PLUCK ON THE LONG TRAIL
Boy Scouts in the Rockies
EDWIN L. SABIN
THE BOY SCOUT SERIES
BOY SCOUTS IN THE MAINE WOODS By James Otis. Illustrated by Charles Copeland.
ALONG THE MOHAWK TRAIL; OR, BOY SCOUTS ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN By Percy K. Fitzhugh. Illustrated by Remington Schuyler.
PLUCK ON THE LONG TRAIL; OR, BOY SCOUTS IN THE ROCKIES By Edwin L. Sabin. Illustrated by Clarence Rowe.
Each, 12mo, cloth, $1.25 postpaid.
A series of wholesome, realistic, entertaining stories for boys by writers who have a thorough knowledge of Boy Scouts and of real scouting in the sections of the country in which the scenes of their books are laid.
THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY NEW YORK
PLUCK ON THE LONG TRAIL
Boy Scouts in the Rockies
EDWIN L. SABIN Author of "Bar B Boys," "Range and Trail," "Circle K," Etc.
Illustrated by Clarence H. Rowe
It's honor Flag and Country dear, and hold them in the van; It's keep your lungs and conscience clean, your body spick and span; It's "shoulders squared" and "be prepared," and always "play the man"; Shouting the Boy Scouts forev-er!
New York Thomas Y. Crowell Company Publishers Copyright, 1912, by Thomas Y. Crowell Company
Scouts in America have a high honor to maintain, for the American scout has always been the best in the world. He is noted as being keen, quick, cautious, and brave. He teaches himself, and he is willing to be taught by others. He is known and respected. Even in the recent war in South Africa between Great Britain and the Boers, it was Major Frederick Russell Burnham, an American, once a boy in Iowa, who was the English Chief of Scouts. Major Burnham is said to be the greatest modern scout.
The information in this book is based upon thoroughly American scoutcraft as practiced by Indians, trappers, and soldiers of the old-time West, and by mountaineers, plainsmen, and woodsmen of to-day.
As the true-hearted scout should readily acknowledge favor and help, so I will say that for the diagram of the squaw hitch and of the diamond hitch I am indebted to an article by Mr. Stewart Edward White in Outing of 1907, and one by Mr. I. J. Bush in Recreation of 1911; for the "medicine song" and several of the star legends, to that Blackfeet epic, "The Old North Trail," by Walter McClintock; for medical and surgical hints, to Dr. Charles Moody's "Backwoods Surgery and Medicine" and to the American Red Cross "First Aid" text-book; for some of the lore, to personal experiences; and for much of it, to various old army, hunting, and explorer scout-books, long out of print, written when good scouting meant not only daily food, travel, and shelter, but daily life itself.
E. L. S.
I. The Long Trail 1 II. The Night Attack 11 III. The Big Trout 21 IV. The Beaver Man 31 V. Two Recruits 39 VI. A Disastrous Doze 54 VII. Held by the Enemy 69 VIII. A New Use for a Camera 85 IX. Jim Bridger on the Trail 98 X. The Red Fox Patrol 111 XI. The Man at the Dug-out 121 XII. Foiling the Fire 133 XIII. Orders from the President 146 XIV. The Capture of the Beaver Man 161 XV. General Ashley Drops Out 179 XVI. A Burro in Bed 185 XVII. Van Sant's Last Cartridge 199 XVIII. Fitz the Bad Hand's Good Throw 215 XIX. Major Henry says "Ouch" 230 XX. A Forty-mile Ride 244 XXI. The Last Dash 258
1. On Old-Time Scouts 277 2. On Taking a Message to Garcia 278 3. On Socks and Feet 279 4. On the Tarpaulin Bed-Sheet 279 5. On the Diamond Hitch 279 6. On the Indian Bow and Arrow 282 7. On the Lariat or Rope 282 8. On Neatness and the War-bag 283 9. On Tea 283 10. On the Medicine Kit 283 11. On the Straight-foot Walk 284 12. On Sign Language 284 13. On Sign for Bird Flying 286 14. On Making the Tarp Bed 286 15. On the Reflector Oven—and a Shovel 287 16. On a Whistle Code 287 17. On Brushing Teeth and Hair 287 18. On Snagging Fish 287 19. On Drying Boots 288 20. On Records and Maps 288 21. On Right or Left Footedness 288 22. On Weather Warnings 289 23. On Watching Teeth 290 24. On Lightning 290 25. On Bedding Place 290 26. On Cooking 290 27. On the Tarp Shelter Tent 291 28. On Guns 291 29. On Treating Pack-Animals 292 30. On the Scout Camp Place 292 31. On Camp-Law Protection 292 32. On Division of Guard Duty 292 33. On Trailing 292 34. On Marking the Trail 293 35. On Respecting the Enemy 293 36. On the Parole 293 37. On the Sign for Escape 294 38. On Tying a Prisoner 294 40. On Making a Fire 296 41. On the Clock of the Heavens 296 42. On Stars 298 43. On Sunday 300 44. On Smoke Signals 300 45. On Surgical Supplies 301 46. On Antiseptics 302 47. On Climbing Trees 303 48. On Wigwags and Other Motion Signaling 303 49. On Sprains 308 50. On Caches 309 51. On Use of Medicines 310 52. On Forest Fires 311 53. On Fire Fighting 312 54. On Deep Wounds 313 55. On the Squaw Hitch 314 56. On Picketing and Hobbling 315 57. On Respecting Nature 316 58. On Dislocations 316 59. On Litters for Wounded 317 60. On Jerked Meat 318 61. On Dressing Pelts 319 62. On Aluminum 320 63. On "Levez!" 320 64. On Appendicitis 320 65. On the Nose of Horse and Mule 321 66. On Being a Scout 321
[Transcriber's note: Note 39 was not referenced in this table.]
"'You git!' he ordered" Frontispiece
"Bill Duane went through him" 78 "It was our private Elk Patrol code" 178 "Like cave-men or trappers we descended" 214
THE ROLL CALL
THE ELK PATROL OF COLORADO:
First-class Scout Roger Franklin, or General William Ashley. First-class Scout Tom Scott, or Major Andrew Henry. First-class Scout Harry Leonard, or Kit Carson. First-class Scout Chris Anderson, or Thomas Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand. Second-class Scout "Little" Dick Smith, or Jedediah Smith. Second-class Scout Charley Brown, or Jim Bridger.
THE RED FOX PATROL OF NEW JERSEY:
First-class Scout Horace Ward. First-class Scout Edward Van Sant.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES:
Sally and Apache, the Elk Totem Burros. Bill Duane and his Town Gang, Who Make the Trail Worse. Bat and Walt, the Renegade Recruits. The Beaver Man. The Game Warden, the Forest Ranger, the Cow-puncher, the two Ranch Women, the Doctor; Pilot Peak, Creeks, Valleys, Hills, Timber, and Sage and Meadows; Rain and Fire and Flood; the Big Trout, the Mother Bear, the Tame Ptarmigans, etc.
THE LONG TRAIL
Afoot, One Hundred Miles through a Wild Country and over the Medicine Range. Described by Jim Bridger, with a Few Chapters by Major Henry.
PLUCK ON THE LONG TRAIL
THE LONG TRAIL
We are the Elk Patrol, 14th Colorado Troop, Boy Scouts of America. Our sign is and our colors are dark green and white, like the pines and the snowy range. Our patrol call is the whistle of an elk, which is an "Oooooooooooo!" high up in the head, like a locomotive whistle. We took the Elk brand (that is the same as totem, you know, only we say "brand," in the West), because elks are the great trail-makers in the mountains.
About the hardest thing that we have set out to do yet has been to carry a secret message across the mountains, one hundred miles, from our town to another town, with our own pack outfit, and finding our own trail, and do it in fifteen days including Sundays. That is what I want to tell about, in this book.
There were six of us who went; and just for fun we called ourselves by trapper or scout names. We were:
First-class Scout Roger Franklin, or General William Ashley. He is our patrol leader. He is fifteen years old, and red-headed, and his mother is a widow and keeps a boarding-house.
First-class Scout Tom Scott, or Major Andrew Henry. He is our corporal. He is sixteen years old, and has snapping black eyes, and his father is mayor.
First-class Scout Harry Leonard, or Kit Carson. He is thirteen years old, and before he came into the Scouts we called him "Sliver" because he's so skinny. His father is a groceryman.
First-class Scout Chris Anderson, or Thomas Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand. He is fifteen years old, and tow-headed and all freckled, and has only half a left arm. He got hurt working in the mine. But he's as smart as any of us. He can use a camera and throw a rope and dress himself, and tie his shoe-laces and other knots. He's our best trailer. His father is a miner.
Second-class Scout Richard Smith, or Jedediah Smith. He is only twelve, and is a "fatty," and his father is postmaster.
Second-class Scout Charley Brown, or Jim Bridger the Blanket Chief. That's myself. I'm fourteen, and have brown eyes and big ears, and my father is a lawyer. When we started I had just been promoted from a tenderfoot, so I didn't know very much yet. But we're all first-class Scouts now, and have honors besides.
For Scout work we were paired off like this: Ashley and Carson; Henry and Smith; Fitzpatrick and Bridger. (See Note 1, in back of book.)
Our trip would have been easier (but it was all right, anyway), if a notice hadn't got into the newspaper and put other boys up to trying to stop us. This is what the notice said:
The Elk Patrol of the local Boy Scouts is about to take a message from Mayor Scott across the range to the mayor of Green Valley. This message will be sealed and in cipher, and the boys will be granted fifteen days in which to perform the trip over, about 100 miles, afoot; so they will have to hustle. They must not make use of any vehicles or animals except their pack-animals, or stop at ranches except through injury or illness, but must pursue their own trail and live off the country. The boys who will go are Roger Franklin, Tom Scott, Dick Smith, Harry Leonard, Chris Anderson, and Charley Brown.
