Read CHAPTER VI - BACKED BY THE SILVER FOX PATROL. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“Hurrah for you, Aleck!” exclaimed Giraffe, unable to repress his feelings any longer.

Thad himself felt just as full of enthusiasm over the brave manner in which this son of Jerry Rawson had defied the man whose one desire in life now seemed to be the discovery and confiscation of the rich mine that had eluded his eager fingers for so many years; but he knew better how to repress his delight.

They were starting along the top of the precipice now. Toby leading the way, and every now and then turning his head, to warn them of a particularly risky place. Thad had made sure to coil up that precious rope belonging to generous Bumpus, and which had so frequently proven to be worth its weight in gold. Never again would Giraffe laugh at the queer conceit of the fat scout in connection with the carrying of that window-sash cord.

As the going was so difficult, and as a rule they were strung out in single file, Thad thought that it would be just as well to defer all explanations until they had arrived safely in camp. Besides, that course would save Aleck from going over things twice; since those who were not present would naturally be just as anxious to hear the particulars as they were.

So they spent all the time in making sure that they did not lose their footing, and take ugly tumbles; for the way was very steep, and the moonlight, after all, rather treacherous to depend upon wholly.

Thad figured, from the clock in the heavens which he knew how to read so well, (figuring on the position of the moon, and the multitude of stars, from Sirius, and the blazing Belt of Orion, the Hunter, in the northeast; to bright Venus in the west, now just about to vanish behind the mountain ridge,) that they had been gone all of two hours, when once more they approached the burning fire.

They could see some of the scouts around the blaze, and as they drew near, the voice of Davy Jones called out sternly:

“Halt! who goes there?”

“Friends!” replied Thad, carrying out the humor of the thing.

“Advance friends, and give the countersign!” the sentry demanded.

“Silver Fox Patrol!” replied the scoutmaster, continuing to stride forward, and closely followed by all the others of the returning party.

“Did you get him, Thad?” asked Davy, instantly allowing his boyish curiosity to over-ride all soldierly qualities.

“That’s what we did; and he’s here with us, as hungry as they make them,” replied the patrol leader.

“Oh! I only hope you kept lots of grub; I’m that hungry I c’n hardly walk,” declared Giraffe.

“After snatching all you did too, when you went off?” complained Step Hen.

“But think what we’ve done since, will you?” argued the tall scout, as he pushed into camp, and hastened to settle down in a good spot, with the air of one who naturally anticipated being waited on by his chums.

“Well, we cooked a lot more,” Smithy hastened to remark; “because, you see, we just calculated that you would be fairly ravenous, after your exertions. And so this is Aleck Rawson; delighted to meet you; my name is ”

“Cut that out; we call him plain Smithy!” broke in Step Hen; “and I’m Step Hen Bingham. The fat feller is Bumpus Hawtree; this other is Bob White; while the one who gave you that challenge is Davy Jones. He’ll shake hands with you by offering one of his feet, because he’s standing on his head about as much as the other way.”

And Aleck went around, shaking hands heartily. Plainly they could see that he was more than delighted to meet with such a hearty reception; and just when it seemed as though he needed friends the worst kind.

So the newcomers were quickly waited on, and found that a bountiful supply of supper had indeed been prepared against their coming, and by boys who knew what a mountain appetite meant, too.

By degrees those who had been left in camp were told just how the rescue had been effected; and then Aleck started in to tell something about his experiences.

“I live with my mother and sisters in a town called Logan, down in the northern part of Utah. My father died several years ago, when I was a little shaver. He had just come back home, and told us he had struck it rich, and we would never want again, when he was taken down with a fever; and after being sick a week, he died. The last thing he did in his delirium was to press a little pocket looking glass, with a cracked front, into my hands, and close my fingers on it, like he wanted me to keep it. And we thought it was just imagination that made him do it, and that perhaps he believed he was giving me all the money he saw in his wild dreams.

“Well, as the years went along, I used often to look at that little mirror, just a couple of inches across, and think of my father. We never could find anything among his traps to tell us where the mine he had discovered was located. More’n a few times this here Colonel Kracker would visit us, and tell my mother what a big thing it would be, if only she could find some little chart or rude map among my father’s things, to be sort of a clew to the lost mine; but though she searched, and I looked again and again, we just couldn’t.

“And one day, would you believe it, somebody broke into our cottage while we were all out, and stole everything belonging to my father, from his six shooter and gun, to the old tattered knapsack that he used to carry, when he was prospecting for pockets of rich ore, or pay dirt anywhere along the creeks.”

