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   Chapter 2 No.2

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 14037

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Shoot-a-Buck Ca?on

Webb sent for Billie Prince.

"Seems there's a bunch of bronco 'Paches camped ahead of us, Billie. Thursday here trailed with Sieber. I want you an' him to scout in front of us an' see we don't run into any ambush. You're under his orders, y' understand."

Prince was a man of few words. He nodded.

"You know the horses that the boys claim. Well, take Thursday to the remuda an' help him pick a mount from the extras in place of that broomtail he's ridin'," continued the drover. "Look alive now. I don't want my cattle stampeded because we haven't got sense enough to protect 'em. No 'Paches can touch a hoof of my stock if I can help it."

"If they attack at all it will probably be just before daybreak, but it is just as well to be ready for 'em," suggested Thursday.

"I brought along some old Sharps an' some Spencers. I reckon I'll have 'em loaded an' distribute 'em among the boys. Billie, tell Yankie to have that done. The rifles are racked up in the calf wagon."

Billie delivered the orders of the drover to the foreman as they passed on their way to the remuda. Joe gave a snort of derision, but let it go at that. When Homer Webb was with one of his trail outfits he was always its boss.

While Thursday watched him, Prince roped out a cinnamon horse from the remuda. The cowpuncher was a long-bodied man, smooth-muscled and lithe. The boy had liked his level eye and his clean, brown jaw before, just as now he approved the swift economy of his motions.

Probably Billie was about twenty years of age, but in that country men ripened young. Both of these lads had been brought up in that rough-and-ready school of life which holds open session every day of the year. Both had already given proofs of their ability to look out for themselves in emergency. A wise, cool head rested on each of these pairs of young shoulders. In this connection it is worth mentioning that the West's most famous outlaw, Billie the Kid, a killer with twenty-one notches on his gun, had just reached his majority when he met his death some years later at the hands of Pat Garrett.

The new rider for the Flying V Y outfit did not accept the judgment of Prince without confirming it. He examined the hoofs of the horse and felt its legs carefully. He looked well to its ears to make sure that ticks from the mesquite had not infected the silky inner flesh.

"A good bronc, looks like," he commented.

"One of the fastest in the remuda-not very gentle, though."

Thursday picked the witches' bridles from its mane before he saddled. As his foot found the stirrup the cinnamon rose into the air, humped its back, and came down with all four legs stiff. The quirt burned its flank, and the animal went up again to whirl round in the air. The boy stuck to the saddle and let out a joyous whoop. The battle was on.

Suddenly as it had begun the contest ended. With the unreasoning impulse of the half-broken cowpony the cinnamon subsided to gentle obedience.

The two riders cantered across the prairie in the direction of the Indian camp. That the Apaches were still there Thursday thought altogether likely, for he knew that it takes a week to make mescal. No doubt the raiders had stopped to hold a jamboree over the success of their outbreak.

The scouts from the cattle herd deflected toward a butte that pushed out as a salient into the plain. From its crest they could get a sweeping view of the valley.

"There's a gulch back of it that leads to old man Roubideau's place," explained Prince. "Last time we were on this Pecos drive the boss stopped an' bought a bunch of three-year-olds from him. He's got a daughter that's sure a pippin, old man Roubideau has. Shoot, ride, rope-that girl's got a lot of these alleged bullwhackers beat a mile at any one of 'em."

Thursday did not answer. He had left the saddle and was examining the ground carefully. Billie joined him. In the soft sand of the wash were tracks of horses' hoofs. Patiently the trailer followed them foot by foot to the point where they left the dry creek-bed and swung up the broken bank to a swale.

"Probably Roubideau and his son Jean after strays," suggested Prince.

"No. Notice this track here, how it's broken off at the edge. When I cut

Indian sign yesterday, this was one of those I saw."

"Then these are 'Paches too?"

"Yes."

"Goin' to the Roubideau place." The voice of Billie was low and husky. His brown young face had been stricken gray. Bleak fear lay in the gray eyes. His companion knew he was thinking of the girl. "How many of 'em do you make out?"

