A Story of a Young Men's Christian Association Boys' Department
F. H. CHELEY
Boys' Work Director, Young Men's Christian Association, South Bend, Ind.
TO Every Good Fellow WHO CUT A LOG OR TURNED A STONE FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE OLD CABIN IN BUFFALO PARK, AND TO
My Father WHO BUILT ITS HEART AND INSPIRATION, THE FIREPLACE, THIS STORY IS DEDICATED
I. WILLIS THORNTON DISPLAYS HIS PLUCK II. A STORY IS TOLD AND A PROMISE MADE III. IN WHICH WILLIS IS HONORED IV. WILLIS BECOMES INTERESTED IN GOLD MINES V. A PLAN IS EVOLVED VI. A STAGE ROAD JOURNEY VII. A WILDERNESS CAMP VIII. THE SECOND DAY OUT IX. THE THIRD DAY OUT X. A GLIMPSE OF BUFFALO ROOST XI. A STRANGE TURN OF FATE XII. THE DISCOVERY OF THE MINE XIII. SLEEPY SMITH HAS AN EXPERIENCE XIV. THE OPENED DOOR XV. IN WHICH FATE TAKES A HAND
Willis Thornton Displays His Pluck
Train No. 6 on the D. & P.W., two hours late at Limon, was rushing and jolting along over its rickety roadbed. The rain fell in torrents, the heavy peals of thunder seemed about to tear the car to pieces, the black and threatening clouds blotted out the landscape, and the passengers could hear nothing but the roar of the thunder and the rattle of the train. The brakeman, shaking the water from his hat as he passed through the aisle, dropped something about it being a "mighty tough day for railroadin'."
Suddenly there was a creaking, a cracking, and then a series of awful jolts. Window glass broke and flew in every direction. Like a mighty monster that had suddenly been frightened by an unseen foe, the train lurched forward, tipped a little, and slowly came to an uncertain stop. People were hurled from their seats with a great violence as the emergency brake was set. A baby cried out from a seat near the front of the car, and a woman screamed as a satchel from the luggage rack above her head dropped down upon her. Willis Thornton raised his arms above his head just in time to save a heavy leather suitcase from striking his mother full in the face. Through the broken windows was heard the shrill warning notes of the engine's trouble whistle, but so intense was the storm that the sound seemed rather a part of the raging gale. The brakeman rushed through the car, and as he passed Willis heard him exclaim half-aloud, "The freight!" Then in a loud, shaky voice, not meant to betray excitement, he shouted, "All out; train off the track!"
He need not have spoken, however, for the people who had not already gotten out were close upon him. First in the rush was the mother of the babe that had screamed when the first jolts came. She was wild-eyed and hysterical. A piece of flying glass had struck her on the face, and the warm, trickling blood had frightened her. She rushed up to the nearest man and shouted, "Is my husband safe?" Just then a sickly, dudish little man, with a lighted cigar in his mouth, rushed toward her.
"Ba Jove, my dear, you are 'urt," he said as she hurried toward him and fainted in his arms.
The word had been passed around that a heavy freight was expected at any moment. The passenger whistle blew in long, shrill tones, while the brakeman hurried up the hill in the direction of the expected freight to give the danger signal. Hardly had he reached the top when there came the faint sound of a whistle. He heard the three blasts. The train had left Eastonville! Could he save a wreck? Lantern in hand, he hurried down the track as fast as he could with the wind and rain beating him back. Suddenly a black form loomed up in the mist ahead. Full blast she came, the black smoke from her stack running ahead as if to coax her on to greater speed. The brakeman waved his red lantern frantically in the air. There was a screeching sound of brake-shoes on the wheels, a long, shrill whistle, and the train sped past him, a misty dull serpent in the storm. He turned and followed as fast as he could.
Women with disheveled hair stood and wrung their hands. Men cursed and swore as they ran back and forth about the derailed passenger. The wind lulled for a second, and in the momentary silence there came the half-smothered cry of a little child from one direction, answered from somewhere in the fog by the rushing of wheels and the faint, weird sigh of a whistle.
Willis's head went up, his eyes flashed, his muscles tightened; then, turning to his mother, he cried, "The baby!" and in an instant was gone. It all happened so quickly there was no time for Mrs. Thornton to think. She saw Willis hasten away and enter the front door of the car they had been occupying; at the same instant she became aware of the approaching train. There was a shrill, angry hiss, and the freight swung into the cut with a terrible roar, then came a crashing of glass and breaking of timbers. The engineer had opened the whistle valve with such a jerk that it had stuck fast, and the whistle did its utmost. It was a doleful sound, pulsating its strange, sharp cry into the storm.
Mrs. Thornton sank to her knees in an attitude of prayer, her head dropped to her breast. The mother that had fainted roused a little and called for her child.
The passengers rushed back and forth in a perfect frenzy, shouting, "The baby! the baby!" Women cried and begged and implored some one to save it; but it was all over before any one could act or before the Englishman realized that it was his child that was in danger. The engines had telescoped. The freight was derailed and the first three cars completely demolished. The crew had all jumped and were uninjured, except the fireman, who had a badly-broken leg and some bruises. Two men came around the end of the Pullman with a boy supported between them. His head hung limp and the blood trickled slowly from nasty cuts on his head and face. Following them came the brakeman with a very frightened but unharmed baby, wrapped in an overcoat. Every one made a rush for the little group. The Englishman was first in line. His eyes opened wide and his cigar fell from his lips. "By Jove, Chauncey!" he exclaimed, "they came near getting you that time," then began to cry like a child.
The danger was past. There was no one killed, and only a few injured. Several people were cut by broken glass and bruised by bumps. The fireman of the freight had broken his leg and cut his shoulder badly in his jump. Willis had reached the opposite platform, with the baby in his arms, just as the trains collided. The jar had thrown him from his feet and broken the glass in the door behind him. The jolt threw him, baby and all, out against the side of the cut into the wet sand. Outside of the ugly cuts and bad bruises he was unharmed, but was the hero of the day.
Mrs. Thornton sat by her boy, tenderly caring for his every need. He had swooned at the sight of his own blood and had not yet returned to consciousness. In the next seat the injured fireman was propped up on pillows, watching the boy.
"There's a piece of real stuff," he said to the engineer as they sat talking together. "Looks just like my old pard. It took real pluck to go after that baby. If Bill'd a been here he would have gotten enthusiastic over that lad."
A Story Is Told and a Promise Made
An open fire had always been tremendously fascinating to Willis Thornton, and on winter evenings, when his chores were done and supper over, he would pile the big fireplace high with maple logs, then sit and dream as the flames danced and the fire roared. He was a sturdy lad, healthy, cheerful, wholesome, and tonight he was thinking.
The snow-laden wind was sweeping across the "Flat Bush." At every fresh gust the fire would crackle and the little blue flames start up along the none-too-well seasoned logs. Outside the old farmhouse the great dead limb of a monstrous white oak moaned and sighed, while the usual sounds from the barnyard were lost in the patter of the icy snowflakes that rattled against the window pane. From the open door of the kitchen came faint odors of freshly-popped corn and the monotonous hum of the old sewing-machine. Willis was hardly aware of any presence in the room save his own until a warm hand was laid gently on his and a dish of snowy popcorn set in his lap. He had been so engrossed with his own fancies that he had not seen his mother enter the firelit room and come toward him.
"Well, my boy; what are you dreaming of tonight?" she asked, as she seated herself in her accustomed place on the arm of his chair and placed her arm gently on his shoulder.
"O, I've just been planning a bit, mother," he said with a smile. "Sometimes when I sit here by this old fire I forget myself. I travel to the strangest lands and think the strangest thoughts. Still, they all seem so very real to me that when I try not to think of them a peculiar restlessness comes over me. I can hardly wait for summer and the great big out-of-doors. Did you ever think, mother, what life would be if we didn't have the birds and the bees and the flowers? Are people in the cities happy and contented without them? I've often wondered. I suppose some day I'll be going to the city to live, as all the other boys have done; but when I think of it it makes me sad. I don't believe I'd ever be happy in the city, mother, unless—"
He paused long enough to stir up the fire and put on another log.
"Unless what, Willis?" his mother inquired.
"Unless—" he hesitated as if thinking. "I could go West to where father was."
His mother listened as he went on. "The schoolmaster was telling us today about the wonderful Rocky Mountains. He was there last summer on his vacation, you know. We were studying about Pike's Peak and the Garden of the Gods, so he told us all about his trip there. He went from Colorado Springs to somewhere away up in the mountains to a great gold camp. He told us of the queer little shanties the people live in, and of the great piles of waste ore outside of each mine. He went through one mine, the Independence, I think he called it, or the Portland—I don't remember which now; but he said the machinery used in hoisting the ore was wonderful. It all set me to thinking of father—I've been thinking of him all day. Mother, it's mighty hard for a fellow like me not to have any father, only just a dead one."
He arose a second time to replenish the fire, but remained standing, facing his mother. He was too deeply interested in his own thoughts just then to notice the tears that were slowly stealing down his mother's face, and the light was too dim for him to see her sad, care-worn expression. She was not old, but fate had not been kind to her. She was a slender little woman, with a heavy mass of what had once been brown hair, but it was now streaked with gray. Her eyes were large and brown, and the intermingled expression of love and sadness made her face one of tender beauty, lighted as it was by the rosy tints from the open fire. As the boy talked on in his manly way she suddenly became aware of a change in him. She noticed the well-built and symmetrically developed body, the broad shoulders, the short, stocky neck, and the head covered with brown ringlets. She could not see the face, but she knew only too well of whom it reminded her, for of late she had often found herself saying, "Just like the father—just like the father."
It was during such winter evenings as this that she had come to know her son best, as she sat on the arm of his chair and listened with tactful sympathy to his stories of the big black bass that kept house in the pool at the end of the lake, or of the downy woodpecker's nest in the old hickory, or, perhaps, of the big hoot owl that perched on the granary warm nights to watch for mice. It was with a certain feeling of sadness, as well as of pride, that she watched him grow older, lose his boyhood ways, and become more and more of a man—a man just like his father!
