Read CHAPTER XXIII - A WOLF BROOD IN THE WAY. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

It was plain to the young scoutmaster that Aleck had studied his map carefully. For after he had taken his bearings anew, from the rocky head that towered almost above them, the other was able to make a direct course to the foot of an adjoining cliff, where the moonlight fell upon the chalky wall.

Thad saw first of all that there were strange markings across the face of this cliff, or rather running up and down. They consisted of several thicknesses, and as the boys drew closer, he discovered that what he suspected before was the truth; and that these were caused by vines that ascended for various distances, clinging tenaciously to the rock wall.

Toward their base they seemed of unusual thickness; and it was easily believable that one of these might conceal a fissure in the rock, just as Aleck had mentioned, when speaking of the way his father discovered the entrance to Aladdin’s Cave of treasure.

The boy seemed to be counting these dark veins traversing the face of the cliff, and when they came to the fourth one he stopped still.

“There it is, Thad, the vines he marked, fourth from the right!” he said, in a low and trembling voice, as though the intensity of his feelings almost overcame him.

“Yes, I can see it,” replied the other, steadily, feeling that he must bolster up Aleck’s courage in this trying time. “And we want to know right away whether it really does hide a gap in the rock. Come on, Aleck!”

He led the way forward, with the other half holding back. Feverish with impatience though Aleck might be, to know whether all his hopes were doomed to be shattered then and there, or allowed to blossom forth into glorious buds of promise, the poor boy suddenly felt a weakness come upon him. Only for his having such a staunch-hearted chum at his elbow, ready to take the lead, there is no telling how long Aleck Rawson might have hesitated there, before that mass of clinging vines, afraid to take his courage in both hands, and push on to the goal.

But it was different with Thad. He strode up to the vines, and with one sweep drew them aside. The act disclosed a fissure that was several feet in width at its base, and running some distance up the wall; although growing gradually smaller, until finally it merged into the gloom that held sway aloft, back of the screen of vines.

Aleck gave a low cry of rapture.

“It’s here, just as he said it would be, in this map I carry!” he exclaimed, as he clutched the arm of the scoutmaster. “I hope I’m not dreaming all this, Thad; tell me I’m not, please, that’s a good fellow.”

“Well,” replied the other, laughing gently so as to convince Aleck that he was perfectly cool and collected, and ought to know what he talked about; “so far as it goes, your map is absolutely correct, Chum Aleck; and I don’t see any reason to doubt the rest of the story. In my opinion we’re going to discover something fine before a great many minutes go past.”

“What shall we do, Thad; you see, I’m so upset with it all, that somehow I look to you to arrange things. Perhaps if I was alone, and just had to depend on myself, I’d do better; but it’s so kind of you to help me out, and you’re so capable of doing it all. Please fix it up as you think best.”

“All right, then,” returned Thad, readily. “First of all, I’ll light our little glim here; for if we’re going to poke along into that black hole, I reckon we’ll be wanting some sort of light to see by. Don’t think I’d like to take a tumble down some precipice, myself; not to speak of running across a wild beast.”

“What makes you say that last, Thad?” demanded the other, quickly; “do you get a scent of it, too?”

“I had an idea I did, and somehow it made me think of a menagerie. Hold up just a minute, and we’ll be able to see something.”

As he spoke Thad struck a match, which he applied to the wick of the lantern. It was a good type of its kind, and as soon as the wick had been properly adjusted no one could reasonably complain about the quality of the illumination produced.

This done, the patrol leader hastened to lower the lantern so that he could examine the ground close to the bottom of the fissure in the rock.

“Plenty of tracks, all right,” was his first comment.

“Can you make them out, and is it a bear?” asked Aleck, almost unconsciously swinging his gun a little further to the front, while his fingers sought the lock.

“Well, no; the marks differ very much from the tracks of a bear, either a black or a cinnamon. They look more like made by a dog’s paws,” Thad replied.

“But a dog wouldn’t be up here; you must mean it’s a wolf, that’s what, Thad,” Aleck hastened to observe.

“If that was a guess, you hit the nail square on the head, Aleck,” chuckled the scoutmaster. “A wolf has been using this hole in the rock for a den; and from all I can make out, the tracks seem pretty fresh, too.”

“Then you think the old chap is in there now, do you?” asked the other.

“I wouldn’t like to say;” replied Thad; “but there’s just one thing we’ve got to do, and that is, believe it to be so. A wolf caught in a trap is some dangerous, they tell me; and in case this happens to be a mother wolf, with a litter of whelps, she’d fight like everything, believe me.”

