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As the months rolled on, the family, particularly the children, grew more and more delighted with their new home in the wilderness. The boys and girls had an abundance of leisure; for though their father exacted the most prompt obedience, he was not a hard task-master.

He allowed his children every indulgence compatible with reason, and only certain portions of the day were devoted to work. They all studied under their father's personal supervision, for no schools had yet been established in the settlement.

For the boys, there were the cows to be driven to and from their pasture, morning and night, and it was their duty to milk them, too. Then the horses were to be fed, and in season they worked in the large garden, on which their father prided himself. The girls helped their mother in every household duty, and relieved her of many cares as she grew older. So the children of Errolstrath Ranche had a good time--a much better time than generally falls to the lot of those families in only moderate circumstances, as were the Thompsons.

Before they had resided on the ranche a year, the boys and girls had become possessed of a variety of pets. Gertrude had a coon; Kate, an antelope; Rob, a prairie dog; and Joe, an elk.

The antelope was caught when young by Joe, and the hounds, Bluey and Brutus, under the following circumstances: Although one of the most timid and swift of all the ruminants on the great plains, it is also one of the most inquisitive. Whenever it sees something with which it is not familiar, its curiosity overpowers its usual fear, and it will approach very near to the object that has excited its attention. Now Joe had learned from old Tucker, the trapper, just how the Indians act, when out hunting the antelope, to draw the herd within range of their arrows. He said that sometimes one or two of the savages would stand on their heads and shake their legs in the air; then again, they would hold up a blanket, no matter what color, and wave it slowly, when the herd, or at least a number from it, would gradually walk toward the Indians who were lying flat on the ground, and thus become easy victims to their swift, unerring arrows.

It was this knowledge of the antelope's prominent characteristic that enabled Joe to secure one for his favorite sister. He was out very early one morning when he noticed a large herd with many kids among it, about half a mile distant. He was well aware that his dogs, swift as they were, would be no match for the beautiful creatures in a trial of speed, so he resolved to resort to the Indian method. Ordering his hounds to lie close, he tied his white handkerchief round his head, and taking off his overalls, he began to move his body slowly backward and forward, at the same time vigorously waving the overalls in the air. In a few moments, just as he expected they would, he had the satisfaction of seeing first one, then another, look up and gaze steadily at the strange object. Presently, about half a dozen of the does with their little ones by their sides, commenced to move cautiously towards him. When they had approached sufficiently near, he started the hounds after them, and after a short, lively chase they caught a fine kid, which, of course, could not keep up with its mother. They captured it without injury, for they had been trained not to mouth their game. As there were a dozen cows on the ranch, there was an abundance of milk, with which Kate used to feed her little pet from a bottle. The pretty creature throve rapidly, and soon became as affectionate as a kitten, following its mistress everywhere like a dog.

The big gray wolf, that ghoul of the great plains, understands full well the inordinate curiosity of the antelope, and knowing that it is impossible for him to catch one of the fleet animals by the employment of his legs alone, he effects by cunning what he could never accomplish by the best efforts of his endurance. The wicked old fellow, when he discovers a bunch of antelopes in the distance, rolls himself into a ball, like a badger, and tumbles about on the grass until some of the deluded animals come near enough for him to spring on them.

Gertrude's coon was caught by both the boys, assisted by Bluey and Brutus. They dug him out of his nest under the roots of a huge elm tree near the cabin, one day in the early springtime, when the warm sun had just begun to thaw him after his winter's hibernation. He was "'cute" and mischievous as he could be, stealing anything on which he could get his tiny paws. Whenever Gertrude called him,--his name was Tom,--he would run to her as fast as he could, jump on her back, and sit on her shoulders for an hour at a time, when she was sewing or doing something which did not require her to move about. He lived on any scraps from the table, always rolling his food in his paws before he ate it.

