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Keep A-comin' Red Haid








From: The Fighting Edge

When the rangers and the militia stampeded after the Indian scout, Dud
Hollister was examining the hoof of his mount. He swung instantly to the
saddle and touched his pony with the spur. It shot across the mesa on the
outskirts of the troop. Not impeded by riders in front, Dud reached the
bluff above the river valley on the heels of the advance guard. He pulled
up just in time to keep from plunging over.

The Utes, under cover of the willow saplings, were concentrating a very
heavy fire on the bluff and slope below. Dud's first thought was that the
troops had been drawn into a trap. Every man who had been carried over
the edge of the mesa by the impetus of the charge was already unhorsed.
Several were apparently dead. One was scudding for cover.

Dud drew back promptly. He did not care to stand silhouetted against the
sky-line for sharpshooters. Nobody had ever accused the Utes of being
good shots, but at that distance they could hardly miss him if he
stayed.

The soldiers and rangers gathered in a small clump of cottonwoods.
Harshaw read his boys the riot act.

"Fine business," he told them bitterly. "Every last one of you acted like
he was a tenderfoot. Ain't you ever seen a Ute before? Tryin' to collect
him so anxious, an' him only bait to lead you on. I reckon we better go
home an' let Major Sheahan's boys do this job. I'm plumb disgusted with
you."

The range-riders looked at each other out of the corners of meek eyes.
This rebuke was due them. They had been warned against letting themselves
be drawn on without orders.

"That fellow Houck he started it," Big Bill suggested humbly by way of
defense.

"Were you drug into it? Did he rope you off yore horse an' take you along
with him?" demanded Harshaw sarcastically. "Well, I hope you got yore
lesson. How many did we lose?"

A roll-call showed four missing. Hollister felt a catch at the throat
when his riding partner failed to report. Bob must be one of those who
had gone over the ledge.

One of Sheahan's troopers on scout duty reported. "Indians making for a
gulch at the end of the willows, sir. Others swarming up into the bushes
at the edge of the mesa."

A cowpuncher familiar with the country volunteered information. "Gulch
leads to that ridge over there. It's the highest point around here."

"Then we'd better take the ridge," Harshaw suggested to Sheahan. "Right
quick, too."

The major agreed.

They put the troop in motion. Another scout rode in. The Utes were
hurrying as fast as they could to the rock-rim. Major Sheahan quickened
the pace to a gallop. The Indians lying in the bushes fired at them as
they went.

Tom Reeves went down, his horse shot under him. Dud pulled up, a hundred
yards away. Out of the bushes braves poured like buzzing bees. The
dismounted man would be cut off.

Hollister wheeled his cowpony in its tracks and went back. He slipped a
foot from the stirrup and held it out as a foot-rest for Reeves. The Utes
whooped as they came on. The firing was very heavy. The pony, a young
one, danced wildly and made it impossible for Tom to swing up.

Dud dismounted. The panicky horse backed away, eyes filled with terror.
It rose into the air, trembling. Dud tried to coax it to good behavior.

The moments were flying, bringing the Utes nearer every instant.

"We gotta make a run for it, Dud," his companion said hurriedly. "To the
willows over there."

There was no choice. Hollister let go the bridle and ran. Scarcely fifty
yards behind them came the Utes.

Even in their high-heeled boots the cowpunchers ran fast. Once within the
shelter of the willows they turned and opened fire. This quite altered
the situation. The foremost brave faltered in his pigeon-toed stride,
stopped abruptly, and dived for the shelter of a sagebush. The others
veered off to the right. They disappeared into some blackberry bushes on
the edge of the mesa. Whether from here they continued to the valley the
punchers in the willows could not tell.

"Some lucky getaway," Dud panted.

"Thought I was a goner sure when they plugged my bronc," said Reeves.

He took a careful shot at the sagebush behind which the Indian had taken
refuge. The Ute ran away limping.

"Anyhow, that guy's got a souvenir to remember me by. Compliments of Tom
Reeves," grinned the owner of that name.

"We've got to get back to the boys somehow. I reckon they're havin' quite
a party on the ridge," Dud said.

The sound of brisk firing came across the mesa to them. It was evident
that the whites and redskins had met on the ridge and were disputing for
possession of it.

"My notion is we'd better stick around here for a while," Reeves
demurred. "I kinda hate to hoof it acrost the flat an' be a target the
whole darned way."

This seemed good to Hollister. The troopers seemed to be holding their
own. They had not been driven back. The smoke of their rifles showed
along the very summit of the rock-rim. The inference was that the Utes
had been forced to fall back.

The two rangers lay in the willows for hours. The firing had died down,
recommenced, and again ceased. Once there came the sound of shots from
the right, down in the valley close by the river.

"They're likely gettin' the fellow that wasn't killed when he went over
the bluff," Dud suggested. "There ain't a thing we can do to help him
either."

"That's it, I reckon. They're collectin' him now. Wonder which of the
boys it is."

