WAITING FOR LETTERS

“Look out there!”

“He’s coming this way!”

“Run for your lives!”

These shouts were mingled with shots from several of the pistols, none
of which, however, took effect, for the sudden advance of the wounded
bear had disconcerted the aim of the young hunters.

The youths scattered to the right and the left behind the rocks and
brushwood, and as the bear came lumbering forward, it looked as if for
the time being he would have the place entirely to himself. Then,
however, he caught sight of Roger and made a savage leap for the
senator’s son.

Fortunately for the youth, the rifle he carried was a repeating weapon,
and now he let drive once more, sending a ball along bruin’s flank. But
this attack only served to increase the rage of the animal, and with a
ferocious snarl he sprang forward and made a pass at Roger with one of
his heavy paws.

Had this blow landed as intended, it is more than likely the senator’s
son would have been felled and perhaps seriously hurt. But by a quick
backward spring, the young civil engineer dodged the attack. Then he
fired again, and this was followed almost simultaneously by discharges
from the pistols of Phil and Ben. But all the bullets flew harmlessly
over the beast’s head.

“Run, Roger! Run!” yelled the shipowner’s son. “Run, or he’ll knock you
down sure and kill you!”

Roger needed no such advice, because he already realized his peril. He
turned to retreat, but in his haste tripped over the uneven rocks and
went pitching headlong into some nearby brushwood.

It was at this time, when the matter looked exceedingly serious, that
Dave came once more to the front. He had succeeded in reloading the
shotgun, and now, advancing rapidly, he took careful aim at the bear and
fired twice.

The first discharge from the shotgun took the huge beast directly in the
neck, and as he made a leap forward, as if to cover the distance that
separated him from our hero, the second dose of shot landed in his
stomach. He let out a frightful roar of pain and rage, and then pitched
forward with a crash on a rock and rolled over and over down into a
nearby hollow.

“Reload as fast as you can, fellows!” ordered Dave. “Don’t take any
chances. Neither of those beasts may be dead;” and he started at once to
look after his own weapon.

Years before his Uncle Dunston, who, as my old readers know, was a
famous hunter, had impressed upon the youth the truth that an unloaded
weapon is a very useless affair.

It must be admitted that Roger’s hand shook not a little while he was
looking to make sure that his rifle was in condition for further use.
Poor Shadow had gone white, and now sat on a flat rock, too weak in the
knees to stand up.

“Maybe we had better give the bears some more shots before we go near
them,” suggested the former story-teller of Oak Hall, in a voice which
sounded strangely unnatural even to himself.

“It wouldn’t do any harm to give them a few shots from the pistols,”
answered Dave. “Then we can all say we had a hand in laying them low.”
And thereupon those who possessed the smaller weapons proceeded to make
sure that the bears should never have a chance to fight again.

“Dave, I’ve got to hand it to you for coming to my assistance,” said
Roger warmly, as soon as he had recovered from his scare. “Gracious! I
thought sure that bear was going to jump right on me!”

[Illustration: DAVE TOOK CAREFUL AIM AT THE BEAR AND FIRED.—_Page 153._]

“Dave is the head hunter of this crowd,” announced Phil.

“He takes after his Uncle Dunston when it comes to shooting,” put in
Ben. “Both of them can hit the bull’s-eye without half trying.”

“I—I—don’t think I want to do much hunting after this,” was Shadow’s
comment. “That is, hunting for big game. I wouldn’t mind going out after
rabbits and birds and things like that.”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it after a while, Shadow,” answered Dave. “I
know how I felt when I faced my first big game. I had all I could do to
steady my nerves.”

“Not such very big bears, when you come to look them over,” said Ben,
who was making a close inspection.

“They certainly looked big enough when they stood up on their hind legs
and came for us,” answered Phil. “I guess a bear must shrink after he’s
dead;” and at this remark there was something of a laugh. Now that the
tension had been removed, some of the youths were inclined to be a bit
hysterical.

