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The Underground Stream

From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

It was on a Saturday morning that we made this discovery, and as my
father and mother had both driven down to San Remo and would not be back
till sunset, we could not ask permission to abandon our regular work and
go exploring. But, as I had said to Joe, though he trusted us to work
faithfully at any task we might undertake, my father also expected us to
use our own discretion in any matter which might turn up when he was not
at hand to advise with us.

I had, therefore, no hesitation in driving back to the ranch, when,
having unloaded our one stone and stabled the mules, Joe and I, taking
with us a long, stout rope and the stable-lantern, retraced our steps to
the wildcat's house.

The first thing to be done was to enlarge the entrance so that we might
have daylight to work by, and this being accomplished, we lighted the
lantern and lowered it by a cord into the hole. We found, however, that
a bulge in the rock prevented our seeing to the bottom, and all we
gained by this move was to ascertain that the crevice was about forty
feet deep, as we had guessed. The next thing, therefore, was for one of
us to go down, and the only way to do this was to slide down a rope.

This, doubtless, would be easy enough, but the climbing up again might
be another matter. We were not afraid to venture on this score, however,
for, as it happened, we had both often amused ourselves by climbing a
rope hung from one of the rafters in the hay-barn, and though that was a
climb of only twenty feet, we had done it so often and so easily that we
did not question our ability to ascend a rope of double the length.

"Who's to go down, Joe, you or I?" I asked.

"Whichever you like, Phil," replied my companion. "I suppose you'd like
to be the first, wouldn't you?"

"Oh, yes, that's a matter of course," I answered, "but as you are the
discoverer you ought to have first chance, so down you go, old chap!"

"Very well, then," said Joe, "if you say so, I'll go."

"Well, I do--so that settles it."

I knew Joe well enough to be sure he would be eager to be the first, and
though I should have liked very much to take the lead myself, it seemed
to me only just that Joe, as the original discoverer, should, as I had
said, be given the choice.

This question being decided, we tied one end of the rope around a big
stone, heavy enough to hold an elephant, and dropped the other end into
the hole. The descent at first was very easy, for the walls being only
three feet apart, and there being many rough projections on either side,
it was not much more difficult than going down a ladder, especially as
I, standing a little to one side, lowered the lantern bit by bit, that
Joe might have a light all the time to see where to set his feet.

Arrived at the bulge, Joe stopped, and standing with one foot on either
wall, looked up and said:

"It opens out below here, Phil; I shall have to slide the rest of the
way. You might lower the lantern down to the bottom now, if you please."

I did so at once, and then asked:

"Can you see the bottom, Joe?"

"Yes," he replied. "The crevice is much wider down there, and the floor
seems to be smooth and dry. I can't see any sign of water anywhere, but
I can hear it plainly enough. Good-bye for the present; I'm going down

With that he disappeared under the bulge in the wall, while I, placing
my hand upon the rope, presently felt the strain slacken, whereupon I
called out:

"All right, Joe?"

"All right," came the answer.

"How's the air down there?"

"Seems to be perfectly fresh."

"Can you see the water?"

"No, I can't; but I can hear it. There's a heap of big rocks in the
passage to the south and the splashing comes from the other side of it.
I'm going to untie the lantern, Phil, and go and explore a bit. Just
wait a minute."

Very soon I heard his voice again calling up to me.

"It's all right, Phil. I've found the water. You may as well come down."

"Look here, Joe," I replied. "Before I come down, it might be as well
to make sure that you can come up."

"There's something in that," said Joe, with a laugh. "Well, then, I'll
come up first."

I felt the rope tauten again, and pretty soon my companion's head
appeared, when, scrambling over the bulge, he once more stood astride of
the crevice, and looking up said:

"It's perfectly safe, Phil. The only troublesome bit is in getting over
the bulge, and that doesn't amount to anything. It's safe enough for you
to come down."

"Very well, then, I'll come; so go on down again."

Taking a candle we had brought with us, I set it on a projection where
it would cast a light into the fissure, and seizing the rope, down I
went. The descent was perfectly easy, and in a few seconds I found
myself standing beside Joe at the bottom.

The crevice down here was much wider than above--ten or twelve feet--the
floor, composed of sandstone, having a decided downward tilt towards the
south. In this direction Joe, lantern in hand, led the way.

Piled up in the passage was a large heap of lava-blocks which had
fallen, presumably, through the opening above, and climbing over these,
we saw before us a very curious sight.

On the right hand side of the crevice--that is to say, on the western or
Second Mesa side--between the sandstone floor and the lowest ledge of
lava, there issued a thin sheet of water, coming out with such force
that it swept right across, and striking the opposite wall, turned and
ran off southward--away from us, that is. Only for a short distance,
however, it ran in that direction, for we could see that the stream
presently took another turn, this time to the eastward, presumably
finding its way through a crack in the lava of the First Mesa.

"I'm going to see where it goes to," cried Joe; and pulling off his
boots and rolling up his trousers, he waded in. He expected to find the
water as cold as the iced water of any other mountain stream, but to his
surprise it was quite pleasantly warm.

"I'll tell you what it is, Phil," said he, stepping back again for a
moment. "This water must run under ground for a long distance to be as
warm as it is. And what's more, there must be a good-sized reservoir
somewhere between the lava and the sandstone to furnish pressure enough
to make the water squirt out so viciously as it does."

Entering the stream again, which, though hardly an inch deep, came out
of the rock with such "vim" that when it struck his feet it flew up
nearly to his knees, Joe waded through, and then turning, shouted to me:

"It goes down this way, Phil, through a big crack in the lava. It just
goes flying. Don't trouble to come"--observing that I was about to pull
off my own boots--"you can't see any distance down the crack."

But whatever there was to be seen, I wanted to see too, and disregarding
his admonition, I pretty soon found myself standing beside my companion.

The great cleft into which we were peering was about six feet wide at
the bottom, coming together some twenty feet above our heads, having
been apparently widened at the base by the action of the water, which,
being here ankle-deep, rushed foaming over and around the many blocks of
lava with which the channel was encumbered. As far as we could see, the
fissure led straight away without a bend; and Joe was for trying to
walk down it at once. I suggested, however, that we leave that for the
present and try another plan.

"Look here, Joe," said I. "If we try to do that we shall probably get
pretty wet, and stand a good chance besides of hurting our feet among
the rocks. Now, I propose that we go down to the ranch again, get our
rubber boots, and at the same time bring back with us my father's
compass and the tape-measure and try to survey this water-course. By
doing that, and then by following the same line on the surface, we may
be able to decide whether it is really this stream which keeps 'the
forty rods' so wet."

"I don't think there can be any doubt about that," Joe replied; "but I
think your plan is a good one, all the same, so let us do it."

We did not waste much time in getting down to the ranch and back again,
when, pulling on our rubber boots, we proceeded to make our survey. It
was not an easy task.

With the ring at the end of the tape-measure hooked over my little
finger, I took a candle in that hand and the compass in the other, and
having ascertained that the course of the stream was due southeast, I
told Joe to go ahead. My partner, therefore, with his arm slipped
through the handle of the lantern and with a pole in his hand with which
to test the depth of the stream, thereupon started down the passage,
stepping from rock to rock when possible, and taking to the water when
the rocks were too far apart, until, having reached the limit of the
tape-measure, he made a mark upon the wall with a piece of white chalk.

This being done, I noted on a bit of paper the direction and the
distance, when Joe advanced once more, I following as far as to the
chalk-mark, when the operation was repeated.

In this manner we worked our way, slowly and carefully, down the
passage, the direction of which varied only two or three degrees to one
side or the other of southeast, until, having advanced a little more
than a thousand feet, we found our further progress barred.

For some time it had appeared to us that the sound of splashing water
was increasing in distinctness, though the stream itself made so much
noise in that hollow passage that we could not be sure whether we were
right or not. At length, however, having made his twentieth chalk-mark,
indicating one thousand feet, Joe, waving his lantern for me to come
on, advanced once more; but before I had come to his last mark, he
stopped and shouted back to me that he could go no farther.

Wondering why not, I slowly waded forward, Joe himself winding up the
tape-measure as I approached, until I found myself standing beside my
companion, when I saw at once "why not."

The stream here took a sudden dive down hill, falling about three feet
into a large pool, the limits of which we could not discern--for we
could see neither sides nor end--its surface unbroken, except in a few
places where we could detect the ragged points of big lava-blocks
projecting above the water, while here and there a rounded boulder
showed its smooth and shining head.

Joe, very carefully descending to the edge of the pool, measured the
depth with his rod, when, finding it to be about four feet deep, we
concluded that we would let well enough alone and end our survey at this

"Come on up, Joe," I called out. "No use trying to go any farther: it's
too dangerous; we might get in over our heads."

"Just a minute," Joe replied. "Let's see if we can't find out which way
the current sets in the pool."

With that he took from his pocket a newspaper he had brought with him in
case for any purpose we should need to make a "flare," and crumpling
this into a loose ball he set it afloat in the pool. Away it sailed,
quickly at first, and then more slowly; and taking a sight on it as far
as it was distinguishable, I found that the set of the current continued
as before--due southeast.

"All right, Joe," I cried. "Come on, now." And Joe, giving me the end of
his stick to take hold of, quickly rejoined me, when together we made
our way carefully up the stream again, and climbing the rope, once more
found ourselves out in the daylight.

"Now, Joe," said I, "let us run our line and find out where it takes

Having previously measured the distance from the point where the
underground stream turned southeast to where the rope hung down, we now
measured the same distance back again along the foot of the bluff, and
thence, ourselves turning southeastward, we measured off a thousand
feet. This brought us down to the lowest of the old lake-benches, about
a hundred yards back of the house, when, sighting along the same line
with the compass, we found that that faithful little servant pointed us
straight to the entrance of the lower canyon.

"Then that does settle it!" cried Joe. "We've found the stream that
keeps 'the forty rods' wet; there can be no doubt of it."

It did, indeed seem certain that we had at last discovered the stream
which supplied "the forty rods" with water; but allowing that we had
discovered it:--what then? How much better off were we?

Beneath our feet, as we had now every reason to believe, ran the
long-sought water-course, but between us and it was a solid bed of lava
about forty feet thick; and how to get the water to the surface, and
thus prevent it from continuing to render useless the meadow below, was
a problem beyond our powers.

"It beats me," said Joe, taking off his hat and tousling his hair
according to custom. "I can see no possible way of doing it. We shall
have to leave it to your father. Perhaps he may be able to think of a
plan. Do you suppose he'll venture to go down the rope, Phil?"

"No, I don't," I replied. "It is all very well for you and me, with our
one hundred and seventy pounds, or thereabouts, but as my father weighs
forty pounds more than either of us, and has not been in the habit of
climbing ropes for amusement as long as I can remember, I think the
chances are that he won't try it."

"I suppose not. It's a pity, though, for I'm sure he would be
tremendously interested to see the stream down there in the crevice.
Couldn't we----Look here, Phil: couldn't we set up a ladder to reach
from the bottom up to the bulge?"

I shook my head.

"I don't think so," I answered. "It would take a ladder twenty feet
long, and the bulge in the wall would prevent its going down."

"That's true. Well, then, I'll tell you what we can do. We'll make two
ladders of ten feet each--a ten-foot pole will go down easily
enough--set one on the floor of the crevice and the other on that wide
ledge about half way up to the bulge. What do you think of that?"

"Yes, I think we could do that," I replied. "We'll try it anyhow. But we
must go in and get some dinner now: it's close to noon."

We did not take long over our dinner--we were too anxious to get to
work again--and as soon as we had finished we selected from our supply
of fire-wood four straight poles, each about ten feet long, and with
these, a number of short pieces of six-inch plank, a hammer, a saw and a
bag of nails, we drove back to the scene of action.

Even a ten-foot pole, we found, was an awkward thing to get down to the
bottom of the fissure, but after a good deal of coaxing we succeeded in
lowering them all, when we at once set to work building our ladders.

The first one, standing on the floor of the crevice, reached as high as
the ledge Joe had mentioned, while the second, planted upon the ledge
itself, leaned across the chasm, its upper end resting against the rock
just below the bulge, so that, with the rope to hold on by, it ought to
be easy enough to get up and down. It is true that the second ladder
being almost perpendicular, looked a little precarious, but we had taken
great care to set it up solidly and were certain it could not slip. As
to the strength of the ladders, there was nothing to fear on that score,
for the smallest of the poles was five inches in diameter at the little

This work took us so long, for we were very careful to make things
strong and firm, that it was within half an hour of sunset ere we had
finished, and as it was then too late to begin hauling rocks, we drove
down to the ranch again at once.

As we came within sight of the house, we had the pleasure of seeing the
buggy with my father and mother in it draw up at the door. Observing us
coming, they waited for us, when, the moment we jumped out of the wagon,
before we could say a word ourselves, my father exclaimed:

"Hallo, boys! What are you wearing your rubber boots for?"

My mother, however, looking at our faces instead of at our feet, with
that quickness of vision most mothers of boys seem to possess, saw at
once that something unusual had occurred.

"What's happened, Phil?" she asked.

"We've made a discovery," I replied, "and we want father to come and see

"Can't I come, too?" she inquired, smiling at my eagerness.

"I'm afraid not," I answered. "I wish you could, but I'm afraid your
petticoats would get in the way."

To this, perceiving easily enough that we had some surprise in store for
my father, and not wishing to spoil the fun, my mother merely replied:

"Oh, would they? Well, I'm afraid I couldn't come anyhow: I must go in
and prepare supper. So, be off with you at once, and don't be late. You
can tell me all about it this evening."

"One minute, father!" I cried; and thereupon I ran to the house,
reappearing in a few seconds with his rubber boots, which I thrust into
the back of the buggy, and then, climbing in on one side while Joe
scrambled in on the other, I called out:

"Now, father, go ahead!"

"Where to?" he asked, laughing.

"Oh, I forgot," said I. "Up to our stone-quarry."

If we had expected my father to be surprised, we were not disappointed.
At first he rather demurred at going down our carefully prepared
ladders, not seeing sufficient reason, as he declared, to risk his neck;
but the moment we called his attention to the sound of water down below,
and he began to understand what the presence of the rubber boots meant,
he became as eager as either Joe or I had been.

In short, he went with us over the whole ground, even down to the pool;
and so interested was he in the matter that he quite forgot the flight
of time, until, having reascended the ladders and followed with us our
line on the surface down to the heap of stones with which we had marked
the thousand-foot point, he--and we, too--were recalled to our duties by
my mother, who, seeing us standing there talking, came to the back-door
of the kitchen and called to us to come in at once if we wanted any

Long was the discussion that ensued that evening as we sat around the
fire in the big stone fireplace; but long as it was, it ended as it had
begun with a remark made by my father.

"Well," said he, as he leaned back in his chair and crossed his
slippered feet before the fire, "it appears to come to this: instead of
discovering a way to drain 'the forty rods,' you have only provided us
with another insoluble problem to puzzle our heads over. There seems to
be no way that we can figure out--at present, anyhow--by which the water
can be brought to the surface, and consequently our only resource is,
apparently, to discover, if possible, where it first runs in under the
lava-bed, to come squirting out again down in that fissure--an almost
hopeless task, I fear."

"It does look pretty hopeless," Joe assented; "though we have found out
one thing, at least, which may be of service in our search, and that is
that the water runs between the lava and the sandstone. That fact should
be of some help to us, for it removes from the list of streams to be
examined all those whose beds lie below the sandstone."

"That's true enough," I agreed. "But, then again, the source may not be
some mountain stream running off under the lava, as we have been
supposing. It is quite possible that it is a spring which comes up
through the sandstone, and not being able to get up to daylight because
of the lava-cap, goes worming its way through innumerable crevices to
the underground reservoir we suppose to exist somewhere beneath the
surface of the Second Mesa."

"That is certainly a possibility," replied my father. "Nevertheless, it
is my opinion that it will be well worth while making an examination of
the creeks on Mount Lincoln. The streams to search would be those
running on a sandstone bed and coming against the upper face of the
lava-flow. It is worth the attempt, at least, and when the snow clears
off you boys shall employ any off-days you may have in that way."

"It would be well, wouldn't it, to tell Tom Connor about it?" suggested
Joe. "He would keep his eyes open for us. I suppose prospectors as a
rule don't take much note of such things, but Tom would do so, I'm sure,
if we asked him."

"Yes," replied my father. "That is a good idea; and if either of you
should come across your friend, the hermit, again, be sure to ask him.
He knows Mount Lincoln as nobody else does, and if he had ever noticed
anything of the sort he would tell us. Don't forget that. And now to

Next: How Tom Connor Went Boring For Oil

Previous: The Wild Cat's Trail

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