A texas ranger, p.8
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       A Texas Ranger, p.8

           William MacLeod Raine
 

  CHAPTER VIII -- WOULD YOU WORRY ABOUT ME?

  Margaret Kinney's heart ceased beating in that breathless instant afterthe two dauntless friends had flung defiance to two hundred. There was asudden tightening of her throat, a fixing of dilated eyes on what wouldhave been a thrilling spectacle had it not meant so much more to her.For as she leaned forward in the saddle with parted lips she knew apassionate surge of fear for one of the apparently doomed men that wentthrough her like swift poison, that left her dizzy with the shock of it.

  The thought of action came to her too late. As Dunke stepped back togive the signal for attack she cried out his name, but her voice wasdrowned in the yell of rage that filled the street. She tried to spurher horse into the crowd, to force a way to the men standing withsuch splendid fearlessness above this thirsty pack of wolves. But thedenseness of the throng held her fixed even while revolvers flashed.

  And then the miracle happened. She saw the door open and limned ina penumbra of darkness the white comely face of a woman. She saw thebeleaguered men sway back and the door close in the faces of the horde.She saw bullets go crashing into the door, heard screams of baffledfury, and presently the crash of axes into the panels of the barrierthat held them back. It seemed to fade away before her gaze, and insteadof it she saw a doorway full of furious crowding miners.

  Then presently her heart stood still again. From her higher place in thesaddle, well back in the outskirts of the throng, in the dim light shemade out a figure crouching on the roof; then another, and another, anda fourth. She suffered an agony of fear in the few heart-beats beforethey began to slip away. Her eyes swept the faces near her. One and allthey were turned upon the struggling mass of humanity at the entranceto the passage. When she dared look again to the roof the fugitives weregone. She thought she perceived them swarming up a ladder to the higherroof, but in the surrounding grayness she could not be sure of this.

  The stamping of feet inside the house continued. Once there was thesound of an exploding revolver. After a long time a heavy figurestruggled into view through the roof-trap. It was Dunke himself. Hecaught sight of the ladder, gave a shout of triumph, and was off inpursuit of his flying prey. As others appeared on the roof they, too,took up the chase, a long line of indistinct running figures.

  There were other women on the street now, most of them Mexicans, so thatMargaret attracted little attention. She moved up opposite the housethat had become the scene of action, expecting every moment to hear theshots that would determine the fate of the victims.

  But no shots came. Lights flashed from room to room, and presently onelight began to fill a room so brilliantly that she knew a lamp must havebeen overturned and set the house on fire. Dunke burst from the frontdoor, scarce a dozen paces from her. There was a kind of lurid fury inhis eyes. He was as ravenously fierce as a wolf balked of its kill. Shechose that moment to call him.

  "Mr. Dunke!"

  Her voice struck him into a sort of listening alertness, and again shepronounced his name.

  "You, Miss Kinney--here?" he asked in amazement.

  "Yes--Miss Kinney."

  "But--What are you doing here? I thought you were at Fort Lincoln."

  "I was, but I'm here now."

  "Why? This is no place for you to-night. Hell's broke loose."

  "So it seems," she answered, with shining eyes.

  "There's trouble afoot, Miss Margaret. No girl should be out, let alonean unprotected one."

  "I did not come here unprotected. There was a man with me. The one, Mr.Dunke, that you are now looking for to murder!"

  She gave it to him straight from the shoulder, her eyes holding hissteadily.

  "Struve?" he gasped, taken completely aback.

  "No, not Struve. The man who stood beside Lieutenant Fraser, the one youthreatened to kill because he backed the law."

  "I guess you don't know all the facts, Miss Kinney." He came close andmet her gaze while he spoke in a low voice. "There ain't many know whatI know. Mebbe there ain't any beside you now. But I know you're JimKinney's sister."

  "You are welcome to the knowledge. It is no secret. Lieutenant Fraserknows it. So does his friend. I'm not trying to hide it. What of it?"

  Her quiet scorn drew the blood to his face.

  "That's all right. If you do want to keep it quiet I'm with you. Butthere's something more. Your brother escaped from Yuma with this fellowStruve. Word came over the wire an hour or two ago that Struve had beencaptured and that it was certain he had killed his pal, your brother.That's why I mean to see him hanged before mo'ning."

  "He did kill my brother. He told me so himself." Her voice carried a sobfor an instant, but she went on resolutely. "What has that to do withit? Isn't there any law in Texas? Hasn't he been captured? And isn't hebeing taken back to his punishment?"

  "He told you so himself!" the man echoed. "When did he tell you? Whendid you see him?"

  "I was alone with him for twelve hours in the desert."

  "Alone with you?" His puzzled face showed how he was trying to take thisin, "I don't understand. How could he be alone with you?"

  "I thought he was my brother and I was helping him to escape from FortLincoln."

  "Helping him to escape! Helping Wolf Struve to escape! Well, I'm darnedif that don't beat my time. How come you to think him your brother?" theman asked suspiciously.

  "It doesn't matter how or why. I thought so. That's enough."

  "And you were alone with him--why, you must have been alone with him allnight," cried Dunke, coming to a fresh discovery.

  "I was," she admitted very quietly.

  A new suspicion edged itself into his mind. "What did you talk about?Did he say anything about--Did he--He always was a terrible liar. Nobodyever believed Wolf Struve."

