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   Chapter 7 THE DANCE

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9115

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Long since the sun had slid behind the horizon edge and given place to a desert night of shimmering moonlight and far stars. From the enchanted mesa Rutherford Wadley descended to a valley draw in which were huddled a score of Mexican jacals, huts built of stakes stuck in a trench, roofed with sod and floored with mud. Beyond these was a more pretentious house. Originally it had been a log "hogan," but a large adobe addition had been constructed for a store. Inside this the dance was being held.

Light filtered through the chinks in the mud. From door and windows came the sounds of scraping fiddles and stamping feet. The singsong voice of the caller and the occasional whoop of a cowboy punctuated the medley of noises.

A man whose girth would have put Falstaff to shame greeted Rutherford wheezily. "Fall off and 'light, Ford. She's in full swing and the bridle's off."

The man was Jumbo Wilkins, line-rider for the A T O.

Young Wadley swung to the ground. He did not trouble to answer his father's employee. It was in little ways like this that he endeared himself to those at hand, and it was just this spirit that the democratic West would not tolerate. While the rider was tying his horse to the hitch-rack, Jumbo Wilkins, who was a friendly soul, made another try at conversation.

"Glad you got an invite. Old man Cobb hadn't room for everybody, so he didn't make his bid wide open."

The young man jingled up the steps. "That so? Well, I didn't get an invite, as you call it. But I'm here." He contrived to say it so offensively that Jumbo flushed with anger.

Wadley sauntered into the room and stood for a moment by the door. His trim, graceful figure and dark good looks made him at once a focus of eyes. Nonchalantly he sunned himself in the limelight, with that little touch of swagger that captures the imagination of girls. No man in the cow-country dressed like Rutherford Wadley. In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed are kings, and to these frontier women this young fellow was a glass of fashion. There was about him, too, a certain dash, a spice of the devil more desirable in a breaker of hearts than any mere beauty.

His bold, possessive eyes ranged over the room to claim what they might desire. He had come to the dance at Tomichi Creek to make love to Tony Alviro's betrothed sweetheart Bonita.

She was in the far corner with her little court about her. If Bonita was a flirt, it must be admitted she was a charming one. No girl within a day's ride was so courted as she. Compact of fire and passion, brimming with life and health, she drew men to her as the flame the moth.

Presently the music started. Bonita, in the arms of Tony, floated past Rutherford, a miracle of supple lightness. A flash of soft eyes darted at the heir of the A T O ranch. In them was a smile adorable and provocative.

As soon as the dance was over, Wadley made his way indolently toward her. He claimed the next waltz.

She had promised it to Tony, the girl said-and the next.

"Tony can't close-herd you," laughed Rutherford. "His title ain't clear yet-won't be till the priest has said so. You'll dance the second one with me, Bonita."

"We shall see, se?or," she mocked.

But the Mexican blood in the girl beat fast. In her soft, liquid eyes lurked the hunger for sex adventure. And this man was a prince of the blood-the son of Clint Wadley, the biggest cattleman in West Texas.

There were challenging stars of deviltry in Bonita's eyes when they met those of Rutherford over the shoulder of Alviro while she danced, but the color was beating warm through her dark skin. The lift of her round, brown throat to an indifferent tilt of the chin was mere pretense. The languorous passion of the South was her inheritance, and excitement mounted in her while she kept time to the melodious dance.

Alviro was master of ceremonies, and Wadley found his chance while the young Mexican was of necessity away from Bonita. Rutherford bowed to her with elaborate mockery.

"Come. Let us walk in the moonlight, sweetheart," he said.

Bonita turned to him with slow grace. The eyes of the man and the woman met and fought. In hers there was a kind of savage fierceness, in his an insolent confidence.

"No," she answered.

"Ah! You're afraid of me-afraid to trust yourself with me," he boasted.

She was an untutored child of the desert, and his words were a spur to her quick pride. She rose at once, her bosom rising and falling fast. She would never confess that-never.

