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The Hermit's Warning








From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

As it was now after midday, we concluded to eat our lunch before going
any further, so, sitting down on the rocks, we produced the bread and
cold bacon we had brought with us and prepared to refresh ourselves.
Observing this, Socrates, who had flown up into a tree when Long John
threatened him with the hatchet, now flipped down again and took up his
station beside us, having plainly no apprehension that we would do him
any harm, and doubtless thinking that if there was any food going he
might come in for a share.

I was just about to offer him a scrap of bacon, when the bird suddenly
gave a croak and flew off up the mountain. Naturally, we both looked up
to ascertain the reason for this sudden departure, when we were startled
to see a tall, bearded man with a long staff in his hands, skimming down
the snow-covered slope of the mountain towards us. One glance showed us
that it was our friend, the hermit, though how he could skim over the
snow like that without moving his feet was a puzzle to us, until, on
approaching to within twenty yards of where we sat, he stuck his staff
into the snow and checked his speed, when we perceived that he was
traveling on skis.

"How are you, boys?" he cried, shaking hands with us very heartily. "I'm
glad to see you again. Much obliged to you, Joe, for interfering on
behalf of old Sox. I would not have the bird hurt for a good deal. I saw
the whole transaction from where I was standing up there in that grove
of aspens. Why did your companion go off so suddenly?"

"I don't know," I replied. "I only just mentioned to him that Sox
belonged to you, when he picked up his shovel and skipped."

Peter laughed. "I understand," said he. "The gentleman and I have met
before, and have no wish to meet again. Our first and only interview was
not conducive to a desire for further acquaintance. He is not a friend
of yours, I hope."

"Not at all," I replied. "We never met him before."

"Well, I'm glad of that, because he is not one to be intimate with: he
is a thief."

"Why do you say that?" asked Joe, rather startled.

"Because I happen to know it's so. I'll tell you how. I had set a
bear-trap once up on the mountain back of my house, and going up next
day to see if I had caught anything, I found this fellow busy skinning
my bear. He had come upon it by accident, I suppose, and the bear being
caught by both front feet, and being therefore perfectly helpless, he
had bravely shot it, and was preparing to walk off with the skin when I
appeared."

"And what did you say to him?" I asked.

"Nothing," replied Peter. "I just sat down on a rock near by, with my
rifle across my knees, and watched him; and he grew so embarrassed and
nervous and fidgety that he couldn't stand it any longer, and at last he
sneaked off without completing his job and without either of us having
said a word."

"That certainly was a queer interview," remarked Joe, laughing, "and a
most effective way, I should think, of dealing with a blustering rogue
like Long John."

"Long John?" repeated the hermit, inquiringly.

"Yes, Long John Butterfield; known also as 'The Yellow Pup.'"

"Oh, that's who it is, is it? I've heard of him from my friend, Tom
Connor."

"Tom Connor!" we both exclaimed. "Do you know Tom Connor, then?"

"Yes, we have met two or three times in the mountains, and he once spent
the night with me in my cabin--he is the 'one exception' I told you
about, you remember. He seems like a good, honest fellow, and he has
certainly been most obliging to me."

As we looked inquiringly at him, wondering how Tom could have found an
opportunity to be of service to one living such a secluded life as the
hermit did, our friend went on:

"I happened to mention to him that I had great need of an iron pot, and
three days afterwards, on returning home one evening, what should I find
standing outside my door but a big iron pot, and in it a chip, upon
which was written in pencil, 'Compliments of T. Connor.'"

"Just like Tom," said I, laughing. "He has more friends than any other
man in the district, and he deserves it, for when he makes a friend he
can't rest easy until he has found some way of doing him a service."

"And he's as honest as they make 'em," Joe continued. "If he's a friend,
he's a friend, and if he's an enemy, he's an enemy--he doesn't leave you
in doubt."

"Just what I should think," said the hermit. "Very different from Long
John, if I'm not mistaken. That gentleman, I suspect, is of the kind
that would shake hands with you in the morning and then come in the
night and burn your house down. What were you and he doing, by the way?
I've been watching you for an hour. First one and then the other would
kneel down in the snow and chop a hole in the bed of the creek, then get
up, walk a mile, and do it again. If I may be allowed to say so," he
went on, laughing, "it appeared to an outsider like a crazy sort of
amusement."

"I should think it might," said I, laughing too; and I then proceeded to
tell our friend the object of these seemingly senseless actions.

"And do you expect to go prospecting for this vein of galena in the
spring?" he inquired, when I had concluded.