“What are we going to do with the bears?” questioned Phil.

“Can’t we save the skins and the heads?” asked Ben.

“Yes, we can do that,” answered Dave. “I don’t believe the skins are
particularly good at this time of the year, but you fellows might draw
lots for them and take them home as trophies of the occasion.”

On their numerous hunting trips Dave and Roger, as well as Phil, had
seen large game skinned and dressed on more than one occasion, and,
consequently, the task before them was not an altogether new one. In the
outfit they had brought along there was a hunting-knife, and also a good
sharp carving-knife, and with these tools, and the aid of the hatchet
they had brought along, they set to work to skin both of the bears and
cut each head from the rest of the body. It was no easy job, and took
much longer than they had anticipated.

“As soon as we have finished we had better make for the construction
camp,” said Dave.

“What are you going to do with the bear meat?” asked Roger. “It’s a
shame to leave it here.”

“We can cut out some of the best of the steaks, Roger; and then we can
hang the rest of the meat up on the limbs of a tree. Then, if we want to
come back for it to-morrow, or any of the others at the camp want to
come and get it, why all right.”

One of the saddle-bags was cleaned out, and in this they placed the very
choicest of the bear steaks. Then the heads and pelts were rolled up and
strapped into bundles. After that, by means of the lariat, they hoisted
one carcass after the other into the branches of the nearest tree and
there fastened them with straps.

The horses were uneasy, evidently scenting the blood of the bears. They
did not seem to fancy the idea of carrying the pelts and steaks, and the
youths had all they could do to make the animals behave. But all the
young men were used to riding, and so, after a little prancing around,
they made the steeds steady themselves, and then the journey back to the
construction camp was begun.

“I think it is quite a while since a bear was brought down in this
neighborhood,” said our hero, while they were riding along. “Old Hixon
told me he had been on their trail a number of times, but he could never
get close enough to get a shot.”

It was already growing dark, and long before the construction camp came
into view, the sun sank over the tops of the mountains in the west and
the long shadows began to creep across the valley.

“I hope you are sure of where you are going, Dave,” said Phil, as he
rode alongside of his chum.

“I’m not so very sure of this trail, Phil,” was the slow answer. “You
see, this is a new bit of territory to Roger and me.” He turned to the
senator’s son. “What do you think of it?”

“I hope we are on the right way,” was the ready reply. “I think inside
of another half hour we’ll strike the regular trail between the camp and
the railroad station.”

Soon the shadows had reached the summit of the mountain behind them, and
then the darkness of night came on rapidly. As the trail was a most
uncertain one, they had to proceed slower and slower, for fear of
running into some danger which might lurk ahead.

“It’s a pity one of us didn’t bring a flashlight along,” said Ben. “Then
we could make sure of what sort of footing was ahead.” They were passing
over some loose rocks at the time, and these occasionally made the
horses slip and slide. Once Phil’s animal went to his knees, and made a
great splurge and clatter regaining his footing.

“This is certainly some lonely spot,” was Roger’s comment, after they
had gone forward another quarter of a mile. “There doesn’t seem to be a
cabin or a camp of any sort in sight.”

“Listen! What’s that?” cried Shadow suddenly, and came close up beside
Dave.

Far away in the woods they heard a peculiar sound. They listened
intently for several minutes, and then the sound was repeated.

“I don’t think it’s anything more than a hoot owl or something of that
sort,” said our hero.

“Just what I think,” answered Roger. “I’ve heard that cry several times
since I came to Montana. It’s a bird of some sort.”

They had been going downward, but now the little trail they were
following led up over more loose rocks, and then into a thicket of
underbrush. Beyond this they came to the edge of the mountain forest.
Here Roger called a halt.

“This doesn’t look very good to me,” declared the senator’s son. “The
trail is getting worse and worse, and now it seems to lead directly into
these big woods.”

“We had better go slow about getting in among trees,” announced Phil.
“We might become hopelessly lost.”

