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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrank Merriwell, Junior's, Golden Trail - Chapter 4. A Close Call
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Frank Merriwell, Junior's, Golden Trail - Chapter 4. A Close Call Post by :Dirk_Wagner Category :Long Stories Author :Burt L. Standish Date :May 2012 Read :2131

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Frank Merriwell, Junior's, Golden Trail - Chapter 4. A Close Call

CHAPTER IV. A CLOSE CALL

Just one thing saved Ballard from going over his head into the cyanide solution, and that was this: Porter had not twisted the plank off the rim of the tank, but had manipulated it in such a way as to cause Ballard to lose his footing and drop into the poisonous liquid beneath. As Ballard dropped, he flung out his arms, seized the plank, and so kept head and shoulders out of the cyanide. Had he gone under or swallowed even a few drops of the deadly stuff, that pursuit of the savage prospector would have had a tragic termination. Ballard, kicking around in the solution, was trying to drag himself up on the plank as Merry crept toward him.

"Steady there, Pink!" called Frank. "Don't splash the stuff around, and keep out of it as much as you can. It's a deadly poison."

"Never mind me," cried, Ballard. "Keep after that confounded prospector He'll get away if you don't."

"You first, old chap," Frank answered. "It has a scurvy trick Porter played on you, and--and it might have resulted fatally. Now, then!"

Gripping his chum by the arms, Frank heaved him upward until he was on his knees on the plank.

"Want any help?" came the agitated voice of Clancy, from just below the solution tank.

"No," answered Merriwell, "we're making it all right."

"Drop him over the side," called Pardo, "here, over in this direction. There's a tank of clear water next to the solution vat, and the quicker your friend rinses that cyanide out of his clothes, the better."

"Oh, hang the cyanide!" shouted Ballard. "I was only half into the stuff, anyhow. Stop Porter, if you can. The brute is guilty of something or he wouldn't act like that."

"Drop into that tank of water, Pink," ordered Merry, "or I'll throw you in."

Ballard, without further discussion, lowered himself down into the reservoir of water that supplied the mill and kicked around in it for a few moments; then, drawing himself up on the rim of the vat, he jumped off to the ground at the superintendent's side. Merry and Clany quickly joined him.

"Say," cried the startled Pardo, grabbing Ballard by the arm, "did you swallow any of the solution?"

"How could I?" was the answer. "I only went in to the waist."

"Got any cuts or sores on the lower part of your body?"

"No."

"By gorry." declared Pardo, "you're a lucky kid all right. Cyanide of potassium is the most virulent poison known. If a person scratches his finger on the tin in opening a case, and gets some of the solution in the cut, in less than fifteen minutes he's a goner. You don't know, son, how much you've got to be thankful for."

Now that it was all over, and Ballard was beginning to realize how deadly was the bath in which he had been plunged, a few cold shivers started up and down his spine.

"My skin is getting up and walking all over me with cold feet," said he. "I've got to warm up, and right now there's only one thing I want, and that is to get my hands in Porter's whiskers and twist his neck. Let's hotfoot it around and see if we can find him."

"This way, my lads," shouted Pardo. "If the thing has happened that I've got in my mind, there's no use in hunting around this camp for the prospector. We'll find out in a brace of shakes."

With Pardo leading the way, the boys ran to a corral on the other side of the camp. Pardo stopped. The corral gate was swinging open.

"That looks," he commented, "as though some one had taken out a horse in a hurry. I'll just go in and see if Porter's horse is tied in its usual place. If it isn't, why, we can make up our minds that--"

Just at that moment a man approached from the corral. The boys jumped forward instinct spelled by the thought that it might be Porter. But it was not.

"That you, Cummins?" called the super.

"Yep, Pardo, it's Cummins," was the answer.

"Seen anything of Nick Porter?"

"Jest about. Say, Nick Porter stormed in here a minute ago, got the gear on his bronk in record time, an' was off and away afore I could git close enough to find out what was up."

"Which way did he go?" demanded Frank. "Toward town?"

"Nary. I rushed around the corral jest in time to see him p'intin' for Pete Loco's, which is right the other way from town."

"He's made a get-away, boys," said Pardo, "and you might as well give him up."

"We're not going to give him up," Frank answered decidedly. "We've got to keep after him, and run him down. It's--it's important."

"Well, now," protested the super, "you'd better think twice about that. Porter has shown that he won't stop at anything. He don't want to talk with you, does he? He's shown his teeth once; next time he does that he'll probably bite, and bite hard."

