The rustlers of pecos co.., p.1
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       The Rustlers of Pecos County, p.1
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           Zane Grey
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The Rustlers of Pecos County


  THE RUSTLERS OF PECOS COUNTY

  By Zane Grey

  1914

  Chapter 1

  VAUGHN STEELE AND RUSS SITTELL

  In the morning, after breakfasting early, I took a turn up and down themain street of Sanderson, made observations and got information likelyto serve me at some future day, and then I returned to the hotel readyfor what might happen.

  The stage-coach was there and already full of passengers. This stage didnot go to Linrock, but I had found that another one left for that pointthree days a week.

  Several cowboy broncos stood hitched to a railing and a little fartherdown were two buckboards, with horses that took my eye. These probablywere the teams Colonel Sampson had spoken of to George Wright.

  As I strolled up, both men came out of the hotel. Wright saw me, andmaking an almost imperceptible sign to Sampson, he walked toward me.

  "You're the cowboy Russ?" he asked.

  I nodded and looked him over. By day he made as striking a figure as Ihad noted by night, but the light was not generous to his dark face.

  "Here's your pay," he said, handing me some bills. "Miss Sampson won'tneed you out at the ranch any more."

  "What do you mean? This is the first I've heard about that."

  "Sorry, kid. That's it," he said abruptly. "She just gave me themoney--told me to pay you off. You needn't bother to speak with herabout it."

  He might as well have said, just as politely, that my seeing her, evento say good-by, was undesirable.

  As my luck would have it, the girls appeared at the moment, and I wentdirectly up to them, to be greeted in a manner I was glad George Wrightcould not help but see.

  In Miss Sampson's smile and "Good morning, Russ," there was not theslightest discoverable sign that I was not to serve her indefinitely.

  It was as I had expected--she knew nothing of Wright's discharging me inher name.

  "Miss Sampson," I said, in dismay, "what have I done? Why did you let mego?"

  She looked astonished.

  "Russ, I don't understand you."

  "Why did you discharge me?" I went on, trying to look heart-broken. "Ihaven't had a chance yet. I wanted so much to work for you--Miss Sally,what have I done? Why did she discharge me?"

  "I did not," declared Miss Sampson, her dark eyes lighting.

  "But look here--here's my pay," I went on, exhibiting the money. "Mr.Wright just came to me--said you sent this money--that you wouldn't needme out at the ranch."

  It was Miss Sally then who uttered a little exclamation. Miss Sampsonseemed scarcely to have believed what she had heard.

  "My cousin Mr. Wright said that?"

  I nodded vehemently.

  At this juncture Wright strode before me, practically thrusting measide.

  "Come girls, let's walk a little before we start," he said gaily. "I'llshow you Sanderson."

  "Wait, please," Miss Sampson replied, looking directly at him. "CousinGeorge, I think there's a mistake--perhaps a misunderstanding. Here'sthe cowboy I've engaged--Mr. Russ. He declares you gave him money--toldhim I discharged him."

  "Yes, cousin, I did," he replied, his voice rising a little. There wasa tinge of red in his cheek. "We--you don't need him out at the ranch.We've any numbers of boys. I just told him that--let him downeasy--didn't want to bother you."

  Certain it was that George Wright had made a poor reckoning. First sheshowed utter amaze, then distinct disappointment, and then she liftedher head with a kind of haughty grace. She would have addressed himthen, had not Colonel Sampson come up.

  "Papa, did you instruct Cousin George to discharge Russ?" she asked.

  "I sure didn't," declared the colonel, with a laugh. "George took thatupon his own hands."

  "Indeed! I'd like my cousin to understand that I'm my own mistress. I'vebeen accustomed to attending to my own affairs and shall continue doingso. Russ, I'm sorry you've been treated this way. Please, in future,take your orders from me."

  "Then I'm to go to Linrock with you?" I asked.

  "Assuredly. Ride with Sally and me to-day, please."

  She turned away with Sally, and they walked toward the first buckboard.

  Colonel Sampson found a grim enjoyment in Wright's discomfiture.

  "Diane's like her mother was, George," he said. "You've made a bad startwith her."

  Here Wright showed manifestation of the Sampson temper, and I took himto be a dangerous man, with unbridled passions.

