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Title: Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders on the Lost River Trail
Author: Chase, Josephine
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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        GRACE HARLOWE’S OVERLAND RIDERS ON THE LOST RIVER TRAIL



[Illustration: “Elfreda Darted Ahead.”]



                      Grace Harlowe’s Overland
                         Riders on the Lost
                            River Trail

                                 By

                     JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A.M.

 Author of The High School Girls Series, The College Girls Series,
    The Grace Harlowe Overseas Series, Grace Harlowe’s Overland
      Riders on the Old Apache Trail, Grace Harlowe’s Overland
        Riders on the Great American Desert, Grace Harlowe’s
       Overland Riders Among the Kentucky Mountaineers, Grace
        Harlowe’s Overland Riders in the Great North Woods,
            Grace Harlowe’s Overland Riders in the High
              Sierras, Grace Harlowe’s Overland Riders
                 in the Yellowstone National Park,
                  Grace Harlowe’s Overland Riders
                in the Black Hills, Grace Harlowe’s
                          Overland Riders
                          Among the Border
                         Guerrillas, etc.,
                                etc.

                            Illustrated

                            PHILADELPHIA
                       HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY



                       Copyrighted, 1924, by
                         Howard E. Altemus

                           PRINTED IN THE
                      UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                              CONTENTS

CHAPTER I—A Mystery of the Night

    “There is peril in the air,” warns the guide.
    Overlanders take flight. Emma says the suspense is
    killing her. “The worst is yet to come,” promises Stacy
    Brown. Threatened by a forest fire. The Overland Riders
    hasten to the relief of imperilled villagers.

CHAPTER II—In the Demon’s Grip

    Inhabitants of Silver Creek deride Ham White’s warning.
    Aroused at last. The fire demon roars. Miss Briggs
    narrowly escapes. “The fire is yonder! Work, you
    thick-heads!” A woman’s scream starts a panic among the
    villagers.

CHAPTER III—A Rain of Fire

    Ham White directs the fire-fighters. Great tongues of
    flame. The panic increases. Grace urges village women to
    the creek. Danger in the water. Elfreda Briggs is
    carried away on the current. Land at last. The Overland
    girl utters a thrilling cry.

CHAPTER IV—The Lost Cabin

    The village is saved. Overland horses are missing. “Run,
    girls! Run!” cries Grace. Ham White is excited.
    Searching parties are organized. Emma concerned for her
    “Hamilton.” Another member of the Overland party is
    missing. “Help! I’m dying!” groans Elfreda’s caller.

CHAPTER V—A Fruitless Quest

    Overland girls search the village for their missing
    companions. Ham White hears more bad news. The guide
    fears the worst. “There is another peril!” Only the
    lieutenant knows that one of his party has slipped away
    looking for the missing.

CHAPTER VI—Facing a New Peril

    The wounded prospector tells his story. “Oh, you poor
    man,” cries Elfreda Briggs. “They shot me for gold!” A
    grave duty to perform. Miss Briggs’ legacy. Sam
    Petersen’s horse hidden. Mountain bandits pay a visit to
    Lost Cabin.

CHAPTER VII—The Discovery

    “Hawk Murray!” breathes Elfreda Briggs. The Overland
    girl keeps her nerve. Ready to defend herself. Startled
    by the return of a bandit. “Lady, what about the saddle
    over there in the brush?” he asks. Elfreda in the toils.
    A strange thing happens.

CHAPTER VIII—Stacy Takes a Hand

    “I’ll show you you can’t steal my beans and fish!” howls
    the fat boy. Stacy proves himself a hero. Mysterious
    shots put the caller to flight. “They’ve shot him!”
    cried the girl. A voice from the shadows of the Lost
    Cabin. An amazing disappearance.

CHAPTER IX—Mysteries Multiply

    The journey to Silver Creek begun. Stacy helps himself
    to beans. The welcome home. “Lost River” an Indian
    legend. Words fail the fat boy. Miss Briggs confides in
    Grace. Elfreda’s gold turns to stone. Sam Petersen’s
    diary whisked from Grace Harlowe’s hand.

CHAPTER X—The Man from Seattle

    “Hands up!” Peanuts are great civilizers. Overlanders
    regard their guest with suspicion. Emma makes the fat
    boy laugh. “Just another mystery.” “Now who are you, and
    what is your game?” demands Ham White sternly. Stalked
    by a shadow. “Quick! Something has happened to Elfreda!”

CHAPTER XI—Believers in Safety First

    Guns bang and Stacy lies low. Struck on the head. “I
    felt a hand under my pillow,” explains Miss Briggs. The
    guide is disturbed. Emma offers to “demonstrate” for
    him. Stacy alarmed for his trousers. Jim Haley makes a
    mysterious disappearance.

CHAPTER XII—A Successful Experiment

    Elfreda’s experience leaves her pale. More than one man
    involved in the attack. White finds a trail of blood.
    Stacy Brown votes himself the cross of war. The fat boy
    up to mischief. Another shadow stalks the Overland
    tents. A near panic in the camp.

CHAPTER XIII—The Camp is Invaded

    Bears on the rampage. Ponies snort in fright. “We’ve got
    them going!” cries Ham White. Havoc worked by marauding
    beasts. One bear is killed. Stacy confesses that he
    called the bears. The savagery of Nature let loose.
    “They are coming! Move cautiously.”

CHAPTER XIV—The Battle of the Beasts

    Howls are mingled with snarls. Coyotes attack the dead
    bear. Wolves add to the uproar. A sight that thrilled.
    The battle brief. Grace takes a shot and misses. Stacy
    downs a lion. Slinking forms stalk the ponies. Beady for
    trouble. A wounded man staggers into camp.

CHAPTER XV—A Rude Awakening

    “It’s Jim Haley!” exclaims the guide. The mountain
    ruffians wanted peanuts. White refuses to double-cross
    the Overlanders. Ham White sees the “Forest Eyes.” The
    old prospector’s secrets studied. Interrupted by an
    intruder. “Who says a woman can’t throw a stone?”

CHAPTER XVI—Bandits Take Their Toll

    Hippy and the guide search for a prowler. Guarding the
    camp. An Overlander is missing. An anxious watch. The
    search abandoned. Nora reassured by the guide. Ham White
    admits that he has made a discovery. “Stacy Brown has
    been forcibly removed!” is the startling announcement.

CHAPTER XVII—A Test of Courage

    Two Overland Riders now missing. Hamilton White is
    apprehensive. An all-night vigil. The guide sends wigwag
    signals in the early morn. “Great danger to both!” Grace
    Harlowe reads the fluttering message. A girl’s clever
    strategy. “Hamilton White, I have you now!”

CHAPTER XVIII—The Flaming Arrow

    Hippy finds himself in the toils. Visited by his
    captors. “Keep quiet and listen to me!” warns a hoarse
    voice. A long and trying hike. The Overlander restored
    to his friends. “Isn’t that just like a man!” A guest
    who is doubly welcome. A flaming messenger drops into
    camp.

CHAPTER XIX—His Fate in the Balance

    A letter from Stacy. The fat boy to “be shot at
    sunrise.” In the hands of desperate men. A sudden flash
    lights up Tom Gray’s eyes. Bandits’ demands are met. The
    guide takes a hurried departure. A mysterious mission.
    “It isn’t safe to say a word.”

CHAPTER XX—“I’m Shot!” Cries Emma

    Tom leads in the long night journey. Battle sounds in
    the air. Grace makes a pleasing discovery. A warning
    against the mountain bandits. The Overland party
    awakened by the crash of a rifle. The camp in confusion.
    Emma Dean falls a victim.

CHAPTER XXI—Stacy Seeks a Change

    Carried away on a horse. In the hands of rough men. The
    fat boy forced to write a letter. His bluff is called.
    Bandits hear bad news. Stacy takes advantage of his
    opportunity.

CHAPTER XXII—A Strange Visitor

    Emma misses an opportunity to “demonstrate.” A battle is
    fought over the Overlanders’ heads. A thrilling duel in
    the mountain meadow. “Something terrible is going to
    happen!” An exhibition of great courage. A bandit’s
    career ended.

CHAPTER XXIII—A Thrilling Discovery

    Cat-foot Charlie arrives. A fallen hero. The arrival at
    Three Mile Pass. The key to many mysteries. Sunlight
    yellows the pass. “Look! Oh, look!” Grandma and the
    Children! Elfreda Briggs comes into her own. A final
    good-bye to forest and mountain trails.

CHAPTER XXIV—The House of Happiness

    Overlanders visit Haven Home. A joyous Christmas
    reunion. Stacy Brown makes a sensational entrance. The
    pink and white bundle in the nursery. Surprises come
    thick and fast. What the snowbird said to Emma and
    Stacy.



                      GRACE HARLOWE’S OVERLAND
                           RIDERS ON THE
                          LOST RIVER TRAIL



                             CHAPTER I

                       A MYSTERY OF THE NIGHT


“Lieutenant! Lieutenant!”

“Eh? Wha—what is it?” muttered Hippy Wingate, rousing himself from a
deep sleep.

“Listen, Lieutenant! There is peril in the air,” answered Ham White.
“I don’t know where it is, but I do know there is trouble afoot, and
that instant action is necessary. I don’t think it advisable to let
the others of our party know, so long as there probably is no
immediate danger.”

“Humph! You men of the forest make me weary. Everything is a
mystery—a peril and so forth and so on. Ham, you’re a good fellow,
but you remind me of Tom Gray—always looking for trouble. What is
the big idea?”

Hamilton White placed his lips to Hippy’s ear and whispered. A
little distance from them the camp was sleeping soundly. Not a sound
disturbed the forest night save the faint whisperings of the
tree-tops and the occasional twitter of a bird high up among the
branches.

“You don’t say!” exclaimed Hippy, sitting up awake and thoroughly on
the alert. “Are you positive?”

“Yes. It may be a matter of hours; then again minutes may cover the
time.”

“What shall we do?” questioned Hippy.

“Move at once,” answered the guide with emphasis. “We will lay our
course to the northeast and get as far away from here as possible in
the shortest possible time. We’ve got to break camp now,
Lieutenant!”

Hippy Wingate sprang to his feet and began dressing. While doing so
he asked how they were to explain their hurried departure to the
others of the party, unless the whole truth were told. White said he
would attend to that.

Hippy shook his head.

“Ham, you have the Overland Riders sized up wrong. They aren’t
tenderfeet, not by a long shot, nor are they shying at danger any
more than you are,” declared Hippy with some heat.

“Turn them out!” ordered Ham. “We can’t afford to waste a moment.”

“All right, Buddy, I’ll turn them out. You will have to do the rest,
though. Turn out, you sleepy-heads!” roared Hippy.

The response was almost instantaneous. The Overland Riders bounced
out of their tents, rubbing their eyes, staggering a little, for
they were not yet fully awake, and demanding to know what had
happened. Ham White, who was already engaged in packing their
belongings, paused long enough to reply.

“Folks, we must break camp and get out of this right smart,” he
informed them.

“What! Lose my night’s sleep?” wailed Stacy Brown. “Move if you
wish, but I stay right here until after breakfast, then I’ll think
about seeking new and more beautiful scenes.”

“Mr. White, will you please tell me why we must break camp at this
hour of the night?” begged Grace Harlowe, stepping over to the
guide, and looking up into his face. “What is it? I know you must
have good reason or—”

“Because, Mrs. Gray, some trouble has developed in the woods, and we
are exposed to it. I don’t wish to alarm you, and for that reason I
can’t explain just now, so please trust to me and don’t urge me to
give my reasons,” answered the guide, resuming his work.

Grace directed a quick glance at the sky, and Elfreda Briggs, now at
her side, did likewise. The stars were clear white, and a light
breeze was stirring the tops of the big pine trees.

“Grace, what do you make of it?” questioned Miss Briggs.

“Nothing, J. Elfreda. Mr. White is an experienced guide, so let’s
hustle and pack for a move.”

Emma Dean, who had dressed hurriedly, was now importuning the guide
to tell her what it was he feared.

“If you will only tell me, I will demonstrate over it, and you will
see how quickly the danger, or whatever it may be, will pass,” she
said.

“Pardon me, Miss Dean, I am too busy to talk. Please get yourself
ready for riding as quickly as possible,” replied Mr. White.

“Oh, very well!” Emma elevated her chin and walked away.

“Go on! Demonstrate! I know Ham is willing to try most anything
once,” urged Stacy Brown.

“If Mr. White tried you once, I am quite certain a second trial
would be unnecessary, Stacy,” retorted Emma.

“Wow!” muttered Stacy.

“If my Hippy says it is all right I am satisfied,” spoke up Nora
Wingate, giving Hippy a playful pat as he passed her.

“How demonstrate?” wondered Hippy. “Is this another of your fads?
You have been ‘concentrating,’ ‘reading nature,’ and doing goodness
knows how many other crazy things, on several recent journeys.”

“Mine is not a fad, Hippy,” replied Emma with dignity. “What you
call ‘fads’ are simply demonstrations of Truth.”

“Such as Arline Thayer put over on you last year,” chuckled Stacy
Brown, to which Miss Dean deigned no reply.

“It is too bad that poor Arline’s health will not permit her being
with us this year,” murmured Grace.

“Demonstrating,” resumed Emma thoughtfully, “is to breathe in
harmony, permitting no inharmonious thoughts to enter your being.”

“Meaning what?” persisted Hippy Wingate teasingly.

“Meaning, sir, that if you will think hard in the right way,
believing with all your might that certain things will come out as
you wish them to, you will find that they will.”

“Good! I’ll just demonstrate a million dollars into my pocket
between now and morning,” promised Stacy.

Hamilton White gave the Overlanders a quick glance of appraisal, and
nodded to himself. He admitted that perhaps he had not at first
formed the proper estimate of the party he was guiding through the
forests and mountains of the rugged state of Washington. All hands,
with the possible exception of Stacy, began work, and in less than
an hour the camp had been struck and the equipment loaded on the
ponies, the embers of the cook fire having been well soaked with
water.

The girls of the party were still trying to solve the mystery of
their hurried departure as they mounted and started away with Mr.
White in the lead. They soon found themselves too fully occupied to
give thought to anything other than to dodging trees and low-hanging
limbs, for the forest was very dark. Hippy Wingate brought up the
rear, Stacy Brown in the middle of the line of riders, grumbling and
complaining with every jolt of the pony, now and then dozing off in
his saddle but suddenly awakening as a tree-trunk scraped his shin
or a bough smote him in the face.

After an hour of uncomfortable riding the guide called a halt, and,
strapping on his climbers, began climbing a tree. He was out of
sight in a few seconds. In the meantime, Grace, gazing up to the
skies, noticed that the stars had now lost their whiteness and had
taken on a faded tint. This puzzled her. She did not know how to
interpret the change, unless, perhaps, it was caused by fog.

“Did you solve the mystery, Mr. White?” called Emma in her sweetest
voice as the guide stepped to the ground and began removing his
climbers, for Emma had already attached herself to Hamilton White as
a man worth while. “What did you discover?”

“Principally atmosphere, Miss Dean,” was the noncommittal reply.

“I think you are real mean,” pouted Emma. “I am angry with you. Some
persons think it is clever to make a mystery of everything, and—”

“Oh, demonstrate over it,” advised Stacy wearily. “It’s only
light-headed persons who thus reason.”

“Indeed! That accounts for some of your peculiarities,” Emma came
back quickly. By this time the Overlanders were laughing over the
sparring of Emma Dean and Stacy Brown.

“Please get under way,” directed the guide, vaulting into his
saddle. Grace and Elfreda took up positions behind him, and the
journey through the somber forest again began. It continued on until
about an hour before daybreak, when, in the faint light, the two
girls observed the guide moisten a finger on his lips and hold it
up, slowly turning the finger from side to side.

Grace wondered, and did the same several times, observed
questioningly by her companion.

“What is it?” whispered Miss Briggs.

“I—I’m not certain,” answered Grace a little lamely.

“This suspense is killing me,” cried Emma, joining the two girls.
“Unless my curiosity is gratified, I surely shall expire.”

“Why don’t you do what you threatened to do, demonstrate over the
situation?” demanded Elfreda laughingly.

“Hamilton doesn’t like me to,” returned Miss Dean flushing.

“So? That is the way the wind blows,” chuckled Elfreda, and the
girls laughed heartily.

“Hamilton!” murmured Grace. “It seems to me that matters are
progressing rather rapidly, Emma dear. Here we have been out less
than two days on our annual vacation in the saddle, and you are
calling our handsome guide by his first name. I am amazed at you.
I—”

Ham White threw up a hand as a signal that they were to halt. Day
was dawning, and the waving plumes of the tall pines were now quite
plainly visible from below.

“Stop here and take a light breakfast. Better not unpack anything. I
will be back in a few minutes,” said the guide. “These are orders,”
he flung back over his shoulder as he rode rapidly away.

“It seems to me that our guide is rather bossy,” observed Nora
Wingate.

“He isn’t!” protested Emma indignantly. “He is the finest man I ever
knew.”

The others looked at each other and burst out laughing; then they
began teasing Emma as they ate breakfast standing beside their
ponies. Mr. White returned ere they had finished their light meal. A
quick, comprehensive glance showed him that his orders had been
obeyed.

“You people think me an alarmist, I know, but the fact is I did not
wish to alarm you until I was certain. Now that I have been able to
get a clear observation, I know.”

“The worst is yet to come,” grumbled Stacy.

“Yes. You always bring this outfit bad luck,” retorted Emma.

“Please, please, children!” begged Grace. “What is it, Mr. White?”

“We are in the direct path of a forest fire!”

There followed a moment’s silence, then Hippy spoke up.

“What is the chance of our getting away from it?” he asked.

“I am coming to that, and—”

“Then the question seems to be, how much time have we to get out of
the way of this fire?” questioned Grace.

The guide said that neither he nor any one else could answer that
question.

“A forest fire is a sneaking demon,” he declared. “Sometimes one
sees no fire at all, then again it seems as if the whole universe
were ablaze. As a rule, persons who are caught in forest fires never
realize it until the fire has leaped upon them. This fire, so far,
is the kind you do see. Look up!”

All eyes were turned upwards. They saw that the sky was covered with
a yellow haze. The haze seemed low. Birds were winging their way
northward, flying swiftly, and there were rustlings farther out in
the forest, and sounds of unseen creatures hurrying.

“I wish Tom were here,” breathed Grace. Tom Gray, her much-loved
husband, now a well-known forestry engineer, was somewhere off in
that vast forest, making a survey for the government. Grace uttered
a fervent prayer for his safety.

“I believe the fire is still some hours away, but the breeze is in
our direction, and bids fair to hold all day. By striking off to the
eastward and making good time, we have an excellent chance of
getting to higher rocky ground where we shall probably be safe,” was
the guide’s prediction.

“_Alors!_ Let’s go,” urged J. Elfreda Briggs, with a touch of her
old-time lightness of spirit.

“That is what I am getting at. I can direct you so that you folks
ought to make it, but I dislike leaving you,” added Mr. White.

“Leaving us!” exclaimed Emma.

“Yes. More than half a day’s ride from here is a village, a forest
mountain village, with women and children, who, perhaps, will never
know their peril until too late. It is known as Silver Creek, named
from the stream that flows through it, a stream that for about half
of the year is a swollen torrent—water icy cold, coming from the
mountain peaks in the north. In any event, they will need help, and
it is my duty to get there as quickly as possible. Lieutenant, will
you take it upon yourself to lead your party to safety, and let me
go on?”

“That—that is for the girls to answer,” replied Hippy gravely,
turning to Grace and her companions.

“Help will be needed at Silver Creek, you think, Mr. White?”
questioned Grace.

“Yes. All they can get.”

“Girls, I think we, too, know where our duty lies, do we not?” she
asked evenly.

“Yes!” was the quick reply from Elfreda and Nora and Emma.

“We are going with you, Mr. White,” announced Grace.

“Oh, help!” wailed Stacy.

A moment later the Overland party was riding at top speed, following
closely on the heels of the guided pony, knowing that upon their
speed in reaching their destination many lives might depend.



                             CHAPTER II

                        IN THE DEMON’S GRIP


“Whew! The weather is getting hotter and hotter up here!” exclaimed
Stacy, fanning himself with his sombrero as they trotted along.
“Does it always get this way up here?”

“Sometimes,” answered the guide, with a grim smile.

The others of the party who saw the smile understood.

“Hamilton, you don’t mean it is the heat coming from the forest that
we feel, do you?” questioned Miss Dean.

The guide nodded and urged his pony ahead at a more rapid pace. The
others were keeping up a continual chatter, laughing and joking, and
Ham White wondered if they fully realized the peril that was
stalking them. Mr. White did not yet know the young people he was
guiding. Nor did they know him, which fact Elfreda Briggs voiced
when she spoke to Grace on the subject as they were jogging along.

“There is something about Mr. White that I can’t interpret,” she
said.

“And that is?” demanded Grace, regarding her companion with
twinkling eyes.

“That is just it; I don’t know. I do know that Emma has an awful
crush on him, though I am positive that Mr. White doesn’t know it.”

“It is nothing new with Emma, is it?” answered Grace laughingly.
“Let me see, how many men has the dear girl been in love with since
we went to France for war work with our college unit?”

“Oh, I lost the count a long time ago. What is that?”

“Snow. Look at the snow!” shouted Stacy, pointing to a shower of
white flakes that was sifting down over them.

“Oh, it can’t be possible!” wondered Nora Wingate.

“Yes, snow, and the temperature a hundred in the shade,” declared
Stacy. “This is a fine climate. I feel cooler just at sight of those
beautiful white flakes.”

“What is it, Ham?” called Hippy.

“Ashes!” answered the guide. “Ride hard!”

The Overlanders understood now. It was ashes from the forest fire
that was following on their trail, and no further urging was
necessary to keep them going as fast as they could force their
horses. In a short time they were free from the feathery shower and
the air seemed fresher, though they occasionally caught a faint odor
of smoke. The Overlanders felt a certain relief, believing that they
had thrown off their pursuer, but Hamilton White felt no such
assurance. That taint of smoke told him more than the shower of
ashes had told him. It meant that the fire was creeping rather than
blazing high, and he knew that a creeping forest fire was a much to
be dreaded enemy. One never knew when or where to look for it, and
it had an uncanny habit of swooping down on one when least looked
for, and devouring. Ham increased his pace.

No stop had been made in that long ride, except once to let the
sweating ponies drink from a cold mountain stream, and about
mid-afternoon the guide called back that they were nearing Silver
Creek village. The party caught their first glance at the creek,
whose shining surface indicated that it had been well named. It was
silvery, but ere they had followed it long, little waves of
mud-colored water were leaping up.

There had been a severe storm in the mountains within a day, and the
flood was pouring down on its way to the lowlands. It was soon
roaring so loudly that they had to shout to make themselves heard.

Then the village suddenly burst upon them, a settlement of several
hundred people, with stores and a post office that got its mail
twice a week by a post rider.

The party of riders as they entered the village attracted the entire
attention of the inhabitants, who gathered about, and regarded the
newcomers closely.

“Got anything to eat in this burg?” demanded Stacy Brown, slipping
from his saddle and grinning at the villagers.

“Reckon ye can git something at the store,” answered someone.

“Then me for the store!”

Stacy left his pony and ambled into the general store, where Ham
White and Hippy already had gone. White was just greeting the
postmaster, who owned the place, as Stacy entered.

“Forest fire?” jeered the postmaster, in reply to the guide’s
warning. “Never had any such thing at Silver Creek—never expect to.
Creek yonder will stop any forest fire that ever sprung a spark.
Look at it! Listen to it! I reckon you’ve—”

“Stop it!” commanded White sternly. “I demand the help of the
villagers, and if they don’t make haste this town will be wiped out
before they get started.”

Stacy helped himself liberally from the cracker barrel, listening
wide-eyed to the conversation. So long as the crackers held out he
was well satisfied to have the men talk and keep the storekeeper
occupied.

“Who be ye?” demanded the man.

“I am the guide of this party, and—” Ham whispered to the
storekeeper.

“Eh? Oh, well, if that’s the case I reckon we’ve got to go through
the motions of stopping a fire that ain’t. What do ye propose to
do?”

“Call these people together and tell them to get their axes and
begin to fell trees around the village. I will tell them which ones
to cut. Then I want them to help us backfire the grass around the
village; get out every pail and pan in the place. If there are any
barrels here, fill them with water. Cut boughs to whip out the fire
and keep it from getting away from us while we are backfiring. My
party will help. Have you seen any rangers here within a day or so?”

“No. Bud Carver was passing through about a week ago, and he said—”

“Never mind what he said. Get out and tell those people what they
are to do—”

White was interrupted by a growl from the storekeeper, who had
grabbed Stacy by the collar and separated him from the cracker
barrel.

“Here, ye young thief—”

“Don’t you call me a thief!” protested Stacy. “I am paying for what
I get. I’d have paid in advance, but you were busy and I didn’t want
to interrupt you,” explained the fat boy lamely. “Here’s five cents,
and that is more than the whole barrel is worth. I’ll bet you have
had them here ever since Washington stopped being a territory—in
name.”

Uttering a growl, the storekeeper stalked out to the porch and waved
the people to him. Hippy Wingate grasped Stacy by an arm and
propelled him from the store.

“It is fortunate for you, young man, that there was nothing to eat
in the postoffice part of the place, or you would have helped
yourself and got in trouble with the United States Government,”
declared Hippy.

The others of the party had led their ponies up to the porch and
were standing beside them, waiting for orders from the guide, each
one listening attentively while the storekeeper told the villagers
what Hamilton White had directed him to say.

A loud laugh followed the remarks.

“Ain’t goin’ to burn no grass ’round here! That’s stock grass fer
the cows and the hosses next winter,” warned one.

“The grass is going to be burned, and if you don’t do it we shall do
it ourselves. If we fail, the forest fire will do it and take in the
village at the same time,” warned the guide.

“Show me a forest fire and I’ll think about it,” demanded the man.

“You have a nose. Can’t you smell it?” retorted Hippy Wingate.

The villager laughed.

“That smoke is from a bush fire on Bald Mountain where a feller is
clearing a pa’cel of ground fer a cabin,” jeered the villager.

“The breeze doesn’t happen to be blowing from the direction of Bald
Mountain, my man,” reminded White. “It is coming from the opposite
direction. If you will use your brains, provided you have any, you
will find that the air from the south on your face is hotter by
several degrees than it is from the other direction. Get your axes
and the other things that Mr. Skinner has for us.”

Still unconvinced, the man shook his head, and refused.

“Tie your horses, Overlanders! We will backfire ourselves,” called
White.

“Ye’ll get a charge of buckshot in yer carcass if ye do!” threatened
the mountaineer.

“Try it!” suggested Ham White, giving the man a long, steady look in
the eyes. The protesting villager melted away.

At White’s direction, the storekeeper got out all the pails in his
store, which, together with axes and grub-hoes, were cast out on the
porch.

“You ladies must keep back out of the way,” directed Ham.

“We shall do our part, Mr. White,” answered Grace. “Give us
something to do.”

“Very well,” answered the guide after slight hesitation. “You may
fill all these pails with water and distribute them along the edge
of the village on the north side.”

Boughs, green and tough, were quickly cut by White, who then
directed Hippy to start backfiring, which means firing towards the
approaching forest fire, the start of which is always a risk—the
risk of its getting away and burning that which the fire fighters
are seeking to protect. Only a small section at the edge of the
forest was fired at first, Ham White standing guard with Stacy,
ready to leap to the danger point if a blaze should begin creeping
towards the village.

Not a villager lifted a hand to assist, but loud protests were
voiced when the pungent smoke from the burning grass settled over
them.

“You will be in luck if you swallow nothing worse than smoke,” Ham
White flung back at them.

There was something in this lithe, upstanding man of the forest that
held the villagers back from taking matters into their own hands and
driving the intruders from the place. He was everywhere, directing
Hippy where to fire, advising the girls where to pour water,
prodding Stacy Brown to keep that worthy from sitting down and
shirking his share of the labor.

Perspiration was standing out on every face, and every face was red
from the heat of the flames that were rapidly eating their way
towards the big trees in the background. Ham White wanted to fell
those trees, but he could not do it alone, nor would the villagers
do it for him, so he did what could be done, and was glad that he
had such ready workers as the Overland Riders proved themselves to
be. They were resourceful, too, and soon understanding what the
guide was seeking to accomplish, went to it without further
instruction.

“Miss Briggs!” he called, and Elfreda was at his side in a moment.

“What is it, Mr. White?”

“You are a level-headed woman—”

“Thank you,” answered Elfreda smilingly, mopping the perspiration on
her face into sooty streaks.

“I wish you would go around the right-hand side of this burn. The
smoke is blowing towards us now, so you will get little odor from
it. Go into the forest a little way and watch and listen and sniff.
Watch the ground, not the sides. Any indications of fire that you
discover, hear or smell, let me know instantly.”

“Thank you, Mr. White. Carrying water is not particularly inspiring.
I am glad to do something that will occupy me more absorbingly. How
shall I get back here if you fire the right-hand side you just
mentioned?”

“This side will be burned off by then, but don’t stand in one spot
many seconds at a time when crossing it. You might burn your feet.
Be careful that you don’t get lost. I trust you to take care of
yourself.”

For a few brief seconds they held each other’s eyes, then Elfreda
turned and walked briskly away.

“Please, Hamilton, won’t you come back out of danger,” begged Emma,
slipping an arm through his at this juncture. “I am terribly
nervous, but I am demonstrating for you with every fiber of my
being.”

“Go demonstrate on the villagers—do something worth while,” advised
Stacy sourly.

“I will after this is finished—I’ll demonstrate over you,” retorted
Emma.

The guide made no reply, but turned back to his work. Elfreda had
already disappeared from sight. Hers was a responsible post, and
none knew that so well as Hamilton White himself, though Elfreda
began to realize it when she found herself alone in the forest. With
every sense on the alert, Elfreda devoted herself to following Mr.
White’s instructions. She could catch faint whiffs of smoke from the
south, but could see no fire. At first, she thought the odor was
from their own backfire, but after a little she was able to
distinguish a difference in the odor coming from the south. It was
more pungent, more overpowering, seeming to possess more substance,
more body, than did the faint smoke from the grass fire that reached
her nostrils.

“I wonder if I had better run back and report? No. I will stay here
until I have something definite. I may be imagining.”

