"Sa—save me!" gasped the drowning boy.
"Give me your hand, George," called Dick.
Granbury tried to do so, but the effort was a failure, for the cold had so numbed him he could scarcely move. Reaching as far as he could, Dick caught a portion of his coat and drew the helpless boy toward him.
The ice cracked ominously, but did not break. Mr. Strong warned the others still further back.
Slowly but surely Dick raised George to a level of the plank. Then with an extra effort he hauled the half-drowned boy up.
"Now haul in on the plank," he called, and Mr. Strong and two boys did so immediately. In a moment more danger from drowning was a thing of the past for George Granbury.
A cheer went up because of Dick's heroic action, but this was instantly hushed as George was seen to stagger back and fall as if dead. Instantly Mr. Strong picked the boy up in his arms and ran toward the Hall.
"Oh, Dick, how noble of you!" It was Dora Stanhope who spoke, as she came up and placed a trembling little hand on his arm. "And how glad I am that you didn't get in while doing it." And her eyes filled with tears.
"I—I'm glad too, Dora," he said brokenly. And then added: "Excuse me, but I guess I'd better go up and see how Tom is making out."
"To be sure, and let me know if it's all right," she replied.
Once inside the Hall Dick learned that Tom had been put into a warm bed. He was apparently none the worse for his mishap, and likely to be as full of life and fun as ever on the morrow.
Poor Granbury, however, was not so well off. It took some time to restore him to consciousness, and while Captain Putnam and Mr. Strong put him to bed, with hot-water bags to warm him up, Peleg Snuggers was sent off post-haste for a doctor. As a result of the adventure Granbury had to remain in bed for the best part of a week.
"I shan't forget you for what you did," he said to Dick, when able to sit up. "You saved my life." And many agreed that what George Granbury said was true. As for Dora Stanhope, she looked upon the elder Rover as more of a hero than ever.
After the mishap at the races on the ice the time flew by swiftly until the Christmas holidays. Before going home for Christmas Dick called upon the Stanhopes and gave them the gifts he had purchased, over which they were much pleased. For Dick Dora had worked a pretty scarf, of which he was justly proud. Mrs. Stanhope had books for all the boys, something which was always to their liking. The Rovers did not forget the Lanings, nor were they forgotten by these old friends.
"And now for home. Hurrah!" shouted Sam, on the way to Cedarville. "I must say I'm just a bit anxious to see the old place once more."
"Yes, and see father, and Uncle Randolph and Aunt Martha," put in Dick.
"Don't forget Alexander Pop," put in Tom, referring to the colored man who had once been a waiter at the Hall, and who was now in the Rover employ.
"And Jack Ness and the rest," put in Sam. "I guess we'll be glad enough to see everybody."
When the boys arrived at Ithaca they found there had been a freight smash-up on the railroad, and that they would have to wait for five or six hours for a train to take them home. This would bring them to Oak Run, their railroad station, at three o'clock in the morning.
"I move we stay in Ithaca over night," said Tom. "If we got to Oak Run at three in the morning, what would we do? There would be no one there to meet us, and it's a beastly hour for rousing anybody out."
So they decided to put up at a hotel in Ithaca, and went around to a new place called the Students' Rest. The hotel was fairly well filled, but they secured a large apartment with two double beds.
"There's a nice concert on this evening by a college glee club," said Sam. "I move we get tickets and go."
"Second the motion," said Tom promptly.
"The motion is put and carried," put in Dick just as promptly. "I trust, though, the concert don't make us weep."
"They won't know we're there, so perhaps they won't try it on too hard," said Sam, and there the students' slang came to an end for the time being.
The concert was quite to their taste, and they were surprised, when it was over, to learn that it was after eleven o'clock.
"I hadn't any idea it was so late," exclaimed Dick. "We'd better be getting back to the hotel, or we won't get our money's worth out of that room."
"That's right," laughed Tom. "Although, to tell the truth, I'm not very sleepy."
Several blocks were covered when Sam, who was looking across the street, uttered a cry of astonishment.
"Look!" he exclaimed.
"At what?" asked both Tom and Dick.
"Over in front of that clothing store. There is Dan Baxter, and Jasper Grinder is with him!"
"Sam is right," came from Dick. "They must have struck up some sort of a friendship, or they wouldn't be here together."
"Let's go over and see what Baxter has to say for himself," said Tom boldly.
"All right," returned Dick. "But we want to keep out of a row; remember that."
They crossed the street and walked straight up to Baxter and Jasper Grinder, who were holding an animated conversation in the doorway of a clothing establishment which was closed for the night.
As they came up, Sam caught the words, "There is money there, sure," coming from Baxter. He paid no attention to the words at the time, but remembered them long afterward, and with good reason.
"Hullo, Baxter!" said Dick, halting in front of the bully.
Dan Baxter gave a start, as if detected in some wrong act. Then, as the light from an electric lamp shone upon Dick's face, he glared sourly at the oldest Rover.
"Where did you come from?" he asked, and then, seeing the other Rovers, added: "Been following me, I suppose?"
"No, we haven't been following you," said Dick. "We just came from, the college boys' concert in the hall down the street."
Jasper Grinder looked as sour as did Dan Baxter. Then he shook his finger in Dick's face.
"I haven't forgotten you, Richard Rover," he said bitterly. "And I am not likely to forget you."
"As you please, Mr. Grinder," was the cool rejoinder.
"And I shan't forget you, Jasper Grinder," put in Sam. "You were the means of my going to bed with a heavy cold."
"Bah! it was all put on," exclaimed Jasper Grinder. "Had I had my way, I would have kept you in the storeroom all night, and flogged you beside."
"Captain Putnam did a good thing when he dismissed you," put in Tom. "It's a pity he ever took on such a cold-hearted and miserly fellow."
"You Rovers think you are on top," said Dan Baxter savagely. "But you won't stay on top long, I'll give you my word on that."
"What are you going to do about it?" asked Dick, not without considerable curiosity.
"Never mind; you'll learn when the proper time comes."
"Is your dad going to try to break jail again?" asked Sam.
"It's none of your business what he does—or what I do, either."
"We'll make it our business if you try any of your games on us again," said Dick. "We've stood enough from you and your kind, and we don't intend to stand any more."
"Are you going back to school after the holidays?" asked Dan Baxter, after a pause.
"That's our business," answered Tom.
"All right; you needn't answer the question if you don't want to."
"What do you want to know for?" asked Sam.
"Oh! nothing in particular. I suppose it's a good place for you to go to. You are all Captain Putnam's pets, and he won't make you do a thing you don't like, or make you study either, if your father shells out to him."
"We study a great deal more than you ever studied, Baxter," said Dick.
"Let them go," cried Jasper Grinder, in deep irritation. "I want nothing to do with them," and he turned his back on the Rovers.
"We're willing to go," said Dick. "But, Baxter, I warn you against doing anything in the future. You'll only put your foot into it."
So speaking, Dick walked away, and Tom and Sam followed him. Baxter shook his fist at them, and Jasper Grinder did the same.
"They're a bad team," said Tom, as they walked to the hotel. "If they try, perhaps they can give us lots of trouble."
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS.
"Hurrah! Here we are again! How natural Oak Run looks!" exclaimed Tom on the following day, as the long train came to a halt at their station and they piled out on to the narrow platform.
"There is old Nat Ricks, the station master," said Sam. "Remember how you nearly scared him to death once by putting a big fire-cracker in the waste paper he was burning and then telling him a yarn about dynamite being around?"
"Well, I just guess I do," answered Tom, with a grin. "Hullo, Mr. Ricks!" he called out. "How are you this fine and frosty morning?"
"Putty well, Tom," grumbled the old station master. "Been troubled a lot lately with rheumatism."
"That's too bad, Mr. Ricks. Caught it hoisting trunks into the cars, I suppose."
"Don't know how I caught it."
"Or maybe lifting milk cans."
"I don't lift no milk cans no more. Job Todder has that work around here."
"I see. Well, you must have caught it somehow, or else it caught you. Ever tried the old Indian remedy for it?"
"Indian remedy, what's that?"
"Gracious, Mr. Ricks! never heard of the old reliable Indian remedy? I'm astonished at you," went on Tom, in mock candor.
"I've heard tell of Indian vegetable pills—but they aint no good for rheumatism," was the slow answer.
"Where is the pain mostly?"
"Down this left leg."
"Then the Indian remedy will just cure you, sure pop, Mr. Ricks."
"Well, what might it be?"
"It might be cover-liver oil, but it isn't. You get a quart bottle—a red quart bottle, for a white one won't do,—and fill it with cold spring water, tapped when the moon is full."
"Is that all?"
"Oh, no, no! Then you take the spring water and boil it over a charcoal fire, same as the Modoc Indians used to do. You remember all about that, don't you?"
"I—I—'pears to me I ought to," stammered the old station master.