"I get so lonely for some one to teach me things, and go with me into the big woods, and help me skin my rats in season," he was saying, "and to teach me to use tools and to understand the books and—"
"Yes, my son," she replied. "But haven't you me? Won't I do to read with you and help you find new wild flowers and gather strange caterpillars in the spring?"
"Yes, mother, of course you will, and you know how I do care for you. I couldn't begin to do without you even for a day; but someway you don't understand. It's because you are a woman. Sometimes I feel as if I would be the happiest boy in the Clear Creek School if I just had a father I could look up to and be proud of and—"
"O, but Willis, be careful." Her voice was low and full of feeling. "You can do all that, my boy, and more. I know you miss him, but you must not forget we had him once, both of us, and that he was the very best father in all the world." She stopped, for now the tears were coming fast. "The only trouble is that he was taken away before you were lad enough to know him and love him as you would if we had him now. But that is all the more reason why you should grow into a worthy man, my boy—for his sake and mine. He loved you dearly, and I've often thought it was that love and ambition for you that made him determine to make money, so that you might have the future he planned for you. He left you, my boy, something better than money—a heritage of clean, noble blood and character. You aren't old enough just yet to know all that that means, but some day you will be truly thankful."
"You are right—always right; but you know what I mean, don't you? You have never told me all about him, have you, mother? Won't you tell me now? I never wanted to know so badly as I do tonight. He seems to come near to me sometimes, even if I can't see him, and I want to know more about him."
The fire burned low; the storm had increased in its fury; it seemed as if each gust would lift the house from its foundations. Still, to these two, opening their hearts to each other in the kindly glow of the firelight, the storm was forgotten.
After a pause she began softly and very slowly to tell the story.
"Your father was a noble man, Willis, such as I am sure you will be if you are spared to live. His boyhood I do not know much about, only that it was spent on his father's farm. He went to Kalamazoo for his schooling, and it was there that I first met him. He worked hard, saved his money, and went to Ann Arbor for his college work. He was ambitious to become a great engineer, and was always tinkering at some kind of a machine. He used to joke with me about becoming a great inventor, and after we were married he did try his hand at a patent coupler and a back-firing device for a gas engine. He was just like you, my boy, always dreaming and seeing things in the out-of-doors. I can remember the delight he found in rising early on summer mornings to search for caterpillars, moths, and worms in the nearby woods, and he would put a strange bug in every bottle I had in the house.
"After our marriage we moved to Lansing, and he became superintendent in an electrical manufacturing company. He had a little shop of his own in the basement at home, and during the long winter evenings of the first year that we were there he built furniture for our little home. The chair we are sitting in, Willis, is one of his first pieces. We were very happy together there, and it wasn't long before you came. The summer before you were born his company sent him West to install mine machinery. It was then that he became interested in the great gold mines of Colorado. Everybody seemed to be prospecting and staking gold claims. He thought he saw his chance to get rich quickly, so he, too, began prospecting. He very soon developed a great love for the mountains, and while you were a baby he used to go to Colorado Springs for his vacations. His mind was very active, and as he became more closely acquainted with the mines he conceived an idea for a machine to roast gold ore by electricity. In the winter evenings he would sit sketching its parts and dreaming over his plans. Sometimes in his boyish enthusiasm he would assure me that he would yet be a rich man."
"And what about his mine, mother; doesn't that come into the story pretty soon?" "Yes, yes, but don't hurry me, son. It seems so very strange to be sitting here telling you all about him, for it seems to have happened so long, long ago.
"On one of his trips west he fell in with an old mountaineer named Kieser, Tad Kieser. Tad became interested in his roasting machine, and they decided to locate claims together. Tad was to put up the 'grub stakes,' as they called it, for your father had no money except his salary. All one fall, when he was not installing machinery, they explored the mountains south of Colorado Springs, especially along the old Stage Road to Cripple Creek, looking for suitable claims. The old Stage Road was a steep, rocky mountain road over which they hauled provisions and passengers into the Cripple Creek district.
"Several miles from the city there was an old log hostelry—'Wright's Road House' they called it. Here lived a strange old man, a mountaineer of the oldest type. Daddy Wright, they called him. He and Tad were old friends, so your father became very well acquainted with him. The stages to and from the gold camp always stopped at Dad's; sometimes for a meal and sometimes for all night. It was one of the delights of your father's business trips to spend an evening with this old man in his rough mountain cabin, sitting before his crude stone fireplace smoking and listening to stories of the days of 'forty-nine,' when Dad had hunted for gold in the mountains of California. Your father and Tad were both in the old road house the night it was burned and barely escaped with their lives. He didn't tell me about it until long afterwards.
"Tad and your father finally filed on two claims. One was on Cheyenne Mountain, near Dad's claims, and the other was somewhere near a mountain called Cookstove. Your father thought that valley was the most beautiful spot he had ever seen. He used to write me long letters describing the beautiful canyon and the falls, which was just a ribbon of water that trickled down the face of a monstrous granite boulder hundreds of feet in height. He called it St. Marys Falls. Here, somewhere in a hidden spot of this canyon, they found a strange outcropping of black rock which your father believed would lead to an extensive gold vein in the interior of the mountain. I remember he called the vein an 'iron dyke,' and said that a compass revolted when placed on it. His great desire was to mine that strata by means of a tunnel, but he had no money, so he and Tad decided that they would work during the winter months and save what money they could, then both work on the tunnel in warm weather. They chose a spot down in the canyon that was high, but still near the stream, and there built a log shanty to live in while they worked the claim. He wrote me how they cut the great spruce on the side of the mountain far above the chosen spot and rolled them in. Dad let them use his team of donkeys to pack in the necessary lumber and shingles for the 'shack.' Father came home, and Tad, with some hired help, erected the first log cabin in the canyon. My, but he was proud of it.
"The next spring saw them at work on the tunnel. I did so hate to let father go, for I was afraid some harm would befall him; but he reassured me and seemed so positive that all our future hopes lay hidden in that hole that I let him go. The first season they went in thirty feet, and things looked better every foot. It was very hard for him to close up the hole and come home to his winter's work. His company in Lansing had inspected the drawings of his proposed machine and had promised him a goodly sum for the patent if he proved that it would work. The only question was the securing of the proper ore for flux. I remember his hopes ran high when one day they came upon a narrow vein of this necessary flux stone. He was so sure that they would find more, and the gold, too, that he made plans to build a great reducing plant, using the falls for motor power. He had it all worked out on paper, even to details.
"Meanwhile my sister, your Aunt Lucy, and Uncle Joe went West for her health, and settled in Colorado Springs. Uncle Joe became a real estate dealer and also interested in mines and mining properties. He was greatly interested in the tunnel, and predicted great things for its future. About this time all the land around the canyon, both north and south, became a part of the Pike's Peak Forest Reserve, so that your father had to refile on his claim and prove to the land office that he was working a real mineral vein. In refiling, his claim was not big enough to include the shanty, but anticipating no trouble on account of it he neglected to lease his cabin from the Forest Reserve officials. The news leaked out that gold had been discovered in Cookstove Gulch, and in a few days the entire stream was staked from one end of the canyon to the other as placer claims. Of course the cabin site became the property of another man, and with it the cabin, as it could not be moved. The new owner was a little, short, pudgy man with an ever-ready eye for business, so father and Tad were forced to rent the cabin they had built and paid for. That winter was the one your sister Mabel was taken from us, and the last year we were all together."
She stopped and gazed into the fire, seemingly forgetting the boy who sat by her side. Then she reached forward and placed the last stick on the slowly-dying embers. As it caught, and the flames leaped into the chimney in response to the wind outside, she continued:
"The next summer was the last. I never knew just how it happened exactly; but some way, while making a new side drift in the tunnel, a blast went off prematurely, and he was caught in the falling rocks and crushed to death. Uncle Joe wrote me the particulars—all that I ever had.
"He was too badly mangled to be recognized, so even before I knew of the accident his poor, broken body was laid to rest under the pines in Evergreen Cemetery. The tunnel was closed and locked, and your uncle packed father's few belongings in the little old trunk I gave you last spring for your own and sent it home—all that I ever saw again of your father.
"Then followed the terrible fever that nearly took my life. How I prayed, my boy, that I might die, so great was my sorrow and utter loneliness; but the Great Father saw fit to keep me here, and now I am thankful. He needed me to help you become a man. When I was so sick grandfather came and brought us home, and here we have been ever since."
"But, mother, have you never wanted to go to Colorado?"
"Yes, son, I've often thought I would be happier there, but father has never thought so. I've often promised Aunt Lucy we'd come. I'm afraid she won't be long for this world, for she has a very serious tubercular trouble. You must never mention it, son, but your grandfather never had any use for Uncle Joe, and was very much opposed to Lucy's marrying him, so they slipped off and were married secretly. She has never felt like coming home since—not even for a visit. Father gets very lonely for her, for she was the life of the old home. I would not be surprised, son, if I should be called to her bedside any time now, for she is very low."
"Mother, if such a thing should happen, you'd take me with you, wouldn't you?" eagerly asked Willis.
"Of course I would, my son."
"And perhaps I could find father's tunnel. Say, mother, did you ever hear what became of that Tad Kieser after father's death?" he inquired.
"No, son, I never heard. He wrote me one letter, expressing his sympathy, and in that letter I remember he said he had abandoned the tunnel because he was convinced that it was not a safe place to work, and probably it never would have amounted to anything, anyway."
"Do you suppose he is still prospecting somewhere in the mountains, mother?"
"I don't know, Willis. Probably not, for that was ten years ago, you know."
The remains of the last log dropped between the andirons and rolled over. Mrs. Thornton rose.
