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Title: The Pony Rider Boys in Alaska - Or, The Gold Diggers of Taku Pass
Author: Patchin, Frank Gee, 1861-1925
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: "I File the Claim!" Shouted Tad. _Frontispiece._]



THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN ALASKA

OR

THE GOLD DIGGERS OF TAKU PASS

By

FRANK GEE PATCHIN

Author of The Pony Rider Boys in the Rockies, The Pony Rider Boys in
Texas, The Pony Rider Boys in Montana, The Pony Rider Boys in the
Ozarks, The Pony Rider Boys in the Alkali, The Pony Rider Boys in New
Mexico, The Pony Rider Boys in the Grand Canyon, The Pony Rider Boys
with the Texas Rangers, The Pony Rider Boys on the Blue Ridge, The
Pony Rider Boys in New England, The Pony Rider Boys in Louisiana,
etc., etc.

Illustrated

THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

Akron, Ohio--New York

Made in U. S. A.



Copyright MCMXXIV

By THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS

PAGE

Chapter I--Through Enchanting Waters                     11

  The mystery of the Gold Diggers. The story of an
  Indian capture. The skipper gives himself a hunch.
  The lure of the yellow metal. The abode of an
  angry spirit.

Chapter II--The Boys Scent a Plot                        29

  Ned Rector puts his foot in. The man with the
  combustible whiskers. Tad overhears an exciting
  conversation. His duty not clear to him. Attacked
  by a desperado.

Chapter III--In Desperate Straits                        40

  Almost hurled overboard. Help comes in the nick
  of time. Tad accuses his assailant. Whiskers as
  evidence. Plotters are driven from the ship by
  young Butler.

Chapter IV--On the Overland Trail                        48

  "You have neglected your horse education." Tad
  amazes a horse trader. Chunky wants no "quick"
  mules. Driving a keen bargain. The boys decide
  to guide themselves.

Chapter V--Traveling a Dangerous Mountain Pass           59

  The Professor tells the boys about the "great
  country." When a fellow needs a bird's eye. A
  toboggan slide that might reach to Asia. Pony
  Rider Boys hear a terrifying sound.

Chapter VI--Caught in a Giant Slide                      69

  A pack mule swept from the ledge. Tad fires a
  humane shot. Taking desperate chances to rescue
  the pack. "I don't propose to lose my lasso."

Chapter VII--Going to Bed by Daylight                    82

  How the pack mule was buried. Heavy obstacles are
  overcome. A cure for cold feet. The fat boy knows
  his own capacity. Tents are swallowed up in the
  gloom of an Alaskan night.

Chapter VIII--An Intruder in the Camp                    91

  The fat boy's singing brings disaster. Professor
  Zepplin wields his stick. A wild scrimmage in
  pajamas. The mystery of the lost ham. "There
  has been a prowler in this camp while we slept!"

Chapter IX--A Mystery Unsolved                          103

  "It was an Indian who did this job." Stacy is
  roped out of bed. Two fish on one hook. Suspicion
  is directed toward Tad. Ned's head suffers the loss
  of some hair.

Chapter X--In the Home of the Thlinkits                 113

  Ned Rector is full of fight. Stacy makes Tad Butler
  dance. Chunky plans revenge. The fat boy finds a
  food emporium. A mother squaw in a rage.

Chapter XI--The Guide Who Made a Hit                    125

  "Me heap big smart man." Anvik refuses to
  "mush" because the spirits are abroad. "Him
  kick like buck caribou." Tad Butler gets a new
  title. Off for the wilds.

Chapter XII--In the Heart of Nature                     136

  From trail to trackless wilderness. A grilling hike.
  Tad, in a fine shot, bags an antelope. "Hooray!
  Maybe that was a chance shot!" A ducking in an
  icy mountain stream.

Chapter XIII--A Pony Rider Boy's Pluck                  146

  Tad carries the dead doe to camp. "Him heap
  big little man." Stacy knows how to "skin the
  cat." The antelope dressed by the Indian guide.
  Fresh meat in plenty now.

Chapter XIV--Stacy Bumps the Bumps                      152

  The difficulty of leading a mule. Chunky and the
  animal go over the brink. Tin cans rattle down the
  mountain side. The fat boy hung up by one foot.

Chapter XV--The Story in the Dead Fire                  162

  "White boy see almost like Indian." Campers had
  left in a hurry. Stacy discovers something. Eating
  ice cream with a pickle fork. Surrounded by
  mysteries in the great mountains.

Chapter XVI--A Sign from the Mountain Top               167

  "Him white man smoke." The wonders of mountain
  signaling. Friends or enemies? Overwhelmed
  by an avalanche of ice. A roar and an even more
  terrifying silence.

Chapter XVII--An Unexpected Meeting                     174

  "Innua him mad." Heap big ice nearly wipes out
  the Pony Rider Boys' camp. Tad makes a morning
  excursion and meets an unpleasant surprise.

Chapter XVIII--An Unfriendly Reception                  178

  Tad boldly faces his accusers. Threats from the
  prospectors. A man on Butler's trail. Tad takes a
  pot shot and gets immediate results. "Stop that
  shooting, you fool!" The fat boy draws a bead.

Chapter XIX--The Professor in a Rage                    189

  "It's a lie!" thunders Professor Zepplin. Ordered
  out of the hills on penalty of being shot. "If you are
  looking for trouble you may have all you want!"
  A threat to punch the prospector's nose.

Chapter XX--Tad Discovers Something                     198

  Pony Rider Boys off for bear. The fat boy frightened
  by a totem pole. In a place of many mysteries.
  Tad makes a great find. A discovery that led
  to sensational results.

Chapter XXI--Conclusion                                 203

  Rifle shots fired into the Pony Rider Boys' camp.
  Miners in a frenzy of joy. Butler makes a new find.
  Their boundary markings found destroyed. Tad
  starts on a desperate ride. His claim must be filed
  ahead of that of the enemy at whatever cost. A
  race through ice-clogged waters. A fight to the finish
  before the clerk's desk. A triumph for the Gold
  Diggers of Taku Pass. The end of the long, long trail.



THE PONY RIDER BOYS IN ALASKA



CHAPTER I

THROUGH ENCHANTING WATERS


"Captain, who are the four silent men leaning over the rail on the other
side of the boat?" asked Tad Butler. "I have been wondering about them
almost ever since we left Vancouver. They don't seem to speak to a
person, and seldom to each other, though somehow they appear to be
traveling in company. They act as if they were afraid someone would
recognize them. I am sure they aren't bad characters."

Captain Petersen, commander of the steamer "Corsair," which for some
days had been plowing its way through the ever-changing northern waters,
stroked his grizzled beard reflectively.

"Bad characters, eh?" he twinkled. "Well, no, I shouldn't say as they
were. They're fair-weather lads. I'll vouch for them if necessary, and I
guess I'm about the only person on board that knows who they are."

Tad waited expectantly until the skipper came to the point of the story
he was telling.

"They are the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass, lad."

"The Gold Diggers of Taku Pass?" repeated Tad Butler. "I don't think I
ever heard that name before. Where is this pass, sir?"

The skipper shook his head.

"No one knows," he said.

"That is strange," wondered Butler. "Does no one know where they dig for
gold?"

"No. They don't even know themselves," was the puzzling reply.

Tad fixed the weather-beaten face of the skipper with a questioning
gaze.

"I don't think I understand, sir."

"I'll tell you what I know about it some other time, lad. I haven't the
time to spin the yarn now. It's a long one. I've been sailing up and
down these waters, fair weather and foul, for a good many years, and
I've seen a fair cargo of strange things in my time, but this Digger
outfit is the most peculiar one I ever came across. They are a living
example of what the lure of gold means when it gets into a man's system.
Gold is all right. I wish I had more of it; but, my boy, don't ever let
the love of it get to the windward of you if you hope to enjoy peace of
mind afterwards," concluded the skipper with emphasis.

"What's that he says about gold?" interjected Stacy Brown, more commonly
known to his companions as Chunky, the fat boy.

Stacy, with Ned Rector and Walter Perkins, had been lounging against the
starboard rail of the "Corsair," observing Tad and the Captain as they
talked. A few paces forward sat Professor Zepplin, their traveling
companion, wholly absorbed in a scientific discussion with an engineer
who was on his way to an Alaskan mine, of which the latter was to assume
control. Many other passengers were strolling about the decks of the
"Corsair." There were seasoned miners with bearded faces; sharp-eyed,
sharp-featured men with shifty eyes; pale-faced prospectors on their way
to the land of promise, in quest of the yellow metal; capitalists going
to Alaska to look into this or that claim with a view to investment;
and, more in evidence than all the rest, a large list of tourists bound
up the coast on a merry holiday. The former, in most instances, were
quiet, reserved men, the latter talkative and boisterous.

"The Captain was speaking of the lure that gold holds for the human
race," replied Tad Butler in answer to Stacy Brown's question. "I guess
the Captain is right, too."

"Be warned in time, Chunky," added Rector.

"I've never seen enough gold to become lured by it," retorted the fat
boy. "I should like to see enough to excite me just once. I shouldn't
mind being lured that way. Would you, Walt?"

Walter Perkins shook his head and smiled.

"I fear you will have to shake yourself--get over your natural
laziness--before you can hope to," chuckled Ned. "I doubt if you would
know a lure if you met one on Main Street in Chillicothe."

"Try me and see," grinned Stacy.

"There must be a lot of gold up here, judging from what I have read, and
from the number of persons going after it," added Tad, with a sweeping
gesture that included the deckload of miners and prospectors. "But the
hardships and the heart-breakings must be terrible. I have read a lot
about the terrors that men have gone through in this country, especially
in the awful winters they have in Alaska."

"I shouldn't mind them if I had a sledge and a pack of dogs to tote me
around, the way they do up here," declared Chunky.

"That would be great fun," agreed young Perkins. "You wouldn't have far
to fall if you got bucked off from that kind of broncho, would you,
Stacy?"

"Not unless you fell off a mountain," answered Ned, glancing at the
distant towering cliffs of the coast range.

"I was asking the Captain about those four men yonder," said Tad.

"Oh, the fellows who don't speak to anyone?" nodded Rector.

"Yes."

"Who are they? I have wondered about them."

"I don't know their names, but the skipper tells me they are known as
the Gold Diggers of Taku Pass," replied Butler. "The queer part of it
is, he says, that no one, so far as he is aware, knows even that there
is such a place as Taku Pass. They don't know themselves," added Tad
with a smile.

"That's strange," wondered Rector. "Crazy?"

"No, I think not. They are prospecting for an unknown claim," replied
Tad.

"I--I don't know anything about that," spoke up Stacy Brown. "But I know
who those fellows are."

"You do?" exclaimed the boys in chorus.

"Yes. I asked them. That's the way to find out what you want to know,
isn't it?" chuckled Stacy.

"Who are they?" asked Butler laughingly.

"The minery-looking fellow is Sam Dawson. The one beside him is Curtis
Darwood. The tall, slim chap nearest to us is Dill Bruce. They call him
the Pickle for short."

"He looks sour enough to be one," laughed Walter.

"The other chap, the little one, is Curley Tinker. And there you have
the whole outfit. I'll introduce you to them if you like," volunteered
Chunky.

"No, thank you. I already have tried to talk with the men, but they
don't seem inclined to open their mouths," replied Butler.

"It strikes me that you have made more progress that anyone else on this
boat, so far as the four gold diggers are concerned," added Rector,
addressing Chunky.

"Yes, I am convinced that Chunky is rather forward," agreed Tad.

"Oh, no one can resist me," averred the fat boy. "Anything else you want
to know, Tad?"

"Yes, a great deal. But here is the Captain. He will tell me."

Captain Petersen had taken a fancy to the boys almost from the first. He
had learned who they were early on that voyage, and in the meantime they
had become very well acquainted with the commander of the "Corsair." He
had taken pains to explain to the lads many things about the country
past which they were sailing--things that otherwise they would not have
known, and the voyage was proving very interesting to them, as well as
to Professor Zepplin himself.

"Come below now and I'll tell you the story," invited Captain Petersen,
starting to descend the after companionway. "All of you come along. That
will save your asking questions later on," he smiled.

"You see, he invited you on my account," chuckled Stacy Brown, tapping
his breast with the tips of his fingers.

The lads filed down the companionway behind the Captain, and when they
had finally settled themselves in the skipper's cabin and he had lighted
his pipe, he began to speak.

"I always come below and put my feet on the table after we pass the
Shoal of Seals," he explained. "That is the time I take my 'watch
below,' as we call it, when we come down for a rest or a sleep. But you
are eager to hear the story. Very good. Here goes. A good many years ago
an expedition came up to this part of the world on an exploring mission.
In that party was a Dr. Darwood from some place in the East. I don't
believe I ever heard the name of the place, and if I knew the state I
have forgotten it. Well, to make a long story short, the party was
ambushed by the Kak-wan-tan Indians. Every man of the party was captured
and all were put to death, with the exception of Dr. Darwood. Somehow,
the Indians had learned that he was a big medicine man, so they made the
Doctor captive and took him over the mountains many miles from there.
They probably killed the others so as to make sure of the Doctor."

"What did they want with a medicine man?" interjected the fat boy.

"They wanted him professionally. Their chief was a very sick man. I
guess the old gentleman was about ready to die. At least he thought so.
The chief bore the name of Chief Anna-Hoots. Nice name, eh? No wonder he
got sick."

"He must have belonged to the owl family," observed Chunky.

Tad rebuked the fat boy with a look. The Captain regarded Stacy
quizzically, then proceeded with his story.

"Their own medicine man had been killed by a bear. You see his medicine
wasn't calculated to head off bears. The chief, therefore, was in a bad
way. Dr. Darwood was commanded to make the chief well, and, so the story
goes, after examining Hoots, he at once saw what was the trouble with
the old man. He set to work over the savage, not so much from a
professional interest as that he knew very well his life would be
forfeited did he not do something for the patient. It is a safe guess
that the Doctor never had worked more heroically over a patient. Well,
he saved the chief--had him on his feet and hopping around as lively as
a jack-rabbit in less than twenty-four hours. There was great rejoicing
among Anna's people, and Darwood was feasted and made much of. He was
almost as big a man as Old Hoots himself. Nothing was too good for him
in that camp."

"Why didn't he poison the whole tribe while he had the chance?"
questioned Rector.

"Perhaps it wasn't professional," smiled the Captain in reply. "But
Chief Anna-Hoots--precious old rascal that he was--was so grateful that
he made the Doctor chief medicine man over all the tribes and a tribal
chief of one of the subordinate tribes. And now we are coming to the
point of our story. Old Hoots, later on, let the Doctor into a great
secret. Having driven the evil spirits out of Anna and set him on his
feet almost as good as new, the patient evidently was of the opinion
that the medicine man was entitled to something more than the ordinary
fee for such a service. He took the Doctor to a place where a roaring
glacial stream of icy water was tearing down through a narrow gash in
the mountains on its way to the sea, and there he showed the
doctor-chief gold in great quantities, so the story runs, the pass being
guarded by the Bear Totem. It is not certain whether the vein from which
this gold had been washed was then known. I think Darwood must have
found it later on and located a claim. He at least took from the mouth
of the pass enough gold to make him a fairly rich man. This he hid away,
awaiting a favorable opportunity to get away with it. Such opportunity
presented itself while his tribe was away on a hunt in the fall for meat
for the winter, and made his escape. After some months of terrible
hardships he succeeded in reaching civilization, fairly staggering under
the weight of the gold he had brought away. He had the gold-madness
badly, you see."

"He was plucky," muttered Butler.

"Yes. It was Darwood's intention to return, at the head of a well-armed
party, properly equipped, and work the pay dirt to its limit. But he
died before he could do so. The hardships of that journey, loaded down
with dust and nuggets, led to his ultimate death. You see what avarice
will do to a fellow. It gets to windward of him every time."

"I'd be willing to stagger under all I could carry and take my chances
on the future," observed Chunky reflectively.

"So would we all," nodded the skipper. "That's the worst of us, our
greed. I am glad I am at sea, where I _can't_ dig. Nothing was done
in the matter of locating and working the claim for some years after the
Doctor's death. Then a grandson, Curtis Darwood, who is now aboard this
boat, found a paper or map or something of the sort, on which was a
description of the Doctor's find. It couldn't have been very definite or
they wouldn't have been so long in locating the place. Of course, the
younger man was fired with the desire to find this wonderful mine. The
lure had him fast and hard. He came up here alone the first time and
prospected all summer, but failed, and late that fall he went back home.
When he returned the three other men, who are his companions now, were
with him. They have been together ever since in their prospecting work.
Dawson is a pioneer prospector who knows the game thoroughly. The
others, who have been up here three years, might now be placed in the
same class, though Dawson is the real miner. One can't help but admire
their pluck and persistence, but I shouldn't want to be caught
interfering with them. When a fellow gets the gold madness he is a
dangerous customer to annoy."

"Have they found the gold?" asked Walter Perkins.

Captain Petersen shook his head.

"I think not. If they have, only they know it. They take no one into
their confidence. They went home for the winter last fall, and what
amazes me further is that they are getting up here so late this spring.
Here it is June. They should have been on the job six weeks ago, and in
order to do so they ought to have wintered in the hills. To me that
means something. It will be a wonder if this unusual move on their part
doesn't attract attention. You may believe they are watched. There are,
no doubt, those who are watching the Diggers, and who do not miss any of
their movements." The skipper hesitated, then brought a big fist down on
his cabin table with a bang that set the glassware jingling. "By George,
I begin to see a light!" he roared.

"What do you mean?" cried Chunky.

"What is it, sir?" chorused Tad and Ned in one voice.

"That accounts for Red Whiskers. That accounts for his presence on--"
The skipper checked himself suddenly. "But no matter. It isn't for me to
say." He lapsed into thoughtful silence. "Well, what do you think of the
story?" he asked a few moments later.

"It is all very remarkable," answered Butler. "Where are they
going--their destination, I mean?"

"You never can tell. They have explored pretty much all of the country
within a few hundred miles of here, and it wouldn't surprise me at all
if they had stumbled over the right place dozens of times and didn't
know it. But there is one significant fact. They have brought up a lot
of equipment this time. It looks as if they thought they had the place
pretty well located. It certainly does look that way. There's another
thing I forgot to tell you. This place, this pass where the gold is
supposed to lie, is the abode of a great and angry spirit."

"A really, truly spirit?" questioned Walter wonderingly.

"I can't say about the really-truly business," replied Captain Petersen,
with a grin. "I am telling you the story as I have heard it. Had Old
Hoots' tribe known that the Doctor went in there and dug out gold which
he salted away they would have put him to death. It's a sacred place. It
was then, and I'll wager it is now. You may believe that the
superstition has been handed down."

"But the Indians up here now are not at all savage, are they?" asked
Butler.

"Perhaps not where the white man has taken possession in force. But you
get into the far interior--there is a great deal of Alaska that the
white man knows very little about yet--and you will find them savage
enough, provided they think they have you in a pocket, and especially so
if you interfere with any of their religious customs or beliefs. In
these respects they are simply human."

"I should call them inhuman," observed the fat boy.

"I don't blame them," nodded Tad.

"Now, that is the story of the Gold Diggers, so far as I know it,"
continued the Captain. "As I have already said, not many persons up here
do know it. A veil of mystery surrounds the four silent men. They make
no other friends, confide in no one, and live in a little world all
their own. The story, as I have repeated it to you, was told to me by a
man from their part of the country who came up here to spend the summer
last season. That is how I came to know the details. It is possible,
though not probable, that you might get them to tell you something about
the country."

"I'll make them talk," answered Stacy pompously.

"What is their destination?" asked Butler quickly.

"Skagway. However, that undoubtedly is a blind. They may be going on
farther from that point, or they may be intending to work back along the
coast after they leave the ship, then strike into the hills at some
remote point. I can't say as to that, of course. They will disappear.
You may depend upon that, and nothing may be heard of them again for a
year."

"What do they do for provisions?" questioned Rector.

"The same as you will have to do if you penetrate far into the interior.
They hunt and fish, saving their canned supplies for the winter, for the
winter months are long and drear up in this far northern country."

"When does winter set in?" asked Ned.

"Very early. It seems to be most always winter up here."

"Thank you very much," said Tad. "This has been most interesting. I
should like to ask them something about the country where we are going.
Of course I shouldn't presume to question them about their own affairs.
That would be none of my business."

"Where are you going?"

"We had planned to strike north from Yakutat."

"You will find rough country that way. I should say you would have tough
traveling all the way. If you can get the Gold Diggers to open up, they
will undoubtedly be able to give you some useful information that would
enable you to lay your course to the best advantage. But I think I know
the Diggers. You may not be able to get a civil word out of them."

"They'll talk to me," answered the fat boy confidently.

"Please don't permit yourself to be overcome," warned Rector. "Remember
your most excellent opinion of yourself has been the cause of some
mighty falls already."

"Well, I fell in soft spots anyhow," retorted Stacy.

"Ordinarily on your head, I believe," answered Ned quickly.

Again thanking the Captain for his kindness, the lads returned to the
deck. Tad leaned against the rail thinking over the story related by the
skipper. The romance of the quest of the Diggers appealed to Butler's
adventure-loving nature. He declared to himself that he would draw them
into conversation and satisfy his further curiosity. Looking them over
in the light of what he had heard, Tad saw that the four were
determined-looking men, were men who would do and dare, no matter how
great the obstacles or the perils. He could not but feel a keen
admiration for them. They were real men, even if they were surly and
reticent.

"Tad, how would you like to belong to that party of prospectors?" asked
Ned, nodding toward the four.

"I can't imagine anything more exciting. I wish we might. I wonder if
they are going our way?"

"Why don't you ask them?"

"I intend to," answered Tad, rousing himself and starting towards the
prospectors who were lounging apart from the other passengers on the
deck of the steamer.

"Watch him get turned down," grinned Stacy. "I shall have to break the
ice for him. He never will be able to do it for himself."

"Better wait until you are asked," advised Ned Rector.

As Stacy had said, Tad did not succeed in getting into conversation with
the Diggers that day. Early on the following morning the boys were on
deck, being unwilling to miss a single moment of the scenery.

The "Corsair" was swinging majestically into Queen Charlotte Sound, a
splendid sweep of purple water, where great waves from the Pacific
rolled in, sending the steamer plunging desperately. There was a scurry
on the part of many of the early risers to get below decks, for the
change from the quiet waters through which the boat had been sailing to
this tumultuous sea was more than most of them were able to stand. Stacy
Brown was already on his back in the shadow of a life boat, groaning
miserably. Walter Perkins' face was pale, but he held himself together
by a strong effort of will, but Tad Butler and Ned Rector appeared not
in the least affected by the roll of the steamer. Both were lost in
admiration of the scene that was unfolding before them.

"They roll along with the lightness of thistledown across a green
field," declared Tad enthusiastically, speaking to himself. "It is
simply glorious."

He heard someone come to the rail at his side, but the lad was too fully
absorbed to look around.

"That wasn't bad for a sentiment, young fellow," said a voice at his
elbow. "If you stay up in this country long enough, however, you will
get all the sentiment frozen out of you. I know, for I've been all
through it. I'm lucky that my bones aren't up yonder somewhere."

"Yes, sir," answered Butler.

Glancing around he found himself gazing into the face of Curtis Darwood.



CHAPTER II

THE BOYS SCENT A PLOT


"Oh, how do you do, sir. Did I say anything?"

"Well, there's a chance for a difference of opinion as to that," smiled
the miner.

"I have been enjoying the scenery, sir. Isn't it beautiful?"

