THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN ALASKA
THE GOLD DIGGERS OF TAKU PASS
FRANK GEE PATCHIN
Author of The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies, The Pony Rider Boys in Texas, The Pony Rider Boys in Montana, The Pony Rider Boys in the Ozarks, The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali, The Pony Rider Boys in New Mexico, The Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon, The Pony Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers, The Pony Rider Boys on the Blue Ridge, The Pony Rider Boys in New England, The Pony Rider Boys in Louisiana, etc., etc.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Akron, Ohio—New York
Made in U. S. A.
By THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Chapter I—Through Enchanting Waters 11
The mystery of the Gold Diggers. The story of an Indian capture. The skipper gives himself a hunch. The lure of the yellow metal. The abode of an angry spirit.
Chapter II—The Boys Scent a Plot 29
Ned Rector puts his foot in. The man with the combustible whiskers. Tad overhears an exciting conversation. His duty not clear to him. Attacked by a desperado.
Chapter III—In Desperate Straits 40
Almost hurled overboard. Help comes in the nick of time. Tad accuses his assailant. Whiskers as evidence. Plotters are driven from the ship by young Butler.
Chapter IV—On the Overland Trail 48
"You have neglected your horse education." Tad amazes a horse trader. Chunky wants no "quick" mules. Driving a keen bargain. The boys decide to guide themselves.
Chapter V—Traveling a Dangerous Mountain Pass 59
The Professor tells the boys about the "great country." When a fellow needs a bird's eye. A toboggan slide that might reach to Asia. Pony Rider Boys hear a terrifying sound.
Chapter VI—Caught in a Giant Slide 69
A pack mule swept from the ledge. Tad fires a humane shot. Taking desperate chances to rescue the pack. "I don't propose to lose my lasso."
Chapter VII—Going to Bed by Daylight 82
How the pack mule was buried. Heavy obstacles are overcome. A cure for cold feet. The fat boy knows his own capacity. Tents are swallowed up in the gloom of an Alaskan night.
Chapter VIII—An Intruder in the Camp 91
The fat boy's singing brings disaster. Professor Zepplin wields his stick. A wild scrimmage in pajamas. The mystery of the lost ham. "There has been a prowler in this camp while we slept!"
Chapter IX—A Mystery Unsolved 103
"It was an Indian who did this job." Stacy is roped out of bed. Two fish on one hook. Suspicion is directed toward Tad. Ned's head suffers the loss of some hair.
Chapter X—In the Home of the Thlinkits 113
Ned Rector is full of fight. Stacy makes Tad Butler dance. Chunky plans revenge. The fat boy finds a food emporium. A mother squaw in a rage.
Chapter XI—The Guide Who Made a Hit 125
"Me heap big smart man." Anvik refuses to "mush" because the spirits are abroad. "Him kick like buck caribou." Tad Butler gets a new title. Off for the wilds.
Chapter XII—In the Heart of Nature 136
From trail to trackless wilderness. A grilling hike. Tad, in a fine shot, bags an antelope. "Hooray! Maybe that was a chance shot!" A ducking in an icy mountain stream.
Chapter XIII—A Pony Rider Boy's Pluck 146
Tad carries the dead doe to camp. "Him heap big little man." Stacy knows how to "skin the cat." The antelope dressed by the Indian guide. Fresh meat in plenty now.
Chapter XIV—Stacy Bumps the Bumps 152
The difficulty of leading a mule. Chunky and the animal go over the brink. Tin cans rattle down the mountain side. The fat boy hung up by one foot.
Chapter XV—The Story in the Dead Fire 162
"White boy see almost like Indian." Campers had left in a hurry. Stacy discovers something. Eating ice cream with a pickle fork. Surrounded by mysteries in the great mountains.
Chapter XVI—A Sign from the Mountain Top 167
"Him white man smoke." The wonders of mountain signaling. Friends or enemies? Overwhelmed by an avalanche of ice. A roar and an even more terrifying silence.
Chapter XVII—An Unexpected Meeting 174
"Innua him mad." Heap big ice nearly wipes out the Pony Rider Boys' camp. Tad makes a morning excursion and meets an unpleasant surprise.
Chapter XVIII—An Unfriendly Reception 178
Tad boldly faces his accusers. Threats from the prospectors. A man on Butler's trail. Tad takes a pot shot and gets immediate results. "Stop that shooting, you fool!" The fat boy draws a bead.
Chapter XIX—The Professor in a Rage 189
"It's a lie!" thunders Professor Zepplin. Ordered out of the hills on penalty of being shot. "If you are looking for trouble you may have all you want!" A threat to punch the prospector's nose.
Chapter XX—Tad Discovers Something 198
Pony Rider Boys off for bear. The fat boy frightened by a totem pole. In a place of many mysteries. Tad makes a great find. A discovery that led to sensational results.
Chapter XXI—Conclusion 203
Rifle shots fired into the Pony Rider Boys' camp. Miners in a frenzy of joy. Butler makes a new find. Their boundary markings found destroyed. Tad starts on a desperate ride. His claim must be filed ahead of that of the enemy at whatever cost. A race through ice-clogged waters. A fight to the finish before the clerk's desk. A triumph for the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass. The end of the long, long trail.
THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN ALASKA
THROUGH ENCHANTING WATERS
"Captain, who are the four silent men leaning over the rail on the other side of the boat?" asked Tad Butler. "I have been wondering about them almost ever since we left Vancouver. They don't seem to speak to a person, and seldom to each other, though somehow they appear to be traveling in company. They act as if they were afraid someone would recognize them. I am sure they aren't bad characters."
Captain Petersen, commander of the steamer "Corsair," which for some days had been plowing its way through the ever-changing northern waters, stroked his grizzled beard reflectively.
"Bad characters, eh?" he twinkled. "Well, no, I shouldn't say as they were. They're fair-weather lads. I'll vouch for them if necessary, and I guess I'm about the only person on board that knows who they are."
Tad waited expectantly until the skipper came to the point of the story he was telling.
"They are the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass, lad."
"The Gold Diggers of Taku Pass?" repeated Tad Butler. "I don't think I ever heard that name before. Where is this pass, sir?"
The skipper shook his head.
"No one knows," he said.
"That is strange," wondered Butler. "Does no one know where they dig for gold?"
"No. They don't even know themselves," was the puzzling reply.
Tad fixed the weather-beaten face of the skipper with a questioning gaze.
"I don't think I understand, sir."
"I'll tell you what I know about it some other time, lad. I haven't the time to spin the yarn now. It's a long one. I've been sailing up and down these waters, fair weather and foul, for a good many years, and I've seen a fair cargo of strange things in my time, but this Digger outfit is the most peculiar one I ever came across. They are a living example of what the lure of gold means when it gets into a man's system. Gold is all right. I wish I had more of it; but, my boy, don't ever let the love of it get to the windward of you if you hope to enjoy peace of mind afterwards," concluded the skipper with emphasis.
"What's that he says about gold?" interjected Stacy Brown, more commonly known to his companions as Chunky, the fat boy.
Stacy, with Ned Rector and Walter Perkins, had been lounging against the starboard rail of the "Corsair," observing Tad and the Captain as they talked. A few paces forward sat Professor Zepplin, their traveling companion, wholly absorbed in a scientific discussion with an engineer who was on his way to an Alaskan mine, of which the latter was to assume control. Many other passengers were strolling about the decks of the "Corsair." There were seasoned miners with bearded faces; sharp-eyed, sharp-featured men with shifty eyes; pale-faced prospectors on their way to the land of promise, in quest of the yellow metal; capitalists going to Alaska to look into this or that claim with a view to investment; and, more in evidence than all the rest, a large list of tourists bound up the coast on a merry holiday. The former, in most instances, were quiet, reserved men, the latter talkative and boisterous.
"The Captain was speaking of the lure that gold holds for the human race," replied Tad Butler in answer to Stacy Brown's question. "I guess the Captain is right, too."
"Be warned in time, Chunky," added Rector.
"I've never seen enough gold to become lured by it," retorted the fat boy. "I should like to see enough to excite me just once. I shouldn't mind being lured that way. Would you, Walt?"
Walter Perkins shook his head and smiled.
"I fear you will have to shake yourself—get over your natural laziness—before you can hope to," chuckled Ned. "I doubt if you would know a lure if you met one on Main Street in Chillicothe."
"Try me and see," grinned Stacy.
"There must be a lot of gold up here, judging from what I have read, and from the number of persons going after it," added Tad, with a sweeping gesture that included the deckload of miners and prospectors. "But the hardships and the heart-breakings must be terrible. I have read a lot about the terrors that men have gone through in this country, especially in the awful winters they have in Alaska."
"I shouldn't mind them if I had a sledge and a pack of dogs to tote me around, the way they do up here," declared Chunky.
"That would be great fun," agreed young Perkins. "You wouldn't have far to fall if you got bucked off from that kind of broncho, would you, Stacy?"
"Not unless you fell off a mountain," answered Ned, glancing at the distant towering cliffs of the coast range.
"I was asking the Captain about those four men yonder," said Tad.
"Oh, the fellows who don't speak to anyone?" nodded Rector.
"Who are they? I have wondered about them."
"I don't know their names, but the skipper tells me they are known as the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass," replied Butler. "The queer part of it is, he says, that no one, so far as he is aware, knows even that there is such a place as Taku Pass. They don't know themselves," added Tad with a smile.
"That's strange," wondered Rector. "Crazy?"
"No, I think not. They are prospecting for an unknown claim," replied Tad.
"I—I don't know anything about that," spoke up Stacy Brown. "But I know who those fellows are."
"You do?" exclaimed the boys in chorus.
