A texas ranger, p.9
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       A Texas Ranger, p.9

           William MacLeod Raine
 

  CHAPTER IX -- DOWN THE JACKRABBIT SHAFT.

  Next morning Larry got up so late that he had to Order a specialbreakfast for himself, the dining-room being closed. He found one guestthere, however, just beginning her oatmeal, and he invited himself toeat at her table.

  "Good mawnin', Miss Kinney. You don't look like you had been lying awakeworrying about me," he began by way of opening the conversation.

  Nor did she. Youth recuperates quickly, and after a night's sound sleepshe was glowing with health and sweet vitality. He could see a flushbeat into the fresh softness of her flesh, but she lifted her darklashes promptly to meet him, and came to the sex duel gaily.

  "I suppose you think I had to take a sleeping-powder to keep me fromit?" she flashed back.

  "Oh, well, a person can dream," he suggested.

  "How did you know? But you are right. I did dream of you."

  To the waiter he gave his order before answering her. "Some oatmeal andbacon and eggs. Yes, coffee. And some hot cakes, Charlie. Did you honestdream about me?" This last not to the Chinese waiter who had paddedsoft-footed to the kitchen.

  "Yes."

  She smiled shyly at him with sweet innocence, and he drew his chair atrifle closer.

  "Tell me."

  "I don't like to."

  "But you must. Go on."

  "Well," very reluctantly. "I dreamed I was visiting the penitentiary andyou were there in stripes. You were in for stealing a sheep, I think.Yes, that was it, for stealing a sheep."

  "Couldn't you make it something more classy if you're bound to have mein?" he begged, enjoying immensely the rise she was taking out of him.

  "I have to tell it the way it was," she insisted, her eyes bubbling withfun. "And it seems you were the prison cook. First thing I knew youwere standing in front of a wall and two hundred of the prisoners wereshooting at you. They were using your biscuits as bullets."

  "That was a terrible revenge to take on me for baking them."

  "It seems you had your sheep with you--the one you stole, and you and itwere being pelted all over."

  "Did you see a lady hold-up among those shooting at me?" he inquiredanxiously.

  She shook her head. "And just when the biscuits were flying thickest thewall opened and Mr. Fraser appeared. He caught you and the sheep bythe back of your necks, and flung you in. Then the wall closed, and Iawoke."

  "That's about as near the facts as dreams usually get."

  He was very much pleased, for it would have been a great disappointmentto him if she had admitted dreaming about him for any reason except tomake fun of him. The thing about her that touched his imagination mostwas something wild and untamed, some quality of silken strength in herslim supple youth that scoffed at all men and knew none as master. Hemeant to wrest from her if he could an interest that would set him apartin her mind from all others, but he wanted the price of victory to costhim something. Thus the value of it would be enhanced.

  "But tell me about your escape--all about it and what became ofLieutenant Fraser. And first of all, who the lady was that opened thedoor for you," she demanded.

  "She was his sister."

  "Oh! His sister." Her voice was colorless. She observed him withoutappearing to do so. "Very pretty, I thought her. Didn't you?"

  "Right nice looking. Had a sort of an expression made a man want to lookat her again."

  "Yes."

  Innocently unaware that he was being pumped, he contributed moreinformation. "And that game."

  "She was splendid. I can see her now opening the door in the face of thebullets."

  "Never a scream out of her either. Just as cool."

  "That is the quality men admire most, isn't it--courage?"

  "I don't reckon that would come first. Course it wouldn't make a hitwith a man to have a woman puling around all the time."

  "My kind, you mean."

  Though she was smiling at him with her lips, it came to him that hiswords were being warped to a wrong meaning.

  "No, I don't," he retorted bluntly.

  "As I remember it, I was bawling every chance I got yesterday and theday before," she recalled, with fine contempt of herself.

  "Oh, well! You had reason a-plenty. And sometimes a woman cries justlike a man cusses. It don't mean anything. I once knew a woman wet herhandkerchief to a sop crying because her husband forgot one mo'ning tokiss her good-by. She quit irrigating to run into a burning house aftera neighbor's kids."

  "I accept your apology for my behavior if you'll promise I won't do itagain," she laughed. "But tell me more about Miss Fraser. Does she livehere?"

