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Ambushed








From: 'drag' Harlan

Red Linton had ridden eastward to examine the grass of the range in that
direction, for it had been some days since he had sent Stroud to the
southern range, and since the cattle had been there for some time before
that Linton felt they should be driven to fresh grass.

And yet, perhaps, Linton's search for good grass should not have taken
him so far from the ranchhouse, for he remembered his promise to Harlan
that he would not let Barbara out of his sight. But Barbara had made no
objection to his guardianship of her, so far, and he had longed for a
ride.

He worried a little, though, and felt guilty of something very like
treason to Harlan; and at last, not being able to ride farther with the
thoughts that fought with his desires, he wheeled his horse and sent it
scampering back toward the ranchhouse.

When he reached the ranchhouse he saw none of the men, for he had set
them at tasks inside the buildings; and he rode down to the ranchhouse,
resolved to have a talk with the girl.

When he rode around the near corner he saw that the patio gate was
open. His horse leaped with the stern word he spoke to it, bringing him
swiftly to the gate, where he dismounted and threw open a door that led
into the house.

He called to Barbara, and receiving no answer, he ran from room to room,
not hesitating until he had explored them all.

Emerging from the house, he mounted his horse and sent him westward,
while he scanned the big level around him for sight of the girl.

She had always ridden into the valley in former days, he remembered--and
during the days of his guardianship she had more than once threatened to
ride there. And he had no doubt she had gone there now, out of
perverseness, just to irritate him.

He held his horse to a rapid pace as he crossed the level, and he was
still a mile distant from the covert where Barbara had met Stroud when he
saw a group of horsemen traveling rapidly up the valley.

Linton rode on, his anxiety acute, a grave suspicion afflicting him. And
when, after he had ridden a little farther, he saw Barbara's horse
trotting slowly toward him, the stirrups swinging and flopping emptily
against the saddle skirts, he drew a deep breath and brought his own
horse to a halt, while he sat motionless in the saddle, tortured by
bitter thoughts.

He had no doubt that what Harlan feared would happen, had happened--that
Deveny had come for Barbara. And Deveny had found her, through his
dereliction. He had relaxed his vigilance for only a short time, and
during that time Deveny had come.

Linton looked back toward the Rancho Seco. The distance to the ranchhouse
seemed to be interminable. He looked again up the valley, and saw that
the horsemen were growing indistinct. Within a few minutes, so rapid was
their pace, they would vanish altogether.

Linton thought of going back to the ranchhouse for the other men--that
was why he had looked in that direction. But if he wished to keep the
horsemen in sight he would not have time to get the other men. Before he
could get the men and return to where he now stood Deveny would have
taken the girl to that mysterious and unknown rendezvous in the hills in
which his band had always concealed themselves, and Barbara would be
lost.

Linton's lips straightened. He was to blame.

He knew the danger that would attend the action of following Deveny's men
up the valley. Other men had attempted to trail them, and they had been
found murdered, often with warnings upon them.

But Linton hesitated only momentarily. With a grim smile for his chances
of emerging unscathed from the valley, he urged his horse up the trail,
riding hard.

Several miles he had traveled, keeping the horsemen in sight, and he was
beginning to believe that he would succeed where others had failed, when,
passing through a clump of timber he detected movement in some brush at a
little distance back.

Divining that Deveny had seen him and had sent a man into the timber to
ambush him, Linton threw himself flat on the horse's mane. He felt a
bullet sing past him, coming from the right, and he got his pistol out
and was swinging its muzzle toward the point from which the bullet had
come when a gun roared at his left.

He felt a hot, searing pain in his side, and he reeled in the saddle from
the shock. Instantly another bullet struck him, coming from the right.
His pistol dropped from his weakening fingers, he toppled sidewise and
tumbled limply into the dust.

Shortly afterward, seemingly while he was in a state of coma, he heard
hoofbeats, rapidly growing distant.

He knew they were Deveny's men and he yielded to a vague wonder as to why
they had not made sure of their work.

Doggedly, and with long and bitter effort, Linton began to turn himself
so that he could get up. The pain from his wounds was excruciating, so
that each muscular effort brought a retching groan from him. Yet he kept
moving, twisting himself around until he got on his knees. From that
position he tried a number of times to get to his feet, but he failed
each time.

At last, though, with the help of a boulder that lay beside the trail, he
got his feet under him and stood for an instant, staggering weakly. Then
he began to move forward to his horse. When he managed at last to clutch
the saddle skirt he was reeling, his knees bending under him. However, he
managed to get one leg over the saddle, taking a long time to do it; and
eventually he was in the seat.

He spent another long interval lashing himself to the saddle with the
rope that he carried at the pommel; and then headed the horse toward the
Rancho Seco.

He began to ride, urging the horse to what seemed to him a rapid pace.
But he had not gone very far when he sagged against the pommel,
lifelessly.





Next: Rogers Takes A Hand

Previous: Kidnapped



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