“To do that we’d have to drop the trail again. And besides, what does an hour, or even two of them, matter in the end? Slow but sure is the successful scout’s motto, boys. Hello I look here, what’s this?”
Paul thrust his lantern down close to the ground. Bending over to look, the others could see the plain impression of a child’s little shoe. It was heading due north, just as many similar tracks had been of late.
“Now if you look at this you’ll see it’s nearly crushed out by the big print of a man’s foot; while just beyond the child has stepped into the impression made by the man. That can mean only one thing; the two were going on in company, and for a minute he let go the little one’s hand, so that first the child was in front, and then behind.”
“I guess you’re right, Paul. But see here, what does this mean? The small track has dropped out altogether,” remarked William.
“That is where the big fellow picks the boy up in his arms, and is carrying him,” said Wallace, before Paul could answer.
“Right you are, that is just what happened. To tell the truth I don’t know why he didn’t do that before. He must have been toting some bundle along, and couldn’t well carry the boy too. Come back a bit. I want to look around,” and Paul retraced his steps until he had reached the spot where a confusion of tracks met his gaze.
He followed the man’s trail a few paces, and found himself under a tree. Raising his lantern he carefully examined the bark of the trunk, and finding several fresh scratches, pursued his investigations still higher.
One accommodating limb grew rather low. In fact a man could, by reaching up his arms, clasp it easily; and that was what Paul believed had been done.
“Give me a push, somebody; and then hand up my lantern,” he said, clasping his arms about the tree as well as he was able.
Ten seconds later William was handing him up the light; after which Paul began to ascend slowly, looking about him as though constantly on the watch for signs that would tell another had preceded him.
“All right; it’s here. I’m coming down, fellows,” he soon called out.
Reaching that friendly lower limb he held something in view.
“Take hold of this, Bobolink, and handle it carefully, because we don’t know what’s in the package. It might be dynamite!” he remarked.
“Oh! I hope not!” exclaimed the one in whose arms the bundle reposed; and he did not look any too happy at the prospect ahead.
“Don’t be silly,” said Paul, as he dropped beside them. “But whatever it may be, we might as well hide it in a new place. Then if the fellow should come back here to get it, he’s going to meet with a disappointment, that’s all.”
“But what d’ye think it is?” argued the one who clasped the large package in his arms, though with evident reluctance.
“That is none of our business just now. It may be honest enough, and we’d get into a peck of trouble if we peeked. So let’s just chuck it in some hollow stump as we go along, and muffle our trail behind us so he can’t find where we put it. Later on I think I know some one who will be glad to look into what it contains.”