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Title: Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders in the High Sierras
Author: Chase, Josephine
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders in the High Sierras" ***

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[Illustration: "I'm Hit! Good Night!"]

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

                    Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders
                          in the High Sierras

                                  _by_

                      Jessie Graham Flower, A. M.

                             _Illustrated_

                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
                        Akron, Ohio    New York

                            Made in U. S. A.

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

                           Copyright MCMXXIII
                 _By_ THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

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

                                CONTENTS

    CHAPTER I--OLD FRIENDS GET TOGETHER

      Overlanders plan for their summer's vacation in the saddle.
      Emma Dean "dotes on mysteries." Hippy Wingate gets a hard
      blow. Stacy amazes his new friends by his dramatic entrance.
      Shots and yells startle the Overland Riders.

    CHAPTER II--AN INTERRUPTED SLEEP

      The traveling salesman entertains his fellow passengers with
      tales of wrecks and hold-ups. Chunky makes the passengers
      laugh. Emma Dean has an attack of "nerves." Sheriff Ford is
      suspicious. The "Red Limited" comes to a jolting stop.
      "Robbers!" screams a woman.

    CHAPTER III--THE HOLD-UP OF THE RED LIMITED

      An ominous silence settles over the transcontinental express.
      The sheriff calls for volunteers to drive off the train
      bandits. Overland girls offer their services. The treasure car
      cut off. Stacy, in his pajamas, joins the defenders.

    CHAPTER IV--IN A LIVELY SKIRMISH

      "Dynamite!" exclaims Sheriff Ford. Defenders give battle.
      Stacy Brown shoots and talks. Hippy goes on a desperate
      mission. Bandit guards are outwitted. Lieutenant Wingate
      caught in a tight place. "I know you!" yells the Overland
      Rider.

    CHAPTER V--ON THE TRAIL OF THE MISSING

      Sheriff Ford starts a search for Lieutenant Wingate. A clue at
      last. "Captured by the bandits!" exclaims Tom Gray. Chunky
      helps himself to a plum pudding. "Suffering cats! You're it!"

    CHAPTER VI--CHUNKY MEETS THE BANDITS

      The fat boy stampedes the outlaws' horses. "Oh, wow! I've lost
      my biscuit." A pony that knew the way. "I suppose I emptied
      twelve saddles," boasts Stacy. Shots arouse the sheriff's
      camp. "Lie low, everybody!"

    CHAPTER VII--BANDITS CATCH A TARTAR

      Lieutenant Wingate, unconscious, is carried away on a pony's
      back. A cruel blow. A pin-prick saves the day. The escape of
      the Overland captive. "Cease firing! It's Hippy!" The
      traveling salesman in a new rôle.

    CHAPTER VIII--HEADED FOR THE HIGH COUNTRY

      Woo Smith joins the Overland outfit. Stacy declares that his
      pony can climb a tree. "I want food!" is the fat boy's plaint.
      The Overlanders are introduced to a "kyack." Packs are
      "thrown" and the journey to the Sierras is begun.

    CHAPTER IX--THEIR SLUMBERS DISTURBED

      "All aboard for the High Sierras!" The Chinaman proves to be a
      rare find. "You leave it to Smith," advises Hippy. Stories of
      rattlesnakes in campers' blankets set the Overland girls'
      nerves on edge. Woo savvies "transmigration."

    CHAPTER X--"BOOTS AND SADDLES"

      The Overland camp in an uproar. "Snakes! Oh, wow!" howls the
      fat boy. "Me savvy somebody pull queue," wails Woo Smith. The
      dark mystery is finally solved. Stacy Brown proves to be an
      unwilling "wrangler."

    CHAPTER XI--PONIES GET A BAD FRIGHT

      Hippy uses a pea-shooter with disastrous results. The fat boy
      awakens in a wild rose bush. Suspicion becomes a certainty.
      Overlanders make a perilous descent. "The ponies are
      stampeding!" shouts Lieutenant Wingate.

    CHAPTER XII--AMID THE GIANT SEQUOIAS

      "Look! Oh, look," cries Emma Dean. Lieutenant Wingate shoots a
      cinnamon bear. "Uncle Hippy never misses what he hits."
      Stopped by a rattler. Tom Gray lost in the great forest.
      Watched over by trees centuries old.

    CHAPTER XIII--THE CAMP AT THE "LAZY J"

      A surprise in the High Sierras. Overland Riders entertained at
      a mountain ranch. Stacy tries to shoe a horse. The white mare
      gets into action. Warned against the High Country. "Keep away
      from the 'Crazy Lake' section," advises the foreman.

    CHAPTER XIV--WOO'S EYES ARE KEEN

      The Chinaman sights a "buck in lelet." Hippy misses a "sure
      shot." "Why don't you use a pea-shooter?" jeers Stacy. A rifle
      that had been tampered with. "I--I just wanted to get even
      with you." A shot that reached the mark.

    CHAPTER XV--FOLLOWING THE AERIAL TRAIL

      The Overland Riders enjoy a venison dinner. Elfreda Briggs is
      reminded of Coney Island. Crossing a perilous mountain ridge.
      Emma Dean is afraid and doesn't care who knows it. The white
      mare meets with sudden disaster.

    CHAPTER XVI--GOING TO BED IN THE CLOUDS

      Kitty gives her masters a perilous job. Stacy offers to get a
      derrick. A scene to be remembered. Getting up in the world.
      Tom Gray makes up the Overlanders' beds with a pick. Stacy
      objects to being buried so soon after supper.

    CHAPTER XVII--IN THE LAND OF PINK SNOWS

      Woo loses a "piecee kettle" over the brink. The campfire
      disappears in the clouds. Camping in the valley of the blue
      lupines. A trail that was difficult to find. Elfreda becomes
      suddenly light-headed.

    CHAPTER XVIII--AT THE "TOP OF THE WORLD"

      The mystery of the "pink snows" is finally solved by Tom. A
      snowball battle above the clouds. On the peak of the High
      Sierras. The Overland Riders go to sleep in a snowbank.
      "Girls, this is an ideal summer resort."

    CHAPTER XIX--BOWLING IN NATURE'S ALLEY

      Hippy Wingate gives his companions a delightful surprise. The
      Overlanders withdraw their threat to throw him off the
      mountain. A mysterious lake is discovered. Emma Dean scores a
      hit. Bullets stop the highest bowling game on record.

    CHAPTER XX--LEAD AND MYSTERY IN THE AIR

      Overland Riders suddenly find themselves under fire. Stacy
      "creeps" to safety. "Get up and walk, you tenderfoot!" The
      Aerial Lake lives up to its reputation. Woo Smith savvies
      trouble. "Discovered!" exclaims Hippy.

    CHAPTER XXI--THE FACE IN THE WATERS

      The guide informs the Overlanders that a woman has been spying
      on the camp. Stacy feels like a snowbird. Prowlers leave a
      trail. Lieutenant Wingate meets with an unpleasant surprise.
      The pool of the mountain trout and what Grace Harlowe saw
      there.

    CHAPTER XXII--THE MYSTERY OF AERIAL LAKE

      Grace Harlowe flees from a hideous face. The Overland girls
      are eager to solve the mountain mystery. Stacy Brown discovers
      an "ark" and goes out for a sail. The fat boy mysteriously
      missing. Woo consults the skies. The lost boy returns with an
      appetite.

    CHAPTER XXIII--THE LAIR OF THE BAD MEN

      Chunky laughs at his companions' distress. Lieutenant Wingate
      invites his nephew out for a "paddle." Stacy makes an
      important discovery. Plunder found in the bandits' cave. The
      log that was chained down. Bullets drive the Overlanders from
      their quest.

    CHAPTER XXIV--MAKING A LAST STAND

      The Overland Riders are fired on by the mountain ruffians.
      Imprisoned by dynamite in the robbers' cave. A battle that
      came to a sudden end. Sheriff Ford to the rescue. Mother
      Jones' career is ended.

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

          GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS IN THE HIGH SIERRAS



                               CHAPTER I

                        OLD FRIENDS GET TOGETHER


"Who is this Stacy Brown that you girls are speaking of?" questioned
Emma Dean as the Overland girls sat down to dinner in Grace Harlowe's
hospitable Haven Home.

"He is my Hippy's nephew," Nora Wingate informed her. "You will like
'Chunky,' as he is known to his friends, and I promise you that he will
keep this outfit from getting lonely," added Nora laughingly.

"He was one of the members of the Pony Rider Boys' outfit," volunteered
Grace. "You know we have heard of them several times on our journeyings.
They used to go out in search of adventure every summer, so Stacy is a
seasoned campaigner. We shall need him where we are going, too."

"By the way, where are we going, Grace?" spoke up Elfreda Briggs. "I
believe our destination is to be in the nature of a surprise--a mystery,
as it were."

"I just dote on mysteries," bubbled Emma. "Of course I could have
learned all about it had I not been too conscientious."

"That is characteristic of your sex," replied Hippy Wingate soberly.
"May I ask you how you could have found out?"

"I thank you for the compliment, and regret exceedingly that I cannot
return the compliment in kind. How could I have found out? Why, by the
transmigration of thought."

"The what?" cried Elfreda laughingly. "Is this some new freak, Emma
Dean?"

"It may be new with me, but the principle is as old as the ages. I
belong to the Society for the Promotion of Thought Transmigration. Our
great and Most Worthy Master lives in Benares, India, where numbers of
the faithful journey for instruction and inspiration once every two
years."

"Do you mean to say that you belong to that fool outfit?" wondered
Hippy.

"I am happy to say that I do. I joined last winter, and, novice that I
am, I have realized some remarkable results," replied Emma.

"Nora, we ought to take her to a specialist before we start on our
journey. It won't do to have a crazy person with us. She might get us
into no end of trouble," suggested Hippy.

"Humph! I'd much prefer to be crazy than to have a bungalow head,"
retorted Emma scornfully.

"A bungalow head?" exclaimed the girls.

"Yes. A bungalow has no upper story, you know."

"Ouch!" cried Hippy Wingate, clapping both hands to his head. "Now that
our Sage of India has spoken, suppose Grace and Tom enlighten us as to
where we are going this summer. In view of the fact that this is my
treat--that I have offered to pay the expenses of the Overland Riders on
this journey--it might not be inappropriate for me to inquire where we
are going. Elfreda's question in that direction is as yet unanswered."

Tom Gray nodded to his wife.

"I had intended to wait until Stacy Brown arrived, but as he is not a
member of our little organization, there is no reason why our business
matters should be discussed with him," said Grace. "Dear friends, we are
going to the High Sierras, the great snow-clad peaks of the far west.
Adventure, hardship and health are awaiting us there. It will be a long
journey before we reach the beginning of our real objective, but I
believe you folks will agree with me that the preliminary journey is
well worth while."

"You say that Hippy is paying the bills?" interjected Emma.

"He has so said. However, Tom will not have it that way, so we have
agreed that Tom and Hippy shall share equally in the expense of the
journey. Both feel quite rich now since they cleaned up on their big
lumber deal in the North Woods," replied Grace.

Elfreda said that such an arrangement would not please her at all,
declaring that she would pay her own expenses.

"You have nothing to say about it," laughed Tom. "The subject is closed.
So far as our having Stacy Brown as our guest, is concerned, you all
agreed to that when Grace wrote to you about his wish to join us on our
summer outing. Are you still of the same mind?"

"Yes," answered the girls in chorus.

"What about a guide? Is that arranged for?" asked Miss Briggs.

"Not yet," answered Grace. "We thought we would leave that until we
reached our destination. Oh, girls, I have some of the loveliest trips
in mind for several seasons ahead, but I'm not going to tell you a word
about them now. In the meantime, anyone that has a suggestion to offer
will please offer it."

"I have no suggestions to offer, but I should like to ask further light
on this new dope that Emma Dean has sprung on us. What is it, and how
does it work?" asked Hippy.

"If you won't make fun of me I'll tell you," replied Emma. "The
transmigration of thought is 'tuning-in' one's mind to receive messages
from the mind of another person, just as a wireless operator 'tunes-in'
his instrument to catch the message being sent by another operator far
away. In other words, persons so attuned to each other may converse,
read each other's thoughts and hold communion, even though separated by
thousands of miles of sea or land or both."

"Marvelous!" breathed Hippy. "For instance, please tune-in your mind and
tell me what I am thinking about. Let's see you do that, if you can," he
declared triumphantly.

"Our minds never could be in perfect accord, Theophilus Wingate. We are
as far apart as the poles, but our range being so short, I can easily
tell you what you are thinking about. Not being a deep thinker, you are
as transparent as a piece of clear crystal."

"Emma, don't you say that about my Hippy," protested Nora indignantly.
"My Hippy has a mind as big as his heart, and--"

"You are thinking," interjected Emma gravely, "what a shallow little
butterfly I am, but what you do not know is that that thought is merely
the reflection of your own mentality. You are, in other words, seeing
yourself as others see you, Hippy Wingate."

A peal of laughter from the Overland girls greeted Emma's retort. Hippy
flushed, then joined in the laughter.

"This is so sudden," he murmured. "I'll tell you what you do. Wait until
Stacy arrives, then you just practice your transmigration stuff on him.
Stacy will make a wonderful subject for you. He is so temperamental, so
spiritual, that I am positive you and he will get wonderful results."
Hippy winked at Nora as he said it.

None of the others had ever seen Stacy Brown, so they had not the least
idea what was in store for them from the comedian of the Pony Rider
Boys' outfit. Stacy was an old campaigner, however, and Hippy knew that
he would prove a valuable member of their party on the ride into the
High Sierras. Stacy knew the open, and with his companions had
experienced many exciting adventures in the wilder parts of the country.
The Overland Riders, too, had had their full share of thrilling
adventure, first as members of the Overton College Unit in France during
the great war, where Hippy Wingate had won honors as a fighting air
pilot, and Tom Gray at the front as a captain of engineers. However,
they had a new phase of excitement to experience in "Chunky" Brown, and
the first of those experiences was near at hand.

A shot suddenly broke the summer stillness of Haven Home, a shot that
brought the Overland Riders to their feet.

"_Bang, bang, bang!_"

"Merciful Heaven! Are we attacked?" cried Elfreda Briggs.

"Whoop! Yeo-o-o-o-o-w!"

Three more shots were fired, followed by a succession of startling
whoops and yells.

"What does it mean? I'm afraid!" cried Emma.

The Overlanders ran out of the dining room to the veranda, but no one
was in sight.

"Chunky has arrived. Don't be afraid, girls," laughed Hippy Wingate. "He
is on the other side of the house. There he comes!"

A short, fat young fellow, riding a gray bronco and perched high on his
saddle, at this juncture dashed around the end of the house, firing two
shots into the air as he passed the amazed group. Just as he swept past,
his sombrero fell off, but Chunky did not stop. In a minute or two he
was back, and, making a graceful dip from the saddle, reached down for
the hat. As he did so, the pony swerved and Stacy Brown landed on the
grass of Haven Home, flopped over on his back, and after a few dazed
seconds got up and shook himself.

Stacy made a low bow to the spectators gathered on the veranda.

"Oh, my dear, my dear! Are you hurt?" begged Nora, running to him.

"Hurt? Of course not. I always fall off before dinner. It puts a keen
edge on my appetite. Hulloa, folks! Glad to meet ye. Hey, Bismarck! Come
here," he ordered.

His dusty gray pony trotted to him and nosed Stacy's cheek
affectionately.

"Got anything loose around the house? I'm half starved," urged Chunky.
"Uncle Hip, introduce me to these beautiful young ladies. I've heard of
you folks, and so has Bismarck. You'll find him right friendly,
especially the front end of him, but I shouldn't advise you to get too
close to the tail end. He is very light there. Let him browse in the
yard while I feed the inner man."

"Indeed not," objected Grace. "I am not going to have my flowers
trampled down after all my hard work on them this spring. Tom, please
lead Stacy's pony around to the stables. I will put something on the
table for you at once, Stacy. Come right in. We were just finishing
dinner when you arrived so violently. Oh! Pardon me. You haven't yet
been introduced to the girls."

"Thanks!" bowed Stacy. "Thanks for the invitation, but come to think of
it don't introduce me until after dinner. I never like to meet strangers
on an empty stomach."

"This is Miss Elfreda Briggs, a rising young lawyeress, and here is the
life of our Overland party, Miss Emma Dean. We address each other by our
first names, so you may call her Emma. Come now, Stacy."

"You're a funny fellow, aren't you?" said Emma, surveying the newcomer
curiously as they walked towards the house.

"Then we are a pair of 'em, eh?" chuckled the fat boy.

"I am not a boy, thank my lucky stars and all the saints," objected
Emma. "I'll have you understand that, sir."

"Let the dove of peace rest over your touchy spirit, Emma," laughed
Grace chidingly.

"It isn't a dove. It's a crow," corrected Chunky. "A thousand pardons,
Emma dear. I--"

"I'm not your dear," answered Emma with considerable heat.

"Yes, you are, but you don't know it. To realize it you will have to
emerge from the unconscious state in which you now so sweetly repose,"
teased Stacy, amid the laughter of the others.

"I should prefer to be unconscious all the time," flung back Emma.

"Ah! The food does smell good. Food always has a strange effect on me,
and really, I haven't smelled any in almost a thousand years--not since
breakfast this morning. By the way, where do we go and when do we
start?"

"To the Sierras," answered Tom Gray. "How are you, Chunky?" he added,
extending a hand.

"Starved. How's yourself?"

"I think after we go back to the dining room and after I have my dessert
that I shall feel fit as a fiddle," replied Tom. "To answer the rest of
your question, we expect to start tomorrow forenoon. The ponies will be
shipped in a car that is now on the siding at Oakdale."

"Girls, what do you think of my nephew?" cried Hippy jovially, as they
again seated themselves at the table.

"So far as I am concerned, I think that he is another of those bungalow
fellows just like yourself, Hippy," answered Emma. "Mr. Brown, may I ask
if you ever have had any experience with mental transmigration?" she
asked, turning to Chunky.

Chunky, his mouth full of food, surveyed her solemnly.

"Uh-huh!" he replied thickly. "I met one of those animals once in the
Rocky Mountains. You see it was this way. We had been riding far into
the night to find a suitable camping place, when we were suddenly halted
by a savage growl just ahead of us. I went on ahead, with my trusty
rifle ready, to slay the beast whatever it might be. Suddenly I saw him.
He was the most terrible looking object that I've ever come up with in
all my mountain experience. I threw up my rifle and shot the beast dead
in his tracks."

"Wonderful!" breathed Emma. "But what has that to do with mental
transmigration?"

"I'm coming to that. It is wonderful--I mean it was. Will you believe
it, that terrible beast came to life. Yes, sir, he rose right up and
made for us. My pony bolted, and I fell off--just as I ordinarily do
before meal time. My feet at the moment chanced to be out of the
stirrups and I fell off. Well, I might have been killed--I surely would
have been killed, but I wasn't, just because of that stunt that you
mentioned. I transmigrated myself out of that vicinity with a speed that
left that terrible object so far behind that he just lay down and died
again," finished Stacy Brown solemnly, amid shouts of laughter, in which
all but Emma Dean joined.

Stacy gave her a quick sidelong glance, and Hippy Wingate, observing the
look, knew that war had been declared between Stacy Brown and Emma Dean.



                               CHAPTER II

                          AN INTERRUPTED SLEEP


"Right at this point," said the traveling salesman impressively, "a
train left the track and plunged into that ravine down there."

"Any loss of life?" questioned Tom Gray.

"A great many. I was in that wreck myself. I was shaken up a bit, that's
all. You see I know how to take care of myself. We commercial travelers
have to or we should soon be out of business. Nearly the whole train
went into that ravine, and the car in which I was riding stood on end. I
clung to the air-brake cord and thus was miraculously saved."

"Humph!" muttered Stacy, hunching his fat shoulders forward. "You don't
look to be light enough to perch on an air-brake cord."

The Overland girls glanced amusedly at Chunky and the traveling
salesman. The entire party was enjoying the late afternoon mountain air
from the rear platform of the observation car on the transcontinental
train known as the Red Limited. Just inside the door sat other
passengers, who had been enjoying the frequent passages-at-arms between
Stacy Brown and Emma Dean. The train had been rumbling over bridges and
lurching through narrow cuts, affording the passengers brief views of a
swiftly moving scenic panorama of interest and attractiveness.

"As I was saying, the rope, in all probability, saved my life, as I was
the only person in the car that came out alive," continued the traveling
salesman. "I'm in ladies' fine shoes, you know."

Stacy and Emma regarded the speaker's large feet, glanced at each other
and grinned.

"I'll bet you couldn't transmigrate them," whispered the fat boy.

Emma elevated her nose, but made no reply to the trivial remark.

"I mean that I am selling ladies' fine shoes, young man," added the
salesman, he having observed the fat boy's grin. "My card." He passed
business cards to those nearest to him, and from them the Overlanders
learned that he was William Sylvester Holmes, traveling for a Denver
shoe firm. "My trade call me 'Bill,'" he explained.

"Hello, Bill!" muttered Hippy, nudging Nora.

"May I ask what car you were in?" questioned a tall, bronzed passenger
in a mild, apologetic voice.

"The same as this one."

"Hm-m-m! That's odd. I do not recall having seen you. However, I was in
the other end of the car, which perhaps accounts for it," said the
stranger in a more humble voice.

William Sylvester flushed. Instead of being overcome, however, he
shifted his conversation to another train wreck that he said had
occurred a few miles further on at a place called Summit.

The faces of the Overland Riders expanded into discreet smiles at the
mild way in which the tall man had rebuked the loquacious traveler.
Grace and Elfreda, in particular, found themselves much interested in
this big man. Grace asked a fellow passenger who the man was, and
learned that he was Bill Ford, for some years sheriff of Sonora County.
Ford had been observing the traveling salesman through mild blue eyes in
which there appeared an expression of more than casual interest.

"It was that Summit wreck that nearly did me up," resumed Holmes. "We
went over an embankment there. Being in a berth in a sleeping car I was
unable to grab hold of anything. The car played football with me, but I
came off with nothing more serious than a broken arm. Oh, I have had my
experiences! Were you in that wreck, too?" he asked, turning quickly to
the sheriff.

"Never heard of it," answered Ford carelessly.

"All that saved us was the fact that the cars were made of steel. We'll
pass Summit within the hour, and I'll show you where we went off the
rails that time."

"Tell us about something that happened when the train didn't leave the
rails," urged Stacy.

"With pleasure. I remember, some two years ago--it was this very train,
I do believe--when a party of bandits held up a train on this line. That
occurred between Summit and Gardner. They uncoupled the express car and,
after compelling the engineer to haul it up the track a short distance,
dynamited the car and robbed it of the treasure it was carrying."

"They've been cutting up that same kind of caper quite lately," nodded
the sheriff.

"Di--id they rob the passengers?" stammered Emma Dean.

"In some of the cars, yes. In my car they did not. I held them off with
my revolver. I----"

"That was very careless of you. Why, sir, you might have shot yourself,"
cried Stacy.

Mr. Holmes gave the fat boy a withering glance and resumed his story.

"After my display of courage the other passengers got brave, and with
their assistance I drove the bandits off. However, I should not advise
it. For the average person, the safe course is to sit still and take his
medicine. Gentlemen, never offer resistance when a gang of bandits
orders you to put up your hands, but put them up as fast as you can and
let them stay put," he added, fixing his gaze on Tom Gray who smiled and
nodded.

"Yes, sir," agreed Chunky. "That's the way I always do."

"Were you ever held up?" questioned the salesman.

"Many times. I put up my hands too, but there was a gun in both of 'em,"
answered Stacy amid much laughter.

At this juncture a passenger asked the storyteller to tell them more
about the hold-up, which he did without urging.

"The train in question was carrying a treasure, just as this one no
doubt is. The bandits had obtained information of this fact from a
confederate. They were right on the job when the train came along. After
stopping the train they placed men at the car door to take up a
collection from the passengers. All submitted tamely, as they should
have done, except in the car where I was, and--we are approaching Summit
now. From that point we go down grade for twenty miles or so, then we
begin to climb again. We stop at Summit."

"Isn't it terrible, all that banditry. I'm afraid," shivered Emma when a
little later the party had gone to the dining car for supper.

"For one who can transmigrate as well as you can, there should be no
fear," suggested Hippy. "Just transmigrate the bandits to some other
train."

"I think we should transmigrate ourselves in the event of such a thing
occurring," vouchsafed Elfreda Briggs.

Sheriff Ford came into the dining car shortly after the train had left
Summit, and nodded at the party in a friendly fashion.

"What has become of our story-telling friend, sir?" asked Grace.

"I saw him go into the smoking car ahead as the train was leaving
Summit. He sent two telegrams before leaving. This shoe business
requires a lot of telegraphing, it appears," added the sheriff dryly.

"How do you know it was about shoe business?" demanded Stacy.

"Because I happened to see the last telegram."

Tom Gray eyed the sheriff inquiringly, but the mild blue eyes of Mr.
Ford conveyed nothing to him.

After a pleasant evening, during which they saw no more of the traveling
salesman, the Overland party retired to their berths for sleep. Forward,
near the express car, rode the Overlanders' ponies in as much comfort as
is possible to provide for animals en route. At every stop during the
day one of the men of the party had run forward to look over the car of
"stock," as the riders called their saddle animals. Now, however, all
were too soundly asleep to think of ponies, and above the rumble of the
train might be heard the rasping snores of Stacy Brown and Hippy
Wingate.

It was shortly after one o'clock in the morning when many of the
sleepers were awakened by a sudden disconcerting jolt caused by an
abrupt application of the air brakes. The train slowly settled down to a
slow crawl, the hiss of the air from the brakes being plainly audible to
those who had been awakened.

The train stopped. Nothing of an alarming nature seemed to have
occurred, so the nervous passengers again settled down into their
blankets, for the night air was chill and penetrating. Others lay awake,
but there was nothing to hear except the snores which continued without
interruption.

A few moments of this and then a subdued murmur of voices was heard just
ahead of the Overlanders' car. A brief period of silence followed the
murmur, then a man's voice, agitated and full of alarm, was raised so
high that almost every person in the car was awake on the instant.

"What is it?" cried a woman's voice from behind berth curtains.

"We're held up! The train is held up!" cried the man.

"Robbers! Robbers!" screamed the woman who had asked the question; and a
chorus of frightened voices took up the refrain.



                              CHAPTER III

                     THE HOLD-UP OF THE RED LIMITED


"Take it easy! Don't lose your heads. We are safe for the moment," urged
a voice that sounded like Sheriff Ford's. Whoever it was, his words
brought a measure of quiet to the excited passengers who were shivering
in the aisle in scant attire.

The passengers then sought their berths again and began dressing, for
there would be no more sleep for them that night. Outside of the car
there was not the slightest indication that anything out of the ordinary
was occurring. An ominous stillness enshrouded the scene. Some one, more
curious than the rest, stepped to the front platform of the sleeping car
and, opening the vestibule door, looked out. The Overlanders learned
later that it was Mr. Ford.

A rifle shot roared out, whereupon the sheriff prudently stepped back
and closed the door. Several smothered screams were heard, and then
silence once more settled over the car.

Up to the present time not a word had been heard from the Overland
Riders. The curtains of their berths hung motionless, and Stacy Brown's
snores were louder than ever. Perhaps they were all asleep, but how that
could be possible in the circumstances it would be difficult to
understand.

The voice of Sheriff Ford once more focused the attention of the
passengers on him.

"Men," he said, addressing the passengers from one end of the car, "this
train is being held up, but it does not look as if the passengers will
be disturbed. If they are not, it means that the bandits are after the
express car, in which, as I happen to know, there is a large amount of
gold for shipment to the Pacific Coast for export. I am an officer of
the law. The fact that I am not in my own county is sufficient excuse
for my sitting down and letting the bandits have their own way, but I'm
not that kind of a critter. I'm going out to take a hand in this affair,
and I ask all the men in this car, who have weapons, to join me.
Provided we get help from the other cars of the train, we can, perhaps,
drive the robbers off. How many of you men are with me?"

Two passengers stepped out from their berths. The curtains of the berths
occupied by Lieutenant Theophilus Wingate and Captain Tom Gray were
thrust aside, the curtain hooks rattling on the rods overhead, and they
were revealed clad in shirts, trousers and boots, each with a revolver
strapped on, sitting quietly on the edge of his berth.

"Isn't there another _man_ in this car?" questioned Ford sarcastically.

At this juncture Grace Harlowe, Elfreda Briggs, Nora Wingate and Emma
Dean stepped out into the aisle, each wearing a revolver at her side,
and Emma very pale and shaking in the chill air.

"We are not men, but we are ready to do whatever you wish, Mr. Ford,"
announced Grace.

Ford smiled and nodded.

"I thought so," he said. "This appears to be about all we can depend
upon. As for you young women, my hat is off to you, but this is no job
for women. It's a man's job. What you can do, however, is to mount guard
over this car and protect the other women. Can you all shoot?"

Grace said they could.

"Very well. Guard the vestibules, but in no circumstances open the
vestibule door. The other passengers will please remain in their berths
to avoid the possibility of being shot, and you young women will be
careful that you do not shoot the train crew. Challenge first, then
shoot, if you are not positive as to who any person is. Have you men
ammunition?"

"Yes," answered Hippy. "Lead us to it. We haven't had any action in so
long that we are going stale."

"We will go out by the rear door," announced the sheriff. "Please do not
use your weapons until you are ordered to do so. The most we can hope to
accomplish is to drive the bandits off--make them think they are
attacked by a posse. There isn't much chance of our being able to
capture the gang or any of them, much as I should like to do so. Yet I'm
going to try to get hold of at least one. All ready!"

"Be careful, Hippy darling," begged Nora as the little party moved
towards the rear of the car.

"You watch my smoke," chuckled Hippy.

"Good luck," smiled Grace, waving a kiss to Tom as he turned to nod in
return for her parting words.

Ford stepped out into the rear vestibule and peered through the window
into the darkness.

"I'll go first," he said. "You follow when I give the signal. Not a word
from any of you. Wait!" Lifting the trap-door in the vestibule floor,
the sheriff let himself down on the steps, then cautiously stood up on
the outside, revolver in hand for use in case of trouble.

