Read CHAPTER XVII of The Watchers of the Plains A Tale of the Western Prairies , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on


“La, child, an’ why did you go for to do it?”

Ma was bending over Seth, bathing the ugly flesh wound in his shoulder. Her old eyes were pathetically anxious behind her spectacles, but her touch was sure and steady. Her words were addressed to Rosebud, who was standing by with a handful of bandages. The girl made no reply, and her eyes were fixed on this result of her escapade. She was pale, and her young face looked drawn. The violet of her eyes was noticeably dull, and it was easy to see that she was struggling hard to keep tears back. She simply could not answer.

Seth took the task upon himself. He seemed to understand, although he was not looking her way.

“Don’t worrit the gal, Ma,” he said, in his gentle fashion, so that Rosebud felt like dropping the bandages and fleeing from the room. “Say, jest git right to it an’ fix me up. I ‘low ther’s li’ble to be work doin’ ’fore this night’s out.”

“God a-mussy, I hope not, Seth, boy!” the old woman said, with a deep intake of breath. But her busy fingers hastened. She tenderly laid the wool, saturated in carbolic oil, upon the gash. Seth bore it without flinching. “More’n six year,” she added, taking the bandages from Rosebud and applying them with the skill of long experience, “an’ we’ve had no trouble, thank God. But I knew it ’ud come sure. Rube had it in his eye.”

“Wher’s Rube now?” asked Seth, cutting her short.

“Doin’ guard out front.”

The bandage was adjusted, and Seth rose and was helped into his coat.

“Guess I’ll git out to him.”

He found it hard, for once, to sit in there with the womenfolk. His feeling was one common to men of action.

“You’re feelin’ easy?” Ma asked him anxiously, as he moved to the door.

“Dead right, Ma.”

The old woman shook her head doubtfully, and Rosebud’s troubled eyes followed him as he moved away. She had scarcely spoken since they returned to the house. Her brain was still in a whirl and she was conscious of a weak, but almost overpowering, inclination to tears. The one thing that stood out above all else in her thoughts was Seth’s wound.

No one had questioned her; no one had blamed her. These simple people understood her feelings of the moment too well. Later they knew they would learn all about it. For the present there was plenty to be done.

Rube had been making preparations. Their plans needed no thinking out. Such an emergency as the present had always been foreseen, and so there was no confusion. Charlie Rankin had gone on to old Joe Smith, and that individual would be dispatched post-haste in the direction of the white tents that had been seen on the plains. For the rest the horses in the barn were ready harnessed, and Ma could be trusted to get together the household things ready for decamping. There was nothing to do but to keep a night-long watch.

Seth had crossed the passage, and was passing through the parlor, out of which the front door opened. Rosebud hesitated. Then with something almost like a rush she followed him. She was at his side in a moment, and her two small hands were clasping his rough, strong right hand.

“Seth,” she whispered, tearfully. “I ”

“Don’t, little Rosie!” the man interrupted, attempting to draw his hand gently from her grasp. “Guess ther’ ain’t no need to say anything. Mebbe I know.”

But Seth had misinterpreted her action. He thought she meant to explain. She kept hold of his hand, and tears were in her lovely eyes as she looked up into his dark face, now little more than a shadow in the faint light that came from the passage.

“Oh, Seth, Seth, it was all my fault!” she cried, in her distress. “Your poor shoulder! Oh, what should I do if you were to die! Oh ” And the girl fell on her knees at his side and kissed the hand she was clinging to. The long threatened tears had come at last, and her voice was choked with sobs.

Seth had been unprepared for this outburst. It took him quite aback, and he felt a great lump rise in his throat. Unconsciously he almost roughly released his hand. But the next moment it was laid tenderly upon the bowed head.

“Git up, little gal,” he said. And there was a world of tenderness in his voice. His effort at self-restraint was great, but his feelings found a certain amount of expression in spite of him, for he was stirred to the depths of his loyal heart. He was face to face with a scene such as he had never even pictured. His sense of duty was powerless just then before his deep, strong love for the girl. “Little Rosebud,” he went on, and he struggled hard to make his words rough, “ther’s things to do. Go right back to Ma an’ help her. I must go out to Rube. He’s doin’ all the work, an’ so is she.”

