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The Rustlers of Pecos County By Zane Grey Characters: 12218

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Four mornings later we were aboard the stage, riding down the main street, on the way out of Linrock. The whole town turned out to bid us farewell. The cheering, the clamor, the almost passionate fervor of the populace irritated me, and I could not see the incident from their point of view. Never in my life had I been so eager to get out of a place. But then I was morbid, and the whole world hinged on one thing. Morton insisted on giving us an escort as far as Del Rio. It consisted of six cowboys, mounted, with light packs, and they rode ahead of the stage.

We had the huge vehicle to ourselves. A comfortable bed had been rigged up for me by placing boards across from seat to seat, and furnishing it with blankets and pillows. By some squeezing there was still room enough inside for my three companions; but Steele expressed an intention of riding mostly outside, and Miss Sampson's expression betrayed her. I was to be alone with Sally. The prospect thrilled while it saddened me. How different this ride from that first one, with all its promise of adventure and charm!

"It's over!" said Steele thickly. "It's done! I'm glad, for their sakes-glad for ours. We're out of town."

I had been quick to miss the shouts and cheers. And I had been just as quick to see, or to imagine, a subtle change in Sally Langdon's face. We had not traveled a mile before the tension relaxed about her lips, the downcast eyelids lifted, and I saw, beyond any peradventure of doubt, a lighter spirit. Then I relaxed myself, for I had keyed up every nerve to make myself strong for this undertaking. I lay back with closed eyes, weary, aching, in more pain than I wanted them to discover. And I thought and thought.

Miss Sampson had said to me: "Russ, it'll all come right. I can tell you now what you never guessed. For years Sally had been fond of our cousin, George Wright. She hadn't seen him since she was a child. But she remembered. She had an only brother who was the image of George. Sally devotedly loved Arthur. He was killed in the Rebellion. She never got over it. That left her without any family. George and I were her nearest kin.

"How she looked forward to meeting George out here! But he disappointed her right at the start. She hates a drinking man. I think she came to hate George, too. But he always reminded her of Arthur, and she could never get over that. So, naturally, when you killed George she was terribly shocked. There were nights when she was haunted, when I had to stay with her. Vaughn and I have studied her, talked about her, and we think she's gradually recovering. She loved you, too; and Sally doesn't change. Once with her is for always. So let me say to you what you said to me-do not brood. All will yet be well, thank God!"

Those had been words to remember, to make me patient, to lessen my insistent fear. Yet, what did I know of women? Had not Diane Sampson and Sally Langdon amazed and nonplused me many a time, at the very moment when I had calculated to a nicety my conviction of their action, their feeling? It was possible that I had killed Sally's love for me, though I could not believe so; but it was very possible that, still loving me, she might never break down the barrier between us. The beginning of that journey distressed me physically; yet, gradually, as I grew accustomed to the roll of the stage and to occasional jars, I found myself easier in body. Fortunately there had been rain, which settled the dust; and a favorable breeze made riding pleasant, where ordinarily it would have been hot and disagreeable.

We tarried long enough in the little hamlet of Sampson for Steele to get letters from reliable ranchers. He wanted a number of references to verify the Ranger report he had to turn in to Captain Neal. This precaution he took so as to place in Neal's hands all the evidence needed to convince Governor Smith. And now, as Steele returned to us and entered the stage, he spoke of this report. "It's the longest and the best I ever turned in," he said, with a gray flame in his eyes. "I shan't let Russ read it. He's peevish because I want his part put on record. And listen, Diane. There's to be a blank line in this report. Your father's name will never be recorded. Neither the Governor, nor the adjutant-general, nor Captain Neal, nor any one back Austin way will ever know who this mysterious leader of the Pecos gang might have been.

"Even out here very few know. Many supposed, but few knew. I've shut the mouths of those few. That blank line in the report is for a supposed and mysterious leader who vanished. Jack Blome, the reputed leader, and all his lawless associates are dead. Linrock is free and safe now, its future in the hands of roused, determined, and capable men."

We were all silent after Steele ceased talking. I did not believe Diane could have spoken just then. If sorrow and joy could be perfectly blended in one beautiful expression, they were in her face. By and by I dared to say: "And Vaughn Steele, Lone Star Ranger, has seen his last service!"

"Yes," he replied with emotion.

Sally stirred and turned a strange look upon us all. "In that case, then, if I am not mistaken, there were two Lone Star Rangers-and both have seen their last service!" Sally's lips were trembling, the way they trembled when it was impossible to tell whether she was about to laugh or cry. The first hint of her old combative spirit or her old archness! A wave of feeling rushed over me, too much for me in my weakened condition. Dizzy, racked with sudden shooting pains, I closed my eyes; and the happiness I embraced was all the sweeter for the suffering it entailed. Something beat into my ears, into my brain, with the regularity and rapid beat of pulsing blood-not too late! Not too late!

