A texas ranger, p.3
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       A Texas Ranger, p.3

           William MacLeod Raine
 

  CHAPTER III -- A DISCOVERY

  The roan, having been much refreshed by a few hours on grass, proved tobe a good traveller. The two men took a road-gait and held it steadilytill they reached a telephone-line which stretched across the desertand joined two outposts of civilization. Steve strapped on his climbingspurs and went up a post lightly with his test outfit. In a few minuteshe had Moreno on the wire and was in touch with one of his rangers.

  "Hello! This you, Ferguson? This is Fraser. No, Fraser--LieutenantFraser. Yes. How many of the boys can you get in touch with right away?Two? Good. I want you to cover the Arivaca cut-off. Kinney is headedthat way in a rig. His sister is with him. She is not to be injuredunder any circumstances. Understand? Wire me at the Mal Pais minesto-morrow your news. By the way, Tom Long and some of the boys areheaded down that way with notions of lynching Kinney. Dodge them if youcan and rush your man up to the Mal Pais. Good-bye."

  "Suppose they can't dodge them?" ventured Neill after Steve had rejoinedhim.

  "I reckon they can. If not--well, my rangers are good boys; I expectthey won't give up a prisoner."

  "I'm right glad to find you are going to the Mal Pais mines with me,lieutenant. I wasn't expecting company on the way."

  "I'll bet a dollar Mex against two plunks gold that you're wonderingwhyfor I'm going."

  Larry laughed. "You're right. I was wondering."

  "Well, then, it's this way. What with all these boys on Kinney's trailhe's as good as rounded up. Fact is, Kinney's only a weak sister anyhow.He turned State's witness at the trial, and it was his testimony thatconvicted Struve. I know something about this because I happened to bethe man that caught Struve. I had just joined the rangers. It was myfirst assignment. The other three got away. Two of them escaped and thethird was not tried for lack of sufficient evidence. Now, then:Kinney rides the rods from Yuma to Marfa and is now or had ought tobe somewhere in this valley between Posa Buena and Taylor's ranch. Butwhere is Struve, the hardier ruffian of the two? He ain't been seensince they broke out. He sure never reached Ft. Lincoln. My notion isthat he dropped off the train in the darkness about Casa Grande, thenrolled his tail for the Mal Pais country. Your eyes are asking whysmighty loud, my friend; and my answer is that there's a man up theremebbe who has got to hide Struve if he shows up. That's only a guess,but it looks good to me. This man was the brains of the whole outfit,and folks say that he's got cached the whole haul the gang made fromthat S. P. hold-up. What's more, he scattered gold so liberal thathis name wasn't even mentioned at the trial. He's a big man now, amillionaire copper king and into gold-mines up to the hocks. In theSouthwest those things happen. It doesn't always do to look too closelyat a man's past.

  "We'll say Struve drops in on him and threatens to squeak. Mebbe he hasgot evidence; mebbe he hasn't. Anyhow, our big duck wants to forget thetime he was wearing a mask and bending a six-gun for a living. Also andmoreover, he's right anxious to have other folks get a chance to forget.From what I can hear he's clean mashed on some girl at Amarillo, ormaybe it's Fort Lincoln. See what a twist Strove's got on him if he canslip into the Mal Pais country on the q. t."

  "And you're going up there to look out for him?"

  "I'm going in to take a casual look around. There's no telling what aman might happen onto accidentally if he travels with his ear to theground."

  The other nodded. He could now understand easily why Fraser was goinginto the Mal Pais country, but he could not make out why the ranger,naturally a man who lived under his own hat and kept his own counsel,had told him so much as he had. The officer shortly relieved his mind onthis point.

  "I may need help while I'm there. May I call on you if I do, seh?"

  Neill felt his heart warm toward this hard-faced, genial frontiersman,who knew how to judge so well the timbre of a casual acquaintance.

  "You sure may, lieutenant."

  "Good. I'll count on you then."

  So, in these few words, the compact of friendship and alliance wassealed between them. Each of them was strangely taken with the other,but it is not the way of the Anglo-Saxon fighting man to voice hissentiment. Though each of them admired the stark courage and theflawless fortitude he knew to dwell in the other, impassivity saton their faces like an ice-mask. For this is the hall-mark of theSouthwest, that a man must love and hate with the same unchanging faceof iron, save only when a woman is in consideration.

  They were to camp that night by Cottonwood Spring, and darkness caughtthem still some miles from their camp. They were on no road, but weretravelling across country through washes and over countless hills.The ranger led the way, true as an arrow, even after velvet night hadenveloped them.

  "It must be right over this mesa among the cottonwoods you see risingfrom that arroyo," he announced at last.

  He had scarcely spoken before they struck a trail that led them directto the spring. But as they were descending this in a circle Fraser'shorse shied.

  "Hyer you, Pinto! What's the matter with--"

  The ranger cut his sentence in two and slid from the saddle. When hiscompanion reached him and drew rein the ranger was bending over a darkmass stretched across the trail. He looked up quietly.

  "Man's body," he said briefly.

  "Dead?"

  "Yes."

  Neill dismounted and came forward. The moon-crescent was up by now andhad lit the country with a chill radiance. The figure was dressed in thecoarse striped suit of a convict.

