Read CHAPTER XV - A FIERCE FIGHT WITH EAGLES. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

But although Step Hen spoke so flippantly, he was far from being as confident as he pretended. In fact, as he proceeded downward, he found his task getting more and more difficult.

One thing that bothered him was the getting up again. He just felt sure that he would not be able to accomplish it; but then, if it came to the worst, doubtless the balance of the descent was no harder to manage than this; and after first sending his big-horn down, he might pick his own way after it, and the others could follow as best they saw fit.

Step Hen was a self-reliant boy, at any rate; sometimes the scoutmaster feared too much so. And since he had said he was going to get that game, and was already part way down the face of the rocky wall, there was nothing to be done but keep right along, which he proceeded to do.

He could not get the slightest glimpse of his comrades. They were somewhere up above him; but just as the guide had declared, the face of the wall fell away in places, and this kept taking him further beyond their range of vision constantly.

Whenever he could do so without imperiling his support, Step Hen would crook his neck, and look downward, in the hope of seeing where the sheep lay. He could not help thinking how much easier this effort would come for him, if a kindly Nature had given him the extensive neck that Giraffe possessed.

“There it is!” he exclaimed, joyfully, as his anxious eyes fell upon an object just a short distance below, and which he knew must be the crumpled body of his big-horn. “And I ought to get there now without breaking my neck. Wow! that was a near tumble, all right! Careful, boy, careful now! Them horns of yours ain’t growed big enough to drop on, like the sheep do.”

He halted for a full minute, not that he was so tired in the arms, but to recover from the shock received when he came so near falling. Then once more resuming his labor, he presently had the satisfaction of dropping beside the motionless body of his victim.

“Bigger horns than Smithy’s had!” was his first exclamation, as he bent over, the better to see; and at the same moment he became conscious of the fact that some buzzards, or some other big birds, were swooping around close by, making him think they had looked on his dead sheep as their next dinner.

“Guess p’raps I’d better be tossing it over here, and letting it roll down to the bottom; then I c’n foller the best way there is, and ”

Something gave him a sudden fierce blow that knocked Step Hen down on his hands and knees; and he might have rolled over the edge of the narrow shelf, only for his good luck in catching hold of the sheep’s rounded horns.

“Quit that, you silly! you nearly knocked me over that time!” he shouted angrily; his very first thought being that one of the other boys, presumably Davy Jones, because he was so smart about climbing everywhere, had followed after him, and was thus rudely announcing his arrival close on the heels of the first explorer.

But as Step Hen raised his head to look, to his surprise he failed to see any one near him. A dreadful suspicion that Davy might have pitched over the edge of the narrow shelf, after striking him, assailed the scout; and he was almost on the point of looking, when suddenly there was a rush of great wings, and he dropped flat on his face just in time to avoid being struck a second time.

“Whew! eagles, and mad as hops at me for comin’ here!” gasped Step Hen, as, raising his head cautiously, like a turtle peeping out of its shell, he caught sight of two wheeling birds that came and went with tremendous speed.

He noted the spread of their immense wings, and it seemed to Step Hen as if in all his experience he had never before gazed upon more powerful birds than those two Rocky Mountain eagles.

Perhaps they had a nest near by, with young eaglets in it, and fancied that he was bent on robbing them. Then again, the big birds may have decided that they could make good use of the fine quarry that had lodged in the rocks so conveniently near their nest; and resented the coming of another claimant.

But no matter what the contributing cause might be, they were undoubtedly as “mad as a wet hen,” as Step Hen afterwards declared, in telling of his adventure there on that shelf of rock, fully a hundred feet from the top and the bottom, on the steep face of the mountain.

His first thought was how he could fight back, for he saw that he was to be at the mercy of the great birds that swooped down again and again, striking viciously at him with claws, beaks and powerful wings, until the boy was bleeding in half a dozen different places.

In casting his eyes about, even as he fought with his bare hands, and shouted for assistance at the top of his voice, Step Hen made a little discovery. A tree must have grown up above at one time or other, for there, stuck fast in a crevice of the rock he saw a pretty good-sized remnant of a branch that he believed would make a fair cudgel, better than his bare hands at any rate, with which to strike at the attacking eagles.

