SOMETHING ABOUT THE PAST

“What do you think of that sky, Dave?”

“It looks to me as if we were in for a storm, Roger,” answered Dave
Porter, a trace of anxiety crossing his usually pleasant features.

“Perhaps it is only wind,” vouchsafed Roger Morr, after he brought his
horse to a standstill so that he might scan the distant horizon
minutely. “You know they do have some terrible wind storms out here in
Montana.”

“Oh, yes. I remember the big winds we had when we were out at Star
Ranch,” answered Dave. “Don’t you remember once we thought we were in
for a regular tornado?”

“I surely do remember. Say, Dave, those were certainly great days on the
ranch, weren’t they?”

“Now that we’ve moved up here to Montana I hope some day to get the
chance to run out to the ranch,” continued Dave. “I would like very much
to meet Belle Endicott and her folks.”

“I’ll wager you’ll find Phil Lawrence sneaking out this way some day,”
laughed Roger.

“Can you blame him, Roger? Belle is an awfully nice girl.”

“Of course I shouldn’t blame him, any more than I’d blame myself
for—for——”

“Than you would blame yourself for sneaking off to Crumville to see my
sister,” laughed Dave.

“Humph! I guess you wouldn’t mind being back in Crumville this moment,
calling on Jessie Wadsworth.”

“I don’t deny it. But say, let us get on our way. Those black clouds are
coming up altogether too rapidly to suit me.”

“How many miles do you suppose we are from the camp?”

“Six or eight at least. You know we followed this trail for a long time
before we stopped to have lunch.”

“If that new branch of the M. C. & D. Railroad comes through this way it
will certainly follow a picturesque route,” declared Roger.

“That will suit the summer tourists, even if it doesn’t cut any ice with
the natives. But come on, we had better not waste any more time. Before
you know it it will be dark and that storm will be upon us.”

The two young civil engineers were high up on a trail among the
mountains of Montana. Far below them stretched a rugged valley,
containing more rocks than grazing lands. Off to the southward could be
seen a small stream which some time before had been shimmering in the
sunlight, but which now was almost lost in the sudden gloom that was
overspreading the sky.

“What a difference between the scenery here and that along the Rio
Grande,” remarked Roger, as the two chums made their way along the
narrow trail leading to the camp of the Mentor Construction Company.

“I’m glad of the change, Roger. I was getting tired of the marsh land
along that river, and I was also mighty tired of those greasers.”

“Not to say anything about the raids the Mexicans made on us,” laughed
the chum. “Say, we came pretty close to having some hot times once or
twice, didn’t we?”

“I hope, Roger, we are able to make as good a showing up here on this
railroad work as we did on that Catalco Bridge. That certainly was a
superb piece of engineering.”

Dave was silent for a few minutes while the horses trotted along the
stony trail. Then, pleased by a passing thought, his face and eyes lit
up with enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it be grand, Roger, if some day you and I could put through
some big engineering feat all on our own hook?” he cried. “Think of our
putting up some big bridge, or building some big tunnel, or some fine
skyscraper, or something like that!”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to do it some day. The men who are
at the head of the Mentor Construction Company had to start as we are
doing—at the foot of the ladder. What one man has done, some other
fellow ought to be able to do after him.”

“Right you are! But ride slow now. If you’ll remember, the trail is
rather dangerous just ahead of us.”

The admonition that had been given was not necessary, for both young men
knew only too well the danger which lay ahead of them. At this point the
trail became exceedingly narrow and wound in and out around a cliff
which towered at least a hundred feet above their heads. In some spots
the trail was less than a yard wide, and on the outer edge the rough
rocks sloped downward at an angle of forty-five degrees.

“If a fellow slipped down there I wonder where he would land,” murmured
Roger, as he held back his steed so as to give his companion a chance to
pick his way with care.

“If you went over there you’d probably tumble down several hundred
feet,” answered Dave. “And if you did that, you and your horse would
most likely be killed. You be careful and keep your horse as close to
the cliff as possible.”

At one point in the trail where it would have been utterly impossible to
pass another person, the young civil engineers stopped to give a long,
loud whistle, to announce to any one coming in the opposite direction
that they were approaching. No whistle or call came in return, so they
took it for granted that the trail was clear and proceeded again on
their way.

