"I suppose the next thing on the program," Antoine observed, with a smile, "will be breakfast."
"That suits me!" shouted Tommy and Sandy in a breath.
"Well," Antoine answered, "I have plenty of bear meat, and a few canned provisions, and plenty of good, strong tea, so we'll adjourn to the dining room and partake."
"Have you seen anything of our chum?" asked Will.
Antoine smiled, but made no reply.
"Look here," Sandy said, pointing down to the moccasin tracks, as they emerged from the cavern and found themselves on the snowy slope, "this man has passed along here before this morning."
"That's a fact!" Will exclaimed. "So he must be the man who carried off George. If he is, why doesn't he say so?"
"Perhaps he wants to give us a surprise," observed Tommy.
It was only a short distance from the system of caverns where the boys had been imprisoned to the home of Antoine, which has previously been described.
When the boys entered, they looked eagerly around in the hope of finding George, but the boy was nowhere to be seen.
"I thought sure you had found our chum in the cavern," Thede suggested.
"Why, I thought you boys were all here!" replied Antoine, still with that odd smile on his face.
"But there is a boy who was wounded in the bear cavern last night," Thede explained, "and I left him there while I went after his friends, and when I came back, he was gone. We thought sure you took him away."
Antoine made no reply. Instead, he busied himself with breakfast.
In his efforts in this direction Tommy and Sandy were not slow in joining, and in a short time beautifully broiled bear steaks were smoking on tin plates which Antoine had taken from a cupboard fastened to the wall. A pot of tea was steeping over a fire built at one end of the cavern. The boys eyed this with interest.
"We really ought to be going out in search of George," Will finally said. "He may be suffering in the cold."
"That's right!" declared Tommy. "I'm going out just as soon as I finish eating! The lad was carried off by some one, all right, and be can't be far away!"
"I wonder why we didn't get our revolvers away from that dead man?" asked Sandy. "We surely ought to have them!"
"I looked for them," Will said quietly, "but they were not there!"
"Then he must have hidden them away somewhere," Tommy declared. "We laid them down just before crawling through that hole."
"You will doubtless find them in time," Antoine suggested.
"I should think the half-breed would have kept them pretty close," Sandy observed. "You don't find automatics like those every day!"
"It strikes me," Antoine said, directly, "that you boys would better settle down for a little rest previous to going out after your chum."
"Aw, we don't need any rest!" declared Tommy.
"Not while George is out in the cold!" Sandy cut in.
"Just as you please," smiled Antoine. "And now," he went on, "if you've all had plenty to eat, I'll bring on the tea. Tea always tastes better to me when there is no food in my mouth to interfere with the flavor of it. I have a very fine brand here."
"We've been waiting for that tea!" laughed Tommy.
"You can't lose Tommy when it comes to anything good to eat or drink!" laughed Sandy. "He's always on watch."
Antoine seemed a long time pouring the tea into the tin cups, which he had placed on the rough board which served as a table. As he bent over the teapot, a familiar sound caught Will's ears and he turned his head aside to listen.
"Slap, slap, slap!"
The boy nudged Tommy who sat next to him with his elbow and called his attention to the sound. Tommy almost sprang to his feet as he listened, but Will forced him back with his hand.
"Slap, slap, slap!" came the signal again.
Sandy and Thede were now sitting with knives and forks suspended in the air, listening wide-eyed to the sound.
"That's the Beaver call!" declared Will in a whisper.
"That means George!" Tommy whispered back.
"Sure!" was the reply. "There's no one else to give the Beaver call here. I wonder why the boy doesn't show up."
In the meantime, Antoine had been busy over the teapot and had not noticed what was going on at the table.
"I'm fixing this tea up particularly strong," he said, facing the boys with a smile on his lips, "so you mustn't wonder if it tastes just a little bit bitter. There's nothing on earth will do a man who's been exposed to the weather more good than a strong cup of tea!"
The man poured the decoction into the tin cups and brought out a couple of cans of condensed milk and plenty of sugar.
"You see," he laughed, "that I have all the luxuries of an effete civilization! Put in all the sugar you like, if you find the tea too strong. I have plenty of it!"
The boys used the sugar and milk liberally, and Will was about to lift his cup to his lips when the Beaver call came again:
"Slap, slap, slap!"
Although the sounds were faint ones, they caught the attention of Antoine, who, scowling, turned his face in the direction from which they had proceeded. In a minute, he arose.
"What was that noise?" he asked.
"Did you hear a noise?" questioned Will.
"I thought I did!" replied the man. "Perhaps I'd better take a look about the place. There may be intruders here!"
As Antoine moved about, his footsteps in a measure muffling the sounds which followed, the boys heard a low whisper.
"Don't drink! It's drugged!"
Wondering why the boy did not show himself, and able to understand his strange conduct only on the theory that he had been gagged and bound, Will overturned his cup of tea by an awkward movement and sprang to his feet as the burning fluid came in contact with his clothing.
Simultaneously the boys all sprang from the table, taking care to upset the board upon which they had been eating. An angry exclamation came from Antoine's lips as the carefully prepared tea was spilled to the floor. In a moment, however, his face broke into a smile.
"Too bad!" he said, "but accidents will happen. I'll make you some more! I'll have it ready in a moment."
"We really would like some tea, notwithstanding our awkwardness," laughed Will, listening as he spoke for some further sound from his chum.
"Drugged, drugged, drugged."
The boys heard the whisper floating through the room. Then they heard a gasp as of some one coming out of a sound sleep, and saw Antoine springing toward a weapon lying on the floor.
A SURPRISE AT THE CABIN
Will got to the weapon first.
With an exclamation of rage and anger, Antoine drew his hunting knife from its sheath and lifted it threateningly.
"Keep back!" he said. "Keep back, every one of you!"
"Throw down the knife, then!" Tommy demanded.
Instead of throwing down the knife, Antoine seemed preparing for a spring. It was evident that he had not yet abandoned the hope of gaining his revolver. The weapon which Will had seized left his hand with a swift whirl, and the next moment the knife crashed from Antoine's hand to the floor. The fellow's wrist had been broken.
He fell back with a groan, but remained inactive only a second.
"I'll come back!" he shouted, and disappeared through the entrance.
Tommy followed him out after having secured Will's automatic, but he was nowhere in sight on the slope. The tracks in the deep snow showed that he had turned in the direction of the cavern which the boys had known to their cost that morning.
"He's gone after our revolvers!" shouted Tommy.
"I'm afraid that's right," Sandy answered, sticking his head cautiously out of the opening. "He's the man who hid them, probably!"
"He'll be back directly," Will prophesied, "so one of you would better remain on guard at the door. If he catches us all inside, we'll be in the same fix we were when he found us!"
"I'd rather fight bears than a snake like that!" declared Sandy.
A faint voice was now heard calling from some unseen recess.
"Tommy, Sandy, Will!" George's voice called.
Leaving Tommy at the door, the three boys passed around the chamber pounding on the walls with little rocks and listening eagerly for further words. At last they came to where a bear skin hung against a crevice. They drew it abide and saw George looking up at them.
"Vot iss?" asked Sandy with a grin.
"So you heard me in time!"
The boy's speech was low and indistinct.
"If we hadn't, we wouldn't be here," answered Sandy.
"That Beaver call sounded good to us, too!" Will observed.
"What about the tea being drugged?" asked Sandy.
"It put me to sleep in a minute!" declared George. "My head whirled for a second, and then I was out for the count."
"I guess he thought he had you laid away for a good long time," suggested Sandy.
"I reckon I woke up too soon for him," George answered with a faint smile. "I heard you boys talking, though you seemed a long way off, and at first I thought it was all a dream."
"We got a feed in that dream, anyway!" laughed Sandy.
"I tried to cry out but couldn't," George continued. "My lips seemed frozen into numbness. I couldn't move hand or foot for a time, but finally I managed to clap the palms of my hands together in the Beaver call, and that seemed to set the blood circulating through my veins."
"What do you make of it?" asked Sandy.
"If you leave it to me," whispered George, still faint from loss of blood and the effects of the drug, "I dope it out that this man who calls himself Antoine is in possession of the Little Brass God, and he has in some way discovered that we are here after it."
"That's a fact!" exclaimed Will, "you saw the Little Brass God, too, didn't you?"
"I certainly did!" was the reply.
"Well, was the man who sat before the fire, the same man who gave you the drug?" Will went on. "Did you see him plainly?"
"I've been wondering about that," George replied. "Sometimes I think Antoine is the man who sat before the fire with the ugly Little Brass God leering down at him. Sometimes, I think it was Pierre who sat there. I can't quite make up my mind."
"If it was Pierre," Will said gravely, "the Little Brass God will probably never be found! The man who gave you the drugged drink shot the half-breed to death this morning."
"Then I hope it wasn't Pierre who sat by the fire," Sandy declared. "We've come a long way after that Little Brass God, and got into many a mix-up over it, so we've just got to take it back to Chicago with us!"
"Now look here," Will reasoned, "this Antoine had some motive in putting us boys to sleep! We don't know what that motive was, but I think I'm giving a pretty good guess when I say that he wanted to prevent our interfering with the Little Brass God until he had arranged to make anything we might do in that line absolutely worthless."
"That listens good to me, too," declared Sandy. "The man wouldn't try to drug us unless he had some strong motive for doing so!"
"We're all together once more, anyhow!" Will observed, "and I think we'd better stay together. I never did like this idea of one boy sneaking away in the night and leaving the others to guess where he went to. It isn't safe to go wandering off alone in that way!"
"Yes, I'd talk about that if I were you!" laughed Sandy. "You go wandering off by yourself more than any of the bunch!"
"I think it's a good thing for you boys that I went wandering off alone this morning," Will argued.
"You didn't go wandering off alone!" Thede cut in. "You had Pierre with you? Poor Pierre!" he continued. "I'm sorry for him! I suppose we'll have to make some kind of a grave and give him decent burial!"
"Sure, we'll do that!" agreed Will. "But what is puzzling me just now is this," the boy went on, "how are we going to get out of this hole with that Antoine watching our every move? He'll shoot us down just as quick as he shot Pierre if he gets a chance."
