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Apaches








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

In the half light of the early morning, a stagecoach was rattling down
a steep hill near the New Mexico-Arizona boundary line. The team of
six bronchos fought against the weight of the lumbering vehicle behind,
with stiff front legs threw themselves back against their harness. The
driver, high on his box, sawed at the lines with his foot heavy on the
creaking brake.

"Whoa!" he roared. "Easy, yuh cow-faced loco-eyed broncs! Steady now,
or I'll beat the livin' tar outn yuh!"

The ponies seemed to disregard his bellowing abuse. They had heard it
before, and knew that he didn't mean a word he said. They were almost
at the foot of the hill now, and the thick white dust, kicked up in
choking spurts by the rumbling wheels, sifted down on the leathery
mesquite and dagger plants below.

"I don't like the looks o' that brush down there," said the other man
on the box. He was an express guard, and across his knees was a
sawed-off shotgun loaded with buckshot.

"Perfect place fer an ambush, ain't it?" admitted the driver. "Well,
if the Apaches do git us, I will say they'll make a nice haul."

It was a dangerous time on the great Southwest frontier. Law had not
yet come to that savage country of flaming desert and baking mountain.
Even a worse peril than the operations of the renegades and bad men of
the border was the threat of the Apaches. Behind any clump of
mesquites a body of these grim and terrible fighters of the arid lands
might lurk, eager for murder and robbery. And it was rumored that a
chief even more cruel than Geronimo, Cochise, or Mangus Colorado was at
their head.

The men who operated the stage line knew the risk they were taking in
that unbroken country, but they were of the type that could look danger
in the face and laugh. The two steely-eyed men on the coach box, this
gray morning, were samples of the breed.

Inside the vehicle were four passengers. Three of them were men past
middle life--miners and cattlemen. The third was a youth who addressed
one of the older men as "father." All were armed with six-guns, and
all were bound for the valley of San Simon.

The stage had reached the bottom of the hill now, and as the team
reached the level ground, the driver lined them out and settled back in
his seat with a satisfied grunt. About both sides of the trail at this
point grew great thickets of brush--paloverde, the darker mesquites,
and grotesque bunches of prickly pear. One of the bronchos suddenly
reared backward.

"Steady, yuh ornery----" the driver began.

He did not finish. There was a sharp twang! An arrow whistled out of
the mesquites and buried itself in the side of the coach nearly to the
feather! As if this were a signal, a dozen rifles cracked out from the
brush. Bowstrings snapped, and a shower of arrows and lead hummed
around the heads of the frightened ponies. The driver cried out in
pain as a bullet hit his leg.

"Apaches!" the express guard yelled, throwing up his sawed-off shotgun.

Two streaks of red fire darted through the haze of black powder smoke
as he fired both barrels into the brush. The driver recovered himself,
seized the reins and began to "pour leather" onto his fear-crazed team.
With drawn guns, the four passengers in the coach waited for something
to shoot at. They were soon to see plenty.

The mesquites suddenly became alive with brown-skinned warriors,
hideous with paint and screaming their hoarse death cry. Some were
mounted, and others were on foot. All charged the coach.

There must have been fifty in the swarm, and still they came! Those
that were armed with rifles fired madly into the coach and at the team.
Others rushed up and tried to seize the bridles.

"It's all up with us!" the guard cried, drawing his big .45 Colt.

"But we ain't--goin' to sell out--cheap!" the driver panted.

Escape was impossible now, for two of the horses went down, plunging
and kicking at the harness in their death agony. The other
animals--some wounded, and all of them mad with fright--overturned the
old stagecoach. With a loud crash, the vehicle went over on its side!
The driver and guard, teeth bared in grins of fury, raised their
six-guns and prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible. The
passengers inside began firing desperately.

The renegade Indians rushed. They nearly gained the wrecked stage, but
not quite. Before the straight shooting of the trapped whites, they
fell back to cover again. They did not believe in taking unnecessary
chances. They had their victims where they wanted them, and it would
be only a question of time before they would be slaughtered. The fight
became a siege.

It was sixty against six--or, rather, it was sixty to five. For the
redskins had increased the odds by shooting down the driver. The
second bullet he received drilled him through the heart. The guard,
scrambling for shelter, joined the four men in the overturned coach.

