Part 3 out of 4
though why they should have taken so much pains to conceal the fact
from Fred Whitney was more than he could understand.
"They may overtake him," thought the young man as he turned to enter
the house, "but it will not be right away."
A light foot-fall sounded in the darkness of the room.
"Is that you, Jennie?" he asked in a guarded undertone.
"Yes, brother; have they gone?"
"Some time ago. Is mother asleep?"
"She was asleep before they came, utterly worn out. I am glad she
knows nothing of the cause of their visit. And what of Monteith?"
"He is many miles away, and still riding hard."
"Will they pursue him?"
"Let them do so if they wish, they will have a fine time overtaking
him," was the light reply of the brother, who, leaning over in the
gloom, affectionately kissed his sister good-night.
THE BURNED RANCH.
Meanwhile Monteith Sterry was making the best of his opportunity.
It was no great exploit for him to slip out of the back door, when he
found his enemies gathering in front; but, had he not been convinced
that the movement was in the interests of his friends, as well as
himself, he would not have made it.
His flight was at a moderate pace for several hundred yards, by which
time he considered himself safe from pursuit and gave his mare free
rein. Her speed was rapid, but she was capable of maintaining it for
hours without fatigue.
Sterry's intention was to make his way to the ranch of his friend,
Dick Hawkridge, which lay to the westward. He began veering in that
direction, so that it may be said that while Inman and his band were
riding toward him, he was approaching them. Two causes, however,
prevented a meeting of the parties.
Sterry was much further out than the rustlers, and in the darkness
they could see nothing, if indeed they could hear anything of each
other. Then he had not ridden far when he was checked by an unexpected
A bright red glow appeared to the northward in the sky. It was too
vivid, distinct and near for him to mistake its nature. It was a
burning building, the flames showing so strongly that, aware as he was
of the deceptive nature of such a light, he knew it was no more than a
mile away. He turned the head of his mare in that direction.
"Things seem to be stirring to-night," was his thought as he galloped
forward, with his gaze fixed on the burning structure. "That may be
an accident, but such accidents are not common in this part of the
His supposition was that it was the work of the rustlers, but he was
The building was similar to that occupied by the Whitneys, though
somewhat smaller, and burned so fast that when he reached the spot it
was a mass of blazing embers, with hardly a semblance of the original
The sight was interesting of itself, but the attention of Sterry was
riveted by the figure of a man lying motionless on the ground, only
a few paces in front of where the door had been. His nerveless right
hand still grasped the Winchester with which he had evidently made a
sturdy fight when stricken down.
Sterry did not dismount, but, sitting in the saddle, looked on the
sorrowful sight as revealed by the glow of the burning building. He
was saddened that such things should be.
Little time, however, was given him for gloomy reverie, when Queenie
sniffed the air and turned her head a little to one side. Looking in
that direction, the rider saw the figure of a horseman assume shape in
the glow as his animal advanced at a slow step. He must have detected
Sterry before the latter saw him, and was studying him with close
attention, his rifle supported across his saddle in front, ready for
Reading his suspicion, the young man called out:
"Come on, partner! You and I cannot be enemies at such a time as
The salutation reassured the other, who increased his pace.
Before he reached Sterry the latter half-regretted his action, for
he recognized the man as Duke Vesey, one of the most notorious of
rustlers and a bitter personal enemy. But a certain chivalry rules
among such people, and after the greeting of Sterry to Vesey there was
little danger of the latter taking unfair advantage of it.
"This is bad business," remarked the younger, pointing to the figure
on the ground.
A hard look crossed the face of the rustler and his thin lips
compressed as he shook his head.
"Yes, that's what's left of Jack Perkins; he was my pard."
"How did it happen?"
"How did it happen! A pretty question for you to ask. He was killed by
the stockmen less than an hour ago."
"But they didn't ride hither and shoot him down, I am sure."
"I don't know what you can be sure of," said Vesey, ominously. "Jack
and I were riding along peaceable like, when we heard horsemen behind
us. We didn't pay any attention to them till we got home and Jack
slipped off his horse. I concluded to stay in the saddle until the
fellows came up and I had a talk with them. They were Capt. Asbury and
his stockmen, and the first thing they called out was an order for us
to throw up our hands.
"Well," continued Vesey, grimly, "we aren't in that kind of business,
and the next thing the guns were popping all around us. Jack had
nerve. I wish the poor fellow had stayed in the saddle; but his horse
scooted off, and he stood right there where he fell, without a leaf to
shelter him, and pumped the lead into those stockmen, who were mean
enough to shoot the brave fellow in his tracks without giving him a
chance for life."
"You told me they ordered him to surrender before the firing began."
"So they did, that they might shoot him down the easier. I had a hot
chase with them, and it was a pretty close call for me; but they
didn't keep up the hunt for long. You would think," added Vesey,
bitterly, "that they would have been satisfied with dropping poor
Jack, without burning down our home; but that is the style of the
Here was a representative of each of the factions, or associations, so
hostile to each other. The rustler knew Monteith Sterry, and must
have felt a consuming resentment toward him. His words and manner
indicated, too, that he was not averse to a quarrel. He had fought the
stockmen more than once, and, with the memory of the recent collision
and the advantages on the other side, he welcomed the chance of a
conflict on anything like equal terms.
Monteith did not stand in any personal fear of the famous rustler, and
was fully armed and on the alert. Without seeming to do so, he kept a
watch on the man, but he disliked the thought of a personal encounter
with him. The scene, the surroundings, and his own nature, revolted,
and he resolved to submit to all that it was possible to bear before
falling back on the last resort.
"No doubt," said Sterry, "there has been injustice on both sides, and
stockmen as well as rustlers have done things for which there is no
justification; I hope the trouble will soon end."
"It will end as soon as we get justice."
"Yes," Sterry could not help retorting, "for if justice were done to
you rustlers none would be left. However," he hastened to add, "there
is no reason why you and I should quarrel, Vesey; I had no share in
the death of your friend; and if the case is as you represent it, he
was more sinned against than sinning."
"Of course you had no share in that simply because you wasn't here,
but you have been concerned in other affairs like this where some of
the rustlers have gone down."
"It is quite possible I have," coolly replied Sterry, "inasmuch as
when a man is attacked it is his duty to defend himself. I have not
yet been convinced that I ought to stand up and allow others to do as
they please when weapons were in my hands."
"You have no business in Wyoming anyway," said Vesey, angrily; "you
have been sent here by the Association to do its underhand work."
"Duke Vesey," said Sterry, "you are a man of too much education to
talk in that way. If you and I quarrel, it will be your fault, but
don't fancy that I hold you in any fear. Good-night."
It was a dignified proceeding on the part of Monteith Sterry, and
the rustler possessed enough gentlemanly instinct to appreciate the
feelings of the young man, who had attested his courage too often for
any one to question it. But at the moment of wheeling his mare to ride
off both caught the sound of approaching horsemen, and Sterry checked
"Who are they?" he asked, glancing at the rustler.
"How should I know? They may be some of your folks."
"They are as likely to be yours. I don't think, Duke, it is wise for
us to stay here where we offer such inviting targets, for whoever the
party may be, one of us is sure to be an enemy."
Monteith Sterry moved away from the area of illumination as he spoke,
Vesey keeping close to his side.
"Is it understood, Duke," asked the younger, "there's a truce between
you and me?"
"Of course; if you know anything about Duke Vesey, you know he's
square. If they happen to be some of our boys, I won't take any
advantage of you, nor let them, if I can help it."
"And if they are Capt. Asbury and others, I will reciprocate."
Enough was said. Enemies though the men were, no bosom friends could
have been more in unison for the time. Ready to shoot each other on
sight less than an hour before, and as they were liable to be within
the following hour, they were equally ready to risk their lives, if
necessary, to carry out the pledge just exchanged.
They had to ride but a short way when the gloom became deep enough to
protect them against the sight of the horsemen who were approaching
from the opposite direction.
Six men rode into view, halting on the spot vacated by the couple
just before, the one at the head being recognized in the glow of the
burning ruins as Capt. Asbury, with whom the affray had taken place a
short time previous. Sterry knew each, as did his companion.
"All the party do not seem to be there," remarked Sterry.
"They are not," replied Vesey; "three are missing."
"I wonder if anything can have happened to them?"
"Accidents are liable to take place in this part of the world--"
"Hands up!" was the startling command that broke upon the couple at
that moment, from a point directly behind them.
