Frank V. Webster.

Comrades of the Saddle The Young Rough Riders of the Plains online

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water.

Yet there was no need of their guidance, for in a few minutes the
ears of the hunters caught the sound of running water.

"That's a brook," declared Mr. Wilder, and quickly he led the way
to a spot where they found a fair-sized pool formed by a stream
coming from the hills.

The coffee pot was a monster, holding all of two gallons, and this
the ranchman directed Tom to fill before allowing the ponies to
satisfy their thirst.

As the animals were drinking Mr. Wilder took the lariats he had
brought and tied an end around the left ankle of each pony, making
another noose round the hind ankle on the same side at such a
distance that there was about three feet of the rope between the
hoofs.

"Such a short line makes it impossible for them to run or even walk
very well," he explained, "so they will just stay here and browse,

"Now we'll remove the bridles. Always remember to hobble your pony
before unbridling."

"But the rope ends?" asked Tom.

"In a place like this, where there are no rocks between which they
can get bound, you can let them drag. When it is rocky, you can
wind the rope loosely round their necks."

Before the task was finished they heard Horace calling.

"Hey, you! Hurry with that coffee pot!" he shouted. "We want to
start it boiling."

"Then come and get it," replied his father.

But Tom had already picked it up and was carrying it toward the
camp fire, which was blazing cheerily beneath the big tree. Taking
the bridles, Mr. Wilder soon followed.

Larry had spread a blanket on the ground for a tablecloth and
arranged the plates, knives and forks. In the middle he had made a
pile of doughnuts and around them set three pies.

To Bill had fallen the task of cooking, and he was busy frying eggs
and bacon in a long-handled pan, which he rested on a bed of coals.

At the sight of Tom and the coffee pot, he called:

"Tell Horace to pour some water into the drinking cups, put the
coffee in the pot and set it in the fire. Supper'll be ready
before the coffee unless you hurry."

But Tom was not a boy to shirk work, and directing his brother to
bring the cups, he sent his aide for the coffee while he prepared a
good hot bed of coals.

The odor from the sputtering bacon whetted their appetites, and all
but Bill devoted their energies to hurrying the coffee and to such
good purpose that they disproved the old saying, "A watched pot
never boils."

At last all was ready, and the hunters squatted tailor fashion on
the ground, each before his plate of eggs and bacon and a steaming
cup of coffee.

"My, but this tastes better than anything I ever ate before,"
declared Larry.

"Because the ride has given you a keen appetite," said the ranchman
with a smile.

The others were too busy eating to offer any comment, and the meal
progressed in silence till almost the last bit of food had
disappeared.

"Hop Joy certainly can cook," complimented Tom as he reached for
another doughnut from the fast vanishing pile.

"That's what I told you," returned Horace. "From the way they are
going, it's a good thing I went back and put in an extra supply
when Hop wasn't looking."

"He'll fix you when we get back!" cried Bill. "Tom, who does the
dishes? For your benefit and before my young brother gets a chance
to speak, I'll tell you that the cook never washes the dishes."

"Oh, what a whopper!" cried Horace. "Tom, the cook always washes
them. That's all he does, wash dishes and cook."

"Well, we'll all help," declared the youthful commander of the camp.

This arrangement met with laughing approval, and because of the
many hands, the task was soon finished.

"And now, as we must be up with the dawn if we are going to get a
shot at any deer, I suggest that we turn in," remarked Mr. Wilder.

"Where did you put the pine boughs, Horace? I don't see them."

"I left them over by the tree," replied the lieutenant, grinning.
"I didn't know how many each of you would want, so I thought the
best way was to let you pick out all you pleased."

"Lazy bones! Lazy bones!" shouted the other boys, and Tom cried:

"That trick won't work this time. Now, hurry and tote the boughs
over."

Making a face at his superior, Horace Jumped tip and soon came
back, dragging a monster pile of fragrant pine branches, which he
quickly separated into five heaps.

"Does the honored general wish me to wrap and tuck each one in his
bed or will they do that themselves?" he asked, bowing in mock
deference.

"The honored general sentences you to do the dishes in the morning
for that," returned Tom with assumed dignity, and in rare good
humor they quickly placed their saddles as pillows and unrolled
their blankets.

Fixing the fire so that it could not spread and cause any harm, Mr.
Wilder bade the boys turn in, and soon they were sound asleep.

