Deadwood Dick, the Prince of the Road; or, The Black Rider of the Black HillsEdward L. Wheeler / Western
Produced by David Starner, Jeannie Howse and the Online DistributedProofreading Team (http://www.pgdp.net).
BEADLE'S HALF DIME LIBRARY
1877, BEADLE AND ADAMS.
Vol. I. Single BEADLE AND ADAMS, PUBLISHERS, Price, No. 1 Number. No. 98 WILLIAM STREET, NEW YORK. 5 cents
=Deadwood Dick,= THE PRINCE OF THE ROAD;OR,THE BLACK RIDER of the BLACK HILLS.
BY EDWARD L. WHEELER.
FEARLESS FRANK TO THE RESCUE.
On the plains, midway between Cheyenne and the Black Hills, a trainhad halted for a noonday feed. Not a railway train, mind you, but aline of those white-covered vehicles drawn by strong-limbed mules,which are most properly styled prairie schooners.
There were four wagons of this type, and they had been drawn in acircle about a camp-fire, over which was roasting a savory haunch ofvenison. Around the camp-fire were grouped half a score of men, allrough, bearded, and grizzled, with one exception. This being a youthwhose age one could have safely put at twenty, so perfectly developedof physique and intelligent of facial appearance was he. There wassomething about him that was not handsome, and yet you would have beenpuzzled to tell what it was, for his countenance was strikinglyhandsome, and surely no form in the crowd was more noticeable for itsgrace, symmetry, and proportionate development. It would have taken ascholar to have studied out the secret.
He was of about medium stature, and as straight and square-shoulderedas an athlete. His complexion was nut-brown, from long exposure to thesun; hair of hue of the raven's wing, and hanging in long, straightstrands adown his back; eyes black and piercing as an eagle's;features well molded, with a firm, resolute mouth and prominent chin.He was an interesting specimen of young, healthy manhood, and, eventhough a youth in years, was one that could command respect, if notadmiration, wheresoever he might choose to go.
One remarkable item about his personal appearance, apt to strike thebeholder as being exceedingly strange and eccentric, was hiscostume--buck-skin throughout, and that dyed to the brightest scarlethue.
On being asked the cause of his odd freak of dress, when he had joinedthe train a few miles out from Cheyenne, the youth had laughinglyreplied:
Why, you see, it is to attract bufflers, if we should meet any, outon the plains 'twixt this and the Hills.
He gave his name as Fearless Frank, and said he was aiming for theHills; that if the party in question would furnish him a place amongthem, he would extend to them his assistance as a hunter, guide, orwhatever, until the destination was reached.
Seeing that he was well armed, and judging from external appearancesthat he would prove a valuable accessory, the miners were nothing lothin accepting his services.
Of the others grouped about the camp-fire only one is speciallynoticeable, for, as Mark Twain remarks, the average of gold-diggerslook alike. This person was a little, deformed old man; hump-backed,bow-legged, and white-haired, with cross eyes, a large mouth, a bighead, set upon a slim, crane-like neck; blue eyes, and an immensebrown beard, that flowed downward half-way to the belt about hiswaist, which contained a small arsenal of knives and revolvers. Hehobbled about with a heavy crutch constantly under his left arm, andwas certainly a pitiable sight to behold.
He too had joined the caravan after it had quitted Cheyenne, hisadvent taking place about an hour subsequent to that of FearlessFrank. His name he asserted was Nix--Geoffrey Walsingham Nix--andwhere he came from, and what he sought in the Black Hills, was simplya matter of conjecture among the miners, as he refused to talk on thesubject of his past, present or future.
The train was under the command of an irascible old plainsman who hadserved out his apprenticeship in the Kansas border war, and whose namewas Charity Joe, which, considering his avaricious disposition, wasthe wrong handle on the wrong man. Charity was the least of all oldJoe's redeeming characteristics; charity was the very thing he did notrecognize, yet some wag had facetiously branded him Charity Joe, andthe appellation had clung to him ever since. He was well advanced inyears, yet withal a good trailer and an expert guide, as the successof his many late expeditions into the Black Hills had evidenced.
Those who had heard of Joe's skill as a guide, intrusted themselves inhis care, for, while the stages were stopped more or less on eachtrip, Charity Joe's train invariably went through all safe and sound.This was partly owing to his acquaintance with various bands ofIndians, who were the chief cause of annoyance on the trip.
