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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 3. Companions In Peril
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 3. Companions In Peril Post by :puthranv Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :1571

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 3. Companions In Peril

CHAPTER III. COMPANIONS IN PERIL


Warren Starr was impatient with himself that he had not thought of the stranger being a white man until it was too late to make use of the important fact. The sounds of firing ahead ought to have raised the suspicion in his mind, and the act of his pony should have confirmed it, for he never would have betrayed himself to one of his own species had he not known that he belonged to a friend.

But it was a waste of time to bewail what could not be helped, and nothing was to be gained by staying where he was. There was no longer any call to push onward toward the ranch, for that was not his destination. He was seeking his folks.

Once more the nose of Jack was turned about, and this time he was headed toward the northwest, his course being such that it would take him considerably to the west of the second rocky ridge to which allusion has been made. In short, Warren had now set out to do that which he would not have attempted but for the receipt of the message from his father. He was about to flank both elevations by swerving far from the direct course to his home.

The small tributary of the Big Cheyenne, which it was necessary to ford in order to reach the ranch, made a sweeping curve southward, so that the marked change in the course he was following would take him to it, though at a point far removed from the regular ford.

The youth was not riding blindly forward. It has been stated that he was familiar with the country for many miles around his home, and he was making for a definite point. It was on the bank of the small stream, and was not only deeply wooded, but abounded with rocks, bowlders, depressions, ravines, and wild, dangerous places, where it was certain death for a person to try to make his way in the darkness, unless he knew every foot of the locality.

This was the locality for which young Starr was aiming. Here he was confident of finding security against the Sioux, though they might be near at hand. He knew just where to go, for he had hunted through it many times with his friend Tim Brophy, for whose company he longed more than ever before.

Jack wanted food, but it could not be had. He did not need it, however, to the extent of suffering. At the noon halt, when his master sat on the ground by a spring of cold water to eat his lunch, the pony had cropped the succulent grass that grew around, and he could stand it quite well until the morrow. The animal needed rest and shelter more than anything else, and it was that which his young master meant he should have.

As if he understood it all, the horse of his own accord struck into a brisk gallop, which rendered unnecessary any other protection from the cold. The snow was still falling, but the temperature was not low, and there was not enough on the ground to interfere with the travelling of the animal, who maintained his pace until the abrupt appearance of the rocky section, with its trees and bowlders, compelled him to drop to a slow walk, with his nose thrust forward, as if to scent every step of the way, like an elephant crossing a doubtful bridge.

"Here we are, my boy!" called out Warren, "and you couldn't have come more truly if the sun had been shining."

It certainly was a marvellous piece of woodcraft, if such it may be called, on the part of the pony, that he should have struck the spot so accurately, and yet it is scarcely less marvellous that, had he needed direction, his master was competent to give it, despite the darkness and the snow.

Warren left the saddle for the last time. With no stars or moon in the sky, and with the snow falling faster than ever, it would seem that one's eyes were of little use, but they served their purpose well in the present instance. Paying no heed to the animal, he bent over, groping his way among the rocks, which began abruptly on the edge of the prairie, and had not spent five minutes thus when he came upon that for which he was looking--an opening between a mass of bowlders, along which a person or animal could make his way with little difficulty.

"Here we are, Jack, my boy! Come on; we'll soon reach our house."

With more thrusting forward of the head, and sniffing of the air, the pony obeyed, though it is hardly to be supposed that he understood all that was said to him.

On the previous winter, when Warren Starr and Tim Brophy were hunting in this section, they found game so abundant that they decided to spend two or three days in the neighborhood. Accordingly they put up a shelter which afforded good protection at night, and would do the same against any storm not too violent. A rock a dozen feet in length formed a half-circle, the upper edge projecting over to the extent of a yard or more. All that was required was to lean a number of branches against this, the upper parts supported by the ledge, while the lower rested on the ground, some eight or ten feet away from the base.

These branches being numerous and thickly placed, constituted what might be considered a tepee, with only the broad opening in front.

It was in this rude shelter that Warren Starr and Tim Brophy had spent a couple of nights in comparative comfort. The second one was bitterly cold, and they kindled a fire near the entrance. The smoke caused some trouble, but wrapped in their thick blankets, and stretched out back to back, they slept as soundly as if in their beds at home.

This was the structure which the youth had in mind when he turned his back on the regular trail and made for the wild solitude through which he now began threading his way, and it was a striking tribute to his woodcraft and knowledge that within fifteen minutes he reached the very spot, with his pony at his heels.

"This is the place," he remarked to his animal, "but there don't seem to be any lamps lighted, and it's best to look around a little before retiring for the night."

Drawing a rubber match-safe from his pocket, he ignited one of the tiny bits of wood, shading the twist of flame from the snowflakes, though there was no wind stirring.

It was months since he had visited the place, and the elements were likely to have played havoc with the structure during that period, for in that part of our Union the blizzard and tempest raise the mischief at certain seasons.

He was gratified, however, to note the slight change effected. One or two of the long branches had fallen to the ground and several others were askew. He was obliged to fling aside the match while he devoted some minutes to straightening them. This was effected so well that when he stepped inside and struck another match he saw not a flake of snow filtering through the crevices, though there was likely to be considerable before morning.

"Come in!" was the astonishing command the youth gave to his pony, who stood looking at him, as if wondering what the next move was to be. The situation was amusing, and not without its ludicrous side, with Warren holding a match in one hand, his rifle in the other, and his heavy blanket wrapped about his shoulders, beckoning and addressing the pony, which hesitated for a minute at this unexpected invitation to share the couch of his master.

But he was an obedient animal, and with some more sniffing and poking forward of his nose, he stepped slowly forward until he was entirely within the rude structure.

"Now lie down," added Warren, lighting another match, and Jack obeyed with more promptness than before. Then the youth flung the broad, heavy blanket over the pony so as to envelop as much of him as possible, lay down close to the front of his body, adjusting the hoofs as best he could, drew the rest of the covering over himself, and was excusable for chuckling:

"Now, Jack, old fellow, what's to prevent us from sleeping as snug as a bug in a rug! Hey, my boy?"

Everything promised well, but before either could fall asleep, they were startled beyond measure by hearing someone moving outside. Whispering to the horse to keep still, Warren slipped out from under the blanket and moved softly to the opening, revolver in hand. As he did so, he ran squarely against another person who was in the act of entering the place of shelter.

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CHAPTER II. THE VOICELESS FRIENDThe keen eyes, instead of looking at the crest of the rocky ridge on his right, were now centred on the ground they detected a small dark speck swiftly approaching the horseman. At the first glance, the object suggested a cannon-ball rolling with great speed toward the pony, that was now standing still, with head erect, ears thrown forward, and the appearance of perplexed interest in the thing, whatever it might be. For a minute Warren Starr was unable to guess the meaning of the singular sight. Whatever its nature, it was evident that it was
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