"Yes. I asked them. That's the way to find out what you want to know, isn't it?" chuckled Stacy.
"Who are they?" asked Butler laughingly.
"The minery-looking fellow is Sam Dawson. The one beside him is Curtis Darwood. The tall, slim chap nearest to us is Dill Bruce. They call him the Pickle for short."
"He looks sour enough to be one," laughed Walter.
"The other chap, the little one, is Curley Tinker. And there you have the whole outfit. I'll introduce you to them if you like," volunteered Chunky.
"No, thank you. I already have tried to talk with the men, but they don't seem inclined to open their mouths," replied Butler.
"It strikes me that you have made more progress that anyone else on this boat, so far as the four gold diggers are concerned," added Rector, addressing Chunky.
"Yes, I am convinced that Chunky is rather forward," agreed Tad.
"Oh, no one can resist me," averred the fat boy. "Anything else you want to know, Tad?"
"Yes, a great deal. But here is the Captain. He will tell me."
Captain Petersen had taken a fancy to the boys almost from the first. He had learned who they were early on that voyage, and in the meantime they had become very well acquainted with the commander of the "Corsair." He had taken pains to explain to the lads many things about the country past which they were sailing—things that otherwise they would not have known, and the voyage was proving very interesting to them, as well as to Professor Zepplin himself.
"Come below now and I'll tell you the story," invited Captain Petersen, starting to descend the after companionway. "All of you come along. That will save your asking questions later on," he smiled.
"You see, he invited you on my account," chuckled Stacy Brown, tapping his breast with the tips of his fingers.
The lads filed down the companionway behind the Captain, and when they had finally settled themselves in the skipper's cabin and he had lighted his pipe, he began to speak.
"I always come below and put my feet on the table after we pass the Shoal of Seals," he explained. "That is the time I take my 'watch below,' as we call it, when we come down for a rest or a sleep. But you are eager to hear the story. Very good. Here goes. A good many years ago an expedition came up to this part of the world on an exploring mission. In that party was a Dr. Darwood from some place in the East. I don't believe I ever heard the name of the place, and if I knew the state I have forgotten it. Well, to make a long story short, the party was ambushed by the Kak-wan-tan Indians. Every man of the party was captured and all were put to death, with the exception of Dr. Darwood. Somehow, the Indians had learned that he was a big medicine man, so they made the Doctor captive and took him over the mountains many miles from there. They probably killed the others so as to make sure of the Doctor."
"What did they want with a medicine man?" interjected the fat boy.
"They wanted him professionally. Their chief was a very sick man. I guess the old gentleman was about ready to die. At least he thought so. The chief bore the name of Chief Anna-Hoots. Nice name, eh? No wonder he got sick."
"He must have belonged to the owl family," observed Chunky.
Tad rebuked the fat boy with a look. The Captain regarded Stacy quizzically, then proceeded with his story.
"Their own medicine man had been killed by a bear. You see his medicine wasn't calculated to head off bears. The chief, therefore, was in a bad way. Dr. Darwood was commanded to make the chief well, and, so the story goes, after examining Hoots, he at once saw what was the trouble with the old man. He set to work over the savage, not so much from a professional interest as that he knew very well his life would be forfeited did he not do something for the patient. It is a safe guess that the Doctor never had worked more heroically over a patient. Well, he saved the chief—had him on his feet and hopping around as lively as a jack-rabbit in less than twenty-four hours. There was great rejoicing among Anna's people, and Darwood was feasted and made much of. He was almost as big a man as Old Hoots himself. Nothing was too good for him in that camp."
"Why didn't he poison the whole tribe while he had the chance?" questioned Rector.
"Perhaps it wasn't professional," smiled the Captain in reply. "But Chief Anna-Hoots—precious old rascal that he was—was so grateful that he made the Doctor chief medicine man over all the tribes and a tribal chief of one of the subordinate tribes. And now we are coming to the point of our story. Old Hoots, later on, let the Doctor into a great secret. Having driven the evil spirits out of Anna and set him on his feet almost as good as new, the patient evidently was of the opinion that the medicine man was entitled to something more than the ordinary fee for such a service. He took the Doctor to a place where a roaring glacial stream of icy water was tearing down through a narrow gash in the mountains on its way to the sea, and there he showed the doctor-chief gold in great quantities, so the story runs, the pass being guarded by the Bear Totem. It is not certain whether the vein from which this gold had been washed was then known. I think Darwood must have found it later on and located a claim. He at least took from the mouth of the pass enough gold to make him a fairly rich man. This he hid away, awaiting a favorable opportunity to get away with it. Such opportunity presented itself while his tribe was away on a hunt in the fall for meat for the winter, and made his escape. After some months of terrible hardships he succeeded in reaching civilization, fairly staggering under the weight of the gold he had brought away. He had the gold-madness badly, you see."
"He was plucky," muttered Butler.
"Yes. It was Darwood's intention to return, at the head of a well-armed party, properly equipped, and work the pay dirt to its limit. But he died before he could do so. The hardships of that journey, loaded down with dust and nuggets, led to his ultimate death. You see what avarice will do to a fellow. It gets to windward of him every time."
"I'd be willing to stagger under all I could carry and take my chances on the future," observed Chunky reflectively.
"So would we all," nodded the skipper. "That's the worst of us, our greed. I am glad I am at sea, where I can't dig. Nothing was done in the matter of locating and working the claim for some years after the Doctor's death. Then a grandson, Curtis Darwood, who is now aboard this boat, found a paper or map or something of the sort, on which was a description of the Doctor's find. It couldn't have been very definite or they wouldn't have been so long in locating the place. Of course, the younger man was fired with the desire to find this wonderful mine. The lure had him fast and hard. He came up here alone the first time and prospected all summer, but failed, and late that fall he went back home. When he returned the three other men, who are his companions now, were with him. They have been together ever since in their prospecting work. Dawson is a pioneer prospector who knows the game thoroughly. The others, who have been up here three years, might now be placed in the same class, though Dawson is the real miner. One can't help but admire their pluck and persistence, but I shouldn't want to be caught interfering with them. When a fellow gets the gold madness he is a dangerous customer to annoy."
"Have they found the gold?" asked Walter Perkins.
Captain Petersen shook his head.
"I think not. If they have, only they know it. They take no one into their confidence. They went home for the winter last fall, and what amazes me further is that they are getting up here so late this spring. Here it is June. They should have been on the job six weeks ago, and in order to do so they ought to have wintered in the hills. To me that means something. It will be a wonder if this unusual move on their part doesn't attract attention. You may believe they are watched. There are, no doubt, those who are watching the Diggers, and who do not miss any of their movements." The skipper hesitated, then brought a big fist down on his cabin table with a bang that set the glassware jingling. "By George, I begin to see a light!" he roared.
"What do you mean?" cried Chunky.
"What is it, sir?" chorused Tad and Ned in one voice.
"That accounts for Red Whiskers. That accounts for his presence on—" The skipper checked himself suddenly. "But no matter. It isn't for me to say." He lapsed into thoughtful silence. "Well, what do you think of the story?" he asked a few moments later.
"It is all very remarkable," answered Butler. "Where are they going—their destination, I mean?"
"You never can tell. They have explored pretty much all of the country within a few hundred miles of here, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they had stumbled over the right place dozens of times and didn't know it. But there is one significant fact. They have brought up a lot of equipment this time. It looks as if they thought they had the place pretty well located. It certainly does look that way. There's another thing I forgot to tell you. This place, this pass where the gold is supposed to lie, is the abode of a great and angry spirit."
"A really, truly spirit?" questioned Walter wonderingly.
"I can't say about the really-truly business," replied Captain Petersen, with a grin. "I am telling you the story as I have heard it. Had Old Hoots' tribe known that the Doctor went in there and dug out gold which he salted away they would have put him to death. It's a sacred place. It was then, and I'll wager it is now. You may believe that the superstition has been handed down."
"But the Indians up here now are not at all savage, are they?" asked Butler.
"Perhaps not where the white man has taken possession in force. But you get into the far interior—there is a great deal of Alaska that the white man knows very little about yet—and you will find them savage enough, provided they think they have you in a pocket, and especially so if you interfere with any of their religious customs or beliefs. In these respects they are simply human."
"I should call them inhuman," observed the fat boy.
"I don't blame them," nodded Tad.
"Now, that is the story of the Gold Diggers, so far as I know it," continued the Captain. "As I have already said, not many persons up here do know it. A veil of mystery surrounds the four silent men. They make no other friends, confide in no one, and live in a little world all their own. The story, as I have repeated it to you, was told to me by a man from their part of the country who came up here to spend the summer last season. That is how I came to know the details. It is possible, though not probable, that you might get them to tell you something about the country."
"I'll make them talk," answered Stacy pompously.
"What is their destination?" asked Butler quickly.
"Skagway. However, that undoubtedly is a blind. They may be going on farther from that point, or they may be intending to work back along the coast after they leave the ship, then strike into the hills at some remote point. I can't say as to that, of course. They will disappear. You may depend upon that, and nothing may be heard of them again for a year."
"What do they do for provisions?" questioned Rector.
"The same as you will have to do if you penetrate far into the interior. They hunt and fish, saving their canned supplies for the winter, for the winter months are long and drear up in this far northern country."
"When does winter set in?" asked Ned.
"Very early. It seems to be most always winter up here."
"Thank you very much," said Tad. "This has been most interesting. I should like to ask them something about the country where we are going. Of course I shouldn't presume to question them about their own affairs. That would be none of my business."
"Where are you going?"
"We had planned to strike north from Yakutat."