The boys took short trips out of the cavern in quest of their enemy, but were unable to discover any traces of him other than the tracks in the snow. These led toward the chain of caverns which the boys had such good reason to remember.
"I think we'd better make for the camp," Will suggested in a moment.
"Why not move over to the cabin?" asked Thede. "It will be much more comfortable there."
"That's a good idea, too," Will agreed, "except that we'd have to move all our camp equipage and provisions."
"Well, why not?" asked the boy. "We can rig up a drag and draw the stuff over in two or three loads."
"We can if Antoine isn't shooting at us every minute!" Sandy cut in.
"I don't believe Antoine will trouble us," Thede answered. "If he has the Little Brass God, he'll probably make off with it. He's got to go somewhere to get his injured wrist tended to, and my opinion is that he'll simply disappear from this neck of the woods until he makes up his mind that we have gone back to Chicago."
"I hope he won't go very far," Will mused.
"If he does, we'll lose the Little Brass God!" Sandy argued.
"I don't agree with Thede," Will said directly. "If the man has a secure hiding place in the hills, he'll manage to treat the injured wrist himself and remain hidden until he thinks we have left the country."
"It's all a guess, anyway," Sandy exclaimed, "and, whatever takes place, I vote for moving our truck over to the cabin and settling down there! We don't want to go back to Chicago as soon as we find the Little Brass God, do we?"
"We certainly do not!" shouted Tommy, sticking his head into the narrow doorway. "I haven't had a chance to catch all the fish I want yet!"
"Well, we may as well move over to the cabin if that's the general opinion," agreed Will. "I must admit that those tents look pretty thin to me. I didn't expect snow to fall so early."
"Besides," Sandy urged, "if we live in the cabin, we'll be perfectly safe from attack. It would take dynamite to make a hole through those great logs, and the door itself is about a foot thick!"
"All right," Will replied. "If we find anything left when we get back to our camping place, we'll move it over to the cabin!"
"The first thing to move will be George," laughed Sandy.
"Oh, I can walk all right!" the invalid declared.
"Through this thick snow? I should say not! We've got to make up some kind of a sled and give you the first sleigh-ride of the season!"
"And while we're about it, we can make a sled that we can move the tents and provisions on," suggested Will.
The boys had little to make a sled with, but they finally managed to bind saplings together with such cord as they had in their possession, and so manufacture a "drag" upon which the wounded boy could be carried back to camp. The lads were strongly tempted to help themselves to Antoine's provisions before they left, but they finally decided not to do so, especially as they believed that they had plenty of their own.
"He'll need them all before he gets rid of that sore wrist," Sandy laughed. "He won't be in shape to do much hunting!"
"Now," Thede observed, after wrapping George up in one of the bear robes taken from the wall of the cavern, "I've been thinking that the cabin is a great deal nearer the camp. Of course I haven't been to the camp, but I've heard the location described and I'm positive that it is four or five miles further away from us than the cabin."
"So you want to take George directly to the cabin, do you?" asked Tommy, who still considered himself on guard and kept a constant lookout for Antoine. "I don't see why we shouldn't do so," he added.
"It isn't far out of the way," urged Thede.
"Then here we go to it!" laughed Tommy. "I'll chase on ahead and have a roaring fire built there before you get half way to it!"
"Oh, you will?" grinned Thede. "I'd like to know how you're going to find it! George and I are the only ones in this party who can find the mysterious cabin in the bog!"
"Well, then," Tommy admitted, "perhaps you'd better run on ahead and find it, while we come along with the kid!"
It was a long and painful journey to the cabin, but it was finished at last. When the boys came to the edge of the swamp, however, they saw a great column of smoke rising from the chimney on the roof.
"Now do you suppose Antoine beat us to it?" asked Thede.
A FACE AT THE WINDOW
When the boys came nearer to the cabin, they saw many footprints dotting the level surface of the snow. They peered through the window which gave on the side of their approach, but could see no one moving about on the inside. Save for the great fire blazing in the rudely-constructed fire-place, the cabin seemed to be absolutely deserted.
"Suppose you give me a boost through this window," Thede suggested, as the boys at last stood close against the rear wall.
"Why not go around to the door?" George asked.
"I might get a bullet in my coco when I turned the angle of the house!" replied Thede. "There's no knowing who's around there."
"That's a fact!" Will agreed. "We've got one wounded boy on our hands now, and we don't care about having another."
"Look here," George cut in crossly, "if you think I'm too much trouble, you can just drop me down in the snow anywhere and I'll take care of myself!"
"Aw, cut it out!" roared Tommy.
The boys laughed so heartily at the idea of leaving their chum in the snow to care for himself that his mood instantly changed to one of apology. In a moment, he was all smiles again.
"Now, if you've got that little scrap settled, you can give me a boost through this window!" suggested Thede.
"Sure the door's closed?" asked Tommy.
"Closed and latched!" was the answer.
The boys had some difficulty in removing the single sash which protected the opening, but the task was finally accomplished, and then Thede crawled through into the cottage.
The boys heard him drop lightly to the floor and then followed a long silence. Presently Sandy clambered up the log wall and peered inside.
He saw Thede standing close against the wall, gazing down at a great haunch of venison which lay on the floor.
"If you want to keep that in good condition for eating, hang it out in the frost," laughed Sandy. "We can't afford to lose that!"
Thede beckoned to him to enter, and the boy dropped down on the floor.
"Who brought it here?" he asked.
"Search me!" Thede answered.
"It might have been Antoine."
"Aw, he couldn't kill a deer and bring in that big haunch with that lame wrist of his!" Thede exclaimed.
Sandy looked out of the window and beckoned to his chums to enter.
They gathered around the haunch of venison with amazement depicted on their faces. The fire still burned brightly, and it was evident that it had not been long since new fuel had been laid.
"Some one made us a present, I take it!" Tommy grinned.
"But who?" demanded Will.
"It's one of the mysteries of the British Northwest Territories!" replied Sandy. "Suppose," the boy continued, "we open the door and bring George in. He must be getting cold by this time!"
"Be careful when you open the door, then," Thede warned.
But there was no one at the door or, at first, within view of it. There were plenty of tracks, however, which appeared to have been recently made. George was carried into the cabin, and then Sandy and Tommy set out to trace some of the foot-prints to their destination.
"I'm going to know where that fellow went," the former declared.
"I have an idea he'll come back before long," Sandy suggested. "He's built a nice fire and brought in plenty of venison, and won't go away and leave the cosy corner just yet."
When the boys came to the edge of the morass, they saw a figure flitting into the underbrush on the other side.
"I guess we've frightened him away!" Tommy declared.
"Shall we follow him?" asked Sandy.
"Aw, what's the use?" Tommy questioned. "You said yourself, a little while ago, that he'd come back to get a bite of that haunch of venison."
"And I believe he will!" answered the boy.
George was made comfortable in one of the bunks, additional fuel brought in for the night, and then Will, Tommy and Sandy set out to bring the supplies and tents from the camp.
"Suppose Antoine, or some one else, should bring the Little Brass God to this cabin," George began.
"I wish we knew whether it was Antoine who sat before the fire last night," Thede puzzled. "If I could just get my hands on that idiotic little plaything, I'd sneak back to old Finklebaum and get his hundred dollars so quick it would make his head swim."
"His hundred dollars!" repeated George. "I thought I heard you saying last night if you got hold of the Little Brass God, you'd make him put up a thousand dollars for it!"
"So I would, too," declared Thede. "And he wouldn't pay the thousand dollars, either, unless he saw a chance to make ten out of it!"
During the entire absence of the boys George and Thede discussed the mystery of the Little Brass God. They wondered how it had made such good time into that country, and puzzled over the strange fact that they had blundered upon it on the very night of their arrival.
But when at last the boys returned with the tents and a part of the provisions, drawn along on the "drag," they had reached no conclusion whatever.
It was all a mystery which time alone could solve!
Although it was now the middle of the afternoon, Will and Sandy insisted on making another trip to the old camp.
"If we're going to stay in the cabin," Will urged, "we've got to do the job some time and we may as well do it now."
"I guess you'll have a good load if you get it all!" Tommy suggested.
The boys insisted that they were able to bring in the remaining stock and set off through the snow. Tommy and Thede continued to drag in wood until there was a great stack of it piled against the cabin. Every time they opened the door, they looked in vain for the appearance of the man they had seen running away through the underbrush on the other side of the swamp, but he was not seen.
"I'd like to know what's the matter with that fellow!" Tommy observed as darkness settled down and the two boys returned to the cabin.
In half an hour Sandy and Will came in with the provisions which they had brought from the camp, They reported that quite a large share of the tinned stuff had been cached in the snow about half way between the cabin and the site of the old camp.
"We couldn't bring it all in," Sandy announced.
"I hope the man we drove out of the cabin will find it if he needs it," Will observed.
After a hearty meal they cleared away the dishes and sat around the fire discussing the situation until ten o'clock. Then they secured the door and windows of the cabin and crawled into their bunks, which were remarkably well supplied with blankets and tanned bear skins.
In the middle of the night the fire died down to embers and Will arose to pile on more wood. He moved softly about in order not to disturb the sleep of his chums, and finally sat down by the blaze to enter anew upon a mental discussion of the mystery which surrounded them.
Will heard the sash rattling, as if in the light wind which was blowing, and glanced toward it.
What he saw was not the velvet darkness of the night laying against the glass. The firelight which shone through the glazed sash revealed the outlines of a human face looking in upon him.
It was an ugly face, with dusky skin, narrow slits of eyes, and straight black hair which seemed to wind and coil about the repulsive countenance as a collection of serpents might have done.
The face disappeared as the boy looked, and Will tiptoed softly to the bunk where Tommy lay and awoke him with a violent shake.
"Get up!" he said.
"Aw, go chase yourself!" answered Tommy not very politely.
"It's worth seeing," Will assured the lad. Tommy seized a shoe from the floor, hurled it at the head of his chum, and then rose to sitting position, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"What have you found now?" he demanded.
