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   Chapter 12 TEX REARRANGES THE SEATING

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 11891

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Tascosa stage was full. Its passengers were "packed like Yanks at Libby Prison," according to one of them, an ex-Confederate who had drifted West after the war. They were of the varied types common to the old Southwest-a drover, a cattle-buyer, a cowpuncher looking for a job, a smart salesman from St. Louis, and one young woman. Beside the driver on the box sat a long-bodied man in buckskin with a clean brown jaw and an alert, sardonic eye.

The salesman, a smooth, good-looking fellow whose eye instinctively rested on attractive women, made inquiries of Joe Johnson's old trooper.

"Who's the damsel?"

"Which?"

"The girl. She's a pippin." His possessive eye gloated on the young woman in front. "She didn't learn how to dress in this neck of the woods, either. Betcha she's from New Orleans or St. Louis."

The old warrior helped himself to a chew of tobacco. "You lose. She's Clint Wadley's daughter, an' he's an old-timer. Knocked the bark off'n this country, Clint did. I used to know him when he was takin' the hides off the buffaloes. Got his start that way, I reckon. Clint's outfit got six thousand tongues in six months oncet. Pickled the tongues an' sold 'em for three cents apiece, by gum. Delivered the hides at Clarendon for one-fifty straight on contract."

"I've heard of Wadley," the salesman said. "What's the kid going to Tascosa for?"

"Goin' to stay awhile with her aunt, I 'low. Her brother was killed recent."

"I've heard about that, too. They caught the fellow, didn't they-the one that did it?"

"They got a Mexican jailed for it. I dunno whether he done it or not. That young Ranger on the box run him down."

"That kid in buckskin?" sneered the city man.

The ex-Confederate bristled at the tone rather than the words. He happened to be a friend of the youth mentioned.

"I'll follow Jack's dust any day of the week. He's one hell-poppin' rooster. No better man rides leather. When I druv a wagon oncet gatherin' bones-"

"Gathering bones?"

"Sure-buffalo-bones, for fertilizer. Well, that same Jack Roberts yanked me out o' the Canadian when I was drowndin'. Took a big chance, too."

"What about this Mexican? Are they going to hang him?"

"I reckon. He's in a soddy up at Tascosa. I done heard they're aimin' to tear it down and hang him to a wagon-tongue."[3]

The black-haired traveling man caressed his little mustache and watched the girl boldly. Her face was a little wan, and in the deep eyes was shadowed a heartache. But it had been impossible even for grief to submerge the sweet youth in her. There were lights in her soft, wavy hair, and the line of her exquisite throat would have delighted a sculptor. The slim figure was exquisitely poised, though just now it suggested weariness.

When the stage stopped at noon for dinner the salesman made it a point to sit beside her at the long table. His persistent attentions to the girl made the delicate color of her cheek deepen. She was too shy, too unused to the world, to know how to suppress his audacities effectively. But it was plain to one young man sitting at the opposite end of the table that the familiarities of the man were unwelcome.

While they were waiting outside for the change-horses to be hitched, the Ranger made a request of the old soldier.

"Wish you'd swap places with me, Sam."

"Sure. I'd a heap ruther sit outside. Say, that drummer hadn't ought to worry Miss Ramona. She's not feelin' very peart, anyhow. I reckon she set the world an' all by that scalawag brother of hers."

"He's not goin' to trouble her any more, Sam."

The ex-Confederate looked at the narrow-flanked young man with an alert question in his eye. If "Tex" Roberts was going to take a hand, the salesman was certainly riding for a fall.

The salesman had made up his mind to sit beside Miss Wadley for the rest of the journey. He emerged from the dining-room at her heels and was beside her to offer a hand into the stage.

Ramona gave him a look of reproach and entreaty. She was near tears. The man from St. Louis smiled confidently.

"I know a good thing when I see it," he whispered. "I'll ride beside you and keep off the rough-necks, Miss Wadley."

A heavy heel smashed down on the toes of his neat shoe and crunched round. A hard elbow bumped up forcefully against his chin as if by accident. A muscular hand caught the loose fat of his plump stomach and tightened like a vise. The dapper salesman opened his mouth in a shriek of pain.

"Indigestion?" asked the Ranger sympathetically, and his sinewy fingers twisted in the cushion of flesh they gripped. "I'll get you somethin' good for it in a minute."

Roberts flung the man back and rearranged the seating inside so that the drover sat beside Ramona as before dinner. Then he tucked an arm under that of the St. Louis man and led him back into the stage station. The salesman jerked along beside him unhappily. His wrist, wrenched by Roberts in a steady pressure of well-trained muscles, hurt exquisitely. When at last he was flung helplessly into a chair, tears of pain and rage filled his eyes. Never in the course of a cushioned and pampered life had he been so manhandled.

"My God, you brute, you've killed me!" he sobbed.

"Sho! I haven't begun yet. If you take the stage to-day to Tascosa I'm goin' to sit beside you real friendly, an' we'll play like we been doin' all the way in to town. It's just my way of bein' neighborly."

"I'll have the law of you for this," the city man howled, uncertain which of his injuries to nurse first.

"I would," agreed the Texan. "Well, so long, if you ain't comin'."

Roberts moved back with long, easy stride to the stage. He nodded to the driver.

