POLLY AND ELEANOR
LILLIAN ELIZABETH ROY
POLLY OF PEBBLY PIT, POLLY IN NEW YORK, POLLY AND HER FRIENDS ABROAD, POLLY'S BUSINESS VENTURE.
ILLUSTRATED BY H. S. BARBOUR
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP
I ANOTHER TRIP TO TOP NOTCH 1
II THE CLAIM-JUMPERS 22
III AT CHOKO'S FIND 38
IV JOHN AND HIS FRIEND ARRIVE 55
V POLLY AND ELEANOR VISIT THE BEAVERS 81
VI THE GIRLS ENTERTAIN GUESTS 99
VII SEVERAL MOMENTOUS LETTERS 122
VIII POLLY-ELEANOR COMPANY, INC. 143
IX JEB'S SUNDAY NIGHT OFF 162
X A TRIP TO BUFFALO PARK 181
XI A WILD-WEST COUNTY FAIR 195
XII NOLLA'S PLANS DEVELOP 208
XIII RIGGLEY & RATZGER OF NEW YORK 226
XIV THE VICTORY 247
XV COMINGS AND GOINGS 262
XVI POLLY AND ELEANOR START OUT 275
POLLY AND ELEANOR
ANOTHER TRIP TO TOP NOTCH
Six intensely interested individuals sat about the supper-table in the living room at Pebbly Pit Ranch-house, the evening of the day they rode to Oak Creek to file the claim on the gold mine. Sary, the maid-of-all-work, had the supper ready for the weary riders when they returned from their trip.
Having served the dessert, Sary went out to the barn to help Jeb, the foreman on the ranch, with the horses which had just come in from the long day's work. So the group about the table felt free to talk as they liked. But Polly Brewster and her friend Eleanor Maynard were almost talked out by the time they finished the last bit of Sary's delicious dessert; and Barbara Maynard tried her best to hide a yawn behind her hand, while Anne Stewart, the pretty teacher who was the fourth member in the party that spent a night in the cave, was eager to continue planning for the future of the mine, but Nature demanded rest after the three days' excitement.
Finally, Polly turned to her father and said: "I wish we could see John's face when he reads that telegram!"
"If we had only dared word it plainly, there sure would be something queer to laugh at when John read it. But we had to cipher it, you know," chuckled Sam Brewster.
"I can't see why such foolish fear of talking about it is entertained by all you folks," declared Barbara, loftily.
"Can't you? Well, then, Bob, Ah'll tell you plainly that that message had to be camouflaged, as we are not taking any risks on having your claim jumped over night. If we sent a wire to John telling him plainly that you girls discovered a vein of gold on Top Notch Trail, every last rascal in Oak Creek would hit the trail before that message was delivered," replied Mr. Brewster.
"Even as it is, I suppose every one who can read the records at Oak Creek will start out at once, so as to stake new claims as near to Montresor's Mine as possible; perhaps they'll try to pick up some nuggets from your claim, as well," added Mrs. Brewster.
"Then, when word spreads around the country—and such news always travels like lightning—every gambler and bunco man in Wyoming and Colorado will be seen camping on Top Notch Trail, each trying in his own way to wheedle money or gold-dust from the unwary ones," laughed Mr. Brewster.
"There now, Daddy! You've laughed, so I know your spell of worry is over with. Won't you tell us what made you so serious?" exclaimed Polly.
"Ah was trying to plan for the best way to avoid trouble over this claim; and at the same time protect our own rights, and any rights Old Montresor's family might have in this rediscovery. That is why Ah insisted upon Simms being one of our party, to-morrow; and the sheriff with his stalwart son, too. They are both strong, trusty men, and with Simms, Jeb and myself, we ought to be able to hold our own in case of an argument up there."
"Oh, Mr. Brewster! Do you mean there is likely to be a fight, and shooting?" cried Barbara, horrified at the very idea.
"Not so that you-all can notice it—if we get there first. But let those claim-jumpers camp on our grounds first, and we-all may have to use gun-persuasion to move them on to safer ground."
"Dear me, I think it is going to be more fun than a movie-picture play in the filming!" exclaimed Eleanor, her eyes shining with excitement.
"I hope we won't have the same kind of gun-play that we see in the wild-west films," hinted Anne Stewart, hitherto a listener.
"Would you rather remain here, Anne?" asked Barbara, with an eager expression as if to say: "'I hope you do—then I will stay with you.'"
"I should say no! I wouldn't miss the picnic we are going to have, to-morrow, for anything in Colorado!" declared Anne, emphatically.
Mrs. Brewster laughed at the young teacher's vehement tones, and then turned to her husband with a suggestion.
"Sam, what do you think of sending Jeb on before, in the morning, to tell Rattle-Snake Mike he must act as guide and cook for us while we are on the mountain? He is the cleverest Indian anywhere about, you know."
"Just the thing, Mary! Ah'm mighty glad you-all thought of it. Jeb can ride on whiles we-all branch off at Bear Forks for the Old Indian Trail. Then Mike and Jeb can catch up with us."
"I don't know about that, Sam," returned Mrs. Brewster, thoughtfully. "I'd rather see Jeb start from here about four o'clock, so Mike and he can meet us at five-thirty at the school-house."
"You must have some good reason for that," ventured Polly.
"Yes, Mike may hear about this claim and leave his cabin early, so as to act as guide to strangers who will be glad to pay him any price just to get him and his wonderful scouting experience."
"Right as usual, Mary! Ah'll run out, right now, and tell Jeb he'd better get to bed if he has to be up before four," exclaimed Mr. Brewster, starting for the bedroom over the barn where he knew Jeb would be.
"And we had better go to bed, too, so we can be up and have breakfast out of the way before the horses are brought to the door," suggested Mrs. Brewster, leading the way to the front door to look at the night sky.
"Why, it isn't eight o'clock," complained Barbara.
"No, but even that leaves us less than eight hours' sleep. After such exciting days as we have been through, we need a good full night's rest," replied Anne.
"Chances are Nolla and I won't close an eye! What, with gold mines, and John, and the Latimer boys, and Ken Evans coming to town—and claim-jumpers, and everything!" laughed Polly.
"You mean that young stranger we met at Oak Creek?" asked Barbara, frigidly.
"Yes,—the one who looked so pleasant but forlorn," said Eleanor, sympathetically.
"His name was Kenneth Evans, you know, Bob," explained Polly, innocently.
Eleanor and Anne exchanged glances and smiled, for they understood that Barbara meant to be condemnatory in her manner; but Polly, in her very guilelessness, countered the city girl's disparagement.
"It's too bad we couldn't have had him come home with us," added Eleanor, teasingly, to Barbara.
"Dear me, Nolla! By the time I get you back to Chicago you will need a complete training in social behavior again!" declared Barbara, frowning at her younger sister.
But her remark merely called forth a merry laugh from the light-hearted girl. Mrs. Brewster then started the usual preparations for bed, and the group followed her example.
For the benefit of any one who has not been fortunate enough to become acquainted with our western friends, in the first book of this series, we will introduce you while the girls are soundly sleeping.
Polly Brewster, a girl just past fourteen, was a true type of the honest, ambitious ranchers of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Her home, the extensive farm in the crater of an extinct volcano, was called Pebbly Pit because of the giant cliffs of colored stones guarding the entrance trail. This ranch was about eleven miles from Oak Creek, the mining settlement and railroad station for about a thousand inhabitants, where all shopping had to be done. The town was much like other rough, half-civilized western settlements, consisting of a post office, a bank, the sheriff's office, and several saloons. A general store was maintained in connection with the post office, and here one must buy anything needed for house or farm. The Brewsters, being affluent ranchers, ordered their clothing, house-furnishings, and many tools or luxuries by mail, from illustrated catalogues. But the rough road from the ranch to the town post office, being hard going in a heavy ranch-wagon, often caused the Brewsters to forego a mail order on cosmopolitan stores rather than drive in and cart the goods home from Oak Creek.
Polly had just completed her grammar course at the little Bear Forks' school-house where Anne Stewart had taught two years previous to this summer. Polly had never been elsewhere than at Oak Creek and now she yearned to attend High School in Denver.
Anne Stewart lived in Denver, and for the past year had been tutoring Eleanor Maynard, while the girl and her older sister Barbara boarded with Mrs. Stewart. The Maynard girls were from Chicago, but Eleanor, who was fourteen, was very delicate, so the doctor had recommended a high altitude for her.
Anne Stewart was helping her brother Paul through a college in Chicago, and during her visit to him, at the end of his first year, she met his friends—John Brewster who was Polly's older brother; Tom Latimer a promising young engineer from New York; and Pete Maynard who was a brother to Eleanor and Barbara. It was through this means that the Maynards heard of the Stewarts' home in Denver, and anxiously begged Anne to take the two girls into her home circle. As the salary offered for this privilege was so munificent, the young teacher eagerly accepted, and then found her youngest charge a lovable and merry girl.
The two Chicago girls had returned home for a few months, but Eleanor could not stand the high winds and stubborn climate of Chicago, so the doctor again ordered her to spend a summer in the mountains of Colorado. In distraction, Mr. Maynard begged Anne Stewart to arrange everything, and thus it was that these two society girls came, with Anne, to board with Polly's family at Pebbly Pit ranch.
The Brewsters were considered very wealthy in land and cattle, to say nothing of the Rainbow Cliffs, for which a New York financier had offered them half a million dollars for part interest in mining them. But Sam Brewster could afford to refuse such destruction to his beautiful estate. Polly had never had city-made clothing, nor had she the slightest idea of city-ways, until the Maynard girls' advent to Pebbly Pit. But she had had years of thrilling experiences to her credit—experiences with wild-life of all kinds, of mountain-climbing, of adventures of other sorts, to say nothing about knowledge of farming and domestic animals. This outdoor life gave her abundant health, strength, and the beauty of a fine complexion, clear eyes, luxuriant glossy hair, and a graceful well-formed figure that was all the more attractive because of the charms her adolescence promised.
That very day had been spent in Oak Creek in filing the claim to Montresor's Mine, and just as the party started for home, they had met the young stranger, Kenneth Evans, who sought Carew's Surveying Camp, which was known to be located near Yellow Jacket Pass. The youth was directed how to find Jake, the driver of Carew's wagon, and then he was invited to visit Pebbly Pit, on Sunday.
As Polly and Eleanor had predicted, they were so excited over the events that promised such thrills on the morrow, that they slept little that night, but tossed and talked most of the time. However, when the call sounded for them all to awake and dress for the mountain trip, it found that these two girls were fast asleep and loath to get up.
