Jim Hendricks insisted that the Rovers ride up to his house with him, and away sped the touring car for the most fashionable quarter of Seattle. Here the Hendricks had a beautiful mansion, and here the newcomers were cordially greeted by Mrs. Hendricks, the colonel being out of the city on business.
"You've just got to make yourselves at home," said Jim. "It won't do a bit of good to fret so much. You are bound to get hold of poor Tom sooner or later, and I can't see that this trip to Alaska is going to hurt him any. It may do him good."
"But he may wander away and we may lose all track of him," answered Sam. "I've heard of persons disappearing like that."
The Hendricks did all in their power to make the Rovers feel at home. Sam and Dick were utterly worn out and took a brief rest. After that came an elaborate meal, served in the Hendricks' spacious dining room.
The telephone rang several times, but they were only local messages, of no importance to the Rover boys. But then came another message that filled them with interest, being from the wireless office.
"It's from Captain Dwight," explained Jim, who took the message down. "Too bad," he murmured.
"What does he say?" demanded Sam and Dick, in a breath.
"He can't find anybody by the name of Paul Haverlock, nor can he find any passenger answering to the description you gave him of Tom. He says, 'Too many answering your general description,' which means that he can't pick Tom out, even if he is on board."
"Tom must have changed his name again," said Sam. "Most likely he gives any name that happens to come into his head."
"But he ought to be on the steamer's list of passengers."
"That's true. I can't understand it."
For a long time the Rover boys talked the matter over. Had Tom really gone to Alaska?
"We had better make some inquiries at the dock from which that steamer sailed," said Dick. "Maybe we'll meet somebody who will remember Tom."
The next morning found them at the dock, Jim going with them. All sorts of men and boys were interviewed, and at last they met a taxicab driver who had carried Tom from the railroad station. He recognized the photograph at once.
"Yes, I took him from the depot to the shipping office, and then carried his handbag to the steamer," said the taxicab driver. "He was a fine young man," he added.
"Maybe he tipped you pretty good," ventured Dick, with a faint smile.
"He sure did;—gave me fare and a dollar over."
"And you are dead sure he got on the steamer?" insisted Sam.
"I am. He was almost the last passenger on board and I am sure he didn't come ashore again."
"Then he must have gone to Alaska," said Dick.
The youths had already learned that the ticket Tom had purchased had been for Skagway. At that point, so the agent had told them, a connection could be made for the White Pass and Yukon Route.
"That's the way Tom would go—if he wanted to get up to where that moving picture was taken," said Dick. "That's the land of gold—and also ice and snow."
"I guess the best thing we can do, Dick, is to get to Juneau and Skagway as soon as we can."
"It would seem so, Sam. It's a pretty long journey."
"So it is, but what else is there to do? We don't want poor Tom to become hopelessly lost, and in such a far-away country as that."
"If the travel wasn't so awfully heavy we'd have a better chance to locate Tom," went on Dick. "But with the steamers so loaded it is pretty hard to find anybody just by a description."
As the boys had both left Ashton in a hurry they had but few things with them. In the Hendricks car they traveled around Seattle, purchasing such things as they needed.
"I don't suppose Tom has much clothing," said Sam. "Poor fellow, I do hope he doesn't go away up North where it is so cold!"
"I've got to send some word home and to New York," said Dick, after the shopping was over.
"Dick, can you really spare the time to go to Alaska?" questioned his brother. "If you can't, I could go alone."
"I think it is best for us to go together, Sam. I imagine we are going to have our hands full, too. As for Dad's business, it will have to wait, that's all. I think I can trust Mr. Powell to do the right thing. The worst of the whole business is, this is going to worry Dad and Aunt Martha and Uncle Randolph a great deal. But that can't be helped."
At last came the time for the steamer to leave. The brothers had been fortunate in getting a stateroom together. It was not a very desirable room, but it was much better than nothing. And they would have gone, "if they had to sleep on the anchor," as Sam expressed it.
Jim Hendricks came down to see them off. He shook hands cordially on parting.
"I'm sure I wish you the best of luck," he said. "And I'll write to your chums at Brill, telling them of what is taking place."
Slowly the big steamer left the harbor and turned her bow towards the North. It was dark, so but little outside of the twinkling lights of the city could be seen. Yet the Rovers remained on deck for over an hour, for neither felt like turning in.
They noticed that the passengers were quite a mixed set. Many were mere tourists, taking a round trip to Alaska for sight seeing. Others were Alaskan merchants and traders, who had been "down to the States" on business. Mixed in with the crowd were many men, young and middle-aged, bound for the North to try their luck in the gold fields. The great rush to the Klondyke was a thing of the past, but new gold fields were being opened continually.
The boys were on their way to their stateroom when they came suddenly face to face with a burly man who wore a heavy beard and mustache. The man was about to pass them when he suddenly stopped short, stared at Dick and then at Sam, and caught each by the arm.
"Say, am I dreamin', or is this the Rovers!" he gasped.
"We are the Rovers, yes," answered Dick, and he gave the burly man a closer look. "And this is Jack Wumble, I believe," he added.
"Jack Wumble!" cried Sam. "Really!"
"Put her thar! Put her thar!" cried the man, and took hold of the hand of each at once. "Ain't this great! Whar ye bound now anyhow? Goin' to locate another mine—like thet one we found out in Colorady?"
"No, we are not looking for a mine this trip," answered Dick. "We are on the trail of something far more important."
"More important than a gold mine?" demanded Jack Wumble, his eyes opening widely.
"Yes. We are on the trail of my brother Tom, who is out of his mind and has wandered away."
"Hoss pistols an' rattlesnakes! Ye don't tell me! Well, if Tom is missin' count me in on the hunt fer him," was the quick and earnest response.
AT JUNEAU AND SKAGWAY
Jack Wumble was an old miner and prospector, a man the boys had met years before in Colorado, when they went to that section of our country to locate a mine belonging to their father. As related in detail in "The Rover Boys Out West," Wumble had been of great assistance to them and he knew them all well. He had, after numerous stirring adventures, located a claim for himself, which, at the time, paid very well. Lately, however, the Rovers had not heard from him, and they had often wondered what had become of the man.
"You're a sight fer sore eyes, so ye are!" cried Jack Wumble, slapping each on the shoulder. "I never dreamed o' seein' ye in this out o' the way corner o' the country."
"We didn't expect to come here either, up to a few days ago," answered Sam.
"Maybe ye better tell me the story," suggested the old miner. "If I kin help ye I will."
"Come on to the cabin," suggested Dick, and led the way. They sat down on a corner seat, and there the Rovers told their story, withholding nothing, for they knew they could trust Jack Wumble in every particular.
"Gosh all hemlock! Sounds like one of them theatre plays I see in 'Frisco," was the old miner's comment. "To think Tom would wander away in thet fashion! 'Tain't no wonder ye are scart to deth! I'd be scart myself, thinkin' he might jump overboard, or sumthin' like thet. He ought to be put in an asylum."
After that Jack Wumble told his own story. He said his claim in Colorado had gradually petered out, and then he had tried his fortunes in various other places, gradually winding up in the Klondyke. There he had struck what he hoped would prove a bonanza.
"I've been down to the States buying some machinery an' some supplies," he added. "They are coming up on a freight boat next week. I find I can do better to go to the States fer things than to buy in Alaska."
"Have you taken any gold out of your claim yet?" questioned Sam, with interest.
Jack Wumble looked around, to make certain that nobody was listening but the Rovers.
"Don't ye tell nobody," he whispered. "I took out about two thousand dollars, in nuggets an' dust, in less'n ten days!"
"Fine!" returned Dick, and Sam nodded. "I hope you keep it up."
"It's the machinery is goin' to tell the tale," returned Jack Wumble. "I can't do much more by hand."
"Are you working the mine alone?" asked Sam.
"Fer the present. When I came away I left the claim in charge o' a miner named Allison—Tim Allison. But I told him not to do any diggin'—just keep his eyes on things. When there is any diggin' to be done I want to be on hand."
Wumble was bound for Skagway, where he said his machinery and supplies would be sent. He knew that section of Alaska thoroughly, and said he would show the lads where to go and what to do.
"Things is changin' mightily up there every day," he remarked. "They are dredgin' channels an' buildin' railroads, and making all kinds o' roads. Go there one year an' the next ye won't 'most know the place, it will look so different."
"Well, they are developing all parts of the country," answered Dick.
"Maybe; but nuthin' to wot they're doin' in Alaska," answered the old miner.
The three sat up for half an hour longer, talking matters over. Of course Jack Wumble wanted to know about Mr. Rover, and was sorry to learn that the boys' father was not well. He could hardly believe that Dick was married.
"Why, it don't seem like no time since you an' your brothers came out to Colorady to locate thet mine," he remarked.
There was a little wind, but otherwise the night was calm. Now that they could do no more for the present, the Rovers realized how tired they were, and once in their berths both went sound asleep. Nor did they rouse up until well into the morning. The sleep did them a world of good, and when they dressed and went to breakfast they felt quite like themselves once more.
"If we didn't have to worry about Tom, I could enjoy this trip immensely," remarked Sam.
Jack Wumble had already satisfied his hunger, for he was an early riser. After breakfast all sat on the deck, and the old miner related some of his experiences while prospecting in various localities, and the boys told how they had finished up at Putnam Hall and gone to Brill.
"I can't hardly believe thet Dan Baxter has reformed," said Wumble, shaking his head slowly. "I allers put him an' his father down fer bad eggs."
