A texas ranger, p.6
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       A Texas Ranger, p.6

           William MacLeod Raine
 

  CHAPTER VI -- SOMEBODY'S ACTING MIGHTY FOOLISH.

  Larry Neill watched him vanish and then turned smiling to Miss Kinney.

  "All aboard for the Mal Pais," he sang out cheerfully.

  Too cheerfully perhaps. His assurance that all was well between themchilled her manner. He might forgive himself easily if he was that sortof man; she would at least show him she was no party, to it. He hadtreated her outrageously, had manhandled her with deliberate intent toinsult. She would show him no one alive could treat her so and calmlyassume to her that it was all right.

  Her cool eyes examined the horse, and him.

  "I don't quite see how you expect to arrange it, Mr. Neill. That is yourname, isn't it?" she added indifferently.

  "That's my name--Larry Neill. Easiest thing in the world to arrange. Weride pillion if it suits you; if not, I'll walk."

  "Neither plan suits me," she announced curtly, her gaze on the far-awayhills.

  He glanced at her in quick surprise, then made the mistake of lettinghimself smile at her frosty aloofness instead of being crestfallen byit. She happened to look round and catch that smile before he couldextinguish it. Her petulance hardened instantly to a resolution.

  "I don't quite know what we're going to do about it--unless you walk,"he proposed, amused at the absurdity of his suggestion.

  "That's just what I'm going to do," she retorted promptly.

  "What!" He wheeled on her with an astonished smile on his face.

  This served merely to irritate her.

  "I said I was going to walk."

  "Walk seventeen miles?"

  "Seventy if I choose."

  "Nonsense! Of course you won't."

  Her eyebrows lifted in ironic demurrer. "I think you must let me be thejudge of that," she said gently.

  "Walk!" he reiterated. "Why, you're walked out. You couldn't go a mile.What do you take me for? Think I'm going to let you come that on me."

  "I don't quite see how you can help it, Mr. Neill," she answered.

  "Help it! Why, it ain't reasonable. Of course you'll ride."

  "Of course I won't."

  She set off briskly, almost jauntily, despite her tired feet and achinglimbs.

  "Well, if that don't beat--" He broke off to laugh at the situation.After she had gone twenty steps he called after her in a voice that didnot suppress its chuckle: "You ain't going the right direction, MissKinney."

  She whirled round on him in anger. How dared he laugh at her?

  "Which is the right way?" she choked.

  "North by west is about it."

  She was almost reduced to stamping her foot.

  Without condescending to ask more definite instructions she struck offat haphazard, and by chance guessed right. There was nothing for it butto pursue. Wherefore the man pursued. The horse at his heels hamperedhis stride, but he caught up with her soon.

  "Somebody's acting mighty foolish," he said.

  She said nothing very eloquently.

  "If I need punishing, ma'am, don't punish yourself, but me. You ain'table to walk and that's a fact."

  She gave her silent attention strictly to the business of makingprogress through the cactus and the sand.

  "Say I'm all you think I am. You can trample on me proper after we getto the Mal Pais. Don't have to know me at all if you don't want to.Won't you ride, ma'am? Please!"

  His distress filled her with a fierce delight. She stumbled defiantlyforward.

  He pondered a while before he asked quietly:

  "Ain't you going to ride, Miss Kinney?"

  "No, I'm not. Better go on. Pray don't let me detain you."

  "All right. See that peak with the spur to it? Well, you keep thatdirectly in line and make straight for it. I'll say good-by now, ma'am.I got to hurry to be in time for dinner. I'll send some one out from thecamp to meet you that ain't such a villain as I am."

  He swung to the saddle, put spurs to his pony, and cantered away.She could scarce believe it, even when he rode straight over the hillwithout a backward glance. He would never leave her. Surely he wouldnot do that. She could never reach the camp, and he knew it. To be leftalone in the desert again; the horror of it broke her down, but notimmediately. She went proudly forward with her head in the air at first.He might look round. Perhaps he was peeping at her from behind somecholla. She would not gratify him by showing any interest in hiswhereabouts. But presently she began to lag, to scan draws and mesasanxiously for him, even to call aloud in an ineffective little voicewhich the empty hills echoed faintly. But from him there came no answer.

  She sat down and wept in self-pity. Of course she had told him to go,but he knew well enough she did not mean it. A magnanimous man wouldhave taken a better revenge on an exhausted girl than to leave her alonein such a spot, and after she had endured such a terrible experience asshe had. She had read about the chivalry of Western men. Yet these twohad ridden away on their horses and left her to live or die as chancewilled it.

  "Now, don't you feel so bad, Miss Margaret. I wasn't aiming really toleave you, of course," a voice interrupted her sobs to say.

  She looked through the laced fingers that covered her face, mightilyrelieved, but not yet willing to confess it. The engineer had made acircuit and stolen up quietly behind.

  "Oh! I thought you had gone," she said as carelessly as she could with avoice not clear of tears.

  "Were you crying because you were afraid I hadn't?" he asked.

  "I ran a cactus into my foot. And I didn't say anything about crying."

  "Then if your foot is hurt you will want to ride. That seventeen milesmight be too long a stroll before you get through with it."

  "I don't know what I'll do yet," she answered shortly.

  "I know what you'll do."

  "Yes?"

  "You'll quit your foolishness and get on this hawss."

  She flushed angrily. "I won't!"

  He stooped down, gathered her up in his arms, and lifted her to thesaddle.

  "That's what you're going to do whether you like it or not," he informedher.

