Read CHAPTER XVI - DOWN THE SLOPE. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

“The first thing, then, is to toss this feller overboard,” remarked Step Hen, as he proudly touched the dead big-horn with the toe of his shoe, and tried to assume the air of a conquering hero; but his face was so sore, and his appearance so remarkable, that apparently his manner did not impress the guide very much.

“The sooner you get to water, and wash them scratches, the better,” said Toby. “I’ve knowed more’n one feller have a bad time from gettin’ clawed by eagles; and the doctor said as how ’twar blood poisonin’-like. But seems to me most of that might a kim from you bein’ hit by their wings.”

“Just what it did,” replied Step Hen, though he looked a bit anxious. “And goodness gracious! how they could hit with ’em, though. Felt like you’d run against an electric fan, or something like that. Busted the skin every time too, and made the blood come. But never mind about that, Toby; shall I shove this thing over now?”

“Just as you say,” replied the guide; “we’ll be apt to find it when we get down; which I hope we can do and be safe, and sound in limb.”

Apparently Toby was a little anxious himself about the result of the next step on the programme. The scout accordingly worked the dead sheep loose, and cast it over the edge. He watched it go bounding down with considerable apprehension that the other did not comprehend, until he heard Step Hen remark in a relieved tone:

“Didn’t break either horn; that’s all hunky dory!”

“Don’t you think we ort to let the rest know what we’re expectin’ to do?” suggested the guide just then.

“Why, that’s a good idea, Toby,” replied Step Hen. “And while we can’t see our chums, there’s a way of communicatin’ with ’em. Anyhow, I c’n tell ’em to send down a piece of string, and pull up a message I’ll write. Davy Jones knows the code enough for that.”

He began making a series of queer sounds, that at first considerably amused the old guide; but when an answer came from far above, Toby realized that there did promise to be more merit in the signal code of the scouts.

Then a little later Step Hen exclaimed triumphantly:

“Here comes the end of the string, Toby, with a stone tied to it. If they can swing it in now, we’ll be able to fasten this message I’ve written to the end of it, and send it up. Then the boys will know what we expect to do; and they’ll try and get down some other way, to join us before night comes on. Because it’d be kind of tough if we couldn’t bunk together through the night.”

After some manipulation with the piece of broken branch they succeeded in getting hold of the dangling cord, which Smithy had carried along with him, because of some reason or other, possibly from the same principle that caused Bumpus to carry that rope around wherever he went, thinking that it might come in handy sometime or other.

Having dispatched the note to the other scouts by means of the cord channel, Step Hen and the guide started to descend from their perch.

The way was anything but easy, especially to the boy. He had been weakened more than he realized by his hard struggle with those two fierce eagles. And perhaps his numerous wounds, slight as they seemed on the surface, made him less capable of keeping such a firm grip as he had before reaching the ledge. But the same old indomitable pluck held good. When a drop of perspiration, mingled with blood from those scratches, dimmed his vision, Step Hen would dash one hand impatiently across his eyes, and then go right on clambering downward.

Toby kept as near the boy as he could. Had he possessed a rope he would certainly have fastened himself to Step Hen, as a means of protecting the lad against an ugly fall; just as the glacier climbers do when ascending to the snow-covered summit of some lofty mountain peak; so that should one slip, another, having a firm hold at the time, could bear him up.

Again and again he cautioned his companion against trusting his weight on some inviting projecting knob of stone, which he himself had tried, and found wanting; for the guide had insisted on going first as a sort of pilot; when his real object was to be in position to clutch hold of the boy, if possible, should Step Hen make a bad move and fall.

But they finally managed to reach the bottom without any accident happening, for which both of them were thankful enough. They threw themselves upon the rocks, utterly exhausted, and panting for breath. Step Hen was indeed very near a complete collapse; for the boy had been under a terrible strain recently, both mentally and bodily.

After a little, however, when he had pumped much good air into his system, and regained some of his lost breath, Step Hen remembered.

“I hadn’t ought to be lyin’ around this way, when those fellers up yonder are all tied up in knots waitin’ to know whether we’ve made the riffle, or got stuck part way down. So here goes to tell ’em. They know from my note what we want ’em to try and do next.”

So he started in again with those queer sounds that seemed to climb up the face of the cliff as though on ladders that were invisible. And there came back similar sounds, which Step Hen listened to with eagerness, finally crying out:

“They understand that we’re safe down here; and Davy says as how he thinks he knows a way to work around. And now, since we’ve got some time on our hands, Toby, let’s look about for a place to spend the night.”

But Toby had not forgotten something that he had spoken of before.