"Well, after the water is boiled," went on Tom, with a side wink at Dick and Sam, who were already on a broad grin, "you strain it through a piece of red cheesecloth—not white, remember—and add one teaspoonful of sugar, one of salt, one of ginger, one of mustard, one of hog's lard, one of mercury, one of arrowroot, one of kerosene oil, one of lemon juice, one of extract of vanilla, one of mushamusha——"
"Hold on Rover, I can't remember all that. I'll have to put it down," interrupted Nat Ricks.
"No, you don't put it down until everything is in and well mixed. Then you put it down, half a pint at a time, four times a day. It's a sure cure, and inside of a week after taking seventeen quarts and rubbing the empty bottles on your left shoulder blade you'll feel like dancing a jig of joy; really, you will."
"Oh, you go along!" growled the old station master, in sudden wrath. "You're joking me. Go oh, or I'll throw something at you!"
"No bouquets, please, Mr. Ricks. Then you won't try the cure? All right, but don't blame me if your rheumatism gets worse. And as I can't do anything for you, will you kindly inform me if you've seen anything of Jack Ness around here, with our turnout?"
"If you want your hired man you go find him yourself," growled the station master, and hobbled into his office.
"Oh, Tom, but that was rich," laughed Sam softly. "When you said extract of vanilla and mushamusha I thought I'd explode. And he was listening so earnestly, too!"
"Here's Jack Ness!" cried Dick, as they turned to the rear of the station. "Hullo, Jack! Here we are again!"
"Master Dick!" exclaimed the hired man, with a grin. "An' Tom an' Sam! Glad to see you boys back, indeed I am. Here, give me them bags. I'll put 'em in the back of the sleigh."
"How is the sleighing?" asked Sam.
"Sleighing is quite fair yet, Master Tom. In you go. All the folks is dying to see you."
They were soon stowed away in the big family sleigh, and Jack Ness touched up the team, and away they went, through Oak Run and across the bridge spanning the Swift River—that stream where Sam had once had such a thrilling adventure. The countryside was covered with snow and with pools of ice.
It did not take them long to come in sight of Valley Brook. While still at a distance they saw faithful Alexander Pop come out on the broad piazza and wave his hand at them.
"There's Aleck!" cried Tom. "He's been on the watch!"
"There is father!" came from Sam, a moment later; "and aunt Martha and Uncle Randolph!"
Soon they turned into the lane, and Jack Ness brought the sleigh up to the piazza block in fine style. Tom was the first out and ran to greet his father, and then his uncle and his aunt, and the others followed.
"I am glad to see you back, boys," said Mr. Anderson Rover. "You all look first-rate."
"We're feeling first-rate," came from Dick.
"Are you sure, Sam, that you are quite over your cold?" asked Aunt Martha anxiously.
"Quite sure, aunty dear," he answered, and kissed her very warmly, not once, but several times.
"Here, don't eat Aunt Martha up!" cried Tom. "Leave some for me."
"You dear Tom!" murmured the lady of the house, as she kissed him and then embraced Dick. "Full of fun as ever, I suppose."
"Oh, no, aunty! I never do anything wrong now," answered Tom solemnly. "I really haven't time, you know."
"I'm afraid, Tom, I can't trust you." And Mrs. Randolph Rover shook her head sadly, but smiled nevertheless. She loved the jolly lad with all her heart.
There was a warm greeting from Randolph Rover also, and then the boys turned indoors, to greet faithful Alexander Pop and the others who worked about the place.
"Yo' is a sight fo' soah eyes, 'deed yo' is, boys," said the colored man. "I can't tell yo' how much I'se missed yo'!" And his face shone like a piece of polished ebony.
"It's more like home than ever, to get where you are, Aleck," said Dick. "You've been through so much with us you are certainly part of the outfit." And at this Aleck laughed and looked more pleased than ever.
It was the day before Christmas, but in honor of their arrival there was an extra-fine dinner awaiting them. Mrs. Rover had wanted to keep her turkey meat for Christmas, so her husband, Anderson Rover, and Aleck had gone into the woods back of the farm and brought down some rabbits and a number of birds, so there was potpie and other good things galore, not forgetting some pumpkin pies and home-made doughnuts, which Aunt Martha prepared with her own hands and of which the boys had always been exceedingly fond.
"I'll tell you what," remarked Tom, as he was stowing away his second generous piece of pie, "the feed at the Hall is all right, but when it comes to a real, downright spread, like this, the palm goes to Aunt Martha." And Dick and Sam agreed with him.
There was, of course, much to tell about on both sides, and after dinner the family gathered in the big sitting room, in front of a cheerful, blazing fire. Mr. Anderson Rover listened with keen interest to what his sons had to say about Jasper Grinder and Dan Baxter.
"I sincerely trust they do not plot against us," he said. "I am getting old, and I want no more trouble."
"I don't believe Dan has the backbone his father has," answered Dick. "And I believe Mr. Grinder is good deal of a coward."
"If only young Baxter would turn over a new leaf!" sighed Mrs. Martha Rover. "I declare I'll not feel safe, on your account, until that young man is taken care of."
The evening was passed in talking, singing, and playing games, and it was not until late that all retired.
The Christmas to follow was not one to be easily forgotten. There were presents for everybody, from Mr. Rover down to Sarah, the hired girl, and everybody was greatly pleased.
At the Christmas dinner Alexander Pop insisted upon waiting on the table, just as he had so often done at Putnam Hall. He had on his full dress suit, and his face wore one perpetual smile. The boys had all remembered Aleck handsomely, and he had not forgotten them.
In the afternoon the boys went skating, and on the pond met several of the boys of the neighborhood, and all had a glorious time until dark. Then they piled home, once more as hungry as wolves, to a hot supper, and an evening of nut-cracking around the fire.
"Tell you what," said Sam on going to bed that night, "I almost wish Christmas came once a week instead of once a year!"
THE BRASS-LINED MONEY CASKET.
It was on the day following Christmas that Dick brought out the brass-lined money casket which he had picked up in the cave on Needle Point Island, in Lake Huron, as related in a previous volume of this series.
As old readers know, this cave was stumbled upon by accident. It had once been the hiding place of a band of smugglers who plied their unlawful calling between the United States and Canada, and the cave was found filled with numerous articles of more or less value. The Rovers had gone back for these things, but had found some money gone, also a curiously shaped dagger and a map, which had been in the cave on a rude table. They were pretty well satisfied in their minds that Dan Baxter had taken these things, but had never been able to prove it.
The brass-lined money casket was an odd-looking affair, which Dick found thrust in a big box of fancy articles of various descriptions. The box was about a foot long, six inches wide, and six inches deep. It was of rosewood, with silver corners, and the lining was of polished brass, curiously engraved. The box had contained a few odd Canadian silver coins, but that was all.
"Do you know, I would like to know the history of this box," observed Dick, as he looked it over. "As it belonged to one of those smugglers it ought to have quite a story to tell."
"It will make a nice jewel casket," put in Tom. "When you settle down with Dora, you can give if to her for her dia——"
"Oh, stow that, Tom! If Dora ever does take me for a husband, it won't be for some years to come, you must know that."
"Let me take a look at the box," put in Sam. "I never got the chance to look it over carefully."
"It's odd that they should engrave it inside," went on Dick. "Especially since the outside silver corners are plain."
"Perhaps there is a secret spring hidden by the engraving," suggested Tom. "Hunt around. It may fly apart and let out a hundred thousand in diamonds."
"Don't be foolish, Tom," said Dick. "It isn't likely there is a spring."
"But there just is a spring!" exclaimed Sam, who was handling the box. "Hark!"
He ran his finger nail over a spot on one side of the box, and there followed a tiny click. Then he ran his finger nail back, and there was another click.
"Hurrah! Sam has solved the mystery of the sphinx!" cried Tom. "Can you open it? I claim a third share of the diamonds!"
"Give me the box," said Dick, also a bit excited. When he got it in his hands he, too, ran his finger nail over the engraved brass. Several tiny clicks followed.
"There must be some opening beneath the brass lining," he said.
"Take it to the window, and perhaps you'll be able to see something more," suggested Sam.
Dick did as advised, and, with his brothers gathered close beside him, worked over the money casket for fully quarter of an hour.
"It seems to click, and that's all," he said disappointedly. "If I could only——Oh!"
Dick stopped short. His finger had run across the lining in a certain way. There were three clicks in rapid succession, and on the instant one of the brass plates of the box flew back, revealing a tiny compartment behind it, not over a quarter of an inch in depth.
"No diamonds there," said Tom, his face falling. "Full of emptiness."
"No, here is a sheet of parchment," returned Dick, pulling it forth. "A map!" he added, as he unfolded it. "Well, I never!"
"Never what?" came from Tom and Sam.
"Unless I am mistaken, this is like the map that was on that table in the cave, only this is much smaller."
"That's interesting, too," said Tom.
"The back of the map is full of writing," said Sam. He looked closer. "It's in French."
"This box must have belonged to one of those French-Canadian smugglers," said Dick. "We'll have to get Uncle Randolph to read the writing and tell us what it says."
