The Wolf With Wet Feet





We had been so expeditious, thanks largely to Joe's good judgment in

tumbling into the right hole at the start when he slid down the shale,

that we reached home well before sunset, when, according to the

arrangement we had made as we rode down, Joe started again that same

evening for Sulphide. This time he made the trip without interruption,

and when at eight o'clock next morning he drove up to our house, Tom

Connor was with him.



"How are you, old man?" cried the latter, springing to the ground and

shaking hands very heartily with our guest. "That was a pretty narrow

squeak you had."



"It certainly was," replied Peter. "And if it hadn't been for these

boys, I'd have been up there yet. What's the news, Connor? Any clue to

your ore-thieves?"



"Not much but what you and the boys have furnished. But ask Joe, he'll

tell you."



"Well," said Joe, "in the first place, Long John has disappeared. He has

not been seen since the evening before the robbery. No one knows what's

become of him."



"Is that so?" I cried. "Then I suppose the robbery is laid to him."



"Yes, to him and another man. I'll tell you all about it. After I had

been to the mine and given Tom our news, I went down town to Yetmore's

and had a long talk with him. That was a good idea of your father's,

Phil, that we should go and tell Yetmore: he took it very kindly, and

repeated several times how much obliged he felt. He seems most anxious

to be friendly."



"It's my opinion," Tom Connor cut in, "that he got such a thorough scare

that night of the explosion, and is so desperate thankful he didn't blow

you two sky-high, that he can't do enough to make amends."



"That's it, I think," said Joe. "And I believe it is a great relief to

him also to find that we are not trying to lay the blame on him. Anyhow,

he couldn't have been more friendly than he was; and he told me things

which seem to throw some light on the matter of the ore-theft. There

was seemingly a second man concerned in it; a man with a club-foot,

Peter."



"Ah, ha!" said Peter. "Is that so?"



"Yes. There used to be a man about town known as 'Clubfoot,' a crony of

Long John's," Joe continued. "He was convicted of ore-stealing about

three years ago, and was sent to the penitentiary. A few days ago he

escaped, and it is Yetmore's opinion that he ran straight to Long John

for shelter. On the night after the explosion he--Yetmore, I mean, you

know--went to John's house 'to give the blundering numskull a piece of

his mind,' as he said--we can guess what about--and John wouldn't let

him in; so they held their interview outside in the dark. I gathered

that there was a pretty lively quarrel, which ended in Yetmore telling

Long John that he had done with him, and that he needn't expect him to

grub-stake him this spring.



"It is Yetmore's belief that the reason John wouldn't let him into his

house--it's only a one-roomed shanty, you know--was that Clubfoot was

then inside; and he further believes that John, finding himself deprived

of his expected summer's work, and no doubt incensed besides at

Yetmore's going back on him, as he would consider it, then and there

planned with Clubfoot the robbery of the ore; both of them being

familiar with the workings of the Pelican."



"That sounds reasonable," remarked Peter; "though, when all is said and

done, it amounts to no more than a guess on Yetmore's part. But, look

here!" he went on, as the thought suddenly occurred to him. "If Long

John is not prospecting for Yetmore or himself either, being supposedly

in hiding, what was he doing on the 'bubble' yesterday?"



"But perhaps he is prospecting for himself," Tom Connor broke in. "Here

we are, theorizing away like a house afire on the idea that he is the

thief, when maybe he had nothing to do with it. And if he is prospecting

for himself, the sooner I get up to that claim the better if I don't

want to be interfered with. I reckon I'll dig out right away. If you

boys," turning to us, "can spare the time and the buckboard you can help

me a good bit by carrying up my things for me."



"All right, Tom," said I. "We can do so."



Starting at once, therefore, with a load of provisions, tools and

bedding, we carried them up the mountain as far as we could on wheels,

and then packed them the rest of the way on horseback, when, having seen

Tom comfortably established in camp near the Big Reuben--with the look

of which he expressed himself as immensely pleased--Joe and I turned

homeward again about four in the afternoon.



We were driving along, skirting the rim of our canyon, and were passing

between the stream and the little treeless "bubble" upon which Joe had,

as he believed, seen Long John standing the day before, when my

companion remarked:



"I should very much like to know, Phil, what Long John was doing up

there. Do you suppose----Whoa! Whoa, there, Josephus! What's the matter

with you?"



