For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 5
THE ATTACK ON THE RANCH.
"Well, I've just seen father and signalled to him."
"Where was he, Dan?"
"In the top of the king pine by the river. He was waving his coat to attract my attention. I waved a bed sheet at him and then he threw his coat up in the air and caught it, and got out of sight as soon as he could."
"Then he was going off."
"Yes," answered Dan. For among these pioneers to throw an object from one and then catch it meant to go away and return. "Probably he is going away for assistance."
"I shouldn't think he would leave us alone," mused Ralph, his face falling perceptibly.
"That makes me feel certain that the Indians don't intend to attack us until dark. Perhaps father heard some of their powwowing, or some talk between them and Stiger. Anyway, I am sure he is going away."
"Then we may as well close up tight."
"All but the door. But bring in all the buckets full of water first. We may be in for a regular siege of it."
Dan's suggestion was carried out, and the older boy also made a raid on the cattle yard and brought in one of the cows, tying her close to the door. "Now we'll have milk and meat too, if the worst comes to the worst," he observed. No matter what else happened he did not intend to be starved out.
Their regular chores done, the two boys locked up below, but left the door unbarred, and then went to the loft, taking with them their guns and the spy-glass.
"I suppose we can count this something of a fort," remarked Ralph. "But I don't care to play soldier—I'd rather have the Indians leave us alone."
"So would I. But I guess I can play soldier if I have to," added Dan, with quiet emphasis. Secretly he loved soldiering much better than life on the ranch, but in those days he never dreamed of the adventures on the battle-field which were still in store for him.
The afternoon wore away slowly until the sun began to set behind the timber west of the ranch. In the meantime, the boys, having had no dinner, grew hungry, and Ralph spent some time below in boiling a pot of coffee and stirring and baking some ash-cakes, serving both with a bit of broiled steak.
"It's too bad we can't have some venison," he sighed to his brother. "But I reckon my first big game is going to get us into a whole lot of trouble."
"I reckon the Indians were getting ready to come down on us, anyhow," answered Dan. "It seems they can stay quiet just so long, and then their animal nature breaks loose for a shindy."
Dan had just returned to the loft after his repast, when he uttered a shout.
"An Indian is coming toward the cabin, Ralph!"
"Do you know him?"
"No, but he is a Comanche."
"I don't know if it's war-paint or not, but he is daubed full of all the colours of the rainbow."
"It must be war-paint. Is he alone?"
"Yes, and riding a white pony. His gun is on his back, and he doesn't look as if he was up to mischief."
"Oh, I wouldn't trust him!" cried the younger lad. "He may be up to some of their treachery."
"But I can't stop him from coming to the cabin. I'll be on my guard, and you must be, too," concluded Dan, and went below. With quickness he hid away all the weapons but two pistols, one of which he stuck in his shirt bosom and gave the other to Ralph.
"We must keep apart," said Ralph. "Then if he attacks one or the other the free one can fire on him."
"That's good generalship," returned Dan, with a grim smile.
By this time the Indian rider was close to the dooryard, and Dan walked outside to meet him. As soon as the youth appeared, the savage halted his steed.
"How! How!" he said, in guttural tones, meaning "How do you do?"
"How are you?" returned Dan.
"Wolf Ear is sick—got pain here," and the red man pointed to his stomach.
"Sick, eh? What have you been doing, eating and drinking too much?"
"No, Wolf Ear big sick two moons past,—sick come back,—can't ride and must lay down," groaned the savage, grating his teeth as if in intense pain. "White boy help Wolf Ear, me lof him."
Under ordinary circumstances Dan would have been touched by this appeal, for he knew that the Indians suffered just as many aches and pains as did the white folks.
"I am no good at doctoring sick men," he answered. "Wolf Ear had better go back to his own medicine man."
At this the Indian stared at the boy stolidly for fully half a minute. He understood that he was not wanted, and that he would not be allowed into the cabin.
"White boy have no medicine for Wolf Ear?" he said, slowly.
"I don't know what would be good for you."
"Where white boy's fadder?"
"He has gone away." A sudden idea came to Dan's mind. "I think he has gone to Gonzales to bring along some of the lumbermen to look over the plans for a sawmill. There are about a dozen men thinking of setting up a sawmill around here."
