The Last of the Chiefs - A Story of the Great Sioux War
by Joseph Altsheler
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"It's so," said Albert, and then he sighed sadly as he added, "How I wish I were strong enough to go with you and help!"

"Just you wait," said Dick. "You'll be as strong as a horse in a month, and then you'll have to do all the work and bring me my breakfast in the morning as I lie in bed. Besides, you'd have to stay here and guard the treasure that we already have. Better get into the pine den. Bears and wolves may be drawn by the scent of the food, and they might think of attacking you."

They put out the fire, and while Albert withdrew into the pine shelter, Dick started again over the mountain. The sun was setting blood red in the west, and in the east the shadows of twilight were advancing. It required a new kind of courage to enter the pass in the night, and Dick's shudders returned. At certain times there is something in the dark that frightens the bravest and those most used to it.

Dick hurried. He knew the way down the mountain now, and after the food and rest he was completely refreshed. But as fast as he went the shadows of twilight came faster, and when he reached the bottom of the mountain it was quite dark. The plain before him was invisible, and the forest on the slope behind him was a solid robe of black.

Dick set foot in the pass and then stopped. It was not dread but awe that thrilled him in every vein. He saw nothing before him but the well of darkness that was the great slash in the mountains. The wind, caught between the walls, moaned as in the day, and he knew perfectly well what if was, but it had all the nature of a dirge, nevertheless. Overhead a few dim stars wavered in a dusky sky.

Dick forced himself to go on. It required now moral, as well as physical, courage to approach that lost battlefield lying under its pall of night. Never was the boy a greater hero than at that moment. He advanced slowly. A bush caught him by the coat and held him an instant. He felt as if he had been seized in a man's grasp. He reached the first wagon, and it seemed to him, broken and rifled, an emblem of desolation. As he passed it a strange, low, whining cry made his backbone turn to ice. But he recovered and forced an uneasy little laugh at himself. It was only a wolf, the mean coyote of the prairies!

He came now into the space where the mass of the wagons and the fallen lay. Dark figures, low and skulking, darted away. More wolves! But one, a huge timber wolf, with a powerful body and long fangs, stood up boldly and stared at him with red eyes. Dick's own eyes were used to the darkness now, and he stared back at the wolf, which seemed to be giving him a challenge. He half raised his rifle, but the monster did not move. It was a stranger to guns, and this wilderness was its own.

It was Dick's first impulse to fire at the space between the red eyes, but he restrained it. He had not come there to fight with wolves, nor to send the report of a shot through the mountains. He picked up a stone and threw it at the wolf, striking him on the flank. The monster turned and stalked sullenly away, showing but little sign of fear. Dick pursued his task, and as he advanced something rose and, flapping heavily, sailed away. The shiver came again, but his will stopped it.

He was now in the center of the wreckage, which in the darkness looked as if it had all happened long ago. Nearly every wagon had been turned over, and now and then dark forms lay between the wheels. The wind moaned incessantly down the pass and over the ruin.

Overcoming his repulsion, Dick went to work. The moon was now coming out and he could see well enough for his task. There was still much gleaning left by the quick raiders, and everything would be of use to Albert and himself, even to the very gear on the fallen animals. He cut off a great quantity of this at once and put it in a heap at the foot of the cliff. Then he invaded the wagons and again brought forth treasures better than gold.

He found in one side box some bottles of medicine, the simple remedies of the border, which he packed very carefully, and in another he discovered half a sack of flour—fifty pounds, perhaps. A third rewarded him with a canister of tea and a twenty-pound bag of ground coffee. He clutched these treasures eagerly. They would be invaluable to Albert.

Continuing his search, he was rewarded with two pairs of heavy shoes, an ax, a hatchet, some packages of pins, needles, and thread, and a number of cooking utensils—pots, kettles, pans, and skillets. Just as he was about to quit for the purpose of making up his pack, he noticed in one of the wagons a long, narrow locker made into the side and fastened with a stout padlock. The wagon had been plundered, but evidently the Sioux had balked at the time this stout box would take for opening, and had passed on. Dick, feeling sure that it must contain something of value, broke the padlock with the head of the ax. When he looked in he uttered a cry of delight at his reward.

He brought forth from the box a beautiful double-barreled breech-loading shotgun, and the bounty of chance did not stop with the gun, for in the locker were over a thousand cartridges to fit it. Dick foresaw at once that it would be invaluable to Albert and himself in the pursuit of wild ducks, wild geese, and other feathered game. He removed some of the articles from his pack, which was already heavy enough, and put the shotgun and cartridges in their place. Then he set forth on the return journey.

As he left the wagons and went toward the mouth of the pass, he heard soft, padding sounds behind him, and knew that the wolves were returning, almost on his heels. He looked back once, and saw a pair of fiery red eyes which he felt must belong to the monster, the timber wolf, but Dick was no longer under the uncanny spell of the night and the place; he was rejoicing too much in his new treasures, like a miser who has just added a great sum to his hoard, to feel further awe of the wolves, the darkness, and a new battlefield.

Dick's second pack was heavier than his first, but as before, he trod lightly. He took a different path when he left the pass, and here in the moonlight, which was now much brighter, he saw the trace of wheels on the earth. The trace ran off irregularly through the short bushes and veered violently to and fro like the path of a drunken man. Dick inferred at once that it had been made, not by a wagon entering the pass, but by one leaving it, and in great haste. No doubt the horses or mules had been running away in fright at the firing.

Dick's curiosity was excited. He wished to see what had become of that wagon. The trail continued to lead through the short bushes that covered the plain just before entering the pass, and then turned off sharply to the right, where it led to an abrupt little canyon or gully about ten feet deep. The gully also was lined with bushes, and at first Dick could see nothing else, but presently he made out a wagon lying on its side. No horses or mules were there; undoubtedly, they had torn themselves loose from the gear in time to escape the fall.

Dick laid down his pack and descended to the wagon. He believed that in such a place it had escaped the plundering hands of the hasty Sioux, and his belief was correct. The wagon, a large one, was loaded with all the articles necessary for the passage of the plains. Although much tossed about by the fall, nothing was hurt.

Here was a treasure-trove, indeed! Dick's sudden sense of wealth was so overpowering that he felt a great embarrassment. How was he to take care of such riches? He longed at that moment for the strength of twenty men, that he might take it all at once and go over the mountain to Albert.

It was quite a quarter of an hour before he was able to compose himself thoroughly. Then he made a hasty examination of the wagon, so far as its position allowed. He found in it a rifle of the same pattern as that used by Albert and himself, a sixteen-shot repeater, the most advanced weapon of the time, and a great quantity of cartridges to fit. There was also two of the new revolvers, with sufficient cartridges, another ax, hatchets, saws, hammers, chisels, and a lot of mining tools. The remaining space in the wagon was occupied by clothing, bedding, provisions, and medicines.

Dick judged that the wolves could not get at the wagon as it lay, and leaving it he began his third ascent of the slope. He found Albert sound asleep in the pine alcove with his rifle beside him. He looked so peaceful that Dick was careful not to awaken him. He stored the second load of treasure in the alcove, and, wrapping one of the heavy blankets around himself, slept heavily.

He told Albert the next day of the wagon in the gully, and nothing could keep him from returning in the morning for salvage. He worked there two or three days, carrying heavy loads up the mountain, and finally, when it was all in their den, he and Albert felt equipped for anything. Nor had the buffalo robe been neglected. It was spread over much of the treasure. Albert, meanwhile, had assumed the functions of cook, and he discharged them with considerable ability. His strength was quite sufficient to permit of his collecting firewood, and he could fry bacon and make coffee and tea beautifully. But they were very sparing of the coffee and tea, as they also were of the flour, although their supplies of all three of these were greatly increased by the wagon in the gully. In fact, the very last thing that Dick had brought over the mountain was a hundred-pound sack of flour, and after accomplishing this feat he had rested a long time.

Both boys felt that they had been remarkably fortunate while this work was going on. One circumstance, apparently simple in itself, had been a piece of great luck, and that was the absence of rain. It was not a particularly rainy country, but a shower could have made them thoroughly miserable, and, moreover, would have been extremely dangerous for Albert. But nights and days alike remained dry and cool, and as Albert breathed the marvelous balsamic air he could almost feel himself transfused with its healing property. Meanwhile, the color in his cheeks was steadily deepening.

"We've certainly had good fortune," said Dick.

"Aided by your courage and strength," said Albert. "It took a lot of nerve to go down there in that pass and hunt for what the Sioux might have left behind."

Dick disclaimed any superior merit, but he said nothing of the many tremors that he felt while performing the great task.

An hour or two later, Albert, who was hunting through their belongings, uttered a cry of joy on finding a little package of fishhooks. String they had among their stores, and it was easy enough to cut a slim rod for a pole.

"Now I can be useful for something besides cooking," he said. "It doesn't require any great strength to be a fisherman, and I'm much mistaken if I don't soon have our table supplied with trout."

There was a swift creek farther down the slope, and, angling with much patience, Albert succeeded in catching several mountain trout and a larger number of fish of an unknown species, but which, like the trout, were very good to eat.

Albert's exploit caused him intense satisfaction, and Dick rejoiced with him, not alone because of the fish, but also because of his brother's triumph.

Chapter V The Lost Valley

They spent a week on the slope, sleeping securely and warmly under their blankets in the pine alcove, and fortune favored them throughout that time. It did not rain once, and there was not a sign of the Sioux. Dick did not revisit the pass after the first three days, and he knew that the wolves and buzzards had been busy there. But he stripped quite clean the wagon which had fallen in the gully, even carrying away the canvas cover, which was rainproof. Albert wondered that the Sioux had not returned, but Dick had a very plausible theory to account for it.