"Six or seven. Not sure which."

"How old?"

"They passed here not an hour since."

It was as if a light of hope had been lit in the face of the young man.

"Mebbe there's time to help yet. Kid, I'm goin' in."

Jim Thursday made no reply, unless it was one to vault to the saddle and put his horse to the gallop. They rode side by side, silently and alertly, rifles across the saddle-horns in their hands. The boy from Arizona looked at his new friend with an increase of respect. This was, of course, a piece of magnificent folly. What could two boys do against half a dozen wily savages? But it was the sort of madness that he loved. His soul went out in a gush of warm, boyish admiration to Billie Prince. It was the beginning of a friendship that was to endure, in spite of rivalry and division and misunderstanding, through many turbid years of trouble. This was no affair of theirs. Webb had sent them out to protect the cattle drive. They were neglecting his business for the sake of an adventure that might very well mean the death of both of them. But it was characteristic of Thursday that it never even occurred to him to let Prince take the chance alone. Even in the days to come, when his name was anathema in the land, nobody ever charged that he would not go through with a comrade.

There drifted to them presently the faint sound of a shot. It was followed by a second and a third.

"The fight's on," cried Thursday.

Billie's quirt stung the flank of his pony. Near the entrance to the ca?on his companion caught up with him. From the rock walls of the gulch came to them booming echoes of rifles in action.

"Roubideau must be standin' 'em off," shouted Prince.

"Can we take the 'Paches by surprise? Is there any other way into the ca?on?"

"Don't know. Can't stop to find out. I'm goin' straight up the road."

The younger man offered no protest. It might well be that the ranchman was in desperate case and in need of immediate help to save his family. Anyhow, the decision was out of his hands.

The horses pounded forward and swept round a curve of the gulch into sight of the ranch. In a semicircle, crouched behind the shelter of boulders and cottonwoods, the Indian line stretched across the gorge and along one wall. The buildings lay in a little valley, where an arroyo ran down at a right angle and broke the rock escarpment. A spurt of smoke came from a w

indow of the stable as the rescuers galloped into view.

One of the Apaches caught sight of them and gave a guttural shout of warning. His gun jumped to the shoulder and simultaneously the bullet was on its way. But no living man could throw a shot quicker than Jim Thursday, if the stories still told of him around camp-fires are true. Now he did not wait to take sight, but fired from his hip. The Indian rose, half-turned, and fell forward across the boulder, his naked body shining in the sun. By a hundredth part of a second the white boy had out-speeded him.

The riders flung themselves from their horses and ran for cover.

The very audacity of their attack had its effect. The Indians guessed these two were the advance guard of a larger party which had caught them in a trap. Between two fires, with one line of retreat cut off, the bronco Apaches wasted no time in deliberation. They made a rush for their horses, mounted, and flew headlong toward the arroyo, their bodies lying low on the backs of the ponies.

The Indians rode superbly, their bare, sinewy legs gripping even to the moccasined feet the sides of the ponies. Without saddle or bridle, except for the simple nose rope, they guided their mounts surely, the brown bodies rising and falling in perfect accord with the motion of the horses.

A shot from the stable hit one as he galloped past. While his horse was splashing through the creek the Mescalero slid slowly down, head first, into the brawling water.

Billie took a long, steady aim and fired. A horse stumbled and went down, flinging the rider over its head. With a "Yip-Yip!" of triumph Thursday drew a bead on the man as he rose and dodged forward. Just as the boy fired a sharp pain stung his foot. One of the escaping natives had wounded him.

The dismounted man ran forward a few steps and pulled himself to the back of a pony already carrying one rider. Something in the man's gait and costume struck Prince.

"That fellow's no Injun," he called to his friend.

"Look!" Thursday was pointing to the saddle-back between two peaks at the head of the arroyo.

A girl on horseback had just come over the summit and stood silhouetted against the sky. Even in that moment while they watched her she realized for the first time her danger. She turned to fly, and she and her horse disappeared down the opposite slope. The Mescaleros swept up the hill toward her.

