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Title: The Young Ranchers - or, Fighting the Sioux
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Young Ranchers - or, Fighting the Sioux" ***

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                          THE YOUNG RANCHERS


                  "FOREST AND PRAIRIE SERIES," No. 3.

                          BY EDWARD S. ELLIS

          AUTHOR OF "BOY PIONEER SERIES," "DEERFOOT SERIES,"
                        "WILDWOOD SERIES," ETC.


PHILADELPHIA
HENRY T. COATES & CO.

COPYRIGHT, 1895,
BY PORTER & COATES.



[Illustration: THE DEATH OF THE FAITHFUL MESSENGER.]



CONTENTS.


I. DANGER AHEAD

II. THE VOICELESS FRIEND

III. COMPANIONS IN PERIL

IV. TIM BROPHY'S DISCOVERY

V. LEAVING THE RANCH

VI. "TIMOTHY BROPHY, ESQ., AT YOUR SERVICE"

VII. STIRRING TIMES

VIII. STARCUS

IX. ON THE BANK OF A STREAM

X. BENT ARM AND HIS BAND

XI. AT BAY

XII. FACING WESTWARD

XIII. IN THE FRINGE OF THE WOODS

XIV. TURNED BACK

XV. MISSING

XVI. A THIEF OF THE NIGHT

XVII. THROUGH THE WOOD

XVIII. NIGHT AND MORNING

XIX. A STARTLING SURPRISE

XX. A RUN FOR LIFE

XXI. AWAY WE GO!

XXII. ON FOOT

XXIII. DOWN!

XXIV. THE FRIEND IN NEED

XXV. THE PRAIRIE DUEL

XXVI. ON THE GROUND

XXVII. A GOOD SAMARITAN

XXVIII. THE LONE HORSEMAN

XXIX. A BREAK FOR FREEDOM

XXX. COMRADES AGAIN

XXXI. THE LAST HOPE

XXXII. AWAY! AWAY!

XXXIII. BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


THE DEATH OF THE FAITHFUL MESSENGER.

A HOT PURSUIT.

TIM'S FORTUNATE SHOT.

THE DEATH OF THE INDIAN.



THE YOUNG RANCHERS;

OR,

FIGHTING THE SIOUX.



CHAPTER I.

DANGER AHEAD.


There was snow in the air. Warren Starr had felt it ever since meridian,
though not a flake had fallen, and the storm might be delayed for hours
yet to come. There was no mistaking the dull leaden sky, the chill in
the atmosphere, and that dark, increasing gloom which overspreads the
heavens at such times.

Young Warren was a fine specimen of the young hunter, though he had not
yet passed his nineteenth year. His home was in South Dakota, and he was
now on his return from Fort Meade, at the eastern foot of the Black
Hills, and had fully twenty miles to travel, though the sun was low in
the horizon, as he well knew, even if it was veiled by the snow vapor.

His father's ranch lay to the north of the Big Cheyenne, and the son was
familiar with every foot of the ground, having traversed it many a time,
not only on his visits to the fort, but in the numerous hunting
excursions of which he was so fond. He could have made the journey by
night, when no moon was in the sky, had there been need of doing so, but
he decided that it was better to give his pony the rest he required, and
to push on at an early hour the next morning. He had eaten nothing since
the noon halt, and his youth and vigor gave him a powerful appetite, but
he had learned long before that one of the first requisites of the
hunter is to learn to endure cold, heat, hunger, and hardship
unmurmuringly.

But the youth was in so uneasy a mental state that he rode slowly for
nearly an hour, debating with himself whether to draw rein or push on.
The rumors of trouble among the Sioux were confirmed by his visit to
Fort Meade. A spirit of unrest had prevailed for a long time, caused by
the machinations of that marplot, Sitting Bull, the harangues of
medicine men who proclaimed the coming Messiah, the ghost dances, the
eagerness of the young bucks to take the warpath, and the universal
belief that the last opportunity for the red men to turn back the
advance of the Caucasian race was to be made soon or never.

The fact that our Government had its military posts scattered through
the disaffected country, that the Indian reservations were comparatively
well governed, that the officers were men whose valor and skill had been
proven times without number, and that these authorities were keeping
close watch on the growing disaffection produced a quieting effect in
many quarters, though the best informed men foresaw the impending storm.
That which troubled Warren Starr on his lonely ride northward was the
fact that on that ranch, twenty miles away, dwelt his father, mother,
and little sister, known by the pet name of Dot. His father had two
assistants in the care of the ranch, Jared Plummer, a man in middle
life, and Tim Brophy, a lusty young Irishman, about the same age as
Warren. But the ranch was not fitted to withstand an attack from any of
the bands through the country. Those turbulent bucks were the very ones
to assail his home with the fury of a cyclone, and if they did, Heaven
help the loved ones there, even though the three men were well provided
with arms and ammunition.

The commandant of Fort Meade suggested to Warren that he urge his people
to come into the fort without delay. Such a suggestion, coming from the
officer, meant a good deal.

That which caused the youth to decide to wait until morning was the
fatigue of his animal, and the more important fact that it was best not
only to arrive at the ranch in the daytime, but to ride through several
miles of the surrounding country when the chance to use his eyes was at
the best. If hostiles were in the section, he might pass within a
hundred yards of them in the darkness without discovering it, but it was
impossible to do so when the sun was in the sky.

He was now riding across an open plain directly toward a small branch of
the Big Cheyenne, beyond which lay his home. He could already detect the
fringe of timber that lined both sides of the winding stream, while to
the right rose a rocky ridge several hundred feet in height, and a mile
or two distant appeared a similar range on the left.

The well-marked trail which the lad was following passed between these
elevations; that on the right first presenting itself and diverging so
far to the east, just before the other ridge was reached, that it may be
said it disappeared, leaving the other to succeed it.

Despite the long ride and the fatigue of himself as well as his animal,
young Starr was on the alert. He was in a dangerous country, and a
little negligence on his part was liable to prove fatal.

"If there is a lot of Sioux watching this trail for parties going either
way, this is the spot," he reflected, grasping his Winchester, lying
across his saddle, a little more firmly. "I have met them here more than
once, and, though they claimed to be friendly, I was always uneasy, for
it is hard for an Indian to resist the temptation to hurt a white man
when it looks safe to do so."

Nothing could have exceeded the caution of the youth. The trail showed
so plainly that his pony kept to it without any guidance on his part,
and the reins lay loose on his neck. Every minute or two the rider
glanced furtively behind him to make sure no treacherous enemy was
stealing upon him unawares; and then, after a hasty look to the right
and left, he scanned the rocky ridge on his right, peering forward the
next moment at the one farther off on his left.

He was searching for that which he did not want to find--signs of red
men. He knew a good deal of their system of telegraphy, and half
suspected that some keen-eyed Sioux was crouching behind the rocks of
the ridge, awaiting the moment to signal his approach to his confederate
farther away.

It might have seemed possible to some to flank the danger by turning far
to the right or left, but that would have involved a long detour and
delay in arriving home. At the same time, if any warriors were on the
watch, they could easily checkmate him by accommodating their movements
to his, and continually heading him off, whichever direction he took. He
had considered all these contingencies, and felt no hesitation in
pressing straight forward, despite the apparent peril involved in doing
so.

Suddenly Jack pricked his ears and raised his head, emitting at the same
time a slight whiff through his nostrils.

No words could have said more plainly: "Beware, master! I have
discovered something."

The rider's natural supposition was that the danger, whatever it might
be, was on the crest of the ridge he was approaching; but, when he
shaded his eyes and peered forward, he was unable to detect anything at
all. Enough light remained in the sky for him to use his excellent eyes
to the best advantage, but nothing rewarded the scrutiny.

Jack continued advancing, though his gait was now a slow walk, as if he
expected his master to halt altogether; but the latter acted like the
skilful railway engineer, who, seeing the danger signal ahead, continues
creeping slowly toward it, ready to check his train on the instant it
becomes necessary to do so. He allowed the pony to step tardily forward,
while he strove to locate the point whence peril threatened.

"What the mischief do you see, Jack?" he asked, in a half-impatient
tone; "if I didn't know you never joked, I would believe you were trying
some trick on me to get me to camp for the night."

Once the horseman fancied he caught the faint outlines of a thin column
of smoke climbing into the sky from the crest of the ridge, but closer
study convinced him that he was wrong. If such a signal were kindled, it
must be clear enough to be recognized from the farther elevation, which
was more distant than the horseman.

"I shall observe the vapor as soon as they," he thought, "for my eyes
are as sharp--helloa! that beats the mischief!"

At last Warren Starr learned what it was that had alarmed his pony.



CHAPTER II.

THE VOICELESS FRIEND.


The keen eyes, instead of looking at the crest of the rocky ridge on his
right, were now centred on the ground, where 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 aiming
to reach the rider with the least possible delay. The latter drew his
Winchester around in front, so as to be ready to receive it, his first
thought being that it was some Sioux stratagem designed to do him ill.

But while he gazed, he discovered its identity; it was a dog, running as
if its very life were at stake. The next instant young Starr perceived
something protruding from the front part of its body, resembling the
ornamental feather in an Indian's head-dress.

"It is an arrow!" he exclaimed. "The poor creature is badly wounded, and
is striving to reach me before he dies. By gracious, it's Bruno!" he
added, as a closer approach enabled him to identify the creature. "He
brings me some message."

Bruno was his favorite hound, that had accompanied him on many a hunting
excursion, and whom he loved scarcely less than Jack, his pony.

It was indeed a race with death on the part of the faithful animal.
While yet a number of rods distant, he staggered, faltered, then
gathering his energies pressed on with the last strength he could
summon, and with a low moan rolled languidly on his side, and looking
upward with a human expression to his young master, said by his action:
"I have done the best I could for you, and I am content."

Young Starr was out of the saddle like a flash, and ran forward to him.
Stooping down, he placed one arm under the head of the noble dog, and,
leaning over, touched his lips to the velvety forehead.

"My poor Bruno, they have killed you!" he murmured, with tears in his
eyes. "I would give an arm to save you, but it is too late."

He saw that the head of the arrow was sunken deep into the neck, and the
dark coat was splashed with crimson. To attempt to withdraw the missile
was useless. It could only deepen the agony of the animal without
relieving him in the least. He was doomed and dying before he sank to
the ground.

Bruno turned his beautiful eyes upward to his master, emitted a low
moan, gave a slight quiver and gasp, and was dead. No martyr ever did
his duty more heroically.

For a few moments Warren Starr yielded to his grief. He remained with
the exquisitely formed head resting on his arm, while the tears fell
from his eyes on the form that could never respond again to his
caresses. Then he gently withdrew his arm and suffered the head to rest
on the ground.

"Your last act was for those you love," he murmured; "you gave your life
for us, and no man could do more. No one shall take from me the faith
that we shall be happy together beyond the grave. Good-by, my true and
faithful friend."

Young Starr was too experienced a scout, despite his youth, to forget in
his grief the full significance of the sad incident. The hound had
travelled the long distance from the ranch to this point for the purpose
of bringing him a message. He had been discovered while on the road, and
fired upon by the Indians, who were so near that they used bows and
arrows to prevent the young master taking the alarm. Many missiles were
doubtless sent after the animal, and one was fated to bring him down,
though not until he had accomplished his errand.

Warren knew where to look for the message. He unstrapped the collar,
with its silver plate--which he would have done under any circumstance
to keep as a remembrance of his voiceless friend--and there, carefully
folded and secure under the band, was a piece of paper, containing
considerable writing in lead-pencil:

     DEAR WARREN:

     Don't come to the ranch. It is sure death to undertake it. A party
     of twenty and more bucks are near us. They have killed or stampeded
     our cattle, and will attack us this evening if we remain, which we
     shall not do. Tim discovered them this afternoon, and learned
     enough to make sure of their intention. We shall mount our horses
     and start for Fort Meade. We dare not use the regular trail, along
     which I suppose you are making your way, but must be guided by
     circumstances. I think we shall move to the westward, taking the
     most direct route to the post, but are likely to be forced into a
     long detour, which renders it impossible for me to give you any
     direction by which we can meet each other.

     I know that your impulse will be to try to join us before we reach
     the fort, but it is my earnest wish that you shall not attempt it.
     Turn about at once, while you have time, and retrace your steps. If
     a day or two shall pass without our coming in, perhaps it may be
     well to ask the colonel to send out a squad of cavalry to help us,
     for it is idle to fancy we are not in great peril. It is my prayer
     that Bruno shall intercept you in time to prevent any mishap. I
     have instructed him precisely what he is expected to do, and he not
     only fully understands, but, as you well know, will do it if it be
     possible.

     YOUR FATHER.

"You were right," said the youth gently, looking down once more on the
inanimate form. "Bruno did his duty, and he deserves a monument for
having done it so well."

All this time the pony stood some feet away, motionless, and apparently
a deeply interested witness of the singular scene.

He was too well trained to leave his master, who never resorted to the
precaution of securing him by his halter.

Meanwhile night was closing in. The gloom was overspreading the prairie
so that the ridge, which had been such a cause for solicitude to the
youth, was now dimly discernible. In a few minutes it would be swallowed
up in the coming darkness.

Resolutely forcing his sadness aside, Warren knelt down and pressed his
ear to the ground. If horsemen were approaching he could detect it
through the sense of hearing.

Then he climbed once more into the saddle and faced the ridge, debating
with himself what was the right course to pursue. His father had said in
unmistakable language that he wished him to return to Fort Meade.
Warren was a dutiful son, but he could not persuade himself that that
was the best thing to do. To follow his parent's wishes would require
him to look after his own safety, and to forget those whose lives were
dearer to him than his own. To return to the fort, and secure the aid
that he knew would be cheerfully given, would take a day or two, during
which the crisis must come and pass with his people. Two days at the
most would settle the question whether they were to escape or fall
victims to the ferocity of the Sioux.

"I can't do it," he said, compressing his lips and shaking his head. "I
have never played the coward, and I'm not going to begin when my folks
are concerned. My first duty is to find out where father, mother, and
Dot are, and then do all I can for their safety."

It was not difficult to reach this conclusion, for which no one will
deny him credit; but it was altogether a difficult and formidable task
for him to decide what next to do.

Had his friends been following the regular trail to the fort his course
would have been simple, since he had only to continue on until he met
them; but his father had notified him that not only would he not take
that route, but he could not say which one he would adopt. He inclined
to think he would turn to the westward, leaving the path on his left,
but the question, as he said, must be settled by circumstances.

Something cold touched his hand. It was a snowflake, and he knew that in
a short time the ground would be wrapped in a mantle of white. Once more
he glanced in the direction of the elevation, now invisible in the
gathering darkness. On the utmost height a point of light appeared,
shining for a moment with the steady radiance of a fixed star.

"The bucks are there," concluded Warren; "they saw me from a long way,
and must wonder why I am delayed--ah, sure enough!"

All at once the gleaming light began circling about, faster and faster,
until it looked like a wheel of fire. Then it reversed, whirling as
swiftly in the opposite direction, then up and down, then from side to
side, and finally, whiff! it vanished.

A grim smile lit the face of the youth, who turned his gaze toward the
more distant ridge on his left for the answer, but if it was made, the
state of the atmosphere prevented his seeing it. Once he fancied he
caught the glimpse of something resembling a fire-fly, but it was only
for an instant, and was not observed again.

It was easy to read the meaning of that which first showed itself. A
party of Indians that had evidently been watching his coming, while yet
a long way off, now telegraphed his arrival to their confederates on the
more distant elevation, together with the fact that the white man had
ceased his approach and might not come any nearer.

It was reasonable to believe that these same red men would not remain
idle while the object of their wrath turned quietly about and retraced
his steps.

Only a few minutes were used in considering the question, but the time
had not yet expired, when, to Warren's astonishment, he heard the sound
of firing ahead. Probably eight or ten shots were discharged at quick
but irregular intervals, and then all once more became still.

A pang of apprehension passed through him at the fear that his friends,
after all, might have attempted to reach the fort by the trail, and had
become involved in a fight with the Sioux. Be that as it may, the fact
was impressed on him that he was doing an imprudent thing by remaining
in the path along which the warriors were liable to burst at any moment.
He turned Jack to the left and rode fully a hundred yards before again
drawing rein. It was not necessary to go this far to place himself
beyond sight of the path, but he wished to take no unnecessary chances.

By this time the snowflakes were falling fast, and it was impossible to
see objects more than twenty feet distant. Warren checked his pony,
holding him with his nose toward the trail, and listened.

Again the intelligent animal elevated his head, pricked his ears, and
emitted an almost noiseless neigh, as was his habit when he discovered
the approach of strangers. His rider could discern nothing through the
gloom, and resorted to the resource tried before, which is a common one
among hunters and warriors. Descending from the saddle, he brushed aside
the snow from a small spot on the ground and pressed his ear against the
earth.

This time he _did_ hear something. A horse was approaching over the
trail on a swift gallop, and it took but a brief while for the youth to
learn that he was coming from the direction of the ridge. Furthermore,
there was but the single horseman; or, if there were others, they were
so far off that no thought need be given to them.

Remounting his pony, Warren held him facing the path, and prepared for
any emergency likely to arise. He was well aware that if the stranger
kept to the trail he would be invisible in the gloom, but he was now so
near that from his seat young Starr plainly caught the sound of his
horse's hoofs, growing more distinct every moment.

Whoever it was that was advancing, it was evident he was doing so at
what might be called a leisurely pace, though it was quite rapid. The
horse was on an easy canter, such as his species can maintain for hours
without fatigue.

The youth was sitting in this posture, with never a thought of what was
coming, when to his amazement he caught the outlines of the man and his
steed passing at right angles to the course he had been following
himself.

"He is off the trail!" was the alarming fact which caused Warren to make
ready to fire, for the truth was apparent that if he saw the stranger,
the latter had the same opportunity of seeing him.

To his surprise Jack uttered a neigh at the critical moment when the
other was directly opposite. A collision now seemed certain, but the
other kept straight on, and quickly passed from sight.

Not until he had been several minutes beyond hearing did the startling
thought come to Warren Starr:

"That was a white man, and not an Indian."



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.



CHAPTER IV.

TIM BROPHY'S DISCOVERY.


The letter which was delivered to Warren Starr by his mortally wounded
hound not only gave that young man definite news of the alarming events
in the neighborhood of his home, but has conveyed to the reader the
cause of the abrupt change in his plans and of the stirring incidents
which led to the hasty flight of the Starr family from their ranch on
the north of the Big Cheyenne River.

As stated in the note, it was Tim Brophy, the young Irishman, who made
the discovery in time to prevent the family being overwhelmed and
massacred. While Jared Plummer, the lank New Englander, rode to the
westward to look after some strays, Tim galloped north to attend to the
main herd, which was supposed to be cropping the abundant grass in the
neighborhood of several small streams and tributaries of the main
river.

Tim had been in the employ of Mr. Starr for three years, and had spent
most of his life in the West, so that he had fully learned the lesson
which such an experience should teach everyone. He knew of the impending
trouble among the Indian tribes, and was always on the alert. It was not
long, therefore, before he came upon signs which told him something was
amiss.

In the corner of a natural clearing, near one of the small streams, he
discovered a dozen of the cattle lying dead. It was not necessary for
him to dismount and examine the ground to learn the cause of such
slaughter. The footprints of ponies near by, the bullet wounds, and
other indications answered the question that came to his lips at the
first glimpse of the cruel butchery.

"The spalpeens!" he exclaimed wrath-fully. "They niver had a better
friend than Mr. Starr, and that's the shtyle in which they pays him for
the same. Worrah, worrah, but it's too bad!"

Riding cautiously to the top of the next elevation, the young rancher
saw other sights which filled him with greater indignation and
resentment. A half mile to the northward the entire herd of cattle,
numbering several hundreds, were scurrying over the plain in a wild
panic. The figures of several Sioux bucks galloping at their heels,
swinging their arms and shouting, so as to keep up and add to the
affright, left no doubt that Mr. Starr's fine drove of cattle was gone
beyond recovery. The result of months of toil, expense, and trouble were
vanishing as they sometimes do before the resistless sweep of the
cyclone.

The blue eyes of the Celt flashed, as he sat in the saddle and
contemplated the exasperating raid. Nothing would have pleased him
better than to dash with several companions after the marauders and
force them to a reckoning for the outrage. But eager as he was for such
an affray, he was too wise to try it alone. There were five or six of
the horsemen, and he was no match for them.

Besides this, a more alarming discovery broke upon him within a minute
after observing the stampede. From the clump of wood on his right, along
the edge of the stream, only a few hundred yards away, he detected the
faint smoke of a camp-fire. The Sioux were there.

The sight so startled Tim that he wheeled his pony short around and
withdrew behind the elevation he had just ascended, fearing he had
already been observed by the red men.

Such undoubtedly would have been the fact had any of the turbulent Sioux
been on guard, but the occasion was one of those rare ones in which the
warriors acted upon the theory that no such precaution was needed, since
no possible danger could threaten them.

Suspecting the truth, Tim dropped hastily from his pony and stole along
the edge of the stream, until he reached a point which gave him a sight
of the miscreants, and at the same time afforded him tolerably fair
protection.

The scene was calculated to inspire anything but pleasant feelings in a
spectator. Fully a score of young warriors were squatted in a circle,
listening to the harangue of one of their number, who had wrought
himself into a furious passion. He was swinging his arms, shouting and
leaping about like a lunatic, and rising to a pitch which not only
threatened to throw him into a paroxysm, but was imparting itself to his
listeners. Some of them were smoking, but showing at the same time an
excitement which is generally believed to be foreign to the American
race. They were all bucks, and eager to be led upon the warpath. There
was not an old or middle-aged man among them.

The eavesdropper was not able to understand their words, but the
gestures left no doubt of their fearful meaning. The speaker pointed in
the direction of the home of the Starrs so often, and indulged in so
much action to which the others signified full assent, that it was
beyond dispute that they meant to attack the house and slay the inmates.
Knowing all about these, and the resistance they were likely to meet,
they would wait until night before bursting upon them.

Tim Brophy was sagacious enough to grasp almost on the instant the full
nature of the awful peril. He saw that accident, or rather Providence,
had given to him the secret which revealed that only by prompt action
could the lives of his friends be saved. There was no saying how long
the council, if such it may be called, would last, and he did not care
to know.

Nothing could show the intense absorption of the fierce Sioux in the
outrage they had determined to commit more than the fact that a white
man rose up in full view only a few hundred yards away, without his
presence being detected. Such being the case, it was easy for Tim to
withdraw from the immediate vicinity of the gathering, steal round to
where his pony was cropping the grass, and mount again.

He rode carefully forward, keeping the elevation between him and the
camp of the hostiles, until convinced it was safe, when he struck his
horse into a run and sped away as if for life.

A few minutes sufficed to take him to the house, where the unsuspicious
folk looked up in wonder at his haste and agitation. Mr. Starr was
sitting near the window reading a newspaper, his little girl Dot was
playing with her doll on the floor, and the wife was busy with her
household duties.

It took but a few minutes for Tim to tell the news. Jared Plummer had
not yet come in, and there could be no guessing as to what additional
facts he would give them.

Like his employé, the rancher was quick to grasp the situation. The only
possible safety was in flight, and no time was to be lost.

The building, with its broad, flat roof, its many windows and insecure
portions, was in no condition for successful defence, where the small
garrison could not guard one-half the weak points. The assailants could
readily fire it, and it would burn like so much touchwood. Flight,
therefore, was the one and only thing to be thought of.

It was yet comparatively early in the afternoon, and those on the ranch
had noted the signs of the approaching snowstorm. The husband directed
his wife to make her preparations few and simple, and to waste no time.
It was idle to bewail the necessity which compelled them to leave so
many precious articles behind. Life was dearer than all, and the
courageous helpmate proved herself equal to the occasion. She gathered
the articles of clothing they were likely to need, filled several bags
with the provisions in the house, and announced that she was ready.

There was a horse each for the father, mother, and Tim Brophy, while a
fourth, a small, tough pony, was laden with the bag of provisions, extra
clothing, and a few articles deemed indispensable. These were brought
round to the front, and in much less time than would be supposed the
little cavalcade was ready to move.

