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Applehead Shows The Stuff He Is Made Of








From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

Lite Avery, turning to look back as they galloped up a long slope so
gradual in its rise that it seemed almost level, counted just fourteen
Indians spreading out fanwise in pursuit. He turned to Applehead with
the quiet deference in his manner that had won the old man's firm
friendship.

"What's this new move signify, boss?" he asked, tilting his head
backward. "What they spreading out like that for, when they're outa easy
rifle range?"

Applehead looked behind him, studied the new formation of their enemy,
and scowled in puzzlement. He looked ahead, where he knew the land lay
practically level before them, all sand and rabbit weed, with a little
grass here and there; to the left, where the square butte stood up
bold-faced and grim; to the right where a ragged sandstone ledge blocked
the way.

"'S some dang new trap uh theirn," he decided, his voice signifying
disgust for such methods. "Take an Injun 'n' he don't calc'late he's
fightin' 'nless he's figgurin' on gittin' yuh cornered. Mebby they got
some more cached ahead som'ers. Keep yer eye peeled, boys, 'n' shoot at
any dang thing yuh see that yuh ain't dead sure 's a rabbit weed. Don't
go bankin' on rocks bein' harmless--'cause every dang one's liable to
have an Injun layin' on his belly behind it. Must be another bunch ahead
som'ers, 'cause I know it's smooth goin' fer five miles yit. After that
they's a drop down into a rocky kinda pocket that's hard t' git out
of except the way yuh go in, account of there bein' one uh them dang
rim-rocks runnin' clean 'round it. Some calls it the Devil's Fryin'-pan.
No water ner grass ner nothin' else 'ceptin' snakes. 'N' Navvies kinda
ownin' rattlers as bein' their breed uh cats, they don't kill 'em off,
so they's a heap 'n' plenty of 'em in that basin.

"But I ain't aimin' t' git caught down in there, now I'm tellin' yuh! I
aim t' keep along clost t' that there butte, 'n' out on the other side
where we kin pick up luck's trail. I shore would do some rarin' around
if that boy rode off into a mess uh trouble, 'n' I'm tellin' yuh
straight!"

"He's got some good boy at his back," Weary reminded him, loyal to his
Flying U comrade.

"You're dang right he has! I ain't sayin' he ain't, am I? Throw some
more lead back at them skunks behind us, will ye, Lite? 'N' the rest
of yuh save yore shells fer close-ups!" He grinned a little at the
incongruity of a motion-picture phrase in such a situation as this. "'N'
don't be so dang skeered uh hurtin' somebody!" he adjured Lite, drawing
rein a little so as not to forge ahead of the other. "You'll have to
kill off a few anyway 'fore you're through with 'em."

Lite aimed at the man riding in the center of the half-circle, and the
bullet he sent that way created excitement of some sort; but whether the
Indian was badly hit, or only missed by a narrow margin, the four did
not wait to discover. They had held their horses down to a pace that
merely kept them well ahead of the Indians; and though the horses were
sweating, they were holding their own easily enough--with a reserve fund
of speed if their riders needed to call upon it.

Applehead, glancing often behind him, scowled over the puzzle of that
fanlike formation of riders. They would hardly begin so soon to herd him
and his men into that evil little rock basin with the sinister name, and
there was no other reason he could think of which would justify those
tactics, unless another party waited ahead of them. He squinted ahead
uneasily, but the mesa lay parched and empty under the sky--

And then, peering straight into the glare of the sun, he saw, down the
slope which they had climbed without realizing that it would have a
crest, it was so low--Applehead saw the answer to the puzzle; saw and
gave his funny little grunt of astonishment and dismay. Straight as
a chalk line from the sandstone ledge on their right to the
straight-walled butte on their left stretched that boundary line between
the untamed wilderness and the tamed--a barbed wire fence; a four-wire
fence at that, with stout cedar posts whereon the wire was stretched
taut and true. From the look of the posts, it was not new--four or five
years old, perhaps; not six years, certainly, for Applehead had ridden
this way six years before and there had been not so much as a post-hole
to herald the harnessing of the mesa.

Here, then, was the explanation of the fanlike spreading out of the line
of Indians. They knew that the white men would be trapped by the fence,
and they were cutting off the retreat--and keeping out of the hottest
danger-zone of the white men's guns. Even while the four were grasping
the full significance of the trap that they had ridden into unaware, the
Indians topped the ridge behind them, yip-yip-yipping gleefully their
coyotelike yells of triumph. The sound so stirred the slow wrath of Lite
Avery that, without waiting for the word from Applehead he twisted
half around in his saddle, glanced at the nearest Indian along his
rifle-sights, bent his forefinger with swift deliberation upon the
trigger, and emptied the saddle of one yelling renegade, who made haste
to crawl behind a clump of rabbit weed.

"They howl like a mess uh coyotes," Lite observed in justification of
the shot, "and I'm getting sick of hearing 'em."

"Mama!" Weary, exclaimed annoyedly, "that darn fence is on an up-slope,
so it's going to be next to impossible to jump it! I guess here's where
we do about an eight-hundred-foot scene of Indian Warfare, or Fighting
For Their Lives. How yuh feel, Cadwalloper?"

"Me?" Pink's eyes were purple with sheer, fighting rage. "I feel like
cleaning out that bunch back there. They'll have something to howl about
when I get through!"

"Stay back uh me, boys!" Applehead's voice had a masterful sharpness
that made the three tighten reins involuntarily. "You foller me and
don't crowd up on me, neither. Send back a shot or two if them Injuns
gits too ambitious."