The Apaches, back in their refuge among the brush, began playing a
waiting game. The fire, for a moment, ceased.

"They'll rush again in a minute," muttered the guard. "We'll do well
to stop 'em. Anyways, we won't hold out long. Just a question o'
time."

"Is there any chance o' help?" asked one of the men, while loading his
revolver.

He was a broad-shouldered, big-chested man of fifty--the father of the
youth who was now fighting beside him.

The guard shook his head. "Afraid not. Unless one of us could get
through to Lost Springs, six miles from here. Even if we could, I
don't think we'd get any help. There's not many livin' there, and
they're all scared of Apaches. Can't say I blame 'em."

Bullets began to buzz again. The Indians were making another charge.
A dense cloud of smoke hung over the ambushed coach. White powder
spurts blossomed out from the brush, and the war cry came shrilly. The
rush brought a line of half-naked warriors to within a few yards of the
coach. Then they fell back again, leaving four of their number dead or
wounded on the sand.

"So far, so good," panted the guard. "But we can't do that forever!"

The youngest of the party, pale of face but determined, spoke up
quickly:

"I'm willin' to take the chance o' gettin' to Lost Springs," he said.

"Yuh can't make it alive through that bunch o' devils," the guard told
him.

"It's our only chance," the other returned. "I'm goin' to try.
Good-by, dad!"

It was a sad, heart-wrenching moment. There was small chance that the
two would ever see each other alive again. But father and son shook
hands and passed it over with a smile.

"Good luck, son!"

And then the younger one slipped out of the coach and was gone.

The others watched breathlessly. This movement had taken the savages
by surprise. The lad darted into the mesquites, running with head low.
Bullets buzzed about him, kicking up clouds of dust at his feet.
Arrows whistled after him. A yell went up from the Apaches.

"Will he make it?" groaned the father, in an agonized voice.

"Doubt it," said the guard.

The messenger sprinted at top speed through the brush, then dived down
into an arroyo. A score of warriors swarmed after him, firing shot
after shot from their rifles. Already the youth was out of arrow range.

The guard shaded his eyes with his hand. "He's got a chance, anyways,"
he decided.

The town of Lost Springs--if such a tiny settlement could have been
called a town--sprawled in a valley of cottonwoods, a scattering of
low-roofed adobes. To find such an oasis, after traveling the
heat-tortured wilderness to the east or the west, was such relief to
the wayfarer that few missed stopping.

There was but one public building in the place--a large building of
plastered earth which was at the same time a saloon, a store, a
gambling hall, and a meeting place for those who cared to partake of
its hospitality.

The crude sign over the narrow door read: "Garvey's Place." It was
enough. Garvey was the storekeeper, the master of the gamblers, and
the saloon owner. Lost Springs was a one-man town, and that man was
Gil Garvey. His reputation was not of the best. Dark marks had been
chalked up against his record, and his past was shady, too. There were
whispers, too, of even worse things. It was, however, a land where
nobody asked questions. It was too dangerous. Garvey was accepted in
Lost Springs because he had power.

It was a hot morning. The thermometer outside Garvey's door already
registered one hundred and five. Heat devils chased one another across
the valley. But inside the building it was comparatively cool.
Glasses tinkled on the long, smooth bar. The roulette wheel whirred,
and even at that early hour, cards were being slapped down, faces up,
at the stud-poker table. Including the customers at the bar, there
were perhaps a dozen men in the house besides Garvey himself. Garvey
was tending bar, which was his habit until noon, when his bartender
relieved him.

Gil Garvey was a menacing figure of a man, massive of build and
sinister of face. His jet-black eyebrows met in the center of his
scowling forehead, and under them gleamed eyes cold and dangerous. A
thin wisp of a dark mustache contrasted with the quick gleam of his
strong, white teeth. On the rare occasions when he laughed, his mirth
was like the hungry snarl of a wolf.

The sprinkling of drinkers at the bar strolled over to watch the faro
game, and Garvey, taking off his soiled apron, joined them, lighting a
black cigar. The ruler of Lost Springs moved lightly on his feet for
so heavy a man. Around his waist was a gun belt from which swung a
silver-mounted .44 revolver in a beaded holster.

