A texas ranger, p.1
A Texas Ranger, p.1William MacLeod Raine / Western
Produced by Jim Weiler
A TEXAS RANGER
By William MacLeod Raine,
FOREWORD TO YE GENTLE READER.
Within the memory of those of us still on the sunny side of forty themore remote West has passed from rollicking boyhood to its responsiblemajority. The frontier has gone to join the good Indian. In place ofthe ranger who patrolled the border for "bad men" has come the forestranger, type of the forward lapping tide of civilization. The placewhere I write this--Tucson, Arizona--is now essentially more civilizedthan New York. Only at the moving picture shows can the old West,melodramatically overpainted, be shown to the manicured sons anddaughters of those, still living, who brought law and order to themesquite.
As Arthur Chapman, the Western poet, has written:
No loopholes now are framing Lean faces, grim and brown; No more keen eyes are aiming To bring the redskin down. The plough team's trappings jingle Across the furrowed field, And sounds domestic mingle Where valor hung its shield. But every wind careering Seems here to breathe a song-- A song of brave frontiering-- A saga of the strong.
PART I -- THE MAN FROM THE PANHANDLE
(In Which Steve Plays Second Fiddle)
CHAPTER I -- A DESERT MEETING
As she lay crouched in the bear-grass there came to the girl clearly thecrunch of wheels over disintegrated granite. The trap had dipped into adraw, but she knew that presently it would reappear on the winding road.The knowledge smote her like a blast of winter, sent chills racing downher spine, and shook her as with an ague. Only the desperation of herplight spurred her flagging courage.
Round the bend came a pair of bays hitched to a single-seated open rig.They were driven by a young man, and as he reached the summit he drew upopposite her and looked down into the valley.
It lay in a golden glow at their feet, a basin of pure light and silencestretching mile on mile to the distant edge of jagged mountain-linewhich formed its lip. Sunlight strong as wine flooded a clean world, anamber Eden slumbering in an unbroken, hazy dream primeval.
At the summons the driver swung his head sharply to a picture he willnever forget. A young woman was standing on the bank at the edge of theroad covering him with a revolver, having apparently just stepped frombehind the trunk of the cottonwood beside her. The color had fled hercheeks even to the edge of the dull red-copper waves of hair, but hecould detect in her slim young suppleness no doubt or uncertainty. Onthe contrary, despite her girlish freshness, she looked very much likebusiness. She was like some young wild creature of the forest corneredand brought to bay, but the very terror in her soul rendered her moredangerous. Of the heart beating like a trip-hammer the gray unwinkingeyes that looked into hers read nothing. She had schooled her tautnerves to obedience, and they answered her resolute will steadilydespite fluttering pulses.
"Don't move!" she said again.
"What do you want?" he asked harshly.
"I want your team," she panted.
"Never mind. I want it."
The rigor of his gaze slowly softened to a smile compound both of humorand grimness. He was a man to appreciate a piquant situation, none theless because it was at his expense. The spark that gleamed in his boldeye held some spice of the devil.
"All right. This is your hold-up, ma'am. I'll not move," he said, almostgenially.
She was uneasily aware that his surrender had been too tame. Strengthlay in that close-gripped salient jaw, in every line of the recklesssardonic face, in the set of the lean muscular shoulders. She had nervedherself to meet resistance, and instead he was yielding with complacentgood nature.
"Get out!" she commanded.
He stepped from the rig and offered her the reins. As she reached forthem his right hand shot out and caught the wrist that held the weapon,his left encircled her waist and drew her to him. She gave a little cryof fear and strained from him, fighting with all her lissom strength tofree herself.
For all the impression she made the girdle round her waist might havebeen of steel. Without moving, he held her as she struggled, his brownmuscular fingers slowly tightening round her wrist. Her stifled crywas of pain this time, and before it had died the revolver fell to theground from her paralyzed grip.
But her exclamation had been involuntary and born of the soft tenderflesh. The wild eyes that flamed into his asked for no quarter andreceived none. He drew her slowly down toward him, inch by inch, tillshe lay crushed and panting against him, but still unconquered. Thoughhe held the stiff resistant figure motionless she still flashed battleat him.
He looked into the storm and fury of her face, hiding he knew not whatof terror, and laughed in insolent delight. Then, very deliberately, hekissed her lips.
"You--coward!" came instantly her choking defiance.
"Another for that," he laughed, kissing her again.
Her little fist beat against his face and he captured it, but as helooked at her something that had come into the girl's face moved his notvery accessible heart. The salt of the adventure was gone, his victoryworse than a barren one. For stark fear stared at him, naked andunconcealed, and back of that he glimpsed a subtle something that hedimly recognized for the outraged maidenly modesty he had so ruthlesslytrampled upon. His hands fell to his side reluctantly.
