Authors: Gertrude Warner
Mountain Top Mystery
GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER
Illustrated by David Cunningham
ALBERT WHITMAN & Company, Chicago, Illinois
1 Grandfather in the Lead
2 Hold On, Benny!
3 Waiting for Rescue
4 Lovan’s Story
5 More Plans
6 Back Up the Trail
7 A Stranger
8 The First Find
9 Caught in the Rain
10 David Explains
11 Benny Finds the Way
12 The Treasure
13 No Goodbyes
14 Time for Celebration
About the Author
Grandfather in the Lead
t was a fine warm day in early summer. The Aldens—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny—and their grandfather were just eating lunch. They had come to dessert of apple pie and cheese.
Benny rested his head on his hand. After awhile he said, “Grandfather, do you remember a few summers ago we wanted to go mountain climbing?”
“Yes, I remember, my boy.”
“Well, do you remember we got cheated out of it? Joe and Alice had to go abroad and we couldn’t go alone.”
Henry said, “Benny will never forget that. We went to see Aunt Jane at Mystery Ranch instead.”
Benny said, “Well, I wondered where we were going that summer,
we had gone. What mountain were we going to climb?”
“Benny, does all this mean you want to go mountain climbing?” asked Mr. Alden. He couldn’t help laughing.
“Yes, it does,” said Benny. “Maybe not the same mountain.”
“No, indeed, it won’t be,” said Mr. Alden. “That year I was going to take you up in the Rockies. No more of that. We’ll have to choose Old Flat Top because I don’t want Violet getting all tired out with a long climb. And I don’t want me getting all tired out either. The rest of you are tough enough.”
Grandfather looked up to see that every Alden was looking at him. The four shining faces answered him. There were four nods.
“You do have the strangest ideas, Benny,” said Jessie. “What put that into your head?”
“Well,” said Benny, “I’ve been reading about that place in school.”
“About Flat Top?” asked Violet.
“Oh, you have, have you?” said Henry. “You chose Flat Top yourself?”
“Right,” said Benny. “I don’t want to climb too much myself. I get lame.”
Mr. Alden said, “Well, my answer is yes. Old Flat Top is easy enough for all of us, and yet it is interesting all the way up. And we’ll all be able to get a good rest on the smooth top.”
“Just like airplanes landing on an airplane carrier,” said Benny.
“That’s exactly right, my boy,” said Grandfather. “Only this flat top is twice as big as a carrier.”
Benny finished his apple pie and put down his fork. “Then the only question is
Let’s go right away.”
Everyone laughed. Benny and Grandfather were so much alike. When they wanted anything they wanted it right away.
“What do you mean by right away?” asked Grandfather, smiling. “You mean this minute? If you do, we could go this minute, very easily. It is only a day’s trip. You climb up Flat Top, eat lunch, and climb down. There is just time in one day. Nobody spends the night there.”
“How do you know all this, Grandfather?” asked Henry.
“Oh, I had a friend who made that trip last summer. He said it was exactly right for his wife, and they had a fine time. Near the foot of the mountain is a general store. The men give you poles and a lunch and directions. They always leave a lot of firewood all cut for a campfire to cook your lunch on the flat top. This place isn’t for real mountain climbers. It’s for old men and children.”
Henry laughed. He knew that it was a real mountain. Grandfather was having a good time teasing them.
“Do you mean we can really go today?” asked Jessie.
“Well, no,” Grandfather answered. “I should say tomorrow would be better because we must have a full day. We can drive to Old Flat Top in two hours. What time do you want to get up, Benny? You’re the sleepy one.”
“I’ll get up at five,” said Benny. “I did when we went to the lighthouse.”
“So you did. Five it is. Lay out some sport clothes. Better take some extra clothes. We may want to go on somewhere else. And another thing, we can’t take Watch. He’ll just be in the way.”
“That’s right,” said Henry. “He will do nothing but whine. He doesn’t like to see us do anything dangerous.”
Mr. Alden looked thoughtful and then said, “I believe that Dr. Percy Osgood is working somewhere in the range not too far from Old Flat Top. How about it, Benny, does that name mean something to you?”
Benny shook his head. But Henry said, “Osgood? It means something to me. He was the author of a book on geology I read for a college course last year.”
“Right!” Grandfather said. “Percy is on a hunt for some fossils. If John Carter can find out where he is for me we might pay him a visit. I haven’t seen Osgood for years, but I don’t suppose he’s changed much.”
