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The Great Sioux Trail: A Story of Mountain and Plain, a novel by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 6. The Outlaw

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When Will awoke the next morning he did not open his eyes at once. The air was very cold, but he felt so snug in his bearskin and blankets that he had an immense temptation to turn on his other side and sleep a little more. Then, hearing the hum of voices he opened his eyes wide and sat up, seeing, to his great surprise, that the little party in the camp now numbered four instead of three.

He stared at the addition, who proved to be a man about thirty, tall and well built, with dark hair and dark eyes. He, too, carried a fine repeating rifle, but his dress was incongruous and striking. He wore a felt hat, broad of brim, with a heavy gilt cord around the crown. A jacket of dark red velvet with broad brass buttons enclosed his strong shoulders and body, but his costume was finished off with trousers, leggings and moccasins of tanned deerskin. Will saw the butt of a pistol and the hilt of a knife peeping from under the velvet jacket.

A strange costume, he thought, and, when he looked at the man more closely, his face also looked strange. It was that of a civilized human being, of a man who had come from the old, settled eastern regions, and yet it was not. The eyes, set rather close together, now and then showed green in the early dawn. Will judged that he was one who had become habituated to the wilderness, and, as he sat in a graceful attitude on a great stone, he certainly showed no signs that his surroundings oppressed him.

"Mr. Martin Felton, Will," said the hunter. "Mr. Felton, this is Mr. William Clarke, who is traveling with us."

Will stood up, the last trace of sleep gone from his eyes, and gazed at Felton. Perhaps this was a new comrade, turning their band to four, and strengthening it greatly. But when he glanced at the hunter and the Little Giant he did not see any great warmth of welcome in their eyes.

"Traveling, young sir!" said Felton in a lightly ironic tone. "You seem to prefer paths of peril. I would not say that this is exactly a safe region for tourists."

Now Will was quite sure he would be no addition to their party. He liked neither his tone nor his manner.

"It's true there is plenty of danger," he replied. "But, as I take it, there is no more for me than there is for you."

"The lad has put it very well, Mr. Felton," said the hunter. "However much we may be seeing the sights in these regions, our risks are no greater than yours are."

Felton, seeming not to notice him, continued, looking directly at Will:

"You're right to ask the question, but I can say in answer that your dangers are greater than mine. I have no trouble with the Sioux. I don't think any Indian warrior within a thousand miles of us wants my scalp."

"It was our information that they had declared war upon all white people who entered this country. How does it happen that you're immune?"

Felton smiled, and, in the lad's opinion, it was not a pleasant smile.

"I've been among the Sioux when they were not at war with us," he replied. "I've done them some good deeds. I've set a broken bone or two for them--I've a little surgical skill--and Mahpeyalute, whom we call Red Cloud, has assured me that no harm will ever be done to me. For that reason I'm wandering among these mountains and on the plains. I noticed on one of your horses picks, shovels and other mining implements, and I thought you might combine gold hunting with sight seeing. I'm something of a gold hunter myself and it occurred to me that we could combine forces. I've heard vaguely about a huge gold lead much farther west, and we four might make a strong party, able to reach it despite the Indian troubles."

The lad's heart beat the note of alarm and of hostility. Was it possible that this man knew anything of his father's great mine? He had to exchange only a few sentences with him to understand that he was not wanted as a fourth partner in the venture.

"Mr. Bent looks for gold casually," he replied, "but our main object is hunting and exploration. I doubt whether we'd want to take on anything else, though we thank you for your offer, Mr. Felton."

Felton did not seem at all disconcerted. He made upon Will the impression of persistency and of great strength, although the strength might be for evil.

"And so you don't think four are better than three," he said.

"That was not what I implied," replied Will. "What I meant to say was that our party was made up. Isn't that the way you feel about it, Mr. Boyd?"

"My feelings to a T," replied the hunter.

"And yours, Mr. Bent?"