  "Russ, here's my own talk to you," he said, hard and dark, leaningtoward me. "Don't go to Linrock."

  "Say, Mr. Wright," I blustered for all the world like a young andfrightened cowboy, "If you threaten me I'll have you put in jail!"

  Both men seemed to have received a slight shock. Wright hardly knew whatto make of my boyish speech. "Are you going to Linrock?" he askedthickly.

  I eyed him with an entirely different glance from my other fearful one.

  "I should smile," was my reply, as caustic as the most recklesscowboy's, and I saw him shake.

  Colonel Sampson laid a restraining hand upon Wright. Then they bothregarded me with undisguised interest. I sauntered away.

  "George, your temper'll do for you some day," I heard the colonel say."You'll get in bad with the wrong man some time. Hello, here are Joe andBrick!"

  Mention of these fellows engaged my attention once more.

  I saw two cowboys, one evidently getting his name from his brick-redhair. They were the roistering type, hard drinkers, devil-may-carefellows, packing guns and wearing bold fronts--a kind that the Rangersalways called four-flushes.

  However, as the Rangers' standard of nerve was high, there was room leftfor cowboys like these to be dangerous to ordinary men.

  The little one was Joe, and directly Wright spoke to him he turned tolook at me, and his thin mouth slanted down as he looked. Brick eyed me,too, and I saw that he was heavy, not a hard-riding cowboy.

  Here right at the start were three enemies for me--Wright and hiscowboys. But it did not matter; under any circumstances there would havebeen friction between such men and me.

  I believed there might have been friction right then had not MissSampson called for me.

  "Get our baggage, Russ," she said.

  I hurried to comply, and when I had fetched it out Wright and thecowboys had mounted their horses, Colonel Sampson was in the onebuckboard with two men I had not before observed, and the girls werein the other.

  The driver of this one was a tall, lanky, tow-headed youth, growing likea Texas weed. We had not any too much room in the buckboard, but thatfact was not going to spoil the ride for me.

  We followed the leaders through the main street, out into the open,on to a wide, hard-packed road, showing years of travel. It headednorthwest.

  To our left rose the range of low, bleak mountains I had notedyesterday, and to our right sloped the mesquite-patched sweep of ridgeand flat.

  The driver pushed his team to a fast trot, which gait surely coveredground rapidly. We were close behind Colonel Sampson, who, from hisvehement gestures, must have been engaged in very earnest colloquy withhis companions.

  The girls behind me, now that they were nearing the end of the journey,manifested less interest in the ride, and were speculating upon Linrock,and what it would be like. Occasionally I asked the driver a question,and sometimes the girls did likewise; but, to my disappointment, theride seemed not to be the same as that of yesterday.

  Every half mile or so we passed a ranch house, and as we traveled onthese ranches grew further apart, until, twelve or fifteen miles out ofSanderson, they were so widely separated that each appeared alone on thewild range.
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  We came to a stream that ran north and I was surprised to see a goodlyvolume of water. It evidently flowed down from the mountain far to thewest.

  Tufts of grass were well scattered over the sandy ground, but it washigh and thick, and considering the immense area in sight, there wasgrazing for a million head of stock.

  We made three stops in the forenoon, one at a likely place to water thehorses, the second at a chuckwagon belonging to cowboys who were ridingafter stock, and the third at a small cluster of adobe and stone houses,constituting a hamlet the driver called Sampson, named after theColonel. From that point on to Linrock there were only a few ranches,each one controlling great acreage.

  Early in the afternoon from a ridgetop we sighted Linrock, a green pathin the mass of gray. For the barrens of Texas it was indeed a fairsight.

  But I was more concerned with its remoteness from civilization than itsbeauty. At that time in the early 'seventies, when the vast westernthird of Texas was a wilderness, the pioneer had done wonders to settlethere and establish places like Linrock.

  As we rolled swiftly along, the whole sweeping range was dotted withcattle, and farther on, within a few miles of town, there were drovesof horses that brought enthusiastic praise from Miss Sampson and hercousin.

  "Plenty of room here for the long rides," I said, waving a hand at thegray-green expanse. "Your horses won't suffer on this range."

  She was delighted, and her cousin for once seemed speechless.