The Aldens went to pack and Grandfather made a phone call to John Carter. It was too bad Benny wasn’t around to hear some of the plans being made. But he and the others were busy packing.
There was not much sleep in the Alden house that night. At five o’clock everyone was wide awake and downstairs eating breakfast.
“I have two flashlights,” said Henry, “and some batteries and the binoculars. You can see the view better.”
Grandfather said, “We’ll get the lunch at the store and water and either coffee or cold drinks in bottles. We can buy anything we need.”
The day was beautiful. It was warm even in the early morning. They all knew it would be cooler on Flat Top, and they each had a warm sweater.
When they reached the mountain range, Violet said, “Oh, isn’t this lovely!”
“That’s Old Flat Top,” said Benny, pointing. It was the lowest mountain in the range. Other peaks went much higher into the sky. Some looked blue in the distance. Others looked violet. Others looked green. But Flat Top was so near it looked green almost all the way up. The top was all solid rock.
“Hey!” said Henry. “There is the store. It seems to be made of logs.” He stopped the car at the door and they all went into the store. Old Flat Top towered right over them.
“Just right,” said Benny. “Not too high. Not too steep. Just right, just a good healthy climb and a grand view at the top.” Then he thought, “Isn’t it queer that this store man seems to know Grandfather?”
The two men were shaking hands, and Grandfather just said, “Fit us out for Flat Top, won’t you?”
The man said, “You each need a pack on your back to carry your lunch. You’ll need five poles. I should think that would be enough. You’ll find the path is well marked, but there’s only one. And remember that there is no other path down.”
“I’d like to go first,” said Benny.
“I’m sorry to disagree with you, Benny,” said Mr. Alden. “I should like to go first.”
“Oh,” said Benny, “of course, you should go first. That’s OK.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Alden.
Up they went. It was true that the path was well marked. The trees were marked with knotted strips of red cloth. It was a little hard in some places, but the poles were a great help. Each climber had a pack on his back.
Up and up they went. Violet was right behind Grandfather. Benny still wished he could be the leader, but he thought he had better mind his grandfather at this point.
It took the Aldens three hours to reach the first stop.
“See the sign?” said Henry. “Lunch Here. The man said we must eat just half of our lunch here.”
“I have never been so hungry in my life,” said Benny.
“Oh, yes, you have!” joked Henry. “Almost every meal you eat. And be careful how much water you drink. That’s the thing we have to save.”
Soon they were ready to go on. When they were almost at the top they noticed there were no more bushes, no more trees, no more grass. It was all gray rock.
Grandfather looked ahead. He could see the last two steps very well. He noticed that the last step was a big one, and he was glad he had gone first. With his pole, he reached the very top where it was flat. He turned around and gave a hand to Violet. Then he helped Jessie up, and reached way down to help Benny. With his pole, Henry climbed up by himself.
They all looked around. “This is as big as our own front yard,” said Jessie.
“What a view,” said Benny. “The town is over there, and nothing but woods there at the foot of the mountain.”
Henry said, “Here is the woodpile for campfires and a fireplace. This is where we can cook the rest of our lunch.”
It never entered anyone’s head, even Grandfather’s, that a fire might be needed to keep them warm.
Hold On, Benny!
y, I’m glad we have sweaters,” said Henry. “The wind blows harder up here.” He pulled his brown sweater on over his head.
The others put on their sweaters and then they sat down in a row,
“What a view!” said Jessie. They looked out over the valley. They felt as if they were very high up.
Grandfather said, “Benny, you come over and sit by me. I want to talk to you. You know a boy ought to learn a thing the first time he is told. Of course he can learn it the second time and maybe the third time. But he will save a lot of time for himself by learning the first time. I am telling you not to go near the edge, and I shall say nothing more about it. Is that clear?”
Grandfather almost never spoke in that sort of voice.
indeed!” cried Benny. “I learned that before you got through talking. I don’t like the edge myself.”
Henry looked around at Flat Top. There was a small hump in the middle. “Look at the wavy lines in the rocks,” he said. “White and black and gray. Wouldn’t a geologist find this interesting?”
Everyone looked around. Violet said, “It looks like the waves of the sea.”
Grandfather said, “That is just what they look like, but they are waves of rock. Probably millions of years ago what we are standing on now was covered by the ocean.”
Henry said, “This low mountain may once have been near the ocean floor. It was pushed up to where it is now.”
