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"When I was a boy," began Mr. Carford after a pause, during which he looked into the blazing fire, "I lived on a farm, and I had to work very hard."
"We were on a farm once, weren't we, Flossie?" interrupted Freddie.
"Hush, dear," said Nan in a low voice "Listen to Mr. Carford's story."
"That isn't a story," insisted Flossie. "He didn't begin it right. He must say: 'Once upon a time, a good many years ago--!'"
Mr. Carford laughed.
"So I should, my dear!" he exclaimed. "It's been so long since I've told a story to little folks that I've forgotten how, I guess.
"So I'll begin over again. Once upon a time, a good many years ago, I was a little boy, and I lived on a farm. I guess it must have been the same sort of a farm you and Flossie went to, Freddie, for we had cows and horses and pigs and chickens and sheep. There was lots of work, and, as my father was not rich, I had to help as soon as I got old enough.
"But, for all that, I had good times. I thought so then and, though I'm an old man now, I still think so. But the good times did not last long enough. I wish I could go back to them.
"But I stayed on the farm a good many years, with my brothers and sisters, and finally when I grew up, and thought I was big enough to start to work for myself, I ran away."
"Did you--did you get lost?" asked Flossie, with her eyes wide open, staring at Mr. Carford.
"No, my dear, I didn't exactly get lost. But I thought there was easier work than living on a farm, so, instead of staying and helping my father, as I think now I should have done, I ran away to a big city. I wanted to be dressed up, and wear a white collar instead of overalls and a jumper.
"But I found that life in the city, instead of being easier than on the farm, was harder, especially as I didn't know much about it. Many a time I wished I was back with my father, but I was too proud to admit that I had made a mistake. So I kept on working in the city, and finally I began to forget all about the farm.
"I won't make this story too long, for you might get tired of it," said Mr. Carford, as he got up to put a log on the fire.
"Oh, we like stories; don't we, Freddie?" said Flossie.
"Yes," said Freddie softly.
"I know, my dear," said the old man kindly, "but I am afraid you wouldn't like my kind. Anyhow I kept on working in the city--in one city after another--until I became successful and then, in time, I got rich."
"Rich!" cried Freddie. "Very rich?" and his big eyes opened wide.
"Freddie!" cautioned Nan, with a sharp look.
"Oh, I don't mind!" laughed Mr. Carford "Yes, I got quite rich, and then I thought it was time to go back to the old farm, and see my father. My mother had died before I went away. Maybe if she had lived I wouldn't have gone. And then I began to find out that life wasn't all happiness just because you had money.
"My father had died too, and the old farm had been sold. My brother and sisters had gone--some were married and some had died. I found I was a lonesome old man, with few friends, and hardly any relatives, left. I had been too busy getting rich, you see, to take time to make friends.
"Well, I didn't know what to do. All the while, you understand, I had been counting on going back to the farm, with a lot of money, and saying to my father: 'Now, daddy, you've worked hard enough. You can stop now, and have happiness the rest of your life.' But you see my father wasn't there. I was too late.
"So I made up my mind the best thing I could do was to buy back the old farm, and spend the rest of my days there, for the sake of old times. Well, I did buy the place, and I named it 'Snow Lodge,' for there used to be lots of snow there in the winter time. I fixed the old house all over new, put in a furnace, and other things to make it comfortable, and I lived there for some time.
"I heard from some of my brothers and sisters who had also gone away from the farm, and one of my sisters, who had married a man named Burdock, had become very poor. Her husband had died, and she was very sick. I brought her to Snow Lodge to live with me, and her son, Harry, a fine lad, came along.
"My poor sister did not live very long, and when she died I took Henry Burdock to live with me. I felt toward him as toward a son, and for years we stayed in Snow Lodge together.
"Then I bought this place, and we used to spend part of the year here and part of it at Snow Lodge. It was a fine place winter or summer, Snow Lodge was."
Mr. Carford became silent and looked again into the glowing logs on the hearth.
"Don't you go to Snow Lodge any more?" asked Nan in a low voice.
"No," replied the old man. "Never any more. Not--not since Henry went away," and he seemed to be in pain. "I have never gone there since Henry went away," he added, "though the place is well kept up, and it is ready to live in this minute."
"Did your nephew Henry run away, as you did?" asked Bert.
"No--not exactly," was the reply. "I don't like to talk about that part of it. I like to think of Snow Lodge on the shore of the lake as a place where I lived when I was a boy.
"Oh, it's just fine there!" went on Mr. Carford. "In summer the grass is so green, and you can sit on the porch and look down at the lake. In the winter, when the lake is frozen over, there is skating and ice boating on it, and you can fish through the ice. And such hills as there are to coast down! and such valleys filled with snow! Sometimes it seems as if the whole house would be covered with the white flakes.
"But you can always keep warm in Snow Lodge, for there are big fireplaces, as well as the furnace, and there is plenty of wood. Many times I've had a notion to go back there, but somehow I couldn't, since--since Henry went away. So I came here to live with my other sister, and here I guess I'll stay the rest of my life. Snow Lodge is shut up, and I guess it always will be."
Mr. Carford sighed, and kept looking at the fire. Nan thought what a pity it was that Snow Lodge could not be used, while Bert wondered what had happened between Henry Burdock and his uncle, Mr. Carford, that caused Henry to go away. Also Bert wondered if Mr. Carford would explain his strange remark, made at the time the runaway horses were caught. But the aged man seemed to have forgotten it.
"Yes, Snow Lodge is closed up," said Mr. Carford. "I don't suppose it will ever be used again. But I've told you the story of it, and I'm afraid I've tired you."
"No you haven't," said Nan. "We enjoyed it very much."
"That's right!" exclaimed Bert.
"Did--did you ever see any bears there?" asked Freddie, "any real big bears?"
"Or tigers--or--or elephants?" asked Flossie, not to let her brother get ahead of her in asking questions.
"Huh! Elephants don't grow here--only bears," said Freddie.
"No, I never saw anything bigger than foxes," said Mr. Carford with a laugh. "Snow Lodge isn't very far from here, you know, so you have the same kind of animals there that you have here. Only there are more woods at Snow Lodge.
"But I must be getting back with you youngsters. It is getting late and your folks may worry about you. I'll bring the sled around, and my sister Emma can tuck you in. Then I'll get you home, and see to my Christmas packages. It's going to be a hard winter on the poor."
"We give the poor people something," said Freddie. "At school we all brought something just before vacation, and Mr. Tetlow is going to give it to all the poor people."
"That was at Thanksgiving, dear," said Nan.
"Well, maybe they've got some left for Christmas," said Freddie, as the others laughed.
"That's right--try and make other people happy, little man," said Mr. Carford, patting Freddie's head.
The big sled with the horses and their jingling bells was soon at the door. Miss Carford had warmed some bricks to put down in the straw, to keep the children's feet warm, and soon, cozily wrapped up, they were on their way home.
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