By the time the vicinity of the cliff had been left behind, more than
three quarters of the sky was overcast. Far off in the distance they
could hear a murmur which gradually increased.

“It’s the wind coming up between the mountains,” announced Dave. And he
was right. Soon the murmur had increased to a strange humming, and then,
in a moment more, the wind came rushing down upon them with a violence
that was anything but comfortable.

“Come on! Don’t linger here!” shouted Dave, as he urged his horse
forward. “We’ll soon be out on the regular road.”

A quarter of a mile farther brought them to another turn in the trail,
and in a minute more they went down a long slope and then came out on a
broad trail running to a number of mines and ranches in that part of
Montana. Here for over a mile riding was much easier, and the chums made
good progress in the direction of the construction camp at which they
were making their headquarters.

“Do you think we can make it before the rain comes?” questioned Roger,
as they dashed along.

“No such luck. Here comes the rain now,” answered Dave.

As he spoke, both of the young civil engineers felt the first drops of
the on-coming storm. Then the rain became a steady downpour which
threatened every minute to turn into a deluge.

Fortunately for the two young men, they were not hampered by any of
their civil-engineering outfit. They had been asked that morning by Mr.
Ralph Obray, the manager of the construction gang, to ride up the trail
and make sure that certain marks had been left there by the surveyors
for the railroad. The work done by the railroad had been merely of a
preliminary nature, but this preliminary work, crude as it was, was to
be used as a basis for the more accurate survey by the engineers of the
construction company.

“I don’t think we can make camp in such a downpour as this,” gasped
Roger, after another half-mile had been covered.

“Maybe you’re right,” responded Dave. “It certainly is coming down to
beat the band! But what are we going to do? I don’t believe in standing
still and getting ourselves drenched to the skin.”

“We ought to be able to find some sort of shelter near by. Come on, let
us take a look around.”

Both did this, sheltering their eyes from the rain with their hands. In
such a downpour the scenery on all sides was practically obliterated.

“Can’t make out a thing,” remarked Roger in disgust. “I suppose we’ve
got to go on and take what comes. By the time we reach camp we’ll feel
like a couple of drowned rats.”

“Never mind. We’ll have a chance to change our clothing, anyway,”
responded Dave lightly. “And we won’t have to take a bath or get under
the shower.”

“Take a bath or get under the shower!” repeated Roger. “Wow! If I had a
chance to do that I wouldn’t know myself,” he added with a grin. For
neither of the chums had seen anything like a bathtub or a shower for
several months. When they took a bath it was usually in a small stream
that flowed not far from where the construction camp was located.

Forward the young civil engineers went once again, the rain beating
furiously in their faces as they proceeded. The downpour was so severe
that presently they came to where a hollow on the road was completely
filled with muddy water.

“Stop, or you may get stuck!” cried Dave, as he brought his horse to a
halt. “I think we had better try to go around this pool.”

“Come on this way,” returned his chum quickly, and turned off to the
left.

And right here it was that the two young civil engineers made a big
mistake. Had they turned to the right they would soon have come out on
the road at a point where it would have been perfectly safe to proceed.
But the turn to the left led them downward, and almost before they knew
it they found themselves between the rocks and on the edge of a thick
woods.

“Hello! where have we landed now?” queried Dave. “I don’t believe we can
get back to the road from here.”

“Oh, come on, let us skirt the woods,” urged Roger. “We are bound to get
back to the road sooner or later.”

Somewhat against his better judgment, Dave allowed his chum to take the
lead, and on they went through the rain and increasing darkness. The
first rush of wind had now somewhat subsided, but in its place they
could hear the low rumble of distant thunder. Then a sudden flash of
lightning lit the scene.

“Say, I don’t like this!” cried Roger, as the thunder became louder and
several more flashes of lightning flared over the surroundings.

“Watch for the next flash, Roger, and maybe you can see the road,”
suggested Dave.

Both young civil engineers did as had been suggested, but, though they
waited not only for the next flash of light but also for the two
following, they were unable to see more than the rocks and trees in
their immediate vicinity.

“I’m afraid we’re lost down here,” said Dave at last. “And if that’s the
case, the only thing we can do is to ride back to where we came from.”

