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   Chapter 10 A RATTLER

The Go Ahead Boys and Simon's Mine By Ross Kay Characters: 9763

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


Meanwhile the other party which had started for Thorn's Gulch was also having its own experiences no less thrilling than the mishap which had befallen John. Zeke was the leader of the trio while George had taken Pete's place as rear guard.

Steadily climbing the way which previously they had used as a path, stopping frequently for rest, for their breathing was somewhat more difficult in the high altitude than on the lower levels, they at last succeeded in gaining the crest of the canyon.

Zeke then led the way across the table-land, at times moving far from the border and then again approaching almost within sight of the great canyon. The Canyon of Arizona extends for hundreds of miles, becoming vast and wide in what is commonly known as the Grand Canyon. It winds through the country at times visible and sometimes concealed from sight by intervening cliffs or trees.

Before the noon-hour arrived the party halted, seeking the shelter of a small cleft in the rim where they were able to start a fire and cook some of the food they had brought with them.

The heat was so intense that Zeke commanded the expedition to wait until late in the afternoon before the journey was resumed. Although neither George nor Grant acknowledged that he was tired, both Go Ahead Boys were entirely willing to heed the advice that was given them.

Late in the afternoon the three explorers again resumed their journey. A brief halt for supper was made, but soon afterward the boys once more were following Zeke as he led the way in the moonlight. The air was cool now and although the altitude was still high the boys found less difficulty in breathing.

In a sheltered spot well known to Zeke a camp was pitched for the night and soon after they had cast themselves upon their blankets all three were soundly sleeping.

It was long before sunrise when Zeke's stentorian call summoned the boys to the task of the coming day. It was with some difficulty that both young prospectors responded. As soon, however, as breakfast had been prepared and eaten, although it was still an hour before sunrise, they started once more on their journey to Thorn's Gulch.

Steadily, monotonously they kept on their way, walking in single file and in the same way which had been observed the preceding day.

It was not long after sunrise when Zeke suddenly jumped to one side shouting to the boys as he did so to keep away.

Before either of them was aware of any peril Zeke drew his revolver and fired several shots at an object in front of him, which as yet was unseen by the boys.

"There!" shouted Zeke. "I guess that'll get you, you rascally varmint!" As he spoke he seized his long knife and hurled it savagely. "How do you like that?" he shouted, "I guess you won't do any more harm to anybody."

The curiosity of George and Grant had been so thoroughly aroused by the strange calls and actions of their guide that in spite of his warning both crept forward to see what had aroused his anger.

And both soon were aware of the cause. A few feet before them was a huge rattlesnake still twisting and turning in its last agonies.

Zeke secured his knife, and again and again hurled the weapon at the snake although now they were safe from any attack by the reptile. Its skin was glossy and the dark folds had a certain beauty of their own. Both boys, however, were unaware of the colors of the great snake. At last Zeke succeeded in severing the body. In a moment he grasped the tail and flung the part to which it was attached several yards away.

"Better count the rattles," he said.

"I don't want to touch the thing," said George with a shudder.

"The tail can't bite you," suggested Grant as he advanced boldly and grasped the part of the body to which the rattles were attached and held it up to view. It was still squirming somewhat and George turned away in disgust. "I don't like snakes," he explained.

"I can't say that I'm very fond of them," said Grant, "but I think if you don't want them, Pop, I'll take these rattles home with me."

"Did you count them?" demanded Zeke, who now approached the spot where the boys were standing.

"Not yet," replied Grant. "I'll do it now."

There were thirteen rattles found in the snake and when Grant held them up and shook them George was unable to repress the shudder that crept over him.

"How was it, Zeke," he asked, turning to the guide, "did the fellow strike at you?"

"No, I happened to see him moving across the rock. He's a big fellow. He must be eight feet long," answered the guide.

"Aren't you afraid of them?" inquired George, shuddering again as he spoke.

"Afraid? No. Why should I be afraid? They give you warning before they strike and that's what the rattles are for."