"You should see it at sunrise," answered Darwood. "These mists are well
worth coming all the way up here to gaze upon. In the morning they take
on all the delicate tints of the primrose. Then at sunset of course the
colors grow warmer--amber, orange, gold--almost everything that could be
imagined in the way of wonderful colorings. All that sort of thing, you
know. I never saw anything like it in any part of the world, and I've
seen some," added the Gold Digger reflectively.

"I should like to see it at sunset," answered Tad. "Is it ever like this
in the interior, sir?"

"Interior of what?"

"Of the country? Up there in the mountains?"

Darwood gave the boy a quick glance of inquiry. There was suspicion in
his eyes.

"In the far country?" added Butler.

"I can't say as to that; I can't say that I know," replied the
prospector shortly.

"What we wanted to ask you about was the Yakutat trail from the coast
up?" interjected Ned. "You see, we are going that way and we want to get
all the information we can about the trails and the country itself."

Tad gave his companion a warning look, but Ned persisted in pressing his
questioning. The miner's hands dropped from the rail.

"I reckon you would better ask someone else. I can't tell you anything
about the trail," replied Darwood, turning on his heel and striding
away.

"There, you've done it now," complained Butler ruefully. "Of course you
had to break in and spoil it all. Now we shan't get another opportunity.
Mr. Darwood is suspicious of us, and he won't talk with us again. It's
too bad."

"Well, you wanted to know. What's the use in beating about the bush when
you want to know a thing. I believe in asking for what you want,"
protested Ned.

"So do I, but it isn't always best to go at it bald-headed. However,
never mind, Ned. I am now convinced that there would be little use in
asking Mr. Darwood questions in any circumstances. The instant you begin
to talk Alaska with that man he is going to shy off. He fears he might
be trapped into an admission, or else he thinks we are trying to pump
him for some other reason. You may be sure that others have tried to
draw him out, believing they might obtain information that he is
supposed to possess."

"They are a queer lot," muttered Ned. "Didn't the Captain say no one
knew anything about this gold pass, or whatever you call it?"

"Taku Pass? Yes. That is, he said few persons knew of it, but you may be
sure that the purpose of these men up here is known. There are plenty of
gentlemen waiting to beat those four into the land of golden promise. I
don't blame the Diggers for having their suspicions of everyone about
them. I wish I could convince them that we aren't that sort of people. I
like that fellow. I'd like to help him, too," mused Tad.

"I shouldn't. However, I'm sorry I put my foot in it," nodded Ned.

"You needn't be. See! We are running out of the swell now."

The steamer, soon coming under the lee of the islands, was steaming into
Fitzhugh Sound, where dangerous shoals menace the navigators of these
enchanting waters. Captain Petersen was now occupying the little bridge
just forward of the pilot house. His face was grim and set. The good
fellow was no longer present--it was now the master, bent upon attending
to his duties.

The sound is a slender waterway, extending directly northward fully
thirty miles, more entrancing, it seemed to the boys, than any other
water over which they had sailed. The Pony Rider Boys were having a
glorious passage into the far north where they were going in search of
new adventure. They were bound for the wildest and most remote section
of Uncle Sam's domain, where they hoped to spend the summer months.

Now that the waters had become more quiet, Stacy Brown slowly dragged
himself from the shadow of the life-boat and stood gripping the gunwale.
After getting his head leveled somewhat he walked unsteadily to his
companions who were leaning on the steamer's rail regarding him with
smiling faces.

"Sick?" questioned Tad.

"No; merely ailing," replied the fat boy.

"I wouldn't be a landlubber," jeered Rector.

"You would, if you were in my place," muttered Stacy.

On through a panorama of changing scenes and colors sailed the
"Corsair." In Finlayson Channel, some distance farther on, the forest
that lined the shores was a solid mountain of green on each side, the
trees growing down to the water. Here the reflections were so brilliant
that the dividing line between shore and water was difficult for the
untrained eye to make out. The boys seemed to be gazing upon an optical
illusion. From the water's edge the mountains rose sheer to a great
height, their distant peaks capped with snow glistening in the morning
sunlight, while glacial streams flashed over the open spaces on the
mountain sides.

"Is there no end to it?" wondered Tad Butler, gazing at the scenery
until his eyes ached.

"It is all very wonderful," agreed Professor Zepplin.

"I call it tiresome," declared the fat boy wearily. "I prefer something
exciting."

Ned suggested that he jump overboard. Stacy replied that he would were
it not that he didn't want to put his companions to the trouble of
rescuing him.

The entrancing scenery continued at intervals until the evening of the
second day after their unsuccessful attempt to draw out Curtis Darwood.
They were now passing through Frederick Sound, bordered by spire-shaped
glaciers that towered in the sky, pale and chaste, more than two
thousand feet above the sound. Darkness fell, the sky being overcast,
and the air chill, giving the passengers the shivers and sending them to
their cabins below. Tad Butler and Ned Rector had clambered to the top
of the deck-house and settled themselves between the two smokestacks. It
was a nice warm berth and they appreciated it. They seemed far away from
human habitation there.

"You said you had something to tell me this evening," Ned reminded his
companion, after a few moments of contented silence.

"Yes. It was about last night. You remember that remark of the skipper's
the other day, don't you?"

"About what?"

"What he said about 'Red Whiskers'?"

"Yes."

"I have the gentleman located, Ned. I am reasonably certain that I have.
Of course it's none of my business, but I have been curious ever since
the Captain said that. My man has red whiskers, regular combustible
whiskers," added the freckle-faced boy with a grin.

"There are several men on board this boat who wear red upholstery on
their chins," averred Rector.

"I know that, but this one is the fellow, all right," declared Tad in a
confident tone.

"You know something!" exclaimed Ned.

"I do. Don't speak so loudly. Someone might hear. I heard someone
passing along the deck just below us a moment ago."

"No one down there could distinguish what we were saying," answered Ned,
as the two drew back farther between the steel bases of the two funnels.

"Well?" urged Ned.

"The man referred to by Captain Petersen is Sandy Ketcham, the tall,
lank fellow, with the squinty eyes and the stoop shoulders. He has a
trick of peering up from under his eyelids when he looks at you."

"Oh! I know the one you mean, and I don't like his looks. How did you
know?"

"Since the Captain made that remark about 'Red Whiskers' I have been
taking an interest in every man on the boat who wore red whiskers," said
Tad. "I tried to decide, in my own mind, which of them was the right
one."

"So did I," admitted Ned. "But I got all mixed up. If you succeeded in
picking out the right one you are mighty sharp. I wish I were as keen as
you."

"Keen? Not a bit of it! It was a pure accident that I found out. I just
blundered on the truth last night. The man I had picked out wasn't the
fellow at all. I had the wrong man, so you see I am not so smart as you
thought. You remember you left Stacy and myself sitting on a bale of
freight at the rear end of the boat when you went down late last
evening?"

"Yes. Chunky was half asleep."

"Exactly. Well, I shook him up a few moments later and he went below
grumbling because I wouldn't let him sleep when he was so comfortable.
He was liable to catch cold in the damp air. Then I went to sleep
myself," admitted Butler. "I'm not much of an adviser, am I?"

"Go on," urged Rector.

"Something awakened me. Two men were talking nearby. I couldn't see
them, but could hear every word they said. One of the two I recognized
by his voice. The other I was unable to place. I got him placed right
to-day though, when I heard him talking on deck. They are a precious
pair of rascals, Ned. Perhaps it is considered fair enough up here to do
those things, but I just can't hold myself when I see crookedness going
on."

"You haven't said what it was about yet," reminded Ned.

"They were plotting against Darwood."

"You don't say?"

"Yes, they were."

"How?"

"I am not going to tell you now. The question is, ought I to tell Mr.
Darwood? Would it be right to carry tales, even in a case like this?"

"Not knowing what the case is I can't very well advise you," answered
Ned Rector.

"What did they say?"

"I'd rather not say a word about that until I have decided what to do."

"You're a queer chap, Tad. You arouse my curiosity; then you won't
satisfy it."

"You shall know all about it in good time. Hark! Was that you who kicked
the collar of the stack?"

"No. I didn't hear anything. Who was the other man?"

"His name is Ainsworth. He is a prospector, too. They are together, he
and the man Sandy. There are some others in the plot, as I learned from
the conversation, but I hardly think they are on board. I take it that
the others are to meet this party at Skagway, which proves to me that
the plans of our friends, the four Gold Diggers, were learned by the
plotters some time before the former set sail for the north country. Oh,
it is a fine game of grab they are planning! But I believe that, if Mr.
Darwood be warned in time, he will be perfectly able to take care of
himself. I am quite sure I shouldn't care to be the other fellow."

"I don't know why we should get so excited over it," grumbled Ned.
"Darwood and his companions are no friends of ours. I should say that
quite the opposite is the case."

"But they are real men, just the same," objected Tad. "I don't care
whether they are friendly to us or not. Come on; let's get down."

Grasping awning spars the two lads swung down to the promenade of the
upper deck. After they had cleared the deck-house a man dropped to the
deck from the deck-house, on the opposite side.

After a few moments' stroll, during which the boys continued their
conversation, they went below. On reaching his cabin, Butler discovered
that he had lost his pocket knife. Thinking that it had slipped from his
pocket while the two were lounging on the deck-house, Tad went back to
look for it. He was the only person in sight on deck. That part of the
deck was unlighted, save as a faint glow shone up through the engine
room grating. The freckle-faced boy looked carefully about on top of the
deck-house for several minutes, in search of his lost knife, lighting
match after match to aid him in his quest. He failed to find it. With a
grunt of disappointment he again swung himself to the deck.

The instant his feet touched the deck, Tad Butler met with a violent
surprise. He was suddenly grabbed from behind. A powerful arm gripped
him like a vise, pinioning his own right arm to his side, while a big
hand was clapped over his mouth, forcing the lad's head violently
backwards with a jolt which for the moment he thought had dislocated his
neck.

Tad struggled and fought with all his might, but to little purpose. The
boy realized that he was in the hands of a man who was a giant for
strength and who was slowly but surely forcing him toward the steamer's
rail. The Pony Rider Boy felt a bushy beard over his shoulder and
against his neck. Now he was against the rail, facing out over the
water. Butler knew that, despite his struggles, he was going to be
dropped over the side. Then a sudden idea came to him. Tad shot up his
free left hand, fastening his fingers in the long beard of the man
behind him. He heard a smothered exclamation over his shoulder, and for
the instant the hand over his mouth was withdrawn.

"Help!" shouted Tad Butler. Then a blow on the head sent him limply to
the deck.



CHAPTER III

IN DESPERATE STRAITS


Tad's assailant hastily gathered the boy up. The man staggered slightly,
as, after a hurried glance up and down the deck, he stepped toward the
rail with his burden. Just then footsteps were heard.

"Hey! What are you doing there?" bellowed a voice. A man came running
from somewhere in the after part of the ship. Butler's assailant dropped
his burden, dodged into a passageway in the deck-house, closing the door
behind him and disappearing before the newcomer reached the door and
threw it open. Then the rescuer turned to the unconscious Tad Butler.

"Well, here's trouble!" he muttered. Taking up Tad's limp form he
carried it to where the light from the grating shone up. "It's that
freckle-faced kid. Somebody gave him a tough wallop," growled the man.
Tad's rescuer was Sam Dawson, one of the Gold Diggers. "I reckon I'll
fetch him around if his neck isn't broken."

Laying the lad down on the deck where he would have plenty of air, the
Digger worked over the Pony Rider Boy for fully five minutes before Tad
returned to consciousness. Butler was too dazed to realize what had
occurred.

"I'll take you below now, my lad," said Dawson.

"No, no. Not yet," protested Tad. "Wait. I want to think."

"Who was the fellow who hit you?" demanded Dawson.

"I--I don't know," stammered Tad.

"What did he do it for?"

"I--I don't know. I--"

"You aren't very strong on information, are you?" grinned the
prospector.

"I want--want to see Mr. Darwood."

"You can see him to-morrow. You'd better get into your bunk right smart.
I'll help you down."

"Thank you. I'll go alone--in a minute," said Butler, pulling himself up
by the rail to which he clung unsteadily. "I don't want anyone to know.
I'll tell Mr. Darwood what I have to say."

"Have it your own way. I'm going to follow along behind, to see that you
get down all right," answered the man.

"Thank you. I guess you saved me from getting a wetting," said the boy,
extending an impulsive hand. "Now I'll go to my cabin. Please don't say
anything about this. Good-night."

Tad's progress below was slow and unsteady. Dawson watched him until the
door of the cabin had closed behind the Pony Rider Boy.

"That's a raw deal," muttered the miner. "I'd like to punch the head of
the fellow who would do that to a kid!"

Butler got into his bunk without awakening his companions. His head
ached terribly, and it was a long time before he fell asleep. The next
morning his head felt twice its ordinary size. The boys joked him on his
appearance, but Tad merely smiled, refusing to say what had been the
matter with him. Ned was suspicious. He knew that Butler had been
engaged in a scuffle, but what it was he was unable to imagine. Tad had
been strolling about the decks all the morning, as if in search of
someone. He found the man he was seeking late in the forenoon. The man
was sitting on a keg of nails on the after part of the upper deck, his
back to Tad.

"Good morning, Mr. Ketcham," greeted the Pony Rider Boy.

The red-whiskered man whirled, letting the hand that had been caressing
his beard fall limply to his side.

"Beard hurt you?" questioned Tad sweetly.

"None of yer business!" was the surly reply.

"Mr. Ketcham, I know you and I know your game," began Butler in a low,
even tone. "I know, too, that you are the man who assaulted me and tried
to put me overboard."

"I don't know what ye're talking about," growled Sandy.

"Oh, yes you do--and so do I! I've a handful of whiskers which match
perfectly those you are wearing. Shall I pull some more for comparison
with those I already have?" questioned the boy aggravatingly.

Ketcham half rose, then settled back again, as if fearing to trust
himself.

"You may be thankful that you didn't do it. My companions would have
taken care of you, had anything happened to me," Tad went on composedly.
"I want to say, now, that it would be good judgment on your part not to
try any more strong-arm tactics on me or on my companions. If you do,
you will instantly find yourself in more kinds of trouble than you have
ever before experienced. Now that we know you, we shall be able to take
care of you as you deserve. I reckon you know what that means, Red
Whiskers."

"Get out of here, before I do something to you!" roared Sandy.

"Oh, no you won't! You don't dare raise your hand. I could turn you over
to the Captain and have you placed in irons till we get ashore. I have
proof enough to send you to a jail, if they have such places up here.
But I'm not going to do that. I am going to be fair with you and tell
you exactly what I propose. I am going to tell Curtis Darwood about you.
No, I shan't tell him who it is. I will tell him that someone is
following and watching him--you and Ainsworth. He will find you out,
never fear. I will give you one chance. Get off at the next stop, and I
will tell him after we leave there. Take your choice. Take your friend
with you. I don't want to be responsible for any shooting on this boat.
What do you say, Mr. Sandy?"

The fellow's fingers opened and closed nervously. He attempted to speak
but failed three times. Finally he blurted out his answer:

"Will you git out of here? I'll lose myself in a minit; then I won't
answer for what I do."

"Never mind," answered Tad laughingly. "I can take care of myself.
_Your_ kind never did scare me worth a cent."

Sandy sprang up. He hesitated for a few tense seconds, then strode
forward with Butler's soft chuckle in his ears.

The two men did get off when the boat stopped late that afternoon. Tad
was at the rail watching them. Sam Dawson was also an observer of the
scene. He saw the threatening scowl that Ketcham gave the smiling Tad,
and drew his own conclusions, and at the same time decided that the
freckle-faced boy was pretty well able to hold his own. Dawson really
suspected part of the reason for this hasty disembarking, though he
thought it was because Tad had threatened to expose the man Ketcham.

It was after supper when Tad called Ned Rector aside.

"I promised to tell you, Ned. Come with me and listen to what I am going
to tell Mr. Darwood."

Ned went willingly. Darwood was sitting on deck. Tad halted before him,
Darwood glancing up at the boys with languid interest.

"May I speak with you?" asked the lad politely.

"I reckon there's nothing to prevent," was the careless answer.

Tad went direct to the point of his story.

"A night or so ago I chanced to overhear two men who were passengers on
this boat talking of you and the gentlemen who were with you. They were
planning to follow and watch you. They thought you had discovered the
claim for which you have been looking for so long."

Darwood shot an angry glance at the boy.

"Go on," he growled.

"From their conversation I inferred that perhaps you already had
discovered this claim and were on your way with equipment to work it. I
further understood that they were to be met by others on shore and that
the party was then to divide up and cover the movements of yourself and
your friends. One of these fellows, I think, overheard me telling part
of this story to my friend, Ned, last night, and the man tried to throw
me overboard, after nearly squeezing me to death and then punching my
head. I merely wanted to warn you to be on the lookout, and at the same
time to tell you that neither of the two men is on board now. You may
draw your own conclusions, sir."

Ned Rector's face had flushed when Tad described the assault on himself.

"Is that all?" asked Darwood indifferently.

"Yes; I think so."

"Thank you," said the Gold Digger, getting up slowly and strolling
forward.

Ned laughed; Tad flushed.

"That's what you get for meddling with other folks' business," declared
Rector.

"I reckon you are right at that," answered Tad. Then he laughed
heartily. Nor did he exchange another word with the Gold Diggers of Taku
Pass during the rest of that journey on the "Corsair."



CHAPTER IV

ON THE OVERLAND TRAIL


It was the early morn of a week later when the "Corsair" sailed into
Skagway harbor. Exclamations of delight were heard from every person who
had not been there before. This beautiful spot is located at the mouth
of the Skagway River, with mountains rising on all sides, from which
countless cascades rush foaming and sparkling down to the sea, or drop
sheer from such heights that one is forced to catch his breath.

Skagway itself the Pony Rider Boys found gay with pretty cottages
climbing over the foot-hills; well-worn, flower-strewn paths leading to
the heights; the river's waters rippling over grassy flats; flower
gardens beyond the power of their vocabularies to describe. Added to
this, there was a sweetness in the air, which, as Stacy Brown expressed
it, "makes a fellow feel like sitting down and doing nothing for the
rest of his life."

There were many trips to be taken from the city, perhaps the most
historic in all that wild country. The boys journeyed out into the
interior on the famous White Pass railway, climbed Mount Dewey to Dewey
Lake, and took a look at the hunting grounds where mountain sheep were
to be had providing one were quick enough on the trigger to get the
little animals before they leaped away. The next morning they turned
their attention to the task of purchasing such of their outfit as they
had not yet procured.

Having been referred to a man who kept Alaskan ponies for sale, they
tramped out to the end of the long street on which the stores were
located. There, sure enough, was a large herd of them in a paddock in a
vacant lot. There were a good many vacant lots in Skagway. The boys
climbed the paddock fence and looked over the lot.

"Me for that black one over yonder," cried Chunky.

"Why the black one?" asked Ned. "I thought you liked the lighter colors,
the delicate tints?"

"I do when some other fellow has to groom the animals. For a
labor-saving color give me black every time. With a black horse I can
sleep half an hour longer than any fellow who has a white one and yet be
ready for breakfast as soon as he is."

"You're too lazy to change your mind," growled Ned Rector.

"You want the black one, you say?" questioned Tad.

"That's what I said."

"And you, Ned?"

"Oh, I don't care. I'll stand by your choice."

"So will I," spoke up Walter. "The Professor said you were to choose
something in his class for him to ride, too."

"Buy him a mule!" yelled Chunky.

"Yes, that reminds me. We shall have to take a couple of mules. I wonder
if we can get them here. There comes the owner of this herd. We'll talk
to him."

The owner of the ponies had been expecting the visit of the boys. He had
been told that they would require ponies and did not know that the Pony
Rider Boys had formed conclusions about them in advance.

Tad introduced himself and his companions.

"I've got just what you want, boys," nodded the owner. "Every one of
those fellows is kind and gentle and will stand without hitching."

"That isn't exactly what we are looking for. We are not particular about
their being girls' horses. We want stock that has the gimp in it," Tad
informed him.

"That's it, that's it. You've just hit it. Gimp! That's the word, and
there's another that fits--ginger! They're just full of ginger, every
one of them. There ain't any more lively nags in Alaska than these
fellows."

"They must have changed within the last minute, then," smiled the Pony
Rider Boy.

"How so?"

"Why, you were just telling us how gentle they are, then almost in the
same breath you try to convince us that they are regular whirlwinds.
However, we'll let that go. What I do want to know is what sort of
mountain ponies they are. If they turn out not to be good mountain
climbers you may look for some trouble when we get back here."

"Boys, every one of those nags has been brought up in this country. They
can follow a mountain trail like a deerhound, and that's straight. I
wouldn't sell you anything else."

"Oh, no, certainly not," answered Butler. "How much for the
light-colored one?"

"The buckskin?"

"Yes."

"Two hundred and fifty dollars."

"I beg pardon?" asked Tad politely.

"Two hundred and fifty."

"I think you misunderstood me, sir. I didn't want to buy the whole
herd."

"You wanted five ponies?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, there you are. The buckskin will cost you two-fifty and so will
the black. You can have any of the rest for two hundred and they're
cheap hosses at that."

"Lead them out."

"Then you'll take them at that?"

"I haven't said anything about taking them, yet. I said lead them out. I
want to look them over."

The owner smiled, but nodded to his hostler to rope and show the animals
to the young men. Tad examined a dozen head, out of which he got three
ponies, motioning to the hostler to tether them to one side where he
could look them over again.

"What's the matter with the others?" asked the man.

"Various things. Some are wind-broken, two have the distemper, and if
you don't watch out your whole herd will be getting it. I shall be
rather afraid to buy any stock of you on that account. How long have
they had the disease?"

"I didn't know they had it at all," stammered the owner.

"You had better watch them pretty carefully, then. How old is that
buckskin?"

"Just coming four."

"Did somebody tell you that, or did you learn it from your own
observation?" questioned Tad Butler sweetly.

"I reckon I know a hoss's age when I look at his mouth," answered the
man, but not quite with the same assurance that he had made his first
statements. This clear-eyed, quiet young man, he began to understand,
knew a little something about horses, or at least pretended to.

"Then, sir, you have neglected your horse education. The buckskin is
twelve years old," declared Butler firmly.

"Mebby I might have made a mistake in looking at his mouth when I got
him," answered the owner apologetically.

Suppressed grins might have been observed on the faces of the other
boys, who were still sitting on the paddock fence. They were leaving all
matters pertaining to the stock in Butler's hands, knowing full well
that Tad's judgment was better than theirs.

In turn the lad once more examined the horses he had chosen, then added
to them enough to make up their allotment.

"Stacy, you are quite sure you want the black?" he questioned.

The fat boy nodded.

"He has a slight ringbone," Tad informed him.

"All the better."

"Why do you say that? I never knew that a ringbone increased the value
of a horse."

"A horse that wears rings must be a pretty classy horse," replied the
fat boy. "Me for the horse with the jewelry. Put a pair of natty boots
on him and there you have an outfit that would make a Mexican part with
his spurs."

"Pshaw!" grunted Ned. "Very fancy, but not much good for real work."

"Stacy doesn't mean that," answered Tad with a tolerant smile.

"Yes, I do mean it."

"We need a pack mule," said Butler, turning to the owner. "Can you tell
us where we may get one or two?"

"Why, I've got just the critters you want. They're in the yard just back
of the stables. Say, Jim, drive out the mules."

There were five mules in the pack driven out for their examination.
These started slowly moving about in a circle with heads well down,
trailing each other as if following a regular routine.

"Fine young stock, hardy and true and quick," said the owner, rubbing
his palms together.

"We don't want any quick one. We've had some experience with the quick
kind," declared Stacy Brown. "They were so quick I couldn't get out of
the way of their heels. No, siree, no quick mules for mine."

"I don't think you need worry much about these," smiled Tad. "How much
do you ask for those fellows?"

