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Starlight Ranch

From The Plains To The Point

From The Point To The Plains

The Worst Man In The Troop


From The Plains To The Point

From: Starlight Ranch



The sun was going down, and a little girl with big, dark eyes who was
sitting in the waiting-room of the railway station was beginning to look
very tired. Ever since the train came in at one o'clock she had been
perched there between the iron arms of the seat, and now it was after
six o'clock of the long June day, and high time that some one came for

A bonny little mite she was, with a wealth of brown hair tumbling down
her shoulders and overhanging her heavy eyebrows. She was prettily
dressed, and her tiny feet, cased in stout little buttoned boots, stuck
straight out before her most of the time, as she sat well back on the
broad bench.

She was a silent little body, and for over two hours had hardly opened
her lips to any one,--even to the doll that now lay neglected on the
seat beside her. Earlier in the afternoon she had been much engrossed
with that blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, and overdressed beauty; but, little
by little, her interest flagged, and when a six-year-old girlie loses
interest in a brand-new doll something serious must be the matter.

Something decidedly serious was the matter now. The train that came up
from Denver had brought this little maiden and her father,--a handsome,
sturdy-looking ranchman of about thirty years of age,--and they had been
welcomed with jubilant cordiality by two or three stalwart men in
broad-brimmed slouch hats and frontier garb. They had picked her up in
their brawny arms and carried her to the waiting-room, and seated her
there in state and fed her with fruit and dainties, and made much of
her. Then her father had come in and placed in her arms this wonderful
new doll, and while she was still hugging it in her delight, he laid a
heavy satchel on the seat beside her and said,--

"And now, baby, papa has to go up-town a ways. He has lots of things to
get to take home with us, and some new horses to try. He may be gone a
whole hour, but will you stay right here--you and dolly--and take good
care of the satchel?"

She looked up a little wistfully. She did not quite like to be left
behind, but she felt sure papa could not well take her,--he was always
so loving and kind,--and then, there was dolly; and there were other
children with their mothers in the room. So she nodded, and put up her
little face for his kiss. He took her in his arms a minute and hugged
her tight.

"That's my own little Jessie!" he said. "She's as brave as her mother
was, fellows, and it's saying a heap."

With that he set her down upon the bench, and they put dolly in her
arms again and a package of apples within her reach; and then the jolly
party started off.

They waved their hands to her through the window and she smiled shyly at
them, and one of them called to a baggage-man and told him to have an
eye on little Jessie in there. "She is Farron's kid."

For a while matters did not go so very badly. Other children, who came
to look at that marvellous doll and to make timid advances, kept her
interested. But presently the east-bound train was signalled and they
were all whisked away.

Then came a space of over an hour, during which little Jessie sat there
all alone in the big, bare room, playing contentedly with her new toy
and chattering in low-toned, murmurous "baby talk" to her, and pointing
out the wonderful sunbeams that came slanting in through the dust of the
western windows. She had had plenty to eat and a big glass of milk
before papa went away, and was neither hungry nor thirsty; but all the
same, it seemed as if that hour were getting very, very long; and every
time the tramp of footsteps was heard on the platform outside she looked
up eagerly.

Then other people began to come in to wait for a train, and whenever the
door opened, the big, dark eyes glanced quickly up with such a hopeful,
wistful gaze, and as each new-comer proved to be a total stranger the
little maiden's disappointment was so evident that some kind-hearted
women came over to speak to her and see if all was right.

But she was as shy as she was lonely, poor little mite, and hung her
head and hugged her doll, and shrank away when they tried to take her in
their arms. All they could get her to say was that she was waiting for
papa and that her name was Jessie Farron.

At last their train came and they had to go, and a new set appeared; and
there were people to meet and welcome them with joyous greetings and
much homely, homelike chatter, and everybody but one little girl seemed
to have friends. It all made Jessie feel more and more lonely, and to
wonder what could have happened to keep papa so very long.

Still she was so loyal, so sturdy a little sentinel at her post. The
kind-hearted baggage-man came in and strove to get her to go with him to
his cottage "a ways up the road," where his wife and little ones were
waiting tea for him; but she shook her head and shrank back even from

Papa had told her to stay there and she would not budge. Papa had placed
his satchel in her charge, and so she kept guard over it and watched
every one who approached.

The sun was getting low and shining broadly in through those western
windows and making a glare that hurt her eyes, and she longed to change
her seat. Between the sun glare and the loneliness her eyes began to
fill with big tears, and when once they came it was so hard to force
them back; so it happened that poor little Jessie found herself crying
despite all her determination to be "papa's own brave daughter."

The windows behind her opened out to the north, and by turning around
she could see a wide, level space between the platform and the hotel,
where wagons and an omnibus or two, and a four-mule ambulance had been
coming and going.

Again and again her eyes had wandered towards this space in hopeful
search for father's coming, only to meet with disappointment. At last,
just as she had turned and was kneeling on the seat and gazing through
the tears that trickled down her pretty face, she saw a sight that made
her sore little heart bound high with hope.

First there trotted into the enclosure a span of handsome bay horses
with a low phaeton in which were seated two ladies; and directly after
them, at full gallop, came two riders on spirited, mettlesome sorrels.

Little Jessie knew the horsemen at a glance. One was a tall, bronzed,
dark-moustached trooper in the fatigue uniform of a cavalry sergeant;
the other was a blue-eyed, faired-haired young fellow of sixteen years,
who raised his cap and bowed to the ladies in the carriage, as he reined
his horse up close to the station platform.

He was just about to speak to them when he heard a childish voice
calling, "Ralph! Ralph!" and, turning quickly around, he caught sight of
a little girl stretching out her arms to him through the window, and
crying as if her baby heart would break.

In less time than it takes me to write five words he sprang from his
horse, bounded up the platform into the waiting-room, and gathered the
child to his heart, anxiously bidding her tell him what was the trouble.

For a few minutes she could only sob in her relief and joy at seeing
him, and snuggle close to his face. The ladies wondered to see Ralph
McCrea coming towards them with a strange child in his arms, but they
were all sympathy and loving-kindness in a moment, so attractive was her
sweet face.

"Mrs. Henry, this is Jessie Farron. You know her father; he owns a ranch
up on the Chugwater, right near the Laramie road. The station-master
says she has been here all alone since he went off at one o'clock with
some friends to buy things for the ranch and try some horses. It must
have been his party Sergeant Wells and I saw way out by the fort."

He paused a moment to address a cheering word to the little girl in his
arms, and then went on: "Their team had run away over the prairie--a man
told us--and they were leading them in to the quartermaster's corral as
we rode from the stables. I did not recognize Farron at the distance,
but Sergeant Wells will gallop out and tell him Jessie is all right.
Would you mind taking care of her a few minutes? Poor little girl!" he
added, in lower and almost beseeching tones, "she hasn't any mother."

