TIM HOLT - Ride to the Sun
by Gardner F. Fox
Originally written for TIM HOLT #19 (1949) and published by Magazine Enterprises
THE WAR ARROW quivered in the tree-trunk, humming shrilly. The shrill Kiowa war-whoop ululated in the cool morning air. Half a mile away, a red shadow slipped over the farther side of a paint pony and galloped to safety, yowling his taunts.
Lieutenant Rex Gordon of the 7th Cavalry. U.S. Army, turned a haggard face to his chief scout, the Pawnee sub-chief, Little Egg. He croaked with a dry tongue,"We must have help, Little Egg. We've no water, and not much ammunition. Three of our detail are dead, and only that medical orderly is unwounded! What are we going to do?
The Pawnee's bronzed face never changed expression as he said. "Send orderly to Fort Riley. Let him take horse and run."
"But he's the only man with us without experience! Why, he hasn't been at the Fort long enough to get tanned!"
"Better that way. Him little, not weigh much on horse. Him no good shoot. We need men who shoot good here!"
Lieutenant Gordon grunted, and crawled along the bottom of the shallow sink toward a white-faced medical orderly who was bending over a wounded cavalryman, bandaging his arm. The orderly turned a startled face as the lieutenant touched his shoulder. Absently, he thrust the roll of white medical tape into his uniform pocket.
"Gil, we'll never last two days, with all those Kiowas around us," Gordon said.
Medical orderly Gilbert Callen nodded. He wet his lips with his tongue. "I know. I've been thinking about it."
"Do you think you could get to Fort Riley on a horse? If you do, bring word to Colonel Bennett where we are!"
"I'll try. I'll slip away after dark."
"If they catch you, you know what might happen?"
Medical orderly Callen shuddered. He had seen soldiers on whom the Kiowas had worked their tortures. But he lifted his chin, and there was a brief, hard light in his eyes. He said slowly. “I'm studying to be a doctor, lieutenant. If I can save lives by running for help. I'll run!"
"Good boy!" smiled Gordon. "Leave everything here but your clothes. Don't even take a weapon."
Callen grinned weakly. "That's all right with me. I couldn't hit a barn-door with a gun, anyhow!"
Callen glanced at the sky. The sun was red. It would be dark in a few hours. Until then, he could keep busy looking after the wounded men.
When the stars were glittering in the black bowl of the heavens, medical orderly Callen mounted a sleek bay mare. Beside him, looking up at him, was Lieutenant Gordon. Gordon whispered, “Tell the colonel we're at Delta Basin. He knows where that is."
Callen nodded. "I'll tell him."
"Good luck, orderly."
"I'll need it!"
And then the bay mare was leaping up the slope of the sink, Callen bent low over his neck, the mane whipping against his face in the breeze that swept in over the sage flats. Callen whispered, “It's up to you. boy! You can make it. Easy now!"
There was no moon, and the only sound was the thudding beat of the mare's hooves on the ground. A wild hope leaped inside Callen's chest. Maybe I can make it he thought wildly. Maybe those redskins won't hear me! He crouched lower, hands wound in the reins, and then he heard it!
It sounded like the high, shrill call of a coyote, but even medical orderly Callen knew it was no coyote. For the weird cry was answered here and there on the black plains by the calls of other coyotes. Only an Indian could make a sound like that!
He came out of the mesquite clumps at full gallop. Far to the right he saw the Kiowas bent over their paint ponies, riding bareback, moonlight glinting on the barrels of their rifles. One of the Indians lifted his rifle to his shoulder and fired. The whip-like crack came sharp in the night wind. Instinctively, medical orderly Callen ducked, but the bullet was wide,
To lessen his weight, Callen slipped his jacket off and dropped it. The wind caught at his thin shirt and chilled him. But the bay mare would have a little less weight to carry!
The Kiowas were separating. A dozen of them, painted with red and yellow, and green stripings, were racing after him, and the others were turning their mounts' heads back toward the sink. But those dozen were more than enough to catch him. Without a weapon. he had to put all his hope on the slim bay legs of the little mare!
The sun was blistering hot, high in the heavens, as medical orderly Callen shook his empty canteen and threw it away. His shirt had gone the way of his jacket and his canteen at dawn. Naked to the waist, he held the bay mare to a steady pace.
The mare was tired. She had run all night to escape the pursuing Kiowas, and to prevent her from foundering, he had to let her run at a trot for half the morning. Behind him, not so far away but that his blood ran cold when he thought of them, came the Kiowas.
They were shooting now. The bullets skipped and hit in the dust all around him, Callen frowned. One of those bullets might hit him, and topple him from the saddle. If there were some way of taking that message in, even if I were dead... he thought.
He could tangle his hands in the reins, and his legs in the stirrups, and thus remain on the horse, dead or alive. But he had no way of carrying that message! Hopelessly, knowing there was nothing that would help him, he began to feel around in the pockets of his uniform trousers.
His fingers touched the roll of medical tape that he had absent-mindedly shoved into his pocket, back at Delta Basin. He took it out and looked at it. The tape might hold; and it might not. Still...
Medical orderly Callen grinned Sure! He had a way to carry a message! Why hadn't he thought of this before?
It was while he was grinning that the Kiowa bullet caught him under the left shoulder and knocked him almost over the neck of the mare, Blackness came down out of the sky and settled over his eyes for one brief, pain wracked moment. Fingers tangled in the mare's mane, he hung on, grimly ripping tiny strips of medical tape from the roll in his almost nerveless left hand...
He swam up out of the blackness that was shot with the red flashes of pain. His shoulder was on fire, and his entire back was a mass of agony. He lay on hot white sheets in a cot, face down. By craning his neck, even though the pain made him shudder, he could see the white wall of the sick bay.
A rustle of starched white shirt made him lift his eyes. A pretty nurse was bending toward him, her eyes misty with tears. She whispered, “Does it hurt—very badly?"
"Enough. But never mind me. What about...?”
"Lieutenant Gordon? He's outside, with the colonel, to see you. Shall I send them in?"
He nodded, his heart thudding wildly. Then he had gotten his message through! It was so hard to remember, thinking only of the pain, and the fire on his back and chest and the oncoming Kiowas. He remembered vaguely that he had twisted hands in reins and legs in stirrups, and fallen forward over his mount's crest. He must have come through, for he was still alive!
The door opened and closed. He heard voices in the hall, and he shook his head, trying to think. The horse must have carried him to the fort. He had no remembrance of the hands that had eased him from the saddle, of the voices that must have exclaimed at seeing him. Did they wonder about Gordon and the others at Delta Basin? The colonel had no way of talking with him. How, then—?
His thoughts were broken off by the opening door. A saber clanked as Colonel Bennett came across the floor to stand over him. "Well, orderly? How do you feel? Blisters still bother you?"
Lieutenant Gordon was kneeling, his hand going out to Callen's hand, squeezing it. "Thanks. Gil. You got through just in time. We didn't lose a man, thanks to you—and your sunburn!”
"He's forgotten, and no wonder," smiled the colonel. "You must have expected to be wounded or killed, orderly. You used medical tape on your chest, to form a triangle, or delta! Since I knew the route your detail was taking, it was obvious that in or near Delta Basin the rest of the men were trapped by the Kiowas! Although the tape came off sometime during your ride, your chest was blister-red, except for the area protected by the tape—which was white and clearly showed a delta."