Edward S. Ellis.

Cowmen and Rustlers A Story of the Wyoming Cattle Ranges online

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COWMEN AND RUSTLERS

A Story of the Wyoming Cattle Ranges

BY

EDWARD S. ELLIS

AUTHOR OF "LOG CABIN SERIES," "BOONE AND KENTON SERIES," ETC.

WITH FOUR FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY W.M. CARY

MCMIV






CONTENTS.

CHAPTER

I. A MERRY GROUP

II. A WARNING FROM THE WOODS

III. THE FLIGHT OVER THE ICE

IV. THE REPORT OF GUNS

V. LOOKING SOUTHWARD

VI. COWMEN AND RUSTLERS

VII. THE WARNING

VIII. GOOD-BY

IX. A SUMMONS AND A REPLY

X. A HOT PURSUIT

XI. A STRANGE DIVERSION

XII. THE BACK TRAIL

XIII. A CONSULTATION

XIV. UNWELCOME CALLERS

XV. THE "DOG INDIANS"

XVI. AN UNPLEASANT VISIT

XVII. A DELICATE SITUATION

XVIII. A MISCALCULATION

XIX. THE BURNED RANCH

XX. THE TRUCE

XXI. A MESSENGER IN HASTE

XXII. IMPORTANT TIDINGS

XXIII. AT BAY

XXIV. THE PRIMITIVE FORT

XXV. THE FLAG or TRUCE

XXVI. THE UNDERGROUND MISSIVE

XXVII. ON PAROLE

XXVIII. THE FINAL SUMMONS

XXIX. A STRANGE OCCURRENCE

XXX. THE MISSING ONE

XXXI. WHY IT WAS DONE

XXXII. THE HOSTAGE

XXXIII. THE PRISONER

XXXIV. OUT IN THE NIGHT

XXXV. CONCLUSION




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

"FIRED TWO MORE BARRELS"

"COMING STRAIGHT TOWARD HIM"

"A MASS OF BLAZING EMBERS"

"CHALLENGED ON THE EDGE OF THE CAMP"





CHAPTER I.

A MERRY GROUP.


The Whitney household, in the western part of Maine, was filled with
sunshine, merriment and delight, on a certain winter evening a few
years ago.

There was the quiet, thoughtful mother, now past her prime, but with
many traces of the beauty and refinement that made her the belle
of the little country town until Hugh Whitney, the strong-bearded
soldier, who had entered the war as private and emerged therefrom
with several wounds and with the eagles of a colonel on his shoulder,
carried her away from all admirers and made her his bride.

Hugh had been absent a couple of weeks in Montana and Wyoming, whither
he was drawn by a yearning of many years' standing to engage in the
cattle business. He had received some tuition as a cowboy on the
Llano Estacada, and the taste there acquired of the free, wild life,
supplemented, doubtless, by his experience during the war, was held in
restraint for a time only by his marriage.

The absence of the father was the only element lacking to make the
household one of the happiest in that section of Maine; but the letter
just received from him was so cheerful and affectionate that it added
to the enjoyment of the family.

The two principal factors in this jollity were the twins and only
children, Fred and Jennie, seventeen on their last birthday, each
the picture of health, bounding spirits, love and devotion to
their parents and to one another. They had been the life of the
sleighing-parties and social gatherings, where the beauty of the
budding Jennie attracted as much admiration as did that of her mother
a score of years before, but the girl was too young to care for any
of the ardent swains who were ready to wrangle for the privilege of a
smile or encouraging word. Like a good and true daughter she had no
secrets from her mother, and when that excellent parent said, with a
meaning smile, "Wait a few years, Jennie," the girl willingly promised
to do as she wished in that as in every other respect.

Fred was home for the Christmas holidays, and brought with him
Monteith Sterry, one year his senior. Sterry lived in Boston, where he
and Fred Whitney were classmates and warm friends. Young Whitney had
spent several Sundays with Sterry, and the latter finally accepted the
invitation to visit him at his home down in Maine.

These two young men, materially aided by Jennie, speedily turned the
house topsy-turvy. There was no resisting their overrunning spirits,
though now and then the mother ventured on a mild protest, but the
smile which always accompanied the gentle reproof betrayed the truth,
that she was as happy as they in their merriment, with which she would
not have interfered for the world.