"The Sioux are making war upon our people," he said, "and why should they stay around here? They have cut off what is doubtless the first party entering this region in a long time, and now they have gone eastward to meet our troops. Beside, the Sioux are mostly plains Indians, and they won't bother much about these mountains. Other Indians, through fear of the Sioux, will not come and live here, which accounts for this region being uninhabited."

"Still a wandering band of Sioux might come through at any time and see us," said Albert.

"That's so, and for other reasons, too, we must move. It's mighty fine, Al, sleeping out in the open when the weather's dry and not too cold, but I've read that the winter in the northwestern mountains is something terrible, and we've got to prepare for it."

It was Dick's idea to go deeper into the mountains. He knew very well that the chance of their getting out before spring were too slender to be considered, and he believed that they could find better shelter and a more secure hiding place farther in. So he resolved upon a journey of exploration, and though Albert was now stronger, he must go alone. It was his brother's duty to remain and guard their precious stores. Already bears and mountain lions, drawn by the odors of the food, had come snuffing about the alcove, but they always retreated from the presence of either of the brothers. One huge silver tip had come rather alarmingly close, but when Dick shouted at him he, too, turned and lumbered off among the pines.

"What you want to guard against, Al," said Dick, "is thieves rather than robbers. Look out for the sneaks. We'll fill the canteen and all our iron vessels with water so that you won't have to go even to the brook. Then you stay right here by the fire in the daytime, and in the den at night. You can keep a bed of coals before the den when you're asleep, and no wild animal will ever come past it."

"All right, Dick," said Albert courageously; "but don't you get lost over there among those ranges and peaks."

"I couldn't do it if I tried," replied Dick in the same cheerful tone. "You don't know what a woodsman and mountaineer I've become, Al, old boy!"

Albert smiled. Yet each boy felt the full gravity of the occasion when the time for Dick's departure came, at dawn of a cool morning, gleams of silver frost showing here and there on the slopes. Both knew the necessity of the journey, however, and hid their feelings.

"Be back to-morrow night, Al," said Dick.

"Be ready for you, Dick," said Albert.

Then they waved their hands to each other, and Dick strode away toward the higher mountains. He was well armed, carrying his repeating rifle and the large hunting knife which was useful for so many purposes. He had also thrust one of the revolvers into his belt.

Flushed with youth and strength, and equipped with such good weapons, he felt able to take care of himself in any company into which he might be thrown.

He reached the bottom of the slope, and looking back, saw Albert standing on a fallen log. His brother was watching him and waved his hand. Dick waved his in reply, and then, crossing the creek, began the ascent of the farther slope. There the pines and the distance rendered the brothers invisible to each other, and Dick pressed on with vigor. His recent trips over the lower slopes for supplies had greatly increased his skill in mountain climbing, and he did not suffer from weariness. Up, up, he went, and the pines grew shorter and scrubbier. But the thin, crisp air was a sheer delight, and he felt an extraordinary pleasure in mere living.

Dick looked back once more from the heights toward the spot where their camp lay and saw lying against the blue a thin gray thread that only the keenest eye would notice. He knew it to be the smoke from Albert's fire and felt sure that all was well.

While the slope which he was ascending was fairly steep, it was easy enough to find a good trail among the pines. There was little undergrowth and the ascent was not rocky. When Dick stood at last on the crest of the ridge he uttered a cry of delight and amazement.

The slope on which he stood was merely a sort of gate to the higher mountains, or rather it was a curtain hiding the view.

Before him, range on range and peak on peak, lay mighty mountains, some of them shooting up almost three miles above the sea, their crests and heads hid in eternal snow. Far away to northward and westward stretched the tremendous maze, and it seemed to Dick to have no end. A cold, dazzling sunlight poured in floods over the snowy summits, and he felt a great sense of awe. It was all so grand, so silent, and so near to the Infinite. He saw the full majesty of the world and of the Power that had created it. For a little while his mission and all human passions and emotions floated away from him; he was content merely to stand there, without thinking, but to feel the immensity and majesty of it all.

Dick presently recovered himself and with a little laugh came back to earth. But he was glad to have had those moments. He began the descent, which was rougher and rockier than the ascent had been, but the prospect was encouraging. The valley between the ridge on the slope of which he stood and the higher one beyond it seemed narrow, but he believed that he would find in it the shelter and hiding that he and Albert wished.

As he went down the slope became steeper, but once more the pines, sheltered from the snows and cruel winds, grew to a great size. There was also so much outcropping of rock that Dick was hopeful of finding another alcove deep enough to be converted into a house.

When nearly down, he caught a gleam among the trees that he knew was water, and again he was encouraged. Here was a certainty of one thing that was an absolute necessity. Soon he was in the valley, which he found exceedingly narrow and almost choked with a growth of pine, ash, and aspen, a tiny brook flowing down its center. He was tired and warm from the long descent and knelt down and drank from the brook. Its waters were as cold as ice, flowing down from the crest of one of the great peaks clad, winter and summer, in snow.

Dick followed the brook for fully a mile, seeking everywhere a suitable place in which he and his brother might make a home, but he found none. The valley resembled in most of its aspects a great canyon, and all the fertile earth on either side of the brook was set closely with pine, ash, and aspen. These would form a shelter from winds, but they would not protect from rain and the great colds and snows of the high Rockies.

Dick noticed many footprints of animals at the margin of the stream, some of great size, which he had no doubt were made by grizzlies or silver tips. He also believed that the beaver might be found farther down along this cold and secluded water, but he was not interested greatly just then in animals; he was seeking for that most necessary of all things—something that must be had—a home.

It seemed to him at the end of his estimated mile that the brook was going to flow directly into the mountain which rose before him many hundreds of feet; but when he came to the rocky wall he found that the valley turned off at a sharp angle to the left, and the stream, of course, followed it, although it now descended more rapidly, breaking three times into little foamy falls five or six feet in height. Then another brook came from a deep cleft between the mountains on the eastern side and swelled with its volume the main stream, which now became a creek.

The new valley widened out to a width of perhaps a quarter of a mile, although the rocky walls on either side rose to a great height and were almost precipitous. Springs flowed from these walls and joined the creek. Some of them came down the face of the cliffs in little cascades of foam and vapor, but others spouted from the base of the rock. Dick knelt down to drink from one of the latter, but as his face approached the water he jumped away. He dipped up a little of it in his soft hat and tasted it. It was brackish and almost boiling hot.

Dick was rather pleased at the discovery. A bitter and hot spring might be very useful. He had imbibed—like many others—from the teaching of his childhood that any bitter liquid was good for you. As he advanced farther the valley continued to spread out. It was now perhaps a half mile in width, and well wooded. The creek became less turbulent, flowing with a depth of several feet in a narrow channel.

The whole aspect of the valley so far had been that of a wilderness uninhabited and unvisited. A mule deer looked curiously at Dick, then walked away a few paces and stood there. When Dick glanced back his deership was still curious and gazing. A bear crashed through a thicket, stared at the boy with red eyes, then rolled languidly away. Dick was quick to interpret these signs. They were unfamiliar with human presence, and he was cheered by the evidence. Yet at the end of another hundred yards of progress he sank down suddenly among some bushes and remained perfectly silent, but intently watchful.

He had seen a column of smoke rising above the pines and aspens. Smoke meant fire, fire meant human beings, and human beings, in that region, meant enemies. He had no doubt that Sioux were at the foot of that column of smoke. It was a tragic discovery. He was looking for a home for Albert and himself somewhere in this valley, but there could be no home anywhere near the Sioux. He and his brother must turn in another direction, and with painful effort lug their stores over the ridges.

But Dick was resolved to see. There were great springs of courage and tenacity in his nature, and he wished, moreover, to prove his new craft as a woodsman and mountaineer. He remained awhile in the bushes, watching the spire, and presently, to his amazement, it thinned quickly and was gone. It had disappeared swiftly, while the smoke from a fire usually dies down. It was Dick's surmise that the Sioux had put out their fire by artificial means and then had moved on. Such an act would indicate a fear of observation, and his curiosity increased greatly.

But Dick did not forget his caution. He crouched in the bushes for quite a while yet, watching the place where the smoke had been, but the sky remained clear and undefiled. He heard nothing and saw nothing but the lonely valley. At last he crept forward slowly, and with the greatest care, keeping among bushes and treading very softly. He advanced in this manner three or four hundred yards, to the very point which must have been the base of the spire of smoke—he had marked it so well that he could not be mistaken—and from his leafy covert saw a large open space entirely destitute of vegetation. He expected to see there also the remains of a camp fire, but none was visible, not a single charred stick, nor a coal.

Dick was astonished. A new and smoking camp fire must leave some trace. One could not wipe it away absolutely. He remained a comparatively long time, watching in the edge of the bushes beside the wide and open space.

He still saw and heard nothing. Never before had a camp fire vanished so mysteriously and completely, and with it those who had built it. At last, his curiosity overcoming his caution, he advanced into the open space, and now saw that it fell away toward the center. Advancing more boldly, he found himself near the edge of a deep pit.

The pit was almost perfectly round and had a diameter of about ten feet. So far as Dick could judge, it was about forty feet deep and entirely empty. It looked like a huge well dug by the hand of man.

