A texas ranger, p.25
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       A Texas Ranger, p.25

           William MacLeod Raine
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  The day after Fraser changed his quarters, Dick France rode up to theHoward ranch. Without alighting, he nodded casually to Alec, and then tohis guest.

  "Hello, Steve! How's the shoulder?"

  "Fine and dandy."

  "You moved, I see." The puncher grinned.

  "If you see it for yourself, I'll not attempt to deny it."

  "Being stood in the corner some more, looks like! Little Willie beentelling some more lies?"

  "Come in, Dick, and I'll put you wise."

  Steve went over the story again. When he mentioned the Squaw Creek raid,he observed that his two friends looked quickly at each other andthen away. He saw, however, that Dick took his pledge in regard to theraiders at face value, without the least question of doubt. He made onlyone comment on the situation.

  "If Jed has served notice that he's going after you, Steve, he'llce'tainly back the play. What's more, he won't be any too particular howhe gets you, just so he gets you. He may come a-shooting in the open.Then, again, he may not. All according to how the notion strikes him."

  "That's about it," agreed Howard.

  "While it's fresh on my mind, I'll unload some more comfort. You've gotan enemy in this valley you don't know about."

  "The one that shot me?"

  "I ain't been told that. I was to say, 'One enemy more than he knowsof.'"

  "Who told you to say it?"

  "I was to forget to tell you that, Steve."

  "Then I must have a friend more than I know of, too."

  "I ain't so sure about that. You might call her a hostile friend."

  "It's a lady, then. I can guess who."

  "Honest, I didn't mean to tell you, Steve. It slipped out."

  "I won't hold it against you."

  "She sent for me last night, and this morning I dropped round. Now, whatdo you reckon she wanted with me?"

  "Give it up."

  "I'm to take a day off and ride around among the boys, so as to see thembefore Jed does. I'm to load 'em up with misrepresentations about howyou and the sheriff happen to be working in cahoots. I gathered that thelady is through with you, but she don't want your scalp collected by theboys."

  "I'm learning to be thankful for small favors," Fraser said dryly. "Shefigures me up a skunk, but hates to have me massacreed in her back yard.Ain't that about it, Dick?"

  "Somewheres betwixt and between," France nodded. "Say, you lads going tothe dance at Millikan's?"

  "Didn't know there was one."

  "Sure. Big doings. Monday night. Always have a dance after the springround-up. Jed and his friends will be there--that ought to fetch you!"Dick grinned.

  "I haven't noticed any pressing invitation to my address yet," saidSteve.

  "I'm extending it right now. Millikan told me to pass the word amongthe boys. Everybody and his neighbor invited." Dick lit a cigar, andgathered up his reins. "So-long, boys. I got to be going." Over hisshoulder he fired another joyous shot as he cantered away. "Ireckon that hostile friend will be there, too, Steve, if that's anyinducement."

  Whether it was an inducement is not a matter of record, but certain itis that the Texan found it easy to decide to go. Everybody in the valleywould be there, and absence on his part would be construed as weakness,even as a confession of guilt. He had often observed that a man'sfriends are strong for him only when he is strong for himself.

  Howard and his guest drove to Millikan's Draw, for the wound of thelatter was still too new to stand so long a horseback ride. They arrivedlate, and the dance was already in full swing. As they stabled and fedthe team, they could hear the high notes of the fiddles and the singsongchant of the caller.

  "Alemane left. Right han' t'yer pardner, an' gran' right and left.Ev-v-rybody swing."

  The ranch house was a large one, the most pretentious in the valley.A large hall opened into a living room and a dining room, by means oflarge double doors, which had been drawn back, so as to make one room ofthem.

  As they pushed their way through the crowd of rough young fellows whoclustered round the door, as if afraid their escape might be cut off,Fraser observed that the floor was already crowded with dancers.

  The quadrille came to an end as he arrived, and, after they had seatedtheir partners, red-faced perspiring young punchers swelled the knotaround the door.

