At the edge of the woods he found a little fairy, foamy waterfall, which had tumbled down from the mountain to be lost in the dismal swamp. But Dol felt that it had accomplished its mission when he unfastened the tin drinking-mug which hung from his belt, and drank—drank—drank! He straightened himself again, feeling that some of the bubbling life of the mountain torrent had passed into him. His eyes lit on a towering pine-tree just beyond it. And then—
Well! if that sky-piercing pine had suddenly changed at a jump into a gray post, bearing the inscription, “One mile to Boston,” Dol Farrar could not have been more astonished and relieved than when he saw for the first time a rude forest guide-post.
To the dark, knotted trunk was fastened a piece of light, delicate bark, stripped from a white-birch tree. On this was scrawled in big letters, by some instrument evidently not intended for penmanship:—
“Follow the blazed trail and you are safe.”
“Another blazed trail! Hurrah!” shouted Dol. “Won’t I follow it? I never will follow any other again if I live to be a hundred, and come to these woods every year till I die!”
The height of his relief could only be measured by the depth of his past misery, which would truly have been enough to set a weaker boy crazy. With watering eyes and panting breaths that came near to being sobs of gladness, he started upon the new trail. It led him off into the forest surrounding the swamp.
The pine that had been chosen for guide-post was the first in the line of spotted trees. The others followed it closely, with intervals of eight or ten yards between them; and as the notches in their trunks were freshly cut, Dol followed the track without any difficulty for twenty minutes. He had a suspicion that he was nearing the end of it; though he was still in forest gloom, with light coming in meagre, ever-lessening streaks through the pine-tufts above. Then he started more violently than when the deer snorted near his ear.
Suddenly and shrilly the blast of a horn rang through the darkening woodland aisles, followed, after a pause of a minute or two, by a second and louder blast.
Then a well-pitched, far-reaching voice sang out:—“Come to supper, boys! Come to supper!”
“Good gracious!” said Dol, conscious on the instant that he was as hollow as a drum. “There are enough surprises in these forests to raise the hair on a fellow’s head half a dozen times a day!”
A matter of forty yards more, and a burst of light swam before his eyes. He had reached the end of the blazed trail.
“Hello! Come to supper, boys! Come to supper right away!”
Half eagerly, half shrinkingly, Dol emerged from the woods, feeling a very torment of hunger quickened in him by the tantalizing sound of that oft-repeated invitation.