THE SEARCH

The morning passed uneventfully for those at camp. With seven of the
party gone, the place seemed almost deserted. Alice and Ethel insisted
upon working off their energy by taking a walk; but the rest were
content to remain inactive, except for the slight assistance they
rendered to the men in taking down their own tents.

“We ought to be able to start by one o’clock,” remarked Mr. Hilton,
consulting his watch. “At least, if we get lunch over at twelve, and
Tom and Mike are back again.”

Mrs. Hilton, too, looked at her watch, and a worried look came into her
face as she did so.

“Do you realize that it’s a quarter of twelve now, and Marjorie and
Daisy aren’t back yet?” she asked.

Her husband dispelled her fears with a reassuring suggestion.

“They’ve probably decided to go all the way, and share the boys’ meal.
There would be enough. We had better go right on with our own lunch.”

“Yes, for we want to get started early,” said Bob. “It’s going to rain
before night, I think, and it would be nice if we could reach the top
of the mountain and get our tents up before it starts in.”

“I’m afraid you’re right,” agreed his father, glancing at the sky.

They were counting on a long climb with a rather late supper that
night, and for this reason, the cook had prepared an especially large
meal for the middle of the day. Ethel, Alice and Florence sat down to
it rather reluctantly, for they hated to think of Marjorie and Daisy
missing it, and sharing only a frugal repast with the Melville boys.

They were just finishing their usual dessert of stewed fruit, when they
heard welcome pistol shots in the distance. The wanderers were coming
back, and there was plenty of good, substantial dinner left for them to
make up for their slim rations. Alice jumped up joyfully, letting out a
wild war whoop, and Arthur fired off a couple of blanks.

But as they rode into view, everyone’s heart sank at the sight of them.
The boys were alone!

“Where are the girls?” demanded Alice, frantically, as soon as they
were within earshot.

“In the flivver,” replied Tom, smiling. “And you never saw anybody so
happy as they all were!”

“Did they all go back?” asked Mrs. Hilton, grasping at this
possibility, “Even Marjorie and Daisy?”

“Marj and Daisy!” repeated Tom, in consternation. “Why, they left us
hours ago!”

“You’re teasing us!” cried Alice, with the vain hope that he might be.
“Oh, please don’t be mean. We’re so worried!”

But the alarm in both boys’ faces immediately assured her that she was
wrong. Something had happened.

Kirk Smith was the first to propose action. Jumping to his feet, he
announced that he was going immediately in search of the missing girls.

“There can be no thought of leaving this spot today,” he said.

“So the rest of you might just as well unpack and put up your tents
again. Mr. Hilton, have we provisions for an extra day?”

“Yes, plenty,” replied the older man; “especially since three of the
party have gone home.”

“Well, then I’d like to take some food with me for the girls when I
find them,” continued Kirk. “And I want a companion. Who volunteers?”

“I do!” cried Bob, promptly. “If somebody will look after the horses
for me while I’m gone.”

“I will!” offered Arthur, who preferred staying with Ethel to going off
on such a chase.

The young men lost no time in their preparations, and by two o’clock
they were on their horses, following the trail which the party had
taken in the morning. They kept their eyes intently fixed on the
ground, watching for horses’ tracks. Luckily they both knew the
mountains well; it was unlikely that they too might get lost.

Whenever they came to a precipice or a dangerous cliff, they forced
themselves to look over, dreading lest they might see the lifeless
forms of the girls–or the horses–below. Every fifteen minutes or so
they fired off blanks, in the hope of getting some response. But none
came, and at five o’clock they were still hopelessly riding on.

Both men had been so intent upon their search, that they had scarcely
noticed the gradual darkening of the sky, warning them of an
approaching storm. It was not until they actually felt the drops upon
their faces that they were aware that it was raining.

“There isn’t a chance of any shelter, I’m afraid,” said Bob, gloomily.
“And it will soon be too dark to see anything. Hadn’t we better turn
back? The girls may be safe at camp now.”

“No, I don’t mean to give up till our food’s all gone,” replied Kirk,
firmly. “Think if they should be out here alone all night–without a
bite to eat! No, you can turn back if you want to, but I’m going on.”

Unwilling to desert his companion, Bob too pressed steadily onward,
but with little hope of success in his heart. It was only when they
suddenly spied a little cabin through the increasing grayness, that he
began to feel more cheerful.

“Perhaps they have found shelter there!” he cried. “At any rate we can
stay there till the worst of the storm is over.”

Upon examination, the small, wooden building proved to be as deserted
as those near the mine shafts which they had passed on the first day of
their trip. A rough fire-place, a wooden bench, and a shelf on one side
were its only furnishings.

Both boys sat down wearily upon the bench, for they were worn out with
worry and with the severity of the climb. Both were hungry, too; but it
seemed awful to them to think of eating when Marjorie and Daisy were
probably almost starving.