Elfreda was now so far back in the forest that she could not hear
the crackling of the grass backfire that Ham White had started, and
she could but faintly hear the flow of Silver Creek. Soon a few
scattering “snowflakes” began falling about her, and from the
previous experience she knew what these meant. There was fire to the
south, though it might be many miles away. Elfreda was not
sufficiently familiar with forest fires to interpret these
indications with certainty.

A low, rumbling noise, that might have been distant thunder, caused
her to listen attentively.

“It might have been a train,” she murmured, then instantly recalled
that there was no railway within fifty miles.

A breeze sprang up from the south and the tops of the trees bent
under it ever so little. Then suddenly Elfreda Briggs witnessed a
sight that, for the instant, paralyzed her—that prevented her from
moving a muscle.

What, at first sight, looked to be a shining serpent, was wriggling
toward her, now and then breathing a little spurt of smoke. The
“serpent” disappeared, and she then saw others, all wriggling,
twisting, turning, disappearing, and suddenly appearing in another
spot a few yards away.

“Merciful heaven, what is it?” cried the Overland girl.

A little pine tree, not more than two yards in height, suddenly
became the victim of one of these shining “serpents” and burst into
crackling flames and was consumed in a few minutes.

“Fire!” cried the watcher. Elfreda turned, startled, and fled
towards the “burn” that her companions had made.

They saw her coming on fleet feet. Hamilton White waved to her to
keep to the right, for the grass was still holding fire on the
course she was following, but Elfreda took the gesture for a wave of
welcome, and waved back. In the next second she saw the guide
running towards her, followed by Grace.

Elfreda darted ahead, and was nearly at the edge of the burn when
she came up with them. To her amazement, the guide picked her up,
then threw her flat on the ground. He rolled her over and over in
the blackened ashes of the grass, Grace assisting by vigorous pats,
for Elfreda’s skirt had caught fire.

The blaze was out in a moment, and now the girl began to feel the
sting of burns. Assisted to her feet Elfreda was a sight, her face,
neck and arms black, little patches of white showing here and there,
accentuating the blackness of the rest.

“Quick, take her somewhere and look her over. Get oil from the store
and put on her burns if she has any. Be lively. I—”

“The fiery serpents are there!” gasped Elfreda.

“What!” demanded the guide.

“They’re there, darting all around just beyond the edge of the burn
in the forest. I don’t know—I think—”

“Take her away!” commanded White sternly.

The guide bounded across the burned space and plunged into the
forest. He came back a few moments later, even more rapidly than he
had gone out, never stopping until he reached the store porch.

Something in Hamilton White’s attitude or in his expression silenced
the villagers who had gone into spasms of laughter at Elfreda
Briggs’ plight.

“Men, the forest fire is yonder, less than an eighth of a mile
away!” he shouted. “It may not be too late to save the village, but
I think it is. Get your women and children down to the bank of the
creek. Bring water and wet down everything. Work, you thick-heads!”
There were murmurs of objection. A puff of hot air was driven
through the village, and a few moments later a blue haze settled
over it. A great silence fell over the people. It was broken by a
woman’s scream.

“Fire!” yelled a man.

“Fire! Fire! Fire!”

The chorus was taken up by a hundred voices, and panic seized upon
the inhabitants of Silver Creek.



                            CHAPTER III

                           A RAIN OF FIRE


“Wet down the roofs of all the houses. Keep your heads or you’re
goners!” shouted Ham White.

The Overlanders had grabbed pails and filled them from the creek,
running with them to points where water soon would be needed. Stacy,
however, with his usual disinclination to work, took it upon himself
to boss the villagers, which he did very well. He appeared to be not
at all disturbed by the peril that menaced them.

The sky was now heavily overcast. To add to the gloom, daylight was
fading with the prospect of a night of terror for the people of
Silver Creek. The air grew hot and the pungent odor of smoke sent
many into paroxysms of coughing.

Hamilton White, cool and collected, was giving terse orders here and
there, and working with tireless energy. Hot puffs of wind drove
through the village streets, and that, he knew, was the vanguard of
what was to come.

Men were working under difficulties but to good purpose, for the
guide was directing the work of covering roofs with wet blankets,
which were wet down as fast as water could be brought. The smoke
grew more dense, more suffocating with the moments, and, somewhere
off to the south, a roar like that of an approaching storm was
plainly heard. Ham White, hearing, understood.

“Look! Oh, look!” cried Nora Wingate.

Great tongues of flame were seen leaping into the air high above the
tree-tops of the forest. Sparks and burning embers were now falling
in the village streets. Overhead the air itself seemed to be on
fire. Sheets of flame were curling and rolling through the forest
like breakers on a reef. At one moment the sky would be lighted up
brilliantly, and in the next deep, impenetrable darkness covered
all.

The terror of the villagers increased, and the Overland girls, on
their way to and fro for water, did what they could to calm the
women, but without great success. To add to the terror and the
peril, the village was now surrounded with fire on three sides. It
seemed to be growing more threatening with the moments, and the
clouds of soot became denser.

“Oh, how terrible!” cried Nora to Grace Harlowe.

“Yes, but one of the most tremendous spectacles I have ever seen,”
answered Grace, whose face, like all others about her, was so black
as to be almost unrecognizable.

In all the excitement, however, the two girls found time to observe
and marvel. They saw streamers of fire appear to die out, and then
charge forward toward the village at race-horse speed, threatening
to envelop and devour it.

The villagers started to run as their panic increased.

“Stay where you are! You are safer here!” Ham White shouted in
warning to all.

Houses were now catching fire, despite all efforts, and men worked
in a frenzy, for, if the fire once got a good start in the village,
they now knew that it would be destroyed. Some of the cooler heads
among the women lent much assistance to the Overlanders, but most of
them were too terrified to give any assistance at all.

“Some of these women surely will perish unless something is done at
once,” said Miss Briggs. “Suggest something, Grace, for the love of
heaven.”

“The creek! Help me herd them down on its bank,” answered Grace with
ready resource. “Nora! You and Emma must assist. Don’t hesitate.
Jump to it! There are men enough to carry water. Lives are of more
account than houses.”

The girls sprang to their task with energy. It was not an easy task
to which they had assigned themselves, and the first of the women
sent to the stream had to be forced there. There were choking
protests, but the Overland girls gave no heed, as there was no time
for argument, and seconds wasted might mean loss of lives.

“If your clothes catch fire, duck into the creek,” was the advice
shouted over and over again to the village women by Grace and her
companions. “Keep close to the shore or you may be swept off your
feet and carried downstream.”

The latter part of the Overlanders’ advice was not heeded in every
instance, and now and then one of the girls found it necessary to
haul ashore some woman who was in danger of being carried away by
the current.

As the heat in the village increased in intensity, shivering women
and children were standing in the creek’s cold waters, protecting
themselves from the burning air by covering their heads with wetted
articles of clothing.

Another peril found them there. Logs, broken, charred tree-limbs,
were rolling and tumbling down with the stream. Something hit
Elfreda, who was dragging a woman to safety, and pushed the girl
under. Struggle as she would, Miss Briggs was unable for some time
to extricate herself, though she did manage to keep her head above
water. Her skirts had caught on the branches of what proved to be
the bushy top of a tree, and she was swept away on the current.

After what seemed hours Elfreda succeeded in freeing herself, and
permitted herself to float while she rested, breathing hard from her
exertions.

The village of Silver Creek had disappeared in the distance. A
roaring sound came to Elfreda’s ears, which she soon discovered was
caused by the rushing current of a turbulent river.

“Mercy! What am I coming to?” cried the girl in her extremity.
Elfreda was frightened, but by no means panic-stricken. “Oh, this
surely is the end!” gasped the girl as she found herself suddenly
whirled into wild waters.

It was Roaring River into which Miss Briggs had been swept from the
creek, and now her last hope seemed gone, for the stream was wide
and full of floating logs and brush, and here and there dark objects
brushed past her. The girl drifted on and on, chilled and exhausted,
but still possessing a strength of will that kept her from letting
go, as many another would have done in her circumstances.

Of how long she had been in the water Elfreda had not the slightest
idea, but it seemed to have been hours, when suddenly she was halted
by the roots of a tree on the bank of the river, from which the dirt
had been washed away.

Grasping at the roots, Miss Briggs clung there resting. After a
little she dragged herself over the roots and finally reached soft
yielding earth.

“Thank God!” breathed Elfreda fervently, and stretching out she sank
into a deep sleep of exhaustion.

When Miss Briggs awakened from that sleep the sun was shining, but
there was a yellow haze in the air, and the odor of smoke was wafted
to her on the morning breeze. Birds were singing in the trees, and
the earth seemed at peace.

“J. Elfreda, you have done it this time!” she rebuked herself. “Why
did you ever go into that terrible water? Oh, what has become of the
others? This will never do. I must do something!” she cried, rousing
herself and standing up to look about her.

What to do, was the perplexing question. It was then that Elfreda
discovered a trail. Trees along the trail had been blazed, but the
blazes were not new. The path had been used frequently, she
observed, and led into the forest. For that the Overland girl was
thankful.

After brief reflection, Miss Briggs decided to follow the trail that
Fate had offered to her. It must lead somewhere, she reasoned. Had
Elfreda been more familiar with life in the forest she would have
known that this was either a trapper’s or a fisherman’s trail, but
to her all forest blazes looked alike, so she plodded on slowly,
keeping a sharp lookout for slashes on sides of the trees, and for
signs of human habitation.

When an hour had passed, and the trail still led on, the girl began
to lose heart. She sank down to rest and think, but as she peered
underneath the low-hanging branches of under-brush and saplings,
Elfreda made a discovery that set her pulses beating. There, less
than fifty yards ahead of her, she saw a shack, and about it was a
hedge of evergreens that undoubtedly had been placed there by human
hands.

“Saved!” cried Elfreda, springing to her feet, forgetful of the
aches and pains of a few moments before.

The Overland girl caught her breath suddenly, and a rush of color
leaped to her cheeks, for Elfreda Briggs had made another discovery,
and with it came the realization that a most amazing thing had
occurred.

Uttering a shrill little cry, Elfreda started forward at a run.



                             CHAPTER IV

                           THE LOST CABIN


“The village is saved!”

Hamilton White, blackened, red-eyed, his clothing scorched, made
that announcement as, at the break of day, he had opportunity to
look about him.

“Yes, and not a life lost,” agreed Grace Harlowe, herself worn out
and disheveled. “It is a miracle. Mr. White, they should get down on
their knees to thank you for what you have done for Silver Creek.
Without your resourcefulness—Well, there would be nothing left of
the village or people.”

“Thank you!” Ham White bowed and grinned through the soot on his
face. “The credit is due wholly to the assistance of the
Overlanders. In other words, the shoe is on the other foot.”

“Well, what next?” demanded Hippy Wingate coming up, Emma Dean
following, and taking her place beside the guide.

“Something to eat if we can find it, then to get out of here and to
dodge what is left of the fire,” replied the guide. “Suppose we go
down to the creek and wash our faces.”

“Get out of here!” jeered Hippy. “With what? I haven’t seen anything
that looked like a horse since yesterday. I think our animals must
have gone downstream, and that we are all fixed for a long hike to
some place where fresh mounts can be had.”

“Oh, Hamilton! Is it really true that the ponies have run away?”
begged Emma, linking arms with the guide.

“Too true, little bird,” chuckled Hippy. “Thank you, Mr. Wingate.
Being a bird is better than being a donkey,” answered Emma.

“And hop from bough to bough, and chatter and then chatter some
more,” finished Hippy.

“While a donkey can only bray, and then bray some more,” was Emma’s
parting shot, which brought a shout of laughter from the begrimed
Overlanders.

Hippy made a gesture of helpless resignation, and turned to the
guide to ask what they had better do.

“We will find the stock somewhere to the northeast, provided they
have been neither burned nor drowned. Stock have an instinct that
tells them to seek high ground,” said the guide. “By the way, is
Miss Briggs in one of the houses resting?”

“Elfreda!” cried Nora.

The girls looked at each other with the same question in their eyes.
None had seen her since the evening before, and in the excitement
and confusion she had not been missed.

“Girls, girls! Run!” cried Grace. “Go to every house in the village.
She must be here! She must be here! Hippy! Mr. White! Please help
us.”

There was instant compliance, and half an hour later the Overlanders
met in front of the post office. Grace was the only one of the party
that had any information to convey. Grace had found the woman whom
Miss Briggs had tried to rescue, and ascertained that the last that
woman had seen of her was when Elfreda had given her a vigorous push
towards the shore.

For the first time since the Overlanders had known him, Ham White
lost his composure. He steadied himself in a moment. Leaping to the
steps of the store he shouted to the villagers that were still
thronging the streets.

“Men!” he said. “These splendid young women have helped to save your
town and your women and children. One of the young women, Miss
Briggs, is missing. She _must_ be found, and I want you men to form
a searching party. Get your breakfasts, but never mind anything
else. If you are men, which I believe you to be, you won’t have to
be urged. I’ll tell you what to do. Will you go?”

“Yes!” The answer was a shout. And Hamilton White smiled.

The guide directed the girls to steady themselves, and eat. As for
himself, he wanted nothing to eat except what he could carry with
him and munch on his way. White sent one searching party down each
side of the creek, heading the party on the left side himself, with
Lieutenant Hippy Wingate leading the party on the right.

“Do not worry if we aren’t back as quickly as you might hope for, as
we shall be looking for stock—for our horses—at the same time,” he
urged.

“Oh, Hamilton, do be careful of yourself,” begged Emma as the men
were starting away. “I shall demonstrate for you all the time you
are away.”

Grace linked an arm in Emma’s.

“My dear, how long have you known Mr. White?” she asked gently.

“It seems as though I have always known him,” answered Emma
dreamily.

“As a matter of fact, you have known him less than a week. It is
true we took him on the recommendation of the banker at Cresco,
where we made our start for the Cascade Range of Washington State,
and we know him to be a man of intelligence, a brave, resourceful
fellow, but there is still something about him that I do not
understand. I don’t believe he is what he represents himself to be,
but, if we should ever go out again, he is the man I should like to
have lead us. Just the same, that is no reason why you should be so
forward. Emma, well-bred girls are not supposed to wear their hearts
on their sleeves. Be a good fellow, which you are, but be
dignified,” admonished Grace smilingly.

“I am and I do,” answered Miss Dean haughtily.

“Now let us forget our little lecture, and do what we can to assist
the women of the village to get set, so to speak,” suggested Grace.
“We must not worry about Elfreda. I believe we shall find her and
that she is as safe at this moment as we are.”

“I’ll demonstrate over her. I’ll keep saying to myself, ‘Elfreda is
well and happy. No harm can come to her because only error can mean
harm,’” promised Emma, bubbling and laughing.

“Come,” said Grace. “Demonstrate after we have given some material
aid to these distressed people.”

It was about this time that Elfreda reached the shack in the forest
and made the discovery that so startled her. Elfreda’s amazement was
caused by the sight of a human being, sitting on a stump near the
shack. The human being was short and fat. He was eating from a can
of baked beans, his big eyes regarding Miss Briggs soulfully, his
cheeks puffed out with the beans.

“Stacy!” cried Elfreda. “Oh, Stacy Brown! Am I dreaming?”

“Mebby,” mumbled the fat boy, digging more beans from the can.

Elfreda ran to him, and in her joy at seeing her Overland companion,
she threw her arms about Stacy. In doing so she knocked the can of
beans from his hands, and the rest of the contents was spilled on
the ground.

“Now see what you’ve done,” wailed the fat boy. “And the beanery
fifty miles away.”

“Never mind the beans. What is this place?”

“Lost cabin,” answered Stacy promptly.

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. I just guessed it. Hungry?”

“Famished,” answered J. Elfreda.

“Some more canned stuff under the floor of the shack,” he informed
her, waving a hand towards the cabin, and picking up the spilled
beans one by one, placing each individual bean carefully in his
mouth.

“First tell me how you got here?” demanded Miss Briggs.

“Came down on a Roaring River Liner—other words, a log. Where’s the
party?”

“Trying to put out the fire at Silver Creek. Shall we try to find
our way back?”

“What! With all that food cached in the shack?” demanded Stacy
almost indignantly. “So long as the food holds out and no fire comes
along, I stay right here. I know a good thing when I find it. After
I get enough to keep my strength up I am going down to the river and
catch some fish. Then we will have a real spread.”

“Hopeless!” exclaimed Elfreda. “I am glad to see you, though. I
think you are right about remaining here for the day. When the fire
is under control our folks will search for us, and Mr. White will
pick up our trail.”

“Yes. I left ‘feetprints’ in the river when the log rolled me off.
Did you ever observe how wonderfully prominent ‘feetprints’ in the
water are, Elfreda?”

Elfreda gave her head a toss and walked to the cabin. It was a
typical forest shack. There was a plain deal table, two chairs, a
bed on the floor and blankets hung over a line. The dishes were
limited, but sufficient for one or two persons. She investigated an
opening in the floor, from which Stacy had lifted the trap door, and
found there a good supply of canned goods, some rope, axes, picks
and shovels.

“A forest ranger’s shack,” she murmured. “Yes, I think that must be
it.” Elfreda helped herself to a can of beans, surveyed it ruefully
and carried it outside.

“Have you the can-opener, Stacy?” she asked.

Stacy shook his head.

“How did you open your cans then?” Several empty cans lay about the
stump on which he was sitting.

“With my teeth. Bit ’em open!” said the fat boy thickly.

“Stacy Brown, you are impossible! I think I know a better way.”
Elfreda got an axe from the shack and attacked the can of beans. She
made a bad job of it, and most of the beans that were not mashed
flat were scattered about on the ground. These, the fat boy gathered
up carefully and placed in his own can.

“Get another can. I’m busy, but I will open it for you. Girls are so
helpless.”

“I am beginning to agree with you,” answered Miss Briggs, returning
to the cabin for another can. When she came back Stacy removed the
top of the can with his knife, and handed the food to her.

“For this, you buy me a new knife when we reach a store somewhere.
Knives cost money, and I can’t afford to waste mine on girls.”

“You shall have a new knife, and thank you very much for your
courtesy,” returned Elfreda.

Stacy gave her a sidelong glance.

“You look all fagged out. After you finish that can, better go in
and lie down. Besides, it won’t do to overload your stomach so soon
after a bath.”

“Oh, you funny boy!” Elfreda laughed until two tear drops were
sparkling on her brown cheeks. “If you will catch some fish I
promise to cook them for you, and we will have a real spread. Yes, I
will take a nap, for I am completely fagged. Did you discover any
coffee in the shack?”

“Uh-huh. I didn’t have time to make coffee. I’m too busy to do so
now.”

Miss Briggs went to the shack, spread out the blankets for
inspection, and found them clean; so she laid them on the bed and
stretched out for a rest. Until then she had not realized how weary
she was, and, in a few moments, fell into a deep sleep.

After a time Stacy took a nap by the stump, from which he did not
awaken until late in the afternoon. He did not know what time it
was, his watch having stopped on his wet ride from the village of
Silver Creek. The fat boy decided to go fishing. There was a bamboo
pole, hook and line in the shack, and this he got, after taking a
squint at the sleeping Elfreda.

“Girls are such sleepy-heads,” muttered the boy, as he shouldered
the pole and went out, making all the noise he could, all of which
failed to awaken Miss Briggs. On the way to the stream he looked for
a rotting stump, one of which he eventually found, and with his
hunting knife managed to dig out some nice white grubs for bait.

“Humph! They do look almost good enough to eat,” he muttered,
surveying some of the grubs in the palm of his hand. “I don’t blame
the fish for liking them.”

Shortly after that the fat boy sat down on the bank with his line in
the water, thoroughly at peace with the world, and content to remain
where he was so long as the food held out.

Stacy had not been fishing long when he heard a horse approaching,
but did not turn his head, his eyes remaining fixed on the fish line
that caused a little ripple in the stream as it split the current.

“Hello, boy!” called a voice behind him.

“Same to you,” returned Stacy.

“Fishing?”

“No. Just teaching this grub how to swim.”

“Say, you! You’re too fresh. I’ve a good mind to throw you into the
river,” growled the newcomer.

“Better not. I’ll get wet.”

“Where do you come from?” demanded the man, his voice sharp and
incisive.

“Up Silver Creek way. I came down here on the river packet to get
away from the forest fire.”

“I mean, where do you live?”

“Right here at the present moment. I don’t look as if I were dead,
do I?”

“You may be soon if you ain’t more civil. What happened to the
village?”

“Some people got singed, others got wet. I got a little of both
before I shipped.”

The man got down from his horse and stepped around where he could
see the fat boy’s face. Stacy gave him a slow, sidelong glance, then
turned his attention to his line. He had a bite, and a few seconds
later he landed a fish.

“Huh!” grunted the stranger. “Anybody with you?”

“A few grubs in my pocket and myself, that’s all. Who are you?”

“None of your business!”

Stacy regarded the stranger blinkingly. The fellow was not a
pleasant-looking man, and a scar across one cheek gave him a still
more evil look. The horse he rode, Stacy observed, was a fine animal
and looked as though it could develop a lot of speed.

“Where’d you get the nag?” questioned the boy.

“Bought him. Didn’t think I stole him, did you?” demanded the man
indignantly.

Stacy shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply. He resumed his
fishing.

“Let me give you some advice, young fellow. This is no place for
children. You git out of here, and stay out. I’ll be back later, and
if you’re here then I’ll help you out on the run.”

“Thanks,” drawled the fat boy without looking up.

The stranger rode away, and Stacy resumed his fishing. He caught a
fine mess of trout; then the grubs gave out. Being too tired to
return to the shack just then the Overlander decided to take a nap,
which he proceeded to do. Night came on, and Stacy Brown was still
asleep. So was Elfreda Briggs, in the shack. Miss Briggs had not
moved since she lay down hours before.

It was late when she finally suddenly roused herself and sat up. The
cabin was enshrouded in darkness. Peering out, she saw that it was
night.

“Stacy!” she called. There was no response. Stacy Brown was sleeping
peacefully on the bank of Roaring River.

Elfreda wondered what had awakened her so suddenly. Then all at once
she understood. She heard a horse approaching. The animal stopped
just beyond the cabin. Miss Briggs did not go to the door, but got
to her feet and listened. She thought she heard someone groan; then
all was silence for a moment.

“Oh!” exclaimed the Overland girl under her breath as the door of
the shack was slowly pushed open. “Who is it?” she cried, with all
the steadiness that she could summon. Miss Briggs reached for her
revolver, but it was not in its holster.

A man staggered in. She could see his figure faintly outlined in the
doorway.

“Help! I’m shot—I’m dying!” groaned the man, and collapsed at the
feet of Elfreda Briggs.



                             CHAPTER V

                         A FRUITLESS QUEST


“Grace! Oh, Grace!”

After several hours of hard work assisting the women of the village
to untangle the confusion of their homes, the contents of most of
which were in the streets, Nora came running in search of Grace
Harlowe.

“What is wrong, Nora?” begged Grace a little fearfully.

“Have you seen Stacy?”

“No. Come to think of it, I have not. Why, I haven’t seen him since
last night, either.”

“Neither has anyone else, so far as I have been able to learn.”

“Are you positive that he did not go out with the men this morning?”
asked Grace.

“They say he did not.”

“Chunky”—as his companions sometimes called him—“is probably asleep
somewhere about,” suggested Emma Dean. “You know what a wonderful
sleeper he is.”

“I doubt it,” answered Grace reflectively. “Was he in the creek?”

Nora said she did not know.

“That makes two of our party that are missing. What are we going to
do?” begged Nora, tears of anxiety springing to her eyes.

“We will search for him in the vicinity of the village. That is all
we can do. If we do not find him we simply shall have to wait until
the men return to-night,” decided Grace.

“If Hamilton were only here he would know what is best,” complained
Emma.

Grace gave her a look of rebuke.

“Mr. White probably will find the boy. He will leave nothing undone,
of that we girls are certain, and we shall have to make the best of
a bad situation, which may not be nearly so bad as it seems,”
comforted Grace. “Come, let us take different directions and search
the village and its immediate vicinity.”

“I have another one to demonstrate over now. I don’t want to
demonstrate over Chunky, but I suppose it wouldn’t be honest not
to,” complained Emma. “This is terrible.”

The girls separated and made a careful search about the village and
out among the trees, as far from the village as they dared to go.
There were still many little smouldering fires, but there was so
little for them to feed upon that they could not spread.

Not a trace of the missing boy did the girls find, though there was
plenty of tragic evidence of the deadly work of the forest fire
everywhere they went. The girls returned, giving up the task.

“We must wait, and go on with our work. It will help to keep our
minds from our worries. My husband would be a great comfort if he
were here, for Tom is ever ready and resourceful,” murmured Grace.

“He is no better than Hamilton,” protested Emma indignantly. “What
Hamilton doesn’t know about everything up here isn’t worth knowing.”

The girls laughed at Emma, who turned away, face flushed and eyes
moist. They busied themselves all the rest of the day, but when
night came on, the searchers had not returned. Shortly after nine
o’clock, however, a shout told the anxious Overlanders that someone
was approaching. It proved to be Hippy Wingate and his party. Hippy
reported that they had not found a trace of Elfreda Briggs. He was
shocked when he learned that Stacy also was missing.

It was an hour later when Hamilton White and his party of searchers
came in. They were leading a bunch of horses.

“We got them all but one, folks,” he cried as the villagers and the
Overlanders crowded about him and his party.

“But Miss Briggs!” wailed Nora Wingate. “Don’t tell me that—”

“She was not found on the left-hand side of the river. We followed
Roaring River down to a point about fifteen miles below here. As you
see, we got all the mounts but one, and that one evidently was swept
away, else he would have been with his mates.”

White was speaking more rapidly than was his wont, and Grace was
regarding him keenly.

“Did you know that Stacy Brown is missing also?” she asked.

The guide regarded her for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “Don’t be disheartened, Mrs. Gray.
To-morrow I shall take the other side of the river and stay out
until I get a definite line on what has happened. It would have been
useless to remain out longer to-night.”

After a little, when he had answered many questions, White beckoned
Grace aside.

“You are a level-headed woman, Mrs. Gray, so I think it best to tell
you what I have discovered. I—”

“I knew you were keeping something back. Tell me. The truth is
better than the suspense.”

“No, I don’t agree with you. I found Miss Briggs’ hat and her
handkerchief on my side of the river. The men with me do not know
this. The current on my side of the stream set into a bend at one
point, then switched over to the right-hand side. That is why I am
going down the right-hand side to-morrow. To me the finding of the
hat is proof that our missing woman was really swept downstream, but
my confidence in Miss Briggs’ cool-headedness is so strong that I
believe she found a way to get out of the river.”

“I hope so,” replied Grace quietly. “By the same token, I think we
shall find Stacy. If he succeeds in finding something to eat, he
will remain where the food is until it is exhausted,” she added with
a little smile.

“Just so,” agreed the guide. “I am more disturbed about possible
peril to Miss Briggs after she escaped from the river.”

“Meaning what?” demanded Grace.

“That there is danger to the north of us—a peril worse than forest
fires or wild beasts.”

“Yes, yes!” urged Grace.

“I mean the Murrays.”

Grace said she never had heard of them.

“They are notorious bandits, cutthroats, robbers, everything that is
vicious. Did Miss Briggs wear any jewels?”

“She did—a diamond ring that is quite valuable, and a jewelled watch
that was presented to her by the French government after she
finished her work there with our college unit in the war.”

“They would kill for less than that!” was the disturbing
announcement of Hamilton White, as he turned abruptly away.

Ham White did not wait until morning to resume his search. After
taking a light supper, and packing some “grub” in his kit bag, he
quietly forded the creek with one of the Overland ponies, then
disappeared in the darkness, headed downstream. Only Lieutenant
Hippy Wingate knew that he had gone. Ham White was headed towards an
adventure that proved to be a thrilling one, both for himself and
others.



                             CHAPTER VI

                         FACING A NEW PERIL


“Sho—Shot!” gasped Elfreda Briggs, as the stranger lay huddled on
the floor where he had fallen. He was breathing heavily, and perhaps
it was this that brought Miss Briggs to herself. After long service
with wounded men in France, she knew what a bullet wound was, and
her first instinct upon recovering from her fright was to give first
aid.

Elfreda had found candles and matches in the cabin, and these she
quickly procured, lighting two candles the better to see her
patient. She peered down at her unexpected guest, a long, lean
figure, his lined, unshaven face ashen from pain and weakness.
Elfreda instantly recognized the symptoms.

“Oh, you poor, poor man!” she cried in a voice full of sympathy, and
placed a folded blanket under his head. Then the Overland girl ran
out to a spring just back of the cabin, returning with a basin of
cold mountain water. First giving the wounded man a drink, she tore
open the faded, worn shirt and bathed his wound, which she knew at
once was a serious one.

This served to rouse the patient a little, and he regarded her with
searching eyes—eyes that were full of pain.

“Tha—ank you. You’re a good girl. What be you doing here?”

“I belong to a party, but was carried down the river from Silver
Creek village when the forest fire reached there. Never mind
that—tell me about yourself.”

“The gang got me—Hawk Murray’s gang. Name’s Sam Petersen, and I’m a
prospector—was a prospector, but I’m done, finished now.”

“Why did they shoot you?”

“For gold, Miss, gold! But I hung on to my horse and got away.
They’ll be here.”

Elfreda begged him not to worry, seeing that the thought of the
Murray gang excited him.

“Promise me, for your own sake, that you will not let them find me
or know that I have been here. If they find out they’ll do the same
by you that they have done by Sam Petersen.”

Miss Briggs caressed the gray head, and moistened his lips with the
cold mountain water. Then, as tenderly as possible, she dragged the
wounded man to the bunk at one corner of the room, where he might be
more comfortable.

“It’s mighty good to have you help me, but tain’t no use. I’ve
staked my last claim and—listen!” Petersen roused himself, and a new
light flashed into his eyes. “I must tell you, and I must do it
quick. Reach in my pocket and take out the diary there. Hide it!
Left hand po—pocket. That’s it.”

Elfreda hesitatingly drew forth a well-worn book, the corners of
which were broken down and the leaves swollen from frequent
thumbing.

“There’s something else there, too. Take that, too; it’s your’n.”