"You express my state o' mind to perfection, young William. Mr. Felton is the finest gentleman we hev met in the mountings since we met that band o' Sioux, but when a band is made up it's made up."

"Very well, gentlemen," said Felton, no anger showing in his tone. "I will not force myself upon anybody, but I'm no egotist, even if I do say you're the losers. My knowledge of the region and my friendship with the Sioux would be of great advantage to you, would be of so much advantage, in fact, that it would make me worth more than a fourth share in all the gold we might find. But, as I said, I will not stay where I'm not wanted. Good day!"

He strode away among the bushes, and for some distance they saw him descending the side of the mountain, to disappear at last in a forest of ash. Then the hunter and the Little Giant looked at each other significantly.

"We saw a footprint of his last night, Will," said Boyd, "but he came himself this morning, just at dawn. We can't quite make him out. Why does he talk of a great mine for which we're looking? Do you think your father ever mentioned it to anyone else?"

"Not that I ever heard. It must be only a guess, based on the sight of the Little Giant's tools. Did you ever see or hear of this man before?"

"No, but I know he's no friend of ours. There are renegades and desperadoes in these mountains, who make friends with the Indians, and I judge he's one of that kind. I'm mighty sorry we've run across him. He may have a band of his own somewhere, or he may go straight to the Sioux with news of us."

"He suspects us of a great gold hunt, so great that we are ready to risk anything for it. He showed it."

"So he did, and in my opinion the band, that he almost certainly has, will undertake to follow us."

"I didn't like him the first minute I saw him," said the Little Giant. "The reason why I cannot tell, but I do not like thee, Mr. Felton. Haven't I heard a rhyme like that somewhere, young William?"

"Almost like it, Giant, and just like you, the first moment I laid eyes on him, I disliked him. I think he's a danger, a big danger, and so do both of you. I can tell it by the way you act. Now, what do you think we ought to do?"

"We're not to go down into the plains, that's sure," replied Boyd, "because then we'd run into Felton and his gang and maybe a band of Sioux also. There's only one thing open to us."

"Go back up the mountain?"

"That and nothing else. Felton will expect us to come on down, but we'll fool him by going the other way. There's always hiding in rough country and under the cover of great forests. In my opinion, we've both Indians and white men now to fight. We must meet their cunning united, and the nearer we get to Will's White Dome the safer we'll be."

"An' it's not so bad, after all!" exclaimed the Little Giant. "We'll go back and climb and climb till neither reds nor whites kin foller us."

"We'll have to go well above the snow line, and camp there awhile," said Boyd. "And if we were snowed in for a few weeks it wouldn't hurt, provided we find a well protected hollow. Then we'd be sure to shake off all pursuit."

"Come on, then," said Will, with enthusiasm. "It's the White Dome that offers us safety."

"The White Dome it is!" said the Little Giant, with energy.

They put back the packs and saddles and turned once more into the depths of the mountains, riding whenever it was possible, but when the way grew steep, leading the animals at the ends of the lariats. Will was rather glad, for many reasons, that they had abandoned the journey into the plains, as the gold mine, for the present at least, seemed scarcely a reality, and the vast peaks and ridges were far more interesting than the brown swells below, besides being safer. Moreover, the great White Dome loomed before him continually, and he had a certain pride in the thought that they would pass over its towering shoulder.

"I've been thinkin' mighty hard," said the Little Giant.

"Does it make your head ache much?" asked the hunter.

"Not in this case. It hurts sometimes, when I try to think forward, but not when I try to think back an' remember things. Then I've got somethin' to go on. I'm tryin' to rec'lect whether I ever met a feller who wuz ez unpleasant to my feelin's ez that thar Felton."

"I know I never did," said Will, with emphasis.

"Me neither," said the hunter. "I don't like men who wear velvet jackets with big brass buttons on 'em. Now I think the way is going to be pretty steep for a long distance, and I guess we'll have to walk. Lucky these horses and mules of ours are having so much experience in climbing mountains. They go up 'em like goats now."

