In The Devil's Frying-pan





Luck, riding confidently on the trail of the three horsemen who had

taken to the south along the front of the square butte, believed that

the turn of the trail around the southern end meant simply that the

three who came this way would meet their companions on the other side,

and that he, following after, would be certain to meet Applehead. He had

hopes of the speedy capture of Ramon Chavez and his men, and the

hope spread to the four who went with him, so that their spirits rose

considerably. Big Medicine and Happy Jack even found a good deal of

amusement in their exchange of opinions regarding old granny Applehead

and his constant fear of the Navvies. Now and then the Native Son joined

in the laugh, though his attention was chiefly given to the discussion

Andy and Luck were having about Ramon and his manner of using Luck's

work as an opportunity to rob the bank, and the probable effect it would

have on the general standing of Luck and his company unless they managed

to land the thieves in jail. Being half Mexican himself, the Native Son

was sensitive upon the subject of Ramon, and almost as anxious to see

Ramon in jail as was Luck himself.



So while Applehead and his boys were scenting danger and then finding

themselves in the middle of it, Luck and his party rode along absorbed

in themselves and in the ultimate goal, which was Ramon. They saw

nothing queer about the trail they followed, and they saw no evidence

of treachery anywhere. They rode with the rifles slung under their

right thighs and their six-shooters at their hips, and their eyes roving

casually over their immediate surroundings while their minds roved

elsewhere--not because they were growing careless, but because there was

absolutely nothing to rouse their suspicions, now that they no longer

bad Applehead along to preach danger and keep them keyed up to expect

it.



They followed the tracks through a scattered grove of stunted pinons,

circled at fault for a few minutes in the rocks beyond, and then picked

up the trail. They were then in the narrow neck which was called

the handle of the Devil's Frying-pan--and they would have ridden

unsuspectingly into the very Pan itself, had not the Native Son's quick

eyes caught a movement on the rim-rock across the bare, rock-bottomed

basin. He spoke to luck about it, and luck levelled his field glasses

and glimpsed a skulking form up there.



"Hunt yourselves some shelter, boys!" he cried in the sharp tone of

warning. "We'll make sure who's ahead before we go any farther."



They ducked behind rocks or trees and piled off their horses in a burry.

And a scattered fusillade from the rim-rock ahead of them proved how

urgent was their need.



For the first fifteen minutes or so they thought that they were fighting

Ramon and his party, and their keenest emotions were built largely of

resentment, which showed in the booming voice of Big Medicine when he

said grimly:



"Well, I'd jest about as soon pack Ramon in dead, as lead 'im in alive

'n' kickin', by cripes! Which is him, d'yuh reckon?"



From behind a rock shield luck was studying the ledge. "They're

Injuns--or there are Injuns in the bunch, at least," he told them after

a moment. "See that sharp point sticking up straight ahead? I saw an

Injun peeking around the edge--to the south. You watch for him, Andy,

and let him have it where he lives next time be sticks his head out." He

swung the glasses slowly, taking every inch of the rim in his field of

vision. As he moved them be named the man he wanted to watch each place

where he had reason to suspect that someone was hiding.



The disheartening part of it was that he needed about a dozen more

men than he had; for the rock wall which was the rim of the Frying-pan

seemed alive with shooters who waited only for a fair target. Then the

Native Son, crouched down between a rock and a clump of brush, turned

his head to see what his horse was looking at, back whence they had

come.



"Look behind you, Luck," he advised with more calmness than one would

expect of a man in his straits. "They're back in the pines, too."



"Fight 'em off--and take care that your backs don't show to those babies

on the rim-rocks," he ordered instantly, thrusting his glasses into

their case and snatching his rifle from its boot on the saddle. "They

won't tackle coming across that bare hollow, even if they can get down

into it without breaking their necks. Happy, lead your horse in

here between these rocks where mine is. Bud, see if you can get the

pack-horses over there outa sight among those bushes and rocks. We'll

hold 'em off while you fix the horses--can't let ourselves be set afoot

out here!"



"I-should-say--NOT!" Andy Green punctuated the sentence with a shot or

two. "Say, I wish they'd quit sneaking around in those trees that way,

so a fellow could see where to shoot!"



