E-text prepared by Al Haines
BOY SCOUTS IN NORTHERN WILDS
Or, The Signal from the Hills
MAJOR ARCHIBALD LEE FLETCHER
"Boy Scout Rivals; or, A Leader of the Tenderfoot Patrol," "Boy Scouts on Old Superior; or, The Tale of The Pictured Rocks," "Boy Scouts' Signal Sender; or When Wigwag Knowledge Paid," "Boy Scout Pathfinders; or, The Strange Hunt for the Beaver Patrol" etc., etc.
I—A CAMP ON MOOSE RIVER II—THE LITTLE BRASS GOD III—THE CABIN IN THE SWAMP IV—LOST IN THE STORM V—A BOY SCOUT TRICK VI—THE CAVE OF THE TWO BEARS VII—AM EMPTY CAVERN VIII—A TRAPPER'S TREACHERY IX—TWO HUNGRY BEARS X—BOYS IN A TIGHT PLACE XI—THE HALF-BREED XII—A SURPRISE AT THE CABIN XIII—A FACE AT THE WINDOW XIV—A CALL PROM THE DARKNESS XV—A HUNTING EXPEDITION XVI—ANTOINE ON THE RUN XVII—"BOYS UP A TREE!" XVIII—A PILLAR OF FIRE XIX—THE SIGNAL FROM THE HILLS XX—A SIGHT OF THE GOD XXI—TWO RIFLE SHOTS XXII—THE TWIN BRASS GODS
A CAMP ON MOOSE RIVER
Four Boy Scouts, of the Beaver Patrol, Chicago, were in camp on Moose river. They were all athletic young fellows, not far from seventeen years of age, and were dressed in the khaki uniform adopted by the Boy Scouts of America.
If you take a map of the British Northwest Territories and look up Moose river, you will discover that it runs through nearly three hundred miles of wilderness, from Lake Missinale to Moose Bay. The reader will well understand, then, how far "Sandy" Green, Will Smith, George Benton and Tommy Gregory had traveled from civilization.
The camp of the Boy Scouts was situated some fifty miles up the river from Moose Factory, a trading point famous in old Indian days for its adventurous spirits and its profits to the factors. Those who have read the preceding books of this series will doubtless remember the four Boy Scouts named above. Together they had visited the Pictured Rocks of Old Superior, the Everglades of Florida, and the great Continental Divide.
During all their journeys the boys had shown courage and resourcefulness beyond their years, and because of these qualities they had been chosen, by Mr. Horton, a noted criminal lawyer of Chicago, to undertake a difficult and dangerous mission to the Hudson Bay country.
They had traveled by way of the Canadian Pacific to Missanabie, from which point they had proceeded to Lake Missinale. Here they had purchased a "Mackinaw," a great flat-bottomed craft, in which to transport their tents and supplies down Moose river to the bay of the same name.
They had made most of the journey in native canoes, which they had learned to handle with considerable skill, but now and then they had taken refuge on the big boat, "just to stretch their limbs," as they expressed it. They left Chicago late in September and it was now almost the last of October.
Those who live in the Hudson Bay country declare that they have three seasons in four months, Spring comes in June, summer in July and August, and autumn in September. At the southern extremity of James Bay, October may scarcely be called a winter month, although during the latter part of the month ice and snow are not infrequent.
The sun was setting on the lads' first day in camp as the boys rested from their labor of dragging in great quantities of both dry and green wood. Their tents were of double canvas, specially prepared for cold weather, and their bedding and suits had constituted an important part of their baggage.
Almost the entire fronts of the tents were composed of fine, strong silk mesh-cloth. The faces of the boys were well anointed with grease, and masks of mesh-cloth hung about the tents ready for use.
Mosquitos and an insect known as the "bull-dog" had driven many a trapper and hunter out of the swampy regions around Hudson Bay. During the summer it is almost impossible to live in the swamps of that country at all. By protecting their tents and faces, and keeping great "smudges" going, the boys hoped to be able to live in comparative comfort during their stay in that section.
"Look here, Will," Tommy said, as he laid down a great armful of dry wood, "some one ought to invent some kind of a contraption to kill these flying pests off by the billion. Here it is almost cold enough to snow, and we're being eaten alive by mosquitos."
"I reckon it wouldn't do much good to invent a way of killing the brutes," Will suggested, "as long as the swamps and pools of the Northwest Territories are turning them out at the rate of a billion a minute."
"I read a story about how to get rid of mosquitos the other day," Sandy said. "It might be a good idea to try it."
"You can always read how to do things, in the newspapers," Tommy argued. "The only trouble is that the ideas don't work."
"This one will work," declared Sandy. "The way to kill mosquitos," he continued, "is to throw a great long rope up in the air. You let it stay up in the air; that is, one end of it, and grease it carefully with cold cream and tie a piece of raw beefsteak at the upper end. That will attract the mosquitos. Then when you get several millions up the rope, you cut it in two about twenty feet from the ground and pull the lower end down."
"It'll be the foolish house for yours!" Tommy laughed. "How are you going to throw one end of a rope up in the air and make it stay there?"
"I didn't say how to make it stay up in the air," grinned Sandy. "I just said you had to make it stay up in the air. Then when the mosquitos get tired of staying up in the ambient atmosphere, they'll come crawling down the rope and fall off where you cut it."
"I guess your dome needs repacking all right!" laughed Tommy.
"And then, when they come to the place where the rope has been cut off, they'll take a tumble for themselves, and you stand under the line and beat their heads off with an axe."
"Poor child!" laughed Tommy.
"If you leave it to me," George declared with a grin, "that story about how to kill mosquitos came out of Noah's ark on crutches."
The sun was setting over the great wilderness to the west, and the boys hastened to pile more wood on the fire. The forest was alive with the cries of birds, and the undergrowth showed curious eyes peering out at the intruders.
"This beats little old Chicago," cried George, bringing out a great skillet of ham. "When we live in the city, we've got to eat in the house and smell dishwater. When you live out doors, you've got a dining room about a thousand miles square."
"And when you live in Chicago," Tommy continued, "you can't get fresh fish right out of the brooks. When you want a fish here, all you've got to do is to run out to the river, grab one in your arms, and bring him in!"
"Then run out and get one now!" advised Will.
"Perhaps you think I can't!" shouted Tommy.
Seizing a head-net the boy dashed away to the margin of Moose river. His chums saw him walking about in quest of a minnow for a moment and then heard the swish of a line. In ten minutes he was back at the camp with a whitefish weighing at least five pounds.
There is incessant fishing in the wilderness north of Lake Superior throughout every month of the year. All through the long winter the ice is cut away in order that the fish may be reached, and there is every sort of fishing between that which engages the labors of sailing vessels and men, down through all the methods of fish-taking, by nets, by spearing, still-fishing and fly-fishing.
Though the region has been famous, and therefore much visited, for many years, the field is so extensive, so well stocked, and so difficult of access, that even today almost the very largest known specimens of each class of fish are to be had there.
"These are the kind of fish the Indians live on during the winter," Tommy explained as he scraped the scales from his prize. "Only," he continued, "the Indians don't clean them at all. They simply make a hole in the tail end of each fish and string them up like beads on sticks which they set up in racks."
"I never did like cold-storage fish," Sandy declared, in a tone of disgust. "They taste like dry corn meal!"
While the fish cooked and the boys sat in the protecting smudge of the campfire, the sound of paddles was heard up the river. The swish and splash came on steadily for a moment and then suddenly ceased.
"I thought we were going to have company," suggested Will.
The boys listened for a time but no further sounds were heard.
"Now what would any one be doing in this wilderness?" Sandy asked. "What would any one be sneaking around us for?"
"Perhaps they don't even know we're here!" argued George.
"With that great campfire going?" scoffed Tommy. "Why, they can see the light of that fire for ten miles or more!"
"That's right," replied George. "I guess that fire wouldn't help to hide our presence here any."
"Suppose I go and see what's doing?" asked Tommy.
"You know your failings, young man!" Will cut in. "If you go out in the wilderness to see who's running that canoe, you're likely to get lost, or come back here after a couple of days with a broken leg or a busted coco! You'd better stay in camp."
"But I want to know who's sneaking around our tents!" insisted Tommy. "You come along with me, Will, if you think I'm not competent to go alone," the boy added with a grin.
Will hesitated for a moment and then providing himself with an automatic revolver and an electric searchlight, the two boys left the camp and soon disappeared in the darkness. They had been gone scarcely five minutes when a shot came from the thicket.
THE LITTLE BRASS GOD
After a time George and Sandy heard some one running through the undergrowth, and the next instant Will and Tommy burst into view. It was evident that they had been running, for they were panting and their clothing was disarranged and torn in places.
The two boys hastened out to meet their chums with question marks in their eyes. Will and Tommy offered no explanation until the tents had been reached, then Tommy burst into a low chuckle.
"Can you beat it?" he asked.
"What are you talking about?" demanded George.
"What did you see out there?" asked Sandy.
"We didn't see a thing!" declared Tommy.
"You're wrong there!" Will cut in. "We saw the flash of a gun!"
"Some one shoot at you?" questioned George.
"Perhaps not," Will replied, "but I heard a bullet whizzing past my ear! That's not a very warm welcome to this blooming country, I take it."
"What's it all about?" asked Sandy impatiently.
"That's the answer!" Tommy declared. "That's all we know about it ourselves. We hear a paddle splash in the water; we go out to see what's doing, and we get a chunk of lead plugged at us. That's the answer so far as I know. Now, how about this fish?"
"Right as a book!" cried Sandy. "I've been taking care of this fish while you've been out there facing some boy with an air gun."
"Yes," laughed Tommy, "if you want to find boys with air guns, come out here about three hundred miles north of nowhere!"
