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Dave Porter in the Far North/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII


LEFT IN THE DARK


The thought that their two companions might possibly have been killed by the toppling over of the sleigh filled Dave and Roger with fresh horror, and for several minutes neither of the youths spoke. They listened for some sound, but none came. Then Roger heaved a deep sigh.

"Perhaps we had better try to climb out," he suggested, timidly.

"I've thought of that, Roger. But what if we slip when we get out? Why, the bottom of the valley is quarter of a mile further down. I don't want such a tumble, on top of the one we have already experienced."

"If we ever get out we'll have plenty of news to send home," was the senator's son's comment.

"True; but let us get out before we think of sending news."

They talked the matter over, and at length concluded to do a little more exploring of the cave. Dave turned up the pocket lantern as high as possible, and as he did this Roger took from his pocket a short, strong cord.

"I thought this might come in useful, for tying up our supplies," explained the senator's son, "so I brought it from the last house we stopped at. Tie one end around your waist, Dave, and I will hold fast to the other end. Then I'll walk behind you, and if you go into a hole——"

"I may drag you behind me," finished Dave.

"No, ril look out for that,—only be as careful as you can."

"I'll take no more risks than are necessary."

They moved forward slowly and cautiously, first to one side of the cavern and then to the other. At last they struck what appeared to be a passageway running parallel to the mountain side.

"Let us follow this," suggested Dave. "It may bring us out somewhere on the road."

Roger was willing to do anything his chum suggested. It was a hard journey, over rocks that were sharp and slippery. In some spots they found a coating of ice and above their heads long icicles hanging from the roofing. Roger slipped and fell and came down with such a jar that a great icicle weighing at least twenty pounds came down close to his head, smashing into many pieces and scattering over both him and Dave.

"Hi! look out!" cried Dave. "If we got one of those on our heads——"

His voice echoed loudly throughout the cave, and then down came two more icicles, one hitting his shoulder. He was thoroughly alarmed and leaped to a spot beyond, literally dragging Roger with him.

"That was a close shave!" murmured the senator's son. "Dave, this spot is full of perils!"

On they went once more, until Dave was almost certain he saw some sort of an opening ahead of them. He pointed it out; and just then the tiny light of the pocket lantern began to flicker.

"Dave, the light is going out!"

"I know it."

"Can't you turn it up a bit?"

"No; the oil is gone," was the answer, after Dave had shaken the lantern to make certain of that fact.

"What will we do if we are left in the dark?"

"Hurry; I think we can reach that opening—if it is an opening."

They ran, and as they did so the lantern flickered up for the last time and went out. Then Dave stopped short and Roger clung to him.

"Don't stop here, Dave!"

"I won't—but we must go slow, or we'll knock our heads on a rock or on the icicles."

They advanced with all the caution they could command. Each was filled with a nameless dread, for if there was no opening ahead what should they do? To go back the way they had come was next to impossible in the dark.

A dozen steps, and both went down in a hollow, Roger rolling on top of his chum. The spot was like a huge washbowl, and all of the sides were covered with ice. They tried to scramble out, only to slip back over and over again.

"This is the limit!" cried Roger, desperately. "If we—— Oh, wait!" He felt in his pocket. "Hurrah!"

"What is it?"

"Tve got five matches. I'm going to light one."

"Make it last as long as possible," was Dave's advice.

The match was ignited and the boys gazed around the hollow. Dave found some bits of projecting rocks and pulled himself up, and Roger came behind, the match burning itself out in the meanwhile. Then they pushed on, until they presently came to an opening through which the snow came down.

"Out at last!" murmured Dave. "I am thankful for that!"

"We have reached the open air, but we are not out of our difficulty," returned the senator's son.

"I can't see anything of the road, can you?"

"Not yet, but it must be somewhere in the neighborhood, for we went upward in the cave."

They had come out at a point where there was a small table-land, which the wind of the night before had swept almost clear of snow. Below was the valley and above them a patch of firs.

"That's the forest," said Dave, pointing upward. "The road runs through there. I think the place where we took the tumble is over yonder."

"Let us call to the others again."

Once more they raised their voices, and from a distance came an answering call from Granbury Lapham.

