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   Chapter 11 ONE TO FOUR

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 11585

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Through the great gray desert with its freakish effects of erosion a rider had moved steadily in the hours of star-strewn darkness. He had crossed the boundary of that No Man's Land which ran as a neutral strip between Texas and its neighbor and was claimed by each. Since the courts had as yet recognized the rights of neither litigant there was properly no State jurisdiction here. Therefore those at outs with the law fled to this strip and claimed immunity.

In the Panhandle itself law was a variable quantity. Its counties had been laid out and named, but not organized. For judicial purposes they were attached to Wheeler County. Even the Rangers did not pretend to police this district. When they wanted a man they went in and got him.

The rider swung at last from his saddle and dropped the bridle reins to the ground. He crept forward to some long, flat sheep-sheds that bulked dimly in the night shadows. Farther back, he could just make out the ghost of a dwelling-hut. Beyond that, he knew, was a Mexican village of three or four houses. A windmill reared its gaunt frame in the corral. A long trough was supplied by it with water for the sheep.

The night-rider dipped a bucket of water from the tank that fed the trough. He carried it to the gate of the corral and poured it slowly into the fine dust made by the sharp feet of the sheep, mixing the water and dust to a thick paste with the end of an old branding-iron. He brought bucket after bucket of water until he had prepared a bed of smooth mud of the proper consistency.

Before he had quite finished his preparation a dog inside the adobe hut began to bark violently. The interloper slipped over the fence and retreated to the darkness of the barranca.

From the direction of the hut men poured. The one crouching in the chaparral heard voices. He made out a snatch or two of talk in Spanish. The men were explaining to themselves that the dog must have been barking at a wolf or a coyote. Presently they trooped back into the house. Silence fell again over the night.

The man in the chaparral once more crept forward and climbed the fence. He made straight for the entrance of the corral. Carefully he examined the footprints written in the bed of mud he had prepared. One after another he studied them. Some had been crossed out or blotted by subsequent prints, but a few were perfect. One of these he scrutinized for a long time, measuring its dimensions with a tape-line from toe to heel, across the ball of the foot, the instep, and the heel. When at last he straightened up his eyes were shining with satisfaction. He had found what he wanted.

Once more the dog was uneasy with growlings. The man retreated from the corral, returned to his horse, and rode away across the mesa. A quarter of an hour later he unsaddled, hobbled his horse, and rolled up in a blanket. Immediately he fell into sound sleep.

It was broad day when he wakened. The young morning sun bathed him in warmth. He lighted a fire of mesquite and boiled coffee. In his frying-pan he cooked flapjacks, after he had heated the jerked beef which he carried in his saddlebags. When he had eaten, he washed his pan with clean, fine sand, repacked his supplies, and rode forward past the sheep-corral to the village.

In front of a mud-and-log tendejón two Mexicans lounged. They watched him with silent hostility as he dismounted, tied his horse to a snubbing-post worn shiny as a razor-strap, and sauntered into the tendejón. This stranger wore the broad-rimmed felt hat and the buckskin suit of a Ranger, and none of that force was welcome here.

Back of a flimsy counter was a shelf upon which were half a dozen bottles and some glasses. One could buy here mescal, American whiskey, and even wine of a sort. The owner of the place, a white man, was talking to a young Mexican at the time the Ranger entered. The proprietor looked hard at the Ranger with dislike he did not try to veil. The Mexican in front of the bar was a slim young man with quick eyes and an intelligent face. The Ranger recognized him at once as Tony Alviro.

"Buenos!" the Ranger said with the most casual of nods. "I've come to take you back with me, Tony."

The other two Mexicans had followed the Ranger into the room. The Texan stood sideways at the end of the bar, quite at his ease, the right forearm resting on the counter lightly. Not far from his fingers the butt of a revolver projected from a holster. In his attitude was no threat whatever, but decidedly a warning.

The four men watched him steadily.

"No, Se?or Roberts," answered Alviro. "You can touch me not. I'm out of Texas."

"Mebbeso, Tony. But till I get further orders, this is Texas for me. You're goin' back with me."

Rangers and outlaws held different views about this strip of land. To the latter it was a refuge; law ended at its border; they could not be touched here by State constabulary. But the Ranger did not split hairs. He was law in the Panhandle, and if the man he wanted fled to disputed territory the Ranger went after him.

"Not so," argued Alviro. "If you arrest me in Texas, I say 'Bad luck,' but I go wiz you. There you are an offizer, an' I am oblige' surrender. But in thees No Man's Land, we are man to man. I refuse."

The lift of excitement was in the voice of the young Mexican. He knew the record of the Texas Rangers. They took their men in dead or alive. This particular member of the force was an unusually tough nut to crack. In the heart of Tony was the drench of a chill wave. He was no coward, but he knew he had no such unflawed nerve as this man. Through his mind there ran a common laconic report handed in by Rangers returning from an assignment-"Killed while resisting arrest." Alviro did not want Ranger Roberts to writ

e that about him.

