“Such a night I’ve passed;
never slept a wink!” groaned Lub, as he dangled
his feet over the side of an upper bunk, and held a
heavy head between his hands.
“Well, all I can say is that
you made so much noise snoring I couldn’t hear
the wind blow at times; so explain that away if you
can. Jump down there, and stop shutting off what
little light there is from me.”
That was X-Ray Tyson talking.
As Ethan had insisted on making himself a sleeping
place on the floor alongside Phil, X-Ray had pre-empted
his bunk, giving his own to the wounded man, while
little Mazie had the second upper one.
It had indeed been a terrible night.
With little cessation the storm had
held forth. At times Phil, lying awake because
it was impossible to get the clamor out of his mind,
wondered if there would be any decent-sized trees left
in the North Woods by the time things settled down
He and Ethan were up and busily engaged
getting some breakfast ready. It was as much
as they could do to see, so dim was the light; and
they did not dare use the lantern, because their supply
of kerosene was limited.
“How’d you like to have
been caught out in that whooper, eh, Lub?” asked
Ethan, as the other continued to yawn, and rub his
reddened eyes, though still occupying his position
there on the edge of his berth, X-Ray having crawled
“Please excuse me from answering
that question,” the other replied. “I
never’d have survived it, I reckon. Bad
enough to be in a dinky little twelve by twelve cabin,
let alone a hollow tree, or a make-shift under a shelving
“Now, none of your making fun
of Birch Bark Lodge,” warned X-Ray; “it’s
been a hunky-dory refuge, all right, don’t forget
it. And say, not a drop leaked in on us through
that bad part in the roof. Shows what a little
common-sense can do for things, don’t it?”
“All I can say,” remarked
Phil, from over the fire, “is that I’m
sorry for any one who might be unlucky enough as to
get caught in that howler. If they missed being
struck by lightning, they ran a big chance of getting
crushed under a falling tree.”
“Yes,” added Ethan, “and
at the best they’d be soaked through and through.
It’s no fun to feel that way all night.
You start to shivering, and then like as not your
teeth rattle together like you’ve heard the
minstrel end-man shake his bones when he sings.
I’ve had a little experience, and I know what
I’m talking about.”
The man in the lower bunk had been
listening to all this conversation. Phil noticed
he seemed to have an additional line across his forehead.
Perhaps the storm had also kept him awake. Possibly
he had often thought of how uncomfortable it would
be for any one he happened to know, who might have
been caught in the open woods by the howling gale.
They were eating breakfast some time
later, when the man from his bunk, since he preferred
to lie there while so many were around the small cabin,
called out to Phil. He had long since recognized
the patent fact that the Bradley boy was a leader
of his set; and that the other three only too gladly
looked up to Phil, not on account of his being independent
with regard to means, but because he had the attributes
of leadership in his person.
“Do you think the storm has
slackened for good, Phil, or will it come back again
for another siege? It seems to me the wind has
changed, and is blowing much more evenly.”
“When I took that look out just
a bit ago,” Phil told him, “I noticed
several pretty good signs that seemed to tell we had
got to the wind-up. It wouldn’t surprise
me, because these hard storms are not the ones that
last for days. We could go out now, if we didn’t
mind getting wet from the dripping of the trees.”
The man had something on his mind,
Phil saw. During the night he must have been
thinking deeply. Perhaps conscience was gripping
him more than ever, and the coming of that fearful
storm had been the “last straw on the camel’s
“I hate to ask any further favors
of you, Phil,” he finally said, with an effort,
“but a great fear has taken hold of me during
the night. With every fresh howl of the wind
I seemed to hear a cry for help! It almost set
me wild. If I had not been such a cripple I believe
I must have dashed out of the cabin, and spent the
remainder of the night wandering around, searching
The rest of the boys stared at him.
Perhaps it may have occurred to one or more of them
that Mazie’s father was losing his mind.
But Phil knew there was something back of it all.
He had been trying to study the man, figure out what
ailed him, and why he had been hiding himself and the
child away up in this solitude.