"There's a new one on us!" Will declared.
Tommy opened his eyes wide in wonder.
"Not a new Boy Scout?" he asked.
"We seem to pick up plenty of new Boy Scouts," laughed Will, "but this isn't a new Boy Scout. This is the Little Brass God given the power of expression and the use of his legs!"
"So you've gone and got 'em too, have you?" demanded Tommy.
"When I got up to renew the fire," Will answered, "I heard the window sash to the north rattling. Thinking that I ought to go and fix it, I glanced that way and saw the Little Brass God looking down upon me."
"Was he sitting up in the window with his legs crossed, and his arms folded, and his face making you think of the Old Nick?" asked Tommy.
"I could see only the head, but the head looked exactly as I imagine the Little Brass God looks; with the firelight shining on the yellowish hide, the face gave me the impression of being made out of brass!"
"You better read another page out of the dream book and go back to bed!" laughed Tommy. "You've been laboring under strong excitement lately and I think you need a long rest."
A CALL FROM THE DARKNESS
"Perhaps you don't believe I saw anything at the window," replied Will, somewhat indignantly.
"Oh, I don't doubt that you think you saw something at the window."
Will seized a searchlight, grabbed Tommy by the shoulder, and pulled him out of the door and around to the north side of the cabin.
The boys were not dressed especially for a midnight excursion in the snow, and their teeth chattered as they made their way against the chilling wind. However, they stuck to their purpose and soon stood under the window which Will had pointed out."
"There!" the boy exclaimed in a triumphant tone. "Now perhaps you'll tell me I didn't see anything through the glass."
A light snow had fallen during the late hours of the night, and there, plainly revealed on the undisturbed surface—undisturbed only for what they saw—were clearly outlined the footprints of two people.
One had worn moccasins, the other such shoes as might have been purchased at any department store in Chicago.
"And the tenant came back!" grinned Tommy.
"Then why didn't he come in?" demanded Will.
"Because he's scared of us!"
The boys followed the tracks toward the morass some distance and then returned to the cabin.
"Whoever the fellow is," Will argued, "he found it necessary to get a half-breed or Indian guide."
"How do you know that?" asked Tommy. "That may have been Antoine in the moccasins."
"I give it up!" replied Will. "I don't know anything about it."
"I shouldn't wonder at all if some faithful Hindu had sailed across the Pacific ocean, and traveled half across the continent, to rescue a faked Brass God from the polluted hands of an Unbeliever."
"You don't really think there's any of this Hindu temple business in this Little Brass God case, do you?" asked Tommy.
"Well, the face I saw at the window looked like that of an East Indian!" declared Will. "His skin was brassy, and his eyes had the devil's leer in them just as the eyes of the Little Brass God are said to have."
"Well," Tommy declared with a yawn, "I'm going back to bed!"
"That's what I'm going to do," Will agreed. "If we sit up here until we solve this new problem, we'll probably never get any more sleep as long as we live."
Seeing that the door and windows were securely fastened, the boys, who had been sleeping together, went back to their bunk, and there was only the crackling of the fire and the roaring of the wind to break the silence.
Tommy was soon sound asleep, but Will lay awake listening. Again he heard the window sash rattle, but this time he did not move.
Then he dozed off into slumberland, dreamed that he was on a tropical island where the perfume of the roses was so heavy on the air that breathing almost became a task. He opened his eyes dreamily, saw the fire blazing cheerily, heard the wind roaring around the corners of the cabin, and closed them to dream the same dream over and over.
At last he awoke with a start and sensed a peculiar odor in the room. He lay perfectly still for a moment wondering what it could all mean, when a voice as smooth and as evil as the hissing of a snake, cut through the air. He listened but did not move.
"You have hidden it!" the voice said.
There was a long pause and then the voice broke the silence again.
"Arise and come to me."
The next moment the boy heard Thede moving in the bunk above. The lad first threw his legs over the rail, and Will heard him drawing away the blankets. Then the boy slipped softly to the floor and moved, as one who walks in his sleep, toward the north window.
"Come to me, come to me, come to me!" the voice repeated insistently.
"I'll come to you, all right, in about a minute," Will mused, "if you try any of that magic business here."
Thede continued to move toward the window, walking with his hands outstretched, as the somnambulist frequently walks.
When the boy reached the window he staggered back as if from a blow, then moved forward again, as if bent on leaving the cabin by way of the narrow opening.
Will raised himself in the bunk, drew an automatic from under his pillow, and fired point blank at the glass. There was a crash and the cabin grew cloudy with powder smoke.
Thede sat down on the floor abruptly and began rubbing his eyes.
"I guess I walked in my sleep," he said. "I do sometimes."
The shot had awakened Tommy and Sandy, who came bounding to the floor.
"What'd you shoot at?" they asked.
"The Little Brass God!"
"I guess you've got the Little Brass God on the brain!'' grinned Sandy.
"Yes," Tommy cut in, "you've gone and busted a perfectly good pane of glass when there isn't another one within a hundred miles."
"Did you hit any one?" George called feebly from the bunk.
"I don't know!" replied Will. "I'm going out to see in a minute."
But Tommy and Sandy were out of the door and chasing around the corner of the house before Will could disentangle himself from the blanket.
Instead of passing outside, then, he stepped over to the window and looked out. The boys were there looking over the freshly fallen snow with an electric searchlight.
"Did I see anything?" asked Will with a note of victory in his voice.
"Somebody saw something!" answered Sandy. "There's blood on the snow! Some one found a bullet!"
"I'm going to dress and find out where these tracks lead to!" Tommy declared. "This is too much mischief for me!"
"Stick your face up in the air," advised Will with a grin.
"Snow!" shouted Tommy with a gesture of disgust. "These tracks'll be full of the beautiful before we could walk forty rods!"
"That's about the size of it!" agreed Will. "So you may as well come back into the house and we'll go back to bed."
When the boys entered and closed the door again, it was four o'clock and they decided not to go back to bed again that night.
"How'd you know there was some one there?" Sandy asked of Will.
"I heard the window sash rattle, then a strong perfume—something like opium or hasheesh—was forced into the room, then the fellow on the outside began to work his hypnotic spell."
"You say it right!" exclaimed Tommy.
"It's just as simple as anything you ever read in a daily newspaper," declared Will. "This Little Brass God we are tracing up belongs either in a Hindu temple in India, or the Hindus think it belongs there. At any rate, some dusky old hypnotizer has been sent after it!"
"You'd better get a new dream book!" Sandy broke in. "Whoever came to the window tonight, came there to find out what we were doing in this cabin! That's all there is to that!"
"Whoever came to the window tonight," Will repeated, "came there for the purpose of hypnotizing one of us boys into telling where the Little Brass God is hidden!"
"Then he must be about fourteen miles off his trolley," laughed Sandy. "We don't know where the Little Brass God is hidden."
"He threw an Oriental perfume or narcotic of some, kind into the room and let out his persuasive language," Will went on. "If you don't believe he hypnotized Thede, just ask him what he heard just before he got out of bed."
"I heard some one calling to me," Thede answered.
"What did he say?"
"He told me to come to him."
"And you was obeying that command when you started toward the window?"
"I guess that's right," answered the boy, "but it's all so hazy that I don't know much about it."
"And then I fired at the window and broke the spell and also the pane of glass!" explained Will. "If he comes back here again, I'll shoot from the outside! We can't be kept awake nights by any East Indian magic."
"East Indian granny!" declared Sandy.
"You read about such occurrences in the newspapers every day!" declared Will. "We see people hypnotized and forced to obey the commands of others, not only in the private parlor but on the open stage. Sometimes, too, the hypnotic influence is assisted by strange Oriental perfume. There's nothing extraordinary about it at all! In fact, there is only one word that describes it, and that is the word uncanny."
"Fix it anyway you want it!" grinned Tommy. "There's a broken window, and there's blood on the snow, and we found Thede lying on the floor when we sprang out of bed. If that doesn't make a good case of circumstantial evidence, I don't know what does!"
"This Little Brass God is getting on my nerves!" declared Sandy after a short pause. "We've been up against smugglers on Lake Superior; up against rattlers and wreckers in the Florida Everglades, and up against train robbers on the Great Divide, but this ghost business gets my goat!"
"Perhaps you'd like to go back to Chicago empty-handed?" asked Tommy.
"Not so you could notice it!" was the reply. "If there's anything I like, it's nice little Boy Scout excursions like this. All we have to do to get busy is to get a camping outfit together and march off into the wilderness. Everything else comes right along as a matter of course. Everything else, from magic haunches of venison, which appear when you wave your hand, to Little Brass Gods, which grin down from the wall one second and vanish in smoke the next!"
"Aw, come on to bed!" cried George.
"I'm going to sit up and get breakfast!" declared Tommy. "Sandy's got a grouch on, and there's nothing on earth so good for a grouch as a slice of broiled venison."
Tommy dressed himself and chased outdoors in order to bring in the meat supply. He returned without it. The venison was gone!
A HUNTING EXPEDITION
The boys remained at the cabin all the next day stirring out only for wood and game. Without going, more than a dozen yards from the habitation, the boys shot three rabbits and half a dozen squirrels.
These were taken about noon, and the boys immediately began the preparation of a stew. There were a few potatoes left, and these they pared and sliced into the savory dish when it was nearing completion.
They expected, every one of them, to receive another visit from the mysterious persons who had appeared at the cabin on the previous night, yet they did not talk of what was in their thoughts. They discussed the sad plight of Antoine, wandering about in the forest with a broken wrist, and wondered if the cached provisions were still intact.
The following night was a quiet one. Snow fell heavily, and the small streams of that section took on icy blankets.
When they awoke the following morning, the sun was shining brightly, and there were many signs of a pleasant week.
"After breakfast," Tommy declared, as he sent his plate over for the third helping of the rejuvenated stew, I'm going out and get a specimen of every wild animal in the woods. Then I'm going to put them all into this stew!"
"You might put a wolverine into it!" suggested Thede.
"Are they good to eat?" demanded Tommy.
