came out for the clothes, and wondering what it was, would come to his relief.

But he found it impossible to hold his little hand out long, for it began to ache and grow stiff; so he pulled it in, and comforted himself with the ray of light that came through the hole, and the thought of the fresh air he now had to breathe.

He hadn't once called out loudly for help, as most boys would naturally have done, for, as we have seen, he was thoughtful as well as brave, and knew that if he cried out now, when no one was near, he might not have any strength left to call to Jane when she came out, or to his mother when she opened the window.

How slowly the time passed! The small ray of light was getting dim, his courage began to fail, when the sound of an opening door came to his ears. It must be Jane, he thought, and his heart beat faster with hope.

Out she came, singing loudly,

"'Now, Rory, be aisy,' sweet Kathleen would cry,
Reproof on her lip, but a smile in her eye,"

and poor little Ned's smothered voice was not heard as he called, "Jane! Jane! come and help me; I'm under the snow!"

It seemed to him but a minute before all was still again; the clothes were taken from the line, and Jane was back in her warm kitchen, without a thought of suffering Ned.

One of his three hopes had failed, but Ned took courage. It must be nearly six now, for hardly any light was coming in through the hole, and mamma would soon open the window to close the blinds. How still he kept, listening for every sound! and at last his heart gave a thump.

"Surely that was the window opening." Not a second did he lose. "Mamma! mamma! I'm here under the snow; do come here!" he called, with all his strength, over and over again. It is no wonder that the tears began to fall thick and fast from Ned's eyes as the window closed, and the dreadful still darkness was around him, and the hope of making mamma hear him lost.

Now he had only to wait for papa, and our little hero stopped his sobs, fearing he might lose one sound of those expected welcome steps. He would try to be as patient as possible, not a doubt entering his mind of papa's finding him.

Mrs. Bancroft had come home, and after taking off her cloak and bonnet, as usual closed her blinds, entirely unconscious of the little voice appealing to her for help. She thought her boy was sitting in the library learning his lesson, or was perhaps listening to one of Jane's Irish stories in the kitchen, Jane being very fond of him: she had been his nurse when he was a baby. Yet mamma was rather surprised that Ned had not run up stairs to see her after the long afternoon's absence.

She went down stairs to meet Mr. Bancroft, whom she heard opening the front door; they walked together into the library, papa saying, "Where's Ned?"

"He must be in the kitchen," said Mrs. Bancroft. "I've not seen him since I came home at six o'clock."

Mr. Bancroft went into the hall, calling aloud, "Ned, where are you?"

How joyfully would Ned have answered could he have heard papa's dear cheerful voice!

There was no response, and Mrs. Bancroft rang the library bell. "Jane, send Master Ned up stairs," she said, as Jane made her appearance.

"Sure I've not seen him the whole afternoon, ma'am."

Mrs. Bancroft looked at her husband with an alarmed face, saying, "Where can the child be? He never staid out so late before."

After searching every room in the house, they went to the front door, looking in vain up and down the street. Mr. Bancroft then went to the houses of several neighbors whose little boys had often played with Ned, but none had seen him since school-time.

The parents were now truly frightened, for Ned had never been in the habit of going anywhere without permission; but now they thought he must have strayed away, and some accident befallen him.

"Oh, Edward," said Mrs. Bancroft, the tears falling from her eyes, "what shall we do to find our boy?"

Dreading to alarm her, Mr. Bancroft didn't mention his fears, but with a heavy heart put on his hat, and again went into the street, his wife returning to the library convulsed with sobs.

Where could he go but to the nearest station-house, thought Ned's anxious father, and started thither; but when he reached the corner of the street he turned round again, disliking the idea of going far from the house where it was most natural to see the boy.

"I will go back and examine his playthings. He has always been an orderly child. I can easily tell whether he has used any of them this afternoon."

Once more he entered the door, and went directly to Ned's room. The spelling-book was in its place, but his overcoat and hat were not to be found. The box of playthings was next examined. It was open, showing Ned had been there, and his little shovel was missing.

Why he immediately went into the yard, Mr. Bancroft could afterward never tell. It must have been a good fairy that led him to the back door, where he stood a few seconds looking out into the darkness, longing for a sight of the little face which always welcomed him home.

It must have been the same fairy that moved him to walk to the back of the yard, where a black spot in the snow attracted his attention. His heart gave a leap: it was Ned's shovel. And what was that faint moaning sound that came to his ears? Was Eva in any distress in the next yard? He listened.

"Papa! oh, papa! I'm here, under the snow!"

"Ned, my boy, where are you?"

"Here, papa, under the snow."

With the same little shovel the father now worked with all his might, cheering his child by the continued sound of his voice, saying, "Papa will take you out in a minute. Be a brave boy. Papa will soon get you."

Mrs. Bancroft, who was waiting in-doors, heard, as she thought, persons talking in the yard, and opened the library window, when her husband called to her: "Send some one here to help me! Be quick; Ned is here under the snow."

Jane overheard, and rushed out with her coal shovel, and began to dig with the strength and energy of a man, and crying, "Me darlint, me darlint, is it here ye are?"

When at last the brave little fellow felt the loving arms of his father tight about him, he simply whispered, "Oh, papa, I'm so glad you came!"

Can any of my young readers imagine with what happiness both father and mother kissed and hugged their cold and stiff little darling? They carried him with gentle hands into the house, and hurriedly sent Jane for the doctor, as poor Ned was now quite exhausted.

When old Dr. Gray looked down at the child he said little, but with a serious face administered stimulants, and with his own hands assisted in rubbing back life into the almost frozen body of our young hero.

If Ned had been many minutes longer buried in the snow, this story could never have had such a cheerful ending.