Of course, this notice gave the whole scheme away, and some of the other town boys who pretended to make fun of us Scouts because we were trying to learn Scoutcraft and to use it right planned to cut us off and take the message away from us. There always are boys mean enough to bother and interfere, until they get to be Scouts themselves. Then they are ashamed.
We knew that we were liable to be interfered with, because we heard some talk, and Bill Duane (he's one of the town fellows; he doesn't do much of anything except loaf) said to me: "Oh, you'll never get through, kid. The bears will eat you up. Bears are awful bad in that country."
But this didn't scare us. Bears aren't much, if you let them alone. We knew what he meant, though. And we got an anonymous letter. It came to General Ashley, and showed a skull and cross-bones, and said:
BEWARE!!! No Boy Scouts allowed on the Medicine Range! Keep Off!!!
That didn't scare us, either.
When we were ready to start, Mayor Scott called us into his office and told us that this was to be a real test of how we could be of service in time of need and of how we could take care of ourselves; and that we were carrying a message to Garcia, and must get it through, if we could, but that he put us on our honor as Scouts to do just as we had agreed to do. (See Note 2.)
Then we saluted him, and he saluted us with a military salute, and we gave our Scouts' yell, and went.
Our Scouts' yell is:
B. S. A.! B. S. A.! Elk! Elk! Hoo-ray!!
and a screech all together, like the bugling of an elk.
This is how we marched. The message was done up flat, between cardboard covered by oiled silk with the Elk totem on it, and was slung by a buckskin thong from the general's neck, under his shirt, out of sight.
We didn't wear coats, because coats were too hot, and you can't climb with your arms held by coat-sleeves. We had our coats in the packs, for emergencies. We wore blue flannel shirts with the Scouts' emblem on the sleeves, and Scouts' drab service hats, and khaki trousers tucked into mountain-boots hob-nailed with our private pattern so that we could tell each other's tracks, and about our necks were red bandanna handkerchiefs knotted loose, and on our hands were gauntlet gloves. Little Jed Smith, who is a fatty, wore two pairs of socks, to prevent his feet from blistering. That is a good scheme. (Note 3.)
General Ashley and Major Henry led; next were our two burros, Sally (who was a yellow burro with a white spot on her back) and Apache (who was a black burro and was named for Kit Carson's—the real Kit Carson's—favorite horse). Behind the burros we came: the two other first-class Scouts, and then the second-class Scouts, who were Jed Smith and myself.
We took along two flags: one was the Stars and Stripes and the other was our Patrol flag—green with a white Elk totem on it. They were fastened to a jointed staff, the Stars and Stripes on top and the Patrol flag below; and the butt of the staff was sharpened, to stick into the ground. The flags flew in camp. We did not have tents. We had three tarps, which are tarpaulins or cowboy canvas bed-sheets, to sleep in, on the ground, and some blankets and quilts for over and under, too. (Note 4.) And these and our cooking things and a change of underclothes and stockings, etc., were packed on the burros with panniers and top-packs lashed tight with the diamond hitch. (Note 5.)
We decided to pack along one twenty-two caliber rifle, for rabbits when we needed meat. One gun is enough in a camp of kids. This gun was under the general's orders (he was our leader, you know), so that there wouldn't be any promiscuous shooting around in the timber, and somebody getting hit. It was for business, not monkey-work. We took one of our bows, the short and thick Indian kind, and some of our two-feathered arrows, in case that we must get meat without making any noise. (Note 6.) And we had two lariat ropes. (Note 7.) Each pair of Scouts was allotted a war-bag, to hold their personal duds, and each fellow put in a little canvas kit containing tooth-brush and powder, comb and brush, needles and thread, etc. (Note 8.)
For provisions we had flour, salt, sugar, bacon, dried apples, dried potatoes, rice, coffee (a little), tea, chocolate, baking-powder, condensed milk, canned butter, and half a dozen cans of beans, for short order. (Note 9.) Canned stuff is heavy, though, and mean to pack. We didn't fool with raw beans, in bulk. They use much space, and at 10,000 and 12,000 feet they take too long to soak and cook.
We depended on catching trout, and on getting rabbits or squirrels to tide us over; and we were allowed to stock up at ranches, if we should pass any. That was legitimate. Even the old trappers traded for meat from the Indians.
We had our first-aid outfits—one for each pair of us. I carried Chris's and mine. We were supplied with camp remedies, too. (Note 10.) Doctor Wallace of our town, who was our Patrol surgeon, had picked them out for us.
General Ashley and Major Henry set the pace. The trail out of town was good, and walking fast and straight-footed (Note 11) we trailed by the old stage road four miles, until we came to Grizzly Gulch. Here we turned off, by a prospectors' trail, up Grizzly. The old stage road didn't go to Green Valley. Away off to the northwest, now, was the Medicine Range that we must cross, to get at Green Valley on the other side. It is a high, rough range, 13,000 and 14,000 feet, and has snow on it all the year. In the middle was Pilot Peak, where we expected to strike a pass.
The prospect trail was fair, and we hustled. We didn't stop to eat much, at noon; that would have taken our wind. The going was up grade and you can't climb fast on a full stomach. We had a long march ahead of us, for old Pilot Peak looked far and blue.
Now and then the general let us stop, to puff for a moment; and the packs had to be tightened after Sally's and Apache's stomachs had gone down with exercise. We followed the trail single file, and about two o'clock, by the sun, we reached the head of the gulch and came out on top of the mesa there.
We were hot and kind of tired (especially little Jed Smith, our "fatty"); but we were not softies and this was no place to halt long. We must cross and get under cover again. If anybody was spying on us we could be seen too easy, up here. When you're pursuing, you keep to the high ground, so as to see; but when you're pursued you keep to the low ground, so as not to be seen. That was the trappers' way.
I'll tell you what we did. There are two ways to throw pursuers off the scent. We might have done as the Indians used to do. They would separate, after a raid, and would spread out in a big fan-shape, every one making a trail of his own, so that the soldiers would not know which to follow; and after a long while they would come together again at some point which they had agreed on. But we weren't ready to do this. It took time, and we did not have any meeting-spot, exactly. So we left as big a trail as we could, to make any town gang think that we were not suspicious. That would throw them off their guard.
Single file we traveled across the mesa, and at the other side we dipped into a little draw. Here we found Ute Creek, which we had planned to follow up to its headwaters in the Medicine Range. A creek makes a good guide. A cow-trail ran beside it.
"First-class Scout Fitzpatrick (that was Chris) and Second-class Scout Bridger (that was I) drop out and watch the trail," commanded General Ashley (that was Patrol Leader Roger Franklin). "Report at Bob Cat Springs. We'll camp there for the night."
Chris and I knew what to do. We gave a big leap aside, to a flat rock, and the other Scouts continued right along; and because they were single file the trail didn't show any difference. I don't suppose that the town gang would have noticed, anyway; but you must never despise the enemy.
From the flat rock Fitzpatrick and I stepped lightly, so as not to leave much mark, on some dried grass, and made off up the side of the draw, among the bushes. These grew as high as our shoulders, and formed a fine ambuscade. We climbed far enough so that we could see both sides of the draw and the trail in between; and by crawling we picked a good spot and sat down.
We knew that we must keep still, and not talk. We kept so still that field-mice played over our feet, and a bee lit on Fitzpatrick. He didn't brush it off.
We could talk sign language; that makes no sound. Of course, Fitz could talk with only one hand. He made the signs to watch down the trail, and to listen; and I replied with men on horseback and be vigilant as a wolf. (Note 12.)
It wasn't bad, sitting here in the sunshine, amidst the brush. The draw was very peaceful and smelled of sage. A magpie flew over, his black and white tail sticking out behind him; and he saw us and yelled. Magpies are awful sharp, that way. They're a good sign to watch. Everything tells something to a Scout, when he's an expert.
Sitting there, warm and comfortable, a fellow felt like going to sleep; but Fitzpatrick was all eyes and ears, and I tried to be the same, as a Scout should.
THE NIGHT ATTACK
We must have been squatting for an hour and a half, and the sun was down close to the top of the draw, behind us, when Fitzpatrick nudged me with his foot, and nodded. He made the sign of birds flying up and pointed down the trail, below, us; so that I knew somebody was coming, around a turn there. (Note 13.) We scarcely breathed. We just sat and watched, like two mountain lions waiting.
Pretty soon they came riding along—four of them on horseback; we knew the horses. The fellows were Bill Duane, Mike Delavan, Tony Matthews, and Bert Hawley. They were laughing and talking because the trail we made was plain and they thought that we all were pushing right on, and if they could read sign they would know that the tracks were not extra fresh.
We let them get out of sight; then we went straight down upon the trail, and followed, alongside, so as not to step on top of their tracks and show that we had come after.
We talked only by sign, and trailed slow, because they might be listening or looking back. We wanted to find where they stopped. At every turn we sneaked and Fitzpatrick stuck just his head around, to see that the trail was clear. Suddenly he made sign to me that he saw them; there were three on horseback, waiting, and one had gone on, walking, to reconnoiter.
So we had to back-trail until we could make a big circle and strike the trail on ahead. This wasn't open country here; there were cedars and pinyons and big rocks. We circuited up and around, out of sight from the trail, and came in, bending low and walking carefully so as not to crack sticks, to listen and examine for sign. We found strange tracks—soles without hob-nails, pointing one way but not coming back. We hid behind a cedar, and waited. In about fifteen minutes Bill Duane walked right past us, back to the other fellows.
Now we hurried on, for it was getting dark; and soon we smelled smoke, and that meant camp. Fitzpatrick (who was a first-class Scout, while I was only a second) reported to General Ashley the whereabouts of the enemy.
"Very well," said General Ashley. "Corporal Andrew Henry (that was Tom Scott) and Second-class Scout Jed Smith (that was Dick Smith) will go back a quarter of a mile and picket the trail until relieved; the rest of us will proceed with camp duties."
