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Title: Unexplored!
Author: Chaffee, Allen
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Unexplored!" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



UNEXPLORED

By ALLEN CHAFFEE

  Author of "Lost River, the Adventures of Two Boys in the Big Woods,"
  "The Travels of Honk-a-Tonk," "Twinkly Eyes" (3 vols.), "Fleet-Foot,"
  "Trail and Tree Top," and "Fuzzy Wuzz, the Little Brown Bear of
  the Sierras."

Illustrated by William Van Dresser


[Illustration: Spitfire began to double in his best bucking form.
--Page 15]



Milton Bradley Company
Springfield, Massachusetts
1922

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright, 1922
By Milton Bradley Company
Springfield, Massachusetts
Bradley Quality Books

Printed in United States of America

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

TO

H. F. B.,

Who would still be a boy,
Were he a thousand years of age.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

INTRODUCTION

A pack-burro camping trip in an unexplored region of the high Sierras
results in a series of adventures for three boys in the late teens, a
young Geological Survey man and the old prospector who guides them.

They meet bears and catch rainbow trout, are carried to fight fire by the
Forest Service Air Patrol, and trail the incendiaries through a
labyrinthian limestone cave. They ride in a lumber camp rodeo and
experience earthquakes and avalanches. And in the glacier-gouged canyons,
the giant Sequoias, and sulphur springs, they trace the story of the
geological formation of the earth, and its evolution from the days of
dinosaurs.

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CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                      PAGE
    I   The Rodeo                               1
   II   The Camping Trip                       31
  III   Living off the Wilderness              58
   IV   With the Air Patrol                    84
    V   A Daring Feat                          95
   VI   The Incendiaries                      110
  VII   The Cave                              134
 VIII   The Snow-Slide                        154
   IX   Ted's Fossil Dinosaur                 163
    X   How the Earth Was Made                176
   XI   The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes     201
  XII   Gold!                                 226
        Glossary and Pronouncing Dictionary
        of Geological Terms Used and Key
        to Geologic Time                      263

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UNEXPLORED



CHAPTER I

THE RODEO


Ted Smith, flinging his long legs off a frisky bay, grinned delightedly
as his eye caught a flag-decked touring car.

"Are you riding?" called the boy at the wheel.

"Sure AM!" drawled the ranch boy. "How about yourself?"

"Betcher life, Old Kid!" Ace King flung himself to the ground, disclosing
the fact of his new leather chaps--a contrast to Ted's overalls.
Greetings followed between Ted and Senator King in the back seat, and
Pedro Martinez, a black-eyed young fellow who sat a pinto pony alongside.

The slanting rays of California sunshine were fanned by a breeze from
Huntington Lake, as the crowd sifted about the corral fence at Cedar
Crest. The prevailing khaki of the dusty onlookers gave way at intervals
to a splash of color. An Indian in a purple shirt was borrowing the
orange chaps of another broncho-buster; he had drawn number two from the
hat. Most of the cowmen offset their "two-quart" sombreros with
brilliant-hued bandannas knotted loosely at their throats. A few wore
chaparreras in stamped leather, and a few in goatskin--red or black or
tan--though most let it go at plain blue overalls. One of the machines
drawn up beside the soda-pop stand fluttered a flag on its nose. For the
Fourth was to be marked by a reading of the Declaration of Independence
before the rodeo and barbecue. (The day had begun with a Parade of
Horribles, in which every last lumberman took part, chanting the marching
song to an accompaniment of well-belabored frying-pans.)

Unbidden, a band of unspeakably unwashed Digger Indians, attired in gay
and ill-assorted rags, appeared, and seated themselves on the opposite
hillside, beaming vacuously as the ox was put in the pit to roast
(together with two smaller carcasses that the camp cook winkingly
designated as wild mutton, though he was careful to bury the antlers
against the possible advent of the Forest Ranger).

The rodeo master, a megaphone-voiced blond giant, in high-heeled riding
boots and spurs that made him limp when he walked, careened up and down
the dusty field on a high-stepping bay, while two lasso men in
steel-studded belts and leather cuffs helped round the range stock into
the adjoining small corral.

An unbroken two-year-old with wild, rolling eyes tried to climb the fence
when the rope tightened on his throat, and a sleek mule kicked out in a
way that left a red mark on the flank of a lean white mare. Then one of
the bulls in a separate corral shoved his head under the lower of the two
log bars that fenced him in and lifted--lifted,--but could not break
through.

"Riding, old Scout?" Ted asked the young Spanish-Californian.

"'Fraid I'd ride the ground," admitted Pedro, with a gesture of his
plump, manicured hands.

"Yeh!--Saw-horse's HIS mount!" jollied Ace, though the pinto looked by no
means spiritless. (And to himself he added: "Likely promised his mother
not to. Gee! I'd like to cut him loose from her apron strings for about
three months and see how he'd pan out!")

"_He's_ got too much sense to risk his bones," championed the Senator, (a
heavy, florid man with a leonine mass of white curly hair and Ace's
daring black eyes).

Just then a petite young woman rode up, her bobbed curly hair and
sun-flushed cheeks topping a red silk blouse joined to her khaki riding
breeches by a fringed sash that reached half way to her elkskin boots.

"I say, Rosa, are you riding?" greeted Ace. The girl shook her head
merrily. "Dad, that's Pierre La Coste's sister,--you know, he's
fire-lookout on Red Top. Used to be one of our Scouts when we lived in
Peach Cove."

"Yeh, we used to call him Pur-r-r," supplemented the ranch boy.

"And that's the horse Ranger Radcliffe's been trying to give her," added
Ace, sotto voce. "Isn't he a beauty?"

"And she won't have him?" laughed the Senator.

"Won't have man or beast."

Ace, now studying geology at the University of California, though he had
traveled widely since the old ranch days, still counted Ted, sandy
haired, thin and freckled, struggling to make his mother's fruit ranch a
go, his chum. Pedro, a neighbor of the old days, was his roommate in the
fraternity house at Berkeley. All three ran to greet Norris, a young man
in the uniform of the U. S. Geological Survey (son of the Forest
Supervisor), who now appeared, galloping beside Ranger Radcliffe. For he
was to pilot them on a camping trip into the high Sierras in a week or
two.

The first entry was just being led forth to be saddled as the fifth and
final member of their expedition arrived on the scene, afoot,--Long
Lester, a lanky, bewhiskered old prospector in soft felt hat, clean but
collarless "b'iled shirt," vest, cartridge belt and corduroy "pants,"
thrust into the tops of ordinary hob-nailed boots.

"Well, you broncho-busters, out in the center!" megaphoned the man on the
big bay. "Five more riders here!--Two-fifty to ride and seven-fifty more
to go up!" Three men came forward. "We want two more entries. If you
pull-leather or fall off, two-fifty. If a fellow rides a bull with one
hand hold, he gets seven-fifty. Ten dollars if you go up!"

Ace and Ted exchanged glances as they started forward.

"You're sure courtin' trouble," called the Senator.

"I reckon I am," grinned Ted, "but I'm broke."

"You'll have to pay your winnings to get your bones mended."

"I'll take a chance!"

King laughed. Most of the horses he recognized as having been ridden
before. But he was secretly resolved if Ace drew a bad one, to exercise
his parental authority.

The chums drew from the hat, Ace taking the last name. He started as he
looked at his slip. "The white-faced bull," read Ted over his shoulder.

"Gee! Don't tell Dad!" breathed Ace. "What's yours?"

"Spitfire!"

The older boy emitted a long-drawn whistle.

"All right, broncho boys," megaphoned the starter.

The first entry, rearing and snorting, with two lassos about his neck,
had finally been blind-folded and caparisoned.

"Johnny White from Fresno, on Old Ned from Northfork," rang the
announcement. An Indian in overalls swung himself into the saddle
simultaneously with the snatching away of lassos and blinders.

The horse tucked his head almost between his knees, and leaped into the
air, bowing his back and grunting with each jump, while the dust rose
till no one could tell whether the rider was on or off. Then the horse
galloped to the opposite side of the corral and his unwelcome incumbent
was perceived picking himself sheepishly out of the dust.

"Henry Clark from Table Mountain, on the pinto from Cascada," the next
entry was shortly announced. The Indian in the purple shirt stepped
forward, gorgeous in his borrowed chaps.

"Some buckaroo!" grinned Ted.

The pony, not quite so thin as most of the range stock, blinked startled
eyes, and the fireworks began. The gorgeous one, barely surviving the
first buck, and seeing himself riding for a fall in all his finery, leapt
nimbly to the ground while the pony went on bucking. He landed right side
up--with no damage to the purple shirt. A derisive jeer greeted
this--fiasco.

"He sure wasn't goin' to dust them ice-cream pants," laughed one of the
crowd hanging over the fence. The Indian signified a desire to try again.
After a couple more riders were called, he was given the same mount again.

This time he saved his finery by grabbing hold with both hands.

"Pulling leather only gets two-fifty," adjudged the megaphone man.

"He sure had a good hand hold," gurgled Ted. "Pretty hard on the wrists,
isn't it, Henry?"

"Wait till we get you a medal!" boomed Ace.

Next came a white rider, who won the nick-name "Easy Money" by riding a
mule up with a surcingle, then another Indian,--they were mostly the
youngsters working on local pack-trains,--who began by straddling the
neck of his mount and ended by going over the animal's head, landing flat
on his back. A momentary hush, and the fence lizards began collecting
around the limp form. The Indian's round brown face had turned gray.

"Stand back and give 'm air," megaphoned the starter, fanning him with
his hat. Some one brought water, then the Indian opened his eyes, and
presently signified a desire to get up. He was helped to his feet. "He's
all right," was the final verdict as the little group led off the field.
"Somebody give 'm a cigarette." The Indian leaned against the corral
fence nonchalantly, lighting up, though with fingers that shook the flame
out of several matches.

"Gee!" nudged Ace. "Dad's motioning us, and if he knows I've drawn that
bull, he'll sure----"

"You're nineteen."

"Aw, he's the Gov'ner, just the same. If you had one you'd see. Let's
stick here behind this bunch till my turn comes 'round."

"Sure you'd better try it?" Ted laid a hand on his chum's shoulder.

"Sure thing! What's the use of living if you never take a chance?
Besides, you've got a reg'lar rocking-horse yourself, huh?" he scoffed.

"That's all right, I was born ridin'," Ted made light of it.

It was now time for the bay bull. As a saddle swings around on anything
but a horse, it is easier to ride bulls and mules with a surcingle. It
took three men to get the bull into the saddling pen, two with lassos and
one with a pole, but the strap was finally adjusted around his chest, and
the mount made.

One Shorty Somebody was the rider. And Shorty rode him,--stuck clear
across the corral. But there the bull torpedoed the middle log of the
fence and went straight through, scraping Shorty off.

Straight into a startled ring of spectators plowed the enraged beast,
sending horses whirling and pedestrians dodging for their lives. The
petite Rosa's mount got to dancing, and finally staged a petite runaway
on his own account, but Rosa kept her head and a tight rein. A small boy
scrambled into a low-branching tree. But three lassos and a dozen mounted
men finally headed off the bull and got him into a smaller corral.

Ted looked inquiringly at Ace, but the Senator's son evidently had his
blood up. The white-faced bull, meantime, was again trying to thrust his
massive shoulders beneath the lower bar.

Two mules came next on the program, one rider bringing his mount to terms
so quickly that people were laying bets it was just a pack-mule, while
the other stuck when his jumped the fence.

Ranger Radcliffe, galloping back beside Rosa's now docile mount, waved a
hand to the boys. Then a murmur rippled through the loungers that
encircled the corral, as the white-faced bull was called for. Ace's
nerves began to tingle.

This bull had been kept in close confinement for several days past, and
it had not improved his temper. They had to throw him to put on the
straps.

"Hold him!--Hold him!" at intervals percolated through the hum of voices,
as the great brute lay panting in the saddling pen, his eyes ringed with
infuriated white, his snorting breath--audible thirty feet away--sending
spirals of dust scudding before his nose.

"Well, what do you say? Say it quick! I'm betting on the bull," King was
challenging the Ranger, little dreaming who the rider was to be.

This bull was to be ridden with a saddle and one hand hold. The gate of
the saddling pen cracked as its occupant tried to rise.

"You folks around the fence, you had better look out!" megaphoned the
starter. "This 'ere bull may not look where he's a-goin'!"

The gate cracked again. A woman nearby screamed. Two men with lassos
ready waited on either side, their mounts aquiver. Ace's ruddy face had
grown strangely lined, but he stood his ground.

"The fellow that rides that bull is sure foolhardy," the Senator was
remarking, pulling his hat further over his iron-gray brows against the
slant of the sun. Then the Ranger rode up with Rosa, and she was invited
to a seat behind the fluttering flag.

"Either that or almighty sandy," amended Radcliffe.

Like a streak of lightning the bull arose, jaws slavering. One mighty
crack and he had burst the gate, a plunge and he was plowing his way
across the field, trailing a rope that still held his saddle horn. The
starter raced after, his big bay holding back with all his might on the
rope. The dust blew chokingly into the faces of those on the Senator's
side of the corral. Then the bull caught sight of that fluttering red,
white and blue.

For one awful instant Rosa found those staring white-rimmed eyes glaring
straight into her own. The bull's next leap would carry him over the
fence and into the machine. She blanched, but sat silent. Pedro, drawn up
beside her on his pinto, felt paralyzed. The Senator threw his engine on
as if to back away.

"Hold him!--HOLD him!" shrilled the starter, pounding back. The rope on
the saddle horn--would it hold? Then a lasso was thrown, tightening
neatly around the hind legs of the runaway.

"Got him stretched now!" came the triumphant shout, as the bull went down
with an infuriated snort, and lay there, chest heaving, while the
vaqueros made him fast.

"The ride's off,--nobody goin' to ride _him_ to-day!" decided the man on
the bay. The bull was relieved of his saddle and headed protestingly back
into the small corral.

Ace King's face was set in deep lines. He had been all nerved up to his
ride. Now that it was off, his knees felt shaky, and he climbed to a seat
on the top rail. And Pedro flushed to hide his pallor.

But Ted's time was yet to come. One rider in between, whose horse piled
him on the ground, and the announcement came: "Ted Smith from Peach Cove,
rides Spitfire from Huntington Lake."

"I'm sorry for that kid," stated Long Lester, who leaned lankily over the
gate, thumbs in the arm-holes of his vest. "Want up, little miss?" and he
helped a child to a vantage point beside him.

"Go to it, old pal!" Ace thumped the contestant breath-takingly.

"Spitfire! O-o-wah-hoo-o!" bellowed a group of cow-boys, in imitation of
the falsetto Indian yell.

"Oo-wah-hoo-oo-oo!" the Indians bettered them.

Senator King honked in joyous abandon. Pedro's dark eyes flashed. "Spunky
kid!" commented Radcliffe. "I'm betting he'll ride him straight up!"

"He'll be killed!" Rosa shivered.

"Not with those long legs to get a grip with," the Ranger reassured her.

"Ain't that hoss a dinger!" admiringly Long Lester demanded of the
assemblage, as Spitfire danced forth with three lassos trying to hold him
for the blinders. Again he tried to climb the fence, eyes wide, nostrils
quivering.

"I'm just itchin' to ride him," Ted replied to Ace's questioning gaze.
Every nerve in his wiry body was keyed electrically. Then the saddle was
adjusted, Ted was in the stirrups, and the blinder was jerked free.
"R-r-ready! Let 'er go!" was megaphoned.

About that time things began to happen. Spitfire, as if feeling that his
reputation needed demonstrating, began to double in his best bucking form.

"_Ride_ him, Ted!" yelled Ace. "Hey, Ted rides him, eh?"

"Scratch him!" contributed Long Lester, who believed in spurs. "Say,
he's a-scratchin' him up and down!--Ya-hooooooo!" as Ted rode him
up again and again, both arms free, slapping him hip and shoulder,
hip and shoulder with his sombrero. Zip!--_Zip!_--ZOOM!--Around and
around they went, the mustang snorting loudly with each bounce, lathering
in his effort to unseat his rider. But Ted had grown to his back.

The broncho stopped, exhausted, flanks heaving.

"SOME riding!" gasped Pedro.

Then a shout went up. Ted was champion rider of the rodeo!

To the ranch boy's amazement, he now found his long legs dangling from a
seat on the shoulders of his two college friends, while they marched
about to the tune of "A Jolly Good Fellow,"--Norris himself laughingly
joining in the chorus, and Long Lester thumping him breath-takingly
between the shoulder blades.

That was the day the camping trip had been planned. It was also the day
Ace's little Spanish 'plane, wirelessed from its hanger in
Burlingame,[1] had given them all a surprise, and a trial sail. The
pilot arrived shivering in leather jacket and heavy cap, woolen muffler
and goggles, with similar wraps for Ace, whose leather chaps now served a
purpose. For the intense cold of the upper levels it was necessary for
the pilot to lend his outer apparel, as each of the prospective camp
mates in turn took the observer's seat, with Ace piloting.

Ted was used to flying with him,--had, indeed, given him the nick-name
which all had now adopted, as a compliment to his exploits as a birdman.
But to the other three it was a new experience. He invited Norris first.
Their route lay like a map below them, as they winged their way across
the sky, steering first due South till the rim of King's River Canyon
threatened to suck them down into its depths, then circling to the East
till they could see Mt. Whitney rising snow-capped above the surrounding
peaks, and back to the waiting boys.

Long Lester ventured next, and as he afterwards expressed it, he thought
he was riding on the back of his neck as they soared into the blue deeps
above them, while the ocean of the atmosphere tossed them about
capriciously. This time Ace, running her into the cold strait above the
river, headed her down canyon to within a hundred feet of the forest top,
his grit based on sound mechanical training; his daring counterbalanced
by his cool headed precision. He tried no stunts, however, as he had
promised his father to indulge in no aerial acrobatics under 1,000 feet.
When they finally returned to terra firma, right side up with care, the
old prospector expressed himself as nowise envious of Elijah.

Pedro belted himself in with a lack of enthusiasm that Long Lester did
not fail to note with sympathy, and away they soared, fearlessly on Ace's
part, whose eyes, ears and lungs were in the pink of condition. But to
the Spanish boy came first a dizzy, seasick feeling, coupled with a
conviction that he could not draw breath against the head wind, then a
chill that penetrated even the pilot's uniform, as he watched the earth
recede beneath them. The motor purred as they gained momentum and the
propellers whirred noisily, and the changing air pressures so affected
the stability of the light craft that he felt half the time as if they
were lying over on their side. He also reflected that, should the engine
stall, their descent would be a matter of seconds only. In the dry heat
they had been traveling with what seemed terrific speed. He protested
once, but Ace did not hear him.

Then in the cold of the higher altitude, their speed was reduced and
traveling was smoother. When at last the great white bird dropped back
almost on the spot from which they had started,--the distinguishing feat
of the Spanish 'plane,--he was almost a convert, though as Lester said,
"a little green about the gills." When later the opportunity came to try
it again, he abdicated in favor of Ted.

Norris assured them that there is air for 50 miles above the earth, and
sometimes a tidal wave of atmosphere reaching as high as 200 miles,
though after it gets about 190 degrees below zero, less is known about
it. Its density is reduced fully half at 18,000 feet,--half a mile above
the highest peaks, like Mt. Whitney, but though the air of high altitudes
is more buoyant, the cold none the less reduces the speed of the air
cruiser.

While they were eating they discussed their itinerary.

Norris had the large trail maps of both Sierra and Sequoia National
Forests. These he laid out and pieced together into one big sheet ten
feet long. On these maps were marked out the good camp grounds, and where
bears, or deer, quail or grouse, might be found, where supplies were
obtainable, or pack and saddle stock, guides and packers, or Forest
ranger stations (little cabins flying a flag from their peaks, to make
them show up on the map).

There were the "roads passable for wagons," "trails passable for pack
stock," and "routes passable for foot travel only." There were areas
marked with varying tiny green tufts of grass labeled "meadows where
stock grazing is permitted," and "meadows where it is not permitted,"
"meadows fenced for the free use of the traveling public" and "meadows
fenced for the use of Forest Rangers only."

Diminutive green pine trees indicated forest areas particularly
interesting, striped red areas signalized National Forest timber sales,
cut over or in operation, black triangles denoted Forest Service fire
outlook stations, and a drawing that looked like a woodshed showed where
Forest Service fire fighting tools had been cached in various
out-of-the-way places. "TLP" indicated the free Government telephone
boxes, red doughnutty-looking circles meant good mountains to climb, with
some indication of the safest routes to the top, areas marked out in red
diamonds were labeled as geographically interesting, and those in green
as botanically of more than ordinary interest.

A green feathery-looking line meant a canyon, a green triangle a
waterfall, a plain green line a stream offering good fishing, and a
broken green line a stream stocked with young fish, while an X meant a
barrier impassable by fish, though what that meant, not one of them could
say.

There were various other marks, such as a hub surrounded by the spokes of
a wheel (whatever it was intended for), the key to which explained that
from that point a good view was to be obtained.

But what most attracted their attention, all up and down the crest of the
Sierra Nevada as it stretched from North, North-West to South,
South-East, were the wide green areas "of special scenic interest," most
of which was marked "UNEXPLORED!" in great warning red letters.

It was this part of the map that most fascinated the little camping
party. Why should they choose a route that was all cut and dried for
them, as it were,--where each day they would know when they started out
just about where night would find them and what they would meet with on
the way? Who wanted their views labeled anyway? That was all very well,
very thoughtful of the Forest Service, for inexperienced campers, who
would probably never venture into the unknown. But to Ace, the airman, to
Ted, with his experienced wild-craft, and to Pedro the romanticist, no
less than to the young Yale man whose thirst for far places had led him
into the U. S. Geological Survey, the Mystery of the Unexplored called,
with a lure that was not to be denied. Long Lester, they knew, was game
for anything,--for had he not prospected through these mountains all his
life? There was practically no place the sure-footed burros could not go,
and there was no danger they were not secretly and wickedly tingling to
encounter.

It was a wild region, as rough and as little known as anything from
Hawaii to Alaska,--only different. The John Muir Trail, named for the
explorer,--a "way through" rather than a trail,--stretched along the
crest of the range, the roughest kind of going, (absolutely a horseback
trip, it was generally pronounced), and from its glacier-capped peaks,
from 14,500 foot Mt. Whitney, to the even more difficult though less
lofty Lyell, ran the Kings' River, North, Middle, and canyoned South
Forks, the Kern and the Kaweah, the Merced and the San Joaquin,--to name
only the largest.

Unlike the older Eastern ranges, the Sierra is laid out with remarkable
regularity, the one great 12,000- to 14,000-foot divide, with its
scarcely lower passes, giving off ridges on the Western slope like the
teeth of a coarse granite comb. Between ridges, deep, glacier-cut
canyons, "yo-semities," (to employ the Indian name), with their swift,
cascading rivers make North to South travel difficult, though one can
follow one side of the openly forested canyons to the very crest of the
main ridge.

Here and there was a grove of Big Trees, varying in size from the Giant
Forest of Sequoia National Park to the few mediocre specimens at Dinkey
Creek. But as a rule the hot, irrigated valleys of the Sacramento and San
Joaquin gave way to patches of the small oaks and pines of the foothills,
and these in turn, several thousand feet higher up the Western slopes, to
yellow pine and incense cedar, Sequoias and giant sugar pines. Higher
still came the silver fir belt, and after that, the twisted Tamaracks and
dwarfed and storm-tossed mountain pines, reaching often in at least a
decorative fringe along the rock cracks to the very peaks, all the way up
to 12,000 feet. (Tree line in the White Mountains of New Hampshire comes
soon after 5,000.) Above that, of course, only snow and ice could clothe
the slopes.

Hell-for-Sure Pass was one name that attracted Ace's eye on the map. He
judged that it must mean stiff going,--but even had they actually planned
to climb that way, he would have preferred to wait and discover for
himself the reason for its nomenclature. There was also Deadman Pass,
(another name to tickle the imagination), Electra Peak, Thousand Island
Lake, The Devil's Post Pile, Volcanic Ridge, Crater Creek, Stairway
Creek, Fawn Meadow,--and dangerously near, Bear Meadow,--Vermilion
Cliffs, Piute Pass, Disappearing Creek, Lost Canyon, Table Mountain,
(reminiscent of the Bret Harte days), Deadman Canyon, (flavoring more
strongly of the gold days of '49), and Rattlesnake Creek, (doubtless
deserving the title.)--To say nothing of such ordinary features as 13,500
foot University Peak, (a mere wave of the sea of peaks surrounding
champions Lyell and Whitney), Diamond Peak, 13,000 feet, Mt. Baxter,
likewise around 13,000, Mt. Pinchot, and a score of others (occurring at
short intervals in a solid phalanx). Whoever wants to climb a mountain
everybody climbs, seemed to be the final verdict of the party. There are
other peaks almost as high as Whitney, (certainly quite high enough to
suit the most fastidious sportsman), and probably even more difficult of
ascent. Why not discover something new under the sun? In other words, why
not strike off at random into the Unexplored? They would head right into
the thick of the thickest green patch on the map, and wander as fancy
dictated. If they felt like climbing, they would climb. If they felt like
lazing, (as Pedro put it), they would laze. If they came to a river they
could cross, all right. If they could not cross, why, all right, who
cared?

There was rumor of vast caves that riddled the back country. There were
hot springs, soda springs,--who knew what? Good pasturage was never hard
to find. The verdant meadows left by the glacier lakes could be counted
on up to the very backs of the 9,000-foot ridges. Most of them were half
to a mile wide, and at the head waters of the big rivers, they had heard,
were meadows nearer ten miles in length.

With one exception, every lake in the Sierras is a glacier lake (that
exception being Huntington, a "made" lake four miles long that falls
three thousand feet through a flume to add power to an electric plant).
These lakes lie all the way up to as high as 8,000 feet above sea-level,
Norris's theory being that in time they will be found higher still. The
glaciers left by the last ice age naturally melted first in the lower
reaches, and as those that now cap the peaks and flow down between ridges
like the arms of a starfish, melt in their turn, they will leave their
icy, green-blue crystal pools higher and higher up the mountainsides.
Just North of Mt. Ritter, Norris told them, lies a glacier lake at an
altitude of 12,000 feet, while the glaciers still to be found are slowly,
slowly grinding out the basins of the lakes that will one day, (possibly
centuries hence), lie where now linger these evidences of the last
glacier epoch.

Where these lakes have in their turn disappeared they have left these
rich-soiled meadows. Where these level-lying meadows failed them
pasturage for their burros, Norris guaranteed that there would be plenty
of hanging meadows,--long, narrow, bowldery strips of weed enameled
verdure slanting up and down the moraine-covered canyon sides, beginning
away up at timber line, where springs the source of their life-giving
moisture.

Before the group broke up that day, word came that Rosa's brother had
broken his leg, there at the fire outlook on Red Top. (A pack-mule had
crowded his horse off the trail on the steep slope of an arroyo, and the
horse had fallen, though breaking his otherwise sure descent into the
creek below by coming sharply up against a tree trunk.)

"The worst of it is," worried Radcliffe, "with men so scarce, I don't
know who to send in his place. Besides, it's a week's horseback trip from
here,--and fires breaking every day,--and he needs a doctor."

It was not till the deed was done that Ace returned to announce, with the
smile of the cat who has licked the cream, that Rosa had insisted on
taking her brother's place. He, Ace, had found the spot from her sure
knowledge of the topography of the place. (She had kept house there for
her brother the summer before, in the wee, wind-swept cabin.) And leaving
Rosa there, as she pluckily insisted, Ace brought her brother back,
covering in minutes, as the bird flies, what it would have taken a week
to traverse on horseback. Those mountain trails corkscrew up and down the
canyon sides till instead of calling a certain distance a hundred miles
according to the map, one states it, "a week into the back-country,"--or
in the case of the trailless peaks, (among which Long Lester felt most at
home), the same distance might be a matter of a four-weeks' camping trip,
with no human habitation, and the likelihood of not even a ranch at which
to purchase supplies, in between.

Then the Senator sent the 'plane back to San Francisco, and its hangar in
Burlingame, before--as he said--his young hopeful could start anything
more. He himself was to spend the next month fishing around Kings' River
Canyon, putting up at the canvas hotel. But he took as much interest in
the camping trip as if he had been a member of it,--as, indeed, did
Ranger Radcliffe, though word of a fresh forest fire breaking cut short
his part in the powwow.

The question now arose, should they go horseback, or afoot with
pack-burros,--a string of which Long Lester yearned to pilot.

True, a mountain-bred pony will hop and slide up and down mountain ledges
that would make an Eastern horse's hair literally stand on end. They have
been born and bred to it, physically and mentally. They have been known
to sit back almost on their haunches and slide when they could get down
no other way. Some of them will walk a log twenty feet above the surface
of a stream. (The Eastern rider will find that hard to believe, until he
recalls the feats of circus horses.) But not all horses are alike, any
more than people. Why should the plains horse and the park horse and good
old Dobbin, the farm horse, be equine mountaineers and prospectors?

"Shank's horses" and the pack-burros won the final ballot,--to Pedro's
open dismay. But they would first ride the well-defined two-days'
horseback trail from Giant Forest to the Kings' River Canyon, and Giant
Forest is an automobile stage ride from Fresno, which is another short
day's ride from Huntington Lake.

(Strange are the threads of destiny! Not one of that group so much as
dreamed that they were embarking on anything but a five weeks' camping
trip.)

[Footnote 1: Pronounced Blingam.]



CHAPTER II

THE CAMPING TRIP


A week later Norris and the boys arrived at the lumber camp on the Canyon
rim, where they were to await Long Lester,--Ace in a piratical and
plutocratic black Stetson sombrero, hiking boots and flannel shirt, a red
bandanna at his throat, and to supplement his khaki riding breeches he
had bestowed lovingly in his duffle bag the Mexican leather chaps. He
also displayed the eight-inch leather belt of the cow country, and elbow
length leather cuffs studded with silver nails.

