The road along which he was passing had on both sides of it a row of big cottonwoods, whose branches met in an arch above. Dick, with that instinct for safety which every man-hunter has learned, walked down the middle of the street, eyes and ears alert for the least sign of an ambush.
Two men approached on the plank sidewalk. They were quarreling. Suddenly a knife flashed, and one of the men went with an oath to the ground. Dick reached for his gun and plunged straight for the assailant, who had stooped as if to strike again the prostrate man. The rescuer stumbled over a taut rope and at the same moment a swarm of men fell upon him. Even as he rose and shook off the clutching hands Gordon knew that he was the victim of a ruse.
He had lost his revolver in the fall. With clenched fists he struck hard and sure. They swarmed upon him, so many that they got in each other’s way. Now he was down, now up again. They swayed to and fro in a huddle, as does a black bear surrounded by a pack of dogs. Still the man at the heart of the melee struck—and struck—and struck again. Men went down and were trodden under foot, but he reeled on, stumbling as he went, turning, twisting, hitting hard and sure with all the strength that many good clean years in the open had stored within him. Blows fell upon his curly head as it rose now and again out of the storm—blows of guns, of knives, of bony knuckles. Yet he staggered forward, bleeding, exhausted, feeling nothing of the blows, seeing only the distorted faces that snarled on every side of him.
He knew that when he went down it would be to stay. Even as he flung them aside and hammered at the brown faces he felt sure he was lost. The coat was torn from his back. The blood from his bruised and cut face and scalp blinded him. Heavy weights dragged at his arms as they struck wildly and feebly. Iron balls seemed to chain his feet. He plowed doggedly forward, dragging the pack with him. Furiously they beat him, striking themselves as often as they did him. His shoulders began to sway forward. Men leaped upon him from behind. Two he dragged down with him as he went. The sky was blotted out. He was tired—deadly tired. In a great weariness he felt himself sinking together.
The consciousness drained out of him as an ebbing wave does from the sands of the shore.
MANUEL TO THE RESCUE
Valencia Valdes did not conform closely to the ideal her preceptress at the Washington finishing school had held as to what constitutes a perfect lady. Occasionally her activities shocked Manuel, who held to the ancient view that maidens should come to matrimony with the innocence born of conventual ignorance. He would have preferred his wife to be a clinging vine, but in the case of Valencia this would be impossible.