"Would I mind!" exclaimed Mrs. Henry, warmly. "Give her to me, Ralph.
Come right here, little daughter, and tell me all about it," and the
loving woman stood up in the carriage and held forth her arms, to which
little Jessie was glad enough to be taken, and there she sobbed, and was
soothed and petted and kissed as she had not been since her mother died.

Ralph and the station-master brought to the carriage the wonderful
doll--at sight of whose toilet Mrs. Henry could not repress a
significant glance at her lady friend, and a suggestive exclamation of
"Horrors!"--and the heavy satchel. These were placed where Jessie could
see them and feel that they were safe, and then she was able to answer a
few questions and to look up trustfully into the gentle face that was
nestled every little while to hers, and to sip the cup of milk that
Ralph fetched from the hotel. She had certainly fallen into the hands of
persons who had very loving hearts.

"Poor little thing! What a shame to leave her all alone! How long has
her mother been dead, Ralph?" asked the other lady, rather indignantly.

"About two years, Mrs. Wayne. Father and his officers knew them very
well. Our troop was camped up there two whole summers near them,--last
summer and the one before,--but Farron took her to Denver to visit her
mother's people last April, and has just gone for her. Sergeant Wells
said he stopped at the ranch on the way down from Laramie, and Farron
told him, then, he couldn't live another month without his little girl,
and was going to Denver for her at once."

"I remember them well, now," said Mrs. Henry, "and we saw him sometimes
when our troop was at Laramie. What was the last news from your father,
Ralph, and when do you go?"

"No news since the letter that met me here. You know he has been
scouting ever since General Crook went on up to the Powder River
country. Our troop and the Grays are all that are left to guard that
whole neighborhood, and the Indians seem to know it. They are 'jumping'
from the reservation all the time."

"But the Fifth Cavalry are here now, and they will soon be up there to
help you, and put a stop to all that,--won't they?"

"I don't know. The Fifth say that they expect orders to go to the Black
Hills, so as to get between the reservations and Sitting Bull's people.
Only six troops--half the regiment--have come. Papa's letter said I was
to start for Laramie with them, but they have been kept waiting four
days already."

"They will start now, though," said the lady. "General Merritt has just
got back from Red Cloud, where he went to look into the situation, and
he has been in the telegraph office much of the afternoon wiring to
Chicago, where General Sheridan is. Colonel Mason told us, as we drove
past camp, that they would probably march at daybreak."

"That means that Sergeant Wells and I go at the same time, then," said
Ralph, with glistening eyes. "Doesn't it seem odd, after I've been
galloping all over this country from here to the Chug for the last three
years, that now father won't let me go it alone. I never yet set eyes on
a war party of Indians, or heard of one south of the Platte."

"All the same they came, Ralph, and it was simply to protect those
settlers that your father's company was there so much. This year they
are worse than ever, and there has been no cavalry to spare. If you were
my boy, I should be worried half to death at the idea of your riding
alone from here to Laramie. What does your mother think of it?"

"It was mother, probably, who made father issue the order. She writes
that, eager as she is to see me, she wouldn't think of letting me come
alone with Sergeant Wells. Pshaw! He and I would be safer than the old
stage-coach any day. That is never 'jumped' south of Laramie, though it
is chased now and then above there. Of course the country's full of
Indians between the Platte and the Black Hills, but we shouldn't be
likely to come across any."

There was a moment's silence. Nestled in Mrs. Henry's arms the weary
little girl was dropping off into placid slumber, and forgetting all her
troubles. Both the ladies were wives of officers of the army, and were
living at Fort Russell, three miles out from Cheyenne, while their
husbands were far to the north with their companies on the Indian
campaign, which was just then opening.

It was an anxious time. Since February all of the cavalry and much of
the infantry stationed in Nebraska and Wyoming had been out in the wild
country above the North Platte River, between the Big Horn Mountains and
the Black Hills. For two years previous great numbers of the young
warriors had been slipping away from the Sioux reservations and joining
the forces of such vicious and intractable chiefs as Sitting Bull, Gall,
and Rain-in-the-face, it could scarcely be doubted, with hostile intent.

Several thousands of the Indians were known to be at large, and
committing depredations and murders in every direction among the
settlers. Now, all pacific means having failed, the matter had been
turned over to General Crook, who had recently brought the savage
Apaches of Arizona under subjection, to employ such means as he found
necessary to defeat their designs.

General Crook found the Sioux and their allies armed with the best
modern breech-loaders, well supplied with ammunition and countless herds
of war ponies, and far too numerous and powerful to be handled by the
small force at his command.

One or two sharp and savage fights occurred in March, while the mercury
was still thirty degrees below zero, and then the government decided on
a great summer campaign. Generals Terry and Gibbon were to hem the
Indians from the north along the Yellowstone, while at the same time
General Crook was to march up and attack them from the south.

When June came, four regiments of cavalry and half a dozen infantry
regiments were represented among the forces that scouted to and fro in
the wild and beautiful uplands of Wyoming, Dakota, and Eastern Montana,
searching for the Sioux.

The families of the officers and soldiers remained at the barracks from
which the men were sent, and even at the exposed stations of Forts
Laramie, Robinson, and Fetterman, many ladies and children remained
under the protection of small garrisons of infantry. Among the ladies at
Laramie was Mrs. McCrea, Ralph's mother, who waited for the return of
her boy from a long absence at school.

A manly, sturdy fellow was Ralph, full of health and vigor, due in great
part to the open-air life he had led in his early boyhood. He had
"backed" an Indian pony before he was seven, and could sit one like a
Comanche by the time he was ten. He had accompanied his father on many a
long march and scout, and had ridden every mile of the way from the Gila
River in Arizona, across New Mexico, and so on up into Nebraska.

He had caught brook trout in the Cache la Poudre, and shot antelope
along the Loup Fork of the Platte. With his father and his father's men
to watch and keep him from harm, he had even charged his first buffalo
herd and had been fortunate enough to shoot a bull. The skin had been
made into a robe, which he carefully kept.

Now, all eager to spend his vacation among his favorite haunts,--in the
saddle and among the mountain streams,--Ralph McCrea was going back to
his army home, when, as ill-luck would have it, the great Sioux war
broke out in the early summer of our Centennial Year, and promised to
greatly interfere with, if it did not wholly spoil, many of his
cherished plans.

Fort Laramie lay about one hundred miles north of Cheyenne, and Sergeant
Wells had come down with the paymaster's escort a few days before,
bringing Ralph's pet, his beautiful little Kentucky sorrel "Buford," and
now the boy and his faithful friend, the sergeant, were visiting at Fort
Russell, and waiting for a safe opportunity to start for home.

