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- The Winning of Barbara Worth - 60/75 -
In a flash Holmes saw the whole situation from his companion's point of view and understood the surveyor's suspicions. At the same time the engineer realized that it was now too late for him to explain his presence or that he was no longer connected with the Company. In his perplexity and chagrin and in the suddenness of it all he said the worst thing possible. "Well, what are you going to do about it?"
Abe's voice was hard. "I'm not going to take any fool chances. This may be a plain ordinary case of hold-up or it may be a job framed up by the Company simply to delay me. It's all the same to me, but this money goes to Republic to-night. Sabe that?"
The other would have spoken but Abe interrupted.
"We've palavered long enough, Mr. Holmes. The horses have finished their feed and it's time to start."
When they were mounted the surveyor said shortly: "Now, sir, you just ride ahead and you ride slow until I give the word--then you go like hell. If you lift a hand to signal or make any mistakes like stopping to fix your saddle girth or checking up to speak to that bunch or turning 'round, I get you first and you can't afford to have any hazy notions about my not wanting to kill you because you're from New York. If you're square you can make good on those Company greasers down there and I'll apologize afterwards. If you're in this deal with your damned Company, you'll stop drawing your salary right here and there won't be any funeral expenses for them to pay either! Go ahead."
"Just a word first," and Abe saw that the engineer was as cool as a veteran. "Granting that you are right about that crowd being down there to stop us, if anything should happen to you tell me how to get into Republic with the money. You will be taking no chances with that at least."
"Follow the trail to the telephone line. You know it from there. There's water at Wolf Wells. Give your horse a drink but don't wait to rest. You can push him from now on as hard as you like. You should make it to Republic in six hours from here. Give the money to Miss Worth. Anything else?"
Holmes replied by turning in his saddle and moving ahead. Abe followed, his horse's nose even with the flank of the animal in the lead.
Easily they jogged ahead down the grade toward the narrow throat of the canyon. A hundred yards from where two points of jutting rock in the walls of the mountain hallway leave an opening not more than fifty feet wide, Holmes, with the slightest turn of his head, spoke, over his shoulder. "I see a man's face looking around that point of rock on the right."
"Be ready when I give the word."
"Won't they pot us?"
"Not if they can get the drop. They'll turn us loose on the desert."
"Shall I shoot?"
Behind the engineer's back Abe smiled grimly. "When they halt us and I give the word, cut loose if you want to. I'll take all on the left."
The distance lessened to a hundred feet.
Suddenly from the left three mounted Mexicans pushed into the road and from the right two more.
Even as they threw up their guns and called: "Alto--Halt!" Abe gave the word:
The two white men drove their spurs deep into their horses' flanks, throwing themselves forward in their saddles with the same motion. With mad plunges the animals leaped toward the highwaymen. Even as he spoke Abe's gun had cracked thrice in quick succession--the Mexicans firing at about the same instant. Two of the horsemen on the left went down and the surveyor reeled almost out of his saddle. But Holmes did not see. His own revolver barked a prompt second to Abe's, and on his side a Mexican went over clutching at his saddle horn. The horses of the Mexicans were rearing and plunging. The quick reports of the revolvers echoed viciously from the rocky walls.
But the white men went through. Down the rocky hallway they raced, side by side now, as hard as their maddened horses could run. A moment to slip fresh cartridges into his cylinder and Holmes cried to his companion: "Good stuff, old man! Go on; I'll hold 'em." And before Abe could grasp his purpose he had jerked his horse to his haunches and, wheeling, faced back up the canyon and disappeared around a turn.
Even as the surveyor was trying to check his own horse--a tough- mouthed brute--another rattling volley of revolver shots echoed down the canyon. By the time Abe had succeeded in turning his stubborn mount Holmes re-appeared.
"All over!" the engineer sang out, as his companion wheeled again and rode beside him. "Two of 'em were coming after us. I got one and the other turned tail." He winced with pain as he spoke. "They presented me with a little souvenir, though."
Abe saw that his left arm was swinging loosely. "You are hurt," he said sharply, reining up his horse. "Where is it?"
"Here, in my shoulder. It don't amount to anything. Let's get on to water and I'll fix it up." With the word the engineer, whose mount had also stopped, started ahead. The horse went a few steps and stumbled--struggled to regain his feet--staggered weakly a few steps farther--stumbled again--and went down. As he fell Holmes sprang clear. The animal raised his head, made another attempt to rise and dropped back. Another bullet from the last encounter had found a mark.
The dismounted engineer, who stood as if dazed, staring at his dead horse, was aroused by the voice of Abe Lee. "It looks like we'd got all that was coming to us this trip."
At his companion's tone Holmes looked up quickly. The surveyor's lips were white and his face was drawn with pain.
The man on the ground sprang toward him with a startled exclamation. "You too; Abe! Where is it?"
"My leg, on the other side."
Quickly the engineer went around Lee's horse to find the leg of the surveyor's khaki trousers darkly stained with blood. "Get down," he commanded and, reaching with his uninjured arm, almost lifted his companion from the saddle. An examination revealed an ugly hole in the surveyor's thigh. With handkerchiefs and some strips cut from the engineer's coat they dressed their wounds as best they could. When they had finished, Holmes straightened up and looked around. Behind them was the bold mountain wall, grim and forbidding; on either hand the dry, barren Mesa; and ahead the miles and miles of desert.
As if in answer to his thoughts the man on the ground said grimly: "This is hell now, ain't it? Mr. Holmes, I'll make that apology. If you please, would you mind shaking hands with me?"
Willard Holmes grasped the out-stretched hand cordially. "You did just right, old man. It was the only thing you could do. But I want to tell you quick, before anything else happens, that I'm not a Company man any more."
"Not a Company man?'
"Greenfield fired me because I helped Jefferson Worth to interest the capitalist who is furnishing him the money he needs."
For a moment Abe Lee looked at the engineer in silence; then his pale lips twisted into a smile. "Mr. Holmes, would you mind shaking hands again?"
With a laugh the engineer once more held out his hand. Then he asked seriously: "How are we going to get out of this, Abe?"
The smile was already gone from the surveyor's face. He answered slowly, with dogged determination in his voice. "We've got to get this money to Republic to-night. It's the only thing that will stop those cholos and Cocopahs. We'll make it to water together, then you can go on. Help me up!"
With the engineer's assistance Abe managed to gain his seat in the saddle, Holmes mounting behind, and thus they made their way down into the Basin and to Wolf Wells.
[Illustration: "Adios. Tell Barbara I'm all right"]
There Holmes helped his companion from the horse and to the shade of a mesquite tree near the water hole, where he stood over him as he lay on the ground, protesting vigorously against leaving him alone in the desert. But the surveyor argued him down. "I couldn't possibly make it if we had another horse," he said. "I'm down and out. There'll be hell to pay in Republic to-night, even if the boys have held them off this long. The money's got to get there this evening. You can reach there by ten o'clock and send a wagon back for me. Don't you see there's no other way?" He held out the black leather bill-book with the rubber bands. "Here, take this and go on. Go on, man! What's a night in the desert to me?"
"But those greasers may come this way."
"They won't. But if they should I have my gun, haven't I, and I'll see them before they see me. Go on, I tell you. We've lost too much time already. Think of that mob and Barbara. You've got to go, Holmes."
The engineer turned towards his horse. "Good-by, old man."
"Adios. Tell Barbara I'm all right."
Abe Lee watched the loping horse grow smaller and smaller in the distance, then watched the cloud of dust that lifted from the trail to hang all golden in the last of the light. Turning he saw the summit of the mountain wall sharply defined against the sky. With a
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