Exhausted from the excitement of their arrival and the long ride,
Tom and Larry were so deep in slumber that though Mr. Wilder called
them when he himself got up, they did not wake.

His own sons, however, heard his call and quickly crawled from
their blankets.

"Come on, we'll get breakfast. Let Tom and Larry sleep," exclaimed
their father. "Remember, they are not so accustomed to riding as
you two are."

This caution was uttered just in time, for Horace was in the very
act of yanking the youthful commander by the foot when his father
spoke.

Not long did it take to prepare the food, and Bill was just pouring
the coffee when Mr. Wilder aroused his guests.

"Wh - what is it?" gasped Larry, sitting up and staring about him
dazedly.

"It's breakfast, that's all," said Horace. "Hey, Mr. Commander,
you'll be court-martialed if you miss grub." And he proceeded to
drag Tom from his bed of boughs by the heels.

Chagrined to think they had not helped with the meal, Tom and Larry
quickly arose and ran to the brook to wash.

As they stood at the pool they forgot their ablutions in the beauty
of the scene before them.

The grass of the prairie was heavy with dew and in the rose glow of
the sky the particles of moisture sparkled and glistened like
countless crystals.

"Seems like fairyland," whispered Tom, as though afraid if he spoke
out loud the scene would vanish.

A call from Horace, however, roused them to action, and in a few
minutes they were, eating heartily.

"What sort of a brook is that?" asked Larry. "I didn't see any
outlet, yet water keeps running into the pool all the time."

"There must be some underground stream into which it empties,"
replied the ranchman. "There are two such subterranean rivers in
these hills, and, I suppose this pool connects with one of them."

Discussion of such phenomena was prevented by his continuing:

"Hurry now and pack up. I'll bring up the ponies while you are
getting ready."

Eager to begin the ascent of the hills, the boys worked rapidly,
and by the time Mr. Wilder appeared with the horses everything was
in the saddle bags, though Horace had dispensed with the formality
of wiping the dishes.

It was the task of but a few minutes to make fast the saddle bags
and blankets, and just as the sun flooded the plains with its
golden light the hunters swung into their saddles.

Riding southward, Mr. Wilder followed the base of the hills for a
good mile till he came to a well-worn trail.

"We'll follow this run for a while," said he. "Bill, you and Larry
can ride at the rear. I'll keep Horace and Tom with me, so they
won't be tempted to spoil our sport by shooting at the first deer
they see, no matter how far out of range it is. For the benefit of
you two," he added, addressing the brothers, "I will say that when
you are riding a trail, and especially a mountain trail, always let
your pony have plenty of rein. It's easier for him. He won't be
so likely to stumble and fall, and a pony can generally keep a
trail better than a man."

These instructions delivered, Mr. Wilder turned his pony into the
run and the others followed in Indian file, the two elder boys
bringing up the procession.

For an hour they rode, now with their ponies scrambling over rocks,
now up such steep ascents that the comrades feared the animals
would fall over onto them.

But by leaning far forward at such times, they had no mishaps and
at last rode out onto a plateau from which they looked down into a
vale some two hundred yards below.

A mist hovered over the basin, rendering it impossible for them to
see the bottom.

The boys were disappointed and said so.

"On the contrary, it is lucky," declared Mr. Wilder. "There is a
brook down there and it is a favorite drinking ground for deer.
Under the cover of the mist we shall be able to go down, and it
will act as a blanket to keep our scent from the sensitive-nosed
beauties."

"Going to ride down?" queried Tom, looking about for some trail.

"No, we'll leave the ponies here. Lively now and hobble them and
don't talk."

The plateau was some hundred yards long by half as many wide, and
quickly the hunters rode their horses to where the mountain again
rose, turning the horses loose in some delicious grass.

"Be very careful, very careful in descending," cautioned the
ranchman. "The ground is wet and the rocks are slippery, and if
you once start to fall, there's no knowing where you will land."

All the boys had hunted enough to know that the safest way to carry
a loaded gun is with the muzzle pointed to the ground, the butt
resting against the back of the right shoulder, with the arm
akimbo, thus forming a rest for the barrel.

And in this fashion they set out.

After a few minutes' search Mr. Wilder exclaimed:

"Here's the run the deer use. Steady now. Mind your feet. Don't
make a sound."

