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The Snow-slide

From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

The rain, which continued pretty steadily all day, Sunday, had ceased
before the following morning, when, looking through the rifts in the
clouds to the west we could see that a quantity of new snow had fallen
on the mountains.

"There'll be no trouble about water for irrigating this year, Joe," said
I, as I returned from the stable after feeding the horses. "There's more
snow up there, I believe, than I've ever seen before. It ought to last
well into the summer, especially as the winds have drifted the gulches
full and it has settled into solid masses."

"Yes, there ought to be a good supply," answered Joe, who was busy
cooking the breakfast. "Which of the ponies do you think I had better
take this morning, Phil? The pinto?"

"I thought so. I've given him a good feed of oats. He'll enjoy the
outing, I expect, for he's feeling pretty chipper this morning. He
tried to nip me in the ribs while I was rubbing him down. He needs a
little exercise."

We had arranged between us that Joe should ride to Sulphide that morning
to see Tom Connor and Yetmore, as my father had directed; and
accordingly, as soon as he could get off, away he went; the pinto pony,
very fresh and lively, going off as though he intended to gallop the
whole distance.

Left to myself, I first went up to measure the flow of the underground
stream, according to custom, and then, taking a shovel, I went to work
clearing the headgates of our ditches, which had become more or less
encumbered with refuse during the winter. There were two of them, set in
niches of the rock on either side of the pool; for, to irrigate the land
on both sides of the creek, we necessarily had to have two ditches. I
had been at it only a few minutes when I noticed a curious booming noise
in the direction of the mountains, which, continuing for a minute or
two, presently died out again. From my position close under the wall of
the Second Mesa, I could see nothing, and though it seemed to me to be a
peculiar and unusual sound, I concluded that it was only a storm
getting up; for, even at a distance of seven miles, we could often hear
the roaring of the wind in the pine-trees.

A quarter of an hour later, happening to look up the Sulphide road, I
was rather surprised to see a horseman coming down, riding very fast. He
was about a mile away when I first caught sight of him, and I could not
make out who he was, but presently, as I stood watching, a slight bend
in the road allowed the sunlight to fall upon the horse's side, when I
recognized the pinto. It was Joe coming home again.

I knew very well, of course, that he could not have been all the way to
Sulphide and back in so short a time, and my first thought was that the
spirited pony was running away with him; but as he approached I saw that
Joe was leaning forward in the saddle, rather urging forward his steed
than restraining him.

"What's up?" I thought to myself, as I stood leaning on my shovel. "Has
he forgotten something? He seems to be in a desperate hurry if he has:
Joe doesn't often push his horse like that. Something the matter, I'm

There was a rather steep pitch where the road came down into our valley,
and it was a regular practice with us to descend this hill with some
caution. Here, at any rate, I expected Joe to slacken his pace; but when
I saw him come flying down at full gallop, where a false step by the
pony would endanger both their necks, I knew there was something the
matter, and flinging down my shovel, I ran to meet him.

"What is it, Joe?" I cried, as soon as he came within hearing.

Pulling in his pony, which, poor beast, stood trembling, with hanging
head and legs astraddle, the breath coming in blasts from its scarlet
nostrils, Joe leaped to the ground, crying:

"A snow-slide! A fearful great snow-slide! Right down on Peter's house!"

For a moment we stood gazing at each other in silence, when Joe,
speaking very rapidly, went on:

"We must get up there at once, Phil: we may be able to help Peter.
Though if he was in his house when the slide came down, I'm afraid we
can do nothing. His cabin must be buried five hundred feet deep, and the
heavy snow will pack like ice with its own weight."

"We'll take a couple of shovels, anyhow," I cried. "I'll get 'em. Pull
your saddle off the pinto, Joe, he's used up, poor fellow, and slap it
on to the little gray. Saddle my pony, too, will you? I'll clap some
provisions into a bag and bring 'em along: there's no knowing how long
we'll be gone!"

"All right," replied Joe. And without more words, he turned to unsaddle
the still panting pony, while I ran to the house.

In five minutes, or less, we were under way.

"Not too fast!" cried Joe. "We mustn't blow the ponies at the start.
It's a good eight miles up to Peter's house."

As we ascended the hill and came up on top of the Second Mesa, I was
able to see for the first time the great scar on the mountain where the
slide had come down.

"Phew!" I whistled. "It was a big one, and no mistake. Did you see it
start, Joe?"

"Yes, I saw it start. I happened to be looking up there, thinking it
looked pretty dangerous, when a great mass of snow which was overhanging
that little cliff up there near the saddle, fell and started the whole
thing. It seemed to begin slowly. I could see three or four big patches
of snow fall from the precipice above Peter's cabin as though pushed
over, and then the whole great mass, fifteen feet thick, I should
think, three hundred yards wide and four or five times as long, came
down with a rush, pouring over the cliff with a roar like thunder. I
wonder you didn't hear it."

