The Scouts were shown every attention, and were taken for a ride on the "Farthest North" railroad, known as the "Wild Goose" road, leading up to some of the most important placer mines on the peninsula. The Scout uniform caught the fancy of some of the young men of the town, and when the organization had been explained to them they organized two patrols, and Colonel Snow administered the first degree of the ritual.
In three days the steamer for Seattle was ready to sail, and the boys bid farewell to their new friends and started on the homeward leg of their journey. Steaming far to the westward to get around the long reach of the Alaska Peninsula they sailed a thousand miles south, and at Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island they transferred to the line of steamers which was to take them along the peninsula to Seward. Stopping part of a day on Kodiak Island, they visited the great salmon canneries at Karluk, where the boys were told they could catch all the salmon they wanted. They saw the great fish handled literally by the ton and canned by machinery. The boys disembarked with the aeroplane at Seward and found the chief and three of his men awaiting them, with the news that they believed that they had discovered the cave.
"No can get him. Very high. Most to sky," the chief told Rand, and indicated in "pigeon" that the cliff was a pinnacle of three spires of rock standing alone and utterly inaccessible from any side. He said it was two days' journey by easy trail, and that they would take horses.
Colonel Snow, deciding that the trip would be an interesting experience for the boys, provided them with pack horses and a trusty guide, in addition to the Indians. He was opposed at first to their trying to take the aeroplane into the mountainous regions, but finding that it could be conveyed by pack horses without trouble, and that the boys had some project on hand which made it very desirable to them withdrew his objections. He exacted a promise, however, that if they got into difficulties with it they would abandon it at once. He himself had business at Cordova and up the Copper River Railroad, and he agreed to meet them at the steamer from Seward to Cordova at the latter port within a week or ten days at the utmost.
The United States Government has in recent years constructed a large number of miles of good wagon roads and trails in different parts of Alaska, and nearly three-quarters of the distance to the point to which they were bound was thus equipped. The guide engaged for them was an old miner of the character of Swiftwater, and he was employed as a mail carrier and driver over the winter roads from Valdez to Fairbanks.
Horses were provided for the boys for such a distance as trails could be found, and from that point they would take only the pack animals and get through as they could. By taking out the motor, it was found that the plane could be easily carried by two animals, and the machinery was distributed between two others. Beyond some small food supplies and a quantity of strong rope no other luggage was taken.
The roads were found to be so good that although the trail ran right up into the foothills of the Kenai range they made excellent progress the first day and camped in a little mountain meadow full of late flowers, and with good running water.
They used gasoline for cooking, as they had brought along sufficient for use in the aeroplane and the Indians fed by themselves on salmon and other fish. Away in the distance, more than a hundred miles, could be seen the giant peaks of the Alaskan range—the backbone of Alaska—Foraker, Russell, Spurr and McKinley, snow clad and dazzling.
"I'd like a chance to climb one of those big mountains," said Jack. "You know we didn't get an opportunity in the Canadian Rockies, although they seemed to be very near."
"I guess," said Rand, "that we've got all we can do to climb the mountain we're looking for. We'll be lucky if we do that."
"How did the Indians or whoever hid this ivory, if there's any there, get it up to the cave, if it is a cave?" asked Don the Doubter.
"That's what we've got to find out; also how we're going to get up there ourselves," said Dick.
"I think we have a way to do that," said Gerald, "but we've got to know the size and shape of this hill or peak or whatever it is, before we decide how to climb it."
"Well," said Pepper, with a yawn, "I move we go to bed now and get up early and get on the road and try and reach the place before night," and he rose rather stiffly, for he was not known at home as a great admirer of horsemanship, and the day's journey had told on him.
"I'll keep watch for awhile yet," said the guide, "and then I'll put one of the Injuns on. Don't get scared if ye hear a shot early in the mornin', for I'm goin' out to see if I can get a caribou. I hear they're pretty thick up here in the foothills, and it'll tickle these Injuns to death. The poor fellers have been workin' the canneries all summer and ain't had a mouthful of fresh meat all that time. A little feast'll put more heart into 'em for the work."
The boys camped under a cluster of small trees with ponchos and blankets over them, and as the black flies had disappeared and mosquitos were few, enjoyed a good night's rest.
THE MAMMOTH'S TUSKS.
Sure enough, the camp was awakened at an early hour the next day by a couple of rifle shots, and an excited commotion among the Indians. The boys in whom, as in all healthy American youths, the hunting instinct was strong, at once scrambled from under their blankets, seized their rifles and dashed through the bushes toward the small stream which flowed from the mountains toward an arm of Prince William Sound.