The truth was, Sterry and Vesey had been seen by the horsemen as they
stole away in the gloom. Capt. Asbury, suspecting they were rustlers,
sent three of his men out beyond them on foot, and they did their part
so well that they came up without alarming either of their horses, who
ordinarily would have detected them.
"I've been trapped!" muttered Vesey, savagely, glancing at the
figures, standing but a short way off in the moonlight, with their
"Never mind," said Sterry, quickly, "up with your hands, as I do, or
we'll both catch it; I'll stand by you."
The rustler was wise enough to obey, with only a momentary hesitation.
Had he not done so, he would never have had a second chance, for the
stockmen were very much in earnest.
The footmen came forward with their weapons at a level, for they were
too prudent to give their prisoners a chance.
"How are you, Hendricks?" asked Sterry, with a laugh, as the trio
The man addressed peered closely in his face, suspecting, and yet not
convinced of his identity until after a minute or two.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he exclaimed; "is that you, Mont?"
"I have a suspicion that it is," was the reply of Sterry, laughing
quite heartily as he lowered his hands.
"Who is your friend?" he asked, moving around to gain a better view of
"Ah, that's the man we're looking for," added Hendricks a moment
later; "he's Duke Vesey, the partner of the late Jack Perkins."
"You are right," Sterry hastened to say, "but he is under the
protection of a flag of truce."
"A flag of truce!" repeated the other; "where is it?"
"I gave him my pledge to shield him against you folks, as he agreed to
do if your party had proven to be his friends."
"Well, that's a queer state of affairs," laughed the other, not
forgetting to keep guard of the prisoner, who was permitted to lower
his hands. The other stockmen were equally alert, now that there was
but one man to watch, so that Vesey was really as helpless as though
deprived of all his weapons.
"I do not see what is so queer about it," replied Sterry, warmly; "we
heard you coming and moved off out of sight. Before doing so Vesey
pledged himself to stand by me against any of his friends, if it
became necessary, and I promised to do the same for him. The issue
shows that it is my privilege to keep my promise--that's all."
It was plain that Hendricks felt himself in a quandary. He had been
sent out to capture the two men under the supposition that they were
rustlers. It was proved that one of them was the very individual whom
Capt. Asbury was anxious to secure. To release him after taking him
prisoner would place his captor in anything but a pleasant situation
with his leader.
Suspecting his dilemma, Sterry said:
"You can readily arrange it by taking me in as prisoner and allowing
Vesey to go."
"That is all well enough, but it will put me in a hole that I don't
intend to be put in. Capt. Asbury is the boss of this business; you
two can ride up to him and make your report; that will place the
responsibility where it belongs."
This seemed reasonable, but Sterry felt uneasy. He knew the violent
temper of Capt. Asbury, and feared he would refuse to acknowledge
the agreement as binding upon him. On the other hand, Sterry was
determined to stand by his pledge to the last.
"I can't consent to that," he said.
"You've got to," replied Hendricks; "it is idle to suppose that any
such bargain as you may choose to make can be binding on others who
were not present when it was made, and therefore were not parties to
"That is one way of putting it, but the promise is binding on me, and
as true as I am a living man I will fight to the death against you and
the whole party before this person shall suffer because of his faith
in my word."
"Very well, then, fight it is; he has got to surrender to Capt. Asbury
and await what he is willing to do with him."
"Duke," said Sterry, turning to the rustler, "it's two of us against
three, and you and I have been there before."
But on the verge of the explosion the rustler came to the rescue.
"There's no need of any row, Sterry; I'll surrender and take my
And to settle the dispute he struck his horse into a gallop, and
before the surprise was over rode up to the group, who were gazing
wonderingly off in the gloom, whence came the sound of voices.
Sterry and the footmen were but a brief space behind them. While the
astonished captain and his companions were looking around for an
explanation, Mont Sterry made it in as brief and pointed words as were
at his command.
Capt. Asbury fixed his gray eyes upon the handsome countenance of the
young man during the few minutes he was speaking, and Sterry saw,
despite the forceful terms in which he stated the agreement, that the
leading stockman was angry.
"I've no objection," he remarked, striving to control his voice, which
was tremulous with anger, "if you choose to play the woman, but I
don't see what I've got to do with it."
"Vesey surrendered under my promise that he should be protected; had
he not believed that promise he would not have surrendered."
"But would have been shot down where he sat in the saddle. Had he been
beyond reach and come in under such a pledge, the case would have been
altogether different; but as it is--"
The fateful words were interrupted by a rush and dash. Attention had
been diverted for the moment from the prisoner to the one who was
pleading for him and to him who held his fate in his hands. The
observant Vesey saw the inevitable trend of events, and, taking
advantage of the chance, was off like a thunderbolt.
The parting glimpse showed him leaning forward on his horse, who was
plunging at utmost speed straight away in the gloom. A half dozen
shots were sent after him and something like pursuit was attempted,
but brief as was the start gained it was sufficient, and he was soon
beyond all danger.
A MESSENGER IN HASTE.
The daring escape of the prisoner did not tend to improve the temper
of Capt. Asbury, and he indulged in a number of emphatic expressions,
during which Monteith Sterry was dignified enough to hold his peace.
But the leader of the stockmen quickly recovered his self-poise and
accepted the matter as one of the peculiar incidents liable to take
place at any time.
His version of the difficulty with the rustlers differed from that
given by Vesey. They rode up to the house, not knowing who dwelt
there, and were received with a shot, which, fortunately, did no
damage. Duke Vesey was at the rear, near the structure in which the
horses were stabled, when he hurriedly mounted and dashed off, just as
he had recently done. He did not make a fight like his companion, who,
as was represented, stood his ground. He was repeatedly summoned to
surrender, but paid no heed to it, and it became a choice whether to
shoot him down or allow him to empty the saddles.
While Sterry could not feel so well disposed toward Vesey after
hearing this account, he did not regret the part he had acted, and he
was also suspicious that Capt. Asbury had tinged his version with a
The incident itself was of small moment, but the consequences were
likely to be far-reaching and important. One of the rustlers had
fallen and his companion had escaped. His story of the fight would
place the blame wholly upon the stockmen and inflame the feeling
between the rustlers and ranchmen, already at a dangerous intensity.
Capt. Asbury was out with his men for the purpose of arresting several
of the most notorious of the offenders against the law. Those rustlers
were sufficiently powerful to make trouble. If they were given time to
organize they could sweep the captain and his little party from the
earth. There was reason to believe they would do that very thing,
now that Duke Vesey was at liberty to spread his account of the last
Capt. Asbury held a brief consultation with his men, all, including
Sterry, taking part. The consensus of opinion was that they ought to
effect a junction with some of the larger parties of stockmen known to
be abroad, or withdraw to some safe point like Buffalo, Riverside, or
the nearest military station.
Ira Inman, Larch Cadmus and the others were on the "war-path," and at
no great distance. Morning would probably find them in sight, if the
stockmen should stay where they were.
Capt. Asbury decided to ride to the westward, in the hope of effecting
a junction with friends or of reaching a point where they would be
secure against their assailants.
The night was well advanced, but their horses had done comparatively
little travelling and were capable of a good deal more. The captain
took the lead, holding only occasional converse with his men as he
swung along at an easy pace; but he, like the rest, was on the lookout
for danger, which was liable to approach from any point of the
A marked change showed itself in the temperature. The weather, as will
be remembered, had been unusually mild earlier in the evening, but
it now became sharp and chilly, as though the breath from the snowy
mountain crests was wafted down upon them.
In a valley-like depression, an hour later, where there was an
abundance of grass, beside a flowing stream of water, the party went
into camp, with a couple of their number on guard, just as they would
have done if in a hostile country--which in point of fact was the
The night passed, however, without any disturbance, and all were astir
before sunrise. The men were provided with several days' rations,
while the succulent grass afforded the animals all the food they
needed, so there was no trouble on that score.
Capt. Asbury and Monteith Sterry mounted their horses and rode to the
crest of the nearest elevation, which was fully 100 feet in height and
commanded a wide sweep of country. The morning was clear and bright,
and the first glance they cast to the northward revealed a stirring
sight. A horseman was less than a half-mile away, and riding at
headlong speed, as if in the extremity of mortal fright.
"What can it mean?" asked the puzzled leader; "no one is pursuing him,
and I see no cause for his panic."