“The old snake!” muttered Step Hen; for of course every one of them guessed who must have been responsible for this robbery of the widow’s home.

Aleck went on.

“And one day, it was only a month ago, as I was sitting there, fiddling with that same little pocket mirror, the back came loose. I was starting to pinch the metal tight again, when I discovered that there was a piece of paper between the glass and the back!”

“The clue to the lost mine?” gasped Giraffe, nearly falling over into the fire in his extravagant delight.

“Yes, that was what it turned out to be,” continued the Rawson boy, actually smiling to see how deep an interest his narrative seemed to have for these splendid new friends fortune had raised up for him so opportunely. “My father must have had a return of reason just before he passed away; and not being able to say a single word, he had pressed the glass into my hands, thinking that would be enough. But somehow it had never occurred to me that he knew what he was doing.”

“And that’s what brings you up here right now, I reckon; you mean to find that hidden mine, and claim it for your mother, and the girls?” asked Thad.

“That is what I aim to do,” replied the other, firmly. “But I think that man must have kept a spy watching our house, after he failed to find anything among the things that were stolen; for I’ve since had reason to believe that every movement of mine was known to him. And when he learned that I was going to start north he guessed that I had a clue of some sort to the mine.”

“And so he captured you, perhaps right here where our camp is now; because Toby told us there were the footprints of a boy along with those of Colonel Kracker, and his two cronies, Waffles and Dickey Bird,” Giraffe ventured to say.

“They did drop in on me right here; and taking me sort of by surprise, made me a prisoner easy enough,” remarked Aleck, somewhat shame-facedly, as though he considered it far from being to his credit; “but there was something that happened before that ought to have warned me to be on the watch.”

“What was it?” asked the impatient Giraffe, as the other paused, while trying to eat and talk at the same time.

“Well, you see, down below here, I thought I ought to employ some sort of guide, because I wasn’t altogether accustomed to being all alone in the wilderness; though I’ve always used a gun, and hunted. And along about that time I ran across a man who seemed to be friendly, and knew the country, he said, like a book. His name was Matt Griggs, he said; and the upshot of it all was he engaged to pilot me around up here as long as I wanted him. You see, my plan was to shake him just when I found my bearings, and felt that I could go on alone; because, of course I didn’t want any outsider to be with me when I took possession of my father’s mine.

“I was careful never to breathe a word of what I had in mind; just told him I wanted to knock around for a few weeks among the mountains up here. And unless I talked in my sleep, which I never knew myself to do, there wasn’t any way Matt Griggs could learn from me the real reason for my wanting to come to this particular section.

“But one night I woke up, and found the guide searching through my knapsack; and then all of a sudden it struck me he was in the pay of that old scoundrel of a Colonel Kracker. He meant to rob me of my secret, and had thrown himself across my path on purpose, just about the time it was supposed I’d be wanting to take on a guide.

“Of course I covered him with my gun, and sent him away without a cartridge in his possession. He was ugly about it, too, and vowed he’d get even with me yet. Well, he did, for my treacherous guide came in with Kracker and a second man; so I reckon he must be one of those you spoke of, perhaps Waffles; for I heard the other called Dickey, once or twice.”

“When they took you a prisoner, they searched you, of course, hoping to find the valuable paper?” asked Giraffe, who could not wait for the natural unfolding of the plot, but must needs hasten matters by means of pointed questions.

“They raked me over with a fine-tooth comb,” replied the other, with a little chuckle, as though proud of what he had done; “but of course I had been too smart to carry that paper where it could be found, and so they had all their trouble for their pains. Then Kracker was as mad as a wet hen. He stormed, and threatened, and tried to fool me with a whole lot of silly promises; but it wasn’t any use. I just told him that even if I knew the secret of the hidden mine, I’d die before I gave it up to him, or any one like him.”

“Well, you saw what he did, in the end; took me up there, and lowered me to that terrible ledge, saying he was going to leave me there to starve; and that when the buzzards came flocking around me, and I was wild for a bite to eat, perhaps I’d feel a little like telling him what he was bound to know, for he promised to come and ask me every day.”

“This was when?” asked Thad.

“I think it must have been about noon when they lowered me at the end of a rope,” Aleck went on to explain. “One of the men knew about that ledge, and the idea seemed to tickle Kracker more than a little. They just shoved me over, and it was keep a tight hold on that rope for me, or a drop to the cruel rocks away down at the foot of the precipice. Then, late in the afternoon I saw you come into the valley far below. I wanted to shout, at first, but was afraid you were only some of the other hard cases of silver mine hunters like Kracker. But I had found out in the meantime that in crevices of the rock some small trees had once taken root, several of them dying, so that I amused myself in breaking off pieces of wood and starting a little fire deep in a fissure I found, and which they didn’t know anything about, I guess.

