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CHAPTER VIII WHERE IS JACK?
 “Isn’t it about time for the show to start?”  
The boys had taken a long nap after dinner as they had determined1 to stay awake all night in an effort to accomplish something toward clearing up the mystery. Since dark they had been sitting in the little cabin not speaking above a whisper and it was Jack2 who asked the question.
 
“Five minutes to twelve,” Bob replied.
 
He had hardly whispered the words when a soft but distinct rap, repeated four times, was heard.
 
“S-s—h,” Bob cautioned.
 
For a moment they waited and then the raps were repeated.
 
“Where is it?” Jack whispered.
 
“Sounds like it was on the head of my bed.”
 
“On the wall you mean.”
 
“Maybe, it’s hard to tell.”
 
Three more times the raps came and then a weird3 hollow groan4 followed seemingly in the room. At the same time the mysterious spot of light sprang into view directly over Jack’s bed.
 
“They’re giving us a little variation this time anyway,” Jack whispered.
 
After remaining stationary5 for two or three minutes during which time it seemed to increase in brightness, the spot began to slowly move toward the ceiling. When near the top of the wall it moved to the right about two feet and then began to descend6 and finally came to rest in the place where it first appeared.
 
“Of all the fool—” Jack began but stopped as the raps started again.
 
“Come on,” Bob whispered. “It’s time we were off.”
 
They had been sitting side by side in the center of the room so that there was a clear space between the window at the foot of Bob’s bed and the wall opposite. Now they quickly got down on their hands and knees and crept across the floor until they reached the end of the room close by the head of the bed. They had removed the netting from the window in that end of the cabin and in another moment they were both crouching7 close to the ground outside. The night was intensely dark as the moon had set early in the evening and a south wind had covered the sky with thick clouds so that not a star was visible. For a long moment they listened. The heavy boughs8 over head sighed and moaned as they swayed in the breeze but no other sound reached them.
 
“Keep close behind me and don’t make a sound,” Bob cautioned as he got to his feet and started.
 
“It’s dark enough to cut,” Jack replied. “But you can’t lose me.”
 
Noiselessly they stole through the thick forest, their feet making not the slightest sound on the ground, thickly carpeted with pine needles. Every few steps they stopped to listen. Once a sharp crack brought them to a sudden halt and they heard a large animal as it bounded off between the trees.
 
“Only a deer,” Bob whispered.
 
“Sure, a ghost doesn’t make that kind of a noise,” Jack chuckled9. “But aren’t we round pretty near far enough?”
 
“We must be nearly in line with that window, I should say, but it’s pretty hard to be sure in this pitch blackness.”
 
He turned slightly to the right and went ahead for about thirty feet when he again stopped.
 
“Jack,” he whispered as the sound of his brother’s breathing did not reach him.
 
There was no answer.
 
“Jack.”
 
This time he whispered as loudly as he dared, but again there was no answer.
 
“That’s mighty10 strange,” he thought. “He was right behind me only a moment ago.”
 
Carefully he retraced12 his steps whispering his brother’s name almost continually. But Jack had disappeared as completely as if the ground had opened and swallowed him. For fully11 fifteen minutes Bob searched using his flash light regardless of consequences and calling his name aloud. But no slightest trace of the missing boy could be discovered. It was baffling and a hot wave of anger surged up within him as he paused and mopped his forehead. What was he to do? That, in some way, his brother had fallen into the hands of their enemies, he felt sure, but how he could have been spirited away without a sound when he was so near was a question he could not answer. It was one of the few times in his life when he felt absolutely helpless. It added to his sense of helplessness when he realized that he had lost all idea of direction. Which way was the cabin? Versed13 as he was in woodcraft and accustomed to finding his way through the trackless forest with little save his sense of direction, now, in the intense blackness which surrounded him, he realized that he was, for the time being, as completely lost as could have been the merest child. He had turned so many times in his search that he was entirely14 ignorant as to the points of the compass.
 
Not that he had any fear regarding his own safety. He knew that he had only to remain where he was until the first streak15 of dawn showed in the east to be able to find his way back with ease. But, meantime, what of Jack?
 
“Guess I might as well be hunting around as standing16 still,” he thought as he threw the light from his flash about him.
 
And then he stopped and strained his ears as, from what seemed a great distance, through the vast forest, came the sound of weird mocking laughter.
 
For a long time he stood leaning against a spruce tree and trying to figure out what it meant. How could it have been possible for anyone to have captured Jack when he was so near without the slightest indication of a struggle? He well knew that he was not one to submit tamely to an attack made upon him, but the thought brought him no relief, rather it added to his fear. To search further in the darkness he felt would be useless and he sank down at the foot of the tree to wait for morning. On his knees he fell and the prayer which he offered, that God would keep his brother from harm, was fervent17 indeed.
 
Somehow he felt better after the prayer and the thought that He who notes the sparrow’s fall was watching over them comforted him. He was not sleepy at first, but gradually the sound of the branches, swaying softly overhead seemed to be singing a lull-a-bye to him and, before he was aware of it he was asleep.
 
Suddenly he started up wide awake in an instant. Had he heard his name called? He was not sure but he thought he had heard Jack’s voice.
 
“Jack.”
 
There was no answer and, after he had repeated the call several times, he decided18 that it had been a dream. He saw that the darkness was less intense and knew that daybreak was close at hand. Slowly the light grew as he leaned back against the tree, impatient for the time to come when he could see clearly enough to pick up the trail of whoever had been responsible for Jack’s disappearance19.
 
