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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 10. Raven To The Rescue
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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 10. Raven To The Rescue Post by :Wille26 Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :3278

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The Patrol Of The Sun Dance Trail - Chapter 10. Raven To The Rescue


Overhead the stars were still twinkling far in the western sky. The crescent moon still shone serene, marshaling her attendant constellations. Eastward the prairie still lay in deep shadow, its long rolls outlined by the deeper shadows lying in the hollows between. Over the Bow and the Elbow mists hung like white veils swathing the faces of the rampart hills north and south. In the little town a stillness reigned as of death, for at length Calgary was asleep, and sound asleep would remain for hours to come.

Not so the world about. Through the dead stillness of the waning night the liquid note of the adventurous meadow lark fell like the dropping of a silver stream into the pool below. Brave little heart, roused from slumber perchance by domestic care, perchance by the first burdening presage of the long fall flight waiting her sturdy careless brood, perchance stirred by the first thrill of the Event approaching from the east. For already in the east the long round tops of the prairie undulations are shining gray above the dark hollows and faint bars of light are shooting to the zenith, fearless forerunners of the dawn, menacing the retreating stars still bravely shining their pale defiance to the oncoming of their ancient foe. Far toward the west dark masses still lie invincible upon the horizon, but high above in the clear heavens white shapes, indefinite and unattached, show where stand the snow-capped mountain peaks. Thus the swift and silent moments mark the fortunes of this age-long conflict. But sudden all heaven and all earth thrill tremulous in eager expectancy of the daily miracle when, all unaware, the gray light in the eastern horizon over the roll of the prairie has grown to silver, and through the silver a streamer of palest rose has flashed up into the sky, the gay and gallant 'avant courier' of an advancing host, then another and another, then by tens and hundreds, till, radiating from a center yet unseen, ten thousand times ten thousand flaming flaunting banners flash into orderly array and possess the utmost limits of the heavens, sweeping before them the ever paling stars, that indomitable rearguard of the flying night, proclaiming to all heaven and all earth the King is come, the Monarch of the Day. Flushed in the new radiance of the morning, the long flowing waves of the prairie, the tumbling hills, the mighty rocky peaks stand surprised, as if caught all unprepared by the swift advance, trembling and blushing in the presence of the triumphant King, waiting the royal proclamation that it is time to wake and work, for the day is come.

All oblivious of this wondrous miracle stands Billy, his powers of mind and body concentrated upon a single task, that namely of holding down to earth the game little bronchos, Mustard and Pepper, till the party should appear. Nearby another broncho, saddled and with the knotted reins hanging down from his bridle, stood viewing with all too obvious contempt the youthful frolics of the colts. Well he knew that life would cure them of all this foolish waste of spirit and of energy. Meantime on his part he was content to wait till his master--Dr. Martin, to wit--should give the order to move. His master meantime was busily engaged with clever sinewy fingers packing in the last parcels that represented the shopping activities of Cameron and his wife during the past two days. There was a whole living and sleeping outfit for the family to gather together. Already a heavily laden wagon had gone on before them. The building material for the new house was to follow, for it was near the end of September and a tent dwelling, while quite endurable, does not lend itself to comfort through a late fall in the foothill country. Besides, there was upon Cameron, and still more upon his wife, the ever deepening sense of a duty to be done that could not wait, and for the doing of that duty due preparation must be made. Hence the new house must be built and its simple appointments and furnishings set in order without delay, and hence the laden wagon gone before and the numerous packages in the democrat, covered with a new tent and roped securely into place.

This packing and roping the doctor made his peculiar care, for he was a true Canadian, born and bred in the atmosphere of pioneer days in old Ontario, and the packing and roping could be trusted to no amateur hands, for there were hills to go up and hills to go down, sleughs to cross and rivers to ford with all their perilous contingencies before they should arrive at the place where they would be.

"All secure, Martin?" said Cameron, coming out from the hotel with hand bags and valises.

"They'll stay, I think," replied the doctor, "unless those bronchos of yours get away from you."

"Aren't they dears, Billy?" cried Moira, coming out at the moment and dancing over to the bronchos' heads.

"Well, miss," said Billy with judicial care, "I don't know about that. They're ornery little cusses and mean-actin.' They'll go straight enough if everything is all right, but let anythin' go wrong, a trace or a line, and they'll put it to you good and hard."

