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In The Devil's Frying-pan








From: The Heritage Of The Sioux

Luck, riding confidently on the trail of the three horsemen who had
taken to the south along the front of the square butte, believed that
the turn of the trail around the southern end meant simply that the
three who came this way would meet their companions on the other side,
and that he, following after, would be certain to meet Applehead. He had
hopes of the speedy capture of Ramon Chavez and his men, and the
hope spread to the four who went with him, so that their spirits rose
considerably. Big Medicine and Happy Jack even found a good deal of
amusement in their exchange of opinions regarding old granny Applehead
and his constant fear of the Navvies. Now and then the Native Son joined
in the laugh, though his attention was chiefly given to the discussion
Andy and Luck were having about Ramon and his manner of using Luck's
work as an opportunity to rob the bank, and the probable effect it would
have on the general standing of Luck and his company unless they managed
to land the thieves in jail. Being half Mexican himself, the Native Son
was sensitive upon the subject of Ramon, and almost as anxious to see
Ramon in jail as was Luck himself.

So while Applehead and his boys were scenting danger and then finding
themselves in the middle of it, Luck and his party rode along absorbed
in themselves and in the ultimate goal, which was Ramon. They saw
nothing queer about the trail they followed, and they saw no evidence
of treachery anywhere. They rode with the rifles slung under their
right thighs and their six-shooters at their hips, and their eyes roving
casually over their immediate surroundings while their minds roved
elsewhere--not because they were growing careless, but because there was
absolutely nothing to rouse their suspicions, now that they no longer
bad Applehead along to preach danger and keep them keyed up to expect
it.

They followed the tracks through a scattered grove of stunted pinons,
circled at fault for a few minutes in the rocks beyond, and then picked
up the trail. They were then in the narrow neck which was called
the handle of the Devil's Frying-pan--and they would have ridden
unsuspectingly into the very Pan itself, had not the Native Son's quick
eyes caught a movement on the rim-rock across the bare, rock-bottomed
basin. He spoke to luck about it, and luck levelled his field glasses
and glimpsed a skulking form up there.

"Hunt yourselves some shelter, boys!" he cried in the sharp tone of
warning. "We'll make sure who's ahead before we go any farther."

They ducked behind rocks or trees and piled off their horses in a burry.
And a scattered fusillade from the rim-rock ahead of them proved how
urgent was their need.

For the first fifteen minutes or so they thought that they were fighting
Ramon and his party, and their keenest emotions were built largely of
resentment, which showed in the booming voice of Big Medicine when he
said grimly:

"Well, I'd jest about as soon pack Ramon in dead, as lead 'im in alive
'n' kickin', by cripes! Which is him, d'yuh reckon?"

From behind a rock shield luck was studying the ledge. "They're
Injuns--or there are Injuns in the bunch, at least," he told them after
a moment. "See that sharp point sticking up straight ahead? I saw an
Injun peeking around the edge--to the south. You watch for him, Andy,
and let him have it where he lives next time be sticks his head out." He
swung the glasses slowly, taking every inch of the rim in his field of
vision. As he moved them be named the man he wanted to watch each place
where he had reason to suspect that someone was hiding.

The disheartening part of it was that he needed about a dozen more
men than he had; for the rock wall which was the rim of the Frying-pan
seemed alive with shooters who waited only for a fair target. Then the
Native Son, crouched down between a rock and a clump of brush, turned
his head to see what his horse was looking at, back whence they had
come.

"Look behind you, Luck," he advised with more calmness than one would
expect of a man in his straits. "They're back in the pines, too."

"Fight 'em off--and take care that your backs don't show to those babies
on the rim-rocks," he ordered instantly, thrusting his glasses into
their case and snatching his rifle from its boot on the saddle. "They
won't tackle coming across that bare hollow, even if they can get down
into it without breaking their necks. Happy, lead your horse in
here between these rocks where mine is. Bud, see if you can get the
pack-horses over there outa sight among those bushes and rocks. We'll
hold 'em off while you fix the horses--can't let ourselves be set afoot
out here!"

"I-should-say--NOT!" Andy Green punctuated the sentence with a shot or
two. "Say, I wish they'd quit sneaking around in those trees that way,
so a fellow could see where to shoot!"