With almost no noise, the party descended. Now and then one of the
lads slipped, but there was always a rock or a sapling at hand
which they could grasp to steady themselves and no one fell.

As he reached the edge of the mist, Mr. Wilder held up his hand as
a signal to halt.

Turning his head, he listened intently for some sound that might
give him an inkling as to the whereabouts of the deer.

In his eagerness to locate them, Horace moved away from the trail
to the left and then stopped.

Barely had he halted when a loud sneeze rang out from directly in
front of him.

So sudden and so near was it that Horace cried out in fright.

At the same moment the antlers of a big buck appeared from the mist
and then vanished as quickly, only to reappear a moment later,
followed by its head and shoulders.

Whether the buck or the hunters were more surprised it would be
hard to say. For several seconds they stared at one another.

Larry, Tom and Horace were trembling like leaves, victims of "buck
fever," a species of stage fright which makes it impossible for any
one to hold a gun steady, and Bill was in such a position behind
the others that he could not aim his rifle unless he put it between
the heads of the others.

The ranchman alone was where he could bring down the buck, and he
hesitated, unwilling to risk a chance to get several other deer by
dropping the one in front of him.

It was the buck himself that put an end to the remarkable
situation. Of a sudden, with a snort of rage, he lowered his sharp
pronged antlers and charged at Horace.

With a yell of terror the boy turned to flee and stumbled.

In an instant the scene had changed from one of comedy to one of
possible tragedy should the infuriated beast reach his victim.

But Mr. Wilder was equal to the occasion. Throwing his rifle to
his shoulder, he fired.

True was his aim and the buck threw up his head, staggered and then
toppled over.

The sound of the shot had galvanized Tom and Larry into action, and
with a lightning movement they both stooped, seized their friend
and pulled him to them just as the body of the buck struck the
ground.

So unnerved were they all by the narrowness of the escape that for
several moments no one spoke.

Then Mr. Wilder rallied them by exclaiming:

"See! see! The mist has lifted. There go three more deer up the
valley. Come on! Let's see who can bring one down."

The chance for a shot brought even Horace out of his fright, and in
a thrice the boys had sighted their rifles and fired. But no deer
dropped.

"I hit one, I know I did!" declared Bill. "Let's follow."

"No, shoot again," returned his father. "We have the advantage
here from being above."

Again the rifles cracked, and this time one of the deer gave a
bound in the air and dropped flat.

"Hooray! We've got another!" cried the lads,

"Don't fire any more. The others are out of range," declared the
ranchman.

"Please, just one more," begged Horace.

But his father refused, telling him that a good hunter never shot
when there was no hope of bringing down his game.

"Never mind, we've got two," said Larry. "I call that pretty good
luck."

And speculating as to whom the credit of hitting the second
belonged, they all hastened to where it lay.




CHAPTER IX

THE MESSAGE FROM CROSS-EYED PETE

The shells shot by the rifles belonging to the two chums
were .44-.50, while those of the Wilder boys were .30, so that
it would only be possible to tell whether the boys from Ohio
had proved better marksmen than the Westerners. Yet the boys
were eager to settle the question.

Chaffing each other good naturedly, they tramped along, and when
they saw the size of the antlers and body of the second buck they
forgot all rivalry.

"He's a beauty!" cried Horace. "I'm glad it wasn't he that made a
jump for me. His prongs stick out a yard."

Though this was an exaggeration, the branches of the antlers were,
indeed, surprisingly long.

"And there are fourteen of the prongs," ejaculated Tom, who had
been counting the sharp points.

"Which makes him fifteen years old," asserted Bill. "Just look at
their spread; they must be all of four feet."

"Easily," said his father. "He's the biggest buck I ever saw. Ah,
here's the bullet-hole, right back of the shoulder. It certainly
was a splendid shot." And as he bent closer to examine it, the
others awaited his decision as to which party the trophy belonged.

"Ohio wins!" he declared at last.

"Then Tom probably got him. He's a better marksman that I am,"
asserted Larry.

Though the Wilder boys were naturally disappointed, they made the
best of it, and Bill exclaimed:

"Come on, Larry. Let's go into the woods and search. I'm positive
I hit a deer the first time I fired. Can we go, father?"

"Surely, only don't get lost. It will take me some time to dress
the two bucks. If you are not back by the time I am finished, come
to the plateau. We'll wait for you there."

