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Title: Danger at Mormon Crossing - Sandy Steele Adventures #2
Author: Barlow, Roger
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Danger at Mormon Crossing - Sandy Steele Adventures #2" ***

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                        SANDY STEELE ADVENTURES

                             Black Treasure
                       Danger at Mormon Crossing
                             Stormy Voyage
                            Fire at Red Lake
                        Secret Mission to Alaska
                            Troubled Waters



                        Sandy Steele Adventures
                               _DANGER AT
                            MORMON CROSSING_


                            BY ROGER BARLOW


                           SIMON AND SCHUSTER
                            _New York, 1959_

                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
                  INCLUDING THE RIGHT OF REPRODUCTION
                    IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN ANY FORM
              COPYRIGHT © 1959 BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC.
                 PUBLISHED BY SIMON AND SCHUSTER, INC.
                  ROCKEFELLER CENTER, 630 FIFTH AVENUE
                           NEW YORK 20, N. Y.

                             FIRST PRINTING

           LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER: 59-13882
              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
               BY H. WOLFF BOOK MFG. CO., INC., NEW YORK



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  1 The Big Cats                                                       7
  2 White Water                                                       21
  3 Dog Leg Falls                                                     34
  4 Eagle Plume                                                       43
  5 Sighting In                                                       55
  6 Joe’s Story                                                       68
  7 Cutthroats                                                        78
  8 A Perfect Cast                                                    88
  9 Smoke on the Horizon                                              96
  10 Lion Country                                                    106
  11 Hunting Talk                                                    116
  12 Rockslide                                                       126
  13 The Hidden Cave                                                 138
  14 Yellow Fury                                                     147
  15 Three Crows                                                     158
  16 Captured                                                        167
  17 The Secret of the Cave                                          175
  18 The Story of Mormon Crossing                                    182



                              CHAPTER ONE
                              The Big Cats


“Why don’t you call them tonight? We’ve got to know pretty soon.”

The speaker was Arthur Cook, a deeply tanned giant of a man with
close-cropped graying hair, whose piercing blue eyes told of a lifetime
spent in open spaces. He was talking to a boy of sixteen who had wrapped
himself around a dining-room chair and was staring thoughtfully down at
a map on the table.

“What do you say, Sandy?” Mr. Cook urged. “Want me to ring the
operator?”

Sandy Steele looked up with sudden decision. “All right,” he said.
“We’ll get it settled right now.”

“That’s the ticket!” chimed in Mr. Cook’s son, Michael, as he shouldered
his way through the swinging kitchen door, a glass of milk in one hand
and an enormous slice of layer cake in the other. “Then we can start
making plans right away.”

“If you think you can spare us the time from your hobby,” his father
said dryly.

“Hobby?” Mike’s jaws closed down over the cake. “What hobby?”

“Eating. Or has it become a full-time job with you?” Mr. Cook turned to
Sandy. “Ever see anybody eat so much?”

Sandy shook his head in mock amazement. “That son of yours sure can
stash it away!”

Mike drained half the glass of milk in one gulp and grinned over at
them. “A long time ago,” he told them, “I made up my mind never to eat
on an empty stomach. That’s why I always have a snack before dinner.” He
finished the rest of the milk hastily. “That reminds me. Mom said to
clear all these maps out of the dining room. Soup’s almost on.”

Mr. Cook got up and headed for the door to the hallway. “I’ll just have
time to place the call. What’s your number, Sandy?”

“Valley 5-3649.”

“Thanks. Mike, you take care of things in here for your mother.”

“Sure ... and hey, Dad!” Mike looked earnestly at his father.

“What?”

“You can sound awfully convincing if you want, so make it good, huh?
It’d really be great if Sandy could come along.”

Mr. Cook laughed and disappeared through the door. A moment later the
boys heard him dialing the long-distance operator.

“Well?” Mike demanded as he gathered in the scattered maps. “What do you
think?”

Sandy shrugged. “It’s hard to say. I don’t see why not, though. School’s
out for the summer and we haven’t made any plans of our own.”

“Guess we’ll just have to hold our breath,” Mike said and started for
his father’s den with the papers he had collected. “Tell Mom the decks
are clear.”

“Okay, but let me see that map again.” Sandy reached out and took a
large-scale National Geographic map of Idaho from the pile Mike was
carrying. A rough red crayon circle had been drawn around the Snake
River country in the southern part of the state. An _X_ was placed
further north near the town of Salmon and a thin line followed the Lost
River down through a blue-gray area known as the Lost River Range.
Judging from the color of the map, the altitude there varied between
8,000 and 11,000 feet. There wasn’t a sign of a town or a road for
miles. It was real Rocky Mountain country, unspoiled, wild and
beautiful, exactly as Sandy had always hoped one day to see it.

And now, at last, he had a chance. Mr. Cook and Mike were planning a
pack trip along the Lost River and they wanted to take him along. In his
mind’s eye he already saw the rugged splendor of the mountains, smelled
the pungent smoke of a crackling campfire after a full day’s hunting or
fishing.

“Hey, wake up! You look as if you’re dreaming.” It was Mike, back from
his father’s den.

Sandy looked over at him, shook his head and sighed. “I was, Mike, I
really was.”

Mike clapped a sympathetic hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Worrying
won’t help. Why don’t you hunt up Dad and see how he made out? I’ll call
you when dinner’s ready.”

Sandy smiled back and nodded. He had known Mike and his parents for only
a little over ten days, but already they were like a second family to
him. He had heard about the Cooks for about as long as he could
remember. Mr. Cook was his father’s oldest friend. The two men had met
early in their careers and had worked on a number of projects together.
John Steele was a government geologist, while Arthur Cook was a mining
engineer—one of the best in the business, according to Sandy’s father.

Their work took both men away from home a great deal of the time, and
for years they had been trying, without success, to bring their families
together.

Finally, about three weeks ago, a letter arrived from Mr. Cook, inviting
all three Steeles to spend the first two weeks of the summer vacation in
Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco.

“Throw some camping gear into your car,” Mr. Cook had advised. “We might
all take a run up to Lake Tahoe for some fishing. Sandy and Mike have
never met, but I can’t think of a better way for the two boys to get
acquainted than in the middle of a trout pool.”

To Sandy’s intense disappointment they had to turn down the offer. His
father was snowed under with paper work at the office and he couldn’t
spare the time.

But by return mail a second letter arrived. Why not send Sandy alone?
There didn’t seem to be any objections, and so it was arranged.

Mike was a chunky, junior-sized version of his father, with dancing blue
eyes and a tendency to leap into things without thinking. Sandy was on
the slender side, with a strong, good-humored mouth and a shock of
unruly blond hair that never seemed to stay down properly. Despite their
differences in appearance and personality, the two boys hit it off right
from the start. And when Mr. Cook announced his plan for a month’s trip
through Idaho, it was assumed that Sandy would come along, provided, of
course, that he got his parents’ approval.

Mr. Cook appeared at the dining-room door. “Your father’s on the wire,”
he said. “Want me to talk to him first?”

Sandy nodded briefly and followed Mr. Cook out into the hallway. Mike,
who had overheard the exchange from the kitchen, slipped out and joined
them.

Mr. Cook picked up the receiver, winked at Sandy and spoke into the
mouthpiece. “Hello, John; how have you been?... Good. John, I have a
favor to ask. Mike and I are planning a camping trip up to the Rockies
and we’d like Sandy’s company.... Where? North of the Snake River
country, in the Lost River Range. It’s for a month, but I think it would
be four weeks the boys will never forget.... What?... Oh, don’t worry
about that. We have plenty of equipment.... Yes, we’d leave in three
days and be back about the tenth of next month.... What’s that? Well
here, why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Mr. Cook cupped a hand over the mouthpiece and nodded to Sandy. “He
wants to know how you feel about it.”

“Let me talk to him!” Sandy nearly tripped over the rug in his hurry to
get to the phone.

“Hello, Dad!” he shouted. “How do I feel about it! I think it’s a chance
of a lifetime!” There was a pause as Sandy listened carefully for
several minutes. “Sure,” he said at last, a grin of delight creeping
over his face. “You bet! Great, Dad! I’ll wire you as soon as we get
back. Goodbye and give Mom a hug for me!”

Sandy put down the receiver and looked at the Cooks with a dazed smile
of happiness. “It’s all set!” he breathed. “What a great guy!”

Mr. Cook beamed his pleasure as Mike bounded over to Sandy and walloped
him exuberantly on the back. “Attaboy, Sandy! I knew it all along!”

“Well,” said Mr. Cook. “Congratulations on becoming an official member
of the expedition. Soon as dinner’s over, we’ll go into the den and do a
little homework—draw up a list of the things we’ll need and talk over
the kind of country we’ll be going through.” He looked over at Mike with
a smile on his face. “But let’s wait till after we’ve eaten. If we get
to talking about it at table, your mother won’t be able to get a word in
edgewise.”

All through the meal, Sandy tried to put thoughts of the trip out of his
mind, but with little success. His attempts at polite table talk only
brought amused glances from Mrs. Cook. Mike, too, seemed preoccupied,
even to the point of refusing a third helping of fried chicken—an event
that so stunned his mother that she almost forgot dessert.

When they finally finished, Mr. Cook pushed back from the table and
stood up. “And that, I think,” he said, smiling gently, “was the
quietest meal ever eaten in this house. You fellows are a couple of real
sparklers in the conversation line.”

“Well, Dad ...” Mike began to protest.

Mr. Cook held up his hand. “I know. I know. You want to talk about the
trip. I don’t blame you. So do I. Come on in here and let’s get it off
our chests.” He led the way into his comfortably furnished den and
paused before a pipe rack. The walls of the room were hung with Mr.
Cook’s hunting trophies. Two whitetail deer flanked a stone fireplace,
and over the mantel loomed the head of a huge Alaska brown bear. At one
end of the room, rows of bookcases shared wall space with a gleaming
walnut gun cabinet.

Mr. Cook selected a pipe, fingered some tobacco into the bowl and
dropped into a chair near the fireplace. “Now,” he said. “Let’s have
some questions. The floor is open for discussion.”

Both boys started together.

“Do you think I’d better ...” Sandy blurted.

“How are we going to ...” Mike began.

They looked at each other and grinned.

“After you, my dear Alphonse.” Mike bowed solemnly. “You’re the guest.”

“Go ahead, Sandy,” Mr. Cook invited.

Sandy leaned forward in his chair. “I was going to ask if I should send
for my rifle. I have a .22 at home.”

Mr. Cook laughed and put down his pipe. “I don’t think you’d use it
once, Sandy,” he said. “This is big-game country we’re going into. We’ll
see mule deer and elk, pronghorn antelope and mountain goats. If we’re
lucky we may even spot a grizzly or a bighorn sheep. And we’re almost
certain to run into a mountain lion or two.”

“A mountain lion,” Sandy breathed. “What a trophy that would make. I bet
Pepper March never even saw a mountain lion!”

“Who’s Pepper March?” Mr. Cook asked.

Sandy scowled. “Somebody I know back home,” he said.

Mr. Cook smiled. “You don’t seem to like him much.”

“Oh, he’s all right,” Sandy explained. “It’s just that he gets under my
skin sometimes.”

“What would you do with a mountain-lion trophy?” Mr. Cook asked. “Do you
have room for him at home?”

Sandy thought a moment. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “But I know
what I could do.”

“What?”

“Start a trophy room at Valley View High. Jerry and I could build some
cases, and Quiz—he’s our brainy friend—could write up descriptions of
all the animals—like they have in natural-history museums.”

Mr. Cook nodded approvingly. “Good idea. A museum’s the perfect place
for a lion. But over a fireplace, I’d rather have a six-point buck any
day.”

“How do you rate big-game trophies, Dad?” Mike asked.

“That varies with the animal,” Mr. Cook replied. “An elk, for example,
is measured for spread between antlers, and the number of points—or
branches—growing out of each antler. If I remember rightly, the record
elk had a spread of nearly seventy inches and about seventeen points.”

“Whew!” Sandy whistled. “He must have been built like a truck!”

“He was a real granddaddy, all right,” said Mr. Cook and smiled at the
memory. “But to get back to your question about guns, Sandy. Here are
the cannons we’ll be taking along.” Mr. Cook got up and moved over to
the gun rack at the end of the room.

“For power shooting, we’ll use this Weatherby .300 Magnum. And I think
you boys ought to get used to this one.” Mr. Cook reached up and took
down a beautifully balanced bolt-action rifle. “That’s a Remington 721
in a .30/06 caliber. It’s lighter than the Weatherby but it packs quite
a punch.”

“Enough to bring down a mountain lion?” Mike asked eagerly.

Mr. Cook looked at the two boys and allowed a slight smile to play at
the corners of his mouth. “Since you both seem to have mountain lions on
the brain, I’ll tell you something I was going to keep a secret ...”

But before he could finish, the sound of a telephone bell tinkled softly
from the desk in the den.

“I’ll take it here, Julia!” Mr. Cook called as he reached for the
receiver. “Hello,” he said. He listened for a moment, then broke into a
beaming grin.

“Hank Dawson! You old son of a gun! Good to hear from you.” With the
telephone still cradled to his ear, he maneuvered the cord across the
desk and sat down in the chair behind it. “So you got my telegram....
Yes, we’ll be there. On the eighteenth. Oh, and Hank—bring along kits
for four. That’s right. A friend of ours is coming along. A lad named
Sandy Steele. Right. See you then. Goodbye.”

Mr. Cook put down the telephone with a chuckle and swiveled around to
face the boys. “Well,” he said. “Speak of the devil ...”

“Who was that?” Mike demanded.

“That, Mike, was about the best professional guide and hunter in the
Rockies. His name’s Hank Dawson and he has a honey of a hunting lodge up
in the Lost River Range. The three of us have a date to meet Hank on the
eighteenth. He’s meeting us with pack mules and horses at a place called
Mormon Crossing on the Lost River. I think you’ll like Hank. He shares
an enthusiasm of yours.”

“What’s that?”

“Mountain lions. His hobby is going after the big cats. He makes a good
bit of money collecting the bounty on their hides. Hank says he wants to
take us up in the hills for a cougar hunt.”

Mike jumped to his feet and gave a war whoop that rattled the windows.
“Where exactly is this place we’re going to?” he asked excitedly.
“What’s our first stop in Idaho?”

“Which question do you want me to answer?”

“Where are we going first?”

Mr. Cook spread the map over his desk. “Here,” he said, pointing the
stem of his pipe at the juncture of three rivers in central Idaho. “Near
the town of Salmon. We’ll stop there, hire some boats and a guide and
get you two fellows used to a little white water.”

“White water?” Sandy’s expression was blank.

“Rapids. We’re going to have to run dozens on our trip downriver.
They’re dangerous, too. We’ll portage our way around the worst ones, but
we’ll go through most of them. By the way, do you know what portage is?”

“Not exactly, no,” replied Sandy.

“Well, it’s simple enough. When you get to a part of any stream that
isn’t navigable for one reason or another, you pull in to land and tote
everything, including the boat, to the next navigable part.”

“‘Simple,’ he calls it,” groaned Mike.

“It’s hard work, of course; but you’ll both come back in better shape
than you’ve ever been in your life.”

Mike scrambled to his feet. “In that case,” he announced, “I’m going to
have to start preparing myself. I think I remember a little cold chicken
going back into the icebox, and that’s no way to treat chicken!” He
started for the door.

“But you just finished dinner,” his father pointed out.

“I know,” Mike shot back over his shoulder. “But I didn’t do a very good
job of it. Too busy thinking about the trip.”

Mr. Cook made a notation on the paper in front of him. “Item one on our
list. Hire the _Queen Mary_ as a provision ship so Mike will never have
to go hungry.”

“The _Queen Elizabeth’s_ bigger,” Mike called and disappeared into the
kitchen.



                              CHAPTER TWO
                              White Water


Four days later, Sandy and Mike stood on the pine-cloaked southern bank
of the Salmon River, looking down on a patch of foaming water that
boiled and hissed over jagged rocks, gleaming wet with spray.

The boys stared at each other wordlessly. Sandy was the first to break
the silence. “What did your father call this place?” he asked.

“Kindergarten Rapids,” Mike answered in an awed voice. “He said it was a
nice easy run to start with.”

The boys turned back to the river. From where they watched, they could
see a tiny flotilla of bright, orange-colored air rafts bobbing along in
the quiet water above the rapids. At first the rafts seemed to float
lazily downstream, but as they approached the rapids, they gradually
picked up speed until they looked like miniature beetles racing along to
certain destruction on the shoals ahead.

Within seconds the lead raft had entered the white water. At first
contact, it veered wildly to one side and was thrown roughly into the
air. Miraculously it landed right side up, but was immediately caught by
the relentless current and carried with express-train speed toward a
narrow ledge of rock.

Sandy started to raise his hand and strained forward. Beside him, Mike
cried out a warning. But before they could move, the tiny,
fragile-looking craft had skimmed past the edge of the rock, missing it
by inches, and was careening wildly down the last of the rapids toward a
quiet pool in the bend of the river. Scurrying gaily behind the leader
came three others and finally a fourth.

Mike sighed audibly. “Wow! So that’s Kindergarten Rapids! Where do I go
to get sent back a class?”

Sandy leaned down to pick up the raft and paddle he had brought with
him. “Come on, boy, might as well face the music and get our first
lesson.”

“All right,” Mike grumbled, reaching for his equipment. “Just write my
mother a nice letter. That’s all I ask.”

They trudged along in silence for a few steps. “Say, who is it we’re
supposed to look up?” Mike suddenly asked.

“Doug Henderson. He’s the son of the man who rented us the cabin. Mr.
Henderson said he’d be expecting us.”

“I sure hope he knows what he’s talking about!”

“According to Mr. Henderson, he’s been running these rapids ever since
he was seven years old.”

Mike shook his head. “What some people will do for fun!”

The boys scrambled down the side of a steep embankment and approached
the river. Crowded around a homemade dock directly ahead of them were
several boys about ten or eleven years of age. Except for the youngest
ones, who had on bathing trunks, all the boys were dressed in faded
dungarees and T-shirts. Sandy and Mike ambled up to the dock and hailed
a sturdy lad who was busy inflating his canvas raft.

“Do you know where we can find Doug Henderson?” Sandy asked.

The boy looked up and pointed. “Sure. Hey, Doug!”

A friendly face covered with freckles popped up from the other side of
the dock. “Hi!” he called. “You the fellows that Pop sent over?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Sandy saw Mike’s jaw drop. “That’s right.”
He smiled. “Think you can teach us to handle these?” He held out a raft.

The boy rubbed his hands along the sides of his dungarees and vaulted
over a wooden piling sunk into the ground. “Sure!” he cried confidently.
“Nothing to it!”

“So he’s been running these rapids ever since he was seven years old!”
Mike murmured. “That gives him about three weeks’ experience.”

As usual Mike was exaggerating. Doug, though small, was nearly eleven
and he had all the assurance of a qualified expert in his field.

“You’re going down the Lost River.” It was more a statement than a
question.

“That’s right.”

The boy shook his head in envy. “Lucky. It’s wonderful country. Have you
got a guide yet?”

“My father’s out arranging for one now,” Mike said.

“Hope he gets a good one. It makes all the difference.” He pronounced
this judgment with so much grown-up seriousness that Sandy had to fight
to suppress a smile.

“You’re right,” he acknowledged, “but it won’t make any difference to us
unless we can learn how to shoot some of those rapids.”

“All right, let’s have one of your rafts.”

Sandy handed over his and watched carefully as Doug Henderson flopped it
on the ground.

“Now the important thing to remember is balance. Sit in the middle of
the raft with your knees wedged tight against both sides—like this.” He
hopped in and demonstrated.

“Don’t tense your body but keep your legs firm. Make sure your middle is
loose so you can turn your shoulders in both directions. You want to be
ready to handle trouble no matter what side it comes from. Okay so far?”

Sandy and Mike nodded gravely.

“You fellows know how to handle a canoe?” They both nodded a second
time. “Good. Then we don’t have to go into steering. Come on over here
and I’ll tell you about the rapids.”

He led the way down to the end of the rickety dock toward the white
water and launched into a lecture that took nearly twenty minutes.

It turned out that Doug knew every ripple and wave in the Kindergarten
Rapids. He told them what to expect in the way of currents, where a
whirlpool was likely to form, how to fight clear of the rocks and what
to do if they got thrown into the water.

When he finished, he turned to them with finality. “And now you’re ready
to try it,” he announced. “You’ll get dumped but don’t let that bother
you. Everybody does. But you’ve got to remember to take it easy. If you
stiffen all up, you’re bound to tip over. Ready?”

Mike scratched his head and shrugged his shoulders. “Nope. But I guess
that doesn’t make any difference. Who’s first?”

“We’ll all go together,” their freckle-faced instructor ordered. “You
two go on ahead and I’ll bring up the rear. That way I can tell you what
you did wrong when we get through the run.”

“_If_ we get through,” Mike muttered, sliding his raft into the water.

“Oh, you can’t help getting through,” Doug called out reassuringly.
“Even if you’re dead, the current’ll carry you.”

“Thanks a lot,” Mike said as he got ready to cast off. “That takes a big
load off my mind.” The next instant the current was carrying him into
the middle of the river.

Sandy took a firm grip on the sides of his raft and followed. Even as he
scrambled to keep his balance, he could feel the river tugging
insistently at his tiny craft. Bracing his knees, he reached down
gingerly to grab his paddle. The current was much stronger than he had
imagined.

Suddenly a crosscurrent caught him amidships and sent him rolling
violently, like a cork on an angry sea. Every muscle in his body
tightened as he swayed back and forth to keep upright. Then he
remembered Doug’s advice: “Don’t fight the current. Ride with it and
relax.”

Sandy took a deep breath and forced himself to ease up. Almost
immediately he felt more confident. The rocking motion continued, but he
was on top of each swell, his entire body moving gracefully with the
raft and not against it.

Just as he was beginning to enjoy the ride, he heard the first rushing
noise of the rapids and he was catapulted forward. It crossed his mind
that this was like going off a high diving board; there was no turning
back. Then suddenly he was too busy to think. Everything became a series
of reflex actions.

The raft spun with a snap and he was shooting off to the right. Sandy
leaned back on his haunches and stabbed the paddle down into the water
at his left. The shaft bit into the river and slowly hauled him back on
course.