The girl made no move to rise. Her sobs were heart-breaking. Seth turned sharply and left her where she was. He simply dared not stay there another moment.

Outside General was lying a few yards away from the house, crouched alertly, and gazing out prairiewards. He called the dog to him.

“Injuns, boy,” he said, in a low tone. “S-seek ’em!”

The dog responded with a low growl, and then moved off out into the darkness, with the prowling gait of a puma stalking its prey.

“He’ll keep us posted,” Seth observed quietly to Rube.

“You kind o’ understan’ him.”

“He understands Injuns,” the dog’s master returned significantly. No more was said for a while, and the two men peered out into the darkness with eyes trained to such watchfulness.

“’Bout them tents?” said Rube later on.

“They’re the troops. The postmaster told me they were comin’ hard.”

“Kind o’ handy.”

It was very dark. The moon had not yet risen. Presently Seth fetched a chair. The older man watched him seat himself a little wearily.

“Hurt some?” he said.

“Jest a notion,” Seth replied in his briefest manner.

“Say, you got around jest in time.”

“Yup. Wanaha put me wise after I left here, so I came that aways. Say, this is jest the beginnin’.”

“You think ”

“Ther’s more comin’. Guess the troops ’ll check it some. But say, this feller’s worse’n his father. Guess he’s jest feelin’ his feet. An’ he’s gettin’ all the Pine Ridge lot with him I located that as I came along.”

They talked on for some time longer, in their slow, short way discussing their plans. The one topic they did not discuss was Rosebud. They tacitly ignored her share in the evening’s work like men who knew that certain blame must attach to her and refused to bestow it.

The night dragged slowly on. Rube wanted Seth to go in and rest, but Seth sat in his chair with dogged persistence. So they shared the vigil.

Rube, by way of variation, occasionally visited the stables to see to the horses. And all the time the dog was out scouting with an almost human intelligence. After once being dispatched he did not appear again. Seth had brought him up to this Indian scouting, and the beast’s natural animosity to the Indians made him a perfect guard.

The moon rose at midnight. There was no sign of disturbance on the Reservation. All was quiet and still. But then these men knew that the critical time had not yet arrived. Dawn would be the danger. And by dawn they both hoped that something might result from Charlie Rankin’s journey.

Rube was sitting in a chair at Seth’s side. The clock in the kitchen had just cuckooed three times. The old man’s eyes were heavy with sleep, but he was still wide awake. Neither had spoken for some time. Suddenly Seth’s right hand gripped the old man’s arm.


There was a faint, uneasy whine far out on the prairie. Then Seth’s straining ears caught the sound of horses galloping. Rube sprang to his feet, and his hands went to the guns at his waist. But Seth checked him.

“Easy,” he said. “Guess it ain’t that. General only whined. He mostly snarls wicked for Injuns.”

They listened again. And soon it became apparent that those approaching were coming out of the north.

“Charlie’s located ’em.” Seth’s tone was quietly assuring, and old Rube sighed his relief.

Then the dog suddenly reappeared. He, too, seemed to understand that friends were approaching.

And so it proved. The night of long suspense was over. A few minutes later a squad of United States cavalry, in charge of a dapper, blue-coated lieutenant, rode up to the farm. And when they arrived Seth was there by himself to receive them.

“Rube Sampson’s farm?” inquired the lieutenant, as he swung from his steaming horse.

“Right.” Seth shook hands with the man.

“Trouble over there,” observed the other, indicating the Reservation with a nod of the head.

“Yup. Come right in. Guess your boys had best make their plugs snug in the barn. Come right in, and I’ll rouse Ma.”

Those last two hours before morning were the hardest part of all to Rube and Seth, for, in the parlor, they had to detail all the events of the preceding day to Lieutenant Barrow and his sergeant. And neither of them was good at explaining.

Breakfast was partaken of; after which, since the soldiers had accepted all responsibility, Ma packed her men-folk off to bed. Seth had not seen a bed since Friday night, and this was Tuesday.