"Well, they were pretty bad at one time," answered Dick. "But Dan found out that it didn't pay to be bad. And his father is old and, I guess, well satisfied to behave himself and take it easy."
"Mr. Baxter might have been a wealthy man if he had done things on the level," returned the old miner.
The journey up the coast of Canada to the lower point of Alaska was full of interest to the boys. In due course of time, the bow of the steamer was turned into Chatham Strait, and soon they were running past Admiralty Island.
Both Sam and Dick had expected to see quite a city at Juneau, and they were disappointed when they beheld only a scattered town, lying on a strip of land, bound on one side by what is called the Lynn Canal and on the other by the mouth of the Taku River. In the distance were some high mountains, which the boys looked at with interest.
Fortunately the steamer was to remain at Juneau for two hours, and in that time the Rovers hoped to make certain whether or not Tom had landed there. They lost no time in getting ashore, and Jack Wumble went with them.
At first there was so much confusion at the dock that the youths could learn little or nothing. But as the crowd cleared away they were enabled to make some inquiries of officials and others. But nobody had seen Tom, or knew anything about him.
"I think he must have remained on the steamer," said Sam. "If he was after those nuggets he'd want to get right up into the land of gold."
"Thet's the way I reason it out," put in Jack Wumble. "Better stick to the trip, lads. I think ye'll be able to learn somethin' in Skagway."
So when the steamer left the dock they were on board.
The trip to Skagway was a decidedly interesting one, and the youths listened closely to all the old miner had to tell them about the country and its inhabitants.
"It's changin' amazingly fast," said Jack Wumble. "They are clearin' out ship channels an' buildin' railroads, and towns spring up like magic. Now whar I'm located—a place called Black Run—thar wasn't a house thar three years ago. Now we got a store an' a dozen shacks, an' more buildin' every day! I tell you, I think Alaska is one o' the greatest countries in the world!"
There was a greater bustle and confusion than ever when the steamer tied up at Skagway. Here a connection can be made with the White Pass and Yukon route, and other routes. About ten miles away, up the Lynn Canal, was Dyea, also a town of importance.
The boys followed Jack Wumble ashore and waited until some of the bustle and confusion was over, and then commenced a systematic hunt for Tom.
The hunt lasted until nearly midnight, and then, utterly worn out, the Rovers and the old miner had to give it up. They had met just one man who remembered having seen a person who looked like Tom on the steamer, and who said the fellow had landed at Skagway. But where the unknown had gone the man could not say.
"Yes, that's the fellow," said the man, when shown Tom's photograph. "But he didn't look quite as nice as that. He looked—well, wild like."
"He is wild," answered Dick. "That is why we want to find him."
Jack Wumble knew of a fairly good hotel, and the three put up there for the night. The boys were so tired they slept "like logs," as Dick said afterwards. But they were up bright and early, along with the old miner, and directly after breakfast set out on another search for Tom.
"I hate to waste your time, Jack," said Dick to Wumble. "So if you want to go ahead——"
"Stop right thar, Dick!" cried the old miner. "I ain't in sech an all-fired hurry I can't try to do ye a good turn. I like Tom, an' I'm going to stay with ye fer a few days an' see if we can't locate him." And thus the matter was settled.
Two days were spent in Skagway and Dyea hunting for the missing one. Late in the afternoon of the second day the boys and the old miner separated, to make inquiries in different places.
Sam and Dick came back to the hotel at supper time much discouraged, having heard nothing to their advantage. Half an hour later Jack Wumble came in, his face showing his excitement.
"I've got on the trail!" he cried. "Come on, we're goin' to git after Tom right away!"
FROM ONE CLUE TO ANOTHER
"What have you learned, Jack?"
"When did he leave here?"
"Is he all right?"
"I'm ready to go after him right now."
Such were the words that came from the Rover boys after Jack Wumble had announced that he had located their missing brother.
"We ain't got no time to spare," cried the old miner. "Let us pay our bill here an' git out, an' I'll tell ye all I know while we are on the way."
The lads lost no time in packing up as directed, and Dick settled at the hotel desk. Jack Wumble led the way down to the docks and ordered them into a small river boat.
"This here ain't no regular boat," he explained. "But I've hired passage on her, so it's all right. We'll save fourteen hours by not waitin' fer the regular boat."
"But where are we going, Jack?" questioned Dick.
"To a jumpin'-off place called Lindy Falls. That is whar the party Tom was with was goin' to start from."
Soon the boat, a large craft of its kind, was on the way up the river. As they sped along, the boys and the old miner drew into a corner of the cabin and Jack Wumble told his story.
"By the merest accident I fell in with a man named Rabig I used to know in 'Frisco," said the old miner. "He's interested in the Golden Sunset mine an' the Beggar's Chance. Well, I told Rabig about you an' Tom an' he got interested an' asked me how Tom looked an' I told him. Then he told about how he fell in with Tom on board thet steamer an' how Tom had told him he was bound fer the Lion Head gold fields. He had it in his head, so Rabig said, that he could pick up nuggets at the Lion Head."
"The Lion Head?" repeated Dick. "Where is that?"
"It's a good distance from here, Dick, I can tell ye that. It's to the northwest o' the Klondyke. A wild place. It's called the Lion Head acause thar's a mountain thar thet looks like a lion's head. I was thar onct, prospectin' around. But I didn't find any gold thar. But some have found gold," added the old miner.
"How will Tom get there?" questioned Sam.
"Thet's the strangest part o' it," resumed Jack Wumble. "It appears as how he fell in with a miner named Furner—Ike Furner. Rabig says Furner is a bit touched here." Wumble tapped his forehead. "Well, the two made up their minds to go to Lion Head. Furner told Tom he was sure they could pick up nuggets, if only they could hit the right spot. Furner had some kind o' an outfit an' he got Tom to buy some more things, and away they started. Rabig thought they was both crazy."
"And so they must be!" murmured Dick. "Poor Tom! I hope we catch him before he gets too far into the mountains."
"Did this man Rabig say what name Tom was traveling under?" asked Sam.
"Yes. A mighty queer name, too. Brill Thomas. How do ye account fer that?"
"Brill Thomas!" repeated Dick. "Oh, that's easy. Brill is the name of the college he attends and Thomas is his first name in full. He is out of his mind, but he still retains snatches of names and things, I suppose, and that's how he hit on Brill Thomas for a name."
"He told Rabig he was from the land of Hope—the Valley Brook of Hope," went on Jack Wumble. "Rabig never heard tell o' the location."
"Valley Brook is the farm we live on, and Hope is a school near Brill," said Sam. "Poor, poor Tom! Who would have imagined such a thing as this could happen to him!"
"How far is Lion Head from here?" asked Dick.
"As the crow flies, about five hundred miles."
"Five hundred miles!" exclaimed Sam.
"Yes, an' it's nearly six hundred by the way they'll have to travel," went on Jack Wumble.
This news almost stunned the Rover boys. Was it possible that Tom was undertaking a trip of six hundred miles into the little-known portion of Alaska?
"He'd never do such a thing if he was in his right mind," said Dick. "We must catch him just as soon as we can!"
"That is why I hired passage on this boat," said the old miner. "I'm calkerlatin' we can head him off. Thet is, if the weather stays good."
"It looks like rain and is getting colder."
"Right ye are, Dick. An' when it gits cold up here, it gits cold, I kin tell ye thet. Last winter I 'most froze to death up in my shack," added Jack Wumble.
The trip on the boat to Lindy Falls was without special incident. There were about a dozen passengers, all miners and prospectors, who did not care to wait for any of the regular boats. They were a rather good-natured set, and whiled away the time by swapping stories and arguing about the best way to locate paying claims and getting out the gold.
Lindy Falls was reached one afternoon about two o'clock. It was little more than a boat and trading station and here the Rover boys got their first sight of Alaskan Indians, members of the Chilkoot tribe.
Immediately on landing they made inquiries concerning Tom and the miner named Ike Furner. They soon learned that Furner was a well-known character, and from a trader heard that this man and his young companion had set off but a few hours before.
"I think they went to Dawson City," said a man standing nearby. "Anyway, Furner told me he was goin' there first, an' then up to Lion Head."
This put a new view on the matter, and the boys and Jack Wumble questioned the stranger. The upshot was that they decided to go directly to Dawson, that mecca of all gold hunters in Alaska.
"Now, the thing of it is, How can we get to Dawson from here?" said Sam.
"That's easy," replied Jack Wumble. "Just leave it to me."
Inside of an hour their arrangements were made and they were off. Previous to going they made more inquiries concerning Tom and his strange companion, and reached the conclusion that the pair had really headed for Dawson.
"But there is no telling how soon they will change their minds and go somewhere else," said Dick, with a sigh.
It is not my purpose to tell the particulars of the tedious journey to Dawson City, about three hundred and fifty miles north of Skagway. At that time all of the improvements that now exist had not been made and the crowd suffered from many inconveniences.
But the boys were surprised when they reached Dawson to find it so "up to date," as Sam expressed it. They had expected to see a rough mining town—and that is what Dawson was but a handful of years ago. Instead, they saw a built-up city, with many stores and not a few hotels.
"Goin' to be a reg'lar 'Frisco some day," said Jack Wumble. "Beats all how the towns grow up here!"
The party had arrived in Dawson late at night and put up at the best hotel to be found. Immediately after breakfast the search for Tom was renewed.