"You will find rough country that way. I should say you would have tough traveling all the way. If you can get the Gold Diggers to open up, they will undoubtedly be able to give you some useful information that would enable you to lay your course to the best advantage. But I think I know the Diggers. You may not be able to get a civil word out of them."
"They'll talk to me," answered the fat boy confidently.
"Please don't permit yourself to be overcome," warned Rector. "Remember your most excellent opinion of yourself has been the cause of some mighty falls already."
"Well, I fell in soft spots anyhow," retorted Stacy.
"Ordinarily on your head, I believe," answered Ned quickly.
Again thanking the Captain for his kindness, the lads returned to the deck. Tad leaned against the rail thinking over the story related by the skipper. The romance of the quest of the Diggers appealed to Butler's adventure-loving nature. He declared to himself that he would draw them into conversation and satisfy his further curiosity. Looking them over in the light of what he had heard, Tad saw that the four were determined-looking men, were men who would do and dare, no matter how great the obstacles or the perils. He could not but feel a keen admiration for them. They were real men, even if they were surly and reticent.
"Tad, how would you like to belong to that party of prospectors?" asked Ned, nodding toward the four.
"I can't imagine anything more exciting. I wish we might. I wonder if they are going our way?"
"Why don't you ask them?"
"I intend to," answered Tad, rousing himself and starting towards the prospectors who were lounging apart from the other passengers on the deck of the steamer.
"Watch him get turned down," grinned Stacy. "I shall have to break the ice for him. He never will be able to do it for himself."
"Better wait until you are asked," advised Ned Rector.
As Stacy had said, Tad did not succeed in getting into conversation with the Diggers that day. Early on the following morning the boys were on deck, being unwilling to miss a single moment of the scenery.
The "Corsair" was swinging majestically into Queen Charlotte Sound, a splendid sweep of purple water, where great waves from the Pacific rolled in, sending the steamer plunging desperately. There was a scurry on the part of many of the early risers to get below decks, for the change from the quiet waters through which the boat had been sailing to this tumultuous sea was more than most of them were able to stand. Stacy Brown was already on his back in the shadow of a life boat, groaning miserably. Walter Perkins' face was pale, but he held himself together by a strong effort of will, but Tad Butler and Ned Rector appeared not in the least affected by the roll of the steamer. Both were lost in admiration of the scene that was unfolding before them.
"They roll along with the lightness of thistledown across a green field," declared Tad enthusiastically, speaking to himself. "It is simply glorious."
He heard someone come to the rail at his side, but the lad was too fully absorbed to look around.
"That wasn't bad for a sentiment, young fellow," said a voice at his elbow. "If you stay up in this country long enough, however, you will get all the sentiment frozen out of you. I know, for I've been all through it. I'm lucky that my bones aren't up yonder somewhere."
"Yes, sir," answered Butler.
Glancing around he found himself gazing into the face of Curtis Darwood.
THE BOYS SCENT A PLOT
"Oh, how do you do, sir. Did I say anything?"
"Well, there's a chance for a difference of opinion as to that," smiled the miner.
"I have been enjoying the scenery, sir. Isn't it beautiful?"
"You should see it at sunrise," answered Darwood. "These mists are well worth coming all the way up here to gaze upon. In the morning they take on all the delicate tints of the primrose. Then at sunset of course the colors grow warmer—amber, orange, gold—almost everything that could be imagined in the way of wonderful colorings. All that sort of thing, you know. I never saw anything like it in any part of the world, and I've seen some," added the Gold Digger reflectively.
"I should like to see it at sunset," answered Tad. "Is it ever like this in the interior, sir?"
"Interior of what?"
"Of the country? Up there in the mountains?"
Darwood gave the boy a quick glance of inquiry. There was suspicion in his eyes.
"In the far country?" added Butler.
"I can't say as to that; I can't say that I know," replied the prospector shortly.
"What we wanted to ask you about was the Yakutat trail from the coast up?" interjected Ned. "You see, we are going that way and we want to get all the information we can about the trails and the country itself."
Tad gave his companion a warning look, but Ned persisted in pressing his questioning. The miner's hands dropped from the rail.
"I reckon you would better ask someone else. I can't tell you anything about the trail," replied Darwood, turning on his heel and striding away.
"There, you've done it now," complained Butler ruefully. "Of course you had to break in and spoil it all. Now we shan't get another opportunity. Mr. Darwood is suspicious of us, and he won't talk with us again. It's too bad."
"Well, you wanted to know. What's the use in beating about the bush when you want to know a thing. I believe in asking for what you want," protested Ned.
"So do I, but it isn't always best to go at it bald-headed. However, never mind, Ned. I am now convinced that there would be little use in asking Mr. Darwood questions in any circumstances. The instant you begin to talk Alaska with that man he is going to shy off. He fears he might be trapped into an admission, or else he thinks we are trying to pump him for some other reason. You may be sure that others have tried to draw him out, believing they might obtain information that he is supposed to possess."
"They are a queer lot," muttered Ned. "Didn't the Captain say no one knew anything about this gold pass, or whatever you call it?"
"Taku Pass? Yes. That is, he said few persons knew of it, but you may be sure that the purpose of these men up here is known. There are plenty of gentlemen waiting to beat those four into the land of golden promise. I don't blame the Diggers for having their suspicions of everyone about them. I wish I could convince them that we aren't that sort of people. I like that fellow. I'd like to help him, too," mused Tad.
"I shouldn't. However, I'm sorry I put my foot in it," nodded Ned.
"You needn't be. See! We are running out of the swell now."
The steamer, soon coming under the lee of the islands, was steaming into Fitzhugh Sound, where dangerous shoals menace the navigators of these enchanting waters. Captain Petersen was now occupying the little bridge just forward of the pilot house. His face was grim and set. The good fellow was no longer present—it was now the master, bent upon attending to his duties.
The sound is a slender waterway, extending directly northward fully thirty miles, more entrancing, it seemed to the boys, than any other water over which they had sailed. The Pony Rider Boys were having a glorious passage into the far north where they were going in search of new adventure. They were bound for the wildest and most remote section of Uncle Sam's domain, where they hoped to spend the summer months.
Now that the waters had become more quiet, Stacy Brown slowly dragged himself from the shadow of the life-boat and stood gripping the gunwale. After getting his head leveled somewhat he walked unsteadily to his companions who were leaning on the steamer's rail regarding him with smiling faces.
"Sick?" questioned Tad.
"No; merely ailing," replied the fat boy.
"I wouldn't be a landlubber," jeered Rector.
"You would, if you were in my place," muttered Stacy.
On through a panorama of changing scenes and colors sailed the "Corsair." In Finlayson Channel, some distance farther on, the forest that lined the shores was a solid mountain of green on each side, the trees growing down to the water. Here the reflections were so brilliant that the dividing line between shore and water was difficult for the untrained eye to make out. The boys seemed to be gazing upon an optical illusion. From the water's edge the mountains rose sheer to a great height, their distant peaks capped with snow glistening in the morning sunlight, while glacial streams flashed over the open spaces on the mountain sides.
"Is there no end to it?" wondered Tad Butler, gazing at the scenery until his eyes ached.
"It is all very wonderful," agreed Professor Zepplin.
"I call it tiresome," declared the fat boy wearily. "I prefer something exciting."
Ned suggested that he jump overboard. Stacy replied that he would were it not that he didn't want to put his companions to the trouble of rescuing him.
The entrancing scenery continued at intervals until the evening of the second day after their unsuccessful attempt to draw out Curtis Darwood. They were now passing through Frederick Sound, bordered by spire-shaped glaciers that towered in the sky, pale and chaste, more than two thousand feet above the sound. Darkness fell, the sky being overcast, and the air chill, giving the passengers the shivers and sending them to their cabins below. Tad Butler and Ned Rector had clambered to the top of the deck-house and settled themselves between the two smokestacks. It was a nice warm berth and they appreciated it. They seemed far away from human habitation there.
"You said you had something to tell me this evening," Ned reminded his companion, after a few moments of contented silence.
"Yes. It was about last night. You remember that remark of the skipper's the other day, don't you?"
"What he said about 'Red Whiskers'?"
"I have the gentleman located, Ned. I am reasonably certain that I have. Of course it's none of my business, but I have been curious ever since the Captain said that. My man has red whiskers, regular combustible whiskers," added the freckle-faced boy with a grin.
"There are several men on board this boat who wear red upholstery on their chins," averred Rector.
"I know that, but this one is the fellow, all right," declared Tad in a confident tone.
"You know something!" exclaimed Ned.
"I do. Don't speak so loudly. Someone might hear. I heard someone passing along the deck just below us a moment ago."
"No one down there could distinguish what we were saying," answered Ned, as the two drew back farther between the steel bases of the two funnels.
"Well?" urged Ned.
"The man referred to by Captain Petersen is Sandy Ketcham, the tall, lank fellow, with the squinty eyes and the stoop shoulders. He has a trick of peering up from under his eyelids when he looks at you."
"Oh! I know the one you mean, and I don't like his looks. How did you know?"
"Since the Captain made that remark about 'Red Whiskers' I have been taking an interest in every man on the boat who wore red whiskers," said Tad. "I tried to decide, in my own mind, which of them was the right one."
"So did I," admitted Ned. "But I got all mixed up. If you succeeded in picking out the right one you are mighty sharp. I wish I were as keen as you."
"Keen? Not a bit of it! It was a pure accident that I found out. I just blundered on the truth last night. The man I had picked out wasn't the fellow at all. I had the wrong man, so you see I am not so smart as you thought. You remember you left Stacy and myself sitting on a bale of freight at the rear end of the boat when you went down late last evening?"
"Yes. Chunky was half asleep."