The Overland girl drew forth a small canvas bag, soiled and worn,
and heavy. It was tied at the neck with a buckskin thong, and at his
nod she opened the bag. She saw a handful of nuggets, some worn and
shiny, water-worn as they proved to be, while at the bottom of the
bag was some dust.

“Gold!” murmured Elfreda Briggs. “Is this why they shot you, Mr.
Petersen?”

“Yes, and for what’s in that diary. Mebby you’ve heard of Lost Mine,
a dried-up water course that the Indians say many years ago was
paved with gold.”

Elfreda shook her head.

“Crazy prospectors like Sam Petersen have been hunting for that mine
for more’n twenty-five years. Sam Petersen found it!” The man’s
voice had dropped to a thrilling whisper. A dead silence followed,
broken by the hoot of an owl near the cabin.

Elfreda shivered a little.

“It’s there in the book—all but how to get there. Hawk Murray and
his gang found out that I’d got this bag of dust and nuggets. They
knew I’d been prospecting for just what they’d been trying for a
long time to find, and they believed I’d found it. Hawk and his
bunch trailed me, and we had a shooting match. I downed one of the
gang, but Hawk got me. Lady, I ain’t a bad man—I’m an honest man,
but up here a man’s what he is, and if he ain’t able to shuffle for
himself he’s all set to be shuffled off one day.”

“You are talking too much—exerting too much effort. Be quiet and
rest,” commanded Elfreda.

“I got to talk. I got to talk fast. I ain’t got much more time.
Write down in the book what I got to say. Ready?”

Miss Briggs nodded. “Lost River, north branch, Grandma and the
Children, three peaks dead east—and there’s the bed of Lost River.
In it is gold, shining gold, the promised land and—it’s yours. I
ain’t got no family.”

“I don’t quite understand. Can you make it a little clearer?”

“All yours and—”

“Please don’t talk any more. I want you to rest. You are getting
excited. What is gold compared to a man’s life, Mr. Petersen?”

There was no reply.

Elfreda Briggs glanced at the face, then, leaning over, peered
closer.

“Get rid of the horse—shoot him. They’ll be here soon after daylight
and then—”

That was all. The tired old voice trailed off into nothingness. Sam
Petersen had staked his last claim.

Tears trickled down Elfreda’s cheeks. A thin gray bar of daylight
was now creeping across the cabin floor, and with it came the memory
of the old prospector’s warning: “The Murray gang will be here soon
after daylight”—and then—“Get rid of the horse!”

Realizing that perhaps her own life might hang on following
Petersen’s advice, Miss Briggs sprang up and ran out. Standing a few
yards from the cabin, there was a fine bay mare browsing on the
tender leaves of the hedge. The animal regarded her solemnly, and,
she thought, with a friendly approving look.

“You poor horse! Shoot _you?_ I couldn’t do it, but I am going to
try to hide you,” declared the Overland girl.

Gripping the bridle she led the animal off to the right of the cabin
until she reached a stream. Into this she led the animal for some
distance, and secreted him in a narrow pass that was well hidden.

“I think I will take the saddle and hide that,” reflected Elfreda.
Upon second thought she decided to carry it back and hide it near
the cabin, for she recognized it as a fine Mexican saddle. The
saddle she did secrete in a thick growth of bushes about fifty yards
from the shack.

As she approached the cabin her footsteps became halting.

“What if they should come and find him here? Oh, this is terrible.
Where, where can Stacy be? Why doesn’t he come back?”

It was not a pleasant task that confronted Elfreda Briggs, but she
went to it with lips set, face pale, and heart beating nervously.
She covered the thin old frame of Sam Petersen, and over it laid the
blankets.

“Oh, this is terrible,” moaned the girl, then grew suddenly rigid.
The sound of approaching horses reached her alert ears as she stood
in the middle of the floor, every faculty on the alert.

They galloped up to the shack and halted.

“Hello the cabin!” called a rough voice.

Miss Briggs pinched her cheeks to bring back the color that she knew
had left them, then summoning all her courage she stepped to the
door. That courage almost failed her when she saw before her six of
the roughest looking men she ever had seen. They were mounted on
lean, tough horses; there was a rifle in every saddle boot, and they
wore side arms as well.

“The Murrays!” gasped the girl. “Sam Petersen knew whereof he
spoke.”



                            CHAPTER VII

                           THE DISCOVERY


“Hawk Murray!” exclaimed Elfreda Briggs, as one of the horsemen rode
around the hedge and up to the door of the cabin. Elfreda recognized
the man by his long hooked nose that really resembled the beak of a
hawk. It was not a pleasant face to look upon.

“Mornin’, Miss,” he greeted, with an attempt at politeness.

“Good morning, sir,” replied Miss Briggs firmly, essaying a smile as
she said it, though she did not feel like smiling, for the eyes of
the rider seemed to be searching her very soul.

“Do ye live here?” was the next question.

“For the present, yes.”

“Ye don’t reckon ye’ve seen a stranger on a bay mare passin’ here
this mornin’, do ye?” he questioned, leaning over and peering into
the face of the Overland girl.

“No, sir. No one has passed here, so far as I know, since daylight.
I don’t know who passed before that. Why do you ask?”

“We’re a posse on the track of a hoss thief. The bay mare he rode
was stole, and some gold he had was stole, too.”

“Indeed!” observed Elfreda.

“We trailed the thief this way, but back a piece we kind of lost the
trail,” volunteered the Hawk, grinning apologetically. “Be ye
alone?”

“Oh, no. I am with a party. They are not here now, but I look for
them to arrive shortly,” she answered, trying hard not to appear
disturbed.

“Well, so long. We’ll be on our way.” The man swung off his hat and,
wheeling his horse about, jogged along. Her heart sank as she saw
that the riders were taking a direction, which, if followed on,
would lead perilously close to the spot at which she had secreted
Sam Petersen’s horse. She regarded each man keenly as they passed
her, and theirs she saw on close inspection were hard, callous,
reckless faces. There was coldness, there was daring, in them.

The last man in the line, younger than his companions, while his
face was also cold, appeared to be of a character different from the
others. There was a poise of the head, a grace in riding, and in the
manner with which he bowed as he swung his hat low, that singled him
out as a man somewhat above his fellows, in intelligence at least.

The riders were out of sight in a moment, and, with their passing,
Elfreda Briggs’ knees grew suddenly weak. She staggered into the
cabin and sat down heavily.

“Had they come in I don’t know what I should have done,” murmured
the girl, placing a hand on the diary that she had hidden in her
blouse. The bag of nuggets and “dust” lay in plain sight near the
bunk on which Sam Petersen lay. Elfreda hurriedly sprang up and
secreted the bag under the blankets. Then a sudden thought came to
her. She recalled that the old prospector wore a holster, and that
she had noticed the size of the revolver butt that protruded from
it. Instant determination to possess herself of the weapon seized
her.

“They will return! I feel it!” she cried.

It took but a moment to get the weapon and the cartridge belt, to
both of which the girl gave critical inspection, for Elfreda had
handled revolvers, both in France in wartime, and on their annual
summer outings in the saddle. The weapon was loaded, and several
rounds of cartridges still remained in the belt.

“There!” she exclaimed, after strapping the holster on. “I at least
have the means of defending myself. Hark!”

Hoof-beats were plainly audible, but they seemed to be those of only
one horse. A glance through the doorway, without revealing herself,
verified this.

“It’s the good-looking one,” breathed Elfreda, retiring into the
shadows and giving her holster a shift. “I must go out. It never
will do to let that man come into the cabin,” she decided as she
stepped to the door with an expression of surprised inquiry in her
eyes.

“Ye didn’t think I’d be back so soon, did ye?” he grinned.

“I don’t think I looked for you to return,” Elfreda replied. “What
is it you wish?”

“I reckoned as I’d like a drink of water.”

“Wait. I will fetch a dipper. The spring is just beyond the stump
over yonder.” Elfreda was out with a dipper in her hand in a moment,
and held it up to him, but the rider did not take it. He swung from
the saddle and stood leaning against his mount, regarding her with
something like a twinkle in his eyes. Elfreda saw that twinkle and
was reassured.

“I see ye’ve got your hardware on,” he said, pointing to the
revolver. “Purty sizable gun for a lady, eh? Ye didn’t have it on
when I was here before.”

“Perhaps I was expecting more company after you went off. Why do you
ask?”

The rider shrugged his shoulders.

“Reckon I’ll take that dipper now,” he said, extending a hand for
it. Elfreda gave it to him, and keen as his eyes were, it is
doubtful if he discovered the fear that Elfreda felt. After stepping
back she got a broom and began sweeping up the cabin floor, which
she was still doing when the man returned from the spring. Hearing
him coming, she stepped outside.

“Thankee,” he said, returning the dipper.

“What would ye say, lady, if I told ye I wanted to search the
shack?” he asked.

“I should say _no!_” was the emphatic reply.

“And what if I decided to do it anyhow?” grinned the mountain rider.

“I’d shoot you!” she answered coldly.

“Sufferin’ cats! I believe ye would. Never can tell what these quiet
kind might do. Can I have a look at the little toy?” he teased.

“You may look at the muzzle, if you wish.”

The fellow laughed and slapped his thigh.

“Ye’re a cool one, I’ll tell them all.”

“Thank you.” Elfreda was covertly watching every movement of her
caller, every expression of face and eyes, and she could not but
feel that he was unusually confident about something. Rack her brain
as she might, she could not think what that something might be,
unless Hawk’s party had discovered the bay mare, which she did not
believe was a fact, for the party had swerved off to the right after
leaving the vicinity of the forest cabin.

“If I reckerlect, lady, ye told the boss that ye hadn’t seen any
strangers hereabouts—a fellow on a bay mare, an old party and a
tough one.”

“I told you no one had passed here, and to the latter part of your
question I am free to say that your party included the only ‘tough
ones’ I have seen since coming into the forest.”

“So! I reckon I see the p’int. Lady, what about that saddle over
there in the brush?”

Elfreda could feel her face going pale.

“The—the saddle!” she gasped, but instantly recovered herself. “What
saddle do you mean?”

“I mean Sam Petersen’s saddle. I’d know that leather among all the
rest in the Cascade range. He stole that, too. Now where’s the bay
mare? He sure didn’t ride her away without the saddle.”

“Find him, if you want to know. Don’t ask me! As for the saddle that
you say is over yonder in the brush, draw whatever conclusions you
wish. Is that all? If so, I have work to do and will go to it,”
announced J. Elfreda with great dignity.

“I reckon that’s ’bout all, ’cept that I’d like to look over that
shack.”

“Very well, you may step up to the door and look in, but no farther
if you value your life,” replied Elfreda, turning her back on him
and stepping through the doorway.

The visitor was not slow to accept the invitation. He reached the
threshold, and was about to stride into the cabin when he suddenly
found himself facing the old prospector’s revolver, held in the
steady hand of Elfreda Briggs.

“You may take a look at the revolver now if you like,” she offered.
“Stay where you are!”

A glint came into the man’s eyes, a glint of danger, but it faded
and he laughed.

“Very neat, Miss. I think I’ll take a look at that bunk over there,
and that there hole in the floor with the trap door in it.”

“Out! Instantly!” Elfreda’s voice rang out with a new note in it.

The unwelcome guest’s hand sagged slowly towards his own holster.

“Hands up! Quick!”

The man obeyed, his eyes never leaving hers, nor did Elfreda’s eyes
leave those of her caller. While he undoubtedly, with his long
experience in quick work, could have dodged and drawn and fired ere
Miss Briggs was able to prevent it, he did not do so. Perhaps he
feared that she might hit his horse instead of himself, for that
animal was directly in range with her weapon.

“Mount! Leave this place instantly! If you attempt to interfere with
me you will do so at your peril!” she warned.

“Farewell, lady,” he answered mockingly. “I shall see ye just the
same, and ye will answer my questions next time.” The fellow swung
into his saddle, Miss Briggs still keeping her weapon trained on him
as she followed him out.

Then she saw the man suddenly stiffen in his saddle, and what
followed came at such speed that she was dazed. The fellow’s
revolver leaped, it seemed to her, from its holster and met his hand
half way. There was a sudden report, and a faint puff of grayish
smoke from the muzzle.

A fraction of a second, after the report of his weapon, brought a
shot from somewhere to the left of the Overland girl. The bandit’s
horse jumped, and to Elfreda it was plain that the animal had been
hit. It reared, and its rider toppled over and plunged backwards to
the ground.

[Illustration: The Bandit Was Using Elfreda as a Shield.]

“He’s killed!” cried Miss Briggs, dropping her own weapon and
running to the prostrate bandit who lay where he had fallen, his
face turned to one side, and half hidden by his sombrero. She gave
no thought to the peril that she might be inviting by aiding the
ruffian. Her one thought was to give aid.

The girl was bending over him, when, in a flash, the fellow was on
his feet, and two sinewy hands had grabbed her arms and whirled her
about in the direction of the shot that had been fired at him.
Elfreda Briggs had walked into a trap!

That was not all. A report at her ear was followed by another and
another. The bandit was shooting over her shoulder, using the
Overland girl as a shield.

There were no answering shots, nor could Elfreda see what the bandit
had been shooting at, but she stood frozen, while he, alert and
cool, kept his gaze fixed on a clump of bushes a few dozen yards
ahead of them.

Elfreda had not uttered a sound. She was trembling, but rather than
have the man using her as a shield know this she summoned all her
will power and gained control of herself.

The bandit fired again. The shooting, so close to her ear, fairly
deafened her. Elfreda had another cause for worry, for she did not
know at what instant the bandit’s enemy might conclude to fire
again. To a person in her position, that was not a comforting
thought. No answering shot came, and the girl drew a long breath of
relief.

Not a word had passed between them up to this point, but now she
spoke.

“You coward!” breathed Elfreda.

“Had to do it,” was the brief reply.

“You will pay dearly for this,” she threatened.

“Shut up! I’ll give ye a clout over the head if ye don’t, and I’d
hate to do that to a purty gal like—” _Bang!_

The bandit fired. Then a strange thing happened, and Elfreda was
hurled forward on her face with unexpected violence.



                            CHAPTER VIII

                         STACY TAKES A HAND


“Wow! I’ll show you that you can’t steal my beans and my fish!”
yelled an angry voice behind Miss Briggs. The outlaw was pulling
himself together and unsteadily getting to his feet just as Elfreda
sprang to hers. Then there sounded a sudden whack, a grunt, and the
bandit again measured his length on the ground, after receiving
another blow on the head.

“Stacy! Stacy Brown!” cried Elfreda, for it was Stacy who had stolen
up behind the bandit and clouted the outlaw on the head with a stick
just after the fellow had fired his last shot.

Ere the man had fully recovered from this last whack, Chunky had
sprung forward and snatched up the bandit’s weapon.

“Now you get out of this before I get mad. I’m only out of patience
now, but when I’m mad I’m a dangerous man. Get!”

With his own revolver trained on him, the bandit evidently
considered prudence the wise course. He had not yet fully recovered
from Stacy’s last wallop, and staggered as he ran to his horse. As
he swung into his saddle, a shot from somewhere brought a grunt from
the fellow, and the Overlander saw the bandit shudder.

“Don’t shoot! He’s hit,” warned Elfreda.

“I didn’t shoot this time. It was someone else,” flung back the boy.
“You move, and you move fast. And next time you steal a fellow’s
beans and fish, you pick out some fellow who’ll stand for it!”

The outlaw rode away at a brisk gallop, swaying a little in his
saddle, still considerably dazed from Stacy’s two wallops, and in
pain from the bullet that had hit him.

“Stacy! Oh, Stacy!” cried Elfreda, running to the boy and throwing
both arms about him. “You wonderful boy! I never thought you had
such courage.”

“Courage? I’m a hero! I always was. All I needed was the opportunity
to show that I am. I ought to have a medal.”

“You shall have one. Do—do you think he will come back?” she asked
with an apprehensive glance in the direction taken by the outlaw.

“Come back? Why, I should say he wouldn’t. That fellow is scared
stiff. You couldn’t drag him back here.”

“There are others, Stacy. You don’t know all. They were all here,
and after they went away he came back and—”

“Others?” Stacy’s face went solemn. “If that’s the case, I reckon
we’d better run while the running is good.”

“I can’t, not yet. I must talk with you. There is something to be
done before we leave. But you were so brave, and all the time you
were hiding behind the bushes, letting that desperate fellow shoot
at you without your firing a shot fearing that you might hit me. It
was wonderful! What did you mean when you accused the man of
stealing your fish—had you seen him before?”

“Of course I had seen him. He tried to interfere with me while I was
fishing for a mess of trout for you yesterday afternoon. I did get a
mess of them, beauties, too,” declared Stacy boastfully. “I finally
got tired; the bait gave out, so I ate part of a can of beans and
lay down for a nap. Well, I didn’t wake up, I guess, until this
morning. The fish were gone, and so were the rest of the beans. I
tell you I was good and angry. When I got here you were having your
misunderstanding with the ruffian.”

“And you really were in those bushes shooting at him?”

“I was in the bushes all right.”

“But who fired that last shot that hit him?” demanded Miss Briggs
suddenly, regarding her companion narrowly.

“The—the sec—That’s so. I wonder who did. He was some shooter. But
listen! I know. It must have been one of that fiend’s friends
shooting at me. He didn’t hit the fellow he fired at. Isn’t that a
good joke on the fellow in the bushes, and on the one that got hit!”
cried the fat boy, his assurance returning. “Tell me what has
happened here.” Stacy was stalking back and forth twirling the
outlaw’s weapon on his finger.

“Come with me to the shack and I will tell you. Tragedy, not comedy,
has come to this place. I would have given anything could you have
been here to help me, for, Stacy, I needed help as I never in my
life needed it before. Listen, for we must lose no time in doing
what we have to do, and then get away from this unhappy spot.”

They were in the cabin by this time.

“A man came here last night, wounded and faint. I tried to help him,
but he was beyond help. Stacy, the poor fellow died. Those ruffians
had shot him. I do not think the man who shot him was the one who
made a shield of me, but it was one of the same gang.”

“Di—died!” gasped Stacy.

“Yes, in a few minutes after he got here. I have his horse hidden
some little distance from here.”

“Whe—whe—where is he?”

“There!” she announced gently, pointing to the bunk. “We can’t leave
him there, Stacy. There is something to be done, and I just can’t
bring myself to do it.”

Stacy, his eyes large and round, backed hurriedly from the shack.

“Come on out. I can’t talk in there any more,” he urged, and Elfreda
joined him at once. “Let me think. I can’t do it, either. I can
fight a bad man, or wild animals, but this—this I—I can’t. Why did
they shoot him?”

“They said he was a horse thief, but I know better. He possessed
information that they wanted. This fellow that you sent away found
the man’s saddle, though I don’t know how he chanced to discover it.
The horse he may have discovered also, but I hardly think so. If
not, we can take the animal and try to find our way back to Silver
Creek.”

“Yes. Let’s find the horse. We can send Ham White back to do what
you said. Where is the horse?”

“We will go look for him, but we must proceed with caution,” said
Elfreda. “Take your revolver and I will take mine. You fall in
behind. I will lead because I know the way.”

Stacy did not appear to relish the mission at all, but he relished
still less being left alone at the cabin, so he followed along
obediently. Elfreda proceeded with great caution, watching the
ground and the surrounding forest.

“Keep perfectly quiet,” she warned, as they neared the spot where
the horse had been secreted. “Stay where you are,” added Elfreda in
a whisper, then crept forward.

“This is spooky,” muttered the fat boy. “I don’t like what I can’t
see.”

“Stacy!” There was alarm in Elfreda’s voice. “Come here!”

He did not move as rapidly as he might, but a few moments later was
standing at her side, and Stacy blinked as his gaze followed the
direction in which she pointed.

A handsome bay mare lay dead in the secluded spot. It was the horse
that Sam Petersen had left in her charge.

“Shot! The brutes!” cried Elfreda. “They have shot her. Well,
perhaps that is better. Mr. Petersen asked me to dispose of the
animal or hide her. What a pity!”

“I call it a good riddance. Say, Elfreda, you don’t suppose any of
that gang are hanging around here, do you?” questioned Stacy
apprehensively.

“Gracious! I hope not. Come, let us get away from this place.”

Stacy was quite ready to move, and took the lead, Elfreda following.
They lost no time in getting back to the cabin, but, as they
approached, Stacy again began to lag.

“Aren’t we going down to the river and try to find our way back to
our party?” he asked as his companion started to enter the cottage.

“Not yet. I have something to do in here first,” she made reply.
“Oh!” Elfreda sprang back.

“Wha—wha—what!”

“There’s someone in there,” she whispered.

“Oh, wow!” Stacy jumped and started off.

Elfreda looked her disgust, and, summoning her courage, stepped into
the cabin.

“Who is it?” she demanded.

“I was waiting to see how steady your nerves are,” answered a voice
that brought a thrill to her. A man rose and stepped towards her.

“Mr. White! Stacy, come in, it’s all right,” she called, a happier
note in her voice. “I am so glad to see you, for I need you.”
Elfreda shook hands with the guide. “How long have you been here?”

“I came in just a moment ago. My horse is down near the river, where
I picked up your trail and came up here. What has been going on
here? I believe there was some shooting up this way. So it sounded
to me.”

“The Murrays have been here, and, had it not been for Stacy, I fear
something serious might have happened to me. Stacy really saved me,
even going so far as to let one of the outlaws shoot at him. Would
you think, from what you have seen of him, that Stacy is brave
enough to fight a duel with one of that gang?”

Ham White looked solemn and shook his head.

“Our party is very much worried about you, Miss Briggs—”

“Oh, are they all right?” cried the Overland girl, flushing at
thought of her forgetfulness.

“Every one of them, but we must get back to them as soon as
possible. Tell me the story.”

Elfreda then related the whole story of her experiences, passing
briefly over her trip down the creek and the river, and relating the
story of the arrival of Sam Petersen and his death, omitting the
incident of the diary, as well as the story of the lost mine and the
bag of nuggets and dust.

“Died here? Where is—”

“There!” answered the girl in a low voice, pointing to the bunk.
“You and Stacy will please do what is necessary. I could do it if I
had to, but so long as you are here it is better not.”

“What did the ruffian who came back here look like?”

Miss Briggs described the man in detail.

“That was Two-gun Murray, one of the most notorious gun-fighters on
the range. He has more brains than his brother, Hawk Murray, and
some personal charm, but he is a cold-blooded ruffian. Is he the
fellow you saw down by the river, that Miss Briggs has told me
about?” questioned White, turning to Stacy.

“Yes. And he is the fellow who stole my fish and ate my beans,”
complained the boy.

“I wonder what that crowd was after Sam Petersen for?” reflected the
guide, regarding the two Overlanders from beneath half-closed
eyelids.

“He had something that they wanted—information or something of the
sort,” murmured Miss Briggs. Elfreda was not yet ready to confide in
the guide. She wished for time to think over carefully what Petersen
had told her, and to examine his diary critically.

“I don’t quite get it, but I will,” he replied.

Ham White got up briskly.

“Come, Stacy. Let us do our duty.”

“Just a moment,” begged Elfreda. “I wish to do something here first.
Will you two please step outside?”

The guide gave her a quick look, and his face hardened ever so
little. He bowed and walked from the cabin. The instant he was out
of sight, Miss Briggs got the bag of gold and secreted it in her
blouse.

“Mr. White, I am going out in the forest to think, while you are
busy here,” she added, stepping from the cabin. Elfreda’s face was
flushed. Hamilton White regarded her narrowly but merely nodded in
reply to her announcement. That nod was cold, and Miss Briggs
realized it. Her head was held a little higher as she walked away,
though she knew that self-imagined guilt was at the back of her
annoyance.

Ham White knew that there was some purpose in the Overland girl’s
remaining in the cabin for a few moments; perhaps he came nearer to
knowing her purpose than Elfreda imagined.

The girl sat down under a tree and thought. The bag of gold in her
blouse troubled her. Elfreda took it out and emptied the contents in
her lap. Apparently a small fortune lay there, but, as she gathered
up a handful of the contents of the bag, Elfreda Briggs made a
terrible discovery.



                             CHAPTER IX

                         MYSTERIES MULTIPLY


“Miss Briggs, do you feel equal to starting back to Silver Creek?”
questioned the guide as she returned. “The sooner we get away from
here the better it may be for us.”

“Yes. Anything to get away from this haunt of tragedy. How far are
we from there?”

“About thirty-five kilometers, I should say, though it may be more.”

Elfreda glanced at him quickly.

“Were you in service in France during the war?” she questioned.

“Yes.”

“May I ask in what capacity? You know the girls of this party were
there with the Overton College unit.”

“I was with the signal corps. To return to the subject of our
journey, I have a horse a short distance from here. You may ride
him, and Mr. Brown and I will walk.”

“Walk! Walk thirty-five miles?” demanded Stacy in a tone that was
almost a wail.

“I said thirty-five kilometers, not thirty-five miles,” corrected
the guide.

“I don’t care which it is; thirty-five of anything is too far for
me. I can’t walk. I have a sore finger. I stuck it on a fishhook
yesterday,” protested the fat boy.

“Very well, you may remain here if you wish. Come, Miss Briggs. We
must take along some of the provisions that are in the cabin.”

“Mr. White found those too,” thought Elfreda, then aloud: “Have we
the right to do that?”

“Within reason, yes. This is a forest ranger’s cabin, and one is
free to help himself.” Stacy ran in and filled his pockets with
cans, and the guide took a can of beans for himself and one for Miss
Briggs, directing Stacy to put back all but one of those he had
taken. The three then set out at a brisk walk, and at about a mile
from the cabin they turned off, and soon found the horse, on which
they placed the Overland girl. After mounting, she secretly tucked
the canvas bag into the saddle pocket.

It was a relief to Elfreda not to have to walk, and further, it gave
her opportunity to study the wiry figure of Hamilton White as he
strode along in the rear of Stacy, whom he was urging along, much to
that young man’s freely voiced disgust.

Shortly after noon they stopped to water the horse and to give the
rider an opportunity to rest. They then pressed on, for the way was
rough and progress slow. It was near night when they came within
hailing distance of Silver Creek village, and a great shout went up
from the Overlanders when they saw Elfreda.

During the absence of the guide, the Overlanders’ missing horse had
come in, enabling the Overland Riders to resume their journey to the
Cascade Range. It was an evening of rejoicing for them, in which the
villagers joined, for the young women of the Overland party had been
of great assistance to them in their trouble. Not alone that, but it
was freely admitted that Ham White and the Overlanders had saved the
village from destruction.

Early on the following morning, after bidding good-bye to the
villagers, the Overlanders rode away. On the way, Miss Briggs told
her companions of her experiences during her absence, omitting any
reference to the bag of gold and the diary. Even Hamilton White had
no idea that she possessed it, so far as she was aware, though
Elfreda was not so certain that he did not suspect her having the
bag of gold.

It was noticed by at least one of the party that Miss Briggs and the
guide had little to say to each other that day; in fact, they seemed
to avoid each other. Not so with Emma Dean, who kept as close to
Hamilton White as she could, hanging on his words and showing her
keen interest in him in the expression of her eyes. At supper that
evening, however, Elfreda asked him a direct question.

“Mr. White, have you ever heard of a stream known as Lost River?”
she asked.

“I have,” spoke up Stacy Brown. “I fell in it the other night when
they had the fireworks at Silver Creek village.”

“I believe there is an old Indian legend of some sort about Lost
River—something to do with gold or silver,” replied the guide,
giving her a swift, appraising glance.

“Is there such a thing as an Indian legend about ‘Grandma and the
Children’?” persisted Elfreda.

“Ha, ha! That’s a good one. Did they fall into the foaming flood
also?” demanded Chunky in a loud voice.

“Children should be seen and not heard,” rebuked Emma sternly.

“Is that why you are so quiet to-day, Miss Dean?” asked the boy.

“I am quiet, Stacy Brown, because you so disturb the atmosphere that
one has to shout to make herself heard at all,” returned Emma with
great dignity.

The Overlanders laughed heartily.

“I reckon that will hold you for a few moments,” interjected Hippy
Wingate. “Got anything more to say on the subject, young man?”

“Not a word.”

Stacy did not even join in the laugh that followed.

By this time they had finished their supper, and Elfreda nodded to
Grace to indicate that she wished to speak with her, and the two
strolled off without attracting attention. They were soon out of
earshot, and Grace suggested that they go no farther.

“Now what is it that is troubling you, J. Elfreda?” she asked.

“I have a guilty conscience, dear Loyalheart, and I must confess to
you.”

“I knew you had something on your mind,” nodded Grace. “So far as
concerns your having a guilty conscience, that is impossible. You
only imagine it.”

“After you have heard my story you will think differently. Grace,
you don’t know all that took place in the forest cabin—all that
occurred in connection with the death of the old prospector.”
Elfreda then related the story in detail, giving the real reason, as
told to her by Petersen, for the attack of the Murrays. “Have you
your lamp, your pocket lamp?”

Grace produced her flashlight, and Miss Briggs, taking it from her,
turned a bar of light on the diary that she had removed from her
blouse.

“This is it, Grace, and here are the notes I made of what Mr.
Petersen told me. I haven’t read the writing in Mr. Petersen’s
diary—I haven’t had the heart or the inclination to do so. I feel
like a thief.”

“Elfreda!” rebuked Grace.

“Then you think I have a right to keep this—this thing?”

“Why not? You say he has no family, no relatives. What you have
shown me is, in reality, the will of a dying man. He gave you what
he had in payment for your kindness to him. So far as his story of
finding the lost mine is concerned, I am inclined to think it a
myth. At any rate, don’t trouble your head over the matter any more.
The chances are that, even if the mine really exists, we never shall
find it, but when Tom joins us in the Cascades I will lay the facts
before him. Tom knows this country pretty well. That is why the
Government is employing him to make a timber survey, and at the same
time, to look into some other matters.”

“But, Grace, this is going to be a terrible weight on my mind,”
protested Elfreda.

“And you a successful lawyer!” laughed Grace. “I never thought that
a lawyer could be so conscientious. And think of the romance of all
this,” went on Grace Harlowe with growing enthusiasm. “Have you no
romance in your soul?”

Miss Briggs shook her head.