"I do not think I would be afraid of them," replied the girl, reaching out her hand to stroke Pepper's nose, a movement which surprised that broncho so completely that he flew back violently upon the whiffle-tree, carrying Billy with him.

"Come up here, you beast!" said Billy, giving him a fierce yank.

"Oh, Billy!" expostulated Moira.

"Oh, he ain't no lady's maid, miss. You would, eh, you young devil,"--this to Pepper, whose intention to walk over Billy was only too obvious--"Get back there, will you! Now then, take that, and stand still!" Billy evidently did not rely solely upon the law of love in handling his broncho.

Moira abandoned him and climbed to her place in the democrat between Cameron and his wife.

By a most singular and fortunate coincidence Dr. Martin had learned that a patient of his at Big River was in urgent need of a call, so, to the open delight of the others and to the subdued delight of the doctor, he was to ride with them thus far on their journey.

"All set, Billy?" cried Cameron. "Let them go."

"Good-by, Billy," cried both ladies, to which Billy replied with a wave of his Stetson.

Away plunged the bronchos on a dead gallop, as if determined to end the journey during the next half hour at most, and away with them went the doctor upon his steady broncho, the latter much annoyed at being thus ignominiously outdistanced by these silly colts and so induced to strike a somewhat more rapid pace than he considered wise at the beginning of an all-day journey. Away down the street between the silent shacks and stores and out among the straggling residences that lined the trail. Away past the Indian encampment and the Police Barracks. Away across the echoing bridge, whose planks resounded like the rattle of rifles under the flying hoofs. Away up the long stony hill, scrambling and scrabbling, but never ceasing till they reached the level prairie at the top. Away upon the smooth resilient trail winding like a black ribbon over the green bed of the prairie. Away down long, long slopes to low, wide valleys, and up long, long slopes to the next higher prairie level. Away across the plain skirting sleughs where ducks of various kinds, and in hundreds, quacked and plunged and fought joyously and all unheeding. Away with the morning air, rare and wondrously exhilarating, rushing at them and past them and filling their hearts with the keen zest of living. Away beyond sight and sound of the great world, past little shacks, the brave vanguard of civilization, whose solitary loneliness only served to emphasize their remoteness from the civilization which they heralded. Away from the haunts of men and through the haunts of wild things where the shy coyote, his head thrown back over his shoulder, loped laughing at them and their futile noisy speed. Away through the wide rich pasture lands where feeding herds of cattle and bands of horses made up the wealth of the solitary rancher, whose low-built wandering ranch house proclaimed at once his faith and his courage. Away and ever away, the shining morning hours and the fleeting miles racing with them, till by noon-day, all wet but still unweary, the bronchos drew up at the Big River Stopping Place, forty miles from the point of their departure.

Close behind the democrat rode Dr. Martin, the steady pace of his wise old broncho making up upon the dashing but somewhat erratic gait of the colts.

While the ladies passed into the primitive Stopping Place, the men unhitched the ponies, stripped off their harness and proceeded to rub them down from head to heel, wash out their mouths and remove from them as far as they could by these attentions the travel marks of the last six hours.

Big River could hardly be called even by the generous estimate of the optimistic westerner a town. It consisted of a blacksmith's shop, with which was combined the Post Office, a little school, which did for church--the farthest outpost of civilization--and a manse, simple, neat and tiny, but with a wondrous air of comfort about it, and very like the little Nova Scotian woman inside, who made it a very vestibule of heaven for many a cowboy and rancher in the district, and last, the Stopping Place run by a man who had won the distinction of being well known to the Mounted Police and who bore the suggestive name of Hell Gleeson, which appeared, however, in the old English Registry as Hellmuth Raymond Gleeson. The Mounted Police thought it worth while often to run in upon Hell at unexpected times, and more than once they had found it necessary to invite him to contribute to Her Majesty's revenue as compensation for Hell's objectionable habit of having in possession and of retailing to his friends bad whisky without attending to the little formality of a permit.

The Stopping Place was a rambling shack, or rather a series of shacks, loosely joined together, whose ramifications were found by Hell and his friends to be useful in an emergency. The largest room in the building was the bar, as it was called. Behind the counter, however, instead of the array of bottles and glasses usually found in rooms bearing this name, the shelf was filled with patent medicines, chiefly various brands of pain-killer. Off the bar was the dining-room, and behind the dining-room another and smaller room, while the room most retired in the collection of shacks constituting the Stopping Place was known in the neighborhood as the "snake room," a room devoted to those unhappy wretches who, under the influence of prolonged indulgence in Hell's bad whisky, were reduced to such a mental and nervous condition that the landscape of their dreams became alive with snakes of various sizes, shapes and hues.

