Read CHAPTER XIII of Buffalo Roost, free online book, by F. H. Cheley, on

Sleepy Smith has an Experience

Two weeks later another trip was made to the now-beloved cabin, but the party was small and, because of the lack of leadership, the amount of constructive work done was not great. Enough logs were cut and dragged in to complete the addition, a new layer of fragrant boughs added to the aerial bunk, and the dam improved and strengthened. The rest of the day was spent in hunting squirrels and chipmunks and in investigating the immense valley above St. Mary’s Falls. School was keeping the fellows very busy, and because the fall social life had begun the young men found spare time very scarce. The autumn activities in the Boys’ Department were also in full swing, demanding their share of time and attention. The standing committee for the coming circus were already appointed, and were scratching their heads for new and novel stunts.

The O.F.F. were to present the afterconcert, and Fat was busy on the program. The fall gymnasium was being entered into with great zest, and already there had been a call for basket ball. The Bible study groups were getting together for the winter, the new Cabinet had been elected, so that, someway, there was not a great deal of time left for the cabin.

Mr. Allen and a few picked fellows had made a trip the week before, primarily to take up a supply of food for the mason and his helper, and had gotten the entire frame of the addition up, ready to roof and shingle.

The next week another small group went up to roof the addition and close it in so as to keep out the snow, if, perchance, it might come before they were able to finish the improvements. They found the fireplace completed, crude but artistic, of jagged boulders with an immense cement hearth. The iron crane had been built in, and now hung lazily in the big fire-box.

Next came the cutting of the aspen poles for the floor of the addition. They had hoped to get at least one layer of boughs on the great bed so that the next time a larger crowd could be accommodated, but the long autumn shadows warned them that twilight was approaching long before they started it, so consequently they had to go back without seeing that task accomplished. The curtains had been put on the windows, white oilcloth had been tacked on the board tables, and a mirror, if you please, was hung over the tin wash basin just inside the door. Hooks made of crooked branches were fastened upon the logs on which to hang coats and haversacks. The place had really undergone a genuine transformation.

“Well,” said Ham, as he took a long drink from the bucket of fresh water that stood on the kitchen table, “that’s the best water that ever flowed down a mountain side. There’s life and health in every shining drop of it. To tell you the real truth, fellows, I’m beginning to feel mightily at home here in this little shack. Shack! that doesn’t sound right, though, does it? What are we going to call this place, anyway, Mr. Allen? Y.M.C.A. Cabin is no good. It sounds too civilized. Now, does that old fireplace look civilized? And that iron crane, and those twisted rustic seats in the corner, and that bed out there big enough to accommodate twenty fellows? It reminds me of a home the old Vikings must have had long ago, way up in the great pine woods of Northern Europe. Someway, it has a look of health and strength about it that I like. Don’t you see the smile on that old fire-box? Can’t you hear the happy peasant children gathered there on that hearth singing their woodland songs and drinking their mugs of warm soup? Then, over yonder, all stretched out, his head to the fire, lies a great, gaunt dog, tired from the chase. Then the tap, tap on the wooden floor of the old woman’s cane as she hobbles about the cabin. Can’t you smell the bear haunch that’s roasting there on that long spit before the fire? Don’t you hear the merry music of the ax, just outside the door, as brawny arms swing it, cutting the great backlog for the long night? Civilized? Yes, in a way, but not in our way, is it? But what are we going to call this cabin?”

Willis had slipped out a few minutes before and had wandered up the canyon to the last point from which the cabin could be seen. There he stopped and turned to survey the valley. The air was clear and cool and was completely filled with the fragrant murmuring of the pines. Far down in a vista of shifting lights and shadows stood the cabin.

The next week brought the first signs of the approaching winter. The warm fall rains gave way to cold showers. The leaves fell in countless millions, and the voices of the feathered folk seemed to have blown away with the autumn leaves. Heavy white mists hung over the mountains, lifting occasionally to show curious eyes that the lofty summits were already being painted white. The grass lost its fresh, green color, and the wild purple asters dropped their lovely heads and slept. The first real snow came in the night.

The desire to go to the cabin on the part of a large number of healthy, stalwart boys was matched against a foot of fluffy snow. The fact that they had not seen the new, completed bunk-house, nor the fireplace, added greatly to their intense desire to go. Added to this was the natural boyish love for possible adventure, so, of course, it was decided to go, snow or no snow.