Major Henry and little Jed Smith set off. We finished establishing camp. Two holes were dug for camp refuse; that was my business. Places for the beds were cleared of sticks and things; that was Kit Carson's business. General Ashley chopped a cedar stump for wood (cedar burns without soot, you know); and Fitzpatrick cooked. The burros had been unpacked and the flags planted before Fitzpatrick and I came in. We had to picket the burros out, to graze, at first, or they might have gone back to town. Of course, as we were short-handed, we had to do Henry's and Smith's work, to-night, too: spread the beds before dark and bring water and such things. (Note 14.)
For supper we had bacon and two cans of the beans and biscuits baked in a reflector, and coffee. (Note 15.) Major Henry and Jed Smith were not getting any supper yet, because they were still on picket duty. But when we were through General Ashley said, "Kit Carson, you and Jim Bridger relieve Henry and Smith, and tell them to come in to supper."
But just as we stood, to start, Major Henry walked in amongst us. He was excited, and puffing, and he almost forgot to salute General Ashley, who was Patrol leader.
"They're planning to come!" he puffed. "I sneaked close to them and heard 'em talking!"
"Is this meant for a report?" asked General Ashley. And we others snickered. It wasn't the right way to make a report.
"Yes, sir," answered Henry. "That is, I reconnoitered the enemy's camp, sir, and they're talking about us."
"What did you hear?"
"They're going to rush us when we're asleep, and scare us."
"Very well," said General Ashley. "But you weren't ordered to do that. You left your post, sir."
"I thought you'd like to know. They didn't hear me," stammered Major Henry.
"You'd no business to go, just the same. Orders are orders. Where is Smith?"
"Watching on picket."
"Did he go, too?"
"You exceeded orders, and you ought to be court-martialed," said General Ashley. And he was right, too. "But I'll give you another chance. When is the enemy going to attack?"
"After we're asleep."
"What is he doing now?"
"Eating and smoking and waiting, down the trail."
"You can have some coffee and beans and bread, while we hold council. Carson and Bridger can wait a minute."
The council didn't take long. General Ashley's plan was splendid, a joke and a counter-attack in one. Major Henry ate as much as he could, but he wasn't filled up when he was sent out again, into the dark, with Kit Carson. They were ordered to tell Jed Smith to come in, but they were to go on. You'll see what happened. This double duty was Henry's punishment.
We cleaned up the camp, and then Jed Smith arrived. While he was eating we made the beds. We drew up the tarpaulins, over blankets and quilts rolled so that the beds looked exactly as if we were in them, our feet to the fire (it was a little fire, of course) and our heads in shadow. We tied the burros short; and then we went back into the cedars and pinyons and sat down, quiet.
It wasn't pitchy dark. When the sky is clear it never gets pitchy dark, in the open; and there was a quarter-moon shining, too. The night was very still. The breeze just rustled the trees, but we could hear our hearts beat. Once, about a mile away, a coyote barked like a crazy puppy. He was calling for company. The stars twinkled down through the stiff branches, and I tried to see the Great Dipper, but that took too much squirming around.
We must not say a word, nor even whisper. We must just keep quiet, and listen and wait. Down the trail poor Major Henry and Kit Carson were having a harder time of it—but I would have liked to be along.
All of a sudden Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand nudged me gently with his knuckles, and I nudged Jed Smith, and Jed passed it on, and it went around from one to the other, so we all knew. Somebody was coming! We could hear a stick snap, and a little laugh, off in the timber; it sounded as though somebody had run into a branch. We waited. The enemy was stealing upon our camp. We hid our faces in our coats and our hands in our sleeves, so that no white should show. It was exciting, sitting this way, waiting for the attack.
The gang tiptoed up, carefully, and we could just make out two of them peering in at the beds. Then they all gave a tremendous yell, like Indians or mountain lions, and rushed us—or what they thought was us. They stepped on the beds and kicked at the tinware, and expected to scare us stiff with the noise—but you ought to have seen how quick they quit when nothing happened! We didn't pop out of the beds, and run! It was funny—and I almost burst, trying not to laugh out loud, when they stood, looking about, and feeling of the beds again.
"They aren't here," said Bill Duane. At a nudge from General Ashley we had deployed, running low and swift, right and left.
"Poke the fire, so we can see," said Bert Hawley.
One of them did, so the fire blazed up—which was just what we wanted. Now they were inside and we were outside. They began to talk.
"We'll pile up the camp, anyway."
"They're around somewhere."
"Let's take their burros."
"Take their flags."
Then General Ashley spoke up.
"No, you don't!" he said. "You let those things alone."
That voice, coming out of the darkness around, must have made them jump, and for a minute they didn't know what to do. Then—
"Why?" asked Bill Duane, kind of defiantly.
"Wait a moment and we'll show you," answered General Ashley.
He whistled loud, our Scouts' signal whistle; and off down the trail Major Henry or Kit Carson whistled back, and added the whistle that meant "All right." (Note 16.)
"Hear that?" asked General Ashley. "That means we've got your horses!"
Hurrah! So we had. You see, Major Henry and Kit Carson had been sent back to watch the enemy's camp; and when the gang had left, on foot, to surprise us, our two scouts had gone in and captured the horses. We couldn't help but whoop and yell a little, in triumph. But General Ashley ordered "Silence!" and we quit.
"Aw, we were just fooling," said Tony Matthews. They talked together, low, for a few moments; and Bill called: "Come on in. We won't hurt you."
"Of course you won't," said General Ashley. "But we aren't fooling. We mean business. We'll keep the horses until you've promised to clear out and let this camp alone."
"We don't want the horses. Two of 'em are hired and the longer you keep them the more you'll have to pay." That was a lie. They didn't hire horses. They borrowed.
"We can sleep here very comfortably, kid," said Mike Delavan.
"You'll not get much sleep in those beds," retorted General Ashley. "Will they, boys!"
And we all laughed and said "No!"
"And after they've walked ten miles back to town, we'll bring in the horses and tell how we took them."
The enemy talked together low, again.
"All right," said Bill Duane. "You give us our horses and we'll let the camp alone."
"Do you promise?" asked General Ashley.
"Yes; didn't I say so?"
"Do you, Mike?"
"Sure; if you return those horses."
"Do you, Tony and Bert?"
That was the best way—to make each promise separately; for some one of them might have claimed that he hadn't promised with the rest.
"Then go on down the trail, and you'll find the horses where you left them."
"How do we know?"
"On the honor of a Scout," said General Ashley. "We won't try any tricks, and don't you, for we'll be watching you until you start for town."
They grumbled back, and with Bill Duane in the lead stumbled for the trail. General Ashley whistled the signal agreed upon, for Major Henry and Kit Carson to tie the horses and to withdraw. We might have followed the enemy; but we would have risked dividing our forces too much and leaving the camp. We were safer here.
So we waited, quiet; and after a time somebody signaled with the whistle of the patrol. It was Kit Carson.
"They've gone, sir," he reported, when General Ashley called him.
"What did they say?"
"They're mad; but they're going into town and they'll get back at us later."
"You saw them start, did you?"
"Waiting to see if they turn or anything."
"They won't. They know we'll be ready for them. Shall we move camp, or post sentries, boys?"
We voted to post sentries. It seemed an awful job to move camp, at this time of night, and make beds over again, and all that. It was only ten o'clock by General Ashley's watch, but it felt later. So we built up the fire, and set some coffee on, and called Major Henry in, and General Ashley and Jed Smith took the first spell of two hours; then they were to wake up Fitzpatrick and me, for the next two hours; and Major Henry and Kit Carson would watch from two till four, when it would be growing light. But we didn't have any more trouble that night.
THE BIG TROUT
It was mighty hard work, turning out at five o'clock in the morning. That was regulations, while on the march—to get up at five. The ones who didn't turn out promptly had to do the dirty work—police the camp, which is to clean it, you know.
Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand cooked; I helped, by opening packages, preparing potatoes (if we had them), tending fire, etc.; Major Henry chopped wood; Kit Carson and little Jed Smith looked after the burros, Apache and Sally, and scouted in a circle for hostile sign; General Ashley put the bedding in shape to pack.
But first it was regulations to take a cold wet rub when we were near water. It made us glow and kept us in good shape. Then we brushed our teeth and combed our hair. (Note 17.) After breakfast we policed the camp, and dumped everything into a hole, or burned it, so that we left the place just about as we had found it. We stamped out the fire, or put dirt and water on it, of course. Then we packed the burros. General Ashley, Jed Smith, and Kit Carson packed Sally; Major Henry, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and I packed Apache. And by six-thirty we were on our way.
This morning we kept on up Ute Creek. It had its rise in Gray Bull Basin, at the foot of old Pilot Peak, about forty miles away. We thought we could make Gray Bull Basin in three days. Ten or twelve miles a day, with burros, on the trail, up-hill all the way, is about as fast as Scouts like us can keep going. Beyond Gray Bull we would have to find our own trail over Pilot Peak.
Everything was fine, this morning. Birds were hopping among the cedars and spruces, and in some places the ground was red with wild strawberries. Pine squirrels scolded at us, and we saw two rabbits; but we didn't stop to shoot them. We had bacon, and could catch trout higher up the creek. Here were some beaver dams, and around the first dam lived a big trout that nobody had been able to land. The beaver dams were famous camping places for parties who could go this far, and everybody claimed to have hooked the big trout and to have lost him again. He was a native Rocky Mountain trout, and weighed four pounds—but he was educated. He wouldn't be caught. He had only one eye; that was how people knew him.
We didn't count upon that big trout, but we rather counted upon some smaller ones; and anyway we must hustle on and put those ten miles behind us before the enemy got in touch with us again. Our business was to carry that message through, and not to stop and hunt or lose time over uncalled-for things.
The creek foamed and rushed; its water was amber, as if stained by pine needles. Sometimes it ran among big bowlders, and sometimes it was crossed by fallen trees. Thomas Fitzpatrick picked up a beaver cutting. That was an aspen stick (beavers like aspen and willow bark best) about as large as your wrist and two feet long. It was green and the ends were fresh, so there were beavers above us. And it wasn't water-soaked, so that it could not have been cut and in the water very long. We were getting close.