  "That's the ranch," said the driver, pointing with his whip.

  It needed only a glance for me to see that Colonel Sampson's ranch wason a scale fitting the country.

  The house was situated on the only elevation around Linrock, and it wasnot high, nor more than a few minutes' walk from the edge of town.

  It was a low, flat-roofed structure, made of red adobe bricks andcovered what appeared to be fully an acre of ground. All was green aboutit except where the fenced corrals and numerous barns or sheds showedgray and red.

  Wright and the cowboys disappeared ahead of us in the cottonwood trees.Colonel Sampson got out of the buckboard and waited for us. His facewore the best expression I had seen upon it yet. There was warmth andlove, and something that approached sorrow or regret.

  His daughter was agitated, too. I got out and offered my seat, whichColonel Sampson took.

  It was scarcely a time for me to be required, or even noticed at all,and I took advantage of it and turned toward the town.

  Ten minutes of leisurely walking brought me to the shady outskirts ofLinrock and I entered the town with mingled feelings of curiosity,eagerness, and expectation.

  The street I walked down was not a main one. There were small, redhouses among oaks and cottonwoods.

  I went clear through to the other side, probably more than half a mile.I crossed a number of intersecting streets, met children, nice-lookingwomen, and more than one dusty-booted man.

  Half-way back this street I turned at right angles and walked up severalblocks till I came to a tree-bordered plaza. On the far side opened abroad street which for all its horses and people had a sleepy look.

  I walked on, alert, trying to take in everything, wondering if I wouldmeet Steele, wondering how I would know him if we did meet. But Ibelieved I could have picked that Ranger out of a thousand strangers,though I had never seen him.

  Presently the residences gave place to buildings fronting right upon thestone sidewalk. I passed a grain store, a hardware store, a grocerystore, then several unoccupied buildings and a vacant corner.

  The next block, aside from the rough fronts of the crude structures,would have done credit to a small town even in eastern Texas. Here wasevidence of business consistent with any prosperous community of twothousand inhabitants.

  The next block, on both sides of the street, was a solid row of saloons,resorts, hotels. Saddled horses stood hitched all along the sidewalk intwo long lines, with a buckboard and team here and there breaking thecontinuity. This block was busy and noisy.

  From all outside appearances, Linrock was no different from otherfrontier towns, and my expectations were scarcely realized.

  As the afternoon was waning I retraced my steps and returned to theranch. The driver boy, whom I had heard called Dick, was looking forme, evidently at Miss Sampson's order, and he led me up to the house.

  It was even bigger than I had conceived from a distance, and so old thatthe adobe bricks were worn smooth by rain and wind. I had a glimpse inat several doors as we passed by.

  There was comfort here that spoke eloquently of many a freighter's tripfrom Del Rio. For the sake of the young ladies, I was glad to see thingslittle short of luxurious for that part of the country.

  At the far end of the house Dick conducted me to a little room, verysatisfactory indeed to me. I asked about bunk-houses for the cowboys,and he said they were full to overflowing.

  "Colonel Sampson has a big outfit, eh?"

  "Reckon he has," replied Dick. "Don' know how many cowboys. They'realways comin' an' goin'. I ain't acquainted with half of them."

  "Much movement of stock these days?"

  "Stock's always movin'," he replied with a queer look.

  "Rustlers?"

  But he did not follow up that look with the affirmative I expected.

  "Lively place, I hear--Linrock is?"

  "Ain't so lively as Sanderson, but it's bigger."

  "Yes, I heard it was. Fellow down there was talking about two cowboyswho were arrested."

  "Sure. I heerd all about thet. Joe Bean an' Brick Higgins--they belongheah, but they ain't heah much."

  I did not want Dick to think me overinquisitive, so I turned the talkinto other channels. It appeared that Miss Sampson had not left anyinstructions for me, so I was glad to go with Dick to supper, which wehad in the kitchen.

  Dick informed me that the cowboys prepared their own meals down at thebunks; and as I had been given a room at the ranch-house he supposed Iwould get my meals there, too.

  After supper I walked all over the grounds, had a look at the horses inthe corrals, and came to the conclusion that it would be strange if MissSampson did not love her new home, and if her cousin did not enjoy hersojourn there. From a distance I saw the girls approaching with Wright,and not wishing to meet them I sheered off.