"How many?"

"Two. I to take my pick."

"A hundred apiece."

"I wouldn't give that for the lot of them," scoffed Chunky.

"Keep still. You aren't making this bargain," rebuked Ned, giving the
fat boy a poke in the ribs.

Tad made a brief calculation on a slip of paper, then he looked up
severely.

"Five ponies at seventy-five dollars would amount to three hundred and
seventy-five dollars. Two mules at forty each would be eighty more,
making a total of four hundred and fifty-five dollars," said Butler.
"I'll tell you what I will do. I will give you an even four hundred for
the five ponies I have picked out and the two mules that I shall
choose."

"Outrageous!" exploded the owner. "Why, those mules are worth half of
the price you offer for the whole outfit."

"Nonsense! Those mules have been used on crushers in the mines. Any one
could see that by watching them mill about in a circle--"

"Five hundred dollars," broke in the owner.

"Nothing doing, sir," answered Tad. "Four hundred even."

"I'll make it four-fifty-five and not a cent less."

"Come along, fellows. I know where we can get a better lot for the
money, anyway," declared Tad with a note of finality in his tone.

"Don't I get my skate?" wailed Chunky.

"Not at the price he asks. Never mind, I'll find you something better
for the money." Tad had already started away. His companions got slowly
down from the fence and followed, while the owner of the stock stood
mopping his forehead.

"Here, take 'em!" he cried. "I might as well give them away, I suppose.
I need the money, but you're getting them for nothing."

"You are wrong. As it is we are paying you a hundred dollars more than
the outfit is worth. Here is your money. Give me a receipt in full. We
will get the stock out some time this afternoon."

"You're the hardest driver of a bargain I ever come up with," protested
the man.

"You know you don't mean that. If we hadn't known something about horses
you know you would have done us to a turn," answered Tad, laughing.
"Yes, I do believe in driving a bargain, but I wouldn't ask a man to
sell me a thing at a lower price than it was worth. Just keep these
animals cut out if you will, unless you want to go to the bother of
cutting them out again."

"I got my skate," grinned Chunky as they were walking back towards the
hotel where they were to meet the Professor. The latter had given Butler
the money for the stock earlier in the day, knowing full well that Tad
could make a much better bargain than could he. Tad had made a fair
bargain. He had obtained a good lot of stock and he planned,
furthermore, to sell the animals after finishing their journey, which
would reduce the cost at least to a nominal sum.

The rest of the day was devoted to gathering supplies and packing. The
boys had brought their saddles, bridles and other equipment of this
nature with them, including tents and lighter camp equipment. In the
meantime they had looked about for a guide, but without success. They
were told that no doubt they would be able to find a man for their
purpose upon their arrival at Yakutat, a hundred miles further on. The
trail to that place, their informant told them, was a post trail which
they would find no difficulty in following. The post rider would not be
going through for another three days, and at any rate he undoubtedly
would travel faster than they cared to do. It was decided, therefore,
that they should start out without a guide on the morrow and make their
way to Yakutat as best they might.

The start was made in the early morning, the great mountains and the
waters beneath it bathed in wondrous tints such as one finds nowhere
outside of these far northern regions. The boys were light-hearted,
happy, and were looking forward eagerly to experiences in the wilds of
Alaska that should wholly satisfy their longings for activity and
adventure.



CHAPTER V

TRAVELING A DANGEROUS MOUNTAIN PASS


To the right the well-known Chilkoot Pass extended up into the mountain
fastness, the pass that had been traveled by so many in the early rush
for the gold fields. Chilkoot a long distance to the northeast
intersects the White Horse Pass. It is a rugged trail, but an easier one
to travel than the one chosen by the Pony Rider Boys for the first stage
of their journeyings.

The object of Professor Zepplin in choosing the route to the northwest
was to take the boys into territory that had been little explored, and
to give them their fill of what is really the wildest and most rugged
region of the United States.

"By the way," called Rector after they had gotten well started and had
dropped the village behind them, "what became of our friends?"

"The four gold diggers?" asked Butler.

"They must have gone on with the ship," said Walter.

"Yes, they must have," agreed Stacy.

"No, they didn't," answered Tad. "I saw Dawson in town yesterday. Funny
thing, but he seemed not to see me. In fact he tried to avoid me."

"Did you let him?" questioned Chunky.

"Yes. Why should I wish to force myself on anyone who doesn't want to
see me? Not I. They are queer fellows. It isn't because they don't like
us, but rather because they are suspicious. They are afraid someone will
get a line on where they are going. Wouldn't it be queer if we were to
bump into them somewhere in the interior?"

"No danger of that," spoke up the Professor. "I heard Mr. Darwood say
they were going out the Chilkoot Pass for a short distance, from which
they might branch off."

Tad chuckled softly.

"Why do you laugh?" demanded the Professor.

"Oh, I was just thinking of something funny."

"Let's hear it," begged Stacy.

"I rather think I'll keep it to myself," answered Tad, smiling. "Let
Stacy tell you one of his funny stories."

"All right, I'll tell you one," agreed Chunky readily.

"Leave the telling until you get to camp," advised the Professor. "This
is a rough trail, and you need to give it your undivided attention."

"The Professor is right. We would do well to watch out where we are
going," agreed Tad.

"Yes, I dread to think what would happen to our packs were one of those
mules, in a moment of forgetfulness, to think he was traveling in a
circle at the end of a sweep down in a mine," said Ned.

The trail they were now following was narrow. In fact, it was a mere
gash in the side of the mountain, winding in and out with many a sharp
turn, and there was barely room for the ponies to travel in single file.
Above them towered the mountains for thousands of feet. Below them was a
sheer precipice of fully two hundred feet, getting deeper all the time,
as they continued on a gradual ascent.

"I don't think I should like to be the post rider on this trail,"
decided Ned, gazing wide-eyed at the abyss.

"Especially on a dark night," added Tad.

"Or any other kind of a night," piped the fat boy.

"Oh, I don't know about that," answered Walter. "On a dark night you
couldn't see the gorge. What we don't know doesn't hurt us, eh?"

"There is some logic in that," agreed the Professor.

Professor Zepplin was leading the way, dragging one mule after him at
the end of a rope. Then came Ned with the second pack mule, followed by
Tad and the other two boys. Butler wanted to follow behind the mules so
as to keep watch of them, he not feeling any too great confidence in the
worn-out old animals.

The Professor halted at a turning-out place, where the rocks had been
worn out by the wash of a mountain stream sufficiently wide to enable
two horses to meet and pass by a tight pinch.

"Young gentlemen, this is a wonderful country," he said.

"It's kind of hilly," admitted Stacy.

"In the Indian tongue, Alaska means 'the great country,'" added the
Professor.

"Why, I didn't know you talked Indian," cried Ned.

"I always suspected the Professor was an Indian. Now I know it,"
chuckled Stacy.

"Young men, if you will listen I shall be glad to enlighten you as to
some of the marvels of the country we are now in. If my recollection
serves me right, the country has an area of about six hundred thousand
square miles."

Chunky uttered a long-drawn whistle of amazement.

"Some territory that, eh, fellows?" he said, nodding.

"If my recollection serves me right, Alaska is bigger than all the
Atlantic states combined from Maine to Louisiana."

"That's where they have the 'gators," said Chunky.

"And with half of Texas thrown in," continued the Professor. "It has a
coast line of about twenty-six thousand miles, a greater sea frontage
than all the shores of the United States combined."

"Why one would travel as far as if he were to go around the world in
going over all the coast line, then, wouldn't he, Professor?" wondered
Tad.

"Exactly. Furthermore, it extends so far towards Asia that it carries
the dominion of our great country as far west of San Francisco as New
York is east of it, making California really a central state."

"Oh, Professor. Will you please repeat that? I didn't get it," called
the fat boy.

"You must listen if you wish to hear what I am saying. Your mind
wanders."

"I hope it doesn't do much wandering here. I'll surely be a dead one if
it does," retorted Stacy, peering down the sheer walls that dropped into
the gloomy pass below him.

"To give you another illustration, were you to combine England, Ireland,
Scotland, France and Italy, you still would lack considerable of having
enough to make an Alaska. Then, added to this, are the great mountains,
thousands of feet high, and one great river--not to speak of the smaller
ones--that flows through more than two thousand miles of wonderful
country. I have given you a bird's-eye-view of the country, a small part
of which you have started to explore."

"Yes, a fellow needs a bird's-eye up here. He has to have or he's a
goner," declared Chunky.

"And by the way, Professor," said Tad. "Your pony is yawning with his
left hind leg."

"Haw, haw, haw! That's a good one," laughed the fat boy.

"What do you mean?" wondered the Professor.

"He is stretching himself. His left hind foot at this moment is
suspended over several hundred feet of space. But don't startle him for
goodness' sake," laughed Tad.

The Professor glanced back. Afterwards the boys declared he had gone
pale at the sight of that foot held so carelessly over the yawning
chasm, but the Professor denied the accusation. He clucked very gently
to the pony. The little animal lazily drew the foot in, and, after
trying several places, at last found a spot that appeared to suit it and
on which it placed the small foot. The boys drew a sigh of relief.

"My, but that was a narrow escape," derided Ned. "Just think of it,
Professor."

"Gid ap," commanded Professor Zepplin. "Look sharp that none of you does
worse."

Now and then reaching a spot where they could get an unobstructed view
of the distance the boys were fairly thrilled by the sight of the jagged
peaks, sparkling in the sunlight, many hidden in the clouds and too high
to be seen. It was an awesome sight and at such times stilled the merry
voices of the Pony Rider Boys as they gazed off over the array of
wonderful heights.

"What are they?" asked Ned when he first caught sight of this vista of
mountain peaks.

"The first one should be Mt. Lituya and the next Mt. Fairweather," Tad
replied.

"That is correct, according to the map," spoke up the Professor. "The
former is ten thousand feet high, the latter five thousand, five
hundred."

A series of low wondering whistles were heard from the lips of the boys.
It did not seem possible that the distance to the tops of those
mountains could be so great.

"I should like to climb one of the highest," declared Butler.

"You can't," answered the Professor sharply.

"Why not, Professor?"

"Because I shall not allow it."

"And there's another reason," announced Stacy. "You can't because you
can't. But if you did succeed in getting to the top think what sport you
could have!"

"How so?" asked Butler.

"You could do a toboggan slide two miles long. I reckon it would land
you somewhere over in Asia. Wouldn't that be funny?"

"I don't know about that," reflected Butler.

"You wouldn't know about it if you were to take the slide, either. But
how it would surprise some of those Asiatics to see a Pony Rider Boy
suddenly landing in their midst, coming from the nowhere," chuckled
Stacy.

"I rather think it would surprise almost anyone to have a Pony Rider Boy
land in his midst," answered Tad with a smiling nod.

"Is that some kind of joke?" demanded the fat boy.

"No, that's an axiom," spoke up Rector.

"An axiom?" reflected Chunky. "Oh, I know what that is. It is something
that something else revolves around, isn't it? That's the sort of thing
the world is supposed to revolve about. I know, for I read it in my
geography."

The boys groaned. The suspicion of a smile played about the corners of
Professor Zepplin's mouth.

"You had better go back to school rather than be traveling with real
men," advised Ned.

"Isn't that an axiom, Professor?" called Stacy indignantly.

"It is not."

"Then what is one?"

"You are a living example of one yourself," was the whimsical reply.
Stacy pondered over the Professor's retort all the rest of that day. But
when noon came and passed and no stop was made for a noonday meal, the
fat boy began to grow restive.

"Don't we stop for something to eat?" he demanded.

"I should like to know where?" answered Tad.

"Isn't there a place wide enough for us, Tad?"

"There is not."

"But when are we going to find one?"

"You know as much about that as I do. Remember none of us ever has been
over this trail. For aught I know we may have to sleep standing up
to-night."

"Well, I reckon I'd just as soon fall off before dark as after. Anyhow,
I don't propose to sleep on this trail as it looks to me now--"

"Hark!"

Tad's voice was sharp and incisive. He was holding up one hand to impose
silence on his companions. Walter Perkins' face grew pale, the fat boy's
eyes were large and frightened. Professor Zepplin halted his pony
sharply and turning in his saddle glanced anxiously back toward his
charges.

"What is it?" stammered Rector.

"I don't know," answered Tad Butler. "It's something awful, whatever it
is."

"Have no fear, young men. I know what that sound is. There is no danger
here where we are, for--"

The Professor did not complete his sentence. The distant rumbling that
had at first attracted their attention suddenly merged into a deafening
roar, and the trail quivered under their feet. The ponies snorted and
threw up their heads, chafing at the bits.

"Hold fast to your horses!" shouted Tad. His voice was lost in the great
roar that now overwhelmed them, sending terror to the hearts of every
Pony Rider Boy on that narrow ledge of rock known as the Yakutat trail.



CHAPTER VI

CAUGHT IN A GIANT SLIDE


Tad knew the meaning of that rushing, roaring sound now. A few particles
chipped from the rocks far above them had struck him sharply in the
face. He knew that a landslide was sweeping down.

His first impulse was to urge his companions forward, but upon second
thought he realized that this might be the very worst thing they could
do. His quick ears had told him that the center of the slide was ahead
of them. That was his judgment, but he knew how easily it was to be
mistaken in a moment like this.

Glancing up the boy could see nothing but a great cloud of dust that
filled the air. His companions seemed powerless to stir, and it was
fortunate for them that such was the case, else they might have done
that which would have sent them to a quick death.

Tad unslung his rope with the intention of casting it over a sharp rock
that extended some six feet up above the level of the trail and on the
mountainside. In an emergency it would serve to anchor him. He motioned
to the others to do the same, but either they did not understand or they
were too frightened to act.

A sudden dust cloud obliterated the trail for fully five rods ahead of
Professor Zepplin, then went shooting out into the chasm beyond, and a
great mass of earth seemed to leap from the mountainside just above
them. It hovered right over the center of the line of ponies for an
agonizing second, then swept down on them.

The secondary slide, which this was, had but little width, perhaps a few
feet. Furthermore, it had fallen only a short distance, so that it had
not had time to gain great velocity. The mass smote the pack mule just
ahead of Tad Butler. Tad saw the pack mule's hind feet go out from under
him. For the smallest fraction of a moment the animal stood quivering,
then his hind hoofs slipped over the edge of the trail.

The little animal was making desperate efforts to cling to the trail
with its fore feet, at the same time trying to get its hind feet back on
solid ground. That effort was fatal. Little by little the frightened
beast slipped toward the great gulf. Evidently realizing the fate that
was in store for it, the mule brayed shrilly.

The Pony Rider Boys sat gazing on the scene with fascinated eyes. Even
Professor Zepplin was at a loss for words, and at a greater loss for a
remedy for the disaster that was upon them. Tad Butler's brain was
working, however.

Suddenly Tad raised his rope above his head and gave it three sharp
twirls. Then he let go. The big loop dropped over the head of the
unfortunate pack mule.

"Jump on him and hold him down," shouted Tad. "Be careful that you don't
go over."

The boys hesitated slightly. Perhaps they could not have accomplished
anything, but Butler did not wait to see. He had slipped from his own
pony with a sharp, commanding "Whoa" to the little animal, which served
in a measure to reassure it.

The lad then sprang to the upright rock carrying the end of his rope
with him. He did not make the mistake of making the end fast to his own
body as he might have done in some circumstances. Instead he threw the
rope over the rock, taking one quick turn about it. He had no more than
taken that turn when the slack on the rope was suddenly taken up and the
rope was drawn taut.

There was no need to look around to see what had happened. Butler knew
well enough without looking. The pack mule had slipped over the edge and
was hanging there with the boy's lasso about its neck. The rope was
tough rawhide, and Tad felt sure it would hold. Still, that would not
save the mule, so he made fast and sprang to the other side of the
trail. The mule, he found, was dying a terrible death.

The freckle-faced Tad comprehended the situation in a single glance. He
knew now that it would not be possible to save the pack animal. Drawing
his revolver he placed the muzzle close to the head of the unfortunate
beast and pulled the trigger.

The report, in the walled-in pass, sounded like the discharge of a
cannon.

"N-n-n-now you've done it," chattered Stacy Brown.

"Tad, Tad! What have you done?" cried the Professor.

"I have put the poor thing out of its agony, that's all," answered
Butler. His face was pale and his eyes troubled.

"But you've killed him," protested Professor Zepplin.

"Didn't you see that he was choking to death, Professor? Don't you think
it was better to end his sufferings with a bullet rather than let him
slowly strangle?"

The Professor took off his sombrero, and, with an unsteady hand, wiped
the perspiration from his forehead.

"Too bad, too bad!" he muttered. "Yes, yes. You were right, Tad. You did
right. You thought more quickly and more clearly than I did. We had
better cut the rope and let him go. There is nothing else to be done, I
suppose."

"There is something else to be done, sir. There is something quite
important to be done."

"What do you mean?"

"The pack. Surely we are not going to send that pack crashing to the
bottom of the pass. We shall have to go all the way back for more
supplies if we do that, provided we ever find a place where we can turn
around."

"That is so. Still, lad, I am afraid it is hopeless. We never shall be
able to get the pack."

"I think it can be done, but how I don't know yet. What time is it?"

"The afternoon is well along," answered the Professor.

"It'll be dark soon," spoke up Ned. "We simply must get out of this
before night or we are lost."

"You forget about the length of the days up here at this time of the
year," reminded Tad with a faint smile.

"That's so," agreed Rector.

"You know it doesn't get really dark until about eleven o'clock
to-night. So you see we have plenty of time in which to get that pack
and reach a camping place before the night gets too dark for us to see
what we are about."

Tad stepped to the edge of the trail and looked over the dead mule and
the pack lashed to him. He saw that the pack already had slipped
dangerously, and that a sudden jolt might send it hurtling into the
chasm. The lad measured the distance to the pack, with his eyes, and
also saw that he could not lean over far enough to accomplish anything.
Then an idea occurred to him.

"Have you fellows got back your nerve so that you can help me?" he
asked.

"Yes, sir," answered Chunky promptly. "Anything but jumping over. Don't
ask me to do that, please, or I shall be under the necessity of
returning a polite refusal."

"I shan't ask you," answered Tad shortly. "How about you, Ned?"

"I think I have got over my panic."

"Good. Pass over two strong ropes here. We'll have that pack in no
time."

"See here, Tad. I am not going to permit you to take unnecessary risks.
Before you go farther in this matter I want to know what you propose to
do," insisted the Professor.

"I am going to secure one of these ropes to me. The boys will lower me
over the edge and I will fasten a second rope to the pack. I will tell
you what to do after that."

"I can't permit it!" answered the Professor decisively.

"Listen to me, please. There can be no possible danger. It is perfectly
simple. Before I go over I'll secure the rope to that rock, and in case
the boys let go, which they'd better not, I can't fall; the rope will
hold me."

After a moment's reflection Professor Zepplin concluded that the task
would not be attended with a very great risk after all. Besides, it was
all-important that they get the pack and its contents, if this could be
done without endangering any lives.

"How about it, sir?" asked Tad. "Time is precious."

"You may try it, but I shall see to the fastening of the rope myself.
Make your arrangements."

Tad lost no time in trying out his plan. He first secured one end of
their strongest rope to the rock that already had played such an
important part in their operations at that point. He next fashioned a
non-slip loop about his body under the arms, then taking the second rope
in his hands announced himself as ready.

"Take a turn about the rock so you will have a leverage. Take up all the
slack. That's it. Now I'm all ready."

The lad let himself over the edge of the precipice without hesitation.
There really was no great danger, but it was not a pleasant position in
which to be placed. He secured his rope to the pack lashings and tossed
the free end up to his friends.

"How are you going to free the pack from the mule?" asked the Professor.

"Cut it."

"But we can't manage both you and the pack at the same time," protested
the boys.

"You don't have to. Can't you folks think of two things at the same
time?"

"I can when my thinking apparatus is working," returned Stacy. "The
whole plant is idle at the present moment."

"Listen! Fasten the pack rope to that rock. Do you get that?"

"Yes."

"First take up all the slack or you may lose the pack after all. We
don't want any great jolt when I cut loose the lashings. Draw it up
well. Tighter! There, that's better. Now, have you got it so that it
will hold?"

"It'll hold as long as the mountain holds together," answered Ned.

[Illustration: Tad Freed the Pack.]

"Then watch your rope. Here goes."

Tad slit the cinch girth. He was obliged to make several efforts before
he freed the pack, which then swung out and away from the dead mule,
swaying back and forth for a moment or so, but safe. The boys uttered a
cheer.

"Now shall we pull you up?" cried Ned.

"Now, don't be in a hurry. I'm not done yet. I want to save my lasso.
You don't think I'm going to throw that away, do you? Pass me another
rope, please."

This was done, after which Butler secured the third rope about the neck
of the mule. He tossed the free end up as he had done with the other
line.

"Make it fast. First see if you can't give me a little slack."

"Can't do it," called Walter.

"Yes you can. Try again. That's the idea. A little more. You're doing
finely. You would make good sailors. Whoa! Make fast."

Grunting and perspiring, and with aching backs, the boys made fast the
advantage they had gained. The weight of the dead mule was now resting
on the new rope which Butler had fastened about its neck. Some time was
occupied in getting his lasso loose, which had drawn very tight under
the weight of the mule.

"That's what comes from having a good rope," said Tad.

"Well, are you coming up? You must like it down there," cried Rector.

"I'm almost ready. There, now see if you can get me up. Take up all your
advantage and hold it until I can get my hands on the ledge and help you
a little."

Hauling Tad Butler up, a dead weight, was not the easiest thing in the
world. They drew him up an inch or so at a time, until at last he
fastened his hands on the edge of the trail and curled himself up. The
boys took up the slack and made fast at his direction.

"You needn't pull any more, but stand by the rope. If I slip it will
give me a hard jolt."

"I should say it would," muttered Ned. "How are you going to get up the
rest of the way if we don't haul you?"

"This way."

Tad crawled up the rope hand over hand until he was able to swing one
foot over on the trail. The rest was easy, and a moment later he was
standing on the trail, his face red, his hair and shirt wet with
perspiration.

"Hooray!" bellowed Chunky.

"Wait until we get the pack up. Don't waste your breath," grinned Tad.
"We are only half finished."

The lad surveyed the situation critically. Still he saw no other way
than for them to haul the pack up by main strength. He told his
companions to get ready for real work. The pack was heavier than Tad.

"I--I can't do another thing," wailed Chunky.

"Why can't you?" demanded the Professor.

"My heart won't stand it."

"Oh, pooh!" scoffed Professor Zepplin.

"Did you ever have a thorough physical examination, Chunky?" questioned
Ned.

"I don't know. Why?"

"If you had you would no doubt have found that you hadn't any heart at
all."

"Now, Ned, that isn't fair," chided Tad laughingly. "You know Stacy has
a heart. He has shown many times that he has. The only trouble with it
is that it isn't as hard as it might be," added the freckle-faced boy
with a twinkle.

The fat boy wasn't quite sure whether this was a compliment or
otherwise. He decided to think about it and make up his mind later. But
he most emphatically refused to pull a single pound on the rope. They
compromised by making him look out for the stock.

Hauling the pack up was a slow and tedious process, for it was
continually catching on points of rock and threatening to drop into the
depths. Great patience was required to land it safely on the trail, but
land it they did after working and perspiring over it for nearly half an
hour. The Professor proposed that they move on at once, after having
divided the pack. Tad shook his head.

"Not yet," he said. "I've something else to do first."



CHAPTER VII

GOING TO BED BY DAYLIGHT


"Something else to do?" repeated the Professor. "I know of nothing more
to be done except to get under way and try to find a safe portage."

"I've got to bury the mule, sir."

"Oh! Where?"