The three boys had been up to Dick's room. Now they lost no time in going below. In all eagerness they burst into the library, where Anderson Rover sat reading a magazine and Randolph Rover one of his favorite works on scientific farming.
"Dick has got the money casket open!" cried Sam.
"And he has found a map," added Tom. "We want Uncle Randolph to read the writing. It's in French."
"Found a map in that old brass-lined box, eh?" said Anderson Rover. "That's interesting."
"I am afraid my French is a trifle rusty," remarked Randolph Rover, as he put down his book. "Let me see the map."
He took it to the window, and both he and Anderson Rover looked it over with keen interest.
"Why, this is a map of the locality around Timber Run," said Randolph Rover. "That's a great lumbering section in the Adirondacks."
"Timber Run!" echoed Tom, and for the moment said no more. But he remembered what Dora Stanhope had said, that after the holidays Nellie and Grace Laning were going on a visit to an aunt who lived at Timber Run.
"Yes, Thomas, this is a map of Timber Run. This stream is the Perch River, and this is Bear Pond. The naming is in French, but that is the English of it."
"Please read the writing on the back," said Dick. "If the map is worth anything I want to know it."
Without further ado Randolph Rover began to read the writing. It was a hard and tedious task, and the translating was, to him, equally difficult, for his knowledge of French was somewhat limited. Translated, the writing ran somewhat after this fashion:
"To find the box of silver and gold, go to where Bear Pond empties into Perch River. Ten paces to the west is a large pine tree, which was once struck by lightning. Go due southwest from the pine tree sixty-two paces, to the flat rock, behind which is a sharp-pointed rock. Beneath the sharp-pointed rock is the chamber with the box. Stranger, beware of Goupert's ghost."
* * * * *
"A treasure in the mountains!" cried Sam. "Hurrah! let's go and get it!"
"Bear Pond lies between two high mountains," said Randolph Rover. "It is in a very wild country, and so far but little of the timber has been taken out."
"Never mind, we'll go anyhow!" put in Tom enthusiastically. "Why, the box may be worth a fortune!"
"Yes, let us go by all means," put in Dick. "I wouldn't like any better fun than hunting for a treasure box."
"Haven't you boys had adventures enough?" questioned Anderson Rover. "You've been to Africa and out West, and on the ocean and the Great Lakes——"
"Oh, this would just be a little winter's outing in the mountains," said Tom. "We could go hunting, and have lots of fun, even if we didn't find the treasure box."
"The treasure box was probably taken away years ago," said Randolph Rover. "Most likely several of the smugglers knew of it."
"And what of that ghost?" asked Anderson Rover, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Pooh! we're not afraid of ghosts," sniffed Sam. "Are we, Tom?"
"If I saw a ghost, I'd be apt to pepper him with shot, if I had my gun," answered Tom. "No, I'm not afraid of such things—and neither is Dick."
"It would be a fine thing to find a big boxful of silver," said Dick seriously. "I know there was lots in that cave, before Dan Baxter scooped it in. And, by the way, he must have that other map yet."
"Perhaps he went for the treasure box!" burst out Sam.
"If the box is gone, we can't help it," said Tom. "But I move we get to Timber Run and Bear Pond just as soon as possible."
"Do you want to start in this cold weather?" asked his father anxiously.
"Pooh! It isn't so very cold."
"It's a good deal colder up in the mountains than it is here, I can tell you that. Why, you might easily freeze to death if you got lost in the snow."
"I wonder if we couldn't find some guide who knows that territory thoroughly," mused Dick.
"If you could find a good guide, I wouldn't mind your going," said his parent. "But I shall object to your going alone."
"Then we'll hunt for a guide, and without delay," said Dick. "I would like to go up there before Putnam Hall opens again."
"So would I," came from his two brothers.
"I think I know where you can get a guide," said Tom, after a pause. "The Lanings have relatives at Timber Run. Let's write to Mr. Laning."
This was agreed to, and a special trip was made to the village by Aleck Pop to post the letter. In the letter they asked Mr. Laning to telegraph, if possible, in reply.
The telegram came shortly after noon the next day. It ran as follows:
"I feel sure my brother-in-law, John Barrow, of Timber Run, can supply a reliable guide. Will write to him.
"That settles it," said Dick. "I know the Lanings will do what is right by us, so we may as well get ready to start at once. Are you willing, father?"
"Yes, Dick," was the answer. "But be sure and keep out of danger, and keep Tom and Sam out, too."
THE HEART OF THE ADIRONDACK.
Three days later found the Rover boys in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. They had left home, after a hasty but thorough preparation, two days before, and taken the train from Oak Run to the mountain village of Medwell. At Medwell they had taken the stage to Barton's Corners, and at this point had hired a private conveyance to carry them and their outfit to Timber Run.
At the time of which I write Timber Run was nothing more than a collection of a dozen houses, strung along a branch of the Perch River, where that stream turned the southern slope of a high hill known as Bald Top. There was a general store here and also an office belonging to the Timber Run Lumber Company. But business with the company was slow, and the village, consequently, was almost destitute of life, two of the houses being without tenants.
"Well, this doesn't look much like a place," remarked Sam, as they got out of the heavy lumber wagon which had brought them and their outfit over.
"Phew! but aint it cold!" exclaimed Tom, dancing around and slapping his arms over his chest. "I wonder how Nellie and Grace Laning like this?"
"I'll wager you've been thinking of Nellie all the way up," said Dick slyly, remembering how his brother had tormented him about Dora Stanhope.
"Couldn't think of anything but how cold it was," growled Tom, but his face took on a sudden redness. "Where do you go next?" he demanded, to change the subject.
"Let's go over to the store and ask for Mr. John Barrow," suggested Dick.
The store was at a fork in the roads, and thither they hurried, to get inside, for the ride from Barton's Corners had certainly been a chilling one. In the store they found a big pot stove throwing out a generous amount of heat, and around this stove were gathered half a dozen men, smoking and telling stories.
"So you are the young men who are looking for John Barrow," said the storekeeper, after listening to what Dick had to say. "He was here waiting for you, and he'll be back in a bit. Rather a cold ride, eh? Draw up to the fire and warm up."
A place was made for the lads, and while they were "thawing out," as Sam put it, John Barrow came in. He proved to be a tall, powerful built lumberman, with a well-tanned face and sharp, but kindly, eyes.
"How do you do," he said, as he shook hands. "Real glad to know you. Yes, I got a letter from John Laning, my brother-in-law, tellin' me all about you. He says as how you want a guide fer these parts. Well, I don't want to brag, but I reckon I know the lay o' the land 'round here about as good as any o' 'em, and a heap sight better nor lots."
"We'd like you first-rate for a guide," said Tom, who was pleased with John Barrow's looks, as were also his brothers. "But can you spare the time?"
"Reckon I can, just now. You see, the lumber company has got in some sort of a tangle with the owner of the timber on this tract, and consequently work is at a standstill. That's why you see so many men hangin' around here."
"Then you work for the company?" asked Dick.
"I do in the winter time, but not in the summer. I've got a tidy farm down the river a bit, and I let out my hosses to the company to haul timber. It's cash money, you see, when the haulin' is goin' on."
"I believe the Laning girls are stopping with you," put in Sam.
"Yes, Nellie and Grace came up some time ago. You see, our girl, Addie, gits tired being on the farm with only her mother, so we invited her cousins to come up for a spell. They've had some pretty good times together, so far, skatin' and sleighin', and the like. They are all anxious to see you."
John Barrow had brought with him his wagon, and into this their outfit was dumped, and a minute later they were off, down the winding and rough road running along the bank of the river, which was now frozen to a thickness of a foot or more and covered with several inches of snow.
"You say you know this locality," observed Dick, as they bumped along over the frozen ground. "Do you know the spot where Bear Pond empties into Perch River?"
"I know several such spots, my lad."
"Several!" came from all of the Rover boys.
"Yes, several. You see the ground around the pond is marshy, and the heavy rains cut all sorts of gullies here and there, so the pond empties into the river, now, at five or six p'ints."
"Are these points very far apart?" asked Sam, in dismay. "You see, I'm very anxious we should know the exact particulars."
"Indeed!" John Barrow looked at them curiously. "Say, I reckon I know what you are after!" he burst out suddenly.
"What?" came from the three.
"You're on a hunt for old Goupert's treasure."
"Why, what do you know about that?" demanded Dick. He remembered that the writing on the map said, "Beware of Goupert's ghost."
"Oh, that's an old yarn about here, and at different times we've had more'n a hundred folks a-hunting around for that old Frenchman's money box, but nobody ever got so much as a smell o' it."
"Who was Goupert?" asked Tom.
"Goupert was a thoroughly bad man, who lived sixty or seventy years ago. The story goes that he used to be a smuggler and that he came here when the authorities chased him off the Great Lakes. He had lots o' money, but he was a miser, and a queer stick to boot. He built himself a cabin on Bear Pond, and lived there all alone for two years. Then some lake men came down here, and one night there was a big row and the lake men disappeared. Goupert couldn't be found at first, but about a month later some hunters discovered his dead body tied to a tree in the woods, not far from the spot you asked about. He had been left to starve to death. The story was that the lake men had starved him in order to get him to tell where he had hidden his money box, and that old Goupert was too much o' a miser to let the secret out. So folks begun to hunt for that money box high an' low, but never got a smell o' it, as I said."
