Frank Merriwell's Alarm: or, Doing His Best
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“Shoot!” he cried, his voice ringing out clear and unshaken – “shoot and prove yourself a detestable coward!”
The other lads held their breath. They felt like interfering, but something in Frank’s manner seemed to warn them to keep still and not try to aid him.
“You think I won’t do it,” muttered Higgins. “Well, I’ll show ye! I always do exactly as I say. Now, you eat lead!”
There was a scream, a swish, a rush of feet, a flitting form, and Isa Isban had flung herself in front of Frank, protecting him with her own body!
The heavy revolver spoke!
Frank had realized with wonderful quickness that the girl meant to save him by protecting him with her body, and he caught her by the shoulders, flinging her to the floor in an effort to keep her from being shot at any cost to himself.
He would not have been successful, however, but for big Bruce Browning.
The big fellow had been watching Higgins as a hawk watches a chicken. At first, he had not thought it possible the sheriff would fire. He could not conceive that the man was such a ruffian. At the last moment, however, he saw Higgins meant to shoot.
Browning’s hand rested on the back of a chair. With a swiftness that was simply marvelous in one who naturally moved with the greatest slowness, he swung that chair into the air and flung it at the furious sheriff.
Higgins saw the movement out of the corners of his eyes, and, although the missile had not reached him when he pulled the trigger, his aim had been disconcerted.
The bullet touched Frank’s ear as it passed and buried itself in the wall.
Then old Drew dashed out the light, and the place was plunged in darkness.
CHAPTER XXV. – ESCAPE – CONCLUSION
The sheriff’s assistant lost no time in getting out of the cabin, rushing to one of the horses, which had been left a short distance away, and mounted. Then he rode madly away through the forest, deserting Higgins in a most cowardly manner.
When the lamp in the cabin was relighted, Higgins was found stretched senseless on the floor, the chair having struck him on the head and cut a long gash, from which blood was flowing.
“I’m afraid I’ve killed him!” exclaimed Browning. “I didn’t mean to do that, but I had to do something. I couldn’t keep still and see him shoot Frank down like a dog.”
“It serves him right!” said Diamond, but his face was pale, and he looked very anxious.
“I sincerely hope he will come around all right,” said Frank, as he knelt by the man’s side. “This scrape is bad enough, and, although he has shown himself a ruffian, I do not think we care to take the life of any human being.”
Isa Isban was looking down at the man, and her face softened and showed pity.
“You are right, Mr. Merriwell,” she gently said. “You have taught me a lesson. Higgins was a handsome man in his way, and it is a pity to have him die with his boots on like this. We’ll see what we can do to fix him up.”
Frank looked up at her, and one glance was enough to convince him of her sincerity.
“Poor girl!” he thought.“She has never been taught the difference between right and wrong. Even now, if she had a show, she might become something far better than she is.”
She knelt on the opposite side of the unconscious man.
“Bring some water, Drew,” she sharply commanded. “Bring something with which we can bandage his head.”
“Why don’t ye let him die?” whined the old man.
“It would be a bad thing for you if we did,” she returned. “His deputy has puckacheed, and he won’t do a thing but bring a posse here as soon as possible. It will be all the better for you if Bill Higgins is all right when the posse appears.”
“I’m ruined anyway,” declared Drew. “I’ll have to git out. They will search, and they’re bound to find everything if they do.”
“We’ll have everything out of here before morning, and then let them search. The first job is to fix Bill Higgins up.”
Water was brought, and she bathed the head of the unconscious man, who groaned a little once or twice. Then Frank aided her in adjusting a bandage. Once their hands touched, and she drew away quickly, catching her breath, as if she had been stung.
Frank looked at her in wonder, and saw that she had flushed and then grown very pale. Her eyes met his, and then her lashes drooped, while the blush crept back into her cheeks.
What did it mean?
More than ever was this girl an enigma to him.
