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CHAPTER XI TO THE RESCUE!
As Bob had surmised from the sounds that reached him, Alf had not been long in striking luck. Shortly after leaving the camp he bagged first one chicken and then another, and in a short time was lucky enough to bring down a fine jack-rabbit. Then he hastened back to camp, and arrived there just as he heard the sound of Bob's gun in the far distance.

"I guess I've done the better of the two," he said merrily, as he displayed the result of his half-hour's hunt. "That's the first shot that I've heard from Bob."

"There's no telling. Maybe your friend has shot an elephant!" remarked Mackintosh. "Here, Haggis! Tak' these birds and the beastie from the laddie, and dress them for the spit. There's a fine roasting fire, and we'll be having dinner all ready by the time Maister Bob[Pg 115] gets back. I'm thinking that he's come off second best the day."

"Not much praise to me. If there's nothing to shoot, a fellow can't get much of a bag, can he?" remarked Alf generously. He was ready enough to laugh at his friend in a good-humoured way. It was quite another matter, however, for any other person to cast the slightest sneer at his chum. "I was lucky in finding sport right at hand. But when it comes to shooting—a quick aim on the wing or on the run—I can't hold a candle to Arnold. Hark! Did you hear that? He has brought down two, to balance with my three."

"Young boys give long trail," remarked the half-breed, who was pushing wooden skewers through the birds, preparatory to balancing them on wooden Y's before the fire.

"Too long," grunted the Scotsman. "We can't afford to waste time. I was meaning to start off again soon after dinner."

But by the time the birds were ready for eating, and the inevitable coffee was hot in the billy-tin, there were no signs of the boy's return.

Mackintosh was plainly annoyed.

"I dinna like that sort o' going-on," he[Pg 116] grumbled. "Time is time, and if a body doesn't keep to time, there's no knowing what deeficulties may arise."

But Alf knew his friend better than Mackintosh did. He knew that the excitement of the chase might result in a little lateness, for no one is perfect in matters of punctuality (or anything else, for that matter) under unusual circumstances. And the lad's anxiety had been gradually increasing as the delay had been prolonged, though he said nothing concerning his feelings until the man offered the remark that rather displeased him.

"I don't think it's quite fair to judge a fellow until we know all the reasons," he said with keen resentment. "Bob is not the chap to forget other people. There's not a bit of selfishness about him."

"Yet I'm thinking that the silly laddie has forgotten this time, though, mind you, I'm no' saying that he's o' a selfish make," returned Mackintosh a little more gently, seeing how his previous words had hurt Alf. "I ken fine that boys will be boys——"

"And Bob is—Bob—one of the best fellows that ever lived. Listen! What's that?"

The boy had suddenly started and bent forward[Pg 117] with intent listening, for his quick ear had caught the sound of two shots fired in rapid succession. They were very distant sounds, but still, far away as they were, the clear Western air enabled them to reach distinctly across the distance.

"That's Bob's gun! I know its voice!" the lad exclaimed; and hardly were the words uttered before two more shots were heard—equally distant yet equally clear.

"That's queer——" began Mackintosh thoughtfully, when Alf interrupted him by springing up from the ground where he had been sitting, and exclaiming in troubled excitement—

"Queer? It means that Bob is in danger. See! There it is again!"

Two more shots were heard, followed in a short time by another double.

By this time Mackintosh was thoroughly roused. His backwoods experience told him what a chum's sympathy had already gathered, that no freak of sporting opportunities would cause these shots to be fired at such regular intervals. They could mean nothing else but a signal of distress.

"Come, Haggis!" he said in steady tones that[Pg 118] showed how ready he was for any emergency. "Leave those birds, and set your best foot forward. There's tracking to be done, and that right quickly."

Picking up his rifle and bidding Alf take his gun, Mackintosh at once made a move towards that part of the bush where Bob had last been seen. Haggis and the dog Bannock quickly followed, and the former moved with all the quiet swiftness of a native who was used to meeting the unexpected emergencies of life without being in any degree flustered. That life had many times been in danger, and its safety had only been attained by being in a constant state of readiness.

By instinctive acknowledgment of the presence of a superior craftsman, the two white men yielded the place of leader to Haggis, who quickly discovered the tracks that Bob's progress had left behind. The imprint of a rabbit's foot would not have escaped notice from such eyes as those of the half-breed, who had been trained in all forest lore from his babyhood. Hence it was mere child's play for him to pick up the track of top-boots, as well as the traces that had been made by the displacement of grasses and thorns.[Pg 119]

Meantime the distant shots were continued at intervals, until Holden counted twenty in all.