“Then what do you propose to do?” demanded Ben. “Go back?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. I am willing to leave it to Dave and Roger. They
know a great deal more about this section of the country than we do.”

“We don’t know much about this particular piece of ground we are on
right now,” answered the senator’s son. “I can’t remember that I was
ever in this vicinity before.”

“Nor I,” added Dave. “Ever since we left the place where we had our
lunch this noon, the trail has been a strange one to me. Just the same,
I think we have been heading in the general direction of the
construction camp. For all we know, it may be right on the other side of
these big woods.”

Dave brought out his pocket compass, and he and Roger inspected it
carefully by the light from a match. Then the two talked the matter over
for several minutes.

“I’ll tell you what I think about it,” declared our hero finally. “I
think the best thing we can do is to skirt the woods instead of going
through them.”

“I’m sure it would be safer,” added Phil.

To skirt the edge of the forest, they had to leave the trail entirely
and pick their way as best they could among the rocks and brushwood.
Soon the horses hesitated about going forward, and then they had to
dismount and lead the animals.

“If we can’t locate the camp after we get around the edge of the woods,
what are we going to do?” questioned Roger of our hero in a low voice,
so that the others who were coming on behind might not hear.

“I’m sure I don’t know, Roger,” was the unsatisfactory reply.

“We’ve got to do something, Dave. We can’t stay out here all night.”

“Oh, yes, we can if we have to. If it becomes necessary to do so, we can
go into camp, light a fire, and broil some of those bear steaks.”

“Yes, we could do that. And bear steaks wouldn’t be half bad, seeing how
hungry I am getting,” returned the senator’s son. “But just the same,
I’d rather get back to our camp to-night.”

The five chums continued on their way around the edge of the forest. All
were in a sober frame of mind, for each realized that, for all they
knew, they might be hopelessly lost on the mountainside. Presently the
sharp decline came to an end, and then all of them leaped once more into
the saddle.

“Look!” exclaimed Dave presently. “Am I right? Is that a light ahead?”

All gazed in the direction he indicated, and presently made out a small
light which was swinging to and fro as it seemed to draw closer.

“I believe that’s some one with a hand lantern!” cried Roger. “Maybe
it’s a man on horseback with a lantern to light his way.”

The five chums noted in what direction the light was headed, and then
turned the horses toward the same point. Soon they came so close that
they could call to the other party, and they set up a shout.

“Hello, Porter! Hello, Morr! Is that you?” came an answering hail. And
then the light seemed to come to a halt.

“It must be one of the fellows from our camp!” exclaimed Dave. “And if
that is so, we can’t be very far from one of the regular trails.”

He urged his steed forward with the others following, and soon they came
face to face with a man named Dan Morrison, who had charge of one of the
section gangs at the camp. To this individual our friends explained the
situation, and received the information that they were on a side trail
which, half a mile farther on, ran into the regular trail leading to the
construction camp.

“This trail is one of several that leads to the railroad station,”
explained Dan Morrison. “It’s something of a short cut, but it isn’t
quite as good as any of the others. But I’m used to it, so I don’t mind
it, even in the darkness. I carry the lantern more for company than for
anything else.”

Mr. Morrison was much surprised to hear about the shooting of the two
bears, but the youths did not wait to go into details, being anxious to
get back to the construction camp, where they hoped a good hot supper
would be awaiting them.

“And if they haven’t got anything cooked for us, we’ll make Jeff broil
some of these bear steaks,” announced Dave.

“They’ll certainly be something in the way of a novelty,” said Phil.
“Although, as a matter of fact, I never yet ate a bear steak that could
compare to a beefsteak. The meat is usually coarser and tougher.”

It was not long after this when they discerned the welcome lights of the
construction camp in the distance. Then they set off on something of a
race, and rode into camp in great style.

“Well, lads, what kind of a day did you have?” questioned Frank Andrews,
as he came out to greet them.

