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CHAPTER XVI A NIGHT'S TERROR
When Bob reopened his eyes, it was to awake suddenly with the horrible feeling that he was being watched by some hidden foe.

He started, and as he did so he was conscious of the sound of many pattering feet—soft, muffled sounds, yet loud enough for him to hear. He even thought, as he turned over and flung out his arm, that his hand had touched something that was warm and furry.

He sat up and gripped his rifle as he stared around him.

In the semi-darkness of the rising moon he could see dark figures moving restlessly all around him, while a score or more of eyes kept twinkling like stars to indicate how he was being watched.

Just then a wild, long-drawn wail rent the[Pg 172] night air beside him. The boy's blood seemed to run cold at the sound, for he knew that he was surrounded by a horde of timber wolves who had thought him dead, and come too soon.

Too soon? Yes. But how long would their moment be delayed?

Bob staggered to his feet and held his rifle in readiness. But the ghouls of the night kept at some distance, though he could still see them stirring here and there, as if they were discussing plans among themselves.

The boy waited—it seemed hours—each moment expecting a dash from the black spectres. Still they hung back, until Bob actually began to long for the attack to begin, that the strain of waiting might be broken.

Then something moved behind him. He wheeled about and swung his rifle like a club, at random. The butt met a soft substance, and a wild howl followed, as a wolf that had been creeping upon him from the rear now sprang back among his lurking comrades. Instantly the forest rang with wails and howls and snarling, as the wolves sprang upon their wounded comrade (as is the way of many wild animals) and tore him to pieces.[Pg 173]

Yet Arnold dared not leave the spot. If he ran, the wolves would soon be upon him, for a fleeing prey is more closely pressed than one that stands at bay. Moreover, he was in the centre of a clearing. If he were to enter the woods, there would be many quarters from which he would be open to attack and unable to defend himself freely.

The night wore on, and the moon crept up into the arc of the sky. His enemies could be plainly seen now, though the shadows prevented him from determining how great was their number. Probably the uncertain light deceived him and multiplied the actual score. One thing—they were in sufficient numbers to be a formidable danger, and it would need sharp watching to ward off the attack effectively.

So long as there was a remnant of their comrade's flesh to fight and snarl over, Bob was left in peace. But presently the strife became less and the noise sank, and by such signs he knew that he had again become the object of their unwelcome attentions.

He stood his guard with every nerve strained to catch the first sight and sound of danger.

Then he saw two large forms creeping towards[Pg 174] him from the front. They came slowly, creeping low like dogs stalking game in the grass.

Bob waited until they drew near. He was reluctant to exhaust a cartridge unless it was an absolute necessity. His wish was to exercise the force of his muscle on these as he had done with their predecessor.

But, as the wolves came within a few yards, they stopped and eyed him cautiously, and in this position the furred enemies and the boy stood watching each other, just as wrestlers watch each other's eyes to discover the vantage moment for a deadly grip.

The time passed, yet neither side moved. Then, to Bob's dismay, he discovered that the whole mass of wolves had gathered together, and were slowly creeping upon him in the wake of these two leaders.

And with the knowledge, the boy seemed to go mad for the time. He could delay the fight no longer. His blood rushed hot to his head. He fired one shot at the foremost wolves. Then he gripped his weapon by the muzzle and sprang straight for the pack.

"Come on, you brutes!" he yelled, as he laid about him right and left. "If it's got to be a[Pg 175] fight, the sooner we begin, the sooner it'll be over!"

Wild with passion, the boy fought with the false strength that is always the accompaniment of delirium. As the blows told, the wolves howled and shrieked and leapt for him with a rage that was equally frantic to his. Fortunately they kept to one side—that was the side from which the moon shone. They could see him plainer thus. Otherwise the light would be in their eyes, and he but a black figure that they could not understand.

How he fought that night!

Strange to say, all fatigue had left the lad's body. He had the endurance of three normal boys—at least it seemed thus, though we never know our real strength, muscular or mental, until we are in the straits of desperation.