"We'll look out for ourselves," put in the impatient Clancy. "He's the fellow we want, Chip. Why did he turn on us as he did if he hasn't a guilty mind?"

"You think," spoke up Pardo, "that he knows what has become of your friend, the professor? Mr. Bradlaugh told me, over the phone," he explained, "why you wanted to talk with Porter."

"It's a cinch, strikes me," answered Merry, "that Porter can tell us something about the missing prof. Wouldn't you figure it out that way, Mr. Pardo?"

"Well, yes," acknowledged the superintendent. "I don't know but I would. What I'm trying to get at is this: Old Nick Porter has proved that he isn't a safe proposition for you boys to tackle."

"You don't know us, Mr. Pardo," laughed Clancy. "That wasn't a fair shake the prospector gave us on top of those cyanide tanks. We ought to keep right after him. If we come close, we'll land on him by strategy."

"That's the talk, Red!" approved Ballard, through his chattering teeth. "I'll furnish the strategy, if Chip should fall down on it. Let's get to moving. Three horses, Mr. Pardo, if you can spare 'em."

"You haven't the slightest notion where Porter is going," said the super, plainly disapproving the plan of the boys to follow Porter, and marshaling every argument he could against it.

"Where can he go along that trail toward Pete Loco's?" returned Frank. "There are only two places the trail leads to--one is Loco's and the other is McGurvin's. The trail stops at McGurvin's."

"We haven't a horse for you. All that's left in the corral is the prospector's pack burro."

"How about the two motor cycles?" Frank asked. "Mr. Bradlaugh said you had a couple of the machines here, and that we would be welcome to them if we found they'd come handy."

"Well, yes," said Pardo, "I've got the motor cycles. If you insist on going after the prospector, you can take them. But they'll only carry two--one of you will have to stay behind."

"We'll draw straws, Red and I, to see who stays," chattered Ballard.

"No, you won't," cut in Merry firmly. "Pink, you've done enough for one night, and have thrown a scare into me that I won't get over in a hurry. You want to warm up, and the best way for you to do that is to sprint for town, kick off those cyanide-soaked clothes, and get into bed."

"Now look here," Ballard protested, "I'm just as able to go on with this chase as either you or Red. I've got an ax of my own to grind, too. Remember, Chip, I'm the one that Porter dropped into the solution tank. The prospector owes me something for that. Let Clancy go back to the hotel--"

"You're as wet as a drowned rat, Pink," struck in Clancy, "and if you don't go back to town Chip and I will worry our heads off about you."

"Oh, yes, you'll worry a lot," derided Ballard. "The excitement is just beginning, and I'm entitled to a little of it."

"There are only two motor cycles, Pink," argued Merry, "so only two of us can go."

"I'll ride the burro," suggested Ballard desperately.

"And we'd go to the Picket Posts and back while you were getting to Loco's," laughed Clancy. "You for town, Pink. Don't hang back. Maybe you'll dream some more."

"You go to blazes," growled Ballard, seeing that the argument was already decided against him and that his protests were only delaying the pursuit.

"Where are the machines, Mr. Pardo?" asked Merry.

"This way," the super answered, and led the boys to an adobe storehouse not far from the corral.

The motor cycles proved to be twin-cylinder, highpowered machines.

"They're loaded with gasoline and oil," said Pardo, "for we always keep them in trim for an emergency."

The gas lamps attached to the front of the motor cycles were lighted, and two penciled gleams searched out the ground far in advance.

"Porter has a good, long start of us," remarked Clancy, an exultant note in his voice, "but on these buzz buggies we ought to be able to travel a dozen yards to his one."

"I don't know whether I ought to let you go," said Pardo. "I'd go on one of the machines myself if the assistant superintendent wasn't away so that I am needed here. What will Mr. Bradlaugh say?"

Merriwell laughed at the super's foolish fears.

"Mr. Bradlaugh knows us better than you do, Mr. Pardo," he answered, "and he'll say you did just right to let us have the machines and take up the chase where we dropped it at the cyanide tanks."

Merry, astride his wheel, was cranking with the pedals. The engine began to pop and sputter and was finally crooning its steady song of speed. Clancy had likewise turned his own engine over.

"I wish you luck, anyhow," said Pardo.

"We'll find that golden trail of yours, Pink," joked Clancy, "and bring you one of the nuggets as a souvenir."

"Just bring back your scalp, Red," answered Ballard. "That's all the souvenir I want."

Frank dropped a foot and give his Machine a hunch forward. The pneumatic tires touched ground, the iron rests folded up automatically, and he started through the gloom toward the trail that led to Pete Loco's. A moment later Clancy darted after him.

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