That night the full, round moon shone from an unclouded sky, and the
air was crisp and clear. There was not much snow on the ground, and
the ice on the little river at the rear of the house was as smooth as
a polished window-pane. For nearly two score miles this current,
which eventually found its way into the Penobscot, wound through the
leafless woods, past an occasional opening, where, perhaps, the humble
cabin of some backwoodsman stood.

It was an ideal skating rink, and the particular overflow of spirits
on that evening was due to the agreement that it was to be devoted to
the exhilarating amusement.

"We will leave the house at 8 o'clock," said Fred at the supper table,
"and skate to the mouth of Wild Man's Creek and back."

"How far is that?" inquired Monteith Sterry.

"About ten miles."

Pretty Jennie's face took on a contemptuous expression.

"Not a bit more; we shall be only fairly started when we must turn
back."

"Well, where do you want to go, sister?"

"We shouldn't think of stopping until we reach Wolf Glen."

"And may I inquire the distance to that spot?" asked Sterry again.

"Barely five miles beyond Wild Man's Creek," said she.

Those were not the young men to take a "dare" from a girl like her.
It will be admitted that thirty miles is a pretty good spurt for a
skater, but the conditions could not have been more favourable.

"It's agreed, then," remarked Sterry, "that we will go to Wolf Glen,
and then, and then - "

"And then what?" demanded Jennie, turning toward him.

"Why not keep on to Boston and call on my folks?"

"If you will furnish the ice we will do so."

"I couldn't guarantee ice all the way, but we can travel by other
means between the points, using our skates as the chance offers."

"Or do as that explorer who is to set out in search of the north
pole - have a combination skate and boat, so when fairly going we can
keep straight on."

"I will consent to that arrangement on one condition," interposed the
mother, so seriously that all eyes were turned wonderingly upon her.

"What is that?"

"That you return before the morrow."

The countenances became grave, and turning to Sterry, on her right,
Jennie asked, in a low voice:

"Is it safe to promise that?"

"Hardly. Let us leave the scheme until we have time in which fully to
consider it."

"You will start, as I understand, at eight," remarked the mother,
speaking now in earnest. "You can readily reach Wolf Glen within a
couple of hours. There you will rest a while and return as you choose.
So I will expect you at midnight."

"Unless something happens to prevent."

The words of Monteith Sterry were uttered jestingly, but they caused a
pang to the affectionate parent as she asked:

"What could happen, Monteith?"

Fred took it upon himself to reply promptly:

"Nothing at all."

"Is the ice firm and strong?"

"It will bear a locomotive; I never saw it finer; the winter has not
been so severe as some we have known, but it has got there all the
same; Maine can furnish the Union with all the ice she will want next
summer."

"There may be air-holes."

"None that we cannot see; they are few and do not amount to anything."

Here Sterry spoke with mock gravity.

"The name, Wolf Glen, is ominous."

"We have wolves and bears and other big game in this part of the
State, but not nearly as many as formerly. It hardly pays to hunt
them."

"I hope we shall meet a few bears or wolves," said Jennie, with her
light laugh.

"And why?" demanded the shocked mother.

"I would like a race with them; wouldn't it be fun!"

"Yes," replied Sterry, "provided we could outskate them."

"I never knew that wild animals skate."

"They can travel fast when they take it into their heads to turn
hunter. I suppose many of the bears are hibernating, but the
wolves - if there are any waiting for us - will be wide awake and may
give us the roughest kind of sport."

Fred Whitney knew his mother better than did his friend and understood
the expression on her face. So did Jennie, and the couple had such
sport of their Boston visitor that the cloud quickly vanished and
Monteith felt a trifle humiliated at his exhibition of what might
be considered timidity. Nevertheless he quietly slipped his loaded
revolver in the outer pocket of his heavy coat just before starting
and when no one was watching him.

Precisely at eight o'clock the three friends, warmly and conveniently
clad, with their keen-edged skates securely fastened, glided
gracefully up-stream, the mother standing on the porch of her home and
watching the figures as they vanished in the moonlight.

She was smiling, but in her heart was a misgiving such as she had not
felt before, when her children were starting off for an evening's
enjoyment. The minute they were beyond sight she sighed, and,
turning about, resumed her seat by the table in the centre of the
sitting-room, where, as the lamplight fell upon her pale face, she
strove to drive away the disquieting thoughts that would not leave
her.