"I did," I replied, remembering the noise I had taken for a wind-storm,
"but being under the bluff, and the waterfall making so much noise, I
couldn't hear distinctly, and so thought nothing of it. Why!" I cried,
as I looked again. "There used to be a belt of trees running diagonally
across the slope. They're all gone!"

"Yes, every one of them. There were some biggish ones, too, you
remember; but the slide snapped them off like so many carrots. It cut a
clean swath right through them, as you see."

"Where were you, Joe, when you saw it come down?" I asked.

"More than half way to Sulphide. I came back in fifteen minutes--four

"Poor little Pinto! No wonder he was used up!"

We had been riding at a smart lope, side by side, while this
conversation was going on, and in due time we reached the foot-hills.
Here our pace was necessarily much reduced, but we continued on up
Peter's creek as rapidly as possible until the gulch became so narrow
and rocky, and so encumbered with great patches of snow, that we thought
we could make better time on foot.

Leaving our ponies, therefore, we went scrambling forward, until, about
half a mile from our destination, Joe suddenly stopped, and holding up
his hand, cried eagerly:

"Hark! Keep quiet! Listen!"

"Bow, wow, wow! Bow, wow, wow, wow, wow!" came faintly to our ears from
far up the mountain.

"It's old Sox!" cried Joe. "There are no dogs up here!" And clapping his
hands on either side of his mouth, he gave a yell which made the echoes
ring. Almost immediately the sharp report of a rifle came down to us,
and with a spontaneous cheer we plunged forward once more.

It was hard work, for we were about nine thousand feet above sea level;
the further we advanced, too, the more snow we encountered, until
presently we found the narrow valley so blocked with it that we had to
ascend the mountain-spur on one side to get around it. In doing so, we
came in sight of the cliff behind Peter's house, and then, for the
first time, we understood what a snow-slide really meant.

Reaching half way up the thousand-foot precipice was a great slope of
snow, completely filling the end of the valley; and projecting from it
at all sorts of angles were trees, big and little, some whole, some
broken off short, some standing erect as though growing there, some
showing nothing but their roots. At the same time, from the edge of the
precipice upward to the summit of the ridge, we had a clear view of the
long, bare track left by the slide, with the snow-banks, fifteen or
twenty feet thick, still standing on either side of it, held back by the

"What a tremendous mass of snow!" I exclaimed, "There must be ten
million tons of it! And what an irresistible power! Peter's house must
have been crushed like an eggshell!"

"Yes," replied Joe. "But meanwhile where's Peter?"

Once more he shouted; and this time, somewhere straight ahead of us,
there was an answering shout which set us hurrying forward again with
eager expectancy.

At the same moment, up from the ground flew old Sox, perched upon the
root of an inverted tree, where, showing big and black against the snow
bank behind him, he set to work to bark a continuous welcome as we
struggled forward to the spot, one behind the other.

Beneath a tree, stretched on a mat of fallen pine-needles, just on the
very outer edge of the slide, lay our old friend, the hermit, who, when
he saw us approaching, raised himself on his elbow, and waving his other
hand to us, called out cheerily:

"How are you, boys? Glad to see you! You're welcome--more than welcome!"

"Hurt, Peter?" cried Joe, running forward and throwing himself upon his
knees beside the injured man.

"A trifle. No bones broken, I believe, but pretty badly bruised and
strained, especially the right leg above the knee. I find I can't
walk--at least not just yet."

"How did you escape the slide?" I asked.

"Why, I had warning of it, luckily. I was up pretty early this morning
and was just about to leave the house, when a dab of snow--a couple of
tons, maybe--came down and knocked off my chimney. I knew what that
meant, and I didn't waste much time, you may be sure, in getting out. I
grabbed my rifle and ran for it. I was hardly out of my door when the
roar began, and you may guess how I ran then. I had reached almost this
spot when down it came. The edge of it caught me and tumbled me about;
sometimes on the surface, sometimes on the ground; now on my face and
now feet uppermost, I was pitched this way and that like a cork in a
torrent, till a big tree--the one Sox is sitting on, I think--slapped me
on the back with its branches and hurled me twenty feet away among the
rocks. It was then I got hurt; but on the other hand, being flung out of
the snow like that saved me from being buried, so I can't complain. It
was as narrow a shave as one could well have."

"It certainly was," said I. "And did you hold on to the rifle all the

"Yes; though why, I can't say. The natural instinct to hold on to
something, I suppose. But how is it you are on hand so promptly? It did
occur to me as I lay here that one of you might notice that there had
been a slide and remember me, but I never expected to see you here so

"Well, that was another piece of good fortune," I replied. "Joe saw the
slide come down and rode a four-mile race to come and tell me. We did
not lose a minute in getting under way, and we haven't wasted any time
in getting here either. But now we are here, the question is: How are we
going to get you out?"