We traveled right along, and the country grew rougher. There were many high bowlders, and we came to a canyon where the creek had cut between great walls like a crack. There was no use in trying to go through this canyon; the trail had faded out, and we were about to oblique off up the hill on our side of the creek, to go around and strike the creek above the canyon, when Kit Carson saw something caught on a brush-heap half in the water, at the mouth of the canyon.
It was a chain. He leaned out and took hold of the chain, and drew it in to shore. On the other end was a trap, and in the trap was a beaver. The chain was not tied to the brush; it had just caught there, so it must have been washed down. Then up above somebody was trapping beaver, which was against the law. The beaver was in pretty bad condition. He must have been drowned for a week or more. The trap had no brand on it. Usually traps are branded on the pan, but this wasn't and that went to show that whoever was trapping knew better. The sight of that beaver, killed uselessly, made us sick and mad both. But we couldn't do anything about it, except to dig a hole and bury trap and all, so that the creek would wash clean, as it ought to be. Then we climbed up the steep hill, over rocks and flowers, and on top followed a ridge, until ahead we saw the creek again. It was in a little meadow here, and down we went for it.
This was a beautiful spot. On one side the pines and spruces covered a long slope which rose on and on until above timber line it was bare and reddish gray; and away up were patches of snow; and beyond was the tip of Pilot Peak. But on our side a forest fire had burned out the timber, leaving only black stumps sticking up, with the ground covered by a new growth of bushes. There was quite a difference between the two sides; and we camped where we were, on the bare side, which was the safest for a camp fire. It would have been a shame to spoil the other side, too.
We were tired, after being up part of the night and climbing all the morning, and this was a good place to stop. Plenty of dry wood, plenty of water, and space to spread our beds.
The creek was smooth and wide, here, about the middle of the park. The beaver had been damming it. But although we looked about, after locating camp and unpacking the burros, we couldn't find a fresh sign. We came upon camp sign, though, two days old, at least. Somebody had trapped every beaver and then had left.
That seemed mean, because it was against the law to trap beaver, and here they weren't doing any harm. But the fire had laid waste one shore of the pond, and animal killers had laid waste the pond itself.
We decided to have a big meal. There ought to be wild raspberries in this burnt timber; wild raspberries always follow a forest fire—and that is a queer thing, isn't it? So, after camp was laid out (which is the first thing to do), and our flags set up, while Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand and Major Henry built a fire and got things ready for dinner, General Ashley and Kit Carson went after berries and little Jed Smith and I were detailed to catch trout.
We had lines and hooks, but we didn't bother to pack rods, because you almost always can get willows. (Note 18.) Some fellows would have cut green willows, because they bend. We knew better. We cut a dead willow apiece. We were after meat, and not just sport; and when we had a trout bite we wanted to yank him right out. A stiff, dead willow will do that. Grasshoppers were whirring around, among the dried trunks and the grass. That is what grasshoppers like, a place where it's hot and open. As a rule you get bigger fish with bait than you do with a fly, so we put on grasshoppers. I hate sticking a hook into a grasshopper, or a worm either; and we killed our grasshoppers quick by smashing their heads before we hooked them.
It was going to be hard work, catching trout around this beaver pond. The water was wide and smooth and shallow and clear, and a trout would see you coming. When a trout knows that you are about, then the game is off. Besides, lots of people had been fishing the pond, and the beaver hunters must have been fishing it lately, according to sign. But that made it all the more exciting. Little trout are caught easily, and the big ones are left for the person who can outwit them.
After we were ready, we reconnoitered. We sat down and studied to see where we'd prefer to be if we were a big trout. A big trout usually doesn't prowl about much. He gets a lair, in a hole or under a bank, and stays close, eating whatever comes his way, and chasing out all the smaller trout. Sometimes he swims into the ripples, to feed; but back he goes to his lair again.
So we studied the situation. There was no use in wading about, or shaking the banks, and scaring trout, unless we had a plan. It looked to me that if I were a big trout I'd be in a shady spot over across, where the water swept around a low place of the dam and made a black eddy under the branches of a spruce. Jed Smith said all right, I could try that, and he would try where the bank on our side stuck out over the water a little.
I figured that my hole would be fished by about everybody from the water. Most persons would wade across, and cast up-stream to the edge of it; and if a trout was still there he would be watching out for that. So the way to surprise him would be to sneak on him from a new direction. I went down below, and crossed (over my boot-tops) to the other side, and followed up through the timber.
I had to crawl under the spruce—and I was mighty careful not to shake the ground or to make any noise, for we needed fish. Nobody had been to the hole from this direction; it was too hard work. By reaching out with my pole I could just flip the hopper into the water. I tried twice; and the second time I landed him right in the swirl. He hadn't floated an inch when a yellowish thing calmly rose under him and he was gone!
I jerked up with the willow, and the line tightened and began to tug. I knew by the color and the way he swallowed the hopper without any fuss that he was a king trout, and if I didn't haul him right in he'd break the pole or tear loose. I shortened pole like lightning and grabbed the line; but it got tangled in the branches of the spruce, and the trout was hung up with just his nose out of water.
Jiminy! but he was making the spray fly. He looked as big as a beaver, and the hook was caught in the very edge of his lip. That made me hurry. In a moment he'd be away. I suppose I leaned out too far, to grab the line again, or to get him by the gills, for I slipped and dived headfirst into the hole.
Whew, but the water was cold! It took my breath—but I didn't care. All I feared was that now I'd lost the fish. He weighed four pounds, by this time, I was sure. As soon as I could stand and open my eyes I looked for him. When I had dived in I must have shaken loose the line, for it was under water again, and part of the pole, too. I sprawled for the pole and grabbed it as it was sliding out. The line tightened. The trout was still on.
Now I must rustle for the shore. So I did, paying out the pole behind me so as not to tear the hook free; and the minute I scrambled knee-deep, with a big swing I hustled that trout in and landed him in the brush just as he flopped off!
I tell you, I was glad. Some persons would have wanted a reel and light tackle, to play him—but we were after meat.
"I've got one—a big one!" I yelled, across to where Jed Smith was.
"So have I!" yelled little Jed back.
I had picked my trout up. He wasn't so awful big, after all; only about fifteen inches long, which means two pounds. He was an Eastern brook trout. They grow larger in the cold water of the West than they do in their own homes. But I looked for Jed—and then dropped my trout and waded over to help him.
He was out in the water, up to his waist, and something was jerking him right along.
"I can't get him out!" he called, as I was coming. "How big is yours?"
"This one's as big as I am—big native!" And you should have heard Jed grunt, as the line just surged around, in the current.
"Want any help?" I asked.
"Uh uh. If he can lick me, then he ought to get away."
"Where'd you catch him?"
"Against the bank."
"Swing him down the current and then lift him right in shore!"
"Look out he doesn't tear loose!"
"He'll break that pole!"
Fitzpatrick and Major Henry were yelling at us from the fire; and then Jed stubbed his toe on a rock and fell flat. He didn't let the pole go, though. He came up sputtering and he was as wet as I.
"Swing him down and then lift him right in!" kept shouting Fitz and Major Henry. That was the best plan.
"All right," answered Jed. "You take the pole and start him," he said to me. "I'd have to haul him against the current." I was below him, of course, so as to head the trout up-stream.
He tossed the butt at me and I caught it. That was generous of Jed—to let me get the fish out, when he'd been the one to hook it. But we were Scouts together, and we were after meat for all, not glory for one.
I took the pole and with a swing downstream kept Mr. Trout going until he shot out to the edge of the pond, and there Fitz tumbled on top of him and grabbed him with one hand by the gills.
When we held him up we gave our Patrol yell:
B. S. A.! B. S. A.! Elks! Elks! Hoo-ray! Oooooooooooo!
THE BEAVER MAN
For he was a great one, that trout! He was the big fellow that everybody had been after, because he was twenty-six inches long and weighed four pounds and had only one eye! That was good woodcraft, for a boy twelve years old to sneak up on him and catch him with a willow pole and a line tied fast and a grasshopper, when regular fishermen with fine outfits had been trying right along. Of course they'll say we didn't give him any show—but after he was hooked there was no use in torturing him. The hooking is the principal part.
Jed showed us how he had worked. He hadn't raised anything in the first hole, by the bank, and he had gone on to another place that looked good. Lots of people had fished this second place; there was a regular path to it through the weeds, on the shore side; and below it, along the shallows, the mud was full of tracks. But Jed had been smart. A trout usually lies with his head up-stream, so as to gobble whatever comes down. But here the current set in with a back-action, so that it made a little eddy right against the bank—and a trout in that particular spot would have his nose downstream. So Jed fished from the direction opposite to that from which other persons had fished. He went around, and approached from up-stream, awfully careful not to make any noise or raise any settlings. Then he reached far and bounced his hopper from the bank into the edge—as if it had fallen of itself—and it was gobbled quick as a wink and the old trout pulled Jed in, too.
So in fishing as in other scouting, I guess, you ought to do what the enemy isn't expecting you to do.
My trout was just a minnow beside of Jed's; and the two of them were all we could eat, so we quit; Jed and I stripped off our wet clothes and took a rub with a towel and sat in dry underclothes, while the wet stuff was hung up in the sun. We felt fine.
That was a great dinner. We rolled the trout in mud and baked them whole. And we had fried potatoes, hot bread (or what people would call biscuits), and wild raspberries with condensed milk. General Ashley and Kit Carson had brought in a bucket of them. They were thick, back in the burnt timber, and were just getting ripe.
After the big dinner and the washing of the dishes we lay around resting. Jed Smith and I couldn't do much until our clothes were dry. We stuffed our boots with some newspapers we had, to help them dry. (Note 19.) While we were resting, Fitzpatrick made our "Sh!" sign which said "Watch out! Danger!" and with his hand by his side pointed across the beaver pond.