Twenty strong, they were on hand at the appointed hour. Soft shirts had given way to sweaters, outing shoes to high boots or leggings. Still the boys were just the same happy, healthy, and free, ready for anything the trip might bring. Old Peanuts raised sad eyes as he was led forth and saddled. To think that such as he should tramp through all that snow on such a night. Tuberculosis was disgusted beyond all measure. It was only by much bribing from his bag of precious pinion nuts that Sleepy was able to get him to even move. The snow was dry and fluffy, so walking was not really disagreeable, but necessarily very slow. Somehow Peanuts seemed to have grown old with the season, and many times Ham almost gave up in desperation, declaring they would not reach the cabin by morning. Darkness settled very early that night, and with it came the clear, cold breeze from the snowy peaks beyond. How white everything looked, and how quiet! Even the stream seemed to have been buried under a white blanket. On the hogsback the snow had drifted badly, completely obliterating the trail. It seemed like it took hours to climb that rugged hill. Twice the donkeys slipped from the trail, floundered in the fluffy drifts, and then lay down. Twice they both refused to go another step; then darkness the black darkness of a stormy winter night, settled about them just as they entered the Park. Who knew the trail that narrow pathway that led between trees, around buried stumps, across shallow fords, and back again? Who could now general this little disheartened army and lead it on to warmth and shelter? Sleepy complained bitterly because the trail was long, and many times threatened to go back when he was taunted with “Baby!” First it was a false step, then a splash into the cold stream; next it was a false lead into the heart of an aspen thicket, only to return and try again. Ham broke the trail until he was too tired to go another step, while Mr. Allen brought up the discouraged rear.

It was a gloomy line that worked its way up the snow-filled canyon that night. Minutes seemed like hours, and already the cold winds were making every fellow weak and hungry. Ham was the life of the party, and kept the fellows hopeful at his end of the line, even when he was so tired from breaking trail that it seemed that he could not go another pace. Willis was behind him, ready to lend a hand whenever he tripped on treacherously-covered poles or slipped from the trail into the icy stream. At last the little belt of thick timber was reached, and Ham’s heart rejoiced, for he knew the cabin was on the other side of it. Before long they stood on the high trail and looked down into the valley where stood the cabin, gloomy and gray, the light from the snow caught and faintly reflected by the windows. Ham gave a loud shout that cheered and strengthened every heart, and in another moment he was unlocking the door.

Ham’s little pocket ax sang out in the winter night, and soon his efforts were rewarded by a tiny blaze on the hearth. He ordered his forces like a veteran, and they obeyed him without question all save Sleepy, who chose a comfortable spot in the corner and sat down, refusing to move. Very soon the kitchen stove began to heat its end of the house, and the big tin teakettle sang and sighed over the flames. Mr. Allen was busy with supper and Fat was clearing a space before the open fire so they could all sit down together. Some brought in the wood and piled it high in one corner, while others scraped the snow away from the lea of a big boulder, thus making a shelter for the donkeys. Ham smuggled a half a dozen frozen potatoes for them and a half loaf of rye bread.

A column of merry sparks rose from the chimney, while the candles threw weird, funny little shadows out on the snow through the barred windows. Ham and Willis were watering the donkeys and discussing their trip up, when Ham, without any apparent reason, burst into a merry laugh.

“I have an idea, Willis, and it’s a capital one, too. Will you help me carry it out?” and he laughed again.

“Well, that depends,” returned Willis.

Ham put his hand to his ear and listened, then turned and looked eagerly toward the cabin. When he was satisfied they were alone he continued: “When I first came out here to feed the mules I heard an owl hooting up in that big tree. My, but it startled me at first, until I had time to think what it was. You know they shot a young mountain lion over on Black Mountain day before yesterday. Now, we aren’t so far from Black Mountain, and if we are ever going to make a real, worth-while member for O.F.F. out of Sleepy Smith, we have got to begin soon, and, besides, I’m satisfied we will have to use a few extraordinary tactics. We have nursed him long enough; besides, his spirit is rotten. He has been sitting in there by that fire all evening and hasn’t turned his hand to do a thing. He will probably want some one to put him to bed, yet, to-night. All the way up the trail he whined and acted like a baby. You remember the tricks he pulled off the day we moved the stuff over from Fairview on the donkeys sneaked up in the bunk after dinner and went to sleep. You know how we nearly locked him in. He’s hurting our crowd.