  When the sun had set I went down to the town with the intention offinding Steele.

  This task, considering I dared not make inquiries and must approach himsecretly, might turn out to be anything but easy.

  While it was still light, I strolled up and down the main street. Whendarkness set in I went into a hotel, bought cigars, sat around andwatched, without any clue.

  Then I went into the next place. This was of a rough crude exterior, butthe inside was comparatively pretentious, and ablaze with lights.

  It was full of men, coming and going--a dusty-booted crowd that smelledof horses and smoke.

  I sat down for a while, with wide eyes and open ears. Then I hunted up asaloon, where most of the guests had been or were going. I found a greatsquare room lighted by six huge lamps, a bar at one side, and all thefloor space taken up by tables and chairs.

  This must have been the gambling resort mentioned in the Ranger's letterto Captain Neal and the one rumored to be owned by the mayor of Linrock.This was the only gambling place of any size in southern Texas in whichI had noted the absence of Mexicans. There was some card playing goingon at this moment.

  I stayed in there for a while, and knew that strangers were too commonin Linrock to be conspicuous. But I saw no man whom I could have takenfor Steele.

  Then I went out.

  It had often been a boast of mine that I could not spend an hour ina strange town, or walk a block along a dark street, without havingsomething happen out of the ordinary.

  Mine was an experiencing nature. Some people called this luck. But itwas my private opinion that things gravitated my way because I lookedand listened for them.

  However, upon the occasion of my
first day and evening in Linrock itappeared, despite my vigilance and inquisitiveness, that here was to bean exception.

  This thought came to me just before I reached the last lighted place inthe block, a little dingy restaurant, out of which at the moment, atall, dark form passed. It disappeared in the gloom. I saw a man sittingon the low steps, and another standing in the door.

  "That was the fellow the whole town's talkin' about--the Ranger," saidone man.

  Like a shot I halted in the shadow, where I had not been seen.

  "Sho! Ain't boardin' heah, is he?" said the other.

  "Yes."

  "Reckon he'll hurt your business, Jim."

  The fellow called Jim emitted a mirthless laugh. "Wal, he's been _all_my business these days. An' he's offered to rent that old 'dobe of minejust out of town. You know, where I lived before movin' in heah. He'sgoin' to look at it to-morrow."

  "Lord! does he expect to _stay_?"

  "Say so. An' if he ain't a stayer I never seen none. Nice, quiet, easychap, but he just looks deep."

  "Aw, Jim, he can't hang out heah. He's after some feller, that's all."

  "I don't know his game. But he says he was heah for a while. An' heimpressed me some. Just now he says: 'Where does Sampson live?' I askedhim if he was goin' to make a call on our mayor, an' he says yes. Then Itold him how to go out to the ranch. He went out, headed that way."

  "The hell he did!"

  I gathered from this fellow's exclamation that he was divided betweenamaze and mirth. Then he got up from the steps and went into therestaurant and was followed by the man called Jim. Before the doorwas closed he made another remark, but it was unintelligible to me.

  As I passed on I decided I would scrape acquaintance with thisrestaurant keeper.

  The thing of most moment was that I had gotten track of Steele. Ihurried ahead. While I had been listening back there moments had elapsedand evidently he had walked swiftly.

  I came to the plaza, crossed it, and then did not know which directionto take. Concluding that it did not matter I hurried on in an endeavorto reach the ranch before Steele. Although I was not sure, I believed Ihad succeeded.

  The moon shone brightly. I heard a banjo in the distance and a cowboysing. There was not a person in sight in the wide courts or on theporch. I did not have a well-defined idea about the inside of the house.

  Peeping in at the first lighted window I saw a large room. Miss Sampsonand Sally were there alone. Evidently this was a parlor or a sittingroom, and it had clean white walls, a blanketed floor, an open fireplacewith a cheery blazing log, and a large table upon which were lamp,books, papers. Backing away I saw that this corner room had a dooropening on the porch and two other windows.

  I listened, hoping to hear Steele's footsteps coming up the road. But Iheard only Sally's laugh and her cousin's mellow voice.

