The lone star ranger a.., p.1
Produced by Ken Smidge
THE LONE STAR RANGER
By Zane Grey
To CAPTAIN JOHN HUGHES and his Texas Rangers
It may seem strange to you that out of all the stories I heard on theRio Grande I should choose as first that of Buck Duane--outlaw andgunman.
But, indeed, Ranger Coffee's story of the last of the Duanes has hauntedme, and I have given full rein to imagination and have retold it in myown way. It deals with the old law--the old border days--therefore it isbetter first. Soon, perchance, I shall have the pleasure of writing ofthe border of to-day, which in Joe Sitter's laconic speech, "Shore is'most as bad an' wild as ever!"
In the North and East there is a popular idea that the frontier of theWest is a thing long past, and remembered now only in stories. As Ithink of this I remember Ranger Sitter when he made that remark, whilehe grimly stroked an unhealed bullet wound. And I remember the giantVaughn, that typical son of stalwart Texas, sitting there quietly withbandaged head, his thoughtful eye boding ill to the outlaw who hadambushed him. Only a few months have passed since then--when I had mymemorable sojourn with you--and yet, in that short time, Russell andMoore have crossed the Divide, like Rangers.
Gentlemen,--I have the honor to dedicate this book to you, and thehope that it shall fall to my lot to tell the world the truth about astrange, unique, and misunderstood body of men--the Texas Rangers--whomade the great Lone Star State habitable, who never know peaceful restand sleep, who are passing, who surely will not be forgotten and willsome day come into their own.
BOOK I. THE OUTLAW
So it was in him, then--an inherited fighting instinct, a drivingintensity to kill. He was the last of the Duanes, that old fightingstock of Texas. But not the memory of his dead father, nor the pleadingof his soft-voiced mother, nor the warning of this uncle who stoodbefore him now, had brought to Buck Duane so much realization ofthe dark passionate strain in his blood. It was the recurrence, ahundred-fold increased in power, of a strange emotion that for the lastthree years had arisen in him.
"Yes, Cal Bain's in town, full of bad whisky an' huntin' for you,"repeated the elder man, gravely.
"It's the second time," muttered Duane, as if to himself.
"Son, you can't avoid a meetin'. Leave town till Cal sobers up. He ain'tgot it in for you when he's not drinkin'."
"But what's he want me for?" demanded Duane. "To insult me again? Iwon't stand that twice."
"He's got a fever that's rampant in Texas these days, my boy. He wantsgun-play. If he meets you he'll try to kill you."
Here it stirred in Duane again, that bursting gush of blood, like awind of flame shaking all his inner being, and subsiding to leave himstrangely chilled.
"Kill me! What for?" he asked.
"Lord knows there ain't any reason. But what's that to do with most ofthe shootin' these days? Didn't five cowboys over to Everall's killone another dead all because they got to jerkin' at a quirt amongthemselves? An' Cal has no reason to love you. His girl was sweet onyou."
"I quit when I found out she was his girl."
"I reckon she ain't quit. But never mind her or reasons. Cal's here,just drunk enough to be ugly. He's achin' to kill somebody. He's one ofthem four-flush gun-fighters. He'd like to be thought bad. There's a lotof wild cowboys who're ambitious for a reputation. They talk about howquick they are on the draw. T hey ape Bland an' King Fisher an' Hardinan' all the big outlaws. They make threats about joinin' the gangs alongthe Rio Grande. They laugh at the sheriffs an' brag about how they'dfix the rangers. Cal's sure not much for you to bother with, if you onlykeep out of his way."
"You mean for me to run?" asked Duane, in scorn.
"I reckon I wouldn't put it that way. Just avoid him. Buck, I'm notafraid Cal would get you if you met down there in town. You've yourfather's eye an' his slick hand with a gun. What I'm most afraid of isthat you'll kill Bain."
Duane was silent, letting his uncle's earnest words sink in, trying torealize their significance.
"If Texas ever recovers from that fool war an' kills off these outlaws,why, a young man will have a lookout," went on the uncle. "You'retwenty-three now, an' a powerful sight of a fine fellow, barrin' yourtemper. You've a chance in life. But if you go gun-fightin', if you killa man, you're ruined. Then you'll kill another. It'll be the same oldstory. An' the rangers would make you an outlaw. The rangers mean lawan' order for Texas. This even-break business doesn't work with them. Ifyou resist arrest they'll kill you. If you submit to arrest, then you goto jail, an' mebbe you hang."
"I'd never hang," muttered Duane, darkly.
"I reckon you wouldn't," replied the old man. "You'd be like yourfather. He was ever ready to draw--too ready. In times like these, withthe Texas rangers enforcin' the law, your Dad would have been driven tothe river. An', son, I'm afraid you're a chip off the old block. Can'tyou hold in--keep your temper--run away from trouble? Because it'll onlyresult in you gettin' the worst of it in the end. Your father was killedin a street-fight. An' it was told of him that he shot twice after abullet had passed through his heart. Think of the terrible nature of aman to be able to do that. If you have any such blood in you, never giveit a chance."