The incident did not seem to affect the appetites of the boys, for they attacked the fish industriously. When the meal was finished and the dishes cleared away; Will turned to his chums with a sober look on his face. When he spoke it was with suppressed excitement. "Do you boys know exactly why we are in the Hudson Bay country?" he asked, "How much did Mr. Horton tell you?"
"Nothing at all!" Tommy replied.
"He just told us to come with you!" George cut in.
"When I tried to cross-examine him," laughed Sandy, "he said he was afraid we wouldn't go if he told us what sort of a game we were mixing in."
"Well," Will went on in a moment, "he told me to tell you after we got into camp on Moose river."
"Go on and tell us, then," chuckled Tommy.
"I don't believe it's any great mystery!" Sandy interrupted.
"We came here," Will said, speaking seriously, "to find the Little Brass God. Odd sort of a quest, that, eh?"
"What's the Little Brass God?" demanded Sandy.
"Did you think it was a load of hay?" asked Tommy. "The Little Brass God is the Little Brass God. Didn't you know that?"
"What does any one want of a Little Brass God?" asked George.
"The Little Brass God," Will explained, "is believed to be valuable, chiefly for what is contained in his belly."
"So this is a stuffed god?" cried Tommy.
"Has he eaten something he can't digest?" cut in Sandy.
"That just explains it!" Will exclaimed. "He has eaten something he can't assimilate, and we've been sent up here to relieve him of it!"
"How did the Little Brass God ever get into the Hudson Bay country?" asked Tommy. "I should think he'd know better."
"I reckon the Little Brass God had nothing to say regarding his journey," replied Will. "Two months ago the house of Mr. Frederick Tupper, on Drexel Boulevard, Chicago, was burglarized. Besides taking considerable money and silver plate, the thief also carried away the Little Brass God."
"I don't think any thief in his right mind would do that!" declared Sandy. "What could he do with a Little Brass God? He couldn't pawn it, or sell it, or trade it, without its being traced back to him!"
"Well, he took it just the same!" Will replied.
"How much is he worth?" asked George.
"Not more than five dollars."
"Then he isn't one of those East India Little Brass Gods with his legs crossed, and his arms folded, and a grin on his face?"
"His legs are crossed, his arms are folded, and there is a grin on his face!" replied Will with a smile. "But he's certainly not one of the population of a Hindu temple."
"He's just a common Little Brass God, probably made in Newark, New Jersey," suggested George. "What do they want him for?"
"They want to search him!" replied Will.
"Aw, come on, tell us all about it!" urged Tommy.
"Well," Will explained with a smile, "the tummy of the Little Brass God IS supposed to contain the last will and testament of Simon Tupper, father of Frederick Tupper."
"Gee!" exclaimed Tommy. "Can't he get the property until he gets the will? Then we'll have to find it, I guess!"
"No, he can't get the property unless the will is found."
"Who stole the Little Brass God, and also the will?" asked George.
"Did he know he was stealing the will when he stole the Little Brass God?" asked Sandy without giving Will an opportunity to reply to the previous question. "How'd he know the will was there?"
"We don't know whether he knew about the will or not," answered the boy. "In fact, we don't know whether the document is still in the tummy of the Little Brass God. That's what we've got to find out."
"You didn't tell me who stole the Little Brass God and the will," insisted George.
"I said it was a burglar!"
"But was it a burglar—a real, genuine burglar?"
"Yes, loosen up!" shouted Tommy. "Did he go there just to burgle, or did he go there to get that will?"
"That's another thing we've got to find out!" Will answered. "It's just this way," the boy continued. "We've been sent up here to find this Little Brass God. When we find it, we'll know whether the man who stole it was a common thief, or whether he was sent by interested parties to do the job. No living person can open the Little Brass God without first learning the way to do it. In fact, the only way the toy can be opened by one unfamiliar with the secret is to break it open with an axe! And that would hardly be done, as the little fellow is rather a cute plaything."
"And so, if the will is there, a burglar stole it. And if the will is not there, some one interested in the disposition of the property walked away with it! Is that it?"
"That's the way we figure it out!" Will answered. "And in the meantime," he continued, "an older will is being offered for probate. If the Little Brass God fails to disclose the last will, the property will go to a young man who was intensely hated and despised by the man who built up the fortune. Simon Tupper will turn over in his grave if Howard Sigsbee, his nephew, has the handling of that money."
"I can't see how that's going to get Simon anything!" grinned Tommy.
"Now," George asked, "why do they think the Little Brass God was brought into the Hudson Bay country?"
"We have traced it to an antique shop on lower State street," Will answered. "From there to the shabby parlor of a fourth rate boarding house on Dearborn avenue, from there into the possession of a French Canadian who hunts and fishes in the Moose river district."
"That's pretty straight!" George agreed.
"How do they know this French Canadian got this Little Brass God out of town?" asked Sandy. "You take a French Canadian of the trapper sort, and get him well tanked, and he'll sell the ears off his head for another drink of brandy. Perhaps he hocked the Little Brass God."
"If he did," Will answered, "the search must begin all over again!"
"Who put this will in the tummy of this Little Brass God?" asked Tommy.
"The man who made it—Simon Tupper," answered Will.
"Did he tell anyone where it was?"
"On his deathbed, he told Frederick Tupper, his nephew, where to find it. It's a pity the young man didn't remove the document and file it in probate court. It would have saved a lot of bother."
"But he didn't," George suggested, "and that gives us a fine trip to the Hudson Bay country."
"When was the house of this Frederick Tupper burglarized?" asked Sandy.
"On the night following the death of the old gentleman."
"Had the villain of the drama, this Howard Sigsbee, any knowledge concerning the hiding place of the will?"
"He was not believed to have."
"Do they think he went there and got the will himself?"
"Huh!" objected Tommy. "If he'd gone after the will himself, he'd have taken it out of the Little Brass God and carried it away with him. And he'd have made a pile of ashes of it in about one minute, at that!"
"Perhaps he couldn't open up the merry little chap," Sandy suggested.
"We don't know whether he understood the secret or not," Will answered. "All we know is that the Little Brass God was still intact a week after it had been stolen."
"Then he knew the combination, or he didn't get the will!" argued George.
"Anyhow!" Tommy laughed, "we've got only about a million or more miles of country to search over for a little brass god about ——-"
"Say, just how big is this Little Brass God?" asked Sandy.
"He's about six inches in height, and three inches across his dirty shoulders, and he certainly is about the ugliest specimen of a heathen beast that ever came down the pike."
"What would that French Canadian buy him for?" asked George.
"That's another thing we've got to find out," replied Will.
Tommy was about to ask another question when Will held up a hand for silence. The leaping flames were sending long streamers of light into the thicket on either side and over the glistening waters of Moose river. The circle of illumination extended for some distance on every side, except at the back of the tents, where the level ground lay in shadows.
As the boys listened, the soft sound of a moccasined foot came to their ears. It seemed only a yard away, and yet it was not in sight. George dashed to the back of the tents, followed by a sharp cry of alarm.
THE CABIN IN THE SWAMP
When George reached the rear of the tent he saw a crouching figure there. A hole had been cut in the cloth, and the fellow was gazing into the tent. He was dressed in woodsman's attire, leather jacket and leggins and fur cap. The gold rings in his ears quivered and glistened as the light of the fire struck them.
As George rounded the tent the spy turned and ran for the forest. Without a thought as to the ultimate result, George followed along behind. For some distance the lad kept pace with the mysterious visitor, but, of course, it was impossible for him to do so for any great length of time, as the fugitive was well versed in woodcraft, while George was not.
After a time George lost sight of the fellow entirely, but could still keep track of him by the noise he made in passing through the thicket. It was quite evident that the intruder now believed that pursuit, had entirely ceased, for he made his way more leisurely through the swampy growth, and seemed to pay no attention whatever to the sounds of his passage.
Using great caution, the boy finally gained the hummock and stood looking at the dark bulk of a log cabin which stood in the center. He listened for a long time but all was silent inside. Presently he circled the place and came to a small opening which was more like a loop-hole than a window. There was a glass pane here, and through it he saw that there was a fire on the inside.
By this time the lad was shivering with cold, not having taken the time to provide himself with heavy clothing before leaving the camp in pursuit of the spy. As he glanced through the glazed opening he saw a great fire of logs blazing in a rudely made fireplace at one end of the room. He moved on until he found a door.
"Perhaps the owner of this log mansion will think I'm pretty prompt in returning his call," the lad mused as he knocked softly at the door. "But, all the same, I'm going to give him the pleasure of my company until I can get warm."
There was no response to the knock, and so George opened the door and entered. There was no one in front of the fire; no one in any of the rude chairs. The boy stood looking about the room for a moment and then walked back to three bunks fastened against the wall, one above the other.
When he reached the front of the sleeping places an exclamation of alarm came from a bundle of furs and blankets on the lower bunk and a boy's frightened face gazed up at him. The boy sat observing the other with evident suspicion for a moment, until his eyes caught sight of the Boy Scout medals which adorned the sleeve of the lad's coat.
Then he extended an arm in the full salute of the Boy Scouts of America, and sat back with a grin on his face to note the result.
"Beaver Patrol; Chicago," he said directly.
"I know you," George said with an exclamation of surprise. "You're Thede Carson, and you're about the toughest little wharf rat in Chicago!"
"That's a nice recommend for a patrol leader to give one of his scouts," grinned the boy. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"The last time I saw you," George said, smiling at the memory, "you were diving into the South Branch to keep out of sight of a police boat."
"I remember that," grinned Thede. "They said I'd been swiping bananas up in Gambler's alley, and that wasn't true."
"Well, how in the name of all the seven wonders of the world did you get into the Hudson Bay country?" demanded George.
"Old Finklebaum," answered Thede.
"Old Finklebaum?" repeated George. "Do you mean the old Shylock who does business under the three balls down on State street? You can't mean that he had anything to do with your appearance here?"
"You bet he did have something to do with my being here!" Thede insisted. "You see, it's just this way: Old Finklebaum says to me one day, 'I'll take the hair off Ikey's head for selling that Little Brass God!'"