“As for the camp, I’ll take keer of that,” he said; “while you drop down aside this leetle crick here, and wash your face and hands. The sooner ye git them ’ere scratches clean, the better, I reckon. Heaps of trouble kin grow out of a little keerlessness in that regard.”

“I guess you’re right,” replied Step Hen, trying to make a grimace, but without much success, because the blood had dried on his face, and made it feel as stiff as though it had been duly starched on a washday at home.

So he complied with the ruling of the guide; and while the cool water made his cuts smart more or less, to begin with, still there was a sense of satisfaction in the cleanly feeling that soon followed.

When he got back to the side of the guide again Step Hen discovered that Toby had found the place he was looking for, close to where the big-horn lay. Already smoke was beginning to rise, showing that Giraffe might not be the only one in the party who knew just how to go about making a cooking fire.

The scout watched Toby with considerable interest. He learned that when a man has lived all his life in the borderland, he has picked up a good many useful little wrinkles that a wideawake scout ought to know; and Step Hen determined to profit by his experience in the company of Toby Smathers.

Besides, now that all the excitement was over, Step Hen secretly confessed to feeling more or less tired; though had any of his mates been around, he would doubtless have scorned to display this fact. It was nice to just stretch out by the cheery blaze, and see some one else quite willing to do the work.

The guide was only too glad to assume all the burden of getting supper, such as it promised to be. Secretly he was proud of Step Hen. He had started in with rather a poor opinion of the boy’s qualities, and thought him given somewhat to boasting, and practical jokes. But he had found that he was full of grit, gave promise of being a good hunter, and was ready to attempt any sort of task, it mattered not how difficult.

The way Step Hen fought those two eagles, alone and unaided, on that narrow ledge, had aroused the ardent admiration of Toby. While he worked, he cast many a secret glance toward where Step Hen was stretched out; and each time the guide would give a little satisfied nod, and a chuckle, just as though he were passing a critical judgment, and saying to himself:

“All wool, and a yard wide; he’ll do, I sure reckons. He’s got the real stuff in him, anybody with one eye kin see. And I’m sure goin’ to tell Mr. Scout Master that same, too. He deserves to be put up a few notches arter this.”

Could Step Hen but have read what was passing through Toby’s mind just then, he would have thrilled with deepest satisfaction. Why, the laurel wreath of the victor could not have given him one half the solid pleasure that would come could he but know he had won the admiration of this experienced forest ranger, and trapper-guide.

Meanwhile, after he had the cooking fire under full way, Toby proceeded to skin the Rocky mountain sheep, making sure to handle the excellent horns carefully, as Step Hen begged, since they were almost perfect.

“He ain’t a youngster, and at the same time he don’t seem to be so very old,” the guide remarked, as he worked, cutting up the sheep; “so, p’raps we kin get our teeth workin’ on him some. I never was much of a hand for this sorter meat; but in such a pinch as this I kin eat even mutton. Anyhow, it’ll sure keep us from goin’ hungry, and that’s the game right now. I hopes as how the other boys kin get here afore dark sets in.”

“That makes me remember I’m neglecting my duty; because I ought to be lettin’ out a whoop now and then, just to sort of guide Davy and Smithers.”

With that Step Hen managed to get to his feet, though he was surprised to find how stiff he had become, just sitting there. Toby grinned to see him wince, as he stretched first one arm, and then a leg. He knew what it meant. The strain of the recent engagement on the ledge, besides all that hanging desperately to the face of the precipice, was telling on the boy’s muscles.

When Step Hen let out a loud cry, he was pleased to get a response in the well-known voice of Davy Jones. The call came from a point not far away, and Toby immediately declared that the other scouts must be about half-way down.

“They’re agoin’ to make it, all right, I do believe!” Step Hen exclaimed.

“Looks that way, for a fact,” the guide responded.

The day was almost done, at least down at the foot of that great wall that stretched upward for hundreds of feet. Lying there, resting the back of his head on both hands, and looking upward to where some buzzards were wheeling against the sky, Step Hen could hardly believe that he had actually descended all that distance in safety. He shuddered as he contemplated what an ugly tumble he must have experienced, if those fighting eagles had succeeded in knocking him off the ledge.

And just as the shades of approaching night began to gather around them, with a rather appetizing odor from cooking meat filling the immediate neighborhood, there came a hail from a point close at hand.

“Hello! there, glad to see you’re able to sit up, and take notice, after all the row you kicked up. First thing Smithy and me want to know is, what under the sun was it all about?” and with these words the two scouts staggered into camp, throwing themselves wearily down beside their chum.