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The Camp Of The Terror








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

Kid Wolf knew that the camp fire was many miles away. He gave his
horse just a touch of the spur--that was always enough for
Blizzard--and they proceeded to split the wind. The horse was as
sure-footed as a cat, and was not an animal to step into a prairie-dog
hole, even on a black night. Blizzard had ample rest and water, and
was never fresher. He ran like a greyhound.

Kid Wolf never forgot that gallop across the Llano by night. It was
like running full tilt against an ever-opening velvet curtain. He
could hardly see his horse's head.

Blizzard's hoofs pounded on and on across the level plateau. Miles
disappeared under his flying feet, while Kid's keen eyes were fastened
on the horizon ahead. Finally he made out an orange glow--a light that
changed to a redder and redder hue until it became a point of fire.
The Texan approached it rapidly, more and more cautious.

That was no small camp! Many men were around that flickering fire.
Kid Wolf dismounted, whispering for Blizzard to remain where he was.
Then, like a slinking Apache Indian, he approached on foot, making no
sound. Not once did his high-heeled boots snap a weed or rustle the
dried grass. He would not have been more silent had he been wearing
moccasins.

There were a hundred or more men in the camp. It was a small city.
Kid Wolf could hear the champing and stamping of countless restless
horses, and the men were thick around the fire. A conference of some
kind was being held.

The Texan approached closer and closer, all eyes and ears. If he could
discover the identity of this band and something of their plans----

Suddenly a sentry rose up from the grass not a yard from him. His eyes
fell upon the intruder, and his mouth flew open. In his hand was a
short-barreled carbine.

The Texan seized him, dodged under the half-raised weapon and cut off
the man's cry with the pressure of a muscular hand. He fought
noiselessly, and the sentry--a Mexican--was no match for him. Throwing
him to the ground, Kid Wolf gagged him with the man's own gayly colored
scarf. Then he bound him securely, using the sentry's sash and carbine
strap.

Kid Wolf exchanged his hat for the Mexican's steep-crowned sombrero and
picked up the carbine. In this guise he could approach the camp with
comparative safety. Pulling the sombrero over his eyes, he came in
closer to the camp fire. As he did so, a trio of men--two white men
and one half-breed--came into the camp from another direction. The Kid
heard one of the other sentries hail the newcomers.

"What color will the moon be to-night?" was the challenge.

Thrills raced up Kid Wolf's spine. That was the question Modoc had
asked him! What deep plot was behind that seemingly meaningless query?
Then the Texan heard the response.

"The moon will be red!" was the countersign, and the trio passed and
approached the ring around the fire.

There was no doubt now that he was in the camp of The Terror! The men
outlined in the ruddy fire-light were desperadoes. Never had the Texan
seen such a gathering. Some were American gunmen, evil-faced and
heavily armed. Others were Mexicans and Indians. There was a
tenseness in the very atmosphere. As Kid Wolf came closer to the fire,
he was hailed in turn:

"What color will the moon be to-night?"

"The moon will be red," Kid Wolf replied softly.

No one paid him any attention. All eyes were on a figure near the
glowing fire.

The man was talking and seemed to be in authority. He was dressed in a
red Mexican coat, rich silver-trimmed pantaloons, and carried a brace
of gold-mounted pistols. His face was covered with a mask of black
velvet. Instinctively Kid Wolf knew that he was looking at the dread
scourge of the Llano Estacado--The Terror of the Staked Plains! The
bandit, then, kept himself masked even in front of his own men! Kid
Wolf, as he listened, grew tense. His eyes were shining with snapping
blue fire. The Terror was planning a raid upon the wagon train! His
voice, cold and deadly, came to Kid Wolf's ears:

"Everything, then, caballeros, is arranged. We strike at dawn and wipe
them out, sparing nobody. If a man escapes, you are all running a
risk, for some of you might be identified. Man, woman, and child, they
must die! Our man, of course, you all know. Do not fire on him."

Kid Wolf listened to that sinister voice and wondered what the face
behind the mask looked like. The bandit leader had no more soul than a
rattler, and one might expect more mercy from a wolf. And Kid Wolf
already knew whom The Terror meant when he spoke of "our man." Anger
shook the Texan from head to foot. He had learned enough. The bandits
were already about to mount their horses in order that they might reach
the wagon train at daybreak. There was no time to lose. He must get
back to the helpless outfit ahead of them.