"Come out!" he commanded in a low voice. "There appears to be no one
here. There goes the express car!" he added as a slight jolt of the
train was heard. "They've cut out that car and are going to pull it up
the track a piece and force it open. We'll have to hurry."

Ford started on a run, the others falling in behind him.

Up to this time no one had given Stacy Brown a thought, but as the party
was leaving the sleeper something awakened him. Then Stacy heard someone
say, "robbers!" The fat boy tumbled out into the aisle in his pajamas.

"Wha--what is it?" he demanded sleepily.

"The train is held up," answered Grace.

"Oh! Wow!"

"Yes, and Tom, Hippy and Mr. Ford, with two other passengers, have just
gone out by the rear door to see what they can do to help us out,"
announced Miss Briggs. "You are a fine brave fellow to sleep through all
this uproar."

"They have gone to capture the bandit outfit and get their heads shot
off for their pains," jeered the voice of a male passenger from the
forward end of the car.

"You're a brave man, aren't you?" chided Emma, directing her remark at
Stacy.

The fat boy blinked sleepily, then all of a sudden he woke up to a
fuller realization of the situation. Emma's remark had passed unnoticed,
but the taunt of the cowardly passenger had sent the blood pounding to
Stacy's temples. The boy snatched his revolver from his grip and buckled
on the holster, starting for the rear door at a run.

"We can't all be heroes," he flung back at the passenger who had jeered
at the Overlanders. "Some of us are born cowards with a stripe of yellow
a yard wide through us. Go to sleep, children! I'll bag the lot of 'em
and fetch 'em back for you to look at."

Stacy fell through the opening in the platform, the trap-door still
being open. In the fall, he bumped all the way from the platform to the
ground, where he fetched up heavily in a sitting posture.

"Hey, you fellows! Where are you? Wait for me, I'm on the way," he
bellowed. "I've got the medicine with me. Sing out where you are."

The fat boy started to run along the side of the train. He could not see
his companions, but he was positive that they could not be far in
advance of him.

"W-a-i-t!" he shouted.

"Who's that?" demanded Ford sharply.

"It sounds like Brown of our party," laughed Hippy.

"For goodness sake, go back and stop his noise or we'll have the robbers
down on us," urged Ford. "Run for it!"

Hippy started back at a brisk trot, on the alert for the presence of
bandit sentries. He nearly collided with Stacy, and, knowing that the
fat boy was impulsive, Hippy feared that Stacy might take him for a
train robber and shoot, so he dropped down the instant he discovered his
companion.

"Stop that noise! Do you want to get hurt?" demanded Hippy sternly.

"'Course I don't. I want to hurt a robber. Where are they?"

"You will find out soon enough if you don't keep quiet."

"That's what I'm making a noise about. I want to call 'em out; then
you'll see what Stacy Brown and his little gun can do."

"You are not to use your revolver until Mr. Ford gives you permission to
do so. He is in command of our party. The bandits are supposed to be
somewhere ahead of us. Come along, but don't you dare make a sound.
Where have you been all the time?"

"Sleeping. Isn't that what folks buy sleeping car tickets for?"

"Hurry," urged Hippy, who ran on, followed by Stacy, stumbling and
grunting, making enough noise to be heard several car-lengths away. The
two came up with the others of their party at the front end of the
forward car, where Ford had halted.

"Where are they?" demanded Stacy. "I'm ready to capture the whole bunch.
All I want now is to be shown. I'm a wild-cat for trouble when I get
stirred up."

"Silence, young man! I'll do all the talking necessary. You will get
your wish for action soon enough, and I reckon you'll get some of the
brag taken out of you, too," retorted Ford sarcastically.

"Not if I see 'em first," gave back Stacy belligerently.

"What is the order, Mr. Ford?" questioned Tom Gray.

"We will go off to one side. It won't do to follow the railroad tracks.
To do so would surely draw the fire of the bandits. There are several on
guard not far from us," he added in a whisper, having been observing
closely as he talked. "I think I now know the lay of the land. Be
careful, all of you. If you will look sharp you will see that the
bandits have the treasure car near the mouth of the ravine that leads up
into the mountains."

"They've taken our stock car too," groaned Stacy.

"That's so. The ponies are gone, Ford," whispered Lieutenant Wingate.

"I reckon they count on making a get-away on your horses," answered the
sheriff. "We'll be able to block that game, I hope. Come!"

After having walked some distance parallel with the tracks, the
sheriff's party slowed down at a signal from their leader. Lanterns were
seen moving about beside the tracks a short distance ahead of the
sheriff. The safety valve of the engine was blowing off steam, the
blow-off growing to a deafening roar that died down only when the engine
pulled away from the express, baggage and stock cars. The locomotive
came to a stop a short distance from the three cars, then the sound of a
heavy object beating against the side door of one of the cars, was
heard.

"They're trying to smash in the door of the express car," whispered
Ford.

A volley of shots was fired at the car door by the bandits and was
promptly answered by shots from within the car. The men in the express
car appeared to be vigorously resisting the attack. They were firing at
the band outside with such good effect that the robbers soon ceased
their attempts to beat in the door with the section of a telegraph pole
that they were using for the purpose. A period of silence followed while
the bandits were holding a hurried consultation; then followed a
movement among them.

"Let me shoot! They're getting away, I tell you," urged Stacy excitedly.

"Not yet, young man. Those fellows are up to more mischief, and I think
I know what it is," answered Ford in a tense voice. "Men, we must get in
and get in at once or we shall be too late. It is time to move. Listen
to me, then obey promptly."



                               CHAPTER IV

                          IN A LIVELY SKIRMISH


"We will crawl across the tracks between the engine and the cars,"
whispered the sheriff. "Once on the other side we must get to the rear
of the bandits, and as soon as we find cover there we shall begin to
shoot. I hope we may be in time. When we reach the other side of the
rails I wish you men to spread out, but I want to know where every man
of our party is."

Ford started at a run, the others following, fully as eager as the
sheriff to get into action. They had barely reached the rails when there
occurred a sudden, blinding flash, followed by a heavy report.

"Dynamite!" exclaimed Ford. "I expected that."

"Our poor ponies," groaned Tom Gray.

"If they get near my Bismarck he'll kick the everlasting daylights out
of them," growled Stacy Brown.

"Can't we do something?" urged Hippy.

"Yes. We're going to do something and do it right quick," answered Ford
grimly. "Fellows, remember that the bandits have rifles, while we have
only our revolvers. You look out for those rifles, is my best advice to
you."

They reached the other side of the railroad tracks without loss of time
and without attracting attention to themselves, and it was soon evident
to the sheriff's party that the dynamite had not accomplished its
purpose. The explosive had not been well placed, and the express car had
been little damaged, though a hole had been dug out beside the tracks
from the force of it.

"When I give the word, shoot, but shoot over their heads," commanded
Ford incisively. "Spread out and get down on your stomachs when you have
taken your positions. Get going!"

The men of the party crept along, skulking through the bushes that grew
on the mountain side along the railroad right of way. One by one the
members of the party dropped down and lay awaiting the word of command.
Every now and then a shot would be fired from the interior of the
express car, answered in each instance by a volley from the bandits.

The preparations of Sheriff Ford up to this time had been made swiftly.
The signal agreed upon for beginning the attack on the train bandits was
two quick shots from Ford's revolver.

The thin line of assailants waited in tense silence for the beginning of
hostilities. The members of the little party were steady, although their
pulses beat high, for no one deluded himself into the belief that this
affair was going to be wholly one-sided.

Two sharp reports from Ford's revolver, even though eagerly looked for,
came so unexpectedly that every member of the party was startled, but
their panic lasted for only a few seconds. Six heavy revolvers answered
the signal. Three bullets sped harmlessly over the heads of the men who
were trying to rob the express car. Three other bullets from the weapons
of Ford, Tom and Hippy, by arrangement at the last moment before the
party spread out, had been fired low enough to reach the legs of the
bandits.

Of course there could be no fine shooting on account of the darkness,
but the sheriff and the two men with him did very well indeed, if the
yells of rage that came from the bandits could be depended upon as
indication of hits.

"Down!" warned Ford when the revolvers had been emptied. Every man in
the party well knew what was coming.

The expected was not long in arriving. A volley of heavy rifle shots
ripped over the heads of the sleeping-car party. Ford's party quickly
reloaded as they lay; then began firing as rapidly as they could pull
the triggers of their weapons, aiming whenever they saw anything to aim
at.

During all this firing the orders of the sheriff were implicitly
followed. Tom Gray and Lieutenant Wingate were as steady as rock, for
they had been through skirmishes before. Stacy was a little excited, but
more from eagerness to be up and at the bandits than from fear. The
bandits were getting desperate. On account of the interruption there had
been no opportunity to explode another charge of dynamite under the
express car, and they were now too fully engaged to proceed with that
work.

The desperadoes knew very well from the sound that the attackers were
using small arms instead of rifles, thus leaving the advantage with the
bandits so far as weapons were concerned. The robbers now began creeping
stealthily up the slope, firing at every flash from a revolver, but
Ford's party was keeping so low that there was no great danger of any
one being hit except as they changed positions and ran for fresh cover,
which they always did following a volley from the bandits' rifles. The
sheriff's party was giving ground slowly, constantly changing positions
under his orders, the officer himself now and then running along the
line, giving quick low-spoken orders, without regard to his own safety.

The bandits had been drawn away from the tracks for some distance when
Ford dropped down beside Hippy Wingate, who was firing from behind a
small boulder.

"What is it, Sheriff?" questioned Hippy.

"I have a plan," answered Ford.

"Good! What is it?"

"Our revolvers won't hold them back much longer. Should they rush us
someone is certain to get hit. In any event we shall then have to run
for it. I don't like to do that."

"Not yet," answered Hippy with emphasis.

"I think we may be able to save your horses and the express car if you
are willing to take a long chance."

"I have taken so many already that chances no longer are a novelty. What
is it you wish me to do?" demanded Hippy.

"Go to the engineer and tell him to back up. Tell him to hit those three
cars as hard as he dares--hit them as fast as he can without throwing
them from the rails or injuring the horses. Having done that, let him
back down the grade as quietly as possible so those fellows won't notice
him. When he hits the express car he is to keep on backing until he
reaches the train, which he is to push back a full half mile, and then
stop and wait for us to finish our job. When we have done that we will
fire a signal--three shots at intervals. I reckon the moon will soon be
up so we can see what we are doing. Tell the engineer, too, that we will
fire the same signal if we approach him, but, should he see anybody
coming up who does not give that signal, he is to start up his engine
and reverse for all he's worth. Get me?"

"I get you, Buddy."

"I would go myself, but I am needed here. When the time comes we shall
have to make a sharp get-away ourselves, but if we save the train that
will be enough. Do you think you can reach the locomotive?"

"Surest thing you know, old top," answered Hippy laughingly.

"Be careful! You will find that the engine is guarded, but I don't
believe there will be more than two men guarding it, and perhaps this
firing may have drawn them away, though I hardly think so."

"Leave it to me."

"Should you miss us on your return, make for the train as fast as you
can. You're the right sort, Lieutenant. Pick your own trail and the best
o' luck."

Lieutenant Wingate was off a few seconds later, running cautiously, now
and then flattening himself on the ground to avoid the occasional
volley. Hippy had no fear of the bullets that whistled over him, though
he had a sufficiently intimate acquaintance with such missiles to hold
them in high respect. That was why he dropped to the ground when firing
was resumed. In a few moments he was out of range of the firing. He then
straightened up and ran with all speed, parallel with the tracks, but
keeping several rods to one side.

As he neared the locomotive Hippy proceeded with more caution. The night
was now sufficiently light to enable him to see the figures of two men
sitting on the bank beside the tracks on the right side of the engine.
There was no special need for vigilance on their part now, for ahead of
the locomotive a telegraph pole had been felled across the tracks, while
to its rear were the cars and the bandits. All this made the guards
somewhat careless so that they failed to see a figure dart across the
tracks a few rods back of the locomotive tender.

Lieutenant Wingate crept along under the overhang of the tender, on the
side opposite from the two guards. He did not know but there might be
men on that side also, but soon discovered that there were not. He had
crawled to the running board, by which entrance is gained to the
locomotive cab, before he was discovered by the fireman.

"Sh-h-h-h!" warned Hippy just in time to check an exclamation that was
on the lips of the fireman. "Lean over. I have a message for you--for
the engineer. Don't make a quick move, but just settle down. You might
fire up the boiler a little. With the glare from the fire in their eyes
those two fellows won't see quite so clearly."

The fireman, after a whispered word to the engineer, opened the fire
door and threw in fresh coal, then crouched down with his ear close to
the Overland Rider, whereupon Hippy briefly explained Sheriff Ford's
plan, at the same time acquainting the fireman with the situation to the
rear.

Another whispered conversation across the boiler between engineer and
fireman followed, with Hippy Wingate clinging on the step of the
locomotive in tense expectancy. A sudden hiss of steam from the
cylinders on both sides of the engine startled him, and the big drive
wheels began slipping on the rails.

"Hey there! What are ye up to?" yelled a guard, making a leap for the
running board.

The fireman responded by hieing a chunk of coal, which caught the bandit
in the stomach, laying the fellow flat in the ditch beside the tracks.
The remaining guard fired point-blank without effect at the engineer's
window, but the driver's head was below the level of the cab window at
that instant. The wheels gained a foothold, the engine began backing
rapidly while the guard continued to shoot at the reversing hulk of
steel.

"Good for you, Buddies!" cried Hippy enthusiastically.

The engineer did not slow down as he approached the scene of the
hold-up, knowing that there were no persons in the way.

Hippy had dropped off before the engine gained much headway, and rolled
over into the ditch and soon heard the tender hit the express car.

The bandits had heard the engine rumbling down the grade, but they were
too busy shooting at Sheriff Ford's party to be able to spare the time
to interfere. In the meantime a new note had been added to the battle.
The train crew, now taking courage, had gone to the assistance of the
Sheriff, armed with revolvers, shot guns, iron bars and whatever else
they could lay their hands on.

Grace Harlowe and her friends, in the meantime, however, remained on
guard, and not even the trainmen could have got into her sleeping car
without giving an account of themselves to the Overland girls.

The firing now grew fast and furious. Hippy heard it, listened
attentively and realized that his little party was being assisted.

"I must get back and take a hand," he muttered, making a wide detour
with the intention of coming in to the rear of Sheriff Ford and his men.
To do this he ran up the ravine from the railroad, near where the attack
had been made.

Lieutenant Wingate had not proceeded far before he heard what sounded
like hoof-beats. At first he feared that the ponies of his outfit had
been taken; then he realized that this could not be the case.

The ravine in which he found himself was now fairly well lighted by the
rising moon, and discovery was certain, the banks on either side being
so steep that the Overlander knew that he could not look for escape that
way. Not caring to be caught in a trap, Hippy turned and began to
retreat down the ravine, then halted abruptly, as he discovered a
horseman coming up the ravine at a gallop. A man was running just ahead
of the rider, the latter calling orders to the runner.

At this juncture, Lieutenant Wingate unlimbered his revolver and waited.
The two men saw him, and the runner pointed to him, then dashed right
past Hippy, shielding his face with a hand. As he passed, the runner
fired a shot at Hippy.

"I know you!" yelled the Overlander, sending a bullet into the ground
behind the runner. "I know your game, you scoundrel!"

Hippy, for the moment, apparently had forgotten the man on horseback,
who was now to the rear of him, for Lieutenant Wingate, upon discovering
the identity of the man on foot, was so amazed that all other thoughts
took flight.

All at once the Overland Rider remembered. He wheeled like a flash and
fired at the figure that was now towering over him. A blow, crushing in
its force, came down on the head of the Overland Rider, felling him to
the ground. The butt of a rifle in the hands of the horseman was the
instrument that caused Hippy's undoing.

In the meantime, while Hippy was carrying Ford's message to the engineer
of the Red Limited, the hot reception they were getting led the bandits
to give up the fight and scatter. It was one of the fleeing
train-robbers who had struck Lieutenant Wingate down.



                               CHAPTER V

                      ON THE TRAIL OF THE MISSING


"Have the train draw up here and wait for us," Sheriff Ford directed, as
the trainmen were about to return to their train after the bandits had
finally been driven off. "Those ruffians have had enough, and won't come
back. Some of them are wounded, too."

"Aren't you coming with us?" asked a trainman.

"No. I'm going to look for Lieutenant Wingate. He may be on the train,
but, if he is not, have the engineer give us three whistles."

"Hippy wouldn't go back without us," declared Tom Gray with emphasis.

"Go back to your train, men, while we look for our friend," urged
Sheriff Ford.

The train crew lost no time in following Ford's advice, being eager to
get away from that locality. Stacy Brown was sent back with them to put
on his clothes. Stacy was shivering in his pajamas, but the fat boy had
done his duty as steadily as any of his companions, and fully proven his
courage, thus winning the admiration of Sheriff Ford and Tom Gray. The
two other volunteer passengers, one a salesman for a Chicago grocery
house, the other a Colorado ranchman, announced their intention of
remaining with the sheriff to assist him in his search.

Shortly after the departure of the trainmen, three long blasts of the
locomotive whistle told the party that Lieutenant Wingate had not
returned to the train.

"That settles it, men. It is up to us to get to work," declared the
sheriff. Ford divided his forces and sent parties in various directions
to search for the missing Hippy Wingate, hoping, and partly believing,
that the lieutenant had probably met up with the bandits on their
retreat into the mountains after abandoning their attack on the train,
and secreted himself somewhere in the vicinity of the attempted hold-up.

The Overlanders were now in the Sierras, and the country all about them
was wild and uninhabited. After surveying his surroundings with critical
eyes, Ford took to the ravine up which Hippy had gone in attempting to
get back to his companions, and soon found the place where the bandits
had staked down their horses.

Two warning whistles, the engineer's regular signal that the train was
about to start ahead, caused the sheriff to run down the ravine to the
railroad, at the same time firing three shots to recall his companions.

"Get aboard in a hurry!" shouted the conductor, leaning from the engine
cab as the train came back to the scene of the attempted robbery.

"Wait! Has Lieutenant Wingate returned?" demanded Ford.

"No!" shouted Stacy Brown from the platform of the smoking car. "Didn't
you find him?"

"Are you positive, Stacy?" called Tom Gray, running up at this juncture.

"He is not on the train, Tom," answered Grace Harlowe from a vestibule
doorway. "The engineer said he dropped off just as the engine began
backing down. Tom, you must search for Hippy. Nora is nearly wild from
worry over him."

"We are going to find him, little woman," answered Captain Gray.

"Are you folks going to get aboard?" demanded the conductor insistently.

"No. We're not going to leave that man here by a long shot," retorted
Ford.

"All right. Stay if you want to. We're going ahead," snapped the
conductor.

"Stop!" ordered the sheriff. "You hold this train until I give you leave
to move it. I am an officer of the law, and in command here for the
present. Captain Gray, what do you wish to do?"

"Find the lieutenant, Sheriff."

"Then, would it not be a good idea to unload your ponies?" asked Ford.
"We may have to be here until tomorrow, and perhaps make a long journey
into the interior, which we cannot well do on foot."

"Yes. We will unload enough animals to carry your party," answered Tom.

"Pull your train up to the mouth of the ravine and stop," commanded
Ford, clambering aboard the locomotive. "Get aboard there, boys."

The train promptly pulled ahead while the sheriff had his final argument
with the conductor in the locomotive cab. The argument was brief, but
heated, the sheriff laying down the law to the angry conductor, who, by
the time his train had reached the mouth of the ravine, was wholly
subdued.

The Overland Riders stepped off the train to watch the unloading of the
ponies and to get instructions from Tom and Mr. Ford.

"We are about twenty-five miles from Gardner," said the sheriff,
addressing Grace. "You people, I believe, intend to detrain there. Have
someone unload your stock and then wait until we return. You will find a
very fair little hotel at Gardner."

"We will wait," answered Grace composedly.

Ford called upon the train crew to assist in unloading the ponies.
Unloading boards were obtained from the baggage car with which a rather
substantial gangway was constructed, and down it the light-footed
ponies--five of them--were led without the least difficulty. Rifles and
light equipment for the party were unloaded, the rest of the
Overlanders' property and two ponies being left on the train.

While the unloading was in progress Tom Gray went to the dining car and
purchased provisions, consisting of canned goods, pork and beans and a
side of bacon. Stacy Brown, who had gone back to the sleeping car for
something he wanted from his suitcase, dropped in while Tom was
bartering, and helped his companion carry back their purchases. By the
time they reached the head of the train all was in readiness for the
departure.

Ford waved the lantern that he had borrowed from the conductor.

"Go ahead," he called to the conductor. "Mrs. Gray, don't forget to
report to Gardner what has become of us. If we are not back in two days
have them send a posse for us."

"I understand," answered Grace Harlowe.

"I say, you! You might have Emma do a little transmigrating for us while
we're away. I reckon we'll be needing it," called back Stacy.

As the train pulled out, the passengers, including the girls of the
Overland party, were gathered on the platforms cheering. The searching
party now consisted, besides Sheriff Ford, of Tom Gray, Stacy Brown and
the two passengers who had been with them from the first, making five in
all.

"Now, sir, what is your plan?" demanded Tom after they had saddled and
made ready to start.

"I think we will follow up the ravine for a little way," answered the
sheriff. "Your man went this way. I know because the fireman saw him
take to the ravine. One of you lead my horse; I'm going ahead on foot
with the lantern."

"If you have no objection, I will go with you," offered Tom.

Ford nodded, and the two started away, the others, on the ponies,
keeping well to the rear.

The two men in advance finally reached the point in the ravine where
Lieutenant Wingate had been struck down. With lantern held close to the
ground, the sheriff went over it on hands and knees, examining every
foot of the ground.

"Stand where you are until I come back," he directed, addressing Tom
Gray. "Do you recognize this?" he asked, holding up a hat, upon his
return a few moments later.

"It is the lieutenant's hat," answered Tom promptly, and Stacy Brown
agreed with him.

"What's the use of a hat without a head to wear it?" demanded Stacy.

"This!" replied Ford. "I have proved one thing. Our man came this way,
but beyond this point the only trace of him is the hat. Unless I am much
mistaken, he left here on the back of a horse, and he went that way."
The sheriff pointed up the ravine. "It is fair to assume that he did not
go voluntarily. The only inference possible, then, is that he has been
taken."

"Captured by the bandits!" exclaimed Tom.

Ford nodded.

"For what reason?"

"Candidly, I don't know, Captain. We have got to find out, and it is
advisable for us to go in search of the answer to that question as fast
as we can. We will mount and move on."

"I suppose I am the one who will have to furnish the brains for this
party and find the missing man," declared Stacy pompously, but no one
laughed at his sally.

A minute later they were mounted and on their way up the ravine, the
sheriff still carrying the lantern, which he held low, keeping his gaze
constantly on the trail, which still was fairly plain and easy for an
experienced man to follow. Stacy dropped behind a little way and
produced a plum pudding can from his pocket. Opening the can, he calmly
proceeded to eat the pudding.

"What's that you're eating?" demanded one of the two passengers.

"Pudding. A plum one."

"Where did you get it?"

"Oh, back there in the diner," answered Stacy carelessly.

"You stole a pudding, eh?" laughed the questioner.

"Oh, my; no, sir. How could you think such a thing? Don't you know I
wouldn't do anything like that?"

"Oh! You paid for it," nodded the passenger.

"I did not. Captain Gray did. You see it was this way. The captain paid
for six cans of baked beans, but they gave him only five cans. The
colored gentleman in the diner cheated us out of one can, and probably
pocketed the difference, so I sort of helped myself to a pudding to even
things up."

"Humph! You are a young man of unusual ability. You should have been a
lawyer."

"I know it," admitted Chunky.

An exclamation from Ford interrupted the conversation. The sheriff had
picked up a handkerchief which Tom thought belonged to Hippy Wingate.
They believed that the lieutenant had dropped it purposely, knowing full
well that pursuit would follow promptly when his friends discovered that
he was missing.

"We are on the trail all right," cried the sheriff. "Look sharp and
don't make much noise about it, either."

Daybreak found the outfit still in the saddle. Now that they could see,
Ford threw away the lantern, and, after watering their ponies at a
mountain spring, they pressed on with all speed. The men ate a cold
breakfast in the saddle, there being no time to waste in halting to cook
breakfast. Further, the smoke from a camp-fire would be a danger signal
to the men for whom they were searching.

About nine o'clock in the morning the sheriff and Tom found a
split-trail. The two trails led up a steep incline to a small plateau.
There they discovered the remains of a camp-fire. Ford dismounted and
ran his fingers through the ashes.

"There has been a fire here within a few hours," he announced.

"And the trail has gone to pieces," added Stacy Brown who had got down
from his pony and begun nosing about.

"The bandits have taken different directions from here, haven't they?"
questioned the sheriff, glancing up.

"Yes. I'll tell you what let's do. Let's shut our eyes and let the
ponies decide which trail to take," suggested Chunky gravely. "My
Bismarck can follow the trail of a squirrel."

"This is not a squirrel trail," answered Ford briefly. "There are five
of us men here. Four will take separate trails while one remains here.
Let each man follow his trail for, say, three hours, then, whether or
not he has discovered anything, he will return to this point. We can
then decide upon further action."

"I have an idea that the bandits discovered that they were being
followed," suggested one of the two passengers. "Otherwise, why should
they split up and take different trails?"

"Yes. I agree with you," nodded the sheriff. Mr. Ford decided that one
of the passenger volunteers should remain behind, then assigned the
other passenger and Tom, Stacy and himself to follow the bandits'
trails, Ford selecting what seemed to be the most promising trail for
himself.

Full understanding of what each one was to do was had, then the four
rode away, leaving their guard where he could see, yet remain hidden.

The four trails led on for five miles without a break. Stacy, full of
importance because of the duty assigned to him, was watching his trail
closely, and, had he been less observant, he might have missed the point
where the trail again split. Discovering this, he halted and sat
regarding the two trails with solemn eyes.

"Sharp trick," he nodded. "It doesn't fool Stacy Brown, though." He
decided that the left-hand trail swung over towards the one that Tom
Gray was riding, perhaps joining it a short distance from the junction
where Stacy was at that moment. Having come to this conclusion, the fat
boy had a bright idea. He would take a short cut across country. He knew
that this was a risky thing to do, but he had several mountain peaks for
landmarks and did not believe that he could go astray, so he started
full of confidence, leaving both trails behind him.

An hour-and-a-half passed. Stacy still had thirty minutes to ride before
it would be time for him to turn back towards the starting point, as he
learned by consulting his watch, and he decided to make the most of
those thirty minutes.

"There! Didn't I tell you?" he cried as he rode out into an open space
and instantly discovered the hoof-prints of several horses on the soft
ground. "I was positive that I couldn't be wrong. My time is up, but I
have found the spot where the rascals got together. Now I'll just turn
about and follow it home. This is the trail we must follow to find Uncle
Hip. Yes, I'll go back and report."

Stacy Brown's intentions were good, and, well satisfied with what he had
accomplished, he rode along humming softly to himself, now and then
confiding his opinions to his pony. The little animal wiggled its ears
as if it understood.

"Hulloa! There goes the sun. Seven o'clock! Who would have thought it?
According to my watch I've been back at the forks for a quarter of an
hour. I wonder if I really have?" Stacy regarded his surroundings
narrowly. "No. I never saw any of you mountain-peak fellows before. I
must have made a mistake in my reckonings, but I've got a biscuit in my
pocket, and we'll be able to go quite a distance on one biscuit,
especially on this kind of a biscuit. Some biscuits go a great deal
farther than others. This is one of the farther kind," finished Chunky,
performing a series of contortions as he tried to break off a piece of
biscuit with his teeth.

The pony was laboring up a steep incline, the stirrup straps creaking in
rhythm with the animal's quick, short steps, Stacy's body, from the belt
up, bobbing upwards and backwards with monotonous regularity. The reins
lay over the saddle pommel, thus giving the pony's head full play and
enabling it to snatch a mouthful of greens here and there.

Suddenly the little animal threw its head up and snorted. Stacy Brown
ceased munching and sat staring wide-eyed.

"Suffering cats! You're IT, Stacy Brown!" he gasped.

Jerking his rifle from the saddle-boot he fired three quick shots over
the head of his pony.



                               CHAPTER VI

                        CHUNKY MEETS THE BANDITS


The pony had nosed its way around the base of a high rock, fetching up
on a meadow, when Stacy made the discovery that startled him. What he
saw was a group of men sitting about a cook-fire, hurriedly eating a
meal while their ponies grazed on the mountain grass some distance from
the fire.

The boy knew instantly that he had stumbled upon the bandits. He
realized, too, in those brief seconds, that he must be a long way from
the place where he was to meet his companions.

The desperadoes saw the intruder about the time that Chunky saw them.
Used to emergencies and quick action, the men sprang for their rifles,
which were standing against a boulder near at hand. Chunky also saw that
Lieutenant Wingate was not with them. Had the boy thought twice he would
have held his fire, but, as it turned out, his shots served a good
purpose. It startled the bandits, causing momentary confusion, which
gave Stacy an opportunity to head in an opposite direction, which he was
not slow in doing.

"Ye-o-o-o-ow!" howled the fat boy in a shrill, piercing voice. The shots
and the yells startled the bandits' ponies as it had their owners. The
horses threw up their heads, snorted and galloped into the mountain
meadow, fully twenty rods from the camp, while the boy threw himself on
the neck of his pony, fully expecting a shot or a volley from them, and
dashed around the base of a high rock at a perilous pace. He had no more
than reached the protection of the rock than the _pock, pock_ of rifle
bullets, as they hit the rock to his rear, reached his ears.

"Oh, wow!" howled Chunky. "I lost my biscuit." In ordinary circumstances
he would have gone back to look for the biscuit, but just now Stacy was
in somewhat of a hurry. Fortunately for the boy, it took the bandits
fully twenty minutes to round up their horses, by which time the fat boy
was far in the lead, riding like mad. He had lost all sense of
direction, but perhaps the pony had not. The little animal had taken
affairs into its own control and was laying out its own trail.

The bandits, instead of following, rode with all speed farther into the
mountains, but Chunky continued on at his same perilous pace, even
though darkness had now overtaken him.

"Whoa, Bismarck!" commanded Chunky finally, reining in his pony. "Do you
know where you're going, or don't you?"

