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   Chapter 2 I'LL BE SEVENTEEN, COMING GRASS

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 6345

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The camper looked up from the antelope steak he was frying, to watch a man cross the shallow creek. In the clear morning light of the Southwest his eyes had picked the rider out of the surrounding landscape nearly an hour before. For at least one fourth of the time since this discovery he had been aware that his approaching visitor was Pedro Menendez, of the A T O ranch.

"Better 'light, son," suggested Roberts.

The Mexican flashed a white-toothed smile at the sizzling steak, took one whiff of the coffee and slid from the saddle. Eating was one of the things that Pedro did best.

"The ol' man-he sen' me," the boy explained. "He wan' you at the ranch."

Further explanation waited till the edge of Pedro's appetite was blunted. The line-rider lighted a cigarette and casually asked a question.

"Whyfor does he want me?"

It developed that the Mexican had been sent to relieve Roberts because the latter was needed to take charge of a trail herd. Not by the flicker of an eyelash did the line-rider show that this news meant anything to him. It was promotion-better pay, a better chance for advancement, an easier life. But Jack Roberts had learned to take good and ill fortune with the impassive face of a gambler.

"Keep an eye out for rustlers, Pedro," he advised before he left. "You want to watch Box Ca?on. Unless I'm 'way off, the Dinsmore gang are operatin' through it. I 'most caught one red-handed the other day. Lucky for me I didn't. You an' Jumbo would 'a' had to bury me out on the lone prairee."

Nearly ten hours later Jack Roberts dismounted in front of the whitewashed adobe house that was the headquarters of the A T O ranch. On the porch an old cattleman sat slouched in a chair tilted back against the wall, a run-down heel of his boot hitched in the rung. The wrinkled coat he wore hung on him like a sack, and one leg of his trousers had caught at the top of the high boot. The owner of the A T O was a heavy-set, powerful man in the early fifties. Just now he was smoking a corncob pipe.

The keen eyes of the cattleman watched lazily the young line-rider come up the walk. Most cowboys walked badly; on horseback they might be kings of the earth, but out of the saddle they rolled like sailors. Clint Wadley noticed that the legs of this young fellow were straight and that he trod the ground lightly as a buck in mating-season.

"He'll make a hand," was Wadley's verdict, one he had arrived at after nearly a year of shrewd observation.

But no evidence of satisfaction in his employee showed itself in the greeting of the "old man." He grunted what might pass for "Howdy!" if one were an optimist.

Roberts explained his presence by saying: "You sent for me, Mr. Wadley."

"H'm! That durned fool York done bust his laig. Think you can take a herd up the trail to Tascosa?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's the way all you brash young colts talk. But how many of 'em will you lose on the way? How sorry will they look when you deliver the herd? That's what I'd like to know."

Jack Roberts was paying no attention to the grumbling of his boss-for a young girl had come out of the house. She was a slim little thing, w

ith a slender throat that carried the small head like the stem of a rose. Dark, long-lashed eyes, eager and bubbling with laughter, were fixed on Wadley. She had slipped out on tiptoe to surprise him. Her soft fingers covered his eyes.

"Guess who!" she ordered.

"Quit yore foolishness," growled the cattleman. "Don't you-all see I'm talkin' business?" But the line-rider observed that his arm encircled the waist of the girl.

With a flash of shy eyes the girl caught sight of Roberts, who had been half hidden from her behind the honeysuckle foliage.

"Oh! I didn't know," she cried.

The owner of the A T O introduced them. "This is Jack Roberts, one of my trail foremen. Roberts-my daughter Ramona. I reckon you can see for yoreself she's plumb spoiled."

A soft laugh welled from the throat of the girl. She knew that for her at least her father was all bark and no bite.

"It's you that is spoiled, Dad," she said in the slow, sweet voice of the South. "I've been away too long, but now I'm back I mean to bring you up right. Now I'll leave you to your business."

The eyes of the girl rested for a moment on those of the line-rider as she nodded good-bye. Jack had never before seen Ramona Wadley, nor for that matter had he seen her brother Rutherford. Since he had been in the neighborhood, both of them had been a good deal of the time in Tennessee at school, and Jack did not come to the ranch-house once in three months. It was hard to believe that this dainty child was the daughter of such a battered hulk as Clint Wadley. He was what the wind and the sun and the tough Southwest had made him. And she-she was a daughter of the morning.

But Wadley did not release Ramona. "Since you're here you might as well go through with it," he said. "What do you want?"

"What does a woman always want?" she asked sweetly, and then answered her own question. "Clothes-and money to buy them-lots of it. I'm going to town to-morrow, you know."

"H'm!" His grunt was half a chuckle, half a growl. "Do you call yoreself a woman-a little bit of a trick like you? Why, I could break you in two."

She drew herself up very straight. "I'll be seventeen, coming grass. And it's much more likely, sir, that I'll break you-as you'll find out when the bills come in after I've been to town."

With that she swung on her heel and vanished inside the house.

The proud, fond eyes of the cattleman followed her. It was an easy guess that she was the apple of his eye.

But when he turned to business again his manner was gruffer than usual. He was a trifle crisper to balance the effect of his new foreman having discovered that he was as putty in the hands of this slip of a girl.

"Well, you know where you're at, Roberts. Deliver that herd without any loss for strays, fat, an' in good condition, an' you won't need to go back to line-ridin'. Fall down on the job, an' you'll never get another chance to drive A T O cows."

"That's all I ask, Mr. Wadley," the cowboy answered. "An' much obliged for the chance."

"Don't thank me. Thank York's busted laig," snapped his chief. "We'll make the gather for the drive to-morrow an' Friday."

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