Sauntering carelessly, he slipped out of the circle about the fire and
made his way out of the camp without being noticed. Once out of the
range of the firelight, he raced into the darkness for his horse.

Blizzard was waiting patiently. He had not moved from his tracks. An
ordinary animal might have nickered upon scenting other horses, but
Blizzard had been trained otherwise. Kid Wolf leaped into the saddle,
slapped his mount gently on the neck, and was swallowed up in the night
as Blizzard answered the summons.


The east was a pale line against the dark of the prairie night when
Blizzard drummed up to the sleeping wagon train with his rider. It
still lacked a half hour until the dawn.

The Texan sent the sentries to arouse every available fighting man in
the wagon train.

"Is it The Terror?" one of them questioned, paling.

"It is," replied Kid Wolf. "We must act quickly."

In a few minutes men were pouring out of the wagons, weapons in their
hands. It was just light enough now to see. Modoc ran out of his
wagon, strapping on his Colt .45 as he came. He advanced toward the
Texan sneeringly. The others gathered about to see what would happen.
Something in Kid Wolf's eyes warned them of impending trouble.

"What's the idea now?" Modoc snarled, showing his stained teeth like a
wolf. "Has this four-flusher been up to his tricks again?"

Kid Wolf's voice came cool and calm. "Modoc," he drawled, "what color
will the moon be to-night?"

Modoc's face went the color of putty. Like a flash, the insolence had
gone out of his eyes, to be replaced with fear. He moistened his lips
feverishly.

"I--I don't know what yo're talkin' about," he stammered.

"Are yo' sure," said Kid Wolf with deadly quietness, "that the moon
won't be red?"

Modoc began to tremble like a leaf. His gun hand moved part way to his
hip, then stopped. Beads of perspiration stood out on his clammy
forehead.

"Afraid to draw like a man?" the Texan drawled. "I wouldn't doubt it.
Men, this man is a betrayah. He is one of The Terror's bandits.
That's why he led yo' off the track. He brought yo' here to die like
rats."

Modoc's face was blue-white as Kid Wolf continued:

"When I first showed up, Modoc thought I might be one of The Terror's
messengahs. I didn't come through with the password, and he learned
different. I didn't know what he meant, then, but I know now!"

The wagon men surged around Modoc threateningly. Fury was written over
the faces of them all. There were cries of "Kill him!" "Hang the
traitor!"

Kid Wolf still faced the fear-frozen Modoc, smiling coolly. There was
quiet menace in that easy smile.

"I usually shoot the head off a rattlesnake when I see one," he said
softly. "One day, yeahs ago, a rattlah killed a favorite dawg of mine.
I blew that snake apart, bit by bit. Modoc, that snake was a gentleman
alongside of yo'. I'm givin' yo' an even chance to kill me. Fill yo'
hand!"

Modoc, with a wheezing, gasping breath, decided upon action. His hand
streaked for his hip. But Kid Wolf had drawn a split second later and
more than a split second faster. The fingers of his right hand closed
upon the handle of one of his twin Colts. In the same instant, fire
flew!

With the first explosion, Modoc grunted with pain, dropping his gun.
The bullet had caught him squarely in the wrist, rendering his fingers
useless. But Kid Wolf kept firing, although he did not aim for Modoc's
head or body. His gun flashed and stuttered twice, three times,
four--five--six! Dust flew from Modoc's coat sleeve as the bullets
landed with a series of terrific smashes. As he had torn the
rattlesnake bit by bit, Kid Wolf ripped Modoc's gun arm.

Each bullet took effect, and Modoc staggered from the impacts, knees
slumping to the ground. The traitor would never use that gun arm
again. It dangled from his body, broken and useless. The others would
have literally torn Modoc limb from limb had not the Texan ordered
otherwise.

"He doesn't deserve hangin'," he said, "so let him be. We've got work
to do. The Terror and his gang will be here at any minute. Now listen
carefully to what I say."

Quietly he gave his orders, and just as carefully, the wagon men
carried them out. Under Kid Wolf's masterly leadership they had
regained their nerve. Panic left them, and they became grim and
determined.

The Kid learned that there were thirty-four men in the outfit.
Thirty-four against at least a hundred! The odds were great, but the
Texan had faced greater ones alone. With the train in the hands of
Modoc--one of their own men--the marauders expected to take the outfit
by surprise. Thanks to the Texan, all that was changed now. He gave
orders that the wagons be shifted into a circle, with the children and
women on the inside behind shelter. The men were posted in the wagons
and behind them, Kid Wolf giving each man his station.