While Dick was gazing at the pit, an extraordinary and terrifying thing happened. The earth under his feet began to shake. At first he could not believe it, but when he steadied himself and watched closely, the oscillating motion was undoubtedly there. It was accompanied, too, by a rumble, dull and low, but which steadily grew louder. It seemed to Dick that the round pit was the center of this sound.

Despite the quaking of the earth, he ventured again into the open space and saw that the pit had filled with water. Moreover, this water was boiling, as he could see it seething and bubbling. As he looked, clouds of steam shot up to a height of two or three hundred feet, and Dick, in alarm, ran back to the bushes. He knew that this was the column of vapor he had first seen from a distance, but he was not prepared for what followed.

There was an explosion so loud that it made Dick jump. Then a great column of water shot up from the boiling pit to a height of perhaps fifty feet, and remained there rising and falling. From the apex of this column several great jets rose, perhaps, three times as high.

The column of hot water glittered and shimmered in the sun, and Dick gazed in wonder and delight. He had read enough to recognize the phenomenon that he now saw. It was a geyser, a column of hot water shooting up, at regular intervals and with great force, from the unknown deeps of the earth.

As he gazed, the column gradually sank, the boiling water in the pit sank, too, and there was no longer any rumble or quaking of the earth. Dick cautiously approached the pit again. It was as empty as a dry well, but he knew that in due time the phenomenon would be repeated. He was vastly interested, but he did not wait to see the recurrence of the marvel, continuing his way down the valley over heaps of crinkly black slag and stone, which were age-old lava, although he did not know it, and through groves of pine and ash, aspen, and cedar. He saw other round pits and watched a second geyser in eruption. He saw, too, numerous hot springs, and much steamy vapor floating about. There were also mineral springs and springs of the clearest and purest cold water. It seemed to Dick that every minute of his wanderings revealed to him some new and interesting sight, while on all sides of the little valley rose the mighty mountains, their summits in eternal snow.

A great relief was mingled with the intense interest that Dick felt. He had been sure at first that he saw the camp fires of the Sioux, but after the revulsion it seemed as if it were a place never visited by man, either savage or civilized. As he continued down the valley, he noticed narrow clefts in the mountains opening into them from either side, but he felt sure from the nature of the country that they could not go back far. The clefts were four in number, and down two of them came considerable streams of clear, cold water emptying into the main creek.

The valley now narrowed again and Dick heard ahead a slight humming sound which presently grew into a roar. He was puzzled at first, but soon divined the cause. The creek, or rather little river, much increased in volume by the tributary brooks, made a great increase of speed in its current. Dick saw before him a rising column of vapor and foam, and in another minute or two stood beside a fine fall, where the little river took a sheer drop of forty feet, then rushed foaming and boiling through a narrow chasm, to empty about a mile farther on into a beautiful blue lake.

Dick, standing on a high rock beside the fall, could see the lake easily. Its blue was of a deep, splendid tint, and on every side pines and cedars thickly clothed the narrow belt of ground between it and the mountains. The far end seemed to back up abruptly against a mighty range crowned with snow, but Dick felt sure that an outlet must be there through some cleft in the range. The lake itself was of an almost perfect crescent shape, and Dick reckoned its length at seven miles, with a greatest breadth, that is, at the center, of about two miles. He judged, too, from its color and its position in a fissure that its depth must be very great.

The surface of the lake lay two or three hundred feet lower than the rock on which Dick was standing, and he could see its entire expanse, rippling gently under the wind and telling only of peace and rest. Flocks of wild fowl flew here and there, showing white or black against the blue of its waters, and at the nearer shore Dick thought he saw an animal like a deer drinking, but the distance was too great to tell certainly.

He left the rock and pursued his way through dwarf pines and cedars along the edge of the chasm in which the torrent boiled and foamed, intending to go down to the lake. Halfway he stopped, startled by a long, shrill, whistling sound that bore some resemblance to the shriek of a distant locomotive. The wilderness had been so silent before that the sound seemed to fill all the valley, the ridges taking it up and giving it back in one echo after another until it died away among the peaks. In a minute or so the whistling shriek was repeated and then two or three times more.

Dick was not apprehensive. It was merely a new wonder in that valley of wonders, and none of these wonders seemed to have anything to do with man. The sound apparently came from a point two or three hundred yards to his left at the base of the mountain, and turning, Dick went toward it, walking very slowly and carefully through the undergrowth. He had gone almost the whole distance seeing nothing but the mountain and the forest, when the whistling shriek was suddenly repeated so close to him that he jumped. He sank down behind a dwarf pine, and then he saw not thirty feet away the cause of the sound.

A gigantic deer, a great grayish animal, stood in a little open space, and at intervals emitted that tremendous whistle. It stood as high as a horse, and Dick estimated its weight at more than a thousand pounds. He was looking at a magnificent specimen of the Rocky Mountain elk, by far the largest member of the deer tribe that he had ever seen. The animal, the wind blowing from him toward Dick, was entirely unsuspicious of danger, and the boy could easily have put a bullet into his heart, but he had no desire to do so. Whether the elk was whistling to his mate or sending a challenge to a rival bull he did not know, and after watching and admiring him for a little while he crept away.

But Dick was not wholly swayed by sentiment. He said to himself as he went away among the pines: "Don't you feel too safe, Mr. Elk, we'll have to take you or some of your brethren later on. I've heard that elk meat is good."

He resumed his journey and was soon at the edge of the lake, which at this point had a narrow sandy margin. Its waters were fresh and cold, and wold duck, fearless of Dick, swam within a few yards of him. The view here was not less majestic and beautiful than it had been from the rock, and Dick, sensitive to nature, was steeped in all its wonder and charm. He was glad to be there, he was glad that chance or Providence had led him to this lovely valley. He felt no loneliness, no fear for the future, he was content merely to breathe and feel the glory of it permeate his being.

He picked up a pebble presently and threw it into the lake. It sank with the sullen plunk that told unmistakably to the boy's ears of great depths below. Once or twice he saw a fish leap up, and it occurred to him that here was another food supply.

He suddenly pulled himself together with a jerk. He could not sit there all day dreaming. He had come to find a winter home for Albert and himself, and he had not yet found it. But he had a plan from which he had been turned aside for a while by the sight of the lake, and now he went back to carry it out.

There were two clefts opening into the mountains from his side of the river, and he went into the first on the return path. It was choked with pine and cedars and quickly ended against a mountain wall, proving to be nothing but a very short canyon. There was much outcropping of rock here, but nothing that would help toward a shelter, and Dick went on to the second cleft.

This cleft, wider than the other, was the one down which the considerable brook flowed, and the few yards or so of fertile ground on either side of the stream produced a rank growth of trees. They were so thick that the boy could see only a little distance ahead, but he believed that this slip of a tributary valley ran far back in the mountains, perhaps a dozen miles.

He picked his way about a mile and then came suddenly upon a house. It stood in an alcove protected by rocks and trees, but safe from snow slide. It was only a log hut of one room, with the roof broken in and the door fallen from its hinges, but Dick knew well enough the handiwork of the white man. As he approached, some wild animal darted out of the open door and crashed away among the undergrowth, but Dick knew that white men had once lived there. It was equally evident that they had long been gone.

It was a cabin of stout build, its thick logs fitted nicely together, and the boards of the roof had been strong and well laid. Many years must have passed to have caused so much decay. Dick entered and was saluted by a strong, catlike odor. Doubtless a mountain lion had been sleeping there, and this was the tenant that he had heard crashing away among the undergrowth. On one side was a window closed by a sagging oaken shutter, which Dick threw open. The open door and window established a draught, and as the clean sweet air blew through the cabin the odor of the cat began to disappear.

Dick examined everything with the greatest interest and curiosity. There was a floor of puncheons fairly smooth, a stone fireplace, a chimney of mud and sticks, dusty wooden hooks, and rests nailed into the wall, a rude table overturned in a corner, and something that looked like a trap. It was the last that told the tale to Dick. When he examined it more critically, he had no doubt that it was a beaver trap.

Nor did he have any doubt but that this hut had been built by beaver trappers long ago, either by independent hunters, or by those belonging to one of the great fur companies. The beaver, he believed, had been found on this very brook, and when they were all taken the trappers had gone away, leaving the cabin forever, as they had left many another one. It might be at least forty years old.

Dick laughed aloud in his pleasure at this good luck. The cabin was dusty, dirty, disreputable, and odorous, but that draught would take away all the odors and his stout arm could soon repair the holes in the roof, put the door back on its hinges, and straighten the sagging window shutter. Here was their home, a house built by white men as a home, and now about to be used as such again. Dick did not feel like a tenant moving in, but like an owner. It would be a long, hard task to bring their supplies over the range but Albert and he had all the time in the world. It was one of the effects of their isolation to make Dick feel that there was no such thing as time.

He took another survey of the cabin. It was really a splendid place, a palace in its contrast with the surrounding wilderness, and he laughed with pure delight. When it was swept and cleaned, and a fire blazing on the flat stone that served for a hearth, while the cold winds roared without, it would be the snuggest home west of the Missouri. He was so pleased that he undertook at once some primary steps in the process of purification. He cut a number of small, straight boughs, tied them together with a piece of bark, the leaves at the head thus forming a kind of broom, and went to work.

He raised a great dust, which the draught blew into his eyes, ears, and nose, and he retreated from the place, willing to let the wind take it away. He would finish the task some other day. Then the clear waters of the brook tempted him. Just above the cabin was a deep pool which may have been the home of the beaver in an older time. Now it was undisturbed, and the waters were so pure that he could see the sand and rock on the bottom.

