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   Chapter 40 GURLEY'S GET-AWAY

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 7255

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The boulder cave to which the Apaches had driven Dinsmore and Ramona had long since been picked out by the outlaws as a defensible position in case of need. The ledge that ran up to it on the right offered no cover for attackers. It was scarcely three feet wide, and above and below it the wall was for practical purposes perpendicular. In anticipation of a day when his gang might be rounded up by a posse, Pete Dinsmore had gone over the path and flung down into the gulch every bit of quartz big enough to shelter a man.

The contour of the rock face back of the big boulders was concave, so that the defenders were protected from sharpshooters at the edge of the precipice above.

Another way led up from the bed of the creek by means of a very rough and broken climb terminating in the loose rubble about the point where the ledge ran out. This Dinsmore had set Gurley to watch, but it was not likely that the Indians would reach here for several hours a point dangerous to the attacked.

Of what happened that day Ramona saw little. She loaded rifles and pushed them out to Dinsmore from the safety of the cave. Once he had shouted out to her or to Gurley news of a second successful shot.

"One more good Indian. Hi-yi-yi!" The last was a taunt to the Apaches hidden below.

There came a time late in the afternoon when the serious attack of the redskins developed. It came from the left, and it was soon plain that a number of Apaches had found cover in the rough boulder bed halfway up from the creek. Ramona took Dinsmore's place as guard over the pathway while he moved across to help Gurley rout the sharpshooters slowly edging forward.

One hour of sharp work did it. Man for man there never was any comparison between the Indians and the early settlers as fighting men. Dinsmore and Gurley, both good shots, better armed and better trained than the Apaches, drove the bucks back from the boulder bed where they were deployed. One certainly was killed, another probably. As quickly as they could with safety disengage themselves the braves drew down into the shelter of the brush below.

But Dinsmore knew that the temporary victory achieved could not affect the end of this one-sided battle. The Apaches would wipe all three of them out-unless by some miracle help reached them from outside. Ramona, too, knew it. So did Gurley.

As the darkness fell the fingers of 'Mona crept often to the little revolver by her side. Sometime soon-perhaps in three hours, perhaps in twelve, perhaps in twenty-four-she must send a bullet into her brain. She decided quite calmly that she would do it at the last possible moment that would admit of certainty. She must not make any mistake, must not wait till it was too late. It would be a horrible thing to do, but-she must not fall alive into the hands of the Apaches.

Crouched behind his boulder in the darkness, Gurley too knew that the party was facing extinction. He could not save the others by staying. Was it possible to save himself by going? He knew that rough climb down through the boulder beds to the ca?on below. The night was black as Egypt. Surely it would be possible, if he kept well to the left, to dodge any sentries the Indians might have set.

He moistened his dry lips with his tongue. Furtively he glanced back toward the cave where the girl was hidden. She could not see him. Nor could Dinsmore. They would know nothing about it till long after he had gone. Their stupidity had brought the Apaches upon them. If they had taken his advice the savages would have missed them by ten miles. Why should he let their folly destroy him too

? If he escaped he might meet some freight outfit and send help to them.

The man edged out from his rock, crept noiselessly into the night. He crawled along the steep rubble slide, wary and soft-footed as a panther. It took him a long half-hour to reach the boulder bed. Rifle in hand, he lowered himself from rock to rock, taking advantage of every shadow....

An hour later Dinsmore called to 'Mona. "Asleep, girl?"

"No," she answered in a small voice.

"Slip out with these cartridges to Steve and find out if anythin's doin'. Then you'd better try to sleep. 'Paches don't attack at night."

Ramona crept along the ledge back of the big boulders. Gurley had gone-vanished completely. Her heart stood still. There was some vague thought in her mind that the Indians had somehow disposed of him. She called to Dinsmore in a little stifled shout that brought him on the run.

"He's gone!" she gasped.

The eyes of Dinsmore blazed. He knew exactly how to account for the absence of the man. "I might 'a' known it. The yellow coyote! Left us in the lurch to save his own hide!"

"Perhaps he's gone for help," the girl suggested faintly.

"No chance. He's playin' a lone hand-tryin' for a get-away himself," her companion said bitterly. "You'll have to take his place here. If you see anything move, no matter what it is, shoot at it."

"If I call you will you come?" she begged.

"On the jump," he promised. "Don't go to sleep. If they should come it will be up through the boulder bed. I'm leavin' you here because you can watch from cover where you can't possibly be seen. It's different on the other side."

She knew that, but as soon as he had left her the heart of the girl sank. She was alone, lost in a night of howling savages. The horrible things they did to their captives-she recalled a story whispered to her by a girl friend that it had been impossible to shake out of her mind. In the middle of the night she had more than once found herself sitting bolt upright in bed, wakened from terrible dreams of herself as a prisoner of the Apaches.

'Mona prayed, and found some comfort in her prayers. They were the frank, selfish petitions of a little child.

"God, don't let me die. I'm so young, and so frightened. Send Daddy to save me ... or Jack Roberts."

She recited the twenty-third Psalm aloud in a low voice. The fourth verse she went back to, repeating it several times.

"'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.'"

And the last verse:

"'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.'"

Somehow she felt less lonely afterward. God was on her side. He would send her father or Jack Roberts.

Then, into her newborn calm, there came a far cry of agony that shattered it instantly. Her taut nerves gave way like a broken bow-string. Her light body began to shake. She leaned against the cold rock wall in hysterical collapse.

The voice of Dinsmore boomed along the passageway. "It's a cougar, girl. They've got a yell like the scream of lost souls. I've often heard it here."

Ramona knew he was lying, but the sound of his cheerful voice was something. She was not utterly alone.

Again that shriek lifted into the night and echoed up the ca?on. The girl covered her ears with her hands and trembled violently. A shot rang out from the other end of the passage.

"Saw one of 'em movin' down below," the outlaw called to her.

But Ramona did not hear him. She had fainted.

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