Despite the belief of Brophy that no attack would be made until after
darkness had closed,--a belief shared by Mr. Starr,--the rancher was
fearful that his home would be placed under surveillance while daylight
lasted, and that the intended flight would be discovered before it
began. In such an event, the family could only fight it out to the
desperate end, and that they would do so admits of no doubt.



CHAPTER V.

LEAVING THE RANCH.


Now that everything was ready, Mr. Starr felt anxious about the absent
Jared Plummer. He ought to have learned of the danger before this, and
should have been almost, if not quite, as prompt as Tim Brophy in
hastening to the house. His continued absence gave ground for fear that
harm had befallen him, but his friends were powerless to give him help.

"It won't do to wait," remarked the rancher gravely, "and he will be as
able to do without as with us."

"Why not lave a missage for him?" asked Tim.

"The idea is a good one," replied Mr. Starr, who, sitting down,
hurriedly penned the following upon a slip of paper, and pinned it on
the front door of the dwelling, where it was sure to catch the eye of
the absent one in the event of his return:

     TO JARED PLUMMER:

     The presence of the Sioux, and the certainty that they will attack
     the ranch before long, leave no choice for us but to flee at once.
     I have waited as long as I dare. We shall take a south-west course
     and will aim to reach Fort Meade. Follow as soon as you can, and we
     will look out for each other; but give your thoughts and energies
     to taking care of yourself. More than likely we shall not see each
     other until we meet at the post, if it be God's will that we shall
     safely arrive there.

     GEORGE STARR.

Little Dot watched her father with great interest while he was fastening
this piece of paper to the door of their home.

"What's that for, papa?" she asked.

"It is something for Mr. Plummer to read when he comes back."

"Don't you want anyone else to read it?"

"Of course not," replied the parent with a smile, lovingly patting the
chubby cheek.

"But if the bad Indians you and mamma have been talking about come here,
they will read it too."

The father started. He had not thought of that. The next moment,
however, he laughed.

"The Indians don't know how to read writing or print, so it won't do
them any good."

"But Starcus can read as well as anybody."

"He has been to school and learned, and then he is a good Indian, too,
and I wouldn't care if he did read it."

"But maybe he will become bad like the other Indians," persisted the
child.

The husband looked significantly at his wife, who was also watching his
actions and listening to the conversation. She replied with a motion of
the head, which said there might be something in the words of the little
one.

Starcus was a young Indian that had been attending the Carlisle school
for a couple of years, and had acquired a fair English education, being
able to read, write, and talk intelligently. He had called at the house
several times, and interested the family by his pleasing ways and kind
words.

He remarked on his last visit, some weeks before, that he was likely to
remain some time with his people, and possibly would not return again
to the East. Many things were more unlikely than that he would be
carried away by the craze that was affecting his tribe, and become one
of the most ferocious foes of the Caucasian race.

"Tim," said Mr. Starr, turning to the Irishman, "did you notice whether
he was among the group you saw?"

"I didn't observe him, but they were fixed out in war-paint and toggery
so that I wouldn't have knowed the gintleman onless I was inthrodooced
to the same. Thin, too, he might have been one of the spalpeens who were
stampeding the cattle."

"Well, there's no use in thinking of that; we must take the chances; the
Sioux will find out what course we follow without asking anyone to
translate this message for them."

Mrs. Starr caught the arm of her husband, and as he turned he noticed
that her face was pale with emotion.

"What is it, wife?" he asked in alarm.

"Warren," she replied in a whisper.

"What about him?"

"This is the day he said he would leave the fort for home; he must be on
the way now; unless he is warned he will ride to his death without
suspecting it."

The father forgot their own danger for the moment in his alarm for his
son. It took but a few minutes to act upon the plan of which the reader
has learned long since. Another letter was pencilled and secured to the
collar of Bruno, whose instructions were so minute that they would have
been ludicrous, but for their warrant in the wonderful intelligence of
the animal. The hound sped away like an arrow from the bow, and the
faithfulness with which he did his work need not be retold.

There was no call for further delay. Mr. Starr mounted his fine animal,
armed with Winchester and revolver, after he had assisted his wife upon
another horse and placed Dot in front of her. The mother was a superior
horsewoman, and this arrangement was intended to leave the husband free
to act without hinderance, in the event of an emergency. Tim Brophy was
equally at liberty, and with the pack animal well laden the party left
the home, each oppressed by a great fear that they would not only never
look upon it again, but would probably be struck down before reaching
the nearest point of safety, many miles away, at the base of the Black
Hills.

More than one eye anxiously turned toward the elevation, beyond which
Tim Brophy had seen the bucks listening to the impassioned harangue of
their leader, and the relief was not great when they rode over another
swell in the plain, which shut them out from the sight of any of the
serpent-eyed Sioux concealed there; for there could be no certainty that
the fugitives had not been observed by them. It was not the custom of
their people to attack openly; more likely they would set some ambush
into which the whites might ride with no thought of danger.

But in one sense the Rubicon was crossed. They had turned their backs on
the ranch, and it was to be dismissed from their thoughts until they
should reach some place of safety.

There was little said by any member of the party, for the occasion was
not one to induce conversation. Even little Dot was oppressed by the
general gloom, and nestled close to her mother, whose arm lovingly
encircled and held her close to her breast, which would gladly receive
any blow intended for that precious one.

Tim Brophy remained a brief distance at the rear, with the pack animal,
on the alert for the first sign of danger, while Mr. Starr gave his
attention to the front, selecting the course, and doing all in his power
to avoid leading his companions into danger.

When, however, a half mile had been passed, during which several ridges
were crossed, a feeling of hope arose that after all they might elude
their vengeful enemies. With the coming of night, it would be impossible
for the Sioux to trail them. They must wait until the following morning,
and before that time the fugitives ought to be so near Fort Meade that
the pursuit would be in vain.

It was a striking proof of parental affection that now, when the cloud
was partly lifted from the father and mother, their anxiety should be
transferred to the absent son on his way to join them. He was in the
minds of both, and despite his exceptional skill in woodcraft, the
conviction grew upon the parents that he was in greater peril than they.
Finally, the mother uttered the thoughts in her mind.

"I agree with you, Molly," the husband replied. "Bruno will do his best,
but I believe the chances are a hundred to one that he will fail, and
Warren will ride straight to his death."

"Can't we do something, George?"

The husband turned his head, and beckoned to his employé to ride up
between them.

"Tim, you know the regular trail to the fort as well as the way to your
own bedroom. I want you to set out to meet Warren, and prevent his
running into the hands of the Sioux."

"Whin would ye like me to start?"

"Now."

"I'm riddy and waiting to ride to me death for the boy, if nade be."



CHAPTER VI.

"TIMOTHY BROPHY, ESQ., AT YOUR SERVICE."


At first thought, the abrupt departure of Tim Brophy may seem an
imprudent thing, since it left only one man to look after the safety of
Mrs. Starr and their little one; but it will be remembered that the hope
of safety lay not in fighting, but in flight; and the presence or
absence of the young Irishman could not affect that one way or the
other.

Accordingly, with a pause only long enough to draw a substantial lunch
from the provision bag and to bid his friends good-by, Tim wheeled his
horse and was off like a shot. He took good care to avoid the
neighborhood of the bucks, and soon left the ranch far behind, speeding
along the trail over which Warren Starr was at that moment galloping
toward him.

The youth drove his task through with all the impetuosity of his nature.
He was devotedly attached to the son of his employer, and was ready at
any time, as he had always been, to risk his life for him. Believing as
he did that he was in more imminent peril than anyone else, he bent
every energy toward reaching and turning him aside before it was too
late.

In this essay, Tim committed a mistake which Warren Starr narrowly
avoided. He acted on the theory that the only real danger was in the
immediate neighborhood of the ranch, and that none existed near the
ridges between which the trail led. The consequence was that, when he
was not dreaming of any such thing, he suddenly became the target for a
fusillade from Sioux rifles that were waiting to receive young Starr,
and therefore were not fully prepared for him. By desperate work and
good fortune he and his pony ran the gauntlet unscathed, and continued
their flight southward. The whinny of his friend's pony, he supposed,
came from one of the horses of his enemies, and therefore he galloped on
without paying any heed to it.

Meanwhile, as will be remembered, young Starr had pushed through the
falling snow and gathering darkness until he and his horse reached the
primitive shelter among the rocks, bowlders, and trees which he had used
when on previous hunting expeditions. After he and Jack had disposed
themselves for the night they were disturbed by the approach of someone.
Rising to his feet, Warren hurried stealthily to the door, where he ran
directly against the intruder, whom he was unable to recognize in the
gloom.

"Who are you?" he asked, holding his revolver ready for instant use, but
unwilling to fire until sure he was facing an enemy.

"Timothy Brophy, Esq., at your service," replied his friend, identifying
the other by his voice.

"Why, Tim, I can't tell you how glad I am to see you," exclaimed the
delighted Warren: "I have thought a score of times, when on the way, how
pleasant it would be to meet you. What brought you here?"

"My horse, and I presume that yours did the same for yersilf."

"Where is he?"

"Outside, near by, wid the bist shelter I could give him: I didn't saa
your own."

"He's inside, sharing my couch with me, or, rather, was doing so when
you disturbed us."

Tim broke into laughter.

"That's a good idaa; I niver heerd of anything like it before. Is there
room for Billy, too?"

"I'm afraid we would be crowded; but come inside till I strike a match
and show you how things are fixed."

The two entered, and Warren ignited another lucifer. Jack was evidently
puzzled, raising his head and looking at them in a way which suggested
that he would like to come to his feet.

"Lie down, old fellow!" commanded his master; "there's nothing to be
disturbed about; you couldn't have better quarters, and you will be wise
to stay where you are; you're better off than Billy."

Now that Tim had arrived with his blanket, it was decided that the pony
should be left where he was, while the youths lay down on the other
covering, which was wrapped about them.

Then they curled up and made themselves as comfortable as on their
previous stay in the rude shelter.

Lying thus, they naturally talked over what had taken place since their
last meeting. Warren's voice trembled when he told the story of Bruno,
who gave his life for him and his friends, and Tim related what had
befallen the others during the day.

Young Starr was filled with alarm for his parents and little sister, but
Tim was hopeful that everything would come out right, and that, by the
time the sun rose, they would be so far advanced on their way to Fort
Meade that the danger would be virtually over.

"Ye knows," he continued, "that yer fayther is acquainted wid the way as
well as yerself; the horses are frish and strong, and he'll not spare
thim; the road, too, is not as long as by the rig'lar route that we've
follyed so often."

"That is true, but it must be all of thirty miles, and is really much
greater because of the ridges, hills, streams, and difficult places in
the path, which will compel many detours."

"And the same will have to be observed by the spalpeens that may be
thrying to overtake thim."

"But they understand the business better."

"I'm not so sartin of that," sturdily replied Tim; "yer fayther is no
green hand."

"That isn't what I mean; I'm thinking of mother and Dot; he will have to
accommodate himself to them, and in case the Indians do come up with
them----"

"Arrah, now, what are ye thinking of?" demanded Tim impatiently; "if ye
want to go to specylatin' and 'ifing,' ye may refar to oursilves and say
that if the spalpeens come down here wid Sitting Bull laading the same,
and they sit fire to this ilegant risidence, what will become of us?"

"That is very well, Tim, and you mean right, but I shall not rest a
minute until I know they have reached the fort. It's strange, too, about
Plummer."

"It's my opinion," remarked the Irishman, lowering his voice, as though
afraid of being overheard, "that he's in throuble."

"Why do you think so?"

"Because he did not show up before we lift; he hadn't any farther to go
than mesilf, and it was nearly an hour after I got back before we come
away, but there was no sign of him."

"Did you hear no firing?"

"Not that I remimber; which reminds me that it was also quaar that the
Sioux could have shot down the cattle as they did, so near the house,
widout any of us noting the noise of their guns."

"It was singular, but perhaps you were all inside at the time, busy at
something. At any rate, instead of our hurrying back to the fort, we
will do our best to find father and mother, and stick by them to the
end."

"I'm wid ye there," was the hearty response of Tim; "I'd like to give
Plummer a helping hand, but see no way to do the same, and it is likely
that he can get along better widout us than wid us."

The two talked a long time, for their hearts were full. It was not until
midnight that a feeling of drowsiness began creeping over them. Tim's
remarks began to grow slower and more disconnected, until finally he
failed to answer at all. Finding that he was asleep, Warren composed
himself as comfortably as he could, and soon joined him in the land of
dreams.

The snow continued sifting softly downward, and rattled against the
branches and leaves which composed a portion of their house. The
temperature sank as the night progressed, and the situation of the
couple, no less than that of their friends, became anything but hopeful.

They were still a long way from the post, where they could feel secure,
and the Indians were certain to press them hard. They were so much more
numerous than the little band of fugitives that the advantage lay wholly
with them.

But the night passed without disturbance. Then the pony and the two
youths awoke simultaneously, for they were aroused by one of the most
startling causes that can be conceived: It was the screaming whinny of
Tim Brophy's horse--a cry rarely heard from the animal, and only when in
the very extremity of mortal terror.



CHAPTER VII.

STIRRING TIMES.


Warren Starr and Tim Brophy sprang up at the same instant. The gray
light of the early wintry morning was stealing through the rocky
solitude, the snow had ceased falling, and the weather was colder than
on the preceding evening. The pony also began struggling to his feet,
but the youths in their excitement paid no heed to him.

"It's Billy," whispered Tim.

"Yes; let's see what is the matter."

The young Irishman had formed the decision a moment before, for he was
as ready to defend his horse as a friend. He bounded out from the rude
shelter, with his companion at his heels.

It was but a short distance to the spot where he had left the animal to
spend the night. The boys dropped their blankets, but each grasped his
Winchester, confident that there was call for its use.

It was on a small natural clearing, where, after grazing a few minutes
in the dark, the pony had lain down to sleep, his instinct leading him
to select the side of a towering rock, where he was well protected from
the falling snow. This bare place was less than a quarter of an acre in
extent, and narrowed to what might be called a point, where the horse
had found refuge from the storm. Surrounded by bowlders, varying in
height from eight or more feet to twice that extent, his only means of
entering or leaving was through the opening at the extreme end, which
was not less than a rod in width.

The pony had probably risen to his feet with the first coming of
daylight, when he was confronted by the most terrifying sight
conceivable; a colossal grizzly bear stood in the middle of the "door,"
calmly surveying him, and evidently of the belief that he had come upon
the most palatable kind of breakfast, which was already secured to him
beyond possibility of loss.

When it is borne in mind that the pony was caught in a trap as secure as
an iron cage, it will be understood why the intelligent animal, in the
agony of helplessness, emitted that astounding cry which rang like the
wail of doom through the snowy solitude. Thousands of his species live
for years and die without giving expression to that horrible outcry, for
it requires the agony of fear to call it forth.

The horse has five times the intelligence of the bear, but the latter
was not stupid enough to fail to see his advantage, or to allow it to
slip from him. The enormous trail which he had made in the snow was
noticed by Tim Brophy before seeing the brute, and he identified it at a
glance, his only fear being that he might arrive too late to save his
pony.

The latter cowered against the rock, his fright so pitiable that, in the
stirring moments, both youths were touched with sympathy for him.

"Begorra, but isn't he a bouncer?" whispered Tim, coming to a halt. "I
niver looked upon as big a one."

"Has he hurt Billy?" asked Warren, who, as will be remembered, was a
few paces behind him while making the brief run.

"He has scared him out of ten years' growth, and it's mesilf that's
going to pay the same compliment to the spalpeen."

"Be careful, Tim! You know how hard it is to kill one of those
creatures, and when they are roused----"

Further utterance was cut short by the report of Tim's gun. The young
Irishman's failing was his impetuosity. When he saw his services needed,
he was so eager to give them that he frequently threw caution to the
winds, and plunged into the fray like a diver going off the rocks.

Halting less than fifty feet away, he brought his rifle to a level and
let fly. It was as impossible for him to miss as it was to inflict a
mortal wound, and the ball meant for the skull of the brute found
lodgment elsewhere.

The bear appeared to be in the act of rising partly on his haunches,
when the report, and probably a sharp twinge in his shoulder, apprised
him of what was going on at the rear. The contemplated feast was not to
be without its unpleasant interruption.

He uttered a low growl and came straight for the two youths. Their
rifles being of the magazine kind, they were prepared to open a
bombardment, which they did without delay; but after a number of shots
had been fired, and the mountainous animal continued to sweep down upon
them, Warren called out:

"Let's run, Tim! we need a cannon to stop him; we must find some place
to shelter us."

Not doubting that his comrade would instantly follow, Warren wheeled
about and dashed off without paying heed to the direction; he had no
time to make any calculations.

Despite the fall of snow, there were only two or three inches on the
ground, just enough to interfere with rapid travelling. Young Starr had
not taken a dozen steps, when his foot turned on a smooth stone and he
pitched headlong, with his gun flying from his grasp. He was not hurt,
and he bounded up again as if made of rubber. He supposed the animal,
which can lumber along at a speedy gait despite its awkwardness, was on
his heels, but the furtive glance over his shoulder showed nothing of
him, and the youth plunged forward and caught up his weapon as may be
said on the fly.

With its recovery came something like confidence again, and he turned
about to learn how Tim Brophy was making out.

It was just like the plucky fellow not to dash after his comrade, but to
stand his ground, when the most experienced and the bravest hunter in
the world would have lost no time in increasing the distance between him
and the brute. The latter had scared Billy half to death, and his master
meant to punish him therefor, so he held his ground, and managed to send
in another shot while the grizzly was approaching, but which did no more
to check his charge than a wad from a pop-gun.

This reckless daring on the part of Tim would have brought disaster, but
for an unexpected interference.

Billy, the pony, no sooner saw the terrible brute turn his back upon him
and lumber off, than he understood that the way of escape for him had
opened. His panic departed like a flash, and he plunged through the
opening with a snort of triumph; but his line of flight took him of
necessity along that followed by the grizzly himself, who was advancing
to the assault of the brave young Irishman.

There may have been a feeling of wrathful resentment thrilling the
nerves of the gallant pony, or it is not beyond belief that he
understood the danger of his master. Be that as it may, he was no sooner
beside the huge brute, who slightly turned his head on hearing the
clatter of the hoofs, than he let drive with both hind feet, landing
them with such terrific force against the iron ribs of the monster that
he fell half upon his side, after being driven several feet beyond the
path.

"Good for you!" called the delighted Tim, "let him have another
broadside, Billy, and we'll finish him----"

The assault of the pony diverted the attention of the grizzly for a
moment from the youth to the assailant. He was thoroughly roused, and
made for the horse, who showed more sense than his master by dashing
off at full speed. This being beyond the attainment of the bear, it may
be said that Billy's escape was absolute.

The sudden check in Tim's words was caused by bruin, who had passed but
a few paces beyond the youth, when, seeing how useless it was to pursue
the pony, he wheeled and once more charged upon the master.

The moment had arrived for the young rancher to call his legs into
service. He was willing to run when the necessity was apparent, and none
could excel him as a sprinter--that is, none of his kind.

He assuredly would have been overtaken before he could climb any of the
bowlders or rocks, or get out of the path, had not a bullet bored its
way directly through the brain of the grizzly, and brought him to earth
at the moment when the life of the fugitive hung on a thread.



CHAPTER VIII.

STARCUS.


Warren Starr was terrified for the moment by the peril of his companion.
While running toward him he saw the grizzly rise partly on his haunches
to seize Tim, who was within his grasp, but at that instant the brute
toppled over, and with one or two struggles was dead.

It was an exciting moment, but a singular discovery came to young
Starr--the shot that slew the bear was fired neither by himself nor Tim!

Without waiting to investigate, he dashed to where his panting friend
was looking down at the fallen monster, as if uncertain what to do.

"Gracious, Tim!" called Warren, as he came up, "that was the closest
call you ever had."

"It's qu'ar," replied the other, "that after we had pumped about a ton
of lead into him without hurting the spalpeen, he should dhrop down from
a single shot."

"That's because it was aimed right."

"But ye had no bitter chance than meself, nor what ye also was given a
few minutes ago."

"But it was not I, Tim, who fired the last shot."

"What are ye talking about?" demanded the other. "I had no chance to
shoot me rifle, and who ilse could have done the same?"

"But I tell you I did not fire; I was about to do so, when someone else
saved me the trouble; I am sure I couldn't have done any better than I
did before."

"Thin who was the mon?"

The question naturally caused the couple to look around in quest of the
unknown friend.

They saw him at the first glance.

"There he is! Look at him!" whispered Tim Brophy.

Less than a hundred yards away stood an Indian warrior, calmly watching
them. He had mounted a bowlder, so that his figure was brought out in
clear relief. He was in Indian costume, most of it being hidden by a
heavy blanket gathered around the shoulders, but the leggings and
moccasons showed beneath, and the head was ornamented with stained
eagle-feathers. The noticeable fact about him, however, was that his
black hair was short, and the feathers were fixed in a sort of band,
which clasped the forehead. The rather pleasing face was fantastically
daubed with paint, and he held a fine rifle in his right hand, the other
being concealed under his blanket.

His action, or rather want of action, was striking. The bowlder which
supported him was no more stationary than he. He gazed fixedly at the
youths, but made no signs and uttered no word.

"Begorra, but he's a shtrange gintleman," muttered Tim. "I wonder if
he's posin' for his picter."

"His firing of the gun proves that he is a friend," said Warren; "so we
have nothing to fear from him."

"If that's the case why doesn't he come forward and interdooce himself?
whisht now!"

What did the Irishman do but pucker up his mouth, whistle, and beckon to
the Indian to approach. The latter, however, did not move a muscle.

"Helloa!" called Warren; "we thank you for your kindness; won't you come
forward and join us?"

This appeal was as fruitless as the other.

"If the copper gintleman won't come to us I'm going to him."

It was just like Tim to start forward to carry out his intention, though
a sense of delicacy restrained his companion from joining him. The
Indian, however, nipped the little scheme in the bud.

The Irishman had taken only two or three steps, when the Sioux, as he
evidently was, turned about, leaped lightly down from the bowlder, and
vanished.

"Well, I'll be hanged!" exclaimed the disappointed Tim, stopping short;
"ye may be a good rifle shot, but be the same token ye are not fond of
selict company," and with a laugh he walked back to his friend, whose
face was so grave as to attract the notice of the Irishman.

"What's the matter, Warren?"

"Do you know who that Indian is?"

"I niver have saan him before."

"Yes, you have, many a time; he's been at our house within the past few
weeks."

"Who is he?"

"Starcus."

"Git out!"

"I'm not mistaken," insisted young Starr, compressing his lips and
shaking his head. "He's painted and dressed like his people, but his
short hair made me suspicious, and when he turned to jump down from the
bowlder, he made a movement that fixed his identity beyond all doubt."

"Wal, ye're so sartin about it that I can't help belaving ye; but if it
was Starcus, why did he act that way? Why didn't he spake, and why
didn't he coom forward and shake hands wid us?"

"That's what troubles me; it wasn't like him. It makes me believe he has
joined the hostiles."

"But if that is the case why did he interfere whin the grizzly was about
to chaw me up?"

"His whole action was strange, but I explain it this way: He was
prowling through this place, probably to help the bucks that are now on
the warpath, when he heard our guns, made his way forward, and seeing
the bear about to pounce upon you, he fired with the wish to save you.
Your danger caused him to feel friendly toward us; for otherwise,
instead of killing the bear he would have shot you and me."

"Maybe he fired at me instead of the bear," suggested Tim, "and it was a
chance shot that saved meself."

"That cannot be, for he is too good a marksman to make such a miss. I
have fired at a target with him and never saw a better shot than he.
Then, too, when he found he missed, he could have turned his Winchester
on us in turn and brought us both down."

"And ye think after his doing us that kindness, he became an inimy
agin?"