"It's time we were in bed, son, long ago." With that she gently bent, kissed him on the forehead, and slipped off to her own room, leaving him with the dying fire. He sat still a long time, his eyes wide open and his fists clenched.
"If I only could," he was saying. "If I only could."
In Which Willis Is Honored
"You're always trying to get in a new fellow, Chuck. We never would have a new member if you didn't do your scouting around. You know more about the fellows in this town than any half-dozen of the rest of us. How do you get next to them?"
These remarks came from Robert Dennis, the splendid captain of the High School Basket Ball Team. He had met a few of his companions at the Young Men's Christian Association that evening.
The Association was a very handsome, four-story brick that stood some distance back from the street. Of all the places in the community for young fellows to "hang out" the Association was the most popular. At any hour after school, until closing time in the evening, small groups of fellows of every age might be found in the various departments, talking athletics, planning an all-day hike into the mountains, discussing an amateur theatrical, a debating club, a Bible study supper, or some other of the many activities carried on by these fellows with the Association as a basis of operations and a partner. It appealed to the best fellows in the school, and even in the entire community, for it had very early in its history made itself known as a clean, broad-minded, sympathetic, and constructive agency in the lives of boys and young men. It appealed to the fellows because they could have a hand in its operations and a voice in its government; because it stood for clean sport, clean bodies, clean minds, healthy spirits, and a type of social life that had all the appearances of being powerfully masculine, and yet clean and gentlemanly. It stood for a three-sided manhood—spirit, mind, and body.
Chuck seated himself. "No, Dennis, not always getting a new member, but I'll tell you one thing, I always do have an eye open for a first-class fellow for our bunch. You know as well as I do that if we are going to keep things right, here in our old Y.M., and give the 'Chief' the help he needs, we'll have to keep adding every strong, clean, congenial fellow we can lay our hands on. You don't need to worry about our getting too many. O.F.F. has been doing stunts for two years now, and in that time we have just taken in five new men. We have room for at least three more. I know sometimes I make a mistake, but I'll bet my hat on this fellow. He's no ordinary kid, I'll tell you that. I saw him in the swimming tank with his uncle, Mr. Williams, yesterday, and a cleaner-cut, better-built fellow you never saw. Swim like a fish, and dive—why, there's nothing to it. If he takes a membership in this Department he'll be in the Leaders' Corps in less than a jiffy, and, what's more, he'll be a leader in everything else, too, when he gets acquainted."
"Well, I'll tell you," said "Shorty" Wier, who had thus far kept silent, "Let's all look him over and get better acquainted with him Wednesday night on the hike. The 'Chief' told me he had invited him to go along with the bunch."
"What's the bunch going to do on Wednesday night?" inquired "Sleepy" Smith, who was always preoccupied when anything of real importance was going on.
"Why, you ought to wake up occasionally and you wouldn't be so far behind the times," replied Chuck, rather dryly. "The class is going to Sweet Potato Gulch for a business meeting and wiener-bake. Be sure to be on hand, every man of you."
"O well, I don't like wieners, anyway," replied Smith, and he returned to his own thoughts.
* * * * *
Wednesday night was perfect—not a cloud in the sky, and a great half-moon to help them find their way. There was a spring breeze in the air, the kind that makes a great wood-fire of dry logs and pine needles about the most attractive thing on earth to a crowd of young savages. Far away to the westward Pike's Peak's hoary head was lifted into the sky, dimly lighted by the yellow rays of the moon. There was a faint odor of spring in the air, while the little mountain stream had not as yet given up its icy prattle. Little patches of snow still dotted the sides of the canyon, and here and there a crystal icicle sparkled from the end of a pine bough.
It was a night of wonders for Willis. He had never felt the "call of the wild" so strongly and irresistibly as on that night. Every mountain crag seemed to be calling him, and in his fancy he thought the fir trees reached their gently-waving branches, beckoning him to come into the darkness and solitude. In spite of himself, his thoughts would wander to the Michigan homeland. He wondered if the ice had broken on the lake yet, and if the blossoms had begun to come in the old orchard, and if his grandmother had filled the incubator. He felt queer with so many strangers, yet not at all ill-at-ease, for he had lived a wholesome life in the out-of-doors, and the meaning of fear was almost unknown to him. As the fire was lighted and the wieners set to bake on the end of long, green willow sticks, he began to enter more completely into the merriment of the crowd.
It was an exceptional group of older fellows—the clean fun and wholesome chat was above the ordinary, yet was spontaneous and real. The "Chief," whose name was Allen, stood at one side of the fire with a note-book in his hand, while the fellows were seated upon a dead log that had been dragged close to the fire. Allen was a young man of medium height, well-built, and clean-cut. His hair was black and his eyes were dark and very bright. A merry smile played over his features. Every fellow in the group knew that that smile meant "good will toward men." His hiking trousers bagged about the tops of his high mountain boots, and his sweater bore the marks of many a camping trip. He always wore on such occasions as this an old felt hat, which had the initials of many a stanch, good, out-of-door companion printed on it. There was the color and vigor of health in his face, and his movements were swift and powerful. He was a splendid specimen of a clean, unselfish college man who loved God, His out-of-doors, and all his fellow-men. There was not a man in the community who had such an influence, or for whom the boys felt such profound respect, as Allen. He was a "square deal" personified. Many were the personal differences of the fellows that were submitted to him free-willed for arbitration. His Department was his kingdom, and these fellows his stanch and loyal supporters. Where he led they followed, always knowing it was for some good purpose. Meanness, like a wolf in the night, slunk away when he came upon it. Smut and slander knew they had no chance in his presence. To these fellows, and many more who knew him, he stood as a confidential friend and counselor, and was as a father to many a boy in the time of trouble. Many were the fathers who would have given a good deal to have held the place in their sons' estimations that Mr. Allen did.
The trip that night did several things for Willis. It told him plainly that he was going to be an ardent lover of the mountains and life in them, just as he had dreamed and hoped he might.
Several weeks later, when Willis came home one evening, he found his mother waiting for him at the door with an envelope in her hand. Willis had told his mother all about his trip to the "Gulch," and had confessed to her how proud he would be to become a member of "O.F.F." A warm friendship had sprung up between Chuck and himself, and he was learning to be happy in the companionship of that crowd. He eagerly reached for the envelope, and, opening it, read aloud:
"Next Friday evening 'O.F.F.' will hold an outing meeting in Williams Canyon. We will first take you through Huccacode Cave, then we will have supper on Pinion Crag. We will hold our meeting about the council fire, at which time we will be very pleased to extend to you the right hand of fellowship, and make you a full-fledged member of 'O.F.F.'
"ROBT. DENNIS, President."
"Isn't that great, mother! I'm really to be a member of the very best Bible group at the Association. It's a club, too, you know, and holds every member to a clean standard of life in work and play. Every Saturday night they meet at the Association for supper and a half-hour of Bible study. Mr. Allen is teacher, but they all do a lot of talking. O, it's great! I'm tickled to death! I want you to know every one of those fellows, mother. Sleepy is the poorest man—besides me, of course. I can't say I like him so well. He's a little sneaky, I think. Chuck told me they took him in because Mr. Allen wanted them to. The 'Chief' says he has a pile of good in him, if we can just get it out. He has been awfully nice to me, though. He talks camera to me almost every time I see him. I showed him the pictures I made last spring of the thrush's nest, and he was crazy over them. I'm going to teach him how to photograph flowers and birds and nature. I'm glad I can do something that's worth while, or I'd feel unhappy in that bunch. Sleepy has a wireless outfit and knows all about electricity. Shorty Wier works in the Strang Garage. He is a shark in school and a fiend at basket ball. He doesn't say much, but he is a dandy. Chuck is interested in debates, and will represent the school in the interscholastic contest next fall. He can talk about anything, and has 'pep,' I tell you. And Mr. Allen is a nature student. Gee! won't we have a circus talking bugs and flowers and birds. Fat draws and does lettering. O yes, and Ham—I mustn't leave out Ham—he is the Billikin of the crowd. When you feel down in the mouth or blue, just look at Ham and it makes you laugh. He likes everybody except the girls, and everybody likes him. He knows more funny stories than all the rest put together. Ham's the one that always gets the fire ready to light and passes the 'eats,' he's—"
"Well, son, I think you are fortunate in being able to find such companions, and in having such a place as the Association to spend your leisure time. I think it is a great thing. I hope you will make the most of the opportunity. I have about decided we had better stay here through the winter, for I am very sure Aunt Lucy can not last until spring. I feel so sorry for Uncle."
* * * * *
Friday came at last, and was one of those grand June evenings when everything seemed to be bursting with the love of life. The new green leaves danced in the breeze, as if saying, "See, I'm back again!" Here and there a fragrant fruit tree gave forth its odor from snowy blossoms, and innumerable spring insects flocked to the arc lights at the corners.
It was a happy, healthy crowd of boys that boarded the street car for Manitou. High-boots, sweaters, slouch hats, cameras, and a plentiful supply of good food. From the hip-pockets of the trousers tallow candles showed, and one fellow carried a good supply of mason's cord, wound upon a paddle. Then there was the coffee-pot, which was really an honorary member of the club, and numerous packages done up in paper.
The fellows loved Williams just at twilight, for it was then that the fantastic shapes and high pinnacles of white limestone made their best impression. The long, irregular shadows that were thrown across the canyon by the setting sun, the cool pine-scented breeze that carried every sound down the narrow crevice, the echoing of every laugh and halloo added much to the enjoyment and comradeship of the little group. Who could be unhappy or unfriendly on such a night and in such a place?
The road led on and up, winding back and forth zigzag fashion on the south wall, until it reached that wonderful cavern of fairyland, the Grand Caverns. Thousands of tourists annually come to see its wonders, but to the boys there were other caves more magic in their spell, for they had not yet become "civilized," as the fellows said, by being lighted with electricity and "engraved" by human hands.