"Good gracious, Anne! My wrist watch says it's four o'clock! You don't suppose we have to get up at this awful hour?" complained Barbara, rubbing her eyes.
Anne was already up and hurriedly dressing. "Any one who is not ready to start when the man brings the horses around to the door, remains behind, you know."
That brought Polly and Eleanor out of bed with a hop, as there was only a wooden partition between the two rooms, and Anne's words were plainly heard by them.
"If there was the least thing to do if I stayed here, I'd not go again for anything. But I should die of ennui if I had to be entertained by Sary for three whole days," grumbled Barbara.
The very idea of Sary, the "house helper," entertaining Barbara, for whom she felt such scorn, caused mirth in the adjoining room.
Eleanor called out: "More than likely Sary feels as glad to know that you're going, as we would be to have you stay behind."
"Come, come, Bob! You must get up and dress!" now urged Anne, as she finished her dressing and turned to leave the room.
The purple gleams of the western dawn shot the heavens of blue and gold, as Jeb brought the sturdy horses from the barn. He had given careful attention to the trappings and shoes of the various mounts, and finding each one in splendid condition, started for the house.
An unusual hubbub came from the living-room where baskets of food and outfits were waiting. The moment Jeb was hailed, however, the noisy girls ran out to look over their horses.
"Why, Jeb! Isn't Noddy going this time?" asked Polly.
"Not ef you-all want her to keep any breath in her skin. Ain't she eena-most done up from that other trip?" retorted Jeb, who was the "general-man" on the ranch. Having been with the Brewsters since he was a boy of twelve, he felt that he was one of the family and he treated Polly as if she were a younger sister.
"Never mind Noddy, this time, Polly, but let Jeb jump into the saddle and start off. He'll never reach Mike's cabin if you keep on arguing about the burros," said Mrs. Brewster, coming out to call them to breakfast.
Jeb had gone on to secure the company of Rattle-Snake Mike, and Mr. Brewster sat impatiently on his horse, waiting to guide the party of women, when all but Barbara were ready; then she came out while still munching her tardy breakfast.
As the riders passed the Rainbow Cliffs, the rays of the rising sun gilded their peaks, and the girls exclaimed at the beauty of the stones as they reflected the myriad colors of a rainbow. Then on down through the Devil's Causeway and out on the Sand Trail, rode the adventurers, until they saw Jeb and Mike riding to meet them.
"Mike says we-all ain't the fust ones to start up Grizzly Slide, this mornin'," said Jeb, the moment he was within hearing.
"U-um! Plenty fool go by!" grunted Mike.
Mike was an entirely new type to the city girls, and they studied him with interest. He was a swarthy-looking Indian; perhaps, as Mr. Brewster said, because he smoked himself brown. He always rode his famous Indian pony and carried an evil-looking gun, besides the revolvers in his belt. Another weapon he had, as evil but not quite so fatal to others as the gun—and that was his old pipe, as black as the Asiatic plague.
Mike was a descendant of a famous Chieftain, so he seldom noticed the miners or common natives about Oak Creek, but he considered himself an equal of educated people like the Brewsters. Hence his willingness to act as guide for this party, after he had refused tempting offers from the "scorned" early that morning.
"Now we'll turn off at the Forks and ride fast to meet Simms and his party," advised Mr. Brewster, when they reached the place where the trails forked.
"Mike says there's the old Indian Trail up the mountain, that cuts off half the distance to the Slide," called Jeb, from the front.
"Him bad trail—no like Top Notch," warned the Indian.
"Whereabouts will we hit it, Mike?" asked Mr. Brewster.
"Onny Mike say—him secret Indian Trail," explained the red-man, ever faithful to his ancestors.
"Well, will we pass Pine Tree where we are to meet Simms and the sheriff?" added Mrs. Brewster.
"Na! him run away from Pine Tree. But him save half-day riding."
Mr. Brewster silently considered this possibility for a few moments, then turned to his wife, and said: "Mary, it seems most important just now for us to get to the cave before others reach it, as we must stake out additional claims adjoining the mine, in order to protect the rights of the girls. Of course, we must have Mike show us his secret trail, and I will go to escort the girls, but you and Jeb might ride on to Pine Tree to meet Simms' party. Then ride with them up along Top Notch Trail. We will all meet at Four Mile Blaze."
"I was about to suggest the same plan, Sam; but I won't need Jeb with me. I'm so used to this road that I am perfectly safe. It is the Trail that will be hazardous to a lone rider, when once the outlaws hear of this strike. But I will have Mr. Simms and the other men with me, so everything will be safe and all right," replied Mrs. Brewster.
After a hasty good-by, Mrs. Brewster rode away, and the others in the party followed after Mike who led up a hitherto unknown trail to Grizzly Slide. It was so over-grown that no one but an Indian could ever find a way through; however, Mike was an adept in this line.
"I have been wondering if this could have been the trail Mr. Montresor discovered the day he approached his gold mine from the valley," said Polly, as she followed close at Mike's heels.
"You may have hit the nail on the head, Poll. It always has been a question whether Montresor was quite sane, because he insisted that he rode up a strange trail that was over-grown with jungle before he came upon the ravine that held his gold mine," added Mr. Brewster.
"Humph! Him good old scout," came from Mike.
"I'm glad to hear you say so, Mike, because I liked him so much!" sighed Polly, and tears filled her eyes at the memory of her old friend.
"Patsy good scout, too. Solly dem dead," Mike added.
Conversation now became impossible, as Mike rode far in advance for some reason best known to himself, and the trail was so steep and rough that it took each rider all his attention to keep in the saddle. However, the flora and fauna were so interesting that the girls endured many a jar and jolt for the sake of seeing them.
Reaching Four Mile Blaze they found they had saved over half the distance it would have been to ride up over Top Notch Trail; and this pleased Mr. Brewster tremendously. He had just turned in his saddle to call out to the girls behind him when Mike held up a warning hand.
Every one looked at him to see what he had discovered. He grunted unpleasantly, and slid from his horse. He sprawled out on the ground and placed his ear close to the earth. Every one sat still, waiting to hear the report, or cause, of this unusual behavior.
The Indian listened attentively for a time, then got up and examined the trail along Top Notch, as far back as the blazed tree. There he placed his ear to the ground again, and listened for a longer time than at first. Then he got up slowly and crept about examining the bushes, the broken twigs, rocks, and even the grass.
The girls watched him with intense interest, as Polly had told them of the wonderful scouting instinct Mike possessed, and now they were going to have it demonstrated to them. Having satisfied himself, Mike came over to Mr. Brewster and announced, abruptly:
"Tree miner gone aleddy—two tenderfut comin'."
"Three up there already! By the Great Horned Spoon! how did they do it?" cried Sam Brewster, aghast at the idea that perhaps they would have trouble when they reached Polly's mine.
"Maybe the three gone on ahead have no idea that we found gold up there. Maybe they are after pelts, or some other thing," said Anne Stewart.
Mike grinned complacently, for he had spoken.
"How do you know those three are miners, Mike?" asked Polly.
The Indian pointed to the ground where an imprint of a miner's boot was plainly seen. Only the miners at Oak Creek wore such spiked heels, the ranchers and other citizens being satisfied with heavy leather soles. The foot-print pointed towards the Slide—not away from it.
"That's only one, Mike, and you said there were three!" exclaimed Anne, triumphantly.
"Tree hoss go by—see." Mike pointed out three different kinds of horse-shoe imprints.
"One hoss carry pack an' go lame. Two hoss all light."
"How do you know he is lame—and maybe he isn't packed," Eleanor said.
Mike sniffed derisively, and pointed at the lighter impression of one hind foot. Then he showed his admiring audience how a slight rip in a flour-sack allowed the contents to trickle down upon the ground at each limp the lame horse gave.
Mike now said to Mr. Brewster: "Dem go slow—lame hoss no go fas', mebbe jus' ahead."
"If we ride on we can catch up with them!" eagerly exclaimed Anne.
Mike shook his head and lifted a finger for silence. Then the girls heard a faint clip-clop of hoof-beats on the rocky trail leading along Top Notch.
"Two tenderfut 'mos' catch up. We-all wait an' talkee," suggested Mike, settling himself in his saddle to await the riders.
"Mike's right, because they will only follow us and find out where our claim is located, if we start on now," added Polly.
Mr. Brewster shook his head. "Ah reckon you-all talk sense but Ah would offer an amendment to your plan: to have Polly and Anne take Jeb for an escort and ride on at once. Let the horses have their head and get to the cave as soon as you can. Hold the fort until we-all join you. We-all will see these two men and find out what they are after."
"Daddy, you must remember a grizzly bear lives in that cave. He may have been injured but he may not have died, the other night. I have my small rifle but Anne hasn't any weapon at all. As for Jeb—he's great on the farm, but for this work, huh! Then there are those three miners who are up ahead: they wouldn't hesitate to put two mere girls out of their way, if we interfered with their staking our mine or jumping our claims," said Polly.
Mike smiled and expressed his opinion. "Miss'r Brooser wait wid two ten'erfut, an' Mike go wid leedle leddies. Ef cabe hab trouble of grizzle er miner, Mike shoot."
"Good! And Ah'll wait for Simms and the others, and then come after you-all," agreed Mr. Brewster.
"I won't go with Mike if there is any danger at the cave. I didn't come to the Rockies to be killed!" declared Barbara.
"Daddy, you must keep Eleanor and Barbara here with you and Jeb, and wait for mother and the sheriff's men. Anne and I will go with Mike and see that our rights are protected," now said Polly.
"I have as much right to go with you, Polly, as Anne has. Why must I remain here with Bob?" demanded Eleanor.
"I know that, Nolla, but three of us will be too many—especially as Anne and you have no firearms. I may need Anne to help me load but you can't even do that. So it will be far better for us all if you remain here. Mike will not have to bother over so many of us, then," explained Polly.
"But everything may be safe at the cave, and all this worry about fighting may be a farce," argued Eleanor.
"In that case Mike will leave us safely there and come back to guide you-all to us. Once we are safe on that ledge with a pile of dry wood in front of the entrance to the cave, we can defy the whole country."
"All right! Hurry away and get on to that ledge before any more rascals steal a march on you. But be sure to send Mike back for us, the moment Anne and you arrive there and find everything is all right," replied Eleanor.
So Mike spurred his broncho along the trail, while Polly and Anne rode after him. Soon they disappeared around the bend where giant pines formed a wall on either side of the narrow going.
The moment the three had passed out of sight, Sam Brewster jumped from his horse and led him over to the great tree that caused the trail to turn aside and run around it. He looped the reins over his arm and placed his hands in his coat pockets. As he leaned against the tree-trunk nibbling nonchalantly at a sprig of grass, a tenderfoot would never have dreamed that his fingers were tensely held against the triggers of the revolvers hidden in his pockets.
