Beyond a bend he came upon a jutting bank that for lack of better might serve his purpose. He could scoop out a cave in which his partner might lie protected from the hot midday sun. If he filled the mouth with tumble weeds during the day they might escape observation for a time.
When the Texan returned to his friend, he found him in restless slumber. He tossed to and fro, muttering snatches of incoherent talk. The wound seemed to pain him even in his sleep, for he moved impatiently as though trying to throw off some weight lying heavy upon it.
But when he awoke his mind was apparently clear. He met Billie’s anxious look with a faint, white-lipped smile. To his friend the young fellow had the signs of a very sick man. It was a debatable question whether to risk moving him now or take the almost hopeless chance of escaping detection where they were.
Prince put the decision on Jim himself. The answer came feebly, but promptly.
“Sure, move me. What’s one little—bullet in the shoulder, Billie? Gimme some sleep—an’ I’ll be up an’ kickin’.”
Yet the older man noticed that his white lips could scarcely find strength to make the indomitable boast.
Very gently Billie lifted the wounded man and put him on the back of the cowpony. He held him there and guided the animal through the sand to the bend. Clanton hung on with clenched teeth, calling on the last ounce of power in his exhausted body with his strong will.
“Just a hundred yards more,” urged the walking man as they rounded the bend. “We’re ’most there now.”
He lifted the slack body down and put it in the sand. The hands of the boy were ice cold. The sap of life was low in him. Prince covered him with the blankets and his coat. He gave him a sup or two of whiskey, then gathered buffalo chips and made a fire in which he heated some large rocks. These he tucked in beneath the blankets beside the shivering body. Slowly the heat warmed the invalid. After a time he fell once more into troubled sleep.
Billie drove his horse away and pelted it with stones to a trot. He could not keep it with him without risking discovery, but he was almost as much afraid that its arrival in Los Portales might start a search for the hidden fugitives. There was always a chance, of course, that the bay would stop to graze on the plains and not be found for a day or two.
The rest of the night the Texan put in digging a cave with a piece of slaty shale. The clay of the bank was soft and he made fair progress. The dirt he scooped out was thrown by him into the river.
The Good Samaritan
A girl astride a buckskin pony rode down to the river to water her mount. She carried across the pommel of her saddle a small rifle. Hanging from the cantle strings was a wild turkey she had shot.
It was getting along toward evening and she was on her way back to Los Portales. The girl was a lover of the outdoors and she had been hunting alone. In the clear, amber light of afternoon the smoke of the town rose high into the sky, though the trading post itself could not be seen until she rounded the bend.