“I reckon that’s about the only thing to be done,” assented the guide.
And in twenty minutes’ time the four were again straining up Katahdin, clutching slippery rocks, sinking in sodden earth, shivering as they were besprinkled by every bush and dwarfed tree, and dreadfully hampered with their rifles.
“Never mind, boys; we’ll get there! Clinch yer teeth, and don’t squirm! Once we’re past this tangle, the bit of climbing that’s left will be as easy as rolling off a log!”
So shouted Herb cheerfully, as he tore a way with hand and foot through the stunted growth of alders and birch, which, beaten down by the winds, was now an almost impassable, sopping tangle.
“Keep in my tracks!” he bellowed again. “Gracious! but this sort o’ work is as slow as molasses crawling up-hill in winter.”
But ten minutes later, when the dripping jungle was behind, he dropped his jesting tone.
He came to a full stop, catching his breath with a big gulp.
“Boys,” he cried, “it’s standing yet! I see it—the old home-camp! There it is above us on that bit of a platform, with the big rock behind it. And I’ve kep’ saying to myself for the last quarter of an hour that we wouldn’t find it—that we’d find nary a thing but mildewed logs!”
A wealth of memories was in the woodsman’s eyes as he gazed up at the timber nest, the log camp which his own hands had put up, standing on a narrow plateau, and built against a protecting wall of rock that rose in jagged might to a height of thirty or forty feet.
An earth bank or ridge, covered with hardy mosses and mountain creepers, sloped gently up to the sheltered platform. To climb this was, indeed, “as easy as rolling off a log.”
“We used to have a good beaten path here, but I guess it’s all growed over,” said Herb in a thick voice, as if certain cords in his throat were swelling. “Many’s the time I’ve blessed the sight of that old home-camp, boys, after a hard week’s trapping. Hundert’s o’ night’s I’ve slept snug inside them log walls when blasts was a-sweeping and bellowing around, like as if they’d rip the mountain open, and tear its very rocks out.”
While the guide spoke he was leaping up the ridge. A few minutes, and he stood, a towering figure, on the platform above, waving his battered hat in salute to the old camp.
“I guess some traveller has been sheltering here lately!” he cried to Neal Farrar, as the latter overtook him. “There’s a litter around,” pointing to dry sticks and withered bushes strewn upon the camping-ground. “And the door’s standing open. I wonder who found the old shanty?”
Neal remembered, hours afterwards, that at the moment he felt an odd awakening stir in him, a stir which, shooting from head to foot, seemed to warn him that he was nearing a sensation, the biggest sensation of this wilderness trip.
He heard the voices of Cyrus and Dol hallooing behind; but they sounded away back and indistinct, for his ears were bent towards the deserted camp, listening with breathless expectation for something, he didn’t know what.