"I'll show you. Stand clear of the rope, fellows," ordered Butler.

Stepping to the edge of the trail he glanced down at the body of the
mule, swaying with a scarcely perceptible movement. Looking back to see
that the rope was clear, Tad drew his hunting knife and stooped over,
his companions drawing as near to the edge as they dared.

Butler cut the rope that held the dead mule. The rope suddenly sprang
back as the unfortunate pack mule's body shot down into the shadowy
pass. The other boys instinctively drew back. Their nerve was not quite
equal to standing on the brink to watch the sight. With Tad it was
different. He seemed not to be at all affected by great heights or great
depths. He stood with the toes of his boots over the edge, gazing down
until a faint sound from far below told him that the body had struck.

"That's all, fellows," he said, turning back to them. "I reckon we had
better do as the Professor suggests, and get under way at once. I will
confess that this bracing air is having some effect on my appetite."

"Don't speak of it," begged Stacy. "I am trying to forget that I have an
appetite, but it's awful hard work."

"Too bad about the mule, isn't it?" asked Rector soberly.

Tad nodded.

"Yes, I should say it is," agreed Stacy. "There's eight dollars of my
good money gone down into that hole."

"Never mind. He was wind-broken and undoubtedly would have played out
before we got through the mountains. I am glad it wasn't the other one,"
answered Butler cheerfully. "How is the trail ahead, Professor?"

"I haven't looked."

Bidding them wait until he made an inspection, Tad walked ahead. He
found the narrow trail filled with dirt and shale rock; there were many
tons of it heaped up on the trail.

"Oh, fudge!" laughed the boy. "Fate is determined to make us turn back.
But we won't! We are going through, even if we have to build a tunnel.
Get out the shovel, Ned."

This necessitated undoing the bundle that held all the tools of the
outfit, and also entailed the unloading of the pack on the back of the
remaining pack mule. Ned soon came trotting up with the shovel. He
uttered a long-drawn whistle when he saw the blocked trail.

"We never shall be able to get through that," he groaned.

"Oh, yes we shall. I'll shovel until I am tired, then you take hold and
make the dirt fly."

"I'll do that all right," returned Rector. "I am too keen for my dinner
and supper to delay matters any more than I am obliged to. We ought to
make Chunky take a hand."

"No, I wouldn't risk it. Before he had finished he would have lost the
shovel overboard. It is the only one we have. Here goes!"

Tad did make the dirt fly. He was a sturdy young man, all muscle and
grit. He shoveled for twenty minutes, working his way through the great
heap of dirt. Then he straightened up, his face flushed and perspiring.

"Go to it, Ned!"

Ned did, with a will. An hour and a half was consumed in clearing the
trail, and, when they finished, both boys were wet with perspiration.

"I think we had better walk for the present," suggested Tad. "We shall
stiffen up if we ride in our present overheated condition."

Ned nodded.

"I can't be much lamer than I am. I feel as if I had a broken hinge in
my back," he declared.

They started on, moving with extreme care that they might not meet with
another such disaster. The remaining pack mule was a much better animal
than the one they had lost. He was possessed of better sense, too, and
seemed to understand that great responsibilities rested on his
shoulders.

As for the trail, it was the same rugged, narrow path that they had been
following for hours.

"What if we should meet someone here?" wondered Walter apprehensively.

"Back up or jump over," answered Ned.

Stacy shivered.

"I don't like it at all," he muttered.

The Professor uttered a shout.

"What is it?" cried the boys all together.

"Land ho!" was the answer.

The boys craned their necks to see what the Professor had discovered,
but he was just rounding a bend beyond which they could not see. When
they had made the turn the boys shouted, too. The trail, they saw,
opened out into a broad pass. The ground there, though uneven, was
fairly level, thickly wooded with slender Alaskan cedar, its yellow,
lacy foliage drooping gracefully from the branches. Tall and straight,
the cedars shot up into the air until it seemed as if their slender tops
pierced the sky.

"How beautiful!" cried Tad.

"Wouldn't they make fish poles, though?" chuckled Ned.

"Yes, we wouldn't have to leave home when we went fishing," answered
Stacy. "We could just sit on the back porch and drop a hook in the water
at the back of the old pasture lot."

"How high do you think those trees are, Professor?" asked Tad.

"All of a hundred and fifty feet. A marvelous growth."

"I think I can appreciate the beauty of it more after I get something
inside of me," spoke up the fat boy. "Do we get anything to eat or do we
absorb landscape for our supper?"

"I reckon we had better get busy," agreed Tad laughingly.

They began unloading the packs at once. By the time the boys came in
with the wood the spot had assumed a really camp-like appearance. The
pots were filled with water and Tad began building a structure that was
to be their campfire when he was ready to touch it off.

"Did you find any birch bark, Ned?" he asked.

"Yes, there it is."

"Oh, thank you. The cedar will burn all right, but it is a good thing to
have the birch. We shall have a supper worth while in a few minutes.
Stacy, get busy and prepare the coffee."

For once the fat boy did not demur. He was too hungry, and was willing
to do almost anything that would hurry the supper along. Not a mouthful
had any of them eaten since breakfast.

The ponies were browsing contentedly, but the mule had lain down and
gone to sleep. The day was still bright, though the air had grown cooler
than when the sun was at its height. Still, a warm glow suffused the
faces of the Pony Rider Boys because they had been exercising. They
usually were busy, and not one of the lads, unless it were Stacy Brown,
had a lazy streak in him. Stacy was constitutionally opposed to doing
anything that looked like real work.

The cedar quickly blazed up into a crackling fire, consuming the
foliage. Tad took some of the brands and made a small cooking fire that
soon was a glowing bed of coals. Over this he broiled the bacon, toasted
the bread, and cooked the coffee without the least apparent effort.

Stacy Brown sat regarding the operations. Ned said that Stacy reminded
him of a dog watching the preparation of its dinner, but the fat boy
took no notice of Ned's comparison.

At last the meal was ready and the boys gathered around the spread that
was laid near the campfire, and began to eat with good appetites. Ned
nearly choked on a biscuit, and Tad swallowed a drink of water the wrong
way, while Walter accidentally kicked over the coffee pot, the contents
spilling over the Professor's ankle to the great damage of the
Professor's skin at that point.

"Here, here! Is this a football scrimmage or are you young gentlemen at
your meal?" demanded the Professor. "I've seen nothing to indicate the
latter."

"Oh, Professor," begged Tad laughingly. "Aren't you pretty hard on us?"

"You did perfectly right, Professor," approved Stacy. "Their manners are
bad and I am glad you have called them to account. Why, their example is
so bad that I have been fearful all the time of getting into bad habits
myself."

Ned gave him a warning look.

"Wait!" warned Rector.

"I can't. I'm too hungry."

"Perhaps we have been rather rude, Professor," admitted Tad. "I beg your
pardon."

"Show your repentance by making a fresh pot of coffee, as I have most of
the first lot in my stocking," reminded Professor Zepplin.

It seemed odd to be eating supper in broad daylight, whereas they
ordinarily ate in the twilight or after dark. After supper, and when the
remains were cleared away, the boys strolled about, talking. At ten
o'clock the Professor called that it was time to turn in.

"But it isn't dark yet," protested Ned.

"The nights are short. Unless you turn in early you will not want to get
up in the morning," reminded Professor Zepplin.

"He never does," averred Walter.

"I don't want to turn in at chicken hours," objected Stacy.

"Little boys should be in bed early," said Tad smilingly.

"That's what they made me do when I was a baby. They'd tuck me in my
little crib and give me a bottle and sing me to sleep. What time does it
get daylight, Professor?" questioned the fat boy.

"As a matter of fact it hardly gets dark," answered the Professor. "We
shall have only about three hours of real night, I think. That is about
the way it has been since we have been in this latitude. You will find
it more difficult to sleep with the morning light in your eyes than with
this light, so go to bed."

"I am thinking the same. Good-night, all. Don't any of you boys dare
snore to-night. Remember we are sleeping in rather close quarters,"
reminded Butler.

"One of you may come in with me," offered the Professor.

"No, thank you, we shall do very well as it is," replied Tad.

Stacy had the usual number of complaints to make. The cedar odor
prevented his breathing properly, the sharp stickers on the cedar boughs
poked through his pajamas and into his skin. He voiced all the
complaints he could think of, after which he settled down to long,
rhythmic snores that could be heard all around the place, inside and
out. The purple twilight merged into blue shadows, then into black,
impenetrable darkness that swallowed up the pass and the two little
white tents of the Pony Rider Boys.



CHAPTER VIII

AN INTRUDER IN THE CAMP


      "W'en de screech-owl light on de gable en'
        En holler, Whoo-oo! oh-oh!
      Den you bettah keep yo' eyeball peel,
        Kase dey bring bad luck t' yo',
          Oh-oh! oh-oh!"

"Stop that noise!" shouted an angry voice from the tent occupied by the
boys.

For a few moments silence reigned in the camp of the Pony Rider Boys.
Then the voice of the singer from somewhere outside was raised again.

      "W'en de ole black cat widdee yella eyes
        Slink round like she atter ah mouse,
      Den yo' bettah take keer yo'self en frien's,
        Kase dey's sho'ly a witch en de house."

"Who is making that unearthly noise?" demanded the Professor in an
irritated voice.

"That's Stacy singing," answered Tad politely.

"Singing?"

"Yes, sir."

"Nonsense! Does he think he can sing?"

"Yes, sir."

"Humph! I shall be obliged if some of you boys will remove that
impression from his mind so that I may go back to sleep."

"Yes, sir."

      "W'en de puddle duck 'e leave de pon'
        En start to comb e fedder--"

A stone struck the rock on which Stacy Brown was sitting. Some small
particles flew up and hit him in the neck.

"Hey, you fellows quit that!"

      "Den yo' bettah take yo' umbrell,
        Kase dey's gwine to be wet wedder."

"Yeow!"

The fat boy left the rock, jumping right up into the air, for the wild
yell had seemed to come out of the rock itself. At that juncture three
pajama-clad figures rose from behind the rock and threw themselves upon
him.

"Let go of my neck!" howled Chunky, fighting desperately to free
himself, not having caught a glance at his assailants, though he knew
well enough who they were. Stacy had calculated on aggravating them to
the danger point, then slipping away and hiding until breakfast time.
But he had gone a little too far with his so-called singing.

The boys picked the fat boy up and carried him, kicking and yelling, to
a point just beyond the camp where a glacial stream trickled down,
forming in a pool some three feet deep near the trail.

"I--I'll get even with you fellows for this. Can't you let me alone?" he
cried.

Reaching the spring they held him by the feet and soused him into the
icy water head first, thrusting the fat boy in until his head struck the
hard bottom. He was howling lustily, howling and choking, when his head
was out of water.

"You'll need your 'old ombrell' when we have done with you," cried Ned.

"You will wake us up at this hour with your unearthly screeching, will
you?" demanded Tad.

"I reckon the Professor will give you a spanking for disturbing his
morning slumbers," added Walter Perkins.

"That's enough, fellows. Remember the water is cold," warned Butler.
"Let him go."

They took Tad literally. They did let the fat boy go. He landed on his
head on a hard rock when they let go of him, and Stacy rolled on his
back yelling lustily.

"Look out! There comes the Professor Stacy."

Walter shouted the warning just in time. Professor Zepplin, stern of
face, gorgeous in a pair of new pajamas, a stick in one hand came
stalking toward the group. Stacy saw him coming. The fat boy bounded to
his feet in a hurry. He was especially interested in the cedar limb with
its sharp broken points, grasped so firmly in the right hand of the
Professor.

"I reckon I'll see you all later," muttered Chunky as he made a bolt for
his tent. Either some one tripped him or he tripped himself. At least,
he measured his length on the ground just as the stick came in contact
with his body. It was not a hard blow, but merely a tap of reminder. The
Professor was now smiling broadly.

Stacy leaped to his feet and ran, howling at the top of his voice, and
threatening dire revenge on the Professor. Professor Zepplin was plainly
undismayed, for he pursued with strides that made the merry onlookers
think of the seven-league boots.

"Say, can't we arbitrate, without an appeal to force?" bellowed back
Stacy as he reached the tent.

"We cannot," boomed the Professor's deep voice. "This is an instance in
which the punitive expedition must go through."

_Whack! Whack!_ That stick played a tattoo that made Stacy sore in
more senses than one. Instead of burrowing deeper into the cedar boughs,
he got up hastily. In his desperation he seized the Professor's feet,
giving a mighty tug at them.

"Here, stop that!" protested Professor Zepplin, laughing.

He reached for the fat boy, but Chunky, with a new exertion of his
strength, brought the tutor down to a sitting position.

"Retreat in good order, while you have a chance!" called Walter Perkins.
Three grinning faces met the fugitive at the tent. But Stacy bowled
Walter over, leaped the foot that Rector extended to trip him, and then
dashed for the shelter of the tall cedars, where he hid.

There he shivered in his wet pajamas. It was three o'clock in the
morning, but young Brown cared not for time. His stomach told him only
that it was high breakfast time. The gnawing under his belt-line
continued.

"I wish I hadn't been quite so fresh!" thought the boy, dismally. "It's
all right to have fun, but there are times when a square meal is worth
more."

However, the Professor, though he was really enjoying the situation,
looked anything but amiable.

"I'll try the crowd, anyway," thought Stacy, ruefully. "I've got to get
near the kitchen kit soon. Hello, the camp!"

There was no response. Stacy emerged from his hiding place and began to
sing the song he had learned from Rastus Rastus in Kentucky.

One end of the tent was suddenly raised.

"Do you want another ducking?" demanded the angry voice of Ned Rector.

"If you're man enough to give it to me," returned the fat boy.

Ned came tumbling out, but by the time he had straightened up, Stacy was
nowhere in sight. The fat boy had stolen in among the trees whence he
watched the progress of events. Ned returned to his tent in disgust. No
further objection was heard from the Professor as to Chunky's vocal
exercises.

"There's no use trying to sleep with that boy bawling away out there.
What does he think he is, a bird?" demanded Tad.

"Sounds more like a hoot owl, the bird he was telling us about," averred
Ned.

"I guess I'll get up. So long as he is abroad there will be no more rest
in this camp for the rest of the night."

"Won't he catch cold? He must be all wet," said Walter solicitously.

"I hope to goodness he does," retorted Rector. "I hope he gets such a
cold that he can't speak for a week. Then we'll have some peace."

"Oh, I wouldn't put it quite so strongly as that," laughed Tad.
"However, I guess he will get the cold all right."

Tad dressed himself. After finishing, he thought to look at his watch
and was disgusted to find it was only a few minutes after three o'clock.
Ned declared that he was going to sleep again if Tad would keep the fat
boy quiet. Butler promised to do his best and went out. He looked about
for Stacy but failed to see him, so the freckle-faced boy sat down on
the rock where Chunky had sat singing.

"Hello, Tad," piped a voice behind him, causing Butler to jump a little.
Stacy had been hiding behind the rock, to which place he had crept from
the cedar forest.

"Oh, it's you, is it?"

"I guess so. I'm cold and--and hungry."

"Go back to the tent. You should put on some dry clothes."

"You don't care whether I freeze or not. Go get them for me, please."

"I will not. You got yourself into this difficulty, now get out of it as
best you may," answered Butler. "There won't be any breakfast for three
hours yet. Tighten your belt."

"I--I haven't any belt. I haven't my clothes on."

"That's too bad," retorted Tad unfeelingly.

"What'd you soak me for?"

"A cold bath in the morning is an excellent tonic. Hadn't you ever heard
that?"

"If I had I'd know now that it isn't true. I didn't think you could be
as mean as that, Tad."

"I didn't think you could be so mean as to wake us up at three o'clock
in the morning with your screeching. Why did you do it?"

"I--I was exercising my voice."

"I should say so. But take my advice. Don't use it that way again,
especially so early in the morning. You'll ruin it and then you won't be
able to sing at all."

"That would be a catastrophe," mumbled Chunky.

"A blessing to the Pony Rider Boys community, you mean. Hello!"

"What is it?" cried Stacy.

Tad was staring fixedly at a rope suspended between two small cedars
near the tents. It was on this that some of the provisions had been hung
the previous evening.

"Where is that ham?" he demanded, apparently not having heard his
companion's question.

"What ham?"

"The one I hung up there last night?"

"I--I don't know. I didn't eat it."

Tad got up and hastened to the "stores-line," as they called the rope
that held their meats and other provisions. He discovered that several
other articles besides the ham were missing. Even the pieces of twine
with which the provisions had been fastened to the line were missing.

"Well, if this doesn't beat everything!" wondered Butler.

"It does," agreed Chunky, who had made bold to approach. "I hope the
fellows won't blame me, but I reckon they will. They lay everything to
me."

Tad did not reply. He was trying to make up his mind what had become of
the missing provisions. He turned sharply to Stacy.

"See here, you aren't playing tricks on us, are you?"

Stacy indignantly protested that he was not.

"I knew you'd try to put it on me," he grumbled. "I'm pretty bad, I
know, but I don't steal."

"Stop it! I haven't accused you of stealing. Of course I know you
wouldn't do that, but if you have taken the stuff and hidden it for a
joke, say so now before I call the others. They might not take kindly to
your joke after your early morning vocal exercises."

"I didn't. I don't know any more about it than you do."

Stacy's lips were blue with cold and he was chattering. Tad suddenly
observed these signs of cold and felt sorry for the boy.

"When the others come out, you duck in and put on some dry clothes. You
will have plenty of time. I don't think they will bother you. Oh, Ned!
Professor!" called Tad.

Ned Rector, Professor Zepplin and Walter came hurrying out.

"Isn't there any rest at all in this camp?" protested Ned.

"That is what I was about to inquire," declared the Professor.

"What! _You_ here?" demanded Rector, fixing a menacing eye on the
fat boy. "Has he been cutting up again?"

"It's something else this time."

"What is it?" questioned Professor Zepplin sharply.

"Did any of you folks remove the ham and the other stuff from the line
last night?" asked Butler.

"No," replied Ned.

"Of course not. You were the last one to attend to those things," said
the Professor.

"I helped him tie them up," interjected "Walter.

"And--and I watched him--them--do it," added Stacy.

"Yes, that's about all you ever do do," objected Ned.

"What's this you say?" questioned Professor Zepplin. "The ham missing?"

"Yes, sir. It is nowhere about," Tad informed him.

"Then we must have had a visit from a bear or some other animal."

"What would a bear want with a rope?" asked Butler.

"A rope?"

"I left our quarter-inch reserve rope coiled at the foot of that tree
last night. It isn't there now."

"Stacy Brown, do you know anything about this?" demanded the Professor
sternly.

"What'd I tell you, Tad? I knew you'd be accusing me for the whole
business. I told Tad you would blame me."

"Go put on some dry garments," commanded the Professor.

Stacy lost no time in getting to the tent.

"What do you make of it, Tad?" asked Professor Zepplin.

"I can make only one thing out of it. There has been an intruder in the
camp while we slept. That intruder must have been a man. Bears do not
carry away ropes. Bears do not untie knots and take the strings away
with them," replied Tad Butler in a convincing tone.

Stacy Brown poked his head through the tent opening.

"What we need in this camp is a watch dog," he shouted.

Ned Rector shied a tin can at him, whereat the fat boy ducked in out of
sight.



CHAPTER IX

A MYSTERY UNSOLVED


"But surely whoever was here must have left some trace," protested
Professor Zepplin.

"Perhaps you may be able to find it. I can't," answered Tad.

"We'll all look," cried Ned.

Tad nodded, and while they were scanning the ground he walked about the
outskirts of the camp with his glances on the ground. There was not a
footprint, not a thing to indicate that any person outside of themselves
had been near the camp. Tad was looking in particular for the strings
with which the stuff had been tied to the rope. Not finding these he was
certain that some human being had been in the camp.

"We shall have to make the best of it and let it go at that," he said,
returning to his companions. "Shall we go to sleep again?"

"Sleep!" shouted Ned.

Stacy popped his head out to see what the shout was about. He ducked
back again upon encountering Rector's angry gaze.

"If it isn't Stacy Brown raising a row it's Tad Butler, and if it isn't
Tad it's a midnight robber."

"Or else Ned Rector himself," added the Professor. "If you young
gentlemen will excuse me I think I shall put on some clothes. We might
as well have our breakfast and get an early start, since we are all
awake."

"I was going to suggest that," replied Tad. "I'll go rub down the ponies
while the rest of you get the breakfast."

"Shall we dress before or after?" questioned Walter.

"Before, of course," returned the Professor.

Breakfast was not a very merry meal that morning. Tad was chagrined to
think a person could get into their camp and steal a ham without his
having heard the intruder. Either he had slept more soundly than usual,
or else their late visitor had been unusually stealthy.

"I'll tell you what I think," spoke up Rector after a period of silence.

"Out with it," answered the Professor.

"I'll wager that some of these prospectors have ducked in here and taken
our stuff. There must be plenty of them in the mountains hereabouts."

Tad shook his head.

"I don't think so. I have an idea."

"What is your idea?" questioned Professor Zepplin.

"Are there Indians up here?" questioned Tad.

"Many of them."

"It was an Indian who did this job. No white man could get away with it
so skilfully. If it was, as I suspect, we might as well give it up,"
concluded Butler.

"Oh, I kissed that ham good-by a long time ago," piped Stacy solemnly.

"I don't agree with any of you," said Ned. "I think the ham, unable to
endure Chunky's singing, took wings and flew away. Either that or it was
afraid he would kiss it again. He said he had kissed it good-by."

"You are wrong," declared Walter. "If Stacy had got that close to the
ham he would have eaten it."

"You're right," agreed the Professor with an emphatic nod.

"I've got a bone to pick with you, too, Walt Perkins," warned Stacy.

"A ham-bone?" twinkled Tad.

"No, a drumstick."

"The probability is that we shall never know any more about the affair
than we do now," decided the Professor. "Break camp as soon as we have
finished breakfast and we will get under way. Have you looked to see
which way the trail leads from this point, Tad?"

"Yes, sir. That way," replied Tad, pointing.

"Northwest?"

"Yes, sir."

Camp was broken in short order and within an hour they were on their
way. Though the country was very rough and rugged and the going awful,
they found the trail narrow and perilous only in spots. Generally they
found it perfectly safe. That night they camped in a pass through which
flowed a rushing glacial stream. Tall cottonwoods lined the stream and
giant arborvitæ was thick and almost impassable a short distance back
from the stream. The Professor explained that this arborvitæ was
ordinarily found about glaciers, and in cool, dim fiords.

Determined not to be robbed of their provisions again, Tad led a string
through the loops made in tying the meats to the provision line. He
carried one end of the string into his tent and when he turned in he
tied the end to his wrist.

Long after midnight he felt a jolt at his wrist that brought him to his
feet in an instant. Another jolt followed.

The boy slipped the twine from his wrist and hurried out. The night was
not so dark but that he could make out objects distinctly. There was
nothing of an alarming nature in sight. He examined the provisions. None
had been tampered with.

Considerably mystified, Tad returned to his tent, after rearranging his
burglar alarm, and lay down. He had just dozed off when there came
another tug more violent than the others.

"Hang it! Something is at those provisions," he muttered.

Tad once more slipped out. This time he remained out for a long time. He
sat down behind the tent where he waited and watched. Nothing of a
disturbing nature occurred. He could not understand it.

"There must be ghosts around here," he muttered. "If there are, I reckon
I'll catch them before the night is over."

He grew weary of waiting for the "ghosts," after a time, and returning
to the tent went to bed. Three times after that was the boy dragged out
by a violent tug at the rope, and three times did he return without
having discovered the cause.

"I think I begin to smell a mouse," thought Tad Butler.