“Oh, let us go ahead a little farther. Maybe the road is at the edge of
the woods yonder.”

“If we only knew of some miner’s camp or some ranch-house around here,
we might get shelter, Roger. I don’t much like the idea of riding in
such a storm as this is getting to be.”

“True for you! But I don’t think there is any kind of shelter such as
you mention within a mile or two of this place. I didn’t see anything
that looked like a house or a cabin when we came up the trail.”

Once more Roger went ahead, and with increased unwillingness Dave
followed him, all the while thinking that it would be better to retrace
their steps to the point where they had found the roadway covered with
water.

“We might have skirted that pool somehow,” thought Dave. “Now we don’t
know where we’ll land.”

The two riders found a slight rise ahead of them, and this encouraged
Roger into believing that the roadway was not far distant. Less than a
hundred yards further on, however, they came to a sudden halt.

“Well, I’ll be blessed!”

“I think we’ll have to turn back now, Roger.”

“I suppose so. Isn’t it too bad?”

Without warning of any kind they had suddenly come to a spot where the
jagged rocks arose in front of them several feet higher than their
horses’ heads. Off to the left flowed a swift mountain torrent, bordered
on one side by a low, irregular cliff and on the other by the jagged
rocks and the tall forest. The rain was now coming down as steadily as
ever, while the thunder and lightning constantly increased in violence.
The sky was entirely overcast, so that when there was no lightning it
was almost totally dark at the edge of the forest.

“Maybe if we could get across that stream we might climb up to the
roadway,” suggested Roger, who hated to think of going back. “Anyway,
let us take a good look the next time it lightens.”

Roger had scarcely spoken when there came a tremendous crash of thunder
so close at hand that it made both of the young civil engineers start.
The horses too were badly frightened, and both gave wild plunges one
into the other. As a consequence, a moment later Dave found himself
unseated and thrown to the ground, and an instant later Roger landed
almost on top of him.

“Hi! Stop the horses!” gasped Dave, when he could speak.

To this Roger made no response for the reason that he had come down on
the rocks with such force that he was all but stunned. Dave attempted to
struggle to his feet and catch the plunging animals, but before he could
do so the two horses had bolted away in the semi-darkness, leaving their
former riders to their fate.

“We’re in a pickle now, and no mistake!” panted Roger.

“Let us try to catch the horses before they get too far away,” came from
Dave. “We don’t want the fun of tramping back to camp on foot.”

“Not to say anything about losing two valuable animals.”

“I hope you didn’t break any bones,” continued Dave, as he saw his chum
feeling of his knee and his elbow.

“Oh, I guess I didn’t get anything more than a good shaking up. And you
didn’t escape entirely, either. See, your hand is bleeding.”

“Oh, it’s only a scrape. Come on;” and thus speaking Dave ran off in the
direction the runaway horses had taken, and his chum followed.

To my old readers Dave Porter will need no special introduction. For the
benefit of others, however, let me state that when a small boy he had
been found wandering alongside the railroad tracks in Crumville. As
nobody claimed him he had been put in the local poorhouse, and, later
on, bound out to a broken-down college professor, Caspar Potts, who at
that time was farming for his health.

In an elegant mansion on the outskirts of Crumville, lived Mr. Oliver
Wadsworth, a wealthy jewelry manufacturer, with his wife and his
daughter Jessie. One day the gasoline tank of an automobile took fire,
and Jessie was in danger of being burned to death when Dave came to her
rescue. As a consequence of this Mr. Wadsworth became interested in the
boy, and decided that he should be given the benefits of a good
education and had sent him to a first-class boarding school, as related
in the first volume of this series, entitled “Dave Porter at Oak Hall.”
With Dave went Ben Basswood, his one boy friend in the town.

At Oak Hall Dave made a number of close friends, including Roger Morr,
the son of a well-known United States Senator; Phil Lawrence, the
offspring of a rich ship-owner; “Shadow” Hamilton, who loved to tell
stories; and Buster Beggs, who was as fat as he was jolly.