The prairie dog, the property of Rob, was accidentally captured by Gertrude one morning when she and Kate were out gathering wild flowers. She actually stumbled on him as she stooped to pick a sensitive rose. The little creature had somehow become entangled in the convolutions of the vine, and thus became an easy prey. It fought like a tiger at first, and tried to bite with its sharp teeth everything that came near it. It was soon tamed, however, and became a regular nuisance at times, for it would run under your feet in spite of the many pinches it got by being stepped upon. It tripped up the boys and girls a dozen times a day, as it was allowed the freedom of the house and the dooryard. Gertrude gave it to Rob, who had often expressed a desire to own one, and had failed a hundred times, perhaps, to capture one by drowning it out of its hole.

The elk was given to Joe by old Tucker, and in a short time grew to be as big as a young mule. Joe broke him to harness, and used to drive him hitched to a little cart which his father, with the boy's help, improvised out of an odd pair of wheels and a dry-goods box. He was kept in the corral with the cows and horses, and became very tame, but sometimes attempted to use his sharp front hoofs too freely. He was forbidden the precincts of the dooryard and the house, for he came near cutting Kate in two once, all in play, but too rough a kind of affection for a repetition of it to be allowed.

The wild raspberries grew in great profusion near every ledge of rock in the vicinity of the ranche. About a mile and a half from the house, however, there was a specially favored spot for them, where the vines were more dense and the berries of large size and delicious flavor. In the second week of June, the second year of their residence on the creek, Rob, who had been up the valley herding the cows, reported that evening, upon his return, that the berries were ripe and that there were bushels of them.

The next morning, immediately after breakfast, Gertrude and Kate left the house with a tin bucket each, intending to go up to the ledge and gather raspberries. They were dressed lightly,--Kate in a white muslin skirt, and her sister in a lawn. As the nearest way to the place where the berries were to be found lay by a trail on the other side of the Oxhide the girls crossed it near the cabin, and as there was neither log bridge nor stepping-stones, they took off their shoes and stockings and waded it. After reaching the other side and putting on their shoes and stockings, they wandered slowly through a little flower-bedecked prairie, beyond the margin of timber which fringed the creek, to make a short cut to where the raspberries grew, for the Oxhide made a sweeping curve to the northeast, nearly in the shape of half a circle.

Both loving flowers, they gathered great bunches of the sensitive roses, anemones, and white daisies, growing everywhere in such profusion. This occupation consumed a great deal of time, for they naturally loitered, charmed by so much floral beauty around them. It was fortunate they did, as the sequel will show, and they did not arrive at the ledge of rocks until nearly ten o'clock--more than two hours after they had left home. It was intensely hot, and after gathering their buckets full of the delicious fruit, they sat down on a shelf of the ledge which projected over the creek. They dabbled their bare feet in the stream as it flowed in murmuring rhythm over the rounded white pebbles, while they ate their lunch of cake brought from the ranche, and the red berries so sweet in the wildness of their flavor.

Having satisfied their hunger, Kate said to her sister: "Gert, we ought to fill up our buckets again. If we go home empty-handed, mother will think we have been making pigs of ourselves."

"There's time enough for that yet," replied Gertrude. "This cool water feels so delightful to my feet that I believe I could sit here and dabble in it until dark. Don't you think it's delicious, Kate?"

"Yes," answered Kate, "but I want to get home before dinner, because Joe said that he would go with me down to the village this evening. I am going to ride his pony, and he will ride Rob's."

"Well," said Gertrude, "if we must, we must. Mother loves raspberries so; they are her favorite fruit, you know; and if we did not take her a bucketful back with us, I should never forgive myself, though perhaps she would not say a word."

"Let us commence right now," imploringly said Kate. "I want to get back as soon as I can."