"Where do you propose to take me?" asked Peter.

"Down to our house."

For a brief instant the hermit looked as though he were going to demur;
but if he had entertained such an idea, he thought better of it, and
thanked me instead.

"It's very good of you," said he; "though it gives me an odd sensation.
I haven't been inside another man's house for years."

"Well, don't you think it's high time you changed your habits?" ask Joe,
laughing. "And you couldn't have a better opportunity--your own house
smashed flat; yourself helpless; and we two all prepared to lug you off
whether you like it or not."

"Well," said Peter, smiling at Joe's threat, "then I suppose I may as
well give in. You're very kind, though, boys," he added, seriously, "and
I'm very glad indeed to accept your offer."

"Then let us pitch in at once and start downward," said Joe. "Do you
think you could walk with help?"

"I doubt it; but I'll have a try."

It was no use, though. With one arm over Joe's shoulder and the other
over mine he essayed to walk, but the attempt was a failure. His right
leg dragged helplessly behind; he could not take a step.

"We've got to think of some other way," said Joe, as Peter once more
stretched himself at full length upon the ground. "Can we----"

But here he was interrupted.

All this time, Sox, with rare backwardness, had remained perched upon
his tree-root, looking on and listening, but at this moment down he
flew, alighted upon the ground near Peter's head, made a complete
circuit of his master's prostrate form, then hopped up on his shoulder,
and having promenaded the whole length of his body from his neck to his
toes, he shook out his feathers and settled himself comfortably upon the
hermit's left foot.

We all supposed he intended to take a nap, but in another two seconds he
straightened up again, eyed each of us in turn, and, with an air of
having thought it all out and at last decided the matter beyond dispute,
he remarked in a tone of gentle resignation:

"John Brown's body."

Having delivered this well-considered opinion with becoming solemnity,
he threw back his head and laughed a rollicking laugh, as though he had
made the very best joke that ever was heard.

"You black heathen, Sox!" cried his master. "I believe you would laugh
at a funeral."

"Lies," said Sox, opening one eye and shutting it again; a remark which,
though it sounded very much as though intended as an insult to Peter,
was presumably but the continuation of his previous quotation.

"Get out, you old rascal!" cried the hermit, "shooing" away the bird
with his hat. "Your conversation is not desired just now." And as Sox
flew back to his perch, Peter continued: "How far down did you leave
your ponies, boys?"

"About a mile," I replied.

"Then I believe the best way will be for one of you to go down and bring
up one of the ponies. I can probably get upon his back with your help,
and then, by going carefully, I believe we can get down."

"All right," said Joe, springing to his feet. "We'll try it. I'll go
down. The little gray is the one, Phil, don't you think?"

"Yes," I answered. "The little gray's the one; he's more sober-minded
than my pony and very sure-footed. Bring the gray."

Without further parley, away went Joe, and in about three-quarters of an
hour he appeared again, leading the pony by the bridle.

"It's pretty rough going," said he, "but I think we can make it if we
take it slowly. The pony came up very well. Now, Peter let's see if we
can hoist you into the saddle."

It was a difficult piece of work, for Peter, though he had not an ounce
of fat on his body, was a pretty heavy man, and being almost helpless
himself, the feat was not accomplished without one or two involuntary
groans on the part of the patient. At last, however, we had him settled
into the saddle, when Joe, carrying the rifle, took the lead, while I,
with the two shovels over my shoulder, brought up the rear. In this
order the procession started, but it had no more than started when Peter
called to us to stop.

In order to avoid going up the hill more than was necessary, we were
skirting along the edge of the great snow-bank, when, as we passed just
beneath the big tree upon one of whose roots Socrates was perched,
Peter, looking up to call to the bird, espied something which at once
attracted his attention.

"Wait a moment, boys, will you?" he requested, checking the pony; and
then, turning to me, he continued: "Look up there, Phil. Do you see that
black stone stuck among the roots? Poke it out with the shovel, will
you? I should like to look at it."

Wondering rather at his taking any interest in stones at such a time, I
nevertheless obeyed his behest, and with two or three vigorous prods I
dislodged the black fragment, catching it in my hand as it fell; though
it was so unexpectedly heavy that I nearly let it drop.

"Ah!" exclaimed Peter, when I had handed it up to him. "Just what I
thought! This will interest Tom Connor."

"Why?" we both asked. "What is it?"

"A chunk of galena. Look! Do you see how it is made up of shining cubes
of some black mineral? Lead--lead and sulphur. There's a vein up there

"And the big tree, pushing its roots down into the vein, has brought
away a piece of it, eh?" asked Joe.