When he had clutched this in his eager hand the boy felt more confidence; and watching his opportunity he did manage to meet the swoop of the next bird with a whack that sent it whirling back. But they quickly learned to adopt other tactics, now that he was armed, both of them coming together from opposite directions; so that unable to dodge, or hit back properly Step Hen again found himself getting the worst of the fight.

Would his companions be able to do anything for him; or was he to be left there on that shelf of rock, to either conquer his savage enemies, alone and unaided, or succumb to their ferocious assaults?

All the while he was beating at them with might and main Step Hen kept up a constant shouting. He had a double purpose in this, hoping to tempt one of his companions to descend to his rescue, carrying a gun, since they seemed unable to hit the birds from above, though several shots had been fired; and then again it was possible that the sound of a human voice would by degrees cause the eagles to haul off.

“Take that, will you!” the boy cried, whenever he succeeded in reaching either of his feathered assailants with his club. “Come at me again, will you? Just wait, and see what happens to you yet! Ouch! that hurt some, now! Oh! if I could only swing this club around better, without bein’ afraid of tumbling over, wouldn’t I knock their heads off, wow! once more you’ll have it, will you? See the feathers fly! I b’lieve they’re weakenin’ some, sure I do; but what about me? I’ll bleed to death yet, if they keep on tapping me like that.”

So Step Hen went on, shouting and whacking away, doing the best he was able under the circumstances. Nobody could ever say at any rate, but what he put up a strapping good fight of it, he kept thinking; but all the same he cast an anxious eye upward whenever he could find a chance, hoping to see a pair of human legs heave in sight, and discover the welcome face of either Davy Jones or the guide.

“Bring a gun! Bring a gun!”

That was about the burden of his shouts. He hoped those above understood what he was saying. The eagles seldom went far outside a given circle, so that they could only be glimpsed from above occasionally; and it was like shooting at a disappearing target in the gallery, to try and hit them under such circumstances.

Step Hen had knocked one of the great birds down for the sixth time, and was dismayed to see that he had not even then disabled it, since it immediately started to fly again, no wing having been broken by his club; when he thought he caught the sound of a human voice close by.

Then some loose stones rattled down beside him, giving him a thrill of joy; for he knew now reinforcements were on the way, and it nerved him to fight on.

Another minute, and some one dropped down beside the crouching Step Hen, who was breathing hard from his exertions, but still full of pluck, as a true scout should always be.

“Toby!” he called out, in a quavering voice, and looking very grim, with his face so scratched, and streaked with blood; “I’m sure glad to see you; but gladder to notice that you’ve got your gun! Look out! there they come again! Dodge, Toby, dodge; they’re on to you!”

But the guide had snatched his gun from about his back, where it had been securely fastened with a stout cord. He had no time to aim or fire just then, only to swing the barrel around, and strike viciously at the swooping bird, that threw its claws forward as it pounced upon him, just as a fish-hawk might do on striking the water.

The attack was quickly parried, and now Toby also had a streak of blood on his cheek, where one of those furious wings had struck him.

Now he turned the gun quickly around in his hands.

“Leave one for me, Toby!” pleaded the boy, eagerly. “I ought to have the pleasure of knocking over one of ’em, after what they have done to me. Oh! you put it to that gay old robber of honest fish-hawks, sure you did! And he’s gone down below-decks for good. Give me your gun, Toby; I must have it, I tell you!”

And the guide, understanding, as well as sympathizing with, the spirit that caused the other to cry out in this fashion, did thrust his repeating rifle into the hands of Step Hen, after throwing the discharged shell out, and sending a fresh one into the firing chamber.

With a satisfaction that words could never paint, Step Hen followed the swinging form of the remaining eagle as it flew around so as to get in line for another swoop. And just as the great bird started to come down at them, the boy pulled the trigger.

His aim was true, and the second eagle pitched forward, whirling over and over as it went tumbling down the face of the descent, just as its mate had done.

“Hurrah!” shouted Step Hen, tremendously pleased with the final outcome of the fight with the pair of fierce pirates of the upper air currents; “that’s what they get for tackling me, ain’t it, Toby? We gave ’em what they needed, didn’t we? But say, I’m just thinkin’ that it’s going to be a tough old job for me to get back up where the boys are; and that p’raps we’ll have to keep on climbin’ down, after shoving the big-horn off the shelf.”

And the guide, after recovering his breath, which had been used up in his recent hasty movements in coming to the rescue, looking over the edge, admitted that he believed such a course was the only one left to them.