Still tingling from the dust, he took off his clothes and dived head foremost into the pool. He came up shivering and sputtering. It was certainly the coldest water into which he had ever leaped! After such a dash one might lie on a slab of ice to warm. Dick forgot that every drop in the brook had come from melting snows far up on the peaks, but, once in, he resolved to fight the element. He dived again, jumped up and down, and kicked and thrashed those waters as no beaver had ever done. Gradually he grew warm, and a wonderful exhilaration shot through every vein. Then he swam around and around and across and across the pool, disporting like a young white water god.

Dick was thoroughly enjoying himself, but when he began to feel cold again in seven or eight minutes he sprang out, ran up and down the bank, and rubbed himself with bunches of leaves until he was dry. After he had dressed, he felt that he had actually grown in size and strength in the last half hour.

He was now ravenously hungry. His absorption in his explorations and discoveries had kept him from thinking of such a thing as food until this moment, but when Nature finally got in her claim she made it strong and urgent. He had brought cold supplies with him, upon which he feasted, sitting in the doorway of the cabin. Then he noticed the lateness of the hour. Shadows were falling across the snow on the western peaks and ridges. The golden light of the sun was turning red, and in the valley the air was growing misty with the coming twilight.

He resolved to pass the night in the cabin. He secured the window shutter again, tied up the fallen door on rude bark hinges, and fastened it on the inside with a stick—hasps for the bar were there yet—but before retiring he took a long look in the direction in which Albert and their camp lay.

A great range of mountains lay between, but Dick felt that he could almost see his brother, his camp fire, and the pine alcove. He was Albert's protector, and this would be the first entire night in the mountains in which the weaker boy had been left alone, but Dick was not apprehensive about him. He believed that their good fortune would still endure, and secure in that belief he rolled himself up in the blanket which he had brought in a little pack on his back, and laid himself down in the corner of the cabin.

The place was not yet free from dust and odor, but Dick's hardy life was teaching him to take as trifles things that civilization usually regarded as onerous, and he felt quite comfortable where he lay. He knew that it was growing cold in the gorge, and the shelter of the cabin was acceptable. He saw a little strip of wan twilight through a crack in the window, but it soon faded and pitchy darkness filled the narrow valley.

Dick fell into a sound sleep, from which he awoke only once in the night, and then it was a noise of something as of claws scratching at the door which stirred him. The scratch was repeated only once or twice, and with it came the sound of heavy, gasping puffs, like a big animal breathing. Then the creature went away, and Dick, half asleep, murmured: "I've put you out of your house, my fine friend, bear or panther, whichever you may be." In another minute he was wholly asleep again and did not waken until an edge of glittering sunlight, like a sword blade, came through the crack in the window and struck him across the eyes.

He bathed a second time in the pool, ate what was left of the food, and started on the return journey, moving at a brisk pace. He made many calculations on the way. It would take a week to move all their goods over the range to the cabin, but, once there, he believed that they would be safe for a long time; indeed, they might spend years in the valley, if they wished, and never see a stranger.

It was afternoon when he approached the pine alcove, but the familiar spire of smoke against the blue had assured him already that Albert was there and safe. In fact, Albert saw him first. He had just returned from the creek, and, standing on a rock, a fish in his hand, hailed his brother, who was coming up the slope.

"Halloo, Dick!" he shouted. "Decided to come home, have you? Hope you've had a pleasant visit."

"Fine trip, Al, old man," Dick replied. "Great place over there. Think we'd better move to it."

"That so? Tell us about it."

Dick, ever sensitive to Albert's manner and appearance, noticed that the boy's voice was fuller, and he believed that the dry, piny air of the mountains was still at its healing work. He joined Albert, who was waiting for him, and who, after giving his hand a hearty grasp, told him what he had found.

Chapter VI Castle Howard

Albert agreed with Dick that they should begin to more at once, and his imagination was greatly stirred by Dick's narrative. "Why, it's an enchanted valley!" he exclaimed. "And a house is there waiting for us, too! Dick, I want to see it right away!"

Dick smiled.

"Sorry, but you'll have to wait a little, Al, old man," he said. "You're not strong enough yet to carry stores over the big range, though you will be very soon, and we can't leave our precious things here unguarded. So you'll have to stay and act as quartermaster while I make myself pack mule. When we have all the things over there, we can fasten them up in our house, where bears, panthers, and wolves can't get at them."

Albert made a wry face, but he knew that he must yield to necessity. Dick began the task the next morning, and it was long, tedious, and most wearing. More than once he felt like abandoning some of their goods, but he hardened his resolution with the reflection that all were precious, and not a single thing was abandoned.

It was more than a week before it was all done, and it was not until the last trip that Albert went with him, carrying besides his gun a small pack. The weather was still propitious. Once there had been a light shower in the night, but Albert was protected from it by the tarpaulin which they had made of the wagon cover, and nothing occurred to check his progress. He ate with an appetite that he had never known before, and he breathed by night as well as by day the crisp air of the mountains tingling with the balsam of the pines. It occurred to Dick that to be marooned in these mountains was perhaps the best of all things that could have happened to Albert.

They went slowly over the range toward the enchanted valley, stopping now and then because Albert, despite his improvement, was not yet equal to the task of strenuous climbing, but all things continued auspicious. There was a touch of autumn on the foliage, and the shades of red and yellow were appearing on the leaves of all the trees except the evergreens, but everything told of vigorous life. As they passed the crest of the range and began the descent of the slope toward the enchanted valley, a mule deer crashed from the covert and fled away with great bounds. Flocks of birds rose with whirrings from the bushes. From some point far away came the long, whistling sound that made Albert cry out in wonder. But Dick laughed.

"It's the elk," he said. "I saw one when I first came into the valley. I think they are thick hereabout, and I suspect that they will furnish us with some good winter food."

Albert found the valley all that Dick had represented it to be, and more. He watched the regular eruptions of the geysers with amazement and delight; he insisted on sampling the mineral springs, and intended to learn in time their various properties. The lake, in all its shimmering aspects, appealed to his love of the grand and beautiful, and he promptly named it "The Howard Sea, after its discoverer, you know," he said to Dick. Finally, the cabin itself filled him with delight, because he foresaw even more thoroughly than Dick how suitable it would be for a home in the long winter months. He installed himself as housekeeper and set to work at once.

The little cabin was almost choked with their supplies, which Dick had been afraid to leave outside for fear that the provisions would be eaten and the other things injured by the wild animals, and now they began the task of assorting and putting them into place.

The full equipment of the wagon that Dick had found in the gully, particularly the tools, proved to be a godsend. They made more racks on the walls—boring holes with the augers and then driving in pegs—on which they laid their axes and extra rifles. In the same manner they made high shelves, on which their food would be safe from prowling wild beasts, even should they succeed in breaking in the door. But Dick soon made the latter impossible by putting the door on strong hinges of leather which he made from the gear that he had cut from the horses. He also split a new bar from one of the young ash trees and strengthened the hasps on the inside. He felt now that when the bar was in place not even the heaviest grizzly could force the door.

The task of mending the roof was more difficult. He knew how to split rude boards with his ax, but he had only a few nails with which to hold them in place. He solved the problem by boring auger holes, into which he drove pegs made from strong twigs. The roof looked water-tight, and he intended to reenforce it later on with the skins of wild animals that he expected to kill—there had been no time yet for hunting.

Throughout these operations, which took about a week, they slept in the open in a rude tent which they made of the wagon cover and set beside the cabin, for two reasons: because Dick believed the open air at all times to be good for Albert, and because he was averse to using the cabin as a dormitory until it was thoroughly cleansed and aired.

Albert made himself extremely useful in the task of refurbishing the cabin. He brushed out all the dust, brought water from the brook and scrubbed the floor, and to dry the latter built their first fire on the hearth with pine cones and other fallen wood. As he touched the match to it, he did not conceal his anxiety.

"The big thing to us," he said, "is whether or not this chimney will draw. That's vital, I tell you, Dick, to a housekeeper. If it puffs out smoke and fills the cabin with it, we're to have a hard time and be miserable. If it draws like a porous plaster and takes all the smoke up it, then we're to have an easy time of it and be happy."

Both watched anxiously as Albert touched the match to some pine shavings which were to form the kindling wood. The shavings caught, a light blaze leaped up, there came a warning crackle, and smoke, too, arose. Which way would it go? The little column wavered a moment and then shot straight up the chimney. It grew larger, but still shot straight up the chimney. The flames roared and were drawn in the same direction.

Albert laughed and clapped his hands.

"It's to be an easy time and a happy life!" he exclaimed. "Those old beaver hunters knew what they were about when they built this chimney!"

"You can cook in here, Al," said Dick; "but I suggest that we sleep in the tent until the weather grows bad."

Dick had more than one thing in mind in making this suggestion about the tent and sleeping. The air of the cabin could be close at night even with the window open, but in the tent with the flap thrown back—they never closed it—they breathed only a fresh balsamic odor, crisp with the coolness of autumn. He had watched Albert all the time. Now and then when he had exerted himself more than usual, the younger boy would cough, and at times he was very tired, but Dick, however sharply he watched, did not see again the crimson stain on the lips that he had noticed the night of the flight from the massacre.

