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[Illustration: A RACE FOR LIFE.]




_FOREST AND PRAIRIE SERIES--No. 1_


THE GREAT CATTLE TRAIL
BY
EDWARD S. ELLIS

AUTHOR OF THE "WYOMING SERIES," "LOG CABIN SERIES,"
"DEERFOOT SERIES," ETC.

THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.,
PHILADELPHIA,
CHICAGO, TORONTO.




COPYRIGHT, 1894,
BY
PORTER & COATES.




CONTENTS.

CHAPTER PAGE
I. AT THE RANCH. 1
II. AN ALARMING INTERRUPTION. 10
III. JUST IN TIME. 19
IV. A DESPERATE VENTURE. 28
V. UPSTAIRS AND DOWNSTAIRS. 36
VI. DINAH'S DISCOVERY. 44
VII. DINAH'S EXPLOIT. 52
VIII. IN THE MESQUITE BUSH. 61
IX. AT FAULT. 69
X. A SURPRISE. 77
XI. CHANGING PLACES. 85
XII. ON THE ROOF. 94
XIII. A DEAD RACE. 102
XIV. THE FRIEND IN NEED. 111
XV. VANISHED. 119
XVI. CLEVERLY DONE. 127
XVII. AT FAULT. 135
XVIII. AN UNEXPECTED QUERY. 143
XIX. DOWN THE LADDER. 151
XX. "THE BOYS HAVE ARRIVED!" 159
XXI. THROUGH THE BUSH. 167
XXII. THUNDERBOLT. 180
XXIII. "GOOD-BY!" 191
XXIV. A STRANGE DELAY. 203
XXV. HEADING NORTHWARD. 216
XXVI. A SHOT FROM THE DARKNESS. 228
XXVII. SHACKAYE, THE COMANCHE. 238
XXVIII. A MISHAP. 247
XXIX. OLD ACQUAINTANCES. 258
XXX. AT BAY. 264
XXXI. THE FLAG OF TRUCE. 276
XXXII. DIPLOMACY. 288
XXXIII. DRIVEN TO THE WALL. 295
XXXIV. THE FLANK MOVEMENT. 301




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.

PAGE
A RACE FOR LIFE. Frontispiece
A STARTLING DISCOVERY. 52
THE LAST STAND. 264




THE GREAT CATTLE TRAIL




CHAPTER I.

AT THE RANCH.


Avon Burnet, at the age of eighteen, was one of the finest horsemen that
ever scurried over the plains of Western Texas, on his matchless mustang
Thunderbolt.

He was a native of the Lone Star State, where, until he was thirteen
years old, he attended the common school, held in a log cabin within
three miles of his home, after which he went to live with his uncle,
Captain Dohm Shirril, with whom the orphan son of his sister had been a
favorite from infancy.

Avon was bright, alert, unusually active, and exceedingly fond of horses
from the time he was able to walk. His uncle had served through the
Civil War in the Confederate army, returning to Texas at the close of
hostilities, thoroughly "reconstructed," and only anxious to recover his
fortunes, which had been scattered to the four winds of heaven during
the long, bitter struggle.

The captain had no children of his own, and it was natural, therefore,
that he and his wife should feel the strongest attachment for the boy
who was placed in their care, and who, should his life be spared, would
inherit whatever his new parents might be able to leave behind them when
called to depart.

Avon had reached the age named, when to his delight he was told that he
was to accompany the large herd of cattle which was to be driven
northward, through upper Texas, the Indian Nation, and Kansas over the
Great Cattle Trail, along which hundreds of thousands of hoofs have
tramped during the years preceding and following the War for the Union.

Young as was our hero, he had served his apprenticeship at the cattle
business, and was an expert at the round-up, in branding, in cutting
out, in herding, and all the arduous requirements of a cowboy's life. It
was understood, therefore, that he was to be rated as a full hand among
the eight men who, under his uncle, were to have charge of two thousand
cattle about to start on the long tramp northward.

"It's the hardest kind of work," said the captain to his nephew, as the
two sat in the low, flat structure where the veteran made his home, with
his wife and one colored servant, "but I haven't any fear that you will
not pull through all right."

"If I am not able to do so _now_, I never shall be," replied Avon, with
a smile, as he sat on the rough, home-made stool, slowly whittling a
piece of wood, while his aunt, looking up from her sewing, remarked in
her quiet way:

"It will be lonesome without Avon."

"But not so bad as when uncle was off to the war," ventured the youth,
gazing affectionately at the lady.