He heard a loud smack and felt himself flying through a curtain of white
spray. There was a sickening bump and he was back on the river, riding
furiously through a world of roaring noise and bone-jarring motion. A
long ledge of rock loomed up ahead. Sandy brought the paddle up and
pushed with all the strength in his shoulders.

His little raft bounced away and was flung sideways into a channel
between two ledges. Doug had told them that this was the fastest point
in the rapids and he was right. Sandy’s raft quivered like a live animal
as it shot through the funnel of rushing water, twisting steadily to the
left.

Further and further it leaned until water licked hungrily over the
sides. Sandy knew he had to right himself quickly and jammed all his
weight down on his right knee. As he did, an invisible hand seemed to
pluck at him and he felt himself pitch over. The paddle shot from his
hand, and in the next moment the waters of Salmon River closed over his
head.

The current carried him, bouncing him around like an old sock in a
washing machine, for another thirty yards. Finally he was swept into a
pool of relatively quiet water. He cut for the surface, blinked the
water out of his eyes and looked up to see a grinning Doug Henderson
sitting calmly in his raft, fishing for Sandy’s lost paddle.

“Nice try!” Doug nodded approvingly. “But you got too tense toward the
end. Head for shore and we’ll go through again.”

Sandy flashed the boy a grin and struck out for the near bank where
Mike, looking mournful and disgusted with himself, was hauling himself
out of the water. As Sandy reached shore, Mike leaned down and held out
a hand.

“I won’t need a drink for a week,” Mike announced, pulling Sandy up
beside him. “I just managed to swallow half the river. A couple more
tries like that and there won’t be any rapids to go through.”

Sandy ran a hand through his dripping hair and looked back at the
rapids. Half a dozen rafts were shooting through them with ease. He
shook his head in admiration. “Look at them,” he said purposefully. “If
they can do it, so can we.”

Mike nodded vehemently. “Now you’re talking. Let’s go!”

Two hours and over a dozen tries later, Doug was ready to graduate both
of them from the Kindergarten Rapids. “See,” he said, spreading his
hands in a gesture of finality, “all it takes is a little practice. You
fellows could get through there now blindfolded.”

“Maybe,” Mike admitted. “But I’ll wait for a while before I try it.”

They were standing near the dock, toweling themselves vigorously after
four successful runs in a row, pleased at having mastered a new skill.
The crowd had grown since early morning and, along with the younger
boys, there were a number of older teen-agers dressed in flashy cowboy
boots and sombreros. The older boys eyed Sandy and Mike from under their
hats.

“Who are the characters?” Mike demanded.

Doug squinted over at them and made a wry face. “Oh, those! Don’t pay
any attention to them. I guess they heard you were around and came over
to see the fun.”

“Well, the show’s over,” Sandy said as he picked up his raft. “We’ve got
to get back to your father’s.”

“I’ll go along with you,” Doug said. Suddenly he stopped and ran
forward. “Hey!” he cried. “That’s my paddle!”

One of the older boys was walking away with Doug’s ash-wood paddle. He
stopped when he heard the challenge and turned insolently.

“Prove it,” he snapped.

Doug planted himself in front of the boy and made a grab for the handle.
“There’s a notch up there on the hand grip. Give it to me and I’ll show
you.”

The older boy winked at his companions and held up one hand. “I’ll
look,” he said. Carefully shielding the handle so that Doug couldn’t see
it, he stared down at the wood. When he looked up, he was grinning.
“You’re wrong, kid. There’s no notch. Now beat it.”

Sandy felt a sudden surge of anger as he moved forward to stand beside
Doug. “Let me take a look at it,” he said slowly. He could feel his face
flush in an attempt to hold down his temper.

The older boy turned to Sandy and stared at him rudely. A faint smile
twisted at the corner of his mouth. “Well, well,” he drawled. “A real
river expert, now, eh? Know all about rafts and paddles and such. Little
Doug here got you through the course.”

“He did all right,” Sandy snapped. “Now, let’s see the paddle.”

“Are you going to fight for it?” The question came as a mocking taunt.

“If I have to.”

The older boy made a clicking sound with his tongue and shook his head
reproachfully. “That’s no way to act. Suppose we settle this with a
little bet.”

“What kind?”

The older boy dug the paddle into the ground and leaned on it easily.
“Now that you’re such an ace in white water, let’s you and me go through
some rapids. Whoever gets dumped loses. The winner gets to keep the
paddle.”

Sandy shook his head firmly. “The paddle doesn’t belong to either of us,
win or lose.”

“Afraid?” The question came like a slap in the face.

“No.”

“I think you are.”

Sandy breathed heavily, but managed to keep his temper. “All right,” he
said, biting off each word separately. “I’ll go through any rapids with
you. But we’ll settle the business about the paddle afterwards.”

“Done!”

Doug shook his head and grabbed Sandy’s arm. “Don’t do it!” he pleaded.
“He’s not going to take you down the Kindergarten.”

“That’s right,” the older boy nodded. “I wouldn’t ask an expert like you
to go down a playground for kids. We’ll try something more interesting.”

Mike moved up beside Sandy and grabbed his shoulder. “Take it easy,
Sandy,” he said softly. “Don’t get stampeded into anything.”

Sandy’s face was white and stubborn. He shook his head doggedly.
“Thanks, Mike, but this is the way I have to do it.” He turned to the
older boy. “Where is this white water of yours?”

“It’s right down the bend of the river near a place called Dog Leg
Falls.”

There was a gasp from Doug. “Don’t do it, Sandy!” he begged. “Forget
about the paddle. You don’t know that part of the river. Two men got
drowned there last year.”

Sandy looked steadily into the older boy’s grinning face, then walked
over and picked up his raft and paddle.

“I’m ready whenever you are,” he announced in a quiet voice.



                             CHAPTER THREE
                             Dog Leg Falls


The boy standing opposite Sandy grunted. “Okay, champ,” he said
mockingly. “Follow me.” He swung the paddle up over his shoulder and was
halfway up the embankment when Mike’s voice rang out.

“Just keep walking. We’ll find our own way.” Mike was amazed at the edge
in his words. He hadn’t realized he was so angry.

The boy stiffened in exaggerated surprise and turned. He did it so
slowly that it was more of an insult than an acknowledgment. A sneering
smile played over his face as he stared at Mike.

“Well, well,” he drawled. “Another county heard from. Maybe you’d like
to ...”

“Cut that kind of talk and get out of here!” Mike’s tone was curt and
hard. He took a few steps up to the boy and looked at him squarely.

The boy dangled the paddle carelessly from one hand and came down a few
steps toward Mike. “You wouldn’t be thinking about running out—now would
you?”

“I don’t think I’d ask that question if I were you.” Mike’s tone was
deceptively soft but there was no mistaking the fire in his eyes. He
glanced over at the boy’s paddle. It was swinging in a wider arc,
drawing closer to him with each step. “And I’d put that paddle down
before somebody gets hurt.”

For a moment Mike thought the boy was going to charge him. He shifted
his weight and got himself ready, but the attack never came. The paddle
suddenly stopped as the boy spun around on his heel and moved back up
the embankment, motioning for his friends to follow. Silently they
trooped along.

Mike took a deep breath and relaxed. Then he turned and joined Sandy and
Doug at the dock.

“Whew!” Doug whistled admiringly. “You really gave it to him!”

“It didn’t take much, Doug,” Mike replied, keeping his eyes on Sandy’s
worried face. “Hey, Sandy,” he said softly. “You sure you want to go
through with this?”

Sandy flashed him an amused look. “Want me to run away?”

“No, but ...”

“Then I guess that’s it. I’m in too far to back down now.” Sandy reached
out for his raft. “The only thing I need now is some information. How
about it, Doug?” he asked. “Do I get a briefing on those rapids?”

Doug shuffled over to Sandy, one toe digging into the piled-up sand
along the dock. “Sandy ...” he began in a troubled voice.

Sandy held up a hand. “That’s enough,” he said good-naturedly. “The only
lecture I want to hear from you is how to get myself through those
rapids I’ve let myself in for.”

Doug stared up at him in momentary indecision. “All right,” he said.
“But let’s wait till we get there.”


Dog Leg Falls was about a mile upstream from the Kindergarten Rapids, in
a wild and barren part of the river.

Mike took one look at the wild water, plunging noisily through the
funnel of rocks, and smiled weakly over at Sandy. “Wonder where you turn
off the faucet?” But it wasn’t much of a joke and nobody laughed.

Down by the falls—which weren’t really falls at all, but a series of
turbulent runs of water—the banks of the river closed in on the channel
like two jaws, wrenching it violently around in a sharp L-shaped turn.
Through this narrow trough, the water snarled and fought its way,
cascading over the rocks at the bend in towering sheets of spray.

On any other day, Sandy thought to himself, the rugged beauty and
awesome power of the river at Dog Leg Falls would make an exciting
spectacle. On this particular day, however, it looked vicious and
threatening.

Sandy tore his eyes away from the river and forced himself to listen to
what Doug Henderson was saying.

“... there’s really only one bad place. It’s just at the turn. See how
the river curves to the left?”

Sandy shaded his eyes and peered over at the spray. He nodded silently.

“Well, the current will try to pull you over to those rocks on the
right. You mustn’t let that happen. ’Cause if you get dumped too near
the rocks, there’s an undertow that’ll grab you.”

“Won’t it carry me along through the channel?”

Doug shook his head. “No, it won’t. It’ll tangle you up in the rocks.
They look solid from here, but they’re not. There are all sorts of
crevices and things, worn out by the water pounding against them. That’s
why it’s so dangerous.”

There was a puzzled look on Sandy’s face. “I don’t get it.”

“The crevices,” Doug explained patiently, “can catch you just like a
trap. You can put your foot in one of them and never get it out. It’ll
hold you under the water until you—” He faltered and looked away.

Sandy nodded in grim understanding. “How do I keep away from them?”

“When you enter the channel stay over to the left as far as you can.
Keep steering to the left no matter what the current does. If you’re
over far enough, you’ll make it with about three feet to spare. Think
you’ve got it?”

“I think so. Let’s get this thing over with.”

“You’re sure you’re all set?” Mike asked anxiously.

“Yep.”

Mike held out a hand. “Good luck, Sandy,” he said solemnly.

Sandy, who looked surprisingly cheerful, grinned confidently. “There’s
nothing to it. All I have to do is remember what Doug told me. Come on.”

Sandy led the way down to the water where about twenty silent boys were
gathered in tense expectation. Mike took a place near them and watched
Sandy wade a foot or two into the river. Standing by helplessly, he had
an overpowering urge to shout out, to stop the competition that was
about to take place. But before he could make a move, Sandy turned,
threw Mike a wink and swung into his raft. A second later he was
floating out from shore. The older boy pushed off directly behind Sandy.

With Sandy in the lead, the two rafts shot toward the narrow opening of
Dog Leg Falls. From where he stood, Mike could see that Sandy was
holding the course Doug had charted. The tiny raft trembled and tugged
to the right, but Sandy held her steady.

Mike felt a small hand grip his elbow with surprising strength. “He’s
going in just right.” Doug’s voice was breathless with excitement.

Mike nodded and leaned forward. “Come on, Sandy,” he heard himself
murmur. “You’re doing great.” Suddenly the two rafts disappeared in a
boiling cloud of white spray. His muscles stiff with tension, Mike
strained to pick out the bobbing rafts.

Doug spotted them before he did. “He’s okay!” he shouted. “That’s it,
Sandy!”

Mike saw them the next instant. They were both leaning into the
dangerous turn. Sandy’s raft hugged the left-hand side of the channel,
well away from the sharp wall of rocks to his right. In another moment,
he would be through. Mike felt his fingernails dig into the palms of his
hands as he mentally fought the white water along with Sandy.

“He’s rounding it! There’s room to spare!” Beside him, Doug was dancing
with excitement. “Look at him go!”

Suddenly there was a gasp from the boys crowded along the shore. Mike’s
eyes widened with horror. The boy behind Sandy had stopped steering his
raft. He had shifted his position and was leaning ahead recklessly, a
paddle in his outstretched hand.

“What’s he doing?” Mike yelled.

“He’s trying to tip Sandy over!” Doug shouted. His voice trailed off as
he watched the paddle snake out and jab at Sandy’s raft.

Mike stared with growing uneasiness as the two rafts slowly began to
spin. Faster and faster they whipped around, both boys now trying
desperately to keep their balance and stay on course.

At that distance, with both rafts floundering through towering walls of
water, it was difficult to tell which raft was Sandy’s. Mike fought down
an impulse to yell a warning when he saw one of the rafts steadily tip
higher in the water.

“He’s going to spill!” came a cry.

Almost as if that were a signal, the raft shuddered and flipped over.
There was a flash of a figure flailing the water and then, over by the
deadly rocks of Dog Leg Falls, a head appeared.

“He’s caught!” Doug’s face was white and frightened. “He’ll drown!”

The second raft, meanwhile, was still afloat and coming around the turn
fast. With a final leap, it shook itself free of the white water and
skidded to safety.

Mike forced himself to hunt for the figure in the water. Was it Sandy?
Or the other boy? There was a movement of color in the seething foam
near the rocks, and then out into the quiet part of the river popped a
paddle, an overturned raft and, following close behind, the head of a
swimmer, striking for the far shore.

Sandy wouldn’t do that, Mike thought to himself. He’d head for the near
shore. It must be the other boy! He swung around and squinted at the
lone raft floating safely in the middle of the river. Whoever was in it
was trying to fish something out of the water.

“He made it!” Doug yelled, dancing in excitement. “It’s Sandy! He’s all
right!”

Suddenly Mike was laughing. Despite the dirty trick at the end, Sandy
had won out. It was the other boy who had fallen in—not Sandy. It was a
lucky thing he escaped with nothing worse than a thorough soaking.

“Come on!” Mike yelled. “He’s coming in for a landing!” Together, Mike
and Doug sprinted down the bank of the river to meet the raft before it
touched shore.

“Hey!” yelled Doug, breaking stride for a moment. “What’s he got in his
hand?”

As Sandy guided his raft toward them Mike saw him grin and wave
something in the air. Then all at once he knew what it was.

“It’s your paddle, Doug,” he chuckled. “Sandy picked it up out of the
water. Don’t you remember? That’s what this whole thing was supposed to
be about. Your paddle!”

Laughing as they ran, the two of them splashed out into the river to
welcome Sandy.



                              CHAPTER FOUR
                              Eagle Plume


“Well, Mike,” Mr. Cook said as he settled down on a porch chair in front
of the cabin the Hendersons had rented them. “Think you can last till
dinner?”

Mike, who was stretched out contentedly on a hammock slung between
corner posts, opened one eye sleepily. “Depends on what day,” he said.

“I meant tonight.”

Mike held up a hand in protest. “Oh no, please! I won’t be able to touch
a bite till next Tuesday.” He sighed happily. “You know, it’s a real
pleasure to meet a woman like Mrs. Henderson. She never batted an eye
when I asked for thirds.”

“You sent her into a state of shock, most likely,” Sandy ventured. “She
couldn’t believe it after what you packed away.”

“I couldn’t believe it myself,” Mike agreed, stretching lazily. “I must
have lost my head. Oh, well,” he said, smothering a yawn, “I’m just a
poor kid who didn’t know the ropes. Give me another chance, officer.
I’ll go straight.”

“All right,” Sandy said severely. “Bread and water for three days. Next
case.”

“Oh, thank you, sir. Thank you. I’ll never forget you for this.”

“Say,” interrupted Mike’s father, putting his long legs up on the porch
railing. “If I can break into your act for a moment, I’d like to find
out how things went this morning. We were so busy talking about hunting
at lunch that I forgot to find out if you got your feet wet in some
white water.”

Sandy and Mike exchanged glances. On their way back to the Hendersons’
they had decided it would be just as well to skip over the experience at
Dog Leg Falls.

“Why, sure,” Mike replied casually. “We went through three or four
times.”

“Was Doug a good teacher?”

“The best.”

Mr. Cook groped for pipe and tobacco pouch. “I thought Doug acted sort
of funny all through lunch. Excited is more what I mean.” He cupped his
hand over the pipe bowl and began to fill it. “Anything happen this
morning?”

Sandy caught Mike’s eye as he shook his head. “No,” he said. “Nothing
special.”

“Hmmm.” Mr. Cook was drawing on his pipe. “You knew, didn’t you,” he
said between puffs, “that I’d hired a guide?”

Mike propped himself up on one elbow. “No, Dad, you didn’t tell us.”

“Well, I have. Fellow Mr. Henderson recommended.”

“Who is he? What’s his name?”

Mr. Cook pulled his feet down from the railing and stood up. There was a
look of amusement on his face as if he was enjoying a private joke. “If
you turn around, Mike, I’ll introduce you. He’s been standing behind you
for the last two minutes.”

The two boys whirled around in surprise. Standing near the porch was a
short, dark man with deep-set brown eyes. His straight black hair, worn
long, was carefully brushed back and held in place by a battered gray
felt hat. A red checked shirt, well-worn suspenders and a loose pair of
trousers tucked into high-topped shoes completed his outfit. There was a
feeling of relaxed strength and quiet power about his bearing that
reminded the boys of the mountains that towered in the distance beyond
the river. He looked as if he were carved out of the same stuff—solid
granite.

Mr. Cook shifted his pipe and extended his right hand. “Come on up and
meet the boys. Mike,” he said, “I’d like you to meet Chief Eagle Plume.”

Mike almost pitched forward on his face as he scrambled out of the
hammock. The Indian glided over the porch steps and suddenly he was
standing next to all three of them. Sandy had never seen a man move so
effortlessly.

“And this,” Mr. Cook went on, “is Sandy Steele, the third member of our
expedition.”

The Indian nodded gravely as he acknowledged the introduction. Mike, who
was clearly puzzling over what to say next, decided the proper thing to
do was bow formally.

“Heap glad you come with us,” he said solemnly. “We go trip together, we
catchum plenty—uh—” He glanced over at his father for some support, but
Mr. Cook was busy with his pipe.

Mike gritted his teeth and plunged on. “Catchum plenty—ah—”

“Scalps?” the Indian suggested helpfully.

Mike blushed furiously. “Yes, I mean—no—”

There was a flash of white as the Indian broke into an amused laugh.
“Sure hate to disillusion you, Mike. But that sort of thing’s a little
out of date.”

Mike stared at him with a dazed expression. “But I....” He grinned
sheepishly. “I thought you were an Indian. That name, Chief Eagle
Plume....”

“Oh, I am—a full-blooded Blackfoot. And your father got the name right.
It’s Eagle Plume, only most people call me Joe. It’s simpler.” He threw
Mike a friendly grin. “You wouldn’t guess it, but I even went to
college.”

“No kidding! Where?”

“Agricultural school in Montana.”

“So you’re a farmer,” Mr. Cook said.

Joe shook his head. “No, I studied animal husbandry. I figure on owning
a cattle ranch some day. Got one all picked out.” He gestured to a
chair. “Mind if I sit down?”

“No, no. Here.” Mike pushed over a chair.

Joe lowered himself comfortably and took off his hat. “Incidentally,” he
said, “last time I used that ‘Me heap big Injun’ routine was when I was
hired as an extra by a movie company.”

Sandy moved over to the porch railing and hoisted himself up against a
post. “Gee, a movie star! Were you a real bad Indian?”

Joe laughed. “I was a real dead Indian, that’s for sure. I got killed
eight different times in that picture. Some fun. The only trouble was
that I had to pretend to be a Crow Indian.”

“What’s bad about that?”

“Nothing really, I suppose. It’s just that Crows and Blackfeet never got
along too well together. Our ancestors fought over the same hunting
ground for years. We were always at war.”

Mr. Cook scratched another match along the arm of his chair. “But that’s
all finished now, isn’t it? There’s no bad feeling any more.”

Joe took a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and huddled over a light.
“You better not pay any attention to me. I just happen to know some
Crows I’m not too fond of.”

“But that’s personal,” objected Mr. Cook. “Nothing to do with the whole
nation.”

Joe hooked one leg over the other and frowned at the glowing tip of his
cigarette. “Yeah,” he said softly. “It’s personal, all right. And
mutual.” A look of hard anger clouded over his face, then disappeared
almost as quickly as it had come. “Well,” he said after a pause, his
good humor apparently restored, “so you’re going down Lost River to meet
Hank Dawson?”

Mr. Cook’s face lit up. “Do you know Hank?”

The Indian shook his head. “No, but I’ve heard of him. Where’s he
meeting you?”

“At Mormon Crossing.”

“Dad,” Mike interrupted, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that place.
I thought the Mormons settled Utah—around Salt Lake City.”

“They did,” his father answered. “But some of them didn’t like it.”

“And moved on,” Sandy chimed in.

Mr. Cook turned to Sandy in surprise. “Right! How did you know?”

“That last day before we left Oakland, Mike and I went downtown to do
some last-minute shopping. Remember?”

“Sure.”

“When we finished Mike said he wanted a soda. With Mike, that’s a full
hour’s proposition. I didn’t want any, so I said I’d meet him at the
library.”

“Squealer,” muttered Mike.

Joe looked at Mike in amazement. “You mean it takes him an hour to drink
a soda?”

Sandy shrugged. “You know how it is. One soda leads to another.”

“I see.” Joe nodded gravely. “He drinks.”

Sandy sighed and nodded his head. “That’s about the size of it.”

Joe looked over at Mike sympathetically. “Poor fellow.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” cried Mike. “I’m not as bad as that. I can take
them or leave them alone.”

“That’s what they all say,” his father said. He turned back to Sandy.
“But what’s this got to do with you knowing about the Mormons?”

“Well, I went to the library,” Sandy explained, “and looked up Mormon
Crossing. I was just curious about the name.”

“What did it say?” Joe suddenly sat forward, looking watchful.

“It seems there was this party of Mormons on their way west from Ohio.
They didn’t stop in Utah, as so many of them did. They pushed on farther
west, planning to join the settlement in Nevada that was set up in 1849.
It’s not clear whether they never got there, or whether they got there
and turned back. The last anyone ever heard about them, they were in
Idaho. Mormon Crossing was where they forded the Lost River.”

“What do you mean—the last anybody heard of them?” Mike wanted to know.

Sandy threw up his hands. “They vanished. The theory is the Indians
massacred them. But nobody knows for sure.”

“They were massacred, all right,” declared Joe, staring off into space.
“Every last one of them was killed.”

Sandy frowned in bewilderment. “How do you know that?”

Joe looked up sharply. “What?”

“I said, how do you know? There weren’t any records. I asked.”

