Boys of the Fort/14

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Darry was much alarmed, and with good reason. Never before had he faced such a snake, and the reptile looked ready to spring upon him at any instant.

What to do the boy did not know, yet instinctively he leaped back to the top of the rock. Then the fish gave a jerk which almost took him from his feet.

"Joe! Will!" he shouted. "Come this way! I'm in a pickle!"

"What's the matter?" shouted Captain Moore, and soon he and his brother were coming forward as quickly as they could.

In the meantime Darry was having his hands full, for the big fish was bound to get away. At the bottom of the rock lay the snake, with head raised and mouth wide open. It's eyes shone like diamonds.

"A snake! Kill it!" shrieked Darry.

"A snake?" echoed Joe. "Where?"

"At the bottom of this big rock. Oh, my, he's going to come up!"

"I see him," put in Captain Moore.

As he spoke the snake made a leap for the top of the rock. As the reptile went up, Darry went down, and ran along the brook's edge, still with his fishing-pole in his hand.

Catching up a sharp stone, Captain Moore flung it at the snake, hitting the reptile in the tail. At once the thing whirled around, and now forgetting Darry it turned on its assailant.

"He's coming for you!" ejaculated Joe. "Run, Will, or you'll be bitten sure!"

"I'm not running from a snake," answered the young officer, and in a trice he whipped out his pistol. As the snake came on he let drive. His aim was true, and the snake dropped with its head half severed from its body.

"Good for you!" said Joe, and now he picked up a stone as large as his hand. This he dropped directly on the quivering head, and thus ended the battle, although the body of the snake continued to wriggle for a long while afterward.

With white face and set teeth, Darry continued to play his catch and he was still at it when Joe and his brother came rushing up.

"Did the snake bite you?" questioned the young captain. "Why didn't you pull in?"

"I've got something big on," answered Darry. "I didn't want to miss it."

"Well, I never!" gasped Captain Moore. "And you didn't let go even with that snake at your heels? Well, you like a fish better than I do, I can tell you that."

Again the pole bent and threatened to break, but Darry knew what he was doing, and promptly let the fish have more line. Then he wound in, and as the fish unexpectedly came close to shore he gave a sudden strong, steady sweep, and up came the prize on the rocks, flapping and flopping violently.

"My, what a whopper!" cried Joe. "He must weigh at least seven or eight pounds!"

"He felt as if he weighed about forty when he was in the water," returned Darry, a little crestfallen that the catch was not larger.

"That's the biggest fish I've ever seen taken out of this stream," said the young captain. "You can be proud of it, Darry. But to hold on when that snake was behind you—" He shook his head.

"Oh, I knew you'd come up and take care of that, Cousin Will."

"But I might have been too late."

"Was it a poisonous one?"

"Some claim they are poisonous, but the surgeon up at the fort says not. Still I wouldn't want to risk a bite."

"Perhaps there are more around," suggested Joe.

"No, the peculiarity of this variety of snakes is that they always travel alone. If they meet they fight until one or the other is dead."

"Did you ever see such a fight, Will?"

"I did, when I first came to these parts. I was riding over a rocky trail when my horse suddenly stopped, nearly throwing me. On looking ahead to find out what had frightened my animal, I discovered two of these snakes. They were facing each other, with mouths wide open and fangs showing. Each was so interested in the other that neither noticed me or the horse. They faced each other for fully a minute, and during that time began to hiss louder and louder. Suddenly they sprang at each other, and one snake was stung in the eye. He curled himself around the other snake's neck, and in an instant both were in a tight ball. They rolled around and around among the rocks. Once in a while a head would show itself, and then there would be more hissing. After ten minutes the ball fell gradually apart, and then one snake crawled slowly away, more dead than alive. The other snake proved to be dead, with both eyes torn from its head."

"Didn't you kill the other snake?" asked Darry.

"I did. That's the first and only battle I ever saw between snakes, and it was terrible while it lasted, I can tell you that."

Fishing over, they went into camp, and here rested until old Benson came back.

The colonel was tickled to death to receive so much deer meat," said the old scout. "And he says you can stay until Saturday night if you wish. His lady said she had been wanting some venison for several weeks."

Captain Moore felt glad to think he could be out four days more.

"We'll have a grand time now," he said. "Benson, we can go right over yonder mountain, can't we?"

"To be sure," answered the scout.

"Is the hunting good over there?" asked Joe.

"Yes, lad. There used to be some buffalo there."

"Good! Let us get a buffalo by all means!" cried Darry.

"You go slow about tackling a buffalo, especially a bull," said the young captain. "If we do sight a buffalo you let Benson manage the whole affair."

It was not long before the party were off once more, up a trail which led directly to the mountain top. Here traveling was difficult, and both riders and horses were glad to rest at frequent intervals.

When the top was gained the sun was just sinking in the far west. The sight on every side was a glorious one, and as the captain had a small field-glass with him, they could see for miles.

"There is the fort," said Joe, after looking through the glass. "I can see the flag quite plainly."

In the west were more mountains, and between these the valley for which they were bound. Timber and underbrush were dense in spots, while at other points the mountain sides were covered with bold, blackish rocks, with here and there luxuriant moss of several hues. Springs and brooks were numerous, so there was no danger of a water famine.

"I can make out some game over yonder," said Darry, when he had the glass adjusted to his sight.

"What is it?"

"I can't see very plainly."

"Hand over the glass," said old Benson, and took a careful look. But the setting sun now cast a deep shadow between the mountains, and he was unable to tell what it was.

"Mountain deer, most likely," he said. "We'll find out to-morrow if the good weather holds out."

"Do you think we'll have a storm?" asked Joe quickly.

"We'll have something; don't you think so, captain?"

"I think we'll have more wind than rain," returned Captain Moore.

"If we have a high wind, will it be safe right on the mountain top?" questioned Joe.

"We won't stay here," said old Benson. "I know of a much better camping-place. Come, while it is still a little light." And they set off once more.

The place the old scout had in mind was close beside a cliff. The wall of rocks was twice as high as their heads, and on either side was a growth of heavy timber. There was a spring at hand and a grassy patch which promised them an easy bed, providing it did not rain.

"If it storms we can seek the shelter of the cliff," said old Benson. "It won't be as comfortable as a house or cabin, but it will be a good deal better than being right in the open."

The boys were glad enough to rest after the wearisome ride over the top of the mountain, and hungry for the meal the old scout took upon himself to prepare.

When the fire was lit it burned up lively, blowing the sparks in several directions. As soon as he finished cooking the meal Benson put out the blaze.

"Too much wind," he said, in reply to a question from Joe. "I don't want to set the whole mountain side on fire."

Benson was right about the wind, which was now sweeping strongly through the tops of the tall trees. Presently it came lower, and shook up the brushwood. The night birds began to fly around, uttering their shrill cries. The old scout listened to the birds with some concern.

"It's going to be a big blow," he said to Darry.

"You are sure?"

"Yes. The birds are afraid of it. See how they flutter around? That's a sure sign."

"Birds must know a good deal, Benson."

"They do, lad—a heap sight more than folks gives 'em credit for. We could learn a good deal from them, if we'd only set our minds to it."

They took their time about eating, having nothing else to do. Then Benson cared for the horses, putting them in the shelter of the brush, but away from the big trees.

At last it began to blow in earnest, and presently they heard a tree limb here and there snap with a loud report. Then the wind became so furious they were glad enough to huddle under the cliff for shelter.

"It's coming now!" shouted old Benson suddenly. "Hold fast to your hats, boys, or you'll never see them again. And sit down on the traps!"

And in a moment more the fury of the wind storm was upon them.