As soon as he felt that there was light enough he set to work. He knew that he had gone but a short distance from the place where he had missed his brother, although he was not sure in what direction the spot was. For an hour he searched, going around in ever widening circles examining every foot of the ground. He knew that he had to deal with a man or men who were versed in forest lore20 for none other would have been able to sneak21 up on them in the darkness unheard and he knew that such a one would leave but a slight trail at the best. Another half hour passed before he found it. There was no sign of a struggle but several foot prints, barely discernible in the soft leafy mold, told the story to his trained eye. There had been two of them he read, but how they had succeeded in preventing him from even crying out was as big a mystery as ever. The trail led down the lake in the direction of the dam. Now that the sun was creeping up he was sure of the direction. The thought of first going back to the camp for help never occurred to him. Jack was in danger and he must get to him with the least possible delay.
 
The trail, once found, was not so difficult to follow as he had feared. To be sure there were many stretches where the foot prints failed to show in the pine needles, but the growth was thick and a broken twig22 here and a slight abrasion23 on the trunk of a tree there, led him rapidly on. Once he feared he had lost it but kept on in the same general direction, and after nearly a mile had been left behind, he picked it up again where the damp mold had preserved the foot prints.
 
The trail sheered off to the left as he neared the dam and presently he struck a fairly well defined path.
 
“I’ll bet they’ve taken him up to that cave on Katahdin,” he thought as he hurried along no longer looking for signs.
 
It was a little past eight o’clock when he reached the foot of the mountain and sat down for a short rest on a log. He had hurried so since he struck the path that he was about winded and knew that he would save time in the end by taking a rest before beginning the climb. In a few minutes he was ready to go on and, to his joy, found that the path continued up the mountain making it much less difficult than they had found it on their previous trip. Still it was rough and in places very steep and before he had gone far he was puffing24 and nearly out of breath.
 
“Guess I’d better take it a bit more easy,” he thought as he stopped again for a much needed rest. An hour later he figured that he must be nearly there and stopped every few minutes to listen. It wouldn’t do to be caught unawares, he told himself. Suddenly he heard the sound of voices and, as they seemed to be coming nearer, he quickly stepped out of the path and crouched25 in a thick clump26 of bushes.
 
Soon he saw two men, both well above the average in size, pass only a few feet from where he was hiding. They were talking Canuck but, although he was familiar enough with the language to follow an ordinary conversation, they were talking so rapidly that he was only able to catch a word or two, not enough to afford him a clue as to the subject they were discussing.
 
“Reckon those are the fellows who nabbed us in the cave,” he thought as they passed out of sight down the mountain. “And that probably leaves only that slim guy,” he added grimly.
 
Waiting a few minutes longer to make sure that the two half-breeds had really gone, he started off again feeling much rested and greatly encouraged. Still he in no way relaxed his vigilance, feeling certain that the man, who was doubtless the boss of the party, was too sharp to be caught napping if he could help it.
 
“I don’t know whether or not he has any idea that I’m on his trail, but it’s always best not to take unnecessary chances,” he soliloquized as he crept slowly upward.
 
In about ten minutes after he had made his fresh start the shack27 came into sight only a few yards ahead. The path, after turning around a huge rock ran, not into the small clearing in front of the building, but a little to the right. He might easily have missed it altogether and gone on past had he been less careful to miss nothing. In another minute he was lying at full length on the ground behind a thick bush just on the edge of the clearing. From his position he had a good view of the shack and was certain that there was little danger of being seen by the man who he supposed was on guard inside.
 
As he lay there, watching the door which was open about a foot, his mind was busy with the problem of how he should go about the task which he felt must not be long delayed. The two half-breeds might return at any time and with the three of them there the releasing of his brother would be well nigh impossible. On the other hand the man on guard was doubtless armed with a revolver and probably would not hesitate to use it and a false move on his part would prove disastrous28. It was a hard nut to crack and he was still turning the matter over in his mind when the door was suddenly pushed farther open and the slim man stepped outside.
 
He paused just outside the door and glanced about him. Once his eyes stopped seemingly focused directly on the boy and his heart skipped a beat as he thought he had spied him. But his glance soon turned away and, after seeming to listen for a moment, the man turned and re-entered the shack, closing the door behind him.
 
“I’d give a good bit to know whether or not he saw me,” Bob thought. After watching a few minutes longer he decided to act. There was a single small window in the front of the shack about three feet to the right of the door and he crept around until he was facing the corner away from it. About twenty feet separated him from the shack and, darting29 across the intervening space, he crouched close to the building. Had he been seen? If he had the odds30, he well knew, would be all with the other man. But, as the minutes passed and nothing developed, he began to breath more freely. He noiselessly edged over until he stood only a couple of feet from the door.
 
From time to time he could hear the man moving about inside and once he heard him approach the door and even lay his hand on the latch31 but he evidently changed his mind for some unknown reason and did not open it. It seemed to Bob that never had time passed so slowly. He was in a fever of fear lest the two men should return and find him there. Then the fat would be in the fire for sure, he thought.
 
He had been standing there close to the door for nearly twenty minutes when he again heard steps approaching the door and in another minute it opened and the man stepped out. Bob was facing the opening and did not hesitate an instant. With a lunge, which he had learned through long practice on the foot-ball field, he threw himself forward and tackled him just below the knees. The surprise was complete and, with a startled cry, the man bowled over with Bob on top of him. But, if he was taken by surprise, he was far from being helpless. Squirming from beneath with the agility32 of the trained wrestler33 he............
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