Soon after Mr. Brewster had taken his stand where he could see the first appearance of any one coming up the trail, two riders approached eagerly scanning the large trees, in evident search of something. As they came to the giant tree where the rancher waited, both men started in surprise.
"How-dy, friends? Out early this morning, eh?" was the greeting the two amazed men received from the alert man at the tree.
"Oh—oh, yes!" stammered one, plainly uneasy.
"Hoh, it's Sam Brewster of Pebbly Pit, ain't it?" said the other, also confused in his manner.
"Right you are, Hank. You see, when a man has to attend to the girls' gold mine, he has to be up right early to forestall the plans of any claim-jumpers who read the records at Oak Creek, yesterday, after we left there. That's why I got a posse to guard the place. I reckon, now, Hank, that your boss sent you-all on to help we-all up yonder, eh?" laughed Mr. Brewster, tantalizingly, as he recognized Hank to be the clerk at the filing office in Oak Creek.
The man Hank laughed also, but a discordant note rang through his forced merriment. "We-all ain't claim-jumpers, Mr. Brewster, but it seemed so quare to find Old Montresor's Mine hed ben found again, that Ah sez to my pal, here, 'How'd you-all like to run up to the Slide and have a squint at that cave?' An' havin' a day off, he reckoned he'd enjy the trip. So here we-all are."
"Yes—so Ah see! Here you-all are. And Ah says to my girls and the posse, says Ah: 'There'll be a lot of fools start off at night-fall, to hit this trail to the Slide just out of dern-fool curiosity to have a squint at Old Montresor's Mine. But human nature is human nature, girls,' says Ah, so when they get that squint, they may forget one of the Ten Commandments and want to covet their neighbor's property. And seeing how they have lost a good night's sleep through climbing the Top Notch Trail just to arrive early to have that squint, they will sort of feel justified in stealing an acre, or so, of gold-land. That would make them break another Commandment; so Ah felt it a duty, Hank, to send on a regiment in advance, to save the souls of such curious sightseers." Sam Brewster never changed a muscle of his serious face nor did his voice have the slightest sign of any other feeling than a reverent desire to help his fellow-man. But the two men knew Sam Brewster by experience as well as from hearsay.
"Right-o! Hank told me what a good man you war," said the miner who accompanied Hank. But his shifty eyes belied the tone.
Mr. Brewster smiled. "Yes. Ah did hate to see any one lose a good night's sleep and then get thus far only to be mistaken for claim-jumpers by the Sheriff's men up yonder. Of course, Hank and you-all aren't going to take such chances with the law."
The miner glanced about uneasily but only saw two girls sitting on their horses a short distance away. Hank's face lowered, however, and he growled forth: "Ah don't see whose business it is whether we break the Sheriff's law or not."
"Perhaps you don't see—but Ah do, Hank. And when the Sheriff says, 'Keep the trail free from all trespassers till my posse can take charge,' you know me—Ah'll see that his orders are carried out," returned Mr. Brewster sternly, his pockets moving suspiciously.
"You-all hain't got no orders, and thar hain't no posse up yander, neither, 'cause they hain't a-comin' till after Simms leaves," exclaimed Hank, unguardedly.
"Ah! So you and your man thought you'd get a lead on the Sheriff, eh?" laughed Mr. Brewster. "Oh, but you are an easy tenderfoot to stuff, Hank! Did you-all really believe such a story would have been told at Oak Creek if the posse planned to wait for morning? Why, man, that is just what they wanted to do—to catch a lot of rascals red-handed and clean Oak Creek out, once for all! How do you know that there is a real claim staked out up there—or whether it is the Sheriff's joke to land a ring of crooks?"
Eleanor and Barbara were so interested in the way Mr. Brewster handled the two rascals without telling a direct falsehood that they sighed when the claim-jumpers backed their horses and withdrew to confer anxiously on what they had heard. But Sam Brewster interpolated with:
"If it is curiosity that brought you-all to lose a night's rest, pass right along and tell the Sheriff and Bill your yarn. They will not only let you take a squint at what you think is a mine, but they will pay you to remain and help arrest all the claim-jumpers who are already on the way."
Even as he spoke, Mr. Brewster saw the sly move of Hank as he tried to pull his gun from the holster; instantly a hand came from the rancher's pocket and brought to light a cocked revolver. The other man suddenly changed his mind when the bore of Brewster's gun was leveled so that the clerk could look right down into his grave if he made the slightest mistake in this outing of his.
But the miner became ugly; then he saw the other hand of Sam Brewster come from his pocket and he knew that he was a dead rascal too, if he made one false step. So his expression changed to a wily smile, and he said:
"What you-all ha'r fur ef th' Sheriff's up thar guardin' th' precious mine?"
"Told to warn away any foolish town-clerks who might be heading straight to Kingdom Come! You know Bill likes to give every chump a loop-hole to save himself, if possible," retorted Mr. Brewster.
"We ain't lookin' fer no argyment with Bill ner the Shuriff, so we-all'll mosey back an' tell others we meet. Howsomever, you-all won't find it so easy to git rid of curious folks when that miner-gang gits ha'r. Ah happen to know who and how many are plannin' to come."
With that farewell, Hank turned his horse's head and led the way down the trail, slowly followed by the unwilling miner.
"Oh, Mr. Brewster! hadn't we better ride after Mike and the girls before the miners' gang gets here?" cried Barbara, fearfully.
Mr. Brewster laughed. "That was only a bluff of Hank's to make me ride along so he and his pal might follow us. I haven't the least doubt but that both of those cowardly rascals are hiding just out of sight where they can watch my every movement. Should we start to ride along towards the cave, they would follow and shoot us from the rear as sure as anything."
In spite of his making light of Hank, however, Mr. Brewster kept a wary eye open for an ambuscade. Nothing of moment happened, however, and Jeb was just saying: "Maybe we-all had best ride for the cave," when a shot rang out.
"Well!" gasped he, while the two girls trembled with fear.
"That sounded from Top Notch. It's either Simms and his party, or those rascals. In either case, it won't be cowardly in us to hide behind a clump of pines and await developments," suggested the rancher.
Mr. Brewster stationed Eleanor behind a close growth of young pine and handed her a small rifle. Barbara was hidden deeper in the forest, and then he and Jeb took their places behind a bowlder whence they could watch the up-trail. With a revolver ready in each hand, they waited anxiously.
But his wise precautions were unnecessary this time, for Bill soon rode up, calling loudly as he came. Sam Brewster sighed with relief to find a group of Oak Creek's leading citizens with the Sheriff.
"Bill, did you-all shoot, a time back?" queried Mr. Brewster the moment the posse came up.
Bill laughed. "Ah'll explain in a minute. You-all see it wa'r this way: After you-all left for home, yesterday, it wa'r found how some low-down sneaks got wind of this claim and planned to ride up at once. It looked a lot like claim-jumpin', so we-all got together mighty quick and rode after them to spare the Lord any trouble in judgin' 'em. Also, we-all reckoned to save your party any nonsense over the gold, 'specially as thar wa'r four gals in it."
"But three rascals got a lead on you," interrupted Sam.
"Yeh, three are at large somewhere, Ah reckon; but two of the worst ones out of that five are back yonder. Hank Johnson and his jail-bird pal are down on Four Mile Blaze. When we get the other three, we'll rid Oak Crick of five of its worst citizens."
"Rattle-Snake Mike came up with us, Bill. We rode up the Indian Trail—that's how we got here so soon. But Mike went on to the cave with Polly and her friend. They'll guard their claim, all right, unless those three interfere," said Mr. Brewster, with an anxious note in his voice.
"Ah reckon we'd better make for that cave, then! Thar may be some work cut out fer us thar," whispered Bill, seeing the two city girls now ride out from cover and come over to join the group.
"Where's Mrs. Brewster?" asked Eleanor, anxiously.
"This is Bill's party—they left Oak Creek last night," explained Mr. Brewster.
"Then where is Simms and your wife?" asked Barbara.
"You see it will take the others much longer to ride up from Lone Pine than it took us to climb the trappers' trail, so they can't possibly arrive for some time yet. We-all just got here, and we left Oak Creek at midnight," explained one of the men, encouraging the two girls.
"But we-all stopped on the way and cooked breakfast and fed our hosses. Simms and his party will ride right up and ought to be ha'r pritty soon, now," said Bill.
"How about leavin' some one here at Four Mile Blaze to direct the Simms' party, while we-all ride on with Sam to hunt those three claim-jumpers," suggested one of the posse.
"Barbara and I will wait here with Jeb if you leave us each with a gun," offered Eleanor, eagerly.
Barbara gasped at the very idea, but Eleanor added:
"We don't want to be mixed up in a fight with rascals, and we are safer here than up there."
"The gal's right, Sam. They'd onny be in the road if we-all have to chase them men," said Bill.
"But they can't shoot! Why give them any guns?" asked Mr. Brewster, anxiously.
"I just bet I could kill you at forty paces, if you were a claim-jumper and looked at me the way Hank looked at you!" declared Eleanor, emphatically.
The men laughed, and Bill wagged his head approvingly. "Ah say, Sam, let the gals take a crack at the Four Mile tree—and see."
"Well, even the sight of guns will make the villains respect us, even if we can't shoot!" added Barbara, who felt that the lesser of the two dangers would be to remain with Eleanor and Jeb where they now were.
After many instructions and warnings had been given to Jeb and the two city girls, Mr. Brewster spurred his horse on to ride after his companions who were already up the trail. But he had not far to go.
At the bend of the trail, where there was a small clearing, he saw the men standing up in their stirrups, intent on something ahead. He urged his horse up to join them, and just before reaching the group, he called out: "What's wrong?"
The horses were tossing their heads, pawing the ground, and acting restive. Bill turned half-way around in the saddle and replied: "D'you-all smell anything, Sam?"
Mr. Brewster noticed then, that the men held faces up and were sniffing in different directions. He then sniffed carefully himself and exclaimed: "Smells like smoke."
But even as he spoke, the thought reached him: "A forest fire!" His face went white and he murmured a prayer to himself for Polly and Anne.
"Yeh, Sam. Comin' down from the Slide," was all Bill said.
"My Gawd, men! what shall we do?" cried one of the posse.
"We-all must ship them two gals an' Jeb down trail, right away, and then the rest of us'll ride up to see if anything kin be done to stop it. Mebbe it hain't got a headway yet," replied Bill.