The Indian pursed up his mouth, trying to conceal his chagrin. "He come back soon?"
"I expect him every minute. But you had better not wait for him. Perhaps you'll feel better if you wash off that war-paint on your face."
At this Wolf Ear scowled viciously. "White boy big fool!" he cried, and reached around for his gun. But before he could raise the weapon both Dan and Ralph had him covered with the pistols. Not having seen the weapons while speaking, the Indian was taken aback.
"Put that gun down," said Dan, sternly. "I am not such a fool as you think."
"Wolf Ear only make fun," grinned the savage, feebly. "No mean to shoot."
"I don't like your fun, and I want you to leave this place."
At once the red man straightened up like an arrow on his pony. "Wolf Ear will go," he said, loftily. "But Wolf Ear shall not forget you!" And he turned his steed to ride away. Evidently he had forgotten all about his alleged pain.
"Dan, make him give up his gun," cried Ralph, in a low voice. "If you don't he'll try to shoot us as soon as he reaches cover."
"Halt!" exclaimed the older brother. "Wolf Ear, you must leave your gun with us. You can come back for it when my father is here."
At first the Indian pretended not to hear, then he turned back to look at them, but without stopping his pony.
"My firearm is mine," he said. "The white boy shall not rob the poor Indian," and digging his heels into his pony's sides he set off at a breakneck pace for the nearest patch of timber. Ralph was about to fire on him, but Dan stopped the proceedings.
"No, let him go," he said. "Whatever happens, don't give them the chance to say that we opened the fight. If we start the affair we'll get into all sorts of trouble with the agency."
Before they could argue the matter Wolf Ear had gained the timber. Both of the boys were now in the doorway of the cabin. Bang! went the redskin's gun, and the bullet embedded itself in the door-post close to their heads. Like lightning the boys leaped into the living-room and barred the oaken barrier behind them.
"He has opened the attack!" gasped Ralph, the shot, coming so close, temporarily unnerving him. "I told you he'd do it."
Dan did not answer, but, running to the closet, brought out the best of the guns belonging to his father. Leaping up to the loft, he opened the firing-hole fronting the direction Wolf Ear had taken, and squinted through. But the Indian horseman was long since out of sight.
"Can you catch him?" asked Ralph, from the foot of the ladder.
"No, he's gone."
"Do you think he'll bring the others down on us now?"
"No. They know we are armed, and they couldn't rush across the clearing and break in without one or more of them being shot, and they are too afraid of their hides to undertake the job. But they'll close in as soon as it's dark, beyond a doubt."
"I hope father comes back by that time."
"So do I. Do you suppose they are driving off the cattle on the range?"
"There is no telling. For all we know they may be up back of the cattle shed, too."
It was now so dark that but little could be seen beyond the clearing immediately surrounding the cabin. Each of the boys stationed himself in the loft, Dan watching to the north and the east, and Ralph to the south and west.
With the coming of night the silence seemed more oppressive than ever, and only the occasional mooing of the cow tied near the door broke the stillness around the cabin. From the woods came now and then the cry of a night bird, but that was all. The breeze had died out utterly.
But presently came a cry that caused the hearts of both lads to thump vigorously within their breasts. It was the note of a night-owl, repeated six times.
"That's a Comanche signal," said Dan, in almost a whisper. "Ralph, they must be coming now, and if they are, God help us to do our best in repelling their attack!"
"Amen!" came almost solemnly from the younger Radbury. "Can you make out anything yet?"
"No—yes! Somebody is sneaking through the timber toward the river. It's an Indian with a gun! He's turning toward the house, and two other Indians are behind him!"
Several minutes more passed minutes that seemed like hours to the boys, whose hearts thumped as never before. Both felt that a crisis in their lives had arrived.
"They are coming, five strong," whispered Dan, at last. "Perhaps I had better fire a pistol to warn them off."
"Do it," answered his brother, and soon the report broke the stillness. At the sound the Comanches came to a halt in the clearing, midway between the cabin and the timber. The halt, however, was only temporary, for an instant later a wild war-whoop rang out, and they charged swiftly on the ranch home!