Chapter VI. Signals in the Canyon.
 

Jimmie and Teddy passed over the summit to the west of the camp and took their way down a difficult incline toward the headwaters of the Greenbrier river. They traveled some distance, walking, sliding, creeping, before they came in sight of a copse which appeared to be worth looking over for wild game.

"I don't know about this wild turkey business," Teddy said, as the boys stood on an elevation lifting above the patch of timber. "If I've got it right, wild turkeys are precious birds in West Virginia."

"I never once thought of that!" Jimmie exclaimed. "Why, we won't have any fun hunting at all! I wonder if there is a closed season for coons?"

Teddy took out a memorandum book and turned to an insert pasted on the inside of the cover. Dropping to the ground, so as not to attract the attention of any natives who might be near by, he read the slip by the aid of his electric searchlight.

"Open season for wild turkeys in West Virginia from October fifteen to December one," he read. "Now, what do you know about that? Rotten, eh?"

"I guess we can get one to eat, all right," grumbled Jimmie. "Who's going to know anything about it if we do, I'd like to know? Away off here in the mountains!"

"I presume there are constables and justices up here who would be glad to soak us for fifty or a hundred apiece!" Teddy grinned. "I reckon we'd better eat hens, and coon, and fresh fish--if we can get them! And deer! We get no venison steaks!"

"Not this season!" Jimmie grunted. "They'd take great joy, as you say, in getting us into jail and extracting all our vacation money! I'm going to take photographs of the West Virginia game laws. A man is about the only creature one can shoot down here during the summer and get away with it! I'll have Frank put that idea in his dad's newspaper!"

"We've got enough to eat, anyway," laughed Teddy. "The question before the house right now is how are we going to get down into that patch of trees?"

"The laws of gravity will take us down!" answered Jimmie. "Just step off this ledge and see if I'm not right. What do we want to go down there for, anyway, if we can't shoot a wild turkey after we get there? I'm going back to camp."

The night was falling fast, and stars were showing between masses of clouds. The boys had traveled farther from the camp than they had intended, and the return journey was all up hill. They surveyed the prospect gloomily.

"I could eat the top off one of the mountains!" Jimmie declared, as they turned to make the climb. "I never was so hungry in my life. Wish we were back in camp!"

Teddy, who had turned to look down into the valley, now caught Jimmie by the arm and pointed downward, where a low-lying ridge jutted out of the general slope and made a small canyon between itself and the body of the mountains, a canyon in which a trinkle of water showed.

"Do you see that column of smoke?" he asked, as Jimmie turned.

"There must be a camp there," Jimmie exclaimed. "I thought we would be all alone up here for a time--until we got a line on the men who stole the prince."

"Wait a minute!" Teddy answered. "There! Now do you see two columns of smoke?"

The two columns lifted skyward for only a second, then died down.

"That's the Boy Scout signal for help!" Jimmie commented. "I wonder what shut it off so quickly? It would be strange if we found Boy Scouts here in the mountains--eh?"

"According to all reports," Teddy answered, "you boys found Scouts in all parts of the world, even in China and the Philippines! If it is a Scout making that Indian sign for help, he'll get the smoke going again before long. There they are!"

The two columns of smoke were in the air again, ascending from the canyon between the mountainside and the outcropping ridge. Directly a gleam of fire was seen.

"That's the call for help, all right!" Jimmie cried. "What shall we do about it?"

"We ought to go right there. The boy may have been injured in a fall, and may be starving! We ought to get there as soon as possible."

"Without going back to camp to tell the boys?" asked Jimmie. "We have been gone a long time now, remember. They will be worrying about us pretty soon."

"But we ought to go right now!" insisted Teddy. "The boy may be in trouble."

"Something else coming!" cried Jimmie, then. "See that blazing stick working overtime? He's going to talk in the Myer code! Now count right and left."

"There's one to the right!" Teddy said. "I've lost track of the code already."

"No. 1 motion is to the right," Jimmie quoted from the wig-wag lesson he had learned on first becoming a Boy Scout. "It should embrace an arc of ninety degrees, starting at the vertical and returning to it without pause, and should be made in a plane exactly at right angles to the line connecting the two stations.

"And No. 2 motion is the same, only on the left side. And three is the same, only the signal goes to the ground and comes back to the vertical! Now I've got it! Then he wig-wags again I'll tell you what he says. You read, too, and see if we agree."

"One to the right!" cried Jimmie, "and two to the left!"

"That means H," Teddy translated. "What comes next?"

"No. 1 and then No. 2," replied Jimmie. "That's plain enough!"

"It stands for E," Teddy went on, "and I know what the next letter will be, too."

"No. 2, No. 2, No, 1! I knew it! That is L. The other will be P!"

"No. 1, No. 2, No. 1, No. 2!" read Teddy, following the flight of the blazing stick as it moved through the darkness. "That's L, and the word is HELP!"

