Read CHAPTER X - THE COMING OF KRACKER. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“They’re sure comin’, Thad!”

The scoutmaster looked up when Giraffe said this.

“Oh! you must mean that big cannon Kracker, and his two friends?” he remarked, in such a cool tone that Giraffe fairly gasped for breath.

“That’s them!” he declared, with an utter disregard for grammar that would have caused him to lose some of his good points in school had the lapse occurred there. “And my stars! they look ugly enough to eat us all up, without caring for bones!”

“But I calculate they won’t, all the same,” replied the other, smiling with supreme confidence. “Did Allan send you in to tell me?” he continued, for he had delegated the second in command to keep watch and ward when he was busy in his tent doing something.

Giraffe nodded his head violently; indeed, any one who did not know how tenacious a hold it had on that long neck, might have been alarmed lest he dislocate his vertebra through such contortions.

“Yep; and he said you was to come out and see for yourself,” Giraffe went on.

“All right, I will then.”

Thad quietly picked up his little twelve-bore Marlin before quitting the tent; and there was an air of business about his manner of doing so quite different from the fussy way Giraffe had of doing things, but which was apt to appear much more convincing in the eyes of any one who could read character fairly well.

When the scoutmaster reached the open air he found quite a buzz of excitement around the confines of the little camp. It seemed as though the scouts must certainly be anticipating something in the line of trouble; because every one who had a gun was nervously fingering the weapon, and watching the coming of the three figures stalking toward the camp from across the little valley.

There was Giraffe, first of all, gripping his big rifle eagerly, a grim look on his thin face; Bumpus had his ten-gauge Marlin clenched tightly in his hands, and perhaps some of the usual color was missing from his fat face; but he had a reputation to sustain now, and knew he must toe the mark like a little man; Allan had his rifle in evidence; and Aleck having lost his at the time he was captured, was keeping a hand close to one of his pockets in which reposed a small revolver which one of the other scouts had loaned him.

Bob White did not have a gun either, since he had let Smithy go off with his; but he did not mean to be caught defenseless, should trouble arise; and back of him he was holding that handy camp hatchet.

The Fox, well, if he was anywhere around the camp, Thad failed to discover him; and even at that exciting moment the scoutmaster remembered thinking that perhaps the Crow boy had hidden, not wishing any of the Kracker crowd to see him.

Thad glanced around him. He had considered the situation before this, like the wise general who notes down in his mind the promising points connected with his chosen field of battle.

Speaking a few words to Allan, who knew what the plan of campaign was to be, Thad sent the other over to a clump of rocks, from the crest of which, not more than fifty feet away, he could have a splendid and unobstructed view of the camp, as well as its surroundings. Indeed, hardly a snake could have crawled across that open space without being exposed to the sharp eyes of the Maine boy.

Then Thad awaited the coming of the three men.

Just as Giraffe had declared, he could easily see that they were all looking more or less angry. The big man in the middle interested him much more than either of the others, of course; because he knew very well that when Colonel Kracker took snuff, it was up to Waffles and Dickey Bird to sneeze; for they were only shadows of the leader, who always controlled their actions.

Thad had never seen just such a man before; but for all that he believed that what he had said before was the truth. Red-faced, and looking like a big hurricane let loose on the land, still back of all this outward display of fierceness Thad felt sure there lay a really cowardly heart. Yes, no brave man would act as Kracker had done, and when it came right down to the point of facing death, he was pretty sure to quail.

Thad turned, and spoke a few reassuring words to Aleck.

“Remember, we don’t mean to let him lay a finger on you, boy. I’ve drawn a line out between that rock, and the scrub oak over yonder; and if he crosses that we’re going to make him wish he hadn’t. There’ll be some work for me to do picking bird shot out of his fat legs, and binding up his other wounds; for we’ve sure got to stop him coming in to this camp, no matter what happens!”

It was a remarkable situation for the acting scoutmaster of a troop of Boy Scouts to find himself in. Very few others could ever say they had gone through a like experience, Thad thought. But then, that was no reason he and his mates were bound to let this tyrant walk rough-shod over them, and take Aleck away, to continue his harsh and inhuman treatment of the lad. No, if it were necessary, in order to avoid such a catastrophe overtaking them, he must give the command to fire on the enemy, much as he would ever regret the necessity for such a step.

