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The Battle At The Ranch








From: Hidden Gold

When Wade and Santry approached the big pine, the waiting men came out
from its shadow and rode forward, with the borrowed rifles across their
saddle horns.

"All right, boys?" the rancher asked, taking Trowbridge's new rifle, a
beautiful weapon, which Lawson handed to him.

"All right, sir," answered Tim Sullivan, adding the "sir" in extenuation
of his befuddled condition the night before, while each man gave Santry
a silent hand-shake to welcome him home.

Grimly, silently, then, save for the dashing of their horses' hoofs
against the loose stones, and an occasional muttered imprecation as a
rider lurched in his saddle, the seven men rode rapidly toward the
mountains. In numbers, their party was about evenly matched with the
enemy, and Wade meant that the advantage of surprise, if possible,
should rest with him in order to offset such advantage as Moran might
find in the shelter of the house. But, however that might be, each man
realized that the die had been cast and that the fight, once begun,
would go to a finish.

"I only hope," Santry remarked, as a steep grade forced them to lessen
their speed, "I can get my two hands on that cussed tin-horn, Moran.
Him and me has a misunderstandin' to settle, for sure."

"You leave him to me, Bill." Wade spoke vindictively. "He's my meat."

"Well, since you ask it, I'll try, boy. But there's goin' to be some
fightin' sure as taxes, and when I get to fightin', I'm liable to go
plumb, hog wild. Say, I hope you don't get into no trouble over this
here jail business o' mine. That 'ud make me feel bad, Gordon."

"We'll not worry about that now, Bill."

"That's right. Don't worry till you have to, and then shoot instead.
That's been my motto all my born days, and it ain't such durn bad
philosophy at that. I wonder"--the old man chuckled to himself--"I
wonder if the Sheruff et up most of that there gag before Bat let him
loose?"

Wade laughed out loud, and as though in response, an owl hooted
somewhere in the timber to their right.

"There's a durned old hoot owl," growled Santry. "I never like to hear
them things--they most always mean bad luck."

He rode to the head of the little column, and the rest of the way to the
ranch was passed in ominous silence. When they finally arrived at the
edge of the clearing and cautiously dismounted, everything seemed from
the exterior, at least, just as it should be. The night being far gone,
the lights were out, and there was no sign of life about the place. Wade
wondered if the posse had gone.

"There ain't no use in speculatin'," declared Santry. "They may be
asleep, and they may be layin' for us there in the dark. This will take
a rise out of 'em anyhow."

At sight of the old fellow, pistol in hand, Wade called to him to wait,
but as he spoke Santry fired two quick shots into the air.

There was an immediate commotion in the ranch house. A man inside was
heard to curse loudly, while another showed his face for an instant
where the moonlight fell across a window. He hastily ducked out of
sight, however, when a rifle bullet splintered the glass just above his
head. Presently a gun cracked inside the house and a splash on a rock
behind the attackers told them where the shot had struck.

"Whoop-e-e-e-e!" Santry yelled, discharging the four remaining shots in
his revolver at the window. "We've got 'em guessin'. They don't know how
many we are."

"They were probably asleep," said Wade a bit sharply. "We might have
sneaked in and captured the whole crowd without firing a shot. That's
what I meant to do before you cut loose."

Santry shook his grizzled head as he loaded his revolver.

"Well, now, that would have been just a mite risky, boy. The way things
stand we've still got the advantage, an'...." He broke off to take a
snapshot at a man who showed himself at the window for an instant in an
effort to get a glimpse of the attacking force. "One!" muttered the old
plainsman to himself.

By this time Wade had thrown himself down on his stomach behind a
bowlder to Santry's left and was shooting methodically at the door of
the house, directly in front of him. He knew that door. It was built of
inch lumber and was so located that a bullet, after passing through it,
would rake the interior of the cabin from end to end. The only way the
inmates could keep out of the line of his fire was by hugging the walls
on either side, where they would be partially exposed to the leaden hail
which Santry and the punchers were directing at the windows.

There was a grim, baleful look on the young man's usually pleasant face,
and his eyes held a pitiless gleam. He was shooting straight, shooting
to kill, and taking a fierce delight in the act. The blood lust was upon
him, that primal, instinctive desire for combat in a righteous cause
that lies hidden at the very bottom of every strong man's nature. And
there came to his mind no possible question of the righteous nature of
his cause. He was fighting to regain possession of his own home from the
marauders who had invaded it. His enemies had crowded him to the wall,
and now they were paying the penalty. Wade worked the lever of his
Winchester as though he had no other business in life. A streak of
yellow clay mingled with a bloody trickle from a bullet scratch on his
cheek gave his set features a fairly ferocious expression.

