Read CHAPTER XXVI - THE BELLS RING of The Bells of San Juan, free online book, by Jackson Gregory, on ReadCentral.com.

“Galloway!”

It seemed almost as though some great voice had shouted it to him through the din.  Yonder, riding on his spurs, come at this late moment, was Jim Galloway.  The man responsible for all of to-night’s bloodshed, for the disappearance of Florrie, for the death of Billy Norton.

“Coming, Jim Galloway!”

Did he say it?  Or again was it a voice shouting to him, urging him on?  He looked off to the east.  Flying forms everywhere with other racing forms pursuing, firing as they ran.  Horses jerking back, rearing, breaking away from the few men guarding them.  Full defeat for Jim Galloway there.  But to the west?  Galloway coming on at top speed, shouting as he came, and, upon the mountain’s lower slope the others of Galloway’s men, armed and bloodthirsty.  If Galloway came to them, whipped them with his tongue, stirring them with his magnetism . . . why, then, the fight was all to be fought over.

Now again Norton, too, was running, bearing down upon the straggling horses.  He caught up the first dragging reins to lay his hand to, swung up into the saddle, measured swiftly the distance between Galloway and the men on the mountain . . . and used his spurs.

On came Jim Galloway, his wide, heavy shoulders not to be mistaken in the rich moonlight, his hat gone, his head up, a rifle across the saddle in front of him.  Norton lost sight of him as he swept down into the bed of the arroyo, caught sight of him again from the farther side.  Already Galloway was appreciably nearer his men, driving his horse mercilessly.

“If he comes to his crowd before I can stop him,” was Norton’s thought, “he’ll put his game across on us yet.  I’ve got to head him off and take the chances.”

Nor were the odds to be overlooked.  Galloway was still too far away to be stopped by a rifle-ball, and Norton, heading him off, would expose himself not only to Galloway’s fire but to that of the men who were moving to a lower slope to meet their leader.  And yet, with fate in the balance, here was no time for hesitation.

Now Galloway had seen him, had recognized him, perhaps, the thought coming naturally to him that it would be Roderick Norton who rode to cut him off.  He shifted his rifle so that his right hand was on the grip, the barrel caught in his left; he had dropped his horse’s reins.  Norton was slipping a fresh clip into his gun, his own reins now upon his horse’s neck.  And now both men knew that unless a bullet stopped him Norton would cut across Galloway’s path before he could come to his men.

“At him, Roddy, old boy!  We’re coming!”

Norton glanced over his shoulder and pressed on.  Brocky had missed him, had seen, had called back a half dozen of his men and was following.  Well, if he dropped, maybe Brocky and the others could get Jim Galloway.  It really began to look as though Galloway had played out his string.

They were firing from the mountainside now, the bullets thus far flying wild of their rushing target.  Norton shook his head and urged his horse to fresh endeavor.  In a moment he would be fairly between Galloway and Galloway’s last chance.  His eye picked out the spot where he would dismount at that moment, a tumble of big boulders.  He would swing down so that they would be between him and the mountain, so that nothing but moonlit open space lay between him and Jim Galloway.

While rifles cracked and spat fire and sprayed lead over him and about him he rode the last fifty yards.  He reached the boulders, set his horse up, threw himself from the saddle, and with his back to the rock, his face toward Galloway, he lifted his rifle.  Galloway, almost at the same instant, jerked in his own horse.  He was so close that Norton caught his cry of rage.

“Hands up, Galloway!” cried the sheriff.  “Hands up or I’ll drop you.”

But at last Galloway had come out into the open; at last there was no subterfuge to stand forth at his need; at last, gambler that he was, he accepted the even break of man to man.  As Norton’s voice rang out Galloway fired.

He shot twice before Norton pulled the trigger.  Norton shot but the once.  Galloway dropped his rifle, sat rigid a moment, toppled from the saddle.  And his men, seeing him go down, cried out to one another and drew back into the mountain canons.

“Funny thing,” said Brocky Lane afterward.  “Had the picture of a kid of a girl in his pocket!  Must have carted it around for a year.  Old Roddy’s bullet tore right square through it.”

It was a picture of Florrie Engle, taken years before.  As Brocky said:  “Just a kid of a girl.”  Where he got it nobody knew.  But then there were other things about Jim Galloway which no one knew.  Perhaps . . .  Quién sabe!

During the late hours of the night and the following forenoon the thing was ended.  Sheriff Roberts’s deputies with a posse in automobiles had raced southward, intercepting those other cars despatched toward the border by the Kid and del Rio.  Brocky Lane with a score of men had swept down upon the stolen herds, scattered them, fired fifty shots, emptied some three or four saddles, and sent the escaping rustlers flying toward the Mexican line.  Singly and in small groups other men, farmers, cowboys, miners, and the dwellers of small settlements, joined with Norton’s men, giving battle to those of Galloway’s crowd who had drawn back into the fastnesses of Mt.  Temple.  In the afternoon Norton, with the aid of a handful of cowboys from Brocky’s outfit and from Las Flores, escorted fifteen anxious-faced prisoners to the county-seat, where jail capacity was to be taxed.  And night had come again, serene and peaceful with the glory of the moon and stars, when he rode once more into San Juan, sore and saddle-weary.

At the hotel he learned that Virginia had gone to the Engles.  He left his jaded horse with Ignacio and walked down the street.  In front of the Casa Blanca he stopped a moment, staring musingly at the solid adobe walls gleaming white in the moonlight.  The place was quiet, deserted.  No single light winked at him through door or window.  It seemed to him to be brooding over the passing of Jim Galloway.

He found Florrie and Elmer strolling under the cottonwoods.  They had scant interest in him, little time to bestow upon a mere mortal.  Florrie could only cry ecstatically that Black Bill was a hero!  He, all alone, had terrorized the Mexican woman guarding her, had saved her, had brought her back.  And Elmer could only look pleased and stammer and whisper to Fluff to be still.

Virginia had heard his voice, the voice she had been listening for throughout so many long hours, and met him before he had come to the door.

“Oh, thank God, thank God!” she cried softly.  “But . . . you are hurt?”

He forgot his wound as both arms closed about her.  From somewhere at the rear of the house he heard Mrs. Engle’s voice crying eagerly; “It’s Roddy!” She was hurrying to greet him.  What he had to say must be said briefly.

“My work is done,” he said quickly.  “I have put in my resignation this afternoon.  They can get a new sheriff.  I am going to be a rancher, my dear.  And, Virginia . . .”

He was whispering to her, his lips close to her hair.  And Virginia, though her face was suddenly hot with the flush mounting to her brow, gave him steadily for answer: 

“Whenever you wish, Rod Norton!”

So it was only twenty-four hours later that Ignacio Chavez stood in the old Mission garden and made his bells talk, just the three upon the western arch, the Little One, La Golondrina, and Ignacio Chavez, the golden-throated trio that tinkled to the touch of his cunning hand and seemed to laugh and sing and proclaim the gladdest of glad tidings.  Then Ignacio drew his enrapt gaze earthward from the full moon and made out a man and a girl riding out into the night, riding toward the Ranch of the Flowers.  And he made the bells laugh again.

“And to-morrow,” vowed Ignacio solemnly, “not later than to-morrow or the day thereafter, you shall have your reward, amigos.  You have told the world of heavy doings; you have rung for Jim Galloway dead; you have made the music for the wedding of el Senor Nortone.  And it shall be I who will make a little roof like a house over you.  You will see!”