“Were you expecting some
one to come up here looking for you, sir?”
he asked, boldly, remembering what the contents of
that telegraph message had been.
“Yes, that’s what has
been worrying me,” admitted the man, acting as
though he knew the time had come when he must explain
away at least a part of the mystery that surrounded
him, if he expected these friendly lads to assist
“An enemy, most likely?”
continued Phil, seeing the other hesitate.
At that there was a heavy intaking
of the breath, and then the man went on to say:
“No, hardly that. I would
not like to give it so harsh a term. Say a friend
from whom I have been estranged, and who I believed
had wronged me; though of late my eyes have been opened
to my own faults, and I have repented of many things
done in the heat of temper.”
“And you believe then that this
friend may have engaged a guide that it
is at least possible they were not far away from here
when the storm broke. You fear they may have
been caught and made to suffer; is that it, sir?”
Phil was handling the affair wonderfully
well, his chums thought, as they listened to all that
was being said.
“That is what I have cause to
fear,” the other went on to say, quickly.
“Through the livelong night of tempest I have
fancied I heard their cries for help, and oh! how
they crucified me! It would be a terrible punishment
on my head if some tragedy had taken place in the pine
woods last night; and Mazie ” his
voice failed him in his emotion, and he did not finish
“Do you want us to go out and
see if there are any signs of strangers on the trail
leading up here, the one we followed all the way from
the village many miles off?” Phil asked; and
his manner was so reassuring that the wounded man
immediately nodded his head in the affirmative.
“It would be a fitting climax
to all you and your fine chums have done for me and
mine,” he told them, with tears in his eyes.
“Shucks! that wouldn’t
be such a great job,” Lub hastened to say, before
any one else could talk; “and I volunteer to
be one of the party right now.”
“But you’d get all wet,
Lub, you know,” expostulated Ethan.
“What of that?” came the
indignant response; “am I made of salt, or sugar?
Haven’t I been soaked before? If I could
stand jumping into the lake with my clothes on, when
the hornets tackled me, I ought to be able to take
a little sprinkling, hadn’t I?”
“We’ll all go, so as to
spread out considerable,” suggested X-Ray Tyson,
who, truth to tell, was a little afraid of being left
to look after things at the lodge. “I’m
needed because I’ve got the sharpest eyes; Ethan
might have a chance to bring some of his woodcraft
into play; Phil is the one to run things; and Lub,
well, he spoke first, and ought to have a show.”
“Knowing what we’ll be
up against,” said Phil, “we can arrange
accordingly, so when we get back we’ll have something
dry to put on. Before we start we’ll get
Mr. Mr. Newton out, and fixed before the
fire, so he can feed it as often as he pleases.”
The man had flushed when Phil purposely
hesitated about calling the name that had been given
in that message.
“Call me Alwyn Merriwell from
now on,” he hastily told them. “That
is my real name. The time has passed for all
deceit and assumed names. I have made up my mind
to do what is right for for the other party,
no matter what pain and suffering it brings to me.”
A short time later the boys began
to prepare to start out. Phil saw that their
injured guest was really working himself up into a
fever over the anxiety he was enduring. His thoughts
during the night had had a strong effect upon him.
He may even have dreamed something dreadful had really
happened, and it haunted him.
Acting on Phil’s advice the
others dressed lightly. This would allow of leaving
certain parts of their clothing behind, to be resumed
on their return.
“We will be moving all the time,
and can keep warm enough, even while wet to the skin,”
he told them, as they started forth, after saying
good-by to Mazie, who was content to sit alongside
her “daddy,” holding his hand, and prattling
constantly as was her pretty way.
Phil had managed to cover his little
camera, so that he could take it along.
“Like as not we’ll run
across some effects of the hurricane that we’d
like to remember,” he explained, when X-Ray looked
questioningly at the camera. “There must
be places where trees have been thrown down in all
sorts of twisted shapes; and those sort of things always
make the boss pictures, you know.”