Presently, as they chatted in low tones so as not to disturb the little
sleeper, there came the sound of rapid hoof-beats, and Sergeant Wells
cantered into the enclosure and, riding up to the carriage, said to

"I found him, sir, all safe; but their wagon was being patched up, and
he could not leave. He is so thankful to Mrs. Henry for her kindness,
and begs to know if she would mind bringing Jessie out to the fort. The
men are trying very hard to persuade him not to start for the Chug in
the morning."

"Why not, sergeant?"

"Because the telegraph despatches from Laramie say there must be a
thousand Indians gone out from the reservation in the last two days.
They've cut the wires up to Red Cloud, and no more news can reach us."

Ralph's face grew very pale.

"Father is right in the midst of them, with only fifty men!"



It was a lovely June morning when the Fifth Cavalry started on its
march. Camp was struck at daybreak, and soon after five o'clock, while
the sun was still low in the east and the dew-drops were sparkling on
the buffalo grass, the long column was winding up the bare, rolling
"divide" which lay between the valleys of Crow and Lodge Pole Creeks. In
plain view, only thirty miles away to the west, were the summits of the
Rocky Mountains, but such is the altitude of this upland prairie,
sloping away eastward between the two forks of the Platte River, that
these summits appear to be nothing more than a low range of hills
shutting off the western horizon.

Looking southward from the Laramie road, all the year round one can see
the great peaks of the range--Long's and Hahn's and Pike's--glistening
in their mantles of snow, and down there near them, in Colorado, the
mountains slope abruptly into the Valley of the South Platte.

Up here in Wyoming the Rockies go rolling and billowing far out to the
east, and the entire stretch of country, from what are called the "Black
Hills of Wyoming," in contradistinction to the Black Hills of Dakota,
far east as the junction of the forks of the Platte, is one vast
inclined plane.

The Union Pacific Railway winds over these Black Hills at Sherman,--the
lowest point the engineers could find,--and Sherman is over eight
thousand feet above the sea.

From Sherman, eastward, in less than an hour's run the cars go sliding
down with smoking brakes to Cheyenne, a fall of two thousand feet. But
the wagon-road from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie twists and winds among the
ravines and over the divides of this lofty prairie; so that Ralph and
his soldier friends, while riding jauntily over the hard-beaten track
this clear, crisp, sunshiny, breezy morning, were twice as high above
the sea as they would have been at the tiptop of the Catskills and
higher even than had they been at the very summit of Mount Washington.

The air at this height, though rare, is keen and exhilarating, and one
needs no second look at the troopers to see how bright are their eyes
and how nimble and elastic is the pace of their steeds.

The commanding officer, with his adjutant and orderlies and a little
group of staff sergeants, had halted at the crest of one of these ridges
and was looking back at the advancing column. Beside the winding road
was strung a line of wires,--the military telegraph to the border
forts,--and with the exception of those bare poles not a stick of timber
was anywhere in sight.

The whole surface is destitute of bush or tree, but the thick little
bunches of gray-green grass that cover it everywhere are rich with juice
and nutriment. This is the buffalo grass of the Western prairies, and
the moment the horses' heads are released down go their nozzles, and
they are cropping eagerly and gratefully.

Far as the eye can see to the north and east it roams over a rolling,
tumbling surface that seems to have become suddenly petrified. Far to
the south are the snow-shimmering peaks; near at hand, to the west, are
the gloomy gorges and ravines and wide wastes of upland of the Black
Hills of Wyoming; and so clear is the air that they seem but a short
hour's gallop away.

There is something strangely deceptive about the distances in an
atmosphere so rare and clear as this.

A young surgeon was taking his first ride with a cavalry column in the
wide West, and, as he looked back into the valley through which they had
been marching for over half an hour, his face was clouded with an
expression of odd perplexity.

"What's the matter, doctor?" asked the adjutant, with a grin on his
face. "Are you wondering whether those fellows really are United States
regulars?" and the young officer nodded towards the long column of
horsemen in broad-brimmed slouch hats and flannel shirts or fanciful
garb of Indian tanned buckskin. Even among the officers there was hardly
a sign of the uniform or trappings which distinguish the soldiers in

"No, it isn't that. I knew that you fellows who had served so long in
Arizona had got out of the way of wearing uniform in the field against
Indians. What I can't understand is that ridge over there. I thought we
had been down in a hollow for the last half-hour, yet look at it; we
must have come over that when I was thinking of something else."

"Not a bit of it, doctor," laughed the colonel. "That's where we
dismounted and took a short rest and gave the horses a chance to pick a

"Why, but, colonel! that must have been two miles back,--full half an
hour ago: you don't mean that ridge is two miles away? I could almost
hit that man riding down the road towards us."

"It would be a wonderful shot, doctor. That man is one of the teamsters
who went back after a dropped pistol. He is a mile and a half away."

The doctor's eyes were wide open with wonder.

"Of course you must know, colonel, but it is incomprehensible to me."

"It is easily proved, doctor. Take these two telegraph poles nearest us
and tell me how far they are apart."

The doctor looked carefully from one pole to another. Only a single wire
was strung along the line, and the poles were stout and strong. After a
moment's study he said, "Well, they are just about seventy-five yards

"More than that, doctor. They are a good hundred yards. But even at your
estimate, just count the poles back to that ridge--of course they are
equidistant, or nearly so, all along--and tell me how far you make it."

The doctor's eyes began to dilate again as he silently took account of
the number.

"I declare, there are over twenty to the rear of the wagon-train and
nearly forty across the ridge! I give it up."

"And now look here," said the colonel, pointing out to the eastward
where some lithe-limbed hounds were coursing over the prairie with Ralph
on his fleet sorrel racing in pursuit. "Look at young McCrea out there
where there are no telegraph poles to help you judge the distance. If he
were an Indian whom you wanted to bring down what would you set your
sights at, providing you had time to set them at all?" and the veteran
Indian fighter smiled grimly.

The doctor shook his head.

"It is too big a puzzle for me," he answered. "Five minutes ago I would
have said three hundred at the utmost, but I don't know now."

"How about that, Nihil?" asked the colonel, turning to a soldier riding
with the head-quarters party.

Nihil's brown hand goes up to the brim of his scouting hat in salute,
but he shook his head.

"The bullet would kick up a dust this side of him, sir," was the answer.

"People sometimes wonder why it is we manage to hit so few of these
Cheyennes or Sioux in our battles with them," said the colonel. "Now you
can get an idea of one of the difficulties. They rarely come within six
hundred yards of us when they are attacking a train or an infantry
escort, and are always riding full tilt, just as you saw Ralph just now.
It is next to impossible to hit them."

"I understand," said the doctor. "How splendidly that boy rides!"

"Ralph? Yes. He's a genuine trooper. Now, there's a boy whose whole
ambition is to go to West Point. He's a manly, truthful, dutiful young
fellow, born and raised in the army, knows the plains by heart, and just
the one to make a brilliant and valuable cavalry officer, but there
isn't a ghost of a chance for him."