  Alec stayed to chaff with them, while the Texan sauntered across thefloor and took a seat on one of the benches which lined the walls. As hedid so, a man and his partner, so busy in talk with each other that theyhad not observed who he was, sat down beside him in such position thatthe young woman was next him. Without having looked directly at eitherof them, Fraser knew that the girl was Arlie Dillon, and her escort JedBriscoe. She had her back half turned toward him, so that, even aftershe was seated she did not recognize her neighbor.

  Steve smiled pleasantly, and became absorbed in a rather noisy boutof repartee going on between one swain and his lass, not so absorbed,however, as not to notice that he and his unconscious neighbors werebecoming a covert focus of attention. He had already noticed a shadeof self-consciousness in the greeting of those whom he met, a hint of asuggestion that he was on trial. Among some this feeling was evidentlymore pronounced. He met more than one pair of eyes that gave back to hisgenial nod cold hostility.

  At such an affair as this, Jed Briscoe was always at his best. He wasone of the few men in the valley who knew how to waltz well, and musicand rhythm always brought out in him a gay charm women liked. Hislithe grace, his assurance, his ease of manner and speech, alwaysdifferentiated him from the other ranchmen.

  No wonder rumor had coupled his name with that of Arlie as her futurehusband. He knew how to make light love by implication, to skate aroundthe subject skilfully and boldly with innuendo and suggestion.

  Arlie knew him for what he was--a man passionate and revengeful, theleader of that side of the valley's life which she deplored. She did nottrust him. Nevertheless, she felt his fascination. He made that appealto her which a graceless young villain often does to a good woman wholets herself become interested in trying to understand the sinner andhis sins. There was another reason why just now she showed him specialfavor. She wanted to blunt the edge of his anger against the Texanranger, though her reason for this she did not admit even to herself.

  She had--oh, she was quite sure of this--no longer any interest inFraser except the impersonal desire to save his life. Having thought itall over, she was convinced that her friends had nothing to fear fromhim as a spy. That was what he had tried to tell her when she would notlisten.

  Deep in her heart she knew why she had not listened. It had to do withthat picture of a pretty girl smiling up happily into his eyes--a thingshe had not forgotten for one waking moment since. Like a knife thecertainty had stabbed her heart that they were lovers. Her experiencehad been limited. Kodaks had not yet reached Lost Valley as commonpossessions. In the mountains no girl had her photograph taken beside aman unless they had a special interest in each other. And the manner ofthese two had implied the possession of a secret not known to the world.

  So Arlie froze her heart toward the Texan, all the more because he hadtouched her girlish imagination to sweet hidden dreams of which herinnocence had been unnecessarily ashamed. He had spoken no love to her,nor had he implied it exactly. There had been times she had thoughtsomething more than friendship lay under his warm smile. But now shescourged herself for her folly, believed she had been unmaidenly, andset her heart to be like flint against him. She had been ready to givehim what he had not wanted. Before she would let him guess it she wouldrather die, a thousand times rather, she told herself passionately.

  She presently became aware that attention was being directed toward herand Jed and somebody who sat on the other side of her. Without lookinground, she mentioned the fact in a low voice to her partner of the dancejust finished. Jed looked up, and for the first time observed the manbehind her. Instantly the gayety was sponged from his face.

>   "Who is it?" she asked.

  "That man from Texas."

  Arlie felt the blood sting her cheeks. The musicians were just startinga waltz. She leaned slightly toward Jed, and said, in a low voice:

  "Did you ask me to dance this with you?"

  He had not, but he did now. He got to his feet, with shining eyes, andwhirled her off. The girl did not look toward the Texan. Nevertheless,as they circled the room, she was constantly aware of him. Sittingthere, with a smile on his strong face, apparently unperturbed, he gaveno hint of the stern fact that he was circled by enemies, any oneof whom might carry his death in a hip pocket. His gaze was serene,unabashed, even amused.

  The young woman was irritably suspicious that he found her angeramusing, just as he seemed to find the dangerous position in which hewas placed. Yet her resentment coexisted with a sympathy for him thatwould not down. She believed he was marked for death by a coterie ofthose present, chief of whom was the man smiling down into her face fromhalf-shut, smouldering eyes.