“One thing good,” remarked Bob, as he looked about the cabin, “both
these girls are good sports. They’re not the kind to wring their hands
and go into hysterics. And they’re both good horsewomen.”

“Yes, that’s certainly true,” said Kirk.

“You like them both pretty well, don’t you Kirk?” asked Bob, in a
lighter tone. “Especially Marj?”

“Yes, I like them both, as well as any girls,” answered his companion,
wearily. “But I can’t say I like either better than the other.”

The conversation was abruptly interrupted by a continued knocking at
the heavy wooden door of the cabin. The sound was not loud, but regular.

“What’s that?” demanded Bob. “Funny, if, it’s a person, that he doesn’t
walk in!”

“He probably expects to find the cabin inhabited,” remarked Kirk.

“Well, I’ll open the door, anyhow, and see!”

Bob jumped up and started for the door.

“Wait!” commanded Kirk, quietly. “Let’s be prepared! This intruder
might be an unpleasant sort of person–might even be Indians.” He drew
his revolver from the holster on his hip. “Now I’m ready! Go ahead, but
get back of the door when you open it.”

Bob touched the bolt cautiously, half hoping that some thrilling
adventure might ensue. It would at least take their minds temporarily
away from the worry which they felt for the lost girls.

With a sudden, sharp, jerk, he pulled the door wide open, casting a
swift glance at the visitors before he followed the precaution of
stepping behind it. To his amazement, however, no rough, masculine
characters confronted him; but two very forlorn wet girls. Daisy and
Marjorie were standing at the door, holding on to their horses’ bridles!

The girls’ expressions changed quickly from apprehension and hostility
to joy and thankfulness. Dropping the horses’ bridles, they both rushed
into the cabin, almost embracing Kirk and Bob at the pleasure of
seeing their familiar faces.

“But how did you ever get here?” demanded Marjorie, as soon as she
could get her breath. “Are we anywhere near camp?”

“No–miles away!” laughed Kirk. “But how did you girls ever get here?
We’ve been out hunting for you!”

“I think I had better go out and put your horses with ours,”
interrupted Bob. “It’s a sort of shelter, behind the cabin. I’ll be
right back.”

While he was gone, the girls took off their hats, whose brims were
still dripping pools of water, and made an attempt to get dry. Kirk
went to his bag and drew out some bread for them, which he told them
to eat at once. When Bob returned, their first pangs of hunger were
somewhat satisfied, and Marjorie started to explain their plight as
well as she could.

“We didn’t even know we were off the trail,” she said, “until we
suddenly began to get hungry. I looked at my watch, and was surprised
to find that it was almost noon. So we turned about, and went back
until we found another trail.

“We kept on that for a long time without success, and then we knew we
were hopelessly lost. We hadn’t an idea what to do.

“And just as we were trying to map out some sort of scheme, it began
to rain. Of course you know how hard it rained, too, and we naturally
looked for shelter.

“Suddenly we spied a big rock, hanging over a hollow in the ground. At
least, we decided, this would protect us on one side, and we know there
was no use of wandering about wildly in the rain. So we got off our
horses and tied them to the only tree in sight. Then we went under our
rock.”

“And it was a real good shelter, too,” put in Daisy. “The rain seemed
to be coming the other direction, and we were quite dry.”

“We must have sat there for half an hour, when as you remember, the
storm began to abate a little. Then we resolved to go out again. But we
had ridden for only about fifteen minutes when it began again, harder
than ever. And we couldn’t find our rock!”

“Je-rusalem!” exclaimed Bob. “That was tough!”

“Well, we just about despaired,” said Marjorie. “Then we thought if we
could get higher up, maybe we could see where we were. So we made for
this spot. Imagine our joy when we found this cabin!”

“And our greater joy in finding you two!” added Daisy. “Now tell us how
you happened to be here.”

Briefly the young men related their adventures, stating, of course,
that they–the two girls–were the object of their search.

“And now what to do?” asked Bob.

Kirk thought seriously for a moment; then he came forth with a plan.

“Let’s have supper now, and then Bob can ride right back to the camp,
and tell them the good news. It would be too late for you girls to go,
after your hard day, and besides, it may rain. So we’ll stay here–you
girls can have the cabin, and I’ll sleep somewhere near outside. Then
tomorrow we’ll start early for camp.”

After the boys made a fire in the fire-place, the girls cooked supper,
glad of the opportunity to get warm and dry. In spite of the bread they
had already eaten, both Marjorie and Daisy were still very hungry.
With the exception of what they were saving for breakfast, they ate
everything in sight.

When the meal was finally concluded, Bob rose reluctantly to go. The
rain had stopped, and there was a beautiful sunset over the hills.
Marjorie and Daisy and Kirk went out doors to see it, and to wave
goodbye to their messenger.

“My, but we were lucky!” breathed Marjorie, as she turned into the
cabin, to clear away the supper.

“I’ll say we were!” added Daisy, fervently.

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