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Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 13933

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Clint Wadley, massive and powerful, slouched back in his chair with one leg thrown over an arm of it. He puffed at a corncob pipe, and through the smoke watched narrowly with keen eyes from under heavy grizzled brows a young man standing on the porch steps.

"So now you know what I expect, young fellow," he said brusquely. "Take it or leave it; but if you take it, go through."

Arthur Ridley smiled. "Thanks, I'll take it."

The boy was not so much at ease as his manner suggested. He knew that the owner of the A T O was an exacting master. The old cattleman was game himself. Even now he would fight at the drop of the hat if necessary. In the phrase which he had just used, he would "go through" anything he undertook. Men who had bucked blizzards with him in the old days admitted that Clint would do to take along. But Ridley's awe of him was due less to his roughness and to the big place he filled in the life of the Panhandle than to the fact that he was the father of his daughter. It was essential to Arthur's plans that he stand well with the old-timer.

Though he did not happen to know it, young Ridley was a favorite of the cattle king. He had been wished on him by an old friend, but there was something friendly and genial about the boy that won a place for him. His smile was modest and disarming, and his frank face was better than any letter of recommendation.

But though Wadley was prepared to like him, his mind held its reservations. The boy had come from the East, and the standards of that section are not those of the West. The East asks of a man good family, pleasant manners, a decent reputation, and energy enough to carry a man to success along conventional lines. In those days the frontier West demanded first that a man be game, and second that he be one to tie to. He might be good or bad, but whichever he was, he, must be efficient to make any mark in the turbulent country of the border. Was there a hint of slackness in the jaw of this good-looking boy? Wadley was not sure, but he intended to find out.

"You'll start Saturday. I'll meet you at Tascosa two weeks from to-day. Understand?" The cattleman knocked the ashes from his pipe and rose. The interview was at an end.

Young Ridley nodded. "I'll be there, sir-with the six thousand dollars safe as if they were in a vault."

"H'm! I see you carry a six-shooter. Can you shoot?" Wadley flung at him abruptly.

Arthur Ridley had always fancied himself as a shot. He had belonged to a gun-club at home, and since coming to the Southwest he had practiced a good deal with the revolver.

"Pretty well, sir."

"Would you-if it was up to you?"

The youngster looked into the steel-gray eyes roofed by the heavy thatch of brow. "I think so. I never have had to yet. In the East-"

Wadley waved the East back to where it belonged. "Yes, I know. But we're talkin' about Texas. Still, I reckon you ought not to have any trouble on this trip. Don't let anybody know why you are at the fort. Don't gamble or drink. Get the money from Major Ponsford and melt away inconspicuous into the brush. Hit the trail hard. A day and a night ought to bring you to Tascosa."

The cattleman was leading the way with long strides into an open space back of the house. A pile of empty cans, symbol of the arid lands, lay beside the path. He picked up one and put it on a post. Then he stepped off fifteen paces.

"Ventilate it," he ordered.

The boy drew his revolver, took a long, steady aim, and fired. The bullet whistled past across the prairie. His second shot scored a clean hit. With pardonable pride he turned to the cattleman.

"Set up another can," commanded Wadley.

From the pile of empties the young man picked another and put it on the post. Wadley, known in Texas as a two-gun man, flashed into sight a pair of revolvers almost quicker than the eye could follow. Both shots came instantly and together. The cattleman had fired from the hips. Before the can had reached the ground the weapons barked again.

Ridley ran forward and picked up the can. It was torn and twisted with jagged holes, but the evidence was written there that all four bullets had pierced the tin. The Easterner could hardly believe his eyes. Such shooting was almost beyond human skill.

The owner of the A T O thrust into place his two forty-fives.

"If you're goin' to wear six-shooters, learn to use 'em, son. If you don't, some bad-man is liable to bump you off for practice."

As the two men stepped around the corner of the house a girl came down the steps of the porch. She was dressed in summer white, but she herself was spring. Slim and lissome, the dew of childhood was still on her lips, and the mist of it in her eyes. But when she slanted her long lashes toward Arthur Ridley, it was not the child that peeped shyly and eagerly out from beneath them. Her heart was answering the world-old call of youth to youth.

