By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
Illustrated by C. Nelson White
When Laura and Janet awoke in their cabin among the pines the next morning it was with a sense of something about to happen. This feeling stayed with them for two entire days. They explored the mill, the cabins, the tram. They went into mines and crawled through stopes and tunnels. They had a good time. It was rare pleasure to hunt the wild flowers that grew so luxuriantly among the ravines and gullies; or lie on one’s back and watch the clouds drift across bits of sky visible among the trees but not by any stretch of imagination could it be called adventure.
“I guess Jack was right after all,” Laura said as they lay int heir bed talking the third morning. “We go home tomorrow and I have not made good my boast. He will call me Sister Huck all the days of my life.”
Janet jumped to her feet. “Get up. We are going places today.”
Laura lay without moving. “What good will it do?”
“A lot. Come on. Get up.”
When they entered the combined living room and kitchen the first thing that caught their eyes was a note propped against the sugar bowl on the table. It was from Mr. Carter and read,
“If I shouldn’t get back before dark stay with Mrs. Stanton at the boarding house. Mr. Jenkins and I have business which may take us as far as Rocky Bar.”
“That is a good omen for adventure,” Janet cried with enthusiasm. “Let’s go to Brian’s Peak.”
“That is much too far, Janet. It would take us two or three hours to walk there.”
“That is why I want to go. Nothing can hurt us. We will take our lunch and stay all day.”
“We might as well,” Laura conceded. “We can use the pail for berries after we have eaten our lunch. But we must be back early.”
“Good idea. If we can’t find adventure we can find berries. Shall we leave the dishes?”
“Oh, no,” Laura was horrified. “It won’t take us long to do them.”
They hurried and before an hour had passed they were ready. They had prepared an enormous lunch which they put in a gallon lard pail.
“That is enough for six people,” Laura said as she fitted the lid on it.
“So much the better. Won’t we have fun?”
“Yes, but it is a long way.”
“Oh, don’t be so fussy,” Janet cried in exasperation. “You are so cautious. No wonder Jack says what he does about girls.”
Laura closed her lips resolutely. That subject had always been a bone of contention between them. If she said anything she might say too much. Later as she followed Janet through the pines and tamaracks she asked, “What is the flashlight for?”
“Who knows. Maybe abandoned cabins. Perhaps caves filled with treasure. We are seeking adventure and so much be prepared. You put some matches in with the lunch, did you not?”
“Yes, but I could see no reason for doing it.”
“There you go again. You notice I have my twenty-two. If I should kill a grouse or sage hen we might want to make a fire and cook it.”
“Why not bring it home to cook?”
“Is there any adventure about that? I should like to cook one over a camp fire. Let’s not go that way,” she added as Laura would have turned toward the boarding house. “Let’s follow this ridge and go over the back of it.”
“But we should speak to Mrs. Stanton.”
“We do not know yet whether or not we shall stay with her. There is nothing to tell her. I like to get on high places so I can see far and near.”
That sounded enticing to Laura so she followed. They took a different direction than they had taken before. From one point they could look down over the old town. The main street was bordered by one and two-storied houses, only a few of them occupied. Even the mill was only partly used.
“To think,” Laura said dreamily, “at one time those buildings were all occupied. Then the town must have hummed with activity.”
“How many people lived here during the gold rush?” Janet always went to Laura for historical information.
“Thousands. See, from here we can count eight saloons. No wonder there was so much trouble. Tons and tons of freight were hauled in over the road we traveled yesterday. Over the old part of it I mean. I suppose thousands or anyway hundreds of tons of ore have gone out the same way.”
Janet laughed merrily. “You are having pipe dreams now. The ore was smelted right here. The bullion went out in pack trains but I doubt if its weight would add up to much.”
“Something was sent out from here,” Laura joined her cousin’s laugh. “It looks a long way to Brian’s Peak. Are you sure it will be all right to go there?”
So the girls went on. At one time the slope had been heavily timbered but a great deal of it had been cut. Dozens of foot paths, carpeted with leaves and pine needles, criss-crossed each other and ran away to hide themselves in the underbrush.