Despite the skill of men and beasts as climbers they could not ascend at any great rate, although Will noticed that both his comrades were eager to get on. He fancied that the image of Felton was in their minds, just as it was in his, and the farther they advanced the more sinister became the memory of the velvet-coated intruder.

They passed out upon a great projecting, bald rock, where they paused for many long breaths, and Will, through his glasses, was able to see the brown plains far below, sweeping away in swell on swell until they died under a dim horizon. But the distance was so great that he could make out nothing on their surface.

Night found them on a ridge, where there was enough grass for the horses, and trees still grew, though much dwarfed and stunted. They kept close in the lee of the trees and did not build any fire, although it was very cold, so cold that the bearskin coats again formed a welcome addition to the blankets. Boyd said it would be best for them to keep watch, although little danger was anticipated. Still, they could not be too cautious, and Will, who insisted on mounting guard in his turn, was permitted to do so. The Little Giant kept the first watch and Will the second, beginning about midnight. Giant Tom, who awakened him for it, went almost instantly to sleep himself, and the lad was left alone.

He lay upon a rather wide shelf, with his two comrades only a few feet away, while the horses and mules were back of them, having withdrawn as much as they could into the stubbly pines and cedars in order to protect themselves from the cold wind. Will heard one of them stir now and then, or draw a deep breath like a sigh, but it merely formed an under note in the steady whistling of the wind, which at that height seemed to have an edge of ice, making him shiver in all his wrappings. Nevertheless, he watched as well as one might under such circumstances, feeling himself but a mote on the side of a great mountain in all the immensity of the wilderness.

Surely the hunter was right when he said there was little danger. He did not know from what point in so much blackness and loneliness could danger be apprehended, but he believed, nevertheless, that danger was near. The whistling of the bitter wind seemed to him sinister and threatening, and yet a wind was only a wind. It must be circumstances going before that had given it that threat. He knew the mind could be so prepared by events that it became a sensitive plate, receiving upon its surface impressions that were, in reality, warnings.

Stronger and shriller grew the wind, and stronger and shriller was its warning. He had been lying upon his side with his rifle thrust forward, and now he sat up. Some unknown sense within him had taken cognizance of a threatening note. Listening intently he heard only the wind, but the wind itself seemed always to bear a menace on its front.

He rose to his knees, and used all his powers of eye and ear. The animals did not stir, and the hunter and the Little Giant slept in deep peace. Yet Will's own pulses were beating hard. He began to denounce himself as one who took alarm because of the darkness and desolation, but it did not make his pulses grow quiet.

Still keeping his rifle ready for instant use, he crawled noiselessly toward the edge of the ledge, which was not more than twenty feet away. Half the distance, and he stopped suddenly, because his ears had distinctly brought to him a light sound, as if a pebble had fallen. Will was not a son of the wilderness by birth, but he was fast becoming one of its adopted children, making its ways second nature, and, when the light note of the falling pebble was registered upon his ear, he flattened himself upon the ground, thrusting forward a little the muzzle of his rifle. It is doubtful if the keen eyes of a trailing Indian could have seen him there in the dark as he waited patiently until such time as a second pebble might fall.

The second sound did not come, but the sensitive plate that was his mind registered an impression. Something new and strange appeared upon its surface, and he felt that it was a hostile figure. At last it detached itself from the general dusk, darker and almost formless, and resolved itself into a head, that is a part of a head, from the eyes up. The eyes, set a little near together, were staring intently at the camp, trying to separate it into details, and Will, unseen himself, was able to recognize the eyes and forehead of Felton. He could also trace the glittering gold band around the crown of the wide-brimmed hat that surmounted the head, and, if he had felt any doubts before, the yellow cord would have convinced him that it was the sinister intruder of the morning.

