Dave Porter in the Far North/Chapter 27
DAVE STRIKES OUT ALONE
It was dismaying news, and utterly downcast Dave followed the others to the sheep-station and listened to the details of what the newcomers had to tell. It was a long story, and while they related it a good hot meal was prepared for them.
"We reached the top of the mountain in safety and also the plateau of the smaller mountain beyond," said Samuel Hausermann. "That was the place for which we were bound. Shortly after that the snowstorm came on, and the high winds, and it was all we could do to gain one of the old shelters up there between the rocks. In journeying around we lost a good portion of our outfit, including some of the provisions, and all we had to live on for two days was some venison—Mr. Porter shot a small red deer—and some beans and crackers. We had intended to do some more exploring, but the weather put a stop to everything of that sort. Then one of the party, Mr. Jackson, took sick and we had to do what we could to get him well again. At last Mr. Porter went out to see if he couldn't bring down something in the way of game. He could get only some small birds and they lasted only one meal. Then he went out again, after an elk he had seen at a distance. That was when he took the tumble over the cliffs."
"Are you sure he wasn't killed?" asked Dave.
"I am sure of nothing, my lad. But I think the chances are he fell in the deep snow, or on some of the fir trees, and that that saved his life."
"What time was this yesterday?"
"About noon. After that we decided to come down here, and at the same time look for your father. Philip Lapham said he would remain, to look after Jackson, who was as yet too weak to walk. We left all our provisions up there and came down here as fast as we could—and here we are."
This was all Samuel Hausermann could tell, and Charles Davis corroborated his statement. Dave shook his head sadly.
"Even if my father wasn't killed by the tumble he took, maybe he was starved or frozen to death," he said to Roger.
"Hope for the best, Dave," was all the senator's son could answer.
The Norwegian guide, Bjornhof, had agreed to go back to the mountain top with a load of provisions. He had expected to go alone, but Dave said he would go also, to see if he could not find what had become of his parent. Then Granbury Lapham said he would go also.
"Maybe I'd better go too," said Roger.
"No, Roger," answered Dave. "It wouldn't be fair to ask you to do that. There is too much of peril, and you must remember what you promised your mother and father. You stay here with Mr. Davis and Mr. Hausermann." And so it was finally settled.
All of the party were provided with knapsacks, which they filled with the best provisions available. The guide also carried an extra bag of stuff, strapped across the back of his neck. He was a brawny fellow, over six feet in height, and did not seem to mind the load in the least. He had a gun, and Dave and Granbury Lapham each carried a pistol and a box of cartridges.
"Good luck to you, Dave," said the senator's son on parting, and he shook hands warmly. "Remember, I shall be very anxious until I hear from you again." He followed his chum a short distance up the mountain trail, and the two were loath to separate.
The route was rocky and uncertain, and during the next two hours Dave realized what climbing the Alps must be. At certain spots they had to help one another along, using a rope for that purpose. Once they crossed a split in the rocks several feet wide and of great depth, and it made Dave shudder to peer down Into the dark and forbidding depths below.
Yet he thought very little of the perils of that arduous journey. His mind was constantly on his parent. Would he find his father alive, or had the fall over the cliffs killed his parent?
"God grant he is alive!" he said to himself, over and over again.
They had started directly after breakfast, and by noon reached a small level spot where they took a well-deserved rest. From this place the guide pointed out the cliffs from which Mr. Porter had fallen.
"But you cannot reach them from here," he explained, in his native dialect, to Granbury Lapham. "To get to them we must walk at least a mile further. And even then I know of no way to reach the spot to which the poor man fell."
"I'll reach that somehow," said Dave, when the guide's words had been translated to him.
"Well, lad, you must be careful," cautioned Granbury Lapham. "No use in your losing your life, you know."
But Dave merely shook his head. He was bound to find his father, dead or alive, no matter what the cost. For the time being he could think of absolutely nothing else. That, and that alone, possessed him, heart and soul.
The air was clear, with little or no wind, which was one comfort. As they went on they had to pass around great ridges of snow and over hummocks of ice, where the water had frozen while tumbhng down the mountain side. There were but few trees in that vicinity, although a small forest grew at the foot of the cliffs.