"Do not fiah until I give the coyote yell," he said. "And then keep
yo' sights down. Shoot low!"

Kid Wolf himself took a position between two of the covered wagons, his
horse Blizzard within quick call. In the narrow chink, just wide
enough for him to ride his horse through, he placed three loaded Sharps
.50-caliber rifles, ready for quick use.

They had not long to wait. Only a few minutes had elapsed after the
wagons had been shifted when Kid Wolf saw a body of horsemen
approaching from the west. It was The Terror's band! Dust stirred by
the hoofs of a hundred galloping horses rose in the air like brown
thunderclouds.

As the grim defenders watched, the band split up, divided into two
rapidly moving lines, and began to surround the train in a sweeping
circle. The circle formed, began to close in. Kid Wolf peered along
the barrel of one of the Sharps rifles. Then, after what seemed
minutes, he uttered his coyote cry:

"Yip, yip, yip-ee!"

It was followed by a terrific burst of fire from the wagon train. The
signal had been given at the opportune time. The bandits faltered.
They hadn't expected this! The Terror had hoped to find the wagon
train still asleep and defenseless. The rolling powder smoke cleared
away somewhat, and it could be seen that a dozen or more of the
attackers had melted out of their saddles, like butter on a hot stove.

But the raiders, outnumbering the defenders and realizing it, still
came on. Kid Wolf threw aside the rifle and drew his twin .45s.
Deliberately stepping out into the open, he fanned the hammers from the
level of his hip. His waistline, as he swung the thundering Colts from
side to side, seemed to be alive with sputtering red sparks. Smoke
rolled around him. The bandits in front of him dropped by twos and
threes.

Holes appeared in this side of the bandits' circle--holes that did not
close up. Riderless mounts dashed about frantically, their reins
trailing; wounded horses added to the uproar with their death screams.
It was a battle!

Seeing that the force of the charge had been broken on this flank, Kid
Wolf ran across to reenforce the other sides of the circle. At one
point the outlaws had already broken through the circle of wagons. Kid
Wolf sent three screaming slugs toward them, and they fell back in
disorder, leaving one desperado stretched out behind them.

Reloading his guns, Kid Wolf climbed upon one of the wagons and again
opened fire; this time with such an effect that all sides of the
attacking circle began to break and fall back to safety. Mere force of
numbers does not always count in a gun fight. Not more than half a
dozen of the defenders had been hit. The survivors raised a hearty
cheer. Kid Wolf's generalship had beaten back the first outlaw charge!

It was then that Modoc played his final card. Hoping to gain the
protection of the outlaws, and fearing the wagon train's vengeance, he
slipped out of the circle of covered wagons and, on foot, began
running. His goal was ahead of him, but he never reached it. His late
comrades--the bandits--evidently thought he had played the traitor with
them, for they fired on him relentlessly. He fell, then rose again to
scramble on. Bullets kicked up the sod around him. Others plumped
into his body. Again he fell, this time to stay. His body was riddled
with scores of bullets. So died the traitor.

Kid Wolf knew that a certain advantage always lies with the offensive.
Defenders haven't the power of attackers. The Texan decided to risk a
counter-charge. He knew that it might break down the courage of the
bandit band. At least it would be a surprise. He called for
volunteers.

"I want a dozen men who can shoot straight from the back of a runnin'
hoss," he said. "It'll be dangerous. Who's with me?"

Immediately more men than he wanted spoke up. Quickly choosing twelve,
he gave them their orders.

"At the next chahge," the Texan drawled, "we'll ride out theah and give
'em somethin' to think about. If I'm right, I think they'll scattah.
If I'm wrong--well, they'll probably wipe us out. Are yo' game?"

The men were game, as the Texan soon found out. They were fighting for
their families, as well as their own lives and possessions.

Again the attacking line of horsemen formed, and in a cloud of dust,
they came at the wagon train. Their bullets cut slashes in the
covered-wagon tops, smashed into wheels and wagon trees, and kicked up
geysers of sand. They would be hard to stop this time!

But Kid Wolf gave the word for his own charge. He had several reasons
for doing this. It amounted to folly in the eyes of some, but the
Texan knew the value of a countercharge. And if he could bring down
The Terror himself, he knew the battle was as good as won. Out of the
wagon circle they came, saddle leather creaking and guns blazing! The
Kid, on his snow-white charger, was in the lead. A lane opened in the
bandit ranks as if by magic.