A half hour dragged by. From the rim-rock came occasional shots,
to which the besieged could not afford to reply, they were so fully
occupied with holding back those who skulked among the trees. The
horses, fancying perhaps that this was a motion-picture scene, dozed
behind their rock-and-brush shelters and switched apathetically at
buzzing flies and whining bullets alike. Their masters crouched behind
their bowlders and watched catlike for some open demonstration, and
fired when they had the slightest reason to believe that they would hit
something besides scenery.

"Miguel must have upset their plans a little," Luck deduced after a
lull. "They set the stage for us down in that hollow, I guess. You can
see what we'd have been up against if we had ridden ten rods farther,
out away from these rocks and bushes."

"Aw, they wouldn't dast kill a bunch uh white men!" Happy Jack
protested, perhaps for his own comfort.

"You think they wouldn't? Luck's voice was surcharged with sarcasm. What
do you think they're trying to do, then?"

"Aw, the gov'ment wouldn't STAND fer no such actions!"

"Well, by cripes, I hain't aimin' to give the gov'ment no job uh
setting on my remains, investigatin' why I was killed off!" Big Medicine
asserted, and took a shot at a distant grimy Stetson to prove he meant
what he said.

"Say, they'd have had a SNAP if we'd gone on, and let these fellows back
here in the trees close up behind us!" Andy Green exclaimed suddenly,
with a vividness of gesture that made Happy Jack try to swallow his
Adam's apple. "By gracious, it would have been a regular rabbit-drive
business. They could set in the shade and pick us off just as they
darned pleased."

"Aw, is that there the cheerfullest thing you can think of to say?"
Happy Jack was sweating, with something more than desert heat.

"Why, no. The cheerfullest thing I can think of right now is that
Mig, here, don't ride with his eyes shut." He cast a hasty glance of
gratitude toward the Native Son, who flushed under the smooth brown of
his cheeks while he fired at a moving bush a hundred yards back in the
grove.

For another half hour nothing was gained or lost. The Indians fired
desultorily, spatting bit& of lead here and there among the rocks
but hitting nobody. The Happy Family took a shot at every symptom of
movement in the grove, and toward the rim-rock they sent a bullet
now and then, just to assure the watchers up there that they were not
forgotten, and as a hint that caution spelled safety.

For themselves, the boys were amply protected there on the side of the
Frying-pan where the handle stretched out into the open land toward the
mountain. Perhaps here was once a torrent flowing from the basin-like
hollow walled round with rock; at any rate, great bowlders were
scattered all along the rim as though spewed from the basin by some
mighty force of the bygone ages. The soil, as so often happens in the
West, was fertile to the very edge of the Frying-pan and young pinons
and bushes had taken root there and managed to keep themselves alive
with the snow-moisture of winter, in spite of the scanty rainfall the
rest of the year.

The boys were amply protected, yes; but there was not a drop of water
save what they had in their canteens, and there was no feed for their
horses unless they chose to nibble tender twigs off the bushes near them
and call that food. There was, of course, the grain in the packs, but
there was neither time nor opportunity to get it out. If it came to a
siege, luck and his boys were in a bad way, and they knew it. They were
penned as well as protected there in that rocky, brushy neck. The most
that they could do was to discourage any rush from those back in the
grove; as to getting through that grove themselves, and out in the open,
there was not one chance in a hundred that they could do it.

From the outside in to where they were entrenched was just a trifle
easier. The Indiana in the grove were all absorbed in watching the edge
of the Frying-pan and had their backs to the open, never thinking that
white men would be coming that way; for had not the other party been
decoyed around the farther end of the big butte, and did not several
miles and a barbed-wire fence lie between?

So when Applehead and his three, coming in from the north, approached
the grove, they did it under cover of a draw that hid them from sight.
From the shots that were fired, Applehead guessed the truth; that
Luck's bunch had sensed danger before they had actually ridden into the
Frying-pan itself, and that the Navajos were trying to drive them out of
the rocks, and were not making much of a success of it.