As they passed through the Narrows they began to climb up the east wall, at a point where an immense pile of broken stone from the ledges above had collected. This is the doorway to Huccacode. The entrance to the cave is a mere crack in a mighty white wall that rises a hundred feet.
Bundles and boxes were placed on a convenient ledge, candles lighted, and all made ready. The end of the string was fastened to a shoot of sagebrush just outside the opening; and the group passed in, Shorty in the lead with an electric flashlight, and Phil bringing up the rear, trailing the string. Far back in this wonderful cave there is a joining of passages, and parties entering without a string have often become lost, and have traveled several times around in a great circle before finding the lead out.
The cave is a series of chambers connected by what appears to be an overlapping of rooms. The voices of the boys sounded hollow and far away, while the candles cast long, grotesque shadows on the walls. As the column advanced, the leader shouted back now and then to "watch out to the left" or "to be careful to the right" or "to mind your footing." As the trail led off on the side of the Bottomless Pit they halted, and the usual ceremony was gone through. They twisted several newspapers together into a torch and, lighting them, dropped them into the pit. They watched as the torch went down and down and down, lighting the way for a fleeting instant into the very depths of the earth; past ugly, jagged rocks, past flat shelves of limestone, past straight, smooth walls of rock till, at last, it burned itself out, still going down into the vast, mysterious crevice.
"It's a strange sight, to be sure," remarked Mr. Allen. "I have seen it a good many times now, and I have no trouble in believing the old Indian legend about it."
"I have never heard it," said Willis. "Won't you tell it to us? This would be such a good time. Let's put out all the lights except mine; I'll stick it here on this projection and we'll sit in the end of this big room while you talk."
The crowd suited the action to the word. Mr. Allen pulled his hat far down over his eyes, picked up several little white pebbles from the ground and put them into his mouth to disguise his voice, then began:
"Eagle-Foot had been for many years the mighty medicine man of the great Ute Indians, who were probably the strongest and most warlike of all the mountain tribes. Their home was in the Middle Park at the north base of Pike's Peak, shut in from the other tribes in a fertile and absolutely safe valley, which could be guarded by a few men at a certain point. Here in this mountain valley the Utes grew into a strong Indian state. During the hunting season large parties of them would ride to the plains to hunt buffalo, returning after several weeks with immense supplies of jerked meat, which is the choice steaks sun-cured, and with a goodly number of buffalo hides. Now, Eagle-Foot was a great doctor. He knew all about the mountain herbs and the medicinal properties of certain mineral waters as well as of the ancient sweating of disease out of the body by mud baths—a method used by the Indians of the South. He was so successful that the Indians began to believe him infallible as a doctor and medicine man.
"Well, one season, following a great buffalo hunt on the plains, a strange itching skin disease broke out among the hunters, causing a great number of them to die. Eagle-Foot could not find a satisfactory remedy, although he tried many mixtures. At last they held long fasts, and prayed the Great Spirit to remove the curse from them. But the next season it was worse than ever. The big Chief himself lost his favorite son, Megaleep, and Eagle-Foot began to lose his influence among the people.
"Some thought the Great Spirit was punishing them for stealing the buffalo from their brothers of the plains; others said that the Evil Spirit had come back from the great desert to haunt them with disease and famine. Eagle-Foot remained silent and downcast, spending much time alone in the mountains fasting. One day as the warriors returned from the burying ground they found Eagle-Foot awaiting them at the camp, decked in his full regalia, his face painted as if for a great occasion, all his feathers hanging from his belt. He told the chief that the Great Spirit had at last spoken to him, and that he was going on a long quest into the limestone canyons. There the Great Spirit would reveal to him a cure for the dread disease. He called for the swiftest runner to go with him. Huckween, the Night Voice, volunteered, and so they started, all the warriors accompanying them to Sentinel Point, chanting prayers to the Great Spirit.
"Several days later Huckween returned to camp, haggard and weak and hungry, bearing the medicine wand of Eagle-Foot. He took it straight to the Chief, and on bended knee told him the strange tale. How Eagle-Foot had left him in the morning at the entrance to a mighty cavern and told him to follow in at 'high sun.' This he did, and when he reached this spot, the Bottomless Pit, he found Eagle-Foot's sacred medicine wand stuck in the mud, his belt of sacred feathers fastened to the end of it, dangling down into the mouth of the pit. From the depths he heard strange sounds, but Eagle-Foot was gone. As he lay looking into the blackness, he seemed to realize suddenly that the wand was the promised cure, and that Eagle-Foot had given his own life in the Bottomless Pit that the sacred feathers might become a saving potion for his people. It was the old idea of a blood sacrifice.
"Every season since that the great medicine man of the Utes came here to receive the mystic cure, bringing with him Eagle-Foot's staff and belt. Long strips of cedar bark were bound together into a rope. This was soaked in deer's grease, one end lighted, and dropped into the Pit, the other fastened to the staff, which was stuck into the ground near the edge. The spirit of Eagle-Foot thus returned, using the flaming bark rope as a ladder, to bless the feathers of his brother, the medicine man of the Utes."
"Do you suppose there are really bodies there at the bottom?" asked Sleepy, as the candles were relighted and the group passed on into the depths of the cave.
"I wouldn't be surprised," replied the Chief.
Finally the first flight of rickety wooden steps was reached, and the boys descended, one at a time. Then came the "Fat man's misery," where the ceiling of the cave almost met the floor, leaving only a small opening. There was much laughing as Fat squeezed his body through. In the "Bridal Chamber" every fellow traced his initials on the white stone with his smoking candle. Then came the "Auger Hole," which is a round opening, not more than twenty inches in diameter and about fifteen feet long, through a solid wall of rock. About the middle of the passage there is a sharp turn, and the remainder of the passage slopes down into the next room. Each one stretched himself out at full length, taking hold of the leg of the man in front of him. In this way they worked themselves through, like a great serpent.
A very peculiar sensation came to Willis, who was second in the line, as he worked himself along the dark passage. "If the roof should cave in just a little, what a death!" He was busy with such thoughts when Chuck, who was just ahead of him, suddenly backed into him and whispered, "Look!" He looked ahead, and there, somewhere in the darkness he saw two small, yellow-green lights. Willis clutched Chuck by the arm and whispered hoarsely, "It's an animal!" Word was passed from one to the other as they emerged from the Auger Hole that there was a wild-cat in the Mud Room.
Mr. Allen always carried a gun on these trips, unknown to the fellows. As he took in the situation he quietly drew the revolver from his pocket and took a few steps forward. He began to think what the possible results of shooting might be. He had often heard of mines caving in as the result of a loud report, and of the vibrations from shouts closing the entrance to caves. It would be unwise to shoot, but perhaps more unwise to go away and leave the animal there. Some unarmed party might fall upon it. Many things were suggested, many possibilities talked over; but there seemed to be some objection to all. The eyes seemed to go out now and then, and occasionally there was a sad, low whine that made the cold chills run up and down each fellow's back. Sleepy had made sure of his safety by returning through the Auger Hole. Mr. Allen made no reply to their many inquiries—he seemed to have lost his power of speech. He stood with muscles taut and gun ready. He despised indecision, yet—what should he do? He thought of the mountain lion that had been killed on the carriage road to the Peak the spring before. Could this be its mate? He tried to think what the characteristics of a bob-cat were. He wondered if perhaps it had already attacked some one; perhaps killed him, and even now was guarding the dead body—perhaps not dead yet. His arm twitched nervously. He was losing his self-control. There was absolute silence now except for the whine of the beast. Did a lion whine? He could not think.
They could not have told how long they stood there silent. Presently Shorty Wier pushed himself to the head of the group and, without a moment's warning, flashed his electric spotlight and began advancing slowly toward the animal. Allen caught him by the sleeve and followed, gun in hand. The eyes seemed to dilate, and there was a low growl that seemed to be a warning. In an instant it flashed into Allen's mind, "A mad dog!" A bobcat could not growl, and a lion did not sound like a dog. Shorty turned and looked Allen in the eye, "Don't be a fool. Put up your gun and get out your pocket ax," he said in a low, steady voice. Then he began talking in a coaxing tone.
"There, dog, there, poor fellow, no one will hurt you, nice pup; what's the matter, dog." His light he cast straight at the eyes. "Don't strike till I say," he whispered to Mr. Allen.
In a moment they were close enough to see that it was a dog, a Collie pup, wild-eyed and half-starved. Shorty stepped nearer and put his hand out to pat the dog's head; but the animal only trembled and shrank back, then whined a pitiful whine. They could see now that the dog was fast in a steel trap, held securely by his hind leg. Shorty reached down and released the bruised and swollen leg from the trap, and as the dog felt himself free he gave a cry of relief. If ever a dog expressed his gratitude in actions it was that pup. When they reached the mouth of the cave the dog collar was carefully examined, bringing to light the fact that the dog belonged to a Beverly H. Pembroke. Shorty would have the reward. Their lunch boxes and coffee-pot were gathered up, and the climb to the cliff began. The great moon was just lifting her yellow head above a rift of clouds in the eastern sky. Soon the flat top of the crag was reached, and in a moment a roaring fire was kindled. They had filled the coffee-pot with water before leaving the stream in the canyon, and it was now swung on a cross-pole over the fire. Each fellow put his share of the steak to fry by fastening it to the forked end of a stick and holding it over the coals. The red-cedar sticks made an ideal cooking fire, and the odor from the burning wood was enough to make any one hungry. The dog lay upon Shorty's sweater, against the side of the cliff, and watched the broiling meat with eager eyes. It is hardly necessary to say that he received a generous share of the meal.
Mr. Allen stood with his back to the fire, looking off over the tops of the mountains and down into the moonlit spots of the canyon below, absorbing as much as he could of its beauty and inspiration. Far away to the west was the same old peak that he had seen from every conceivable angle and he had learned to love so well. It was a scene like this that he loved better than anything else in the world, and it was at such times that he almost wished that he was one of God's wild things living a care-free life, looking to Mother Earth and his own wits to care for all his needs.