From that moment the ride grew different, even as I improved with leaps and bounds. Sanderson behind us, the long gray barren between Sanderson and the Rio Grande behind us, Del Rio for two days, where I was able to sit up, all behind us-and the eastward trail to Uvalde before us! We were the only passengers o

n the stage from Del Rio to Uvalde. Perhaps Steele had so managed the journey. Assuredly he had become an individual with whom traveling under the curious gaze of strangers would have been embarrassing. He was most desperately in love. And Diane, all in a few days, while riding these long, tedious miles, ordinarily so fatiguing, had renewed her bloom, had gained what she had lost. She, too, was desperately in love, though she remembered her identity occasionally, and that she was in the company of a badly shot-up young man and a broken-hearted cousin.

Most of the time Diane and Steele rode on top of the stage. When they did ride inside their conduct was not unbecoming; indeed, it was sweet to watch; yet it loosed the fires of jealous rage and longing in me; and certainly had some remarkable effect upon Sally. Gradually she had been losing that strange and somber mood she had acquired, to brighten and change more and more. Perhaps she divined something about Diane and Steele that escaped me. Anyway, all of a sudden she was transformed. "Look here, if you people want to spoon, please get out on top," she said.

If that was not the old Sally Langdon I did not know who it was. Miss Sampson tried to appear offended, and Steele tried to look insulted, but they both failed. They could not have looked anything but happy. Youth and love were too strong for this couple, whom circumstances might well have made grave and thoughtful. They were magnet and steel, powder and spark. Any moment, right before my eyes, I expected them to rush right into each other's arms. And when they refrained, merely substituting clasped hands for a dearer embrace, I closed my eyes and remembered them, as they would live in my memory forever, standing crushed together on the ridge that day, white lips to white lips, embodying all that was beautiful, passionate and tragic.

And I, who had been their undoing, in the end was their salvation. How I hugged that truth to my heart!

It seemed, following Sally's pert remark, that after an interval of decent dignity, Diane and Steele did go out upon the top of the stage. "Russ," whispered Sally, "they're up to something. I heard a few words. I bet you they're going to get married in San Antonio."

"Well, it's about time," I replied.

"But oughtn't they take us into their confidence?"

"Sally, they have forgotten we are upon the earth."

"Oh, I'm so glad they're happy!"

Then there was a long silence. It was better for me to ride lying down, in which position I was at this time. After a mile Sally took my hand and held it without speaking. My heart leaped, but I did not open my eyes or break that spell even with a whisper. "Russ, I must say-tell you-"

She faltered, and still I kept my eyes closed. I did not want to wake up from that dream. "Have I been very-very sad?" she went on.

"Sad and strange, Sally. That was worse than my bullet-holes." She gripped my hand. I felt her hair on my brow, felt her breath on my cheek.

"Russ, I swore-I'd hate you if you-if you-"

"I know. Don't speak of it," I interposed hurriedly.

"But I don't hate you. I-I love you. And I can't give you up!"

"Darling! But, Sally, can you get over it-can you forget?"

"Yes. That horrid black spell had gone with the miles. Little by little, mile after mile, and now it's gone! But I had to come to the point. To go back on my word! To tell you. Russ, you never, never had any sense!"

Then I opened my eyes and my arms, too, and we were reunited. It must have been a happy moment, so happy that it numbed me beyond appreciation. "Yes, Sally," I agreed; "but no man ever had such a wonderful girl."

"Russ, I never-took off your ring," she whispered.

"But you hid your hand from my sight," I replied quickly.

"Oh dear Russ, we're crazy-as crazy as those lunatics outside. Let's think a little."

I was very content to have no thought at all, just to see and feel her close to me.

"Russ, will you give up the Ranger Service for me?" she asked.

"Indeed I will."

"And leave this fighting Texas, never to return till the day of guns and Rangers and bad men and even-breaks is past?"


"Will you go with me to my old home? It was beautiful once, Russ, before it was let run to rack and ruin. A thousand acres. An old stone house. Great mossy oaks. A lake and river. There are bear, deer, panther, wild boars in the breaks. You can hunt. And ride! I've horses, Russ, such horses! They could run these scrubby broncos off their legs. Will you come?"

"Come! Sally, I rather think I will. But, dearest, after I'm well again I must work," I said earnestly. "I've got to have a job."

"You're indeed a poor cowboy out of a job! Remember your deceit. Oh, Russ! Well, you'll have work, never fear."

"Sally, is this old home of yours near the one Diane speaks of so much?" I asked.

"Indeed it is. But hers has been kept under cultivation and in repair, while mine has run down. That will be our work, to build it up. So it's settled then?"

"Almost. There are certain-er-formalities-needful in a compact of this kind." She looked inquiringly at me, with a soft flush. "Well, if you are so dense, try to bring back that Sally Langdon who used to torment me. How you broke your promises! How you leaned from your saddle! Kiss me, Sally!"

Later, as we drew close to Uvalde, Sally and I sat in one seat, after the manner of Diane and Vaughn, and we looked out over the west where the sun was setting behind dim and distant mountains. We were fast leaving the wild and barren border. Already it seemed far beyond that broken rugged horizon with its dark line silhouetted against the rosy and golden sky. Already the spell of its wild life and the grim and haunting faces had begun to fade out of my memory. Let newer Rangers, with less to lose, and with the call in their hearts, go on with our work 'till soon that wild border would be safe!

The great Lone Star State must work out its destiny. Some distant day, in the fulness of time, what place the Rangers had in that destiny would be history.

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