The pony rattled the bit between its teeth, tossed its head up and down,
and uttered a loud whinny.

"You said 'yes,' didn't you? All right, if you know where you are, go
along. You surely can't know any less about it than I do."

Rider and mount resumed their journey at a somewhat slower pace, and
rode on until Stacy was brought to a sudden stop by a sharp, gruff word
of command.

"Halt!" ordered a voice just ahead of him. The pony gave a startled jump
that nearly unhorsed its rider.

"Oh, wow!" howled Chunky, and on the impulse of the moment he fired two
quick shots at the sound.

"Stop it! It's Tom Gray. Haven't you any more sense than to blaze away
before you know at what you are shooting?"

"Oh, fiddlesticks! Had you been through what I have you would shoot at
the drop of the hat. Are you lost, too?"

"Lost? I am not lost. Don't you know where you are?"

"No. I might be in the suburbs of Chillicothe for all I know."

"The camp is only a few rods away," Tom Gray informed him.

"You don't say?" wondered Chunky.

"We heard you coming, and thought it might be Mr. Ford. How did you
happen to come in over that trail?"

"Ask Bismarck. He knows all about it. I don't. Got any news about Uncle
Hip?"

"No. Of course you saw nothing of either him or the bandits."

"I not only found the robbers, but I had a battle with them," answered
Stacy.

"What's that? Don't trifle, Brown. This is a serious matter," rebuked
Tom.

"I'm telling you the truth. It was this way. I was riding along,
peaceful like, when, all of a sudden, biff, boom, bang! It seemed to me
that fifty or a hundred men burst from the bushes."

"So many as that?" laughed Tom.

"Well, something like that. I may be a dozen or so out of the way, but
you see I didn't stop to count them. I raised my trusty rifle and--well,
to make a long story short, I fired right into that howling bunch of
bandits. I suppose I emptied as many as twelve saddles."

"Wait a moment," urged one of the travelers who had joined them. "How
many times did you reload?"

"Not at all. I didn't have time."

"Captain Gray, he emptied twelve saddles, so he must have shot two men
with each bullet, as his magazine holds only six cartridges. I call that
some shooting."

"Is that so? Then I must have done as you say. Wonderful, wasn't it?"

At this juncture, Sheriff Ford rode into camp and was quickly told of
what Stacy had discovered. Mr. Ford, after a few quick questions,
realized that the boy really had stumbled on the right trail and
discovered the bandits.

"You did well, young man," he complimented. "I thought I had struck a
lead, but the trail pinched out. Can you take us to the place where you
came on those ruffians?"

"No, but the pony can, or you can follow my trail. I reckon I left a
pretty plain one. I know Uncle Hip better than you do, and if he has
been able to get away from the fellows who captured him I'll guarantee
that he will find us. He would know we wouldn't go away and leave him.
For that reason I suggest that we build a fire to attract Uncle Hip's
attention, should he be in this vicinity."

One of the men protested, saying it would be dangerous, but the sheriff
agreed with Stacy.

"We will have a fire and will post guards to protect ourselves," he
said. "We shall not be bothered by the bandits to-night; I am positive
of that. They know that the alarm has been given and that, in all
probability, a posse is already on their trail. If nothing develops
during the night--if we get no news from Lieutenant Wingate--we will
start for Gardner in the morning and organize a big searching party to
comb the mountains for him."

After all phases of the situation had been discussed, the sheriff's plan
was agreed to, and a fire was built up. It had been blazing for some
time when, in a lull in the conversation, Stacy was reminded that he had
not finished telling about his meeting with the bandits.

"Yes. You left off with shooting two men with each bullet," laughed Tom
Gray.

"In the excitement of meeting up with the villains," resumed Stacy,
without an instant's hesitation, "I wheeled the pony--spun him about on
his hind feet like a top, set him down on all fours and dashed away. We
didn't gallop, we simply dashed. You know it wasn't that I was afraid.
Anyone who knows me knows that nothing can scare me. I--"

"_Bang, bang, bang!_"

"Oh, wow!" howled the fat boy, diving head first into a clump of bushes
where he crouched wide-eyed, the chill creepers chasing up and down his
spinal column. The others of the party sprang up and snatched their
rifles, Ford kicking the blazing wood of the camp-fire aside, and Tom
Gray dousing it with a pail of water.

"Lie low, everybody, till I find out what this means!" commanded the
sheriff sharply.

"Are--are we attacked? Have the scoundrels come back?" chattered Chunky.

"Be quiet!" Mr. Ford crept out into the darkness, the others waiting in
tense expectancy listening for a rifle volley.

Tom thought the shots they had heard were signals, but no one else
believed such to be the case.

The flash of a revolver, a sharp report close at hand, was followed by a
shout from Stacy Brown and two shots from his own weapon at a shadowy
moving figure skulking behind a clump of bushes.



                              CHAPTER VII

                         BANDITS CATCH A TARTAR


The blow on the head had left Lieutenant Wingate unconscious. Without
loss of a minute he was thrown over the back of the horse, in front of
the rider, like a sack of meal on its way home from the mill, then the
horse started away at a trot.

After a few moments of violent jolting, consciousness began to return to
Hippy and he groped for something to take hold of to relieve the strain
of his trying position. His fingers finally gripped the boot of his
captor.

Quick as a flash, the bandit brought down the butt of his revolver on
the captive's head, whereupon Hippy went to sleep again, the blood
trickling from nose and mouth. Other riders, in the meantime, had caught
up with and passed the rider who was carrying him away. From what was
said it was apparent that Hippy's captor was the leader of the party,
for the others deferred to his commands, and, riding on ahead, soon
disappeared. The trail grew more and more rugged. On the right a solid
granite wall rose sheer for several hundred feet, while on the left, the
side over which Hippy's head was hanging, the ground dropped away
sharply for fully three hundred feet.

Lieutenant Wingate again began to recover consciousness. It seemed to
him as if all the blood in his body were concentrated in his aching head
and neck. He did not realize at the moment how the arms and hands were
smarting from being dragged through bushes and against the rough edges
of rocks, but he did discover that two large lumps had been raised on
his head, one well down towards the base of the brain. Had the second
blow been an inch farther down, it probably would have killed him.

His head becoming clearer, Hippy began to consider his situation--to
think what he could do to extricate himself from his uncomfortable and
perilous position. His train of thought was suddenly interrupted by an
exclamation from the bandit and a sharp pressure of a spur against the
pony's side. Hippy could feel the rider's leg contract as the spur was
driven home. The pony reared and threatened to buck, but, evidently
changing its mind, started away at a jolting trot.

The interruption had served one good purpose: it had given Hippy an
opportunity to get one hand up to his shirt, where the hand fumbled for
a few perilous seconds, then dropped cautiously to its former position.
That hand now held a pin. Miserable as he was, Hippy smiled grimly and
pricked the pony's side with the pin.

The bandit roared as the animal jumped, and again applied the spur,
followed instantly by a jab of Hippy's new weapon, the pin. A lively few
seconds ensued, and the pony bucked so effectively that its rider had
all he could do to stick to the saddle, and at the same time manage his
captive and the reins. Hippy jabbed the pin in again and again, though
every buck of the animal nearly broke the Overlander in two.

A few seconds of this treatment and the end came suddenly. With a final
humping of its back in a buck that lifted all four feet from the ground,
the pony went up into the air with arching back and with head held
stiffly close to its forefeet. The bandit threw all the strength of one
hand into an effort to jerk that stubborn head back where it belonged,
while the other hand grabbed desperately for the body of the captive,
which was slowly slipping away. The bandit, as a result, came a cropper
over the pony's head. Hippy wriggled and slipped off, shooting head
first down the sharp incline of smooth rocks that fell away from the
left side of the trail. The pony galloped away a few rods; then,
halting, gazed about him uneasily.

The bandit, after a few dazed seconds, got up and started for his mount,
then halting suddenly began searching for his captive. Hippy Wingate was
nowhere in sight, though his captor found where his body had crushed
down the bushes as it slipped from the trail. The bandit finally gave it
up, and, catching his pony, quickly rode away.

"No use. He's done for," growled the man before leaving the scene. "He's
gone clear to the bottom, mashed flat as a flapjack."

The hoof-beats of the pony had no sooner died away than Hippy Wingate's
head was cautiously raised from behind the roots of a tree that clung to
the side of the mountain, gripped into a deep crevice for anchorage.

"I'm not a flapjack just yet, old top," he muttered. "I may be if I am
not careful how I move about. I suppose I ought to hang on here till
daylight, but those fellows may come back. They can't afford to let me
get away. I know too much."

[Illustration: "No Use. He's Done For!"]

Hippy began crawling cautiously toward the trail, and finally gaining
it, sat down to think over what he had better do next. He felt for his
revolver and was relieved to find that it had not been taken from him,
and thus fortified, he decided that the prudent course would be to find
a hiding place and wait there for daylight, so he started away, taking
the back track, which he followed until it had so widened that he was
unable to keep to the trail. He then branched off to the right, holding
as straight a course as possible. The trickle of water caught his ear,
and, a moment later, Hippy was flat on his stomach, drinking long, deep
draughts from a tiny mountain stream. He then bathed his face and head
and his smarting, swollen arms. He knew that he ought to be moving, but
what direction to take was the question. Being a good woodsman, he knew
that to wander aimlessly about in the night surely would result in
losing himself completely.

After searching about for some time, Lieutenant Wingate found a high
rock suited to his purpose. He climbed up and sat down.

"The scoundrels will have to move quickly if they get me this time," he
muttered. "They'll--" Hippy's head drooped, and he sank slowly to the
rock fast asleep.

When he again opened his eyes the sun was shining down into them, and
his cheeks felt as if they were on fire.

"Morning! Who would think it?" he exclaimed.

Without wasting time, he made his way back to the stream where he drank
and bathed. Now came the question as to the course he should follow.

"It is probable that some of my outfit will remain by the railroad where
the hold-up occurred," he reflected. "That's where I am going."

After a final look at the sun, Hippy started back briskly. He did not
follow the trail, believing that he could find a more direct course, and
that such a course eventually would lead him to the railroad a short
distance to the west of where he had been the previous evening.

It was nearly noon when Hippy first began to realize that he was hungry.
He had not thought of breakfast, nor would it have done him any good had
he thought of it. An hour later he found a berry bush and ate all the
fruit it held. That helped a little and he again plodded on. About four
o'clock that afternoon he reached the railroad, and, not long after
that, he was trotting around the bend to the scene of the hold-up. The
place was deserted. Hippy fired a signal from his revolver and listened.
There was no reply. A rabbit hopped across the tracks. He fired twice at
it, missing each time.

"There goes my supper!" he exclaimed ruefully. "Next time I sight game
I'll throw a stone at it. I reckon I can throw stones better than I can
shoot. I should have thought my friends would wait for me."

Hippy did discover where the Overland ponies had been unloaded, then he
understood that his companions had gone in search of him. This knowledge
heartened him up a great deal, and he immediately set himself to work to
discover which way the party had gone. What he was looking for was the
trail of his own pony, whose shoeprints he believed he would be able to
identify instantly. Hippy picked up the trail in a remarkably short
time.

"Here I go. I've got to travel some if I am to catch them before dark,"
he cried, starting away.

Darkness found Lieutenant Wingate wandering aimlessly near the place
where the trail forked and where his companions were now discussing
their further plans for the morrow. He concluded that he would have to
spend another night in the open and alone, and had just ensconced
himself on the highest ledge he could find when he caught sight of the
light from Sheriff Ford's camp-fire. Hippy gazed at it for some moments,
then raised his revolver and fired three shots.

The camp-fire was suddenly blotted out.

"There! I've shot out the fire," he grumbled. "Just the same, I don't
believe it is the bandit camp, and I'm going down."

Moving with extreme caution, Hippy crept down the mountain-side until he
believed that he was near the place where he had seen the fire.

"I reckon there's nothing doing, boys," Ford was saying. "Light the
fire, but keep a sharp lookout."

Hippy got up. Stacy's keen eyes discovered him and the fat boy fired.

"Hi, there! Cut the firing! It's Hippy," called Lieutenant Wingate,
ducking.

"Oh, wow!" howled Chunky.

A shout went up from the searching party when Hippy called out his
warning, and he was fairly dragged into camp where Sheriff Ford
hurriedly started a cook-fire and put over coffee as a starter. While
this was being done, Lieutenant Wingate briefly related the story of his
capture and escape.

"You say you know the man who was on foot when you were taken?" asked
Tom Gray.

"Yes, I know him."

"Give me one guess and see if I can name him," spoke up Sheriff Ford,
straightening up, frying-pan in hand.

"It's yours. Who is he?" laughed Lieutenant Wingate.

"Our story-telling friend of the Red Limited, William Sylvester Holmes,"
replied Ford confidently.

"You win," chuckled Hippy. "How did you guess it?"

"I was suspicious of him all the time. At Summit my suspicions were, in
a way, confirmed. He sent telegrams from there that, I now believe,
informed the gang about the treasure car."

"Was there really a treasure car on the train, Ford?" asked Tom.

"You might call it that. There was nearly three million dollars in gold
on that car. Pretty good haul, eh? I reckon the authorities of this
county will be glad to hear what you have to tell them. I will go to
Gardner with you and we'll have a confab with the sheriff there, if you
will spare the time."

"Sure we will," spoke up Stacy. "We riders have to keep busy, you know."

"It strikes me that you have been rather busy since I first met you,"
returned the sheriff.

"What are your wishes, to go through to-night or wait until morning and
get an early start?" he asked the two passengers.

"I'll flag a train for myself down by the bend and you men can ride
through. You can't miss the way. There is a good trail all the way from
here to Gardner, and you should be there by early afternoon."

The two passengers said that, if the sheriff would flag the train for
them, they would prefer to go by train too, as they were in haste to
reach their destination on the coast, important business awaiting them
there.

"All right. I'll flag the next train after we get to the rails and put
you two men aboard. I can then ride through with these three Overland
men. I'd prefer a hoss to a Pullman any time."

The party made themselves as comfortable as they could, sleeping on the
ground, and before daylight next morning Mr. Ford had breakfast ready.
Hippy was stiff and his hat hurt his head, but he made light of his
discomfiture and was ready for the start which was made before sunup.
Ford made good his word to stop the next train, which proved to be a
local, and there was not so much grumbling by the train crew as there
would have been had the train been a limited one.

The horseback ride that day was a hard one, but all were used to the
saddle, and Sheriff Ford, himself a "rough-rider," was interested in the
riding of the three Overlanders. By this time he had grown to understand
Stacy Brown better, and his laughter at the boy's sallies was loud and
appreciative. Late in the afternoon the delayed party rode into Gardner
where a warm welcome awaited them from the Overland girls, who had
already arranged for a posse to go out to look for the missing ones.

The authorities were keenly interested in the information that Sheriff
Ford and the three Overland men had to offer, and declared their
intention of starting out in an effort to round up the gang. That
evening there was a genuine reunion of the Overlanders at which their
further plans were discussed. It was left to Hippy to find a guide,
while Stacy was to select the pack animals, and the girls the food and
other equipment for the journey. The results of their quests were
destined to furnish much amusement on the following day.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                      HEADED FOR THE HIGH COUNTRY


"I have found a guide," announced Hippy next morning, walking into the
post office where he found all the other members of his party writing
postal cards to friends in the east.

"That's good. Where is he?" asked Tom Gray.

"If you will look up you will see him."

The Overlanders looked. Just to the rear of Hippy Wingate stood a
grinning Chinaman, both hands hidden in the ends of his flowing sleeves.
The Oriental was bowing and scraping, his queue animatedly bobbing up
and down. Stacy uttered a loud "Ha, ha!"

"Permit me to introduce to you the Honorable Woo Smith whom I have
selected, subject to your approval, to accompany us on our journey to
the High Sierras," announced Hippy Wingate.

"But surely, Hippy, this man cannot be a guide," protested Elfreda
Briggs. "We need a guide!"

"Perhaps he isn't, but you can't find anything else with a magnifying
glass in this burg. Should you folks think best not to accept him, we'll
go it alone. I've done the best I can. Remember, too, that I'm a sick
man, that I've been mauled and keelhauled by a bunch of bandits and--"

"Do you speak English?" interrupted Grace Harlowe.

"Les. Me speak English velly fine."

"You say his name is Woo Smith?" questioned Emma.

"The Honorable Woo Smith," Hippy informed her.

"What has he done in the way of mountain work?" persisted Grace.

"I am informed that he has made frequent journeys to the mountains with
prospecting parties and hunters as cook, guide and general handy man. At
one time he was out with a government survey party."

"As cook or guide?" interjected Nora Wingate.

"The former, I believe."

"This outfit needs a good cook," suggested Chunky.

"Woo, do you know horses?" asked Tom Gray.

"Les."

"That reminds me, Chunky, what have you done about the pack animals?"
demanded Lieutenant Wingate.

"Got three dandies. I have learned that we must travel light. They say
that the trails are very rough in the High Country, and further, that we
must depend upon the country for our food, generally speaking. I don't
know what Uncle Hip and I are going to do if it comes to short rations.
Of course, as a last resort we can eat the pack-horses. They eat horses
in France, so why shouldn't we do the same, if we're hungry enough."

"That reminds me. One of the men out with us on our search for Hippy
declared that our ponies would not be suitable for this journey, and
that it requires animals accustomed to the peculiarities of the
Sierras," averred Tom Gray.

"Oh, pooh!" grunted the fat boy. "My pony could climb a tree."

"How much money do you wish, Woo?" questioned Tom.

"Five dollah a week."

"What do you say, good people?" asked Grace.

"I don't care what you do," exclaimed Hippy. "I want food and I want
someone who knows how to cook it fit for human consumption, that's all."

"I second the motion," agreed Stacy. "We can't all live on
soul-transmigration stuff. I'd get mental indigestion on that food in
thirty seconds by the watch."

"We had a Chinaman on our journey across the Great American Desert, and
he was an excellent man," declared Elfreda Briggs. "I move that we take
this one."

The others agreed with her, and Grace, turning to Woo, told him that he
was engaged.

"What has been done about the general equipment?" asked Tom.

Grace said that experienced men had advised against the Overlanders
burdening themselves with tents or any heavy equipment.

"We have slept in the open many times before, so I think we shall be
able to get along very nicely," she added.

Stacy Brown protested vigorously. He declared that he would not sleep
out of doors where bugs and other undesirable things could get at him,
but, after discussing the matter further, every one agreed that the
tents would prove an unnecessary encumbrance. They went over their list
critically, eliminating several articles that they thought they could do
without.

"I have an idea!" exclaimed Stacy.

"Keep it," urged Emma. "They seem to be reasonably scarce with you."

"At least I don't transmigrate them," retorted Chunky. "As I was about
to remark when interrupted, I have an idea that this outfit will have to
browse with the horses if it wishes food."

"It would be a great flesh-reducer," murmured Emma, giving Chunky a
sidelong glance.

Elfreda suggested that they have a look at the pack-horses selected by
Stacy, so they all walked over to the corral, and expressed themselves
as well satisfied with Stacy's selections. One white, mischievous little
animal, with a circle of delicate pink about each eye, they named Kitty.
The name seemed to fit her. The other two animals they, decided to name
later on after learning their peculiarities.

"I've ordered pack saddles for them," announced Hippy, "and a pair of
kyacks for each horse."

"What is a kyack? Something good to eat?" questioned Stacy.

"A kyack is an alforgas," Emma Dean informed him. "I am amazed at your
ignorance."

"I agree with you, Emma. For once I do," nodded Hippy. "For your
information, Stacy, a kyack is a packing outfit. These are made either
of heavy canvas or of rawhide, shaped square and dried over boxes. After
drying, the boxes are removed, leaving the stiff rawhide or canvas, like
small trunks, open at the top. They are in reality sacks--"

"Me savvy klyack," chuckled the Chinaman, rubbing his palms together
gleefully.

"Mr. Smith knows," nodded Hippy.

"The explanation is not satisfactory. Once more I rise to ask if this
kyack thing is some sort of dried beef that we are expected to eat when
real food is scarce?" insisted Chunky.

"You and I, lad, would have to be pretty hungry to eat a kyack," laughed
Hippy. "The loops of the kyack are slung on each side of the horse. They
are used to pack belongings over the mountains. I have also ordered
sawbuck trees for the pack-saddles, together with pack-cinch, and
pack-rope for each animal. I also took the liberty of buying blankets
from which to make saddle-pads. It will be cheaper than trying to get
along with horses with sore backs, I think. Then there are hobbles for
the horses, a couple of cow bells--"

"Are we going to take cows along with us?" wondered Chunky, opening his
eyes a little wider.

"Not quite. Only a calf or two," murmured Emma Dean.

"The bells are for the horses, so that they may be easily found in the
morning," spoke up Tom Gray. "I thought you had been out before."

"I have, but never with such an outfit as this, especially the
transmigration end of it," retorted Stacy, giving Emma a quick look to
see if his shot had gone home. "I see," he added. "But every time I hear
the bells a-ringing, I shall think of home and a pitcherful of warm
milk."

"Perfectly proper food for the species to which I so recently referred,"
observed Emma airily. "However, from all accounts, you will have nothing
more nourishing than snow-water from the tall peaks of the Sierras."

"Br-r-r-r!" shivered Stacy.

At Hippy's direction, the Honorable Woo Smith led the pack-horses over
to the general store, and there, with Stacy to assist him, Hippy began
packing their equipment, throwing a diamond hitch about each pack. The
girls, observing the work, discovered that Stacy Brown was quite as
familiar with "throwing packs" as was his Uncle Hippy.

"Mister Brown is not quite the fool he would have us believe," declared
Elfreda Briggs. "It is my opinion that he believes in putting his worst
foot forward, keeping the other one hidden behind it."

A group of mountaineers were standing near, observing the operations
with interest. One stepped up and examined the much-worn saddle on Hippy
Wingate's pony.

"Son," said he, "do ye reckon on climbin' mountains with that thing?"

"Why not?" demanded Hippy.

"I reckon it might be all right for the Rockies, but yer saddle'll be on
the critter's tail afore ye git half way to the top of the Big Sierras."

Hippy stroked his chin reflectively.

"You mean I ought to have a double-cinch on the riding saddles? Is that
it?"

"I reckon."

"Thanks, Buddy. I'll fix it. I should have thought of that, but I am not
at all familiar with the lay of the land up here."

"Ye will be, pardner, after ye've fell off it a few thousand times. The
landscape in these here parts be rather sudden in spots," drawled the
mountaineer.

A yell from the Honorable Woo Smith interrupted the dialogue. Kitty, the
mischievous pack-horse, had playfully seized the queue of Woo Smith
between her teeth and was jerking her head up and down, and, with each
jerk, the Chinaman was jolted backwards, howling lustily, chattering in
volleys in his native tongue. The street, near the village store, filled
with cowboys and citizens as if by magic. They set up yells, shouts and
cat-cries that smothered the chatter of the new guide.

Grace, being nearest to the mischievous animal, sprang forward and gave
the white pack-horse a smart slap with the flat of her hand on Kitty's
plump stomach. The mare instantly dropped the howling Chinaman, and,
whirling on Grace with wide open mouth, looked as if she were about to
devour the Overland Rider. The girl never flinched.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself, Kitty?" she chided. "If ever I see you
do a thing like that again I'll surely have you punished. Do you
understand?"

The mare's mouth closed slowly, her upper lip quivered, she nibbled
gingerly at Grace Harlowe's sleeve, and looked as meek as was possible
for a mischievous pony to look. The cowboys grunted disgustedly. They
were disgruntled that Grace had spoiled their fun, disappointed that the
white mare had not taken a large slice, either out of the Chinaman or
Grace Harlowe herself.

"Grace, do you know, you have given us a most remarkable demonstration
of the transmigration of thought," declared Emma. "It was your thought,
transmitted to the mentality of the white mare, that caused her to
desist, to beg of you to forgive and--"

"Yeo-o-o-o-ow!" howled Chunky.

"Young man, your rudeness is inexcusable," rebuked Emma.

"That's what the white mare wanted to say to Grace," retorted Stacy.

While all this was taking place, Tom and Elfreda were talking with the
mountaineers, getting all the information they could about trails and
conditions in the mountains. The result of the information gleaned was
that the Overland Riders decided that they would take the "Cold Stream
Trail" for the High Country, a section seldom visited, but which Woo
Smith declared he knew all about. The spectators were inclined to make
sport of the explorers, and especially of the idea that women could ride
the Sierras. Even the postmaster sought to dissuade them from making the
attempt.

"It's a bad country," he confided to Tom. "With that bunch of gals on
your hands, you'll starve to death, sure's you're a foot high."

"There is plenty of game there, is there not?" questioned Tom.

"Yes, for them that knows how to shoot."

"Then I reckon we will not starve. What other objection is there?"

"The Jones Boys. You watch out right smart for them."

"Who are they?" demanded Elfreda, who had been an interested listener to
the conversation between Tom and the postmaster.

The postmaster glanced about him apprehensively before replying, then,
leaning towards Tom, spoke in a half-whisper.

"Outlaws!" he said. "I reckon you've heard of them. It is suspected that
they're the fellows that held up the Red Limited the other night. I
reckon you know something about that affair." The postmaster squinted
knowingly at Tom, who nodded.

"So, that's it, eh?"

"Yes. Better look out for them. They have their hang-out somewhere in
the mountains, but nobody has ever been able to trail them to it, and I
don't reckon no one ever will--and come back to tell about it. A squad
of Pinkerton detectives went into the mountains looking for those
fellows, but not one of that bunch of detectives has ever been heard
from since."

"It sounds shivery, doesn't it?" spoke up Elfreda. "However, we have no
especial reason to fear the bandits because there could be no object in
their interfering with us. We do not carry money with us--not enough to
make it worth their while to try to rob us--nor are we looking for
trouble."

"No object!" exploded the postmaster. "Lady, those fellows would kill
you for two bits and a piece of string."

In his own mind, Tom Gray was not so positive that the bandits had no
reason for interfering with them. On the contrary, if the Jones Boys
knew that it was the Overland Riders who had assisted in driving them
from the scene of the attempted train robbery, the Overlanders might
confidently look for some stirring times in the High Sierras.



                               CHAPTER IX

                        THEIR SLUMBERS DISTURBED


"All aboard for the High Sierras!" called Stacy Brown, swinging to his
saddle a few minutes later. The others, one by one, mounted and sat
awaiting the order to start.

Woo Smith had gone on ahead. Scorning the use of a pony to ride, he had
trotted on, shooing the pack-horses along, the departure of the
Overlanders having been deferred until about an hour after he had left
them. Woo said that he would make camp at a good place and have supper
ready upon their arrival.

The Overlanders finally started away, waving their hands to the curious
natives, and soon reached the trail that led towards the High Country.
The trail was an old one, but so seldom used that it could hardly be
dignified by the name of trail. Woo plainly was familiar with it, for he
had reached it by the most direct course, marking the beginning of it by
breaking over branches of bushes, a trick that he had learned from white
men with whom he had explored the mountains at some previous time.

Very good time was made that day, and when about eighteen miles from
Gardner they saw the smoke of Woo's camp-fire. Half an hour later they
reached it and found that the guide had selected an ideal camping place.
There was water and good feed for the horses. Woo already had turned out
the pack-horses, which were grazing out of sight of the camp, and the
cowbells on two of them could be heard tinkling in the distance.

"I reckon I drew a prize," declared Hippy pompously, referring to Woo.

"Time will tell," answered Emma Dean.

"I agree with you," answered Elfreda Briggs. "One shouldn't jump at
conclusions, as Grace Harlowe says."

Saddles were quickly removed, and, before doing anything else, the men
of the party washed the backs of the ponies to prevent the animals
becoming saddle-sore. By the time they had finished and turned out the
ponies to browse, the guide had supper ready for them. The air was hot
and motionless, for they were not yet high enough in the mountains to
catch the cool breezes from the snow-clad tops, and all felt the heat.

The Chinaman had prepared a supper that won golden words of praise from
the girls of the Overland party, and Stacy and Hippy ate until it seemed
as if they must pop open. The flapjacks fairly melted in the mouths of
the Riders and the coffee they pronounced to be delicious.

"Won't it be fine not to have to do any cooking on this trip?" smiled
Emma.

"Yes. I feel as if a great load had been lifted from my shoulders,"
agreed Stacy. "I did most of the cooking for our Pony Rider outfit.
Ordinarily I would rather cook than do most anything that I know of."

"I am sincerely glad that you are not cooking for this party," declared
Emma Dean with emphasis.

"You are congratulating yourselves too early," interjected Nora Wingate.
"We are all going to do work just as we always have done."

Grace and Elfreda agreed with her.

"You don't mean that we've got to get up in the dewy morning and rustle
grub for the outfit, do you?" demanded Chunky.

"Yes, of course," answered Grace.

"That is the fun of camping," said Miss Briggs. "We should soon forget
all we knew had we servants to do the work for us. He is an industrious
fellow, though, I must say," added Elfreda, glancing at Woo, who was
busily at work washing dishes and singing "Hi-lee, hi-lo!"

"He is a song-bird, too," observed Stacy.

"Woo, you must be saving of the provisions," called Grace. "Remember we
must make our supplies go a long way, for we shall not get any more for
some time."

"Don't wolly till to-mollow. Hi-lee, hi-lo; hi-lee, hi-lo!" sang the
guide.

"What's that he says?" demanded Tom Gray.

"He says, 'Don't worry until to-morrow,'" interpreted Emma.

"Ha, ha!" laughed Chunky, and the Overland Riders joined in the
laughter.

"You savvy plenty to-mollow. Me savvy glub to-mollow," added Woo,
chuckling to himself.

"He speaks hog Latin quite fluently, doesn't he?" observed Stacy
solemnly.

"You leave it to Smith. I found Smith, you know," reminded Hippy Wingate
pridefully.

"Hi-lee, hi-lo!" sang the Chinaman, continuing with his work, while the
Overlanders, having finished their supper, gathered about the campfire,
and forgot the heat of the California night in its cheerful glow. It
seemed good to them to be out in the open once more, to be where they
were obliged to depend almost wholly on their own resourcefulness for
their food and lodging, if not for their lives, for they were going into
perilous places, places fraught with dangers.