"All ready, Hank. The drummer ain't feelin' well. He'll stay here overnight. I reckon I'll keep my own seat outside, Sam." And Roberts swung himself up.

The old soldier climbed in, chuckling to himself. It had been the ne

atest piece of work he had ever seen. The big body of the cowboy had been between Ramona and her tormentor, so that she did not know what had taken place. She did know, however, that the woman-killer had been obliterated swiftly from her path.

"Did you ever see anything like the way he got shet o' that drummer?" Sam asked his neighbor in a whisper. "I'll bet that doggoned masher will be hard to find when Jack's on the map. He's some go-getter boy, Jack Roberts is."

Meanwhile Jack was flagellating himself. It was his bad luck always to be associated in the mind of Miss Wadley with violence. He had beaten up the brother whom she was now mourning. He had almost been the cause of her own death. Now a third time she saw him in the role of a trouble-maker. To her, of course, he could be nothing but a bully and a bad lot. The least he could do was to make himself as inconspicuous as possible for the rest of the journey.

Man may shuffle the pack, but when all is done woman is likely to cut the cards. The driver stopped at Tin Cup Creek to water the horses. To Jack, sitting on the box, came the cattle-drover with orders.

"The young lady has somethin' to say to you, Tex. You're to swap seats with me."

The lean, bronzed young man swung down. He had, when he wished, a wooden face that told no tales. It said nothing now of a tide of blood flushing his veins.

By a little gesture the girl indicated the seat beside her. Not till the creaking of the moving stage drowned her words did she speak. Her eyes were dilated with excitement.

"I overheard them talking in the back seat," she said. "They think there's going to be a lynching at Tascosa-that the mob is going to hang the Mexican who killed my brother. Are you going to let them do it?"

"Not in this year of our Lord, Miss Wadley," he answered evenly.

"Can you stop them?"

"That's what I draw a dollar a day for."

"You mustn't let them do it!" she cried, a little wildly. "Let the law punish him!"

"Suits me. I'll try to persuade the boys to look at it that way."

"But what can you do? You're only a boy."

With a grim little smile he paraphrased Roy Bean's famous phrase: "I'm law east of the Pecos right now, Miss Wadley. Don't you worry. The Dinsmores won't get him if I can help it."

"I might speak to my father," she went on, thinking aloud. "But he's so bitter I'm afraid he won't do anything."

"He will after I've talked with him."

Her anxious young eyes rested in his clear, steady gaze. There was something about this youth that compelled confidence. His broad-shouldered vigor, the virile strength so confidently reposeful, were expressions of personality rather than accidentals of physique.

The road dipped suddenly into a deep wash that was almost a little gulch. There was a grinding of brakes, then a sudden lurch that threw Ramona against the shoulder of the Ranger.

"The brake's done bust," she heard the ex-Confederate say.

Another violent swing flung Ramona outward. The horses were off the road, and the coach swayed ominously on two wheels. The girl caught at the Ranger's hand and clung to it. Gently he covered her hand with his other one, released his fingers, and put a strong arm round her shoulders.

Hank's whip snaked out across the backs of the wheelers. He flung at his horses a torrent of abuse. The stage reached the bottom of the wash in a succession of lurches. Then, as suddenly as the danger had come upon them, it had passed; the stage was safely climbing the opposite side of the ravine.

The Ranger's arm slipped from the shoulders of the girl. Her hand crept from under his. He did not look at her, but he knew that a shell-pink wave had washed into the wan face.

The slim bosom of the girl rose and fell fast. Already she was beginning to puzzle over the difficulties of a clear-cut right and wrong, to discover that no unshaded line of cleavage differentiates them sometimes. Surely this young fellow could not be all bad. Of course she did not like him. She was quite sure of that. He was known as a tough citizen. He had attacked and beaten brutally her brother Rutherford-the wild brother whose dissipations she had wept and prayed over, and whose death she was now mourning. Yet Fate kept throwing him in her way to do her services. He had saved her life. He had adroitly-somehow, she did not quite know in what way-rid her of an offensive fellow traveler. She had just asked a favor of him, and there was yet another she must ask.

Ramona put off her request to the last moment. At Tascosa she left her purse in the stage seat and discovered it after the coach had started to the barn.

"My purse. I left it in the seat," she cried.

The announcement was made to the world at large, but it was intended for a particular pair of ears set close to a small head of wavy, sun-reddened hair. The owner of them ran to the stage and recovered the purse. By the time he reached Ramona, the rest of the party were inside the post-office.

She thanked him, then looked at him quickly with an effect of shy daring.

"You travel a good deal, don't you-about the country?"

"Considerable."

"I-I wonder if-" She took courage from his friendly smile. "I'm worried about Mr. Ridley-for fear something has happened to him."

"You mean an accident?" he asked gently.

"I don't know." Her cheeks flew color-signals of embarrassment. "My father was harsh to him. He's very sensitive. I feel-sort of responsible. He might do something foolish."

"I don't reckon he will. But I'll sure keep an eye out for him."

She gave him her little hand gratefully, then remembered what he had done to her brother and withdrew it hastily from his grip. In another moment she had passed into the post-office and left him alone.

There was no timber in the Panhandle. The first man ever hanged in the short-grass country was suspended from a propped-up wagon-tongue. [3]

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