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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE LONE LAKE LODE

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Johann Jungblut (1860-1912)

A YARN OF THRILLING ADVENTURE AND MYSTERY


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 24 March 1917

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-11-06

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

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Illustration


Illustration

THE PERIL OF THE BURNING LAKE.
The heat was frightful. They felt their skin
crisping like roasting meet. Their efforts seemed useless.


THERE was something furtive about the steps that came up through the pine forest, a sort of suggestion of a wild animal rather than a man. Buck Lincoln, who was not yet asleep, reached over and touched Frank Chudleigh's arm.

Frank was up like a flash. He had long ago learnt the frontier trick of sleeping like a lynx with one eye open.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Guess there's someone coming," said Buck briefly. "Don't you hear 'em?"

Before Frank could answer a figure stepped softly into the circle of light flung by the red embers of the camp fire. The glow fell on a face so sinister that it sent a chill down Frank's spine, and even Buck, tough young Westerner as he was, could not repress a slight shudder.

"Schwartz—it's Hermann Schwartz," he whispered rapidly, and reached for his rifle which lay beside him, hidden under his blanket.

Schwartz may have seen the motion, or maybe it was only his natural caution. He stopped.

"It's all right," he said. "We ain't Injuns or greasers." In spite of his name, there was nothing German about his voice, yet his tone was almost as unpleasant as his face.

"Kin we use your fire, mister?" he continued. "My pardner and me, we got sort o' lost in this here wood, and blamed if Kessel didn't fall into a swamp hole and wet up our only box of matches."

"Go ahead," replied Buck quietly. "You're welcome."

Schwartz came forward, and behind followed the man he called Kessel, a little, dried-up fellow, with a seamed face and small, evil eyes.

He flung a pack off his shoulders, and without a word began to rake together the dying fire.

"I'm sorry to disturb you gents," said Schwartz, as he set to slicing bacon, "but you see how it is."

"You are welcome," repeated Buck with grave courtesy. However big a scoundrel a man may be, the code of the West is that you must never refuse him the use of your fire.

"You're old man Lincoln's son, ain't you?" asked Schwartz presently, as he laid the rashers in a pan and put them to fry.

"Yes, my father is James Lincoln," Replied Buck.

"Is he along with you?"

"Not this trip," Buck answered, and Frank noticed that, polite as Buck's replies were, he did not volunteer a word of unnecessary information.

"Prospecting, I reckon, ain't you?" was Schwartz's next question.

"That's so," said Buck. The question in itself was entirely unnecessary, for no one in his senses would go tramping through these Colorado ranges unless they were after mineral.

Schwartz went on. "Found anything yet?"

"Not yet. Have you?"

"Nary a colour. They do say as there's good prospects in them ranges to the south-west. Was you thinking of trying that way?"

"We hadn't thought of it. We reckon just to fossick along and not go too far."

Schwartz was not discouraged. He went on asking questions. But Buck managed to parry every one of them, and the other did not get a scrap of real information. At last he and Kessel finished their supper, and rolling themselves in their blankets lay down at the other side of the fire. The boys did the same, but Buck gave Frank a sign that they were to watch by turns.

This they did, though without appearing to; but their queer visitors gave no trouble, and did not move till dawn. The queerly assorted party breakfasted together, seemingly on quite friendly terms, and then when the sun was up said good-bye most politely, and each went off their separate ways.

For a mile or so Buck led rapidly up the valley in a south-westerly direction. Then they came to a brook running down from the north. He stepped into this at once, and waded up it for some distance. Frank following close behind.

Four or five hundred yards up, Buck left the brook and crept quietly away over a patch of rocky ground, where their footmarks would leave no trace. At last they came out near the top of the ridge, and here the young American stopped and listened.

"Fooled 'em, I reckon," he said quietly.

"What's the matter, Buck?" asked Frank. "Are those rotters after us?"

"You bet they are," replied Buck briefly. "That's what they're here for."

Frank looked puzzled.

"You can't suppose they've heard of Lone Lake?"

"I don't suppose there's much in this country that fellow Schwartz hasn't heard of, Frank. The swab's got his finger in pretty near every pie. I don't say he's on to the lead dad told us of, but I'll lay he's got his suspicions. Didn't you hear him try to pump me last night?"

"I heard him all right, and I noticed how mighty little he got out of you," laughed Frank. "What do you think his game is now, then? To follow us?"

"You bet your sweet life he'll follow us—if he can. And it's up to us to throw him off our trail if we can do it.

"But mind you," he added, "it's not going to be easy. In spite of that fellow's German name, he had a half-breed Mexican mother. He's half greaser and whole devil, and wouldn't think any more of wiping out you and me than if we were a brace of jack rabbits."