“Oh,” said Joe, reaching for another cigarette. “I mean, that’s the way
it must have happened. It was pretty wild country then, and it all
belonged to my people. I’m afraid they didn’t take too kindly to
strangers.”

“In any event,” said Sandy, changing the subject, “that’s how Mormon
Crossing got its name.”

“And that’s where we’re going,” said Mike, throwing himself back on the
hammock. “Sounds like a real garden spot. Any of your relatives still
hang around there, Joe? Let me know and I’ll keep out of their way.”

Joe grinned and shook his head. “We’re all nice and tame now, Mike,” he
said.

“You never go on the warpath any more?” Mike made it sound as if he were
disappointed.

“Just little ones. We kinda yell in whispers.”

“To keep in practice, you mean?”

“That’s it,” said Joe, throwing back his head in a laugh. “Then we’re
always ready in case another movie company wants to hire us.”

“Don’t take any jobs for a month, Joe,” Mr. Cook said as he leaned over
to knock the ashes out of his pipe. “You’re all booked up.”

“Suits me.”

“When do we start, Dad?” Mike asked idly.

“I thought in about two days.”

“Two days!” The Indian was suddenly on his feet and over by Mr. Cook.
Again it crossed Sandy’s mind that Joe moved with the grace of a cat. “I
don’t mean to speak out of turn or anything,” he said, “but why waste
all that time?”

“There’s a lot to be done,” Mr. Cook pointed out mildly. “The gear’s got
to be sorted and packed in trip boxes. The boats have to be loaded—”

Joe sat down on the porch railing. “I can do it this afternoon.”

“It’s a big job.”

Joe shrugged. “I’ll handle it.”

Mr. Cook looked up at Joe curiously. “You seem in an awful hurry to get
out of here.”

Now Joe became flustered. “No,” he stammered. “That’s not it. It’s just
that ... that every day you stay here is a day lost.”

Sandy remembered their appointment at Mormon Crossing. “What about Hank
Dawson? We’re not due to meet him for another five days.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mr. Cook replied. “Hank’s probably there
now—getting in some fishing.”

“Then there’s nothing to hold you?” It was Joe again.

“No,” Mr. Cook conceded. “Just the problem of getting ready.”

Joe stared down at the porch flooring. “Well, suit yourself,” he said,
but it was clear he was not too happy about it.

“Why don’t we go!” cried Mike suddenly, bounding up from his hammock.

Mr. Cook was still unconvinced. “We have to check our ammunition and
sight in the guns. We haven’t had a chance to do that yet.”

“Why don’t you do it right now?” Joe suggested eagerly. “You go on
downriver while I get things organized here. We’ll be ready by morning.
I guarantee it.”

“Well,” Mr. Cook said dubiously. “What do you boys think about it?”

“I’m all for it,” Mike asserted.

“Sandy?”

Sandy nodded. “The sooner the better for me.”

Mr. Cook laughed. “Okay, Joe. You win. I’ll get the guns and you do the
rest.”

“Yes, sir!” Joe grinned as he vaulted down the steps. “I’ll go see about
the boats.” The next instant he was gone and running down the path
toward the river.

Mr. Cook watched him go and turned to the boys with a puzzled
expression. “Did you get the feeling there was something odd about all
that?” he asked.

“I sure did,” Sandy said emphatically. “It started when I began talking
about Mormon Crossing.”

Mr. Cook nodded in agreement and led the way into their cabin. “Let’s
take the guns a mile or two upstream and chew this thing over while
we’re walking. Frankly,” he concluded with a frown, “I don’t think I
like it much.”



                              CHAPTER FIVE
                              Sighting In


After half an hour of speculation, neither Sandy, Mike nor Mr. Cook
could come up with a reasonable explanation for Joe’s strange behavior.
But, as Mr. Cook said, that wasn’t too surprising. “We don’t have too
much to go on,” he pointed out.

The three of them were walking along the south shore of the Salmon
River, not far from Dog Leg Falls. The country there was perfect for
their purpose: it was clear of woods and reasonably deserted. Sandy was
carrying several boxes of shells and four or five sheets of white
plastic material, painted over with a red bull’s-eye. Mike had a small
bale of packed straw he had found in Mr. Henderson’s stable, and Mr.
Cook was lugging two gun cases.

“Let’s go over it once more,” Sandy insisted. “We know this much. Joe
wants to leave here in a hurry and Mormon Crossing means something to
him.”

“You _think_ it means something to him,” Mr. Cook corrected.

“We agreed that he began to act funny as soon as I started talking about
it. And besides, he seemed to be pretty sure about what happened to that
party of Mormons.”

“But, Sandy,” Mike protested, “they were massacred more than a hundred
years ago. How could that make any difference to Joe now?”

“That’s my whole point,” Sandy explained. “How did he know it was a
massacre? They might have died of starvation or any number of things.
Why was he so sure?”

The three of them walked on, lost in thought. It was Mike who finally
broke the silence. “This may be crazy,” he began, “but Joe could have
some inside information.”

“How do you mean?” his father asked.

“He’s a Blackfoot,” Mike explained earnestly. “This used to be Blackfoot
country. Maybe the story about the Mormon massacre was handed down
within the tribe—you know, from father to son—until it reached Joe.” He
shifted the bale of straw to his other arm and began to talk more
quickly. “I know that Indians are part of our life now, but the tribe
still means something to them.”

“You’re right.” Mr. Cook nodded. “They have a strong sense of tribal
identification. It’s quite possible that each tribe passes its own
legends along from generation to generation. Indians don’t keep any
records, so naturally it wouldn’t be in the library. Joe might have
heard about the massacre from his father or some of the elders of the
tribe.”

Sandy still wasn’t satisfied. “That doesn’t answer the question about
why he wanted to leave in such a hurry.”

“No,” Mr. Cook had to agree. “It doesn’t.” He started to say more, but
just then the path took a sharp turn and they came face to face with the
spectacle of the river gathering itself for its rush through Dog Leg
Falls.

Mr. Cook stood and watched the lashing water of the rapids with a look
of admiration. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said.

Behind his back, Sandy and Mike exchanged glances.

“That all depends,” Sandy ventured uncertainly.

Mr. Cook turned and smiled. “I guess it does, Sandy. I sure would hate
to try to battle through it on a raft, wouldn’t you?”

Sandy coughed and turned away. “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he muttered.
“Er—don’t you think we’d better start to work?”

Mr. Cook tore himself away from the sight of the rapids and nodded.
“Good idea. Let’s look for a shooting range.”

“Over there.” Sandy pointed. “There’s a nice little hill and about fifty
yards of clearing.”

“All right,” Mr. Cook said, picking up the gun cases. “You boys set up
the target.”

“Wouldn’t dream of going through those rapids, eh?” Mike muttered out of
the corner of his mouth as he and Sandy walked over to the hill
together.

Sandy grinned back at him. “What did you want me to say? That I do it
all the time for laughs?” He watched Mike put down the straw bale and
prop it solidly against the side of the hill. “Besides,” he whispered,
“you know something?”

“What?”

“I’m afraid I may dream about it some night—and wake up screaming.”

“Come on!” a voice yelled. “You two fellows do more talking than a pair
of old ladies!”

“Okay, Dad!” Mike shouted. “We’ll be ready in a minute.”

Quickly he helped Sandy drape the plastic cloth over the bale so that
the concentric rings of the bull’s-eye faced Mr. Cook.

“Let’s weight it down with some stones,” Sandy suggested. “One or two
shots and it’ll probably fly right off.”

“Good idea.”

“Boys!” It was Mr. Cook again. “Pace off fifty yards toward me.”

They did as they were told, and in a few moments they were standing
beside Mike’s father, who was bending over the Remington .721. “There,”
he said, after the last shell slipped into place. “We’re all set.” He
held the rifle out to Sandy. “Care to try it?” he asked.

Sandy took the gun and ran his hand down the smooth wood finish of the
stock. Checking to make sure the safety lock was on, he cradled it in
his arms and turned to Mr. Cook.

“You know,” he said with a puzzled grin, “I’m not exactly sure what I’m
supposed to do.”

“Ever shoot one of these before?”

Sandy shook his head. “A .22 is about the only thing I’ve ever handled.
How does this gadget work?” He pointed to a telescopic sight mounted on
top of the gun stock.

“Just like a regular sight,” Mr. Cook explained. “It’s detachable, you
see. If you’re shooting short distances, you take it off and use the
notch sight right on the barrel. But if your target is—oh, let’s say 250
yards off, then you screw on this telescope. Take a look through it and
tell me what you see.” Sandy hoisted the gun up against his shoulder and
squinted through the round glass end of the scope. “Wow!” he exclaimed.
“That target looks as if it’s right on top of me.”

“Well, it’s a telescope, you know. What else do you see?”

“Two tiny cross hairs that intersect at right angles just about in the
center of the circle.”

“Right. Now what you want to do is line up the intersection of those
cross hairs with the target. Got that?”

Sandy nodded and, shifting his aim slightly, he focused on the exact
center of the bull’s-eye. “I’m on,” he said, holding the position as
best he could. “Okay,” Mr. Cook said. “Shoot.”

Sandy took a deep breath and curled his finger slowly around the
trigger. He braced himself for the blast and recoil, every muscle poised
and tense, concentrating on the circle of red that filled the sight.

Suddenly he felt an insistent tap on his shoulder. He jerked around to
find Mike’s grinning face staring into his.

“Hate to bother you, Daniel Boone,” Mike said apologetically, “but
you’ll do better with that thing off.”

“What thing?”

Mike reached out and flipped off the safety catch. “Okay, sport,” he
said. “Fire away!”

Sandy gave an embarrassed grunt and nodded. He brought up the rifle a
second time and tucked it into the hollow of his shoulder. Resting his
cheek against the curve of the stock, he closed down gently on the
trigger. The rifle bucked and roared in his hand. Sandy threw the bolt
and pumped another shell into place.

“How did I do?” he asked.

Mr. Cook peered at the target through a pair of field glasses. “About
five inches off center. Try again.”

Sandy brought the rifle up. “Want me to allow for it?”

“No, no,” Mr. Cook said quickly. “Aim for the target.”

Sandy spread his feet a little farther apart and took a comfortable
stance. “Here goes.”

The rifle barked again. “Same place,” Mr. Cook announced. “You sure you
were centered?”

“As far as I could tell,” Sandy said, a little annoyed with himself for
missing a second time.

“Let Mike have a try at it.”

Sandy handed the rifle over to Mike and stepped back. Two shots rang out
in quick succession. Mike looked over at his father questioningly.

“I guess that proves it,” came the answer. “Here, take a look.” He
ducked his head through the strap of the binoculars and turned the
glasses over to Sandy.

Sandy swung over to the target and focused in on four neat holes
clustered close together about five inches to the right of the
bull’s-eye.

“I don’t get it,” he said, lowering the glasses. “How come we’re
missing?”

“The sights are off,” Mr. Cook explained. “A little adjusting will fix
that.” He reached into a side pocket on one of the gun cases and pulled
out a screw driver. “Now, let’s see,” he said, glancing over at the
target. “At fifty yards, a minute of angle has a value of about half an
inch. Each click on this scope is equal to two minutes of angle. That
would make—” he pursed his lips as he made the mental
calculation—“ahh—five clicks to bring her in line.” He shook his head
and pushed his hat back off his forehead. “That’s too much. We’ll have
to adjust the windage screws on the scope’s mount.” Squatting on his
haunches, he began to manipulate two screws on either side of the sight.

“Hey, Dad!” Mike cut in. “You left me out in left field somewhere. How
about filling us in?” He turned to Sandy. “Do you know what’s going on?”
he asked.

“I think so,” Sandy said as he looked over Mr. Cook’s shoulder.
“According to what we saw through the sight, we were right on target.
The only trouble was, the sight didn’t match up with the barrel of the
gun. It’s just sitting on top of the gun and it must have twisted around
to one side. Right now your father is trying to get the two of them back
together so that what we see is what we shoot at.”

“That makes sense,” Mike conceded. “But how do you know which way to
turn the scope? Do you swivel it around to the left or to the right?”

“That’s easy.” Sandy grabbed a twig and drew a small rectangle on the
ground. “Here’s your scope. And there—” he ran a dotted straight line
out to a spot he marked with an X—“that’s the target. You see the
scope’s pointing right at it.” Mike nodded and Sandy went on.

“The four shots all fell about here.” He punched four holes to the right
of the X.

“Which means,” Mike added, “that the gun was over to the right in
relation to the line of sight through the scope.”

“You got it,” Sandy nodded.

“So,” Mike went on, “in order to get the scope and barrel lined up
together, we have to move the cross hairs over to the right.”

“And there are two ways of doing that,” Mr. Cook pointed out. “We can
move the cross hairs _inside_ the scope. Or we can move the scope
itself.”

“What’s the difference?” Mike asked.

“One is for fine adjustments.” He pointed to a knob on top of the
telescopic sight. “See this?”

The boys nodded.

“This,” he went on, “moves the cross hairs. And these—” he gestured to a
pair of screws—“turn the whole mount any degree you want.” He grinned at
them. “Simple, eh?”

“One more question.”

“Shoot.”

“How do you know how much to turn it? All that business about a minute
of angle having a value of about half an inch at fifty yards—that’s all
Greek to me.”

“You remember your geometry, don’t you, Mike? An angle cuts off an arc.
And you know how to measure an arc.”

Mike looked surprised. “In minutes and degrees,” he said, with sudden
comprehension.

“There’s your answer. Now I’ll grant you,” Mr. Cook added, “that I just
happen to know how big an arc an angle makes at various distances. But
that’s only because I’ve been working with guns for a long time. And if
I didn’t know, I could always figure it out. The rest,” he said,
standing up, “is trial and error. Let’s see how we did.”

With a single easy motion, he hunched over the rifle and, in rapid
succession, poured three shots into the bull’s-eye. “Well?” he demanded
as he straightened up.

Sandy peered through the binoculars. Three holes bunched together in the
space of a dime had perforated the plastic directly above the target.

“You’re right on,” he announced. “But a little high.”

“Good,” Mr. Cook replied. “We want to be high.”

“How come?” Mike demanded.

“Bullets don’t go straight forever,” Mr. Cook explained. “Gravity forces
them to curve down until they hit the ground. This rifle shoots a little
high at fifty yards. But it’ll be right on target at two hundred and
fifty—and that,” he pointed out, “will be about as close as you’ll get
to an elk.” He patted the gun with evident satisfaction. “She’s all
set,” he said. “Let’s get busy on the others.” Now that the boys knew
what they were doing, the work went faster. An hour and a half later,
they were finishing with the last rifle.

“One more shot, Dad,” begged Mike. “I’m still not happy with this one.”

His father shrugged. “Suit yourself. I think she’s fine.”

“You watching, Sandy?” Mike called out, slinging up the gun.

“Go ahead,” Sandy called.

Mike had just put his eye against the sight when Sandy yelled out a
warning. “Hold it! There’s somebody coming down the hill.”

“He sure is running fast, whoever he is,” commented Mr. Cook. “Take a
look through your glasses and see if we know him.”

“Sure we do,” Sandy said after a pause. “It’s Doug Henderson. He looks
scared—almost as if somebody’s chasing him.”

“Hey, Doug!” Mike yelled. “Over here!”

The boy scrambled down the foot of the hill and came sprinting up to
them. His face was pale and his eyes were unnaturally large.

“Is there anything wrong, Doug?” Mr. Cook asked.

The boy gasped as he struggled to catch his breath.

“It’s Joe,” he gulped. “Something’s happened to him.”

“What?” Mr. Cook’s tone was sharp and worried.

Doug swallowed hard and shook his head. “Don’t know,” he panted. “He’s
hurt. Dad says for you to come. It happened while he was loading your
trip boxes.”



                              CHAPTER SIX
                              Joe’s Story


Mr. Henderson was waiting for them on the porch of their cabin when they
arrived. “You can rest easy,” he called when he saw their worried faces.
“He’s not hurt bad.”

Mr. Cook leaped up the steps two at a time. “What happened?” he
demanded.

Mr. Henderson shrugged. “Can’t tell for sure. All we know is he got
himself a whack on the head an’ fell in the river.”

“Was he knocked out?”

“Colder’n a mackerel.”

“Then he could have drowned!” cried Sandy.

Mr. Henderson peered over at Sandy. “More’n likely,” he agreed.

“Who fished him out?” Mr. Cook wanted to know.

Mr. Henderson rubbed his jaw reflectively. “Now there was a lucky
thing,” he said. “’Bout four o’clock I told Luke—that’s my hired man—to
go down and check the calking on your boats. Seein’ as how they ain’t
been in the water since last summer, I figured ’twould be a good idea to
have a look at ’em. Well,” he continued, refusing to be hurried, “Luke
gets down to the place where I keep the boats and all of a sudden he
hears a kind of a yell and a splash. Being curious like, Luke decides to
have a look-see at what fell in. So he saunters on down to the river and
spots three fellers actin’ funny. They see him comin’ and start off the
other way. Luke hollers but they keep right on goin’. Injuns, he thinks
they were. Course, Luke’s gettin’ a bit old and his eyesight ain’t what
it used to be, so it might not be Injuns after all. You never can tell
about them things. I recollect once—it was in the summer of—”

“But what about Joe?” insisted Sandy impatiently.

Mr. Henderson shot him a reproachful glance. “I was just getting ’round
to that. Seein’ them Injuns, or whatever it was, made Luke move a little
faster and he gets down to the river just in time to see old Joe
a-floating away.”

“He was on top of the water?” Sandy asked.

“Well, no, not exactly,” Mr. Henderson admitted. “He was about three,
mebbe four feet down. But the current was carryin’ him along right
smart, y’see.”

“What did Luke do?”

“He hightails it over to another dock further downstream, grabs a boat
and, when Joe comes by, he fishes him out. That’s about all.”

“Do you think those Indians, or whatever they were, had anything to do
with it?” Mr. Cook asked anxiously.

“Hard to say. Best ask Joe.”

Mr. Cook moved to the door. “Let’s do it now.”

Mr. Henderson held out a hand. “Doc’s in there with him. He said to keep
everybody out till he’s through.”

“It’s all right,” came a voice from inside the house. “Come on in.”

The doctor had just finished and was buttoning his jacket as Mr. Cook
led the way through the front door. “Is he out of danger, Doctor?” Mr.
Cook asked.

“Yes, indeed,” said the doctor, reaching for his medical bag. “He’s got
a nasty bump on the back of his head, but nothing serious. There’s no
concussion. He may be a little sick at his stomach from all the water he
swallowed, but that’ll pass. The only thing he needs right now is a
little broth and a good night’s sleep.”

“He’ll get both,” Mr. Henderson promised.

“Good.” The doctor moved to the door and turned. “You know,” he said,
“Joe’s a mighty lucky man. If Luke had been a few minutes later, he’d be
finished.” He shrugged and pushed his way out. “As it is, I expect he’ll
be up and around by tomorrow. Goodbye. Let me know if he becomes
delirious or suddenly starts to run a fever.”

“We will,” Mr. Cook assured him. “Goodbye, Doctor, and thanks a lot.”

“Right.” The doctor smiled around the room and stepped out of the cabin.

“Well,” Mr. Cook said, after the doctor had gone. “I think we better ask
Joe a few questions. Where is he?”

“He’s in this room right here.” Mr. Henderson walked over to a door and
knocked gently. “Joe!” he called. “You’ve got company.”

“Come in!” answered a voice.

Joe was sitting up in bed, wearing a red flannel nightshirt that
belonged to Mr. Henderson. With the white bandage wrapped around his
head he looked even more like an Indian than he had earlier that
afternoon. He smiled in welcome as he caught sight of the Cooks and
Sandy. “Boy!” he said. “Am I glad to see you again! Did you get those
guns sighted in?”

Mr. Cook moved to the foot of the bed. “We had just finished when we
heard the news. What happened, Joe?”

The Indian made an impatient gesture with one hand. “Foolish accident. I
was lining the boxes up along the dock when I thought I heard somebody
call my name. I looked up and turned around. Well, I guess I must have
lost my footing, because the next thing I knew I was falling in the
water. Then, all of a sudden, I felt this bang on my head and all the
lights went out. Cracked right into a piling, I guess.” He grinned up at
them. “Things like that happen sometimes. You can’t do much about it.”

“What about those Indians, Joe?” Mr. Cook asked quietly.

Joe’s eyes narrowed and Sandy thought he saw him grow pale. “What
Indians?” he said sharply.

“Luke said he thought he saw some Indians right near the place where you
fell. He said they were coming away from the river after you went in.”
Mr. Cook laid a slight but significant stress on the word “after.”

Joe tried to dismiss the Indians with a shrug. “If they were there, I
didn’t see them.”

“Luke yelled out,” Mr. Cook continued, “but they didn’t stop.”

“Why should they?”

“Wouldn’t you stop if somebody called?”

“That depends on who it was. Maybe they didn’t hear him.” He looked at
Mr. Cook with an unfriendly stare. “I don’t get it,” he said
resentfully. “What are you trying to prove?”

There was a pause as Mr. Cook dragged over a chair and sat down beside
the bed. “Look, Joe,” he said, “take it easy. I’m not trying to prove a
thing. It’s just that there are a couple of things that are bothering
us.” Joe waited unsmilingly for Mr. Cook to go on. “Earlier today, you
mentioned some Crow Indians you didn’t seem to like very much. Next, you
can’t wait to get started on the trip to Mormon Crossing. And finally,
you almost get killed.”

Joe looked thoughtfully down at the sheet. “And you think that all adds
up to something?” he asked.

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. Is anybody after you, Joe? It looks
a little like it.”

Joe leaned back with a smile. “I have to admit it looks funny,” he
conceded with a chuckle. “But I’m afraid you’ve been reading too many
mystery stories. Now,” he said, settling back comfortably, “let’s start
from the beginning. About those three Crows—it’s perfectly true I don’t
get along with them. But it wasn’t serious enough to lead to any
bloodshed. Besides, as far as I know, they’re still in Montana. It’s
also true that I’m eager to get going. I gave you my reasons this
afternoon and they still hold. Why waste time here when we can be on the
river? Finally, the accident.” He shook his head in bewilderment. “I
don’t know how to explain that, except to say that it was exactly
that—an accident. The Indians Luke saw were just a coincidence. I don’t
have the slightest idea of why they were there.” Joe looked around the
room and smiled disarmingly. “Sorry I can’t give you a more dramatic
story, but that’s the truth. Okay?”