We looked, with our eyes but not moving, so as not to attract attention. Yes, a man had stepped out to the edge of the timber, at the upper end of the pond and across, and was standing. Maybe he thought we didn't see him, but we did. And he saw us, too; for after a moment he stepped back again, and was gone. He had on a black slouch hat. He wasn't a large man.
We pretended not to have noticed him, until we were certain that he wasn't spying from some other point. Then General Ashley spoke, in a low tone: "He acted suspicious. We ought to reconnoiter. Scouts Fitzpatrick and Bridger will circle around the upper end of the pond, and Scout Kit Carson and I will circle the lower. Scouts Corporal Henry and Jed Smith will guard camp."
My boots were still wet, but I didn't mind. So we started off, in pairs, which was the right way, Fitz and I for the upper end of the pond. I carried a pole, as if we were going fishing, and we didn't hurry. We sauntered through the brush, and where the creek was narrow we crossed on some rocks, and followed the opposite shore down, a few yards back, so as to cut the spy's tracks. I might not have found them, among the spruce needles; but Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand did. He found a heel mark, and by stooping down and looking along we could see a line where the needles had been kicked up, to the shore. Marks show better, sometimes, when you look this way, along the ground; but we could have followed, anyhow, I think.
The footprints were plain in the soft sand; if he had stood back a little further, and had been more careful where he stepped, we might not have found the tracks so easily; but he had stepped on some soft sand and mud. We knew that he was not a large man, because we had seen him; and we didn't believe that he was a prospector or a miner, because his soles were not hobbed—or a cow-puncher, because he had no high heels to sink in; he may have been a rancher, out looking about.
"He must be left-handed," said Fitz.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because, see?" and then he told me.
Sure enough. That was smart of Fitz, I thought. But he's splendid to read sign.
Now we followed the tracks back. The man had come down and had returned by the same route. And up in the timber about fifty yards he had had a horse. We read how he had been riding through, and had stopped, and got off and walked down to the pond, and stood, and walked back and mounted again and ridden on. All that was easy for Fitz, and I could read most of it myself.
We trailed the horse until the tracks surely went away from the pond into the timber country; then we let it go, and met General Ashley, to report. General Ashley and Kit Carson also examined the prints in the sand, and we all agreed that the man probably was left-handed.
Now, why had he come down to the edge of the pond, on purpose, and looked at it and at us, and then turned up at a trot into the timber? It would seem as if he might have been afraid that we had seen him, and he didn't want to be seen. But all our guesses here and after we reached camp again didn't amount to much, of course.
We decided to stay for the night. It was a good camp place, and we wouldn't gain anything, maybe, by starting on, near night, and getting caught in the timber in the dark. And this would give the burros a good rest and a fill-up before their climb.
The burned stretch where we were was plumb full of live things—striped chipmunks, and pine squirrels, and woodpecker families. Fitzpatrick started in to take chipmunk pictures—and you ought to see how he can manage a camera with one hand. He holds it between his knees or else under his left arm, to draw the bellows out, and the rest is easy.
He scouted about and got some pictures of chipmunks real close, by waiting, and a picture of a woodpecker feeding young ones, at a hole in a dead pine stump. This was a good place for bear to come, after the berries; and we were hoping that one would amble in while we were there so that Fitz could take a picture of it, too. Bears don't hurt people unless people try to hurt them; and a bear would sooner have raspberries than have a man or boy, any day. Fitzpatrick thought that if he could get a good picture of a bear, out in the open, that would bring him a Scout's honor. Of course, chipmunk pictures help, too. But while we were resting and fooling and taking pictures, and General Ashley was bringing his diary and his map up to date, for record, we had another visitor. (Note 20.)
A man came riding a dark bay horse, with white nose and white right fore foot, along our side of the beaver pond, and halted at our camp. The horse had left ear swallow-tailed and was branded with a Diamond Five on the right shoulder. The man wasn't the man we had seen across the pond, for he wore a sombrero, and was taller and had on overalls, and cow-puncher boots.
"Howdy?" he said.
"How are you?" we answered.
He sort of lazily dismounted, and yawned—but his sharp eyes were taking us and our camp all in.
"Out fishing?" he asked.
"No, sir. Passing through," said General Ashley.
"Over to Green Valley."
"Good place for beaver, isn't it?"
"A bad place."
"That so? Used to be some about here. Couldn't catch any, eh?"
"We aren't trying. But it seems a bad place for beaver because the only one we have seen is a dead one in a trap."
The man waked up. "Whose trap?"
"We don't know." And the general went on to explain.
The man nodded. "I'm a deputy game warden," he said at last. "Somebody's been trapping beaver in here, and it's got to stop. Haven't seen any one pass through?"
We had. The general reported.
"Roan hoss branded quarter circle D on the left hip? Brass-bound stirrups?"
"We didn't see the horse; but we think the man was left-handed," said the general.
"He was left-footed, because there was a hole in the sole of the left shoe, and that would look as though he used his left foot more than his right. So we think he may be left-handed, too." (Note 21.)
The game warden grunted. He eyed our flag.
"You kids must be regular Boy Scouts."
"Then I reckon you aren't catching any beaver. All right, I'll look for a left-footed man, maybe left-handed. But it's this fellow on the roan hoss I'm after. He's been trying to sell pelts. There's no use my trailing him, to-day. But I'll send word ahead, and if you lads run across him let somebody know. Where are you bound for?"
The general told him.
"By way of Pilot Peak?"
"Well, I'll tell you a short cut. You see that strip of young timber running up over the ridge? That's an old survey trail. It crosses to the other side. Over beyond you'll strike Dixon's Park and a ruined saw-mill. After that you can follow up Dixon's Creek."
We thanked him and he mounted and rode away.
When we got up in the morning, the mountains still had their night-caps on. White mist was floating low about their tips, and lying in the gulches like streams and lakes. Above timber-line, opposite us, was a long layer of cloud, with the top of old Pilot Peak sticking through.
This was a weather sign, although the sun rose clear and the sky was blue. Nightcaps are apt to mean a showery day. (Note 22.) We took our wet rub, ate breakfast, policed the camp and killed the fire, and General Ashley put camphor and cotton against little Jed Smith's back tooth, to stop some aching. Maybe there was a hole in the tooth, or maybe Jed had just caught cold in it, after being wet; but he ought to have had his teeth looked into before he started out on the scout. (Note 23.) Anyway, the camphor stopped the ache—and made him dance, too.
We crossed the creek, above the beaver pond, and struck off into the old survey trail that cut over the ridge. The brush was thick, and the trees had sprung up again, so that really it wasn't a regular trail unless you had known about it. The blazes on the side trees had closed over. But all the same, by watching the scars, and by keeping in the line where the trees always opened out, and by watching the sky as it showed before, we followed right along.
After we had been traveling about two hours, we heard thunder and that made us hustle the more, to get out of the thin timber, so that we would not be struck by lightning. (Note 24.) The wind moaned through the trees. The rain was coming, sure.
The trail was diagonally up-hill, all the way, and if we had been cigarette smokers we wouldn't have had breath enough to hit the fast pace that General Ashley set. The burros had to trot, and it made little Jed Smith, who is kind of fat, wheeze; but we stuck it out and came to a flat place of short dried grass and bushes, with no trees. Here we stopped. We were about nine thousand feet up.
From where we were we could see the storm. It was flowing down along a bald-top mountain back from our camp at the beaver pond, and looked like gray smoke. The sun was just being swallowed. Well, all we could do was to wait and take it, and see how bad it was. We tied Sally and Apache to some bushes, but we didn't unpack them, of course. The tarps on top would keep the grub from getting wet.
The storm made a grand sight, as it rolled toward us, over the timber. And soon it was raining below us, down at the beaver pond—and then, with a drizzle and a spatter, the rain reached us, too.
We sat hunched, under our hats, and took it. We might have got under blankets—but that would have given us soaked blankets for night, unless we had stretched the tarps, too; and if we had stretched the tarps then the rest of our packs would have suffered. The best way is to crawl under a spruce, where the limbs have grown close to the ground. But not in a thunder storm. And it is better to be wet yourself and have a dry camp for night, than to be dry yourself and have a wet camp for night.
Anyway, the rain didn't hurt us. While it thundered and lightened and the drops pelted us well, we sang our Patrol song—which is a song like one used by the Black feet Indians:
"The Elk is our Medicine, He makes us very strong. The Elk is our Medicine, The Elk is our Medicine, The Elk is our Medicine, He makes us very strong. Ooooooooooooooooooooooo!"
And when the thunder boomed we sang at it:
"The Thunder is our Medicine—"
to show that we weren't afraid of it.
The squall passed on over us, and when it had about quit we untied the burros and started on again. In just a minute we were warm and sweating and could shed our coats; and the sun came out hot to dry us off.
We crossed the ridge, and on the other side we saw Dixon's Park. We knew it was Dixon's Park, because the timber had been cut from it, and Dixon's Park had had a saw-mill twenty years ago.
Once this park had been grown over with trees, like the side of the ridge where we had been climbing; but that saw-mill had felled everything in sight, so that now there were only old stumps and dead logs. It looked like a graveyard. If the mill had been watched, as most mills are to-day, and had been made to leave part of the trees, then the timber would have grown again.
Down through the graveyard we went, and stopped for nooning at the little creek which ran through the bottom. There weren't any fish in this creek; the mill had killed the timber, and it had driven out the fish with sawdust. It was just a dead place, and there didn't seem to be even chipmunks.
We had nooning at the ruins of the mill. Tin cans and old boot soles and rusted pipe were still scattered about. We were a little tired, and more rain was coming, so we made a fire by finding dry wood underneath slabs and things, and had tea and bread and butter. That rested us. Little Jed Smith was only twelve years old, and we had to travel to suit him and not just to suit us bigger boys. I'm fourteen and Major Henry is sixteen. All the afternoon was showery; first we were dry, then we were wet; and there wasn't much fun about sloshing and slipping along; but we pegged away, and climbed out of Dixon's Park to the ridge beyond it. Now we could see old Pilot Peak plain, and keeping to the high ground we made for it. It didn't look to be very far away; but we didn't know, now, all the things that lay between.