"Why not?"

"Why not? Why! how is he to get an appointment? If he had a home
somewhere in the East, and his father had influence with the Congressman
of the district, it might be done; but the sons of army officers have
really very little chance. The President used to have ten appointments a
year, but Congress took them away from him. They thought there were too
many cadets at the Point; but while they were virtuously willing to
reduce somebody else's prerogatives in that line, it did not occur to
them that they might trim a little on their own. Now the President is
allowed only ten 'all told,' and can appoint no boy until some of his
ten are graduated or otherwise disposed of. It really gives him only two
or three appointments a year, and he has probably a thousand applicants
for every one. What chance has an army boy in Wyoming against the son of
some fellow with Senators and Representatives at his back in Washington?
If the army could name an occasional candidate, a boy like Ralph would
be sure to go, and we would have more soldiers and fewer scientists in
the cavalry."

By this time the head of the compact column was well up, and the captain
of the leading troop, riding with his first lieutenant in front of his
sets of fours, looked inquiringly at the colonel, as though half
expectant of a signal to halt or change the gait. Receiving none, and
seeing that the colonel had probably stopped to look over his command,
the senior troop leader pushed steadily on.

Behind him, four abreast, came the dragoons,--a stalwart, sunburned,
soldierly-looking lot. Not a particle of show or glitter in their attire
or equipment. Utterly unlike the dazzling hussars of England or the
European continent, when the troopers of the United States are out on
the broad prairies of the West "for business," as they put it, hardly a
brass button, even, is to be seen.

The colonel notes with satisfaction the nimble, active pace of the
horses as they go by at rapid walk, and the easy seat of the men in
their saddles.

First the bays of "K" Troop trip quickly past; then the beautiful, sleek
grays of "B," Captain Montgomery's company; then more bays in "I" and
"A" and "D," and then some sixty-five blacks, "C" Troop's color.

There are two sorrel troops in the regiment and more bays, and later in
the year, when new horses were obtained, the Fifth had a roan and a
dark-brown troop; but in June, when they were marching up to take their
part in the great campaign that followed, only two of their companies
were not mounted on bright bay horses, and one and all they were in the
pink of condition and eager for a burst "'cross country."

It was, however, their colonel's desire to take them to their
destination in good trim, and he permitted no "larking."

They had several hundred miles of weary marching before them. Much of
the country beyond the Platte was "Bad Lands," where the grass is scant
and poor, the soil ashen and spongy, and the water densely alkaline. All
this would tell very sensibly upon the condition of horses that all
winter long had been comfortably stabled, regularly groomed and
grain-fed, and watered only in pure running streams flushed by springs
or melting snow.

It was all very well for young Ralph to be coursing about on his fleet,
elastic sorrel, radiant with delight as the boy was at being again "out
on the plains" and in the saddle; but the cavalry commander's first care
must be to bring his horses to the scene of action in the most effective
state of health and soundness. The first few days' marching, therefore,
had to be watched with the utmost care.

As the noon hour approached, the doctor noted how the hills off to the
west seemed to be growing higher, and that there were broader vistas of
wide ranges of barren slopes to the east and north.

The colonel was riding some distance ahead of the battalion, his little
escort close beside, and Ralph was giving Buford a resting spell, and
placidly ambling alongside the doctor.

Sergeant Wells was riding somewhere in the column with some chum of old
days. He belonged to another regiment, but knew the Fifth of old. The
hounds had tired of chasing over a waterless country, and with lolling
tongues were trotting behind their masters' horses.

The doctor was vastly interested in what he had heard of Ralph, and
engaged him in talk. Just as they came in sight of the broad, open
valley in which runs the sparkling Lodge Pole, a two-horse wagon rumbled
up alongside, and there on the front seat was Farron, the ranchman, with
bright-eyed, bonny-faced little Jessie smiling beside him.

"We've caught you, Ralph," he laughed, "though we left Russell an hour
or more behind you. I s'pose you'll all camp at Lodge Pole for the
night. We're going on to the Chug."

"Hadn't you better see the colonel about that?" asked Ralph, anxiously.

"Oh, it's all right! I got telegrams from Laramie and the Chug, both,
just before we left Russell. Not an Indian's been heard of this side of
the Platte, and your father's troop has just got in to Laramie."

"Has he?" exclaimed Ralph, with delight. "Then he knows I've started,
and perhaps he'll come on to the Chug or Eagle's Nest and meet me."

"More'n likely," answered Farron. "You and the sergeant had better come
ahead and spend the night with me at the ranch."

"I've no doubt the colonel will let us go ahead with you," answered
Ralph, "but the ranch is too far off the road. We would have to stay at
Phillips's for the night. What say you, sergeant?" he asked, as Wells
came loping up alongside.

"The very plan, I think. Somebody will surely come ahead to meet us, and
we can make Laramie two days before the Fifth."

"Then, good-by, doctor; I must ask the colonel first, but we'll see you
at Laramie."

"Good-by, Ralph, and good luck to you in getting that cadetship."

"Oh, well! I must trust to luck for that. Father says it all depends
on my getting General Sheridan to back me. If he would only ask for
me, or if I could only do something to make him glad to ask; but what
chance is there?"

What chance, indeed? Ralph McCrea little dreamed that at that very
moment General Sheridan--far away in Chicago--was reading despatches
that determined him to go at once, himself, to Red Cloud Agency; that in
four days more the general would be there, at Laramie, and that in two
wonderful days, meantime--but who was there who dreamed what would
happen meantime?



When the head of the cavalry column reached the bridge over Lodge Pole
Creek a march of about twenty-five miles had been made, which is an
average day's journey for cavalry troops when nothing urgent hastens
their movements.

Filing to the right, the horsemen moved down the north bank of the
rapidly-running stream, and as soon as the rearmost troop was clear of
the road and beyond reach of its dust, the trumpets sounded "halt" and
"dismount," and in five minutes the horses, unsaddled, were rolling on
the springy turf, and then were driven out in herds, each company's by
itself, to graze during the afternoon along the slopes. Each herd was
watched and guarded by half a dozen armed troopers, and such horses as
were notorious "stampeders" were securely "side-lined" or hobbled.

Along the stream little white tents were pitched as the wagons rolled in
and were unloaded; and then the braying mules, rolling and kicking in
their enjoyment of freedom from harness, were driven out and disposed
upon the slopes at a safe distance from the horses. The smokes of little
fires began to float into the air, and the jingle of spoon and
coffee-pot and "spider" and skillet told that the cooks were busy
getting dinner for the hungry campaigners.

Such appetites as those long-day marches give! Such delight in life and
motion one feels as he drinks in that rare, keen mountain air! Some of
the soldiers--old plainsmen--are already prone upon the turf, their
heads pillowed on their saddles, their slouch hats pulled down over
their eyes, snatching half an hour's dreamless sleep before the cooks
shall summon them to dinner.