Willis came around the fire and stood by his side, silently taking in the beauties of the picture. Mr. Allen turned, and placing his arm on the boy's shoulder, said, "It's great, isn't it, boy? It takes a night like this to make a man realize what the psalmist meant when he said, 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my help.' Do you ever think of it when you look at these old mountains?"
After supper was finished the group gathered about the fire, and the business meeting, for which the trip had been planned, began. More cedar sticks were piled upon the fire, while the fellows settled themselves comfortably.
"The meeting will please come to order." Dennis had taken his place at the head of the little company. "The secretary will please read the minutes of the last meeting." Chuck jumped to his feet and made his report.
"Any objections to these minutes? If not, they will stand approved as read. Mr. Allen, will you explain to Thornton what 'O.F.F.' means and give him the oath of membership?"
Mr. Allen stepped to the side of the fire.
"Fellows, it is with an ever-increasing satisfaction that I meet with 'O.F.F.,' and I think it would not be out of place to-night to say just a few words that have been in my mind these last few days. I am proud to be a member of such a club. I am proud to call every fellow gathered here my brother. I am proud to have a voice in so clean and democratic a government. I am proud to be able to find my social amusement and social fellowship in such ways as this club employs—in hiking and tramping in the woods and learning Nature's secrets. We will not always be together in this most happy and congenial group. Fate will soon separate us. Some will grow old; some will die before their time; some will perhaps be rich in this world's goods; possibly some will experience poverty's sting. Yet none of us, fellows, need ever want for real friendship; and, after all, it's that which makes life glad and beautiful for us, or sad and unhappy if we do not have it. I have often warned my memory never to lose the picture of a single one of these simple meals, about the open fire together, so that in days to come I may go back and refresh myself at these springs of pure contentment. It's a beautiful thing in a fellow's life to just be living for the welfare of others, as we are trying to do. I'm wishing one thing to-night for you all, and that is, that there may never come a time in your busy lives when you will find it to your liking to follow any other standard than the one we have set for ourselves here in this little group. I am hoping that we will never find any type of social fellowship any more attractive to us than this clean, wholesome, out-of-door life that we have learned to love so well. The time will come, fellows—did you ever think of it?—the time must come when we will not be able to gather at these fires and chat together of our mutual interests and common woes. But I hope the time will never come when we can forget the good things for which we stand, day by day, in our living.
"Willis, stand up here by the fire. I want to say to you, my boy, that we are proud to have you as a brother and that we feel confident that you are a real addition to our number. We want you to be a real, live member—to enter into the spirit of our organization. Our letters, O.F.F., stand for a very simple slogan, one that has meant great things in the lives of every one of us fellows, and one that will mean great things to you if you take it into your life and let it work. It means that from this night on you will be more interested in the welfare of others than of yourself. O.F.F.—Other Fellow First. Give me your hand. Do you promise that you will live a clean life, physically, mentally, and morally? Do you promise that you will forget your own interests in helping others, that selfishness will have no place in your life? Do you promise that you will not give your support for any reason to anything that to your mind is beneath the honor of a gentleman? If so, say, 'I do.'"
Willis lifted his eyes to Mr. Allen's, and, with a pressure of his hand, he answered in a clear voice, "I do!"
"I take great pleasure," continued Mr. Allen, "in welcoming you as a brother."
The other fellows arose, and there was a general handshaking, followed by cries of "Speech!" "Speech!"
"All I have to say, fellows, is that I, too, am proud of every one of you and of everything for which you stand, and that I'll do my best to be a worthy member. Thank you for the honor you have shown me by asking me to be one of you."
They sat a long time that evening, talking and exchanging ideas, for there was something nearly bewitching in the fire and the view and the friendship.
Willis Becomes Interested in Gold Mines
The next four weeks passed by very slowly to Willis. Mr. Allen had gone to the annual summer camp with a large number of the Association boys. It was a State encampment, held in that very odd and interesting part of the second range known as Cathedral Park. Willis had been very anxious to go, for he knew it would be a very new and profitable experience for him. Mr. Allen had asked him to go as a Leader, to have charge of one tent of seven boys. He had never been to a camp of any kind, to say nothing of a mountain camp, so it was a great disappointment to him when his mother had told him that he had better not go this time. His aunt had grown worse as the hot weather came on, and his mother explained that she could not do without him in case his aunt should pass away.
He understood perfectly and knew that his mother's request was reasonable, so had contented himself by offering to help out at the Association in Mr. Allen's absence. He was anxious to give something in return for all Mr. Allen was giving him. Then, too, it gave him an opportunity to watch the development of a good many of the cocoons and chrysalides that the nature study club had placed in glasses in a window of the reading room.
He had been making sketches of the development of several butterflies. This kind of work he dearly loved. He would spend hours, sometimes, watching a delicate insect emerge from its cocoon and slowly dry its dainty, crumpled wings until it was able to fly.
One day he sat sketching an immense Ichneumon fly that had just emerged from a Tawny Admiral chrysalis.
"You can't always tell," he was saying to the little group that were watching him. "Nature fools you sometimes. Mr. Caterpillar, who built that clean, cozy little house, and he was a fine, big, healthy fellow, too, expected to be somebody one of these days—a beautiful butterfly like the frontispiece of that nature book—but he got into bad company and got 'stung.' Now, instead of hatching a butterfly, out comes this robber fly, a long, lean, sleek-looking fellow that has been living for weeks on the body of that poor caterpillar, and we didn't know it. You want to watch out who you run with, fellows, or you're liable to turn out 'Ichneumon men' instead of gentlemen." He laughed as he returned the glass to the shelf and closed his sketch book.
"What in the world!"
"Pots and kettles, frying pans, French toast, hot cakes, Chef's the man; We'll wash our hair and comb our face, Camp Tech—ump—sa, that's the place."
The crowd made a break for the door, and in a moment more they were inside, laughing and shouting. Five minutes later they might all have been found splashing around in the swimming-pool, making up for the lost swims of the past few days, their bodies brown as berries, and as healthy as free, camp-life in mountain air could make them. Mr. Allen shook Willis by the hand.
"I never had a better time in my life; and such a gang of royal good fellows! Willis, old man, I always want to be a boy if age takes such real pleasures away from man. I missed you, boy, every day, and needed you so often. How's the aunt, and how's the Department? Say, Willis, while I take a little swim, will you 'phone to all the Cabinet members and tell them it's Bruin Inn for supper on Saturday night?—a very important meeting! Meet here at five o'clock. And say, I want you to go along with us. I have decided to add an out-of-door committee to the Cabinet, and I want you to represent that phase of the work, will you?"
Camp was the favorite topic of conversation on Saturday night as the little group of older fellows walked up the canyon road. Mr. Allen was telling one group about some of the funny things fond mothers had sent to camp with their boys, while just behind another group were listening to an exciting tale of how the only night-shirt in camp, together with the Leader's razor-strop, were hung on the topmost branch of a great spike-topped pine that stood just in the middle of the camp.
So the talk ran on, from one thing to another. The stars twinkled in countless numbers above, giving just enough light so that they could see the mighty column of granite on either side, and to silhouette the gently-murmuring pines against the canyon wall. The air was chill and faintly scented by the bursting wild-cherry blossoms that grew in great profusion along the stream. Here and there, in a moist crevice, a glow-worm shed forth its greenish-yellow glow, to let you know it was night time and summer. Far away in the distance Phantom Falls was tumbling and splashing over a great pile of drift logs.
As the little company crossed the bridge and rounded a turn in the road, a campfire, built in a little sheltered nook back from the road, came into view. It cast long beams of light and grotesque shadows in every direction, while the odor of cherry blossoms changed to the aroma of good coffee.
"I hope Old Ben has as good a pot of coffee on the fire at the Inn," said one.
Presently "Old Night Cap" loomed up against the sky.
"This is as far as we could come a year or two ago," said Mr. Allen to Willis. "Before the railroad and the inn were built we used to think it was a long way even up here to the old mine."
"Did I ever tell you about the old Negro that owned this mine? Well, he came herein the early days and found a strange yellow outcropping here. He built himself a funny little shanty on the hillside, which he thatched with spruce boughs. Here he spent a good many years of his life, digging. His tunnel caved in soon after he left it, but he did find a little gold for his work. When his provisions gave out, he would take his old mule, which was his only companion, tramp into the city, sell his little bag of gold dust, and buy bacon, flour, and beans. After a little spree he would return to the mine, always sure that he would find the gold in larger quantities. Often I've stopped to talk with him as he brought a wheelbarrow load of dirt out of the tunnel to the edge of the little old dump.
"'Yep, I'se 'bout to fin' heaps an' heaps o' gol',' he'd say as he pulled at his stubby gray whiskers. 'Marse Spruce-tree, yondah, he done tole me to jes' keep a diggin' an' I'd sho fin' gol'. When I 'se jes' 'bout to gib up, an' I does sometimes, yes, sah, I does, ole Marse Spruce-tree he jes' stan' up yondah on de hillside an' laff an' say, "Why, Rufus, yuse is altogedder wufless." Ole Brer Rabbit, he nod he haid an' 'spress heself same way. "Jes keep a diggin', Unc' Rufus," he say, "Jes' keep a diggin'." They sho is gol' in this yere ole world if ye jes' keeps a diggin'.'
"He'd sing all day as he worked, and never seemed to lose faith; but when the canyon road was extended, and the inn built, it took away the quiet and solitude from the place. The old man just picked up his belongings and went farther back into the mountains—no one knew where; but somewhere, I suspect, he is still talking aloud to the trees and making friends with the wild things, still giving his life to digging up dreams and living for hopes that will never be realized. It's a strange disease, this gold fever. I've never had it, but I've heard Old Ben at the Inn tell how it's nearly impossible for a man to go back to his work in the city after he has once seen the golden glitter and dug the precious metal from the earth."