"Did you ever hunt for the money?" questioned Dick.
"No, I never had no time to waste. So you really came up on that account?"
"We came up on that account, and also to have a good time in the mountains," said Dick, before Sam or Tom could speak. "But, Mr. Barrow, I wish you wouldn't mention this to the other folks around here. They might laugh at us for coming on what they think is a wild-goose chase."
"Oh, I won't say a word on it—if you want it that way."
"Did this Goupert leave any relatives?" asked Sam.
"No, lad, not a soul."
"Then if we should find that treasure it would belong to us," put in Tom.
"Every penny on it, lad. But don't raise any high hopes, or you may be sorely disapp'inted."
"Oh, I came for a good time," replied Tom, in an off-handed a manner as possible.
Presently John Barrow had to get out of the wagon to fix something on the harness. While he was doing this Dick leaned over to his two brothers.
"Don't say anything about the map to anybody," he whispered. "We'll keep that a secret for the present." And Tom and Sam nodded, to show that they understood.
The ride to John Barrow's house soon came to an end, and as the boys alighted at the horseblock the door opened and Nellie and Grace Laning appeared.
"How do you do, Tom!" cried Nellie, as she ran and caught him by the hand, while Grace did the same to Sam. "We're awfully glad to see you, and to see Dick and Sam, too," and a hand-shaking all around followed. Then Mrs. Barrow, a motherly woman, was introduced and also her daughter Addie, who was Nellie's age, and full of fun.
"Come right in, boys," said Mrs. Barrow. "Supper is waiting, and I'm sure you must be hungry."
"Hungry doesn't describe it," said Tom. "I could eat sole leather. Phew! what an appetite riding in this mountain air does give a fellow!"
"Can you ever remember the time when you wasn't without an appetite, Tom?" asked Nellie Laning, with a laugh.
"Never go so far into ancient history," he returned solemnly, and a general laugh followed.
Soon their outfit was safely housed in the barn, and then they entered the house, where the long supper table, filled with good things, awaited them. All three of the girls insisted upon waiting on the boys, and it proved as jolly a meal as they had ever eaten. They lingered for an hour at the table, talking and cracking nuts, and during that time the Rover boys became thoroughly acquainted with the Barrow family.
"Oh, I've heard lots about you!" said Addie Barrow. "Nellie has told me great, long stories about Tom's bravery, and Grace has told me all about Sam's doings, and both of them have told about you, Dick——"
"Now, do be still, Addie!" put in Nellie Laning. "I declare, I never said a word!"
"Oh! A word! Why, you kept me awake one night for over an hour telling about how Tom——"
"Let's have a song," broke in Sam. "I see an organ in the next room and some music. You must play," he added, to Addie.
"She plays beautifully," put in Grace, thankful for the change of subject. "Addie, give them that new song, 'I'm Sorry, Oh, So Sorry!'"
"All right," answered the young lady of the house, and sitting down at the organ she ran her hands over the keys and started the song. She could sing and play well, and all joined in the chorus. The music was kept up for over an hour, and then the Rover boys retired, highly pleased over their reception.
THE START UP THE RIVER.
"If it wasn't for finding that treasure box I'd just as lief stay here for a few days," remarked Tom, on getting up the following morning.
"Ditto myself," came from Sam. "We could have a boss good time, eh?"
"How about it if Nellie and Grace weren't here?" came from Dick, and then dodged a shoe thrown at him by Tom and a pillow sent forth by Sam. "No, boys, it won't do—we must leave for the hunt to-day. Why, there may be a million in it."
"That's right, Dick; when you fly, fly high," said Tom. "That Frenchman never had a million. If he had a couple of thousand he'd be lucky."
"And of course, a couple of thousand is of no importance to us," put in Sam grandiloquently.
"All right; I'll go on the hunt alone."
"No, Dick, of course we'll go," said Tom hastily. "When do you want to start?"
"As soon as Mr. Barrow can get off."
But, in spite of Dick's anxiety to get off, the start was delayed for a whole day, much to Tom and Sam's secret joy. John Barrow had to go to Timber Run for things needed in the house by his wife and daughter.
When he returned there was a broad grin on his face.
"I've got news for you," he said to Dick, who had followed him down to the barn. "There's another party arrived at Timber Run on the hunt fer that treasure of old Goupert's."
"Another party. Who is it?"
"Didn't hear their names. There are two men and a young fellow o' nineteen or twenty. They have hired Bill Harney fer a guide, and are goin' to strike out fer the Pond to-morrow."
"Two men and a young fellow," mused Dick. "I'd like to know who they are."
"One o' the men looked like a preacher or schoolmaster. He called the young feller Thacher, or something like that."
"It wasn't Baxter?" queried Dick, struck by a sudden idea.
"That's the name—now I remember."
"And the man, did they call him Grinder—Jasper Grinder?" went on Dick excitedly.
"If it wasn't Grinder, it was something like it. The party came east from Ithaca."
"It's Dan Baxter and Jasper Grinder sure!" burst out Dick. "Well, this beats the nation."
"Then you know the crowd?"
"I do—to my sorrow, Mr. Barrow. That Dan Baxter is the good-for-nothing young fellow I told you of this morning, and Jasper Grinder was a teacher at the Hall. We had a big row with him and he was kicked out in a hurry by Captain Putnam. They are our enemies."
"Humph! That promises to make it interesting for you. But it's queer they should come up at the same time you're here," went on the lumberman thoughtfully.
"I might as well let you into a secret, Mr. Barrow. Will you promise to keep it entirely to yourself?"
"Certainly, lad, if it's an honest secret."
"It is honest," answered Dick, and thereupon told of the adventure on Needle Point Island and of the map on the table, and how it had disappeared, and of the finding of the second map in the brass-lined money casket later on.
"I am sure Dan Baxter has that other map," he concluded. "He wants that treasure as badly as we do."
"Then I allow as how it will be a nip-an'-tuck race between you," returned John Barrow. "The fust to get there will be the best man. O' course, with that map it ought to be plain enough sailin'."
"I thought it would be, but it will mix us up, now you say that Bear Pond empties into Perch River in several places. We'll have to try one place after another."
"Do your directions start from that p'int?"
"Then we'll have to find the right emptyin' place, that's all. My advice is to start fer the spot to-morrow early."
So it was arranged, and Dick called Tom and Sam down to the barn to talk it over. It was late in the afternoon, and all worked until after the supper hour in preparing for the start.
"It's a good twenty miles' tramp from here," said John Barrow, "and we'll have to climb two pretty steep mountains to get to the spot."
"Why can't we follow the stream up?" asked Tom. "That would be easier than tramping up the mountains."
"By the river the way is at least forty miles, and there are half a dozen rough spots where you'd have to walk a mile or two."
"We have our skates," said Sam. "Skating would be easier than walking, and pulling the sleds on the ice would be child's play."
"Well, I allow as how I wouldn't mind skatin' myself," said John Barrow thoughtfully. "I never thought of that before. If you want to, we can try that trail. We can take to the mountain any time, if we find skating no good."
So it was arranged that they should strike out for Bear Pond by way of the river, and the sleds, of which there were two, were packed accordingly, and the boys saw to it that their skates were well sharpened and otherwise in good condition.
"When you're skating, you want to look out for air holes," was John Barrow's caution. "Fer where the river runs between the mountains it is mighty deep in spots, I can tell you that!"
"Thanks, I'll be on my guard," answered Tom, with a shiver. "I've had all I want of icy baths this winter."
The girls were sorry to see the boys leave so quickly, but were consoled when Tom promised to stay longer on the return. On the following morning breakfast was had at six o'clock, and by seven they were off, everybody wishing them a good time. Only Mrs. Barrow knew that the boys were on a treasure, and not a bird and wild animal, hunt.
It was a clear, frosty day and everybody was in the best of spirits. The boys wore fur caps and warm clothing, and each was provided with either a rifle or a shot-gun. So far they had seen but little game around the farm, but John Barrow assured them that the timber and mountains were full of game of all sorts.
"I wonder what route Dan Baxter's party took," said Dick, as they gained the river, and stopped to put on their skates.
"I didn't hear what route they took," answered their guide. "I reckon they went straight over the mountains. I don't believe as how Bill Harney takes to skating."
"Is this Bill Harney a good sort?" asked Tom. "If he is, I can tell you he has got into bad company."
"Bill isn't so bad when he's sober. It's when he gits full o' rum that he makes things lively. He's a great drinker."
They were soon on the river, which at this point was fifty to sixty feet wide. The snow covered a large portion of the surface, but the wind had cleared many a long stretch, and they skated on these, dragging the sleds behind them. Each sled was packed high with the camping outfit, but they ran along readily.