But the older brother, two years older only, in fact, but ten years older, at least, in feeling, did notice a great change in Albert, mental as well as physical. The younger boy ceased to have periods of despondency. While he could not do the things that Dick did, he was improving, and he never lamented his lack of strength. It seemed to him a matter of course, so far as Dick could judge, that in due time he should be the equal of the older and bigger boy in muscle and skill.

Albert, moreover, had no regrets for the world without. Their life with the wagon train had been far from pleasant, and he had only Dick, and Dick had only him. Now the life in the enchanted valley, which was a real valley of enchantments, was sufficient for him. Each day brought forth some new wonder, some fresh and interesting detail. He was a capable fisherman, and he caught trout in both the brook and the river, while the lake yielded to his line other and larger fish, the names of which neither boy knew, but which proved to be of delicate flavor when broiled over the coals. Just above them was a boiling hot spring, and Albert used the water from this for cooking purposes. "Hot and cold water whenever you please," he said to Dick. "Nothing to do but to turn the tap."

Dick smiled; he, too, was happy. He enjoyed life in the enchanted valley, where everything seemed to have conspired in their favor. When they had been there about a week, and their home was ready for any emergency, Dick took his gun and went forth, the hunting spirit strong within him. They had heard the elk whistling on the mountain side nearly every day, and he believed that elk meat would prove tender and good. Anyway he would see.

Dick did not feel much concern about their food supply. He believed that vast quantities of big game would come into this valley in the winter to seek protection from the mighty snows of the northern Rockies, but it was just as well to begin the task of filling the larder.

He came out into the main valley and turned toward the lake. Autumn was now well advanced, but in the cool sunshine the lake seemed more beautiful than ever. Its waters were golden to-day, but with a silver tint at the edges where the pine-clad banks overhung it. Dick did not linger, however. He turned away toward the slopes, whence the whistling call had come the oftenest, and was soon among the pines and cedars. He searched here an hour or more, and at last he found two feeding, a male and a female.

Dick had the instinct of the hunter, and already he had acquired great skill. Creeping through the undergrowth, he came within easy shot of the animals, and he looked at them a little before shooting. The bull was magnificent, and he, if any, seemed a fit subject for the bullet, but Dick chose the cow, knowing that she would be the tenderer. Only a single shot was needed, and then he had a great task to carry the hide and the body in sections to the cabin. They ate elk steaks and then hung the rest in the trees for drying and jerking. Dick, according to his previous plan, used the skin to cover the newly mended places in the roof, fastening it down tightly with small wooden pegs. His forethought was vindicated two days later when a great storm came. Both he and Albert had noticed throughout the afternoon an unusual warmth in the air. It affected Albert particularly, as it made his respiration difficult. Over the mountains in the west they saw small dark clouds which soon began to grow and unite. Dick thought he knew what it portended, and he and his brother quickly taking down the tent, carried it and all its equipment inside the cabin. Then making fast the door and leaving the window open, they waited.

The heat endured, but all the clouds became one that overspread the entire heavens. Despite the lateness of the season, the thunder, inexpressibly solemn and majestic, rumbled among the gorges, and there was a quiver of lightening. It was as dark as twilight.

The rain came, roaring down the clefts and driving against the cabin with such force that they were compelled to close the window. How thankful Dick was now for Albert's sake that they had such a secure shelter! Nor did he despise it for his own.

The rain, driven by a west wind, poured heavily, and the air rapidly grew colder. Albert piled dry firewood on the hearth and lighted it. The flames leaped up, and warmth, dryness, and cheer filled all the little cabin. Dick had been anxiously regarding the roof, but the new boards and the elk skin were water-tight. Not a drop came through. Higher leaped the flames and the rosy shadows fell upon the floor.

"It's well we took the tent down and came in here," said Albert. "Listen to that!"

The steady, driving sweep changed to a rattle and a crackle. The rain had turned to hail, and it was like the patter of rifle fire on the stout little cabin.

"It may rain or hail or snow, or do whatever it pleases, but it can't get at us," said Albert exultingly.

"No, it can't," said Dick. "I wonder, Al, what Bright Sun is doing now?"

"A peculiar Indian," said Albert thoughtfully, "but it's safe to say that wherever he is he's planning and acting."

"At any rate," said Dick, "we're not likely to know it, whatever it is, for a long time, and we won't bother trying to guess about it."

It hailed for an hour and then changed to rain again, pouring down in great steadiness and volume. Dick opened the window a little way once, but the night was far advanced, and it was pitchy black outside. They let the coals die down to a glowing bed, and then, wrapping themselves in their blankets, they slept soundly all through the night and the driving rain, their little cabin as precious to them as any palace was ever to a king.

Albert, contrary to custom, was the first to awake the next morning. A few coals from the fire were yet alive on the hearth, and the atmosphere of the room, breathed over and over again throughout the night, was close and heavy. He threw back the window shutter, and the great rush of pure cold air into the opening made his body thrill with delight. This was a physical pleasure, but the sight outside gave him a mental rapture even greater. Nothing was falling now, but the rain had turned back to hail before it ceased, and all the earth was in glittering white. The trees in the valley, clothed in ice, were like lace work, and above them towered the shining white mountains.

Albert looked back at Dick. His brother, wrapped in his blanket, still slept, with his arm under his head and his face toward the hearth. He looked so strong, so enduring, as he lay there sleeping soundly, and Albert knew that he was both. But a curious feeling was in the younger boy's mind that morning. He was glad that he had awakened first. Hitherto he had always opened his eyes to find Dick up and doing. It was Dick who had done everything. It was Dick who had saved him from the Sioux; it was Dick who had practically carried him over the first range; Dick had found their shelter in the pine alcove; Dick had labored day and night, day after day, and night after night, bringing the stores over the mountain from the lost train, then he had found their new home in the enchanted valley, which Albert persisted in calling it, and he had done nearly all the hard work of repairing and furnishing the cabin.

It should not always be so. Albert's heart was full of gratitude to this brother of his who was so brave and resourceful, but he wanted to do his share. The feeling was based partly on pride and partly on a new increase of physical strength. He took a deep inhalation of the cold mountain air and held it long in his lungs. Then he emitted it slowly. There was no pain, no feeling of soreness, and it was the first time he could remember that it had been so. A new thrill of pleasure, keener and more powerful than any other, shook him for a moment. It was a belief, nay, a certainty, or at least a conviction, that he was going to be whole and sound. The mountains were doing their kindly healing. He could have shouted aloud with pleasure, but instead he restrained himself and went outside, softly shutting the door behind him.

Autumn had gone and winter had come in a night. The trees were stripped of every leaf and in their place was the sheathing of ice. The brook roared past, swollen for the time to a little river. The air, though very cold, was dry despite the heavy rain of the night before. Albert shivered more than once, but it was not the shiver of weakness. It did not bite to the very marrow of him. Instead, when he exercised legs and arms vigorously, warmth came back. He was not a crushed and shriveled thing. Now he laughed aloud in sheer delight. He had subjected himself to another test, and he had passed it in triumph.

He built up the fire, and when Dick awoke, the pleasant aroma of cooking filled the room.

"Why, what's this, Al?" exclaimed the big youth, rubbing his eyes.

"Oh, I've been up pretty near an hour," replied Albert airily. "Saw that you were having a fine sleep, so I thought I wouldn't disturb you."

Dick looked inquiringly at him. He thought he detected a new note in his brother's voice, a note, too, that he liked.

"I see," he said; "and you've been at work sometime, Do you feel fully equal to the task?"

Albert turned and faced his brother squarely.

"I've been thinking a lot, and feeling a lot more this morning," he replied. "I've been trying myself out, as they say, and if I'm not well I'm traveling fast in that direction. Hereafter I share the work as well as the rewards."

Albert spoke almost defiantly, but Dick liked his tone and manner better than ever. He would not, on any account, have said anything in opposition at this moment.

"All right, Al, old fellow. That's agreed," he said.

Chapter VII An Animal Progression

The thin sheath of ice did not last long. On the second day the sun came out and melted it in an hour. Then a warm wind blew and in a few more hours the earth was dry. On the third day Albert took his repeating rifle from the hooks on the wall and calmly announced that he was going hunting.

"All right," said Dick; "and as I feel lazy I'll keep house until you come back. Don't get chewed up by a grizzly bear."

Dick sat down in the doorway of the cabin and watched his brother striding off down the valley, gun on shoulder, figure very erect. Dick smiled; but it was a smile of pride, not derision.

"Good old Al! He'll do!" he murmured.

Albert followed the brook into the larger valley and then went down by the side of the lake. Though a skillful shot, he was not yet a good hunter, but he knew that one must make a beginning and he wanted to learn through his own mistakes.

He had an idea that game could be found most easily in the forest that ran down the mountain side to the lake, and he was thinking most particularly just then of elk. He had become familiar with the loud, whistling sound, and he listened for it now but did not hear it.

He passed the spot at which Dick had killed the big cow elk and continued northward among the trees that covered the slopes and flat land between the mountain and the lake. This area broadened as he proceeded, and, although the forest was leafless now, it was so dense and there was such a large proportion of evergreens, cedars, and pines that Albert could not see very far ahead. He crossed several brooks pouring down from the peaks. All were in flood, and once or twice it was all that he could do with a flying leap to clear them, but he went on, undiscouraged, keeping a sharp watch for that which he was hunting.

Albert did not know much about big game, but he remembered hearing Dick say that elk and mule deer would be likely to come into the valley for shelter at the approach of winter, and he was hopeful that he might have the luck to encounter a whole herd of the big elk. Then, indeed, he would prove that he was an equal partner with Dick in the work as well as the reward. He wished to give the proof at once.