In those days the principal thing that troubled Dave was the question of
his parentage. To solve the mystery of his identity he took a long sea
voyage, as related in “Dave Porter in the South Seas,” where he met his
uncle, Dunston Porter, and learned much concerning his father, David
Breslow Porter, and also his sister Laura, who were at that time
traveling in Europe.

On his return to school, and during the time that our hero spent in
trying to locate his father and his sister, as related in succeeding
volumes of this series, Dave made many new friends. But there were some
lads who were jealous of the boy’s success, and two of them, Nick
Jasniff and Link Merwell, did what they could to get our hero into
trouble. The plot against Dave, however, was exposed, and in sheer
fright Nick Jasniff ran away and went to Europe while Merwell went out
West to a ranch owned by his father.

Dave’s sister Laura had an intimate friend, Belle Endicott, who lived on
Star Ranch in Montana, and through this friendship all of the boys and
girls were invited out to the ranch. There, to his surprise, Dave fell
in once more with Link Merwell and finally exposed that young rascal so
that Link thought it would be to his advantage to disappear.

“You’ll have to keep your eyes open for those wretches,” was Roger’s
comment at the time.

“They’ll get the better of you if they possibly can, Dave,” Phil
Lawrence had added.

“I’ll watch them,” the youth had answered.

When the Christmas holidays arrived Dave went back to Crumville, where
he and his folks resided with the Wadsworths. Directly after Christmas
came a startling robbery of the Wadsworth jewelry works, and Dave and
his chums by some clever work discovered that the crime had been
committed by Merwell and Jasniff. After a sea voyage to Cave Island,
Jasniff was captured and sent to jail, but Merwell at the last minute
managed to make his escape.

The trip to Cave Island was followed by another to the great West, where
Dave aided Roger Morr in locating a gold mine which had been lost
through a landslide.

After this our hero went up to Bear Camp in the Adirondack Mountains,
where he had a glorious time with all of his chums and also the girls.
At that time Dave fell in with a young man named Ward Porton, who was
almost our hero’s double in appearance. Porton proved to be an
unscrupulous person, and caused our hero not a little trouble, he trying
at one time to palm himself off as the real Dave Porter. This scheme,
however, was exposed, and then Porton lost no time in disappearing.

Our hero had now graduated from Oak Hall, and he and Roger Morr had
taken up the profession of civil engineering. In the midst of his
studies Dave was startled by the news of the disappearance of some
valuable miniatures which had been willed to his old friends, the
Basswoods. It was discovered that Ward Porton was in this plot, and
later on this evildoer, along with his disreputable father, was brought
to justice.

As soon as their first examination in civil engineering had been passed,
Dave and Roger had succeeded in obtaining through their instructor
positions with the Mentor Construction Company, a large concern
operating many branches throughout the United States and in foreign
countries. They were assigned to a gang operating in Texas, building a
railroad bridge near the Rio Grande. This construction camp was under
the general management of Mr. Ralph Obray, assisted by a number of
others, including a middle-aged man named Frank Andrews, who had
speedily become a warm friend of the young civil engineers.

The work had proved absorbing from the start to Dave, and it must be
said that the senator’s son was almost equally interested. Both kept up
their studies every day and kept their eyes and ears wide open, and
consequently made rapid progress. On more than one occasion Mr. Obray
had given them encouraging words and shown his satisfaction, and Frank
Andrews was enthusiastic.

“You fellows keep on the way you have started, and some day you’ll be at
the top of the ladder,” was the way Andrews expressed himself.

The two young civil engineers had remained at work on the Catalco Bridge
for nearly a year. Then the task had been turned over to another gang,
and the Obray outfit, as it was commonly called, had been sent up from
Texas into Montana, to take up the work of roadbed and bridge
construction for the M. C. & D. Railroad.

This railroad was simply a feeder of one of the main lines, yet it was
thought that in time it would become a highly important branch. The work
to be undertaken was unusually difficult, and it was an open secret that
several construction companies had refused even to give figures on it.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us up here,” had been Frank Andrews’
remark to Mr. Obray, after the pair had gone over the situation
carefully.

“Right you are, Andrews,” the manager of the construction gang had
answered. “It looks all right on paper, but we are going to have a good
many difficulties which can’t be put down in black and white.”

“What we’ve got to guard against, to my way of thinking, is landslides,”
the assistant had answered.

