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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 9. On The Bank Of A Stream
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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 9. On The Bank Of A Stream Post by :paule Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Sylvester Ellis Date :July 2011 Read :2539

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The Young Ranchers; Or, Fighting The Sioux - Chapter 9. On The Bank Of A Stream

CHAPTER IX. ON THE BANK OF A STREAM

It need not be said that George Starr wasted no time. Halting only long enough to say a few words to Tim Brophy before he set out to warn the son of his danger, he resumed his journey toward Fort Meade, some thirty miles away, at the base of the Black Hills.

He drew up beside the pony on which his wife sat with Dot in front. The pack-horse did not require leading, but as his load was lighter than either of the others, he kept his head at the haunch of the others, and plodded along as contentedly as they.

Though the route to the post by means of the regular trail was longer, it was always used when safe, because it was easy travelling throughout its whole extent. The country before the husband and wife was varied. There were miles of open plain, over which they could ride at a gallop, while in other places, the rocky ridges, broken timber, and gullies compelled detours that were likely to render a two days' journey necessary.

In addition to all this several streams must be crossed, and these were held in great dread, for if swimming became necessary, the plight of the little company, with the thermometer striking steadily below freezing point, would be pitiful indeed. The ranchman was resolved to save his wife and child from such an affliction, by constructing some kind of a raft, though the delay involved in such a work might solve the question of life and death.

"I have never been over this route--that is, to any extent," he remarked, after they had ridden a short time on a brisk walk; "I have followed the cattle for some miles among the hills yonder, but, as you know, we always used the regular trail when going to the fort."

"This is shorter," replied the wife, "because it is the most direct, and though there may be difficulties in the way, I am hopeful that we shall have no serious trouble."

"I hope so, too, but if I am not mistaken, we must cross more than one stream, and if they happen to be deep, it will be no trifling matter. How do you feel, Dot?" he asked, looking fondly at the little one, whose head was about the only portion visible beneath the folds of the blanket wrapped about her.

"I'm all right," replied the sweet voice, while the bright eyes twinkled happily, as though no thought of danger or sorrow had ever dimmed them.

"How long do you think you can ride on the back of Sally?"

"Just as long as she can carry me."

"That's good," laughed the parent, who could not help reaching across from the saddle and pinching the chubby cheek; "I want to give you a good long ride, and we may keep it up after dark."

"That don't make any difference to me, for I can sleep here as well as in my bed at home. Mamma will take care of me, won't you?" she asked, twisting her head about and looking up in the face of her parent.

The latter leaned down and kissed her, murmuring:

"Yes, with my life, precious one; but we are in the keeping of God, and he is always merciful and kind."

"I know that," said the child thoughtfully, "for hasn't He given me the best parents in the world? Oh, look! papa and mamma!" she added, forcing her head farther out of its environments, and pointing to the top of the elevation they were approaching.

The sight was a pretty one indeed. A noble buck had arrived first, from the other side of the ridge, and paused on the highest point. With his head erect, he looked down in wonderment at the party approaching him. He made a fine picture, with his antlers high in air and his whole form thrown in relief against the leaden sky beyond.

"What a fine mark," said the rancher admiringly; "I never saw a larger buck."

"You don't intend to shoot him?"

"No; we have all the food we are likely to want, and the sound of the gun might be dangerous to us, when there's no saying that other of the Sioux are not in the neighborhood."

"Isn't that too bad!"

The regretful exclamation of Dot was caused by the disappearance of the animal. The steady advance of the party was more than the timid creature could face. He whirled about and was off like a flash, to the keen regret of Dot, who was hoping for a closer acquaintance. The parents smiled at the innocence of the little one, and assured her it would have to be caught and tamed before allowing any companionship from anyone.

A few minutes later the friends rode to the top of the elevation, halting at the very spot where the buck had stood but a few minutes before.

"Just what I feared!" exclaimed the rancher regretfully.

As he spoke he pointed to the westward, where the gleam of water was seen, revealing a winding stream, which it was necessary to cross before continuing their journey.

"It is not broad and may not be deep," remarked the wife.

"That can be ascertained only by investigation."

He halted long enough to take a sweeping survey of the country behind them. There might have been Indians watching, but, if so, he detected no signs of them. The little party were conspicuous objects, but it was an easy matter for anyone to keep out of sight of the keenest vision on the crest of the elevation.

The stream that had caught his eye was about half a mile away, the intervening ground being a comparatively level and grassy plain, but beyond the water stretched a hilly and wooded section, which was likely to offer serious obstacles to their progress.

"We shall have snow before night," remarked Mr. Starr, glancing up and around at the sky, "and if it amounts to much it will make more trouble."

"Let us ride faster, then, while we may," said his wife, urging her pony into a gallop, which was instantly imitated by the other, though the gait was so distasteful to the pack-horse that he held back until sharply spoken to by his master. Finally all three struck a pace which speedily carried them to the stream that crossed their path.

It seemed odd that while there was plenty of timber on the other side, even to the water's edge, not a stick was on the bank where the fugitives halted. If it should be found necessary to make a raft with which to cross, Mr. Starr might well ask himself where the material was to be procured, since he saw none within reach.

The stream was less than a hundred yards wide and the current not swift. The water was roiled to that extent that the bottom could be seen only a few paces from shore, but the slope was so gradual that the rancher was hopeful that the horse would be able to wade it.

He scanned the water and finally turned to his wife with a smile:

"Where do you think we had better try it, Molly?"

"I know of no way of learning the depth of water except by test," she replied; "if it were clearer, we could make use of our eyes."

"I wonder if it is clearer up yonder," he remarked, looking at a clump of bushes above them and some rods in extent. "It strikes me that it may be; anyway, I will find out."

Instead of riding to the spot he dismounted, and, rifle in hand, walked the short distance necessary. As he did so, naturally he gave more heed to the stream than to his footsteps, for it was the former in which his interest lay. Dot laughed merrily when he stumbled, and he looked about and shook his head in mock anger at her.

The bushes he approached were no more than three or four feet in height, not very dense, and continued with straggling interruptions as far as the eye could trace the winding stream.

Mrs. Starr, who was attentively watching her husband, saw him pause on reaching the stunted growth. He looked at the water and then at the bushes. Then he suddenly leaped back with an exclamation and came hastening to his wife, his white face and staring eyes showing that he had made a horrifying discovery.

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