"Exactly. Well, I shook him up a few moments later and he went below grumbling because I wouldn't let him sleep when he was so comfortable. He was liable to catch cold in the damp air. Then I went to sleep myself," admitted Butler. "I'm not much of an adviser, am I?"
"Go on," urged Rector.
"Something awakened me. Two men were talking nearby. I couldn't see them, but could hear every word they said. One of the two I recognized by his voice. The other I was unable to place. I got him placed right to-day though, when I heard him talking on deck. They are a precious pair of rascals, Ned. Perhaps it is considered fair enough up here to do those things, but I just can't hold myself when I see crookedness going on."
"You haven't said what it was about yet," reminded Ned.
"They were plotting against Darwood."
"You don't say?"
"Yes, they were."
"I am not going to tell you now. The question is, ought I to tell Mr. Darwood? Would it be right to carry tales, even in a case like this?"
"Not knowing what the case is I can't very well advise you," answered Ned Rector.
"What did they say?"
"I'd rather not say a word about that until I have decided what to do."
"You're a queer chap, Tad. You arouse my curiosity; then you won't satisfy it."
"You shall know all about it in good time. Hark! Was that you who kicked the collar of the stack?"
"No. I didn't hear anything. Who was the other man?"
"His name is Ainsworth. He is a prospector, too. They are together, he and the man Sandy. There are some others in the plot, as I learned from the conversation, but I hardly think they are on board. I take it that the others are to meet this party at Skagway, which proves to me that the plans of our friends, the four Gold Diggers, were learned by the plotters some time before the former set sail for the north country. Oh, it is a fine game of grab they are planning! But I believe that, if Mr. Darwood be warned in time, he will be perfectly able to take care of himself. I am quite sure I shouldn't care to be the other fellow."
"I don't know why we should get so excited over it," grumbled Ned. "Darwood and his companions are no friends of ours. I should say that quite the opposite is the case."
"But they are real men, just the same," objected Tad. "I don't care whether they are friendly to us or not. Come on; let's get down."
Grasping awning spars the two lads swung down to the promenade of the upper deck. After they had cleared the deck-house a man dropped to the deck from the deck-house, on the opposite side.
After a few moments' stroll, during which the boys continued their conversation, they went below. On reaching his cabin, Butler discovered that he had lost his pocket knife. Thinking that it had slipped from his pocket while the two were lounging on the deck-house, Tad went back to look for it. He was the only person in sight on deck. That part of the deck was unlighted, save as a faint glow shone up through the engine room grating. The freckle-faced boy looked carefully about on top of the deck-house for several minutes, in search of his lost knife, lighting match after match to aid him in his quest. He failed to find it. With a grunt of disappointment he again swung himself to the deck.
The instant his feet touched the deck, Tad Butler met with a violent surprise. He was suddenly grabbed from behind. A powerful arm gripped him like a vise, pinioning his own right arm to his side, while a big hand was clapped over his mouth, forcing the lad's head violently backwards with a jolt which for the moment he thought had dislocated his neck.
Tad struggled and fought with all his might, but to little purpose. The boy realized that he was in the hands of a man who was a giant for strength and who was slowly but surely forcing him toward the steamer's rail. The Pony Rider Boy felt a bushy beard over his shoulder and against his neck. Now he was against the rail, facing out over the water. Butler knew that, despite his struggles, he was going to be dropped over the side. Then a sudden idea came to him. Tad shot up his free left hand, fastening his fingers in the long beard of the man behind him. He heard a smothered exclamation over his shoulder, and for the instant the hand over his mouth was withdrawn.
"Help!" shouted Tad Butler. Then a blow on the head sent him limply to the deck.
IN DESPERATE STRAITS
Tad's assailant hastily gathered the boy up. The man staggered slightly, as, after a hurried glance up and down the deck, he stepped toward the rail with his burden. Just then footsteps were heard.
"Hey! What are you doing there?" bellowed a voice. A man came running from somewhere in the after part of the ship. Butler's assailant dropped his burden, dodged into a passageway in the deck-house, closing the door behind him and disappearing before the newcomer reached the door and threw it open. Then the rescuer turned to the unconscious Tad Butler.
"Well, here's trouble!" he muttered. Taking up Tad's limp form he carried it to where the light from the grating shone up. "It's that freckle-faced kid. Somebody gave him a tough wallop," growled the man. Tad's rescuer was Sam Dawson, one of the Gold Diggers. "I reckon I'll fetch him around if his neck isn't broken."
Laying the lad down on the deck where he would have plenty of air, the Digger worked over the Pony Rider Boy for fully five minutes before Tad returned to consciousness. Butler was too dazed to realize what had occurred.
"I'll take you below now, my lad," said Dawson.
"No, no. Not yet," protested Tad. "Wait. I want to think."
"Who was the fellow who hit you?" demanded Dawson.
"I—I don't know," stammered Tad.
"What did he do it for?"
"I—I don't know. I—"
"You aren't very strong on information, are you?" grinned the prospector.
"I want—want to see Mr. Darwood."
"You can see him to-morrow. You'd better get into your bunk right smart. I'll help you down."
"Thank you. I'll go alone—in a minute," said Butler, pulling himself up by the rail to which he clung unsteadily. "I don't want anyone to know. I'll tell Mr. Darwood what I have to say."
"Have it your own way. I'm going to follow along behind, to see that you get down all right," answered the man.
"Thank you. I guess you saved me from getting a wetting," said the boy, extending an impulsive hand. "Now I'll go to my cabin. Please don't say anything about this. Good-night."
Tad's progress below was slow and unsteady. Dawson watched him until the door of the cabin had closed behind the Pony Rider Boy.
"That's a raw deal," muttered the miner. "I'd like to punch the head of the fellow who would do that to a kid!"
Butler got into his bunk without awakening his companions. His head ached terribly, and it was a long time before he fell asleep. The next morning his head felt twice its ordinary size. The boys joked him on his appearance, but Tad merely smiled, refusing to say what had been the matter with him. Ned was suspicious. He knew that Butler had been engaged in a scuffle, but what it was he was unable to imagine. Tad had been strolling about the decks all the morning, as if in search of someone. He found the man he was seeking late in the forenoon. The man was sitting on a keg of nails on the after part of the upper deck, his back to Tad.
"Good morning, Mr. Ketcham," greeted the Pony Rider Boy.
The red-whiskered man whirled, letting the hand that had been caressing his beard fall limply to his side.
"Beard hurt you?" questioned Tad sweetly.
"None of yer business!" was the surly reply.
"Mr. Ketcham, I know you and I know your game," began Butler in a low, even tone. "I know, too, that you are the man who assaulted me and tried to put me overboard."
"I don't know what ye're talking about," growled Sandy.
"Oh, yes you do—and so do I! I've a handful of whiskers which match perfectly those you are wearing. Shall I pull some more for comparison with those I already have?" questioned the boy aggravatingly.
Ketcham half rose, then settled back again, as if fearing to trust himself.
"You may be thankful that you didn't do it. My companions would have taken care of you, had anything happened to me," Tad went on composedly. "I want to say, now, that it would be good judgment on your part not to try any more strong-arm tactics on me or on my companions. If you do, you will instantly find yourself in more kinds of trouble than you have ever before experienced. Now that we know you, we shall be able to take care of you as you deserve. I reckon you know what that means, Red Whiskers."
"Get out of here, before I do something to you!" roared Sandy.
"Oh, no you won't! You don't dare raise your hand. I could turn you over to the Captain and have you placed in irons till we get ashore. I have proof enough to send you to a jail, if they have such places up here. But I'm not going to do that. I am going to be fair with you and tell you exactly what I propose. I am going to tell Curtis Darwood about you. No, I shan't tell him who it is. I will tell him that someone is following and watching him—you and Ainsworth. He will find you out, never fear. I will give you one chance. Get off at the next stop, and I will tell him after we leave there. Take your choice. Take your friend with you. I don't want to be responsible for any shooting on this boat. What do you say, Mr. Sandy?"
The fellow's fingers opened and closed nervously. He attempted to speak but failed three times. Finally he blurted out his answer:
"Will you git out of here? I'll lose myself in a minit; then I won't answer for what I do."
"Never mind," answered Tad laughingly. "I can take care of myself. Your kind never did scare me worth a cent."
Sandy sprang up. He hesitated for a few tense seconds, then strode forward with Butler's soft chuckle in his ears.
The two men did get off when the boat stopped late that afternoon. Tad was at the rail watching them. Sam Dawson was also an observer of the scene. He saw the threatening scowl that Ketcham gave the smiling Tad, and drew his own conclusions, and at the same time decided that the freckle-faced boy was pretty well able to hold his own. Dawson really suspected part of the reason for this hasty disembarking, though he thought it was because Tad had threatened to expose the man Ketcham.
It was after supper when Tad called Ned Rector aside.
"I promised to tell you, Ned. Come with me and listen to what I am going to tell Mr. Darwood."
Ned went willingly. Darwood was sitting on deck. Tad halted before him, Darwood glancing up at the boys with languid interest.
"May I speak with you?" asked the lad politely.
"I reckon there's nothing to prevent," was the careless answer.
Tad went direct to the point of his story.
"A night or so ago I chanced to overhear two men who were passengers on this boat talking of you and the gentlemen who were with you. They were planning to follow and watch you. They thought you had discovered the claim for which you have been looking for so long."
Darwood shot an angry glance at the boy.
"Go on," he growled.
"From their conversation I inferred that perhaps you already had discovered this claim and were on your way with equipment to work it. I further understood that they were to be met by others on shore and that the party was then to divide up and cover the movements of yourself and your friends. One of these fellows, I think, overheard me telling part of this story to my friend, Ned, last night, and the man tried to throw me overboard, after nearly squeezing me to death and then punching my head. I merely wanted to warn you to be on the lookout, and at the same time to tell you that neither of the two men is on board now. You may draw your own conclusions, sir."