"He has caught the craze that is setting his people wild, and though you
didn't recognize him yesterday among that party of bucks near the house,
I believe he was either there or was one of the horsemen that stampeded
the cattle. He is with them body and soul. His last shot was given
through impulse. Of course he knew us both, and acted from a generous
motive. He may have stood there debating with himself whether to
continue that friendship, when your advance scattered all his good
resolutions to the winds. He has gone off to join the others, and when
we meet again he will be our bitter foe, eager to serve us both as he
served the grizzly. Let us not deceive ourselves about that."

"There's one thing that looks well," remarked Tim a moment later; "if
Starcus is wid the ither spalpeens, they haven't found your fayther and
mither, for they're not in this part of the counthry."

"That gives me relief," said Warren, with a glowing face; "the folks
must be many miles away, and these people are off their track
altogether. Father will waste no time, but push on. This snow is not
deep enough to bother them, and they ought to be safely within Fort
Meade by nightfall."

"But what about us?" asked Tim significantly.

"This isn't our right latitude. We must pull out as quickly as we can.
Our ponies are fresh, and can travel as fast as any of the Indian ones.
We haven't far to go to reach the open country, and then we'll head for
the fort, unless we conclude to hunt for the folks before reaching
there. In the meantime, Tim, I'm hungry enough to eat my shoes."

"I'm wid ye there."

"We shall have to wait here long enough to cook a steak from that bear.
He seems to be in fine condition, and will give us a good meal."

"There!" laughed the Irishman; "I knowed I had forgot something. Your
mither give me a good, big lunch for us both whin I was laving
yesterday, and it is in the residence beyant, onless yer pony ate up the
same whin we warn't watching him."

"Little fear of that," replied the pleased Warren. "It is hardly the
sort of food that he fancies. Come on; let's have a good meal, and then
we'll be off."



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.



CHAPTER X.

BENT ARM AND HIS BAND.


George Starr was so agitated that, forgetting the presence of his little
child, he impulsively spoke the truth, while yet a few paces away:

"Plummer is in those bushes."

"Is he----"

Mrs. Starr hesitated with the dreadful word unuttered.

"Yes; he is dead; killed by the Indians!"

The wife gave a gasp, and the husband added:

"The poor fellow lies stretched out, stark and stiff, where he was shot
down by the Sioux. He must have been killed shortly after leaving the
house."

"Where is his horse?"

"I suppose it has been stolen. It is a sad thing, but poor Plummer is
with his Maker; it won't do for us to wait any longer; I don't
understand how we have escaped thus far, for we are in greater danger
than I had supposed. We must cross the stream without delay, even if we
have to swim our horses."

"I am ready," said Mrs. Starr calmly; "lead the way."

"I hope it will not be necessary to subject you and Dot to the trial,
but there is not a minute to spare."

With his lips compressed, the rancher hastily remounted his pony and
turned his head toward the water.

"Let me keep in advance," he said, "and you can tell what to do."

The obedient horse sniffed the water, but, without hesitation, stepped
in, sinking to his knees within a yard of the bank.

A rod farther the depth had not materially increased, and, turning his
head, he signified to his wife to follow. She clasped Dot a little
closer to her breast, spoke quietly to her animal, and he obeyed without
faltering.

The water steadily but slowly deepened, and when the middle of the
stream was reached it was at the stirrups of the leader. He withdrew
his feet and pushed on, the pony cautiously advancing, and the hope
growing that the stream would be forded without trouble.

A rod farther, and Mrs. Starr uttered a slight exclamation. She saw the
steed of her husband suddenly sink, and thought he was going entirely
under. But he did not, and, by a quick raising of his feet, the rider
saved them from wetting. His animal still retained a firm foothold, and,
quickly recovering, kept forward.

Now the water began shallowing, and, with a relief beyond words, the
rancher reached dry land without having suffered any inconvenience.

"Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed, turning about and watching his wife, who
guided her animal over the invisible trail until she was beside him on
the hard earth. It required no little skill on her part, for when she
withdrew her foot from her stirrup, and was obliged not only to hold her
own poise, but to take care of Dot, her task became delicate and
difficult. But the little one behaved like a heroine. She did not speak
or stir, through fear of disturbing her parent, and was as relieved as
both when the current was safely forded.

"Are there any more like this?" asked the wife.

"There are other streams, but whether they can be forded or not remains
to be learned."

The bank sloped upward to a height of a dozen feet, and beyond it
declined nearly as much, and then stretched away in an open plain for
more than a mile, before breaking into rough, rocky country, where they
were quite sure to find greater obstructions confronting them than any
yet encountered.

"Oh, see there!" called out Dot.

Flakes of scurrying snow were in the air, and her father supposed she
referred to them.

"Yes," he replied, "we shall have to ride for a while through a snow
storm."

"I know that, but it isn't what I mean; yonder is someone following us."

Her position in the arms of her mother gave her opportunity to look back
over the stream they had just crossed, while the attention of her
parents was directed elsewhere.

Her words caused both to glance behind them, where they witnessed a
startling scene. A Sioux Indian, astride of a pony, had halted with the
fore feet of the animal in the margin of the water. Directly behind him
was a second horseman, advancing slowly, and immediately to the rear of
him appeared a third, while the head and shoulders of a fourth were
rising to view over the bank in the path of the others. And there was no
saying how many others made up the procession, streaming toward the ford
in the footsteps of the fugitives.

"Molly," said Mr. Starr, in a low voice, "ride over the top of the hill
as quickly as you can."

"But what will you do?"

"Never mind; obey me at once or we are lost."

[Illustration: A HOT PURSUIT.]

She obeyed without remonstrance, though her fear at that moment was more
for her husband than for herself and child. She was quick-witted enough
to jerk the reins sharply, so that her pony passed out of sight before
the pursuers could suspect her purpose. But the moment she was behind
the sheltering swell, she checked her horse and waited for her husband.

The latter decided on his course of action the moment the peril broke
upon him.

He calmly confronted the advancing bucks and held himself ready to
dispute their crossing. Unless he kept them in check and delayed the
pursuit, nothing could save his family and himself.

The foremost Sioux evidently was the leader. Starr recognized him,
despite his paint, as a fellow who had visited his home on several
occasions, and who was known as Bent Arm, because of a peculiar rigidity
of the left arm, made by some wound received years before.

While the white and red men sat on their ponies facing each other the
remaining warriors continued coming into view until five of them were
grouped behind the leader. There they sat--grim, silent, and
watchful--leaving matters wholly in the hands of the one in front.

The latter, observing the rancher at bay, called to him in fair
English:

"Wait dere--surrender--won't hurt."

"Why do you ask me to surrender? We are not enemies," called back the
white man.

"Wait dere," repeated Bent Arm; "want to talk wid you."

"We are talking now; stay where you are, and let me hear what you have
to say."

"We go over--we talk better dere."

It was plain that the Sioux was not satisfied with the action of the
rancher's wife. She and her child were beyond sight, and it looked as if
the parley of her husband was meant to give her a chance to get beyond
reach. Valuable time was passing, and unless they acted promptly, they
would throw away an opportunity that would never come to them again.

George Starr read their purpose as plainly as if they had announced it
in so many words. Further talk was useless; the Sioux were bent on
making him and his family prisoners, and little mercy would be shown
them. He knew the dear ones were but a few paces away, and his wife
would never leave the spot so long as he was in danger.

The words had hardly fallen from the lips of Bent Arm when his pony
began stepping farther into the water, while his companions closed in
behind him.

Striking his heels sharply against the sides of his horse as the rancher
drew his head about, he sent the animal over the swell in a couple of
bounds beyond reach of any shots that might be sent after him. He
wondered a little that the Indians had not announced their presence by a
volley that would have brought him from the saddle, but rightly judged
the reason to be that they preferred to make the little party prisoners,
considering them as good as already secured.

"Stay where you are!" he called to his wondering wife. "I am going to
make a fight with them. Our only hope is in keeping them back until it
is dark."

He was out of the saddle while speaking, and, dropping on his hands and
knees, crawled up the swell and looked over.



CHAPTER XI.

AT BAY.


George Starr's pony, left to himself, wandered off to the side of the
other one, on which sat Mrs. Starr, with Dot. The latter reached out her
chubby hand and patted the silken nose of the intelligent horse, who
liked the caress. The mother was too agitated to notice this by-play,
but kept watch for her husband.

The latter crept to within a foot or two of the top of the swell, when
he quickly but cautiously raised his head and peered over at the Sioux.

But a minute or two had passed since exchanging words with Bent Arm, but
that brief period was improved as much by one party as the other. The
Sioux leader's horse was in the stream to the depth of his knees, and
the second Indian was in the act of entering, with the others close
behind him.

It was no time for hesitation, for that meant death. Starr shoved his
Winchester in front, so that the muzzle projected over the swell, took
deliberate aim at Bent Arm, and let fly.

The distance was short, the rancher was an excellent marksman, and the
bullet bored its way through the breast of the painted miscreant, who
hardly knew what hurt him. With a screech, he threw up his arms, one
grasping his gun, and toppled from the back of his pony, falling with a
loud splash into the water, where for the moment he disappeared under
the surface.

George Starr was never cooler in his life. He was fighting not only for
his own existence, but for those who were dearer to him than that
existence. He knew the mercilessness of the red men near at hand, and he
was equally merciless to them.

This proceeding, as may be supposed, caused consternation for a moment
among the advancing Sioux. The warrior immediately behind the leader
stopped his pony abruptly, stared at the tuft of grass above which the
faint puff of smoke was curling; and then, fearful of a second shot
aimed at himself, whirled his animal about and sent him at one bound up
the bank of the stream, where his companions, no less dismayed than he,
threw themselves forward on the backs of their horses, to shield
themselves from the aim of the rancher.

It was at this crisis that George Starr committed two blunders which
threatened the very doom he was trying to escape. One of those errors,
however, did credit to his heart, if not to his head.

Having opened the ball, he should have pushed things unmercifully. He
was well aware of the venom of those red men, and, with his magazine
rifle at command, he ought to have kept up an unremitting fire until he
had tumbled several more to the ground, and driven the survivors beyond
sight and the power of harm. It was his reluctance to perpetrate such
slaughter, and the weak hope that he had already accomplished that
result, that stayed his hand, at the moment when he should have steeled
his feelings against sympathy. The other equally serious mistake was in
staying where he was, prone on the ground, with a watchful eye on the
marauders. He saw, when it was too late, that he should have dashed back
to his pony, and leaped into the saddle and ridden with his wife, in all
haste, for the refuge a mile away. Whether that would have proven a
refuge or not was uncertain, but with the check given the Sioux he would
have secured a start that promised everything.

Night was approaching, and, in the gathering gloom, it ought not to have
been difficult, with the advantage named, to throw his pursuers off the
trail. But he tarried until the chance was irrevocably gone.

The Sioux proved on more than one occasion, during their recent troubles
in the West, that they were capable of daring, coolness, and heroism,
and are quick to recover from a panic. When driven to bay they will
fight like wild-cats, and the bleaching bones of many a brave soldier
and officer bear eloquent witness to these qualities on their part.

Instead of breaking into a wild flight beyond the sheltering bank on the
other side of the stream, as the rancher expected them to do, they held
their places on the backs of their ponies, and, leaning over so as to
protect themselves, returned the fire of the white man.

Looking across the narrow stream, they saw the slouch hat rising in the
short grass, just behind the projecting muzzle of the Winchester, and a
couple of them aimed and fired.

But the rancher was too alert to be caught in that fashion. The moment
he observed the action of the red men, he dropped his head behind the
swell of earth, and the bullets clipped the grass and scattered the dirt
harmlessly within a few inches of his crown.

"Be careful!" called the anxious wife, who read the meaning of the
flying soil; "they will hit you."

"Have no fear of me," replied the husband, without looking around; "I am
all right; keep back where you are and hold yourself ready to ride as
fast as you can when I give the word."

The rancher now did that which he should have done in the first place:
he doffed his hat and laid it on the ground beside him. It was too
conspicuous under the circumstances, and the Sioux were on the watch for
it.

Waiting several minutes after the firing of the two shots, he stealthily
raised his head high enough to look through the grass in front. An
astonishing sight rewarded him.

In the brief interval that had passed after firing his rifle, the five
Indians had dashed over the swell with their ponies where the latter
were out of sight, and, flinging themselves on the ground, took
precisely the same position as his own. They were now as safe from harm
as himself. The duel was one of vigilance, caution, skill, and
watchfulness, with the chances against the white man.

The keen gaze of the latter, wandering over the surface of the stream,
detected a dark object some distance to the right, as it showed
indistinctly on the surface, disappearing, and then slowly coming to
view again farther down. He required no one to tell him that it was the
victim of his marksmanship, drifting out of sight, as many a one had
done before, when trying to stay the advancing tide of the hated
Caucasian.

It struck the rancher that it would be well to let the Sioux know that
he was still on guard. He caught glimpses here and there of the upper
part of a repulsive face, with its long black hair and serpent-like
eyes, on the alert to catch him unawares, and he fired at the nearest.

The aim was good, but there was no reason to believe that he had
inflicted harm, though he must have come nigh it.

Strange it is that in the most trying moments, when it would seem that a
trifling thought should be impossible on the part of a person, he
sometimes gives way to a fancy that is of that nature. Recalling the
story which he had read when a boy, and which is familiar to all our
readers, the rancher now picked up his hat at his side and gently raised
it to view, taking care to lower his own head beyond reach of harm.

Instantly a couple of rifles cracked from the other side of the stream,
and he smiled grimly when he saw the marks of the bullets in the crown.

"They shoot well," he said, turning his face toward his wife and
holding up the hat, "but they made a slight mistake that time."

If the Sioux supposed that the last shots were fatal, they were likely
to repeat their attempt to cross. That would never do, and, more with a
view of letting them know no harm had resulted, than in the hope of
inflicting injury, the rancher took aim at what seemed to be the
forehead of one of the warriors, a short distance up stream, and fired.

To his amazement, the wild screech left no doubt that the shot was
fatal. The bullet had bored its way through the bronzed skull of the
miscreant, and the force of assaulting Sioux was now reduced by
one-third.



CHAPTER XII.

FACING WESTWARD.


The rancher was astonished beyond measure at the success of his shot. He
had looked for nothing of the kind, but there could be no mistake as to
the result; there was nothing to be gained by any pretence on the part
of the Sioux. He certainly was as dead as dead could be.

How he longed, like a certain famous general, for the coming of night! A
little more darkness and he would flee with his wife and child under its
friendly cover, and place a safe distance between them and their
enemies, before the latter could learn of their flight.

Several minutes passed without a demonstration on either side, but while
matters stood thus, a new danger presented itself to the rancher. Why
should the Sioux stay where they were? What was to prevent them moving
farther up or down the bank, under the screen it afforded, and crossing
unobserved? The winding course of the current gave every chance of doing
this, and surely they were not likely to forget such an obvious course.

The thought had hardly presented itself to the watcher when that very
thing was attempted. The one who essayed it, however, forgot the caution
he should have remembered.

The slowly settling night and the falling snow may have misled him, but
when the warrior rode his pony into the stream at a point considerably
above, Starr observed him at the moment he began descending the bank.

This was something that must be nipped in the bud. He shifted his
position to where the grass gave slightly better protection, and sighted
with the utmost care and deliberation.

The shot was successful, but not precisely as he counted upon. The
bullet, instead of striking the rider, pierced the brain of the pony,
who reared frantically, plunged forward on his knees, and rolled upon
his side, the Sioux dexterously saving himself by leaping away and
scurrying behind the swell before the white man could fire a second
time.

"If they try it at that point, they will do so at some other," was the
conclusion of the rancher, turning his gaze down stream. But the current
made such a sharp bend near at hand, that his view was shortened, and
the effort could be successfully made without detection on his part.

An unexpected diversion occurred at this moment. The pack-horse, that
had been contentedly cropping the grass near at hand and paying no heed
to what was going on about him, wandered toward the bank, and was in
imminent peril of being shot by the vigilant Sioux before he could be
turned away.

Mrs. Starr called sharply to him, and her voice caused the prostrate
husband to look around. The pony at that moment was ascending the swell,
to go down on the other side to the water, where he would have been in
plain sight of the red men.

Fearful that words would not check him, the rancher sprang up and,
bending his head to save himself from his foes, ran the few steps
necessary to reach the animal. Catching hold of his bridle, he jerked
his head in the opposite direction, and, to teach him prudence,
delivered a vigorous kick. The startled animal headed toward the west
and broke into a gallop straight across the plain.

"Let him go," said the impatient owner, looking after him: "he is too
lazy to travel far, and we'll follow him soon."

"Why not do so now?" asked his wife.

"I fear that they are looking for such a move, and will be across before
we can gain sufficient start."

"But they may do so now."

"Am I not watching them?" asked the husband, beginning to creep up the
swell again, but pausing before he was high enough to discern the other
side.

"They may cross above or below, where you cannot see them," remarked the
wife, giving utterance to the very fear that had troubled him some
minutes before.

"They may do so, but I have just defeated such an attempt, and they will
probably wait a while before repeating it."

"Then we can have no more favorable time to leave them than now."

"Such would be the fact, if I only knew of a surety that they would wait
a while."

"I am afraid you are making a mistake, George."

"It may be, but my judgment is against what you propose. Suppose that,
at the moment of starting, they should appear on this side; they would
run us down within a few hundred yards."

"Are not our ponies as fleet as theirs?"

"Probably; but with Dot to look after, you would have more than your
hands full, and nothing could save us."

"I could manage her very well; but do as you think best. We can only
pray to Heaven to protect us all."

Looking to the westward, the rancher saw the pack-pony just vanishing
from sight in the gloom. Brief as was the time that he had left the
Sioux without watching, he felt that it had been too long, and he now
made his way up the swell until he could peer over at the other bank,
where the red men were awaiting the very chance he gave them that
moment.

The narrowest escape of his life followed. Providentially, his first
glance was directed at the precise spot where a crouching Sioux made a
slight movement with his rifle, which gave the white man an instant's
warning of his peril. He ducked his head, and had he not instinctively
closed his eyes, would have been blinded by the dust and snow thrown
against his face, as the leaden ball whizzed through the air, falling on
the prairie a long distance away.

In its flight it passed directly over the heads of the wife and child,
who noticed the peculiar whistling sound a few feet above them. But they
were as safe from such danger as if a mile away. The swell of the bank
would not allow any missile to come nigh enough to harm them.

"Don't be frightened," he said, with a reassuring smile, "they can't
touch you as long as they are on the other side."

"But how long will they stay there?" asked the wife, unable to repress
her uneasiness over the tardiness of her husband.

"Molly," said he, stirred by a sudden thought, "why not ride after the
pack-horse?"

"And leave you here?" was the astonished question.

"Only for a few minutes; you will gain a good start, and it won't take
me long to come up with you. I can put my pony on a run, and we shall
gain invaluable time."

But this was asking more than the obedient wife was willing to grant. No
possible circumstances could justify her in deserting her husband. If he
fell, she had no wish to escape.

Dot, who had held her peace so long, now spoke:

"Papa, don't ask us to leave you, 'cause we don't want to. I asked mamma
to let me go to you, but she says no."

Tears filled the eyes of the father, and his voice trembled as he said:

"Very well, little one; stay with your mamma, and when the time comes
for us to start we will go together."

"But why don't you go now?" persisted the child, taking her cue,
perhaps, from the words her mother had spoken.

"I will not keep you waiting long," he assured her, more affected by the
question of the child than by the arguments of her mother.

Shifting the point of observation, the rancher raised his head just
enough, cautiously parting the grass in front, to permit him to see the
other bank, becoming more dimly visible in the falling snow and
gathering gloom.

He scanned the points whence had come the shots, but could discover
nothing of his enemies. They might be there, but if so they were
invisible, as could readily be the case; but, somehow or other, the
conviction grew upon him that they were moving, and that to postpone his
departure longer was to invite the worst fate imaginable for himself and
dear ones.

"We cannot leave too soon," he exclaimed, hastening to carry out the
purpose that never ought to have been delayed so long.



CHAPTER XIII.

IN THE FRINGE OF THE WOODS.


Fully realizing the mistake he had made in waiting, the rancher now did
his best to improve the precious time at his disposal.

His own pony had remained obediently near his companion, while the brush
was going on between his master and the Sioux on the other side of the
stream. The former hastily climbed into the saddle, and taking the reins
in hand, looked at his wife.

"Are you ready, Molly?"

"I have been for a long time."

"Come on; keep close to me."

He spoke briskly to his horse, who broke into a swift gallop, which was
imitated so promptly by the other that the couple advanced abreast
toward the wooded section. It was no time for conversation, and the
progress continued in silence.

The snow was now falling thick and fast, and the gloom had deepened to
that extent that they could not see objects more than a hundred feet
away. Both wife and husband continually glanced behind them, for they
were almost certain that the red men were in the act of crossing the
stream at the moment the start was made, and could not be far to the
rear.

True, the fugitives had much in their favor. The keen eyes of the
pursuers could detect their trail in the snowy ground, but not for long.
By and by they might trace it only by dropping down from their ponies
and using the sense of feeling. This would compel them to proceed
carefully, and hold them well to the rear while the whites were using
the occasion to the utmost, and continually gaining ground. Had the
route to Fort Meade been level and unobstructed, they could have asked
nothing more favorable. They would have forced their ponies to the
utmost, and by the time the sun rose the vengeful red men would be
placed hopelessly behind.

The straining vision saw nothing but the darkness and snow in the
direction of the stream already crossed, but they could never feel
relieved of the dreadful fear until safely within the military post of
the Black Hills.

"Oh, papa, I see a horse!" was the startling exclamation of Dot, whom
her mother had supposed, because of her stillness and immobility, to be
asleep.

"Where?" demanded her father, grasping his Winchester and looking
affrightedly around.

"Not there," replied the child with a laugh, working her arm out of its
environments, and pointing ahead.

A solitary animal was observed standing as motionless as a statue a
short distance in advance. Apprehensive of some trap by the Indians, the
father brought his pony to a sudden stop, his wife instantly imitating
him, and both peered ahead at the strange form.

They could see no rider, though there was something on the animal's
back, which might have been a warrior lying flat, so as to protect his
body from the rifle of the white man, or, what was equally probable, the
owner was standing on the ground hidden by the horse, and awaiting his
chance to send in a fatal shot.

"What's the matter?" asked Dot, puzzled by the action of her parents.

"S-h! We are afraid a bad Indian is there."

"Why, can't you see that's Jerry?"

Jerry was the name of the pack pony.

"Of course it is. Why didn't we think of it?" asked the father the next
moment, relieved beyond measure by the discovery.

Jerry seemed to be of the opinion that it was the place of his friends
to make the advances, for he did not stir until they rode up beside him.

The lazy fellow was found with his load intact. He had been given all
the time he could ask for his journey to this point, and evidently was a
little sulky over the treatment received at the hands, or rather the
foot, of his master, for his head had to be jerked several times before
he faced about, and then it required more vigorous treatment to force
him into a lazy gallop.

Luckily, the greater part of the plain had been crossed before this
reunion took place, and the party had not gone far when the rancher
allowed the animals to drop to a walk. In front loomed a dark mass,
which he recognized as the fringe of the wood observed from the bank of
the stream behind them. Through this it was necessary to thread their
way with extreme care, owing to the darkness and their unfamiliarity
with the ground.

Upon reaching the edge of the wood the fugitives came to a stand-still.

Slipping from his saddle, the rancher brushed away the snow at his feet
and pressed his ear against the ground.

"I can hear nothing of them," he remarked, resuming the upright posture;
"I am quite hopeful that that party will molest us no more."

"It won't do to count on it," were the wise words of his wife.

"I think you had better dismount and lead your pony," said the rancher;
"we can mount again when through the wood; there will be less danger
from the trees and limbs, and you and Dot must be cramped from sitting
so long."

He helped them to the ground. It was a relief indeed to both, for they
had kept their places on the back of the horse for a number of hours.
Dot yawned, stretched her limbs, and felt as though nothing would
delight her so much as a frolic in the snow. The thoughtful mother had
provided her not only with thick, strong shoes, but with heavy
stockings, leggings, and warm clothing, with which she was well
protected against the storm that was impending when they left their
home.