"Not we!" I exclaimed. "My father wouldn't let us if we wanted to. We
are doing this work for Tom Connor, whom my father is anxious to serve,
he having done us, among others, a very good turn."

"I see," said the hermit. "And this man, Yetmore, or, rather, his
henchman, Long John, will be coming as soon as the snow is off to hunt
for the vein in competition with our friend, Connor."

"That is what we expect."

"Well, then, I can help you a little. We will, at least, secure for
Connor a start over the enemy."

"How?" I asked.

"You remember, of course," said the hermit, "that sulphurous stuff that
was cooking on the flat stone outside my door the day you came down to
my house through the clouds? That was galena ore."

"Why, of course!" I exclaimed, slapping my leg. "What pudding-heads we
must have been, Joe, not to have thought of it before. I had forgotten
all about it. Have you found the vein, then?"

"No, I have not; nor have I ever taken the trouble to look for it,
having found a place where I can get a sufficient supply for my purposes
to last for years."

"And what do you use it for?" I asked.

"To make bullets from. I get the powdered ore, roast out the sulphur on
that flat stone, and then melt down the residue."

"And where do you get it?"

"That is what I am going to tell you. You know that deep, rocky gorge
where Big Reuben had his den? Well, near the head of that gorge is a
basin in the rock in which is a large quantity of this powdered galena,
all in very fine grains, showing that they have traveled a considerable
distance. That stream is one of the four little rills which make up this
creek, and if you tell Connor of this deposit it will save him the
trouble of prospecting the other three creeks, as he would otherwise
naturally do; and as Long John will pretty certainly do, for the creek
coming out of Big Reuben's gorge is the last of the four he would come
to if he took up his search where he left off to-day--which would be the
plan he would surely follow. It should save Connor a day's work at
least--perhaps two or three."

"That's true," I responded. "It is an important piece of information. I
wonder, though, that nobody else has ever found the deposit you speak
of."

"Do you? I don't. Considering that Big Reuben was standing guard over
it, I think it would have been rather remarkable if any one had
discovered it."

"That's true enough," remarked Joe. "But that being the case, how did
you come to discover it yourself? Big Reuben was no respecter of
persons, that I'm aware of."

"Ah, but that's just it. He was. He was afraid of me; or, to speak more
correctly, he was afraid of Sox--the one single thing on earth of which
he was afraid. Before I knew of his existence, I was going up the gorge
one day when Big Reuben bounced out on me, and almost before I knew what
had happened I found myself hanging by my finger-tips to a ledge of rock
fifteen feet up the cliff, with the bear standing erect below me trying
his best to claw me down. My hold was so precarious that I could not
have retained it long, and my case would have been pretty serious had it
not been for Socrates. That sagacious bird, seeming to recognize that I
was in desperate straits, flew up, perched upon the face of the cliff
just out of reach of the bear's claws, and in a tone of authority
ordered him to lie down. The astonishment of the bear at being thus
addressed by a bird was ludicrous, and at any other time would have made
me laugh heartily. He at once dropped upon all fours, and when Socrates
flipped down to the ground and walked towards him, using language fit to
make your hair stand on end, the bear backed away. And he kept on
backing away as Sox advanced upon him, pouring out as he came every word
and every fragment of a quotation he had learned in the course of a long
and studious career. One of the reasons I have for thinking that he is
getting on for a hundred years old is that Sox on that occasion raked up
old slang phrases in use in the first years of the century--phrases I
had never heard him use before, and which I am sure he cannot have heard
since he has been in my possession.

"This stream of vituperation was too much for Big Reuben. He feared no
man living, as you know, but a common black raven with a man's voice in
his stomach was 'one too many for him,' as the saying is. He turned and
bolted; while Socrates, flying just above his head, pursued him with
jeers and laughter, until at last he found inglorious safety in the
inmost recesses of his den, whither Sox was much too wise to follow
him."

"I don't wonder you set a high value on old Sox, then," said I. "He
probably saved your life that time."

"He certainly did: I could not have held on five minutes longer."

"And did you ever run across Big Reuben again?" asked Joe.

"Yes. Or, rather, I suppose I should say 'no.' I saw him a good many
times, but he never would allow me to come near him. Whether he thought
I was in league with the Evil One, I can't say, but, at any rate, one
glimpse of me was enough to send him flying; and as I was sure I need
have no fear of him, I had no hesitation in walking up the gorge if it
happened to be convenient; and thus it was that I discovered the deposit
of lead-ore up near its head."

