Read CHAPTER II - TIDINGS OF THE LOST MINE. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“Help! help! Smithy’s tumbled over the edge of the precipice!”

That was Step Hen shouting. He had happened to be the nearest one to the unfortunate scout, when Mike gave the other an impatient shove with his nose, that made Smithy lose his balance, and topple over the brink.

Thad never lost a second, but went on the jump toward the spot where the stubborn jack stood, with his sturdy little legs braced like steel, as though determined not to be pulled over just because Smithy had stepped off the trail.

Reaching the spot, Thad threw himself down on his face. He could peer over the edge, and see the dangling scout. Smithy was squirming at a tremendous rate, doubtless terrified at the sudden mishap that had overtaken him, and which came when he was dreaming of other things.

“Stop wriggling that way, Smithy!” called the patrol leader; “it won’t do any good, and may shake the rope loose from your wrist! Here, try and get hold with your other hand; and grip it good and fast. We’ll have you up in a jiffy, never fear!”

“Oh! Thad!” gasped the poor fellow, whose face was as white as chalk when he turned it appealingly upward; nevertheless Smithy had learned the quality of obedience, and particularly when he heard the acting scoutmaster speak; so that almost mechanically he groped around with his free hand until his fingers came in contact with the taut rope, when they closed upon it tenaciously; just as a drowning man will cling to the first thing he clutches that seems to hold out a single ray of hope.

“Let me help,” said a quiet voice close to Thad’s ear; and he knew that it was Allan who spoke Allan, always self-possessed and cool, even in the most trying conditions.

Thad was only too glad to have an assistant, for he could never have lifted the imperiled lad alone, since Smithy was no light weight; and did not know enough to help himself by digging the toes of his boots into crevices of the rocks, so as to ease the terrific strain on his arms.

“Hold on tight, Smithy; it’s all right, and you’re not going to fall, understand that now. So, up you come, my boy! Another pull like that, and we’ll sure have you on deck again. Easy now with that rope back there; Step Hen, hold to the mule, and keep him quiet, will you?”

Thad said all this in a reassuring, matter-of-fact tone, that was better calculated to put confidence into the faint heart of Smithy than anything else could. Step Hen and Davy Jones caught hold of the obstreperous Mike, almost frantic because of these strange carryings-on, and held him tight, so that he might not interfere with the critical work of rescue.

And so Smithy was finally pulled over the edge. Once Thad managed to secure a grip of the collar of his scout coat, he knew everything was serene, for that khaki cloth was firm and sound, and capable of bearing almost any strain.

The rescued scout sprawled on the shelf, panting hard. His face was still ghastly white, for Smithy lacked greatly in fortitude, and needed building up as much as the other tenderfoot, Bumpus, had, before his adventures in the big timber, that had gone so far to raise him in the estimation of his chums.

“Whew! that was a close shave!” exclaimed Giraffe, from the rear, where he had been holding on the other mule with more or less difficulty; because, when Molly discovered that her mate was in some sort of panic, she also wanted to frisk around, and cut up, after the way of mules in general.

Step Hen and Davy Jones were poking their heads over the edge, curious to know just what Smithy had been saved from. The former turned, and grinned.

“Guess you might have been bruised some, Smithy, if you’d gone on down;” he remarked; “but there’s a big shelf that was waiting to grab you, just five feet under your toes. But as you didn’t know that, and thought the drop was half a mile, more or less, I don’t blame you for feeling shaky about it.”

Smithy recovered sufficiently to insist on crawling to the edge, and also peering over. When he really found that what Step Hen said was the truth, it seemed to annoy him, strange to say.

“Now, isn’t that provoking,” he declared, in his precise way of talking that he had learned from his maiden aunts; “why, if I had only been aware of that circumstance, what an amount of mental suffering it would have saved me. When a fellow gets such a fright as that, he likes to know that it was worth while.”

The journey was soon resumed; but Thad saw to it that some one else besides Smithy held the leading rope of the tricky Mike. Perhaps the mule might never afterwards try the same game; and then again he was liable to break out in a new direction; for there was a little demon in that wicked eye of his, Thad thought.