"They're good to eat game out of the traps, I understand," replied the boy. "Or, just for a change," Thede continued, "how'd you like an owl in your stew? I guess that wouldn't put you wise or anything!"
"You seem to know quite a lot about this country," Will suggested.
"Poor Pierre taught me quite a lot during our rambles," Thede answered sorrowfully.
"Then perhaps you'd better come along with Tommy and me and show us where to get these different kinds of animals the kid wants to put into his stew. That will help some."
After breakfast the three boys started out with their automatics.
They crossed the morass to the higher ground beyond and passed along in the direction of the camp. There might be duck over Moose river, Thede suggested, and Tommy certainly would want a duck for his stew. Also there might be wild geese there.
When they came to the place where the provisions had been cached, they found the surface of the ground broken and the provisions gone. Not a single can remained.
"Now, we'll have to shoot all the more game," declared Tommy. "We haven't got many beans or tomatoes left, so we'll have to forage on the country."
The loss was not considered a serious one, for the boys had plenty of provisions at the cabin and game was very plentiful.
As they passed through the country signs of the wild creatures of the woods were numerous. There were few spaces of a length of twenty-five feet in which the track of some wild beast or bird did not cross their path.
Thede read this writing in the snow so understandingly that the boys actually paid more attention to his explanations than to the discovery of the game he was talking about.
"What crossed there?" Will would ask.
"That must have been a red deer!"
"And this track, here?" asked Tommy.
"Probably a fox."
"Well, what do you make of this?" Will demanded with a wink at Tommy.
"That must have been a moose, but he passed here some time before the last fall of snow!" replied Thede.
"Well, what's this wobbly little mark here?" Tommy asked.
"Partridge!" replied Thede readily.
"Well, here's another odd little mark. Looks like some one had been dragging a rail fence. What's that?"
"You ought to know that!" answered Thede.
"I ought to know lots of things that I don't know!" commented the boy.
"Well," Thede said with a laugh, "the wild animal that passed along there was a Beaver!"
"I wonder if he belongs to our patrol!" chuckled Tommy.
"I should think the little fellow would freeze to death," Will objected.
"Pierre said it was pretty cold for them to be out when he saw tracks two or three days ago!" replied Thede. "They're building a dam over on the river some place, and I suppose they think they've got to finish the job before real winter sets in."
After a long ramble through the forest, the boys came to the site of the old camp. The snow which covered the ground here had been well trodden down, and many tracks led in the direction of Moose river.
"I suppose they've been hunting for deserted provisions," Will suggested. "I'd like to know who it was that made the search!"
"It might have been your Hindu friend," suggested Tommy.
"Look here, kid," Will said in a moment. "Now that this Hindu discussion has broken out again, I'd like to know what you think the chances are for locating that little brown man."
"Well," Tommy answered, "I believe you were right when you said that the Little Brass God meant something more than intrinsic value to at least one of the men who are chasing it up. Now," the boy went on, "if this brass-faced fellow has the sacred idol nut in his head, he won't leave this section of the country until he finds it."
"That's the way I figure it out!" Will answered.
"And this adds another interesting feature to the case," Tommy continued. "When we started out we were alone in pursuit of the Little Brass God. Then we came upon Pierre, and we were just beginning to believe that he also was in search of the merry little jigger when Antoine murdered him. Now, here comes a third interest, and, if you are anywhere near correct in your conclusions, he comes all the way from India."
"You don't know where he comes from!" Will interrupted. "The question we want to ask ourselves now is this:
"Have we any chance of recovering the article we were sent after if we remain in this district? In other words, ought we to settle down here and wait for things to quiet, or ought we to make an effort to discover the whereabouts of the two men who have expressed such decided opinions regarding the value of the Little Brass God?"
"Meaning Antoine and the alleged Hindu?" asked Tommy.
"Exactly," was the reply. "You see," Will went on, "there's no use of our remaining in camp here if the person who has the stolen article in his possession has taken it away."
"I believe Antoine has it!" declared Tommy.
"If Antoine has it, if that was Antoine sitting before the fire that night, why did he take the Little Brass God there instead of concealing it in his own cavern?"
"The more we talk about it, the less we know," grinned Tommy.
"Night before last," Will began, "the Little Brass God was in a cave only a few miles from this spot. I don't believe it has been taken out of the district! If you boys leave it to me, we'll stay in the cabin for a few days, and take quiet trips about the country, particularly the hilly country to the south, in search of Antoine and the Hindu."
"That suits me!" Tommy declared, "and I know it'll suit George and Sandy, too! There'll be a lot of fun in tramping about."
"Then why not make a trip to the range of hills right now?" asked Will. "We can be back long before night."
"I don't know about that," replied Thede who had been listening to the conversation without speaking. "It's a long way over to the hills and the snow's deep."
"Then I'll tell you what we'll do!" Tommy exclaimed excitedly. "We'll get a lot of game and send you back with it, and you tell the boys that if we don't return tonight, we'll be camping in some of those caverns in the hills."
"I thought you'd be ready for another runaway night excursion!" laughed Will.
"I suppose I don't run away when I'm with you!" commented Tommy.
Will only laughed, and the boys began the collection of rabbits and squirrels and ducks until Thede was pretty well loaded down. They all walked along together until they came to where it would be necessary to part company because of the different directions to be taken.
There Will and Tommy turned toward the south while Thede kept straight on toward the cottage on the island in the swamp.
"There's one thing we forgot," Tommy suggested as the boys tramped laboriously through the snow. "We forgot to bring along anything to eat!"
"Yes, we did!" laughed Will. "Don't you think I'll ever start out on a tramp with you without plenty of provisions."
The boy opened his heavy coat and revealed inside pockets packed with sandwiches made of venison steak and bread, with now and then a sandwich composed of stewed meat and griddle cakes, for variety.
"We won't have to go home tonight, now, will we?" laughed Tommy.
"In Chicago," Will began, "we had a boy in our office we used to call The-Young-Man-Afraid-Of-His-Bed. You must be related to him, for I have never known you to go to bed without objecting, or to get up without thinking how much time you had wasted!"
"Never you mind me!" replied Tommy. "You wait till you get into some of those caverns in the hills and build a roaring fire, and I'll show you that you're not the only boy that can provide provisions."
"You mustn't do any shooting over there!" warned Will. "We might as well go in quest of the Little Brass God with a band!"
"That's a fact!" agreed Tommy in a discouraged tone.
The boys first visited the cave where George had seen the Little Brass God grinning down from the wall. There seemed to be no one within miles of them.
While they talked, however, a shadow fell on the oblong bit of light which marked the entrance, and a tall figure with one bandaged wrist, leaning on the barrel of a rifle, stood gazing down upon them with hatred flashing from his eyes.
"It's Antoine!" whispered Will.
"Yes, and he won't do a thing to us now!" whispered Tommy.
ANTOINE ON THE RUN
Antoine regarded the boys steadily for a moment without moving a muscle. Will and Tommy believed that the fellow meant mischief, and were wondering if they would be able to get their automatics from their pockets before he could bring his rifle to a shooting level.
One question had at least been answered. The boys had been wondering ever since settling at the cabin whether Antoine had not taken his departure from that country. His presence there at that time answered this question in the most uncomfortable manner. The man was evidently there on a mission not to be interfered with by so simple a thing as a broken wrist.
"Well, boys," Antoine said in a moment, his face relaxing into a smile which was far more terrifying than the previous look of hatred, "it seems that we have come together again!"
"Welcome to our midst!" grinned Tommy.
Antoine eyed the lad keenly for an instant and then turned his eyes toward Will.
"What are you doing in this country?" he asked.
"Fishing and bunting!" was the reply.
"Hunting for what?"
"Do you think we're looking for a forty story skyscraper?" demanded Tommy.
Again Antoine glanced sharply at the boy, but seemed determined not to give the slightest attention to his irrelevant observation.
"Who sent you here?" he asked of Will.
"Gee-whiz!" exclaimed Tommy angrily. "Is this the third degree?"
"How long are you going to remain here?" asked Antoine, without paying any attention to the boy's question.
"Gee!" exclaimed Tommy. "You make me think of the stories of little Clarence in the newspapers! You're the original little interrogation point."
"You'd better answer my questions!" thundered Antoine, losing his temper at last.
Now this was exactly what Tommy had been hoping for. Antoine angry might prove to be more communicative than Antoine in a pleasant temper.
"Will you answer a few of my questions?" asked Will, wondering if it would be possible for him to spring upon the trapper and bring him down before his rifle could be brought into use.
"If you'll keep that impertinent little gutter-snipe still," Antoine snarled, "I'll answer such questions as seem to me to be worth answering."
"Are you the man who was seen sitting half-asleep before a fire in a cavern three nights ago?" asked the boy.
The man hesitated for a moment, as if in deep thought, and then answered with an exclamation of impatience.
"Were you in the cave that night?"
"No, but my chums were," Will replied.
"What did they see there?"
"A man asleep by the fire!"
"Perhaps the man wasn't asleep at all. What else did they see?"
It was Will's turn to hesitate now. He was wondering if he ought to mention the fact of the presence in that cavern of the Little Brass God.
At first it seemed to him that he ought to do so, that he might be able to secure information as to the exact situation from Antoine by facing him with the fact of the discovery of the ugly little idol.
Then he reasoned that an acknowledgment that they knew anything whatever of the Little Brass God would be likely to get them into deeper trouble, if possible, than that which they now faced.
So the boy decided to say nothing whatever of what George and Thede had seen shining in the light of the fire.
During this brief time of silence Antoine brought his rifle into a more menacing position and began stirring about angrily.
"Are you going to answer my question?" the man finally demanded.
"That's about all so far as I know!" replied the boy.
Of course Will was not telling the exact truth, but he believed that, under the circumstances, he was privileged to shade the exact facts a trifle in the interest of his own safety.
"What was it you put in the tea you gave George?" asked Tommy with a mischievous grin on his freckled face.
"I put nothing whatever in it!" replied Antoine, "that is, I put nothing in it calculated to do the boy any harm."
It seemed to the boys that Antoine's manner was becoming more conciliatory every moment.