  For a moment he was puzzled. "Miss Fraser! Oh! She gave up that nameseveral years ago. Mrs. Collins they call her. And say, you ought to seeher kiddies. You'd fall in love with them sure."

  The girl covered her mistake promptly with a little laugh. It wouldnever do for him to know she had been yielding to incipient jealousy."Why can't I know them? I want to meet her too."

  The door opened and a curly head was thrust in. "Dining-room closes forbreakfast at nine. My clock says it's ten-thirty now. Pretty near workto keep eating that long, ain't it? And this Sunday, too! I'll have youput in the calaboose for breaking the Sabbath."

  "We're only bending it," grinned Neill. "Good mo'ning, Lieutenant. Howis Mrs. Collins, and the pickaninnies?"

  "First rate. Waiting in the parlor to be introduced to Miss Kinney."

  "We're through," announced Margaret, rising.

  "You too, Tennessee? The proprietor will be grateful."

  The young women took to each other at once. Margaret was very fond ofchildren, and the little boy won her heart immediately. Both he and hisbaby sister were well-trained, healthy, and lovable little folks, andthey adopted "Aunt Peggy" enthusiastically.

  Presently the ranger proposed to Neill an adjournment.

  "I got to take some breakfast down the Jackrabbit shaft to my prisoner.Wanter take a stroll that way?" he asked.

  "If the ladies will excuse us."

  "Glad to get rid of you," Miss Kinney assured him promptly, but with abright smile that neutralized the effect of her sauciness. "Mrs. Collinsand I want to have a talk."

  The way to the Jackrabbit lay up a gulch behind the town. Up one inclinewas a shaft-house with a great gray dump at the foot of it. This theyleft behind them, climbing the hill till they came to the summit.

  The ranger pointed to another shaft-house and dump on the next hillside.

  "That's the Mal Pais, from which the district is named. Dunke owns itand most of the others round here. His workings and ours come togetherin several places, but we have boarded up the tunnels at those pointsand locked the doors we put in. Wonder where Brown is? I told him tomeet me here to let us down."

  At this moment they caught sight of him coming up a timbered draw. Helowered them into the shaft, which was about six hundred feet deep.From the foot of the shaft went a tunnel into the heart of the mountain.Steve led the way, flashing an electric searchlight as he went.

  "We aren't working this part of the mine any more," he explained. "Itconnects with the newer workings by a tunnel. We'll go back that way tothe shaft."

  "You've got quite a safe prison," commented the other.

  "It's commodious, anyhow; and I reckon it's safe. If a man was toget loose he couldn't reach the surface without taking somebody intopartner-ship with him. There ain't but three ways to daylight; one bythe shaft we came down, another by way of our shaft-house, and the thirdby Dunke's, assuming he could break through into the Mal Pais. He'dbetter not break loose and go to wandering around. There are seventeenmiles of workings down here in the Jackrabbit, let alone the Mal Pais.He might easily get lost and starve to death. Here he is at the end ofthis tunnel."

  Steve flashed the light twice before he could believe his eyes. Therewas no sign of Struve except the handcuffs depending from an iron chainconnected by a heavy staple with the granite wall. Apparently he hadsomehow managed to slip from the gyves by working at them constantly.


  The officer turned to his friend and laughed. "I reckon I'm holding thesack this time. See. There's blood on these cuffs. He rasped his handssome before he got them out."

  "Well, you've still got him safe down here somewhere."

  "Yes, I have or Dunke has. The trouble is both the mines are shut downjust now. He's got about forty miles of tunnel to play hide-and-go-seekin. He's in luck if he doesn't starve to death."

  "What are you going to do about it?"

  "I'll have to get some of my men out on search-parties--just tell themthere's a man lost down here without telling them who. I reckon webetter say nothing about it to the ladies. You know how tender-heartedthey are. Nellie wouldn't sleep a wink to-night for worrying."

  "All right. We'd better get to it at once then."

  Fraser nodded. "We'll go up and rustle a few of the boys that know themine well. I expect before we find him Mr. Wolf Struve will be a lamband right anxious for the shepherd to arrive."

  All day the search proceeded without results, and all of the next day.The evening of this second day found Struve still not accounted for.

 
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