“But we’re going in, Thad; ain’t we; you won’t let that stand us off, after coming so far, will you? Oh! if there were a dozen wolves, and every one of them ready to fight from the word go, I’d just have to learn the truth before I left here. For her sake I’d take any risk to know.”

“Well, I should say we were going in; and right away at that,” returned Thad, taking a step forward. “I only thought I ought to put you on your guard, so that in case we came on the thing, you’d know what to expect. Have you got your gun all ready to shoot, Aleck?”

“Believe me, yes; and while I don’t want to brag, still I’ve always called myself a pretty good shot, even at a jumping wolf,” replied the other; since he now knew that Thad did not mean to be deterred by any sort of ordinary difficulty, Aleck began to seem like himself, being able to keep his feelings in restraint.

That was the influence of a cool, determined comrade, like the scoutmaster. Such a firm, collected spirit always exerts considerable influence over those with whom it comes in personal contact.

Thad held the lantern. He preferred doing so, even though it must necessarily interfere more or less with his taking any sort of aim, should the occasion suddenly arise whereby it become necessary for him to fire. But then, it was very important, Thad thought, that they keep the lantern intact; and of course he had never been alongside Aleck in action, so he could not tell just what sort of coolness the other would display when a time of excitement arrived.

Besides, when one is perfectly at home with a gun, it is possible to shoot without ever raising the weapon to the shoulder. Instinct takes the place of aim on such an occasion; some people call it “shooting from the hip,” and that would be as good a designation for the method of pulling a hasty trigger, as any other.

Of course, they kept close together. This was rendered necessary by the narrowness of the fissure, even had not their personal wishes in the matter forced the two lads to touch elbows.

They strained their eyes as they slowly advanced, looking ahead most of the time, yet not neglecting to also observe the walls as they passed.

And already Thad was beginning to notice a peculiarly marked streak here and there, that had a rather dingy, black look, and which he strongly suspected might, on investigation, prove to be the outcropping of the marvelous ore of silver, which, further on had been revealed to the startled eyes of the prospector, years ago, doubtless causing him to blink, and pinch himself, under the belief that he must be only indulging in a maddening dream, such as all of his class are visited with from time to time.

But before they could pay the slightest attention to these things it became absolutely necessary that they find out the truth about that wolf business. And as they pushed steadily inward they were constantly on the alert for the first sign that would give warning of danger.

“I heard something like a growl, then!” whispered Aleck, suddenly.

“Sure thing,” answered the other, steadily; “and we ought to get a sight of the animal’s eyes, quick enough now. Look for twin fires, that burn like phosphorus in the dark. And hold your gun on them as soon as you sight them, but don’t shoot till I give the word, unless the beast charges us.”

Ten seconds later, another and different sound came to their strained hearing.

“Cubs whining, as I live!” ejaculated Thad, half under his breath.

“Then it’s a she wolf?” said the other.

“I reckon it is,” the scoutmaster answered.

“But what are you waiting for, Thad?” Aleck demanded; “I suppose that makes it a tougher proposition; but now I’ve come this far, I’ve just got to go through to the end.”

“We will, all right, Aleck, never fear. I was just holding back to see if my eyes would get a little more accustomed to the dark over there; but now we can go on again. Ready all the while, are you?”

“Yes, indeed I am, Thad. Now I think I can see what you said I would.”

“Meaning her yellow eyes glistening with fierce madness; because there’s nothing more ready to fight a hundred enemies than a mother wolf with whelps. Steady, forward we go, slow but sure!”

“All right, Thad; I’m as cool as anything now; all my excitement seems to have gone when there’s real danger afoot,” remarked Aleck, in an even voice that backed up his words.

“I knew that would be so, Aleck,” replied the other, in a low tone. “But I can begin to see the figure of the wolf now; can you?”

“Yes, and she’s standing over something that seems to move,” the other replied.

“That must be the cubs; yes, listen to them growl, would you? Young as they are they understand that an enemy is near. Ten to one the hair on each little back is standing up like bristles, right now. But seems to me we’ve gone about as close as we ought to, Aleck?”

Thad came to a halt. The light of the lantern showed them a dim, half crouching figure ahead. It was the mother wolf. Undoubtedly she might have found means of escape by retiring further into the place; but nothing would induce her to abandon her whelps. And Thad found himself obliged to admire this valor in the animal even though necessity compelled him to rid the country of pests by wiping out the entire brood of wolves, whelps as well as mother.