It was a wild and desolate country in which Tom Swift and Mr. Jenks were traveling. Villages were far apart, and they were at best but small settlements. In their journeys from place to place they met few travelers.But of these few they made cautious inquiries as to the location of Phantom Mountain, or the landmark known as the great stone head. Prospectors, miners and hunters, whom they asked, shook their heads.
"I've heard of Phantom Mountain," said one grizzled miner, "but I couldn't say where it is. Maybe it's only a fish story—the place may not even exist."
"Oh, it does, for I've been there!" exclaimed Mr. Jenks.
"Then why don't you go back to it?" asked the miner.
"Because I can't locate it again," was the reply.
"Humph! Mighty queer if you've seen a place once, and can't get to it again," and the man looked as if he thought there was something strange about Tom and his companion. Mr. Jenks did not want to say that he had been taken to the mountain blindfolded, for that would have caused too much talk."I think if we spent to-night in a place where the miners congregate, listened to their talk, and put a few casual questions to them, more as if we were only asking out of idle curiosity, we might learn something," suggested Tom.
"Very well, we'll try that scheme."
Accordingly, after they had left the suspicious miner the two proceeded to a small milling town, not far from Indian Ridge. There they engaged rooms for the night at the only hotel, and, after supper they sat around the combined dance hall and gambling place.
There were wild, rough scenes, which were distasteful to Tom, and to Mr. Jenks, but they felt that this was their only chance to get on the right trail, and so they stayed. As strangers in a western mining settlement they were made roughly welcome, and in response to their inquiries about the country, they were told many tales, some of which were evidently gotten up for the benefit of the "tenderfeet."
"Is there a place around here called Phantom Mountain?" asked Tom, at length, as quietly as he could.
"Never heard of it, stranger," replied a miner who had done most of the talking. "I never heard of it, and what Bill Slatterly don't know ain't worth knowin'. I'm Bill Slatterly," he added, lest there be some doubt on that score.
"Isn't there some sort of a landmark around here shaped like a great stone head?" went on Tom, after some unimportant questions. "Seems to me I've heard of that."
"Nary a one," answered Mr. Slatterly. "No stone heads, and no Phantom Mountains—nary a one.
"Who says there ain't no Phantom Mountains?" demanded an elderly miner, who had been dozing in one corner of the room, but who was awakened by Slatterly's loud voice. "Who says so?"
"I do," answered the one who claimed to know everything.
"Then you're wrong!" Tom's heart commenced beating faster than usual.
"Do you mean to say you've seen Phantom Mountain, Jed Nugg?" demanded Slatterly.
"No, I ain't exactly seen it, an' I don't want to, but there is such a place, about sixty mile from here. Folks says it's haunted, and them sort of places I steer clear from."
"Can you tell me about it?" asked Mr. Jenks, eagerly. "I am interested in such things."
"I can't tell you much about it," was the reply, "and I wouldn't git too interested, if I was you. It might not be healthy. All I know is that one time my partner and I were in hard luck. We got grub-staked, and went out prospectin'. We strayed into a wild part of the country about sixty mile from here, and one night we camped on a mountain—a wild, desolate place it was too."
The miner stopped, and began leisurely filling his pipe.
"Well?" asked Tom, trying not to let his voice sound too eager.
"Well, that was Phantom Mountain."
The miner seemed to have finished his story.
"Is that all?" asked Mr. Jenks. "How did you know it was Phantom Mountain?"
"'Cause we seen the ghost—my partner and I—that's why!" exclaimed the man, puffing on his pipe. "As I said, we was campin' there, and 'long about midnight we seen somethin' tall and white, and all shimmerin', with a sort of yellow fire, slidin' down the side of the mountain It made straight for our camp."
"Huh! Guess you run, didn't you, Jed?" asked Bill Slatterly.
"Course we did. You'd a run too, if you seen a ghost comm' at you, an' firm' a gun."
"Ghosts can't fire guns!" declared Bill. "I guess you dreamed it, Jed."
"Ghosts can't fire guns, eh? That's all you know about it. This one did, and to prove I didn't dream it, there was a bullet hole in my hat next mornin'. I could prove it, too, only I ain't got that hat any more. But that was Phantom Mountain, strangers, an' my advice to you is to keep away from it. I was on it but I didn't exactly see it, 'cause it was dark at the time."
"Was it near a peak that looked like a stone head?" asked Tom.
"It were, stranger, but I didn't take much notice of it. Me and my partner got out of them diggin's next day, and I never went back. I ain't never said much about this place, but it's called Phantom Mountain all right, and I ain't the only one that's seen a ghost there. Other grub-stakers has had the same experience."
"Why ain't I never heard about it?" demanded Bill, suspiciously.
"'Cause as why you're allers so busy talkin' that you don't never listen to nothin' I reckon," was Jed's answer, amid laughter.
"Can you tell us what trail to take to get there?" asked Tom, of the miner.
"Yes, it's called the old silver trail, and you strike it by goin' to a place called Black Gulch, about forty mile from here. Then it's twenty mile farther on. But take my advice and don't go."
"Can it be reached by way of Indian Ridge?" asked Mr. Jenks, wondering how he had been taken to the cave of the diamond makers. He did not remember Black Gulch.
"Yes, you can git there by Indian Ridge way, but it's more dangerous. You're likely to lose your way, for that's a trail that's seldom traveled." Mr. Jenks thought that, perhaps, was the reason the gang had taken him that way.
"It's easier to get to the stone head and Phantom Mountain by Black Gulch, but it ain't healthy to go there, strangers, take my advice on that," concluded the miner, as he prepared to go to sleep again.Tom could scarcely contain the exultation he felt. At last, it seemed, they were on the trail. He motioned to Mr. Jenks, and they slipped quietly from the place, just as another dance was beginning.
"Now for Black Gulch!" cried Tom. "We must hurry back to the airship, and tell the good news.
"It's too late to-night," decided Mr. Jenks, and so they waited until morning, when they made an early start.
They found Mr. Damon and Mr. Parker anxiously awaiting their return. Mr. Damon blessed so many things that he was nearly out of breath, and Mr. Parker related something of the observations he had made.
"I think I have discovered traces of a dormant volcano," he said. "I am in hopes that it will have an eruption while we are here."
"I'm not," spoke Tom, decidedly. "We'll start for Black Gulch as soon as possible."
The airship once more rose in the air, and, following the directions the miner had given him, Tom pointed his craft for the depression in the mountains which had been given the name Black Gulch. It was reached in a short time, and then, making a turn up a long valley the airship proceeded at reduced speed.
"We ought to see that stone head soon now," spoke Tom, as he peered from the windows of the pilot house.
"It's queer we didn't notice it when we were up in the air," remarked Mr. Jenks. "We've been over this place before, I'm sure of it."
The next moment Mr. Damon uttered a cry. "Bless my watch-chain!" he exclaimed. "Look at that!"
He pointed off to the left. There, jutting out from the side of a steep mountain peak was a mass of stone—black stone—which, as the airship slowly approached, took the form and shape of a giant's head.
"That's it! That's it!" cried Tom. "The great stone head!"
"And now for Phantom Mountain and the diamonds!" shouted Mr. Jenks, as Tom let the airship slowly settle to the bottom of the valley.
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