One officer from each company is still in saddle, riding around the
horses of his own troop to see that the grass is well chosen and that
his guards are properly posted and on the alert. Over at the road there
stands a sort of frontier tavern and stage station, at which is a
telegraph office, and the colonel has been sending despatches to
Department Head-Quarters to announce the safe arrival of his command at
Lodge Pole en route for Fort Laramie. Now he is talking with Ralph.

"It isn't that, my boy. I do not suppose there is an Indian anywhere
near the Chugwater; but if your father thought it best that you should
wait and start with us, I think it was his desire that you should keep
in the protection of the column all the way. Don't you?"

"Yes, sir, I do. The only question now is, will he not come or send
forward to the Chug to meet me, and could I not be with mother two days
earlier that way? Besides, Farron is determined to go ahead as soon as
he has had dinner, and--I don't like to think of little Jessie being up
there at the Chug just now. Would you mind my telegraphing to father at
Laramie and asking him?"

"No, indeed, Ralph. Do so."

And so a despatch was sent to Laramie, and in the course of an hour,
just as they had enjoyed a comfortable dinner, there came the reply,--

"All right. Come ahead to Phillips's Ranch. Party will meet you there at
eight in the morning. They stop at Eagle's Nest to-night."

Ralph's eyes danced as he showed this to the colonel who read it gravely
and replied,--

"It is all safe, I fancy, or your father would not say so. They have
patrols all along the bank of the Platte to the southeast, and no
Indians can cross without its being discovered in a few hours. I suppose
they never come across between Laramie and Fetterman, do they, Ralph?"

"Certainly not of late years, colonel. It is so far off their line to
the reservations where they have to run for safety after their

"I know that; but now that all but two troops of cavalry have gone up
with General Crook they might be emboldened to try a wider sweep. That's
all I'm afraid of."

"Even if the Indians came, colonel, they've got those ranch buildings so
loop-holed and fortified at Phillips's that we could stand them off a
week if need be, and you would reach there by noon at latest."

"Yes. We make an early start to-morrow morning, and 'twill be just
another twenty-five miles to our camp on the Chug. If all is well you
will be nearly to Eagle's Nest by the time we get to Phillips's, and you
will be at Laramie before the sunset-gun to-morrow. Well, give my
regards to your father, Ralph, and keep your eye open for the main
chance. We cavalry people want you for our representative at West Point,
you know."

"Thank you for that, colonel," answered Ralph, with sparkling eyes. "I
sha'n't forget it in many a day."

So it happened that late that afternoon, with Farron driving his load of
household goods; with brown-haired little Jessie lying sound asleep with
her head on his lap; with Sergeant Wells cantering easily alongside and
Ralph and Buford scouting a little distance ahead, the two-horse wagon
rolled over the crest of the last divide and came just at sunset in
sight of the beautiful valley with the odd name of Chugwater.

Farther up the stream towards its sources among the pine-crested Black
Hills, there were many places where the busy beavers had dammed its
flow. The Indians, bent on trapping these wary creatures, had listened
in the stillness of the solitudes to the battering of those wonderful
tails upon the mud walls of their dams and forts, and had named the
little river after its most marked characteristic, the constant "chug,
chug" of those cricket-bat caudals.

On the west of the winding stream, in the smiling valley with tiny
patches of verdure, lay the ranch with its out-buildings, corrals, and
the peacefully browsing stock around it, and little Jessie woke at her
father's joyous shout and pointed out her home to Ralph.

There where the trail wound away from the main road the wagon and
horsemen must separate, and Ralph reined close alongside and took Jessie
in his arms and was hugged tight as he kissed her bonny face. Then he
and the sergeant shook hands heartily with Farron, set spurs to their
horses, and went loping down northeastward to the broader reaches of the

On their right, across the lowlands, ran the long ridge ending in an
abrupt precipice, that was the scene of the great buffalo-killing by the
Indians many a long year ago. Straight ahead were the stage station, the
forage sheds, and the half dozen buildings of Phillips's. All was as
placid and peaceful in the soft evening light as if no hostile Indian
had ever existed.

Yet there were to be seen signs of preparation for Indian attack. The
herder whom the travellers met two miles south of the station was
heavily armed and his mate was only short rifle-shot away. The men waved
their hats to Ralph and his soldier comrade, and one of them called out,
"Whar'd ye leave the cavalry?" and seemed disappointed to hear they were
as far back as Lodge Pole.

At the station, they found the ranchmen prepared for their coming and
glad to see them. Captain McCrea had telegraphed twice during the
afternoon and seemed anxious to know of their arrival.

"He's in the office at Laramie now," said the telegraph agent, with a
smile, "and I wired him the moment we sighted you coming down the hill.
Come in and send him a few words. It will please him more than anything
I can say."

So Ralph stepped into the little room with its solitary instrument and
lonely operator. In those days there was little use for the line except
for the conducting of purely military business, and the agents or
operators were all soldiers detailed for the purpose. Here at "The Chug"
the instrument rested on a little table by the loop-hole of a window in
the side of the log hut. Opposite it was the soldier's narrow camp-bed
with its brown army blankets and with his heavy overcoat thrown over the
foot. Close at hand stood his Springfield rifle, with the belt of
cartridges, and over the table hung two Colt's revolvers.

All through the rooms of the station the same war-like preparations were
visible, for several times during the spring and early summer war
parties of Indians had come prowling up the valley, driving the herders
before them; but, having secured all the beef cattle they could handle,
they had hurried back to the fords of the Platte and, except on one or
two occasions, had committed no murders.

Well knowing the pluck of the little community at Phillips's, the
Indians had not come within long rifle range of the ranch, but on the
last two visits the warriors seemed to have grown bolder. While most of
the Indians were rounding up cattle and scurrying about in the valley,
two miles below the ranch, it was noted that two warriors, on their
nimble ponies, had climbed the high ridge on the east that overlooked
the ranches in the valley beyond and above Phillips's, and were
evidently taking deliberate note of the entire situation.

One of the Indians was seen to point a long, bare arm, on which silver
wristlets and bands flashed in the sun, at Farron's lonely ranch four
miles up-stream.

That was more than the soldier telegrapher could bear patiently. He took
his Springfield rifle out into the fields, and opened a long range fire
on these adventurous redskins.

The Indians were a good mile away, but that honest "Long Tom" sent its
leaden missiles whistling about their ears, and kicking up the dust
around their ponies' heels, until, after a few defiant shouts and such
insulting and contemptuous gestures as they could think of, the two had
ducked suddenly out of sight behind the bluffs.

All this the ranch people told Ralph and the sergeant, as they were
enjoying a hot supper after the fifty-mile ride of the day. Afterwards
the two travellers went out into the corral to see that their horses
were secure for the night.