“We took him in, you know, because Mr. Allen thought there was so much in him worth saving. Someway, it hasn’t come out yet, and we’ve got to operate, do you understand? We’ve got to scare Sleepy Smith out of his boots once or twice to see what’s in him. Let’s do it to-night. If we don’t, next time we bring a crowd up here on a night like this there will be three or four sitting around the fire doing nothing, and the next time six or seven, until at last a few of us will be waiting on the whole bunch, do you see?”

“Yes, I see,” replied Willis between chattering teeth; “but how on earth are you going to do it a night like this, with all this crowd?”

“Now, I’ll tell you just what I want you to do. I’ll pull off the game and you be my accomplice. We’ll take Sleepy out for a snow-bird hunt. I never heard of one myself, but I’ll fix that all right. We’ll scare the life out of that boy this night or bust. All you have to do there comes some one.”

“Ham, Ham!” called Fat from the cabin; “come on to supper while it’s hot.” Then the door closed again. The two started toward the cabin, leaving old Peanuts braying hoarsely in the night.

“All you have to do,” continued Ham, “is to just swear to all I say. You’ll catch on after I get started. Be sure to watch for the chance. I’ll tell Fat the scheme, and if I can get Sleepy out of the house for a minute, I’ll fix it up with the crowd.” They were just about to enter the cabin when somewhere in the night came the weird hoot of an owl, and a pale, sickly moon peeped between the clouds.

“Well, fellows, how do you like that old stone fire-box, anyhow?” Ham questioned. “I haven’t heard a fellow say a word about it yet. That big black pot hanging on that crane makes me happy all over. Why, we have Robinson Crusoe and that last polar expedition beaten a city block. I never do see a pot hanging over the fire like that but I think of some of the delicious stews that Jim Parker made for us the Christmas vacation we spent with him out on his ranch in Middle Park. Snowbird stew good? O my! It has turkey beaten a thousand directions.”

“Snowbird stew?” questioned Chuck. “What in the world is it, Ham? Bacon creamed, or some such stuff?”

“Bacon creamed, nothing,” replied Ham disgustedly. “Snowbirds, just plain snowbirds. When I was out feeding the mules just now, I heard a whole flock of snowbirds fly down the canyon. That’s what made me think of the stew, I suppose.”

“Well, if they’re no bigger than the snowbirds I’ve seen,” remarked one boy, “you’d have to have a bushel of them for a meal.”

“Do you mean those saucy little fellows with the white breasts that come with the first snows?”

“Those are the fellows,” replied Ham, “and of course you need a lot of them. But, then, they are so easy to catch if you just get into a flock of them.”

“How do you get them?” inquired Fat, who was always interested in anything new, so long as it had possibilities of something to eat in it.

“Well, it’s a good deal of hard work and some inconvenience until you get started. But, O my! the eats the next day! Little fat fellows all stewed down until they’re tender.”

“Let’s get a bunch,” suggested Willis weakly, watching Ham for a cue.

“There isn’t a gun in the crowd,” laughed one.

“You could use clubs, couldn’t you?” asked another.

“Well, it’s just like this,” continued Ham: “you pick out a couple of fellows for the trappers who are strong and husky, and who aren’t afraid to do their share of the work.” Ham smiled at Willis. “Then you place them one at each side of the canyon. You take a shovel, dig a deep hole in the snow for the trapper to stand in so he can work easily without stooping over. Of course, each trapper has a bag, a gunny-sack, or a common flour sack will do, and a lantern. You can use a candle all right, if you have no lantern. I’ve seen very successful hunts conducted by using candles. The trapper stands with his bag held open between his legs. It’s a good scheme to tie the bag, a side to each knee, so you can keep the mouth open without using your hands. You’ll need them for numerous other things, probably. The rest of the hunters divide into two parties, and each party climbs the opposite ridge of the gulch, working up the canyon without really going through it. In that way the birds are not disturbed. Then, at a given signal, both parties descend into the canyon and the hunt begins. Every man must be absolutely silent, for I’ve seen one mouthy fellow spoil a whole evening’s fun. Now, if any of you fellows are sure you can’t keep still for a little, even in a good deal of excitement, you better stay here. If we fail, it will be some one’s fault.” Ham noticed the sly glances that were going back and forth between Mr. Allen and Mr. Dean, but he was sure he could count on both of them, for they liked real fun as well as any of the boys.