  "I don't savvy this play," Fraser confessed softly to himself.

  "Do you know him?"

  "Suppose you look at him and see if you know him."

  Neill looked into the white face and shook his head.

  "No, I don't know him, but I suppose it is Struve."

  From his pocket the ranger produced a photograph and handed it to him.

  "Hyer, I'll strike a match and you'll see better."

  The match flared up in the slight breeze and presently went out, butnot before Neill had seen that it was the face of the man who lay beforethem.

  "Did you see the name under the picture, seh?"

  "No."

  Another match flared and the man from the Panhandle read a name, butit was not the one he had expected to see. The words printed there were"James Kinney."

  "I don't understand. This ain't Kinney. He is a heavy-set man with avillainous face. There's some mistake."

  "There ce'tainly is, but not at this end of the line. This is Kinney allright. I've seen him at Yuma. He was heading for the Mal Pais countryand he died on the way. See hyer. Look at these soaked bandages. He'sbeen wounded--shot mebbe--and the wound broke out on him again so thathe bled to death."

  "It's all a daze to me. Who is the other man if he isn't Kinney?"

  "We're coming to that. I'm beginning to see daylight," said Steve,gently. "Let's run over this thing the way it might be. You've got tokeep in mind that this man was weak, one of those spineless fellows thatstronger folks lead around by the nose. Well, they make their getaway atYuma after Struve has killed a guard. That killing of Dave Long shakesKinney up a lot, he being no desperado but only a poor lost-dog kind ofa guy. Struve notices it and remembers that this fellow weakened before.He makes up his mind to take no chances. From that moment he watches fora chance to make an end of his pardner. At Casa Grande they drop off thetrain they're riding and cut across country toward the Mal Pais. Mebbethey quarrel or mebbe Struve gets his chance and takes it. But after hehas shot his man he sees he has made a mistake. Perhaps they were seentravelling in that direction. Anyhow, he is afraid the body will befound since he can't bury it right. He changes his plan and takes abig chance; cuts back to the track, boards a freight, and reaches FortLincoln."

  "My God!" cried the other, startled for once out of his calm.

  The officer nodded. "You're on the trail right enough. I wish we wereboth wrong, but we ain't."

  "But surely she would have known he wasn't her brother, surely--"

  The ranger shook his head. "She hadn't seen the
black sheep since shewas a kid of about seven. How would she know what he looked like? AndStruve was primed with all the facts he had heard Kinney blat out timeand again. She wasn't suspecting any imposition and he worked her to afare-you-well."

  Larry Neill set his teeth on a wave of icy despair.

  "And she's in that devil's power. She would be as safe in a den ofrattlers. To think that I had my foot on his neck this mo'ning anddidn't break it."

  "She's safe so long as she is necessary to him. She's in deadly perilas soon as he finds her one witness too many. If he walks into my boys'trap at the Arivaca cut-off, all right. If not, God help her! I've shutthe door to Mexico and safety in his face. He'll strike back for the MalPais country. It's his one chance, and he'll want to travel light andfast."

  "If he starts back Tom Long's party may get him."

  "That's one more chance for her, but it's a slim one. He'll cut straightacross country; they're following the trail. No, seh, our best bet is myrangers. They'd ought to land him, too."

  "Oh, ought to," derided the other impatiently. "Point is, if they don't.How are we going to save her? You know this country. I don't."

  "Don't tear your shirt, amigo," smiled the ranger. "We'll arrive fasterif we don't go off half-cocked. Let's picket the broncs, amble downto the spring, and smoke a cigarette. We've got to ride twenty miles forfresh hawsses and these have got to have a little rest."

  They unsaddled and picketed, then strolled to the spring.

  "I've been thinking that maybe we have made a mistake. Isn't it possiblethe man with Miss Kinney is not Struve?" asked Neill.

  "That's easy proved. You saw him this mo'ning." The lieutenant went downinto his pocket once more for a photograph. "Does this favor the manwith Miss Kinney?"

  Under the blaze of another match, shielded by the ranger's hands, Larrylooked into the scowling, villainous face he had seen earlier in theday. There could be no mistaking those leering, cruel eyes nor theratlike, shifty look of the face, not to mention the long scar acrossit. His heart sank.

  "It's the man."

  "Don't you blame yourself for not putting his lights out. How could youtell who he was?"

  "I knew he was a ruffian, hide and hair."

  "But you thought he was her brother and that's a whole lot different.What do you say to grubbing here? We've got to go to the Halle ranch forhawsses and it's a long jog."

  They lit a fire and over their coffee discussed plans. In the midst ofthese the Southerner picked up idly a piece of wrapping-paper. Upon itwas pencilled a wavering scrawl:

  Bleeding has broke out again. Can't stop it. Struve shot me and left mefor dead ten miles back. I didn't kill the guard or know he meant to. J.KINNEY.

  Neill handed the paper to the ranger, who read it through, folded it,and gave it back to the other.

  "Keep that paper. We may need it." His grave eyes went up the trail towhere the dark figure lay motionless in the cold moonlight. "Well, he'scome to the end of the trail--the only end he could have reached. Hewasn't strong enough to survive as a bad man. Poor devil!"

  They buried him in a clump of cottonwoods and left a little pile ofrocks to mark the spot.

 
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