Ned Rector's face had flushed when Tad described the assault on himself.
"Is that all?" asked Darwood indifferently.
"Yes; I think so."
"Thank you," said the Gold Digger, getting up slowly and strolling forward.
Ned laughed; Tad flushed.
"That's what you get for meddling with other folks' business," declared Rector.
"I reckon you are right at that," answered Tad. Then he laughed heartily. Nor did he exchange another word with the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass during the rest of that journey on the "Corsair."
ON THE OVERLAND TRAIL
It was the early morn of a week later when the "Corsair" sailed into Skagway harbor. Exclamations of delight were heard from every person who had not been there before. This beautiful spot is located at the mouth of the Skagway River, with mountains rising on all sides, from which countless cascades rush foaming and sparkling down to the sea, or drop sheer from such heights that one is forced to catch his breath.
Skagway itself the Pony Rider Boys found gay with pretty cottages climbing over the foot-hills; well-worn, flower-strewn paths leading to the heights; the river's waters rippling over grassy flats; flower gardens beyond the power of their vocabularies to describe. Added to this, there was a sweetness in the air, which, as Stacy Brown expressed it, "makes a fellow feel like sitting down and doing nothing for the rest of his life."
There were many trips to be taken from the city, perhaps the most historic in all that wild country. The boys journeyed out into the interior on the famous White Pass railway, climbed Mount Dewey to Dewey Lake, and took a look at the hunting grounds where mountain sheep were to be had providing one were quick enough on the trigger to get the little animals before they leaped away. The next morning they turned their attention to the task of purchasing such of their outfit as they had not yet procured.
Having been referred to a man who kept Alaskan ponies for sale, they tramped out to the end of the long street on which the stores were located. There, sure enough, was a large herd of them in a paddock in a vacant lot. There were a good many vacant lots in Skagway. The boys climbed the paddock fence and looked over the lot.
"Me for that black one over yonder," cried Chunky.
"Why the black one?" asked Ned. "I thought you liked the lighter colors, the delicate tints?"
"I do when some other fellow has to groom the animals. For a labor-saving color give me black every time. With a black horse I can sleep half an hour longer than any fellow who has a white one and yet be ready for breakfast as soon as he is."
"You're too lazy to change your mind," growled Ned Rector.
"You want the black one, you say?" questioned Tad.
"That's what I said."
"And you, Ned?"
"Oh, I don't care. I'll stand by your choice."
"So will I," spoke up Walter. "The Professor said you were to choose something in his class for him to ride, too."
"Buy him a mule!" yelled Chunky.
"Yes, that reminds me. We shall have to take a couple of mules. I wonder if we can get them here. There comes the owner of this herd. We'll talk to him."
The owner of the ponies had been expecting the visit of the boys. He had been told that they would require ponies and did not know that the Pony Rider Boys had formed conclusions about them in advance.
Tad introduced himself and his companions.
"I've got just what you want, boys," nodded the owner. "Every one of those fellows is kind and gentle and will stand without hitching."
"That isn't exactly what we are looking for. We are not particular about their being girls' horses. We want stock that has the gimp in it," Tad informed him.
"That's it, that's it. You've just hit it. Gimp! That's the word, and there's another that fits—ginger! They're just full of ginger, every one of them. There ain't any more lively nags in Alaska than these fellows."
"They must have changed within the last minute, then," smiled the Pony Rider Boy.
"Why, you were just telling us how gentle they are, then almost in the same breath you try to convince us that they are regular whirlwinds. However, we'll let that go. What I do want to know is what sort of mountain ponies they are. If they turn out not to be good mountain climbers you may look for some trouble when we get back here."
"Boys, every one of those nags has been brought up in this country. They can follow a mountain trail like a deerhound, and that's straight. I wouldn't sell you anything else."
"Oh, no, certainly not," answered Butler. "How much for the light-colored one?"
"Two hundred and fifty dollars."
"I beg pardon?" asked Tad politely.
"Two hundred and fifty."
"I think you misunderstood me, sir. I didn't want to buy the whole herd."
"You wanted five ponies?"
"Well, there you are. The buckskin will cost you two-fifty and so will the black. You can have any of the rest for two hundred and they're cheap hosses at that."
"Lead them out."
"Then you'll take them at that?"
"I haven't said anything about taking them, yet. I said lead them out. I want to look them over."
The owner smiled, but nodded to his hostler to rope and show the animals to the young men. Tad examined a dozen head, out of which he got three ponies, motioning to the hostler to tether them to one side where he could look them over again.
"What's the matter with the others?" asked the man.
"Various things. Some are wind-broken, two have the distemper, and if you don't watch out your whole herd will be getting it. I shall be rather afraid to buy any stock of you on that account. How long have they had the disease?"
"I didn't know they had it at all," stammered the owner.
"You had better watch them pretty carefully, then. How old is that buckskin?"
"Just coming four."
"Did somebody tell you that, or did you learn it from your own observation?" questioned Tad Butler sweetly.
"I reckon I know a hoss's age when I look at his mouth," answered the man, but not quite with the same assurance that he had made his first statements. This clear-eyed, quiet young man, he began to understand, knew a little something about horses, or at least pretended to.
"Then, sir, you have neglected your horse education. The buckskin is twelve years old," declared Butler firmly.
"Mebby I might have made a mistake in looking at his mouth when I got him," answered the owner apologetically.
Suppressed grins might have been observed on the faces of the other boys, who were still sitting on the paddock fence. They were leaving all matters pertaining to the stock in Butler's hands, knowing full well that Tad's judgment was better than theirs.
In turn the lad once more examined the horses he had chosen, then added to them enough to make up their allotment.
"Stacy, you are quite sure you want the black?" he questioned.
The fat boy nodded.
"He has a slight ringbone," Tad informed him.
"All the better."
"Why do you say that? I never knew that a ringbone increased the value of a horse."
"A horse that wears rings must be a pretty classy horse," replied the fat boy. "Me for the horse with the jewelry. Put a pair of natty boots on him and there you have an outfit that would make a Mexican part with his spurs."
"Pshaw!" grunted Ned. "Very fancy, but not much good for real work."
"Stacy doesn't mean that," answered Tad with a tolerant smile.
"Yes, I do mean it."
"We need a pack mule," said Butler, turning to the owner. "Can you tell us where we may get one or two?"
"Why, I've got just the critters you want. They're in the yard just back of the stables. Say, Jim, drive out the mules."
There were five mules in the pack driven out for their examination. These started slowly moving about in a circle with heads well down, trailing each other as if following a regular routine.
"Fine young stock, hardy and true and quick," said the owner, rubbing his palms together.
"We don't want any quick one. We've had some experience with the quick kind," declared Stacy Brown. "They were so quick I couldn't get out of the way of their heels. No, siree, no quick mules for mine."
"I don't think you need worry much about these," smiled Tad. "How much do you ask for those fellows?"
"Two. I to take my pick."
"A hundred apiece."
"I wouldn't give that for the lot of them," scoffed Chunky.
"Keep still. You aren't making this bargain," rebuked Ned, giving the fat boy a poke in the ribs.
Tad made a brief calculation on a slip of paper, then he looked up severely.
"Five ponies at seventy-five dollars would amount to three hundred and seventy-five dollars. Two mules at forty each would be eighty more, making a total of four hundred and fifty-five dollars," said Butler. "I'll tell you what I will do. I will give you an even four hundred for the five ponies I have picked out and the two mules that I shall choose."
"Outrageous!" exploded the owner. "Why, those mules are worth half of the price you offer for the whole outfit."
"Nonsense! Those mules have been used on crushers in the mines. Any one could see that by watching them mill about in a circle—"
"Five hundred dollars," broke in the owner.
"Nothing doing, sir," answered Tad. "Four hundred even."
"I'll make it four-fifty-five and not a cent less."
"Come along, fellows. I know where we can get a better lot for the money, anyway," declared Tad with a note of finality in his tone.
"Don't I get my skate?" wailed Chunky.
"Not at the price he asks. Never mind, I'll find you something better for the money." Tad had already started away. His companions got slowly down from the fence and followed, while the owner of the stock stood mopping his forehead.
"Here, take 'em!" he cried. "I might as well give them away, I suppose. I need the money, but you're getting them for nothing."
"You are wrong. As it is we are paying you a hundred dollars more than the outfit is worth. Here is your money. Give me a receipt in full. We will get the stock out some time this afternoon."
"You're the hardest driver of a bargain I ever come up with," protested the man.
"You know you don't mean that. If we hadn't known something about horses you know you would have done us to a turn," answered Tad, laughing. "Yes, I do believe in driving a bargain, but I wouldn't ask a man to sell me a thing at a lower price than it was worth. Just keep these animals cut out if you will, unless you want to go to the bother of cutting them out again."
"I got my skate," grinned Chunky as they were walking back towards the hotel where they were to meet the Professor. The latter had given Butler the money for the stock earlier in the day, knowing full well that Tad could make a much better bargain than could he. Tad had made a fair bargain. He had obtained a good lot of stock and he planned, furthermore, to sell the animals after finishing their journey, which would reduce the cost at least to a nominal sum.
The rest of the day was devoted to gathering supplies and packing. The boys had brought their saddles, bridles and other equipment of this nature with them, including tents and lighter camp equipment. In the meantime they had looked about for a guide, but without success. They were told that no doubt they would be able to find a man for their purpose upon their arrival at Yakutat, a hundred miles further on. The trail to that place, their informant told them, was a post trail which they would find no difficulty in following. The post rider would not be going through for another three days, and at any rate he undoubtedly would travel faster than they cared to do. It was decided, therefore, that they should start out without a guide on the morrow and make their way to Yakutat as best they might.
