Meanwhile there was a long and weary waiting before they could expect the return of their companions. There were times when the boys worked their way along the shore, or, with Zeke in supreme command, used the one skiff that remained They did not, however, venture far in the little boat because they were compelled to tow it back one or two of the boys remaining in the boat, while their companions dragged it along the rocky or projecting shore. It was easier when they first dragged the boat up the stream and then descended at a speed which in places outdid that of the swiftest horse.
There were expeditions also to be made along the sides of the cliff, but these were cautiously undertaken for Zeke was unduly fearful for his young charges.
Fred most of all the members he specifically watched. He declared that Fred “usually acted and then did his thinking afterward.”
When night fell the boys assembled about the camp fire and occasionally prevailed upon their gruff guide to relate some of his own experiences on the desert or among the mountains.
“Yes,” said Zeke one night in reply to a question by Fred, “I’ve had some troubles with bad men. Over in Nevada there was a time when a gang of robbers tried to waylay everybody that set out from Reno. It happened that I was at Reno with my mother one time and I had to drive about forty miles to my aunt’s where she was going to visit. The houses out there aren’t so thick that anybody gets over-afraid of being crowded out or bein’ bothered by the neighbors. On the stretch where I was goin’ there were three or four shacks but I didn’t find many choosin’ that part of the country for a dwellin’ place.”
“Did they have a good road?” inquired George.
“Fairly good. It was the only one that led over the mountains in that part of the world. Well, I had my mother along, as I was sayin’, and when we had gone about eighteen miles from Reno, right in a narrow little gorge I saw two men comin’ toward us. They were in a buggy and I knew right away from the looks of their horses that they could make good time. Besides, when I saw the men I knew they were both strangers and, to tell the truth I didn’t like the way either one o’ ’em acted.
“When they came pretty close to where we were I turned out to give them most of the road for I didn’t want any trouble as long as I had my mother along. Perhaps I told you she was with me.
“Well, the first thing I knew the men all of a sudden swung over toward me and before I knew what was going on they had locked their buggy wheel with mine. They pretended to be mad, but I knew right away that this was a part o’ their game. It was worse than two to one for I not only had to fight for myself, but for my mother. However, she is pretty game and she saw what was up so she turned to me and said, said she, ’Zeke, you hand me the reins and I’ll look after the horses and you get out and help untangle those wheels.’ When I got out of the buggy both the men laughed and that rather stirred me. ‘You seem to be mighty easy to please,’ I said. You see I was younger then than I am now, and didn’t have so much sense.”