"Yes, that is what I suppose. There are some bits of light-colored rock
up there, too, Phil. Pry out one or two of those, will you?"

I did as requested, and on my passing them to Peter, he said:

"These are porphyry rocks. The general formation up there is limestone,
I know--I've noticed it frequently--but I expect it is crossed
somewhere--probably on the line of the belt of trees--by a porphyry
dike. Put the specimens into your pocket, Joe; we must keep them to show
to Connor. It's a very important find. And now let us get along."

The journey down the gulch was very slow and very difficult--we made
hardly a mile an hour--though, when we left the mountain and started
across the mesa we got along better. When about half way, I left the
others and galloped home, where I lighted a fire and heated a lot of
water, so that, when at length Peter arrived, I had a steaming hot
tubful all ready for him in the spare room on the ground floor.

Though our friend protested against being treated like an invalid,
declaring his belief that he would be about right again by morning, he
nevertheless consented to take his hot bath and go to bed; though I
think he was persuaded to do so more because he was unwilling to
disappoint us after all our preparations, than because he really
expected to derive any benefit.

Be that as it may--and for my part I shall always hold that it was the
hot bath that did it--when we went into Peter's room next morning, what
was our surprise to find our cripple up and dressed. Though his right
leg was still so stiff as to be of little use to him, he declined our
help, and with the aid of a couple of broomsticks propelled himself out
of his bedroom and into the kitchen, where Joe was busy getting the
breakfast ready. His rapid recovery was astonishing to both of us;
though, as Joe remarked later, we need not be so very much surprised,
for, with his hardy life and abstemious habits he was as healthy as any
wild animal.

As we sat at our morning meal, we talked over our find of yesterday,
and discussed what was the proper course for us to pursue.

"First, and most important," said Peter, "Tom Connor must be notified.
We must waste no time. The prospectors are beginning to get out, and any
one of them, noticing the new scar on the mountain, might go exploring
up there. When does Tom quit work on the Pelican?"

"This evening," replied Joe. "It was this evening, wasn't it, Phil?"

"Yes," I replied. "He was to quit at five this evening, and his
intention then was to come down here next day and make this place his
base of operations."

"Then the thing to do," said Joe, "is for me to ride up there this
morning--I started to go yesterday, you know, Peter--and catch Tom up at
the mine at noon. When he hears of our discovery, I've not a doubt but
that he will pack up and come back with me this evening, so as to get a
start first thing to-morrow."

"I expect he will," said I. "And while you are up there, Joe, you can
see Yetmore and give him your information about those cart-tracks."

"What do you mean?" asked Peter. "Information about what cart-tracks?"

"Oh, you haven't heard of it, of course," said I; and forthwith I
explained to him all about the ore-theft, and how we suspected that the
thief was in hiding somewhere in the foot-hills. Peter listened
attentively, and then asked:

"Are you sure there was only one of them?"

"Well, that's the general supposition," I replied. "Why?"

"I thought there might be a pair of them, that's all. I'll tell you an
odd thing that happened only the day before yesterday, which may or may
not have a bearing on the case. When I got home about dusk that evening,
I found that some one had broken into my house and had stolen a
hind-quarter of elk, a box of matches, a frying-pan, and--of all queer
things to select--a bear-trap. What on earth any one can want with a
bear-trap at this season of the year, I can't think, when there is
hardly a bear out of his winter-quarters yet; and if he was he'd be as
thin as a rail. I found the fellow's tracks easily enough--tall man--big
feet--long stride--and trailed them down the gulch to a point where
another man had been sitting on a rock waiting for him. This other man's
track was peculiar: he was lame--stepped short with his right foot, and
the foot itself was out of shape. Their trail went on down the hill
towards the mesa, but it was then too dark to follow it, and I was going
off to take it up again next morning when that slide came down and
changed my programme."

"Well," said Joe, who had sat with his elbows on the table and his chin
on his hands, listening closely, "where the lame man springs from I
don't know, but if they should be the ore-thieves their stealing the
meat and the frying-pan was a natural thing to do; for if they are going
into hiding they will need provisions."

"Yes," replied Peter; "and whether they knew of my place before or came
upon it by accident, they would probably think it safer to steal from me
than to raid one of the ranches and thus risk bringing all the ranchmen
about their ears like a swarm of hornets."

"That's true," said Joe. "Yes, I must certainly tell Tom and Yetmore
about them: it may be important. And I'll start at once," he added,
rising from the table as he spoke. "I'll take the buckboard, Phil, and
then I can bring back Tom's camp-kit and tools for him; otherwise he
would have to pack them on his pony and walk himself. I expect you will
see us back somewhere about seven this evening."

With that he went out, and soon afterwards we heard the rattle of wheels
as he drove away.

Next: The Big Reuben Vein

Previous: The Ore-theft

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