Applehead Shows The Stuff He Is Made Of





Lite Avery, turning to look back as they galloped up a long slope so

gradual in its rise that it seemed almost level, counted just fourteen

Indians spreading out fanwise in pursuit. He turned to Applehead with

the quiet deference in his manner that had won the old man's firm

friendship.



"What's this new move signify, boss?" he asked, tilting his head

backward. "What they spreading out like that for, when they're outa easy

rifle range?"



Applehead looked behind him, studied the new formation of their enemy,

and scowled in puzzlement. He looked ahead, where he knew the land lay

practically level before them, all sand and rabbit weed, with a little

grass here and there; to the left, where the square butte stood up

bold-faced and grim; to the right where a ragged sandstone ledge blocked

the way.



"'S some dang new trap uh theirn," he decided, his voice signifying

disgust for such methods. "Take an Injun 'n' he don't calc'late he's

fightin' 'nless he's figgurin' on gittin' yuh cornered. Mebby they got

some more cached ahead som'ers. Keep yer eye peeled, boys, 'n' shoot at

any dang thing yuh see that yuh ain't dead sure 's a rabbit weed. Don't

go bankin' on rocks bein' harmless--'cause every dang one's liable to

have an Injun layin' on his belly behind it. Must be another bunch ahead

som'ers, 'cause I know it's smooth goin' fer five miles yit. After that

they's a drop down into a rocky kinda pocket that's hard t' git out

of except the way yuh go in, account of there bein' one uh them dang

rim-rocks runnin' clean 'round it. Some calls it the Devil's Fryin'-pan.

No water ner grass ner nothin' else 'ceptin' snakes. 'N' Navvies kinda

ownin' rattlers as bein' their breed uh cats, they don't kill 'em off,

so they's a heap 'n' plenty of 'em in that basin.



"But I ain't aimin' t' git caught down in there, now I'm tellin' yuh! I

aim t' keep along clost t' that there butte, 'n' out on the other side

where we kin pick up luck's trail. I shore would do some rarin' around

if that boy rode off into a mess uh trouble, 'n' I'm tellin' yuh

straight!"



"He's got some good boy at his back," Weary reminded him, loyal to his

Flying U comrade.



"You're dang right he has! I ain't sayin' he ain't, am I? Throw some

more lead back at them skunks behind us, will ye, Lite? 'N' the rest

of yuh save yore shells fer close-ups!" He grinned a little at the

incongruity of a motion-picture phrase in such a situation as this. "'N'

don't be so dang skeered uh hurtin' somebody!" he adjured Lite, drawing

rein a little so as not to forge ahead of the other. "You'll have to

kill off a few anyway 'fore you're through with 'em."



Lite aimed at the man riding in the center of the half-circle, and the

bullet he sent that way created excitement of some sort; but whether the

Indian was badly hit, or only missed by a narrow margin, the four did

not wait to discover. They had held their horses down to a pace that

merely kept them well ahead of the Indians; and though the horses were

sweating, they were holding their own easily enough--with a reserve fund

of speed if their riders needed to call upon it.



Applehead, glancing often behind him, scowled over the puzzle of that

fanlike formation of riders. They would hardly begin so soon to herd him

and his men into that evil little rock basin with the sinister name, and

there was no other reason he could think of which would justify those

tactics, unless another party waited ahead of them. He squinted ahead

uneasily, but the mesa lay parched and empty under the sky--



And then, peering straight into the glare of the sun, he saw, down the

slope which they had climbed without realizing that it would have a

crest, it was so low--Applehead saw the answer to the puzzle; saw and

gave his funny little grunt of astonishment and dismay. Straight as

a chalk line from the sandstone ledge on their right to the

straight-walled butte on their left stretched that boundary line between

the untamed wilderness and the tamed--a barbed wire fence; a four-wire

fence at that, with stout cedar posts whereon the wire was stretched

taut and true. From the look of the posts, it was not new--four or five

years old, perhaps; not six years, certainly, for Applehead had ridden

this way six years before and there had been not so much as a post-hole

to herald the harnessing of the mesa.



Here, then, was the explanation of the fanlike spreading out of the line

of Indians. They knew that the white men would be trapped by the fence,

and they were cutting off the retreat--and keeping out of the hottest

danger-zone of the white men's guns. Even while the four were grasping

the full significance of the trap that they had ridden into unaware, the

Indians topped the ridge behind them, yip-yip-yipping gleefully their

coyotelike yells of triumph. The sound so stirred the slow wrath of Lite

Avery that, without waiting for the word from Applehead he twisted

half around in his saddle, glanced at the nearest Indian along his

rifle-sights, bent his forefinger with swift deliberation upon the

trigger, and emptied the saddle of one yelling renegade, who made haste

to crawl behind a clump of rabbit weed.



"They howl like a mess uh coyotes," Lite observed in justification of

the shot, "and I'm getting sick of hearing 'em."



"Mama!" Weary, exclaimed annoyedly, "that darn fence is on an up-slope,

so it's going to be next to impossible to jump it! I guess here's where

we do about an eight-hundred-foot scene of Indian Warfare, or Fighting

For Their Lives. How yuh feel, Cadwalloper?"



"Me?" Pink's eyes were purple with sheer, fighting rage. "I feel like

cleaning out that bunch back there. They'll have something to howl about

when I get through!"



"Stay back uh me, boys!" Applehead's voice had a masterful sharpness

that made the three tighten reins involuntarily. "You foller me and

don't crowd up on me, neither. Send back a shot or two if them Injuns

gits too ambitious."



