“What is it?”
“What was it?”
“Where is he?”
Ned, Bob and Jerry shot these questions into the darkness as they sleepily stumbled out of the tent.
“Quiet!” commanded Jerry when he realized that it was vitally necessary to learn from which direction the call for help had come so they might go to the rescue. Bob and Ned understood and stood still, listening.
But though they could hear the restless moving of their horses, tethered not far away, there was no further call. Night insects, perhaps some of the very kind the professor had gone out to capture, made their characteristic sounds.
“What shall we do?” asked Ned in a whisper. “Something must be done and quickly.”
“We’ve got to call,” said Jerry in husky tones, after waiting what seemed to his chums a long time, though it was but perhaps a few seconds. “Let’s all yell at once.”
They raised their voices in a call that must have carried far, shouting the name of the missing man. But the echoes of the forest and plain was their only answer.
“He must have fallen and knocked himself insensible,” suggested Ned.
“But didn’t you hear what he said?” asked Jerry.
“No, I didn’t,” Ned admitted. “The call woke me, but I couldn’t make out the words.” norfloxacin lactate
“He called for help, and said, very distinctly: ‘They’ve got me,’” repeated Jerry. “I’m sure about that.”
“What did he mean?”
“That’s what we’ve got to find out.”
“Could it have been that he was attacked by a big moth—a giant of its species?” ventured Bob, jokingly.
“Say, this is no joke!” exclaimed Ned, and he glanced involuntarily over his shoulder.
“Let’s make up the fire,” suggested Jerry. “It will be a guiding mark for the professor, and we’ll not go to bed again this night—unless we find him.”
“Why, don’t you think we shall?” asked Bob. “And say, if not a big moth, perhaps a wild animal——”
“Forget it,” advised Ned. “If anything in the animal line attacked the professor it was a bear[169] or a mountain lion, and I don’t believe there have been any of them in this region for years. I think he went puttering around in the dark to see about getting some insects, and he fell over a cliff, or into some hole.”
“But that wouldn’t make him say something—or someone—had him,” refuted Jerry.
“That’s so,” chimed in Bob. “But let’s do something instead of standing here talking. The professor is in trouble.”
“That’s true enough,” conceded Jerry. “Come on. We’ll get a light and make a search. But first build up the fire.”
They threw on a quantity of light wood, and the blaze that flared up was doubly welcome, giving both warmth and cheer, for things were getting on the nerves of the boys, sturdy chaps though they were.
“Let’s yell again,” suggested Jerry, and once more their voices were raised in a loud cry. They hoped with that and the sight of the fire to get some response, but none came.
“Well, we’ve got to search for him,” decided Jerry, with a sigh.
“We’ll have some hot coffee before we start out,” Bob said. “It won’t take but a few minutes to make over that hot fire, and we’ll all feel better for a drink.”
There was a rude stone fireplace at one side of[170] the main blaze, and raking some glowing embers into this Bob set the coffee pot over the coals. In a little while he served out the hot and cheering beverage. It did put heart into the boys, and they were soon ready to set out on their search.
“Now we’ve got to have some sort of system to this,” said Jerry. “It won’t do to get separated too far, or—well, something might happen to us. Now I suggest that we make the fire the central point. We can start from that—the three of us, as though from three equally separated points on a circle. We’ll each walk until we can just see the fire and start to call from there.”
“Why not fire our guns?” suggested Ned.
“Yes, we can do that. But, as we haven’t any blanks, fire in the air.”
“And if we don’t get any result?” Bob asked.
“Then we’ll have to come back, after a reasonable time and wait until morning. I haven’t much hope of finding him in the dark, anyhow, for once a person starts to wander he gets more and more confused.”
“Then you think he wandered away?” asked Ned.
“I don’t know what to think,” was Jerry’s answer, and it was a bit despondent. “I wish we had a few hours of daylight.”
“The night can’t last forever,” Bob said softly.
“No, but it’s only half gone—it’s only a bit[171] after twelve,” responded Jerry, looking at his watch in the light of an electric flashlight he had brought from the tent.
The boys prepared for the night search. They started from the fire, pacing off equal distances, and then went forward into the darkness. Every now and then they would look back to see that they had not lost sight of the guiding beacon behind them.
At intervals they called—shouting the professor’s name. Intently they listened for an answer, but none came. Nor was there any response to the shots they fired.
An hour was spent thus fruitlessly, and then they came back to the camp blaze.
“No use, I guess,” Jerry said. “You two didn’t hear anything, did you?”
“No,” answered Bob, and as Ned shook his head negatively he asked:
“Did the professor have a revolver with him?”
“I told him to take one when we started out from the ranch, and always keep it with him,” said Jerry. “Whether he did or not I can’t say.”
“Let’s see if he left it with his stuff in the tent,” suggested Ned.
They looked near the place where the professor had slept. Some of his belongings—spare insect nets, specimen boxes and the like—were on the ground, but there was no weapon of any sort.
“Guess he must have taken it,” Jerry said. “The question is—will he think to use it?”
“He ought to have used it on whatever attacked him,” Bob said.
The boys became silent. They loved Professor Snodgrass and they did not know what to do to help him. That he was in trouble they knew. But it was literally groping in the dark to try to do anything further until daylight.
They went back into the tent, for it was warm there from the heat of the blaze, but none of them felt like sleeping. Bob got up and began to rummage among some packages.
“What are you looking for?” asked Jerry.
“Seeing how much grub we have left. You can’t tell how long we may have to stay if we don’t find the professor.”
For once Bob’s chums did not rebuke him for mentioning something to eat.
“You’re right,” said Jerry. “We didn’t bring enough for a long stay.”
“I packed a pretty good lot,” said Bob, “and I’m glad I did. We could stay a couple of days, I think, with what we could shoot. Then if we don’t find him we’ll have to go back to the ranch for more.”
“Oh, we’ll find him before then,” declared Ned.
Jerry said nothing.
Morning came. They were astir with the first[173] faint glow in the east and made a quick breakfast. They decided to keep together, for they were in a strange country, and to hunt in a circle with the camp as a center. Having hidden their main supply of food after putting up some for a noon-time “snack,” they mounted their horses and fared forth.
They were not experienced enough in wood lore to pick up the professor’s trail. All they knew was that he had started out in some direction from the tent. They argued that he would keep on going west, as the ranch lay to the east of the camp, and he would, most likely, want to explore new country for his moths.
For a while they discovered nothing, and there came no answer to their shouts. Then, as Ned was riding a little in advance, he gave a surprised cry and called eagerly:
“Look here, fellows!”
“What is it?” asked Jerry, as he and Bob galloped up.
“Look at those queer marks!” cried Ned, pointing to the ground.