At one clearing there were six cabins set with their faces to each other. They were all fashioned from native logs but all had been long abandoned. The girls wandered in and out of them seeing little of value but much evidence of packrats.
“They must have been rather untidy,” Laura shuddered at the sight of the chips and tin cans that cluttered each back yard. Janet laughed.
“Depend on tidy Laura to notice such things. These days we would do something about it, wouldn’t we?”
Half a mile farther on in threading through some heavy timber they came upon a lone cabin. It was like all other cabins they had seen yet wholly different. The windows had boards nailed over them and the door instead of opening to their touch was locked.
“Who ever heard of a locked cabin in a mining town,” Janet exclaimed as she tried to push it open.
“There is only one reason,” Laura’s eyes shone. “It has a secret. We have found our adventure at last.” She had been walking slowly about and now she cried out, “Janet, come here.”
Janet hastened to her side. “What is it?”
“See, in the bark of this tree. Initials. Someone has cut them in days gone by.”
At first Janet could make nothing of them for the growing of the tree had distorted the lines.
“Don’t you see them,” Laura cried. “Do you see what I see? We’ve found it. We have found it. The secret, I mean.”
“I don’t see anything but a cabin. It may hide a secret, but how shall we get to it? Yes, I see R.W. and E.B. Why, it must have been them. They cut their initials here years ago.”
“They certainly did. I can imagine them standing here, looking across the canyon, dreaming of their future.”
“Don’t you start dreaming,” Janet warned her. “I want to find out what it is all about. Let’s try again to get in the cabin.”
But neither window nor door would open for them. Neither could they see between the boards of the window. Janet, who was not patient by nature soon tired of trying.
“Let us go on to Brian’s Peak and come up here after we get back. We must not be too late. Come on. We have a long way to go.”
Laura tore herself from the tree and turned to follow her cousin. she did dislike leaving. There was something different about this cabin. As she went around the corner of the little house something attracted her attention. A handkerchief. Where had she seen it before?
“Coming?” Janet demanded.
Laura snatched up the handkerchief and put it hastily in her sweater pocket. Without a word about it she followed the other up the forested slope.
The day grew oppressively warm. The girls wandered from peak to gulch and back again. Here and there they picked a blossom which they invariably threw away a little later. Now and then they stopped to eat purple berries which were ripe and luscious this time of the year. Near noon they came upon a crystal clear spring trickling down the rocky slope of Brian’s Peak. By it they rested and ate. Laura was glad to rest. Not that she was tired but she enjoyed just sitting and looking out over the purple peaks.
“I wish we had not brought our sweaters,” Janet said, eyeing hers ruefully. “Did you ever see such a hot day?”
“But we never go into the hills without wraps,” Laura reminded her. “At this altitude it isn’t safe.”
Janet ate until she could eat no more. “Let’s save the rest of the lunch and eat it on the way back,” she suggested.
“This surely is the hottest day of the summer,” Laura added.
There wasn’t the slightest breeze stirring and after leaving the spring there were few trees, only rocks and scrub growth. When they did pass a tree they stopped to rest in its shade for no matter how scorching the sun at this altitude it was always cool in the shade. Another leisurely half hour and they stood on Brian’s Peak.
“I have always wanted to come up here,” Janet panted. “Now we shall see something.”
“So we can.” Laura beside her answered. “But we cannot see Quartzburg. The canyon is too low and narrow. We can see only the high spots but it is worth the climb. Look.”
Spreading as far as eye could see in every direction were peaks and canyons resembling nothing so much as waves on a storm tossed sea. Far away to the southwest was the valley they had left the day before.
“We are even above the clouds.”
“See how they come rolling this way,” Laura cried. “Those nearest us are white but the black ones crowd their heels close. I believe – I am certain it is going to rain.”
“Right. And it is headed this way.”
As if to confirm their fears a strong wind moved suddenly among the conifers below and struck the bare eminence where they stood. The girls pulled their sweaters more closely about them. The pines and tamaracks began a strong whispering.
“They are telling us to hurry or we shall get wet.”
“You do have an imagination, Laura. But I suspect it is good advice at that. Blame it all. I wanted to stay here a while.”
They started back. down among the trees it was still hot. Crossing below the spring where they had eaten their lunch they ran into a flock of grouse.