"What you say is all very well, uncle," returned Duane, "but the onlyway out for me is to run, and I won't do it. Cal Bain and his outfithave already made me look like a coward. He says I'm afraid to come outand face him. A man simply can't stand that in this country. Besides,Cal would shoot me in the back some day if I didn't face him."
"Well, then, what're you goin' to do?" inquired the elder man.
"I haven't decided--yet."
"No, but you're comin' to it mighty fast. That damned spell is workin'in you. You're different to-day. I remember how you used to be moody an'lose your temper an' talk wild. Never was much afraid of you then. Butnow you're gettin' cool an' quiet, an' you think deep, an' I don't likethe light in your eye. It reminds me of your father."
"I wonder what Dad would say to me to-day if he were alive and here,"said Duane.
"What do you think? What could you expect of a man who never wore aglove on his right hand for twenty years?"
"Well, he'd hardly have said much. Dad never talked. But he would havedone a lot. And I guess I'll go down-town and let Cal Bain find me."
Then followed a long silence, during which Duane sat with downcast eyes,and the uncle appeared lost in sad thought of the future. Presently heturned to Duane with an expression that denoted resignation, and yet aspirit which showed wherein they were of the same blood.
"You've got a fast horse--the fastest I know of in this country. Afteryou meet Bain hurry back home. I'll have a saddle-bag packed for you andthe horse ready."
With that he turned on his heel and went into the house, leaving Duaneto revolve in his mind his singular speech. Buck wondered presently ifhe shared his uncle's opinion of the result of a meeting between himselfand Bain. His thoughts were vague. But on the instant of final decision,when he had settled with himself that he would meet Bain, such a stormof passion assailed him that he felt as if he was being shaken withague. Yet it was all internal, inside his breast, for his hand was likea rock and, for all he could see, not a muscle about him quivered. Hehad no fear of Bain or of any other man; but a vague fear of himself, ofthis strange force in him, made him ponder and shake his head. It was asif he had not all to say in this matter. There appeared to have been inhim a reluctance to let himself go, and some voice, some spirit from adistance, something he was not accountable for, had compelled him.That hour of Duane's life was like years of actual living, and in it heb
He went into the house and buckled on his belt and gun. The gun was aColt.45, six-shot, and heavy, with an ivory handle. He had packed it,on and off, for five years. Before that it had been used by his father.There were a number of notches filed in the bulge of the ivory handle.This gun was the one his father had fired twice after being shotthrough the heart, and his hand had stiffened so tightly upon it inthe death-grip that his fingers had to be pried open. It had never beendrawn upon any man since it had come into Duane's possession. But thecold, bright polish of the weapon showed how it had been used. Duanecould draw it with inconceivable rapidity, and at twenty feet he couldsplit a card pointing edgewise toward him.
Duane wished to avoid meeting his mother. Fortunately, as he thought,she was away from home. He went out and down the path toward the gate.The air was full of the fragrance of blossoms and the melody of birds.Outside in the road a neighbor woman stood talking to a countryman in awagon; they spoke to him; and he heard, but did not reply. Then he beganto stride down the road toward the town.
Wellston was a small town, but important in that unsettled part of thegreat state because it was the trading-center of several hundred milesof territory. On the main street there were perhaps fifty buildings,some brick, some frame, mostly adobe, and one-third of the lot, and byfar the most prosperous, were saloons. From the road Duane turned intothis street. It was a wide thoroughfare lined by hitching-rails andsaddled horses and vehicles of various kinds. Duane's eye ranged downthe street, taking in all at a glance, particularly persons movingleisurely up and down. Not a cowboy was in sight. Duane slackened hisstride, and by the time he reached Sol White's place, which was thefirst saloon, he was walking slowly. Several people spoke to him andturned to look back after they had passed. He paused at the door ofWhite's saloon, took a sharp survey of the interior, then steppedinside.
The saloon was large and cool, full of men and noise and smoke. Thenoise ceased upon his entrance, and the silence ensuing presently broketo the clink of Mexican silver dollars at a monte table. Sol White, whowas behind the bar, straightened up when he saw Duane; then, withoutspeaking, he bent over to rinse a glass. All eyes except those of theMexican gamblers were turned upon Duane; and these glances were keen,speculative, questioning. These men knew Bain was looking for trouble;they probably had heard his boasts. But what did Duane intend to do?Several of the cowboys and ranchers present exchanged glances. Duane hadbeen weighed by unerring Texas instinct, by men who all packed guns. Theboy was the son of his father. Whereupon they greeted him and returnedto their drinks and cards. Sol White stood with his big red hands outupon the bar; he was a tall, raw-boned Texan with a long mustache waxedto sharp points.
