Read CHAPTER XI - HELD AT BAY. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“Don’t move, Aleck!” said Thad, instantly, and he raised his voice enough, to purposely let the three men hear what he said.

Of course the boy did not budge. Perhaps he even gave Kracker back look for look, only that there may have been a smile of contempt upon his boyish face.

“Don’t you hear what I say, come here!” roared the colonel.

“He hears you all right, but he feels quite satisfied to stay where he is,” said Thad, in a cool tone.

The other turned those blazing eyes on the speaker.

“Who asked you to put your finger in my business?” he demanded, harshly.

“I’m not. It’s you who keeps on meddling with things that concern this boy and his mother only. I suppose you are Colonel Kracker?” Thad went on.

“That’s my name, and anybody who knows me would tell you that you’re doing the most foolish thing in all your life, when you try to interfere with any affair on which I’ve set my heart. I want that boy to come to me!” and he shook his fat finger threateningly toward Aleck as he said this.

“Then you’ll have to take it out in wanting, let me tell you;” replied the patrol leader, “for he belongs in this camp of Boy Scouts; and we’re going to stand back of him.”

If Thad was excited he certainly did not seem to be so; in fact Giraffe wondered how in the world he could command his voice so well, and speak so calmly, when on his part he was fairly shivering with the nervous tension.

“What’s that you say?” shouted the big man, bristling all over with rage until he seemed to swell up larger than ever. “Why, you little imp, d’ye know what I’ve a good notion to do with you for this insulting talk?”

“I don’t know, and neither do I care,” replied Thad, “but there’s one thing I do think you ought to know.”

“Oh! you do, eh? What might that be?” demanded Kracker, sneeringly.

“Turn your head a little to the left, and you’ll see a pile of rocks,” the scoutmaster went on. “Now, look up on top of that pile, and you’ll see a young fellow on one knee, holding a big rifle straight on you. That’s one of our chums. He’s from the State of Maine, where they teach boys to be able to hit a leaping deer straight in the heart every shot. Try and take just three steps this way, if you want to test his skill with the rifle. Or any one of you start to raising a gun; and my word for it you’ll never know what hit you. Get that, Kracker?”

Evidently the big man saw Allan kneeling there, and holding his gun leveled. The sight did not give him any too much enjoyment, either, judging from the way some of the color faded from his face. He spluttered quite as much as before, but he had lost a good part of his make-believe courage. In fact, Thad believed he had the big bully on the run; and he meant to press his advantage.

“If I don’t get him this time, I will later on,” said Kracker, giving Aleck a look of intense hatred.

“Don’t you believe it,” declared the scoutmaster, cheerfully. “We’re going to see him through, and if it’s necessary, we’ll find a way of sending word to the fort, and bringing a bunch of hard-riding cavalrymen here to chase you out of the mountains. And just remember, Colonel Kracker, there are eleven of us, all told, well armed, and knowing how to take care of ourselves. We’re no city greenhorns, either, but scouts who have had a whole lot of experience in hard places. Now, if you know what is good for you, keep away from our camps, wherever they may be. Our guide, Toby Smathers, who knows you like a book, says that lots of good people would throw up their hats and cheer, if they heard you’d crossed over the line. You understand what I’m saying, I guess, don’t you?”

“You’re doing a fool play, young feller, believe me,” spoke up the man called Waffles, thinking it was up to him to stick in his oar. “They ain’t many men as would dar’ talk to the kunnel like you done. Better hand the boy over to him; he’s his uncle, and has a right to take charge of him.”

“That’s a lie!” burst out Aleck, angrily. “He came around our home, and tried every which way to get mother to just tell him what she knew about the mine, promising all sorts of shares if only she’d trust him; but since she didn’t know a single thing about where it lay, and wouldn’t believe him on oath, either, course she didn’t make any arrangement. But he ain’t any relation of mine.”

“It wouldn’t make any difference if he was, Aleck; when you say you don’t want anything to do with Kracker, that settles it,” and Thad all this while kept his eyes fixed on the big man, because he believed the other to be just full of treachery and all kinds of trickery, so that he would be ready to do something desperate if only he thought he could take the young scoutmaster by surprise, and off his guard.

“You don’t understand the matter at all,” complained the big man, with something like a whine in his gruff voice now, showing that he was pretty nearly cowed.

“How is that?” demanded the other, instantly.

“I’m meaning to be his friend, and the friend, of his folks,” Kracker continued.

