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CHAPTER XV.


THE RESULT OF A HURRICANE.


Both Joe and Darry had witnessed many a blow, but nothing to compare to that which now swept through the valley and up the mountainside. The velocity of the wind was simply terrific, and it was well that old Benson had cautioned them to hold on to their hats and sit on their traps, otherwise all would have been blown away to parts unknown.

"Say, but this is fierce!" gasped Darry, after several minutes had passed.

"It's a regular hurricane," said Captain Moore. "I've been out in them before. Fortunately they do not last over a quarter or half an hour. Down on the prairies of Kansas they would call it a cyclone. Here, however, it can't get the sweep that it can on the level."

"Hark! what is that?" put in Joe, as a tremendous crashing reached their ears.

"That's a tree in the forest going down," answered old Benson.

"There goes another," said Darry, as more crashing was heard. "I am glad we didn't go into the timber. It's more dangerous than lightning."

"So it is!" shouted Benson. It was with difficulty that he made himself heard. "Here comes the worse of it!" he added.

A strange humming now filled the air, followed by twigs and flying branches. Overhead it was unusually dark, and they could scarcely see one another. Joe and Darry kept close together and clasped hands. Captain Moore was on one side of them and old Benson on the other.

As the wind struck the cliff it sent a shower of loose stones in all directions. Then it tore through the undergrowth where the horses were tethered. Next it seemed to hit the trees fronting the cliff. One tall monarch of the forest was twisted completely from its roots and began to topple.

"See, the tree is coming on top of us!" shrieked Joe.

His words were drowned out in the fury of the wind and the crashing of the tree. The next moment the monarch of the forest came down on the cliff with a bang, cracking the stone in several places. The bottom limbs caught those under the cliff and pinned them fast.

To both boys it seemed as if the end of the world had come. They rolled over, one on top of the other, and for several seconds lay dazed. Then they tried to get up, but found themselves unable to do so.

"Get off of my chest!" gasped Joe, who was underneath.

"I can't—I'm pinned down!" panted Darry.

"Boys, are you safe?" came from old Benson, who was also caught.

"I—I guess so!" answered Joe. "But it's a tight squeeze." Then the youth called out to his brother, but no answer came back.

"Will must be hurt!" he exclaimed, his heart rising in his throat. "Will! Will! Where are you?" he continued.

Still there was no answer, or if so the fury of the wind drowned it out completely. The boys tried their best to move, but could only budge a few inches.

In five minutes the fury of the blow spent itself and the last of the wind sent the fallen tree rolling along the cliff a distance of several rods. This released Joe and Darry, and they arose to their feet dazed and bewildered and scarcely knowing what to do next. It was now raining and darker than ever.

"Benson!" called out Joe, "where is my brother?"

"The captain must still be under the tree," replied the old scout. "He was next to you when the tree came down, wasn't he?"

"He was, but I believe the wind carried his hat off, and he made a dive for it. That's the last I saw of him."

Staggering to his feet, Joe looked around, trying to pierce the darkness. Darry followed him, and old Benson also got up. The scout had received a nasty cut on the shoulder, from which the blood was flowing.

In a few minutes Joe found his brother. The captain lay on the rocks unconscious, a big lump on his forehead, where the largest of the tree's branches had struck him. Kneeling at his brother's side, the boy made a hasty examination.

"He's alive!" he said. "But he must have been struck a terrible crack."

There was little to do excepting to bathe the unconscious officer's head, and this was done. In the meantime Darry assisted old Benson at binding up the wounded shoulder.

"Take the tree off!" Such were the first words Captain Moore uttered when he returned to consciousness. It was some time before he could sit up.

"You are all right, Will—the tree is not on you," said Joe soothingly.

"But it came down right on top of me."

"Yes, it came down on all of us."

"Anybody killed?"

"No. Benson has a cut on the shoulder, and you were knocked out. Feel the lump on your head."

The young captain did so.