Willis had remained very quiet all through the story. A strange sadness seemed to have settled upon his spirit. Several times Mr. Allen addressed him, but upon receiving no reply turned and looked closely into the boy's face. His head was thrown back, and he seemed to be lost in the beauty of the starry night. In a very quiet tone Mr. Allen said, "A penny for your thoughts, boy."
Willis laughed a dry little laugh, and, turning to him, replied:
"O, I was just thinking. I hardly know what, exactly. I was thinking of how that old darky's tunnel caved in. Do all tunnels cave in? I was thinking of my father." He linked his arm through the "Chief's" as they walked on up the canyon. "My father was a miner, you know. That's how he lost his life." Mr. Allen understood the mood now.
"You must tell me more of him some time, Willis. Was he like you?"
"Not very much, but I'm going to be like him, if I can," replied Willis. "Sometimes, since I've been here in Colorado, especially here in the mountains, I've fancied that he was near me again, watching and guiding and keeping me company. It's hard for a fellow like me not to have a father. Mr. Allen, I don't believe the fellows who have them half appreciate them, do you?"
A long, loud shout came from ahead, which was answered by a dog's bark.
"O you supper!" shouted Chuck.
"Ben, remember me," cried another.
The inn was a one-story log building, built of rough spruce trees, just as they had been cut from the mountain. On the side next to the stream was a rustic porch. On the down-canyon end was built an immense old, stone fireplace. From the chimney top there was a procession of tiny sparks making their way upwards from the roaring wood-fire within. Here and there on the wall hung the hides of denizens of the woods. Behind the pine door stood an old-fashioned, double-barreled shotgun and a later model Winchester rifle. In the opposite corner stood two short-handled shovels and a miner's pick, while on the wall just above the fireplace hung the head of a great buck that had one time roamed those very hills.
The fireplace, which occupied the center of the east wall, was large and very attractive. An old hand-made crane had been built into the firebox, and from it hung an old iron pot. The andirons were long, narrow slabs of granite, set on edge, upon which were piled logs of pine wood, burning merrily—not because it was a cold night, but because of its cheerfulness.
The hearth at once became the center of attraction. It was the mysterious fairy that bound all hearts together and welded all types of personality into a sympathetic friendship that gathered round it. It was the stern and fiery monarch, ordering all assembled to be quiet that it might sing and moan and whisper the messages that it had gathered from the winter storms or from the falling leaves.
At one side of the old fireplace, leaning back in his rickety old arm-chair, sat Ben, Old Ben the innkeeper, his long-stemmed cob pipe held quietly in one hand, while the other rested on the head of a huge Russian hound that lay on the floor in front of the fire. Ben's hair was long and gray, and on his nose rested a pair of large, old—fashioned, silver—rimmed spectacles. His head was partly bald, and his small, gray eyes were set well back under shaggy eyebrows. His face was covered with a generous growth of dirty-gray whiskers, stained darkly about the mouth from his pipe. He was a typical old mountain prospector who had seen better days.
As the boys entered Old Ben rose, stretched his large, gaunt frame, and cried, "Howdy, fellers, must o' started day afore yestedy, didn't ye? Took ye tarnal long to git here, anyhow. Supper's ben ready these two hours. Me'n the critter 'n Tad is most starved a waitin'. Hello, Mr. Allen, where'd ye git this lively bunch o' fellers, anyhow? D' they all b'long to ye? Come along, Tad, er these dratted youngsters 'll eat all yer grub fer ye." This as the fellows seated themselves about the table.
Tad, by the aid of a crutch, hobbled from the lean-to kitchen and took his seat at the table nearest the fire. Old Ben served the meal—beefsteak, baked potatoes, hot corn muffins, and gravy, apple sauce, pickles, and coffee that fairly filled the room with its fragrance.
"Drat me for a young squirrel if you fellers ain't the hungriest bunch o' yearlin's I ever set eyes on," muttered Ben as he hurried back and forth from table to kitchen supplying the urgent demand.
After the last drop of coffee had disappeared, the meeting was called to order around the table and the business of the evening was gotten under way. Willis, for the first time, found it difficult to pay attention to what Allen had to say. He was watching Old Ben and his friend as they sat by the fire, chatting and smoking, the very picture of contentment. Now and then a little of their conversation would reach him, but he could not make head nor tail of it. At the supper table the man with the crutch had eyed Willis many times. In his manner there was something that seemed to be so very familiar, yet his face, which was covered with a several weeks' beard, was strange to Willis.
"I never saw a face so like my old pard's," the stranger was saying to Ben. "And you know, Ben, I often wonder if some day I won't hear something from Bill's family. There was a wee boy, but what others, if any, I don't know. The day of the wreck I saw a lad that did a brave deed, and ever since I've been wondering if he might be Bill's boy—he looked so like him."
"Tad, what became of that tarnal critter, Williams, that ye told me about? The feller that jumped that placer claim up'n the gulch—do you ever see him any more?"
"Yes, Ben, he is still in the city. Has a mighty sick wife—tuberculosis, they say. He's crookeder than a cork-screw, they tell me; but he'll get caught yet, that kind always does. You know his wife is a sister to Bill's wife. If it hadn't been for that relationship to Bill, I'd have had it out with him long ago. But what's the use, anyway. The mine's no good and the ground's no good, and I haven't any money to fight him."
"Yep, but s'posin' the tunnel was good; what then?"
"I don't know, Ben. Old Williams has a good name, generally speaking, in the city, and he has money—I couldn't fight him. Dad Wright used to say he was a 'snake in the grass,' and Dad doesn't often misjudge a man."
"Who holds the key to that tarnal hole, anyway, Tad?"
"Williams was the last man in the tunnel, Ben, and I suppose he holds the keys. I've never been inside since I carried out poor Bill's broken body."
"Well, Tad, I was a pesterin' around there not long ago, an' I seed whar some tarnal critter hed tried to pry the lock off. You know, Tad, I b'lieve they is pay rock in that gulch, if the likes o' you an' me could jist light onto it. Ye can pan color anywhere around the shanty, if ye know how. I picked up some o' that quartz formation by the dump, an' drat it, Tad, it's fine lookin' stuff."
"Yes, Ben, I often think I'll go back and work a little longer on the old hole. Bill was certain we had struck it—talked in his fever before he died. But I haven't got the nerve.
"Ben, I'm going to tell you something. Just before Bill met his end, he had a letter from the firm that he installed machinery for concerning the final drawings of an ore-roaster that he had been working on for years. I have often wondered if he sent those drawings to the firm before his death, or if Williams got them and the letters. I've never seen a roaster like his was to be. Some way, I've thought Williams sold those drawings. If he did, Ben, I'd kill him, I believe. That's what makes me keep a thinking of the boy. Those drawings would have brought enough then to have educated him, and perhaps he's poor—poor like you and me, and can't go to school, while that rascal, Williams, rides around in an automobile. Some way, I feel like I'll find out, and then I'll—"
"Is that a fact! Well, that tarnal critter!" Ben puffed meditatively at his pipe and gazed into the fire.
"I have decided to go back, Ben, and work the other claim up in the gulch by Dad's. If I could get enough money ahead I'd get a detective and put him on the case. I'm kind of a father to that boy, Ben, wherever he is, and I ought to be finding him."
The meeting at the table was over, and the fellows crowded around the fire before starting home, and, perhaps, to hear one of Ben's stories of the early days. The stranger watched Willis closely for some minutes, then he called to him.
"Lad, ain't you the boy that was in the wreck of the Rocky Mountain Limited, early in the spring? I've been watching you, and you sure remind me of him." Willis's face brightened. In a flash he recognized the fireman. He advanced with extended hand.
"Why, yes, sir, I am the boy, and you are the fireman. I have been looking at you all evening and wondering where I had ever seen you before. It's the whiskers that threw me off. How is the broken leg?"
The stranger held the boy's hand in his own and looked into his face.
"We got out lucky, didn't we, lad? Have you ever seen the little Englishman since that day? He was a dandy, wasn't he?"
Chuck had been listening to the foregoing conversation.
"What wreck? What Englishman? Who is your friend?" he questioned.
The stranger spoke. "Why, don't you know about the wreck? Has he never told any of you?" In answer to a chorus of "No's," the stranger drew his chair closer to the fire and began to tell the story.
"So the lad has never told you, eh? He is a splendid fellow, this lad. I want to tell you boys there is no yellow in his system. He has cool, true nerve, like my old friend, that never thought of himself if there was trouble, always of the other folks that might suffer. That's the reason he slid off this mortal globe so soon. The lad here came near doing the same thing. Then he never told you about it. Well, well."
"I'll see you again," called the stranger as Willis passed out into the night.
A Plan Is Evolved
"Well, by the Great Horn Spoon, you are the laziest bunch of fellows I've seen in many a long day. What's all this scheming and planning about that's going on here? Are one of you fellows trying to get a Presidential nomination?" Ham seated himself on a chair facing the fellows. They were lounging on a big window-seat in a corner of the game-room, talking earnestly in low tones.
"Come, now, let's hear about it. What's the game? Say, fellows, I just heard a rattling good story." "Well, now, Ham, let up on your stories for about two shakes and give us your attention. We have an idea, a real, first-class scheme, if you please, and we want you to give us your expert opinion on it," said Shorty Wier, as he went and closed the door.
"All aboard; let her go! What do you want me to do? When are you going to do it? Hurry, I'm getting awfully excited."
"Well," continued Shorty, "Fat originated this idea, or at least he suggested it, and we have just been talking it over. How fine it would be if we owned a cabin, a good-sized log cabin, big enough to take care of at least twenty fellows over night. A place far enough from the city to keep it from being continually broken into by rowdies, and still within a couple of hours' walking distance from the car-line. With all of this great string of mountains and canyons, so well-forested and filled with streams, it ought to be an easy matter to find some such a place. Of course it would be ideal if we could find a cabin already built; then all we would have to do would be to rig it up. But we are game sports, every man of us, and if we can't find any such cabin built, let's locate an ideal spot and build one. Nothing real fancy or expensive, but just a typical mountain house that's weather-tight and warm. Of course we'd want a big fireplace like the one at Bruin Inn. It would be a great big job, but we could take our time to it. We'd have all winter, and more, if we needed it. Now, what we want is your suggestion, understand; we are just talking and planning about it yet."
