Taken Into The Mountains





We climbed to another level bench where we branched off the trail. The

forest still kept its open, park-like character. Under the great pines

the ground was bare and brown with a thick covering of pine-needles, but

in the glades were green grass and blue flowers.



Once across this level we encountered a steeper ascent than any I had

yet climbed. Here the character of the forest began to change. There

were other trees than pines, and particularly one kind, cone-shaped,

symmetrical, and bright, which Dick called a silver spruce. I was glad

it belonged to the conifers, or pine-tree family, because it was the

most beautiful tree I had ever seen. We climbed ridges and threaded

through aspen thickets in hollows till near sunset. Then Stockton

ordered a halt for camp.



It came none too soon for me, and I was so exhausted that I had to be

helped off my mustang. Stockton arranged my blankets, fed me, and bathed

the bruise on my head, but I was too weary and sick to be grateful or

to care about anything except sleep. Even the fact that my hands were

uncomfortably bound did not keep me awake.



When some one called me next morning my eyes did not want to stay open.

I had a lazy feeling and a dull ache in my bones, but the pain had gone

from my head. That made everything else seem all right.



Soon we were climbing again, and my interest in my surroundings grew as

we went up. For a while we brushed through thickets of scrub oak. The

whole slope of the mountain was ridged and hollowed, so that we were

always going down and climbing up. The pines and spruces grew smaller,

and were more rugged and gnarled.



"Hyar's the canyon!" sang out Bill, presently.



We came out on the edge of a deep hollow. It was half a mile wide. I

looked down a long incline of sharp tree-tips. The roar of water rose

from below, and in places a white rushing torrent showed. Above loomed

the snow-clad peak, glistening in the morning sun. How wonderfully far

off and high it still was!



To my regret it was shut off from my sight as we descended into the

canyon. However, I soon forgot that. I saw a troop of coyotes, and many

black and white squirrels. From time to time huge birds, almost as big

as turkeys, crashed out of the thickets and whirred away. They flew

swift as pheasants, and I asked Dick what they were.



"Blue grouse," he replied. "Look sharp now, Ken, there are deer ahead of

us. See the tracks?"



Looking down I saw little, sharp-pointed, oval tracks. Presently two

foxes crossed an open patch not fifty yards from us, but I did not get

a glimpse of the deer. Soon we reached the bottom of the canyon, and

struck into another trail. The air was full of the low roar of tumbling

water. This mountain-torrent was about twenty feet wide, but its

swiftness and foam made it impossible to tell its depth. The trail led

up-stream, and turned so constantly that half the time Bill, the leader,

was not in sight. Once the sharp crack of his rifle halted the train. I

heard crashings in the thicket. Dick yelled for me to look up the slope,

and there I saw three gray deer with white tails raised. I heard a

strange, whistling sound.



On going forward we found that Bill had killed a deer and was roping it

on his pack-horse. As we proceeded up the canyon it grew narrower,

and soon we entered a veritable gorge. It was short, but the floor was

exceedingly rough, and made hard going for the horses. Suddenly I was

amazed to see the gorge open out into a kind of amphitheatre several

hundred feet across. The walls were steep, and one side shelved out,

making a long, shallow cave, In the center of this amphitheatre was a

deep hole from which the mountain stream boiled and bubbled.



"Hyar we are," said Bill, and swung out of his saddle. The other men

followed suit, and helped Dick and me down. Stockton untied our hands,

saying he reckoned we would be more comfortable that way. Indeed we

were. My wrists were swollen and blistered. Stockton detailed the

Mexican to keep guard over us.



"Ken, I've heard of this place," said Dick. "How's that for a spring?

Twenty yards wide, and no telling how deep! This is snow-water straight

from the peaks. We're not a thousand feet below the snow-line."



"I can tell that. Look at those Jwari pines," I replied, pointing up

over the wall. A rugged slope rose above our camp-site, and it was

covered with a tangled mass of stunted pines. Many of them were twisted

and misshapen; some were half dead and bleached white at the tops. "It's

my first sight of such trees," I went on, "but I've studied about them.

Up here it's not lack of moisture that stunts and retards their growth.

It's fighting the elements--cold, storm-winds, snowslides. I suppose

not one in a thousand seedlings takes root and survives. But the forest

fights hard to live."



"Well, Ken, we may as well sit back now and talk forestry till Buell

skins all he wants of Penetier," said Dick. "It's really a fine

camping-spot. Plenty of deer up here and bear, too."



"Dick, couldn't we escape?" I whispered.



"We're not likely to have a chance. But I say, Ken, how did you happen

to turn up? I thought you were going to hop on the first train for

home."