“It is not given to many girls to play a leading part in a search
for a lost gold mine. Even the suggestion of courting peril ought to
appeal to you, Elfreda. I should like to go through the diary with
care. I don’t like doing that now when we can’t see about us, as we
have reason to believe that there may be people in this vicinity who
would stop at nothing to obtain possession of it. Of course, we are
safe here, though. What about the bag of nuggets and dust that
Petersen gave you?”

“I have the bag. The contents I threw away.”

“Elfreda Briggs!” cried Grace indignantly. “Threw away a bag of gold
nuggets and gold dust! Are you crazy?”

“I may be, Grace dear. When I opened the bag, after putting Mr.
Petersen’s horse away, I found that it contained nothing but
worthless quartz rock. There was no gold there. The nuggets and gold
dust had been taken out. Someone had stolen the nuggets and dust in
the short time that I was away from the shack.”

Grace uttered an exclamation.

“When Stacy and I returned to the shack, we found Mr. White sitting
in the cabin. I asked him to go outside for a moment, and while he
was away I got the bag. Then I made an excuse for going out into the
forest. On emptying the contents of the bag into my lap I found that
I was the proud possessor of only a bag of worthless stones!”

“Elfreda! You don’t mean to infer that Mr. White took it—you can’t
think such a terrible thing of him!” begged Grace.

“I don’t know what to think. He was there; he has acted peculiarly
ever since, and has avoided me. Isn’t it a natural thing for me at
least to wonder?” demanded Miss Briggs.

“Elfreda Briggs, I am amazed!” cried Grace Harlowe. “Is that why you
have been so cold and distant towards the guide? He does not deserve
such treatment. Were I in your place I should, in the light of what
you have told me, tell him the story that you have related to me.”

“No, no!” Elfreda said with strong emphasis. “I have no reason for
confiding in anyone but you. Neither shall I do anything farther in
this matter. Gold mines—gold doesn’t bring happiness. Quite the
contrary, so far as my experience goes.”

“Yes, that is true, but after one has found happiness, gold is a
mighty good thing to keep that happiness from getting wobbly. I—”
Grace paused abruptly. She thought she had heard a sound close at
hand. Grabbing the flashlight, she swung the bar of light about with
one hand, the other hand holding the prospector’s diary.

An amazing thing occurred.

The prospector’s diary was whisked away from Grace Harlowe, leaving
in her hand only a leaf out of it that she had held between her
fingers.

“Overland!” It was the shrill rallying cry of the Overland Riders,
and hearing it, they sprang to their feet and ran up, as Grace
Harlowe’s cry for assistance was echoing through the forest.

Ham White reached the two girls first, calling out his name as he
charged to them.

“What is it?” he demanded.

“Someone was here, Mr. White. At least someone or something snatched
a book out of my hands. I saw no one, but am positive that I heard
someone just before the occurrence,” Grace informed him.

The rest of the party, with the exception of Stacy Brown, were on
the scene a moment or so later, each with an eager question.

“Why, Hamilton, you went out that way a few moments before the girls
were disturbed. Didn’t you see anyone?” wondered Emma.

The guide shook his head. He was regarding Grace and Elfreda with a
curious expression on his face as they came within range of the
campfire.

“Was the book of value?” he asked, meeting Miss Briggs’ eyes. She
returned his gaze with a level glance.

“It may have been, Mr. White,” replied the girl, turning away.

Grace laughed. The incident had not disturbed her, but the mystery
of it did. That a prowler could get so close to her without
attracting her attention hurt her pride. Her companions were much
more upset than was either of the two active participants. Stacy
slept through it all, and did not awaken until morning.

It was some time after that before the camp settled down for the
night, but the guide sat in the shadows, smoking his pipe and
thinking.

“Did you hear what Emma said?” questioned Elfreda in a whisper to
Grace as they snuggled under their blankets.

“About what?”

“About Mr. White. It seems he may have been somewhere near us out
there.”

“This affair has several queer phases,” admitted Grace.

“I don’t care. I’m glad the diary is out of my hands; now I can wash
them of it all, and my conscience at the same time. My gold mine has
gone a-glimmering.” Elfreda laughed, but without much mirth.

“My dear J. Elfreda, you are not going to get off so easily. Here is
the page on which you wrote the location of the gold mine at Mr.
Petersen’s direction. I had the leaf in my hand when the book was
snatched away, and it just tore itself loose and remained with me.
So you see you are still fated to be a millionaire. Reason will tell
you that the book may not be of value to the possessor.”

Miss Briggs asked why.

“Because,” replied Grace, “there can be nothing very definite in the
diary or it would not have been necessary for Mr. Petersen to give
you the definite directions that he did. The matter of real value,
you will find, is on the sheet that I still have. I’ll give it to
you in the morning. My advice to you is to commit those lines to
memory, and then burn the slip of paper.”

“Yes. I will burn it all right,” agreed Miss Briggs. “Don’t say gold
to me again to-night. I wish to sleep—to sleep peacefully.” Elfreda
made good her word on the following morning, and destroyed the slip
of paper.

Before the others were awake the guide went out and was away from
the camp for more than an hour. He was just returning when Hippy
Wingate came out.

“Find anything exciting this morning?” asked Hippy jovially.

“Yes. Someone was prowling about the camp last night. I found the
spot where the young ladies were sitting, and I also found the
imprints of booted feet. About a quarter of a mile to the west of us
a horse was tethered, and the fellow who was here undoubtedly rode
it, and went north, after leaving this vicinity. Is it your wish
that I run his trail out, Lieutenant?”

“No. What’s the use? If he is particularly interested in us he will
come again, and maybe he will come once too often and get caught,”
suggested Hippy.

The guide bowed and went about getting breakfast. The party was in
their saddles at an early hour, turning their faces toward the
north, and the Cascade Range, which was their destination. It was a
glorious day, and even Hamilton White thawed under the sweet lure of
the forest, and talked forest and woodcraft to his party.

They camped that night in a rocky pass, well sheltered, and with a
mountain stream at their feet. Everyone was tired, and chilled from
the mist that was settling over the pass. Before anything else was
done, a fire was built and coffee prepared by the girls. Then Ham
White began making camp, and Stacy and Lieutenant Wingate cared for
the horses.

Stacy, very proud of his saddle, which he had ridden for a long
time, in fact ever since he had ridden with the Pony Rider Boys on
their many adventurous journeys, brought the saddle in and threw it
down near the fire. Something fell out of the saddle pocket. Stacy
picked it up and looked at the object frowningly.

“What’s that?” demanded Grace a little sharply.

“That? I’m blest if I know,” answered Stacy, his face showing some
perplexity.

Grace took the object from him, glanced into it, and looking up at
Elfreda, laughed.

“Here is the book—the diary,” announced Grace, extending it to Miss
Briggs. “Remember what I told you last night? Did I not say that you
would not get off so easily? Stacy, how did you come by this?”
demanded the Overland girl, turning to the fat boy.

“What’s all the fuss about? I picked it up when I went after my
horse this morning and forgot all about it. Why the excitement?”

“There is no excitement,” answered Miss Briggs with dignity as she
tucked the old prospector’s diary into her blouse. “Mr. White, Mr.
Brown found the missing book and has returned it to us.”

Before anyone could comment on the find or ask questions about it,
Ham White held up a hand for silence.

From far away came a shot. After a little it was followed by two
shots, an interval and one shot.

“A signal,” announced the guide.

Hippy Wingate raised his revolver to fire.

“Stop!” commanded Ham White. “Let the other fellow do the shooting.
We aren’t certain that we want to know him.” There was meaning in
the guide’s words, a warning, and the Overlanders fell silent. There
was also the vivid memory with Elfreda and Grace of the mysterious
hand that had snatched the prospector’s diary, and both girls felt
an intuition of other mysteries to come.



                             CHAPTER X

                        THE MAN FROM SEATTLE


“Someone is coming,” announced Grace, when, half an hour later, her
keen ears detected a sound, faint, though unmistakable. She was the
only one of the party to hear it at that instant, though a moment
later the guide nodded.

The Overlanders saw him hitch his revolver holster into convenient
position as he stood up and leaned easily against a tree.

“As I was saying,” he began. “Sometimes it rains and sometimes it
snows, and—”

“Hands up!” rang out a sudden command. “Put ’em up till I look you
over.”

Stacy Brown was the only one of the party that obeyed the command.
The Overlanders were too much interested in the newcomer to obey the
command, for he was fantastically clad. The fellow was holding two
revolvers which he kept moving from side to side, his keen eyes
regarding the party appraisingly as well as alertly. It was his
clothing that attracted most attention, for the man was dressed like
a Mexican rancher, with the velvet jacket, embroidered with silver,
the broad sombrero, likewise embellished with silver, and the faint
metallic tinkle of silver spurs was heard as he shifted his
position.

The keen expression in his eyes changed to a twinkle.

“Well, well, who would have thought it!” he exclaimed. “A bunch of
foozleheads.”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Stacy Brown. “Foozleheads! That is a brand new
one. Emma, he is looking at you.”

The newcomer lowered his weapons and shoved them into their
holsters.

“Well, who are you?” demanded Ham White. “You appear to be a new
specimen up here.”

“Who, me? Haven’t you heard of me? I’m Jim Haley, sole
representative of the International Peanut Company in the State of
Washington. I’m known as the Man from Seattle, and I’ll have peanuts
in every home, in every bandit cave in the great preserves of the
State, and all over the rugged peaks of the Cascades if I hold out
long enough. Peanuts are a great civilizer; they are the oil on
troubled waters, and if the wild men up here were to eat enough of
them I’ll guarantee that they never would hold up another
unfortunate traveler.”

“Bandits?” questioned the guide, regarding the visitor narrowly.

“Yes. They’ve held me up twice in twenty-four hours, and the last
time they took my horse away.”

“It strikes me that you are quite handy with hold-up methods
yourself,” observed Hippy Wingate.

“Peanuts? Peanuts?” demanded Stacy eagerly. “Got any with you?”

“It will be my everlasting regret that I have not. You see I ate up
most of my samples, then the bandits took the rest of them. This is
a rotten country. I had to get food, and when I smelled your smoke I
took a chance, not knowing whether or not I was running into another
bunch of bandits, and here I am, safe and sound. Luck is with the
Man from Seattle, the greatest peanut salesman in the world. I’ll
have a cup of coffee, if you please, and anything else that’s lying
around loose, then I shall be delighted to take your orders for
peanuts to be delivered at your homes, freight paid, and an extra
bag gratis for good luck.”

“Why, certainly, you shall have something to eat,” promised Grace.
“Girls, help me rustle some grub for our caller. Were you lost?”

“Lost? Why, I’ve never found myself since I came into the forest.
How could a man, who never has known where he was at, be lost? Been
held up by these mountain ruffians yet?”

The Overlanders shook their heads.

“They are so sudden. Why, they wouldn’t even give me an opportunity
to demonstrate—”

“Demonstrate!” cried Emma with sudden interest. “Do you demonstrate,
Mr. Hart—”

“Haley, if you please,” interjected the newcomer.

“Really, do you, Mr. Haley?”

“Of course I do.”

“Isn’t that perfectly lovely! You see, girls, I am not the only one
that demonstrates to ward off trouble. Just think, think hard, that
something you desire very much, will be, and it will be.”

The Man from Seattle looked puzzled for a moment, then he laughed
heartily.

“Demonstrate a bag of peanuts for me, then,” spoke up Stacy Brown.

“That’s it, young man—it’s peanuts that I demonstrate. I’ll see that
you get a fair sample when I get back to Seattle,” promised Haley.

“Oh, fudge! Everything is food with you, Stacy Brown. Why can’t you
be less gross, and more spiritual?” complained Emma.

“I presume it is the company I keep, and—”

“Your supper is ready, Mr. Haley,” called Grace.

The peanut man did full justice to the meal prepared for him, and,
while he ate, the Overlanders plied him with questions. Ham White
sat back and regarded their guest with interest. White was keen, and
little escaped his alert eyes.

“That fellow is bluffing!” was his mental comment. “I wonder what
his game is.”

“Now that you have no horse, what are you going to do?” asked Hippy.

“Sell peanuts! I’ll take your orders now.”

The peanut man did, and when he had finished, each member of the
party had given him an order for a bag of peanuts, Stacy being the
only one whose order was a gift. From then on until bedtime the
visitor rattled on, keeping the party convulsed with laughter. In
the conversations that followed the evening’s entertainment, Jim
Haley succeeded in drawing from them the story of their experiences
in the brief time that they had been out, and discovered that he was
not talking with greenhorns.

Mr. Haley was particularly interested in Miss Briggs’ experiences
with the bandits at the ranger cabin, and questioned her in detail
as to the appearances of the riders.

“Probably the same fellows that held me up,” he observed, stroking
his chin. “You say the old prospector had something that they wanted
to get possession of?” he asked, turning to Elfreda.

She answered with a slight incline of the head.

“What was it?” The question was direct and incisively put.

“Being a lawyer, and having my client’s interests at heart, I
decline to permit her to answer,” returned Elfreda, which brought a
hearty laugh from the party, Jim Haley laughing more loudly than any
of the others.

Hamilton White’s face hardened ever so little.

“Your questions are rather personal, and I must ask you to be more
discreet,” he rebuked.

“A thousand pardons!” bowed the visitor. “For this indiscretion, I
shall include some handsome oil paintings, which we give only to big
jobbers with large orders for International Peanuts Products, when I
fill the orders you have been so magnanimous as to favor me with.”

“That’s a mighty indigestible word, that magnanimous thing. Don’t
put anything like that in the shipment with my peanuts,” declared
Stacy.

“You don’t mean to say you don’t know the meaning of that word?”
exclaimed Nora.

“Can’t say that I do,” answered Stacy carelessly. “What does it
mean, Emma?”

“Your education has been neglected. Any schoolboy ought to know the
meaning of a word so common as that,” returned Emma airily.

“All right, you tell us. I’ll swallow whatever you say—once!”

“Why, magnanimous means—it means—it means—Pshaw, I know what it
means perfectly well, but somehow I can’t properly explain it.”
Emma’s face was growing red. “Oh, Hamilton, you tell my ignorant
companion what—”

“Ha, ha, ha!” chortled the fat boy. “You tell him, Hamilton.”

Grace and Elfreda were laughing immoderately, and Hippy was
chuckling to himself. All knew that Miss Dean knew the meaning of
the word, but that Stacy, with his question, had confused her.

“I believe the dictionary explains it as being elevated in soul,”
answered the guide smilingly.

“Oh, Hamilton, isn’t that wonderful?” breathed Emma. “It sounds so
utterly poetic.”

“You wouldn’t think so were you to swallow it with a bag of
peanuts,” grumbled the fat boy.

And after the laughter had subsided, Grace announced that she was
tired and said she would turn in.

“Do we make an early start in the morning, Mr. White?” she asked,
turning smilingly towards the guide.

“Yes, if that is agreeable to you, Mrs. Gray,” was the courteous
reply. The easy grace of this man, and the evident culture that was
beneath the surface, had puzzled Grace Harlowe from the beginning.
There was that about him that was mysterious, unfathomable. These
thoughts were in the Overland girl’s mind as she turned towards the
little tent which she and Elfreda occupied together.

“By the way, Mr. Haley,” she added, halting at the tent opening,
“Mr. White will fix you up for the night with a blanket. If you will
bunk in with Lieutenant Wingate, there is room. Mr. White prefers to
sleep in the open.”

“So do I. In the vast open, with the ambient atmosphere enveloping
me like a blanket, I can ponder over the psychology of merchandising
peanuts better than when I am shut in. All nature assists, the
saplings sap and seep into my brain, into my subconscious being, and
the leaves leave their native habitat to come to my aid, and—”

“One can’t blame them so much for that,” observed Emma. “Good-night,
Mr. Haley; good-night, Hamilton; good-night, all.”

“Either that man is a lunatic or else he is a big fraud,” declared
Elfreda, entering the tent. “Which is it?”

“Just another mystery, that is all,” answered Grace good-naturedly.
“Why worry about him?”

“I don’t. I have sufficient troubles of my own to keep me from
sleeping soundly.”

By this time the others were turning in; the visitor had already
rolled himself up in a blanket with feet to the fire, and Ham White
was out seeing that the ponies were secure for the night. He
remained out there for a long time, looking up at the tree tops,
dimly discernible in the faint light. At the same time he appeared
to be listening, now and then glancing back at the silent figure of
Jim Haley.

At last the guide turned and strode back into camp, and threw his
blanket down beside Haley. But White did not lie down at once.
Instead, he crouched down beside the visitor and peered down into
the man’s face. A pair of twinkling eyes were gazing up at him.

“You are awake, eh? I rather thought you would be. Now who are you,
and what is your game? Out with it or out you go!”

“Who am I? I am G 16, and I want to talk with you!” Haley’s voice
sank to a whisper as he made the mysterious announcement.

Ham White uttered an exclamation, then, quickly collecting himself,
he lay down on his blanket close to the peanut salesman, and for the
next half hour the two men spoke in earnest tones, tones too low for
the Overlanders to hear.

It was long after midnight, when, had one been awake, he might have
discovered a shadowy figure slinking along at the rear of the camp.
It first paused at the tent occupied by Hippy and Stacy, then crept
on all fours to the one in which Grace and Elfreda were sleeping.
These little tents were open at both ends, though they could be
closed in the event of a storm, and a person at either end, by
peering closely, could see the heads and faces of the occupants.

Inch by inch the shadow, now flat on the ground, wriggled towards
the two sleeping girls. A lean hand reached cautiously under, first
Grace’s pillow, then under Elfreda’s. The pillows were pneumatic
pillows that were filled with air before retiring, and were soft and
comfortable, as well as sensitive to the touch.

The pressure of the shadow’s hand under the pillow disturbed Elfreda
Briggs, and her eyes slowly opened, but she did not move, believing
that the hand belonged to her companion. A sidelong glance, however,
told her that Grace’s back was towards her, therefore the hand could
not belong to her. Elfreda’s next thought was that Stacy Brown was
trying to play pranks on her.

In the meantime the hand crept slowly about under the pillow. It was
time to act, and Miss Briggs, half raising herself on one elbow,
made a grab for it. She grasped a bare muscular arm.

“Overland!” cried the girl, and the familiar thrilling call of
distress awakened every person in the camp with the exception of
Stacy Brown. Then darkness overwhelmed Elfreda and she knew no more.

Grace, awakened by the cry, threw her arms about the neck of her
companion.

“Elfreda! Elfreda! What is it?”

There was no reply.

“Overland! Quick! Something has happened to Elfreda!” she cried,
springing from her blanket, as the quick, sharp report of a revolver
smote the ears of the campers.



                             CHAPTER XI

                     BELIEVERS IN SAFETY FIRST


Bang! Bang! Bang! The air seemed filled with explosions of rifles
and revolvers, and the Overland camp was in an uproar in a moment,
even Stacy Brown rousing himself sufficiently to sit up and take
quick notice. The instant the shooting began Stacy, concluding that
his services were not needed, lay down with his blanket drawn up
over his head.

“Safety first,” muttered the boy as a bullet tore a hole through his
little dog tent. “Wow! I wonder what all the excitement is about?”

Grace and Stacy were the only ones of the outfit who had not run out
following the alarm. Grace had turned her pocket lamp on Elfreda’s
face. It was a pallid face that she looked upon.

“Elfreda! Elfreda! What is it?” begged Grace. “Oh, what is it?”

Miss Briggs was breathing, but was unconscious.

The shooting died away as suddenly as it had started, and then Emma
and Nora ran to Grace’s tent, crying out to know what had happened.

“I don’t know, girls. Please hold the light so I can examine her. I
heard Elfreda scream, then came the shooting, and that is all I know
about it,” answered Grace. Her nimble fingers ran over her
companion’s head, neck and shoulders, for Grace’s experience in the
hospital service in France had not only made her efficient in
emergencies, but had taught her to keep her own self well in hand.

“Ah! Here it is.”

“Wha—what!” gasped Nora.

“A lump on the top of her head, well down near the forehead. She has
been dealt a heavy blow, but with what, I can’t say. Fetch water. We
must try to revive her.”

Lieutenant Hippy Wingate came running up at this juncture, revolver
in hand.

“What is it?” he demanded.

“Elfreda has been knocked out,” Nora told him.

“With what?”

“I don’t know, Hippy,” spoke up Grace. “Please go away. This is no
place for you. Stand by in case we need you. Where is the guide?”

“He is trying to find out if there are prowlers about here. I think
he found someone, for I heard a man yell,” Hippy informed them as he
left the tent.

Reviving Elfreda was a matter of only a few minutes after they began
bathing her face and rubbing her body. Grace then uttered a sigh of
relief.

“What—what happened to you?” stammered Emma.

“Don’t question her now. Can’t you see that she is weak?” rebuked
Grace. “Lie perfectly quiet, dear. You can talk later,” admonished
Grace, as Miss Briggs indicated that she had something to say. “You
girls had better step out and give us a few moments’ quiet,” she
advised. “Hippy, if it is prudent, you had better start up the
fire,” she called. “We must have light and warm water. Where is
Stacy?”

Hippy said he had not seen the fat boy, and then went straight to
Stacy’s tent, where he found him still practicing safety first.
Hippy dragged Stacy out by the feet.

“Leggo! Wow!” howled Stacy. “Oh, it’s you, is it?” he added. “What
do you mean by waking up a fellow like this? Anything wrong?” he
questioned innocently.

“Oh, no; nothing at all. Everything is peaceful and quiet. You get
out and help me build a fire, and be lively about it, too. I’m not
in the mood to trifle with you.”

While Hippy and Stacy were building a fire, the two girls, Emma and
Nora, got water to be heated. Grace bathed Miss Briggs’ feet in the
hot water, for the injured girl was in a chill. A lump of sizable
proportions had formed on her head. This was dressed by Grace, and
in a short time Miss Briggs was asleep. Grace then stepped outside
to her companions who were standing about the fire.

“Hasn’t Mr. White come in yet?” she demanded.

“I haven’t seen him. Has J. Elfreda said anything yet?” questioned
Hippy.

“Not about what happened. If she awakens again, and is then able to
talk, I will question her. Please let me know when Mr. White comes
in.”

It was some time later when the guide returned. Elfreda had been
awake from her brief sleep long enough to tell Grace what she knew
of the occurrence.

“Mr. White, what do you know about this?” asked Grace.

“Not a thing. The first I knew of anything being wrong was when
someone called, followed by a cry. I think it was Miss Briggs who
first cried out.”

Grace nodded.

“As I got on my feet I saw a man running, and knowing that it could
be none of our party running away, I fired at him. I don’t think I
hit him. He returned the fire, but at that juncture Lieutenant
Wingate began shooting. Lieutenant, I’ll say you aren’t slow about
getting into action. It was bully. Then I chased the man and he and
I both emptied our revolvers at each other. One of us hit him—”

“It was your shot, Ham,” interrupted Hippy. “I wasn’t shooting when
he cried out.”

“Then you didn’t get the fellow?” demanded Grace, addressing the
guide.

“No. He got away. I wish it had been daylight. That is all I can
tell you. May I ask what Miss Briggs has to say of the attack on
her?”

“She says she felt something moving under her pillow, and after
waiting a moment she became convinced that a hand was searching
there. She made a grab for the hand and caught a man’s arm and then
lost consciousness.”

“Fright?” asked the guide.

“Fright! No. A blow on the head, Mr. White. I think the fellow must
have brought his fist down, for the injury doesn’t look as if it had
been done with a stick or an instrument. That is all she knows about
it, sir.”

“Was anything taken—did she have anything under her pillow?”
persisted White.

“Yes. That little canvas bag she carries. There was nothing of value
in it. There may have been some small change there, for most of her
money was in her money belt around her waist. The other things in
the bag were such toilet articles as we all carry to use while
riding—and a little powder,” added Grace smilingly. “Mere men don’t
understand those things.”

“Thieves!” cried Stacy. “Oh, wow!” The fat boy ran to his tent and
feverishly searched his clothing. He was back in a few moments. “I
knew it! The thief didn’t dare tackle a real man. You see, he picked
out weak women. He knew better than to trifle with Stacy Brown.”

“Even if Stacy Brown did hide under a blanket when the show opened,”
supplemented Lieutenant Wingate. “I presume, if Elfreda had not
given the alarm, the man would have gone through all our
belongings.”

Ham White was pacing up and down. They could see that he was
disturbed.

“The low-down cur!” he breathed, clenching his fists, his face set
and slightly paler than usual.

“Hamilton! Hamilton! Don’t disturb yourself so,” begged Emma
solicitously. “Be calm, do. I will demonstrate for you.”

“Aw, let the peanut man do the demonstrating,” jeered Stacy. “Your
demonstrating might do at a family picnic, but up here it is punk!”

White gave no heed to Emma’s sympathetic words. He stood with
lowered chin thinking.

“The peanut man!” cried Nora.

“Yes. Where is Mr. Haley, Mr. White?” demanded Grace.

“I don’t know, Mrs. Gray,” replied the guide slowly. “I thought he
was sleeping beside me when I sprang up. I haven’t seen him since,”
added Ham White, bending over to poke the fire.

The Overlanders looked at each other, and each knew what the other
was thinking about.

“Some demonstrator, that fellow,” observed Stacy Brown. “I’m mighty
glad that he didn’t demonstrate over that fifty-cent piece in my
trousers pocket.”



                            CHAPTER XII

                      A SUCCESSFUL EXPERIMENT


“We might as well move on,” advised Grace. “To-morrow will be
Sunday, and we ought to find a good camping place for that day, and
have a day of rest.”

“Does Miss Briggs feel able to ride?” asked Ham White.

“Yes. Her head naturally is still quite sore, but otherwise she is
as fit as any of us. It takes a lot to put J. Elfreda Briggs out of
commission,” added Grace laughingly.

“That it does,” agreed Elfreda herself, emerging from her tent with
a head bandage like a turban.

The party were just gathering for breakfast on the morning after the
attack on Elfreda. She was a little pale, but wholly herself. The
Overlanders all shook hands with her as she came out, Ham White
among the number, and, for the instant of the hand-clasp, their eyes
met, each seeking in the fleeting look to read the secret of the
other’s reserve.

“I have been out since break of day, following the trail of our
prowler,” announced White. “There was more than one man involved in
the game, whatever it was. They had horses, three horses, and there
must have been that many men involved, though only one man entered
the camp. The probabilities are that they reasoned one man would
stand a better chance to carry out their plan without detection than
would a bunch of them, and they undoubtedly were right. One of our
shots, as I said last night, hit the fellow, for I found a trail of
blood drops. Their trail shows that he had to be assisted to his
saddle, and that a companion rode along at his side when they went
away.”

“Oh, Hamilton. Did you demonstrate all of that?” begged Emma, her
eyes filled with admiration.

“I read the trail, that’s all,” replied the guide. “If that is
demonstrating, I demonstrated.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed Stacy.

“Stacy Brown, you are a young ruffian!” cried Emma indignantly.

“I know it.”

“Besides, you show the most abject cowardice whenever courage is
called for. Why not be like Mr. White, afraid of nothing?”

“I suppose Ham’s a hero, eh?”

“Yes, you know he is,” agreed Emma, her face relaxing into a happy
smile.

“Well, he didn’t do anything to save Elfreda’s life, did he?”

“Perhaps not directly. Indirectly he did.”

“Then I am the heroest hero of the two. Elfreda, didn’t I save your
life—directly—when that bandit was shooting at—” Stacy checked
himself. “I leave it to this honorable bunch if I am not entitled to
the cross of war with all the palms on it that the old thing will
hold. I demand a rising vote.”

All except Emma got up, and all were laughing heartily.

“Carried! We will now proceed to replenish the coal bin,” announced
Stacy, resuming his breakfast.

Emma had nothing further to say to him, though Stacy regarded her
with large, soulful eyes during most of the meal. Following
breakfast, the men of the party broke camp and rolled the packs, and
in a very short time they were on their way.

Grace and Elfreda rode side by side, Grace wishing to see to it that
her companion did not overdo herself.

“I haven’t had an opportunity to ask you if the thief got anything
of value?” asked Grace.

“No. The diary was not in the bag. I put it under my money belt when
I turned in,” Elfreda informed her.

“Good for you! I have been thinking that you and I should look
through that book carefully, and if there be information of value in
it, we should make a copy of it. You keep the original and I will
keep the copy.”

Miss Briggs said she didn’t care much what happened to the diary,
save that she did not like the idea of being beaten.

“I hope I am too good a lawyer to give up a case until the jury has
brought in a verdict against me. Then, after I have carried it to
the higher court and have been defeated there, then I’m beaten. But
not until then. What about the peanut man? Grace, is he the guilty
one?”

“Ask Hamilton White. He knows,” was the low-spoken reply.

“Why do you say that?”

“From the expression of his face when I asked about Haley. There is
something about those men that I do not clearly understand.”

Elfreda averred that there were several “somethings” that needed
clearing up.

“My dear Elfreda, we are involved in so many mysteries that, first
thing we know, we will be accusing each other. To-morrow being
Sunday, I suggest that we go over the diary—get off somewhere by
ourselves and make a thorough job of it,” suggested Grace, to which
Elfreda agreed with a nod.

Grace, at this juncture, turned in her saddle to see what had become
of Stacy, who had been lagging behind all the morning. He was not in
sight when she looked, but the next time she turned he was observed
back some distance, riding off the trail a little way, leaning over
and catching bushes in his hands.

“I wonder what mischief that boy is up to now?” murmured Grace.
“Surely he is not doing that solely for exercise.”

“Don’t you think he needs exercise?” questioned Miss Briggs with a
smile.

Grace’s answer was a laugh.

“Nevertheless I owe Stacy Brown an obligation that I never can
repay,” added Elfreda gravely, and to this Grace gave an emphatic
assent.

The day’s journey was without incident, and was thoroughly enjoyed.
Many trails were crossed, some of which Hamilton White halted to
examine, and then proceeded on his way without comment, unless he
gave an opinion to Hippy Wingate who was riding beside him. Emma
Dean kept as close to the guide as possible, and watched him as
though fearing that he might get away from her. The guide, however,
gave only the most ordinary attention to Emma, just as he did to the
others of the party.

“Is there much gold up this way, or is it a myth?” Hippy was asking
him, as the fat boy continued with his operations at the rear of the
line of horses.

“There undoubtedly is plenty of it if one knew where or how to find
it. I never did, never expect to, and don’t know that I should care
to. In my experience I have learned that not only is gold an elusive
substance, but that it seldom brings the finder happiness.
Ordinarily it brings him disaster, even death!”

