Published in The Big Book For Girls, 1925 and My Favourite Story.
The back door banged noisily, and Mrs. Evans, who had been watching the road anciously for the past half-hour, left the living-room.
"Hello, Mummy!" rang out a cheery voice. "Here we are at last!" There came the sounds of someone struggling out of heavy outdoor garments.
"Gwen Evans!" Mrs. Evans sounded stern. "Where have you been all this time? An hour or more by the clock it is since you should have been home. What have you been doing?"
"Don't be cross," said the cheery voice coaxingly. "I went with Cerenwen to wait for the Gwylt Dwlas bus, but it never came. And then Tom Owen came past, and he said that all the buses had been taken off the roads because the snow is so bad. So I brought her home for the night. She can ring Auntie, so she won't worry."
Mrs. Evans was in the scullery by this time to welcome her girl and her niece. An unwilling smile was on her lips as she looked at slender, black-haired Gwen, and taller, but not so much broader Cernewen, her nice.
"Really worried, I was getting," she said. "The storm is so heavy, and when I rang up the school they said you had left early."
Gwen pulled on her slippers, got up from her lowly seat on a three-legged stool, and came to hug her mother.
"Honestly, Mummy, we were only waiting. When we heard the buses were off, I made Cerenwen come back with me, and we took the short cut across the fields to be quicker. But no more for little Gwennie when it's snowing a blizzard! I thought we'd end up in a ditch for the night!"
"You should have kept to the road in such a storm. Cerenwen, my dear, I'm thankful Gwen brought you back. Hurry, now, and ring up your mother, or she will be even more worried that I was - especially if she knows the buses are off the road."
Cerenwen, a year older than Gwen, laughed as she came to kiss her aunt. "It's a lot of nonsense. It's only four miles, and I've walked it dozens of times. But Gwen got into such a state when I suggested it that I agreed to come for the night just to calm her down."
"Gwen was right, my dear. But you go and ring up your mother and tell her you'll stay here for the night. If the snow is still heavy tomorrow, you'd best spend the weekend, and go home after school on Monday. Tell her so."
"Oh, it'll be fine by the morning," said Cerenwen, as she went to the telephone. "It's much too fierce to last for long."
"Tea ready?" asked Gwen, as she followed her mother into the kitchen. "I'll carry it in, shall I? Where are Dad and Ivor?"
"Gone up the valley to see about those ewes," said her mother, opening the oven-door, and lifting out a great dish of Welsh-cakes. "Lucky I made these. Cerenwen is so fond of them."
"Does Dad expect any lambs tonight?" asked Gwen, picking up the big teapot. "It'll be a cold job, sitting up."
"You never can tell in weather like this," replied Mrs. Evans. "Dear knows we've had snow enough already; but this is the worst we've had. Don't say anything to Cerenwen yet, Gwen, but it's not surprised I'll be if she's weatherbound for the whole weekend. Dad's gone to see if they can move the ewes further down. We've lost enough already this year, what with short fodder, and all the snow and frost."
"I've got Mother," announced Cerenwen, arriving in the living-room whither they had gone. "She hadn't heard about the bus, so she hadn't begun to worry. But she says she's glad I didn't try to walk home, or I'd have got lost. The snow is simply awful up at Gwylt Dwlas. It was bad enough coming over the fields, wasn't it, Gwen?"
"Hair-raising," agreed Gwen, pulling chairs to the table.
The two schoolgirls were so hungry, and so full of their trying walk over the field, that they never noticed that the mistress of the house ate little and kept listening all the time. But when they had finished, and Gwen began to clear away the soiled plates and cups, she could hide her anxiety no longer.
"What's the matter, Auntie?" asked Cerenwen when Mrs. Evans came into the scullery where they were washing up, and opened the outer door to gaze into the darkness. "Uncle will be all right."
"He's been gone a long time," Mrs. Evans replied as she came in, her shoulders powdered with the snow.
"It's a bit of a walk up the valley to where the sheep are likely to be," Gwen reminded her. "Ivor's with him, and they've got the dogs, too, haven't they? Tell you what! We'll finish the chores and then have a game of rummy."
"The chores are done," said Mrs. eVans. "Bert did the milking and shut up the chickens for me. Run and get some more logs, Gwen, and make up the kitchen fire. Dad and Ivor will be frozen when they get back. I - what's that?" - as her quick ear caught sounds outside.