So far we see the train toward the land of gold, without their havingseen sight or sound of hostile red-skins, and Charity is justchuckling over his usual good luck:
I tell ye what, fellers, we've hed a fa'r sort uv a shake, so fur,an' no mistake 'bout it. Barrin' thar ain't no Sittin' Bulls layin' inwait fer us, behead yander, in ther mounts, I'm of ther candid opinionwe'll get through wi'out scrapin' a ha'r.
I hope so, said Fearless Frank, rolling over on the grass and gazingat the guide, thoughtfully, but I doubt it. It seems to me that onehears of more butchering, lately, than there was a month ago--all onaccount of the influx of ruffianly characters into the Black Hills!
Not all owing to that, chippy, interposed General Nix, as he hadimmediately been christened by the miners--not all owing to that.Thar's them gol danged copper-colored guests uv ther government--they'rekickin' up three pints uv the'r rumpus, more or less--consider'bly lessof more than more o' less. Take a passel uv them barbarities an' shet'em up inter a prison for three or thirteen yeers, an' ye'd see w'atan impression et'd make, now. Thar'd be siveral less massycrees a week,an' ye wouldn't see a rufyan onc't a month. W'y, gentlefellows, thar'dnevyar been a ruffian, ef et hedn't been fer ther cussed Injun tribe--not_one!_ Ther infarnal critters ar' ther instignators uv more deviltrynor a cat wi' nine tails.
Yes, we will admit that the reds are not of saintly origin, saidFearless Frank, with a quiet smile. In fact I know of several who arefar from being angels, myself. There is old Sitting Bull, forinstance, and Lone Lion, Rain-in-the-Face, and Horse-with-the-Red-Eye,and so forth, and so forth!
Exactly. Every one o' 'em's a danged descendant o' ther old Satan,hisself.
Ha! ha! ha! isn't that rich, now? Ha! ha! ha! arrestDeadwood Dick if you can!]
Layin' aside ther Injun subjeck, said Charity Joe, forking into theroasted venison, I move thet we take up a silent debate on therpecooliarities uv a deer's hind legs; so heer goes!
He cut out a huge slice with his bowie, sprinkled it over with salt,and began to devour it by very large mouthfuls. All hands proceeded tofollow his example, and the noonday meal was dispatched in silence.After each man had fully satisfied his appetite and the mules andFearless Frank's horse had grazed until they were full as ticks, theorder was given to hitch up, which was speedily done, and the caravanwas soon in motion, toiling along like a diminutive serpent across theplain.
The afternoon was a mild, sunny one in early autumn, with a refreshingbreeze perfumed with the delicate scent of after-harvest flowerswafting down from the cool regions of the Northwest, where lay the newEl Dorado--the land of gold.
Fearless Frank bestrode a noble bay steed of fire and nerve, while oldGeneral Nix rode an extra mule that he had purchased of Charity Joe.The remainder of the company rode in the wagons or hoofed it, asbest suited their mood--walking sometimes being preferable to therumbling and jolting of the heavy vehicles.
Steadily along through the afternoon sunlight the train wended itsway, the teamsters alternately singing and cursing their mules, asthey jogged along. Fearless Frank and the General rode severalhundred yards in advance, both apparently engrossed in deepestthought, for neither spoke until, toward the close of the afternoon,Charity Joe called their attention to a series of low, faint criesbrought down upon their hearing by the stiff northerly wind.
'Pears to me as how them sound sorter human like, said the oldguide, trotting along beside the young man's horse, as he made knownthe discovery. Jes' listen, now, an' see if ye ain't uv ther sameopinion!
The youth did listen, and at the same time swept the plain with hiseagle eyes, in search of the object from which the cries emanated. Butnothing of animal life was visible in any direction beyond the train,and more was the mystery, since the cries sounded but a little wayoff.
They _are_ human cries! exclaimed Fearless Frank, excitedly, andcome from some one in distress. Boys, we must investigate thismatter.
You can investigate all ye want, grunted Charity Joe, but I hain'ta-goin' ter stop ther train till dusk, squawk or no squawk. I jedge wewon't get inter their Hills any too soon, as it ar'.
You're an old fool! retorted Frank, contemptuously. I wouldn't beas mean as you for all the gold in the Black Hills country, saynothin' about that in California and Colorado.
He turned his horse's head toward the north, and rode away, followed,to the wonder of all, by the General.
Ha! ha! laughed Charity Joe, grimly, I wish you success.
You needn't; I do not want any of your wishes. I'm going to searchfor the person who makes them cries, an' ef you don't want to wait,why go to the deuce with your old train!