Ted let it go at his second best blue overalls and heavy shoes, a green
plaid gingham shirt, with a brown one to change off and straw hat. Pedro
lounged gracefully about in corduroy trousers and elkskin boots, (which
Norris warned him would last about a week on such rough going), and a
wool jersey in the same soft tan. He took their guying good naturedly,
however, and in mockery of Ace's more picturesque accoutrement, gave a
first class imitation of a motion picture director with the Senator's son
for his prize Bad Man. Norris wore his second best uniform, and all had
sweaters and a change of socks and things, to say nothing of an extra
pair of shoes.

When word came that the old guide had had "some investment business" come
up to delay him, they decided to establish a make-shift camp. There was
not one chance in a hundred of any rain, but they decided a lean-to would
be convenient anyway. They got some shakes of an old lumberman whose
function it was to split the giant shingles from three foot lengths of
log.

Four poles for corner-posts made a substantial beginning. Smaller ones
morticed to lie crosswise gave something to which to nail the shakes,
which were overlapped shingle-fashion on both sides and roof. The
tarpaulins would make a curtain across the front. The floor was bedded
down a foot deep with springy silver fir boughs, laid butts down and
toward the foot. To this could be added fresh browse as it grew dry and
harsh.

Tables were made by borrowing a saw of the lumbermen and slicing a four
foot log into eight inch slices, then gouging these out on the under side
so that stout legs could be fitted in. Stools were made from short
lengths of a smaller log, and behold! the open air dining-room and
kitchen were furnished, at cost of a few hours' fun.

Norris even made a sort of steamer chair of poles, using a double
thickness of his tarp for the seat and back.

Next came a stone fireplace, with an old piece of sheet iron across the
top, and a great flat hearth-stone on which to warm the plates.

Each tin can as it was opened had its top neatly removed and was washed
and set aside as a chipmunk-proof container, and Pedro fashioned a
refrigerator by replacing the two sides of a cracker box with screen
wire, (bartered from the cook of the lumber camp), hinging the door with
discarded shoe tongues.

Cord was strung for clothes-line, and a supply of several kinds of fuel
brought in. The down logs were simply run into the fireplace, butt ends
first, and shoved closer as they burned. Ted devised a rake for gathering
together the dry twigs and cones and bark with which the ground was
strewn, by using nails for teeth, set in a small board fastened at an
angle to the stick that served as handle.

Following Norris's lead, each fellow heated water and took a sponge bath
daily, (except Ace, who took a cold plunge in the glacier-cold stream),
and afterwards washed out his change of socks and underwear and his
towel. The dish-washers also laundered the dish towels after each meal.
That way, everything was always ship-shape. And, be it noted, any cook
who burned the nested aluminum pans and kettles had to clean them
himself, and though Norris had made that easier by bringing along a box
of fine steel-wool, it was amazing how few scorched dishes occurred! Of
course where pots were used over the fire, the outsides got sooty, but
after all, it was only the insides that affected one's health.

The boys found that they slept warmer by doubling their blankets into
sleeping bags, pinning them shut with horse-blanket safety-pins, with
their tarps for a windproof outer layer. And many's the sleeping bag race
they ran,--or rather, hopped, to the amazement, no doubt, of the wild
folk who very likely watched from the shadows. Agile Ted won the grand
prize at one of these stunts by hopping the full length of a fallen log
in his bag, without once falling off.

There were also pine-cone battles and bait-casting contests, Pedro
excelling in the throw by reason of his big arm muscles. Thus day
succeeded cool and perfect day, and night followed star-strewn night, for
nearly a week. The tooth-brush brigade sallied forth as soon as the sun
began slanting its long morning rays through the forest aisles, and the
boys often began nodding at a ridiculously early hour around the
bon-fire, tired from their strenuous day in the open. But each day found
their spirits higher, their muscles harder, their eyes brighter,--and
their appetites more insatiable. Ted was plumping up and Pedro trimming
down on the self-same medicine.

The chipmunks soon became so tame that they ran all over the place, over
the boys' feet, on up to their shoulders, and into their pockets for the
goodies they sometimes found. But they never ran under any one's palm.
Pedro got one cornered and caught him with his bare hands, and put him on
a leash, but the furry mite spent the next half hour straining to get
away, too unhappy to eat,--cowering, trembling, when the boys stroked his
orange striped back with a gentle finger,--and Pedro finally gave him
back his freedom, (and a pyramid of peanuts).

"Camp Chipmunk" it was finally voted to call the place, and the name was
inscribed on the side of a huge fallen log with bits of yellow-green live
moss.

Though the chipmunks could easily have gone to the creek, as they must
have before the boys came, they displayed a preference for drinking out
of the same water pail the boys did, and they sometimes took an
unexpected and unappreciated plunge bath.

Besides the very tiny chipmunks, there were some of the ground-squirrel
size with the same orange and black. They were duller of wit, and more
timid, but they used to chase the little fellows to within an inch of
their lives. One day a big Sayes chipmunk attempted to fish a cheese rind
out of the fireplace. The ashes were still hot, and he plunged into the
soft stuff over his head, he was out and away, with a piercing squeal,
almost instantly, trailing white ash behind him.

The boys used to bury nuts just to see how fast the littlest chipmunks
would smell them out. After repeatedly finding the Dutch oven bread
nibbled around the edges, Pedro hung the bread-bag from the clothes-line
one night. He was awakened next morning by the shout Ted sent up when he
found two chipmunks running down the string and squeezing their way
delightedly into the bag.

Some one always had to watch while the meal was being laid, for the
mouselike villains would be right up on the table sampling the butter, if
some one did not keep an eye out. Or they would climb up the leg of the
table and peek over the edge with their beady eyes, wondering how far
they dared approach without danger to their agile persons. But the
funniest thing was when two chipmunks would quarrel,--as generally
happened when one unearthed a nut that another had buried. Nickering in
the angriest way imaginable, the two tiny things would come at each other
with ears laid back, in what appeared for all the world like a
head-butting contest. Around and around they would whirl in a spiral
nebula, till one got a head start on a race for home and mother.

Each morning they awoke to the hack-hack-hack of the sawyers and the
steady grating of the log saw, the twitter of the donkey engine and the
volcanic remarks with which the bull-puncher was urging his team forward.
The yellow sunshine sifted aslant through the giant trees, birds sang,
and chipmunks chattered. A water-packer passed them one day with his mule
plodding along under 40 gallons disposed in canvas bags on a wooden
frame, and beyond, across the singing creek, they could see the swampers
burning the brush they had cut from the pathway of the tree next to fall.

Breakfast dispatched, the boys hurried over to watch the two-bitted axe
biting its huge kerf in the side of a ten-foot trunk. When it had eaten a
third of the way through the giant trunk, the sawyers began on the
opposite side, nearly as high as the top of the kerf, resting the long
instrument on pegs driven into two holes that had been bored for the
purpose. Iron wedges were driven after the saw. The instant the tree
began to lean, the head chopper had driven a stake about 150 feet from
the base on the side of the kerf, declaring that the falling tree would
drive that stake into the ground, so accurately could they gauge the
direction of its fall. The swampers had cleared the way between. Then
came the cracking of neighboring branches, as the mammoth trunk swayed
and toppled to the forest floor. There was a crash that shook the ground,
which rebounded with a shower of chips and bark dust, and the stump gaped
raw and red where for perhaps 2,000 years it had upborne the plumed
Sequoia Gigantea.

The boys, far above whose heads the fallen trunk towered, scrambled up
the rough bark and raced each other up and down the novel roadway that it
made. Then, the excitement over, they suddenly realized that they were
hungry and ran another race back to camp.

Later they watched as the donkey engine, stronger than ten oxen, was made
fast to a stump and stoked till it could move itself into position to
haul the log lengths to the waiting ox team. Peelers with axes and long
steel bars had been peeling off the thick red bark, which the boys found
could be whittled into odd shapes and rubbed velvety at the cut ends. The
sawyers were sawing the trunk into lengths short enough to ride on box
cars, and the chain tenders were driving the "dogs" or steel hooks into
the forward segment preparatory to attaching the chain that was to draw
the log after the panting donkey engine. The block shifter was ready with
his pulley, and the gypsy tender was gathering down wood.

Suddenly, just as the chain had stretched till the log began to move,
some weak link snapped and with a rebound like that of a cannon it
flashed over the hillside, catching one man and toppling him over with a
broken leg. The camp cook, whose accomplishments varied from the ability
to deliver an impromptu and usually unsolicited sermon to that of calling
off the numbers at a stag dance, was summoned in haste and from a long
black bag that went with the framed diploma that hung at the head of his
bunk, this unusual individual administered surgical treatment. The
injured man took it philosophically,--his out of door constitution would
repair the damage with more than average speed,--and the work of getting
out the big log proceeded as before.

They also watched, fascinated, as the logs at a camp further back were
sent down a crude slide that slanted sheer to a sizeable lake. Ace
threatened to try riding a log some time, but Norris rendered one of his
rare ultimatums on that score.

"Let's take plenty to eat!" bargained Pedro, who was beginning to suspect
it was no afternoon stroll he had embarked upon. "Hadn't we better 'phone
old Lester to lay in some extra supplies?"

"There is always fish," Norris reminded him.

"One gets tired of fish. I say let's take plenty of grub, if we're going
away off where for weeks we may not see a living soul to buy a pound of
bacon of. Eating's half the fun of camping. And if we get up there on the
John Muir Trail, we can't even catch fish, can we--always?"

"That's the stuff!" seconded Ace. "If we aren't tied too tightly to the
problem of rustling grub, we will be freer to roam where we please. But
gosh! Won't it take a whole train-load of burros to pack enough stuff?
Five men, three times a day, that's fifteen meals. And thirty days would
make it 450 meals. Besides we'll eat just about double the normal number
of calories,--the way I feel already. And twice 450 meals is 900."

"Whoa, there!" begged Norris. "How much can a burro carry, anyway? We
can't take all our food, or we'll have such a pack-train we won't have
time for anything but donkey driving, and if we carry feed to keep them
going on the trail, we'll have to take more burros to pack the feed, and
they will have to have feed too, and--there's no end to it."

"Well, of course we'll fish, when we can," amended Pedro. "And we can
take compact rations, dried stuff, instead of watery canned goods.
They're just as good, aren't they? Only the water's been taken out of
them, and we can put it back in each night before we eat it. What's the
use of packing tin cans that are mostly full of water?"

"I wouldn't call canned peaches mostly water," retorted Ace, who though
less dependent than the plumper Pedro on his three square meals per day,
was even more particular what those three meals tasted like.

"It isn't only the juice," said Pedro. "The peaches themselves are half
water. Dried peaches are the same thing except for that, and two pounds
of dried peaches will go a whole heap farther than a two-pound can, let
me tell you!"

"All right," said Ace. "Dried peaches! What else? Mr. Norris, you've had
a lot of experience on these back-country trips."

"H'm!" said the young Survey man, his eyes lighting reminiscently. "Did
you ever eat black bean soup with salt pork and garlic to flavor it?"

"I have," said Pedro. "It's a meal in itself, with black rye bread and
dill pickle. And what about fried frogs' legs and watercress? Broiled
mushrooms, stewed mushrooms and onions, and crayfish soup?"

"Sounds good to me," Ace admitted. "But have we a mushroom expert in our
midst? I'm not ready to commit suicide just yet."

"Nor I," laughed Norris.

"Nobody asked you to," Pedro looked aggrieved. "Goodness knows I'm no
expert, but I do know a few kinds, and I know those few kinds for sure."

"Hot dog!" commented the Senator's son. "Go to it, ol' boy!"

"Then," Norris continued, "there've been times in my life when I didn't
turn up my nose at corned beef hash browned."

"And spuds!" Ace completed the recipe. "And onions."

"Dehydrated," Norris admitted. "Can't carry potatoes for more than the
first few days, and dried onion is just as flavorful as fresh."

"An onion a day--" began Ace.

"Keeps everybody away," finished the young Survey man laughingly. "And
that reminds me of apples,--dried apple pie, apple pudding, apple
dumplings, (baked or boiled), apple fritter, (made with pancake flour),
and apple pan-dowdy with cinnamon."

"Pan-dowdy!" queried both boys.

"Yes, when the cook has to roll it out with a bottle, or an oar handle,
or a smooth stone instead of a rolling pin, and perhaps bake it in the
frying pan, and he hesitates to label the result, he terms it pan-dowdy,
and then nobody has any kick coming if it isn't exactly flesh, fish or
fowl, if you get me."

"We get you!" grinned Ted, who had thus far been a silent partner to the
plans. But as usually happened at such times, he had been doing a lot of
thinking. He now added his contribution: "How about rainbow trout broiled
with pork scraps, and served with horseradish? Let's take a bottle of
horseradish."

"Dried horseradish and a grater," amended Pedro.

"All right. Then there's trout baked with tomato and onion sauce, trout
baked in clay, trout boiled for a change, with lemon, (we could start the
trip with a few), trout skewered, griddled, baked in ashes, baked on a
stone, fried--of course, and roasted and stuffed with sage. Let's take
sage. Then how about cold boiled trout salad with mustard dressing, and
fish chowder a la canned milk, with dry-dated--what do you call it?
Dehydrated potatoes and evaporated onions? Eh? And garlic isn't such a
bad idea. It's the handiest little bit of flavoring I know of,--if we all
go in for it alike."

"We'll all go in for it good and strong," winked Ace.

"Strong is the word," chuckled Norris.

"Anyway," Ted defended his suggestion. "I've camped through the
back-country a heap in my time, and I've generally found it isn't the
sameness of the fish-three-times-a-day that lays you out, but the lack of
flavorings. Now I even take caraway seed to give a different flavor to a
batch of biscuit, and raisins, or some anise seed, or a little strong
cheese, that you can grate into it or on it and then toast it till it
melts. Then there's cinnamon and cheese toast for dessert, and plain
cinnamon and sugar melted on white bread makes it just bully! And why do
we have to eat white bread all the time anyway?"

"Of course we'll have cornmeal and buckwheat in our pancake mixture,"
said Norris.

"Bully! But why not take part rye flour too, and part oatmeal to mix in?
It bakes fine and flaky. And there's oatmeal cookies mixed with peanut
butter and sweetened!"

"Good!" Norris pronounced.

"Y'r _all right_, kid!" Ace thumped affectionately on his thin shoulder
blade, "y'r all right," but at the threatened repetition of the bearlike
caress, Ted dodged.

"Another idea," Pedro broke in. "Why eat bread all the time anyway? Why
not macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti and tomato paste?"

"And garlic?" teased Ace.

"Surest thing you know! And vermicelli, and noodles, and all those
things. They're all made of flour, and they're different."

"A little bulky," protested Norris.

"Oh, well, for the start of the trip, then. They're not so heavy, parked
up on top of a burro's regular pack."

"Good!" agreed the leader of the expedition. "We may come to cattle
ranches where we can get beef and mutton occasionally, though not after
we get into the higher altitudes. And we can start off with a few fresh
eggs, for compactness and safety broken a dozen at a time into glass
jars. After that--I don't know whether you fellows would like scrambled
eggs or not, made of egg powder. Personally I don't. Nor the famous
erbswurst."

"Aw!" drawled Ted, barely concealing his impatience. "The thing that
stands by you best on a hard trip, after all, is jerky and pemmican. I
think old Lester jerked some venison himself last fall, and he's probably
got it yet. And he'll grind us some pemmican, if we get him word before
he starts."

"Gee Whiz! Those are emergency rations!" vetoed Ace.

"We'll have to have a long distance conversation with him to-night," said
Norris. "Meantime we mustn't forget pilot biscuit and peanut butter for a
pocket lunch and shelled peanuts, of course, and rice, and tea and
coffee, and sugar, and baking powder."

"There are two things that can compactly," conceded the Castilian boy at
this point. "The best grade of canned beets and spinach are pretty solid
weight. I'll make no kick if we load on some of that until we get to the
steeper grades."

"Hey!" shouted Ace. "In all this time nobody's mentioned bacon."

"We took that for granted," laughed Norris. "I'll bet Long Lester would
never start out without it, whether we told him to or not. But I'm
awfully afraid we'll use more tea than coffee. It's bulky, and worse, it
loses flavor."

"Oh," said Ted, "I know the answer to that. Powdered coffee isn't one
quarter so bulky, and put up in little separate tins, we keep opening
them fresh, don't you see?"

"I've never yet seen a powdered coffee that could compare with the real
thing," Ace complained.

"Why couldn't Les buy the real thing and then get it powdered and sealed
into little separate tins for us?"

"He could," agreed Norris, "I suppose,--if we're going to be as fussy as
all that." (Ace flushed.) "But with our woods' appetites----"

"Oh, and citric acid tablets," the Senator's son hastened to change the
subject. "For lemonade, you know."

The discussion was cut short by Pedro's discovery that a bear had invaded
the lean-to.

The American black bear, and his California cousin whose coat has
generally lightened to the cinnamon brown of the soil, is all but tame in
the National Parks, where for years he has been unmolested. A friendly
fellow even in the wild state,--for the most part,--he roams the Giant
Forest as much a prized part of the landscape as the Big Trees
themselves. He has learned to visit the garbage dump regularly every
night, and it causes no sensation whatever to meet one on the trail. It
was much the same about the lumber camp.

But to have him visit uninvited, and serve his own refreshments from
their selected stores, was a less attractive trick. Nor did he show the
slightest inclination to take alarm and vacate when the boys returned. On
the contrary, he snarled and showed his teeth when they would have driven
him from the maple sugar can, and even Ace felt at the moment that
discretion was in order. It was not till Old Shaggy-Sides had pretty well
demolished everything in sight, and then carried the ham off under his
arm, that he took a reluctant departure.

This would never do. That night the unprotected edibles were hoisted just
too high for a possible visitor to reach, on a rope slung over the limb
of a tree. The boys still slept under the stars, for they knew enough
about bears, (all but Pedro), not to be afraid. Pedro, however, got
little sleep that night, though he would not have confessed to the fact
for anything on earth.

"There was one bear in Sequoia Park," remembered Ace, "who got too fresh,
that way, and raided some one's tent, and they had to send for help to
get him out. When it happened half a dozen times, he was ordered shot.
But he was the only one I've ever heard of acting that way. Now I'll bet,
if we'd inquire, we'd find this bear had been half tamed, and altogether
spoiled by these lumbermen.

"We were driving through Yellowstone last summer when one of those half
tame bears came out to beg. We stopped the machine and I fed him some
candy. Then we parked, and went up to the hotel for dinner. When we came
back, we found he had mighty near clawed the back seat to pieces,--and
why do you suppose?--To get at a side of bacon we had stowed away in
there."

"Did he find it?"

"We never did."

"That reminds me of something I heard," laughed Norris. "Some friends of
mine in Sequoia left their lunch boxes in the machine while they went to
climb Moro Rock. When they came back they found a cub calmly sitting up
there behind the wheel, eating one lunch after another."

Pedro was in for moving their headquarters to a great hollow Big Tree,
the cavity in which was as large as a good sized room, with a Gothic sort
of opening they could have made a door for. But the very next morning the
old prospector arrived with the train of pack-burros, and they were off.

"How do you explain the Sequoias, Mr. Norris? Will we find more of them?"
asked Pedro, with a last wistful backward glance.

"The Big Trees are by no means confined to Sequoia National Park and
other well known groves," said the Survey man. "The Sequoia gigantea is
to be found in scattered groves for a distance of 250 miles or more, up
and down the West slope of the Sierras, at altitudes just lower than that
of the belt of silver firs,--that is, anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 feet
above sea level. And in fact, south of Kings' River, the Sequoias stretch
in an almost unbroken forest for seventy miles. Nor are they all of the
proportions so often cited, where a man standing at their base looks like
a fly on the wall by comparison with these prehistoric giants. Nor did
they all get their start in life 4,000 years ago. There are young trees
in plenty, saplings and seedlings, who will doubtless reach the
patriarchal stage some 4,000 years hence. On what kind of earth will they
look then? On what stage in the evolution of civilization? Will another
ice age have re-carved these mountains? And how will man have learned to
protect himself from the added severity of those winters?"

"It certainly gives one something to think about," mused Pedro. "It is
only in these younger specimens that you can see what a graceful tree it
is!" He glanced from a feathery Big Tree youngster of perhaps 500
summers, with its slender branches drooping in blue-green plumes toward
the base, with purple-barked limbs out-thrust on the horizontal half way
up, and at the top reaching ardently heavenward. Near it stood a parent
tree of perhaps middle age, born around the time of Christ, whose crown
was still firmly rounded with the densely massed foliage, now
yellow-brown, and the bark red-brown.

The millions of two inch cones, surprisingly tiny for such a tree, hang
heavy with seeds,--they counted 300 in a single green cone.

"With such millions of seeds," puzzled Pedro, "I should think the trees
would grow so thick that there would be no walking between them."

"No," said Norris. "In the first place, remember that not one seed in a
million escapes these busy Douglas squirrels and the big woodcocks that
you hear drumming everywhere. Then even the millionth seed has to risk
forest fires and snow-slides, lumbermen and lightning. But I'll tell you
something funny about them. You'd naturally think, from the number of
streams in these forests, that they required a lot of moisture. Well,
they don't. Further South they grow and flourish on perfectly dry ground.
But their roots retain so much rain and snow water that their tendency is
to _make_ streams. The dense crown helps too, by preventing evaporation.
You'll find Sequoias flourishing in a mere rift in a granite precipice.
But wherever you find a dense growth, as you do here, there you will find
their roots giving out the seepage that feeds a million streamlets, and
these in turn feed the great rivers.

"You see these trees _must_ be able to survive drouth or they could not
have survived the changes of so many thousand years. Why, these Sequoias
might have formed one continuous forest from the American River on South,
if it had not been for the glaciers that swept down the great basins of
the San Joaquin and Kings' River, the Tuolumne and the Stanislaus."

"But why didn't the glaciers clean them off the basins of the Kaweah and
the Tule Rivers, too?"

"Ah! There the giant rock spurs of the canyons of the King and the Kern
protected the Tule and the Kaweah, by shunting the ice off to right and
left."

"There's one thing more I'd like to know," said Pedro. "Where will we
find the nut pines that have the pine nuts? Aren't they delicious?"

"There are several kinds," said Norris. "There is a queer little one with
cones growing like burrs on the trunk as well as on the limbs, but that
is only found on burnt ground. Another, that forms a dietary staple with
the Indians of Nevada, is to be found only on the East slope of the
Sierra, and the little nut pine that our California Indians harvest is
away down in the foothills among the white oaks and manzanitas, so I'm
afraid whatever else we come across on this trip, we won't want to count
on pine nuts."

"What interests _me_ more," said Ted, "is whether we are going to come
across any gold or not."

"Now you're talking!" the old prospector suddenly spoke up.

Ted's eyes shone.

Ace had an experience about this time that flavored his nightmares for
some time to come. Following a lumber chute, one of these three board
affairs, up the side of a particularly steep slope one day, where at the
time of the spring floods the yellow pine logs had been sent down to the
river, he thought to try a little target shooting with Long Lester's
rifle. But at the first shot a bunch of range cattle,--of whose presence
he had not known,--began crowding curiously near. He fired again, and a
cow with a calf took alarm and started to charge him, but was driven back
with a few clods and a flourished stick.

He fired again. This time, quite by accident, his bullet hit an old bull
squarely on the horn. The shock at first stunned the animal, and he fell
forward on his knees. Recovering in an instant, however, the enraged
animal made for Ace.

[Illustration: Leaping aboard a log he sent it shooting to the stream
below.]

The Senator's son had that day worn his heavy leather chaps. He had found
them burdensome enough on his slow climb upward. They now impeded him
till he could not have outrun the animal had he tried, nor was there any
tree handy between him and it.

Then a wild thought struck him. The log slide!--It was mighty risky, but
then, so was the bull. Leaping aboard a log that still lay at the head of
the slide, he pulled the lever and sent it shooting to the stream below,
and the fallen pine needles flew out in a cloud before him, as the log
hurled down the grade. His heavy leather chaps really helped him balance
now, and his hob-nails helped him cling.

The log came to a stand-still before it reached the river,--but Ace did
not. And the bull was hopelessly out-distanced.



CHAPTER III

LIVING OFF THE WILDERNESS


On every side stretched a sea of peaks. They might have been in
mid-ocean, stranded on a desert island, had they not been on a
mountain-top instead.

For one glorious fortnight they had camped beside white cascading rivers,
and along the singing streams that fed them, following their windings
through flower perfumed forests and on up into the granite country where
glacier lakes lay cupped between the peaks to unfathomable cobalt depths.
They had seen deer by the dozen feeding in the brush of the lower
country,--graceful, big-eyed creatures who allowed them to approach to
within a stone's throw before they went bounding to cover. They had
thrown crumbs to the grouse and quail that came hesitatingly to inspect
their camp site, protected at this season by the game laws and so
unaccustomed to human kind that they were all but tame. They had crossed
and recrossed rivers not too deep to ford, and rivers not too swift to
swim. They had scaled cliffs where nothing on hooves save a burro--or a
Rocky Mountain goat--could have followed after.

But always the shaggy gray donkeys had kept at their heels like
dogs,--save when they got temperamental or went on strike,--waggling
their long ears in a steady rhythm, exactly as if these appendages had
been on ball bearings. The burros, five in number, had each his
individuality. There was Pepper, the old prospector's own comrade of many
a mountain trail, who, knowing his superior knowledge of the ways of
slide rock and precipices, insisted always on being in the lead. This
preference on his part he enforced with a pair of the swiftest heels the
boys had ever seen. There was old Lazybones, as Pedro had named the one
who, presenting the greatest girth, had to carry the largest pack. There
was Trilby, of the dainty hooves, who never made a misstep. He--for the
cognomen had been somewhat misplaced--was entrusted with the things they
valued most, their personal kit and the trout rods. The Bird was the one
who did the most singing,--though they all joined in on the chorus when
they thought it was time for the table scraps to be apportioned. And
finally there was Mephistopheles, whose disposition may have been soured
under some previous ownership,--since the blame must be placed somewhere.
Ace had added him to Long Lester's four when a lumberman had offered him
for fifteen dollars. The name came afterwards. But though he sometimes
held up operations on the trail, he was big enough to carry 150 pounds of
"grub," and that meant a lot of good eating.

Despite their hee-hawing, however, the diminutive pack animals did a deal
of talking with their ears. When startled, these prominent members were
laid forward to catch the sound. When displeased, the long ears were
flattened along the backs of their necks. If browse was good, they
remained in the home meadow,--after first circling it to make sure there
was no foe in ambush. If not, they wandered till they found good
feed,--and one night they wandered so many miles, hobbled as they were,
that it took all of the next forenoon to find them and bring them back to
camp.

They could walk a log with their packs to cross a stream, or, packs
removed and pullied across, they could swim it, if they were started up
current and left to guide themselves. They would not slip on smooth rock
ledges, they could hop up or down bowlders like so many bipeds. It was a
constant marvel to Ace and Pedro what they could do. No lead ropes were
necessary at all.

Long Lester was meticulous in their care. Every afternoon when the packs
were removed he sponged their backs with cold water. And though the party
was on its way by seven every morning,--having risen with the first light
of dawn,--and though by ten they would have covered half of their average
twelve miles a day, the old guide never watered them till the sun was
warm, which was generally not till after the middle of the forenoon. For
a wilderness trip comes to grief when any one member, man or beast, gives
out, as he knew from a lifetime of experience in that rugged and
unpeopled region.

They had figured on about three pounds of food per day per person, for
the four weeks' trip. That loaded each burro with a grub list of ninety
pounds, and about ten pounds of personal equipment, besides the axes and
aluminums and such incidentals as soap and matches. Ease of packing was
secured by slipping into each of the food kyacks a case such as those in
which a pair of five gallon coal oil cans come.

Their kit included neats' foot oil, (scrupulously packed), for the
wearing qualities of their footwear along those stony trails depended in
large degree on keeping the leather soft. No mosquito netting was
necessary in the mountains,--it was too dry and cool for the
insects,--but each member of the party had a pair of buckskin gloves, six
good pairs of all wool socks,--worn two at a time to pad the feet against
stone-bruise,--extra shoe laces, and a pair of sneakers to rest his feet
around camp. Norris carried a pocket telescope, and Long Lester a hone
made of the side of a cigar box with fine emery cloth pasted on one side,
coarse on the other. They saved on blankets by doubling each into three
crosswise,--except the old guide, who was too tall,--and on the higher,
colder elevations they found that to wear a fresh wool union suit, and
socks warm from the fire, to sleep in, was as good as an extra blanket,
if not better.

Everything was to be turn and turn about,--Ace had been the most
insistent member of the party in not leaving Long Lester to do the lion's
share,--they were obliged, each in turn, even Norris, to learn certain
fundamental rules of cookery. Long Lester got it down to this formula:

Put fresh vegetables into boiling salted water.

Put dried vegetables (peas and beans) into cold, unsalted water.

Soak dried fruit overnight.

To fry, have the pan just barely smoking.

To clean the frying pan, fill it with water and let it boil over, then
hang it up to dry. Jab greasy knives into the ground,--provided it is not
stony.

You can fry more trout in a pan if you cut off their heads.

As the boiling point drops one degree for every 800 foot rise, twenty
hours' steady cooking will not boil beans in the higher altitudes unless
you use soft water. They may be best cooked overnight in a hole lined
with coals, if put in when boiling, with the lid of the Dutch oven
covered with soil.

Three aluminum pails, nested, provided dish pan and kettles for hot and
cold water. Butter packed in pound tins kept fresh indefinitely in those
cool heights, and salt and sugar traveled well in waterproof tent silk
bags. Long Lester had figured on a minimum of a quarter of a pound each
of sugar and bacon per day per person, three pounds of pepper and
twenty-five of salt.