But the two girls were now seen riding up the trail as fast as their horses could travel. Barbara rode first and Eleanor after her, shouting aloud in a frantic voice. The men waited fearfully to hear what new trouble assailed them.
Barbara almost ran down Mr. Brewster's horse in her blind fear, and when questioned, could not speak. Eleanor then rode up and looked so angry that she could scarcely explain.
"Bob declared she heard noises behind us and on one side, and then, without giving me or Jeb any warning, she started her horse at a run, to come and meet you men. She cried that it would be safer with a crowd than alone with only Jeb and me and the rifles we knew nothing about. I had to ride after her to see that she reached you safely. Now I'll go back and keep guard again."
"Stop, Nolla! Although you are a brave little girl, it will be of no use to keep guard now. Jeb and you will have to ride down Top Notch Trail as fast as you can, and meet Simms who is coming up with Mrs. Brewster. Send Simms and the men on to help us, but you three women take Jeb and go right on down. There's a forest fire." Mr. Brewster added the last portentous words in an awed voice.
"Oh, my goodness! Will we be hurt?" cried Barbara.
But Eleanor thought not of herself. She immediately cried: "Are Polly and Anne safe?"
"Polly—whar's she?" demanded Bill, suddenly realizing that the girl was not one of the party.
"She went to the cave with Mike to watch there, in case any claim-jumpers tried to stake their ground," groaned Sam Brewster.
"Is the cave far from here?" added Bill, quickly.
"Not as far as Top Notch Trail," replied Eleanor, seeing a possible way for her to get to Polly and Anne.
"But some one ought to send Simms on to us and then ride on down trail to signal the forest-rangers' lookout so's they could come and help fight the fire," said another man.
"Can't Bob and I join Polly and Anne in the cave where we will be safe from any fire, and you send Jeb down to signal Simms and the forest-rangers?" asked Eleanor excitedly, seeing how urgent was the need for instant action.
"All right; take this young man for protection, and get to the cave as quick as you can. You gals wait in the cave till you-all hear from us again. Send Mike down trail to Jeb to hurry Simms and then escort Mrs. Brewster home. We're ridin' up yander to work," ordered Bill, authoritatively.
Eleanor turned her horse's head to a faint trail that she was sure would bring them to the cave. Barbara and the cow-boy followed, while Bill and his men urged the horses to their utmost up the steep Slide.
"Thar's one good thing about this fire—it seems to be comin' down, and it don't travel near so quick that way, like-as-how it do when it goes upward. Mebbe we-all kin choke it in its first stages," explained Bill.
Eleanor and her two followers now reached the end of the little erosion made by a storm. Then the city girl found it really was no trail at all. They sat their horses looking helplessly about while Barbara began to whimper with fear.
Even courageous Eleanor began to quail at what would befall them if they were lost, when Mike suddenly appeared in the distance, climbing the steep slope before them. His broncho came on recklessly through the bushes and wild undergrowth until he was within speaking distance then he shouted:
"Mike hear shoots! Gals in cabe alle-right. Mike smell fire. He go see who burn. Fin' tree bad miner—One gone happy hunting-groun',—two sleep f'm much fire-water. Tree hosses hobble on down trail." As he spoke he acted his words so that it was plain that he had found the three claim-jumpers who were dead drunk, and their mounts which were trying to break away in sheer fear of the fire.
"Mike, Bill and Mr. Brewster said you were to leave us in the cave, if it is safe there, and then ride down trail to meet Jeb and go on to stop Simms' party. Warn the lookout on the forest-ranger's post and then come back to us, but Jeb is to ride home with the Missus!" exclaimed Eleanor, excitedly.
Mike frowned. "Indian no like squaw job!"
"That's just what I was going to say, Mike. Now if you will put us on the right trail, we three can find the way to the cave. We will stay there with the other girls, and let you do as you think best, after you send Jeb away to meet Simms," said Eleanor.
"Mike mus' tell Boss and Bill 'bout fire. Him eat down-hill, udder side Slide. No burn dis side."
Meantime, the Indian was leading the way to the trail that would bring the girls out at the ravine where the cave was. Once on the right trail, the youth whom Bill had sent with the girls, said he could keep to it without going astray.
Mike waited but a moment to assure himself that they would be safe along the trail, then he started his horse up the steep side. His keen Indian scout habits now stood him in good stead. He soon had the Sheriff's party tracked and was riding after them. His young broncho galloped along until the group of men bound for the Slide, were hailed by a war-whoop.
Bill turned and saw the Indian close behind. He called a halt, and when the party stopped, the messenger was already in their midst.
"Fire up lodge-pole pine side. Eatin' down—dat way!" cried Mike, waving a hand at the side of the mountain away from them and the cave.
"Mike go see an' fin' tree miner. Dey hab big fight—two shoot one. Him dead. Udders drunk—gone 'sleep. Hosses tie up."
"Mike, you lead! Men fall in—we-all fight the fire first, then find the drunken miners and arrest them for manslaughter," ordered Bill, and thus the posse rode away.
AT CHOKO'S FIND
After losing the trail many times only to stumble into it again and again, and then slipping, sliding, or jolting down the steep side of the mountain where the timber-line ended near the cliff, Eleanor finally recognized the ravine where the cave was located.
"Oh, thank heavens! We're almost there," she cried, trying to find the easiest way down to the ledge.
Polly and Anne were sitting before the entrance to the cave, when they heard shouts and saw three weary riders coming along the rocky ledge that led to their refuge.
"Why—it's Nolla and Bob and a man!" exclaimed Polly, jumping up to run and meet the girls.
"What's wrong—any one hurt?" cried Anne, the moment she saw the faces of the girls.
Eleanor then told about the forest-fire, and where the men were. The more recent excitement had quite driven the story of Hank and his claim-jumpers from her mind. But Polly anxiously asked for her mother.
"Oh, yes—Simms and the party hadn't arrived when we left Four Mile Blaze. But they will be all right, as Mike is gone to meet them. Then your mother and Jeb will ride back to warn the forest-rangers about the fire," explained Barbara.
"Why, no, Bob. Don't you remember, Mike said he would have to tell Polly's father about the drunken men and the fire, first," Eleanor corrected her sister.
"Well, I'm not worrying about mother because she knows too much to run into unnecessary danger; but father always wants to save everybody and everything from disaster, and so takes his life in his hands, over and over again," Polly worried.
"Mr. Brewster'll be all right with Bill around, Miss Polly," said the young man who had accompanied the city girls. "No one is allowed to run any risks for nuthin', when the Sheriff is there to stop 'em."
"I just hope Bill will keep father in bounds!" declared Polly.
Very little smoke reached the ravine, which was on the opposite side of the mountain from that where the fire raged, so the girls knew not how matters fared until late in the afternoon. Then, to their great relief, Mr. Brewster shouted a signal from the lodge-pole pine forest.
Polly gave an answering call, and then ran along the dangerous ledge until she reached the place where the pine trees had been blown down the day of the blizzard. Here she could see the dim outlines of several riders as they waited for some evidence that they were on the right trail.
Before Polly could climb the slope to wave her hat, she saw Mike riding up behind the party and then go on before them down the trail leading to the cave.
Polly was kept busy with answering the girls who stood at the cave entrance, and in calling to her parents and friends who were approaching as fast as the down-trail would permit. When they rode near enough for Polly to see their faces, she recognized her mother and Jeb in the party; she thought they expressed great concern over something that must have happened to the party—or perhaps something that might happen.
"Well, Polly, you've had all day to dig the gold out of your mine; got it tied in bags for us to lug home?" called Mr. Simms, jocularly.
"Mr. Simms, you needn't worry over that gold as long as there is something worse to trouble you. What is it?" answered Polly.
"Ha, ha, ha! Poll must be feeling lonesome; when she talks like this, it's a sure sign she needs jolly company," replied the lawyer.
"Maybe she thought we were chewed up by the grizzlies," added Mr. Brewster, forcing a gayety similar to that of Mr. Simms.
"What's the matter with you men? Is there any danger from the fire?" demanded Polly.
"No, the fire's burning over the down-slope on the other side. You know it won't come this way," returned Mrs. Brewster.
"Well, then—where are the other men? Did those drunken miners shoot any one?" persisted the girl.
"Don't bother with questions, Polly. Let us get some supper before we think of anything else," advised her mother.
Mike was soon busy unpacking the outfit for cooking, and Mrs. Brewster joined him to give any assistance he might need. Polly went over to her father to try and get more satisfactory information from him, regarding that day's experiences.
"Did you say the miners who came up ahead of us to-day were in Bill's custody, Daddy?"
"Ah didn't say anything; but now Ah'll tell you-all that they are shipped safely to a place where they can do no harm."
"Oh! Did Bill go down the Trail with them?" continued Polly.
"No, Bill's man went down-trail to watch in case of any new trouble."
"See here, father! Out with your secret! What are you-all keeping from me?" asked Polly, anxiously.
"Good gracious, Poll! Can't a man feel riled after such a wearing day and with nothing to eat, without his women-folks asking plaguey questions?" cried Mr. Brewster, testily.
Polly was silenced for the moment, but she went out to the ledge where her mother was helping Mike, and there she began again.
"Mother, I know something unusual concerns you-all, so you may as well confide in me."
"I reckon the men are vexed because we lost all this day hunting up those wretched miners who must have accidentally set the fire going on the other side," was all the reply Polly received.
Mike glanced up to look covertly at Mrs. Brewster and the inquisitive girl caught his expression.
"Even Mike is laughing at the poor way in which you are fencing with me. Now treat me as if I were sensible—not like a baby, or like Bob!" demanded Polly.
"Well, to tell the truth, Polly, I'm afraid to tell you everything. If those girls know they will go clean daffy," sighed Mrs. Brewster, passing her hand over a troubled brow.
"Mother! Did I go daffy when that blizzard carried Choko over the ledge—and what did I do up on Grizzly when the snow and ice covered the trail? Did I lose my nerve?"
At that moment Mr. Simms called out to Mike: "'Most done cookin', Mike? Ah want you-all to go with me to ketch a grizzly afore it is too dark to see him. Ah promised mah wife she should have a bear-skin rug this trip."
Mike looked at Mrs. Brewster who nodded for him to go. She calmly took the ladle and continued stirring the soup that the Indian had been attending to, then Mike hurried after Simms.
"There now—I know it is something serious and it is much better for me to know what may happen than to have it come upon me like a thunder-bolt," said Polly.
"Well, then, keep on stirring this broth while I busy myself over the rest of the supper, and I'll tell you. Don't exclaim, or show any shock. It is important for us to keep cool," advised Mrs. Brewster, as she toasted some dry bread over the embers.