"I'm going downtown, Dad," she announced.

Ridley stepped forward and lifted his hat. "May I walk with you, Miss Ramona?"

"Stop at the post-office and see if the buckboard driver is in with the mail, 'Mona," her father said.

The boy and the girl made a couple to catch and hold the eye.

They went down the street together chattering gayly. One of the things young Ridley knew how to do well was to make himself agreeable to girls. He could talk nonsense charmingly and could hold his own in the jolly give-and-take of repartee. His good looks were a help. So too was the little touch of affectionate deference he used. He had the gift of being bold without being too bold.

It was a beautiful morning and life sang in the blood of Ramona. It seemed to her companion that the warm sun caressed the little curls at her temples as she moved down the street light as a deer. Little jets of laughter bubbled from her round, birdlike throat. In her freshly starched white dress, with its broad waistband of red and purple ribbon, the girl was sweet and lovely and full of mystery to Ridley.

A little man with a goatee, hawk-nosed and hawk-eyed, came down the street with jingling spurs to meet them. At sight of Ramona his eyes lighted. From his well-shaped gray head he swept in a bow a jaunty, broad-brimmed white hat.

The young girl smiled, because there were still a million unspent smiles in her warm and friendly heart.

"Good-morning, Captain Ellison," she called.

"Don't know you a-tall, ma'am." He shook his head with decision. "Never met up with you before."

"Good gracious, Captain, and you've fed me candy ever since I was a sticky little kid."

He burlesqued a business of recognizing her with much astonishment. "You ain't little 'Mona Wadley. No! Why, you are a young lady all dressed up in go-to-meet-him clothes. I reckon my little side-partner has gone forever."

"No, she hasn't, Uncle Jim," the girl cried. "And I want you to know I still like candy."

He laughed with delight and slappe

d his thigh with his broad-brimmed ranger hat. "By dog, you get it, 'Mona, sure as I'm a foot high."

Chuckling, he passed down the street.

"Captain Jim Ellison of the Rangers," explained Ramona to her companion. "He isn't really my uncle, but I've known him always. He's a good old thing and we're great friends."

Her soft, smiling eyes met those of Arthur. He thought that it was no merit in Ellison to be fond of her. How could he help it?

"He's in luck," was all the boy said.

A little flag of color fluttered in her cheek. She liked his compliments, but they embarrassed her a little.

"Did you fix it all up with Dad?" she asked, by way of changing the subject.

"Yes. I'm to go to Fort Winston to get the money for the beeves, and if I fall down on the job I'll never get another from him."

"I believe you're afraid of Dad," she teased.

"Don't you believe it-know it. I sure enough am," he admitted promptly.

"Why? I can twist him round my little finger," she boasted.

"Yes, but I'm not his only daughter and the prettiest thing in West Texas."

She laughed shyly. "Are you sure you're taking in enough territory?"

"I'll say south of Mason and Dixon's line, if you like."

"Really, he likes you. I can tell when Dad is for any one."

A sound had for some minutes been disturbing the calm peace of the morning. It was the bawling of thirsty cattle. The young people turned a corner into the main street of the town. Down it was moving toward them a cloud of yellow dust stirred up by a bunch of Texas longhorns. The call of the cattle for drink was insistent. Above it rose an occasional sharp "Yip yip!" of a cowboy.

Ramona stopped, aghast. The cattle blocked the road, their moving backs like the waves of a sea. The dust would irreparably soil the clean frock fresh from the hands of her black mammy. She made as if to turn, and knew with a flash of horror that it was too late.

Perhaps it was the gleam of scarlet in her sash that caught the eye of the bull leading the van. It gave a bellow of rage, lowered its head, and dashed at her.

Ramona gave a horror-stricken little cry of fear and stood motionless. She could not run. The fascination of terror held her paralyzed. Her heart died away in her while the great brute thundered toward her.