"Phew! But that's a regular goose-egg, isn't it?" he muttered. "I suppose I can be thankful that I am alive."

"We can all be thankful for that, Will."

"It was the greatest blow I ever experienced—in more ways than one," said the captain. "I see it is raining. We had better go back to the cliff for protection."

"Don't do it!" cried old Benson, from out of the darkness. "The tree struck the cliff a heavy blow, and we don't want that down on our heads next."

"No, let us give the cliff a wide berth," said Darry. "I'd rather remain right out in the open and get soaked than take any more risks."

"The rain won't amount to much," said Benson. "It never does after such a hurricane."

The scout was right, and in less than half an hour after it had begun the downpour was over and the stars were struggling forth in the sky. Without delay a camp-fire was lit, and the blaze did much toward making them comfortable. It was found that Benson's wound was by far the worst, yet the old scout said it would not interfere with his outing.

"I've had lots of em in my time," was the way he expressed himself. "Lots, and I aint dead yet. 'Pears to me I'm about as tough as a pine-knot."

It was found that the horses had not suffered in the least from the storm, although they had been much frightened. Soon they calmed down, and by midnight all was as quiet as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. But Captain Moore and old Benson carried the marks of the adventure for many days after.

On the following morning no one felt much in the humor for hunting, and half a day was lost in "bumming around," as Joe expressed it. This gave all a good rest and put the horses in fine fettle, and when they started out after the midday meal all were once again in high spirits.

That night found them on the edge of what old Benson called the buffalo ground, a broad valley where the grass was thick and of a peculiar richness. On the way they had shot a number of birds and also a few small animals, but nothing of importance. Once some deer had been sighted, but the game was too far off to be pursued.

As they expected to remain at this point until ready to return home, the old scout proceeded to put up a shelter of brush, which, when completed, was almost as comfortable as a cabin. On the bottom were strewn pine boughs, which gave the shelter a peculiar odor.

"Best thing in the world for colds and weak lungs, that smell," said Benson. "I've never known it to fail." The boys declared that the odor made them sleep "like logs."

"It's queer we haven't seen any Indians," remarked Darry. "I thought these mountains were full of them."

"They were full, before the fort was established," answered Benson. "But the kind that are in this neighborhood don't like white men very much, and they only come around the fort when it's necessary. But we may meet some after buffalo. An Injun will do a heap to get a critter like that."

The old scout said it would be useless to go out in a body to look for buffalo, and so it was arranged that he should first go over the ground alone, leaving the captain and the two boys to look for smaller game.

This settled, Benson soon set off, and a little later Captain Moore, Joe, and Darry took their way along some bushes skirting a small course. They went on foot, leaving their horses tethered near the shelter.

"I will go up one side of the stream, and you can go up the other," said the captain. "By doing that we'll be sure to stir up anything within a hundred yards of the water."

The boys agreed, and soon each member of the party was hard at work, on the hunt for any small game the vicinity might afford.

It was not long before they gained a spot where the underbrush along the brook was thick. Here the stream divided into two branches, and, without knowing it, the captain and the boys became gradually more and more separated, the brush and small trees hiding each from the other.

"I don't see much," said Joe, after half a mile had been covered. "Those little birds aren't worth wasting powder and shot on."

"It looks to me as if somebody had gone over this ground," returned Darry. "See here, aren't those fresh footprints?"

"I believe they are. And see, here are the prints of several horses hoofs. Benson didn't come this way, did he?"

"I don't think he did."

"Then there must be other hunters not far off."

They continued on their way, coming to a halt where the branch of the brook entered a small, rocky canyon.

"No use of going further," said Joe. "Let us retrace our steps."

"Where can your brother be? I haven't heard him for some time."

Joe set up a yell, and both listened attentively. No answer came back. Then both called in concert. Still the silence continued.

"It's mighty queer," was Joe's comment "Let us go back. Perhaps he's in trouble."