A LITTLE later Buck and Sandy Davitt sat in the dust, cigarettes in their still tremulous hands, and watched their victims.
"After all, we bungled it a heap," said Davitt morosely. "Now there'll be hell to pay and no pitch hot! Buck, we'd ought to finish it."
Before them lay Steve Arnold, shot through the leg and with an ugly scalp wound; unconscious, but far from dead. The sheriff of Pecos lay beside Arnold, and was equally unconscious. His right knee had been dislocated in the fall, he had a bullet through the right shoulder, another had broken his right wrist.
"We'd ought to finish 'em for our own sake now," repeated Sandy Davitt.
Buck shook his head. He was white to the lips.
"Do it if you can, Sandy. I can't."
Sandy Davitt picked up his gun, compressed his lips, then with an oath thrust the weapon away. It was more than he could do. Buck smiled ironically
"It ain't so bad, at that," he observed. "They're both put out o' business and in our hands; anyhow, it's better'n if we'd killed them, Sandy. Here's the story. They come on us and started shooting; downed them two boys yonder 'fore we could git into action. Savvy? So we let 'em have it in self-defense. How you goin' to prove otherwise?"
Davitt nodded, and his face cleared. "All right. But I see plain how come Sam Fisher missed us with them two shots; he done the work with his left hand."
"He didn't miss far at that." Buck shivered a little.
"Thanks," said Sam Fisher, opening his eyes. "So it ain't a dream after all, Buck? Say, I'd appreciate it a lot if you gents would do somethin' to my right knee."
Buck looked at his companion. By tacit consent they rose and approached their victims, who had been thoroughly disarmed. Fisher turned his head and inspected Steve Arnold.
"Well, this ain't so bad!" he observed. "Look after Steve first, Buck. His leg is sure pumping out a lot o' blood. Tie him up good."
"You shut up," said Buck roughly. "Catch on here, Sandy."
They rudely bandaged Arnold's leg, found that his scalp wound was not serious, and turned to Sam Fisher. Investigation confirmed his previous schedule of injuries.
"She's dislocated," announced Sandy. "Buck, catch hold of the ankle; I got the thigh. Go to it."
Sam Fisher lay back, his fingers gripping at the dirt, a sweat of agony beading his brow. It was done. He said no word as the two men effected a hasty bandaging of his broken right wrist and wounded shoulder. Then they stood erect above him.
"Sandy," said Buck, steady and calm once more, "you got to ride on the back trail in a hurry. Find the boys we left with Jake Harper and bring 'em on."
"You can't stay here with 'em," said Sandy Davitt roughly.
"I don't aim to. We got two extra hosses. Tie Arnold in one saddle; Fisher can ride without bein' tied, I reckon. Anyway, he's got to! You help me with 'em, then ride on hard for the boys. We'll put these two with Jake and hold 'em safe for a spell, then I'll clean up everything here and light out. A week will do it."
"You aim to light out, do you?" asked Davitt in surprise. Buck nodded.
"Yep. It's that or kill Sam Fisher, and I guess I've gone my limit to-day, Sandy. We've done a-plenty."
"Suit yourself." Sandy Davitt shrugged.
"Besides, Tracy will be back soon. We'll lay charges o' this murder," and Buck pointed to the two dead men, "against 'em both and lock 'em up. We'll git clear off 'fore they are able to travel. Dog-gone it! If Fisher was whole, I'd say shoot, but he's too much shot up, Sandy. Dogged if I can do it now!"
They led out the horses. Into one saddle they lifted the unconscious Arnold, and then lashed him firmly in place. With an effort, Sam Fisher gained his feet, his right hand dangling in its bandage. The ghost of his old whimsical smile touched his lips.
"Put me up, gents, and I guess I can ride," he said quietly. "And I still got one good hand for the reins——"
"The reins ain't goin' to trouble you none," intervened Buck. "Ready, Sandy!"
Once he was placed in the saddle, Fisher clung to the pommel, his face livid; the pain of the operation was intense. However, he would be able to ride fairly well.