"I wonder how long we'll be out," said Sam, as he skated by Tom's side.
"I guess that will depend upon what luck we have, Sam. If we strike the right spot first clip we ought to be back inside of five or six days."
As the party moved up the river they found the stream wound in and out between the mountains On either side were bare rocky walls or dense patches of timber, with here and there a tiny open space, now piled deep with snowdrifts.
"I see some rabbits ahead!" cried Tom presently. "Wonder if I can bring them down," he added, as he unslung his gun. But long before he could take aim the bunnies were out of sight amid the timber.
"You'll have to carry your gun in your hand for a shot at them," came from Dick. "But be careful, or you may trip up on some frozen twig and shoot somebody."
Mile after mile was passed, but no further game came to view, much to Tom's disgust.
"Not much right around here," said John Barrow, as he saw Tom put his gun back over his shoulder. "The boys from Timber Run have cleared the ground putty well. But you'll see something sure a little further on—and maybe more'n you bargain for."
"I'm not afraid of big game, Mr. Barrow. We faced some pretty bad animals when we were in Africa and out West."
"I allow that must be so, Tom. But you want to be careful even so. A big mountain deer or a bear aint to be fooled with, I can tell you that."
About eleven o'clock they came to the first falls above Timber Run. Here the water was frozen into solid masses, but the way was so uneven they found it profitable to take off their skates and "tote" the sleds around the spot. This necessitated a walk of several hundred feet through the timber skirting the edge of the river. The way was uncertain, and John Barrow went ahead, to steer the party clear of any danger.
"Finest timber in the world right here," he observed. "I can't see why the timber company don't get together and put it in the market. It would fetch a good price."
"Wait! I see something in yonder trees!" cried Dick, in a low voice. "Can you make out what they are?"
"Wild turkeys!" answered the guide. "Git down behind these bushes. If we can bag a few of them, we'll have rich eatin' for a few days!"
Without delay the Rover boys dropped behind the bushes, and John Barrow did the same. All kept as quiet as possible, for they knew that on the first alarm the wild turkeys would be off.
The game was not over six feet from the ground, sitting in three rows on as many branches of a hemlock that overhung the stream. There were over a dozen in the flock, each as plump as wild turkeys ever get.
"How shall we fire?" asked Dick. "There is no call for all of us to shoot at the same bird."
"I'll take one on the left," answered John Barrow. "You take one on the right. Tom can take a middle one sitting high, and Sam a middle one sitting low. All ready?"
"Yes," came the answer, from one after another.
"Then fire when I say three. One, two—three!"
Bang! bang! went the firearms, and as the reports echoed through the forest, two of the wild turkeys were seen to drop dead under the branches upon which they had been sitting. One, that was badly wounded, fluttered down and began to thrash around in the brush. The rest of the flock flew away with a rush and were lost to sight between the trees.
"Three! That isn't so bad!" cried Dick, as they all started on a run forward. Soon they had the turkey on the ground surrounded, and John Barrow caught up the game and wrung its neck.
"I guess I missed my mark," came rather sheepishly from Tom.
"You!" exclaimed Sam, in surprise. "I was just going to say I had missed."
"Nobody missed," put in the guide.
"Nobody?" came from the three Rovers.
"Somebody must have missed," added Tom. "We fired four shots and only got three birds."
"One of those that flew off was wounded. He dropped a lot of feathers and went up in a shaky fashion. Of course, he got away, but just the same, he was hit."
"Well, I thought I missed clean and clear," said Tom doubtfully.
"And I thought I missed," laughed Sam. "I guess we'll have to divide that third bird between us, Tom."
"We've got all the wild-turkey meat we'll want on this trip," came from John Barrow. "Before this is gone, you'll want a change, I'll warrant you."
While the guide was caring for the birds the boys went back for the sleds. Soon they were again on the way, and they did not stop until the vicinity of the falls was left far behind and they had again reached a point where skating would be good for several miles.
"Reckon we can stop here and have dinner," observed the guide. "Feelin' kind o' hungry, aint you?"
"Just guess I am hungry," declared Tom "But I didn't want to say anything till the rest did."
Some of the cooking utensils were unpacked, and while the boys got wood for the fire, John Barrow brought out some coffee and other things. It was decided that they should not take time to cook a turkey until they went into camp for the night.
Soon a fire was blazing merrily. They built it under the outer end of a long tree limb, and from the limb suspended a pot full of water by a long iron chain they had brought along. As the ground was covered with snow, there was little danger of spreading a conflagration. Soon the water was boiling and the guide made a steaming pot of coffee, which was passed around in tin cups, with sugar and a little condensed milk. They had brought along bread, cheese, chipped beef, and boiled eggs, and also a mince pie which Mrs. Barrow had baked the day before, and these made what Tom declared was a famous dinner.
"No sauce like hunger sauce," laughed John Barrow, as he saw the lads stow the food away. "Once I was trampin' the mountains all day without a mouthful when I chanced to look in a corner o' my game bag and found a slice o' bread, at least two weeks old. I ate that bread up, hard as it was, and nuthin' ever tasted sweeter."
"You're right," returned Dick. "The folks in the city who don't know what to get to tickle their appetite ought to go hungry a few times. Then I'm sure they'd appreciate what they got."
The midday meal finished, they lost no time in repacking the sled load and starting up the river once more. The stream was now wider than before, and presently spread out into a small lake.
"This is known as Tillard's Pond," said John Barrow. "Feller named Gus Tillard built his cabin over yonder, about ten years ago. He went out bar-huntin' one day, and Mr. Bar came along and chewed him up."
"Gracious! Then there must be pretty ugly customers in this vicinity," exclaimed Sam, with a shiver.
"Not so many as there used to be. After Tillard's death the boys over to the Run organized a b'ar hunt, and we brought in six o' the critters. Reckon thet scart the others—leas'wise no b'ars showed up fer a long while after."
Out on Tillard's Pond a stiff breeze was blowing, and consequently their progress was not as rapid as it had been, nor were any of them as warm as formerly.
"We're going to have a cold first night, I can tell you that," said Dick, and his prediction proved true. By the time the sun sank to rest behind the mountain in the west it was "snapping cold," as Tom expressed it. The wind increased until to go forward was almost impossible.
"I know a pretty good place to rest in," said the guide. "It isn't over quarter of a mile from here. If we can make that we'll be all right till mornin'."
John Barrow led the way, pulling one of the sleds, and the boys followed. Poor Sam was getting winded and skated only with the greatest of difficulty.
It was dark when they reached the location the guide had in mind—a rocky wall on one side of the river. At one point there was a split in the rocks. This was overgrown at the top with cedars and brushwood, forming something of a cave, ten or twelve feet wide and twice as deep, the bottom of which was of rock and fairly smooth.
"I camped here two winters ago," said John Barrow, as he called a halt. "I laced up the cedars above and they formed a fust-rate roof."
"I guess they are pretty well laced still," observed Dick. "They seem to hold the snow very well. But we won't dare to make a fire in there."
"We'll build a fire in front, in this hollow, Dick. That will throw a good deal of hot air into the place, and if we wrap ourselves in our blankets we'll be warm enough."
Everyone in the party was anxious to get out of the nipping wind, and they lost no time in entering the "cave," as Sam called it. The entrance was low, and by placing the two sleds in an upright position on either side they left an opening not over a yard wide. Directly in front of this the boys started a roaring fire, cutting down several dwarf cedars for that purpose.
"I don't much like the looks o' the sky to-night," observed John Barrow, after preparing one of the turkeys for cooking.
"Do you think there is a storm coming?" asked Tom.
"Looks to me like snow, an plenty of it."
"I hope it doesn't come until we reach Bear Pond," said Dick, "I don't want Dan Baxter and his crowd to get ahead of us."
"They won't have no better time o' it than we'll have," was the guide's grim comment. "Aint no fun trampin' over the mountains with the snow comin' down heavily; I can tell you that."
The wind continued to increase, and after the supper was cooked and brought into the shelter, the guide took it upon himself to bank the fire with great care, that it might not blow into the forest and start a big conflagration.
"We've had some terrible fires here," he said. "One threatened my barn two years ago, and we had to stay out two days an' a night a-fightin' it. It would be a bad thing a night like this."
To keep out the cold, Dick crawled to the top of the opening and bound in the cedar limbs closer than ever. He also got some brush-wood and some vines, and on these placed a thick layer of snow.
"That's fine!" cried Sam, from below. "It's almost as tight as the roof of a cabin."
Tightening the roof made a big difference inside, and when they had hung up a blanket behind the upright sleds, and placed some cedar brush on the floor, it was very cozy. They had brought along some candles, and one of these was lit and placed in a lantern which was in one of the packs. It was not a bright light, but it was better than sitting in the dark, and it seemed to make the shelter warmer than ever.
ON THE WRONG TRAIL.
One of the turkeys was finished even to the neck piece, and then both Tom and Sam declared that they were so sleepy they could scarcely keep their eyes open.
