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   Chapter 12 No.12

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9888

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The Good Samaritan

A girl astride a buckskin pony rode down to the river to water her mount. She carried across the pommel of her saddle a small rifle. Hanging from the cantle strings was a wild turkey she had shot.

It was getting along toward evening and she was on her way back to Los Portales. The girl was a lover of the outdoors and she had been hunting alone. In the clear, amber light of afternoon the smoke of the town rose high into the sky, though the trading post itself could not be seen until she rounded the bend.

As her horse drank, a strange thing happened. At a point directly opposite her a bunch of tumble weeds had gathered against the bank of the shrunken stream. Something agitated them, and from among the brush the head and shoulders of a man projected.

Without an instant of delay the girl slipped from the pony and led it behind a clump of mesquite. Through this she peered intently, watching every move of the man, who had by this time come out into the open. He went down to the river, filled his hat with water, and disappeared among the tumble weeds, gathering them closely to conceal the entrance of his cave.

The young woman remounted, rode downstream an eighth of a mile, splashed through to the other side, and tied her pony to a stunted live-oak. Rifle in hand she crept cautiously along the bank and came to a halt behind a cottonwood thirty yards from the cave. Here she waited, patiently, silently, as many a time she had done while stalking the game she was used to hunting.

The minutes passed, ran into an hour. The westering sun slid down close to the horizon's edge. Still the girl held her vigil. At last the brush moved once more and the man reappeared. His glance swept the landscape, the river-bank, the opposite shore. Apparently satisfied, he came out from his hiding-place, and began to gather brush for a fire.

He was stooped, his back toward her, when the voice of the girl startled him to rigidity.

"Hands in the air!"

He did not at once obey. His head turned to see who this Amazon might be.

"Can't you hear? Reach for the sky!" she ordered sharply.

She had risen and stepped from behind the tree. He could see that she was dark, of a full, fine figure, and that her steady black eyes watched him without the least fear. The rifle in her hands covered him very steadily.

His hands went up, but he could not keep a little, sardonic smile from his face. The young woman lowered the rifle from her shoulder and moved warily forward.

"Lie down on the sand, face to the ground, hands outstretched!" came her next command.

Billie did as he was told. A little tug at his side gave notice to him that she had deftly removed his revolver.

"Sit up!"

The cowpuncher sat up and took notice. Stars of excitement snapped in the eyes of this very competent young woman. The color beat warmly through her dark skin. She was very well worth looking at.

"What's your name?" she demanded.

"My road brand is Billie Prince," he answered.

"Thought so. Where's the other man?"

He nodded toward the cave.

"Call him out," she said curtly.

"I hate to wake him. He's been wounded. All day he's been in a high fever and he's asleep at last."

For the first time her confidence seemed a little shaken. She hesitated.

"Is he badly hurt?"

"He'd get well if he could have proper attention, but a wounded man can't stand to be jolted around the way he's been since he was shot."

"Do you mean that you think he's going to die?"

"I don't know." After a moment he added: "He's mighty sick."

"He ought never to have left town."

"Oughtn't he?" said Prince dryly. "If you'll inquire you'll find we had a good reason for leavin'."

"Well, you're going to have another good reason for going back," she told him crisply. "I'll send a buckboard for him."

"Aren't you takin' a heap of trouble on our account?" he inquired ironically.

"That's my business."

"And mine. Are you the sheriff of Washington County, ma'am?"

A pulse of anger beat in her throat. Her long-lashed eyes flashed imperiously at him. "It doesn't matter who I am. You'll march to town in front of my horse."

"Maybe so."

The voice of the sick man began to babble querulously. Both of those outside listened.

"He's awake," the girl said. "Bring him out here and let me see him."

Billie had an instinct that sometimes served him well. He rose promptly.

"Para sirvir usted" ("At your service"), he murmured.

"Don't try to start anything. I'll have you covered every second."

"I believe you. It won't be necessary to demonstrate, ma'am."

The cowpuncher carried his friend out from the cave and put him down gently in the sand.

"Why, he's only a boy!" she cried in surprise.

"He was man enough to go up against half a dozen 'Paches alone to save

Pauline Roubideau," Billie said simply.

She looked up with quick interest. "I've heard that

story. Is it true?"