Of course the one thing each member carried right on his person was a
pepper tin of matches, made waterproof with a strip of adhesive tape. For
the snow fields, they also had tinted spectacles, as a precaution against
snow-blindness.

Axmanship came to be the chief measure of their campcraft. Ace had wanted
to bring one of the double-bitts he saw the lumbermen using, but the old
guide vetoed it as more dangerous to the amateur than a butcher knife in
the hands of a baby.

The light weight single-bitt was the axe he had brought for the boys,
reserving a heavier one for himself. These he had had ground thin, but so
that the blade would be thickest in the center and not stick fast in the
log. Both axe-heads wore riveted leather sheaths.

They took turn and turn about getting in the night wood. Fortunately the
boys, (Norris, too), had watched the lumbermen like lynxes, even Ted
thinking to get a few points from them. They noted, for one thing, that
the professional choppers struck rhythmically, landing each blow with
precision on top of the other, working slowly and apparently at
ease,--certainly untiringly,--and making no effort to sink the axe deeply.

They had also noticed that a lumberman will clear away all brush and
vines within axe reach before beginning, lest the instrument catch and
deliver him a cut.

They had learned, in logging up a down tree, not to notch it first on the
top, then discover too late that they could not turn the thing over to
get at the under side; but to stand on the log with feet as far apart as
convenient, and nick it on first one side, then the other, with great
nicks as wide as the log itself.

Pedro had to be shown how to chop kindling, as his first attempt resulted
in a black and blue streak across his cheek where a flying chip struck
him. Long Lester had to show him how to lay his branches across a log.
And the old man insisted on his so doing, every time, for, he said, he
knew a man who had lost an eye by failing to observe this precaution. He
also barely saved the boys' axe from being driven into the ground by the
well-meaning tenderfoot and nicked on some buried stone. But when he
found the Spanish boy starting to kerf a prostrate log that lay on stony
ground, he expressed himself so fluently that Pedro never again, as long
as he lived, forgot to place another log under the butt, or else clear
the stones from the ground around it.

The boys also learned to look for the hard yellow pine, when there was
any to be found, for their back-log, but for a quick fire to select fir
balsam, spruce or aspen. (Of course if they couldn't get these, they used
whatever they could lay hands on.)

Pedro made the mistake, about this time, of tying a burro to a tree with
two half hitches, which, when the burro tugged, were all but impossible
to undo. After that he used the regular hitching tie. As the burros were
always turned out at night, without even a hobble save for the leader, it
became necessary to be able to lasso them in the morning if they failed
to come at call. There was also the diamond hitch that had to be acquired
if each was to do his share with the pack-animals, all of which occupied
fascinated hours around the night-fire.

So much for the first two weeks. It was now time to circle around and
start back--some other way. Ace had done the packing the day they climbed
above timber line for an outlook. As Trilby had cut her foot, (or his
foot, to be accurate), the boy had added her pack to that of broad-backed
Mephistopheles, in whose kyacks he had--much against Long Lester's
teachings--entrusted the entire remainder of their food. Pepper carried
their personal equipment, and now that half their supplies were eaten,
the Bird and Lazybones carried firewood for them from the wooded slopes
below, that they might luxuriate beside a night fire. So far, so
good. But the peak of their night's bivouac was flanked by higher peaks
that cut off their anticipated view, and before the little party could
scale these, they must descend the gorge of another leaping, singing
stream that lay between.

As the pack train followed nimbly down the glacier-smoothed slope, and
along a ledge where the cliff rose sheer on one side, dropping as sheer
on the other, Mephistopheles gave a sudden shrill squeal, and before any
one knew what it was all about, went hurtling over the edge. The boys
stared speechless as the luckless animal hit the cascades below and went
tumbling through the rapids and over a waterfall, till the body was
whirled to the bank and caught in a crevice of the rock.

Here they were, ten days' hike from the nearest base of supplies, and the
entire remainder of their food,--they did not mourn the burro--three
thousand feet below, or more likely washed a mile down stream by this
time, what had not sunk to the bottom.

They might have been in mid-ocean, as Ted had remarked,--stranded on a
desert island,--but for their trout rods, and one rifle. The game laws
could be disregarded in their extremity. But they were days from the last
deer they had sighted, and their main dependence must be on the fishing.

Ahead, the trail wound down into a grove of rich tan trunks against the
green of juniper. Gray granite worn into fantastic shapes,--castles and
giant tables,--dwarfed and twisted trees rooted in rock crevices, white
waters roaring against the canyon wall like a storm-wind in the
tree-tops, fallen trunks, patches of flaming fire-weed. This was the
wilderness against which they must pit their wild-craft if they would eat.

By the time the sun slanted at five o'clock, Norris called a halt by the
side of a moist green meadow where the burros would find browse, and all
hands turning to and unpacking the kyacks, they hobbled the animals with
a neat loop about their fore-legs. Then they cut, each of them, a good
armful of browse for his bed. Long Lester strode off with his rifle in
search of anything he might find for the pot, while Norris and the boys
scrambled down to the river with their trout rods.

He broke trail along a narrow ledge, just such a one as the luckless
burro had gone hurtling over when his pack scraped the rising wall.
Almost a sheer drop, and the rapids roared in torrents of white foam.
Pedro clung to every root and every rock crack for fear of growing dizzy.

"My fault entirely," Ace reproached himself, as he thought of the lost
flour and bacon, rice, onions, cheese, smoked ham, dried fruit, coffee,
canned beets and spinach, tinned jams, and other compact and
rib-stretching items of their so lovingly planned duffle. "Never should
have packed it all on one burro."

The Senator's son had a dry fly outfit that was his treasure. Ted used
the crudest kind of hook and line for bait casting. The subject was one
of keen rivalry between them.

"Dad always prayed: 'May the East wind never blow,' when we went fishing
down in Maine," dogmatized Ace.

"Well, Pop was born in Illinois, and he used to say, 'When the wind is in
the South, it blows your bait into a fish's mouth.'"

"Huh! That may be poetry, but we don't have much of any wind out here
except the west wind. And if we wait for a cloudy day in this neck o' the
world, we'll wait till September."

"All the same," insisted Ted, "trout do bite best when it rains, because,
don't you see, the big fellows lie on the bottom, just gobbling up the
worms the rain washes down to them."

"They won't rise to a fly in the rain."

"Well, I dunno anything about dry flies, though I sh'd think they
couldn't _see_ the fly up on the surface, with the water all r'iled the
way it gets in a storm."

"No more can they when the sun glares."

"Well, then, you better choose the shady spots. I don't see sign n'r
symptom of even a wind cloud to-day."--And yet, even as he gazed
argumentatively at the horizon, a pink-white bank of cumulus began
drifting into view in the niche between two distant peaks.

"Gosh! It's sunset already," exclaimed Ted.

"At half-past five!"--Ace peered at his wrist watch, then held it to his
ear. "Besides, it's in the East----"

"Looks more like a fire starting off there," contributed Norris. "Whew!
See old Red Top, there?"

"Red Top!--Where Rosa is?"

"I think it must be."

"Radcliffe's plumb worried, with the woods so dry, I'll bet," Ted
surmised. "And short a coupla fire outlooks, at that, I heard there in
the Canyon."

At this point they reached the mouth of the creek that had wriggled down
from some spring, and Ace elected to follow it upstream with his Brown
Hackles, which he dropped on the water with the most delicate care lest
their advent appear an unnatural performance to the wary troutlets
watching from the shady pools.

The slender stream raced dazzlingly in the reddening sunshine, as Ace
tickled the placid surface of each pool, and the upstream side of each
fallen log, careful lest his shadow fall betrayingly across his miniature
hunting grounds. He kept a good ten feet from the bank. And before the
red glow had started climbing the Western slope, he had a full string of
little fellows,--the prettiest rainbow trout he had ever seen.

Ted, sighting another creek, climbed back along the canyon wall to follow
it down-stream with his bait can and his short, stiff willow rod, cut for
the occasion with his good old jack-knife. His bait was the remnant of
the ham sandwich he had saved that noon for the purpose,--though he had
little dreamed at the time how much would depend on their next fishing
jaunt.

Keen to out-do his chum by back-country methods, he pushed through the
brush that made the gully a streak of green against the granite, until he
came to a bend. Here, he knew, there would likely be a pool. He
approached warily from above, lengthening his line. He cast well above
the bend, so that his bait would sink to the bottom. He was rewarded at
once with a bite. With a quick flip, he drew the fish away, and began his
string.

For some time he followed down-stream before he saw another
likely-looking place. An upturned stump awoke his sporting blood. Safe
refuge for a trout in more ways than one, it offered a 50-50 chance of
losing his hook. But Ted lifted skyward at the instant of the bite, and
all was well.

An eddy of foam, the shade of an overhanging bowlder, then another
upturned stump, (on these wind-swept mountain sides there were many
such), and Ted's spirits rose by degrees.

Meantime Pedro passed the rapids, climbed to a point well above, and
selected a smooth green stretch of river for his operations. It had meant
stiff going, and would mean more before he made his way back up the
canyon wall, but something about their present crisis had challenged his
reserves.

Pedro always used a spoon when he wasn't fishing for pure sport. On this
sunny stretch, so clear in the red glow of approaching sunset that the
bottom was plainly visible, he could see the fat old patriarchs lazing
the late afternoon away. But he was soon rousing them to find out what
that little shining thing could be that darted so rapidly through their
habitat,--that tiny bit of metallic white so unlike anything their jaded
appetites had yet negotiated.

The bright silver blade, only a quarter inch in width, perhaps three
times as long, spun against the current, cavorting along jerk by jerk,
(with time between jerks for the scaly ones to think it over), soon began
to get results. As the trout were all on the bottom resting till twilight
should set in, Pedro craftily allowed the spinner to sink till it all but
raked the bottom before beginning that tantalizing play.

Norris, too, tried a spinner, though he chose rapid water. There was one
great beauty, green above and orange beneath, that baited his fancy. For
some time he dangled the lure before he felt the heavy fish. Then a long
rush, that sent his line whistling out like lightning, a moment's quiet,
followed by another rush, and he had landed a great beauty of a
five-pounder with the hook hard fast in his jaws.

After that Norris returned to camp, where Ace and Ted were already
jubilantly comparing notes. Long Lester came in with a bag of birds and
rabbits.

Of course their catch had to be broiled. Pedro arrived in time to join
them in "which will you have, or trout,"--for the game had been saved for
breakfast. The boys ate with relish, though without salt, and later
listened to Long Lester telling tales with his boots to the bon-fire,
bronze faced, nonchalant. At 8,000 feet, the air grew noticeably cooler
with the turning of the wind down-canyon, and the boys heaped down-wood
liberally in a pyramid. The dry evergreens snapped in a shower of sparks
as the full moon, silvering the snow-clad peaks, deepened the shadows
under the trees.

On the fragrance of crushed fir boughs they finally slept, all thought of
the morrow drowned in dreams.

Out of the painted sunsets and yellow sands of the Salton Sea, land of
centipedes and cactus, blistering sun, and parching thirst, and all
things cruel and ugly, had come Sanchez, a Mexican, with his son and an
old man who had been his servant, to lay ties for the narrow gauge
railway that was to zig-zag up the canyon walls for a lumber
company. King's Lumber Company had fired them for reasons that will
appear. Suffice it now that all their blistering bitterness and parching
hate had focused on these forests.

Rosa, alone on the Red Top fire outlook scaffold, had seen a pin-point of
light the night before that she took for a camp-fire, but whose, she
could not know.

Breakfast, such as it was, disposed of, the four deceptively meek looking
burros were lined up in the lupin perfumed meadow, in semblance of a
pack-train, (the hundred pounds of duffle divided between them that they
might make faster time, as well as a safe-guard against further
accidents). A committee of the whole now decided they must catch more
fish and dry them, then lead a forced march to Guadaloupe Rancho, and if
they found range cattle, they would bring down a calf and square it later
with the owner.

For two days Norris, Ace and Ted caught fish, while Pedro dried them, and
Long Lester scoured the woods for game birds, rabbits,--anything and
everything he might find. Then came two strenuous days during which they
bore in the general direction of Red Top.

Without warning, they came to a sheer ledge fringed with minarets, and
stared across a glacier-gouged canyon a mile wide. Progress in that
direction was effectually checked. They found themselves with a view of
such miles of snow-capped peaks that they stood speechless, with little
thrills running up and down their spines at the sheer beauty of the scene.

To the right, the way was clear across a rock-strewn elevation where the
only trees were squat, twisted, with branches reaching along the ground
as if for additional foothold against the never-ceasing trade winds.
Again they were brought to a halt by a peak of granite blocks.

"Do you know, fellows," said Norris, suddenly, "mountain-building is
still going on, under our very feet."

"Is there going to be an earthquake?" gasped Pedro.

"There are likely to be slight earthquake shocks any time in this region.
The last big 'quake, that caused any marked dislocation, was in 1872,
though, so we have nothing to worry about. But I'm going to be able to
show you some rock formations that will illustrate what I was telling you
the other day."

"You mean," brightened Ace, "showing how these 14,000-foot peaks attained
their present height?--How there were two up-lifts?"

"Yes, and we are standing, this very minute, on a basalt step that some
earthquake has faulted from the main basalt-capped mass. Just see how the
whole story is revealed right there in this gorge! You can see the
streaks of basalt, which we know lie in horizontal layers, and rest on
vertical strata of the Carboniferous and Triassic age."

"Whoa--there!" groaned Long Lester. "Would you mind telling us that
again, in words of one syllable? I calc'late it must be a mighty
interesting yarn, from the hints you've let out now and ag'in, but how'n
tarnation----"

"Yes," grinned Ted, "do tell it, Mr. Norris, so's Les and I can get it
too."

"'Bout all I've got any strangle hold on," complained the old man, "so
fur, is thet these yere valleys was gouged out by the glaciers, a good
long spell ago. Now there's one thing I'm a-goin' to ask you, Mister,
before we go any further. What did you mean by that there--coal age?"

"That," vouched Norris, "was when most of the coal was formed, away back
before man appeared on earth,--before there were any of the plants and
animals as we know them to-day.

"Picture a time when the water was covered with green scum, and the air
was steamy, when the swampy forests were composed of giant ferns and club
mosses and inhabited by giant newts and salamanders, dragon-flies and
snakes."

"How--how do you know all thet?" gasped Long Lester.

"Partly by the fossils. It's a big study,--geology, we call it,--and the
scientists who reason these things out use what has been discovered by
astronomy and chemistry and a lot of other sciences. It's a long story."

"But a _thriller_," Ace assured them, as Norris lighted his pipe on the
lee of a bowlder. "Can't we rest here a few minutes, Mr. Norris? Those
burros were about winded. Can't get 'em to budge yet. Come on, fellows,
snuggle up," as Norris seated himself compliantly, back against the
bowlder. They all crept close, for the wind was blowing hard.

"Where did this earth come from in the first place?" asked Ted.

"Well, of course you know that our sun is only one of millions of stars,
and very far from being the largest, at that. Some larger star, in
passing the sun, by the pull of its own greater gravity, separated some
large fragments from that fiery, gaseous mass, and started our planetary
system. We don't want to go too far into astronomy."

"But astronomy shows you how they know all this," Ace assured the old
man, who appeared divided between wide-eyed amazement and incredulity,
(as, indeed, were Ted and Pedro).

"Our earth, like the other planets, was one of the knots of denser matter
on the two-armed luminous spiral which began circling the sun. There were
smaller particles which were attracted to the earth by earth gravity and
which increased the size of the earth till it was far larger than it is
now. Ever since, the earth has been shrinking periodically, and when it
shrinks, its surface becomes wrinkled, and these wrinkles we call
mountain ranges."

"Of course," interpolated Ace, shining eyed, "the crust of the earth got
cooled, while the inside was still a mass of molten metal and gas, which
kept boiling over on to the crust,--couldn't you say, Mr. Norris?"

"You've got the idea."

"I s'pose that's _the hot place!_" chuckled the old man.

"Probably where they got the idea. In time the metals and heavier
substances sank, while the lighter ones rose as granite rocks, till there
was an outer shell miles thick.

"The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, in Alaska, is a volcanic region where
the ground is hot and breaks through with one even now,--I was there
several years ago,--but generally speaking, this earth has a crust 150
miles thick.

"As I was saying, the continents are built of the lighter granite,
chiefly, while the oceans lie on the heavier basalt."

"But I thought you said we were on a chunk of basalt now," said Ted.

"We are. You know the Pacific has flowed where now you see these peaks,
as the high lands have been worn down between successive upbuildings."

"But--where did the water in the ocean come from in the first place?"
marveled the old prospector.

"Out of the earth," smiled Norris. "Up through hot springs, geysers and
volcanoes. The water vapor was always here, you know,--mixed with the
molten rock and gases."

"I swan!" ejaculated the old guide. "I thought I knew something about
rocks, but--this beats anything in my kid's fairy books."

"You bet!" Ace agreed. "You just wait till you hear----"

"I expect we'd better start on now," Norris rose. "Do you chaps realize
what a predicament we are in?" and shading his eyes with a lowered hat
brim, he peered off across the hummocky granite slopes, which shone
mirror-like in places under the noon-day sun.

A moving speck in the sky to the North drew an exclamation from him. In
another moment a sound that increased to a hum like that of a giant
motor-boat descended from the skies, and the speck disclosed itself as a
mammoth aeroplane.

"Signal them!" cried Norris. "What can we signal them with? Get out your
pocket mirrors, quick!"



CHAPTER IV

WITH THE AIR PATROL


"Signal them!" chorused the three boys, acting on Norris's suggestion,
(flashing their distress with their pocket mirrors), while Long Lester
stood measuring the flight of the aeroplane.

His practiced eye also detected a faint bluish haze that rose behind the
ridge at the North,--a haze altogether unlike that which foretells a
storm. In fact, the sun glinting from the wings of the giant wings and
from the glacial-polished slopes beneath forbade that explanation.

Like most backwoodsmen, the old prospector said the least when he felt
the most. His lean body suddenly grew tense. "It's a fire," he told
himself. "An everlastingly big one, too."

"That's a DeHaviland," decided Ace, as the huge bombing-plane came
nearer. "Must be the Fire Patrol!"

A moment more and the buzzing apparatus began sinking into a "pancake"
landing,--fortunately, just above the wide sweep of the granite butte.
Could it be engine trouble, Norris wondered, or had it seen their
signals? Lucky they were on an elevation.

With the sound like a saw-mill in full blast, the great ship jolted to
terra firma, within shouting distance,--and hardly had she come to a full
stop than the boys had raced to her side.

"I say!" exclaimed a familiar voice, as the observer climbed out. It was
Ranger Radcliffe! "Where did _you_ folks drop from?"

Norris explained the marooned camping expedition.

Radcliffe's face was lined with fatigue and anxiety. "Big fire off
there!" he motioned. "Been directing a hundred men. Broke out in three
places, all within twenty-four hours, and not even an electric storm to
account for it. Want to help?" And as the little party voiced unanimous
consent, he proceeded to draft them in, at the Government nine dollars
per day.

He could have compelled their services, as he had that of a party of
campers down towards Kings' River. In a few words, his voice vibrating to
his high nervous tension, the young forest officer had them all thrilling
with patriotic fervor.

"Now get your things," he directed. "May have to fight it for a week! You
can turn your burros out to forage for themselves, and I guess you'll
find them again when this is over. If you don't the Government will
probably square it with you."

The chums swiftly retraced their steps to where the animals waited
patiently, removing the packs and sending the little donkeys down the
trail to better pasturage. They might wander, but they would be safe.
With their swift heels they could defend themselves from even a mountain
lion. And they were apt to keep to the mountain meadows, where was food
and water.

Their run at such an altitude had given Pedro a touch of mountain
sickness, and he had to lie flat till his heart beat more normally and
his nose stopped bleeding.

The big 'plane carried a relay of provisions for the fire fighters
already established, whom it had brought for the purpose from the Zuni
Mine. As corned beef and hardtack were distributed, the hungry campers
thought they had never tasted anything so good in their lives. Not even
the Thanksgiving turkeys of later years were ever spiced with such
appetites.

This fire,--or rather, these three fires, so mysteriously concomitant,
the Ranger explained when the boys returned, had broken so far from any
ranch or work camp that they were hard pressed for men to fight it.

"You fellows will have a mighty important part to play for the next few
days," he assured them, "or I miss my guess."

"Hurray!" shouted Ace. "Three cheers for the U. S. Airplane Patrol!" For
he knew something of the work started at the close of the war. Following
regular daily routes, this patrol not only detects fires and follows up
campers or others who may have started them, (carelessly or otherwise),
but in times of emergency carries the fire leader from one strategic
point to another,--where as likely as not there are neither roads for him
to go in his machine, nor even horseback trails,--till he has shown the
volunteer firemen how to trench and back-fire.

They needed some one, the Ranger said, to hold the top of the next
ridge,--between which and the boys lay that inaccessible canyon it would
have taken them days to have scaled afoot. By day they were merely to
watch for flying brands. Their chief work would come at night, when the
wind would turn and blow down canyon, and they might successfully
back-fire.

The fire had started in two places on the opposite bank of the Kawa, and
in one place this side of the river, and was eating its way along the
slopes with the wind which swept them by day. It certainly looked like
the work of incendiaries.

Ace begged permission to wireless for his little Spanish 'plane, in its
hangar in Burlingame, that it might be employed in some volunteer
capacity, and Radcliffe accepted his offer.

The huge DeHaviland required all of the flat surface afforded by the
butte, for its preliminary run. They were off with a roar. As they glided
across to the flat-topped ridge on the other side of the canyon, they
could see the ravenous flames climbing tall pines and firs, racing from
limb to limb, through the forest roof, devouring the steeps, doubtless
richly coated with underbrush and down-wood. The roar and crackle of it
filled their ears sickeningly, as they thought of the naked mountainsides
that would be left,--mere skeletons of barkless tree trunks, where they
had camped on brown pine needles,--smooth, silent, inches deep, soft
under their tired feet, dry as tinder and aromatic with Nature's finest
perfume.

How the devourer would relish the pitch and resin oozing from the juicy
bark! How secure it must feel, on those slopes never climbed by man, with
the autumn rains months away, and the fire fighters like so many ants
trying with axe and shovel to mark off on the hot forest floor a boundary
beyond which the fiery tongues must not lick.

Had the wind not been in the other direction, they would have been
overwhelmed with the smoke that billowed darkly till it could have been
seen 50 miles away, the red sun scarcely lightening the gloom. Even where
they landed, an occasional hot breath scorched their faces and set their
eyes to smarting, while their winged ship nosed frantically up and away
again before she should meet Icarus' fate.

"Some day," Radcliffe had told them that day at the rodeo, "the Forest
Service Air Patrol, which serves now to give warning of the tiniest
smoke, and so saves men and millions where every minute counts, will
fight with glass bombs of fire extinguisher, whose trajectory falling
from a 'plane in rapid flight will have to be calculated to a nicety, but
which, delivered while the fire is in its infancy, will do the work of
many men."

The worst difficulty would be at night, when though the fire shows
plainer, the pilot would have to depend largely on his own sense of
equilibrium to tell him at what angle his ship was inclined. True,
acetylene gas lamps properly protected from the wind could be made to
light up the ground below when alighting, but at an altitude of even a
mile, little can be seen of the landscape to guide one on one's course.
The 2,000-foot firs of the Sierra slopes appear but as green-black
billows.

As the great ship raced toward the flaming forest, their talk at the
barbecue raced through the mind of the Senator's son. "Some day,"
Radcliffe had challenged them, "you want to see Glacier National Park,
with its ice-capped peaks and its precipices thousands of feet deep, its
glacier-fed lakes and Alpine scenery. And of course you must all see the
geysers of the Yellowstone, its petrified forests and mud volcanoes."

"And bears?" Ted had laughed with a glance at Pedro.

"Yes, all sorts of wild animals. And some time you want to explore the
cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and the 14,000-foot peaks in Rocky Mountain
National Park. By that time you will be ready to go to Southern Alaska
and try Mt. McKinley, which is worth while not so much because it is the
highest mountain in North America, (Mt. Whitney is nearly as high), but
because it stands the highest above the surrounding country of any
mountain in the world. Mt. Whitney is just an easy climb above a sea of
surrounding peaks; you don't realize the height at all.

"Then you know we have a National Park in Hawaii?--But Roosevelt,--or
Greater Sequoia Park,--is going to remain an unspoiled wilderness for a
good many years to come, with three great canyons larger than that of
Yosemite itself."

"Kings' River and the Kern," Ace had agreed, "but what is the third?"

"Tehipite."

"Oh, of course."

"We wanted to go over the John Muir Trail right along the crest of the
Sierras to Yosemite."

"You've hundreds of miles of almost unexplored country! Enough vacation
places to last a lifetime! Rivers alive with trout! Bears! Cougars!" the
Ranger had commented.

"And rattlers," Long Lester had added grimly.

"And rattlers. And they're the only living thing we need fear."

"Not excluding range cattle?" Pedro had wanted to be assured.

"Not when you're all together. Of course if you were alone you might
break a leg or something that would leave you helpless, and you'd sure be
a long way from anything to eat unless you had it with you.

"But unless we look alive the Big Interests are going to wrest away these
beauty spots that we have set aside for our National playgrounds,"
Radcliffe had declared.

"That's just what Dad says!" Ace had remembered.

"And why? Not because they need the irrigation and water power of the big
falls, for they can have it after the streams leave the parks, but
because it would cost them a good deal less to secure these things of
Uncle Sam than it would to build their projects outside Park limits.
There isn't a beauty spot in the West that some commercial interest
hasn't designs on."

"That's one thing I mean to fight!" Ace squared his chin as the
DeHaviland whisked them to their particular ridge, a table mountain, or
butte, where half a dozen recruits had already been landed with tools and
grub.

"Sure seems as if these fires had been set," mused Long Lester, as
Radcliffe bade them good-by,--for he had to be in a dozen places at once,
that day.

"But who did it?" demanded Ace fiercely.

"No savvy dat kind feller," said a Canadian half breed, who was just
starting off with a pick. "'E's bad feller, dat!"

"Sure is!" agreed Ace. "I don't savvy him either,--any one who would
deliberately burn--_that!_" with a wave of his arm toward the forested
gorge, up which already rose a noticeable heat. The red tongues, racing
through the spruce and cedar tops, shone through the smoke gloom, whence
issued a distant roaring which was the wind created by the super-heated
stretch of territory.

To the left, a gleaming-eyed cougar crept through the shadows, himself a
shadow. To the right, a huge, furry looking shadow ran clumsily,
flat-footedly. A tiny shadow hopped from almost under their feet, and
above their heads flapped a small covey of lighter shadows. Writhing
above the dark tops of the doomed trees rose the yellow-gray smoke that
was their departing shades.

The faces of the fire-fighters were grimly blackened with smoke and
grime, their shirts clung wet with perspiration to their swelling
muscles, and their dry throats clacked when they tried to swallow.

"I'd sure like to find the fellow that started _that!_" muttered Ace.



CHAPTER V

A DARING FEAT


As sunset turned the wind down canyon, all hands made a sally down the
mountain side in the hope of establishing a line of back-fire, but the
ground soon became too hot for them, while the air was filled chokingly
with ash and char-dust. They had to retreat to the ridge. It was a night
never to be forgotten.

When the wind turned at dawn,--with their line still intact,--the
exhausted party took turn and turn about, snatching a few hours' sleep,
wrapped in their blankets on the rocks, or making coffee.

Ace had forgotten all about his wireless message when, shortly after
noon, his own ship arrived. It had had a search for him, and had landed,
apparently, on the very ledge of basalt where the DeHaviland had picked
them up.

The beauty of the Spanish ship was that it was built to land on a space
no bigger than a house roof. It carried two propellers at the top. The
pilot had only to start these and it sucked itself straight up into the
air. Then he twirled the propeller on the front and sailed away, as
easily as you please.

He landed by reversing these operations. He could alight on a shed roof
if he had to, (provided, of course, that the roof was flat). The only
danger would be if the propellers should go on strike.

"I've been getting a wireless message," said the pilot. "There! Better
take it, Mr. King," to Ace.

Ace's eyes grew dark as he interpreted the frantic ticking that his
apparatus gave him. "Why--_Rosa's_ sending this!--She's marooned--there
at the Red Top fire-outlook!--'Fire on three sides, on fourth, rapids of
Kawa River Gorge. Send help--if you can,'" he translated, while the boys
waited, breathless. "Three men where first-fire started--silver
buttons--shining in the sun."

"That sounds like Mexicans!" said Pedro.

"Now what?" asked Norris. "Where's the Ranger, do you suppose?" But just
then he saw a flaming branch blown across their line. Like tinder the
dried firs burst into a shower of sparks, and with a call to the men, he
darted after it. Ace remained behind to wireless, and Ted to quench their
cook-fire, while Ace's pilot flung off his coat and ran after the fire
fighters.

Ace King did one thing supremely well. He knew his ship. He was born to
fly.

"Hey, Ted," he brought a certain line of reasoning to a head, "the Ranger
can't _land_ with that DeHaviland, if he does go after Rosa. You know the
layout on Red Top." (The boys had passed that way.)

"Yeh,--Cæsar!--That's right. No place there half large enough for the
bombing-plane!--That poor kid!" He shuddered. "What's the answer?" for he
saw that Ace had some plan. "I'm with you!"

"Just this. We can't leave her there to be burned alive. Radcliffe can't
do any more than we can about it. Besides, he's got his hands full,
wherever he is. But a forest guard was _killed_ last year directing fire
fighters from a plane. Went into a tail spin and fell into the flames."

"I know. It's mighty dangerous flying over a fire. Isn't there anything
Rosa can do?"

"That's just what----" Ace hesitated, deep in thought.

"I've heard of people taking refuge in caves, but where would she find
the cave?--'N' I've heard of 'em going to a rock-slide and piling up a
barricade of stone and lying behind it while the fire swept that way. It
cuts off some of the heat and flying sparks----"

"Look here!" Ace vociferated with the suddenness of a machine gun. "I'm
going for her."