Mr. Cook stood up and moved the chair back against the wall. “All right,
Joe,” he said quietly. “No cross-examination.”

The Indian seemed relieved. “Good,” he said. “Now what time do you want
to start tomorrow?”

Mr. Cook stared at Joe in astonishment. “But great Scott, Joe! You’re in
no shape to travel!”

“You heard what the doctor said.”

“He said you’d be up and around by tomorrow, but he didn’t mean for you
to start downriver.”

“It’s better than lying around here. Besides, a little exercise will get
my strength back a lot faster than a week in bed.”

“Well,” Mr. Cook said as he turned to go out the door, “let’s see how
you feel in the morning.”

“I’ll make you a sporting proposition,” Joe called. “If I say I’m ready,
will you leave?”

“All right,” Mr. Cook agreed after a pause. “But don’t push yourself too
hard.”

“Don’t worry,” Joe said, grinning. “And say,” he shouted as Mr. Cook was
closing the door, “better get to bed early tonight. I plan to be up at
five-thirty.”

Mr. Cook nodded and pulled the door shut. The four of them trooped back
out onto the porch. “Well?” demanded Mr. Cook as he looked at each of
them in turn. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” Sandy muttered. “It sounds all right, but....”

“Exactly,” Mr. Cook agreed. “His story has too many holes as far as I’m
concerned.”

“But why should he lie?” Mike objected. “If he’s in trouble, why doesn’t
he tell us? Maybe we could help.”

“What struck you as the fishiest part of his story?” Mr. Cook asked
Sandy.

“The accident on the dock” came the prompt reply.

“It could have happened just that way,” Mr. Henderson volunteered.
“There’s more’n a couple of rotten boards on that dock. He could’ve
caught himself easy and pitched over.”

Sandy refused to be convinced. “I doubt it,” he said. “Ever notice how
Joe moves? He’s as graceful as a cat.”

“You’re right,” Mr. Henderson admitted. “But I just can’t bring myself
to call Joe a liar. I’ve known him a long time.”

“What do you think of him?” Mr. Cook demanded.

“As a guide or as a man?”

“Both.”

“As a man I’ve never known him to do a dishonest thing. And as a guide,
I’ve never known him to do a foolish one. I’d trust Joe anywhere.”

“So would I,” Mr. Cook agreed. “That’s what makes it so funny. I like
him and I trust him and yet....” He shook his head helplessly. “There’s
something he’s not telling us.”

“Want me to try to find another guide for you?” Mr. Henderson asked.

Mr. Cook turned to Mike and Sandy. “What do you think, boys?”

“Maybe he is mixed up in something, but I still vote we stick with him,”
Mike declared.

Sandy nodded his head. “I’ll go along with that.”

“All right,” Mr. Cook said decisively. “That’s decided. We’ll leave as
soon as Joe’s ready.”

“Better do what he said,” Mr. Henderson advised, “and set your alarm
clocks for five-thirty.”

“You think he’ll be ready then?”

Mr. Henderson nodded. “He’s a pretty tough customer, is old Joe. When he
makes up his mind to do a thing—well, it gets done.”

Mr. Cook grinned and threw up his hands in defeat. “Okay. I’m
convinced.” He turned and started back into the cabin. “Let’s get
going,” he said. “We’ve got some packing to do if we’re leaving for
Mormon Crossing in the morning.”



                             CHAPTER SEVEN
                               Cutthroats


Lying in the prow of the lead boat, with his head pillowed on a
rolled-up sleeping bag, Sandy watched the towering stands of green pine
glide smoothly by. This was their second day on the river and they had
yet to see a sign of human life. The clear, sparkling river wound
through what seemed to be an endless wilderness of mountain peaks and
sweet-smelling fir forests.

The fast-flowing current carried them effortlessly ahead, deeper and
deeper into the wild, tangled beauty of the Lost River country.
Occasionally, Joe, who was stationed at the tiller in the rear of
Sandy’s boat, would yell, “White water ahead!” This was the signal for
Sandy to take up his paddle and brace himself firmly against the prow.
Then, as Joe steered skillfully through the suddenly turbulent water,
Sandy’s job was to keep the boat well away from potentially dangerous
rocks by pushing out with a heavy river paddle, whose shaft was almost
as thick as his wrist. Behind the first boat, Mike and his father tried
to follow the course Joe set.

Only once—when Joe announced that the rapids ahead were too risky—did
they have to portage. It was a long, hot job.

But most of the time they simply floated. Mr. Cook and Joe kept a hand
on the tillers of their boats, while Sandy and Mike watched the scenery
or sprawled lazily on their backs, drinking in the sun and the bracing
mountain air.

As Sandy stretched and shifted into a more comfortable position, he
could hear Mike singing in the other boat.

“‘Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the
antelope play! Where seldom is heard a discouraging’—Hey, Joe!”

“What?”

“Ever see any antelopes?”

“Sure.”

“What do they play?”

“Baseball mostly” came the reply. “And a little tennis, sometimes.”

“Thanks. Just wondered.” Mike took a breath and plunged ahead. “And the
deer and the antelope play! It’s baseball at night! A discouraging
sight! After watching the tennis all day!”

Sandy grinned and hoisted himself up to a sitting position. “I like the
original words better, Mike!” he shouted.

In the other boat, Mike assumed a posture of dignified disappointment.
“That’s the trouble with people like you,” he replied haughtily. “You
never appreciate an original talent. Why, I predict in a hundred years,
they’ll be singing my songs from—”

“Quiet, Mike!” The sharp command came from Joe, who was sitting
motionless in the stern of his boat. Slowly, he raised one hand and
pointed to the shore about a hundred yards ahead. “Look!” he said in a
low, urgent voice. “Look what’s over there.”

Sandy turned and followed Joe’s finger. At first, all he saw was
restless motion in a grove of trees growing close by the river. Then, as
he watched, the underbrush parted and a head appeared. An instant later,
a huge mahogany bear was standing on the narrow strip of beach that ran
along the water. Cautiously, the bear lifted up its snout and sniffed
the breeze. Apparently satisfied, the animal waddled out to the edge of
the river.

“Boy!” Sandy breathed. “Think we can get in a shot?” Keeping his eyes
glued on the bear, he reached around for a rifle.

“No shooting,” ordered Joe. “It’s against the law.”

“How come?” Sandy asked in surprise.

“Can’t shoot bears from a boat,” Joe explained. “You have to be on dry
land. Besides,” he added, “that’s a sow bear.”

“A what?”

“A female. I bet she’s got cubs with her.”

Joe’s guess turned out to be right. In a few moments, the big bear
turned around and was pushing something out from behind one of the
trees. Two little balls of fur tumbled out on the beach and began
wrestling near the water. The mother bear gave them both a cuff that
sent them streaking around behind her broad back.

“Never shoot a sow bear, Sandy,” Joe was saying. “The cubs still need
her and would die without her. Every time you shoot a female, you’re
killing three animals. Bears, you see, usually have two in a litter.”

Sandy forgot about the rifle and turned back to watch the family outing
on the beach ahead. Suddenly, when they were about fifty yards away, the
mother bear caught sight of them. With surprising speed, she snatched
her cubs and tucked them between her legs. Growling fiercely, her huge
snout wrinkled and her teeth bared, she backed slowly into the bushes.
But just as she was about to disappear into the trees, one of the cubs
broke away and scampered back out into the open. Exactly like any irate
mother, the bear let out a shrill scream of warning as she jumped to cut
him off. Growling and snarling, she scolded her tiny runaway and gave
him a slap that sent him spinning head over heels. The little bear
scrambled back to its feet and raced for the protection of the
underbrush. Still scolding and snarling, the big bear followed. Sandy
could hear the tirade go on for several minutes until, at last, it died
down.

“Now there,” Mike observed, “is a mother who doesn’t believe in spoiling
her child. Did you see the spanking that little cub got?”

“I sure did. I wonder if he knows why he got it.”

“I think so,” Joe said. “Wild animals have to learn fast. She’s probably
giving them both a lecture right now.”

“Speaking of lectures,” Mike called out to Sandy, “when are you going to
give me that lesson in bait casting?”

“Soon as we find some fish,” Sandy replied. “I thought you said this
river was full of trout,” he said, turning to Joe.

“It is. You’ll have your chance tonight after we make camp. I know a
pool ahead that’s a regular hangout for cutthroats.”

“Cutthroats! Never heard of them.”

“They’ve got a red slash on both sides of their lower jaw. I think this
is the only part of the world where you’ll find them.”

“That’s right,” agreed Mr. Cook. “The Lewis and Clark expedition was the
first to describe them. They’re greedy fish and fighters.”

“Hey!” Mike shouted. “Sounds good. How do they taste?”

“You _would_ think of that,” his father commented. “But, for your
information, they’re delicious.”

“Great!” answered Mike. “Put me down for three or four.”

“Got to catch them first.”

“Sandy’ll take care of that.”

“How far away is that pool of yours, Joe?”

“About five miles from here we’re going to run into the worst rapids on
the river. I call them Cutthroat Rapids because the trout run is just
upstream.”

“Are they worse than Dog Leg Falls?”

“Much worse. You can’t get through them. The river drops about six
feet—right on a row of razor-sharp rocks.”

“Oh, oh!” cried Mike. “Sounds like another portage!”

“You’re right. Feel the river picking up speed? That’s Cutthroat Rapids.
We’d better move over a little closer to the shore.”

An hour later they were tied to the roots of a stranded drift log. Mr.
Cook and Joe were busy unloading gear for the night, while Sandy and
Mike inflated two small rubber rafts and checked over their fishing
equipment. When Mr. Cook saw the rafts, he raised an eyebrow. “How
come?” he demanded.

“I thought we could move up and down along the shore a little easier
with these,” Sandy explained.

“I guess you’re right. But isn’t it a little dangerous? We’re just above
Cutthroat Rapids.”

“We’ll be careful,” Mike assured him. “Don’t worry about that.”

“All right,” Mr. Cook agreed reluctantly. “But wrap a length of rope
around your middles. In case you start to drift, it might come in
handy.”

“Okay,” Mike said breezily. “But now it’s time for us fishermen to go to
work. We’re bringing back tonight’s supper, you know.”

“I’ll go grease up the frying pan right now,” Mr. Cook said, grinning at
his son. “It won’t take you more than ten minutes, will it?”

“Give us fifteen.”

Mr. Cook laughed and went back to help Joe build the fire.

It was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon by the time Sandy and Mike
got down to the river with their fiberglas casting rods. Taking a
position opposite some broken currents about three quarters of a mile
above the roaring cataracts of Cutthroat Rapids, Sandy unhooked the
catch of his reel and made ready for his first cast.

“A good caster,” he told Mike, “can hit a leaf floating in the middle of
a stream.” He pointed to a small twig moving in their direction.
“That’ll be my target,” he said.

Sandy placed his right foot in front of his left, almost as if he
intended to walk out into the water. He held his rod in front of his
body with his right hand. With an easy, swinging motion, he brought up
his rod until his thumb reached eye-level. The rod quivered back in an
arc, then lunged forward. The line snaked out and soared gracefully
through the air.

A moment later there was an almost imperceptible splash about three
inches from the twig. Sandy kept a gentle pressure on the reel with his
thumb and allowed the bait to be carried along by the river for eight or
ten feet before he began to reel in.

Mike whistled in admiration. “Pretty fancy. Let’s have a lesson.”

“Okay,” Sandy said, putting down his rod. “Now hold your thumb against
the reel like this. Bring the rod up so that the tip is just about level
with your eyes. That’s it. Now, keep your elbow away from your body. No,
no. That’s too far. Just a couple of inches or so. Use your elbow as a
pivot and bring the rod up. Stop it when your thumb comes up even with
your eyes and then snap forward with your wrist as you come down with
your arm.”

Mike nodded. “All right. Let me try.”

Sandy stepped back and watched as Mike concentrated on his first cast.
The light rod whistled back and sprang forward. But instead of coming
out in an even play, the line fluttered from the reel and flew
erratically over the water.

Mike shot a glance over at Sandy. “What did I do wrong?” he demanded.

“Just about everything,” Sandy said, laughing. “First of all, relax.
You’re snapping the rod instead of swinging it. You just need a little
twist on the downstroke. In the second place, you’re not using your
thumb right. When the line begins to play out, make your thumb act like
a brake. Here, let’s try it again.”

After forty minutes of Sandy’s expert coaching, Mike managed several
reasonably accurate casts. “Okay,” Sandy said approvingly. “You’re on
your own. I’m going to take the raft and drift downstream a little
ways.”

“Watch the current,” Mike warned as he set himself for another cast.

“Like a hawk,” Sandy said, pushing off from shore.

But Sandy had underestimated the treacherous power of Lost River.



                             CHAPTER EIGHT
                             A Perfect Cast


The first hint that he was in trouble came when Sandy felt his raft give
a trembling lurch to one side and swing sharply out into the channel. He
had been casting for about fifteen minutes without success, keeping
close to the protection of the rocky shore as he searched the water
around him for the telltale ripple of a surfacing fish. Once or twice,
when he had strayed out toward the middle of the stream in pursuit of a
silvery flash, he quickly realized his danger and paddled back to
safety. But now he had gone too far. He was nearly ten yards away from
the near shore, moving at an ever-increasing rate of speed toward
Cutthroat Rapids.

Still, he thought to himself, there was plenty of time to get back. The
rapids were a good half mile away and the river was not yet white with
lashing foam.

In the end, it was a cutthroat trout that very nearly caused his death.
He was a big fellow—at least eighteen inches, Sandy figured—and he chose
that particular moment to break through the water with a twisting leap
that nearly sent him into Sandy’s lap. The sight of that magnificent
fish momentarily drove all thought of danger from Sandy’s head. Just one
cast more, he decided, and then he would head back.

But Sandy never had a chance to make that cast. The river, in one of its
unpredictable shifts, suddenly grabbed his raft and sent it skimming and
twisting out into the main current. Dropping all thoughts of landing the
cutthroat, Sandy leaned hastily over to pick up his paddle.

How it happened, Sandy never knew. One moment he had the paddle; the
next instant he saw it shoot out of his hand and land in the water out
of reach. He was helpless, caught in the grip of Lost River, minutes
away from a bone-shattering fall over Cutthroat Rapids.

Fighting down the panic that threatened to overwhelm him, Sandy twisted
around to call for help. Mike was standing just about where he had left
him, patiently practicing his casts, unaware of the terrible danger that
had suddenly overtaken Sandy.

“Mike!” Sandy screamed, realizing, as he shouted, that nobody could help
him now. “Mike!”

Mike looked up with a start. A look of surprise and horror passed over
his face as he took in the situation. Sandy saw him turn and shout
something to his father and Joe. Then he was running along the side of
the river, his fly rod still clutched in his hand.

Cutthroat Rapids was closer now. It sent up a deep, angry roar as
hundreds of tons of water thundered over its rocks. Sandy’s fragile raft
swayed and shook, tossed in every direction by the seething current.
Clinging desperately to the slippery sides of his raft, Sandy could feel
a cold spray lash at his face. Shifting his weight to ride out the
bucking river, Sandy leaned to one side, then the other. Suddenly the
raft leaped out of the water, gave an agonized shake and fell back on
its side. The force of the fall threw Sandy from the raft and he was
swept along into the remorseless current. The raging waters carried him
for about fifteen feet before they slammed him, dazed and shaken, into
an obstruction that clogged the river just above the rapids.

At first Sandy thought he had hit a rock. But as his groping hands
clawed for a grip, he felt the sharp scratch of a branch and the rough,
comforting scrape of a tree trunk.

Miraculously, the current had deposited him on the upriver side of a log
jam that trembled less than twenty yards above the rapids.

Gasping for breath, Sandy shook the water out of his eyes and took a
closer look at his island. He knew almost immediately that this was
merely a reprieve. Already the tangle of trees groaned and shifted under
the insistent tugging of the current. Here and there a few branches were
tearing free, too frail to withstand the pounding pressure of the surly
river.

He glanced over at the nearest shore. Only about twenty feet. He hadn’t
realized he was that close. The distance gave him an idea. The rope
around his middle! Would it reach? Would he be able to throw it? Hardly
daring to believe he had a chance, he took a tight grip on a stout
branch and, with his free hand, began to unwind the line.

When he looked back at the shore, the rope dangling from one hand, he
saw that Mike had arrived and was trying to wade out into the water
toward him.

“No, Mike!” Sandy shouted. “You’ll be carried away!” He held his rope
over his head. “I’m going to try to throw this!” he yelled.

But even as Sandy reared back to heave the line, he knew the light rope
would never carry all the way to the shore. He felt the log jam shudder
and move a few inches closer to the rapids. He put every ounce of his
strength into the throw, but the rope didn’t even reach halfway.

Sandy’s mind raced over the possibilities of escape. There had to be a
way out. There just had to!

“Sandy!” It was Mike calling out to him. “Get ready and watch your
eyes!” Sandy saw that Mike had taken up his fly rod and was about to
cast. Suddenly, as he realized what Mike had in mind, his heart gave a
leap. It might work!

“Go ahead!” he shouted, ducking underneath a branch. Following the
instructions Sandy had given him, Mike brought up his rod in a free and
easy motion. The line hummed through the reel and floated above Sandy’s
head. As the lure hit the water a few feet to Sandy’s left, he reached
out for it blindly, ignoring the risk of a ripped finger. But the
current carried it in a mocking dance, just out of reach.

Back on shore, Mike patiently reeled in his line and set himself for
another try. The log jam was breaking up now. Sandy could feel it sway
and give with each push from the river. He knew there wasn’t much time
left.

Mike’s rod snapped forward and, as Sandy watched, the glittering lure
flashed through the air to settle lightly on the coarse bark of a branch
six inches from his head.

Sandy felt the blood hammering in his temples as he maneuvered himself
over to the hook that seemed to hang there by a thread. With a trembling
hand, he reached out and snatched at the line. As his fingers closed
around it, he allowed himself a gasp of relief.

“I’ve got it!” Sandy cried hoarsely.

“Hurry up!” came a deep voice from the shore. Sandy looked up to see Mr.
Cook and Joe standing tensely beside Mike. “The jam’s about to give!”

Even as he worked the end of his rope through two of the barbed hooks,
Sandy heard a noise that sounded like a piece of heavy paper being
ripped down the middle. A large branch—it was more like a small
tree—suddenly tore away and was swept down to the rapids by the surging
current.

Sandy looped the rope once around the lure and signaled to shore. “All
right!” he shouted.

The line gave a tug and began to inch toward Mike. Carefully Mike reeled
in, making sure that no sudden movement would shake the rope free. It
was halfway there now. Joe and Mr. Cook splashed into the water, ready
to grab it as it came within range.

Sandy wanted to yell out at Mike to reel in faster, but he realized Mike
knew what he was doing. He couldn’t take a chance of a slip this time.
There wouldn’t be a third try.

With agonizing slowness, the end of the rope crawled toward shore.
Another two or three feet. The log jam gave another sickening lurch, but
Sandy hardly noticed it. He was watching the rope.

Suddenly it was there. Joe leaned over and grabbed the end. Mr. Cook
moved in beside him and, together, they pulled.

“Come on!” Mr. Cook shouted. “We’ve got you!”

Sandy filled his lungs with air and kicked off from the pile of logs
that had saved his life. The rope jerked once and then he was in the
water, being drawn along like an enormous, awkward fish. The river
fought to tear the rope out of his numbed fingers, but Sandy held on
desperately. The world around him had long ago ceased to be anything but
foaming water and crashing noise. There was an almost unbearable strain
on his arms as he was tossed back and forth like a prize in the deadly
tug of war between life and the river.

Just as he thought he couldn’t hold out another second, he felt a strong
hand grip his arm. Fingers reached out and grabbed his belt, and the
next moment he was being supported by Joe and Mr. Cook. Mike was
standing on the shore ahead of him, his face white and shaken, his
casting rod still in his hand.

“You’re all right, Sandy,” Mr. Cook was saying. “You’re safe now.”

He tried to speak, but the words stuck in his throat and refused to come
out. Panting heavily, he was led up the beach and finally allowed to
rest. As he threw himself down on the ground, a crashing noise filled
the air. Sandy forced himself to look around.

The tangled hump of tree branches was rising out of the water. As Sandy
watched with a dazed expression, it seemed to give a heaving sigh before
settling back into the river. There was a grinding roar and suddenly the
trees were gone, claimed by the howling fury of Cutthroat Rapids. A
minute later, and Sandy would have gone over too.



                              CHAPTER NINE
                          Smoke on the Horizon


“Care to talk about it, Sandy?” Mr. Cook asked as he threw three or four
thick slabs of bacon into a frying pan. Sandy was sitting, wrapped in a
blanket, propped up next to a roaring fire, a cup of steaming instant
bouillon in his hand. Joe was squatting on his heels, Indian-fashion, in
front of a flat rock, mixing up a batch of johnnycake. Mike was kneeling
beside Sandy, busy opening two No. 2 cans of peaches. A casual visitor
would have taken it for an ordinary camping party getting ready for a
relaxed evening meal. Except for Sandy’s drawn face, there was no hint
of their recent close brush with death.

Sandy took a deep breath and another swallow of broth before he
answered. “Sure,” he replied. “But there’s not much to say. I kept
following the trout farther and farther out into the stream until
finally I realized I was too far.”

“You couldn’t get back?”

Sandy shook his head in disgust. “I shouldn’t really tell you this. It
makes me look like such a dope. I was just about to head back for shore
when suddenly this enormous trout finned out right under me. He must
have been at least a foot and a half.”

“Whew,” whistled Joe softly. “That’s the one that always gets away.”

Sandy smiled wanly. “That’s the one that almost got me! I went after
him.”

“And that brought you out still farther into the river,” concluded Mr.
Cook.

Sandy nodded grimly. “I felt the raft give a heave and I knew I’d better
get out of there. But I was in too much of a hurry, I guess. I grabbed
for the paddle and it shot out of my hand. Next thing I knew I was being
carried on down to the rapids. If it hadn’t been for Mike....” Sandy
broke off and shook his head.

“You mean if it hadn’t been for the way you taught me to use that fly
rod!” Mike interrupted with a grin. “Boy, was I scared when I made that
cast out to you! I knew it had to be just right!”

“And it was,” Mr. Cook said with a smile.

“Prettiest cast I ever saw,” Joe admitted. “Bet you could thread a
needle with that thing.”