As this piece of information precluded the necessity of our prospecting
any further, and as we had by this time finished our meal--which was
shared by Peter and his attendant sprite--we informed our friend that it
was time for us to be starting back; upon which he remarked that he
would go part of the way with us, as, by taking one of the gulches
farther on he would find an easier ascent to his house than by returning
the way he had come. Hanging his skis over his shoulder, therefore, he
trudged along beside us at a pace which made us hustle to keep up with
him.

"Do you think you would be able to find my house again?" asked the
hermit as we walked along.

"No," I replied, "I'm sure we couldn't. When we came down the mountain
in the clouds that day we were so mixed up that we did not even know
whether we were on Lincoln or Elkhorn, though we had kept away so much
to the left coming down that we rather thought we must have got on to
one of the spurs of Lincoln."

"Well, you had. I'll show you directly what line you took."

Half a mile farther on, at the point where the stream we were following
joined our own creek, our friend stopped, and pointing up the mountain,
said:

"If you ever have occasion to come and look me up, all you have to do is
to follow your own creek up to its head, when you will come to a high,
unscalable cliff, and right at the foot of that cliff you will see the
great pile of fallen rocks in which my house is hidden. You can see the
cliff from here. When you came down that day you missed the head of the
creek you had followed in going up, and by unconsciously bearing to your
left all the time you passed the heads of several others as well, and so
at length you got into the valley which would have brought you out here
if you had continued to follow it."

"I see. How far up is it to your house?"

"About five miles from where we stand."

"It must be all under snow up there," remarked Joe. "I wonder you are
not afraid of being buried alive."

The hermit smiled. "I'm not afraid of that," said he. "It is true the
gulch below me gets drifted pretty full--there is probably forty feet of
snow in it at this moment--but the point where my house stands always
seems to escape; a fact which is due, I think, to the shape of the cliff
behind it. It is in the form of a horseshoe, and whichever way the wind
blows, the cliff seems to give it a twist which sends the snow off in
one direction or another, so that, while the drifts are piled up all
around me, the head of the gulch is always fairly free."

"That's convenient," said Joe. "But for all that, I think I should be
afraid to live there myself, especially in the spring."

"Why?" asked the hermit. "Why in the spring particularly?"

"I should be afraid of snowslides. The mountain above the cliff is very
steep--at least it looks so from here."

"It is very steep, extremely steep, and the snow up there is very heavy
this winter--I went up to examine it two days ago. But at the same time
I saw no traces of there ever having been a slide. There are a good many
trees growing on the slope, some of them of large size, which is pretty
fair evidence that there has been no slide for a long time--not for a
hundred years probably. For as you see, there and there"--pointing to
two long, bare tracks on the mountain-side--"when the slides do come
down they clean off every tree in their course. No, I have no fear of
snowslides.

"By the way," he continued, "there is one thing you might tell Tom
Connor when you see him, and that is that Big Reuben's creek heads in a
shallow draw on the mountain above my house. If you follow with your eye
from the summit of the cliff upward, you will notice a stretch of bare
rock, and above it a strip of trees extending downward from left to
right. It is among those trees that the creek heads.

"You might mention that to Connor," he went on, "in case he should
prefer to begin his prospecting downward from the head of the creek
instead of upward from Big Reuben's gorge. And tell him, too, that if he
will come to me, I shall be glad to take him up there at any time."

"Very well," said I, "we'll do so."

"Yes, we'll certainly tell him," said Joe. "It might very well happen
that Tom would prefer to begin at the top, especially if he should find
that Long John had got ahead of him and was already working up from
below."

"Exactly. That is what I was thinking of. Well, I must be off. I have a
longish tramp before me, and the sunset comes pretty early under my
cliff."

"Won't you come home with us to-night?" I asked. "We have only two miles
to go. My father told me to ask you the next time we met, and this is
such a fine opportunity. I wish you would."

"Yes; do," Joe chimed in.

But the hermit shook his head. "You are very kind to suggest it," said
he, "and I am really greatly obliged to you, and to Mr. Crawford also,
but I think not. Thank you, all the same; but I'll go back home. So,
good-bye."

"Some other time, perhaps," suggested Joe.

"Perhaps--we'll see. By the way, there was one other thing I intended to
say, and that is:--look out for Long John! He is a dangerous man if he
is a coward; in fact, all the more dangerous because he is a coward.
So now, good-bye; and remember"--holding up a warning finger--"look out
for Long John!"

With that, he slipped his feet into his skis and away he went; while Joe
and I turned our own faces homeward.





Next: The Wild Cat's Trail

Previous: Long John Butterfield



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