"I wasn't present when this occurred but father told me. The men found the miner who had been shot, and down the slope further on, they saw the forms of the other two. But the panic-stricken horses that had been hobbled and left to graze, were so frightened at the clouds of smoke and crackling fire, that a few of the men had to lead them back to a clear place. There they were tied securely to some trees.
"Your father, Bill, and one of his men, jumped down the steep sides where the fire was raging, and began to beat out the flames. They could see the two drunken miners just beyond the fire-line down the trail, but they seemed so overcome with whisky and smoke that they failed to respond to any shouts from the men, or to the fear of the on-driving fire.
"Our men had beaten out the ground-fire half-way to the miners, when a terrific rumbling sounded, as from a distance behind them. Bill's man was far in advance of the other two rescuers, and perhaps, the crackling on the ground and the raging fire in the trees overhead, deafened him to this other portentous sound.
"Father, however, felt that it meant something more terrible than a fire, so he shouted to Bill and tried to warn the man. But a fit of coughing from inhaling the smoke, cut his call short. Bill then cried, 'Go on back, Sam—I'll get my man!'
"So your father managed to force his way back towards the Top Trail. There he saw a great white cloud swooping down from the peak of Grizzly Slide. He turned, screamed at Bill and waved his arms to warn them out of the track of the avalanche, if possible. Bill and his man saw this new danger and turned to climb back to safety.
"Father was leading, Bill a short distance behind him, and the man not far in the rear, when the first two heard a scream. They turned and saw the horse had stumbled and fallen. He tried to scramble to his feet before the onrush of the half-frozen earth and rock and snow could reach him, but it caught and whirled him away on its crest.
"Father and Bill were thrown down with the shaking of the ground caused by the terrific slide, and several times they were almost sucked into the vortex caused by the overwhelming ever-growing stream. Had it not been for Mike who had heard the rumble and knew what it meant, both Bill and father would have been lost. But Mike threw out a rope that father caught and quickly wound about himself, while Bill clutched on to father's legs. Thus Mike dragged them up to the tree where he had bound himself. The horses are gone!"
Mrs. Brewster seemed overcome at the recital of the awful ordeal the men had passed through, but Polly said encouragingly:
"Don't take on so, mother! 'All's well that ends well' and father and Bill are safe, you know."
"Oh, but this isn't all, Polly! Mike says when Grizzly starts an avalanche like that first one, the very force of its tearing away keeps on breaking away the ice-fields all around the peak. Another slide may come at any moment and pour down this side, you see. The men who had taken care of the horses when the others were fighting the fire were left stationed at the timber-line to watch. If they notice the faintest sign of another serious break on the peak, they are to signal a lookout left on the crest of this slope. And they in turn must warn Bill's son who was left sitting on top of this ledge. That is where Simms and Mike have gone now. There must have been a signal from Bill's boy to Simms."
Mrs. Brewster looked at her daughter to see if she could bear the rest of the story. Finding Polly as calm as she herself was, she continued:
"Father said the experience Simms and he went through was mere child's play to what it might be should Grizzly loosen up and send down a slide on this side of the peak. Of course, the fire and smoke added to the horror on the other side, but the actual avalanche was not as tremendous because the slope was partly protected by the abrupt drop of thousands of feet from the peak to the valley, down which the greater flood must have rushed.
"This side is on the direct down-slope from the peak, with nothing to break a snow-slide, or to carry off the bulk of the debris.
"This morning, when I rode up with Simms' party, we met two old trappers who were coming down. They had passed Old Grizzly Slide yesterday, and they said there must have been an awful thaw going on under the surface-ice of the Slide, as the yawning chasm where you discovered the crevice the other day was frightful. It made even their courageous spirits tremble at sight of it. But they turned again and rode up with us, as they said they could be useful to Bill. They are up on Top Notch now, scouting for the first symptoms of a slide."
Polly turned white as she heard the story, but she still had control of her voice, so she whispered: "Why don't we-all start down-trail to-night? Why lose time cooking supper, and have the men up there watching for the trouble?"
"Mike says we are safer in this cave than on the trail. It is impossible to go down the Indian trail at night, and Top Notch Trail is bad enough in the daytime, so that in the dark it is forbidding. He says this cave is high enough up on the ledge and near enough to the crest to escape most of the drift. The trash will be swept clear over the entrance and down into the ravine, while any snow or ice that might lodge up on the ledge before the cave will soon melt again. Then we can get away, when all is over."
Polly said nothing, but she was thinking seriously. Mrs. Brewster was grateful that her daughter could bear such awesome news without a tremor. So the two completed the supper, and were ready to serve it, when Sam Brewster rode down the ledge.
"Come on, Daddy! Just in time for a bowl of hot soup!" called Polly, gayly waving a ladle.
Her mother admired the self-control the girl showed over any fear or danger, and followed the brave example set her. "Yes, Sam, if Simms wants to chase a bear in the twilight, let him! You will do far better to enjoy the supper."
So they sat down to eat toasted bread and soup, while Polly talked vivaciously and caused many a laugh from the unsuspecting girls. As the meager supper was almost finished, however, Mr. Brewster mentioned in a casual tone: "Girls, Ah expect John and his friends early to-morrow, you know. Mike is going down to meet them."
"Oh, yes! And won't we have exciting adventures to tell him!" exclaimed Anne, thinking only of John and his coming.
"Mrs. Brewster is going down with Mike, to meet the boys. So we-all thought you gals would like to ride down, too, instead of sitting up in front of this cave all day and night," continued Mr. Brewster.
"Why, how foolish! to kill the horses with all that climbing! Up to-day, down to-morrow, and up again the next day! No horse could stand that!" declared Anne, amazed at her host's suggestion.
"Well, Ah've been thinking you-all had best stay down, once you get there. This is no sort of life for women-folk, anyway. When John and Tom Latimer get here they can look after your mining interests better than you can yourselves."
"But, Mr. Brewster, you haven't even seen the hole inside of that cave, where I followed after Polly the day we discovered the gold!" exclaimed Eleanor, greatly disappointed in Polly's father.
"Ah haven't had time, Nolla. What with the doings of the claim-jumpers and everything, Ah've had a full day. Besides, it looks as if we-all are going to have some time up here, and Ah'd feel a heap easier if you women were safe at home."
"Are there signs of other claim-jumpers coming up, Mr. Brewster?" asked Eleanor, anxiously.
"From what our scouts report, up on the Trail, we're going to have such a time, if we remain here, that we may not have another good opportunity to escape with our lives," returned the distracted man.
"Oh dear me! Can't we start now? I never want to see any claim-jumpers again!" cried Barbara, wringing her hands.
"Keep quiet, Bob! We'll do just as Mr. Brewster says, but your whimpering won't help any," said Anne.
"Well, girls, I'm so eager to see John again, that I'm willing to ride down with Mike and mother," said Polly, acting her part perfectly.
"Oh, Polly! I don't want to go and leave the gold mine, but I want you to stay with me," cried Eleanor.
"Goodness me, Nolla! Don't you s'pose we can ride up again when the danger blows over? A lot of good the mine would do either one of us if a dozen claim-jumpers put lead through us all at one time!" laughed Polly, but feeling far from humorous.
"I suppose I'll just have to go, if all the rest of you do!" cried Eleanor, stamping her foot angrily.
So, after much arguing and explaining, it was decided that every one should be ready to start down-trail at the earliest streak of daylight.
That night the girls and Mrs. Brewster slept on the pine-beds—or at least the city girls slept, while Polly and her mother rested even as they waited for the first warning call from the guard, who sat by the fire that was started to keep away the wild beasts.
The hours passed without any new signals, and at three o'clock Mike called out that he was ready to start. The girls demurred about getting up at that hour, but Polly was too energetic to give them any peace. So, shortly after three, the entire party started down Indian Trail, traveling as swiftly as possible.
"Now see here! why do all you men come down, too? I thought it was only the womenfolk who had to get out of the way!" exclaimed Eleanor, wonderingly.
"If, any claim-jumpers are about to stake out our land up there who is there left to stop them?" added Anne, suspiciously, when she saw the deep concern on every man's face as he rode single file down the path.
"Wall, now, seem' as we-all are well along the way down, Ah may as well tell you-all: thar hain't goin' to be no danger of any claim-jumpers staking your land if Old Grizzly knows anything about it. Thar war a turrible avalanche yesterday and a leetle one at suppertime; it looks like-es-how anuther powerful one will hit the trail any moment. That's why we-all air runnin' away as fast as our hosses kin go," explained Bill.
"Oh! Tell Mike to hurry!" cried Barbara.
"No fear but what we-all are as crazy to git down as you kin be, young leddy," said Bill, soothingly.
After four hours' hard traveling, the riders came to a small park where Mike said they could rest and cook their breakfast, and feed the horses. From a certain spot on the clearing on this mountain-side, the peak of Old Grizzly Slide could be seen opposite them, dazzling in the sunshine.
"Well, the old rascal is still up there," declared Anne.
"But you-all can't say how soon its skirts will whisk and send down the trash that always ruins a forest," added Bill.
Even as he spoke, a strange sight was presented to the group who were admiring the sparkling peak. A great mist seemed to rise suddenly from its pinnacle, spreading out and obscuring the sun for a time. Then an ominous rumble echoed along the crest, and rolled down the slopes. The mist was suddenly sucked down by some tremendous force, and then a mighty tremor shook the ground where the escaped riders stood.
The horses seemed to know instinctively that there was some upheaval of nature taking place, for they quivered along their sensitive nerves and nosed the air questioningly. Several of the highbred animals pulled at their halters and, with drawn-back lips, snapped viciously at the air as if to warn away the destruction.
"Oh, oh! Will it hit us?" wailed Barbara.
"No, we are safe on this opposite up-trail now. But a few hours delay in getting away this morning and we would have been caught in the drift," said Sam Brewster, wiping beads of cold perspiration from his brow.
"Daddy, you don't think that avalanche was on the side of our gold mine, do you?" asked Polly, plaintively.
"Pretty close to Choko's Find, Polly dear," said her father.
"Humph! Gol' all gone dis time!" added Mike, dramatically.
"Oh no! don't say that, Mike!" wailed Polly.
"Not our gold mine!" added Eleanor, with gasping breath.
"Mebbe no! Mike t'ink yes."
There fell a silence at that, and each one looked at the other, while the same thought passed through their minds: "If that slide buried Choko's Find again, where would they all have been had they remained in the cave?"