“The hunters then move down the canyon in a skirmish line, thrashing the bushes with their pine boughs. As they advance the birds will awaken with a shrill little peep and scuttle off through the bushes down the canyon and directly toward the trappers. The birds take just little flights at a time, so you must keep them moving or they will swarm and fly away in a panic. If a flock panic on you, you might as well quit, for every bird in the canyon will follow. You see this is the game: snowbirds live on little bugs that are found in great numbers around the great Northern Lights. When they see those candles flickering there in the great white quiet, the snow reflecting the long rays out between the dark tree trunks, they think it’s the northern lights, and fly straight toward the candle. All the trapper has to do, then, is to take them in his hand and bag them. Sometimes they come in such great numbers that they fairly swarm into the bag. When each trapper has enough, he puts his mouth close to the snow and halloos to the drivers. At the signal they stop hunting and come into camp. Fun, why it’s the most fun I ever had in my life! The foolish little birds are so easily caught. You see, instead of getting out and hustling for their food, they think it will all be provided for them by kind Providence or others,” and Ham smiled.

“Did you ever eat quail on toast in some of these stylish restaurants?” queried Fat, who had caught onto the game. “Well, all in the world they are is snowbirds. I suppose there are any number of fellows who make a living by just that trick.”

A general discussion followed. Every one was ready and anxious for the hunt to commence. Candles were gotten ready and a shovel found. Ham took Phil, Fat, and Mr. Dean to help him find some sacks that were supposedly down in the gulch, but in reality to explain to them just what he wanted them to do. My, what a laugh they did have when they reached the open. Fat was instructed to offer his services as the holder of one bag and to suggest that Sleepy hold the other. They would plant Sleepy first, then Fat would go on with the bunch. Mr. Dean and Ham would hide themselves in the brush on either side of Sleepy. Fat would instruct his crowd what was to be done, and Phil would take charge of the other group. They would go down the canyon, over the ridge, then swing round and come back high on the hill, so as to completely lose Sleepy, who would be placed where both parties could see him by his light, but, of course, he could not see any of them out in the shadows and the night.

“If any fellow makes a stir,” continued Ham, “the game is up. Remember, Phil, you are boss of that crowd.”

A difference of opinion had broken out among the rest while Ham and the others were getting the sacks, for Willis, in a sly way, had suggested that the game was a fake, but Sleepy scoffed at the idea.

“You do just as Ham says, and you’ll see it’s all true,” cried Sleepy hotly. “He knows more about camping than all the rest of us put together. If you don’t want to go, stay here. I’ll hold a sack myself, and if I don’t get it full of birds before I come home I’ll treat every one of you.” Fat entered just in time to hear the foregoing conversation.

“I’m with you, Sleepy,” he cried. “We’ll have snowbirds for breakfast in the morning.”

“O shucks,” scoffed some one, “there aren’t enough snowbirds in Colorado to fill a sack like that!”

“Well, of all the quitters,” snorted Sleepy. “Just because you haven’t seen the birds is no sign they aren’t there. If you don’t see and hear a lot of things to-night that you never saw before, I’m badly mistaken. All that’s the matter with you fellows is you’re afraid of a little work.” Ham sneezed several times in quick succession, and Fat suddenly hurried out, slamming the door behind him. Mr. Dean turned his face from the crowd and energetically poked the fire. From the smiles, it was evident that some had caught on and wanted to go along to see the fun, while others declared it was a trick, and wouldn’t move a step.

“Too bad we haven’t a dozen bags so we could give them all a chance,” laughed Ham, as he and Fat entered the cabin.

