THE CRISIS IN CLAUDE’S LIFE
Hugh kept a watchful eye on that bush. He knew it was going to give way presently, when, unless Claude had managed to secure a fresh grip on some object with his poor scratched hands, he was likely to be dashed downward.
Fortune was, however, kind in that respect, for there chanced to be a nice projection of rock, somewhat in the shape of a horn, just in the right place for Claude to seize upon, and which would help sustain his weight. Hugh knew very well, though, that most of the burden would fall upon him; and he, therefore, prepared to accept it.
“Here, reach out with your left hand, Claude, and take hold of this rock. Your feet are both safely anchored on the ledge. Keep up your grit, and everything will be all right yet. Do you understand what I’m telling you, Claude?”
“Yes, I do, Hugh,” chattered the other, for his teeth were rattling together in a way that reminded Hugh of the “Bones” at the end of a minstrel line; if he had ever seen a Spanish stage performance he would have said they made a sound like castanets in the hands of the senorita who gave the national Castilian dance.
Claude really managed to carry out that part of the task with a fair amount of success. His other hand still gripped the bush, which continued to gradually give way under the long and severe strain.
Hugh braced himself. He had taken as firm a hold as was possible, and had his other arm thrown around Claude.
“Steady, now, Claude, it’s almost gone. When you feel it give way, try and make use of your right hand to find some other rocky point where you can hold on. I think there’s one such on the other side of you. Above all, don’t struggle, or you may throw me off my balance, and then it’s good-bye to both of us. Now, be ready!”
Hugh’s calculations proved to be correct, for the bush gave way, and fell with a clatter of small stones and loosened earth, down toward the bottom of the steep declivity. Claude uttered a cry of dismay when he felt his support gone; but luckily he gripped the rocky knob with his left hand more convulsively than ever, while Hugh sustained him to the best of his ability.
“That was well done, Claude,” Hugh now told him, his main object being to put a little more confidence in the other boy, and thus lighten his own load. “We’ll manage to cling here for a bit longer. When I think ‘Just’ Smith is getting near by I’ll let out a whoop that is bound to fetch him to our assistance.”
One, two, three minutes passed. It was very trying to Hugh, and already his muscles began to feel the undue strain keenly. But he gritted his teeth, and waited, as it would be only a waste of breath and energy to shout before the next runner was close enough up to locate the sound.
Claude was shivering as though he would shake to pieces. He had received a dreadful fright, for a fact, and it was having its due effect upon his never strong frame. What would his doting mamma think, and say, Hugh told himself, almost with a chuckle of amusement, could she see her darling then and there, and realize how his very life depended upon the strong muscles and will to do things that Hugh Morgan had developed in himself?