Nothing could have better shown the childish innocence of her nature
than her action in slyly removing her mittens, stooping down, packing a
wad of snow with her hands and flinging it against her father's face,
with a merry laugh.

"Gracious, Dot! how you startled me!" he said, looking around at her.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No; but don't speak or laugh so loud, for some of the bad Indians may
be near."

"I forgot about that, but I'm going to hit Jerry, for he is so lazy he
needs it."

And the indolent animal received a tiny whack from the snowy missile
projected by the chubby hand of the child. He seemed to think, however,
that it was no more than a snowflake, for he did not give even an extra
wink of the eye.

The delay was only momentary, when the rancher, with one hand grasping
the bridle-rein and the other parting the limbs and bushes in front,
began groping his way through the growth of timber, where it was so dark
that everyone's eyes were practically useless.

Directly behind the horse walked Dot, with her mother next, leading her
pony, and the pack-horse bringing up the rear.

Ten minutes of this cautious progress and the leader checked himself
with an impatient expression.

"What is it?" called the wife, in a guarded voice.

"Another stream of water."

"Do you know anything about it?"

"Nothing; I came near tumbling into it, with Dick on top of me; if he
hadn't scented it first I would have done so."

"What is to be done?" asked Mrs. Starr, as grievously disappointed as
her husband.

"I'm blessed if I know; it may be half a mile deep and ten miles across,
with a perpendicular bluff a thousand feet high on the other side."

Leaving her pony, the wife took the hand of Dot and joined him where he
had halted on the edge of the unknown stream.

"I've made up my mind that we shall do one thing right away," he
remarked decisively.

"What's that?"

"Eat supper while we have the chance; Jerry is on hand with the
provisions, and he may be somewhere else in the morning."

"I'm glad of that," said the happy Dot, "for I'm awfuller hungry than I
ever was in all my life."

"Then supper it is."



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.



CHAPTER XV.

MISSING.


But 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. If
the Sioux horsemen were moving, they were too far off for the fact to be
known. When first heard, they must have been close to the wood, on
reaching which they undoubtedly dismounted and advanced on foot.

In that event, they must detect the footprints of the ponies in advance,
and with their skill in trailing were certain to learn of the course
taken by the whites. Then the pursuit would be resumed in earnest, and
the perils would increase.

One possible remedy suggested itself, though there was no certainty of
its success. The snow was now falling so fast that it promised to
obliterate the footprints to that extent that they could not be followed
in the dark. As it was, even the lynx eyes of the Sioux could avail them
nothing. One of their number must be continually dismounting and using
his hands to make sure they were not off the track. A half hour or more
interval, and this resource would be taken from them by the descending
snow.

It was this belief which caused the rancher to ride Dick among the
trees, where he and the rest dismounted. Then they groped forward with
no little difficulty for some rods and halted.

"Be careful," he said, speaking particularly to Dot, "and do not make
any noise, for I believe those bad Indians are not far off, and they
are looking for us."

Dot showed her obedience by not venturing to whisper.

It was not Mr. Starr's purpose to lose time by staying where they were.
Accordingly, after threading their way for some distance farther, he
emerged once more on the plain, and, as they remounted, rode straight
away from the timber.

The object of this stratagem can be readily understood. The pursuing
Sioux, after discovering that the trail of the fugitives led along the
margin of the wood, were likely to override it for some way, before
learning the fact. Then they would turn about and hunt until they found
it again. The fact that at that point it entered the timber must cause
another delay, where the difficulty of tracing the whites would be
greatly increased. By the time they came back again to the open plain,
the fall of snow was likely to render further pursuit almost, if not
quite, impossible.

This was the theory which guided the rancher's actions, though he was
too wise to lose sight of the probability of serious miscalculations on
his part. There was another danger, however, of which he failed to
think, but which was not long in manifesting itself.

By shifting his course so often, and leaving the stream altogether, he
was sure to lose his bearings in the darkness. Instead of following the
most direct route to Fort Meade, he was liable to turn back on his old
trail, with the result that when the sun rose in the morning he would be
in the vicinity of his home, with the environing perils more threatening
than ever.

Beyond all question this would have been the result had not nature come
to his help. He was on the point of turning his pony's head around, to
re-enter the timber he had left, when he discovered to his astonishment
that he had already reached it. There were the trees directly in front,
with the nose of Dick almost touching a projecting limb.

He was at a loss to understand it until his wife suggested that the
winding course of the stream was responsible for the situation. Even
then he hardly believed until investigation convinced him that it was
the same swift current flowing in front.

"We unconsciously strayed from a direct course, and must have been going
at right angles to the correct one."

"There is no saying, George; only I advise you not to make too many
experiments in the darkness. Several hours have passed since night came,
and we are not making much progress toward the fort."

"You are quite right," was the nervous response, "but safety seemed to
demand it. How are you standing it, Dot?"

The child made no answer.

"She is asleep," whispered the mother.

"I hope that it may last until morning. If you are tired of holding her
in your arms I will take her."

"When I grow weary of that," was the significant reply of the wife, "I
will let you know."

Inasmuch as the continually obtruding stream must be crossed, and the
precious hours were fast passing, the rancher gave every energy to
surmounting the difficulty.

As he led the way once more to the edge of the water, he asked himself
whether the wisest course was not to construct a raft. The work promised
to be so difficult, however, that he would have abandoned the thought
had he not come upon a heavy log, lying half submerged at the very spot
where he struck the water.

"This will be of great help," he said to his wife.

Leaning his Winchester against the nearest tree, he drew out his rubber
safe and struck a match. The appearance of the log was encouraging, and
after some lifting and tugging he succeeded in rolling it into the
stream.

That ended the matter. To his chagrin, the water-soaked wood sank like
so much mud.

"We won't experiment any longer," concluded the disappointed rancher;
"but try the same thing as before."

Dick was stripped again and put in the lead, with his master following
on the back of the mare. Mrs. Starr, being helped to the ground, stood
with the sleeping Dot in her arms, awaiting the return of her husband
from his disagreeable experiment.

"Heaven grant that this maybe the right place," was his prayer, as he
entered upon the second essay; "if we are turned back again I shall be
in despair."

His interest was intensified, for he was impressed with the belief that
this was to be the decisive and final test.

As if Dick, too, felt the seriousness of the situation, he stepped
resolutely forward, bracing himself against the strong current which was
heard washing about his limbs. It seemed to the anxious rancher that he
could discern the figure of his pony as he led the way through the
gloom, only a short distance in advance of the mare.

When certain that they were fully half-way across, his heart began to
beat with hope at finding that the water did not touch the stirrup in
which one foot rested. It was plain also that the leading horse was
still firmly wading.

With a relief which possibly may be imagined, the horseman heard Dick
step out on the bank a few minutes later. He had waded the whole
distance, thus proving that the stream was easily fordable at that
point.

The delighted rancher could hardly repress a cheer. But for his fear
that the Sioux might be in the vicinity, he would have announced the
joyous fact to his wife.

"Perhaps, however, her sharp ears have told her the truth," was his
thought, as he wheeled the mare about and started to return, leaving
Dick to follow him, as he would be needed to help the party over.

With never a thought of danger, the animal was forced hastily through
the water, coming out a few paces below where she had entered it.

"We are all right," he called; "we will be over in a jiffy."

To his astonishment there was no response. He pronounced his wife's
name, but still no reply came. Then he moved up and down the bank,
stirred by an awful fear, but heard and found her not.



CHAPTER XVI.

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.



CHAPTER XVII.

THROUGH THE WOOD.


Even 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 instant the
way opened.

But these speculations were cut short by the alarming discovery that
some strange fatality was bringing the scout fearfully close to where
the husband and wife were standing beside their animals, hardly daring
to speak in the most guarded whispers.

It must have been that the ponies understood what was expected from
them, for they gave not the least sound. There was not a stamp of a
hoof, and their breathing was as gentle as an infant's. So long as they
remained mute it would seem that the peril must pass by.

And so it ought to have done, for assuredly the Indian could have gained
no clew to the whereabouts of the fugitives from them or their animals.

But all the same, George Starr was not long in making the uncomfortable
discovery that the red man was at his elbow, and the crisis was upon
him.

The rancher knew where the miscreant was, and he determined to chance
it. He silently clubbed his Winchester, brought it back over his left
shoulder, and, concentrating his utmost strength in his arms, brought
down the butt of this weapon with resistless force.

It could not have been better aimed had the sun been shining. It crashed
on the crown of the unsuspecting Sioux, who sank silently to the earth,
and it is enough to say that the "subsequent proceedings interested him
no more."

"Sh!" whispered the husband; "there may be others near us; do you hear
anything?"

Neither could catch any suspicious noise, and he concluded it was best
to move on. If they should remain where they were when daylight came,
all hope would be gone. The situation would be hardly improved if they
stayed any longer in the gloom, after what had taken place.

Making known his purpose to his wife, he placed himself at the head of
Dick, and holding his bit, started forward. The mare followed the moment
she heard what was going on, and the mother with her child walked
between.

But less than twenty steps were taken, when the leader paused abruptly,
alarmed by an altogether unexpected discovery. The twinkle of a light
appeared among the trees in front, so directly in their path that, had
they continued straight forward, they would have stepped into the blaze.

This was cause for astonishment, and suggested that the fugitives had
struck a place where other Sioux had gathered, probably a number who
knew nothing of what had taken place a short time before. If this were
true, there ought not to be much difficulty in working past them.

Still, critical as was the situation, he felt that the chance to learn
something ought not to be thrown away. Whispering to his wife to remain
where she was, he left her and stole forward until he could gain sight
of the blaze and those surrounding it.

There was the fire made by a number of sticks heaped against the trunk
of a tree, and burning vigorously, but to his surprise, not an Indian
was in sight. How many had been gathered there, how long since they had
left, whether they would return, and if so, how soon? All these were
questions that must be left to some other time before even attempting to
guess the answers.

He waited some minutes, thinking possibly the missing warriors would
return, but not one showed up, and he felt it would not do to tarry
longer. A goodly portion of the night had already passed, and Fort Meade
was still a long distance away, with a dangerous stretch of country to
pass.

It seemed to the husband and wife that they hardly breathed, as they
moved through the wood. He held his pony by the rein with his left hand,
while he used the right, grasping the Winchester, to open the way in
front. They could do nothing more, listening meanwhile for the sounds of
danger which they expected to hear every moment.

But lo! while they were advancing in this guarded manner, they suddenly
came out of the wood and into the open country again.

The husband uttered another exclamation of thankfulness, and checked the
animals.

"Now it looks as if we had a chance to accomplish something," he said,
"and I am sure you are in need of rest."

"I am somewhat weary, but I can stand a great deal more, George; give no
thought to me, but think only of the peril from which we must escape
this night or never."

He gently took the little Dot, swathed as she was in the heavy blanket,
and held her while his wife remounted the mare, without help. We have
said she was an excellent horsewoman, as she had proved before this
eventful night.

"Now," said he, when she was firmly seated and extended her arms to take
the child, "I am going to use my authority as a husband over you."

"Have I not always been an obedient wife?" she asked, with mock
humility.

"No man was ever blessed with a better helpmate," was the reply.

"I await your commands, my lord."

Instead of passing the child to her, he reached up his rifle.

"What is the meaning of that?" she asked wonderingly.

"Lay it across the saddle in front, where its weight will not discommode
you. I shall carry Dot."

"But think, George, of the risk it involves. I assure you that it will
be no task for me to take care of her now that I am in the saddle
again."

"All discussion is ended," he replied, with a severity which she well
knew was assumed, though she did not dispute him. She accepted the
weapon and placed it in position as he directed. Then supporting the
precious child with one arm, he mounted his pony and placed himself by
her side.

"We will ride abreast; if any emergency calls for the use of my gun, I
can pass Dot to you in an instant; you must remember too, that I have a
revolver, which may serve me better in any sudden peril."

"I obey," she replied, "but you will not deny me the right to think you
are committing a mistake; since, however, it is actuated by love, I
appreciate it."

"I assure you," he said with deep feeling, "that aside from the
consideration due you, I am acting for the best. I wish you, as long as
possible, to remain at my side. We have made so many turnings and
changes in our course that I have lost all idea of the points of the
compass; I do not know whether we are going toward Fort Meade or
straying off to the right or left, with the probability that in the
morning we may be far out of the way. Help me to keep our bearings."

And husband and wife rode out on the prairie in the darkness and falling
snow.



CHAPTER XVIII.

NIGHT AND MORNING.


By this time the snow lay to the depth of several inches on the earth.
It was still falling, and the cold was increasing. The flakes were
slighter, and there were fewer of them. His knowledge of the weather
told the rancher that the fall would cease after a while, with a still
further lowering of the temperature. Thanks, however, to the
thoughtfulness of his wife more than himself, they were so plentifully
provided with blankets and extra garments that they were not likely to
suffer any inconvenience from that cause.

Fortunately for them and greatly to their relief, the stretch of prairie
which they had struck continued comparatively level. Occasionally they
ascended a slight elevation or rode down a declivity, but in no case for
more than two hours was either so steep that the ponies changed their
gait from the easy swinging canter to a walk.

Once, after riding down a slight decline, they struck another stream,
but it was little more than a brook, so strait that a dozen steps
brought them out on the other side with little more than the wetting of
their animals' hoofs.

They rode side by side, for the mare was as fleet and enduring as the
horse. Now and then they glanced back, but saw nothing to cause alarm,
and hope became stronger than before.

"We are doing remarkably well," said the husband, breaking the silence
for the first time in a half hour.

"Yes," was the thoughtful reply; "we must have travelled a good many
miles since the last start, and there is only one danger that troubles
me."

"What is that?"

"The probability--nay, the almost certainty--that we are not journeying
toward the fort."

"I have thought much of that," replied the husband, giving voice to a
misgiving that had disturbed him more than he was willing to admit; "it
is as you say, that the chances are against our proceeding in a direct
line, but it is equally true that the general course is right."

"How can you know that?"

"Because we have crossed two streams that were in our path, and they
remain behind us."

"But," reminded the thoughtful wife, "you forget that those same streams
are very winding in their course. If they followed a direct line, we
could ask no more proof that we are on the right track."

"True, but it cannot be that they take such a course that we are
travelling toward the ranch again."

"Hardly as bad as that, but if we are riding at right angles in either
direction, we shall be in a sad plight when the morning comes. The sun
will take from us all chance of dodging the Sioux so narrowly as we have
done more than once since leaving home."

"We must not forget the peril of which you speak; at such times I trust
much to the instinct of the animals."

"And would not that, in the present case, lead them to go toward rather
than from home?"

"I'm blessed if I thought of that!"

The rancher was filled with dismay for the moment, and brought Dick down
to a walk.

"No," he added the next moment, striking him into a gallop again, "if
they were left to themselves they would try to make their way to the
ranch, but they have been under too much guidance, and have been forced
to do too many disagreeable things, for them to attempt that. I am sure
we are nearing Fort Meade."

"I trust so," was the response of the wife; which remark did anything
but add to the hopefulness of her husband.

The animals now began to show signs of fatigue. The snow balled under
their hoofs, causing a peculiar jolting to the riders, when it became so
big that the weight broke it or made their feet slip off, when new
gatherings commenced immediately to form.

After being forced to a canter the horses would drop of their own accord
to a walk, and soon they were left to continue at their own gait.

"How far, Molly, do you think we have come?" asked the rancher.

"It must be fifteen miles, and possibly more; if it were in a direct
line, adding what we made before crossing the last stream, it would be
safe to wait until morning."

Again the wife gave expression to the thought that was in her husband's
mind. He had been asking himself for the last half hour whether it would
not be wise to come to a halt for daylight. The rest thus secured to the
animals would enable them to do much better, when the right course could
be determined with absolute certainty, and a few hours' brisk riding
ought to take them beyond all fear of their harassing enemies.

There remained the haunting fear of their being on the wrong course. If
daylight found them little nearer the fort than when at the ranch, their
situation would be most critical. But all speculation on that important
matter must remain such until the truth could be learned.

One reason why the rancher did not propose a halt before it was hinted
at by his wife, was that no suitable place presented itself. It would
not do to camp in the open plain, where there was no shelter for them or
their animals; they must keep on until the ground changed.

That change came sooner than they anticipated. The ponies were plodding
forward with their loads, when, before either of the riders suspected
it, they were on the edge of another growth of timber, which promised
the very thing they sought.

"Here we are!" said Mr. Starr, "and I think we can say that the journey
will be suspended until daylight."

"If there is another stream, George, I shall feel safer if we place
ourselves on the other side before we halt for the rest of the night."

"I don't view another fording with much pleasure, but we can soon find
out how it is."

The character of this timber differed from that which they had already
passed, in that it abounded with so many bowlders and rocks that, after
penetrating it a short way, it became too dangerous for the ponies to
persevere. They were liable at any moment to break a limb.

"Remain here a few minutes while I investigate," said the rancher,
passing the sleeping Dot to his wife.

He penetrated more than a hundred yards, without coming upon any water.
He did not go farther, for he was satisfied there was none near them.
The ground not only grew more rocky and precipitous as he advanced, but
steadily rose, so as to show that he was at the base of a ridge over
which it was a difficult matter to make their way. It would have been
folly to try it in the darkness, and on his return he sought some spot
favorable for going into camp.

He was more successful than he expected. A mass of rocks was found,
whose tops projected sufficiently to afford a fair shelter. The snow,
slanting from the other direction, left a comparatively large surface
bare. Here the ponies were drawn to one side and their trappings
removed. There were not enough spare blankets to cover them as the
fugitives wished to do, but they were too tough to suffer much.

Then the blankets were distributed, and so placed that when the husband
and wife huddled together against the base of the rocks, they, as well
as Dot, were quite comfortable. The rancher might have gathered wood and
started a fire, but it was not needed, and they feared the consequences
of such a proceeding. They were so worn out with the trials and toil of
the night, that they soon sank into a deep slumber which lasted till
morning. Then, upon awaking, the first act of the rancher was to
ascertain his bearings, so far as it was possible to do so.

The result was the disheartening conviction that they were no nearer
Fort Meade than when they forded the last stream early on the preceding
night.



CHAPTER XIX.

A STARTLING SURPRISE.


We must not forget that young Warren Starr and Tim Brophy have an
important part to play in the incidents we have set out to relate.

We left them in the wooded rocky section, where they had spent the night
together in the rude shelter erected a year before when on their hunting
excursions. They were awakened by the frenzied cry of the young
Irishman's horse, and appeared on the scene just in time to save the
pony from a grizzly bear, who made things exceedingly lively for the
young gentlemen themselves.

But relieved of their peril, they sat down like sensible persons to make
their morning meal from the lunch brought thither by Tim. They ate
heartily, never pausing until the last particle of food was gone. Then
they rose like giants refreshed with new wine.

"Now," said Warren, "we will mount the ponies, and instead of making for
the fort will try to find the folks."

"I'm wid ye there, as I remarked previously," was the response of the
brave young rancher, who was ever ready to risk his life for those whom
he loved.

"It will be an almost hopeless hunt, for father could give me only a
general idea of the course he meant to take, and we are likely to go
miles astray."

"We shall have to depind on Providence to hilp us, though it may be the
folks are in no naad of our assistance."

"I pray that such may be the case," was the fervent response of Warren,
accompanied by a sigh of misgiving. "I think we shall be able to take
care of ourselves, but father is in a bad fix with mother and Dot on his
hands. I hope Plummer has joined them."

"He niver will do the same," remarked Tim gravely.

"Why do you say that?"

"He has been killed by the spalpeens, for if he hadn't, he would have
showed himsilf before we lift the ranch."

"It looks that way, but you cannot be certain."

"I wish I couldn't, but he must have larned of thim being so near the
house as soon as mesilf, or very nearly so, and he would have been back
before me. That he didn't come is proof to my mind that he niver
will--ye may depind on the same."

This brief conversation took place while the youths were saddling and
mounting their horses. They made certain that everything was secure, and
then, carefully guiding their animals among bowlders to the open
prairie, paused a moment to decide upon the best course to take.

To the northwest stretched the white plain in gentle undulations, and in
the clear sunlight, miles away in the horizon, rose the dark line of a
wooded ridge, similar to the others described, and which are so common
in that section of the country. They agreed that the best course was to
head toward it, for it seemed to them that the rancher had probably
crossed the same at some point, or if he had not already done so, would
ride in that direction. Possibly, too, the father, despite the wishes he
had expressed, would suspect such a movement on the part of his son. If
so, the probability of their meeting was increased.

The air was clear, sharp, and bracing, with the sun shining from an
unclouded sky. It was a time to stir the blood, and had not the young
ranchers been oppressed by anxiety for their friends, they would have
bounded across the plain in the highest possible spirits. The ponies,
having no such fear, struck into a swinging gallop of their own accord,
which continued without interruption until more than half the
intervening distance was passed. All this time the youths were carefully
scanning the wooded ridge, as it rose more distinctly to view; for they
could not forget that they were more likely to meet hostiles than
friends in that section, and approaching it across an open plain, must
continue conspicuous objects to whatever Sioux were there.

"Tim," said Warren, as they rode easily beside each other, "unless I am
much mistaken, a fire is burning on the ridge."

"Where?"

"Almost directly ahead, but a little to the left; tell me whether you
can make it out."

The Irishman shaded his eyes with one hand, for the glare of the sun on
the snow was almost blinding, and after a moment's scrutiny, said:

"Ye are right; there is a fire up there; not much smoke does the same
give out, but it is climbing up the clear sky as straight as a mon's
finger."

"I take it that it means Indians; it seems to me they are all around
us."

"I agraas wid ye, but s'pose it is a fire that yer fayther has started
himsilf."

Warren shook his head.

"He would not do so imprudent a thing as that."

"But he moight have in his eye that we'd be looking for something of the
same."

Still his friend was unconvinced.

"He could not be certain that it would be noted by us, while he must
have known that it was sure to attract the attention of the Sioux. No;
I cannot be mistaken."

"Do ye want to pass it by widout finding out its maaning?"

"If it is father who has kindled the blaze, and he is looking for us, he
will find some way of telling us more plainly----"

"Do ye obsarve?" asked Tim, in some excitement.

Beyond question the approach of the two young horsemen had produced an
effect. The faint column of smoke which, until that moment, had climbed
perpendicularly up the sky, now showed a wavy appearance, vibrating from
side to side in graceful undulations, as though it were a ribbon swayed
by human hands. But Warren, instead of accepting this as did his
companion, regarded it as more indicative of danger. The Sioux that were
responsible for the ascending vapor were aware of the approach of the
couple, and were signalling the fact to others whose whereabouts was
unknown to the whites.

"Do ye moind," said Tim, "that two months since, whin we were hunting
along the Big Cheyenne and got separated from him and Plummer, he let
us know where they were in jist that way?"

It was a fact. Precisely the same signal had been used by the parent to
apprise his son and companion where he and Plummer were, though in that
instance it was the employé who adopted the method.

He was inclined for a few seconds to agree with his companion; but there
was something in the prominence of the artifice, and the certainty that
it would be noted by unfriendly eyes, that caused him to dismiss the
belief. Enough doubt, however, had been injected into his mind to bring
the desire for further investigation.

"We will ride straight toward it, as though we intended to go to the
camp or signal fire as it may be, but will turn aside before reaching
the ridge, so as to avoid the trap that may be set for us. I had an
experience yesterday afternoon something like that before you joined
me."

Strange it was that the couple, who, despite their youth, had learned so
much of border life, forgot to keep watch of the rear, while giving so
much attention to the front. Singular as it may seem, they had not
looked behind them for the preceding half hour. The sight of the signal
fire ahead so absorbed their interest that they neglected this obvious
precaution; nor did it once occur to them that if the smoke was sent
into the sky by hostiles, who meant it for the guidance of confederates,
those same confederates were likely to be to the rear of them.