Mike flushed and worked furiously at the second can of peaches. “Well,”
he said, “it worked out okay, so let’s forget it.”

Sandy looked at the three of them and felt a lump rise in his throat.
“Listen,” he said, and he noticed his voice sounded strained and husky.
“I don’t know how to thank you—all of you—for what you did. I guess it
sounds sort of foolish to say that you saved my life, and all. But I
just....”

Mr. Cook stood up and moved over beside Sandy. “Don’t say any more,
Sandy. There’s no need to thank us. We were very lucky, that’s all.”

“But it was all my fault!” Sandy muttered, staring into the fire. “What
a bonehead thing to do!”

“Sure,” Mr. Cook agreed cheerfully. “You should have been more careful.
But you weren’t.” He shrugged expressively. “Now that it’s all over and
done with, let’s look ahead.”

After a moment’s silence, Sandy grinned up at him. “You’re right,” he
said. “I’ve got my eye on tomorrow. What’s the schedule?”

Mr. Cook turned to Joe. “How about it? You’re the guide around here.
Think we’ll make Mormon Crossing?”

Joe walked over and put the frying pan with its johnnycake batter on the
fire. “We’ll be there before lunch,” he predicted. He winked over at Mr.
Cook and Sandy. “If we can get Sleeping Beauty there on his feet bright
and early.”

Mike, who always took a long time to wake up in the morning, ignored
this remark. Leaning back comfortably, he began to chew thoughtfully on
a blade of grass. “You know,” he said, “I read a book once that said
that all the great thinkers of the world like to sleep late. Brainy
fellows like us,” he explained, “just seem to need more rest. Besides,”
he reflected, “we do most of our heavy thinking at night.”

“So that explains it,” his father remarked.

“Explains what?”

“That noise that comes out of your sleeping bag every night.”

“You thought I was snoring?” Mike seemed surprised.

“Yes,” Mr. Cook admitted. “I’m afraid I did.”

Mike laughed disdainfully. “If you only knew the problems I have to
solve! Night after night I turn them over in my mind, searching for the
right answer....” He paused and looked at them seriously. “I tell you,
those problems are heavy. When I turn them over they make a big racket.
That must be what you keep hearing, Dad,” he confided.

“Oh, oh!” Joe grinned. “Better stuff some cotton in your ears tonight,”
he said.

“How come?” Sandy asked.

“Mike’s going to have a real problem to solve. How to portage around
Cutthroat Rapids without doing any work.”

“Another portage,” groaned Mike.

“I wouldn’t advise trying to go through them,” Sandy remarked with a
smile.

Mike grinned back at him. “Right!” he nodded. “There speaks a man of
experience. Joe,” he said, suddenly changing the subject, “you ever been
in the mountains above Mormon Crossing?”

“Sure, a couple of times.”

“What sort of country is it?”

“A lot wilder than what we’ve gone through. In places it gets above the
timber line.”

“Good hunting?”

“The best. I can show you a rock bluff where you’ll see mountain goats
every morning.”

“What about mountain lions?” Sandy asked eagerly.

“You’ll get your cougar, Sandy,” Joe said. “Don’t worry. The Lost River
Range is full of game. A regular hunter’s paradise.” He shook the frying
pan and tested the johnny cake with a fork. “You know,” he said
meditatively, rocking back on his heels, “next to a little spot in
Montana I’ve got my eye on, I love this country best. It’s unspoiled,”
he explained. “It’s exactly the way it was when men like Jim Bridger and
John Colter first saw it nearly a hundred and fifty years ago.”

“Who were they?” Sandy wanted to know.

“Trappers. Guides, like myself. John Colter guided Lewis and Clark. He
traded with my people, the Blackfeet, and was the first white man ever
to see Yellowstone National Park. The Indians told him about it and he
went to have a look for himself. When he got back to his trading
station, nobody would believe him. A whole valley where the smoke comes
right out of the ground! They laughed in his face!”

“What finally happened to Colter?” Mike asked.

“He died, still sticking to his story. He was only about thirty-eight or
so. It was a hard country.”

“It still is,” Mr. Cook said.

“Yes,” Joe agreed. “But that’s what I like about it. Some day,” he said
softly, staring out at the setting sun in the west, “I’m going to settle
into that ranch in Montana and spend the rest of my life living with it.
Right in the back yard of the wilderness. I hope I never see another
city.”

“When will that be?” Sandy asked.

Joe laughed. “When I can save up enough money to buy it,” he replied.

“What happens if it gets crowded?” Mike asked. “Full of tourists like
us?”

“Not much chance!” Joe said. “Look at us. I bet we’re the first people
to come through here in months.”

“Well, we’re not alone,” Mike observed, pointing off toward the river.
“The joint’s filling up.”

The three of them swiveled around and followed Mike’s outstretched
finger. In the distance, behind a range of hills, in the direction from
which they had come, a lazy plume of smoke curled slowly above the
treetops.

Joe gave a cry of surprise and jumped to his feet. He stood watching the
smoke, every muscle in his body tense, his hands balled tight into hard
fists at his side. Sandy saw he was breathing in shallow, panting gasps,
like a runner after a long race.

Mr. Cook saw it too. He and Sandy exchanged glances. “What’s the matter,
Joe?” he asked. “You seem upset.”

Joe turned with a start. “What ... upset?” he stammered. “No,” he said,
forcing a thin smile. “I just didn’t expect anybody else to be out
here.”

“They seem to be following us downriver,” Mike observed.

“Pity we won’t be able to meet them,” Mr. Cook remarked. “But we’ll be
leaving the river at Mormon Crossing.”

As they were talking, the smoke suddenly stopped. It was as if someone
had thrown a bucket of water on the campfire. “That’s odd,” Mr. Cook
muttered. “I wonder why they did that? You don’t normally build a fire
and then douse it right away.”

“No, you don’t,” Joe said grimly. He looked even more disturbed than he
had the day of his accident on the Henderson dock. It was especially
strange since Joe had been in excellent spirits all through the trip
downriver.

There was an awkward pause that was broken by Mr. Cook bending over
their cookfire. “No sense in wondering about something that must be
fifteen or twenty miles away,” he declared. “Let’s eat.”

Dinner was a silent, thoughtful affair. As soon as the dishes were
scraped and cleaned in the river, Mr. Cook announced he was going to
turn in. “We’ll be up by dawn tomorrow,” he said. “So I advise you boys
to do the same.”

Mike yawned and said he thought it was a good idea. Fifteen minutes
later, the camp was quiet. But Sandy, who was stretched out near the
fire, found he couldn’t sleep. The excitement of his narrow escape from
the rapids was still with him. And now, added to that, here was Joe’s
odd behavior to worry about.

Restlessly he tossed and turned, dead-tired, but still awake. Finally—it
must have been nearly nine o’clock because he saw the moon was beginning
to rise—he opened his eyes with an angry shake.

Their clearing was in almost total darkness. The only light came from
the few embers that still glowed in the ashes. Suddenly Sandy became
aware of a figure on the other side of the fire. In the faint light
Sandy could just make out a face. It was Joe.

He was sitting with his arms crossed over his drawn-up knees, staring
into the red coals. His eyes were clouded with worry and there was a
heavy, brooding look about his mouth.

Sandy wondered whether to speak, but decided against it. Joe, he knew
from experience, was not a man who would willingly talk about his
troubles. All at once Sandy realized he was sleepy. He made up his mind
to forget about the mystery that surrounded Joe. He would think about
the cougar hunt tomorrow. And if he was very lucky, he would forget
about his experience in Cutthroat Rapids forever.

He finally fell into a fitful sleep that was streaked and shattered by
nightmares. Three huge black crows were chasing Joe, and he was trying
to help. As they ran together, they came to a quiet stream. But as they
started to cross, the stream became a roaring river and the three crows
turned into giant cutthroat trout. Sandy could see the red slashes on
either side of their lower jaws as they strained to catch him in their
razor-sharp teeth. Twisting himself around in a desperate attempt to
escape, he swam faster through the boiling current.

Suddenly he was awake, drenched with sweat and shaking like a reed. The
panic left him as soon as he knew where he was. Before he settled
himself back into his sleeping bag, he looked over at the fire.

Joe was still there, the troubled look still on his face. After a
moment, Sandy slept deeply.



                              CHAPTER TEN
                              Lion Country


“Listen!” Hank Dawson threw up one hand as he reined in his horse.
Behind him the column of riders plowed to a sudden halt. “Hear that?” he
called. Down from the mountain above them, through the lonely, windswept
stands of ponderosa and jackpine, drifted a yelping chorus of excited
barks.

“Dogs!” Sandy cried. “We must be nearly there.”

Hank nodded. “About twenty minutes,” he said. “Hear that deep-voiced
bark? That’s Drum—the leader. Best lion dog I ever had.” He turned in
his saddle and called back to the others. “Not far to go now. Think you
can hold out?”

They had been riding steadily since mid-morning, shortly after they
arrived at Mormon Crossing. Hank Dawson was waiting for them, as Mr.
Cook had predicted, with four pack mules and five saddle horses, ready
and eager to start the upland trek without delay.

Hank Dawson turned out to be a huge, raw-boned man who looked,
unexpectedly, as if he had just stepped down from the deck of a Viking
ship. His thick blond hair and reddish-gold beard were both worn
long—because, as he explained, he couldn’t find his scissors and he
never bothered to take a razor with him into the mountains.

Standing side by side, Joe and Hank Dawson made an odd contrast. Both
men had the same air of rugged power and quiet competence. But while
Joe’s strength was that of solid rock—planted firmly and unyieldingly in
the ground—Hank’s was that of a sturdy tree that towered high in the
clear mountain air.

It was a subdued party that had pulled up to Mormon Crossing to meet
Hank that morning. Joe, although he had regained some of his composure
after seeing the smoke from the mysterious campfire the night before,
was still thoughtful and quiet. As for Sandy, the experience above
Cutthroat Rapids was too fresh a memory for him to be his normal,
cheerful self.

But hard work quickly brightened the mood. The boats had to be beached,
turned upside down and covered with canvas tarpaulins. Trip boxes and
camping gear had to be unloaded, sorted, repacked and arranged evenly on
the backs of the sturdy, patient pack mules—bandy-legged little animals
that seemed to be willing to carry an incredible amount of baggage
without complaint.

Hank Dawson directed the entire operation with practiced efficiency. He
gave Sandy and Mike the job of weeding out excess equipment and storing
it away.

“That includes all your fishing tackle,” he told them. “You won’t be
needing that in the mountains. And the heavy camping stuff—like tents
and sleeping bags and cooking gear.”

“All the comforts of home,” Mike observed ruefully.

“That’s it,” Hank agreed. “Tents are too bulky. One frying pan apiece is
plenty, and a couple of blankets is all you’ll need for a bedroll.”

“What about an air mattress?” Mike suggested hopefully.

Hank brushed the idea aside. “That’s the trouble with most campers. They
go out on the trail with so much fancy equipment that they don’t have
time to enjoy what they came for. Why, I remember a party I guided
once—he came up here to get himself a mountain sheep.” Hank shook his
head in wonder. “That man was a walking sporting-goods store. Took three
mules for his equipment alone. It used to take us two hours in the
morning just to break camp. I tried to tell him right after dawn was the
best time to bag a sheep, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Did he ever get one?” Sandy asked.

Hank smiled. “Sure,” he said. “I’ve got my reputation to think of. I got
up one morning while he was still in the sack and found me a real nice
ram. After I shot him, I propped him up against some rocks and went back
down to camp. ‘I think we’ll find ourselves a sheep today,’ I told him.
‘There’s a set of tracks near here that looks promising.’” Hank chuckled
and fished in his pocket for some cigarette makings. “Course, what he
didn’t know,” he went on, as he expertly rolled himself a smoke, “was
that no man alive ever saw tracks over solid rock. Anyway, he thought I
could and that was the important thing. I led him around for about an
hour and finally brought him to where he could see the ram I’d planted.
‘Go ahead,’ I told him. ‘Shoot before he gets away.’ Well, he rears up
his rifle and lets that sheep have it. The force of his bullet knocks
the sheep over just like I knew it would. I skinned it real quick so’s
he wouldn’t notice the second bullet hole and then gave him the head to
have mounted. He was the happiest man I ever saw. Guess he’s still
bragging about that shot.”

“Do all guides have that kind of trouble?” Mr. Cook asked.

Hank shrugged. “It’s bound to happen in this business. Ask Joe. He
knows.”

The Indian nodded gravely. “I’ve been at it for nearly five years and
you’re about the best party I’ve ever taken out.”

“Gee!” Mike laughed. “Can you imagine what some of the others must have
been like! We’re certainly not a prize bunch.”

“Yes, you are,” Joe insisted. “At least you let me do my job. The
arguments some people give me!”

“That’s it,” Hank cut in. “That’s exactly the trouble. People hire a
guide to tell them what to do—and then refuse to do it.”

“Or else they want a long explanation,” Joe added. “Which you can’t give
because there isn’t time.”

“Speaking of time,” Hank said, reaching into the bottom of one of the
boats to pull out a trip box. “We’ve got to get moving if we want to
make my place before nightfall. Start sorting that gear, boys.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” Mike said smartly. “No questions asked.”

Hank grunted approvingly as he brought the box up to his shoulder.
“Good. We’ll get along fine.”

After about an hour’s work, the boats were beached and secured under
canvas covers, the mules were loaded and they were ready to mount. “I’ll
take the lead,” Hank announced. “Sandy, you follow behind me. Then you
and your father, Mike. Do you think you can handle those mules by
yourself, Joe?” The Indian nodded. “Good. One final word of advice.
We’ll be going up nearly four thousand feet. The trails are hard to
follow and sometimes they’ll look dangerous. But these animals have made
the trip before. So don’t try to guide them. Just give them their head
and they’ll get you up safe and sound.” He looked around inquiringly.
“All set? Then let’s go.”

It seemed to Sandy that the trail led straight up, through narrow box
canyons and over barren stretches of rock fall where every step sent a
shower of loose stones cascading down the steep slope. Most of the time
he concentrated grimly on keeping his balance and breathed a prayer that
the wiry little pony underneath him knew what it was doing.
Occasionally, though, Hank would lead them across a relatively flat
plateau and let them stop to admire the view.

They were standing on one of these ridges—the silvery ribbon of Lost
River far below them and a towering panorama of snow-capped peaks all
around them—when Mike sighed deeply.

“What a perfect place,” he said, “for a picnic.”

“A what?” his father asked.

“Eats,” Mike explained. “Big thick roast beef sandwiches and a thermos
bottle full of cold milk.”

“You wouldn’t be hungry, would you?” Mr. Cook said with a smile.

“Oh no,” Mike assured him. “I’m not hungry, exactly. I’m just plain
starved. I’m so lightheaded from not having any food that I can’t stay
on the back of my horse. I keep floating away.”

“I’m afraid we can’t stop to cook a meal,” Hank told Mike. “These
mountains are no fun in the dark.”

“The death sentence,” Mike muttered gloomily. “I’ll never make it.”

“Oh yes, you will,” Joe called out. “Indians used to travel for days
with nothing more than a handful of dried corn. If they did it, so can
you.”

“I’m a little out of practice,” Mike pointed out. “Besides, I don’t have
any corn.”

“But, Mike,” Hank said, “there’s food all around you.”

“I know,” Mike replied gloomily. “I see it everywhere I look. Cold fried
chicken, hot buttered rolls, strawberry shortcake....”

“No, I mean it,” Hank interrupted. “A man could live for days on the
food that grows in the mountains.” He swung down from his horse and
walked over to a whitebark pine. “See these cones?” He reached up,
twisted one from a branch, and broke it open. A dozen tiny
reddish-orange pellets spilled out into his hand. “These are pine nuts,”
he explained, holding one up for Mike to take. “They’re like the piñon
nuts that grow in the Southwest.”

Mike took an experimental bite. “They’re delicious,” he announced.

“Help yourself. Plenty more where that came from.” Hank walked over to a
clump of grass that was laced with delicate-looking flowers. “Here’s
something else,” he called, bending down to pull up the blossoms. Up
through the earth came white roots that resembled onions. “Camass
bulbs,” he said. “You boil them in water and they taste like potatoes.
They saved the Lewis and Clark expedition more than once. If we looked
hard enough, I imagine we could find some puffball mushrooms.”

“What are they?” Sandy demanded.

“Just like regular mushrooms,” Hank explained, “but much bigger. Some of
them grow to be the size of a basketball. Two of them will feed a dozen
men. In the fall,” he went on, “these mountains are covered with golden
currants. Wild grapes ripen later in the summer. What more could you ask
for?”

“Nothing,” said Mike, munching happily. “Except maybe some more of these
nuts.”

“Tear some loose and let’s get going,” Hank ordered. “It must be nearly
three o’clock by now.”

For three more hours they plodded ahead, with Hank setting a steady,
tireless pace. The only sound that broke the mountain stillness was the
creak of saddle leather and the sharp, scraping noise made by the horses
as they carefully picked their way up the rocky trail.

The sun was just beginning to turn a deep orange at their backs when
Hank finally called the weary riders to a halt and pointed out the
faint, echoing chorus of dogs in the distance.

“How do they know we’re coming?” Sandy wondered. “Can they hear us so
far away?”

“They’ve caught our scent,” Hank explained. “They have a very keen sense
of smell.”

“How many dogs do you have?” Mike asked.

“About twenty. Real scrappers, every one.”

“I guess they have to be,” Sandy said, “to tangle with mountain lions.”

“Say!” Mike said. “That’s right. We’re in mountain-lion country now.” He
turned in his saddle and peered up at the bluffs of raw rock above him.

Hank nodded. “Yep,” he said. “They’re thick as fleas around here. You’ll
be close enough to shake hands with one before the week’s out.”

Hank’s prediction, it turned out later, was almost too close for
comfort.



                             CHAPTER ELEVEN
                              Hunting Talk


Hank Dawson’s hunting lodge, high in the Lost River Mountains of Idaho,
was the first house Sandy had ever been in where no woman had ever set
foot. In every way it was a man’s paradise—designed exclusively for male
society.

No chintz curtains cluttered the view. There were no pictures, prints or
china figurines on side tables, no hooked rugs underfoot, no attempt to
cover wooden walls with plaster or, even worse, with decorative
wallpaper. Hank Dawson had built himself a straightforward, sturdy
house. Massive, seasoned beams supported the roof. Half-rounded logs
formed the walls and the floor. All wood surfaces were scraped, sanded
and still fresh with the fragrant smell of the forest.

An enormous forty-foot main room looked out on a breath-taking view of
jutting peaks and misty valleys. Behind the lodge bulged a huge rock
bluff, dotted with clusters of vivid green jackpine and traced by a thin
finger of crystal-clear water that trickled musically down its rough,
gray surface.

One end of the living room was completely faced with a stone wall that
held the biggest fireplace Sandy had ever seen. Splendid heads of elk,
mule deer, mountain goats and pronghorn antelope filled up the rest of
the space. One animal, though, was significantly missing. Mike was the
first to notice it.

“How come no mountain lions, Hank?” he asked.

They were stretched out in front of the fireplace, deep in comfortable
chairs, relaxing as the stiffness of a hard day in the saddle drained
slowly out of their tired bodies. A full meal and the warm glow of the
fire had made them all pleasantly drowsy.

Mr. Cook and Hank Dawson were both drawing thoughtfully on their pipes.
Joe sat with his head thrown back against the stone wall, the smoke from
his cigarette curling lazily through his fingers. Mike was propped up on
one elbow, staring into the fire with glazed fascination. Sandy was
lying on a large, overstuffed sofa, one hand absent-mindedly scratching
the floppy ear of a big-chested tan-and-black dog.

The dog, Drum—Hank’s favorite lion hound—had adopted Sandy the first
moment they met. Ignoring everyone else, even Hank, he insisted on
padding around after him all evening and was now settled happily by his
side.

Mike’s question broke a contented, peaceful silence that had lasted for
nearly ten minutes.

“What’s that, Mike?” Hank said.

Mike repeated his question. “I see every other kind of trophy up there,
but no lion,” he added.

Hank tapped the bowl of his pipe reflectively against the side of the
fireplace. “Frankly,” he said, “I don’t think they’re worth mounting.”

Mike looked surprised. “I thought they were the best prize of all.”

Hank shook his head. “I don’t agree. Oh, they’re dangerous, all right.
Don’t make any mistake about that.”

“How big do they get?” Sandy asked.

“They vary,” Hank replied. “Mountain lions or pumas or cougars—they’re
the same animal, you know—are found all the way from British Columbia
down to the tip of South America. And the farther north you go, the
bigger they get. A full-grown male will weigh as much as two hundred
pounds. That makes them bigger than an African leopard.”

“Then why don’t you like to hunt them?” Mike asked.

“That’s just it. I don’t hunt them.”

“Huh?” Mike was confused.

“I kill them. There’s a big difference.” Hank shrugged and reached for a
match. “At least there is for me.”

Sandy slid along the bottom of the sofa and sat up. “I don’t get it,” he
said.

“Well,” Hank said deliberately through a cloud of smoke, “look at it
this way. If you had a vegetable garden and a woodchuck was tearing it
apart, what would you do?”

“Shoot him,” Mike replied promptly.

“You see?” Hank grinned. “I notice you didn’t use the word ‘hunt.’
That’s exactly the way I feel about a cougar. They’re destructive beasts
and wanton killers. I’ve known them to kill fifty sheep in a night just
for the fun of it. That’s why I’ve declared war on them.” He paused and
looked up at the trophy heads lined up along the wall. “There’s another
reason I don’t care much for mountain lions. They’re no challenge to me
as a hunter. It’s no good trying to match wits with them because,
essentially, they’re cowards. All you do is set the dogs on their trail
and they do the rest. You just follow the pack and, after a little
while, you come up against your lion crouched in a tree like a
frightened old lady. After that, it doesn’t take much to knock it off.”

“Couldn’t they kill the dogs?” Sandy asked.

“Oh, yes,” Hank said. “And they do. Old Drum’s been clawed plenty of
times, but, knock on wood, he’s still alive and kicking. A cornered
animal is always dangerous. I’ve had them charge me on several
occasions. If they’re hungry enough they’ll come right up to a house.
One of them tried to get into my corral once. I shot him just outside,
on the path as you come up to the front door.”

Mike shook his head in bewilderment. “I give up,” he said. “It sure
sounds like exciting sport to me. I wouldn’t exactly put it in the same
class as shooting woodchucks.”