George gave a quick start of surprise at the mention of the very article the Boy Scouts had come to the Hudson Bay country in quest of, but checked himself in a second.
"What did he have a—a—what did you say it was?—if he didn't want to sell it?" asked the boy in assumed surprise.
"He did want to sell it up to that very day," was the reply, "but no one wanted to buy it. Then a man came into the shop and said he'd give a thousand dollars for it on sight. So Finklebaum, having the Little Brass God within a foot of his hawkbill nose, takes the man's address and says he'll let him know if he hears anything about the thing in demand. Finklebaum thinks that if the man'll pay one thousand dollars for it, he'll pay five, and that's why he loses out."
George's interest was now so intense that the boy ceased speaking and sat regarding him steadily for a moment.
"What do you know about the Little Brass God?" he demanded.
"Nothing," replied George. "Never saw it!"
"Seems to me you're pretty much interested in it, though," commented the boy, rising from the bunk and taking a seat before the fire.
"I was thinking about Old Finklebaum cheating himself by getting too gay," answered George. "Go on, and tell me about it!"
"So when this man who offers the thousand dollars leaves the shop," Thede continued, "Finklebaum chases out to a dealer in antiques to make inquiries about the Little Brass God. I guess he thinks it's some East India idol, or something of that kind, and that his fortune is made."
"Supposing it should be an East India idol!" exclaimed George,
"It may be, for all I know," Thede replied. "Anyhow, while old Finklebaum was out trying to find out how much his Little Brass God was worth, little Ikey sold it for a ten dollar note."
"Oh my, oh my, oh my!" laughed George. "I'll bet there was a merry old time when Finklebaum returned and found the ten dollar note in the drawer and the Little Brass God gone."
"Such a racket as never was!" declared Thede, laughing at the recollection of the scene. "I was in the shop," he went on, "getting out some articles Mother Murphy had been borrowing money on, and heard all that took place."
"Go on and tell me about it."
"Old Finklebaum said he was just plumb ruined. He said he'd snatch Ikey bald-headed, and do a lot of other things to him, if he didn't walk right out into State street and bring back that Little Brass God. Holy Moses! You ought to have seen how scared Little Ikey was!"
"Could he describe the man who bought the Little Brass God?" inquired George in a tone intended to be indifferent.
"Oh, yes!" replied Thede. "Ikey said the man wore a leather jacket with a red belt around the waist, a fur cap and rings in his ears. So Ikey was sent out to find the fellow, and I asked Old Finklebaum what he'd give me if I'd bring back the Little Brass God. He says he'll give me a hundred dollars the minute I put it in his hands, and I ducked down State street in search of this gink with the rings in his ears."
"And didn't find him?"
"If I had you wouldn't find me up here in this beastly country," replied Thede. "That is," the boy went on, "if I had found him with the Little Brass God in his possession."
"So you really did find him?" questioned George.
"Yes, I ran across him in a saloon down near Twelfth street, and stuck to him like a bulldog to a cat's back for two days and nights."
"Why didn't you go and tell Finklebaum where he was, and let him do the watching? That's what you should have done!"
"Not for mine!" answered the other. "Old Finklebaum would have taken the case out of my hands, and fooled me out of my hundred simoleons. I follows this gink around until he becomes sociable and sort of adopts me. I gets into his furnished room down on Eldridge court and searches it during his absence. There ain't no Little Brass God there!"
'"Did you ever get your eyes on it?" asked George.
"Never!" was the reply. "But he acts funny all the time, and I think he's got it hidden. When he gets ready to come back to the Hudson Bay country he asks me how I'd like to come up north with him and learn to be a trapper, so I says that if there's anything on earth I want to be it's a trapper, and I come up here, making him think I'm after fur, when all the time I'm after the Little Brass God."
"Are you sure the man you followed is the man who brought the toy?" asked George, "You might have picked up the wrong man, you know."
"No I didn't!" replied Thede. "I've heard this man, Pierre, muttering and talking in his sleep, and I know he has the Little Brass God hidden. I'll go back to Chicago some day with it in my possession and Old Finklebaum will pay me a couple of thousand or he'll never get hold of it again! Won't it be a great story to tell the boys on State street about the times I'm having up here."
The door opened and Pierre entered, anger flashing from his eyes.
LOST IN THE STORM
"What you do here?" demanded Pierre, standing with his back against the door and facing George with a snarl of hate and suspicion.
"I got lost!" was the quick reply.
"You go 'way!" shouted the trapper.
"Aw, what's the matter with letting him stay here all night?" asked Thede. "These boys are hunting and fishing, and the kid got lost in the swamp. He's all right!"
"He follow me!" insisted Pierre.
"Sure, I did!" George replied, trying to give the impression that the matter was rather a good joke on himself. "I heard you smashing through the bushes and I thought you were some kind of a wild animal, and so I followed you up. I got so far away from camp that I couldn't find my way back. Then I saw your light and came here."
"Where your gun?" demanded Pierre, pointing suspiciously to the boy's empty hands. "You no shoot without gun!"
George drew an automatic from his pocket and held it up in the firelight. Pierre eyed it enviously.
"We hunt with these things!" the boy said.
Pierre continued to regard the boy with suspicion, for a long time but he finally seated himself before the fire and began to grumble because Thede had not been more active in the preparations for supper.
"It's a wonder you wouldn't come home and get supper yourself once in a while!" exclaimed the boy, "You needn't think I came up here in the cold to wait on you, Old Hoss!" the lad added with a wink at George. "I didn't leave my happy home for any such menial service."
Pierre grumbled out a few sentences in mongrel French and proceeded to prepare a solitary meal. Thede winked at George and began cooking enough supper for both of them.
George was thinking fast while the boy was sweating before the scorching heat of the fire. He was wondering whether Thede had told him the exact truth concerning his connection with Pierre. He was wondering, too, whether the boy had told all he knew of the Little Brass God.
Here were two parties in the Northern wilderness in quest of the same thing! It occurred to the wondering boy that Pierre might have been sent into the Hudson Bay country in quest of the individual who had purchased the Little Brass God at the pawnbroker's shop.
This, he argued, would be just about what Finklebaum would be likely to do. On the discovery of his loss, he would naturally seek some one familiar with the northern country and dispatch them in quest of the lost prize. In case this should prove to be the fact, the boy Thede might not have been taken into the confidence of the two men.
He might be telling what he believed to be the truth concerning the matter. The advantages to the pawnbroker of this secret arrangement would be many. In the first place, anyone following Pierre would naturally suppose him to be the person having possession of the Little Brass God. This would naturally cause investigators to entirely lose sight of the real possessor in shadowing the man sent out to recover the article.
Another point which the boy considered was the possibility of the Little Brass God having been robbed of his treasure before being placed in the pawnshop. This idea, however, he soon rejected for the reason that no one would know better than the man who inspired the larceny whether the will was still retained in the cavity of the toy. Had he secured the document, he would be the last one to offer a high reward for the return of the odd casket in which it had been contained.
While the boy puzzled over the case, Pierre and Thede sat down to their evening meal. George was invited to join them in the repast, but declined on the ground that he had eaten supper not long before. After the meal was over, Pierre took up his rifle and left the cabin, scowling at George over his shoulder as he took his departure.
"He's pretty sore about your being here," grinned Thede.
"I don't know why he should be."
"Perhaps he thinks you've come up here to steal this little Brass God."
The boy was very anxious to get back to his chums in order that the situation might be thoroughly discussed. They were in the Hudson Bay country in quest of the Little Brass God, and here was Thede on the same mission. It seemed to him that if Pierre had really had the toy in his possession, Thede would have caught sight of it, at least,
The more he thought of this phase of the case, the more he was inclined to believe that Pierre was also in search of the Little Brass God.
"Pierre will be apt to raise a howl if I leave the cabin alone," the boy finally said. "He's fierce when he gets mad!"
"You don't seem to be afraid of him," replied, George.
"I'm afraid of him all right," the other replied, "but I don't intend to let him know it. I've got one of these billies inside my coat, all the time, and if he tries any funny business with me I'll knock his block off!"
"He could cut you into shoestrings while you are asleep!"
"Yes, I suppose so, but be won't do anything of the kind!"
"Well, come on over to camp," urged George. "It isn't so very much of a walk. I guess we can make it in half an hour."
Thede hesitated, but finally dressed himself for a cold journey, and fixed the fire so that no damage might be done by it during his absence.
"How long has Pierre lived in this cabin?" asked George, as the boys started out. "It looks like an old building."
"I guess he found it standing here deserted and just moved in," was the reply. "I don't think he knows much about this country."
"Do you think he has any idea that the Little Brass God is in such great demand?" asked George. "No, I don't think he has."
"Then, why should he keep it hidden away, even from you, three hundred miles away from civilization? I should think he'd want to have the thing out once in a while, just to take a look at it, anyway."
"I should think so," agreed Thede.
The boys made their way over the morass and entered the thick undergrowth. Now and then George flashed his electric, but he did not keep it burning steadily for the reason that he did not care to have Pierre trailing them back to the camp.
"Are you sure you passed this way when you came to the cabin?" asked Thede as they walked along. "I don't seem to find any trail here."
"It seems to me I came along here," was the reply. "If it wasn't so blasted dark, we could tell whether we were going in the right direction or not, all right!"
As the boy spoke, he lifted a hand to his face and raised the net which protected his features from the mosquitos, still flying about, although the night, apparently, was cold enough to freeze their wings stiff.
"They won't bother you much more," Thede commented.
"How do you know that?"
"Because there's a snow storm coming up!"
"Then we'd better be getting a move on!" advised George. "If we get caught up here in a snow storm, it'll be 'Good-night' for us!"
"We're going as fast as we can," replied Thede, "but I don't know whether we're going in the right direction or not. It seems like we've walked far enough to be at the camp."
