16. On The Wrong Trail.
 

One of the turkeys was finished even to the neck piece, and then both Tom and Sam declared that they were so sleepy they could scarcely keep their eyes open.

"It must be the mountain air," said Dick. "I'm sleepy, too. Let us turn in."

"Will anybody have to stand watch?" asked Sam.

At this John Barrow shook his head. "Don't know as it's necessary," he said. "Reckon we're safe enough. I'll keep my gun handy, in case any animal prowls around."

The boys laid down and were soon in the land of dreams. Tom and Sam slept near the back wall, with Dick next, and the guide near the opening, which, however, was now completely closed by the blanket. The fire was allowed to die down, for they did not dare to build it up, with such a wind blowing.

Nothing came to disturb them. Once during the night Dick roused up and heard the distant howling of a wolf. But the beast did not venture close to the shelter, and while waiting for its appearance the youth dropped asleep again.

By midnight the wind fell a little, and then it began to snow, and it was still snowing when John Barrow leaped up, pushed the blanket aside, and gazed out upon the river.

"Hullo, we're in for it now!" he cried, and as the boys sat up, he added: "Snowin'--mighty hard, too."

"I should say it was snowing hard!" cried Tom, as he, too, looked out. "Why, you can't see the trees on the other side, and they aren't more than a hundred and fifty feet off."

"This will make traveling bad," said Dick soberly. "It almost looks as if we were going to be snowed in."

"Snowed in?" echoed Sam. "Oh, don't say that!"

The boys were somewhat stiff after their long skate of the day before, and it took them some minutes to pull themselves together. Then the curtain was pushed aside, and the fire started up with some dry brushwood from the pile on which they had slept. Soon breakfast was ready, and this warmed them up and put new life in them.

"No use to linger here," announced the guide. "It won't git no better an' it may git a heap sight worse. I reckon the wind kept some o' the spots on the river clear. I know a good camping spot ten miles from here, and that will be just the place for us while you are huntin' around fer that money."

"Then let us make that camping spot by all means," said Tom. "We mustn't let Baxter get first whack at the treasure."

It was eight o'clock when they started once more on their journey. The air was dull and heavy, and the snow came down in thick flakes, which presently shut out the landscape on all sides. Fortunately the wind had died down entirely, so it was not near so cold as it had been.

"It would be easy enough, if we could stick to the river all the way," remarked. Tom to Sam, as they skated along as best they could.

"Can't we?"

"Mr. Barrow says not. About two miles from here are another falls and a set of rocky rapids, and we'll have to walk around for a distance of nearly a mile through the woods."

What Tom said was true, and the falls were reached less than an hour later. The river was very narrow at this point and lined on both sides with rough rocks. Climbing was difficult, and after crawling along for a few rods the boys halted in dismay.

"We're up against it now," groaned Dick

"Don't be discouraged lads!" came from the guide. "It isn't so bad a short distance further oh. Follow me." And he started again, and there was nothing to do but to fall in behind him.

John Barrow and Dick carried one sled, and Tom and Sam, the other. In some places the cedars and brush were so thick that those in advance pushed through only with extreme difficulty.

"Well, we haven't got the task of breaking the way," said Tom, as he and Sam stopped to get their wind. "It's no fool job to break through this thicket."

"We are going up a hill," returned Sam. "We must be getting away from the river."

The guide and Dick had disappeared ahead, and, fearful of losing them, the younger Rovers set off once more. Carrying the heavy sled up the hill was, however, a great task, especially for Sam, and once at the top they had to rest again.

"I believe it would have been just as easy to have kept to the river," declared Tom "See, there it is, to our left."

"It certainly doesn't look very rough down there," was his brother's comment. "Gracious, but Dick and Mr. Barrow plow along like steam engines!" he added. "I can't go so fast."

"We won't hurry, there is no need. The trail is plain enough," said Tom, and so they rested fully quarter of an hour. Then they heard Dick calling to them from a long distance ahead.

"All right; we're coming!" Tom called back. "Just please don't go so awfully fast!"

"We are going to take the trail to the left!" Dick shouted back, but the others did not catch the words.

Tom and Sam advanced now slower than ever, and when they reached a spot where there was an opening to the right and another to the left, the others were not only out of sight, but out of hearing as well. It had now begun to snow more thickly than ever.

"Which way did they take?" questioned Sam, in perplexity.

"Reckon they went this way, Sam."

"It looks to me as if they went the other way. Here are some footprints."

"Here are some footprints, too."

They came to a standstill, more perplexed than ever. Sure enough, there were two sets of footprints, running almost at right angles to each other.

"I guess we've hit somebody else's trail," said Sam. "Dick! Mr. Barrow! Where are you?" he called out.

No answer came back, and then the two boys shouted in chorus. All remained as silent as before.

"Well, this is a mess, to say the least," was Tom's comment. "How are we to know which trail to follow?"

"I move we make a sure thing of it and get down to the river again," was Sam's answer. "Then we'll be certain to be on the right track. As soon as they reach the river they'll wait for us."

This seemed sensible advice, and leaving both trails the boys plunged through the cedar brakes to where they had seen the icy surface of the stream. They had to make several turns, and once Tom lost his footing and rolled over and over in the snow. But at last they gained the smooth ice, and then each breathed a long sigh of relief.

"It's ten times better than climbing around," observed Sam. "The rapids and rocks amount to next to nothing. I don't see why Mr. Barrow gave us all that extra climbing."

"Perhaps the river has changed since he was up here last," said Tom. "Anyway, it's a good bit narrower here than it was further back."

Sliding down the hillside had loosened the load on the sled, and they had to spend a good five minutes in fastening it and mending a strap that had broken. Then several minutes more were consumed in putting on their skates.

"My! how if does snow!" came from Tom, as they started at last. "I can't see fifty feet ahead."

"Nor I, Tom. I really wish we were with Dick and Mr. Barrow."

"So do I, but I guess it's all right."

Forward they pushed, dragging the sled after them. It was rough work, and the ice was often covered too deep with snow to make skating a pleasure.

"It seems to me the river is getting narrower than ever," said Sam. "It's queer, too, for Mr. Barrow said it was quite broad hear the lake,"

"He said one of the branches was broad, Sam. We must be on a different branch."

"Let us call to them again."

Once more they cried out, at the top of their lungs. But nothing answered them, not even a muffled echo. All was swallowed up in the loneliness of the situation and in the fast falling snow, which now covered even the load on the sled to the depth of an inch or more.

"Come on," said Sam half desperately. "We must catch up to them, sooner or later."

"Perhaps we are ahead of them."

"It isn't likely. Let us go on, anyway."

And on they went, another quarter of a mile. The stream was now broader, and this raised their hopes considerably. But suddenly Tom gave a cry of dismay.

"Look, Sam! We have reached the end of the stream!"

Sam strained his eyes and went on a few feet further. Then he gave a groan. His brother was right, the stream had come to an end in a pond probably a hundred feet in diameter. They had not been following the Perch River at all, but merely a brook flowing into that stream!