Benny threw his head back and laughed. He said, “I’ll bet the old dinosaurs paddled around here.”
“Maybe dinosaurs were here when this was a swamp,” said Jessie.
“I wish I had brought my camera,” said Henry.
“Oh, I wish you had,” said Violet.
Mr. Alden was looking at the great stretch of woods below. He said, “I don’t think anyone has ever cut those trees. I’d hate to get lost there.”
Benny looked at his wristwatch. “I hope someone besides me will say it’s time to eat,” he said.
Violet said, “I am willing to be the one.” She patted Benny’s shoulder.
Jessie said, “Let’s sit here and plan what we will do.”
“That’s the housekeeper in you, Jess,” said Henry. “If we are going to cook that hamburger we’ll have to get a fire started. Let’s find the wood.”
Mr. Alden sat still and watched them.
“Well, there are certainly all kinds of wood,” said Benny. “Big and little. And look, there is a kettle and a frying pan.”
“That kettle is for hot water, I think,” said Violet. “Just throw a little coffee in, and there will be Grandfather’s coffee.”
“Freshly made,” said Grandfather.
“Those men at the store thought of everything,” said Benny. “Here’s the fireplace with a back rock to keep off the wind.” He was beyond the little hump.
“Well, I guess we’re all set,” said Henry.
Everybody had a job. The two boys built the fire, for even Benny knew how to start a good fire. The girls made cakes of the hamburger and took out the bacon.
“I think we had better fry the bacon first,” said Jessie, and the girls soon had the crisp slices lying on a paper napkin.
“Where shall we put the grease, Grandfather, when we get through?”
“Give it to me,” said Mr. Alden, “and I will show you. Wait till I get all set.”
Grandfather, without a smile, got down flat on his stomach and crawled slowly to the edge. “Now I’ll take the pan,” he said. Everyone tried not to laugh—Mr. Alden looked so funny. With a straight face, Mr. Alden took the pan and poured the hot fat down the rocky mountainside. He backed slowly until he was far from the edge. Then he said, “That grease went almost straight down for half a mile. That’s why you can’t go down or up except on our trail.”
“Oh, you did look funny,” said Benny. “I could hardly help laughing.”
“Neither could I,” said Mr. Alden. “Now we can laugh all we want.”
Indeed when anyone thought of Grandfather pouring grease straight down the mountain, it was hard to stop laughing at all.
“Now the hamburger,” said Henry. “Just about room for six in this pan.”
Jessie passed him the hamburger cakes. They started at once to give out a delicious smell.
Soon Henry gave the orders, “Get a plate and a bun and a piece of cheese and a paper napkin, and be all ready for your hamburger.”
“We’ll get a bottle of Coke, too,” said Benny,
“Right,” said Henry. “And I will put Grandfather’s black coifee in one of these cups.”
Never did food taste better. They made it last a long time.
“I think this is the first time,” said Jessie, “that we ever had anything left over from a picnic. I couldn’t eat all my hamburger, and neither could Violet. We have five buns and one hamburger left.”
“You will see that I didn’t quite finish my big hamburger either,” said Grandfather.
Benny’s loud voice was heard saying, “Save it—save every crust and every crumb. I have a feeling I might use it later in the day.”
The Alden family picked up all their papers and cups and burned them in the fire. Grandfather said, “Save my coffee, too. I have a feeling I might like it just before we go. We go at exactly four o’clock.”
Violet shook every drop out of an empty Coke bottle. She filled the bottle with coffee.
Henry saw what she was doing. He said, “Just dump the coffee grounds on the rocks. The wind will blow them away.”
“When we go down,” said Benny, “how about letting me go first?”
“All right,” Grandfather agreed, “you lead the way.”
They put the scraps of food in a paper bag and at exactly four o’clock Benny got ready to back down.
Benny said, “The first step will hold both my feet.”
“So will the second one,” said Henry.
Benny reached down carefully with one foot for the first step. He held onto the edge tightly. It was a long way down to the step and he almost wished he had let Grandfather or Henry go first.
“Let me take one of your hands,” Henry said. “Take your time and you’ll be all right.”
Benny swung his other foot down but still kept Henry’s hand. The next step was not quite so steep.
With one foot on the second step Benny was just about to let Henry go. Then with no warning it happened—one moment Benny’s foot was on the step, the next he was reaching wildly for a foothold.