In five minutes the searchlight revealed a drift of snow in the air, and ten minutes later the ground was white. A cold wind blew out of the north, shifting at times to the west, and the boys shivered under the chill of it. Still no welcome light from the camp.
"Can you find your way back to the cabin?" asked George after they had walked at least an hour.
"We've got to find our way somewhere pretty soon!" the other replied. "If we don't, we'll freeze to death!"
The boys walked for what seemed to them two hours more, and then Thede, who was in advance, stumbled over a tree bole lying at the foot of a gentle slope. He rose rubbing his elbow and turned the flashlight toward the front.
"I know where we are now," he said. "We're about eight miles from the cabin. This place here is called Bear Ridge, and it's about the only collection of rocks and caverns that I know of in this district."
"Can't we find a cavern to crawl into?" asked George, his teeth chattering with the cold.
"If we find a cavern," advised Thede, "we're likely to find a couple of bears packed away in it!"
"I don't care if there are a hundred bears!" grumbled George. "I'll freeze to death if I stay out in this snow another minute!"
After a long and difficult climb the boys came to a ledge of rock and crawled into a small opening revealed by the searchlight.
"The beds are all full tonight, I guess," George said shivering. "I hear Bruin kicking about being disturbed."
A BOY SCOUT TRICK
"Where's that fool boy going now?" asked Tommy as George, in pursuit of the spy, dashed into the thicket.
"What did he see back here that caused him to let out a yell like that?" asked Sandy.
"I don't believe he saw anything!" Will declared. "He just thought he'd give us a good scare by pretending he'd bumped into a band of Indians, or something like that."
The boys looked over the ground in the rear of the tent, and finally Tommy came to the place where the spy had punctured the canvas.
"Who made this hole in the tent?" he asked.
The boys gathered around the opening through which the spy had inspected the interior of the tent, and looked at each other with wonder expressed on their faces. Tommy was first to speak.
"George must have caught a man here looking in," he said.
"That's why he disappeared so suddenly," Will argued.
"Yes, he was chasing the Peeping Tom," Sandy agreed.
"I wish we knew the direction they took," Will mused. "The boy may get into serious trouble, chasing off into the forest along in the night. He should have told us of his discovery so one of us could have gone with him! We may be able to find him yet."
"Aw, he'll come back before long!" Tommy argued. "He can't make any headway out there in the underbrush, and the fellow who was here will probably run away from him before he gets three rods from the tent."
"I hope so!" answered Will.
"But what was that gink prowling around the tent for?" asked Sandy. "That must have been the same fellow we heard using the paddle a short time ago. If it is, he's mighty liberal with his bullets!"
"I'm anxious about that boy," Will broke in. "I wish he'd come back!"
"Yes, this isn't a very desirable country to be lost in in the night!" Tommy admitted. "He ought not to have gone away."
"What do you make of this gink prowling around our tent?" asked Sandy. "Do you think he's doing it out of curiosity, or because he has an inkling of what we're up here after?"
"Huh! How would any one away off up here know anything about the Little Brass God?" demanded Tommy.
"Look here," Will argued. "The Little Brass God is stolen from this house on Drexel Boulevard. Enclosed in a cavity in the toy is a will disposing of several million dollars worth of property. The Little Brass God is finally sold to a pawn-broker, who in turn disposes of it to a trapper known to belong in the Hudson Bay district."
"That's a fair statement," answered Tommy.
"Now, Mr. Horton, attorney for the man who is in quest of the lost will, and Sigsbee, the man interested in probating the previous will, both know of the final disposition of the Little Brass God. At least, Frederick Tupper knows that it was taken from the pawn shop by a Hudson Bay trapper, and it is believed that Sigsbee possesses the same information."
"Of course, they both know about it," agreed Sandy.
"Now, why shouldn't they both send people up here in quest of the Little Brass God?" Will continued.
"But suppose this man Sigsbee doesn't know anything about the will being in the belly of the Little Brass God?" suggested Tommy.
"We believe he does know all about it!" said Will.
"And do you believe, too, that he hired a burglar to go and steal the Little Brass God?" asked Sandy.
"As I said before," Will answered, "we don't know anything about that. The Little Brass God may have been taken by a burglar who was simply in quest of plunder. The whole thing resolves itself into this: If the really, truly burglar stole the toy and sold it to the pawn-broker, the will is in the ugly little chap's belly. If Sigsbee hired the burglar he took the will out before the trinket was sold at the pawn-shop. In that case, he would be the last one to send an expedition up here to retrieve the toy. And so you see," Will continued, "that we don't know anything about it."
"Well it's funny that gink should come prowling around our tents on the first night of our arrival!" Tommy exclaimed. "According to all accounts, he should have come sneaking into camp looking for a drink of brandy. The fact that he ran away when discovered shows that he wasn't here for any honest purpose."
"Well, what are we going to do?" demanded Sandy. "Let's give the Little Brass God a rest long enough to make up our minds about George."
"We can't do anything until morning," Will interposed.
"How do you know we can't?" demanded Tommy.
"Because it's dark, and because we know nothing about the country," replied Will.
The boys sat before the fire until midnight listening for the return of their chum. When it began to snow they reluctantly decided that George had crawled into some temporary shelter for the night and would not think of trying to make his way home through the storm.
"You boys go to bed now," Will advised, "and I'll sit up and keep watch. If you hear me firing how and then, don't think the camp's been attacked. George may be lost in the woods, and I'll be doing that to give him the right direction."
"We should have done that before," Tommy suggested.
"Well, get to bed," Will urged, "and I'll run the camp till morning."
Tommy and Sandy crawled into the tent which stood nearest to the great campfire and cuddled up in the warm blankets.
"Do you believe Will will stay in camp until morning?" asked Tommy.
"Of course I don't," was the reply. "He'll wait until we're asleep, and then he'll go prowling around the camp in search of George."
"That's just about what he'll do."
"What's your idea, then?" asked Sandy.
"Well," Tommy whispered, "George may be out in the snow somewhere, and it won't take us very long to circle about the camp just to make sure."
"I got you!" replied Sandy. "We'll get out under the back wall, and take a little trip with our searchlights."
Half an hour later, when Will, heavily wrapped, glanced in at the tent preparatory to going out on his quiet search for the missing chum, ho saw that the blankets were empty.
"The little scamps?" he chuckled. "They've beaten me to it!"
In the meantime, Tommy and Sandy were making their way through the wilderness traveling in the narrow light provided by the electrics. By this time the snow was quite deep, and the wind appeared to be rising every minute.
"We never can get home in this storm if we once lose sight of the campfire," Tommy said as the two huddled together in the lee of a big tree.
"That's a fact!" Sandy admitted. "So I guess we'd better be poking along. Which way is the fire?"
"Why, it ought to be right over there!" replied Tommy doubtfully.
"Over where?" demanded Sandy, with a note of alarm in his voice.
"Blessed if I know!" declared Tommy, sitting flat down in the snow.
The boys walked round and round the tree and made little excursions in every direction without getting a single trace of the campfire.
"I guess we've gone and done it now!" Tommy grunted.
"Aw, we can find our way back all right enough!" Sandy declared. "We came north when we left the camp, didn't we?"
"Guess we did," replied Tommy, his teeth rattling with the cold.
"Then all we've got to do is to follow the wind and we'll strike the tents. That's some Boy Scout forestry sense, isn't it?"
"We'll wait until we see whether it brings us back to camp or not," replied Tommy. "If it does, it's all right; if it doesn't, it's all wrong."
Had the boys proceeded straight north on leaving the camp, they would have doubtless returned to the lighted zone by keeping with the wind, if the wind had not shifted to the west soon after their departure from the camp.
They walked for what seemed to them to be hours. In fact, more than once they glanced about hoping to get their direction from a showing of daylight in the sky.
"I don't believe it ever will be daylight again," grumbled Sandy, "and I move we stop right here and build a big fire."
"Can we build a fire in all this ruck?" asked Tommy.
"You bet we can!" was the answer. "What are we Boy Scouts good for if we can't build a fire in a storm?"
They cleared a little space in the snow and Tommy brought a handful of dry bark. Shielding the flickering blaze as much as possible, the boy applied the match he had struck to the bark. The fire which resulted could have been started in a teacup.
About this he built a skeleton tent of bits of dry soft wood from six to nine inches in length. His fire was now as large as an ordinary kettle. Next, the boys threw larger boughs on the blaze, and finally succeeded in surrounding it by large logs.
"There's one thing about it," Tommy declared as they warmed their hands over the blaze, "there won't any wild animals take a bite out of us as long as we keep near this fire!"
"I wish George would come poking along in," Sandy commented. "I believe I'll go out in the thicket after I get warm and see if he isn't somewhere in this vicinity. I thought I heard a call over there just a moment ago."
"Listen, then," Tommy advised. "If some one called, we're likely to hear a repetition of the sound."
Sure enough, the call came again as the boys huddled over the fire. It came down with the wind and seemed to be rapidly drawing nearer.
"That sounds to me like a boy's voice," Sandy suggested.
"Sounds more like a half-breed to me!" Tommy answered.
"He's stopped coming on, anyway." Sandy exclaimed in a moment.
"Perhaps he's tumbled down in the snow!" Tommy argued.
"In that case, we'd better be getting out where he is," said Sandy.
The boys both left the fire and darted out into the darkness, listening for the call but hearing only the roaring of the wind.
THE CAVE OP THE TWO BEARS
"Bears?" exclaimed George, as the lads listened in front of the cave, "do you think there are polar bears up here? I think it's cold enough for the big white variety."
"Put your head inside the cave," Thede suggested, "and you won't be wondering whether there are any bears here."
George did as requested, and soon the warm animal odor noticeable in the various zoos of the country attacked his nostrils.
"What kind of bears are they?" he asked.
"I've heard Pierre say there were black and brown bears," replied Thede. "You know I haven't been in here only a few days."