Buford looked up with eager whinny at Ralph's footstep, pricked his
pretty ears, and looked as full of life and spirit as if he had never
had a hard day's gallop in his life. Sergeant Wells had given him a
careful rubbing down while Ralph was at the telegraph office, and
later, when the horses were thoroughly cool, they were watered at the
running stream and given a hearty feed of oats.

Phillips came out to lock up his stable while they were petting Buford,
and stood there a moment admiring the pretty fellow.

"With your weight I think he could make a race against any horse in the
cavalry, couldn't he, Mr. Ralph?" he asked.

"I'm not quite sure, Phillips; the colonel of the Fifth Cavalry has a
horse that I might not care to race. He was being led along behind the
head-quarters escort to-day. Barring that horse Van, I would ride Buford
against any horse I've ever seen in the service for any distance from a
quarter of a mile to a day's march."

"But those Indian ponies, Mr. Ralph, couldn't they beat him?"

"Over rough ground--up hill and down dale--I suppose some of them could.
I saw their races up at Red Cloud last year, and old Spotted Tail
brought over a couple of ponies from Camp Sheridan that ran like a
streak, and there was a Minneconjou chief there who had a very fast
pony. Some of the young Ogallallas had quick, active beasts, but, take
them on a straight-away run, I wouldn't be afraid to try my luck with
Buford against the best of them."

"Well, I hope you'll never have to ride for your life on him. He's
pretty and sound and fast, but those Indians have such wind and bottom;
they never seem to give out."

A little later--at about half after eight o'clock--Sergeant Wells, the
telegraph operator, and one or two of the ranchmen sat tilted back in
their rough chairs on the front porch of the station enjoying their
pipes. Ralph had begun to feel a little sleepy, and was ready to turn in
when he was attracted by the conversation between the two soldiers; the
operator was speaking, and the seriousness of his tone caused the boy to

"It isn't that we have any particular cause to worry just here. With our
six or seven men we could easily stand off the Indians until help came,
but it's Farron and little Jessie I'm thinking of. He and his two men
would have no show whatever in case of a sudden and determined attack.
They have not been harmed so far, because the Indians always crossed
below Laramie and came up to the Chug, and so there was timely warning.
Now, they have seen Farron's place up there all by itself. They can
easily find out, by hanging around the traders at Red Cloud, who lives
there, how many men he has, and about Jessie. Next to surprising and
killing a white man in cold blood, those fellows like nothing better
than carrying off a white child and concealing it among them. The
gypsies have the same trait. Now, they know that so long as they cross
below Laramie the scouts are almost sure to discover it in an hour or
two, and as soon as they strike the Chug Valley some herders come
tumbling in here and give the alarm. They have come over regularly every
moon, since General Crook went up in February, until now."

The operator went on impressively:

"The moon's almost on the wane, and they haven't shown up yet. Now, what
worries me is just this. Suppose they should push out westward from
the reservation, cross the Platte somewhere about Bull Bend or even
nearer Laramie, and come down the Chug from the north. Who is to give
Farron warning?"

"They're bound to hear it at Laramie and telegraph you at once,"
suggested one of the ranchmen.

"Not necessarily. The river isn't picketed between Fetterman and
Laramie, simply because the Indians have always tried the lower
crossings. The stages go through three times a week, and there are
frequent couriers and trains, but they don't keep a lookout for pony
tracks. The chances are that their crossing would not be discovered for
twenty-four hours or so, and as to the news being wired to us here,
those reds would never give us a chance. The first news we got of their
deviltry would be that they had cut the line ten or twelve miles this
side of Laramie as they came sweeping down.

"I tell you, boys," continued the operator, half rising from his chair
in his earnestness, "I hate to think of little Jessie up there to-night.
I go in every few minutes and call up Laramie or Fetterman just to feel
that all is safe, and stir up Lodge Pole, behind us, to realize that
we've got the Fifth Cavalry only twenty-five miles away; but the Indians
haven't missed a moon yet, and there's only one more night of this."

Even as his hearers sat in silence, thinking over the soldier's words,
there came from the little cabin the sharp and sudden clicking of the
telegraph. "It's my call," exclaimed the operator, as he sprang to his
feet and ran to his desk.

Ralph and Sergeant Wells were close at his heels; he had clicked his
answering signal, seized a pencil, and was rapidly taking down a
message. They saw his eyes dilate and his lips quiver with suppressed
excitement. Once, indeed, he made an impulsive reach with his hand, as
if to touch the key and shut off the message and interpose some idea of
his own, but discipline prevailed.

"It's for you," he said, briefly, nodding up to Ralph, while he went on
to copy the message.

It was a time of anxious suspense in the little office. The sergeant
paced silently to and fro with unusual erectness of bearing and a
firmly-compressed lip. His appearance and attitude were that of the
soldier who has divined approaching danger and who awaits the order for
action. Ralph, who could hardly control his impatience, stood watching
the rapid fingers of the operator as they traced out a message which was
evidently of deep moment.

At last the transcript was finished, and the operator handed it to the
boy. Ralph's hand was trembling with excitement as he took the paper and
carried it close to the light. It read as follows:

"RALPH MCCREA, Chugwater Station:

"Black Hills stage reports having crossed trail of large war party
going west, this side of Rawhide Butte. My troop ordered at once in
pursuit. Wait for Fifth Cavalry.


"Going west, this side of Rawhide Butte," said Ralph, as calmly as he
could. "That means that they are twenty miles north of Laramie, and on
the other side of the Platte."

"It means that they knew what they were doing when they crossed just
behind the last stage so as to give no warning, and that their trail was
nearly two days old when seen by the down stage this afternoon. It means
that they crossed the stage road, Ralph, but how long ago was that, do
you think, and where are they now? It is my belief that they crossed the
Platte above Laramie last night or early this morning, and will be down
on us to-night."

"Wire that to Laramie, then, at once," said Ralph. "It may not be too
late to turn the troop this way."

"I can only say what I think to my fellow-operator there, and can't even
do that now; the commanding officer is sending despatches to Omaha, and
asking that the Fifth Cavalry be ordered to send forward a troop or two
to guard the Chug. But there's no one at the head-quarters this time o'
night. Besides, if we volunteer any suggestions, they will say we were
stampeded down here by a band of Indians that didn't come within
seventy-five miles of us."

"Well, father won't misunderstand me," said Ralph, "and I'm not afraid
to ask him to think of what you say; wire it to him in my name."

There was a long interval, twenty minutes or so, before the operator
could "get the line." When at last he succeeded in sending his despatch,
he stopped short in the midst of it.

"It's no use, Ralph. Your father's troop was three miles away before his
message was sent. There were reports from Red Cloud that made the
commanding officer believe there were some Cheyennes going up to attack
couriers or trains between Fetterman and the Big Horn. He is away north
of the Platte."

