So savage was the defense of their victim against the hillmen’s onslaught that he beat them off. A sudden panic seized them, and those that could still travel fled in terror.
They left behind them four dead and two badly wounded. One would be a cripple to the day of his death. Of those who escaped there was not one that did not carry scars for months as a memento of the battle.
The sheriff was lying in the stall when Sharp found him. From out of the feed-bin the owner of the corral brought his boy to the father whose life was ebbing. The child was trembling like an aspen leaf.
“Picture,” gasped Beaudry, his hand moving feebly toward the chain.
A bullet had struck the edge of the daguerreo-type case.
“She . . . tried . . . to save me . . . again,” murmured the dying man with a faint smile.
He looked at the face of his sweetheart. It smiled an eager invitation to him. A strange radiance lit his eyes.
Then his head fell back. He had gone to join his Lady-Bird.
Dingwell Gives Three Cheers
Dave Dingwell had been in the saddle almost since daylight had wakened him to the magic sunshine of a world washed cool and miraculously clean by the soft breath of the hills. Steadily he had jogged across the desert toward the range. Afternoon had brought him to the foothills, where a fine rain blotted out the peaks and softened the sharp outlines of the landscape to a gentle blur of green loveliness.
The rider untied his slicker from the rear of the saddle and slipped into it. He had lived too long in sun-and-wind-parched New Mexico to resent a shower. Yet he realized that it might seriously affect the success of what he had undertaken.
If there had been any one to observe this solitary traveler, he would have said that the man gave no heed to the beauty of the day. Since he had broken camp his impassive gaze had been fixed for the most part on the ground in front of him. Occasionally he swung his long leg across the rump of the horse and dismounted to stoop down for a closer examination of the hoofprints he was following. They were not recent tracks. He happened to know that they were about three days old. Plain as a printed book was the story they told him.
The horses that had made these tracks had been ridden by men in a desperate hurry. They had walked little and galloped much. Not once had they fallen into the easy Spanish jog-trot used so much in the casual travel of the South-west. The spur of some compelling motive had driven this party at top speed.
Since Dingwell knew the reason for such haste he rode warily. His alert caution suggested the panther. The eye of the man pounced surely upon every bit of cactus or greasewood behind which a possible foe might be hidden. His lean, sun-tanned face was an open letter of recommendation as to his ability to take care of himself in a world that had often glared at him wolfishly. A man in a temper to pick a quarrel would have looked twice at Dave Dingwell before choosing him as the object of it—and then would have passed on to a less competent citizen.