More than once he received a nasty little snap in the arm. But these were unnoticed in the heat of the combat. His eyes were "seeing red," as the Westerners say. He had no nerves to feel with; only muscles to fight with. And all the time the impromptu club was in action—sometimes swinging like a flail, at other times being gripped for a no less effective thrust with the butt.[Pg 176]

But gradually the attack became perceptibly easier, as the wolves were beaten back or slain by the ceaseless swing of the rifle. Bob recognised the weakening of the assault, and the spirit of the conqueror fired his blood to renewed energy.

Baulked of his prey, a great timber dog sprang forward with determination to vindicate the honour of his kind.

Crash went the weapon, a single howl escaped from the savage creature, then he fell back, quivering and lifeless, upon the ground.

That was the end of the conflict. Their last leader slain, the others turned tail and fled.

Arnold stood firm on the defensive. His hair was soaked in sweat, his clothes were torn in many places, and he could feel the sharp sting of a wound in his shoulder. It was some time before he could believe that the fight was indeed over. The change from storm to calm had been sudden; and it was only when he understood that strength was no longer needed that he began to feel the evidences of fatigue. His limbs began to tremble with the reaction as the unnatural strength that had buoyed him so well now commenced to ebb. He looked around him.[Pg 177] The signs of his conquest were visible in the moonlight as dark lumps lying here and there. Then his keen eyes began to haze and his head to swim. And for the second time that night he sank to the ground in a state of unconscious fatigue.

It was bright daylight when Bob regained his normal faculties. The morning had considerably advanced while he had lain oblivious to the passage of time.

The boy sat up. He was stiff and sore. But he was no puny schoolboy. He had a sturdy frame that healthy athletics had trained to meet fatigue without injury, and Nature's needed rest had rapidly restored normal strength, though, as we said, his muscles were not free from certain little aches to remind him of late events.

At first his thought was that the previous adventure had been nothing more than a bad dream. But as his eyes scanned the surroundings, and he saw no fewer than seven carcases of timber wolves lying unpleasantly close to him, he was quickly convinced that there had been no ill vision but terrible reality.

Next he called to mind the quest on which he had started from the camp.[Pg 178]

That thought was sufficient to banish the last sensation of drowsiness, and he immediately rose up and examined his rifle, to see if it had suffered from the adventure. The weapon had stood the test well. Beyond a few dents on the butt (which would be so many trophies of the combat) it was otherwise uninjured. The scratches on his own flesh were not serious, though they nipped a little at first movement. So, altogether, Bob was satisfied that he had come through the ordeal in a manner that demanded thankfulness to a protecting Providence.

The next move was towards the bush, where the Saskatoon berries were hanging in inviting clusters like myriad bunches of purple grapes in miniature. These, together with a draught from an adjacent spring, had to suffice for breakfast. Then he turned once more to take up the tracks that he had been forced to forego on the previous night.

It was not long before the boy rediscovered the trail, and with a thousand misgivings for the unavoidable delay in going to his chum's assistance he started on the track at a rapid pace.

It was a winding path that he followed; but  in order to ride swiftly Red Fox had been obliged to keep more or less to the open way through the woods, relying upon speed more than strategy to outreach pursuit. He had a plan in his mind that he meant to carry out when at a safe distance. After that was accomplished, he did not care how soon the searchers might reach the spot. He would be far away. And the boy—well, they would be welcome to find him then.

Doggedly determined to find his chum at all costs, Bob pressed on, seldom taking his eyes from the ground, where the imprints showed how heavy hoofs had thrashed the trail.

What had happened to his chum? Had the savage merely stolen him for some wild purpose—perhaps to await a ransom? Or could the worst have happened, and Alf be even now—— No, no. Bob could not bear that thought, and he put it from him, struggling manfully to retain hope as well as strength.

And then suddenly—when it was about noon—he came upon the Scotsman's pack-horse quietly grazing beneath the trees, and at a little distance Alf sitting on the ground with Red Fox prostrate, resting his head on the lad's lap.


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