She stumbled back against the tree trunk, watching him with fascinatedeyes that searched him anxiously. They found their answer, and with along ragged breath the girl turned and burst into hysterical tears.
The man was amazed. A moment since the fury of a tigress had possessedher. Now she was all weak womanish despair. She leaned against thecottonwood and buried her face in her arm, the while uneven sobs shookher slender body. He frowned resentfully at this change of front, andbecause his calloused conscience was disturbed he began to justifyhimself. Why didn't she play it out instead of coming the baby act onhim? She had undertaken to hold him up and he had made her pay forfeit.He didn't see that she had any kick coming. If she was this kind of aboarding-school kid she ought not to have monkeyed with the buzz-saw.She was lucky he didn't take her to El Paso with him and have herjailed.
"I reckon we'll listen to explanations now," he said grimly after aminute of silence interrupted only by her sobs.
The little fist that had struck at his face now bruised itself inunconscious blows at the bark of the tree. He waited till the staccatobreaths had subsided, then took her by the shoulders and swung herround.
"You have the floor, ma'am. What does this gun-play business mean?"
Through the tears her angry eyes flashed starlike.
"I sha'n't tell you," she flamed. "You had no right to--How dared youinsult me as you have?"
"Did I insult you?" he asked, with suave gentleness. "Then if you feelinsulted I expect you lay claim to being a lady. But I reckon that don'tfit in with holding up strangers at the end of a gun. If I've insultedyou I'll ce'tainly apologize, but you'll have to show me I have. We'rein Texas, which is next door but one to Missouri, ma'am."
"I don't want your apologies. I detest and hate you," she cried,
"That's your privilege, ma'am, and it's mine to know whyfor I'm heldup with a gun when I'm traveling peaceably along the road," he answeredevenly.
"I'll not tell you."
He spoke softly as if to himself. "That's too bad. I kinder hate to takeher to jail, but I reckon I must."
She shrank back, aghast and white.
"No, no! You don't understand. I didn't mean to--I only wanted--Why, Imeant to pay you for the team."
"I'll understand when you tell me," he said placidly.
"I've told you. I needed the team. I was going to let you have one ofour horses and seventy-five dollars. It's all I have with me."
"One of your horses, you say? With seventy-five dollars to boot? And youwas intending to arrange the trade from behind that gun. I expect youneeded a team right bad."
His steady eyes rested on her, searched her, appraised her, while hemeditated aloud in a low easy drawl.
"Yes, you ce'tainly must need the team. Now I wonder why? Well, I'd hateto refuse a lady anything she wants as bad as you do that." He swiftlyswooped down and caught up her revolver from the ground, tossed it intothe air so as to shift his hold from butt to barrel, and handed it toher with a bow. "Allow me to return the pop-gun you dropped, ma'am."
She snatched it from him and leveled it at him so that it almost touchedhis forehead. He looked at her and laughed in delighted mockery.
"All serene, ma'am. You've got me dead to rights again."
His very nonchalance disarmed her. What could she do while his lowlaughter mocked her?
"When you've gone through me complete I think I'll take a little pasearover the hill and have a look at your hawss. Mebbe we might still dobusiness."
As he had anticipated, his suggestion filled her with alarm. She flew tobar the way.
"You can't go. It isn't necessary."
"Sho! Of course it's necessary. Think I'm going to buy a hawss I'venever seen?" he asked, with deep innocence.
"I'll bring it here."
"In Texas, ma'am, we wait on the ladies. Still, it's your say-so whenyou're behind that big gun."
He said it laughing, and she threw the weapon angrily into the seat ofthe rig.
"Thank you, ma'am. I'll amble down and see what's behind the hill."
By the flinch in her eyes he tested his center shot and knew it true.Her breast was rising and falling tumultuously. A shiver ran throughher.
"No--no. I'm not hiding--anything," she gasped.
"Then if you're not you can't object to my going there."
She caught her hands together in despair. There was about him somethingmasterful that told her she could not prevent him from investigating;and it was impossible to guess how he would act after he knew. The menshe had known had been bound by convention to respect a woman's wishes,but even her ignorance of his type made guess that this steel-eyed,close-knit young Westerner--or was he a Southerner?--would be imperviousto appeals founded upon the rules of the society to which she had beenaccustomed. A glance at his stone-wall face, at the lazy confidenceof his manner, made her dismally aware that the data gathered by herexperience of the masculine gender were insufficient to cover thisspecimen.
"You can't go."
But her imperative refusal was an appeal. For though she hated him fromthe depths of her proud, untamed heart for the humiliation he had putupon her, yet for the sake of that ferocious hunted animal she had leftlying under a cottonwood she must bend her spirit to win him.