Promising not to wander far, the elder boys entered the woods while
the others assisted in dressing the monster buck.

After skinning the animal, the ranchman cut out the most savory
parts and placed them in the pelt.

"Shall we take the antlers?" asked Horace.

"They'd be fine to have mounted, but they'll be awfully in the way
while we're hunting. What do you think, Mr. Wilder?" And Tom
appealed to him as to their proper disposal.

"They will be awkward to carry, that's a fact," assented the
ranchman. "If you want them very much, though, we can leave them
here and then stop on our way home. They'll be safe enough till we
get back."

Readily Tom agreed, and he and Horace were just stooping to pick up
one end of the hide, containing the deer meat, when Horace let out
a cry.

"Oh, what's that thing up by my buck?"

"It looks like a tiger," exclaimed Tom, and then added: "But you
don't have tigers out here, do you?"

"No. That's a mountain lion, which is almost the same thing,
though," answered Mr. Wilder. "Now's your chance to show your
marksmanship, Horace. Take a good aim and see if you can't knock
him over."

No urging did his son need. Raising his rifle to position, the lad
squinted along the barrel carefully and then fired.

Above the report of the shot rang out an ear-splitting howl, and
the mountain Hon turned to face the direction of the sound.

"Give him another, son. You hit him, but not in a vital spot,"
said his father.

Again Horace aimed and fired, this time with better success, for
the lion dropped in its tracks.

"Good work," praised Tom heartily. "That was a mighty long shot to
make. Now if Bill and Larry only get something, we'll have bagged
a trophy."

Elated at his success, Horace was starting toward his prize when
his father called him back to help carry the pelt.

"My, but he's a beauty!" declared the younger of the chums when
they reached the carcass. "I should hate to come across one
suddenly."

"They are not pleasant customers to meet," smiled Mr. Wilder. "I'm
glad this fellow didn't visit us last night. Though why he passed
the horses by I don't know. Mountain lions are great ones for
horse or cattle flesh. While I am dressing the buck you boys had
better climb up to the plateau and see that our ponies are all
right. Take some of the meat with you and then we won't be obliged
to make so many trips."

With a piece of meat in one hand and a rifle in the other, the lads
started up the trail and, though they went bravely enough, each in
his heart was a bit frightened.

"Pete says mountain lions usually travel in pairs, so keep your
eyes peeled," advised Horace.

But though they imagined several times they heard the purr of one
of the prowlers, they reached the plateau without adventure.

The ponies were huddled together, tails to the rocks, and were
sniffing the air in obvious uneasiness.

"Steady, boys, steady," called Horace soothingly. And setting down
his meat, he patted each reassuringly.

The presence of the boys was an evident relief to the ponies, and
after a few minutes they began to champ grass again.

"That lion must have come quite near, to scare 'em so," asserted
the young rancher. "Pete says ponies are almost as good as dogs
for watching, and I believe him. They can smell things, oh, way
off." And sitting down, Horace entertained his companion with
stories of the keen scent of horses, which lost none of their color
because of his lively imagination. Indeed, he succeeded in getting
them both so worked up that when Mr. Wilder's hat appeared above
the edge of the plateau each boy seized his rifle and aimed at it.

"What are you going to do, hold me up?" laughed the ranchman as he
saw the barrels leveled at him, and then, as he noted the alarm on
their faces, he added: "Steady! Put your guns down carefully."

Laughing nervously, the boys obeyed.

"You are a fine lot, you are," he chided, "to leave me to bring up
all the meat alone. Why didn't you come back?"

In explanation Horace told how they had found the ponies and said
they had stayed to quiet them.

"And I'll wager you've been relating some wonderful yarns for Tom's
benefit, judging from the way you received me. Now, boys," he
continued seriously, "when you are in the mountains you must never
talk about things that will excite you. There are so many things
that can happen. A man always needs to be cool and collected, so
that if emergency does arise he can think quickly and well."

This bit of advice made a deep impression on the lads and they
promised to remember it.

The sun was high in the heavens and its heat was becoming terrific.

"Fetch the horses and come into the woods," commanded Mr. Wilder.
"We'll get dinner ready and wait for Bill and Larry where it's
cool."

"Why it's a quarter of twelve," said Tom, looking at his watch. "I
had no idea it was so late."

"Time flies when you are hunting," returned the ranchman, "a fact
that you should remember, and with it that darkness falls quickly
in the mountains."

