Read CHAPTER IV - THE LETTERS OF FIRE ON THE CLIFF. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

Every one of the scouts was on his feet by this time, even fat Bumpus managing to struggle erect with the rest. And strange to say, the supper that was just about to be dished out was for the time being utterly swallowed up in this new and thrilling excitement.

They trooped after Thad and Giraffe, the latter still hanging on to his blazing torch. Toby was left alone by the fire; but after making sure that the supper was in no danger of burning up, the cool, level-headed guide followed his charges over to the spot where Giraffe had happened to be standing, when he noticed the odd signals from up on the face of the cliff.

“Where is it right now, Giraffe?” demanded Davy Jones.

“Nothin’ doin’!” added Step Hen, in disgust. “Now what d’ye think of that? The feller had his own eyes blinded by whirling his old blaze around so much, that he just thought he glimpsed another light up there. Say, p’raps Thad hit the thing on the head when he mentioned a star. Like as not now, Giraffe, he just saw one peepin’ over the top of the mountains at him, and thought it winked. Well, this takes the cake; and all that fine supper gettin’ cold while we’re gaping out here. It’s a burnin’ shame, that’s what it is. Me for the fire again.”

“Wait!” said Thad, in that tone of authority that always found ready respect from the scouts under him; it was the scoutmaster, and not their chum, who spoke, whenever Thad used that very stern voice.

“Give you my word for it, Thad, I saw it again and again,” Giraffe went on, as if he felt that his veracity as a scout was hanging in the balance.

“Point out the exact place,” said Thad, promptly.

“I can do it all right, and don’t you forget it, Step Hen,” declared the tall scout, eagerly; and accordingly, raising his torch, he held it stationary at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees.

“Right there she was, Thad; and if you look close now, p’raps you c’n see a sorter glow like,” he went on, again showing excitement.

“I believe I do,” replied Thad. “Here, give me that torch of yours, Giraffe.”

“What are you goin’ to do, Thad?” asked the other, even while he complied with the request, which was in the shape of a command.

“Try and see if I can get a raise again.”

As Thad said this he started to wave the torch in several ways. Now he lifted it and lowered it rapidly; then it went out at an angle; and followed with several circles, or possibly a diagonal dash.

And Giraffe saw that he was spelling out the word:


Eagerly they waited to see the result.

As the last letter was formed, and the wind-up sign made to indicate the message had been completed, to the astonishment of most of the boys there was a sudden response. Away up on the face of what seemed to be a high cliff a light appeared, and began to cut strange figures and lines in the air, as an arm swung it to and fro. And Thad, as he started to read the letters, realized that whoever it might be trying to get in communication with those in the valley, he certainly knew his Morse code all right; indeed a regular telegrapher and wigwag artist belonging to the Signal Corps of the United States Army could hardly have shown more proficiency in the business.

Regularly then, without a hitch, the fiery finger outlined against the dark background spelled out the significant word:


Thad read each letter aloud, for the benefit of those among the scouts who, not being so well along in the work, might have some difficulty in following those wizard flashes to and fro, up and down, and around.

“Just like I said, ain’t it, Thad?” breathed Giraffe, as if he felt that his reputation, assailed by Step Hen, had been fully vindicated; but the scoutmaster did not bother answering his question, since he had his mind wholly bent upon solving the mystery of the mountains.

Again he started making erratic movements with the torch he gripped in his right hand; and the staring Giraffe read what the patrol leader was saying to the unknown party perched aloft.

“What is the matter?”

Then the light appeared again, and it seemed as though the other might purposely be keeping it concealed between messages; and back came the startling answer, which Thad spelled aloud as it was sent:

“In trouble come up help me!”

“Great governor! what d’ye suppose ails him?” exclaimed Giraffe, seldom being able to keep a still tongue in his head, especially when excited very much; and just then he was quivering all over with nervous eagerness to solve the mystery.

“Somebody bring me another stick from the fire,” said Thad; “this one is getting burnt out. Giraffe, you go, because you’ll know what kind I want better than any of the others.”

Giraffe might have felt like rebelling, because he hated the worst kind to lose a single word of that mighty interesting exchange of signals; but Thad, as usual, had been wise enough to coat the order with a little subtle flattery that served as oil to lubricate matters. Since none of the other scouts could be trusted to select the right kind of torch necessary for signaling purposes, why, of course Giraffe must sacrifice all other personal desires, for the common good. And so he walked toward the fire, though most of the time that long neck of his kept “rubbering” backward, so as to give him something of a chance to see what came next on the programme.

“Who are you?” Thad waved upward, each letter being clear and distinct; for the scout leader knew the folly of running them into one another, and confusing the receiving end of the battery.

“Aleck Rawson!”

When Thad had spelled this out, various exclamations arose from the boys.

“Rawson why, that was the name of the man who found the silver mine up in this country, wasn’t it, Toby?” cried Davy Jones, voicing the thought that had flashed into the mind of every boy just then.

“It sure was,” replied the guide.

“Can this be him, then; has he been a prisoner all these years?” gasped Smithy; at which there was a scornful laugh from the others.

“His name wa’n’t Aleck; near as I kin remember ’twas Jerry,” said Toby.

“P’raps, suh, he had a son?” suggested Bob White.

“Just what I was going to remark,” added Allan, eagerly.