"What----!"

"Yes, sir! I can land there, anyway. Then if it queers the machine, I'll
take Rosa down to the rapids. I know a fellow that was in a big fire in
Montana. When it cut them off, each man soaked his blanket and got under
it in midstream while the fire jumped to the other bank. They made a sort
of tepee around their heads, got clear under water, and just came up for
an occasional breath. Gee! He says it roared like a thousand trains as
it swept over them. So that's what we'll do--that is, unless we can get
back in the ship."

Unconsciously he patted his machine, and Ted knew what it would mean to
him to lose it.

"Perhaps--perhaps you _can_ bring it back," he ventured.

"Sure thing!" Ace gave his spirits a toss. "Anyway, here goes!--Good-by."

"What's the idea?" yelled Ted aggrievedly. "Going to leave your side-kick
behind?" and he climbed into the observer's place.

"Coming!" Ace wirelessed the girl. "Be on meadow--we'll pick you up."

"If our propellers don't go on strike," he added to himself. Still he
knew he could slow to 80 miles an hour and pancake down. He would first
circle well away from the fire, with its super-heated air column, till
they came to the gorge of the Kawa. There would be a narrow zone, he
figured, of less destructive atmosphere, the air channel over the
2,000-foot canyon.

With a peek at castor oil and gasoline, they started, looping and curving
straight to 15,000 feet, then Westward, away from the fire zone. Though
the day was fair, the spiral of hot air rising above the flaming forest
kept them pitching and lurching in a short chop that made Ted look green,
and gave even Ace a cold feeling at the pit of his stomach.

The sea of snow-clad peaks slid by beneath them, the sun flashing from
the granite slopes. Rising and falling, rising and falling in the rough,
upper air, they felt as if they were in a swift elevator. A cloud to the
West looked like a fleecy carpet beneath them. The West wind kept
swinging the machine till Ace had continually to bring it back in line
with the rapids of the Kawa which was his objective point.

It took but instants, though it seemed ages to both boys. Now it was time
to race quivering down the gorge of canyon-cooled air. Would they make
it against the devastating breath of the flames!--Now they were looking
straight down into that picture of red and--black. Rosa, watching
frantically from the wee patch of green which was her mountain meadow,
looked like a dot with waving arms. The air became a stretch of dizzy
rapids. The combined roar of the flames and the river beneath nearly
drowned the nearer sound of the descending 'plane.

[Illustration: Raced quivering down the gorge of canyon-cooled air.]

With heart that fluttered near to bursting, Ace accomplished the quick
swoop, Ted snatched the girl aboard, and they were up again.

The miracle had been accomplished!--The mountains lay like a relief map
beneath them, greenest down the canyons that branches Westward from the
gleaming crest of the main divide, the snow-capped peaks gleaming silver
in the sunlight. The fire zone lay like a small inferno behind them.

Back at fire-fighting headquarters, Ace's nerves took toll of him in
trembling knees. He had been all steel. Now he literally dropped in his
tracks, and in ten minutes was fast asleep.

Rosa, now that the danger was all over, broke down and wept hysterically,
to Ted's infinite embarrassment.

Norris was just returning with the triumphant fire-fighters. They had
actually not missed them. When, four hours later, Ace awoke and responded
to Pedro's "Come and get it!" as he ladled out the ham and beans, he
found himself a hero, and Ted his press agent.

"This country would do well to emulate France," Norris was explaining.
"France offers a government subsidy to encourage commercial aviation. Our
Congress has thus far refused to realize the need of appropriations. For
it is by trade that aviation will develop.

"We need above all things more airplane fire patrols. We have the men,
trained aviators left from the war,--we have the equipment, and the men
could protect not only our National Forests, but at the same time keep a
watchful eye on the millions of acres of state lands and timber privately
owned, which lie adjacent to Government holdings.

"Do you fellows realize that in five years, areas have been burned that
would more than fill the state of Utah! At that rate how long will our
forests last? And think what a paper famine alone would mean!" He paused
for lack of breath to express the intensity of his feeling.

"Hundreds of men have given up their lives in the service,--fighting
fire."

"Yes," said Ace, "but Dad says there's a bigger fight to put up in
Congress for forestry appropriations."

"Your father is doing good work," stated Norris.

"He's trying to, you bet!"

"These fire-fighting 'planes can sail over the highest peaks in the
United States. They can travel 14 hours without a landing. They can
communicate with those below by radio. And they don't have to have smooth
landing places, merely ground that is free from stumps. We have over
twenty million acres of National Forests alone, (not counting those in
Alaska), and they are worth $220,000,000."

"Gee! And there's just as much risk as in dodging enemy 'planes," Ted
enthused, "flying over fires, and finding landing places when your motor
goes on strike." His eyes glowed across at Ace.

"Huh, you're safe enough above a thousand feet," minimized Ace, modestly.
"These accidents practically all happen below a thousand feet."

But by now supper was eaten, and it was time to get back to work. Norris,
acting on Radcliffe's suggestion, had been stationing the men at
intervals to back-fire as far down the ridge as they could stand the
heat. If anything, the fire seemed bigger than it had the night
before,--a maelstrom of the inferno.

They worked in pairs, Ace being his, Norris's, right hand man. He now
assorted the six miners along the slope, planning himself to take the
extreme Western post, where the ridge ran lowest and where the rocky
crest dwindled to a dangerous line of mountain pines.

Ted and Pedro he directed to the opposite end of the ridge, where, like
the tooth of a comb, it joined the main crest of the Sierra,--another
strategic point.

"If worst comes to worst," his final words were, "take refuge in some
cave. This is a limestone region,--as you may have noticed,--and it's
likely riddled with caves. Keep an eye out for indications of cave
mouths. I saw one yesterday, somewhere down there, when I didn't have
time to investigate."

"All right," acquiesced the boys, though inwardly scorning the
possibility.

Rosa remained at camp to have food ready for the men on their return.

She began by taking stock. There was flour and lard, but no bread. She
would have to bake for eleven hungry men. There were rice, beans, onions
and tomatoes, dried fruits and coffee, and fresh meat for one meal, and
for the next, erbwurst and pickles, macaroni to be baked with cheese, and
tea. She hoped--for more reasons than one--that the Ranger would bring
more supplies. She got out the Dutch oven and the gallon coffee pot, and
with the hatchet provided with the outfit, started getting in a supply of
down-wood.

As on the day of the rodeo, she was attired in trim khaki riding breeches
and high-heeled moccasin boots,--good on horseback but mighty hard to
walk in, where the ground was rough. Her bobbed curly hair, red silk
blouse and fringed sash added a touch of the Rosa that underlay her
gritty side. She would surprise Radcliffe with her ability to cook for a
fire crew.

The huge loaf safely ensconced in a Dutch oven buried in red coals, she
sallied forth on a little exploring expedition. She wished she might find
some fir sugar to cap the feast. She had, once, when camping in the
Thompson River Valley. She had found the delectable sweet on a Douglas
fir. Some of the dry white masses had been all of two inches long, though
most of it had been in the form of mere white drops at the tips of the
needles. There had also been a quantity of it in a semi-liquid condition
on the ground underneath the tree, where some rain had dissolved it from
the branches.

Just where should she search? The Indians had told her that time to look
on the dry Eastern slopes of the range, in open areas where the trees got
lots of sunlight, but where the ground has not dried out too quickly
after the spring rains, as moisture is necessary as well as
sunlight,--(so long as it does not rain and melt off this excess of the
tree's digested starch). She had a hunch that she could find some on the
desert side of the Sierras, that being, of course, unattainable--unless
Ace could take her over in his 'plane. It would do no harm to look on
this side.

Neither did it do any good. She returned to camp empty-handed save for
some cones of the sugar pine, which she proceeded to roast that the nuts
might fall out of the spiny masses.

She found the deserted camp over-run with chipmunks. The little striped
rascals had ravaged all the food supplies they could nibble into. She
watched a couple of them actually shoving on the tin lid that she had
left insecurely loose on the syrup can. Finally sending it clattering to
the stony ground,--as she watched from behind two trees that grew close
together,--the wee things sat up there on the edge of the can, dipping
out its contents with their hand-like paws and licking them. Then one
tried to reach down and drink it outright, at which he fell in, and Rosa
felt impelled to fish him out and launder him,--to his terror,--before
turning him loose, then put the syrup on the fire to sterilize.

Meantime what of the fire fighters? Ted and Pedro, with their pick and
shovel, had descended rapidly into that deathly silence of the doomed
forest slopes, deserted alike by song birds and chipmunks, the hum of
insects and sound of any living thing, save alone the never-ceasing roar
of the ravenous flames.

The fire had been eating slowly through a stretch of manzanita chaparral,
whose hard stems resisted them as the evergreens could not. Though the
wind still blew up-canyon, they approached the river gorge at right
angles, and were able to make their way to the lower levels in the
shelter of the East side of a dry creek bed, where the hot blast could
not reach them.

They were stooping to drink at a spring when the terrified neigh of a
horse sounded from a clump of saplings almost behind them. In the same
instant the stretch of seedling firs that clothed the creek bank,
showering into sparks at the far end, shot toward them sky rockets of
leaping flame. Turning in a panic to race out at right angles from this
unexpected peril, they thought to make time on horseback. The animal
was tied and hobbled with a rawhide lariat!

Frantically the hobbled horse jerked at the rawhide.

Pedro plucked Ted by the arm and tried to drag him on, for the fire was
snapping through the underbrush at the speed of an express train. Its
sound was that of many trains, and its wind hot as the breath of a blast
furnace.

But as Ted had stooped to cut the thongs, his parched nostrils had caught
a cooler breath. It seemed to issue from a cranny in the rocks behind the
clump of saplings. Then it was too late: The shooting tongues of red were
upon them. Dragging Pedro down beside him,--for the roar drowned his
voice,--he waited, reasoning that the two- or three-foot seedlings would
go like tinder, leaving a strip of ground hot, to be sure, but no longer
flaming.

If they could but endure its passing! He turned to press his scorched
face against the rock wall.

To his amazement, he fell into a cave mouth, tripping Pedro, who stumbled
after him. Quick as thought they dragged the horse in after them and held
him, trembling and snorting, his eyes rolling wildly, during that
blistering moment until the line of fire had passed them.

"We're safer now than before," declared Ted. "This made a fine back-fire,
didn't it?--Let's rest awhile." His nerves were taking toll of him.
"Ground's too _hot yet_ anyway."

For perhaps an hour they rested, flat on the floor of the cave,--after
having tied the horse to a bowlder just outside. He was a fine animal,
black as jet and as high-spirited as Spitfire himself. Ted appraised him
with longing eyes, for he loved horses as Ace loved his ship. But who
could he belong to, and how did he come to be there?

His bridle was embellished with silver. "Mexican handiwork, that!" Pedro
thought. But the mystery was no nearer solution.

The answer came sooner than they expected.



CHAPTER VI

THE INCENDIARIES


The red glow of the sun on the snow-clad peaks of the main ridge had
begun glinting through the smoke gloom when voices seemed to echo from
within the very rock against which they were leaning. The boys crept to
look behind it. Then their eyes rounded in astonishment. As Ted would
have spoken, Pedro clapped his hand over his mouth with a look that bade
silence. Crouched motionless at the side of the cave mouth,--for a deep
cave it now disclosed itself,--the two boys peered at the spectacle that
greeted their eyes.

Three Mexicans, aglitter with the silver buttons of their native costume,
appeared suddenly from some black depth, carrying torches.

With these one of their number kindled a bon-fire, whose flame revealed a
couple of burros standing patiently under their packs, tied to a mammoth
stalagmite. For the red flare behind the three figures of the Mexicans,
showed a cave roofed with amber-tinted icicles of smoke-stained rock,
beneath which up-rose for each a pyramid of the same formation.

The Mexicans might have been father and son and old servant, from their
general appearance and from the fact that most of the work of
supper-getting was performed by the shabby, white-haired one, while the
fat middle-aged one struck the younger a blow that was not reciprocated.
They were talking in a tongue that Ted could not translate, though from
the peppery tone of it, he judged they were quarreling. Pedro assured him
later they were not. (He knew Mexican.) They were merely regretting that
their horse had been burned.

The fat one, evidently too fagged to move, was demanding that one of the
others go see for sure, while they argued that it was no use, the animal
could not have survived. They must have been exhausted, lame, besides, to
judge from the creaky way they moved. The fat one poured some verbal
vitriol on their heads for not having brought the horse inside, while the
white haired one deprecated that they had not intended to be gone so long.

"It's the fat one's, and now he'll have to hoof it like the others; he'd
sure break the back of a burro," translated Pedro in huge enjoyment, to
his mystified companion. "Wonder if they're the fire bugs Rosa saw?"

"Let's listen and find out," said Ted.

As the blaze by which they dried their mysteriously muddy feet died down
to red coals, from the pack of one of the burros the old peon extracted
some ready-made tamales and proceeded to add the heat of cooking to the
hotter peppers within their enwrapping corn husks. This fiery mixture
they quenched from a round-bellied bottle passed from lip to lip, though
the fat one took his first and longest.

"They're the fire bugs, all right," said Pedro softly into Ted's ear. And
it was agreed that they might safely creep in along the shadows till
Pedro could hear more plainly.

Sanchez was the name of the fat leader, and his son and his servant the
others proved to be. They had, it developed, a grouch against the lumber
company down on the Kawa, (in which, as it happened, Ace's father had an
interest). They had been fired from the crew, and no punishment was too
great for a company that would do that to a workman who merely asked his
accustomed afternoon siesta.

"_Detestablemente!_" (And other remarks that sounded like fireworks.)
The pigs of _Americanoes!_ Pedro convulsed Ted with his recital when they
had crept back to the cave mouth, despite the seriousness of the
situation.

That they would start more fires at their first opportunity had also been
established by their conversation.

"We can't let 'em go," argued the ranch boy.

"We can't capture them," the Castilian was as positive. "We are unarmed,
and they have their daggers."

Ted pondered, peered out at the still, smoking ground, soothed the
nervous horse, then came to a conclusion, which he unfolded to his
comrade.

He must go for help. He would ride that horse, find Norris, get Ace to
wireless Radcliffe, and summon help. But--he eyed Pedro doubtfully,
knowing his uncourageous bearing at the rodeo.

"But what?" insisted the Spanish boy. But had he not guessed it! Of
course he would remain behind to keep track of the desperadoes.

But how could Ted start with the ground so hot? He would have to wait
awhile, then make up for lost time by break-neck riding.

So be it. They were hungry now, and ate the ration of tinned corned beef
and hardtack from their pockets. Ted also fed the horse some hardtack,
and brought him several hatfuls of water from the spring,--scorching his
soles as he crossed the charred ground.

Pedro propped his tired body in a sitting posture with one ear cocked for
the conversation within. Ted flung himself flat on his back in the smoky
gloom, which obscured even the light of the moon. He was mentally
exploring that cave,--remembering what Norris had once told them of the
region and wondering into what limed recesses the Mexicans were likely to
retire when capture threatened. That the cave had its depths he felt
assured by their having so suddenly appeared with their torches. And what
could Pedro do if they tried to leave before help came?--My, but he must
ride! Three such incendiaries loose in those dry forests, and there would
be no end to the harm they could do!

The limestone of which these caves were formed,--sediment of the shells
of myriads of sea creatures,--had been deposited in the primeval ocean
that once flowed over that whole region from the Gulf of California.
Uplifted by contractions of the earth crust, it had been cut as the
surrounding granite could not have been by the percolating rains and
streams, flowing along the cracks of the uplift.

This cave was probably a network of water-worn passageways extending no
telling how far underneath the ridge. There were reputed to be caves
almost as large as Mammoth in these unexplored recesses of the Southern
Sierras. Could this be one of them, or was it just a two- or three-cavern
affair, he wondered? On that depended a very great deal of their success
in the coming capture, for once entrenched within these labyrinthian
caves, the Mexicans could hold them at bay until they had made good their
get-away. It had been so, he had been told by military men, in chasing
Mexicans over the border.

Perhaps there were other caves in the region. Where, indeed, had these
men secreted themselves while the fire had raged in a semi-circle about
them? In a cave, the air would be damp and cool, no matter what was going
on outside, and they could have been genuinely comfortable with the
inferno raging over their very heads. Unless, of course, the smoke
suffocated them! That would all depend on the air passages that fed their
particular cavern. Some of those caves across the Mexican border were
miles in extent, and had exits galore.

Pondering the pendant stalactites that had gleamed like onyx in the
firelight, he pictured the water percolating drop by drop through the
limestone crevices, dissolving the lime and forming the stalactites a
drop at a time through the years. How wonderful it was! He wished he too
might study. Perhaps, if he could make a go of his mother's fruit
ranch?--He was half asleep. He roused himself by trying to recall what it
was that Norris had told them about stalactites.

The rain water, charged with the carbonic acid gas of the atmosphere,
seeps in from the surface and falls drop by drop. Each slow drop remains
long enough upon the ceiling to deposit some of its dissolved lime in a
ring to which the next succeeding drop adds another layer.

In time this ring lengthens into a pipe-stem of soft lime. It fills and
crystallizes, thickens and elongates, as the constant drip, evaporating
from the outside, deposits more and more of the lime. Thus these stone
icicles are formed, sometimes an inch a year.

At the same time the drops that fall to the floor, solidifying one at a
time, build up a slender pyramid beneath,--a stalagmite,--which reaches
higher and higher as its stalactite hangs lower and lower. In time these
two formations meet in a slender pillar, the pillar thickens through the
same slow process and if the pillars stand close enough together,--as
where the drip follows a long rock fissure,--the pillars will eventually
join in a solid partition.

This _dripstone_, as the material of the formation is termed, began as
soft carbonate of lime; it hardens into _gypsum_ or, sometimes,
alabaster, or calcite.

The boy peered once more into the carved gallery, waiting till an
up-flare of the dying fire again illumined the fantastic ceiling, whose
fairy architecture gleamed opalescent in the orange glow. He thought of
the old fairy tales of gnomes hammering on their golden anvils in their
jeweled caves in the hearts of the mountains, and wondered if such lore
had not arisen from the fact of just such cave formations, coupled with
the echoes the slightest sound set to reverberating. After all, most folk
tales had some foundation.

Once these Mexicans were captured and the forest fire brought under
control, he meant to ask Norris if their camping expedition might not
include an exploration of some of the caves he had assured them
honeycombed this part of the Sierra.

He little dreamed in what fantastic fashion his wish was to come about,
as he lay there waiting till he could start his ride for help!

Nor did Pedro, drowsing, exhausted, beside him, dream of the test that
was to be made of his courage while he remained behind. He seemed so
fagged that Ted did not even wake him, when at last he deemed it time to
sally forth.

Ted loved nothing better than a good horse.

The plainsman, he used to argue, may have his twin six, the airman his
ship, but for the outdoor man, give him the comrade who can take the
mountain trails, the needle carpeted forest floor, the unbridged streams,
the glacier polished slopes.

The black horse wore the high Visalia saddle, against which his rider
could rest on steep grades. It would be more dangerous, should the animal
throw him, though of course the high horn would help him to pull leather
should need arise. He had lengthened the stirrups, Western fashion, till
his long legs dangled easily and he could have raised himself scarce an
inch above the saddle by standing in his stirrups. His long, lean legs
would give him a good hold where the going was rough, and if he had only
a quirt, or even a pair of drop-shank spurs, he would have felt confident
of making time. (For he knew how to use the spurs so that they would not
torture his animal.) He regretted that the mysterious owner had not
fitted the poor brute with the old spade bit, for should the horse fall,
on the uneven ground, it would be likely to cut his mouth badly. He had
once seen an animal bleed to death from such a hurt. Well, they must not
fall!

Mechanically he opened the reins, as was his habit:--His own horse had
been trained to hitch to the ground, and all he had to do when he
dismounted in a hurry was to drop rein. He was glad to find that the
saddle was rim fire, (or double-rigged), as it would stay in place, no
matter what acrobatics they might be forced to perform. So far, so good!

With right hand on the saddle horn, left grasping rein and mane, he swung
up, and before ever he touched leather, they were off.

Would his mount prove broncho? Had his probably Mexican owner uglied his
disposition? That remained to be discovered. And on that detail would
depend much of the success of his race for help. For with Norris at the
far end of the ridge, there would be several hours of tough going, he
surmised.

"Yes, sir, you shore gotta _slope_ some!" he told the mustang, in
imitation of the cowmen. "Or those Greasers will just naturally fade out
of the landscape."

As the night wind blew the smoke down canyon, he could very nearly tell
his way, and the time as well, by the stars. Being early in July, he knew
that in the constellation of Hercules, almost directly above, the hero's
head pointed South. It was something Norris had told them one night when
they had to travel late to find a fit camping spot. The crest of the
ridge lay South, and along the crest he should find more open going. He
would then have to veer to the West. As Venus rose brilliantly in the
East, he knew he had now about two hours and a half till sunrise.

Breasting the wind, he headed around the twisting stems of unyielding
manzanita, then up, straight South, over slide rock and fallen tree
trunks, turning aside for only the larger bowlders. The mountain-bred
horse was lithe as a greyhound, as he alternately climbed and slid, or
made wide leaps over the uneven slope.

The ridge attained, however, he found it harder going than he had
imagined, by reason of the broken shale, weathered by the frost of
unnumbered winters. But just on the other side,--that furthest from the
fire zone,--stretched a smooth granite slope, where the going would be
unobstructed. But these smooth slopes, bed of that prehistoric river of
ice, slanted slowly but surely to the cascading mountain stream whose
roar now assailed his ears. One slip on that smooth surface and his horse
would never stop till he had reached the rapids! The boy wondered if the
animal were sufficiently sure-footed. The answer would mean, at the very
least, the difference between a broken leg and a sound one, for the boy
speeding to secure help in the capture of the fire bugs. But there seemed
a fighting chance, and he would take it.

At intervals the granite was blocked out by cracks, and he found the
slight unevenness of a crack lent his mount a surer footing. At times it
was fairly level and he ventured a gallop; again it was precarious even
at a walk.

Suddenly a monotonous "chick-chick-chick" buzzed beneath their feet. The
horse leapt violently to one side,--just in time to evade the coiled
spring of four feet of green-black rattlesnake, on whose sinister form he
had all but trod. By that instant leap he had avoided the speedy death of
the injected virus of the stroke. Ted's heart was in his mouth.

On--on--on he urged the black. It became mechanical; he ceased to think.
Exhausted alike by his long vigil and the strain he had been under, he
now sat his horse in a daze, just keeping his nose generally Westward,
while he skirted the crest of the ridge. He felt half numb as he rounded
the end of the crest where Norris was to have been stationed. To his
stupefaction, the fire fighters had completed their trench and gone!

Where could they be? Probably back at the camp, which he had skirted by
this detour, never dreaming he would find any one but Rosa there.
Well,--he was "outa luck!" Back he went the way he had come, till he
thought it time to climb the ridge. A flare of cook-fire through the
graying dawn showed him where to head, and the huge sun was just slipping
blood-red through the smoke gloom as he took the last log at a leap and
dropped off beside the moving figures.

The men were all there,--as was Ranger Radcliffe, whom the DeHaviland had
evidently returned with fresh supplies. It took but few words to acquaint
them with the situation.

By the time Ted had drank a quart of coffee with his breakfast, he was
able to pull himself together again and lead the possé to the hidden
cave mouth. The Ranger would have to be the one to go, to make the
arrest, and he deputized Ace to help him. That meant leaving Norris to
head the firemen. (It never occurred to any of them that they would not
be right back with Pedro and the Mexicans. The foam-flecked horse Ted
left to Rosa's care.)

The cave mouth accomplished, Radcliffe entered first, with revolver
cocked, though Ace almost trod on his heels. Ted staggered after with a
flaming pine knot flickering in his almost nerveless hand.

The cavern was absolutely empty!

To Pedro, left in the cave mouth to watch the Mexicans, the night had
been the crucial test.

He had been asleep when Ted departed, while the Mexicans had slept within
the cave. He awoke to find the three dark visages bending over him, their
verbal fireworks hissing about his ears. At first "caballo" was all he
could make of it,--(the horse). Then as Sanchez the stout, soared
rhetorically above the others, he gathered that they dared not leave him
and they could not carry him. "El Diablo!" How much simpler to thrust a
dagger between his ribs. "Muerte!--Presto!" But no, wait! For the time
being he would walk between them carrying two extra torches. There must
be another exit to the cave, but could the burros make it with the packs?
Try it they must, for this way their choice lay between the fire fighters
and the flames. The doomed forest still glowed red and black down canyon,
and with the morning light, the wind veered till the smoke assailed them
chokingly. There was no time to be lost.

Never for an instant dreaming that Pedro understood, they gave him the
torches he was to bear, and started into the depths of the cavern. And
the boy? Too frightened at first to have spoken had he tried to, he had
the wit to see that protest would be useless. They were three to one,
armed, and desperate, and they counted him a likely witness to their
incendiarism.

Besides, now that the wind had changed, he could not have gone ten paces
without having been blinded by the smoke till he could not see where he
was heading. This side of the canyon was going to go like tinder, too.
Besides,--this came later,--how could he allow the fire bugs to get away?
His job was to keep tabs on them, and that he would now have an
exceptional opportunity to do, he cheered himself.

At first the flare of the torches revealed merely the cavern of onyx
stalactites he had seen the night before. This formation wound in a
narrowing labyrinth until they made a sharp turn to the left. Presently
they came to a pit of inky water, around which they had to skirt on a
sloping shelf. The burros could not make it and they left them there.
Either, Pedro argued, they meant to return that way or else they had
other supplies awaiting them. But now they could no longer smell the
smoke. From somewhere came pure air, damp and refreshingly chilly. The
sounds of the outer world were cut off completely. On and on they
wandered as in a dream. Pedro began surreptitiously pinching himself to
make sure he was not having some weird nightmare.

They came to a grotto that might have been brown marble, whose curious
carvings he had no time to study. From this they had to crawl on hands
and knees through an opening into another twisting passageway, floored
with muddy water and barely high enough for them to stand erect. Their
voices echoed and reechoed. Then came arches of stalactites almost
meeting the stalagmites beneath them, through which they edged their way
as through a frozen forest.

This opened into a vast cavern hung as with icicles of alabaster, which
their torch light warmed to onyx.

"If these fellows weren't so free with their knives," Pedro told himself,
"it would be an adventure worth having. But they certainly have too much
dynamite in their dispositions to suit me,"--for the Mexicans were now
quarreling among themselves. The boy and the old man were for turning
back before they lost themselves,--for at every turn there were branching
ways.

But Sanchez, the heavy-handed, was for going on,--and on they went,
shivering in the unaccustomed chill.

Pedro wondered what the rescue party would do when they found them gone.
If only he could leave some sign of his whereabouts! Could he drop his
handkerchief at one turning of the ways, his hat at another, without
detection? Or was it already too late? Why had he not thought of that
before?--Tucking one torch into the crook of the other elbow for a
moment, he dropped his bandanna as again they took the left-hand of two
turns.

But now their little flare of light revealed a blind passageway. The
water-worn rock had been hollowed out by some eddying pool, no doubt,
while the main stream had flown on past. How he wished he knew more of
cave formations! Should he find opportunity to escape, how would he ever
find his way out again?

Retracing their steps, they took the right hand turn. Here was another
high roofed vault,--he could not see how high, he could only guess from
the reverberation of their voices,--whose stalactites had become great
pillars that gleamed yellowly. The floor sloped toward them till they had
stiff climbing. On one wall was a limestone formation like a frozen
cataract. And thrust into the wall beside it he saw a torch stick. Who
had left it there, and what ages ago, he wondered? In this cavern some of
the stalactites hung as huge as tree trunks, and had not Sanchez bade the
others keep an extra eye on him, the lad might easily have hid behind one.

Some of these huge pillars were cracked with age, and again the thought
occurred to him that if only he might insert himself into one of the
cracks,--a few were all of a foot in width,--he could easily escape
detection in that uncertain light. But now he was under surveillance
every instant. Besides, (tardy thought), was he not pledged to keep an
eye on the villains? He smiled through his fears at the recollection that
they, not he, were captive.

Meantime Ace and Radcliffe, (leaving Ted to sleep off his exhaustion in
the cave mouth), were examining the onyx cavern and the ground outside
for some sign as to what had happened, and which way Pedro and the
Mexicans had gone. Radcliffe had his electric flash, and at the turn of
the winding passageway discovered scratches on the sandstone floor where
the burros had left hoof marks. But had they taken the turn to the right
or that to the left? There were hoof prints both going and coming, in
each passageway. Which had been made the more recently? They could not
tell.

Ace hoped that the Ranger would propose each following a different
direction, but instead, Radcliffe remarked that they ought to have
brought a ball of twine to unwind as they went, as people had been known
to get lost in unknown caves, and stay lost for days. The best
alternative was to make a rough map of their turnings in his note-book.

They advanced along the right hand passageway, whose breath seemed like
that of another world from that of the parched mountain side,--cool and
moist and wonderfully exhilarating. Had it not been for his uneasiness as
to Pedro's whereabouts, Ace would have enjoyed this expedition into the
unexplored. His was a nature that craved the tang of adventure, even more
than most. It was one of the things that had led him to take up geology,
for in the U. S. Geological Survey his life would lead him, likely, to
far places.

He wished, though, that Ted were with them. A good pal certainly doubles
one's enjoyments.

They had gone what seemed like miles, (though cave miles are deceptive,
so completely is one cut off from space and time), bearing always to the
right, when Radcliffe's light suddenly burned out, leaving them in
primeval darkness. At first breath they tried to laugh at their
predicament, then the utter blackness seemed to press upon them till it
suffocated, and Ace suppressed a sudden desire to scream. His panic
moment was dissipated by Radcliffe's discovery of a bit of candle. Ace
had, of course, that most important part of a camper's equipment, a
waterproof match-box, linked to his belt, and in it a few matches. But
even then it meant going back the way they had come, for without a good
light they could do nothing. Perhaps it was just as well, for they were
bound on no hour's adventure, and should have brought food as well. How
Radcliffe wished he had his acetylene lamp!