Dud felt a twinge of conscience. There was nothing he could do to help
the man hemmed in on the riverbank, but it hurt him to lie there without
attempting aid. The ranger making the lone fight might be Bob Dillon,
poor Bob who had to whip his courage to keep himself from playing the
weakling. Dud hoped not. He did not like to think of his riding mate in
such desperate straits with no hope of escape.

The battle on the ridge had begun again. Hollister and Reeves decided to
try to rejoin their friends. From the north end of the willows they crept
into a small draw that led away from the river toward the hills beyond
the mesa. Both of them were experienced plainsmen. They knew how to make
the most of such cover as there was. As they moved through the sage,
behind hillocks and along washes, they detoured to put as much distance
as possible between them and the Utes at the edge of the bench.

But the last hundred yards had to be taken in the open. They did it under
fire, on the run, with a dozen riflemen aiming at them from the fringe of
blackberry bushes that bordered the mesa. Up the ridge they went
pell-mell, Reeves limping the last fifty feet of the way. An almost spent
bullet had struck him in the fleshy part of the lower leg.

Hawks let out a cowboy yell at sight of them, jumped up, and pulled Dud
down beside him among the boulders.

"Never expected to see you lads again alive an' kickin' after you an' the
Utes started that footrace. I'll bet neither one of you throwed down on
yoreself when you was headin' for the willows. Gee, I'm plumb glad to see
you."

"We're right glad to be here, Buck," acknowledged Dud. "What's new?"

"We got these birds goin', looks like. In about an hour now we're
allowin' to hop down into the gulch real sudden an' give 'em merry
hell."

Dud reported to Harshaw. The cattleman dropped a hand on his rider's
shoulder with a touch of affection. He was very fond of the gay young
fellow.

"Thought they'd bumped you off, boy. Heap much glad to see you. What do

you know?"

"I reckon nothing that you don't. There was firin' down by the river.
Looks like they found one o' the boys who went over the bluff."

"An' there's a bunch of 'em strung out among the bushes close to the edge
of the mesa. Fifteen or twenty, would you think?"

"Must be that many, the way their bullets dropped round Tom an' me just
now."

"Tom much hurt?"

"Flesh wound only--in the laig."

Harshaw nodded. His mind was preoccupied with the problem before them.
"The bulk of 'em are down in this gulch back of the ridge. We met 'em on
the summit and drove 'em back. I judge they've had a-plenty. We'll rout
'em out soon now."

A brisk fire went on steadily between the Utes in the gulch and the
whites on the ridge. Every man had found such cover as he could, but the
numbers on both sides made it impossible for all to remain wholly hidden.
The casualties among the troopers had been, however, very light since the
first disastrous rush over the bluff.

Dud caught Harshaw's arm. "Look!" he cried, keenly excited.

A man had emerged from the bushes and was running across the flat toward
the ridge. Dud and Tom had kept well away toward the foothills, not out
of range of the Utes, but far enough distant to offer poor targets. But
this man was running the gauntlet of a heavy fire close enough to be an
easy mark. Blanco valley settlers, expert marksmen from much big-game
hunting, would have dropped the runner before he had covered thirty
yards. But the Indians were armed with cheap trade guns and were at best
poor shots. The runner kept coming.

Those on the ridge watched him, their pulses quick, their nerves taut.
For he was running a race with death. Every instant they expected to see
him fall. From the bushes jets of smoke puffed like toy balloons
continuously.

"Fire where you see the smoke, boys," Harshaw shouted.

The rangers and militia concentrated on the fringe of shrubbery. At least
they could make it hot enough for the Indians to disturb their aims.

"He's down!" groaned Hollister.

He was, but in a second he was up once more, still running strong. He had
stumbled over a root. The sage was heavy here. This served as a partial
screen for the swiftly moving man. Every step now was carrying him
farther from the sharpshooters, bringing him closer to the ridge.

"By Godfrey, he'll make it!" Harshaw cried.

It began to look that way. The bullets were still falling all around him,
but he was close to the foot of the ridge.

Dud made a discovery. "It's Bob Dillon!" he shouted. Then, to the runner,
with all his voice, "Keep a-comin', Red Haid!"

The hat had gone from the red head. As he climbed the slope the runner
was laboring heavily. Dud ran down the hill to meet him, half a dozen
others at his heels, among them Blister. They caught the spent youth
under the arms and round the body. So he reached the crest.

Blister's fat arms supported him as his body swayed. The wheezy voice of
the justice trembled. "G-glory be, son. I 'most had heart f-failure
whilst you was hoofin' it over the mesa. Oh, boy! I'm g-glad to see
you."

Bob sat down and panted for breath. "I got to go--back again," he
whispered from a dry throat.

"What's that?" demanded Harshaw. "Back where?"

"To--to the river. I came to get help--for Houck."

"Houck?"

"He's down there in the willows wounded."





Next: An Obstinate Man Stands Pat

Previous: A Cup Of Cold Water



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