Then a shoulder of mountain shut him out and they saw him no more.

There’s a white man,” said Jim with deep conviction, as the ponies carried them from the scene. He’s rough as a bear, is Bitter, but white right down to his gizzard.”

Ralph regretted that he could not have taken one of the cubs along, but on the rough trip that still lay before them it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to transport it. So the little den of young cougars had to be left behind to await the return of their wounded mother, an event which, Mountain Jim declared, would take place within a short time.

Maybe I ought to have killed the whole boiling of them young termagents,” he said. They’ll grow up and make a heap of trouble for sheepmen, but let ’em be. I ain’t got the heart to make away with a lot of babies like them.”

It was dark when, on topping a backbone of desolate mountain, they saw in a valley below[233] them a light shining amidst the blackness. Jim declared that this must be the ranch for which they were searching, and they made their best speed toward the lonely beacon. If it had been hard traveling by daylight through the forest, it was doubly difficult to make their way by night. But Jim appeared to possess in a superlative degree that wonderful sense of location peculiar to persons who have passed their lives in the great silent places of the earth. It has been noted by travelers that a young Indian boy, who has apparently not noted in the slightest the course followed on a hunting expedition into the great woods, has been able, without any apparent mental effort, to guide back to camp the party of which he formed a member. Such a faculty has been ascribed as more due to instinct, the sense that brings a carrier pigeon home over unknown leagues, than to anything else.

Through the darkness they blundered on, through muskegs, fallen timber and swollen[234] creeks—the latter due to the heavy rains of the afternoon. At length, after it appeared to Ralph almost certain that they must have lost their way, they came out on a plateau and saw shining not half a mile from them the light for which Mountain Jim had been aiming.

A sea captain, with all the resources of highly perfected instruments, could not have made a more successful land-fall. But as they drew nearer to the light, a puzzled expression could have been observed on Mountain Jim’s face had it been clearly visible. Ralph, too, soon became aware of a great noise of shouting and singing proceeding from the vicinity of the light.