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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 16. A Thief Of The Night
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 16. A Thief Of The Night Post by :Janitor Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :1783

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 16. A Thief Of The Night


When the rancher entered the current with the two ponies, the interest of the wife, who remained behind with little Dot, was centred wholly in his effort to ford the stream. She stood on the very margin of the water, where, though unable to see the form of the rider or either of the animals, she could hear the sound made by them in passing through the current.

In this position, the pack-pony remained a few steps behind her and about half-way to the open plain. The child, who had been somewhat disturbed by the shifting about of herself, had fallen asleep again and rested motionless in her arms, with her form nestling in the protecting blanket.

Everything was silent except the slight noise caused by the animals in the water. In this position, with her nerves strung to the highest point, and her faculties absorbed in the single one of hearing, she caught a suspicious sound immediately behind her. It was as if Jerry was moving from the spot where he had been left.

Fearful of his going astray, her lips parted to speak, when, fortunately, she held her peace. It might be that some person was the cause of his action.

With the purpose of learning the truth, she stole through the timber toward the spot where he was standing a few minutes before. She was so close behind him, and moved so much faster, that she reached the open plain almost on his heels. Despite the gloom, she could make out his figure; and her feelings may be imagined when she distinguished the form of a Sioux warrior leading him.

Not only that, but the thief paused as soon as the open prairie was reached and lightly vaulted upon his back, beside the load already resting there. Then he hammered his heels against his ribs and the lazy beast rose to a jogging trot, immediately disappearing in the snow and darkness.

The wife, as may be supposed, was dumfounded and uncertain what to do, if indeed she could do anything. At the moment when it looked as if all danger was past, one of their enemies had unexpectedly stolen their pack-pony.

Where were the rest? Why did they content themselves with this simple act, when they might have done a thousandfold worse? How soon would the rest be on the spot? Was there no hope now of escape for the miserable fugitives?

These and similar thoughts were passing through her mind, when she heard her husband calling to her in a cautious voice. Not daring to reply, through fear of attracting the attention of their enemies, she threaded her way through the timber, and reached his side at the moment his heart was filled with despair at the belief that something frightful had taken place.

The joy of the rancher, on clasping his beloved wife once more in his arms, caused him to forget everything else for the moment, but she quickly made known the startling incident that had occurred.

"Heavens!" he muttered, "they have traced us after all, but where are the rest?"

"They must be near," she replied, laying her hand on his arm. "Listen!"

They did so, but heard nothing more.

"We must cross at once," he whispered.

No time was lost in following the prudent suggestion. The wife was helped upon the back of the mare, Dot still remaining asleep, and the husband, mounted on Dick, placed himself in front.

"There is only one place, and that lasts but for a few steps, where you will have to raise your foot to protect it from the water," he said, as they were about to enter the stream.

"I will remember," she nervously replied; "don't wait."

Once again the faithful pony entered the water, the mare so close behind that husband and wife could have touched each other, and the fording of the current began.

The rancher did not forget that it was impossible in the darkness to follow precisely his own course. Having emerged at a different point from where he entered, he was in reality following a different course, which might be the same as if it were a half mile farther up or down stream.

This proved to be the case, though the disappointment was of an agreeable nature, for the ponies struck a shallower part than that which was first forded. At no portion did the water do more than barely touch the bodies of the animals, and then only for a few steps. Once the mare slipped on a smooth stone, and came within a hair of unseating her rider, but the latter's skill enabled her to retain her seat, and a few minutes later the two came out on the other side, without a drop of moisture on their garments.

"Thank Heaven!" was the fervent ejaculation of the husband as the fact was accomplished. "It is better than I expected."

"But don't forget that they may have done the same thing, and perhaps are awaiting us near at hand."

"You may be right, Molly, and we cannot be too careful."

The words were barely uttered when the splashing of water behind them left no doubt that the Sioux were again on their trail.

"Quick!" whispered the husband; "dismount; you can't ride the mare among the trees; she will follow, and don't fail to keep close behind Dick."

It was important, above all things, to leave the spot before the red men landed. Otherwise, they would hear the horses and locate them without difficulty.

A disappointment awaited our friends. It will be remembered that the fringe of timber on the other side was quite narrow, and they naturally supposed it corresponded on the farther shore. But after threading their way for double the distance, they were surprised to find no evidence of the open plain beyond.

The rancher dared not continue farther while there was reason to fear their pursuers were near. The brushing of the branches against the bodies of the animals and the noise of their hoofs could be detected in the silence, and was sure to betray the fugitives to any Sioux within a hundred yards.

The wife understood why the halt was made. Her husband stole back and placed himself by her side.

"You must be wearied with carrying Dot so long," he said sympathizingly.

"It is quite a trial," she replied, in the same guarded voice, "but there is no help for it, and I beg you to give the matter no thought."

"Let me take her a while."

"No, that will not do; you must hold your gun ready for instant use, and you could not do so with her in your arms. It is not so hard when we are sitting on the mare, for it is easy to arrange it so that she supports most of her weight."

"You are a good, brave woman, Molly, and deserve to be saved."

"Sh!" she admonished; "I hear something."

He knew she was right, for he caught the sound at the same moment. Someone was stealing through the wood near them. It was a person, beyond question, for a horse would have made more noise, and the sounds of his hoofs would have been more distinct than anything else. That which, fell upon their ears was the occasional crackling of a twig, and the brushing aside of the obtruding limbs. No matter with what care an Indian warrior threaded his way through the timber in this dense gloom, he could not avoid such slight evidences of his movements--so slight, indeed, that but for the oppressive stillness and the strained hearing of the husband and wife they would not have detected them.

Confident that the red man could not trace them in the gloom, even though so dangerously near, the dread now was that the ponies would betray them. Those watchful animals often prove the most valuable allies of the fleeing fugitive, for they possess the power of discovering impending danger before it can become known to their masters. But when they make such discovery they are apt to announce it by a stamp of the hoof or with a sniffing of the nostrils, which, while serving the master well, has the disadvantage also of apprising the enemy that his approach has become known.

Stealing from his position beside his wife, the rancher stepped to the mare and passed his hand reassuringly over her mouth, doing the same with his own pony. This action was meant as a command for them to hold their peace, though whether it was understood to the extent that it would be obeyed, remains to be seen.

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CHAPTER XVII. THROUGH THE WOODEven in that trying moment, Starr could not help reflecting upon the peculiar turn matters had taken. He failed to understand the action of the solitary Sioux on the other side, who had contented himself with the simple theft of the pack-pony, when he might have done tenfold more injury to the fugitives. And now, judging from the slight sounds that reached him, there was another single warrior prowling through the wood, instead of several. It might be, however, that his companions were near, awaiting the result of his reconnoissance, and would descend upon the whites the

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CHAPTER XV. MISSINGBut there was no avoiding the risk. In silence the little party threaded their way along the margin of the prairie, listening for the sounds they dreaded to hear, and peering through the gloom for the forms they held in unspeakable fear. Not until they had progressed several hundred yards can it be said that the rancher breathed freely. Then he checked his pony, and those behind him did the same. The next instant he was out of the saddle, with his ear once more against the cold earth. Not the slightest sound reached him through this better conductor.