The outer door opened, and two big figures, so smothered in snow that they looked like snowmen, entered. The slighter one turned and shut the door, but not before a thin carpeting of snow lay at the entrance.
"There's a night it is!" gasped Mr. Evans, moping his brow with his hankerchief after he had pulled off his cap. "The snow's drifting badly already. Where are the dogs?"
Two shaggy forms which had slipped in after their masters came forward, shaking themselves as they did so, and the farmer bent to clap their sides. "Good dogs these are, and no mistake! That you, Cerenwen? You'll not get home this side of Sunday."
"Drifting did you say, Uncle?" Cerenwen's blue eyes looked anxious. "I hope not! Last storm we were drifted halfway up the downstairs windows."
The farmer nodded. "It always drifts badly at Gwylt Dwlas. But your mother will be all right. She's got the girls, hasn't she?"
"Oh, yes. Megan and Dilys are there, and Artie Thomas, too."
"She'll be right enough, then. It's the sheep I'm worried about. We'll be lucky if we save half our lambs this year, I'm thinking."
"Quarter, more like," put in Ivor, pulling off his heavy rubber boots.
When the hungry men had eaten, Mr. and Mrs. Evans vanished into the kitchen to discuss the sheep, while the girls cleared the table, washed up, and then returned to the living-room to talk with Ivor.
Bed was early for all of them, and for once Gwen was glad to share her bed with someone. The wind sounded so terrible, howling down the wide chimneys, and shaking the deep-set windows. But she was tired and after a strenuous day, and school, and that dizzying walk over the fields, she soon fell asleep.
Next morning a shock awaited them. "I'm just going out to the yard to have a look round," said Mr. Evans. "You might give Ivor a call. I want to get off as soon as I can and see what those ewes are doing."
Mrs. Evans had been staring out of the window. Now she turned round. "You'll dig your way out first, my dear. Drifted right up to the top of the window it is. Look!"
"What?" He swung round, and went quickly to the scullery, where he unbolted the outer door and tugged it open. A mass of soft snow followed it into the house, and he was staring out into the heart of a huge drift that had risen above the lintel.
With an exclamation he sprang up the stairs to the landing-window. He threw up the sash, and leaned out. Very little below the sill he was looking on the surface of the snow, which was still falling heavily.
"Snow up we are!" he said, despair in his voice. "That drift must be all of ten feet deep."
"Wha's tha', Dad?" demaded Ivor from the upper stairs.
"Ten-foot drift at the back here. Another at the front. We're drifted up." "Then heaven help the ewes, poor beasts!" ejaculated Ivor, his sleepiness vanishing as he took in the news. "Let's look!"
His father stood aside, and he peered out. "True enough; so we are. And if it's like this here, what'll it be like in the gulch?" He thought a moment. Then he ran downstairs, and into a long, passage-like room where various oddments were kept. This had a window looking from the side of the house. He flung this up, and gave an exclamation of relief. "No drifting here! The house would protect it. Snow's a good three feet deep, though. Still, we can dig a way through to the doors. But the ewes -" He stopped there, and shook his head.
"Get dressed, then," said his father. "A mug of tea, and then I'll get out and begin. It'll need to be tunnelled, I reckon. Take us all day to dig paths through those drifts."
In less that twenty minutes' time the men were hard at work, digging a tunnel through the big drift at the back.
That was a strange day. Mr. Evans and Ivor finally managed to free the back door. They fed the cattle and poultry, and the girls helped to milk the cows, for it was certain none of the men would get to the farm.
Next morning was gloriously sunny. The men of the family had been out seeing to such of the stocks as were at hand, and were halfway through breakfast when Gwen and Cerenwen, very shamefaces at having overslept themselves, appeared. They hurried through their meal, and helped to put up big parcels of sandwiches and cans of tea. Ivor tucked the little methylated lamp his mother used for heating her curling-tongs into his pocket, together with some of the solid fuel. Then he and his father set off with Tinker and Rascal, the two dogs, to look for the sheep.
It was after five when they returned, very tired and hungry. Mr. Evans looked very grim. They had not been able to reach the ewes. The mouth of the valley was drifted up with great drifts, and it would need the snow-plough to clear them.
"Unless they got into the cleft, Dad," suggested Gwen, bringing him a heaped-up plat of meat and vegetables. "Some of them may have escaped that way."