Four remained, the rest trailed off to a little grove of young firs and cut themselves branches to drive snowbirds with. Then up the slope they went, winding in and out among the tall, silent trees, over snowy logs and around great, jutting boulders, until the top was reached. Then they hurried along the narrow ridge until it ended in a stone cliff. Here they descended again through the trees until the trail on the south side was reached. Ham picked out an open place entirely surrounded with a heavy growth of young firs. Just at the edge of the little opening, its bulk back in the trees, stood a great stone, twelve or fifteen feet in height. Here Ham began to dig the pit for Sleepy’s feet, explaining, as he worked, that the rock would reflect the light and keep the wind from blowing it out. Every hunter spoke in subdued whispers. When the hole was finished, Sleepy stepped into it, and Ham shoveled in the dirt and snow and tramped it tight about him in order to make room for the bag. It was fastened to each leg by a stout cord. Ham gave the parting instructions.

“Light your candle when we get out of hearing, then move it gently back and forth in front of your bag. The first few birds that come will probably scare you, but remember they are only snowbirds and harmless.”

The party then separated, filing off in either direction, and were soon swallowed up in the long black shadows. All that Sleepy could hear was the crunching of feet on the partly-crusted snow. He waited nearly breathlessly for all sound to cease, and when the last faint echo had died away it was a very shaky hand that lighted the first match. Of course Sleepy was not frightened he was only cold! The greasy tip of the new candle sputtered and flared a moment, then went out. He tried again, but this time the match broke off. He felt himself getting excited. He had just two matches left. He must be extremely careful. He struck the third match on the stone behind him and shaded the candle tip with his hand; but his whole body was so nervous and his hands shook so that he could hardly hold candle and match together long enough to get the light. At last he succeeded. He stuck the end of the candle in the snow in front of him while he turned up his collar and pulled his cap down tighter. What was that? His body became rigid, his head went up, his eyes flashed. Was it the snowbirds? He listened intently for an instant, then he quietly relaxed. “Just the kids whacking the brush, I guess,” he said, half-aloud. Then he leaned his back against his rock and waited. Every few moments he would gaze cautiously about him, then listen. Here and there back in the shadows he could see a huddled group of pale, straight forms. He knew they were only aspen trees, still he kept a watchful eye on them. The night was absolutely quiet and dark except for long, dimly-lighted alleys between the trees, where the candle rays were frolicking. Here and there he could see the dim outline of a black stump, its little snowcap perched upon its rim. He lifted the candle from its place in the snow and waved it gently before the bag, then he paused cautiously. His imagination had rallied from the cold and was now his closest companion. He saw strange shapes flitting here and there among the shadows. He heard every now and then a new, strange voice of the woods. The trees, it seemed to him, were murmuring their disapproval of such things as snowbird hunts. A myriad of unseen folk were peeping at him from limb and stump and shadow. He knew they were there, even if he couldn’t see them, yet a strong feeling of loneliness crept over him. It seemed ages since the boys had left him there, still it had been only a few moments.

His spirit was gradually becoming restless, and he began to wonder if there really were any such things as snowbirds, after all. He wished he was back again in the cabin by the fire. If he thought they were playing a joke on him, he would slip back to the cabin and fool them. He had half a notion to do it anyway. What was the use of his standing there? Which way was the cabin? He sighed and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. It was just over there, wasn’t it? No, that couldn’t be. It must be over yonder. The trail ran through the grove to his right. That couldn’t be, the stream was over there, for he heard it every now and then. He began talking half-aloud.

“If the stream is over there, the cabin is over here.” He paused and drew his hand across his eyes. “No, no, if that were true, the stream would flow uphill, and, of course, it doesn’t.”