"I suspect," replied Sterry, thoughtfully, "that he is a messenger
bringing important tidings to you."
It seemed strange that the messenger, if such he was, should know the
right course to follow in order to reach the camp of Capt. Asbury, for
he was riding directly toward it, and that, too, at the highest speed
of which his horse was capable.
But Monteith Sterry had noted a fact which escaped the captain, though
he was an observant man. The horseman was not approaching the camp at
the moment the couple reached the crest of the elevation and began
scrutinizing the surrounding country; he was going at right angles to
it, but (as it afterward proved) he carried a glass, with which, at
that moment, he was also scanning the horizon for something he was
very anxious to find.
Fortunately he caught sight of the couple, and though he could not be
assured of their identity at so great a distance, the suspicion of
the truth as to Capt. Asbury caused him to put his animal to his best
In a brief time he rode up. While some rods away he recognized the
captain and saluted him. A little nearer approach and he identified
Sterry, who was astonished beyond measure to discover that he was his
old friend, Dick Hawkridge, toward whose ranch he had ridden on the
"You're out early, Dick," was the salutation of Sterry, as his old
friend reined up beside him and extended his hand.
"And are riding hard," added Capt. Asbury, who liked the young man.
"I ride hard," replied Hawkridge, gravely, "because there is need of
it; I was looking for you."
"And why looking for me?" inquired the captain.
"Because you and your men are in great peril."
"Ah. What might be its nature?"
"From the rustlers."
"I was trying to persuade myself that it was they who were in peril
from us, but you put it differently."
"It might be as you wish if you had twenty-five or fifty men; but with
less than a dozen, and more than twice that number looking for you,
discretion is the better part of valor."
"Tell me, Hawkridge, how all this interesting information came to
you," continued Capt. Asbury.
"My ranch is not far to the northward, my cattle are ranging among the
foothills of the Big Horn Mountains, and all my hands are with them. I
sat up late last night, going over my accounts and trying to get them
into shape, and it was past midnight when two rustlers rode up. I
supposed they meant to stay all night and invited them in. I have
never had any trouble with them, and they had two purposes in
calling. One was to give me a little advice, and the other to secure
"Their advice, I suppose, was that you cast in your fortunes with
them, and take up the business of branding mavericks and altering
"Hardly that, but it was that I should keep out of the trouble, for
there are going to be ugly times. Now you know that, however much I
may wish to let things proceed smoothly, I will never identify myself
with the law-breakers. I gave my callers to understand that, and I
think they respect my position.
"It seems to me," added Hawkridge, thoughtfully, "that there have been
some woeful mistakes made. The Cattle Association have organized
an expedition to rid Johnson, Natroma and Converse Counties of
cattle-thieves, as they call them. They have imported twenty-five
picked men from Texas, every one of whom is a fighter and dead shot,
with Capt. Smith, an ex-U.S. marshal, as their leader. One of the
party may be taken as a type of the rest. He is Scott Davis, once a
guard on the Deadwood coach, and he carries a gun with twenty notches
on the stock, each representing the death of a road-agent or other
"The expedition left Cheyenne some days ago and is somewhere in this
section. Strong as it is, it is doomed to defeat, for I don't care
how brave and skilful those fellows are, they are no more so than the
rustlers, who far outnumber them.
"However, it isn't that which concerns you and me just now, though it
may do so later. The rustlers have learned that you are out with a
small party, and they are after you."
Capt. Asbury was a brave man, and he did not start on hearing this
announcement, for he had been expecting it from the first; but he
was prudent as well as daring, and he knew his young friend did not
underestimate the danger of himself and companions.
"Have they learned anything about last night's doings?" asked Sterry.
"That's what started me off after you in such a hurry. My callers
stayed more than two hours, and were about leaving when who should
ride up but Duke Vesey, with his story of the killing of his comrade,
Jack Perkins, by you and your men."
"I suppose he called it a murder," remarked Capt. Asbury,
"Yes, the worst kind, too. I knew he was drawing a long bow, but he
will tell it to others, and it will spread like wildfire. He was
looking for Ira Inman, Larch Cadmus and his party. There are more of
them than you and others are aware of, riding up and down the country,
ripe for any mischief. From what I know, Inman and a dozen of the most
desperate rustlers are in the neighborhood, and as the two fellows who
were at my ranch volunteered to help Vesey find them they will do it
pretty soon, if they have not already done so. Vesey declared it as
his belief that you would be discovered not far from his burned home,
so as soon as they left I mounted my best horse and started to give
"I appreciate your kindness, Hawkridge; how did you know the right
"I knew the course to Vesey's ranch, and was speeding that way when
I caught sight of you and Sterry on the top of this hill. I took a
squint through my glass, was pretty sure who it was, and then came
like mad. I didn't suspect it was you though, Mont, until I almost ran
"Did Vesey say anything about me?" asked Sterry, with a meaning glance
at the captain.
"He said you had acted like a white man in some dispute, but he didn't
give the particulars and I didn't question him. He is intensely bitter
against the captain and his party, and declares that not one of them
shall get out of the country alive; and, captain, Duke Vesey is a man
of his word."
"Then I suppose I may consider myself disposed of," replied Asbury,
with a laugh.
"Not as bad as that, but it depends upon yourself."
"What do you advise?"
"Start southward at once with your men; if you meet the Texans and
their friends, join them if you choose; it will make their strength so
much the greater, and they need it all. If you fail to meet them,
keep on till you cross the Platte and strike Fort Fetterman. In other
words, captain, you have no business to be where you are."
Capt. Asbury drew a cigar from his pocket and lit it, first offering
one to each of his companions. He puffed in silence for a minute or
two, evidently absorbed in thought. He was a veteran of the civil war,
and had learned to be cool in dangerous crises.
"Hawkridge," he remarked, removing his cigar, "you are right in the
main, although not wholly so."
"I await correction."
"Doubtless it is all true what you say about the festive rustlers
roaming up and down the land seeking whom they may devour, but you
forget that, leaving out the quarter of a hundred from the Lone Star
State, there are also other bands of stockmen abroad. Now, if we could
effect a junction with one or two of those companies, why, you'll
admit, the aspect of affairs will be changed."
"Unquestionably; but consider how slight the chance--"
"On the contrary, I think the prospect is good. Now, if you'll be kind
enough to level your glass to the eastward, possibly you will observe
Both young men quickly turned their heads in the direction indicated,
and there, sure enough, was descried a body of horsemen, probably a
mile distant, approaching on a gallop.
Hawkridge levelled his glass. While thus engaged, Capt. Asbury
signalled to his men to mount and be ready to move on a moment's call.
It was well to be ready for any emergency.
Dick Hawkridge studied the horsemen closely for some minutes without
speaking. Then, with his eye still at the glass, he repeated slowly,
as if to himself:
"There are thirteen of them, and the spotted horse at the head I am
sure belongs to Ira Inman; the whole party are rustlers."
He lowered the binocular and looked at the captain, adding:
"I suspected it; their party is but a little stronger than yours, for
Mont and I will stand with you, but it seems to me it would be foolish
to risk a fight in the open."
"I am willing to retreat, but I don't intend to be run out of Wyoming
by all the rustlers between Sheridan and Cheyenne. I am willing,
however," he added, with a smile, "to make a strategical movement to
the rear until we strike some place where there's a show for defence;
do you know of any such place?"
"My house is well fitted for that, and is not far off."
"All right; lead on."
By this time the rest of the party had ridden to the top of the hill,
where the situation was quickly made clear to them. They looked off at
the party of rustlers, and several expressed the wish that the captain
would stay and fight them; but he replied that they were quite certain
to get enough of fighting before they were many days older, and he
At sight of the flight, the rustlers uttered tantalizing shouts
and discharged their Winchesters in the air. At the same time they
increased the speed of their animals; but, as they were no better
mounted than the stockmen, there was little chance of overtaking them.
The surface was undulating, the ground being well covered with verdure
even thus early in the spring. Sometimes pursuers and fugitives were
out of sight of each other for a minute or two, but not long enough to
affect the situation.
The course was northwest, and Hawkridge was hopeful that they would
reach his ranch in an hour or a little more. And this they probably
would have done had they not been interrupted, or rather checked,
by the unexpected appearance of a third company of horsemen, almost
directly in front of the stockmen.
"It may be they are friends," said Capt. Asbury, instantly bringing
his horse down to a walk, as did the others.