"I wonder if they'll bite."
"Stick your arm in there and find out," Thede answered.
"I don't believe they'll jump on us if we keep our light going," George argued. "Anyway," he went on, "we've got to get somewhere out of this wind and snow. If we don't, we'll freeze to death!"
Very slowly and cautiously the boys made their way into the cavern. It was a small place, not more than six feet in width and twice that in depth, and the electric revealed about all there was inside.
Two black huddles of fur showed under the finger of light, and as the boys crept on, George with his automatic ready for use, two pair of surly, pig-like eyes became visible.
The animals stirred restlessly as the boys advanced and finally began edging toward one side of the cave, as if seeking a way out.
"Get out of the entrance," advised George as soon as both animals were on their feet, "and we'll give them a chance to escape."
This plan was followed, and, much to the delight of the youngsters, the animals sprang outside and for a moment disappeared in the darkness.
"It's a shame to turn the poor creatures out in this storm!" George declared. "Perhaps they were just entering upon their long winter's sleep."
"We didn't order them out!" grinned Thede. "It amounts to the same thing," George responded. "They've gone away, and are likely to freeze to death."
"If you think they've gone away," Thede replied, "just turn your light toward the entrance. They're not going to give up their warm nest without a scrap, and I can't say that I blame them for it."
It was considerably warmer in the cave and, out of the tempest, the boys were quite comfortable in their thick clothing. They huddled together at the far end of the cavern, and George kept the light turned, on the two bears, who were now growling savagely.
"Why don't you shoot?" asked Thede.
"What's the use of shooting until I have to?" demanded George. "They can come in here if they want to, if they'll only behave themselves."
"If they try to come in here," declared Thede, "I'll go up in the air about nine hundred feet."
Although they did not attempt to re-enter the cavern, the bears kept close to the entrance. It was clear that only the light of the electric kept them from attacking the boys.
"They'll stay right there till morning," exclaimed Thede, "and we'll have to shoot them anyway before we can get out. They are kicking themselves now," he continued with a grin, "because they let us in here without a battle. I wish we understood bear talk so that we could learn what they're saying to each other."
"Nothing very complimentary to us," George declared.
As the night advanced it grew colder and the boys moved about in quest of a more sheltered corner. They could still hear the bears moving about outside, but paid no attention to them.
"Look here," George said presently, as the search-light rested for a moment on a break in the rock. "I wouldn't wonder at all if we could get further under the hill. There's an opening here which looks wide enough for us to crawl through."
"It's a wonder the bears didn't find it then," commented Thede.
"I'm going to see whether I can get through it or not," George insisted. "It may be a warmer corner. Anyway, it'll give us exercise, and that's what we need about this time."
Throwing the spear of light into the crevice, the boy glanced keenly about. The walls of the opening seemed to be smooth, and to extend only a short distance. Just below where the walls broke he could see the brown floor of another cavern."
"I guess it's all right," he said to Thede. "You take the light and hold it down and I'll scramble in. May as well break my neck as to freeze to death."
"Let me take your hand, then," advised Thede, "so yon can be pulled back if you don't like the looks of the new furnished room."
"I'd like to be in a furnished room on Washington boulevard just this minute," George broke in.
"I wouldn't mind a good box in Gamblers' alley," said Thede.
When all was ready Thede gave one hand to George and lowered him down to the full length of both arms.
"All right!" George cried in a moment, "I can feel my toes touching the rock. Let go! You drop down now, and I'll steady you when you light."
Both boys were soon in the lower cavern and a moment following their arrival there, they heard the claws of the bears rattling on the rocks above.
"I've heard Pierre tell about caves in this range of hills," Thede said, "but I never knew that they had caves two stories high."
As the boy ceased speaking, George suddenly shut off his flash light and laid a hand on the other's arm.
"What's that for ——-"
"Keep still!" whispered George. "Do you see anything?"
"Looks to me like a light," the other replied.
"Looks like a fire, doesn't it?" asked George.
"It certainly is a fire and there's a man sitting in front of it."
The fire showed at the end of a narrow passage, perhaps ten or twelve yards away. It was blazing vigorously, and the cavern in which it stood was well clouded with smoke. It was evident that the watcher by the fire was as yet unconscious of the approach of the two boys.
"I wish we could get to that fire!" George said with a shiver.
"And why not?"
"I don't think he'd be hiding here if he was keeping open house," replied George. "He may be an outlaw hiding from the police. And in that case he wouldn't relish the idea of his underground retreat being discovered, even by two boys who want to get warm."
"Anyway," Thede insisted, "I'm going to crawl up close and see what I can find out. That fire looks good to me."
The boys advanced cautiously, with George a little in advance. The man at the fire sat with his chin on his breast as if in sound sleep.
"I don't believe he'd say anything if we walked right in on him," Thede declared. "If he does, we can hold a gun on him and invite him to a more friendly mood."
The man did not move as the boys came on, and George was about to call out to him when Thede caught him by the shoulder.
"Don't you dare make a motion!" the boy whispered. "Stand still where you are and look to the little shelf of rock on the other side of the fire."
George looked, and his automatic and his searchlight almost clattered to the floor as his eyes rested on something which glittered like gold in the red light of the fire. He turned to Thede, and there was a tremor in his voice as he whispered in his ear.
"Do you know what that is?" he asked.
"I think I know what it is!" was the whispered reply.
"It's the Little Brass God!" whispered George excitedly. "And I'm going to sneak over there and lay my hands on it before that fellow wakes up!"
"You never can do it!" advised Thede.
"I've just got to do it!"
"If that is the real Little Brass God, how did it ever get here?" whispered Thede. "Strangest thing I ever heard of."
"Gee whiz!" whispered George. "We mustn't stand around wondering how it got here. The thing for us to do right now is to get possession of it. I believe I can get over there without waking that fellow up."
"Let me take your gun, then," Thede advised, "and if he moves or makes any funny breaks, I'll keep him under cover!"
George handed his gun over to the boy without a word and moved on toward the fire. It was clear that the man was asleep, his chin resting on his breast, his shoulders supported by a wall of rock.
The thing which glittered on the ledge, now almost within reaching distance, was unquestionably the Little Brass God, the quest of which had brought the boys into the Hudson Bay country.
George had never set eyes on the toy, but there was no mistaking the crossed legs, the folded arms, the paunchy stomach, and the misshapen, leering face. The boy heard a soft warning whispered from the opposite side of the room and turned his eyes from a greedy contemplation of the Little Brass God to the figure of the man crouching before the blaze.
The fellow had lifted his head, and now sat staring at the boy with a dumb wonder in his eyes. While the boy looked the expression changed from wonder to alarm, from alarm to anger, and then the doubled-up figure straightened and sprang forward.
The boy heard a pistol shot, sensed the acrid smell of powder smoke, felt a muscular hand grasp the wrist which was extended toward the shelf of rock, and then a million stars seemed to be falling from the heavens. There was a roar as of an ocean beating against breakers, and then a lull during which he heard another pistol shot.
When the boy regained consciousness, daylight was creeping into the cavern through an opening much lower down than the one by which the boys had entered the upper cavern.
The earth outside was covered with a thick mat of snow, and the trees and shrubs of the forest were bending beneath burdens of pure white.
The fire had burned to ashes and it was miserably cold.
The Little Brass God was gone!
AN EMPTY CAVERN
Perhaps a dozen yards from the fire, Tommy stumbled at a figure over which the falling snow was fast drifting. He called out to Sandy, who was only a short distance away, and the two lifted the unconscious form in their arms and staggered toward the fire.
"Why, it's nothing but a kid!" Sandy exclaimed.
"Don't you know who it is?" demanded Tommy.
"Never saw him before!" was the reply.
"It's Thede Carson!"
"Not that little monkey of a Thede Carson who's always getting the Beaver Patrol into trouble?" demanded Sandy. "What would he be doing up here? I guess you're losing the sense of sight."
"Sure, it's Thede Carson," insisted Tommy.
"Well, I guess he's about all in," Sandy volunteered.
"Get busy then, with your first aid," Tommy ordered. "Get some of his clothes off and get to work with snow, or his fingers and toes will drop off as soon as they thaw out."
"I don't believe it's the cold so much as it is exhaustion," Sandy ventured. "He seems to have been running a whole lot, for he's still panting, I reckon he just dropped down when he couldn't run any further."
"I guess that's about right," Tommy admitted. "He doesn't seem to be very cold. It may be that wound on his head," the lad added, pointing to a long gash in the scalp which, judging from the state of the lad's clothing, had bled very freely.
"What do you think of coming away up here in the Hudson Bay country and picking a member of the Beaver Patrol right out of the woods?" demanded Sandy. "We seem to find Boy Scouts wherever we go."
The boys worked over the exhausted lad some moments, and then he opened his eyes.
"Now for the love of Mike!" exclaimed Tommy, "don't look around and say 'Where am I?' The correct thing to say in these modern days is 'Vot iss?' Do you get me, Thede?"
"Why, it's Tommy!" said the boy.
"Betcher life!" returned Tommy. "Did you run all the way up here from Clark street? Or did you come up in an aeroplane?"
Thede sat up and looked about for the tents and the boats.
"Why, this isn't the camp!" he said.
"We haven't got any more camp than a rabbit!" declared Sandy. "We're lost! We've got to wait till morning to find our way back."
"It's a good thing you're lost!" exclaimed Thede. "I don't think I could have held out until I reached the camp. You see," he went on with a slight shudder at the recollection of his experiences, "I left George a long distance off."
"Left George?" repeated Tommy.
"I couldn't bring him with me," answered Thede, with a slow smile,
"Where did you leave him?" demanded Tommy.
"Why didn't he come with you?" asked Sandy.
"Because," replied Thede, "just as he was reaching up to the wall of the cavern to take hold of the Little Brass God, he got a tunk on the coco that put him out for the count."