This exclamation was addressed to the horse; for at this moment the

ordinarily well-behaved Josephus shied, snorted, and standing up on his

hind feet struck out with his fore hoofs at a big timber-wolf, which,

springing out from the shelter of some boulders on the margin of the

canyon and passing almost under his nose, ran off and disappeared among

the rocks.



"He must have been down to the stream to get a drink," suggested Joe.



"He couldn't," said I; "the canyon-wall is too steep; no wolf could

scramble up."



"Well, if he didn't," remarked my companion, "how did he get his feet

wet? Look here at his tracks."



As he said this, Joe pointed to the bare stone before us, where the

wolf's wet tracks were plainly visible.



"Well," said I, "then I suppose there must be a way up after all. Wait a

moment, Joe, while I take a look."



Jumping from the buckboard, I stepped over to the boulders whence the

wolf had appeared, where, to my surprise, I found a pool, or, rather, a

big puddle of water, which, overflowing, dripped into the canyon.



Where the water came from I could not at first detect, but on a more

careful inspection I found that it ran, a tiny thread, along a crack in

the lava not more than a couple of inches wide, which, on tracing it

back, I found we had driven over without noticing. Apparently the water

came down from the "bubble" through a rift in the crater-wall.



As I have stated before, several of the little craters contributed small

streams of water to our creek, but this was not one of them, so,

turning to my companion, I said:



"Joe, this is the first time I have ever seen any water come down from

that 'bubble.' Let us climb up to the top and take a look inside."



Away we went, therefore, scrambling up the rocky slope, when, having

reached the rim, we looked down into the little crater. The area of its

floor was only about an acre in extent, but instead of being grown over

with grass and sagebrush, as was the case with most of them, this one

was covered with blocks of stone of all sizes, some of them weighing

several tons. It was evident that the walls, which were only about

thirty feet in height, had at one time been much higher, but that in the

course of ages they had broken down and thus littered the little

bowl-shaped depression with the fragments.



The thread of water which had drawn us up there came trickling out from

among these blocks of stone, and we set out at once to trace it up to

its source while we still had daylight. But this, we found, was by no

means easy, for, though the stream did not dodge about much, but ran

pretty directly down to the crack in the wall, its course was so much

impeded by rocks, under and around which it had to make its way--while

over and around them we had to make our way--that it was ten or

fifteen minutes before we discovered where it came from.



We had expected to find a pool of rain-water, more or less extensive,

seeping through the sand and slowly draining away. What we actually did

find was something very different: something which filled us with wonder

and excitement!



About the middle of the little crater there came boiling out of the

ground a strong spring, which, running along a deep, narrow channel it

had in the course of many centuries worn in the solid stone floor of the

crater, disappeared in turn beneath the litter of rocks. A short

distance below the spring the channel was half filled for some distance

with fragments of stone of no great size, which, checking the rush of

the water, caused it to lap over the edge. It was this slight overflow

which supplied the driblet we had followed up from the canyon below.



"Joe!" I exclaimed, greatly excited. "Do you know what I think?"



"Yes, I do," my companion answered like a flash. "I think so, too. Come

on! Let's find out at once!"



Following the channel, we went clambering over the rocks, which just

here were not quite so plentiful, until, at a distance from the spring

of about fifty yards, we came upon a large circular pool in which the

water flowed continuously round and round as though stirred with a

gigantic spoon, while in the centre it spun round violently, a perfect

little whirlpool, and sank with a gurgle into the earth.



For a moment we stood gazing spellbound at this natural phenomenon,

hardly realizing what it meant, and then, with one impulse, we both

threw our hats into the air with a shout, seized each other's hands, and

danced a wild and unconventional dance, with no witness but a solitary

eagle, which, passing high overhead, paused for an instant in his flight

to wonder, probably, what those crazy, unaccountable human beings were

up to now.



At length, out of breath, we stopped, when Joe, clapping his hands

together to emphasize his words, cried:



"At last we've found it, Phil! This, surely, is the water-supply that

keeps the 'forty rods' wet!"



"It must be," I replied, no less excited than my partner. "It must be;

it can't be anything else. But how are we going to prove it, Joe?"



"The only way I see is to divert the flow here; then, if our underground

stream stops, we shall know this is it."



"Yes, but how are we to divert it?"



"Why, look here," Joe answered. "The spring, I suppose, is a little

extra-strong just now, causing that slight overflow up above here. Well,

what we must do is to take the line marked out for us by the overflow,

and following it from the channel down to the crack in the crater-wall,

break up and throw aside all the rocks that get in the way; then cut a

new channel and send the whole stream off through the crack, when it

will pour into the canyon, run across the ranch on the surface, and the

'forty rods' will dry up!"



