Read CHAPTER VIII - PLANNING WOE TO THE BIG HORNS. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“If we get along in this way,” Giraffe was saying, as he sat there watching the young Indian eat what had been set before him; “two at a pop, not that they’re just as welcome as the showers in April, though, we’ll have to hustle some lively so’s to provide grub.”

“Keepin’ open house, Giraffe!” sang out Davy Jones, looking up from his job of placing another new film in his snapshot camera.

“Well, we’ve got our sign out to the Foxes; that’s right,” grinned the other, as he glanced proudly at the head that had been painted in really a clever fashion on the canvas of each tent.

They sat up a while longer, and canvassed the situation; but the hour getting late, and several of the boys showing signs of being sleepy, it was finally decided that they had better turn in.

So Bumpus had to pretend to blow “taps,” with his fist for a bugle; and as usual he acquitted himself splendidly. The young Indian’s eyes sparkled when he heard that imitation of the real thing; and Thad imagined the Fox must at some time or other have rubbed up against the regular cavalry of the United States Army, so that he understood what Bumpus was doing.

Thad and Allan had arranged matters with the guide, so that there would be some one on guard at all hours of the night. With those three men hovering near, there could be no telling what might happen. While they were not outlaws, or anything of that sort; still, after learning how they had treated poor Aleck, just because he very rightly refused to give up the secret of the mine that was his mother’s property, and on which Kracker did not have the slightest claim, Thad could give a pretty good guess as to the character of the men.

The guide had told him more than enough to stamp Kracker in his mind as a very unprincipled man. Thad believed the prospector was so determined to discover the hidden silver mine that there was almost nothing he would not attempt in order to carry out his designs. And since their camp now sheltered the boy against whom all his animosity seemed to be aroused, it was at least possible that he might pay them a visit, backed by his followers, men quite as reckless as himself.

So it would seem to be the part of wisdom to keep on the watch for danger. It is the principle of scouts to avoid trouble, rather than seek it; and Thad believed in the old saying that “an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure.”

But the night passed, and nothing happened.

None of the others were called upon to take a turn as sentries; indeed more than one of the boys slept like a log all that night, and never dreamed there was any watch being kept. Still, when in the morning they ascertained this fact, they reproached the scoutmaster for not having called upon them to share the vigil; since they always wished to do their share of the work.

Thad knew that the coming of Aleck Rawson was bound to add to the excitement of their stay in the mountains; but he had already taken a great liking for the boy, and admired his sturdy independence, as well as his grim determination to once more locate the long hidden mine for the benefit of his mother and sisters.

Come what might, Thad was not sorry the Silver Foxes had determined, individually and collectively that they would back up Aleck to the limit; and even give over some of the time they had expected to put in hunting, in order to help him take possession of his father’s silver lode.

That meant then, sooner or later, a visit from the bully of the mountains, this arrogant Colonel Kracker, whom so many men seemed to fear as a terror; though Thad had already conceived the idea that the other must be a coward at heart. He fancied that no really brave man would war on a widow like he was doing; and torture a mere boy, in order to force him to betray his mother’s secret.

“Let him come, then, if he wants to,” Thad had said to Allan, when they discussed the subject for the tenth time, while breakfast was being made ready. “We’re able to take care of ourselves, I should think eight husky fellows, a brave man for a guide, who will stand up for us; then Aleck, and the Fox besides. It would be mighty queer, now, if we couldn’t hold our own against three men, no matter if they are tough characters.”

“Oh! I guess we’ve seen just as bad before,” replied Allan, with a confident smile. “How about some of those moonshiners down in North Carolina? And tell me about that Charlie Barnes and his crowd, the hobo yeggs we ran across up in Maine. Then, remember Si Kedge and Ed Harkness the game poachers we met later on; and how they were sorry they’d ever bothered with the Silver Foxes? And to wind up the list, Thad, there were Hank Dodge and his French Canadian half breed pard, Pierre Laporte, the hard-shelled timber cruisers, who gave us all that bother when Bumpus lost himself down in the big timber. How’s that for a crowd, tell me; and didn’t we come out on top every time?”

Thad laughed.

“I see you’ve got it all down pretty pat, Allan,” he remarked. “And sure enough, just as you say, after getting the better of so many bad men in all our travels, we hadn’t ought to feel worried right now because three more bob up, and think to throw a scare into us. On the whole, this Kracker had better keep his hands off, or he’ll be sorry.”

“But how about our hunting?” Allan went on to say. “Some of the boys are getting anxious to make a try for a big-horn. Why, there’s Smithy, a fellow we never expected would ever take the least interest in shooting, because his nature has seemed so mild, and sissy-like I even heard him declare he wanted to make a try and see what he could do. Owned up that his father used to be a great hunter years ago; but that he guessed he’d inherited his mother’s gentle disposition; while his hobble-dehoy sister she wants to play baseball, hockey, tennis, and those kinds of games all the while. And Thad, I think we ought to encourage that idea in Smithy. It may be the making of him, if once he gets waked up.”

Thad thought the same way. He knew the boy possessed amiable traits; but he had always been given too much to dress, and the little things of life, at which most fellows look with scorn and contempt. He must have the edges roughened a little, if he was ever going to hold his own when he went to college, or out in the wide world, where “sissy” boys are held up to derision.

“Nothing to hinder our hanging over here a bit, and seeing what the next move of this cannon cracker is going to be,” he remarked.

“And the hunting?” asked Allan.

“Why, a party could start out right from camp here, leaving enough behind to defend the place, of course, and keep Kracker from taking Aleck away by sheer force, if he did have the nerve enough to come here,” the scoutmaster replied, after thinking over the matter for a brief time.