“Whew! You talk like an actor playing in a tragedy,” observed
Lieutenant Wingate.

The guide grinned and resumed his study of the trail. Hippy had
thought there might be opportunity to draw Hamilton White out as to
his career. The Overlander was positive that it would prove an
interesting story, but no opportunity presented itself on this
occasion, so Hippy prudently kept his questions to himself. Emma,
however, kept up an almost continuous chatter all the morning and
most of the afternoon.

As the day waned, they began urging their horses to a faster pace,
White explaining that he wished to reach a certain camp-site that
day. He said it would make an ideal Sunday rest camp.

“Do you think we shall be safe there?” questioned Emma. “Oh, I hope
so, Hamilton.”

“As safe there as anywhere up here—perhaps more so, for we shall be
on high ground where nothing can get to us, at least in daylight,
without our observing the approach.”

“You know the place, then?” suggested Hippy. “Have you been there
before?”

“No.” The answer was brief and final, and Hippy wondered how Ham
could know about a particular spot in the forest, and lead them
directly to it if he never had been there. Hippy could find no
answer to that.

The Overland Riders reached the site just before sundown. The
country about them was mountainous and heavily forested. Back of the
camp towered a huge rock. A little way from it was a smooth level
spot, and bubbling from the rock itself there came a stream of water
almost at ice temperature, as they discovered when drinking cups
were brought and all hands helped themselves.

“Oh!” cried Grace. “Is there any drink in the world to equal it?”

“Not now,” answered Hippy Wingate.

“And never has been,” nodded Miss Briggs.

The guide gave expression to a wry smile and went on about his work
of preparing for a week-end camp. Lieutenant Wingate attended to the
unloading, the equipment being piled in orderly manner, and, after a
time, Stacy was prodded into assisting him.

“Mercy! What a peculiar odor there is here,” exclaimed Grace. “Don’t
you smell it, girls?”

Nora, Emma and Elfreda sniffed the air.

“Hippy, what is it? Don’t you smell something disagreeable?”
demanded Nora.

“Now that you speak of it, I do. Stacy, see if you can find anything
dead about here.”

“The place is all dead,” growled the fat boy. “No excitement, no
nothing. But there may be, there may be.”

“May be what?” asked Hippy, regarding the boy keenly.

“Oh, nothing much. I was just thinking.” Stacy avoided Hippy’s eyes,
for his was a guilty conscience. Stacy Brown had been making an
experiment, but as yet he did not know whether or not it was going
to produce satisfactory results. He saw Hamilton White give him a
slanting glance out of the corners of his eyes, and got busy at once
unrolling packs and laying out the tents. This alone should have
been sufficient to arouse the suspicion of the Overland Riders, for
the fat boy never worked unless for some particular reason of his
own. The others of the party were too busy to notice him, and after
a time they became used to the strange odor, faint at times and then
strong, as the evening breeze stirred it into life.

At supper, however, they did find it most unpleasant, and Lieutenant
Wingate discovered that the odor was always more noticeable in the
vicinity of Stacy, but he made no comment. The guide some time
before that had made a similar discovery.

Immediately after the evening meal, Mr. White made a survey of their
surroundings, including a visit to the top of the big rock. From
there he found what he expected to find, an excellent view of the
mountains and the forest for many miles about, but the light was
fading, and he deferred further survey until the morning when the
light would be right to see much farther.

The Riders were tired after their long day’s ride, so all hands
turned in early, and were asleep in a few moments, except the fat
boy. Stacy, by frequent pinchings of himself, and chuckling over the
fun he might have were his experiment to prove a success, managed to
keep awake.

Giving his companions ample time to sink into a profound sleep, the
fat boy crept from his blanket, moving very cautiously so as not to
awaken Hippy Wingate. Once outside he took a long look at the form
of Hamilton White who lay rolled in his blanket near the campfire,
for the air was now chill. White was plainly asleep.

Stacy crept to Grace’s tent, then to the one occupied by Nora and
Emma, pausing for a moment at each and performing some peculiar
motions. It would have been difficult for anyone to even guess at
what the boy might be up to.

“I’d like to give that guide fellow a dose, too,” muttered the fat
boy, again pausing for a long look at White. “I reckon I’d better
let well enough alone, though.”

Stacy got back to his own tent without awakening a single member of
the party.

“Humph!” he muttered. “Sleepy-heads, all. Anybody could walk in here
and steal them without awakening a single person. I don’t believe
anything is going to happen at all. That fellow down at Cresco is a
fake, and I’ll be even with him when we get back there. I’ll get my
money back or—or—” Stacy Brown’s eyes closed, his mutterings became
mere murmurs and then ceased altogether. He, too, was sound asleep,
the biggest sleepy-head of them all.

It was several hours after that that something happened.

Emma Dean uttered a terrified scream, and Nora Wingate, suddenly
awakened, screamed louder than Emma did. The two girls bounded from
their beds and ran from the tent hysterically crying for help.

“Hamilton! Oh, Hamilton!” cried Emma.

The guide had sprung to his feet at the first scream. Grace and
Elfreda were only a few seconds behind him.

“Merciful heaven! What is it?” cried Miss Briggs, as her eyes saw
what appeared to be a huge form at the tent entrance.

Both girls ran out at the other end of the tent, then Hamilton
White’s rifle spoke, waking the echoes of the forest, just as Stacy
Brown ran from his own tent in a terrible fright.

“Oh, wow, wow, wow!” howled the fat boy. “He got me, he did.”

Stacy’s experiment had proved an entire success, and he had fallen a
victim to his own prank.



                            CHAPTER XIII

                        THE CAMP IS INVADED


“Don’t run. Keep together back of me. Lieutenant, look out for the
rear. I’ll take care of the rest,” shouted the guide.

“What is it? Hamilton, what is it?” cried Emma.

“Bears!” answered Grace Harlowe. “I never saw so many in all my
life. What does it mean?”

The camp was full of the beasts. They were ambling swiftly here and
there, growling, sniffing, pawing, and apparently without fear.
This, as some of the party knew, was not like the ways of the black
bear. Ordinarily a black bear cannot get away from man quickly
enough. Even the discharge of the guide’s rifle did not put the
invaders to flight.

“Fire into their legs, Lieutenant,” directed White. “We don’t want
to kill them if we can avoid it. Besides, it is against the law.”

The two men let loose with their rifles at the feet of the beasts,
but in the faint light aim was uncertain, and it was only
occasionally that a grunt indicated that an animal had been hit.

Out in the bushes the ponies were snorting in fright. Stacy suddenly
uttered a yell as a bear ran between his legs and threw him down.
From the way the bear got away from him it was evident that the
beast was as badly frightened as was the fat boy. The swift work of
White and Hippy was having its effect, too, and here and there a
dark form was observed ambling away into the forest.

“Now! All together. We’ve got them going!” cried Ham White. “Be
careful that you don’t shoot towards the ponies.”

Stacy ran for his rifle, and a moment later he, too, was firing
away, and continued to fire until he was pulling the trigger on
empty chambers, but his assistance was no longer needed.

“I think they are all out now,” announced the guide. “I suspect that
we shall have some bear meat for breakfast just the same, but we
can’t help it. A man has a right to defend himself, though I always
try to keep within the law. Lieutenant, keep the camp clear while I
build a fire so we can see what we have.”

The coals of the evening fire were still smouldering, and it was the
work of but a few moments to start a blaze large enough to light up
the camp. The bears had torn and uprooted two tents and worked other
havoc. The camp was in a mess.

Hippy circled the camp.

“We got one of the beasts, a small one,” he called. “Sure we’ll have
bear meat for breakfast.”

White hurried to him.

“Nice fat fellow, too. We will dress him, and then we shall have to
guard the carcass or there will be none of it left by morning.”

“I think I’ll turn in, now that the excitement is all over,”
announced Stacy at this juncture.

“You will not. You will assist us to prepare the carcass or you get
no bear steak for breakfast.”

“I don’t care. I prefer venison anyway. Bear meat is too coarse for
Emma and me. We prefer something lighter, more spiritual.”

“_More_ is the meat of your argument, as usual,” flung back Miss
Dean.

With Hippy’s assistance the bear was hung up from a pole which was
thrust through its hocks, and White began deftly skinning it. The
animal was then dressed and left to cool.

The guide was perspiring freely and so was Hippy.

“Good work, Lieutenant. I reckon this isn’t the first time you have
dressed bear,” approved the guide.

“What now?” asked Hippy.

“You people had better go to bed. I shall sit up, for we may look
for visitors before daylight.”

“Visitors!” cried the Overlanders.

“Yes,” answered White, smiling. “You will hear them, and after their
arrival there will be little sleep in this outfit.”

Hippy decided to remain on watch with the guide.

“Oh, Mr. Brown!”

Stacy, on his way to his tent, halted at the guide’s call.

“Well, what is it?”

“Suppose you come over and tell us about it, so that we may laugh at
the joke, too.”

All eyes were turned on the fat boy.

“I’m going to bed,” protested Stacy sourly.

“Not now you are not,” decided Hippy sternly. “You come here. Now,
Mr. White, go on with the entertainment. I suspect we are going to
hear something. In fact, I already have a sneaking suspicion that
there has been something shady in this bear affair.”

“Where did you get the stuff?” began White.

“What stuff?”

“The bear-bait that you have been distributing along the way and in
camp?”

“I—I did—”

“Stacy!” rebuked Emma. “Be a good little George Washington now, and
confess to Hamilton that you cut down the cherry tree.”

“I realized that there was something familiar in the odor that we
detected here last evening, but I could not place it. That odor is
here now. It is bear-bait, and we have you to thank for our
unexpected Sunday dinner,” accused Ham White.

“Stacy Brown! Did you do that?” demanded Nora severely.

“Well, it was this way,” admitted the fat boy.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you had the urge to do this terrible
thing so that I might demonstrate over you?” begged Emma.

“Oh, demonstrate over the wild animals.”

“That is what I have suggested,” reminded Emma. “The wild animal did
not give me the cue.”

“Go on, young man,” urged Hippy.

“I—I thought some bear meat might be appreciated by you folks, and
of course I knew we couldn’t shoot bear, as it is out of season,
unless we had to get rid of them. I—”

“Close your throttle! You are on the wrong division,” commanded
Hippy. “Where did you get that stuff—I mean the stuff that you
planted to call the bears?”

“Down at Cresco. I was talking with an old hunter who told me that
he used bear-bait, and could call bear to him at any time. He said I
must plaster it along the trail on bushes, and a few hours
afterwards the bear would come right to the camp, that you didn’t
have to hunt them at all. That is the way to hunt—wait for them to
come to you. It is so much simpler. Well, he had some of it and was
willing to sell it to me for five cart wheels—”

“Five what?” interrupted Nora.

“Cart wheels—dollars. I thought I had been stuck, but I wasn’t, was
I?” chuckled the fat boy. “Wait! I have some of it left in a can.
I’ll get it and show it to you,” offered Stacy, turning to run to
his tent.

“No!” shouted the Overlanders.

Hippy grabbed the fat boy and hauled him back.

“We aren’t finished with you yet. Go on with the story. It is
interesting,” averred Hippy.

“I waited till you were all asleep, then I plastered the tents, and
then went to sleep. You know the rest. It worked, didn’t it?”

“It did,” agreed the guide. Ham White’s eyes were twinkling.

“Stacy Brown, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” cried Nora Wingate.

“Ashamed? No, of course not. I am proud of myself. The trouble with
you folks is that you have no sense of humor. Even a Britisher would
laugh at this. I haven’t had time to laugh for myself, but I am
going to now.”

Stacy did. He laughed uproariously and long, but there was little
mirth in his laughter. His motive was to put his companions in a
frame of mind that would make it easier for him, for Stacy secretly
feared they would take sweet revenge on him for his prank.

A brief period of silence followed the fat boy’s laughter, then the
Overlanders broke loose. Theirs was real mirth, and their laugh
lasted longer.

“Well, what are we going to do with him?” demanded Hippy.

“I reckon the young man is right about our lack of a sense of
humor,” agreed Ham. “We have had our laugh; we have some fine meat
for to-morrow, and we have had some excitement with no harm done
except a little loss of sleep and a somewhat mussed-up camp. My
suggestion is that if Mr. Brown will go bury that can of bear-bait,
then sleep out in the woods to-night, we will let him off this time.
Well?”

“I’ll bury the stuff, yes, but I won’t sleep out in the woods. The
bears might get me,” objected Stacy. “One tried to, in my tent.”

“That is exactly the point that Hamilton is making,” spoke up Emma.
“Sleep out in the woods, by all means.”

A long, wailing cry echoed through the forest.

“Mercy! What’s that?” cried Nora.

“The coyotes have scented the fresh meat,” answered White. “They
will all be here soon, and some other beasts, too. Are you folks
game for a sight that will thrill you—that will show you the
savagery of nature let loose?” he asked quickly.

“Yes!” agreed the Overlanders eagerly. They did not know what he
proposed to do, but were ready for anything that he might suggest as
a diversion.

“Get your belongings, blankets, and such things as you don’t care to
lose. We men will get the horses, and—”

“Oh, have a heart!” begged Stacy. “What! Ride at this time of night?
I prefer to stay in camp.”

“You may,” agreed the guide.

Stacy sat down and regarded the preparations sourly, but when he saw
that his companions really were going to leave him, he ran for his
pony and his equipment. It was but a short time later that the party
filed out of camp, leading their horses, stepping out at a brisk
walk, for White was in some haste.

After proceeding several hundred yards from the camp, the guide
halted.

“Tie your stock, and tie them securely, for we shall have to leave
them here alone for a time,” he directed.

This having been done, the party gathered together, waiting for Ham
White to direct them what to do next.

“We will wait here for the present,” he said.

Five, ten minutes of tense silence passed; then a long mournful howl
resounded through the forest. It was answered by other howls farther
away, then a scream brought rustlings in the tree-tops where the
birds stirred restlessly.

“They’re coming. Move forward cautiously; make no loud noises and be
careful where you step. No one is to use a weapon unless I tell him
to do so. Come!”



                            CHAPTER XIV

                      THE BATTLE OF THE BEASTS


“Oh, Hamilton!” said Emma, as she placed a trembling hand on the arm
of the guide.

“Be quiet,” he admonished.

The howls were coming nearer with the seconds, it seemed. There were
suggestive rustlings, and the faint sound of padded feet on the soft
ground somewhere to the right of the party.

The sensations of the Overland Riders were not wholly delightful,
and their nerves were tense and on edge.

The howls of the coyotes were mingled with snarls, and between
themselves and the faint light of the campfire the Overlanders now
made out slinking shadows.

“Mother of Mercy! What does it all mean?” murmured Nora Wingate.

“The coyotes are here,” Grace informed her. “Don’t be alarmed. They
cannot harm us if we keep together and don’t get panic-stricken.”

“Silence, please!” ordered White. “We will proceed. Pick your way.”

They had reached a point further on when the guide halted them.

“Look!” he said in a low tone of voice.

The Overlanders gazed on a scene such as they had never gazed upon
before.

A pack of coyotes were milling and snarling at the carcass of the
suspended bear. They were leaping and rending the bear’s flesh,
springing upon each other in their frenzy, biting and tearing their
fellows.

A long-drawn howl from the forest was followed by a chorus of yelps.
The air seemed full of hoarse wails.

“Wolves!” announced the guide briefly. “You can talk now. Your
voices can’t be heard by those beasts with all this uproar. How do
you like it?”

“It is terrible!” murmured Elfreda.

“Perhaps, but that is the way, not only of the beasts, but of man,
though man is more cruel. Life is a survival of the fittest. Look at
the trees and you have the answer. The tall ones are the vigorous
ones; the runts—”

The guide was interrupted by a scream that was almost human in its
quality.

“Ah! Now we shall see something worth while. Watch!” he warned.

What seemed to be a big ball of fur came hurtling from a tree,
landing right among the coyotes. Then followed the maddest battle
and the noisiest one that any member of the Overland party, with the
possible exception of Ham White, had ever seen.

“See the big cat give it to them!” cried the guide.

“The—the cat!” stammered Emma.

“Yes. That’s a mountain lion, which, as a matter of fact, is not a
lion at all.”

The girls were too thrilled with the scene before them to give heed
to his words.

The battle was brief, but when the lion finally leaped away with a
large chunk of meat in his jaws, three coyotes lay stretched out on
the ground. Whether the lion had killed them, or whether their own
fellows had done the deed, the eyes of the Overlanders had not been
quick enough to perceive. Now that they were rid of their enemy, the
coyotes returned to their savage feast.

“Say! You aren’t going to let those beasts eat up all our meat, are
you?” demanded Stacy. “I want some of that meat myself.”

“Is there any danger to us, Mr. White?” questioned a voice in the
guide’s ear.

He turned quickly, to find Miss Briggs standing at his side.

“No. We have our rifles, and so long as the bear meat holds out
those cowardly brutes can think of nothing else. We will give them
something to think about shortly, however. I think we have seen
about enough of this, and I am a little anxious about the ponies,
too.”

“Why?”

“You heard the wolves howling a little while ago. Well, you don’t
hear them now, do you?”

“Meaning?” interjected Grace.

“That they may be attacking the ponies or they may be stalking
us—may at this moment be within a few yards of us. I don’t worry
about our safety. They would have to be very hungry to attack us, in
force as we are, but let them overwhelm a pony and get him down, and
he is lost.”

The guide paused, and peered through the leaves of a bunch of
saplings behind which the party was standing. He gazed steadily for
a full minute.

“Mrs. Gray, fix your gaze on that tree with the umbrella top. Do you
get it?” asked White eagerly.

“Yes.”

“Let me know if you see anything.”

“I see something dark on one of the projecting limbs,” answered
Grace, after a long look. “What is it?”

“An animal, probably a lion.”

“Ours?” questioned Hippy.

The guide shook his head.

“‘Ours’ as you call him is too full of bear meat at this moment to
climb a tree. He is probably still munching under a thick growth of
creeping juniper somewhere, and may remain there all night. That
animal in the umbrella tree must be another lion. Want to try your
marksmanship on him, Mrs. Gray? Take a shot at him,” urged Hamilton
White. “This isn’t a fair test, I know, for you can’t even see your
rifle sights.”

“Why, yes, I’ll try it.” The members of the party, at the guide’s
direction, had brought along their rifles, as Ham knew that the
weapons might be needed. Grace stepped forward a little, moved to
the right, then to the left, each time peering over the barrel of
her automatic rifle. “I am not certain, but I think I can line up
one sight. Shall I fire?”

“Sure!” answered White.

The Overland girl knelt down and rested the rifle against the side
of a tree, but the position did not suit her, so she lay flat on her
back on the ground, with the weapon held between her elevated knees.
It was for only a few seconds that she waited, then there came a
flash and a sharp report, followed by a _spat_!

A snarl, and a faint squeal, came down to them.

“You hit the tree, and I shouldn’t be surprised if you barked the
beast, too!” cried Ham enthusiastically. “Try it again.”

“No. Give the others a chance. The one who brings down the beast
shall be free from all camp duties until Monday night,” suggested
Grace.

“Here! Let me take a shot!” exclaimed Stacy. He raised his rifle,
without changing his position at all, and before the girls could ask
an opportunity to shoot, Stacy fired three quick shots.

A scream from the cat followed the shots. There was a lively
scrambling in the umbrella tree, and the dark object that Hamilton
White had pointed out disappeared for a few seconds. The party was
too eager to see the result of the shots to take their eyes from the
tree for even a second.

“There he comes!” cried Ham. “It’s a hit. Look at him tumble!”

The lion had plunged from the tree and was hurtling down. He struck
the ground with a loud whack, landing a few yards from the campfire,
where he lay kicking, then straightened out dead.

From the shots and the fall of the lion the coyotes got a fright
that sent them scurrying to the shadows.

“Now’s our chance to clear them out! Everybody shoot and shoot fast.
No danger of doing any damage, for our ponies are behind us!”
ordered White.

“Put down a barrage, you shooters, and give them a kick that will
keep them going. I want to go to bed,” cried Stacy. “I never shoot
at anything I can’t see. It isn’t sportsmanlike.”

Some lively shooting followed, and the camp and its immediate
vicinity was cleared of the vicious visitors in a few moments.

“We must get the ponies up in a hurry now, Lieutenant,” reminded
Ham. “You ladies stay out in the open, but keep together with rifles
at ready. Brown, you stay here and look after them. Shoot if
anything develops.”

The two men started back into the forest at a run, and they were
just in time, for slinking forms were already stalking the plunging,
snorting ponies.

It took but a few moments to free the ponies and lash them together
with lead ropes, whereupon the men started back to camp. They
hesitated to fire at the beasts, either coyotes or wolves, which
were now stalking the ponies, fearing to alarm the girls. Only a
slight rustling indicated the presence of the slinking beasts, and
that sound continued until the men with the ponies were more than
half the way to the camp.

“Hark!” exclaimed the guide suddenly.

“Did you hear that, Lieutenant?”

“No. What was it?”

“Three shots. They weren’t from our camp, either—they were farther
away—and I should say from a revolver. Let us hurry on.”

A rifle crashed.

“That one was from our party. I’m going to cut loose. You bring the
horses in as best you can.” White cast off the lead rope, and dashed
ahead towards the camp, keeping his mount from burying its nose in
the ground by sheer muscular effort, as the little animal frequently
stumbled, and staggered over obstructions that could not be seen in
the darkness. The guide rode into camp at a swift gallop.

“What is it?” he demanded, sweeping the camp with a quick
comprehensive glance.

“There isn’t anything the matter,” answered Stacy Brown, who stood
leaning on his rifle.

“Then why did you shoot? I told you to shoot if anything developed,”
rebuked the guide.

“I didn’t say that I did shoot. However, for your own private ear,
not for general publication, I’ll say I did fire a shot. What about
it?” demanded the fat boy belligerently.

“Why?”

“Because some fellow was signalling us with small arms. Maybe some
poor fellow is lost. I have a big heart, sir—I am full to
overflowing with human sympathy, so I answered his shot.”

Hamilton White sighed. There was no answer that he could think of.
Grace laughed at him, and the guide grinned appreciatively.

Hippy arrived safely at camp with the horses a few moments later,
and was quickly informed of the cause of the shooting. Neither Hippy
nor White liked the thought of revealing their presence, for they
knew that peril might lurk in the big woods for the Overland Riders,
and for that reason they regretted Stacy’s shot.

“Well, I reckon you ladies had better turn in. We three men must
clean up the camp after the mussing it has had. How’s the cat?”
asked the guide.

“He is a nice fat fellow, Hamilton,” bubbled Emma.

“And Stacy made a wonderful shot, didn’t he, Mr. White?” spoke up
Elfreda enthusiastically.

“I always make wonderful shots,” boasted the fat boy. “Why, I could
tell you of shots that I have made that you wouldn’t believe
possible were anyone else to tell you the same story about himself.”

The Overlanders laughed heartily.

“Chance shot!” declared Hippy.

“I think so, too,” chirped Emma.

“I think I know a chance shot when I see one,” added Lieutenant
Wingate.

“I don’t doubt it. You’ve made enough of them,” growled Stacy, and
the laugh was on Hippy. “I’m going to turn in. If the coyotes return
don’t bother to awaken me. I am perfectly able to take care of
myself if they get close enough.”

“You will help us clear up this camp, Stacy Brown!” ordered Hippy.
Stacy demurred, but obeyed. When Hippy assumed that tone, Stacy knew
that it was best to obey orders.

The three had been at work for only a few moments when a fusillade
of shots was heard. The shots were from small arms, and were much
nearer the camp than before. All work ceased instantly, and the
guide looked his displeasure at the interruption. He beckoned to the
girls to go to the far side of the camp, which they did without
protest, but he observed that they had picked up their rifles and
laid them across their laps, as they sat down in the shadows.

“Oh, Hamilton, do be careful,” called Emma.

Nora snickered, and Emma Dean elevated her chin disdainfully.

“Sh-h-h-h!” warned Grace. “I hear someone coming.”

“Help!” The cry was hard by the camp.

Ham White and Hippy, standing back from the light of the campfire,
did not move. Their rifles were held in the crooks of their left
arms ready for instant use.

“It may be a trick. Stand by!” warned White in a low voice.

“Aye, aye, sir,” answered Hippy.

A man, dishevelled, his clothing torn, his face bloody, staggered
into the camp.

“I’m done for!” he gasped, and collapsed in a heap.



                             CHAPTER XV

                          A RUDE AWAKENING


“Look out!” was White’s warning to Lieutenant Wingate, as the guide
sprang forward to the man on the ground.

“Is he dead?” called Elfreda, getting up to go forward to the
visitor’s assistance.

“No. Stay where you are for the present, please.” The camp was
silent for a moment, then White stood up. “It’s Jim Haley!” he
announced. “And he has been pretty roughly used.”

“The Man from Seattle!” cried the girls. Elfreda was at his side
instantly.

“Is he wounded?” she asked.

“I think not,” replied the guide.

“See if he has any peanuts with him,” advised Stacy Brown.

“Stacy!” Hippy’s voice was stern, and the fat boy subsided.

A quick examination by White and Miss Briggs failed to reveal any
wounds. They brought water, and Elfreda bathed Haley’s face, which,
though bloody, was only scratched, probably by contact with bushes.
It took but a short time to revive him, his trouble being almost
wholly exhaustion. Grace hastened to make a pot of tea, which Haley
gulped down and instantly recovered himself.

“Sorry I lost my samples, or I’d not have been in this shape,” he
said, grinning.

“What happened to you?” Hippy asked.

“Same old story. The mountain ruffians wanted peanuts, so they
tackled me. One taste of the International’s product and men will
commit murder to get more of it. I threw away all I had, and they’re
picking them up along the trail. It was the only way I could get rid
of the scoundrels. Then I got into more trouble. A pack of wolves
got the scent of the peanuts and they tackled me, too, but I hadn’t
any of the International’s product to throw to them, so I had to run
for it. They chased me nearly all the way in. ‘Good for man and
beast’ is the slogan that I shall send on to the International for
use in their publicity matter.”

The girls were now laughing heartily, but, as they recalled the
manner of Haley’s leaving them, they subsided abruptly. Haley’s now
merry eyes caught the significance of the change.

[Illustration: “I’m Done For!”]

“What have I said or done now? Is it because I have no peanuts for
you good people?”

“I think the young ladies would like an explanation of your sudden
departure the other night,” spoke up Hippy Wingate.

“Were I to tell you that I ran away because I was afraid, you
probably would not believe me, so I’ll not tell you that. There are
some things one can speak of freely, and others that he cannot. This
latter happens to be my difficulty now. If you feel that you do not
want me, of course I shall not impose upon you. I thank you, but I
warn you that you are not to enjoy any of the International’s
product until you reach home. They eat ’em alive up here.”

“You are quite welcome to remain as long as you wish. Please stay
over Sunday with us, Mr. Haley,” requested Grace. “We hope to have a
spread for our Sunday dinner,” she added laughingly.

“You win, Mrs. Gray. Unfortunately, my International raiment is in a
sad condition, but if you will lend me a pair of shears I’ll cut off
the ragged ends and try to make myself presentable.”

The girls, at this juncture, bade the men good-night and turned in,
for there were not many hours left for sleep, and they were now very
tired after the exciting night through which they had passed.

A few words passed between the guide and the peanut man, and Ham
White listened with a heavy frown on his face.

“I won’t do it!” he exclaimed. “Do you think you would were you in
my position?”

“If the International’s product didn’t pay me I should,” answered
the peanut man, with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Oh, hang the International!” retorted White. “I give you fair
warning that I’ll not double-cross these young women for you or for
any of your confounded outfit. I’ve done enough already, and I am
thinking of going to them and making a clean breast of what I have
done and then get out.”

“Don’t be a fool, White. Here! Read this.” Haley extended a folded
slip of paper to the guide, who opened and read it, the frown
deepening on his forehead.

White handed back the slip of paper, and resting his chin in the
palm of his hand sat regarding the distant campfire thoughtfully,
for they had withdrawn out of earshot of the camp for their
conversation.

“Very well!” agreed Hamilton White after a few moments’ reflection.
“I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a wolf, but if anything
happens here as a result I shall tell why. Remember that, Haley.”

“Oh, well, what’s a bag of peanuts more or less?” was the enigmatic
reply of the Man from Seattle. “I’ll take a nip of sleep, if you
don’t mind, and be on my way, but not _far_ away.”

The queer visitor took the blanket that had been given to him, and,
walking back into the forest a short distance from the camp, lay
down and went to sleep. The guide did not turn in at all, but sat
silently in the shadows, rifle at his side, thinking and listening.
Thus the rest of the night passed, and day began to dawn.

With the breaking of the day Hamilton White climbed the miniature
mountain, and drawing a single-barreled glass from his pocket began
studying the landscape. A tiny spiral of smoke about two miles to
the north claimed his instant attention. He studied it for a few
moments. At first the smoke was quite dark, then the spiral grew
thin and gray as it waved lazily on the still morning air.

“Someone is building a breakfast fire,” he muttered. “And they know
how to build a fire, too. That may be Haley’s crowd. Ah!”

As White slowly swept his glass around he discovered something else
that aroused his keen interest. On a distant mountain a flag was
being wigwagged. He could not see the operator of it, but he was
able to follow the message that was being spelled out.

Another shift of his glass and a careful study of known localities
enabled the guide to find the person who was receiving the message,
and soon the receiver began answering with his signal flag.

Ham White grinned as he read both messages.

“The forest eyes of Uncle Sam!” he murmured. The signalers were
forest lookouts whose eyes were constantly on the alert watching
over the vast forest within their range for suspicious smokes, and
they were having a friendly Sunday morning conversation over a
distance of nearly four miles.

Ham read and smiled.

“If they knew they would be more careful of what they said,” he
chuckled, then a few moments later he climbed down, returned to camp
and started the breakfast fire. He fried some strips of bacon, put
on the coffee, and then he sounded the breakfast call.

“Come and get it!” was the call that rang out on the mountain air.

The Overlanders thought they wanted to sleep, in fact, they were
hardly awake when they got lip grumbling, in most instances, and
began hurriedly dressing. All were shivering, for the air was very
chill. The odor of the breakfast, when they smelled it, added to the
haste of their dressing.