"What do you know about the Little Brass God?" asked Tommy.
"I've seen it!" answered Thede. "It sat up on a shelf on the face of the wall, with its legs crossed, and its arms folded, and its wicked face telling me where I could go whether I wanted to or not."
"I guess something's gone to your head!" declared Sandy.
"But I'll tell you we found the Little Brass God!" declared Thede. "George came to the cabin, and we started out to find the camp, and got lost in the storm, and brought up in a cave inhabited by two bears."
Sandy regarded Tommy significantly.
"And we found a basement floor to the cavern, and went down the elevator and found a man asleep in front of a fire with the Little Brass God winking at him. Funny fellow, that Little Brass God!"
"You for the foolish house!" cried Tommy.
"Honest, boys!" Thede declared. "George came to the cabin and I started home with him after Pierre left us alone together. The storm chased us into a cave, just as I told you, and we kept on going until we came to the place where the Little Brass God sat up on the wall making faces at a man asleep at the fire.'"
"Go on!" exclaimed Tommy, at last understanding that the boy was in his right mind. "Tell us about it!"
"And George said he would get the Little Brass God without waking the man up. So he gave me his gun, and I was to shoot in case the man made any trouble. Then, just as George was reaching for the little Brass God, the man woke up and shot at him, Then the man shot at me, and I shot at him, and then he got my gun away from me and I ran out to find you."
"And you left George there in the cavern?" asked Sandy.
"I just had to!" was the reply. "I couldn't do anything with that giant of a half-breed, and I didn't have a gun and so I ducked.
"Can you take us back to that cavern now?" asked Tommy.
"Sure I can," was the reply.
"Oughtn't we to let Will know where we are?" asked Sandy.
Tommy looked at Thede questioningly.
"Can you tell us how to find the cavern?" he asked in a moment.
"What for?" demanded the boy. "I'm going to take you where it is."
"You're about all in," declared Sandy, "and you ought to go to camp and rest up and tell Will where we've gone."
"You couldn't find this cave in a thousand years," declared Thede.
While the boys talked the wind died down, and the snow ceased falling.
Presently a mist of daylight crept into the forest and then the boys crept out on their journey toward into ridge of hills.
"Wasn't that a dream about your seeing the Little Brass God?" asked Tommy as they walked along.
"Sure not," was the reply, "we both saw it, didn't we?"
"Well, whoever told you anything about the Little Brass God?" demanded Sandy. "How did you know there was a Brass God?"
"Old Finklebaum told me. He said he'd give me a hundred dollars if I found it, so I started in to earn that mazuma."
In as few words as possible the boy repeated the story he had told George on the previous evening.
"I guess you boys came up here looking for the Little Brass God, too, didn't you?" the boy asked, shrewdly, after a moment's hesitation.
"We came up to hunt and fish!" laughed Tommy.
"To hunt for the Little Brass God and fish for the man who bought it of the pawnbroker, I guess," laughed Thede. "You boys never came clear up here just to chase through the snow after game when there's plenty of shooting three hundred miles to the south."
"You say you think that Pierre is the man who bought the Little Brass God of the pawnbroker?" asked Sandy, as the boys stopped for a moment to rest. "Is that the reason you followed him here?"
"That's the reason!" was the reply.
"He seemed perfectly willing to have you come?"
"He welcomed me like a long lost brother!"
"Then it's a hundred to one shot Pierre never got his hands on the Little Brass God! Don't you see how suspicious he would have been if he had had the little brute in his possession?"
"I didn't think of that!" replied Thede. "Look here," the boy continued, "I'd like to know what all this fuss is about, anyway. Why should any one in his right mind give old Finklebaum a thousand dollars or five thousand dollars, for that piece of brass? That's what gets me!"
Tommy and Sandy looked at each other significantly but made no immediate reply. In a moment Thede went on.
"'Spose this should be a Little Brass God stolen from some temple away out in the wilds of India. Suppose a delegation of East Indians should be sent here to get it. Wouldn't they murder a score of men if they had to in order to get possession of it?"
"They probably would," was the reply.
After an hour's hard walking, the boys came to the foot of the ridge of hills and looked upward. Thede pointed to the cavern where the two bears had been discovered.
"There's where we went in," he explained, "but the cavern where the fire and the Little Brass God were is right under that one."
"How're we going to get to it?"
"If you want to take your chance on meeting the bears, you can drop down through the opening from the floor above."
"But isn't there an opening to this lower cavern?"
"Sure there is! That's the one I ran out of! Say," he continued, "that's the one we saw the man by the fire run out of, too. You can see the tracks of his moccasins in the snow. He must have left after the storm ceased. My tracks were filled."
"In we go, then!" cried Tommy, advancing lip the slight slope to the Up of the cavern.
"Watch out for bears!" cried Thede.
A TRAPPER'S TREACHERY
When Will, watching at the camp, found that Tommy and Sandy had disappeared, he had no idea that they would remain more than an hour or so.
The long night passed, however, and the boys did not return. When daylight came, Will built up a roaring fire and began preparing breakfast.
It was his idea at that time that the boys had come together in the forest about the time the snow began falling, and had sought in some deserted shack temporary protection from the storm.
"They'll be back here in a short time, hungry as bears!" he thought.
Presently he heard some one advancing through the snow-covered thicket, and turned in that direction with an expectant smile.
Instead of his chums he saw a half-breed in leather jacket and leggins and a fur cap approaching. When the fellow reached the camp he made a quick and rather impertinent inspection of the tents before approaching the spot where the boy stood awaiting him.
"Good morning!" Will said, not without a challenge in his voice.
"Where are the boys?" asked the visitor.
"Who are you?" demanded Will.
"Pierre!" was the short reply.
"Why do you ask about the boys?"
Pierre explained in broken English that one of the boys who evidently belonged to the camp had coaxed his companion away.
"Who is your companion?" asked Will, "and why do you come here looking for him? Who was it that visited your cabin?"
Pierre laboriously explained what had taken place on the previous evening, and Will listened with an anxious face.
"And you left them there together, and when you returned they had disappeared? Is that what you mean to say?"
"He coax my boy away," he said sullenly.
"Is this boy you speak of your son?" asked Will.
"Chicago boy!" was the reply.
"Why don't you go on and tell me all about the boy and about yourself?" inquired Will. "What's the use of standing there grunting and trying to make me understand nods and scowls?"
Pierre explained that he had been in Chicago to see the sights, had fallen in with Thede, and agreed to bring him into the forest with him. His explanation was not very clear as he talked more mongrel French than English, so Will was not very well informed at the end of the recital. Pierre looked suspicious as well as disappointed.
"Well," Will explained to the half-breed after a moment's deliberation, "I suppose you'll turn in now and help me find the boys!"
Pierre nodded and pointed toward the campfire.
"Build him big!" he said. "Boys come cold."
Accepting the hint, Will piled great logs on the fire while the half-breed looked sullenly on. The boy then dressed himself in his warmest clothing and the two set out together.
"Have you any idea which way to go?" asked the boy.
Pierre pointed away to the south.
"Wind blow that way," he said. "They follow the wind."
Numerous times, as the two tramped through the snow together, Will caught the half-breed looking in his direction with eyes of hate.
After proceeding some distance, he fell in behind Pierre, and so the two traveled through the wilderness, each suspicious and watchful of the other. After walking an hour or more they came to a place where Tommy and Sandy had built their fire on the previous night.
There the half-breed read the story written upon the snow like a book. Pointing here and there, he explained to Will that two boys had been caught in the storm and had built a fire. He showed, too, that a third boy had come plunging through the snow, nearly circled the camp, and came back toward the fire from the north. Then he showed the tracks of three heading off to the south.
"Do you think one of those boys was your companion?" asked Will.
The half-breed answered that he was sure of it.
"Then that leaves one of the boys still unaccounted for," Will mused. "It looks to me," he went on, "as if your friend and George started away together and got lost. Then your boy came back and found Tommy and Sandy and started away with them toward the place where he had left George. Is that the way you look at it?"
The half-breed grunted some sullen reply, and the two walked on together following the trail which led toward the range of hills.
Instead of directly following the trail left by the boys, however, Pierre turned frequently to left and right, explaining that if enemies were about it was a trail which would be watched.
They came to the cavern at last, and stood by the dying embers of the fire. There was no one in sight. Will examined the sloping surface of snow in front and found no tracks leading outward.
"They must be in here somewhere!" he exclaimed.
Pierre nodded his fur cap vigorously, and the two began a careful examination of the underground place.
They found many little caves opening from the larger one, but no trace of the boys. After a time a shout from Pierre drew Will to his side. The fellow was peering into a crevice, in the rocky wall which seemed to lead for some distance under the hill.
"Do you think they are hidden in there?" asked the boy.
Pierre explained in his barely understandable dialect that he thought the boys might have escaped into the inner cavern and started to make their way out in another direction.
"Then I'll go in after them," Will decided.
Before entering he called shrilly into the cavern, but only the echoes came back to him. By considerable squeezing, he managed to make his way through the opening. He then found himself in a passage-like place, sloping upward. As he threw his light about the interior, he heard a chuckle in the outer chamber where he had left Pierre.
He turned in time to see the half-breed rolling great stones against the mouth of the narrow opening by means of which he had entered.
"Hah!" sneered Pierre. "You bring me trouble!"
"What are you doing that for?" demanded Will.
The half-breed peered into the opening with eyes that resembled those of a snake, so full of malice and hatred were they.
"You steal my boy!" he said.
"So this is a trap, is it?" Will demanded.
The half-breed answered by a chuckle of laughter."
"If you don't take those stones away," Will threatened, "I'll fill you full of lead when I do get out!"
The half-breed patted his gun stock significantly, but made no reply.
The boy heard him rolling rocks along the cavern floor and against the opening, and turned away hoping to find some other means of egress.
