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   Chapter 22 THE TEST

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 6428

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

When Ridley heard the faint plop of the Ranger's body as it dropped into the water, his heart died under the fifth rib. He was alone-alone with a wounded man in his care, and five hundred fiends ravenous for his blood. For a moment the temptation was strong in him to follow Roberts into the water. Why should he stay to let these devils torture him? Dinsmore had betrayed him, to the ruination of his life. He owed the fellow nothing but ill-will. And the man was a triple-notch murderer. It would be a good riddance to the country if he should be killed.

But the arguments of the young fellow did not convince him. He had showed the white feather once on impulse, without a chance to reason out the thing. But if he deserted this wounded man now he would be a yellow coyote-and he knew it. There was something in him stronger than fear that took him back to the helpless outlaw babbling disjointed ravings.

He bathed the man's fevered body with cold water from the river and changed the bandages on the wound. He listened, in an agony of apprehension, for the sound of a shot. None came, but this did not bring certainty that the Ranger had escaped. He had left behind all his arms, and it was quite possible that they had captured him without first wounding him.

Arthur reasoned with himself about his terror. Of what use was it? Why fear, since he had to face the danger anyhow? But when he thought of the morning and what it would bring forth he was sick with the dread he could not crush.

The hours lagged endlessly. He had his watch out a thousand times trying to read its face. Occasionally he crept around the island to make sure the Kiowas were not trying to surprise him. Hope began to grow in him as the night grew old, and this alternated with terror; for he knew that with the coming of dawn, the redskins would begin an attack.

His mind followed the Ranger on his journey. By this time he must surely be halfway to Tascosa if he had escaped the Kiowas.... Now he might have reached the cottonwood clump beyond Big Ford.... Perhaps he might jump up a camp outfit with horses. If so, that would cut down the time needed to reach town.

Five o'clock by Ridley's watch! He made another circuit of his little island, and at the head of it stopped to peer into the lessening darkness. A log, traveling down the river from some point near its headwaters in New Mexico, was drifting toward the island. His attention was arrested by the way it traveled. A log in a stream follows the line of least resistance. It floats in such a way as to offer the smallest surface to the force of the current. But this log was going down at a right angle to the bank instead of parallel to it. Was it being propelled by the current alone, or by some living power behind it?

Ridley posted himself behind a cottonwood, his repeater ready for action. In another moment he would know, because if the log was adrift in the river, it would miss the point of the island and keep on its way.

Straight to the point of land the log came. There it stuck against the nose of the island. A head followed by a naked body drew itself from behind the log and climbed across it to the bank above. A second head and b

ody appeared, a third and a fourth.

Ridley's fear was gone. He had a job to do, and he went at it in a workmanlike manner. His first shot dropped the brave on the bank. His second missed, his third went hissing up the river. But the fourth caught full in the throat one of the Kiowas on the log. The painted warrior shot headfirst into the water and dropped as though he had been a stone. Before Arthur could fire again, the passengers astride the dead tree dived into the stream. Slowly the log swung around and was sucked into the current. Here and there a feathered head bobbed up. The boy fired at them from a sense of duty, but he did not flatter himself that he had scored another hit.

But the immediate danger of being rushed was past. Ridley circled the island again to make sure that the attack at the head had not been a feint to cover one in the rear.

During the night Arthur had not been idle. Behind a large rock he had scooped out a small cave in which he and the wounded man might lie protected. Now the Indians, in the full light of day, were spraying the spot with bullets. Fortunately they were notoriously poor shots, and their guns were the worst ever made. For hours the fusillade continued. Occasionally the defender answered with a shot or two to discourage any further attempt at storming his position.

The most welcome sound in Ridley's life was a scattering volley of shots that came from back of the Kiowa camp. There was a sudden rush for horses by the braves and the scurry of pounding hoofs as they fled across the prairie. A moment later came the whoop of the cowboys in the rescue party.

Arthur, in an ecstasy of relief, ran to the edge of the water and waved his hat. Across the river came in answer the "Yip-yip, yippy-yip-yip" of the line-riders in the company. Several of them plunged into the stream and swam their horses across to the island. Among these were Jumbo Wilkins and Tex Roberts.

"I see you done held the fort, son," said the fat man. "Fine and dandy! How's Dinsmore?"

"Quieter. He slept a good deal in the night. How are we going to get him across the river?"

The Ranger joined them. He nodded a friendly greeting at Ridley.

"Our luck held up all right. I see you been doin' some fancy shootin'."

Arthur looked at him. The eyes of the Easterner were full of timid doubt. What did this game Texan think of him who had proposed to leave a wounded man to his fate? The Ranger beamed a kindly comradeship, but the other young fellow wondered what was passing in the back of his mind.

They held a committee on ways and means about Dinsmore.

"We can't stay here-got to get him to town where he can be fixed up," Jumbo said.

"We'll take him over to the other bank and send for a buckboard," decided Jack.

The wounded man was carried to the head of the island, and strapped to the back of a horse. Jumbo, Roberts, and Ridley guided the horse into the current and helped it fight through to the shallow water beyond.

Twenty-four hours later Dinsmore was in bed in Tascosa. Dr. Bridgman said, with the usual qualification about complications, that the man probably would get well. The bullet had not punctured his lungs.

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