“Stick your heads in the cold water and you will be all right,”
advised the guide.

The girls returned from the spring, their faces rich with color,
eyes sparkling, and ready for breakfast.

“How are the appetites? I don’t ask you, Mr. Brown. You have proved
to my satisfaction that you can eat whether you are hungry or not,”
laughed White.

“We are ready for breakfast, sir,” answered Elfreda Briggs. “My, but
it does smell good.” “Where is Mr. Haley?” questioned Grace,
regarding the guide with a look of inquiry in her eyes.

“He thought best to sleep outside of the camp, and no doubt has gone
on before this.”

“Why, Mr. White?” persisted Grace.

“That is a question that I can’t answer just now, Mrs. Gray,”
returned the guide, meeting her eyes in a level gaze.

“Oh, very well. We will have breakfast.”

“We will,” agreed Stacy, and began to help himself from the frying
pan, when the guide smilingly placed a hand on the fat boy’s arm.

“You forget the ladies, Mr. Brown,” he reminded.

“Forget them? How could I?”

“It is you who forget, Hamilton,” interposed Emma. “You forget that
Stacy Brown never was brought up.”

“Give me the chuck!” whispered Stacy. “Heap the plate.”

White, catching the significance of the request, heaped the plate,
and Stacy bore it to Emma with great dignity. He bowed low and
offered the plate.

“Your highness is served,” he said. “If you will be so kind as to
call your sweet soul to earth from the ethereal realms above long
enough to feed that sweet soul on a few fat slices of common pig,
you will be a real human being. I thank you,” added the boy, as
Emma, her face flushing, took the plate, her lips framing a reply
which was never uttered. The shout of laughter that greeted Stacy’s
act and words left Emma without speech. Nor did she speak more than
once during the meal, then only to ask for another cup of coffee.

Breakfast finished and the morning work done in camp, the three men
went out to groom the horses, while Grace and Elfreda strayed away.
Their objective was the rock from which Ham White had made his early
observation.

“Have you the diary?” asked Grace as they seated themselves. “Oh,
what a wonderful view. Isn’t it superb?”

“Yes, I have the diary, and I see the view, and agree with you that
it is superb, but suppose we get down to business before we are
interrupted. I do not believe we shall be spied on here, at least,”
said Elfreda, glancing about her.

The thumb-worn book was produced, and the girls bent over it,
beginning with the first page. There were daily weather comments,
movements of the prospector from place to place, little incidents in
his daily life, none of which seemed to shed any light on the
subject in which the two girls were interested.

“Here is something!” breathed Grace finally, and read, under date of
April 30, the following paragraph:

“‘Plenty here. Dare not dig, for am watched. Picked up in channel
enough pay-dirt to keep over next winter. Channel itself ought to
pan out fortune, but shall have to have help. Isn’t safe to try it
alone. The gang of cutthroats would murder me. Some day mebby
they’ll get me as it is.’”

“Hm-m-m-m,” murmured Miss Briggs. “I wondered why, if he had made
such a find, Mr. Petersen shouldn’t get out the gold and put it in a
safe place before someone got ahead of him. The diary seems to
furnish a reason for his delay. He must refer to the Murray gang.”

“Listen to this entry, Elfreda,” begged Grace, reading:

“‘Queer thing this morning. The sun was shining on the children, and
on grandma’s bonnet, but her face was as black as a nigger’s. I
wonder if that was a warning to me to keep away. Gold, gold! How
terrible is the lure for the yellow stuff. It gets into the blood,
it eats into the heart. It’s a frightful disease.’”

“That checks up with what Mr. Petersen had me to write down, doesn’t
it, Grace?” breathed Elfreda.

“Undoubtedly. He must refer to the same thing, but it doesn’t give
us the least idea where the place is.”

“The man would be a fool to write a thing like that in a diary—to
tell where and how. Anything else? There is something on the next
page.”

“Yes,” answered Grace, turning the page and reading:

“‘Though I haven’t found it, I know pretty well where the mother
lode is, but I’m afraid of it—afraid to look for it. I’m afraid the
wealth I should find there would kill me just because of the
responsibility of possessing it. Then again, what is there left in
life after a man has got all he has dreamed of, and yearned for, and
fought for, and worked for, up to that time? Nothing!’”

“What a philosopher!” marvelled Grace Harlowe.

“He is right, too,” agreed Miss Briggs. “Suppose we forget about it,
also,” urged Elfreda. “I am tired of it.”

“J. Elfreda, if I didn’t know you so well, I should believe you are
in love, you are so gloomy. Listen! Mr. Petersen probably has no one
surviving him. He wished you to have what he had found. It was the
request of a man about to pass out; it was a trust, Elfreda. One day
someone, perhaps the very ones who tried to kill him, will stumble
on the Lost Mine. I should say that the prospector’s request imposed
a duty on you, my dear—a duty to go to the place he names, take
possession of what you may find there and keep it for your own. You
can’t expect to make a fortune practicing law, especially if you
don’t do more practicing than you have done in the last few years. I
fear these summer outings of ours have cost each of us something.”

Elfreda said she didn’t regret the loss of time. Her time was her
own, and she had sufficient funds to enable her to take care of
herself and the little daughter that she had adopted a few years
before.

“The question is, though, how am I going to find this place—how are
we going to find it, I mean, for what I find is for the outfit, not
for my own selfish self. I—”

Elfreda’s eyes had been wandering over the scene that lay before
them as Grace slowly turned the leaves of the diary. Miss Briggs
thought she had seen a movement off to the right at the edge of the
rock farthest from the camp.

“What is it?” demanded Grace, glancing up quickly.

“Nothing. Go on. Find anything else?”

“Only this: ‘When the sun is at the meridian the sands turn to
golden yellow,’” read Grace.

“What does he mean, do you think?”

“I suppose he means to convey that the bed of the dry stream, if it
is dry, shows a sort of golden strip. That is all I can make of it.
There seems to be nothing else in the book in reference to the
subject in which we are particularly interested. I am certain that
the poor man knew what he was saying; I believe that he believed he
had found what he says he found. Whether he did find it or not is
quite another matter. In any event Lost River and the lost mine are
well worth looking for as we go along. If there be such a place,
Overland luck will lead us to it,” finished Grace.

“I doubt it—I was going to say I hope Overland luck doesn’t lead us
to it, to our River of Doubt. Oh, Grace!”

“Wha—at is it?”

“Oh, look!”

A black head of hair, lifted just above the level of the rock on the
far side, revealed a low forehead and a pair of burning black
eyes—evil eyes they seemed to the two startled girls. They could not
see the hands that were gripping the edge of the rock, but what they
could see was sufficient to fill them with alarm.

Without an instant’s hesitation, Elfreda Briggs snatched up a chunk
of flinty rock and hurled it with all her might. The chunk of rock
fell a couple of yards short of the mark, bounced up into the air,
and landed fairly on the man’s head.

“Who says a woman can’t throw a stone!” cried J. Elfreda Briggs
almost hysterically.



                            CHAPTER XVI

                      BANDITS TAKE THEIR TOLL


“Run!” cried Grace.

“The diary!” exclaimed Elfreda, as Grace dropped the book, snatched
it up, and ran clambering down the rocks.

The guide saw them coming, saw that something was wrong, and strode
forward to meet the two girls.

“What is it?” he asked sharply.

“A prowler,” answered Grace, out of breath.

“Where?”

“There! On the other side of the rock. He was spying on us, and I
think Miss Briggs hit him with a piece of rock,” exclaimed Grace.

“Lieutenant!” called Hamilton White, and sprinted around the base of
the big rock. Hippy Wingate was not far behind him, though Hippy did
not know what had occurred, nor did he wait for an explanation. He
knew that there was trouble, and that was sufficient for him.

The two men reached their objective at about the same time. White
was peering at the rocks and bushes at the base of the big rock.

“Miss Briggs did hit him. See the blood there, and the bushes
crushed where he fell. She must have given him a good wallop,” he
chuckled.

White began to run the trail, a trail that was plain and easily
followed. Hippy was right behind him, using his eyes to good
advantage.

“Lieutenant, I think you had best go back and watch the camp. This
may be a trick to coax us men away. Keep a sharp lookout. Have Brown
stand guard with you. There is little need to worry, for we can see
and hear. Skip!” urged the guide.

Hippy lost no time in getting back to camp, and when he reached
there he found Grace and Elfreda laughing, and explaining to their
companions what had happened.

They repeated the story to him.

“Oh, well, let them fuss. They can’t do anything to us,” averred
Lieutenant Wingate after he had heard all of the story. “I’ll sit on
top of the rock and watch over you children.”

“That’s what I say,” agreed Stacy. “We men can beat them at their
own game, and have a lap or so to spare. Ham will chase them so far
away that they never will find their way back. If he doesn’t I
will.”

“Don’t be too positive,” admonished Grace. “I think it wise for us
to be on the alert. For some reason those ruffians are determined to
be rid of us, at least.”

“Oh, I hope Hamilton will take care of himself,” murmured Emma,
whereat her companions laughed heartily.

None of the girls left the immediate camp all that morning; they
even sent Stacy to the spring for water, much to that young man’s
disgust, for Stacy had planned on having a fine day’s sleep in his
tent.

Noon came, and the guide had not returned, so Grace decided that
they would have something to eat. The girls got the meal.

After they sat down to eat, the girls tried to be merry, but they
admitted that they missed Hamilton White, though none felt alarm at
his absence. The meal finished, dishes were washed and put away, and
packs laid out for a quick move, in the event of that becoming
necessary, for by this time the Overland Riders had learned to be
ready at a moment’s notice.

Hippy from his point of vantage kept guard over the camp and its
vicinity, now and then studying the view spread out before him. The
air was fragrant with the odor of the forest, and Hippy grew sleepy.
To keep awake he decided to get down and walk. This he did, reaching
the ground on the side of the rock farthest from the camp.

The Overlander, with only a revolver, strolled through the forest
making a circle around the camp, and studying the trees for blazes
and the ground for indications of recent visitors. Now and then he
would sit down, back against a tree, and gaze up into the blue sky
and the waving tops of the big pines.

The afternoon wore away and Hippy was still trail-hunting. It was
near supper time when Nora called him. There was no answer, so she
climbed the rock, expecting to find her husband sleeping, for Hippy
loved sleep fully as much as Stacy Brown did.

Lieutenant Wingate was not on the rock, but Nora found his rifle
laying there. She ran back to her companions in alarm.

“Hippy isn’t there!” she cried. “Oh, girls, can anything have
happened to him?” Nora was on the verge of tears.

“No, of course not,” comforted Grace.

“Then where is he?”

“Probably asleep somewhere about,” suggested Emma. “You know he and
Stacy have the sleep habit.”

“I don’t believe it. I am going out to search for him.”

“Nora, you will not!” differed Grace with emphasis. “We will all
remain where we are. To get separated would be foolish. Hippy is all
right, so sit down and chat with us. Mr. White will be along soon,
and some others besides Emma Dean will be glad to see him,” she
added, with a teasing glance at Emma.

The Overland girls ate a cold supper that night, no one feeling like
cooking or sitting down to a hearty meal. Nora was so worried that
she refused to eat at all, and, while the other girls were equally
disturbed, they masked their real feelings by teasing each other.
Emma and Stacy were ragged unmercifully.

Darkness settled over the forest, but still no Hippy, no guide.

“I think it will be advisable to bring in the horses, don’t you,
Elfreda?” asked Grace.

Miss Briggs and the others thought that would be a wise move, so the
ponies, and such of their equipment as was outside the camp, were
brought in; fuel was gathered and piled up so that they might keep
the fire burning; then the party sat down in their tents, with
blankets thrown over their shoulders, and began their watch.

It was ten o’clock that night when the hail of Ham White was heard,
and after the tension of the last few hours the Overland girls felt
like screaming a welcome. Instead they sprang out and stood awaiting
him.

“Well, did you good people think I had deserted you?” he cried out.
“I am nearly famished. Is there anything left from dinner?”

“Yes, of course there is. I will get you something. First I must
tell you. Mr. Wingate has been missing since some time this
afternoon. We don’t know what to make of it unless he has fallen
asleep somewhere,” said Grace.

“What! Tell me about it.”

Nora told the guide the story, explaining that Hippy had taken up
his station on the rock to guard the camp, and that that was the
last they saw of him.

Ham White was disturbed, but he did not show it. Instead he laughed.

“No doubt, as Mrs. Gray has suggested, he has gone to sleep. Where
is Mr. Brown?”

“He is asleep in his tent, as usual,” spoke up Emma. “Oh, Hamilton,
won’t you please find Hippy—now?”

“I will do my best. Give me a snack and I’ll go out now. I followed
the other trail for something like five miles. There were four men
in the party, only one of whom came near the camp. The trail finally
bumped into the side of a mountain and I lost it. It was so dark I
could not follow it farther. Thank you!” he added, as Emma handed
him some bacon. “I will go right out.”

They followed him around the rock and watched with keen interest as
Ham White searched for and found the trail of the missing Hippy,
which he followed, with the aid of his pocket lamp, for some
distance.

“He was strolling,” announced the guide. “You can see here where he
sat down to rest, then went on. Please return to camp. Unless he
wandered off and lost his way, I shall probably soon find him.”

The girls promptly turned back towards camp, Nora with reluctance,
which she made no effort to conceal. Then followed two hours of
anxiety. The guide returned shortly after midnight.

“There is no use of searching farther to-night,” he announced. “Mr.
Wingate undoubtedly has strayed away, but I’ll find him in the
morning. Please turn in and get some rest, for we shall undoubtedly
have an active day to-morrow. In any event, don’t lose your nerve,
Mrs. Wingate. The Lieutenant has had enough experience to know how
to take care of himself.”

Nora went to her tent weeping, Emma Dean’s arm around her, but Grace
held back at a gesture from Elfreda, who had observed that the guide
studiously avoided looking directly at Nora Wingate.

“Mr. White, have you anything to say to us?” questioned Elfreda.

“Meaning what?”

“We wish to know what you really did discover. It was well not to
say any more than you did to Mrs. Wingate.”

“You made a discovery of some sort—of that we are convinced,” spoke
up Grace.

“Yes, I did,” admitted White. “I found the lieutenant’s revolver
beside a tree where he had been sitting. His trail ended there!”

“Meaning?” persisted Miss Briggs.

“That he was attacked and carried away, in all probability. I found
evidences of that.”

“What can be done?” demanded Elfreda.

“Nothing until morning. I have means of obtaining assistance, which
I will employ as soon as it is light enough to see.”

The girls turned away and walked slowly to their tent, and the guide
stepped over to the tent occupied by Hippy and Stacy Brown. He was
out in a moment and striding towards Elfreda’s quarters.

“Miss Briggs! Mrs. Gray!” he called.

“Yes!” answered the voices of Elfreda and Grace.

“Stacy Brown is not in his tent. There has been a struggle, and the
boy has been forcibly removed,” was the startling announcement.



                            CHAPTER XVII

                         A TEST OF COURAGE


“Sta—Stacy gone?” exclaimed Elfreda Briggs. “It can’t be possible.
He is playing one of his practical jokes on us.”

“Let us look, but don’t disturb Emma and Nora if it can be avoided,”
urged Grace.

The two girls, with the guide, repaired to Lieutenant Wingate’s
tent, and examined it, using their pocket lamps. It was as Hamilton
White had said—there was every evidence that a struggle had taken
place there. The fat boy’s hat and his revolver lay where they had
been hurled to one side of the tent. His blouse was a yard or so to
the rear, and the imprint of his heels where they had been dragged
over the ground was plainly visible.

“He must have been asleep,” nodded White.

“Yes,” agreed Grace. “If awake Stacy would have set up such a howl
that none could have failed to hear. When do you think this was
done, Mr. White?”

“When we were out looking for the lieutenant. If you will remember,
Mr. Brown remained behind.”

“Do you think it wise to follow his trail?” asked Grace.

“No. Not now. I dare not leave the camp. All this may be part of a
plan. My duty is here, at least until daylight, when I will get into
communication with those who will find both men.”

“You think so, Mr. White?” questioned Elfreda anxiously.

“Yes. It is the work of the same gang, but what their motive is we
can only surmise. You and Mrs. Gray may know.”

Elfreda felt her face growing hot, and a retort was on her lips, but
she suppressed it.

“Mrs. Gray, if you think I should try to run the trail now, I will
do so, but it would be against my judgment. I hope you do not
insist,” said White, turning to Grace.

“I believe you are right,” answered Grace. “Come, Elfreda, we will
go to our tent, for no serious harm can come either to Hippy or
Stacy. They dare not harm them.”

Ham White did not reply. He knew the character of the men who
committed that piece of banditry, and knew that they would hesitate
at no crime to gain their ends, whatever those ends might be.

The guide got no sleep that night. Mindful of the attacks that had
been made on the camp, he took up his position at a distance, and,
with rifle in hand, sat motionless the rest of the night. From his
position in the deep shadows he commanded a view of the entire camp,
which was dimly lighted by the campfire all night long.

There were occasional sounds that Ham White did not believe were
made by marauding animals, but none were definite enough to warrant
exposing his position. During his vigil nothing occurred to disturb
the sleepers.

The graying mists of the early morning were rising from gulch and
forest, enfolding the mountaintops, when Ham White stole around the
camp, scrutinizing every foot of the ground. By the time he had
completed this task the mists were so far cleared away that a good
view of the surrounding country might be had.

From his kit the guide selected a wigwag signalling flag, and taking
one of the tent poles for use as a flagstaff, he went cautiously to
the high rock that stood sentinel over the Overland camp, and
climbed to its top.

“I hope none of the girls wake up,” he muttered, peering down into
the camp, which was as quiet as a deserted forest.

Ham White, after attaching the flag to the pole, began waving it up
and down, which in the wigwag code means, “I wish to speak with
you.”

It was at this juncture that Grace Harlowe slowly opened her eyes.
Where she lay she could look straight up to the top of the rock
without making the slightest movement, and her amazement must have
been reflected in her eyes.

Like several of the Overland girls, Grace’s experience in the war
had included learning to signal and to read signals. She was out of
practice, but was easily able to read any message not sent too fast.
Ham began his message, after getting the attention of the persons to
whom he was signalling, at a speed that Grace could not follow. She
did, however, catch a few words that were enlightening.

“Trouble—Haley—Trail—Send word—Caution—Great secrecy or expose
hands—Fatal to—” were some of the words that she caught as the guide
flashed them off. Then he paused.

“How I wish I could see the answer,” muttered the Overland girl, as
she watched Hamilton White, with glasses at his eyes, receiving the
message that was being sent to him.

Grace Harlowe’s, however, were not the only pair of eyes that
witnessed that exhibition of signalling. Other eyes were observing,
but that other pair could not read a word of what the signallers
were saying.

White dropped his glasses and snatched up his flag, and she read,
this time with greater ease:

“It may be fatal. Great danger to both. My responsibility. Must have
instant action. This an order. Obey without loss time. Report soon
as anything to say.” The guide signed his name, and the words that
followed the signature filled Grace Harlowe with amazement. She saw
the guide remove the flag from its staff and hide it under a stone,
after which he descended to the camp, passing the open tents without
so much as a glance at them.

Ham stirred up the fire and put over the breakfast, and, while it
was cooking, Grace came out, greeting him cheerfully.

“Is there any news, Mr. White?” she asked sweetly.

“No, not yet.”

“What have you done?”

“I signalled to a fire-lookout station that assistance was needed.
It is best to wait until we hear from them.”

“How, signal?” she questioned, appearing not to understand.

“By the air route, Mrs. Gray,” was the smiling reply.

Grace Harlowe shrugged her shoulders.

“You are a very clever man, Mr. White,” she said, and walked to her
tent to awaken Miss Briggs.

When informed that Stacy Brown was missing, a few moments later,
Nora Wingate became hysterical, but Grace and Elfreda calmed her,
and the party were ready to sit down to breakfast when the guide
announced it as ready.

It was a trying, anxious morning for the little band of Overlanders.
White made frequent trips to the rock, observed questioningly by
Elfreda.

“What is he looking for, Grace?” she asked. “Does the man expect to
find the bandits that way?”

“I don’t know. Why not ask him, J. Elfreda?”

“Not I. You know I would not.”

About mid-forenoon Grace suggested to the guide that he go out into
the forest and see if he could glean any information as to the
direction that the kidnappers had taken when they left the camp,
with either Hippy or Stacy Brown.

White pondered the subject a moment, then agreed.

“If you will promise not to leave camp, and to fire a shot at the
least suspicious sound or occurrence, I will go out,” he said. “One
of you had better go to the rock and take station there until my
return.”

Grace said she would do that. Matters were working out to her
satisfaction, and, after telling Elfreda to take her rifle and post
herself a short distance to the rear of the camp, and assigning Emma
and Nora to the right and left ends of their camping place, Grace
climbed the rock and sat down. After Ham White, following a survey
of the camp and her arrangements, of which he approved with a nod
and a wave of the hand, had left the camp, Grace got up and looked
for the signal flag, which she found under a flat stone.

“Now! Having disposed of my companions I shall see what I shall and
can see,” she told herself.

Securing the signal flag, the Overland girl took a survey of the
landscape. A vast sea of dense forest lay all about her, broken here
and there by a white-capped mountain. Nothing that looked as if it
might be a fire-lookout station attracted her eyes. She had used her
field glasses, but without result.

A moment of vigorous signalling on her part followed, after which
Grace swept the landscape again. She discovered nothing at all.
Another trial was made, and the word “answer” was spelled out by
her.

Her eye caught a faint something far to the north of her, and
Grace’s glasses were at her eyes in a twinkling. A little white flag
was fluttering up and down against the background of forest green in
the far distance.

“I’ve got him!” cried the girl exultingly. “I’ve got him!” Then,
wigwagging, Grace Harlowe signalled the one word, “Report!”

“Who?” came the answer, almost before she could get the glasses to
her eyes to read the message.

“For White,” she wigwagged. “Report!”

Holding the flag, now lowered to the rock, with one hand, the other
holding the glasses to her eyes, Grace bent every faculty to
watching that little fluttering, bobbing square of white, that, at
her distance from it, looked little larger than a postage stamp.

“Repeat!” she interrupted frequently, whenever part of a word was
missed. It was a laborious effort for her, out of practice as she
was, and the exchange of messages lasted for a full half hour before
the Overland girl gave her unseen, unknown signaller the “O. K.”
signal.

Grace folded the flag and placed it under the stone, then
straightened up.

“Mr. Hamilton White, I have you now!” she exclaimed, a triumphant
note in her voice.



                           CHAPTER XVIII

                         THE FLAMING ARROW


“Where am I at?”

It was Hippy Wingate’s first conscious moment since he was struck
down while sleeping with his back against a tree not far from the
Overland camp. All was darkness about him as he awakened in
unfamiliar surroundings. Essaying to rise, the Overlander discovered
that he was bound. Still worse, there was a gag in his mouth.

A gentle breeze was blowing over him, and at first he thought he was
still under the trees. Hippy then realized that there was a hard
floor beneath him. His head ached, and when he tried to sit up he
found that it swam dizzily.

“I wonder what happened to me?” he muttered. “Hello!”

There was no response to his call; in fact, his voice, still weak,
did not carry far and it was thick because of the gag. Then began a
struggle with himself, that, while it exhausted him for the time
being, aided in overcoming his dizziness.

Hippy heard men conversing, heard them approaching, whereupon he
pretended still to be unconscious. A door was flung wide open, and a
lantern, held high, lighted up the interior of the building with a
faint radiance.

“Hain’t woke up,” announced one of the two men who stood in the
doorway.

“Mebby he never will,” answered the other.

“I don’t reckon it makes much difference, so long as we got two of
’em,” returned the first speaker. “What shall we do—let ’im sleep?”

“Yes.”

The man with the lantern strode over and peered down at the
prostrate Overlander, while the prisoner, from beneath what seemed
to be closed eyelids, got a good look into the swarthy, hard-lined
face. Lieutenant Wingate would remember that face—he would remember
the voices of both men—would know them wherever he heard them.

“Let ’im sleep. When he wakes up we’ll have something to say to
’im.” With that the two men went out, slamming the door behind them.

The lantern light had shown Hippy that he was in a log cabin. At his
back was a window, or a window-opening, for which he was thankful,
as it offered a possible way of escape. But how, in his present
condition, could he hope to gain his liberty?

There was no answer to the Overlander’s mental question. First, he
must regain his strength. The leather thongs with which he was bound
interfered with his circulation, and his legs were numb. So were his
arms, and his jaws ached from the gag that was between his teeth. In
fact, Lieutenant Hippy Wingate did not remember ever to have
suffered so many aches and pains at one time as he had at that
moment.

He began his struggles again, but more with the idea of starting his
circulation and gaining strength than with any immediate hope of
escape. By rolling over several times he was able to reach the door,
but having reached it he had no hands with which to open it. Hippy
wanted to look out. Failing there, he bethought himself of the
window, and rolled back across the floor to it. Exerting a great
effort, he managed to work his head up to the window so he could see
out.

The night was dark, but the Overlander was able to make out trees
and rugged rocky walls, together with what appeared to be a dense
mass of bushes. The scene was unlike anything he had seen in the
State of Washington since his party had started on their outing.

“I may be up in the Canadian Rockies, for all I know,” he muttered.

Hippy sank down, weak and trembling.

For a change, he rolled back and forth, pulling himself up to the
window again and again, and each time found himself stronger than
before.

“If I were free and had a gun I’d show those cowards something!”
raged the Overlander, his anger rising. “Why did they have to pick
on me? I wonder what the folks at the camp are think—”

“Sh-h-h-h!”

It was a low, sibilant hiss from the window, and Hippy fell suddenly
silent.

“Keep quiet and listen to me,” warned a hoarse voice. “The gang is
out of range, but we don’t know when one or more of ’em will be
back. I’m coming in.”

Not being able to answer, except with a grunt, the Overlander merely
grunted his understanding.

The stranger leaped into the room and felt for the prisoner.

“I am going to cut you loose. Are you wounded?”

“No, I think not,” mumbled Hippy, but his words were unintelligible.

The first thing the stranger did was to remove the gag, which he did
with so much care that the operation gave no pain. Then came the
leather thongs. These he ripped off with a few deft sweeps of a
knife, and Lieutenant Wingate was a free man so far as his bonds
were concerned.

“Can you walk?” in the same hoarse voice.

“I could fly if I had to,” was the brief reply. “Who are you?”

“You wouldn’t know if I told you. Here!” The man thrust a revolver
into his hand. “Don’t use it unless you have to. We aren’t out of
the woods by a long shot. Come!”

The stranger assisted Hippy through the window, which was
accomplished with some difficulty, for Lieutenant Wingate was stiff
and sore. A firm hand was fixed on his arm, and his companion began
leading him rapidly away. Not a word was spoken for several
minutes—not until they had plunged into the dark depths of a canyon,
through which the man picked the way unerringly.

“How are you standing it?” was the question abruptly put to
Lieutenant Wingate.

“Rotten! But I’ll pick up speed as I go along and get my motors
warmed up.”

The stranger chuckled.

“Where are we going?”

“We are headed for your camp, but it’s quite a hike and a hard one.
If you get leg-weary, stop and rest a bit. How’d they get you?”

“I went to sleep just outside the camp, and I think I must have got
a clump on the head. Ouch!” Hippy had lifted a hand to his head, and
felt there a bump as big as an egg. “I guess I did get a clump. It’s
a wonder I’m not dead. When is it, to-day or to-morrow?”

“It’s the day after,” was the half humorous reply.

“Please tell me how you found me?” asked the Overlander.

“Ham White got in touch with some people I know. They got word to
me, and gave me the tip. The same people saw the gang that got you
heading for the pass where you were taken, so I made for that place
as soon as I got the word from White. I was lucky; I might have had
to hunt the whole state over for you. The gang made a bad play when
they picked you up. We’ve got a line on them now.”

“Who is we?” interjected Hippy.

“All of us,” was the noncommittal reply. “Don’t speak so loudly. It
isn’t safe yet.”

That walk Hippy Wingate never forgot. Every step sent shooting pains
through his head and legs. He stumbled frequently, but every time
the grip of the stranger tightened on his arm, and he was kept on
his feet.

“When you get to camp, tell your people to watch out. Some of the
gang are still out on trail. I reckon they aren’t out for any good,
and they may be planning to rush your camp and get the rest of your
party.”

“Why do they want us?” wondered Lieutenant Wingate. “Is it robbery?”

“Yes, but not the sort of robbery you think. Tell your friend Miss
Briggs that it’s time she told her party her story. She knows why.”

“I begin to see a light,” muttered the Overlander. “Say! There’s
something familiar about your voice, but I can’t place it. Got a
cold?”

“Yes.”

Little conversation was indulged in after that, and at last Hippy’s
rescuer halted and pointed.

“See that light?” he asked in a whisper.

“Yes.”

“That’s your camp. I leave you here. Take my advice, and don’t make
much noise to-night. Keep your fire low, and post guards. Tell White
there is a man out here wants to see him. You need not let the
others know about my being here. I’m in a hurry. Good-night.”

“But—won’t you come—”

“Go on!”

Hippy wavered a little as he started towards the camp, into which he
staggered a few minutes later.

A cry greeted his appearance, and Nora’s arms were flung about his
neck ere he had fairly reached the light of the campfire. He held up
his hand for silence.

“Give me something to eat, if you love me. I’m famished.”

Nora ran for the coffee pot, which Ham White took from her. Hippy
stepped over to him and whispered something to the guide, as he
relieved White of the coffee pot.

White immediately left the camp.

By now the other members of the party were about Hippy shoving their
joy at his return.

“Have you seen Stacy?” demanded Grace eagerly, as soon as she could
get his attention.

“No. Why?”

“He, too, has been missing, and—”

“The curs!” raged Lieutenant Wingate. “So they got him, too, did
they?”

“Never mind now. You must drink and eat. Where is Mr. White?”
wondered Grace, glancing quickly about the camp.

“I sent him out on an errand,” answered Hippy. “Ah! The coffee is
not so hot that it burns, but it’s nectar.”

“Oh, my darlin’! Your head!” cried Nora, just discovering the
swelling there.

Elfreda was at his side in an instant, examining the lump that, to
Hippy, seemed fully as big as his head itself. Miss Briggs ran to
her tent for liniment, and in a moment was applying it to the sore
spot.