With a noise like thunder the stone step went crashing down the mountain side. As it rolled, it knocked loose stones and boulders in a regular mountain slide.
“Help!” Benny shouted, hanging on to Henry and trying to catch at anything that would not crumble and break loose.
Grandfather threw himself down and grabbed Benny by his free arm. Henry got a better grasp. Jessie took the back of his sweater and the three pulled Benny to the top and safety.
Benny lay perfectly still on his side, breathing hard. “Gramps,” he said, “it will take me three days to get over this.”
Benny had never called his grandfather “Gramps” before, and nobody had ever seen him quite so still. Mr. Alden knelt down to comfort him. He said, “Benny, you put your mind on this. Forget the step. Just think that your life was saved for something special and try to wonder what it is.”
Benny sat up at once. “I
saved, wasn’t I?” he cried. “Maybe I’ll be a mountain climber. Or a scientist.”
Jessie and Violet both looked pale. They knew what a narrow escape Benny had had. The noise of the rocks crashing down, Benny’s shout, the rescue—it had all happened so quickly.
Henry looked around the rocky top of the mountain. He did not want to frighten the girls, but he knew that the only way down was gone. The rocky sides of Old Flat Top gave no spot to get a foothold.
Mr. Alden said, “Now let’s plan what we’ll do. We are safe here, but we’ll be cold. We certainly can’t get down now.”
Henry said, “Won’t the ranger and the man in the store notice when we don’t come down?”
Mr. Alden gave Henry a look. Then he said, “There are a lot of things that they may do. One thing seems sure. We’ll have to spend the night up here. This is the end of the summer and it will be dark soon.”
Henry said, “Perhaps they heard those rocks coming down.”
“Yes,” said Violet. “They crashed like thunder.”
“They probably did hear the noise,” said Mr. Alden. “I don’t think we need to worry, but perhaps we’d better build a fire. They will see it when it gets dark.”
Henry had a feeling that Mr. Alden knew something that the children did not, but he went right to work and everyone helped to build a roaring fire.
Violet’s teeth were chattering. She said, “The f-f-fire f-f-feels good. I didn’t know I was so c-c-cold.”
“That’s because you nearly lost me, Violet,” said Benny. “Haven’t you ever heard of shivering from fright?”
It soon began to get quite dark. Still Grandfather did not seem to be worried. Suddenly they all heard a strange whirring noise.
“It sounds like an airplane,” said Benny. “I’ll bet it’s a helicopter.”
Henry cried, “That’s Grandfather for you! I’ll bet he planned that in case of trouble.” Grandfather smiled.
It was indeed a helicopter. First it went high over the flat top, winked its lights, and then hovered over the family. The pilot had a megaphone.
He called down, “Are you all right?”
Five voices shouted, “Yes!”
“We can’t take you off in the dark,” the pilot called. “We’ll have to wait until morning. But I am going to drop five sleeping bags. Keep your fire going, and we’ll be around in the morning. Now all of you stand behind the hump.”
The whole family did so. Down came five sleeping bags, one by one. The helicopter whirred away.
Jessie said, “I guess they didn’t know that we are short on food. It’s lucky we saved everything from lunch that we did not eat. I wonder if we should eat the leftovers for supper.”
“Maybe we should save our food for the morning,” Violet said. “We might have to wait for quite awhile.”
“Good idea,” agreed Grandfather. “As long as we are warm we can stand being a little hungry.”
Benny added, “I guess I got being hungry scared right out of me—at least for now.”
Grandfather said, “You know the old saying about an ill wind that blows no good.”
“It wasn’t a wind, it was a rock slide,” Benny said.
Mr. Alden said, “We might as well get into these sleeping bags to keep warm.”
When they were all in the sleeping bags they sat in a row.
Benny said, “We’d look funny if there were anyone to see us.”
They all looked down over the dark country. Many lights of the town showed at the left, but not a light at the right.
In a little while Jessie said, “You know, I think I see a faint light in the woods. You don’t suppose anyone is in trouble, do you?”
“I don’t see it,” said Mr. Alden. “Oh yes, I do, too. It’s very faint, but it stays right in one place.”
Benny asked, “How could anyone live in the woods? I wonder what the light is.”
Mr. Alden was glad to have anything interesting to talk about because he knew the night would be long. “When we get down,” he said, “we will find out what the light is. The rangers may know, and if they don’t, we’ll find out anyway.”
The stars came out. They were very bright.