"I'm going to sit in this game and see it out," he said, not unkindly.
Her sweet slenderness barred the way about as electively as a motherquail does the road to her young. He smiled, put his big hands onher elbows, and gently lifted her to one side. Then he strode forwardlightly, with the long, easy, tireless stride of a beast of prey,striking direct for his quarry.
A bullet whizzed by his ear, and like a flash of light his weapon wasunscabbarded and ready for action. He felt a flame of fire scorch hischeek and knew a second shot had grazed him.
"Hands up! Quick!" ordered the traveler.
Lying on the ground before him was a man with close-cropped hair and avillainous scarred face. A revolver in his hand showed the source of thebullets.
Eye to eye the men measured strength, fighting out to the last ditch themoral battle which was to determine the physical one. Sullenly, at thelast, the one on the ground shifted his gaze and dropped his gun with avile curse.
"Run to earth," he snarled, his lip lifting from the tobacco-stainedupper teeth in an ugly fashion.
The girl ran toward the Westerner and caught at his arm. "Don't shoot,"she implored.
Without moving his eyes from the man on the ground he swept her back.
"This outfit is too prevalent with its hardware," he growled. "Chew outan explanation, my friend, or you're liable to get spoiled."
It was the girl that spoke, in a low voice and very evidently under atense excitement.
"He is my brother and he has--hurt himself. He can't ride any fartherand we have seventy miles still to travel. We didn't know what to do,and so--"
"You started out to be a road-agent and he took a pot-shot at thefirst person he saw. I'm surely obliged to you both for taking so muchinterest in me, or rather in my team. Robbery and murder are quite afamily pastime, ain't they?"
The girl went white as snow, seemed to shrink before his sneer as froma deadly weapon; and like a flash of light some divination of the truthpierced the Westerner's brain. They were fugitives from justice, makingfor the Mexican line. That the man was wounded a single glance hadtold him. It was plain to be seen that the wear and tear of keeping thesaddle had been too much for him.
"I acted on an impulse," the girl explained in the same low tone. "Isaw you coming and I didn't know--hadn't money enough to buy theteam--besides--"
He took the words out of her mouth when she broke down.
"Besides, I might have happened to be a sheriff. I might be, but thenI'm not."
The traveler stepped forward and kicked the wounded man's revolverbeyond his reach, then swiftly ran a hand over him to make sure hecarried no other gun.
The fellow on the ground eyed him furtively. "What are you going to dowith me?" he growled.
The other addressed himself to the girl, ignoring him utterly.
"What has this man done?"
"He has--broken out from--from prison."
"Damn you, you're snitching," interrupted the criminal in a scream thatwas both wheedling and threatening.
The young man put his foot on the burly neck and calmly ground it intothe dust. Otherwise he paid no attention to him, but held the burningeyes of the girl that stared at him from a bloodless face.
"What was he in for?"
"For holding up a train."
She had answered in spite of herself, by reason of something compellingin him that drew the truth from her.
"How long has he been in the penitentiary?"
"Seven years." Then, miserably, she added: "He was weak and fell intobad company. They led him into it."
"When did he escape?"
"Two days ago. Last night he knocked at my window--at the window of theroom where I lodge in Fort Lincoln. I had not heard of his escape, butI took him in. There were horses in the barn. One of them was mine. Isaddled, and after I had dressed his wound we started. He couldn't getany farther than this."
"Do you live in Fort Lincoln?"
"I came there to teach school. My home was in Wisconsin before."
"You came out here to be near him?"
"Yes. That is, near as I could get a school. I was to have got in theTucson schools next year. That's much nearer."
"You visited him at the penitentiary?"
"No. I was going to during the Thanksgiving vacation. Until last night Ihad not seen him since he left home. I was a child of seven then."
The Texan looked down at the ruffian under his feet.
"Do you know the road to Mexico by the Arivaca cut-off?"
"Then climb into my rig and hit the trail hard--burn it up till you'vecrossed the line."
The fellow began to whine thanks, but the man above would have none ofthem, "I'm giving you this chance for your sister's sake. You won't makeanything of it. You're born for meanness and deviltry. I know your kindfrom El Paso to Dawson. But she's game and she's white clear through,even if she is your sister and a plumb little fool. Can you walk to theroad?" he ended abruptly.
"I think so. It's in my ankle. Some hell-hound gave it me while we weregetting over the wall," the fellow growled.
"Don't blame him. His intentions were good. He meant to blow out yourbrains."
The convict cursed vilely, but in the midst of his impotent rage theother stopped and dragged him to his feet.
"That's enough. You padlock that ugly mouth and light a shuck."
The girl came forward and the man leaned heavily on her as he limped tothe road. The Texan followed with the buckskin she had been riding andtied it to the back of the road-wagon.