They followed the trail. It was
very faint in many places; but then Ethan could be
depended on to find it whenever a cry arose that it
was lost. Phil, too, had his bearings pretty
well in hand, though as a rule he allowed Ethan to
swing things, for he saw that it was giving him no
end of pleasure to thus exercise his knowledge of woodcraft.
For a full hour they pushed on.
The sun peeped out every little while, showing that
Phil had guessed rightly when he said the storm was
a thing of the past. The leaves still dripped,
though not so copiously as at first. Lub even
boasted that he seemed to be drying off faster than
he got wet. That fact apparently occupied more
of his attention than other matters.
“How far ought we go, do you
think, Phil?” inquired X-Ray Tyson; “not
that I’m getting tired at all; but I just asked
“Another half-hour, and then
we’ll call it off,” he was told. “By
that time we’ll have covered a number of miles.
If this er friend of Mr. Merriwell’s
is anywhere around, and able to make us hear, we’ll
come on the party.”
“Beats me to understand what
it all means,” grumbled Lub. “And
d’ye know, I’ve got a good suspicion that
you’ve tumbled to the game, Phil.”
“I’ve been told no more
than the rest of you,” the other replied; “and
my guess may be wide of the mark; so just now I’m
not going to say anything more. But you can see
from the way he keeps looking at Mazie she’s
got something to do with it all. When he talks
about having to make a terrible sacrifice it means
giving her up.”
“Gee whiz! I never once
thought of that!” burst out Lub; “now I
bet you the little tot’s got a grandfather who’s
been left the child by her mother when she died.
Is that the answer, Phil?”
“I refuse to say, Lub.
Ethan and I have been talking it over, and we’ve
come to a certain conclusion; but wait a little, and
we’ll explain. We may find the person he
seems to be expecting. Perhaps he received a
later message, and which warned him his presence up
here was known.”
Lub relapsed into silence. It
could be seen, however, that he was pondering over
matters, for that serious look on his usually placid
face betrayed the fact.
They continued to push forward, and
kept up a constant watch for any sign that would indicate
the presence of strangers. This might be the
smoke of a fire, or the sound of an ax.
“How would it do to let out
a whoop every little while, Phil?” suggested
X-Ray Tyson; “for all we know they might have
lost the trail in the storm, and be somewhere to one
side. It’d be a mean thing if we passed
’em by without knowing it.”
“That isn’t a bad idea,”
Phil told him; “so start in right away with a
This was all the other was waiting
for, and he accordingly lifted up his voice in a loud
shout. Any camper hearing it would understand
that the call was meant for a friendly one, and must
hasten to reply.
“There, wasn’t that an
answer; or do they have echoes as wonderful as that
up here in the North Woods?” demanded X-Ray,
“It was a shout, all right,” Ethan told
“And came from over on our right,”
added Phil, pleased at least that all their labor
had not been for nothing.
“Let’s mark the trail
so we can be sure to find her again,” Ethan
continued; always cautious about letting a good thing
This being done by means of a certain
tree that all of them felt sure they must easily recognize,
even at some distance, the four Mountain Boys turned
toward the spot where that faint “hallo”
had come from.
Presently keen-eyed X-Ray Tyson told them he saw smoke.
admitted Ethan, when he had followed the extended finger
of the other chum; “and of course it means they’ve
got a camp fire burning; though after all that rain
it’d take a good woodsman to know where to find
dry wood, except in the heart of some stump. Let’s
hurry up and get there.”
He kept watching as he went on.
It would grieve Ethan sorely should he find at any
time they were actually lost, and after he had taken
so many precautions in the bargain.
“I can see somebody moving around
there,” announced X-Ray, soon afterwards; “and
it’s a man, too. Seems to be a guide, if
his looks count for anything.”
They kept heading straight toward
the small cheerless camp in the drenched woods.
All the while Phil was expecting to hear his chums,
saving possibly Ethan, give utterance to low cries
“There’s somebody lying
down on the other side of the fire, boys,” continued
the one with the hawk eyes. “That smoke
keeps shifting around so much I don’t seem to
be able to glimpse as well as say, what
d’ye think, fellows, I declare if it ain’t