The three fell in behind him without cavil or question. He was in charge

of the outfit, and that settled it. Pink, released from irksome inaction

by the permission to shoot, turned and fired back at the first Indian

his sights rested upon. He saw a spurt of sand ten jumps in advance of

his target, and he swore and fired again without waiting to steady his

aim. The sorrel pack-horse, loping along fifty yards or so behind with

a rhythmic clump-clump of frying-pan against coffee-pot at every leap he

took, swerved sharply, shook his head as though a bee had stung him,

and came on with a few stiff-legged "crow hops" to register his violent

objection to being shot through the ear.



Pink, with an increased respect for the shooting skill of Lite Avery,

glanced guiltily at the others to see if they had observed where his

second bullet hit. But the others were eyeing Applehead uneasily and

paid no attention to Pink or his attempts to hit an Indian on the run.

And presently Pink forgot it also while he watched Applehead, who was

apparently determined to commit suicide in a violently original form.



"You fellers keep behind, now---and hold the Injuns back fer a minute

er two," Applehead yelled while he set himself squarely in the saddle,

gathered up his reins as though he were about to "top a bronk" and

jabbed the spurs with a sudden savageness into Johnny's flanks.



"GIT outa here!" he yelled, and Johnny with an astonished lunge, "got."



Straight toward the fence they raced, Johnny with his ears laid back

tight against his skull and his nose pointed straight out before him,

with old Applehead leaning forward and yelling to Johnny with a cracked

hoarseness that alone betrayed how far youth was behind him.



They thought at first that he meant to jump the fence, and they knew he

could not make it. When they saw that he meant to ride through it, Weary

and Pink groaned involuntarily at the certainty of a fall and sickening

entanglement in the wires. Only Lite, cool as though he were rounding up

milch cows, rode half-turned in the saddle and sent shot after shot

back at the line of Navajos, with such swift precision that the Indians

swerved and fell back a little, leaving another pony wallowing in the

sand and taking with them one fellow who limped until he had climbed up

behind one who waited for him.



"Go it, Johnny--dang yore measly hide, go to it! We'll show 'm we ain't

so old 'n' tender we cain't turn a trick t'bug their dang eyes out?

Bust into it! WE'LL show 'em!--" And Applehead shrilled a raucous range

"HOO-EEE-EE!" as Johnny lunged against the taut wires.



It was a long chance he took--a "dang long chance" as Applehead admitted

afterward. But, as he had hoped, it happened that Johnny's stride

brought him with a forward leap against the wires, so that the full

impact of his eleven-hundred pounds plus the momentum of his speed, plus

the weight of Applehead and the saddle, hit the wires fair and full.

They popped like cut wires on a bale of hay--and it was lucky that they

were tight strung so that there was no slack to take some of the force

away. It was not luck, but plain shrewdness on Applehead's part, that

Johnny came straight on, so that there was no tearing see-saw of the

strands as they broke. Two inch-long cuts on his chest and a deeper,

longer one on his foreleg was the price Johnny paid, and that was all.

The lower wire he never touched, since it was a leap that landed him

against the fence. He lurched and recovered himself, and went on at a

slower gallop while Applehead beckoned the three to come on.



"I kain't say I'd want to git in the habit uh bustin' fences that way,"

he grinned over his shoulder as the three jumped through the gap he had

made and forged up to him. "But I calc'late if they's another one Johnny

n' me kin make it, mebby."



"Well, I was brought up in a barbed wire country," Pink exploded, "but

I'll be darned if I ever saw a stunt like that pulled off before!"



"We-ell, I hed a bronk go hog-wild 'n' pop three wires on a fence one

time," Applehead explained modestly, "'n' he didn't cut hisself a-tall,

skurcely. It's all accordin' t' how yuh hit it, I reckon. Anyway, I

calc'lated it was wuth tryin', 'cause we shore woulda had our hands

full if we'd a stopped at that fence, now I'm tellin' yuh! 'N' another

thing," he added bodefully, "I figgured we'd better be gittin' to Luck

In' his bunch. I calc'late they need us, mebby."



No one made any reply to that statement, but even Lite, who never had

been inclined to laugh at him, looked at Applehead with a new respect.

The Indians, having scurried back out of range of Lite's uncomfortably

close shooting, yelled a bedlam of yips and howls and came on again in a

closer group than before, shooting as they rode--at the four men first,

and then at the hindmost pack-horse that gave a hop over the wire

left across the gap, and came galloping heavily after the others. They

succeeded in burying a bullet in the packed bedding, but that was all.



Three hundred yards or so in the lead, the four raced down the long,

gentle slope. A mile or two, perhaps three, they could run before their

horses gave out. But then, when they could run no longer, they would

have to stop and fight; and the question that harped continually through

their minds was: Could they run until they reached Luck and the boys

with him? Could they? They did not even know where Luck was, or

what particular angle of direction would carry them to him quickest.

Applehead and Johnny were pointing the way, keeping a length ahead of

the others. But even old Applehead was riding, as he would have put it,

"by-guess and by-gosh" until they crossed a shallow draw, labored up the

hill beyond, and heard, straight away before them, the faint pop-pop of

rifle shots. Old Applehead turned and sent them a blazing blue glance

over his shoulders.



"RIDE, dang ye!" he barked. "They've got Luck cornered in the Devil's

Fryin'-pan!"





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