"Now," Applehead instructed the three when they were as close as they
could get to the grove without being seen, "I calc'late about the best
thing we kin do, boys, is t' spur up our hosses and ride in amongst 'em
shooting and a-hollerin'. Mebby we kin jest natcherlay stampede 'em--but
we've sure got t' git through In' git under cover mighty dang suddent,
er they'll come to theirselves an' wipe us clean off'n the map--if
they's enough of 'em. These here that's comin' along after us, they'll
help t' swell the party, oncet they git here. I calc'late they figger
't we're runnin' head-on into a mess uh trouble, 'n' they don't want t'
colleck any stray bullets--'n' that's why they've dropped back in the
last half mile er so. Haze them pack bosses up this way, Pink, so'st
they won't git caught up 'fore they git t' what the rest air. Best use
yore six-guns fer this, boys--that'll leave ye one hand t' guide yore
bosses with, and they're handier all around in close--work. Air ye
ready? Then come on--foller me 'n' come a-whoopin'!"

A-whooping they came, up out of the draw and in among the trees as
though they had a regiment behind them. Certain crouching figures
jumped, sent startled glances behind them and ran like partridges
for cover farther on. Only one or two paused to send a shot at these
charging fiends who seemed bent on riding them down and who yelled like
devils turned loose from the pit. And before they had found safe
covert on the farther fringes of the grove and were ready to meet the
onslaught, the clamor had ceased and the white men had joined those
others among the rocks.

So now there were nine men cornered here on the edge of the Frying-pan,
with no water for their horses and not much hope of getting out of
there.

"Darn you, Applehead, why didn't you keep out of this mess?" Luck
demanded with his mouth drawn down viciously at the corners and his eyes
warm with affection and gratitude. "What possessed your fool heart to
ride into this trap?"

"We-ell, dang it, we had t' ride som'ers, didn't we?" Applehead, safe
behind a bowlder, pulled off his greasy, gray Stetson and polished his
bald head disconcertedly. "Had a bunch uh Navvies hangin' t' our heels
like tumbleweed--'n' we been doin' some RIDIN', now, I'm a tellin' ye!
'F Lite, here, hadn't kep' droppin' one now an' then fur the rest t'
devour, I calc'late we'd bin et up, a mile er two back!"

Lite looked up from shoving more cartridges into his rifle-magazine. "If
we hadn't had a real, simon-pure go-getter to boss the job," he drawled,
"I reckon all the shooting I did wouldn't have cut any ice. Ain't that
right, boys?"

Pink, resting his rifle in a niche of the boulder and moving it here and
there trying to fix his sights on a certain green sweater back in the
woods that he had glimpsed a minute before, nodded assent. "You're durn
tootin' it's right!" he testified.

Weary looked shining-eyed at Applehead's purple face. "Sure, that's
right!" he emphasized. "And I don't care how much of a trap you call
this, it isn't a patching to the one Applehead busted us out of. He's
what I call a Real One, boys."

"Aw, shet yore dang head 'n' git yore rifles workin'!" Applehead
blurted. "This yere ain't no time fer kiddin', 'n' I'm tellin' yuh
straight. What's them fellers acrost the Fryin'-pan think they're tryin'
t' do? luck le's you'n me make a few remarks over that way, 'n' leave
the boys t' do some gun-talk with these here babies behind us. Dang it,
if I knowed of a better place 'n' what this is fer holdin' 'em off, I'd
say make a run fer it. But I don't 'n' that's fact. Yuh musta sprung the
trap 'fore yuh got inside, 'cause they shore aimed t' occupy this nest
uh rocks theirselves, with you fellers down there in the Fryin'-pan
where they could git at yuh.

"Thar's one of 'em up on the rim-rock--see 'im?--standin' thar, by
granny, like he was darin' somebody t' cut loose! Here, Lite, you spill
some lead up thar. We'll learn 'im t' act up smart--"

"Hey, hold on!" Luck grabbed Lite's arm as he was raising his rifle
for a close shot at the fellow. "Don't shoot! Don't you see? Thaf's the
peace-sign he's making!"

"Well, now, dang it, he better be makin' peace-signs!" growled Applehead
querulously, and sat down heavily on a shelf of the rock. "'Cause Lite,
here, shore woulda tuk an ear off'n him in another minute, now I'm
tellin' ye!"





Next: Peace Talk

Previous: Applehead Shows The Stuff He Is Made Of



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