Such was the fact, and the knowledge came to the friends in the most
startling manner conceivable, being in the shape of several rifle
bullets which whistled about their ears. Then, when they glanced
affrightedly around, they saw fully a dozen Sioux bucks, all well
mounted, bearing down upon them at full speed.

They had issued from the rocky section behind them, and ridden to this
perilous position without the youths once dreaming of the fact until, as
may be said, the hostiles were literally upon them.



CHAPTER XX.

A RUN FOR LIFE.


But one thing could be done: that was to run, and Warren Starr and Tim
Brophy did it in the highest style of the art. They put their ponies to
their utmost pace without an instant's delay. The animals, as if
conscious of their peril, bounded across the snowy plain on a dead run,
with their riders stretching forward over their necks to escape the
bullets expected every moment.

It must have been that the Sioux were sure the fugitives would look
around the next moment, else they would have stolen nearer before
announcing their presence in such a startling fashion.

The only hope for the young ranchers lay in the speed of their horses,
since there was no other possible chance against the bucks who were as
fierce after their lives as so many ravening wolves. The boys shouted to
their animals, who flew across the plain as though the snow did not
discommode them in the least. They did not separate, for the instinctive
resolve thrilled them that they would fall or escape together.

Each was provided with a repeating Winchester, and enough has been told
to prove they knew how to use the weapons effectively, but the
opportunity was hardly the present, since to turn and fire while their
ponies were on the run, offered little chance of success, and was liable
to interfere with their speed, so important above everything else.

The flight was so sudden that, without thought, they headed toward the
wooded ridge, where they had seen the suspicious signal fire, but they
had not gone far before discovering that that would never do. The flight
must end at the ridge, where they would find themselves at fearful
disadvantage.

"We must have the open plain or we are lost!" called Warren.

"Ay, ay; I'm wid ye," replied Tim, who pulled sharply on the right rein
of his animal. At the same moment his friend turned the head of his
horse to the left, and, before the comrades were aware, they were
diverging with several rods between them.

Warren was the first to perceive the mistake, and believing he had
adopted the right line of flight, shouted for his friend to do the same.
Tim had already noticed the turn and now thundered across the prairie
toward him. But the devious course, as will be readily seen, threw him
slightly to the rear, seeing which, Warren drew in his animal to allow
him to come up.

"None of that!" called the Irishman; "ye've no advantage to throw away!
Ye can't hilp me by that nonsense."

But Warren gave him no heed. The next minute Tim was almost at his side.

"I belave we're riding faster than the spalpeens," he added, glancing
for the twentieth time to the rear, where the Sioux were forcing their
horses to the utmost. They did not fire for some time after the opening
volley, giving their whole attention to this run for life.

That the capacities of the pursuing ponies varied was quickly apparent.
Several began dropping to the rear, but more than half maintained their
places near each other.

It was hard to tell whether they were holding their own or gradually
drifting back from the fugitives. The one hopeful fact was that as yet
they were not gaining. Whether they would do so or lose ground must
quickly appear.

Tim Brophy now performed a deed as reckless as it was daring. He watched
the rear more than did Warren, and was in the act of drawing up beside
the latter, when he discovered that one of the Sioux was leading all the
rest. He was fully a rod in advance, and what was more alarming than
everything else, he was gaining, beyond question, on the fugitives. His
horse had developed a burst of speed that no one anticipated.

Rising to the sitting posture in the saddle, Tim brought his gun to his
shoulder.

"Don't do that!" admonished Warren. "You have no chance to hit him, and
will cause Billy to lose ground."

The Irishman made no reply; he was too much occupied with the act he had
in mind. Furthermore, he noted that the buck whom he held in such fear
was making ready to fire.

But Tim was ahead of him, and, by one of those strange accidents which
sometimes happen, he hit him so fair and hard that, with the invariable
cry of his race when mortally hurt, he reeled sideways and fell to the
ground, his horse, with a snort of alarm, circling off over the prairie
far from his companions.

[Illustration: TIM'S FORTUNATE SHOT.]

Warren glanced around at the moment the gun was discharged and could
hardly believe his own eyes. He knew the success was accidental, and
hoped it would not encourage Tim to repeat the attempt.

It was expected that the shot would serve as a check to the rest, and
ordinarily it would have done so, but it produced not the slightest
effect in that direction. Back of the fallen warrior, whose body rolled
over and over in the snow, as it struck with a rebound, were more than
half a dozen, with the others streaming after them. They gave no heed to
their fallen leader, neither uttering any outcry nor firing in return,
but pressing their ponies to the highest possible point. They were
resolved upon capturing those fugitives and subjecting them to a
punishment beside which shooting would be a mercy.

It would not do to forget the country in front. While their chief
interest lay to the rear, they were liable to run into some peril that
would undo all the good gained by outrunning their pursuers. Warren saw
that while they had swerved to the left, yet the course of the ridge
would carry them to its base, unless they diverged still more from the
direct path.

And yet this divergence must be made as gradual as circumstances would
permit, since otherwise great advantage would be given their enemies by
the chance to "cut across lots," or in other words to follow a straight
line, while offsetting the curved course of the fugitives.

Directing the attention of Tim to the situation, he begged him to give
no further thought to firing upon their foes.

"I'll let the spalpeens alone if they'll do the same wid me," was his
reply, spoken in a low voice, for the two were separated by only a few
feet.

"You can't have as good luck a second time."

"But," persisted Tim, "if I hadn't dropped that felly, he would have
tumbled you or mesilf out of the saddle, as he was about to do whin I
jumped on him wid both feet."

But Warren begged him to desist, confident as he was that any further
attempt would result in ill to them. Tim held his peace, but leaving his
friend to watch where they went he gave his chief attention to the
Sioux, whose leaders, if they were not gaining ground, seemed to be
holding their own.

Suddenly, to Warren's disgust, his companion again brought his gun to
his shoulder. Before he could aim and fire, however, one of the bucks
discharged his weapon and the bullet nipped the leg of young Starr, who
continued leaning forward, so as to offer as little of his body as
possible for a target.

Tim fired, but more than likely the ball went wide of the mark.

His companion hoped that the act of their pursuers in shooting was
caused by their fear of losing the fugitives through the speed of their
ponies.

But a short distance was necessary before the boys were riding in a line
parallel with the ridge that had loomed up in their path. This gave them
an open country for an unknown distance, over which to continue their
flight, but it was hardly to be supposed that it would continue long.
The section was too broken to warrant such a hope.

It may have been the perception of the fugitives' object that brought
the shot from the Sioux. At any rate, if it should become manifest that
the young ranchers were drawing away, the rifles of the pursuers were
certain to be brought into effective use, and the distance between the
parties was fearfully brief.



CHAPTER XXI.

AWAY WE GO!


One recourse was before the pursuing Sioux from the start: that was to
shoot the horses of the fugitives. The wonder was that they had not
aimed to do so from the first. With the couple dismounted, they would be
at their mercy.

It was the fear of this that caused Warren to ask his friend to draw up
as near to him as he could. It was not likely that both ponies would
fall at once, and the survivor might be able to carry the couple to
safety.

"I tell ye we are gaining," said the Irishman, with far more hope in his
manner than Warren thought was warranted.

"We must gain a good deal before getting out of the woods," was the
reply of the other, who devoted every energy to forcing his animal to
his best pace.

"Look out! they're going to shoot again," said Tim.

Throwing himself forward, Warren hugged his pony closer than ever, his
companion doing the same, instead of trying to use his gun. The volley
came while the words were in course of utterance, but neither of the
youths was touched. The Sioux must have found it equally hard to fire
with their animals on a full run.

"Why don't the spalpeens save their powder?" was the disgusted question
of Tim, but his feelings changed a minute later, when his own pony
showed by his actions that he had been hit hard. He uttered a low,
moaning cry, and staggered as if about to fall.

Warren was the first to notice it.

"Tim, Billy is going to drop; ride closer and mount Jack behind me."

"Not a bit of it! I'll see you hanged first," was the characteristic
reply of the brave fellow, who sturdily refused to heed the urgent
appeal of his friend.

"Why not?"

"Jack can't carry us both."

"He can until we reach the ridge."

"But we're not going toward it," insisted Tim, too observant to be
deceived.

"Turn Billy's head that way," said Warren, growing desperate in the
imminence of the peril, and swerving his pony to the right; "Jack can
carry us both as well as one."

Still the Irishman hesitated. It might be as his companion said, but he
was unwilling to imperil Warren, and destroy the chances of both, when
everything looked so favorable for one.

Meanwhile, the stricken Billy was fast giving out. He struggled gamely,
but it was evident that he must quickly succumb. At the most, he could
go but a short distance farther.

The Sioux fired again, but nothing was accomplished. If Jack was hit, he
did not show it during the few seconds that his rider held his breath.

Still Tim held back in the face of the pleadings of his friend. Two
discoveries, however, led him to yield.

They were now heading straight for the ridge, which was barely half a
mile distant. It must soon be attained, unless something happened to
Jack. The foremost Sioux had fallen so perceptibly behind that there was
reason to believe the horse could carry both riders to safety, or rather
to the refuge which they hoped to find at the base of the ridge.

"I'll do the same, being it's yerself that asks it----"

"Quick! Billy is falling!" called Warren, far more excited than his
companion.

The crisis had come. The poor animal could go no farther, and was
swaying from side to side like a drunken person, certain to fall with
the next minute.

Tim released his foot from the stirrup on his right, swung his leg over
the saddle, as only a skilful horseman can do, and, holding his gun with
one hand, grasped the outstretched one of Warren and made a slight leap,
which landed him behind him.

It was a delicate and difficult task, and despite the skill with which
it was executed, both came within a hair of tumbling headlong to the
ground.

Quickly as it was done, it was not a moment too soon. The mortally
wounded Billy suddenly went forward, his nose ploughing up the snow and
earth, and after a few struggles all was over.

The action had not only increased the danger of both of the fugitives,
but it rendered the situation of the Irishman doubly perilous. Although
both leaned forward, they could not do so as effectually as when each
was on his own horse, and Tim of necessity was the more exposed of the
two.

Leaving Warren to guide and urge Jack, he gave his attention to the
Sioux, who did not relax their efforts, but whose relative situations,
owing to the varying speed of their horses, underwent a curious change
of position.

Two were riding abreast, and so far as Tim could see there was not the
least difference in the speed of their ponies. Behind them at a distance
of several rods came two others, holding precisely the same relative
positions, while the rest were strung along over the prairie, until it
looked as if the hindmost was a third of a mile distant.

Nothing was to be feared from them, but what of those that were so much
nearer?

That was the vital question that must soon be answered.

While the position of the Irishman was anything but pleasant, and with
the horse on a jump he was required to take the utmost care to maintain
his seat, he decided to try his gun once more.

This proved harder than he supposed. He could make no use of the saddle
in which young Starr sat, and when he sought to turn he would have
fallen, had he not kept one arm about the waist of his friend. And yet,
in the face of all this, he managed to get his Winchester in position
with the muzzle toward the leading Sioux.

Anything like aiming the weapon was out of the question, and it would
have been folly to expect that a second chance shot would favor him.
Nevertheless, the demonstration accomplished something unexpected. He
had done execution with one shot, and when the bucks saw the muzzle
pointing backward, they were scared.

The leaders naturally supposed they were the ones intended to serve as
targets, and they ducked their heads with such suddenness that the
Irishman grinned. Not only that, but one of them caused his
pony--probably through some inadvertent act on the part of the rider--to
swerve from his course, thereby interfering with those immediately in
the rear.

Even the companion at his side was thrown somewhat out of "plumb," and
lost a few paces, much to the delight of Tim, who gleefully told Warren
of what had taken place.

The advantage to the fugitives will be understood when it is remembered
that they were rapidly drawing near the ridge, now at no great distance
in front.

True, there was no certainty that it would prove a refuge to them, if
attained; but it would be more of a shelter than the open prairie,
where, if driven to bay, there was not the slightest protection against
the bullets of the Sioux, unless the body of Jack should be used as a
breastwork.

The confusion of the bucks was only temporary. They needed no one to
tell them what the aim of the youths was when they changed the line of
their flight, nor could they fail to see that the ridge would be
attained quite soon, unless they were checked.

Tim Brophy suspected that such thoughts were passing through their
minds, and despite the hopelessness of the effort, he discharged his
rifle toward them; and when it is stated that it was discharged "toward
them," no more can be said. There is no reason to believe that he came
within twenty feet of hitting any one of the Sioux.

It may be doubted, therefore, whether this essay on his part was
beneficial to himself and companion, inasmuch as it must have lowered
their opinion of his marksmanship and convinced the red men that they
were altogether mistaken in giving heed to any more shots fired by him
from the back of the pony, which was not only going at full speed, but
was carrying a double burden.



CHAPTER XXII.

ON FOOT.


The fugitives were now so close to the ridge that Warren Starr, from his
position on his pony, turned his attention to their immediate front. He
saw that the race must end, so far as his steed was concerned, within
the next second. The trees stood close together, the ascent was steep,
and the bowlders and rocks, plainly discernible, since all leafage was
gone, showed that the horse must halt of necessity at the moment of
striking the base of the elevation.

The Sioux had ceased firing. They were so certain of capturing the
youths that they saved their ammunition. The struggle could not last
much longer.

"Be ready to jump off!" said Warren to his companion; "I am going to
stop!"

Even as he spoke, he threw Jack on his haunches with a suddenness that
would have pitched the couple over his head, had they not braced
themselves. Both took a flying leap from his back and dashed for the
cover now directly before them.

The purpose was still to keep together, but circumstances beyond their
control prevented. They had no time to form any plan. Young Starr darted
to the right, aiming for some rocks which he fancied might afford
partial shelter. Tim had his eye on a somewhat similar refuge to the
left, and made for that. He would have joined his friend had he known
his intention, but the seconds were too precious to allow it, after a
few steps were taken. So he kept on without once glancing behind him.

Still there was no firing. The Indians must have felt more certain than
ever of their prey, thus to hold their shots. They emitted several
whoops of exultation, and the foremost bounded from their ponies and
sped after the fugitives like so many bloodhounds.

But the separation of the latter compelled a division of the former,
who, it will be remembered, were scattered at varying distances, only a
couple being at the heels of the young ranchers. Thus it came about that
each was pursued by a single warrior, and through a whim which cannot be
fully understood, the Sioux next to the leaders turned to the left on
the trail of the young Irishman, who had thus the honor, if it may be so
considered, of attracting the greater attention.

For a few moments Warren devoted his energies to running. He bounded
like a hare over the first bowlder that interposed, swerved slightly to
the right, to pass an obstructing rock, and went up the slope with the
same headlong speed with which he had dashed from the level ground to
the bottom of the slope.

It was not until he had sped fully a hundred yards in this furious
fashion that he ventured to throw a glance over his shoulder. Then he
learned that there was but a single Sioux in sight.

The fugitive had held his own so well against this miscreant, that the
latter must have felt a quick fear of his escaping him altogether. Young
Starr was an unusually swift sprinter, and it may be doubted whether
the fleet-footed Indian could have run him down in a fair contest.

The fear of losing the young man caused the Sioux to check himself
abruptly, bring his gun to a level, and let fly.

An extraordinary accident, or rather providence, saved the fugitive. At
the very instant of his enemy firing, Warren's foot slipped in the snow,
and he stumbled on his hands and knees. Certain that his fall was due to
the bullet just sent after him, the Sioux, with a whoop of triumph,
bounded forward over the bowlders and around the rocks to finish him.

Warren saw, with lightning-like quickness, that his fall might be his
salvation. It had deceived his foe into the belief that he was either
killed or mortally hurt, and he was, therefore, unprepared for that
which followed.

The youth did not attempt to rise. He had slipped down in such a
position that he was hidden from the sight of his pursuer. He quickly
shifted around so as to face him, and, rising on one knee, held his
Winchester pointed and ready for use.

He had not long to wait. The Sioux was so close that the next minute his
head and shoulders appeared above the rock, as he took his tremendous
strides toward the lad, whom he expected to see stretched helpless on
the snowy earth.

The sight of him kneeling on one knee, with his rifle aimed, his eye
ranging along the barrel, and his finger on the trigger, was the first
startling apprisal of the real state of affairs.

The warrior instantly perceived his fearful mistake, and made a
desperate attempt to dodge to one side, but though the loon may elude
the bullet of the hunter's rifle, no man has ever yet been equal to the
task. No screeching Indian was ever hit more fairly, surprised more
suddenly, or extinguished more utterly.

[Illustration: THE DEATH OF THE INDIAN.]

And so it came about that in the twinkling of an eye Warren Starr was
left without a pursuer. Not a solitary Sioux was in sight.

But he was too wise to think he was safe. He was simply relieved for
the time being of his harassing foes. They must have heard the discharge
of his rifle, and some of them would soon investigate when their comrade
failed to return to them. This would be after a few minutes. Naturally
they would suppose that the fugitive had been brought down, and not
until a brief period had elapsed would they suspect the truth.

It was this interval which must be utilized to the utmost, if the youth
hoped to escape. While the snow would reveal his trail so plainly that
it could be followed without the least difficulty, yet his own fleetness
ought to enable him to keep so far in advance of the Sioux that they
could not gain another shot at him. True, he was deprived of his
matchless pony, but the red men were also on foot, and therefore they
stood on equal terms, with the opening in favor of the fugitive.

Warren would have been full of hope and resolution, but for Tim Brophy.
His concern for his devoted friend forbade him turning the situation
solely to his own account. He made a hasty examination of his rifle, and
found nothing the matter with it. It was ready for use whenever needed.

Not a solitary warrior was in sight, and the profound stillness which
reigned caused the incidents of the last few minutes to seem like some
wild dream.

With that peculiar doubt that sometimes comes over one in such crises,
Warren gently pinched one hand with the other. The result convinced him
that everything was real--imagination had nothing to do with it.

The reports of his own Winchester and the Sioux's rifle were all that
had broken the stillness since the headlong leap of the young ranchers
from the back of the pony. There could have been no other report without
its being heard by Warren, who was sorely perplexed over the fact.

Could it be that equally good fortune had befallen Tim Brophy? Had he
been able to throw his pursuers off the track for the time? It seemed
impossible that two such providences should come simultaneously to the
fugitives. The Irishman was by no means as fleet of foot as Warren, and
with the majority of the pursuers dashing after him, only the worst
result was to be feared.

"Some of them will soon be here," was the conclusion of the youth, as he
stood sorely perplexed as to what he should do; "if I remain, I shall
have half a dozen of them around me, and then it will be all up; but
what about Tim?"

In his chivalrous devotion to his comrade, he now began withdrawing from
his dangerous position, but trended to the right as he faced his
enemies, with the object of getting near Tim, and with the hope that he
might be of help to him in his desperate strait.

He shuddered as he glanced down at the ground and observed the prints he
made in the snow. There could be no delay in tracing him, no matter what
direction he might take. It must be the same with his friend, who,
despite any advantage gained at the beginning of his last flight, could
be readily run down, if the Sioux preferred that to "winging" him while
in full flight.



CHAPTER XXIII.

DOWN!


Meanwhile Tim Brophy found himself in the hottest quarters of his life.

Inspired by the same desperate thought of his friend, he strove, with
all the energy he possessed, to widen the space between himself and his
pursuers. Less fleet of foot than they, it took but a few seconds to
show him the hopelessness of the task.

None of the trees was large enough to give protection to his body, but
seeing no rocks that could serve him, he dodged behind the first trunk
that presented itself. This was barely six inches in diameter, and was
no better than nothing at all.

Pausing but a moment, he leaped away again, with that wild, aimless
impulse which comes over one when panic-stricken. The halt, brief though
it was, proved fatal. His pursuer was on his heels, and the brave youth
turned at bay. As if fate was against him, when he attempted to bring
his rifle to a level, he made a slip and it dropped from his grasp. He
had no time to pick it up.

"S'render! s'render!" called his foe in good English, waving his right
hand aloft with his gun grasped in it.

"I'll surrender, ye spalpeen!"

Resorting like a flash to nature's weapons, the Irishman delivered a
blow straight from the shoulder, which sent the Sioux spinning backward
with his feet pointing toward the sky.

Had he been the only foe to contend with, Tim might have saved himself,
for the savage was utterly "knocked out," and the opportunity to finish
him could not have been better.

Tim had his revolver, but in his excitement he forgot the important
fact. He was about to leap upon his prostrate enemy, with the intention
of snatching his gun from him and using it, when the other two Sioux
burst to view.

Without waiting for them to assail him, the youth dashed forward like a
panther at bay.

Before the foremost could elude the assault, he struck him as fairly as
he had hit the other, and he sprawled on his back, with the breath
driven from his body.

But the impetus of his blow carried Tim forward, and, half tripping in
his headlong rush, he fell on his hands and knees. He strove frantically
to save himself, but, before he could struggle to his feet, the other
Sioux dealt him a stroke with the butt of his gun which laid the fellow
helpless on his face.

The skull of the Irishman, however, was tough, and he quickly recovered,
but not before several other warriors appeared on the scene.

For one moment the young rancher meditated a rush upon them, and had
actually doubled his fists for that purpose, but even in his fury he
perceived the folly of such a course. If he assailed the Sioux, they
would quickly finish him then and there, while the fact of their having
spared his life thus far proved that they did not intend to put him to
instant death.

It was with singular emotions that he recognized among the last arrivals
the Carlisle student Starcus, who had saved his life the preceding
morning by his timely shot when the grizzly bear was upon him. The
presence of the "civilized" youth among the hostiles told its own story.

"Ye've got me foul," said Tim, looking straight at Starcus as he spoke;
"and now ye may do wid me what ye loikes."

Starcus, knowing the words and look were meant for him, made no answer,
but kept in the background.

He was grim and silent. Who shall say what thoughts were stirring his
heart at that trying moment! He had sat with this youth at the table of
George Starr and his family.

He had partaken of their hospitality, and had claimed to possess the
civilization which he was anxious his own race should adopt, but here he
was, taking part in the pursuit and attack of two youths who not only
had never done him harm, but had always acted the part of friends toward
him.

There was one curious fact (and yet, perhaps it was not so curious after
all) which was evident to the captured youth. The Sioux admired the
brave fight he had made for himself. Trained for ages to regard physical
prowess as above all virtues, the American race cannot fail to revere
it, even when they are the sufferers therefrom.

The warrior who had first felt the weight of Tim's fist now began
clambering to his feet. He was dazed and bewildered, for the blow was a
terrific one. Landing squarely in his face, it had brought considerable
crimson, which, mingling with the daubs of paint already there, gave him
a frightful appearance.

He assumed the upright posture, and standing uncertainly for a few
seconds, fixed his eyes on the prisoner.

Then grasping the situation, and recognizing him as the individual that
had treated him so harshly, he suddenly emitted a shout, whipped out his
hunting-knife, and rushed at him like a fury. Tim instantly threw
himself into a pugilistic attitude, and no doubt would have given a good
account of himself had he been permitted, for he was skilled in the art
of self-defence, and such a person always has the advantage over a foe,
no matter what his weapon, provided it is not a firearm.

But the collision did not take place. Three Indians interposed,
restraining the fierce red man; among the foremost being Starcus, who
roughly seized the upraised arm and forced the warrior back several
steps, using some strong words in his own language. The savage strove to
free himself that he might attack the youth, but he was not permitted,
and finally gave up the effort and withdrew sullenly into the
background.

This incident was hardly over, when the second warrior that had gone
down before the young Irishman's prowess also gained his feet. He looked
as if he would very much like to try conclusions again, with the aid of
one of his weapons, but he seemed to think he could bide his time, and
have it out on a more fitting occasion.

The captive was too wise to place a favorable construction on the
interference of Starcus, despite the additional fact of his kindly
offices of the morning. The rest of the Sioux had shown a wish to take
him prisoner, for certainly the chance to bring him down had been theirs
more than once. Actuated by their intense hatred of the white race, they
looked upon sudden death as too merciful to a foe that had done them so
much ill. He had slain one of their best men, and knocked prostrate two
others; no punishment, therefore, was too cruel to be visited upon him.