“Quiet,” Janet whispered. I am going to get one for our dinner.”
She crept forward and Laura was thrilled to see how precise she was in her movements. At her first shot one toppled over with a flutter of wings. Then as they took wing she brought down another.
“You are as good as a man,” Laura told her pridefully as she ran forward to get the birds. “Let’s wait until we get home to take care of them.”
With the game in their hands they went on. Occasionally they stopped to eat a few berries but they did not stop long. Low scudding clouds warned them to keep going.
“Isn’t it queer,” Janet remarked, “how much harder it is to keep our direction going home than it was coming out. I wonder why?”
“As we went toward Brian’s Peak we had our eyes on where we were going. It served as an aim for our steps. Now we are just walking without anything ahead.”
“There should be a moral to that.”
About three o’clock the rumbling of thunder and vivid flashes across the sky warned them the storm was close at their heels. Heads bent to avoid whipping branches they ran as fast as the grade of the mountain would allow. Then when a particularly loud clap of thunder seemed to shake the very earth Janet stopped short.
“Laura, something is wrong. We should have been in Quartzburg long ago yet I can see nothing familiar.”
“I have been thinking that for some time,” Laura acknowledged, “but I saw no reason to frighten you.”
Janet was instantly in a panic. “What shall w e do? What shall we do? Say something.”
“Keep calm is the first rule.”
“But it is going to rain. If the storm is bad we might get lost.”
“I know that, also.”
“Why stand here guessing? Do something, Laura. Suppose we can’t find out way home tonight? When it starts raining it will get dark.”
“I think we shall be all right, Janet. Let us climb the knoll ahead and see if we can get our bearings. We have been going around such rises and that may be what has put us off.”
Across the gully and up the slope they went. Fifteen minutes of swift walking and they were on a bare knoll looking down. Clouds, dark and threatening, hid all their immediate surroundings. As they waited the clouds parted for an instant and they saw Brian’s Peak to the south and west of them.
“We are too far north,” Laura cried. “‘We must go more east.”
They hurried on, as they thought, down the east slope of the peak. A hard wind howling among the pines bent the trees low. A deep murmur sounded ahead of them. They stopped to listen.
“It’s water,” Laura said quietly, “there must have been a cloud burst above to bring it down so quickly. We must hurry or it will catch us.”
“It has already caught us,” Janet cried as the first spattering of rain came pelting through the trees.
Before them stood a stump from which the tree had been broken. It stood jagged and accusing so near they could almost touch it.
“I saw that once before.”
“Of course you did,” Janet burst into wild sobs. “We are lost. I knew it all the time. Oh, why did we take such a trip?”
“Adventure, my dear. Adventure.”
“Don’t joke when things are so serious.”
“That is what makes it fun. We’ve been asking for this, haven’t we?”
Janet’s answer was a fresh burst of sobs. As if to accentuate their loneliness the murmur changed to a roar.
“It is water in the ravine,” Laura said again as if to convince herself it was so.
“Since we passed this stump before we should go in the opposite direction,” Janet cried and without waiting for an answer she turned and ran in the opposite direction. Laura tried to stay her but it was no use. all she could do was to follow.
The rain increased. Laura while she ran began looking for shelter. If she could only see a cliff, a huge tree or just anything that would shelter them from the worst of the storm. She rather enjoyed storms, but Janet, still panicky, was rushing recklessly ahead. That was a sure way to lose their sense of direction.
“Janet,” she called sternly, “stop running at once. We must think.”
Janet huddled against a tree and waited. “Well,” she cried impatiently, “have you thought of something?”
“No, but we must not run blindly or we shall lose ourselves.”
“We are already lost,” Janet wailed. “Can’t you do something? It takes you so long to make up your mind. Oh, what shall we do? We’ll freeze if we stay here all night.” She huddled closer to the tree for protection. A vivid flash blinded their eyes; then above the sound of the storm came a sudden tearing, rending crash. The tree under which they were standing lurched drunkenly. Janet screamed and tried to run but her legs seemed made of iron.
“We’ll both be killed,” flashed through her mind. Something struck and with the strike came utter darkness.