He shook his head. "I doubt it. Sheep are silly beasts. More likely they just lay or stood where they were, and are buried beneath the snow. The dogs were nosing all round, but they never came up with them."
Next day they muffled up and set off again, returning at dinner-time to say they had found seven of the ewes that had been at the nearer end of the valley. They had brought them down, and put them into the barn. But the main flock, over three hundred, must be at the mountain end of the gulch.
"I'm going to try to climb up to the top of the cleft," said Ivor as they finished. "Dad, I'll take Frank Owen and Bert Griffiths with. We'll take ropes and some fodder. If the sheep are there, we can toss it down to them; and maybe one of us could get down and bring them up somehow."
"There's the footway at the near end if you can do it," said his father doubtfully. "But I doubt if any of you could get through. It's narrow above, that cleft is."
No one saw Gwen and Cerenwen exchange looks; but when dinner was cleared and the things washed up Gwen said to her mother, "Mayn't we go out, Mummy? We've been shut in so long."
"Yes; run along with you," said Mrs. Evans indulgently. "Tea is at five, so don't be late."
"All right," agreed Gwen. "Come on, Cerenwen. We'd better put on our breeches and leggings. Yours are here from our last ride."
They ran off, and presently came down, looking very trim and business-like in their riding-kit, with closely fitting wool caps pulled down over their ears.
"I know Ivor won't get through the cleft," said Gwen as they set off. "Nor Bert or Frank, either. You only just did it last summer. Come on! This way! Thank goodness we can go faster than they, for they've trodden down a sort of path."
Making all the haste they could, the two girls followed in the wake of Ivor and the men; but even with the help of the track it was hard going, and they had reached the mouth of the little valley before Cerenwen's quick eyes saw her cousin and his helpers ahead of them. At the same time something made Ivor turn, and he saw the girls.
"What are you two doing here?" he demanded when they were within hailing distance.
"Don't be cross, Ivor bach," said Gwen coaxingly. "We've come to go down the cleft for you. You'll never get through. Cerenwen nearly stuck last summer, so you couldn't do it. But you've got ropes, and I'm a skinigallee, as Dad says, and she may be able to do it in breeches. Come on; tea is at five, and Mummy said we weren't to be late. If we're very late, she'll worry. Ivor you can't be mad with me. We must save the ewes and lambs if we can."
Ivor said no more. He knew far better than his young sister how heavily his father would be hit if all the flock were lost. And he also knew that what Gwen had said about the cleft was true. Unless they could reach it from the mouth, which seemed unlikely, it was impossible for any of the men to get through. But the slim schoolgirls might manage it; and both Gwen and Cerenwen were strong as mountain ponies. They might be able to bring up any lambs, and help the stronger ewes to get up the rough end of the cleft. He turned, nodded to the men, and they went on.
They did not attempt to go up the valley. The drifts were too deep. But on the bare slopes of the mountain the snow had blown down, and it was possible to get along, though the going was slow. It was almost three before they finally struggled up to the place where the cleft opened to the surface. It was a narrow cut which widened considerably as it went down. If the sheep were there, they would have had a chance of escaping being buried, though how they would be when they were found was another question.
There was little doubt that some, at least, of the poor animals had taken shelter, for they could hear the sound of plaintive baa-ings as they reached the opening, and Gwen's face glowed when she heard the sounds.
"Some of them are alive, anyhow!" she cried. "Rope me, Ivor; I'm going down at once."
"Me, too," added Cerenwen. "Gwen, I'll go first. Got your torch, Ivor? It'll be dark in there."
Ivor handed her a large torch on a leather strap which she slung round her neck. They roped her, for it was plain that she must be lowered half-way along the crack, though slender Gwen was already casting aside her coat, and preparing to worm her way in at the narrow end. When all was ready, they coiled the rope round the stump of a felled tree near, and let her slowly down.
Cerenwen directed the light of her torch downwards, while with her free hand she clung to the rope. She could see a mass of woolly bodies beneath her, and she was nearly deafened by the cries of the sheep. It was difficult to get a footing, for the frightened animals were huddled closely together; but at length she managed it, and stood on the floor of the cleft, where they surged round her as if knowing that help had come at last.
