Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Ice Queen, by Ernest Ingersoll - Full Text




Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1884, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

All rights reserved.


Chapter I.

The early dusk of a December day was fast changing into darkness as three of the young people with whose adventures this story is concerned trudged briskly homeward.
The day was a bright one, and Aleck, the oldest, who was a skilled workman in the brass foundry, although scarcely eighteen years of age, had given himself a half-holiday in order to take Kate and The Youngster on a long skating expedition down to the lighthouse. Kate was his sister, two years younger than he, and The Youngster was a brother whose twelfth birthday this was.
The little fellow never had had so much fun in one afternoon, he thought, and maintained stoutly that he scarcely felt tired at all. The ice had been in splendid condition, the day calm, but cloudy, so that their eyes had not ached,[Pg 10] and they had been able to go far out upon the solidly frozen surface of the lake.
"How far do you think we have skated to-day, Aleck?" asked The Youngster.
"It's four miles from the lower bridge to the lighthouse," spoke up Kate, before Aleck could reply, "and four back. That makes eight miles, to begin with."
"Yes," said Aleck, "and on top of that you must put—let me see—I should think, counting all our twists and turns, fully ten miles more. We were almost abreast of Stony Point when we were farthest out, and they say that's five miles long."
"Altogether, then, we skated about eighteen miles."
"Right, my boy; your arithmetic is your strong point."
"Well, I should say his feet were his strong point to-day," Kate exclaimed, in admiration of her brother's hardihood.
"It wasn't a bad day's work for a girl I know of, either," remarked Aleck, as he took the key from his pocket and opened the door of their house, which was soon bright with lamplight and a crackling fire of oak and hickory.
The house these three dwelt in was a small cottage in an obscure street of the village, but it was warm and tight. Kate was housekeeper, and The Youngster—whose real name was James, contracted first into Jim, and then into[Pg 11] Jimkin—was man-of-all-work, and maid-of-all-work too, sometimes, when Kate needed his help.
While these two are getting tea, and Aleck is carefully wiping the skates and putting them away where no rust can have a chance at the blades, or mice gnaw the straps, let me tell you a few things about the family.
Jim could remember his father only vaguely, but Kate and Aleck could tell us all about him. His name was Kincaid, and he was a master-builder of houses. He had bought and fitted up the cottage, and had put savings in the bank, though Mrs. Kincaid was sick much of the time, so that money was spent that would have been laid by "for a rainy day" if she had been strong and well.
Unfortunately, the rain came sooner than any one thought for. One day, about five years before the beginning of our little history, papa was brought home hurt by falling from a scaffold at the top of a house. He was not dead, and all thought he would be well again in a few weeks at most; but instead he grew slowly worse, and after a time died.
Then the poor mother, always weak, did the best she could, and Kate tried to help her, while Aleck stopped his school-going, and went to work in the brass foundry. At first, though, he could earn but a little, and Mr. Kincaid's savings slowly melted away until almost nothing was left. Then the tired and desolate mother, never strong, bade her[Pg 12] children that long farewell that seems so terribly hopeless to all of us when we are young, and the three "mitherless bairns" were thrown upon their own resources.
The question arose as to what they should do. Jim was now eight years old, and going to school. Kate had not neglected to do some studying, and a great deal of reading, too, though she had always been so busy; and a few weeks before her mother's death she had begun to study regularly with a lady who lived near, whom Katy repaid by picking various small fruits as they matured in the lady's large garden. Aleck, as I have said, was working steadily, and getting enough wages to keep them all in fair comfort, since they owned the house and enough garden to give them plenty of vegetables. So, after talking the prospect over, they decided to stay in their little house and live together. A letter was written to Uncle Andrew, in Cleveland, who had offered Kate and Jimmy a home, telling him they would try it alone a while before burdening any of their friends.
This decision had been made almost four years before my story opens, and it had not been regretted. They had even saved some money, but the larger part of this had been spent in repairing the house, and in fitting up a new boat for Jim and one of his friends, who thought they knew a way to make a little money in the summer vacation if they had a good boat. This boat had been completed only in[Pg 13] time to prove how good it was, before the winter had closed the river with ice at an unusually early date, and now the pretty craft was safely stored in a warehouse at the schooner-landing, a mile below the town.
All slept very soundly after their skating holiday—even Rex, the great Newfoundland dog, who was a member of the family by no means to be overlooked; but their ears were not stopped so tight that the clangor of the church bells about midnight failed to arouse them with its dreadful alarm of fire. Hastening to an upper window, one glance at the blaze-reddened heavens showed our friends that the group of factories in the southern part of the town was burning, and one of these was the brass foundry where Aleck worked.
Aleck hurried away, and they did not see him until after sunrise, when he came home tired, wet, and soot-blackened. The whole shop had burned to the ground, he reported, and it was only by great risk and exertion that he had been able to rescue his father's precious chest of tools.
"I didn't think," said the young man, as he sat wearily down to Katy's hot coffee, "that my job would be so short when McAbee told me yesterday I could work there 'as long as the foundry lasted.'"
During that day and the next Aleck tried every possible chance of employment in the village, but found nothing;[Pg 14] and by the time evening came he had made up his mind that no regular employment equal to his old place was to be had there for months to come.
There was no doubt about it. The time had arrived when they must avail themselves of Uncle Andrew's kindness, and seek in his hospitable house at least a temporary home.

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