"Sounds cheery," remarked Frank. "Still, this ain't a bad place to lose a chap in."

"Nor to lose yourself either," replied Buck rather grimly. "Now, see here, Frank, you've got to be mighty careful the next two days. You don't want to talk loud, to roll any rocks, to fire a gun, or light a fire. And that, I tell you straight, is the only way to dodge Hermann Schwartz and Carl Kessel."

For his age, which was just eighteen, there was not a cleverer woods- or plains-man in the territory than Buck Lincoln. If he had not been, his father, who was laid up at Dog Leg City with a cracked collar-bone, would never have let him and Frank Chudleigh start on this expedition. And during the next two days Frank saw as pretty an exhibition of dodging tactics as even that famous old scout Carson himself could have put up.

It was cruel work for both of the youngsters, for as they could not light a fire, they had to live on raw bacon and flour paste—no sort of grub for two healthy lads who were on foot from dawn till dark.

It was on the third morning that they struck the gorge. It was a deep ravine, like the bed of a dried up water-course. They had to pick their way among huge, tumbled rocks. Then, without the slightest warning, they came out on to the edge of a low cliff, which dropped perhaps a score of feet to a long, narrow sheet of dark, smooth water.

"Lone Lake, I guess," remarked Buck, with a note of triumph in his voice.

"Must be," replied Frank heartily; "and jolly smart of you to find it." He stared across at the wall of rough rock opposite.

"That's where the lode must be," he added in a low, safe tone. "I reckon so. But, say, Frank, it beats me how we're going to prospect it."

Frank stared doubtfully out across the lake. It was perhaps a quarter of a mile wide, but any depth you like. On their side the banks were not high, but on the other they were simply cliffs, backed by great terraced hills. From the left—that is, the north end—came the low, unceasing thunder of a cataract, and the white gouts of foam that swam along on the dark surface under the far cliff showed that a good-sized stream must fall in from that direction.

"It does seem a bit of a puzzle," allowed Frank. "I wonder where the lode is?"

Buck had taken from a case slung over his shoulder a small pair of field glasses and was scanning the ledges opposite. Suddenly he stiffened and lowered the glasses.

"Right there, Frank," he said, pointing. "Gee, but I never saw such a thing in my life, and I don't guess anyone else did either. Yards o' the stuff lying right bare. Take the glasses and see for yourself."

Frank looked. He gasped. The bluish white streak which ran along barely a dozen feet above the water, threading the rocks for a score of yards or more, was galena, lead ore carrying silver, and if the colour was any clue to its quality the ore must carry almost as much silver as lead.

He took the glasses from his eyes and turned to Buck.

"There's millions, Buck," he said in an awe-stricken tone. "Millions!"

"If it's the right stuff," replied Buck quietly. "But I reckon we'll have to look at it a bit closer to make real sure. And that's going to be some job."

Frank grasped his partner by the arm, and pointed down the lake. "Not a bit of it!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "Look at those trees growing by the water. What's the matter with building a raft—eh, Buck?"

Buck smiled. "Hit it at once, pard. A raft it is, and I guess we'll build it before we're twenty-four hours older." He turned and looked back up the gorge.

"Say, I guess it will be all right to make a fire down here. I'm needing a cup cf coffee real bad."

"So am I," declared Frank. "Do you think we've shaken off those two sweeps?" he added uneasily.

"I reckon so," replied Buck. "I haven't seen a sign of them nor of anyone else since we left 'em. Anyways, I'm for one hot meal before I start building that raft."

There was plenty of scrub growth close by, and in their practised hands a fire was made and a meal prepared in such quick time as would have made the average English cook open her eyes considerably. Hot baking-powder biscuit, fried bacon and corn meal cakes were washed down with a big pot of steaming coffee.

When they had made up for the privations of the past two days, Buck stood up and stretched himself.

"I feel real good, Frank," he declared. "It's me for the tall timber right now."

Soon the lonely hillside rang with the sound of axes, and before nightfall a stout raft was ready and lying moored under the bank. The boys camped close beside it, and the sun was just rising red above the eastern peaks when they started to pole out across the narrow stretch of smooth, dark water.

There was a deal of current under the far bank, and it took all their strength to force their clumsy craft against it. They were both dripping with perspiration by the time they had her moored under the cliff where the great ore vein gleamed dully among the projecting crags.

Frank's heart was thumping as he stared upwards.

"Buck," he said breathlessly, "it looks too good to be true."

"Don't you go counting your prairie hens before they're hatched," warned Buck. "Like as not, it's nothing but mica."

"Don't waste time. Get on up and see," begged Frank.

Buck looked at the rock, but it was sheer for six or eight feet overhead. He shook his head.