Woo, having completed his work, and having hung his frying-pans and
other equipment to nails driven in a tree, sat down on his haunches by
the fire, and, after composing himself, lost his long yellow fingers in
the mysterious depths of his wide-flowing sleeves.

"Me savvy plenty fine night," he observed, gazing blissfully up into the
sky. "You savvy plenty fine night, too?" he asked, looking soulfully at
Miss Briggs.

"I savvy the same as you do, Woo," replied Elfreda soberly. "It is going
to be a fine night for sleep, but I think the air will be cooler later
on."

Woo nodded wisely, and Stacy glanced up with quickened interest.

"Are we going to sleep on the ground?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Tom Gray. "You ought to be used to that."

"Are there snakes up here?" questioned the fat boy apprehensively.

"Me savvy plenty snake," the guide informed them.

"What kind?" wondered Emma.

"Lattlers."

"He means rattlers," interpreted Grace Harlowe.

"Oh, wow!" muttered the fat boy. "I think I'll climb a tree."

"You will take pot luck on the ground with the rest of us," answered Tom
rather severely.

"Me savvy lattler in blanket once," declared the guide. "Lattler sleep
plenty in blanket. Go away in molning. Lattler no hurt Chinaman,"
explained Woo.

Signs of uneasiness were observable among the girls of the Overland
party, and in Stacy Brown as well. Tom declared that Woo was "drawing
the long bow," and said that he never had heard anything of the sort
about the Sierra trails.

"I have," announced Hippy. "There are snakes all about here, but we are
not going to lose any sleep over it. Besides, Stacy is getting the
wiggles."

"Yes. For goodness sake, drop the subject. You folks give me the
willyjiggs," shivered Emma Dean.

"I'm not getting the wiggles," protested Stacy. "I reckon I'm not afraid
of anything that walks."

"We were not speaking of that kind," reminded Nora. "We were speaking of
reptiles."

"How long do you figure that it will take us to get into the High
Country?" asked Grace by way of changing the subject.

"Me savvy eight days," answered Woo. "You savvy mebby pony him no
climb?"

"Yes, they can, too," objected Stacy indignantly. "Our ponies can go
where a bird can. Don't you forget that."

"Me savvy plenty snake, too," added Woo.

"For goodness sake, stop that snake conversation," cried Emma. "I shall
surely dream about snakes if you go on that way."

Smith grinned happily, then proceeded, with the utmost composure, to
relate experiences with big rattlers in the Sierras. He told of waking
up in the morning and finding one coiled in his blanket, under his arm,
or, perhaps, nestled close to his neck for warmth from the chill night
air of the higher altitudes, until Stacy was on the verge of a panic,
and Emma Dean was shivering.

"Mr. Smith," she said, after regarding him inquiringly for some moments.
"Have you ever had any experience with transmigration of thought?" she
asked.

"Tlans--tlans--"

"Transmigration," assisted Hippy.

"Tlansmiglation! Les. Me savvy. Me savvy one time big hunter shoot one
in mountains. Woo savvy bad medicine and run away," chuckled the
Chinaman.

"I reckon that will be about all for you this evening, Emma," observed
Hippy Wingate, amid peals of laughter from the Overland girls.

Tom got out the bedding, consisting of a blanket apiece, and a tarpaulin
for a cover, while Woo busied himself with cutting browse which he
placed on the ground and laid blankets on it. It was not a particularly
soft bed at that. While they were preparing their beds, Stacy poked
about with a stick, covering a radius of several rods.

"What in the world are you doing?" demanded Nora Wingate.

"He is beating up the landscape to drive out the serpents," answered
Emma. "You are a tenderfoot, aren't you?"

"I don't like the fleas to get next to my skin," explained the fat boy
lamely. "They tell me that these California fleas are awful."

"Were I as tough as you, I do not believe I should worry about a little
thing like that," retorted Emma.

Stacy made no reply, but poked the fire savagely, then piled on more
wood, occupying all the time he could before preparing for bed, and the
others had turned in long before he was ready.

"Stop that fussing and come to bed!" ordered Hippy.

"Yes, for goodness sake, do," added Miss Briggs. "Woo Smith, aren't you
ready to turn in?"

"Les. Me savvy glub first."

"You might fetch Uncle Hip and myself a bite to eat while you are on the
food question," suggested Stacy.

"No food until breakfast," admonished Grace.

After idling about and grumbling for fifteen minutes more, Stacy finally
crawled in under the tarpaulin, uttering dismal groans and complaints
about the hardness of his bed. All were lying with feet towards the
fire. The smoke and the blaze drove away insects, and the warmth was
pleasant, even though the night was sultry, and it was not long after
that when the Overlanders dropped off to sleep.

Woo, chuckling to himself and muttering, crept cautiously to the men's
side of the fire, surveyed the layout, then crawled in under the
tarpaulin beside Stacy Brown. A few moments later, Hippy, who lay next
to Stacy, was aroused by the fat boy's mutterings. Stacy was dreaming
about snakes. Hippy knew because he heard his fat nephew say, "Snakes!"

"I'll teach that boy a lesson and make him dream of something worth
while," decided Hippy. Rising on one elbow, Lieutenant Wingate glanced
over the row of heads just visible above the top of the tarpaulin. He
could barely make out their features in the faint light, but when his
gaze finally came to rest on the face of the sleeping Chinaman, Hippy
Wingate was suddenly possessed of a brilliant idea. Woo lay flat on his
back, both hands snugly tucked into the wide-flowing sleeves.

"I have it," chuckled Hippy.

Reaching over Chunky very cautiously, he lifted the long black queue of
the guide, held it for a moment, then softly dropped it across the face
of the sleeping, snoring Stacy. Chunky muttered and stirred restlessly.
Hippy waited, then began slowly drawing the queue over Stacy's face.

The fat boy awakened suddenly, but he did not move at once, for he was
fairly paralyzed with terror. Something cold and soft was wriggling over
his face. Uttering a mighty yell, Stacy grabbed that wriggling queue, at
the same time giving it a tug.

It was now Woo Smith's turn to yell, and yell he did, as he struggled
and fought to free himself.

Stacy, hurling the thing from him, leaped to his feet, howling lustily.
He stepped on Woo and went over backwards, landing on Hippy's stomach,
struggling and fighting, and finally finishing up by fastening his
fingers in Tom Gray's hair.

The camp was instantly in an uproar, and none was more loud in his
protestations than Hippy Wingate himself.



                               CHAPTER X

                          "BOOTS AND SADDLES"


"Stop that noise!" shouted Tom Gray.

Emma uttered a frightened cry and springing up, started to run.

"Come back! We are all right," commanded Miss Briggs.

"Oh, what is it? Hippy, my darlin', are you all right?" wailed Nora.

"Snakes! Snakes! Oh, wow!" howled Stacy Brown.

All hands had turned out in a hurry, and Woo Smith was dancing about
chattering and fondling his head at the base of his queue.

"Snakes! Where?" cried Emma.

"It crawled right over my face," declared Stacy. "I grabbed it and
hurled it from me, and think I must have flung it against a tree and
killed it. Uncle Hip, go see if you can find it."

"You poor fish!" chortled Hippy Wingate.

"You--you must be a good thrower, for there isn't a tree near where you
slept," declared Emma.

"That's so, there isn't," admitted Chunky. "Well, anyhow, it must have
been a stone that I threw the snake against."

"What you did do, young man, was to fall on me with your full weight,"
rebuked Hippy. "Oh, why did I ever ask you to come with us?"

"That's what I have been wondering," agreed Emma.

"Please, please quiet down, good people," begged Grace laughingly.
"Suppose we find out what actually did occur. Does anyone know?"

"Yes. I know. A great big snake crawled over me," averred Stacy.

"With all due respect to you, Stacy Brown, I don't believe it," differed
Elfreda.

"He ate too much and had the nightmare," suggested Miss Dean.

"It wasn't a mare. I tell you it was a snake," insisted Stacy. "I guess
I know what I am talking about, and don't you try to make me believe
anything different. I won't! I know what I believe, and I believe what I
know, and that's the end of it."

"Well, sir, what is the matter with you?" demanded Tom, facing the
excited Chinaman.

"Mr. Smith has the willyjiggs, too," answered Emma.

Woo chattered and caressed his head.

"Me savvy somebody pull queue. Me savvy head almost come off. Ouch!"

"Just a moment. Just a moment," begged Grace. "You say someone pulled
your queue?"

"Les."

"This demands further investigation," spoke up Hippy. "The question now
before this tribunal is, who pulled the Chinaman's queue. Emma Dean, did
you pull Honorable Smith's queue?"

"I did not," retorted, Emma indignantly.

"All right, all right; don't get all heated up about it. I take it that
none of the other ladies tried to scalp our guide. How about you,
Stacy?"

Stacy declared that he didn't know anything about it, and cared less,
and Tom Gray said the idea that he had done such a thing was
preposterous.

"We will leave it to Smith," announced Hippy. "Woo, did Mr. Brown try to
pull your halter off?"

"Les, les. Me savvy him pull queue. Him neally pull head off. Woof!"

"I begin to understand. Ladies and gentlemen, the mystery is solved. The
Honorable Woo Smith's queue got on Stacy's face and Stacy thought it was
a snake. You see how easy it is to be carried away by one's imagination.
Stacy, if you raise further disturbance in this outfit I shall require
you to roost by yourself. I, for one, at least, need my rest."

"If Woo will get out I'll keep quiet," answered Stacy.

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," advised the Oriental, pawing about like an
animal, in search of a suitable place on which to lie down and sleep.

No further disturbance occurred that night, though Stacy refused to turn
in until he had seen Woo lie down at some distance from him, and at
daybreak the Overlanders were aroused by the "Hi-lee, hi-lo!" of the
guide, who was out gathering wood for the breakfast fire.

"Come, folks. Wash and get busy," urged Hippy. "Who is the wrangler this
morning?"

"It is Stacy's turn, I believe," replied Tom Gray.

"I don't want to wrangle. I'm too sleepy and too cold," protested the
boy.

"That makes no difference. There is to be no shirking in this outfit,"
answered Uncle Hippy.

The wrangler is the man who goes out in the morning to round up the
horses. Following the custom in the mountains, the Overlanders had
turned out all but two of the ponies, permitting the stock to graze
where it pleased through the night. The pack animals had been hobbled.
It now became Stacy Brown's duty to find the animals, and drive the herd
into camp.

"I don't hear the cow bells. The animals must have gotten away quite a
distance," suggested Emma mischievously.

Stacy took all the time he could in getting ready, and, as a result, by
the time he was ready to start, breakfast was nearly ready to be served.

"Don't I eat first?" he questioned anxiously.

"Certainly not. Wranglers always go out for the horses before
breakfast," reminded Emma.

Chunky threw himself into the saddle and galloped away at a reckless
pace, but his was a long chase, for the ponies had wandered some
distance from camp. They were lying down in a glade and did not move or
make a sound when the boy rode past them.

Stacy had followed their trail out, but, suddenly discovering that he
had lost it, he turned about and went back to pick it up. This time he
discovered the animals.

"So! There you are, eh?" he jeered, regarding the horses resentfully.
"Thought you would play me a smart trick, did you? I'll be even with you
for that."

After much floundering about, the white pack pony, Kitty, finally got up
grunting and groaning dismally, then Stacy began removing the hobbles
from their legs. Kitty gave him the most trouble, the white mare
insisting on grabbing Chunky by the trousers every time he stooped to
unfasten the hobbles. This continued until Stacy finally lost his
patience, and, getting a switch, he gave Kitty a good sharp touching-up.
Finally, having completed his task, he turned their heads towards camp
and mounted his own saddle pony.

"Shoo! Go on, you lazy louts! Think I am going to eat cold grub, just
out of consideration for you?"

It was shortly after that that the Overlanders in camp heard the tinkle
of the bells on two of the pack animals, and when Stacy rode into camp
the party was half way through breakfast. Slipping from his saddle,
Stacy started at a run for breakfast, flinging a set of hobbles at the
cook as he passed.

"Stacy! You are becoming a very violent young man," smiled Grace.

"Becoming?" spoke up Emma Dean. "It is my opinion that he always has
been. No one could acquire his manners in so short a time."

"Association sometimes plays strange freaks with one," retorted Stacy.
"Say, Uncle Hip. That white mare is a terror. She actually hid so that I
should not see her; then, when I finally found her, she tried to eat me
up. The brown one is the laziest thing I ever saw. We ought to call her
the Idler, she's so lazy."

"Good!" cried Elfreda. "Idler she shall be, with the permission of our
Captain, Grace Harlowe."

"How about the other one?" asked Stacy.

"The black?" questioned Tom.

"Yes. He is always stumbling and getting into difficulties," said
Chunky.

"We will name him Calamity," said Grace.

"That is what I was going to name the Chinaman," grumbled the fat boy.

"The wrangler always attends to the packing, you know," reminded Elfreda
after they had finished breakfast.

"This wrangler doesn't," answered Chunky.

"Of course, in view of the fact that this is our first morning out, and
that you are still a little green--" teased Miss Briggs.

"His natural color," interjected Emma.

"I will help you," finished Hippy. "By the way, you need not throw the
diamond hitch around the packs this morning. Kitty has a soft pack, and
the square hitch will answer very well, provided you make it good and
tight."

"Oh, I'll make it tight, all right. I'll lash it so tightly that the old
horse won't be able to breathe. I owe her a grudge, anyway," declared
Stacy. "Did you folks know that I learned a new hitch at Gardner?"

"Impossible!" exclaimed Emma.

"It is called 'The Lone Packer,'" continued Stacy, unheeding the
interruption. "It is even harder to learn to tie than is the diamond
hitch. For a load of small articles it is supposed to be the best in
use. The particular feature about it is that it pulls the pack away from
the animal's sides and prevents chafing."

"Here, here! That isn't the way to throw a square hitch," objected
Hippy, hurrying over to Stacy who was laboring with the white mare's
pack, Kitty standing with all four feet braced, groaning dismally. "What
have you done to her?"

"I? Nothing. She thinks she's smart."

Hippy regarded the pack animal keenly, then, stepping up, he placed his
hat on top of her pack. The mare flinched and groaned. It was a test
that Hippy had seen practiced on lazy horses in France during the war.

"So that's it, eh?" he chuckled. "She is soldiering, but never mind. We
will take all that out of her."

"That is what I told Kitty this morning. I promised her that she should
get all that was coming to her. Stand up, you lazy-bones!" commanded
Stacy sharply, at the same time giving the mare a slap on the stomach.
Kitty instantly retaliated by taking a chunk out of the boy's sleeve,
and a wee bit of skin with it.

Stacy howled and jerked away. His face flushed, and he raised a hand to
strike back.

"Don't do that!" rebuked Grace. "Never, never strike a horse on the
head! It is a sure way to spoil an animal. And never punish a horse when
you are in anger. Should an animal need punishing, punish him humanely,
but trim him so thoroughly that you never may be called upon to repeat
the performance."

"But, she bit me," protested Stacy.

"Forget it!" laughed Grace.

"I should say that the poor beast is already sufficiently punished after
biting Stacy Brown," observed Emma meekly.

"Be firm, but gentle," continued Grace. "Kitty is in just the right mood
to be spoiled by rough treatment."

Stacy was not over-gentle. He jerked the white mare about, shook his
fist in her face and announced in a loud tone what he would do to her
did she ever again try to make a meal out of his arm.

In the meantime Hippy, with an interested group of Overland girls
observing, was putting the final touches to the packing, making the
lead-ropes fast, using a knot that he had learned, by which, in case of
trouble, one can reach from his saddle and jerk the pack free by a
single pull on a loose end of a rope.

All was now ready for the start. Woo Smith, with a final look backward,
started ahead singing blithely. Hippy whistled "Boots and Saddles." The
Overland ponies knew the signal, but of course the pack-horses did not,
though they soon would learn that it was the command to get under way.
When a short distance from camp, the pack animals straggled off and
sought their own trails near the one that was followed by the riders,
Hippy now and then shouting to Woo to keep them up, for the Idler was
lagging behind, though she had started out in the lead of the
pack-horses. Woo Smith's "Hi-lee, hi-lo!" sung in the Oriental's shrill,
knife-edge voice kept time for the plodding ponies, that were now
climbing up a steep grade. The Overland party were well started on their
way to the high places of this wild, rugged country, where genuine
adventure awaited them.



                               CHAPTER XI

                        PONIES GET A BAD FRIGHT


Up and up traveled the Overland party, the ponies here and there being
obliged to zigzag back and forth, picking their way like mountain goats.

The members of the party were keenly interested in watching the
pack-horses to see how they acted under these trying circumstances, and,
to their satisfaction, found that the animals were thoroughly familiar
with their work. The saddle horses of the Overlanders, they had seen in
action before, and knew what they could do. Now and then the white mare
would poise with all four feet bunched as if she were about to make a
leap into space, then slowly one foot would reach out for a footing.
Having found it, the other fore foot would follow, then the hind feet,
Kitty all the time groaning dismally and wheezing like a leaky valve on
a locomotive.

Ordinarily, horses on a trail make an effort to keep within sight of
each other, but in this instance Idler, the brown mare, did not appear
to care whether she were within or out of sight of her companions.
Hippy, when they made the noon luncheon camp, searched his kit for an
article that he had brought along, thinking it might prove useful. He
did not let the others see what it was, but secreted it on his person.
This article was a pea-shooter, and he had the peas to use in it, too.

When the party moved on after luncheon, Hippy dropped behind to better
observe the pack-horses. Idler loafed, as usual. Hippy tried the
pea-shooter on her, and the brown mare jumped at a critical point. All
four feet went out from under her, and she landed on her back, greatly
to the detriment of her pack, and, had it not been that the pack was
very strong, the outfit she carried would have been ruined.

"Oh, the clumsy beast!" groaned Grace Harlowe.

"What ails the silly creature?" cried Emma.

"She has thrown a fit," Stacy informed her.

Hippy, whose scheme had exceeded his expectations, sprang from his
saddle and ran to the fallen horse, which, by this time, had rolled over
on her side. One foot further and Idler would have slipped down along
the rocks a hundred feet or more.

"Stacy! Sit on her head! Fetch me a rope, someone," urged Lieutenant
Wingate.

Passing the rope about the animal, they threw it around a tree above the
trail, then began removing the pack, which Tom had loosened by pulling
on the pack-rope. Relieved of the weight on her back, Idler, aided by a
pull on the rope, struggled to her feet, and, after no little effort,
she was gotten back on the narrow trail. About a hundred feet above
them, perched on a pinnacle of rock, sat the Honorable Woo Smith, hands
lost in his flowing sleeves.

"Hi-lee, hi-lo! hi-lee, hi-lo!" sang the guide.

Stacy shied a pebble at him.

"Will you stop that 'hi-lee' business?" he demanded. "It is lucky for
you that you are above instead of below me, or I'd roll a rock down on
you."

"Let the cook alone!" ordered Tom Gray. "I don't understand what caused
that beast to lose her footing so suddenly."

Hippy Wingate, however, understood only too well, but he did not think
best to enlighten his companions, who might have found unpleasant
remarks to make. A full hour was lost in getting the brown mare and her
pack in condition to proceed, then the journey was resumed.

Later in the day, Lieutenant Wingate found occasion to use his
pea-shooter again. The first effort in that direction had proved so
successful that he could not resist the second shining opportunity that
presented itself. This time Stacy was the victim.

Stacy was asleep in his saddle at the time, his pony moping along with
head close to the ground, when Hippy sent a pea straight at the tender
flank of the animal.

The pony woke up suddenly, and then another pea hit it. The fat boy's
mount bucked beautifully, and Chunky took a long flight, landing
head-first in a wild rose bush, howling and struggling, not rightly
knowing what had occurred.

"Here, here! What's going on?" shouted Tom, turning in his saddle.

"Stacy has come a cropper. Oh, please do it again, Stacy. It was
beautiful," urged Emma enthusiastically.

"I--I fell off," wailed the boy, raising a very red face above the top
of the rose bush. "I--I transmigrated, didn't I, Emma?" Stacy grinned
sheepishly. "I'll trim the beast for that."

"You will not," laughed Hippy. "The pony was not to blame in the least."

As a matter of fact, the pony appeared to be even more amazed at the
mishap than were the Overlanders themselves. The excitement ended, and
the party once more under way, Chunky began to ponder over what had
occurred, and the more he pondered the more convinced did he become that
someone had played a trick on him. He eyed each member of the party
narrowly, finally regarding Uncle Hip with suspicion.

"I wonder if he did it?" muttered the boy.

The trail was growing more difficult and perilous with the moments, and
the Riders were making not more than a mile-and-a-half an hour, and at
one point it curved so sharply that the riders in the lead, in this
instance Tom and Stacy, were directly above Lieutenant Wingate,
traveling in the opposite direction.

"Hulloa! What's Uncle Hip up to now?" wondered Stacy, casting suspicious
glances at him. Chunky saw something glisten in the hands of Uncle Hip;
then he saw him place the glistening object to his lips and blow. Miss
Kitty snorted and jumped, after which she quickened her pace.

"So, that's the game, is it?" grinned Stacy Brown. "I reckon I know now
what made me come a cropper into the rose bush. Uncle Hip used a
pea-shooter on my pony. Wait till I get an opportunity! I'll make a show
of him for that."

Tom had halted at the summit, and, shading his eyes, gazed off over the
scene before him.

"What do you call that hole down there?" questioned Elfreda.

"That? That is a box canyon," replied Hippy.

"Are we going down there?" wondered Nora.

"Yes."

"We're going to do a giant leap for life to the bottom of the box in a
few moments," Stacy Brown informed her.

Tom removed his sombrero and mopped his forehead.

"I see nothing that looks like a trail," he declared. "Woo, are you
positive that there is a safe way to get down?"

Woo bobbed his head vigorously.

"Him plenty good way. You no savvy tlail?"

Tom shook his head.

"Me savvy tlail. You come. Me show."

"Never mind, Woo. We are going to find that trail for ourselves. This
isn't the first time we have been in the mountains. You watch us,"
answered Lieutenant Wingate.

Hippy crawled down the mountainside for some distance, working along,
first to the right, then to the left. He observed, at the same time,
that the wall on the opposite side of the canyon had a more gradual
slope. Climbing the other side would be easier than the one they were
now going down. There was no trace of a trail on the Overlanders' side,
but Hippy found a way to get down.

"Well?" questioned Grace, upon his return.

"We can make it."

"Of course we can make it. We shall have to jump, though," said Stacy.

"Suppose you jump first, then, if the jumping is good, perhaps we may
follow," suggested Emma.

"Jump? Why, you wouldn't dare jump off from a silver dollar," declared
Chunky.

"Produce one and see whether I dare or not," offered Emma.

"I--I don't think I have one," stammered Stacy amid laughter.

"All ready," announced Lieutenant Wingate, mounting and starting down
the sharp incline. The others watched him for a few moments, then
followed, the pack animals taking their places without being urged, not
at all disturbed over the perilous descent. Hippy was now taking a
zig-zag course, which was the only safe way, unless one preferred to
adopt Stacy's suggestion and jump. To look at the mountain, traveling
down its steep side would seem to the novice an impossibility. However,
ponies familiar with mountain climbing are sure-footed and unafraid, and
do some remarkable climbing, frequently going where a tenderfoot would
hesitate to crawl on hands and knees.

Here and there were small trees, with an occasional growth of bushes,
which afforded more or less protection from a bad fall, but on other
parts of the trail the rocks sloped away for hundreds of feet, lying
smooth and glaring in the bright afternoon sunlight. The Overland Riders
took the descent without any display of nervousness, but Kitty, the
pack-horse, groaned and grunted all the way down. One would imagine that
she was suffering agonies, but it was simply habit with her, and she got
no sympathy, though now and then she did feel the sting of a pebble that
one or another of the party hurled at her.

Lieutenant Wingate was making much more rapid progress than his
companions, he being eager to reach the bottom before the light failed
them, for it would not do at all to be caught on the side of the
mountain after dark. A shout from below told them that he had reached
the valley. It was answered by another shout from above, then a "Hi-lee,
hi-lo!" in the high-pitched voice of the guide. A stone came bumping
down not far from Woo.

"Stacy, did you throw that stone?" shouted Hippy.

"I did."

"Stop it! You might hit someone."

"I want to hit someone. I want to wing that song-bird, and I'll do it
yet," threatened Chunky.

The safe arrival of the rest of the Overland party at the bottom of the
pit put a stop to further gaiety at the expense of the guide. They found
themselves in a valley about a quarter of a mile in width and of unknown
length. The place was a meadow in the heart of the mountains, carpeted
with the brown California grass that did not appeal to the appetites of
the horses, and as soon as the animals were turned out they made haste
to climb the opposite slope in search of the succulent greens that they
seemed to know they should find up there.

In the meantime, preparations for making camp and getting supper were
going on systematically down in the canyon. It was an ideal place for
camping, sheltered from storm, and from sunshine during the early and
late hours of the day. A clear, cold brook rippled merrily on their side
of the canyon, its waters leaping from the black rocks or lying in
sombre bank-shadowed pools; and, despite the apparent dryness of the
landscape, gorgeous bush-flowers bloomed, filling the air with their
perfume, the valley farther down being a riot of varied colors where the
stream had left its banks and spread out over the lower land.

"Oh, girls, isn't this fairyland?" breathed Elfreda Briggs.

"Wonderful!" agreed Grace.

"All but the fairies," answered Stacy.

"We have a gnome," suggested Emma, glancing at Chunky. "Fairies don't
stuff themselves. They live on atmosphere."

"This fairy doesn't live on atmosphere," retorted Stacy. "He takes his
belt off, if necessary, too."

"I would suggest that you take it off now and get to work. We have
plenty of it to do," reminded Tom Gray.

All hands turned to, to help the cook, for they were hungry, and it was
natural that they should be, for climbing mountains in the High Country
is hard, grilling work.

Supper was a busy rather than a lively affair, but after supper the
Overlanders found their tongues and were soon engaged in good-natured
raillery, but they were quite ready to turn in when Tom Gray whistled
"taps." This time there was no hesitancy on the part of anyone to
sleeping on the ground, and they dropped off to sleep with the tinkling
of the bells of the pack-horses in their ears, the rich perfumes of
flowers in their nostrils, their senses lulled pleasantly by the song of
the locusts and strange insects that none remembered ever to have heard
of before.

The camp was awake shortly after daybreak. Once more Stacy Brown had to
be urged forth to wrangle the horses. He protested loudly when Elfreda
pointed to the opposite slope, which Chunky must climb, for the animals
were nowhere in sight.

"I suppose I might as well go out. I always get the fag-end of the
stick," grumbled Stacy.

"Never mind, Chunky. I'll fetch the horses," offered Tom.

"No, no. I just wanted to say something," returned Stacy, hastily
stirring himself into activity and jumping on the bare back of his pony.
No sooner was he on than he was off again, for the pony had never been
ridden without a saddle, and promptly bucked when his owner mounted.
Stacy landed flat on his back in the campfire, sending up a shower of
sparks and smoke, and it was only the quick action of Nora Wingate that
saved him from being burned. As it was, his clothing was smoking when he
was dragged out. Hippy and Tom put Stacy's fire out by grabbing the boy
up and throwing him in the creek, where Stacy rolled over whooping and
howling his disapproval of the entire proceeding.

"You should have known better than to try to ride that pony without a
saddle," rebuked Hippy.

Stacy turned angrily on his now meek-eyed pony.

"You donkey! Oh, you doddering idiot!" he raged, shaking a fist at the
animal. "You'll pay for that! You'll rue the day and the minute that you
bucked me off your back. Where is my saddle?"

"Never mind. I will get the ponies," grinned Hippy. "You aren't fit."

"I am. I'm always fit. I'll get 'em myself."

"Be sure to bring back the donkey," teased Emma.

Stacy cinched on his saddle before starting, and this time the little
animal offered no protest, but galloped away as docile as could be
desired. After he had left them, the Overlanders had a good laugh at his
expense, then began packing in preparation for the day's journey.

The Overlanders finally began to wonder what had become of Stacy, for he
had been absent much longer than seemed necessary, then, all at once
they heard a yell on the opposite side of the canyon.

"There he is! He is in trouble again," cried Tom, starting for his own
pony.

"See him come! He will break his neck," worried Nora.

Tom halted at his pony's side, for he had discovered something else.
Right on the heels of Stacy's mount came the saddle-ponies and the
pack-horses. The latter, being hobbled, were hopping like kangaroos,
making long leaps, covering a great deal of ground in each leap and
turning their heads to glance back with almost every jump.

"What can be the matter?" wondered Grace, anxiously watching the descent
of the fat boy. Every second she expected to see him come a cropper and
fall the remaining distance down the mountainside, but Chunky did
nothing of the sort. He stuck tightly to his saddle, now and then
casting apprehensive glances back at the horses that were tearing along
in his wake.

Lieutenant Wingate, suddenly surmising what the trouble was about, ran
for his rifle.

"Wha--at is it?" stammered Emma Dean.

"They are stampeding. Something is chasing them. I think I know what it
is," answered Hippy, darting across the canyon, clearing rocks and other
obstructions in a series of lively leaps, the others of his party
standing gaping, wondering, some of them a little fearful, especially
for the safety of the panic-stricken Chunky.



                              CHAPTER XII

                        AMID THE GIANT SEQUOIAS


Stacy swept past, flinging back some unintelligible words, the ponies
still tearing along after him. The Overland Riders shouted with laughter
at the funny antics of the hobbled pack-horses. Kitty had forgotten to
groan, and Idler was imbued with a new spirit of activity.

For the moment the outfit had forgotten all about Lieutenant Wingate.
When finally they thought to look for him he was nowhere in sight.

"Hippy! Oh, Hippy!" hailed Tom Gray.

No answer came back from Hippy, who was stalking the mysterious
something that had stampeded the ponies.

"What is it?" cried the Overlanders in one voice, as Stacy rode back to
them wide-eyed.

"I don't know. It was something big and awful. I couldn't see all of it,
but it looked to me like an elephant. Maybe it was a Bengal tiger, but I
didn't wait to see. If I had waited, the ponies would have run right
over me. When I saw them coming I threw on the high-speed lever and lit
out for home. I transmigrated. Where is my rifle? I am going back after
that beast, whatever it may be and--"

"There goes Hippy across that open space," cried Grace, pointing.