Far away he heard a series of little chirps, faint but unmistakable. He was alert in an instant. Yes, that was the snowbirds, and they were coming. He wondered if Fat heard them and was ready. Where was Fat, anyway? How strange he felt, now he was almost afraid, for he was sure something was watching him. He shaded his eyes and peered into the gloom, but could see nothing. Far away in the timber it seemed to him he heard brush snapping still he knew there was nothing bigger than a skunk or a rabbit in the whole valley. Still and his breath came shorter; had not a mountain lion been killed on Black Mountain just day before yesterday? His imagination suggested hungry kittens searching for a lost mother, and a tremor ran over his body, making his muscles quiver. Was that a snarl? A whine far off, yet near to him? The candle slipped from his shaking fingers and fell in the snow beside him. He made a grab for it, and caught it just before it went out. The sound was now clearer. Was that the crunch of feet upon the snow? Yes, he heard it plainly. A twig snapped somewhere back of the big rock, then another, then another. There was an answering of the whine. He felt for his pocket ax; but, alas! it was at the cabin he had no weapon, not even a jack knife. Why had Ham taken the shovel with him? Pshaw! was it really a sound at all, or was he still in his baby days? No, he was no baby, but there it was, a low growl, coming nearer and nearer. It flashed upon him in a second the hunters had scared up the animal, and it was coming toward him toward the light! He felt faint, then sick; but it was no time to be sick! He swallowed at the big lump in his throat and wondered if the animal really would attack him. He could plainly hear the crunching in the snow now, and he fancied he saw two green eyes staring at him from the shadows. Yes, and there were voices! He could hear them laughing. Suddenly a twig near him broke, and another and another. He cried out in terror, shrill agonized, cries for help. He dropped the candle in the snow. Just how he got out of the hole where his feet were buried he could not tell. He started to run, but his legs were still tied to the bag, and at the first step he fell headlong. He was crying now great sobs shook his frame. He tore the bag free with a jerk and started off as fast as the soft snow would let him, shouting “Help!” at the top of his voice. He stumbled on through the snow, following the line of least resistance. Finally he emerged from a dark thicket just in time to see three men and a great dog come out of an opposite thicket. They laughed heartily as they turned upward on the trail. The dog’s eyes were gleaming green in the half-light, and the one man carried a heavy rifle on his shoulder. The dog turned, sniffed, then whined, but made no attempt to leave his masters.

The men had evidently not seen him. He stood for a second irresolute, his teeth chattering, his heart pounding, then, turning, he saw the sparks from the cabin chimney and in another moment he was safe inside.

Back in the woods where Sleepy had been planted the rest of the fellows were shouting and laughing.

“Yes, I’ll take it back,” cried Ham. “Sleepy can go when he gets started, but O my! what a lot it takes to start him! I don’t believe he ever moved so fast before, do you? Mr. Dean, you’re a wonder on the growling stunt I felt kind of queer myself once or twice.” Fat was too far gone to express himself, but stood leaning against the rock, half-choked with laughter. He had been behind the rock all the time, and had heard all that Sleepy said.

“I was dead sure I heard him laughing,” said Phil, “and I thought he had caught on to the game.” “So did I,” said Mr. Dean. “I certainly did hear some one laugh.”

“It must have been Fat trying to choke down his amusement,” dryly added Chuck. “He couldn’t keep from laughing at a funny thing on a bet.”

“I am sure of one thing,” said Mr. Allen, “and that is that hereafter Sleepy will do his part. I believe he has learned a lesson. You will have a hard time, though, to ever persuade him that he didn’t see an animal.”

“Just let him think he did see it,” suggested Phil, “and we’ll tell him it serves him right. If he hadn’t been so dead anxious to get the easy job, like he is with everything, he would never have gotten into the mess to-night.”

“Yes, that’s it,” added Ham; “we must be as solemn as we can and say to him that we didn’t see or hear a bear, lion, or any other animal; then add, that if he had just been with us on the job, climbing up canyons, hunting birds, and doing his share, instead of just loafing, he wouldn’t have gotten scared. But, rats! he must know that we have played a joke on him.”

They finally agreed on a plan, then started back to camp. Ham was to do the talking. As they entered the cabin they found Sleepy sitting on a block of wood, looking meditatively into the fire.

“Well, you’re a dandy,” commenced Ham. “We heard you hollering ‘Help’ and ‘Murder.’ We came tearing through the trees to where we left you, and you were gone. Please explain. Who did you think was going to catch those birds? You got tired working so hard, I suppose? Come, now, was there too much real work in it?”

Then Fat began in his most disgusted tone: “You might make sure if there was any real work to be done, Sleepy would get out of it someway. He always does. Work isn’t in his vocabulary.”

“Go easy,” said Mr. Allen in a quiet tone. “Sleepy has made lots of mistakes, and he hasn’t begun to do his share of the work here yet, but he’s going to do different from now on, I’m sure. Why did you leave your post, Sleepy?” He came forward and laid his hand on Sleepy’s shoulder. Sleepy shaded his face with his hand, for the tears were trickling down his cheeks, and he spoke with real effort.

“They frightened me terribly,” he said. “I’m sorry.” Then he rose from his seat, took his cap from the table, and went into the night. The fellows crowded up to the fire to warm their cold feet and talk it over. Mr. Allen was firm in his belief that Sleepy had good stuff in him, and he believed they were going to get it out at last.