“Of course we ought to let the guide go along with the boys; for I wouldn’t like to trust them alone in the mountains,” Allan suggested.

“That’s right,” added Thad. “Some of them seem to have a weakness for getting into all sorts of trouble from the word go. We can let one party start out, and after they come back, if they’ve had any luck, and the air’s cleared some around here, why, another might take a different direction. You said Step Hen was wild to get a big horn, didn’t you, Allan?”

“Never saw him so set on anything; but then that’s his way always. When he gets a notion in that brain box of his, you can’t knock it out with a sledge hammer. And just now it seems that a real Rocky Mountain sheep with the big horns beats any old grizzly all hollow, with Step Hen.”

“All right, we’ll have to let him be one of the first party. He did so splendidly when he jumped on the back of the Fox, and captured him, he thinks, that some reward ought to be coming his way. And there’s Smithy, I’ll see that he has his chance to try a shot. Giraffe could lend him his gun; or Bob White’s would do because it’s a much lighter weapon than the other.”

“And how about Davy Jones; he says he’s just bound to get some pictures of big-horns on their native rocks, or making some of those famous leaps he’s heard so much about; can he be one of the bunch, Thad?”

“Yes, but that is the limit. Three frisky scouts will be about all that any one guide can keep tabs on, I rather think,” replied the other, smiling as he tried to picture Toby Smathers endeavoring to hold the ambitious photographer, and the pair of would-be big-horn hunters, in check; for he imagined the task might resemble a circus feat of trying to drive half a dozen steeds at the same time.

When the plan of campaign for the day was made known, there was considerable rejoicing, and a little grumbling. Of course the former came from those who had been lucky enough to draw prizes; while the discontent sprang from Giraffe, who had also cherished certain aspirations, looking to a pair of elegant big-horns, to decorate his den at home in Cranford.

But if Giraffe did occasionally show a spirit like this, the best thing about him was the rapidity with which he got over the “grumbles,” as Step Hen called his little fits of the sulks. In five minutes he had apparently forgotten his disappointment, and was offering to loan Smithy his rifle, even before the scoutmaster had mentioned anything about it.

However, it was judged too heavy for a greenhorn to pack around all day; and in order that Giraffe might not feel offended, Thad smoothed matters down, as usual, by administering a little dose of flattery.

“He’s only a new beginner, Giraffe, and not used to toting a gun. Why, his shoulder would be sore from carrying it all day. With an old hand like you, it’s a different matter; and I rather think that gun just seems to fit into a notch on your shoulder, like it grew there. Now, Bob’s gun is much lighter; and with those mushroom bullets, the small bore doesn’t matter a bit. So we’ll let him take that. Besides, if anything happened here that spelled trouble, you’d feel pretty sore if you didn’t have your faithful old shooting-iron at hand.”

“That’s so, Thad; reckon you’re just about right,” said the tall scout, instantly, quite mollified.

“And Bob’s gun’ll seem more like a playtoy to Smithy, too. I always said mine was a man’s gun; and when you pull the trigger there’s bound to be something doing.”

In this clever way then, did Thad frequently stave off trouble and ill feeling among his followers. It requires much tact to successfully manage a pack of boys, representing all manner of dispositions. And the scoutmaster who is the most successful in his line of business, is the one who knows boys best, and has the happy faculty of entering into their ways of looking at things, heart and soul.

During the progress of eating breakfast the talk was of course pretty much all about hunting the big horn. The guide was called upon to narrate all he knew concerning the famous Rocky Mountain sheep, often called goats by the hunters; and which combine many of the traits of the noted chamois of the Alps and the Appenines, with others that are peculiar to themselves.

Any one who has seen them leap boldly from a ledge, and strike upon their great rounded horns far below, is ready to declare that there is not a remarkable spectacle in all the world of wild sport that can equal the sight.

Possibly the Fox knew something concerning these queer mountain sheep; but as Giraffe said aside to Step Hen, “it would needs be a monstrous lemon squeezer that could ever hope to extract any information from an Indian.” Aleck, on his part, had often heard stories told about the animals now occupying so prominent a part in the conversation of the scouts; and he did not hesitate to hand over any information he had it in his power to divulge, hoping that it might serve a useful purpose to the intended hunters.

Davy was thrusting several more rolls of films in his haversack.

“No telling what a feller may run up against, once you start out,” he remarked.

“The only trouble is, Davy,” commented Giraffe, “you can’t make a meal off’n the things, if you’re hungry, and game shy. I think Step Hen did a wise thing when he stuffed all he could get of eatables in his bag. And Smithy too carries a lot. Oh! you’ll do, now. Thad says you’d better wait about half an hour, till the mists clear off’n the mountains. It’s real early, anyhow, and the sheep ain’t agoin’ to run away; don’t you worry about that.”

There is nothing that bothers a boy more than having to wait, when he’s all ready to do something. The minutes seem to drag as though they were leaden weighted. If Davy unfastened that knapsack of his once to examine its contents, and make sure he had neglected nothing, he did it half a dozen times, until Giraffe declared he would certainly wear the straps out if he kept that up.

Those who expected to remain in camp were going about their usual vocations, as for instance the cleaning up of the breakfast tin pans, and cooking utensils. When a company of eleven souls has been having a meal, these amount to considerable; and it took Bob White, Allan and Bumpus some little time to accomplish the task of setting things to rights.

Bumpus had gone to get some more water from the stream, and when he came back he was grinning broadly.

“Why, you see,” he explained, “there’s an old rattlesnake coiled up over there, and I’ve been making him as mad as hops, poking at him with a pole. You just ought to come and see him strike, though!”

“I heard him rattle!” declared Thad, “but somehow I just thought it was a locust waking up. Come on, boys, and let’s put such a dangerous customer out of the way!”