A dozen rods from the camp, they came upon the guide and the Indians standing around a large bull caribou whose head boasted a magnificent pair of antlers. The animal's throat had been cut and the Indians had already set to work to take off the hide.
"Got him the first shot," said the guide, "and tried to get another, but they was too swift fer me. They was six in the herd. However, this is enough, and the poor things is bein' killed off fast enough fer their hides and horns without our takin' more'n we need."
"Why didn't you call us?" asked Jack, "I should like to have got a shot at some big game before we leave Alaska."
"Fer that very reason," replied the guide, "it's the close season now, and we can only kill what we need for meat. Besides that, it's ticklish business gettin' a shot at caribou, and two persons would have made more noise than one, and I wanted very much to get one or two fer these Indians, who need it, as I told you. Hurry up there, you Siwash, and get yer meat and have yer feast fer we've got to be movin'."
"What a handsome pair of antlers," said Rand, who was something of a naturalist.
"Best head I ever see," said the guide. "I'd be glad to make ye a present of it if there was any chance of yer gettin' it out of Alaska at this season. However, we'll take it back to Seward and maybe Colonel Snow can find some way to do it."
By this time two of the Indians had cut the carcass up, while the others had built a hot fire. Several steaks were cut off and roasted before the flames under the guide's direction for the boys' breakfast, and they found the meat juicy and palatable. Then the Indians turned to and had their "feast." They partially roasted the flesh in great chunks, and for an hour gorged themselves like starving men just escaped from the desert.
"T-t-hey won't be able to walk," commented Pepper, after gazing at the gastronomic feat that put any of his previous efforts in the shade.
"Let 'em alone fer that," said the guide, "I never in my life see anything that could carry a bigger cargo of grub, and do a day's work than a Siwash. I s'pose it's because starvation's got ter be a regeler perfession with 'em. They can lay in food like a camel does water, and then go fer days without it."
The Indians, having packed some of the meat for the next day, cut the rest into thin strips, and with the caribou's head, hung them to the branches of trees out of reach of bears, to be called for on their return. The riding horses were also turned loose, in a broad meadow to stay until the return, and nothing but the pack animals taken.
Their morning journey carried them higher and higher into the foothills of the Kenai range, and the trail became more rugged. About nine o'clock the Indians began to show some eagerness and excitement, and the chief told the guide that they would soon sight the peaks. Finally, the Siwashes ran ahead to the top of a sharp rise and excitedly beckoned. The boys joined them, and as they reached the summit of the ridge a peculiar scene met their gaze.
The other side of the ridge sloped sharply for nearly two hundred feet to a valley nearly half a mile wide, paved with gravel and boulders, and as bald of vegetation as a desert. The rocks on the slope of the ridge and along the sides of this wide shallow ravine were cut as sharply and worn as smooth as if the stone cutter's chisel had shaped their surfaces.
A quarter of a mile distant, and almost in the middle of the valley stood an immense obelisk of rock some three hundred feet high, dividing, some distance from the top into three sharp pinnacles. On the surface of the middle spire could be seen a small black dot. The Indians were dancing with excitement, and the boys themselves felt a thrill as they realized that they were nearing the climax of a great mystery.
"That looks like a great river bed, in which the water had dried up," remarked Rand, "I never saw anything like it before."
"Bed of an old glacier," said the guide, who had come up. "Lots of 'em in this country."
"That explains it, then," said Jack, excitedly.
"Explains what?" inquired Dick.
"How they got up there," replied Jack. "Don't you see? This valley was full of ice once nearly to the tops of those rocks, and when it came down and melted off, the bodies of the mammoths dropped out, and the natives gathered the tusks and stored them in the cave which they could easily reach with the glacier so near the top. Then the snow gave out somewhere in the mountains and the glacier gradually pushed its way out and melted, leaving the cave high and dry."
"All right for you, Jack," said Gerald. "Begorra, you've had that story already written, I see. But it looks like the real goods."
"I've read of these things before," replied Jack.
"That's about what happened," commented the guide. "Some geological sharps who were up here last year explained one of these rocky holes the same way."
The pack horses were now brought up to the top of the ridge and unloaded, as they could not very easily be taken down the valley slope. With the greatest care the plane was removed from the two pack animals, and with ropes lowered on its own wheels down the gravelly slope. The motor and other machinery was slid down upon skids cut from the forest and placed along the bank. At the bottom, the Scouts set to work putting the machine together.
"Ah," said the guide, with the air of a great discoverer, "I see what yer scheme is now. Ye're goin' up in that arrerplane, and see if ye can git a peek in that hole up there."
"Better than that," replied Gerald. "We're going to get up and get into that hole."
