Dave Porter at Star Ranch/Chapter 28



Dave and Roger walked up the stream a distance of several hundred yards. They continued to call Phil's name, but as before, no answer came back.

"I must confess, Roger, I don't like the looks of things," said Dave, gravely. "If Phil was all right, he'd surely answer us."

"I think so myself, Dave—unless he was only fooling us."

"I don't think he'd do that, under the circumstances. He'd know we would be greatly worried."

On walked the two chums, until they reached a point where the mountain stream came tumbling over some great rocks. Here they found Phil's fishing rod and also the string of fish he had caught.

"Gracious, Dave! Supposing some wild animal has carried him off!" ejaculated the senator's son.

Dave did not reply, for he knew not what to say. He advanced to the top of the rocks and peered over on the other side.

"There he is!" he shouted. "Phil! Phil! Are you hurt?" he called.

Only a faint moan came back, and scrambling up the rocks beside Dave, Roger saw the trouble. Phil had slipped from the rocks into the mountain torrent. In going down his legs had caught in an opening below, and there he was held, in water up to his knees, while the water from some rocks above was pouring in a steady stream over his left shoulder.

"Can't you get up, Phil?" asked Dave.

"Hel—help!" was the only answer, delivered in such a low tone that the boys on the rocks could scarcely hear it.

"He can't aid himself, that is sure," murmured Dave. "Roger, we have got to get him out of that—before that water pouring over his shoulder carries him down!"

Both boys looked around anxiously. Phil was all of fifteen feet below them and there seemed to be no way of reaching the locality short of jumping, and neither wanted to risk doing that.

"If we only had a rope," said Roger.

"We might double up a fishing line," mused Dave. Then his face brighteened. "I have it—the pole!"

He ran back and speedily brought up Phil's pole, and around it he wound the line, to strengthen it and hold the joints together. Then he leaned down.

"Phil, can you take hold?" he questioned.

The youth below raised his hands feebly. But his strength was apparently gone, and he could do little to save himself.

"Hold the pole, Dave, I'll go down!" cried Roger. "But don't let me slip!"

While Dave braced himself on the rocks as best he could and gripped the pole and line, the senator's son went over the rocks and down, hand over hand. This was easy, and in a minute he stood beside Phil in the water. The torrent from above poured over his back, but to this he paid no attention. He saw that Phil was on the point of fainting, and if he sank down he would surely be drowned.

Letting go his hold on the fishing pole, Roger felt down in the water, and then discovered that Phil's feet were crossed and held by a rock that was balanced on another rock. In coming down, Phil's weight had caused the space between the two rocks to widen, then the opening had partly closed, holding the feet as if in the jaws of some big animal.

It was no easy matter for Roger to shift the upper rock, and once he slipped and went flat on his back in the water with a loud splash.

"Be careful!" warned Dave from above. "Maybe I had better come down and help you," he added.

"No, I—I'm all ri—right!" spluttered the senator's son, freeing his mouth of water.

At last one of the rocks was moved and Phil staggered forward in the water. But he was too weak to help himself and had to lean on Roger.

"You can't pull us up!" shouted the senator's son. "We'll wade down the stream a bit."

Supporting the shipowner's son, Roger commenced to move down the mountain torrent. He had to pick his way with care, for the bottom was rocky and treacherous. Dave followed along the rocks above, until a spot was gained where he could leap down. Then he and the senator's son picked up Phil between them and carried him out, and up to a patch of grass, where they set the sufferer down in the sunlight.

"We'll take off his shoes and see how his feet and ankles look," said Dave, and this was done. They found the feet and ankles slightly swollen and discolored, but not seriously injured.

"Phil, supposing Roger and I carry you back to camp?" suggested Dave. "We can make an armchair and do it easily enough."

"If it isn't too much trouble I'd be glad to have you do it," answered the boy who had slipped over the rocks. "I can't walk yet."

The chums had often carried each other "armchair fashion" while at school, and soon Dave and Roger started off with Phil between them, and carrying the fishing pole and fish. On the way they rested several times and also gathered up their own outfits and catches.

Arriving at the camp, the fire was stirred up, and the lads hung up the most of their clothing to dry, while they took a good rubbing-down. Phil's feet and ankles were bathed in hot water and then soaked in some liniment Mrs. Endicott had made them bring along in case of accident. The injured lad was content to rest on a bed of cedar boughs, but declared that he would be as well as ever in the morning.

"But I am mighty glad you came when you did," he said, with deep feeling. "I could not have held up much longer—with that stream of water rushing down over my shoulder. I yelled and yelled, until I couldn't yell any longer."

"That must have been before we started to look for you," returned Dave. "After this you want to be careful how you climb around. Some of the rocks are loose and very treacherous."

Dave and Roger prepared a fine supper of broiled fish, and to this meal even Phil did full justice. As there was nothing else to do, the boys took their time eating. They had almost finished when they heard a shout from a distance.

"What's that?" cried Roger, and instinctively he leaped up and moved for his gun.

"It's Todd!" answered Dave. "Hello, Todd!" he yelled. "This way!"