"I wonder if that is what they are for," said Grant thoughtfully. "I don't see why nature should have provi

ded a snake with a means of scaring off the animals he wants to get for his breakfast."

"That's what it is," said Zeke. "It can't be for nothin' else."

"I've heard it said that shaking the rattles had a strange effect on certain animals. A canary bird sings and a rattler rattles. Perhaps they both think they are improving the music of the spheres."

"Fine music!" snorted Zeke.

"I have heard it said that the snakes and owls and prairie dogs are great friends," suggested Grant. "They all live together in the same hole."

"I don't know nothin' about their being friends," retorted Zeke. "I'm thinkin' the prairie dog does most of the work any way you fix it. He's the one that digs the hole, then along comes the snake and makes his home in it, and then the owl creeps in and there you have it."

"I should think they would eat one another," laughed George.

"Maybe they do for all I know," said Zeke. "Now if you've had enough to satisfy you with this rattler we'll start ahead again."

"But I don't see," persisted Grant, "why he didn't bite you."

"Huh!" snapped Zeke. "He didn't get a chance to coil himself. They are just like a hair-spring. They have to get a little purchase before they can do anything, then they do a good deal too, if they try real hard. I don't like them, but I never do what a good many guides out here do."

"What's that?" asked Grant.

"Why, they're so afraid of rattlesnake bites that they keep loaded up with whisky all the time. That's the best antidote for the snake bite and these fellows must have been bitten about three times a day, most of them."

Zeke said no more and in a brief time all three were moving steadily across the table-land.

Late in the afternoon Zeke stopped and pointed to a place far in the distance, "Yonder is right near Thorn's Gulch," he explained. "We ought to get there in about three hours."

"Three hours!" exclaimed George. "Why how far is it from here?"

"About eleven miles."

It was almost impossible for either of the boys to believe that the spot to which Zeke had pointed was so far distant. The air was so clear that the place appeared to be much nearer than it really was and if they had been asked each boy would have stated his opinion that the intervening distance could be covered within an hour.

"There are two ways now which we can take," explained Zeke.

"You mean we can take them both, or either of them?" laughed George.

Ignoring the question which the guide gruffly referred to as "smart," Zeke explained that they could go down into the canyon a short distance in advance of them and follow the course until they came to the entrance to Thorn's Gulch.

"That will be about where John and Fred will come in, won't it?" inquired Grant.

"I guess that's so," admitted Zeke. "Perhaps it will be better for us to go down the slope and strike Thorn's Gulch from that side."

Accordingly the direction was changed and advancing toward a slope that led to the valley below, the boys prepared to follow the lower course and meet their friends at the opening where it had been agreed the meeting should take place.

Each boy still carried upon his back the pack which had been placed there when they had broken camp. The descent was consequently hampered somewhat by the weight which rested upon their shoulders. Much of the way was difficult and the three members of the party no longer were able to keep closely together.

George, who still was the rear guard, steadily dropped behind his companions until he was no longer able to discern them before him.

The way by which Zeke was leading now led along a side of the canyon where the walking was increasingly difficult. The broken stone crumbled beneath their feet and they were in constant danger of slipping or falling.

Aware that he had lost sight of his companions and was steadily falling behind, George increased his pace, hoping to overtake his companions within a few minutes.

In his zeal he approached nearer the edge of a ledge than he was aware. Suddenly the broken stone gave way beneath his feet and in spite of his efforts George was thrown from the ledge and began a swift descent on the side of the cliff.

Fortunately the cliff-side was not as steep as in certain other places, but the desperate boy was unable to check his flight.

He had given one wild call to his friends when first he had slipped over the border. After that all his strength was required to prevent himself from falling headlong.

In spite of his utmost endeavors his foothold soon became more insecure and suddenly as the ground beneath him gave way George was thrown forward on his face.

The heavy pack on his shoulders prevented him from rising or recovering the ground he had lost. Rolling, slipping, sliding, the terrified boy continued on his way down the side of the cliff.

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