Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER XIII.


Caught in a Cyclone


Less than an hour later Jasper was brought out and Noel Urner sprang into the saddle, with Allen behind him on the blanket.

"Keep a close watch for more thieves while I am gone!" cried Allen.

"We will!" shouted Paul. "And you take care for more doctored bridges!"

A parting wave of the hand and the ranch was left behind, and Allen was off on a journey that was to be filled with adventures and excite ment from start to finish.

Chet and Paul watched the horse and his two riders out of sight, and then with rather heavy hearts returned to the house. The place seemed more lonely than ever with both Allen and Noel Urner gone.

"It's going to be a long time waiting for Allen s return," sighed Paul.

"Perhaps not," returned Chet. "He left me with a secret to tell you, Paul."

And Chet lost no time in relating Allen's story of the hidden mine of great wealth

"And perhaps we can explore the place during his absence," Paul said, after he had expressed his astonishment and asked half a dozen questions.

"I don't know about that, Paul. We may not be able to find the opening Allen mentioned, and then, again, he may not wish us to do so."

"Why should he object?"

"I don t know."

"We'll have ten days or two weeks on our hands, at the very least. We might as well take a look at that wealth as not."

"Supposing somebody followed us and found out the secret? They would locate a claim before we could turn a hand."

"We will make sure that we are not followed," said Paul, who was anxious to see if all Allen had told could really be true.

Chet continued to demur, but after Allen and Noel had been gone the whole of the next day he gave in, and seemed as anxious as Paul to do something which would make it less lonely. Apparently the horse thieves had left the vicinity, so there was nothing to be feared in that direction during an absence that they meant should not last more than one whole day.

Sunday came between, and on Monday morning they arose early and had breakfast ere it was yet daylight. They decided to take Rush, both to ride when on a level and each to take a turn at walking when on the uphill trails.

Allen had left Chet minute directions as to how the opening to the hidden mine could be located, he having fixed the locality well in his mind before leaving, it.

It was rather a gloomy day, but this the two boys did not mind.

"It's better than being so raging hot," said Paul. "It makes my head ache to ride when it's so fearfully hot."

"If it only don't rain," returned Chet. "We need it bad enough, goodness knows, but it has held off so long it might as well hold off twenty-four hours longer."

"I doubt if we get rain just yet. It hasn't threatened long enough," replied his brother.

Before the two left the ranch they saw to it that every building was locked up tight, and an alarm, in the shape of a loaded gun, set to the doors and windows.

"That ought to scare would-be thieves away," said Chet. "They'll imagine somebody is firing at them."

The rest for a couple of days had done Rush much good, and he made no work of carrying the two boys along the trail that led to the second foothills.

Long before noon they reached the hills, and here stopped for lunch.

"And now for the wonderful mine!" cried Chet. Then, happening to glance across the plains below, he added: "Gracious, Paul! What is that?"

The attention of both young ranchmen was at once drawn to a round, black cloud on the horizon to the east. It was hardly a yard in diameter, apparently, when first seen, but it increased in size with great rapidity.

It was moving directly toward them, and in less than two minutes from the time Chet uttered his cry it had covered fully a third of the distance.

"From what I have heard I should say that was a cyclone cloud," exclaimed Paul. "And still——"

"Who ever heard of a cyclone up here among the foothills," returned Chet. "I don't believe they ever strike this territory."

"I certainly never heard of their doing so, returned Paul. "But still, you must remember, that cyclones are erratic things at the best."

"It looks as if it were coming directly this way."

"So it does, and I reckon the best thing we can do is to make tracks for some place of safety."

"That is true. Come on!"

Both boys sprang into the saddle and started up the trail. Hardly had a hundred feet of the way been covered than a strange rush and roar of wind filled the air.

"It's coming," shouted Paul. "Quick, Chet, down into that hollow before it strikes us!"

He plunged into the basin he had designated, which was six or eight feet below the level of the trail and not over ten yards in diameter. Chet followed, ducking low as he did so, for already was the air filled with flying branches.

"None too soon!" ejaculated Paul. "Down, Rush!"

Between them they managed to get the horse to lie down close to a wall of dirt and rocks. They lay near, waiting almost breathlessly for that awful time of peril to pass.

No one who has not experienced the dreadful effects of a cyclone can imagine it, be the description of it ever so fine. That strange rush and roar, that density of the air, accompanied by a feeling as if the very breath was about to be drawn from one's lungs, the flying débris, all unite to chill the stoutest heart and make one wonder if the next moment will not be the last.

The cyclone was short and sharp. From the time it first struck the foothills until the time it spent itself in the distance was barely four minutes, yet, what an effect did it leave behind!

On all sides of them many trees were literally torn up by the roots, brush was leveled as if cut by a mowing machine, and dirt and pebbles which had been perhaps carried for miles were deposited here, there, and everywhere. Ranch boys though they were, and accustomed to many things strange and wonderful, Chet and Paul could only gaze at the work of destruction in awe, and silently thank heaven that their lives had been spared.

They had escaped with slight injury. Several sharp sticks and stones had scratched Chet's neck as he lay prostrate, and Paul's arm was greatly lamed by a blow from the branch of a tree which fell directly across the opening, pinning the horse down in such a fashion that he could not rise.

"We must liberate Rush first of all," cried Chet. "Poor fellow! Whoa, Rush, we'll soon help you," he added, and patted the animal on the neck to soothe him.

Evidently Rush understood, for he lay quiet. Then Chet and Paul, using all of their strength, raised up one end of the tree, which, fortunately, was not large. As soon as he felt himself free, Rush scrambled up out of harm s way, and they let the tree fall back again.

"That is the kind of an adventure I never want to experience again," said Paul when he had some what recovered his breath. "My, how the wind did tear things!"

"It was a full-fledged cyclone and no mistake," returned his brother. "Had that struck a town it would have razed every building in it."

"That's true, and oh!" went on Paul suddenly, "I wonder if it has destroyed the marks Allen left whereby the mine is to be found?"

Chet stared at him speechless.

"Perhaps!" he gasped at last. "Come, let us go on and see!"

There was considerable difficulty in getting out of the hollow into which they had so uncere moniously thrust themselves. Rush was some what frightened still, and instead of riding him, they led him out by a circuitous way which took them nearly a hundred yards out of their path.

They found the trail almost impassable in spots, and more than once were compelled to make a wide detour in order to avoid fallen trees and gathered brush.

"A cyclone like that can do more damage than can be repaired in ten years," observed Chet as they labored along on foot. "I wonder where it started from?"

"Somewhere out on the flatlands near the river, I reckon," returned Paul.

On they went around trees and rocks and brush, until the way grew so bad that both came to an involuntary halt.

"It looks as if the very trail had been swept away," said Paul. "I can t see anything of it ahead."

"Nor I. Whoever would have thought of such a thing when we left home?"

"We can't go on in this direction, that's sure. What's best to be done?"

Both looked around for several minutes and then decided to cross a rocky stretch to the right. They had to do this with great care, as the road was full of sink holes and crevices, and they did not want to break a leg or have the horse injured.

The stretch crossed, they found themselves on a little hill. All about them could be seen the effects of the cyclone, not a tree or bush had escaped its ravages.

"It looks as if the landmarks Allen had mentioned had been swept away," said Paul, as he gazed around hopelessly. "I can't see the first of them."

"It would certainly seem so," rejoined Chet. "If they are, they won't be able to locate the mine again, excepting to sail down the underground river."

"That is so—excepting Uncle Barnaby turns up with another and better way of locating it," replied Paul very seriously.