Chapter XI. Happenings of a Stormy Night
 

It is now high time that we return to Henry and see how he fared after his sudden and unexpected disappearance over the edge of the cliff.

The young pioneer was well aware of his peril and as he rolled out of Sam Barringford's sight he clutched wildly at every bush and projecting rock that came near his hand.

Once a sapling, growing in a cleft of the cliff, struck his shoulder. Around this he managed partly to twist his arm, and this saved him from serious injury.

He struck some rocks, however, with considerable force and for a moment was stunned.

"What a tumble!" he muttered, when he had regained his breath. "It is a wonder that I didn't kill myself,"

With an ache in the side occasioned by the rough experience, Henry arose and started to look for some spot along the cliff where he might climb to the top.

Where he stood it was almost totally dark, and he had not taken over a score of steps when he floundered into a hollow filled with water and mud. He leaped across this, to find himself in a split of the cliff, where the bushes were unusually high and thick. Here the rain hung heavily from every twig and soon soaked him worse than ever.

He thought he heard Barringford calling and started to answer. Then he pushed forward once more, hoping each moment to gain higher ground.

But the pocket,--for such it really was,--grew deeper, and suddenly he found himself at the edge of a deep hole. He tried to step back, but the dirt under his feet gave way and he plunged downward he knew not whither. He felt his head strike some projection, and felt some dirt come down on top of him, and then, for the time being, he knew no more.

The young hunter came to his senses slowly. His first realization was that his head pained him greatly, and that some weight was trying to force the air from his lungs. He tried to move his hands, to learn that each was covered with the dirt which had come down on top of him.

With a great effort he cleared his hands and then his body and tried to rise to his feet. But he could not stand, and trembling like a leaf he sank down on a rock near at hand. All was pitch dark around him and the rain beat steadily on his head.

"I'm in a pickle truly!" he muttered dismally. "Wonder where Sam can be?"

He tried to cry out, but his voice was woefully weak and uncertain, and he soon gave up the effort. Then he tried again to walk, but had to desist in despair.

He could not imagine how long he had been under the fallen dirt, but knew it must be some time, perhaps an hour or two. Where Barringford was there was no telling.

"I'm worse off than I was before, that is sure," he thought. "Maybe I won't be able to get out of this mess before morning."

Feeling stronger after a while he arose and groped his way forward. He had not taken a dozen steps before he came to some rocks. They arose slantingly, and under them he found a dry spot, well sheltered from the rain.

"This is a little better than the other place was," he mused. "But I'd like to know just what sort of a hole this is, and what the prospect is of getting out."

Like Barringford, the young pioneer carried a flint and tinder-box with him, and under the rocks it was a comparatively easy matter for Henry to strike a light. He found some dry leaves and twigs, blown hither by the wind, and presently had a respectable fire started, over which he crouched in an effort to drive away the chill which was stealing over him.

"This is a buffalo hunt with a vengeance," he muttered. "I was a fool to start off after the animal in such a storm, and in the darkness. After this, I'll do my hunting altogether in the daytime."

In a search for more firewood Henry presently came to an opening in the rocks behind him. It was totally dry here and, taking up the best of the firebrands, he moved to the new location. Soon he had a roaring fire, the smoke going upward, to some hole overhead which he could not locate.

"This must be something of a cave," he mused. "Wonder where it can lead to."

He felt that it would be useless to attempt trying to get out of the hollow he was in before daylight and so proceeded to make an investigation of the opening.

It proved of no great size, however, and nothing met his gaze but rocks, dirt, decayed tree roots, and a heap of bones in a far corner, showing that it had once been the den of a wild beast.

"I am glad the beast isn't here now," thought Henry. "I'd be badly off without a gun."

Slowly the time wore away and Henry had now to make another search for firewood, if he expected to keep the blaze going, and what to do he scarcely knew.

"If I look for wood I'll get wet again," he reasoned. "And if I don't go and get some the fire will leave me in the cold."

He was on the point of scraping the fire together, to make it last as long as possible, when an unexpected whistle broke upon his ears. He sprang to the front of the shelter and listened intently. The whistle was one he knew well, and the whistler was rendering an old English air, called "Lucy Locket Lost Her Pocket," an air which we to-day call "Yankee Doodle."

"Dave!" shouted the young hunter, and set up a wild yell. "Dave! Where are you?"

"Is that you, Henry?" came from the edge of the hollow.

"Yes. Look out, or you'll get a tumble as I did."

"White Buffalo knows the trail," came in the voice of the Indian chief.

"Hullo! is that you, White Buffalo? Very well, but be careful."

Torches in hand, Dave and White Buffalo moved forward slowly. But the Indian knew exactly what he was doing, and soon he and the youth with him were at the bottom of the hollow in safety. Then Dave ran forward to greet his cousin.

"Are you badly hurt?" he questioned.

"No. I'm all right, Dave, although I got two nasty tumbles."

"Sam was afraid you had been killed. He searched all around, but couldn't find you."

"I was foolish not to wait until Sam came down to the water course. I started to get out alone and got into this pickle. Why didn't you shout when you came up?"

"We saw the fire but White Buffalo thought there might be some unfriendly Indians or trappers around. So then I thought of my old whistle. I knew you would recognize it."

Henry had to tell his story, and then Dave asked him if he was well enough to return to the camp without delay.

"They are all anxious about you, especially father and Sam," he added.

"To be sure, I'll go back to camp. It's no fun staying here. I'm quite hungry, too."

"Then you must have something before we leave."

The meal was soon disposed of, and led by White Buffalo the party left the hollow and proceeded through the forest. It was a long, hard journey, but neither of the youths minded it, both being thankful that the adventure had terminated so happily.

When Henry reached camp once more he was hailed with great joy by James Morris and Sam Barringford. The uncle embraced his nephew, and the old frontiersman gripped Henry's hand until the bones fairly cracked.

"I have been more than worried ever since Sam came back with his sad tale," said James Morris. "In the future, Henry, you must be very careful when you go hunting; otherwise I shall not want to leave you out of my sight."

"I'd give my right hand ruther than see ye kilt," said Barringford huskily. "Next time we go out I reckon as how we'll keep close together."

"It's strange you didn't get on my trail," returned Henry. "You are usually a good one at such things."

"The downpour washed out the tracks," said James Morris.

"I'm not so good at such things as White Buffalo is," answered Sam Barringford bluntly. "He is born to it, and, White Buffalo, it does you credit."

"White Buffalo was once called the Trail King," said the Delaware proudly. "He found the trail when all others failed. It was in the war with the Ottawas."

The rain had now ceased, and once more the camp-fires were started up and the wet things were placed to dry.

"Since so much of the night has been lost we may as well take it easy to-morrow," said James Morris, and this was done. This gave Barringford a chance to nurse his sprained foot, for which he was thankful.