Read CHAPTER XXI - HEARING ALECK’S SIDE OF THE STORY. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on ReadCentral.com.

That good and hearty laugh on the part of the sheriff did more to reassure the scouts than anything else could have done. Giraffe, who had been holding his very breath in consternation, allowed the air to flow in and out of his lungs again; Bumpus regained his color, while his staring eyes concluded apparently not to pop out of his head this time; and as for Allan and Bob White, they lost some of the look of alarm that had spread over their faces.

“Yes, it was as good as a circus to just sit thar, and enjoy reading that little talk,” the sheriff went on to say. “I could ’most imagine myself back again in the army, out in the Philippines, teachin’ some of the awkward squad their p’s and q’s. And the news was some interestin’, too. So Aleck, he was to make himself scarce, was he? Seems like he did that same, too,” with another chuckle, and a shrug of his shoulders toward the tents which he had so lately examined without profit.

Allan hardly knew what to say; but boldly taking up the cudgels he presently remarked:

“Well, Mr. Sheriff, what else could we do? Aleck was a scout, one of our organization; and if you’ve got a son who belongs to it, you must know that a scout is always supposed to be ready to hold out a helping hand to a fellow member. Aleck was in trouble. He had fallen into the hands of a party of prospectors, headed by Colonel Kracker, who were bent on forcing him to give up the secret they thought he carried, concerning the long-lost silver mine his father was said to have discovered years ago.”

“H’m! say you so, boy?” the other observed, while the lawyer pricked up his ears, as if suddenly interested. “Kracker around here, is he? Well, that’s some interesting news, you’re telling me. You say the boy had fallen into their hands, and that you rescued him?”

“If you’d like to hear about it, I’ll be only too glad to tell you,” Allan went on to say, eagerly; for somehow he had already taken quite a fancy toward this sheriff with the humorous twinkle in his eye, and thought it only right to make a friend of him, if it could be done.

“All nonsense, Mr. Sheriff,” spluttered old Artemus, who feared lest his case might be losing its grip, and that the officer would refuse to aid him even were the boy found. “He’s trying to swing your sympathies around against my interests. Remember that you carry a warrant, and are sworn to serve it.”

“I always does my duty, Mr. Rawson, don’t you fear,” replied the sheriff, with a frown; “but just now it’s a part of my business to hear all I can concerning the way your nephew came to join in with these Boy Scouts. Now, just go on telling me what you started to say, my boy.”

At that Allan picked up fresh courage. The sheriff was inclined to favor them, he realized, even at the expense of straining his “duty.”

“Why, one of our number, Giraffe here,” he said, “happened to be practicing the wigwag code outside the camp, in the darkness, using a brand he’d picked from the fire; when to his astonishment he saw answering signals from what seemed to be the sky. Well, when we made out the one word ‘help!’ you see our interest was at once raised to fever pitch.”

“I should say it would be,” remarked Sheriff Bob, showing the deepest attention, as though the prospect for developments in the story began to excite him.

“Our scoutmaster took matters in hand,” Allan went on. “You just said he was clever at sending and receiving messages. Well, he’s a cracker-jack, that’s what he is. And it so happened that Aleck, he not only belonged to the scouts, and had learned everything about signaling; but he served as a telegraph operator for a short time on a side road, when the regular man was taken sick; so he could even beat our Thad at talking with his hands; and that’s going some, I tell you.”

“But what was Aleck doing up there; and where was he at the time?” asked the deeply interested sheriff.

“Kracker and his two men had caught Aleck; and unable to make him tell what they wanted, what do you think the cowards did? Lowered the boy down to a shelf on the face of the cliff, and left him there, saying he would starve unless he weakened, and gave up his secret; which Aleck vows belongs to his mother alone, and nothing on earth would make him betray.”

“And they left him there, did they?” growled Sheriff Bob, frowning in a way to indicate his opinion of the said Kracker.

“Just what they did. He saw us come into the valley, but thought we might only be some more of the same kind of wolves, wanting to torture a poor boy. But when he saw Giraffe, here, making letters with his fire-stick, something told Aleck we must be Boy Scouts. So, finding some wood on the ledge, he managed to make a little fire in a crack that ran into the rock; and with a brand from this he started to call, repeating that one word over and over again ’help’!”

“This here is some interesting to me, son,” remarked the big sheriff, as Allan paused to get his breath, for he was talking so fast and so eagerly that he had almost exhausted himself. “And so, after you learned where he was, and how he came to be thar, I reckon now you boys started to climb up and rescue the other how?”

“That’s what we did, sir,” broke in Giraffe, eagerly. “Four of us, counting the guide, managed to climb up the mountain, and with a rope we carried, hooked Aleck up off that ledge the prettiest you ever saw, that’s what we did,” with a defiant look toward old Artemus, who was sniffing through all this talk, just as though he refused to believe a word of it.