JOHN AND HIS FRIEND ARRIVE
Nothing could have been done to avert the catastrophe on Grizzly Slide, so the adventurers finished their breakfast in silence. Mrs. Brewster seemed the only one who appeared grateful for their safety. Doubtless, the others felt a certain sense of thanks but they were so disturbed over the evident loss of the mine again, that it was paramount with them.
Having packed the camp dishes, Mike started on the trail again, silently followed by the rest. Not until they reached Bear Forks where the roads separated, was anything more said about the mine.
"Jeb can accompany the ladies to Pebbly Pit, while Ah ride on to Oak Creek to meet the train that will bring John and his friends. It doesn't look as if we-all can use their knowledge now, but we may as well talk things over seeing that like-as-how they will have had the long trip here," ventured Mr. Brewster, thoughtfully.
"We-all ought to make up a crowd to go up and try to find Haywuth's body. Mebbe it will show when the snow's melted from the slope," added Bill.
"Sam, why don't you-all plan while on your ride to Oak Creek, to take Top Notch Trail the same time John and Tom take the expert up? The larger the party the less danger of accident, you know," suggested Mrs. Brewster.
"Are we going with them, mother?" Polly said, in a pleading tone.
"No, indeed, child! Aren't you cured with what happened this time?"
"'Lightning never strikes in the same place twice,' Mrs. Brewster," said Eleanor, hopefully.
"And you know, Maw, such a terrible slide has not occurred here-abouts in twenty years," quickly added Polly, dropping back into her ranch vernacular in her anxiety. "It may be another twenty years before such another slide happens."
"And we can get all the gold out of the cave that we need in a short time," Barbara reminded them.
This made the men laugh, as the girl's words showed how little she really understood the situation up on the peak.
"Well, we can talk things over better when the boys are present to advise us. Meantime, you-all ride home and rest up. Ah'll bring the boys along about night-fall," said Mr. Brewster.
The inhabitants of Oak Creek had felt the trembling of the ground caused by the huge land-slide on Grizzly, and knowing that so many of their prominent citizens were there at the time, they were grouped about the public house anxiously talking over the chances for escape that might be had on the mountain-top.
At first sight of the returned men, a wild welcome rang out, not only from the families who feared their men-folks might never return, but also from the citizens who were genuinely glad to see Bill and his posse, and Simms and his boy, safely back.
After having had his hand shaken as if it were a pump-handle, Sam Brewster continued on to the station to await the train from Denver. As he sat on the edge of the horse-trough thinking over the recent thrilling experiences, he suddenly realized that if Polly had lost her mine again, she might also lose her desire to go away to school in the Fall. This seemed a happy thought, for he sat beaming at the old box-car until the whistle announced the over-due local.
Two handsome young men jumped from the rear platform the moment the train slowed down, and soon Mr. Brewster had one of them by both hands giving him a hearty welcome.
"Now, Dad, try your muscle on Tom's arm. Mine has had enough for one day," laughed John, placing an arm affectionately over his father's shoulder.
With a young man on either side explaining why the expert was not with them, Sam Brewster walked down the street towards Simms' office. Both young men were eagerly talking so the older man had not told them about the avalanche.
"I was saying to John, what a different town this will be the moment we begin operations on Polly's claim," said Tom Latimer.
"As the train pulled in I tried to look at the station and streets through future glasses—seeing the rows of fine store-buildings and the thrift that always follows on the heels of a rich find," added John.
"We'll drop in Simms' office, boys, as I have to borrow his horses. I came on to meet you without bringing any mounts," said Mr. Brewster.
Both young men laughed heartily at this admission, and Tom said teasingly: "I suppose you were so excited over Polly's discovery of gold that you clean forgot we were city chaps who are not overfond of hiking over these trails."
Simms was talking to the coroner about the witnesses to the death of Bill's man, and the newly arrived young engineers heard him say: "Sam Brewster was the other one who escaped that death."
"What's he talking about, Dad?" whispered John, anxiously, as he watched the officer take notes.
Then in as few words as possible, the boys were told all about the land-slide on Grizzly that had, most likely, buried Choko's Find under tons and tons of debris—maybe, hid it completely again for all time.
They sat in Simms' office talking over the plans for the morrow when a large party was to go up Top Notch. As they sat arranging who would be the best men to take, John interrupted the conversation:
"Isn't that Jeb riding along the road with two led horses?"
"Sure enough! Your mother must have remembered I had but one mount, and so Jeb was hurried here with extra horses for you," replied Mr. Brewster, running to the door and hailing his man.
On the way to Pebbly Pit, Tom rode alongside Mr. Brewster while John rode beside Jeb. The two latter riders had much to say to each other, for John had been Jeb's particular charge when the hired man first went to work at Pebbly Pit. Now John was a head taller than his erstwhile guardian, even if he was much the younger.
Jeb acted very morose and absentminded; instead of giving sensible replies to John's questions about the avalanche, he would mutter and say inconsequent things. Finally John said:
"Well, it must have been a narrow escape, anyway."
"That's just it, John. Ef Ah don't run away from Pebbly Pit she'll git me!" returned Jeb, greatly troubled.
"I'm talking about that land-slide—what do you mean?" laughed John, beginning to understand that Jeb was worried over something other than the Grizzly experience.
"Wh—y—Ah'm meanin' that widder! It's leap-year, you know."
John had never heard about Sary, so he was unprepared to offer any advice, but he thought best to agree in everything with Jeb, concerning this particular one, and all "widders" in general.
"Ye-es—siree! That Sary kin ketch any man she starts out to trap. Ef she laid eyes on enny of them farm-hands at Pebbly Pit, like-as-how she has on me, they'd roll right over and eat from her han's. But, you see, John, Ah ain't a marryin' man, so Ah wants to escape."
"Jeb, I have a plan! Suppose we get Tom to flirt with Sary and then let her understand she is fickle, so that you won't consider her for a mate," whispered John, thinking of the fun he could have by playing this joke on his friend.
Jeb gave John a scornful look that meant volumes. "D'ye think Sary would fall fer it? Ah tells you-all she ain't no fule. She kin see straight, an' she knows Tom Latimer ain't in her class."
Thus trying to plan for Jeb's peace and happiness, the two found they had reached the Rainbow Cliffs. Tom and Mr. Brewster were looking over the beautiful shining walls, and Tom sighed:
"You wouldn't have to waste one regret on Polly's loss of the gold mine, if you would but consent to let us sell a bit of these walls."
"Ah'm not worryin' over her loss of gold, Tom; it's glad Ah am that it turned out so. Now she won't coax to go away to some big school where Ah can't see her for six months."
Tom Latimer turned about in the saddle and sent Sam Brewster a keen look and thought: "So that is why he won't consent to these stones being mined and sold!"
Then the four men rode up the wide trail that ran from the Cliffs to the house where they found a group of girls and women eagerly awaiting them. Polly ran down the road and caught hold of her brother's stirrup in her impatience to welcome him. John laughed and jumped from his horse, then gave his sister the kiss and hug she expected.
Anne Stewart stood on the porch watching this little by-play, and when the brother and sister slowly walked along, arm linked in arm, she smiled and sighed, then turned to greet Tom Latimer. But she did not see Mrs. Brewster's watchful eye quickly turn away from her when she turned from watching John.
As Tom Latimer was known to the Maynard girls and Anne, having met them at the College Prom the past year, he was warmly welcomed by them as well as by the Brewsters. Barbara felt an especial interest in him, as he was "one of her set" in society, and he had been invited to her home when her brother entertained a few of his college friends.
Polly now brought her brother up and introduced him to Eleanor and Barbara, but Anne was not there.
"Wh-y—where did Anne go? She was here this minute?" cried Polly, looking around in amazement.
Mrs. Brewster had seen Anne steal away and she understood the reason. Now she quickly diverted attention by saying: "Of course you boys have heard about the awful land-slide?"
As it was so recent an event, it instantly absorbed all. Then Mr. Brewster told about the plans to ride up the Trail on the morrow and ascertain just how much damage had been done. John seemed to be as excited a talker as any one, but his mother saw him send many a searching glance around for some one he had not found.
She managed to reach his side without attracting the attention of the others, and slyly whispered: "Anne Stewart went out towards the Cliffs a moment ago. I saw her leave by the back pathway."
Then while every one was trying to make out the cloud-draped peak of Grizzly Slide, having had their attention directed to it by an exclamation from Mrs. Brewster, John backed away and ran behind the kitchen to the path that led to the Cliffs and Anne.
Jeb found it necessary to fill the wood-box in the kitchen, and it was just after John had passed there that he stumbled up the stone walk. Sary stood in the doorway grinning sympathetically as she watched John dash away after Anne Stewart, when Jeb said:
"Lem'me get by wid this load of wood."
She smirked and said: "Ah, Jeb! Thar's nuthin' in the wurruld like young love, ain't it?"
Now Sary's would-be bewitching leer and her dangerous proximity to him, frightened Jeb worse than any Rocky Mountain avalanche ever, so that he forgot he held an armful of wood. He suddenly went lax in the muscles, dropped the wood, and turned to flee to his hay-loft where no Sary dared follow without a chaperone.
One stick of the wood fell upon Sary's toe, and not having "feet of brass or clay," she uttered a yelp of pain. Jeb never stopped to inquire what had caused that cry—whether of baffled love or shooting pains in a toe.
Sary limped over to a wooden chair and sitting there with her foot held tenderly in both hands, she rocked back and forth, threatening, in an undertone, all males but Jeb in particular.
"You-all jes' wait! Don't think Sary Dodd's a fule—cuz she hain't! Ah'll git you yit, so run away an' make-out like-es-how you are free and not lookin' to any female in pertickler!"
Having thus unburdened her soul of its wrath against Jeb, the cook limped over to the stove to hang the kettle over the fire.
Supper was late that night, but no one noticed it. Sary had perfected a scheme she was going to try on Jeb, some day, soon, so she was all smiles and patience when the family gathered about the table.
"I see you set the table in the living-room, mother," remarked John, approvingly.
"Oh, we have wrought many changes this summer, John, but the best of all is the one whereby we eat out-of-doors when it is good weather. To-night we will eat here as it is too dark under the old oak," explained Mrs. Brewster, smiling.
Plans were now discussed for the trip to Top Notch the following morning, and it was decided that Jeb should go for Mike early, and secure his services as before.
"If such a crowd of men are going, I don't see why the owners of the mine can't go, too. We are as safe there, as here," grumbled Polly.
"Because we are going to make a three days' trip of this, Poll, and women-folk would not feel comfortable with such a lot of mixed men," explained John, pulling his sister's hair, lovingly.
"Well, Polly and I are as good riders as any one of you, and seeing it is our mine, we ought to have something to say about it," added Eleanor, poutingly.