The intelligence that had come to them in that last reply had created a sensation among the scouts. Indeed, even Thad was so astonished that for the moment he could not find words in which to continue the interesting conversation by fire.

Then his torch expired.

“Hurry Giraffe, and fetch me that other light!” he called; but there was hardly any need of saying this, because the party in question was already advancing by kangaroo-like leaps, covering ground in a manner simply miraculous.

“What was that last he said?” he demanded, and Step Hen made haste to answer, partly because he wanted to stagger the tall scout; and then perhaps he realized that Giraffe would really give them no peace until he was told:

“Said his name was Aleck Rawson remember what Toby told us about the man who found the mine long years ago! Well, this might happen to be his boy, we think.”

“Keep still! Thad’s going to talk some more!” grumbled Bumpus.

Again did the fire signaling go on; and the new torch selected by the expert Giraffe proved even better that the one that had burned out. Letter by letter did Thad send a long message, and Allan spelled it out as it progressed; so that by the time it was completed every one knew just what had been flashed upward toward the unseen receiving party above.

“Can we get up to where you are?”

Now the fiery finger in the darkness began to write an answer; every letter was plainly carried out, so that not in a signal instance did Thad “trip up” as he read it aloud.

“Yes, but come quick bring rope might fall any minute!”

“I bet you he’s hanging on to a little narrow shelf of rock!” declared Bumpus.

“But if he is, how in the dickens could he get the fire to signal with; that’s what bothers me?” muttered Giraffe.

“Where are you?” signaled the scoutmaster, promptly, thinking to get all the information possible while the chance remained.

“On a ledge part way down the cliff,” answered the one who had said his was Aleck Rawson.

“How did you get there?” went on Thad.

“Lowered here, and left to die like a dog,” came the stunning answer.

“Did you ever hear the equal of that?” cried out Bumpus. “Now what sort of people could ever be guilty of such a horrible thing as that, I’d like to know?”

“Oh!” remarked the guide, “they’s a heap of bad men around these parts, I tell ye; but I got a notion I kin see through a board that’s got a knot-hole in it. Ask him who put him there, Mr. Scout Master, please?”

Thad would have done this, even though Toby had not spoken; indeed, he was even then about to start putting the question.

“Who put you there?”

“Colonel Knocker did will you come and get me?”

“The old villain!” gasped Bumpus. “He ought to be tarred and feathered for such a wicked piece of work. What d’ye suppose he did it for? I wonder now, if this same Aleck Rawson could know anything about the secret of that hidden mine; and Cracker-jack John just wants to torture him till he tells?”

“That sounds like it, Bumpus; you’re good at guessing things, after all,” remarked Step Hen.

“Keep still, back there; Thad’s sending another message!” warned Giraffe.

And in his steady way, the scoutmaster went on to flash back the reassuring words:

“Yes, we will come to you. Hold on! It may take us some time. Start right away!”

“Thank you!” came from above, and then the light that had moved backward and forward, up and down, and around in eccentric circles, vanished, as though with that last word the torch, if that was what it was, had been exhausted.

But at least it had served long enough to bear a startling message to the boys of the Silver Fox Patrol, camping there in the valley of the great Rockies.

“Now what?” exclaimed the impatient Giraffe.

Somehow, not one of them gave the waiting supper a single thought just then; for this new and exciting diversion had made them utterly forget such a thing as being hungry.

“I want several of you to go along with me,” said Thad; “Toby for one, because of his strong arms, in case we have to do any lifting; also Giraffe; and Allan, perhap you’d like to be in the party also?”

“I certainly would,” declared the Maine boy instantly; “if you think I can be spared from the camp.”

“Oh!” said Thad, “they’ll get on all right here, because every fellow will be put on his honor not to stray away from the fire while we’re gone. Bumpus, please let me have that rope you carry with you. It’s proved valuable several times already, and may come in all right again.”

Bumpus had a very queer idea, in that he persisted in carrying a thin, braided rope wrapped around his body. It was of the sash cord species, slender, but extra strong. Bumpus had seen the great need of a rope once or twice, and made up his mind that he would never be without one, when abroad in the woods or wilderness. And it had proven useful to him too; in fact, but for its possession Bumpus might not have been there, so blithe and happy, at that very moment. Having unfortunately become mired in a slimy mudhole when lost in the big timber, he was slowly sinking on account of his desperate efforts to get out, when he happened to notice the convenient limb of a tree just a couple of feet over his head; and remembering his rope, he had thrown it, doubled, over the same; and by making a tremendous spurt, managed to drag his feet out of the sucking mud, climbing to safety.

And of course after that nothing could ever induce the fat scout to think of abandoning that precious rope.

So he started to unwind it now; and as if this might be a signal for some of the boys to assist, they seized hold of Bumpus, pulling at the rope, until they had him whirling around in a dizzy fashion, protesting all the while, but without any avail. Finally the rope was wholly unwound, and Bumpus found himself sitting there on the ground, with the stars waving in all sorts of queer circles over his head, for he felt as “rocky” as though he had been indulging in strong drink.

“But be awful careful of that rope, won’t you, Thad?” he managed to call out, as the scoutmaster started to coil it up for carrying.

“I certainly will, Bumpus,” replied the other; “and thank you for the loan of it. Come on, those who are going with me; take your guns along, even if we don’t find any use for them. And say, you fellows in camp, save our share of supper for us, remember!”