Mr. Cook spoke for the first time. “I think I know what Hank means. He’s
the man with the gun. He’s got the advantage. The sport isn’t in the
killing—it’s in the stalking.”

“Right!” Hank agreed, leaning back comfortably. “I remember one time I
was hunting elk up in Thoroughfare Creek country in Wyoming. On the
first day, I spotted a real giant—oh, he was a beauty! He must have had
close to twenty points and a spread of nearly seventy inches. How I
wanted that head! Nothing else would do. I stalked that animal for ten
days trying to get into position for a shot. But he was a wise customer
and always managed to keep out of my way. Not that he got panicky or
ran!” Hank broke into a grin of admiration. “That’s the whole point. He
knew what I was after—I’m convinced of that—but he wouldn’t give me the
satisfaction of showing any fear. He was that proud. Well, as I say, we
played our little game for ten days and, finally, on the morning of the
eleventh, just as dawn was beginning to break through some gray clouds,
I stepped out into a clearing in the woods. I heard a noise behind me
and there was my elk. He was standing straight as an arrow, staring at
me—a perfect shot against the rising sun.” Hank threw up his hands. “But
I couldn’t do it. We stood looking at each other for about a minute or
two and then he slowly moved back into the woods—one of the most
majestic sights I’ve ever seen.” Hank found a twig and began to scrape
the bowl of his pipe. “I’ve never regretted losing that elk.” Hank
paused and corrected himself. “Actually, I didn’t lose him. He was
mine—in a way that no stuffed trophy will ever be.”

Mr. Cook looked over at his son and Sandy. “You boys still want to
bother with a cougar?”

Hank threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, come now, Arthur. Don’t
discourage them. Of course they do and I don’t blame them. I just hope
they’ll experience some real hunting, too.”

Mike, who had been listening to Hank’s story with a rapt expression on
his face, scrambled to his feet. The quick movement made Drum open one
curious eye. “Why don’t we start tomorrow?” Mike cried excitedly.

“Tomorrow?” his father said with a frown. “I’d just as soon wait a day
or two.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one thing, we’re up pretty high, you know. Before I go
scrambling around any mountain peaks, I’d like to get used to the
altitude.”

“I’ll go out with the boys,” Hank said unexpectedly. “You can loaf
around the house and take it easy.”

“How about it, Dad?”

Mr. Cook shrugged and put down his pipe. “As far as I’m concerned
there’s no better man in the world to take you hunting than Hank. You’re
sure you want to, Hank?”

“Positive.”

“Then that’s settled.” Mr. Cook nodded over to the Indian, who was
sitting with his back against the stone wall. “How about you, Joe? Feel
like going out?”

Joe smiled and shook his head slowly. “I don’t think so,” he said
quietly. “I’ll just wander around here for a while until I get my
mountain legs under me.”

“Suit yourself,” Hank Dawson replied. “What’s your pleasure, gents?” he
said, turning back to the boys.

“How do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“What do you want to go out after—giraffes, elephants, saber-toothed
tigers—you name it!”

“You’re the boss,” Mike said, grinning. “You say!”

Hank paused and considered the question. “Well,” he said slowly, “how
about trying for an _Oreamnos montanus_?”

“A _what_?”

“A mountain goat to you, Mike.”

“A mountain goat!” Mike’s face fell. “I thought we were going to go
after some big game—not a billy goat!”

Hank laughed. “Don’t kid yourself—if you’ll pardon the pun. A mountain
goat is my personal candidate for the most dangerous animal in the
world.”

“No fooling!”

“I’m serious. A mountain goat lives in the most inaccessible places.
He’s got eyes like binoculars, he’s smart and fast, and he’s not afraid
of anything that walks. I’ve known of cases where mountain goats have
killed a lion. He may not be much to look at, but I can promise you an
exciting chase and one you won’t forget in a hurry. Okay?”

Sandy and Mike both nodded their heads in agreement. “Okay,” they
chorused.

“Good.” Hank stood up and stretched his arms over his head. “I’m for
bed,” he announced. “And you better do the same. If we’re going hunting
tomorrow, we’ll have to be up at....”

“Oh, no!” Mike groaned as he lumbered to his feet. “Don’t tell me—dawn
again! Why is it,” he asked plaintively, “that everything around here
starts at dawn?”

“Tell you what,” Hank said, moving to the door of one of the bedrooms
that opened off from the main room. “When we get back, we’ll let you lie
around in bed some morning all you like.”

“Sure,” Sandy agreed. “We’ll let you sleep till six—or maybe even
seven.”

“Lucky boy.” Mr. Cook chuckled as he reached over to turn down the wick
of the kerosene lamp. “Just let me know what the sunrise is like
tomorrow morning, will you? Personally, I plan to sleep until noon.”

“Still want that goat?” Hank asked Mike, a smile playing at the corners
of his mouth.

Mike grinned back at him. “See you at dawn,” he said. “If I’m lucky, I
may even have one eye open.”



                             CHAPTER TWELVE
                               Rockslide


The urgent jangling of the alarm clock woke Sandy first. The room was
icy cold and pitch-black, but the soft glow of the dial read
four-thirty. Sandy forced himself to grope free of the blanket and shut
off the insistent clamor. He leaned over and gave Mike’s shoulder a
shake.

“Hey, Mike!” he called.

Mike groaned, opened one eye, and then turned back to the wall,
muttering something under his breath.

Sandy shook him a second time. “Wake up, Mike. Let’s go.”

The figure under the blanket heaved up and settled back down on the
mattress. “Whazzamattawhyuh, huh?” it said.

Sandy sighed and swung his feet down on the cold floor. “A brilliant
conversationalist,” he observed, reaching for his trousers. “May I quote
you on that?” A bulge under the blanket made a tempting target. He gave
it a friendly whack. “Rise and shine, boy. We’ve got a date with a
goat.”

There was a sharp yelp and a flurry of movement. Slowly a tousled head
appeared from under the covers and regarded Sandy with a baleful look.
“No self-respecting goat is up at a time like this,” he said bitterly.
“So let me go back to sleep. What time is it, anyway?”

“After four-thirty. I’m going to go out and see about breakfast. See you
in the kitchen.”

Mike reached for the covers. “Good,” he grunted. “That gives me another
fifteen minutes.”

Sandy stood over Mike’s bed threateningly. “You want the cold-water
treatment?” he said.

“You win.” Mike struggled up and peered out at the morning. “Looks like
the middle of the night,” he said.

“The sun’ll be up pretty soon. I’ll throw on some bacon and eggs while
you get dressed.”

“Lots of eggs!” Mike shouted as Sandy opened the door and went out into
the main room.

Hank was already up. A fire was going in the fireplace and Sandy could
hear noises coming from the kitchen. He pushed open the door to find
Hank mopping up a plate of eggs. He was dressed in a heavy flannel
shirt, a pair of corduroy trousers and high-topped, sturdy-looking
climbing shoes. A leather jacket, a bedroll and a rifle were propped
against the far wall.

“I put out some bacon and eggs for you two,” he said when he saw Sandy.
“Got your gear all packed?”

“We’re all ready. We did it last night.” He threw half a dozen thick
slabs of bacon into the frying pan and sat down beside Hank. “Doesn’t
look as if it’s going to be much of a day,” he said.

“’Fraid not. We’re due for some rain.” Hank got up and scraped his
plate. “Hurry up with your breakfast and meet me outside. I’d like to be
up in the peaks by dawn.”


Later that morning, they stood on a narrow, windswept ledge of rock,
nearly ten thousand feet high, watching a pale, watery dawn touch the
tops of mountain peaks fifty miles away. It was an experience Sandy
would never forget. One moment they were in darkness; then gradually the
world around them began to take shape. First the tops of the ridges
loomed up out of the gray mist. As the sun rose higher, faint fingers of
light streaked down into the valleys far below, probing the shadowy
pools of night that still huddled there.

Sandy and Mike stared at the scene wordlessly, lost in the wonder of the
view. Finally Mike sighed deeply. “It must have looked like this a
million years ago,” he said softly.

Sandy nodded. “Not a living thing in sight. Just the mountains and the
wind....”

“And the rain,” Hank said suddenly. “Here it comes.”

The first spattering gusts of rain lashed the rock outcropping above
them. In the east, dirty ragged clouds scudded over the sun. “Want to go
back?” Hank asked.

Sandy and Mike both shook their heads. “Not unless the rain drives the
goats away,” Sandy said.

“Don’t worry about that,” Hank replied. “I told you they’re tough.
Weather like this won’t stop a goat.” He dropped the pack from his
shoulder and reached into a pocket for a pair of binoculars. “Here,” he
said, offering the glasses to Sandy. “Start looking.”

Sandy brought the binoculars up to his eyes and started to scan the
neighboring peaks. “Where do I look?” he asked.

“Notice how the south sides of all the peaks are covered with trees?”
Hank asked. Sandy nodded. “That’s because they get most of the sun.”

“The sides facing north are practically all rock,” Sandy observed.

“Except for a big yellow pine here and there. See them?”

“Sure. And there seems to be something that looks like snow at the base
of each tree.”

“Right.”

“Snow!” Mike said. “At the end of June?”

“It never had a chance to melt,” Hank explained. “The shade of the tree
keeps the ground cold until the middle of July. Now take a close look at
every patch of snow you can see. That’s where you’ll spot a goat.”

Sandy swept back and forth across the peaks with his glasses. “Not a
thing,” he announced.

“Let me look.” After a moment or two, Hank stiffened and leaned forward.
“There’s your billy goat,” he said.

“Where?” Sandy cried. “I just looked there.”

“Well, you didn’t look hard enough.” He turned the glasses back to
Sandy. “Try another peek.”

Sandy focused in on a tiny white spot that stood out against the gray
granite. At first he thought it was a faint smear of snow. But then,
unexpectedly, he saw it move. “I’ll be darned!” he breathed. “You’re
right!”

“Let me take a look!” Mike cried. He stared through the binoculars and
nodded his head excitedly. “I see him,” he cried. “How do you know it’s
a billy?”

“I don’t think it’s a nanny goat,” Hank said. “This one’s all by himself
and nannies mostly stay together.”

“Just like women!” Mike observed with a laugh.

“That’s right.” Hank grinned. “I guess they like to gossip. And then
you’ll usually see some kids around if it’s a nanny.”

“Anything else?” Sandy asked.

“One more thing. Nannies are snow-white, but billies get dirty. From the
color, I’ll bet that goat’s a billy.”

“Okay,” Mike said. “Now how do we get him?”

They were separated from their quarry by a deep box canyon whose sides
plunged almost straight down from the narrow ledge at their feet. To
reach the goat, they would have to work their way down the sheer rock
wall, cross over a small stream that flowed along the canyon floor and
then climb up the far side.

But instead of heading directly into the canyon, Hank Dawson led them
along the narrow ledge, around to the other side of the mountain.

“We can’t climb right up under his nose,” he explained. “He’d spot us
for sure. We’re going to have to get behind and above him.”

“Is there a trail up there?” Mike asked.

“I doubt it. You all set for a rough ride?”

The boys tightened their pack straps and nodded.

“Then let’s go. We’ll have to move fast. He’s not going to stay up there
all morning.”

Hank set a fast, sure-footed pace over a ledge that curled around the
peak like a vine. Sandy and Mike followed as best they could,
concentrating on keeping their balance as they worked their way over
rain-slippery rock, inches away from about 700 feet of space that yawned
emptily to their left.

As they came puffing around the first turn, Hank was waiting for them, a
tree branch in either hand.

“We’re in luck,” he said, pointing down. “A rockslide.”

Sandy peered over the edge. Hundreds of small pieces of rock had spilled
down the side of the mountain, forming a steep pathway to the floor of
the canyon below.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Mike asked. “Won’t the whole thing give way?”

“It’ll slide, if that’s what you mean,” Hank replied. “But it won’t all
come tumbling down at once. It’s sort of like running down a long sand
dune. The particles of sand keep slipping downhill, but the hill itself
holds together. Use these branches for balance and you’ll get down
without any trouble. Here, watch me.”

With a carefree abandon that made the boys gasp, Hank flung himself down
on the river of rock. The force of his leap made the slide slip forward
about six feet. Rocks about the size of a man’s fist clattered and
grated downhill in a sagging wave with Hank riding on the crest. When it
stopped, he plunged his branch down and leaned on it to catch his
balance. Lifting one leg free, he used his makeshift alpenstock like a
pole vault to propel himself forward a second time.

“Look at him go!” Mike said admiringly.

“We’d better get going ourselves,” Sandy said. “Or he’ll be halfway up
the other side.”

“What we need for this maneuver,” Mike said as he braced himself for a
take-off, “is a little armor for the seat of our pants. I have the
feeling we’re going to need it.”

Sandy grinned at him, took a deep breath and jumped. His feet ground
into a bed of pebbles and suddenly he was sliding downhill. Clawing
wildly to keep upright, he felt the rocks brake to a halt. Before he
fell he managed to catch himself and push off for another short spurt.

Their progress was remarkably fast. They made the 700-foot descent in a
matter of minutes, arriving at the bottom shaken, bruised, but
triumphant.

“Good for you,” Hank said as they came hurtling down to join him. “You
made that like experts. It’s a little like skiing, isn’t it?”

Mike managed a lopsided grin as he shook out a pocketful of pebbles.
“Think we’ll make the Olympics?” he asked.

“Not this year, Mike,” Hank answered.

“Good,” grunted Mike. “I can wait. Where to now?”

“We’ll follow the canyon down to the other side of the peak and go up
there.”

The south face of the peak was covered with scrubby pine that somehow
managed to grow despite a fifty-degree slope. Burdened by their rifles
and full packs, they began to haul themselves up, using tree trunks,
rock outcroppings and anything else that came to hand. Slowly they
inched along, scraping on their stomachs through soaking wet, sharp pine
needles that cut their faces and dripped water down the backs of their
necks.

“Brother!” Mike muttered. “This is work!”

“We can always go back if you don’t think it’s worth it,” Hank called
back. He was almost fifty yards ahead of them, moving through the
tangled underbrush with comparative ease.

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Mike replied. “I just wish I could get one hand
free. I’ve got a terrible itch on my right shoulder blade.”

“You would think of that at a time like this!” Sandy said.

“Just keep moving, please,” Mike said. “That’s a beautiful boot you’ve
got on, but not in my face.”

“Hey, boys!” It was Hank calling from up ahead.

“What?” Sandy said.

“I’m going on and spot the goat,” he said. “I want some time to figure
out the best stalk for the shot. It’s a little clearer up ahead, so you
won’t have too much trouble. Just keep coming as fast as you can and
I’ll meet you at the top.”

“Okay,” Sandy yelled. “We’ll see you up there.”

“You’re sure you can find the way?”

“Positive,” Sandy assured him.

Hank waved a hand and scrambled out of sight. Behind him, Sandy heard
Mike mutter, “We’re a fine pair of hunters! Here we are—stuck on the
side of a mountain in the middle of a cloudburst like a couple of flies
caught on flypaper.”

“Well, at least we can move,” Sandy said philosophically, shaking the
water out of his eyes. “Looks like another seventy-five yards or so.
Think you can make it?”

“Carry on, old man.”

After another five minutes of hard climbing, they broke through to a
clearing that led in one direction to another clump of trees. In the
other direction was another rock slide, similar to the one they had just
negotiated, but smaller.

“Which way?” Mike wondered.

“Hank said it was easy going from here on,” Sandy reasoned. “He must
mean up the slide.”

“He certainly can’t mean through those trees,” Mike agreed. “Let’s try
it your way.”

Moving along on all fours, Sandy started to scramble up the slippery
rock. He was surprised to find the going was much easier than he had
anticipated.

“Hey!” he said. “This is a cinch.”

“A real pleasure,” Mike echoed.

They were halfway up when, abruptly, the rock slide gave an ominous
lurch. Both boys froze as they felt the tremor and heard a grinding
rumble beneath their feet.

“I don’t think I like this!” Mike’s voice sounded shaky.

“Me either,” Sandy said. “Let’s go back—quick!”

“Right!”

Sandy could hear Mike backtracking down the slide. There was a clatter
of loose rolling stones, a second, more violent tremor, and then a sharp
cry.

“Sandy!” Mike shouted. “It’s giving way! I’m falling!”

Forgetting his own balance, Sandy whirled around and grabbed for Mike’s
arm. Below him the entire slide was slowly caving in. Sandy’s fingers
tightened around Mike’s wrist but he could offer no support.

Suddenly, the sliding surface gave way with a rush, and he was plunged
with sickening force through a roaring avalanche of grinding rock.



                            CHAPTER THIRTEEN
                            The Hidden Cave


Neither boy cried out. The accident had happened so suddenly there
wasn’t time. Sandy started to protect his head from flying hunks of
granite, but before he could lift his arms, he felt his body break
through the curtain of tumbling rock. The next instant his feet hit
solid ground and he was thrown over on his side.

For a moment Sandy lay in semi-darkness, dazed by his fall. The
thundering roar of the avalanche was passing somewhere over his head.
Then he remembered Mike. “Mike—you all right?” he called, almost afraid
to ask the question.

It seemed hours before he heard an answering gasp. “Yes. Wind knocked
out ... me.”

Sandy pulled himself over beside Mike. A swirling cloud of dust cut down
visibility to a few inches. Just as he reached over to touch Mike’s arm,
there was a sigh and Mike struggled to sit up. “I’m okay now, thanks,”
he said. “I just couldn’t catch my breath.” He looked around
wonderingly. “What happened?”

They were sitting in what looked like the entrance to a large cave that
sloped back down into the mountain at a steep slant. A jagged pile of
loose stones nearly—but not quite—blocked the mouth.

“How did we get here?” Mike asked in an awed voice. The dust had settled
and they were sitting in a tomblike silence. Occasionally a single stone
clattered noisily down the slope outside.

“I’ll tell you in a minute.” Sandy crawled over the rocks and stuck his
head out through the opening.

“What do you see?” Mike called.

“We got caught in an avalanche, all right,” Sandy said. “Half the
mountain seems to be down there below us.”

“I still don’t see how we ended up in here.”

“There’s only one explanation,” Sandy said as he scrambled back to join
Mike. “The slide was covering the mouth of this cave. When the rocks
started to give way, the entrance suddenly opened up and we fell in.”

“And all that stuff passed right over our heads,” Mike said.

“Looks like that’s it.”

The two boys stared at each other in silence. “You know,” Sandy said
quietly, “we’re a couple of pretty lucky guys.”

“I’ll say! If we had been any other place when the slide started to
go....”

“We’d be down there at the bottom under a few hundred tons of rock,”
Sandy finished.

“Let’s not talk about it.” Mike shivered.

“All right,” Sandy agreed. “Let’s talk about how we’re going to get out
of here.”

Mike’s brows knit together in a frown. “Do you think Hank knows what
happened?”

Sandy laughed. “One thing’s for sure,” he said. “He certainly heard us.
That was a pretty big racket we set off.”

“Yeah,” Mike agreed. “But I wonder if he knows where we are?”

“I don’t see how he can,” Sandy replied. “Do you feel good enough to
crawl up to the entrance?”

“Oh, sure,” Mike said. “I’m fine.”

Together they scrambled over the loose rubble that had collected at the
mouth of the cave. “Let’s take it easy,” Sandy said, picking his way
with care. “We don’t want to start another one.”

Mike flashed Sandy a grin over his shoulder. “Why not?” he demanded.
“Now that we’ve done it once, the next time should be easier.”

“Do me a favor and practice it when I’m not around,” Sandy said with a
chuckle. He pulled himself up to the lip of the cave and leaned over.
“Nobody in sight,” he announced.

“Do you think it’s safe to go down?”

“I don’t know,” Sandy said. “I wish we could see Hank.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Mike declared. “We’ve got our rifles. Why don’t we
fire off a couple of shots?”

“Hey, that’s using your head!” Sandy commented. “Can you reach mine and
unstrap it?” Both boys still carried their rifles, having secured them
firmly to their packs before starting out. Sandy could feel Mike working
the slings of his rifle loose. “Got it?” he asked.

“Just a minute,” Mike muttered. “There,” he said at last. “Where are the
shells?”

“In a flap pocket on the side.”

“I see them.”

Mike opened the box and fed the shells into the chamber. “Here,” he
said. “Fire away. The safety’s on.”

Sandy took the gun, flipped the safety switch and jabbed the barrel out
of the cave. He fired twice. The booming shots echoed hollowly as they
rumbled over the mountains.

“Hear any answer?” Mike asked.

“Give him a chance.”

A moment later they heard a pair of muffled explosions. Mike grinned
over at Sandy. “That’s Hank, all right. Let’s try it again.”

“Okay.” Sandy blasted two more holes in the sky and sat back to wait.
This time Hank answered almost immediately.

“I wonder where he is?” Mike muttered.

“Hank!” Sandy shouted. “Hello!”

“Sandy!” came a voice. “Mike! Are you all right?”

“We’re fine!” Sandy yelled.

“Where are you?”

“Up here!”

“That’s a big help!” Hank’s voice was tinged with sarcasm. “Where’s ‘up
here’?”

“He’s got a point,” Sandy muttered sheepishly. “Do you have a
handkerchief, Mike?”

“I think so.” Mike fumbled in his pocket. “Here.”

Quickly Sandy tied the white handkerchief to the forward sight of the
gun and poked it out over the ledge. “Can you see that?” he yelled. “I’m
waving a handkerchief.”

After a minute or two there was an excited shout from below. “I’ve got
you! How’d you two ever manage to get up there?”

“It wasn’t easy!” Mike yelled back. “If you can figure a way of getting
us down, we’ll let you in on our secret.”

“What’s the matter with walking?”

“You think it’s safe?”

“Sure. It is now.”

Sandy and Mike grinned at each other. “Sounds simple,” Mike said. “Let’s
go.”

Minutes later they were down at the foot of the slope, telling Hank, as
best they could, what had happened.

When they finished, Hank looked at both of them and shook his head. “You
know,” he said, “some people think there’s a guardian angel whose
special job is to look out for tenderfeet in the mountains. I never
believed it before. But I do now. There’s no other explanation.”

Mike thought back over the past several days and broke into a grin. “If
there is such an angel,” he said, “the poor fellow must be close to a
nervous breakdown. He’s been working overtime.”

Hank grunted and peered up the side of the mountain. “It’s funny about
that cave,” he said. “You think it’s a big one?”

Sandy nodded. “It looked that way to us.”