  Then I saw lighted windows down at the other end of the front part ofthe house. I walked down. A door stood open and through it I saw a roomidentical with that at the other corner; and here were Colonel Sampson,Wright, and several other men, all smoking and talking.

  It might have been interesting to tarry there within ear-shot, but Iwanted to get back to the road to intercept Steele. Scarcely had Iretraced my steps and seated myself on the porch steps when a very talldark figure loomed up in the moonlit road.

  Steele! I wanted to yell like a boy. He came on slowly, looking allaround, halted some twenty paces distant, surveyed the house, thenevidently espying me, came on again.

  My first feeling was, What a giant! But his face was hidden in theshadow of a sombrero.

  I had intended, of course, upon first sight to blurt out my identity.Yet I did not. He affected me strangely, or perhaps it was my emotion atthe thought that we Rangers, with so much in common and at stake, hadcome together.

  "Is Sampson at home?" he asked abruptly.

  I said, "Yes."

  "Ask him if he'll see Vaughn Steele, Ranger."

  "Wait here," I replied. I did not want to take up any time thenexplaining my presence there.

  Deliberately and noisily I strode down the porch and entered the roomwith the smoking men.

  I went in farther than was necessary for me to state my errand. But Iwanted to see Sampson's face, to see into his eyes.

  As I entered, the talking ceased. I saw no face except his and thatseemed blank.

  "Vaughn Steele, Ranger--come to see you, sir." I announced.

  Did Sampson start--did his eyes show a fleeting glint--did his facealmost imperceptibly blanch? I could not have sworn to either. But therewas a change, maybe from surprise.

  The first sure effect of my announcement came in a quick exclamationfrom Wright, a sibilant intake of breath, that did not seem to denotesurprise so much as certainty. Wright might have emitted a curse withless force.

  Sampson moved his hand significantly and the action was a voicelesscommand for silence as well as an assertion that he would attend to thismatter. I read him clearly so far. He had authority, and again I felthis power.

  "Steele to see me. Did he state his business?"

  "No, sir." I replied.

  "Russ, say I'm not at home," said Sampson presently, bending over torelight his pipe.

  I went out. Someone slammed the door behind me.

  As I strode back across the porch my mind worked swiftly; the machineryhad been idle for a while and was now started.

  "Mr. Steele," I said, "Colonel Sampson says he's not at home. Tell yourbusiness to his daughter."

  Without waiting to see the effect of my taking so much upon myself, Iknocked upon the parlor door. Miss Sampson opened it. She wore white.Looking at her, I thought it would be strange if Steele's well-knownindifference to women did not suffer an eclipse.

  "Miss Sampson, here is Vaughn Steele to see you," I said.

  "Won't you come in?" she said graciously.

  Steele had to bend his head to enter the door. I went in with him, anintrusion, perhaps, that in the interest of the moment she appeared notto notice.

  Steele seemed to fill the room with his giant form. His face was fine,stern, clear cut, with blue or gray eyes, strangely penetrating. He wascoatless, vestless. He wore a gray flannel shirt, corduroys, a big gunswinging low, and top boots reaching to his knees.

  He was the most stalwart son of Texas I had seen in many a day, butneither his great stature nor his striking face accounted for somethingI felt--a something spiritual, vital, compelling, that drew me.

  "Mr. Steele, I'm pleased to meet you," said Miss Sampson. "This is mycousin, Sally Langdon. We just arrived--I to make this my home, she tovisit me."

  Steele smiled as he bowed to Sally. He was easy, with a kind of rudegrace, and showed no sign of embarrassment or that beautiful girls wereunusual to him.

  "Mr. Steele, we've heard of you in Austin," said Sally with her eyesmisbehaving.

  I hoped I would not have to be jealous of Steele. But this girl was alittle minx if not altogether a flirt.

  "I did not expect to be received by ladies," replied Steele. "I calledupon Mr. Sampson. He would not see me. I was to tell my business to hisdaughter. I'm glad to know you, Miss Sampson and your cousin, but sorryyou've come to Linrock now."

  "Why?" queried both girls in unison.

  "Because it's--oh, pretty rough--no place for girls to walk and ride."