Since beginning work for the Mentor Construction Company, Dave and Roger
had had two opportunities for returning to the East. They had come by
the way of Washington, where Senator Morr and his wife were now
residing, and had also stopped off at Philadelphia to visit Phil
Lawrence. Then they had made their way to Crumville, there to put in a
most delightful time with Dave’s folks and the Wadsworths. As my old
readers are aware, to Dave there was no girl in the world quite so sweet
and lovable as Jessie Wadsworth, while it was noticed that Roger and
Dave’s sister Laura were together whenever occasion permitted.

The two young civil engineers had been in Montana now for about three
weeks, and during that time they had gone on numerous errands to places
ten and even twenty miles away. On arrival they had hoped to visit Star
Ranch, but had learned that this place was nearly a hundred miles off.
They had looked at some of the local mines with much interest, and had
likewise visited several ranches.

“We’ll get to know this whole district like a book before we get through
with it,” had been Roger’s comment.

“Maybe,” Dave had answered. “Just the same, if I were you I wouldn’t go
too far away from the regular trails without a pocket compass. Getting
lost among these mountains might prove very serious.”

The two young civil engineers had started off on their errand that
morning in high spirits, due not alone to the fact that both were
feeling in the best of health and were doing well in their chosen
profession, but also to the fact that the day before they had received a
number of letters from home, including a warm epistle to Dave from
Jessie and an equally tender missive from Laura to Roger.

At their end the two girls had written each in the confidence of the
other, so that the two chums did not hesitate to talk over the contents
of both letters between them.

“Oh, we’ve got the brightest prospects in the world before us!” Dave had
cried when they had set out, and in the exuberance of his spirits he had
thrown his cap high up in the air.

But the prospect at this particular minute did not seem to be so bright.
The rain was coming down steadily, accompanied by sharp crashes of
thunder and vivid flashes of lightning, and the two youths had all they
could do to keep their feet as they sped along in the direction the
runaway horses had taken.

“This is the worst ever!” groaned Roger, as both presently came to a
halt with the rocks on one side of them and the forest on the other. “I
can’t see anything of those horses, can you?”

Dave did not for the moment reply. He was waiting for the next flash of
lightning, and when it came he strained his eyes in an effort to locate
the vanished steeds. The effort, however, was a vain one.

“They’re gone, that’s sure,” he announced gloomily. “If the storm didn’t
make so much noise we might be able to hear them clattering over the
rocks; but between the wind and the thunder that’s impossible.”

“They had to come this way, for it’s the only way. Let us go on a little
farther.”

As there was nothing else to do, Dave followed his chum along the edge
of the forest and at last the pair reached the spot where they had left
the road. Here the pool of water had become much larger and deeper.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” grumbled the senator’s son, as
they came again to a halt. “Just look at this! It’s a miniature lake!”

“We’ll have to get around it somehow, Roger,” was the reply. “Let us try
the other side this time.”

“But what about the horses?”

“If they came up here on the roadway I’ve an idea they started straight
for camp. They wouldn’t know where else to go.”

Not caring to stand still in such a downpour, the two started to skirt
the pond, going in the opposite direction to that which they had before
taken. They had to clamber over a number of rough rocks and through some
brushwood heavily laden with water, so that by the time they reached the
other side they were as wet as if they had taken an involuntary bath.

“Well, there’s one consolation,” announced Roger grimly. “We couldn’t
get any wetter if we tried.”

“Come on. Let us leg it for camp as fast as we can,” returned Dave.
“It’s pretty cold out here, drenched like this.”

“Wait a minute! I think I saw something!” cried the senator’s son
suddenly. “Look!”

He pointed off to one side of the roadway, and both waited until another
flash of lightning lit up the scene.

“The horses!”

They were right. There, not over a hundred yards away, stood the two
runaway steeds, partly sheltered by several big trees. Their heads had
been down, but now they suddenly came up as if in fresh alarm.

“Do you think we can catch them, Dave?” gasped the senator’s son.

“We’ve got to do it, Roger,” was the reply. “But be careful, or they’ll
get away as sure as fate. Here, you approach them from the right and
I’ll go around to the left. And don’t let them get past you, no matter
what happens.”