Read CHAPTER I - PERILS OF THE MOUNTAIN TRAIL. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“How is the cripple crowd coming on these days? Hello! Step Hen, any more snake bites? Hope you’re not limping with that other leg, now?”

“I should say not, Thad. But I’m always going to believe you did a lot to keep the poison from getting into my system, when you sucked that wound.”

“And how about your game limb, Giraffe was it the right, or the left you bruised so badly on the stones when you fell?”

“The left one, Thad; but thank goodness it’s healing up just prime, now. That magic salve did the business in great shape, I tell you.”

“Allan, I notice that you still have a halt once in a while. That old bear trap sure took a nasty grip on your leg, didn’t it, though?”

“It gave me an ugly pinch, Mr. Scout Master; and only for the fact of the springs being so weak and rusty that the owners had abandoned the trap, I might have been lame for three months. The witch hazel liniment you rubbed on helped a lot.”

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re all such a grateful lot, considering the little I was able to do for you. It’s sure a pleasure to be patrol leader and assistant scoutmaster to such a wide-awake lot of boys as we have in the Silver Fox Patrol. Don’t you think so, Toby Smathers?”

Thad Brewster turned a smiling face upon the sole man of the party, a genuine woods-ranger, such as the Government employs to look after the great forest reservations in the region of the Rocky Mountains, and the Coast, away up in the Northwest region.

“Wall, it strikes me they’re a purty lively lot of scouts, all right; and lucky at that to hev a leader as leads, and holds the reins tight over ’em. And I’m glad myself to be guide to such a hefty bunch. That’s what I’m asayin’, Mr. Scout Master,” the party addressed replied.

Outside of the guide there were just eight lads in the party; and from the fact that various parts of their attire suggested the well known khaki uniform which all Boy Scouts wear, the world around it was evident that these young fellows belonged to such an organization.

This was the exact fact, since they had come from far-away Cranford in an Eastern State, and were known as the Silver Fox Patrol of Cranford Troop; there being another patrol known as the Eagles, mustered in during the late winter.

Thad Brewster was the patrol leader; he was also a First Class Scout, and had qualified for the position of Assistant Scout Master, receiving his certificate from Headquarters many moons before.

Second in charge came Allan Hollister, a Maine boy, who had had considerable actual experience in wood’s life, and to whom the rest of the patrol naturally turned whenever a knotty problem faced them during an outing.

The exceedingly fat and good-natured youth was Bumpus Hawtree, bugler of the troop, even though just now he was minus the instrument on which he was accustomed to sound the various calls, such as “reveille,” “assembly,” “taps,” and so on, the most popular being the second, as it was usually associated with meals. Bumpus had been looked upon as the real tenderfoot scout, up to recently; but having become lost in the big timber recently, he had acquitted himself so splendidly, as recorded in the preceding volume, that his mates now regarded him as one who had been keeping his light under a bushel.

Then there was Bob White, otherwise Robert White Quail, a Southern boy, warm of heart, a faithful friend, and upon whom the leader could always depend in emergencies; Step Hen Bingham, whose real name of course was Stephen, but upon appearing at school for the first time he had insisted that it was pronounced as though made up of two syllables; Davy Jones, an athletic lad; Giraffe, really Conrad, Stedman, but given the significant nick-name because of a habit he had of stretching an exceedingly long neck most outrageously; and last but far from least, a dudish looking boy who at home answered when they called him Edmund Maurice Travers Smith; but among his playmates he was known simply as “Smithy.”

These Boy Scouts had seen some pretty lively times during the past year or so, down in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where they visited the former home of Bob White, and found themselves mixed up with the moonshiners of that wild, inhospitable region; and later on up in Maine, where they had gone partly on business for Thad’s adopted father and guardian, and to enjoy an outing, with a little hunting thrown in.

It happened that here among the pine woods of Maine, they were instrumental in recovering some valuable bonds and other papers that had been stolen from a bank, and for which a large reward had been offered. With this money in the treasury of the troop, they were able to lay out a great trip to the Rocky Mountain region for the following summer. As the money really belonged to the eight lads individually, they felt justified in using it in this manner; for the second patrol had only been formed after the Cranford boys learned what glorious times the Silver Foxes were having right along.

One guide who had been hired had gone off with a party of big-horn hunters, who lured him with better pay, and the other had been taken down sick; so it came that the boys actually started toward the mountains without a convoy, their tents and camp-duffle being loaded on a couple of comical pack mules known as Mike and Molly, which animals afforded more or less amusement and excitement from time to time.

They had heard of Toby Smathers, and only good words. In coming to this particular region they had hoped to run across the ranger, and secure him for their service while in the valleys and mountains; for he was said to be patrolling the big timber country, on which some thieving lumbermen were suspected of having set envious eyes.

And by great good luck the boys had happened to meet up with Toby, after passing through a great variety of thrilling experiences, connected with the hunt for the tenderfoot who had “gone out to find his bear.” And as the ranger was able to engage with them for the balance of their stay in the mountains, Thad and his companions now felt that they need hesitate no longer, but might strike boldly into the heart of the Rockies.