At last they reached a spot where the guide said a small and decidedly uncertain trail led to the bottom of the upper cliff—the first one over which Mr. Porter had fallen.
"Then that is where I am going," said Dave. "Perhaps I can find out something about my father there."
"You had better come with us," answered Granbury Lapham. "As soon as I have met my brother we can all come back to this place."
"No, you can come back anyway—I'll stay here now and look around," replied the youth, firmly.
Bjornhof pointed out the exact spot from which Mr. Porter had fallen, and without waiting Dave trudged off, and the others continued their climb up the mountain. Soon a point of rocks separated them, and Dave found himself utterly alone.
Had he had less to think about the boy might have felt very lonely. But now his heart was filled with thoughts of his parent, and he never gave the situation in which he was placed any consideration. On and on he hurried. Twice he fell on the slippery rocks, but picked himself up just as quickly. In his mind's eye he could see his father helpless at the bottom of the cliffs, with a broken leg or a fractured rib, or suffering for the want of food and warmth. Such thoughts were terrifying, and caused him to shudder from head to foot.
"This must be the place!"
He spoke the words as he came to a spot where footprints In the snow were plainly visible. He looked around eagerly and made out where his father had slipped from that cliff to the hollow below. Here was a long icy slide, and Dave did not dare to venture too close to the brink, for fear of going over.
"That hollow must be at least a hundred feet deep," reasoned the youth. "How am I ever to get down there?"
He called out, but no answer came back. Then he walked slowly to the far end of the cliff, behind and over some jagged rocks which at first seemed to completely bar the way.
He heaved a long sigh, then looked at the very end of the cliff. Here the rocks were notched and uneven, and he found a spot where he could drop a distance of fifteen feet in safety. But after that?
"If I get down there perhaps I won't be able to get back—if I want to," he reasoned. "But I'm going down, anyway—and find out what became of father," he added, recklessly.
The drop taken, he found himself on a ledge several yards wide and twice as long. To his delight back of the ledge was a hollow leading downward.
"Perhaps that goes to the bottom of the cliff," he mused. "I'll try it, anyway."
The passageway was dangerous, being covered with ice, and he had to move literally an inch at a time. Once he slipped, but caught fast to a ridge of ice just in time to save himself. It made his heart leap into his throat, yet he kept on. He was so eager to gain the object of his quest that no peril, no matter how great, could have daunted him. Surely "blood is thicker than water" every time.
Having gained the bottom of the hollow inside of the cliff, he turned to where a streak of light showed. Here was a narrow slit leading to the greater hollow outside of the cliff. It was so small that the youth squeezed through with difficulty and had even more trouble getting his knapsack on the other side.
He now stood where there was a gentle slope leading to the firs growing at the foot of the cliff. Here there was a great drift of snow, in some spots fifteen and twenty feet high.
"I wonder if father came down in that?" he mused. "If he did he wouldn't be apt to break any bones. But he might get smothered before he could find his way out, especially if the fall took his breath away."
He gazed around in the drift and saw a spot where it looked as if the snow had been disturbed. Then he saw what looked to be footprints further on, leading among the firs.
"Hello! hello!" he called, with all the strength of his lungs. "Mr. Porter! Where are you?"
His voice echoed along the rocks and beyond, and he waited with bated breath for a reply, but, as before, none came.
What should he do next—go on or search the immense snowdrift for his father's body?
He deliberated for several minutes, then moved onward.
"I must see if he is alive," he reasoned. "I can always come back for his body later—if I have to.
The edge of the fir forest gained, Dave paused once more. Here was a track in the snow, but whether made by a human being or a wild animal he could not tell. Then he uttered a sharp cry and rushed forward to pick something up.
It was a box that had contained rifle cartridges. It was empty and practically new. Had his father possessed that and discarded it?
Suddenly he thought of something new, and pulling out his pistol fired it off as a signal. The last echo had hardly died out when an answering shot came back. His face lit up with joy, then grew sober again.
Perhaps the shot had come from above, from Granbury Lapham or the others up there. But no, it had seemed to be further down—beyond the line of firs which confronted him. At the risk of wasting too much ammunition he fired again. But this time no signal came back.
"If it was father he'll want to save his shots—especially if his cartridge box is empty," thought Dave. Then he resolved to push on through the timber, calling his parent in the meanwhile.