Boys of the Fort/13

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Boys of the Fort by Ralph Bonehill
Chapter XIII: A Fish and a Snake

CHAPTER XIII.


A FISH AND A SNAKE.


"Look out, Darry, or he'll kill you!"

"Look out for yourself, Joe!"

These cries were followed by two shots, as both the young hunters discharged their weapons. But in their haste the aim of each was poor, and the bullets flew wide of the mark. Then the maddened deer came closer, and both boys took to their heels, running as they had never run before.

"Hi! what's up?" came in old Benson's voice.

"The deer are after us!" yelled Joe. "Shoot em quick!"

Hardly had the lad spoken when he felt one of the deer close behind him. He leaped to one side, and the animal charged past with great vigor, considering how badly he was wounded. But that charge was his last, for Benson's rifle spoke up, and the animal fell lifeless where he stood.

In the meantime Darry was having his hands full with the second deer. The youth had been unable to reload, and now he found himself in a thicket, with the deer fairly on top of him. He caught his firearm by the barrel and hit the animal a resounding blow on the head. This made the deer stagger back and pause.

"Help! help!" yelled the, boy. "Somebody shoot this beast!"

"I'm coming!" came in Captain Moore's voice. "Where are you?"

"Here, in the bush! Quick, or he'll stick me to death!"

The deer was now charging with lowered head. He was in a fearful rage. As he came on there was a sharp report, and the young captain burst into view, his rifle barrel still smoking. Then the deer gave one last leap into the air, and came down upon Darry. The fall knocked the boy senseless.

While Captain Moore was removing the weight from Darry's body, the old scout came up, followed by Joe.

"Hullo, he got it, did he?" said Benson. "Is he badly hurt?"

"I hope not," answered the young captain. "You see, the deer didn't touch him until I fired. Then he leaped up and knocked my cousin down."

"Hope there aint any bones broken."

The deer was removed, and Benson went off to get some water. When he came back Captain Moore and Joe were rubbing Darry's wrists. The water was dashed into the unconscious youth's face, and soon he gave a gasp and opened his eyes.

"The deer?" were his first words.

"You are safe," said the captain reassuringly. "The deer is dead."

"Oh!" Darry uttered a sigh of relief. "I was thinking he was goring me to pieces."

"You had a narrow escape," put in old Benson. "If it hadn't been for the captain he would have mauled you for certain. Didn t you hear me yell to be careful?"

"I thought it would be an easy matter to bring him down, after he was wounded," said Darry, still gasping for breath.

"Any bones broken?" questioned Captain Moore.

"I—I guess not." Darry gave a sigh and sat up. "How did Joe make out?"

"I am all right," answered that individual. "Benson did the trick for me though. Benson, I owe you a good deal."

"And I owe you a good deal," said Darry, turning to his cousin.

"I'm glad I came up, Darry," answered the young captain. "After this both you and Joe must be more careful. If either of you had been killed I would never have forgiven myself for bringing you out on the hunt."

"I want to give you both a bit of advice, and I want you to remember it too," came from the old scout. "Never get too close to big game until you are certain of what you are doing, and be extry careful of big game that is wounded and cornered. Even a sneaking fox will turn on you if he sees there is no other way out of his difficulty."

"I'll remember that," answered both Joe and Darry, and they did remember, and thus was one peril of big-game hunting abolished.

Darry felt too weak for the time being to do much, so Joe led him back to where they had left the horses, while Captain Moore and old Benson took upon themselves the task of bringing in the four deer. Each was a beautiful prize, and the quartet made an imposing sight when hung up on a couple of tree branches.

"The colonel will like this haul," said the young captain. "It will mean prime venison for some days to come. Benson, I wish we could get some of it back to the fort without delay so we can put it on ice and keep it nice."

"I'll take em all to the fort to-night, if you say so," answered the scout. "I can take one on my horse, and load the other three on one of the other animals."