Delighted at finding they were nearing the goal of their hopes with so few obstacles, the Scouts worked cheerfully and earnestly upon the reassembling of the plane, and by noon had replaced the motor and tested every stay, brace and control. Then, after a dinner of caribou meat and coffee, they wheeled the plane over the gravel to the foot of the great gray granite obelisk. As they neared it they could see that the dot at the summit took more and more the shape of the ace of clubs, the mouth of the cave appearing as if cut by the hand of an artist, into gothic form. The Indians were awe-stricken spectators, scarcely able to raise a hand to work, so impressed were they with the preparations.
Some seven hundred feet of strong, but light manila rope had been attached to the lower frame of the machine, and to guard against accidents as much more had been coiled under the seat. It was Gerald's intention to rise over the obelisk, and trail the rope over the rock between two of the pinnacles, thus affording means for the raising eventually of a block and tackle and a rope ladder by which they would be able to reach the summit. But the "best laid plans o' mice and men" and even Boy Scouts, "gang agley," as Burns says.
They found a patch of smooth gravel, clear enough of boulders to allow the aviator to make an excellent start, and after trying out the engine to find that it was working without a flaw, Gerald got a fine running start and mounted into the air. Working west half a mile, mounting all the time to raise his trailing rope from the ground, he turned and circled around the mighty mass of rock looking for the most likely point on the top over which to trail his line. As he passed he caught a glimpse of the interior of the cave, and saw that it was much larger than it looked from the ground to be.
Turning again, he concluded to pass between two of the pinnacles, and immediately volplane down on the other side. As he approached the rock he shut off the engine, and the aeroplane began to slow down. The propellor stopped, and the plane sank perceptibly. One plane struck the side of a pinnacle and crumpled up, the weight of the engine carried the middle section, and the machine sank down a wrecked mass of canvas and wires upon a narrow plateau between two of the points. Gerald was scarcely jarred from his seat by the impact and soon freed himself from the wreckage to find himself marooned upon the top of a perpendicular rock three hundred feet from the ground. The Scouts and the Indians set up a cry of dismay when the possibility of the disaster became apparent, but as soon as he had freed himself, Gerald assured them of his safety, and of the fact that he had plenty of room to stand and move around upon. Another thing that relieved their fears was that he had about sixteen hundred feet of rope available. He first gave his attention to the cave, and found that by an easy climb of seven feet he could reach the mouth. He found the hole to be about ten feet deep, by as many broad. It was perfectly lighted and piled in the rear was what appeared to be an indiscriminate mass of bones buried under a pile of dust. Dragging some of them out, he saw that the pile consisted of some ten fine mammoth tusks, well preserved, two of which were still attached to part of the skull of the animal, a fine museum relic. The rest was made up of a miscellaneous collection of ivory—narwhal's horns and tusks of the walrus—all weighing about five hundred pounds.
There were also many Indian relics, nearly all in a decayed condition. He soon notified his companions of what the cave contained, and asked them to send up the block and tackle on the rope he had dragged over the pinnacle. Fastening the block by a turn of the rope around a small point of rock above his head, he bundled up the bones in canvas cut from one of the planes and lowered it to his comrades. When the last of the ivory had been lowered, together with the Indian relics which he thought the Siwashes might prize, he took the other rope from the aeroplane and knotted it at ten foot intervals. This he fastened to another point of rock and threw down. Then he placed a noose of the tackle rope around his body under his arms. Yelling to his companions to lower away he bent a last sorrowful look upon his beloved aeroplane, and with tears in his eyes, swung off with his knotted rope in his hands. Placing his feet against the perpendicular rock, he swung out by his knotted guide line, and fairly walked down the face of the obelisk backward.
The loss of the machine and Gerald's stupendous adventure and escape was almost too much for the emotions of the Boy Scouts, and with watering eyes they surrounded their comrade with many a hug and pat upon the back.
As for the Indians, they were on their knees almost worshipping the mammoth's tusks and the Indian relics. To hide their emotions the boys began at once preparations for departure. The ivory was divided up, and under the guide's direction taken across the gravel and up the ridge, where it was packed upon the horses. The remainder of the stuff was abandoned, including the ropes, gasoline and tools to keep the derelict and exalted plane company. When they reached the top of the ridge, and were about to descend into the foothills, the Scouts turned, and with bared heads paid a last tribute to the "First Airship in Alaska."
They camped that night on the site of their previous resting place, and at early morning gathered in their horses, some of which had strayed for miles, and were soon on their road back to Seward. By journeying rapidly, most of the trail being down hill, they arrived at the town early in the afternoon, where they found a despatch from Colonel Snow, asking them to await him there, as he would return to that port.