“He knows he hasn’t played fair, fellows, and he’s out there now, squaring up with himself. To-night our friend, Sleepy, wins or loses a great fight in his life. If he loses, let’s not be too hard on him. If he wins, let’s help him. Remember, it’s the ‘Other Fellow First’ in this bunch.” They sat quietly looking into the fire for some minutes, then Ham broke the silence.

“Fellows, I believe I understand for the first time in my life an expression that always used to bother me. When my father invited me into the woodshed when I was a kid, he always prefaced each performance with this remark, ’Son, it hurts me a great deal more than it’s going to hurt you.’ After the performance I used to ponder that statement over and over and wonder how it could possibly be true. In fact, I didn’t believe it then, but now I do. Sleepy needed a good punishment; but, O my, I feel mean, now that it’s over!”

“We are often called on to do unpleasant things for the welfare of others,” remarked Mr. Dean; “but if Sleepy finds himself to-night, and I believe he will, we will all be glad we did it, himself included.” After a little time Sleepy came in. His step was steady and his manner easy. Ham shot a curious glance at him from the corner of his eye. He saw that Sleepy was smiling, and he felt a strange thrill, for he knew Sleepy had won. Sleepy came to the fire, and in a clear voice addressed the crowd:

“Fellows, I have something I would like to say before we go to bed.” It was very difficult for him to go on. “I am ashamed of myself to-night. I know I have never played fair with you fellows here, for I’m lazy I always have been. You know I am the only child, and I have been spoiled, for I’ve been taught to always let some one else do the work. I’m sorry.” He stopped, and in the pause he became confused.

“But but I’m going to do better, if you’ll give me another chance. I’ve just had a little argument with Sleepy Smith outside, and I whipped him in a fair fight. There is no more Sleepy; after this it’s George Smith, if you please. Sleepy and this crowd have had a falling out. Will you give me another chance?” he asked anxiously.

Ham was the first to cry out:

“Bet your life we will, old boy, put it there!” He rose and they shook hands.

“Sure thing!” cried Fat.

“Of course we will!” echoed Phil.

“Three cheers for Smith!” came from the others.

“Thanks,” was all Smith said, then he sat down and Mr. Allen took the floor. He had caught his cue from what Smith had said:

“Fellows, I think we, too, have made a mistake, and as long as Smith has been man enough to square himself with us, let us be men enough to square ourselves with him. We have always called him Sleepy, and he has been true to the name; but I never knew a boy yet who didn’t live up to what his best friends expected of him. Smith always knew we didn’t expect much, didn’t you, boy? Now, let’s expect more, and we’ll get more. Smith, we, too, are sorry. Let’s expect the best from every fellow and every fellow will give his best, although it will take real manhood to do it sometimes.”

Ham and Willis went out to take a last look at the donkeys before going to bed. As they stood on the step, talking things over, they were startled to hear, somewhere in the night air, the long-drawn bark of a dog. It came again and again. “Over in the next canyon,” was Ham’s remark. “Up by the old mine,” was Willis’s thought, as he turned and went into the cabin.

After breakfast Willis took the trail that led to his father’s mine. He went alone, for he had told no one of its discovery, not even Ham. He was not at all surprised to find the footprints of three men and a dog on the upper trail, and found no difficulty in following them to the mine. Once there, the first thing that attracted his attention was a new sign, nailed up in the place of the old tin one; on it, in bold, black letters, was written, “Private property, keep off!” The snow had been shoveled from one end of the dump, and it looked very much as if some of the rocks had been carried away. Willis wondered, but his reflections gave him no light. He noticed, however, that the tracks did not return down the trail, but ran off over the hill and into the next canyon. He made some careful observations, then returned to the cabin.

Upon Mr. Dean’s suggestion, the morning was spent in tobogganing in wood while the snow was good. It was great fun to see the great logs slide down with a long swish and pile up in front of the cabin. The fellows worked with a will, and by noon a large supply had been pulled in. The next thing was to cut it and pile it away in the house. Smith undertook to build a sawbuck, and, with Mr. Allen’s help, the job was soon accomplished. Every fellow then took his turn sawing off blocks until dinner time.

