It was impossible to see out for the windows were frosted solid, but it was a merry crowd nevertheless. Ed Rickey, who had a fine bass voice, started in with a school song and the others soon joined him.
Six miles outside Clarion they turned off the main road and swung over toward the hills which flanked the Wapsie river for it was along the banks of the Wapsie that Youde’s Inn was located.
Their progress was slowed here for the road had not been cleared by a snowplow. But the snow was less than five inches deep and the powerful bus forged ahead steadily.
Almost before they knew it they were over the last hill and dropping down into the river valley. As the bus turned into the inn, floodlights in the yard were snapped on. A dog, barking eagerly, leaped forward to greet them.
Ed and Jim were out of the bus first, assisting the others down. With Miss Bruder in the lead, they trooped toward the rambling, one story inn.
Eli Youde, a coonskin cap on his head, was at the door. Behind him stood his wife, a buxom, motherly soul of forty-five.
“Supper’s on the table now,” said Mrs. Youde as she greeted them. “The girls can take off their things in the room at the right; the boys go to the left.”
There were nine boys and eight girls in the honors English class, but with Miss Bruder it made an even number and she was so young and full of fun that she always seemed like one of them.
Cora and Margie stopped before an old fashioned dresser to powder their noses and pat their hair into shape, but at a skating party these things were irrelevant to Janet and Helen and they hastened out to join the group in the dining room.
One long table had been set. There were no place cards and the first to arrive took the choice seats, which were near a glowing soft-coal burner.
Mrs. Youde, assisted by her husband, brought in steaming bowls of oyster stew. Three large bowls of crisp, white crackers were on the table, but huge inroads in them were soon made. Conversation died away as the stew was ladled down hungry throats.
Before the bowls of stew had vanished, Mrs. Youde brought in two heaping platters of thick sandwiches. Janet found at least three varieties and was afraid to ask Helen how many she discovered.
“This is ruining my weight, but I’m having a fine time,” said Janet between bites and Helen nodded.
After the sandwiches came pumpkin pie, great thick wedges of it with a mound of whipped cream on top and a slab of yellow cheese at one side.
Ed Rickey yelled for help and when no one volunteered to jounce him up and down to make room for the pie, he managed to get to his feet and trot around the table several times.
“I’m never going to be able to bend down and put on a skate,” groaned Jim Barron, who had begged a second piece of pie and was now looking ruefully at the last crisp crust. He wanted it, but he didn’t quite dare and with a sheepish look he pushed the plate away from him.
“Perhaps we’d better sit around a few minutes before we start skating,” suggested Miss Bruder. The suggestion was welcomed and while Mr. Youde carried armfuls of woods into the skating rink to fill the fireplace they told stories around the roaring fire in the heater.
“I feel better,” announced Jim a few minutes later. “In fact, I’ll be courteous enough to help any of you weak damsels get your skates on. Let’s go.”
With Jim in the lead, they trooped into the skating rink. The fireplace, along one wall and halfway down the rink, was roaring lustily as Mr. Youde piled it with fresh fuel.
The skates were in boxes, numbered for size, and ranged in rows along the walls. Jim, Ed and one of the other boys did the fitting while the girls sat on a long bench.
“Here’s a pair that ought to be long enough for you,” grinned Jim as he placed a skate under Janet’s right foot.
“Oh, I don’t know that I’m such a clodhopper,” smiled Janet. “Anyway, I’ll bet I can beat you around the rink the first time.”
“It’s a go,” replied Jim, fastening the other skate. “Wait until I get the wheels under my hoofs.”
Janet stood up and tried the skates. Jim had found an excellent pair for her. They felt true and speedy. She tried a preliminary whirl. Her balance was good.
Jim shot out onto the floor, tried to make a sharp turn, lost his balance, and sat down with a thud that shook the room.
“First down,” yelled Ed Rickey, who hastened to Jim’s aid and entangled himself over Jim’s outstretched legs. Ed also went down and shouts of merriment echoed through the room.
“Ready Jim?” asked Janet when the husky senior was back on his feet.
“Just as ready now as later,” he replied and they shot away, Janet’s feet moving swiftly as she got up speed.
Jim had the longer legs, the more powerful strokes, but Janet was fast and light. That might overcome the advantage of her heavier rival.
“Go on, Janet, go on!” she heard Helen shouting as they took the first turn.
Jim was still ahead, but he was going too fast for a safe turn and he skidded sharply and lost speed at the next turn while Janet, her feet a twinkle of motion, shot ahead. Jim yelled in protest, but Janet only went the faster and flashed by the finish at least two yards ahead of the puffing Jim.
From then on the rink buzzed with the roll of the skates as in couples and singly they sped around the room.
Ed Rickey was a wizard on skates and after the first rush of skating, when some of them were content to sit on the benches near the fireplace, he gave a demonstration of fancy skating.
Janet had never imagined Ed had that grace and sense of rhythm but the big fellow was remarkably light on his feet.
Then they were back on the floor again, this time in a series of races Jim Barron had planned, some of them rolling peanuts the length of the rink and back and others skating around backwards in tandem races.
In spite of the roaring fire, the room was cold and Janet felt the chill creep through her bones. She stopped skating and edged over close to the fireplace just as the bus driver came in and spoke to Eli Youde. The innkeeper departed at once with the driver and Janet heard the bang of an outer door as though it had been caught by the wind and closed violently. But there had been no wind when they came down into the valley to the inn.
If the wind had come up, the snow might drift badly. She put that thought out of her mind, and rejoined the skaters.
It was less than five minutes later when the innkeeper and the bus driver returned, striding down the center of the rink. Mr. Youde held up one hand and the skaters gathered around him.
“Wind’s coming up and the snow’s starting to drift. May be bad in another hour or two. If you want to get home before midnight you’d better start now for it will be slow going up in the hills.”
“We’ll start at once,” decided Miss Bruder. “Get your wraps, everybody.”
Janet, some unknown fear tugging at her heart, hung back and spoke to Mr. Youde.
“Is it perfectly safe to start the trip back?” she asked.
“I guess so. That’s a powerful bus. But you’d better start now before the wind gets bad. This snow is going to drift like fury before morning. I expect we’ll be blockaded for a couple of days.”
Janet rejoined the girls in the room where they had left their coats. A horn sounded outside and they hastened to don their wraps. The floodlights in the yard flashed on and the group, bidding the Youdes cheery goodnights, hastened out to the bus.
LITTLE DEER VALLEY
In spite of her warm clothing, Janet could feel the sting of the night air. It was much colder than when they had arrived. The snow seemed to be less, but the wind was shipping it in little eddies across the yard.
With the heater running full blast, the bus was comfortable and they found seats well up toward the front. Miss Bruder counted them to make sure that everyone was on hand. Reassured, she told the driver to start the return trip.
The windows were heavily frosted and it was like being in a sealed room, the only peephole being the small frame of glass which the windshield wiper kept clear.
“What time is it?” Janet asked Helen, who had a wrist watch.