He gazed at me eagerly, with his fists shut tight, as though he were all

ready to spring upon the impeding rocks and fling them out of the way at

once.



"That's all right, Joe," I replied. "It's a good programme. But it's a

tremendous piece of work, all the same. There are scores of rocks to be

broken up and moved; and when that is done, there is still the new

channel to be cut in the solid stone bed of the crater. The present

channel is about eighteen inches deep; we shall have to make the new one

six inches deeper, and something like a hundred feet long: a big job by

itself, Joe."



"I know that," Joe answered. "It's a big job, sure enough, and will take

time and lots of hard work. Still, we can do it----"



"And what's more we will do it!" I cried. "What's the best way of

setting about it?"



"We shall have to blast out the channel and blow to pieces all the

bigger rocks," Joe replied. "It would take forever to do it with pick

and sledge--in fact, it couldn't be done. We shall have to use powder

and drill."



"Well, then," said I, "I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll borrow the

tools from Tom Connor. He left a number of drills, you know, stored in

our blacksmith-shop, and he'll lend 'em to us I'm sure. One of us had

better drive back to the Big Reuben to-morrow morning and ask him."



"All right, Phil, we'll do so. My! I wish--it doesn't sound very

complimentary--but I wish your father would stay away another week. I

believe we can do this work in a week, and wouldn't it be grand if we

could have the stream headed off before he got home! But how about the

plowing, Phil? I was forgetting that."



"Why, the only plowing left," I replied, "is the potato land, and that,

fortunately, is not urgent; whereas the turning of this stream is

urgent--extremely urgent--and my opinion is that we ought to get at it.

Anyhow, we'll begin on it, and if my father thinks proper to set us to

plowing instead when he gets home--all right."



"Well, then, we'll begin on this work as soon as we can. And now, Phil,

let us get along home."



We had been seated on a big stone while this discussion was going on,

and were just about to rise, when Joe, suddenly laying his hand on my

arm, held up a warning finger. "Sh!" he whispered. "Don't speak. Don't

stir. I hear some one moving about!"



Squatting behind the rocks, I held my breath and listened, and

presently I heard distinctly, somewhere close by, the tinkle of two or

three chips of stone as they rolled down into the crater. Some one was

softly approaching the place where we sat.



Though to move was to risk detection, our anxiety to see who was there

was too strong to resist, so Joe, taking off his hat, slowly arose until

he was able to peep through a chink between two of the big fragments

which sheltered us. For a moment he stood there motionless, and then,

tapping me on the shoulder, he signed to me to stand up too.



Peeping between the stones, I saw, not fifty yards away, a man coming

carefully down the crater-wall on the side opposite from that by which

we ourselves had entered. In spite of his care, however, he every now

and then dislodged a little fragment of stone, which came clattering

down the steep slope. It was one of these that had given us notice of

his approach.



There was no mistaking the tall, gaunt figure, even though the light of

the sunset sky behind him made him look a veritable giant. It was Long

John Butterfield.



He was headed straight for our hiding-place, and it was with some

uneasiness that I observed he had a revolver strapped about his waist.

In appearance he looked wilder and more unkempt than ever, while the

sharp, suspicious manner in which he would every now and then stop short

and glance quickly all around, showed him to be nervous and ill at ease.



While Joe and I stood there silent and rigid as statues, Long John came

on down the slope, until presently he stopped scarce ten steps from us

beside a big, flat stone. There, for a moment, he stood, his hand on his

revolver, his body bent and his head thrust forward, his ears cocked and

his little eyes roving all about the crater--the picture of a watchful

wild animal--when, satisfied apparently that he was alone and

unobserved, he went down upon his knees, threw aside several pieces of

rock, and thrusting his arm under the flat stone, he pulled out--a sack!



So close to us was he, that even in that uncertain light we could

distinguish the word, "Pelican," stenciled upon it in big black letters.



Laying this sack upon the flat stone, John reached into the hole again,

and, one after another, brought out four others. Apparently there were

no more in there, for, having done this, he rose to his feet again,

looked all about him once more, and then walked off a short distance

up-stream. At the point where the channel overflowed he stopped again,

when, to our wonderment he pulled off his coat, rolled up one sleeve,

and going down upon his knees, began scratching around in the water. In

a few seconds he fished out one at a time five dripping sacks, all of

which he carried over and set down beside the first five.



