A texas ranger, p.7
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       A Texas Ranger, p.7

           William MacLeod Raine


  "He's my prisoner and you can't have him," the girl heard the rangersay.

  The answer came in a roar of rage. "By God, we'll show you!"

  "If you want him, take him. But don't come unless you are ready to paythe price!" warned the officer.

  He was bareheaded and his dark-brown curly hair crisped round hisforehead engagingly. Round his right hand was tied a blood-stainedhandkerchief. A boy he looked, but his record was a man's, and so themob that swayed uncertainly below him knew. His gray eyes were steady assteel despite the fire that glowed in them. He stood at ease, with nerveunshaken, the curious lifted look of a great moment about the poise ofhis graceful figure.

  "It is Lieutenant Fraser," cried Margaret, but as she looked down shemissed her escort.

  An instant, and she saw him. He was circling the outskirts of the crowdat a run. For just a heart-beat she wondered what he was about, but herbrain told her before her eye. He swung in toward the steps, shouldersdown, and bored a way through the stragglers straight to the heart ofthe turmoil. Taking the steps in two jumps, he stood beside the ranger.

  "Hello, Tennessee," grinned that young man. "Come to be a pall-bearer?"

  "Hello, Texas! Can't say, I'm sure. Just dropped in to see what'sdoing."

  Steve's admiring gaze approved him a man from the ground up. But theranger only laughed and said: "The band's going to play a right livelytune, looks like."

  The man from the Panhandle had his revolvers out already. "Yes, therewill be a hot time in the old town to-night, I shouldn't wonder."

  But for the moment the attackers were inclined to parley. Their leaderstepped out and held up a hand for a suspension of hostilities. He was alarge man, heavily built, and powerful as a bear. There was about him anair of authority, as of one used to being obeyed. He was dressed roughlyenough in corduroy and miner's half-leg boots, but these were of themost expensive material and cut. His cold gray eye and thin lips deniedthe manner of superficial heartiness he habitually carried. If onescratched the veneer of good nature it was to find a hard selfishnessthat went to his core.

  "It's Mr. Dunke!" the young school-teacher cried aloud in surprise.

  "I've got something to say to you, Mr. Lieutenant Ranger," he announced,with importance.

  "Uncork it," was Fraser's advice.

  "We don't want to have any trouble with you, but we're here forbusiness. This man is a cold-blooded murderer and we mean to do justiceon him."

  Steve laughed insolently. "If all them that hollers for justice theloudest got it done to them, Mr. Dunke, there'd be a right smartshrinkage in the census returns."

  Dunke's eye gleamed with anger. "We're not here to listen to any smartguys, sir. Will you give up Struve to us or will you not?"

  "That's easy. I will not."

  The mob leader turned to the Tennessean. "Young man, I don't know whoyou are, but if you mean to butt into a quarrel that ain't yours allI've got to say is that you're hunting an early grave."

  "We'll know about that later, seh."

  "You stand pat, do you?"

  "Well, seh, I draw to a pair that opens the pot anyhow," answered Larry,with a slight motion of his weapons.

  Dunke fell back into the mob, a shot rang out into the night, and thecrowd swayed forward. But at that instant the door behind Fraser swungopen. A frightened voice sounded in his ear.

  "Quick, Steve!"

  The ranger slewed his head, gave an exclamation of surprise, andhurriedly threw his prisoner into the open passage.

  "Back, Larry! Lively, my boy!" he ordered.

  Neill leaped back in a spatter of bullets that rained round him. Nextmoment the door was swung shut again.

  "You all right, Nell?" asked Fraser quickly of the young woman who hadopened the door, and upon her affirmative reply he added: "Everybodyalive and kicking? Nobody get a pill?"

  "I'm all right for one," returned Larry. "But we had better get out ofthis passage. I notice our friends the enemy are sending their cardsthrough the door after us right anxious."

  As he spoke a bullet tore a jagged splinter from a panel and burieditself in the ceiling. A second and a third followed.

  "That's c'rect. We'd better be 'Not at home' when they call. Eh, Nell?"

  Steve put an arm affectionately round the waist of the young woman whohad come in such timely fashion to their aid and ran through the passagewith her to the room beyond, Neill following with the prisoner.

  "You're wounded, Steve," the young woman cried.

  He shrugged. "Scratch in the hand. Got it when I arrested him. Had toshoot his trigger finger off."

  "But I must see to it."

  "Not now; wait till we're out of the woods." He turned to his friend:"Nell, let me introduce to you Mr. Neill, from the Panhandle. Mr. Neill,this is my sister. I don't know how come she to drop down behind us likean angel from heaven, but that's a story will wait. The thing we got todo right now is to light a shuck out of here."

  His friend nodded, listening to the sound of blows battering the outerdoor. "They'll have it down in another minute. We've got to burn thewind seven ways for Sunday."

  "What I'd like to know is whether there are two entrances to thisrat-trap. Do you happen to know, Nell?" asked Fraser of his sister.

  "Three," she answered promptly. "There's a back door into the court anda trap-door to the roof. That's the way I came."

