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The Texan Scouts Joseph A. Altsheler

The Herald Of Attack

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The horse was still running without a jar. Ned could not feel a single rough movement in the perfect machinery beneath him. Unless wounded Old Jack would not fail him. He stole another of those fleeting glances backward.

Several of the Mexicans, their ponies spent, were dropping out of the race, but enough were left to make the odds far too great. Ned now skimmed along the edge of the grove, and when he passed it he turned his horse a little, so the trees were between him and his nearest pursuers. Then he urged Old Jack to his last ounce of speed. The plain raced behind him, and fortunate clouds, too, now came, veiling the moon and turning the dusk into deeper darkness. Ned heard one disappointed cry behind him, and then no sound but the flying beat of his own horse's hoofs.

When he pulled rein and brought Old Jack to a walk he could see or hear nothing of the Mexicans. The great horse was a lather of foam, his sides heaving and panting, and Ned sprang to the ground. He reloaded his rifle and pistol and then walked toward the west, leading Old Jack by the bridle. He reckoned that the Mexicans would go toward the north, thinking that he would naturally ride for San Antonio, and hence he chose the opposite direction.

He walked a long time and presently he felt the horse rubbing his nose gently against his arm. Ned stroked the soft muzzle.

"You've saved my life. Old Jack," he said, "and not for the first time. You responded to every call."

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The horse whinnied ever so softly, and Ned felt that he was not alone. Now he threw the bridle reins back over the horse's head, and then the two walked on, side by side, man and beast.

They stopped at times, and it may be that the horse as well as the boy then looked and listened for a foe. But the Mexicans had melted away completely in the night. It was likely now that they were going in the opposite direction, and assured that he was safe from them for the time Ned collapsed, both physically and mentally. Such tremendous exertions and such terrible excitement were bound to bring reaction. He began to tremble violently, and he became so weak that he could scarcely stand. The horse seemed to be affected in much the same way and walked slowly and painfully.

Ned saw another little grove, and he and the horse walked straight toward it. It was fairly dense, and when he was in the center of it he wrapped his rifle and himself in his serape and lay down. The horse sank on his side near him. He did not care for anything now except to secure rest. Mexicans or Comanches or Lipans might be on the plain only a few hundred yards away. It did not matter to him. He responded to no emotion save the desire for rest, and in five minutes he was in a deep sleep.

Ned slept until long after daylight. He was so much exhausted that he scarcely moved during all that time. Nor did the horse. Old Jack had run his good race and won the victory, and he, too, cared for nothing but to rest.

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The Texan Scouts
Joseph A. Altsheler

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