It had rained the day before and now it was blustery and cold, with a suggestion of snow in the air. The boys were glad enough to don their sweaters under their coats.
"Ye'll have to git some heavy clothin' if ye go North," said the old miner.
"I hope Tom is dressed warm enough," said Sam. "It would be too bad if he took sick, along with his other troubles."
For two days the boys and the old miner hunted around Dawson for some trace of the missing one. They visited all sorts of places, but all to no purpose. During that time the weather grew suddenly colder and on the second night came a light fall of snow.
"Won't be long now before winter will be on us," announced Jack Wumble. "And winter up here is somethin' wuth rememberin', believe me!"
The next morning found Dick at a large trading store, where many miners and prospectors purchased their supplies. Here he asked all newcomers if they had seen or heard of Tom or Ike Furner.
"Sure, I see Furner!" cried one old prospector. "See him yesterday afternoon."
"Where?" demanded Dick, eagerly.
"Over on the Lion Head trail."
"No, he had a young feller with him."
IN THE MOUNTAINS OF ALASKA
"Sam, I think we are in for a heavy snow to-day."
"I think so myself, Dick. How much further do we go?"
"About two miles," came from Jack Wumble. "I reckon I got a bit off the trail yesterday, but I know I am right now, boys."
"But where is Tom?" came from Sam.
"He must be right ahead of us—if what we have been told is true," answered his brother.
The conversation recorded above took place just ten days after Dick and Sam arrived in Dawson City. During that time the Rover boys and Jack Wumble had spent two days in buying the necessary outfit, to follow Tom and his strange companion to the wild region in Alaska known as Lion Head. The start had been made, and now the three found themselves on a narrow mountain trail in a country that looked to be utterly uninhabited.
For three days they had been close behind Tom and Ike Furner, this being proven by the remains of campfires and other indications. Once they had met some prospectors returning to the Klondyke and these men had told of passing the pair ahead, and that Furner had said they were bound for a spot not many miles from Lion Head called Twin Rocks.
"I never heard o' Twin Rocks before," said Jack Wumble. "But if it is nigh Lion Head we ought to be able to locate it."
"Provided we don't get snowed in before we reach it," returned Sam.
On and on trudged the three. They had left the last supply depot behind. They had passed only a handful of white folks and a band of five Indians.
"Do you know, I didn't like the looks of those Indians we passed yesterday," remarked Dick, as they went forward over the rough, upward trail.
"They looked pretty sharply at our outfits," said Sam. "I guess they'll like to own them," he added.
"We have got to keep our eyes open," said Jack Wumble. "Them Injuns ain't above stealin' if they git a chanct."
"In such an out-of-the-way place as this, we can't afford to lose our things," asserted Dick.
"Maybe we had better set a guard, at night," suggested his brother.
"Oh, we don't want to lose any sleep, if we don't have to."
It had grown colder and colder, and now the wind swept around them in anything but a pleasant fashion. About noon came a flurry of snow.
"I don't like that," said Dick, shaking his head and looking up at the darkening sky.
"Oh, let's hope it won't amount to much, Dick," replied Sam.
The traveling was steadily upward, for they had to pass over a high hill to get into the valley leading to Lion Head. There was something of a trail, made by wild animals originally and now used by prospectors. This wound in and out among the rock and bushes. The footing was uncertain, and more than once one or another would go down in a hole.
"Talk about walking!" gasped Sam, after pulling himself out of a hole well concealed by bushes. "I'm thankful I didn't break a leg that time."
"An' ye can be thankful ye didn't stir up no snakes," came from Jack Wumble.
"Are there snakes up here, Jack?"
"So they say—although I never see none."
"It's pretty cold for snakes," remarked Dick. "They only come out in the summer time."
"I wish we were on horseback," said Sam, with a sigh.
"Hosses would be fine, if we could feed 'em," answered Jack Wumble. "But ye can't do thet when the ground is covered with snow."
"The outfits are so heavy, Jack."
"True, my boy, but thet can't be helped. We'll be lucky if our grub holds out."
It was after four o'clock when they reached the top of the hill. Had it been clear they might have seen for many miles around them, but now the dullness in the sky hid what was in the distance from view.
"Lion Head is over thar," said Jack Wumble, pointing with his hand. "An' Twin Rocks can't be far off."
"And how far is Lion Head from here?" questioned Sam.
"Betwixt twenty an' thirty miles, Sam."
"Then maybe we'll reach there by to-morrow night."
"Let us hope so, lad. O' course you must remember we've got the wust part o' this journey to go."
"Perhaps we'll catch Tom before we get to Lion Head," suggested Dick.
"Not by the way he has been traveling," answered his brother. "It does beat the nation how he and that Furner have been able to get over the ground."
On the top of the hill the wind was blowing a regular gale and the boys and the old miner were glad enough to go down on the other side, where they would be somewhat sheltered. But even below it was cold, and the air seemed to strike to their very backbones.
"Winter is comin' all right enough," announced Jack Wumble. "We'll be lucky if we git out o' here afore it catches us."
They trudged along until all were too weary to walk another step. They were keeping their eyes open for a spot where they might camp for the night, when Dick uttered a cry.
"Look! They must have remained here last night!"
The others gazed to where he pointed and saw, in a shelter of the rocks, the remains of a campfire. Beside the ashes lay a part of a broken strap and also some fine shavings from a stick.
"Ike Furner's mark," remarked Wumble, pointing to the shavings. They had been told by several men that one of Furner's habits was to whittle a stick. He never rested and talked but what he got out his jackknife and started to cut on a bit of wood. At another campfire, two days back, they had come across a heap of just such whittlings.
"How new is that campfire?" asked Dick, of the old miner.
Jack Wumble examined the heap of dead ashes with care.
"I should say not more'n a day—maybe not thet," he answered. "Boys, I reckon we're close on 'em."
"Oh, if only it wasn't so dark and we weren't so tired!" murmured Sam.
"We can't do much in the darkness, and with a storm coming on," returned Dick. "We'll have to wait until morning. But we had better start out directly it is daylight."
While the others were preparing supper, Dick commenced to arrange the shelter for the night. While he was doing this he noticed something white fluttering on the ground in the wind. He picked it up. It was a sheet of paper, evidently a page torn from a notebook.
"Look what I found," he said, coming close to the light of the campfire. He gazed at the sheet with deep interest. "Well, I never! Sam, look at this!" he cried.
"What is it, Dick?"
"I think Tom wrote this. Poor fellow! Isn't it too bad!"
The sheet of paper had been scribbled on with a lead pencil. The writing was in all sorts of curves, and was largely as follows:
To To To To Ro Ro Ro To Ro To Bri To Ro Bri Nel Nel Nel Di S S To Ro To Ro Tover Tomer Nel Nel Nel Nel Neltom
"Oh, Dick, what do you make of this?"
"What do I make of it? Can't you see, Sam? Tom was trying to think. He wanted to get something that was hidden away in his memory—his own name, and mine and yours, and Nellie's, and the name of Brill. Maybe a flash of his real self came back to him."
"Oh, if it only would, Dick! Yes, you must be right. First he tried his best to write Tom Rover, but all he got was To Ro, and then he went to Bri for Brill and Nel for Nellie, and Di and S for Dick and Sam. It's as plain as day. It's just like a little child trying to write."
"And it's enough to make a fellow cry," was the sober response.
The two boys studied the paper for a long time and let Jack Wumble look at it. Then, somewhat silently, all sat down to supper. Their hard walk had made them hungry and they ate every scrap of what had been prepared.
By the time they were ready to turn in, it had begun to snow. The had found a shelter under a cliff of rocks, with some brushwood to keep off the most of the wind. They rolled themselves in their blankets and soon all were in the land of dreams.
Dick had slumbered the best part of several hours, when he suddenly awoke with a start. Some furry body had swept across his face. He sat up in bewilderment and looked around the camp, lit up only by the flickering rays of the dying fire. Then he gave a gasp. From beyond the dying fire two savage eyes were gazing at him intently. Without hesitation he reached down under his blanket, brought out the pistol he carried, and fired.
AT THE FOOT OF THE CLIFF
The report of the pistol in that confined space sounded loud and clear, and brought Sam and Jack Wumble to their feet with a bound.
"What's the matter, Dick?"
"What ye firing at?"
"Some wild animal. It just leaped over me!" cried the one who had used the firearm. Dick was now on his feet, too, and all stepped away from the shelter of the cliff.
Following the discharge of the weapon had come a short sharp bark or yelp, showing that the animal had been hit. Now followed more barks and yelps from a distance.
"A fox—an Alaskan fox, thet's wot it was," said Jack Wumble. "An' I reckon as how ye hit him, Dick."
"I'm sure I did, for I aimed right at him, and he wasn't over twenty feet away," was the reply. "Wonder if he'll come back?"
"I don't think so—not if he's hurted," returned the old miner. "He must have been putty hungry to come so clost. Must have smelt our grub."
"Maybe he wasn't alone," suggested Sam. "I'd hate to have a pack of foxes come down on me."
"I don't think you'll find any pack around here," answered Jack Wumble. "They ain't so plentiful. But I'll tell ye what we might run across, an Alaskan moose—an' they ain't no nice beast to meet at close quarters."
Some extra brushwood had been gathered before retiring and now a portion of it was heaped on the fire, so that they might have more light. The barking and yelping had died away in the distance, and all around the camp it was as silent as a tomb.