The start was made in the early morning, the great mountains and the waters beneath it bathed in wondrous tints such as one finds nowhere outside of these far northern regions. The boys were light-hearted, happy, and were looking forward eagerly to experiences in the wilds of Alaska that should wholly satisfy their longings for activity and adventure.
TRAVELING A DANGEROUS MOUNTAIN PASS
To the right the well-known Chilkoot Pass extended up into the mountain fastness, the pass that had been traveled by so many in the early rush for the gold fields. Chilkoot a long distance to the northeast intersects the White Horse Pass. It is a rugged trail, but an easier one to travel than the one chosen by the Pony Rider Boys for the first stage of their journeyings.
The object of Professor Zepplin in choosing the route to the northwest was to take the boys into territory that had been little explored, and to give them their fill of what is really the wildest and most rugged region of the United States.
"By the way," called Rector after they had gotten well started and had dropped the village behind them, "what became of our friends?"
"The four gold diggers?" asked Butler.
"They must have gone on with the ship," said Walter.
"Yes, they must have," agreed Stacy.
"No, they didn't," answered Tad. "I saw Dawson in town yesterday. Funny thing, but he seemed not to see me. In fact he tried to avoid me."
"Did you let him?" questioned Chunky.
"Yes. Why should I wish to force myself on anyone who doesn't want to see me? Not I. They are queer fellows. It isn't because they don't like us, but rather because they are suspicious. They are afraid someone will get a line on where they are going. Wouldn't it be queer if we were to bump into them somewhere in the interior?"
"No danger of that," spoke up the Professor. "I heard Mr. Darwood say they were going out the Chilkoot Pass for a short distance, from which they might branch off."
Tad chuckled softly.
"Why do you laugh?" demanded the Professor.
"Oh, I was just thinking of something funny."
"Let's hear it," begged Stacy.
"I rather think I'll keep it to myself," answered Tad, smiling. "Let Stacy tell you one of his funny stories."
"All right, I'll tell you one," agreed Chunky readily.
"Leave the telling until you get to camp," advised the Professor. "This is a rough trail, and you need to give it your undivided attention."
"The Professor is right. We would do well to watch out where we are going," agreed Tad.
"Yes, I dread to think what would happen to our packs were one of those mules, in a moment of forgetfulness, to think he was traveling in a circle at the end of a sweep down in a mine," said Ned.
The trail they were now following was narrow. In fact, it was a mere gash in the side of the mountain, winding in and out with many a sharp turn, and there was barely room for the ponies to travel in single file. Above them towered the mountains for thousands of feet. Below them was a sheer precipice of fully two hundred feet, getting deeper all the time, as they continued on a gradual ascent.
"I don't think I should like to be the post rider on this trail," decided Ned, gazing wide-eyed at the abyss.
"Especially on a dark night," added Tad.
"Or any other kind of a night," piped the fat boy.
"Oh, I don't know about that," answered Walter. "On a dark night you couldn't see the gorge. What we don't know doesn't hurt us, eh?"
"There is some logic in that," agreed the Professor.
Professor Zepplin was leading the way, dragging one mule after him at the end of a rope. Then came Ned with the second pack mule, followed by Tad and the other two boys. Butler wanted to follow behind the mules so as to keep watch of them, he not feeling any too great confidence in the worn-out old animals.
The Professor halted at a turning-out place, where the rocks had been worn out by the wash of a mountain stream sufficiently wide to enable two horses to meet and pass by a tight pinch.
"Young gentlemen, this is a wonderful country," he said.
"It's kind of hilly," admitted Stacy.
"In the Indian tongue, Alaska means 'the great country,'" added the Professor.
"Why, I didn't know you talked Indian," cried Ned.
"I always suspected the Professor was an Indian. Now I know it," chuckled Stacy.
"Young men, if you will listen I shall be glad to enlighten you as to some of the marvels of the country we are now in. If my recollection serves me right, the country has an area of about six hundred thousand square miles."
Chunky uttered a long-drawn whistle of amazement.
"Some territory that, eh, fellows?" he said, nodding.
"If my recollection serves me right, Alaska is bigger than all the Atlantic states combined from Maine to Louisiana."
"That's where they have the 'gators," said Chunky.
"And with half of Texas thrown in," continued the Professor. "It has a coast line of about twenty-six thousand miles, a greater sea frontage than all the shores of the United States combined."
"Why one would travel as far as if he were to go around the world in going over all the coast line, then, wouldn't he, Professor?" wondered Tad.
"Exactly. Furthermore, it extends so far towards Asia that it carries the dominion of our great country as far west of San Francisco as New York is east of it, making California really a central state."
"Oh, Professor. Will you please repeat that? I didn't get it," called the fat boy.
"You must listen if you wish to hear what I am saying. Your mind wanders."
"I hope it doesn't do much wandering here. I'll surely be a dead one if it does," retorted Stacy, peering down the sheer walls that dropped into the gloomy pass below him.
"To give you another illustration, were you to combine England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy, you still would lack considerable of having enough to make an Alaska. Then, added to this, are the great mountains, thousands of feet high, and one great river—not to speak of the smaller ones—that flows through more than two thousand miles of wonderful country. I have given you a bird's-eye-view of the country, a small part of which you have started to explore."
"Yes, a fellow needs a bird's-eye up here. He has to have or he's a goner," declared Chunky.
"And by the way, Professor," said Tad. "Your pony is yawning with his left hind leg."
"Haw, haw, haw! That's a good one," laughed the fat boy.
"What do you mean?" wondered the Professor.
"He is stretching himself. His left hind foot at this moment is suspended over several hundred feet of space. But don't startle him for goodness' sake," laughed Tad.
The Professor glanced back. Afterwards the boys declared he had gone pale at the sight of that foot held so carelessly over the yawning chasm, but the Professor denied the accusation. He clucked very gently to the pony. The little animal lazily drew the foot in, and, after trying several places, at last found a spot that appeared to suit it and on which it placed the small foot. The boys drew a sigh of relief.
"My, but that was a narrow escape," derided Ned. "Just think of it, Professor."
"Gid ap," commanded Professor Zepplin. "Look sharp that none of you does worse."
Now and then reaching a spot where they could get an unobstructed view of the distance the boys were fairly thrilled by the sight of the jagged peaks, sparkling in the sunlight, many hidden in the clouds and too high to be seen. It was an awesome sight and at such times stilled the merry voices of the Pony Rider Boys as they gazed off over the array of wonderful heights.
"What are they?" asked Ned when he first caught sight of this vista of mountain peaks.
"The first one should be Mt. Lituya and the next Mt. Fairweather," Tad replied.
"That is correct, according to the map," spoke up the Professor. "The former is ten thousand feet high, the latter five thousand, five hundred."
A series of low wondering whistles were heard from the lips of the boys. It did not seem possible that the distance to the tops of those mountains could be so great.
"I should like to climb one of the highest," declared Butler.
"You can't," answered the Professor sharply.
"Why not, Professor?"
"Because I shall not allow it."
"And there's another reason," announced Stacy. "You can't because you can't. But if you did succeed in getting to the top think what sport you could have!"
"How so?" asked Butler.
"You could do a toboggan slide two miles long. I reckon it would land you somewhere over in Asia. Wouldn't that be funny?"
"I don't know about that," reflected Butler.
"You wouldn't know about it if you were to take the slide, either. But how it would surprise some of those Asiatics to see a Pony Rider Boy suddenly landing in their midst, coming from the nowhere," chuckled Stacy.
"I rather think it would surprise almost anyone to have a Pony Rider Boy land in his midst," answered Tad with a smiling nod.
"Is that some kind of joke?" demanded the fat boy.
"No, that's an axiom," spoke up Rector.
"An axiom?" reflected Chunky. "Oh, I know what that is. It is something that something else revolves around, isn't it? That's the sort of thing the world is supposed to revolve about. I know, for I read it in my geography."
The boys groaned. The suspicion of a smile played about the corners of Professor Zepplin's mouth.
"You had better go back to school rather than be traveling with real men," advised Ned.
"Isn't that an axiom, Professor?" called Stacy indignantly.
"It is not."
"Then what is one?"
"You are a living example of one yourself," was the whimsical reply. Stacy pondered over the Professor's retort all the rest of that day. But when noon came and passed and no stop was made for a noonday meal, the fat boy began to grow restive.
"Don't we stop for something to eat?" he demanded.
"I should like to know where?" answered Tad.
"Isn't there a place wide enough for us, Tad?"
"There is not."
"But when are we going to find one?"
"You know as much about that as I do. Remember none of us ever has been over this trail. For aught I know we may have to sleep standing up to-night."
"Well, I reckon I'd just as soon fall off before dark as after. Anyhow, I don't propose to sleep on this trail as it looks to me now—"
Tad's voice was sharp and incisive. He was holding up one hand to impose silence on his companions. Walter Perkins' face grew pale, the fat boy's eyes were large and frightened. Professor Zepplin halted his pony sharply and turning in his saddle glanced anxiously back toward his charges.
"What is it?" stammered Rector.
"I don't know," answered Tad Butler. "It's something awful, whatever it is."
"Have no fear, young men. I know what that sound is. There is no danger here where we are, for—"
The Professor did not complete his sentence. The distant rumbling that had at first attracted their attention suddenly merged into a deafening roar, and the trail quivered under their feet. The ponies snorted and threw up their heads, chafing at the bits.
"Hold fast to your horses!" shouted Tad. His voice was lost in the great roar that now overwhelmed them, sending terror to the hearts of every Pony Rider Boy on that narrow ledge of rock known as the Yakutat trail.