"All right, Sandy," said Buck as he strung together the reins of the two horses. "Git off and on your way, cowboy! And use them spurs."
Sandy Davitt leaped to his saddle, yelled at his cayuse, and was gone in a mad rush.
For a little Sam Fisher could only cling to his pommel, faint with pain, his head swirling. When he came to himself he found himself riding beside the still senseless Steve Arnold. Buck rode in front, their reins fastened to his saddle, his rifle across the pommel. He glanced back and glinted a hard smile at the sheriff of Pecos.
"You're luckier that most, Fisher. Yes, sir, you sure are. If it'd been anybody else you'd be dead this minute."
Sam Fisher tried to smile. "I don't see, Buck, why in thunder you didn't finish the job. It isn't like you to weaken at killing a man."
"I may yet." Buck eyed him morosely. "Reckon I got sentimental for a spell."
"Then you'd better do it quick," said Fisher, "for I'll sure get you, Buck. Yes, sir, I'll sure——"
His words ended in a groan of anguish and he clutched at the pommel.
Buck smiled. "I reckon you won't do no gettin' for some while to come, sheriff; you with a bum laig, a busted arm, and a' bullet through the shoulder!"
"I've still got one good arm." Fisher tried to smile, but his lips twisted in pain. A groan was torn from him again. "This knee! I can't ride with it, Buck."
"You got to," said Buck shortly.
At this time, from the wooded hills ahead of them, came a single rifle shot that echoed and died away. Buck frowned and vainly searched the hills with his eyes. Nothing was in sight.
For ten minutes the three pursued their slow course. Fisher clung to his saddle; every movement of his horse caused him torture. At last a cry burst from his lips—a cry so bitter, so desperate in its suffering that Buck drew rein.
"Buck! I can't do it! I can't do it! You got to put your coat or somethin' under my knee; it's more'n I can bear."
The man reeled in the saddle as he spoke; he was bent, broken, all his iron nerve shattered by the agony of his tortured body. His blue eyes, dulled with pain, stared horribly at Buck.
The rancher, a trace of pity in his harsh features, silently nodded. He put the rifle in its boot and took off his corduroy coat. This he rolled loosely, then edged his horse beside that of the swaying Fisher.
"Ease up on your laig now while I shove her underneath."
Fisher reeled, caught at the shoulder of Buck as the latter stooped. Another groan broke from his lips when Buck thrust the rolled corduroy beneath his leg. Then suddenly——
Fisher's left hand caught the revolver from the holster of the stooping rancher. Swift as light he slashed the front sight across the head of Buck.
"Still got one hand, Buck!" lifted his voice.
Buck hardly knew what had hit him. That front-sight blow stunned him, raked his skull almost to the bone, left a grisly wound. Blindly putting one hand to his head, Buck uttered a hoarse cry, plunged forward, and rolled to the earth senseless.
For a moment Fisher sat gazing down, the revolver in his hand.
"Good work, Sam!" lifted a roaring voice from the trees. "Good work! I was jest gettin' a bead on the skunk when you riz up."
Jake Harper urged a horse into sight, uncocking his rifle as he came. Fisher stared at him weakly, hardly realizing what the man's appearance here meant.
"You got away?" he murmured.
"You bet! Any time I can't git out o' buckskin thongs when they's water handy to stretch 'em—— Good gosh, Sam! What's happened?"
Sam Fisher reeled a little. Jake looked at the limp figure of Arnold, perceived that Fisher himself was swaying in the saddle.
"Me, I'm about all in, Jake," said the whimsical voice. "You got to do the rest. Don't hurt Buck, mind; he's got to go to the pen. I have the goods on him. You have to take us back to the Lazy S—but look out! Look out for that man Sandy——"
Jake Harper dismounted, rushed to Fisher's side, and caught the sheriff of Pecos as he went limp.
"Don't you worry none about Sandy Davitt," he said grimly. "That's his hoss I'm ridin' now. Didn't ye hear a shot a while back?"
But Sam Fisher could make no response.