But the hope was delusive. A brief scrutiny of the strangers through
the glass by Dick Hawkridge left no doubt that they, too, were
rustlers, probably engaged on the same errand as Inman and his men.
This, of course, overthrew the plan of taking refuge at the ranch of
Hawkridge, with a view of defending themselves, for to push on insured
a collision with the party in front. They seemed to be about as
numerous as Inman's company, and as the latter were sure to arrive
before anything could be accomplished by the most spirited attack on
the rustlers, it would have been folly to incur such a risk.
The most obvious course was to turn to the left, with no special
object except to reach some place that could be used as a means of
defence. In a country with such a varied surface it ought not to take
long to find a refuge.
Dick Hawkridge, when leading the way to his home, acted as guide, and
now that the change was made he continued to do so because of his
familiarity with the country. Beside him rode his friend, Mont Sterry,
with Capt. Asbury and the rest following in loose order.
It was an interesting question as to how Inman and the others would
act upon meeting, and the stockmen watched for the junction.
At the moment the abrupt turn was made in the course of the fugitives
the two parties of rustlers did not see each other, a precipitous
ridge preventing. They must have been puzzled, therefore, to
understand the cause of the sudden change in the line of flight.
The mystery, however, was speedily cleared up, and the rustlers
greeted each other with ringing cheers, adding a few derisive shouts
to the fleeing stockmen. They were seen to mingle for a short time
only, while they discussed the situation. Then the company, increased
to more than a score, galloped after the cattlemen.
A fight was inevitable, for the flight and pursuit could not continue
indefinitely. Brave and confident, the rustlers were ardent for the
opportunity, while Capt. Asbury and his men were equally eager to
come upon some place which would do something toward equalizing the
strength of the combatants.
It was humiliating thus to flee before the very men whom he had set
out to arrest, but what veteran has not been obliged to do humiliating
things in the course of his career?
"This flight can't continue much longer," quietly remarked Monteith
Sterry to Hawkridge, at his side.
"The men are dissatisfied and are unwilling to keep it up. We have let
those fellows approach so near that their bullets come uncomfortably
"Capt. Asbury is growing impatient; I shouldn't wonder if he gives the
order to stop and have it out with them. It will be warm work if we
do, but over that next ridge I think we shall gain sight of a good
place for making a stand."
Something in the appearance of the surroundings was familiar to
Sterry, but he could not identify them.
Just then two of the rustlers fired their guns, and the pinge of one
of the bullets was plainly heard. Sterry looked around and saw Capt.
Asbury compress his lips and shake his head; he did not like the way
things were going. A crisis was at hand.
The top of the ridge being attained, all saw a large structure below,
and not far off.
"Do you recognize it?" asked Hawkridge, with a smile.
"No--why, yes; is it possible?"
"You ought to know it, for, if I am not mistaken, you are considerably
interested in one member of the family."
"I never supposed we were so near Fred Whitney's home," was the amazed
comment of Sterry, who was in doubt whether, under the circumstances,
he ought to be pleased or not.
"There's where we'll make a stand," called out Capt. Asbury, "and let
the music begin."
THE PRIMITIVE FORT.
"Move a little lively, boys," added the captain, spurring his horse
to a faster gait; "there'll be some shooting, and they're closer than
they ought to be."
By a providential coincidence, the whole party of rustlers halted
before ascending the ridge, which would give them a view of the
building in which the stockmen were about to make a stand. They
probably saw the impossibility of overtaking the fugitives by a direct
pursuit, and paused to decide upon some different course of action.
This was proven by what they did a few minutes later, for they
separated into two divisions, one turning to the right and the other
to the left. They seemed to think that the course of their enemies
must change soon, in which case there was a chance of heading them off
and bringing them between two fires. The rustlers were more familiar
with the country than the stockmen, and, had the chase continued, it
is likely it would have resulted as they expected.
But, strangely enough, these people forgot the Whitney home, upon
which it may be said the horsemen stumbled the next moment.
Down the ridge rode the dozen or more, Hawkridge, Sterry and Capt.
Asbury at the head, with the others almost upon their heels. In the
brisk morning air the frightened Jennie Whitney hastened to the door
and gazed wonderingly upon the party.
She recognized the handsome youth, who doffed his hat, a courtesy
instantly imitated by Hawkridge, the captain, and then the rest of the
men, as they halted in front of the door, where stood the pale and
startled mother, at a loss to understand the meaning of the strange
"Good-morning!" called Sterry. "Where's Fred?"
"He's on the range with the men, looking after the cattle."
"And are you and your mother alone?"
"We are the only ones in the house. What is the meaning of all this?"
she asked, looking with astonishment at the horsemen.
"We are pursued by a company of rustlers," replied Hawkridge; "they
are directly behind us; I started to lead our friends to my ranch, but
they headed us off, and we were compelled to apply here for shelter."
"You are welcome," Mrs. Whitney hastened to say; "dismount and come in
as soon as you can."
Sterry, Hawkridge and Capt. Asbury thanked her simultaneously. Time
was beyond value. They expected every instant to hear the crack of the
rifles and the shouts of their enemies on the crest of the ridge, and
could not comprehend why they were delayed.
They dashed to the structure at the rear and a short distance from
the dwelling, into which they ran their horses, slipped off their
trappings, and hurried back to the house.
Every one was inside and not a shot fired, nor was a rustler seen. It
was beyond explanation.
But the stockmen were wise enough to turn to the best account the
grace thus given to them.
They stationed themselves at the front and rear doors and windows with
loaded weapons, on the alert to wing the first rustler who showed
Sterry found time to exchange a few words with Jennie and her mother.
"It is too bad," he said, "to put you to this trouble and danger; but
the rustlers outnumber us more than two to one, and it was the only
hope that offered itself."
"And glad am I that it _did_ present itself. O, if my poor husband had
been here when they attacked him!"
"When do you expect the return of Fred?"
"Not before night, and the hands may not come with him. He does not
dream of anything like this."
"Nor did we, a little while ago. Had any other refuge presented itself
we would have seized it; but I never suspected we were near your home
until we came over the ridge and saw it but a few rods away."
"But, where are they?" asked the wondering Jennie.
"That's something I don't understand, for they were near enough for
their bullets to whistle about our ears."
"They have seen where you took shelter and are afraid to attack you."
"That may be; but why don't they show themselves?"
At this moment Capt. Asbury approached. Repeating his regrets that
they should place their friends in such danger, he said:
"As there is no saying how long we shall have to stay here, we ought
to learn the nature of our defences. Our horses are in the stables,
where, if the rustlers choose, they can get them, and they will be
pretty sure to choose to do it. They can steal to the rear of the
sheds and take them out without risk. Now, Mrs. Whitney, we have
enough rations with us to last, in a pinch, for three or four days;
how are you fixed?"
"We have but a small quantity of food in the house--none worth
"No matter how slight, it is worth mentioning. Under the
circumstances, I think we can say we are provisioned for the whole
time of the siege, which must be over in less than a week."
"But how will it end?" asked the lady.
The captain shrugged his shoulders.
"Take no thought of the morrow; but what worries me is the question of
water--how about that?"
A hurried examination disclosed that there was not quite two pailfuls
in the house. Even that was more than usual. The small stream from
which the supply was obtained was beyond the stables in which the
horses were sheltered. Water from that source was out of the question
while the siege continued.
Several of the men had a small quantity in their canteens, but,
inasmuch as no such contingency as this was anticipated, little
preparation had been made.
Still Capt. Asbury expressed himself gratified at the result of his
investigation. The weather was so cool that a moderate amount of
the precious fluid would prevent suffering, and he decided that,
dispensing with what ordinarily was used for cooking purposes, they
could get along quite well for three days, and possibly longer.
The lower part of the flat building consisted of two parts, used
respectively for the kitchen and the dining and sitting-room. There
were four apartments above--one for the parents, one each for the son
and daughter, and one for visitors. These, of course, would be held
sacred for the members of the family, while the others found sleep, as
opportunity presented, below stairs.
There were windows on all sides of the house; and the structure, while
not strong, was, of course, bullet-proof.
Before all this was ascertained the rustlers showed themselves. But
instead of appearing on the ridge, over which the cattlemen had
ridden, half of them showed themselves on the other side, having
circled around back of the stables.
