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    Chapter 25

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    Chapter 26
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    CAUGHT IN A STORM

    "Say, but this is sure going to be a corker!"

    Dave shouted out the words--to make himself heard above the whistling of the wind as it blew across the little plateau on the mountainside, where the party had gone into camp.

    It was half an hour later, and during that time the oncoming storm had approached steadily. At first the wind had come in fitful gusts, bending the scant brushwood among the rocks first in one direction and then another. This had been followed by a sudden dash of rain, and for a few minutes they had hoped that the worst of the downpour would pass to the south of them. But then had come a sudden turn, and now the rain was descending on them in torrents, driven in a slanting direction by the wind, which showed no signs of abating.

    "I should say it was a corker!" returned Roger, as he brushed the water from his face and peered beyond the rocks. To get out of that driving downfall was impossible.

    "I wish we were in that cave," cried Phil. "We'd be as dry as a bone in there."

    "Not if the roof leaked," returned the senator's son, grimly. "Besides, somehow I don't think it would be safe."

    "Why not?"

    "The rain might wash down some of the rocks forming the roof."

    "Pooh! they have stayed up so long, I guess they would stay up a little longer," grumbled Phil.

    "No sech cave for me," broke in Abe Blower. "The rain makes 'em too dangerous. I was in a mine onct when it rained like this, an', fust thing we knew, about a hundred tons o' rocks slid down, almost buryin' us alive!"

    "We'll stay where we are," said Tom Dillon. "The storm won't last forever."

    As the night came on, and the storm continued, the boys felt anything but comfortable. Building a campfire was out of the question, for the rain made a dense smoke which the wind swirled all around them, setting them to coughing and the horses to snorting. The animals were as much alarmed as their masters.

    "Might as well save your firewood, boys," said Abe Blower. "You'll need it, to dry out by, arfter the rain stops."

    "If it ever does stop," grumbled Phil. Rain was Phil's great bugbear when he was on any kind of an outing.

    At midnight the rain was coming down as steadily as ever. But the strong wind had died down somewhat, so by remaining close to some overhanging rocks they were more or less protected from the elements. But they could not lie down, and sleep was out of the question.

    "Dave, do you think Merwell and Haskers went back to Butte?" asked the senator's son, as the three boys sat close together under a big rock.

    "I am sure I don't know, Roger. They'd have to go back unless they fell in with somebody who knew something of this district."

    "What do you think of that other party we saw at a distance?"

    "They might be the Sol Blugg gang, or they might be almost anybody, Roger. Anybody can come here and try to locate a paying claim."

    "Somehow I feel it in my bones that that is the Blugg gang and that Link and old Haskers are with 'em," said Phil. "To my mind, all those fellows are tarred with the same brush, and they would like nothing better than to relocate the lost Landslide Mine first."

    "Perhaps you are right," returned Dave. "Well, I don't see how we are going to stop them from going ahead--I mean Blugg and Haskers. Of course we can have Merwell arrested on sight, and Mr. Dillon can have that Staver locked up for trying to steal the horses."

    A rush of wind made further conversation just then impossible. So far there had been little thunder and lightning, but now came a flash and a crack that caused the boys to leap to their feet, while the horses plunged and acted as if they wanted to bolt.

    "Some stroke, eh?" cried Abe Blower, when the alarm was over. "It must have struck near here."

    "It was a little too close for comfort," returned Dave, grimly. "I don't think a spot like this is particularly safe in a storm."

    "Oh, ye might git struck down in the valley jest as quick," answered the old miner.

    "The rivers will be pretty high after this flood," said Roger.

    "Might be as how it will start another landslide, although I hope not," said Tom Dillon, musingly.

    "It wouldn't be so bad if the landslide opened up the lost mine," said Dave.

    "Oh, thet would be all right, lad,--if we wasn't caught in the fallin' rocks."

    Slowly the night wore away, and when daylight came it was still raining. But the wind had gone down and the sky looked as if the rainfall might cease at any moment.

    "Wall, we'll try fer breakfast," observed Abe Blower. "Nothin' like a hot cup o' coffee an' some flapjacks to cheer a man up."

    The driest of the wood was selected, and they built a new fire with care, in the shelter of the largest of the overhanging rocks. Soon the appetizing odor of freshly made coffee filled the air and all drew close, to have a cup, and to partake of some fried bacon and some of Abe Blower's famous flapjacks.

    "Them flapjacks made Abe a good friend," observed Tom Dillon, while eating. "They was the means o' introducing Maurice Harrison to him. Ain't that so, Abe?" And the old miner grinned broadly.

    "Right you are!" was the ready reply. "We was in the mountains together, and Maurice didn't have nuthin' to eat. I made him some o' my flapjacks an' then we became pardners fer nigh on to a year. Thet was up at tudder end o' the State," explained Abe Blower.

