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An Obstinate Man Stands Pat








From: The Fighting Edge

A moment of blank silence fell on the little group crouched among the
boulders. Bob's statement that he had to go back through the fire
zone--to Houck--had fallen among them like a mental bombshell.

Blister was the first to find his voice. "You been down there l-lookin'
after him?"

"Yes. They hit him in the leg--twice. An' once in the side. He's outa his
head. I got him water from the river."

"Was that when I heard shootin' down there?" Dud asked.

"I reckon."

"Well, I'll be d-dawg-goned!" Blister exclaimed.

Of life's little ironies he had never seen a stranger example than this.
It had fallen to Bob Dillon to look after his bitter enemy, to risk his
life for him, to traverse a battle-field under heavy fire in order to get
help for him. His mind flashed back to the boy he had met less than a
year ago, a pallid, trembling weakling who had shriveled under the acid
test of danger. He had traveled a long way since then in self-conquest.

"Houck was down in the open last I seen him," Hawks said. "Did he crawl
to the willows?"

"I kinda helped him," Bob said, a little ashamed.

"Hmp! An' now you think we'd ought to let two-three men get shot going
after him across the mesa," Harshaw said. "Nothin' doing. Not right away
anyhow. Houck's foolishness got him into the hole where he is. He'll have
to wait till we clean out this nest in the gulch. Soon as we've done that
we'll go after him."

"But the Utes will rush the willows," Bob protested mildly.

"Sorry, but he'll have to take his chance of that. Any of the rest of us
would in his place. You've done what you could, son. That lets you out."

"No, I'm going back," Bob said quietly. "I told him I would. I got to
go."

"That wouldn't be r-right sensible, would it?" asked Blister. "N-not
right away anyhow. After we get those b-birds outa the blackberry bushes,
time enough then for you to h-hit the back trail."

"No, I promised." There was in Bob's face a look Blister had never seen
there before, something hard and dogged and implacable. "My notion is for
half a dozen of us to go on horses--swing round by the far edge of the
mesa. We can drop down into the valley an' pick Houck up if we're
lucky."

"And if you're not lucky?" Harshaw demanded.

"Why, o' course we might have trouble. Got to take our chances on that."

"They might wipe the whole bunch of you out. No, sir. I need my men right
here. This whole thing's comin' to a show-down right soon. Houck will
have to wait."

"I got to go back, Mr. Harshaw," Bob insisted. "I done promised him I
would."

"Looky here, boy. You'll do as you please, of course. But there's no
sense in being bull-haided. How much do you figure you owe this Jake
Houck? I never heard tell he was yore best friend. You got him into the
willows. You went to the river and brought him water. You ran a big risk
comin' here to get help for him. We'll go to him just as soon as it's
safe. That ought to content you."

Before Bob's mental vision there flashed a picture of a man in fever
burning up for lack of water. He could not understand it himself. It was
not reasonable, of course. But somehow Jake Houck had become his charge.
He had to go through with the job.

"I'm going back to him," he said stubbornly.

"Then you're a darn fool. He wouldn't go a step of the way for you."

"Maybe not. That ain't the point. He needs me. Do I get a horse?"

"Yes, if you're bound an' determined to go," Harshaw said. After a
momentary hesitation he added: "And if any of the boys want to go along
they can. I'm not hinderin' them. But my advice is for them to stick
right here."

Bob's eyes swept the little group round him. "Any one want to take a
chance? We'll snake Houck outa the willows an' make a getaway sure."

"Or else you'll stay there with him permanent," Harshaw contributed.
"It's plumb foolishness, boys. Houck had his orders an' he broke away
from them deliberate. He'd ought to take what's comin'."

Dud pleaded with Dillon. "If it was anybody but Houck, Bob, I'd trail
along with you. I sure would. But I can't see as there's any call for us
to take such a big risk for him. He's got it in for us both. Said himself
he was layin' for us. You stood by him to a fare-you-well. Ain't that
enough?"

Bob did not attempt to reason. He simply stated facts. "No, I got to go
back, Dud. He's a mighty sick man, an' he needs me. The Utes are liable
to find him any time. Maybe I could stand 'em off."

"An' maybe you couldn't," Blister said. "It's plumb s-suicide."