Poor boy! It was little to be wondered at that he urged Haggis to press on with greater speed, for now he was certain that his chum must be in a terrible fix, out from which there was no self-help. He would hardly waste cartridges so recklessly were he not in some dire extremity.

"For goodness' sake, hurry!" the boy exclaimed, for even the rapid walking in Indian file was all too slow for the patience of one who was pressing to the rescue of his friend.

But the half-breed did not change the pace.

"We step enough quick for bush-track," he said, without turning. "We no' wish lose track. On prairie we go quick—run; but in bush slow."

"The Haggis is right," completed Mackintosh, whose position was third in the procession. "It's no' good to be too quick. We might lose the trail, and that would mean a vexatious delay to find it again."

Alf was forced to acknowledge the truth of the reasoning, though it was a hard task for him to curb the desire to make a mad dash forward and take his chance of keeping in the right track.

Then the half-breed stopped for a few moments[Pg 120] and bent low to examine the ground and the surrounding scrub.

"What is it?" questioned Holden. "Have you lost it?"

Haggis shrugged his shoulders.

"Lost? No. Haggis no' lose track. But he find others—deer. White boy shoot deer, but no kill. Deer jump—run—white boy follow quick—there—there!"

As he spoke the half-breed rapidly pointed at the various signs that he had interpreted. They were plain enough to the native eye, and in a lesser degree to the sight of the Scotsman. But Alf's inexperience could only distinguish an occasional displacement of the undergrowth, though he was well content to rely on the opinions of those who were more versed than he in woodcraft.

Again the rescuers hastened onwards, with Bannock bringing up the rear, and when at last they came to a part of the bush where the trees were somewhat fewer, Haggis suddenly stopped and pointed straight in front of him, exclaiming the one sound—

"Ha!"

Holden was at the native's side in an instant.[Pg 121]

"What is it? Where? What do you see?" he exclaimed.

"In middle of grass—see!"

Alf looked, but all that he saw was a head and shoulders that apparently rested on the grass without any lower limbs. The poor lad was indeed in the depth of extremity, and he was almost faint with exhaustion.

"Bob!" cried Holden in an agony of distress, and darted for the clearing.

But he had barely crossed a couple of yards before a pair of strong hands gripped him and kept him from moving.

"No! No! You dare not—" said Mackintosh; but the lad struggled frantically to free himself from the powerful grip.

"Let me go! Let me go! Can't you see that Bob is lying hurt?" he cried frantically.

But the hands did not relax their grasp.

"Wait, laddie," said the man's kindly voice. "Wait, or we'll be having two lives to account for. Yon's a muskeg—a living bog. It's death to them that sets a careless foot on yon green grass."

Instantly Alf's struggles ceased, and for the moment he was limp in the arms that supported[Pg 122] him. The horror of learning of his friend's plight struck him dumb and suspended the power to move.

"Come, come, laddie. You mustn't give in. Your friend's life depends on your strength."

Mackintosh was a man of the world, whose experience enabled him to be a good judge of character. And he well knew the sort of counsel that would inevitably stir all that was best in the boy and lend strength to his pluck. He judged rightly, for immediately Alf straightened himself with set lips, steady eyes, and controlled nerves.

"Forgive me," he said quietly. "But it knocked me over to think of Bob—out there."

"I'm no' blaming you, laddie. But you'll need all your strength now, for I think that your friend is past helping himself—or nearly." Then Mackintosh faced the muskeg, and called loudly.

"Hullo! Bob! Can you hear me?"

Very slowly the eyelids were seen to open, the head moved slightly.

"Can you hold out for a bit longer? Can you get a coat under your arms if I send it to you?" were the next questions.

The boy did not answer at once. He seemed dazed, and the man repeated his questions.[Pg 123]

Then came the answer, spoken weakly and with an apparent great effort.

"I'll try. But—come—quickly——" And the eyes half closed again.

"That's right. Hold on for a wee bit, and we'll have you oot o' that mess in a jiffy!"

Without pausing to explain his intentions, Mackintosh then quickly stripped off his leather hunting-jacket, emptied the pockets of all that could weight it, and called Bannock to his side.

"See, Bannock," he said, "I'm going to tie a sleeve to your collar—like this. Now you must go over there. Do you see? Right over there where someone needs your help."

He pointed towards Bob as he spoke, and the intelligent collie looked straight in the direction indicated. He had often had game pointed out to him in the same way, so quickly understood what was wanted of him.