“It must have been covered over for a long time. I’ve never seen it
before.”

“Why don’t we explore it some day?”

“Not a bad idea.” Hank’s eyes were still glued to the hillside. “You can
hardly see it from here,” he said. “The rocks cover it up completely.”

“A good place for an ambush—if there were any Indians around,” Sandy
commented.

“Or a hiding place,” Mike suggested.

Hank glanced at them with amusement. “You fellows sure have lively
imaginations.”

“Well, you see,” Mike explained seriously, “we live such dull lives.
Nothing ever happens to us.”

Hank laughed. “All right,” he said, “let’s give you a little action.
Still want that goat?”

“Is he still around?” Sandy asked wonderingly. “After all that noise?”

“You mean the goat we spotted up on the peak? Oh no! He lit out for
Canada soon as he heard you two tearing that mountain apart. But he’s
not the only billy in these hills. How about it?” He looked at them
closely. “Or are you still a little shaky?”

Sandy turned to Mike. “What do you think?” he asked. It had almost
stopped raining, but instead of clearing, the sky had taken on an even
darker, more ominous color. Mike squinted up at the gathering clouds,
hitched his pack more comfortably onto his shoulders and nodded. “Let’s
go!” he said firmly.

Hank grinned at them. “You boys are all right,” he said. “I’m going to
take you to a hill that’s swarming with goats. I never took anybody
there before. We might even get ourselves a head that’ll make the record
books.”

But just as he started to turn down the trail, the storm broke with
violent, ear-shattering fury. Angry flickers of lightning danced across
the tops of nearby ridges. An earth-shaking peal of thunder boomed and
rattled down far-off valleys. The rain, which earlier had been falling
in a steady drizzle, now came flooding down in streaming torrents.

“Let’s find some shelter,” Mike shouted.

“Don’t bother,” Hank replied, pulling up the collar of his jacket.
“We’re about as wet as we’ll ever be. Let’s head back to the house. The
mountains aren’t safe in an electric storm.”

Bracing himself against the wind, Hank hunched over and bulled his way
through the driving rain, with Sandy and Mike following. It was a
miserable hike back, climbing down muddy ravines and slipping over wet
gravelly rock. Sandy breathed a sigh of relief when he caught sight of
the well-worn trail that led down to Hank’s lodge.

“Boy, that looks good!” he shouted above the wind.

Mike looked back and started to say something, but an enormous clap of
thunder drowned his words. He gave it up and grinned instead.

They were about halfway down the trail when two sharp reports rang out
over the howling storm. Hank stopped abruptly.

“What’s that?” Mike asked. “Thunder?”

As another report boomed out, Hank stiffened in surprise.

“No,” he said uneasily, reaching for the rifle at his back. “Those are
shots. Somebody’s shooting down near the house.”

Suddenly all three of them were running down the trail. They had heard a
sound that was definitely not a part of the storm. It was a terrible,
high-pitched scream that cut through the sighing wind like a knife.



                            CHAPTER FOURTEEN
                              Yellow Fury


Mike was the first to see his father. Mr. Cook was standing on the
porch, feet braced apart, a rifle cradled in his arms. Even at that
distance, they could see there was an air of tense watchfulness about
him, almost as though he expected a sudden attack. When he saw the three
of them pounding down the hill toward the house, he vaulted down the
steps, waving his arms in an urgent message of warning. But they were
still too far away to hear what he was trying to tell them.

Hank broke stride briefly and levered a handful of shells into the
breech of his rifle. Without knowing why, Sandy followed suit.

Mr. Cook was now standing in the middle of what could be considered
Hank’s back yard. The two corrals—one for the dogs and the other for the
pack animals—were over to his right. Hank’s lean-to that served as a
feed barn was fifty yards over to his left. The dogs, especially Drum,
were wild with excitement, adding to the noise and confusion with their
sharp yelps of eagerness.

Sandy jammed the last shell into position and raced to catch up with
Mike and Hank. “Watch out!” he heard Mr. Cook cry. “He’s somewhere near
us.”

“Who?” Sandy shouted breathlessly as he braked to a stop beside them.

“There’s a wounded mountain lion around,” Hank said. The line of his jaw
was firm and his eyes looked grim.

“He came up to the house about five minutes ago,” Mr. Cook explained. “I
was inside, sitting by the fire, when I heard a terrific racket behind
the house. All the dogs were barking at once. I went out to investigate
and saw them scratching and jumping, trying to get out of the corral.
Then I saw the cat. I raced back into the house, grabbed a gun and tried
for a shot. I should have been more careful and taken a little time. But
I was rattled. My first two shots were wild. The third one, though, got
him. I’m positive of that.”

“Where was he when you hit him?” Hank asked.

“Right over there. Near the watering trough.”

“Let’s take a look.” Hank led the way over to the trough and crouched
down to examine the ground. “This rain’s coming down so fast it’s hard
to tell,” he muttered. He peered closely at the area around the trough
and then straightened with a grunt of satisfaction. “You got him all
right,” he said. “There’s a spill of fresh blood on the grass there.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t put him away,” Mr. Cook apologized. “I thought I was
a better shot than that.”

“Don’t blame you a bit,” Hank replied. “What with the storm and all,
this light’s tricky.” He turned to Sandy and Mike. “Well, you’ve got
your lion hunt, boys. We’re going to get that cat.”

Sandy wheeled and started for the corral. “I’ll let the dogs out,” he
said.

Hank threw out an arm to stop him. “Wait a minute. I don’t think we’ll
use them. We already know where he is.” He spoke to Mr. Cook. “Where did
you see him last?”

Mr. Cook pointed in the direction of the feeding shed. “He was headed
that way.”

“All right,” Hank said. “We’ll each take one side of the building. Check
your guns and make sure your safety’s off. As soon as you spot him,
start pouring lead. If you’ve got a side shot, aim right behind his
shoulder. If he’s coming at you head-on, blast him in the chest. Is that
clear?”

They nodded and started to move away. “One thing more,” Hank added.
“Don’t take any chances. He’s wounded and he’s dangerous. This storm has
made him nervous and he’s probably plenty mad. Sandy, you take the north
side of the shed. Mike, you cover the west.”

It was then that Sandy noticed for the first time that Joe wasn’t with
them. He started to ask why, but checked himself. There would be plenty
of time for that later. Thumbing the safety catch back, he curled his
finger around the trigger and moved cautiously into position.

The rain was letting up a little, but it was still difficult to see.
Massive dark clouds continued to roll overhead. Trees, heavy with
rainwater, bent and rustled under the force of a snarling wind that
slashed at loose leaves and stirred bushes into sudden motion.

Or was that the wind?

Sandy froze and took a closer look. The top leaves of a bush about
seventy-five yards away trembled slightly and then settled back into
immobility. Crouched under the tangled stems of the bush was what looked
like a long, lean shape, hugging flatly against the ground.

Sandy’s heart thumped under the pressure of pounding blood as he knelt
slowly to pick up a handful of stones. How long, he wondered, did it
take for a mountain lion in full charge to cover seventy-five yards? The
thought crossed his mind that he should shoot first, but he rejected it
almost immediately as being too risky. The first shot, Hank had told him
once, was the one that counted. Every competent hunter waited for his
quarry to present itself before he pulled the trigger. Shooting at
shadows was wasteful and dangerous.

Sandy took a deep breath and heaved the stones into the bush. As they
whistled through the leaves and branches, he yanked his rifle up to his
shoulder and tensed himself for a flash of yellow fury.

But nothing happened.

The long, menacing shape under the bush hadn’t moved. Sandy’s hand was
shaking as he lowered the rifle. Breathing in short, dry gasps, he
forced himself to relax. There was nothing under the bush more dangerous
than a dead, half-rotted log.

Feeling embarrassed and a little foolish, he turned to see how the
others were doing. Over to his right, Mike was sweeping carefully in
toward the shed, his body bent slightly forward in an attitude of
absorbed concentration.

Just as Sandy craned around to locate Mr. Cook, the corner of his eye
caught a lightning-fast motion. It happened so quickly and was over so
fast that Sandy wasn’t sure, at first, whether he had actually seen it.

Something vaguely earth-colored had dropped silently from a tree behind
Mike and was now hidden under a cover of tall grass that ran along the
border of the clearing.

Uneasily, Sandy swung around and moved closer to the waving grass under
the tree. He saw a flurry among the stems and then what looked like a
ripple of motion less than forty yards behind Mike’s back.

Sandy broke into a quick trot, narrowing the range to approximately
sixty yards. Mike was completely unaware of what was going on behind
him, and Sandy felt no inclination to shout. A startled cat might jump
before he was properly in position.

There was another rippling movement from the clump of grass. Then slowly
the tangle of underbrush parted and Sandy saw the mountain lion.

The big cat’s head was flat against the ground and his eyes were
fastened on Mike. Sandy sensed that the beast was gathering itself for a
spring, and suddenly he knew that he would have to fire quickly.

Now that the crisis had come, Sandy was surprisingly calm. He brought
the rifle up to his shoulder and nestled his cheek comfortably against
the stock. As the mountain lion loomed up into the field of his
telescopic sight, Sandy noticed that his eyes were thin slits of yellow.
They looked malevolent and deadly. Powerful muscles at the joints of his
shoulders gathered and hunched into hard knots. In another moment they
would uncoil, sending two hundred pounds of clawing death down on Mike’s
unsuspecting back.

Bracing himself for the gun’s recoil, Sandy took a deep breath and
squeezed slowly down on the trigger. The intersection of the two cross
hairs was centered on a spot directly above and behind the cougar’s
foreleg. Sandy could feel the trigger pressing harder into the crook of
his finger as he held the rifle steady. He closed down the last
sixteenth of an inch and held his breath.

The cat made his move a split second before Sandy fired. Then three
things happened simultaneously. Sandy’s rifle roared out, missing a
fatal spot, but slamming into the cougar’s side. Mike whirled around at
the sound of the explosion, saw the cat and backed away instinctively.
As he stepped back, his foot caught on a stray root and he sprawled
awkwardly to the ground, losing his rifle. The impact of the bullet
momentarily broke the lion’s charge. The force of the blow sent him
spinning into the earth with a spine-tingling scream of pain and rage.
By the time he clawed back to his feet to renew his attack, Sandy had
managed to pump another shell into the chamber.

This time he didn’t miss. He caught the cat three inches behind the
shoulder and could almost see the slug smack home. The lion lunged
through the air, jerked once and slumped to the ground, barely fifteen
feet from Mike’s frightened face.

Still holding his rifle, Sandy walked unsteadily over to Mike.

“You all right?” he asked huskily.

Mike gulped and nodded wordlessly. His face was completely drained of
color. He made no attempt to stand up.

The next moment, Mr. Cook was bending over his son, but Mike refused any
help and scrambled to his feet. He walked over to Sandy and extended his
hand. “Thanks, Sandy,” he said quietly. “I never expected to come out of
that alive.”

Sandy took the outstretched hand and gave Mike a friendly punch on the
shoulder. “That makes us even, Mike.”

Mike managed a weak grin of acknowledgment. “Let’s not do it again,” he
said.

Hank, who had been covering the south side of the shed, was the last to
arrive on the scene. When he was told what had happened, he frowned and
walked over to Mr. Cook.

“Listen, Arthur,” he said sincerely, “I’m sorry Mike had such a bad
time, but I guess it’s my fault. I should have stalked that lion alone.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Mr. Cook replied. “The boys wouldn’t have let
you.”

“Anyway,” Hank went on, “I never expected to see a mountain lion attack
from cover. They don’t normally do that, unless they’re being deviled by
dogs. I’ve been going after them for more than twenty years and this is
the first time anything like that’s ever happened. I knew there’d be a
little danger, but I didn’t think it would be quite so serious. I was
confident the boys would have plenty of time to place their shots.”

“Well,” observed Mr. Cook with a smile, “they did. Or at least one of
them did.”

They walked over to the dead mountain lion. Hank bent down and lifted
one enormous paw. “Right where I told you to shoot,” he said. “Nice
work, Sandy. I’ll skin it for you and you’ll have yourself a fine
trophy.”

“I think Mike should have it,” Sandy said. “As a sort of reminder.”

“No, thanks!” Mike protested. “I’d just as soon never see that cat
again. I’ll bag one of my own. Joe guaranteed it—remember?” Mike stopped
and looked around with a puzzled expression.

“By the way,” he said, “where is Joe? You’d think he’d be here, with all
this shooting.”

Mr. Cook cleared his throat and looked at the three of them strangely.
“I’ve got some news for you,” he said, “and I don’t know what to make of
it. Early this morning—right after you left—Joe and I were sitting on
the porch, cleaning the guns, when suddenly I noticed him start and grow
pale. I followed his eyes and there—up in the mountains behind the
lodge—I saw a thin column of smoke. You three didn’t light a campfire by
any chance?”

They shook their heads.

Mr. Cook raised his eyebrows and nodded. “I was afraid of that,” he went
on. “About an hour later I noticed that Joe was gone. I looked around
and called, but he wasn’t in the house or near it.”

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“Exactly what I said,” Mr. Cook slowly replied. “Joe has
disappeared—vanished.”



                            CHAPTER FIFTEEN
                              Three Crows


“You don’t suppose,” Sandy suggested, and the words came out hesitantly,
“that he was killed by the lion? That he walked right across his path?”

“The lion came down from above us,” Mr. Cook pointed out. “There’s no
guarantee that Joe went in that direction.”

“But the smoke,” Sandy countered. “You said it was coming from the
mountain.”

“Yes, but how do we know he went looking for the men that built the
fire? It seemed to me he didn’t especially want to meet them. He
probably went back down the trail to Mormon Crossing.”

“That’s true,” Sandy admitted. “Except for one thing. It doesn’t sound
like Joe.”

“I go along with Sandy,” Mike asserted. “Joe isn’t the kind of person
who backs away from trouble.”

“Say, hold on for a minute,” Hank interrupted. “You people seem to know
an awful lot more than I do.” He turned to Mr. Cook. “What did you mean
just now when you said something about the men who built the fire? Have
you seen anybody on your trip upriver?”

Mr. Cook quickly filled Hank in on the story of Joe’s mishap back in
Salmon. Hank listened attentively, without unnecessary interruptions.
Mr. Cook told him Joe’s story about the three Crow Indians and ended up
describing Joe’s reaction the night above Cutthroat Rapids when they saw
the mysterious smoke on the horizon. “It’s all too much of a pattern for
me to believe it’s coincidence,” Mr. Cook concluded.

“But what kind of a pattern?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea.”

“You left out one thing,” Sandy reminded Mr. Cook. “How he seemed to
know all about Mormon Crossing and the massacre.”

“I thought we’d settled that. It was tribal lore passed down from his
elders.”

“No,” Sandy insisted. “That’s still a theory. We don’t know for sure.”

“Hey!” Mike interrupted suddenly. “Did you take a look to see if his
stuff is still around?”

“I did,” his father replied. “And it is.”

“Then he didn’t go back down to the river,” Mike said triumphantly.

“Why do you say that?”

“If he planned to run away, he’d take his things with him. If he
intended to come back, he wouldn’t bother.”

Mr. Cook nodded in agreement. “You’ve got a point there.”

“That means,” Mike went on, “that he’s up there somewhere in the
mountains.”

“With the chances very good,” Sandy said, “of his being in trouble.”

There was a pause as the four of them stared thoughtfully at the jagged
range of peaks that towered above them. The rain had tapered off and a
weak sun was struggling to break through the clouds.

“Yes, you may be right,” Mr. Cook agreed. “But I’m afraid we can’t do
much. No sense in stumbling around without knowing where we’re going.”

“Would you help him if you could?” Sandy asked eagerly.

“Yes, I would,” Mr. Cook said with conviction. “I like Joe and if
there’s anything dishonest going on, I’m positive Joe’s not mixed up in
it.”

“All right, then,” Sandy said unexpectedly. “Let’s go.”

They stared at him in astonishment. “Where?” Mr. Cook said. “Where do we
start?”

“You said Joe left his things?”

“That’s right.”

Sandy addressed his next question to Hank. “Those dogs of yours—they
track lions by scent, don’t they?”

Hank granted that was so.

“If we give them some of Joe’s clothing to sniff,” Sandy went on,
“wouldn’t they follow his scent?”

“Like bloodhounds!” Mike cried.

“Exactly. What about it?”

“It might work,” Hank said slowly. “It’s certainly worth a try.”

“I’ll go and get an old shirt of Joe’s,” Mike said, turning toward the
lodge.

“Hang on a minute,” Mr. Cook ordered. “Let’s not rush out right away. If
we start tracking Joe, it might take some time. Overnight maybe. I
suggest we pack some supplies, get a good meal inside ourselves and then
go.”

Mike grinned over at his father. “Now that,” he said enthusiastically,
“sounds like a first-rate idea—particularly the part about food.”

“I thought you’d appreciate it,” Mr. Cook said dryly.


At first the dogs were undecided about Joe’s shirt. They sniffed it and
nosed it back and forth eagerly but refused to strike out on a course.
Instead they ran around in circles, some of them off in one direction,
others headed exactly the opposite way.

It was Drum who finally called the pack to order. He had been moving
purposefully around the clearing, keeping his nose close to the ground,
when suddenly he stopped and began to scratch the earth. After a few
minutes of furious activity, he looked up and trotted back to the shirt
for a second sniff. It seemed to satisfy him. Raising his head, he
barked commandingly. The dogs around him stopped their aimless wandering
and turned around. A series of deep-throated barks brought them
scampering up as he led the way over the trail that curved deep into the
mountains.

“That’s it!” cried Hank. “He’s got the scent! You can always tell.”

Hurriedly they formed a line behind the dogs. Hank was first, Mr. Cook
second, while the boys brought up the rear.

After nearly an hour of breathless climbing, Sandy saw they were
following the trail they had taken earlier that morning on the goat hunt
that had almost ended in disaster. “Look,” he said, pointing to a
tumbled pile of rocks spilled over the lower half of a peak. “Recognize
that?”

Mike glanced over and grimaced. “I won’t forget it in a hurry.”

Sandy stopped for a moment and peered up. “You can’t even see the cave
from here,” he remarked.

“That’s right,” Mike said. “No wonder Hank had a hard time finding us.”

“Hey, you two!” came a voice. “Stop admiring the view and keep moving.”

“We’re coming!” Sandy shouted. “Boy,” he said, panting, “those dogs can
really travel.”

Mike nodded. “Save your breath,” he advised.

They moved ahead in silence for another twenty minutes when suddenly
Sandy heard Mike grunt irritably. “Darn it!” he muttered.

Sandy turned to see Mike’s bedroll on the ground with his belongings
scattered beside it. “Strap broke,” Mike explained.

“Hank!” Sandy shouted. “Can you wait a minute?”

Hank turned and looked back. “What happened?” he yelled.

“A bedroll strap broke. We’ll have it fixed in a minute.”

“We’ll go on ahead to the top of this slope,” Hank shouted down. “We can
see a lot of the country from up there. I’ll collect the dogs and wait
for you.”

“Okay! We’ll be right up.”

Mike was hurriedly gathering together his equipment, frowning angrily as
he stuffed various articles into his blanket. “Everything happens to
me!” he said in an annoyed voice. “D’you think we can mend that strap?”

“I think so. It won’t take long.”

“Just when we’re in a hurry!”

“What’s that?” Sandy said suddenly.

“Where?”

“Behind you.”

Mike swiveled and made a grab for something lying on the ground. With a
sheepish grin he tried to tuck it into the folds of his bedroll.

Sandy laughed when he saw what it was. “That looks suspiciously like a
sandwich wrapped in waxed paper.”

“Wrong again,” Mike said cheerfully. “It’s two sandwiches. I thought we
might get a little hungry.”

Sandy shook his head admiringly. “Remind me never to go into the grocery
business with you. You’d eat up all the profits before ...”

But Mike wasn’t listening. He was staring down at a colorful patch of
red-checked cloth draped over a rock about three feet off the trail.

“What’s the matter?” Sandy asked.

Mike pointed to the patch. “Take a look at that,” he said.

Sandy walked over and picked it up. “It’s a piece of cloth,” he said.

“It’s more than that,” Mike said seriously. “It belongs to Joe’s shirt.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Don’t you recognize the pattern? Big black stripes over the
red, with little yellow lines running through it.”

Sandy nodded. “It’s Joe’s all right. What do we do now?”

“Let’s get this strap fixed and tell Hank and Dad.”

“It looks to me,” Sandy mused as he glanced over the terrain, “as if Joe
broke away from the trail right about here.”

“What makes you say that?” Mike was busy tying a knot in his broken
strap.

“Look where the piece fell. I think he climbed up here and tore his
shirt doing it. Maybe we ought to do a little exploring on our own.”

Mike shook his head in disagreement. “Let’s stop being heroes. If Joe’s
in trouble, we won’t be able to help him alone.”

“I guess you’re right,” Sandy admitted. “But I sure would like to know
what’s above those rocks.”

“We’ll know in a little while,” Mike assured him, heaving the bedroll
over his shoulder, “soon as we can bring Dad and Hank down here.”

“I think,” Sandy said in a very quiet voice, “that we’ll know sooner
than that.”

“What do you mean?” Mike asked. He glanced at Sandy, and was surprised
to see the strange expression on his face. He followed Sandy’s gaze up
to the row of boulders above their heads, and suddenly he knew why Sandy
had frozen.

Standing on the rocks were three men. Two of them carried rifles which
they kept trained down at the boys. All three, Mike saw, had the dark
complexion and long, straight hair of Indians.



                            CHAPTER SIXTEEN
                                Captured


The middle Indian—the one without a rifle—was the first to speak. “Drop
your packs to the ground,” he ordered. His voice was hard and guttural.
“And do it slow.”

Mike stiffened in anger, and for a moment Sandy thought he was going to
try to make a break for it. “Take it easy,” he muttered out of the
corner of his mouth. “Better do what he says.”

Mike shook his head stubbornly. “They’re not going to do any shooting,”
he insisted. “The others are too close.”

The Indian gave a short, unpleasant laugh. “You think they’d get back in
time?” he asked.

“They’d be back in time to get you!” Mike flared.

“Try it,” the Indian invited. His voice became hard and menacing. “We
could pick you off and wait for the others to come running back. This
place makes a perfect ambush.”

The realization that Hank and his father might also be killed sobered
Mike considerably. He reached up and loosened the strap that held his
bedroll and rifle. Keeping his eyes on the rifles that stared down at
them, Sandy did the same.