To their surprise they found Norris at the cave mouth trying to arrange
his coat under the sleeping Ted. And around him lay the coiled lariat he
had taken from the saddle-horn of Ted's recent mount, also three
canteens, some cooked food, and a supply of hard candles from the fire
crew supplies. There were also the boys' sweaters,--Radcliffe, of course,
had his woolen uniform,--and to cap the climax, a ball of twine and the
Ranger's pet lamp, with its tin of carbide powder.

To their amazed query Norris explained that he had explored dozens of
caves in his time, including some hundreds of miles of that honeycomb
formation that underlies a portion of Kentucky, to say nothing of the
caverns of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Black Hills of South
Dakota, and the Ozarks. Of the caves of California, however, he as yet
knew nothing.

Had he not been needed to head the fire crew, he would have loved nothing
better than to have gone with them.

"I knew this was a cave region," he told them as they ate and refreshed
themselves before going back into the black depths--for they had been
gone several hours, it seemed. "Fissured limestone--I noticed it
yesterday when we were down here trying to back-fire. Then what feeds the
Kawa? Not these little flood creeks that dry up almost before the spring
floods are over. Where does all that snow water go to? Some underground
passageway, of course. It seeps through the porous rock to subterranean
channels. By the way, I see there are tracks of muddy feet inside here,
and _your_ feet are dry! The mud must have been left by the Mexicans."

"That's a fact!" exclaimed Radcliffe. "Ace, did you notice any mud along
that passageway? Then we surely took the wrong turn."

"Not necessarily," said Norris. "They might have _come_ from some muddy
cavern, but gone back another way. However, I was going to give you a
little idea of the probable layout of a cave. This one, if--as I
suspect--it feeds the Kawa--likely descends to other levels, till the
lowest one is very nearly on that of the river. Seeping through, here and
there, the rains and melting snows probably collect into a stream."

"Wish you could go with us, old chap," said the Ranger. "But----"

"You'll get along all right, with these things," sighed Norris, "and if
you don't show up again within a few hours, we'll follow your twine," and
he tied one end of the cord ball to a manzanita bush, handing the ball to
Ace. At that moment Ted awoke and insisted that he join them. Norris
reluctantly returned to the fire crew.



CHAPTER VII

THE CAVE


Electing the turn to the left, Radcliffe led the way with his carbide
lamp. Ace and Ted followed with their candles.

This time their choice was quickly verified by the discovery of the
burros, standing patiently with their packs before the pool. (That
accounted for the muddy footprints.) Skirting this on the shelving ledge
as had Pedro and the Mexicans, they traversed the winding passageway that
led to the grotto of brown cauliflower-like encrustations. But here, when
they found that the left-hand passageway meant going on hands and knees,
they chose the other turn. (They came that near to catching up with the
fugitives!)

With the suddenness of events in a dream, they came into a vast chamber
that at first glimpse, lighted as it was by the carbide lamp, gave the
impression of a baronial ruin. The boys whistled simultaneously under
their breath. At the far end stood a huge stone elephant,--or so it
appeared at the first startled glance,--and beside him a gnome and
several weird beasts vaguely reminiscent of the monsters of prehistoric
times.

When Ted could speak, he whispered, "What are they? Fossils?"

Ace laughed. "I should say not. They're nothing but dripstone, can't you
see?--They'd be 'some fossils'! Why, if we could find just one fossil as
big as that, our fortunes would be made--absolutely."

"Gee! Then I'm sure going to keep my eyes peeled."

"I thought," put in Radcliffe, "that fossils were little stone worms.
I've found those aplenty."

"Fossils," explained Ace, (fresh from first-year geology), "are any
remains of plants or animals that lived, either on land or in the sea, in
ancient times. A lot of those we find to-day were shell-fish and other
marine life."

"Gee!" grinned Ted, "doesn't he talk like a professor? I'm going to call
you professor after this, old Scout!"

"Go on," the Ranger urged, ignoring this sally, "I'm interested."

"So am I, honestly," amended Ted contritely.

"There were land animals, too, that got buried in the accumulating
sediments and fossilized. Times when the ocean over-ran the land, they
got drifted into it, and sank, and got buried under the sands that made
our sandstones----"

"This floor is sandstone!" interpolated Ted.

"Yes. Or they got buried in the ground-up shells that made our
limestone,--like the walls of the cave,--or some of them were buried in
mud."

"I suppose," offered Ted facetiously, "that the mud made mudstones," and
he laughed till his voice echoed and reëchoed startlingly.

"Ha, ha! You're right!" Ace turned the laugh on him. "Go to the head of
the class. I'll show you mudstone when we come to it."

"Why, then," ventured the Ranger, "this must be a topping place to find
fossils."

"Provided," Ace admitted, "the cave is not of too recent formation. But
as I was about to say," (seeing their undoubted interest), "geologists
can just about piece together the history of the earth from the fossils
that have been found, but no one locality gives it all. They have
found part of the story in America and part in Africa, and parts
in Europe and Asia. And from that series of fossils--and some other
evidence--scientists have about agreed that since the earth was formed,
about twenty whole mountain ranges, one after another, must have been
formed and worn away almost to sea level."

"How do they make that out?" Ted looked skeptical.

"That's another long story. I'm no professor. But----"

"You can't prove it."

"Neither can you disprove it, any more than you can the conclusions on
which astronomy, higher mathematics, any of the sciences--are based."

"I suppose so! Gee, I'd like to study those things for myself!" sighed
Ted, seating himself beside the others on a dry ledge while they ate
their sandwiches.

"Find a valuable fossil and you've earned a college education," Ace
challenged him. "And you know, fossils are not necessarily fish or
insects or skeletons or tree trunks that have been turned to stone."

"To stone?"

"By the removal of their own tissues and replacement by mineral matter. A
fossil may be merely the print of a leaf of some prehistoric plant on
sandstone, or the footprint of some antediluvian reptile. In the National
Museum they have a cast of a prehistoric shad that shows the imprint of
every bone and fin ray."

"How on earth could that have been formed?" marveled Ted.

"Why, it was simply buried in fine mud, which first protects it from the
air, (and consequent immediate decay), then gradually fills every pore of
every bone, till by the time the mud has turned to stone, the bones are
ossified. Of course the animal matter has all dissolved away by this
time. Now if this mud that filled the pores happened to be silica, (a
sandy formation), it is possible to eat the surrounding limestone away
with acids and uncover the silica formation, see, old kid?"

"Aw, that stuff makes my head ache," protested Tim. "If I see any
ossified bones lying around, or even a footprint or leaf print in the
stone, I'll know I've found a fossil. But I thought we were chasing
fire-bugs."

"The impatience of youth!" Ace playfully squelched him, from the vantage
point of his slight seniority.

"What does the Bible say," laughed the Ranger, "about truth from the
mouths of babes?" And he arose a bit stiffly,--for he had had a strenuous
time of it the past few days, and the cave damp had set his tired limbs
to aching.

For upwards of an hour they followed dark and winding passageways, (rats
and lizards and occasional colonies of bats fleeing before them),
naturally without the slightest sign of the fugitives, when they came to
another grotto, the loveliest they had yet seen. It might have been a
fairy cavern, aglitter with pure crystal. The carved prisms shone
dazzlingly in the light of the carbide lamp, and the boys stuffed their
pockets with some of the jewel-like bits that had fallen to the floor.

From this they presently entered into what seemed like a Gothic
cathedral, with a dome whose highest point must have been several hundred
feet above. The boys were fairly awed by its beauty, while the Ranger's
eyes gleamed appreciatively. On the walls were what might have been
carvings of flowers and lacework, creamy to smoke color, gypsum, Ace told
them.

"Are these fossils?" demanded Ted excitedly.

"I should say not, you poor fish!--You ichthyosaurus," laughed Ace
teasingly.

"You what?" asked the Ranger.

"That means ancient fish."

"All right," grinned Ted. "If I'm an ich----"

"Ich-thy-o-saur-us?" Radcliffe came to his rescue.

"Then you're a dinosaur," grinned Ted.

"Here, here, stop calling each other names!" commanded Radcliffe. "And
perhaps Ace will tell us about this gypsum formation."

"Thunder! Wish Norris was here! I tell you I'm no professor. But if
you're after fossils, don't you remember what he told us, that day just
before we lost the pack burro?--That in this part of California we have
rock from the Cambrian era a mile thick, and I'll bet it's full of
fossils of the fish age!"

"Well," Radcliffe briskly interposed, as they came to another turn,
"we'll never find those Mexicans unless we separate and hunt faster than
we've been doing. Are you fellows game for taking one way while I go back
to that last turn and try the left hand passageway? Of course the instant
you get wind of them, report back to me." They signified their gameness
by picking a precarious footing, (Ted first), along the slippery floor,
their candles thrust in their hat bands.

Above they came to another but a smaller forest of alabaster stalactites,
shining like icicles or mosses, some white as snow, some yellow as gold,
and some so like maple sugar in appearance that Ace actually tasted it.
In one place there was a bit of what Ace said was needle gypsum, that
hung as fine as fur.

Radcliffe, retracing his steps, (with the aid of the twine ball), till he
came to the cross roads, as it were, turned to the left and forged ahead
with his carbide lamp, treading softly as a cougar, with revolver cocked
in his right hand. Ever and anon he stopped breath-still to listen.

Passing through the same alabaster cavern that had so impressed the
Spanish boy, his eye caught the bandanna Pedro had dropped in the
left-hand passageway. With an inward exclamation, he hurried on till he
had reached the end of the blind. Stooping with his lamp, he could see
the fresh scratches their feet had made. Darting back to the turn of the
tunnel, where he had picked up the bandanna, he took the only choice left
to him, the right hand way, with all the satisfaction of a hound on the
scent. More scratches on the sandstone floor assured him that they had
really gone this way, instead of turning back the way they had come, and
presently he too was standing in the gallery of the sloping floor and
yellowed pillars, at whose far end the dripstone cataract hung, turned to
soundless stone. But of the three Mexicans and Pedro there was no trace.

"I say, when do we eat?" Ace was just beginning, when the floor suddenly
gave way beneath him, and he fell down a ten foot well, landing on all
fours, in Stygian blackness. And no sooner had his bulk padded the stone
beneath than Ted came, plunk! almost on top of him.

At the moment both were slightly stunned. Their candle flames had of
course been flicked out. Then Ted reached mechanically for his matches,
by whose flare he found his hat, and still firmly stuffed into the band,
his candles. The light disclosed a cavern with muddy walls dripping above
them, and to their right, an inky pool of water. The air was all aflutter
with the bats they had startled from their pendant slumbers, lizards
scuttled away in all directions, and a fish flopped in the pool, with a
splash that sounded out of all proportion to its exciting cause. Ted
grinned as he saw Ace first pinch himself to see if he were dreaming,
then slowly feel his joints to make sure none were seriously damaged.

The fall had rather jolted his nerves, but otherwise he was unhurt, as
was his chum. But how to return the way they had come they could not see,
for the walls were too slippery to climb, there was not a spear of
anything movable in sight on which they might gain a foothold, and when
Ted tried it from Ace's shoulders, the rim of the well was too slippery
with mud for him to gain a hand-hold.

The bats, blind from their lightless lives, bumped against them and added
the final touch of weirdness by their gnome-like faces.

With the uncanny feeling that they ought to whisper, the shaking boys
started to explore the cavern, which they found led off in three
directions. It must be on the same level they had left when they said
good-by to Radcliffe, but in their panic they were completely turned
around, and they had not explored for ten minutes before they were so
confused that they could not even have found their way back to the cavern
of the pool.

Now Ted had been lost before. He knew the panic feeling, the sudden sense
of utter and helpless isolation, the absurd fearfulness, almost the
temporary insanity of it. His scalp prickled,--as did Ace's,--and for a
little while his wits seemed befogged. Then he remembered that bed-rock
advice Long Lester had once given him. When you don't know which way to
go, sit down and don't move one step for half an hour. And try to think
out the way you got there, or some plan of campaign for finding yourself
again.

Ted had once been lost in the chaparral,--a thorny tangle of low growths
that reached higher than his head. When he first discovered he was off
the trail, he wandered about as in a mystic maze, till a shred of his own
gingham shirt, (caught on a stub of manzanita), told him he had circled.

He had had to spend the night there, but in the end he had stumbled upon
the trail again, not ten feet from where he lost it.

As Long Lester afterwards pointed out, had he but blazed his trail from
the very first step, he could at least have back-tracked. Or better, if
he had with his jack-knife made a blaze sufficiently high on some stunted
tree to have seen it and come back to it, he might have circled, and in
ever widening circles would surely, in time, have found the trail.

Or, again, he might have--had he known--at least hacked a straight course
by the stars, (always provided that he knew in which direction lay the
way out).

"Ace," he managed to steady his voice when they had been seated on a dry
ledge for some little time, "your knowledge of cave formations might help
us to find the way out of here. Gee! If this was only in the woods, or
even on some mountain side above the clouds! But it's up to you now."

"Well," Ace began, "the map of the typical cave, say like Mammoth,
wiggles around a little like a river with its tributaries, though nothing
like so regularly, with here and there a wider place, and----"

"Here and there," contributed his chum, "a well to a lower level."

"Yes. You see, the water that wears a cave out of the softer layers of
rock seeps in along the fissures of the surface rock, and at first they
make subterranean rivers. Where you find these big springs in the
hillsides, they may be the outlets of these underground waterways."

"I get that, all right," said Ted.

"Well, then, sometimes these Stygian streams----"

"Keep it up, Professor!" Ted clapped him on the shoulder.

"Huh!--These rivers wear away the soft limestone layer,--if it is this
kind of a cave,--'till they come to the harder sandstone. Then the first
chance they find to get through the sandstone,--perhaps through a crack
made by an earthquake or something,--they go down and wear away a deeper
level. Mammoth Cave is on five levels. That leaves the upper galleries
dry. Now the one we were on was dry except for the moisture that is
always seeping into a cave, but I suspect now we're on a level with the
river, it's so muddy, and we'll find it somewhere."

"Then we'll find it somewhere!" brightened Ted. "And we can follow it.
That's the plan of action!" and he jumped to his feet.

"We'll follow it if we can. Thunder! I wish we had a boat."

"So long as you're wishing, why don't you wish for a fat steak with
onions?"

"It has been some time since we ate." Ace tightened his belt. "Must be
getting late in the day! Let's run!" And run they did, till they began
slipping on a muddy slope.

They had to place each foot with care now, and their progress was slow.
At the same time their candles were nearly gone. "Now let's put out all
but one," suggested Ted. "Just burn one at a time. What _would_ we do
without any light?" But Ace did not know the answer.

What of Pedro, meantime? At that particular instant he had just tried to
make his get-away, with the result that three drawn daggers were being
flourished threateningly and most unhealthily near his heart. He had
overheard enough evidence to convict all three of the Mexicans, thanks to
his knowledge of the parent language, but as the desperadoes pushed
farther and farther into the labyrinth, he gathered that they would come
out a good safe distance from where they had entered,--probably on the
other side of the ridge. Had he known the Ranger's whereabouts at that
precise moment, he would have felt very differently.

Radcliffe, meantime, was staring into the dark recess of the cavern, but
all he could see was the two shining eyes of whatever occupant was there.
Was it bear or cougar? For both, he knew, took refuge in caves. The
largeness of the eyes inclined him to the belief that it was a California
mountain lion, and such it was part of his work to exterminate,--though
the state also hires an official lion hunter.

That the great cats are cowards he well knew. But this one was cornered,
and might prove no mean antagonist. With revolver cocked in his right
hand, his lamp in the other, he advanced toward those two shining fires.
A faint scratching along the rocky floor warned him that the animal was
gathering for a spring. He was still rather far for a revolver shot, but
he aimed straight between the eyes. His shot reverberated with a
thousand echoes. The sounds, ear-splitting in the smoke-filled
gloom,--thundered like a thousand siege guns, it seemed to Radcliffe,
stalactites tumbled about his ears like crockery, and more appalling than
all the rest was the weird, almost human scream of the wounded animal,
which likewise reëchoed for several minutes. The unwitting cause of all
this turmoil was in a cold perspiration when things finally quieted down.
But the puma, (for such it proved to be), lay dead at his feet.

The three Mexicans likewise heard the racket, for they, as it happened,
were not far away. The Ranger had very nearly trailed them. With rolling
eyes and hands that mechanically traced the sign of the cross, they
listened, while the thunders died away.

Pedro, though his nerves were more than a little shaken, was quick to
seize his opportunity. Slipping like an eel through a narrow opening
between two columns, where the dripstone had all but closed the way into
another chamber, he would have escaped observation entirely had it not
been for his betraying torch-light.

Sanchez darted after him. But remember, Sanchez was at least a hundred
pounds heavier than even well-fed Pedro. The result might have been
expected. He stuck mid-way! And there he dangled his fat legs in an
endeavor to free himself, while Pedro doubled with laughter and the other
Mexicans stared, too amazed to move.

"Pull, can't you, pull!" was Pedro's expurgated version of Sanchez's
reiterated discourse with his followers. And when no one came to his
rescue, he nearly burst a blood vessel in his helpless wrath.

Pedro, feeling safe from pursuit, with such a plug in the only approach
to his sanctuary, now for the first time disclosed his knowledge of
Mexican. Sanchez's astonishment was as huge as his attitude was
undignified, and if words could have seared, Pedro would have been well
scorched. But the boy only told him of an item he had read in the paper,
where a fat man got stuck in a cave and had to fast for three days before
his girth had diminished sufficiently that he could be extricated.

With that, Pedro bade them a fond farewell, and departed along a
labyrinthian way they could not follow. That some one was on their trail
he suspected from the revolver shot, and the fire bugs would be nicely
trapped.

Now the Ranger reasoned that the lion's den would not be far from the
outer world, and in that he was right, as he proved by following it to
its end. The last lap of the way he had to wriggle along on hands and
knees, but he could see the glow of the setting sun in a circle of light
at the end, and in a very few minutes he had poked his head and shoulders
beneath an overhanging bowlder on a rock ledge. It was the Southern slope
of the spur, and after a little reconnoitering he discovered that it was
the self-same spur on which fire-fighting headquarters had been
established. The cave, then, pierced clear through the ridge, and he had
been exactly all day in following its windings.

Hiking wearily up the slope to the ridge, he could see the glow of the
cook-fire perhaps a mile away, while down in the canyon on the other side
the fire still glowed in red embers where it continued to devour the
blackened tree trunks, though it was under far better control than it had
been the day before.

Rosa's solicitude at his haggard face and tattered, mud stained clothing
restored him wonderfully. (After all, there were compensations in the
scheme of things.)

"We were just about to start a search party in there," said Norris. "I
would have before, if it hadn't been for the fire. But where are the
boys?" He paled in alarm.

"I don't know," Radcliffe dragged from white lips.

"Oh!" gasped Rosa, her eyes filling with tears which she promptly hid by
turning her back.

Without a word Long Lester gathered up the paraphernalia the Ranger now
saw he had stacked and ready on the ground, and fitted it into a
back-pack. There was food, rope, and candles, another tube of carbide for
Radcliffe's lamp, a box of matches in a tight lidded tin, and even a
short length of rustic ladder made for the occasion.

Norris shouldered part of it as by previous agreement.

Radcliffe explained the diagram he tore from his note-book, marking a
black cross at the point where he had left the boys.

"I dunno," said the old prospector, "but what we might as well go in one
way as another. I reckon we can folly this yere map backwards as well as
forrud, and we'll just hike down and go in the way you kem out."

"That's a go," agreed Norris, striding after him.

"Oh," yelled the Ranger after them. "Come back! I'll deputize you both.
Here, Norris," and he gave the younger man his revolver and cartridge
belt, with his official pronouncement.

"I swan!" said Long Lester. "Here I were a-thinkin' so much about them
boys I clean forgot the Mexicans," and he slung his rifle atop his pack.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SNOW-SLIDE


"I'm glad they got in a few hours' sleep this noon," solicitized Rosa,
placing homemade bread and coffee before the Ranger, then dipping up a
bowl of soup. She looked fagged to death herself, and Radcliffe made her
promise to roll up in a blanket on a browse bed.

"Oh, if only it would rain!" she sighed, "and put out the fire!"

"Sure wish it would!" he agreed. "Haven't had such a big one in years."

"The DeHaviland was back with more supplies," one of the men reported.

"It sure takes tons of grub to keep these firemen stoked," sighed Rosa
drowsily from her blankets. "But they work like lumbermen, and I'd give
every last man here a medal if I could."

Norris and Long Lester skirted the South slope its whole length without
finding the cave mouth from which Norris had exited. But by now it was
dark, and the task doubly difficult. "If it wasn't for them boys being
most likely just plumb panicky from being lost," said the old man, "I'd
call it sense to camp for the night. Once it's sun-up, we'll find the
place easy enough."

But Norris was too uneasy to leave any stone unturned. What might not
have happened in the hours since he had last seen his charges! His
imagination, given free rein, pictured everything from murder to raving
mania.

As they neared the head of the gulch, they could see, on the side of the
main ridge that towered above them, patches of snow that gleamed white in
the star-light. The canyon here headed sharply to the left.

The side they were on, the short side of the turn, was becoming
impassable with rough bowlders and tangling underbrush.

Of a sudden a low rumbling sounded faintly from seemingly beneath their
feet. The ground wavered dizzily. Trees swayed, rocks started rolling
down the canyon side, and the very bowlder they were on tilted till they
had to make a quick leap for it. It was just one of the slight
earthquake shocks to which all Californians are accustomed. But never
before had either Norris or Long Lester been on such dangerous footing
when one happened.

Quick as thought, the old man went leaping up over the bowlders, yelling
frantically to Norris to follow him. The geologist knew in a theoretical
way what to do when a snow-slide threatened, and with that lightning
speed with which our minds work in an emergency he had seen that the
shock of the 'quake would precipitate snow-slides, and that they were
directly in the path of one.

He knew theoretically,--as the old prospector knew from observation of
several tragedies,--that the river of snow and rock-slide would flood
down canyon till it came to a turn, then hurtle off in fine spray--on the
side of the curve! (It all happened in an instant.) Their one salvation
lay in taking the _short_ side of the curve,--though the going was
rougher.

With the roar of an express train,--whose speed it emulated,--the
oncoming slide tore down at them. Down 3,000 feet of canyon the crusted
snows of what was still spring at that altitude rushed like a river at
flood. The wind of its coming swayed tall trees.

The two men escaped by the skin of their teeth!

"It shore would'a scrambled us up somethin' turrible!" the old man kept
exclaiming.

Next day, he knew, they would find a clean swath cut down the
mountainside,--tall pines swept away, root and branch. He had seen many
of these scars, which in later years had become a garden of fire-weed and
wild onion, a paradise for birds and squirrels and onion loving bears.

He had seen steep mountains fairly striped by the paths of slides, the
forest still growing between stripes. For the steeper the slope, the
swifter the slide, as might be expected.

Lucky for them this had been a Southwest slope; for on the North, away
from the sun, a slide is even swifter!

He had seen one man buried by crossing the head of a slide which gave way
under his foot. Its roar had been heard for miles. Frost-cracked from the
solid granite, the side rock that accompanied it had been weathered from
the peak. Thus are high mountains worn away.

For perhaps an hour after the near-catastrophe, the air was filled with
blinding snow,--not that from the skies, but that of the snow dust raised
by the slide.

The circle of the rising moon threw a silver glamor over the scene. "What
do you figure makes these 'quakes, anyway?" asked Long Lester.

"The boys have asked that too, and I can't give it to you all in a
breath. But I'll give you the story before we end this trip."

At the moment of the earthquake, Ace and Ted, immured on a lower level of
the cave, were following a subterranean river. They got well splashed by
the waves set up, and worse scared, but it was all over in a minute and
they were only a degree more uncomfortably damp than they had been
before. Suddenly Ted gave an exclamation. A crag of drip-rock had been
shaken from the roof, and there, imbedded in the limestone, lay the plain
footprint of--it might have been a giant!

The boys stared, marveling a moment, then Ted voiced his guess. The
fossil of some giant of prehistoric ages! "A fossil, all right," Ace
agreed. "But that isn't a human footprint, even if there had been men
that size. That was made by some animal! If we ever get out of here,
let's bring Norris and come back with picks and find out."

"Then I can quarry this fossil out and sell it?" ventured Ted.

"Right-o!" with a congratulatory slap that made Ted wince.

But the inky stream had once more become placid, and skirting the muddy
ledge alongside, they threaded their way through arches of varying height
till finally the roof was so low that they had to go on hands and knees.
Then the bank became so narrow that Ace slipped off into the unknown
depths. To his surprise, his feet touched bottom. Moreover, the water
was not so cold as he had imagined. (It was about the same temperature as
the air).

"Come on in, the water's fine!" he encouraged Ted. "Do you know, we could
swim this if we had to, and don't you think it must lead out?"

"Stands to reason. But how about our candles?"

"Hold 'em in your teeth. Haven't you ever seen any one smoke a cigarette
when he was in swimming? It's a stunt, but----"

"Ever tried it?"

"Sure. Have you?"

"No." And the deepening water soon proved that he could not keep his
candle going. But Ace managed it for a few strokes. Then they had to swim
in darkness. An increasing roar told them that they were nearing white
water, possibly the outlet, and just as the current from a branch stream
would have caught them, they felt an overhanging ledge and scrambled up
on it, Ace lending a hand to his less proficient chum.

From the far end of the tunnel shone a faint glow, as through a sheet of
water! They had reached a cave mouth.

Creeping cautiously along the ledge, they approached the light. From its
pallor and from the roaring of the rapids they at first thought they were
behind a waterfall. But a closer approach showed them that it shone
through leaves of plants that grew just outside, where they over-arched
the escaping stream (gooseberries, they later found, and other vines
that completely hid the exit of the stream).

It was a ticklish proposition getting out along the rock ledge, which
narrowed to a mere rough crack into which they could dig the sides of
their soles. But by holding hands and clinging with all their might,
while they propitiated the law of gravity by leaning their weight against
the wall, they slowly scaled a way above the churning stream, and so to
where they could cling to the thorny bushes.

It was night. The light had been the moon shining straight into the cave
mouth. But where they were, on what side of the ridge, they could not
tell.

They were safe, though! Saved from the blind horror of being lost in the
cave! But wet and chilled to the marrow now in the night wind that blew
down canyon, famished, footsore, and aching for sleep. Still how
wonderfully fresh and perfumed everything smelled after the cave.

"Got any matches in your waterproof match box?" asked Ted with chattering
teeth, throwing himself flat on the up side of a rock that would keep him
from rolling. "Why, this is funny!" for there was no sign of the stream a
few yards beyond the cave mouth. They were at the head of some former
rock slide, and the stream simply disappeared, percolating underneath it
to its destination, (wherever that might be).

But an exclamation from Ace caused him to look in the direction of his
pointing arm. In the canyon below them a bon-fire burst into bloom. "The
folks?" cried Ace joyously.

"Maybe the Mexicans," Ted restrained him.

"Let's slip up on them and find out," urged the other. "Thunder! Wouldn't
it be great if it was our bunch?"

"All the same, we gotta act just as if it was the Mexicans, till we know
for sure."

"They've sure got a good fire," Ace shivered. "Let's hurry."

"All right, maybe it's Radcliffe come clear through the cave on a higher
level, and maybe he's got the Mexicans."

"And Pedro?"

"And Pedro!"

"Sure, who else could it be?" they cheered each other.

But it was neither.



CHAPTER IX

TED'S FOSSIL DINOSAUR


An hour later two famished and exhausted boys were peering at the huge
bon-fire by which Norris and Long Lester had decided to camp till dawn.

"Wal, durn yer hide, I'm that glad to see you I've a notion to wallop
you," the old guide welcomed them. "But I'm not a-goin' to ask you a
single word till you've et," and he proceeded to build up a brighter
fire. "Peel off them duds, and roll up here in our blankets whilst we dry
things for you."

The bedraggled boys allowed Norris to help them out of their heavy,
water-soaked clothing, for their hike down the mountainside in the night
wind had fairly stiffened their joints. First Long Lester administered a
quart apiece of scalding tea, then insisted that, fagged as they were,
they bathe their feet. "A camper is as good as his feet," and Pedro had
yet to be located.

It was decided that, as they were all of them worn out, and Pedro,
wherever he was, would likely sleep himself when night came, they would
wait till dawn to search for him and the Mexicans. While it was a
question as to whether they were still in the cave, it seemed best to
search there first.

At the moment of the earthquake, Pedro had been crawling through a narrow
passageway, bed of some former watercourse, whose walls dripped black in
the glow of his dying torch. Then came a crash before him!--A chunk of
rock had fallen from the roof into the passageway. When the alarming
swaying motion and the thunder of the bowlder's fall had subsided, and he
had relighted the torch, (which had been extinguished), he found his
forward progress effectually blocked. Behind were the Mexicans,--Sanchez
possibly still plugging the opening into the passageway. He was a
prisoner! He was entombed!

At first, utter panic possessed him. In like situation, those of weak,
nervous timbre have been known to go insane. Then he got a grip on
himself and reasoned that Norris and the rest would not leave him to his
fate. They would never give him up till they had searched the cave
thoroughly, and had he not left his bandanna at one turn, his
handkerchief at another, and the end of a freshly charred torch at a
third? Besides, (he smiled grimly), if his own party did not find him,
the Mexicans might. Or if they captured the Mexicans, they would wring
from them a confession of his near whereabouts. (This time he laughed
outright at thought of Sanchez the Stout still dangling his helpless legs
when the Ranger found him. The sound echoed and reëchoed weirdly.)