"Off you go!" his master then commanded. "Off you go—quick—quick!"

The dog needed no second bidding. He sprang forward at once towards the hapless boy, dragging the coat with him.

"Bannock's coming!" shouted Mackintosh.[Pg 124] "When he's there, grip the coat and lean on it. He'll no' move when I bid him stay."

"All right," came the faint reply.

The ground that was so treacherous to the heavy boots of the incautious hunter could play no similar tricks with the light tread of the collie, and in a few seconds he had reached the goal.

"Lie down!" the great voice rang out, and the animal immediately crouched close to the boy, who had just strength enough left to lay hold of the jacket in such a way that it formed a slight support of a temporary nature, to check further sinking for the time.

But how to draw the boy from the slough? That was the next problem.

Alf turned questioningly to the Scotsman.

"Get to work and break off as many branches as you can," was the reply to the look. "Haggis, you've got your tomahawk? Well, cut down a lot o' these straight poplars. I'll give a hand to the laddie."

It was not long before the sharp axe had laid prone a number of young poplars and partly lopped them, while Mackintosh and Alf had torn down a number of maple and other leafy branches[Pg 125] that would lie fairly flat. These were gathered to the edge of the muskeg.

"You're no' feared to take a bit o' risk for your friend's sake?" the man then asked, turning a look of confidence to the boy.

"Afraid?" echoed Alf contemptuously. "Tell me what to do, and—well, I'd give my life for Bob!"

"That's as it should be," returned Mackintosh approvingly. "'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.' I would offer to do this myself, only I'm a great heavy gowk, and Haggis is no' much better. But you're light as a feather compared with us. Now we'll put two o' these poles like the sides o' a ladder; then some o' the branches cross-ways. And you'll go out and build farther as we hand them to you. Can you do this?"

"Of course," replied Alf firmly.

"And don't hurry. Work sure and steady. The turf will stand the weight with only you on it. And when you reach Bob, you'll spread the branches all round. The rest I leave to you."

To Alf it seemed hours before even the first section of the ladder was completed, but he did his best to control his impatience, knowing well[Pg 126] the value of Mackintosh's advice; and at last came the moment of joy when he was ready for the second poles to project from the ends of the first ones, and a fresh supply of branches. But it was a tedious undertaking at the best, made doubly so by anxiety to reach the end; for each time the supply of building material was exhausted he had to creep back for more, as the men dared not trust their weight far from the edge of the muskeg.

All this time Bob was watching the work as a starving man feasts his eyes upon the nearness of food and drink.

Now and then Alf spoke encouraging words, but he did not relax his energies, nor did the sufferer make answer except once, when he stirred himself to say pluckily—

"It's—all—right, Alf. I can—hold out—for—some time——"

Yet when the younger lad once glanced ahead of him, the cold sweat broke out over his body, for he saw that his chum had sunk yet farther, and that the weight was dragging down the dog as well.

"I'm coming, Bob! I'll be very soon now!" the lad forced himself to call cheerily.[Pg 127]

And, oh! the joy of that moment when at last the bridge was completed, and Alf could bend down to grip his exhausted chum beneath the arms!

"Be careful!" called Mackintosh. "Don't jerk. Pull steady!"

Inch by inch Alf felt the mud release its hold upon its prey, as he strained every ounce of strength to drag his friend from the clammy grip. It was a tremendous effort, for the boy was slight, and the hold of the muskeg added weight to Bob's by no means slender bulk. But at last Arnold's arms were clear, and in time he was dragged so far that he could rest his breast upon the structure.

Then Alf paused for breath. But he did not delay long. He set his teeth and once more resumed his task. Then he made the woods ring with a triumphant "Eureka!" for Bob lay safe upon the bridge!

Bannock barked for joy also, and struggled up to scamper back to his master.

"Just in the nick of time! You've saved my life!" muttered Bob gratefully, when he recovered a little of his strength after a short rest.

Alf's reply was characteristic.[Pg 128]

"You'll take a deal of washing, old man, before you're fit for decent society again!"

The warmth of the sun soon restored some of the old energy to the chilled body, and after a time Bob recovered sufficiently to crawl to safety in the wake of his rescuer.

And when solid land was regained poor old Mackintosh was fairly crying with joy.

"Lads, lads! but God's been kind to us this day!" he was saying, while the tears ran down his manly, weather-beaten cheeks. Then he made all laugh by suddenly starting with a look of horror in his face as he exclaimed—

"Ma conscience! But the birds will be burnt to cinders by this time!"


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