"I suppose you-all have forgotten that we invited that nice young stranger and his friend, Jim Latimer, over to spend this Sunday with us," now ventured Mrs. Brewster.
"Oh, that's so! The boy Kenneth who looks like Montresor!" Anne now added, understanding Mrs. Brewster's idea and abetting it.
"Kenneth Evans! Is it this Sunday he is coming?" asked Eleanor eagerly.
"We might be back on time for that; this is only Friday night, you know," persisted Polly, clinging to the hope of riding to Top Notch.
"No girl or woman is going—let that end the argument!" now said Mr. Brewster, with finality.
There was silence for a moment, then Polly laughingly said to Eleanor: "Nolla, you and I will ride over to visit some old friends of mine to-morrow. We will take our lunch and spend the day with them. As it is half-way on the Bear Forks road we might as well ride with our boys when they go."
"Polly, we plan to leave here before dawn so we can be on the climb when day breaks. Nolla and you will please remember to be fast asleep at that time. Good-night!"
With these words, Sam Brewster got up and started to go to his room, but Polly would not allow her daddy to leave her in that frame of mind. So she ran over and jumped up to throw her arms about his neck in her usual fashion. What she whispered in his ear no one knew but he smiled and nodded his head in meek acquiescence.
"Poll—did he say we might go?" whispered Eleanor.
"No—he won't give in that far, but he said we could ride with them as far as Bear Forks, if we were up in time. I'm bound to wake up, so now I'm going right to bed," said Polly.
But Polly and Eleanor did not wake up in the morning until seven o'clock. The riders were far up along the trail by that time, so the girls had to make the best of the day.
When the men riders were well along the trail, Jeb motioned to Mr. Brewster that he wished to speak with him, so they permitted their horses to slow up and drop behind for a time.
"Ah'm thinkin', Mis'r Brewster, thet Ah'll have to give notice that Ah'm quittin' your ranch. Not what Ah've got any kick comin' about the fam'ly—thar never w'ar a nicer one. But Ah've got ta save mahself."
"Jeb!" gasped Sam Brewster in unbelief. "You couldn't leave us! Why, man, you're one of the family."
"Yeh, Ah knows all that, Mis'r Brewster, but Ah jus' dasent stay where a female badgers my peace o' mind."
"Tell me what is wrong, Jeb, and Ah'll fix it if Ah can," anxiously promised Sam Brewster.
Jeb gazed wildly about for some one to explain for him, and in gazing, his eye rested on John. Big splendid John who had only been a little shaver when he went to Pebbly Pit to work.
"Oh John! Cain't you-all drop back and tell your Paw what ails me?" shouted Jeb, certain that John, who had been to college, could do anything.
John dropped behind his companions, and Sam Brewster hurriedly explained that Jeb seemed to have a queer belief that he would be done for if he remained at Pebbly Pit.
"Oh, did Jeb bother you about that story, Dad? Here, you ride on in my place, and let me get this thing straightened out."
Alone with Jeb, John said persuasively: "Now tell me all about it, Jeb—begin from the beginning."
"Wall, seein' es how you-all is in love, mebbe you-all kin understand about this love-stuff.
"Now, yuh see, John, when that Sary Dodd come to Pebbly Pit es a widder, to help housework, she never cast an eye around fer a likely 'second' until that derned old dance at the school-house. It wuz that time when she perked up in all that borrered finery that she landed a rich ole bachelor-rancher on her ticket to dinner. But he gave one look and run. He never showed up again that night.
"Seein' like-es-how her partner vamoosed, she grabbed me to do the Grand March with her. Mebbe it w'ar the way Ah danced, that took her fancy. But whatever it w'ar, she's ben locooed after me sence that night.
"Now, John, yuh know Sary ain't no prize-winner fer looks, en Ah knows a good looker when Ah seez one, cuz Ah hev sat and seen lots of pritty gals on the movie sheet in Oak Crick. Gosh! Some of them peaches Ah see'd would make yuh leave a stiddy job like Pebbly Pit. So Ah saved and saved till now Ah've got a tidy bit laid by fer some pritty gal, like them in the Movies.
"Ef Sary Dodd knew Ah had money saved! Phew! She'd get at it whar Ah hid it in a hole under the barn-rafters, then she'd hold it out to tempt me, like-es-how yuh lead a balky cow to be milked. But that is one thing Sary don't know!"
John laughed loud and long at the picture Jeb graphically sketched of Sary and himself, but the orator cared nothing for John's laughing. He was too concerned over his freedom.
"Sary's got some good points—yuh've got to hand it to her, even ef she hain't got a figger like Miss Anne's, and hair like Miss Polly's. But she can cook! Gosh, cain't she cook and clean. So ef it w'ar a housekeeper er a business partner Ah wanted, Ah coulden pick a better one than Sary Dodd.
"But yuh unnerstand me, John, don't yuh, when Ah says Ah wants something pritty sittin' afore the pianner to sing to me, or dressin' up in finery like Miss Bob's and playin' a lady? Ah've ben a hired man and worked on a ranch all mah life, but now Ah've got a bit saved up Ah kin go to the city and pick th' gal Ah wants.
"And lem'me tell yuh, John! In the Movies them gals what looks so pritty make fine farm-wives. Gosh, but one city gal with yaller curls hadn't a cent to live on when she met a feller what owned a little ranch in Arizony. They hooked up and she was that happy on the farm! She churned the butter and fed chickens and did all the chores. And he looked after the stock. Evenin's she played and sang fer him and he sat in a big arm-chair and smiled at her.
"That's the kind of wife Ah wants, John—and how kin Ah sit and listen to Sary sing? Mebbe she kin churn better'n that one I saw in the Movies, but Ah bet a plugged penny that she cain't play a pianner!"
Jeb's tone was so emphatic at the last accusation of Sary's short-comings, that John almost rolled from his horse with laughter.
Now Jeb had said all that he had to say, so he waited patiently for John to get over his spasm of laughter. Then he looked at him as if to ask what had he to say about such positive evidence as he had brought forth, regarding the Movie girl making the best kind of a rancher's wife?
"Oh, Jeb! How I love your innocence!" gasped John, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. "I shall certainly sue the Movies for betraying your trust and faith in womankind. For they sure did more than amuse you for your dime. You took for a solid fact, all the silly mush you saw on the screen as real life. But, it was reel life, Jeb, spelled with two 'e's' instead of the genuine r-e-a-l way.
"Jeb, how'd you like to spend every nickel you've saved, on a girl with dyed hair, belladonna eyes, painted lips you could never kiss, blackened eye-lashes and eye-brows, and goodness only knows what else she puts on and takes off to look pretty in the pictures?"
Jeb listened with loose jaw and wide-opened eyes to this strange description of all the lady-loves he knew on the screen.
"Why, Jeb, these blonde Movie beauties have a different husband every few months. The ones who play star-leads make the biggest splash in the puddles, but the little ones try to mimic the big stars and get into all sorts of trouble. I haven't heard of but two or three who could treat a good husband decently. As for sitting at home playing and singing for you—ha, ha, ha! It costs about five hundred dollars each evening to entertain one of them.
"Churn? Did you say she looked so cute in a big bungalow apron churning the butter on a vine-clad porch? Didn't the porch open right out on a little pasture and tidy barnyard, where her devoted husband could stand admiring her? Was it a dear little one-and-a-half story vine-clad house painted white, with green wooden shutters?"
"Uh, huh! Just so! Did you see that gal, John?" eagerly asked Jeb.
"Jeb, the Movies use that same little house and painted scenery for every farm-picture they make. Sometimes a deserted wife hangs to the post of the porch and plans to kill herself. Or sometimes it is the husband who hears how his head man ran away with his foolish little wife. But, Jeb, never believe anything you see in the Movies, for they have turned more heads than you can count, by their subtle ways. Everything always ends right in the Movies, but it is seldom so in real life.
"Now do you want my best advice, Jeb?"
"Ah shore do, John, cuz you-all knows what's what!"
"Then listen, Jeb, and think things over well before you leave Pebbly Pit and take your money away to spend on a pretty Movie gal.
"You say that Sary is a right smart cook and houseworker. You admit that she is thrifty, and will save that money you've got hidden away in the barn.
"Now look at that good-fer-nothing Bill Dodd she married! In less than a year she had him working on a ranch that she saved up for. Didn't she keep him at it until it was most paid up? If he hadn't gone with the flu, that ranch'd been paid for in another year.
"Sary isn't so feeble, neither. She can save twenty more ranches before she cripples up. Any man who has ambition would make no mistake in choosing Sary. Now I believe Sary would make a big man of you, Jeb.
"She may not dye her hair or paint her face, but she's got a square look, and we-all know what sound stock she comes of. There isn't a better family in all Colorado than the Morson's. And Sary Morson is all there! She has sterling qualities that will last after beauty and singing is worn thread-bare.
"Of course she isn't anything like Anne Stewart—there never was any girl like her! But you make a big mistake if you go away to find a pretty girl, all dolled up like the Movie Queens, for your wife. She'd take all your money and laugh at you the next moment.
"I've lived in big cities, Jeb, and seen a lot of the ways of pretty girls who dress up and pose for the boys, but not one of that kind is worth a shake. Take it from me, Jeb, you'd be happy and contented if you had a ranch of your own, and a sensible wife to make you toe the mark. You're too easy for any other sort, Jeb, although you figure that you need an ideal. Not so, my man!"
Jeb heaved a mighty sigh as if he was passing on his rainbow dreams forever. Then he turned sorrowful eyes on John.
"Wall, Ah cain't fergit that pooty gal in a hurry, even when Sary heaves in sight wid a heaped plate of puddin' fer me. Ah s'pose Ah'll hev to let her marry me, er git out to onct. Sence yuh've ben talkin', Ah have a sort of weakenin' fer her capable ways, and shore ez shootin', she'll grab the first chanst Ah gives her to know the wust, because this is leap-year."
John shouted with laughter again, and Tom Latimer turned back his horse to ask what the joke was about.
"Nothing that concerns little boys like you, Tom," laughed John, as he winked at his friend.
"But I feel sure I can be of help to Jeb as well as to you, John," insisted Tom.
"No, Mis'r Tom. It's all over," sighed Jeb, in a funereal tone. "Ah've made up mah mind to take the med'cine, er beat it!"
With that, Jeb spurred his horse on and joined his master, leaving John to merely hint at the great trouble that almost disrupted the household at Pebbly Pit. "Now, thank Heavens, I have saved the ranch from ruin, and united two hearts that ought to beat as one, hereafter!"
Tom laughed. "I'm glad you confessed to your profession. I'll be wary of your match-making, in the future."