“Funny way you have of showing your friendly feelings, then, I must say,” declared Thad, with scorn in his voice; “making him a prisoner, trying to force him to give up a secret you choose to think he carries; and when he refuses to take you at your word, putting him there on that ledge, to starve, or face a horrible death in perhaps falling down a couple of hundred feet.”

Kracker looked a little confused, but it was only a flash in the pan. Such a thing as shame was foreign to his nature. For years he had been used to browbeating almost every person with whom he had had dealings. The fact that first of all a mere slip of a woman had dared defy him, and then her boy did the same, nettled him beyond description; and he had arrived at desperate measures at the time Aleck, so unfortunately for the boy, fell into his hands.

And now it galled Kracker to see how he and his two helpers were being actually held up by a parcel of half grown lads. Why, it would seem as though some mockery of fate had taken hold of his fortunes, and was finding keen pleasure in adding to his humiliation.

He would have liked to rush upon these cool boyish customers, and to have trampled them under foot, as he had possibly done many men in times past, when he was less huge in his proportions, and could get around better. But somehow he did not dare attempt it.

Perhaps it was the display of weapons that awed him; and yet Colonel Kracker was accustomed to seeing such things, and knew how to take them at their true value. Then it may have been the manner of the spokesman of the little party that had so depressing an effect upon the bully. Why, what was the world coming to, when mere boys began to hold the whip hand, and shape things as they pleased?

He started to talk, but spluttered so much he could not make intelligible sounds. And his round moon face had taken on a deep red hue again, until it bordered on the purple. Thad, who had some knowledge of medicine, as we have seen on numerous occasions, really began to wonder whether the bulky man might not be getting perilously near the border line, and taking chances with a sudden attack of apoplexy, or else something else along those lines.

Once or twice Thad had seen something move back of the three men. He dared not take his eyes off them long enough to look carefully, and at first could not decide whether it was a prowling wolf, bold enough to come thus near the camp in broad daylight; or a human being.

He even suspected at one moment that possibly the invaders might have been in greater numbers than any of the scouts dreamed; and that some of them were even then creeping around, with the idea of turning the tables on the boys by a sudden coup.

But that idea went glimmering, when he contemplated the utter impossibility of any foe crawling across the bare and open stretch of rock extending between their camp, and the foot of the rise.

It certainly could never be done; and with the Maine boy keeping watch on things from his eyrie amid the piled-up rocks.

Then what?

Why, to be sure, it must be the Fox. The young Crow had vanished, Thad remembered, at the approach of the trio of prospectors. Just where he had gone the patrol leader had neither known, nor cared, at the time. He seemed to have some reason for fearing either Kracker, or one of the two lesser rascals with him; and appeared desirous of keeping out of their sight.

Thad also remembered that the Indian boy possessed a gun. He only hoped he would not do anything rash; but then he had been present when the scoutmaster spoke to those under him; saying that as members of the great organization that made for peace, they must not use their firearms unless as a very last resort; and then only to cripple their enemies. The Crow had nodded his head with the rest when Thad asked for this assurance; and surely an Indian keeps his word.

There, once again his head poked up into view, and this time so close to the men that Thad saw the Fox had been stealthily creeping nearer all the time.

Did he have some object in his movements, or were they caused simply by curiosity to see how close he could get, unobserved, to the one he seemed to fear?

Seeing that Kracker was too furious to even control his voice, the shorter fellow, whom Thad took to be Waffles, again put in his talk.

“It’s plain to be seen you critters don’t know the kunnel,” he observed, bitterly, just as though he himself had had a long experience, and knew what it meant to stir up that vile temper too far. “He never gives a thing up. He’s jest like a bulldog that gits a grip. Ye may chase us off this time; but we’ll stick like a plaster; and in the end git what we wants. We allers does.”

“Oh! you don’t say?” remarked the scoutmaster, with cutting emphasis; “well, the chances are the lot of you will get what you’ve been richly deserving a long time back, if you keep on meddling with our affairs. And now, suppose you skip out. We couldn’t come to any agreement if we talked an hour. And we have some other things we want to do. Take your fat friend away, Waffles; he’s liable to explode before long, unless you do.”

Amazed at the cool defiance of the boy, the man called Waffles mechanically started to obey. But before they had taken half a dozen steps backward, Thad heard a strange, hissing sound that he could not understand. The next instant, to his astonishment, he saw Waffles pulled over backwards, his feet sprawling awkwardly. His calls for help were half muffled, and for a very good reason; since he was being partly choked by the loop of rope which the young Crow Indian had thrown over his head with so much dexterity, and then jerked tight.