He saw one hand steal up over the ledge. The other, holding a revolver, followed in an instant, and then the lad, knowing in his heart that treacherous and black murder was intended, threw up his own rifle and pulled the trigger. He fired practically at random, doubting that the bullet would hit, but there was the sound of an oath, of scraping feet and a thud, while the gorges and ravines of the mountain sent back the crack of the rifle in many echoes.

The hunter and the Little Giant were awake in a flash, but they did not spring to their feet. They were far too alert and experienced to expose themselves in such a manner, but they crawled forward, fully armed, and lay beside Will.

"What was it?" whispered Boyd.

"It was the man of the morning, Felton. He was about to pull himself up on the cliff. He had a pistol in one hand and he meant to murder us."

"I didn't see him, but I haven't the slightest doubt you are right. And of course he had men as black-hearted as himself with him. He wouldn't have dared such a thing alone. Don't you see it that way, Giant?"

"Thar's no other way to see it, Jim. Felton is the leader of a band, a heap wuss than the Sioux, but young William, here, has been smart 'nough to block his game."

"That is, it's blocked for the time. He's down there with his band, waiting for another chance at us. Now, Will, you slip back and see that the horses and mules are secure, that they can't break their lariats, when they get scared at the shooting that's going to happen mighty soon. Keep down on your hands and knees. Don't give 'em a chance to send a bullet at you in the dark."

The lad obeyed orders and found the animals now fairly quiet. They had stamped and reared somewhat at the sound of his shot, but their alarm had soon subsided. He went among them, stroking their noses and manes, showing all the power over animals that the hunter and the Little Giant had soon detected in him, and they signified their gladness at his presence. While he stroked them he whispered to them gently, speaking words of courage in their ears, but at the same time, he did not neglect to see that the lariats were fastened securely.

Then, confident that the animals would not fall into a panic no matter what happened, he went back and found that Boyd and Bent were creeping toward the edge of the cliff. Lying almost flat, he joined them, and the hunter explained their plan of battle.

"I take it that they're all on foot," he said, "and even so they can come only by the path we followed. It's too steep everywhere else for them to make a rush upon men armed as we are."

"An' we, hid here on the ledge, may get a chance to pick 'em off," said the Little Giant. "Look, the night's beginnin' to favor us. More stars are comin' out, an' it's lighter all along the mountain. Lend me them glasses o' yourn, young William."

Will passed them to him, and the man, who was now at the edge of the ledge, made a very minute examination of the slopes. Then he handed the glasses back to the lad, and pushed his rifle a little farther forward. Will, in the increasing light, caught a glimpse of his face, and he was startled by its look of deadly hate.

"You've seen one of them?" he said.

"Yes," replied the Little Giant. "He's a-layin' among the rocks on the other side o' that deep ravine, too fur away fur any ordinary bullet, but ef thar's one thing I'm proud of it's my rifle shootin'. I hate to do it, but they've come here to murder us an' we've got to teach 'em it's dang'rous business."

Will, putting the glasses to his own eyes, was able to pick out the man whom the Little Giant had seen. It was not Felton, but a fellow in deerskins who crouched in fancied security in a sort of shallow alcove of the cliff. Will regarded him as one already dead, and his opinion was only a moment or two before fact, as the Little Giant pulled the trigger of his great repeating rifle, the mountain burst into many echoes, and the brigand, rolling from his alcove, fell like a stone into the depths of the chasm. Will, listening in awe, heard his body strike far below. Then came a terrible silence, in which his heart beat heavily.

"It was a great shot, Giant," whispered Boyd, at length, "but you make no other kind. It wasn't Felton, was it?"


"I didn't think it would be. After Will gave the alarm I knew he'd keep well out of sight. His kind when they're leaders always do. You've given 'em a hint, Giant, that they can't pass this way, the kind of hint that means most with brigands."

