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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 14. Turned Back
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 14. Turned Back Post by :chenzhu Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :1051

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 14. Turned Back

CHAPTER XIV. TURNED BACK

It was a wise proceeding on the part of the rancher. The opportunity to make a substantial repast was theirs, and as he had remarked, there was no certainty when it would come again.

The bag in which the provisions were placed was taken from the back of Jerry, and the father helped his child and wife, who ate until they were fully satisfied. He dipped up water with Dot's small tin cup from the stream in front, and with it their thirst was slaked.

"Molly," he suggested, "you can carry one or two of the sandwiches without inconvenience."

"Yes."

"Let us both do so; we may lose Jerry, and if so, they will come in handy."

"I have a couple, too," said Dot.

"It isn't best that you should burden yourself with them."

"But I can't help it, papa."

"How is that?"

"They're inside of me," and the parents, even in their great dread, smiled at the odd conceit of the little one, who chuckled softly to think how she had "fooled" her papa.

The delay was brief. The rancher knew that it was impossible to reach Fort Meade without crossing the stream before them, with the probability that still others awaited them at no great distance. It can be understood with what depth of dread he contemplated swimming the animals over, with the certainty of the saturation of all their garments, on this winter night, and the cold steadily increasing.

In short, it meant perishing, unless a fire was kindled, in which case, a delay would be necessitated that would throw away all the advantage secured by flight. He was determined not to do it, unless actually driven to it as a last resource.

He did not forget that he was now where there was an abundance of material with which a raft could be constructed that would obviate this exposure, but the building of such a rude craft, under the circumstances, was next to impossible. He had no implement except his pocket knife, and might grope about in the darkness for hours without getting together enough timber to float them to the other side.

Obviously one of two things must be done--try to cross where they were or follow the bank down until a fording place could be found, and repeated trials were likely to be necessary before success was obtainable.

Singular it is that so often out of the mouths of babes are heard the words of wisdom.

The rancher had risen to his feet, and was in the act of mounting his pony to enter the water, when Dot spoke:

"Why don't you let Dick go ahead and you ride behind on Sally?"

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed the father admiringly; "I begin to believe that if we reach the fort, it will be through your guidance, my precious little one," and, stooping over, he kissed her cheek.

"Strange that we did not think of that," remarked the mother. "Dot is wise beyond her years."

The plan was adopted at once.

The mare ridden by the mother and child, and the horse of the father, were so intelligent that no risk was involved in the essay, which insured against the immersion held in such natural dread.

The saddle and trappings were removed from Dick, while the rancher mounted upon the side-saddle belonging to his wife. Then the horse was ordered to enter the water, and, with some hesitation, he obeyed, his owner being but a step or two behind on the mare.

The gloom was so deep that the hearing, and not the sight, must be depended upon. That, however, was reliable when nothing was likely to occur to divert it from its duty.

The stream was no more than fairly entered when the rancher made two unwelcome discoveries: The current was much stronger than he had anticipated, and the water deepened rapidly. Ten feet from shore it touched the body of the mare.

Inasmuch, however, as Dick was still walking, there was hope that the depth might increase no more, or, at most, not to a dangerous extent.

Mr. Starr could not see his own horse, but he plainly heard him as he advanced cautiously, feeling his way, and showing by his sniffing that the task was anything but pleasant to him. Not knowing the width of the stream, it was impossible to tell in what portion of it they were: but he was already listening for the sounds which would show that his animal was climbing out on the other side, when the very thing he feared took place.

A loud splash, followed by a peculiar rustling noise, showed that Dick was swimming.

At the same moment the mare sank so deeply that, had not the rider thrown his feet backward along her spine, with his body extended over the saddle and her neck, he would have been saturated to the knees. As it was, Sally was within a hair of being carried off her feet by the force of the current.

The rancher drew her head around, and, after a sharp struggle, she held her own, and began laboring back to the shore she had left; putting forth such vigor that it was plain the task was far more agreeable than the one upon which she first ventured.

Meanwhile, Dick was swimming powerfully for the farther bank, and before his owner could think of calling to him, owing to his own flurry, he heard his hoofs stamp the hard earth. True, he had landed, but that brief space of deep water was as bad as if its width were ten times as great; it could not be passed without the saturation of the garments of all, and that, as has been said, was not to be endured.

Before the mare could return Mr. Starr called to his pony, and the animal promptly obeyed, emerging only a minute after the mare from the point where he had entered.

"It's no use," he said to his waiting wife and little one; "there is one place where the horses must swim."

"Did you get wet, papa?" enquired Dot, solicitous for his welfare.

"No; but I came mighty near it."

"Then I suppose we must follow down the stream, and try it elsewhere," said the wife.

"Yes, with the discouraging fact that we are likely to pass a dozen fordable points, and strike a place that is deeper than anywhere else."

The saddles were readjusted, and the move made without delay. Since it was hard to thread their way through the wood, which lined the stream only a short distance from the water, they withdrew from it to the prairie, where travelling was easier.

Reaching the open plain, but keeping close to the margin of the timber, from which, fortunately, they had emerged at a point considerably removed from that of the entrance, the rancher repeated the precaution he had used before.

"Wait a moment," he said, in a low voice.

Once more the snow was brushed aside at his feet and the ear pressed against the ground.

To his dismay he heard the tramp of horses' hoofs on the hard earth.

"They are near at hand!" he said, in a startled whisper; "we must get away as quickly as we can."

He hastily helped his wife and little one on the back of the mare, mounted his own animal, and, with the pack-horse at the rear, moved along the timber on a rapid walk, continually peering off in the gloom, as though it was possible for him to see the Sioux, who certainly were at no great distance.

One fear troubled him: Suppose they should resort to the same artifice as he, and one of them appeal to the earth for evidence. He would be equally quick to discover the proximity of the fugitives, and with his sense of hearing trained to the finest point by many years' exercise, would locate the whites with unerring precision.

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