The others joined in the cry, which was answered from a distance, and presently the cowboy appeared on his horse and leading Dave's animal.

"I reckon I'm just in time for a fish supper!" he cried, with a broad smile on his face. "Well, I'm hungry enough, with such a stiff ride. What's the matter with your feet?" he questioned, gazing at Phil's bandages.

The boys told the story of the trouble up the stream, and then related how they had shot the cougar, and exhibited the body of the slain beast. In the meantime they broiled some more fish, and made an extra pot of coffee and some flapjacks for the newcomer.

"Well! well! well!" cried Sid Todd, after a look at the dead cougar. "I reckon you youngsters know how to take care of yourselves. A mountain lion! Why, don't you know, most o' the cowboys would run a mile if they see that beast a-lookin' at 'em? Such shootin' is great!"

"Well, we don't want to meet any more of them," answered Dave.

"No, the rest of them can keep their distance," added Phil.

"Did you get the deer home all right?" questioned Roger.

"Oh, yes, and the folks were a good deal surprised and pleased. The girls are going to have one of the deer stuffed and mounted, for the Wadsworth home. They said it would please Mr. Wadsworth and Professor—let me see—I reckon it's Professor Pans."

"No, Professor Potts," said Dave.

"Well, I knew it had something to do with cookin'-things," answered the cowboy. "Mr. Endicott told me to be careful and tell you not to shoot everything there was in the mountains, as he wanted to come out later for a shot or two."

"I guess there will be enough left after we get through," said Dave, with a smile.

The cowboy had had a hard ride and he was willing enough to eat his supper in peace. Then he smoked a pipe of tobacco and turned in. He said the boys could keep a guard if they wished, but he scarcely deemed it necessary.

"Won't another mountain lion, or anything else, come around in a year," said he. "That jest happened that way, that's all." And after some talk among themselves the chums concluded to turn in, all hands, and let the camp and the horses take care of themselves.

The night passed quietly and all slept until the sun was well up in the heavens. Then, while the boys prepared breakfast and Phil attended to his bruised feet—which felt much better—Sid Todd told of some happenings at the ranch.

"The girls went out for a horseback ride, along with Mrs. Endicott," said he, "and, coming back, they met Link Merwell. They said he acted so disagreeable that they were afraid of him. Mrs. Endicott was very angry, and I think the boss will speak to Mr. Merwell about it."

"Link ought to be hammered good and hard!" cried Roger.

"The boss wishes the Merwells would sell out. But Mr. Merwell doesn't seem to want to budge. The girls were so afraid of Link they said they wouldn't go out again unless Mr. Endicott was along," continued the cowboy.

"If he molests the girls, he'll have another account to settle with me!" cried Dave.

"And me!" came promptly from his chums.

"He wanted to know where you fellows were, and said he was going out hunting himself."

"He needn't come near us," cried the senator's son. "We don't want him."

"Oh, he won't come near us—unless to make trouble, you may be sure of that," answered Dave.

The cowboy had left word at Star Ranch that the young hunters might remain out longer than originally intended, so the chums did not worry about getting back. All rested during the morning, and after dinner started on the trail up into the mountains.

"How is it, Phil?" asked Dave, on the way.

"Oh, I can ride very well," was the reply. "But I am rather glad I haven't much walking to do. But I think I'll be O.K. by to-morrow."

Sid Todd had been right about the climbing to be done during the last stage of the journey, and often the boys, as they looked ahead at the rocks before them, wondered how they were going to make progress. But the cowboy knew the trail, and up they went, the scenery every moment growing wilder and more impressive.

"This is an ideal spot for wild animals," said Dave. "I should think hunting would be very good."

Once they stopped to let the horses rest. They were out on a cliff and at a distance Sid Todd pointed out two nests perched up on the top of rocky crags. The nests were several feet in diameter.

"What are they?" questioned Dave.

"Eagles' nests," was the answer. "There are two of the eagles now," and the cowboy pointed out the big birds, floating lazily around between two distant mountain tops.

"A fellow would have difficulty in getting to those nests," was Phil's comment.

"Eagles usually build where nobody can git at 'em," returned Todd.

"I shouldn't care to shoot an eagle," said Dave. "Somehow, I'd feel a good deal as if I had shot at our flag."

"I think I'd feel that way, too," answered the senator's son.

"The eagle and Old Glory seem to be linked together," added Phil. "But I wouldn't mind catching a young eagle and taming him."

"You'd have your hands full doing it," said Sid Todd. "I know a cowboy who once caught an eagle, but the bird scratched him terribly and nearly took off one of his ears."

On they went again, until, an hour later, they gained the top of the mountain. Here they found a stiff breeze blowing, and it was much cooler than below.

"I see some game!" cried Dave, and pointed to a slope on the other side of the mountain. Two deer were in view.

Scarcely had Dave spoken when a shot rang out and one of the deer jumped as if hit. The other ran off and disappeared in the bushes. Then, slowly and painfully, the second deer limped away. A second shot rent the air, but the wounded animal was not touched, and a second later it followed its mate to cover.