Already they were on the downward grade. By the time night arrived, the guide hoped they would have reached the lower canyons, where a camp might be made. All of the boys were really tired of climbing about among so many dangerous narrow paths, and would welcome the coming of the time when they could move around without constant danger of being dashed to death over some precipice.

None of them claimed to be born mountain climbers. They preferred to take their fun in some other way.

When the route changed somewhat in its character, so that the little party could gather more together, an animated conversation broke out. The guide was fairly flooded with questions concerning the country, and what he knew about its past.

“I’ve been all through here many’s the time,” Toby declared, waving a hand to cover the surroundings generally. “And some other fellers, they’ve jest been fairly hauntin’ these regions in years past; but ’twa’n’t any use; for they never could find that old mine again.”

“What’s that?” demanded Step Hen, scenting an interesting item, for he was always on the look-out for such things as seemed to promise a touch of mystery.

“A mine; what kind was it, Toby; who lost it; and why haven’t they been able to find it any more?” asked Giraffe, eagerly; while Bumpus crowded closer, for he had a little mercenary streak in his make-up, and was keen to discover a chance to lay by another store of hard cash, that might insure a succession of glorious outings for the Silver Foxes.

The guide seemed nothing loth to tell what little he knew.

“Why, you see, thar was a man named Rawson met him lots of times myself; and one time after he’d been pokin’ about in this section, prospectin’, he came to Greeley with his pockets just bulgin’ out with the richest silver ore ever seen. All he’d say was he’d struck a lode that was mighty nigh the pure stuff. Then he went away, to try an’ get up a company to work his mine, they sez, an’ he never kim back. Nobody never knowed whatever became of Rawson; but heaps of folks has hunted high an’ low to find his rich mine. Why, thar was that old miner, Kunnel John Kracker, I jest reckon he spent as much as four months several times up around here, pokin’ into the most unlikely places you ever heard tell of. They sez as how he was so dead sot on findin’ that same lost silver mine, that he near went dippy over it.”

“And nobody has ever managed to locate it again, since that day so many years ago; is that what you mean, Toby?” asked Thad.

“So she seems, Mr. Scout Master,” replied the other, who always gave Thad this full appellation when addressing him.

“Bumpus, what in the wide world are you chuckling at, back there?” demanded Davy Jones.

“Don’t you know Bumpus enough,” laughed Allan, “to guess that already he sees the wonderful Silver Foxes discovering that lost silver mine, and just grabbing handfuls of cash right out of it, to pay the expenses of the next trip where’s it going to be another time, Bumpus; down to the gulf, cruising; or along the Mexican border; for you know scouts should never go outside the borders of their own country?”

“Well, why not?” demanded the fat boy, defiantly; “look back at the stunts we’ve carried through so far, and tell me if it would be so very strange if we just happened to drop in on this old hidden mine of the Rockies? Luck camps on the trail of the Silver Fox Patrol every time; and I’m ready to shake hands with anything that needs clearing up. You just wait, and see if I’m so far off, that’s all.”

“And just to think of his name being John Kracker; now, what boy could ever keep from twisting that around, and calling him a cracker-jack?” chuckled Giraffe.

“That’s a good one, all right,” declared the guide, laughing heartily; “and I’m some surprised, I am, that nobody ever thought to put that same on the kunnel afore this. I wish you could aseen him, boys. Why, he’s as fat as er ”

“You needn’t look at me that way, Toby,” burst out Bumpus, instantly, for he was more or less touchy with respect to his size. “I’m taperin’ down right along these days. Why, I don’t reckon I weigh within three pounds as much as I did when we said good-bye to Cranford.”

“And you lost all of that the time you walked and walked for days, huntin’ for your bear!” put in Davy Jones.

“Well, I got him, all right, didn’t I, tell me that?” asked Bumpus, proudly, as he patted the double-barreled ten gauge Marlin shotgun, which he insisted on carrying across his shoulder, while most of the others were satisfied to secure their guns to the pack saddles.