"The lad was worn out, weak from loss of blood, and sadly in need of attention," the man went on, "and so, after caring for his wound and giving him a good breakfast, I gave him a mild sleeping potion, which, as you already know, affected him only a short time."
"You say it well!" grinned Tommy.
Antoine threw an angry glance at the provoking youngster, but soon turned to Will once more.
"I didn't quite understand the sudden attack the boys made on me," he said. "I was astonished when I received the blow which broke my wrist."
"Who set your wrist?" asked Will.
"There was only one bone broken, and I set it myself!" was the reply.
"Perhaps we did wrong in taking it for granted that George had been drugged to get him out of the way, and that we would share the same fate," Will admitted after a moment. "But, under the circumstances, I don't see how we could have done any differently."
"I'm sorry you were so precipitous," Antoine said with what was intended for a suave smile. "You boys, I understand," he went on, "are now occupying the cabin on the island in the marsh."
"Who told you that?" asked Will.
"No one!" was the reply. "I have been near the place twice since you took possession.
"Why didn't you call?" demanded Tommy.
Again the boy's question was ignored.
"Did you see any one loitering about the cottage when you were there?" asked Will. "You were there in the daytime, I suppose."
"Why do you ask that question?" demanded Antoine, giving a quick start. "Have you been annoyed by people hanging about the cabin?"
Will didn't know whether to relate the story of the midnight visit or not. He finally decided that the least he said to Antoine the better it would be for him, so he replied that they had passed two very restful nights in the deserted log house on the island.
"Did you find it deserted?" asked Antoine.
"It had the appearance of having been recently occupied," replied Will. "I understand from one of the boys that Pierre formerly lived there."
"So I understand!" Antoine replied grimly. "The point now is, whether it was occupied by any one after Pierre left it."
Not caring to tell the exact facts. Will said nothing whatever, and for a moment there was a rather embarrassed silence.
"What do you say about that?" demanded Antoine.
"Why, I think there was a little fire left when we went into the place," Will replied, "but that might have been a left-over from the day before. Those large fires burn a long time."
"And you say that you have not been disturbed at all during your occupancy of the place?" Antoine continued.
"Now I wonder how much this fellow knows," Will asked himself while Antoine stood gazing curiously down upon him. "I wonder if he knows about the people who came there that night? He seems to have a suspicion that some person is wandering about the country, and keeping pretty well out of sight. I wish I knew how much he knows."
"Oh, we have slept all right," he finally said, in reply to the man's question. "A mess of healthy boys will sleep under the noise of battle!"
"I ask these questions," Antoine said directly, "because I have seen strange foot-prints in the snow at different times, and it seems to me that some person or persons are skulking through the woods and, for some reason known only to themselves, keeping out of sight of honest men."
"He knows all about that affair at the cabin," Will concluded. "Now," he went on, "I wonder why he's so very much interested in these strangers, whoever they are?"
"Oh, come on!" Tommy exclaimed. "Don't stand here all day! We've got to get back to the cabin before it gets too dark to make our way through the woods."
The two boys took a couple of steps forward at a venture, without knowing whether Antoine would oppose their leaving the cavern.
"Well," he said, as he stepped to one side, "if you boys see any strangers loitering about, I wish you'd let me know."
The two lads amazed departed without making any promise, but they did not at once turn in the direction of the cabin. Instead, they plunged through the snow in a southerly direction, after seeing that Antoine had gone the other way.
"Where are you headed for now?" asked Tommy.
"Just wandering about on general principles," replied Will, at the same time turning into one of the eaves belonging to the system of underground passages. "Thought I'd look in here first!"
The lads entered the cavern as noiselessly as possible and looked guardedly about. A great heap of furs lay on the floor, and two figures rested upon them apparently lost in slumber.
Tommy pointed to the modern shoes on the feet of one of the sleepers. Then he silently called attention to the bloody bandage wrapped about the man's head. He looked at Will inquiringly.
"Do you suppose," he whispered, "that these, fellows are here after the Little Brass God, too?"
The men seemed willing to answer the question for themselves, for they sprang to their feet and glared at the intruders angrily.
One of the men was dressed as a trapper, although he did not look the part. He was tall and angular, with sharp features and keen black eyes.
His companion was shorter, but equally slender. His eye orbits were small and oval in shape, his face was a dusky brown, and there was, somehow, about the man an atmosphere of the Orient.
While the four people glared at each other a step was heard in the narrow entrance, and in a moment Antoine's face was clearly outlined against the narrow slit of light.
The trapper took in the group at one quick glance, and, turning in his tracks, fled precipitately down the slope. Without speaking a word, the two men who had been found in the cavern, turned and followed him.
"Now what do you think of that?" demanded Tommy.
"BOYS UP A TREE!"
When Thede returned to the cabin with numerous squirrels, rabbits and ducks, Sandy greeted him with a shout of joy.
"This will seem like living in the north woods!" he cried. "We'll have all kinds of game from this time on!"
"You bet we will!" replied Thede. "I'm some hungry myself, when it comes to that! I guess I can get a few!"
"You never shot all these!" Sandy doubted, poking the squirrels and rabbits about with a finger. "You never got them all by yourself!"
"How do you know I didn't?" asked Thede, with a provoking grin.
"Because you couldn't," Sandy answered.
"All right, then," admitted the boy. "We all had a share in the shooting, and Will and Tommy sent me back with the game."
"Where have they gone?" asked Sandy, a look of indignation over-spreading his face. "They're always running away and leaving me to watch the camp! I wish they'd give me a chance sometime."
Thede sat down in one of the clumsy chairs which the cabin afforded and laughed until his sides shook.
"I don't think any of you boys are famishing for fresh air and adventure," he said in a moment. "You seem to me to be kept pretty busy."
"Well," Sandy exclaimed, "they might let me go with them when they start off on a tour like that. Where have they gone, anyway?"
"They said they were going out in search of the Little Brass God!" laughed Thede.
"Honest?" demanded Sandy.
"That's what they said!"
"I hope they don't find it!" Sandy exclaimed.
The boys cooked a liberal supply of game for dinner and then began restlessly walking to and fro over the cabin floor.
"What's the matter with you fellows?" asked George in a moment, speaking from the bunk.
"Hello, you've woke up, have you?" demanded Sandy. "I thought perhaps you'd sleep all day! How's your head feel?"
"Rotten, thank you!" answered George.
Sandy took a couple more turns about the room and then sat down by the side of the bunk where George lay.
"I know what's the matter with you!" George said, directly.
"What's the answer!" asked Sandy, rather sourly.
"You need exercise!" replied George. "You've been ramming about the cabin all the morning, and I've been wishing for the last three hours that you'd take to the tall timber."
"Is that so?" shouted Sandy springing to his feet.
"Yes, that's so!" answered George. "I wish you and Thede would go out for a ramble. If you don't know what else to do, walk over to the river and catch a fish. That'll go all right for supper."
"You're on!" cried Sandy.
The boys were ready for the trip in a very few moments. It was not necessary now to provide against mosquitoes and "bull-dogs," for the sudden cold spell had effectually silenced them for the winter.
"Now don't you fellows come home unless you bring about twenty pounds of trout," George directed as the two lads opened the door and disappeared from sight.
The boys had proceeded but a short distance when Sandy called his companion's attention to a peculiar foot-print in the snow.
"I guess we must be approaching the corner of State and Madison again!" he laughed. "We come out into the woods to commune with nature, and find some new party butting in every time we turn around."
"That's an Indian's foot-print!" declared Thede.
"How do you know that?" demanded Sandy. "You haven't seen any Indian, have you? How can you tell an Indian's foot-print from any one else's? That may be a white man's step, for all we know!"
"Nay, nay, me son!" laughed Thede. "I know by the shape of the moccasin and by the way the fellow walks."
"You know a whole lot of things!" laughed Sandy. "If you keep on accumulating knowledge, you'll beat Tommy out of his job as the Sherlock Holmes of the party!"
"Well, if you don't believe he's an Indian, you'd better go and ask him!" Thede argued. "He's right over there in the thicket!"
Sandy gave a quick start of alarm and put his hand back to his automatic. Thede motioned him to leave his gun where it was.
"This is a friendly Indian," the boy explained. "I've often heard Pierre refer to him. He's called Oje, but I don't know whether that's his name or not. He's said to be the champion fisherman of this section, and if you really want to get fish for supper, we'd better get him interested."
Oje was not a very romantic looking Indian, his general appearance being that of a bear fitted out with about three hides. The boys noticed, however, that none of the clothing he wore was fastened closely about his waist or throat. In fact, as he joined them with a grunt, they saw that the roughly-made garments were nearly all open.
The Indian knows better than to bring his clothing where it will come in contact with either his breath or with perspiration. Should he do this in very severe weather, he would soon find everything about him frozen stiff. He is sure, however, to carry enough clothing with him to keep him warm in repose and during the long nights.
"How do you know that's Oje?" whispered Sandy, as the Indian stood looking questioningly at the two boys.
"Because he answers to the description."
"Howdy!" the Indian exclaimed in a moment.
The boys returned the greeting, and then followed a conversation which was almost entirely expressed by signs.
Oje was invited to proceed with the boys on a fishing trip, and, later, to accept of their hospitality at the cabin. The Indian gave a grunt of assent, and at once turned toward the river.
As they passed the spot where the cache had been, Sandy glanced curiously toward the Indian, as though wondering whether he had not been the one to dig out the provisions. The Indian, however, walked on without appearing to notice either the rifled cache or the suspicious glances of the boy. Arrived at the river, the Indian, after carefully testing the ice, walked to a small island near the shore.
The boys looked on while he began his preparations for fishing. He went about the work quietly, yet seemed to be remarkably exact in all his motions. First he cut about twenty feet of fish-line in two in the middle of the piece and tied one end of each part to one end of a stick which he cut from the shore.
The knots he made in the fastening seemed primitive, but it was discovered later that they held very firmly. After a time he tied a bass hook to each fish-line, and on each hook he speared a little cube of fat pork which he drew from his pocket, and which had evidently done service through a long series of fishing expeditions.