It was clear to him that the half-breed thoroughly understood the situation in the hills. He had no doubt that he had planned to bring him there for the purpose which had developed. He understood, too, that if there were other openings to the cavern, Pierre knew where they were, and would block them as soon as he had effectually blocked the one by which entrance had been effected.
It was cold and damp in that underground place, but the perspiration actually broke out on the boy's brow as he considered the fate which might await him in that dreary place of detention.
He had, of course, no means of knowing the whereabouts of any of his chums. In fact, it seemed to him possible that they, too, had been inveigled into a trap similar to the one which had been set for himself.
The motive for this brutal action on the part of the half-breed was, of course, entirely unknown to the boy. It will be remembered that he knew nothing whatever of Thede's suspicions that Pierre actually had the Little Brass God in his possession.
It was black as ink in the passage, but the boy's flashlight had recently been supplied with a new battery, and he knew that it would not fail for many hours, so he walked along with confidence.
In perhaps a quarter of an hour the boy came to a blank wall. There appeared to be no way in which the journey could be extended under the hills. The nearest lateral passage was some distance back.
Realizing that no time should be lost, the lad hastened thither and advanced to the south end of the cross passage. Here, too, he came upon a blank wall. While he stood listening a heavy, rumbling voice came to his ears. There were either crevices in that rocky bulkhead or the wall was very thin.
Presently the heavy voice ceased speaking, and then a lighter tone was heard. At first Will could not distinguish the words used, but directly his heart almost bounded into his throat as he listened to Tommy's voice saying:
"I'll break your crust, you old stiff, if you come near me!"
So the boys were still in a position to defend themselves! Will beat frantically on the wall and threw his light hither and yon in search of some opening through which his voice might be heard.
Directly there came an answering sound from the other side.
TWO HUNGRY BEARS
The Little Brass God was gone!
George, still lying upon the floor of the cavern, stretched his legs and arms, to see if he was all there, as he mentally commented.
After a time he arose to his feet, clinging desperately to the wall because of his weakness, and called to Thede, who, as the reader knows, had left hours before, in search of the injured lad's chums. There came only echoes in reply to his shouts.
There was a pile of wood near at hand and, gathering numerous dry fagots, the boy staggered dizzily toward the heap of ashes in the center of the cave. It seemed to him that the first thing to do was to get warm.
He was hungry, too, but warmth was the important thing just then. A few red coals still remained, and a blaze soon grew under the boy's careful hands. In a short time there was a roaring fire.
After thawing the chill out of his bones, the boy began looking around for his friend of the night before. He looked at his watch and noted that it was eight o'clock. His revolver was gone but his search-light was still in his pocket.
He remembered in a moment that he had handed his revolver to Thede before starting to cross the light zone in the center of the cavern. Whatever had taken place during his hours of unconsciousness, it was evident that he had not been robbed.
It seemed to the boy, as he stood looking through the opening which gave a view of the forest to the north, that he had lain on the hard floor of the cavern for countless aeons. He did not remember what had caused the wound on his head. He only knew that he had been seized with a sudden dizziness and had fallen, after hearing pistol shots.
Standing before the fire with the cheerful light of the blaze on one side and the dazzling light of the sun on the snow on the other side, the uncanny incidents of the night before seemed like a dream to the boy.
He even found himself wondering whether he had actually caught sight of the Little Brass God, leering down upon the watcher from the wall.
Then he recollected that Thede had first called his attention to the ugly image whose evil eyes seemed to take on malevolent expressions in the light of the dancing flames.
"It must be all true, then," he concluded. "The man by the fire, the Little Brass God on the shelf, the pistol shots, and then a blank."
He wondered where Thede had gone, and why he had deserted him.
"That's the strangest part of it all," the lad mused. "I had an idea that the boy would stand by me if I got into trouble, and here he runs away, leaving me lying unconscious in the freezing atmosphere of this desolate old cavern. I didn't think it of him!"
It occurred to George as he studied over the puzzle that Thede might not have been as innocent and loyal as he had pretended to be. He might have been merely an instrument in the hands of a cunning man.
"At any rate," the boy pondered, "we have found the Little Brass God!"
He had not, of course, secured possession of it, but he had learned definitely that it was in that part of the country. He wondered as to the identity of the man who sat watching the fire. The light had been dim, and it might have been Pierre for all he knew. Or it might have been an accomplice of the tricky trapper.
"Now, I wonder how I'm going to get back to camp," the boy mused as he piled on more wood and spread his hands to the cheerful warmth of the fire. "Judging from the time it took us to get here, it must be ten or twelve miles back to the camp."
"The boys will think I've deserted them, I guess," he added. "If they knew how hungry I am just at this minute, they'd send out a relief expedition!"
While the boy warmed himself before the fire a series of growls came from the entrance to the cavern, and two black bears looked in upon him.
"Now I wonder if you're the same disreputable citizens that tried to make a free lunch counter of me last night?" George mused. "I presume you're hungry, all right, but I'd rather not be the person to do the feeding this morning. You look too fierce for me, both of you."
The smell of blood evidently excited the bears to unusual feats of courage, for they entered the mouth of the cavern and stood growling and showing their teeth within a short distance of where George stood.
Only for the great blaze which now leaped almost to the roof of the cavern, the boy would have been attacked at once. He glanced at the rapidly decreasing pile of wood, and wondered what would take place as soon as the fire had died down. He had no weapon with which to defend himself.
For at least a quarter of an hour the bears and the lad gazed at each other through the red light of the fire. The bears were gradually moving forward, and every time the lad laid a stick of wood on the blaze they seemed to understand more fully that his defense was weakening.
George thought he had never seen wood burn away so fast. The blaze seemed to melt it as boiling water melts ice.
Already the blaze was dropping lower, and the pile of wood was almost gone. The bears sniffed at the blood stains where the boy had lain on the floor, and turned fierce eyes on the figure by the fire.
George estimated that his wood might last ten minutes longer. Then there would be a rush, a crunching of bones and all would be over.
A rifle shot sounded from the outside, and one of the bears dropped to the rocky floor, struggled spasmodically for a moment, and then straightened out and lay still. The next instant another shot, equally accurate, came and the second bear was dead in a moment.
The boy waited eagerly for the appearance of the man who had done the shooting. He had no idea who the man might be, and was not quite certain that the fellow had not taken from him one danger only to place him in another. Still, he looked eagerly forward to his appearance.
When the man appeared, a smoking double-barreled rifle in his hand, George saw a tall, ungainly figure with long legs, a long, slim body, very high cheek bones, and rather stern and uncompromising blue eyes.
The newcomer was dressed in the leather jacket usually worn by trappers in that district, leather leggins, moccasins, and fur cap. A belt of red leather, probably colored and tanned by some Indian process, was drawn tightly about his waist. There were gold rings in his ears which swung an inch down on his brown cheeks.
"Hello, sonny!" the man said, advancing into the cavern, standing the butt of his rifle on the rock, and leaning on the barrel.
"Say," the boy almost shouted, springing forward and extending his hand, "that's about the best shooting I've seen in a year!"
"The place to hit a bear," the new-comer replied, "is in the neck, right about where the spinal cord starts to crawl under the skull."
"It's a good thing you came along just as you did," George stated. "I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am, and so you'll have to take that for granted. You saved my life!"
"I'm Antoine," the other said, in a moment, after a casual survey of the boy. "I'm a hunter and trapper. I saw the bears looking in, and knew from the smoke coining out that there was a human being in here, too. Knowing that bears and humans don't mix remarkably well, I came in, too. That's all there is to it!"
"I guess they would have mixed with me all right in about a minute," George said with a smile. "I had about abandoned hope!"
"How'd you get here?" asked Antoine.
George related the story of the adventures of the previous night, omitting, however, any mention of the Little Brass God. While he talked, there came to his mind an indistinct impression that the face of the man he had seen sitting by the fire was the face of the man who now stood before him.
He put the thought away instantly, for he did not believe that the person who had left him on the floor of the cavern to die of cold and exposure, or to be devoured by wild beasts, could be the same who had so opportunely rescued him from death.
"You must be hungry, I take it," Antoine said, after the boy bad concluded his recital. "Boys usually are hungry."
"You bet I'm hungry!" George replied.
Antoine glanced smilingly about at the two bears lying on the floor.
"Can you cook bear steak?" he asked.
"Can I?" repeated George.
Antoine pointed to the Boy Scout medals on the lad's coat sleeve.
"You have the Stalker and Pioneer medals," he said. "You ought to know something about forestry."
"How do you know what they are?" smiled George.
"Oh," was the hesitating reply, "I know quite a lot about Boy Scout work and training. Fine lot of fellows, those Boy Scouts!"
"Right you are!" declared George.
Antoine now drew forth a hunting knife which seemed to be as keen as a razor and began removing the skins from the dead animals. He worked swiftly and skillfully, and in a short time the making of two fine black bear rugs were laying in the sun outside.
"Now," the man said, "you get busy with that steak over the coals, and I'll tote in more wood. You don't seem quite up to carrying heavy loads yet. That must be a bad wound."
"I think I must have lost considerable blood," George answered.
After the steak was nicely broiled, Antoine brought water from a nearby stream, and the boy's head was carefully and rather skillfully attended to.
"And now," said Antoine, "we'll go to my own home, which isn't far away."
Without a word the boy followed the hunter through the deep snow which lay on the slope until they came to an opening in the rock. Entering, the boy found a very comfortable cavern, almost completely lined with fur. There was a chimney-like crevice in the ceiling which permitted the escape of smoke and foul air. Both inside and outside the entrance were great stones by which the place might be sealed up from either side.
"Quite a cozy nest!" George ventured, and Antoine nodded.
"We'll celebrate your arrival with a cup of good strong tea," he said.
The tea was brewed and drank. Then the trapper's face began to assume grotesque forms. The boy's head swam dizzily. He caught a cynical smile in Antoine's eyes and dropped back into a drugged and dreamless sleep!