"It ain't to be reached from the water," he answered.

"Then we must go up to the end of the lake, land, and climb to the top of the cliff," said Frank. "We can get down with a rope."

"I guess we can do better than that," replied Buck. "What's the matter with drilling a hole here, putting in a stick of dynamite, and busting her wide open? We've got to have a landing place of some sort."

"Yes, that's a good notion," Frank agreed eagerly, and picked up the big, steel-pointed drill they had brought with them.

The rock was hard, and as the sun rose higher the heat increased. But in their eagerness to get a look at the ledge neither paid much attention to heat nor anything else. They relieved one another at intervals of ten minutes, and before an hour was past the hole was more than a yard deep. But in order to make a good job of it they wanted it more than twice that depth, and it was nearly noon before they had completed the work.

Buck, who was the more skilled at this sort of thing, began to pack the dynamite cartridge, to which a long fuse was attached. It had to be tamped in with wet clay, which they gathered from crevices in the cliff.

Frank busied himself wetting the stuff and kneading it together into a stiff paste.

Presently he looked up.

"What's the matter with the water, Buck? It's got a precious queer smell to it."

"I don't reckon it amounts to anything." replied Buck carelessly. He was too busy with his work to pay much attention to what Frank said.

"There's a sort of scum over it too," said Frank.

"Comes of all the stuff we've been tumbling into it, I guess," Buck answered. "Give us a bit more of that clay, old son."

He completed the tamping and cut the fuse.

"There, we've made a right good job of it," he said with a satisfied smile. "I guess when this goes off it'll make a real big hole in the cliff. You better cast off, Frank. It won t be healthy to stay around too close when she pops. Like as not it'll bring a hundred ton of stuff down."

Frank began to untie the ropes which had been fixed to stout pegs driven firmly into crevices in the cliff. Buck took a box of matches from his pocket. "Say," he remarked suddenly, "you were right about the water, Frank. It does look mighty queer."

"I told you so," said Frank as he toiled at the knot which the pull of the current on the raft had tightened considerably. "It's changed since we started work. There's something floating down from above."

"It looks real odd," said Buck frowning thoughtfully, and as he spoke he stooped to touch it with a finger. "Tell you what, Frank, my notion is that it's oil.

"Oil?" repeated Frank incredulously.

"That's it, sure pop. Raw petroleum."

"But how would stuff like that get all over the lake? Where would it come from?"

"That beats me. I never did hear of any oil-drilling up in the country. But I've seen it when Dad and me were down in Texas, and it's the raw oil all right. See, it's all over the lake on this side. Sort of blue scum."

"Yes, I've been watching it come down for quite a while," replied Frank uneasily.

Buck, too, did not look happy.

"See here, Frank, we'll have to be mighty careful how we strike a light to touch off the fuse. This raw oil burns very easily."

"We'd best wait awhile," suggested Frank. "It may drift off after a bit. There may have been a cliff fall up the creek, which has let some of it drop out."

"That's so," allowed Buck. Then, before he could say another word, there was a roar and a crackle, and a flash—brilliant even under the strong sunlight—rose from the surface of the lake, and came sweeping down upon them at terrible speed.

"Cut—cut the ropes!" roared Buck, and whipping out his knife slashed the mooring at his end. Frank almost as quickly sliced through the rope which he had been vainly trying to untie.

The current took the clumsy craft, and swung it slowly away from under the cliff. The two boys, seizing their heavy paddles, poled off furiously.

Do what they might, they could not get clear before the flames were upon them. Long red tongues of fire leaped from the film of oil, which covered the whole surface of the lake on their side, and huge columns of greasy, black smoke obscured the sky. In a moment the raft was floating on a sea of fire, and the fierce heat of the oil blaze was scorching their faces.

"Beat it back! Beat the flames down!" cried Buck. "No use paddling, Frank. Our only chance is to beat it out."

He picked up his coat and set to work furiously. Frank, with the sack in which they had carried their tools, followed his example, and the pair flogged and pounded desperately at the leaping blaze, trying to keep it back from the raft.

The heat was frightful. They felt their skins crisping like roasting meat. The flames, beaten down for a moment, rose again as fresh supplies of oil came drifting from above. All their efforts seemed useless. The resinous timber, of which the raft was built, caught fire, and their own clothes were singeing. Their very hair was actually burning.

Suddenly Frank stopped.

"The dynamite!" he cried.

"Gosh! I'd forgotten!" gasped Buck.

"Over you go, Frank. It's our only chance."

"Dive deep!" he cried, and as he spoke flung himself off the outer edge of the raft and vanished into the depths of the lake. Frank followed. The cool of the water after the frightful heat was simply delicious.