The captain was sitting with his legs crossed, slowly smoking the old
briarwood which he had carried through many a fierce campaign, and
seemingly sunk in deep thought. Like his nephew, he was clad in the
strong serviceable costume of the Texan cowboy, his broad sombrero
resting with a number of blankets on pegs in the wall.

It was evening, with a cold, piercing wind almost like one of the
cutting northers blowing around the homely structure. The herd were
gathered at a point about five miles to the northward, whence the real
start was to be made at an early hour on the morrow. This arrangement
permitted the captain and his young friend to spend their last night at
home.

"No," replied Mrs. Shirril, referring to the last remark of her nephew,
"there never can be any worse days than those, when I did not know
whether your uncle had not been dead for weeks or possibly months."

"You must have had pretty tough times, aunt."

"Well, they might have been improved, but Dinah and I managed to get
along a great deal better than some of our neighbors. Here in Texas we
were so far from the war that I may say I never heard a hostile shot
fired, except by the Indians who came down this way now and then."

"They were the same, I suppose, that still trouble us."

"I believe so, mostly Comanches and sometimes Kioways, with perhaps
others that we didn't know. They did much to prevent our life from
becoming dull," added the brave little lady, with another smile.

"The women in those days had to know how to shoot the rifle, ride
horses, and do the work of the absent men."

"I don't know how we could have got along if we hadn't learned all those
things. For years I never knew the taste of coffee, and only rarely was
able to obtain a pinch of coarse brown sugar; but we did not suffer for
meat, and, with the help of Dinah, we could get a few things out of the
earth, so that, on the whole, I think I had much easier times than my
husband."

"I am not so sure of that," remarked Captain Shirril, rousing himself;
"we had rough days and nights, beyond all doubt, but after all, there
was something about it which had its charm. There was an excitement in
battle, a thrill in the desperate ride when on a scout, a glory in
victory, and even a grim satisfaction in defeat, caused by the belief
that we were not conquered, or that, if we were driven back, it was by
_Americans_, and not by foreigners."

"That's an odd way of putting it," remarked the wife, "but was it not
the high health, which you all felt because of your rough outdoor life?
You know when a person is strong and rugged, he can stand almost
anything, and find comfort in that which at any other time brings only
wretchedness and suffering."

"I suppose that had a good deal to do with it, and that, too, may have
had much to do with sustaining you and Dinah in your loneliness."

The captain raised his eyes and looked at two old-fashioned muzzle-loading
rifles, suspended on a couple of deer's antlers over the fireplace, and
smiling through his shaggy whiskers, said:

"You found them handy in those days, Edna?"

"We never could have got along without them. They served to bring down a
maverick, or one of our own cattle, when we were nearly starving, and
sometimes they helped drive off the Indians."

Captain Shirril shifted his position, as though uneasy over something.
His wife, who was familiar with all his moods, looked inquiringly at
him.

"What troubles you, Dohm?"

"If I hadn't promised Avon that he should go with me northward, I would
make him stay at home."

Wife and nephew stared wonderingly at him.

"The Comanches have been edging down this way for more than a week past;
I believe they mean to make trouble."

It would be supposed that such an announcement as this caused dismay,
but it did not. Even Dinah, who was busy about her household duties, and
who heard the remark, paused only a moment to turn up her nose and say
scornfully:

"If dey've done forgot how we allers sarve de likes ob dem, jes' let 'em
try it agin. Dat's all."

She was a tall, muscular negress, whom an ordinary man might hesitate to
make angry. She passed to another part of the room, after muttering the
words, and seemed to feel no further interest in a subject which ought
to have made her blood tingle with excitement.

"If the Comanches are hovering anywhere in the neighborhood," said Mrs.
Shirril in her gentle way, "it is in the hope of running off some of the
cattle; you have them all herded and under such careful care that this
cannot be done. When the Indians find you have started northward with
them, they will follow or go westward to their hunting grounds; surely
they will not stay _here_."

"I wish I could believe as you do."

"And why can't you, husband?"

"Because Indian nature is what it is; you understand that as well as I.
Finding that they cannot steal any of our cattle, they will try to
revenge themselves by burning my home and slaying my wife and
servant."

"But they have tried that before."

"True, but their failures are no ground to believe they will fail
again."

"It is the best ground we can have for such belief."




CHAPTER II.

AN ALARMING INTERRUPTION.


"If you think it best that I shall stay at home, I will do so," said the
young man, striving hard to repress the disappointment the words caused
him.

"No; you shall not," the wife hastened to interpose; "everything has
been arranged for you to go with your uncle."

"Was there ever a wife like you?" asked the captain admiringly; "there
is more pluck in that little frame of yours, Edna, than in any one of my
men.



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