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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 13. In The Fringe Of The Woods
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 13. In The Fringe Of The Woods Post by :alan57 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :1215

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 13. In The Fringe Of The Woods


Fully realizing the mistake he had made in waiting, the rancher now did his best to improve the precious time at his disposal.

His own pony had remained obediently near his companion, while the brush was going on between his master and the Sioux on the other side of the stream. The former hastily climbed into the saddle, and taking the reins in hand, looked at his wife.

"Are you ready, Molly?"

"I have been for a long time."

"Come on; keep close to me."

He spoke briskly to his horse, who broke into a swift gallop, which was imitated so promptly by the other that the couple advanced abreast toward the wooded section. It was no time for conversation, and the progress continued in silence.

The snow was now falling thick and fast, and the gloom had deepened to that extent that they could not see objects more than a hundred feet away. Both wife and husband continually glanced behind them, for they were almost certain that the red men were in the act of crossing the stream at the moment the start was made, and could not be far to the rear.

True, the fugitives had much in their favor. The keen eyes of the pursuers could detect their trail in the snowy ground, but not for long. By and by they might trace it only by dropping down from their ponies and using the sense of feeling. This would compel them to proceed carefully, and hold them well to the rear while the whites were using the occasion to the utmost, and continually gaining ground. Had the route to Fort Meade been level and unobstructed, they could have asked nothing more favorable. They would have forced their ponies to the utmost, and by the time the sun rose the vengeful red men would be placed hopelessly behind.

The straining vision saw nothing but the darkness and snow in the direction of the stream already crossed, but they could never feel relieved of the dreadful fear until safely within the military post of the Black Hills.

"Oh, papa, I see a horse!" was the startling exclamation of Dot, whom her mother had supposed, because of her stillness and immobility, to be asleep.

"Where?" demanded her father, grasping his Winchester and looking affrightedly around.

"Not there," replied the child with a laugh, working her arm out of its environments, and pointing ahead.

A solitary animal was observed standing as motionless as a statue a short distance in advance. Apprehensive of some trap by the Indians, the father brought his pony to a sudden stop, his wife instantly imitating him, and both peered ahead at the strange form.

They could see no rider, though there was something on the animal's back, which might have been a warrior lying flat, so as to protect his body from the rifle of the white man, or, what was equally probable, the owner was standing on the ground hidden by the horse, and awaiting his chance to send in a fatal shot.

"What's the matter?" asked Dot, puzzled by the action of her parents.

"S-h! We are afraid a bad Indian is there."

"Why, can't you see that's Jerry?"

Jerry was the name of the pack pony.

"Of course it is. Why didn't we think of it?" asked the father the next moment, relieved beyond measure by the discovery.

Jerry seemed to be of the opinion that it was the place of his friends to make the advances, for he did not stir until they rode up beside him.

The lazy fellow was found with his load intact. He had been given all the time he could ask for his journey to this point, and evidently was a little sulky over the treatment received at the hands, or rather the foot, of his master, for his head had to be jerked several times before he faced about, and then it required more vigorous treatment to force him into a lazy gallop.

Luckily, the greater part of the plain had been crossed before this reunion took place, and the party had not gone far when the rancher allowed the animals to drop to a walk. In front loomed a dark mass, which he recognized as the fringe of the wood observed from the bank of the stream behind them. Through this it was necessary to thread their way with extreme care, owing to the darkness and their unfamiliarity with the ground.

Upon reaching the edge of the wood the fugitives came to a stand-still.

Slipping from his saddle, the rancher brushed away the snow at his feet and pressed his ear against the ground.

"I can hear nothing of them," he remarked, resuming the upright posture; "I am quite hopeful that that party will molest us no more."

"It won't do to count on it," were the wise words of his wife.

"I think you had better dismount and lead your pony," said the rancher; "we can mount again when through the wood; there will be less danger from the trees and limbs, and you and Dot must be cramped from sitting so long."

He helped them to the ground. It was a relief indeed to both, for they had kept their places on the back of the horse for a number of hours. Dot yawned, stretched her limbs, and felt as though nothing would delight her so much as a frolic in the snow. The thoughtful mother had provided her not only with thick, strong shoes, but with heavy stockings, leggings, and warm clothing, with which she was well protected against the storm that was impending when they left their home.

Nothing could have better shown the childish innocence of her nature than her action in slyly removing her mittens, stooping down, packing a wad of snow with her hands and flinging it against her father's face, with a merry laugh.

"Gracious, Dot! how you startled me!" he said, looking around at her.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No; but don't speak or laugh so loud, for some of the bad Indians may be near."

"I forgot about that, but I'm going to hit Jerry, for he is so lazy he needs it."

And the indolent animal received a tiny whack from the snowy missile projected by the chubby hand of the child. He seemed to think, however, that it was no more than a snowflake, for he did not give even an extra wink of the eye.

The delay was only momentary, when the rancher, with one hand grasping the bridle-rein and the other parting the limbs and bushes in front, began groping his way through the growth of timber, where it was so dark that everyone's eyes were practically useless.

Directly behind the horse walked Dot, with her mother next, leading her pony, and the pack-horse bringing up the rear.

Ten minutes of this cautious progress and the leader checked himself with an impatient expression.

"What is it?" called the wife, in a guarded voice.

"Another stream of water."

"Do you know anything about it?"

"Nothing; I came near tumbling into it, with Dick on top of me; if he hadn't scented it first I would have done so."

"What is to be done?" asked Mrs. Starr, as grievously disappointed as her husband.

"I'm blessed if I know; it may be half a mile deep and ten miles across, with a perpendicular bluff a thousand feet high on the other side."

Leaving her pony, the wife took the hand of Dot and joined him where he had halted on the edge of the unknown stream.

"I've made up my mind that we shall do one thing right away," he remarked decisively.

"What's that?"

"Eat supper while we have the chance; Jerry is on hand with the provisions, and he may be somewhere else in the morning."

"I'm glad of that," said the happy Dot, "for I'm awfuller hungry than I ever was in all my life."

"Then supper it is."

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CHAPTER XII. FACING WESTWARDThe 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