"It must be the mountain air," said Dick. "I'm sleepy, too. Let us turn in."
"Will anybody have to stand watch?" asked Sam.
At this John Barrow shook his head. "Don't know as it's necessary," he said. "Reckon we're safe enough. I'll keep my gun handy, in case any animal prowls around."
The boys laid down and were soon in the land of dreams. Tom and Sam slept near the back wall, with Dick next, and the guide near the opening, which, however, was now completely closed by the blanket. The fire was allowed to die down, for they did not dare to build it up, with such a wind blowing.
Nothing came to disturb them. Once during the night Dick roused up and heard the distant howling of a wolf. But the beast did not venture close to the shelter, and while waiting for its appearance the youth dropped asleep again.
By midnight the wind fell a little, and then it began to snow, and it was still snowing when John Barrow leaped up, pushed the blanket aside, and gazed out upon the river.
"Hullo, we're in for it now!" he cried, and as the boys sat up, he added: "Snowin'—mighty hard, too."
"I should say it was snowing hard!" cried Tom, as he, too, looked out. "Why, you can't see the trees on the other side, and they aren't more than a hundred and fifty feet off."
"This will make traveling bad," said Dick soberly. "It almost looks as if we were going to be snowed in."
"Snowed in?" echoed Sam. "Oh, don't say that!"
The boys were somewhat stiff after their long skate of the day before, and it took them some minutes to pull themselves together. Then the curtain was pushed aside, and the fire started up with some dry brushwood from the pile on which they had slept. Soon breakfast was ready, and this warmed them up and put new life in them.
"No use to linger here," announced the guide. "It won't git no better an' it may git a heap sight worse. I reckon the wind kept some o' the spots on the river clear. I know a good camping spot ten miles from here, and that will be just the place for us while you are huntin' around fer that money."
"Then let us make that camping spot by all means," said Tom. "We mustn't let Baxter get first whack at the treasure."
It was eight o'clock when they started once more on their journey. The air was dull and heavy, and the snow came down in thick flakes, which presently shut out the landscape on all sides. Fortunately the wind had died down entirely, so it was not near so cold as it had been.
"It would be easy enough, if we could stick to the river all the way," remarked. Tom to Sam, as they skated along as best they could.
"Mr. Barrow says not. About two miles from here are another falls and a set of rocky rapids, and we'll have to walk around for a distance of nearly a mile through the woods."
What Tom said was true, and the falls were reached less than an hour later. The river was very narrow at this point and lined on both sides with rough rocks. Climbing was difficult, and after crawling along for a few rods the boys halted in dismay.
"We're up against it now," groaned Dick
"Don't be discouraged lads!" came from the guide. "It isn't so bad a short distance further on. Follow me." And he started again, and there was nothing to do but to fall in behind him.
John Barrow and Dick carried one sled, and Tom and Sam, the other. In some places the cedars and brush were so thick that those in advance pushed through only with extreme difficulty.
"Well, we haven't got the task of breaking the way," said Tom, as he and Sam stopped to get their wind. "It's no fool job to break through this thicket."
"We are going up a hill," returned Sam. "We must be getting away from the river."
The guide and Dick had disappeared ahead, and, fearful of losing them, the younger Rovers set off once more. Carrying the heavy sled up the hill was, however, a great task, especially for Sam, and once at the top they had to rest again.
"I believe it would have been just as easy to have kept to the river," declared Tom "See, there it is, to our left."
"It certainly doesn't look very rough down there," was his brother's comment. "Gracious, but Dick and Mr. Barrow plow along like steam engines!" he added. "I can't go so fast."
"We won't hurry, there is no need. The trail is plain enough," said Tom, and so they rested fully quarter of an hour. Then they heard Dick calling to them from a long distance ahead.
"All right; we're coming!" Tom called back. "Just please don't go so awfully fast!"
"We are going to take the trail to the left!" Dick shouted back, but the others did not catch the words.
Tom and Sam advanced now slower than ever, and when they reached a spot where there was an opening to the right and another to the left, the others were not only out of sight, but out of hearing as well. It had now begun to snow more thickly than ever.
"Which way did they take?" questioned Sam, in perplexity.
"Reckon they went this way, Sam."
"It looks to me as if they went the other way. Here are some footprints."
"Here are some footprints, too."
They came to a standstill, more perplexed than ever. Sure enough, there were two sets of footprints, running almost at right angles to each other.
"I guess we've hit somebody else's trail," said Sam. "Dick! Mr. Barrow! Where are you?" he called out.
No answer came back, and then the two boys shouted in chorus. All remained as silent as before.
"Well, this is a mess, to say the least," was Tom's comment. "How are we to know which trail to follow?"
"I move we make a sure thing of it and get down to the river again," was Sam's answer. "Then we'll be certain to be on the right track. As soon as they reach the river they'll wait for us."
This seemed sensible advice, and leaving both trails the boys plunged through the cedar brakes to where they had seen the icy surface of the stream. They had to make several turns, and once Tom lost his footing and rolled over and over in the snow. But at last they gained the smooth ice, and then each breathed a long sigh of relief.
"It's ten times better than climbing around," observed Sam. "The rapids and rocks amount to next to nothing. I don't see why Mr. Barrow gave us all that extra climbing."
"Perhaps the river has changed since he was up here last," said Tom. "Anyway, it's a good bit narrower here than it was further back."
Sliding down the hillside had loosened the load on the sled, and they had to spend a good five minutes in fastening it and mending a strap that had broken. Then several minutes more were consumed in putting on their skates.
"My! how it does snow!" came from Tom, as they started at last. "I can't see fifty feet ahead."
"Nor I, Tom. I really wish we were with Dick and Mr. Barrow."
"So do I, but I guess it's all right."
Forward they pushed, dragging the sled after them. It was rough work, and the ice was often covered too deep with snow to make skating a pleasure.
"It seems to me the river is getting narrower than ever," said Sam. "It's queer, too, for Mr. Barrow said it was quite broad near the lake."
"He said one of the branches was broad, Sam. We must be on a different branch."
"Let us call to them again."
Once more they cried out, at the top of their lungs. But nothing answered them, not even a muffled echo. All was swallowed up in the loneliness of the situation and in the fast falling snow, which now covered even the load on the sled to the depth of an inch or more.
"Come on," said Sam half desperately. "We must catch up to them, sooner or later."
"Perhaps we are ahead of them."
"It isn't likely. Let us go on, anyway."
And on they went, another quarter of a mile. The stream was now broader, and this raised their hopes considerably. But suddenly Tom gave a cry of dismay.
"Look, Sam! We have reached the end of the stream!"
Sam strained his eyes and went on a few feet further. Then he gave a groan. His brother was right, the stream had come to an end in a pond probably a hundred feet in diameter. They had not been following the Perch River at all, but merely a brook flowing into that stream!
AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY.
"Tom, we have missed it!"
"It looks like it, Sam."
"What we took for the river wasn't the river at all. We must be a mile or two out of the way."
"There is nothing to do but to go back," was the dismal response.
"Don't you think we might strike the river without going back?"
"We might, and then again we might not. I hardly feel like taking the risk—in this blinding snow."
With heavy hearts the brothers turned the sled around and proceeded on the back trail, if such the way may be called. As a matter of fact, the snow had covered their footprints completely.
The wind was now rising again, and it blew directly into their faces. Alarmed more than ever, on this account, they pushed on until poor Sam was almost winded.
"I—I can't go on so fast, no use in trying!" he panted. "I feel ready to drop!"
"I'm fagged out myself," responded Tom. "But, Sam, we can't afford to rest here."
"I know that, but I've got to get my wind back somehow. The wind seems to be awfully strong."
They rested for several minutes, and then pushed on again, Tom dragging the sled alone. It was a bitter journey, and both would have given a good deal to have been with Dick and the guide once more.
"We missed it when we didn't keep up with them in the first place," was Tom's comment. "However, there's no use in crying over spilt milk, as the saying goes. We must make the best of it."
"There isn't any best," grumbled Sam. "It's all worst!" And then Tom laughed, in spite of the seriousness of the situation.
At last they gained the spot where they had first struck the brook, and here they halted again.
"The worst of it is, there is no telling how far this brook runs before it empties into the Perch River," observed Tom. "We may have to go two or three miles out of our way."
"We may as well climb up the hill again, Tom, and try to follow one of those trails."
"Perhaps you are right."
They talked the matter over and at last began to climb the hill, now more difficult than before, since the snow was several inches deeper. It took a long while to gain the top, and still longer to find the spot where they had left the trail.
"Here we are," said Tom, resting on a fallen tree which marked the locality. "Now the all-important question is, which way next?"
"Tom, I believe we are getting lost," came from Sam, in a dismal tone.
"I don't think we're getting lost, Sam; we are lost, no two ways about it. We've got to keep our eyes open and our wits about us, or we'll be getting into a first-class mess."
"It must be almost noon," went on the youngest Rover, and pulled out his watch. "Phew! Half-past twelve!"
