Holden shrieked once and sank down, wagging his head slowly from side to side, blood oozing from his mouth and nostrils; and his companion, goaded into a frenzy of blood-lust and insane rage at the sight, threw himself against the door and out into the open, to die under the clear sky, to go like the man he was if he must die. “Damn you! It’ll cost you more yet!” he screamed, wheeling to place his back against the wall.
The triumphant yells of the exultant savages were cut short and turned to howls of dismay by a fusillade which thundered from the south where a crowd of hard-riding, hard-shooting cow-punchers tore out of the thicket like an avalanche and swept over the open sand, yelling and cursing, and then separated to go in hot pursuit of the sprinting Apaches. Some stood up in their stirrups and fired down at a slant, making a short, chopping motion with their heavy Colts; others leaned forward, far over the necks of their horses, and shot with stationary guns; while yet others, with reins dangling free, worked the levers of blue Winchesters so rapidly that the flashes seemed to merge into a continuous flame.
“Thank God! Thank God—an’ Hoppy!” groaned the man at the door of the shack, staggering forward to meet the two men who had lost no time in pursuit of the enemy, but had ridden straight to him.
“I was scared stiff you was done fer!” cried Hopalong, leaping off his horse and shaking hands with his friend, whose hand-clasp was not as strong as usual. “How’s Holden?” he demanded, anxiously.
“He passed. It was a close—” began Red, weakly, but his foreman interposed.
“Shut up, an’ drink this!” ordered Buck, kindly but sternly. “We’ll do the talking for a while; you can tell us all about it later on. Why, hullo!” he cried as Lanky Smith and his two happy companions rode up. “Reckon you must ‘a’ got them pickets.”
“Shore we did! Stalked ’em on our bellies, didn’t we, Skinny?” modestly replied Mr. Smith, the roping expert of the Bar-20. “Ropes an’ clubbed guns did the rest. Anyhow, there was only two anywhere near the trail.”
“We didn’t see you,” responded the foreman, tying the knot of a bandage on Mr. Connors’ arm. “An’ we looked sharp, too.”
“Reckon we was hunting for more; we sort of forgot what you said about waiting for you,” Mr. Smith replied, grinning broadly.
“An’ you’ve got a good memory now,” smiled Mr. Peters.
“We didn’t find no more, though,” offered Mr. Pete Wilson, with grave regret. “An’ we looked good, too. But we got Red, an’ that’s the whole game. Red, you old son-of-a-gun, you can lick yore weight in powder!”
“It’s too bad about Holden,” muttered Red, sullenly.
HOPALONG NURSES A GROUCH