He struck out with all his might, keeping well down and swimming along under water until his lungs were almost bursting. It was not until he was at the very end of his tether that he drove upwards.

To his intense relief, he was beyond the outer edge of the blaze. No more than a score of feet away, thin flames were licking greedily along the surface, but he was out of the current and clear of them. He looked round anxiously, and to his great relief saw Buck's head bob up close by.

"Saved our bacon," gasped the latter, brushing the water from his eyes, "but swim down the lake a bit. That stuff's liable to go off any minute, and it'll scatter like sin."

Frank glanced across towards the raft, but could not see it. It was hidden by the thick volumes of greasy smoke which arose from the burning oil. But if he could not see the raft, he could see something else. He swam hard after Buck, and seized him by the shoulder.

"Look!" he whispered sharply, "up there, through the smoke! What is it?"

Buck looked, and a quick gasp escaped his lips.

"Suffering snakes—it's Schwartz!" he answered. "Schwartz and Kessel. And they're looking for us. Dive, pard—dive! or they'll have us for sure."

Down went Buck, swift as a coot, and down went Frank after him. Just in time too, for by the smack on the surface, which rang through his head. Frank knew that a bullet had struck the water almost on top of him.

Down he went, swimming for all he was worth. If his first dive had been a long one, it was nothing to this. The feeling that the moment his head appeared it would be a target for a bullet from the rifles of those two blackguards waiting on the cliff above, kept him down until exhausted nature could do no more, and he was forced to rise or drown.

As he rose a rifle cracked again, and a second bullet ploughed the lake, so close that the spray was whipped across his face. It was only the wreathing smoke that spoilt Schwartz's aim.

Frank's head was ringing, his lungs felt as if they would burst. Come what might, he had to fill them with fresh air before seeking refuge for a third time in the cold depths below. He dropped as low as he could, without letting the water cover his mouth and nostrils, and took long, deep breaths.

"You got him, Hermann?" came Kessel's voice sharp and shrill. Frank caught a glimpse of the two on a ledge close above the lode. He saw Schwartz's dark, evil face peering forward through the greasy smoke clouds.

"No, he's fooling!" Schwartz cried aloud, and up went his rifle again.

A puff of smoke rose and hid him, and Frank breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. It gave him a last chance.

He saw the smoke cloud rise and drift away. Schwartz's long, lean figure showed again faintly through the fog.

Frank was in the very act of diving once more, when there came a booming roar which nearly deafened him, followed by a scream, which cut the air like a knife. The roar was prolonged, almost like a peal of thunder, and, vaguely through the smoke, Frank saw the whole face of the cliff leaning outwards. It struck the surface with a reverberating crash, and up leaped a wave many feet in height, which rushed outwards with enormous speed, and presently broke over Frank's head, driving him down again with the pressure of a giant's hand.

He struck upwards with all his might, and at last, half-strangled, foced his way to the surface.

The fire was out, the great wave was breaking with a deep, hollow booming against the far shore of the shaken lake. The air was clearing and almost opposite was a gap in the cliff, a hundred feet wide and more than that in height. Down the raw scar were still rolling small fragments of broken rock. Of the two scoundrels who, a moment earlier, had been doing their best to murder him, the only sign was a battered felt hat floating on the still swirling surface.

"Made a clean job that journey, I reckon."

The voice was Buck's, and turning, Frank saw his chum quietly treading water close behind him.

"B—but," he stammered.

Buck cut him short.

"Quite simple, Frank. The oil fire lit our fuse. The dynamite did the rest. Say, do you feel like swimming as far as the raft? She ain't a great way off."

The raft, battered and scorched, was still sound. They clambered aboard, and dropped down on the bare logs.

"Feels kind of good to be alive, eh, Frank?" said Buck as he basked in the hot sunshine.

"Yes, and better still to feel there's a chance of staying alive," responded Frank. "We shall breathe a bit more freely now those two skunks are out of harm's way. But what I'd like to know is, how they worked that oil trick?"

"Must have found a flow up the creek, turned it in, and put a match to it," replied Buck. "Say, Frank, if there's oil as well as silver, we'll be doing the Rockefeller stunt this time next year. Feel up to a little more manual labour? he added.

"You bet," replied Frank grinning. And rising to his feet, took a paddle and began to work back towards the great gash in the cliff.

Ten minutes later, the two were sampling the vein.

With his knife-blade, Buck picked out a piece of dull grey metal, the size of a thimble. He scraped it a little, then held it to the light.

"It's the goods, old son," he remarked. And though his face was unmoved as ever he could not quite suppress the ring of triumph in his voice.

"It's the goods," he added. "And all we've got to do is to stake our claim, and go right home and file it."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.