"It's snowing yet," remarked Sam, as he went out to look at the sky. "But it doesn't seem to be very heavy."
"If only we're not snowed in until after we find Tom!" murmured his brother.
Gradually the excitement died away and then they laid down to rest once more. But Dick was nervous and only got into a doze, and he was glad when morning came.
The sky was now dull and heavy, "jest filled with snow," as Jack Wumble expressed it. The soft flakes were still coming down, but no thicker than they had fallen during the night. The ground was covered with white to a depth of two inches. There was a gentle wind from the northwest.
"Let us not lose any more time than we can help," said Sam. "In such weather as this, every minute may count."
"Right ye are," responded the old miner. "We'll have breakfast quick as we kin an' be off."
Traveling that morning was comparatively easy and they covered quite a number of miles. But then they commenced to climb the mountain leading to Lion Head and Twin Rocks and progress became more difficult.
"Some work, eh, Sam?" remarked Dick, after they had helped each other over some slippery rocks on the trail.
"Do you think Tom and his companion got over these, Dick?"
"I suppose they did. It's the only thing that looks like a trail around here. If they didn't stick to this they'd soon become lost. And being lost on a mountain isn't very nice—you know that."
The snow was still coming down, and to the boys it seemed heavier than before. Jack Wumble looked at the sky many times and shook his head slowly.
"We'll be in fer it by to-morrow," he said. "An' then nobuddy can tell how long it will keep up. Winter is comin' sure!"
"Then the sooner we find Tom and get back to Dawson with him the better."
It was about five o'clock in the afternoon when they reached a spot where the trail ran along the bottom of a tall cliff. Far below them was the valley they had crossed in the morning, now all but shut out from their view by the falling snow.
"Don't either of ye slip here," cautioned Jack Wumble. "Because, if ye do, thar ain't no tellin' whar ye'll fetch up."
"I'll be as careful as possible," answered Dick.
"And so will I," added Sam.
The old miner was in the lead, with Sam coming next, and Dick bringing up the rear. Thus nearly half a mile more was slowly covered.
"We ought to be drawing close to Tom now," said Dick.
"I've got an idea!" cried his brother. "Why didn't we think of it before? Let us call to him, and fire one of the pistols."
"All right," said the old miner. "'Twon't do no harm."
All three raised their voices in a lusty shout, and Dick fired a shot into the air. Then they listened intently. There was no answer of any kind.
"Let us try it again," suggested Sam. "Now then, all together!"
This time their yell was thrice repeated, and Dick fired two shots. They waited several seconds for an answer.
"Listen!" exclaimed Dick. "I hear something!"
All strained their ears, and from a great distance made out an answering cry. It appeared to come from somewhere above them.
"I believe Tom and that man with him are on the trail above the cliff!" cried Dick.
"Just what I think," answered his brother. "Oh, if only we could climb right up there, instead of going away around!"
"Ain't no way as I can see to do it," said Jack Wumble, looking at the bare wall of rocks. "We'll have ter go on till we reach some sort o' a break."
Once again they cried out and again came the answering call. But those above them were so far away that it was impossible to make out what was said.
"I've got it!" cried Dick. "If that is Tom I'll give him a call he'll know."
"The old Putnam Hall locomotive whistle?" queried Sam.
"Yes. Now then, both together, Sam, and as loud and distinct as possible."
Both youths took a deep breath, and then out on the snowy air rang a sharp, shrill whistle, once, twice, three times, rising and falling in a fashion known only to the cadets of the military school.
"By gosh, thet's some whistle!" remarked Jack Wumble, in admiration.
Again all three listened intently. There was a long spell of silence, and then from a distance came an answering whistle, that sounded like an echo of their own.
"It's Tom!" screamed Sam and clapped his hands.
"Yes, it must be. Nobody else could imitate that whistle so perfectly," returned his brother.
"Oh, let us go on! We must get to him," went on Sam, impatiently. "Maybe that whistle will bring him to his right senses, Dick!"
"I'm afraid that is too much to expect, Sam. But I am glad he remembered the whistle, anyway. It shows that he hasn't forgotten everything."
"Let us yell that we are coming, and for them to wait," suggested the old miner.
"That's it," answered Dick. "Now then, I'll lead off."
And loud and clear rang the cry:
"We are coming! We are coming! Wait for us! Wait! Wait!"
To this some answer came back, but what it was they could not make out. Then, in the silence that followed, they picked up their traps once more and went forward on the wearisome trail.
With each yard of advance the walking became more difficult. In some spots the rocks were covered with snow and they had to proceed with caution, for fear of a nasty tumble. They were climbing upward steadily and they noted with satisfaction that the cliffs seemed to become correspondingly lower.
"We'll be up there in quarter of an hour more," said Jack Wumble. "But don't ye try to go too fast. This trail is gittin' wuss an' wuss."
At last they came to some rocks where further progress seemed impossible. There had been something of a landslide, and big rocks covered the footpath for a distance of a hundred feet or more.
They gazed around the spot in perplexity.
"Well, one thing is certain," said Sam. "Tom and that man must have come this way, If they could get over these rocks we ought to be able to do the same thing."
"I think I see a way," said Dick. "Yes, here are some footprints in the snow and on this fallen tree. They climbed up by holding on to those branches. We can do the same thing."
"Don't ye try it!" yelled Jack Wumble. "Thet tree is loose! It might carry ye to the bottom of the mountain!"
"Hark!" called out Sam. "I hear something! What is that?"
All listened. From a distance came a curious swishing and cracking sound, followed by a wild sort of yell. Then came a crash—and then—utter silence.
IKE FURNER'S CAMP
"Dick, what was that?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Sam. Sounded like something falling."
"It was a tree sliding down the mountain," put in Jack Wumble. "A tree jest like the one you was goin' to take hold on."
"And somebody on it!" gasped Sam. "Oh, do you suppose it was Tom?"
At this question the old miner shrugged his shoulders.
"Ain't no tellin', Sam. Let us hope not, fer if he went down the mountain side——"
"He'd be killed!" finished Dick, and shuddered.
They listened and called out. But no answer came back, and they heard nothing more but the humming of the wind through the trees, for it had begun to blow stronger than before.
"Let's go a little further than this trail," suggested Jack Wumble. "It looks to be better walking yonder."
"But we don't want to lose our way," returned Sam, rather impatiently. The strange happenings of the day were getting on his nerves.
"We can come back here, if we need to," was the old miner's reply.
The Rovers followed him through some brushwood and then up a rough incline. Here the bushes growing between the rocks aided them, although they had to put on gloves, to keep from getting their hands badly scratched, for some of the growth was thorny.
"Well, here we are at last!" cried Sam, when the upper level of the trail was gained. He was almost out of breath, for the climb had been a long and hard one.
They were now in the midst of a field, with the snow coming down thickly all around them. Wumble led the way, looking for the spot above the fallen tree. To one side was the mountain top, to the other the valley, but all cut off from their view by the falling flakes of snow. It was so dark that they could scarcely distinguish the trail, even though Wumble was sure they were on it.
"Why not light a torch?" suggested Dick.
"That will help us, and may make the others see us—if they are near by."
This was considered a good suggestion, and the old miner picked out an extra dry bush that was long and slender. The top ignited readily, and he quickly swung it into a blaze. Then they went on once more, holding the torch at arm's length.
It was well that the light had been made, as they speedily found out. Scarcely had they gone a hundred yards further when they reached a split in the mountain side.
"Stop!" yelled the old miner, and came to a halt at the very brink of a crevice ten or twelve feet wide and of unknown depth.
"There's a tree bridge!" said Dick, as the torch was swung around to light up the vicinity.
He pointed to where a slender tree had been cut down and allowed to fall across the chasm. It made a fairly good bridge, although they had to cross with care and only one at a time. Their traps they threw over the opening.
With the snow now blowing directly in their faces, they marched forward once more, Wumble throwing the light as far ahead as possible. Soon they reached another climb, up a series of rocks that looked almost like a pair of stairs.
"Look!" cried the old miner, a few minutes later, and he stopped to pick something up out of the snow. It was a wooden pipe.
"It must be that Ike Furner's," said Dick. "Tom doesn't smoke."
"Why, look, the pipe has tobacco in it, and it's still lit!" exclaimed Sam. "It couldn't have been dropped very long ago!"
"And that proves that the owner must be close by!" put in his brother. "Let's call!" And he set up a ringing shout, in which Sam and Jack Wumble joined.
For fully a minute no answer came back. Then, from some height above them, issued an answering cry.
"Wave the torch, Jack!" exclaimed Dick, and the old miner did as requested.
All strained their eyes.
"I see a light!" exclaimed Sam. "See, over yonder!"
"I see it," came from the others.
Forward they went, in the direction of the light, which flickered uncertainly through the falling snow. They had to climb around many rocks and bushes, and occasionally they lost sight of the beacon ahead. But at last, mounting another rise, they came in full view of a campfire, located at the entrance to a cave-like opening in the side of the mountain.
A man was standing close to the campfire, a tall, thin individual, with a shock of hair and a heavy beard. He was dressed in a typical miner's costume and in his hands was a pistol.
"Who goes there?" he cried, in a high-pitched, nervous voice. "Don't come any closer until I know who you are," and he raised his pistol and pointed it at those who approached.
"Don't shoot, stranger," called out Jack Wumble, as he and the Rovers came to a halt. "Are you Ike Furner?" he went on.