He lay down. Again came the tugs at the string. But Tad apparently gave
no heed to them. After a time he began snoring, but stopped suddenly,
pinching himself to keep awake. A few moments later he got up quietly
and went out. This time he ran the fingers of one hand along the
provision line. The fingers stopped suddenly as they came in contact
with a second string the size of the one he had used for a burglar alarm
and evidently from the same ball of twine.

"I thought so," chuckled the boy. "More of Chunky Brown's tricks. I
reckon I'll teach him a lesson and give him a surprise at the same time.
Let's see. Yes, I have it now."

Tad found a quarter inch rope. He made a slip noose at one end, working
the honda or knot back and forth until it slipped easily. In reality it
was a lasso. He tucked the loop under the rear of the tent, then crawled
cautiously in after it. Great caution was necessary in order not to
disturb the other occupants of the tent, though the boys were sleeping
soundly, Stacy snoring thunderously. The fat boy's feet protruded from
under his blanket. Tad found them after a little careful groping. He
wished to make certain that he had the right feet. Satisfying himself on
this point he slipped the noose over the feet and wriggled out.

Tad then drew the rope carefully about a slender tree, taking care that
there might be no strain on the other end about the fat boy's feet.
Using the tree as a leverage Butler gave the rope a quick jerk. A slight
commotion in the tent followed.

He now gave the rope a mighty tug. A wild yell from the interior of the
tent told that his effort had been successful. The freckle-faced boy now
began pulling with all his might, hand over hand. Stacy Brown's yells
were loud and frightful. To his howls were added those of another voice.
Stacy was sliding out from under the rear of the tent feet first, being
dragged along on his back as Butler hauled in on the rope.

But Stacy was not alone. Instead of one boy there were two. One of
Chunky's feet and one of Ned Rector's was fast in the loop. Tad had made
a mistake and selected a foot from each of the two boys.

"Something's got me!" bellowed Chunky. "Help, help!"

"It's got me, too," yelled Rector. "It's got me by the foot."

"Oh, wow, wow! Help, help!"

The two boys were fighting and clawing each other in their excitement.
Chunky fastened a hand in the hair of his companion fetching away a
handful. Ned retaliated by smiting Chunky on the nose. Then both grabbed
hold of the tent wall as they slipped out from under it feet first. The
tent swayed and threatened to collapse.

Walter Perkins was struggling about in the dark, shouting to know what
had happened. Professor Zepplin roared out a similar inquiry and sprang
from his bed of boughs. He fell out into the open in his haste, but the
night was so dark that he was unable to make out a single object. He
could hear the two boys yelling at the rear of their tent, struggling
and fighting to free themselves from the grip on their ankles.

The hauling ceased suddenly. Ned reached down and freed his foot, the
same movement freeing that of the fat boy.

At this juncture Tad Butler dashed out from the tent, to which he had
run after having thrown the freed rope away.

"Here, here, what's going on here?" he shouted.

"Something got us. It was a snake," howled Chunky. "Oh, wow; oh, wow!"

"A snake? Nonsense!" exploded the Professor. "There are no snakes in
Alaska."

"There's one here and he's the biggest one you ever saw. Why, he twisted
right around my leg and dragged me out. I think he bit me, too," wailed
Chunky.

"Somebody make a light here," commanded the Professor.

"That's what I say," shouted Ned. "You pulled half the hair out of my
head, Chunky. I'll be even with you for that."

"Did the Thing get you, too?" questioned Walter.

"Get me? I should say it did. I never had anything grip me like that."

Tad was busy starting the fire. The Professor, by this time, realized
that the boys were in earnest; that something really had happened to
disturb them, though he had not the least idea that it had been as bad
as they said.

The fire began snapping briskly. Tad was bending over it in his pajamas,
standing as far back as possible to avoid the sparks. Glancing at the
others out of the corners of his eyes, he observed that Stacy's face was
pale; Ned Rector's was flushed and angry, and Ned kept passing a hand
over his head where the hair had come out. Tad could barely keep back
the laughter.

"Now, show me!" demanded the Professor after the camp had been lighted
up.

Stacy went into an elaborate explanation of what had occurred so far as
he knew. He said something had grabbed them by the ankles and dragged
them out under the tent. He showed where they had been dragged. The
backs of their pajamas were evidence enough of this fact, the dirt being
fairly ground into the cloth.

The Professor fixed his keen eyes on the freckled face of Tad Butler.
The Professor was plainly suspicious, but he did not voice his
suspicion. Instead, he smiled to himself.

"I am going back to bed, young gentlemen, and I trust there will be no
further disturbance in this camp to-night. If there is I shall be under
the necessity of taking a hand in it myself."

"If Ned and Chunky will behave themselves, I don't believe there will be
any further trouble, sir," said Tad.

Stacy fixed a glance of quick comprehension on Butler, and Tad saw in
that one glance that the fat boy's suspicions were aroused, too. Stacy
was sharper than Tad had given him credit for being.



CHAPTER X

IN THE HOME OF THE THLINKITS


Stacy did not speak of his suspicions that night, but on the following
morning he was up earlier than the others, looking here and there about
the camp. He was unusually silent at breakfast time, but Ned Rector on
the contrary had a great deal to say.

"Somebody was in this camp again last night. I don't know what he was
trying to do, but whatever it was, he made a good start," said Ned.

"Perhaps it was the work of Indians," suggested Walter.

"I shouldn't be surprised," replied the Professor dryly.

"Perhaps," agreed Tad, "the Indian was after another ham and thought he
had hold of one when he got Chunky."

"You keep on and I'll say something!" snorted the fat boy.

"I have been looking at that red mark on my ankle," continued Ned. "It
was a rope that did the business. How do you suppose they ever managed
to tie it to our ankles without waking us up?"

"I thought you did wake up," answered Tad with twinkling eyes.

"We did afterwards, but I don't understand it at all. Didn't you hear
anything, Tad?"

"If I remember rightly I heard two boys yelling like frightened babies."

Once again Chunky snorted, but held his peace. Matters were rapidly
nearing a crisis. Chunky knew that he had played a mean trick on Tad by
tying a string to the provision line and giving it a jerk to wake his
companion up, thus making him believe someone was at the provisions. He
suspected that the trick had been turned on him, but he wasn't quite
sure. Stacy was covertly watching every expression on the face of Tad
Butler, every word that was uttered, Tad in the meantime continuing to
worry his fat companion. The latter stood it as long as possible. Then
he arose rather hastily and strode around to the rear of the tent,
returning a moment later with a rope in his hand.

Tad recognized it instantly.

"Here, if you want to know what got hold of us last night. Look at
this!" exclaimed Chunky.

"What is it?" questioned Rector.

"It's a rope. Don't you know a rope when you see one? It is the same
rope that dragged us from the tent by our ankles last night. Oh, this is
a fine outfit!" jeered Chunky.

No one spoke for a few seconds.

"Ah!" breathed the Professor. "I begin to see a light."

"So did we," returned Stacy. "But it wasn't so very light that you could
notice it particularly."

Ned started up, his face flushing violently.

"Do you mean to tell me that one of our outfit dragged you and me out by
the heels last night?" he demanded.

"Yes!"

"Who did it?" cried Rector angrily. "I can thrash the fellow who did
that. Who is he, I say?"

"Well, I may be wrong, but from the look of his face, I should say that
Tad Butler knows something about the affair. Mind you, I'm not saying he
did it, but I reckon he knows the man who did," observed Stacy.

"Tad Butler, did you do that?" demanded Ned.

"Stacy seems to think I did."

"Then I've nothing more to say."

"I--I thought you were going to whale the fellow who did it," reminded
Stacy.

"I reckon I've changed my mind," muttered Ned. "I'll have a talk with
Tad later, though."

"No time like the present," laughed Butler.

"Young gentlemen, enough of this. I am amazed at you, Tad," rebuked
Professor Zepplin.

"Tell them the rest, Stacy," nodded Tad.

The fat boy hung his head.

"Maybe I was to blame, after all. I reckon Tad was after me, not Ned,"
admitted Stacy.

"What had you done?" questioned the Professor with a poor attempt at
sternness.

"I--I tied a string to the provision line. You know Tad had a line tied
to it with one end around his wrist so that he would know if an intruder
began to interfere with the provisions?"

"Yes. Go on."

"Well, as I told you, I tied another string to the rope. After Tad got
to sleep I pulled the rope. He went out to see what had done it. I guess
he didn't find it, for he went out several times after that. Oh, I made
him dance a merry dance," chuckled Stacy. "By and by I went to sleep.
That was the last I knew until I found myself sliding out of the tent on
my back."

Everyone shouted. Stacy's droll way of telling the story was too much
for them.

"So that was the way of it, eh?" questioned Ned.

"So Stacy says," nodded Butler.

"And you didn't mean to drag me out?"

"No; the fellow who did the dragging must have gotten hold of the wrong
foot," replied Butler.

"Then I forgive you. I would endure almost anything for the sake of
seeing Chunky get the worst of it."

"Well, I like that!" shouted the fat boy. "I'm glad that you, too, got
some of the worst of it. Why didn't you tie the rope around his neck
while you were about it, Tad, and make a thorough job of it?"

Nevertheless, Stacy was set upon having his revenge on Tad, even though
he was himself to blame for the trick that had been played on him. The
sun shone over the camp of the Pony Rider Boys a few hours later, and
the rough hike was again taken up. It was the middle of the fifth day
after the roping experience when the boys first caught sight of Yakutat
Bay. Huge cakes of floating ice were being thrown up into the air by the
strong gale that swept in from the Pacific, the whitened ice in strong
contrast with the black sands of the beach.

Towering above it all, nearly five miles in the air, stood Mt. St. Elias
glistening in the mid-day sun. Rushing streams roared down the sides of
the mountain, thundering through deep gorges cut into the rocks through
perhaps thousands of years of wear. It was a tremendous spectacle,
exceeding in impressiveness anything the boys had ever looked upon.

At their feet lay the wreck of the rude cabins of the early Thlinkit
Indians. There was no sign of any other village. The masts of a few
small schooners were visible on the southern side of the bay. It was in
this part of the waters that ships came to anchor. Here they were not
exposed to the heavy swell from the Pacific, being sheltered by islands
on the southern side.

An Indian wrapped in a gaudy blanket went striding stolidly past the
Pony Rider party.

"Will you tell us where the town is?" called Tad.

Without looking at the questioner, the Indian pointed up the hill to the
right.

"He means on top of the mountain," interpreted Stacy.

"No. There is a trail leading up through the trees," answered Tad. "But
it can't be much of a settlement."

"There must be quite a town here," said the Professor. "I have read that
in the year 1796 the Russians established a penal colony here, having
erected quite a plant. A city was laid out at the time, though I think I
have heard that the penal buildings were burned down. But we shall find
out more when we get to it."

The climb was a stiff one--almost straight up, it seemed to the boys.
Three miles of this through a forest-bordered trail brought them to the
village.

"This certainly is some town," laughed Tad.

They saw before them a general store, two or three shops that looked as
if they were for the purpose of supplying miners' outfits, with a few
scattering cottages here and there. To the left they could make out the
smoke from the new Thlinkit village. Squaws from the latter were sitting
about the village street weaving baskets. Such beautiful baskets none of
that party ever had seen before. The boys could hardly resist the
temptation to buy, but knowing that every pound and every inch of bulk
in their packs counted, they contented themselves with admiring the
handicraft of the squaws.

Ponies or horses were seldom seen in the Yakutat street, so those of the
Pony Rider outfit attracted no little attention. A swarm of Indian
children gathered about them, chattering half in English and half in
their native language.

The keeper of the general store came out to greet the outfit, scenting
some trade, and shook hands with the Professor warmly.

"Anybody'd think the Professor was his long-lost brother," chuckled
Stacy.

A bevy of dark-eyed squaws surrounded the Professor. In several
instances papooses were strapped to their backs, the youngsters looking
as if they did not enjoy it any too well.

"Why do they tie them up in splints?" asked Stacy.

"To keep them from getting broken," answered Rector.

A squaw offered Stacy a pair of beaded moccasins that were gorgeous to
his eyes.

"How much?"

"Fife dolee."

"Eh? I don't hear very well?"

"Four dolee."

"I'll give you a dollar and fifty cents."

"Two dolee. You take um?"

"You bet I'll take um. It's like finding moccasins to get them for that
price."

"You will have to carry them yourself, you know," warned Tad.

"What do you think I'm going to do with those joy shoes?" demanded the
fat boy.

"I supposed you intended to wear them when sitting by the fireside."

"Like the squaw, you've got another guess coming. I'm going to send
those moccasins to my aunt in Chillicothe."

This was an unusual thing to do. Stacy usually thought of himself, but
seldom of others. Tad called to the other boys to tell them the news.
They examined the moccasins gravely.

At this juncture the Professor beckoned to the boys to come into the
store, which they did after hastily staking down their stock.

"This gentleman says he thinks he can get us a guide," announced the
Professor. "I tell him we must have a reliable one, for we know
absolutely nothing about the country from here on."

"Black or white?" questioned Stacy.

"Oh, black, of course. There are no white guides up here. I think this
one was out with a government surveying party once," said the
store-keeper.

"He should do very well, then," nodded the Professor, well pleased.

"What's good enough for our Uncle Sam surely should be good enough for
us," agreed Ned Rector. "What do you say, Chunky?"

"I decline to commit myself. I've been taken in on guides before this.
Trot out your guide and, after I've tried him out, I'll tell you what I
think of him. In buying guides I follow the same tactics that Tad Butler
does in purchasing horses."

"Oh, you do, eh?" jeered Ned.

"Always."

"Then be sure you examine this fellow's legs to make certain that they
are sound. Feel his ankles that there is neither spavin nor ringbone,
then open his mouth and look at his teeth to be sure that he isn't lying
to you," advised Tad dryly.

"After which, one Stacy Brown will be reduced to the condition that he
deserves," laughed Ned.

"What condition?" demanded the fat boy.

"Use your imagination."

"It isn't working to-day. I'm too hungry."

"Plenty of crackers and cheese and other things here," said Tad. "I am
going to have some. Isn't that 'pop' up there, sir?" he asked the
proprietor.

"Yes; have some?"

"What flavors have you?"

"Sarsaparilla and ginger ale."

"Give me both," interjected Stacy. "I'll have a pound of that cheese and
about a peck of crackers. Got anything else?"

"Ginger snaps?"

"Hooray! Just like being in Chillicothe, isn't it?" Stacy filched a hard
cracker and slipped it into the mouth of a papoose on its mother's back.

The squaw did not observe the action, but one of her sister squaws
muttered something, whereat the mother snatched the cracker from the
mouth of her young hopeful, cast the cracker on the floor and put her
moccasined foot on it. She launched into a volley in her own language,
directed at Chunky.

"That's all right, madam. Roast me all you wish. I don't care how much
you insult me so long as I don't understand a word you are saying."

"Do you wish the cheese done up?" asked the proprietor.

"Done up? Certainly not. I'll attend to the doing up myself." Chunky
took a large bite, then banged the end of the pop bottle against the
counter to open the bottle. The stuff was highly charged, and a good
quantity of it struck Ned Rector in the eye. Stacy waved the bottle at
arm's length before placing it to his mouth. The charge went over his
shoulder and soaked the Professor's whiskers before the fat boy
succeeded in steering the mouth of the bottle safely to his lips.

Professor Zepplin sputtered, Ned Rector threatened, but the fat boy ate
and drank, regardless of the disturbance he had caused.

"If you open any more of that stuff be good enough to go outdoors to do
so," advised the Professor.

"I wuz thinking ob doig it in here and shooting a papoose with some
ginger ale," answered Stacy thickly.

"You will keep on till you have those squaws pulling your hair, Chunky,"
warned Butler.

The other boys were by this time eating cheese, crackers and ginger
snaps. The proprietor had sent one of the Indian children to fetch the
man he had recommended as a guide, and by the time the Pony Rider Boys
had satisfied their appetites, the guide entered the store and stood
waiting to be recognized.

The boys laughed when they saw him.



CHAPTER XI

THE GUIDE WHO MADE A HIT


The guide might have been anywhere from twenty to forty years of age.
The boys were unable to say, though they decided that he was quite
young. He was considerably shorter in stature than the Indians they had
seen, and Tad wondered if he were not an Eskimo. The guide's head was
shaven except for a tuft of black coarse hair on the top, standing
straight up, while a yellow bar of paint had been drawn perpendicularly
on each cheek. He wore a shirt that had once been white, a pair of
trousers, one leg of which extended some six inches below the knee, the
other as far above the knee of the other leg. Over his shoulders drooped
a blanket of gaudy color. The guide's feet were clad in the mucklucks
worn both in summer and winter. Taking him all in all, the man was a
smile-producing combination.

"Are you a guide?" asked the Professor.

"Me guide."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty year."

"I think that is about it," said the store-keeper. "These natives never
know their age exactly."

"You look to me more like an Eskimo than an Indian," observed Professor
Zepplin.

"Me Innuit--Siwash. You savvy me?"

Stacy scratched his head.

"Tell him to talk United States," suggested the fat boy.

"What is your name?" asked Tad.

"Anvik. Me smart man, savvy? Me educate Jesuit Mission. Me pilot
Chilkoot, White Horse, Caribou; me savvy all over."

"Do you know how to cook?" questioned the Professor.

"Heap cook all time. Me savvy cook."

"You don't savvy any cooking for me," declared Stacy.

"You will think differently about it when you are hungry. Remember, you
are full of cheese and crackers now," answered Rector.

"You have been out with the white men surveying, I am told," resumed the
Professor.

Anvik nodded solemnly.

"Big snow--no trail--big mountains. White men get lost. Anvik find,
Anvik know trail. Anvik big pilot. Me take um to Ikogimeut when Yukon
ice get hard so man can go safe with dog team. Big feast, big feed, tell
heap big stories, big dance. Oh, heap big time. Innuit go, plenty
Ingalik go. Me got pony, too. Buy um from Ingalik man."

"According to his story he seems to be the big noise up here," muttered
Ned Rector.

"He has a pony. That is one point in his favor," said Tad.

"Wait till you see it before you call it a pony," advised Stacy.

"Me got gun, too. Me shoot. Bang!"

Stacy staggered back, clapping a hand to his forehead.

"I'm shot!" he cried dramatically.

"Stacy, do restrain yourself until we get out on the trail again,"
begged the Professor.

"Me make snare. Me catch big game in snare. Me heap big pilot. Me
Ingalik."

"Have some cheese," urged Chunky, passing a chunk to the now squatting
Indian.

Without the least change of expression the Indian thrust the chunk into
his mouth and permitted it to lie there, bulging out the right cheek.

"Do you think this man will do, sir?" asked Professor Zepplin, turning
to the store-keeper.

"He will have to if you want a guide. He is the only fellow here who has
ever acted in that capacity, so far as I know."

"We would prefer to have a white man."

The proprietor shook his head.

"White men mostly are up in the gold country, Dawson, Nome, all over."

"Isn't there gold in this part, too?" questioned Tad.

"Yes, there's gold everywhere. You can go down and pan out gold in the
black sands on the beach here. But what's the use? There is more money
to be made in other ways in this country, unless you are lucky enough to
strike it rich before you have spent a fortune locating the claim."

"Where you go?" demanded Anvik.

"North. Northwest from here. We want to get into the wildest of the
country and we don't want to get lost."

"Me no lose. Mebby me find gold, uh!"

"We are not looking for gold," replied the Professor.

"We are always looking for gold," corrected Stacy. "If you know where
there is gold you just lead me to it and I'll be your brother for life."

"Me show."

"I take back all I said about this gentleman," announced Chunky. "If the
half that he says is true, he is worth several times the price he asks."

"How much does he ask?" inquired Rector.

"I don't know," replied the fat boy. "He's cheap at the price, anyway."

"When you mush?" demanded Anvik.

"We don't have mush. We have bacon and beans, and tin biscuit and
coffee, and plenty of other things, but no mush," answered the
Professor.

The store-keeper laughed heartily.

"He doesn't mean something to eat. Mush means march or move, a
corruption of the French-Canadian 'marché.' He means when are you going
to set out."

"Oh!" exclaimed the Professor.

"I thought you were an Indian, Professor?" said Tad laughingly. "I guess
if we depend upon you for interpreter we shall get left."

"Of course I don't understand this jargon."

"Of course you don't," agreed Butler.

"I doubt if any other persons do outside of the locality itself. You see
this jargon is purely local and--"

"That's what the doctor said about a pain I had once," interjected
Stacy. "But it hurt just the same."

"Anvik, we would like to start this afternoon, if you are ready,"
announced the Professor.

The Indian shook his head.

"No mush to-day. Mush to-mollel."

"Why not to-day?"

"Innua him angry to-day."

"Who is Innua?" demanded the Professor, bristling. "We do not care who
is angry. That has nothing to do with us."

"He means the mountain spirits," explained the store-keeper.

"Eh?" questioned Chunky. "Mountain spirits?"

"He means spirits in the air," explained Butler. "We are not afraid of
spirits, Anvik."

"Anvik no like."

"How do you know Innua is abroad?" asked the Professor, now curious to
know more of the native superstitions.

"See um."

"Where?"

"On big mountain," indicating Mt. St. Elias with a sweeping gesture.

"He won't go until to-morrow. If you want him you will have to wait,"
the store-keeper informed them.

"Then I suppose we shall have to wait," reflected Professor Zepplin. "It
may be an excellent idea after all. We can pitch camp in the village and
acquaint our guide with our methods of doing things, Anvik, do you know
how to put up tents and make camp?"

"Me make Ighloo, fine Ighloo. Snow no get in, cold no get in, Innua no
get in."

"How about rain?" put in Stacy.

"Rain no get in."

"That's all right, then. We don't care whether the snow gets in or not,
but we don't want to have to swim out of our Ighloos in the middle of
the night. One is liable to get wet, you know," reminded Brown.

The Professor arranged the wages with Anvik, calling upon the
store-keeper to witness the bargain and put it in writing. The Professor
then directed the boys to take the new guide out and begin his
instruction in the ways of the Pony Rider Boys. The Professor remained
to purchase necessary stores and supplies, consulting the proprietor as
to what would be needed on the journey. The advice of the store-keeper
was helpful in aiding the Professor to take only such equipment and
supplies as would be absolutely necessary.

Anvik went to the Indian village to bring his pony, the boys in the
meantime starting off to pick a camp site.

"One thing, boys, we mustn't play tricks on Anvik," reminded Tad. "I
have an idea that he hasn't much of a sense of humor. He might lose his
temper and run away and leave us after we were deep in the interior of
the country."

"Do you know, I don't believe he is an Indian at all," asserted Ned
Rector.

"Neither an Indian nor a white man," suggested Stacy wisely.

"I think he is an Esquimo," spoke up Walter.

"What's the odds? We don't care what his race is so long as he answers
our purpose," declared Butler.

"He says he is an I-Knew-It, and I believe him," said Stacy Brown with
emphasis.

"An Innuit, you mean," corrected Tad.

"That's it, an I-Knew-It, and that's what I did--"

"There he comes," cried Walter.

The Indian was leading a pony that looked as if it had not felt a brush
or comb since its birth, but Tad's discerning eye noted that the little
animal was hardy and well-conditioned, though of evident temper.

"Does he kick?" asked the boy, as Anvik tied his mount to a tree.

"Him kick like buck caribou. Him kick all time, both ways."

"We'll hopple him if he does," said Tad. "Be sure that you tie him so he
doesn't kick our ponies, Anvik. We can't have anything of that sort. If
he persists in kicking I'll see if I can't break him of it."

"You horse shaman?" asked Anvik.

"Yes, he's ashamed of his horse, that's it," chuckled Stacy.

Tad's face wore a puzzled look, which a few seconds later gave place to
a smile of understanding.