While the group stood about the helpless captive they talked in their
own language, without Tim being able to guess the meaning of a word
uttered. He watched the countenances closely, and was surprised a minute
or two later by the appearance of the last member of the party. He came
straggling up as though he felt no concern in the proceedings. That
which interested Tim the most was the sight of his valued Winchester in
the fellow's hand. For one moment the youth thought he meant to hand it
over to him, but that would have been a stretch of hospitality of which
none of his race could ever be guilty. He did a rare thing for an
Indian--indulged in a grin of pleasure at the prize which his
companions had passed by to allow it to fall into his possession.

In his trying situation, Tim Brophy could not avoid a feeling of
curiosity concerning Starcus. To him the fellow's conduct was
inexplicable. While his presence among the Sioux was proof that he was
"with them" in thought, intention, and feeling, yet there was the
friendly act of the morning during the struggle with the grizzly, and
his late interference to prevent the warrior from injuring him, which
united to puzzle the captive.

As has been said, he was too wise to build much hope on these facts, but
nevertheless they raised doubts and questions relating wholly to the
future.

Would Starcus continue to hold his present enmity to the people that had
been friendly to him?

While he had been carried away by the frenzy that had driven so many of
his people out of their senses, was not an awakening likely to take
place, when his better nature would resume control? Could he forget
that he had eaten salt with this hapless fellow, and stand by, without
raising hand or voice, when his extremity should come, as come it must,
in a very brief while?

But these were questions that Tim Brophy could not answer; they must be
left for the immediate future.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE FRIEND IN NEED.


While these lively scenes were taking place, Warren Starr was not idle.
The report of his gun was plainly heard by the other Sioux and the
captive, but the former took it for granted that it was fired by their
comrade, and calmly awaited his return with the news of the death of the
fugitive.

But as the reader has learned the boot was on the other leg. The youth
was unharmed, and his enemy was of no further account.

Actuated by the chivalrous wish to help Tim, he began cautiously picking
his way along the slope, at a considerable distance from the base,
peering forward and listening intently for sights and sounds that could
tell him how his companion had fared.

He had better fortune than he dared expect. The flickering of something
among the trees warned him that he was in a delicate position, and his
farther advance was with the utmost care, accompanied by glances on
every hand, to guard against walking into a trap.

Very soon he reached a point from which he saw all that was going on.
Tim was standing defiantly among the Sioux, who appeared to be
discussing the question of what to do with him. He identified Starcus,
and recognized also the hapless state of affairs.

Much as he regretted the conclusion, Warren Starr was forced, in spite
of himself, to see that it was out of his power to raise a finger to
help his friend. For one moment he meditated bringing his Winchester to
his shoulder and opening fire, but at the best he could not hope to
bring down more than two or three before the others would be upon him.
With no possible way of escape open, the situation of Tim would be worse
than before, for one of the first things done by the Sioux would be to
slay him on the spot, whereas they were now likely to spare him for a
time, and so long as he had life, so long did hope remain.

Warren would have been as eager to befriend the brave fellow as the
latter would have been to aid him; but, as we have said, there was no
dodging the fact that it was out of his power. What, therefore, should
he do for himself and the other loved ones for whom all this danger had
been incurred?

Where were that father, mother, and little sister? They might be in
equally sore distress, and longer delay on his part perhaps would decide
the question of life or death.

Stealthily withdrawing again, until well beyond sight of the group, he
began carefully descending the side of the ridge toward the open
prairie. In doing so, he avoided doubling on his own trail, for at any
moment some of the Sioux were liable to start out on a tour of
investigation, which would bring them face to face with him.

With all his senses on the alert, he threaded his way among the trees
and around the rocks and bowlders, until he stood on the base of the
elevation, with the broad plain, across which he and his friend had fled
in such desperate haste, stretching out before him for many miles.

But another sight interested him. Along the foot of the ridge were
scattered nearly a dozen Indian ponies, cropping as best they could the
grass, whose tops faintly showed above the thin coating of snow. Their
owners had abandoned them in their haste, without thought of securing
them to any of the limbs, confident that they would be found within
reach when wanted.

They were tough little animals, without saddle or bridle. The majority
had a blanket roughly secured over the back, with a thong about the
upper part of the neck, which was all that was needed to guide them
wherever their masters willed.

But there was one animal worth all the rest for whom the eyes of the
youth eagerly searched among the group, scattered at varying distances.
He would have given anything for a sight of his own Jack at that moment.

To his astonishment, he saw nothing of him. Through some unaccountable
cause, he had vanished as utterly as if he had never existed.

In the vain hope of discovering him, Warren glanced from one to the
other, until he had surveyed each one several times over. But there was
no mistake; Jack was invisible.

The fact caused him keen regret, but it would not do to tarry, with the
certainty that the Sioux would soon learn the truth and be after him
like a whirlwind. One or two of their ponies were almost as fleet as
Jack, and Warren was a good enough horseman to ride them as well as
their masters could without saddle.

Fixing his attention on the best looking animal, which happened also to
be the nearest, he moved briskly toward him, with the purpose of
bounding upon his back and dashing away; but his abruptness defeated his
intention. It frightened the pony, who with a snort threw up his head,
trotted several rods out on the prairie, and then turned and looked at
him.

The alarm of this animal communicated itself to the others, who also
hurriedly trotted beyond his reach.

The situation was critical. The action of the ponies was almost certain
to be heard by their owners a short distance off, and they would be
quickly on the spot. If they caught sight of the youth on foot trying to
steal one, his position would be far more hopeless than when among the
rocks and trees.

Seeing his mistake, Warren tried to right matters by a less abrupt
approach. He dropped to a slow walk, holding out his hand and uttering
soothing words. Had he done this at the beginning, he would have had no
trouble in capturing any horse he desired, but the animals identified
him as a stranger, and continued shy.

The finest, which he had sought first to catch, closely watched him as
he slowly approached, but at the very moment the heart of the youth was
beating high with hope, he swung his head around and trotted beyond
reach. Warren turned his attention to the one that was nearest, and by a
sudden dash aimed to catch his halter, one end of which was dangling in
the snow.

As he stooped to grasp the thong, it was whisked from under his hand,
and the pony galloped beyond his reach.

The bitter disappointment made Warren desperate. He had undertaken an
impossible task. He might succeed had more time been at his command, but
the Sioux were liable to appear any minute. It would not do for him to
be caught in this situation. He must abandon the attempt and get back
among the trees and rocks, where there remained the bare possibility of
eluding the red men.

"What the mischief has become of Jack?" he muttered, facing about and
breaking into a lope for the ridge. "If he were only in sight, he would
come to me at once. Hello! just what I feared!"

At that juncture he detected something moving among the trees. It was
not clearly seen, but not doubting that the Sioux were coming, he broke
into a run for cover, not daring to risk a shot until partial shelter
was secured.

In his affright he did not dare glance to the left even, and held his
breath in thrilling expectancy, certain that with every leap he took he
would be greeted by a volley, or that the Sioux would throw themselves
across his track to shut off all chance of escape.

That they did not do so was not only unaccountable to him, but gave him
the hope that possibly he might still elude them. Bending his head, he
ran with might and main. The distance was not great, but it seemed
tenfold greater than it was, and a slip of the foot, which came near
bringing him to his knees, filled his heart with despair and made him
certain that he would soon join Tim Brophy.

He heard his pursuers at his heels. Despite his own fleetness, they were
outspeeding him. Nothing could save him from being overtaken before
reaching the ridge.

Suddenly a peculiarity in the sound made by those at his rear caused him
abruptly to halt and look around.

Then, to his unbounded delight and amazement, he recognized his own
pony, Jack, striving hard to keep him company.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE PRAIRIE DUEL.


Warren Starr could have hugged his pony in his transport of delight.
Until a moment before he was sure several of the Sioux were upon him;
when, wheeling about, he was confronted by Jack, whom he had been
desirous of meeting above every other person or animal in the world.

The action of the horse he understood. On the sudden flight of his
master he had attempted to follow him among the rocks and trees of the
ridge; the Indians, in the flurry of the occasion, paying no attention
to him. Failing, he was making his way back to the open prairie, when
the sight of his master sent him galloping after him; Warren being too
panic-stricken to suspect the truth until he was well-nigh run down by
the faithful animal.

"Heaven bless you, Jack!" he exclaimed, with glowing face and joyous
heart; "you are in the nick of time."

Saddle and trappings were unharmed, though the tapering limbs of the
creature had been scratched and cut by his attempt to follow his master.
The youth was in the saddle in a twinkling, and, but for the sad
situation of Tim Brophy, he would have uttered a shout of triumph.

For in truth he felt safe, even though the hostiles were dangerously
near. Remembering this, he rode farther out from the ridge, and whooped
and swung his arms at the Indian ponies, who dashed still farther out on
the plain.

It was inevitable that this tumult should become known to the captors of
Tim Brophy. Young Starr expected it, and therefore was not surprised
when he saw the figures of several warriors at the base of the ridge. He
could not forbear swinging his Winchester over his head and taunting
them. They replied with several shots, but the distance was too great
for Warren to feel any alarm. He, too, discharged his gun at the group,
and acted as if he meant to challenge them to come out and attack him.

If such were his intentions, the challenge was accepted. Several
warriors ran out on the prairie, calling to their ponies, in order that
they might mount and take up the pursuit. Their action caused the youth
no alarm, for the test of speed had already been made, and he feared
none of the Indian animals.

The latter may have been under good discipline when their masters were
astride of them, but they showed anything but obedience now that they
were free from their control. They kept trotting about in circles, and
avoided the warriors with a persistency that must have been exasperating
to them.

Only one displayed consideration for his master. He was among the
fleetest, and after some coy dallying he stood still until the athletic
Sioux came beside him. He vaulted upon his back, and then accepted the
seeming challenge of the youth.

The latter had checked his steed at a safe distance on the snowy plain,
and confronted the Indian party. Looking beyond the warrior nearest him,
he strove to catch sight of Tim Brophy; but he was too far off, and the
trees interfered with his vision. Before he could continue the scrutiny
long, the mounted Sioux demanded his attention.

Prudence would have suggested that now, since young Starr was well
mounted, he should take no chances, but scurry away at the top of his
speed, leaving the discomfited warrior to nurse his chagrin over the
clever trick played upon him.

But the young rancher saw no reason why he should flee from a single
buck, no better mounted or armed than himself. He had had enough
experience in the Northwest to understand those people well, and thought
he knew how to take care of himself. No, he would fight him; and now
opened a most extraordinary prairie duel between Warren Starr and his
dusky enemy.

The youth glanced at his Winchester, and saw that it was all right, as
was the case with his revolver. His saddle was firmly cinched in place,
Jack was at his best, and what cared he for a single Indian, even though
he was a warrior that had taken the scalp of more than one unoffending
pioneer!

Jack stood as motionless as a statue, with his nose toward his enemy. A
gentle wind blowing across the prairie lifted his luxuriant mane
slightly from his neck and swung his heavy tail to one side. His head
was high, and the nostrils seemed to breathe defiance to the dusky foe,
who approached at a swinging gallop, as though he meant to ride down the
animal and rider.

But he held no such intention. The Sioux required no one to tell him
that that stationary figure, sitting so firmly in his saddle, meant to
fight.

While more than a hundred yards still separated the combatants the Sioux
horseman wheeled to the right, and, without checking his speed, started
to describe a long circle around the youth. The latter spoke softly to
Jack, who slowly turned, so as to keep his head continually pointed
toward the enemy. Evidently the animal understood the situation, and was
competent to do his part.

The Sioux at the base of the ridge had given over their effort for the
time to capture their ponies. All their attention was centred on the two
horsemen out on the prairie.

As yet the Indian made no move to fire. Warren was looking for him to
throw himself over the side of his animal, and aim from under his neck,
screening his own body meanwhile from the bullet of the young rancher.
Instead of doing so, however, he described a complete circle about
Warren, coming back to his starting point, while Jack continued to move
around, as if on a pivot, keeping his head always facing his foe.

The warrior was starting on his second round, when, without any
perceptible movement, he discharged his gun. Warren saw the blue puff of
smoke, the report sounding dull and far away in the wintry air.

The bullet did not pass nigh enough for him to be aware how close it
was. It would seem that the Indian ought to have done better, for it was
noticeable from where Warren sat that in completing his circle he had
shortened it, and was now several rods nearer than when he set out to
circumnavigate him.

"It is no more than fair to return the compliment," thought Warren,
raising his Winchester, taking careful aim, and pulling the trigger.
Truth compels us to say, however, that his shot went as wide of the mark
as the one aimed at him. Thus far honors were equal between them.

The Sioux continued his trip around the central object, though what he
expected or hoped to accomplish by this curious proceeding was more than
his antagonist could conjecture.

The advantage during the performance possibly was with young Starr; for,
by keeping the nose of Jack pointed toward the other he offered the
least possible target to the foe, while the course of the Indian
compelled him to hold his pony broadside, himself remaining a
conspicuous object on his back.

"I think I can shorten this business," reflected Starr, "by another shot
or two. I am standing still, and if I can't bring that fellow off his
horse I'm of little account."

But the Sioux was more watchful than he suspected. Hardly was the
Winchester raised when, presto! the warrior disappeared. He had flung
himself far on the other side of his pony, and was capable of
maintaining that situation while making the circuit of the youth.

The latter held his fire. He was confident of being able to hit the
other animal, but to his mind that would be taking a dishonorable
advantage, though none knew better than he that he was dealing with an
enemy to whom treachery was a cardinal virtue.

The horse showed no decrease of his speed, but continued galloping
forward with the easy swing shown by the trained circus animal when an
equestrian is giving an exhibition. That the rider, from his position on
the other side of his body, with his moccason extended over the spine of
the animal, was keeping close watch of the youth the latter did not need
to be told.

He must have seen Warren, after holding his weapon levelled for a
moment, lower it again, disappointed at the vanishing target. The next
moment the Sioux discharged his weapon.



CHAPTER XXVI.

ON THE GROUND.


The aim of the warrior was better than before, and though it was not
fatal, it came startlingly near being so. The bullet nipped the ear of
the pony, and cut through the coat of Warren Starr; grazing his shoulder
in the passage.

There could be no question that the red man was in dead earnest, and
that when he discharged his rifle he meant to kill.

It must not be supposed there was any holding back on the part of the
youth; he was equally resolved that, if the chance were given, he would
do his best to bring his antagonist from the back of his horse.

The Sioux resumed his circling course, gradually drawing nearer the
young man, who continued as alert as at the first; ready to take
advantage of any opening that presented itself.

Suddenly the red man wheeled his pony in the opposite direction,
doubling on his own course. This compelled him to swing over to the
other side in order to continue his use of the animal as a shield. He
executed the movement with wonderful deftness, but a singular condition
was against him.

Young Starr had just formed the decision that the best, if indeed not
the only thing he could do, was to shoot the steed of his foe. This was
easy, and with the Indian dismounted he would be at a great
disadvantage, though likely still to use the body of his animal as a
guard against the marksmanship of his enemy; but the latter counted on
the flurry giving him his opportunity.

Thus it happened that at the moment the Winchester was at Warren's
shoulder, and his eye was ranging along the barrel, he caught a glimpse
of the dusky body in the act of whisking over that of the pony. The
glimpse was only momentary, but under the peculiar conditions it was
just what was needed. The youth fired, and with such accuracy that the
warrior lunged over his steed, and sprawled in the snow on the other
side.

The released animal threw up his head with a snort, and trotted toward
the ridge as if he, too, had felt the sting of the bullet and was
hastening away from a possible repetition.

The sight of the Indian on the ground told the youth of the success of
his shot, but it did not lead him to do anything rash, as would have
been natural in the flush of triumph. The Sioux was not yet killed, and
was still capable of mischief.

Warren rode rapidly a few yards toward him, and then brought Jack to an
abrupt halt. He had seen something suspicious in the actions of his
enemy.

"Is he shamming?" was the question he asked himself, as he leaned
forward, carefully keeping the head and neck of Jack in front of his
body, and on the alert against a treacherous shot.

The Sioux seemed to have fallen on his side, with his face turned partly
away from the youth. With surprising quickness he shifted his position
so as to confront the horseman, and still lay prostrate in the snow, as
if unable to rise.

There might be a sinister meaning to this. The pretence of being
mortally disabled was an old one with his people, as many a white man
has learned when too late. If he were trying the artifice in the present
instance, he did it skilfully.

Under the belief that he was powerless to inflict further harm, nothing
was more natural than that the youth should ride forward with the
purpose of giving him his quietus, disregarding his own safety until a
bullet through the body should apprise him of his fatal oversight. It
was this fear that checked Warren in the very nick of time.

The one great obstacle in the way of the Sioux successfully playing this
ruse was that he was in open view, where no movement on his part could
be concealed. Were it in the wood, with rocks and trees at his command,
the chances would have been far better for him.

Warren Starr kept his eye fixed on him. It would have been easy, while
seated on his own pony, to drive a ball through the miscreant, who was
fully exposed to his fire, but it might be after all that he was badly
wounded and unable to defend himself. If such were the case he could not
commit the cruelty of firing at him again, even though the Sioux would
have eagerly seized such a chance against a foe.

It was for the purpose of learning the truth in the matter that Warren
watched him with the utmost closeness, holding his own weapon ready to
use the instant the other made a hostile demonstration.

The action or rather inaction of the other Sioux at the base of the
ridge was suggestive, and increased the suspicion of the young rancher.
They were in a direct line with the one on the ground, so that Warren
readily saw them without withdrawing his attention from his immediate
antagonist.

Instead of rushing out to the help of the latter they remained where
they were, and continued the role of spectators. This looked as if they
did not believe the fellow was in need of assistance, and they were
simply waiting with confidence in the result of the piece of treacherous
cunning.

The warrior with his left hand drew his rifle round to the front. The
weapon was a magazine one like Warren's, and it was one, therefore, of
which it would not do to lose sight.

The gun being in position for use, the owner, apparently with
difficulty, raised the upper part of his body, so that it was supported
on the left elbow. Then he essayed to call the right hand into play, but
appeared to find a difficulty in doing so.

Up to this moment Warren Starr had been trying to learn in what manner
the fellow was wounded. The motion of his lower limbs showed no
weakness, though it might have been there without appearing, so long as
he held his prone position and did not call them into use.

The action now indicated that his right arm was the one that had
suffered, since it fumbled awkwardly and refused to give the needed help
when called upon.

Still all this might be pretence, intended to deceive the youth into
uncovering himself. Warren did not lose sight of that probability.

The action of the Sioux was precisely what it would have been had he,
knowing that he was confronted by a merciless enemy, done his utmost,
while badly wounded in the right arm, to bring his weapon to bear upon
him. There was no hesitation or trouble with the left arm, but it was
the other which, from appearances, refused to answer the call upon it.

It was seen to move aimlessly about, but still was unable to help in
aiming, and the hand could not manipulate the trigger--an impotence
which, if actual, was fatal.

But who can trust an Indian? Knowing that his slightest action could not
escape the keen eyes of the youthful horseman a short distance away, was
he not likely to direct every movement with the purpose of deceiving
him?

The truth must show itself soon; but be it what it might, Warren Starr
had the comforting belief that he was master of the situation. He was
unharmed, with his ready Winchester in such position that he could use
it like a flash. As yet the Sioux had not brought himself to the point
of aiming, and Warren was watching him so closely that he could
anticipate his firing. He was resolved that the instant he attempted to
shoot he would let fly, and end the singular prairie duel.

It has taken considerable time to make all this clear, but the incidents
from the fall of the Sioux to the close occupied but a few minutes.

Young Starr spoke in a low voice to his pony, who began moving slowly
toward the prostrate Indian, the rider holding his weapon ready as
before. Jack took short and very deliberate steps, for he did not like
the appearance of things. A man lying on the ground is always a
disquieting object to a horse, and this one had already felt the sting
of the Indian's anger when the bullet clipped a tiny speck out of his
ear. Warren Starr was resolved to learn the truth, and he did so before
Jack had advanced a dozen steps.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A GOOD SAMARITAN.


The young rancher was yet some distance from the prostrate foe, when his
quick eye discovered something. It was a crimson stain on the snow near
the stock of the Indian's rifle.

The miscreant was wounded; he was not shamming.

It was remarkable that with this discovery came an utter revulsion of
feeling on the part of the youth. While he had been ready up to that
moment to drive his bullet through the bronzed skull, an emotion of pity
now took possession of him. He forgot that the fellow had tried with
desperate endeavor to take his life, and he knew he expected no mercy at
his hands. Nevertheless, as a Christian, he could not withhold his
sympathy, nor could he forget that simple but sublime role of the good
Samaritan.

Touching his heels against the ribs of Jack, the pony increased his
pace, but had not yet reached the prostrate figure when Warren
experienced the greatest surprise of all.

The Indian on the ground was Starcus!

The next moment young Starr dropped from his saddle, and was bending
over him.

"I hardly expected this, Starcus," he said, with a gentle reproof in his
voice. "You seem to have changed your mind since this morning, when you
shot the grizzly."

Indian though he was the fellow's painted face was darkened by an
expression of deep pain, whether the result of his hurt or of his mental
disquietude no one can say.

"I am not your friend; I am the enemy of all white men."

"You have proven that since you turned against those who would do you no
harm. But I have no wish to reproach you; your arm is badly hurt; let me
give you what help I can."

"I want no help," replied the Sioux, resolutely compressing his thin
lips; "go away and leave me alone."

"I shall not; I am your master, and shall do as I please with you."

"I tell you to leave me alone; I do not want your help," added Starcus
fiercely.

"You shan't hinder me, old fellow; this is for old times."

And paying no heed to the sufferer, who struggled with pitiful
awkwardness to keep him off, Starr ripped a piece from the lining of his
coat, and began bandaging the bleeding arm. The Sioux still resisted,
but while doing so showed a weakness rare in one of his race by fainting
dead away.

The youth made no effort to revive him until he had completed his hasty
but rude swathing of the arm, which was badly shattered by a bullet.
Then he flung some snow in the face of the fellow, who had already shown
signs of coming to.

Starcus looked around for a moment in a bewildered way, and then fixed
his gaze on the wounded member, now bound so that the flow of blood was
stopped. Then he turned his dark eyes on the face of the youth bending
over him, with an indescribable expression, and said in a low voice:

"I tried my best to kill you, Warren."

"But you didn't; and I am unharmed, and am your friend."

"And why are you my friend? I do not deserve it," continued the Sioux,
with his black eyes still centred on the face of the athletic youth.

"If you and I had what we deserved where would we be? Give it no further
thought."

Starcus now held his peace for a full minute, during which he never once
removed his gaze from the countenance of the good Samaritan. Strange
thoughts must have passed through his brain. When he spoke it was in a
voice as gentle as a girl's.

"Can you forgive me for what I have done?"

"With my whole heart."

"But I tried my best to kill you."

"Are you sorry?"

"Yes, sorry as I can be."

"Then I repeat, I forgive you; but are you able to rise to your feet?"

"Yes; I pretended I was not, so as to bring you closer to me. Had not my
arm been hurt I would have shot you."

"I am not sure of that," replied Warren, with a curious smile; "I
suspected it, and was on my guard. At the first move on your part I
would have fired. I was not sure even that you were hurt at all until I
saw blood on the snow. But it will not do for you to stay here. Let me
help you to your feet."

Starcus proved that the rest of his limbs were uninjured by coming as
nimbly as an acrobat to an upright posture.

"You have done all you can for me, and I thank you; now do not wait any
longer."

"Why not?" asked Warren, suspecting his meaning, but desirous of testing
him a little further.

"Look toward the ridge," was the significant reply.

The inaction of the other Sioux, as has been intimated, was due to their
belief that Starcus was master of the situation. Even when they saw him
pitch from the back of his pony they must have thought it a part of the
strategy designed to lure the young man to his death.

But the sight of the youth bending over the prostrate figure of their
comrade told the truth. Starcus had been wounded, and was at the mercy
of his conqueror.

Much as the warriors were disappointed, they were not the ones to allow
the brave fellow to be killed without an effort on their part to save
him.