Santry, glancing toward him, chuckled again, but without mirth. "The
boy's woke up at last," he muttered to himself. "They've drove him to
it, durn 'em. I knew almighty well that this law an' order stunt
couldn't last forever. Wow!"

The latter exclamation was caused by a bullet which ricocheted from a
rock near his head, driving a quantity of fine particles into his face.

"Whoop-e-e-e-e!" he howled a moment later. "We got 'em goin'. It's a
cinch they can't stand this pace for more'n a week."

Indeed, it was a marvel that the defenders kept on fighting as long as
they did. Already the door, beneath Wade's machine-like shooting, had
been completely riddled; the windows were almost bare of glass; and
great splinters of wood had been torn from the log walls by the heavy
rifle bullets on their way through to the interior. Soon the door sagged
and crashed inward, and into the gaping hole thus made Wade continued to
empty his rifle.

At last, the fire of those within slackened and temporarily ceased. Did
this mean surrender? Wade asked himself and ordered his men to stop
shooting and await developments. For some moments all was still, and the
advisability of rushing the house was being discussed when all at once
the fire of the defenders began again. This time, however, there was
something very odd about it. There was a loud banging of exploding
cartridges, but only a few shots whistled around the heads of the
cattlemen. Nevertheless, Wade told his men to resume shooting, and once
more settled down to his own task.

"What'n hell they tryin' to do?" Santry demanded. "Sounds like a Fourth
o' July barbecue to me."

"I don't know," Wade answered, charging the magazine of his rifle, "but
whatever it is they'll have to stop mighty soon."

Then gradually, but none the less certainly, the fire from within
slackened until all was still. This seemed more like a visitation of
death, and again Wade ordered his men to stop shooting. They obeyed
orders and lay still, keenly watching the house.

"Do you surrender?" Wade shouted; but there was no reply.

Santry sprang to his feet.

"By the great horned toad!" he cried. "I'm a-goin' in there! Anybody
that wants to come along is welcome."

Not a man in the party would be dared in that way, so, taking advantage
of such cover as offered, they advanced upon the cabin, stealthily at
first and then more rapidly, as they met with no resistance--no sign
whatever of life. A final rush carried them through the doorway into the
house, where they expected to find a shambles.

Wade struck a light, and faced about with a start as a low groan came
from a corner of the back room. A man lay at full length on the floor,
tied hand and foot, and gagged. It was Ed Nelson, one of the Double
Arrow hands who had been surprised and captured by the posse, and a
little farther away in the shadow against the wall his two companions
lay in a like condition. With his knife Wade was cutting them loose,
and glancing about in a puzzled search for the wounded men he expected
to find in the house, when Santry shouted something from the kitchen.

"What is it, Bill?" the ranch owner demanded.

Santry tramped back into the room, laughing in a shamefaced sort of way.

"They done us, Gordon!" he burst out. "By the great horned toad, they
done us! They chucked a bunch of shells into the hot cook-stove, an'
sneaked out the side door while we was shootin' into the front room. By
cracky, that beats...."

"That's what they did," spoke up Nelson, as well as his cramped tongue
would permit, being now freed of the gag. "They gagged us first, so's we
couldn't sing out; then they filled up the stove an' beat it."

What had promised to be a tragedy had proved a fiasco, and Wade smiled a
little foolishly.

"The joke's on us, I guess, boys," he admitted. "But we've got the ranch
back, at any rate. How are you feeling, Ed, pretty stiff and sore?"

"My Gawd, yes--awful!"

"Me, too," declared Tom Parrish, the second of the victims; and the
third man swore roundly that he would not regain the full use of his
legs before Christmas.

"Well, you're lucky at that," was Santry's dry comment. "All that saved
you from gettin' shot up some in the fight was layin' low down in that
corner where you was." He let his eyes travel around the littered,
blood-spattered room. "From the looks o' this shebang we musta stung
some of 'em pretty deep; but nobody was killed, I reckon. I hope Moran
was the worst hurt, durn him!"

"He'll keep," Wade said grimly. "We've not done with him yet, Bill.
We've only just begun."





Next: The Senator Gets Busy

Previous: Higher Than Statute Law



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