"Gee, it would be an awful pile of work," complained Sleepy Smith, and he yawned and stretched himself. "Work! of course it would be work, you dub; but what do you ever get in this world that's worth while without real work, I'd like to know."
"Work! that's the best part of it; nothing in the world could bind us fellows together so tight as to do a big piece of real work together. We would show each other what we're made of. I always have wanted to build a cabin in the mountains. It would be a great deal better to build one than to get an old, tumbled-down shack. Besides, we don't want to work out a stunt that's just going to last for a year or two, and then be abandoned. We want to build a real, permanent mountain camp. See?" added Chuck.
"What's the matter with the old Y.M. cabin up in Bear Creek, Shorty?"
"O rats, boys, we are not talking about a pill box now. We want a cabin."
"I think it would be a great thing to do, fellows; but we must go awfully careful. We'll have to finance the thing some other way than from our own pockets, and we don't know yet what Mr. Allen will say about it. He may think it's a big mistake and a waste of time and energy. Then, too, where would we camp while working on the new cabin?" said Willis. Then he slipped off to talk the plan over with Mr. Allen, and in a few moments brought the "Chief" back with him. Willis was talking.
"Now we are on the right track for sure, fellows. Mr. Allen has the proper suggestions about this matter. No telling what fool stunts we fellows would do if we didn't have Mr. Allen to keep our feet on the earth."
"Listen, fellows," said Shorty. "We have talked this thing all over from A to Z, and we believe Mr. Allen's advice is the thing; only before we decide to do anything definite we ought to have Mr. Dean's opinion. He has been in the army, you know."
"Mr. Dean, the physical director, been in the army? Why, I didn't know that," said Sleepy.
"Yes, and he's a mighty practical fellow. Fat, go out to his office and ask him to come in here a few minutes, will you?"
In a moment they came in together, Fat explaining their plans for a cabin. When every one was seated, Shorty continued:
"This is a very serious matter, fellows, and we don't want to make a mistake by being in too big a hurry. There are a few things that seem very clear after talking with Mr. Allen—
"First, we must make our cabin stunt an Association enterprise, so we can have their help and backing. Let's make it a high school boys' enterprise. Next, we must find an ideal place, where the work will have all the natural advantages possible—not too far away, not too close, near good water and a good supply of dead wood. It would be best to get somewhere on the old Cripple Creek Stage Road. Mr. Allen has suggested that we might help finance it in two ways: Organize a cabin company and sell stock at so much a share, all stockholders being privileged to use the shack, or we might give a circus in the gymnasium and use the money thus earned. He thinks the latter the better plan. The greatest trouble seems to be to find the ideal place. Mr. Dean, what do you think of the whole plan?"
"It's a capital idea, fellows; only it means real business. If you tackle a job like that, you want to finish it. I'd sure be in with you on any such a deal. Here's a suggestion. Why don't six or seven of you fellows take a week just before school opens, pack your grub and blankets, take a gun or two and a good camera, and make a trip on foot, looking over the possible locations? For instance—start up the old Stage Road, go as far as Daddy Wright's, then to the top of Cheyenne Mountain through that valley. There is a beautiful park there that might be suitable; then down Rock Creek, up around Black Mountain, back around St. Peter's Dome, then study the canyons along the railroad. They say there is a good cabin somewhere near Daniel's Pass, and several around Fairview. Get into all of those canyons that run into North Cheyenne, because that would be the handiest location for us to get to. It would be great if we could find an old prospector's cabin that we could remodel and add to. You see, we'd have a place to camp as we worked that way. Then, too, it would have this decided advantage—it would be a staked claim and not the open forest reserve. You would have to pay for all lumber you cut on the reserve, but on a claim you are entitled to a certain amount for building purposes. You see, we could probably show mineral anywhere near a prospector's cabin. I am convinced there are many such cabins that would be almost ideal, if we could only find them."
"My father built a cabin in these mountains years ago," said Willis. "A miner's cabin; but I've never seen it. I don't know where it is, but it's near Cookstove Mountain. Some one has jumped the claim, though, now, so mother said."
"Wouldn't it be funny, Willis, if we should find that old cabin of your father's?" asked Mr. Allen. Ideas came thick and fast. Even "Sleepy" Smith woke up to the fact that something unusual was going on, and roused himself so as not to miss it. After an hour's planning and discussion they decided what to do. A route was to be laid out and an investigation trip made under the direction of Mr. Allen. The party was to be limited to six fellows: Ham, Phil, Fat, Chuck, and Willis were the ones chosen to go. Definite plans were laid out, and the following Tuesday set as the day for starting.
As Willis was explaining the plans to his mother the next morning his Uncle Joe came into the room. He had seen an article in the morning paper to the effect that the Y.M.C.A. boys were to build a cabin, including the names and the probable route to be taken by the investigating party.
"What's all this nonsense about a cabin in the mountains, Willis? I saw an article in the Gazette this morning concerning it. Now listen to me, boy. I don't want any relation of mine getting mixed up in any such a crazy, wild-goose chase. Do you hear? About the first thing you kids will do is to trespass on some one's mining claims, and then you'll be getting yourselves and some of the rest of us into trouble. It's a lot of foolish nonsense, such doings, anyway. Isn't home good enough for you?"
"Well, it seems to me you're kind of mad about nothing, Uncle. We're not going to carry off any one's gold mines," replied Willis. "Have you a few you are afraid we will steal?"
Mr. Williams flew into a fit of anger, saying something about, "If he was mine, I'll bet I'd see if he'd insult his superiors in that way. The next thing we know you will be off on a mountain picnic on Sunday, bringing disgrace on your respectable relatives," snapped Mr. Williams. "There are enough enemies now to a man's good name, without adding any more by foolish kids like you, with heads full of nonsense."
Mr. Williams stalked angrily out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
"Of all the strange men on earth, I think he is the strangest of them all," remarked Mrs. Thornton. "Something has upset him, and he has an ugly streak to-day. I heard him at the telephone, storming about some old prospector that has come back to the city to make life miserable for him. He had seen him on the street, talking with a man he said was a detective. Lucy told me just the other day that Uncle Joe took awful chances on mining stock very often, and that she believed he would sell his very soul for a gold mine. It seems so strange—he has been angry at me every time I have let you go into the mountains. He works hard, and I suppose he thinks you ought to be doing something, too, and if we stay here through the winter, my boy, I think it would be well for you to look about for something to do after school."
As Willis left the house the next morning and started for the Association to complete plans for the trip, he met two men coming in at his front gate. They asked for Mr. Williams. Willis directed them, then hurried on, rejoicing in his heart that he was to have a real gipsy trip in the mountains with his gang.
He spent the day getting his things together for the trip. He was to carry a small individual frying pan, a small granite bucket, knife, fork, and spoon, eight small cans of condensed milk, a little cloth sack of tea, one of sugar, one of oatmeal, and one of rice, two boxes of raisins, a loaf of rye bread, and butter packed in a small tin can with a cover. He was to wrap these things, and whatever else he wanted to take along, including a first-aid packet, in his blanket, army style. His pack must not exceed twenty pounds in weight, not counting gun or camera. His tincup was to be fastened to his belt, and his safety ax carried in his hip-pocket. They would sleep on spruce boughs at night, and each man would cook his own meals from his own store. The mountain raspberries were just ripe, and there were great quantities of them. They would have them with cream, and count on killing a few squirrels now and then, or perhaps some turtle doves for a change. Mr. Allen took a trout line and a few flies, in case they had a chance to have mountain trout to break the monotony of the diet.
By Monday evening all was in readiness for the start. The news of the proposed cabin scheme had spread all through the Department, and many were the suggestions offered by interested fellows for making the trip an entire success in every way.
"Remember, shelter and drainage and wood supply, along with good water and big trees, are what you are looking for, boys," was the advice of Mr. Dean, as he left them. "I wish I were going along with you. Here's hoping you'll find the very best spot, and that soon."
A Stage Road Journey
"Well, if you haven't any more brains than to be starting out on a mountain trip on a wet, stormy day like this, why I haven't anything more to say to you; but remember, I'm not one whit responsible for you," said Mr. Williams, as he arose from the breakfast table and passed out into the hall.
It had been a stormy night. The rainfall had been heavy and the lightning sharp. It had been a typical electric storm of the mountains. Old Sol had tried in vain to force his way through the heavy rain-clouds earlier in the morning, but by breakfast time he seemed to have given up entirely, and to have withdrawn from the contest. At any rate, he was nowhere to be seen. Willis was visibly disappointed. He pushed his chair back restlessly and went to the window. The heavy, black clouds hung low on the ridge, and Pike's Peak was entirely hidden in the mists. Willis was thinking of the conversation he had had with his uncle that morning at the breakfast table.
"Mother," he turned to Mrs. Thornton, who was still seated at the breakfast table, "why is Uncle Joe so positive about it being a mistake for me to take this trip? Either he just wants to show his authority or he has some special reason. According to his talk, there isn't a more dangerous place on this earth of ours than around an old prospector's cabin. Rats! I don't believe a word of it. It's all bosh and, as far as cabins go, how could disease live in an old, open mountain shanty? Anyhow, you might go for weeks in the mountains without even seeing a cabin. He thinks I'm a child and haven't any judgment of my own. My! I'm glad he isn't my father. He's just a blamed old hypocrite, that's what I think about him, anyway."
"Well, you won't be going if it stays so stormy, will you?" asked his mother.
