Read CHAPTER XVII - TROUBLES THICKEN FOR YOUNG ALECK. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

The scouts were pretty hungry, and they united in pronouncing the supper “just prime.” But then the conditions would not allow of any other verdict; and as Toby regretfully declared, they all had good teeth, while his were getting “frayed and worn.”

But after a period of stress and storm, a haven does seem good indeed; and sitting there, chatting, alongside that blaze, which had now been built up into a real camp-fire, the three boys were feeling a thousand per cent better than they had a couple of hours before.

Of course Step Hen had told all about his great combat with the two fighting eagles. He even led the doubting Davy along the foot of the descent, with a blazing torch in his hand, until they had found both of the dead birds, which they lugged back to camp with them, to show to the wondering Smithy as positive evidence of the truth of the story.

And after that the boys would surely feel more respect for Step Hen’s prowess as a hunter, and the possessor of unlimited nerve.

Smithy declared that nothing on earth could tempt him to try and descend that precipice where Step Hen had done it; and was amazed when Davy announced that they had accomplished a feat very nearly as hazardous; only, coming a yard at a time, they had not noticed the danger.

“I only hope nothing will run off with my sheep,” Smithy had remarked, plaintively, at one time, after they had finished their meal, and were just lounging around, taking things easy.

“How about that, Toby?” asked Davy Jones; “will wolves be apt to rob Smithy of his hard-earned laurels?”

“Don’t know anything about that ere,” grinned the guide; “but if so be you mean will they come around, and eat his mutton, I’m afraid that’s jest what’ll happen. But,” he added, as Smithy gave a plaintive little bleat, “they cain’t eat them big horns, you know; and I reckons as how that’s the main thing you wants, ain’t it?”

“Oh! yes, if that is so, I shall stop worrying. But I surely do want to carry that souvenir back with me; because, you know that is my first game,” Smithy went on to say.

“Wall,” remarked the guide, with a nod, “you had ought to be proud of ’em; ’cause they ain’t many fellers as kin say the fust wild game they ever knocked down was a big-horn. I’ve knowed old hunters as couldn’t ever git one, try as hard as they might. We had a heap of luck to-day, let me tell you, boys, a heap of it. And for mutton, ’twan’t so very tough, either.”

“Oh! I thought I heard some one give a funny little cough just then!” exclaimed Step Hen, suddenly sitting up straight.

“You was correct at that,” said the guide, quietly drawing his rifle closer to him, as though caution were second nature. “There is some parties accomin’ down the canyon here, and headin’ for our fire.”

“The boys, mebbe!” exclaimed Davy Jones.

“No, I don’t think they be,” Toby Smathers added, straining his eyes to catch the first glimpse of the newcomers; for in this wild region, strangers are not to be always recognized as friends until they have proven themselves such.

“There’s two of ’em,” remarked Step Hen, “and they’re men, I c’n see.”

“Hello! there, don’t shoot, we’re friends, all right!” called a voice, so peculiar in itself that Toby immediately laughed aloud, as though he had no difficulty in recognizing it.

“Is that Sheriff Bob McNulty?” he asked.

“Nobody else,” came the reply; “and unless I’m mighty far off my base, that must be my old friend, Toby Smathers, the forest ranger.”

The two men came on to the fire. The boys saw that the one whom Toby had called Sheriff Bob was a tall, angular man, wearing the regulation wide-brimmed soft hat, and long black coat that sheriffs out in the Wild and Woolly West seem to so frequently think a badge of their calling.

He impressed them as a man of sterling character; but they did not entertain the same sort of an opinion toward his companion, who was a middle-aged man, lanky and sinister in appearance, and with a crafty gleam in his shifting eyes that somehow gave Step Hep and Davy Jones a cold feeling of distrust.

“Why, what’s this mean, Toby; you a forest ranger camping with a parcel of kids?” exclaimed the sheriff, throwing a quick, interrogative glance toward his companion, which the other answered with a negative shake of the head, after giving each of the three boys a keen look, while a shade of bitter disappointment crossed his crafty face.

“Oh! it was an off season for me, Sheriff Bob,” replied the guide, laughing; “an’ I thought I’d try playing guide again, this time to a bunch of Boy Scouts what come out to the Rockies from the Far East, to hunt big game.”

The sheriff grinned broadly, as though that struck him a good deal in the nature of a joke.

“Boy Scouts, eh?” he continued, as he calmly sat him down by the fire; “well, I’ve heard a heap about them, but these are the first I’ve set eyes on. They brought their nerve along with ’em I reckon, Toby?” and he chuckled again while speaking.