"Better not, Alviro. I have a warrant for your arrest."

The Texan did not raise his voice. He made no movement to draw a gun. But to Tony, fascinated by his hard, steel-gray eyes, came the certainty that he must go or fight. They were four to one against the Ranger, but that would not make the least difference. In the curt alternative of this clean-jawed young officer was cold finality.

The worried eyes of the fugitive referred to his companions. They had agreed to stand by him, and he knew that if it came to a fight they would. But he wanted more than that. His glance was an appeal for one of them to make his decision for him.

The voice of the tendejón-keeper interjected itself smoothly. "You've played yore hand out, friend. We're four to one. You go back an' report nothin' doin'."

Roberts looked at the man, and a little shiver ran down the barkeeper's spine. "There won't be four of you when we get through arguin' this, amigo, if we ever start," the Ranger suggested gently.

The proprietor of the place dropped his hand to the butt of his gun. But he did not draw. Some deep, wise instinct warned him to go slow. He knew the others would take their cue from him. If he threw down the gage of battle the room would instantly become a shambles. How many of them would again pass alive through the door nobody knew. He was a man who had fought often, but he could not quite bring himself to such a decision while those chilled-steel eyes bored into his. Anyhow, the game was not worth the candle.

"What is it you want Tony for?" he temporized, playing for time and any chance that might arise.

"For killin' Rutherford Wadley last month."

"A mistake. Tony has been here since the full of the moon."

"Oh, no. He was at the dance on Tomichi Creek. He tried to knife young Wadley. He left the house right after him."

"I left-sí, se?or-but to come here," cried the accused man.

"To follow Wadley, Tony. You jumped a camper that night an' didn't know it. He saw you."

"Wadley was a dog, but I did not kill him," Alviro said gloomily.

"That so? You were on the spot. You left tracks. I measured 'em. They were the same tracks you left out in the corral five hours ago."

Tony's eyes flashed with a sudden discovery. "The mud-you meex it to get my footprints."

"You're a good guesser."

Alviro threw up his hands. "I was there. It iss true. But I did not kill the gringo dog. I was too late."

"You can tell me all about that on the way back."

"If I go back they will hang me."

"You'll get a fair trial."

"By a gringo jury before a gringo judge." The tone of Alviro was more than skeptical. It was bitter with the sense of racial injustice.

"I can't argue that with you, Tony. My business is to take you to Tascosa. That's what I'm here for."

The American behind the bar spoke again. "Listens fine! He's a Mexican, ain't he? They claim he killed a white man. Well, then, the mob would take him from you an' lynch him sure."

"The Rangers don't give up their prisoners, my friend. They take 'em an' they keep 'em. You'd ought to know that."

The tendejón-keeper flushed. He had been dragged to justice once by one of the force.

The eyes of the four consulted again. They were still hesitant. The shame of letting this youth take from them their companion without a fight was like a burr under a saddle-blanket to a bronco. But after all, the Ranger stood for law. If they killed him, other Rangers would come to avenge his death.

When men are in doubt the one who is sure dominates the situation. The eye of Roberts carried the compulsion of a deadly weapon. His voice was crisp.

"Come here, Tony," he ordered, and his fingers slipped into the pocket of his coat.

Alviro looked at him for a long second-swore to himself that he would not come-and came.

"Hold out yore hands."

The Mexican set his will to refuse. There was still time to elect to fight. He told himself that was what he was going to do. But he could not hold his own in that steady battle of the eyes. His hands moved forward-empty.

A moment, and the Ranger had slipped and fastened the handcuffs on his wrists.

Roberts had won. Psychologically it was now too late for the others to resort to arms. The tendejón-keeper recognized this with a shrug that refused responsibility for the outcome. After all, Tony had made his own decision. He had chosen to take his chances in Tascosa rather than on the spot with the Ranger.

"Saddle Tony's horse," ordered Roberts, looking at one of the Mexicans.

The man growled something in his native tongue, but none the less he moved toward the corral.

Within a quarter of an hour the Ranger and his prisoner were on their way. Two days later Roberts delivered his man to the deputy sheriff who had charge of the sod-house jail in the little town.

"There's a message here for you from Cap Ellison," the deputy said. "He wants you to go to Clarendon. Says you were to jog on down soon as you show up here."

"All right, Snark."

He rode down next day, changed horses at the halfway station, and reached Clarendon early in the morning. Ellison had been called to Mobeetie, but left instructions for him to await his return.

The semi-weekly stage brought two days later a letter, to Captain Ellison from Snark. Jack Roberts, obeying office instructions, opened the mail. The letter said:

Dere Cap,

They are aiming to lynch that Mexican Roberts brought in. The Dinsmore outfit is stirring up the town. Send a company of your Rangers, for God's sake, quick.

Respectably yours

Jim Snark

Jack Roberts was the only Ranger in town. He glanced at the clock. There was just time to catch the stage to Tascosa. He reached for his guns and his hat.

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