“Now move back. And keep your hands up in the air.”

Sandy and Mike did as they were told. The two armed Indians vaulted
lightly down from their perch, approached the blankets, and took the
boys’ guns.

“All right,” the Indian on the rock ordered. “Pick up your packs and
climb up here.”

“Where are we going?” Sandy demanded.

“You’ll find out soon enough” came the answer. “Just keep moving—and
don’t try anything.”

For the better part of an hour, they moved silently ahead, climbing
higher into the mountains, avoiding what trails there were, keeping
close to the protective cover afforded by the thick stands of jack pine.
At last they arrived at a small clearing, perched high on the top of a
lonely, desolate peak. The clearing was admirably situated, with an
unobstructed view on three sides and accessible only by a single trail
that wound tortuously up through jagged piles of razor-sharp rock. Sandy
noticed the remains of a fire surrounded by three blanket rolls. It was
an uncomfortable but well-hidden campsite.

“Sit over there,” the lead Indian commanded. He walked over to a blanket
roll and rummaged through it. The other Indians stood to one side,
keeping their guns trained on Sandy and Mike.

“What’s all this about?” Sandy said irritably. “What do you want from
us?”

“Nothing,” the Indian replied. “Not a single thing. It’s Eagle Plume we
want—Joe, to you.”

“Then you must be the three Crows!” Mike blurted out.

The Indian straightened up from his pack and looked at them. There was a
flat, veiled expression in his eyes. “Yes,” he said quietly, “we’re
Crows. So Joe’s been telling you about us.”

Sandy glanced over at Mike to warn him into silence. “He mentioned you
once,” he replied. “Said there was some bad feeling between you.”

“What else did he say?” It was more of a command than a question.

“Nothing. Joe didn’t talk much.”

The Indian nodded. “I can believe that. He wouldn’t want you to know too
much.”

“About what?”

“Never mind,” the Indian said briefly. “I bet you never guessed that Joe
has been using you all this time.”

“Using us!”

“Sure. He had to find some way of getting to Mormon Crossing. You made
it easy for him.”

Sandy and Mike digested this piece of news in silence. Joe didn’t seem
like the kind who would deliberately “use” somebody and then disappear
without a word. But there was no effective reply to what they had heard.

“It’s too bad you had to poke your noses into this,” the Indian went on.
“But now that you’re here, you can be useful.”

“We wouldn’t lift a finger to help you!” Mike declared hotly.

The Indian threw him a disdainful look. “You won’t have anything to say
about it.” He reached down and drew a long rope from his pack. He tossed
it to one of the Indians with a rifle. “Tie them up,” he ordered. “The
dark one first.” Mike struggled to his feet and the second Indian moved
around to a point directly behind Sandy. “I wouldn’t try that,” the
leader advised Mike sharply. “Unless you want to see your friend shot. I
wouldn’t kill him—just a bullet in his leg, maybe. But I don’t think
he’d like it much.”

Mike stiffened, his mouth a grim line of anger, but he allowed the
Indian to pin his arms behind his back. The Crow worked quickly and
efficiently. In a moment Mike was helpless.

“Now the other one,” the Indian said. Sandy felt strong hands grab his
arms and twist a length of rope tightly around his wrists. He gasped
involuntarily as the rope bit deep into his skin. A second rope was
coiled around his ankles. Rough hands threw him heavily on the ground,
ran a line through his wrist bindings and joined the other end to the
rope that held his ankles. When this was drawn tight, Sandy’s legs were
jerked back, forcing his spine into an awkward arc. The halter knotted
between the two bindings made it impossible for him to move. If he tried
to work his fingers free, the pressure drew his legs further up behind
him. Any motion from his feet pulled his arms painfully out of joint.

When the job was done, the lead Indians seemed satisfied. “Good,” he
grunted. “That’ll keep you from wandering off.” He glanced speculatively
up at the sky. “Couple more hours of daylight,” he said. “Time enough to
try to find Joe and have a talk with him.”

“What are you going to do with us?” Sandy asked, gritting his teeth
against the pain of the ropes.

“Leave you here until we get back. Don’t worry. You’ll be all right.
You’re too valuable to us alive—for now, anyway.”

Sandy let the last remark pass. “How do you know where to find Joe?”

“Curious, aren’t you?” The Indian leaned down and picked up Sandy’s
rifle. “To tell you the truth,” he said, throwing open the bolt, “I
don’t know.” He slammed the bolt shut and moved off. “But if we don’t
find him today, we’ll talk to him tomorrow. Don’t worry. We’ll get
together sooner or later.” He made an abrupt motion with his head and
the other two Indians disappeared silently down the trail.

“The quicker we see Joe,” he said, “the quicker you two get out of here.
So wish us luck.” He turned and followed his companions. Sandy and Mike
could hear the subdued tones of whispered conversation, then silence.

By working himself around on one shoulder, Sandy managed to twist
himself into a position where he could see Mike. “You okay?” he called
softly.

Mike grunted sourly. “I’d feel a lot better if I could figure this thing
out.”

“Joe sure seems to have gotten himself into a mess of trouble,” Sandy
said.

“What about us, for Pete’s sake! We’re not doing too badly.”

Despite their situation, Sandy grinned. “You’re right,” he admitted.
“Those boys don’t fool around, do they?”

Mike pulled himself around and grimaced. “One thing I’ll have to hand
them. They tie a mean knot.”

“Can you move at all?” Sandy asked.

“Sure,” Mike replied bitterly. “Just enough to break my back!”

“There’s a knife in my bedroll over there,” Sandy speculated.

“Do you think you can make it?”

“I don’t know. I can try pushing myself along the ground.”

Sandy concentrated on lunging forward, but after a few minutes he knew
it wasn’t going to work. “No good,” he panted. “I can’t make any
headway.”

“How long did they say they’d be gone?”

“Till dark. That’s about an hour and a half. I’m afraid my arms are
going to drop off before then. How do yours feel?”

“Not too good.” The tightly knotted ropes were beginning to cut off
circulation and it occurred to Sandy that he’d better keep his fingers
and toes in motion.

He was about to advise Mike to do the same when he heard a faint
scraping noise that froze him into immobility. It came a second time, a
short distance to his rear. He experienced a moment of panic as he
envisioned a mountain lion stalking up to the camp, but he managed to
keep his voice calm when he called out to Mike.

“Hey, Mike! Do you hear anything?”

Mike cocked his head. “No,” he said. “Not a thing.”

“It sounds like somebody coming up the trail.”

Mike strained his head to take a look. “No,” he began, “I don’t see any
...” His voice broke off in an excited shout. “Joe! What are you doing
here?”

“Shhh!” came a voice. “Keep it down. Lie still and let me get you out of
those ropes.”

The next instant Joe was kneeling by Sandy’s side, a sharp knife in one
hand.



                           CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
                         The Secret of the Cave


“What’s going on, Joe?” Sandy demanded. He was rubbing his wrists,
trying to get the circulation going again while Joe was busy with the
knots that held Mike.

“There’s no time for a long explanation now,” Joe said as he slashed
through the last of the ropes. “We’ve got to get out of here and find
the others.”

“Those friends of yours seem to want something pretty bad,” Mike said as
he rolled over and got back on his feet. “What I don’t get is why they
think we can help them.”

“You were taken as hostages,” Joe explained. “They were going to use you
to force me into something.”

“Into what?” Sandy wanted to know.

Joe stepped over and put his hand on Sandy’s shoulder. “Look,” he said.
“I know I’ve acted badly the last couple of days. I should have told you
right from the beginning. But, as I say, it’s a long story and we just
don’t have time now. Will you trust me for a little while longer?”

Sandy nodded. “Sure. What’s the next move?”

“To find Hank and Mr. Cook.”

“Do you know where they are?”

Joe shook his head. “No idea.”

Sandy thought for a moment. “They probably went back to the house after
we disappeared.”

“That sounds right,” Joe said. He looked up at the sky doubtfully. “But
we’ll never make it by dark.”

“Then we’ll travel as far as we can and hide out till dawn.”

Mike snapped his fingers. “I know just the place,” he said. “That cave
of ours. The one we fell into.”

“Right!” Sandy nodded.

“What cave?” Joe looked puzzled.

“That’s a long story too,” Sandy replied with a grin. “We’ll tell you on
the way.”

They reached the cave with about an hour of daylight to spare. Mike was
the first one to pull himself over the lip and into the opening. Then he
reached down and helped Joe in.

“Welcome to our humble establishment,” he said, bending over in a deep
bow. “You’ll find this the perfect place for an overnight stop. The
rooms are spacious and well ventilated. Our rates are reasonable and I’m
sure you’ll find the service....” He checked himself when he saw the
look on Joe’s face. “What’s the matter?” he said.

“You say this cave was hidden?” Joe asked. His voice sounded oddly
hollow. It was clear he was doing his best to hold down a mounting
excitement.

“It was, before we knocked away the mountain,” Sandy said.

“How deep is it?”

“We didn’t feel much like exploring the last time we were here.”

“Have you got a flashlight?”

“In my bedroll.”

“Let me have it, please.”

Sandy reached into his blanket and handed over his flashlight. Joe
practically snatched it out of his hand and plunged off into the
interior of the cave.

“Hey, wait for us!” Mike called.

The cave slanted back at a sharp angle and opened gradually into a large
shallow cavern. Sandy stared at the blank wall opposite with a frown of
disappointment. “Not very big, is it?” he commented.

But Joe didn’t hear him. He was down on his knees beside a pile of
stones near the right-hand wall. “Help me with these,” he called
urgently.

Mike and Sandy exchanged puzzled glances and went over to the pile of
rocks. Joe was pulling it apart, working with a feverish concentration.
Sandy could hear him panting with excitement.

Suddenly there was a hoarse cry as Joe tore away a large flat stone.
“Look!” he shouted. The boys leaned over his shoulder and, in the light
of the pocket flash, saw what appeared to be a goodsized wooden box. The
wood was very old and part of the top had rotted off.

Joe swept the remaining stones out of the way and curled his fingers
under the lid. Bracing himself against the floor of the cave, he heaved
up with all his strength. There was a sharp tearing noise and the top
cracked open.

“There!” said Joe, playing the flashlight down into the box. “That’s
what all this has been about.”

Sandy gasped. The chest was full of neatly stacked bars of silver—much
of it tarnished with age, but still recognizable.

For a moment nobody was able to speak. Sandy was the first to find his
voice.

“Who does it belong to?” he whispered.

“To us,” Joe said firmly. “To all of us.”

“Us?” Sandy cried. “Why?”

“Because you helped me find it. I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Sandy started to say something but a familiar sound caught him up short.
“Listen!” he said urgently. The others stood still and held their
breath. “Do you hear it?” Sandy cried in excitement. “It’s the dogs. I
can hear Drum!”

“They must be near the cave!” Mike shouted. The three of them wheeled
and sprinted for the entrance, the treasure momentarily forgotten.
“They’re getting closer!” Sandy yelled. In a final burst of speed, they
scrambled up to the lip of the cave and broke out into the fading
sunlight. Down at the bottom of the slope Sandy could see the first of
the dogs coming around a turn in the trail. Drum was in the lead.

“Up here!” Sandy shouted, moving down the slope. “We’re up by the cave!”
Suddenly he felt himself grabbed from behind and slammed to the ground.

A rifle roared and Sandy heard the angry whine of a bullet as it passed
over his head.

“Back inside!” Joe shouted.

Sandy looked up to see three figures coming toward them. “The Crows!” he
gasped.

“Right!” Joe muttered as he struggled to his feet. But the first of the
Crows was already on top of them. With a last desperate lunge, the
Indian covered the remaining distance by throwing himself on Joe. Sandy
saw him slash down with his rifle butt and saw Joe duck the blow. Then
the two men were rolling on the ground, fighting grimly for possession
of the gun.

Sandy barely had time to lean down and grab an apple-sized rock before
the other two Indians dove at him. Sandy heaved the rock at one of them,
saw it strike him full in the chest, and then whirled to meet the charge
of the second. Just as they were about to close, a snarling
black-and-tan flash brushed Sandy to one side and fastened on the
Indian’s throat. The Crow gave a frightened scream and battled to keep
away from the slashing jaws. It was Drum, Hank’s lead dog, who had
thrown himself at the Indian. The others in the pack were right behind
him.

With a yell of terror, the Indian disappeared under a writhing wave of
growling dogs.

“Down, Drum!” came an authoritative voice. Hank Dawson was striding
purposefully toward the mass of dogs. He waded into them without fear
and grabbed Drum firmly by the scruff of the neck. “Back!” he ordered.
Drum shook himself and moved off a few paces, sitting watchfully on his
hindquarters, ready to leap at his master’s command. The other dogs of
the pack followed his example. The Indian was lying on the ground, his
torn hands covering his head.

Sandy glanced around to see how Joe was doing. He had subdued his
attacker and was standing to one side, panting heavily, a rifle in his
hand. The third Crow was sitting where Sandy’s rock had flattened him, a
look of dazed surprise on his face.

“All right now,” Hank Dawson said sternly. “What’s this all about?”



                            CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
                      The Story of Mormon Crossing


“Ever hear of Sun Mountain?” It was evening, after dinner. They were all
sitting in front of the big stone fireplace, dead-tired, but determined
to hear Joe’s story at last.

“Don’t think I have,” Hank rumbled. Nobody else answered.

“Sun Mountain,” Joe went on, “is a fancy name for one of the ugliest
hunks of rock in the West.”

“Where is it?”

“In western Nevada, right near the California border.” Joe paused and
looked over at Hank. “You don’t have a map by any chance, do you?”

“I think so.” Hank got up and plucked a dog-eared atlas down from a
nearby shelf. “This do?”

“Sure.” Joe leafed through the pages until he came to a map of the
northwest United States. “Here,” he said as the others crowded around,
“is the place I’m talking about. Back in the days of the gold rush, Sun
Mountain was important for only one reason. Wagon trains coming west
used it as a guide. Right behind the mountain, you see, was a pass that
took them over the Sierras into California.”

“It was the last jumping-off point before the gold fields,” Sandy
remarked.

“Right,” Joe said. “But aside from that, nobody was interested in it. It
was a lonely, miserable place. Sweltering hot in the summer and bitter
cold in the winter. It didn’t have much in the way of trees or any kind
of growth because all the water around there was next door to being
poisonous.”

“How come?” Mike demanded.

“A mineral deposit inside the mountain seeped arsenic into the water.
Anyway,” Joe continued, “wagon-train parties would rest up there before
trying the pass. Sometimes they’d have to wait for days before they
could move ahead.”

“What kept them back?” Sandy asked.

“Snow up in the high peaks. The pass would be blocked.” Joe closed the
atlas and went back to his chair. “Some of the parties used to do a
little mining up around Sun Mountain while they waited—nothing much, you
understand—just enough to make the time go by till they got to the big
bonanzas in California.” Joe laughed and fished for a cigarette. “If
they’d only known,” he said. “The biggest bonanza of all was right under
their noses.”

“Was there gold on Sun Mountain?” Sandy asked.

Joe shook his head. “No, not gold. Silver. That whole mountain was
practically made of silver. You’ve heard of Virginia City?”

“Sure!” Sandy cried. “The Comstock Lode!”

“It was right on top of Sun Mountain. It was discovered in 1859. A vein
of pure silver nearly sixty feet wide. Before it was worked out, it was
worth nearly three quarters of a billion dollars.”

Mike whistled softly. “Did you say _billion_?”

“I did.”

“And they passed it right by?”

“Back in the 1850s they weren’t interested in silver. Everybody was
thinking about gold.”

Mr. Cook leaned over and maneuvered another log onto the fire. “I’m
beginning to see the connection,” he said. “The silver you found in the
cave originally came from Sun Mountain.”

“That’s right,” Joe said. “Somewhere in the 1850s a party of
Mormons....”

“I knew it!” Sandy interrupted. “The same party that was massacred!”

Joe smiled. “Yes,” he admitted. “You were right all the time. I didn’t
know that anybody knew about that incident. That’s why I was so startled
when you told the story the day we first met. It happened just the way
you described. They stopped over at Sun Mountain, found a rich vein of
silver, and then moved on. Maybe they wanted to found a new community of
their own. Anyway, they decided to head north. My people—the
Blackfeet—massacred them here in the mountains.”

“How do you know that?” Hank asked.

“The story of the massacre was handed down by my tribe. As a matter of
fact, it was my great-great-great-grandfather who led the raid.”

“Score one for Mike,” Mr. Cook said. “That’s exactly the way he said it
happened.”

Joe turned, to Mike and laughed. “You people seem to have figured out
everything.”

“But how did you know about the silver?” Sandy insisted.

“Before they were wiped out,” Joe explained, “the Mormons hid the silver
in the cave that you two found earlier today. Each man in the party was
given a map, just in case there were any survivors.”

“But there weren’t?”

Joe shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “Every last one of them was
wiped out. My great-great-and-so-forth-grandfather found a copy of the
map. He kept it as a souvenir of the victory. In the years that went by,
it was lost. I happened to find it in among my father’s possessions
about six months ago. I knew about the story of the massacre and I’d
heard about the map. When I actually saw it, I got pretty excited.”

“I can imagine,” Mr. Cook said.

“I’m afraid I talked about it too much. Other people heard about it.”

“Including our friends, the Crows,” Hank said.

Joe nodded. “To make a long story short, they stole my copy of the map.
Luckily, I had it memorized. I knew I had to get out here before they
did, and when you offered me a job to come to Mormon Crossing, I thought
everything was going to be all right.”

“But you hadn’t counted on their moving so fast,” Mr. Cook put in.

“Even then,” Joe said grimly, “I didn’t think they’d actually try to
kill me.” He paused and stared into the fire. “I knew better after my
‘accident’ on Mr. Henderson’s dock in Salmon.”

“Did they do that?” Sandy asked.

“Yes,” Joe said. “They did. Apparently they were desperate enough to do
anything to keep me away from Mormon Crossing.”

Mr. Cook leaned forward in his chair. “But, Joe,” he said, “why didn’t
you tell us?”

Joe shook his head and shrugged. “I guess I should have,” he said. “But
I didn’t want you to get involved. I thought that once we got away, the
danger would be over.”

“But then you saw the smoke,” Mike said.

“And I knew they were on my trail. I didn’t know what to do,” Joe said.
“I knew I was putting you in danger and I didn’t want that, so I decided
to disappear and try to find the silver before they did.”

“What good would that have done?” Mr. Cook pointed out. “They would just
have come after you later.”

“You’re right,” Joe admitted. “I guess I was too worried to think things
through clearly. At any rate, I was up in the mountains when you came
looking for me. I saw Sandy and Mike get captured by the Crows. I
followed them up to the Crow campsite and waited for the Crows to leave.
You know the rest. They were going to use the boys as hostages to force
me into giving up the search.”

“One thing still puzzles me,” Mr. Cook said.

“What is it?”

“First of all, if you and the Crows both knew where the silver was
located, why didn’t you pick it up right away?”

“Because we couldn’t,” Joe explained. “We all went looking for the cave,
but it was too well hidden. If it hadn’t been for Sandy and Mike falling
into it, we’d still be running around up there in the mountains.”

“Then why were the Crows up at the cave when we arrived with the dogs?”

“They knew approximately where the cave should be. The map told them
that. They were hunting around, the same as I was. What were you doing
there?”

“We were searching for you—or the boys. The dogs led us up to the cave
just in time to see the action.”

“Lucky for us,” Sandy said.

“I’ll say!” Mike grinned. “By the way, what’s going to happen to our
friends?”

“The Crows?”

“Yes.”

“All taken care of,” Hank assured him.

Mike looked surprised. “How?” he asked.

“I’ve got a short-wave radio up here,” Hank explained. “I’ve called the
police and they’re sending a helicopter.”

“Now there’s an unexpected touch,” said Mr. Cook, laughing. “In the
middle of all this wilderness a helicopter!”

“A very handy device, Arthur,” Hank said. “Most of the Western states
today have an emergency helicopter service for backwoods communities and
isolated hunting parties. It’s saved a lot of lives.”

“I imagine it has.”

“When will it arrive?”

“First thing in the morning. It’ll take the Crows to Boise. I’ve locked
them in the barn for the night. They’ll have to stand charges for
assault with intent to kill as well as a little matter of kidnaping.”

Mike frowned. “Does that mean we’ll have to go, too?”

“I’m afraid so. But don’t worry. It won’t be for long. We’ll be back
here in three or four days at the most.”

“Joe too?” They all turned and looked at the Indian.

He grinned and nodded his head. “Sure, I’ll be back,” he said. “I signed
on for a month, didn’t I?”

“I thought maybe now that you’re a millionaire, you wouldn’t want to
keep on being a guide.”

Joe laughed. “I’m not that rich. Three or four thousand dollars at the
most. Wouldn’t you say, Hank?”

Hank nodded. “I figure it’s worth about that.”

“Split five ways, that makes....”

“Hey, hold on a minute!” Sandy cried. “We’re not going to take any of
it.”

“Yes, you are,” Joe insisted. “I thought we decided that.”

“No,” Mr. Cook said firmly. “It’s your money. You told us once about
that place in Montana you wanted. Well, now you can buy it.”

Joe tried to protest, but he was overruled. “All right,” he said
finally. “But there are two things you can’t stop me from doing.”

“What’s that?” Sandy asked.

“Neither of the boys has a game rifle of his own. They’ll have one when
we get back here. The second thing is this. As soon as I get my place in
Montana, you people have a standing invitation to come up any time for
the best hunting and fishing in the Rockies.”

“We’ll take you up on that, Joe,” Mr. Cook said.

“You bet!” Sandy cried enthusiastically.

Mike held up one hand. “There’s just one thing I want to know.”

“What’s that?”

“In Montana—does everything start at dawn? Or do you think maybe I could
get some sleep?”

“Mike,” Joe replied, “when you come to visit me, I’ll arrange it so the
fish don’t start to bite before noon, and as far as I’m concerned, you
can do your hunting from a hammock.”

“That,” said Mike, “is something I’m looking forward to.”

“Right now,” Sandy said as he rose wearily to his feet, “the only thing
I’m looking forward to is a good night’s sleep. When did you say that
helicopter was going to get here?”

Hank reached over and snuffed out the kerosene lamp on the mantel. “At
dawn,” he said. “Right on the stroke of five-thirty.”

The general laughter drowned out Mike’s anguished groan of protest.



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)





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