The Underground Stream





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

now."



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

point.



"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

us."



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

end.



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

it."



"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

supper.



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

bed."





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