"But two hints will be better than one, Jim," said Tom. "I'm thinkin' they're still down thar 'mong the rocks, hopin' to pick us off when we ain't watchin'. But we'll be watchin' all the time. In an hour mebbe we'll get a chance to tell 'em a second time they can't pass, an' then I think we'd better light out afore day."

"So do I. Will, take your glasses and keep searching among the rocks."

The lad, who saw that he could now serve best as the eyes of the little army of three, picked out every crag and hollow with the glasses, but he did not find any human beings. A half hour later several shots were fired from distant points by concealed marksmen, and Will heard the bullets chipping on the stones, although none of them struck near. Evidently the rifles had been discharged almost at random. Meanwhile, the number of stars in the heavens increased and new peaks and ridges swam into the light.

Will began another minute examination with the glasses, and he finally became convinced that he saw a human figure outstretched on a small shelf. As he looked longer the details became more clear. It was undoubtedly a man seeking a shot at them. He called the attention of the Little Giant, who took the glasses himself, gazed a while and then resumed his rifle. Will saw that look of menace come over his face again and he also regarded the man on the shelf as already dead.

The Little Giant pulled the trigger and Will, watching through the glasses, saw the outlaw quiver convulsively and then lie quite still. The shelf had become his grave. The lad shivered a little. His lot truly was cast among wild and terrible scenes.

"I'm thinking the double hint will be enough," said Boyd. "If Felton is the man I took him to be when I saw him in the morning, he won't care to risk his skin too much. Nor can any leader of desperadoes keep on bringing up his men against shooting like yours, Giant. And I want to say again, Tom, that you're certainly the greatest marksman in the world. You're so great that there's no occasion to be modest about it. It's evident to anybody that you're the best on all this round globe."

The Little Giant said nothing, but in the dim light Will saw his face flush with gratification.

"The stars are still gathering," said the lad, "and every minute there is more light on the mountains. Suppose we take advantage of Tom's double hint and make at once for the higher ridges."

"We can do so," said Boyd. "It's not so dark now that we can't see the way, and if they still have any notion of besieging us we may be hours ahead before they discover our absence. Will, you talk a little to the animals and loose the lariats, while Giant and I watch here. Then we'll join you and make the start."

Will was among the horses and mules in an instant, stroking them, whispering to them, and soothing them. He was also half through with the task of replacing the packs when Boyd and Bent came. The rest done, they started up the steep natural trail, fortunately hidden at that point from any watchers below. Boyd led, picking the way, Will was among the animals and the Little Giant, with the rifle that never missed, covered the rear.

Higher and higher they went, and, when day broke, they were once more in the scrub pines and cedars, with a cold wind blowing and nipping at their ears and noses. But Boyd, who went far back on the trail, could discover no sign of Felton's band, and they concluded to make camp.

"We've all been tried enough for one night," said Boyd. "Men, horses and mules alike need fresh breath and new nerves."

But before they could find a suitable place it began to rain, not a sweeping storm, but the cold, penetrating drizzle of great heights. Now their bearskin coats protected them in part, but the animals shivered, and the way became so slippery that they had to advance on those heights with exceeding caution and slowness. The rain soon turned to snow, and then back to rain again, but the happy temperament of the Little Giant was able to extract consolation from it.

"Snow and rain together will hide what trace of a trail we may leave," he said. "Ef this keeps up, Felton and his gang will never be able to find us again."

Despite the great dangers of the advance they pushed on upward until they came to a region that Will believed must be above the clouds. At least, it was free there from both rain and snow, and below him he saw such vast areas of mists and vapors that the top of the ridge seemed to swim in the air. It was now about noon, and, at last, finding a nearly level place, they sank down upon it, exhausted.

Nevertheless, the Little Giant was cheerful.

"I'm clean furgittin' all 'bout that gold," he said, "my time now bein' devoted mostly to foot races, tryin' to beat out Indians, outlaws an' all sorts o' desprit characters, in which I hev been successful so fur. My real trade jest now is that o' runner an' mounting climber, an' I expect to git a gold medal fur the same."