He had not been so far up the north end of the valley before, and he noticed that here was quite an expanse of flat country on either side of the lake. But the mountains all around the valley were so high that it seemed to Albert that deer and other wild animals might find food as well as shelter throughout the winter. Hence he was quite confident, despite his poor luck so far, that he should find big game soon, and his hunting fever increased. He had never shot anything bigger than a rabbit, but Albert was an impressionable boy, and his imagination at once leaped over the gulf from a rabbit to a grizzly bear.

He had the lake, an immense and beautiful blue mirror, on his right and the mountains on his left, but the space between was now nearly two miles in width, sown thickly in spots with pine and cedar, ash and aspen, and in other places quite open. In the latter the grass was green despite the lateness of the season, and Albert surmised that good grazing could be found there all through the winter, even under the snow. Game must be plentiful there, too.

The way dropped down a little into a sheltered depression, and Albert heard a grunt and a great puffing breath. A huge dark animal that had been lying among some dwarf pines shuffled to its feet and Albert's heart slipped right up into his throat. Here was his grizzly, and he certainly was a monster! Every nerve in Albert was tingling, and instinct bade him run. Will had a hard time of it for a few moments, struggling with instinct, but will conquered, and, standing his ground, Albert fired a bullet from his repeater at the great dark mass.

The animal emitted his puffing roar again and rushed, head down, but blindly. Then Albert saw that he had roused not a grizzly bear but an enormous bull buffalo, a shaggy, fierce old fellow who would not eat him, but who might gore or trample him to death. His aspect was so terrible that will again came near going down before instinct, but Albert did not run. Instead, he leaped aside, and, as the buffalo rushed past, he fired another bullet from his repeater into his body just back of the fore legs.

The animal staggered, and Albert staggered, too, from excitement and nervousness, but he remembered to take aim and fire again and again with his heavy repeater. In his heat and haste he did not hear a shout behind him, but he did see the great bull stagger, then reel and fall on his side, after which he lay quite still.

Albert stood, rifle in hand, trembling and incredulous. Could it be he who had slain the mightiest buffalo that ever trod the earth? The bull seemed to his distended eyes and flushed brain to weigh ten tons at least, and to dwarf the biggest elephant. He raised his hand to his forehead and then sat down beside his trophy, overcome with weakness.

"Well, now, you have done it, young one! I thought I'd get a finger in this pie, but I came up too late! Say, young fellow, what's your name? Is it Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett?"

It was Dick who had followed in an apparently casual manner. He had rushed to his brother's rescue when he saw the bull charging, but he had arrived too late—and he was glad of it; the triumph was wholly Albert's.

Albert, recovering from his weakness, looked at Dick, looked at the buffalo, and then looked back at Dick. All three looks were as full of triumph, glory, and pride as any boy's look could be.

"He's as big as a mountain, isn't he, Dick?" he said.

"Well, not quite that," replied Dick gravely. "A good-sized hill would be a better comparison."

The buffalo certainly was a monster, and the two boys examined him critically. Dick was of the opinion that he belonged to the species known as the wood bison, which is not numerous among the mountains, but which is larger than the ordinary buffalo of the plains. The divergence of type, however, is very slight.

"He must have been an outlaw," said Dick; "a vicious old bull compelled to wander alone because of his bad manners. Still, it's likely that he's not the only buffalo in our valley."

"Can we eat him?" asked Albert.

"That's a question. He's sure to be tough, but I remember how we used to make steak tender at home by beating it before it was cooked. We might serve a thousand pounds or two of this bull in that manner. Besides, we want that robe."

The robe was magnificent, and both boys felt that it would prove useful. Dick had gained some experience from his own buffalo hunt on the plains, and they began work at once with their sharp hunting knives. It was no light task to take the skin, and the beast was so heavy that they could not get it entirely free until they partly chopped up the body with an ax that Dick brought from the cabin. Then it made a roll of great weight, but Dick spread it on the roof of their home to cure. They also cut out great sections of the buffalo, which they put in the same place for drying and jerking.

While they were engaged at this task, Albert saw a pair of fiery eyes regarding them from the undergrowth.

"See, Dick," he said, "what is that?"

Dick saw the eyes, the lean ugly body behind it, and he shuddered. He knew. It was the timber wolf, largest and fiercest of the species, brother to him whom he had seen prowling about the ruined wagon train. The brute called up painful memories, and, seizing his rifle, he fired at a spot midway between the red eyes. The wolf uttered a howl, leaped high in the air, and fell dead, lying without motion, stretched on his side.

"I didn't like the way he looked at us," explained Dick.

A horrible growling and snapping came from the bushes presently.

"What's that?" asked Albert.

"It's only Mr. Timber Wolf's brethren eating up Mr. Timber Wolf, now that he is no longer of any use to himself."

Albert shuddered, too.

It was nightfall when they took away the last of the buffalo for which they cared, and as they departed they heard in the twilight the patter of light feet.

"It's the timber wolves rushing for what we've left," said Dick. "Those are big and fierce brutes, and you and I, Al, must never go out without a rifle or a revolver. You can't tell what they'll try, especially in the winter."

The entire roof of the cabin was covered the next day with the buffalo robe and the drying meat, and birds of prey began to hover above it. Albert constituted himself watchman, and, armed with a long stick, took his place on the roof, where he spent the day.

Dick shouldered one of the shotguns and went down to the lake. There he shot several fine teal, and in one of the grassy glades near it he roused up prairie hen. Being a fine shot, he secured four of these, and returned to the cabin with his acceptable spoil.

They had now such a great supply of stores and equipment that their place was crowded and they scarcely had room for sleeping on the floor.

"What we need," said Dick, "is an annex, a place that can be used for a storehouse only, and this valley, which has been so kind to us, ought to continue being kind and furnish it."

The valley did furnish the annex, and it was Albert who found it. He discovered a little further up the cleft an enormous oak, old and decayed. The tree was at lease seven feet through, and the hollow itself was fully five feet in diameter, with a height of perhaps fourteen feet. It was very rough inside with sharp projections in every direction which had kept any large animal from making his den there, but Albert knew at once that the needed place had been found. Full of enthusiasm he ran for Dick, who came instantly to see.

"Fine," said Dick approvingly. "We'll call it the 'Annex,' sure enough, and we'll get to work right away with our axes."

They cut out all the splinters and other projections, smoothing off the round walls and the floor, and they also extended the hollow overhead somewhat.

"This is to be a two-story annex," said Dick. "We need lots of room."

High up they ran small poles across, fixing them firmly in the tree on either side, and lower down they planted many wooden pegs and hooks on which they might hang various articles.

"Everything will keep dry in here," said Albert. "I would not mind sleeping in the Annex, but when the door is closed there won't be a particle of air."

It was the "door" that gave them the greatest trouble. The opening by which they entered the hollow was about four feet high and a foot and a half across, and both boys looked at it a long time before they could see a way to solve the puzzle.

"That door has to be strong enough to keep everything out," said Dick. "We mean to keep most of our meat supply in there, and that, of course, will draw wild animals, little and big; it's the big ones we've got to guard against."

After strenuous thinking, they smoothed off all the sides of the opening in order that a flat surface might fit perfectly against them. Then Dick cut down a small oak, and split out several boards—not a difficult task for him, as he had often helped to make boards in Illinois. The boards were laid together the width of the opening and were held in place by cross pieces fastened with wooden pegs. Among their stores were two augers and two gimlets, and they were veritable godsends; they enabled the boys to make use of pegs and to save the few nails that they had for other and greater emergencies.

The door was made, and now came the task to "hang" it. "Hang" was merely a metaphorical word, as they fitted it into place instead. The wood all around the opening was about a foot thick, and they cut it out somewhat after the fashion of the lintels of a doorway. Then they fitted in the door, which rested securely in its grooves, but they knew that the claws of a grizzly bear or mountain lion might scratch it out, and they intended to make it secure against any such mischance.

With the aid of hatchet and auger they put three wooden hooks on either side of the doorway, exactly like those that defend the door of a frontier cabin, and into these they dropped three stout bars. It was true that the bars were on the outside, but no wild animal would have the intelligence enough to pry up those three bars and scratch the door out of place. Moreover, it could not happen by accident. It took them three laborious days to make and fit this door, but when the task was done they contemplated it with just pride.

"I call that about the finest piece of carpenter's work ever done in these mountains," said Albert in tones suffused with satisfaction.

"Of course," said Dick. "Why shouldn't it be, when the best carpenters in the world did the job?"

The two laughed, but their pride was real and no jest. It was late in the afternoon when they finished this task, and on the way to the cabin Albert suddenly turned white and reeled. Dick caught him, but he remained faint for sometime. He had overtasked himself, and when they reached the cabin Dick made him lie down on the great buffalo robe while he cooked supper. But, contrary to his former habit, Albert revived rapidly. The color returned to his face and he sprang up presently, saying that he was hungry enough to eat a whole elk. Dick felt a might sense of relief. Albert in his zeal had merely overexerted himself. It was not any relapse. "Here's the elk steak and you can eat ten pounds of it if you want it," he said.

They began early the next morning to move supplies to the Annex. High up in the hollow they hung great quantities of dried meat of buffalo, elk, and mule deer. They also stored there several elk and mule deer skins, two wolf skins, and other supplies that they thought they would not need for a while. But in the main it was what they called a smokehouse, as it was universally known in the Mississippi Valley, their former home—that is, a place for keeping meat cured or to be cured.