  Without understanding the reason for it, she could see that he wasuneasy, that he was trying to discount the value of anything the convictmight have told her. Yet what could Struve the convict, No. 9,432, haveto do with the millionaire mine-owner, Thomas J. Dunke? What could therebe in common between them? Why should the latter fear what the other hadto tell? The thing was preposterous on the face of it, but the girl knewby some woman's instinct that she was on the edge of a secret Dunke heldhidden deep in his heart from all the world. Only this much she guessed;that Struve was a sharer of his secret, and therefore he was set onlynching the man before he had time to tell it.

  "They got away, didn't they?" she asked.

  "They got away--for the present," he answered grimly. "But we're stillhunting them."

  "Can't you let the law take its course, Mr. Danke? Is it necessary to dothis terrible thing?"

  "Don't you worry any about it, Miss Kinney. This ain't a woman's job.I'll attend to it."

  "But my friends," she reminded him.

  "We ain't intending to hurt them any. Come, I'll see you home. Youstaying at the hotel?"

  "I don't know. I haven't made any arrangements yet."

  "Well, we'll go make them now."

  But she did not move. "I'm not going in till I know how this comes out."

  He was a man used to having his own brutal way, one strong by nature,with strength increased by the money upon which he rode rough-shod tosuccess.

  He laughed as he caught hold of the rein. "That's ridiculous!"

  "But my business, I think," the girl answered sharply, jerking thebridle from his fingers.

  Dunke stared at her. It was his night of surprises. He failed torecognize the conventional teacher he knew in this bright-eyed,full-throated young woman who fronted him so sure of herself. She seemedto him to swim brilliantly in a tide of flushed beauty, in spite of thedust and the stains of travel. She was in a shapeless khaki riding-suitand a plain, gray, broad-brimmed Stetson. But the one could not hidethe flexible curves that made so frankly for grace, nor the other thecoppery tendrils that escaped in fascinating disorder from under itsbrim.

  "You hadn't ought to be out here. It ain't right."

  "I don't remember asking you to ac
t as a standard of right and wrong forme."

  He laughed awkwardly. "We ain't quarreling, are we, Miss Margaret?"

  "Certainly I am not. I don't quarrel with anybody but my friends."

  "Well, I didn't aim to offend you anyway. You know me better than that."He let his voice fall into a caressing modulation and put a propitiatoryhand on her skirt, but under the uncompromising hardness of her gaze thehand fell away to his side. "I'm your friend--leastways I want to be."

  "My friends don't lynch men."

  "But after what he did to your brother."

  "The law will take care of that. If you want to please me call off yourmen before it is too late."

  It was his cue to please her, for so far as it was in him the man lovedher. He had set his strong will to trample on his past, to rise to aplace where no man could shake his security with proof of his formermisdeeds. He meant to marry her and to place her out of reach of thoseevil days of his. Only Struve was left of the old gang, and he knewthe Wolf well enough to be sure that the fellow would delight inblackmailing him. The convict's mouth must be closed. But just now hemust promise t she wanted, and he did.

  The promise was still on his lips when a third person strode into theirconversation.

  "Sorry I had to leave you so hastily, Miss Kinney. I'm ready to take youto the hotel now if it suits you."

  Both of them turned quickly, to see the man from the Panhandlesauntering forth from the darkness. There was a slight smile on hisface, which did not abate when he nodded to Dunke amiably.

  "You?" exclaimed the mine-owner angrily.

  "Why, yes--me. Hope we didn't inconvenience you, seh, by postponing thecoyote's journey to Kingdom Come. My friend had to take a hand becausehe is a ranger, and I sat in to oblige him. No hard feelings, I hope."

  "Did you--Are you all safe?" Margaret asked.

  "Yes, ma'am. Got away slick and clean."

  "Where?" barked Dunke.

  "Where what, my friend?"

  "Where did you take him?"

  Larry laughed in slow deep enjoyment. "I hate to disappoint you, but ifI told that would be telling. No, I reckon I won't table my cards yet awhile. If you're playing in this game of Hi-Spy go to it and hunt."

  "Perhaps you don't know that I am T. J. Dunke."

  "You don't say! And I'm General Grant. This lady hyer is FlorenceNightingale or Martha Washington, I disremember which."

  Miss Kinney laughed. "Whichever she is she's very very tired," she said."I think I'll accept your offer to see me to the hotel, Mr. Neill."

  She nodded a careless good night to the mine-owner, and touched thehorse with her heel. At the porch of the rather primitive hotel shedescended stiffly from the saddle.

  Before she left the Southerner--or the Westerner, for sometimes sheclassified him as one, sometimes as the other--she asked him onehesitant question.

  "Were you thinking of going out again tonight?"

  "I did think of taking a turn out to see if I could find Fraser.Anything I can do for you?"

  "Yes. Please don't go. I don't want to have to worry about you. I havehad enough trouble for the present."

  "Would you worry about me?" he asked quietly, his eyes steadily on her.

  "I lie awake about the most unaccountable things sometimes."

  He smiled in his slow Southern fashion. "Very well. I'll stay indoors.I reckon Steve ain't lost, anyhow. You're too tired to have to lie awakeabout me to-night. There's going to be lots of other nights for you tothink of me."

  She glanced at him with a quick curiosity. "Well, of all the conceit Iever heard!"

  "I'm the limit, ain't I?" he grinned as he took himself off.

 
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