The three fell in behind him without cavil or question. He was in charge
of the outfit, and that settled it. Pink, released from irksome inaction
by the permission to shoot, turned and fired back at the first Indian
his sights rested upon. He saw a spurt of sand ten jumps in advance of
his target, and he swore and fired again without waiting to steady his
aim. The sorrel pack-horse, loping along fifty yards or so behind with
a rhythmic clump-clump of frying-pan against coffee-pot at every leap he
took, swerved sharply, shook his head as though a bee had stung him,
and came on with a few stiff-legged "crow hops" to register his violent
objection to being shot through the ear.

Pink, with an increased respect for the shooting skill of Lite Avery,
glanced guiltily at the others to see if they had observed where his
second bullet hit. But the others were eyeing Applehead uneasily and
paid no attention to Pink or his attempts to hit an Indian on the run.
And presently Pink forgot it also while he watched Applehead, who was
apparently determined to commit suicide in a violently original form.

"You fellers keep behind, now---and hold the Injuns back fer a minute
er two," Applehead yelled while he set himself squarely in the saddle,
gathered up his reins as though he were about to "top a bronk" and
jabbed the spurs with a sudden savageness into Johnny's flanks.

"GIT outa here!" he yelled, and Johnny with an astonished lunge, "got."

Straight toward the fence they raced, Johnny with his ears laid back
tight against his skull and his nose pointed straight out before him,
with old Applehead leaning forward and yelling to Johnny with a cracked
hoarseness that alone betrayed how far youth was behind him.

They thought at first that he meant to jump the fence, and they knew he
could not make it. When they saw that he meant to ride through it, Weary
and Pink groaned involuntarily at the certainty of a fall and sickening
entanglement in the wires. Only Lite, cool as though he were rounding up
milch cows, rode half-turned in the saddle and sent shot after shot
back at the line of Navajos, with such swift precision that the Indians
swerved and fell back a little, leaving another pony wallowing in the
sand and taking with them one fellow who limped until he had climbed up
behind one who waited for him.

"Go it, Johnny--dang yore measly hide, go to it! We'll show 'm we ain't
so old 'n' tender we cain't turn a trick t'bug their dang eyes out?
Bust into it! WE'LL show 'em!--" And Applehead shrilled a raucous range
"HOO-EEE-EE!" as Johnny lunged against the taut wires.

It was a long chance he took--a "dang long chance" as Applehead admitted
afterward. But, as he had hoped, it happened that Johnny's stride
brought him with a forward leap against the wires, so that the full
impact of his eleven-hundred pounds plus the momentum of his speed, plus
the weight of Applehead and the saddle, hit the wires fair and full.
They popped like cut wires on a bale of hay--and it was lucky that they
were tight strung so that there was no slack to take some of the force
away. It was not luck, but plain shrewdness on Applehead's part, that
Johnny came straight on, so that there was no tearing see-saw of the
strands as they broke. Two inch-long cuts on his chest and a deeper,
longer one on his foreleg was the price Johnny paid, and that was all.
The lower wire he never touched, since it was a leap that landed him
against the fence. He lurched and recovered himself, and went on at a
slower gallop while Applehead beckoned the three to come on.

"I kain't say I'd want to git in the habit uh bustin' fences that way,"
he grinned over his shoulder as the three jumped through the gap he had
made and forged up to him. "But I calc'late if they's another one Johnny
n' me kin make it, mebby."

"Well, I was brought up in a barbed wire country," Pink exploded, "but
I'll be darned if I ever saw a stunt like that pulled off before!"

"We-ell, I hed a bronk go hog-wild 'n' pop three wires on a fence one
time," Applehead explained modestly, "'n' he didn't cut hisself a-tall,
skurcely. It's all accordin' t' how yuh hit it, I reckon. Anyway, I
calc'lated it was wuth tryin', 'cause we shore woulda had our hands
full if we'd a stopped at that fence, now I'm tellin' yuh! 'N' another
thing," he added bodefully, "I figgured we'd better be gittin' to Luck
In' his bunch. I calc'late they need us, mebby."

No one made any reply to that statement, but even Lite, who never had
been inclined to laugh at him, looked at Applehead with a new respect.
The Indians, having scurried back out of range of Lite's uncomfortably
close shooting, yelled a bedlam of yips and howls and came on again in a
closer group than before, shooting as they rode--at the four men first,
and then at the hindmost pack-horse that gave a hop over the wire
left across the gap, and came galloping heavily after the others. They
succeeded in burying a bullet in the packed bedding, but that was all.

Three hundred yards or so in the lead, the four raced down the long,
gentle slope. A mile or two, perhaps three, they could run before their
horses gave out. But then, when they could run no longer, they would
have to stop and fight; and the question that harped continually through
their minds was: Could they run until they reached Luck and the boys
with him? Could they? They did not even know where Luck was, or
what particular angle of direction would carry them to him quickest.
Applehead and Johnny were pointing the way, keeping a length ahead of
the others. But even old Applehead was riding, as he would have put it,
"by-guess and by-gosh" until they crossed a shallow draw, labored up the
hill beyond, and heard, straight away before them, the faint pop-pop of
rifle shots. Old Applehead turned and sent them a blazing blue glance
over his shoulders.

"RIDE, dang ye!" he barked. "They've got Luck cornered in the Devil's
Fryin'-pan!"





Next: In The Devil's Frying-pan

Previous: Annie-many-ponies Waits



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