"Dick, you had another think coming. I couldn't go home. I'll have a

great time yet--I'm having it now."



"Yes, that lump on your head looks like it," replied Dick, with a laugh.

"If Bud hadn't put you out we'd have come closer to licking this bunch.

Ken, keep your eye on Greaser. He's treacherous. His arm's lame yet."



"We've had two run-ins already," I said. "The third time is the worst,

they say. I hope it won't come.... But, Dick, I'm as big--I'm bigger

than he is."



"Hear the kid talk! I certainly ought to have put you on that train--"



"What train?" asked Stockton, sharply, from our rear. He took us in with

suspicious eyes.



"I was telling Ken I ought to have put him on a train for home,"

answered Dick.



Stockton let the remark pass without further comment; still, he appeared

to be doing some hard thinking. He put Dick at one end of the long cave,

me at the other. Our bedding was unpacked and placed at our disposal. We

made our beds. After that I kept my eyes open and did not miss anything.



"Leslie, I'm going to treat you and Ward white," said Stockton. "You'll

have good grub. Herky-Jerky's the best cook this side of Holston, and

you'll be left untied in the daytime. But if either of you attempts to

get away it means a leg shot off. Do you get that?"



"All right, Stockton; that's pretty square of you, considering," replied

Dick. "You're a decent sort of chap to be mixed up with a thief like

Buell. I'm sorry."



Stockton turned away at this rather abruptly. Then Bill appeared on

the wall above, and began to throw down firewood. Bud returned from the

canyon, where he had driven the horses. Greaser sat on a stone puffing a

cigarette. It was the first time I had taken a good look at him. He was

smaller than I had fancied; his feet and hands and features resembled

those of a woman, but his eyes were live coals of black fire. In the

daylight I was not in the least afraid of him.



Herky-Jerky was the most interesting one of our captors. He had a short,

stocky figure, and was the most bow-legged man I ever saw. Never on

earth could he have stopped a pig in a lane. A stubby beard covered

the lower half of his brick-red face. The most striking thing about

Herky-Jerky, however, was his perpetual grin. He looked very jolly, yet

every time he opened his mouth it was to utter bad language. He cursed

the fire, the pans, the coffee, the biscuits, all of which he handled

most skillfully. It was disgusting, and yet aside from this I rather

liked him.



It grew dark very quickly while we were eating, and the wind that dipped

down into the gorge was cold. I kept edging closer and closer to the

blazing campfire. I had never tasted venison before, and rather disliked

it at first. But I soon cultivated a liking for it.



That night Stockton tied me securely, but in a way which made it easy

for me to turn. I slept soundly and awoke late. When I sat up Stockton

stood by his saddled horse, and was giving orders to the men. He

spoke sharply. He made it clear that they were not to be lax in their

vigilance. Then, without a word to Dick or me, he rode down the gorge

and disappeared behind a corner of yellow wall.



Bill untied the rope that held Dick's arms, but left his feet bound. I

was freed entirely, and it felt so good to have the use of all my limbs

once more that I pranced round in a rather lively way. Either my antics

annoyed Herky-Jerky or he thought it a good opportunity to show his

skill with a lasso, for he shot the loop over me so hard that it stung

my back.



"I'm all there as a roper!" he said, pulling the lasso tight round my

middle. The men all laughed as I tumbled over in the gravel.



"Better keep a half-hitch on the colt," remarked Bud.



So they left the lasso fast about my waist, and it trailed after me as

I walked. Herky-Jerky put me to carrying Dick's breakfast from the

campfire up into the cave. This I did with alacrity. Dick and I

exchanged commonplace remarks aloud, but we had several little whispers.



"Ken, we may get the drop on them or give them the slip yet," whispered

Dick, in one of these interludes.



This put ideas into my head. There might be a chance for me to escape,

if not for Dick. I made up my mind to try if a good chance offered, but

I did not want to go alone down that canyon without a gun. Stockton had

taken my revolver and hunting-knife, but I still had the little leather

case which Hal and I had used so often back on the Susquehanna. Besides

a pen-knife this case contained salt and pepper, fishing hooks and

lines, matches--a host of little things that a boy who had never been

lost might imagine he would need in an emergency. While thinking and

planning I sat on the edge of the great hole where the spring was.

Suddenly I saw a swirl in the water, and then a splendid spotted fish.

It broke water twice. It was two feet long.



"Dick, there's fish in this hole!" I yelled, eagerly.



"Shouldn't wonder," replied he. "Sure, kid, thet hole's full of

trout--speckled trout," said Herky-Jerky. "But they can't be ketched."