Hippy’s story was brief, because there was little that he could tell
them. He was amazed when he learned that he had been away so long.

Grace explained to him how White had reached some lookouts on the
range and got them to go in search of him. “How they found you so
soon, I don’t understand. Do you?”

Hippy shook his head.

“There are some things in this neck of the woods that are beyond
explaining. I hope they didn’t give Stacy such a wallop as I got.
But don’t worry about him. They can’t keep him long. Stacy will eat
them out of his way. I was easy. He isn’t.”

Ham White returned at this juncture.

“We shall probably have another guest to-night, if all goes well,”
he announced.

“A guest?” wondered the Overlanders.

“So I am informed; perhaps more than one. Do not ask any questions,
for I can’t answer them. Well, Lieutenant, you had a rough time of
it, didn’t you?”

“The Germans could not have done anything much worse.”

“Would you recognize any of the fellows who captured you?”
questioned White.

“I saw only two, but I shall know them when I see them, and they
will have reason to know me, for—”

“Hamilton, who are the guests you are expecting?” urged Emma in her
sweetest tone of voice.

“Sorry, Miss Dean, but I can’t tell you.”

“Isn’t that just like a man—making a mystery of everything? I
think—”

“Hello, folks!” cried a voice from the bush.

The Overlanders fairly jumped at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Tom! Tom Gray!” cried Grace, running and throwing herself into her
husband’s arms. “How happy I am to see you, you will never know. I
needed you, Tom—we all have needed you, and I think we shall need
you still more. Where did you come from?”

“Hello, old chap!” cried Hippy jovially.

The Overlanders crowded around Captain Tom Gray joyously.

“How are you, White!” greeted Grace’s husband, as soon as he could
free himself from the welcome of Grace, Nora and Emma. “I have been
looking forward to meeting you, and I knew, from what I had heard,
just the sort of man you would be—I mean as to looks,” added Tom,
grinning. “The men on the range are looking forward to seeing
their—”

A warning look from the guide checked Tom.

“I will explain later,” whispered the guide.

“I thank you for sending for me,” bowed Tom, with ready
resourcefulness. “I knew that the need must be urgent or you would
not have done so.”

“Yes. I have a double responsibility—a moral and a physical one, and
I felt that I had no right to go farther until I had consulted with
Mrs. Gray’s husband. We are heading for trouble, in fact we have
already been having it.”

“Tell me about it. I know some of the facts, but I want them at
first hand.”

“Miss Briggs knows the story. I suggest that she relate the story of
her experiences, which will give you the slant I want you to get. I
suppose you know of the kidnapping of Lieutenant Wingate and Stacy
Brown?” asked the guide.

“The bare facts only. J. Elfreda, you seem to be the pivotal point
on this journey. Grace is holding my hand so tightly that I shall
have to ask her to give me a chance to listen to you,” answered Tom
laughingly.

Emma offered to demonstrate to give Tom a “chance” to hear the
story. Grace laughed happily. A great load of responsibility and
worry had been lifted from her shoulders.

“I will be good, J. Elfreda. Please tell Tom everything—everything,
remember. Mr. White, we wish you to sit in,” added Grace, as the
guide discreetly moved away.

There followed a moment of silence, then Elfreda Briggs began the
story of the fire, of her arrival at the forest cabin, and of the
dramatic occurrences there. She told of the diary, of the loss of
the gold dust, and of the general directions that Sam Petersen had
left for locating the claim, though Elfreda did not say what those
directions were. She thought it advisable not to do so.

Hippy got up and walked to his tent, returning shortly and standing
with his back to a tree and his hands in his pockets as Miss Briggs
finished her story.

Grace took up the story from that point, relating all that had
occurred since Elfreda’s experience in the forest shack, but
avoiding what she had learned through her wigwagging about Hamilton
White.

Tom Gray pondered over the story, stroking his cheek, which Tom
always did when thinking deeply.

“The Murrays, eh, White?” he questioned, glancing up at the guide.

Ham White nodded.

“It looks that way,” replied White.

“They know about this Lost River story, do you think?”

“Most everyone does up here. It is an old Indian legend, and
probably has no more foundation in fact than most Indian legends,”
answered the guide. “Mind you, I am not saying that such a place
doesn’t exist. No doubt there are many rich veins in the Cascade
Range yet to be discovered. Petersen evidently believed he had found
it, but he undoubtedly was delirious when he described the spot. He
had been shot, you know.”

“When he made the entries in his diary he hadn’t been shot,”
retorted Miss Briggs with some warmth. She checked herself sharply.

“Not having seen the entries I cannot say,” replied White.

“What puzzles me is what became of the contents of the bag of gold.
Surely the bandit who came back did not take it, for he did not have
the opportunity,” reminded Captain Gray. “What became of it,
Elfreda?”

“Have a look at this,” spoke up Hippy Wingate, tossing a small
leather pouch of his own into Elfreda’s lap.

“Wha—what—” gasped the girl.

“It is the gold you thought had been stolen, and—”

A peculiar whirring sound checked what Hippy was about to say. The
Overlanders glanced up and saw descending upon them what they took
to be a falling firebrand, with a streamer of light like the tail of
a comet following it.

“Look out!” shouted Hippy.

His warning was not necessary, for the Overland Riders had leaped to
their feet and ran for cover. The firebrand hit the ground with a
thud, and as it landed Hamilton White threw a blanket on it, and
himself on the blanket to smother the flame. The guide knew that
there was a meaning in that flaming visitor’s arrival, and he wished
to ascertain it.

“Oh, Hamilton, what is it?” cried Emma.

“The flaming arrow!” exclaimed Tom Gray. “That’s an Indian trick. No
white man ever thought of that. What does it mean, White?”

“Wait!” The guide removed a thin piece of bark that had been bound
to the arrow near its butt, and from under the bark he drew out a
piece of paper. “It is a message,” he announced after peering at the
piece of paper, and then handed it to Tom Gray.



                            CHAPTER XIX

                      HIS FATE IN THE BALANCE


“It’s a red hot one, I’ll bet!” exclaimed Hippy.

“Hippy!” admonished Nora.

“What is it, Tom?” begged Grace, slipping an arm through his. “I
think I know.”

“You are right, Hippy.” Captain Gray held the slip of paper down so
the feeble light of the fire shone upon it. “It is from Stacy.
Listen:

“‘Help! I’m in Dutch again. Get me out, quick. They are a lot of
ruf—of fine gentlemen here, but they want something that you’ve got.
If they don’t get it I’m to be shot at sunrise. Oh, wow! They want a
book they say you have, and they want it bad. You are to leave it on
top of the rock by the camp and go away. They want something else,
too—a bag of gold that you or somebody took from that fellow
Petersen. Mebby I’ll see him soon. Do you folks know anything about
the gold? I told them the nearest thing to gold that I’d seen up
here was a sunset the other night. They say the book and the gold
doesn’t belong to you—that one of our party stole it. You folks have
been holding out on me! I’ll be even with you for that. Can’t write
any more ’cause the mail man won’t wait. Hurry, for the love of
Mike! Hurry or I’m a dead one! Wow! Stacy.’”

“They wouldn’t dare!” cried Nora.

“Oh, yes they would,” answered Tom. “The Murrays are a desperate
gang. Even if they get what they demand they might put him out of
the way, but it is my opinion that they will simply set him adrift,
in which event we shall find him. How do you communicate, White?” he
asked, turning to the guide.

“He wigwags,” spoke up Grace; whereat the guide gave her a quick
glance, but the Overland girl’s face told him nothing.

“Please take your flashlight and see if you can pick up a station
with it, White. If so, tell them where the boy may possibly be and
ask them to send someone after him.”

“Just a moment, Captain. May I speak with you aside?”

Tom stepped away from his companions, and he and the guide held a
long whispered conversation. Tom then returned to the others.

[Illustration: “The Flaming Arrow!”]

“Mr. White advises against doing as I suggested. He says the rangers
are already looking for Stacy, and that to signal would simply be
putting the bandits on their guard. There are other reasons which he
has given me in confidence. You shall know all about it later on.
Now may I see that diary, Miss Briggs?”

“Yes, of course. Throw it away if you like. I never want to see the
hateful thing again. What I do think I am entitled to, though, is an
explanation from you, Hippy Wingate. When, where and how did you get
my bag of gold?”

“Perhaps a good little fairy, knowing my love for the yellow stuff,
dropped it into my mess kit so that I might buy gold plates to use
at meals in place of the luxurious tin plates that I am now using.
How did you get it, J. Elfreda?”

“Mr. Petersen gave it to me. He said the Murrays knew he had it, and
that it was to be mine for what he was pleased to call my kindness
to him. He gave me the diary at the same time because it held a
supposed clue to Lost Mine and Lost River, a river paved with gold.”

“I don’t wonder that Stacy accuses us of ‘holding out on him,’”
chuckled Tom Gray.

“I might, and with very good reason, make the same accusation
against certain persons unmentionable,” retorted Miss Briggs, which
brought a laugh from her companions.

Tom Gray, in the meantime, had been running over the pages of the
diary, noting every entry made by the old prospector.

“A leaf has been torn out of here. It looks as if it were lately
torn out. Did you do it?” he asked, addressing Miss Briggs.

Grace explained that the leaf was torn out when the book was
snatched from her hand one night, of which circumstance she had
already told Tom.

“What was on it?”

“We destroyed the leaf,” spoke up Miss Briggs.

“That wasn’t what I asked you, J. Elfreda. Of course you do not have
to answer if you don’t wish to. I am simply trying to get at the
bottom of this affair as a guide to our immediate actions. It is
very important.”

Elfreda glanced at Hamilton White. He caught the glance and,
instantly comprehending, stepped back and began poking the fire and
putting on fresh fuel.

“‘Grandma and the Children—three peaks due east,’” whispered
Elfreda.

She saw a sudden flash in Tom Gray’s eyes, an expression that
Elfreda was unable to interpret.

“‘When the sun is at the meridian the sands turn to golden yellow,’”
he quoted from the diary. “This, taken in connection with what you
say was on the torn leaf, is quite enlightening. I think we will
tear out two more pages while we are about it, if you have no
objection.”

“Go as far as you like, Tom. You may throw the book away if you
wish. It has brought us only bad luck,” said Miss Briggs.

“I say, White! My suggestion is that we leave this confounded diary
where Stacy directs us to leave it.”

“And the gold?”

“Well, that is different. I don’t like the idea of giving gold to
those cutthroats. What is the value of the stuff? Let us look it
over.”

Tom Gray examined the nuggets, weighed them in his hand, a stone at
a time, and, disregarding the “dust,” closed and secured the bag.
Then he opened it, and weighing out several nuggets again in his
hand, glanced over at Miss Briggs.

“I should say that there is something more than two thousand
dollars’ worth of nuggets and ‘dirt’ there, of which I hold from
five to seven hundred dollars’ worth in my hand. Elfreda, you
probably will think I have a cold nerve to make the suggestion, but
I propose that we put these nuggets in a bag with the diary and
leave them for the bandits.”

“What! Give five hundred dollars to a bunch of bandits?” cried Hippy
aghast. “Impossible! Are you crazy?”

“We may be, at that,” admitted Captain Gray.

“Say yes. Tom knows what he is doing,” whispered Grace, nudging Miss
Briggs.

“Of course, Tom,” replied Elfreda promptly. “If you say leave it
all, I’ll say the same. You can’t imagine what a relief it will be
to me to be rid of it.”

“Thank you. White! A word with you!”

An earnest conversation followed between Tom Gray and the guide,
following which, Ham White packed his kit, stowed some food in his
bag and brought up his horse.

“Look here, old top! Where are you going?” demanded Hippy.

“On business, Lieutenant. The Captain can tell you why. I hope to
see you soon. Good-night and good luck.” With that the guide turned
his horse toward the south, the opposite direction from that which
the Overland Riders were following. They were amazed, and demanded
an explanation.

“It isn’t safe to say a word,” answered Tom. “I’ll tell you this
much, though. Pack up and be ready to start on a long ride within an
hour. We are heading towards home!”



                             CHAPTER XX

                       “I’M SHOT!” CRIES EMMA


“Home!” cried Nora and Emma in chorus. “No, no, no!”

“Why go home?” wondered Miss Briggs. “I thought we had just started
on our adventures.”

“Don’t oppose,” whispered Grace.

“So that’s the game, is it?” chuckled Hippy, who had been regarding
Tom narrowly, and saw by the expression of Captain Gray’s face that
he had a definite motive in making the announcement that they were
about to head towards home.

“All right, Grace. He did not say that we are going home,” answered
Miss Briggs in reply to Grace. “I might have known. To leave here
now, with Stacy missing, and our affairs in the air, as it were,
would be unthinkable. I am afraid my brain is becoming addled.”

“You should demonstrate,” reminded Emma, and Elfreda nodded her
approval of the sentiment.

Preparations for the departure had already been begun by Captain
Gray, and now Hippy turned in to assist him. Tom soon left to get
his horse, which had been tethered not far from camp. He had refused
to answer questions as to how he found the camp, nor did Grace ask,
but the others did.

When all was in readiness for leaving, packs lashed, horses saddled,
Tom, taking the diary and the gold, went to the rock and hid the
stuff as the message from Stacy had directed them to do.

“Mount!” ordered Tom upon his return from planting the book and the
gold, and he doused the fire, making certain that every last spark
was extinguished. He then swung into his saddle and led the way,
heading south, followed silently by the others of the party. They
wondered how, in the darkness, he could find his way, but Tom was
taking the stars as his guides. He was too experienced a forester
not to be able to go in any direction in a forest, day or night, and
go almost unerringly.

The Overlanders were sleepy and not any too happy. They were
worrying about Stacy, too. There was little conversation because it
was necessary to give all attention to their riding. Riding in a
forest at night is a trying experience, and sometimes a painful one
when one considers the bumps, the collisions of legs against trees,
and the slaps in the face from low-hanging bushes. All this the
Overland party experienced, so their progress was slow.

They had proceeded about an hour when a distant rifle report was
heard. It seemed to come from the rear. Tom called a halt to listen.
A rattling fire sprang up, and continued for several minutes; then
died out after a few further scattering shots.

“Can you locate it, Tom?” called Hippy.

“I should say that the firing is somewhere near the camp we left,”
replied Tom.

“Oh, how strange,” cried Emma. “Why are they fighting there, and who
is it that is fighting?”

“Quite possibly it is the bandits fighting over J. Elfreda’s gold,”
suggested Grace as the party, at a command from Tom Gray, moved
forward again. Some time later the leader called back that they were
about to come upon a small watercourse and that they would follow
it.

“We shall probably find plenty of overhanging bushes, so protect
your faces,” he directed.

They wondered how he knew that they were near a stream. Tom said he
could smell it.

“Wonderful scent,” growled Hippy. “Perhaps you can tell us whether
or not the water is wet.”

“It may be for you if you don’t watch your step,” answered Captain
Gray laughingly.

They entered the stream a few moments after that, and the going
proved to be even worse than Grace’s husband had predicted. Bushes
hung over the stream and met, forming a bower so low that the riders
had to lean well forward to protect their faces from being
continuously whipped. Not alone that, but the horses were constantly
slipping on moss-covered stones, threatening at every moment to
unhorse their riders.

Emma wailed her protests ere they had proceeded far, but Tom said
they must take their medicine and be good sports.

“I don’t want to be a sport,” complained Emma. “I want to sleep.”

“Demonstrate over it,” advised Lieutenant Wingate.

It was just before daylight when Tom headed out of the stream
through a narrow defile in the rocks, finally coming to a halt on a
level piece of ground of about three acres, surrounded on all sides
by mountain forests.

The Overlanders could not see their surroundings clearly, but got a
general idea of them, and immediately begged their leader to let
them dismount for a rest and for a bite to eat.

“All right! Go to it,” cried Tom Gray, setting them the example by
dismounting and removing the saddle from his horse.

As the day began to dawn, the girls gazed interestedly at the
terraced forest, at the green carpet of mountain meadowland that lay
at their feet through which flowed a sparkling stream of water, then
up at the dawning day. It was then that Grace made a discovery.

“Why, Tom, we have been traveling north, not south!” she exclaimed.

“Too true, Loyalheart,” answered Captain Gray with a jolly note in
his voice.

“Then we are not on our way home?” cried Nora.

“No. We are going on into the Cascades, in the foothills of which we
now are. We are going to find Stacy, and then—perhaps we shall find
something else. First, folks, we shall have to meet and reckon with
the bandits of the range. They are determined that we shall not make
a move that they do not check.”

“Do—do you think they are watching us now, Tom?” begged Emma with
concern.

“Possibly, but I rather think they are fully occupied at present. I
will let you into a secret. The purpose of leaving Elfreda’s gold
and the old prospector’s diary was to trap the bandits and attack
them.”

“Who will attack them?” Elfreda asked.

“Certain officers of the law who were lying in wait about the camp
even before you left there. It was a battle on our campground that
you heard—a battle between the officers and the bandits of the
range. We will now get breakfast and have forty winks of sleep,
provided we are not interrupted.”

Sleep was welcome, even more so than breakfast. The meal was quickly
disposed of and the Overlanders lay down with their clothes on, Tom
advising them to be ready to move at an instant’s notice.

They had not been asleep long ere the crash of a rifle brought all
members of the party to their feet.

“Lie down and stay down!” commanded Captain Gray, setting the
example by throwing himself to the ground. Tom knew what the others
did not—that a rifle bullet had sped low over the spot occupied by
the Overlanders.

Then came a heavy scattering fire from two sides of the mountain
meadow, and now they could plainly hear the bullets singing
overhead.

Frightened, Emma Dean sprang up to run to the cover of the trees and
as she ran they saw her throw up her hands.

“I’m hit! Oh, I’m shot!” she cried, and pitched forward in the deep
meadow grass.



                            CHAPTER XXI

                        STACY SEEKS A CHANGE


When Stacy Brown awakened from the sleep into which his captors had
put him, he was lying across the back of a horse.

At first the fat boy didn’t know what had occurred; then he recalled
that there had been a struggle in his tent and that a hand on his
throat had nearly choked him to death. A few seconds after that he
lost consciousness. And now he was being carried away on horseback.
“Let me up! Let me up!” he shouted.

A prod from a heavy boot caused him to utter a loud howl.

“Shut up!” commanded the man behind him in the saddle on the same
horse.

“Le—let me up and I will. I’ll yell all the way if you don’t,”
persisted Stacy.

The boy’s hands were bound to his sides, and his ankles were tied
together.

For reasons of his own, the rider halted the horse and dismounted.
He then released the boy’s ankles, and slightly loosened the leather
thongs that hound his arms, but there he stopped.

“Aren’t you going to untie me?” demanded Stacy.

“Hold your tongue. You’ll be lucky if I don’t clout you over the
head. You hang onto me now. If you try any tricks I’ll finish you
with a bullet between the eyes.”

“Oh, wow!” wailed the fat boy. “Where you going to take me?”

“None of your business! Is it any of your business?” The fellow
thrust the muzzle of a revolver into Stacy’s face.

“N—n—n—no! It isn’t any of my business,” chattered the boy. He was
thrown astride the horse; then his captor mounted in front of him,
and Stacy clung to the fellow’s shirt with the tips of his fingers.

It was an awful ride, Stacy slipping from side to side with each
gallop of the mount, the perspiration streaming down his face from
his efforts and the nervous strain.

The ride continued for what seemed hours; then the horseman having
halted uttered a sharp, short whistle, which, being answered, he
rode ahead. Two men with rifles loomed out of the darkness and
peered up at the riders.

“Got him?”

“Yes. Where’s the other one?”

“In the shack. We don’t want to put this one there. They mustn’t get
close enough together to talk. We’ll put him in the trough.”

_The trough!_ Stacy began having visions of a ducking in cold
mountain water, which thought made him shiver. He was forcibly
removed from the horse and made to walk, with a cold hand at the
back of his neck. He was taken but a short distance from the horse,
then, after his feet had been tied and the arm bonds tightened,
Chunky was rolled into what, at home, would have been called a
ditch. Here, it was a narrow channel that had been cut through the
rocks by water. This was the “trough,” and Stacy was left alone
there, while his captors walked away.

It was not long after their departure that he heard excited voices.
They were hurrying towards him.

“Hey, you feller there!”

“Well, what do you want?” growled the boy in the “trough.”

“He’s all right. I hope the boys kotch the rest of ’em. Don’t make
no difference whether it’s dead or alive so long as we’ve got two of
’em.”

Stacy pricked up his ears at this. He wondered to whom they
referred.

“Come out of that!” ordered one of the men.

“I can’t fall up. Take me out if you want me.”

Stacy was yanked from the “trough” with far from gentle hands, his
bonds were removed, and he was permitted to walk, guarded by the
men. Some little distance from the “trough” they rounded a rock and
came upon a small campfire, near which sat two other men, and rough,
hard-faced men they were. They eyed him with menacing eyes. Stacy
did not like the looks of them.

“Who be ye?” demanded one of the two by the fire.

“Name’s Brown. Who are you?”

“What you doing up in these woods?”

“Riding for my health, but it’s the most unhealthy place I ever got
into.”

“Know anything ’bout a diary that a fellow named Petersen—a hoss
thief—got robbed of by one of your party?”

“My party never robbed anybody,” objected Stacy indignantly.

“Shut up! Answer me.”

“How can I answer you and shut up at the same time?”

The man addressed sprang up and struck the fat boy with the flat of
his hand and Stacy toppled over.

“You’re a coward! A miserable sneak—”

_Whack!_ A second slap laid the boy flat on the ground again. He got
up, red of face and raging within.

“If I had a gun you wouldn’t dare do that, you ruffian!”

“Here’s a gun,” answered the bandit, thrusting a revolver towards
the Overland boy.

Stacy shrugged his shoulders, but did not take the weapon.

“I—I don’t like to hurt anyone. I—I—I have an aversion to taking
human life, and if I were to take that weapon I’m afraid I might
forget myself and shoot someone,” stammered the fat boy.

The bandits laughed.

“Called your bluff, didn’t I?” sneered the fellow.

“No. I said if I had a gun you wouldn’t dare do that. Not having a
gun I suppose you can do as you like—this time.”

“Sit down thar. I want you to write a letter to your folks back
there and tell them that they got to leave the book that one of ’em
stole from Petersen, and the bag of gold, too, under a stone on top
of the rock behind the camp, and then git out.”

“You mean that I can go then—after I have written the note?”
questioned the boy with a hopeful note in his voice.

“I didn’t say nothing of the kind.”

“Then I won’t write it!” declared Stacy with emphasis.

Another whack from the bandit’s ham-like paw sent the boy
staggering.

“Listen, young feller. This ain’t no joke. Whether or not you go
back at all ain’t worrying me, but I’ll tell you this much. You
write that letter and say in it that if your folks don’t do as you
tell them to, we’re going to shoot you to-morrow. Mebby we’ll do it
anyway, and that’s what’s coming to you if you don’t write. Will you
write the letter?”

“I’ll write it,” agreed the fat boy. “Give me something to write
with.” Stacy labored over that letter, and his forehead and face
were wet with perspiration while he was doing it. If he failed to
convey the message, he believed the bandits really would make way
with him, and if the Overlanders did not obey the order of the
bandits, he was positive the bandits would carry out their threat.
For these reasons Stacy Brown took more care in composing that
letter than he had ever done before in writing a letter.

It was this message that, some time later, landed in the camp of the
Overlanders on the flaming arrow, shot to them by a half-breed
Indian.

“Read it,” commanded the bandit.

Stacy did, whereupon the bandits with heads close together read it
over laboriously, one holding the message close to the fire for
better light. The one who appeared to be the leader handed it to a
companion.

“See that the ‘squaw-man’ pushes that through by the air road,” he
ordered. “It’s got to go through in a hurry or somebody’ll suffer.
Git!”

“Cap’n!” cried a voice, and a man dashed around the corner of the
rock that protected the bandits. “He’s gone! He’s vamoosed. Don’t
know how, but some varmint cut the ropes and let him out.”

“Gone! Go after him, men! What are you standing ’round here for? Get
him, dead or alive! Nail that boy first! Never mind, I’ll do it.
I’ll—!” The bandit paused suddenly and a blank look appeared on his
face. “Whe—whe—where is he?”

Stacy Brown was not there. He had taken advantage of the
interruption, and bounded away.

“You need a change, Stacy Brown, and you’re going to have it, if
your legs hold out,” growled the boy as he bounded away into the
forest.



                            CHAPTER XXII

                         A STRANGE VISITOR


“Emma’s hit!” wailed Nora, as the girls sprang up at Emma Dean’s cry
and the tumble that they saw her take.

“Get down!” commanded Tom Gray. “You’ll be hit.”

Not one of the three girls gave heed to his warning. Elfreda, Grace
and Nora ran to the spot at which they had seen Emma pitch forward.

Elfreda was the first to reach her. Emma lay moaning, both hands
pressed to her right cheek.

“Where were you hit, dear?” questioned Miss Briggs with no trace of
excitement in her voice.

“In my cheek. I thi—think the bullet went clear through.”

“If it had you wouldn’t be talking to me now. Take your hand away,
please,” directed Elfreda.

Emma would not do so, so Grace stretched forth a hand and forcibly
removed Emma’s hand from her face. A red blotch on the cheek with a
small white center were the only indications that something really
had hit the girl. Elfreda examined the spot, and a smile rippled
over her face.

“You poor child! No bullet even grazed you, but something did sting
you,” announced Elfreda. “I think it is a bee sting. Did you feel
stings anywhere else?”

“Yes. On the other cheek, but not so bad there,” gasped Emma.
“That’s why I thought the bullet had gone through.”

“This is one instance in your life when you should have
demonstrated,” declared Miss Briggs. “You see how easy it is to
imagine things, and suffer because you imagine.”

Emma sat up and smiled.

The shooting was still going on from the borders of the meadow,
though the firing was not so rapid as before, both sides apparently
sparing their ammunition, but enough shots were being fired to make
it most uncomfortable for the Overlanders who were directly in line
of the firing between the two opposing forces.

Tom joined the girls and led them to a safer place behind some huge
boulders, where he sternly ordered them to remain until he gave them
permission to change positions. Tom, rifle in hand, then crept out
to a place where he could get a better view of what was going on. As
he reached a point of vantage a double blast of fire overhead
greeted him; then the firing ceased altogether.

It was then that the Overlander discovered a man creeping around the
far end of the meadow. Then he saw another man creeping out from the
opposite side of the field, and realized that the two men were
stalking each other.

“Keep low, girls!” he called softly. “Something is coming off here
if I’m not mistaken.”

Instead of keeping low four heads quickly bobbed up from behind the
boulders. At first the girls saw nothing unusual; then they
discovered what Tom had just seen. They could see both men at
intervals as the men’s heads came up.

“Girls!” Grace snatched her field glasses and directed them at the
creeping man on their side of the meadow.

“Wha—what is it?” cried Nora.

“The Peanut Man—it’s Jim Haley! There—see!” She passed her glasses
to Elfreda who took a long look.

“You are right, Grace. What does it mean?”

“That we have friends here, J. Elfreda, but I fear something
terrible is going to happen. Look!”

The two men had seen each other as their heads were cautiously
raised above the tall grass, and both exchanged shots with their
revolvers at identically the same second. Then they both ducked back
to the protection of the meadow grass.

Jim Haley was on his feet a few seconds later.

“Come out, you sneaking cur!” he shouted. “Stand up like a man!”

The taunt was too much for Haley’s adversary. The fellow leaped to
his feet, and, as he leaped, he fired. So did Haley. Neither scored,
and, so far as the Overlanders could observe, not a human being
except themselves saw the duel that was being fought out there in
the meadow. Haley’s adversary ducked, and the Overlanders saw what
his strategy was. A slight waving of the grass told them that the
fellow was crawling to the left. They did not know whether or not
Haley saw that.

A moment or so later the man again sprang up and fired, but the
Peanut Man had not been deceived. His revolver banged so quickly
that the watchers could not tell which man fired first.

“Good for Jim Haley!” cried Tom Gray.

“Don’t!” admonished Grace. “Tom, don’t forget that this may end in a
tragedy.”

“That’s what it is going to end in—perhaps more than one tragedy.
When Haley and the other fellow wind up you will see more lively
work, and—”

“Hippy! Oh, where is my Hippy?” cried Nora.

“Don’t worry. He has gone to join some of the men who are backing
Haley,” replied Tom.

Neither Haley nor his opponent ducked after that and to the Overland
girls, terrible as it was, it was a wonderful thing to see the two
men standing up in the meadow shooting at each other as calmly as
though they were firing at targets.

Emma Dean’s face was pale, and her whole body was trembling with
excitement.

A little cry from one of the girls greeted a new move on the part of
Haley’s antagonist. The fellow suddenly whipped out another
revolver, and began shooting with both guns at the same time.

Jim Haley demonstrated that he, too, could do that, and he did, and
the bullets flew thick and fast. Then suddenly they saw Haley’s
enemy spin half way around.

“He’s hit!” cried Nora.

The man was hit, and Haley held his fire. But the Peanut Man’s
adversary came back with two more shots, both of which grazed
Haley’s body. Then, like a flash, Jim Haley fired two shots at the
same instant. His adversary turned slowly and then pitched sideways
to the ground.

Haley himself went down almost as suddenly, the difference being
that Haley was not hurt, but he knew what to expect after his
adversary had fallen seriously wounded.

The crash of rifles was heard on the opposite side of the meadow,
but there was no reply from the Overland side.

“Where are they? Oh, where are Hippy and the people he is with?”
cried Nora.

“I think they are on the other side of the meadow among the trees,
creeping toward their enemies,” answered Grace Harlowe. “Two parties
are shooting over on that side now.”

“Yes,” answered Tom. “You have it right, Grace. The Peanut Man
offered himself as a possible sacrifice to enable his companions to
work around to the other side of the meadow and attack the enemy on
their own ground.”

“But where is Mr. Haley? Are you sure that he wasn’t hit?” begged
Emma.

“No. I could see by the way he went down that it was to avoid the
volley that he knew would be fired at him,” Tom informed them.
“Girls, I am in hopes that this morning’s work may mark the finish
of the job that certain men have been sent up here to accomplish.”

“I don’t understand,” said Elfreda, interested at once.

“You will later,” was Captain Gray’s noncommittal answer.