"Oh! you mean, am I a horse doctor? Is that it?"

"Uh."

"That's what he is. Anvik has got you properly located this time. Ha,
ha!" laughed Chunky.

"Come, boys, unpack. We must give our guide his first lesson. You sit
down and watch us, Anvik, while we make camp."

The guide did so, grunting with approval or disapproval from time to
time as the work pleased or displeased him. Under the now skillful hands
of the Pony Rider Boys the camp rapidly assumed shape and form. All the
tents were erected on this occasion in order that the guide might
observe the whole process. The tents up, the boys settled them. There
were plenty of trees about from which to get boughs for their beds, and
wood was brought and a campfire built up. This especially interested the
guide. He uttered grunts and nods of approval as he watched Tad build
the fire in true woodsman-like manner.

"White man no make fire like Indian. You make fire like Indian."

"Thank you," smiled Butler.

"You make cook fire. How you make sleep fire?"

"A little fire close up to the tent," answered Butler. "I make it so as
to get all the heat into the tent instead of sending the heat up into
the air where it will do no good."

"Heap good. You good Indian."

"That's what he is, Anvil, he's an Indian," cried Stacy.

"I seem to be a good many things in this camp," laughed Tad. "Any
further compliments you can pay me, Stacy?"

"No, but if you don't chase that buck over yonder behind the Professor's
tent, I reckon you'll lose your rope," reminded the fat boy.

Tad sprang to his feet, leaping over the tent ropes to the rear. A
native had reached under and was hauling out Butler's lasso. Tad grabbed
the fellow by an arm and sent him spinning.

"You get out of here or I'll wallop you!" threatened the freckle-faced
boy. "Don't you try that! It doesn't go in this outfit. Anvik, tell your
friend that someone will get knocked in the head if he steals anything
in this camp."

The guide uttered a volley of protest in Innuit, which the assembled
squaws, papooses and bucks received in stoical silence, and with
impassive faces.

"They don't seem to be particularly impressed by your lecture," said
Ned.

"Him no take. Anvik tell um stick um with knife if take."

"You will do nothing of the sort. We will do all the punishing. Don't
let me see you using your knife to stick anyone. Now, I guess you had
better show us around. Take your pony and come along," rebuked Rector.

"Where you want go?"

"Oh, anywhere. You lead the way. Will anything here be taken while we
are away?" questioned Ned.

"No take. Anvik stick um if take."

"You're a savage, that's what you are," declared Chunky.

The boys got on their ponies, while Anvik, after letting his blanket
slip to his waist, started away at a stride that the ponies had to trot
to keep up with.



CHAPTER XII

IN THE HEART OF NATURE


That night the Indian slept rolled in his blanket with feet close to the
campfire in true Indian style. He neither moved nor made a sound all
night long so far as the boys knew, but just as the dawn, was graying
the skies between the great white glaciers, he was up and striding, away
on some pilgrimage of his own. He did not return until two hours later.
When the boys awoke Anvik was sitting before the fire with both hands
clasped about his bunched knees.

"Good morning," greeted Tad, who was the first to emerge from the tents.

"Huh!" answered the guide.

"Is the mountain spirit willing that we should make a start this
morning?"

"Him gone," answered the Indian.

"Where?"

"Not know. Mebby Yukon, mebby Caribou," with a wave of his hand that
encompassed all the territory to the north of them. "You mush bymeby?"

"Very soon. We will have breakfast now, then we will get under way."

Anvik nodded and grunted, then, straightening up, let fall his blanket
and began preparing the things for breakfast. One by one the Pony Rider
Boys appeared, stretching themselves and yawning. A wash in an icy
spring close at hand awakened them instantly. Stacy was the last to
emerge from his tent. He sniffed the air, then turned up his nose.

"Bacon!" he grumbled disgustedly.

"Don't you like it?" asked Tad.

"I was thinking last night that if I keep on eating bacon for many
months more I'll be growing a pork rind in my stomach."

"You don't have to eat the bacon unless you want to, Chunky."

"Yes, I do. It's either that or starve, and Stacy Brown never will
starve so long as there is anything to eat in the shop. Where's the bath
room? I want to wash."

"Over yonder, and don't you wash where we get our breakfast water if you
know what's good for you."

"All water looks alike to me," answered the fat boy, walking rather
unsteadily toward the spring, rubbing his eyes.

Breakfast that morning was rather a hurried affair, for there was much
to be done. The supplies had been brought up from the store the night
before so there was no need to wait for the place to open, and Anvik
proved to be quite handy in striking camp, needing few instructions. He
remembered well all that had been told him the previous day.

They got away early. As before, the guide disdained to ride his pony. He
trotted along ahead, leading the little animal until some five miles
beyond the village when he leaped to the pony's back, and with a shrill
"Yip, yip!" sent it galloping ahead. This made the boys laugh. They did
not laugh for long, however. A mile beyond this they swerved from the
trail that led up parallel with the border between the United States and
the Canadian possessions and struck straight into the wilds.

"Say, where's the trail?" demanded the perspiring Stacy when the going
became so rough that the greater part of the time they were obliged to
walk, leaving their ponies to get along as best they might.

"There is no trail. This is the trackless wilderness," replied Butler.
"There is time to go back if you wish to."

"No, I don't want to go back."

Ere that day was ended Chunky almost wished he _had_ gone back
while he had the opportunity. Time and time again they were obliged to
haul their ponies up the steep sides of rocks by main force.
Fortunately, the little animals, used to mountain climbing, were
unaffected by dizzy heights or dangerous crossings, and picked their way
almost daintily. The boys were perspiring and red of face, but happy.
They thoroughly enjoyed this wild traveling. It went beyond anything
they had ever experienced.

"I hope you are satisfied," panted the Professor when at noon they
stopped on a little plateau from which gulches fell away on all sides,
leaving them, as it were, on a magic island high in the air. "I
sincerely hope it is wild enough for you young gentlemen."

"Not any too much so, Professor," answered Tad. "I could stand it a lot
wilder."

"At the present rate you will have it that way."

They built a fire and cooked a light meal, after which all hands lay
down for an hour, with the exception of Anvik, who sat bunched in his
now familiar brooding position, gazing off into space. As he sat thus,
his far-seeing eyes discovered something, but he did not change
countenance. He simply sat in dreamy-eyed silence. Perhaps what he saw
did not interest him. A column of white smoke had attracted his
attention. Promptly on the expiration of the hour that the boys had
given themselves to sleep, Anvik stepped briskly to them, shaking each
one by the shoulder.

"Mush!" he grunted with each shake.

"I wish you wouldn't say that," grumbled Stacy. "It makes me think I'm
going to have breakfast."

"Heap big mush. Big snow, big mountain," grunted the Innuit, with a
sweeping gesture towards the towering peaks of the St. Elias range which
they were now entering.

"Have we got to go through that?" begged Walter anxiously.

"Um," replied the guide.

"But how shall we ever make it?"

"Mush."

"Yes, mush," jeered Chunky. "You just spread the mush over the mountain
side and slide. Don't you understand, Walt? My, but you are thick."

All that afternoon they fought their way through the rugged mountains,
making camp that night in a gloomy pass at the foot of Vancouver
Mountain, a vast pile that towered nearly fourteen thousand feet high.
It seemed to the Pony Rider Boys that they were a long way from
civilization, and Tad admitted that he would soon be lost were he
obliged to follow a trail up there.

The camp was made about six o'clock, still with broad daylight, but the
boys considered that they had done enough for one day. The ponies were
weary and Tad knew better than to press them too hard. After supper the
freckle-faced boy shouldered his rifle.

Anvik gave him a glance of inquiry.

"Where are you going?" demanded the Professor.

"I'm going to 'mush' a little way up the pass to see if I can't get
something worth while for our breakfast."

"You will get lost."

"No, that will not be possible. So long as I keep in the pass I shall be
all right. Don't worry; I'll keep in the pass all right."

The boy plunged into the thick undergrowth, and no sooner had he done so
than the giant mosquitoes and black gnats attacked him in force. Tad
fought them until he grew tired of it, then he trudged on grimly,
permitting them to do their worst. After a time he decided that he would
get no game if he remained down in the pass, so, after carefully taking
his bearings, Tad climbed the mountain until he was able to look over
the tops of the trees. It was like a level green sea. He sat down in the
sunlight, gazing out over the wonderful landscape.

"A world of silence," he murmured. "If Chunky were here he would say I
was getting softening of the brain. Hello!" Tad froze himself. There was
scarcely a perceptible flicker of the eyelids as his gaze became fixed
on a point of rock just across the pass. There, poised with one foot in
the air, stood an antelope. It was a young doe, as Tad surmised it to
be. His position was not a favorable one for shooting because he was in
plain sight, and the least move on his part no doubt would be discovered
by the antelope.

"She must have scented me or else she has got a whiff from the camp. If
I don't make any false moves she will be over in that camp within the
next hour."

Tad raised his rifle slowly. Yet slow and cautious as he was, the
antelope's head went up sharply. So did Butler's rifle. He took quick
aim and pulled the trigger. The report of his shot went crashing from
wall to wall, like a series of heavy shots.

[Illustration: He Raised His Rifle Slowly.]

The freckle-faced boy leaped to his feet, and to one side, with rifle
ready for another shot in case he had missed. But he had not. The
antelope had leaped into the air, turned a complete somersault, and went
crashing down into the gulch out of sight.

"Hooray! Maybe it was a chance shot, but it was a dandy just the same.
Now I wonder if I am going to be able to find her. I think I know how."

The boy took out his compass and got a bearing on the point where he had
last seen the antelope. Noting the course he started down the mountain
side, sliding and leaping in his haste. Crossing over the pass was more
difficult, for a broad glacial stream was rushing through the center of
it. Nothing daunted, Tad plunged in, but was swept off his feet almost
instantly and carried several rods down before he was able to check
himself by grabbing a rock.

The rifle had been held out of the water most of the way, though it got
a pretty good wetting. The water was less swift from the rock on, and
Tad essayed another crossing. He fell only once on the way over. This
time he went in all over, rifle and all, but he got up grinning.

"It doesn't matter much now. I can't be any wetter, and I guess the gun
isn't any the worse off, though I shall have to give it a pretty
thorough cleaning and oiling when I get back to camp."

Having been thrown considerably off his course, Butler found some
difficulty in picking it up again, but he found it at last, then guided
by the compass made his way straight to where the antelope lay amid a
thick mass of undergrowth. He examined her and found that the bullet had
entered just behind the left shoulder.

"I couldn't have done any better than that at fifty yards," chuckled the
boy. "The next question is, how am I going to get her to camp? I reckon
I shall have to tote her."



CHAPTER XIII

A PONY RIDER BOY'S PLUCK


"White boy him make shoot," grunted Anvik.

"He has shot?" questioned Ned.

"Ugh."

"How do you know?"

"Hear um."

"You must have pretty good ears. I haven't heard anything," replied the
fat boy. "How do you know it wasn't someone else?"

"Know um gun."

"It is queer we didn't hear him," said the Professor. "Do you think he
got some game?"

The guide nodded.

"We shall see how good a fortune-teller you are, but the joke will be on
you if it should prove not to have been Butler at all."

To this the guide made no reply. In the meantime, Tad Butler was having
his troubles. The problem of how to get the antelope back to camp was
not so easily solved. But Tad thought he knew a way. First he got a
stick, which he sharpened at both ends. The stick, about six feet long,
he thrust through slits he had made in the hocks of the animal, somewhat
similar to what he would have done had he been going to string the
carcass up.

First strapping his rifle over his shoulder, the Pony Rider Boy raised
the stick to his shoulders also, and, stooping, lifted the animal. It
was a heavy burden and he staggered. The head of the antelope was
dragging on the ground, which made Butler's labor still more trying.

The lad started away, keeping close to the stream in his search of a
fording place, but he failed to find anything that looked easier than
the portage he had used before, so he finally decided to go back to
that. By the time he reached the former point he was obliged to drop his
burden and sink down on the rocks to rest.

"Whew, but it's hot. And the mosquitoes and the gnats! If it isn't one
pest in the wilds, it is sure to be another and a worse one," he
concluded somewhat illogically, measuring the width of the stream with
his eyes. "I'll try it."

The weight of his burden was a help rather than otherwise in crossing
the glacial stream, for the weight kept the boy on his feet, except on
one occasion when stepping on a flat, slippery rock, they were whipped
out from under him. Tad went in all over, with the antelope on top of
him, and there he struggled and splashed, losing his foothold almost as
fast as he gained it.

"Well, I am a muffer," gasped Tad, finally getting to his feet. "I'm
worse than Chunky. I deserve a worse wetting, but I guess that's
impossible."

The journey to the other side was made without further mishap. Then
began a hard, grilling tramp down through the pass, the ends of the pole
on which the animal was suspended continually catching on limbs and
brush, frequently throwing Butler down, tearing his clothes and
scratching his face and neck. His dogged determination carried him
through, however, but he was in the end considerably the worse for wear.
The first his companions saw of him was when Tad fell out into the open
in plain sight of the camp, flat on his face, with the carcass on top of
him. At first glance they thought it was a live animal they had seen.

"Get a gun, quick!" bellowed Stacy.

"Him white boy," answered the Indian. "Him git um."

"What, Tad?" Ned uttered a yell and started on a trot for his companion
who, by this time, was getting up slowly and with evident effort. Stacy
and Walter followed. "What have you got there? We came near letting go
at you."

"Yes, yes, we thought you were a bear," chuckled Stacy.

"It's a deer," cried Walter Perkins.

"Him antelope," nodded the Indian wisely. "White boy heap much big
hunter."

"I'm afraid I am a better hunter than I am a toter. Stacy, I fell in."

"Ye-e-e-ow!" yelled the fat boy joyously.

"Here, let us take him in," offered Ned, reaching for one end of the
carrying stick.

Butler shook his head.

"I said I was going to get him to camp alone and I shall."

"But--" protested Ned.

"Oh, let him carry the beast if he wants to. Tad likes to work," laughed
the fat boy.

"Which is a heap sight more than may be said of some persons we know
of," returned Ned.

Tad dragged the carcass into camp, casting it down a short distance from
the tents.

"Him heap big little man," reiterated the Indian.

"How much does the animal weigh?" asked the Professor.

"A good ton, I should say," replied Tad, sinking down by the fire. "I'm
all tuckered out."

"You had better get on some dry clothes."

"These will dry in a few minutes by the fire," was the philosophical
reply.

"Yes, that's right," bubbled Stacy. "When one side gets dry I'll pry you
over with the stick on which you brought in the carcass. You can't say I
don't do my share of the work in this outfit."

"I think I prefer to do my own rolling. I don't dare trust you," laughed
Tad.

"That's it, you see. When I try to do anything you won't let me."

"Perhaps Anvik will show you how to skin and cut up the antelope."

"I don't want to know how to skin an antelope. We don't have that kind
at home, so what's the use knowing about it? I know how to 'skin the
cat,' and that's enough," Chunky declared.

Anvik deftly strung up the carcass and in half an hour had it neatly
dressed, the boys watching the operation with interest.

"Heap much good meat," he nodded.

"Yes, heap," admitted Stacy solemnly. "What are you going to do with it
all?"

"Eat um."

"All of it?"

"Some of um. Mebby wolf eat um rest. Mebby bear eat um."

"Mebby they don't. Mebby Stacy Brown will eat um if there is any left
when my hungry friends get through with it to-morrow," jeered the fat
boy. "I'll have mine rare, if you please."

"Huh!" grunted Anvik with the suspicion of a grin on his usually stolid
countenance.



CHAPTER XIV

STACY BUMPS THE BUMPS


One by one the travelers were hauling the ponies up a steep mountain,
over which their course lay, four days after Tad had brought in the
antelope. They had eaten their fill of the meat, hiding the rest in case
they should by any chance come that way again.

The going had been worse than before. It could not have been tougher for
either man or beast. The mountain side up which they were struggling was
rough and rugged. A short distance to the right of them the quartz rock
was as smooth as polished marble save for a hummock here and there, some
of the latter smooth, others rough. Neither Pony Rider Boy nor pony
could have held his footing there for an instant.

After two hours' toil they got the last of the stock up, which in this
case was the pack mule. Ned pulled on the rope while Tad and Anvik
pushed. They were safe in doing so, for the mule could not kick without
going down altogether. Furthermore, it was as anxious as its helpers to
get to the top and have the disagreeable job over with. The result was
that all hands were pretty well fagged out by the time they got to a
level space from which their way led around the base of the higher
mountain.

"Now, Stacy, you haven't done much except to give us the benefit of your
advice, so take the mule over yonder and tether him where he can
browse," directed Butler. "Walter, did you tether the others?"

"I did."

"Come on, you lazy mule. I'm not going to tote you. You'll tote yourself
if you want a feed," growled Stacy, taking hold of the lead rope and
slouching off to the right. The bushes where they had placed the ponies
were about ten rods to the northward of the point at which the party had
landed. Stacy was apparently trying to see how near he could walk to the
edge without himself or the mule slipping down that glassy side of
granite-like rocks.

"Come along, you lazy cayuse," he yelled, giving the lead line a series
of tugs. It was like pulling on a dead weight, the pack mule being too
weary to hasten its lagging footsteps. Chunky turned around and taking
firm grip on the rope with both hands began to pull with all his might.
The mule braced himself. He resented this sort of treatment.

The halter suddenly slipped over the animal's head, and the pack mule
sat down heavily. So did the fat boy. Unfortunately for the mule it sat
down with its haunches slightly over the edge of the slope, and down it
went over the slippery surface.

"There goes the other mule!" yelled Walter Perkins.

"Fat boy him go, too," grunted Anvik.

They had failed to observe Stacy. What they were most interested in was
the sight of their pack mule sliding down the slope backwards in a
sitting posture. Alarmed as they were to see their stores disappearing,
the ludicrousness of the sight interested them. The mule came in contact
with one of the high places--a rocky bump, which bounced him up into the
air and turned him completely around. Down to the next obstruction the
animal traveled, principally on its nose.

Stacy Brown was only a few seconds behind the mule. The two had sat down
facing each other. The mule being the heavier had gone first and, when
once under way, his momentum carried him along with greater force and
speed.

With a wild yell, the fat boy, sprawling and struggling to catch hold of
something to stop his progress, began the descent. Below him he could
hear the rattle of tin cans, for the pack had broken open. It was
raining canned goods down there, but Stacy was not particularly
interested in this phase of the situation. He hit the bump over which
the pack mule had leaped, was hurled up into the air, where he did a
dizzy spin, then sat down with a force that for the instant knocked all
the breath out of him, and once more he shot towards the bottom.

"They'll both be killed!" cried the Professor in great alarm.

Tad, comprehending the scene in a twinkling, started on a run. Choosing
a point where there were no bumps in the way, he crept over and, sitting
on his feet, supported on each side by his hands, began a downward
shoot. But the freckle-faced boy did not long maintain that position. A
few seconds after starting he was flat on his back, going down feet
first at a speed that fairly took his breath away.

Ere he was half-way down, the mule had reached the end of its journey at
the bottom of the slope. Then Stacy Brown came along, but not much more
gracefully than the mule, and landed feet first on the animal. What the
slide and the bumps had failed to do for the unfortunate beast, Stacy
Brown did. He was a human projectile and the mule, that had got to its
fore feet, promptly lay down again under the impact. Chunky did a
graceful dive over the body of his prostrate enemy, landing on his
shoulders in a thicket.

"Stacy! Stacy!" yelled Tad as he reached the end of his own slide and
got to his feet. Tad had not been in the least injured by the fall.
"Stacy!"

"What do you want?"

"Are you hurt?"

"No."

"Then come and help me get the mule up."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm strung up."

Tad did not know what the trouble was, but he lost no time in getting to
his companion. Butler gazed, then he burst out laughing. Chunky lay on
his back on the ground, his eyes rolling. One foot was elevated as high
as it could reach and still permit the boy's body to remain on the
ground. The foot was caught in the crotch of a dwarfed tree, and was
wedged in tightly, too.

"Gracious! How did you ever manage to get into that scrape?" questioned
Tad between laughs. "Hey, Ned, is that you?" as a crashing in the bushes
was heard near at hand.

"Yes. I'm coming. Is Stacy hurt?"

"No, but come here quick. Here's a sight for you!"

Ned threshed his way to them, then he, too, burst out into a roar of
laughter.

"Ha, ha!" mocked Chunky. "That's right. Never mind me. I'm only the fat
boy, taken along to do stunts to make the rest of you laugh. I'm quite
comfortable, thank you. I can stand on my head here for any old length
of time. Have your laugh out, then shoot me! I don't want to die a
lingering death."

"I'll lift him up. You get the foot out, Ned," directed Tad.

This was not so easily accomplished. Butler tried different ways of
doing this, but each time the fat boy's yells made him stop short. Every
attempt to lift Stacy gave his foot a wrench, bringing forth a howl.

"Let me have your hatchet," demanded Tad. Ned passed it over.

"What are you going to do? Going to chop my leg off?" demanded Stacy.

"Don't worry. It won't hurt but a moment."

"Pro-o-o-o-fessor!"

"Keep still, you ninny! We aren't going to hurt you," growled Ned.

Tad was already hacking at the tree, which was small, but very tough.
Every blow brought a yell from the fat boy. He couldn't have made much
more racket had his companions in reality been amputating the leg
itself.

At last Butler had chopped through. He grabbed the tree, but Stacy,
jerking on his foot, pulled the tree right over on him, incidentally
throwing Tad down. Then Chunky let out a fresh series of howls as the
sharp sprouts smote him on the face and body. The foot, however, had
come free with the falling of the tree, but the boy still lay there
groaning, making no effort to help himself.

"Get up! You're all right," commanded Ned, jerking Stacy out by the
collar. "See what you've accomplished now. You have done for our last
mule. Had you not been along I don't believe the other one would have
fallen off the trail."

"That's right. Save the donk, but never mind a Stacy Brown. He's a good
joke, that's all," complained Stacy.

Tad had run to the pack mule which had got up, and was standing with
nose close to the ground.

"He isn't hurt," cried Tad. "He is all right, Professor," he called.
"Both mules are all right. Hooray!"

"Eh?" growled Stacy, flushing hotly.

Anvik, who had been making his way down by a more roundabout way, now
made his appearance. He grunted upon discovering the disheveled Chunky,
and shrugged his shoulders as he observed the display of tin cans strewn
about.

"Much heap big fool!" ejaculated the Indian.

"Are you addressing your remarks to me or to the mule?" demanded Stacy
calmly.

"Huh!" That was the only reply Stacy got, and Anvik began gathering up
the stuff that had been lost from the battered pack. This was no small
task, owing to the way the provisions had been scattered. Butler, in the
meantime, had gone over the pack mule carefully to see if there were any
serious injuries.

"He's a lucky mule," announced the lad. "There are no bones broken, but
I'll warrant he aches all over from the shaking up he has had. I shall
have to sew up that gash on his side when we get him up."

"Let's get started and boost him up, then," urged Rector.

"No, let the beggar rest. I haven't the heart to drag him up that
mountain again until he recovers from the shock. We'll tether him and
help Anvik get the provisions up first. Stacy, are you able to work?"

"What you want me to do?"

"Carry some of these stores up."

The fat boy shook his head.

"My weak heart won't stand it," he answered. Thrusting his hands in his
pockets he strolled off.

The two boys looked at each other and Tad shook his head hopelessly. Ned
picked up a stone and savagely shied it at a tomato can. It hit the can
and split it wide open.

"If you must give vent to your emotions I wish you would throw stones at
a tree, or at something that won't deplete our stores," suggested
Butler. "Now see what you've done."

Stacy had promptly rescued the split tomato can and carefully holding it
before him stepped gingerly over to a rock on which he sat down and
began eating of the contents of the can.