CAUGHT IN A GIANT SLIDE
Tad knew the meaning of that rushing, roaring sound now. A few particles chipped from the rocks far above them had struck him sharply in the face. He knew that a landslide was sweeping down.
His first impulse was to urge his companions forward, but upon second thought he realized that this might be the very worst thing they could do. His quick ears had told him that the center of the slide was ahead of them. That was his judgment, but he knew how easily it was to be mistaken in a moment like this.
Glancing up the boy could see nothing but a great cloud of dust that filled the air. His companions seemed powerless to stir, and it was fortunate for them that such was the case, else they might have done that which would have sent them to a quick death.
Tad unslung his rope with the intention of casting it over a sharp rock that extended some six feet up above the level of the trail and on the mountainside. In an emergency it would serve to anchor him. He motioned to the others to do the same, but either they did not understand or they were too frightened to act.
A sudden dust cloud obliterated the trail for fully five rods ahead of Professor Zepplin, then went shooting out into the chasm beyond, and a great mass of earth seemed to leap from the mountainside just above them. It hovered right over the center of the line of ponies for an agonizing second, then swept down on them.
The secondary slide, which this was, had but little width, perhaps a few feet. Furthermore, it had fallen only a short distance, so that it had not had time to gain great velocity. The mass smote the pack mule just ahead of Tad Butler. Tad saw the pack mule's hind feet go out from under him. For the smallest fraction of a moment the animal stood quivering, then his hind hoofs slipped over the edge of the trail.
The little animal was making desperate efforts to cling to the trail with its fore feet, at the same time trying to get its hind feet back on solid ground. That effort was fatal. Little by little the frightened beast slipped toward the great gulf. Evidently realizing the fate that was in store for it, the mule brayed shrilly.
The Pony Rider Boys sat gazing on the scene with fascinated eyes. Even Professor Zepplin was at a loss for words, and at a greater loss for a remedy for the disaster that was upon them. Tad Butler's brain was working, however.
Suddenly Tad raised his rope above his head and gave it three sharp twirls. Then he let go. The big loop dropped over the head of the unfortunate pack mule.
"Jump on him and hold him down," shouted Tad. "Be careful that you don't go over."
The boys hesitated slightly. Perhaps they could not have accomplished anything, but Butler did not wait to see. He had slipped from his own pony with a sharp, commanding "Whoa" to the little animal, which served in a measure to reassure it.
The lad then sprang to the upright rock carrying the end of his rope with him. He did not make the mistake of making the end fast to his own body as he might have done in some circumstances. Instead he threw the rope over the rock, taking one quick turn about it. He had no more than taken that turn when the slack on the rope was suddenly taken up and the rope was drawn taut.
There was no need to look around to see what had happened. Butler knew well enough without looking. The pack mule had slipped over the edge and was hanging there with the boy's lasso about its neck. The rope was tough rawhide, and Tad felt sure it would hold. Still, that would not save the mule, so he made fast and sprang to the other side of the trail. The mule, he found, was dying a terrible death.
The freckle-faced Tad comprehended the situation in a single glance. He knew now that it would not be possible to save the pack animal. Drawing his revolver he placed the muzzle close to the head of the unfortunate beast and pulled the trigger.
The report, in the walled-in pass, sounded like the discharge of a cannon.
"N-n-n-now you've done it," chattered Stacy Brown.
"Tad, Tad! What have you done?" cried the Professor.
"I have put the poor thing out of its agony, that's all," answered Butler. His face was pale and his eyes troubled.
"But you've killed him," protested Professor Zepplin.
"Didn't you see that he was choking to death, Professor? Don't you think it was better to end his sufferings with a bullet rather than let him slowly strangle?"
The Professor took off his sombrero, and, with an unsteady hand, wiped the perspiration from his forehead.
"Too bad, too bad!" he muttered. "Yes, yes. You were right, Tad. You did right. You thought more quickly and more clearly than I did. We had better cut the rope and let him go. There is nothing else to be done, I suppose."
"There is something else to be done, sir. There is something quite important to be done."
"What do you mean?"
"The pack. Surely we are not going to send that pack crashing to the bottom of the pass. We shall have to go all the way back for more supplies if we do that, provided we ever find a place where we can turn around."
"That is so. Still, lad, I am afraid it is hopeless. We never shall be able to get the pack."
"I think it can be done, but how I don't know yet. What time is it?"
"The afternoon is well along," answered the Professor.
"It'll be dark soon," spoke up Ned. "We simply must get out of this before night or we are lost."
"You forget about the length of the days up here at this time of the year," reminded Tad with a faint smile.
"That's so," agreed Rector.
"You know it doesn't get really dark until about eleven o'clock to-night. So you see we have plenty of time in which to get that pack and reach a camping place before the night gets too dark for us to see what we are about."
Tad stepped to the edge of the trail and looked over the dead mule and the pack lashed to him. He saw that the pack already had slipped dangerously, and that a sudden jolt might send it hurtling into the chasm. The lad measured the distance to the pack, with his eyes, and also saw that he could not lean over far enough to accomplish anything. Then an idea occurred to him.
"Have you fellows got back your nerve so that you can help me?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," answered Chunky promptly. "Anything but jumping over. Don't ask me to do that, please, or I shall be under the necessity of returning a polite refusal."
"I shan't ask you," answered Tad shortly. "How about you, Ned?"
"I think I have got over my panic."
"Good. Pass over two strong ropes here. We'll have that pack in no time."
"See here, Tad. I am not going to permit you to take unnecessary risks. Before you go farther in this matter I want to know what you propose to do," insisted the Professor.
"I am going to secure one of these ropes to me. The boys will lower me over the edge and I will fasten a second rope to the pack. I will tell you what to do after that."
"I can't permit it!" answered the Professor decisively.
"Listen to me, please. There can be no possible danger. It is perfectly simple. Before I go over I'll secure the rope to that rock, and in case the boys let go, which they'd better not, I can't fall; the rope will hold me."
After a moment's reflection Professor Zepplin concluded that the task would not be attended with a very great risk after all. Besides, it was all-important that they get the pack and its contents, if this could be done without endangering any lives.
"How about it, sir?" asked Tad. "Time is precious."
"You may try it, but I shall see to the fastening of the rope myself. Make your arrangements."
Tad lost no time in trying out his plan. He first secured one end of their strongest rope to the rock that already had played such an important part in their operations at that point. He next fashioned a non-slip loop about his body under the arms, then taking the second rope in his hands announced himself as ready.
"Take a turn about the rock so you will have a leverage. Take up all the slack. That's it. Now I'm all ready."
The lad let himself over the edge of the precipice without hesitation. There really was no great danger, but it was not a pleasant position in which to be placed. He secured his rope to the pack lashings and tossed the free end up to his friends.
"How are you going to free the pack from the mule?" asked the Professor.
"But we can't manage both you and the pack at the same time," protested the boys.
"You don't have to. Can't you folks think of two things at the same time?"
"I can when my thinking apparatus is working," returned Stacy. "The whole plant is idle at the present moment."
"Listen! Fasten the pack rope to that rock. Do you get that?"
"First take up all the slack or you may lose the pack after all. We don't want any great jolt when I cut loose the lashings. Draw it up well. Tighter! There, that's better. Now, have you got it so that it will hold?"
"It'll hold as long as the mountain holds together," answered Ned.
"Then watch your rope. Here goes."
Tad slit the cinch girth. He was obliged to make several efforts before he freed the pack, which then swung out and away from the dead mule, swaying back and forth for a moment or so, but safe. The boys uttered a cheer.
"Now shall we pull you up?" cried Ned.
"Now, don't be in a hurry. I'm not done yet. I want to save my lasso. You don't think I'm going to throw that away, do you? Pass me another rope, please."
This was done, after which Butler secured the third rope about the neck of the mule. He tossed the free end up as he had done with the other line.
"Make it fast. First see if you can't give me a little slack."
"Can't do it," called Walter.
"Yes you can. Try again. That's the idea. A little more. You're doing finely. You would make good sailors. Whoa! Make fast."
Grunting and perspiring, and with aching backs, the boys made fast the advantage they had gained. The weight of the dead mule was now resting on the new rope which Butler had fastened about its neck. Some time was occupied in getting his lasso loose, which had drawn very tight under the weight of the mule.
"That's what comes from having a good rope," said Tad.
"Well, are you coming up? You must like it down there," cried Rector.
"I'm almost ready. There, now see if you can get me up. Take up all your advantage and hold it until I can get my hands on the ledge and help you a little."
Hauling Tad Butler up, a dead weight, was not the easiest thing in the world. They drew him up an inch or so at a time, until at last he fastened his hands on the edge of the trail and curled himself up. The boys took up the slack and made fast at his direction.
"You needn't pull any more, but stand by the rope. If I slip it will give me a hard jolt."
"I should say it would," muttered Ned. "How are you going to get up the rest of the way if we don't haul you?"
Tad crawled up the rope hand over hand until he was able to swing one foot over on the trail. The rest was easy, and a moment later he was standing on the trail, his face red, his hair and shirt wet with perspiration.
"Hooray!" bellowed Chunky.
"Wait until we get the pack up. Don't waste your breath," grinned Tad. "We are only half finished."
The lad surveyed the situation critically. Still he saw no other way than for them to haul the pack up by main strength. He told his companions to get ready for real work. The pack was heavier than Tad.
"I—I can't do another thing," wailed Chunky.
"Why can't you?" demanded the Professor.
"My heart won't stand it."
"Oh, pooh!" scoffed Professor Zepplin.
"Did you ever have a thorough physical examination, Chunky?" questioned Ned.