To Mandy familiarity had hardened her sensibilities to endurance of all the grimy uncleanness of the place, but to Moira the appearance of the house and especially of the dining-room filled her with loathing unspeakable.

"Oh, Mandy," she groaned, "can we not eat outside somewhere? This is terrible."

Mandy thought for a moment.

"No," she cried, "but we will do better. I know Mrs. Macintyre in the manse. I nursed her once last spring. We will go and see her."

"Oh, that would not do," said Moira, her Scotch shy independence shrinking from such an intrusion.

"And why not?"

"She doesn't know me--and there are four of us."

"Oh, nonsense, you don't know this country. You don't know what our visit will mean to the little woman, what a joy it will be to her to see a new face, and I declare when she hears you are new out from Scotland she will simply revel in you. We are about to confer a great favor upon Mrs. Macintyre."

If Moira had any lingering doubts as to the soundness of her sister-in-law's opinion they vanished before the welcome she had from the minister's wife.

"Mr. Cameron's sister?" she cried, with both hands extended, "and just out from Scotland? And where from? From near Braemar? And our folk came from near Inverness. Mhail Gaelic heaibh?"

"Go dearbh ha."

And on they went for some minutes in what Mrs. Macintyre called "the dear old speech," till Mrs. Macintyre, remembering herself, said to Mandy:

"But you do not understand the Gaelic? Well, well, you will forgive us. And to think that in this far land I should find a young lady like this to speak it to me! Do you know, I am forgetting it out here." All the while she was speaking she was laying the cloth and setting the table. "And you have come all the way from Calgary this morning? What a drive for the young lady! You must be tired out. Would you lie down upon the bed for an hour? Then come away in to the bedroom and fresh yourselves up a bit. Come away in. I'll get Mr. Cameron over."

"We are a big party," said Mandy, "for your wee house. We have a friend with us--Dr. Martin."

"Dr. Martin? Indeed I know him well, and a fine man he is and that kind and clever. I'll get him too."

"Let me go for them," said Mandy.

"Very well, go then. I'll just hurry the dinner."

"But are you quite sure," asked Mandy, "you can--you have everything handy? You know, Mrs. Macintyre, I know just how hard it is to keep a stock of everything on hand."

"Well, we have bread and molasses--our butter is run out, it is hard to get--and some bacon and potatoes and tea. Will that do?"

"Oh, that will do fine. And we have some things with us, if you don't mind."

"Mind? Not a bit, my dear. You can just suit yourself."

The dinner was a glorious success. The clean linen, the shining dishes, the silver--for Mrs. Macintyre brought out her wedding presents--gave the table a brilliantly festive appearance in the eyes of those who had lived for some years in the western country.

"You don't appreciate the true significance of a table napkin, I venture to say, Miss Cameron," said the doctor, "until you have lived a year in this country at least, or how much an unspotted table cloth means, or shining cutlery and crockery."

"Well, I have been two days at the Royal Hotel, whatever," replied Moira.

"The Royal Hotel!" exclaimed the doctor aghast. "Our most palatial Western hostelry--all the comforts and conveniences of civilization!"

"Anyway, I like this better," said Moira. "It is like home."

"Is it, indeed, my dear?" said the minister's wife greatly delighted. "You have paid me a very fine tribute."

The hour lengthened into two, for when a departure was suggested the doctor grew eloquent in urging delay. The horses would be all the better for the rest. It would be fine driving in the evening. They could easily make the Black Dog Ford before dark. After that the trail was good for twenty miles, where they would camp. But like all happy hours these hours fled past, and all too swiftly, and soon the travelers were ready to depart.

Before the Stopping Place door Hell was holding down the bronchos, while Cameron was packing in the valises and making all secure again. Near the wagon stood the doctor waiting their departure.

"You are going back from here, Dr. Martin?" said Moira.

"Yes," said the doctor, "I am going back."

"It has been good to see you," she said. "I hope next time you will know me."

"Ah, now, Miss Cameron, don't rub it in. You see--but what's the use?" continued the doctor. "You had changed. My picture of the girl I had seen in the Highlands that day never changed and never will change." The doctor's keen gray eyes burned into hers for a moment. A slight flush came to her cheek and she found herself embarrassed for want of words. Her embarrassment was relieved by the sound of hoofs pounding down the trail.