Evidently he was working with some set purpose; though to us watchers it

was all a perfectly mysterious proceeding.



A few steps from where the sacks were piled was a little ledge of rock

less than a foot high, above which was a steep slope covered with loose

fragments of stone. Taking up the sacks, two at a time, John carried

them over to this spot, laid them all, end to end, close under the

little ledge, and then, climbing up above them, he sat down, and with

his big, flat feet sent the loose shale running down until the row of

sacks was completely buried.



This seemed to be all he wanted, for, having examined the result of his

work and satisfied himself apparently that the sacks were perfectly

concealed, he turned and went straight off up the crater-wall again,

pausing at the crest for a minute to inspect the country ahead of him,

and then, stepping over the rim, in another moment he had vanished.



"Come on, Phil!" whispered my companion, eagerly. "Let us see which

direction he takes."



"Wait a bit," I replied. "Give him five minutes: he might come back."



We waited a short time, therefore, when, feeling pretty sure that John

had gone for good, we scrambled to the summit of the ridge and looked

out over the mesa. There we could see Long John striding away at a great

pace, apparently making straight for Big Reuben's gorge.



"Then Yetmore was right," said Joe. "Those fellows were the ore-thieves

after all. I wonder if they haven't taken up their quarters in Big

Reuben's old cave. It would be a pretty good place for their purpose."



"Quite likely," I assented. "But what do you suppose, Joe, can have been

Long John's object in coming down here and moving those ore-sacks?--for,

of course, they are the Pelican ore-sacks. They were well enough

concealed before."



"It does look mysterious at first sight," replied Joe, "but I expect the

explanation is simple enough. I think it is probable that when they

brought the ore up here the two men divided the spoils on the spot, each

hiding his own share in a place of his own choosing; and our respected

friend, John, thinking to get ahead of the other thief, has just come

and stolen his partner's share."



"That would be a pretty shabby trick, but I expect it is just what he

has done. He'll be a bit surprised when he finds that some one has

played a similar trick on him. For, of course, we can't leave the sacks

there, to be moved again if Long John should take the notion that the

hiding place is not safe enough. How shall we manage it, Joe? If we are

going to do anything this evening we must do it quickly: there won't be

daylight much longer."



After a moment's consideration, Joe replied: "Let us go down and carry

those sacks outside the crater. Then get along home, and come back here

with the wagon and team by daylight to-morrow and haul them off. It is

too much of a load for the buckboard, even if we walked ourselves, so it

won't do to take them with us now."



"All right," said I. "Then we'll do that; and afterwards you can ride up

to see Tom Connor about those tools, while I drive to Sulphide with the

ore. Won't Yetmore be glad to see me!"



There was no time to lose, and even as it was, the waning light made it

pretty difficult to pick our way across the rock-strewn bottom of the

crater with a fifty-pound sack under each arm, but at length we had them

all safely laid away in a crack in the rocks just outside the crater,

whence it would be handy to remove them in the morning.



By the time we had finished it was dark, and we hurriedly drove off

home, contemplating with some reluctance the chores which were still to

be done. From this duty, however, we had a happy relief, for our good

friend, Peter, anxious to make himself of some use, and taking his time

about it, had managed to feed the horses and pigs, milk the cows, shut

up the chickens and start the fire for supper--a service on his part

which we very thoroughly appreciated.



We had just sat down to our evening meal, and were telling Peter all

about our two great finds of the afternoon, when our guest, whose long

and solitary life as a hunter had made his hearing preternaturally

sharp, straightened himself in his chair, and holding up one finger,

said:



"Hark! I hear a horse coming up the valley at a gallop!"



At first Joe and I could hear nothing, but presently we detected the

rhythmical beat of the hoofs of a horse approaching at a smart canter.

Somebody was coming up from San Remo--for though a wheeled vehicle could

not pass over the "forty rods," a horseman could pick his way--and

knowing that nobody ever came that way in the "soft" season unless our

house was his destination, I stepped to the door, wondering who our

visitor could be. Great was my surprise when the horseman, riding into

the streak of light thrown through the open doorway, proved to be

Yetmore!



"Why, Mr. Yetmore!" I cried. "Is it you? Come in! You're just in time

for supper."