“I don’t really mind going to bed tonight,” said Benny. “I’m in bed.”
Jessie whispered to Henry, “He seems to be all right.”
“Thanks to Grandfather,” whispered Henry. “He certainly said the right thing to Ben.”
Mr. Alden and Henry decided to take turns putting wood on the fire during the night. There was plenty of wood. They all lay down in a row. Benny was on one side of Grandfather, and Violet was on the other.
Benny sounded sleepy as he said, “I’m coming over closer to you, Grandfather, if you don’t mind.”
“Come ahead, my boy,” said Mr. Alden.
“You know, Grandfather,” said Benny, “I must have been seeing things. When that big rock gave way, I thought I saw an enormous hole behind it.”
“Maybe you really did see a hole,” said Grandfather. “I have heard of holes in mountains.”
But by this time, Benny was asleep.
Waiting for Rescue
hen Henry awoke he thought even before he opened his eyes, “The helicopter will come at sunrise.” Then he opened his eyes and blinked.
The whole mountain top was covered with thick fog. Henry turned his head to look at Jessie. She was close enough to touch, but he could hardly see her.
Benny called, “I’m awake, Henry. Foggy, isn’t it?”
Henry propped himself up on one elbow. “I wonder if it is often foggy like this in the morning. I guess when we’re not up so high we don’t pay any real attention.”
Grandfather said, “The mountain top is always covered with fog in the early morning. That’s why campers don’t stay here overnight. But the fog will soon go away.”
Henry said, “One thing is sure. We must stay close together every minute.”
Everyone understood what Henry meant. It would be dangerous to move about too much and perhaps come close to the edge of the rocky, flat top without knowing it.
They all sat up.
“Where is that paper bag of scraps?” asked Benny. “Now I’m hungry.”
“I have it,” said Jessie. “I also have some napkins. Put your hands out and take a napkin, and I will try to divide the breakfast.”
She broke the big hamburger into five pieces. Then she got out of her sleeping bag and went down the line putting scraps of roll and one whole roll on each napkin. She gave Mr. Alden his cold coffee. There were four cups on the top of the thermos bottle.
“Tell me when you want a drink of water,” she said. “We mustn’t waste a drop.”
Violet was on one end of the row, and Henry was on the other. They could not see each other because of the fog, but they could hear very well.
Everyone started to eat breakfast. Violet said, “I wouldn’t think bread crusts could taste so delicious.”
Grandfather said with a laugh, “Nor cold coffee mixed with Coke.”
Benny said, “After this, you’ll have to put Coke in your coffee instead of sugar.”
Henry said, “I certainly hope the fog will lift before lunchtime because we haven’t a crumb of food left.”
Henry had no sooner said this than the fog lifted. Like magic it entirely disappeared.
“That’s the way fog does,” said Henry. “And don’t forget it can shut down just as fast. Maybe it will come back.”
“You’re the gloomy one,” Jessie said, but she laughed.
“Well,” said Mr. Alden, “I don’t think it will this time. Look at that sun!”
The whole valley was golden in the bright sunshine. There was not a cloud in the sky.
“Maybe we ought to get ready for the helicopter,” said Violet. “We don’t want to keep them waiting.”
They got their packs ready, rolled up the sleeping bags, and waited.
“Remember when that big rock fell?” said Benny. “I think I really saw a hole, a huge one. Like a cave maybe.”
Grandfather said, “You may be sure we will find out. Ah! Here comes the helicopter.”
“I guess they know the fog has gone away,” said Jessie.
The Aldens saw the helicopter whirring far above them and then slowly coming down. Without a word they all stood behind the hump. This left an open place for the helicopter to land. It came straight down and landed exactly in the middle of the space.
“Straight as a string,” said Benny. “Oh, look who’s here! It’s Mr. Carter!”
Violet cried, “Now where in the world did
“Really,” said Jessie, “how did he know about us, Grandfather?”
“That will be a good puzzle for you to guess,” said Mr. Alden.
“Pooh!” said Benny. “I bet I can tell you exactly what happened. I’ll bet you told the ranger to send for Mr. Carter right away if anything happened.”
By this time Mr. Carter and a ranger had let down the steps and were coming down.
“We can’t take you all at once,” the ranger pilot said.
“Well, then, leave me for the second trip,” said Mr. Alden.
“And I will stay with you, Grandfather,” said Violet.
“Good girl,” Mr. Alden said.
