So presently Dol Farrar got to his feet again, when he had recovered breath and strength, and told himself pluckily that “he wasn’t going to knock under,” that “he had been in bad scrapes before now, and had not shown the white feather.” He gritted his teeth, and resolved that he would not show that craven pinion, even in the desperate solitude of these baffling woods where no eye could see his weakness. He did not want to have a secret, humiliating memory by and by that he had been faltering and distracted when his life depended on his wits and endurance.
He squared his shoulders sturdily, as if to make the most of the budding manhood that was in him, and trudged ahead. And, indeed, he had need to take his courage in both hands, and force it to stand by him; for he had not gone far when, though the forest still continued dense, he became aware that he was beginning a steep ascent. Was the trail going to lead him up a mountain-side? The way grew yet more rugged. Every step was a misery. Jagged edges of rock and never-ending roots seemed to brand themselves with burning friction upon his feet, through their soft buckskin covering. He tried to hearten himself into a belief that he must soon reach some mountain camp or settlement.
But a bleak horror threw a gray shade upon his face as his staring eyes saw that the trail was growing fainter—fainter—fainter. At the foot of a steep crag, where a mass of earth, stones, and dead spruce-trees showed that there had lately been a landslide on the mountain above, he lost it altogether. It had led him to a pile of rubbish.
A forest guide-post.
At the foot of that crag Dol stood still, while a great shiver crept from his neck up the back of his head, stirring his hair. He peered in every direction; but there was no sign of a camp, nothing to show that any human foot before his had disturbed the solitude of this mountain-side, and no further marks on the ground, save one impression on a bed of earth at his feet where some animal had lately lain.
The disappointment was stupefying.
At last a fog of terror settled down upon him,—a fog which blotted out every sight and sound, blotted out even his own thoughts, all except one, which, like a danger-signal in a mist, kept booming through his brain: “Lost! Lost!”
By and by he was sitting on the piled-up stones and dirt of the slide; but he had no remembrance of getting to this resting-place, for he was still befogged.
Something snorted close to his right ear,—loud snort, which banished stupor, and set his pulses jumping. It was a deer, a beautiful doe in a coat of reddish-drab, matching the autumnal tints of the forest, wherever maples, birches, and cedars mingled with the evergreens. She had bounded upon him suddenly from behind a dead spruce and a mound of earth.