There ye err, shouted the guide: I'm goin' ter Deadwood, instead uvter the deuce.
_Maybe_ you will go to Deadwood, and then, again, maybe ye won't,answered back Fearless Frank.
More or less! chimed in the general--consider'bly more of less thanless of more. Look out thet ther allies uv Sittin' Bull don't git ther_dead wood_ on ye.
On marched the train--steadily on over the level, sandy plain, andFearless Frank and his strange companion turned their attention to thecries that had been the means of separating them from the train. Theyhad ceased now, altogether, and the two men were at a loss what to do.
Guv a whoop, like a Government Injun, suggested General Nix; an'thet'll let ther critter know thet we be friends a-comin'. Par'psshe'm g'in out ontirely, a-thinkin' as no one war a-comin' ter herresky!
She, you say?
Yas, she; fer I calkylate 'twern't no _he_ as made them squawks. Singout like a bellerin' bull, now, an' et ar' more or lesslikely--consider'bly more of less 'n less of more--that she willrespond!
Fearless Frank laughed, and forming his hands into a trumpet he gavevent to a loud, ear-splitting hello! that made the prairies ring.
Great whale uv Joner! gasped the General, holding his hands towardthe region of his organs of hearing. Holy Mother o' Mercy! don't doet ag'in, b'yee--don' do et; ye've smashed my tinpanum all interflinders! Good heaven! ye hev got a bugle wus nor enny steam tooterfrum heer tew Lowell.
Hark! said the youth, bending forward in a listening attitude.
The next instant silence prevailed, and the twain anxiously listened.Wafted down across the plain came in faint piteous accents therepetition of the cry they had first heard, only it was now muchfainter. Evidently whoever was in distress, was weakening rapidly.Soon the cries would be inaudible.
It's straight ahead! exclaimed Fearless Frank, at last. Come along,and we'll soon see what the matter is!
He put the spurs to his spirited animal, and the next instant wasdashing wildly off over the sunlit plain. Bent on emulation, theGeneral also used his heels with considerable vim, but alas! whatdependence can be placed on a mule? The animal bolted, with a viciousnip back at the offending rider's legs, and refused to budge an inch.
On--on dashed the fearless youth, mounted on his noble steed, his eyesbent forward, in a sharp scrutiny of the plain ahead, his mind filledwith wonder that the cries were now growing more distinct and yet nota first glimpse could he obtain of the source whence they emanated.
On--on--on; then suddenly he reins his steed back upon its haunches,just in time to avert a frightful plunge into one of those remarkablefreaks of nature--the blind canal, or, in other words, a channelvalley washed out by heavy rains. These the tourist will frequentlyencounter in the regions contiguous to the Black Hills.
Below him yawned an abrupt channel, a score or more of feet in depth,at the bottom of which was a dense chaparral thicket. The littlevalley thus nestled in the earth was about forty rods in width, andone would never have dreamed it existed, unless they chanced to rideto the brink, above.
Fearless Frank took in the situation at a glance, and not hearing thecries, he rightly conjectured that the one in distress had againbecome exhausted. That that person was in the thicket below seemedmore than probable, and he immediately resolved to descend in search.Slipping from his saddle, he stepped forward to the very edge of theprecipice and looked over. The next second the ground crumbled beneathhis feet, and he was precipitated headlong into the valley.Fortunately he received no serious injuries, and in a moment was onhis feet again, all right.
A miss is as good as a mile, he muttered, brushing the dirt from hisclothing. Now, then, we will find out the secret of the racket inthis thicket.
Glancing up to the brink above to see that his horse was standingquietly, he parted the shrubbery, and entered the thicket.
It required considerable pushing and tugging to get through the denseundergrowth, but at last his efforts were rewarded, and he stood in asmall break or glade.
Stood there, to behold a sight that made the blood boil in his veins.Securely bound with her face toward a stake, was a young girl--amaiden of perhaps seventeen summers, whom, at a single glance, onemight surmise was remarkably pretty.
She was stripped to the waist, and upon her snow-white back werenumerous welts from which trickled diminutive rivulets of crimson. Herhead was dropped against the stake to which she was bound, and she wasevidently insensible.
With a cry of astonishment and indignation Fearless Frank leapedforward to sever her bonds, when like so many grim phantoms therefiled out of the chaparral, and circled around him, a score ofhideously painted savages. One glance at the portly leader satisfiedFrank as to his identity. It was the fiend incarnate--Sitting Bull!