Next he cut two holes in the ice, which was not very thick at that point, and over these the boys were invited to stand, sticks in hand, lines dangling from the poles.
Hardly had Sandy lowered his line which had a bullet flattened around it for a sinker, when he felt it jerk to one side, and almost immediately drew up a three-pound trout.
"Now, what do you think of that for catching fish?" demanded the boy.
Oje gave a satisfied grunt at this evident appreciation of his services, and motioned the lads to continue their sport.
Next Thede caught a gray trout somewhat smaller than the fish landed by Sandy, and then another three-pound speckled trout was landed.
"I guess if some of these fellows with hundred dollar fishing outfits could see us hauling beauties out of the water like this, they'd begin to understand what real fishing means!" Sandy exclaimed.
It was a glorious day for fishing, although a trifle cold. The sun shone down with a brilliance unequaled in more tropical climates, and there was little wind to send the chill through the clothing. After the boys had caught plenty of fish they started back toward the cabin.
Oje walked through the wilderness with a different manner from that with which he had accompanied the boys in the journey toward the river. He glanced sharply about, and frequently stopped to examine trifling marks in the snow. After a time he pointed to the track of a rabbit which had apparently departed from the faint trail in extreme terror, judging from the speed which had been made.
"Strange man!" he said significantly. "Find track soon!"
"Do you mean," asked Sandy, "that there's some one chasing us up?"
"Find track soon," was all the explanation the Indian would make.
"Of course!" Sandy declared. "We couldn't think of going back to the cabin without butting into some new combination!"
In a short time the Indian discovered the footprints he was looking for, and pointed them out to the boys. Two persons had passed that way not long before. The tracks in the snow showed that one had worn moccasins and the other ordinary shoes.
"I should think that fellow's feet would freeze!" Sandy observed. "He don't seem to have any overshoes on!"
"How do you know?" asked Thede. "He may have a small foot and wear overshoes shaped like a shoe itself."
"I wish we could follow the trail and find out where they're going!" Sandy observed.
"I'm game for it!" declared Thede.
The two boys pointed to the foot-prints and started to follow them.
The Indian seemed pleased at the idea, and soon led the way toward the range of hills whither the foot-prints pointed.
"The first thing we know," Thede suggested, "we'll be running into a nest of black bears. They're thick as bees up in this country, and they'll be hungry, too, with all this snow on the ground."
The words were hardly out of his mouth before a succession of low, angry growls came to the ears of the boys, and the next moment they saw Oje springing into the lower branches of a great fir tree.
"I guess he knows what's good for his health!" shouted Sandy. "Me for a tree, too!"
The boys probably never made quicker motions in their lives.
"Have you got a searchlight with you?" asked Thede.
Sandy shook his head sadly.
"Then we can't see to shoot the beasts," wailed Thede, "and it looks to me like one of those long, cold nights in a tree!"
A PILLAR OF FIRE
"Can you build a fire with one match?" asked Thede, after a short silence, during which the boys had been trying in vain to get a shot at the bears.
"Of course I can!" answered Sandy. "What's the good of going through all those Boy Scout examinations, if a fellow can't build a fire with one match? Of course I can build a fire with one match!"
"Can you build a fire with one match up in a tree?" asked Thede, with a suspicion of mirth in his voice.
"Of course I can!" answered Sandy.
"Up in a tree in the darkness, on a windy night?" asked Thede.
"If this thing is going to your head, you'd better drop down and make a run for the camp!" advised Sandy.
"Honest, now," asked Thede, "can you make a fire with one match in a green tree, in a high wind, on a dark night?"
"Cut it out!" roared Sandy.
"Because if you can," Thede explained, "I think I can show you a way out of this mess!"
"Well, go on and show it, then!"
"All you've got to do," Thede went on, "is to build a fire and drop the burning brands down on top of the bears. That will bring them out into the light for a second or two, and perhaps we can drop them with our automatics."
The boys heard the Indian moving softly about in the branches of the tree he had selected as a refuge, but paid little attention to what he was doing. Afterwards, they discovered that he had dropped his rifle at the foot of the tree, and was trying to secure it.
"Why did you say build a fire with one match?" asked Sandy. "I always carry a lot of matches," the boy added, feeling in his pocket.
"Find any?" asked Thede.
"Not a match!"
"I knew you wouldn't!" Thede said.
"How'd you happen to know so much?" grunted Sandy.
"Because," Thede replied, "I saw you feeling in your pocket for a match and bring your fingers out empty while at the cabin. Then you went to a match box and laid a great heap of 'em on the table. I thought of it while we stood there, but it never occurred to me to tell you to stow them away."
"I remember now!" Sandy said regretfully.
"Well," Thede responded cheerfully, "I've got just one match. I wonder if you can light a fire with that!"
"You just wait a minute and I'll tell you!" replied Sandy.
Thede heard him moving about over the limbs of the tree, his every motion being punctuated by growls from below. Then came an exclamation of satisfaction from the darkness, and Thede heard the boy declaring that it was a dead tree they were in, and that there was plenty of dry wood.
"All right, start your fire, then," suggested Thede, "and we'll see if we can't burn the backs off some of those bears!"
"Perhaps we can break off enough dry limbs to make a rousing old fire that will keep till morning," Sandy said in a moment. "If this old tree is really dead to the heart, it'll make quite a blaze."
Sandy gathered a great handful of twigs not more than a couple of inches in length and placed them in a sheltered position in the lee of the tree. Then he added dry boughs of larger size and made ready to use the precious match.
"Now you know what'll happen if that match goes out!" said Thede.
"This match," said Sandy confidently, "is not the kind of a match that goes out. I'd be a healthy old Boy Scout if I couldn't build a fire in the top of a tree with one match!"
The boy waited until there came a brief lull in the wind, then with the match protected as much as possible by his hat he struck it.
The flame spluttered for an instant, died down, crawled around to the windward side of the stick, crawled back again, and then flared up gloriously. At first the dry twigs refused to ignite, but presently one caught the blaze, then another, and directly Sandy was obliged to draw his face away from the growing heat.
"There!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Didn't I tell you I could do it?"
"You said you could," answered Thede, "but I didn't believe it!"
"Look here," Tommy said in a minute, sheltering his face from the smoke. "First thing we know, we'll have this whole blooming tree on fire."
"If it gets good and hot, we can fry fish after the bears go away," suggested Thede. "I'm hungry! By the way," he added with a grin, "where are those fish?"
"Do you think I brought 'em up in the tree?" demanded Sandy.
"You never left 'em down there?" asked Thede.
"Didn't I?" exclaimed Sandy. "What did you do with the ones you were carrying?"
"Why," replied Thede, "I guess I left 'em in the thicket where we stood when we made a hop-skip-and-jump for the tree."
"We certainly are a bright mess!" cried Sandy.
"Say," Thede said in a moment, "I'll just bet that's what kept the bears so still while we've been up here building the fire. They've been eating our fish! That's why we couldn't get sight of them!"
"Can you see the bears now?" asked Sandy. "I'm sure I can't!"
"They're still back in there eating our trout!' wailed Thede.
"Unless you want a leg burned off," advised Sandy, "you'd better work around on another limb!"
"Aw, this limb is all right!" argued Thede.
The light from the fire now illuminated quite a little circle around the tree, and the boys saw 0je sliding cautiously down the trunk of the tree where he had taken refuge.
"He's after his gun!" declared Sandy. "Just watch out and you'll see him get one of those bears!"
Oje certainly was after his rifle, for he slid down cautiously, keeping the bole of the tree between himself and the bears.
Much to the surprise of the lads, the Indian did not again climb into the shelter of the branches. Instead, he stood peering around the trunk of the tree as if waiting for the wild animals to make their appearance. The flame blazed higher and higher and the boys began to feel uncomfortable.
"I'll bet there ain't any bears here!" Sandy exclaimed after a moment's silence. "I guess we run away from a rabbit!"
"I guess we didn't!" insisted Thede.
The boy's opinion was verified a moment later by the appearance of three shambling figures in the lighted zone. The bear is noted for his curiosity, and the boys realized, too, that the feast of fish must have been devoured.
"We might have sneaked away while they were eating that fine supper!" Sandy said, in a tone of disgust. "I think we ought to have medals made out of a cow's ear! That would be a good medal, wouldn't it, for boys who showed such courage in the face of the enemy?"
"Never you mind!" Thede answered. "I guess the bears are next to their job. We wouldn't have gone far before they'd been after us."
As the bears appeared in the light of the fire, now blazing fiercely and fast climbing from one dry limb to another, the lads saw the Indian raise his rifle to his shoulder and fire.
Instead of taking to their legs, the bears grouped themselves around their fallen mate and snarled savagely up into the tree.
"Oje will get another one in a minute," Thede ventured, overjoyed at the success of the first shot, "and then we can open fire with our automatics."
"Holy Moses!" cried Sandy. "Here we've been sitting here watching the panorama with our guns in our pockets! I guess we don't know much about hunting bears, when it comes down to cases."
"Well, it isn't too late to shoot yet," Thede declared.
"It's getting pretty hot here, anyhow," said Sandy, "and we'll have to drop in a minute, whether we shoot or not. This old tree seems to be as dry as tinder!"
"Yes," Thede agreed, "I guess you started something when you made such good use of that one match."
The boys moved about on the limb in order to get at their automatics. They noted then, for the first time, that the perch upon which they rested was burning close to the trunk. They called out to each other, almost simultaneously, to shift to the trunk of the tree.
But it was too late. They felt themselves swinging through, the air, and the next moment there was such a mixture of boy and bear at the bottom of the tree as has rarely been seen in the British Territories.
Both boys landed squarely on the back of one of the animals. Of course, they rolled to the ground instantly and grabbed for their automatics, but their movements were no quicker than those of the astonished bear.
"Woof!" he said. "Woof!"
Translated into boy-talk, this read "Good-night!" and a second later they heard both bears tramping through the forest as if pursued by a pack of hounds.
"What do you know about that?" demanded Tommy.