He wondered what the leading lights in the great organization would say, should the circumstances ever be placed before them; but then, scouts should acquit themselves manfully under any and all conditions; and that was just what Thad meant to do now.

The men were now close enough to make sure that those facing them were only boys. Thad could see that Kracker was looking closely, as though anxious to settle that point first of all; and it agreed exactly with the opinion he already entertained for the big prospector; namely, that he was what Giraffe would call “a wind-bag,” or a puff-ball, like those every one has stepped on in the fields, that go off with a pop, emit a little cloud of dust, and then collapse.

But what was there to be feared from a mere parcel of half-grown boys? Kracker doubtless believed that he could awe them with that fierce look of his, and the domineering way he had of holding himself erect; while it was almost certain that when they heard his awful voice, sounding like hoarse thunder, their very legs would tremble under them, so that their knees must knock together.

But apparently no one was doing much trembling, as yet, for they seemed to stand there in a line, and holding their guns half raised, with the stocks hitched under their shoulders, in the manner of those who have hunted much, and know which might be the easiest method of flinging a gun to rest in a second of time.

One of the men had a rifle. He was the fellow whom Thad guessed went by the name of Dickey Bird. But then, no doubt both Kracker and Waffles carried smaller arms about their persons somewhere, for Thad could see signs of their belts, and judged the heavy revolvers were swung back of them, where a hand could sweep around and lay hold of the butt easily.

The scoutmaster had made up his mind that Kracker was the only one whom they had to fear in the least. With him removed from the game, the other two would turn out to be easily handled. In fact, they would probably throw up their hands in surrender the very instant anything happened to take the big man off. And accordingly Thad meant to devote all his energies toward cutting the claws of the colonel. He had given Allan his ideas on the subject, and the Maine boy agreed with him fully.

They were coming close to the imaginary dead line Thad had marked between that pile of rocks and the stunted tree. Half a minute more, and he felt that he must call a halt.

Would they mind what he said; or, thinking that orders from a mere boy were not to be taken seriously, would they insist on advancing further?

Thad gritted his teeth, and was more resolved than ever that if Kracker invited trouble he would get it, good and hard. He would find out that guns can be just as dangerous in the hands of boys, as men.

But now he noticed that the big man had slowed up a little. Perhaps he did not just like the way they stood there waiting, and with so many guns handy, too.

Thad deliberately cocked his shotgun. The sound of the hammer clicking could be plainly heard, just as the boy intended it should; and there was something terribly business-like and significant about it.

At any rate, Colonel Kracker reduced his pace another notch, as if in answer to an unspoken challenge. He was not so brave inwardly as his fierce outward appearance would seem to indicate.

His eyes were glued upon the figure of young Aleck, who stood beside Thad, just a step to the rear, possibly. And apparently Kracker was trying to throw all the force of his domineering character into that glare. It was really enough to frighten one into fits, Thad thought; but somehow it did not make him even tremble, because he believed surface indications often told what was not true.

“Keep on giving him back look for look, Aleck!” was what Thad said in a low tone, intended only for the ear of the boy they had rescued from the cliff ledge.

“Oh! I ain’t afraid of him now; he couldn’t make me squirm when I was all alone, and in his power; so it ain’t likely I’m shivering, now that I’ve got so many friends to back me up,” answered the other, also in a hoarse whisper.

“Good for you!” Thad sent back.

At the same time he coughed.

This had been arranged as a signal for the rest of those who carried guns, to raise them to their shoulders. The action itself ought to convince Kracker that he had reached the limit of the peace line; and that if he persisted in advancing any further, he might expect something to happen.

It worked splendidly. The big man came to an abrupt halt, and of course so did Waffles, and Dickey Bird too. Thad did not think much of the last mentioned; but the other fellow looked to be just such a sort of “second fiddle” whom a man like Kracker would choose to assist him in his schemes, that were so often evil.

And they were right on that imaginary line Thad had marked out, too; had they persisted in advancing three more feet he meant to call out sharply, and warn them to pull up.

Slowly Kracker elevated that fat right hand of his. Many a time, no doubt it had given some poor wretch cause for trembling when he pointed that finger at him. Just now, with those terrible eyes of his glued upon Aleck, he made his forefinger move, once, twice, three times, in a significant beckoning gesture.

Then he spoke, and his deep-toned voice was not unlike the rumble of thunder at a time the lightning is darting among the heavy storm clouds.

“Come here!”