They had various objects in wanting to come out to this far distant region. Several who had the hunting fever burning in their veins, had sighed for a glimpse of big game, grizzlies and such; then another, who was rapidly being taken with the photographic craze, being Davy Jones, expressed a wish to snap off wild animals and birds in their native haunts, the famous big horn sheep for instance taking one of his amazing plunges over a precipice; Smithy was interested in wild flowers, and had heard great stories concerning the pretty ones that were to be found out here; and then there were several others who yearned for excitement in any shape or style, so long as it thrilled their pulses which was the natural boy spirit, always feeding on action.

Some days had passed since the coming of the guide, and the breaking up of the camp at the foot of the noisy rapids, where three of the boys had remained while their companions were off for days, tracking the wandering Bumpus.

They had started into the mountains, and were at the time this conversation took place surrounded by the wildest scenery that any of them had ever looked upon.

The trail led along precipitous paths, often with a wall of rock on one side, and a yawning abyss on the other, down which the boys could look and see trees growing that seemed to be dwarfed, but which the guide assured them were of fairly respectable size.

As a rule the scouts were a rollicking set, full of jokes, and even playing innocent little tricks upon each other; but somehow the grandeur of the scenery, as well as the dangers of that mountain trail, rather stilled their spirits. Thad had also taken pains to warn them that practical pranks would be out of order during their stay in the mountains. He had heard of several that had turned out tragedies; and wanted to carry no ill tidings home to dear old Cranford, when the patrol set their faces that way.

Step Hen had one trait from which nothing ever seemed capable of breaking him. He was exceedingly careless by nature, and forever misplacing things that belonged to him. And the fun of it was, that he could never see how the fault lay with himself; but kept bewailing the misfortune that always picked him out as a victim; just as though some invisible little imp were haunting his footsteps forever, and watching for opportunities to hide his belongings in the most unheard-of places. It did not matter that they were usually found just where Step Hen had himself dropped them in a moment of absent-mindedness; he would grumble to himself, and observe his companions suspiciously, as though he really believed they had been playing a little joke upon him after all.

Thad had even lain awake nights, figuring on how the other might be radically cured of this failing; for Step Hen had many admirable traits of character, and it seemed a great pity that his record as a scout should be marred by so tenacious a fault. But up to the present the scoutmaster had not been able to build up a scheme that promised to effect a cure. And every once in a while the complaining voice of Step Hen might be heard in the land, wondering “where in Sam Hill that knife of mine has disappeared to; last time I had it I was mighty careful to put it away in the sheath; and now it’s gone like magic. Who sneaked it off me, tell me that? Funny how it’s only my things that disappear all the time. Oh! is that it sticking up there in the tree, Giraffe? You say you saw me put it there? Well, I don’t remember the least thing about that. Guess you must have been dreaming; but of course I’m glad to find it again. I wish people would use their own knives.”

Perhaps, some time or other Step Hen might be given a lesson that would make so lasting an impression on him that he would begin to see the absurdity of being careless. Thad often felt that he would like to help the good work along, if ever the chance arrived.

Smithy was more than a little curious in his way. He possessed a kindly nature, too, and had made friends with Mike, one of the pack mules. Often in the goodness of his heart the dude scout would walk alongside the burden bearer, talking to him, and patting the animal’s nose. Sometimes Mike resented these attentions, for he was only a mule after all, and all scouts looked alike according to his manner of thinking.

Smithy was walking there now, having the leading rope that was connected with Mike in his hand; in fact, he had wrapped it around his wrist absent-mindedly. And as he talked confidingly to the animal, he was also engaged in rubbing Mike’s nose. Twice the mule had plainly given him to understand that he preferred to be let alone while staggering along these mountain trails, bearing that big pack on his sturdy back; but Smithy was really thinking about some wonderfully beautiful wild flowers he had seen clinging to the face of a precipice further back, and wishing he might be so lucky as to get hold of such a prize; so that he paid no attention to the impatient thrust from the mule’s nose.

It happened just then that Thad, Allan and the guide were in the advance. Something engrossed their attention, and they were holding an earnest talk-fest among themselves. Had it been otherwise, Toby Smathers, who knew mule nature like a book, must surely have warned the kindly Smithy that Mike was in a most irritable frame of mind, and that he would do well to leave him severely alone for the present.

Behind Smithy and Mike came Davy Jones, carrying his little camera, and looking for new worlds to conquer. He had snapped off the procession several times, and of course the mules always occupied posts of honor in the pictures. Back of him Bob White and Step Hen were sauntering along, telling stories, and observing things in general; after them came Bumpus, puffing and blowing with the exertion; while Giraffe brought up the rear, leading the other pack animal, known as Molly; and just about as full of tricks as Mike ever dreamed of being.

Thad was in the act of pointing toward the valley, glimpses of which they could obtain from their lofty position, when he heard a tremendous outcry from the rear that gave him a bad shock. Turning like a flash, the scoutmaster discovered that one of the patrol was missing. There was no need to ask who it was, for there he saw Mike, the pack mule, with his feet pushed out to keep himself from being pulled over the edge of the shelf of rock; while the taut rope told that poor Smithy must be dangling at the other end, with an ugly fall threatening him if by chance the rope came loose from his wrist, where he had wrapped it!