"Thought I was hungry. Is there anything in this load good to eat?"
"I don't know. Let us look and see. We can't go on, hungry."
They unstrapped the load and examined it. There were blankets there and some camp utensils, and a box containing crackers, cheese, and chipped beef.
"Crackers and cheese will do on a pinch," said Tom. "Come, we mustn't lose more time than is necessary."
Yet eating and resting was very pleasant, and they spent the best part of half an hour under the sheltering limbs of a big cedar tree. Both were dry, but eating snow did not seem to quench their thirst. The wind increased as they ate, but the snow now came down more lightly.
They decided to strike out on something of a trail running to the northwest. It was hard work hauling and carrying the sled over the rocks and through the bushes, and they often had to halt for breath.
"There goes something!" cried Tom presently. "Sam, did you see it?"
"I saw something, but it disappeared before I could make out what it was."
The object had crossed their path a hundred feet ahead of them. Now it reappeared somewhat closer, and both boys saw that it was a lean and hungry-looking wolf.
"A wolf!" cried Sam.
"Wonder if I hadn't better shoot him," said Tom, unslinging his gun.
"Better save your powder, Tom. I don't believe he'll attack us—at least not while it is light."
"A shot might bring an answering signal from Dick," went on Tom suddenly. "What fools we have been, not to think of that before!"
The wolf kept hidden and Tom did not shoot, expecting to see the beast reappear at any instant. On they went, keeping an eye on the bushes and trees on both sides of them. Once they heard the patter of the wolf's feet on a stretch of bare rocks, but that was all.
"I'll fire a shot, anyway," said Tom at last, and aimed in the direction where they had heard the sounds last. To his intense surprise a yelp and a snarl followed.
"Great Caesar! I hit him after all," began Tom, and then leaped back. "Look out, Sam, he's coming for us!"
Tom was right. The wolf, wounded in the left flank, had suddenly appeared. His eyes blazed with pain and fury, and he made as if to spring upon the boys.
Tom was in front of the sled and Sam behind it. With a quick leap Tom cleared the load and took up a position beside the youngest Rover.
The wolf made the leap, but stopped short on the top of the load. As he prepared to spring again Tom swung his gun around by the barrel and hit the wolf a smart rap on the head. The animal rolled over on the ground.
"Shoot him, Sam!"
"I will, if I can!" came from Sam, who had now unslung his gun. Taking a quick aim, he fired.
The shot proved a good one, for it took the wolf directly in the neck, just as he was scrambling to rise. Again he gave a yelp, and then began to turn over and over in his intense pain. Of a sudden he leaped up and landed on Tom's shoulder.
For the instant poor Tom thought his last moment had come. But as the beast landed Sam struck it with his gun, and down it went once more, snarling viciously. Then it rolled and tossed until some brush was gained, when it managed to hide itself and crawl away, seriously, if not mortally, wounded.
"He's gone!" came from Sam.
"Well, don't go after him," panted Tom. "Let him go and welcome. I never want to see him again."
Both reloaded with all haste—having learned years before that it is foolish to remain in the wilds with an empty firearm. Then they waited, to see if the wolf would return.
"Hark!" cried Sam. "Did you hear that shot, Tom?"
"I did. I think it came from that direction." And Tom pointed with his hand.
"I think so myself. It must be Dick or Mr. Barrow, firing."
"More than likely. Let us follow up the shot."
They listened, but no more shots followed, and then they went on, over a stretch which was comparatively smooth and free from brushwood. But though they covered a quarter of a mile they saw nothing either of the river or of their lost companions.
"We're getting lost more than ever," groaned Sam. "I declare I haven't the least idea where we are."
"I'm going to fire another shot," answered his brother, and proceeded to do so.
Both listened with strained ears, and soon an answering shot came back, slightly to the left of the path they had been pursuing.
"Thank fortune, we are getting closer!" cried Sam. "Come on!"
As worn out as they were, they resumed the dragging of the sled through the snow. Once Sam had suggested they abandon the load, but Tom would not hear of this, for he knew they could not very well do without this portion of the outfit.
The wind was blowing heavily, and high overhead they heard the tree-tops creak ominously. Once in a while a tree branch would unload itself, sending down a great mass of snow on their heads. But they pushed on, determined to rest no more until the others of the party should be sighted.
Presently they came to a clearing overlooking a small pond and a stream beyond. At first Tom imagined that this was the pond they had left but a short while before, but a second look showed him that the locality was an entirely new one to them.
"My gracious, Tom! Get out of sight!" came in an excited whisper from Sam, and he pulled his brother down behind a clump of bushes, and then dragged the sled after him.
"What do you see?" demanded Tom.
"Look across the pond. As sure as you are born, there are Dan Baxter and Jasper Grinder. We've been following them instead of Dick and Mr. Barrow!"
IN THE CAMP OF THE ENEMY.
What Sam said was true. There, gathered around a fire on the opposite side of the pond, were Dan Baxter, Jasper Grinder, and a tall, powerfully built fellow whom they easily guessed was Bill Harney, the guide. They had two sleds with them, and one of these had been unloaded and the camping outfit lay scattered around.
"Well, this is a surprise and no mistake!" was Tom's comment, in a low voice. "If I know anything about it, they must have done some quick traveling."
"I believe they followed the river, at least part of the way," returned the youngest Rover. "I see a pair of skates lying by one of the sleds."
"Do you suppose Dick and Mr. Barrow met them?"
"I don't believe they did. See, they have some rabbits they are going to cook. That accounts for the shots we heard."
Crouching down behind the bushes, the two Rovers watched the other party with interest. A lively conversation was going oh between Dan Baxter and the former teacher of Putnam Hall, but they were too far off to catch anything of what was said.
"What do you propose doing next?" asked Sam, after a pause of several minutes. "It's mighty cold here."
"We may as well retreat, Sam. We don't want to expose ourselves, do we?"
"I don't suppose it would do any good—although I'm not afraid of Baxter, or Grinder either."
"It isn't that. If they know we have arrived here, they will do all they can to locate that treasure first. We want to keep dark and get ahead of them."
"But how shall we turn?"
"We'll have to go back to where we found the two trails crossed and then try the other one. I don't know of anything else to do."
"Wouldn't Dan Baxter be surprised, if he knew we were so close?"
"Well, we won't let him know."
"Why not?" demanded an unexpected voice from the rear.
Both boys started and turned around, to find themselves confronted by Lemuel Husty, the man Dick had seen in company with Baxter at Cedarville.
"Hullo, who are you?" asked Tom, as quickly as he could recover from his surprise.
"If you want to know real bad, youngster, my name is Lemuel Husty."
"I don't know you."
"But I know you—leas'wise I know of you," went on Husty, with a frown. "You're down on my friend Baxter, aint you?"
"If we are, we have a good reason to be," came from Sam.
"Perhaps you have, and then again, perhaps you haven't. It aint no nice thing to be cotched spying, though."
"We weren't spying. We came up quite by accident."
"You can tell that to the monkeys, but you can't tell it to me," growled Lemuel Husty. Then he raised his voice: "I say, Baxter! I say, you fellows! Come over here!"
The three around the camp-fire looked up in surprise, and were even more surprised when Husty waved his hand for them to come to him.
"What's wanted?" demanded Dan Baxter.
"I've found two of your very intimate friends spying on you," answered Husty.
"I guess we had better get out," whispered Sam to Tom, not liking the turn affairs had taken.
"I'm with you," returned Tom.
"No, you don't!" cried Husty, and caught hold of the sled. "You just stay here until we talk this thing over."
Tom's hands were on his gun, and for the moment he felt like pointing the weapon at the man. But then he concluded that this would do small good, and the weapon remained where it was.
In a minute Dan Baxter came running across the pond, with Jasper Grinder and Bill Harney at his heels. Each of the advancing party carried some sort of firearms.
"Tom and Sam Rover!" ejaculated Baxter, and it was easy to see that he was completely surprised. "How did you get here?"
"Walked and skated," returned Tom, as coolly as he could.
"You've got a nerve to follow me and my party," went on Baxter, with an ugly scowl.
"As I just said to this man, Baxter, we haven't been following you," put in Sam. "We struck your trail by accident. We thought we were following——"
"Never mind about that, Sam," interrupted Tom quickly.
"Who did you think you were following?" demanded Dan Baxter.
"It's none of your business, Baxter. We have as much right to be here as you have."
"Humph! Don't you suppose I know why you came?"
"More than likely you do, and we know why you came."
"Have you got another map?" demanded Baxter, in curiosity.
"It's none of your affair what we have. We stumbled upon you by accident, and if you haven't anything in particular to say to us we'll be going."
"You needn't leave so quickly. Where is Dick?"
"He isn't so very far off."
"You hired John Barrow for a guide, I heard," put in Bill Harney.
"If we did, we had a right to do it," said Sam.
"He don't know these parts as well as he might. If you don't look out he'll lose you in the mountains, and you'll never get home alive."