A moment later the rest were observed on top of the ridge. Thus, with
the exception of the broad level plain stretching in the direction of
the Big Horn Mountains, it may be said that the ranch was surrounded
by the rustlers, who held the stockmen at bay.
What would be the result? None could foresee.
Hawkridge drew Sterry aside and said, in a guarded undertone:
"There is only one thing to be feared."
"What is that?"
"It is easy for them to burn this building."
"Do you think they will do that, when they know a couple of women are
"It doesn't follow that there is any necessity of their being burned,
nor indeed of any of us suffering from fire. When you touch off a barn
the rats get out, and that's what we shall have to do."
"But they will give us a chance, first."
"Yes, a chance to surrender, and we might have done that without
putting ourselves to all this trouble."
"And suppose we _do_ surrender, after making the best fight we
can--what are likely to be the terms offered?"
"They will treat the majority, including myself, as prisoners of war;
but Capt. Asbury, and probably you, will be excepted--he because
of the killing of Perkins last night, and you because you have
disregarded the warning to leave the country when ordered to do so."
"All of which is mighty interesting to the captain and myself,"
remarked Sterry, with little evidence of fear; "but we will hope for
THE FLAG OF TRUCE.
In one important respect the combatants showed commendable discretion.
Although there had been considerable firing on the part of the
rustlers, none of the cattlemen were hurt. It is not unlikely that the
bullets were intended to frighten them, since such excellent marksmen
otherwise could not have discharged their weapons without execution.
Capt. Asbury and his men had not returned a shot. When their enemies
appeared on more than one side of the building it would have been easy
to pick off several without risk to those sheltered within the house,
but he gave orders that nothing of that sort should be done.
The bitterness between the parties was already intense. There were
hot-heads on both sides eager to open the lamentable conflict, but
were it done, there was no saying where it would end. It was wise,
therefore, that the leaders forbore from active hostilities at this
early stage of the business.
From the front of the structure the plain stretched in the direction
of the Big Horn Mountains. It was across this that Jennie Whitney
descried, two days before, the return of her friends with the body of
her father. She now ascended to the second story and peered long and
frequently in the same direction, in the hope of catching sight of her
Meanwhile Capt. Asbury disposed of the members of his party as best
he could. They needed no instructions from him to avoid in every way
possible annoying the ladies, who were considerate and kind.
About midday, excitement was caused among the besieged by the
appearance of a flag of truce. A man rode over the ridge, down which
the cattlemen had come in such haste, holding a white handkerchief
fluttering over his head. His horse walked slowly and the rider
kept his gaze on the front of the house, as though in doubt of the
reception awaiting him. A hundred feet away he came to a halt, still
flourishing the peace signal above his hat.
Capt. Asbury was the first to discover the messenger and hurriedly
arranged for the interview.
"Inasmuch as that fellow is neither Inman, Cadmus, nor anyone of the
leaders, it is not the thing for me to meet him."
"You have recognized him?" was the inquiring remark of Hawkridge,
glancing with a smile at the officer.
"No. Who is he?"
"Duke Vesey, who does not feel particularly amiable toward you."
"I will meet him," volunteered Monteith Sterry. The captain shook his
"While that fellow is friendly to you, perhaps, others of the company
are very resentful; it isn't best to tempt them. Hawkridge, you are
the best one to act."
"Very well; I will do so."
The horseman had come to a stop and was gazing fixedly at the
building, as if waiting for a response to his advance.
Jennie Whitney descended the stairs at this moment.
"I think I see Fred coming," she said, with some agitation; "will they
do him any harm?"
"No," replied Sterry, "they have nothing against him."
"But the other day--" she ventured, doubtfully.
"Was a scrimmage, likely to take place at any time; that is ended, but
they will probably hold him prisoner."
During this brief conversation a brisk search was going on among the
three men for a white pocket-handkerchief. None of them possessed such
an article, the hue in each case being different. Hawkridge appealed
to Miss Whitney, and she produced a linen handkerchief of snowy
"Just the thing," he said, drawing back the door sufficiently to allow
him to pass out. "I don't think I will be detained long. It is
understood," he added, turning to the captain, "that we don't consider
the question of surrender under any terms."
"It will be better to report, and then decide what to do."
Hawkridge bowed and passed out. He waved the spotless linen in front
of his face as he walked toward the horseman, and both smiled when
they recognized each other.
"Well, Duke, what is it?" asked the footman, as though he were asking
an ordinary question of a friend.
"I reckon you can guess. Since the two companies came together Ira
Inman is at the head of the army. Some of the boys are wild to begin
shooting, and they'll do it pretty soon. Before that, Inman decided to
offer you folks a chance to give in. That's my business."
"You simply demand our surrender, as I understand it?"
"You've guessed it the first time," replied Vesey, with a nod of his
"What terms do you offer?"
"You'll be treated as prisoners of war; but," added the rustler, "it
is hardly right to say that. It's Inman's idea to hold you as hostages
for the right treatment of any of our boys that may fall into the
hands of the stockmen."
"That is quite different. Let me ask, Duke, whether this treatment is
guaranteed to all of our folks?"
"I wish I could say it was, Dick, but I can't; Inman makes two
exceptions--Capt. Asbury and Mont Sterry. That Sterry showed himself
so much of a man and was so square toward me when I was caught that I
would do anything I could for him. I appealed to Inman to let up on
him, but he won't; some of the boys are so mad they will shoot him on
"And Capt. Asbury?"
Vesey's face became hard.
"He ought to be hanged because of the way he acted last night."
"But what is proposed to do with him and Sterry?"
"Give them a fair trial."
Hawkridge shook his head with a meaning smile.
"It won't work, Duke; there isn't a man in our company who would
consent to anything of the kind. There could be but one issue to such
a trial, and it would be nothing less than the betrayal of our leader
or a comrade by us."
"Inman declares he will burn down the house if you refuse his terms."
"Let him try it as soon as he pleases; you can tell him for Capt.
Asbury that his terms are rejected."
THE UNDERGROUND MISSIVE.
Dick Hawkridge, standing on the ground, looked up in the bronzed face
of Duke Vesey, sitting in the saddle.
At every window on the lower floor were faces watching the two men
that had thus met under a flag of truce. From the ridge on the right,
and the undulating ground to the left, peered the rustlers, intensely
interested in the actions of the couple, whose words were spoken in
tones too low to reach the ears of any on either side. No actors ever
had a more attentive audience than they.
When Hawkridge announced to Vesey that his proffer was rejected (for
it was useless to report first to Capt. Asbury, as he had been told to
do), the horseman said:
"Dick, you would have been a cur to accept such terms, though I would
do anything to even matters with that Asbury; but I want to get a
message to Mont Sterry."
"You can trust me to carry it."
"It is for him alone; I have it in writing. Well, good-by."
He leaned over from the saddle and extended his hand. As Hawkridge
took it he felt something in his palm.
"I understand," he said; "it shall be delivered."
No one watching the couple, as nearly all were doing, suspected this
little by-play. They saluted, and Vesey spurred his pony to a gallop,
passing up the ridge and joining his friends to report, while
Hawkridge was admitted through the door, which was immediately closed
and secured behind him.
To the captain and the others who crowded around he quickly told what
"Your order was to let you know the terms before giving an answer," he
added, addressing the leader, "but you see it wasn't necessary."
A buzz of commendation left no doubt of the wisdom of his course.
"But what about his threat to burn the building?" asked Sterry,
addressing no one in particular.
"He will do it, or at least will try it," replied Hawkridge, "for he
doesn't intend any one shall have time to interfere, as may be the
case if he delays too long."
"To set fire to the house," remarked the captain, who had given much
thought to the question, "they must first reach it, and that manoeuvre
will prove a costly one to them. I suspect that some other firing will
take place about that time--eh, boys?"
The response revealed the feelings of the men, who were chafing under
"But, surely," continued Sterry, "they do not mean to burn the
building while Mrs. Whitney and her daughter are within?"
"As was said some time ago," replied Hawkridge, "that makes little
difference, since it is not to be supposed that even we will stay
inside during the conflagration. The firing is meant to drive us out,
and it will do it."
"But there must be considerable shooting, and the ladies will be in
"I think Inman will order us to send them out, so as to prevent harm
"If they were Sioux or Crows they might launch burning arrows and
fire-balls; but they can't do that, and will have to run some risk in
getting the flames under way."
"There are signs of a storm, and if the night proves dark it will be
much in their favor and against us."