Dillon looked at his fat friend with a faint, dreary smile. He did not
himself relish the task before him. "Thought you told me to be a wolf, to
hop to it every chance I got to do some crazy thing."

Blister hedged. "Oh, well, a f-fellow wants to have some sense. I never
see a good thing that couldn't be r-run into the ground. Far as I know, I
never told you to stand on the D. & R. G. tracks an' try to stop the
express with yore head."

"I'll have to be going now," Bob said. He turned to Harshaw. "Where's
that bronc I get to carry me back?"

"Up there in the pinons. Dud, you see he gets a good one. I'm wishin' you
luck, son. An' I'll say one thing right out in meetin'. You're a better
man than Lou Harshaw." The cattleman's hand gripped that of Dillon
firmly.

"Shucks! Tha's foolishness," Bob murmured, embarrassed. "I'm scared stiff
if you want to know."

"I reckon that's why you're aimin' for to make a target of yorese'f
again," Hawks suggested ironically. "Damn 'f I'd do it for the best man
alive, let alone Jake Houck. No, sir. I'll go a reasonable way, but I
quit this side of suicide. I sure do."

Over to the left rifles were still popping, but at this point of the
ridge the firing had temporarily died down. Bob Dillon was the center of
interest.

A second time his eye traveled over the group about him. "Last call for
volunteers, boys. Anybody want to take a ride?"

Blister found in that eye some compelling quality of leadership.
"Dawg-gone you, I'll go," his high falsetto piped.

Bob shook his head. "Not you, Blister. You're too fat. We're liable to
have to travel fast."

Nobody else offered himself as a sacrifice. There were men present who
would have taken a chance for a friend, but they would not do it for
Houck.

Dud went with Bob to the pinons. While Dillon saddled one horse,
Hollister put the bridle on a second.

"What's that for?" Bob asked.

"Oh, I'm soft in the haid," Dud grunted. "Gonna trail along. I'll tell
you right now I ain't lost Houck any, but if you're set on this fool
business, why, I'll take a whirl with you."

"Good old Dud," Bob beamed. "I'll bet we get away with it fine."

"Crazy old Dud," the owner of the name grumbled. "I'll bet we get our
topknots scalped."

They rode down from the rim-rock, bearing to the right, as far away from
the river as possible. The Utes in the blackberry fringe caught sight of
them and concentrated their fire on the galloping horsemen. Presently the
riders dipped for a minute behind a swell of ground.

"A heap more comfortable ridin' here," Dud said, easing his horse for a
few moments to a slower pace. "I never did know before why the good Lord
made so much of this country stand up on end, but if I get outa this hole
I'll not kick at travelin' over hills so frequent. They sure got their
uses when Injuns are pluggin' at you."

They made as wide a circuit as the foothills would allow. At times they
were under a brisk fire as they cantered through the sage. This increased
when they swung across the mesa toward the river. Fortunately they were
now almost out of range.

Riding along the edge of the bluff, they found a place where their
sure-footed cowponies could slide and scramble down. In the valley, as
they dashed across to the willows where Bob had left Houck, they were
again under fire. Even after they had plunged into the thicket of
saplings they could hear bullets zipping through the foliage to right and
left.

The glazed eyes in Houck's flushed face did not recognize the punchers.
Defiance glowered in his stare.

"Where'd you get the notion, you red devils, that Jake Houck is a
quitter? Torment me, will you? Burn me up with thirst, eh? Go to it an'
see."

Bob took a step or two toward the wounded man. "Don't you know me, Houck?
We've come to look after you. This is Dud Hollister. You know him."

"What if I did gun him?" the high-pitched voice maundered on. "Tried to
steal my bronc, he did, an' I wouldn't stand for it a minute.... All
right. Light yore fires. Burn me up, you hounds of Hades. I'm not askin'
no favors. Not none a-tall."

The big man's hand groped at his belt. Brown fingers closed on the butt
of a forty-five. Instantly both rescuers were galvanized to life. Dud's
foot scraped into the air a cloud of sand and dust as Bob dived forward.
He plunged at Houck a fraction of a second behind his friend.

Into the blue sky a bullet went singing. Bob had been in time to knock
the barrel of the revolver up with his outflung hand.





Next: Three In A Pit

Previous: Keep A-comin' Red Haid



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