“Fine!”

“The best ever! We shot two bears.”

“Shot two bears!” repeated Frank Andrews incredulously. “You can’t
string me that way. Why don’t you say you brought down half a dozen
elephants while you’re at it?”

“We certainly did bring down two bears,” announced Roger with pardonable
pride. “And one of them might have killed me if it hadn’t been for
Dave.”

“What’s this I hear about shooting two bears?” demanded another voice,
and Mr. Obray stepped into view from the semi-darkness.

“It’s true, Mr. Obray,” answered Dave. “Just wait, and we’ll show you
the skins and the heads. We cut them both off to bring along. And we’ve
got some fine bear steaks in our saddle-bags too.”

“And anybody who wants to, can go back and get the rest of the
carcasses,” added Roger. “We hung them up in a tree to protect them.”

“It doesn’t seem possible!” exclaimed the construction camp manager.
“One bear would be something worth talking about. But two! Are you sure
you’re not fooling?”

“It’s the plain truth,” answered Phil.

“But I never want to go out to shoot any more bears,” vouchsafed Shadow.
“One bear hunt in a lifetime is enough for me.”

The news soon spread throughout the construction camp that two bears had
been killed, and it was not long before every man in the place came up
to view what the hunting party had brought in. Old John Hixon seemed to
be particularly interested.

“Pretty big critters—both of ’em,” was his comment. “Of course, I’ve
seen ’em bigger, but these fellows were large enough for anybody to
wrassle with.”

Of course the youths had to tell their story in detail—not only about
the fight with the two bears, but also how Shadow had fallen into the
opening on the mountain summit and had been rescued.

“You’ve certainly had a strenuous day of it,” was Ralph Obray’s comment.
“I’m glad to know that all of you got back in safety. After this I guess
I had better keep my eyes on you,” and he smiled faintly.

“I hope we are in time for supper, Jeff!” cried Roger to the cook. “I’m
altogether too hungry to miss that.”

“You all ain’t goin’ to miss nothin’,” answered the cook, with a
good-natured showing of his ivories. “Come right down to the dinin’-room
and git all you wants. If you wants me to broil some of dem dar bear
steaks, I’ll do it fo’ you.”

“Well, I’m mighty glad we’re not going to miss anything in the way of
supper,” remarked Ben.

“Oh, say, speaking about missing something puts me in mind of a story!”
burst out Shadow eagerly, as the chums made their way toward the
dining-room of the camp. “Once there was a miserly old man who was
inveigled into buying a ticket for a charity concert. He found it
impossible to get there on time, and so found the concert in full blast
when he arrived. ‘Say, what are they playing?’ he asked of an usher as
he came in. ‘Why, they just started the Twelfth Symphony,’ was the
reply. ‘You don’t say!’ groaned the miserly old man. ‘It’s too bad I’ve
missed so much of the concert, after paying for that ticket!’”

It might go without saying that all of the youths enjoyed the repast
which Jeff and his assistant provided. At first they thought to have
some of the bear steaks; but then concluded to leave those until the
morning, when every man in the camp who cared to do so might have his
share of the meat.

On the following morning all of the visitors, as well as Roger, were so
tired that they decided to remain in camp and take it easy. Dave,
however, after consulting with Mr. Obray, took two of the men with him
and went back to where the carcasses of the bears had been left, and
brought the meat back to camp. Here the steaks and the other portions
fit to cook were enjoyed by all, and served to put Dave and his chums on
better terms than ever with the others.

Phil, Ben, and Shadow remained at the construction camp two days longer,
and during that time the chums went fishing, as well as riding, and
enjoyed every moment of the time. Ben was particularly pleased, and in
private confided to Dave and Roger that had he not promised to go on to
Star Ranch with Phil he would willingly have put in the rest of his
vacation with them.

“Oh, you’ll like it at Star Ranch just as well as you like it here,”
announced Dave. “It’s a splendid place, and the Endicotts will be sure
to give you the time of your life.”