"I don't want to see. Stacy riles me so that I want to thrash him. I'll
do it some day, too!" threatened Ned.

Stacy paid no attention to Rector's threats, but having finally emptied
the can, he threw it at Ned, then began climbing the mountain to rejoin
the outfit.

It was all of two hours ere they finished their work of bringing the
damaged supplies up the mountain side. Then came a tug of war in getting
the mule up once more, the brute hanging back, the boys pulling and
pushing. The Professor had a new pack cover all cut and sewed by the
time they had finished. The boys decided to camp where they were for an
hour longer, then go on, making a late camp that afternoon, the days
being so long that this could be done without night traveling, which was
very perilous in that rugged section.

They finally took up their journey, making camp on a high plateau where
Tad was destined to make an important discovery before they set out on
the following day.



CHAPTER XV

THE STORY IN THE DEAD FIRE


It was an hour past daylight on the following morning when Tad, who had
got up early, shouldered his rifle and stalked out of camp, returned.
The other boys were just out of their beds, heading for a spring to
"wash their eyes open."

Tad did not show himself to them at once. There was no real reason for
his caution, save that he was a woodsman and therefore always cautious
as to the moves he made. Anvik caught sight of him instantly, and Tad
beckoned. The guide did not appear to have observed the signal, but
taking up his hatchet as if going out for wood, he strode from the camp
also, and Butler seeing that the guide was coming, turned and walked
briskly away from the camp.

The freckle-faced boy led for a short quarter of a mile straight over
the plateau, a thickly wooded, rugged plain. Then he halted, waiting for
the guide to come up. Tad pointed to a heap of ashes, the remains of a
campfire.

"Huh!" grunted the Indian.

"Someone has been here before us," nodded Tad. "And not so very long
ago, I should say. What do you make of it, Anvik?"

"You see um?"

Butler nodded.

"What you see?"

"A dead campfire."

"Huh. Heap much. What else you see?"

"I see a few things, Anvik. Of course I can't see as much as you do, but
I should say this camp was not more than a day old. This fire was
blazing yesterday. The ashes aren't the right color for a very old one."

"One sun," grunted the Indian.

"It looks to me as if there had been two men here. Am I right?"

"Heap good. Two men. Leave, big hurry. Him go that way. Stay here two
hour. Wonder why big hurry?"

"Perhaps they wanted to get somewhere, some place for which they had set
out in a hurry. They had two ponies and pretty heavy packs."

Anvik nodded.

"White boy much wise. Him see almost like Indian. My father him shaman.
Him teach Anvik see many thing. White boy him see almost as much as
Anvik."

"Where do you think they are going?"

"Not know."

"Perhaps they are miners prospecting for a claim."

Anvik shook his head.

"Too much big hurry. No prospect. Mebby go get claim. Mebby see um
again."

"I hope we do. It would be pleasant to have some company in this wild
place. They went in that direction when they broke camp. Is that the way
we go?" asked Tad.

"We follow um trail."

"Then let's go back and get ready to move."

The pair strode back without another word, the Indian's admiration for
the freckle-faced boy having increased greatly since Tad had beckoned
him from the camp.

Shortly after noon as they were casting about for a favorable place in
which to make their mid-day halt, Ned Rector, who was riding to the
right of the others, uttered a shout.

"What is it?" cried Tad.

"There has been a campfire here."

"How did you find it?" wondered Tad.

"My pony walked through it and kicked up the ashes. Who do you suppose
it could have been?"

"I am sure I don't know. See anything about the remains of the fire that
tells you anything?"

"No. What is there to see, Tad?"

"It takes a woodsman to see things," declared Stacy Brown, getting from
his saddle and gravely strolling to the heap of ashes, into which he
thrust one hand.

"Well?" grinned Tad.

"Ashes warm. Haven't been away from here very long."

"Great!" cried the boys.

"You are a wonder," nodded Butler approvingly. "But you all missed the
other one."

"The other what?" demanded Ned.

"The other campfire. There was another right near where we camped last
night. In that case the ashes were cold. The travelers haven't made as
much progress to-day as I should have thought they would, and it looks
to me as though they thought they were moving rather too rapidly and had
slowed down a little. What do you say, Anvik?"

"Huh!" grunted the Indian, which Tad interpreted as meaning that he was
right.

The Professor was much interested in the discovery, and asked Tad and
Anvik many questions about the earlier discovery. Still, there was not
much to be learned. A stranger in this wild place was something to
attract the attention and cause speculation and discussion, so during
the rest hour they talked of little else. Tad thought they would come up
with the two strangers, but the guide shook his head.

"Him go north. Anvik go northwest. No see."

"We shall see by to-morrow. I have an idea that we are going to catch up
with our friends before we get across the mountains," averred Tad
confidently.

"Lunch is ready," announced the Professor.

"And speaking of food, I'm a little hungry myself," said Tad with a
laugh. "I really am glad there is no one in our outfit with a delicate
appetite. Walt, do you remember what a dainty picker you were when we
first went out together?"

"Yes. I have changed since then, haven't I?"

"I should say you have. From a delicate little chap you've gotten to be
a regular whopper."

"Yes, I reckon we've all grown some," agreed Chunky. "But if this kind
of going continues we'll all shrink away to nothing."

"You will be able to lift a house after you have finished this journey,"
laughed Tad.

"I don't want to lift a house. I've got all I can do to lift myself."

Soon after, the party started on, to meet with a surprise ere they had
gone far on their journey.



CHAPTER XVI

A SIGN FROM THE MOUNTAIN TOP


The surprise did not come until just before night closed in, shortly
after ten o'clock that night.

A hard, grilling day had been spent on the trail, with little relief
from their labors, which were divided between hauling the ponies up
dangerous slopes, down almost sheer walls, across glacial streams cold
as ice, and last but not least the fighting of giant mosquitoes and
black gnats.

"There is only one thing lacking to make this country the limit,"
declared Stacy after they had made camp and settled down to warm
themselves while the guide was getting supper.

"And what might that be?" questioned the Professor.

"Snakes!"

"Thank goodness there aren't any such things here," exclaimed Rector.
"It is bad enough as it is. Hark! What's that?"

"Him wolf," grunted the Indian.

"I should say there were several of 'him,'" laughed Tad Butler. "They
seemed to be stirred up about something. Are they timber wolves, Anvik?"

The guide nodded and grunted.

"Are you afraid of wolves?" demanded Rector.

"No 'fraid wolves. Mebby 'fraid Ingalik."

Tad drew from this that the Indian had something in mind that he had not
spoken to them about. The freckle-faced boy eyed the Indian keenly, but
Anvik's impassive face told him nothing. The guide had discovered
something else. Tad was sure of that, but what that something was the
boy had not the slightest idea.

Tad's gaze roved about over the landscape, traveling slowly from
mountain to mountain, from peak to peak. Twice he went over the rugged
landscape spread out before them with his searching glances. Suddenly
his gaze halted and fixed on the peak of a low mountain off to the
northwest of them. Butler shaded his eyes, and Anvik, observing the
action, followed the direction of the boy's gaze.

The guide made no move, nor did he change expression, but Tad saw that
Anvik saw. A tiny ring of smoke was rising slowly from the low mountain
peak, swaying lazily as it rose in the quiet air. It was almost white.
One might have taken it for a cloud did he not know better, and only a
mountaineer would have known better.

A moment and a second ring ascended in the wake of the first one, then
after another interval a third ring rose.

"What are you looking at?" demanded the Professor sharply.

"Smoke," answered Tad.

"Where?"

"On that low peak. Where are the glasses?"

Ned hurriedly fetched the glasses. He took the first look, but saw no
smoke. Tad reached for them. By this time another ring was rising. It,
like the first one he had seen, was followed by two others.

"It's a signal!" announced Butler quietly. "Now what can it mean?"

"It means trouble for us," spoke up Stacy. "I can feel it in my bones."

"Who would desire to make trouble for us here?" demanded the Professor.

"I don't know," replied Tad. "I don't believe that smoke has anything to
do with us. It must be an Indian signal."

"No Indian," grunted Anvik. "Him white man smoke."

"How do you know?" questioned the Professor sharply.

"Me know."

"Then perhaps you may be able to tell us whose smoke it is?"

"Him white man. Mebby same man, mebby not. White man all same. Him call
other white man. Him say some along, by jink."

"Let's make a smoke and answer him," suggested Ned eagerly. "That would
be a joke on him, whoever he is."

Tad said "no," and said it emphatically.

"No make smoke," agreed the Indian. "Smoke want white man off
yonder"--pointing to the southwest.

"How do you know that?" asked Butler.

"Smoke him go that way. Want us, smoke him go this way."

"I never knew that before," reflected Tad. "You see, boys, they make
these signal smokes by building a smudge, then holding a blanket over
the smudge. By removing the blanket and replacing it they can make a
definite number of smokes, long smokes or short smokes; in fact, they
can almost make words, like the telegraph. It is a wonderful thing. I
wouldn't be surprised if those signals could be made out twenty or
thirty miles away, if one had eyes sharp enough to detect them."

"But what are they signaling for?" demanded Stacy.

"I don't know. Anvik says it is white men. I can't tell you anything
about that. Smoke is just smoke to me. They are communicating with
someone. We shan't see them, as they must be all of ten miles away."

"Fifteen," corrected the guide.

"That shows how poorly a novice judges distances in this country,"
nodded Butler. "They may see our fire to-night. If they are friendly we
shall no doubt meet them. If they are not, we may never see a sign of
them again. That is the way I reason it out."

Anvik grunted and nodded. The Indian understood a great deal more of
what was being said than one would have supposed. In fact, to look at
him one would not think he had even heard anything of what was being
said about him. He was the silent, impassive-faced stoic of his race.

After darkness had set in the boys scanned the mountains for the light
of a campfire, but there was no light to be seen. The Pony Rider Boys'
campfire, however, was blazing up brightly, they having built up a large
fire on purpose to attract the attention of the men who had made the
smoke signals from the low mountain peak, low in comparison with the ten
and fifteen thousand feet ranges about them. The boys turned in at
midnight, a late hour for them, and were sound asleep within two minutes
thereafter. They were aroused an hour later by the most terrifying roar
they had ever listened to.

"What's the matter?" cried Tad, springing from his tent, trying to
pierce the darkness with his gaze.

"Is--is the world coming to an end?" yelled Ned.

"I guess the mountain is falling down," shouted Stacy.

"Guide, guide!" roared the Professor.

Anvik, drawing his blanket still more closely about him, stepped over
and threw some fresh sticks on the fire. The roaring by this time had
become a thunderous, crashing noise that fairly deafened them. One had
to shout to make himself heard. Fine particles, like sharp stones, began
raining down upon them, stinging the faces, causing the boys to shield
their eyes with their arms. Stacy, in alarm, ran and hid in the tent;
the others stood their ground, yet not knowing what second they might be
caught in what seemed to them to be a great upheaval of nature.

"It's an earthquake," shouted Ned Rector.

Stacy heard the words in a brief lull. The fat boy burst from his tent
yelling like a wild Indian.

"An earthquake! Oh, wow, wow, wow! We'll all be shot to pieces. Oh,
help!"

Tad grabbed the boy by a shoulder, giving him a good shaking.

"Stop that noise!" he commanded. "Don't yell until you are hurt."

"I want to yell now. Maybe I can't yell after I'm hurt," returned
Chunky.

"Guide! What is it?" roared the Professor, the perspiration standing out
over his face, as Tad observed when the fire blazed up.

Anvik finished what he was doing before he answered. Then he spoke
without looking up.

"Him mountain fall down."

"Is it an ice slide?" shouted Tad.

"Ugh!"

"An avalanche, do you mean?"

"Yes; an ice-avalanche," explained the Professor. "I have seen them in
other parts of the world."

"Sun make him ice weak; ice fall down," explained Anvik.

"How about danger for us?" asked Walter.

For answer the Indian shrugged his shoulders and went on poking the
fire. Then, of a sudden, there came a crash like a salvo of artillery. A
crushing, grinding mass shot by them, snuffing out the fire as it
passed.

Darkness and a terrifying silence followed.



CHAPTER XVII

AN UNEXPECTED MEETING


After the roar of the passing avalanche had ceased, and the awed silence
became oppressive, Stacy Brown's voice was heard.

"Ow-wow!" he wailed.

"Are we all here, and safe?" called Tad. "Professor, Ned, Walter,
Anvik!"

Each answered to his name.

"You didn't call for me," Chunky protested indignantly. "Don't I count
in this outfit?"

"That's easy," answered Tad. "When you're not making a noise we know
you're somewhere else. Let's see what the ice did to our camp."

"Heap one piece ice fall," grunted the guide. "Him sit on fire. Innua
him mad, by jink!"

"Is Innua the scoundrel who has been throwing sections of mountains at
us?" demanded Walter.

"He means the mountain spirit," explained Tad. "Don't you recall that
Anvik wouldn't start out with us the first day because he said the
mountain spirit was in a blue funk, or something of the sort?"

"Oh, yes."

"Old Innua must have been in a rage to-night then, and we are lucky that
we weren't in range of his projectiles," chuckled Tad.

Beyond destroying their fire, no damage had been done to the camp.
However, after the excitement no one felt like sleep, so the boys sat
about the fire discussing the ice avalanche for an hour or more. Then,
at the Professor's urgent insistence, they turned in. Anvik long since
had wound himself up in his blanket and gone to sleep.

Just as the dawn was graying, Tad got up, and shouldering his rifle
slipped from the camp unobserved by anyone except the Indian. Anvik
opened one eye, regarded the boy inquiringly, then closing the eye,
dozed off. He was by this time too well used to Tad's morning excursions
to ask any questions. He knew the boy was well able to take care of
himself.

Tad had a two-fold purpose in view in going out this morning. He wanted
to get some fresh meat for the outfit and he also was curious to know
what the smoke of the previous evening had meant. While he did not
expect to come up with any strangers, he thought that, perhaps he might
discover something.

Tad did. He had proceeded less than a mile from camp when he smelled
smoke. At first he thought the odor must come from his own camp, then he
saw that the slight breeze was from the opposite direction.

"That means that someone isn't far ahead of me. It means I am going to
find out who it is if I can."

After floundering about for fully half an hour, with the odor of smoke
becoming more pungent all the time, the boy was on the point of
confessing that he was beaten, when all at once he caught the sound of a
human voice. The voice was not loud enough to enable him to distinguish
the words, but he was quite sure it was the voice of a white man and not
far away at that.

"They have masked their camp. That's why I haven't been able to find
them," muttered the boy, starting ahead again. After creeping forward
cautiously for some time, a wave of suffocating smoke from burning wood
smote him full in the face.

Tad uttered a loud sneeze. Two men suddenly appeared in the haze of
smoke, and the boy heard the sound of hands slapping pistol holsters. He
was able to make the men out faintly, but not with sufficient clearness
to see who or what they were.

"Hold on, boys--don't shoot!" warned Butler, as he stepped around the
smudge to enable him to get a better view of the men whom he had come
upon so unexpectedly, to them.

Before him stood Curtis Darwood and Dill Bruce, the latter known among
his companions as the Pickle. Each man held his revolver ready for quick
action.

"Why, how do you do?" smiled Tad. "I hadn't the least idea I should find
anyone I knew."

"Well, suffering blue jays, if it isn't old Spotted Face!" exclaimed
Bruce. "Howdy?"

"Very good. How are you?" Tad stepped forward. Bruce shook hands
cordially with the boy. Tad turned to Darwood, who had not said a word.
The latter's face darkened, and he appeared not to have observed the
hand that Tad extended toward him.

"Aren't you going to shake hands with me, Mr. Darwood?" asked the lad.

"I reckon you ought to know better than to ask it," returned the gold
digger. "I reckon, further, that if you know what's good for you you'll
be mushing out of this as fast as your legs will carry you, unless you
are looking for trouble. Git!"



CHAPTER XVIII

AN UNFRIENDLY RECEPTION


Tad gazed at the gold digger in amazement.

"I--I don't understand, Mr. Darwood."

"Don't you understand plain English? I said 'git.' We don't want
anything to do with you, and if we find you fooling about our outfit
after this we'll try something else to keep you away," warned the
prospector.

"I don't know why you appear to have taken such a dislike to me. I am
sure I have done nothing to merit it. However, I am equally sure that I
don't want anything to do with you. If you change your mind and can act
like a man, instead of a kid, I shall be glad to see you. But don't get
funny. We may be boys but we are quite able to take care of ourselves,"
answered Tad, turning away.

"Stop!"

Darwood's voice was stern. Tad halted and turned towards the two men.

"You reckon you're mighty smart, I know, but you must think I'm a
natural-born fool not to know that you have been following us all the
way up here."

"What?"

"Oh, you needn't play the innocent dodge. You know what I mean."

"You--you think we have been following you?" questioned the boy,
scarcely able to believe that the prospector was in earnest.

"I don't think. I know. You're like all the rest of them. We have had
this thing happen to us before. There are plenty more like you, and
they've followed us, hoping they will be the first to discover the bear
totem and the claim that we are in search of."

"Taku Pass?" asked Butler with a half smile on his face.

Darwood's face flushed angrily.

"What did I tell you, Bruce?" he snapped. "Are you going?" he demanded,
turning towards Tad.

"Yes. I don't care to stay where I'm not wanted. But before going I am
going to tell you something. We are not prospecting, nor following
prospectors. We are taking our usual summer vacation on horseback. All I
know about your affairs is what Captain Petersen of the 'Corsair' told
me, and what I overheard from Sandy Ketcham. If you will recall I told
you about that. The Captain gave me your history as far as he knew it,
and I was much interested. How could I help being? I love adventure and
so do my companions. We wanted to know more about it, but did not think
it was any of our business until I overheard Ketcham plotting against
you. We hadn't the least idea we ever should see you again. My finding
you this morning was a pure accident."

"How'd you happen to do it?" interjected Dill Bruce.

"I saw your smoke signs last night."

"What!"

Darwood snapped the word out like the crack of a whip.

"I saw your smoke signs. At least I suppose they were yours. This
morning I started out, as I frequently do, in search of game. I smelled
your smoke and out of curiosity hunted you up to see who our neighbors
were. That's all there is to it. If you can get anything out of that you
are welcome to it. I wish you luck in finding Taku Pass. If I should
stumble on it, I'll look you up and let you know. We aren't looking for
gold mines especially. 'Bye."

"Well, what d'ye think of that?" grinned the Pickle after Tad had left
them.

"I think somebody will get hurt if they don't leave us alone," growled
Darwood, caressing the butt of his revolver. "I'm getting tired of this
kind of nagging."

"That outfit isn't nagging you," answered Bruce.

"How do you know?"

"They are nothing but boys. At least one of them is the right sort.
Spotted Face did us a favor. He isn't a crook."

"I haven't said he was. But you don't know who is in their outfit now.
Besides, there isn't one chance in a thousand that they'd be so close on
our trail unless they had followed us on purpose. No, this business must
be stopped. We may be on the right track, and if we are we must protect
ourselves, and we'll do it, even though we have to kill a few curious
hounds who are following the trail. The boy business may be merely a
mask for the operations of some other persons."

"Why don't you find out, then?"

Darwood bent a keen gaze on his companion.

"What do you mean?"

"Hunt up their camp and see what is going on?"

"I'll do it," answered the gold digger with emphasis. "What's more, I'll
do it now."

"That's the talk! If you hurry, you may be able to find the boy and
follow him in. Shall I go along?"

"No. You stay here and look after things. I may be away for some time. I
don't know where they are, but I'll find them if it takes all day. If
our two comrades come in, you hold them here. Needn't tell them where I
am."

Darwood shouldered his rifle and strode from his camp without another
word. Bruce replenished the fire in order to make a smudge that could be
smelled for some distance away, which was for the purpose of directing
their companions to them, and also had served to call Tad Butler into
their camp in advance of the other two gold diggers.

Tad was out of sight by the time Curtis Darwood got out, but Darwood was
able to follow the boy's trail, though it was not an easy one. Tad had
made no effort to mask his trail, but his natural instincts taught him
to leave as few indications of his progress as possible. Darwood saw
this. Instead of lessening his suspicions this fact served to increase
them. The gold digger was using his nose more than his eyes, sniffing
the air for the smoke from the camp of the Pony Rider Boys' outfit. He
caught the scent after half an hour or so of trudging over the hard
trail. From this time on it was easy so far as finding his way was
concerned. Butler, knowing the way, had made much better time back to
his own camp.

Breakfast was ready by the time he reached there. Tad did not mention
his experience, not having decided what he would do in this matter.

"You find big smoke?" questioned the Indian as Tad stood over him by the
fire.

"Yes," answered the lad carelessly. Anvik shrewdly deduced that Butler
had made some sort of discovery, but he asked no further questions.
Perhaps the guide also had discovered that they had near neighbors. If
so he kept that fact to himself.

The boys sat down to breakfast. They discussed the day's ride and talked
of their further journeyings, though Tad had little to say that morning.
He was thinking deeply on what had just occurred.

The breakfast was about half finished when the lad flashed a quick, keen
glance in the direction from which he had entered the camp. The others
did not observe his sharp glance of inquiry. Tad had seen something. A
movement of the foliage had attracted his observant eyes. He glanced at
Anvik, who was sitting with his back to the party, gazing off over the
mountains to the rear of them and through which they had worked their
way to the present camping place.

Tad casually reached over for his rifle that was standing against a
rock.

"What's up?" demanded Ned sharply.

"I want to examine my gun," replied the boy.

"Funny time to examine it when eating your breakfast," spoke up Walter.

"I prefer to eat," said Stacy.

"We know that," chuckled Ned. "No need for you to tell us."

The Professor was eyeing Tad inquiringly, observing that the boy's face
was slightly flushed.

"What is it, Tad?" he asked.

"Nothing, except that I am going to take a pot shot at an intruder,"
replied the boy calmly, suddenly leveling his rifle on the bushes where
he had observed the movement a few moments before.

He pulled the trigger. A deafening crash brought the boys to their feet,
yelling. The shot was followed by a shout from the bushes.

"Stop that shooting, you fool!" roared a voice. Tad put down his gun,
grinning broadly, the others dancing about excitedly.

[Illustration: Curtis Darwood Stepped Out.]

"Come out of that or I'll give you something to yell at," commanded the
Pony Rider Boy.

Curtis Darwood, his face stern and determined, stepped out into the open
and walked straight towards the amazed group now standing near the
campfire. The Indian guide was the only person who had not gotten up
when Tad Butler sent a bullet into the thicket fully six feet above the
head of the gold digger who was spying on the camp.

Darwood was more angry at having been discovered than being shot at. He
had heard the bullet rip through the foliage above his head, and knew
that the shot had been intended to stir him up rather than to reach him.
That the boy whom he had driven from his own camp should have thus
turned the tables on him angered him almost beyond his control. Darwood
was so angry that he failed to see any humor in the situation.

"It is Mr. Darwood, isn't it?" cried the Professor with face aglow,
striding forward with outstretched hand. As in Butler's case, Darwood
professed not to see the proffered hand. He looked the Professor
squarely in the face.

"Won't you sit down and have a snack with us?" asked Professor Zepplin.
"We were eating when Tad fired that shot. That was very careless of you,
young man. You might have killed someone."

"I reckon he knew whom he was shooting at," answered the gold digger.
"You see, this isn't the first time that young fellow and myself have
met."

"Of course not. We all met on the 'Corsair,'" spoke up Rector.

"He and I have met since then," answered Darwood. "I reckon you know all
about it. He came spying on our camp this morning just after daylight,
and--"

"You know that isn't true," interjected Tad. "Why don't you tell it
straight if you are bound to tell it?"

The miner let one hand fall to his holster.