The girl walked beside him

with the fluent grace of youth, beautiful as a forest fawn. In ten years she would be fat and slovenly like her Mexican mother, but now she carried her slender body as a queen is supposed to but does not. Her heel sank into a little patch of mud where some one had watered a horse. Under the cottonwoods she pulled up her skirt a trifle and made a moue of disgust at the soiled slipper.

"See what you've done!" Small, even teeth, gleamed in a coquettish smile from the ripe lips of the little mouth. He understood that he was being invited to kneel and clean the mud-stained shoe.

"If you're looking for a doormat to wipe your feet on, I'll send for Tony," he jeered.

The father of Bonita was Anglo-Saxon. She flashed anger at his presumption.

"Don't you think it. Tony will never be a doormat to anybody. Be warned, se?or, and do not try to take what is his."

Again their eyes battled. Neither of them saw a man who had come out from the house and was watching them from the end of the porch.

"I take what the gods give, my dear, and ask leave of no man," bragged Wadley.

"Or woman?"

"Ah! That is different. When the woman is Bonita, muchacha, I am her slave."

He dropped to one knee and with his handkerchief wiped the mud from the heel of her slipper. For a moment his fingers touched lightly the trim little ankle; then he rose quickly and caught her in his arms.

"Sometime-soon-it's going to be me and you, sweetheart," he whispered.

"Don't," she begged, struggling against herself and him. "If Tony sees-"

His passion was too keen-edged to take warning. He kissed her lips and throat and eyes. The eyes of the watcher never wavered. They were narrowed to shining slits of jet.

"Why do you come and-and follow me?" the girl cried softly. "It is not that you do not know Tony is jealous. This is not play with him. He loves me and will fight for me. You are mad."

"For love of you!" he laughed triumphantly.

She knew he lied. The instinct that served her for a conscience had long since told her as much. But her vanity, and perhaps something deeper, craved satisfaction. She wanted to believe he meant it. Under his ardent gaze the long lashes of the girl drooped to her dusky cheeks. It was Tony she loved, but Tony offered her only happiness and not excitement.

A moment later she gave a startled little cry and pushed herself free. Her dilated eyes were fixed on something behind the cattleman.

Rutherford, warned by her expression, whirled on his heel.

Tony Alviro, knife in hand, was close upon him. Wadley lashed out hard with his left and caught the Mexican on the point of the chin.

The blow lifted Tony from his feet and flung him at full length to the ground. He tried to rise, groaned-rolled over.

Bonita was beside him in an instant. From where she knelt, with Tony's dark head in her arms pressed close to her bosom, she turned fiercely on Wadley.

"I hate you, dog of a gringo! You are all one big lie through and through-what they call bad egg-no good!"

Already half a dozen men were charging from the house. Jumbo pinned Wadley's arms by the elbows to prevent him from drawing a revolver.

"What's the rumpus?" he demanded.

"The fellow tried to knife me in the back," explained Rutherford. "Jealous, because I took his girl."

"So?" grunted Wilkins. "Well, you'd better light a shuck out o' here. You came on yore own invite. You can go on mine."

"Why should I go? I'll see you at Tombstone first."

"Why?" Jumbo's voice was no longer amiable and ingratiating. "Because you gave Tony a raw deal, an' he's got friends here. Have you?"

Wadley looked round and saw here and there Mexican faces filled with sullen resentment. It came to him swiftly that this was no place for his father's son to linger.

"I don't push my society on any one," he said haughtily. "If I ain't welcome, I'll go. But I serve notice right here that any one who tries to pull a knife on me will get cold lead next time."

Jumbo, with his arm tucked under that of Wadley, led the way to the house. He untied the rein of Rutherford's horse and handed it to the son of his boss.

"Vamos!" he said.

The young man pulled himself to the saddle. "You're a hell of a friend," he snarled.

"Who said anything about bein' a friend? I'm particular about when I use that word," replied Wilkins evenly, with hard eyes.

Wadley's quirt burned the flank of the cow-pony and it leaped for the road.

When five minutes later some one inquired for Tony he too had disappeared.

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