"It's true. And he was man enough to fight it out to a finish against two bad men yesterday."

"But he can't be more than eighteen." She watched for a moment the flush of fever in his soft cheeks. "Did he really kill Dave and Hugh Roush? Or was it you?"

"He did it."

"I hate a killer!" she blazed unexpectedly.

"Does he look like a killer?" asked Prince gently.

"No, he doesn't. That makes it worse."

"Did you know that Dave Roush ruined his sister's life in a fiendish way?"

"I expect there's another side to that story," she retorted.

"This boy was fourteen at the time. His father swore him to vengeance an' Jim followed his enemies for years. He never had a doubt but that he was doin' right."

She put her rifle down impulsively. "Why don't you keep his face sponged?

Bring me water."

The Texan put his hat into requisition again for a bucket. With her handkerchief the girl sponged the face and the hands. The cold water stopped for a moment the delirious muttering of the young man. But the big eyes that stared into hers did not associate his nurse with the present.

"I done remembered you, 'Lindy, like I promised. I'm a-followin' them scalawags yet," he murmured.

"His sister's name was Melindy," explained Prince.

The girl nodded. She was rubbing gently the boy's wrist with her wet handkerchief.

"It's getting dark," she told Billie in her sharp, decisive way. "Get your fire lit-a big one. I've got some cooking to do."

Further orders were waiting for him as soon as he had the camp-fire going. "You'll find my horse tied to a live-oak down the river a bit. Bring it up."

Billie smiled as he moved away into the darkness. This imperious girl belonged, of course, in the camp of the enemy. She had held him up with the intention of driving them back to town before her in triumph. But she was, after all, a very tender-hearted foe to a man stricken with sickness. It occurred to the Texan that through her might lie a way of salvation for them both.

Until he saw the turkey the cowpuncher wondered what cooking she could have in mind, but while he cantered back through the sand he guessed what she meant to do.

"Draw the turkey. Don't pick it," she gave instructions. Her own hands were busy trying to make her patient comfortable.

After he had drawn the bird, which was a young, plump one, he made under direction of the young woman a cement of mud. This he daubed in a three-inch coating over the turkey, then prepared the fire to make of it an oven. He covered the bird with ashes, raked live coals over these, and piled upon the red-hot coals pi?on knots and juniper boughs.

"Keep your fire going till about two or three o'clock, then let it die out. In the morning the turkey will be baked," the young Diana gave assurance.

The cowpuncher omitted to tell her that he had baked a dozen more or less and knew all about it.

She rose and drew on her gauntlets in a business-like manner.

"I'm going home now. After the fever passes keep him warm and let him sleep if he will."

"Yes, ma'am," promised Billie with suspicious meekness.

The girl looked at him sharply, as if she distrusted his humility. Was he laughing at her? Did he dare to find amusement in her?

"I haven't changed my mind about you. Folks that come to town and start killing deserve all they get. But I'd look after a yellow dog if it was sick," she said contemptuously, little devils of defiance in her eyes.

"I'm not questionin' your motives, ma'am, so long as your actions are friendly,"

"I haven't any use for any of Homer Webb's outfit. He's got no business here. If he runs into trouble he has only himself to blame."

"I'll mention to him that you said so."

Picking up the rifle, she turned and walked to the horse. There was a little devil-may-care touch to her walk, just as in her manner, that suggested a girl spoiled by over-much indulgence. She was imperious, high-spirited, full of courage and insolence, because her environment had moulded her to independence. It was impossible for the young cow puncher to help admiring the girl.

"I'll be back," she called over her shoulder.

The pony jumped to a canter at the touch of her Jaeel. She disappeared in a gallop around the bend.

Already the fever of the boy was beginning to pass. He shivered with the chill of night. Billie wrapped around him his own coat, a linsey-woolen one lined with yellow flannel. He packed him up in the two blankets and heated stones for his feet and hands. Presently the boy fell into sound sleep for the first time since he was wounded. He had slept before, but always uneasily and restlessly. Now he did not mutter between clenched teeth nor toss to and fro.

His friend accepted it as a good omen. Since he had not slept a wink himself for forty hours, he lay down before the fire and made himself comfortable His eyes closed almost immediately.

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