"I don't know. Why?"
"If you had you would no doubt have found that you hadn't any heart at all."
"Now, Ned, that isn't fair," chided Tad laughingly. "You know Stacy has a heart. He has shown many times that he has. The only trouble with it is that it isn't as hard as it might be," added the freckle-faced boy with a twinkle.
The fat boy wasn't quite sure whether this was a compliment or otherwise. He decided to think about it and make up his mind later. But he most emphatically refused to pull a single pound on the rope. They compromised by making him look out for the stock.
Hauling the pack up was a slow and tedious process, for it was continually catching on points of rock and threatening to drop into the depths. Great patience was required to land it safely on the trail, but land it they did after working and perspiring over it for nearly half an hour. The Professor proposed that they move on at once, after having divided the pack. Tad shook his head.
"Not yet," he said. "I've something else to do first."
GOING TO BED BY DAYLIGHT
"Something else to do?" repeated the Professor. "I know of nothing more to be done except to get under way and try to find a safe portage."
"I've got to bury the mule, sir."
"I'll show you. Stand clear of the rope, fellows," ordered Butler.
Stepping to the edge of the trail he glanced down at the body of the mule, swaying with a scarcely perceptible movement. Looking back to see that the rope was clear, Tad drew his hunting knife and stooped over, his companions drawing as near to the edge as they dared.
Butler cut the rope that held the dead mule. The rope suddenly sprang back as the unfortunate pack mule's body shot down into the shadowy pass. The other boys instinctively drew back. Their nerve was not quite equal to standing on the brink to watch the sight. With Tad it was different. He seemed not to be at all affected by great heights or great depths. He stood with the toes of his boots over the edge, gazing down until a faint sound from far below told him that the body had struck.
"That's all, fellows," he said, turning back to them. "I reckon we had better do as the Professor suggests, and get under way at once. I will confess that this bracing air is having some effect on my appetite."
"Don't speak of it," begged Stacy. "I am trying to forget that I have an appetite, but it's awful hard work."
"Too bad about the mule, isn't it?" asked Rector soberly.
"Yes, I should say it is," agreed Stacy. "There's eight dollars of my good money gone down into that hole."
"Never mind. He was wind-broken and undoubtedly would have played out before we got through the mountains. I am glad it wasn't the other one," answered Butler cheerfully. "How is the trail ahead, Professor?"
"I haven't looked."
Bidding them wait until he made an inspection, Tad walked ahead. He found the narrow trail filled with dirt and shale rock; there were many tons of it heaped up on the trail.
"Oh, fudge!" laughed the boy. "Fate is determined to make us turn back. But we won't! We are going through, even if we have to build a tunnel. Get out the shovel, Ned."
This necessitated undoing the bundle that held all the tools of the outfit, and also entailed the unloading of the pack on the back of the remaining pack mule. Ned soon came trotting up with the shovel. He uttered a long-drawn whistle when he saw the blocked trail.
"We never shall be able to get through that," he groaned.
"Oh, yes we shall. I'll shovel until I am tired, then you take hold and make the dirt fly."
"I'll do that all right," returned Rector. "I am too keen for my dinner and supper to delay matters any more than I am obliged to. We ought to make Chunky take a hand."
"No, I wouldn't risk it. Before he had finished he would have lost the shovel overboard. It is the only one we have. Here goes!"
Tad did make the dirt fly. He was a sturdy young man, all muscle and grit. He shoveled for twenty minutes, working his way through the great heap of dirt. Then he straightened up, his face flushed and perspiring.
"Go to it, Ned!"
Ned did, with a will. An hour and a half was consumed in clearing the trail, and, when they finished, both boys were wet with perspiration.
"I think we had better walk for the present," suggested Tad. "We shall stiffen up if we ride in our present overheated condition."
"I can't be much lamer than I am. I feel as if I had a broken hinge in my back," he declared.
They started on, moving with extreme care that they might not meet with another such disaster. The remaining pack mule was a much better animal than the one they had lost. He was possessed of better sense, too, and seemed to understand that great responsibilities rested on his shoulders.
As for the trail, it was the same rugged, narrow path that they had been following for hours.
"What if we should meet someone here?" wondered Walter apprehensively.
"Back up or jump over," answered Ned.
"I don't like it at all," he muttered.
The Professor uttered a shout.
"What is it?" cried the boys all together.
"Land ho!" was the answer.
The boys craned their necks to see what the Professor had discovered, but he was just rounding a bend beyond which they could not see. When they had made the turn the boys shouted, too. The trail, they saw, opened out into a broad pass. The ground there, though uneven, was fairly level, thickly wooded with slender Alaskan cedar, its yellow, lacy foliage drooping gracefully from the branches. Tall and straight, the cedars shot up into the air until it seemed as if their slender tops pierced the sky.
"How beautiful!" cried Tad.
"Wouldn't they make fish poles, though?" chuckled Ned.
"Yes, we wouldn't have to leave home when we went fishing," answered Stacy. "We could just sit on the back porch and drop a hook in the water at the back of the old pasture lot."
"How high do you think those trees are, Professor?" asked Tad.
"All of a hundred and fifty feet. A marvelous growth."
"I think I can appreciate the beauty of it more after I get something inside of me," spoke up the fat boy. "Do we get anything to eat or do we absorb landscape for our supper?"
"I reckon we had better get busy," agreed Tad laughingly.
They began unloading the packs at once. By the time the boys came in with the wood the spot had assumed a really camp-like appearance. The pots were filled with water and Tad began building a structure that was to be their campfire when he was ready to touch it off.
"Did you find any birch bark, Ned?" he asked.
"Yes, there it is."
"Oh, thank you. The cedar will burn all right, but it is a good thing to have the birch. We shall have a supper worth while in a few minutes. Stacy, get busy and prepare the coffee."
For once the fat boy did not demur. He was too hungry, and was willing to do almost anything that would hurry the supper along. Not a mouthful had any of them eaten since breakfast.
The ponies were browsing contentedly, but the mule had lain down and gone to sleep. The day was still bright, though the air had grown cooler than when the sun was at its height. Still, a warm glow suffused the faces of the Pony Rider Boys because they had been exercising. They usually were busy, and not one of the lads, unless it were Stacy Brown, had a lazy streak in him. Stacy was constitutionally opposed to doing anything that looked like real work.
The cedar quickly blazed up into a crackling fire, consuming the foliage. Tad took some of the brands and made a small cooking fire that soon was a glowing bed of coals. Over this he broiled the bacon, toasted the bread, and cooked the coffee without the least apparent effort.
Stacy Brown sat regarding the operations. Ned said that Stacy reminded him of a dog watching the preparation of its dinner, but the fat boy took no notice of Ned's comparison.
At last the meal was ready and the boys gathered around the spread that was laid near the campfire, and began to eat with good appetites. Ned nearly choked on a biscuit, and Tad swallowed a drink of water the wrong way, while Walter accidentally kicked over the coffee pot, the contents spilling over the Professor's ankle to the great damage of the Professor's skin at that point.
"Here, here! Is this a football scrimmage or are you young gentlemen at your meal?" demanded the Professor. "I've seen nothing to indicate the latter."
"Oh, Professor," begged Tad laughingly. "Aren't you pretty hard on us?"
"You did perfectly right, Professor," approved Stacy. "Their manners are bad and I am glad you have called them to account. Why, their example is so bad that I have been fearful all the time of getting into bad habits myself."
Ned gave him a warning look.
"Wait!" warned Rector.
"I can't. I'm too hungry."
"Perhaps we have been rather rude, Professor," admitted Tad. "I beg your pardon."
"Show your repentance by making a fresh pot of coffee, as I have most of the first lot in my stocking," reminded Professor Zepplin.
It seemed odd to be eating supper in broad daylight, whereas they ordinarily ate in the twilight or after dark. After supper, and when the remains were cleared away, the boys strolled about, talking. At ten o'clock the Professor called that it was time to turn in.
"But it isn't dark yet," protested Ned.
"The nights are short. Unless you turn in early you will not want to get up in the morning," reminded Professor Zepplin.
"He never does," averred Walter.
"I don't want to turn in at chicken hours," objected Stacy.
"Little boys should be in bed early," said Tad smilingly.
"That's what they made me do when I was a baby. They'd tuck me in my little crib and give me a bottle and sing me to sleep. What time does it get daylight, Professor?" questioned the fat boy.
"As a matter of fact it hardly gets dark," answered the Professor. "We shall have only about three hours of real night, I think. That is about the way it has been since we have been in this latitude. You will find it more difficult to sleep with the morning light in your eyes than with this light, so go to bed."
"I am thinking the same. Good-night, all. Don't any of you boys dare snore to-night. Remember we are sleeping in rather close quarters," reminded Butler.
"One of you may come in with me," offered the Professor.
"No, thank you, we shall do very well as it is," replied Tad.
Stacy had the usual number of complaints to make. The cedar odor prevented his breathing properly, the sharp stickers on the cedar boughs poked through his pajamas and into his skin. He voiced all the complaints he could think of, after which he settled down to long, rhythmic snores that could be heard all around the place, inside and out. The purple twilight merged into blue shadows, then into black, impenetrable darkness that swallowed up the pass and the two little white tents of the Pony Rider Boys.
AN INTRUDER IN THE CAMP
"W'en de screech-owl light on de gable en' En holler, Whoo-oo! oh-oh! Den you bettah keep yo' eyeball peel, Kase dey bring bad luck t' yo', Oh-oh! oh-oh!"
"Stop that noise!" shouted an angry voice from the tent occupied by the boys.
For a few moments silence reigned in the camp of the Pony Rider Boys. Then the voice of the singer from somewhere outside was raised again.