With the guide, they put in their time visiting the surrounding country, and in a trip to the celebrated Columbia glacier, considered the most beautiful and impressive on Prince William's Sound. It is about four miles wide, and about three hundred feet high. There are ten other glaciers in Prince William's Sound which keep its magnificent fiords filled with icebergs which fall from the glaciers, with the sound of thunder. The Scouts made a trip over the ice fields of Columbia, which were full enough of ice bridges and crevasses to furnish many a thrill.
"I wonder if there are any more mammoths on ice under us here," said Don as they tramped over the snowy surface.
"If there are, we shan't need an airship to get them," responded Rand.
"No," said Jack, "we shall want another kind of ship if we catch any more of that sort."
Two days later the steamer from Seattle, by way of Cordova and Valdez, reached Seward and the Colonel was a passenger. He brought with him a large package of letters from Creston which had been wandering over the Yukon, and had finally come across from Eagle to Valdez by way of Fairbanks.
The boys repeated the newsy gossip of their home town, and exchanged their letters freely. Pepper had three, however, which he read quietly by himself.
"Come, Pepper," said Jack, "produce."
"These are entirely for private consumption," replied Pepper, turning red, but with an effort at dignity.
"Pretty much everything you get your hands on seems to be," commented Dick, and the boys surrounded Pepper with joined hands, singing: "I'll Bet He's Had a Letter from Home," until the badgered youth tackled his brother and broke through the line of his tormentors. The Colonel had also found at Valdez a brief letter from Swiftwater, who announced that he had gotten hold of what he considered a good claim, and if any of his late "command" cared to come up and help him work it, they might all be millionaires before the following spring.
"Any of you care to take the job?" asked the Colonel with a smile. "I've taken an interest with Swiftwater in any claims he may file on, and you might find it worth while. However, I'm frank to say that, having gotten you this far without disaster I should prefer to return you to your homes safe and in good order."
The reader may wish to follow the later adventures of the Boy Scouts, and in the next volume, "In the North Woods," their further history will be told.
The letters from home awakened many pleasant memories, and perhaps a little feeling of home sickness, and there was no eager acceptance of the miner's proposition, which, anyway, was probably made in a joking spirit.
"I believe," said Rand, "I should like to come back here some time. I sometimes think that in spite of the fact that this great territory is so near the North Pole, it's going to be a great commonwealth. I want to see it in the winter time, when they say it is so terrible."
"Gee, I think we've had enough of it for this time," put in Gerald, with a serious look. "I want to get home and build another aeroplane. They'll be getting ahead of us on airships if we stay away much longer."
"And I hae me doots," put in the economical Don, "if this country isn't too expensive for just regular living."
"I'm going to write a book about this country, and I want to get home to do it," said Jack.
"Well," said Dick, "I'm rather in favor of a short visit to the old home at this time, just to astonish the natives with a few of our adventures. Since this patrol was formed, its experiences have got to be a regular habit with the Creston folks, and I have an idea they must miss something by this time. I think it's our duty to let them have at least an 'Old Home Week' to relieve their—hey, what do you call it, Jack, in that high school French of yours?—oh, yes, their ongwee."
"Well," said the ingenious Pepper, unguardedly, "I've got no reason—I just want to go home."
"Nothing to do with a sudden case of 'private consumption?'" cruelly remarked Jack, and amid the shout of laughter that followed Pepper, covered with a sunset glow, made a sudden exit in search of the guide.
Colonel Snow had a conference with the Indians after he had inspected the "treasure," and heard the story of its perilous recovery. He recognized that the value of the mammoth tusks as museum specimens was far greater than its worth as ivory, and he offered to pay the Indians far above its commercial value for their interest in it, allowing them full possession of the remaining ivory. They gladly accepted his suggestion, and all of them returned to their village near Skagway, with sufficient wealth to make them independent until the next "potlatch," when they would probably give it all away.
After a conference with the old guide, Colonel Snow made him an offer to join Swiftwater in the Fairbanks region, and operate with him on such claims as he should secure, and the old man prepared to return to his occupation as a miner, by the first fall stage from Valdez.
Having secured an official permit to take the caribou's head out of the territory through the influence of Colonel Snow, the whole party embarked next day on the homeward bound steamer, which leaving Seward, and stopping at Valdez and Cordova, took the "outside passage," for their trip, giving the Scouts for the first time a full taste of the Pacific Ocean. They proved good sailors in this instance, however, and in a few days stepped ashore in Seattle in their "Ain Countree."
As they crept into their berths in the Great Northern's Transcontinental Limited that night, eastward bound, Jack said:
"Rand, what do you suppose became of Dublin, Rae and Monkey? They seem to have missed us lately."
"You've heard, Jack, of a bad penny, haven't you? Well, they're three bad pence. Look out."