Another few minutes of thoughtful silence, then Ralph turned to his
soldier friend,--

"Sergeant, I have to obey father's orders and stay here, but it's my
belief that Farron should be put on his guard at once. What say you?"

"If you agree, sir, I'll ride up and spend the night with him."

"Then go by all means. I know father would approve it."



It was after ten o'clock when the waning moon came peering over the
barrier ridge at the east. Over an hour had passed since Sergeant Wells,
on his big sorrel, had ridden away up the stream on the trail to

Phillips had pressed upon him a Henry repeating rifle, which he had
gratefully accepted. It could not shoot so hard or carry so far as the
sergeant's Springfield carbine, the cavalry arm; but to repel a sudden
onset of yelling savages at close quarters it was just the thing, as it
could discharge sixteen shots without reloading. His carbine and the
belt of copper cartridges the sergeant left with Ralph.

Just before riding away he took the operator and Ralph to the back of
the corral, whence, far up the valley, they could see the twinkling
light at Farron's ranch.

"We ought to have some way of signalling," he had said as they went out
of doors. "If you get news during the night that the Indians are surely
this side of the Platte, of course we want to know at once; if, on the
other hand, you hear they are nowhere within striking distance, it will
be a weight off my mind and we can all get a good night's rest up there.
Now, how shall we fix it?"

After some discussion, it was arranged that Wells should remain on the
low porch in front of Farron's ranch until midnight. The light was to be
extinguished there as soon as he arrived, as an assurance that all was
well, and it should not again appear during the night unless as a
momentary answer to signals they might make.

If information were received at Phillips's that the Indians were south
of the Platte, Ralph should fire three shots from his carbine at
intervals of five seconds; and if they heard that all was safe, he
should fire one shot to call attention and then start a small blaze out
on the bank of the stream, where it could be plainly seen from Farron's.

Wells was to show his light half a minute when he recognized the signal.
Having arrived at this understanding, the sergeant shook the hand of
Ralph and the operator and rode towards Farron's.

"What I wish," said the operator, "is that Wells could induce Farron to
let him bring Jessie here for the night; but Farron is a bull-headed
fellow and thinks no number of Indians could ever get the better of him
and his two men. He knows very little of them and is hardly alive to the
danger of his position. I think he will be safe with Wells, but, all
the same, I wish that a troop of the Fifth Cavalry had been sent forward

After they had gone back to the office the operator "called up" Laramie.
"All quiet," was the reply, and nobody there seemed to think the Indians
had come towards the Platte.

Then the operator signalled to his associate at Lodge Pole, who wired
back that nobody there had heard anything from Laramie or elsewhere
about the Indians; that the colonel and one or two of his officers had
been in the station a while during the evening and had sent messages to
Cheyenne and Omaha and received one or two, but that they had all gone
out to camp. Everything was quiet; "taps" had just sounded and they were
all going to bed.

"Lodge Pole" announced for himself that some old friends of his were on
the guard that night, and he was going over to smoke a pipe and have a
chat with them.

To this "Chug" responded that he wished he wouldn't leave the office.
There was no telling what might turn up or how soon he'd be wanted.

But "Lodge Pole" said the operators were not required to stay at the
board after nine at night; he would have the keeper of the station
listen for his call, and would run over to camp for an hour; would be
back at half-past ten and sleep by his instrument. Meantime, if needed,
he could be called in a minute,--the guard tents were only three hundred
yards away,--and so he went.

Ralph almost wished that he had sent a message to the colonel to tell
him of their suspicions and anxiety. He knew well that every officer
and every private in that sleeping battalion would turn out eagerly and
welcome the twenty-five-mile trot forward to the Chug on the report that
the Sioux were out "on the war-path" and might be coming that way.

Yet, army boy that he was, he hated to give what might be called a false
alarm. He knew the Fifth only by reputation, and while he would not have
hesitated to send such a message to his father had he been camped at
Lodge Pole, or to his father's comrades in their own regiment, he did
not relish the idea of sending a despatch that would rout the colonel
out of his warm blankets, and which might be totally unnecessary.

So the telegraph operator at Lodge Pole was permitted to go about his
own devices, and once again Ralph and his new friend went out into the
night to look over their surroundings and the situation.

The light still burned at Farron's, and Phillips, coming out with a
bundle of kindling-wood for the little beacon fire, chuckled when he saw

"Wells must be there by this time, but I'll just bet Farron is giving
the boys a little supper, or something, to welcome Jessie home, and now
he's got obstinate and won't let them douse the glim."

"It's a case that Wells will be apt to decide for himself," answered
Ralph. "He won't stand fooling, and will declare martial law.--There!
What did I tell you?"

The light went suddenly out in the midst of his words. They carried the
kindling and made a little heap of dry sticks out near the bank of the
stream; then stood a while and listened. In the valley, faintly lighted
by the moon, all was silence and peace; not even the distant yelp of
coyote disturbed the stillness of the night. Not a breath of air was
stirring. A light film of cloud hung about the horizon and settled in a
cumulus about the turrets of old Laramie Peak, but overhead the
brilliant stars sparkled and the planets shone like little globes of
molten gold.

Hearing voices, Buford, lonely now without his friend, the sergeant's
horse, set up a low whinny, and Ralph went in and spoke to him, patting
his glossy neck and shoulder. When he came out he found that a third man
had joined the party and was talking eagerly with Phillips.

Ralph recognized the man as an old trapper who spent most of his time in
the hills or farther up in the neighborhood of Laramie Peak. He had
often been at the fort to sell peltries or buy provisions, and was a
mountaineer and plainsman who knew every nook and cranny in Wyoming.

Cropping the scant herbage on the flat behind the trapper was a lank,
long-limbed horse from which he had just dismounted, and which looked
travel-stained and weary like his master. The news the man brought was
worthy of consideration, and Ralph listened with rapt attention and with
a heart that beat hard and quick, though he said no word and gave no

"Then you haven't seen or heard a thing?" asked the new-comer. "It's
mighty strange. I've scoured these hills--man and boy--nigh onto thirty
years and ought to know Indian smokes when I see 'em. I don't think I
can be mistaken about this. I was way up the range about four o'clock
this afternoon and could see clear across towards Rawhide Butte, and
three smokes went up over there, sure. What startled me," the trapper
continued, "was the answer. Not ten miles above where I was there went
up a signal smoke from the foot-hills of the range,--just in here to the
northwest of us, perhaps twenty miles west of Eagle's Nest. It's the
first time I've seen Indian smokes in there since the month they killed
Lieutenant Robinson up by the peak. You bet I came down. Sure they
haven't seen anything at Laramie?"

