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An Afternoon Miracle
by [?]

At the United States end of an international river bridge, four armed rangers sweltered in a little ‘dobe hut, keeping a fairly faithful espionage upon the lagging trail of passengers from the Mexican side.

Bud Dawson, proprietor of the Top Notch Saloon, had, on the evening previous, violently ejected from his premises one Leandro Garcia, for alleged violation of the Top Notch code of behaviour. Garcia had mentioned twenty-four hours as a limit, by which time he would call and collect a painful indemnity for personal satisfaction.

This Mexican, although a tremendous braggart, was thoroughly courageous, and each side of the river respected him for one of these attributes. He and a following of similar bravoes were addicted to the pastime of retrieving towns from stagnation.

The day designated by Garcia for retribution was to be further signalised on the American side by a cattlemen’s convention, a bull fight, and an old settlers’ barbecue and picnic. Knowing the avenger to be a man of his word, and believing it prudent to court peace while three such gently social relaxations were in progress, Captain McNulty, of the ranger company stationed there, detailed his lieutenant and three men for duty at the end of the bridge. Their instructions were to prevent the invasion of Garcia, either alone or attended by his gang.

Travel was slight that sultry afternoon, and the rangers swore gently, and mopped their brows in their convenient but close quarters. For an hour no one had crossed save an old woman enveloped in a brown wrapper and a black mantilla, driving before her a burro loaded with kindling wood tied in small bundles for peddling. Then three shots were fired down the street, the sound coming clear and snappy through the still air.

The four rangers quickened from sprawling, symbolic figures of indolence to alert life, but only one rose to his feet. Three turned their eyes beseechingly but hopelessly upon the fourth, who had gotten nimbly up and was buckling his cartridge-belt around him. The three knew that Lieutenant Bob Buckley, in command, would allow no man of them the privilege of investigating a row when he himself might go.

The agile, broad-chested lieutenant, without a change of expression in his smooth, yellow-brown, melancholy face, shot the belt strap through the guard of the buckle, hefted his sixes in their holsters as a belle gives the finishing touches to her toilette, caught up his Winchester, and dived for the door. There he paused long enough to caution his comrades to maintain their watch upon the bridge, and then plunged into the broiling highway.

The three relapsed into resigned inertia and plaintive comment.

“I’ve heard of fellows,” grumbled Broncho Leathers, “what was wedded to danger, but if Bob Buckley ain’t committed bigamy with trouble, I’m a son of a gun.”

“Peculiarness of Bob is,” inserted the Nueces Kid, “he ain’t had proper trainin’. He never learned how to git skeered. Now, a man ought to be skeered enough when he tackles a fuss to hanker after readin’ his name on the list of survivors, anyway.”

“Buckley,” commented Ranger No. 3, who was a misguided Eastern man, burdened with an education, “scraps in such a solemn manner that I have been led to doubt its spontaneity. I’m not quite onto his system, but he fights, like Tybalt, by the book of arithmetic.”

“I never heard,” mentioned Broncho, “about any of Dibble’s ways of mixin’ scrappin’ and cipherin’.”

“Triggernometry?” suggested the Nueces infant.

“That’s rather better than I hoped from you,” nodded the Easterner, approvingly. “The other meaning is that Buckley never goes into a fight without giving away weight. He seems to dread taking the slightest advantage. That’s quite close to foolhardiness when you are dealing with horse-thieves and fence-cutters who would ambush you any night, and shoot you in the back if they could. Buckley’s too full of sand. He’ll play Horatius and hold the bridge once too often some day.”