Three Young Ranchmen/Chapter 28
A Buffalo Stampede
Allen went on duty at three o' clock and remained on guard until six, when the others awoke.
The sun was showing itself in the east and all that remained of the storm were a few scattering drops.
"How do you feel?" asked Allen of Noel.
"Fairly well, although the arm is stiff, Allen." And the young man continued: "What shall we do with the wolverine?"
"Nothing, unless you want the pelt."
"I never want to see the beast again," said Noel, with a shudder for which Allen could not blame him.
"Then let him lie for the other wild beasts to feed upon."
When Watson arose Allen had breakfast ready and all ate without delay. Even Slavin got around, but it was plain to see that he was suffering.
"I want ter show ye I mean ter do what I said," he told Allen. "I'll go on if I drop in my tracks."
"We won't start just yet, Slavin," answered Allen, "and when we do we'll take it rather easy, both for your benefit and for Mr. Urner's."
It was past ten o clock when they left the cave. Their horses were much refreshed by the rest taken, and despite Slavin's hurts fair progress was made along the foothills.
It was a lonely section of the State through which they were traveling and Allen could not help mentioning this fact to Ike Watson. But at his words the old hunter merely laughed.
"Lonely," he snorted. "Gosh all hemlock, Allen, it ain't half as lonely as it used ter be, not by a jugful. Why, I remember the time ye could ride fer days an days an see nuthin but buffalo or some other wild critters."
"The buffalo are almost all gone now, aren't they?"
"Putty much, an' it's a great shame, too, fer they were fine game. But them sports used ter come out west an' kill 'em off by the score, worse luck! Didn't want 'em fer nuthin either!" And Watson shook his head sorrowfully.
"Were you ever caught in a buffalo stampede, Ike?"
"Onct, Allen, onct, an' it's an experience I'll never fergit as long as I live."
"I should like to hear the particulars."
"Thet ain't really much ter tell, Allen. I wuz out on Crazy Tom Mountain at the time. Reckon ye know the place."
"Well, it wuz while the buffalo had been over to the Fork. Grazin' wuzn't very good thet season an' the critters wuz rather ugly in consequence."
"Yes, I've heard they get bad when their feed is cut short."
"As I wuz sayin', I wuz up alongside o' Crazy Tom Mountain, looking fer b'ar, an' I had jes' struck a fine trail when I heered a curious sound on the tudder side o' the hill. I couldn't make it out nohow at fust, but byme-by I thought it must be buffalo, an I wuz right."
"Did they come right down on you?"
"No, worse luck, they didn't. If they hed I might have scooted to one side or tudder. But instead o' comin straight over the mountain—'tain's high, ye remember—they came around on both sides, an' afore I knowed it, I wuz right in the middle o' 'em."
"What did you do?" asked Allen, as Watson paused reflectively.
"At fust I didn't know what ter do persackly. I shot one of 'em, but bless ye, thet wuzn't nuthin, and I calkerlated as how I'd have ter ride fer it. Then of a sudden my hoss got scared and shot me over his head into a big thorn bush and made off like a streak o' greased lightnin', leaving me alone."
"With the buffalo all around you?"
"Jes so, more 'n twenty o' 'em, an' more 'n a hundred others comin' up fast as they could leg it. I kin tell ye I wuz in a fix an' no error."
"It must have hurt you to land in the thorn bush?"
"Hurt? Wall say, it wuz like bein' dumped into a pit full o' daggers, that wuz! Hain't fergot the awful stickin' pain yit an' never will! But bein' chucked into thet thorn bush saved my life."
"Didn't the buffalo touch the bush?"
"Nary a one. They would come up close, on a dead run, an' then shy like a skittish hoss afore a bit o' white paper. Time an' ag'in I thought one would heave hisself atop o' me an' squash me, but the time didn't come. Say, but it wuz a sight, that wuz!" went on Watson earnestly. "Them buffalo was mad, clean stark mad, and trampled all over each other. The stampede at thet p'int didn't last more 'n three minutes an' arfter it wuz over thar wuz five buffalo dead less than four yards away from me!"
"Tramped to death by the others?"
"Yes, smashed up too. Ye never saw sech a sight. Arfter thet ye can calkerlate I keep clear o' all other stampedes," concluded the old hunter.
Talking over one thing and another the party moved along until about one o' clock, when a halt was made for dinner.
Allen found that Noel was suffering but little but his arm was well bandaged. Slavin, however, was pale.
"You need a rest, Slavin," he said, kindly.
"I reckon ye air right," was the faint response. "Didn't calkerlate ter git sech an all-gone feelin'."
"We'll rest until the worst of the heat is over; eh, Ike?"
"Jes' as ye say," answered the old hunter.
They found an inviting spot in a small grove of trees close to a spring and a brook, and proceeded to make themselves comfortable. Slavin was glad enough to drop into a light doze.
"He's a changed man, unless I miss my guess," said Allen to Noel.
"I think you are right, Allen. That adventure took him so close to death I fancy it rather awakened his conscience."
"I hope he does turn over a new leaf. He doesn t appear such a bad fellow at heart."
"You are right. I suppose some men get bad out here simply because they haven't any good example to follow. They cut loose from their old associates and fall in with the wrong sort."
"That's just it, and it's so much easier to find the wrong sort than the right sort. Some men think life altogether too slow unless they are doing something against the law."
Allen, as he rested, could not help but think of his two brothers. What were Chet and Paul doing? He sincerely trusted all was going well with them.
"They ought to be old enough to take care of themselves," said Noel. "You mustn't worry too much on their account."
"Well, we have to be on guard out here night and day, Noel. You really don't know who to trust."
"Oh, I know that."
"Just think of what my uncle has suffered, and of what he may be suffering this minute. It is enough to make one's blood boil!"
"It may not be as bad as you imagine, Allen. Your uncle must know a thing or two."
"Of course, but one man can't do much against three or four, or half a dozen. Those rascals will do all in their power to bring him to terms, rest assured of that."
"Well, I am willing to push on at any time you say."
"I'll push on as fast as Slavin can travel. I can't do more than that. If he caves in on our hands we'll have no means of finding out anything more about my uncle's whereabouts."
"He can't be shamming, can he?"
"Not a bit of it. He was caught under the tree and I wouldn't have been in his position for a thousand dollars."
"Then don't push him any harder than you dare. To me he looks like a fellow who might be getting a fever."
"I noticed that. But I hope he doesn't," concluded Allen.
But the fever was coming and by nightfall all of the others saw that Slavin was in a bad way. He sat up and began to talk wildly.
"Let me go! Take the tree from me!" he cried. "I haven't got the money! Oh, how do ye do Mr. Winthrop. Glad to see me, eh? And how is that new mine, an' what kind of a trade are ye goin to make with Captain Grady, eh? Ha! ha! The cave by the seven pines! A good hiding place, the seven pines! Let me go, the tree is crushing me!" And then he fell back almost exhausted.
"He won't travel any more, not jes yet," said Watson, soberly. "He's up ag'in a long spell o' sickness."
"Did you hear what he said about Captain Grady?" asked Allen.
"I did. He must be in this game, too. An' the seven pines."
"The cave must be at a place called the seven pines," said Noel.
"If it is I think I know the spot," answered Ike Watson. "I ran across 'em seven pines two years ago. They air about two miles from here, on the other side o the mountain. We'll have ter go around ter git ter 'em."
An hour later Allen and Watson left Slavin in Noel Urner's care and struck out for the place on the other side of the mountain which the old hunter had mentioned.