"Suppose they fire the stables," suggested one of the men.
"They are too far off to place us in danger, unless a strong wind
should blow directly this way."
"Well, boys," said Capt. Asbury, hopefully, "the thing isn't through
yet. I think Inman will give us another message before opening the
ball, so you may rest easy until he makes his next move."
Meanwhile Hawkridge had managed to deliver the little twist of paper,
placed in his hand by Vesey. Inasmuch as the matter had been managed
with so much care, he deemed it right that no one should see the
transfer to his friend.
Sterry was surprised and glanced down at the object, but, quick to
catch on, closed his palm again and took part in the conversation. It
was some minutes before he gained a chance to examine the contents
unobserved. When he did so, they proved so important that he called
Hawkridge and the captain aside and showed the letter to them. Each
read it in turn, the contents being as follows:
"FRIEND STERRY: You acted square with me, and I will do the same
with you. Inman doesn't expect you folks to accept his terms, for
if you do it will be good-by to yourself and Capt. Asbury. It
would suit me very well to see him go, as he will if we get a
chance at him, but I can't bear the idea of anything bad happening
to you after the way you stood by me last night when that Asbury
meant to shoot me.
"So my advice is this: Get out of where you are and leave as fast
as you know how. Queer advice, you'll think, but I'll show you how
you can follow it. A friend of mine, whom we can both trust, and
I, will be on watch to-night at the stables. It looks as if it is
going to be as dark as a wolf's mouth.
"It won't do to move before 10 o'clock. When everything is ready I
will light a cigarette and flirt the match around my head once, as
if to put it out. That will mean that the way is open. Steal out
of the back door and dodge to the stables; your mare will be
ready, and when another chance opens you can make a break. No one
can overtake you, and I don't think it will be suspected who you
"If you succeed, I hope you will have sense enough to stay out of
Wyoming, at least until this flurry is over. If you are detected
while trying to reach the stables you can dart back, for I don't
think anyone will shoot at you, since we have orders not to do
that until after you folks begin the rumpus.
"Inman means to set fire to the house to-night. He won't be able
to hold back the boys much longer. When ready, he will send word
and ask the two ladies to come out to him, where he will hold them
beyond reach of fire and bullet. He expects there will be the
hottest kind of shooting, and it will be a bad thing for you
folks. Capt. Asbury may as well make his will, for I'm not the
only one that will lay for him.
"Don't forget my directions. It will not be before 10 o'clock, and
may be a little later. Don't let any one see this, and don't drop
a hint to Asbury. It is meant for your good, and you will act like
a sensible man.
A new matter of interest claimed the immediate attention of the
defenders within the home of ranchman Whitney.
It will be remembered that the sister had reported the approach of a
horseman, whom she believed to be her brother. The rider was now in
plain sight, and a brief scrutiny through the glass by Hawkridge
removed all doubt; she was right.
He was coming at an easy, swinging gallop, straight toward his home.
He must have seen the rustlers while yet a considerable way off, for
he quickened the pace of his animal, stirred by a natural anxiety for
his loved ones and by a curiosity to know the meaning of the strange
condition of affairs.
Had he understood matters fully, while yet at a distance, he would
have avoided a mistake which occasioned him and his friends intense
regret, and which proved irreparable.
He did not cease his advance until within a hundred yards, when the
cattlemen, who were watching his every movement, saw him bring his
horse to a sudden halt. At the same moment a couple of rustlers moved
into view, their guns held so as to cover him. He sat motionless until
they came up, one on either side, when he was seen to be conversing
earnestly with them.
"They have made him prisoner," remarked Hawkridge, "just as I was sure
"Will they do him harm?" asked Mrs. Whitney, who, with Jennie, had
descended the stairs and stood with the group near the front door.
"No," was Hawkridge's reassuring reply; "he must see the uselessness
of resistance, and we are not fighting Indians who learned warfare
from the late lamented Sitting Bull."
It was noticed that Fred Whitney, despite the wound of a couple of
days before, no longer wore his arm in a sling. As he had said, he was
ashamed to do so.
Brave as was the young man, he had judgment. He knew that he was at
the mercy of a score of rustlers, and quickly learned the situation.
Capt. Asbury, Monteith Sterry, Dick Hawkridge and a number of
cattlemen were besieged in his home.
While he was holding earnest converse with his captors one of them
turned and addressed Inman, who was out of sight of the besieged,
because of the intervening ridge. His reply caused Whitney to dismount
and walk in that direction, he, too, passing out of the field of
He was invisible for perhaps ten minutes, when he was seen coming
over the ridge toward his own door, but without his Winchester or
revolvers. A moment later he was admitted. He kissed his mother and
sister and grasped the hands of his friends, who crowded around to
congratulate him and hear what he had to say.
"They told me everything," he replied, looking into the glowing faces,
and smiling at the anxiety depicted on several. "I have made a woeful
"How's that?" asked several in the same breath.
"Hankinson and Weber have moved several miles further into the
mountains, so nothing will be seen of them for several days, and
perhaps not for a week. The trouble with the rustlers makes it
necessary that we should keep closer watch than usual upon the stock,
and it is understood that they are not to leave the cattle until they
get word from me. So, as I said, they are out of the question."
"Is that the mistake you refer to?" asked Sterry.
"I wish it was; but a couple of hours ago, Hankinson, who had ridden
a considerable distance beyond the grazing grounds, came in with the
report that a large body of men were camped in a valley a mile or so
further on. There must be fifty at least."
Capt. Asbury emitted a low whistle.
"Rustlers again! By and by we'll have all there are in Wyoming
swarming about this house."
"No; Budd visited them, and found they were cattlemen on the hunt for
rustlers. Had he known of Inman's party out here he would have given
them a pointer, but of course he doesn't dream of anything of the
kind. Now, the mistake I made is this: When I saw the horsemen
gathered about the buildings and ridge, I ought to have wheeled and
ridden as hard as I could to the stockmen. They would have been here
before night and wound up this business in a jiffy. But I kept on and
rode right into the trap set for me, and can do nothing."
No one could question the justice of Whitney's self-condemnation, but
there was no help for it.
"How is it you were allowed to join us?" asked Capt. Asbury.
"I am here under parole; you see they took my horse, rifle and pistols
from me. I would not have been allowed to come to you except upon my
pledge to return within fifteen minutes."
"And what will they do with you, my boy?" asked his mother, alarmed by
"Nothing, so long as I remain a model prisoner; but how are you fixed
He was quickly made acquainted with the situation of affairs.
"Ah," he added, with a sigh, "if there was some way of getting word to
the stockmen; but I see none."
"They will not be likely to give you a chance?"
Fred shook his head.
"I'm afraid I overdid the thing. I asked them to be allowed to go back
to my cattlemen, but they would not listen to it. They acted as if
they were suspicious, and told me I must stay with them until the
trouble ended, which they assured me would be soon."
Sterry glanced significantly at Asbury and Hawkridge. He recalled that
singular message from Duke Vesey. If all went well, it might contain a
shadow of hope. It was deemed best, however, to make no reference
to it, even for the benefit of Whitney, who was questioned until he
described as exactly as he could the location of the cattlemen.
The grace had expired. No one thought of advising Whitney to disregard
his parole, and no urging could have induced him to do it. He
affectionately kissed and embraced mother and sister, warmly shook the
hands of his friends again, assured them of his hope that all would
come out right, and then, passing through the door, was seen to walk
up the ridge and pass over the summit, to take his place among his
captors, there to await their pleasure.
"Sterry," said Asbury, drawing him and Hawkridge aside, "you were
saying awhile ago that nothing could induce you to accept the offer of
Vesey to slip out in the darkness of the night."
"No; as he presented it, such a flight would have been a piece of
cowardice altogether different from my flight last night. It would
have weakened your defensive force and helped no one but me."
"Now, however, it wears a different aspect."
"Yes, it looks providential, and promises to open the way for the
escape of all. I hardly think," added Sterry, with a smile, "that
with all of Vesey's gratitude to me he would do what he intends if he
foresaw the probable consequences, for it means nothing less than the
overthrow of Inman's plans."
"And the baffling of his charitable intentions concerning myself,"
grimly added the captain.
"It seems to me we forgot one phase of the business," remarked
Hawkridge, "and that is the fact that the chances of failure are a
hundredfold greater than those of success."
His companions looked questioningly at him.
