Houck stood over the prostrate man,
the smoking revolver in his hand, on his lips a cruel
twist and in his throat a wolfish snarl.
June, watching him with eyes held
in a fascination of terror, felt that at any moment
he might begin pumping shots into the supine body.
She shook off the palsy that held her and almost hurled
her soft young body at him.
“Don’t!” she begged.
“Don’t!” Cold fingers clutched at
his wrist, dragged down the barrel of the forty-five.
“He had it comin’.
He was askin’ for it,” the outlaw said.
He spoke huskily, still looking down at the crumpled
The girl felt in him the slackness
of indecision. Should he shoot again and make
sure? Or let the thing go as it was? In an
instant he would have made up his mind.
She spoke quickly, words tumbling
out pell-mell. “You must hurry - hurry!
When they heard that shot - Listen! There’s
some one coming. Oh, run, run!”
Her staccato warning deflected his
mind from the course toward which it might have turned.
He held up his head, listening. The slap of footsteps
on a board walk could be plainly heard. A voice
lifted itself in question into the night. The
door of Dolan’s opened and let out a fan-shaped
shaft of light. The figures of men could be seen
as they surged across the lit space into the darkness.
June had spoken the truth. He must hurry if he
was to escape. To shoot again now would be to
advertise the spot where he was.
He wrenched his arm from her fingers
and ran. He moved as awkwardly as a bear, but
he covered ground swiftly. In a few seconds the
night had swallowed him.
Instantly the girl was beside Dillon,
on her knees, lifting his head into her arms.
“Oh, Bob - Bob!” she wailed.
He opened his eyes.
“Where did he hit you?” she cried softly.
His face was puzzled. He did
not yet realize what had taken place. “Hit
me - who?”
“That Houck. He shot you. Oh, Bob,
are you much hurt?”
Dillon was recalled to a pain in his
intestines. He pressed his hand against the cartridge
“It’s here,” he said weakly.
He could feel the wet blood soaking
through the shirt. The thought of it almost made
him lose consciousness again.
“L-let’s have a look,” a squeaky
June looked up. Blister had arrived
panting on the scene. Larson was on his heels.
“We better carry him to the
hotel,” the cattleman said to the justice.
“Who did it?”
“Houck,” June sobbed.
She was not weeping, but her breath was catching.
Bob tried to rise, but firm hands
held him down. “I can walk,” he protested.
“Lemme try, anyhow.”
“No,” insisted June.
Blister knelt beside Dillon. “Where’s
the wound at?” he asked.
The young fellow showed him.
“J-June, you go get Doc T-Tuckerman,”
She flew to obey.
The fat man opened the shirt.
“Look out for the blood,” Bob said, still
Blister’s hand was traveling
slowly next to the flesh. “N-no blood here,”
“Why, I felt it.”
“R-reckon not, son.” Blister exposed
his hand in the moonlight.
The evidence bore out what he said.
“Maybe it’s bleeding internally,”
Larson had picked up the belt they
had unstrapped from Dillon’s waist. He
was examining it closely. His keen eyes found
a dent in the buckle. The buckle had been just
above the spot where Bob complained of the pain.
“Maybe it ain’t,”
Larson said. “Looks like he hit yore belt
an’ the bullet went flyin’ wild.”
A closer examination showed that this
must be what had taken place. There was no wound
on Bob’s body. He had been stunned by the
shock and his active imagination had at once accepted
the assumption that he had been wounded.
Bob rose with a shamefaced laugh.
The incident seemed to him very characteristic.
He was always making a fool of himself by getting
frightened when there was no need of it. One could
not imagine Dud Hollister lying down and talking faintly
about an internal bleeding when there was not a scratch
on his body, nor fancying that he could feel blood
soaking through his shirt because somebody had shot
As the three men walked back toward
the hotel, they met June and Dud. The girl cried
out at sight of Bob.
“I’m a false alarm,”
he told her bitterly. “He didn’t hit
“Hit his b-belt buckle.
If this here T-Texas man lives to be a hundred he’ll
never have a closer call. Think of a fellow whangin’
away with a forty-five right close to him, hitting
him where he was aimin’ for, and not even scratching
Bob. O’ course the shock of it knocked him
cold. Naturally it would. But I’ll
go on record that our friend here was born lucky.
I’d ought by rights to be holdin’ an inquest
on the remains,” Blister burbled cheerfully.
June said nothing. She drew a
long sigh of relief and looked at Bob to make sure
that they were concealing nothing from her.
He met her look in a kind of dogged
despair. On this one subject he was so sensitive
that he found criticisms where none were intended.
Blister was making excuses for him, he felt, was preparing
a way of escape from his chicken-hearted weakness.
And he did not want the failure palliated.
“What’s the use of all
that explainin’, Blister?” he said bluntly.
“Fact is, I got scared an’ quit cold.
Thought I was shot up when I wasn’t even powder-burnt.”
He turned on his heel and walked away.
Dud’s white teeth showed in
his friendly, affectionate grin. “Never
did see such a fellow for backin’ hisself into
a corner an’ allowin’ that he’s
a plumb quitter. I’ll bet, if the facts
were known, he come through all right.”
June decided to tell her story.
“Yes, Dud. He must have seen Jake Houck
with me, and when Jake - annoyed me - Bob
jumped at him and hit him. Then Jake shot.”
“Lucky he didn’t shoot
again after Bob was down,” ventured Dud on a
search for information.
In the darkness none of them could
see the warm glow that swept across the cheeks of
the girl. “I kinda got in his way - and
told him he’d better hurry,” she explained.
“Yes, but - Where did
you meet Houck? How did he happen to be with you?”
asked Larson. “To be on this side of town
he must ‘a’ slipped through the guards.”
“He never went to the river.
I found him under the bed in my room a few minutes
ago. Said he ran in there after he left the bank.
He wanted me to get him a horse. I wouldn’t.
But I knew if he was found cornered he would kill
somebody before he was taken. Maybe two or three.
I didn’t know. And of course he wouldn’t
‘a’ let me leave the room alone anyhow.
So I said I’d walk across the park with him
and let him slip into the sage. I thought it
would be better.”
Dud nodded. “We’d
better get the boys on his trail immediate.”
They separated, with that end in view.