"Give me my purse," the girl said to the convict after they were seated.
She emptied it and handed the roll of bills it contained to the owner ofthe team. He looked at it and at her, then shook his head.
"You'll need it likely. I reckon I can trust you. Schoolmarms are mostlyreliable."
"I had rather pay now," she answered tartly.
"What's the rush?"
"I prefer to settle with you now."
"All right, but I'm in no sweat for my money. My team and the wagon areworth two hundred and fifty dollars. Put this plug at forty and itwould be high." He jerked his head toward the brush where the othersaddle-horse was. "That leaves me a balance of about two hundred andten. Is that fair?"
She bit her lip in vexation. "I expect so, but I haven't that much withme. Can't I pay this seventy on account?"
"No, ma'am, you can't. All or none." There was a gleam of humor in hishard eyes. "I reckon you better let me come and collect after you getback to Fort Lincoln."
She took out a note-book and pencil. "If you will give me your name andaddress please."
He smiled hardily at her. "I've clean forgotten them."
There was a warning flash in her disdainful eye.
"Just as you like. My name is Margaret Kinney. I will leave the moneyfor you at the First National Bank."
She gathered up the rains deftly.
"One moment." He laid a hand on the lines. "I reckon you think I owe youan apology for what happened when we first met."
A flood of spreading color dyed her cheeks. "I don't think anythingabout it."
"Oh, yes, you do," he contradicted. "And you're going to think a heapmore about it. You're going to lay awake nights going over it."
Out of eyes like live coals she gave him one look. "Will you take yourhands from these reins please?"
"Presently. Just now I'm talking and you're listening."
"I don't care to hear any apologies, sir," she said stiffly.
"I'm not offering any," he laughed, yet stung by her words.
"You're merely insulting me again, I presume?"
"Some young women need punishing. I expect you're one."
She handed him the horsewhip, a sudden pulse of passion beating fiercelyin her throat. "Very well. Make an end of it and let me see the last ofyou," she challenged.
He cracked the lash expertly so that the horses quivered and would havestarted if his strong hand had not tightened on the lines.
The Westerner laughed again. "You're game anyhow."
"When you are quite through with me," she suggested, very quietly.
But he noticed the fury of her deep-pupiled eyes, the turbulent rise andfall of her bosom.
"I'll not punish you that way this time." And he gave back the whip.
"If you won't use it I will."
The lash flashed up and down, twined itself savagely round his wrist,and left behind a bracelet of crimson. Startled, the horses leapedforward. The reins slipped free from his numbed fingers. Miss Kinney hadmade her good-by and was descending swiftly into the valley.
The man watched the rig sweep along that branch of the road which led tothe south. Then he looked at his wrist and laughed.
"The plucky little devil! She's a thoroughbred for fair. You bet I'llmake her pay for this. But ain't she got sand in her craw? She's surelyhating me proper." He laughed again in remembrance of the whole episode,finding in it something that stirred his blood immensely.
After the trap had swept round a curve out of sight he disappeared inthe mesquite and bear-grass, presently returning with the roan that hadbeen ridden by the escaped convict.
"Whoever would suppose she was the sister of that scurvy scalawag withjailbird branded all over his hulking hide? He ain't fit to wipe herlittle feet on. She's as fine as silk. Think of her going through whatshe is to save that coyote, and him as crooked as a dog's hind leg.There ain't any limit to what a good woman will do for a man when shethinks he's got a claim on her, more especially if he's a ruffian."
With this bit of philosophic observation he rolled a cigarette and litit.
"Him fall into bad company and be led away?" he added in disgust. "Thereain't any worse than him. But he'll work her to the limit before shefinds it out."
Leisurely he swung to the saddle and rode down into the valley of theSan Xavier, which rolled away from his feet in numberless tawny wavesof unfeatured foot-hills and mesas and washes. Almost as far as the eyecould see there stretched a sea of hilltops bathed in sun. Only onthe west were they bounded, by the irregular saw-toothed edge of theFrenchman Hills, silhouetted against an incomparable blue. For a stretchof many miles the side of the range was painted scarlet by millions ofpoppies splashed broadcast.
"Nature's gone to flower-gardening for fair on the mountains," murmuredthe rider. "What with one thing and another I've got a notion I'm goingto take a liking to this country."
The man was plainly very tired with rapid travel, and about the middleof the afternoon the young man unsaddled and picketed the animal near awater-hole. He lay down in the shadow of a cottonwood, flat on hisback, face upturned to the deep cobalt sky. Presently the drowse of theafternoon crept over him. The slumberous valley grew hazy to his noddingeyes. The reluctant lids ceased to open and he was fast asleep.
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