"And here we go to see about it!" Jimmie decided, moving down the slope. "The boy can't be very far off. I'd like to know how a Boy Scout got lost out here."

"We may become lost ourselves," laughed Teddy, "if we don't look out where we are going. I wouldn't know where to head for if I wanted to go back to camp right now."

"All we would have to do would be to climb the mountain," Jimmie declared.

"There's more than one summit," persisted Teddy. "We'd better get a line on something to guide ourselves by when we go back."

"We came straight west," the other said, "and if we get lost the moon will tell us which way to go--if it doesn't rise in the west down here!"

The wig-wag code below was still in evidence, always repeating the same word, "Help." The boys hesitated no longer, but went rattling down the slope at a speed which spoke well for their balancing powers! As they entered the little canyon from the north, Jimmie halted and settled back on a rock, his hand on Teddy's shoulder.

"Do you suppose he heard us coming down the slope?" he asked.

"He must have been deaf if he didn't," was the reply. "We brought about half the mountain down with us, it seemed to me. Of course he heard us."

"Well, we ought to have been more cautious," Jimmie declared.

"I guess we aren't likely to frighten him away," suggested Teddy.

"But this may be a frame-up" warned the other. "Look here! The people who sent that spy to Jack's house knew the Boy Scouts were going out to look for the prince, didn't they? We have never seen or heard anything of them since that night, but there is good reasons for believing that they have had us under surveillance."

"And you think this may be a trap for us?" asked Teddy.

"It may be," was the reply. "If they wanted to trap us, they would go about it in just about this way, if they were wise, wouldn't they? Sure they would."

"Then we'd better sneak up to that campfire and find out what is going on before we show ourselves," suggested Teddy. "We ought to have come down here as softly as two flakes of snow? What? We'll know better then to make so much noise next time!"

"There may be no next time," Jimmie advised, as they moved down the canyon, in the middle of which ran a small stream of water, a rivulet connecting with the Greenbrier river farther to the south and west. It was now quite dark, and they were obliged to feel every step of their way, for there were numerous crevices in the floor of the canyon.

Pressing on, slowly, cautiously, their weapons within easy reach, the boys finally turned a little angle of rock and came within sight of a camp-fire not far away.

"There!" Jimmie whispered. "I had a notion that we should find more than one here. Why did the Scout wig-wag for help when there were three husky men with him?"

Teddy opened his eyes wider, but attempted no solution of the puzzle.

"There's a little chap sitting alone by the fire," Jimmie went on, peering through his field-glass, "and there are three men gathered in a huddle on the other side of the fire. They all look like they were listening for something."

"I don't wonder--the way we came down the slope!" The other grinned.

While the boys watched one of the men strode over to where the boy was sitting and, evidently, began questioning him. The watchers were too far away to hear any conversation between the two. Presently the boy sprang up and started to run.

In a moment the heavy hand of the man was on his shoulder and he was dragged back to the fire and dumped down like a sack of grain. He lay quite still for a moment.

"I'd like to know what that means!" Teddy whispered. "That's brutal!"

"That gives me faith in the boy!" exclaimed Jimmie.

"What's the answer to that?" demanded Teddy.

"They probably saw him doing the wig-wag!" was Jimmie's reply. "They're threatening him."

"And they may have been beating him up for doing it? That may be."

"And, again," the other continued, "that may be a little rehearsal all for our benefit! There are men in the world sharp enough to put up just that kind of a bluff."

"That's very true," was the reply. "We've got to lie here until we know what it all means. We can't go away and leave the little fellow without knowing more about the signals. Those men may be moonshiners. We might get a reward!"

"We'll be lucky if we don't get into jail!" Jimmie grunted. "If we don't, we'll get into an infirmary for the hungry! If I have to lie on this rock much longer with nothing to eat I'll have to be carried back on a stretcher!"

"You always were the brave little man with the knife and fork!" grinned Teddy.

The four figures by the fire remained in the old order for a long time, the men grouped together, the boy alone on the side of the blaze next to the watchers.

"I wish I could get up to him?" Teddy said, as if requesting advice on the question of a nearer approach to the boy. "I'd like to see if it is the prince!"

"The prince isn't a Boy Scout!" declared Jimmie. "Besides, this boy is too old to be the prince! The prince is only seven years old--just a little baby."

"Anyway, I'm going to make a sneak up there," insisted Teddy.

Before Jimmie could stop him he was away, crawling on hands and knees through the heavy shadows of the cliffs which lay about the camp- fire. Jimmie watched him anxiously for a moment and then started to follow him. The two were not far away from the lad, and were thinking of doing something to attract his attention when a stone rolled into a crevice with a great bumping sound. The boys dropped down on their faces and waited, their hearts beating like trip- hammers as the men around the fire sprang to their feet.

"What was that?" demanded a hoarse voice. "Who is out there?" he added, turning to the darkness beyond. "I'm going to shoot out that way in a minute!"

"I like this!" whispered Jimmie. "This is some adventure! What?"