"Where is he?" queried Roger. "I can't see anything through this snow."

"Neither can I."

They called again, and at last made out that the Englishman was above them. Then they said they were going to try to get to him and commenced the struggle. It was a hard task, and took not only their strength but also their breath. They could not see the man, and it was only by continual calling they finally located him.

"We all took a great tumble, don't you know!" cried Granbury Lapham. "Were you hurt?"

"Not enough to mention," answered Dave. "Where is the sleigh driver?"

"He tried to stop the horses, I think. They ran away after the sleigh turned over. I wanted to help and the first thing I knew I went down, too."

"Do you know where the road is?" asked Roger.

"Not far above us. But I slipped back several times trying to get to it."

Now was no time to compare notes, and all three started to ascend the mountain side to where they thought the road must be located. As they could not get up the icy slopes they pushed on to where there was a stunted growth of pines. Here, by clinging to one tree after another, they at last reached a point where trudging through the snow became comparatively easy.

"I got a pretty bad scare when I came down the mountain side," said Granbury Lapham, when they stopped to rest. "A bear came along not more than fifty feet in front of me."

"A bear!" cried the two boys, simultaneously.

"Yes, and a mighty big fellow, too, I can tell you."

"What did you do?"

"I felt for my pistol, but it was gone—I must have dropped it in the snow when I tumbled. At first I thought the beast would attack me, but he gave one look and then jumped away in the snow—and that's the last I saw or heard of him."

Both of 'the boys felt instinctively for their weapons and were glad to learn that they were safe.

"I don't want to see any bears," observed Dave. All I want is to go on and join my father."

"And all I want to do is to find my brother," answered Granbury Lapham. "I sincerely trust they are safe."

"We all hope for that," answered the senator's son.

By the time they gained the mountain road it had stopped snowing, so that they could see a fair distance ahead and behind. Dave gave a long look in advance.

"There is something," he said. "I think it must be our turnout."

"It certainly is the sleigh," said Roger, a minute later. "But it is still turned over."

"Yes, and the two front horses are gone," added the Englishman.

As tired as they were, they pressed forward with all possible speed, and soon came up to the overturned sleigh, with its scattered outfit. Some of their goods had gone down the mountain side out of sight and the rest were covered with snow. The horses were nervous and on the point of dashing off, so that Dave had to go to their heads to quiet them.

"Do you know what I think?" said the boy. "The front team broke loose somehow, and Hendrik has gone after them."

"Well, I hope he catches 'em and brings 'em back," answered Roger.

They unhooked the team attached to the sleigh and tied them to the nearest tree, some distance off. Then all hands got at the heavy turnout and righted it and cleaned it out. This done, they put in the robes and all they could find of their belongings. Thus an hour went by.

"Hendrik doesn't seem to be coming back," said Dave. "Perhaps those horses went a long distance and it might be as well to follow them—if the single team can do it."

"Let us try the horses that are left, anyway," returned Roger. "We can let Mr. Lapham drive while we walk ahead and make sure of the road."

They hooked up with care and the Englishman took the reins. It was all the two animals could do to start the sleigh, for the road was slightly upward for quarter of a mile. But then it ran downhill and going became almost too easy.

"They'll be running away, if we don't look out," said Granbury Lapham, after Dave and Roger had jumped in on the rear seat. "There doesn't seem to be any whoa in them."

"Shall I drive?" asked Dave.

"Do you know anything about horses? My knowledge is rather limited."

"Yes, I used to live on a farm when I was younger. I'll take the reins."

Dave started to step from the rear to the front seat of the sleigh. As he did this the turnout reached a point in the road where the downgrade was greater than ever. Away went the horses, taking the bits in their teeth. The shock threw Dave backward into Roger's lap.

"Hi! hi!" yelled Granbury Lapham, in quick alarm. "They are running away! Stop them! Whoa! whoa!" And he tugged helplessly at the lines.

The steeds paid no attention to the command to stop and the pulling on the reins did not appear to bother them in the least. On and on the downgrade of the mountain road they bounded, causing the sleigh to bounce from one side to the other. They were certainly running away, and to the occupants of the sleigh it looked as if each moment might bring a smash that would terminate fatally.