The Huge Hunter/Chapter VI
IT WAS late in the afternoon when the explosion occurred, and it was just beginning to grow dark when the three friends began drifting down the Yellowstone.
This fact was greatly in their favor, although there remained an hour or two of great danger, in case the Indians made any search for them. In case of discovery, there was hardly an earthly chance for escape.
The log or raft, as it might be termed, had floated very quietly down-stream for about half an hour, when the wonderfully acute ears of the trapper detected danger.
'Thar be some of the skunks that are creep-in 'long shore,' said he; 'you'd better run in under this yar tree and hold fast awhile.'
The warning was heeded. Just below them, the luxuriant branches of an oak, dipped in the current, formed an impenetrable screen. As the log, guided thither, floated beneath this, Mickey and Ethan both caught hold of the branches and held themselves motionless.
'Now wait till it's dark, and then thar'll be no fear of the varmints,' added the trapper.
' 'Sh! I haars sumfin'!' whispered the Irishman
'What is it?' asked Ethan.
'How does I know till yees kaaps still?'
'It's the reds goin' long the banks,' said the trapper.
The words were yet in his mouth, when the voice of one Indian was heard calling to another. Neither Mickey nor Ethan had the remotest idea of the meaning of the words uttered, but the trapper told them that they were inquiring of each other whether anything had been discovered of more fugitives. The answer being in the negative, our friends considered their present position safe.
When it was fairly dark, and nothing more was seen or heard of the Indians, the raft was permitted to float free, and they drifted with the current. They kept the river until daylight, when, having been in the water so long, they concluded it best to land and rest themselves. By the aid of their revolvers they succeeded in' kindling a fire, the warmth of which proved exceedingly grateful to all.
They would have had a very rough time had they not encountered a party of hunters who accompanied them to St. Louis, where the trapper had friends, and where, also, he had a good sum of money in the bank.
Here Baldy remained all winter, before he entirely recovered from the hurt which he received during the explosion and sinking of the steamer. When the Irishman and Yankee were about to depart, he asked them where they were going.
'I'm goin' home in Connecticut and goin' to work on the farm, and that's where I'm goin' to stay. I was a fool ever to leave it for this confounded place. I could live decent put there, and that's more than I can do in this blamed country.'
'And I shall go back to work on the Erie railroad, at thirty-siven cents a day and boord myself,' replied the Irishman.
'If yer were sartin of findin' all the gold yor want, would yer go back to Califony?
'Arrah. Now, what are yees talkin' about?' asked McSquizzle, somewhat impatiently. 'What is the good of talkin'?'
'I didn't ax yer to fool with yer,' replied the trapper—'thar's a place that I know away out West, that I call Wolf Ravine, whar thar's 'nough gold to make both of yer richer than yer ever war afore, and then leave some for yer children.'
'Jerusalem! but you're a lucky dog!' exclaimed Ethan Hopkins, not daring to hope that he would reveal the place. 'Why don't you dig it up naow, yourself?'
'I only found it a month ago, and I made a purty good haul of it, as it was. When that old boss of mine went down with the steamer, he carried a powerful heft of gold with him, and if anybody finds his carcass, it'll be the most vallyable one they ever come across.'
'Jingo! if I'd know'd that, I'd taken a hunt for him myself.'
'Howsumever, that's neither yar nor thar. You both done me a good turn when I got into trouble on the river, and I mud' up my mind to do what I could toward payin' it back the first chance I got. I didn't say nothin' of it when we was on our way, 'cause I was afeard it would make you too crazy to go back ag'in: but if you'll come back this way next spring I'll make the trip with you.'
'Why not go naow?' eagerly inquired Hopkins.
'It's too late in the season. I don't want to be thar when thar's too much snow onto the ground, and then I must stay yar till I git well over that whack I got on the boat.'
It is hardly necessary to say that the offer of the kind-hearted trapper was accepted with the utmost enthusiasm. Mickey and Ethan were more anxious to go out upon the prairies than they had been a year and a half before, when they started so full of fife and hope for that vast wilderness, and had come back with such discouragement and disgust.
It was arranged that as soon as the succeeding spring had fairly set in, they would set out on their return for St. Louis, where the trapper would meet and accompany them to the wonderful gold region of which he had spoken.
Before continuing their journey homeward, Baldy presented each with a complete outfit, paid their passage to their homes, and gave them a snug sum over. Like the Indian, he never could forget a kindness shown him, nor do too great a favor to those who had so signally benefited him.
So the separation took place again; and, on the following spring Mickey and Ethan appeared in St. Louis, where they had no difficulty in finding their old friend, the trapper.
He had recovered entirely from his prostrating blow, and was expecting them, anxious and glad to join in the promised search for gold. As the fair weather had really begun, there was no time lost in unnecessary delay. The purse of Baldy Bicknell was deep, and he had not the common habit of intoxication, which takes so much substance from a man. He purchased a horse and accouterments for each of his friends; and, before they started westward, saw that nothing at all was lacking in their outfit.
Three weeks later the men drew rein in a tort of valley, very deep but not very wide. It was on the edge of an immense prairie, while a river of considerable size flowed by the rear, and by a curious circuit found its way into the lower portion of the ravine, dashing and roaring forward in a furious canyon.
The edge and interior of the ravine was lined with immense bowlders and rocks, while large and stunted trees seemed to grow everywhere.
'Yar's what I call Wolf Ravine,' said Baldy when they had spent some time in looking; about them.
'And be the same towken, where is the goold?' inquired Mickey.
'Yes, that there is what I call the important question,' added Ethan.
'That it is, of the greatest account, as me grandmither observed, whin she fell off the staaple, and axed whether her pipe was broke.'
'It's in thar,' was the reply of the hunter, as he pointed to the wildest-looking portion of the ravine.
'Let's git it then.'
'Thar be some other things that have got to be looked after first,' was the reply, 'and we've got to find a place to stow ourselves away.'
This was a matter of considerable difficulty: but they succeeded at last in discovering a retreat in the rocks, where they were secure from any attack, no matter by how formidable a number made.
After this, they hunted up a grazing place for their animals, which were turned loose.
They soon found that the trapper had not deceived them. There was an unusually rich deposit of gold in one portion of the ravine, and the men fell to work with a will, conscious that they would reap a rich reward for their labor.
The name, Wolf Ravine, had been given to it by the trapper, because on his first discovery of it he had shot a large mountain wolf, that was clambering up the side; but none others were seen afterward.
But there was one serious drawback to this brilliant prospect of wealth. Indians of the most treacherous and implacable kind were all around them, and were by no means disposed to-let them alone.
On the second day after their labor, a horde of them came screeching down upon them; and had it not been for the safe retreat, which the trapper's foresight had secured, all three would have been massacred.
As it was, they had a severe fight, and were penned up for the better part of two days, by which time they had slain too many of their enemies that the remaining ones were glad to withdraw.
But when the trapper stole out on a visit to his horses he found that every one had been completely riddled by balls. The treacherous dogs had taken every means of revenge at hand.
'Skin me fur a skunk, but we've stood this long as we ought to!' exclaimed Baldy Bicknell, when he returned. 'You take care of yourselves till I come back again!'
With which speech he slung his rifle over his shoulder and started for St. Louis.