He went to the window to observe the thermometer; but the dim daylight scarcely penetrated the fantastic frost-crystals, which, like a splendid exotic flora, covered the panes. Only at the upper corner, where the ice had commenced to thaw, a few timid sunbeams were peeping in, making the lamp upon the table seem pale and sickly. Whenever the door to the hall was opened a white cloud of vapor rolled in; and every one made haste to shut the door, in order to save the precious heat. The boys, being doomed to remain indoors, walked about restlessly, felt each other's muscle, punched each other, and sometimes, for want of better employment, teased the little girls. Mr. Hoyer, seeing how miserable they were, finally took pity on them, and, after having thawed out a window-pane sufficiently to see the thermometer outside, gave his consent to a little expedition on skees down to the river.
And now, boys, you ought to have seen them! Now there was life in them! You would scarcely have dreamed that they were the same creatures who, a moment ago, looked so listless and miserable. What rollicking laughter and fun, while they bundled one another in scarfs, cardigan-jackets, fur-lined top-boots, and overcoats!
"You had better take your guns along, boys," said the father, as they stormed out through the front door; "you might strike a couple of ptarmigan, or a mountain-cock, over on the west side."
"I am going to take your rifle, if you'll let me," Ralph exclaimed. "I have a fancy we might strike bigger game than mountain-cock. I shouldn't object to a wolf or two."
"You are welcome to the rifle," said his father; "but I doubt whether you'll find wolves on the ice so early in the day."
Mr. Hoyer took the rifle from its case, examined it carefully, and handed it to Ralph. Albert, who was a less experienced hunter than Ralph, preferred a fowling-piece to the rifle; especially as he had no expectation of shooting anything but ptarmigan. Powder-horns, cartridges, and shot were provided; and quite proudly the two friends started off on their skees, gliding over the hard crust of the snow, which, as the sun rose higher, was oversown with thousands of glittering gems. The boys looked like Esquimaux, with their heads bundled up in scarfs, and nothing visible except their eyes and a few hoary locks of hair which the frost had silvered.
"What was that?" cried Albert, startled by a sharp report which reverberated from the mountains. They had penetrated the forest on the west side, and ranged over the ice for an hour, in a vain search for wolves.
"Hush," said Ralph, excitedly; and after a moment of intent listening he added, "I'll be drawn and quartered if it isn't poachers!"