"Why not?" I demanded. I had not caught little trout in the Pennsylvania

hills for nothing. "They eat, don't they? That fish I saw was a whale,

and he broke water for a bug. Get me a pole and some bugs or worms!"



When I took out my little case and showed the fishing-line, Herky-Jerky

said he would find me some bait.



While he was absent I studied that spring with new and awakened eyes.

It was round and very deep, and the water bulged up in great greenish

swirls. The outlet was a narrow little cleft through which the water

flowed slowly, as though it did not want to take its freedom. The rush

and roar came from the gorge below.



Herky-Jerky returned with a long, slender pole. It was as pliant as a

buggy-whip, and once trimmed and rigged it was far from being a poor

tackle. Herky-Jerky watched me with extreme attention, all the time

grinning. Then he held out a handful of grubs.



"If you ketch a trout on thet I'll swaller the pole!" he exclaimed.



I stooped low and approached the spring, being careful to keep out of

sight.



"You forgot to spit on yer bait, kid," said Bill.



They all laughed in a way to rouse my ire. But despite it I flipped the

bait into the water with the same old thrilling expectancy.



The bait dropped with a little spat. An arrowy shadow, black and gold,

flashed up. Splash! The line hissed. Then I jerked hard. The pole bent

double, wobbled, and swayed this way and that. The fish was a powerful

one; his rushes were like those of a heavy bass. But never had a bass

given me such a struggle. Every instant I made sure the tackle would be

wrecked. Then, just at the breaking-point, the fish would turn. At last

he began to tire. I felt that he was rising to the surface, and I put on

more strain. Soon I saw him; then he turned, flashing like a gold bar. I

led my captive to the outlet of the spring, where I reached down and

got my fingers in his gills. With that I lifted him. Dick whooped when I

held up the fish; as for me, I was speechless. The trout was almost two

feet long, broad and heavy, with shiny sides flecked with color.



Herky-Jerky celebrated my luck with a generous outburst of enthusiasm,

whereupon his comrades reminded him of his offer to swallow my fishing

pole.



I put on a fresh bait and instantly hooked another fish, a smaller one,

which was not so bard to land. The spring hole was full of trout. They

made the water boil when I cast. Several large ones tore the hook loose;

I had never dreamed of such fishing. Really it was a strange situation.

Here I was a prisoner, with Greaser or Bud taking turns at holding the

other end of the lasso. More than once they tethered me up short for no

other reason than to torment me. Yet never in my life had I so enjoyed

fishing.



By-and-by Bill and Herky-Jerky left the camp. I heard Herky tell Greaser

to keep his eye on the stew-pots, and it occurred to me that Greaser had

better keep his eye on Ken Ward. When I saw Bud lie down I remembered

what Dick had whispered. I pretended to be absorbed in my fishing, but

really I was watching Greaser. As usual, he was smoking, and appeared

listless, but he still held on to the lasso.



Suddenly I saw a big blue revolver lying on a stone and I could even

catch the glint of brass shells in the cylinder. It was not close to Bud

nor so very close to Greaser. If he should drop the lasso! A wild idea

possessed me--held me in its grip. Just then the stew-pot boiled over.

There was a sputter and a cloud of steam, Greaser lazily swore in

Mexican; he got up to move the stew-pot and dropped the lasso.



When he reached the fire I bounded up, jerking the lasso far behind

me. I ran and grabbed the revolver. Greaser heard me and wheeled with

a yell. Bud sat up quickly. I pointed the revolver at him, then at

Greaser, and kept moving it from one side to the other.



"Don't move! I'll shoot!" I cried.



"Good boy!" yelled Dick. "You've got the drop. Keep it, Ken, keep it!

Don't lose your nerve. Edge round here and cut me loose.... Bud, if you

move I'll make him shoot. Come on, Ken."



"Greaser, cut him loose!" I commanded the snarling Mexican.



I trembled so that the revolver wabbled in my hand. Trying to hold it

steadied, I squeezed it hard. Bang! It went off with a bellow like a

cannon. The bullet scattered the gravel near Greaser. His yellow face

turned a dirty white. He jumped straight up in his fright.



"Cut him loose!" I ordered.



Greaser ran toward Dick.



"Look out, Ken! Behind you! Quick!" yelled Dick.



I beard a crunching of gravel. Even as I wheeled I felt a tremendous

pull on the lasso and I seemed to be sailing in the air. I got a blurred

glimpse of Herky-Jerky leaning back on the taut lasso. Then I plunged

down, slid over the rocks, and went souse into the spring.





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