"Hello, who's this?" said the doctor, as they stood watching the horseman approaching at a rapid pace and accompanied by a cloud of dust. Nearer and nearer he came, still on the gallop till within a few yards of the group.

"My!" cried Moira. "Whoever he is he will run us down!" and she sprang into her place in the democrat.

Without slackening rein the rider came up to the Stopping Place door at a full gallop, then at a single word his horse planted his four feet solidly on the trail, and, plowing up the dirt, came to a standstill; then, throwing up his magnificent head, he gave a loud snort and stood, a perfect picture of equine beauty.

"Oh, what a horse!" breathed Moira. "How perfectly splendid! And what a rider!" she added. "Do you know him?"

"I do not," said the doctor, conscious of a feeling of hostility to the stranger, and all the more because he was forced to acknowledge to himself that the rider and his horse made a very striking picture. The man was tall and sinewy, with dark, clean-cut face, thin lips, firm chin and deep-set, brown-gray eyes that glittered like steel, and with that unmistakable something in his bearing that suggested the breeding of a gentleman. His horse was as distinguished as its rider. His coal black skin shone like silk, his flat legs, sloping hips, well-ribbed barrel, small head, large, flashing eyes, all proclaimed his high breeding.

"What a beauty! What a beauty!" breathed Moira again to the doctor.

As if in answer to her praise the stranger, raising his Stetson, swept her an elaborate bow, and, touching his horse, moved nearer to the door of the Stopping Place and swung himself to the ground.

"Ah, Cameron, it's you, sure enough. I can hardly believe my good fortune."

"Hello, Raven, that you?" said Cameron indifferently. "Hope you are fit?" But he made no motion to offer his hand nor did he introduce him to the company. At the sound of his name Dr. Martin started and swept his keen eyes over the stranger's face. He had heard that name before.

"Fit?" inquired the stranger whom Cameron had saluted as Raven. "Fit as ever," a hard smile curling his lips as he noted Cameron's omission. "Hello, Hell!" he continued, his eyes falling upon that individual, who was struggling with the restive ponies, "how goes it with your noble self?"

Hastily Hell, leaving the bronchos for the moment, responded, "Hello, Mr. Raven, mighty glad to see you!"

Meantime the bronchos, freed from Hell's supervision, and apparently interested in the strange horse who was viewing them with lordly disdain, turned their heads and took the liberty of sniffing at the newcomer. Instantly, with mouth wide open and ears flat on his head, the black horse rushed at the bronchos. With a single bound they were off, the lines trailing in the dust. Together Hell, Cameron and the doctor sprang for the wagon, but before they could touch it it was whisked from underneath their fingers as the bronchos dashed in a mad gallop down the trail, Moira meantime clinging desperately to the seat of the pitching wagon. After them darted Cameron and for some moments it seemed as if he could overtake the flying ponies, but gradually they drew away and he gave up the chase. After him followed the whole company, his wife, the doctor, Hell, all in a blind horror of helplessness.

"My God! My God!" cried Cameron, his breath coming in sobbing gasps. "The cut bank!"

Hardly were the words out of his mouth when Raven came up at an easy canter.

"Don't worry," he said quietly to Mandy, who was wringing her hands in despair, "I'll get them."

Like a swallow for swiftness and for grace, the black stallion sped away, flattening his body to the trail as he gathered speed. The bronchos had a hundred yards of a start, but they had not run another hundred until the agonized group of watchers could see that the stallion was gaining rapidly upon them.

"He'll get 'em," cried Hell, "he'll get 'em, by gum!"

"But can he turn them from the bank?" groaned Mandy.

"If anything in horse-flesh or man-flesh can do it," said Hell, "it'll be done."

But a tail-race is a long race and a hundred yards' start is a serious handicap in a quarter of a mile. Down the sloping trail the bronchos were running savagely, their noses close to earth, their feet on the hard ground like the roar of a kettledrum, their harness and trappings fluttering over their backs, the wagon pitching like a ship in a gale, the girl clinging to its high seat as a sailor to a swaying mast. Behind, and swiftly drawing level with the flying bronchos, sped the black horse, still with that smooth grace of a skimming swallow and with such ease of motion as made it seem as if he could readily have increased his speed had he so chosen.

"My God! why doesn't he send the brute along?" cried Dr. Martin, his stark face and staring eyes proclaiming his agony.

