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   Chapter 14 CLIMBING

The Go Ahead Boys and Simon's Mine By Ross Kay Characters: 9550

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


After he had advanced several hundred yards Fred was by no means certain that he really was retracing his way. Either he was greatly confused or the places by which he was passing were strange.

By this time the Go Ahead Boy was thoroughly alarmed. The thought of being lost in Thorn's Gulch, or in some one of the myriad branches of the majestic chasm that extended for hundreds of miles in the course of the mighty Colorado, was alarming. Fred had a momentary glimpse of his home. He even pictured to himself what would occur there when the report was brought that he had been lost in one of the canyons. Doubtless his three friends would tell how they had searched for days and perhaps weeks, and with all their efforts had been unable to find any trace of his presence.

Finding almost a pleasure in his picture of misery, Fred nevertheless was aware that, unless he aroused himself at once, all the horrors of which he had dreamed might become a terrible reality.

Stepping within the shadow of a great cliff he did his utmost to be calm and try to think out what his problem was. He pictured to himself the sights of Thorn's Gulch through which he and John had been led several miles by the guide. Closing his eyes he endeavored to fix accurately in his mind the direction in which Thorn's Gulch extended.

Having satisfied himself as to this he next tried to think of the angles in which the various branches extended. As he recalled his own actions it seemed to him that he had gone in a half-dozen different directions. It was therefore now well nigh impossible to fix accurately the direction in which he ought to move.

Again he looked keenly all about him, trying to find his bearings.

At last he turned back over part of the way by which he had come. At times the frightened boy ran swiftly and then frequently stopped to glance at the sky far above the rim of the canyon. More and more his mind became confused and in his terror he increased the speed at which he was running.

Soon breathless from his endeavors, he was compelled to halt and once more he did his utmost to calm himself. He recalled the time which had elapsed since he had left his friends. Glancing at his watch he saw that more than two hours had passed and that now it was late in the afternoon.

Darkness would soon be at hand and would come suddenly when it arrived. Already Fred fancied he could feel the chill of the night air. He had no food anywhere about him and visions of hunger increased the suffering of the troubled boy. Besides he was afraid of what might occur in the hours of darkness.

When at last night came Fred had not found his way back to the spot where he had left his friends so many hours before. He was convinced now that he would be compelled to pass the night alone in the canyon. Whether or not he ever would be able to escape from the gulch was more than a question in his mind.

Chilled and hungry as well as alarmed, Fred did not dare look for a place where he might sleep. In the darkness it would be impossible for him to tell whether or not rattlesnakes were near or the eyes of some prowling beast might already be fixed upon him.

It was a night of agony. How the long and weary hours at last passed Fred had no conception. There were times when he felt numb as if all power of sensation had entirely left his body. Again he tried resolutely to assure himself that safety would come with the morning light and that soon either he would find his friends or they would discover him. Somehow he was convinced that neither Pete nor John would search together for him. It was likely also that one of them would remain in the spot from which Fred had started so that if the lost boy in some way should be able to make his way back he would not be tempted to depart again under the impression that his friends already were gone.

When at last the morning came, almost with the suddenness with which darkness had fallen upon the canyon, Fred's spirits revived in a measure.

Above the rim of the great gulch he saw a huge bird circling high in the air. He was unable to determine whether or not the bird was an eagle but it certainly reminded him of one.

The sight of the circling bird recalled the emblem of his country,-the majestic eagle. With what powerful wings the great birds had been endowed. What wonderful and graceful sweeps they took in their encircling flights. For a moment he almost envied the great bird he saw above him. If he too had wings he might be able to escape from the place in which he was practically imprisoned.

A moment later he was almost ashamed of his complaint. If the bird was able to make its way not only up the canyon but also far above it why should not a man be able at least to gain the ri

m?

The very fact that there were difficulties to be solved was what made the work of a man worth while. The difference between a man and a lump of earth was that one was living and was able to use his will and brain, while the other was a clod always to remain a diminishing bit of the surface of the earth.

"I'll be a man!" declared Fred resolutely. As he spoke he sprang to his feet and drew his belt more closely about him. He recalled stories of Zeke in which that worthy guide had explained that the feeling of hunger was greatly assuaged by drawing one's belt more tightly.

Convinced that he had been helped already, Fred raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. He was eager to give some token to his friends if they were nearby that he was not far away and in good condition.

He fired three shots, but no answering shot was heard.

For a moment he thought of the anxiety of John and the guide. The picture of the distress of his friend was not inspiring and almost in desperation Fred again raised his rifle and fired.

Still no response was made and the troubled boy was convinced that he was indeed lost.

He was aware too that the lack of food and loss of sleep had combined to make him weaker. He was still following the course of the stream but his halts were longer and more frequent. Whenever he came to a steep place the difficulty of climbing became more manifest.

And yet the determined boy did not abandon hope. Resolutely he continued in his efforts and at times was surprised to find how rapidly he was moving.

It was long since he had taken any thought of his surroundings. His sole purpose now was to keep on until he should come to some place that would enable him to gain the plateau above. Once there, he believed he would be able to discover where he was and perhaps be able to find his friends.

He had no conception of distance or direction. He might be moving farther and farther all the time from his companions, but there was nothing else to be done and so he doggedly held to his purpose and continued on his way.

He was convinced that he was steadily climbing all the time. The rim appeared to be nearer and although the brook was not much below him its swifter current indicated that it was passing over ground much higher than it had been when Fred first had followed it.

Fred had been unable to obtain anything to eat. He had not seen any living creatures except a few hideous and huge lizards and the birds which had been flying far above the border of the canyon.

He now had approached a part of the canyon where the way appeared to be much more open than before. For some strange reason which he was unable to explain he had been able to follow what appeared to be almost a pathway. Seldom had he been compelled to climb from rock to rock or make many detours.

He was aware that far away was the steadily rising rim of the canyon from which he had made his ascent. He saw the sloping side of the hill before him which extended perhaps two hundred feet. On the opposite side of the canyon the colored rocks took on very vivid tints but whether or not there was a sheer fall on his side just beyond the portion he could see he was unable to determine.

Suddenly Fred stopped and stared in amazement before him. For a moment he was fearful that hunger and weariness had combined to make him see visions. He pinched his arm to assure himself that he was awake. There was no mistaking the object at which he was looking. At that very moment it turned and he saw a man rise from the rocky side of the canyon and peer eagerly down at the sloping border.

Fred's amazement increased when a moment later he discovered two objects in the distance apparently crawling up the hillside. He stared blankly at the sight but there was no escape from the impression he had first received.

Three men were plainly before him. It was also evident to the Go Ahead Boy a moment later that the one whom he had first discovered was assisting the other two. He saw the long lariat or leather rope several times rise and fall above the ground and then he was convinced that an accident had occurred and that the two whom he saw slowly making their way up the side of the mountain had been the victims. He was unable to determine whether they were friends or foes, they were so far before him. He hesitated after he had raised his gun to his shoulder to proclaim his presence by a shot, and then lowered his rifle. A shot might startle the unsuspecting men who were struggling to gain the rim and the report of his rifle might increase their danger. At the same time, however, he began to advance more rapidly and in a brief time was able to recognize the men whose actions he had been so keenly watching.

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