The ponies were nothing loath to move from the broiling plateau to
the cooler woods and stood contentedly, now and then nibbling the
leaves and tender twigs from the trees near them.

Lighting a fire, Mr. Wilder soon had a choice slice of venison
broiling In the saucepan, and the aroma was so good that the boys
could hardly wait to taste the meat.

At last it was ready, and they ate it ravenously. "How much better
it tastes when you've shot it yourself," declared Tom. "I've had
venison before, but it wasn't nearly so good as this."

"A keen appetite and the mountain air certainly do give a zest to
your food," smiled the ranchman.

"I reckon I'll put another slice on the fire so it will be ready
for the boys when they come."

But it was fully an hour later before they heard the others hail.

"Up here in the woods," called back Tom and Horace, running to the
edge of the forest to guide them to the camp.

It was several minutes before Larry and Bill came in sight, and
before they did the others had learned that they had found the deer
Bill thought he had hit.

"I ran across it," explained Larry. "It's hind leg was broken and
it was lying down when I came upon it. The poor thing tried to
jump up, but it couldn't very well."

"But I didn't hear any shot," interrupted Tom. "I've been
listening, too."

"Good reason why, because it was way over in another basin,"
answered his brother. "It must have been all of three miles from
here, don't you think so, Bill?"

"Easily."

"Then how did you follow it?" demanded Horace.

"By its blood and where its leg dragged."

"Well, I'm glad you found the poor creature and put it out of
misery," declared his father. "That's the only objection I have to
deer hunting - the animals have such wonderful vitality that they
travel miles and miles after being crippled and then drop from
exhaustion, like this one. As a usual thing, I don't allow any one
to fire at a deer unless at short range. I made an exception this
morning, but I never will again."

"We didn't bring much of the meat back, it was too long a haul,"
said Bill after he had partially satisfied his hunger.

"We have plenty," returned his father. "In fact, we have so much
that we won't fire at any more deer."

"Then what can we hunt?" protested Horace.

"Bear," returned his father.

"Oh, goody! and mountain lions! Say, you deer slayers, you may
have knocked over some bucks, but it took me to stop a mountain
lion."

"So you were the one who got him, eh?" asked Bill. "He must have
been asleep. You can't hit a deer, and yet you got a mountain
lion, which is smaller."

"He wasn't asleep, and I made a dandy long shot. Tom said so,"
declared his brother hotly.

"You certainly did well, son," interposed his father.

"Then we've all bagged something, if you can call my getting the
deer Bill wounded a hit," said Larry. "This is sure Jim dandy
hunting. Back home you can tramp all day without even seeing a
woodchuck."

Heartily the others laughed at this statement of the difference in
hunting grounds, and for an hour or so they talked and joked.

"Are we going to camp here for the night?" inquired Horace at last
of his father.

"No. I reckon we'll go farther into the mountains. We'll have a
better chance for bear there. This is a little too near the
plains."

Well rested, the boys were eager to be on the move and gladly they
made ready to advance.

In and out among the hills the trail wound, and sundown found them
entering a basin similar to that where they had captured their
deer. On two sides walls of rocks towered and dense forests formed
the others.

Lonesome, indeed, was the spot, and this effect was heightened by
the rapidly descending darkness.

"Commander, I think we'll hobble the horses right here," said Mr.
Wilder, dismounting in the center of the vale. "It would also be a
good idea to have our camp fire close beside them. Then, if any
prowler smells the deer meat or the horses, it can't reach either
without our knowing it. And, because we must keep a fire all
night, we shall need a lot of wood."

Recalled to the fact that he was in charge of the camp, Tom said:

"You fellows come with me and get the wood. I guess Mr. Wilder
will attend to the horses, and we four can gather enough before it
gets real dark."

Quickly the boys dismounted and ran to get dry limbs and branches,
making a monster pile.

"I reckon that's enough, commander," said the ranchman at last,
"and, besides, supper is ready or will be when the coffee is
poured."

"Coffee! Where did you get the water to boil it?" queried Larry.

"From the canteens. I filled them this morning."

"And here I've been wondering where we could look for water. I was
surprised you didn't tell Tom to send some of us."

Being less tired than the night before, the boys sat round the camp


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Online LibraryFrank V. WebsterComrades of the Saddle The Young Rough Riders of the Plains → online text (page 4 of 9)