THE THREAT

The Explorers and Mr. Livingston clustered close to Jack, peering at the
paper he had found under the hearthstones. Carefully, he spread the
yellowed sheet on the cabin floor.

“It’s a map, all right,” Ken confirmed, studying it over Jack’s
shoulder. “A rough one, though. And the ink has faded.”

The area on the map appeared to be in the most rugged section of the
Colorado Rockies, west of Denver and toward the southwest portion of the
state. So far as the Scouts could determine, the take-off point for Old
Stony’s Headless Hollow was a little town which had been mapped in as
Buckhorn. Other landmarks were Cinnamon Pass and Superstition Canyon.
Headless Hollow itself seemed guarded by twin mountain peaks, unnamed in
the sketch.

“Well, it’s a map,” Mr. Livingston conceded. “That’s about all you can
say for it.”

“Nothing is drawn in proportion,” Willie complained. “Most of the
directions for reaching Headless Hollow—if there is such a place—must
have been in Old Stony’s head.”

“It’s my bet he purposely made it vague,” said Jack.

“Probably wanted to fix it so that nobody stealing the map could have
reached the valley too easily,” Ken agreed.

The Scouts politely waited for Mr. Livingston to offer his opinion.

“We more or less made Old Stony a promise,” he reminded the group. “So
whether or not this map has value, it’s our duty to deliver it to Craig
Warner if we can find him.”

“That may not be so easy,” remarked Jack. “Stony’s information isn’t
very up to date. Elks Creek may or may not be a recent address.”

“In any case—” Happy started to say.

“Watch it,” Jack warned in an undertone.

Quick as a flash, he scooped the map from the floor, thrusting it under
his jacket.

The reason for his action was immediately apparent. Footsteps had been
heard on the gravel driveway outside the cabin. Before the Scouts could
move away from the fireplace, Jarrett Walz loomed on the threshold. His
suspicious glance roved from one face to another, but the Scouts
volunteered no explanation for their presence in the cabin.

He said sharply: “Well! I hardly expected to find you here!”

“We weren’t looking for you back so soon,” Willie stammered.

“That’s quite obvious. What are you doing here?”

“No harm, I assure you,” Mr. Livingston said. “To be quite truthful, we
promised Old Stony that if anything happened to him, we’d try to get in
touch with someone he knew.”

“Craig Warner?”

“Yes.”

“Looking after Stony’s affairs is my job, not yours,” the motel owner
said, his dark eyes snapping.

“We’re not trying to intervene, we assure you.”

“You had no business seeing my workman in the hospital!” Jarrett Walz
continued, his voice rising. “Oh, you kept quiet about your visit there,
but I learned of it, all the same!”

“We made no secret of our trip,” Mr. Livingston replied. He was trying
to remain polite, but the motel owner’s belligerent attitude annoyed
him.

“That’s so,” War chimed in, glaring at Walz. “We went because the old
man sent for us.”

“He sent for you?” the motel owner repeated, his eyes glittering. “Why?”

War had told more than he intended. He began to stall: “Well, the old
fellow was dying. He just wanted to see us.”

“About what?”

“Just to see us.”

“You must think me very stupid to accept that! Why shouldn’t he have
sent for me? Here I’ve given him bed and board, but in his last hour, he
turns to five utter strangers! Folks in Rocking Horse will say—”

“Yes?” Mr. Livingston prompted, as the motel owner interrupted himself.

“They’ll say Old Stony was ungrateful,” Mr. Walz completed. “And he
was!”

From the shifty look of the motel operator’s eyes, the Scouts judged
that he had checked himself on the verge of saying something entirely
different. Though they had no evidence, it struck them that in all
probability over the years Jarrett Walz had profited quite handsomely
from the old prospector’s unpaid labor.

“Any information on Stony’s attacker?” Mr. Livingston inquired.

“No. I talked briefly with a police officer at the hospital. Stony died
from a heart attack, not the results of the blow.”

“So there will be no investigation?”

“Oh, a routine one,” Jarrett Walz answered with a shrug, “but whoever
slugged Stony probably hopped a train and blew out of town.”

The Scouts were convinced that the motel owner had succeeded in
discouraging any police investigation. Publicity no doubt would harm his
business. Though they did not like the way he had handled the affair,
they told themselves it really was none of their concern.

“Well, boys, we may as well get back to our own camp,” Mr. Livingston
suggested, edging toward the door.

Jarrett Walz did not move aside.

“Just a minute,” he said. “I’ll appreciate an explanation before you
go.”

“An explanation?” Mr. Livingston asked, puzzled. “For what?”

“Your presence in this cabin.”

The Scout adviser began to grow irritated, yet he managed to keep his
voice controlled.




“We did explain, I think. We were looking for Craig Warner’s address.”

“You found it?”

“We did.”

“And what do you intend to do with it?”

“Notify Warner of Stony’s death, naturally.”

“You think he’d care?” Jarrett Walz demanded with a slight sneer. “I
doubt he ever laid eyes on that old coot.”

“That’s beside the point. We made a promise to Stony, and we intend to
keep it.”

“A Scout’s word is to be trusted, eh?”

“It is.”

“Okay,” Walz retorted triumphantly. “Then tell me the truth—no more of
your double talk. You came here to find more than an address.”

“Perhaps we did,” the Scout leader rejoined. “As I recollect, you made a
rather careful search of this cabin yourself.”

“That’s different,” Walz said, immediately on the defensive. “Stony was
my workman. You are strangers here.”

“You have a point,” Mr. Livingston conceded, determined not to argue. “I
suggest you lock the cabin door.”

“It’s like locking the barn after the horse is stolen!” Walz said, eying
the Scout leader calculatingly. “You’re deliberately hiding something! I
think you came here to find the old man’s gold!”

“Why, you—” War exclaimed, half lunging at the motel owner.

Ken and Jack restrained him.

“Spunky little tiger, aren’t you?” Walz demanded with a hard, mirthless
laugh.

“It seems to me,” drawled Jack, addressing the motel owner, “that you’re
changing your tune about the gold. Until now, you’ve maintained Stony’s
tale was fantastic.”

“And so it is!”

“You’re the one who should know,” Willie said significantly. “You were
the first to go through Old Stony’s things.”

The Scouts expected the motel owner to fly into a rage at this
accusation, but to their surprise he shrugged it off.

“I found nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“Not even in the bag of pinto beans?” War asked.

Walz’ lips twitched, and a flush overspread his ruddy cheeks.

“I see Old Stony did tell you quite a story,” he sneered. “Oh, you can’t
fool me! You weren’t here on any good-will mission. You were looking for
gold and a treasure map.”

“You’ve changed your idea about the map, too,” Jack accused him.

“Maybe I have! Maybe I’ve come to the conclusion Old Stony told you a
few things he never entrusted to any other person in Rocking Horse.”

“Conclude as you please,” Mr. Livingston said shortly.

“I’m asking a straight question. Did you find a map in this cabin?”

“You’ll have to learn that answer for yourself, my friend.”

Walz and the Scout leader gazed steadily at one another. Then abruptly
the motel owner’s manner changed. He moved aside so that the Scouts
could file out the cabin door.

“You have the map,” he said in an oddly quiet voice. “I knew it the
moment I stepped into this room.”

No one gave Walz the satisfaction of a reply.

He continued, his tone a warning: “Just bear in mind one thing. In
trusting you with his secret, Old Stony may have passed on to you his
own misfortune—the curse that hangs over Headless Hollow!”

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