"Howdy, Buck," was his greeting to Duane. He spoke carelessly andaverted his dark gaze for an instant.
"Howdy, Sol," replied Duane, slowly. "Say, Sol, I hear there's a gent intown looking for me bad."
"Reckon there is, Buck," replied White. "He came in heah aboot anhour ago. Shore he was some riled an' a-roarin' for gore. Told meconfidential a certain party had given you a white silk scarf, an' hewas hell-bent on wearin' it home spotted red."
"Anybody with him?" queried Duane.
"Burt an' Sam Outcalt an' a little cowpuncher I never seen before.They-all was coaxin' trim to leave town. But he's looked on the flowin'glass, Buck, an' he's heah for keeps."
"Why doesn't Sheriff Oaks lock him up if he's that bad?"
"Oaks went away with the rangers. There's been another raid at Flesher'sranch. The King Fisher gang, likely. An' so the town's shore wide open."
Duane stalked outdoors and faced down the street. He walked the wholelength of the long block, meeting many people--farmers, ranchers,clerks, merchants, Mexicans, cowboys, and women. It was a singular factthat when he turned to retrace his steps the street was almost empty. Hehad not returned a hundred yards on his way when the street was whollydeserted. A few heads protruded from doors and around corners. That mainstreet of Wellston saw some such situation every few days. If it was aninstinct for Texans to fight, it was also instinctive for them to sensewith remarkable quickness the signs of a coming gun-play. Rumor couldnot fly so swiftly. In less than ten minutes everybody who had been onthe street or in the shops knew that Buck Duane had come forth to meethis enemy.
Duane walked on. When he came to within fifty paces of a saloon heswerved out into the middle of the street, stood there for a moment,then went ahead and back to the sidewalk. He passed on in this way thelength of the block. Sol White was standing in the door of his saloon.
"Buck, I'm a-tippin' you off," he said, quick and low-voiced. "CalBain's over at Everall's. If he's a-huntin' you bad, as he brags, he'llshow there."
Duane crossed the street and started down. Notwithstanding White'sstatement Duane was wary and slow at every door. Nothing happened,and he traversed almost the whole length of the block without seeing aperson. Everall's place was on the corner.
Duane knew himself to be cold, steady. He was conscious of a strangefury that made him want to leap ahead. He seemed to long for thisencounter more than anything he had ever wanted. But, vivid as were hissensations, he felt as if in a dream.
Before he reached Everall's he heard loud voices, one of which wasraised high. Then the short door swung outward as if impelled by avigorous hand. A bow-legged cowboy wearing wooley chaps burst out uponthe sidewalk. At sight of Duane he seemed to bound into the air, and heuttered a savage roar.
Duane stopped in his tracks at the outer edge of the sidewalk, perhaps adozen rods from Everall's door.
If Bain was drunk he did not show it in his movement. He swaggeredforward, rapidly closing up the gap. Red, sweaty, disheveled, andhatless, his face distorted and expressive of the most malignant intent,he was a wild and sinister figure. He had already killed a man, and thisshowed in his demeanor. His hands were extended before him, the righthand a little lower than the left. At every step he bellowed his rancorin speech mostly curses. Gradually he slowed his walk, then halted. Agood twenty-five paces separated the men.
"Won't nothin' make you draw, you--!" he shouted, fiercely.
"I'm waitin' on you, Cal," replied Duane.
Bain's right hand stiffened--moved. Duane threw his gun as a boy throwsa ball underhand--a draw his father had taught him. He pulled twice,his shots almost as one. Bain's big Colt boomed while it was pointeddownward and he was falling. His bullet scattered dust and gravel atDuane's feet. He fell loosely, without contortion.
In a flash all was reality for Duane. He went forward and held his gunready for the slightest movement on the part of Bain. But Bain lay uponhis back, and all that moved were his breast and his eyes. How strangelythe red had left his face--and also the distortion! The devil that hadshowed in Bain was gone. He was sober and conscious. He tried tospeak, but failed. His eyes expressed something pitifully human. Theychanged--rolled--set blankly.
Duane drew a deep breath and sheathed his gun. He felt calm and cool,glad the fray was over. One violent expression burst from him. "Thefool!"
When he looked up there were men around him.
"Plumb center," said one.
Another, a cowboy who evidently had just left the gaming-table, leaneddown and pulled open Bain's shirt. He had the ace of spades in his hand.He laid it on Bain's breast, and the black figure on the card coveredthe two bullet-holes just over Bain's heart.
Duane wheeled and hurried away. He heard another man say:
"Reckon Cal got what he deserved. Buck Duane's first gunplay. Likefather like son!"
The Lone Star Ranger: A Romance of the Border by Zane Grey / Western have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes