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What We Found In The Pool

From: The Boys Of Crawford's Basin

Though we got back to camp pretty late, we set to work to load our poles
at once, fearing that there was going to be a fall of snow which might
prevent our getting them to town. This turned out to be a wise
precaution, for when we started in the morning the snow was already
coming down, and though it did not extend as far as Sulphide, the
mountains were covered a foot deep before night.

This fall of snow proved to be much to our advantage, for one of the
timber contractors, fearing he might not be able to fill his order,
bought our "sticks" from us, to be delivered, cut into certain lengths,
at the Senator mine.

This occupied us several days, when, having delivered our last load, we
thanked Mrs. Appleby for the use of her back yard--the only payment she
would accept--and then set off home, where we proudly displayed to my
father and mother the money we had earned and related how we had earned
it; including, of course, a description of our meeting with the wild man
of the woods.

"And didn't he tell you who he was?" asked my father, when we had

"No," I replied; "we were afraid to ask him, and he didn't volunteer any

"And you didn't guess who he was?"

"No. Why should we? Who is he?"

"Why, Peter the Hermit, of course. I should have thought the presence of
the raven would have enlightened you: he is always described as going
about in company with a raven."

"So he is. I'd forgotten that. But, on the other hand he is always
described also as being half crazy, and certainly there was no sign of
such a thing about him that we could see. Was there, Joe?"

"No. Nobody could have acted more sensibly. Who is he, Mr. Crawford? And
why does he live all by himself like that?"

"I know nothing about him beyond common report. I suppose his name is
Peter--though it may not be--and because he chooses to lead a secluded
life, some genius has dubbed him 'Peter the Hermit'; though who he
really is, or why he lives all alone, or where he comes from, I can't
say. Some people say he is crazy, and some people say he is an escaped
criminal--but then people will say anything, particularly when they know
nothing about it. Judging from the reports of the two or three men who
have met him, however, he appears to be quite inoffensive, and evidently
he is a friendly-disposed fellow from your description of him. If you
should come across him again you might invite him to come down and see
us. I don't suppose he will, but you might ask him, anyhow."

"All right," said I. "We will if we get the chance." And so the matter

It was just as well that we returned to the ranch when we did, for we
found plenty of work ready to our hands, the first thing being the
hauling of fire-wood for the year. To procure this, it was not necessary
for us to go to the mountains: our supply was much nearer to hand. The
whole region round about us had been at some remote period the scene of
vigorous volcanic action. Both the First and Second Mesas were formed by
a series of lava-flows which had come down from Mount Lincoln, and
ending abruptly about eight miles from the mountains, had built up the
cliff which bounded the First Mesa on its eastern side. Then, later, but
still in a remote age, a great strip of this lava-bed, a mile wide and
ten or twelve miles long, north and south, had broken away and subsided
from the general level, forming what the geologists call, I believe, a
"fault," thus causing the "step-up" to the Second Mesa. The Second Mesa,
because the lava had been hotter perhaps, was distinguished from the
lower level by the presence of a number of little hills--"bubbles," they
were called, locally, and solidified bubbles of hot lava perhaps they
were. They were all sorts of sizes, from fifty to four hundred feet high
and from a hundred yards to half a mile in diameter. Viewed from a
distance, they looked smooth and even, like inverted bowls, though when
you came near them you found that their sides were rough and broken. I
had been to the top of a good many of them, and all of those I had
explored I had found to be depressed in the centre like little craters.
From some of them tiny streams of water ran down, helping to swell the
volume of our creek.

Most of these so-called "bubbles," especially the larger ones, were well
covered with pine-trees, and as there were three or four of them within
easy reach of the ranch, it was here that we used to get our fire-wood.

There was a good week's work in this, and after it was finished there
was more or less repairing of fences to be done, as there always is in
the fall, and the usual mending of sheds, stables and corrals.

The weather by this time had turned cold, and "the bottomless forty
rods" having been frozen solid enough to bear a load, Joe and I were
next put to work hauling oats down to the livery stable men in San Remo,
as well as up to Sulphide.

Before this task was accomplished the winter had set in in earnest. We
had had one or two falls of snow, though in our sheltered Basin the heat
of the sun was still sufficient to clear off most of it again, and the
frost had been sharp enough to freeze up our creek at its sources, so
that our little waterfall was now converted into a motionless icicle.
Fortunately, we were not dependent upon the creek for the household
supply of water: we had one pump which never failed in the back kitchen
and another one down by the stables.

The creek having ceased to run, the surface of the pool was no longer
agitated by the water pouring into it, and very soon it was solidly
frozen over with a sheet of ice twelve inches thick, when, according to
our yearly custom, we proceeded to cut this ice and stow it away in the
ice-house; having previously been up to the sawmill near Sulphide and
brought away, for packing purposes, several wagon-loads of sawdust,
which the sawmill men readily gave us for nothing, being glad to have it
hauled out of their way. We had taken the opportunity to do this when we
took our loads of oats up to Sulphide, thus utilizing the empty wagons
on the return trip.

The pool, as I have said, measured about a hundred feet each way, though
on account of its shallowness around the edges we could only cut ice
over a surface about fifty feet square. Being frozen a foot thick,
however, this gave us an ample supply for all our needs.

The labor of cutting, hauling and housing the ice fell to Joe and me, my
father having generally plenty of other work to do. He had taken in a
number of young cattle for a neighboring cattleman for the winter, and
having sold him the bulk of our hay crop and at the same time undertaken
to feed the stock, this daily duty alone took up a large part of his
time. Besides this, "the forty rods" having become passable, the
freighters and others now came our way instead of taking the longer
hill-road, and their frequent demands for a sack, or a load, of oats,
and now and then for hay or potatoes, added to the work of
stock-feeding, kept my father pretty well occupied.

Joe and I, therefore, went to work by ourselves, beginning operations on
that part of the pool nearest the point where the water used to pour in.
We had taken out ten or a dozen loads of beautiful, clear ice, when, one
day, Yetmore, who was riding down to San Remo, seeing us at work,
stopped to watch us.

He was a queer fellow. Though he must have been perfectly well aware
that we distrusted him; and though, after the late affair of the
lead-boulder--a miscarriage of his schemes which was doubtless extremely
galling to him--one would think he would have rather avoided us than
not, he appeared to feel no embarrassment whatever, but with a greeting
of well-simulated cordiality he dismounted and walked over to the pool
to see what we were doing. Perhaps--and this, I think, is probably the
right explanation--if he did entertain the idea of some day "getting
even" with us, he had decided to postpone any such attempt until he saw
an opportunity of doing so at a profit.

"Fine lot of ice," he remarked, after standing for a moment watching Joe
as he plied the saw. "Does this creek always freeze up like this?"

"Yes," I replied. "It heads in Mount Lincoln, and is made up of a number
of small streams which always freeze up about the first of November.
That reduces the flow to about one-third its usual size; and when the
little streams which come down from three or four of the 'bubbles'
freeze up too, the creek stops entirely; which makes it mighty
convenient for us to cut ice, as you see."

"I see. Is the pool the same depth all over?"

"No," I answered. "Just here, under the fall, it is deepest, but round
the edges it is so shallow that we can't take a stroke with the saw, the
sand comes so close up to the ice. In fact, in some places, the ice
rests right upon the sand."

"How deep is it here?"

"Four or five feet, I think. Try it, Joe."

Joe, who had just laid down the saw and had taken up the long ice-hook
we used for drawing the blocks of ice within reach, lowered the hook,
point downward, into the water. Then, pulling it out again, he stood it
up beside him, finding that the wet mark on the staff came up to his

"Five feet and three or four inches," said he.

"Is the bottom solid or sandy?" asked Yetmore.

"I didn't notice. I'll try it."

With that Joe lowered the pole once more.

"Seems solid," he remarked, giving two or three hard prods. But he had
scarcely said so, when, to our surprise, several bits of rough ice about
as big as my hand bobbed up from the bottom.

"Hallo!" exclaimed Yetmore. "Ground ice!"

"What's ground ice?" I asked.

"Why, ice formed at the bottom of the pool. It is not uncommon, I
believe, though I don't remember to have seen any before. Pretty dirty
stuff, isn't it? Must be a sandy bottom."

So saying, he stooped down, and picking up the only bit of ice which
happened to be within reach, he examined its under side. As he did so, I
saw him give a little start, as though there were something about it to
cause him surprise, but just as I reached out my hand to ask him to let
me see it, he threw it back into the water out of reach--an action which
struck me as being hardly polite.

"I must be off," said he, in apparent haste, "so, good-bye. Hope you
will get your crop in before it snows. Looks threatening to me; you'll
have to hurry, I think."

This prediction seemed to me rather absurd, with the thermometer at zero
and the sky as clear as crystal; but Yetmore was an indoor man and could
not be expected to judge as can one whose daily work depends so much
upon what the weather is doing or is going to do. It did not occur to me
then--though it did later--that he only wanted us to get to work again
at once, and so divert our minds from the subject of the ground ice.

As I made no comment on his remark, Yetmore walked away, remounted his
horse and rode off; while Joe and I went briskly to work again.

We had been at it some time, when Joe stopped sawing, and straightening
up, said:

"It's queer about those bits of ground ice, Phil. Do you notice how they
all float clean side up? Wait a bit and I'll show you."

Taking the ice-hook, he turned over one of the bits with its point,
showing its soiled side, but the moment he released it, the bit of ice
"turned turtle" again.

"Do you see?" said he. "The sand acts like ballast. It must be heavy

"Yes," said I. "Hook a bit of it out and let's look at it."

This was soon done, when, on examining it, we found the under side to be
crusted with very black sand, which, whatever might be its nature, was
evidently heavy enough to upset the balance of a small fragment of ice.

"What is it made of, I wonder?" said Joe.

"I don't know," I replied, "but perhaps it is that black sand which the
prospectors are always complaining of as getting in their way when they
are panning for gold."

"That's what it is, Phil, I expect," cried Joe. "And what's more, that's
what Yetmore thought, too, or else why should he throw that bit of ice
back into the water so quickly when you held out your hand for it? He
didn't want you to see it."

"It does look like it," I assented. "Poke up a few more, Joe, and we
will take them home and show them to my father: perhaps he'll know what
the stuff is."

Joe took the ice-hook and prodded about on the bottom, every prod
bringing up one or two bits of ice, each one as it bobbed to the surface
showing its sandy side for a moment and then turning over, clean side
up. Drawing these to the edge of the ice, we picked them out, laying
them on a gunny-sack we had with us, and when, towards sunset, we had
carried home and housed our last load, and had stabled and fed the
mules, we took our scraps over to the blacksmith-shop, where the tinkle
of a hammer proclaimed that my father was at work doing some mending of

He was much interested in hearing of the ground ice and of the way it
brought up the black sand with it, and still more so in our description
of Yetmore's action.

"Let me look at it," said he; and taking one of our specimens, he
stepped to the door to examine it, the light in the shop being too dim.
He came back smiling.

"Queer fellow, Yetmore!" said he. "One would think that the lesson of
the lead-boulder might have taught him that a man may sometimes be too
crafty. I think this is likely to prove another case of the same kind. I
believe he has made a genuine discovery here--though what it may lead to
there is no telling--and if he had had the sense to let you look at that
piece of dirty ice, instead of throwing it back into the water, thus
arousing your curiosity, he would probably have kept his discovery to
himself. As it is, he is likely to have Tom Connor interfering with him
again--that is to say, if this sand is what I think it is. I don't think
it is the 'black sand' of the prospectors--it is too shiny, and it has a
bluish tinge besides--I think it is something of far more value. We'll
soon find out. Give me that piece of an iron pot, Phil; it will do to
melt the ice in."

Having broken up some of our ice into small pieces, we placed it in a
large fragment of a broken iron pot, and this being set upon the forge,
Joe took the bellows-handle and soon had the fire roaring under it. It
did not take long to melt the ice, when, pouring off the water, we
added some more, repeating the process until there was no ice left. The
last of the water being then poured away, there remained nothing but
about a spoonful of very fine, black, shiny sand.

The receptacle was once more placed upon the fire, and while my father
kept the contents stirred up with a stick, Joe seized the bellows-handle
again and pumped away. Presently he began to cough.

"What's the matter, Joe?" asked my father, laughing.

"Sulphur!" gasped Joe.

"Sulphur!" cried I. "I don't smell any sulphur."

"Come over here, then, and blow the bellows," replied Joe.

I took his place, but no sooner had I done so than I, too, began to
cough. The smell of sulphur evidently came from our spoonful of sand,
and as I was standing between the door and the window the draft blew the
fumes straight into my face. On discovering this, I pulled the
bellows-handle over to one side, when I was no more troubled.

The iron pot, being set right down on the "duck's nest" and heaped all
around with glowing coals, had become red-hot, when my father, peering
into it, held up his hand.

"That'll do, Phil. That's enough," he cried. "Give me the tongs, Joe."

My father removed the melting-pot, and making a hole with his heel in
the sandy floor of the shop, he poured the contents into it.

"Lead!" we both cried, with one voice.

"Yes, lead," my father replied. "Galena ore, ground fine by the action
of water."

"Do you mean," I asked, "that there is a lead-mine in the bottom of the

"No, no. But there is a vein of galena, size and value unknown,
somewhere up on Lincoln Mountain. The fine black sand sticking to the
ground ice was brought down by our stream, being reduced to powder on
the way, and deposited in the pool, where its weight has kept it from
being washed out again."

"I see. And do you suppose Yetmore recognized the sand as galena ore?
Would he be likely to know it in the form of sand?"

"I expect so. He's a sharp fellow enough. He must have seen pulverized
samples of galena many a time in the assayers' offices. I've seen them
myself: that was what gave me my clue."

"And what do you suppose he'll do?"

"He is pretty certain, I think, to try to get hold of some of the stuff,
so that he may test it and make sure; though how he will go about it
there's no telling. It will be interesting to see how he manages it."

"And what shall you do, father? Go prospecting?"

My father laughed, knowing that this was a joke on my part; for I was
well aware that he would not think of such a thing.

"Not for us, Phil," he answered. "We have our mine right here. Raising
oats and potatoes may be a slow way of getting rich, but it is a good
bit surer than prospecting. No, we'll tell Tom Connor about it and let
him go prospecting if he likes. You shall go up to Sulphide the first
Saturday after the ice-cutting is finished and give him our information.
There's no hurry about it: he can't go prospecting while the mountains
are all under snow. Come along in to supper now. You've fed the mules, I

It was a snapping cold night that night, and about half-past eight I
went into the kitchen to look at the thermometer which hung outside the
door. As I came back, I happened to glance out of the west window, when,
to my surprise, I thought I saw a glimmer of light up by the pool.
Stepping quickly into the house again, I went to the front door and
looked out. Yes, there was a light up there!

"Father," I called out, "there's somebody up at the pool with a light."

My father sprang out of his chair. "Is there?" he cried. "Then it's
Yetmore, up to some of his tricks. Get into your coats, boys, and let's
go and see what he's about."

As we went out I took down the unlighted stable-lantern and carried it
with me in case we might need it, and shutting the door softly behind
me, ran after the others. We had not covered half the distance to the
pool, however, when the light up there suddenly went out, and a minute
later we heard the sound of galloping hoofs, muffled by the thin carpet
of snow, going off in the direction of Sulphide. Our visitor, whoever he
was, had departed.

"Well, come on, anyhow," said my father. "Let us see what he was doing."

As the thermometer was then standing at three degrees below zero, we
knew that the sheet of clear water we had left in the afternoon should
have been solidly frozen over again by this time. What was our surprise,
therefore, to find that such was not the case: there was only a thin
film of ice; it was but just beginning to form.

"That is easily explained," remarked my father. "The ice did form, but
some one has chopped it out and thrown it to one side there. See?"

"Yes," replied Joe, "and then he took the ice-hook, which I know I left
standing upright against the rocks, and poked up the ground ice. See,
there are several bits floating about, and I remember quite well that we
cleared out every one of them this afternoon. Didn't we, Phil?"

"Yes," said I, "I'm sure we did, because I remember that those two or
three bits that had no sand in them we threw into that corner instead of
pitching them into the water again. I suppose it's Yetmore, father."

"Oh, not a doubt of it. Did he leave any tracks?"

By the light of the lantern we searched about, and though there were no
tracks to be seen on the smooth ice, there were plenty in the snow below
the pool. They were the foot-prints of a smallish man, for his tracks,
in spite of his wearing over-shoes, were not so big as the prints made
by Joe's boots--though, as Joe himself remarked, that was not much to go
by, he being a six-footer with feet to match, "and a trifle over," as
his friends sometimes considerately assured him.

Following these foot-prints, we were led to the south gate, where, it
was easy to see, a horse had been standing for some time tied to the

"Well, he's got off with his samples all right," remarked my father.
"He's a smart fellow, and enterprising, too. He would deserve to win, if
only he were not so fond of taking the crooked way of doing things. Come
along. Let's get back to the house. There's nothing more to be done
about it at present."

Next: Long John Butterfield

Previous: Lost In The Clouds

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