"Yes, and he is after something," added Tom.

"Look! Oh, look!" cried Emma.

All eyes were turned in the direction indicated by Grace. They saw a
dark object moving across the open space towards Hippy, then saw the
lieutenant raise his rifle and fire. Still the object came on.

"It's a bear! Hippy's missed!" groaned Tom.

"I'll wager my hat that Uncle Hippy didn't miss," answered Stacy. "He
never misses--when he hits."

Hippy raised his rifle and fired again.

"That was a hit!" cried Grace.

Stacy galloped his pony up the other side of the mountain.

"Came near making a meal of you, didn't he, Uncle Hip?" called Stacy as
he came up with Lieutenant Wingate.

Hippy shook his head.

"I tried to shoot him between the eyes, but he dodged as I pulled the
trigger. Next time I couldn't do any fine aiming because the bear was
too close. Do you see what he is--a big cinnamon bear? I am going to
have that skin. Go back and tell them to wait until I finish this job,
and that we are going to have bear steak for supper to-night."

Stacy galloped back with the message, then Tom rode out to assist in the
skinning and to select such meat as he wished to carry with them. The
bearskin proved to be very heavy, but Hippy insisted on taking it along,
first, however, treating the skin so that it would keep until they
reached a place where the curing and tanning might be continued.

Woo, upon observing the bear skin and the steaks taken from the animal,
lapsed into song, which Stacy pretended not to hear. It irritated Chunky
to listen to that "Hi-lee, hi-lo!" and put him into a fighting humor.

An hour after their delayed start they topped the rise on the opposite
side of the canyon and paused to gaze over the peaks and rugged
mountain-tops that lay before them in a vast panorama. Over yonder in
the clouds hung the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierras, now and then
taking on a purple shade from some tinted cloud.

"It doesn't seem possible that we shall be able to make those mountains
with our ponies, does it?" wondered Elfreda.

"Are we going there?" demanded Stacy.

"I believe so."

"Hm-m-m-m!"

"Are you getting cold feet already?" teased Emma.

"Not yet, but I expect to when I get in those chilly looking snow-caps
off yonder," answered Stacy quickly. "This life is just one ridge after
another."

They had mounted ridges, and crossed broad and narrow valleys for some
time without incident and the steady creak of saddle straps and girths
was becoming monotonous, when suddenly Grace's pony jumped clear of the
ground with all four feet and began to back. Grace Harlowe, instantly
understanding, called "Look out!" and whirled her pony about.

"What is the trouble, Grace?" called Tom, who was riding farther to the
rear.

"A snake! I heard it, but do not know where it is."

"Stay back. I will find him and dispatch him," shouted Hippy, hurrying
forward.

"Send him a message for me while you are about it. Tell him Emma Dean
wishes him to transmigrate," chortled Stacy.

Just then Lieutenant Wingate discovered the snake, and raising his rifle
he aimed it over the head of his pony for a few seconds, then pulled the
trigger.

"Did you get him?" shouted Nora.

"Of course he did. My Uncle Hip never misses anything," declared Stacy.

"No. Not even food," added Emma.

"You may all get off. I am going to skin the reptile. He is a fine
specimen," announced Lieutenant Wingate. "I propose to make a hat band
of him. It isn't everyone who can wear a rattler around his sombrero,
you know."

"I'll say that was a fine shot," declared Stacy.

"Yes, but not better than almost any other person could make," differed
Emma Dean.

"Velly fine. Me savvy fine shot," interjected the Chinaman.

"Emma, in a way, is right," spoke up Grace. "It does not take any sort
of marksmanship at all to shoot the head from a rattler. Even a person
who never has fired a gun in his life should be able to shoot one."

Hippy laughed.

"You don't believe it. Suppose you let Emma try it when next we meet a
snake. Point your rifle at a rattler and he will line his head up with
the muzzle. Move the muzzle from side to side and he will follow it,
always keeping his head in line with it. Then, all you have to do is
pull the trigger. Why, I believe I could shoot and hit one with my eyes
shut. I think I should like to make the experiment next time we see a
rattler," said Grace.

"Never mind; never mind! We will take your word for it," protested Stacy
Brown. "We do not need a public demonstration."

"It surely would be interesting," agreed Elfreda.

"Oh, all right. Just let me know when the show is coming off and I'll
have business on the other side of the mountain," declared the fat boy.

During this temporary halt the pack-horses had plodded on alone. They
made a detour of the spot where the snake was being skinned, seeming
instinctively to know where they were expected to go, and soon after
they started off, Woo Smith followed with his "Hi-lee, hi-lo!"

About midday they topped a range of hills, and before them saw revealed
a vast forest that stretched over more miles of mountain country than
they cared to try to estimate. At first they had no idea of the bigness
of the trees; it was merely a great forest.

Lieutenant Wingate, who had been gazing inquiringly at the scene,
fanning himself with his sombrero, turned to his companions.

"Good people, you are now gazing on some of the big trees of California
of which you no doubt have heard or read much. Before you lies the
world-famous Sequoia forest. Let us push on. When you are among the
trees you will get a better idea of their great height."

"You should have been a guide on a sightseeing bus," averred Emma, as
the Overlanders rode on.

The party reached the edge of the great forest some two hours later,
where, in the cool shadows, they halted for a rest.

"I am told," resumed Hippy pompously, "that this forest comprises more
than five thousand specimens of trees."

"And you will also observe," announced Emma Dean, standing up in her
stirrups and waving her sombrero, "that many of them are from ten to
twenty feet in diameter. At the great height to which they grow, the
least leaning either way would cause the trees to break off. You will
observe, also, the perfect symmetry of the trees. They are perfect works
of art," finished Emma, resuming her seat on the saddle.

"Hooray!" shouted Stacy Brown. "Emma has transmigrated again."

Emma's companions looked at her in amazement, then burst out laughing.

"Where in the world did you learn all that, darlin'?" questioned Nora
Wingate admiringly.

"I heard the postmaster at Gardner telling Hippy about it," answered
Emma meekly, amid shouts of laughter at Lieutenant Wingate's expense.

The scene was so impressive that the laughter of the Overland Riders
soon died away, for the great silence of this wonderful forest had taken
strong hold on them. Whereas all other forests in which they had
traveled, were continually nodding and murmuring, the giant Sequoias
stood in absolute calm. Tom Gray explained this silence by saying that,
owing to their great height, the trunks were solid, the branches rigid
and the movement very slight. Even though there might be some slight
murmurings, the tops were so far above the ground that the human ear
could not catch the faint rustling up there.

As the party moved on through the silent forest aisles, the bigness of
the trees grew Upon them.

"You savvy big tlees?" asked Woo Smith finally, after a long period of
silence on his part.

The Overlanders nodded.

"Do you know where there is a spring or a creek?" asked Tom.

"Me savvy spling," nodded Woo.

"Lead us to it. Is it far from here?"

The guide answered with a shake of his head.

An hour later, no water being yet in sight, Grace called a halt.

"Woo, I do not believe you savvy any spring at all," she said. "I think
we should camp right where we are. It will soon be dark, and if we keep
on going we shall undoubtedly be worse off than if we remain where we
are. Smith, have you lost the trail?" she demanded.

Woo did not reply at once, but gazed up at the tops of the trees,
muttering to himself.

"You're lost! That's what's the matter," grinned Stacy.

"Woo no lost. Tlail him lost. Me savvy tlail lost," chuckled the
Chinaman.

"I thought so," agreed Hippy gravely. "There being no objection, I
second Grace's motion that we camp here."

"While you are making camp I will go out and prospect for water,"
offered Tom, wheeling his pony about and riding off into the forest.
Tom, being a forester by profession, an experienced woodsman, they felt
no concern over his departure, but, as the hours following his departure
wore on and Tom Gray did not return, the Overlanders began to worry.

At nine o'clock they began firing signals at intervals, and Woo Smith
built up a blazing fire, but there was no response to either signal.
Grace Harlowe was the least worried of the party.

"We will have supper," she said. "Tom will be all right. Should he be
lost it will not be the first time."

"Yes, but what if he doesn't find himself?" questioned Emma tremulously.

"In that event he will make camp and sleep in the forest, so you folks
make your beds and turn in for a good night's sleep, just as I am going
to do," urged Grace.

"Hi-lee, hi-lo!" chanted Woo.

"Stop that noise, will you!" commanded Chunky. "I am not in the mood for
song this evening, and I might do you bodily harm," he added, starting
to prepare his bed. This he did by smoothing the ground with an axe
swung adz-wise between his legs, then filling in the open space with dry
pine needles. The Overlanders observed his work in interested silence.

"You do know how to do something, don't you?" approved Emma.

"Someone in the outfit has to have a head with him," retorted Chunky.
"It makes me sleepy to look at it. If I weren't sleepy I would make beds
in the same way for you girls. Let Uncle Hip do it, I can't keep awake
long enough. Good night!" Stacy lay down, and the others quickly cradled
under their blankets and went to sleep, watched over by the huge
Sequoias that had stood sentinel on that very spot for hundreds of
years.

Then, all at once, it was morning. The songs of birds filled the air,
and a squirrel, whisking its tail nervously, chattered on a giant tree
trunk, then darted up out of sight.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                        THE CAMP AT THE "LAZY J"


Stacy sat up and rubbed his eyes.

"What did you wake me up for?" he demanded. "Hulloa, Tom!"

"I awakened you by transmigration of thought," answered Emma. "Oh,
girls, girls, wake up! Tom is here," she cried.

The camp was instantly aroused. Tom was discovered sitting calmly by a
little fire that he had built, waiting for the sleepers to awaken. Tom
had done exactly what Grace said he would. When he lost his bearings in
the darkness, he lay down to wait for daylight. When daylight came he
found no difficulty in picking up his trail and returning to camp.

"Did you find water?" demanded Hippy.

"Not a drop. For that reason, we must take a quick breakfast and hurry
on. I think we shall find water beyond the next low range, and it is
necessary that we do so before the sun gets high and hot. We can stand
it for some time longer, but the horses cannot."

The start was made soon after that, Tom and Hippy packing their
belongings while Woo and the girls were getting breakfast. The trail
they followed took them up a gradual slope for several miles and then
pitched giddily into a deep canyon, a canyon that covered all of fifty
acres, from which the hills rose in great swells into the far distance.
The climb down the side of the mountain was tiresome and difficult, but
they forgot their discomfort when finally they came upon a stream of
cold, sparkling water that came down from the snow-capped tips of the
High Sierras.

"Oh, look!" cried Emma. "Cows! Now we can have some milk."

"Cows!" groaned Stacy. "Those aren't cows, they are cattle."

There were loud exclamations of wonder when the Overlanders saw a lot of
cattle, in charge of several herders, grazing less than a mile away.
After permitting the horses to drink all that was good for them, and
after the Overlanders themselves had drunk and filled their water
bottles, they galloped on towards the herd. From the herders they
learned that the cattle belonged to the "Lazy J" ranch. The animals were
on their summer grazing grounds, having come up into the hills for the
summer months.

The herders informed the Overlanders that the ranch-house was about five
miles due east of there, and that the boss would be glad to see them.

"My horse has a loose shoe. Is there a blacksmith outfit over there?"
asked Hippy.

"Sure," answered a herder. "You'll have to do your own smithing,
though."

"I reckon I can do that all right," answered Lieutenant Wingate. "We can
make camp there and have a rest before we undertake the next hard
climb."

After waving good-byes to the herders, the Overland Riders resumed their
journey, arriving at the "Lazy J" ranch about mid-afternoon. They were
warmly welcomed by Mr. Giddings, the foreman, who showed his amazement
that a party of young women should have made the rough ride into the
mountains.

"Help yourselves to anything in sight. It's all yours," he offered.
"Glad to have you take pot luck with me in my shack. There isn't much,
but what there is you are welcome to."

"No. You sit down with us and have a snack," urged Grace.

Mr. Giddings did so, and after a late luncheon he conducted Hippy to the
blacksmith shop, where Lieutenant Wingate removed the loose shoe from
his pony and straightening it on the anvil proceeded to nail it back in
place, observed interestedly by the Overlanders and several cowboys who
were resting up at the ranch-house. Even the cowboys' cook came out,
frying-pan in hand, to see how the tenderfoot would go about it to shoe
a horse.

The cowboys looked on with solemn visages, expressive of neither
approval nor disapproval. Their interest quickened, however, when Stacy
Brown announced that he was going to remove a loose shoe from the off
hind foot of the white mare, Kitty, and set it properly in place.

Kitty was led in, and Chunky made his preparations with sundry
flourishes to show the spectators that he knew what he was about. Kitty
was not unobservant, and every move of the Overland boy was narrowly
watched by her.

"I should advise you to watch her ears," urged Grace.

"It isn't her ears, it's those hind feet that I am interested in,"
replied Stacy. "Ears can't hurt a fellow--feet can," he said. "Whoa, you
brute!" added Stacy, running a hand down one of the pony's hind legs,
then lifting the foot from the ground.

What followed was almost too swift for the human eye. Barely had the
foot been lifted than Kitty kicked the boy clear out of the shop. In his
flight, Chunky was catapulted against the cook, and both went down in a
heap.

The faces of the cow-punchers relaxed. They howled, fired their
revolvers into the air and went fairly wild with joy, while Grace and
Elfreda disentangled Stacy and the cowboys' cook and stood them on their
feet.

[Illustration: "Are You Hurt?"]

"Are you hurt?" begged Grace solicitously.

"Of course I am. I'm killed, but the white mare is going to get worse
than I did," threatened the fat boy.

"Cool off. Don't punish her now," advised Elfreda.

"I don't want to cool off. I want to shoe that beast." Stacy strode
belligerently to the now meek little animal. "I ought to break your
miserable neck, but I haven't time to do it to-day. Besides, the weather
is too warm. If I did, this outfit would make me dig a hole and bury
you. I always get the worst of it when trying to do a good turn for
others. Now you stand still or I'll surely forget myself."

This time Kitty made no objection to having her loose shoe removed, but
once off Stacy did not know how to put it on again, and Tom Gray had to
finish the job to the great enjoyment of the cowboys. The job finally
finished, Stacy and Hippy perspiring from their efforts, the Overlanders
went out to watch the range men come in, uttering wild whoops as they
discovered that there were women in camp.

Throwing themselves from their saddles, the range men soused their heads
in the creek that flowed near the ranch-house, and were ready for the
evening meal. After supper, all hands lounged out to the green in front
of the bunkhouse, smoked their pipes and told thrilling stories of
adventure in the Sierras--told them for the benefit of the tenderfeet
who were their guests.

The Overland girls chatted with the rough but big-hearted cow punchers,
who, that night, declared that they never had come up with such a likely
bunch of young women.

When Mr. Giddings learned from Tom Gray that the party was bound for the
High Sierras, he shook his head dubiously.

"No place for white folk, especially women," he warned.

"Why not?" questioned Tom.

"Trouble! It's the Devil's country up there."

"We are used to roughing it under all sorts of conditions," replied Tom.
"We learned how to do that during the Great War. All these young women
were in the service, at or near the front in France; Mr. Wingate was an
aviator, and I was a Captain of Engineers, so you see we aren't afraid
of trouble."

"That's all right. I take off my hat to you, especially to the young
ladies. This country is another breed of cats, however, and they tell
strange stories about men going up there and never being found
afterwards, or, as is sometimes the case, found dead in the Crazy Lake
section. Aerial Lake, they call it."

"Where is this mysterious lake?" asked Miss Briggs.

"I don't rightly know. I don't know anything about it. I reckon I don't
want to know. Neither would you if you had been up here long and had
heard as much about it as I have. Did you ever hear of the Jones gang?"

"I reckon we have. We had a little mix-up with them. At least, we
understand that was the outfit," Hippy informed them.

"Yes, and we drove them off and gave them a good walloping," added
Stacy.

"Let's hear the yarn," called a cowboy.

Hippy related the story of the hold-up and of the skirmish that
followed, resulting in the driving off of the train robbers. The cowboys
listened attentively, their expressions showing an increasing respect
for the "tenderfeet" who had dropped in on them for a friendly call.

"Why should this band of outlaws have reason to interfere with us?"
asked Tom.

"Why do they bother other folks?" answered Mr. Giddings. "For what they
can get out of it, of course," he said, answering his own question.

"They will not get much if they hold us up," Grace Harlowe informed
their hosts.

"No. I reckon that would not likely put you in peril, for the reason
that they are after bigger game, like that treasure on the Red Limited.
There's another thing, though, that might make it equally bad for you
people."

"What is that, Mr. Giddings?" asked Elfreda.

"The railroad has had Pinkerton detectives after that gang for a long
time, on account of an express robbery, which makes the gang rather
touchy about strangers being in the mountains."

"Where does this Jones crowd make its headquarters?" questioned Hippy.

"That's just the point. Nobody seems to know, but they are supposed to
hang out to the eastward of this place. We have never seen any of them
since I have been on this range, which is going on five years."

"Then we do not have to bother our heads about them at all," announced
Tom. "We are not going in that direction."

"You're going to the peak, aren't you?" asked Giddings.

"Yes," replied Grace.

"Hm-m-m-m-m! I'll bet I know what you folks are after. You're after
golden trout. You're not the first parties to come up here looking for
those shiny fellows."

"Eh? What's that?" questioned Hippy, instantly on the alert.

"Where are they? I'm the boy that is looking for gold," spoke up Stacy.

"Maybe there ain't any such thing," laughed Giddings. "But they do tell
a story about a prospector coming across a stream up Farewell Gap way,
where the golden trout were as thick as pollywogs in a mud puddle."

Tom said he had never heard of them. Giddings replied that he reckoned
no one else ever had in reality.

"They do say," resumed the foreman, "that when the fisherman discovered
those fellows basking in the sun at the bottom of the stream, he sure
thought he had struck it rich. He believed that he had found sure-enough
gold nuggets, but when he went to gather them, the nuggets just up and
dusted."

"That's the way nuggets usually do," answered Stacy wisely.

"I hope we find them," said Hippy. "I have a rod and a book of flies
with me."

"It's enough to give a fellow heart disease, anyway," continued
Giddings. "So, between the Joneses, the lake and the movable nuggets,
you folks have plenty of entertainment ahead of you."

"There is generally excitement and some trouble where we hang up our
hats," laughed Nora Wingate, "but we manage somehow to get along all
right."

"I wish you luck, pardner," nodded Mr. Giddings. "I'll have a bunk-house
cleaned out for you folks to-night, so you can sleep indoors," he
offered.

Thanking him, but declaring that they preferred to sleep in the open,
just as they had been doing for several seasons, the Overlanders made
camp out of doors just beyond the corral. The night was hot and the
flies very thick. The night's rest was not at all satisfying for this
reason, and for the added one that the cowpunchers' ponies in the corral
were restless. Hippy said it indicated that a storm was coming, but
Stacy differed with him. He averred that the ponies were restless for
the same reason that he was--because the flies bit them--and the
Overlanders laughingly agreed that there might be something in the fat
boy's reasoning after all.

Next morning they were out with the earliest of the punchers. After
breakfast, packs were made up and lashed with firm hitches thrown about
them. Then bidding good-bye to their hosts and shaking hands all around,
the Overland Riders set out for their long journey over the mountains--a
journey that would occupy some weeks and be filled with exciting as well
as enjoyable experiences.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                          WOO'S EYES ARE KEEN


The air was becoming chilly, the Overland Riders now being at an
altitude of nearly eight thousand feet, and still upward bound.

A week had elapsed since they left the "Lazy J" ranch, and during all
that time they had sighted no game except some grouse that they had shot
at but failed to bring down. Provisions were at a low ebb and all knew
that they were nearly face to face with a serious situation.

Hippy Wingate was pondering deeply when they pulled up for luncheon one
noon. He was wondering what he was going to give his party for supper,
for Hippy was the official game-hunter of the Overland party, and they
had come to rely on his resourcefulness to provide food for them. Stacy
Brown was even more deeply interested in this matter than was "Uncle
Hip," but for a somewhat different reason.

"What do we eat to-day?" he asked in a tone that he tried to make sound
light-hearted.

Some one laughed.

"Oh, it's not because I'm hungry," hastily explained Chunky. "I just
wanted to know so as not to have to open all the packs unless we are
going to have a spread."

"Ours is more likely to be a snack than a spread," suggested Grace
laughingly.

"What is it going to be, Hippy?" questioned Nora.

"Raisins and hard tack, my dear."

"You don't mean it?" gasped the fat boy.

"I reckon that will be about it if I don't see some game to shoot at,"
replied Hippy a little soberly.

"Raisins and hard tack for a man with an appetite like mine," groaned
Stacy. "You might as well feed a bricklayer on angel food and expect him
to smack his lips and pat his stomach with heavenly satisfaction. This
is too much, and too much is enough."

"If you folks will camp here I will go out and see if I cannot scare up
some game," suggested Hippy.

"I do not believe you will find anything worth while at this altitude,"
said Tom Gray. "It is a condition that I have feared we should meet.
I--"

"You no savvy game?" interjected the Chinaman.

"No, Smith," replied Hippy. "We savvy plenty appetite, but we no savvy
anything with which to satisfy it. If I could sight a deer--"

"Me savvy deer. Me show buck in lelet," cried Woo, gesticulating
excitedly.

"What kind of heathen talk is that?" wondered Emma.

"'Buck in lelet!'" mocked Stacy.

Hippy was eyeing the guide inquiringly, knowing very well that Woo had
something in mind.

"Buck in lelet," repeated the Chinaman, indicating the horns on a deer's
head, with his hands.

"I understand," nodded Tom Gray. "What he is trying to say is, 'buck in
velvet.'"

"Ha, ha! The further they go the worse they are. First it was Emma Dean
whose wheels went wrong; now it is my Uncle Hip and Captain Gray,"
jeered Stacy. "Is it the altitude that has gone to _your_ head?"

"No, it has not," retorted Lieutenant Wingate. "Woo has more sense than
all of us together. At this season of the year the bucks 'carry their
antlers in velvet.'"

"Oh, pooh! That is a fine fairy tale to feed hungry people with. Folks
back east might swallow it, but not up here among the high and lofty
peaks of the Sierras. Tell me something that I can swallow," laughed
Stacy.

"Stacy, if you will hold your horses I will try to explain," rebuked
Tom. "At this season of the year the antlers of the bucks are very
tender, and that condition is called 'carrying the antlers in velvet.'
In those circumstances the bucks frequent the high rocky peaks that
their tender horns may not be torn off in contact with tough bushes and
trees. Later on you will find the bucks on the lower ranges. Then, as
the antlers become hard, almost as hard as iron, the bucks take to the
dense thickets."

Stacy Brown mopped his forehead.

"Emma, why don't you transmigrate a little? Send a little thought wave
out and see if you can't get in touch with a nice fat buck all dressed
up in velvet," he suggested.

Emma Dean elevated her nose, but made no reply. She was at that moment
more interested in the guide, who was running his yellow fingers about
his wrists inside the wide sleeves, and chuckling to himself at a
rapid-fire rate.

"Me savvy! Hi-lee, hi-lo; hi--"

"What were you going to say?" urged Hippy.

"You savvy buck in lelet?"

Lieutenant Wingate shook his head.

"Me savvy buck."

"You do? Where?"

The guide pointed his long, bony finger towards the rocks on the other
side of a narrow pass in the mountains. The mountain there was covered
with brownish grass and some spindling saplings. Lieutenant Wingate
looked until his eyes ached, then turned to Smith.

"Woo, you must be mistaken," he said.

The guide took the stick that he used to beat up the trail ahead on his
march each day, laid it across a rock, and, after sighting it, beckoned
to Lieutenant Wingate to look over it.

"You savvy?" he questioned eagerly.

"No, I don't, Woo."

"Mebby you savvy to-mollow," replied the Chinaman disgustedly.

The Overland Riders snickered, and even Hippy grinned appreciatively.

"I reckon you are not far from right, Woo. I--" Hippy paused abruptly.
Out of that mass of brown something began to grow into his vision, to
stand out until everything else appeared to have disappeared.

"You savvy nicee piecee buck?" chuckled the guide.

Hippy reached a cautious hand behind him.

"My rifle. Quick!" he whispered. "Woo is right. There lays a fine big
fellow behind that bush over yonder. I don't know whether he sees us or
not. It is a dead sure shot, too. Don't make a sound," urged lieutenant
Wingate as his rifle was cautiously laid in his outstretched hand.

Placing it across the rock where Woo had laid the stick for him to sight
over, Hippy took careful aim a little below the base of the antlers of
the buck. His automatic rifle belched forth a deafening roar that went
rolling and echoing from peak to peak.

At the same instant, what appeared to be a dull brown and white ball
leaped into the air and went bounding away in tremendous leaps. Hippy's
rifle went to his shoulder and he fired again, but the shot only served
to hasten the speed of the fine large buck that Woo Smith had
discovered. Hippy had missed a "sure shot" as well as a long shot.

"Uncle Hip never misses what he shoots at," quoted Emma a little
maliciously.

"Why don't you use your pea-shooter?" scoffed Stacy. "Dead Shot Hip made
a mess of it that time."

"He did," admitted Hippy, "and Stacy Brown missed a fine fat meal. Laugh
at me all you like, folks. I deserve it, but I don't understand how I
could miss that shot."

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," advised the guide wisely.

"May I look at your rifle?" asked Grace.

Lieutenant Wingate handed it to her and Grace gave it a critical
inspection, then held it out to Hippy.

"Look it over carefully. I think you will discover why you missed," she
suggested.

Hippy intuitively glanced at the sights, and shot a quick look of
inquiry at Chunky, but Chunky's face was woodeny in its lack of
expression. Without another word, Lieutenant Wingate set up a mark,
placed his rifle on the rock, marking its exact position, and, taking
careful aim, fired. The bullet shot under by more than a foot, whereas
it should have shot over the mark, the rifle being originally sighted
for a much longer distance. Several cartridges were expended in
resighting the weapon and adjusting the open sight, which he found had
been changed from its former position.

"There, now! Show me another deer. I don't believe I shall miss the next
one."

"You savvy sight no good," chuckled the Chinaman.

Lieutenant Wingate nodded.

"Stacy, come here. I would hold converse with thee," he ordered.

Stacy complied, but with evident reluctance, and, obeying a gesture from
Hippy, seated himself on a slab of granite beside his Uncle Hip.

"Why did you fool with the sights on my rifle?" demanded Lieutenant
Wingate sharply.

"I--I--I--"

"Don't quibble. Whenever you put on a wooden face I know that you have
been up to monkey-shines. Why did you do it?"

"I--I--I just wanted to get even with you, Uncle Hip," stammered the fat
boy.

"For what?"

"You--you pinked my pony with a peashooter and made me come a cropper in
a rose bush. Don't you deny it. You know you did," added Chunky,
adopting his most savage tone.

Hippy Wingate chuckled.

"That is it, eh?"

"Yes."

"When did you change them--change the open sights?"

"I did it when you were after water last night."

"Shake, pard!" cried Hippy, extending an impulsive hand. "We are quits
now, aren't we?"

"Yes, we are dear friends. We're more than that--we love each other most
to death," declared Stacy fervently.

"Oh, fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Emma Dean. "You make me weary."

"But, Stacy, the next time you wish to get even with a fellow, please do
not tamper with his weapons, especially in a country like this," warned
Lieutenant Wingate. "It is a dangerous thing to do. Suppose I had met up
with a cinnamon bear at close range, for instance--what do you think
would have happened?"

"I reckon there would have been a sprinting match between you and the
cinnamon," observed Stacy in a tone that brought a shout of laughter
from the Overland girls.

"You are partly right," agreed Hippy laughingly, "but don't do anything
like that again, will you?"

Stacy promised that he would not, but the probabilities are that he
forgot the promise within five minutes after he had made it, for at that
instant Woo Smith uttered a sudden exclamation that drew the instant
attention of the Overland Riders.

"Me savvy buck! Me savvy buck in lelet," chuckled the Chinaman
excitedly.

Hippy was on his feet in an instant.

"Where, where?"

"You savvy him white lock?"

"Yes, I see the white rock. Sure enough; there he is!"

When the automatic roared a moment later, a brown ball was seen to leap
into the air, but, instead of bounding away, it straightened out and
took a long, curving leap, crashed into the dwarfed bushes, then whipped
over on its back.

"I got him!" shouted Lieutenant Wingate triumphantly.

"Great shot!" cried Elfreda Briggs enthusiastically.

"Hi-lee, hi-lo; hi-lee, hi-lo!" sang the guide, hopping about
delightedly, his queue wriggling in the air with serpent-like movements.
This time no one appeared to be irritated by Woo's singing, for
Lieutenant Wingate's shot meant food in plenty for the Overland Riders.



                               CHAPTER XV

                       FOLLOWING THE AERIAL TRAIL


Shouting and laughing, the entire party raced down the hill and up the
other side to view the result of Lieutenant Wingate's shot. They found
the buck lying dead where it had fallen, with a bullet hole through its
head.

"Can my Uncle Hip shoot? Well, I reckon he can," declared Stacy
pompously. "Cleverness runs in our family," boasted Stacy.

"That quality must have exhausted itself before you joined the family,"
retorted Emma.

Stacy admitted that he had lost some of it after becoming a member of
the Overland Riders, which, he said, was undoubtedly due to association
with inferior intellects, to which Emma had no reply to make, other than
characteristically elevating her nose and turning her back on the fat
boy.

"Come, come," urged Hippy. "Stacy, you and Tom will have to help me
dress this beast if you want meat. It is certain that we shall not
starve today."

The job of dressing the buck was accomplished clumsily, the Overland
girls being interested spectators and offering frequent suggestions on
the subject, of which they knew nothing.

That night the Riders enjoyed a great spread. Following it, such of the
meat as they wished to carry with them they spitted on sharp sticks in
the smoke of the camp-fire. This was the beginning of the curing process
required to put the meat in condition to keep, so that they might carry
it along, for the party did not dare trust to the chance of finding
other game farther on, fearing that they again might be caught foodless.
One experience of the kind was enough.

Lieutenant Wingate and his companions had learned a lesson in
observation from the guide, and Hippy began to understand that a hunter,
when after game, must put out of his mind every object in the landscape
except the particular thing for which he is looking. He tried out that
idea that same day by looking for various objects, one at a time, and
was amazed at the result. Under this method, objects that he had not
before observed at all now stood out with great prominence. Hippy then
recalled what an old hunter, then sniping Germans, had told him in
France: "Let your eyes sweep quickly over the landscape but pay no
attention to the more prominent objects, and you will be amazed at the
quickness with which you will discover that for which you are looking."