Suddenly a slim figure reeled through the open door, and with groping,
outstretched arms, staggered forward.

"Apaches!" he choked.

Nearly every one leaped to his feet, hand on gun. Some rushed to the
door for a look outside. A score of questions were fired at the
newcomer.

"They're attackin' the stage at the foot of the pass!" explained the
messenger.

There were sighs of relief at this bit of news, for at first they had
thought that the red warriors were about to enter the town. But six
miles away! That was a different matter.

"I'm Dave Robbins," the youth went on desperately. "I've got to go
back there with help. When I left, they were holdin' 'em off. Fifty
or sixty Indians!"

Some of the saloon customers began to murmur their sympathy. But it
was evident that they were none too eager to go to the aid of the
ambushed stagecoach.

Young Robbins--covered with dust, his face scratched by cactus thorns,
and with an arrow still hanging from his clothing--saw the indifference
in their eyes.

"Surely yuh'll go!" he pleaded. "Yuh--yuh've got to! My father's in
the coach!"

Garvey spoke up, smiling behind his mustache.

"What could we do against sixty Apaches?" he demanded. "Besides, the
men in the stage are dead ones by this time. We couldn't do any good."

Robbins' face went white. With clenched fists, he advanced toward
Garvey.

"Yo're cowards, that's all!" he cried. "Cowards! And yo're the
biggest one of 'em all!"

Garvey drew back his huge arm and sent his fist crashing into the
youth's face. Robbins, weak and exhausted as he was, went sprawling to
the floor.

And at that moment the swinging doors of the saloon opened wide. The
man who stood framed there, sweeping the room with cool, calm eyes, was
scarcely older than the youth who had been slugged down. His rather
long, fair hair was in contrast with the golden tan of his face. He
wore a shirt of fringed buckskin, open at the neck. His trousers were
tucked into silver-studded riding boots, weighted with spurs that
jingled in tune to his swinging stride. At each trim hip was the butt
of a .45 revolver.

The newcomer's eyes held the attention of the men in Garvey's Place.
They were blue and mild, but little glinting lights seemed to sparkle
behind them. He was silent for a long moment, and when he finally
spoke, it was in a soft, deliberate Southern drawl:

"Isn't it rathah wahm foh such violent exercise, gentlemen?"

Robbins, crimsoned at the mouth, raised on one elbow to look at the
stranger. Garvey's lips curled in a sneer.

"Are yuh tryin' to mind my business?" he leered.

"When I mind somebody else's business," said the young stranger softly,
"that somebody else isn't usually in business any moah."

Garvey caught the other's gaze and seemed to find something dangerous
there, for he drew back a step, content with muttering oaths under his
breath.

"What's the trouble?" the stranger asked Robbins quietly.

The youth seemed to know that he had found a friend, for he at once
told the story of the ambushed stage.

"I came here for help," he concluded, "and was turned down. These men
are afraid to go. My--my father's on that stage. Won't you help me?"

The stranger seemed to consider.

"Sho'," he drawled at length, "I'll throw in with you." He paused to
face the gathered company. "And these othah men are goin' to throw in
with yo', too!"

The men in the saloon stood aghast, open-mouthed. But they didn't
hesitate long. When the stranger spoke again, his words came like the
crack of a whip:

"Get yo' hosses!"

Garvey's heavy-jawed face went purple with fury. That this young
unknown dared to try such high-handed methods so boldly in Lost
Springs--which he ruled--maddened him! His big hand slid down toward
his hip with the rapidity of a lightning bolt.

There was a resounding crash--a burst of red flame. Garvey's hand
never closed over his gun butt. The stranger had drawn and fired so
quickly that nobody saw his arm move. And the reason that the amazed
Garvey did not touch the handle of his .44 was because there was no
handle there! The young newcomer's bullet had struck the butt of the
holstered gun and smashed it to bits.

Garvey stared at the handleless gun as if stupefied. Then his amazed
glance fell upon the stranger, who was smiling easily through the
flickering powder fumes.

"Who--who are yuh?" he stammered.

The stranger smiled. "Kid Wolf," he drawled, "from Texas, sah. My
friends simply say 'Kid,' but to my enemies I'm The Wolf!"





Next: The Rescue

Previous: Battle On The Mesa



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