"I am. Who are you?"
"I'm a miner from Black Run. My handle is Jack Wumble. These are two friends o' mine, Dick an' Sam Rover. We ain't goin' to harm you. We are lookin' fer a young feller thet's lost, that's all."
"We are looking for my brother," added Dick. "His name is Tom Rover. I think he was traveling with you." They had now come close enough to see that Ike Furner was alone.
"Don't know no Tom Rover," was the slow response. "There's a young feller with me, but his name is Brill Thomas."
"And where is he now?" asked Sam, impatiently.
"Was you below here a while ago, shoutin'?" asked Ike Furner, without answering the last question.
"Well, he went off to meet you."
"To meet us!" exclaimed Dick. "Which way did he go?"
"Same way you came."
"But we didn't meet him," cried Sam and Dick, in a breath.
"I dunno nuthin' about that, stranger. When my partner heard you a-callin' an' heard that queer whistle you gave he got all excited, an' said he must see who it was. I told him he'd better wait till you came along, but he wouldn't do it—said he couldn't—that he had remembered somethin' an' he was afraid he was goin' to forgit it ag'in."
"Poor Tom! That whistle must have made him remember who he was!" said Sam. He turned to his brother. "Where can he be now? Oh, Dick, do you remember that strange noise——"
"Yes! yes! If he had a tumble——" Dick could not finish.
"We'd better search into this," came promptly from Jack Wumble. He held out the pipe he had picked up. "Is this yours?" he asked, of the other man.
"It sure is!" cried Ike Furner, his eyes lighting up with pleasure. "I thought sure she was gone fer good. I suppose ye found her on the trail."
"Thanks," and the other miner put the precious pipe in his pocket. Then he gazed curiously at the crowd before him. "I don't understand this nohow," he muttered. "That feller who was with me was all right till you called an' whistled, then he acted plumb locoed."
"He is our brother," explained Dick, "and he is a bit out of his mind. But we can't waste time explaining just now. We must hunt him up before this storm gets any worse."
"That's the talk," said Sam.
"I don't see why he didn't meet you."
"We are afraid he had a tumble," answered Dick, and told about the strange swishing and crashing they had heard.
"By gum! Maybe he went down into thet split in the rocks!" cried Ike Furner. "I yelled to him to be careful o' thet openin'. But he was in sech a hurry——" The miner did not finish.
"I'll get a fresh torch and we'll go back," said Jack Wumble. His face wore a sober look. "A tumble down thet openin' would be putty bad," he added.
"Want me to go along?" asked Ike Furner.
"You can go if you want to," answered Dick. "But fix your traps so that no wild animals can get at the food."
"Oh, the grub is safe enough. I'll keep a good fire burnin'," answered the prospector. They could readily see that he was a peculiar man, but with a kindly heart. Family troubles had caused him to try his fortunes in this out of the way portion of the globe.
It did not take long for them to build up the campfire and get an extra torch. This done, all set off in the direction of the split in the rocks, Jack Wumble leading the way and the others coming in a bunch behind him.
The Rover boys knew not what to say or what to think. Had Tom tumbled into that awful opening, and if so, was he alive or dead?
"If he went down there I don't see how he could escape," whispered Sam to his brother. "Why, when I crossed on that tree I couldn't see the bottom!"
"Let us hope he didn't take that tumble," was the low reply.
A SLIDE DOWN THE MOUNTAIN SIDE
"My gracious, Dick! It sure is snowing some now!"
"Yes, and it is getting colder every minute."
"If we don't get out of the mountains putty quick we'll be snowed in," came from Jack Wumble.
"Did you calkerlate to git back to Dawson afore winter sot in?" inquired Ike Furner, curiously.
"Why of course!" cried Sam.
"I don't see how you are goin' to make it."
"Oh, we must get back," said Dick. "If only we could find Tom," he added, with a sigh.
It was fully an hour after they had left the campfire at the entrance to the cave of the mountain. They had walked to the chasm where they thought Tom might have had a tumble and crossed and recrossed it several times. But they had found no traces of the missing Rover boy.
"If only we knew whether he went down in that opening!" said Sam, for at least the tenth time. "Dick, do you suppose we can climb down into it?"
"Not without a rope, Sam. The sides are too steep and slippery."
Time and again they called down. But no answer came back. If Tom was down there he was either unconscious or dead.
And now it had begun to snow harder than ever. The air was so full of the white flakes that they could not see ten feet in any direction. It was a typical Alaskan snowstorm. There was a sweep to the wind that found the very marrow of their bones.
What to do next the Rovers did not know, nor could the two miners suggest anything. Finally, however, Ike Furner mentioned something that set the youths to thinking.
"See here!" he cried. "The old tree is gone!"
"What tree?" asked all three of the others.
"Why, the big hemlock as was hangin' over the cliff. She was a whopper, I kin tell you—biggest tree in these parts."
"Where was that tree?" asked Dick.
"Right here, whar you see the holes. The snow has covered the spot putty well, but I know the tree was here when we come up."
"It must have been that tree we heard sliding down the mountain side," exclaimed Dick. "Maybe Tom didn't go down into the chasm at all, but slid down the mountain on the tree!"
"That's so!" put in Sam, eagerly. "And he may not be hurt!"
"Well, a slide like thet wouldn't be anything to sneeze at," remarked Jack Wumble. "Especially if the tree took to rollin' over an' over!"
"I'm goin' to investigate," said Dick, and commenced to crawl out on the edge of the cliff.
"You be careful!" roared Wumble. "It's slippery an' dangerous out there!"
"Let us join hands," suggested Sam, and this was done, all forming a chain, to keep Dick from going over the edge of the cliff. He took the torch in one hand, that he might light the way in the darkness and the flying snow.
At last Dick found himself on the very edge of the cliff at the point where the giant tree had stood. To his surprise the cliff was not perpendicular there, but formed a slope leading to another ridge some fifty feet below. What was beneath this was hidden from view by the falling snow.
"I think I can crawl down there," he said to the others. "Anyway, I am going to try it."
"Wait! I've got a lariat in my pack," said Ike Furner. "I'll git that. It will be better'n nuthin'." And off he sped for the article mentioned.
When he came back Dick tied one end of the lariat around his waist, and while the others held fast he crawled down the slope. He had to keep on his hands and knees, and once he slipped a distance of several yards, the others stopping him with a jerk.
"Be careful—the lariat might snap!" sang out Sam.
"It's better walking down here," answered Dick. "I think——"
He did not finish, for just then his body swung down into a hollow, filled with snow and with some dripping water that had commenced to freeze. There was a snap, and the end of the lariat came back in the faces of those above.
"There he goes!" yelled Jack Wumble, and pointed down to where the torch could be seen whirling around and around. Soon it was hidden from view by the snow.
"Dick! Dick!" yelled Sam. "Are you safe?"
A yell came back, but what was said those above could not make out. Sam's face went white, and he looked inquiringly at Jack Wumble.
"Where do you suppose he went to?" asked Ike Furner.
Wumble shook his head.
"Don't know, unless he slid clar down to the valley," he returned. "This is certainly the wust yet."
"I'm going down after him," said Sam, bravely.
"Be careful, lad, it may cost ye your life."
"I don't care—I'm going to find Dick—and Tom, too."
The youngest Rover was just worked up enough to be reckless. And when Sam got that way nothing could hold him back.
"I'm going back, to get something to eat for all hands—in case we need it," he said. "Then I'll crawl down somehow and learn the truth. If Tom and Dick are all right, I'll fire one shot from my pistol. Then you'll know we are coming up as soon as possible. If I fire two shots you'll know we are all right, but we can't come up right away. If I fire three shots you'll know I need help. In that case come down, packs and all, and we'll find some kind of a camping spot below."
So it was settled, and having gone back to where the traps had been left, the youngest Rover made up a small bundle for himself, and also procured another torch. The others accompanied him to where Dick had disappeared.
"I hate to see ye leavin' me," said Jack Wumble, with feeling. "Maybe it would be better to wait till mornin', when it was lighter."
"No, Jack, I can't wait—and have Dick down there, and Tom, too. For all we know, both of them may be dying!"
That was all Sam said, and to this the old miner could not reply. Ike Furner looked on, but did not open his mouth. He was waiting to hear the full particulars concerning the young man he had known as Brill Thomas.
Down and down went Sam, the snow soon hiding the two miners from his view. He had to proceed with care, fearing a tumble such as his big brother had taken. Where there was water, ice was forming on the rocks, making the descent more dangerous than ever.
"I don't know how a fellow is to get back that way," he said to himself. "Guess we'll have to walk around by the trail."
It was now intensely cold and the wind was blowing almost a gale. He was glad when he reached something of a hollow, where he could crouch down and regain his breath.
"Dick! Dick!" he cried, many times, but no answer came back. Either his brother was too far away to hear him or was too badly hurt to make reply.
Down and down climbed Sam until he felt he must be approaching the foot of the mountain. He had his torch still in hand, having often carried it in his teeth while holding fast. In some spots the snow was now over a foot deep, and his footing was, consequently, more uncertain than ever.
Suddenly he found himself on the edge of a small cliff, the last on the mountain side. Without knowing it, he had crossed the trail leading upward three times. He stepped on some ice on the rocks, and the next instant was launched into space.
Sam had no time to get scared. Forth into the descending snow he was tossed, and down he went, to land first in a tree and then in some thick bushes growing close by. The wind was knocked completely out of him, and for the moment he could not move.