"Nothing. They sent Captain McCrea with his troop up towards Rawhide
just after dark, but they declare nothing has been seen or heard of
Indians this side of the Platte. I've been talking with Laramie most of
the evening. The Black Hills stage coming down reported trail of a big
war party out, going west just this side of the Butte, and some of them
may have sent up the smokes you saw in that direction. I was saying to
Ralph, here, that if that trail was forty-eight hours old, they would
have had time to cross the Platte at Bull Bend, and be down here

"They wouldn't come here first. They know this ranch too well. They'd go
in to Eagle's Nest to try and get the stage horses and a scalp or two
there. You're too strong for 'em here."

"Ay; but there's Farron and his little kid up there four miles above

"You don't tell me! Thought he'd taken her down to Denver."

"So he did, and fetched her back to-day. Sergeant Wells has gone up
there to keep watch with them, and we are to signal if we get important
news. All you tell me only adds to what we suspected. How I wish we had
known it an hour ago! Now, will you stay here with us or go up to
Farron's and tell Wells what you've seen?"

"I'll stay here. My horse can't make another mile, and you may believe I
don't want any prowling round outside of a stockade this night. No, if
you can signal to him go ahead and do it."

"What say you, Ralph?"

Ralph thought a moment in silence. If he fired his three shots, it meant
that the danger was imminent, and that they had certain information that
the Indians were near at hand. He remembered to have heard his father
and other officers tell of sensational stories this same old trapper had
inflicted on the garrison. Sergeant Wells himself used to laugh at
"Baker's yarns." More than once the cavalry had been sent out to where
Baker asserted he had certainly seen a hundred Indians the day before,
only to find that not even the vestige of a pony track remained on the
yielding sod. If he fired the signal shots it meant a night of vigil for
everybody at Farron's and then how Wells would laugh at him in the
morning, and how disgusted he would be when he found that it was
entirely on Baker's assurances that he had acted!

It was a responsible position for the boy. He would much have preferred
to mount Buford and ride off over the four miles of moonlit prairie to
tell the sergeant of Baker's report and let him be the judge of its
authenticity. It was lucky he had that level-headed soldier operator to
advise him. Already he had begun to fancy him greatly, and to respect
his judgment and intelligence.

"Suppose we go in and stir up Laramie, and tell them what Mr. Baker
says," he suggested; and, leaving the trapper to stable his jaded horse
under Phillips's guidance, Ralph and his friend once more returned to
the station.

"If the Indians are south of the Platte," said the operator, "I shall no
longer hesitate about sending a despatch direct to the troops at Lodge
Pole. The colonel ought to know. He can send one or two companies right
along to-night. There is no operator at Eagle's Nest, or I'd have him up
and ask if all was well there. That's what worries me, Ralph. It was
back of Eagle's Nest old Baker says he saw their smokes, and it is
somewhere about Eagle's Nest that I should expect the rascals to slip in
and cut our wire. I'll bet they're all asleep at Laramie by this time.
What o'clock is it?"

The boy stopped at the window of the little telegraph room where the
light from the kerosene lamp would fall upon his watch-dial. The soldier
passed on around to the door. Glancing at his watch, Ralph followed on
his track and got to the door-way just as his friend stretched forth his
hand to touch the key.

"It's just ten-fifty now."

"Ten-fifty, did you say?" asked the soldier, glancing over his shoulder.
"Ralph!" he cried, excitedly, "the wire's cut!"

"Where?" gasped Ralph. "Can you tell?"

"No, somewhere up above us,--near the Nest, probably,--though who can
tell? It may be just round the bend of the road, for all we know. No
doubt about there being Indians now, Ralph, give 'em your signal. Hullo!

Leaping out from the little tenement, the two listened intently. An
instant before the thunder of horse's feet upon wooden planking had been
plainly audible in the distance, and now the coming clatter could be
heard on the roadway.

Phillips and Baker, who had heard the sounds, joined them at the
instant. Nearer and nearer came a panting horse; a shadowy rider loomed
into sight up the road, and in another moment a young ranchman galloped
up to the very doors.

"All safe, fellows? Thank goodness for that! I've had a ride for it, and
we're dead beat. Indians? Why, the whole country's alive with 'em
between here and Hunton's. I promised I'd go over to Farron's if they
ever came around that way, but they may beat me there yet. How many men
have you here?"

"Seven now, counting Baker and Ralph; but I'll wire right back to Lodge
Pole and let the Fifth Cavalry know. Quick, Ralph, give 'em your signal

Ralph seized his carbine and ran out on the prairie behind the corral,
the others eagerly following him to note the effect. Bang! went the gun
with a resounding roar that echoed from the cliffs at the east and came
thundering back to them just in time to "fall in" behind two other
ringing reports at short, five-second intervals.

Three times the flash lighted up the faces of the little party; set and
stern and full of pluck they were. Then all eyes were turned to the
dark, shadowy, low-lying objects far up the stream, the roofs of
Farron's threatened ranch.

Full half a minute they watched, hearts beating high, breath coming
thick and fast, hands clinching in the intensity of their anxiety.

Then, hurrah! Faint and flickering at first, then shining a few seconds
in clear, steady beam, the sergeant's answering signal streamed out upon
the night, a calm, steadfast, unwavering response, resolute as the
spirit of its soldier sender, and then suddenly disappeared.

"He's all right!" said Ralph, joyously, as the young ranchman put spurs
to his panting horse and rode off to the west. "Now, what about Lodge

Just as they turned away there came a sound far out on the prairie that
made them pause and look wonderingly a moment in one another's eyes. The
horseman had disappeared from view. They had watched him until he had
passed out of sight in the dim distance. The hoof-beats of his horse had
died away before they turned to go.

Yet now there came the distant thunder of an hundred hoofs bounding over
the sod.

Out from behind a jutting spur of a bluff a horde of shadows sweep forth
upon the open prairie towards the trail on which the solitary rider has
disappeared. Here and there among them swift gleams, like silver
streaks, are plainly seen, as the moonbeams glint on armlet or bracelet,
or the nickel plating on their gaudy trappings.

Then see! a ruddy flash! another! another! the muffled bang of
fire-arms, and the vengeful yell and whoops of savage foeman float down
to the breathless listeners at the station on the Chug. The Sioux are
here in full force, and a score of them have swept down on that brave,
hapless, helpless fellow riding through the darkness alone.

Phillips groaned. "Oh, why did we let him go? Quick, now! Every man to
the ranch, and you get word to Lodge Pole, will you?"

"Ay, ay, and fetch the whole Fifth Cavalry here at a gallop!"

But when Ralph ran into the telegraph station a moment later, he found
the operator with his head bowed upon his arms and his face hidden from

"What's the matter,--quick?" demanded Ralph.

It was a ghastly face that was raised to the boy, as the operator

"It--it's all my fault. I've waited too long. They've cut the line
behind us!"



Next: From The Point To The Plains

Previous: Starlight Ranch

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