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Afternoon Miracle

Author: Henry, O

Genre: Short Story

Year: 1920


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

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.

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