"Phew! that was a tumble!" he murmured, as he tried to sit up. He was wedged so tightly in the bushes that he could scarcely move. It was far from a pleasant situation, yet he realized that coming down first on the tree and then in the bushes had saved him from broken bones if not from death. He was considerably scratched up, but just then paid no attention to the hurts.
At last he managed to crawl out on the ground, or rather the snow, which was deeper in the valley than it had been up on the mountain. His torch had been extinguished, so all was dark around him.
"Dick!" he called, as loudly as he could. "Dick, are you anywhere around?"
"Sam!" came the faint reply. "Is that you? Yes, I am over here. Help me. I am wedged in between the trees and can't move!"
"Is Tom down here too?"
"I don't know."
IN WHICH TOM IS FOUND
Guided by his brother's voice Sam at last found Dick. As the latter had said, he was wedged between two tall trees and in anything but a comfortable position. And how to release him was a problem.
"I guess I had better climb up and bend one of the trees over by my weight," suggested Sam. "I don't see any other way."
"All right, Sam. Only be careful and don't fall and let the tree snap back on me," answered Dick, weakly. In his cramped position he could scarcely breathe.
With great care Sam ascended the slimmest of the two trees, pushing it as far away from the other as possible. As he went up his weight told, and presently the tree commenced to bend down, away from the other.
"That's better—now I can move a little," cried Dick. "Go on! There, that's enough. All right, Sam, you can come down." And then Dick scrambled out in the snow and his brother joined him.
"Did you see anything at all of Tom?" asked the youngest Rover, as soon as both could get their breath.
"Not a thing, Sam. But I saw the tree that fell—it's caught on the cliff above here."
"Yes, I saw that—just before I took a tumble."
"Then you fell too?"
"Only from the last cliff. I landed in a tree and then some bushes, and got pretty well scratched. But come on, if you're able, and we'll look for Tom."
"What's that bundle you have strapped to your back?"
"I brought a little food along, in case we had to stay down here until to-morrow."
"I see. Wait, we'll light a torch first—we can't do much in the dark."
Dry brushwood was to be had in plenty, and the boys not only lit torches, but also made a fire, to light up the scene all around them Then they set off on their hunt, going up and down the base of the cliff for several hundred feet. It was now snowing so furiously that progress was difficult.
"We'll be snowed in, that's certain," remarked Sam, as they moved about, swinging their torches to the right and left.
"I don't care—if only we find Tom, and he isn't seriously hurt," returned his brother.
"But it's no fool of a thing, to be snow-bound in Alaska, Dick! I've heard of miners being starved to death—not being able to get anywhere for food!"
"Yes, I've heard of that, too. But do you want to give up this hunt for Tom?"
"Indeed not! I'll stick it out no matter what comes!" answered Sam, quickly.
As they moved along Dick presently saw what he thought was a rock or mound of dirt in front of him, covered with snow. He was about to step over it, when something prompted him to scrape at the object with his foot. The next instant he let out a cry.
"Are you sure?" gasped Sam, who was a few yards away.
"Yes! yes! Here, hold my torch," went on Dick, and as Sam took the light, Dick knelt in the snow and raised up the inanimate form. It was Tom, true enough, with an ugly cut on his forehead, from which the blood had been flowing.
"Is—is he de—dead?" asked Sam, hoarsely.
"I—I don't know, Sam," was the slow answer. "You lead the way and I'll carry him back to where we built that fire."
"Oh, Dick, can't you tell if he is breathing?"
Dick put his ear to Tom's breast and for a moment there was a painful silence.
"I think he is breathing, Sam, but I am not quite sure. We'll get to the fire, and give him something hot to drink."
Sam led the way through the snow, carrying both torches, and Dick came after him, with the inanimate form of poor Tom over his shoulder. In a few minutes they reached the fire they had made, and Sam piled on some additional brushwood. Sam had rolled the food and other things he had brought along in a blanket, and this covering was now placed on the snow and Tom was laid on it, partly under the shelter of some bushes.
The two brothers got down and worked over the unconscious one for over a quarter of an hour. They had a bottle of a stimulent the doctor had given them for Tom, and now they forced a dose of this down the lad's throat. Then they rubbed his hands and wrists. Gradually they saw a change in Tom. He began to breath a little deeper and muttered something in an undertone.
"Tom! Tom!" cried Dick. "Don't you know me? Tom! It's Dick and Sam! Wake up, old man, that's a good fellow!"
"Oh, my head! Oh, my head!" came, with a groan, and the sufferer slowly stretched himself. Then he put one hand up to his forehead. "Oh, dear, what a crack I got!"
"Never mind, Tom, you'll soon be yourself," cried Sam, a big relief showing itself in his voice. Tom wasn't dead, perhaps after all he wasn't seriously hurt.
"Oh, my head!" was all the answer Tom made just then. He opened his eyes for an instant and then closed them again.
"Wonder if he will know us?" whispered Sam to Dick.
"I hope so," was the answer. "But come, we must do all we can for him. I don't think we can move him very far. But we'd be better off if we were in the shelter of that cliff."
"Wait, I'll hunt up a spot, Dick. But hadn't I better fire a shot first?" And Sam told of the signals that had been arranged.
"Yes, give 'em two shots," said the big brother. "If we want help later we can fire some more." And the shots were discharged without further delay.
This done, a shelter close to the cliff was selected. Here they cut down some brushwood with a hatchet Sam had brought along, and formed a barrier to keep out the wind and snow. Then another campfire was built and Tom was brought over and placed on the blanket, in a warm and cozy corner.
"Oh, my head!" he muttered, over and over again. Of a sudden he sat up as if in bewilderment. "Where am I?" he cried. "Is it time to get up? Say, Sam, I wonder if I've got time to write that theme I didn't do last night. Songbird said he would give me a few pointers, but I reckon he forgot all about it. Say, what makes it so cold in this room? It's time old Muggs turned on the steam heat."
"Tom! Tom!" said Sam. "Do you know me? Don't you know where you are?"
"Don't I know you? What are you talking about, Sam. Of course I know you. And Dick! Say, how did you get back to college, Dick? And why in thunder——? Well, I declare!" Tom sat up and stared at the campfire and the snow. "How in the name of Washington's sword did I get here?" he gasped.
"Never mind that now, Tom," answered Dick, taking him by the hand. "How do you feel? You had a bad tumble, if you'll remember."
"Tumble? Where did I tumble from? Oh I remember—that moving picture show! Say, that Alaskan scene was great, wasn't it? I thought I'd like to go to Alaska after some of those nuggets. Funny, wasn't it?" And poor Tom grinned broadly. "But how did I get here, in the snow and cold. Say, have I been sick again, Dick?" And now the sufferer looked sharply at his brothers.
"Yes, Tom, you've been—very sick," answered Dick, slowly. "How do you feel now? You had a bad tumble, and we were afraid you had been killed."
"Where did I tumble from, the roof of the dormitory?"
"No, you fell down the mountain side."
"Eh? What mountain side?"
"The one right back of you. But don't bother about that now. Just take it easy and rest yourself," went on Dick, soothingly.
"Are you sure no bones are broken?" asked Sam, anxiously.
"I don't remember anything about a tumble," said Tom, slowly. "I—I—thought I was in our room at Brill, old number twenty-five. And it wasn't winter either. Say, I can't understand all this. Are we out in the woods back of Brill? Hadn't we better get back? See how it's snowing."
"We won't go back to-night, Tom," answered Dick. "You just take my advice and lie down and keep quiet. If you are hungry you can have something to eat."
"I don't want anything to eat—I had a bang-up supper, the last I can remember. But I seem to be in a fog. I don't remember anything about how I got here. And my head hurts to beat the band! Feels as if a lot of boiler makers were working inside of it!" Tom put his hand up as of old. "I guess I'll—I'll have to—to leave it all to you!" he went on faintly, and then fell back on the blanket, completely exhausted.
THE SHELTER UNDER THE CLIFF
Despite the fact that they were caught in a furious snowstorm, and that there was no telling how long the downfall would last, Sam and Dick felt very happy as they crouched by the campfire in the shelter of the cliff. They had found their brother, and he did not seem to be seriously hurt by the long tumble he had taken.
"I guess we had better let him rest quietly, Sam," whispered Dick, as both bent over the sufferer. "It will probably do him more good than anything."
"Just what I think, Dick. But tell me, do you think he is in his right mind now?"
"I can't tell, exactly. One thing is sure, he doesn't seem to remember anything of his trip to this out-of-the-way spot."
"Isn't it queer! I never thought a fellow's mind could play him such tricks!"
"Oh, men have been known to wander away and then come to themselves and not remember a thing about how it happened. Maybe that tumble did him good."
The two boys stirred around the shelter, fixing the fire and making the barrier of brushwood more secure. Tom continued to rest, occasionally muttering to himself.
"We might as well have something to eat, since you brought something along," remarked Dick, presently. "And then we'll have to turn in. We can take turns at sleeping and at watching Tom."
"Do you think we'll be completely snowed in by morning?"
"Let us hope not."
An hour later Sam was sleeping, while Dick sat on some brushwood, tending the fire and keeping an eye on Tom. It was very quiet, and the snow was coming down as thickly as ever. Dick had much to occupy his mind—the perils of the present situation, his father's business affairs, and Dora.