As they sat around the table enjoying a camp meal of fried ham, boiled rice, potatoes, rye bread, and coffee, a general discussion arose as to what the cabin should be named. They hoped to get the big bed filled with balsam boughs that afternoon before they started home, then the place would be ready for real use on a big scale; and, of course, it must have a name.

“Let’s call it Snowbird Retreat,” suggested Fat naively.

“Not on your life!” called Smith good-naturedly. “No snowbirds about this house; you want a good, warm, comfortable name. I’d freeze to death, or maybe get scared, if you called it that.”

“St. Mary’s Inn,” suggested Ham.

“O fiddle, sounds like an old Spanish mission,” objected another.

“The House that Ham Built,” suggested Mr. Dean.

“Buffalo Roost,” suggested Willis. “We certainly do love to roost around in here, and it’s in Buffalo Canyon.” After a very heated discussion, Buffalo Roost was chosen for the name, and Willis set about gathering twigs to make a rustic sign for over the door.

The wood all in, the dinner dishes washed, and the cabin put in order, the next thing to do was to thatch the big bed. O, what mountains of sweet-scented green boughs it took! One party, under Mr. Dean, pulled in pile after pile of boughs from up on the snow-covered hillside, while the other party cut and trimmed and laid them in. Choice large fans were laid in the bottom, the butts toward the foot, the bow of the branch uppermost. Then a thick layer of fine sprigs to fill in every hollow. Smith worked with a will, and enjoyed the day like he had no other since the work on the cabin had begun.

Never before had they so hated to leave the Roost, for every fellow was coming to love it and its companionship. It gave plenty of healthful action, good things to think about, and warm friends. It was building character and they did not know it. It was fitting a choice group of older fellows to work together in the community life about them, working for the welfare and comfort of others, forgetting themselves in their unselfish service.

In the late afternoon it began to snow again, and by the time they were well on their way home it was falling fast.

“Getting in that wood was a wise stunt,” observed Smith, “for the next time we see the old Roost it will probably be snowbound.”

Old Ben had been watching for their return most of the afternoon. As they came across the stream and up to the road below the inn, he called Mr. Allen to the door.

“I jist want t’ ask ye if that tarnal varmit, Williams, has been botherin’ yew fellers any sence he started work on that new claim o’ hisn. If they ever was a sneakin’ whelp, he’s it. He couldn’t get possession o’ Tad’s tunnel; he darsent touch it, so he’s gone an’ started a tunnel on the other side o’ that dyke. He’s been workin’ it, now, off an’ on all this fall, but I didn’t know it till they brought a wounded man from there yesterday. Seem a stone mashed his foot bad. They stopped here to rest a bit, an’ I seed the feller. I’ve knowed him these ten years, an’ he’s a devil. Does dirty work fer any tarnal critter at’ll pay him well fer it. Served him right. I s’pose you saw something of them last night, as they went back up to the mine. There was three of ’em and a mean lookin’ dog.” Mr. Allen listened in silence. He was wondering just what Old Ben knew of this Williams, and why he should be so interested in the boys at the cabin.

“Ben,” he said, and he looked the old man straight in the eye, “do you know a man named Tad Kieser?” Ben dropped his eyes and shuffled his foot aimlessly on the floor.

“Yep, I know him, boy, an’ a finer man never walked these here hills. Too fine a man to get along with varmits!”

“Is he still living, Ben?”

“Yep, still livin’. He’ll be a poppin’ up in these parts one o’ these days, an’ then you’ll see who’s boss at that tunnel up yonder. I’ve always said they was gold there, but Tad never would go into the mine again after the accident. That varmit, Williams, believes same as I do, or he wouldn’t be a diggin’ that hole on t’ other side o’ the dyke. If he er any o’ the rest o’ them fellers bothers ye any at the cabin, jist let me know; I’ll take ker o’ them fer ye. Good-night.” He went inside and closed the door. Mr. Allen hurried along, and, catching up with the crowd, he called Willis aside to tell him what Ben had said all except that Tad was living and Ben knew where he was. That much he kept secret. Willis listened intently, then he told of how he heard the dog bark in the night.

When Willis reached the Association that evening he was handed a telephone call. He noted that it was the home number, and he realized in an instant what had happened. His aunt had grown very much worse Friday night, and had died early Saturday morning. He hastened home to do what he could and to comfort his mother.