This experience had done much for Pedro's untried courage. For after all,
is it not the unknown that terrifies us rather than the actual calamity
to be faced? Another thing that helped the Spanish boy to be reasonably
philosophical,--probably the biggest factor, after all,--was Nature's
medicine, his extreme physical fatigue. Thrusting his hat through a
narrow crevice so that it would be seen and recognized by any one coming
that way, he stretched himself out flat on his back on a bit of smooth,
dry rock, thriftily extinguished the remaining bit of torch, and was
instantly asleep.

He awoke, he knew not how much later,--but he felt refreshed,--to hear
the sound of voices echoing and reëchoing faintly, far down the
passageway. Fumbling frantically for a match, he yelled for help with all
the power of his trained voice. (And the sound echoed back and forth.) At
first Norris and the boys could not tell from which direction it came.
Then Long Lester, who was in advance, saw the hat, and it but remained to
remove the bowlder.

Now it was that they had use for their ingenuity, for their combined
efforts did not suffice to budge the fallen rock. The cavern in which
Pedro had become immured was off a lateral passageway leading,--if he had
taken the turn to the right instead of the one to the left,--to the very
cave mouth by which the rescue party had reëntered; for Long Lester had
found, not far from the waterway through which the two boys had
come,--but on a higher level,--some scratches on the rocks and a heel
print in the scanty soil that told the old mountaineer as plain as words
that that was the way Radcliffe had come. Every heel in the party was
different, one having Hungarian hob-nails set in a semi-circle, another a
solid design in the same nails, a third the larger hobs, a fourth none.
He knew the differences in size and the ones that were worn deeper on the
inside of the foot. To him a footprint was as good as a signature, and
better, for like an Indian, a "hill billy" can often read how fast you
were going from a group of two or three footprints, how tired you were,
and much besides. This knowledge had served them in good stead. He now
hurried back to the cave mouth with Ace, found a down log that would
serve as a lever, and they pried away the bowlder that kept Pedro a
prisoner.

Sign of the Mexicans they could not find, save that Sanchez had been
removed from the crevice of the stalactites, (at least he was no longer
there), but whether he had had to fast or not, they could not tell. The
Mexicans evidently knew the cave and they had been near the southern end
of it. Though Long Lester could find no trace of their footprints at
either of the exits they knew, there were doubtless others, and it seemed
the wisest course now to look for them outside. For the boys were still
unwilling to give up the chase.

Reporting back to Radcliffe, they learned, to their amazement, that the
pack burros the Mexicans had left near the northern cave mouth had
disappeared, but where, they could not tell from any sign left on the
charred ground outside.

The Ranger would start a search for them in the DeHaviland, once the fire
was under better control. The Forest Service finds its air service as
useful in keeping track of law breakers as of fires. It would be an
extraordinary thing if the careless camper should escape detection, for
the air men can spy them out as easily as anything. But the fire still
ate angrily through the timber, and would spread in all directions if
left to itself. Fire fighting is sometimes a matter of weeks.

It was a dry summer, and all up and down the Sierras, the Rangers were
kept busy fighting the fires that would break out from one cause or
another. The Service 'planes were all busy.

The five campers were back at fire-fighting headquarters,--and Norris
too,--when Ace had an idea. He and Ted would go in search of the Mexicans
in his little Spanish 'plane. Would Radcliffe let them off the
fire-fighting? He would, though he could not give official sanction to
their plan. It was enough. The two boys were off before he could change
his mind,--to Norris's slight uneasiness and Pedro's envy. (But Pedro was
subject to altitude sickness.)

Sometime, Norris had promised Ted, they would go back into the cave and
look for his fossil. But that could wait.

All that afternoon the two boys curveted over the surrounding
scenery,--careful to keep their distance from the whirlwind of
fire-heated air, for they were flying low. The most minute search failed
to reveal the fire setters, but Ace only set his jaw the more
determinedly.

They returned to sleep twelve hours at a stretch. Aviation is the best
cure yet for insomnia, and neither Ace nor Ted had ever been troubled
with that malady. The next day they flew farther, carrying with them an
emergency camp kit. They landed about every two hours, rested awhile, and
finally went into camp about four in the afternoon, intending to take a
look in the night to see if the fugitives would betray themselves by a
bon-fire. They camped in a meadow where they had seen something like
smoke arising. This proved to be steam from a hot spring, and they
thought with longing how fine their chilled bones would feel in a good
hot bath. But the spring water came too hot. (If they had had eggs, they
could have cooked them in it.)

Then it occurred to them to dig a little trench, line it with stones, and
carry the spring water by the folding canvas pailful to fill it. It would
quickly cool to the right temperature. The scheme worked wonderfully.

The water had a strong mineral taste, not altogether agreeable, but its
effect on aching bones was wonderful. A flint arrowhead buried in the
soil they excavated told its tale of Indians, who must have valued the
spring and fought for its possession against covetous tribes.

"What makes these hot springs, anyway?" asked Ted. "Have you had that yet
in your geology?"

"Yes, but you'll understand better when Norris tells us the story he's
promised about the formation of the earth. I'm no professor." And he
turned a former laugh on Ted. "Tell you what, Old Top, once we get these
fire bugs located for our Uncle Sammy, what say we fly up and have a look
at Lassen volcano before I send the 'plane back?"

"Bully! I'd like to fly over a glacier, too, and see what it looks like.
Can you go that high?"

"I--guess so. Never tried it! We will, though!"

"Gee! Wouldn't this be a great way to teach geography--from an aeroplane!"

"Sure would!--Great way to go camping, too."

"'S right, only--it would be if there was just the two of us," sighed
Ted ungrammatically. "Could you carry enough grub?"

"We could get fresh supplies every few days, from some ranch."

The next day they went back for the rest of the party and showed them
Ted's fossil, entering the cave the way Radcliffe had left it. Norris had
spent one summer with fossil hunters in the dry gullies of the Southern
end of California, he told them, where through scorching days and thirsty
nights they had searched for any bit of bone that might lie amid the
shale or imbedded in strata the edges of which might be seen on the face
of a sun-baked bluff. The summer before, a group of geology men from a
rival University had actually camped within a hundred yards of what was
later discovered to be a deposit of rare fossils. It was therefore with
heightened satisfaction that their reconnaissance had resulted in the
discovery and excavation, bone by bone, of the complete skeleton of
several most interesting prehistoric monsters that had lain all these
ages embedded in the shale.

One bone four feet long, he told them, and weighing several hundred
pounds, had been found in fragments in the shale, but it had been fitted
together again, done up in plaster bandages and braced with splints,
quite as a surgeon treats a broken leg. Another, found embedded in solid
rock, had to be shipped in the rock, each piece being numbered as it was
removed from the cliff as an aid to fitting it together again. Then with
hammer and chisel the delicate feat of cutting away the rock and leaving
the bone exposed was slowly and painstakingly accomplished. Thus have the
bones buried before ever man trod the earth been made to tell their
story. Often it takes more than a single specimen to reconstruct for the
scientist the whole of the creature, but relics of fully thirty
Triceratops have been discovered in different parts of the world, and
where one skull has a broken nose, another shows it intact, and so on
through its entire anatomy.

Its habits may in part be reasoned out, as for instance, if its hind legs
are disproportionately long, it likely walked erect at least sometimes.

"That, as it happens, was not the case with Triceratops," he added.
"There was only a slight difference between his fore and hind legs.
Triceratops had teeth made for browsing, not for rending flesh; his
single claw, round and blunt, does not indicate any pugnacious tendency
on his part, and the solidity of his bones are found to-day in either a
very sluggish animal or a partially aquatic one. The shape and rapid
taper of the tail vertebræ indicates a rather short tail, round rather
than flat,--ill adapted for swimming,--and so following through the list,
till we have a Triceratops elephantine in general build, though more like
a rhinoceros in face with a horn over his nose and two over his eyes, a
horn-supported neck ruff, and a generally sluggish mode of life.

"In the coal fields complete imprints of Ichthyosauria have been found,
doubtless due to the carbonization of the animal matter. And impressions
have been left in stone of the very feathers worn by some of the now
fossilized creatures."

It was by comparison of fossil remains that the well known evolution of
the horse from a little fellow the size of a fox was learned. Ted often
thought of that three-toed Miocene horse, and the giant monsters of his
time,--of the upthrust of the Rocky Mountains, cutting off the moist sea
breeze from the marshy country to the Eastward and making desert of it.
This made life too hard for the heavy, slow-witted creatures, and they
failed to survive the change. But the nimble footed little horse trotted
long distances with ease, to find food and water.

Norris convulsed them by describing the creature on which he declared the
aeroplane was modeled,--the pteranodon, that giant lizard, largest of
flying creatures even in Mesozoic age, whose bat-like wings reached 20
feet from tip to tip,--as the fossil skeletons plainly prove.

This interesting specimen was a link in the chain between the birds of
to-day and their ancestral archeopteryx, no larger than a crow whose
front legs metamorphosed to short wings, whose skeletons have been found
perfectly preserved in the limestone.

Ted was frantic for fear they would not find the place again, then could
hardly wait to hear the Geological Survey man's pronouncement on his
find. Norris chipped and chipped, with knife and hammer, till he had
uncovered the impress of a great, membranous wing.

It was a fossil dinosaur,--a pterodactyl!

Ted's college education was secure!



CHAPTER X

HOW THE EARTH WAS MADE


Ted's fossil would have to wait to be exhumed. In fact, Norris told him,
he could sell it as it stood, and let the purchaser do the work. Then it
occurred to him to wonder if Ted would not have first to take up a
claim,--for it was Government land. Anyway, he would see to it that the
boy was rewarded for his find.

The fire now being extinguished, Radcliffe had flown to other battle
lines, first taking Rosa--as she insisted--back to her fire outlook. The
plan was for the two boys to keep on hunting for the Mexicans, (as the
harried Ranger now counted on their doing), joining the rest of the
camping party every night, at points they would agree upon. But first,
Ace had made a flight to Fresno for supplies and to start his pilot home
by train. He then carried them one at a time to where the burros had been
left,--and where the lazy rascals still browsed on the rich mountain
meadows.

For a day or two, all the boys could talk, think or dream about was the
adventures they had just been through. But at last they had relieved
their minds to some extent, and one evening around the fire, Norris gave
them his long promised explanation of some of the natural wonders they
had seen.

"I have already told you," began Norris, "how the earth probably
originated. That much the astronomer has given us. And before the
geologist can begin to interpret the evolution of our earth, he has to
know what scientists have established in the fields of chemistry,
mechanics and geodesy,--the study of the curvature and elevation of the
earth's surface. He then proceeds to theorize, hand in hand with the
paleontologist, or student of ancient life. The newest theory is in line
with what I learned in 1917 at Yale."

"It's all theory, then?" asked Ted.

"Just as all sciences are, to some extent. Did I tell you that when our
planetary system was disrupted from the sun, it was less than a hundredth
part of the parent body? And our earth is a good deal less than a
millionth of the size of our sun, and our sun is among the smaller of the
stars of the firmament."

"Phew!" whistled Long Lester, round eyed, while Ted and Pedro sat
motionless.

"Picture the earth and moon, revolving about the sun, gathering by force
of their own gravity-pull the tiny planetesimals nearest them, these
bodies hurling themselves into the earth mass at the rate of perhaps ten
miles a second!----"

"It shore must have het things up some," said Long Lester.

"It did! Literally melted the rocks. On top of that, this original earth
mass, composed of molten rock and gases and water vapor, was condensing.
Probably by the time it had engulfed all the stray planetesimals it
could, it was anywhere from 200 to 400 times as large as it is now. It
has been shrinking ever since."

"Is it still shrinking?" gasped the old prospector.

"Sure thing! But not so fast that you will ever know the difference in
_your_ lifetime. It only shrinks at times; then the earth's surface
wrinkles into mountain ranges."

"How many times has that been, sixteen?" suggested Ace.

"We'll come to that. As I was going to say, while the earth was so hot,
it kept boiling, as it were, inside, and the molten matter kept breaking
through the cold outer shell in volcanoes, as the heat rose to the
surface."

"Thet sure must have been hell," laughed the old man.

"As the cold crust was churned into the hot interior, of course it melted
and expanded, and that caused more volcanoes, and so on in a vicious
circle, till finally, by the end of the Formative Era, so called, the
rock that contained more heavy minerals sank to the lower levels, while
the lighter ones rose as granite."

"Gee!" said Ted, "I'd have called granite heavy."

"Not so heavy as the specimens of basic rock we'll find. Well, in this
Formative Era our atmosphere, and the hydrosphere or oceanic areas were
being formed, along with the granite continents. But while we are on the
subject, I hope you boys will some day see The Valley of Ten Thousand
Smokes, in Alaska, where the earth is still boiling so close to the
surface that you have to watch your step or you'll break through into----"

"The Hot Place?" laughed Pedro.

"Literally, yes."

"Oh, tell us about that!"

"Some time!--The interior of the earth is still hot, but the rock crust
allows very little of it to rise to the surface. After the Formative Era
came the Archeozoic Era, when life began in the form of amoebas or some
simple form of protoplasm. For with the formation of the gases of the
earth mass into an envelope of air, to moderate the sun's warmth by day
and retain some of it by night,--life became possible."

"But where did those first creatures come from?" Ted could not restrain
himself from asking.

"According to one theory, the first germs of life flew here from some
other planet, and not necessarily one of those revolving around our own
sun, for space is full of suns and planetary systems. But that theory can
neither be proved nor disproved. When I was a student, Osborn's theory
was the latest. That was in 1916. Without going into it too deeply, it
had to do with the electric energy of the chemical elements that compose
protoplasm, and these always had been latent in the earth mass."

"Then they must have been latent in the sun, too," marveled Ted. "And in
other suns and their planets too."

"Very likely," assented the Geological Survey man. "Now of course the
ocean waters collected in the depressed areas over the heavier rock
bottoms, the basalt. You remember just after we lost the burro we were on
a basalt formation----"

"Then that was formerly a part of the ocean floor?" asked Ted.

"Either that or volcanic lava."

"But how did it----"

"Just a minute. Of course land masses have gone down as well as up, but
the general trend has been decidedly upward, while the trend of the ocean
floor has been downward. At that, the shell of the earth--so to speak--is
only about 150 miles thick or a fiftieth of the earth's present diameter."

"Then I should think the oceans would be growing deeper," ventured Pedro.

"Right again. When this earth reaches its old age,--speaking in terms of
centuries,--it will likely be all ocean. And there used to be far more
land, in proportion, than there is now. There was less ocean water then
because of all that is continually pouring through hot springs.

"Of course the land is slowly being washed back into the ocean. And the
higher the mountains, the steeper the stream beds, and hence the faster
the streams, and the faster they erode the high elevations, till finally
all is reduced to sea level again."

"Then how do the mountains get rebuilt?" Pedro testified his interest.

"The earth has, as I think I said before, shrunk between 200 and 400
miles in diameter,--since the beginning,--'when the earth was unformed
and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.' It is still
shrinking. And this internal movement is felt on the surface in
differences that generally amount to only a few hundred feet. I can show
you places over there on the East wall of the Sierras where the mountains
have been upthrust that way.

"Then, every now and again, the interior activities fairly break the
rocky earth shell or lithosphere, and whole mountain ranges are raised.
There have been at least eight such minor breaks in the earth crust in
North America alone, and each time ranges perhaps a thousand miles long,
or more, have been raised near one end of the continent or the other. In
addition, there have been major readjustments that thrust whole
continents higher and ocean beds lower. Geologists find evidence of at
least six of these major breaks in the earth crust,--marking the
beginnings of the Archeozoic Era, when _life_ originated, the Proterozoic
Era, or age of _invertebrates_, the Paleozoic Era or age of _fish_
dominance, the Mesozoic Era or age of _reptile_ dominance, the Cenozoic
Era or age of _mammal_ dominance, and the present Psychozoic Era or age
of _man_."

"Phew!" whistled Long Lester again. "Don't tell me this earth used to be
all fish."

"It did, though. We'll go into that some other time. I'll just finish
about continent building now, and then we'll turn in. At these times
when the lands are at their highest and the oceans are smallest in
breadth, (because greatest in depth), the continents are united by
land-bridges such as those we have now uniting North and South America."

"And Alaska and Asia?" suggested Ted.

"Practically, yes. And probably, at one time, South America and
Australia. These land-bridges changed the direction of the ocean
streams. You know in the age of reptiles there was nothing to divide the
Atlantic from the Pacific. Added to that, the high mountain ranges took
the moisture out of the winds from the oceans, as the Rockies now do the
Pacific trade winds, so that by the time they reach Nevada there is no
moisture left in them to form clouds and fall in rain, and we have desert.

"Of course the animals that lived on the earth in its flatter, more
temperate stage now have to adapt themselves to life on high, cold
elevations, or in dry, hot desert areas, or to migrate via the
land-bridges to more favorable climates. Those unable to do this perished.

"For instance, take the age of reptile dominance, (the Mesozoic Era),
which was in turn divided into four periods, those of dinosaurs, (the
Triassic period, a rock from which I showed you, if you remember), the
Jurassic period, which gave rise to flying reptiles, from which our first
birds were derived; the Comanchean period, which gave rise to flowering
plants and the higher insects, and the Cretaceous period, when our most
primitive mammal forms evolved.

"At first the earth was peopled with dinosaurs and flying dragons, and
the seas by squid-like mollusks. In those days all the earth was level,
swampy, tropic and overgrown with giant tree ferns and a primitive
conifer.

"As the high mountain ranges arose and deserts were made, these forms
gradually gave way to flowers and hardwood forests, peopled with insects
and mammals. Only the most intelligent forms survived, and the struggle
itself developed a higher degree of intelligence."

"What in tarnation were _dinosaurs_?" asked Long Lester.

"Oh, haven't you ever seen pictures of them?" laughed Ace. "Picture a
giant lizard, perhaps 40 feet long----"

"Here, here," protested the old man. "I don't bite."

"It is perfectly true," said Norris soberly.

"Honest Injun!" vowed Ace. "One of these fellows was a sort of cross
between a crocodile and a kangaroo, what with his long hind legs that he
could walk half erect on. There were some as small as eight or ten
inches, too, and some so large that you wouldn't have come to his knee.
His big toe was as long as your arm."

"And how do you know all that?" protested the old prospector feebly.

"By their bones,--fossils. Why, there have been fossil bones of a
dinosaur found right in the Connecticut Valley! There was one found a
hundred years ago in Oxford, England. We have heaps of fossils of them
out West here. In fact, this part of the world used to be their stamping
ground, though fossils of them have been found as far away as New
Zealand."

"Did they eat people?" gasped Lester.

"There weren't any people in those days to eat, but some of them preyed
on other animals, and some browsed on the herbage of the swamps. They
didn't have much of any brains, the Triceratops, dinosaurs twice as heavy
as elephants, that looked like horned toads, didn't have two pounds of
brains apiece, or so we infer from the size of their skulls. They knew
just about enough to eat when they were hungry, and not enough to migrate
when things got unlivable for them, and so they perished off the face of
the earth."

"I'm shore glad of that," the old man heaved a sigh of relief. "I'd shore
hate to 've met up with one of them fellows."

"And next time I want to cast aspersions on any one's intelligence,"
shouted Pedro, "I'm going to call him a--what was it?"

"_Triceratops_," said Norris. "Some dinosaurs,--in fact, most of
them,--lived in the swamps, and had long, snakelike necks and flat,
apparently earless heads, and long tails. But Triceratops had a
three-horned face, one horn over each eye to protect it in battle and one
over the nose. Of course he was the largest animal of his time, but he
probably fought rival swains for his lady love. We have a pair of
Triceratops horns in the National Museum. One is broken, and it must have
been broken during life, for the stump is healed over. There were many
other kinds of dinosaurs. If we come to any fossil remains, I'll tell you
more about them. But," (stifling a yawn), "I guess you fellows have had
about all you can stand for to-night."

The boys protested to the contrary, but Norris promised the rest of the
story their next evening together around a bon-fire.

In the middle of the night the boys were awakened by a terrific racket.
Long Lester was yelling for all he was worth. Every one started wide
awake, and Norris threw a handful of browse on the fire to light the
scene. Then the old man managed to articulate: "Gosh A'mighty!--I sure
thought the Dinosaurs were arter me!"

"You've been dreaming," Norris laughed, while the boys fairly rolled over
one another in their enjoyment.

Ace and Ted now made two flights daily in search of the Mexicans, or the
smoke of their cook-fire.

Next day they came to a canyon that filled the Geological Survey man with
profound enthusiasm, for, he said, it illustrated both the last glacial
period and the last period of volcanic mountain building. First they
noted that the little mountain stream had worn its torrential way through
the basalt or volcanic rock in a narrow canyon perhaps 200 feet deep. A
flow of molten basalt, accompanied by cinders, had been erupted from the
8,000-foot peak at the upper end of the canyon, and had flowed down in a
layer 200 feet thick when it hardened. It had flowed,--as the underlying
rock still showed in places,--over a lateral moraine or rock débris left
by a glacier as it flowed down that way. And from the weathered condition
of this rock débris, Norris said, it must have been a glacier, not of
the last ice age, but of the one preceding,--for of the four glacier
periods generally recognized by geologists to-day, evidences of the last
two can be seen in the Sierras.

What made this little canyon even more of a find, (from the point of
view of what he wanted to show the boys), was that on top of the volcanic
rock lay the deposit from another glacier, one that flowed in the last
ice age, as the condition of the rock débris plainly showed the expert.

The boys tucked a few rock specimens into their packs and launched an
avalanche of questions. But he made them wait till they had established
all snug for the night beside a stretch of rapids, where they could look
forward to catching trout for breakfast. Then, lighting his pipe, and
stretching his feet to the bon-fire,--for the night wind swept cool upon
them,--Norris began with Ted's question as to glaciers and volcanoes.

"During the times I spoke of last night, when the earth crust is
breaking, the molten rock and gases and water vapor in the interior of
the planet rise in the hearts of the mountain ranges, and often break
through as active volcanoes, pouring their lava and ash over the
underlying granite, and building it still higher.

"These heightened mountain ranges bring about the glacial climates. For
the snows on their cold peaks do not melt when summer comes, and
consequently they accumulate, and accumulate, till their own weight
presses them down as hard as ice,--that is, makes glaciers of them. I am
going to be on the look-out for a glacier, for you will have a good
chance to see them in this region. At the same time, during these glacial
periods, the astronomer could explain how it is that the temperature is
from ten to twenty degrees colder in both winter and summer than it is
now, so that helps the ice to accumulate. Then the glacier, flowing
slowly, slowly, (a river of ice), down the mountainsides, carries with it
quantities of the underlying rocks, till it reaches a lower level where
the ice melts and it becomes a river and carries those rocks and soil to
the sea. That way, the mountains are gradually worn down to sea level and
the whole cycle is ready to start over again."

"I see," said the ranch boy. "How long ago did you say the last glacier
period came?"

"Probably not since the time of the first men,--perhaps 30,000 years ago."

"And those glacial deposits you showed us to-day are 30,000 years old?"
the boy breathed.

"Yes, and the deposits from the glacial period before that are older
still,--a souvenir from the age of reptile dominance."

"Then when did the other ice ages come? Did you say there were five?"

"I did, but only four great ones. There were two away back in the age of
invertebrates."

"Then has the climate been the same since the last ice age?"

"Not at all. The change is gradual, and geologists naturally conclude
that some time we will have another ice age. We'll hope man has found a
better way to keep warm by that time. Our climate, with all its ups and
downs, is little by little, through the centuries, growing colder!"

"And how do you know about all these ups and downs of climate?"
challenged Long Lester.

"Why, for one thing,--we don't have to read it all from the rocks,--there
is a plain story in the rings of growth in the Big Trees. Don't you
remember those cut stumps, and the thousands of rings we counted, one for
a year? And some were wider than others, because in those years there had
been more rainfall."

"Well, I never!" was all the old prospector could articulate, as all
hands once more called it a day.

Next day Ace searched in concentric circles, but without finding a trace
of Mexicans, or, indeed, of any one.

The next night found the little party encamped an eight hours' hike up
the side of another glacial-polished slope. The trail,--that is to say
the way they picked to go,--led first to the upper end of the canyon and
over the rocks that bordered a green-white waterfall. The wind blowing
the spray in first one direction and then another, they got well wetted,
though the clear California sunshine soon dried them again. But the most
curious part of their climb past the falls was the rainbow that persisted
in following them till they seemed to be at the hub of a huge semi-circle
of opalescent tints.

Above, (perhaps eight hundred feet higher than their camp at the hot
spring), they came to where the river slid green and transparent over
granite slopes just bordered by a fringe of pine. The water ran deep and
swift, though, and as Ted stooped to drink, he found that, rhythmically,
a larger swell, (call it a wave), would slap him in the face, till once,
blinded by the unexpected onslaught, he all but lost his balance. It
would have been inevitable, had he done so, that he should almost
instantly go hurtling over that eight hundred foot drop, whose waters
roared till the boys had to shout at each other to be heard even a few
paces away. But the water was deliciously icy, from its fountain-head in
the glacier above.

Wide slopes just steep enough to make climbing demand considerable
sure-footedness widened this hanging valley on either side, with no
greenery save the picturesque bits that grew along the weathered cracks.
Beyond this, the canyon walls continued to rise abruptly.

Trailing along beside the river till it had widened out and quieted its
song, they found one of the typically open, parklike, forests of silver
firs, jeweled with occasional emerald meadows fragrant with purple lupin
and gay with crimson columbine and golden buttercups. Under foot were
white violets and wee, monkey-faced mimulus, with occasionally a rare
scarlet monkey-flower.

They passed one of the tributaries of the river, crossed it on a log, and
paused to drink deep of its sweet fluid. They found a huge fallen log
with a mushroom growth that Pedro pronounced edible and which they found
not unlike cooked crab meat. They crossed other brooklets, paused at noon
to eat a dry lunch, and to their amazement spied a doe and her half-grown
fawn in the edge of the clearing watching them wistfully as they threw
their scraps away. Pedro, approaching softly, and casting peace offerings
before him, was able to approach to within several paces of the mother,
though her young hopeful was less trustful. Having probably never seen a
biped before, both animals were consumed with curiosity and comparatively
unafraid. The old prospector suggested with a wink that a little "wild
mutton" would not go amiss, the game laws being adaptable to the needs of
those in extremity, but Norris reminded him that they were no longer in
extremity, and the boys voted unanimously not to betray the trust of this
wild mother.

Now came a stiff climb around a rocky shoulder of the mountain, and along
the cracks of the smooth rock slopes, as once more they traversed the
path of an ancient glacier. The opening here between the two folds of
mountains again disclosed their river, now smaller, but if anything even
noisier, by reason of its race over a series of cascades. They had left
the silver fir belt and were in the region of dwarfed mountain
pines. They estimated that they must be about 8,000 feet high.

Ace joined them with still no news of the fugitive fire setters. It was
mysterious.

It being Ted's and Pedro's turn to make camp that night, they dropped
the packs under a gnarled old juniper whose trunk had been split by
lightning into seven splinters that curved out over a little hollow,
making an ideal shelter, with its fubsy foliage, its storm-twisted limbs
making natural seats, and a flat-topped rock a table. They had to carry
pine boughs some distance for their beds, as they did wood and water.
Then they sallied forth for a string of fish.

All this gave Ace, Norris and Long Lester time to climb the short
remaining distance to the top of the ridge, where they could gaze across
at snow-capped peaks on which the alpine glow of approaching sunset had
spread a luscious rose.

While they were reclining in quiet enjoyment around the supper fire,--the
last flutter of the breeze fanning their faces,--a tawny, catlike form
suddenly came tip-toeing out from behind an edge of rock. It was an
animal possibly a hundred pounds in weight,--the California mountain lion
is not a heavy animal,--and for all its wide, heavy looking feet it trod
with lithe grace. (Those paws, so well adapted to travel over deep snow,
would enable it to seek its prey when white winter shut down over all its
hunting grounds.)

[Illustration: It was a rare treat to see a lion so close.]

Now it was to all of them a rare treat to see a lion so close to. Of all
the denizens of the wild, none are so shy of human kind, in regions where
they are hunted,--none so thoroughly nocturnal. The three men fairly held
their breaths to watch.

First the animal leapt to a branch of a wind-beaten tree and crouched
along its limb, lying so still that, had they not seen it move, they
might have glanced squarely in that direction and never noticed. And
there it lay, sharpening its claws, cat fashion.

Suddenly it began narrowing its yellow eyes at what must have been a
movement behind the rock whence it had emerged. Gathering its feet for a
spring, it laid its ears back, and the great muscles rippling beneath its
skin, leapt at a second lion whose head could now be seen peering around
the rock. But did they fight? Not a bit of it! With hiss and arching
back, and all claws out like the picture of a witch cat, the young cougar
challenged his playfellow, then retreated as the other would have given
him a swipe of his paw. Back to his tree he raced, the other after him.
But no sooner had he reached the vantage point of his horizontal branch
than he turned and chased the other back. This play was repeated several
times, while the three men watched to the windward, silent and
motionless, and hence unseen by the near-sighted animals.

A small rock had been loosened by their scramble, and as it went rolling
over the granite slope, the first cat pounced after it playfully, finally
catching the rolling stone and leaping about it as a cat does a mouse.
Then he retired to his tree.

Norris, reflecting that the near presence of two such animals would
stampede the burros, picked up a stone and threw it at the lion,
intending, not to hit it, but to chase it away. To the surprise of the
onlookers, the huge cat pounced on the stone as playfully as before. Ace
now hurled a small rock so that it just escaped the tawny flank, but
again she pounced, as playful as a kitten, at each missile, and it was
not till the three men rose and shouted that the lion took alarm and
raced away.

"I declare!" exclaimed Pedro, when he heard about it, "I'd never have
believed it!"

"I was out in Devil's Gulch one day," remarked Long Lester, "with a
coupla dogs. It's all granite,--hard for the dogs to get a scent, but
there's lots of lions there, in among the rocks. Finally, though, they
got one into a little Digger Pine. I took a shot at her, and out she
tumbled."