    By the time breakfast was over and the horses had been cared for, the rain had stopped and the sun was breaking through the eastern sky. All in the camp lost no time in changing their wet garments for dry. The soaked clothing was then hung up around the fire and on the rocks in the sun.

    "You want to be careful how you climb around this mornin'," warned Tom Dillon. "Some o' the places is mighty slippery. You don't want to slide over no rocks into a hollow an' git killed!"

    "No, indeed!" replied Roger, earnestly.

    It was not until the middle of the afternoon that they took up the hunt for the lost mine once more. This time the three boys went off together, Abe Blower advising them not to separate while the rocky slopes were so wet.

    "You keep together an' me an' Tom will do the same thing," he said. "Then, if anything happens to anybody, the others can help."

    For over two hours the boys hunted around, making their way along a ledge of rocks below the point where they had hunted before.

    "From the description left by Uncle Maurice, that mine was pretty deep," said Roger. "And if it was, maybe we'll be more apt to find an opening to it from below rather than from above."

    "Well, it won't do any harm to look around here, anyway," returned Dave.

    They had to proceed with great care, for in spots the water was still running over the rocks and the footing was very slippery. They had a rope with them and all took hold of this, Dave being in front, Phil coming next, and Roger bringing up the rear.

    "It's not such an easy job as I thought it would be," panted Phil, after they had made an unusually difficult turn of the ledge. "It kind of takes the wind out of a fellow!"

    "Let us rest a bit," suggested Dave. "We can't go much further along the ledge anyway," he added, looking ahead.

    They had reached a point where the outcropping of rocks had split in twain, forming the ledge they were on and another ledge twenty or thirty feet away. Between the two ledges was a hollow with jagged rocks far below. The other ledge wound around another hill, leading to the northwest.

    "This certainly is a wild country," said Roger, as the boys seated themselves on the inner side of the ledge. "Hunting for gold and silver in a place like this is certainly not easy. Think of spending month after month among rocks like these, looking for 'pay dirt' or 'pay rock,' as they call it!"

    "And yet it just suited your uncle," returned Dave, "and it suits Abe Blower and Mr. Dillon."

    The boys relapsed into silence, glad of the rest. Dave was thinking of his father, and of the folks who had gone into Yellowstone Park, when suddenly he felt his sleeve pulled by Roger.

    "Look!" whispered the senator's son. "Don't make any noise, either of you!"

    He had pulled Phil's sleeve also, and now he motioned for his chums to crouch down behind the rocks on which they had been sitting, stones that lay loosely on the ledge, close to the towering cliff.

    As the three lads slipped down behind the loose stones on which they had been resting, all gazed in the direction Roger pointed out. On the other ledge several persons had appeared.

    "Link Merwell!" gasped Phil. "And see, that Sol Blugg is with him!"

    "And here comes Job Haskers and the man called Larry Jaley!" said Dave, in reply.

    "Wonder where that other fellow, Staver, is?" murmured Roger.

    "Maybe he was too badly hurt to come with them and had to go back," returned Dave.

    "Say, I don't see much use of coming along this trail," called out Link Merwell, to those with him.

    "It certainly is beastly walking here," said Job Haskers. "I've nearly sprained my ankle several times."

    "Well, if we want to find that lost mine we got to hunt fer it," growled Sol Blugg. "It ain't comin' to you, you know."

    "I agree thet this trail ain't none too safe," came from Larry Jaley. "If a feller slipped off he'd have some fall, so he would!" he added, looking down into the hollow with its jagged rocks.

    Roger nudged Dave in the side.

    "They are after the Landslide Mine, just as I supposed!" he murmured.

    "Well, they seem to be no nearer finding it than we are," was our hero's reply.

    "But they haven't any right to the mine!" burst out Phil. "It belongs to Roger's mother!"

    "Listen to what they have to say," warned the senator's son.

    The party on the opposite ledge were now so close, and the air was so clear, that all which was said could be heard distinctly.

    "I thought sure we'd be able to locate some landmarks before this," growled Link Merwell. "Are you sure this is the right district, Blugg?"

    "This is where the Landslide Mine was supposed to be located. You had the description of those landmarks, I didn't," added the Westerner.

    Just then Larry Jaley let out a quick cry.

    "Look over yonder!" he called. "Sumbuddy behind the rocks!"

    He pointed at Dave and the others, and a second later the three youths knew that they had been discovered.

    "Come out o' thet, whoever you are!" cried Sol Blugg.

    "We might as well get up," said Dave, and arose to his feet. His chums did likewise and then those on one ledge of rocks faced those on the other.
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