"Poor Dora!" he murmured. "She'll be much worried until she hears from me again. Well, I won't mind all this, if only Tom comes out of it in his right mind." It made Dick sick from head to foot to think that fun-loving Tom might have to go to an asylum. Such a happening would wreck the happiness of every member of the family, and wreck dear Nellie's happiness, too.
Dick remained on watch for three hours and then roused Sam and turned in himself. So the long night passed, Tom continuing to sleep, and only rousing up once and demanding a drink. And he went on sleeping when Dick and Sam arose to get breakfast and form their plans for the day.
It had stopped snowing, but the sky was still overcast. It was colder than before—a drop in the thermometer which meant but one thing—that the long Alaskan winter had arrived. For months to come everything would be frozen up as hard as a rock.
"I'd give a good deal to be back in Dawson," remarked Dick, while munching a scant breakfast. He and Sam had decided to make the food on hand last as long as possible.
"So would I. But I don't see ourselves getting there in this fall of snow—and with more snow in the air."
"I don't see what we're going to do with Tom, if he can't walk. We can't carry him."
"We can make a drag—a sort of sled, Sam—and haul him on that."
"So we can! How queer I didn't think of it! Why, it will be just the thing!" And the face of the youngest Rover brightened up considerably.
Just what move to make next would depend in a great measure on how Tom felt when he roused up. His brothers watched him anxiously, but made no move to wake him.
It was about ten o'clock in the forenoon when a shout was heard, and, looking through the bushes, the boys beheld Jack Wumble and Ike Furner. Each had a pack on his back.
"Hello!" cried Dick, and ran out to meet them.
"Oh, so there ye are!" exclaimed Jack Wumble. "Thought ye must be somewhere around here. How are ye, all right?" he went on, anxiously.
"Yes. A little scratched up, that's all."
"An' Sam, an' Tom?"
"Sam is a bit scratched up, too. We found Tom and he doesn't seem to have any bones broken. But he is very weak, and we are letting him sleep," and Dick gave some particulars.
"We had some job getting off the mountain," said the old miner, and then he added, in a somewhat lower tone. "I've told Furner all about Tom and it's all right."
"I reckoned as how he wasn't just O.K.," said Ike Furner. "But then some folks say I ain't jest all right, when I know I am," and he tossed back his head. He was by no means crazy, only peculiar and headstrong.
"Do you think we can get back to Dawson?" asked Sam, who had come forward after Dick.
"Maybe, lad; but it will be a tough journey in this snow," answered Wumble.
"I'm going to stay here an' look fer gold!" cried Ike Furner, stubbornly. "I've got your brother's part of our outfit here." He passed it over. "There's Lion Head, and over yonder is the Split Rocks. I think I'm about due to find a fortune," and he drew himself up to his full height.
"Well, we are not going to stop you," answered Dick. "All we came after was our brother. But it's a pity to leave you here all alone."
"Oh, I won't mind that. I've often been alone in the mountains. Fact is, I rather like it. When a feller is alone he can do just as he pleases."
"That is true," answered Dick, with a faint smile.
"I know some other miners up here," went on Ike Furner. "I'm going to hit for their camp an' stay there till Spring. How is the brother makin' it?"
"He's sleeping now. I think he will be all right. He doesn't remember anything about his trip up here."
An hour went by and Tom roused up. He looked blankly at Jack Wumble and Ike Furner.
"Don't you know me, Tom?" asked the former. "We had some great times out West, years ago."
"Sure I know you," and the sufferer grinned feebly. "You're Jack Wumble, aren't you?"
"That's me. Put her thar, Tom!" And the old miner took Tom's hand and held it tightly. "Glory to heaven! This is like a touch o' old times, this is!"
Then Ike Furner approached, looking at Tom closely. But the youth did not seem to recognize him.
"Know me, too, don't you?" asked the old prospector.
"I—I can't say that I do," was the slow answer, and Tom appeared much perplexed. "Seems to me I've seen you somewhere, but I can't just place you."
"Well, I'll be switched!" muttered Ike Furner. "Thet's the strangest thing I ever hear tell on." He pulled on his rough beard. "Don't remember me a' tall?"
"No. Who are you?"
"Ike Furner, the man you came to Alaska with."
"Alaska! I never went to Alaska!" cried Tom. He commenced to grow excited. "Dick! Sam! What does this mean?" He tried to struggle to his feet, but found himself too weak to do so.
"Keep quiet, Tom," ordered his elder brother. "It's all right. You've been very sick, that's all, and—well, a bit out of your mind. You'll be all right after a while."
"But that man said I went to Alaska."
"So you did. But it's all right, so just take it easy."
"Alaska! Great hambones! Am I in Alaska now?"
"Yes, if you must know. But do be quiet and rest yourself," went on Dick, soothingly.
"What did I do, run away?"
"We'll talk about it later, Tom. You must rest now," and Dick made the sufferer lie down as before. Then he motioned for Ike Furner to come away.
"It's all right, I'll git out—I wouldn't stay fer a farm!" muttered the old gold hunter. "Your brother is as crazy as they make 'em. I'm glad to get shut o' him. Didn't remember me! I can't believe it!" And a little later he bid the crowd farewell and took his departure, to hunt up the other old prospectors he had mentioned. It may be said here that that was the last the Rovers saw or heard of him for a long time to come.
The day passed slowly, the others doing all they could for poor Tom. The sufferer roused up several times and took what nourishment was given to him. His head had been bound up, so that the cut on his forehead did not show. Evidently he was suffering from exposure and the loss of blood.
"We must get him to Dawson somehow," said Dick. "I guess we had better start to-morrow morning early."
"Just what I think," replied Sam.
"Suits me," responded Jack Wumble. "But it ain't going to be no easy job makin' it, boys," he added, seriously.
IN THE GRIP OF THE TORNADO
In the morning all thoughts of moving had to be abandoned. It was snowing furiously and the wind was sweeping around them in a perfect gale.
"We're snowbound," said Jack Wumble, after a look around. "Winter this year has come on putty quick."
It was a dismaying state of affairs and Sam and Dick looked at each other questioningly. What was to be done?
Tom was no better nor was he worse. He lay where they had placed him, close to the fire, and took such nourishment as was given to him. At times he appeared quite rational, but once in a while he asked some question that showed he was not altogether in his right mind.
"We could stay here for some time if it wasn't for one thing," remarked Dick. "We have got to have food."
"Just what I was thinking," returned Sam. "As it is, we haven't enough to last us for more than a week at the most."
"If there was a river anywhere near I'd try my hand at fishin'," said the old miner. "Ye kin get plenty o' fish in Alaska, even if ye have to fish through a hole in the ice fer 'em."
The cold was so intense that the boys were glad enough to stir around in the snow and wind to keep warm. They cut a big pile of firewood and piled the brushwood thickly around the shelter, taking care, however, to keep it from the campfire.
The day went slowly by. At nightfall the snow stopped coming down, but the wind blew as before and if anything it was colder.
"Nothing but ice from now on," announced Jack Wumble, and he was right, by morning everything was frozen up, "as stiff as a stake," as Sam expressed it. The day before they had caught some water dripping from the rocks, for drinking purposes, now they had to melt the ice over the fire to get the liquid.
But the sun was shining brightly and that raised their spirits.
"Don't you suppose, if we made a drag for Tom, that we could get back to Dawson somehow?" questioned Sam, after all had been outside to look at the sky.
"Well, we kin try it, if ye say so," answered Jack Wumble. "It sure ain't no fun stayin' here, with no more grub showin' itself. If I could only shoot a wildcat fer the meat I'd feel better."
With so much brushwood at hand it was an easy matter to construct a rude sled-like drag for poor Tom. To make it more comfortable they heaped on it some tundra moss which they found growing on one of the wind-swept stretches nearby.
"Where are you going to take me?" demanded the sufferer, when told that they were going to leave the place.
"We are going to take you to a safe shelter, Tom, and then home," answered Dick.
"Home! That sounds good!" murmured Tom. "I'll be glad to get there and rest!" and he gave a long-drawn sigh.
The start was made by ten o'clock, Tom being warmly wrapped in blankets, and all the traps being piled on the drag in front and behind him. A rope had been tied fast in front and on this Wumble and Dick pulled, while Sam had hold of the drag itself, to pull and to steer.
It was still bitter cold and many times on the way those hauling the drag stopped, to make sure that Tom was comfortable and in no danger of getting his nose or his ears frostbitten. Fortunately the route was largely down hill, so pulling the long drag was not such a hardship as it otherwise might have been.
At noon they stopped in a small hollow, sheltered from the wind, and made themselves a hot pot of coffee, and ate a frugal lunch. Tom sat up for a few minutes and the others were glad to see that the journey had done him no harm, either physically or mentally.
By the middle of the afternoon it was snowing again and they had all they could do to keep to the trail. The old miner shook his head dubiously.
"Reckon as how we're up against it," was his comment. "If it gits much wuss we'll have to look fer another shelter, boys."
The wind had let up during the middle of the day, but now it commenced to blow with a suddenness that was alarming. It sent the whirling snow into their faces with pitiless fury and almost blinded them, while they breathed with difficulty.
"Got to git out o' this, an' mighty quick too!" gasped Jack Wumble.
"Which way shall we turn, Jack?" questioned Dick. "I can't see at all."
"I think thar's a woods below—let's strike fer that, lad. It will mean shelter an' firewood, at least."
They hurried on, pulling the long drag after them. They were in a valley and suddenly they came to a broad patch of ice and Sam went sprawling on his back. His brother helped him to arise, and onward they went once more, but with added caution.