  "Ah! I see. And your business has to do with rough places," said MissSampson. "Strange that papa would not see you. Stranger that he shouldwant me to hear your business. Either he's joking or wants to impressme.

  "Papa tried to persuade me not to come. He tried to frighten me withtales of this--this roughness out here. He knows I'm in earnest, how I'dlike to help somehow, do some little good. Pray tell me this business."

  "I wished to get your father's cooperation in my work."

  "Your work? You mean your Ranger duty--the arresting of roughcharacters?"

  "That, yes. But that's only a detail. Linrock is bad internally. My jobis to make it good."
<
br />   "A splendid and worthy task," replied Miss Sampson warmly. "I wish yousuccess. But, Mr. Steele, aren't you exaggerating Linrock's wickedness?"

  "No," he answered forcibly.

  "Indeed! And papa refused to see you--presumably refused to cooperatewith you?" she asked thoughtfully.

  "I take it that way."

  "Mr. Steele, pray tell me what is the matter with Linrock and justwhat the work is you're called upon to do?" she asked seriously. "Iheard papa say that he was the law in Linrock. Perhaps he resentsinterference. I know he'll not tolerate any opposition to his will.Please tell me. I may be able to influence him."

  I listened to Steele's deep voice as he talked about Linrock. What hesaid was old to me, and I gave heed only to its effect.

  Miss Sampson's expression, which at first had been earnest and grave,turned into one of incredulous amaze. She, and Sally too, watchedSteele's face in fascinated attention.

  When it came to telling what he wanted to do, the Ranger warmed to hissubject; he talked beautifully, convincingly, with a certain strange,persuasive power that betrayed how he worked his way; and his fine face,losing its stern, hard lines, seemed to glow and give forth a spiritaustere, yet noble, almost gentle, assuredly something vastly differentfrom what might have been expected in the expression of a gun-fightingRanger. I sensed that Miss Sampson felt this just as I did.

  "Papa said you were a hounder of outlaws--a man who'd rather kill thansave!" she exclaimed.

  The old stern cast returned to Steele's face. It was as if he hadsuddenly remembered himself.

  "My name is infamous, I am sorry to say," he replied.

  "You have killed men?" she asked, her dark eyes dilating.

  Had any one ever dared ask Steele that before? His face became a mask.It told truth to me, but she could not see, and he did not answer.

  "Oh, you are above that. Don't--don't kill any one here!"

  "Miss Sampson, I hope I won't." His voice seemed to check her. I hadbeen right in my estimate of her character--young, untried, but allpride, fire, passion. She was white then, and certainly beautiful.

  Steele watched her, could scarcely have failed to see the white gleam ofher beauty, and all that evidence of a quick and noble heart.

  "Pardon me, please, Mr. Steele," she said, recovering her composure. "Iam--just a little overexcited. I didn't mean to be inquisitive. Thankyou for your confidence. I've enjoyed your call, though your news diddistress me. You may rely upon me to talk to papa."

  That appeared to be a dismissal, and, bowing to her and Sally, theRanger went out. I followed, not having spoken.

  At the end of the porch I caught up with Steele and walked out into themoonlight beside him.

  Just why I did not now reveal my identity I could not say, for certainlyI was bursting with the desire to surprise him, to earn his approval. Heloomed dark above me, appearing not to be aware of my presence. What acold, strange proposition this Ranger was!

  Still, remembering the earnestness of his talk to Miss Sampson, I couldnot think him cold. But I must have thought him so to any attraction ofthose charming girls.

  Suddenly, as we passed under the shade of cottonwoods, he clamped a bighand down on my shoulder.

  "My God, Russ, isn't she lovely!" he ejaculated.

  In spite of my being dumbfounded I had to hug him. He knew me!

  "Thought you didn't swear!" I gasped.

  Ridiculously those were my first words to Vaughn Steele.

  "My boy, I saw you parading up and down the street looking for me," hesaid. "I intended to help you find me to-morrow."

  We gripped hands, and that strong feel and clasp meant much.

  "Yes, she's lovely, Steele," I said. "But did you look at the cousin,the little girl with the eyes?"

  Then we laughed and loosed hands.

  "Come on, let's get out somewhere. I've a million things to tell you."