The method worked out just as Hippy's informant had said it would, and
Hippy determined never again to be caught napping. However, his respect
for the guide had increased considerably, and especially for the
keenness of Woo Smith's eyes.

With all the venison they could carry packed in their kits, the party
set out early on the following morning and soon found themselves on the
brink of another box-canyon, which they reached without mishap, then
made their way up the side of another mountain, and on over a series of
rugged elevations that would tax the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.

"This up and down progress reminds me of a wild ride that I once had on
a scenic railway at Coney Island," declared Elfreda Briggs as they
finally halted for a rest. Elfreda's face was red from exertion and
excitement, and her hair had become the plaything of the mountain
breezes.

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," chuckled Stacy.

"Stacy, you're right," nodded Tom Gray. "But it is now time we were
moving. See that ridge to the right of us?"

"Surely we do not have to cross that, do we?" begged Emma.

"Yes. We shall have to ride its entire length in order to reach the high
mountain peak that you see still farther on. Either we must start now or
wait until tomorrow," averred Tom.

"It never will do to be caught on the top of that ridge in the
darkness," agreed Hippy.

The ridge referred to lay slightly higher than their present position,
but there was plainly a safe trail leading to it. Orders to move were
given by Hippy. The Overland Riders were quickly in their saddles, and
the party slowly mounted the ridge, but halted as they came to the top
of it. For once the girls experienced a case of "nerves."

"We never shall be able to ride over this awful trail," cried Elfreda
Briggs.

"Oh, let's go back," begged Emma.

"Impossible!" answered Hippy. "This is the trail that we shall have to
follow to reach the high peak of the Sierras."

"If the horses behave and no one loses her head we ought to be able to
cross safely," averred Grace.

"My head is swimming already," moaned Nora.

"Why don't you turn it over and let it float for a few minutes?"
suggested Chunky.

After directing Woo to proceed on ahead, the journey was resumed, and
the ponies stepped out over the knife-edge top of the ridge. This ridge,
not more than a dozen feet wide along the top, formed a natural bridge
connecting two mountain ranges. Here and there the sides of the ridge
fell away sheer for hundreds of feet, and at others, smooth granite
rocks sloped away to the canyon below.

Ahead of the Riders, Woo Smith was picking his way unconcernedly,
singing blithely. The girls of the party sought to look equally
unconcerned, but not with very much success, for each one was feeling
the effect of the great height and their peril on the narrow path. Emma
Dean finally slipped from her saddle, and passing the bridle-rein over
one arm, proceeded to pick her way on foot.

"Cold feet, eh?" scoffed Stacy.

"No. I'm scared, that's all," replied Emma. "I don't care who knows it,
either."

Grace glanced at the faces of her companions, and then, at the rapidly
narrowing trail.

"While I believe that we shall be in less peril on our ponies than on
foot, I suggest that we all walk," she said, dismounting. "With your
feet on the ground you will be less nervous."

Grace's companions lost no time in following her example, but they
dismounted cautiously. It was a relief to feel the solid ground under
their feet. A laugh further relieved the strain when Hippy Wingate
finally dismounted. The girls teased him unmercifully, though all knew
that a man who had fought the Germans in the clouds was not likely to be
disturbed by great heights. A few moments later Stacy dismounted, but
Tom remained on his pony and appeared to be enjoying the novel
experience of riding along this unusual aerial trail.

Miss Kitty, the lazy pack-horse, as usual, brought up the rear of the
line and was dragging farther and farther behind. Her actions were
observed with keen interest by the Overlanders, there being no certainty
as to what the white pack mare might or might not do. She proved the
wisdom of their lack of confidence in her when, weaving from side to
side to avoid stepping over projecting rocks or boulders, she stepped
off the trail with one hind foot.

"Quick, Hippy!" cried Nora excitedly. "She will fall over!"

Lieutenant Wingate sprang forward and gave the mare a quick slap on her
flank. The mare jumped, then down she fell on her side with hindquarters
hanging partly over the brink, and there she lay groaning dismally, the
picture of misery and fear. The faces of the Overland girls paled, for
each knew that the slightest struggle on the part of the white mare
would send her sliding to the bottom of the canyon fully a thousand feet
below.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                       GOING TO BED IN THE CLOUDS


"Oh, Hippy, you have done it this time!" cried Nora.

"Keep quiet! Don't frighten her!" cried Grace, snatching the lariat from
her saddle and handing it to Hippy. "Slip the loop over one of her hind
legs, but for goodness sake do not make any sudden moves."

"Wait! I'll get a derrick," shouted Stacy.

"Keep quiet!" commanded Tom sternly, at the same time taking a rope from
the pommel of his own saddle and hurrying to Lieutenant Wingate's
assistance. While Grace, was patting the head of the fallen animal,
trying to soothe her, Tom slipped the rope over her neck, Hippy having
dropped the loop over one hind foot.

"Oh, Tom, you surely will choke Kitty to death if you pull on the neck
rope," warned Grace.

"Serve her right if I did," growled Tom. "She is a perpetual nuisance.
What next, Lieutenant?"

"We must haul her up, that's all. Keep your rope taut, but don't put too
much strength on it," directed Hippy, as he began to pull on the rope
about the white mare's hind leg. He failed to budge her.

"It is the pack," said Elfreda. "Don't you see that Kitty's pack is
pressing right against the rocks?"

"That's right," agreed Tom Gray. "We must unload the beast before we can
do a thing with her. Confound her!"

"Now, Tom," admonished Grace Harlowe.

"Stacy! Get that pack off and be careful about it too," ordered
Lieutenant Wingate.

Stacy could not manage the pack alone, so Grace and Elfreda assisted him
in removing it. This undertaking, perilous as it was, was accomplished
after more than two hours had been lost through Kitty's clumsiness. It
was then discovered that the white mare had gone lame, but Hippy found
that she had suffered nothing more serious than a bruised hip.

"We must be on our way," he urged.

"As it is, we shall not get across this ridge before dark," declared
Elfreda, glancing at the lowering sun.

"Oh, don't say that," begged Nora. "We must."

Tom Gray shook his head.

"To make haste would be dangerous," he warned.

As soon as the white mare was again in proper shape the party started
ahead, determined to get as far on their way as possible before night,
but darkness was settling over the canyons on either side of them when
Lieutenant Wingate finally called a halt.

"We must make camp while we can see to do so," he directed.

"What, here?" cried Emma.

"It is the best we have," answered Lieutenant Wingate in a doubtful
tone.

The trail had been steadily narrowing as they proceeded, and ahead of
them it appeared to be almost impassable, at least for horses. It was
decided to stake the ponies down in single file, which the three men
finally succeeded in doing to their satisfaction. It was not an ideal
tethering place, but most of the animals were used to sleeping in
ticklish places, and, in fact, if necessary could sleep standing up.

Packs were removed and stored in safe places, but Woo, who had been sent
out to locate a spring, returned with the information that he could find
none. This, however, did not disturb the Overlanders, for their bottles
held sufficient water for supper and breakfast, provided they were
economical in its use, so a small cook-fire was built, and in a few
moments the kettle was singing merrily and the odors of coffee and
venison were in the air, to the accompaniment of Woo Smith's "Hi-lee,
hi-lo." It was an unusual supper for the Overland Riders, sitting there
with their food served on an army blanket laid on the ground, with empty
space and sombre canyons on either side of them now filled with inky
blackness.

While they were eating, Woo gathered stems of bushes and piled them
ready for making a larger fire to light up the camp after supper.

"I should like to know where we are going to sleep," reminded Nora as
they finished the meal.

Tom said he would make up their beds very shortly, whereat the
Overlanders laughed, but with not much mirth in their voices.

"If you don't make haste you won't be able to find beds to make up,"
averred Emma. "Don't you see the fog rolling in? We shall soon be
enveloped in it."

"Fog!" Hippy laughed heartily. "Why, child, that isn't fog--it is
clouds. We are above them, but I think they will rise and take us in.
When it gets a little darker here, you will see a sight that will
interest you."

Hippy's prediction was fulfilled. The moon rose full at about nine
o'clock that evening, and exclamations of wonder were uttered by the
girls of the party, as its beams lighted up the slowly moving clouds
that now had risen almost level with the top of the ridge itself. Here
and there sharp peaks thrust themselves through the cloud seas, which
were dark and menacing to the eyes of the observers.

"How beautiful," murmured Elfreda Briggs.

"It is indeed," breathed Grace. "The scene reminds me of the one that we
looked down upon when we were riding the Old Apache Trail, except that
this is infinitely more beautiful. Hippy, does not this remind you of
France, when you were flying above the clouds?"

"In a way, yes. Many is the time that I have gone to sleep on a cloud
for a few seconds. Tom, what is our altitude here?" he asked, turning to
his companion.

"According to my aneroid, about eight thousand feet."

"We are surely getting up in the world," chuckled Emma.

"Don't congratulate yourself too soon, Miss Dean. We may be going the
other way before morning," reminded Stacy Brown. "What about starting a
conflagration, Captain Gray?"

"Woo, stir up the campfire and let's have some light and warmth,"
directed Tom.

"Oh, it is too bad to destroy this wonderful view. If you build a fire
we shan't be able to see the full cloud effect," protested Grace.

"You will," answered Hippy. "We soon shall be enveloped in clouds, and
we are going to feel the cold, too."

There was a biting chill in the air already and, to the amazement of the
campers, mosquitoes were numerous and very active.

Tom, after a survey of their surroundings, said he would make up the
beds, and called to Woo to bring the pick-axe.

"Make up the beds with a pick?" exclaimed Emma.

"Yes. By the way, where do we sleep tonight?" asked Miss Briggs in a
slightly worried tone.

"I will show you," replied Tom, beginning to dig a trench in the thin
layer of soil that covered the ridge.

"If you can transmigrate a real bed, I wish you would make it two so
that I may have one," called Stacy.

Tom made no reply, but, after digging the trench, he had the guide and
Hippy place stones on either side of it as an added protection against
rolling out of bed.

"Stacy, get in here and see if this hole fits your ample proportions,"
directed Tom.

Stacy hesitated.

"I don't like to be buried so soon after supper," he complained. "Is
this some new game that you are trying to play on me?"

"Yes. It is a game to keep you from falling out of bed and making a mess
of yourself," replied Tom tersely.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                       IN THE LAND OF PINK SNOWS


"I--I think I should prefer to sleep downstairs," stammered Stacy.

"If that is the way you feel, you have only to roll over and you will be
downstairs for keeps," promised Lieutenant Wingate.

"All right, I'll sleep in the hole in the ground, but don't you dare
throw dirt on me," warned Stacy, crawling into the trench and cautiously
disposing of himself to see if his bed fitted. "This isn't even half a
bed, Tom. How am I going to turn over?"

"Don't," laughed Grace.

"Yes, please do," urged Emma.

"Wow!" muttered Chunky sitting up and peering over the edge of his bed
at the cloud-sea rolling slowly along just below the camp. "Wouldn't it
be a terrible catastrophe if I were to be transmigrated out of bed?"

"That depends upon the point of view," suggested Emma.

The Overlanders were startled at this juncture by a shout from the
Chinaman, accompanied by a series of bangs.

"Somebody knocked over the kitchen table!" cried Chunky.

"Me savvy piecee kettle go 'way," wailed Woo, who, in emptying out some
dishes, had let them fall over the side of the ridge so that the
utensils were then on their way to the bottom of the canyon, a thousand
feet below.

"He has lost the kettle," groaned Nora. "At this rate we shall soon be
without anything."

"Except our appetites," finished Chunky.

"What a tragedy," observed Emma.

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," advised the guide. "Hi-lee, hi-lo!"
Nothing could disturb the equanimity of Woo Smith for very long, and he
immediately resumed his duties. The loss of a few utensils was not a
thing to be greatly disturbed about--at least he so reasoned the matter
out.

It was late in the evening when the Overlanders finally got into their
trenches and dropped off to sleep, but their sleep was brief. First,
Stacy had a nightmare and set up such a howling that all hands awakened
in alarm. The next disturbance came when a sudden mountain wind-storm
sprang up. The Overlanders were aroused just in time to see their
campfire lifted into the air and hurled out over the clouds in which the
embers and sparks quickly disappeared.

"Oh, this is terrible! We shall surely be blown off the ridge," cried
Emma.

"Lie down in your trenches and let the blooming storm blow itself out!"
shouted Hippy. "No wind-storm up here can harm you so long as you keep
down."

The girls of the party rather reluctantly lay down again, and found
that, in that position, the wind barely touched them, and, from that
time on, peace reigned in the Overland camp until morning. The morning,
however, brought with it fresh troubles. Every member of the party
awakened shivering. Stacy declared that his feet were frozen, which Emma
asserted was a chronic condition with him.

The Overlanders dragged themselves from the trenches, shoulders hunched
forward, hands thrust into their pockets, their faces blue and pinched.
The limit of their endurance was reached, however, when the familiar
voice of Woo Smith assailed their ears.

"Hi-lee, hi-lo! Don't wolly till to-mollow," sang the guide.

"Smith!" shouted Tom Gray.

"He--he thi--thi--thinks he's a bird," chattered Stacy. "I hope he tries
to fly."

"Smith, please cut out the singing and prepare hot coffee as quickly as
possible," directed Tom.

"Me savvy coffee. Me savvy nicee piecee day. You savvy nicee day?"
bubbled the guide.

"Oh, let him have his way, Tom," urged Grace laughingly. "We should be
glad that we have such a cheerful guide."

"Cheerful idiot!" muttered Tom.

"Yes, Woo. We savvy," called Grace, smiling over at the grinning face of
the Chinaman. "Please make haste with the breakfast, though. Girls, get
up and look out over the wonderful scene before you, and I will
guarantee that you will instantly forget your troubles."

With shaded eyes, they looked and did, for the moment, forget their
chilled condition. The peaks were now in the full glare of the morning
sun, while down in the canyons day had not yet fully dawned, and the dim
shadows there were gray with the morning mist.

Another day of hard riding was before them, but before starting out Tom
and Hippy announced that they would try to find a trail up the mountain
that loomed in the sky some distance beyond. Upon reaching the end of
the ridge that formed a natural bridge connecting two mountain ranges,
Tom and Hippy came upon a sharp descent that led down into a broad, open
valley, beyond which lay the mountain they were to climb.

"This looks promising," nodded Tom, as they jogged down into the valley.

"It is more than that; it is wonderful," cried Hippy as the two men
found themselves in a field knee-deep with blue lupines that grew there
in profusion. The odor of the flowers was almost overpowering. To the
right and the left of the two explorers were bunches of tuft-grass, here
and there groves of slender lodge-poles, and spindling pines and
junipers. Tom and Hippy paused in admiring silence. It was more
beautiful than anything that they had thought possible in this rugged
country.

While they were hunting for a possible trail that would lead them up the
mountain, Tom Gray declared that Nature had used this sweetly scented
field for a dumping ground, after having completed the building of the
mountain itself.

"Yes, and she protected her work mighty well when she erected that
snow-capped peak," answered Hippy. "I know that there _must_ be a way
out of this place to reach that mountain," he added, getting up from a
fall, very red of face, his jaw set stubbornly.

Despite their persistent efforts to find a trail out of the valley of
the lupines, it was noon before they did discover a possible way out for
their party. After marking it by tying a handkerchief to the bent-over
top of a spindling pine, they started back to join their companions. The
Overland party had some time since saddled and bridled their ponies and
were ready to move when Tom and Hippy returned to them, and all were on
their way soon after the arrival of the two men.

"You are going to see something that will gladden your heart, Brown
Eyes," declared Hippy as they started on. It was late in the afternoon
when they finally rode into the valley below. The blue lupines, the
grass, the pines and the junipers there presented a scene that brought
cries of delighted amazement from the Overland girls.

"Oh, look at the pink ice cream!" cried Emma, pointing to the towering
mountain which they were to try to climb.

"Why, Tom, we didn't notice that coloring on the snow up there this
morning," exclaimed Lieutenant Wingate. "It must be a cloud reflection."
Tom Gray nodded and said that the pink shade probably would soon
disappear.

"We must camp in the midst of these flowers," cried Grace Harlowe. "It
is finer than any place we have yet seen in these mountains."

"I agree with you," answered Elfreda. "It gives me fresh courage to go
on. Why, Grace, I feel as if I could vault a six-foot fence."

"Suppose you try to jump over the white mare," suggested Grace,
laughingly. "This high altitude has gone to my head, too."

"No, thank you. I think that it might be best for a person of my years
to keep her feet on the ground," laughed Elfreda. "But the effect, as
well as the view here, is wonderful. I do not believe there is anything
like it anywhere else in the world."

Camp was promptly made amid the flowers. Soon thereafter the clouds on
the horizon rolled down behind the mountains as the sun sank out of
sight, but as long as light remained on the mountain tops, the wonderful
pink tint clung to the everlasting snows on the pinnacles, and the
mosquitoes increased in numbers and ferociousness.

"The higher we go the worse they get," complained Stacy Brown. "Isn't it
queer how that pink tint hangs on?"

"Say, girls," bubbled Emma Dean, "what if it should prove to be ice
cream in reality?"

"In that event I know someone who never would go home," laughed Nora.

"Two someones," reflected Stacy, with a far-away, longing look in his
eyes.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                       AT THE "TOP OF THE WORLD"


The morning dawned with the sky a molten green and gold. The mountain
peak and the high ridges were a beautiful pink, and below them lay the
green and blue of the meadow like a velvet carpet.

"Wonderful!" breathed the girls in chorus.

"Could anything be more beautiful?" murmured Grace.

"This is worth all the hardships we have endured," declared Elfreda.

The Overlanders continued to admire the scene until breakfast was ready.
Immediately after the meal the journey was resumed, each one eager to
reach the pink snows above that held so great a fascination for all.
They came to the snow line late in the day. The ponies were left in
charge of Woo Smith to remain until the party returned from the high
peak of the Sierras, which was now their immediate objective.

Now that they were close to it, they discovered that the snow really was
pink. No one seemed able to explain this mystery until Tom announced it
as his opinion that the pink shade was due to a tiny bright red flower
whose petals were found imbedded in the snow. Stacy scooped up a handful
of snow and tasted it, and then made a wry face.

"It tastes like turpentine," he declared.

The Overland Riders danced and capered about in the snow like school
children, and tried to snowball each other, but found the snow so
crumbly that it could not be rolled into balls. This they overcame by
wetting handfuls of snow from their canteens, and then, ere they even
thought of making camp, they had a merry snowballing battle thousands of
feet above sea level. They battled until their breaths gave out in the
rarefied air--threw snowballs at each other until almost exhausted.

"Never mind. Don't wolly till to-mollow," comforted Stacy Brown.

With the coming of night a chill settled over the mountain, beside which
the previous nights were almost sultry, and a damp, gray cloud hid the
lower reaches of the peaks like a great gray blanket. The Overlanders
were glad that they were above rather than below that cloud, and they
hugged their cook fire, though it was far from being a roaring one, for
they did not have fuel to waste.

Tom Gray, who, before the evening was far advanced, went out to examine
the strange twisted little trees that grew here and there, discovered
that they were full of pitch. He said nothing to his companions, but,
moving back a little distance from the camp, he tested one with a match.
The trunk of the twisted tree flared instantly. He put out the blaze
with snow and returned to camp.

"How would you folks like a real camp-fire?" he asked.

"There ain't no such thing," mocked Emma.

Grace gazed at her husband inquiringly, knowing quite well that Tom had
some plan for a fire in mind.

"The easiest thing in the world, my dear friends," chuckled Tom. "All
that is needed to make a regular conflagration is the know-how." Tom
struck a match against the trunk of a small scrubby tree against which
he was standing, and held the match close to the trunk until he felt the
heat, then sprang away from it. The tree blazed up gloriously.

"I did it with my magic wand!" he cried, waving his arms dramatically.

Exclamations of wonder greeted the achievement, and the Overlanders
gathered about the blaze, holding out their hands to catch some of the
warmth.

"Me savvy nicee piecee fire," observed Chunky solemnly.

"However did you do it, Tom?" wondered Nora.

"The tree is filled with pitch," answered Tom Gray. "When we get ready
to turn in we will light another one. I don't suppose we shall get any
warmth from it, but we can hear it crackle, which will be some comfort."

That night the Overlanders made their beds under an overhanging rock
where there was no snow, and were lulled to sleep by another of Tom
Gray's burning trees. They awakened in the morning again stiff with
cold, but half an hour after sunrise they had fully recovered their
spirits and were making preparations for the long hard hike ahead of
them.

Each of the men carried a pack on his back, leaving the girls to carry
such provisions as they thought would be needed. Even the rifles had
been left behind with Woo, the mountain climbers carrying no arms but
their revolvers. Ropes, an axe and a shovel were included in the
equipment and they finally set out for what Elfreda Briggs characterized
as "The Top of the World."

The peak of the great mountain was reached late in the afternoon, with
all hands well tired out. They found the summit of the peak strewn with
huge granite slabs, from some of which the snow had been blown away in
spots, forming little scooped-out cups in the pink mantle.

"Well, now that we have enjoyed this punk view, suppose we get down to
some place where we can make camp and sleep," suggested Stacy.

"This is where we are to sleep to-night," answered Tom.

"What! Here?" gasped Stacy.

"Yes. Did we not come up here for that purpose?"

Stacy shivered, and glanced down over the glittering snow field, then
shivered some more, but made no further comment.

"This will be the first time that I ever slept in a snow bank, and I
trust it may be the last," observed Emma resignedly. "Last night we
found a nice dry spot for our beds, but up here--Br-r-r-r!"

"You will be as comfortable as though you were in your own bed at home,"
promised Grace.

"I wish to goodness I had your imagination," grumbled Chunky. "It must
be beautiful to be able to dream things the way you do."

No fuel for a fire had been brought along on this last leg of the climb
above timber line, so supper was a cold meal. Everyone felt so miserable
after supper that the Overlanders with one accord began preparing to
roll up in their blankets for the night. Hippy had already dug trenches
in the snow for the party to sleep in, so they might be out of the wind.
The girls talked chatteringly of everything they could think of, to
assist them in forgetting their misery, then crawled into their trenches
and tightly rolled themselves up in their blankets.

"This is the first time I ever went to bed with my boots on," complained
Elfreda. "Should I live until morning I surely shall have something to
brag about."

"Why, girls, this is an ideal summer resort," laughingly chided Grace.

The response was a chorus of dismal groans. For a few moments after that
the Overlanders lay gazing up at the bright stars, then a gradual warmth
overspread their shivering bodies, and one by one they dropped off to
sleep, now nearly thirteen thousand feet above sea level.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                       BOWLING IN NATURE'S ALLEY


Contrary to expectations the Overland Riders slept soundly all through
the night, but the moment they crawled from under their blankets in the
morning, they began to shiver.

"Come on! Take a run with me," urged Tom.

"Please go away and let me die," moaned Emma.

"We must have exercise to start our blood circulating," reminded Hippy.

"I don't want exercise. I want something to warm me up on the inside,"
protested Stacy.

Grace and Elfreda, holding hands, were already dancing about in
grotesque fashion, taking long draughts of air into their lungs, the
color rising to their faces as the circulation of their blood responded
to their lively movements.

"Never mind, folks," comforted Hippy. "If you will all take a lively
sprint, then a snow-wash, I will give you something that will please you
and fix you up in great shape."

"I shall be past all human help long before that," answered Emma.

"Why don't you transmigrate yourself to a warmer clime for an hour or
so?" suggested Stacy.

Tom Gray nodded to Hippy, whereupon Lieutenant Wingate took from his
pack a tiny alcohol stove, which he filled from a small bottle and
lighted. Over the stove he placed a coffee pot full of white snow dug
from underneath the crust where it was not tainted with what Stacy had
been pleased to characterize as a "turpentine taste." As the snow melted
in the coffee pot, more snow was added until there was sufficient for
their use. The Overlanders, quickly discovering that something unusual
was going on, ran to the coffee-maker.

"Wha--at's this?" demanded Elfreda.

"An alcohol stove--a hot cup of coffee for each in a few moments,"
chuckled Lieutenant Wingate.

"Hippy Wingate, did you have that last night?" demanded Emma.

"Yes."

"And you let us suffer with cold and eat a coffeeless supper?" rebuked
Nora Wingate.

"You lived through it. Why kick, now that you are about to have a warm
drink?"

"We ought to throw you off the mountain," declared Grace.

"Don't do it till he gets the coffee ready," urged Stacy.

"The reason that I did not use the alcohol kit last night was that I had
only enough alcohol to burn the stove for one meal," explained Hippy. "I
knew that you would be in more urgent need of coffee in the morning than
you were last night."

"I withdraw my suggestion that we throw you over," laughed Grace.

"Are you ready?" called Lieutenant Wingate. "The coffee is."

"Are we ready? Just watch us," cried Emma Dean.

Each had an individual cup, and Hippy passed lumps of sugar to them from
his own kit. They had no milk, but there was no complaint, for the
Overlanders were glad enough to get the coffee black. This, with some
biscuit and cold venison, comprised the meal, but they declared
unanimously that they had never had a more appetizing breakfast.

"I have decided," announced Stacy finally, "not to be a party to the
plan to throw Uncle Hip overboard--at least not to-day. Good-morning,
Sun! Welcome to our happy home," he added, bowing to the rising sun.

Tom called attention to two birds circling over them, which he said were
jays looking for crumbs, whereupon the girls broke up pieces of hard
tack and sprinkled them over the ground a few yards from the camp. The
jays swooped down on the crumbs, chattering and scolding. Grace then
suggested that, having reached the "top of the world," they resume their
journey and explore the lower ridges, taking the whole day for their
return to camp. The first quarter of a mile down was a slide rather than
a walk, but the Overlanders made merry over their frequent mishaps,
finally reaching a long granite slope on the south side of the mountain
where there was little snow. There, the sun's rays blazed down all day
long, and there many sparkling streams had their origin.

About them the ground was strewn with boulders from the size of a man's
head up to great spheres of flint-like stone, many as round and
glistening as though they had been turned and polished by man.

"Oh, look at the beautiful lake!" cried Nora enthusiastically, pointing
to a body of water in the valley far below them. "What is it?"

"It doesn't appear on my map. I don't know what it is," answered Tom.

"Perhaps it is the Aerial Lake that we have been warned against,"
suggested Grace.

"I was thinking of that myself," nodded Tom. "There are trees growing in
the lake, but what are those glistening objects farther out?"

"Rocks," replied Grace, after focusing her binoculars on the shining
marks.

"I wonder if I can hit one of them," said Stacy, picking up a round
stone which he sent rolling down the smooth granite slope. The stone
shot over a broad, shelving rock, leaped far out into the air, then,
after what seemed an interminable time, splashed into the lake. The
Overlanders saw a tiny spurt of water as the stone struck the surface of
the lake.

"Folks, I've got an idea. Greatest thing you ever heard of, too," cried
Hippy.

"Throw it over the cliff," suggested Emma. "The very best possible use
to which you can put your ideas."

"That is exactly what I am going to do, my dear Emma. Just watch my
smoke."

The Overland Riders were puzzled to know what Hippy had in mind. First,
he cut several tough lodge poles, then selecting a boulder half as high
as himself, Hippy easily pried it from its resting place with a pole and
started it down the slope. The boulder soon began to roll, gaining
momentum with the seconds, striking fire as now and then it came into
contact with sharp projections of rock.

The boulder finally hit the shelving slabs of granite at the edge of the
cliff with a mighty crash and leaped out into the air. The party watched
its projectile-like flight with fascinated gaze.

Then came the splash into the lake. The Overlanders did not hear the
splash but they saw the water spurt up into the air like a miniature
geyser, and fall in a silver shower over a wide area.

"Hurrah!" shouted Stacy, tossing his hat into the air.

Tom Gray was excited, and so were his companions. Stacy Brown was
already prying at a boulder with a pole, while Hippy had run to another
one and was digging an opening into which to insert his lever, using a
flat stone for a fulcrum. Many of the boulders lay resting on the slope
and thus were easily thrown out of balance.

"Wait!" cried Elfreda. "We will have a game of bowling."

"Yes, and the highest one that was ever played," exclaimed Grace.

"And I'll be Rip Van Winkle. Show me a soft place to lie down and
sleep," cried Stacy.

"Where are the ninepins?" demanded Emma. "One cannot bowl without having
something to bowl at."

"Use the trees down yonder in the lake," suggested Hippy. "The one who
makes the first score will be free of camp duties for the next
twenty-four hours."

"I won't play," declared Chunky. "I know you want to work some sharp
game on me."

"And the one who makes no score at all must do the work for all those
who do make scores," added Elfreda laughingly.

The fat boy sat down stubbornly.

"Go on with your game," he said.

"What's the matter? Don't you want to play, Honey?" asked Nora.

"No. I'm going to be the umpire," answered Stacy.

"As you please," laughed Hippy. "You will have to do the chores anyway.
Folks, I am going to try to hit the third tree to the left of that group
of rocks near the middle of the lake. Now watch me."

Hippy started a rock, which he had selected with great care. It boomed
over the ledge, observed in breathless silence by the spectators, then
hurtled far out over the lake, finally smashing into the blue waters,
throwing spray high in the air.

"A miss!" shouted the Overlanders.

"He missed it by half a mile," jeered the umpire. "Why don't you change
your sights? You are shooting over the mark."

[Illustration: "It's a Hit!"]

Tom took the next try. He balanced his rock, after having pried it
loose, and made it ready for the fall, and sent it crashing along on its
way. As nearly as the eye could measure, Tom's boulder fell some twenty
rods to the right of the tree aimed at. Tom then made ready a boulder
for Grace. She failed to hit the lake, and derisive howls greeted her
effort. Elfreda and Nora did a little better than that. Both hit the
lake, but nowhere near the mark they had aimed at.

Stacy got up slowly and yawned.

"You folks make me tired. You ought to go to night school and learn how
to roll stones. Why, even our little transmigrating Emma could beat you
sharps at throwing stones. Emma, will you roll if I fix a boulder for
you?" questioned Stacy.

