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   Chapter 8 RUTHERFORD MAKES A MISTAKE

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 8480

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Rutherford Wadley struck across country toward the rim-rock. Anger burned high in him, and like the bully he was he took it out of his good horse by roweling its sides savagely. He plunged into the curly mesquite, driving forward straight as an arrow. Behind him in the darkness followed a shadow, sinister and silent, out of sight, but within sound of the horse's footfall. It stopped when Wadley stopped; when he moved, it moved.

Midnight found young Wadley still moving straight forward, the moon on his left. Painted Rock was ten miles to the west. Except for the stage station there, and the settlement he had left, there was no other habitation for fifty miles. It was a wilderness of silence.

Yet in that waste of empty space Rutherford "jumped up" a camper. The man was a trader, carrying honey and pecans to Fort Worth. He was awakened by the sound of a raucous curse, he testified later, and in the bright moonlight saw the young cattleman beating his horse. Evidently the young animal had been startled at sight of his white-topped wagon.

An angry sentence or two passed between the men before the cattleman moved over the hill-brow. As the trader rolled up again in his sugun, there came to him faintly the sound of another horse. He was not able to explain later why this struck him as ominous, beyond the strangeness of the fact that two men, not in each other's company, should be traveling so close together in the desert. At any rate, he rose, crept forward to a clump of Spanish bayonet, and from behind it saw a young Mexican pass along the swale. He was close enough almost to have touched him, and in the rich moonlight saw the boyish face clearly.

By the time Wadley reached the rough country of the cap-rock, the young day was beginning to awaken. A quail piped its morning greeting from the brush. A gleam of blue in the dun sky flashed warning of a sun soon to rise. He had struck the rim-rock a little too far to the right, and deflected from his course to find the pocket he was seeking. For half a mile he traveled parallel to the ridge, then turned into a break in the wall. At the summit of a little rise he gave a whistle.

Presently, from above a big boulder, a head appeared cautiously.

"Hello, out there! Who is it?"

"Ford."

The rider swung to the ground stiffly and led his horse forward down a sharply descending path to a little draw. A lank, sallow man with a rifle joined him. With his back to a flat rock, a heavy-set, broad-shouldered fellow was lounging.

"'Lo, Ford. Didn't expect you to-night," he grumbled.

"Drifted over from the dance at Tomichi Creek. Beat up a young Mexican and had to get out."

"You're such a sullen brute! Why can't you let folks alone?" Pete Dinsmore wanted to know.

He was annoyed. Rutherford Wadley was not a partner in the business on hand to-night, and he would rather the man had been a hundred miles away.

"He got jealous and tried to knife me," explained the heir of the A T O sulkily.

"You durn fool! Won't you ever learn sense? Who was it this time?"

"Tony Alviro. His girl's crazy about me."

The keen, hard eyes of Dinsmore took in the smug complacency of the handsome young cad. He knew that this particular brand of fool would go its own way, but he wasted a word of advice.

"I don't guess you want any pearls o' wisdom from me, but I'll onload some gratis. You let Bonita Menendez alone or Tony will camp on yore trail till he gits you."

"Sure will," agreed Gurley, setting down his rifle. "Them Mexicans hang together, too. We need their friendship in our business. Better lay off them."

"I don't remember askin' your advice, Gurley."

"Well, I'm givin' it. See?"

Another sharp whistle cut the air. Gurley picked up the rifle again and climbed the lookout rock. Presently he returned with a dismounted horseman. The man was the one who had introduced himself to Arthur Ripley a few hours earlier as Bill Moore.

"Howdy, boys. Got the stuff all safe?" he asked cheerfully.

From behind Wadley Pete Dinsmore was making a series of facial contortions. Unfortunately the new arrival did not happen to be looking at him, and so missed the warning.

"Never saw anything work prettier," Moore said w

ith a grin as he put down his saddle on a boulder. "Ridley hadn't ought to be let out without a nurse. He swallowed my whole yarn-gobbled down bait, sinker an' line. Where's the gold, Pete?"

"In a sack back of the big rock." Pete was disgusted with his brother Homer, alias Bill Moore. They would probably have to divide with young Wadley now, to keep his mouth shut.

Rutherford jumped at the truth. His father had told him that he was going to give Art Ridley a try-out by sending him to the fort for a payment of gold. Probably he, Rutherford, had mentioned this to one of the gang when he was drunk. They had held up the messenger, intending to freeze him out of any share of the profits. All right-he would show them whether he was a two-spot.

"Bring out the sack. Let's have a look at it," he ordered.

Gurley handed the sack to Pete Dinsmore, and the men squatted in a circle tailor-fashion.

"Smooth work, I call it," said Homer Dinsmore. He explained to Wadley why he was of this opinion. "Steve heard tell of a wagon-train goin' to Tascosa to-day. If Ridley slept overnight at the fort he would hear of it an' stay with the freight outfit till he had delivered the gold to yore dad. We had to get him started right away. So I pulled on him a story about hearin' the boys intended to hold him up. He hired me as a guard to help him stand off the bad men. Whilst I was keepin' watch I fixed up his six-shooter so's it wouldn't do any damage if it went off. Best blamed piece of work I ever did pull off. I'd ought to get a half of what we took off'n him instead of a third."

"A third! Who says you get a third?" asked Wadley.

"Three of us did this job, didn't we?" cut in Gurley.

"Sure. You took what belongs to me-or at least to my dad," protested young Wadley. "Tried to slip one over on me. Guess again, boys. I won't stand for it."

The jade eyes of the older brother narrowed. "Meanin' just what, Ford?"

"What do you take me for, Pete? Think I'm goin' to let you rob me of my own money an' never cheep? I'll see you all in blazes first," cried Wadley wildly.

"Yes, but-just what would you do about it?"

"Do? I'll ride to town an' tell Cap Ellison. I'll bust you up in business, sure as hell's hot."

There was a moment of chill silence. Three of the four men present knew that Rutherford Wadley had just passed sentence of death upon himself. They had doubted him before, vaguely, and without any definite reason. But after this open threat the fear that he would betray them would never lift until he was where he could no longer tell tales.

"How much of this money do you think is comin' to you, Ford?" asked Pete quietly.

"It's all mine, anyhow. You boys know that." Rutherford hesitated; then his greed dominated. He had them where they had to eat out of his hand. "Give me two thirds, an' you fellows divide the other third for your trouble. That's fair."

"Goddlemighty, what's eatin' you?" Gurley exploded. "Think we're plumb idjits? You 'n' me will mix bullets first, you traitor!"

The Dinsmores exchanged one long, significant look. Then Pete spoke softly.

"Don't get on the prod, Steve. Ford sure has got us where the wool's short, but I reckon he aims to be reasonable. Let's say half for you, Ford, an' the other half divided among the rest of us."

Wadley had refreshed himself out of a bottle several times during the night. Ordinarily he would have accepted the proposed compromise, but the sullen and obstinate side of him was uppermost.

"You've heard my terms, Pete. I stand pat."

Again a significant look passed, this time between Pete Dinsmore and Gurley.

"All right," said Homer Dinsmore shortly. "It's a raw deal you're givin' us, but I reckon you know yore own business, Wadley."

The money was emptied from the pigskin belt and divided. Rutherford repacked his two thirds in the belt and put it on next his shirt.

"I don't know what you fellows are goin' to do, but I'm goin' to strike for town," he said. "I aim to get back in time to join one of the posses in their hunt for the outlaws."

His jest did not win any smiles. The men grimly watched him saddle and ride away. A quarter of an hour later they too were in the saddle.

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