  "And it's the way we'll go. I might a-known you'd know all about it giveyou a quarter of a chance," her brother said admiringly. "We'll duckthrough the roof and let Mr. Dunke hold the sack. Lead the way, sis."

  She guided them along another passageway and up some stairs to thesecond story. The trap-door that opened to the flat roof was above thebed about six feet. Neill caught the edges of the narrow opening, drewhimself up, and wriggled through. Fraser lifted his sister by the waisthigh enough for Larry to catch her hands and draw her up.

  "Hurry, Steve," she urged. "They've broken in. Hurry, dear."

  The ranger unlocked his prisoner's handcuffs and tossed them up to theTennessean.

  "Get a move on you, Mr. Struve, unless you want to figure in a necktieparty," he advised.

  But the convict's flabby muscles were unequal to the task of gettinghim through the opening. Besides which, his wounded hand, tied up witha blood-soaked rag, impeded him. He had to be pulled from above andboosted from behind. Fraser, fit to handle his weight in wildcats, asan admirer had once put it, found no trouble in following. Steps werealready heard on the stairs below when Larry slipped the cover to itsplace and put upon it a large flat stone which he found on the roof forthat purpose. The fugitives crawled along the roof on their hands andknees so as to escape the observation of the howling mob outside thehouse. Presently they came into the shadows, and Nell rose, ran forwardto a little ladder which led to a higher roof, and swiftly ascended.Neill, who was at her heels, could not fail to note the light supplegrace with which she moved. He thought he had never seen a more charmingwoman in appearance. She still somehow retained the slim figure andtaking ways of a girl, in conjunction with the soft rounded curves of apresent-day Madonna.

  Two more roofs were crossed before they came to another open trap-door.A lamp in the room below showed it to be a bedroom with two cots in it.Two children, one of them a baby, were asleep in these. A sweet-facedwoman past middle age looked anxiously up with hands clasped together asin prayer.

  "Is it you, Nellie?" she asked.

  "Yes, mother, and Steve, and his friend. We're all right."

  Fraser dropped through, and his sister let herself down into his arms.Struve followed, and was immediately handcuffed. Larry put back the trapand fastened it from within before he dropped down.

  "We shall have to leave at once, mother, without waiting to dressthe children," explained Fraser. "Wrap them in blankets and take someclothes along. I'll drop you at the hotel and slip my prisoner intothe jail the back way if I can; that is, if another plan I have doesn'twork."

>   The oldest child awoke and caught sight of Fraser. He reached out hishands in excitement and began to call: "Uncle Steve! Uncle Steve backagain."

  Fraser picked up the youngster. "Yes, Uncle Steve is back. But we'regoing to play a game that Indians are after us. Webb must be good andkeep very, very still. He mustn't say a word till uncle tells him hemay."

  The little fellow clapped his hands. "Goody, goody! Shall we begin now?"

  "Right this minute, son. Better take your money with you, mother. Isfather here?"

  "No, he is at the ranch. He went down in the stage to-day."

  "All right, friends. We'll take the back way. Tennessee, will you lookout for Mr. Struve? Sis will want to carry the baby."

  They passed quietly down-stairs and out the back door. The starry nightenveloped them coldly, and the moon looked down through rifted clouds.Nature was peaceful as her own silent hills, but the raucous jangle ofcursing voices from a distance made discord of the harmony. They slippedalong through the shadows, meeting none except occasional figureshurrying to the plaza. At the hotel door the two men separated from therest of the party, and took with them their prisoner.

  "I'm going to put him for safe-keeping down the shaft of a mine myfather and I own," explained Steve. "He wouldn't be safe in the jail,because Dunke, for private reasons, has made up his mind to put out hislights."

  "Private reasons?" echoed the engineer.

  "Mighty good ones, too. Ain't that right?" demanded the ranger ofStruve.

  The convict cursed, though his teeth still chattered with fright fromthe narrow escape he had had, but through his prison jargon ran a hintof some power he had over the man Dunke. It was plain he thought thelatter had incited the lynching in order to shut the convict's mouthforever.

  "Where is this shaft?" asked Neill.

  "Up a gulch about half a mile from here."

  Fraser's eyes fixed themselves on a young man who passed on the run. Hesuddenly put his fingers to his lips and gave a low whistle. The runningman stopped instantly, his head alert to catch the direction from whichthe sound had come. Steve whistled again and the stranger turned towardthem.

  "It's Brown, one of my rangers," explained the lieutenant.

  Brown, it appeared, had just reached town and stabled his horse whenword came to him that there was trouble on the plaza. He had been makingfor it when his officer's whistle stopped him.

  "It's all over except getting this man to safety. I'm going to put himdown an abandoned shaft of the Jackrabbit. He'll be safe there, andnobody will think to look for him in any such place," said Fraser.

  The man from the Panhandle drew his friend to one side. "Do you needme any longer? I left Miss Kinney right on the edge of that mob, and Iexpect I better look around and see where she is now."

  "All right. No, we don't need you. Take care you don't let any of theseminers recognize you. They might make you trouble while they're stillhot. Well, so-long. See you to-morrow at the hotel."

  The Tennessean looked to his guns to make sure they hung loose in thescabbards, then stepped briskly back toward the plaza.

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