The neighborhood of the farm, and, in fact, all along the north side of the river presented an unusual sight when Seth and Rube reappeared at noon. Two regiments of United States cavalry had taken up their position ready for any emergency.

The midday meal was a little late, so that Seth’s shoulder might be properly dressed. And when at last the family sat down to it, it threatened to be more than usually silent. All were weary, and the women overwrought. Ma was the only one who made any attempt to rouse the drooping spirits about her. The men knew that they were confronted with no ordinary Indian rising. There was something far more threatening to them personally.

As the meal dragged on Ma abandoned her efforts entirely, and a long silence ensued. Finally Rube pushed back his chair and rose from the table. Then it was that Seth spoke for the first time.

He looked from Rube to Ma. He was trying to look unconcerned, and even smiled.

“Say,” he observed, “guess I was fergittin’. I got a bit of a letter from England.”

Rube dropped back into his chair, and his eyes were questioning. Ma was staring through her spectacles at her boy. She, too, was asking a mute question. But hers was merely a quiet curiosity, while Rube’s, slow old Rube’s, was prompted by Seth’s manner, which, instinctively, he knew to be a false one.

Rosebud was patting General’s head as he sat at her side. She continued her caressing, but her eyes, swift and eager but tenderly grave, watched Seth as he drew out the letter from his pocket and smoothed it upon the table. There was just the slightest tremor in her hand as it rested on the dog’s head.

“Yup,” Seth went on, with a great assumption of unconcern which deceived nobody. “It’s a feller jest one o’ them law fellers. He’s comin’ right along to the farm. I ‘low he must be nigh here now. He was goin’ to git here Tuesday the 16th that’s to-day.”

He was intent on the letter. Nor did he once raise his eyes while he was speaking. Now he turned the paper as though in search of some detail of interest.

“Ah,” he went on. “Here it is. Says he’s hit the trail o’ some gal as was lost. Guesses he’d like to see Rosebud, an’ ask a few questions.”


Ma had risen, and somehow her chair overturned behind her. Her exclamation was a gasp. Rube stared; he had no words just then. Rosebud continued to caress the dog, who whined his pleasure at the unusual attention. At last she turned. For an instant her eyes met Seth’s.

“May I read that letter, Seth?” she asked quietly.

“Sure.” Seth rose from the table. “Rube,” he said, “I’d take it friendly if you’d fill my pipe.” Then he moved across to the window.

Rosebud looked up from reading the letter. She came round to him and handed it back.

“So my name’s Marjorie Raynor?” she said with a queer smile.

Seth nodded.

“And all this money is what you once spoke about?”

Again came Seth’s affirmation.

“And how long have you known that I’m not Rosebud?”

“Got that bit of a letter Saturday.”

“But you guessed it long before that when we were out at the slough?”

“I’d a notion.”

The girl glanced round. Ma’s face was still in a condition of florid perplexity. Rube was quietly whittling a match with his tobacco knife. Rosebud’s eyes were very soft as she looked from one to the other.

“And I’m to go away from here?” she said at last, and her lips were trembling.

“Guess when a ‘stray’ comes along we mostly git it back home.”

Seth found a lot to interest him in the blank wall of the barn outside the window.

“But it seems I’m a stray without a home. My father and mother must be dead.”

“Ther’s aunts an’ things an’ the dollars.”

The girl also surveyed the wall of the barn.

“Yes, I forgot the dollars.”

Suddenly she turned away. Just for a moment she seemed in some doubt of her own purpose. Then she walked over to Ma and put her arms about her neck and kissed her. Then she passed round to Rube and did the same. Finally she opened the door, and stood for a second looking at Seth’s slim back.

“Farewell, friends. The heiress must prepare for her departure.”

There was something harsh and hysterical about the laugh which accompanied her mocking farewell, but she was gone the next instant, and the door slammed behind her.

Ma stepped up to her boy, and forgetful of his wounded shoulder rested her hand upon it. Seth flinched and drew away; and the old woman was all sympathy at once.

“I’m real sorry, boy, I kind o’ forgot.”

“It’s nothin’, Ma; it jest hurts some.”