The top of this ridge was flat, and the forest reserve people had been through and piled up the brush, so that a fire would not spread easily. That made traveling good, and we hiked our best. Down in a gulch beside us there was a stream: Dixon's Creek. But we kept to the high ground, with our eyes open for a good camping spot, for the dark would close in early if the rain did not quit. And nobody can pick a good camping place in the dark.
Regular rest means a great deal when you are traveling across country. Even cowboys will tell you that. They bed down as comfortably as they can, every time, on the round-up.
After a while we came to a circular little spot, hard and flat, where the timber had opened out. And General Ashley stopped and with a whirl dug in his heel as sign that we would camp here. There was wood and drainage and grass for the burros, and no danger of setting fire to the trees if we made a big fire. We had to carry water up from the creek below, but that was nothing.
Now we must hustle and get the camp in shape quick, before the things get wet. While Fitzpatrick picked out a spot for his fire and Major Henry chopped wood, two of us unpacked each burro. We put the things under a tarp, and I started to bring up the water, but General Ashley spoke.
"We're out of meat," he said. "You take the rifle and shoot a couple of rabbits. There ought to be rabbits about after the rain."
This suited me. He handed me the twenty-two rifle and five cartridges; out of those five cartridges I knew I could get two rabbits or else I wasn't any good as a hunter. The sun was shining once more, and the shadows were long in the timber, so I turned to hunt against the sun, and put my shadow behind me. Of course, that wouldn't make very much difference, because rabbits usually see you before you see them; but I was out after meat and must not miss any chances. There always is a right way and a wrong way.
This was a splendid time to hunt for rabbits, right after a rain. They come out then before dark, and nibble about. And you can walk on the wetness without much noise. Early morning and the evening are the best rabbit hours, anyway.
I walked quick and straight-footed, looking far ahead, and right and left, through the timber, to sight whatever moved. Yet I might be passing close to a rabbit, without seeing him, for he would be squatting. So I looked behind, too. And after I had walked about twenty minutes, I did see a rabbit. He was hopping, at one side, through the bushes; he gave only about three hops, and squatted, to let me pass. So I stopped stock-still, and drew up my rifle. He was about thirty yards away, and was just a bunch like a stone; but I held my breath and aimed at where his ears joined his head, and fired quick. He just kicked a little. That was a pretty good shot and I was glad, for I didn't want to hurt him and we had to have meat.
I hunted quite a while before I saw another rabbit. The next one was a big old buck rabbit, because his hind quarters around his tail were brown; young rabbits are white there. He hopped off, without stopping, and I whistled at him—wheet! Then he stopped, and I missed him. I shot over him, because I was in a hurry. I went across and saw where the bullet had hit. And he had ducked.
He hopped out of sight, through the brush; so I must figure where he probably would go. On beyond was a hilly place, with rocks, and probably he lived here—and rabbits usually make up-hill when they're frightened. So I took a circle, to cut him off; and soon he hopped again and squatted. This time I shot him through the head, where I aimed; so I didn't hurt him, either. I picked him up and was starting back for camp, because two rabbits were enough, when I heard somebody shouting. It didn't sound like a Scout's shout, but I answered and waited and kept answering, and in a few minutes a strange boy came running and walking fast through the trees. He carried a single-barrel shotgun.
He never would have seen me if I hadn't spoken; but when he wasn't more than ten feet from me I said: "What's the matter?"
He jumped and saw me standing. "Hello," he panted. "Was it you who was shooting and calling?"
"Why didn't you come on, then?" he scolded. He was angry.
"Because you were coming," I said. "I stood still and called back, to guide you."
"What did you shoot at?"
He hadn't seen them before, but now he saw them on the ground. "Aw, jiminy!" he exclaimed. "We've got something better than that, but we can't make a fire and our matches are all wet and so are our blankets, and we don't know what to do. There's another fellow with me. We're lost."
He was a sight; wet and dirty and sweaty from running, and scared.
"What are you doing? Camping?" I asked.
He nodded. "We started for Duck Lake, with nothing but blankets and what grub we could carry; but we got to chasing around and we missed the trail and now we don't know where we are. Gee, but we're wet and cold. Where's your camp?"
"Back on the ridge."
"Got a fire?"
"Uh huh," I nodded. "Sure."
"Come on," he said. "We'll go and get the other fellow and then we'll camp near you so as to have some fire."
"All right," I said.
He led off, and I picked up the rabbits and followed. He kept hooting, and the other boy answered, and we went down into the gulch where the creek flowed. Now, that was the dickens of a place to camp! Anybody ought to know better than to camp down at the bottom of a narrow gulch, where it is damp and nasty and dark. They did it because it was beside the water, and because there was some soft grass that they could lie on. (Note 25.)
The other boy was about seventeen, and was huddled in a blanket, trying to scratch a match and light wet paper. He wore a big Colt's six-shooter on a cartridge belt about his waist.
"Come out, Bat," called the boy with me. "Here's a kid from another camp, where they have fire and things."
Bat grunted, and they gathered their blankets and a frying-pan and other stuff.
"Lookee! This beats rabbit," said the first boy (his name was Walt); and he showed me what they had killed. It was four grouse!
Now, that was mean.
"It's against the law to kill grouse yet," I told him.
"Aw, what do we care?" he answered. "Nobody knows."
"It's only a week before the season opens, anyhow," spoke Bat. "We got the old mother and all her chickens. If we hadn't, somebody would, later."
Fellows like that are as bad as a forest fire. Just because of them, laws are made, and they break them and the rest of us keep them.
We climbed out of the gulch, and I was so mad I let them carry their own things. The woods were dusky, and I laid a straight course for camp. It was easy to find, because I knew that I had hunted with my back to it, in sound of the water on my left. All we had to do was to follow through the ridge with the water on our right, and listen for voices.
I tell you, that camp looked good. The boys had two fires, a big one to dry us by and a little one to cook by. (Note 26.) One of the tarps had been laid over a pole in crotched stakes, about four feet high, and tied down at the ends (Note 27), for a dog-tent, and spruce trimmings and brush had been piled behind for a wind-break and to reflect the heat. Inside were the spruce needles that carpeted the ground and had been kept dry by branches, and a second tarp had been laid to sleep on, with the third tarp to cover us, on top of the blankets. The flags had been set up. Fitzpatrick was cooking, Major Henry was dragging more wood to burn, the fellows were drying damp stuff and stacking it safe under the panniers, or else with their feet to the big blaze were drying themselves, the burros were grazing close in. It was as light as day, with the flames reflected on the trees and the flags, and it seemed just like a trappers' bivouac.
Then we walked into the circle; and when the fellows saw the rabbits they gave a cheer. After I reported to General Ashley and turned the two boys over to him, I cleaned the rabbits for supper.
The two new boys, Bat and Walt, threw down their stuff and sat by the fire to get warm. Bat still wore his big six-shooter. They dropped their grouse in plain sight, but nobody said a word until Bat (he was the larger one) spoke up, kind of grandly, when I was finishing the rabbits:
"There's some birds. If you'll clean 'em we'll help you eat 'em."
"No, thanks. We don't want them," answered General Ashley.
"It's against the law."
"Aw, what difference does that make now?" demanded Walt. "There aren't any game wardens 'round. And it's only a week before the law goes out, anyway."
"But the grouse are dead, just the same," retorted General Ashley. "They couldn't be any deader, no matter how long it is before the law opens, or if a game warden was right here!" He was getting angry, and when he's angry he isn't afraid to say anything, because he's red-headed.
"You'd like to go and tell, then; wouldn't you!" they sneered.
"I'd tell if it would do any good." And he would, too; and so would any of us. "The game laws are made to be kept. Those were our grouse and you stole them."
"Who are you?"
"Well, we happen to be a bunch of Boy Scouts. But what I mean is, that we fellows who keep the law let the game live on purpose so that everybody will have an equal chance at it, and then fellows like you come along and kill it unfairly. See?"
Humph! The two kids mumbled and kicked at the fire, as they sat; and Bat said: "We've got to have something to eat. I suppose we can cook our own meat, can't we?"
"I suppose you can," answered General Ashley, "if it'll taste good to you."
So, while Fitz was cooking on the small fire, they cleaned their own birds (I didn't touch them) and cooked over some coals of the big fire. But Fitz made bread enough for all, and there was other stuff; and the general told them to help themselves. We didn't want to be mean. The camp-fire is no place to be mean at. A mean fellow doesn't last long, out camping.
They had used bark for plates. They gave their fry-pan a hasty rub with sticks and grass, and cleaned their knives by sticking them into the ground; and then they squatted by the fire and lighted pipes. After our dishes had been washed and things had been put away for the night, and the burros picketed in fresh forage, we prepared to turn in. The clouds were low and the sky was dark, and the air was damp and chilly; so General Ashley said:
"You fellows can bunk in with us, under the tarps. We can make room."
But no! They just laughed. "Gwan," they said. "We're used to traveling light. We just roll up in a blanket wherever we happen to be. We aren't tenderfeet."
Well, we weren't, either. But we tried to be comfortable. When you are uncomfortable and sleep cold or crampy, that takes strength fighting it; and we were on the march to get that message through. So we crawled into bed, out of the wind and where the spruce branches partly sheltered us, and our tarps kept the dampness out and the wind, too. The two fellows opened their blankets (they had one apiece!) by the fire and lay down and rolled up like logs and seemed to think that they were the smarter. We let them, if they liked it so.
The wind moaned through the trees; all about us the timber was dark and lonesome. Only Apache and Sally, the burros, once in a while grunted as they stood as far inside the circle as they could get; but snuggled in our bed, low down, our heads on our coats, we were as warm as toast.