"No, but it's going to clear up, mother; this is just a little summer shower—we weren't counting on starting until after dinner, though, anyway," replied Willis. Toward noon the clouds broke and melted away as if by magic. Their lifting was like the raising of some majestic curtain on a wonderful stage. The moisture from the recent storm still glistened on every twig and leaf, and the fresh-bathed air was as clear as crystal. The summit of Pike's Peak was decked in a new covering of snow which sparkled like beautiful gems. The robins chirped gayly as they fed on the worms that had come to the surface during the night's rain.
Was there ever such a happy crowd of fellows' setting forth on any expedition? High boots, slouch hats, soft shirts, a rifle, a shotgun, two cameras, and a plenteous supply of food. Each fellow was equipped with a haversack, in which were his eating tools and other necessary articles, such as bachelor buttons, cartridges, films, and other things. They carried their frying-pans, small buckets, and tincups suspended from their belts. The handles of their safety axes extended from hip-pockets, making their pockets bulge suspiciously.
Mr. Allen took the lead through Stratton Park, and headed for the short cut that joined the old Stage Road just as it sneaked around the base of Cheyenne Mountain on its way to the top of the Continental Divide; then downward through mountain passes and clinging close to canyon walls until it reached that most wonderful of all gold camps, the Cripple Creek District.
"It's just two o'clock," said Chuck, in answer to an inquiry as to the time. "And we will have to do some rapid walking if we are to get on top of Cheyenne Mountain to-night. We ought to make three miles an hour from here to the old road house. We'll have to rest there a little and have a drink from Daddy Wright's spring. That's the best spring in the Rocky Mountains, I do believe."
"Hope Dad's home to-day," said Mr. Allen. "I haven't seen him since early spring. I certainly do enjoy getting the old gentleman to telling some of his stories. You know he is an old, old timer in these parts. He came here years before gold was first discovered in Cripple Creek, and he has lived up in his little gulch ever since. In the early days, when the only outside connection the gold camp had was this old wagon road, there were a great many interesting happenings at Dad's little inn. It was really the only road house on the Stage Road, and was burned down years ago. Haven't you ever heard that story? I'll tell it to you some time. They used to say that Dad had any quantity of money—I don't know how true it was. At any rate, he hasn't much now. After the old inn burned, he built himself a log cabin down by the spring, and there has lived ever since. He can tell some great old tales, too. You can't name a single prospector of the Rocky Mountain region but what Dad can tell you all about him. He lives a lonely life up here all by himself, shut in all winter by heavy snows. In the summer he sees a few people passing by, and that helps some. He's a very friendly old man, and if you treat him right there isn't anything in the world he won't tell you or do for you if he can. He loves to talk politics, and can tell you about every Presidential election back as far as the war. He was a Confederate soldier in his day, and if there is one thing above another that he loves to talk about, it's the 'Gov'ment,' as he calls it. 'Uncle Sammy an' me ain't jest zackly the best o' pards yit, by crackey,' he says, with a twinkle in his eye."
"That certainly is a great view," explained Ham. "I'm going to unload my cargo and rest here a bit, for I like this spot. Right up yonder in that heavy belt of timber is where we used to come so often to stay all night. There is a great granite boulder up there in the 'Graveyard,' as we used to call it, that's just as good as a house any day. It leans away out on one side, and we built a big bed of balsam boughs under it. Right behind the great rock, to the west, we found a tiny spring, hardly big enough to be called a spring; but we dug it out and stoned up a small reservoir to catch the water. We used to come up in the evening, cook our supper, get our beds ready for the night, then climb on the big rock and watch the lights of the city come on. When they were all lighted it looked like a big, illuminated checker board out there on the plain. We'd get up early in the morning, then, and climb to the Devil's Horn to see the sunrise. My! but it's a gorgeous sight on a cloudy morning. The last time we were there we sure did have a mighty queer experience—"
"Come on, fellows, let's travel along, or we'll not get anywhere to-night. Ham, you can tell us your story while we are walking. We've got to reach Dad's by four o'clock, or we'll never get to the Park by night," said Phil, as he arose and adjusted his blanket roll preparatory to starting.
"Go on, Ham," urged Fat, who was always ready for a story, especially a mountain story. "Let's have that tale of yours. I expect we'll need a little salt with it won't we?"
"There isn't much to it, after all, when you tell it, for it was the night and the surroundings that made it so impressive. We had just finished supper and were all sitting up on the big rock looking out over the lighted city. As we sat there, every now and then we would hear the strangest sound. It came from the timber away up behind the camp. At first it sounded like a human voice—a kind of a long, sad sob. The night was as dark as pitch, and as we sat listening the cold shivers began to run up and down our backs. Sometimes the sound seemed to be answered from far out in the dark valley. We speculated a good deal as to what it could be, for it was such a sad, wailing call. Then suddenly way down the valley a light appeared, not a large one, just a tiny, flickering, ever-moving light. It seemed to me to be in the air just over the center of the canyon, but the rest declared it was on the road below us. Then the sad call came again and again. It seemed to be nearer this time. Then came a far-away, dull, muffled sound, such as a horse would make on stony road. The light came directly toward us, now, up the canyon. It resembled a lantern being swung by some one, as if to give signals. We sat and watched it for a long time, everybody talking in low whispers; and many were the opinions as to what it really was. No one noticed just when, but some time, without a second's notice, the light disappeared. We heard the faraway sound of rolling stones, then all was quiet for a long time. Two of us sat and listened far into the night. Several times we heard that long, sad wail—a sort of hoo-oo-oo. A night breeze had risen, and you fellows know how the wind moans in these pines. It was a mighty lonesome night—just sitting there with your every nerve alert and as wide-awake as you could ever get, just listening and watching. As soon as it was light enough to see, we started for the summit of Cheyenne, up through that mountain of granite boulders and mighty crags. I think we were about half-way up, when some one noticed an immense black bird, swinging in great circles, high in the air. Soon we smelled smoke, so hurried on. The first long rays of light began to streak the sky, and we knew we would have to hustle if we reached the summit by sunrise. The crowd was pretty well strung out down the side of the mountain. Keller and I were in the lead. The smell of smoke grew stronger and stronger. The air was heavy that morning, and so forced the smoke down to us, from somewhere on the summit. At last we came to a little plot of ground surrounded on three sides with great rocks. From this pit-like nook the smoke was slowly rising into the morning air. We climbed one side of the great crags, then cautiously peered over. I was pretty excited, for I was thinking just then of the awful tragedy that had occurred on Mount Cutler the year before. What if we should find a dead man? Well, what do you suppose we did find? I was dumbfounded. There below us were the dying embers of a log-fire. The flames had long since died, and now it was just smoldering and smoking. On either side of the fire lay a man, well-wrapped in his blanket. A gun that for some reason looked very familiar to me was leaning against the rock near their heads. We could not see their faces from where we were, but like a flash I remembered the gun by the leather-covered stock. The two men were Old Ben and a young fellow who often went with him into the mountains. I never shall forget how they looked when we waked them by dropping small pebbles from above. As soon as they would stir a little, we would drop back out of sight and listen. At last the young fellow muttered something and reached for his gun. Then Old Ben awoke, sat up, and asked what was the trouble.
"'I'd bet a dollar that rock just dropped on me from above.' Then he turned his head and looked up into the sky. 'Great Scott, man, what a place to sleep! A stone might have tumbled on us any minute.' Then he scrambled to his feet and cried out, 'Man alive! take a look at that eagle; what an immense bird!' We boys had forgotten the eagle on finding the men, but we, too, looked upward, and there, not more than a hundred feet in the air, directly over us, was the biggest bird I ever hope to see. He seemed to be fixed, motionless, in the air, with wings outstretched. Just then some of the rest of the boys came shouting up to where we were. Ben heard them and shouted back. In a few minutes we were all up on the rocks watching the bird. Ben wanted to shoot, but the other man wouldn't let him, for he declared he was going to find the nest. It must have been the smoke from the fire that first attracted the bird, for it seemed to keep circling directly above the column of smoke. To this day we never told who dropped the stones—I suppose they think the eagle did it.
"Well, as we sat there watching the eagle, the sun came up. There never was such a sunrise before, I don't believe. There was a layer of fluffy, fuzzy clouds, stretched out over the city as far as we could see. Then the sun came slowly up—a great crimson ball of fire, the long, yellow rays lighting up that sea of clouds and the pale-blue sky above, until the scene looked like a great, boiling pot of gold. Then, far above us, that immense black bird, wings still outstretched, just winging itself round and round in great, even circles. I've seen many a choice bit of mountain scenery, and many a sunrise and sunset, but never one just like that. It isn't at all strange to me why the savages were nature worshipers. How could they help it?
"As we sat watching the ever-changing panorama of colored clouds, there came to our ears, faintly but surely, that same sad call of the night before. The great eagle paused a moment in his circling—then my heart came into my mouth, for as we watched he folded his great wings, tipped his head forward, and began to drop. I held my breath. Down, down he came. I thought he must surely be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. He was falling directly toward the great dead spruce, and it seemed that nothing could save him from being torn to pieces. As suddenly as he had begun to drop he spread his mighty black wings and swooped down to the very tree we thought must be his death. He perched for a second on a dead limb, then flew into a Douglas spruce, emerging in a second with something in his talons. As he began to rise again, in long, spiral flights, we heard the cry of distress from the unfortunate bird in his claws. It was the same cry that we had heard in the night."
"What was the light in the night? Did you ever find out?" ventured Phil.
"O yes, I forgot to tell you. It was Daddy Wright on horseback, swinging a lantern. He had been to the city, and was returning home. He passed Ben and his friend and nearly frightened them to death. He was singing as he came up the road, and was keeping time to his song with the lighted lantern."
"Twenty-five minutes to reach Dad's! Come, you fellows—loosen up your joints. The climb up the gulch to the Park is a real one, and there isn't a place in the canyon to camp," called Mr. Allen, as he started forward at a more rapid gait.
When they reached the farthest point of the big Horseshoe Bend, they stopped to rest a moment before starting up the last long incline to Daddy Wright's.