Henry, Jessie, and Benny took their packs and poles and sleeping bags. John Carter helped them up the steps into the helicopter.
“We’ll be back soon,” he said, pulling in the steps.
Sure enough, in a short time the helicopter was back for Grandfather and Violet.
Grandfather asked the pilot to hover over Old Flat Top. There was the hole that Benny thought he saw when the step fell.
“Look, Violet, there’s the hole!” shouted Grandfather over the noise of the helicopter.
Down they went to the log store. Even before the plane landed, Violet said, “Grandfather, I see the rangers and some other men, too.”
“Yes,” Grandfather said, “a man with a camera. I have a feeling the newspaper people heard about the rockslide.”
Flashbulbs popped as Mr. Alden and Violet got out of the helicopter. Benny came running up and cried, “Isn’t it exciting? A reporter asked me all about what happened.”
“Mr. Alden?” a man with a notebook said, coming up to Grandfather. “Your grandson has already told me about his accident. The others told me about his rescue and your night on Old Flat Top. May I ask if you plan to stay here longer?”
“The large hole that was opened when the rockslide took place interests me,” Mr.Alden said. “We may stay to learn more.”
Benny was listening hard. “Yes, let’s stay,” he exclaimed. “And you remember that light we saw—”
Before he could say anything more, Mr. Alden told the reporter, “Yes, I think you can say we will be here for a few days. And now we need to get some food. You probably know we had a pretty odd breakfast.”
“Thank you,” the reporter said, “I understand.” He closed his notebook and left with the cameraman.
“Benny,” Mr. Alden said, “I didn’t think that the reporter needed to know about what we saw during the night. Not until we know more about it ourselves.”
A ranger was standing nearby and Henry turned to him. “I have a question, sir. When it was dark, we all saw a very faint light quite deep in the woods. We thought somebody might be in trouble, but the light didn’t move. Do you know anything about this?”
“Yes, we do,” said one of the rangers. “An old Indian lives there, the last of the tribe. Perfectly harmless. Just wants to live alone and be let alone. Every month I take over some flour, salt, sugar, and tea and a few canned things. Then I bring back sweet grass baskets in trade. They sell like hot cakes—I haven’t one left.”
Henry asked, “Could I drive the car as far as the house?”
“No. You can go a little way into the woods. Then you have to walk about a quarter of a mile. The path is easy to follow,” the ranger answered.
Mr. Alden came up. He said, “I think we will drive over. My grandchildren are much interested.”
John Carter said, “I have my car. I can take Benny and Violet.”
Jessie said, “Fine. But we need some lunch. Let’s get some food from the store here and then go.”
Grandfather agreed and let Jessie plan to get what was needed. “We can eat in the woods before we go up the trail,” she said.
The Aldens were soon on their way, Henry driving in the lead. When they had driven as far as they could into the woods, Henry and Mr. Carter parked the cars.
Lunch was quickly eaten because everyone was so curious about the Indian in the woods.
Benny called back, “When we get there, do you think it is all right to knock on the door?”
“I should think so,” said Henry. “What else can we do? We want to go in and meet him, don’t we? The ranger said he was perfectly harmless.”
Soon they saw a small gray house with a large vegetable garden. A stone step was at the front door. Benny knocked.
There was a soft sound of feet and the door opened. There stood a very tall Indian woman who held her head like a queen.
For once Benny did not know what to say. Mr. Alden stepped forward quickly and said, “I hope we are not bothering you. My grandchildren saw your light from Old Flat Top. They were afraid you were in trouble.”
The old Indian woman bowed her head a little, opened the door wide, and said, “Please come in.”
he family was so surprised to find an Indian woman instead of a man that no one said anything.
The room they looked into had two chairs and a couch. On a table lay an Indian basket that was not yet finished. Bunches of sweet grass were hung up to dry. The room was sweet with the smell of the grass.
“Sit down,” said the Indian woman. She took the rocking chair, and Mr. Alden sat in the other chair. Mr. Carter sat on the couch and the others sat on the floor.
Still no one had said a word. Then Benny, who was nearest the Indian woman, spoke. He said, “That man is my grandfather, James Alden. John Carter is sitting on the couch. I am Benny and there is my brother Henry and my sisters, Jessie and Violet.”
The old woman said, “My name is Lovan Dixon. I am almost ninety years old.”
“Well!” exclaimed Benny.
Jessie said, “We were on Flat Top all night and saw your light. We were worried thinking somebody might be in trouble.”