It was a pleasing sight as the three young people, the picture of
life, health and joyous spirits, side by side, laughing, jesting, and
with never a thought of danger, moved out to the middle of the river
and then sped toward its source, with the easy, beautiful movement
which in the accomplished skater is the ideal of grace. The motion
seemingly was attended with no effort, and could be maintained for
hours with little fatigue.

The small river, to which allusion has been made, was one hundred
yards in width at the point where they passed out upon its surface.
This width naturally decreased as they ascended, but the decrease was
so gradual that at Wolf Glen, fifteen miles away, the breadth
was fully three-fourths of the width opposite the Whitney home.
Occasionally, too, the channel widened to double or triple its usual
extent, but those places were few in number, and did not continue
long. They marked a shallowing of the current and suggested in
appearance a lake.

There were other spots where this tributary itself received others.
Sometimes the open space would show on the right, and further on
another on the left indicated where a creek debouched into the stream,
in its search for the ocean, the great depository of most of the
rivers of the globe.

The trees, denuded of vegetation, projected their bare limbs into the
crystalline air, and here and there, where they leaned over the banks,
were thrown in relief against the moonlit sky beyond. The moon itself
was nearly in the zenith, and the reflected gleam from the glassy
surface made the light almost like that of day. Along the shore,
however, the shadows were so gloomy and threatening that Monteith
Sterry more than once gave a slight shudder and reached his mittened
hand down to his side to make sure his weapon was in place.

The course was sinuous from the beginning, winding in and out so
continuously that the length of the stream must have been double that
of the straight line extending over the same course. Some of these
turnings were abrupt, and there were long, sweeping curves with a view
extending several hundred yards.

They were spinning around one of these, when Sterry uttered an
exclamation:

"I'm disappointed!"

"Why?" inquired Jennie, at his elbow.

"I had just wrought myself up to the fancy that we were pioneers, the
first people of our race to enter this primeval wilderness, when lo!"

He extended his arm up-stream and to the right, where a star-like
twinkle showed that a dwelling stood, or some parties had kindled a
camp-fire.

"Quance, an old fisherman and hunter, lives, there," explained Fred,
"as I believe he has done for fifty years."

"Would you like to make a call on him?" asked Jennie.

"I have no desire to do so; I enjoy this sport better than to sit by
the fire and listen to the most entertaining hunter. Isn't that he?"

The cabin was several rods from the shore, the space in front being
clear of trees and affording an unobstructed view of the little log
structure, with its single door and window in front, and the stone
chimney from which the smoke was ascending. Half-way between the cabin
and the stream, and in the path connecting the two, stood a man with
folded arms looking at them. He was so motionless that he suggested a
stump, but the bright moonlight left no doubt of his identity.

"Holloa, Quance!" shouted Fred, slightly slackening his speed and
curving in toward shore.

The old man made no reply. Then Jennie's musical voice rang out on the
frosty air, but still the hunter gave no sign that he knew he had been
addressed. He did not move an arm nor stir.

"I wonder whether he hasn't frozen stiff in that position," remarked
Sterry. "He may have been caught in the first snap several weeks ago
and has been acting ever since as his own monument."

At the moment of shooting out of sight around the curve the three
glanced back. The old fellow was there, just as they saw him at first.
They even fancied he had not so much as turned his head while they
were passing, but was still gazing at the bank opposite him, or, what
was more likely, peering sideways without shifting his head to any
extent.

The occurrence, however, was too slight to cause a second thought.

They were now fairly under way, as may be said, being more than a mile
from their starting-point. They were proceeding swiftly but easily,
ready to decrease or increase their speed at a moment's notice.
Sometimes they were nigh enough to touch each other's hands, and again
they separated, one going far to the right, the other to the left,
while the third kept near the middle of the stream. Then two would
swerve toward shore, or perhaps it was all three, and again it was
Jennie who kept the farthest from land, or perhaps a fancy led her to
skim so close that some of the overhanging limbs brushed her face.

"Look out; there's an air-hole!" called the brother, at the moment the
three reunited after one of these excursions.

"What of it!" was her demand, and instead of shooting to the right or
left, she kept straight on toward the open space.