During the night I woke up, to turn over. Now and then a drop of rain hit the tarp tent. The fire was going again, and I could hear the two fellows talking. They were sitting up, feeding it, and huddled Injun fashion with their blankets over their shoulders, smoking their old pipes, and thinking (I guessed) that they were doing something big, being uncomfortable. But it takes more than such foolishness—wearing a big six-shooter when there is nothing to shoot, and sleeping out in the rain when cover is handy—to make a veteran. Veterans and real Scouts act sensibly. (Note 28.)
When next I woke and stretched, the sun was shining and it was time to get up.
A DISASTROUS DOZE
The two fellows were sound asleep when we turned out. They were lying in the sun, rolled up and with their faces covered to keep the light away. We didn't pay any attention to them, but had our wet rub and went ahead attending to camp duties. After a while one of them (Walt, it was) turned over, and wriggled, and threw the blanket off his face, and blinked about. He was bleary-eyed and sticky-faced, as if he had slept too hard but not long enough. And I didn't see how he had had enough air to breathe.
But he grinned, and yawned, and said: "You kids get up awful early. What time is it?"
He-haw! And he yawned some more. Then he sat up and let his blanket go and kicked Bat. "Breakfast!" he shouted.
That made Bat grunt and grumble and wriggle; and finally uncover, too. They acted as if their mouths might taste bad, after the pipes.
We hadn't made a big fire, of course; but breakfast was about ready, on the little fire, and Fitz our cook sang out, according to our regulations: "Chuck!"
That was the camp's signal call.
"If you fellows want to eat with us, draw up and help yourselves," invited General Ashley.
"Sure," they answered; and they crawled out of their blankets, and got their pieces of bark, and opened their knives, and without washing their faces or combing their hair they fished into the dishes, for bacon and bread and sorghum and beans.
That was messy; but we wanted to be hospitable, so we didn't say anything.
"Where are you kids bound for, anyway?" asked Bat.
"Over the Divide," told General Ashley.
"Why can't we go along?"
That staggered us. They weren't our kind; and besides, we were all Boy Scouts, and our party was big enough as it was. So for a moment nobody answered. And then Walt spoke up.
"Aw, we won't hurt you any. What you afraid of? We aren't tenderfeet, and we'll do our share. We'll throw in our grub and we won't use your dishes. We've got our own outfit."
"I don't know. We'll have to vote on that," said General Ashley. "We're a Patrol of Boy Scouts, traveling on business."
"What's that—Boy Scouts?" demanded Bat.
We explained, a little.
"Take us in, then," said Walt. "We're good scouts—ain't we, Bat?"
But they weren't. They didn't know anything about Scouts and Scouts' work.
"We could admit you as recruits, on the march," said General Ashley. "But we can't swear you in."
"Aw, we'll join the gang now and you can swear us in afterwards," said Bat.
"Well," said General Ashley, doubtfully, "we'll take a vote."
We all drew off to one side, and sat in council. It seemed to me that we might as well let them in. That would be doing them a good turn, and we might help them to be clean and straight and obey the laws. Boys who seem mean as dirt, to begin with, often are turned into fine Scouts.
"Now we'll all vote just as we feel about it," said General Ashley. "One black-ball will keep them out. 'N' means 'No'; 'Y' means 'Yes.'"
The vote was taken by writing with a pencil on bits of paper, and the bits were put into General Ashley's hat. Everything was "Y"—and the vote was unanimous to let them join. So everybody must have felt the same about it as I did.
General Ashley reported to them. "You can come along," he said; "but you've got to be under discipline, the same as the rest of us. And if you prove to be Scouts' stuff you can be sworn in later. But I'm only a Patrol leader and I can't swear you."
"Sure!" they cried. "We'll be under discipline. Who's the boss? You?"
We had made a mistake. Here started our trouble. But we didn't know. We thought that we were doing the right thing by giving them a chance. You never can tell.
They volunteered to wash the dishes, and went at it; and we let them throw their blankets and whatever else they wanted to get rid of in with the packs. We were late; and anyway we didn't think it was best to start in fussing and disciplining; they would see how Scouts did, and perhaps they would catch on that way. Only—
"You'll have to cut that out," ordered General Ashley, as we were ready to set out. He meant their pipes. They had stuck them in their mouths and had lighted them.
"What? Can't we hit the pipe?" they both cried.
"Not with us," declared the general. "It's against the regulations."
"Aw, gee!" they complained. "That's the best part of camping—to load up the old pipe."
"Not for a Scout. He likes fresh air," answered General Ashley. "He needs his wind, too, and smoking takes the wind. Anyway, we're traveling through the enemy's country, and a pipe smells, and it's against Scout regulations to smoke."
They stuffed their pipes into their pockets.
"Who's the enemy?" they asked.
"We're carrying a message and some other boys are trying to stop us. That's all."
"We saw some kids, on the other side of that ridge," they cried. "They're from the same town you are. Are they the ones?"
"What did they look like?" we asked.
"One was a big kid with black eyes—" said Bat.
"Aw, he wasn't big. The big kid had blue eyes," interrupted Walt.
"How many in the party?" we asked.
"Four," said Bat.
"Five," said Walt.
"What were the brands?"
"We didn't notice," they said.
"Was one horse a bay with a white nose, and another a black with a bob tail?"
"Guess so," they said.
So we didn't know much more than we did before; we could only suspect. Of course, there were other parties of boys camping, in this country. We weren't the only ones. If Bat and Walt had been a little smart they might have helped us. They didn't use their eyes.
We followed the ridge we were on, as far as we could, because it was high and free from brush. General Ashley and Major Henry led, as usual, with the burros behind (those burros would follow now like dogs, where there wasn't any trail for them to pick out), and then the rest of us, the two recruits panting in the rear. Bat had belted on his big six-shooter, and Walt carried the shotgun.
We traveled fast, as usual, when we could; that gave us more time in the bad places. Pilot Peak stuck up, beyond some hills, ahead. We kept an eye on him, for he was our landmark, now that we had broken loose from trails. He didn't seem any nearer than he was the day before.
The ridge ended in a point, beyond which was a broad pasture-like meadow, with the creek winding in a semicircle through it. On across was a steep range of timber hills—and Pilot Peak and some other peaks rose beyond, with snow and rocks. In the flat a few cattle were grazing, like buffalo, and we could see an abandoned cabin which might have been a trapper's shack. It was a great scene; so free and peaceful and wild and gentle at the same time.
We weren't tired, but we halted by the stream in the flat to rest the burros and to eat something. We took off the packs, and built a little fire of dry sage, and made tea, while Sally and Apache took a good roll and then grazed on weeds and flowers and everything. This was fine, here in the sunshine, with the blue sky over and the timber sloping up on all sides, and the stream singing.
After we had eaten some bread and drunk some tea we Scouts rested, to digest; but Bat and Walt the two recruits loafed off, down the creek, and when they got away a little we could see them smoking. On top of that, they hadn't washed the dishes. So I washed them.
After a while they came back on the run, but they weren't smoking now. "Say!" they cried, excited. "We found some deer-tracks. Let's camp back on the edge of the timber, and to-night when the deer come down to drink we'll get one!"
That was as bad as shooting grouse. It wasn't deer season. They didn't seem to understand.
"Against the law," said General Ashley. "And we're on the march, to go through as quick as we can. It's time to pack."
"I'll pack one of those burros. I'll show you how," offered Bat. So we let them go ahead, because they might know more than we. They led up Sally, while Major Henry and Jed Smith and Kit Carson began to pack Apache. The recruits threw on the pack, all right, and passed the rope; but Sally moved because they were so rough, and Bat swore and kicked her in the stomach.
"Get around there!" he said.
"Here! You quit that," scolded Fitzpatrick, first. "That's no way to treat an animal." He was angry; we all were angry. (Note 29.)
"It's the way to treat this animal," retorted Bat. "I'll kick her head off if she doesn't stand still. See?"
"No, you won't," warned General Ashley.
"If you can pack a burro so well, pack her yourself, then," answered Walt.
"Fitzpatrick, you and Jim Bridger help me with Sally," ordered the general; and we did. We threw the diamond hitch in a jiffy and the pack stuck on as if it were glued fast.
The two recruits didn't have much more to say; but when we took up the march again they sort of sulked along, behind. We thought best to follow up the creek, through the flat, instead of making a straight climb of the timber beyond. That would have been hard work, and slow work, and you can travel a mile in the open in less time than you can travel half a mile through brush.
A cattle trail led up through the flat. This flat closed, and then opened by a little pass into another flat. We saw plenty of tracks where deer had come down to the creek and had drunk. There were tracks of bucks, and of does and of fawns. Walt and Bat kept grumbling and talking. They wanted to stop off and camp, and shoot.
Pilot Peak was still on our left; but toward evening the trail we were following turned off from the creek and climbed through gooseberry and thimbleberry bushes to the top of a plateau, where was a park of cedars and flowers, and where was a spring. General Ashley dug in with his heel, and we off-packs, to camp. It was a mighty good camping spot, again. (Note 30.) The timber thickened, beyond, and there was no sense in going on into it, for the night. Into the heel mark we stuck the flagstaff.
We went right ahead with our routine. The recruits had a chance to help, if they wanted to. But they loafed. There was plenty of time before sunset. The sun shone here half an hour or more longer than down below. We were up pretty high; some of the aspens had turned yellow, showing that there had been a frost, already. So we thought that we must be up about ten thousand feet. The stream we followed had flowed swift, telling of a steep grade.
Fitzpatrick the Bad Hand got out his camera, to take pictures. He never wasted any time. Not ordinary camp pictures, you know, but valuable pictures, of animals and sunsets and things. Jays and speckled woodpeckers were hopping about, and a pine-squirrel sat on a limb and scolded at us until he found that we were there to fit in and be company for him. One side of the plateau fell off into rocks and cliffs, and a big red ground-hog was lying out on a shelf in the sunset, and whistling his call.