Without replying, Thede scrambled to his feet and dashed into the thicket where he had left the fish. He returned in a moment with a woeful face which set his chum into roars of laughter.
"They ate our fish!" he said,
"What'd you think they'd do with them?" demanded Sandy. "Did you think they'd put 'em in cold storage and keep 'em for next summer?"
"What I'm sobbing about," Thede went on, "is that the bears certainly made a monkey of me. They weren't after us. They were after the fish!"
"Well, they got the fish, didn't they?" asked Sandy.
"And we might have been on our way while they were devouring them!" wailed Thede.
The tree was now virtually a pillar of fire, and the boys moved out from under it. They found the Indian standing, stolid and indifferent, just out of the circle of light.
"Just think of all that funny thing happening and he never seeing any humor in it!" exclaimed Sandy.
The Indian lifted his hand for silence, and pointed off toward the hills. Then, motioning the boys to follow him, he led the way into a thicket and crouched down.
Directly the panting and puffing of a man exhausted from a long run, was heard, and the familiar figure of Antoine dashed into the circle of light! He glared about for a moment and then dropped down on the snow, evidently completely exhausted.
THE SIGNAL FROM THE HILLS
"That's a funny proposition, too!" whispered Sandy.
"That's the gink who tried to feed us poisoned tea," Thede whispered back. "I wonder what he's running for."
The Indian drew at the boys' sleeves to enforce silence, and all three sat perfectly still for some moments. Then Antoine lifted himself to his feet and looked cautiously about.
They saw him examine the bear tracks and heard him muttering to himself as he followed with trained eyes the trail leading into the thicket where the boys and the Indian were hiding.
He drew quite close to the bushes where the three lay; so close, indeed, that they could hear him muttering as he lost the trail because of the darkness. Presently, he turned back.
"I think I understand," he said hoarsely. "Two of the boys were treed by bears and Oje rescued them. I presume they are half way to the cabin before this."
He started along the trail by which the boys had reached the tree but presently turned back. He stood in the light of the fire for a moment and then set off in the direction of the hills.
"Safer there than here!" they heard him growl as he passed them by.
Oje waited until the sound of the fellow's footsteps were heard no more, and then arose to his feet, Without speaking a word, he, too, faced toward the hills, passing through the snow at a swinging gait.
"What's he going to do now?" queried Sandy.
"I wish I knew!" replied Thede. "Say, look here!" the boy continued, "hadn't we better make a break for the cabin? I don't see any sustenance in wandering around in the snow all night!"
"Oje has something on his mind!" Sandy declared. "And I think we'd better find out where he's going."
"All right!" answered Thede. "I'm game, only I'm wondering what George is thinking about all this time."
It was cold and dark in the forest, and the snow was deep, but the boys trudged bravely on in the direction of the hills. At least they supposed that they were going in the direction of the hills. They could scarcely see a yard in advance of their noses under the thick foliage and so trusted entirely to the Indian, who led them along at a pace which was exhausting to say the least.
There would be a moon shortly after eight, but soon after that time they hoped to be snugly tucked in their blankets in the cottage. For a time they could see the dry tree which they had fired blazing in the distance, but at length it dropped out of sight.
"How long do you think that blooming savage will keep this up?" asked Sandy of Thede, as the two boys struggled along through snow nearly up to their knees. "I'm about all in!"
"He's capable of keeping it up all night!" Thede answered in a dejected tone, "but I hope he'll stop when we come to the hills."
"He does seem to be heading for the hills," Sandy replied. "If he'll only stop when he gets there, I may be able to catch my breath again!"
"Cheer up!" laughed Thede. "The worst is yet to come!"
"Doesn't that look like the moon coming up?" asked Sandy an hour later as they came to a slope which gradually led up to the hills.
"That's the moon, all right!" replied Thede. "But it won't do much good if we keep on walking under the trees. We ought to be home now."
"Does the moon rise in the south?" asked Sandy,
"There's no knowing what will take place in this part of the country," answered Thede. "Me for little old Chicago right soon!"
"I think it's about time we headed for Chicago," Sandy agreed. "When a couple of Boy Scouts who are supposed to be in their right minds climb a tree to get away from bears who are so busy eating stolen fish that they don't know there is a boy within a hundred miles, I think it is about time they headed for civilization."
"What did you mean about the moon rising in the south?" asked Thede.
"Well," Sandy answered, "it looks to me as if there were two moons rising, one in the east and one in the south!"
There certainly was a light growing far up on the hills. In a moment the Indian came back to the boys and pointed out the strange illumination.
"Fire there!" he said.
"What do you think it means?" asked Thede.
"Heap campfire!" was the reply.
Oje held up three fingers to indicate that he saw three fires. His eyes were sharper than those of the boys, who at first saw only a blur of light. Before long, however, they caught sight of three points of flame lifting above the hills. As the boys looked the blazes seemed to die down, or to be obscured by additional material being thrown upon them. As the moon rose, sending a wintry light over the great slope, three gigantic columns of smoke stood where the flames had shown a minute before.
"What do you make of it?" asked Thede.
"Can you read the signal?" asked Sandy.
"Do you really think it is a signal?"
"Of course it's a signal!" cried Sandy. "That's the Boy Scout signal. Do you know what it says?"
"Three smoke columns mean 'Good News!' answered Thede.
"Do you suppose those crazy boys are still in the hills?" asked Sandy. "If they are, George will think we've all deserted him."
"Of course they're still in the hills!" declared Thede. "No one but Boy Scouts would be sending up those signals!"
"Aw, what good news would they have to communicate?" asked Sandy.
"Perhaps they've found the Little Brass God!" suggested Thede.
"Found your Little Brass Uncle!" cried Sandy.
"Well, it's good news anyhow!" insisted Thede. "If it wasn't the boys wouldn't be taking the pains to build three big fires in order to tell us about it."
The Indian appeared to be suspicious of the campfires ahead until the boys explained to him, with much difficulty, that the fires had undoubtedly been built by their friends, and that they conveyed the information that agreeable developments awaited them.
The slope of the hills was now bathed in moonlight, and the Indian hesitated about advancing over the many clear places from which the timber fell away. Urged on by the boys, however, he finally proceeded cautiously in the direction of the fires, keeping out of the moonlight as far as possible.
"Oje's afraid we'll bunt into something," Thede said, as they clambered up the slope. "I wonder what he'd think if he should be called out of his bed by a blooming magician from the East Indies."
The signal coming from the hills was farther to the east than the boys had ventured before. The fires seemed to have been built high up on a shelf of rock facing the north.
When the boys came closer they saw two figures moving about in front of the flames. Directly they bad no difficulty whatever in recognizing Will and Tommy, as they heaped great piles of green boughs on the coals in order to create dense smoke.
"The kids are in the center of the stage all right!" laughed Sandy.
"I don't see how they dare build fires out in that exposed place," Thede suggested. "There's no knowing who may be prowling around."
"Perhaps they know where the few enemies we have found in this section are keeping themselves!"
"Perhaps they've got 'em shut up in some of their own caverns!" Thede suggested. "Anyway," he went on, "there's something doing, or they wouldn't be talking Boy Scout to us at this time of night."
As the boys drew still closer they heard the labored breathing of some one running, apparently only a short distance away.
Oje darted away in the direction of the sounds, but soon returned to where the boys waited and headed once more for the Boy Scout signal.
"What did you see, Oje?" Thede asked.
The Indian turned and pointed back over the snowy trail they had followed from the burning tree.
"Man from there!" he said.
"Antoine?" asked Sandy.
The Indian nodded and continued up the slope as if the matter were unworthy of further attention.
"Now, what do you suppose Antoine came here for?" asked Thede.
"Attracted by the fire, probably,"
"I don't understand what he's roaming about so much for," Thede continued. "What was he doing out at the burning tree?"
"From the appearance of things," Sandy answered, "I should say that he hot-footed it out there in order to get away from some one who was chasing him, though I can't understand why anyone should be chasing him."
"Anyway, he seems to be back here now," Thede said. "It's dollars to buttons, though, that he doesn't go up to the fire where the boys are."
"Look here," Sandy said in a moment, '"I just believe that Antoine has the Little Brass God in his possession, and that the two men who came to the cabin that night are after it!"
"I hope they don't get it!"
"Of course they won't get it," Sandy answered. "Didn't we come away up here into this desolate land to get it ourselves?"
When a few yards from the blazing fires, Sandy paused long enough to give the Beaver call and hear the answer given. Then the lads trooped up to the circle of light and warmth.
"What's the idea?" Sandy asked after greetings had been exchanged. "Did you build these fires so we could cook supper?"
"You're not hungry, I hope!" grinned Tommy.
"Starved to death!" answered Sandy. "We've been treed by bears, and dumped down on the back of a great beast about nine feet long, and had our fish devoured, and there's been nothing doing in the eating line since noon!"
"Never you mind the hardships of life!" grinned Will. "We've got great news for you, so get ready to shout!"
"What's the great news?" demanded Sandy.
"We've got the Little Brass God penned up in the cavern just under this rock! We've got a cinch on him this time!"
A SIGHT OF THE GOD
"All quiet at the cabin?" asked Tommy.
"All quiet when we left," Sandy replied.
"What time did you leave?" demanded Tommy, suspiciously.
"Shortly after dinner."
"And you've gone and left George alone all this time!" exclaimed Tommy indignantly. "You're a bright lot!"
"We thought you boys would be back to the cabin long before this!" Sandy declared. "But what is it about this Little Brass God?"
"When we reached the system of caverns which we visited not long ago, and in which we were held prisoners for a short time," Will said, "we found two men, well bundled up in furs, lying asleep, or apparently asleep, in one of the smaller rooms. They sprang up when they saw us and seemed about to engage in conversation with us when Antoine made his appearance. Antoine seemed to want to talk with us, too, but when he saw the two men who had been asleep in the cavern he hot-footed down the slope, with the two fellows after him. I never saw a man run so fast in my life."
"I bet they chased him clear to our tree!" Thede cut in.
"I guess he never stopped running until be got there anyway!" Sandy grinned. "But why should he come right back here after being chased away?"