BOYS IN A TIGHT PLACE
"Who's there?" asked Tommy's voice, as Will beat frantically against the rocky bulkhead against which he stood.
"How do I get in there?" asked Will.
"Go around to the entrance and shoot up this half-breed!" advised Sandy. "He's got us cornered!"
"He's got me cornered, too!" shouted Will.
"Then I guess he's got the high hand," Tommy answered back.
"Say," Thede's voice exclaimed, "the rock at the end of that passage isn't more than a foot thick and it's full of cracks, at that. If you had a couple of big whinnicks, you could smash it down."
"I can find the whinnicks all right!" answered Will.
"Say!" cried Sandy, "you want to hurry with those whinnicks, for Pierre is almost standing on his head, threatening to shoot if you try to break through."
Will collected a number of heavy stones which had fallen from the walls and threw them with all his strength against the partition.
The cracks widened, and slivers of brittle rock fell away. His efforts were greeted with cheers from the other side, and he redoubled them, with the result that in a short time, a passage between the two sections of the underground chambers had been made.
When Will stepped through the opening he saw Pierre's fur cap sticking up above a barrier which reached almost to the ceiling. The long barrel of his rifle protruded threateningly into the room.
"I guess," Will proposed, "that we'd better get out of range of that gun. It doesn't look good to me."
The boys crowded back into the chamber which Will had recently left and looked at each other with inquiring eyes.
Pierre's harsh laugh came from the outer room. "You thieves!" he cried. "You die like bear in a trap."
"What does the old idiot mean by that?" asked Will.
"Search me!" replied Tommy.
"How did he ever get you in here?"
"That's a pretty question to ask of us!" declared Tommy. "How did he ever get you in here?"
"He came to camp and volunteered to help find you run-away boys," replied Will. "He brought me to the hills and tumbled boulders into the entrance to the cavern."
"Well, he came to our assistance almost as soon as we reached the hills in search of George," Tommy grinned. "He was so mighty careful to get us into safe quarters that he led us into this rotten hole and fixed it so we couldn't get out!"
"What's he doing it all for?" Will asked, turning to Tommy.
"Perhaps Thede Carson can tell you better than I can," replied Tommy. "You remember Thede Carson, don't you, Will?"
"I seem to see a faint, resemblance in this lad to a boy I used to know as Thede Carson," Will laughed. "He looks now, though, as if he had plenty to eat, and a good place to sleep!"
"I have been eating regularly," grinned Thede, "but there's no knowing whether I'll ever connect with another bear steak."
"He came up here with Pierre," Sandy explained. "Perhaps he can tell you what the half-breed is up to."
"I don't know any more about it than you do!" replied Thede. "He didn't seem to like the idea of my associating with George," the boy added with a wink at Will, "and so he bunched us together and locked us up."
While Pierre gave vent to hoarse shouts of rage, and many entirely unnecessary and insulting taunts, the boys explained the events of the past night. The thing which startled Will most was the story Thede told about having caught sight of the Little Brass God.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"It wasn't the firelight or anything like that?"
"No, it was the Little Brass God!"
"Was it Pierre who sat before the fire?"
Thede shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't think so," he replied.
"Did you see the man's face?"
"Only in the shadows. His chin was on his breast at first, and then, when he looked up, he turned his head the other way."
"Well," Will said, "we have at least located the ugly little beast."
"Did it look complete and whole?" asked Tommy. "That's one question you didn't answer when you told me about having seen it."
"Just as good as new," replied Thede. "If it had been opened at all, the trick was turned by a man who understood the combination."
"And now about George?" Will asked.
"Some one carried him away," Thede declared.
"That's the way I figure it out," Tommy cut in.
"He didn't walk away," Tommy added, "because there were no tracks his size. There were plenty of other tracks, but none which could have been made by George's shoes."
"Aw, how do you know anything about that?" demanded Sandy. "We saw a large moccasin track there, and how do we know that some man didn't walk behind George and step on all his tracks?"
"Or how do we know that some big chump didn't carry him away in his arms?" Tommy admitted. "I never thought about the means that might have been used to conceal the kid's exit. You're the only real live Sherlock Holmes in this crowd," the boy added with a laugh.
"Then it's a cinch that some one carried him away," Will decided.
"Of course it is!" Sandy answered.
"Look here!" Tommy said after a moment's reflection. "Don't you boys remember how mussy that cavern looked. We were all so anxious to chase out and find George that we didn't pay much attention to the room, but I begin to remember now that it looked as if some one had shot wild game there and cooked meat over the fire."
"I remember something about that now!" Thede said.
"And there was more blood on the floor than ever came from the little wound George received, according to the way you describe it," Tommy went on.
"And I'll bet if we'd hunted around the cavern, we'd have found bear steak and refuse hidden in some of those odd little nooks."
"I guess that's right," Thede declared.
"Now, about those moccasin tracks?" asked Will.
"Let's go out and follow 'em up!" grinned Sandy.
"Sure!" replied Tommy. "Just bite your way through these rocks and go out and follow 'em up."
"It's only a question of time when we'll get out," Will insisted. "That crazy half-breed can't keep us in here forever!"
"If he keeps us in much longer," Tommy declared, rubbing the waistband of his trousers affectionately, "he'll have me starved plumb to death!"
"Me, too!" Sandy cut in. "I'm shy a breakfast myself!"
"And I'm so hungry that I could eat snowballs!" Thede said, with a grin. "I don't think I ever was so hungry!"
"Why don't you go outside and take a shot at that half-breed?" Tommy asked, looking reproachfully at Will.
"Did he get your guns away from you?" asked the boy.
"You bet he did!" replied Tommy.
"How did he do it?"
"He asked us to lay them aside while we crawled through a crack in the rock, and then grabbed them. Oh, he's a foxy old fellow, that!"
"Well, we can't get out if we stand here talking all day," Sandy ventured. "The longer we stay, the hungrier we'll get!"
"What I'd like to know," Will suggested, "is this: Why did he do it? What spite has he against us?"
"If you leave it to me," Thede replied, "the Little Brass God has something to do with it! I don't know whether Pierre has possession of the ugly little beast, or whether he is trying to get possession of it, but I believe he has a notion that we're trying to get bold of it."
"Well, that's a good guess," grinned Tommy.
During all this conversation the voice of the half-breed had been frequently heard, alternately cursing and coaxing the lads to enter the outer chamber where he could talk with them.
"What do you want?" Will asked finally.
"Come here!" was the answer.
Tommy stepped half-way through the opening and flashed his searchlight into the apartment beyond.
"That is better!" shouted Pierre,
"So that's what you want?" demanded Tommy. "You want light to shoot us by!"
"Send the other boy out!" demanded the half-breed. "Send out the one I brought here!"
"He wants you, Will," Tommy said.
As the boy was about to step into the opening, Thede caught him by the arm and drew him back.
"Just you wait a minute," he said.
The lad placed a sliver of rock in Will's hat and held it beyond the opening, at the same time letting the rays of the searchlight fall full upon it.
"I know that half-breed better than you do," Thede said, as he pushed the hat out further and further.
When the hat was about as far out as the boy could send it without risking his own hands, a rifle shot rang through the cavern and the bullet cut its way through the exposed hat.
"Don't you see?" Thede asked. "He knows you have a gun, and he figured that you'd fall into this chamber, and that we wouldn't dare reach over for it. He's a foxy old reprobate!"
"What next?" demanded Will.
"You just wait a minute!" Thede advised. "I think I know a way out! If we just could get in behind that half-breed and chuck him into the prison he prepared for us, it would be a mighty fine joke on him!"
But the way out was not to lie through undiscovered passages! It was set by fate that it was to be over the dead body of the half-breed!
While the boys discussed the possibility of finding an unguarded exit from the series of caverns, another shot sounded, and then they heard the rattle and crash of rocks falling upon an equally hard surface.
"There's something doing, now, sure!" Tommy exclaimed.
"Do you know of any other trappers in this section?" asked Will, turning to Thede. "It seems to me that that shot came from outside, and I don't believe Pierre would be throwing down his own barricade."
"I haven't seen anyone else here," replied the boy, "except the one we saw in front of the fire last night."
"And that might have been Pierre, for all we know!" Tommy declared.
"You don't know whether it was Pierre or some one else," Sandy observed, "so we don't know whether there's another hunter roaming around here or not! I hope there is, so far as I'm concerned!"
The question was settled in a moment. Rocks continued to fall from the barrier, and in a moment a voice called out:
"Four of us!" was the reply.
"Why don't you come out?"
The boys detected a faint chuckle in the voice.
"We're willing!" Sandy answered.
"Well, come on, then!"
Sandy stuck his head out of the entrance and turned his searchlight on the new-comer. After a moment's inspection of the fellow, he stepped into the outer cavern.
"You look pretty good to me," he said.
Ho was about to say more when he caught sight of the body of the half-breed lying just inside the cave.
He turned white and for a moment felt dizzy and faint.
He was unfamiliar with death in any form, and this snuffing out of a life seemed to him particularly horrible.
In a moment the other boys came out and stood looking down upon the body. They were all deeply affected by what had taken place, particularly Thede, who had never received anything but the kindest treatment from the half-breed until the arrival of the Boy Scouts.
"It was my life or his," Antoine explained.
"Did he shoot at you?" asked Will, "we heard only one shot, save the one fired by Pierre at my hat."
"He didn't get an opportunity to fire!" Antoine answered. "He had his gun leveled at my head when my bullet ended his life!"
"Now I wonder," thought Will, "whether it was Pierre who sat by the fire last night, and whether the secret of the Little Brass God dies with him! I wish there were some way of knowing."
While these thoughts were passing through the brain of the boy, Thede stood regarding the new-comer in a puzzled way. Slowly the impression was forming in his mind that it was not Pierre who had sat before the fire in the chamber where the Little Brass God had been displayed.