"Don't try to jump it!" cautioned Sterry, suspecting her purpose;
"it's too wide."

"No doubt it is for you."

The daring words were on her lips, when she rose slightly in the air
and skimmed as gracefully as a bird across the space of clear water.
She came down seemingly without jar, with the bright blades of steel
ringing over the crystal surface, and without having fallen a foot to
the rear of her companions.

"That was foolish," said her brother, reprovingly; "suppose the ice
had given away when you struck it again?"

"What's the use of supposing what could not take place?"

"The air-hole might have been wider than you suppose."

"How could that be when it was in plain sight? If it had been wider,
why I would have jumped further, or turned aside like my two gallant
escorts. Stick to me and I'll take care of you."

There was no dashing the spirits of the girl, and Sterry broke into
laughter, wondering how it would be with her if actual danger did
present itself.

Occasionally the happy ones indulged in snatches of song and fancy
skating, gliding around each other in bewildering and graceful curves.
The three were experts, as are nearly all people in that section of
the Union. Any one watching their exhibitions of skill and knowing the
anxiety of the mother at home would have wondered why she should feel
any misgiving concerning them.

True, there were wild animals in the forests, and at this season
of the year, when pressed by hunger, they would attack persons if
opportunity presented; but could the fleetest outspeed any one of
those three, if he or she chose to put forth the utmost strength and
skill possessed?

"Look!"

It was Jennie who uttered the exclamation, and there was good cause
for it. She was slightly in advance, and was rounding another of the
turns of the stream, when she caught sight of a huge black bear, who,
instead of staying in some hollow tree or cave, sucking his paw the
winter through, was lumbering over the ice in the same direction with
themselves.

He was near the middle of the frozen current, so that it was prudent
for them to turn to the right or left, and was proceeding at an easy
pace, as if he was out for a midnight stroll, while he thought over
matters. Though one of the stupidest of animals, he was quick to hear
the noise behind him and looked back to learn what it meant.




CHAPTER II.

A WARNING FROM THE WOODS.


Monteith Sterry began drawing the mitten from his right hand with the
intention of using his revolver on the bear, when he checked himself
with the thought:

"Better to wait until I need it; the most of this excursion is still
before us."

The lumbering brute came to a stop, with his huge head turned, and
surveyed the approaching skaters. Had they attempted to flee, or had
they come to a halt, probably he would have started after them. As it
was he swung half-way round, so that his side was exposed. He offered
a fine target for Sterry's weapon, but the young man still refrained
from using it.

"It isn't well to go too near him," remarked Fred Whitney, seizing the
arm of his sister and drawing her toward the shore on the left.

"I don't mean to," replied the bright-witted girl, "but if we turn
away from him too soon he will be able to head us off; he mustn't
suspect what we intend to do."

"There's sense in that," remarked Sterry, "but don't wait too long."

The three were skating close together, with their eyes on the big
creature, who was watching them sharply.

"Now!" called Fred, in a low, quick voice.

He had not loosened his grip of his sister's arm, so that when he made
the turn she was forced to follow him. The moment was well chosen, and
the three swung to one side as if all were controlled by the single
impulse.

Bruin must have been astonished; for, while waiting for his supper
to drop into his arms, he saw it leaving him. With an angry growl he
began moving toward the laughing party.

The tinge of anxiety which Fred Whitney felt lasted but a moment. He
saw that they could skate faster than the bear could travel; and, had
it been otherwise, no cause for fear would have existed, for, with the
power to turn like a flash, it would have been the easiest thing in
the world to elude the efforts of the animal to seize them.

They expected pursuit, and it looked for a minute as if they were
not to be disappointed. The animal headed in their direction with
no inconsiderable speed, but, with more intelligence than his kind
generally display, he abruptly stopped, turned aside, and disappeared
in the wood before it could be said the race had really begun.

Jennie was the most disappointed of the three, for she had counted
upon an adventure worth the telling, and here it was nipped in the
bud. She expressed her regret.

"There's no helping it," said Monteith, "for I can think of no
inducement that will bring him back; but we have a good many miles
before us, and it isn't likely that he's the only bear in this part of
Maine."

"There's some consolation in that," she replied, leading the way back
toward the middle of the course; "if we see another, don't be so
abrupt with him."

