FIVE HUNDRED YARDS’ RANGE
Percy Darrow, with the keenness that always characterised his mental apprehension, had understood enough of my strangled cry. He had not hesitated nor delayed for an explanation, but had turned track and was now running as fast as his long legs would carry him back toward the opening of the ravine. My companions stood watching him, but making no attempt either to shoot or to follow. For a moment I could not understand this, then remembered the disappearance of Perdosa. My heart jumped wildly, for the Mexican had been gone quite long enough to have cut off the assistant’s escape. I could not doubt that he would pick off his man at close range as soon as the fugitive should have reached the entrance to the arroyo.
There can be no question that he would have done so had not his Mexican impatience betrayed him. He shot too soon. Percy Darrow stopped in his tracks. Although we heard the bullet sing by us, for an instant we thought he was hit. Then Perdosa fired a second time, again without result. Darrow turned sharp to the left and began desperately to scale the steep cliffs.
I once took part in a wild boar hunt on the coast of California. Our dogs had penned a small band at the head of a narrow barranca, from which a single steep trail led over the hill. We, perched on another hill some three or four hundred yards away, shot at the animals as they toiled up the trail. The range was long, but we had time, for the severity of the climb forced the boars to a foot pace.
It was exactly like that. Percy Darrow had two hundred feet of ascent to make. He could go just so fast; must consume just so much time in his snail-like progress up the face of the hill. During that time he furnished an excellent target, and the loose sandstone showed where each shot struck.
A significant indication was that the men did not take the trouble to get nearer, for which manoeuvre they would have had time in plenty, but distributed themselves leisurely for a shooting match.
“First shot,” claimed Handy Solomon, and without delay fired off-hand. A puff of dust showed to the right. “Nerve no good,” he commented, “jerked her just as I pulled.”
Pulz fired from the knee. The dust this time puffed below.
“Thought she’d carry up at that distance,” he muttered.
The Nigger, too, missed, and Thrackles grinned triumphantly.
“I get a show,” said he. He spread his massive legs apart, drew a deep breath, and raised his weapon. It lay in his grasp steady as a log, and I saw that Percy Darrow’s fate was in the hands of that dangerous class of natural marksman that possesses no nerves. But for the second time my teeth saved his life. The trigger guard slipped against Thrackles’s lacerated hand almost at the instant of discharge. He missed; and the bullet went wide.