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

Step Hen was all of a tremble when he first began to handle that burning splinter of wood, provided by Toby Smathers, to serve as a fiery pen; and with which he hoped to write letters in the dark background he had chosen for his location.

Just as he had himself declared, regretfully now, Step Hen had never been a shining light in this code business. Indeed, up to lately, he had rather considered the whole thing something of a great bore; and when ordered out on the hills to wave signal flags, he had only obeyed under protest. There had been plenty of things he much preferred to this sort of detail work.

But after seeing how successfully a method of communication had been established between the scouts in camp, and Aleck, when the latter was being held a prisoner up on that shelf of rock, Step Hen had had his eyes opened. He realized what a really valuable thing a little knowledge along these lines was apt to prove, at most any time. And he had then and there resolved to improve his scanty share of information whenever the chance came.

Right now he was secretly glad that since that occasion he had been asking some questions along the line of acquiring information. He had even had half an hour’s practice with Thad, early in the morning, sending and receiving messages.

How fortunate that was, Step Hen reflected, just now, when he found himself placed in a position where a knowledge of wigwag work was going to prove of the utmost importance to the boy whom the scouts had taken in charge.

At the same time it was with considerable nervousness that he started in to ask his first question. He meant to inquire if the one answering him were Thad himself; but when he had made the last letter of the message Step Hen was afraid it might seem so bungled that all he would receive might be the well-known signal:

“Don’t understand repeat message!”

But to his delight there came the three letters:


Encouraged by this, Step Hen became more ambitious. He spelled out his own name, and added a few more words:

“This is Step Hen something important!”

Then he almost held his breath as he waited to see what effect this would have. The answer began to come back, slowly and positively, Thad allowing plenty of time for the other to make sure of every sign. And staring eagerly, unconsciously spelling aloud just as he received the message, Step Hen caught this:

“All right understand let us have news.”

“It’s going splendidly, Toby!” cried Step Hen, almost ready to jump up and down, in his excitement and joy, despite his wearied condition. “Thad’s taking it, word for word. I reckon I c’n make him understand something, even if I am such a big bungler at this thing. But I tell you right now, after this I’m going in for wigwag work the hardest you ever saw. It’s the greatest stunt a scout can follow up. Why, it’s worth everything else at such a time as this. Now to tell him about the two men headed that way, and how they’re after Aleck Rawson.”

With that Step Hen once more applied himself to the task before him. His heart was set on doing something that the scoutmaster would compliment him on when next they met. Step Hen had aroused himself to the fact that an occasion like this demanded that a scout should prove his worth. It might mean a merit medal for him, if his services were deemed of sufficient value.

Toby, seeing that the torch would not be likely to last out the labored conversation that was to follow, busied himself in getting another ready. As he was as good a hand at a fire as Giraffe, this did not prove a heavy task.

Meanwhile Step Hen kept on sending his messages in short, jerky sentences. He lacked confidence in himself, and dared not launch boldly forth in a description of the strange thing that had happened since the four of them had made camp, after their big-horn hunt. When he had spelled a sentence he would almost invariably add the query, “understand?” meaning to repeat if the answer came in the negative. But Thad was an expert at this sort of work, and could puzzle out the meaning of what Step Hen so blunderingly sent, almost as though he might be a mind reader.

“Two men came into our camp after dark!” went the opening message.

“Yes,” Thad replied, briefly, and evidently not meaning to say anything calculated to confuse the signal sender.

“One a sheriff, name Bob McNulty.”


“Other older man, name Artemus Rawson. Get that?”

There was a little interval at that. Perhaps Thad might be figuring it out; or he may have mentioned the name aloud, and be speaking with some one who was near by, possibly asking Aleck if he recognized the name.

“Yes,” came the flash, presently.

Step Hen had begun to grow cold. He felt that if he once found himself cornered, and making mistakes, he was apt to get rattled in his excitement, and forget the little he really did know about sending and receiving. So when Thad replied that he had grasped even that name, the sender found himself imbued with another relay of confidence. When he started in once more, he sent a little faster, though the scoutmaster at the first opportunity warned him to go slow and sure.

“Say looking for Aleck that he has robbed uncle headed down valley when left here Understand that?”