"He is up! He is up!" cried Cameron.

The agonized watchers saw the rider lean far over the bronchos and seize one line, then gradually begin to turn the flying ponies away from the cut bank and steer them in a wide circle across the prairie.

"Thank God! Thank God! Oh, thank God!" cried the doctor brokenly, wiping the sweat from his face.

"Let us go to head them off," said Cameron, setting off at a run, leaving the doctor and his wife to follow.

As they watched with staring eyes the racing horses they saw Raven bring back the line to the girl clinging to the wagon seat, then the black stallion, shooting in front of the ponies, began to slow down upon them, hampering their running till they were brought to an easy canter, and, under the more active discipline of teeth and hoofs, were forced to a trot and finally brought to a standstill, and so held till Cameron and the doctor came up to them.

"Raven," gasped Cameron, fighting for his breath and coming forward with hand outstretched, "you have--done--a great thing--to-day--for me. I shall not--forget it."

"Tut tut, Cameron, simple thing. I fancy you are still a few points ahead," said Raven, taking his hand in a strong grip. "After all, it was Night Hawk did it."

"You saved--my sister's life," continued Cameron, still struggling for breath.

"Perhaps, perhaps, but I don't forget," and here Raven leaned over his saddle and spoke in a lower voice, "I don't forget the day you saved mine, my boy."

"Come," said Cameron, "let me present you to my sister."

Instantly Raven swung himself from his horse.

"Stand, Night Hawk!" he commanded, and the horse stood like a soldier on guard.

"Moira," said Cameron, still panting hard, "this is--my friend--Mr. Raven."

Raven stood bowing before her with his hat in his hand, but the girl leaned far down from her seat with both hands outstretched.

"I thank you, Mr. Raven," she said in a quiet voice, but her brown eyes were shining like stars in her white face. "You are a wonderful rider."

"I could not have done it, Miss Cameron," said Raven, a wonderfully sweet smile lighting up his hard face, "I could not have done it had you ever lost your nerve."

"I had no fear after I saw your face," said the girl simply. "I knew you could do it."

"Ah, and how did you know that?" His gray-brown eyes searched her face more keenly.

"I cannot tell. I just knew."

"Let me introduce my friend, Dr. Martin," said Cameron as the doctor came up.

"I--too--want to thank you--Mr. Raven," said the doctor, seizing him with both hands. "I never can--we never can forget it--or repay you."

"Oh," said Raven, with a careless laugh, "what else could I do? After all it was Night Hawk did the trick." He lifted his hat again to Moira, bowed with a beautiful grace, threw himself on his horse and stood till the two men, after carefully examining the harness and securing the reins, had climbed to their places on the wagon seat.

Then he trotted on before toward the Stopping Place, where the minister's wife and indeed the whole company of villagers awaited them.

"Oh, isn't he wonderful!" cried Moira, with her eyes upon the rider in front of them. "And he did it so easily." But the men sat silent. "Who is he, Allan? You know him."

"Yes--he is--he is a chap I met when I was on the Force."

"A Policeman?"

"No, no," replied her brother hastily.

"What then? Does he live here?"

"He lives somewhere south. Don't know exactly where he lives."

"What is he? A rancher?"

"A rancher? Ah--yes, yes, he is a rancher I fancy. Don't know very well. That is--I have seen little of him--in fact--only a couple of times--or so."

"He seems to know you, Allan," said his sister a little reproachfully. "Anyway," she continued with a deep breath, "he is just splendid." Dr. Martin glanced at her face glowing with enthusiasm and was shamefully conscious of a jealous pang at his heart. "He is just splendid," continued Moira, with growing enthusiasm, "and I mean to know more of him."

"What?" said her brother sharply, as if waking from a dream. "Nonsense, Moira! You do not know what you are talking about. You must not speak like that."

"And why, pray?" asked his sister in surprise.

"Oh, never mind just now, Moira. In this country we don't take up with strangers."

"Strangers?" echoed the girl, pain mingling with her surprise. "And yet he saved my life!"

"Yes, thank God, he saved your life," cried her brother, "and we shall never cease to be grateful to him, but--but--oh, drop it just now please, Moira. You don't know and--here we are. How white Mandy is. What a terrible experience for us all!"

"Terrible indeed," echoed the doctor.

"Terrible?" said Moira. "It might have been worse."

To this neither made reply, but there came a day when both doubted such a possibility.

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