  We went away out into the open where some stones gleamed white in themoonlight, and there, sitting in the sand, our backs against a rest, andwith all quiet about us, we settled down for a long conference.

  I began with Neal's urgent message to me, then told of my going to thecapitol--what I had overheard when Governor Smith was in the adjutant'soffice; of my interview with them; of the spying on Colonel Sampson;Neal's directions, advice, and command; the ride toward San Antonio; mybeing engaged as cowboy by Miss Sampson; of the further ride on toSanderson and the incident there; and finally how I had approachedSampson and then had thought it well to get his daughter into the schemeof things.

  It was a long talk, even for me, and my voice sounded husky.

  "I told Neal I'd be lucky to get you," said Steele, after a silence.

  That was the only comment on my actions, the only praise, but the quietway he spoke it made me feel like a boy undeserving of so much.

  "Here, I forgot the money Neal sent," I went on, glad to be rid of thehuge roll of bills.

  The Ranger showed surprise. Besides, he was very glad.

  "The Captain loves the service," said Steele. "He alone knows the worthof the Rangers. And the work he's given his life to--the _good_ that_service_ really does--all depends on you and me, Russ!"

  I assented, gloomily enough. Then I waited while he pondered.

  The moon soared clear; there was a cool wind rustling the greasewood; adog bayed a barking coyote; lights twinkled down in the town.

  I looked back up at the dark hill and thought of Sally Langdon. Gettinghere to Linrock, meeting Steele had not changed my feelings toward her,only somehow they had removed me far off in thought, out of possibletouch, it seemed.

  "Well, son, listen," began Steele. His calling me that was a joke, yet Idid not feel it. "You've made a better start than I could have figured.Neal said you were lucky. Perhaps. But you've got brains.

  "Now, here's your cue for the present. Work for Miss Sampson. Do yourbest for her as long as you last. I don't suppose you'll last long. Youhave got to get in with this gang in town. Be a flash cowboy. You don'tneed to get drunk, but you're to pretend it.

  "Gamble. Be a good fellow. Hang round the barrooms. I don't care how youplay the part, so long as you make friends, learn the ropes. We can meetout here at nights to talk and plan.

  "You're to take sides with those who're against me. I'll furnish youwith the money. You'd better appear to be a winning gambler, even ifyou're not. How's this plan strike you?"

  "Great--except for one thing," I replied. "I hate to lie to MissSampson. She's true blue, Steele."

  "Son, you haven't got soft on her?"

  "Not a bit. Maybe I'm soft on the little cousin. But I just like MissSampson--think she's fine--could look up to her. And I hate to bedifferent from what she thinks."

  "I understand, Russ," he replied in his deep voice that had such qualityto influence a man. "It's no decent job. You'll be ashamed before her.So would I. But here's our work, the hardest ever cut out for Rangers.Think what depends upon it. And--"

  "There's something wrong with Miss Sampson's father," I interrupted.

  "Something strange if not wrong. No man in this community is beyond us,Russ, or above suspicion. You've a great opportunity. I needn't say useyour eyes and ears as never before."

  "I hope Sampson turns out to be on the square," I replied. "He might bea lax mayor, too good-natured to uphold law in a wild country. And hisSouthern pride would fire at interference. I don't like him, but for hisdaughter's sake I hope we're wrong."

  Steele's eyes, deep and gleaming in the moonlight, searched my face.

  "Son, sure you're not in love with her--you'll not fall in love withher?"

  "No. I am positive. Why?"

  "Because in either case I'd likely have need of a new man in yourplace," he said.

  "Steele, you know something about Sampson--something more!" I exclaimedswiftly.

  "No more than you. When I meet him face to face I may know more. Russ,when a fellow has been years at this game he has a sixth sense. Mineseldom fails me. I never ye
t faced the criminal who didn't somehowbetray fear--not so much fear of me, but fear of himself--his life, hisdeeds. That's conscience, or if not, just realization of fate."

  Had that been the thing I imagined I had seen in Sampson's face?

  "I'm sorry Diane Sampson came out here," I said impulsively.

  Steele did not say he shared that feeling. He was looking out upon themoon-blanched level.

  Some subtle thing in his face made me divine that he was thinking of thebeautiful girl to whom he might bring disgrace and unhappiness.

 
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