The days passed all too quickly for all of the young men. Even Shadow
complained of the shortness of the time, he stating that he had not had
an opportunity to tell one half of his best stories.

“Never mind, Shadow, you’ll have to come back some day and tell us the
rest of them,” said Roger consolingly.

At last came the hour when the visitors had to depart, and Dave and
Roger saw them off at the railroad station.

“Give our best regards to the Endicotts!” cried Dave, when the long
train rolled into the station and Phil and the others climbed on board.

“And don’t forget to remember us to Sid Todd!” added Roger, mentioning
the foreman of Star Ranch, a man who had proved to be a good friend.

“Don’t go after any more bears!” sang out Ben.

“Oh, say, that puts me in mind of a story!” cried Shadow. “Once three
men went out to hunt, and——” But what the story was about, Dave and
Roger never heard, for the vestibule door to the car was closed, and in
a moment more the long train rumbled on its way.

“A nice bunch, all right,” was Roger’s comment, as he and Dave turned
their horses back in the direction of the camp.

“No better fellows anywhere, Roger. I’ll tell you, when we went to Oak
Hall we made some friends that are worth while.”

“Right you are!” The senator’s son drew a deep breath. “Well, now that
they have gone, I suppose we have got to pitch into work again.”

“Sure thing, Roger! It doesn’t do to be idle too long.”

“Oh, I’m not complaining, Dave. I love my work too much.”

“That’s exactly the way I feel about it. The more I see of civil
engineering, the deeper it grips me. I’m hoping some day we’ll be able
to get together and put over some piece of work that is really worth
while,” answered Dave earnestly.

Two weeks slipped by without anything unusual happening. Their brief
vacation at an end, Dave and Roger plunged into their work with vigor,
just to show Mr. Obray and Frank Andrews that they appreciated all that
had been done for them. During that time the weather was far from fair,
and the young civil engineers were more than once drenched to the skin
while at work on the mountainside. Then the numerous storms brought on a
small landslide, and some of the results of what had been accomplished
were swept away.

“That’s too bad!” cried Dave.

“Oh, it’s all in the day’s work, Porter,” answered Frank Andrews
philosophically. “Mr. Obray is mighty thankful that none of our men was
caught in that landslide.”

Two days after this the storms cleared away, and the sky became as
bright as ever. As soon as things had dried out a little, the
engineering gangs went forth once more, and Dave and Roger became as
busy as ever. They worked their full number of hours, as did the others,
and in addition spent one or two hours every evening over their
textbooks. Frank Andrews continued to aid them, and often explained
matters which puzzled them.

The two youths had received letters from home on the day after their
former Oak Hall chums had left. But since that time no other
communications had arrived.

“It’s queer we don’t get some more letters,” grumbled the senator’s son
one day.

“Were you looking for a letter from your folks?” questioned Dave slyly.

“You know well enough what I was looking for,” answered Roger, his face
growing a bit red. “You didn’t get any letter from Jessie, did you?”

“Not since the day you got one from Laura, and the day that one came
from your mother.”

“What do you make of it, Dave? They must have gotten our letters.”

“Maybe not, Roger. Just the same, I think the girls would have written
even if they didn’t get our letters.”

“Do you suppose anything has gone wrong?”

“I don’t know what to suppose.”

“Maybe we ought to send a telegram,” suggested the senator’s son, after
a pause.

“Oh, there’s no use of scaring them with a telegram, Roger. Let us wait
a few days longer. We may get some letters to-morrow.”

But the morrow passed, and so did several more days, including Sunday,
and still no letters were received from Crumville. Roger got a letter
from his folks in Washington, and Dave received a brief communication
from Phil, stating that he and the others had arrived safely at Star
Ranch. But all of these did not satisfy the young civil engineers.

“Something must be wrong somewhere,” announced Dave at last. “I guess
after all, Roger, we had better send a telegram to Crumville and find
out what it means.”