He began to whistle in the most wonderful, birdlike fashion, a clear, sweet volume of sound, one popular air of the time following another, every one delivered in such perfect fashion that Will forgot the wet and the cold in the pleasure of listening.

"Now," said Boyd, "there's nothing for it but to start a fire, even though it may show where we are. But we have an advantage in being above the clouds and mists. Then, if the outlaws come we can see 'em coming, though I think our trail is wholly lost to 'em."

Skilled as the two men were in building fires, they had a hard task now, as the wood, besides being scarce, was thoroughly soaked with wet, but they persisted, using flint and steel in order to save their matches. Just when a little blaze began to show signs of living and growing, Will, in his search for fallen and dead wood, turned into a narrow way that led among lofty rocks. It was wet and slippery and he followed it a full hundred yards, but seeing that it was going to end in a deep recess or cavern he turned back. He had just started the other way when he heard a fierce growling sound behind him and the beat of heavy feet. Whirling about he saw an enormous beast charging down upon him. It would scarcely be correct to say that he saw, instead he had a blurred vision of a huge, shaggy form, red eyes, a vast red mouth, armed with teeth of amazing length and thickness, and claws of glistening steel, huge and formidable. Everything was magnified, exaggerated and infinitely terrible.

The lad knew that it was a grizzly bear, roused from its lair, and charging directly upon him. He shouted an alarm, fired once, twice and thrice with the repeating rifle, but the bear came on as fiercely as ever. He felt, or imagined he felt, its hot breath upon him, and leaping aside he scrambled up the rocks for dear life. The bear ran on, and settling himself in place he fired at it twice more. The hunter and the Little Giant, who appeared at the head of the pass, also gave it two bullets apiece, and then the monster toppled over not far from their fire, and after panting a little, lay still.

The Little Giant surveyed the great beast with wonder.

"The biggest I ever saw," he said, "an' it took nine bullets to bring him down, provided you hit him ev'ry time you fired, young William. Ef this is what you're goin' to bring on us whenever you leave the camp I 'low you'd better stick close to the fire."

"He came out of a cavern at the end of the little ravine," said the lad. "Of course, when I went visiting up that way I didn't know he had a home there."

"It 'pears that he did have a home thar, an' that he was at home, too. Now, I 'low you'd better talk a little to your friends, the hosses and mules. They're pow-ful stirred up over the stranger you've brought 'mong us. Hear 'em neighin' an' chargin'."

Will went among the animals, but it took him a long time to soothe them. To them the grizzly bear smell was so strong and it was so strongly suffused with danger that they still panted and moved uneasily after he left them.

"Now, what are you goin' to do with him?" asked the Little Giant, looking at the huge form. "We ain't b'ar huntin' on this trip, but it 'pears a shame to leave a skin like that fur the wolves to t'ar to pieces. We may need it later."

"We don't have to leave it," said Boyd. "A big bearskin weighs a lot, but one of the horses will be able to carry it."

He and the Little Giant, using their strong hunting knives, took off the great skin with amazing dexterity, and then hung it on a stout bough to dry. As they turned away from their task and left the body of the bear, they heard the rush of feet and long, slinking forms appeared in the narrow pass where the denuded body of the monster lay.

"The mountain wolves," said the Little Giant. "It's not likely that they've had such a feast in a long time. I'd like to send a bullet among 'em, but it's no use. Besides, they're actin' 'cordin' to their lights. The Lord made 'em eaters o' other creeturs, an' eat they must to live."

Will heard the fierce snarling and growling as the wolves fought for places at the body of the bear, and, although he knew as the Little Giant had said, that they were only obeying the call of nature, he could not repress a shudder at the eagerness and ferocity in their voices. Once, he climbed a high rock and looked down at them. They were mountain wolves of the largest and most dangerous kind, some reaching a length of seven feet. He watched them with a sort of fascinated awe, and long after he left the rock he still heard the growling. When it ceased he went back to his perch again and saw only the great skeleton of the bear, picked clean, and the last wolf gone.