Fitz was bound to have a picture of him, and sneaked around, to stalk him and snap him, close. But just as he was started—"Bang!" I jumped three feet; we all jumped. It was that fellow Bat. He had shot off his forty-five Colt's, at the squirrel, and with it smoking in his hand he was grinning, as if he had played a joke on us. He hadn't hit the squirrel, but it had disappeared. The ground-hog disappeared, the jays and the woodpeckers flew off, and after the report died away you couldn't hear a sound or see an animal. The gun had given notice to the wild life to vacate, until we were gone. And where that bullet hit, nobody could tell.
Fitzpatrick turned around and came back. He knew it wasn't much use trying, now. We were disgusted, but General Ashley was the one to speak, because he was Patrol leader.
"You ought not to do that. Shooting around camp isn't allowed," he said. "It's dangerous, and it scares things away."
"I wanted that squirrel. I almost hit him, too," answered Bat.
"Well, he was protected by camp law." (Note 31.)
"Aw, all you kids are too fresh," put in Walt, the other. "We'll shoot as much as we please, or else we'll pull out."
"If you can't do as the rest of us do, all right: pull," answered the general.
"Let them. We don't want them," said Major Henry. "We didn't ask them in the first place. What's the sense in carrying a big revolver around, and playing tough!"
"That will do, Henry," answered the general. "I'm talking for the Patrol."
"Come on, Walt. We'll take our stuff and pull out and make our own camp," said Bat. "We won't be bossed by any red-headed kid—or any one-armed kid, either." He was referring to the gun and to the burro packing, both.
Major Henry began to sputter and growl. A black-eyed boy is as spunky as a red-headed one. And we all stood up, ready, if there was to be a fight. But there wasn't. It wasn't necessary. General Ashley flushed considerably, but he kept his temper.
"That's all right," he said. "If you can't obey discipline, like the rest, you don't camp with us."
"And we don't intend to, you bet," retorted Walt. "We're as good as you are and a little better, maybe. We're no tenderfeet!"
They gathered their blankets and their frying-pan and other outfit, and they stalked off about a hundred yards, further into the cedars, and dumped their things for their own camp.
Maybe they thought that we'd try to make them get out entirely, but we didn't own the place; it was a free camp for all, and as long as they didn't interfere with us we had no right to interfere with them. We made our fire and they started theirs; and then I was sent out to hunt for meat again.
I headed away from camp, and I got one rabbit and a great big ground-hog. Some people won't eat ground-hog, but they don't know what is good; only, he must be cleaned right away. Well, I was almost at camp again when "Whish! Bang!" somebody had shot and had spattered all around me, stinging my ear and rapping me on the coat and putting a couple of holes in my hat. I dropped flat, in a hurry.
"Hey!" I yelled. "Look out there! What you doing?"
But it was "Bang!" again, and more shot whizzing by; this time none hit me. Now I ran and sat behind a rock. And after a while I made for camp, and I was glad to reach it.
I was still some stirred up about being peppered, and so I went straight to the other fire. The two fellows were there cleaning a couple of squirrels.
"Who shot them?" I asked.
"And he nearly filled me full of holes, too," I said. "Look at my hat."
"Who nearly filled you full of holes?" asked Walt.
"Aw, I didn't, either. I wasn't anywhere near you."
"You were, too," I answered, hot. "You shot right down over the hill, and when I yelled at you, you shot again."
Walt was well scared.
"'Twasn't me," he said. "I saw you start out and I went opposite."
"Well, you ought to be careful, shooting in the direction of camp," I said.
"Didn't hurt you."
"It might have put my eyes out, just the same." And I had to go back and clean my game and gun. We had a good supper. The other fellows kept to their own camp and we could smell them smoking cigarettes. With them close, and with news that another crowd was out, we were obliged to mount night guard.
There was no use in two of us staying awake at the same time, and we divided the night into four watches—eight to eleven, eleven to one, one to three, three to five. The first watch was longest, because it was the easiest watch. We drew lots for the partners who would sleep all night, and Jed Smith and Major Henry found they wouldn't have to watch. We four others would.
Fitz went on guard first, from eight to eleven. At eleven he would wake Carson, and would crawl into Carson's place beside of General Ashley. At one Carson would wake me, and would crawl into my place where I was alone. And at three I would wake General Ashley and crawl into his place beside Fitz again. So we would disturb each other just as little as possible and only at long intervals. (Note 32.)
It seemed to me that I had the worst watch of all—from one to three; it broke my night right in two. Of course a Scout takes what duty comes, and says nothing. But jiminy, I was sleepy when Carson woke me and I had to stagger out into the dark and the cold. He cuddled down in a hurry into my warm nest and there I was, on guard over the sleeping camp, here in the timber far away from lights or houses or people.
The fire was out, but I could see by star shine. Low in the west was a half moon, just sinking behind the mountains there. Down in the flat which we had left coyotes were barking. Maybe they smelled fawns. Somebody was snoring. That was fatty Jed Smith. He and Major Henry were having a fine sleep. So were all the rest, under the whity tarps which looked ghostly and queer.
And I went to sleep, too!
That was awful, for a Scout on guard. I don't know why I couldn't keep awake, but I couldn't. I tried every way. I rubbed my eyes, and I dipped water out of the spring and washed my face, and I dropped the blanket I was wearing, so that I would be cold. And I walked in a circle. Then I thought that maybe if I sat down with the blanket about me, I would be better off. So I sat down. If I could let my eyes close for just a second, to rest them, I would be all right. And they did close—and when I opened them I was sort of toppled over against the tree, and was stiff and astonished—and it was broad morning and I hadn't wakened General Ashley!
I staggered up as quick as I could. I looked around. Things seemed to be O. K. and quiet and peaceful—but suddenly I missed the flags, and then I missed the burros!
Yes, sir! The flagstaff was gone, leaving the hole where it had been stuck. And the burros were gone, picket ropes and all! The place where they ought to be appeared mighty vacant. And now I sure was frightened. I hustled to the camp of the two boys, Bat and Walt, and they were gone. That looked bad.
My duty now was to arouse our camp and give the alarm, so I must wake General Ashley. You can imagine how I hated to. I almost was sore because he hadn't waked up, himself, at three o'clock, instead of waiting for me and letting me sleep.
But I shook him, and he sat up, blinking. I saluted. "It's after four o'clock," I reported, "and I slept on guard and the flags and the burros are gone." And then I wanted to cry, but I didn't.
HELD BY THE ENEMY
"Oh, the dickens!" stammered General Ashley; and out he rolled, in a hurry. He didn't stop to blame me. "Have you looked for sign?"
"The burros might have strayed, but the flags couldn't and only the hole is there. And those two fellows of the other camp are gone, already."
General Ashley began to pull on his shoes and lace them.
"Rouse the camp," he ordered.
So I did. And to every one I said: "I slept on guard and the flags and the burros are gone."
I was willing to be shot, or discharged, or anything; and I didn't have a single solitary excuse. I didn't try to think one up.
The general took Fitzpatrick, who is our best trailer, and Major Henry, and started in to work out the sign, while the rest of us hustled with breakfast. The ground about the flag hole was trampled and not much could be done there; and not much could be done right where the burros had stood, because we all from both camps had been roaming around. But the general and Fitz and Major Henry circled, wider and wider, watching out for burro tracks pointing back down the trail, or else out into the timber. The hoofs of the burros would cut in, where the feet of the two fellows might not have left any mark. Pretty soon the burro tracks were found, and boot-heels, too; and while Fitzpatrick followed the trail a little farther the general and Major Henry came back to the camp. Breakfast was ready.
"Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger and I will take the trail of the burros, and you other three stay here," said General Ashley. "If we don't come back by morning, or if you don't see smoke-signals from us that we're all right, you cache the stuff and come after us."
That was splendid of the general to give me a chance to make good on the trail. It was better than if he'd ordered me close in camp, or had not paid any attention to me.
Fitz returned, puffing. He had followed the trail a quarter of a mile and it grew plainer as the two fellows had hurried more. We ate a big breakfast (we three especially, I mean), and prepared for the trail. We tied on our coats in a roll like blankets, but we took no blankets, for we must travel light. We stuffed some bread and chocolate into our coat pockets, and we were certain that we had matches and knife. I took the short bow and arrows, as game getter; but we left the rifle for the camp. We would not have used a rifle, anyway. It made noise; and we must get the burros by Scoutcraft alone. But those burros we would have, and the flags. The general slung one of the Patrol's ropes about him, in case we had to rope the burros.
We set right out, Fitzpatrick leading, as chief trailer. Much depended upon our speed, and that is why we traveled light; for you never can follow a trail as fast as it was made, and we must overtake those fellows by traveling longer. They were handicapped by the burros, though, which helped us.
We planned to keep going, and eat on the march, and by night sneak on the camp.
The trail wasn't hard to follow. Burro tracks are different from cow tracks and horse tracks and deer tracks; they are small and oblong—narrow like a colt's hoof squeezed together or like little mule tracks. The two fellows used the cattle trail, and Fitzpatrick read the sign for us.
"They had to lead the burros," he said. "The burros' tracks are on top of the sole tracks."
We hurried. And then—
"Now they're driving 'em," he said. "They're stepping on top of the burro tracks; and I think that they're all on the trot, too, by the way the burros' hind hoofs overlap the front hoofs, and dig in."
We hurried more, at Scout pace, which is trotting and walking mixed. And next—
"Now they've got on the burros," said Fitz. "There aren't any sole tracks and the burros' hoofs dig deeper."
The fellows surely were making time. I could imagine how they kicked and licked Sally and Apache, to hasten. And while we hastened, too, we must watch the signs and be cautious that we didn't overrun or get ambushed. Where the sun shone we could tell that the sign was still an hour or more old, because the edges of the hoof-marks were baked hard; and sticks and stones turned up had dried. And in the shade the bits of needles and grass stepped on had straightened a little. And there were other signs, but we chose those which we could read the quickest. (Note 33.)