“Yes, but not so fast. Go on,” came the reply.

Step Hen understood that Thad gave him this warning, not because he was himself unable to receive at that rate, for he had seen the patrol leader and Allan go smoothly along at twice the pace. He was thinking of Step Hen, for he knew what was apt to happen if once the other overstepped the bounds, and muddled himself up; as like as not he would get his signals mixed, and after that be utterly unable to send coherently.

“Be with you by morning we think they suspect Aleck there you know what to do.”

“Yes. Good for you. Anymore?”

Step Hen sighed with relief. The great burden of responsibility had fallen from his shoulders on to those broad ones of the scoutmaster. Yes, Thad would surely know what to do he always did when the emergency arose. And that was what made his chums feel such implicit confidence in their leader.

And Step Hen thought that while he was about it, and the message business working so very smoothly, he might as well let Thad know of their success; so he managed to say:

“We got two sheep!”

“Good again.”

“Smithy shot one I got other had warm time I tell you. Anything new at the camp?”

“Sure. They came and paid us a visit,” Thad replied, slowly, so that not a word did Step Hen lose as he spelled the message out.

“Do you mean Kracker?” he demanded.

“Yes. He tried to ride over us rough-shod; but we took him down a peg. Sent the three men away kept their guns looking out for them all the time if you happen to meet hold them off Toby will know.”

That was an extra long one to take, and several times Step Hen had to wave his torch so as to interrupt the sender, and have him go back to the last period to repeat what he had to communicate. For of course Step Hen, like all new beginners in wigwag work, telegraphy, and kindred things, was a better hand at sending than receiving; because in the one case he knew in his own mind what was coming next, and was not apt to get confused; while in taking a message, if he lost one small fraction of the same, while his mind was grappling with that, he failed to catch the next letter, and thus was apt to become hopelessly entangled.

But thanks to the intelligent manner in which Thad managed his end of the air wire, and the positive way in which he moved his fire pencil, the message was finally all grasped, though Step Hen was rapidly becoming exhausted by his efforts, and the mental strain that bore on him so heavily.

“Better quit thar!” advised the guide, who kept a close watch on things, and was able to understand just what the tired boy was enduring.

“Pretty soon, Toby,” replied Step Hen, slowly. “I’ve done better than I ever thought I would, and Thad knows about that Artemus Rawson. He’ll see to it that Aleck isn’t around when they come to camp. Oh! ain’t I glad though I brushed up my code work with him early in the morning, though. That business with Aleck in the night made me ashamed to be so dull. I want to ask him one more question, for there he’s waving to know if I’m done.”

“Get through quick, then; we orter be back in camp,” said the guide, not unkindly, but because he saw the condition of Step Hen.

“What is it?” Thad was signaling, waiting each time after asking the question, to receive an answer.

“Will you have Aleck hide himself?” asked the other.

“Sure thing.”

“We’ll head back to camp in morning have to get Smithy’s horns first,” went on Step Hen.

“Has he taken to growing a pair?” Thad asked, quizzically.

“His sheep I mean lies back a bit look for us about noon.”

“That all?”

“Yes. Good-bye!”

The last wavering movements of Thad’s torch far away in the distance told that he was echoing this concluding word. Then it vanished.

The talk-fest was over; and Step Hen felt that at least he had done himself proud for one who had paid so little attention to this really important adjunct to the education of a Boy Scout.

“And mark me, Toby,” he mumbled as the guide kindly threw an arm about his tottering figure, though Step Hen hardly comprehended the fact, “I’m agoin’ to take up wigwag work after this, sure I am. Never thought it could be so interestin’. It’s sure great. Here’s our camp, ain’t it? You tell the boys what I did, won’t you Toby; I’m feelin’ kinder tired like? Guess I’ll sit down a spell.”

Davy Jones and Smithy were wild to know how it had all turned out; and while the murmur of the guide’s voice sounded, as he related the story of the message sending, poor played-out Step Hen sank to the ground, dead for sleep.

In less than two minutes he was lost to the world, the last thing he heard being the low voice of Toby Smathers, recounting the recent splendid feat of the scout whose message had undoubtedly saved Aleck Rawson from impending trouble.