Kid Wolf pressed his quick advantage. His movement had taken the
outlaw band by surprise. The utter recklessness of it shook their
nerve.

Two of the wagon men fell. The others kept on, clearing a swathe with
their sputtering Colts.

The bandits hesitated. The defenders who had remained behind the
wagons kept up their deadly barrage. They were dropping accurately
placed shots where they would be sure to do the most good. Then The
Terror's band retreated, broke formation. The retreat became a rout--a
mad get-away with every man for himself. Outnumbered as they were, the
defenders were making more than a good account of themselves.

Kid Wolf's eyes sought for The Terror himself--and found him. His red
coat and gay trappings were easy to locate, even in that mad stampede.
The bandit chief was attempting to make his get-away. The Texan,
however, cut him off after a hard, furious ride.

Separated from his men, The Terror turned in his saddle, wildly
attempting to get the drop on Kid Wolf as he came in. One of his
gold-mounted pistols flashed. The bullet hissed over the Texan's head.
He had dropped low in the saddle.

The Terror whirled his horse at Kid Wolf's. He realized that it was a
fight to the end. He fired his other weapon almost in the Texan's
face. The Kid, however, had pulled the trigger of his own gun just a
fraction of a second before. The Terror's aim was spoiled just enough
so that the bullet whined wide. The bandit chief collapsed in his
saddle. He had been hit in the shoulder.

The Texan closed in. There was a violent shock as Blizzard thudded
into the bandit's horse. The Terror, eyes glittering wickedly through
the openings in his velvet mask, slid from his horse, landing feet
first. With a glittering knife in his unwounded hand, he made a spring
toward Kid Wolf. The blade would have buried itself in the Texan's
thigh had not The Kid whirled his horse just in time.

"All right," said the Texan coolly. "We have it out with ouah hands."

Holstering his guns, he leaped from his horse. He scorned even to use
his bowie knife, as he advanced toward the bandit at a half crouch.
The Terror thought he had the advantage. The Kid's hands were bare of
any weapons. With a snarl, the bandit chief leaped forward, knife
swishing aloft. Never had Kid Wolf struck so hard a blow as he struck
then! Added to the power of his own tremendous strength and leverage
was The Terror's own speed as he lunged in. Fist met jaw with a
sickening thud.

The Terror was a big and heavy man. His weight was added to Kid Wolf's
as both men came together. There was a snap as his head went
back--went back at too great an angle. His neck was broken instantly.
Without a moan, the bandit chief dropped limply to the sand, dead
before he ever reached it!

Kid Wolf took a deep breath. Then he bent over the fallen man and
jerked the velvet mask from his features. He gasped in amazement. It
was Quiroz! For a moment the Texan could not believe his eyes. Then
the truth began to dawn on him. The Terror and the tyrannical governor
of Santa Fe were one and the same! Quiroz had led a double life for
years, and had covered his tracks well. So powerful had he become that
he had received the appointment as governor. No wonder he had refused
Kid Wolf aid! And no wonder he had sought his life!

"Well, I guess his account is paid," said Kid Wolf grimly. "The Terror
of the Staked Plains is no more."

He looked about him. The remainder of the bandits had made a thorough
retreat, leaving a large number of their companions on the plain behind
them. Their defeat had been complete and decisive.

"Bueno," said Kid Wolf.

"Oh, the cows stampede on the Rio Grande!
The Rio!
The sand do blow, and the winds do wail,
But I want to be wheah the cactus stands!
The Rio!
And the rattlesnake shakes his ornery tail!"


The buckskin-clad singer raised his hat in happy farewell. The people
of the wagon train answered his shout:

"Shore yo' won't go on with us?"

"We shore thank yuh for what yuh done, Kid!"

Others took up the cry. They hated to lose this smiling young Texan's
company. He had saved them from death--and worse. Not only that, but
they had learned to like him and depend on him.

The Texan, however, declined to stay longer. Nor would he listen to
any thanks.

"Adios," he called, "and good luck! Wheahevah the weakah side needs a
champion, theah yo'll find Kid Wolf. Somehow I always find lots to do.
Heah's hopin' yo' won't evah need mah services again."

He caught sight of a golden-haired child beaming at him from one of the
wagons.

"Good-by, Jimmy Lee!" he called.

He whirled in his saddle, touched Blizzard with the reins, and rode
away at a long lope.





Next: On The Chisholm Trail

Previous: Surprises



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