“And that’s the way we came to have him in our camp, sir,” Allan went on to say. “We heard his story, and believed it, too. He’s got a mother, and a lot of little sisters, who look to him to carry out the work his father started. But every one who ever hears a word about that hidden mine Jerry Rawson once found, seems to be just crazy to take it away from his widow. She has hardly a single friend to trust. Even her relatives plot to beat her out of this valuable mining property, and try all sorts of things, in hopes of getting hold of the secret. And now you know just where we stand, Mr. Sheriff. As scouts we must stay friends of Aleck. He was here, just as you know; but he’s gone away, and none of us know where to. Thad took him off during the night, and all he said was we might expect to see him again when he showed up. So you can’t pump any information out of us, you see.”

“And even if we knew anything, we wouldn’t tell,” asserted Giraffe, belligerently, feeling that the honor of a scout was in question right then.

The sheriff looked from one to another of those four boyish faces.

“By George! now, I reckon it wouldn’t be any use in me tryin’ to scare you by threatening to jail you for aiding in the escape of a desperate criminal, would it?” he remarked, pretending to look very serious, but with that twinkle again in evidence, as Allan saw.

“You just couldn’t;” declared Giraffe, while Bumpus began to move a little uneasily in his seat; “in the first place, we don’t know anything more’n we’ve told you; secondly, we haven’t assisted anybody to escape, because we’re right here, johnny-on-the-spot, and it’s our scoutmaster who’s gone; and then, last of all, there ain’t any desperate criminal at all; only a poor, persecuted boy, with the grit that you just want your own chap to show, Mr. Sheriff, ready to fight everybody, for the sake of his mother and sisters.”

Sheriff Bob wagged his head slowly, as though mentally digesting what the other had just said.

“H’m! that remains to be seen, boy,” he remarked; although Giraffe believed he did not feel one-half as ferocious as he chose to look just then. “Duty is duty, no matter how unpleasant it may seem, sometimes.”

“I’m glad to hear you take that sensible view of the matter, Mr. Sheriff,” said the old Denver lawyer, in his oily tones. “You mustn’t believe one-tenth of what boys say. They would as soon prevaricate as eat their breakfast; that is, some of the breed would, though doubtless your son is an exception to the rule. These scouts, as they choose to call themselves, have fixed up a story to suit themselves, and they hope to enlist your sympathy; but I know that a stern sense of duty will compel you to close your ears to anything they may say. I demand that you exercise every effort possible, looking to the immediate arrest of my rascally nephew, Alexander Rawson, whom I accuse of stealing valuable papers from my pocketbook while I was a guest under his mother’s roof, and then disappearing.”

“Oh! very well, sir, don’t excite yourself about my movements,” remarked Sheriff Bob, assuming a pompous air, though Allan thought he winked slily in his direction while speaking. “You will find no cause to complain to my superiors concerning any shortcomings on my part. And up to now, you must admit I have been unflagging in my endeavor to locate the fugitive from justice. Make your mind easy, Mr. Rawson, I see my duty clear in the premises, and can be depended on to do it.”

Watching his chance a little later Allan followed the sheriff, when the latter went to get a drink of water near by. Artemus looked as though he wanted to keep them from having any communications out of his range of hearing; but he sank back in his seat again, plainly afraid of invoking the anger of the big sheriff, who, he already felt, did not feel any too warmly toward him and his cause.

And as they sat down by the little stream to dip up some of the clear water with the tin cup Sheriff Bob had made sure to fetch along, Allan made it a point to tell the other all that Aleck had said about the motives of his father’s lawyer brother, and how for a long time he had bothered the widow, trying to find out if she knew anything about the hidden mine; which until lately of course she had not.

Allan knew how to talk. Moreover, he had an interested listener in the officer, and that counted for a great deal. Besides, he felt deeply for the persecuted boy, and his heart was filled with a desire to assist him secure the legacy left by his father, than whom no living soul had ever gazed upon the hidden mine.

Sheriff Bob listened to all that the boy said. Several times he scratched his head reflectively, and made a grimace, as though conflicting forces had begun to engage him in an inward war.

And when finally Allan declared that he now knew all, the officer drew a long breath, and remarked, quietly:

“I seem to smell a pretty good-sized rat about this game Mr. Artemus is putting up; but as I said, the warrant he swore out is in my hands for serving, and I just reckon I’ll have to do my sworn duty and arrest this same Aleck that is, if so be he shows up while we’re around here.”

Allan looked him squarely in the eye; and he was sure one of the lids above the blue orbs of the official dropped a little in a suggestive way.

He too drew a long breath, and with a smile on his boyish face, said as he arose:

“Thank you, Mr. Sheriff, thank you very much!”