  "How are you going to make me stay here, now you have put me here?"

  "I'm going to get on behind and hold you if it's necessary."

  He was sensible enough of the folly of it all, but he did not see whatelse he could do. She had chosen to punish him through herself in a waythat was impossible. It was a childish thing to do, born of some touchof hysteria her experience had induced, and he could only treat her as achild till she was safely back in civilization.

  Their wills met in their eyes, and the man's, masculine and dominant,won the battle. The long fringe of hers fell to the soft cheeks.

  "It won't be at all necessary," she promised.

  "Are you sure?"

  "Quite sure."

  "That's the way to talk."

  "If you care to know," she boiled over, "I think you the most hatefulman I ever met."

  "That's all right," he grinned ruefully. "You're the most contrarywoman I ever bumped into, so I reckon honors are easy."

  He strode along beside the horse, mile after mile, in a silence whichneither of them cared to break. The sap of youth flowed free in him, wasin his elastic tread, in the set of his broad shoulders, in the carriageof his small, well-shaped head. He was as lean-loined and lithe as apanther, and his stride ate up the miles as easily.

  They nooned at a spring in the dry wash of Bronco Creek. After he hadunsaddled and picketed he condescended to explain to her.

  "We'll stay here three hours or mebbe four through the heat of the day."

  "Is it far now?" she asked wearily.

  "Not more than seven miles I should judge. Are you about all in?"

  "Oh, no! I'm all right, thank you," she said, with forced sprightliness.

  His shrewd, hard gaze went over her and knew better.

  "You lie down under those live-oaks and I'll get some grub ready."

  "I'll cook lunch while you lie down. You must be tired walking so farthrough t
he sun," said Miss Kinney.

  "Have I got to pick you up again and carry you there?"

  "No, you haven't. You keep your hands off me," she flashed.

  But nevertheless she betook herself to the shade of the live-oaks andlay down. When he went to call her for lunch he found her fast asleepwith her head pillowed on her arm. She looked so haggard that he had notthe heart to rouse her.

  "Let her sleep. It will be the making of her. She's fair done. But ain'tshe plucky? And that spirited! Ready to fight so long as she can drag afoot. And her so sorter slim and delicate. Funny how she hangs ontoher grudge against me. Sho! I hadn't ought to have kissed her, but I'llnever tell her so."

  He went back to his coffee and bacon, dined, and lay down for a siestabeneath a cottonwood some distance removed from the live-oaks where MissKinney reposed. For two or three hours he slept soundly, having been inthe saddle all night. It was mid-afternoon when he awoke, and the sunwas sliding down the blue vault toward the sawtoothed range to the west.He found the girl still lost to the world in deep slumber.

  The man from the Panhandle looked across the desert that palpitatedwith heat, and saw through the marvelous atmosphere the smoke of theore-mills curling upward. He was no tenderfoot, to suppose that tenminutes' brisk walking would take him to them. He guessed the distanceat about two and a half hour's travel.

  "This is ce'tainly a hot evening. I expect we better wait till sundownbefore moving," he said aloud.

  Having made up his mind, it was characteristic of him that he was asleepagain in five minutes. This time she wakened before him, to look into awonderful sea of gold that filled the crotches of the hills between thepurple teeth. No sun was to be seen--it had sunk behind the peaks--butthe trail of its declension was marked by that great pool of glory intowhich she gazed.

  Margaret crossed the wash to the cottonwood under which her escortwas lying. He was fast asleep on his back, his gray shirt open at thebronzed, sinewy neck. The supple, graceful lines of him were relaxed,but even her inexperience appreciated the splendid shoulders and thelong rippling muscles. The maidenly instinct in her would allow but oneglance at him, and she was turning away when his eyes opened.

  Her face, judging from its tint, might have absorbed some of thesun-glow into which she had been gazing.

  "I came to see if you were awake," she explained.

  "Yes, ma'am, I am," he smiled.

  "I was thinking that we ought to be going. It will be dark before wereach Mal Pais."

  He leaped to his feet and faced her.

  "C'rect."

  "Are you hungry?"

  "Yes."

  He relit the fire and put on the coffee-pot before he saddled the horse.She ate and drank hurriedly, soon announcing herself ready for thestart.

  She mounted from his hand; then without asking any questions he swung toa place behind her.

  "We'll both ride," he said.

  The stars were out before they reached the outskirts of the mining-camp.At the first house of the rambling suburbs Neill slipped to the groundand walked beside her toward the old adobe plaza of the Mexican town.

  People passed them on the run, paying no attention to them, and othersdribbled singly or in small groups from the houses and saloons. All ofthem were converging excitedly to the plaza.

  "Must be something doing here," said her guide. "Now I wonder what!"

  Round the next turn he found his answer. There must have been presenttwo or three hundred men, mostly miners, and their gazes all focussed ontwo figures which stood against a door at the top of five or six steps.One of the forms was crouched on its knees, abject, cringing terrorstamped on the white villainous face upturned to the electric lightabove. But the other was on its feet, a revolver in each hand, a smileof reckless daring on the boyish countenance that just now stood for lawand order in Mal Pais.

  The man beside the girl read the situation at a glance. The handcuffedfigure groveling on the steps belonged to the murderer Struve, and overhim stood lightly the young ranger Steve Fraser. He was standing off amob that had gathered to lynch his prisoner, and one glance at him wasenough to explain how he had won his reputation as the most dashing andfearless member of a singularly efficient force. For plain to be read asthe danger that confronted him was the fact that peril was as the breathof life to his nostrils.

 
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