“That’s the way I thought about ’em fust pop, Sheriff Bob,” remarked Toby, in a quiet, convincing tone; “but I’ve found out that I sized ’em up a lot too low. They’s eight of ’em in the bunch, and the rest is keepin’ camp down by that willow that stands by the spring hole in the valley. We came out to-day to try and get a big-horn.”

The sheriff sniffed the air at this.

“Say, you don’t mean to tell me they shot a sheep?” he demanded.

“Two of the same, and at a pretty fair distance too. We got ’em both. This here, who is known as Smithy, had never killed anything bigger’n a mouse afore, I understands, an’ precious few of ’em; while Step Hen here, he’s had considerable experience up in Maine, which is said to be a good hunting ground.”

The sheriff pursed up his lips, and arched his eyebrows.

“Well,” he remarked, “I’d like to shake hands with you both, boys, because you’ve done what I never yet accomplished in my life shot a big-horn.”

“But sho! that ain’t near all,” declared the proud Toby; “they got a couple of big grizzlies in the bargain; and right this very day Step Hen, he clumb half way down that cliff thar, to shove his sheep loose; and had to fight for his life agin a pair o’ cantankerous eagles what had a nest up thar. I went to his help, an’ thar the birds lie, Sheriff Bob!”

The officer whistled again.

“This is a surprise, I must say,” he remarked. “But Toby, if so be you could spare us a mouthful of that same mutton, why, we’d be obliged. We’ve got to be going in a little while, because, you see, I’m up here to assist this gentleman, who’s name is Mr. Artemus Rawson, and a lawyer from Denver, look up a boy who’s his nephew, and who’s stolen something his uncle values a heap. We learned he was last seen on the hike for this country roundabout; and I’m bound to find him, by hook or by crook. I always do, you remember, Toby; none of them ever gets away from Sheriff Bob.”

Step Hen almost cried out, such was the thrill that shot through him. Almost instinctively his eyes sough those of Davy Jones, and a look of intelligence passed between them.

Rawson, the sheriff said his name was, and he was a lawyer from Denver, looking for a boy who was his nephew, and whose name therefore was likely to be the same!

Surely he must be referring to their new friend, Aleck. But the sheriff had declared the boy to be a thief; and they could never believe Aleck that, with his frank face, his clear eyes, and engaging manners. There must be some sort of a mistake; or else this so-called Artemus Rawson was a fraud of the first water, and just trying to get possession of that secret connected with the hidden mine, the same as Colonel Kracker!

Step Hen put a finger on his lips, and that told Davy to keep quiet, so that the others might not suspect their comrades in the other camp were entertaining the very boy these men sought at that particular minute.

And when he had the chance, Step Hen whispered a few words to Smithy that rather startled that worthy, who had apparently not noticed what was being said when the sheriff was talking; he having hurried over to try and cut some slices from the carcase of the big-horn, as he wished to get into the habit of doing these handy things about camp.

There now remained but Toby; and from the sly wink which the guide gave Step Hen, upon seeing the anxious look on the boy’s face, it was plain that he had grasped the situation immediately, and they need not fear that he would betray Aleck.

While the two men were eating a little later, Step Hen tried to make up his mind as to what sort of a party this so-called Artemus Rawson might be. If he indeed proved to be a genuine brother of the man who had discovered the silver lode, and the real uncle of Aleck, then he must have been a different sort of a man altogether from the boy’s father. On his small, rat-like face scheming was written plainly; and the chances were, Step Hen concluded, that he too knew something about the “find” Aleck had lately made, and was plotting to get possession of that precious chart to the mine.

This gave Step Hen cause for sudden excitement. The sheriff had just said they could not stay all night with Toby and his charges; that they were bound in the direction of the valley, called by business. Then the chances were that they knew something of the boy’s plans, and that he might be run across heading into the valley from the other side. They had laid out to meet him on the way, and take him by surprise.

What bothered Step Hen was the fact that the sheriff had just said they were likely to come upon the camp of the scouts on the way, between then and morning, and in case they did, he promised himself the pleasure of dropping in to take a bite of breakfast with the smart scoutmaster and his chums, whom he would like to meet very much.

Step Hen worried over this very nearly all the time the two men were eating. He thought those rat-like eyes of Artemus Rawson, so-called, were often searching his face, as though the man suspected that he knew something about the boy the sheriff had been engaged to find; and that being the case, the man would even go out of their way to visit the camp of the scouts, to see whether the one they sought might be stopping there.

And how under the sun could Thad be warned of the impending trouble?