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Three In A Pit








From: The Fighting Edge

Wounded though he was, Houck managed to make a good deal of trouble for
the punchers before they pinned him down and took the forty-five from
him. His great strength was still at command, and he had the advantage
that neither of his rescuers wanted to injure him during the struggle.
They thrashed over the ground, arms and legs outflung wildly. Houck gave
up only when his vigor collapsed.

His surrender was complete. He lay weak and panting, bleeding from
reopened wounds, for the time as helpless and submissive as a child.

From a canteen they gave him water. Afterward they washed and tied up the
wounds, bathed the fevered face, and kept the mosquitoes from him by
fanning them away.

"Expect I'd better take a pasear an' see where Mr. Ute's at," Dud said.
"He's liable to drap in onexpected while we're not lookin'--several of
him, huntin' for souvenirs in the scalp line for to decorate his belt
with."

From the little opening he crept into the thicket of saplings and
disappeared. Bob waited beside the delirious man. His nerves were keyed
to a high tension. For all he knew the beadlike eyes of four or five
sharpshooters might be peering at him from the jungle.

The sound of a shot startled him. It came from the direction in which Dud
had gone. Had he been killed? Or wounded? Bob could not remain longer
where he was. He too crept into the willows, following as well as he
could the path of Hollister.

There came to him presently the faint crackle of twigs. Some one or
something was moving in the bosk. He lay still, heart thumping violently.
The sound ceased, began again.

Bob's trembling hand held a revolver pointed in the direction of the
snapping branches. The willows moved, opened up, and a blond, curly head
appeared.

Bob's breath was expelled in a long sigh of relief. "Wow! I'm glad to see
you. Heard that shot an' thought maybe they'd got you."

"Not so you can notice it," Dud replied cheerfully. "But they're all
round us. I took a crack at one inquisitive buck who had notions of
collectin' me. He ce'tainly hit the dust sudden as he vamosed."

"What'll we do?"

"I found a kinda buffalo wallow in the willows. We'll move in on a lease
an' sit tight till Harshaw an' the boys show up."

They carried and dragged Houck through the thicket to the saucer-shaped
opening Hollister had discovered. The edges of this rose somewhat above
the surrounding ground. Using their spurs to dig with, the cowpunchers
deepened the hollow and packed the loose dirt around the rim in order to
heighten the rampart.

From a distance came the sound of heavy, rapid firing, of far, faint
yells.

"The boys are attackin' the gulch," Dud guessed. "Sounds like they might
be makin' a clean-up too."

It was three o'clock by Bob's big silver watch. Heat waves were
shimmering in the hollow and mosquitoes singing. Occasionally Houck's
voice rose in delirious excitement. Sometimes he thought the Utes were
torturing him. Again he lived over scenes in the past. Snatches of babble
carried back to the days of his turbulent youth when all men's cattle
were his. In the mutterings born of a sick brain Bob heard presently the
name of June.

"... Tell you I've took a fancy to you. Tell you Jake Houck gets what he
wants. No sense you rarin' around, June. I'm yore man.... Mine, girl.
Don't you ever forget it. Mine for keeps.... Use that gun, damn you, or
crawl into a hole. I'm takin' yore wife from you. Speak yore piece. Tell
her to go with me. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

The firing came nearer.

Again Dud guessed what was taking place. "They've got the Utes outa the
gulch an' are drivin' them down the valley. Right soon they're liable to
light on us hard. Depends on how much the boys are pressin' them."

They had two rifles and four revolvers, for Houck had lately become a
two-gun man. These they examined carefully to make sure they were in
order. The defenders crouched back to back in the pit, each of them
searching the thicket for an angle of one hundred and eighty degrees.

The sound of the battle died down. Evidently the pursuers were out of
contact with the natives.

"Don't like that," Dud said. "If the Utes have time they'll try to pick
us up as they're passin'."

Bob fired.

"See one?" asked his friend.

"Think so. Something moved. Down in that hollow. He's outa sight now."

"They've got us located, then. Old Man Trouble headed this way. Something
liable to start. Soon now."

The minutes dragged. Bob's eyes blurred from the intensity with which he
watched.

A bullet struck the edge of the pit. Bob ducked involuntarily. Presently
there was a second shot--and a third.

"They're gettin' warm," Dud said.

He and Bob fired at the smoke puffs, growing now more frequent. Both of
them knew it would be only a short time till one of them was hit unless
their friends came to the rescue. Spurts of sand flew every few moments.

There was another undesirable prospect. The Utes might charge and capture
the pit, wiping out the defenders. To prevent this the cowpunchers kept
up as lively a fire as possible.

From down the valley came the sound of scattered shots and yells. Dud
swung his hat in glee.

"Good boys! They're comin' in on the rear. Hi yi yippy yi!"

Firing began again on the other side. The Utes were caught between the
rangers to the left and the soldiers to the right. Bob could see them
breaking through the willows toward the river. It was an easy guess that
their horses were bunched here and that they would be forced to cross the
stream to escape.

Five minutes later Harshaw broke through the saplings to the pit. "Either
of you boys hurt?" he demanded anxiously.

"Not a scratch on either of us," Dud reported.

The boss of the Slash Lazy D wrung their hands. "By Godfrey! I'm plumb
pleased. Couldn't get it outa my head that they'd got you lads. How's
Houck?"

"He's right sick. Doc had ought to look after him soon. He's had one
mighty bad day of it."

Houck was carried on a blanket to the riverbank, where camp was being
made for the night. The Utes had been routed. It was estimated that ten
or twelve of them had been killed, though the number could not be
verified, as Indians always if possible carry away their dead. For the
present, at least, no further pursuit of them was feasible.

Dr. Tuckerman dressed the wounds of the Brown's Park man and looked after
the others who had been hurt. All told, the whites had lost four killed.
Five were wounded more or less seriously.

The wagons had been left on the mesa three miles away. Houck was taken
here next day on a stretcher made of a blanket tied to willow poles. The
bodies of the dead were also removed.

Two days later the rangers reached Bear Cat. They had left the soldiers
to complete the task of rounding up the Utes and taking them back to the
reservation.





Next: A Hero Is Embarrassed

Previous: An Obstinate Man Stands Pat



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