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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 12. Facing Westward
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 12. Facing Westward Post by :JohnG Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :2384

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 12. Facing Westward

CHAPTER XII. FACING WESTWARD

The rancher was astonished beyond measure at the success of his shot. He had looked for nothing of the kind, but there could be no mistake as to the result; there was nothing to be gained by any pretence on the part of the Sioux. He certainly was as dead as dead could be.

How he longed, like a certain famous general, for the coming of night! A little more darkness and he would flee with his wife and child under its friendly cover, and place a safe distance between them and their enemies, before the latter could learn of their flight.

Several minutes passed without a demonstration on either side, but while matters stood thus, a new danger presented itself to the rancher. Why should the Sioux stay where they were? What was to prevent them moving farther up or down the bank, under the screen it afforded, and crossing unobserved? The winding course of the current gave every chance of doing this, and surely they were not likely to forget such an obvious course.

The thought had hardly presented itself to the watcher when that very thing was attempted. The one who essayed it, however, forgot the caution he should have remembered.

The slowly settling night and the falling snow may have misled him, but when the warrior rode his pony into the stream at a point considerably above, Starr observed him at the moment he began descending the bank.

This was something that must be nipped in the bud. He shifted his position to where the grass gave slightly better protection, and sighted with the utmost care and deliberation.

The shot was successful, but not precisely as he counted upon. The bullet, instead of striking the rider, pierced the brain of the pony, who reared frantically, plunged forward on his knees, and rolled upon his side, the Sioux dexterously saving himself by leaping away and scurrying behind the swell before the white man could fire a second time.

"If they try it at that point, they will do so at some other," was the conclusion of the rancher, turning his gaze down stream. But the current made such a sharp bend near at hand, that his view was shortened, and the effort could be successfully made without detection on his part.

An unexpected diversion occurred at this moment. The pack-horse, that had been contentedly cropping the grass near at hand and paying no heed to what was going on about him, wandered toward the bank, and was in imminent peril of being shot by the vigilant Sioux before he could be turned away.

Mrs. Starr called sharply to him, and her voice caused the prostrate husband to look around. The pony at that moment was ascending the swell, to go down on the other side to the water, where he would have been in plain sight of the red men.

Fearful that words would not check him, the rancher sprang up and, bending his head to save himself from his foes, ran the few steps necessary to reach the animal. Catching hold of his bridle, he jerked his head in the opposite direction, and, to teach him prudence, delivered a vigorous kick. The startled animal headed toward the west and broke into a gallop straight across the plain.

"Let him go," said the impatient owner, looking after him: "he is too lazy to travel far, and we'll follow him soon."

"Why not do so now?" asked his wife.

"I fear that they are looking for such a move, and will be across before we can gain sufficient start."

"But they may do so now."

"Am I not watching them?" asked the husband, beginning to creep up the swell again, but pausing before he was high enough to discern the other side.

"They may cross above or below, where you cannot see them," remarked the wife, giving utterance to the very fear that had troubled him some minutes before.

"They may do so, but I have just defeated such an attempt, and they will probably wait a while before repeating it."

"Then we can have no more favorable time to leave them than now."

"Such would be the fact, if I only knew of a surety that they would wait a while."

"I am afraid you are making a mistake, George."

"It may be, but my judgment is against what you propose. Suppose that, at the moment of starting, they should appear on this side; they would run us down within a few hundred yards."

"Are not our ponies as fleet as theirs?"

"Probably; but with Dot to look after, you would have more than your hands full, and nothing could save us."

"I could manage her very well; but do as you think best. We can only pray to Heaven to protect us all."

Looking to the westward, the rancher saw the pack-pony just vanishing from sight in the gloom. Brief as was the time that he had left the Sioux without watching, he felt that it had been too long, and he now made his way up the swell until he could peer over at the other bank, where the red men were awaiting the very chance he gave them that moment.

The narrowest escape of his life followed. Providentially, his first glance was directed at the precise spot where a crouching Sioux made a slight movement with his rifle, which gave the white man an instant's warning of his peril. He ducked his head, and had he not instinctively closed his eyes, would have been blinded by the dust and snow thrown against his face, as the leaden ball whizzed through the air, falling on the prairie a long distance away.

In its flight it passed directly over the heads of the wife and child, who noticed the peculiar whistling sound a few feet above them. But they were as safe from such danger as if a mile away. The swell of the bank would not allow any missile to come nigh enough to harm them.

"Don't be frightened," he said, with a reassuring smile, "they can't touch you as long as they are on the other side."

"But how long will they stay there?" asked the wife, unable to repress her uneasiness over the tardiness of her husband.

"Molly," said he, stirred by a sudden thought, "why not ride after the pack-horse?"

"And leave you here?" was the astonished question.

"Only for a few minutes; you will gain a good start, and it won't take me long to come up with you. I can put my pony on a run, and we shall gain invaluable time."

But this was asking more than the obedient wife was willing to grant. No possible circumstances could justify her in deserting her husband. If he fell, she had no wish to escape.

Dot, who had held her peace so long, now spoke:

"Papa, don't ask us to leave you, 'cause we don't want to. I asked mamma to let me go to you, but she says no."

Tears filled the eyes of the father, and his voice trembled as he said:

"Very well, little one; stay with your mamma, and when the time comes for us to start we will go together."

"But why don't you go now?" persisted the child, taking her cue, perhaps, from the words her mother had spoken.

"I will not keep you waiting long," he assured her, more affected by the question of the child than by the arguments of her mother.

Shifting the point of observation, the rancher raised his head just enough, cautiously parting the grass in front, to permit him to see the other bank, becoming more dimly visible in the falling snow and gathering gloom.

He scanned the points whence had come the shots, but could discover nothing of his enemies. They might be there, but if so they were invisible, as could readily be the case; but, somehow or other, the conviction grew upon him that they were moving, and that to postpone his departure longer was to invite the worst fate imaginable for himself and dear ones.

"We cannot leave too soon," he exclaimed, hastening to carry out the purpose that never ought to have been delayed so long.

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