Both girls rose languidly to do as they proposed, but there did not seem to be much energy in their motions. Just as Gertrude had taken her pail from its place in the rocks, their ears were greeted by a low growl, which seemed to come directly from underneath the shelf on which they had been sitting. They looked at each other, and their faces blanched as another snarl and a howl, nearer than before, came to their ears, and both recognized the familiar sound they had so often heard when lying in bed at night, as that of a wolf. Those predatory brutes frequently made their nightly rounds in the vicinity of the corral, trying to get at the young calves, and they might be heard in the timber, watching for a chance to secure some of the fowls shut up in their house of stone near the barn.

Gertrude, who was really very brave under ordinary circumstances, immediately stood still, and looking all around her, she suddenly met the gaze of a large, gaunt she-wolf at whose side were standing six little ones! Generally the wolf, like nearly all other wild animals, will run instantly at the sight of a human being; but the maternal instinct is so wonderful that, when they have young, they will die in defending their offspring from any supposed danger. This instinct was shown in this instance. The fierce animal had crept out of her den at the sound of voices, and believing that her cubs were in jeopardy, she made a frantic dash toward the now thoroughly frightened girls, who hastily scrambled to the summit of the ledge.

Fortunately for them, the wolf is a poor climber, but with a savage bound toward the base of the flat rock on which the girls had a moment before been sitting, she arrived at it the same instant they had succeeded in reaching an elevation of about twelve feet above the level of the water.

Just as Kate, who was not as collected as her sister, was being dragged up by Gertrude, the wolf made a desperate leap and snapped at her with his terrible teeth, but failed. It succeeded, however, in catching her skirt in its ponderous jaws, and tore it completely from her waist, and she, almost feeling the hot breath of the infuriated brute, uttered a loud scream and fell fainting in her sister's arms.

Less than three hundred yards above the ledge of rocks, in a beautiful piece of prairie, Joe was herding the cattle, and Kate's cry, so full of fear, fell piercingly on his ears. He was aware that his sisters were to go berrying that morning, and he also knew that the sound could only come from one of them. He was lying on the grass under the shade of a big elm with the bridle-rein of his pony in his hand. Grasping his rifle, which was at his side, in an instant he had mounted his animal, and digging his heels into its flanks, fairly flew down the creek to where his sisters were held at bay by the wolf. He arrived there in less than three minutes after he heard the scream of alarm, and saw the wolf still persisting in its vain efforts to reach the girls on the summit of the ledge. Gertrude was almost paralyzed with fear, and Kate lay at her feet in the swoon into which the action of the wolf had thrown her.

The enraged beast was too much occupied with the girls to notice that its would-be victims had assistance so near at hand, and Joe, as Gertrude saw her brother's approach, put his finger to his lips, indicating that she must remain perfectly silent. He dismounted in a second, and putting the loop of the reins over his left arm, dropped on one knee, and taking careful aim, sent a ball crashing right through the brain of the wolf, which instantly fell dead in its tracks.

Joe then rushed down to the creek and filled his hat with water. He then climbed hurriedly up to the rocky steep again and threw the water into Kate's face as she still lay prone on the ledge at her sister's feet. Kate soon revived, and after staring around her for a few seconds in a dazed way, she smiled and said:--

"Oh, Joe, you have saved us!" and rising to her feet, forgetful of her wet face, she kissed him half a dozen times.

While his sisters were adjusting their dresses and recovering from their terrible fright, Joe killed the young wolves with the butt of his rifle, and then taking his knife from his belt commenced to skin the old one. It did not require much time to perform the operation, for he had long since become an adept at such work. He then threw the beautiful hide over the withers of his pony, and walked home with his sisters.

Arriving at the cabin, the girls had much to tell about their wonderful experience and lucky escape from the jaws of the wolf, which would certainly have torn them to pieces if it had not been for Joe's timely arrival.

The hide, which was an immense one, was first tacked to the side of the stable, and when dried, Joe smoke-tanned it until it was as soft as a piece of silk. He gave it to Kate as a memento of her awful experience with its former owner. She used it as a rug at the side of her bed, and often said that for a long time whenever she stepped on it, the scene in which it played such an important part was brought vividly to her mind.