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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 11. At Bay
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 11. At Bay Post by :Jake51 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :3313

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 11. At Bay

CHAPTER XI. AT BAY

George Starr's pony, left to himself, wandered off to the side of the other one, on which sat Mrs. Starr, with Dot. The latter reached out her chubby hand and patted the silken nose of the intelligent horse, who liked the caress. The mother was too agitated to notice this by-play, but kept watch for her husband.

The latter crept to within a foot or two of the top of the swell, when he quickly but cautiously raised his head and peered over at the Sioux.

But a minute or two had passed since exchanging words with Bent Arm, but that brief period was improved as much by one party as the other. The Sioux leader's horse was in the stream to the depth of his knees, and the second Indian was in the act of entering, with the others close behind him.

It was no time for hesitation, for that meant death. Starr shoved his Winchester in front, so that the muzzle projected over the swell, took deliberate aim at Bent Arm, and let fly.

The distance was short, the rancher was an excellent marksman, and the bullet bored its way through the breast of the painted miscreant, who hardly knew what hurt him. With a screech, he threw up his arms, one grasping his gun, and toppled from the back of his pony, falling with a loud splash into the water, where for the moment he disappeared under the surface.

George Starr was never cooler in his life. He was fighting not only for his own existence, but for those who were dearer to him than that existence. He knew the mercilessness of the red men near at hand, and he was equally merciless to them.

This proceeding, as may be supposed, caused consternation for a moment among the advancing Sioux. The warrior immediately behind the leader stopped his pony abruptly, stared at the tuft of grass above which the faint puff of smoke was curling; and then, fearful of a second shot aimed at himself, whirled his animal about and sent him at one bound up the bank of the stream, where his companions, no less dismayed than he, threw themselves forward on the backs of their horses, to shield themselves from the aim of the rancher.

It was at this crisis that George Starr committed two blunders which threatened the very doom he was trying to escape. One of those errors, however, did credit to his heart, if not to his head.

Having opened the ball, he should have pushed things unmercifully. He was well aware of the venom of those red men, and, with his magazine rifle at command, he ought to have kept up an unremitting fire until he had tumbled several more to the ground, and driven the survivors beyond sight and the power of harm. It was his reluctance to perpetrate such slaughter, and the weak hope that he had already accomplished that result, that stayed his hand, at the moment when he should have steeled his feelings against sympathy. The other equally serious mistake was in staying where he was, prone on the ground, with a watchful eye on the marauders. He saw, when it was too late, that he should have dashed back to his pony, and leaped into the saddle and ridden with his wife, in all haste, for the refuge a mile away. Whether that would have proven a refuge or not was uncertain, but with the check given the Sioux he would have secured a start that promised everything.

Night was approaching, and, in the gathering gloom, it ought not to have been difficult, with the advantage named, to throw his pursuers off the trail. But he tarried until the chance was irrevocably gone.

The Sioux proved on more than one occasion, during their recent troubles in the West, that they were capable of daring, coolness, and heroism, and are quick to recover from a panic. When driven to bay they will fight like wild-cats, and the bleaching bones of many a brave soldier and officer bear eloquent witness to these qualities on their part.

Instead of breaking into a wild flight beyond the sheltering bank on the other side of the stream, as the rancher expected them to do, they held their places on the backs of their ponies, and, leaning over so as to protect themselves, returned the fire of the white man.

Looking across the narrow stream, they saw the slouch hat rising in the short grass, just behind the projecting muzzle of the Winchester, and a couple of them aimed and fired.

But the rancher was too alert to be caught in that fashion. The moment he observed the action of the red men, he dropped his head behind the swell of earth, and the bullets clipped the grass and scattered the dirt harmlessly within a few inches of his crown.

"Be careful!" called the anxious wife, who read the meaning of the flying soil; "they will hit you."

"Have no fear of me," replied the husband, without looking around; "I am all right; keep back where you are and hold yourself ready to ride as fast as you can when I give the word."

The rancher now did that which he should have done in the first place: he doffed his hat and laid it on the ground beside him. It was too conspicuous under the circumstances, and the Sioux were on the watch for it.

Waiting several minutes after the firing of the two shots, he stealthily raised his head high enough to look through the grass in front. An astonishing sight rewarded him.

In the brief interval that had passed after firing his rifle, the five Indians had dashed over the swell with their ponies where the latter were out of sight, and, flinging themselves on the ground, took precisely the same position as his own. They were now as safe from harm as himself. The duel was one of vigilance, caution, skill, and watchfulness, with the chances against the white man.

The keen gaze of the latter, wandering over the surface of the stream, detected a dark object some distance to the right, as it showed indistinctly on the surface, disappearing, and then slowly coming to view again farther down. He required no one to tell him that it was the victim of his marksmanship, drifting out of sight, as many a one had done before, when trying to stay the advancing tide of the hated Caucasian.

It struck the rancher that it would be well to let the Sioux know that he was still on guard. He caught glimpses here and there of the upper part of a repulsive face, with its long black hair and serpent-like eyes, on the alert to catch him unawares, and he fired at the nearest.

The aim was good, but there was no reason to believe that he had inflicted harm, though he must have come nigh it.

Strange it is that in the most trying moments, when it would seem that a trifling thought should be impossible on the part of a person, he sometimes gives way to a fancy that is of that nature. Recalling the story which he had read when a boy, and which is familiar to all our readers, the rancher now picked up his hat at his side and gently raised it to view, taking care to lower his own head beyond reach of harm.

Instantly a couple of rifles cracked from the other side of the stream, and he smiled grimly when he saw the marks of the bullets in the crown.

"They shoot well," he said, turning his face toward his wife and holding up the hat, "but they made a slight mistake that time."

If the Sioux supposed that the last shots were fatal, they were likely to repeat their attempt to cross. That would never do, and, more with a view of letting them know no harm had resulted, than in the hope of inflicting injury, the rancher took aim at what seemed to be the forehead of one of the warriors, a short distance up stream, and fired.

To his amazement, the wild screech left no doubt that the shot was fatal. The bullet had bored its way through the bronzed skull of the miscreant, and the force of assaulting Sioux was now reduced by one-third.

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