“You are very kind,” said the woman. “Why were you on Flat Top? Did you have an accident?”
did,” said Benny. “When I was coming down, the first step broke away. But I don’t think about that any more. Grandfather said there was no use in it.”
The Indian woman turned to Mr. Alden. “He was right,” she said. “I heard all the rocks coming down like thunder. I was worried about you. I saw your fire all night.”
Violet looked at the old Indian and asked, “Is anything wrong?”
“Not now,” said the woman.
Then Benny cried, “Do you really want to live all alone here?”
“Yes, child,” said Lovan Dixon. “I do want to. I do not like living in a town. Too many people laugh at Indian ways. I like to live alone.”
Violet and Jessie looked around at the house. It was neat and clean. The old woman’s gray hair was as smooth as silk. Her strong old face was deeply wrinkled.
Benny shouted, “Those people were mean. I’d like to tell them so.”
“You are a kind boy. There is no need to bother with anyone. I like it here. I love the woods. I am the last of my people. My tribe always lived here and the government gave these woods to my tribe long ago. The woods go to the other side of Flat Top.”
Now Grandfather spoke, “But I have a feeling that something is bothering you. Won’t you tell us?”
The old woman did not speak for a time and it was very quiet in her little house. Then she said, “I hear that the woods will be cut over for lumber and I will lose my land.”
Nodding, John Carter said, “It could be true, Miss Dixon. Many times, I am sorry to say, our government has forgotten its promises to the Indians.”
Mr. Alden said, “From this minute on do not worry any more. I know a man who will find out who owns this land. He will buy it himself if he has to. You may use it as long as you live, Miss Dixon.”
“Please say ‘Lovan,’” said the Indian woman with a bow.
“Lovan,” said Benny at once because he liked the sound of the name. “When that step gave way on Old Flat Top, I thought I saw a big hole behind it. Do you think that was really true?”
Lovan folded her arms and sat for a long time with bowed head. There was not a sound. After awhile she drew a long breath and said, “I trust you. Let me tell you a story. Years ago my grandfather told it to me, and he heard it from his grandfather. You ask about a hole, child. I believe there is a cave.”
For a minute Lovan did not say anything more. Then she went on, “You understand this happened years ago. There used to be a cave on the other side of Flat Top, but no cave where you say the hole is. In those days you couldn’t get up the mountain by your trail, but you could get up on the other side. Flat Top didn’t have such a flat top at that time.”
Every eye was on the old Indian woman. They hoped she would go on, and she did.
“The story goes that a Frenchman who was a friend of the King of France ran away to America to live. There was a war in France and he escaped. He was shot accidently right near here. My great-grandfather, Running Deer, hid him and took care of him until he died. The Frenchman had a great leather bag with things in it which he expected to sell. But when he died, he gave the bag to my great-grandfather for taking care of him.”
“What was in the bag?” cried Benny. Lovan smiled at Benny. “I never knew,” she said. “My great-grandfather died without telling anyone what was in it. But my grandfather thought that his father hid the bag in that old cave.”
“Why didn’t he go up and find it?” asked Benny.
Henry said, “Benny, you are asking too many questions.”
Lovan smiled a little. She said, “I don’t mind. Nobody has ever dared before. Something happened to that mountain and the rocks moved and closed the cave. It looked as if it had been squashed together. That was when Flat Top became flat.”
Mr. Carter said, “Didn’t anyone try to dig the cave out?”
“No, the rocks were too heavy. Besides the climb was too steep.”
Jessie said slowly, “If that bag was ever found, wouldn’t it belong to you?”
Lovan bowed again. “Yes,” she said. “I am the last of the tribe and my grandfather told me it was mine.”
“Wouldn’t you expect to get it then,” asked Henry, “if somebody found it?”
“I don’t know,” said Lovan. “I have lost many things.”
Violet said, “Do you suppose the hole Benny found is a sort of back door to that cave?”
“I have no doubt of it,” said Lovan.
Mr. Alden said, “Don’t worry any more about anything. I myself will see that you get what is yours.”
Lovan said, “I am grateful to you. All I have left now is this house and my garden and my front step.”
“What about your front step?” asked Mr. Alden.
“Come and see,” said Lovan. “You must go down my step and watch.”
She followed them out with a cup of water in her hand. They watched her as she poured the water slowly into some hollows in the step.
“A big, enormous claw!” cried Benny. “It is almost as long as the step.”