This task filled the entire day, and when the door was securely fastened in place they returned to the cabin. After supper Dick opened the window, from which they could see the Annex, as they had cut away a quantity of the intervening bushes. Albert meanwhile put out the last coals of the fire. Then he joined Dick at the window. Both had an idea that they were going to see something interesting.

The valley filled with darkness, but the moon came out, and, growing used to the darkness, they could see the Annex fairly well.

Dick wet his finger and held it up.

"The wind is blowing from the Annex toward us," he said.

"That's good," said Albert, nodding.

They watched for a long time, hearing only the dry rustling of the light wind among the bare boughs, but at last Dick softly pushed his shoulder against Albert's. Albert nodded again, with comprehension. A small dark animal came into the open space around the Annex. The boys had difficulty in tracing his outlines at first, but once they had them fixed, they followed his movements with ease. He advanced furtively, stopping at intervals evidently both to listen and look. Some other of his kind, or not of his kind, might be on the same quest and it was his business to know.

"Is it a fox?" whispered Albert.

"I think not," replied Dick in the same tone. "It must be a wolverine. He scents the good things in the Annex and he wants, oh, how he wants, the taste of them!"

The little dark animal, after delicate maneuvering, came close up to the tree, and they saw him push his nose against the cold bark.

"I know just how he feels," whispered Albert with some sympathy. "It's all there, but he must know the quest is hopeless."

The little animal went all around the tree nosing the cold bark, and then stopped again at the side of the door.

"No use, sir," whispered Albert. "That door won't open just because you're hungry."

The little animal suddenly cocked up his head and darted swiftly away into the shadows. But another and somewhat larger beast came creeping into the open, advancing with caution toward the Annex.

"Aha!" whispered Dick. "Little fellow displaced by a bigger one. That must be a wild cat."

The wild cat went through the same performance. He nosed eagerly at the door, circled the tree two or three times, but always came back to the place where that tempting, well-nigh irresistible odor assailed him. The boys heard a low growl and the scratching of sharp claws on the door.

"Now he's swearing and fighting," whispered Albert, "but it will do him no good. Save your throat and your claws, old fellow."

"Look, he's gone!" whispered Dick.

The wild cat suddenly tucked his tail between his legs and fled from the opening so swiftly that they could scarcely see him go.

"And here comes his successor," whispered Albert. "I suppose, Dick, we might call this an arithmetical or geometrical progression."

An enormous timber wolf stalked into the clear space. He bore no resemblance to the mean, sneaking little coyote of the prairie. As he stood upright his white teeth could be seen, and there was the slaver of hunger on his lips. He, too, was restive, watchful, and suspicious, but it did not seem to either Dick or Albert that his movements betokened fear. There was strength in his long, lean body, and ferocity in his little red eyes.

"What a hideous brute!" whispered Albert, shuddering.

"And as wicked as he is ugly," replied Dick. "I hate the sight of these timber wolves. I don't wonder that the wild cat made himself scarce so quickly."

"And he's surely hungry!" said Albert. "See how he stretches out his head toward our Annex, as if he would devour everything inside it!"

Albert was right. The big wolf was hungry, hungry through and through, and the odor that came from the tree was exquisite and permeating; it was a mingled odor of many things and everything was good. He had never before known a tree to give forth such a delightful aroma and he thrilled in every wolfish fiber as it tickled his nostrils.

He approached the tree with all the caution of his cautious and crafty race, and, as he laid his nose upon the bark, that mingled aroma of many things good grew so keen and powerful that he came as near as a big wolf can to fainting with delight. He pushed at the places where the door fitted into the tree, but nothing yielded. Those keen and powerful odors that penetrated delightfully to every marrow of him were still there, but he could not reach their source. A certain disappointment, a vague fear of failure mingled with his anticipation, and as the wolverine and the wild cat had done, he moved uneasily around the tree, scratching at the bark, and now and then biting it with teeth that were very long and cruel.

His troubled circuit brought him back to the door, where the aroma was finest and strongest. There he tore at the lowest bar with tooth and claw, but it did not move. He had the aroma and nothing more, and no big, strong wolf can live on odors only. The vague disappointment grew into a positive rage. He felt instinctively that he could not reach the good things that the wonderful tree held within itself, but he persisted. He bent his back, uttered a growl of wrath just as a man swears, and fell to again with tooth and claw.

"If I didn't know that door was so very strong, I'd be afraid he'd get it," whispered Albert.

"Never fear," Dick whispered back with confidence.

The big wolf suddenly paused in his effort. Tooth and claw were still, and he crouched hard against the tree, as if he would have his body to blend with its shadow. A new odor had come to his nostrils. It did not come from the tree. Nor was it pleasant. Instead, it told him of something hostile and powerful. He was big and strong himself, but this that came was bigger and stronger. The growl that had risen in his throat stopped at his teeth. A chill ran down his backbone and the hair upon it stood up. The great wolf was afraid, and he knew he was afraid.

"Look!" whispered Albert in rising excitement. "The wolf, too, is stealing away! He is scared by something!"

"And good cause he has to be scared," said Dick. "See what's coming!"

A great tawny beast stood for a moment at the edge of the clearing. He was crouched low against the ground, but his body was long and powerful, with massive shoulders and fore arms. His eyes were yellow in the moonlight, and they stared straight at the Annex. The big wolf took one hasty frightened look and then fled silently in the other direction. He knew now that the treasures of the Annex were not for him.

"It's a cougar," whispered Dick, "and it must be the king of them all. Did you ever see such a whopper?"

The cougar came farther into the clearing. He was of great size, but he was a cat—a huge cat, but a cat, nevertheless—and like a cat he acted. He dragged his body along the earth, and his eyes, now yellow, now green, in the moonlight, were swung suspiciously from side to side. He felt all that the wolf had felt, but he was even more cunning and his approach was slower. It was his habit to spring when close enough, but he saw nothing to spring at except a tree trunk, and so he still crept forward on noiseless pads.

"Now, what will Mr. Cougar do?" asked Albert.

"Just what the others have done," replied Dick. "He will scratch and bite harder because he is bigger and stronger, but we've fixed our Annex for just such attacks. It will keep him out."

Dick was right. The cougar or mountain lion behaved exactly as the others had done. He tore at the door, then he circled the tree two or three times, hunting in vain for an opening. Every vein in him was swollen with rage, and the yellowish-green eyes flared with anger.

"He'd be an ugly creature to meet just now," whispered Dick. "He's so mad that I believe he'd attack an elephant."

"He's certainly in no good humor," replied Dick. "But look, Al! See his tail drop between his legs! Now what under the moon is about to happen?"

Albert, surcharged with interest and excitement, stared as Dick was staring. The mighty cat seemed suddenly to crumple up. His frame shrank, his head was drawn in, he sank lower to the earth, as if he would burrow into it, but he uttered no sound whatever. He was to both the boys a symbol of fear.

"What a change! What does it mean?" whispered Albert.

"It must mean," replied Dick, "that he, too, has a master and that master is coming."

The cougar suddenly bunched himself up and there was a flash of tawny fur as he shot through the air. A second leap and the trees closed over his frightened figure. Albert believed that he would not stop running for an hour.

Into the opening, mighty and fearless, shambled a monstrous beast. He had a square head, a long, immense body, and the claws of his great feet were hooked, many inches in length, and as sharp and hard as if made of steel. The figure of the beast stood for power and unbounded strength, and his movements indicated overwhelming confidence. There was nothing for him to fear. He had never seen any living creature that could do him harm. It was a gigantic grizzly bear.

Albert, despite himself, as he looked at the terrible brute, felt fear. It was there, unconfined, and a single blow of its paw could sweep the strongest man out of existence.

"I'm glad I'm in this cabin and that this cabin is strong," he whispered tremulously.

"So am I," said Dick, and his own whisper was a little shaky. "It's one thing to see a grizzly in a cage, and another to see him out here in the dark in these wild mountains. And that fellow must weigh at least a thousand pounds."

King Bruin shambled boldly across the opening to the Annex. Why should he be careful? There might be other animals among the bushes and trees watching him, but they were weak, timid things, and they would run from his shadow. In the wan moonlight, which distorted and exaggerated, his huge bulk seemed to the two boys to grow to twice its size. When he reached the tree he reared up against it, growled in a manner that made the blood of the boys run cold, and began to tear with teeth and claws of hooked steel. The bark and splinters flew, and, for a moment, Dick was fearful lest he should force the door to their treasure. But it was only for a moment; not even a grizzly could break or tear his way through such a thickness of oak.

"Nothing can displace him," whispered Albert. "He's the real king."

"He's not the king," replied Dick, "and something can displace him."

"What do you mean?" asked Albert with incredulity.

"No beast is king. It's man, and man is here. I'm going to have a shot at that monster who is trying to rob us. We can reach him from here with a bullet. You take aim, too, Al."

They opened the window a little wider, being careful to make no noise, and aimed their rifles at the bear, who was still tearing at the tree in his rage.

"Try to hit him in the heart, Al," whispered Dick, "and I'll try to do the same. I'll count three in a whisper, and at the 'three' we'll fire together."

The hands of both boys as they leveled their weapons were trembling, not with fear, but from sheer nervousness. The bear, meanwhile, had taken no notice and was still striving to reach the hidden treasures. Like the others, he had made the circuit of the Annex more than once, but now he was reared up again at the door, pulling at it with mighty tooth and claw. It seemed to both as they looked down the barrels of their rifles and chose the vulnerable spot that, monstrous and misshapen, he was constantly growing in size, so powerful was the effect of the moonlight and their imagination. But it was terrible fact to them.