"Dead?" asked Norris.

"Yes. The dogs found her den, and dragged out three cubs."

"How large?"

"About the size of house cats, that's all."

"Then what?"

"Oh, I put 'em into my shirt and tuk 'em home. I sold 'em afterwards to a
circus man."

"Well, do lions always act the way this one did to-night?"

"I heard tell of a boy that was out with an old three dollar Winchester
22, and a dog that had lost a leg in a bear trap. Pretty soon he barked
'treed.' He had a lion up in a scrub oak. It came down fighting, so the
boy had to circle around trying to find a chance to shoot. Then it jumped
up into a pine tree and lay with its head over the limb looking down at
him. He shot at it, but I guess it didn't hit, for it ran again, and by
jings, it finally got clean away!"

"Don't they ever fight?" marveled Pedro.

"They'll fight a dog if they come down wounded, but the big cats are
mostly cowards."

"But bears are not?"

"Bears? No, nothing cowardly about them. They're more lazy'n anything
else."



CHAPTER XI

THE VALLEY OF TEN THOUSAND SMOKES


The next morning they had a good look around before deciding which way to
go. On one side pointed firs in patches on the canyon walls contrasted
with the snow in the ravines. There was a brook that divided, then
reunited in white strands, only to spread out into a smooth, glistening
sheet, golden in the sunlight, to join the green river.

The notches between two rounding, glacier-smoothed granite masses
disclosed distant peaks, snow-capped, their jagged ledges thrusting
through the mantling white, dazzling in the sunshine like a mirror,--now
gray under a hazing sky, now dappled under a passing shower cloud.

They finally decided to wind through the gap, and Pedro, Norris and Long
Lester started on with the burros, while Ace and Ted started fine-combing
the map beneath them for the elusive Mexicans. Very probably, they
thought, they had been hiding in some of the caves that honeycombed the
region, and sooner or later they would have to reappear. Their supplies
could not hold out forever.

All along the Western flank of the Sierra, (as both Norris and Long
Lester were able to assure them), from the McCloud River in the North to
the Kaweah,--a distance of at least 400 miles,--stretched a belt of
metamorphic limestone, reaching up to as high as 7,000 feet, and it was
fairly riddled with caves.

But again the day went by without success. Ace only squared his chin. Ted
offered to abdicate his observer's seat in favor of any one of the party,
but Pedro and Long Lester preferred terra firma, and even Norris found
more to interest him in the rocks beneath their feet.

Once a little spiral of smoke drew them to a canyon head where they found
three fishermen with a pack train of seven horses,--but no Mexicans. They
searched Southward along the John Muir trail, returning along the Eastern
flank,--but to no purpose, so far as the fugitives were concerned.

As no one had had time to fish, they dined on tinned corned beef, which
Ace, the cook for the day, made the mistake of salting. (After that he
had to make tea twice.)

"One thing I'd like fer to ask you, Mr. Norris," said Long Lester that
night around the bon-fire, "is where does the salt in the ocean come
from? I don't see for the life of me, from what you've told us----"

"The salt was originally in the rock of the earth's crust," Norris
explained with a pleased smile at the old man's interest. "As this
igneous rock weathered with time, the rain and the streams washed it into
the ocean. Then when the sea water evaporates----"

"To make clouds, to make more rain?" Long Lester recited.

"Yes,--the salt of course remained behind, so that the oceans have been
growing constantly saltier since the earth began. Yet even now sea water
must be nine-tenths evaporated before the sodium begins to precipitate,
as we say."

"So there is room for a lot more."

"Especially as the oceans are growing larger all the time."

"But doesn't the ocean give it back to the land when it leaves these
sediments along the shore?"

"Not to any extent, speaking comparatively. But one of the interesting
things about the salt in the sea is this: Chemists and geologists
estimate that, for the amount of salt in the sea, enough of the original
earth crust must have been weathered away to have covered the continents
over 6,000 feet high. And that calculation just about fits what we
believe to have happened.

"The United States Geological Survey gave out an official statement in
1912 that this country is annually being washed back into the ocean at
the rate of two hundred and seventy million tons of matter dissolved in
the streams and five hundred and thirteen millions of tons of matter held
in suspension in the same streams. That is to say, the oceans every year
receive from the surface of the United States seven hundred and
eighty-three millions of tons of rock materials.

"That means that, here in this part of the country at least, one hundred
and seventy-seven tons per square mile are being washed back each year."

"Gee!" said Ted. "I should think, at that rate, that the continents would
have been all washed away long ago."

"Yes, there have been, since geological history began, at least twenty
whole mountain ranges as high as the Rockies worn to sea level. Of course
the oceans have periodically flooded the margins of the continents at
such times, in long troughs where now stand our Appalachian and Rocky
Mountain ranges, leaving their deposits.

"In the Rockies there are coarse sediments miles deep, together with
limestone formed of the ground-up shells of marine animals of the earlier
times. Now think of this!

"If all that stands above sea level in the United States to-day were to
be washed into the sea, as it undoubtedly will be, in time,--(but not in
our time), the level of the oceans will rise, (just as the level of a
half glass of water rises if you drop in a handful of sand), until--it
has been estimated--everything under six hundred and fifty feet above sea
level will be inundated. That means that probably half of the continent
would be under water. It has been so in times past, and it will be again.
In fact, in the age of reptile dominance, (the Cretaceous Period), when
the earth was just beginning to be peopled with birds and flying
reptiles, and the first, primitive mammals,--the Atlantic flowed straight
from what is now the Gulf of Mexico, through what is now the Rocky
Mountain Region, and through the Eastern part of Alaska, to the Arctic.
That left one strip of land that reached along what is now the Pacific
Coast, clear from the Isthmus of Panama to the Aleutian Islands and
straight across to Siberia. The Northern part of the Atlantic Coast
formed another land area, broken by the fresh water bodies of America and
Canada and in one with a strip of land that extended across Greenland to
Europe.

"It is pretty well established, in fact, that the United States has been
more or less flooded by warm, shallow marine waters at least sixteen
times since the age of fish dominance began. But not since the age of
man!" he hastened to assure the old prospector, who was beginning to look
uneasy.

"Of course these flood times brought a moist, warm climate to the land
areas, and life was easy for the then existing animal forms. Then when
readjustments in the earth's crust again raised up mountain ranges and
the climate became colder and drier, the struggle for existence became
more intense, the process of evolution was stimulated, and new forms
originated.

"We are living in one of those periods now. The organic world is being
stimulated to develop even better bodies, endowed with even more alert
brains.

"Life is easiest of all for the inhabitants of the ocean. That is why
they have developed so little intelligence."

"Is that why it's such an insult to call any one a poor fish?" grinned
Ted.

"An ichthyosaurus?" supplemented Ace.

"As has been said before," Norris took up the thread of his talk, "with a
drier climate and soil, comes the need of developing a faster mode of
locomotion, for food no longer lies or swims everywhere about, as it did
in the ocean, and in the swamps, and tropic humidity. Food and water are
scarce, and it is the speediest animal that fulfills his needs. This
speediness on his part means that he uses up more energy, and hence needs
more food, and he needs to assimilate it faster. In other words, it means
increased metabolism. This in turn means that he keeps his body at a
higher temperature. He needs it too, now, with the increased cold. This
results in the development of warm blood, by which the animal can
maintain his body warmth regardless of winter cold. If it had not been
for conditions that forced certain reptiles to develop warm-bloodedness,
we would have no birds or mammals to-day, for as you doubtless know,
birds and mammals both were evolved from reptiles."

"I swan!" was all the old prospector could say.

"Yes, the first mammals developed from a reptile known as the cynodont.
Many of these reptiles had long legs and could travel with the body well
off the ground. Birds originated from the same reptilian stock as did the
dinosaurs. First their hind-legs grew long so that they could run on
them,--and you will notice at the Museum how the legs of a dinosaur are
joined to the body exactly like a bird's,--then their scales gradually
evolved into feathers.

"There is a lot more to it than I can tell you now, but after various ups
and downs, dinosaurs became extinct and Nature tried out several kinds of
warm-blooded, furry mammals, some of them herbivorous and built for speed
to run away from their enemies, some of them swamp-dwelling monsters with
heavy legs and small brains, who, slow of movement, relied on horns and
other armor and sharp teeth for their defense.

"But there is no end to this subject. I only mean to make the point that
it was geological changes that drove the fish to land, and the land
animal to higher forms, till finally other geological changes drove man's
ancestors down out of the trees." The boys, no less than the old
prospector, testifying their interest in the last named operation, he
continued.

"When the Alps, the Andes and the Himalayas arose, man's ancestors still
lived in trees. But high mountains hold a large part of the moisture of
the atmosphere in the form of snow and ice, and at the same time the
decreased oceanic areas offer less surface for evaporation. Not only does
that mean a drier climate, but the sun's rays pass more freely through
dry air, and the days are hotter, and the heat passing freely back
through the same dry air at night, the nights are colder. Seasons are
more extreme, and ice accumulates on the mountain tops and around the
polar region, precursor of a glacier period. The aridity decreases the
amount of forest, and the manlike tree dweller had to descend to the
ground to get his living. That necessitated the development of his hind
legs for speed, and that speed necessitated his assuming a wholly erect
posture. That in turn freed his hands, and he, or the man descended from
him, could defend himself by throwing stones at the huge beasts who then
peopled the earth. The cold winters necessitated the use of the skins of
beasts for clothing, and so on through the list. It was geological
necessity that drove man into his higher development.

"Changes of climate and environment, however, are stimulating, even
to-day. Statistics show that stormy weather actually increases people's
energy."

The next day they passed a long crack in a rock slope, which Norris felt
sure had been made by an earthquake, perhaps as recent as that of 1906,
to judge from the cleanness and newness of it. The crack was no more than
a foot or two in width, but in places eight feet deep, they estimated,
and along the Western side of it stood a fault scarp, in this case a wall
of granite bowlders of various sizes up to four or five feet in height.

"This," pronounced the geology man, "is evidently a region overlying
subterranean volcanoes, which might even yet build the range higher. I'll
bet that kind of mountain building may still be going on around here."

Again and again Norris, or even Ace, had been able to point out, in the
record of the rocks, the evidences of the two glacier periods that had
helped shape the Sierra Nevada, the earlier one much larger, and enduring
longer, as shown by the moraines (or deposits) left behind. The lower end
of a canyon would be no wider than the stream that incised it, but the
upper portion would have been smoothed into grassy parks or lakelets on
each tread of a giant stairway to the summit of the range.

Rounded water-worn pebbles and cobblestones among a mass of angular
bowlders, left behind by glacier streams, together with an occasional
striated pebble, were "sermons in stones" to the geologist.

"Hey, Ted," his chum had challenged him that day, "did you ever see a
pirate?"

"Don't know as I did," admitted the ranch boy.

"Then I'll show you one. Climb in," and he prepared to search once more
for the Mexicans.

"Show me one! You speak as if they kept them in museums."

"This pirate will be a river. A river pirate,--I mean a pirate river! If
I could find the divide just North of Muah Mountain I'd show you where
streams are being captured this minute. Cottonwood Creek has already
captured one of the tributaries of Mulkey Creek, I hear, and diverted it
into an eastward flow, and further captures are likely to be pulled off
any time. Isn't it a scandal?"

"I say, Ace," protested his chum, "I've swallowed a lot since we started
on this trip, but I'm not so gullible as you seem to think."

"Look here, old kid," said Ace seriously. "It's a fact. Along a divide, a
stream flowing one way will divert one flowing the other way into its own
channel."

They found a pirate river,--but still no trace of the incendiaries.
However, that merely determined the Senator's son the more.

That night Norris told them the long promised tale of his Alaskan trip.

"Nothing like the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes has ever been seen by the
eye of man," he declared. "If we could take all the other volcanic
regions of the world to-day and set them down side by side, they would
present less of a spectacle, except, of course, at the time of a
dangerous eruption. There has been nothing like it in the memory of
man,--though geologists can read from the rocks that such conditions must
have existed in past ages. The Mt. Katmai eruption of 1912, one of the
most dangerous in history, first attracted attention to this region, and
the National Geographic Society has since sent various expeditions to
Alaska. It was that way that the Valley came to be discovered, in 1916.

"I happened to be a member of the last expedition."

"Honestly!" the boys exclaimed.

"Yes, and I tell you, boys, when I first looked through Katmai Pass, it
just looked as if the whole valley were full of smoke. Of course it was
steam."

"Weren't you afraid of another volcano?" asked the boys, snuggling down
ready for a real story.

"No, because with all those vents letting off steam, it must relieve the
pressure from below, like so many safety-valves. Two black, glassy
looking lava mountains guard the pass. The wind on the side of
Observation Mountain was blowing so hard it honestly lifted us off our
feet at times, and it blew a hail of pumice stone in our faces that
literally cut the flesh. Of course we wore goggles.

"Once in the valley, there were certainly all of ten thousand smokes
rising from the ground. We were simply speechless, it was such an awesome
spectacle."

"I'll bet you were!" breathed Ted.

"Personally, I consider it more wonderful than either the Grand Canyon or
the geysers of the Yellowstone. As far as we could see in any
direction,--and there seemed to be three arms to the valley,--the white
vapor was steaming out of the ground until it mingled with a great cloud
that hung between the mountain walls. And we later camped in places where
we could keep our food in a hollow of a glacier while we boiled our
breakfast in a steam hole, and the ground was almost too warm for
comfort."

"Must have been an ideal camping place," said Ace.

"Far from that. Too much danger of breaking through. And then of course
there wasn't a tree or a grass blade anywhere, much less a stick of
firewood. But we sure had steam heat at night, and we cooked, in the
milder of the fumaroles."

"Wasn't there a lot of gas coming up with the steam?" asked Ace.

"Yes, but it didn't taint our food any. It was an ideal steam cooker.
Farther down the valley were some vents hot enough to fry bacon."

"I should think it would have steamed it," said Ted.

"No, we found one vent where the steam came so hot that it didn't
condense for several feet above ground; the only trouble was that the
frying pan had a tendency to go flying up in the air and the cook had to
have a strong arm to hold it down."

At the picture his memory evoked, Norris burst into hearty chuckles. "As
the bacon got crisp, of course it didn't weigh so heavy, and there always
came a point where it began to fly out of the pan. Then we'd all stand
around, and it was the liveliest man that caught the most breakfast.

"There was another camp convenience, too, there in Hades, as the valley
has been named."

"Thar, didn't I tell you so?" triumphed Long Lester.

"And they named the river Lethe. A river that ran down from the melting
glaciers,--though it almost all goes up in smoke, as it were,--in steam,
before it gets out of the hot part. This river whirls along, and in
places the steam actually boils up through the ice water, or along the
banks. I used to think it was an awful pity there were no fish in that
stream, because we could have cooked them without taking them off the
hook."

"Huh!" The old prospector shook his head. "I've thought all along this
here was a fish story."

"But it's gospel truth," Norris assured him. "I mean about the valley. I
_said_ there were no fish. Everything we ate, by the way, had to be
packed in on our backs. It was no place for horses, where in places the
ground fairly shook beneath our feet, and if it were to give way, we'd
find ourselves sure enough in hot water."

"It must have been almighty dangerous," gasped Ted.

"Well, not after we learned the ropes. Sometimes we accidentally put a
foot through a thin place and steam came through. I assure you we stepped
lively then. At other times our feet sank into the soft, hot mud.

"By the way, there is a mountain across the head of the valley that looks
like a crouching dog, and it has been named Cerberus."

"Were those geysers, those ten thousand smokes?" asked the old prospector.

"No, a geyser comes after volcanic activity, while here something is
still likely to happen. A geyser begins as a column of steam and hot
water, which erupts as often as the water gets to the boiling point. It
follows that the water must accumulate in rock not so hot that it would
instantly vaporize it. But the rock underlying this valley is so hot that
no water can accumulate."

"How large are the vents through which the steam comes?" asked Ted.

"All sizes down to nothing at all. There are even a few craters 100 feet
across, that have been produced by volcanic explosions. You will find
these craters, generally, along a large fissure, just the way you find
the Aleutian chain of volcanoes along a fissure in the earth's crust
several hundred miles in length.

"There are fissures all along the margins of the valley, besides those in
the center, and many of these have one side standing higher than the
other, showing them to be earthquake faults,--the same sort of thing we
see here in the rocks of the Sierras. And you should hear the hissing and
roaring of the steam as it forces its way up through these fissures from
the hot depths beneath. Sometimes it looks like blue smoke, it is so full
of gases, especially sulphur dioxide, the gas that is given off by
burning sulphur. So the popular notion of Hades isn't so far off after
all, eh?"

"Could you smell the sulphur fumes?"

"Sometimes, yes,--when the other gases did not overwhelm the odor. But
the weirdest part of all is the incrustations along the borders of the
vents. All colors of the rainbows--shapes as fantastic as anything in
fairyland. Lots of yellow, of course, from the sulphur,--crystals of it,
some of them neighbor to an orange tinted crystal, lying in the blue mud.
It was a beautiful color combination. Then there were green and gray
alum crystals which looked like growing lichens. There were also deep
green algæ actually growing. Strange how certain designs are used over
and over again in nature! In other places the mud is actually burned
brick red, especially where the fumaroles are burnt out. This shades to
purple, and in other places to pink. But the most surprising, perhaps,
were the white vents just tinted with a delicate pink or cream.

"The largest fissure of all, one lying at the foot of Mt. Mageik, is
filled with the clear green water of a melted glacier. And above, the
mountain smokes away into the clouds!"

"It must be a marvelous place!" said Ace. "I suppose it was regular ice
water."

Norris laughed. "That is the funny part of it. It's not. The water is
actually warm, or rather, tepid, in places, on account of the heat from
below."

"So you had good swimming even in Alaska."

"We might have had. And then I must tell you about Novarupta. That's the
largest vent in the valley, and it is something you won't see very many
places in the world, a new volcano. It was only formed at the time of the
eruption of 1912, and it is one of the largest volcanoes in the world
to-day,--with a crater much larger than that of Vesuvius."

"But Mr. Norris, do y' mind my asking," Pedro hesitated, "but how do you
know it is a new volcano? Don't volcanoes sometimes burst forth again
after many years of quiet?"

"They do, but there is where the rocks tell the story again. Instead of
bursting forth from a mountain top, through igneous rock, (left from the
time when the earth-crust was molten), this one erupted in the valley, in
sandstone. On a still day, the smoke will rise as high as ten thousand
feet."

Norris, then a student, had been one of the first to view Lassen Volcano
when, in 1914, it broke its slumber of 200 years. Indeed, he had had a
real adventure, as the second outburst had caught him within half a mile
of the crater and he had barely escaped with his life. Of course the boys
had to hear all about it.

While the Sierra south of Lassen has been built more through uplift than
volcanic activity, at least since the Tertiary period, he explained, the
Cascades and indeed, the whole range to the northward through Oregon and
Washington, is a product of lava flow.

Happening to be about to start on a camping trip in the Feather River
region at the time of the first eruption, he and his companion had
hastened immediately to the scene of so much geological history making.
The smoke and ashes that billowed forth had been visible for fifty miles,
and the accompanying earthquake shocks had been accompanied by a downpour
of rain.

Climbing the path of a recent snow-slide, which had cleared a narrow path
in the fifteen-foot drifts, they could smell sulphur strongly from near
the South base onward. Veering around to the East, past half a dozen
cinder cones, they finally reached a narrow ridge leading directly to, as
yet unoccupied, the fire outlook station. Clambering over crags so steep,
finally, that they could not see ahead, they came to the little square
building, now tattered by the stones that had fallen through its roof,
tethered to the few feet of space available by wire cables that seemed to
hold it down in the teeth of the winds. Suddenly below them lay the bowl
of the ancient crater, bordered by snow fields now gray with ash. That
the ash had not been hot they judged from the fact that it had nowise
melted the snow, but lay on its surface. From the ragged edge of the
steaming basin, yellow with sulphur, rose the oppressive fumes they had
been getting more and more strongly. How deep was this funnel to the
interior of the earth? To their amazement it appeared to be only about 80
feet deep. That, they decided,--coupled with the fact that the ash and
rocks exploded had not been hot, but cold, must be because the sides of
the crater, as they gradually caved in, must have choked the neck of the
crater with débris, which had been expelled when the smoke and gases had
been exploded. There had been no lava flow, then!

They had retraced their steps to perhaps half a mile's distance when of a
sudden the earth beneath their feet began to heave and rumble
thunderously. Ashes and rocks, some the size of flour sacks, some huge
bowlders, began shooting into the air,--observers at a distance assuring
them afterwards that the smoke must have risen 3,000 feet above the peak.
It grew black as midnight, the smoke stung their eyes and lungs and
whiffs of sulphur nearly overwhelmed them.

It was a position of deadly peril. Quick as thought, they ran, Norris
dragging his companion after him, beneath the shelter of an overhanging
ledge, where at least the rocks could not fall on them, and there they
buried their faces in the snow and waited.

What seemed hours was later pronounced to have been but fifteen minutes,
though with the roaring as of mighty winds, and the subterranean
grumblings and sudden inky night, the crashing of stones and thundering
of rolling bowlders, it seemed like the end of the world.

Norris's companion had suffered a blow that dislocated his shoulder, but
otherwise they emerged unhurt. They afterwards found several areas on the
sides of Lassen where sulphurous gases were escaping from pools of hot
mud or boiling water. They also visited a lake that had been formed at
the time of the lava flow of 200 years ago, (now a matter of legend among
the Pitt River Indians), this lava having formed a dam across a little
valley which later filled from the melting snows. The stumps of the
inundated trees could still be seen.

A geyser, said the Geological Survey man, is just like a volcano, only it
expels steam and boiling water from the interior. There is a line of
volcanic activity up and down the Pacific Coast, from Alaska to Central
America, though Lassen is the only active peak in California, Shasta
having become quiescent save for the hot spring that steams through the
snow near its summit.

The North half of the range, he added, is covered with floods of glassy
black lava and dotted with extinct craters, whereas the Southern half is
almost solid granite, though there are plenty of volcanic rocks to be
found among its wild gorges. The rocks around Lassen tell a vivid story
of the chain of fire mountains that must have again and again blazed into
geysers of molten rock, till the whole smoking range was quenched beneath
the ice of that last glacier period, which through the ages has been
sculpturing new lake and river beds, and grinding soil for the rebirth of
the mighty forests.

The boys drowsed off that night to dream of fire mountains and
explorations in the nether regions.

The next day they planned to bi-plane up and down the John Muir trail
again and see if the Mexicans could have crossed to the Eastern side of
the range. They might have made their way through some pass, traveling
after nightfall and hiding by day, and once on the desert around Mono
Lake they would be easy to locate. For it seemed ridiculous that they
could actually make a get-away.



CHAPTER XII

GOLD!


In the pass between two appalling peaks the two boys sighted the smoke of
a cook-fire, and without once reflecting that they were unarmed,
pan-caked down for a closer inspection. But there was no need to land. It
was a band of Indians. And though they searched till they were ready to
drop with fatigue,--and all but frozen stiff in those high
altitudes,--not the sign of a Mexican did they sight after that.

They returned utterly discouraged.

"What kind of Indians were they?" asked Long Lester.

"Oh, just Indians," said the ranch boy.

"That is like saying, oh, just whites," said Norris. "Indians differ more
than you would ever imagine."

"Why is that, Mr. Norris?" Ted wanted to know. "They're mostly mighty
good for nothing specimens, to judge from our Diggers."

"I'll tell you after supper," Norris promised them.

Pedro had been out with his trout rod. Descending to the river, which
here circled around a huge bowlder from which he thought he could cast,
he had a string in no time.

Now Pedro was thoroughly well liked, with his Castilian courtesy and his
ever ready song. The lack of physical courage had been his greatest
drawback. Always had the fear been secret within him that at some crucial
moment he might show the white feather. His experience with the Mexicans
had removed that, but he was still mortally afraid of three
things,--bears, rattlesnakes, and thunder storms,--that is, real wild
bears, not the half tame kind that haunt the Parks.

Still, he had not noticed the furry form that stood neck-deep in the
riffles, fishing with his great, barbed paw,--so perfectly did he blend
into the background.

The shadow of the canyon wall had made twilight while yet the sun sent
orange shafts through the trees on the canyon rim. Suddenly around the
turn of the trail rose a huge brown form that gave a startled grunt,
rising inquiringly on its shaggy hind legs and swinging its long head
from side to side. Pedro's heart began beating like a trip-hammer. (He
wondered if the bear could hear it).

He wanted to run, to scream,--a course that would have been most
ill-advised, for the bear might then have given chase. As it was, the boy
remembered that the animal was probably more afraid than he,--or more
likely merely curious at this biped invasion of his wilderness,--and
would not harm him if no hostile move were made. The cinnamon bear of
the Sierras, like his blood brother, the New England black bear, is a
good-natured fellow.

With an iron grip on his nerves, he forced himself to stand stock-still,
then back--ever so amenably--off the trail. The bear, finding no
hostility intended, turned and lumbered up the mountainside.

"'Minds me of one time,' said Long Lester, when he heard the story, 'I
was down to the crick once when I was a shaver, and along came a big
brown bear. The bear, he stood up on his haunches, surprised like, and
just gave one 'woof.' About that time I decided to take to the tall
timber." (At this, Pedro looked singularly gratified.) "Well, that bear,
he took to the same tree I did, and I kept right on a-climbin' so high
that I get clear to the top,--it were a slim kind of a tree,--and the top
bends and draps me off in the water!"

[Illustration: Around the turn of the trail rose a huge brown form.]

"What became of the bear?" Pedro demanded.

"I dunno. I didn't wait to see. But Mr. Norris here were a-sayin' there's
nothin' in the back country a-goin' to hurt you unless'n it's
rattlesnakes. Now when I was a-prospectin' I allus used to carry a hair
rope along, and make a good big circle around my bed with it. The rattler
won't crawl over the hair rope."

The boys thought he was joshing them, but Long Lester was telling the
literal truth. "Once I was just a-crawlin' into bed," he went on, "when I
heard a rattle," and with the aid of a dry leaf he gave a faint imitation
of the buzzing "chick-chick-chick-chick-chick" that sounds so ominous
when you know it and so harmless when you don't. "I flung back the covers
with one jerk, and jumped back myself out of the way. There was a snake
down at the foot of my blankets. They are always trying to crawl into a
warm place."

"Then what?" breathed three round eyed boys.

"First I put on my shoes and made up a fire so's I could see, 'n' then
I take a forked stick and get him by the neck, and smash his head with a
stone."

"And yet I've heard of making pets of them," said Norris.

"They do. Some do. But I wouldn't," stated Long Lester emphatically. "Ner
I wouldn't advise any one to trust 'em too fur, neither."

"They say a rattler has one rattle on his tail for every year of his
age," ventured Pedro.

"A young snake," spoke up Ted, "has a soft button on its tail. And then
the rattle grows at the rate of three joints a year, and you can't tell a
thing about its age, because by the time there are about ten of them, it
snaps off when it rattles."

"Down in San Antonio," said Ace, "we had an hour between trains once, and
we went into a billiard parlor where they had a collection of
rattlesnakes, stuffed. And they showed some rattles with 30 or 40 joints
to them."

"Huh!" laughed Ted. "That's easy! You can snap the rattles of several
snakes together any time you want to give some tourist a thrill."

"You seem to know all about it," gibed Ace. "They had 13 species of
rattlesnakes down in this--it used to be a saloon. And ten of them
Western. They had a huge seven foot diamond back, and they had yellow
ones and gray ones and black ones and some that were almost pink. I
mean, they had their skins. All colors----"

"To match their habitat," supplemented Norris. "Our California rattler is
a gray or pale brown where it's dry summers, and in the Oregon woods
where it's moist, and the foliage deeper colored, it's green-black all
but the spots. _I've_ seen them tamed. There was one guide up there who
kept one in a cage, and it would take a mouse from his fingers."

"I wouldn't chance it," shivered Ted.

"Oh, this one would glide up flat on the floor of the cage. They can't
strike unless they're coiled."

"I suppose he caught it before it was old enough to be poison," said
Pedro.

"A rattlesnake can strike from the moment it's born. It's perfectly
independent a few hours after birth."

"Ugh! Bet I dream of them now." But such was their healthy out-of-door
fatigue that they all slept like logs.

It was only the next day, however, that the two boys, Ace and Ted, poking
exploratively into a deep cleft in a rock ledge, were startled by an
abrupt, ominous rattle, and beheld in their path the symmetrical coils of
the sinister one. The inflated neck was arched from the center of the
coil and the heart-shaped head, with red tongue out-thrust, waved slowly
as the upthrust tail vibrated angrily. A flash of that swift head would
inject the deadly virus into the leg of one of the intruders. Yet Ted
knew the reptile would never advance to the attack.

Dragging Ace back with him, he instantly placed at least six feet between
them, so that, should the snake charge, it could not reach them. But with
the enemy obviously on the retreat, the snake glided to cover in a
tumbled mass of rocks at one side.

"Gee! We nearly stepped on him!" the ranch boy exclaimed, with a voice
that was not quite steady. "Next time we go poking into a place like
that, let's poke in a stick first, or throw a stone, to make sure there's
'nobody home.'"

"Wish I'd a brought a hair rope," mused Ace. "We might have had one that
would go clear around all our sleeping bags. First chance we get, I'm
going to buy one."

"Naw! We won't need one. Did you ever see a rattler catch a rabbit?"
asked his chum.

"No, d'you?"

"Once I was going along when I noticed the trail of some sort of snake
going across the road. Next thing I heard a rabbit squeal, and by the
time I spotted the snake it had a hump half way down its throat, and it
was swallowing and swallowing trying to get that rabbit down whole."

"I consider the possibility of rattlesnake bite the one biggest danger in
the whole Sierra," declared Norris, one night, lighting each step
carefully over the rocks. "And he does his hunting by night."

"Considerate of him!" laughed Ace, "seeing that campers do most of theirs
by day. But why is it such a danger? I've heard opinions pro and con."