"But you have to find matches before you can make them," laughed John.
"You are so blind that you only see one pretty girl at Pebbly Pit, whereas there are four!" exclaimed Tom, smilingly.
"Four! Anne Stewart is one, and Miss Maynard may consider herself lovely enough for a match—I don't. But mother and Sary will never consent to your including them in your match-making."
"Hah! I thought so! You are so blind over Anne Stewart, that you fail to see how your own little sister is growing up to be a stunning miss. Why, she will be a beauty at twenty, for she is on the high-way there already."
"Tom!" gasped John. "Wh-y—Polly is only a child!"
"That's what all brothers think of their pretty sisters. Some day, a fine young fellow will think differently, and you'll want to club him. But the trouble is, that Polly will think exactly as the handsome man thinks, and she will not listen to her big brother's advice to remain a little girl.
"Besides Polly, there is Eleanor Maynard. She, too, is a fine girl and will grow to wonderful womanhood. Now, John, take more notice of your 'little' sister, for she is what we boys call a 'peach.'"
"Ha, ha, ha! I've never heard you say so much about a girl in my life! If I didn't know better, I'd say you were half-way in love with Polly, yourself. But I know what a quitter you are whenever there is a girl in the party," laughed John.
Tom flushed slightly but made no reply. Before John could tease him any further, the party reached Four Mile Blaze. Mike tolled off the riders, and warned each one to give strictest attention to the going as one misstep meant a crippled horse or a serious accident.
From there on, the men rode through the lodge-pole forest to avoid the great mass of debris formed of rocks, earth, and torn-up trees that obstructed the old trail. Simms felt sure his man had escaped in some miraculous manner, after the avalanche swept him from his feet. But seeing the mountains of wood-trash that were washed down from the peak and piled up everywhere, he lost faith.
Still he and his men were bound to make the most of the least hope, so they sought thoroughly over the side where the two miners had been discovered, that day. Nothing but trees, rocks, and earth piled in toppling heaps on the steep slope of the mountain were seen, however.
While Simms and Bill sought over every foot of ground for their missing friend, Mike led Sam Brewster and his two engineers, down the opposite slope, to a blaze that told them they were going towards the cave. But the nearer they came to the claim, the greater was the destruction of the forest. Finally they could see where the ledge had been, but so massed up was the trash that had been swept down and over the side, that it was impossible to reach the ravine.
Mike chuckled: "Him unner alla trees on Grizzly Sly—him yaller insides safe nuff!"
"You're right, Mike," laughed John. "If the gold is in that spot it is safe enough for a long time to come."
"I think this slide was the luckiest thing that ever happened to the girls," ventured Tom Latimer, thoughtfully.
"Why?" anxiously demanded Mr. Brewster, visions of his darling being carried away to school uppermost in his mind.
"When we are ready to bore for the gold, this trash will be an easy thing to burn and clear away. Meantime, it keeps off all claim-jumpers or thieves who need a little hard yellow metal."
"But you must admit that it is a tough proposition to mine here," said Mr. Brewster. "A land-slide is apt to happen any moment and bury all the apparatus. All previous efforts will be wiped out and you must begin all over again. Then consider the difficulty of transportation, from this peak down the long trail, and over miles of rough country to the Oak Creek railway."
"Hoh! a mere bagatelle, Mr. Brewster, when gold weighs in the other scale. Why, men will dig through the earth for gold! See what happened in Alaska. Once men found gold to be had for the pain and privation they would be forced to endure, they gladly gave up home, loved ones,—all—for the lust of gold.
"And see what that drive did for Alaska. Railroads opened, cities founded, people settled there, and all because men fought with odds against finding buried gold!"
"We wouldn't have to worry over this out-of-the-way mine if father would consent to have his cliffs utilized," hinted John.
"Not with my consent!" retorted Sam Brewster.
"Well, come on, Mike. Let's pitch camp and get something to eat," said John, resignedly.
"It's not that I have any silly sentiment over the cliffs, my boys—don't mistake me there. But I have a serious reason for refusing to coin money out of that beauty—at least for a few years to come."
"If I guess the truth about it, will you admit it to me some day?" quizzed Tom Latimer, his eyes twinkling.
"No, sir! Not even to my wife—it's my secret!"
POLLY AND ELEANOR VISIT THE BEAVERS
After breakfast the four girls asked each other what there was to do. They had had so much excitement all week, that the simple life palled on them.
"It's exactly like drinking milk after you have been kept on spice-beer for a long time," laughed Eleanor.
"Well, Nolla and I have an invitation to spend the day with friends of mine. We can ride over there any time," said Polly.
"Then for goodness' sake, come on! I'll be asleep again if we don't do something," exclaimed Eleanor.
"All right, I'll saddle Noddy and you can have Choko. We will have to harness them ourselves now that Jeb is away, and the other hands are working on the ranch."
"You're not going far, are you?" asked Anne, suspiciously.
Polly laughed. "Not as far as we went yesterday."
Mrs. Brewster had been told where Polly planned to take Eleanor, and she smiled approvingly. A nice luncheon was packed up and placed in the panniers of the burros, and the three grownups stood and watched the two girls ride down the trail to Rainbow Cliff.
As they went, Eleanor said: "Did you mention the name of your friends? I forgot, if you have."
Polly laughed. "Maybe I told you, but I don't remember now. Anyway, you wouldn't know them if I did tell you their names."
"But what do you call them when you address them?"
"I always call the old one 'Grandfather,' but he has a large family that I never bother with. He is our friend.
"This family lives and does queer things that no city folks ever dream of," added Polly.
"Something like that Halsey woman, eh?" laughed Eleanor, who had heard from Sary about the disobedient children.
"The Beavers are too polite to force their company on us. And as we may not care to eat as they do, I decided to bring lunch, which we can enjoy by ourselves," explained Polly.
Noddy and Choko now reached the trail leading up the pine-tipped crest of the mountain back of Pebbly Pit, and were soon climbing through a veritable wilderness of sage-brush and aspens.
"My, what a place to live in!" said Eleanor, surprised.
"It's not far, now," returned Polly.
Shortly after this, Polly turned Noddy from the old trail and plunged into a thicket of aspens.
"Good gracious! How can they ever find their own home?" wondered Eleanor, gazing at the closely growing aspen trees.
"They know everything! And Noddy knows the way by this time, too, as I like to come here and spend the day. Besides there are blazes on the large trees to guide one."
Noddy came out of the aspen grove after a time and then followed a mountain-stream up-trail for half a mile or so, before turning to look at her rider.
"Oh, you wise little Noddy. How did you know I wanted to stop here?" laughed Polly, patting the burro affectionately.
Noddy flicked back her long ears in approval of such words and petting, but Eleanor's cry made the burro listen intently.
"Polly! What a dreadful place to live in! Surely no one exists in this lonesome wilderness, do they?"
"Mr. Beaver is clearing away the aspens just as fast as he can, but as soon as they are all cut down, he will move the whole family to some other dense grove, as they live on aspens, you know."
"What—what! I didn't understand you!" cried Eleanor.
Polly laughed as she pointed to a pond made by a dam crudely built across the stream. It was rough and queer looking, but it answered its purpose very well.
Eleanor saw half a dozen conical shaped huts built of mud in a row across the dam, then she stared at both sides of the stream, up and down, but no other habitation could she see. On the opposite bank several large trees had been felled and a quantity of aspens had been cut down and piled in confusion on the edge of the water.
"Do your ranchers live near here?" asked she.
"I didn't say they were ranchers, Nolla."
"Well, woodcutters, or what you call them!"
"Yes," laughed Polly, "they are woodcutters and live in those mud huts."
"What?" cried Eleanor again.
"S-sh! Not so loud or you will frighten them away!"
"Polly—impossible! What do you mean anyway?"
"The beavers live there until the family grows too large, then they either build another story to the house, or start a new colony where aspens can be had in plenty. As there are so many young aspens here in perfect security, for the beavers, Grandfather Beaver remains here."
"Oh, Polly! You mean they are real beavers!" gasped Eleanor.
"Yes, and I knew you would love to see them at work, but we have to keep very quiet if we want them to come out."
"Tell me about them—quick—before we have to go away," begged Eleanor, eagerly.
"We won't have to go, but we have to keep quiet. You see they must have been cutting aspens over there, when they heard us coming and so they made a dive for safety. They are now hiding in the huts."
"What can we do to coax them out again?"
"We'll lead the burros to the park to graze, and we'll come back and sit quietly on this rock to watch for them."
So the two burros were taken to a small nearby clearing where buffalo grass offered a juicy repast for them. Having hobbled them to keep them from straying, Polly led the way back to the beaver-dam.
"If you were over there to examine those cut aspens you would find each one about eighteen inches long and about one and a half inches thick. The beavers always build near an aspen grove, as it is their food, but not finding a grove near the water, they have to swim up or down until they reach what they need. That is why you find their huts on water," explained Polly.
"But I've heard they are water animals."
Before Polly could reply, a sleek head bobbed up from the water near one of the huts and Eleanor gasped with surprise. The beaver swam to the opposite bank where the trees had been cut down. He climbed quickly out of the stream and started to roll a heavy log over the ground until it splashed down into the pond. He then jumped after it and continued rolling and pushing it along till he reached the dam. Instantly, more beavers came out from the huts and assisted in towing the log to their dam of aspens.
"Oh, oh, Polly!" whispered Eleanor in excited astonishment, but Polly held her finger over her lips in warning.
"I do believe they plan to build a new dam further up-stream, Nolla. If that is so, we will have something worth while to watch for during the next few days. Just now they are repairing the old houses for the Winter, and that log is to be a bulwark about which green cuttings of willow and young aspens can be woven as a partial strainer for the water. The debris that thus collects in the chinks between the cuttings, makes the dam firmer and yet more flexible than a solid structure would."
Just then, the sound of a falling tree made Eleanor jump and look across the stream.
"Other industrious beavers cutting down another tree," explained Polly.
"How do they ever do it, Poll?"
"If you watch, you will see that beaver go to work."
Not one beaver appeared, but four that hurried to the bank and moved the newly cut tree into the water. One of the four dragged the tree with its branches still on, into the mid-stream where, catching a heavy branch between his teeth, he steered it to the row of huts.
Directly back of the first one, swam the other three, each dragging a section of tree to deposit on the dam, where an old beaver was hard at work. As soon as the first beaver reached the huts, the old fellow gave a peculiar call that brought out a score or more of workers. They all went to their tasks as if drilled by a master.
"My old Grandfather is not there this morning, or that other boss would not be taking his place," whispered Polly.