"This must be a lake," said Dick, as, after traveling for some time, they found the ice still under their feet. "Or else a river."
"Can it be safe?" asked Sam. "Why, it wasn't frozen over four days ago!"
"We'll be careful," cried Wumble. "Even if it is hard enough, there may be airholes around."
The situation seemed to grow steadily worse. The wind blew so hard that at times they were fairly carried along by it. The snow cut off the view from all sides, so they could not determine in what direction they were traveling.
"Here's something ahead!" cried Wumble presently. "A hut—a miner's hut!"
"Let's get inside, just as quickly as we can," returned Sam, his teeth chattering. "I'm mo—most frozen stiff!"
The hut was on a small bank, evidently on the shore of the lake, or river, on which they had been traveling. It was closed up tightly, and a pounding on the door brought no response.
"Nobuddy home, I reckon," said Jack Wumble. "Well, here goes to git in," and he pushed on the door.
It was not locked and swung inward, revealing a single room, about twelve feet square and lit up by one small window. Opposite the door was a fireplace, partly filled with cold ashes. On a shelf and on a rude table rested some cooking utensils, and to one side of the hut was a bunk containing some pine tree boughs and several old blankets.
"Hello!" cried Dick. "Anybody in here?"
There was no answer, and a quick look around convinced them that nobody had been in the place for several days if not weeks. Yet on a shelf in a rude locker were a number of stores—beans, coffee, a side of bacon, and several other things.
"Let us start a fire, first thing, and get thawed out," suggested Sam, and this was done, the boys finding plenty of wood piled up behind the hut. They had already brought Tom in from the drag and placed him in the bunk, and now they closed the door.
"In this awful blow, we'll have to watch that fire carefully," warned Wumble. "Ef we don't, we may burn down the shebang over our heads."
The blaze soon warmed them all up and even Tom said he felt better. The boys looked over the stores in the cabin with interest.
"What about touching these?" said Dick to the old miner. "Have we any right to do it? Of course we'd pay for the things."
"We won't touch 'em unless we have to, Dick. It ain't a question o' pay in sech a spot as this. The owner may be comin' back 'and dependin' on 'em. A man as wants grub won't part with it fer no amount o' gold. Why, I've seen the time, in camp in winter, when a feller wouldn't sell a quart o' plain beans fer a hundred dollars o' dust!"
"Yes, I know that. All right, we'll leave the things alone." And Dick sighed. How good an old fashion home dinner would have tasted to all of them just then!
The wind continued to howl, occasionally rocking the hut in a fashion that alarmed them. Sam asked the old miner if there was any danger of it being tipped over.
"There is allers danger when the wind gits too high," was the reply.
Presently the sparks commenced to blow out into the room and the wind outside grew wilder and wilder. They stamped out the fire and sat huddled together in the darkness, Tom with the rest, for he was now a little stronger and did not want to remain alone.
And then came a shock as paralyzing as it was appalling. The hut seemed to be lifted into the air and whirled around. Then came a crash, and the structure fell over on the ice and snow of the river, or lake, below. The boys tumbled in a heap, with Jack Wumble on top of them. Before they could get up, all felt themselves moving swiftly along in a wind that was blowing little short of a tornado. All was pitch black around them and to get up, or to do anything, was totally out of the question. Sam started to ask Dick a question, when something hit him on the head, and he fell back unconscious.
LOST IN THE FIELDS OF ICE
"Where in the world are we, Jack?"
"Don't ask me, Dick! I reckon the wind must 'a' swept us up to the North Pole!"
"Tom, are you all right?"
"Well, I'm here," came back faintly from the suffering one. "What did we do, sail through the air?"
"We sailed through something, Tom—and I guess we went about a mile a minute, too. Where is Sam?"
"I don't know," answered the old miner. "It's so snowy I can't see a thing."
"Sam! Sam!" yelled Dick, with as much force as he could command.
There was no reply. If the youngest Rover was nearby he was in no condition to answer the call.
A full hour had elapsed since that terrific gust of wind had tumbled the hut down on the river, for such the sheet of water proved to be. Then had followed a tornado, or hurricane, or cyclone, the boys and the old miner could not tell which. Hut and occupants had been carried along the stream on the ice with the velocity of an express train. From the river they had been swept out over a lake, and finally had landed in a big bank of snow with a crash that had shattered the hut into fragments.
All had been so shaken up that for some minutes nobody could speak. The old miner was the first to recover and he had stumbled around until he found Dick, who was holding poor Tom in his arms. Both of the brothers had been pretty well pounded, but were otherwise uninjured by their thrilling experience.
It was snowing again, the snow now coming down in regular "chunks" as Dick said. The wind had gone down a little, but was still blowing fiercely. All was dark around the remains of the hut.
"Sam! Sam!" yelled Dick, again and again, and staggered around in the snow, searching for the missing one. Then he landed on the ice of the lake and went flat on his back, and Jack Wumble came after him. As they picked themselves up they heard a faint cry and caught sight of Sam, lying but a few yards away.
"Are ye hurted any, lad?" asked Wumble, who was first at the youngest Rover's side.
"I—I don't know," gasped Sam. "Some—something struck me on th—the head."
With the assistance of the old miner and Dick he arose to his feet, and all three staggered back to where Tom had been left. The ruins of the hut rested against a snowbank, and, to get out of the wind, they crawled between the logs and the snow.
"This is the worst yet," was Dick's comment. "How are we ever to find our way back to Dawson from here?"
Nobody could answer that question. Just now they had all they could do to keep warm.
"You stay here while I take a little look around," said Jack Wumble, presently. "I may learn somethin' wuth knowin'."
"But don't get lost, Jack," cautioned Dick.
"I'll be careful," was the answer.
The old miner was gone less than ten minutes when he set up a shout.
"What have you found?" asked Dick, quickly.
"Here's a signboard," was the reply. "I reckon as how there's a trail here. It says somethin', but I can't make it out."
"Let's light a torch," suggested Sam, and this was done. They brushed the snow from the signboard and read the following, printed in crude letters:
10 mILes to Sublers sTORes
Below this lettering was a crude drawing of a hand pointing up the lake.
"Subler's Stores!" cried the old miner. "I've heard o' that place. It's quite a depot for supplies. If we could only git thar we'd be all right."
"Let's try it," suggested Dick. "The wind is right down the lake, so it will make traveling that much easier."
They labored hard, in the darkness and wind, to construct a drag out of the ruins of the hut. On this they placed Tom and also such of their scanty traps and provisions as still remained to them.
But once out on the lake, they realized that the task before them was no easy one. Here the wind blew with terrific force, sending them further and further away from the shore which they wanted to skirt. It had stopped snowing and seemed to be growing colder.
"I—I ca—can't stand this!" gasped Sam, after a while. "I'm fr—freezing!"
"So—so am I," answered Dick. "Tom, are you all right?"
"I'm pretty co—cold," was the chattered-out reply.
"We can't make it, I reckon," said the old miner, who was as chilled as any of them. "We'll have to go ashore an' git out of the wind an' build a fire to thaw out by."
But getting ashore was out of the question. When they tried to turn around the fierce wind fairly took their breath away. So they continued to advance, the wind at times carrying them almost off their feet.
"We are on the ice and no mistake!" cried Dick, after a while. "See, the wind has blown the snow completely away."
He was right. All around them was the ice, dark and exceedingly slippery. They seemed to be in the midst of a great field of it.
"I don't know where I am now," said Jack Wumble. "We are lost."
"Lost!" echoed Sam.
"That's the truth of it, Sam," replied Dick. "We are lost right out here on this ice."
"But Subler's Stores?"
"I haven't the least idea in what direction they are."
"But if we follow the wind——?"
"The wind seems to be changing. Just watch it."
Dick was right, the wind was shifting, first in one direction, then in another.
"If we stay out here, we'll be frozen stiff," said Tom. As he could not move around he felt the cold more than did the others.
"Let us follow the wind—it is bound to bring us somewhere, and that is better than staying here," said Dick, finally.
For the want of something better to suggest, the others agreed, and on they went once more, dragging Tom and their few traps and stores behind them.
Thus another hour passed. By this time they were so exhausted they could scarcely stand. They staggered onward until Sam fell. He was so weak the others had to assist him to arise.
"I'm all in!" gasped the youngest Rover. "You go on and save yourselves."
"And leave you?" cried Dick. "Never! Sam, you know me better than that," he added, reproachfully.
"But, Dick, I—I can't walk another step!"
"Then sit on the drag with Tom."
"But you and Wumble——"
"We'll pull ye somehow," said the old miner, grimly. "We ought to be gittin' somewhar soon."
It was now dark once more and snowing again. The wind had gone down a trifle, but it still carried them forward, first in one direction and then another.
Presently the drag hit a series of rocks, covered with ice and snow. Over it went, sending Tom and Sam sprawling. Dick and Wumble also fell, for the way had suddenly grown uneven.
"I think we are near the shore now," said Wumble. "Them rocks wouldn't be likely to be out in the middle o' the lake."
"I think I see something!" cried Dick. "Over yonder."
With caution they advanced, and at last made out a small building, located between a number of large rocks. All around the building was snow and ice.
"A light!" cried Jack Wumble. "Somebody is thar! This is the best news yet."
He stumbled through the snow and over the ice and rocks until he reached the door of the cabin. He pounded loudly on the portal.