The boys lifted Higgins and placed him on an improvised couch in the corner, as Drew would not permit them to place him on the bed in the little back room.
By this time Hart Davis had become convinced that Isa Isban was not the girl he had married, although she looked so much like Vida that he was filled with wonder whenever he regarded her.
He asked her pardon for his actions of a short time before, but she gave him no heed, as she seemed fully intent on making the sheriff comfortable and restoring him to consciousness.
Hodge did not look at Davis, whom he hated with the utmost intensity, as he feared he would spring upon the man if he did so.
After a while, Higgins opened his eyes and stared around in a blank manner.
“Did we stop the mill, pards?” he huskily asked. “The whole herd was stampeded and goin’ like a cyclone down the range, horns clanking, eyes glaring, nostrils smoking and hoofs beating thunder out of the ground.”
“What is the man talking about?” asked Frank, in wonder.
“He was a cowboy once,” Isa explained. “He seems to be thinking of that time.”
“It was a wild ride through the night, wasn’t it, pards?” Higgins went on, although he did not seem to be speaking to any one in particular. “It was dark as ten million black cats, and the cold wind cut like a knife. But we stopped ’em – we stopped ’em at last.”
Then he turned his face toward the wall and closed his eyes.
“I hope he isn’t going to die,” said Frank.
“So do I,” muttered Browning, sincerely. “I don’t want to have that to think about.”
When morning came Bill Higgins seemed quite strong, but his head was filled with the wildest fancies. He talked of strange things, and it was evident that his mind wandered.
Higgins did not wish to eat anything, but Isa brought him bread and coffee, and he took it from her.
“Pretty girl,” he muttered, with a gleam of reason. “Fine girl! Wonder how such a girl came to be out here on the ranch?”
In vain they waited for the appearance of the deputy and a posse. The expected did not happen.
Frank had a long talk with Bart.
“Old man,” he said, “you must come with me – you must do it! I will not take no for an answer. If Bill Higgins comes around all right in his head to-morrow he will be after you again. You must make for San Francisco and lose no time in shipping for some foreign port. After this affair blows over, you can come back.”
Frank was not satisfied till he saw Bill Higgins delivered into the hands of friends.
As for the deputy who took to flight, he met with a fatal accident while passing through the forest. Either he was swept from the back of his horse by a limb or was thrown off. Be that as it may he was found with a broken neck.
And Higgins still wandered in his mind when Frank left him.
The boys made great speed on the road to San Francisco, which they reached in due time, and there, with the other mail that awaited him, Frank found a brief letter from Isa Isban.
“I wish to let you know what the physicians who have examined Bill Higgins have to say,” she wrote. “They say he has lost his memory, and, although he may recover from the injury otherwise, it is doubtful if he will ever regain his memory. In that case, Hodge is safe anywhere, but it will be well for him to get out of California.”
The news was gratifying to Hodge, and he lost no time in disappearing from view.
The arrival of the bicycle boys in San Francisco was the cause of two celebrations, one among themselves and another among their friends in the East.
The tour across the continent had been a success, and the papers were loud in their praise of plucky Frank Merriwell and his companions.
“And now we can take it easy,” said Bruce, lazily.
“That’s Bruce,” laughed Diamond. “Always willing to take a rest.”
“Dunno but wot we hab earned a rest,” put in Toots.
“Doking snownuts – no, smoking doughnuts! what a lot of adventures we have had since we left New York!” came from Harry. “Any of us could write a book of travels without half trying.”
“We’ll take it easy for a while,” said Frank. “But not for long. I’ve got an idea for more sport, while we are out here.”
Long letters followed telegrams to the East and long letters were received in return.
“You’ve done the trick,” wrote one fellow student. “When you get back to Yale, well – I reckon the town won’t be big enough to hold you.”
“Dear old Yale!” exclaimed Frank.
That night the boys sang college songs far into the wee small hours of the morning. They were more than happy, and all their past perils were forgotten.
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