The Hermit's Warning

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


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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


"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,


"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


"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


"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


"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,


"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.

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