"They'll git her! They'll sure git her!" cried Billie, making for his horse.

The younger man ran limping to his cinnamon. At every step he winced, and again while his weight rested on the wounded foot as he dragged himself to the saddle. A dozen yards behind his companion he sent his horse splashing through the creek.

The cowponies, used to the heavy going in the hills, took the slope in short, quick plunges. Neither of the young men used the spur, for the chase might develop into a long one with stamina the deciding factor. The mesquite was heavy and the hill steep, but presently they struck a cattle run which led to the divide.

Two of the Apaches stopped at the summit for a shot at their pursuers, but neither of the young men wasted powder in answer. They knew that close-range work would prove far more deadly and that only a chance hit could serve them now.

From Billie, who had reached the crest first, came a cry of dismay. His partner, a moment later, knew the reason for it. One of the Apaches, racing across the valley below, was almost at the heels of the girl.

The cowpunchers flung their ponies down the sharp incline recklessly. The animals were sure-footed as mountain goats. Otherwise they could never have reached the valley right side up. It was a stretch of broken shale with much loose rubble. The soft sandstone farther along had eroded and there was a great deal of slack débris down which the horses slipped and slid, now on their haunches and again on all fours.

The valley stretched for a mile before them and terminated at a rock wall into which, no doubt, one or more ca?ons cut like sword clefts. The cowpunchers had picked mounts, but it was plain they could not overhaul the Apaches before the Indians captured the girl.

Billie, even while galloping at full speed, began a long-distance fire upon the enemy. One of the Mescaleros had caught the bridle of the young woman's horse and was stopping the animal. It looked for a moment as if the raiders were going to make a stand, but presently their purpose became clear to those in pursuit. The one that Billie had picked for a renegade white dropped from the horse upon which he was riding double and swung up behind the captive. The huddle of men and ponies opened up and was in motion again toward the head of the valley.

But though the transfer had been rapid, it had taken time. The pursuers, thundering across the valley, had gained fast. Rifles barked back and forth angrily.

The Indians swerved sharply to the left for the mouth of a ca?on. Here they pulled up to check the cowboys, who slid from their saddles to use their ponies for protection.

"That gorge to the right is called Escondido Ca?on," explained Prince. "We combed it for cattle last year. About three miles up it runs into the one where the 'Paches are! Don't remember the name of that one."

"I'll give it a new name," answered the boy. He raised his rifle, rested it across the back of his pony, and took careful aim. An Indian plunged from his horse. "Shoot-a-Buck Ca?on-how'll that do for a name?" inquired Thursday with a grin.

Prince let out a whoop. "You got him right. He'll never smile again.

Shoot-a-Buck Ca?on goes."

The Indians evidently held a hurried consultation and changed their minds about holding the gorge against such deadly shooting as this.

"They're gun-shy," announced Thursday. "They don't like the way we fog 'em and they're goin' to hit the trail, Billie."

After one more shot Prince made the mistake of leaving the shelter of his horse too soon. He swung astride and found the stirrup. A puff of smoke came from the entrance to the gulch. Billie turned to his friend with a puzzled, sickly smile on his face. "They got me, kid."

"Bad?"

The cowboy began to sag in the saddle. His friend helped him to the ground. The wound was in the thigh.

"I'll tie it up for you an' you'll be good as new," promised his friend.

The older man looked toward the gorge. No Indians were in sight.

"I can wait, but that little girl in the hands of those devils can't. Are you game to play a lone hand, kid?" he asked.

"I reckon."

"Then ride hell-for-leather up Escondido. It's shorter than the way they took. Where the gulches come together be waitin' an' git 'em from the brush. There's just one slim chance you'll make it an' come back alive."

The boy's eyes were shining. "Suits me fine. I'll go earn that name I christened myself-Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em."

Billie, his face twisted with pain, watched the youngster disappear at a breakneck gallop into Escondido.

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