Meantime, Gwen was crawling down, feeling her way as well as she could. Cerenwen turned the torch to give her light, and at length the two cousins stood among the ewes. They could see that at least eighty or ninety were there, and there were a few new-born lambs lying at the sides with their mothers by them, uttering feeble cries.
"What had we best do?" asked Cerenwen, flashing the light round.
"I'll take this lamb," said Gwen, scooping it up in her arm. "Give me a light, Cerenwen. The mother will follow sure, and you can shoo the rest after her. Once they get going, they'll all go. But indeed I don't know how we're to get them all through the snow once they are up."
"One thing at a time. We'll get them up first. You go on, and I'll play sheepdog. I wish Ivor had brought Tinker or Rascal with him."
"Dad took them both because he was going to try to get round to the head of the valley," said Gwen as she made a sling of her scarf, and settled her baby comfortably in it. Its anxious-faced mother came to her at once, and she laughed. "All right, silly! I won't hurt it. You follow me!" And she turned and struggled to the upward track through the rest, followed by the terrified but faithful mother.
What a climb that was! Gwen dared not use both hands to help herself, for she dared not trust to the sling. Over and over again she slipped and nearly fell; but she managed to keep her footing somehow. Meanwhile, Cerenwen was doing her part by shooing the feeble sheep after her, and Gwen had to be careful that they did not knock her down and trample on her. Luckily, as she climbed, the light grew, and she was able to see her way.
Ivor and his helpers had not been idle, either. They had dragged sacks of hay with them on a big sledge, and now they had emptied it out, and roped the sacks to form a kind of hammock. He called down this news to Gwen, telling her to wait where she was, and when the litter was lowered to put her lamb in it, and to do the same with any others there.
"The ewes will have to come this way," he said. "They can't get through at this end. Call Cerenwen to come and help you if she can. We're going to scatter a little hay round the edges here, and that will keep the sheep going."
It was an easy matter to put the tiny lamb into the litter; but Gwen had her own difficulties with its mother, who wanted to come, too. However, she managed at last, and the poor baby was drawn to the surface.
"Can you manage the ewe?" asked Ivor. Then he suddenly exclaimed: "Dad! What luck! The girls are down there, and some of the flock are there, at any rate. Send the dogs to round them up, and then Cerenwen can help Gwen put them into this affair. It's rather much for a kid to do alone" - which made Gwen yearn to box his ears.
"The girls!" ejaculated Mr. Evans in horror.
But it was no time to worry about the girls. The dogs were sent down the cleft, and in a very short time Cerenwen had joing Gwen. By pushing and struggling, they got the frightened ewes one by one into the hammock, when the men drew them to the surface.
Mr. Evans sent Bert Griffiths to tell Mrs. Evans where the girls were, and when he returned he brough with him a long, thin individual, Thomas Thomas by name, who contrived to get through the cleft where Cerenwen had gone, and who lightened the work considerably. Struggling with a large ewe, even when she is weak with hunger, is no light job for even two girls. With Thomas Thomas to help, it was much easier.
One by one the ewes and lambs were brought up; the famished ewes were given a handful of hay to keep them going, and then entrusted to the care of wise old Tinker, who had been sent up when Thomas Thomas came. The night had fallen before the last one was rescued. Then the girls were drawn up; Rascal scrambled up to the surface on her own paddy paws; and Thomas Thomas came last.
The girls were filthy past description, and their clothes ragged and torn with their struggles; but they were triumphant. Ninety-seven sheep had been found, and eleven lambs besides. The girls and as many lambs as possible were put on the sledge, and the men carried the other babies among them, leaving the ewes to the dogs.
It was past ten before they reached the farm, and nearly six in the morning before Mr. Evans came in from the great barn where the poor beasts had been housed for the time being. By that time, Gwen and Cerenwen were sleeping deeply.
By the end of the week, twenty-two more lambs were brought in, and more of the ewes were found and brought to safety. Many were lost, of course; but quite half the flock were saved.
"It's really thanks to you two," Mr. Evans told Cerenwen as he bade her goodbye when Friday came and she was able to go gome, since the snowploughs had been out and the roads partly cleared. "We've lost a lot, I know; but it might have been very much worse. I'm proud of you both."
"I'm only glad we were able to help, Uncle," replied Cerenwen, as she shouldered her satchel.
"So am I!" cried Gwen, at her side. "But what will happen to our exams in the summer with all we've lost this term is more than I can say!"