"Perhaps it will not be difficult for Vesey to secure the placing of
himself and friend at the stables, as he promises to do, but it seems
unlikely that, with a dark night and the temptation for some of us
to try to get away, they will be the only couple that will be on the
lookout at that time. But, supposing they are," added Hawkridge,
"Sterry will have to mount his horse and ride off. There will be some
of the rustlers beyond him, and how can he pass them unchallenged?"
"If it proves too risky to try on horseback I can do it on foot,"
replied Sterry; "in the darkness I will be taken for one of them, and,
if questioned, can throw them off their guard. The tramp to where the
stockmen are in camp I judge to be little if any more than five miles,
and it won't take me long to travel that after getting clear of these
"I have a strong belief that the whole scheme is doomed to failure,"
said Hawkridge, and Capt. Asbury agreed with him.
THE FINAL SUMMONS.
Now came hours of wearisome waiting, especially to the besieged, who
found in their close quarters little freedom of movement. Some of the
men stretched out on the lower floor and slept; others talked and
engaged in games of chance, while a desultory watch was maintained,
through the doors and windows, upon the rustlers, several of whom were
continually in sight.
Before the afternoon had half passed all doubt of the coming darkness
was removed. The sky became heavily clouded, the air was raw and
chilly, and no moon was visible.
Several distant rifle-shots were heard an hour later, but no one
could conjecture or discover the explanation. Probably they signified
Fred Whitney showed himself on top of the ridge once, and waved his
hand in salutation to his friends. This was done to reassure his
mother and sister, who were anxious, despite what he had said to them.
Many longing glances were cast across the broad plain in the direction
of the mountains. Like shipwrecked mariners scanning the horizon for
the rescuing sail, the besieged were hopeful that some good fortune
would bring the strong body of stockmen that way; but the vision was
rewarded by no such welcome sight.
Capt. Asbury received a shock just before night closed in. So many
hours had passed without the exchange of a shot that both parties
exposed themselves freely. Had they chosen, a good many might have
been picked off; but the general understanding that the hour had not
yet come for action, threatened, at times, to change the impending
tragedy into a most ordinary situation.
Capt. Asbury was sitting by one of the front windows, smoking his
briarwood, and looking nowhere in particular, when he saw a man
kneeling on top of the ridge and carefully sighting his gun at him.
Before the fellow could secure an aim the officer moved quickly back
out of sight, and he vanished.
"I have no doubt it was Duke Vesey," he thought; "what a pity I did
not shoot him last night."
He judged it not worth while to tell any of the rest of the incident,
but he took care not to tempt the fellow again by a second exposure to
But for this prompt action on the part of the leader, a frightful
conflict must have been precipitated. The shooting of the captain
would cause retaliation on the part of the stockmen, and it would
instantly become a question as to which could do the most execution.
The occurrence was startling enough of itself, but Capt. Asbury
quickly recovered, only to find himself troubled by another matter,
which was more serious.
It was the doubt whether the intended crime of Vesey was solely of his
own responsibility. Was it not likely that he had received permission
from Inman to end the suspense by shooting the captain of the
stockmen? The captain knew that he was as much detested by the leading
rustlers as by Vesey. Probably the men were growing too impatient to
be restrained much longer.
The suspicion appeared more reasonable from the fact that, the leader
once "removed," there would remain but the single exception to those
guaranteed honorable treatment. Surrender, therefore, would be more
No single shot could do so much to aid the rustlers as that which came
near being made.
"This strained situation can't last much longer; I believe it will be
settled before the rise of to-morrow's sun."
Monteith Sterry secured more than one chance of a few words with
Jennie. The sense of danger naturally draws persons closer together,
though the incentive was hardly needed in their case.
"Monteith," said she, as they sat apart by themselves, with the shadow
of the coming night gradually closing around, "what is to be the end
of all this?"
"I will tell you what I think," he replied, and thereupon read in a
guarded voice the letter received from Duke Vesey, after which they
burned it, that it might not fall into hands that could injure the
"You can see that we are going to be favoured with a very dark night,
and Vesey is so anxious to befriend me that I am sure he will find the
way, though Hawkridge and the captain are less confident."
"But suppose they recognize you?"
"They can't do that in the darkness, and my rustling friend will not
draw me into a peril that is greater than that of staying here."
"I feel as do Mr. Hawkridge and Capt. Asbury," she said, unable to
share his ardour.
"Then do you wish me to stay here?"
"I think it is safer."
"And go up in flame and smoke?"
"Won't you be willing to share the risk with me?" she asked, entering
into his half-jocose vein.
"But the rustlers will save you that risk; they will give you a good
point of observation, from which you can have a fine view of the
"Suppose mother and I refuse to leave?"
"I am certain you will not do that," said Sterry, gravely, "for you
will be in great danger under any circumstances."
"But if we remain they may not try to fire the house."
He shook his head.
"Dismiss all idea of that; do not fancy, because hours have passed
without the exchange of a shot, that there is any friendship between
the parties. By and by a gun will be fired; somebody will be hurt, and
then they will be at it like so many tigers. No, Jennie," he added,
"when the warning comes for you and your mother to withdraw you must
do so, not only for your own sake, but for ours."
"And how yours?"
"We--that is, the men--can fight much better when your presence causes
them no anxiety."
"But, tell me, do not Capt. Asbury and the rest feel hopeful of
beating off the rustlers?"
"Of course they will make a brave fight, and there is a chance of
their success, but I shudder when I think of what the cost will be to
both sides. How much better if all this can be averted."
"True, indeed! And if I could be assured that you would succeed in
reaching the camp of the cattlemen, I would bid you Godspeed."
"I certainly will never reach it by staying here, and I think if my
chances were doubly less they ought to be taken for the sake of the
good that will come to all."
At this juncture, Capt. Asbury, sitting near the window, called out:
"Here's a visitor!"
In the gloom he was not clearly visible, even though he was seen to
advance, and heard to knock on the door. But when the latter was
opened, Fred Whitney stepped inside.
Here the gathering darkness was more pronounced, for it was not deemed
prudent to have a light.
"Inman has sent me with his ultimatum," said the messenger; "he says
he has given you abundant time to think over the matter, and wants
"What are his terms?" asked Capt. Asbury.
"The same as before."
"He promises to treat all of us as prisoners of war, with the
exception of Sterry and myself. We are guaranteed a trial, which is
another way of saying we shall be shot. I will allow my men to vote on
the question," added the leader.
The indignant protests, however, compelled the officer to recall his
"Of course I knew that would be your reply," Fred hastened to say;
"and it is what Inman and Cadmus expect. I have been sent to bring my
mother and sister out of the house, for the rustlers intend to attack
you before morning. That means, too, that they intend to burn it."
The three defenders who were in the secret saw the danger in which
this placed Sterry's intended flight.
If the attack were made before 10 o'clock, there could be no possible
opportunity for his getting away. Some means, therefore, must be
found for deferring the assault until after that hour, if it could be
accomplished without arousing the suspicions of the rustlers.
A STRANGE OCCURRENCE.
"Do you know," inquired Sterry, "how soon it is contemplated making
"I have not heard Inman or Cadmus say, but from the talk of the men I
judge it will be quite soon."
"Probably within a couple of hours?" "Sooner than that--by 9 o'clock
at the latest."
It was the mother who now spoke: "Suppose Jennie and I decline to
leave the house?"
"That has been considered," replied the son, "and I am sorry to say
it will make no difference. The rustlers are in an uglier mood than
before--wrathful because they have been kept idle so long. They can
claim that they have given you ample notice, and if you refuse to come
out they cannot be held blamable for the consequences."
This would never do, and Hawkridge interposed:
"If the attack cannot be prevented, Fred, it must be delayed."
"On what grounds?"
"Any that you can think of; they must not disturb us until near
"But I shall have to give a reason; I am as anxious as you to do my
utmost, but I do not see how I can do anything."
The quick wit of Jennie came to the rescue.
"Tell Capt. Inman and Larch Cadmus for me that we have a number of
articles we wish to save from destruction; ask them in the name of
mother and myself to give us time in which to gather them together."
Fred was silent for a moment.
"At least it will do no harm to try it, even though I do not believe
it will be of any use."
"Ask them to make it between 11 and 12; we will then have time to
collect all we want--in fact a good deal more time than is necessary."
"I do not see the need of this," replied the brother, who, it need not
be repeated, had no knowledge of what was in the minds of the few;
"I think I can say that if I do not return in the course of ten or
fifteen minutes, you may consider your prayer granted."