"Yes, if you promise not to play tricks on me."

Stacy winked at Emma and nodded sideways to the others, as indicating
that the trick was to be played on them, then snatching up his pole he
ran to a boulder that he had some time since selected for his own.

After prying the rock into proper position, squinting and sighting and
surveying the rock from all sides, he nodded to Emma and offered the
pole to her.

"Take it easy. If you can't move the rock I'll lend you a hand,"
whispered Stacy.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you are now about to witness one of Emma Dean's
most notable transmigration feats. Keep your eyes on the performer and
you will see that she has nothing up her sleeve--nor under her hat,"
announced Hippy Wingate.

"Tip it over!" commanded Stacy, throwing his weight on the pole with
Emma. "Watch the two twin-trees down there, but look sharply or you
won't see them when they disappear from the face of the earth," he
warned, strolling back towards his companions.

Emma's boulder, not being quite round, moved very slowly at first, and
once it threatened to stop altogether and go no further, but finally,
gaining new impetus, it started savagely on its way to the ledge, where
it did a clumsy hop into the air, then dived for the lake.

"It is going to hit the lake!" cried Grace.

"What did you think we were trying to hit?" demanded Stacy. "If it is a
hit--if little Emma makes a killing, I did it. If she misses, she did
it."

"It's a hit!" yelled Lieutenant Wingate.

"You don't say?" wondered Stacy, turning quickly, the most amazed member
of the Overland party.

Cheers greeted the achievement as two trees standing side by side in the
lake disappeared as if by magic. Stacy threw out his chest and paraded
back and forth with folded arms, an expression of dignified superiority
on his face.

"I don't have to work for a whole week," observed Stacy.

"Oh, yes you do," answered Elfreda. "You know you weren't in the
game--you are only the umpire. Further, Emma won the roll, and will have
a vacation until to-morrow afternoon."

"There goes my Hippy's roll!" cried Nora, and for the moment attention
was centered on Lieutenant Wingate's rolling boulder. It made a clean
hit, knocking down a tree close to the water.

"The racket must be terrific down there," said Grace. "Hippy, you surely
raised a disturbance with that last shot."

Tom tried once more and sent a boulder into the lake. The Overlanders
plainly heard the impact, and could see a shower of broken rock being
distributed over the surface of the lake.

Suddenly a new sound smote the ears of the Overland Riders, a familiar
sound that they had heard many times in France and on their journeys in
their own land.

"What's that?" demanded Stacy.

"That?" answered Hippy. "Why, that is a butterfly lullaby. You surely
ought to know that sound by this time."

"_Woo, woo, woo!_" was the sound that smote their ears again.

"Down, all of you! We're under fire!" shouted Tom Gray.



                               CHAPTER XX

                      LEAD AND MYSTERY IN THE AIR


"Are--are we attacked?" wailed Emma Dean.

"Bullets are coming from somewhere, that is certain," answered Hippy,
raising his head from the ground on which he, as well as his companions,
had thrown themselves at the first shot.

Following the last two shots, the reports of rifles were distinctly
heard by each member of the party, and each pair of eyes was straining
to locate the source of the shooting.

"Oh, it must be a mistake," cried Emma.

"That doesn't help us any," replied Tom Gray. "But I do wish we had our
rifles."

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," advised Stacy.

Hippy raised himself to a sitting position and waved his handkerchief.

"_Woo, woo, woo!--Bang!_"

Hippy threw himself over backwards, his feet kicking up into the air,
his attitude being so funny that the Overlanders laughed heartily. Their
laughter, however, quickly subsided, when they recalled that the last
shot had passed very close to them.

Tom Gray had been listening to the whistle of the bullets and to the
reports that followed, and the result of his listening and looking was
the conclusion that the shooters were getting the range, and that,
undoubtedly, smokeless powder was being used.

"I don't care whether they see me or not," exclaimed Hippy, getting to
his feet, but no sooner had he done so than a bullet whistled so close
to him that, as he declared later, he felt the hot breath of it on his
cheek.

"Did you see that?" he cried, throwing himself on the ground.

"No. I didn't see it. I may have sharp eyes, but they aren't sharp
enough to see a bullet on the wing," retorted Stacy.

"What I cannot understand is, why they are shooting at us," wondered
Elfreda.

"Perhaps they think we have been throwing stones at them," suggested
Emma.

"Rolling stones gather no moss," interjected Stacy. "Possibly, however,
our rolling stones came near gathering in some parties down in the
valley, and they are retaliating by shooting at us."

"Girls! Let's get out of here," cried Grace, springing up. "I am weary
of hiding."

"Get down!" shouted several voices.

Grace gave no heed to the command, nor to the bullet that sang over her
head, but when one barely grazed her cheek, she decided that she was
quite ready to join her companions on the ground again.

"Are we going to lie here all day and let those ruffians shoot at us?"
demanded Emma.

"The only other alternative is to crawl away," answered Tom.

"Crawl where?" questioned Grace.

"To that ridge to the right of us."

"I'm blest if I do!" retorted Hippy, getting up and walking deliberately
towards the rocks indicated by Tom Gray.

The others, with the exception of Stacy Brown, not to be outdone in
courage by Lieutenant Wingate, got up and followed him, not hurriedly,
but walking slowly, keeping some distance between them, and in this way
finally reaching the ridge and safety. Several shots were fired at them
on the way, but all went wide of the mark.

"Where is Stacy? Quick! Maybe he has been hit," urged Nora almost
hysterically.

Grace sprang back and peered around the corner of the rocks.

"Oh, girls! Look at him, will you?" she cried.

Leaning as far out from the rocks as they dared, the Overlanders
discovered the missing Chunky. He was flat on the ground on his stomach,
wriggling along in a fair imitation of a serpent.

"Get up and walk, you tenderfoot!" laughed Hippy. "What are you afraid
of?"

"Nothing. I just happened to think how, when I was a baby, I used to
creep to the pantry to pick up crumbs, so I thought I'd see if I had
forgotten how," answered Stacy.

"You are a fine hero, aren't you?" observed Emma sarcastically, when
Stacy, having finally reached the protection of the rocks, got up and
brushed the dirt from his clothes.

"No. All the heroes are dead. I don't want to be a hero. What's the news
from the front?"

"Impossible!" muttered Tom, laughing in spite of himself. Tom had been
pondering, wondering, trying to account satisfactorily to himself for
this attempt on their lives.

"What do you make of it?" asked Elfreda, nodding at him.

"It may have been accidental," he replied.

Grace shook her head.

"No, they were shooting at us," declared Hippy.

"I have been wondering, thinking about what Mr. Giddings told us at the
'Lazy J' ranch," said Miss Briggs. "You remember what he said about the
mysterious Aerial Lake, don't you?"

"It is my opinion that we have been bombarding that very same lake,"
declared Grace. "That, however, does not explain the shots."

"Perhaps not," returned Elfreda, "but it does go a long way towards
proving that there is something in what the foreman of the 'Lazy J' told
us. I, for one, am in favor of giving that lake a wide berth."

"No, no," protested Hippy and Grace. "Let's find out what the mystery
is," added Grace.

"I'll stay back and watch the horses while you are gone," offered Stacy.

"Back to camp for us, now. To-morrow we shall decide what is best to be
done," advised Tom.

Having reached the safe side of the mountain, the party took a direct
course for their camp, which was located close to what they had named
"Bear Mountain," because its top strongly resembled an ambling bear.
They found pretty rough going until they reached a point about a mile
from the camp, and there Tom suggested that they move more cautiously,
and not blunder into camp, not knowing what they might find there.

They had approached within sight of their camp when Hippy halted and
beckoned his companions to him.

"What is it?" questioned Tom.

For answer, Hippy pointed to a jutting rock which they knew lay just
back of the camp itself. There, outlined on the rock, was a figure. It
did not require very keen eyes to recognize the figure, even at that
distance.

"Woo! Thank goodness," exclaimed Miss Briggs.

"I'll give him a yell," volunteered Stacy.

"No, no!" protested Grace. There was that in the attitude of the
Chinaman that appealed to Grace's bump of caution. "Wait until he sees
us," she counseled. "Trust Woo to shout, unless there be good reason why
he should not."

The party moved on cautiously, thus far well screened by foliage, but
the instant they appeared in the open, the guide saw them and began
excitedly waving his arms.

"Do you see?" nodded Grace.

"He does seem to be excited about something," agreed Tom.

"If there is likely to be trouble, perhaps I had better fall back as
sort of reserve," suggested Stacy. "In case of trouble it is a wise plan
to have reserves, you know."

No one paid the slightest attention to Stacy's suggestion, nor did they
increase their pace, not wishing to show that they shared the excitement
of the guide, though there was a suspicion in their minds as to the
cause of that excitement.

As they drew nearer, Woo Smith clambered down from his perch and trotted
out to meet them. His face expressed neither pleasure nor alarm.

"Good-afternoon, Mr. Smith," greeted Emma with dignity.

"Are the ponies all safe?" smiled Grace.

"Him velly good."

"Then what are you stewing about?" blurted out Stacy Brown.

"Anything wrong, Smith?" asked Tom Gray anxiously.

"Les. Bang, bang!"

"You mean bing, bing, don't you?" cut in Stacy.

"Me savvy bang, bang!" returned the guide.

"Oh, let it go at that," urged Hippy. "It doesn't make much difference
either way, whether it is 'bang, bang' or 'bing, bing'!"

"Me savvy boom, boom, too," added Woo.

"No, no. You mean bang, bang!" insisted Chunky.

"For goodness sake, give the poor fellow a chance," begged Elfreda
laughingly. "You will get him so befuddled that he will not know what he
means. Woo, what _is_ the trouble? Have you seen strangers about?"

The guide's queue bobbed vigorously, as he pointed to a ridge on the
other side of the canyon.

"Me savvy man there. Me savvy boom, boom! Bang, bang!"

Grace's face lighted up.

"We understand, Woo. You heard guns and you saw a man over there," she
nodded. "Did the man see you?"

The Chinaman shook his head.

"Do you think he discovered the camp?" asked Tom Gray.

Woo shook his head again.

"He heard the boom of our bowling game and the shots following. That
seems quite clear, but there appears to be no reason why we should be
excited about it," said Lieutenant Wingate.

Grace said she did not agree with him.

"What the guide says, indicates to me that the stranger was not only
seeking to wing us, but that he was looking for our camp. Was that all
you saw, Woo?"

"No. Me savvy woman."

"What's that?" demanded Hippy sharply.

The Overlanders' interest was aroused anew.

"Me savvy woman. Woman come close and peek. Woman see camp, then go
'way. Br-r-r! Big piecee woman make ugly face!"

"Discovered!" exclaimed Hippy Wingate dramatically.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                         THE FACE IN THE WATERS


"A woman!" breathed Miss Briggs.

"You must be mistaken," differed Nora.

"What did she look like?" questioned Grace.

"Me savvy no good," answered Woo with an emphasis that drew a laugh from
the Overland Riders.

"How strange," murmured Emma. "What could a woman be doing in this awful
country?"

"Perhaps she lives here," suggested Elfreda. "I should not be surprised
at anything in the High Sierras."

"Show me where she was when you saw her," requested Tom Gray.

Woo led him to a huge boulder, about a hundred yards from the camp.

"Me savvy piecee woman peek ovel locks," said the guide.

"A woman peeked over the rocks there. Is that it?" asked Elfreda, the
entire party having followed Woo out to the scene of his discovery.

"Les."

"What did she do then?" persisted Tom.

"Him go 'way plenty quick."

Grace and Hippy hurried forward and began examining the ground, but
found no trace, no footprints, nothing that would indicate that a person
had been there.

"Woo, it is my opinion that you went to sleep and had nightmare,"
declared Hippy laughingly. "No one has been here. See! She would have
left footprints at least."

"Piecee woman go 'way," insisted Woo.

"Don't wolly till to-mollow," imitated Stacy Brown. "Woo, got anything
loose about the house? I've been living on pink snow for so long that I
feel like a snowbird in distress. Food is what my system demands."

"A bird, did you say?" questioned Emma. "I agree with you that you are
something of a bird, but not of the snowbird species."

Grace was the only one of the party who believed that their guide really
had seen a human being spying on the camp. The others, after some
discussion, dismissed the matter from mind, and devoted their attention
to the supper which Woo had prepared and served. A much more comfortable
night was spent in this lower altitude, and, with the rising of the sun,
the Overlanders prepared to resume their journey.

The party was still at a considerable elevation above the lake, which
had sunk out of sight as if it had never existed, due to the fact that
huge granite shelves intervened between them and the mysterious water.
They judged that the lake must lie at an elevation of close to eight
thousand feet above sea level.

"I smell something," exclaimed Hippy as they were dismounting for
luncheon and a rest that day.

"So do I," agreed Stacy Brown. "Someone is baking bread and using salt
yeast. Lead me to it, quick!"

"What you smell is a dead campfire," Tom Gray informed the fat boy.
"Unless I am greatly mistaken, the fire has not been out long, either.
Come on, folks, help me to find it. It may give us some information that
we need."

By proceeding against the gentle breeze that was blowing they were
enabled, after considerable searching about, to locate the dead
campfire.

"Here it is!" cried Tom, scraping aside a cover of leaves and grass that
had been spread over the ashes to hide the tell-tale evidence. "See! The
embers have been kicked aside and water poured over them. It is the
water poured on the fire that produces the strong odor that we smell."

"How long ago was that done, do you think?" asked Hippy.

"Several hours ago, I should say."

Hippy made a circuit of the camp site that they had come upon, and
returning, announced that he had made a further discovery--the spot at
which horses had been turned loose.

"There appears to have been four of them, though I cannot be positive
about that," he said. "I merely saw the footprints of four animals as
they started on their way northward."

"But suppose they are looking for us?" exclaimed Miss Briggs. "If they
are headed north they are headed towards the place where we were fired
upon, are they not?"

"Oh, don't worry," laughed Hippy. "They have a nice, long, rough journey
ahead of them. We seem to have missed each other very cleverly. However,
they may be nothing more than an exploring party, and we have been so
stirred up over what we have heard of the High Country that every little
thing takes on an importance that doesn't belong to it."

"I wish I could make a long speech like that and get away with it,"
observed Stacy admiringly.

"Young man, you say altogether too much as it is," retorted Tom Gray. "I
think that perhaps it might be well for us to take an inventory of our
surroundings, as well as of what lies immediately ahead of us, before we
start out," he added.

Hippy volunteered to do a little scouting, and Grace said she would
accompany him, as anything of that sort appealed to her, so they set out
together, but soon separated and took different courses.

Grace first of all sought a high point from which she obtained a very
good view of the surrounding country, but saw nothing of a disturbing
nature. A deer stood outlined on a shelf of rock a few hundred feet
above and to the south of her; a bear ambled across an open space,
zigzagging his way down. Bears do not like to go straight down a hill or
mountain-side. The fact that their front legs are shorter than the hind
legs makes going straight down a steep incline difficult, so, unless
pursued, they ordinarily follow the switchback principle, zigzagging
along until they reach the bottom.

The Overland girl watched the ambling beast with interest until it
finally disappeared. She had no doubt that it was descending to the
valley in search of food, lured there, perhaps, by the scent of an
abandoned camp. Except for these two animals, she was unable to discover
any sign of life, nor was there a wisp of smoke within her vision that
might indicate the presence of human beings.

While Grace was making a general observation of the landscape,
Lieutenant Wingate was endeavoring to follow the trail of the unknown
horsemen to determine, as definitely as possible, the direction that
they had taken. Their trail, which he followed for nearly a mile, still
continued towards the peak, and it was his belief that that was their
destination, or at least some other near-by point where they might hope
to meet up with the Overland party.

Hippy pondered over this, and found himself wondering what the motive of
the horsemen might be. Still pondering, he began retracing his steps to
meet Grace at a point decided upon before they started away on separate
trails.

Lieutenant Wingate was cautiously making his way through a thick growth
of bushes, watching his step and listening for the familiar whirring
warning of a rattler, when a sudden interruption occurred, an
interruption that caused Hippy to throw himself on the ground, and lie
still.

The interruption was a bullet, a bullet that clipped his hat, nipping a
piece out of the brim, and giving the Overlander a scare. At first he
thought the shot might have been fired by one of his own party, and was
about to call out a warning, but changed his mind and began wriggling
away from the scene. He had, by this time, forgotten all about the snake
peril, his one burning desire being to get as far away from that
locality as possible in the shortest possible time.

Hippy found it slow going, because he twisted and turned so much,
following as crooked a trail as he could lay out for himself, for the
purpose of confusing the author of that shot, should the fellow decide
to follow him.

Suddenly Hippy thought of Grace. She, too, might be in peril. His first
inclination was to get up and run to their rendezvous, but upon second
thought he came to the conclusion that it would be wiser to make an
effort to discover the one who had shot at him. With this in view,
Lieutenant Wingate began making a detour with the intention of coming up
behind the shooter, Hippy having a good general idea of the position
occupied by the man at the time the shot was fired.

All his efforts came to naught. He had spent nearly an hour in stalking
his man before he realized that he was wasting time.

While he was engaged in his quest Grace had sat listening. She had heard
the shot, and reasoned that it had been fired from somewhere in Hippy's
direction. There being no answering shot, however, she forced herself to
believe that her companion had shot at a snake, and decided to proceed
on to the place where they were to meet before returning to camp.

Grace took a different route to reach the spot, and this route took her
near a swiftly moving stream of water that flowed down into the lake.
The stream was wide where she came upon it, and to find a suitable
fording place the Overland girl continued on further up-stream. Her way
led her under an overhang of granite rocks several feet higher than her
head. Beneath her was a pool, deeper than the stream below, and in the
pool she saw fish darting. The pool seemed to be fairly alive with them.

Grace's mind instantly turned to what the foreman of the "Lazy J" ranch
had said about the golden trout in the High Sierras.

"Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if I had discovered a pool of those live
nuggets!" she cried, throwing herself down and gazing into the pool, on
which the sunlight shone, mirroring her own face and the rocks behind
her on its surface.

"They aren't golden trout at all; they are mountain trout, and oh, what
beauties! I must tell Hippy and have him get a mess for us. I reckon
that golden trout story is a myth. However, golden or speckled beauties,
it is all the same to the Overlanders. A mess of fish is what they need.
I--"

The Overland girl paused suddenly. The smile on the face she saw in the
water faded and a catch interrupted her breath.

"Wha--at is it?" she gasped.

In the water, beside her own, another face was reflected. It was the
face of a woman. At first, Grace believed that some trick of nature was
showing her a double of her own face, distorted and unrecognizable, but
she instantly realized that this could not be possible. The face that
she was looking down into on the surface of the pool was as hideous a
countenance as she had ever gazed upon, scarred, distorted and crowned
by a head of matted hair that bristled at its top and hung in tangled
skeins over the ears. The face was all that she could see.

For an instant the eyes of the girl and the woman above her seemed to
meet on the face of the waters.

Grace whirled and sprang up, revolver in hand, for there was menace in
the eyes that she had been looking into.

Quick as the Overland girl was, Grace Harlowe found herself gazing up at
a barren shelf of rock, unoccupied, silent as a tomb, with not a sign of
life to be seen, either there or anywhere about her.

It was inexplicable. A feeling of something akin to terror took
possession of Grace Harlowe, then all at once, panic seized her, and,
uttering a little cry, she fled on fleet foot back down the stream,
unheeding where it might lead her, hoping and thinking only of getting
away from that which had given her such a fright.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                       THE MYSTERY OF AERIAL LAKE


Grace ran on until suddenly halted by a shout from Hippy Wingate.

"Whither away, my pretty maid?" cried Hippy.

"Oh! You gave me a start," answered Grace breathlessly. "I've had such a
fright, Hippy. I have seen the most awful face that I ever looked upon."

"In the words of the guide, 'don't wolly till to-mollow.' What did it
look like? Tell me about it."

Grace told him what had occurred and described as best she could the
face that she had seen mirrored in the pool.

"That sounds like the woman Woo saw watching the camp," he nodded. "I
think we ought to go back to camp and tell the folks what you have
discovered."

"You mean it sounds like Woo's description of her," answered Grace
laughingly.

"You know what I mean. Come on!"

The Overlanders listened breathlessly to Grace Harlowe's story of her
experience, but no one had an explanation to offer. They asked her if
she had gone up to the rock to see if anyone were hiding there, but
Grace said she had not done so because she was too frightened.

"I've never lost my head before, but I surely did this time," she added,
smiling in an embarrassed sort of way. "I found a pool full of mountain
trout--no, not golden trout--and I would suggest that one of you men go
out and see if you can't catch a mess. Trout would be relished by all,
including even myself, scared as I am."

"Trout! Me for them," cried Hippy. "You come along, Tom, and perhaps,
between us, we may be able to find the beautiful creature that gave
Grace the first real scare of her life. I'm glad you have found
something that frightens you," chuckled Hippy. "Me for the fish now."

Tom accompanied Lieutenant Wingate, leaving Stacy with the girls, and
with instructions to stay in camp. The two men returned two hours later
with a mess of trout sufficient to last the party several days. Stacy
was asked to assist in cleaning them, then the fish were broiled, and a
delicious trout meal was enjoyed. Not since they started had they sat
down to such dainty food.

The Overland Riders were on the trail early next morning. This trail
eventually led them up the side of a mountain, over places where they
were obliged to hitch ropes to the ponies to assist them over
particularly troublesome spots, yet it was all great fun.

As the party went on, game become more plentiful. Quail scuttled away at
their approach, with heads ducked low, and here and there a flash of
brown and white told of a frightened deer fleeing to safety. No one
ventured a shot. The party had sufficient provisions for present needs,
and further, it was understood that, unless absolutely necessary, there
was to be no shooting. Tom, however, killed a rattler that lay coiled on
a shelf of granite buzzing away like an alarm clock, but that was the
only exciting incident of the morning's ride. By noon they had worked
their way up to an apparently impassable ridge. Tom went on ahead, soon
returning with the welcome information that there appeared to be a break
in the ridge about a mile to the south of them, and that he thought they
could get through it.

The Overlanders made camp late that afternoon, and on the following
morning, now thoroughly rested, they followed rough and rugged trails,
surmounting difficulties almost as great as the worst they had met above
timber line. Their reward came later in the morning when they discovered
that they had unerringly followed the right course.

"There's the lake!" shouted Nora.

Before them, framed in a rim of black forest and rock, lay a lake of the
deepest emerald green they had ever gazed upon. About the shore, and
extending down to the water, white pebbles formed a mat for the picture.

"It is our Aerial Lake," declared Grace. "It is the same lake that we
saw several days ago and that we bombarded with rocks." From somewhere
in that vicinity the shots that had disturbed them undoubtedly had been
fired. It was quite a large body of water, just how large they could not
see, on account of a sharp bend in the lake, and intervening mountains.

"Aren't we going down to make camp now?" asked Elfreda Briggs.

"Yes, for I'm just dying to know what the secret, the great dark secret,
of Aerial Lake really is," bubbled Emma.

"From all accounts it's a homely woman," laughed Nora.

"Oh, there are others," reminded Stacy.

"That was not a nice thing to say, Stacy," rebuked Grace, laughing in
spite of her efforts to be stern. "It was decidedly ungracious."

"So are the kind I mean," retorted Stacy. "Hark!"

A rifle shot echoed through the canyons, but, though ears were strained
to catch the sound, no second shot was heard.

"I wonder at whom they are shooting this time?" muttered Tom. "We are
again reminded that we are not the only persons in the High Sierras, so
let us be cautious."

"Watch your step, ladies and gentlemen," warned Stacy as the party
started on.

The Overlanders chose a camp site back among the trees a few rods from
the shore of the lake. This site was not only well screened from
observation, but afforded an excellent view of the lake as far as the
bend. Camp was quickly made, after which Stacy and Hippy shouldered
their rifles and started out to get acquainted with their surroundings,
as the party intended to remain at the lake for several days. The two
had gone but a short distance from camp ere the Overlanders heard Chunky
utter a shout.

"I've found an ark," he cried, pointing triumphantly to a dugout canoe
that lay on the shore.

The dugout had been hewn from a solid log and bore indications of recent
use. Stacy searched for a paddle but could not find one. While the
Overlanders, who had hurried out to him, were discussing Stacy's find,
Hippy was nosing about on the beach, closely observing the ground. He
found boot tracks there, but they did not appear to have been recently
made, so he decided that some days had elapsed since anyone had been on
that particular spot.

Stacy promptly forgot that he was out reconnoitering, and, cutting down
a small tree with his hatchet, he proceeded to fashion a crude paddle
from it. He then announced that he was going paddling. Tom said no, but
Stacy said yes, whereupon Hippy read his nephew a sharp lecture on
"respect to one's elders."

To all this, Stacy made no reply, as he considered that he would gain
nothing were he to protest too strenuously.

"That's all," finished Hippy.

"Thanks, Uncle Hip. But if anything should happen to me, you'll be sorry
that you were so cruel."

"Oh, take your old dugout and go on," exclaimed Hippy. "If you drown,
don't blame me. If it were not that you are a good swimmer I shouldn't
trust you in that cranky craft."

"That is very kind of your Uncle Hippy," reminded Grace. "I hope you
appreciate it."

Stacy failed to answer. Still tinkering with the paddle, he watched his
companions out of the corner of one eye, as they walked slowly back
towards their camp. Lieutenant Wingate, rifle in the crook of one arm,
continued on. An hour and a half later, as Hippy was returning, he saw
his nephew paddling slowly down the lake. Hippy waved his hat and
"hoo-hooed," to which Stacy paid no attention whatever.

"Better keep in close. The wind is coming up," called Lieutenant
Wingate.

Stacy Brown was still silent, and Hippy, chuckling to himself, went on
to camp, where he told his companions of things he had discovered on his
jaunt, none of which were of importance, except that he had found
further evidence of the presence of human beings and horses.

At luncheon time, Stacy was still absent, but his absence excited no
comment, because the boy was very fond of the water and probably in his
enjoyment of it he had forgotten all about the passage of time. But when
it came four o'clock in the afternoon and still no Stacy, someone
suggested that they go out and look for him. Hippy was the one who went.
He soon came running back, waving his hat to attract the attention of
his companions.

"Something has happened to Stacy!" he shouted.

"What is it--what has become of him?" called Tom Gray.

"Stacy's dugout is floating bottomside up on the lake, but he is nowhere
in sight," answered Lieutenant Wingate.

The Overlanders started at a run for the lake.

"There it is! I see it," cried Emma.

"Oh, Hippy, can't you do something?" begged Nora. "What is that floating
out there?"

"It's a log," answered Hippy. Despite the fact that the whitecaps were
rolling up the lake, this log remained in one position all the time, but
no one of the Overland party observed that fact.

"I can swim out to the canoe. Who knows but that Stacy may be under it?"
offered Grace.

"No, no," protested the Overlanders in one voice.

"Grace, the water is icy cold. To swim out in that water would be the
death of you. If anyone does it, either Hippy or myself will," announced
Tom. "Is that a hat I see floating there?"

"It's Stacy's hat," cried Elfreda. "Oh, this is too bad. Cannot
something be done?"

"There he goes! He will be drowned. Somebody stop him!" begged Emma as
Lieutenant Wingate plunged into the lake and began beating his way
towards the overturned canoe. Hippy had not even paused to remove any
part of his clothing.

"Come back!" shouted Grace shrilly.

"Come back!" urged Tom. "Even if he is there you can't help him now."

"Don't worry. I am all right," came back Lieutenant Wingate's voice,
sounding far away.

"Me savvy plenty cold watel," piped Woo Smith, but no one gave heed to
his words, and it is doubtful if any of the Overlanders even heard him.

"I don't believe Stacy is drowned at all," declared Emma. "You will
laugh at me, but I have a thought message that he isn't."

"This is no time for nonsense, my dear," rebuked Elfreda.

"It isn't nonsense, it's transmigration," protested Emma.

About this time they observed that Hippy was close to the dugout, and
all eyes were fixed anxiously on him. They saw him grasp the turned-over
boat, then dive under it. Hippy was out of sight but a few moments when
his head was seen bobbing up on the opposite side of the dugout.

The Overlanders shouted to him, but the wind was against them and Hippy
did not even know that they were calling.

"Someone run to camp and fetch a bath towel," urged Grace. "Never mind,
I'll go," she added, starting away at a run for the camp. Grace was back
ere Lieutenant Wingate reached the shore. Tom was there to meet him, and
assisted Hippy, dripping, and blue of face and lips, to his feet.

"Here, Tom. Take the towel and give Hippy a brisk rub-down."

"How--where?" gasped Tom.

"Anywhere. Go out in the bushes, do it anywhere, but for goodness sake
don't delay. What did you find?"

"Nothing--not a single thing to indicate anything," answered Lieutenant
Wingate dully.

"Please hurry! Don't you see that Hippy has a chill, Tom?"

Tom Gray hustled his companion out of sight, then stripped him and gave
him a brisk rubdown, so brisk in fact that Hippy finally begged him to
stop.

"I shan't have any skin left if you go one rub further," he complained.

"Here is Hippy's other suit," called Nora. "How is he?"

"Skinned alive," answered Hippy with a groan.

Tom ran out and snatched up the suit, which he immediately assisted
Hippy to put on.

"Are you still chilly?" questioned Captain Gray after his companion had
gotten fully into dry clothes.

"I should say not, after what you have done to me. I don't care anything
about my own condition. What I am half crazy about is Stacy. I don't,
for the life of me, understand how a fellow who can swim as well as he,
_could_ drown. Tom, help me out. What do you think I had better do?"

"Do? I think you have done enough--all that can be done. My advice is
that we get back to camp. The girls have a good fire going, and my
suggestion is that you sit by the fire and dry out your shoes while we
decide what we should do next."

"I don't suppose there _is_ need for hurry. If he is drowned he's
drowned, and that's all there is about it, and if he isn't, he isn't.
Yes, we will go back."

When Tom and Hippy emerged from Nature's dressing room, Tom carrying his
chum's wet clothing, they found the Overland girls awaiting them a short
distance away. Nora embraced Hippy and wept on his shoulder, and, as a
matter of fact, the other three girls of the party had difficulty in
keeping their own tears back.

"Oh, this is terrible!" moaned Nora.

Emma pulled herself together.

"I have a mental message that Stacy is all right, and that he will be
back to-night," comforted Miss Dean.