A half hour dragged by. From the rim-rock came occasional shots,

to which the besieged could not afford to reply, they were so fully

occupied with holding back those who skulked among the trees. The

horses, fancying perhaps that this was a motion-picture scene, dozed

behind their rock-and-brush shelters and switched apathetically at

buzzing flies and whining bullets alike. Their masters crouched behind

their bowlders and watched catlike for some open demonstration, and

fired when they had the slightest reason to believe that they would hit

something besides scenery.



"Miguel must have upset their plans a little," Luck deduced after a

lull. "They set the stage for us down in that hollow, I guess. You can

see what we'd have been up against if we had ridden ten rods farther,

out away from these rocks and bushes."



"Aw, they wouldn't dast kill a bunch uh white men!" Happy Jack

protested, perhaps for his own comfort.



"You think they wouldn't? Luck's voice was surcharged with sarcasm. What

do you think they're trying to do, then?"



"Aw, the gov'ment wouldn't STAND fer no such actions!"



"Well, by cripes, I hain't aimin' to give the gov'ment no job uh

setting on my remains, investigatin' why I was killed off!" Big Medicine

asserted, and took a shot at a distant grimy Stetson to prove he meant

what he said.



"Say, they'd have had a SNAP if we'd gone on, and let these fellows back

here in the trees close up behind us!" Andy Green exclaimed suddenly,

with a vividness of gesture that made Happy Jack try to swallow his

Adam's apple. "By gracious, it would have been a regular rabbit-drive

business. They could set in the shade and pick us off just as they

darned pleased."



"Aw, is that there the cheerfullest thing you can think of to say?"

Happy Jack was sweating, with something more than desert heat.



"Why, no. The cheerfullest thing I can think of right now is that

Mig, here, don't ride with his eyes shut." He cast a hasty glance of

gratitude toward the Native Son, who flushed under the smooth brown of

his cheeks while he fired at a moving bush a hundred yards back in the

grove.



For another half hour nothing was gained or lost. The Indians fired

desultorily, spatting bit& of lead here and there among the rocks

but hitting nobody. The Happy Family took a shot at every symptom of

movement in the grove, and toward the rim-rock they sent a bullet

now and then, just to assure the watchers up there that they were not

forgotten, and as a hint that caution spelled safety.



For themselves, the boys were amply protected there on the side of the

Frying-pan where the handle stretched out into the open land toward the

mountain. Perhaps here was once a torrent flowing from the basin-like

hollow walled round with rock; at any rate, great bowlders were

scattered all along the rim as though spewed from the basin by some

mighty force of the bygone ages. The soil, as so often happens in the

West, was fertile to the very edge of the Frying-pan and young pinons

and bushes had taken root there and managed to keep themselves alive

with the snow-moisture of winter, in spite of the scanty rainfall the

rest of the year.



The boys were amply protected, yes; but there was not a drop of water

save what they had in their canteens, and there was no feed for their

horses unless they chose to nibble tender twigs off the bushes near them

and call that food. There was, of course, the grain in the packs, but

there was neither time nor opportunity to get it out. If it came to a

siege, luck and his boys were in a bad way, and they knew it. They were

penned as well as protected there in that rocky, brushy neck. The most

that they could do was to discourage any rush from those back in the

grove; as to getting through that grove themselves, and out in the open,

there was not one chance in a hundred that they could do it.



From the outside in to where they were entrenched was just a trifle

easier. The Indiana in the grove were all absorbed in watching the edge

of the Frying-pan and had their backs to the open, never thinking that

white men would be coming that way; for had not the other party been

decoyed around the farther end of the big butte, and did not several

miles and a barbed-wire fence lie between?



So when Applehead and his three, coming in from the north, approached

the grove, they did it under cover of a draw that hid them from sight.

From the shots that were fired, Applehead guessed the truth; that

Luck's bunch had sensed danger before they had actually ridden into the

Frying-pan itself, and that the Navajos were trying to drive them out of

the rocks, and were not making much of a success of it.