“Then, to my surprise I saw some one making all sorts of figures in the darkness with what seemed to be a torch. I used to belong to the Boy Scout troop of Logan, you see, and for a little while I even manipulated the telegraph key in the railroad station a few miles out of there, on the Oregon Southern Railroad; so that I soon saw he was practicing the Morse code. And then a wild desire came over me to get in touch with you. What I did, you all know; and I’m the happiest fellow in the whole Rocky Mountains to think that I’ve found friends up here, friends who say they’ll stand back of me, and help me win out in my fight for my father’s mine.”

There were tears in Aleck Rawson’s blue eyes as he said this last, and somehow every one of the scouts was deeply affected. It does not take much to arouse the boyish spirit of enthusiasm as a rule; and what they had already seen and heard of young Aleck Rawson, made the members of the Silver Fox Patrol ready to enlist heart and soul in his cause.

“There are nine of us here,” said Thad, quietly, but with a firmness that thrilled the newcomer in the camp; “it’s true that all but one of us are boys; but then we’ve got guns, and can use them too, if we have to. And let me tell you, Aleck, we’re the kind of friends that stick. We’ve heard a lot about this hidden mine that your father discovered, and believe that it ought to belong to your mother, and no one else. This old rascal of a Kracker is a regular pirate, a land shark that ought to be tied up to a stake, and tarred and feathered, for the way he persecuted you, just because you refused to give away your secret, which means everything to your folks. And Aleck, we’re going to stand by you through thick and thin! We’ve met up with you in about the queerest way ever heard of; and after getting you off that ledge up there, don’t think we want to call it quits. You’re a scout, a fellow scout in trouble; and we wouldn’t deserve the name we bear if we didn’t promise to back you up to the limit. How about it, boys?”

“That’s the talk!” declared Giraffe, with great vim.

“He can count on us, every time,” said Step Hen.

And so it went the entire rounds of the little circle, every boy echoing the sentiments that had made Thad, as the patrol leader, promise the harassed lad all the assistance that lay in their power.

After that the camp quieted down, and the boys went about their ordinary pursuits. Davy was fiddling with his little camera, the fever growing stronger in his veins with each passing day. Indeed, where some of his chums talked of shooting Rocky Mountain sheep, grizzlies, timber wolves, panthers and the like, the Jones boy could be heard expressing his opinion that “shooting” the same in their native haunts with a snapshot camera, was more to his taste.

And there was Step Hen, as usual, loudly bemoaning the loss of something that he just felt sure he had had only five minutes before, but which was now gone as completely as though the earth had opened and swallowed it up.

“’Taint as though it was the first time, either,” he was saying, in a grumbling tone, as of one deeply injured, while he eyed his chums suspiciously; “it’s always my stuff that’s bein’ so mysteriously moved about, so that I never know where to put my hand on the same. Now, I reckon more’n a few of you saw my service hat on my head just a little while ago; but tell me where it is now, will you? If one of you snatched it off in your slick way, and is just hiding the same, let me notify you right now it’s a mean joke. Thad, can you tell me where my hat is?”

Having the question thus put directly at him, the patrol leader felt compelled to make a reply.

“Well, Step Hen,” he said, slowly and convincingly, “I can’t exactly do that, but I think I might give a pretty good guess, knowing you so well. Just five minutes ago you showed up, after having gone to get a drink at the little stream that runs through here. There’s a regular place where we bend down to drink; and I can just see you taking off that campaign hat of yours, laying it nicely on the bank, getting your fill of water; and then deliberately coming back to camp, leaving your hat there; and then you kick up the greatest racket because you suddenly notice it isn’t on your head!”

Some of the other boys clapped their hands, while Step Hen looked foolish at the well-merited rebuke.

“Mebbe you’re right that time, Thad,” he said, meekly, as, turning, he strode from the briskly burning fire, heading toward the good spot alongside the little stream, where they knelt to drink.

It was perhaps half a minute afterwards when he was heard to give a screech that brought every scout instantly to his feet, jumping for their guns, when they caught the meaning of his words:

“I’ve got him!” yelled Step Hen, at the top of his voice; “I’m holding him, all right! But come and give me a hand, somebody, or he’ll get away! Injuns! Injuns!”

No wonder that excitement filled the camp of the Silver Fox Patrol!