  Her heart was a flame of protest against their decree, all the moreso because she held herself partly responsible for it. In a panic ofrepentance, she had told Dick of her confession to the ranger ofthe names of the Squaw Creek raiders, and France had warned hisconfederates. He had done this, not because he distrusted Fraser, butbecause he felt it was their due to get a chance to escape if theywanted to do so.

  Always a creature of impulse, Arlie had repented her repentance when toolate. Now she would have fought to save the Texan, but the horror ofit was that she could not guess how the blow would fall. She tried tobelieve he was safe, at least until the week was up.

  When Dick strolled across the floor, sat down beside Steve, and begancasually to chat with him, she could have thanked the boy with tears. Itwas equivalent to a public declaration of his intentions. At least, theranger was not friendless. One of the raiders was going to stand by him.Besides Dick, he might count on Howard; perhaps on others.

  Jed was in high good humor. All along the line he seemed to be winning.Arlie had discarded this intruder from Texas and was showing herselfvery friendly to the cattleman. The suspicion of Fraser which he haddisseminated was bearing fruit; and so, more potently, was the word thegirl had dropped incautiously. He had only to wait in order to see hisrival wiped out. So that, when Arlie put in her little plea, he felt itwould not cost him anything to affect a large generosity.

  "Let him go, Jed. He is discredited. Folks are all on their guard beforehim now. He can't do any harm here. Dick says he is only waiting outhis week because of your threat. Don't make trouble. Let him sneak backhome, like a whipped cur," she begged.

  "I don't want any trouble with him, girl. All I ask is that he leave thevalley. Let Dick arrange that, and I'll give him a chance."

  She thanked him, with a look that said more than words.

  It was two hours later, when she was waltzing with Jed again, that Arliecaught sight of a face that disturbed her greatly. It was a countenancedisfigured by a ragged scar, running from the bridge of the nose. Shehad last seen it gazing into the window of Alec Howard's cabin on acertain never-to-be-forgotten night.

  "Who is that man--the one leaning against the door jamb, just behindSlim Leroy?" she asked.

  "He's a fellow that calls himself Johnson. His real name is Struve," Jedanswered carelessly.

  "He's the man that shot the Texas lieutenant," she said.

  "I dare say. He's got a good reason for shooting him. The man broke outof the Arizona penitentiary, and Fraser came north to rearrest him. Atleast, that's my guess. He wouldn't have been here to-night if he hadn'tfigured Fraser too sick to come. Watch him duck when he learns theranger's here."

  At the first opportunity Arlie signaled to Dick that she wanted to seehim. Fraser, she observed, was no longer in the dancing rooms. Dick tookher out from the hot room to the porch.

  "Let's walk a little, Dick. I want to tell you something."

  They sauntered toward the fine grove of pines that ran up the hillsideback of the house.

  "Did you notice that man with the scar, Dick?" she presently asked.

  "Yes. I ain't seen him before. Must be one of the Rabbit Run guys, Itake it."

  "I've seen him. He's the man that shot your friend. He was the man Ishot at when he looked in the window."

  "Sure, Arlie?"

  "Dead sure, Dick. He's an escaped convict, and he has a grudge atyour friend. He is afraid of him, too. Look out for Lieutenant Fraserto-night. Don't let him wander around outside. If he does, there may bemurder done."

  Even as she spoke, there came a sound from the wooded hillside--thesound of a stifled cry, followed by an imprecation and the heavyshuffling of feet.

  "Listen, Dick!"

  For an instant he listened. Then: "There's trouble in the grove, and I'mnot armed," he cried.

  "Never mind! Go--go!" she shrieked, pushing him forward.

  For herself, she turned, and ran like a deer for the house.

  Siegfried was sitting on the porch, whittling a stick.

  "They--they're killing Steve--in the grove," she panted.

  Without a word he rolled off, like a buffalo cow, toward the scene ofaction.

  Arlie pushed into the house and called for Jed.

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