"I don't think he did!" "Will replied.
"Oje saw him out here not long ago!" Sandy insisted.
"What was he doing?"
"I presume he was watching the fire."
"The two men who pursued him are back, too!" Will continued. "Tommy and I found them in a cute little nest in the rocks not more than an hour ago. Just before we built these fires, in fact."
"I suppose you built the fires to lure us from the cabin!" laughed Sandy. "Well, we wasn't at the cabin, but we saw the signals just the same!"
"We wanted you to come and help capture the men who have the Little Brass God," Will answered.
"So you've got the Little Brass God penned up under the hill!" laughed Sandy. "You've got it, and yet you haven't got it!"
"I never said we had it!" Will replied. "I said we had it penned up under the hill. You didn't give me time to explain that there were two men penned up with it."
"All right!" Sandy said. "You've come to the right shop for fighting men. I can see those two fellows fading away at my approach!"
"Then you go in ahead," advised Tommy. "They seem to be well armed and may shoot, if you don't scare them into fits with one of your fierce glances! They're bold, bad men!"
"How do you know they haven't disappeared while you've been making signals?" asked Sandy. "They've had time enough to be five miles away!"
"We nailed 'em in with a couple of boulders!" grinned Tommy.
"You followed Pierre's example, did you?"
"Yes, we just blocked 'em in."
"Well, I think we'd better be getting them out, then!" Sandy urged. "And also be moving toward the cabin. George'll think we've got killed or something."
"Come on, then," Will exclaimed. "I'll show you where they are!"
The boy led the way down the slope for some distance and then paused at a boulder which blocked the entrance to what seemed to be a cavern of good size. They listened for a moment, but could hear no sounds coming from the interior.
"How're you going to get them out?" asked Thede.
"We ain't going to get 'em out!" replied Will. "What do you think we brought you boys here for? We know they can't get out, so we're just going to sit down here and wait for them to get good and hungry."
"All right!" Sandy answered. "Two can watch and two can go back to the cabin! George will be good and anxious by this time."
"I was thinking of asking Oje to watch a short time," Will said. "It's a good thing the Indian came along with you."
Oje was called down to the barricaded entrance and the situation briefly explained to him. The Indian stepped close to the boulder and listened for a long time for sounds from the inside.
Then he turned to, the boys and shook his head gravely.
"Don't you ever tell me they've gone and got away!" exclaimed Tommy. "Why, they couldn't get away unless they walked through forty feet of solid rock! And they couldn't do that!"
"I'm going to find out!" declared Will.
The lads pried the boulder away, blocking it so that it could not crash down the slope and so warn the men inside of the approach of the boys. Then Will crept cautiously into the dark passage.
The others were at his heels in a moment. On the previous visit of Will and Tommy, there had been the light of a torch in the cavern, but there was no illumination of any kind now.
"I guess they've gone, all right!" Tommy, whispered.
"Why didn't you get the Little Brass God while the getting was good?" demanded Sandy.
"The guns those fellows carried didn't look good to me!" was the reply.
"It's a mystery to me how they ever got out of this cavern," Will observed.
"Perhaps they are still here, waiting to get a shot at us!" suggested Thede. "This would be a bad place for an attack."
As the boys advanced they heard a whisper of voices farther in, and what seemed to be the rattle of footsteps over the uneven floor.
Then from some, apparently, distant comer of the cavern came a cry in an unknown tongue. The next instant the place was illuminated by two great torches of resinous wood.
They flamed high in the hands of the men who had been discovered in the cavern during the first visit.
"Look!" cried Will, pointing. "Look!"
The eyes of the boys followed the pointing finger dimly outlined in the light of the torches, and saw the Little Brass God swinging to and fro in an uplifted hand!
"There!" exclaimed Tommy. "I told you we'd got the Little Brass God!"
"But you haven't got it yet!" taunted Sandy.
"We'll have it in a minute!" replied the boy confidently.
The ugly little image remained in sight for perhaps half a minute, and then the cavern became dark as pitch again.
The boys heard a quick rush of footsteps, apparently passing further into the cavern, and then all was silent.
"That isn't the man who had the Little Brass God the other time I saw it!" Thede declared. "I guess these fellows must have got it away from Antoine, or whoever it was who had it at that time."
"I wish we had a searchlight," suggested Sandy.
"I've got a little one for a cent," Tommy answered. "I never leave the camp without one. No knowing when one may be needed,"
"Strike a light then!" whispered Sandy.
"That would be a fine way to get a bullet into my coco!" Tommy whispered back. "I'll just wait a while and see what's doing."
There was nothing doing—nothing whatever! The boys, after waiting some ten minutes, advanced into the cavern which was now perfectly still.
Directly Tommy turned on his electric. The little flame revealed no presence there save that of the boys themselves. They searched every nook and corner of the place, believing it impossible that the two men could have escaped. At last, however, they were forced to the conclusion that once more they had lost track of the object of their search.
"But where did they go?" demanded Tommy.
"I guess that's what no fellow can find out," replied Will.
The boys continued their search in the hope of finding the passage by which the two men had escaped. At last they came to a small opening in the floor of the cavern which apparently led to a cavity farther down.
"They didn't wait for the elevator!" laughed Tommy. "Shall we go down after them?" asked Sandy.
"I think we'd better get back to the cabin." Will argued. "It must be after ten o'clock now, and George may be in trouble for all we know."
"Three times and out!" exclaimed Sandy. "The next time we catch sight of the Little Brass God, we'll sure get out fingers on it!"
"I'd be happy just now if I could get my fingers on something to eat!" Thede declared. "I'm about starved!"
"We've got a few sandwiches, if they'll do any good," suggested Will.
"If they'll do any good!" repeated Sandy. "You bring 'em out here and we'll see whether they will or not."
"Thede ran to the door of the cavern and looked out, calling softly to the Indian as he did so. Oje was nowhere to be seen!
"I wonder where that Indian went?" the boy asked.
"He probably got busy after some one!" Will replied.
The boys devoured the sandwiches which remained from the supply provided by Will and then started back to the cabin.
The moon was now high up in the heavens, and the boys could trace foot tracks in the snow quite distinctly. For a time they saw the prints of Oje's moccasins. They seemed to be following another track which was obliterated by his passage.
"Perhaps he's chasing the two fellows who had the Little Brass God!" suggested Sandy. "If he is, I hope he gets 'em."
After a time the tracks swung away to the left and the boys saw them no more. When they came in view of the cabin a bright light was reflected through the broken window pane, but there seemed to be no evidences of motion on the inside.
"I presume George has gone to sleep," Will said. "I should think he'd be tired of waiting. It must be somewhere about one o'clock!"
When the boys came up to the cottage they saw a figure detach itself from the shadows which lay against the west wall and dash precipitously into the thicket. Will hastened to throw the door open.
The boy started back in alarm, as he noted the condition of the interior. The bunks lay broken on the floor, and it was plain that the whole apartment had been most thoroughly pillaged.
TWO RIFLE SHOTS
As the boys stepped into the room George arose from a heap of blankets near a broken bunk and stood regarding them with a quizzical smile on his face. The boys at once clustered around him with dozens of questions on their lips.
"What's been doing here?" demanded Tommy.
"You missed the biggest sensation of the excursion!" exclaimed George.
"Where are the fellows who busted up the furniture?" asked Sandy.
"You ought to know," replied George. "They ran out just before you entered. It's a wonder you didn't meet them."
"Who are they?" asked Will.
"You remember the two men who came to the window that night?" asked George. "Well, these were the two men!"
"Did one of 'em have his head in a sling?" asked Tommy.
"Sure he did!" was the reply.
"Why don't you sit down and tell us all about it?" asked Sandy.
"That won't take long," replied George. "They came in here something like half an hour ago and began mixing up with the furniture. They searched everything in sight and out of sight, and were about to take up the floor, I reckon, when they heard you coming."
"Did they say what they were searching for?" asked Will.
"Not directly," was the reply, "but I know from expressions I heard that they were searching for the Little Brass God."
"The Little Brass God?" repeated Will. "Why, they've got it now!"
"You bet they have!" Tommy joined in.
"How do you know they have?"
"Because we saw them have it in the cavern!" answered Will. "They were in that cavern not more than five minutes before we left the hills. They must have hustled to beat us to the cabin and make a half hour's search before we arrived."
"I think we've all got a lot of guesses coming," Sandy observed.
"Yes, but what I can't get through my head is why those fellows should be searching through the cabin for the Little Brass God when they have it in their possession," Will said.
"You're sure they had it?" asked George.
"I saw them have it in the cavern earlier in the evening," was the reply. "When we went to try to make them give it up, they vanished as if they had gone up in the air!"
The boys began straightening things in the cabin, and Sandy busied himself in the corner where the provisions were stored.
"I'd like to know where that Indian went," Thede said, as he assisted Sandy in preparing some of the game which had been caught early the morning before. "He won't go far away, I'm thinking."
Before the words were off the boy's lips the door was pushed gently open and Oje looked in. He made a gesture asking for silence and went out again, softly closing the door behind him.
"That's a funny proposition!" whispered Tommy. "Why don't he come in and get some of the supper Sandy is getting ready?"
The door opened again, then, and Antoine staggered inside. His face was bloodless and his eyes seemed starting from their sockets. His clothing was slit in places as if he had been attacked with a knife, and he staggered about while searching for a chair.
Will sprang forward to the man's assistance, helped him to a chair, and poured a cup of strong coffee, which the roan drank greedily.
The man's eyes roved wildly about the room for a second then he turned anxiously to Will.
"Did they get it?" he asked.
"Did they get what?" asked the boy.
"What they came to search for."
Will turned inquiringly toward George.
"Did they find anything during their search?" he asked.
George shook his head.
"They hadn't concluded their search," he replied. "Then they failed to find the Br——"
There was a movement at the window followed by a rifle shot.
Antoine sitting before the fire by George's side crumpled up and dropped to the floor, a stream of blood oozing from his temple.
Before the lads could quite comprehend what had taken place, a second shot came from outside. Then Oje's face appeared in the doorway again, beckoning to those inside.