Out of the dust-cloud came a horse and rider in the wake of the bull. Frozen in her tracks, Ramona saw with dilated eyes all that followed. The galloping horse gained, was at the heels of the maddened animal, drew up side by side. It seemed to the girl that in another moment she must be trampled underfoot. Nothing but a miracle from God's blue could save her.

For what registered as time without end to the girl's fear-numbed brain, horse and bull raced knee to knee. Then the miracle came. The rider leaned far out from the saddle, loosened his feet from the stirrups, and launched himself at the crazed half-ton of charging fury.

His hands gripped the horns of the bull. He was dragged from the saddle into the dust, but his weight deflected the course of the animal. With every ounce of strength given by his rough life in the open the cowboy hung on, dragging the head of the bull down with him toward the ground. Man and beast came to a slithering halt together in a great cloud of dust not ten feet from Ramona.

Even now terror held her a prisoner. The brute would free itself and stamp the man to death. A haze gathered before her eyes. She swayed, then steadied herself. Man and bull were fighting desperately, one with sheer strength, the other with strength plus brains and skill. The object of the animal was to free itself. The bull tossed wildly in frantic rage to shake off this incubus that had fastened itself to its horns. The man hung on for life. All his power and weight were centered in an effort to twist the head of the bull sideways and back. Slowly, inch by inch, by the steady, insistent pressure of muscles as well packed as any in Texas, the man began to gain. The bull no longer tossed and flung him at will. The big roan head went down, turned backward, yielded to the pressure on the neck-muscles that never relaxed.

The man put at the decisive moment his last ounce of strength into one last twist. The bull collapsed, went down heavily to its side.

A second cowboy rode up, roped the bull, and deftly hogtied it.

The bulldogger rose and limped forward to the girl leaning whitely against a wall.

"Sorry, Miss Wadley. I hadn't ought to have brought the herd through town. We was drivin' to water."

"Are you hurt?" Ramona heard her dry, faint voice ask.

"Me!" he said in surprise. "Why, no, ma'am."

He was a tall, lean youth, sunburned and tough, with a face that looked sardonic. Ramona recognized him now as her father's new foreman, the man she had been introduced to a few days before. Hard on that memory came another. It was this same Jack Roberts who had taken her brother by surprise and beaten him so cruelly only yesterday.

"It threw you around so," she murmured.

"Sho! I reckon I can curry a li'l ol' longhorn when I have it to do, ma'am," he answered, a bit embarrassed.

"Are-are you hurt?" another voice quavered.

With a pang of pain Ramona remembered Arthur Ridley. Where had he been when she so desperately needed help?

"No. Mr. Roberts saved me." She did not look at Ridley. A queer feeling of shame for him made her keep her eyes averted.

"I-went to get help for you," the boy explained feebly.

"Thank you," she said.

The girl was miserably unhappy. For the boy to whom she had given the largesse of her friendship had fled in panic; the one she hated for bullying and mistreating her brother had flung himself in the path of the furious bull to save her.

Captain Ellison came running up. He bristled at the trail foreman like a bantam. "What do you mean by drivin' these wild critters through town? Ain't you got a lick o' sense a-tall? If anything had happened to this little girl-"

The Ranger left his threat suspended in midair. His arms were round Ramona, who was sobbing into his coat.

The red-headed foreman shifted his weight from one foot to another. He was acutely uncomfortable at having made this young woman weep. "I ain't got a word to say, Captain. It was plumb thoughtless of me," he apologized.

"You come to my office this mo'nin' at twelve o'clock, young fellow. Hear me? I've got a word to say to you."

"Yes," agreed the bulldogger humbly. "I didn't go for to scare the young lady. Will you tell her I'm right sorry, Captain?"

"You eat yore own humble pie. You've got a tongue, I reckon," snorted Ellison, dragging at his goatee fiercely.

The complexion of Roberts matched his hair. "I-I-I'm turrible sorry, miss. I'd ought to be rode on a rail."

With which the range-rider turned, swung to the saddle of his pony without touching the stirrups, and fairly bolted down the street after his retreating herd.

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