“Should we move from here, Tom?” questioned Grace a little
apprehensively. “The firing has stopped.”

“No. We must wait here. That is the arrangement, no matter which way
the fight goes. We must be on our guard, so get your rifles and sit
down behind the boulders, while I keep watch here.”

The Overland party obeyed, but not willingly. They had come out from
their hiding place to watch the duel, and preferred not to miss
further operations, but Tom was insistent.

It was well past noon when a loud hello brought the girls to their
feet. The call was uttered by Hippy.

“I had an awful time getting here without crossing the meadow. I
didn’t know what I might run into out there, so I came around
through the forest, and it was mighty rough going. Got anything
loose around here?” he demanded.

“Saddle rations; that is all,” replied Grace. “Help yourself to
whatever you can find.”

“Oh, Hippy, have you seen anything of Hamilton?” begged Emma
anxiously.

“Yes. Why?”

“Is—is he all right?”

“He was beating up Hawk Murray with his fists and doing it
beautifully, the last I saw of him,” answered Hippy. “Never saw a
fellow with a better punch than ‘Hamilton,’ as you call him, has.”

“Hippy, what about the man out there in the meadow?” asked Miss
Briggs. “I am going out there. He may not be dead, and it is inhuman
to leave him there to suffer, even if he is an enemy. Who is he? Do
you know, Hippy?”

“Yes. That fellow is Two-gun Murray, the slickest man with a
revolver that ever hunched a shoulder, and you will please stay away
from him.”

“Tom,” said Grace, laying a hand on her husband’s arm, “I wish
someone would go out there. Perhaps it isn’t wise that any of us
girls should do so, but we are not afraid, if you will permit.
Please!”

“Come along, Hippy. I guess it is up to us,” urged Captain Gray.

Hippy protested that he must have food, but Nora promised that, if
he would go out, she would have a nice meal ready for him when he
returned, so the two men, with drawn revolvers, walked out
cautiously to the spot where the mountain bandit had fallen. He was
not at the exact spot where he had fallen, but they had no
difficulty in following the trail which he had left.

They found Two-gun alive, but unconscious, and a few moments later
they were on their way back to camp, carrying the heavy burden. The
Overland girls, knowing that the man was still alive because Tom and
Hippy were carrying him so carefully, were ready with water,
bandages and antiseptics, to give first aid.

“Where is he hit?” was Elfreda’s first question.

“Both shoulders,” answered Tom briefly.

Grace and Elfreda began working on the bandit immediately, and in
half an hour he regained consciousness. The girls found that Two-gun
was seriously wounded, both bullets having gone through him. They
said that he should be taken to some place where surgical aid might
be had, but Tom said that was impossible. All that could be done had
been done. Further, he said that men of his type were fairly well
used to being shot up. No vital spot had been hit and both Tom and
Hippy were of the opinion that Two-gun would live to spend at least
a few years in prison. This bandit, however, probably had never
before enjoyed the really tender treatment such as the girls were
giving him. He followed Elfreda’s every movement with his eyes.

“I—I didn’t tell on you—about the saddle and the hoss,” he said
weakly.

“I know it,” answered Miss Briggs. “That is one reason why I am
trying to take good care of you. But you must be quiet and conserve
your strength.”

“Who was the fellow that got me?” demanded Two-gun.

“That I cannot tell you, Mr. Murray,” replied Elfreda.

“He was some handy with the gun, I’ll say, Miss.”

Elfreda moved away from Two-gun, and asked anxiously if any word had
been had of Stacy. None had. She then suggested to Tom that the
wounded bandit might be able to give them information that would
lead to finding Stacy, so Tom asked Two-gun if he knew of Stacy’s
whereabouts. The bandit shook his head. He said he knew that two
members of the Overland party had been captured, but that he had not
learned what had become of the prisoners.

“There is one of them,” Captain Gray informed him, pointing to
Hippy. “Were both men taken to the same place?”

“They might have been,” was the reply, and that was all that could
be elicited from Two-gun Murray.

There was nothing now to be done save to wait until the men, who had
tricked the bandits and saved the Overlanders from probable serious
consequences, advised them what to do; so the party made themselves
as comfortable as possible, sleeping part of the time and taking
turns at watching the camp and Two-gun Murray.

At night their vigil was redoubled, for none knew how many of
Two-gun’s companions were at large. They knew that some had been
captured, as Hippy Wingate had told them so, and that Ham White had
had a fist fight with Hawk Murray, the leader of the band of
marauders that had terrified the entire Cascade Range.

It was well after midnight when the camp was hailed. Tom answered
the hail.

“Come forward with your hands up and identify yourself,” he ordered.

“Yeow!” howled a voice that brought every member of the Overland
party to his feet.

“Stacy!” shouted the Overlanders.

“Wha—what!” exclaimed Tom Gray as an Indian loped into camp, a rifle
in his hand, which he kept pointed in the direction of Captain Gray.



                           CHAPTER XXIII

                       A THRILLING DISCOVERY


“Me Cat-foot Charlie. Me come!”

“Yes. He’s the cat and I’m the foot,” answered another voice, and
Stacy Brown strolled into camp with his chest thrown out. “I’ve been
captured, sentenced to death, and, being the foot, I did some fast
footwork, and here I am. Old chap Pussy here found me and brought me
back. Oh, no, I wasn’t lost. I never know where I am, anyway. He
showed me the way. Who—”

“Our sweet dreams of peace are now at an end,” complained Emma.

Stacy did not heed her words nor the congratulations of his
companions who were happier than words could express to have him
with them again. The fat boy was interested in the man who lay by
the fire.

“Who’s that?” he demanded.

“His name is Murray,” answered Lieutenant Wingate. “He and Jim Haley
fought a duel to-day, and Two-gun—that is the man’s name—got a bit
the worst of it.”

“Two-gun Murray! Hey, you! I’m wise to you. You’re the fellow that
stole my fish—the same person that I clouted over the head. You say
he is wounded, Uncle Hip?”

“Yes, seriously so.”

“Think it would do much harm if I were to give him another wallop
over the head—just for luck, you know?”

“Stacy!” Tom Gray’s voice was stern. “Get away from that man and let
him alone!”

“Oh, all right, but I would like to give him just one clout. It’s
coming to him.”

Captain Gray took firm hold of the fat boy’s collar and projected
him to some distance from the wounded man.

“Cat-foot, have you word for me?” demanded Tom.

The Indian grunted and handed Tom a message. It was from Hamilton
White, and the smile that lighted up the captain’s face as he read
it, told the Overland Riders that it contained good news.

“We are to move as soon as we can pack up,” announced Tom. “Cat-foot
will accompany us.” That was all Captain Gray would say.

Emma, whose curiosity was proverbial, pouted and complained that
every one of the party seemed to think it smart to make a mystery of
everything.

After offering the Indian food, which he refused and sat down by
himself, the Overlanders quizzed Stacy about what had happened to
him. Stacy told what he knew of his capture, and of the incidents
that followed. In the course of the conversation it developed that
Cat-foot Charlie had been sent to pick up the fat boy’s trail and
follow it until he found him. Hamilton White had brought that about.

Cat-foot had gone to the scene of Hippy’s imprisonment and from
there soon found Stacy’s trail. This was made the easier because he
had eavesdropped on two of the bandits and learned how Stacy got
away.

“Fat boy, him run like Indian chased by bad spirits,” announced the
Indian when asked about the chase.

Stacy, it developed, discovered that the Indian was chasing him, and
from that moment on it was a race, the frightened Overlander making
top speed to drop his pursuer. The race ended when Cat-foot finally
overtook him, leaped on the boy’s back, and held him until he had
explained what he wanted. Stacy’s courage thereupon returned.

“Our fallen hero,” observed Emma when the tale was finished.

“Yes, but I didn’t get shot,” retorted Stacy.

The Overlanders laughed heartily at Stacy’s retort, for it was a rap
at Emma, though the boy did not know it. He laughed with them just
the same.

“Where are we going?” Nora wanted to know.

“Northwest,” answered Tom briefly. “You will know all about it
within twenty-four hours. The question is, what are we to do with
our wounded man. We surely can’t leave him here. Cat-foot, do you
know this fellow?”

“Me know.”

“What do you think we had better do with him?”

“Shoot um!” was the prompt reply of the Indian.

“Pussy, you are a man of rare judgment,” complimented Stacy,
grinning at the Indian.

“It is what one would expect from one savage to another,” murmured
Emma.

“What did the Chief say about it?” demanded Tom. “I mean Mr. White.”

“Chief say me stay. Men come git Two-gun.”

“Why do you call Hamilton the Chief?” wondered Emma.

“How many of the bandits did they get?” questioned Tom, ignoring
Emma’s inquiry.

“Not know.”

“Very well, I will turn Two-gun over to you, but, Cat-foot, if you
do one little thing to disturb that man you will have to answer to
me. When he asks for a drink, give it to him and say nothing—say
nothing at all to him at any time unless he wants something. You
also will be held responsible for his not getting away, and after
the men take him, unless you get different orders from the Chief,
you will come to us at Three-Mile Pass. That’s all, except that we
will leave food for you and Two-gun.”

At Tom’s direction all hands began packing, making ready for another
night journey. Stacy complained bitterly, saying he hadn’t had a
night’s sleep in so long that his eyelids hung down over his cheeks.

“Where are we going, anyway?” he wanted to know.

“Three-Mile Pass, you heard me say. Do you know where that is?”
returned Captain Gray.

“No. Do you?”

Tom said he had a fair idea of its location. Though tired and
somewhat nervous, the Overland girls prepared for the journey with
their usual cheerfulness, and were under way in an hour. Tom
selected an unsuspected pass as the route from the meadow, and the
riders were soon swallowed up in its deep gloom. It seemed as though
night had poured the blackest of her coloring into this pass, but
the trail was fairly smooth and one could not stray from it without
bumping into the rocks.

No halt was made until daylight. Then the party stopped for
breakfast, and, while there, horses were heard approaching. The
girls were startled, and looked to Tom for orders, but Captain Gray
merely smiled.

“Don’t worry; only some guests for breakfast,” he said.

“It’s Hamilton!” cried Emma Dean, as two horsemen rode into sight.

“And the Peanut Man,” added Nora joyously.

“Put over a fresh pot of coffee,” suggested Grace. “They look tired,
and goodness knows one, at least, has a right to be tired.”

“Peanuts, peanuts, ladies and gentlemen!” called Jim Haley. “The
International product has reached to the utmost limits of the
Cascades already, and will soon be over the border. Howdy, folks!”

It was a real welcome that the Overlanders gave the two men. Elfreda
and Grace were studying the face of Haley, with the same thought in
the mind of each. Could this carefree, temperamental Haley be the
Haley that they had seen facing the bandit gunman calmly, never
flinching under the bandit’s fire, and in the end downing his man?
It did not seem possible.

“How did you make out with your patient?” he asked, his face
suddenly assuming a grave expression as he shook hands with Miss
Briggs.

“His wounds were serious, but, if he is not neglected, I think he
will pull through.”

“He will not be neglected where he is going,” was the significant
reply. “The officers have taken him away from your last camp by now,
so don’t worry. After a snack we will have a talk all around.”

The breakfast from then on was a happy reunion, and even Elfreda
Briggs forgot to be distant towards Hamilton White. Emma managed to
sit beside him, her face wearing a most devoted look.

When the dishes had been put away, the party settled down to talk
over their experiences, and after a little Tom Gray cleared his
throat and announced that he had something to say.

“You Overlanders have accused some of us of all the time making a
mystery of everything. While clearing myself, there are others
present whom I wish to clear of any suspicion of doing other than
their duty.

“Here are the facts: When I came up here with my wife and her party,
I was supposed to come as a forester, but as a matter of fact I came
on quite another mission. For a long time tourists and others have
been preyed upon by mountain bandits, the Guerrillas of the
Cascades, as some call them. As a forester here for a survey it was
thought that I might get a line, so to speak, on the gang and its
lair without them suspecting me. I did that to a certain extent.
Then, too, there was a famous government forester who came to
Washington State on the same mission. He thought he could best look
over the ground by joining out with a party of tourists, and he was
unfortunate enough to fall in with the Overland Riders. That man
knew these forests and mountains, and, after finishing this
particular mission, he is to be the chief of the foresters, which,
in fact, he is already.”

“Hamilton White!” cried Nora.

Tom Gray nodded.

“And he has done his work well. In addition to that he has been a
wonderful guide and a delightful companion to you folks.”

“Even if he did deceive us,” said Elfreda.

“Not all of us,” spoke up Grace, who then told of the wigwagging
incident when she learned that he was the chief of the foresters
through doing some signaling on her own account.

Ham White laughed heartily.

“I suspected something of the sort,” he added with a chuckle.

“To continue my story,” resumed Captain Gray, “another man came to
us sailing under false colors, if you wish to call it that. This man
proposed that the Overlanders be used as a decoy to lure the bandits
on, knowing that the ruffians believed one of our party possessed
the key to Sam Petersen’s gold find. Ham White objected to
subjecting us to peril, but when the newcomer showed him orders from
the Washington authorities directing White to coöperate fully with
him and carry out his orders, White was obliged to obey.”

The eyes of the Overland Riders turned toward Jim Haley, who
actually grew rosy under their accusing gaze.

“Don’t look at me that way. I confess, but you shall have your
peanuts just the same,” he promised laughingly.

“Folks, know Jim Haley, chief of the special agents,” introduced
Tom. “Between White and Haley the entire band of guerrillas, with
one exception, has been rounded up. Some are on their way to stand
trial, others are being conveyed to a hospital to be treated for
their wounds, and two are dead. They have spied on this party,
watched their every move ever since they came into the Washington
forests, and especially so since Sam Petersen died from a gunshot
wound inflicted by one of the Murrays.”

“How perfectly thrilling!” breathed Emma Dean.

“The big round-up came yesterday when the bandits were preparing to
make a mass attack on our camp, but Haley outwitted them. They did
not know that a body of forest rangers and sheriff’s deputies were
secreted on your side of the meadow, ready not only to defend you,
but to capture the ruffians who were about to try to take you and
force information from you. It was Haley who, as you know, went out
to meet Two-gun Murray, and beat him in a standup gun duel,” said
Tom.

“Captain! Please talk about the weather,” begged Haley amid
laughter.

“They didn’t find out about the gold mine after all, did they?”
chuckled Hippy. “Say, Haley, I know you, you old rascal! You’re the
fellow with a cold who rescued me from the bandits,” he accused, and
Haley agreed with a nod.

“Speaking of gold, Hippy Wingate,” spoke up Elfreda Briggs, “I think
I am entitled to an explanation. How did you chance to have my bag
of gold in your possession?”

“Ham White gave it to me, and told me to hang onto it—that it wasn’t
safe for you to carry it around.”

“Indeed!”

“I took it from the bunk where Petersen lay, before you came in the
shack that day. I expected that the gang would return, so I scraped
up some pebbles and substituted them for the gold, replacing the
canvas bag where I found it,” explained Ham White.

“Was it you who exchanged shots with Two-gun Murray that day?” she
asked.

Ham nodded, and Elfreda bent an accusing glance on Stacy Brown.

“Well, I saved you from that ruffian, didn’t I?” protested the fat
boy.

“Yes, Stacy, and I forgive you for trying to make me think you had
suffered the bandit to shoot at you while you lay behind a bush,”
smiled Elfreda.

“Not if my legs were in good working order. I wouldn’t lie behind
any bush or anything else and let a sure-thing gunman blaze away at
me,” declared Stacy Brown with an earnestness that raised a merry
peal of laughter.

“Time to break camp,” announced Tom Gray. “We can chatter after we
have made a new camp, which will not be many miles from here.”

“Where are we bound for?” asked Hippy.

“Three Mile Pass.” Captain Gray’s face wore a broad smile, and
Grace, knowing him so well, regarded him suspiciously.

“Tom has something up his sleeve,” Grace confided in Elfreda.

“They all have,” observed Miss Briggs. “These honest men who have
opened their hearts to us have not yet opened the aforesaid hearts
far enough.”

“Boots and saddles!” cried Hippy, and the Overland Riders with their
guests took to their mounts. It was a happy ride that morning; the
air was cool, birds were twittering, and Hippy was trying to sing,
his efforts in that direction raising a perfect storm of protest.

No stop was made, except now and then to water the horses, until
nearly noon. Then they halted, apparently for no cause at all, the
visitors and Tom Gray fussing with saddle girths, all the time
regarded narrowly by Grace and Elfreda.

At last they started on through a rapidly broadening pass, following
the dry course of a mountain stream. The sunlight flooded the pass
as their trail bore more to the right, and at the turn Tom Gray held
up his hand, a signal to halt.

“Oh, look at the Old Lady of the Mountain!” yelled Stacy. “Yes,
she’s got a kid on either side of her. Ha, ha, ha!” he laughed.

“Elfreda!” Grace gripped the arm of her companion. “‘Lost
River—Grandma and the Children—Three Peaks dead east.’ Look! There
are the peaks. The sun is at the meridian. Oh, Elfreda!”

“And look—the yellow sands of Lost River. Oh, Grace! If it should be
only a dream I’d faint, after all I have been through to get here.
See! The old lady’s face is black as ink, just as that poor, unhappy
old prospector said it was.”

“Children, do you know where you are?” called Captain Gray, none of
the party having heard the exclamations of Grace and Elfreda.

“Yes, Tom Gray. I am sitting on my gold mine,” answered Miss Briggs,
trying to control her voice and keep her elation out of it.

“Why, Elfreda! I thought you did not want a gold mine—that you
wished to hear nothing more about the hateful subject,” chided
Grace.

“I think I—I have the fever, and—” confessed Elfreda.

“You are in fact sitting on your gold mine. When I learned that Lost
River was at the feet of Grandma and the Children, with Three Peaks
dead east, I recognized the description instantly, for I had been
here, and was impressed with the odd formations to be seen here,”
said Captain Gray. “You will recall the words of the old prospector
in the diary and on the sheet on which you wrote down what he told
you. I was here trying to locate the headquarters of the Murrays,
and, for your information, we are less than half a mile from the
lair of the Guerrillas of the Cascades—the Murrays. Such is the
irony of fate,” added Tom.

“Gold! Hooray!” yelled Stacy, tossing his hat into the air. “I hope
it doesn’t turn out to be iron.”

“Please don’t get excited,” admonished Grace. “We are not certain
that there is any gold here.”

“Any gold here?” answered Tom. “Ham, tell them what you know.”

“Mrs. Gray, when I left you so mysteriously I came up here at
Captain Gray’s direction to make a thorough survey—to find out, if
possible, if Petersen’s was an idle dream or the real thing. It was
real! I have already panned enough of the sand of Lost River through
my fingers to make a fair meal ticket for this party. It is true
that we have not found the real vein, but we know it cannot be far
from here, and we are going to search for it.”

“Say! Whose gold mine is this?” demanded Lieutenant Hippy Wingate.

“Whose? Why, Miss Briggs’, of course,” answered Ham White. “I have
sent a trusty ranger to Seattle to file her claim, which we have
staked out broadly, and we are in hopes that it may take in the
mother lode. In any event, we are on the ground, and we will broaden
our claim so that you may be protected. Am I forgiven for all the
deception I have practiced on you and Miss Briggs and the others?”
asked White, addressing Grace.

“It is for us to ask your pardon, Mr. White, for suspecting that you
were not what you seemed, or so it seemed to us at one time.”

Stacy had leaped from his horse and was digging feverishly in the
sands of Lost River.

“I got one! Whoopee!” he howled, holding up a “nugget” nearly as big
as an egg.

Hippy snatched the “nugget” from him and turned it over in his hand,
then broke into uproarious laughter.

“Why, you simp! That’s not a nugget, it is merely a piece of quartz.
Dig some more, Chunky.”

“I suggest that we do not lose our heads, and that we make camp and
behave,” cried Grace.

The Overlanders agreed, and in the happiest frame of mind they
dismounted and pitched their camp, after which they walked over the
claim with Tom, Mr. White and Haley as guides. On the way up the
channel of the dry stream Nora picked up three small nuggets of real
gold.

“The luck of the Irish, me darlin’,” cried Nora, playfully patting
Hippy on the cheek.

“I wish it understood,” announced Elfreda after their return to
camp, “that this is not Elfreda Briggs’ claim, but the Overland
Riders’ claim.”

“Too late,” answered Tom. “Your claim will be filed before you or
anyone else can stop it.”

“I will see about that,” murmured Elfreda.

That evening, by the campfire, the members of the party discussed
their good fortune, and made plans for the future.

Busy days followed, some of the party panning the sands of Lost
River for gold, and finding enough to arouse them to a high pitch of
excitement. There was no thought of continuing the journey, for
there was work to be done where they were. A mining expert had been
sent for, and his investigations were still in progress five weeks
later when Grace asked Tom to take her home.

Jim Haley had not remained long with them, for he, too, had work to
do in connection with evidence against the captured bandits.

The others of the party decided that they would return with Grace,
but Ham White, at Miss Briggs’ request, together with three former
forest rangers, remained on the claim to guard and work it, and
assist in locating, if possible, the rich vein that all believed
could not be far away.

“You are all coming to see us next winter at Haven Home,” reminded
Grace on the morning of their departure for Cresco, where they were
to board a train for the east—and Home! “It probably will be along
about Christmas time, that being the most joyous season for old
friends to get together, and we will have a Christmas tree and
everything,” she added, laughing.

Good byes were said and the Overland Riders retraced their trail,
the last journey that, as a body, they probably ever would take. A
week later found them at their homes. Each had his own life to lead
now, for the years were drawing on, and the Overlanders were no
longer children.



                            CHAPTER XXIV

                       THE HOUSE OF HAPPINESS


Haven Home was brilliantly lighted, for it was Christmas eve, and
Grace had made good her promise to ask the Overland Riders to spend
the holiday week with her and Tom.

Haven Home was a house of happiness on that wonderful Christmas eve,
for, up in the nursery, lay a little pink and white bundle of
humanity over which the Overlanders bent—that is, the girls did—and
worshiped at the shrine of Grace Harlowe’s own little daughter, now
less than four weeks old. For that bit of humanity the whole party
had come laden with gifts, not forgetting many beautiful things for
Yvonne, Grace’s adopted daughter—the child that Grace had rescued
from the cellar of a deserted village amid the crashing of exploding
German shells in the great world war—now a beautiful young woman.

Hamilton White was there, big, brown and manly, a figure that
attracted attention where-ever he went; Jim Haley was there, too,
with a load of peanuts that required a wagon to carry them from the
express office.

Elfreda had brought her adopted daughter, now home from a finishing
school, and a different child she was from the daughter of the Mad
Hermit that the Overlanders had taken to their hearts some years
before.

But where was Stacy Brown? No one could answer the question. Stacy
had not even replied to the invitation to join the Christmas party,
and there was disappointment, for no reunion of the Overlanders
could be complete without the fat boy.

Emma Dean was monopolizing “Hamilton” most of the time, and Nora
confided to Grace that she actually believed it was going to be a
“match,” but Grace shook her head and smiled.

And then Stacy arrived!

The fat boy made his usual dramatic entrance at a moment when he
knew attention would be centered on him. It was.

Stacy was in full evening dress, carrying an opera hat, which he
crushed and popped open with one hand as he shook hands and bowed
with a grace that was unsuspected by his companions.

“Did you stop at the hotel to get into those glad rags?” demanded
Hippy.

“We wondered why you were so late,” said Grace. “It never occurred
to us that you would stop to dress before coming up to the house.
Why, if you felt that you must dress, did you not come here? Your
room has been ready for several days.”

“Dress? Who said I stopped to dress? I dressed this morning before
leaving home.”

“Stacy!” cried Nora in a horrified tone.

“Well?”

“You don’t mean that you wore your evening clothes all day on the
train?” demanded Nora.

“Sure I did. I didn’t want to put them in my suit case and wrinkle
them all up, so I wore them. Anything wrong about that?”

There was silence for a few seconds, then the Overlanders broke out
in peals of laughter.

“Say, I want to see the kid. _He_ won’t laugh at me, I’ll bet,” said
Stacy.

“Wrong gender, young man,” observed Hippy.

“Of course you shall see him,” cried Grace, linking her arm in
Stacy’s and leading him upstairs, with the entire Overland party
following.

Two little blue eyes looked up at him as Stacy gazed, and popped his
crush hat at the bundle of pink and white until the nurse took it
away from him indignantly.

“The perfect picture of Grace, isn’t she?” bubbled Emma.

“Oh, I don’t know. Cute little monkey, isn’t she?”

“Young man, you come downstairs,” ordered Hippy, collaring Stacy and
leading him away, while the Overlanders followed laughing. The
merriment had begun with the arrival of Stacy.

Dinner was announced as they reached the drawing room, and it was a
dinner that Stacy Brown did full justice to. It did the Overlanders’
hearts good to see him eat.

“How you ever managed to develop such an appetite, short of
starvation, is a thing that I have many times wondered at,” teased
Tom.

“Develop it! I didn’t. It’s a gift,” was the fat boy’s quick
response. “I was born with it, and I don’t know why you folks are
always making fun of me,” he retorted, appearing to be very much
hurt.

“That is because you are always making fun of yourself,” reminded
Emma.

“Not when you are about,” mumbled Stacy.

And so the merriment went on.

At the close of the dinner Hamilton White made his mine report. The
mother lode of “Lost Mine” had just recently been tapped when work
was suspended for the winter, to be resumed in the early spring, he
said. The mining engineer in charge of the work was authority for
the statement that it would undoubtedly pan out a big fortune. White
said he had the expert’s detailed report which they could look over
at their leisure.

“So J. Elfreda is a rich woman, eh?” said Stacy, regarding her
solemnly.

“Yes, rich in the sense that I have such friends as these,” answered
Elfreda, her eyes moist as she glanced at the eager, flushed faces
about her. “Gold is not riches—friendship is. As for the riches of
the ‘Lost Mine’ I have with me a transfer of title to the property,
signed, sealed and delivered, providing as follows:

“One eighth to the new baby.

“One eighth to my adopted daughter ‘Little Silver.’

“One eighth to Yvonne.

“One eighth each to Grace, Nora and Emma.

“And—” Elfreda paused, and in a subdued voice added, “one eighth
each for myself and for my husband to be.” A flush slowly grew into
her cheeks as J. Elfreda Briggs bent her eyes on the paper from
which she was reading.

“Your—your what?” stammered Nora, as all eyes were fixed on Miss
Briggs’ face.

“My husband to be!” Elfreda raised her eyes, eyes full of happiness,
to her friends. “I am to wed Mr. White in the early spring. You, my
beloved friends, are the first to be told. Why should you not be
first?”

“Oh, Hamilton, isn’t that perfectly wonderful!” cried Emma.

Emma had broken the ice, the dead silence that, for a few seconds,
had followed Elfreda Briggs’ announcement, and then the exclamations
and the congratulations fairly overwhelmed Elfreda and Hamilton
White.

Everything else was forgotten.

“Well, old chappie, what have _you_ got to say for _yourself_?”
demanded Hippy Wingate, frowning on “Ham” White.

“Only that I am the most fortunate of men,” answered Hamilton White
gravely.

“Never mind, Emma,” spoke up Grace smilingly as she looked into the
flushed face of Emma Dean. “I have named the baby—I just now named
her, and her name is Emma Grace Harlowe Gray.”

“Oh, the poor kid,” wailed Stacy. “To go through life with a name
like that! My heart of hearts bleeds for her.”

“For he’s a jolly good fellow,” struck up Tom Gray, whereupon Grace
ran to her piano and joined with the accompaniment, and the old
house resounded to the rollicking song until the nurse came down,
her face wearing a deep frown.

“Please, please!” she begged. “You have awakened the baby.”

The song stopped.

“Well, we are all set now except for Stacy Brown and Emma Dean. They
are our hopeless bachelors,” declared Hippy.

“Bachelors! I guess not,” retorted Stacy. “Emma and I have decided
to tie up, too.”

The Overlanders shouted. They thought it was one of Stacy’s jokes.

Then the Overlanders began to realize that Stacy was not joking.

“But how do you two expect to get along—you are fighting all the
time?” wondered Nora.

“The difference between us and some others is that we will have done
all our fighting before we were married. Am I right, Emma?”

“Yes, Stacy dear,” replied Emma, blushing furiously.

“When did all this take place?” asked Grace.

“Oh, we got engaged by the correspondence-school plan,” Stacy
informed her.

“The idea! Children like you two getting married,” objected Nora.

“Children? Huh! I’m twenty-three, and Emma—” Stacy shrugged his
shoulders. “Well, let her speak for herself. Anything else—anyone
got any questions to ask?”

“Yes,” spoke up Elfreda. “If I may do so without offense, I should
like to know what you propose to do after you marry Emma?”

“Nothing!” with rising inflection in his voice. “I have money, my
little wife will have more, and we two will live a life of
distinguished and elegant leisure.”

“You poor turtle doves,” chortled Hippy Wingate.

The merry moments that followed failed to soothe the wakeful baby
upstairs. After the excitement over the startling announcements had
abated, Grace proposed that they dress the Christmas tree, and,
following that, they danced for an hour, and the wonderful evening
came to a close—for all except Stacy and Emma. The two strolled out
on the snow-covered lawn of Haven Home, hand in hand, with the moon
beaming down upon them, and a million diamonds sparkling at their
feet.

“Stacy dear, do you remember that night up in the North Woods when
the Overlanders were preparing to leave for home? Do you remember
what Hippy asked me as a snowbird chirped high up in a great tree,
just as one is now chirping in that apple tree yonder?” asked Emma.

“I remember,” nodded Stacy.

“Hippy asked me, ‘Emma, what is the little bird saying to-night?’ I
answered, ‘He is wishing us all a merry, merry Christmas and a glad,
happy new year.’ That is what the snowbird is saying to us from the
old apple tree to-night, isn’t he, Stacy dear?”

“You bet, kid. Wise guys, those snowbirds,” he observed as they
turned and strolled back towards the house. “We are going to be
happy, aren’t we, Emma?”

“Going to be? Why, we are happy now, dear. Say good-night to me out
here,” she whispered as they reached the veranda.

Stacy did so. He said good-night several times before they went
indoors. Emma Dean’s eyes were bright and her cheeks wore a rosy
glow when she faced her companions in the drawing room a moment
later.

The Overland Riders smiled. They understood.

                              THE END





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