THE SEARCHING PARTY
“Hugh, it looks like we mightn’t need those lanterns after all,” remarked Horatio, after they had gotten well started along the dimly seen quarry road.
Indeed, the brilliant headlights of the big car illuminated a radius of considerable size ahead of them and around. Every tiny twig was thrown out into bold relief, as though a powerful sun had found a way of forcing ingress through the canopy of leafless branches overhead.
“Not just at present, perhaps,” replied the driver at the wheel; “but they may come in handy yet. We’ll wait and see.”
Owen sat beside Hugh, the other three occupying the tonneau of the car. There was abundance of room for all, and some to spare. Owen held his new shotgun in his hands and he kept a close watch upon the road ahead, just as though that idea connected with a ferocious wildcat might have taken hold on his mind, and he believed there was a possibility of such a thing coming to pass.
Hugh drove with exceedingly great care, and made no attempt at speed. Indeed, such a thing was utterly out of the question, with that rough road to follow and the necessity of keeping a constant vigilant outlook, lest they collide with some tree. When the quarry was in full operation automobiles were an unknown luxury; and certainly no provision had ever been made for such a contraption passing along that crooked trail, with its numerous sharp curves intended to avoid natural obstacles. Three separate times already had Hugh brought the car to a full stop, and even caused the engine to cease its throbbing. This was done in order that all of them might strain their hearing, in hopes of catching some faint sound to tell that the missing boy whom they sought was close at hand.
But only disappointment succeeded each attempt to pick up information. They caught the dismal hooting of an owl in some dead tree not far away, but certainly such a doleful sound did not raise their spirits materially. Several times while they were moving along Owen had seen a movement amidst the brush that gave him a little thrill; but the glimpses he obtained of the disappearing animal convinced him in one instance that it was a red fox that scurried off in alarm; while on the second occasion he rather imagined it was only a ring-tailed raccoon scuttling away and badly frightened by the intense white glow that had suddenly penetrated his dark quarters.
If there was a wildcat within twenty miles the spot they certainly never knew of it, because no such beast of prey disclosed its presence to them while they continued on their way.
But then there were plenty of thrills for the boys. Not only did the weird hooting of that horned owl come to make their flesh creep, but now and again they detected strange sounds that may have been caused by limbs of the trees rubbing together in the night breeze, but which had a wonderful resemblance to human groans.