"Rattlesnake venom disintegrates the blood vessels, makes the blood thin
and unable to clot. I knew a man who was struck in the ankle, and they
had to amputate the leg, and the very bones of that leg were saturated
with the blood that had seeped through the weakened walls of the blood
vessels."

"How does it feel to be struck, I wonder?" the boy shuddered.

"This man's ankle became discolored practically immediately and began to
swell. Of course the bite was through his sock, which must have kept a
little of the poison out of it, and it fortunately did not happen to
penetrate an artery. We could have cut and kneaded the wound instantly to
clear out as much as possible of the venom before it had time to enter
the blood system, but the fellow refused such heroic measures. We should
have taken him by force; it would have saved his leg, likely, for
ordinarily this, and a ligature, will do the work.

"Or we could have burned it clean, or injected the serum if we'd had
it. But as I was about to explain, he soon became dull and languid,
breathing noisily, for the poison affected heart and lungs. It was then
that he let us get to work,--almost too late,--or rather, that he ceased
his protest. His whole leg swelled and turned black, clear up, he got
feverish and nauseated, and for hours he kept swooning off, while we
worked over him, almost giving up hope, and one of our men had gone
post-haste for an old guide who made the serum,--anti-venom serum."

"Did he finally pull through?"

"With the loss of a leg. If he hadn't had that off pronto, gangrene would
likely have set in and he'd have gone."

"But this serum--where do you get it?"

"I don't know. We got it of a man who made it. First he injected into a
mule a tiny drop of the venom."

"How did he get the venom?"

"Killed a snake. You know the poison is in a tiny sac at the root of each
fang. Well, after he had given the mule the first dose and he had
recovered, he tried a larger one, then a still larger one, and so on,
every few weeks for a year or more, until the mule's blood serum had
developed enough anti-toxin to make him immune to rattlesnake bite."

"But then what?"

"He let some of the mule's blood, separated the serum, sterilized it, and
put it up in sealed tubes, which he kept in the cellar. This serum is
injected into the victim's blood with a hypodermic syringe, and if it is
used before he has collapsed, it will cure him every time. We really
ought to have brought some along, just in case of extreme emergency. I
have, however, a bottle of permanganate of potash crystals," and he
showed a little hard rubber tube two and a half inches long, one end of
which contained the crystals and the other a well sharpened lancet, as
the stuff has to be put right into the wound. This outfit, he explained,
had only cost a dollar, and was so tiny it could be carried right on the
person when in danger of being snake bitten. However, it has to be used
instantly, (within three or four minutes at the outside), "if it is to
neutralize the corroding acid of the poison and do any good."

That night a bon-fire built up into a log cabin with a tepee of pine
fringed poles atop sent the sparks flying, but was not uncomfortably hot
except on their faces. These they shaded with their hat brims.

"I wonder why there is so much difference in Indians," mused Ace. "When
Dad and I visited the Hopis, there, on our way to the Grand Canyon, we
were impressed by their high degree of civilization. Like all the
Pueblos, they raised good crops, had a regular government, and even an
art. And look at these Digger Indians, filthy, thieving creatures,
grubbing for roots like wild animals, eating slugs and lizards, because
they are too lazy to cultivate a piece of ground!"

"I remember," said Norris, "one of my favorite professors at Yale always
said that civilization was largely dependent upon civilization," and he
pointed out the Indians as an illustration. Of course he gave due credit
to what he termed inherent mental capacity. But to climate he laid the
energy with which that capacity is developed,--always provided there were
sufficient material resources. That is to say, even white men with fine
brains could not evolve as high a degree of civilization in the Arctic
Circle as they can where they have the material resources necessary to
supply the physical needs.

"But I should think the material resources of the Arctic Circle were a
result of the climate."

"In large part, they are. That just strengthens the point that climate
has had a lot to do with civilization, and incidentally with the
differences between different tribes of Indians. I wonder if I can give
his theory straight! Well, anyway, here's the general idea. It applies
quite as much to all nationalities as it does to Indians in particular.

"What is our conception of The Noble Red Man? He is observant, he has
unlimited physical endurance, but he does not adapt himself to our
civilization, nor does he work out new methods for himself, as we have
done since America was settled. He is conservative, in other
words,--lacking in originality and inventiveness.

"Of course they came at some stage of their evolution from the primitive
home of man in Asia. So also did the Scandinavians,--so also did the
Japanese. But while both of these finally located in cold but not too
cold climates, nor steadily cold, they were merely stimulated. The
Indian, though,--the American Indian,--likely migrated by way of Bering
Strait, and passing generations in the Esquimo lands, where it is about
all they can manage to keep alive at all during the long, dark winters.
The result? Those who were high strung nervously went insane,--just as
many an Esquimo and many a white man does to-day, under the necessity of
idling in a stuffy hut in the cold and darkness. It was only the mentally
lazy who could survive that phase of their evolution. That accounts for
certain differences between all Indians and all white men.

"Remember, it wasn't the sheer cold so much as the monotony of the
unbroken cold and darkness. The negroes of Africa also failed to
progress, but in their case it was the energy-inhibiting equatorial
climate, and especially the monotony of unbroken equatorial conditions.
The European Nordics,--remember, of ancestral stock originating in that
same Asiatic cradle,--had severe cold, and in summer, often, extreme
heat,--but there was no monotony.

"The too active Hottentot soon killed himself off, and only the indolent
survived. The races that have had long sojourns, in the course of their
racial wanderings, under desert conditions, where patient endurance is an
asset, also suffered a decimation of their more alert members. The stolid
were the more fit to survive desert conditions. You will find races now
dwelling in favorable climates who may exhibit these unprogressive
qualities, but back of them is a history of some experience that has
weeded out the more active individuals.

"But am I getting too long-winded?"

"You haven't told us yet why one tribe of Indians will be so different
from another, if they both came here via the Arctic Circle," urged Ace.

"Well, there is where another factor comes in,--that of material
resources. What could an Arab have accomplished with nothing but desert
sands to work with? What can the Esquimos accomplish with little but ice
to grow crops? They must secure their food by hunting, and hunters must
be nomadic. Nomads cannot carry many creature comforts with them, nor can
scattered groups be much mental stimulus to one another. Nor can the arts
develop when the mere struggle for animal existence demands one's whole
energy.

"These Digger Indians came from the as yet unirrigated deserts around Los
Angeles, with its long dry season, whereas Hopis and other Pueblos around
Santa Fe, though up against as dry a climate, taking it in actual number
of inches rainfall per year, have enough of their rain during the summer
months to enable them to raise crops, and hence to establish permanent
habitats, and hence to work out a form of government, a social system, an
art and an organized religion."

"But the Utes around Salt Lake City, who were living on grasshoppers when
the Pueblos were eating squash and beans,--utter savages,--didn't they
have much the same climate as the Pueblos?"

"What I said of the Diggers of Los Angeles applies to them. Their
rainfall did not come at the right time of year to raise crops, and of
course in such desert conditions there were practically no wild fruits.

"The Indians of the more fertile parts of North America, like the early
people of Europe, had wild vegetation to supply the means of subsistence.
And the wild vegetation also gave wild game a means of subsistence, to
say nothing of the means for clothing and shelter. Of course that is not
the whole of the story. There is, for instance, coal and iron, but iron
has to be smelted where there is forestation, and we come right back to
climate, as one of the principal factors in civilization.

"There is also energy,--zeal, determination. But what about the effect of
proper food and shelter on those qualities? And more important, what
about the effect of climate?

"Elaborate tests have been made. Without going into all that, perhaps you
will take my word for it. But the best climate for either physical or
mental efficiency is one that is variable,--for change is
stimulating,--and that goes to no unlivable extreme, but offers the cold,
dry winter and the warm, slightly rainy summer of, say, for instance, the
Eastern United States, or Central Europe, Italy, or Japan."

"But why does a winter in Southern California do an invalid so much good?"

"The change. The beneficial effects wear off with time.

"And just one word more, while we are on the subject. I'd hardly do my
old professor justice unless I mentioned that he lays that third factor
in civilization, inherent mental capacity, to the climatic conditions,
not of the present, but of the ancestral history of the past. But
remember, the climate of, say, Greece, has not always been what it is
to-day. Our Big Trees show, by an examination of their annual rings, the
same story that the rocks tell,--and that history tells,--that there have
been constant fluctuations of climate, within certain limitations. The
records of geology lead us to believe that California and the
Mediterranean countries have undergone the same climatic variations."

The next day the boys were so tired of sleuthing for the fire-bugs that
they decided to join the others in a holiday and explore one of the
neighboring peaks, leaving the burros and outfit at their camp of the
night before. About noon, the trail ended abruptly at a peak of granite
blocks each no larger than a footstool. Off to the left they could see a
peak higher than the one immediately before them. It seemed to be a ridge
of three peaks, theirs the middle one, and once on the ridge, they could
pick a course along the crest.

A little further on, the trail narrowed till they could see a tiny lake
on either side, and a stone's throw below, pools as clear as mirrors
reflecting the twisted growth about their brims. Then Ace gave a shout,
for down a hollow between two ridges to the north lay a patch of snow.

Sliding,--on their feet if they could manage it,--and snow-balling, the
boys were surprised to find how short of breath they were at this
elevation, a trifle over ten thousand feet, Norris estimated,--for on
their steady upward plod they had not particularly noticed it, or had not
attributed their slightly unusual heaviness to altitude.

They were therefore willing enough to rest on top, though even at noon
the wind blew cold upon them. Stretching almost north and south before
them rose the main crest of the Sierras,--peak after peak that they could
name from the map. They could see for at least a hundred miles. First the
wild green gorges that made the peaks seem higher, then snow-capped and
glacier-streaked altitudes rising one above another till they faded into
purple nothingness.

They did their climbing single file, with arms free, having disposed of
their lunch at timberline. But where Norris had led the way up, Pedro was
the first to start back. "Come on, why not take a short cut?" he shouted
in competition with the wind.

"All right." Norris stepped on a rock at that moment that turned with
him, barely escaping a wrenched ankle. He kept his eyes on his footing
for some moments after that. It was therefore not surprising that he did
not notice where Pedro was leading, till the latter called:

"Why, there's our lake, isn't it?"

The way began to be all bowlders, larger and larger ones. "Here, that
isn't the way we came," cautioned Norris.

"I know it," Pedro assured him, "but see, Mr. Norris, we're just going
around this middle peak instead of over it."

"Better not try any stunts," warned the Geological Survey man. Had he
been by himself, he would have gone straight back till he came to the way
they had gone up. But the boys were tired, and he hated to ask them to
retrace their steps. Besides, he did not want to discourage initiative in
the Spanish boy.

But soon they found themselves scrambling over slabs so high that they
had to take them on all fours, clambering over one as high as their
heads, then letting themselves down into the cranny between that and the
next.

"We sure never came over anything like this!" the rest of the party began
complaining. But on they scuttled, leapt and sprawled, no one finding any
better way.

"Hurry, there's our lake!" shouted Pedro finally. "I'll bet if I could
throw a stone hard enough, it would scare the fish."

But Norris spoke in alarm: "We couldn't see any lake on the trail going
up. On the contrary, we saw the peak to our left. Don't you remember?
Now see! That peak is on our _right_!"

"Fellows, we are on the wrong side of this ridge," he decided. "And what
is more, instead of going back down the middle crest, we have gone clear
on to the third peak." (For the ridge was a three peaked affair, the
middle being the lowest.) "The best thing now is to circle around as near
the top as we can go, till we strike the trail. If we keep circling, we
are bound to strike it sooner or later. But let's not all go together, or
we might start a rock-slide. Let's 'watch our step!' What would we do if
one of you put his ankle out of commission?"

The boys had little breath to waste on comment. Probably none but Norris
had any vivid realization of the danger they were in, but each fellow had
a keen eye to keeping his footing. Rock-slides the three boys had never
seen, but a sprained knee or a crushed foot was something they could
understand. Pedro also had a weather eye out for rattlesnakes, to whom
these rocks would have been paradise if it had not been such a chill
elevation.

As the sun sank lower and lower, they began secretly to wonder what it
would be to have to spend the night on this windy peak, without even an
emergency ration,--unpardonable over-thought! They circled steadily,
Norris now in the lead, the boys spreading out fan-wise as they followed,
Pedro even getting clear to the foot of the granite where he thought he
would have easier going through the woods, though he would also have a
larger arc to traverse. He felt safer on solid ground, though had he
measured, he might have seen that he had climbed as far in going down as
did the others in circling around.

Once a huge bowlder that overhung a precipice rocked under Ted, and it
was only by a swift spring that he saved himself. Many of the smaller
rocks tipped warningly, and he frequently stumbled. How slow their
progress seemed! How fast the sun was sinking in the west! And how
astoundingly their shoes were wearing through! It was three hours later
that Pedro, down in the edge of the woods, gave a shout and began waving
his arms in the wildest manner. Then along the way that he picked in
coming to meet them, Norris with his glasses could just make out the
brown ribbon of the trail.

Fifteen minutes more and they were lined up ready for the homeward march,
cured once and for all of short-cuts, and divided only as to whether it
would be better to run, at the risk of a turned ankle, while there was
light to see their footing, or walk, and have to go the last half of the
way in darkness.

They finally did some of both, running where the trail lay free from
stones, and eventually having to make their way by the feel of the ground
under the feet, and the memory of the mountain meadows whose perfume they
passed, and the sound of the creek to their right. The stars were out,
giving a faint but welcome light that served as guide when finally they
stumbled into camp, bone-weary but safe, and nothing loth to set all
hands for a square meal before tumbling in.

Throwing some of their reserve supply of fuel on the fireplace, they
soon had the home fires burning cheerily, and Pedro was demonstrating his
can-opener cookery.

Next day a glitter from beneath the water of a rivulet high on the
mountainside, caught Ted's eye. Dipping with his tin cup, he brought up
a specimen of sand and water. Could it be only mica that glistened so?
Saying nothing to Ace, (for he remembered Long Lester's tale of salting a
mine once when "the boys" wanted some one of their number to stand treat
by way of celebration of his new-found riches), he slyly slipped an
aluminum plate from out the pack and began that primitive operation that
used to be known as pan and knife working. Falling a little behind, he
kept at it until he had separated out some heavy yellow grains that
proved malleable when he set his teeth on them. It was coarse gold!

It was now time to announce his find, which he did to the amazement of
all but the old prospector. A more careful inspection of the bend where
he had found it proved it to be only the tiniest of pockets, though under
their combined efforts that day it yielded what the old man pronounced to
be about a hundred and fifty dollars' worth of dust. Still, even that was
not to be sneezed at, as Long Lester put it, in terms of Ted's college
fund,--for they all insisted on contributing their labor to his find.
Ted, though, insisted equally that it be their stake for another camping
trip.

Later that same day they came to the remains of an old hut, now overgrown
inside and out with vines and underbrush. In one corner the old man
unearthed what he pronounced to be the rusted mining tools of the early
days. A fallen tree that lay across the doorway had to be chopped through
and cleared away before they could enter, and on stripping a bit of the
dry bark away for firewood, Pedro was puzzled to find what appeared like
hieroglyphics on its nether side. He showed Norris, but what it could be
he could not imagine, till Norris happened to try his pocket shaving
mirror on it. Then, clear as carving, only inverted, they spelled out the
legend:

               "CLAME NOTISE--JUMPERS WILL BE SHOT."

These were evidently the letters that had been carved on the tree
trunk--as they judged, about six feet above its base, and though the sap
had long since obliterated the original, the bark still told the story
where it had grown over the wound. By chopping through the log at that
point and making a rough count of the annual rings of growth, they
estimated that all this had happened forty years ago. What had become of
the old miner? For such his tools acclaimed him. Why had he never come
back? Had he been overtaken by bandits, robbed of his buckskin bag of
dust, and murdered? Or had he struck a richer claim elsewhere?

They dug beneath what once had been his crude stone hearth, in the hope
of buried treasure, but no such luck rewarded them, and finally they
moved on up the mountainside, past vistas of green-black firs and
yellow-green alders. As usual in these dry altitudes, the fiery sun of
noon-day had grown chill at sunset, the wind stopped singing through the
pines, and the weird bark of a coyote seemed to accentuate the loneliness
that the wilderness knows most of all when some abandoned human
habitation brings it home to one.

But a heaped up bon-fire and a singing kettle soon drove the shadows from
the circling mountain meadow that was to be their home for the night.

"Thet there cabin," drawled Lester, "sure made me feel as if I were back
on my old stamping grounds. 'Minds me of the place where I once found a
chunk o' glassy white quartz half the size of my head with flakes of
color in it that netted me $200. I spent quite consid'able time hunting
for the vein that came from, but I never did, nohow."

Norris explained to Ted and Pedro that a quartz bowlder will often be
washed along a river.

                    *      *      *      *      *

They were awakened by the usual concert of hee-haws, as the burros, who
followed at their heels all day like dogs, (except when they got
contrary), woke the echoes with their loneliness.

That day led them over another of the parallel ridges that comb the West
flank of the Sierra, and into a precipitous canyon, over red sandstones
and green shales, and slates of Tertiary formation, till they came to
another hot spring and decided to pitch camp and all hands make use of
the hot water. A natural bath tub and a smaller wash tub were found
hollowed out of the stony banks, doubtless carved by whirling bowlders
from the spring floods, and with the joy known only to the weary camper
they performed their ablutions, filling the tubs, each in turn, by means
of the nested pails. What grinding and whirling it must have taken, they
reflected, as they felt the smoothness of their symmetrical bowls, to
have hollowed these from the solid rock! With accompaniment of drift logs
tumbling end for end, as the river rose and foamed beneath the thousand
trickles of melting snow!

"Ever been up here in winter?" Ace asked the old prospector.

"Not exactly here, but I been places almighty like it."

The old prospector told them how, in the days of the 49ers, (vivid
recollections of which his father had collated to his youthful ears), the
Mexicans had been treated in a way they had practically never forgiven.
The land was free. Discovery and appropriation of a mining claim gave
title, provided it was staked out and a notice scratched on a tin plate
affixed to the claim stake, and likewise provided that the size of the
claim accorded with the crude ruling for that region. Fifty feet was
generally allowed along a river, or even a hundred where the claim was
uncommonly poor and inaccessible, though where it was uncommonly rich,
miners were sometimes restricted to ten square feet apiece.

But Mexicans were generally refused the benefits of the gold claims, the
"greasers" often being ejected by force of arms from the more valuable
claims. Sometimes they were given three hours' grace for their get-away.
More within the letter of the law, a tax was imposed on alien claim
holders, but at first such a heavy one that it was practically
prohibitive. This resulted in border warfare, and to many of the Mexicans
originally on the land, abject poverty. At the Mexican dry diggings,
which, with their bull rings and fandangoes, had sprung up here and there
in the foothills, there was bloody defiance of the tax collector. Other
groups became highwaymen, who robbed and murdered the blond race whom
they felt had cheated and maltreated them, stabbing from ambush, or
organizing into bands of road agents, who systematically robbed miners of
their dust and stage drivers of their express boxes, and as often
murdering their victims.

There was Rattlesnake Dick, among other desperadoes, who with two
gangsters, Alverez and Garcia, had terrorized the gold diggings till,
five years after the gold rush, he had been killed by a rival bad man.

Ace was so tired, he rested again that day, merely bringing his bi-plane
in to the new camp site.

As Long Lester drawled over the camp fire, the drowsy boys lived again in
the days when a pinch of gold dust in a buckskin bag was currency, and
red shirted miners gambled away their gains or drank it up, in a land of
hot sunshine and hard toil, where a tin cup and a frying pan largely
comprised their bachelor housekeeping apparatus, their provender such as
could be brought in on jingle belled mule teams, their chief diversions
the occasional open air meeting or the lynchings of their necessarily
rough and ready justice.

The more adventurous always abandoned a moderate prospect for a gold
rush. Some of them made rich strikes; others ended their days in poverty,
after all.

The fire drowsed to a bed of red coals and the old man's chin was sunk in
his whiskers, but still he talked on, almost as if in his sleep, and
still the boys propped their eyes open while they stowed away in their
memories pictures of the pony express riders, of the horse thieves
branded--in this land of horseback distances--by having their ears cut
off, and of the unshaven miners, sashes bound Mexican fashion around the
tops of their pantaloons, the bottoms thrust into their boots, slouch
hats shading their unshaven faces, as they panned the glittering
sediments or built their sluices, with rocks for retaining the heavy
particles of gold washed over them.

Gold had been found in a belt 500 miles long by 50 wide,--and it was a
cherished myth that somewhere along the crest of the range lay a mother
lode.

But that, Norris told them, was not the way of the precious metal. The
"mother lode" was a myth.

The next day the two boys started once again to look for the
incendiaries, for when Ace set out to do a thing, it was do or die.

Pedro had now overcome his fear for bears, Mexicans, and getting lost,
but the too-gently reared youth had never conquered his nervousness at
thunder storms. He meant to, though, for he had come to consider useless
fears as so much surplus luggage. Just as when he was a small boy he had
overcome his fear of the dark by going right out into it and wandering
around in it till he felt at home in it, so now he meant to go right out
into the next thunder storm that came, becoming its familiar, till he
knew the worst, and no longer felt this unreasoning fear.

It was therefore with a certain satisfaction, (though coupled with an
equally certain inward shrinking), that as he scanned the skies for some
sign of the returning bi-plane, he noticed, rising above a green fringe
of silver firs across the canyon, the snowy cumulus of a cloud. This was
about an hour before meridian, the time the usual five minute daily noon
thunder storm began to gather.

But to-day he noted with surprise, not unmixed with alarm, that beyond
this one small mountain of the upper air,--so like the glacier-polished
granite slopes beneath that it might have been a fairy mountain, swelling
visibly as it rose higher and higher above the canyon wall,--beyond this
for as far as he could see were other domes and up-boiling vapor
mountains. What did it betoken? A cloud-burst?--For Sierra weather is not
like that in the Eastern mountain ranges, and such an assemblage sweeping
along the slopes and flying just above the green firs of the lower
forests must mean something beyond ordinary in the line of weather.

Had he known more of Sierra weather, he would that instant have given up
his plan of being out in this specimen, but his new-born resolution was
still strong within him, and--he did not know. One above another for as
far as he could see the pearl-tinted billows rose from among the
neighboring peaks, swelling visibly as it rose higher and higher. Then
they began floating together, the cloud canyons taking on grayer tints,
then deep purplish shadows, and their bases darkened with the weight of
their vapory waters.

With the sudden reverberation of a cannon shot, the first thunderbolt
crashed just ahead of a blinding zig-zag of lightning, and echoing and
reëchoing from peak to granite peak, with ear-splitting, metallic
clearness, it rang its way down the canyon walls, till the echoes died
away. Soon the big drops began spattering loudly on the granite slopes,
till the drenched boy, bending his hat-brim to the onslaught, lost his
footing in the new slipperiness of the smooth, sloping rocks, down which
a solid sheet of water now raced, dimpling silver to the pelt of each
additional drop.

Before he could collect his scattered wits, another thunder peal came
cannonading at the mountain mass, and almost behind him a solitary old
fir tree shook the ground with its fall. Another fir was slivered into
huge splinters that flew--fortunately for Pedro--just too far away to hit
him. Then loosened rocks and bowlders began bounding and re-bounding down
the cliffs till their thunder seemed as loud as that from the heavens.

The lightning struck now here, now there, among the peaks, attracted by
veins of mineral.

Uneasy on account of the flying stones and falling tree trunks, Pedro was
about to take shelter by crawling under a shelving rock when the rock
itself was dislodged by a flash of lightning, and went pommeling to the
slide-rock on the slope below.

Seemingly all in the same breath, the rock-slide started, with a roar as
of fifty express trains, as it seemed to Pedro's long-suffering ears. An
electric storm always does start snow and rock slides.

As if that had been the grand climax, the storm ceased almost as suddenly
as it had begun. By his watch it had not been an hour, but from the
amount of damage done to both the geography and Pedro's feelings, it
might have been a year, or a century.

"But here we are, safe still," he told himself in surprise. "After this
experience, I don't believe there is anything worse anywhere to look
forward to. So what's the use of worrying about anything any more?
Ever!"--The experience had been worth while. Just how he was to make his
way back to camp was another question.

[Illustration: Loosened rocks and bowlders began bounding down the
cliffs.]

With the mountainside a choice between slippery, dripping rock slopes and
sliding mud, fallen tree trunks and soggy forest floor, it was no mean
test he had to meet. But as the irrepressible California sun once more
burst forth in golden glory, the clean-washed air was all balsamic
fragrance, every leaf and fir needle held at its tip a drop of opal, and
the birds,--emerging from the holes in which they had safely hidden,
those who survived,--burst into happy gratitude.

As luck would have it, an hour before the storm broke, the two boys had
sighted the smoke of a camp-fire hidden away down in the bottom of a
gulch, with slide rock to cut off any approach from the main ridge.
Flying low, they could actually identify fat Sanchez and his two
companions, who had their pack burros with them. It seemed too good to be
true! But before they could decide whether to sail down and try to
capture them themselves, or to go for Long Lester, the oncoming storm
began to set them careening, and they had to fly out of the elements at
right angles to the storm's approach.

Returning three hours later with the old ex-deputy sheriff,--it was a
spot not to be mistaken,--Ace gazed in complete stupefaction at the gulch
where the Mexicans had been encamped. For there was now nothing there but
slide-rock!

The dust that still grayed the atmosphere spoke clearly of the
catastrophe. And there would not have been one chance in a million of
their escaping. That they had not done so, their non-appearance anywhere
in the neighborhood bore abundant testimony.

The Mexicans had been captured by those same natural forces they had
tampered with when they set the forest fires. The little camping party
was free to return as soon as their time was up.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

[Transcriber's Note: Each term described in the glossary originally had
a pronunciation key in parenthesis. This key contained letters that are
not available in any modern font, including UTF-8, and therefore is not
displayable. Images of the original pronunciation keys are provided in
the HTML version. Pronunciation keys are omitted in this text version.]


GLOSSARY


Archeopteryx, a fossil bird that had teeth and whose spinal column
extended into the tail.

Archeozoic, the era in which the simplest forms of life originated.

Basalt, a dark brown or black igneous rock.

Calcite, calcium carbonate, a rock that includes limestone and marble.

Cambrian, the first period of the Paleozoic era,--that of the first
abundance of marine animals.

Carboniferous, producing or containing coal.

Cenozoic, the age of mammal dominance. It included the last great ice
age, the time of the transformation of apes into man, and the rise of
the higher mammals.

Comanchian, that period of the Mesozoic era that gave rise to flowers
and the higher insects.

Cretaceous, that period of the Mesozoic era that gave rise to the
primitive mammals.

Dinosaur, an order of extinct reptiles, of which there were a dozen
varieties, mostly lizardlike and of huge size.

Exhume, to dig out of the ground, or in the case of a fossil, to take
out of its place of burial in the rock.

Faulted, interrupted continuity of rock strata by displacement
along a plane of fracture, generally caused by an earthquake.

Formative, the era of the birth and growth of the earth out of the
spiral nebula of the sun, the beginnings of the atmosphere and
hydrosphere, and of the continental platforms and ocean basins.

Fossil, the remains of plants and animals of prehistoric times, now
found embedded in the rocks.

Psychozoic, the era of man, including the time during which man
attained his highest civilization (perhaps the past 30,000
years), to the present.

Geology, the history of the earth as read in the rocks.

Geyser, a boiling spring which periodically sends forth jets of water,
steam and gas.

Glacier, a slow moving river of ice, remnant of the last ice age,
generally found flowing down the mountain peaks.

Granite, a granular rock consisting of quartz, mica and feldspar,--the
material of the original crust of the earth.

Gypsum, the mineral from which plaster of Paris is made.

Ichthyosaurus, an extinct fishlike reptile of huge size.

Igneous, produced by the action of fire (i.e., a rock).

Jurassic, that period of the Mesozoic era that gave rise to birds and
flying reptiles.

Lava, the melted rock ejected by a volcano.

Limestone, a rock due in the main to the accumulated débris of plants
and animals, especially to the shells of marine animals.

Lithosphere, the rocky crust of the earth.

Mesozoic, the era of reptile dominance, in which occurred the rise of
dinosaurs, birds and flying reptiles, flowers and higher insects, and
primitive mammals.

Metamorphic, recrystallized by heat (i.e., a rock), or changed by
pressure.

Metamorphose, to change into a different form.

Miocene, that period of the Cenozoic era when apes were transformed
into man.

Paleozoic, the era of fish dominance, in which occurred the first
abundance of marine animals, the first known fresh-water fishes, the
first known land floras, the first known amphibians, the first insects
and the first accumulations of coal.

Proterozoic, the age of invertebrate dominance, containing an
early and a late ice age.

Reconnaissance, a preliminary survey.

Scarp, declivity.

Shale, a fine-grained, layered, sedimentary rock, generally easily
crumbled.

Silica, a form of quartz.

Stalactite, a pendant cone of calcium carbonate deposited by dripping
water (as in a cave).

Stalagmite, a deposit (on the floor of caves) resembling an inverted
stalactite.

Strata, layers of rock or earth.

Striated, marked with fine grooves or lines of color.

Triassic, the period that gave rise to dinosaurs.

Triceratops, a fossil giant lizard.

Uplift, an upheaval of rock strata.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------


KEY TO GEOLOGIC TIME


Archeozoic era. (Protoplasms.)

Proterozoic era. (Invertebrates.)

Paleozoic era. (Fish.)
  Cambrian period.
  Ordovician period.
  Silurian period.
  Devonian period.
  Mississippian period.
  Pennsylvanian period.
  Permian period.

Mesozoic era. (Reptiles.)
  Triassic period.
  Jurassic period.
  Comanchean period.
  Cretaceous period.

Cenozoic era. (Mammals.)
  Oligocene and Eocene time
  Pliocene and Miocene time.
  Pleistocene time.





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