Bidding them good-by once more, he passed out of the door and
disappeared in the darkness, which had now fully descended and shut
from sight the impatient rustlers.
It was a peculiar situation in which the defenders, including the
mother and sister, dreaded the return of the head of the household,
but the front of the dwelling was watched with an intensity of
interest it would be hard to describe.
"By gracious! there he is!" exclaimed Dick Hawkridge, hardly ten
minutes after Fred's departure; "it's no use."
A shadowy figure was observed moving across the dark space in front,
but while they were waiting for him to enter the door, which was
unfastened to admit him, he passed on and vanished in the gloom
without checking his motion or speaking.
"That wasn't Fred," whispered Jennie; "I know his walk too well."
"It makes no difference," replied Sterry, "you can depend that he will
soon put in an appearance."
But the slow minutes dragged along and nothing was seen of him. By and
by a faint hope began to form that the urgent request of the ladies
had been conceded, for they insisted that they could see no reason why
it should not be.
A full hour passed, and, when it was after 9 o'clock, all doubt was
removed. The attack would not be made until close upon midnight.
Monteith Sterry would be given the chance, provided Duke Vesey showed
the way for him.
The crisis was so near that it was deemed best to let all know what
was in contemplation. Capt. Asbury, therefore, explained it to the
men, as the daughter had explained to the mother.
"Those fellows can't be trusted," the leader added; "they may seek to
give the impression that the delay has been granted, while preparing
to assail us when least expected. The night is dark, as you see, and
favourable to their plans. Keep the closest watch possible on all
sides of the house, for to set fire to it they must approach near
enough to touch the building."
"Suppose we catch sight of some one stealing up?" asked one of the
"Challenge him, and if he does not give a satisfactory response,
"What will be a satisfactory response?"
"The voice of Fred Whitney, and I may say of Duke Vesey, or the
announcement that the individual is the bearer of a message for us. In
the latter case, of course, he will approach from the front. When you
shoot, too, boys, you mustn't throw away any shots, for this isn't
going to be child's play."
"We understand that," was the significant response of a couple of the
It was now growing so late that Sterry placed himself near the rear
door to watch for the expected signal from Vesey, feeling, as the
minutes passed, a nervousness greater than at any time before.
Since no light burned in the house, the only means of determining the
hour was by striking a match and holding it in front of a watch. Hope
became high when 10 o'clock was at hand.
Sterry half expected, in case everything promised well, that Vesey
would manage to give something in the nature of a preliminary signal,
but the closest scrutiny showed nothing of the kind.
Capt. Asbury, who maintained his place near one of the front windows,
close to the door, suddenly called:
"Come here a moment, Sterry."
The young man stepped hastily across the room.
"You have everything clear in your mind?" was the question which
struck the young man as slightly inopportune.
"Yes; as clear as I can have; why do you ask?"
"I wanted to be certain, for your task is a delicate one; we will
hold the door ajar a little while after you go, so that if anything
happens, such as their recognizing you, you will be able to dash back.
You know it won't do for you to be identified."
"I understand," replied Sterry, who felt that he ought to be at his
He hastily stepped back, and as he did so was surprised to find the
door drawn open several inches.
"What does that mean?" he asked of the several gathered around in the
darkness, whose faces he could not see.
"Why," replied Hawkridge, "what does it mean, indeed? I thought you
passed out just now."
"You see I did not. Why do you make such a remark?"
"Some one went out," was the amazing declaration.
THE MISSING ONE.
Monteith Sterry was astounded by the declaration of Dick Hawkridge
that some one had passed through the rear door while he was talking
with Capt. Asbury.
"Who was it?" demanded he.
"I told you we thought it was you," replied his friend.
"But you know it wasn't," he replied, impatiently.
"Then I have no idea who it was."
"Some one has taken advantage of the moment I spent with the
captain--I wonder if he had anything to do with it," he added, growing
unjustly suspicious in his resentment.
He strode across the room; and, knowing where the leader was,
"What is the meaning of this, Capt. Asbury?"
"The meaning of what?"
"While I was talking a few seconds with you some person slipped out of
the back door; do you know anything of it?"
"It is beyond my comprehension," replied the leader in a voice which
removed all distrust of him.
And forgetful, in his excitement, of his duty at the front, he stepped
hastily to the rear, where most of the men had crowded, despite the
orders for them to maintain a strict watch.
"I heard you and the captain speaking," said Hawkridge, in
explanation, "but your voices were so low that I would not have
identified them anywhere. Supposing you to be where you really were,
I stepped to the rear window here and peered out in the gloom where I
knew the stable to be--"
"Did you see anything?" interrupted Sterry.
"Not a sign of the signal. While I was straining my eyes to pierce
the darkness the door was drawn inward slightly, and a figure moved
quickly across the space toward the stables."
"You could not identify it?"
"Of course not, for you see how dark it is, and there was no light; in
fact, I hardly saw it before it vanished."
"It is as I supposed," added Sterry, angrily. "Some one fancied he had
a better chance by slipping off than in remaining here, and has looked
after his own safety. I wish I knew who it was."
"We can soon find out," remarked Capt. Asbury; "our men are not too
numerous for me to forget their names and voices."
He raised his tones and summoned them.
"I don't believe they will attempt to fire the house as long as the
ladies are with us," he exclaimed; "some one of our party has been
cowardly enough to sneak off. As I call your names, answer."
He proved the truth of what he said. He had eight companions, not
counting Hawkridge and Sterry. With little hesitation, for his memory
was instantly prompted by others, he pronounced each name, and to
every one came the prompt, unmistakable response of the owner.
"One of those rustlers has managed to get in here undiscovered,"
was the next theory of Sterry, whose temper did not improve at the
unaccountable turn of affairs. "I don't see why Inman and the rest
delay their attack, when we are only children in their hands; they can
do with us as they please--"
All started, for at that moment a sharp rap sounded on the door.
Before opening it, Capt. Asbury called out:
"It is I--Fred Whitney--let me in, quick!"
He was admitted without an instant's delay, while all crowded around
in the darkness.
"Well, you can imagine what I have come for. I made known the request
of mother and Jennie, but Inman and Cadmus would not think of granting
it at first. I told Cadmus that it was your special request, Jennie,
adding a little ornamentation of my own, such as that you knew that
when he learned how much it could please you, he could not refuse. I
hope I did right, did I not, sister?"
In the slight laugh which followed this question, the reply of the
young lady was not heard, and her brother continued:
"Well, I put it so strong that Cadmus fell in with me and persuaded
Inman to do the same. They agreed to wait until 10 o'clock, but no
longer; so you see I did not accomplish all that I hoped, but it was
better than nothing. If I am not mistaken it is past 10 now."
"Not more than a few minutes."
"Well, at any rate, the time is up, and they have sent me to notify
you that they will wait no longer. I suppose that you, mother and
Jennie, have got together all that you can take away. As I have to
escort you back, I will carry the things, unless you smuggle in some
of the bedsteads."
"Then it is the intention to attack as soon as the ladies are fairly
out of the way?" was the inquiring remark of Capt. Asbury.
"You may depend that it won't be delayed ten minutes."
"Do you know whether they will begin by shooting or trying to set fire
to the building?"
"They haven't given me their confidence, but I don't see why they
should expect to accomplish as much with their guns as they could have
done during the day time. They will set fire to the place, no doubt."
"It may be well to impress upon those people that we are guarding
every side, and the first rustler of whom we catch a glimpse will be
"They are prepared for that, of course; be careful, friends, and don't
expose yourselves more than you are obliged to, for there will be no
let-up after the ball opens. I wish I could stay with you and help you
out. I have been on the watch, ever since it grew dark, to steal off
and make a run to the stockmen's camp, but I couldn't gain the first
"I am afraid it is too late, anyway," said the captain, "for they are
so far away that it will be over before they could arrive."
"Well, mother," said Fred, fearing that he was staying too long, "you
and Jennie are ready, so let's go. Confound it! we must have a light
for a few minutes; I know where there's a candle."
He ignited a match and quickly found a candle. This was lit and held
above his head, so that he could look into the faces around him.
"There is no danger of their taking advantage of this until I leave,"
he explained, "and you can blow it out before that. I see you are
there, mother; call Jennie down and let her join us."
"Jennie is not in the house!" was the reply, which fairly took away