“You sure did,” replied Davy, willing to give honor where honor was due.

“I was jest agoin’ to say, the kunnel, he’s as fat as all get-out,” Toby went on, a twinkle in his eye telling how much he really enjoyed these little skirmishes between some of his charges. “But all the same, he’s the most energetic critter you ever seen. And temper, say, he’s gettin’ as red in the face as a turkey buzzard, struttin’ around with a chip on its wing, ready for a fight. I ’spect some day the kunnel, he’ll jest blow up, and disappear in a cloud of steam. And p’raps after all you might git a chanct to set eyes on him yet; because I heard down at Greeley, last time I was thar, that he’d passed through with a couple of fellers, and packs; so it looked like he meant to give that pesky lost mine another whirl, makin’ p’raps the fourth time he’s been up thisaways.”

“Glad to hear it,” spoke up Bumpus. “Makes it more interesting to know that he’s still got some faith in the story of the lost Rawson mine. But I’m real sorry for Colonel Kracker, because he’s a back number since the Foxes have come to town. If he knows what’s good for him he’ll go away back and sit down.”

“It’s refreshing just to hear you say that, Bumpus,” declared Allan.

“He’s just talking for the fun of hearin’ himself, that’s what?” grumbled Step Hen. “What sort of chance would we have, a lot of greenhorns who never yet saw a silver mine; against an old-timer like him? For one I’m not going to take any sort of stock in the yarn. Like as not it’s just one of the thousands of lies that are circulated all through the mining regions. Why, I’ve heard that there are just any amount of wonderful lost mines that never existed, my dad says, except in the mind of some crank. And my dad ought to know, because he owns stock in heaps of mines that was salted dreadful, just to sell to innocent people in the East.”

“About this Rawson who was said to have found the silver lode that was nearly pure,” Thad remarked, wishing to pick up more information; “what sort of a man was he, Toby you said you used to know him once, I believe?”

“A pretty fair an’ square sort of a prospector; and they sez as how he was that tickled over his rich find, sayin’ that now his fambly could enjy some of the comforts o’ life. Seems like his fust thought was ’bout them. But I never knowed whar he lived, except that it was somewhar down in Utah among the Mormons; though to be sure he wasn’t belongin’ to the plural wife colony, not much. Seemed to think all the world ’bout the one wife, and the children he’d got.”

“Then it’s too bad poor Rawson never lived to profit by his discovery,” went on the scoutmaster. “If he’d only been able to hand the key to his find over to his family, they might long ago have come in for a fair share of the profits of the lode. Well, Bumpus, if, as you seem to believe, in that stubborn way of yours, that the Foxes are just bound to tumble into this lost mine, we’ll remember, boys, to hunt up the family of Rawson, and let them share in our luck. And now, as the afternoon is getting along, we’d better be thinking of hurrying, if we hope to camp in the valley this coming night.”

They made a little spurt, though it was always next to impossible to hurry those two independent pack animals, as contrary by nature as anything could be. Step Hen indeed declared they would do well to turn the animals around, and pretend to want to go in the other direction; when Mike and Molly would keep on backing until they had reached the valley below in good style.

The sun was of course out of sight behind the mountainous wall standing like a great barrier in the west, when the little company of scouts finally reached the base of the eastern ridge.

“Thar’s a hunky camp site jest over beyond that bunch of trees, boys;” the guide announced; “plenty of good drinkin’ water for man, an’ beast too. So let’s head that way. Reckon you-all must be some tired with that long trip in acrost the range.”

Five minutes later, and they drew up at the spot, which Thad immediately saw was just the place for pilgrims to pass a night.

“Hello! there’s been a fire here!” exclaimed Giraffe, always on the lookout for anything that pertained to a blaze; for he was the greatest fire worshipper ever known.

The guide flung himself down beside the ashes, and felt of them; while the scouts waited to hear what his report would be.

“Somebody camped here jest last night,” declared the forest ranger, quickly; “and like as not ‘twar that olé Kunnel Kracker an’ his party, bound to comb these mountains onct more, lookin’ for the lost silver mine!”