Warren had suspected the truth, and, while seeming to be unaware of it,
he observed several of the warriors running at full speed from the ridge
out on the snowy prairie. They were still a goodly distance away, and he
calculated just how far it was prudent to allow them to approach before
appealing to Jack, standing within a few paces and awaiting his
pleasure.

He was hoping for just such a warning from Starcus as he had received.
He wanted it as a "guarantee of good faith," and when it came all doubts
of the sincerity of his repentance were gone.

Still, although this particular Sioux might feel gratitude for the
undeserved mercy shown to him, there was no hope of anything of that
nature from his companions. Had Warren counted upon that, he would have
made the mistake of his life. He and his friend had done the bucks too
much ill to be forgiven for an act of kindness to one of their number,
even though it was actuated by a motive whose nobility they could not
fail to understand.

"That is kind of you, to warn me of my danger," remarked the youth. "I
shall not forget it. But they are so far off that I need not hurry to
mount my horse."

"Do not wait too long; they will soon be here."

"I have my pony, and they are on foot."

"But they can run fast."

"I will leave in time; but, Starcus, if you are really a friend of mine,
you have the chance to prove it by being a friend of Tim; he is a
prisoner with your people, and in need of your good offices."

"I cannot help him," was the reply, accompanied by a shake of the head.

"I only ask that you shall do what you can; I am sure you will, whether
it results in good to him or not."

"Give yourself no hope of that; it will be hard for me to explain why I
was spared by you."

"But that was my own affair; surely they cannot suspect us of any
collusion."

"You do not know my people as I do."

"But I am not the first white man that has shown mercy to a helpless
foe; they know that as well as you and I."

"You are waiting too long, Warren; they will soon be here," added the
warrior, with an apprehensive glance toward the ridge, from which his
people were approaching with alarming swiftness.

"Well, good-by, Starcus."

He grasped the left hand of the Sioux, who warmly returned the pressure
with the words, "Good-by, Warren."

Then Warren Starr, not a moment too soon, sprang into the saddle and
galloped away.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE LONE HORSEMAN.


The young rancher had calculated matters closely, for hardly was he in
the saddle when the foremost of the running Sioux halted, raised his
gun, and fired. He was nigh enough to make his shot dangerous, though
providentially it did no ill.

It was an inviting chance for Warren to return the fire with the best
prospect of doing so effectively. But he had no disposition to slay any
one of the hostiles. His singular experience with Starcus had a
softening effect, and he was resolved to attempt no injury against the
men unless compelled to do it in actual self-defence.

Jack, being put to his best paces, quickly carried him beyond any
further peril, and when far enough to feel safe he checked the pony and
looked back.

He saw half a dozen Sioux gathered around the wounded Starcus,
evidently in conversation. Being strong in his lower limbs, and with his
wounded arm bandaged as well as it could be, he required no attention or
help from them. After all, knowing the buck had been a close friend of
the young rancher, they must have seen nothing remarkable in the mercy
that had been shown to him. White men are as capable of meanness and
cruelty as the Indians, but few of them disregard the laws of honorable
warfare, and still fewer are deaf to the cry of a hapless foe.

A few minutes later the group moved slowly back in the direction of the
ridge. A couple, however, drew off, and began a more systematic hunt of
the ponies that had shown such a fondness for their freedom. They
managed matters with such skill that they soon coaxed a couple of the
fleetest back to captivity. With the aid of these they soon corralled
the others, and the party gathered with their animals at the base of the
ridge.

Warren Starr remained at a safe distance for the greater part of an
hour, in the hope of learning something of the intentions of the Sioux.
But they gave no sign that he could understand. The ponies were in plain
sight near the trees, and he caught glimpses of their owners moving back
and forth, but nothing could be learned as to what it all meant.

He now debated what he should next do. He was free, well mounted, and at
liberty to follow his own judgment.

His immediate anxiety was concerning Tim Brophy. He knew he was in the
most perilous strait of his life; Warren's parents might be as badly
situated, but he had no knowledge of the fact. He therefore hoped for
the best concerning them. But if there was any way of helping his friend
it was beyond his power to discover it. He was a prisoner in the hands
of a dozen watchful and treacherous Sioux, who were not likely to give
him the least chance of escape, and any attempt on the part of Warren to
befriend him would not only be utterly useless, but would imperil his
own life.

He had appealed to Starcus to make the effort, but Warren saw the force
of the Indian's declaration that it was beyond his power. He was
wounded himself, and at the first move to interfere in behalf of the
captive, who had killed one of their best warriors and badly bruised a
couple, would be likely to bring down their vengeance upon his own head.
Distressing as was the conclusion, there was no escaping it--he must
turn his back on his devoted comrade. Warren accepted the situation like
a martyr, and had decided to continue his search for his folks, of whose
whereabouts he had only the vaguest idea.

Two lines of action presented themselves, and there was much to be said
in favor of and against both. By sharp riding he could reach Fort Meade
before sunset, and there whatever help he might need would be cheerfully
given by the commandant. Under the guidance of the friendly Indian
scouts, they could search for the rancher and his family; and their
knowledge of the people, as well as the country, would render such
search far more effective than any by the youth, without taking into
account the force that would insure safety instantly on such discovery.

But this plan involved considerable time, with the certainty that his
folks must spend another night in imminent peril--a night that he could
not help believing was to prove the decisive one.

Knowing nothing of the death of Jared Plummer, Warren hoped that he was
with his father, despite the gloomy prophecy of Tim Brophy. If the young
rancher could join them, the party would be considerable, and ought to
hold its own against any band of Indians such as were roaming through
the country. Besides, all would be well mounted and prepared for flight
whenever advisable.

These and other considerations, which it is not necessary to name,
decided the youth to make further search for his folks before riding to
Fort Meade.

One fact caused him no little speculation. It will be remembered that
the approach of himself and Tim to the ridge was caused by the discovery
of a thin column of smoke climbing into the sky from a more elevated
portion than that attained by themselves or the Sioux with whom they had
had the stirring encounter.

He did not forget, either, that the red men with whom they had exchanged
shots, and from whom he had escaped by the narrowest chance conceivable,
appeared from the opposite direction. Neither then, nor at any time
since, had anything occurred to explain the meaning of the vapor that
had arrested their attention when miles away.

If it had been kindled by Sioux or brother hostiles, why had they not
appeared and taken a hand in the lively proceedings? Abundant time was
given, and if they were there they ought to have met the fugitives at
the close of their desperate chase, when they sprang from the back of
Jack and dashed among the trees on foot.

It was these questions which caused the youth to suspect that the fire
might have been started by his father. True, he had expressed a
disbelief in this view when given by Tim, but that was before the later
phase had dawned upon him.

It looked like a rash act on the part of the rancher, if he had
performed it, but there might be excuse for his appealing to the signal
that he had employed in a former instance to apprise his son of his
location.

Speculation and guessing, however, could go on forever without result.
There was but one way of learning the truth, and that was to investigate
for himself.

Prudence demanded that the Sioux at the base of the ridge should be
given no inkling of his intention; and, in order to prevent it, a long
detour was necessary to take him out of their field of vision.

Accordingly he turned so as to follow a course parallel to the ridge,
and breaking into a swift canter kept it up until, when he turned in the
saddle and looked back, not the first sign of the hostiles was visible.

He was now miles distant, too far to return on foot, even had he felt
inclined to abandon Jack and try it alone. He rode close to the base of
the ridge, whose curving course was favorable, and facing about started
back toward the point he had left after his survey of the party that
held Tim Brophy a prisoner.

He did not believe there was any special danger in this, for he had only
to maintain a sharp lookout to detect the Sioux, if they happened to be
journeying in that direction. The broad stretch of open plain gave him
every chance he could ask to turn the fleetness of Jack to the best
account: and he feared no pursuit that could be made, where he was
granted anything like a chance.

His purpose was to approach as near the spot as was prudent, provided
they remained where he last saw them, and then, dismounting, penetrate
nigh enough to learn the meaning of the smoke which was such an
interesting fact to him. The task was a difficult one, for it was more
than probable that by the time he reached the neighborhood of the signal
fire it would be extinguished; for certainly his father would not
continue the display after it had failed in its purpose, and the
appearance of the hostiles showed him that it was liable to do more harm
than good.



CHAPTER XXIX.

A BREAK FOR FREEDOM.


Accustomed as are the Sioux to scenes of violence, it is not probable
that any members of the party to whom we have been referring ever looked
upon a sight so remarkable as the prairie duel between Starcus and the
young rancher.

This Indian, who had come among his native people in the hope of staying
the tide of frenzy sweeping through the tribe, was himself carried away
by the craze, and from a peaceable, well-educated youth became among the
most violent of those that arrayed themselves against the white man.

It was one of the better impulses of his nature that led him to fire the
shot when Tim Brophy was in such danger from the grizzly bear; but, as
he afterward confessed, it was no sooner done than he reproached himself
for not having turned his weapon against the two youths for whom he had
once entertained a strong friendship.

When the headlong Irishman started toward him, Starcus hurried away, and
not only joined a band of prowling hostiles, but told them of the lads,
and joined in a scheme to capture and hold them as hostages for several
turbulent Sioux then in the hands of the Government authorities. Knowing
them as well as he did, he formed the plan of stealing up behind them,
while they were riding across the snowy prairie, and the partial success
of the plan has been shown.

His comrades watched the opening and progress of the strange duel with
no misgiving as to the results. They saw how a run of wonderful fortune
had helped the young rancher, but now, when something like equality
existed between the combatants, the superiority of the American over the
Caucasian race must manifest itself.

As events progressed the interest of the spectators deepened. They
descended to the edge of the plain, where the view was unobstructed,
leaving but a solitary warrior guarding the prisoner. The solicitude of
the latter for his friend was as intense as it could be, for he could
not be sure of the result until the end. He feared that Warren Starr was
committing the same rashness for which he had often chided him.

The view from the rocks through the intervening trees was so imperfect
that it grew to be exasperating, but there seemed to be no help for it.

The warrior in charge of Tim Brophy was expected to give his full
attention to him, but as events progressed there was danger of his
forgetting this duty. He began to look more to the singular contest than
to his captive.

This Indian was standing on his feet, leaning forward, and peering as
best he could between the trees and the obstructing limbs. Tim was
seated on a bowlder at his side, and until this moment was the target of
a pair of eyes that would have detected the slightest movement on his
part.

The Irishman was quick to observe that by the strange trend of events a
golden opportunity had or was about to come to him. The warrior seemed
to forget him entirely, though, like all his people, he would be
recalled with lightning quickness on hearing or seeing anything amiss.

Surely no such chance could come again. Convinced of this, Tim seized it
with the rush of a hurricane.

Rising quickly and noiselessly to his feet he delivered a blow as quick
as a flash under the ear of the Sioux, which stretched him like a dead
man on his face.

There had been no noise, and in the excitement of the occasion the
Indians at the base of the ridge were not likely to learn what had taken
place until the revival of the senseless warrior, who was not likely to
become of any account for several minutes.

Tim needed no urging to improve his opportunity. Facing the top of the
ridge, he started off with a single desire of getting over the rough
ground as fast as possible.

He had taken but a few steps, however, when he abruptly stopped.

"Begorra!" he muttered, "but what a forgitful spalpeen is Tim Brophy!"

He had no rifle. That would never do, when pursuit was inevitable in a
short time. Accordingly, he turned about, ran to the prostrate figure,
and took the gun from his grasp. It was not as good as his own, but
inasmuch as that was in the possession of one of the others it was
beyond recovery.

It seemed cruel, but to make matters safe the Irishman gave the
prostrate fellow a second vigorous blow, from which he was certain not
to recover for a considerable while.

"I hate to hit a man whin he is down," he reflected. "If I meets him
ag'in I'll ax his pardon."

It was no time to indulge in sentiment, and he was off once more.

Some strange fate directed his steps, without his noticing the fact,
along the trail made by Warren Starr in his first hurried flight. Thus
it was that he came upon the other warrior that had been outwitted by
the youth whom he was so confident of capturing.

Urgent as was his hurry, the fugitive paused a moment to contemplate the
sight. Then with a sigh he hurried forward, for not a moment was to be
lost.

It was remarkable that, after having captured the young man with so much
difficulty, they should have invited him to escape, as they virtually
did by their action, but the circumstances themselves were exceptional.
The like could not happen again.

It was the same curious turn of events that extended his opportunity. It
is rare, indeed, that, after a captive does make a break for freedom, he
is allowed such a period in which to secure it; but here again the
unparalleled series of incidents favored him.

There had been no outcry on the part of the third victim to Tim Brophy's
good right arm. But for the forgetfulness of the youth in starting off
without his gun, the fellow would have recovered speedily and made an
outcry that must have brought several of his confederates to the spot.

But events were interesting beyond compare out on the prairie. All the
Sioux but the one named were watching them, and when they saw the plight
of Starcus there was a general rush to his assistance. The return was
slow, being retarded by the efforts of several to capture their
wandering ponies. When they succeeded in doing this and coming back to
the edge of the plains, the better part of half an hour had passed.

The first startling recollection that came to the party after this
return was the fact that the warrior who had pursued the young rancher
up the side of the ridge had not put in an appearance. They would have
awakened to this fact long before but for the affair between Warren
Starr and Starcus. Now that it was impressed upon them, and they
recalled the report of the gun that reached them long ago, together with
the reappearance of the young rancher on the back of his pony, they
could not fail to see the suspicious aspect of things.

There was a hasty consultation at the base of the ridge, and then the
man who was really the leader ordered a couple of his warriors to lose
no time in learning the truth. As eager as he to investigate, they set
out without delay, but had not gone far when one of them uttered a cry
which brought the whole party to the spot.

A striking scene greeted them. The white prisoner was gone, and the
Indian left in charge lay on his face like one dead. His gun was
missing. Strange proceedings had taken place during the absence of the
party.

It took but a few minutes to learn the truth. It was easy to see that
the interest of the guard in the incidents on the plain had caused him
to forget his duty for the time. The Irishman had suddenly assailed him
with that terrible right arm of his, and felled him senseless to the
ground.

The recipient of this attention was not dead, but he felt as though he
wished he was, when he was helped to a sitting position, and was
compelled not only to suffer the pain of the terrific blows received,
but had to face the jeering looks of his companions, who could forgive
anything sooner than the outwitting of a full-grown warrior by a trick
which ought not to have deceived a child.



CHAPTER XXX.

COMRADES AGAIN.


Actuated by his resolution to learn the real meaning of the signal fire
seen on the crest of the ridge, Warren Starr pushed on in the face of
the fact that every rod in the way of advance increased his own peril.
Studying the contour of the country, and carefully making his
calculations, he was able to tell when he drew near the scene of his
stirring encounter with the war party of Sioux. Deeming it unsafe to
ride farther, he drew his pony aside, and, dismounting, led him among
the rocks and trees, until he was beyond sight of anyone passing over
the open country. He did not forget that a plain trail was left, which
would serve as an unerring guide to those hostiles who might come upon
it, but that was one of the risks of the undertaking which could not be
avoided.

"Now, Jack, my boy, I want you to stay right here till I come back
again," he said, in parting from the animal. "You have been faithful and
have served me well, and I can depend upon you, for you are sure to do
the best you can."

There could be no doubt on that point, and without any more delay he
left the creature and began toiling up the ascent, his Winchester firmly
in his grasp, and as alert as ever for the sudden appearance of his
enemies.

An astounding surprise was at hand.

He had penetrated but a short distance from his starting point when he
became aware that someone else was in the vicinity. He caught only a
flitting glimpse of a person, who, descrying him at the same instant,
whisked behind a bowlder for protection. Warren was equally prompt, and
the two dodged out of each other's sight in a twinkling.

"If there is only one Indian," reflected the young rancher, "I ought to
be able to take care of myself--great Heavens!"

The exclamation was caused by the sight of Tim Brophy, who stepped from
behind the shelter and walked toward him.

Young Starr was astounded, and believed for a minute that his friend had
been put forward as a decoy, and that his captors were immediately
behind him. But that dread was removed the next moment by the appearance
of the young Irishman, who, advancing jauntily, called out in his cheery
voice:

"It's all roight, me boy! None of the spalpeens are here, and it's
mesilf that would like to shake ye by the hand."

That the two warmly grasped hands and greeted each other need not be
stated. Even then Warren could only murmur:

"Why, Tim, this is the greatest surprise of my life! Where in the name
of the seven wonders did you come from? and how came you to give them
the slip?"

"It was that which helped me out," replied the other, holding up his
clenched fist; "it b'ats all other wippons whin ye git into a tight
corner."

Not until the fellow had told his story could the other comprehend the
amazing truth. Then he saw how a marvellous combination of
circumstances had helped him, and how cleverly the quick-witted youth
had turned them to account.

"I must shake hands with you again," responded the delighted Warren. "I
never knew of anything more remarkable."

"Ye didn't think ye could give me any hilp," chuckled Tim, "but ye did
it all the same."

"How?"

"Haven't I told ye that the little circus ye opened out on the plain
drew away all the spalpeens but the single one lift to look after me?
And don't ye understand that ye made things so interesting that he
forgot me until I reminded him I was there by giving him a welt under
the ear that he won't forgit in a dog's age?"

"I see; but I never dreamed of any such result as that."

"Nor did I, but it came all the same, and sarved me as will as if ye had
fixed up the whole business."

Noticing the strange weapon in his hand Warren referred to it, and then
received the whole story.

"Well, it beats anything I ever heard of. Jack isn't far off, and we can
use him as we did before."

"And may I ask what ye are doing here so close to the spalpeens, whin ye
ought to be miles away?"

"I set out to learn whether that fire whose smoke we saw was started by
father or not. I didn't think so when you and I were talking it over,
but can't rid myself of the suspicion till I find out for myself."

Tim nodded his head, and said:

"Yis; it was Mr. Starr that did it."

"How can you know that?"

"I've been there, and found out," was the surprising reply.

"Where are he and mother now?"

"Can't say; I'm looking for them. Whin I give the spalpeens the slip I
did the best travelling I knew how, and without thinking of anything but
getting away as quick as I could I coom right onto the spot where the
fire had been burning. It hadn't gone out yit, but it was so nearly so
that it give no smoke. Looking around it did not take me long to l'arn
that two horses had been there----"

"They had three with them, as you told me."

"But they have only two now. I wouldn't have been sartin of the matter
if I hadn't seen the print of yer mother's small shoe in the snow, and
while I was looking I obsarved that of Dot, no bigger than Cinderella
hersilf might have made."

Warren was profoundly interested, and tears dimmed his eyes.

"Was there no man with father?"

"I couldn't see any footprints except his."

"Then it has been as you said: Plummer was killed by the Sioux. But
surely you noticed the direction they took?"

"I did that same, and was following their trail whin I cotched sight of
yersilf among the trees, and coom nigh shooting ye before asking for an
inthrodooction."

"Then they have passed nigh this spot?" asked the startled son.

Tim partly turned and pointed behind him.

"Right beyant is the thracks made by thimsilves and their animals, for
the ground won't admit of their riding."

"I wish it were otherwise," remarked Warren thoughtfully, "for I have
had the hope that they might be so near the fort as to be safe. They are
not, but we ought to join them quite soon. But, Tim," added his friend,
as if alarmed by a new fear, "the Sioux must have learned of your flight
long ago, and are now on your trail."

"I must say that I'm forced to agree wid ye," was the reply of the
Irishman, spoken as though the question was of trifling import.

"It won't do for us to stay here. They are liable to appear at any
moment," and the alarmed youth glanced apprehensively around, as if he
expected to see the whole party of hostiles burst through upon them.

"Jack is strong enough to carry us a long way," he added, "and since he
is close at hand I can lead him out on the open plain, where we shall
gain such a good start that there will be little chance of their
overtaking us."

"No doubt ye are corrict."

"Then let's do it without throwing away another moment."

He turned hurriedly to carry out his own purpose, when his comrade laid
his hand on his arm and detained him.

"I think, Warry," he said, in a low voice, "that ye've forgot one
matter--yer fayther, mither, and Dot."

"Gracious! how came I to do that? Here I set out to hunt for them, and
when they were as good as found I turn my back upon them, and think only
of my own safety."

"Ye are excoosable, since ye have been upsit by the thrifling
occurrences that have been going on this day."

"Take me to the spot where you left their trail," added Warren, with
unusual excitement, "and we'll never leave it until we join them; we
shall escape or die together."

The youths moved like those who knew that the question of life and death
must be settled within a few minutes.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE LAST HOPE.


The young ranchers had to go but a short distance, when they struck the
trail left by their friends. The snow rendered it so distinct that the
first glance told the story. Warren saw the track made by the feet of
his father, mother, and little Dot. The consciousness that he was so
near them profoundly affected the son.

"There are several strange things about this," he remarked to Tim,
halting for a minute before taking up the search in earnest; "we found
it almost impossible for a horse to clamber up the ridge, and yet their
two ponies have been to the very crest."

"That's because they found an easy way to do it from the ither side,"
was the sensible comment of Tim Brophy.

"Of course, but father is away off the track. More than half a day has
passed since he left home, and he is hardly a quarter of the way to
Fort Meade."

"He is just as near as we are, and he didn't start any sooner," was the
significant remark of Tim Brophy.

"But that was his destination when he set out, while our business has
been to find him."

"With no moon or stars to guide him last night, what means had he of
keeping to the right coorse?"

The question gave its own answer. The cause of this wandering was so
self-evident that Warren Starr would not have asked it had he not been
in such a state of mental agitation as a person feels when certain he is
on the eve of some critical event.

Reasoning with something like his usual coolness, the young rancher
thought he saw the explanation of other matters which had puzzled him,
but he bestowed little thought upon them, for his whole ambition for the
time was to reach his parents.

The trail which they were following led toward the open prairie, left by
Warren but a short time before. It was evident that Mr. Starr was
making for that, for their animals could not serve them so long as they
continued in this rough section.

"If I had been a little later," reflected the son, "I would have met
them. That I did not proves that they cannot be far off."

He was tempted to call or whistle, but that would have been rash, for if
there was any one point on which he was certain, it was that the
hostiles were hot on the trail of Tim Brophy. The real peril was from
that direction, and several times he reminded the Irishman of the fact,
though he needed not the warnings.

A short distance farther and both stopped with an exclamation of dismay.
The report of a weapon sounded from a point only a little way ahead.

"That was not a rifle," said Warren, turning his white face on his
companion; "it was a pistol."

"Ye are corrict."

"And it was fired by father."

"I'm sure ye are right."

"They have been attacked! come on! They need our help!"

The youth dashed ahead, clambering over bowlders, darting around rocks,
ducking his head to avoid the limbs, stumbling, but instantly regaining
his feet, only intent on getting forward with the utmost possible speed.

His companion found it hard work to keep up with him, but fortunately
they had not far to run. Without the least warning of what was coming
Warren Starr burst upon his astonished parents and little Dot, the rush
being so impetuous that the rancher had his Winchester half raised to
fire before he understood.

At the feet of Mr. Starr lay the mare dead, killed by her master. While
struggling over the rugged places she had slipped and broken her leg.
The rancher mercifully put her out of her misery by placing the muzzle
of his revolver to her forehead and sending a bullet through her brain.

Mrs. Starr and Dot had turned away that they might not witness the
painful sight, for they loved the creature. The arrival of the youths
caused the mother to face quickly about, and the next moment she and
her son were clasped in each other's arms, with Dot tugging at the coat
of her big brother.

"Warren, Warren, I guess you forgot me," she pleaded, when she thought
the embrace had lasted long enough.

"Forget you, my darling!" he repeated, catching her up and hugging the
breath from her body; "never! we are together again, and only death
shall separate us."

The rancher had shaken the hand of Tim Brophy during this little
by-play, and they exchanged a few words before father and son closed
palms.

Then the questions and answers came fast. Tim Brophy drew a little aside
to where mother and child stood, and holding the tiny hand of Dot
explained matters, while Warren did the same with his father.

"Did you see us approaching when you started the fire?" asked Warren,
after hurriedly telling his own story.

