The Rover Boys in the Mountains/Chapter 20

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It was indeed a moment of supreme peril, and Dick felt very much as if his last moment on earth had come. He put out his hands mechanically and grabbed the wildcat by the throat, but his grip was poor and the beast shook itself clear with ease.

It was now that John Barrow showed himself to be a master of quick resources. To fire his rifle at the wildcat would have meant taking the risk of hitting Dick, and this the guide thought too perilous. Leaping to the fire, he caught up a long, burning brand and rushed at the beast with this.

To have a part of the fire thrust directly into its eyes was more than the beast had bargained for, and as soon as it felt the flame it gave a cry of alarm and fell back. As it did this Dick leaped to his feet and sprang several feet away.

John Barrow was now free to shoot, and hurling the firebrand at the wildcat, he caught up his rifle and blazed away in short order. The wild cat had turned to retreat, but the guide was too quick for it, and down went the beast with a shot through its head. It gave a shudder or two, and then stretched out, dead.

"Is he—he dead?" panted Dick, when he felt able to speak.

"Reckon so," responded John Barrow. "But I'll make sure." And catching up a club, he aimed a blow which crushed the animal's skull.

"That was a narrow escape," went on Dick. "If you hadn't come to my aid, I'm afraid he would have done me up." And he shivered from head to foot.

"You want to be careful how you attack wildcats around here, lad. It aint likely they'll tech you, if you don't tech them. But if you do, why, look out, that's all."

"Do you think he would have sneaked off with the turkey? I was thinking first he would attack you."

"Reckon he was after the game, and nuthin' more, Dick. He must have been powerful hungry, or he wouldn't have come so close to us. He's a putty big fellow," went on the guide, as he dragged the carcass closer to the firelight.

The fire was burning low, and Dick lost no time in heaping on some of the newly cut brushwood, and then he reloaded and the guide did the same.

"Might have a mate around," suggested John Barrow. "We had better keep our eyes peeled, or we may be surprised. Wonder what time it is?"

By consulting a watch they found it was just midnight. After the excitement Dick felt quite sleepy, and inside of half an hour he followed the guide's advice and laid down to rest—not under the tree, however, but as close to the camp-fire as safety permitted.

Dick had requested John Barrow to call him in three hours, so that the guide might get a little more sleep, but the youth was allowed to slumber until he aroused of his own accord, just as day was breaking.

"Hullo, I've slept all night!" he exclaimed, leaping up with something of a hurt look. "Why didn't you call me?"

"I thought as how you needed the rest," was the answer from the guide.

"Aren't you sleepy?"

"Not very. A sleep early in the night generally does me more good nor hours o' it later on."

"You haven't seen or heard anything of Tom or Sam?"

"Nary sight or sound, lad. It's too bad, but don't worry too much."

"They couldn't have seen the firelight," returned Dick, with a sorry shake of his head. "It beats all where they went to, doesn't it?"

"I've been a-thinking that maybe they went on ahead, Dick."

"Ahead? That they somehow passed us?"

"Yes; while we were lookin' for 'em. They may be up at B'ar Pond now, waitin' for us."

"Do you advise going up there?"

"We might as well. We can put up a post here, with a message for 'em—in case they do come this way."

"That's an idea, and we can put up other posts, too. Then, if they strike our trail, they'll be sure to go straight in following us." And Dick's face brightened a bit.

John Barrow was already preparing breakfast, and he agreed with Dick to leave some cooked meat in a cloth tied to the top of the pole the youth erected not far from the fire. On the cloth they pinned a note, telling of the direction to Bear Pond, and asking Tom and Sam to follow and fire: two shots, a minute apart, as a signal.

It was a clear day and the sun, shining over the mountain tops, made the snow and ice glitter like pearls and diamonds. There was no wind, so the journey toward Bear Pond was far from un pleasant. They moved slowly, dragging the sled behind them, and searching to the right and the left for some trace of the missing Rovers.

"I don't believe they came up here," said Dick, after half the distance to the pond had been covered. "I don't see the least trace of any human being, although I've seen the footprints of several wild animals."

"The wind might have covered the tracks during the night," was John Barrow's hopeful response.

"I'd rather lose the treasure, even if it is worth thousands, than have anything happen to Sam and Tom."

Just before noon they came to a point in the river where it divided into several branches.

"We'll stop here and put up another sign pole," said the guide. "Remember what I said? All these streams run into the pond and into Perch River. Now, which one you want, at tudder end, I don't know."

"Which is the largest branch?"

"Can't say, exactly. This one an' the one yonder are about the same size, and that one aint much smaller."

"Well, which do you suppose was the largest years ago?"

"Can't say that neither, although that one yon der might have been, by the looks o' the banks,"

"Then let us start on that one. And if that fails us, we can then try the others."

They skated to the stream in question and erected a pole in the middle of the ice, upon which a second note was posted. Having gone to the trouble of chopping a hole for the pole, John Barrow suggested they might try their hand at fishing.

"Might as well stay here a while," he said. "If they are behind us, they may catch up."

Dick was willing, and soon a line was baited and let down into the hole. It was in the water only a few seconds when the guide felt a bite and drew up a fine fish, weighing at least half a pound.

Dick was anxious to try it, and took the line from John Barrow's hands. He was equally successful, and in a short while they had seven fish to their credit, weighing from a quarter to three-quarters of a pound apiece.

"I'm going to tie a fish to the top of the pole," said Dick. "They may be hungry when they get here, especially if they miss the pole at our last camping place."

"They won't want to eat raw fish, lad."

"No, and I'm going to put a few matches in a paper and tie it to the fish, so they can cook it, if they wish."

Dick's idea was followed out, and once more they went on, up a narrow stream which had many a turn among the cedar brakes and hemlocks which lined either side. Rocks were likewise numerous, and the lad came to the conclusion that locating the treasure was going to be no easy task.

"It's rather desolate," he remarked. "I wonder what ever possessed that old Goupert to come here?"

"It's not so desolate in the summer time, Dick. But I reckon Goupert was a mighty odd stick, as it was."

At last they rounded a turn in the stream and came in sight of Bear Pond, a long and wide stretch of water located in the very midst of two tall mountains. The pond was covered with thick ice, and the snow lay upon it in long drifts and ridges. The ice was blackish and almost as hard as flint.

"We may as well go into camp near the mouth of this stream," said Dick. "For from this spot we'll make our first hunt for the treasure."

"I hope with all my heart that you find it, lad. But if you don't, don't be too disappointed."

"I want to find Sam and Tom first. I shan't hunt for the treasure until I know of them."

"That's right. We'll go on a hunt this afternoon, jest as soon as we've had some of these fish broiled for dinner."

If there was one thing which John Barrow could do to perfection, it was to broil fish, and the meal he set before Dick half an hour later was so appetizing the lad could not help enjoy it, in spite of his anxiety over his brothers' prolonged absence. The fish was as sweet as a nut, and both lingered some time over the meal, until all that had been broiled were gone.

"And now to find Tom and Sam," said Dick, at last, as he leaped up from the log upon which he had been sitting. "What shall we do with our things?"

"Here is a hole in the rocks," answered the guide. "We'll hide them there and cover them with stones. I don't think anything will disturb the things between now and nightfall."

The stores were placed in the cache and carefully covered, so that the wild animals might not get at them, and then they saw to it that their firearms were ready for use. A minute later they were off, on the hunt for Tom and Sam.