"Up in this country they don't call men liars," answered Darwood,
looking Butler coldly in the eyes.

"Then men shouldn't place themselves in a position to be called liars,"
retorted Tad boldly. "You had better take your hand from your revolver.
If you will take the time to glance at the rock to your right you may
possibly see something to interest you."

The miner cast a quick glance of inquiry in the direction indicated, and
found himself looking into the muzzle of a rifle, laid over the top of
the rock. Behind the rifle was Chunky, one eye peering over the sights.

Tad laughed.

"Stacy!" thundered the Professor. "What does this mean?"

"Nothing, Professor," answered Tad. "Chunky got a little excited, that
is all. You may put the gun down, Stacy. Mr. Darwood doesn't understand;
that's all. Sit down and have a snack with us, as the Professor has
asked you to do," urged Butler.

"I don't want to eat with you. You know it. Don't you go to getting me
riled or I won't answer for the consequences."

"Neither will I," answered Tad smilingly. "We are easy to get along with
unless someone treads on our toes; then it's a different story. Sit down
and we will talk this matter over."

Tad threw himself down beside the fire. Stacy still sat behind the rock,
gazing suspiciously at their early morning visitor.

"I demand to know the meaning of this scene," said the Professor
sternly.

"Let Mr. Darwood tell you," replied Butler.

The gold digger made no answer. Tad turned to the Professor.

"I will tell you what there is to it, sir. Mr. Darwood thinks we are
like some others he has met. He thinks we are trying to steal his gold
mine," declared Tad in an impressive voice.

Professor Zepplin flushed deeply.



CHAPTER XIX

THE PROFESSOR IN A RAGE


"What!" fairly exploded Professor Zepplin.

"Mr. Darwood accuses us of having followed him to find out where this
wonderful gold deposit is located. He thinks we want to steal it away
from him."

"Preposterous!"

"Show me some gold," urged Stacy, edging near. "I am looking for gold. I
don't make any bones about saying so, either."

"Be silent," commanded the Professor.

"I smelled smoke when I was out this morning," continued Butler. "I
followed the scent until I stumbled into Mr. Darwood's camp. It was his
signal smokes that we saw yesterday. Mr. Darwood did not give me a very
cordial welcome; he ordered me out of his camp. Not only that, but he
threatened me in case we persisted in following him. I think he would
have used his pistol on me if I had not gone away when I did."

"Is this true, Darwood?" questioned the Professor, who was restraining
himself with an effort.

"I reckon it's right, so far as it goes. I know what you fellows are up
to. You may think you can fool me, but I've been in these parts too long
to be an easy mark. It's nobody's business whether we are in search of
gold or whether we are up here for our health. Whatever our business is,
we don't propose to have a lot of folks sticking their noses into it."

"What do you propose that we shall do?" asked Professor Zepplin.

"I don't care what you do," roared the gold digger.

"Then there is nothing more to be said."

"Oh, yes there is. There's a lot to be said. I am not going to say it
all right here, but I reckon I'll say it in a different way later on.
You are following us. Don't deny it. I know you are. You pumped the
Captain and everybody else on the boat about us. Then, when you thought
you had got all the information you wanted, you followed us."

"It's not true. You know it's a lie!" shouted the Professor.

"Be careful how you nag me on," warned the miner.

"You know you think nothing of the kind. What is it that you reckon to
say at some other time?"

"This," answered Darwood, tapping his holster significantly.

Tad laughed softly to himself. This angered the gold digger more than
ever.

"You folks get out of these hills! Go anywhere you want to, but get out
and get out quick. Some more of my men are coming along to-day. If you
are here to-night it will be the worse for you," threatened the miner.

"Which direction would you suggest our taking?" asked Tad in a soothing
voice.

"Go back the way you came. I don't care where you go."

"You are not consistent," laughed the freckle-faced boy. "You tell us
you don't care where we go, then you order us to proceed in a definite
direction. You are going too far, Mr. Darwood. When you have had a
chance to cool down I think you will look at this matter in a different
light. If you will use your head a little you will see it is not
possible that we could have had any previous knowledge of your plans or
of your gold mine. You had better make friends with us. We might be of
some use to you. Professor Zepplin is a scientist. He could give you
valuable help. Shall we call quits and shake hands? Come on."

The words that he would utter seemed to stick in the gold digger's
throat. He clutched twice at his holster, but the evident desire on his
part to use his pistol appeared to have no effect at all on the Pony
Rider outfit. Darwood knew very well that drawing his weapon would
practically be the end of himself, and this did not tend to make his
situation any better.

"I'll not shake hands with you. I am going back to my camp. If you
thieves are here by to-night I promise you there will be something
doing. I--"

Professor Zepplin strode forward, his whiskers bristling, his fists
clenched. The boys never had seen their guardian so angry.

"That for your threats!" he roared, shaking a fist under the nose of
Curtis Darwood. "Your threats don't frighten us. Your pistol doesn't
frighten us. We're not that kind."

The miner started to reply.

"Don't you open your mouth or I shall forget myself and slap your face.
Thieves!" Professor Zepplin struggled to master his emotions. "Thieves!
This is too much. You tell us that if we are here to-night you will make
matters lively for us. If it will accommodate you any we will remain
right here. But we should be on our way. We are going to follow a
straight course as near as possible to the northwest. We shall, with
reasonable luck, be about twenty miles from here by eleven o'clock
to-night. If that is the direction you are going you will have no
difficulty in finding us. But let me warn you, sir, we shall put up with
no trifling. We have as good a right to be here as have you, and I am
not sure but that we have a better right."

"We'll see about that," retorted Darwood angrily.

"You let us alone! Do you hear? You let us alone! If you are looking for
trouble you may have all you want and then some more besides. We are
peaceable travelers, but we know from long experience how to take care
of ourselves. Have you anything more to say to me?" demanded the
Professor.

"I reckon not. I've said my say."

"Then get out before I forget myself and hit you on the nose!" roared
Professor Zepplin. "Don't you dare come fooling around our camp again,
and thank your lucky stars that Master Tad didn't make a mistake and
shoot lower. Are you going, or are you waiting for me to throw you out?"
fumed the Professor.

"I reckon I'm going. You'll hear from me again. Next time the shoe will
pinch the other foot."

"It will be the foot that kicks you out of camp in that case," answered
the Professor.

"Hooray!" howled the fat boy. "Three cheers for Professor Zip-zip!"

"Be silent!" thundered Professor Zepplin.

"Yes, you had better look out or he will take it out of you after Mr.
Darwood has gone," warned Tad. "The Professor is all stirred up."

The Professor was. Darwood turned and strode from the camp without
trusting himself to utter another word. Professor Zepplin strode back
and forth with clenched fists, muttering to himself for five minutes
after the departure of their guest.

"He called us thieves!" he exclaimed, halting and glaring angrily at
Stacy.

"Well, don't blame me for it," answered the fat boy.

"Professor, calm yourself," begged Tad. "Those men have met with a lot
of crookedness. You can't blame them. I shouldn't be surprised if some
other person had been trying to follow them since they have been out
this time. They probably think we are in league with the others to get
ahead of them in the discovery of this treasure."

"I don't believe there is any treasure," raged the Professor.

"As to that, of course, I can't say, but I should think it quite
probable that they had something definite. There must be something in
what they have to go on. They are not fools, but intelligent men. What
is more, they must think they are on the right track or they wouldn't
fly off the handle as Darwood has done to-day. What will you do?" asked
Tad.

"Do? Do? What do you think I am going to do?"

"Knowing you as I do, I should say you would go on as we have planned,"
answered Butler laughingly.

"Exactly! If that man thinks he can frighten us out of our course he
will find that he has made a grave mistake."

"Why didn't you punch him when you had the chance?" demanded Chunky.
"You could have hit him an awful wallop when his chin was in the air
that time."

"Stacy! You are a savage!" rebuked the Professor.

"Maybe, maybe," reflected the fat boy. "But judging from some things
that have occurred in this camp this morning, I'm not the only savage in
the outfit."

The boys laughed uproariously.

"That's one for you, Professor," chuckled Ned.

"Anvik! We break camp at once," fairly snapped the Professor.

"Gold man him heap fool," grunted the Indian.

"No, not that, Anvik. He is gold-mad like all the rest of them,"
corrected Butler. "I hope I never shall get that way."

"It can't be such bad fun to be gold-mad," argued Stacy, who usually
wanted the other side of an argument. "I'd like to try it once, if I
could find enough gold to make it interesting."

Camp was hastily broken that morning, for there was much lost time to be
made up. Everyone was eager to get started, anxious to find out what
would be the outcome of the dispute with the gold diggers.

"We don't know in what direction they're going to move, while they do
know our route," said Tad. "So it will be an easy matter for Darwood to
watch us as long as he wants to keep us in sight."

At seven o'clock that morning Professor Zepplin gave the word to "mush."
This morning the Professor was extremely silent, but there was a grim
look to the corners of his mouth.

Exciting experiences lay before them all. The boys felt it in the very
air about them. The certainty made them feel buoyant and exhilarated.
Surely this wild old Alaska was a great bit of country!

"I don't care how soon somebody starts something," mused Ned. "We have
our heavy artillery well on ahead."

As he spoke he gazed smilingly at the tight-jawed Professor, who never
looked to better advantage than when in warlike mood.



CHAPTER XX

TAD DISCOVERS SOMETHING


"I don't see our friends," said Ned, an hour later.

"They're not in their camp," answered Tad. "We passed that an hour ago.
They have no horses, so they're packing their outfits on their backs."

"Huh! That's one part of the gold-madness that I don't want," said
Chunky. "Do all gold diggers have to pack their outfits?"

"I guess few of them can afford to buy ponies," answered Butler. "Then,
too, the places they go to are usually beyond the reach of anything
except a wild animal. We are fortunate if we get through with our stock.
Even our own ponies that we left at home would never be able to make
this rough trail. What's that, Anvik?"

The guide was pointing to a waving ribbon of white that appeared to
reach from point to point on the rocks high above them and some distance
ahead.

"What is it?" demanded the boy.

"Him goat."

"Mountain goats? Look, boys!" cried Tad.

Stacy threw up his rifle and took a shot. Of course he missed. A leaping
mountain goat is not an easy mark even for the best shot, and the fat
boy, while shooting very well, could hardly be called an expert.

"Those are the animals from which the beautiful blankets are made," the
Professor informed them. "Do you know how the Indians get the wool?"

"They pull it out by the roots, I guess," suggested Stacy.

"Hardly," laughed Ned.

"Spring is the shedding time. The goats, in leaping from place to place,
leave tufts of wool clinging to rocks and bushes, and this the lazy
Indians gather for their blankets, rather than take the trouble to hunt
the goats."

"Squaw him get wool," spoke up Anvik.

"Worse yet," laughed Butler. "You are the laziest folks on earth."

"Squaw work, him no talk lies. Him mouth keep shut."

The boys laughed at this crude reasoning of the Indian.

"Did they teach you at the Mission to make your squaws work?" asked Tad
Butler.

Anvik shook his head slowly. He did not answer in words, but hastened
his pony's pace by his heavy pull at the halter.

All that day the boys kept a lookout for smoke, but in vain. After they
had made camp that night the Professor said:

"There are indications here of unusual formations. If you have no
objections I should like to remain here for a day, perhaps two, and do
research work."

"Right, Professor," replied Tad. "The ponies will be better for a rest,
and maybe we can do some hunting. How about it, Anvik?"

"Anvik not care," was the guide's reply.

After breakfast the next morning the Professor set off at once.

"Now, fellows," said Tad, "I propose that Stacy and I follow that ravine
to the left and Ned and Walter go to the right. From the formation I
should say that some time late in the day we ought to meet. It's wild in
those passes, and we should get game."

After arranging that three quick shots should announce the finding of
game and that the distress signal of one shot, a pause, then two quick
shots should be a call for help, the boys set off, each carrying
biscuit, a drinking cup, and matches, besides their rifles.

The boys tramped all morning without sighting game.

After a short rest the two boys went on again, bearing more to the left.
As they trudged on the sound of rushing water was borne to their ears.
Then they came out on a broad stream, a torrent that came from the top
of three lofty, ice-covered mountains.

"Let's work up toward that pass," suggested Tad, wishing to see the
gulch from which the stream was flowing.

They had worked their way upstream for half a mile when Chunky yelled:

"Look there! What's that?"

Tad saw a hideous head projecting above the bushes. At first he was
startled, then he laughed.

"That's a totem pole, Chunky. They're put up usually in behalf of the
Indian dead to drive the spirits away. Let's go and look at it."

The totem pole was standing at the entrance of a second narrow gulch.
Sand and shale rock were heaped up at the entrance.

"A stream flowed through here at one time, Stacy. I imagine that it was
the same body of water we've just been looking at."

"Yeh," said Stacy absently. "Say, Tad, let's see who can first hit that
evil-looking thing with a stone."

Tad laughed and stooped to pick up a stone. As he did so, he noticed an
arrow cut into the rock at one side of the gulch, the point of the arrow
aimed up the gulch.

"That's queer," muttered the boy. "I suppose it's an Indian sign. This
is a place of many mysteries." He stooped to pick up the rusty-looking
stone that had caught his glance. It was worn full of holes as if by the
action of water and when he took it in his hand its heaviness aroused
his curiosity. Opening his knife, he dug into the stone.

Tad's face flushed a vivid red, and he uttered a sharp exclamation.

"What is it?" demanded Stacy.

"Nothing much. Maybe I've made a discovery. Don't let's idle here. Let's
go on and see if we can't get our bear. This seems to be our lucky day,"
said the boy, pocketing the stone and once more shouldering his rifle.
"Come, mush, as Anvik would say."



CHAPTER XXI

CONCLUSION


Professor Zepplin had been closeted in his tent for an hour when he
beckoned Tad Butler to enter.

"Boy, this rusty stone that you picked up is a gold nugget, worth, I
should say, all of five hundred dollars!" cried the Professor excitedly.
"Are there more of them, Tad?"

"I can't say. I found this one on a bar where it was probably washed
down. The place was once a stream, but it changed its course and is now
some distance to the west. I've an idea that there's gold in that
sand-bar."

"Then we'd better go after it. It probably belongs to no one."

"I'm not sure of that. Others may have a juster claim than we have,
Professor."

"You suspect something, Tad, without knowing fully. We'll look at the
place and decide what to do later."

The others were in bed, but still awake when Tad left the Professor's
tent, but to their questions he gave evasive answers.

It seemed to Tad that he had been asleep but a few minutes when he felt
a touch on his shoulder. He sat up, instantly wide awake. Anvik was
bending over him.

"Somebody come," muttered the guide. "One, two, three, four, maybe
more."

Day was just breaking. Tad awakened his companions, giving each
instructions as to what he was to do. Then he hurried to the Professor's
tent to give Anvik's news.

"Look out!" yelled Stacy shrilly.

A series of quick, sharp reports punctured the stillness of the morning.
Tad and Professor Zepplin dashed out, and so did Walter Perkins. Ned
Rector and Stacy Brown were nowhere to be seen. Anvik stood against a
rock, his blanket drawn about him, the muzzle of a rifle protruding from
the lower end of it.

Four men appeared in the open, each holding a rifle. The rifles were
aimed at the members of the Pony Rider outfit.

"It's Darwood!" gasped the Professor. It was Darwood, accompanied by Sam
Dawson, Dill Bruce and Curley Tinker. "What's the meaning of this
outrage, gentlemen?" he demanded.

"I gave you warning to mush back to where you came from," answered
Darwood.

"And I told you we'd do nothing of the sort!"

"You're going now, and in a hurry!"

"What will you do if we refuse again?"

"You'll find out what we'll do. We're north of fifty-three now. You know
what that means. Put down those guns, and do it quick."

"Suppose you set the example," said Tad quietly. He had not spoken up to
this point.

"Keep still!" commanded Darwood. "Put down those guns."

"Don't be in a hurry," advised Tad. "Before you do anything that you'll
regret, let me say that every man of you is covered. The slightest
hostile motion on your part is your death warrant."

"The Indian's got away!" cried Dawson.

Darwood for the first time realized that all the Pony Rider outfit was
not in sight.

"Either your friends will put down their guns and come out or we'll
shoot," snarled Darwood, fixing his gaze on Tad Butler.

"Are you so anxious to die, Curtis Darwood?" asked the lad calmly.

Darwood flushed, but the four men lowered their rifles to the ground.

"Mr. Darwood, I have something to tell you. Sit down," went on the boy.

"I reckon we'll do nothing of the sort."

"Sit down, I say!"

The men obeyed reluctantly.

"Keep them covered until they come to their senses, boys," directed Tad.
Then he went on to the men: "We don't blame you for feeling that every
man's hand is against you; but I'm going to prove to you that ours are
not. See this?" and Tad tossed to Darwood the rusty stone that he had
found in the sand-bar.

"Gold! A nugget of pure gold," breathed Darwood. "Where did you get it?"

"Perhaps we found the Taku Pass."

"And we've lost it," groaned Dawson.

"We'll fight for it, then!" shouted Darwood.

"You might wait until there's need for fighting, Mr. Darwood," said Tad
contemptuously. He then went on to describe the totem pole, while his
listeners became more and more excited. They got out an old map, and
after studying it Tad said:

"It is the Taku Pass that Stacy and I discovered. As it is undoubtedly
yours, we relinquish all claim to the land."

"How much do you want for the relinquishment?" asked Dawson.

"Nothing. Sit down and have breakfast with us and then we will lead you
to the place."

"I can't say much," said Darwood falteringly. "We've been a bunch of
driveling idiots."

After breakfast Anvik was sent to the men's camp for pans and implements
and supplies, and the others set off in Tad Butler's wake to explore the
gulch.

At one point the party found a slender vein of pure gold, enough to give
hope that the vein broadened out farther on. Tad, in a cavelike niche,
saw a gray streak of ore that reached for a long distance. A piece of
this about the size of a goose egg lay at his feet. It was heavy, and he
put it in his pocket to show to the others.

Anvik came in with the tools, surveying chains, and pans, and Darwood
and the others staked off their claims, taking in enough to give each
boy a claim, putting up heaps of stones to mark the boundaries.

"Of course, if anyone else were to file a prior claim we'd have a hard
time to substantiate ours. But there's not much danger."

The claim staked, Darwood proposed that they pan in the bar to see what
they could find. To the delight of all, sparkling particles of rich
yellow dust lay in the bottoms of the sieves, and they felt convinced
that there was gold in paying quantities.

Once more back in the camp, the Professor disappeared into his tent.
When he emerged he looked excited.

"Boys!" he shouted. "Tad! Your sample is platinum! Gentlemen, you have
indeed a fortune! The platinum is worth about double its weight in
gold!"

Such a hurrah as went up! Such an evening of rejoicing and excitement!
But early the next morning came the reaction.

Tad, up early, went out to the claim, too impatient to await breakfast.
To his amazement instead of finding the markers they had set, he found
that they had been removed, and in their places some one had cut off
saplings and marked the stumps of them with deep-cut notches.

"It's that rascal, Sandy Ketcham," declared Darwood in a strained voice,
when Tad reported his discovery. "He's been on our trail for nearly
three years, and now he's got us! He's on his way to Skagway now to
register the claim in the land office," the man groaned.

"We'll get ahead of them, then," cried Tad. "He hasn't much of a start.
When does a steamer leave Yakutat?"

"This is the twenty-third. The 'Corsair' will leave Yakutat on the
twenty-seventh. He will just about make it."

"So will I," cried Tad Butler stoutly.

Tad won Professor Zepplin's consent to his plan, and after Darwood had
got the papers ready and the boys had gathered provisions together, Tad
was off, riding one pony and leading another, that he might change from
one to the other, thus avoiding tiring either.

With lather standing out all over his mount, Tad pounded on, eyes and
ears alight for Sandy Ketcham. He halted at noon to change horses and
let each drink a little from a spring. Then on once more for seemingly
countless hours.

There was a brief pause in the evening, to allow the ponies to rest and
graze, then on again in the darkness. The second night a longer rest was
imperative, while Tad fretted, tired as he was, to be off again.

On the third day he came across the still hot ashes of a campfire, and
decided that he was not far behind Ketcham. Still twenty miles from
Yakutat, one of the ponies strained a tendon. The boy was forced
regretfully to abandon the animal and to go forward on the second mount.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning of the fourth day that he
caught sight of a column of black smoke through an opening between the
mountains.

"It's the 'Corsair,'" he groaned. "She's getting ready to sail."

On and on he rode. He swept through the village on the panting pony and
down to the dock to see the 'Corsair' weighing anchor.

Tad Butler set up a yell, then drove his pony into the bay. No small
boats were in sight, so, throwing himself in the icy water, he grasped
the pony's mane and, swimming with the animal, headed for the ship.

The anchor was up, but Captain Petersen had not yet signaled for slow
speed ahead. He ordered a boat lowered and Tad was hauled aboard in a
semi-dazed condition. Relieved of its burden, the pony rose and swam for
shore. Tad was confined to his cabin, worn out by the hard ride and the
icy swim. But he learned that Ketcham was on board, and Ketcham, of
course, knew of Tad's presence.

The morning of their arrival at Skagway was gray and windy. The sea was
rolling into the harbor in heavy, boisterous swells. The captain
announced that he would not put off a boat until the sea subsided, as
capsizing was certain in the heavy seas.

Tad, impatient, was standing at the rail when he saw Sandy Ketcham leap
over the rail into the sea. The boy did not hesitate. He sprang to the
rail and dived as far out as he could, striking a rod or so behind
Ketcham. Then began a desperate race. But youth won, and Tad staggered
out of the water a few moments ahead of his adversary and ran for the
land office, Ketcham close behind him.

"I file the claim to Taku Pass in the name of Curtis Darwood and
others," shouted Tad, slapping the oilskin parcel on the desk. "That
man's an impostor. He destroyed our markers and erected his own on our
claim."

"It's a lie!" yelled Sandy, making a leap for the boy.

There was a furious fight, in which the interested bystanders did not
interfere. But at last Tad's fist shot up in a vicious uppercut on the
man's chin, and Sandy Ketcham settled to the floor as the boy leaped out
of the way.

"Have you filed the papers?" gasped Tad.

"Sure, boy! You've won the first round. The rest will be up to the
government, but I guess you've got it clinched for all time."

When Tad returned to Yakutat three government surveyors went with him to
run the lines and definitely establish the claim. Sandy Ketcham also
filed a claim, but Tad's being the prior one the case would have to be
decided by the proper government officials; though there was really no
doubt of the outcome.

For a month after Tad Butler's return the Pony Rider Boys stayed at Taku
Pass, panning over a section allotted to them by the Gold Diggers, each
filling a small sack with yellow dust and a few nuggets. In addition the
Gold Diggers insisted that the boys and their tutor jointly should have
a twentieth interest in the claims, which would undoubtedly give each a
comfortable amount of wealth.

It was their last night in the camp and the boys and the Professor were
talking over future plans.

"I'm going home to rest and study after my strenuous life of the last
few seasons," the Professor stated. "How about you, Walter?"

"Father has a job for me as messenger in a bank in St. Joseph," answered
Walter Perkins.

"Your turn, Chunky. What's it to be?"

"Banking. I'm going into Walter Perkins' father's bank."

"Does father know about it?"

"Of course he does!" retorted Stacy. "Did you think I was going to break
into the bank?"

"Can't tell about you," laughed Tad. "As for Ned and me--Professor
Zepplin's friend, Colonel Van Zandt, who has large timber interests, has
used his influence to get us appointments in the United States Forestry
Service. We'll go to work next spring. And now, fellows, I suggest that
we give three cheers for the best fellow that ever lived, Professor
Zepplin!"

The cheers were given with a will, then all went to their tents for
their last night in their camp in Alaska.

THE END





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