"Let him lose them," put in Baxter quickly. "It's what they deserve. But, come, it's cold over here. Let's move back to the fire. And I want you two to come along," he added, to the Rovers.
"We don't propose to come along," replied Tom.
"And I say you shall come, Tom Rover. We are four to two, and you had better submit."
"Yes, make them come," put in Jasper Grinder. "I want to have a talk with them." And he glared wickedly, first at Tom and then at Sam.
It must be confessed that Tom and Sam felt in anything but an enviable position. They knew Dan Baxter thoroughly, and knew he would stop at nothing to accomplish his purpose.
"The best thing you can do is to leave us alone," said Tom steadily. "You have always got the worst of the bargain, Dan Baxter, and if you try any game on now, you'll miss it again."
"I'll risk it, Tom Rover. Come now, and no more fooling. If you behave yourself, there won't be any trouble."
There was, then, nothing to do but to follow, for neither of the Rovers wished to lose this portion of the outfit. Soon the whole party were gathered around the fire, which Husty heaped high with brushwood. Back of the fire was a high cliff, topped with cedars, which kept off the wind and made the situation a fairly comfortable one.
"Now we had better come to an understanding," said Dan Baxter, as he warmed his hands. "We all know what we are out here for, so there is no use in mincing matters."
"I understand all I want to know," answered Tom briefly.
"So do I," put in Sam.
"Baxter shall settle with you, and then I'll settle," growled Jasper Grinder. "I have not forgotten how I was treated at Putnam Hall because of you."
"It served you right that you were kicked out," said Sam, without stopping to think twice.
"Ha! you dare to talk to me in this fashion!" roared the former teacher. "I'll teach you a lesson! Just wait till I find a good switch!"
"Hold on Grinder! one at a time," put in Dan Baxter. "I'll settle with them first, if you please."
"They deserve a thorough thrashing," grumbled the irate man.
"Now I want you to tell me the truth," went on Dan Baxter, addressing Tom and Sam. "Where did you get a map of that treasure? In the cave on that island?"
"We haven't said we had a map," returned Tom.
"But you must have a map—or something like it."
"Whatever we have, it's none of your business, Dan Baxter," broke in Sam.
"Shut up, you little imp! Don't you know you are in my power!" stormed Baxter, in a rage. "I can do as I please out here, and these three men will help me."
As he finished he caught Sam by the collar and began to shake him.
"Let my brother alone!" ejaculated Tom. "Let up, I say!"
"I won't, Tom Rover. He's got to learn that I'm the master here," howled Baxter.
"If you don't let go, I'll hit you," went on Tom, and raised his right fist. But ere he could deliver the blow Bill Harney rushed behind him, caught him by the waist and threw him flat.
"That's right!" shouted Dan Baxter. "Make them both prisoners! I've got a big score to settle with them!"
And then all four fell upon Sam and Tom, and a fierce struggle ensued, the outcome of which was for some time hard to predict.
DICK AND THE WILDCAT.
"Well, it's mighty funny Tom and Sam don't come up."
It was Dick who spoke. He stood in the shelter of a number of walnut trees, and close at hand was John Barrow.
The pair had missed the others ten minutes before, and were now waiting impatiently for their reappearance.
"It can't be as how they missed the trail in this snow," said John Barrow soberly. "Let us shout for 'em."
They set up a shout, and waited impatiently for an answer. But none came, and they called again.
"We had better go back for them," said Dick, his face full of a troubled look. "I wouldn't have them get lost in this snowstorm for the world."
It was decided to leave the sled where it was, and soon they were hurrying along the back trail. But the snow and wind were against them, and they made slow progress.
"It will not be necessary to relate all the particulars of the next three hours. In vain they looked for Tom and Sam. Not a trace of the missing lads could be discovered.
"This the worst yet!" groaned Dick, as he came to a halt, all out of breath. "I thought, all along, that they were keeping close behind us!"
"I told them to do so," returned the guide.
They had fired several shots, but the reports had failed, as we know, to reach the ears of the missing Rovers. They were now at their wits' end regarding what to do next.
"I'd give a hundred dollars rather than have this happen," went on Dick. "Why, they'll starve to death if they really get lost!"
"Oh, aint you mistaken there, Dick? They have the other sled, remember; and each o' 'em has a gun for to bring down any game as is wanted."
"That's true, and it's one comfort. But there is no telling when they reach civilization again. Why, this forest is about as bad as some places in the far West."
"I believe you there, lad. Well, they've got to make the best o' it. I reckon they'll strike out for the river and come up that to Bear Pond, over the rocks an' rapids an' all."
Supper time found the pair on the river again, four miles below Bear Pond. It was decided that they should camp at that spot for the night.
"We'll build a big camp-fire and keep it a-going," said Dick. "Perhaps they will see it."
"That's an idee," returned John Barrow, and before doing anything else the camp-fire was started, in an open spot along the river bank. Dick saw to it that it blazed up merrily, and kept piling on all the dry brushwood he could find, until the flames shot up fully twenty feet into the air, making the surroundings as bright as day.
For supper they cooked another of the wild turkeys, but it must be confessed that Dick had little appetite for eating. John Barrow noticed it, and he did his best to cheer up the youth.
"Don't worry too much, lad," he said. "Take my word on it, they'll turn up by morning, sure. You've said yourself they've been through putty tryin' times, in Africa and out West."
On the way to the river John Barrow had brought down several rabbits and some birds, and these were hung up on the low branches of a nearby tree. They proceeded to make themselves comfortable under this tree, cutting down some cedar branches for a flooring, and banking up some other branches and some snow to keep off the wind.
"I don't think I'll go to sleep," said Dick. "I'm going to keep the fire piled high, so that it will light up as it's doing now."
"Then I'll turn in right away," answered the guide. "It's eight o'clock. You call me at two, and that will be givin' you a fair nap afore daybreak." And so it was agreed.
It did not take John Barrow long to settle himself, and soon he was snoring as peacefully as though lying in his bed at home. Sitting down close to the fire, Dick gave himself up to his thoughts.
And what numerous thoughts they were—of home and of school, of his brothers, and of the Baxters and their other enemies, and of all that had happened since they had first started to go to Putnam Hall. And then he thought of the Lanings and of the Stanhopes, and lingered long over the mental picture of sweet Dora and of what she had last said to him.
"She's just an all-right girl," he said to himself. "Heaven bless her and keep her from any further trouble!"
When the fire showed signs of burning low he arose and piled on more brushwood. There was hardly enough at hand to suit him, and, ax in hand, he started back from the river, to cut more.
He was within fifteen feet of some dense bushes when of a sudden he came to a halt, as he saw a pair of gleaming eyes glaring at him. As soon as he noticed the eyes they disappeared.
"A wild animal," he thought. "Can it be a wolf?"
Retracing his steps to the fire, he caught up his gun and waited. But the animal did not appear, nor did Dick hear any sound save the murmur of the wind through the snow-clad trees.
The youth wondered if he ought to awaken the guide, but finally resolved to let John Barrow sleep. "I ought to be able to take care of one wolf," he reasoned. "I've taken care of worse than that in my time."
Gun in hand, he advanced upon the bushes once more. He expected to see a wolf slink away at any moment, but no beast came to view, and, after walking completely around the growth, he laid down the gun and went to work vigorously with the ax.
Bush after bush was brought down in rapid succession, until in ten minutes Dick calculated he had cut sufficient to last the camp-fire for the rest of the night. Then he lowered the ax and caught up a large bush, to drag it close to the blaze.
As he turned around he met a sight that, for the instant, chilled him to the backbone. There, between the blaze and the tree under which John Barrow was sleeping, crouched a wildcat, a large, fierce-looking creature, with fire-shot eyes and a stubby tail which was moving noiselessly from side by side, as the creature prepared itself to make a leap.
"Gracious! he's going to attack Mr. Barrow!" thought Dick, but even as this flashed over his mind the wildcat made a leap into the tree, close to where hung the game the guide had brought down some hours before.
"Thank goodness, he's only after the meat," thought Dick, and the chill he had experienced passed away. Then, struck with a new idea, he leaped for his gun.
Several twigs of the tree were in the way of getting a good aim, and he had to circle around to the other side before he could get another good view of the wildcat. In the meantime the beast had grabbed up the wild turkey that was left, and clutching it tight in its mouth, started to drop to the snow-covered ground.
Bang! went the gun and the charge of heavy shot took the wildcat in the left flank, making a bad, but not a fatal, wound. The beast dropped the wild turkey and let out a fearful snarl of rage. Then it saw Dick, gave another snarl, and leaped toward the youth.
The gun was double-barreled, and once more Dick let drive. But he was not overly cool, and the charge merely nipped the beast in its left front leg. It continued to come on, and as it did so Dick commenced to retreat.
"Hi! what's up?" came from John Barrow, and throwing aside his blanket, he leaped to his feet.
"A wildcat!" ejaculated Dick. "Quick! Shoot him!"
"By gosh!" muttered the guide, and blinking in the bright light of the fire, he reached for his rifle, which he had brought along in addition to his shotgun.