"Now," Applehead instructed the three when they were as close as they

could get to the grove without being seen, "I calc'late about the best

thing we kin do, boys, is t' spur up our hosses and ride in amongst 'em

shooting and a-hollerin'. Mebby we kin jest natcherlay stampede 'em--but

we've sure got t' git through In' git under cover mighty dang suddent,

er they'll come to theirselves an' wipe us clean off'n the map--if

they's enough of 'em. These here that's comin' along after us, they'll

help t' swell the party, oncet they git here. I calc'late they figger

't we're runnin' head-on into a mess uh trouble, 'n' they don't want t'

colleck any stray bullets--'n' that's why they've dropped back in the

last half mile er so. Haze them pack bosses up this way, Pink, so'st

they won't git caught up 'fore they git t' what the rest air. Best use

yore six-guns fer this, boys--that'll leave ye one hand t' guide yore

bosses with, and they're handier all around in close--work. Air ye

ready? Then come on--foller me 'n' come a-whoopin'!"



A-whooping they came, up out of the draw and in among the trees as

though they had a regiment behind them. Certain crouching figures

jumped, sent startled glances behind them and ran like partridges

for cover farther on. Only one or two paused to send a shot at these

charging fiends who seemed bent on riding them down and who yelled like

devils turned loose from the pit. And before they had found safe

covert on the farther fringes of the grove and were ready to meet the

onslaught, the clamor had ceased and the white men had joined those

others among the rocks.



So now there were nine men cornered here on the edge of the Frying-pan,

with no water for their horses and not much hope of getting out of

there.



"Darn you, Applehead, why didn't you keep out of this mess?" Luck

demanded with his mouth drawn down viciously at the corners and his eyes

warm with affection and gratitude. "What possessed your fool heart to

ride into this trap?"



"We-ell, dang it, we had t' ride som'ers, didn't we?" Applehead, safe

behind a bowlder, pulled off his greasy, gray Stetson and polished his

bald head disconcertedly. "Had a bunch uh Navvies hangin' t' our heels

like tumbleweed--'n' we been doin' some RIDIN', now, I'm a tellin' ye!

'F Lite, here, hadn't kep' droppin' one now an' then fur the rest t'

devour, I calc'late we'd bin et up, a mile er two back!"



Lite looked up from shoving more cartridges into his rifle-magazine. "If

we hadn't had a real, simon-pure go-getter to boss the job," he drawled,

"I reckon all the shooting I did wouldn't have cut any ice. Ain't that

right, boys?"



Pink, resting his rifle in a niche of the boulder and moving it here and

there trying to fix his sights on a certain green sweater back in the

woods that he had glimpsed a minute before, nodded assent. "You're durn

tootin' it's right!" he testified.



Weary looked shining-eyed at Applehead's purple face. "Sure, that's

right!" he emphasized. "And I don't care how much of a trap you call

this, it isn't a patching to the one Applehead busted us out of. He's

what I call a Real One, boys."



"Aw, shet yore dang head 'n' git yore rifles workin'!" Applehead

blurted. "This yere ain't no time fer kiddin', 'n' I'm tellin' yuh

straight. What's them fellers acrost the Fryin'-pan think they're tryin'

t' do? luck le's you'n me make a few remarks over that way, 'n' leave

the boys t' do some gun-talk with these here babies behind us. Dang it,

if I knowed of a better place 'n' what this is fer holdin' 'em off, I'd

say make a run fer it. But I don't 'n' that's fact. Yuh musta sprung the

trap 'fore yuh got inside, 'cause they shore aimed t' occupy this nest

uh rocks theirselves, with you fellers down there in the Fryin'-pan

where they could git at yuh.



"Thar's one of 'em up on the rim-rock--see 'im?--standin' thar, by

granny, like he was darin' somebody t' cut loose! Here, Lite, you spill

some lead up thar. We'll learn 'im t' act up smart--"



"Hey, hold on!" Luck grabbed Lite's arm as he was raising his rifle

for a close shot at the fellow. "Don't shoot! Don't you see? Thaf's the

peace-sign he's making!"



"Well, now, dang it, he better be makin' peace-signs!" growled Applehead

querulously, and sat down heavily on a shelf of the rock. "'Cause Lite,

here, shore woulda tuk an ear off'n him in another minute, now I'm

tellin' ye!"





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