"No, but I was quite sure, when your mother and I came to talk it over,
that you would disregard my wishes about hurrying to the fort. We went
astray in the darkness, and after a number of narrow escapes, as I have
just related, found ourselves at the base of this ridge on the other
side."

"Did you recognize where you were?"

"No; the points of the compass were all askew, and to save my life I
couldn't get my bearings. But I was convinced that you were at no great
distance, and decided to try the signal which Plummer and I had used
before. Poor Plummer!"

"Do you know anything about him?"

Mr. Starr related what he had discovered, adding that the body was
shockingly mutilated and stripped of its belongings.

"The ascent of the ridge on the other side was quite easy, and we found
no difficulty in leading the horses to the crest. There the fire was
kindled. Knowing of the long stretch of level ground on this side, we
set out without waiting to learn the result of the signal smoke. I knew
that if you made your way to the spot where it was burning you would
understand the situation, and the snow would show you how to follow us
as fast as you desired."

"Did you hear or see nothing of the Indians?"

"We saw nothing of them, and were confident that the party with whom we
had repeated encounters were thrown so far behind that we had good
reason to believe they need be feared no longer. But all our hopes were
scattered when we heard firing from the direction of the open plain.
While fleeing from one party of hostiles we had almost run into another.
I confess," added the father, "that for a minute I was in despair. Your
mother, however, retained her courage, as she has from the first. She
urged me to make for the level country, aiming for a point so far
removed from the sounds of the guns that we would not be seen, unless
some ill fortune overtook us. My haste in striving to do so caused the
mare to fall and break her leg. I could not bear the sight of her
suffering, and though I knew the danger of the act, I put her out of her
misery with a pistol-ball through her brain."

"You little dreamed that Tim and I had a part in the firing of those
guns which so alarmed you."

"No; it did not occur to me; but we must not make the mistake of
supposing we are yet out of danger."

The experiences that had been hastily exchanged awakened the ranchers to
the fact that they were still in imminent peril, for the Sioux were
certain to follow Tim Brophy vigorously, and at that moment could not be
far off.

Mr. Starr beckoned to his wife and Tim to approach.

"You understand matters," he said, "and the question is, what is best to
do?"

"Why not continue our flight?" asked the wife.

"I would not hesitate a second were we not so fearfully handicapped.
There are four of us, not counting Dot, and we have but two animals,
provided Warren's pony can be found, which I very much doubt. True, we
men can walk or take turns in riding, but if we continue our flight,
speed is indispensable, and we would make a sorry show in our crippled
condition. We would be absolutely helpless on the open prairie against
the Sioux, all of whom, Warren tells me, have excellent horses."

The rancher had a scheme in his mind, but before making it known he
wished the views of the others.

"It's mesilf that thinks this," said Tim Brophy; "let us go wid yees to
the ridge of the prairie, and there mount Mr. Starr on Jack, while Mrs.
Starr and Dot can take the ither. Thin, what is to hinder yees from
going like a house afire for the foort?"

"But what of you and Warren?" was the natural question of the rancher.

"We'll cover yer retr'at."

"The proposal does more credit to your heart than your head, but I
cannot entertain it."

"Nor will I listen to anything which compels us to separate again,"
added the son decisively. "I do not believe you can reach Fort Meade
without another fight, and the absence of Tim and me would destroy hope
from the first."

"But my idea," persisted the Irishman, "was to keep the fight away from
the folks and have all the fun oursilves."

"That would do if it were possible to arrange the business that way,"
said Warren, "but the Sioux are the ones who have the decision in their
hands, and while we were doing our best others would slip off and attack
father and mother. If we remain together it must be otherwise. If there
ever was a situation where union is strength this is one of them."

"I've exhausted me resoorces," said Tim, withdrawing a step, as though
he had nothing more to say. Leaving the others to decide, he took
Warren's Winchester from his unresisting hand, and began watching for
the approach of the Sioux, who he was certain were following the trail
through the snow.

One fact was apparent to him, and he considered it no unimportant
advantage. The pursuers would advance at a speed that must bring them
into sight before they could surprise the fugitives.

A glance around showed that the rancher could not have selected a
better place for defence. The bowlders were on all sides, there being a
natural amphitheatre several rods in extent. Kneeling behind these the
whites had a secure protection against their enemies, unless they should
make an overwhelming rush--a course of action which is never popular
with the American Indian, inasmuch as it involves much personal risk to
the assailants.

It was at his suggestion that the others seated themselves on the ground
while holding their conference. When the Sioux should appear it would be
on the trail made by the party, so that the Irishman knew where to look
for them. He, too, crouched down, with the muzzle of the Winchester
pointed between two of the bowlders, ready to fire on the first glimpse
of a target.

Even the pony was forced to lie down near the lifeless body of his
comrade. So it was that anyone might have passed near the irregular
circle of bowlders without a suspicion of who were within it.

"I have but the one proposition to make," said Warren, seeing that his
father was waiting for him to speak, "and that is to stay here and fight
it out. We are strong enough to hold the Sioux at bay for a good while,
perhaps long enough to discourage them."

"And what have you to say, Molly?"

"I cannot feel as hopeful as Warren, but it really seems to me that that
is the only recourse left to us."

"I do not agree with either of you," remarked the rancher, feeling that
the time had come to announce his decision. "I formed my plan some
minutes ago. It is the only one that offers the slightest hope, and I
shall insist on its fulfilment to the letter. It is that Warren shall
leave at once, find his pony if he can, mount him, and ride with all
haste to the fort for assistance. Tim will stay behind with us to help
fight. The time for discussion is past; we must act. Warren, make ready
to leave this minute."



CHAPTER XXXII.

AWAY! AWAY!


When George Starr announced his decision to any member of his family no
one presumed to question it. Had the son been disposed to do so in this
instance he would have refrained, for he believed, with his parent, that
he had made known their last and only hope.

"I will go, father!"

He was in the act of rising to his feet, when Tim Brophy discharged his
rifle.

"I plugged him," was his comment, as he peered through between the
bowlders; "the spalpeen wasn't ixpicting the same, but that one won't
bother us any more."

Being in the act of rising at this moment, Warren shrank back again,
undecided for the moment what to do, but hesitation was fatal, as his
father saw.

"Go," he said; "don't lose an instant; they are not on that side; you
can slip off without being seen."

The youth saw the force of the words. Crouching as low as possible, with
the Sioux rifle in his hand, he passed between the bowlders opposite to
the point at which Tim had fired, and which, therefore, was in the
direction of the open prairie.

The move was one of those in which success depends wholly upon
promptness. The Sioux would speedily dispose themselves so as to prevent
anyone leaving, as soon as they found that the parties whom they were
seeking were at bay among the bowlders. Fortunate, therefore, was it
that no delay took place in the flight of young Starr, even though, when
he started, the enemy was at the gate.

It required no very skilful woodcraft for him to get away, since it was
not anticipated by the Sioux, and he had the best means for concealing
himself.

There had been one idea in the mind of the rancher, which he would have
carried out but for the sudden appearance of the Indians; that was for
his son to take the remaining pony with him. The fugitives could make no
use of him, and should it prove that Jack was gone, his owner would not
be without the means of pushing to Fort Meade for help. Circumstances,
however, prevented that precaution. It never would have done to attempt
to take the remaining pony. Warren quickly vanished among the trees and
bowlders, and the Rubicon was crossed.

But Jack was found just where he had been left, patiently awaiting the
return of his master. The pursuit of Tim Brophy by the Sioux had led
them in a different direction, though, had the flight of Warren been
postponed for a short time, the steed must have fallen into the hands of
the enemy.

The heart of the youth gave a bound of delight when he came upon the
animal.

"Follow me, Jack," he said cheerily; "if you ever did your best, now is
the time. The lives of us all depend upon you. Have a care, my boy, or
you will slip."

In his eagerness the youth descended the slope faster than was prudent.
Jack did slip, but quickly recovered himself, and no harm seemed to
have been done.

It was but a short way to the edge of the prairie, where the pause was
long enough to see that the trappings were right, when the young rancher
swung himself into the saddle, twitched the rein, and said:

"Come!"

The gallant fellow, with a sniff of delight, sprang away, and sped with
a swiftness which few of his kind could surpass. The snowy plain
stretched in front, and he darted over it as though his hoofs scorned
the earth. The still air became a gale, which whistled about the ears of
the youth, who felt the thrill that comes to one when coursing on the
back of a noble horse to whom the rapid flight is as pleasant as to the
rider.

It was now near meridian. A long distance remained to be passed, and
since a goodly portion of it was rough and precipitous, the young
rancher felt little hope of reaching Fort Meade before nightfall.

"If we could have such travelling as this," he reflected, "we would be
there in a few hours, but there are places where you will have to walk,
and others where it will be hard work to travel at all."

It was a discomforting thought, but it was the fact; since the youth was
not following the regular trail leading from the ranch to the fort at
the foot of the Black Hills. But his familiarity with the country and
the daylight ensured him against going astray; he was certain to do the
best possible thing under the circumstances.

Two miles had been passed at this brilliant pace, and Warren was as
hopeful as ever, when he became aware of an alarming truth, and one
which caused a feeling of consternation--Jack was falling lame. That
slip made in descending the lower part of the ridge, just before his
owner mounted him, was more serious than he had suspected. It had
injured the ankle of the horse so that, despite the gallantry with which
he struggled, it not only troubled him, but with every leap he made over
the plain it grew worse.

It was a condition of things enough to cause consternation on the part
of the rider, for it put an end to his hope of reaching the fort that
day. True, he could continue the advance on foot, but, doing his utmost,
he could not arrive before late at night--so late, indeed, that no help
would be sent out before the morning, and they could not reach the
beleaguered fugitives until late on the following day.

"Can they hold out until then?"

That was the question which was ever in the young rancher's mind and
which he dare not answer as he believed the probabilities required.

There was no getting away from the fearful truth. The vigilance of his
father and Tim might enable them to stand off the Sioux as long as
daylight lasted. Each had an excellent magazine rifle, for it will be
remembered that he had exchanged weapons with his young friend, but
there was not only a formidable party of bucks surrounding them,
shutting off all possibility of their slipping off during the darkness,
but other Sioux were in the neighborhood who could be readily summoned
to the spot.

Darkness is the favorite time with the red men when moving against an
enemy, and they would probably make no determined demonstration until
the night was well advanced. Then, when they should rush over the
bowlders, nothing could save the fugitives. Should this emergency arise,
Warren Starr felt that everything was lost, and he was right.

He weakly hoped that Jack would recover from his lameness, but all know
how vain is such an expectation. The injury rapidly grew worse, so that
when the animal dropped his gait to a trot and then to a walk, Warren
had not the heart to urge him farther.

Slipping from the saddle he examined the hurt. It was near the fetlock
of the left hind leg. The skin was abraded; the ankle evidently had been
wrenched. It was swollen, and when the youth passed his hand gently over
it, the start and shrinking of the creature showed that it was
excessively painful to him.

"It's no use, Jack," said the lad; "I know you would give your life for
me, but you can't travel on three legs, and I'm not going to make you
suffer when it can do us no good."

Manifestly there was but one course open--that was to abandon the pony
and press on as fast as he could on foot. Jack could get along for a day
or two, and his master would not forget to look after him on the first
opportunity.

There was no call to burden himself with the saddle and bridle, but they
would prove an incumbrance to the animal if left upon him, and his owner
was too considerate to commit the oversight.

In riding so fast the young rancher had followed the general course of
the ridge, so that on halting he was quite near it. He now turned to his
right, calling upon Jack to follow.

The action of the pony was pitiful. When he bore a part of his weight on
the limb, after the brief halt, it had become so painful as to be almost
useless. Nevertheless he hobbled forward until the foot of the slope was
reached.

Here Warren removed the trappings. His blanket being rolled behind the
saddle, he spread it over the back of the horse and secured it in
place.

"It is all I can do for you, Jack," he said tenderly, "and it will give
you protection against the cold. You will be able to find a few blades
of grass here and there where the snow has not covered them, and the
buds of the trees will give some help. The snow will prevent your
suffering much from want of water. Perhaps a good long rest will improve
your ankle so that you can use it. If it does," and here the young
rancher spoke impressively, as though he expected his steed to
understand his words, "I want you to start for the fort; don't forget
that!"

He touched his lips to the forehead of his faithful ally, who looked
after his young master, as he walked away, with an expression almost
human in its affection. But there was no help for it, and with a sad
heart, but the determination to do his utmost, Warren Starr resumed his
journey toward Fort Meade.

Not long after parting with his pony he came upon something which caused
him surprise. In the snow directly in front appeared the footprints of a
single horse that had passed over the ground on a run, taking the same
direction that the youth was following.

His experience with horses told the youth at a first glance that the
animal was travelling at his utmost speed. The trail swerved inward from
the open plain, as though the rider had sought the base of the ridge for
his protection.

Had there been several ponies coursing ahead of him, he would not have
found it so hard to understand matters, for he would have concluded that
they were an independent party, making all haste to reach some point,
but he could not read the meaning of a single warrior speeding in this
fashion.

"Whoever he was he lost no time," mused Warren, breaking into a loping
trot, for his own haste was great.

Had he not known that poor Jared Plummer was no longer among the living,
he would have thought it possible that he was making for Fort Meade. He
wondered whether it could not be a white man engaged on a similar
errand.

The probabilities were against this supposition. He knew of no rancher
in the neighborhood of his old home, and it would seem that no white man
would ride with such desperation unless pursued by a relentless enemy,
and he saw no evidence of such a contest of speed.

True, the pursuers might have been farther out on the prairie, but their
trail would have joined that of the fugitive ere long, so as to make the
line more direct; but though the young rancher trotted a full half mile
before checking himself and looking around, he discovered no signs of
others.

The last advance of Warren brought him close to the precipitous section
which, knowing well, he had feared would prove too difficult for his
pony. Raising his eyes to survey it and fix upon the best line to
follow, he caught sight of the horseman he had been following.

His animal was on a deliberate walk, and coming directly toward him. The
youth stopped short. As he did so he perceived that he was an Indian
warrior. Warren brought his rifle round in front, with no intention of
running from him or taking advantage of the cover near at hand.

The Indian raised his hand, and oscillated it as a signal of comity. As
he did so the two were so near that the youth perceived that the arm was
bandaged. Something familiar in the appearance of the horseman struck
him at the same moment, and the young rancher lowered his weapon with
the exclamation:

"Starcus!"

It was he, and as he rode forward he had a strange story to tell Warren
Starr.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS.


When the Sioux who had rushed out on the open plain to the help of the
wounded Starcus gathered around him they were quick to perceive that his
life was due to the mercy of his conqueror, but their hostility toward
the latter was not diminished one whit by the discovery; they were as
eager for his life as ever, and proved it by firing several shots after
him as he rode away.

The wounded arm was bandaged in a piece of the lining of Warren Starr's
coat. The crimson stain showed through the cloth, though the flow of
blood was checked. Sound and unhurt as was Starcus in all other
respects, he was unable to use the injured limb, and was therefore as
useless in any impending hostilities as if out of existence.

As the party moved back toward the base of the ridge there was a
consultation among them as to what was best to do. Starcus expressed a
more venomous rancor than ever against the white people, and especially
against the one that had brought him low. He regretted that he was to be
helpless for weeks to come, with a permanent injury for life.

When the leader of the band suggested that he should return to the
nearest village and remain until able to take the warpath again, he
vehemently opposed it. He was not willing to retire in such a
humiliating manner, but the leader insisted, and after sulking a while
the "civilized" Indian consented.

Being a capital horseman, he leaped unassisted upon his pony, and
unwilling in his anger so much as to bid the warriors good-by, he struck
the animal into a swift gallop, heading toward the village, where he was
expected to stay until fully recovered.

The action of the warrior was singular. After riding some distance he
glanced behind him at the ridge he had left. He seemed to be in an
irritable mood, for he uttered an impatient exclamation and urged his
beast to a faster gait. His wound pained him, but the agitation of his
mind and his own stoical nature caused him to pay no heed to it. Indeed
nothing more could be done for the hurt.

When he looked back the second time he had reached a point for which he
had been making since his departure. He was out of sight of any of his
people who might be watching him.

An abrupt change in the course of his pony was instantly made, and he
sent him flying at the height of his speed. Strange as it may seem, he
was aiming for the same point toward which Warren Starr started some
time later.

He did not spare his animal. He went like a whirlwind, and as though his
life depended upon reaching his destination without delay. Warren Starr
read the trail aright when he interpreted it as meaning that the pony
before him was going as fast as he could.

Starcus was picking his way, still mounted, over the rough section where
the youth had expected to meet great difficulty with his animal, when
he suddenly discovered that white people were immediately in his front.
He drew up, and was in doubt for a minute whether to flee or hold his
ground.

A squad of cavalry from Fort Meade confronted him. They numbered nearly
twenty, under the command of a young lieutenant, a recent graduate of
West Point. They were accompanied by a couple of Indian scouts familiar
with the country.

Starcus was quick to make a signal of friendship, and then rode forward
to meet the soldiers, who had halted upon seeing him.

The Sioux was well known to the two Indians, the officer, and several of
the cavalry. They knew he had joined the hostiles, and were therefore
suspicious of him. This fact rendered his self-imposed task one of
considerable difficulty. But after a while he convinced them of his
honesty.

The lieutenant had been sent out by the commandant at Fort Meade to
bring in the rancher and his family, their scouts having reported them
in imminent danger. Starcus explained that the parties for whom they
were looking were at no great distance, having left the ranch the night
before to hasten to the fort. One of the ranchmen had been killed, and
the rest were in great peril. Starcus said he had started to ride to the
fort for help, and it was most fortunate that he encountered it so near,
when the passing moments were beyond importance.

The young officer was sagacious. He could have asked some very
embarrassing questions relating to the wound of the messenger, but he
wisely forbore. It is not best at all times to let a person know how
much is plain to you and how much you suspect. Evidently Starcus was
earnest in his desire to befriend the imperilled ones; the fact that he
was journeying alone in the direction of the fort constituting the
strongest evidence.

He explained that the ridge where he believed the whites were doing
their best to escape the Sioux was much more approachable from the other
side. He described the ground minutely, and the two scouts present
confirmed the accuracy of his statements.

When the lieutenant proposed that Starcus should act as their guide the
truth could no longer be kept back. He made a clean breast of
everything.

He had been with the hostiles. He was among the fiercest. He had tried
to shoot young Starr, who, more fortunate than he, brought him wounded
from his horse. When he lay on the ground, at his mercy, the young man
rode up, spoke words of kindness, and bandaged his wound.

And in doing this the youth proved more of a conqueror than he had done
by his excellent marksmanship. He won the heart of the Indian, who was
now eager to prove his gratitude by any act in his power. He
unhesitatingly answered that he would serve as the guide to the cavalry.

But once again the officer displayed rare tact. If Starcus was sincere
in his newly awakened friendship for the whites, it might be in his
power to accomplish a great deal of good by going among his people and
using persuasion and argument; but if he should appear as an active ally
of the whites such power would be gone, and it would be unsafe at any
time in the future to trust himself among them.

"No," replied the lieutenant; "return to your own people; do what you
can to show them the mistake they are making in taking the warpath; you
may effect much good. My guides will do as well as you to direct us to
the spot where the whites are in urgent need of our help. You say it is
not far, and I am hopeful that we shall be in time to save them."

Accordingly Starcus parted from the cavalry, and was on his return to
join his people and to attempt to carry out the wise suggestion of the
officer, when he encountered the young rancher making all haste on foot
to secure the help which was much nearer than he had dared to hope.

After exchanging friendly greetings, Starcus told the story which the
reader has just learned.

Warren listened with amazement and delight. He had, indeed, heaped coals
of fire upon his enemy's head by his forbearance, and the bread cast
upon the waters had returned before many days.

"You have acted nobly," was the comment of the youth.

"Can it undo the harm of the last few days?" asked the Indian, with a
troubled expression.

"Far more, for I am sure the timely news given to the lieutenant will
save my people."

"And yet I was their enemy."

"And are now their friend. You lost your head in the frenzy that is
spreading like a prairie fire among your people; your footsteps were
guided by Providence, otherwise you would have missed the cavalry; they
would have ridden to the ranch, and my folks would have been left as
much without their help as though the soldiers had stayed at the fort.
Besides," added the young rancher, "you can do as the officer
suggested--show your own people the right course for them to follow."

"I will try," replied Starcus firmly; "I cannot understand how it was my
senses forsook me, but they have come back, and," he said, with a
meaning smile, "I think they will stay."

"I am sure of that, and you will do much good."

"Well, good-by," said Starcus, reaching down his unwounded arm. "I hope
we shall meet again under pleasanter conditions."

Warren warmly pressed the hand and stood for a minute gazing after the
strange fellow, who rode toward the nearest Indian village with the
determination to carry out his new intentions.

It may as well be said that he honestly did so, and there is little
doubt that his work was effective in more than one respect, and did much
to ameliorate many phases of the sad incidents that speedily followed.

Left alone once more, the young rancher stood for some minutes in doubt
as to his right course. It was idle to push on to the fort on foot, and
he was at much disadvantage, now that he had no animal at command. He
decided to follow the cavalry.

He had forgotten to ask Starcus how far off they were, but judged the
distance was not great. The trail of the Indian's horse gave him the
necessary guidance, and he broke once more into his loping trot,
despite the rough nature of the ground.

A half-hour sufficed to take him to the scene of meeting, when he turned
and began following the footprints of the horses at a faster gait than
before.

Inasmuch as he was now a goodly number of miles from the bowlders where
his friends were at bay before the attacking Sioux, he hardly expected
to reach the place in time to take a hand in the decisive scenes or even
to witness them. Starcus had left such accurate directions, and the
Indian guides were so familiar with everything, that little delay was
probable.

The distant sound of firing spurred him to still greater speed, and he
ran so fast and hard that ere long he was compelled to drop to a walk to
regain his breath.

Great as was his hope, he felt much misgiving. The cavalry might arrive
in time, but in the flurry sad mishaps were probable. It might be that
his father or mother or Dot or Tim had fallen before the vigilance of
the assailants. He could not feel any real happiness until he learned
beyond peradventure that all was well.

The shot fired by Tim Brophy the instant he caught sight of the warrior
hurrying along the trail, with no thought that he was so close to the
whites, was the best thing in every way that could have happened, for it
not only wiped out the rash miscreant, but told those immediately behind
him that the fugitives were at bay and ready to fight to the bitter end.

There was an instant withdrawal beyond reach of the rifles, of whose
effectiveness they had received more than one striking example that
night.

It took a considerable while for the Sioux to learn the whole truth. The
fugitives had intrenched themselves in what was undoubtedly the most
secure position near, and were on the watch. Gradually working round so
as to enclose them against flight, the trail of the young rancher was
discovered. A little investigation made known that he had mounted his
pony and started off for assistance.

But help was no nearer than Fort Meade, and, as the Indians naturally
thought, it could not possibly arrive before the morrow. If this were
so, abundant time remained in which to encompass the destruction of the
defenders. The Sioux decided to maintain watch, but to defer the
decisive assault until late at night.

And it was this decision that saved the little party. Within the
following two hours the friendly scouts reported the situation to the
lieutenant of cavalry, who began his arrangements for an immediate
attack upon the hostiles.

The latter, however, were as watchful as their enemies, and were quick
to learn their new danger. They withdrew and disappeared after the
exchange of a few shots, fired under such circumstances that no harm was
done on either side.

The rescued whites were conducted to the foot of the ridge on the other
side, where they were so disposed among their friends that all were
furnished with transportation, and the journey to Fort Meade was begun,
or rather resumed so far as they were concerned.

Not far away they met the young rancher, breathless and in an agony of
distress. His joy may be imagined upon learning the happy truth. All
were saved without so much as a hair of their heads being harmed.

The next day Warren returned for his pony, and found him so much better
that he was able to walk with little trouble. The youth was too
considerate to ask him to carry any load, and the two made the journey
with the rider on foot.

And so it came about that Providence mercifully extricated our friends
from the danger which threatened more than once the ruin of all.


THE END.





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