They could see him with great distinctness, and so silent was the valley otherwise that they could hear the sound of his claws ripping across the bark. He was like some gigantic survival of another age. Dick waited until both his brother and himself grew steadier.

"Now don't miss, Albert," he said.

He counted "One, two, three," slowly, and at the "three!" the report of the two rifles came as one. They saw the great bear drop down from the tree, they heard an indescribable roar of pain and rage, and then they saw his huge bulk rushing down upon them. Dick fired three times and Albert twice, but the bear still came, and then Dick slammed the window shut and fastened it just as the full weight of the bear was hurled against the cabin.

Neither boy ever concealed from himself the fact that he was in a panic for a few moments. Their bullets seemed to have had no effect upon the huge grizzly, who was growling ferociously and tearing at the logs of the cabin. Glad they were that those logs were so stout and thick, and they stood there a little while in the darkness, their blood chilling at the sounds outside. Presently the roaring and tearing ceased and there was the sound of a fall. It was so dark in the cabin that the brothers could not see the faces of each other, but Dick whispered:

"Albert, I believe we've killed him, after all."

Albert said nothing and they waited a full ten minutes. No sound whatever came to their ears. Then Dick opened the window an inch or two and peeped out. The great bear lay upon his side quite still, and Dick uttered a cry of joy.

"We've killed him, Al! we've killed him!" he cried.

"Are you sure?" asked Albert.

"Quite sure. He does not stir in the slightest."

They opened the door and went out. The great grizzly was really dead. Their bullets had gone true, but his vitality was so enormous that he had been able to rush upon the cabin and tear at it in his rage until he fell dead. Both boys looked at him with admiration and awe; even dead, he was terrifying in every respect.

"I don't wonder that the cougar, big and strong as he was, slunk away in terror when he saw old Ephraim coming," said Dick.

"We must have his skin to put with our two buffalo robes," said Albert.

"And we must take it to-night," said Dick, "or the wolves will be here while we sleep."

They had acquired some skill in the art of removing furs and pelts, but it took them hours to strip the coat from the big grizzly. Then, as in the case of the buffalo, they cut away some portions of the meat that they thought might prove tender. They put the hide upon the roof to dry, and, their work over, they went to sleep behind a door securely fastened.

Dick was awakened once by what he thought was a sound of growling and fighting outside, but he was so sleepy that it made no impression upon him. They did not awake fully until nearly noon, and when they went forth they found that nothing was left of the great bear but his skeleton.

"The timber wolves have been busy," said Dick.

Chapter VIII The Trap Makers

The hide of the bear, which they cured in good style, was a magnificent trophy; the fur was soft and long, and when spread out came near covering the floor of their cabin. It was a fit match for the robe of the buffalo. They did not know much about grizzlies, but they believed that no larger bear would ever be killed in the Rocky Mountains.

A few days later Dick shot another buffalo in one of the defiles, but this was a young cow and her flesh was tender. They lived on a portion of it from day to day and the rest they cured and put in the Annex. They added the robe to their store of furs.

"I'm thinking," said Dick, "that you and I, Al, might turn fur hunters." This seems to be an isolated corner of the mountains. It may have been tapped out long ago, but when man goes away the game comes back. We've got a comfortable house, and, with this as a basis, we might do better hunting furs here than if we were hunting gold in California, where the chances are always against you.

The idea appealed to Albert, but for the present they contented themselves with improving their house and surroundings. Other bears, cougars, and wolves came at night and prowled around the Annex, but it was secure against them all, and Dick and Albert never troubled themselves again to keep awake and watch for such intruders.

Winter now advanced and it was very cold, but, to Dick's great relief, no snow came. It was on Albert's account that he wished air and earth to remain dry, and it seemed as if Nature were doing her best to help the boy's recovery. The cough did not come again, he had no more spells of great exhaustion, the physical uplift became mental also, and his spirits, because of the rebound, fairly bubbled. He was full of ideas, continually making experiments, and had great plans in regard to the valley and Castle Howard, as he sometimes playfully called their cabin.

One of the things that pleased Albert most was his diversion of water from a hot spring about fifty yards from the cabin and higher up the ravine. He dug a trench all the way from the pool to the house, and the hot water came bubbling down to their very door. It cooled, of course, a little on the way, but it was still warm enough for cooking purposes, and Albert was hugely delighted.

"Hot water! Cold water! Whatever you wish, Dick," he said; "just turn on the tap. If my inventive faculty keeps on growing, I'll soon have a shower bath, hot and cold, rigged up here."

"It won't grow enough for that," said Dick; "but I want to tell you, Al, that the big game in the valley is increasing at a remarkable rate. Although cold, it's been a very open winter so far, but I suppose the instinct of these animals warns them to seek a sheltered place in time."

"Instinct or the habit of endless generations," said Albert.

"Which may be the same thing," rejoined Dick.

"There's a whole herd of elk beyond the far end of the lake, I've noticed on the cliffs what I take to be mountain sheep, and thirty or forty buffalos at least must be ranging about in here."

"Then," said Albert, "let's have a try at the buffaloes. Their robes will be worth a lot when we go back to civilization, and there is more room left in the Annex."

They took their repeaters and soon proved Dick's words to be true. In a sheltered meadow three or more miles up the valley they found about twenty buffaloes grazing. Each shot down a fat cow, and they could have secured more had not the minds of both boys rebelled at the idea of slaughter.

"It's true we'd like to have the robes," said Dick, "but we'd have to leave most of the carcasses rotting here. Even with the wonderful appetites that we've developed, we couldn't eat a whole buffalo herd in one winter."

But after they had eaten the tongue, brisket, and tenderloin of the two cows, while fresh, these being the tenderest and best parts of the buffalo, they added the rest of the meat to their stores in the Annex. As they had done already in several cases, they jerked it, a most useful operation that observant Dick had learned when they were with the wagon train.

It took a lot of labor and time to jerk the buffaloes, but neither boy had a lazy bone in him, and time seemed to stretch away into eternity before them. They cut the flesh into long, thin strips, taking it all from the bones. Then all these pieces were thoroughly mixed with salt—fortunately, they could obtain an unlimited supply of salt by boiling out the water from the numerous salt springs in the valley—chiefly by pounding and rubbing. They let these strips remain inside the hides about three hours, then all was ready for the main process of jerking.

Albert had been doing the salting and Dick meanwhile had been getting ready the frame for the jerking. He drove four forked poles into the ground, in the form of a square and about seven feet apart. The forks were between four and five feet above the ground. On opposite sides of the square, from fork to fork, he laid two stout young poles of fresh, green wood. Then from pole to pole he laid many other and smaller poles, generally about an inch apart. They laid the strips of buffalo meat, taken from their salt bath, upon the network of small poles, and beneath they built a good fire of birch, ash, and oak.

"Why, it makes me think of a smokehouse at home," said Albert.

"Same principle," said Dick, "but if you let that fire under there go out, Al, I'll take one of those birch rods and give you the biggest whaling you ever had in your life. You're strong enough now to stand a good licking."

Albert laughed. He thought his big brother Dick about the greatest fellow on earth. But he paid assiduous attention to the fire, and Dick did so, too. They kept it chiefly a great bed of coals, never allowing the flames to rise as high as the buffalo meat, and they watched over it twenty-four hours. In order to keep this watch, they deserted the cabin for a night, sleeping by turns before the fire under the frame of poles, which was no hardship to them.

The fierce timber wolves came again in the night, attracted by the savory odor of buffalo meat; and once they crept near and were so threatening that Albert, whose turn it was at the watch, became alarmed. He awakened Dick, and, in order to teach these dangerous marauders a lesson, they shot two of them. Then the shrewd animals, perceiving that the two-legged beasts by the fire carried something very deadly with which they slew at a distance, kept for a while to the forest and out of sight.

After the twenty-four hours of fire drying, the buffalo meat was greatly reduced in weight and bulk, though it was packed as full as ever with sustenance. It was now cured, that is, jerked, and would keep any length of time. While the frame was ready they jerked an elk, two mule deer, a big silver-tip bear that Dick shot on the mountain side, and many fish that they caught in the lake and the little river. They would scale the fish, cut them open down the back, and then remove the bone. After that the flesh was jerked on the scaffold in the same way that the meat of the buffalo and deer was treated.

Before these operations were finished, the big timber wolves began to be troublesome again. Neither boy dared to be anywhere near the jerking stage without a rifle or revolver, and Dick finally invented a spring pole upon which they could put the fresh meat that was waiting its turn to be prepared—they did not want to carry the heavy weight to the house for safety, and then have to bring it back again.

While Dick's spring pole was his own invention, as far as he was concerned, it was the same as that used by thousands of other trappers and hunters. He chose a big strong sapling which Albert and he with a great effort bent down. Then he cut off a number of the boughs high up, and in each crotch fastened a big piece of meat. The sapling was then allowed to spring back into place and the meat was beyond the reach of wolf.

But the wolves tried for it, nevertheless. Dick awakened Albert the first night after this invention was tried and asked him if he wished to see a ghost dance. Albert, wrapped to his eyes in the great buffalo robe, promptly sat up and looked.

They had filled four neighboring saplings with meat, and at least twenty wolves were gathered under them, looking skyward, but not at the sky—it was the flesh of elk and buffalo that they gazed at so longingly, and delicious odors that they knew assailed their nostrils.

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