"Then do that, and while at the fort ask the colonel if he will give me permission to remain out until Saturday. Tell him we think we can bring in something for all hands to enjoy."

"I'll do it," said the old scout.

Soon the deer were packed on the horses, old Benson having first cut some steaks from the smallest of the game, to leave behind.

"Take good care of yourselves while I am gone," he said on departing. "And you, Joe and Darry, mind what I told you about getting cornered." Then he was off, and a turn in the mountain trail soon hid him from view.

"A fine old fellow," was Joe's comment, when Benson was gone.

"He is that," answered the young captain. "I liked him from the first time I saw him, and I have never had cause to regret it. He is a good hunter, an excellent scout, and has done us many a good turn."

"What shall we do while he is absent?" questioned Darry.

"Oh, we can try our hand at small game and we can fish!" answered the young captain. "As it is, I reckon both of you would just as lief take it easy until morning."

"I would. That deer on me has made me feel sore all over."

They were soon in camp again, and while the boys rested Captain Moore stirred around and showed them how the soldiers prepared their meals. He cooked the steaks to a turn, and boiled a pot of coffee, and these, with some crackers they had brought along, made a most excellent meal. Being in no hurry, they took their time over the repast, and it was dark long before they finished.

"It's going to be a fine night, so we can sleep under the trees without fear," said the young captain.

"Don't you think some wild animals will attack us?"

"Not if we keep our camp-fire burning."

The boys brought in plenty of brush and some heavier wood, and arranged it so that it would burn for a long while, doing this by forming the stuff into something of a circle. Then the horses were looked after, and each retired, with his blanket rolled around him to keep off the mountain dew, which was already showing itself.

When the boys awoke the sun was shining brightly into their faces. For a moment each stared at the other.

"Gracious, I never slept so soundly in my life!" cried Joe. "I couldn't have done better in a bed at home."

"Nor I," returned his cousin. "I can tell you, sleeping in the open air when it doesn't rain is all right."

But when Darry got up on his feet he changed his tune. The fall of the day previous, combined with the night air, had made him woefully stiff, and it was a good half-hour before he became limbered up.

They found Captain Moore already stirring, and the kettle over the fire was boiling merrily. The captain himself was trying his luck at a brook not a great distance off.

"I saw some fish in here some weeks ago," he explained. "I thought I might get a couple for breakfast. But you lads will have to wait until I strike luck."

"I'm willing to wait," said Joe. "There is nothing to do, is there, until Benson gets back?"

"Nothing that I know of, unless you want to fish or go after some small game. I want to hear what he has to say. If the colonel won't let me stay out, I'll have to return to the fort to-night."

It did not take long for Captain Moore to land several good-sized specimens of the finny tribe, and these the boys took turns at preparing for eating, while the captain continued to fish. The balance of the morning was passed at the brook, and, strange to say, the captain and Joe were both quite successful, while Darry hardly got a bite.

"I'm going to try my luck further up the stream," announced the boy. "I believe we are all fishing too closely together."

"That doesn't seem to hurt my luck," said Joe.

Darry was soon climbing the rocks leading up the brook. The way was rough, but he was growing used to this life in the open air and he enjoyed even the hardship, if such it can be called.

"That ought to make a good fishing-hole," he said to himself, as he reached a point where several big rocks hung over the water s edge. It's dark down there, and that's what some fish like."

He prepared his bait with care, and then dropped his line into the hole. Almost immediately he felt a nibble, and, giving a jerk, found he had caught something that was both large and powerful.

"Gracious, it must be a whopper!" he muttered, as the fish darted hither and thither. Then he braced back on the rock, to play the game, for bringing in the catch at once seemed out of the question. The pole bent greatly, and he was afraid it would snap on him.

He could not stand on the slippery rock very well, and so stepped behind it, on a number of loose stones. Hardly had he done so when he heard a strange hissing. Looking down, he saw a snake glide from under the rock. In a moment more the angry reptile faced him.