"False hopes, I am afraid," answered Tom.

"Woo, how deep is that lake?"

Woo consulted the skies.

"No savvy. Mebby fish can tell."

No more was said. It was a sober Overland party that slowly retraced its
steps to the camp, but, as they stepped in among the trees and came in
sight of the little camp, the Overlanders halted abruptly and gazed
astounded.

On a blanket that he had spread out sat Stacy Brown, his clothing
wrinkled and dirty. Before him stood two cans of beans, open, and a
plate of trout, while both cheeks protruded unnaturally as Stacy gazed
soulfully at his companions.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                        THE LAIR OF THE BAD MEN


"Hulloa, folks!" greeted Stacy thickly.

"Stacy!" cried Nora, running to him and throwing impulsive arms about
the neck of her nephew.

Lieutenant Wingate drew Nora away and stood gazing down sternly at the
munching Chunky. No one said a word, except Woo Smith, who hummed his
"Hi-lee, hi-lo!"

"Where have you been?" finally demanded Hippy sternly.

"I--I've been up there," pointing to the side of the mountain, at the
same time getting to his feet.

"Sit down! Now out with it. The whole story, sir!"

"I was mad with you. I--I--I thought it would be fun to fool you all.
There wasn't anybody in sight, so I tipped over and--"

"Accidentally?" interrupted Hippy.

"No. On purpose. Then I shoved the canoe out and threw my hat into the
water, climbed up the side of the mountain and watched you all hunting
for me," chuckled Stacy. "You all had been so hard on me that I didn't
care if I never came back."

"I don't understand how you could stand it to stay away at meal time,"
wondered Emma.

"Oh, that was all right. I had some biscuit, then I found some dried
venison in a cache in a cave up there. Somebody had been there. It was
fine food, I tell you, but all the time I kept my eyes on the camp. I
didn't think you would go away and leave me, but I wasn't taking
chances. It was lots of fun watching you folks searching for Stacy
Brown's body, and I laughed when I saw Uncle Hip swimming out to look
under the canoe. Say, you can swim some, can't you?"

Hippy bristled. Stacy's last words were the crowning ones. Lieutenant
Wingate nodded to Tom.

"Come, Stacy. We wish you to go down by the lake with us. Fetch your
paddle," directed Hippy.

"Wha--at are you going to do?" stammered the boy.

"We three are going paddling, my beloved nephew," answered Lieutenant
Wingate.

"Don't be too hard on him," whispered Grace as the three were about to
depart, Stacy going reluctantly, but not daring to offer further
objections.

"Give me that paddle," ordered Hippy when they had reached a point well
out of sight of the camp. "Stacy Brown, you have done about the most
unforgivable thing that a boy could do. You led us to believe that you
had been drowned; you have caused us much mental anguish, and it is no
more than right that we 'transmigrate' a little of it to you. Lie down
on your stomach!"

"I don't want to. Wha--at are you going to do?"

"I am going to paddle you, young man. Tom, how many do you think would
be about right?"

"I should say that a paddle, one paddle, for each member of the Overland
party would be about right," suggested Tom Gray. "There are six of us."

A moment more and Hippy Wingate was delivering the punishment, not too
hard, but just enough so as to make his plump nephew writhe.

"Six! There!" announced Hippy.

"You forgot to give him one for Woo Smith," suggested Tom.

"You're right." Hippy remedied the oversight at once. "Get up! You made
me swim in the cold lake, so I think I will give you a dose of the same
medicine. I'm going to throw you in the lake."

"Oh, wow!" howled Chunky.

"No, no," protested Tom Gray. "Don't do that, Hippy. He might catch cold
and be sick on our hands," grinned Tom.

"I'll be even with you for this, Uncle Hip," threatened Stacy.

"He hasn't had enough yet, Tom. Help me throw him in."

"Yes, I have. I've had enough. I'll never play such a trick on you
again. It was a low-down trick to play. Next time I'll do it in some
other way, but if you let me alone I'll let you alone."

"Don't make threats," warned Lieutenant Wingate.

"I can tell you something you want to know, too. I know something that
you don't know," answered Stacy.

"First you had better come back to camp and apologize to the girls,"
suggested Tom.

Stacy went along, rather timidly at first; then, as the thought of what
he had discovered occurred to him, he swelled out his chest and began to
boast.

"Suppose you tell us what it is that you have discovered," suggested
Grace after Tom had repeated to the girls what Stacy said.

"Yes. I'll tell you. When I was trying to get where you folks wouldn't
see me, I dodged behind some bushes and discovered that I was right in
front of an opening in the rocks. At first I thought it was a bear den.
Then I stumbled against a big bear trap that closed with a crash, but it
didn't frighten me at all. You see I am not a bear."

Emma said there might be a difference of opinion on that subject.

"I lighted a match and found a lantern, just like the train conductors
use. I looked about and found myself in a cave. I found a lot of stuff
there, including some boxes of crackers and venison, that was cached to
keep it away from the bears if they got past the trap."

The Overlanders were keenly interested. Elfreda asked what else he had
found in the cave.

"Mostly things to eat and to eat with. I didn't bother about much of
anything else. I reckon maybe it was the bad men's cave that I
discovered. When it comes to making discoveries I don't suppose there is
a human being who can equal myself. The only thing that I can't lay
claim to having discovered is Emma Dean."

"That is because your ideals and your instincts lack elevation,"
retorted Emma.

Tom and Hippy glanced at each other and nodded. Both were of the same
mind with reference to Stacy's discovery. Perhaps there lay the real
secret of the Aerial Lake.

"Let us go over and investigate," suggested Tom.

"I'm with you," agreed Hippy. "Stacy, you will please lead the way to
this bandit retreat, or whatever it may be, but if you fool us again,
it's the lake for yours."

All hands started for the cave, with Stacy Brown in the lead, full of
importance. It was quite a rough climb to the scene of Stacy's
discovery, and the boy took the worst course he could find to reach it,
which the others of the party suspected ere they had gone far on their
way.

"Look out for bear traps!" warned Chunky. "You know I haven't looked
about much on the inside. There! Look at that, will you?" he demanded,
parting the bushes and revealing a small dark opening in the rocks.

"You aren't going into that hole, are you?" cried Emma.

"I went in, didn't I?" returned Stacy. "I didn't have a crowd of women
with me, though."

Hippy entered first, using his pocket lamp to light the way, followed by
Stacy and Tom, then the others filed in, leaving Woo Smith on the
outside to see that they were not surprised by the former occupants of
the place.

Once inside, the Overlanders found that the roof of the cave was high
enough to permit them to stand erect, but beyond them the darkness was
so deep that they could not see the end of the hole in the mountain.

"Br-r-r! I'm afraid," cried Emma.

"That's because you aren't a man," answered Stacy. "Hulloa! There's some
stuff that I didn't see."

"Pullman car blankets!" exclaimed Tom Gray. "This looks as if we had
made a real discovery."

"You mean I have," corrected Stacy.

"Yes. It is plunder. No mistake about that," agreed Lieutenant Wingate.
"Stacy, did you look around farther back in the cave?"

"No. I didn't have time."

"I think you were afraid of the dark," teased Elfreda.

"Stacy is afraid of nothing at all, you know, Elfreda," reminded Grace
laughingly, whereupon Stacy's chest swelled perceptibly.

"I am not," he made reply.

A systematic search of all parts of the cave failed to reveal anything
of great value, but they decided that it might be wise to remove some of
the blankets as proof of what they had found.

"I know something else, too," spoke up Stacy Brown.

"Well?" demanded Hippy, eyeing Stacy suspiciously.

"The log is chained down."

"What log?" questioned Grace quickly.

"That log out in the lake," Stacy informed them. "It's funny that you
folks haven't noticed that it has been in the same position ever since
we got here. There's something queer about that log, too. I observed it
the first time I walked along the shore, but it didn't make much of an
impression on me at the moment, and--"

"I doubt if it would have done so if it had fallen on you," interposed
Emma.

"Thank you. One would hardly notice the log at all unless the lake were
quite rough, which would enable you to see the full length of the log
when it was in a trough. I examined the log when I was out in the canoe,
and there's something else about it that is queer."

The Overlanders with one accord started for the shore to look at the
log.

"It's chained down," shouted Stacy.

"I believe the boy is right," exclaimed Elfreda Briggs.

"Where's that dugout?" called Hippy.

"I reckon it has gone around the bend," answered Emma.

"No. The wind is in the wrong direction," answered Tom. "I see it! There
it is, at the upper end. It has drifted sideways to the beach."

"I am going to have a look at that log," cried Hippy, starting at a run
for the dugout. Tom and his companions followed.

"Stacy, get the paddle," directed Tom.

The fat boy obeyed without protest, which was rather unusual for him.

"Me savvy plenty piecee fun," chattered Woo as they ran.

"If I am a prophet, you will be savvying something besides fun before we
have done with this affair," observed Elfreda Briggs soberly. "This is
only the beginning."

Stacy arrived with the paddle about the time that Hippy and Tom reached
the dugout. The two men turned the boat over and shoved it out.

"You girls remain on shore," ordered Hippy. "The boat will not hold more
and give us room to work. Stacy, you sit still. Don't you dare rock the
boat."

The lake was still rough and Hippy found it hard work to handle the
dugout, but after throwing off his coat and shifting his passengers to
better balance the dugout, he made better headway, finally reaching the
bobbing log.

"Stacy is right. The log is anchored," exclaimed Tom. "What can that
mean?"

"We are going to find out right smart, Captain," answered Hippy. "Do you
see? The thing is anchored with a chain about its middle, and from
rings, bolted to the ends, ropes lead down into the lake. That must mean
that something is at the other end of the ropes. Tom, you ballast the
other end of the dugout while Stacy and I pull on the rope at this end.
We will try not to upset you. For myself, I have had one ducking to-day
and that is quite sufficient. Stacy has one coming to him. All right,
Chunky, heave away."

They hauled on the rope with all the strength they dared exert, for to
pull with too strong a hand meant a ducking in the cold waters of the
lake.

Something came slowly to the surface.

"Oh, fudge! It's an anchor--it is a piece of iron," grumbled Stacy.

"Yes, but it isn't an anchor," answered Hippy excitedly.

"Boys, you have pulled up an iron box. Can you get it aboard?" cried
Tom.

On the box, in yellow letters, was the name of a well-known express
company. The box was securely locked, and apparently the lock had not
been tampered with.

"We've made a find!" cried Stacy.

"Loot of some sort," agreed Tom. "That is a money chest, probably of the
same sort that the Red Limited was carrying when the bandits attacked
our train between Summit and Gardner. There is undoubtedly another one
like it at my end of the log, but the question is what are we going to
do with our find."

"What are we going to do with it? Why, we're going to open it, of
course," declared Stacy. "If there is loot in it, findin's is keepin's
so far as Stacy Brown is concerned."

Tom was of the opinion that they had no right to open the chest, but
suggested that they take it and whatever else they might find, to a safe
place and bury it, and then get word to the authorities.

"I believe you have the right thought," nodded Hippy, after a moment's
reflection. "There can be no doubt that this is stolen property, not the
least doubt in the world. Therefore we are not taking another man's
property--we are trying to save stolen property. Come, Stacy, let's give
it another haul, then try to lift it aboard."

"If I don't get any of the plunder, I don't haul," objected Chunky
stubbornly.

"Pull! If you don't I'll throw you overboard," threatened Hippy
savagely.

"I'll drop it if you do. I'll--"

A bullet snipped the water not a dozen yards from the dugout, followed
by the report of a rifle.

"You're under fire! Look out!" shouted the voice of Grace Harlowe,
shrill and piercing.

"Let 'em shoot!" retorted Hippy. "Tom, are you game to go through with
it?"

"Yes."

"_Bang, bang, bang!_" Three bullets hit the water close at hand, sending
up little spurts of white spray. Another bullet went through the top of
Stacy Brown's hat.

"Wow!" howled Chunky. "You can get shot if you want to, but I don't."

"Buck up!" urged Lieutenant Wingate. "We'll have the thing aboard in a
moment."

Another bullet sang past them, clipping a sliver from the side of the
dugout. The sliver hit Stacy on his bare arm and drew blood.

"I'm hit! Good-night!" yelled Stacy, suddenly letting go of the rope and
diving head first into the lake.

As Stacy let go of the rope and took his dive, the iron chest splashed
and went to the bottom, causing the canoe to turn turtle. Lieutenant
Wingate and Captain Gray were hurled into the icy waters of the Aerial
Lake head first, with bullets spattering in the water all about them.



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                          MAKING A LAST STAND


"You poor fish!" roared Hippy as he came up sputtering.

Stacy was making for the shore at full speed, creating considerable
disturbance in the water as he progressed. Tom Gray and Hippy,
concluding that safety first was the motto for them, were hitting up a
rapid gait. The bullets, however, did not cease falling about them. All
at once reports of other rifles, apparently fired close at hand, reached
the ears of the swimmers.

"The girls are shooting!" cried Tom.

The Overland girls had run to camp for their rifles, and with them were
trying to search out the hidden mountain marksmen, trusting to drive the
mountaineers off, or at least to check their fire until their three
companions could reach shore.

Hippy and Tom were swimming for the shore in the direction of the
mountain cave. Observing this, the Overland girls ran forward to meet
them.

"Hurry! Oh, hurry!" shouted Nora in great distress.

"They can't reach us with their bullets now," answered Hippy. "We are
protected by the overhang of the mountain on their side."

"Hippy is right. They have stopped shooting," announced Grace.

At this juncture Stacy Brown floundered ashore and ran dripping towards
the cave.

"Here, here! Where are you going?" called Elfreda.

"Into my bomb-proof shelter; that's where I'm going," flung back Stacy.

"You had better hide," reminded Elfreda.

"Where's that boy?" cried Hippy as he, too, floundered ashore.

"Never mind Stacy now. We have other and more important matters on
hand," answered Grace. "Hurry, Tom. I have sent Woo up among the rocks
to act as lookout while we consider what to do next."

"This is a fine mess. Here I am drenched to the skin, shivering like a
man with the ague, and a band of scoundrels trying to shoot me up.
Hospitable country, I must say," complained Tom Gray.

"It might be worse. You and Hippy had better go into the cave and change
your clothes," suggested Grace.

"Change to what?"

"That's so. It might be imprudent for any of us to go to camp for fresh
clothing."

"Come, girls, let's gather wood and build a fire," urged Miss Briggs.
"We can build a small fire in the cave and let our men dry out in there
and we will stand guard on the outside."

"Good! That is real headwork," agreed Tom. "Give me a handful of sticks
and I'll start a fire if you will provide the matches. Mine are soaked."

Hippy had already started in search of Stacy Brown, but Stacy was not in
sight. He had fled to the farther end of the cave, whence he was gazing
apprehensively towards the opening.

"You may come out," offered Hippy. "I'm too wet to have my interview
with you now. When I get dried out I'll have a friendly conversation
with you. Come out!"

Stacy sidled out, watching Uncle Hip narrowly. Tom came in at this
juncture, with an armful of twigs that the girls had gathered, and
started a small fire.

"I don't want to be smoked out," complained Stacy.

"There is worse than that coming to you, young man," reminded Tom. "At
present, however, we have other things to attend to. Strip and dry out."

"I don't want to dry out. I want to be soaked," retorted Stacy.

"Don't worry. You're going to be," warned Lieutenant Wingate.

"If it hadn't been for me you folks never would have discovered
anything," Stacy declared, turning a reproachful gaze on his two
companions.

"And if it hadn't been for you, I should not have been dumped into a
lake of ice water twice in one day," returned Hippy. "Tom, what is your
idea of this shooting?"

"We have interfered with someone's business, that's plain," replied Tom.
"When we hauled up that box of plunder, or whatever it may be, they let
go at us with their rifles. Nor is that the worst of it--we are in for
more trouble, and I should not be at all surprised to see it break at
any moment, I--"

"Tom!" cried Grace Harlowe with a rising inflection in her voice.

"Yes?"

"Woo is running towards the cave, waving his arms. I think he has
discovered something."

Hippy nodded at Tom and began drawing on his wet clothing.

"May the girls go inside now?" called Grace.

"No! Keep out! We will be ready in a moment," answered Hippy.

A shot, followed by a howl from Woo Smith, caused the two men to
redouble their efforts. Hippy finished dressing first and ran out, rifle
in hand, just as the guide came running up.

"Me savvy tlouble. Plenty men come 'long."

"How many?" interjected Tom.

"Sees."

"Six, eh? We ought to be able to handle them," answered Hippy.

"There probably are more than six. What shall we do?" questioned Grace.

"All hands get inside the cave. From there we can watch the lake, and at
the same time be fairly well protected," directed Hippy.

Acting upon a hail from Tom that he was ready, the Overlanders hastened
into the cave, where Woo was questioned in detail as to what he had
observed. Having obtained all the information that the guide had to
give, Hippy and Tom crept out, and lay secreted in the bushes in front
of the cave to guard against surprises.

They had been there but a short time when Lieutenant Wingate discovered
a man on the rocks about a hundred yards to the right of them. At almost
the same instant Tom Gray nudged his companion.

"Two men are over in our camp," he whispered.

"Don't shoot. Time enough for that. They don't know where we are.
They--" Hippy paused abruptly.

"They don't, eh?" jeered Tom Gray as a bullet flattened itself on the
rocks just above the opening into the cave. "Keep down in there!"

"I think they are merely trying to smoke us out," answered Hippy calmly.

A scattering volley of bullets was fired at the cave opening as he
spoke, but there was no response from the besieged Overland Riders.
Elfreda called softly to know if the two men needed assistance, but both
said all the assistance they needed just then was to be let alone.

"There go the ponies!" exclaimed Tom Gray.

When Hippy looked he saw three men leading the Overland saddle ponies
into a defile in the mountains. Hippy threw up his rifle, but lowered it
instantly.

"It won't do any good to shoot. Then again I might hit a pony. What I
want to do is to get a man. Sh-h-h-h!"

The man that Hippy had seen, but who had disappeared immediately
afterward, he now discovered lying on a slab of rock up high enough to
give him a fairly good view of the entrance to the cave.

"I see him. Don't move. He is looking this way," whispered Lieutenant
Wingate.

After a few moments of cautious observation, the man on the rock crawled
back and disappeared.

The day was rapidly drawing to a close and the two Overland men began to
feel considerable concern. There was little hope in their minds that
they were going to get out of their present situation that night. Tom
and Hippy discussed the situation, and considered the idea of creeping
away in the night, but finally concluded that their greatest safety lay
in keeping out of sight and awaiting developments.

"It is their move first," declared Tom. "And when they do start
something we shall be on the job, though I am a little concerned about
our ammunition. We have none to waste. It seems to me that there ought
to be some in that cave, if the scoundrels are half as prudent as we
think they are."

Hippy called softly to Nora, asking her to have a thorough search of the
cave made to see if ammunition might not be found. Half an hour later
Nora reported that they could find none.

"Then we shall have to get along with what we have," decided Tom Gray.
"With what we have we ought to be able to give a pretty fair account of
ourselves."

Night fell, with the lake and the mountainsides bathed in a flood of
moonlight, for the moon was full and well up. The fire in the cave had
long since been put out so that the besiegers might not smell the smoke,
and, shortly after dark, the girls passed out a luncheon, taken from the
stores of food that Stacy Brown had discovered on his first visit to the
cave. Tom and Hippy were munching this eagerly, when Tom uttered a
suppressed exclamation.

"Look yonder!" he whispered.

"It's the dugout!" breathed Hippy.

The dugout, with three men in it, was being rapidly paddled out into the
lake, which was now quiet, a gleaming sheet of silver in the bright
moonlight. The paddlers went straight to the log and began hauling up on
the rope at one end.

"They are after the chests. What would you advise, Tom?" asked Hippy
eagerly.

"We are going to shoot, that's what," answered Tom Gray, leveling his
rifle. "I don't want to hit anyone, but I do want to give them a scare."
Taking careful aim at the canoe, he fired--and missed. Tom shot again,
and this time his bullet reached its mark--the dugout.

Hippy Wingate tried a shot and scored a hit the first time. The men in
the dugout showed indications of panic.

"Let 'em have it hard," urged Tom, whereupon both men began shooting,
but the shooting was not confined to their own rifles. From somewhere on
the mountain-side other rifles spoke, and bullets spattered against the
rocks that stood out white in the moonlight, hard by the cave.

"They've located us!" cried Tom Gray. "Stacy, come out here, but creep
out," he ordered.

The fat boy came wriggling out, rifle in hand.

"See if you can find the fellows who are shooting at us; then stir them
up," directed Tom.

A few moments later, Chunky's rifle spoke. In the meantime Tom and Hippy
had been shooting at the boat, taking their time, aiming with
deliberation, until finally the fire became too hot for the men in the
dugout, and they paddled rapidly shoreward to the other side of the
lake. Soon after their arrival there they began to shoot at the
cave-mouth. Hippy and Tom then turned their rifles in that direction,
but with what result they were unable to determine.

Stacy shot slowly and steadily, without apparent nervousness, and the
two men began to feel respect for the irrepressible Chunky. After a time
the fire on both sides died down and silence settled over the scene.
Finally, Grace suggested that she and Elfreda relieve the men of their
watch, which, after reflection, was agreed to. After a vigil of some
hours Grace called for Tom and pointed towards the lake, that was
shining in the moonlight.

"Is not something moving out there?" she questioned.

"Yes. It is those scoundrels after the chests again. Call Hippy!"

After watching the shadowy shape of the dugout for some moments the two
Overland men again opened fire, and once more the dugout was hurriedly
paddled ashore.

No further disturbance occurred that night. The girls went to sleep, but
Lieutenant Wingate and Captain Gray remained on duty from that time on.
All of the following day was spent in the cave, not a shot being fired
on either side. The Overlanders were of the opinion that their
adversaries were keeping out of sight for the purpose of luring the
party out into the open, so they remained where they were.

Another night came on, and at about ten o'clock the Overland Riders were
treated to a deluge of rifle bullets, which was not returned, as the
ammunition supply was now too low.

"Grace, have you taken an inventory of the food?" asked Tom, after the
firing had died down.

"Yes. We have enough for present needs, but have you considered that we
may be held here until either we starve or are shot? I, for one, am in
favor of making our escape. Take my word for it, our besiegers will play
some trick that will prove our undoing," declared Grace with strong
conviction in her tone.

"We will stick it out another day," answered Lieutenant Wingate.

"And walk all the way back to Gardner," finished Elfreda Briggs. "I am
of the opinion that--"

"Hark!" warned Nora, holding up a hand for silence. A faint tapping
sound was heard by all. It seemed to be somewhere over their heads, but
no one was able to interpret the sound, and after a time it ceased.

"Something is doing. Get your rifles ready," ordered Tom.

The words had no sooner left his lips than a heavy detonating explosion
sent a shower of rock and dirt down over their heads. None of the pieces
was large enough to injure the Overlanders, but the dust set them
coughing and choking so that instinctively all crowded towards the cave
entrance for air, and further, because of fear that the rocks above
might cave in on them.

"That was dynamite!" exclaimed Tom Gray. "Either they are trying to bury
us here or to drive us out."

"And I am going out," declared Lieutenant Wingate. "Tom, you stay here,
but for goodness sake make the folks keep down. The first head I see I
am going to shoot at. Give me some cartridges, each of you."

Five minutes later Lieutenant Wingate was crawling out on his stomach as
silently as an Indian. Once more he heard that familiar tapping on the
rocks above the cave.

"The fiends!" he muttered. "I've got to get up to their level or go
above them." He decided to proceed to the left of the cave, then ascend
and approach the rocks above it. This he succeeded in doing. About the
time he came within sight of the rocks over the cave the ground was
shaken by another explosion. In the bright moonlight, he saw three men
running towards the scene.

Hippy threw up his rifle and fired. One of the three men plunged forward
and rolled over the edge of the rocks, landing, as Lieutenant Wingate
thought, near the entrance to the cave. The other two men instantly
disappeared.

"One!" growled the Overland Rider, hurriedly removing himself from that
particular locality. Reaching a point where he could look across the
cave entrance, Hippy made a startling discovery. The second charge of
dynamite had been fired close to the edge of the rocks overhanging the
cave entrance, so that the falling rocks had blocked it entirely.
Lieutenant Wingate now crawled to the entrance, not knowing what instant
he might be the target for a bullet, and, placing his lips close to a
crevice, called softly.

His hail was answered from within. To his great relief, he learned that
none of his companions had been injured, but that they dared not try to
remove the wreckage from the inside fearing they might bring down a mass
of rocks. Hippy advised them to remain quiet until later when he would
try to work his way in.

"Just now, I must keep a sharp lookout," he added. Not another shot did
he get at their adversaries, however, but just after daylight a rattling
fire sprang up. Listening attentively, Hippy concluded that two parties
were engaged in the shooting--at it "hammer and tongs," as he expressed
it. A few minutes later he saw two men running for the lake--saw them
leap into the dugout and paddle excitedly towards the anchored log. He
waited until they began to haul in on the rope at one end of the log,
and then opened fire. One bullet bowled a man over. The other man
grabbed the paddle and struck out for the shore with all speed. He had
nearly reached it when a burst of fire from among the trees near where
the Overland camp was located knocked the man over. He fell over
backwards in the dugout, which slowly drifted ashore.

A group of horsemen at this juncture rode out into the open, and an
instant later a bullet whistled past Hippy's head.

"Gee whiz!" exclaimed Lieutenant Wingate. "I reckon the whole community
has it in for me. I've got to have a look at those people." With that
Hippy worked his way cautiously through the bushes until he got an
unobstructed view of the newcomers. The Overland Rider gazed, and as he
did so his under jaw sagged.

"Ye-o-o-o-w!" yelled Hippy, leaping to his feet.

A rifle bullet answered him, but he was down ere it reached him. Once
more he sprang up and fired three quick shots straight up into the air,
then went down again. This time there was an interval, then the welcome
answer--three signal shots--was fired. Hippy got up and waved his hat.
He had recognized one member of that party. That member was Sheriff
Ford.

"Overland!" shouted Lieutenant Wingate upon getting to his feet.

Sheriff Ford did not recognize him at once, but the party of horsemen
rode towards him with rifles at ready, Hippy standing out in the open
with hands held up. Sheriff Ford then uttered a shout as he recognized
the Overland Rider.

It was a happy meeting--for Hippy Wingate. It took but a moment for
explanations. A posse, with two sheriffs, including Ford, and five husky
citizens of Gardner, had come out in search of the bandits who had tried
to rob the Red Limited, and who were supposed to have held up and robbed
another treasure train a week earlier.

On their way to release the Overland party, Hippy confided to Sheriff
Ford the discovery of the iron chests secured to the log in the lake.

"I suppose there is a reward for the recovery of the plunder, but if
there is, you take it. We don't want it," said Hippy.

Sheriff Ford protested, but Hippy said the Overland Riders could not
consider accepting a reward under any circumstances. Ford said that in
such event, the reward would be shared by the members of the posse, and
that, in fact, the reward offered by the express company was the
principal motive for the posse coming out to try to accomplish what the
Pinkertons had thus far failed to do.

The Overlanders were, after considerable hard work, released from their
imprisonment in the cave, and it was then that Ford told them of the
fight with the bandits, who, he said, were all members of the Jones
Boys' gang. Of ten bandits, the posse had killed or wounded four. They
found two who had been wounded before the arrival of the posse, one of
whom, Hippy believed, was the fellow he had shot on the shelf of rock,
and took four prisoners, including Mother Jones, the mother of the
leaders of the gang. Four bandits had succeeded in escaping.

"Mother Jones!" exclaimed the Overlanders.

As it later developed, it was Mother Jones whose face had so frightened
Woo, and which Grace Harlowe had seen reflected in the pool. Mother
Jones had done the shooting at the Overlanders, following the Overland
party's discovery of the chests in the lake. It was Mother Jones who had
fired at them when they were bombarding the lake with boulders.

No time was lost in getting the chests from the bottom of the lake, and
none was more interested in the contents than were the original
discoverers, the Overland Riders. The chests were found to contain
something more than half a million dollars in gold and banknotes, but
two other chests stolen from the same shipment never were found, though
the lake was dragged from end to end. It was believed that the contents
of the missing chests had been divided among the bandits and secreted
somewhere in the mountains, but not a man of the Jones gang would admit
this to be the fact.

The Overland ponies were found secreted in a mountain defile, and that
night there was a jollification in camp, a real feast of venison and
trout, songs and story-telling, even Woo Smith indulging in his familiar
song, to which no one now objected. Stacy Brown overlooked no
opportunity to call attention to the fact that he was the one who had
discovered the treasure chests, discovered the log to which they were
anchored, and said he supposed that the railroad or the express company
owed him a hundred thousand dollars.

"How much do you want? Come now," urged Sheriff Ford.

"Want?" exclaimed Stacy. "I don't want anything from you, but I want
these unfortunate Overland Riders to appreciate what I have done for
them, and I want them to apologize to me for the abuse they heaped on me
while I was seeking to transmigrate trouble from their doors."

Sheriff Ford laughed heartily at Stacy's remarks.

"For he's a jolly good fellow," began Nora Wingate, in which the
Overland Riders joined whole-heartedly, even Emma Dean, for the moment,
forgetting her feud with Stacy Brown to the extent of keeping time with
her lips, Woo Smith independently chattering his "Hi-lee, hi-lo!" shouts
of laughter winding up the tribute to the fat boy's hold on their
affections.

The Overland Riders decided to accompany the sheriffs and their party to
Gardner. Being well satisfied with their vacation they were now ready to
go home. The prisoners and the treasure were taken along to Gardner,
which was reached several days later. Then the Riders entrained for home
after the most interesting journey they had ever taken. On their way
east they elected the irrepressible Chunky to full membership in the
Overland Riders, and he promised to accompany them on their next
season's ride.

The story of that ride will be found in a following volume entitled,
"GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS IN THE YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK." The
mysterious loss of the Riders' ponies, the raid of the grizzlies, the
puzzling robbery at the Springs Hotel, a night of terror on Electric
Mountain, the hold-up of the Cumberland coach, and the solving of the
Yellowstone mystery, are among the many experiences that befell Grace
Harlowe's Riders on their never-to-be-forgotten journey through the
great National Park.


                                THE END





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