That afternoon the two men took down the vast skin of the grizzly and scraped it with their hunting knives, working on it a long time, and also admiring the length and luxuriance of the hair.

"It shows that this big fellow lived high upon the mountains where there's lots of cold," said Boyd. "Why, this is really fur, not hair. Maybe he never saw a human being before, and being king of all his range he couldn't have dreamed that he would have been killed by something flying through the air, and that his body would find a scattered grave in the stomachs of wolves."

"Ef the worst comes to the worst, an' it grows too awful cold," said the Little Giant, "this will make a splendid sleeping robe, big enough fur all three of us at the same time."

They kept their fire going all day and all night, and they also maintained a continuous watch, the three taking turns. More snow fell and then melted, and they were glad that it was so, as they felt that the trail was now hidden completely. They also kept down the blaze from their fire, a great bed of coals now having formed, and, as they were in a bowl, the glow from it could not be seen more than ten or fifteen yards away.

At dawn they set out again under cloudy skies with a raw, cold wind always blowing, and advanced slowly, owing to the steep and dangerous nature of the way. Once more they replenished their larder with mountain sheep and mule deer, and packed upon the horses all they could carry. The hunter and the Little Giant agreed now that the sky was ominous, and they had more to fear from it than from pursuit by either Indians or Felton's outlaws.

"I tell you, Jim, an' you too, young William," said the Little Giant, "that we'd better do what would have been done by the big grizzly that's now runnin' in the stomachs o' mounting wolves."

"What's that?" asked Will.

"Hole up! When you can't do anythin' else hole up an' wait 'til the skies clear."

"That would be simple," said Boyd, "if only we three human beings had to hole up, but while we might drive the horses and mules into a cave shelter they'd have nothing to eat."

"What you want to do, Jim Boyd, is to cultivate hope. I won't say you're a grouchy man, 'cause you ain't, but mighty few men are hopeful enough. Now, I want you to hope that we'll not only find a cave shelter for the beasts, but water an' grass fur 'em."

"Well, I hope it."

"That bein' the case, I want to tell you that I've been ahead a little, an' the ground begins to slope off fast. I think we'll soon strike a canyon or valley a few miles deep, more or less. That canyon or valley will hev water in it, an' bein' so sheltered it's bound to hev grass, too. What more could you ask? Thar we'll stay till times grow better."

"You've arranged it all mighty well in your mind."

"An' that bein' the case, let's go on, an' see ef I hevn't arranged it right."

The Little Giant soon proved that he had read the mountain signs aright, as they came to a great descent, the steep walls enclosing a valley of vast depth. Far down Will was able to see the glimmer of a little lake and the green of grass.

"It's our home for a spell," said Boyd. "You were right, Giant. You're the only prophet I've ever known."

"You'd do a heap better, Jim Boyd, ef you'd pay more attention. I told you awhile ago to cheer up an' you cheered, then I told you we'd find a nice home-like valley, an' here it is, a couple o' thousan' feet deep, an' with water an' grass, ez young William's glasses tell us, an' with cave shelter, too, ez my feelin's ez a prophet tell me."

The hunter laughed, and the Little Giant burst into a flood of cheerful, whistling song. In his optimistic mind all affairs were already arranged to the satisfaction of everybody. Nevertheless, it took them a long time to find a way by which the horses could descend, and it required their utmost skill to prevent falls. When they finally stood upon the floor of the valley, animals and human beings alike were weak from nervous strain, and the Little Giant, wiping his perspiring brow, said:

"We're here, but lookin' back I kin hardly see how we ever got here."

"But being here," said Boyd, "we'll now scout around and find the fine house that you as a prophet have promised to us."

The three, agreeing, began at once the task. _

Read next: Chapter 7. The Beaver Hunter

Read previous: Chapter 5. The White Dome

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