"Thank you, Phil," replied the storekeeper, "but I won't stop. I was

down at San Remo this afternoon, and it occurred to me to ride home this

way and inquire of you if you'd seen or heard anything more of those

ore-thieves. By the way, before I forget it: I brought your mail for

you;" at the same time handing me one letter and two or three

newspapers.



"Thank you," said I, thrusting the letter into my pocket. "And as to the

ore-thieves, Mr. Yetmore, we've seen one of them; but we've done

something a good deal better than that--we've found the ore."



"What!" shouted Yetmore, so loudly that Joe came running out, thinking

there must be something the matter. "What! You've found the ore!"



So saying, he leaped from his horse and seizing me by the arm, cried:

"You're not joking, are you, Phil? For goodness' sake, don't fool me,

boys. It's a matter of life and death to me, almost!"



His anxiety was plainly expressed in his eager eyes and trembling hand,

and I was glad to note the look of relief which came over his face when

I replied:



"I'm not fooling, Mr. Yetmore. We've found it all right--this evening.

Come in and have some supper, and we'll tell you all about it."



Yetmore did not decline a second time, but forgetting even to tie up his

horse, which Joe did for him, he followed me at once into the kitchen,

where, hardly noticing Peter, to whom I introduced him, and neglecting

entirely the food placed before him, he sat down and instantly

exclaimed:



"Now, Phil! Quick! Go ahead! Go ahead! Don't keep me waiting, there's a

good fellow! How did you find the ore? Where is it? What have you done

with it?"



Not to prolong his suspense, I at once related to him as briefly as

possible the whole incident, winding up with the statement that we

proposed to go and bring in the sacks by daylight on the morrow.



At this conclusion Yetmore sprang to his feet.



"Boys," said he, in a tremulous voice, "you've done me an immense

service; now do me one more favor: lend me your big gun. I'll ride right

up to the 'bubble' and stand guard over the ore till morning. If I

should lose it a second time I believe it would turn my head."



That he was desperately in earnest was plain to be seen: his voice was

shaky, and his hand, I noticed, was shaky, too, when he held it out

entreating us to lend him our big gun.



I was about to say he might take it, and welcome, when Joe pulled me by

the sleeve and whispered in my ear; I nodded my acquiescence; upon which

my companion, turning to Yetmore, said:



"We can do better than that, Mr. Yetmore. We'll hitch up the little

mules and go and bring away the ore to-night."



I have no doubt that to our anxious visitor the time seemed interminable

while Joe and I were finishing our supper, but at length we rose from

the table, and within a few minutes thereafter we were off; Yetmore

himself sitting in the bed of the wagon with the big shotgun across his

knees.



As it was then quite dark, and as we did not wish to attract any

possible notice by carrying a light, we were obliged to take it very

slowly, one or other of us now and then descending from the wagon and

walking ahead as a pilot. In due time, however, we reached the foot of

the "bubble," when, leaving Yetmore to take care of the mules, Joe and I

climbed up to the crevice, and having presently, by feeling around with

our hands, found the hiding-place of the sacks, we pulled them out and

carried them, one at a time down to the wagon. All this, being done in

the dark, took a long time, and it was pretty late when we drew up again

at our own door.



Here, for the first time, Yetmore, striking a match, examined the ten

little sacks.



"It's all right, boys," said he, with a great sigh of relief. "These are

the sacks; and none of them has been opened, either." He paused for a

moment, and then, with much earnestness of manner, went on: "How am I to

thank you, boys? You've done me a service of infinite importance. The

loss of that ore almost distracted me: I needed the money so badly. But

now, thanks to you, I shall be all right again. You don't know how great

a service you have done me. I shan't forget it. We've not always been on

the best of terms, I'm sorry to say--my fault, though, my fault

entirely--but I should be very glad, if it suits you, to start fresh

to-night and begin again as friends."



He was so evidently in earnest, that Joe and I by one impulse shook

hands with him and declared that nothing would suit us better.



"And how about the ore, Mr. Yetmore?" I asked. "What will you do now?"



"If you don't mind," he replied, "I should like to drive straight up to

Sulphide at once. If you will lend me the mules and wagon, I'll set

right off. I'll return them to-morrow."



"Very well," said I. "And you can leave your own horse in the stable, so

that whoever brings down the team will have a horse to ride home on."



Yetmore, accordingly, climbed up to the seat and drove off at once,

calling back over his shoulder: "Good-night, boys; and thank you again.

I feel ten years younger than I did this morning!"





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