The stream now broadened to nearly three times its ordinary extent,
so that it looked as if they were gliding over the bosom of some lake
lagoon instead of a small river. At the widest portion, and from the
furthest point on the right, twinkled a second light, so far back
among the trees that the structure from whence it came was out of
sight. They gave it little attention and kept on.

Sterry took out his watch. The moonlight was so strong that he saw the
figures plainly. It lacked a few minutes of nine.

"And yonder is the mouth of Wild Man's Creek," said Fred; "we have
made pretty good speed."

"Nothing to boast of," replied Jennie; "if it were not for fear of
distressing mother, I would insist that we go ten or fifteen miles
further before turning back."

Since plenty of time was at command, they continued their easy pace,
passing over several long and comparatively straight stretches of
frozen water, around sharp bends, beyond another expansion of the
stream, in front of a couple of natural openings, and finally, while
it lacked considerable of ten o'clock, they rounded to in front of
a mass of gray towering rocks on the right bank of the stream, and,
skating close into shore, sat down on a bowlder which obtruded several
feet above the ice.

They were at the extremity of their excursion. These collective rocks
bore the name of Wolf Glen, the legend being that at some time in the
past a horde of wolves made their headquarters there, and, when the
winters were unusually severe, held the surrounding country in
what might be called a reign of terror. They had not yet wholly
disappeared, but little fear of them was felt.

The friends could not be called tired, though, after skating fifteen
miles, the rest on the stone was grateful.

They sat for half an hour chatting, laughing, and as merry as when
they started from home. The sky was still unclouded, but the moon had
passed beyond the zenith. A wall of shadow was thrown out from one of
the banks, except for occasional short distances, where the course of
the stream was directly toward or from the orb.

When Sterry again glanced at his watch it was a few minutes past ten.
They had rested longer than any one suspected.

"Mother won't look for us before midnight," remarked Fred, "and we can
easily make it in that time."

"She was so anxious," said the sister, who, despite her
light-heartedness, was more thoughtful than her brother, "that I would
like to please her by getting back sooner than she expects."

"We have only to keep up this pace to do it," said Monteith, "for we
have been resting fully a half hour - "

He paused abruptly. From some point in the wintry wilderness came a
dismal, resounding wail, apparently a mile distant.

"What is that?" asked Monteith, less accustomed to the Maine woods
than his companions.

"It is the cry of a wolf," replied Fred; "I have heard it many times
when hunting alone or with father."

"It isn't the most cheerful voice of the night," commented the young
Bostonian, who, as yet never dreamed of connecting it with any peril
to themselves. And then he sang:

Yes, the war whoop of the Indian may produce a pleasant thrill
When mellowed by the distance that one feels increasing still;
And the shrilling of the whistle from the engine's brazen snout
May have minor tones of music, though I never found it out.

The verse was hardly finished when the howl was repeated.

"It is hard to tell from what point it comes," observed Fred, "but I
think it is on the right shore as we go back."

"Do you imagine it is far from the river?" inquired Monteith.

"I think not, but I may be mistaken."

"I am quite sure Fred is right," said his sister; "and, more than
that, that particular wolf isn't a great way off. I wonder whether he
has scented our trail?"

Before any comment could be made upon this remark, a second, third,
fourth, and fully a half-dozen additional howls rang through the
forest arches. They came from the left shore, and apparently were
about as far off as the cry first heard.

"They are answers," said Fred, in a low voice, in which his companions
detected a slight tremor.

It was at this moment that the first fear thrilled all three. The
cries might mean nothing, but more likely they meant a good deal. The
wolf is one of the fiercest of American wild animals when suffering
from hunger, though a coward at other times, and a horde of them are
capable of attacking the most formidable denizens of the woods.

The fact that they were between the skaters and home, and at no great
distance from the course they must follow to reach there, was cause
for fear. It was almost certain that in some way the keen-scented
creatures had learned there was game afoot that night for them, and
they were signalling to each other to gather for the feast.

Fred and Monteith were not specially frightened on their own account,
for, if the worst should come, they could take to the trees and wait
for help. They might make a sturdy fight, and perhaps, with anything
like a show, could get away from them without taking to such a refuge.

But it was the presence of Jennie that caused the most misgiving.


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Online LibraryEdward S. EllisCowmen and Rustlers A Story of the Wyoming Cattle Ranges → online text (page 1 of 13)