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   Chapter 15 A CLOSE SHAVE

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 11315

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Ranger opened the door of the "soddy," stepped through, and closed it behind him. Jeers, threats, bits of advice greeted him from those in front of the jail.

"Better p'int for the hills, Mr. Ranger." ... "A whole passel of sheriffs can't save the greaser." ... "Don't you-all try an' stop us if you know what's good for you." ... "Skedaddle while yore skin's whole." ... "It's the Mexican, anyhow; it's him an' you too, if you show fight."

The lean-flanked young Ranger looked them over coolly. Men were coming in driblets from the main street. Already perhaps there were a hundred and fifty men and boys in sight. They were the advance guard of the gathering mob.

Never in his gusty lifetime had Jack Roberts been more master of himself. He had that rare temperament which warms to danger. He stood there bareheaded, his crisp, curly bronze hair reflecting the glow of the setting sun, one hand thrust carelessly into his trousers pocket.

"Give up yore prisoner, an' we won't hurt you. We got nothin' against you," a voice cried.

Jack did not answer. His left hand came out of the pocket bringing with it half a dozen silver dollars. Simultaneously the nose of his revolver flashed into sight. A dollar went up into the air. The revolver cracked. The coin, struck by the bullet in its descent, was flung aside at an angle. Dollar after dollar went up and was hurled from its course as the weapon barked. Out of six shots the Ranger missed only one.

It was marvelous marksmanship, but it did not in the least cow those who saw the exhibition. They were frontiersmen themselves, many of them crack shots, and they knew that one man could do nothing against several hundred. Their taunts followed Roberts as he stepped back into the sod-house.

Jack reloaded his revolver and joined the Mexican. "All ready, Tony. We're off soon as I've put the cuffs on you," he said briskly.

"Don' handcuff me, se?or. Give me a gun an' a chance for my life," begged Alviro. He was trembling like an aspen leaf in a summer breeze.

The Ranger shook his head. "No, Tony. If you weren't wearin' cuffs they'd think I meant to turn you loose. You wouldn't have a chance. I'm the law, an' you're my prisoner. That's goin' to help pull us through. Brace up, boy. I've got an ace up my sleeve you don't know about."

A minute later a great yell of triumph rose in the air. The door of the sod-house had opened, and the Ranger and his prisoner stood in front of it. The mob pushed closer, uncertain as to what its next move would be. Had Roberts brought out the Mexican with the intention of making a merely formal resistance?

Pete Dinsmore, just arrived on the scene at the head of a group from the saloons, shouldered his way to the front.

"We'll take care of yore prisoner now, Mr. Ranger. Much obliged for savin' us the trouble of tearin' down the soddy," he called jubilantly.

"You got more sense an' less grit than I figured you had," jeered Gurley. "Now light a shuck back to Mobeetie an' write a report on it."

Roberts waited, silent and motionless, for the tumult to die. Only his eyes and his brain were active. Homer Dinsmore was in the crowd, well to the front. So were Jumbo Wilkins, Clint Wadley, and half a dozen other line-riders and cowmen, all grouped together to the left. Fifty yards back of them a group of saddled horses waited.

The shouting spent itself. The motionless figure beside the pallid Mexican excited curiosity. Did he mean to give up his prisoner without a fight? That was not the usual habit of the Texas Ranger.

With his left hand Jack drew from a coat-pocket some dark sticks a few inches long. A second time his six-shooter leaped from its scabbard.

"Look out for his cutter!"[4] yelled Gurley.

The voice of Wadley boomed out harsh and strong, so that every man present heard what he said. "Gad, he's got dynamite!"

The revolvers of the two Dinsmores were already out. They had moved forward a step or two, crouching warily, eyes narrowed and steady. If this brash young Ranger wanted a fight he could have it on the jump. But at Wadley's shout they stopped abruptly. The owner of the A T O was right. The fool officer had several sticks of dynamite in his hand tied together loosely by a string.

The crowd had been edging forward. There was no break in it now, but one could see a kind of uneasy ripple, almost as though it held its mob breath tensely and waited to see what was to come.

"He's got no fuse!" screamed Gurley.

"Here's my fuse," retorted the Ranger. He held up his revolver so that all could see. "I'm goin' to fling this dynamite at the first man who tries to stop me an' hit it while it's in the air close to his head. Come on, Tony. We're on our way."

He moved slowly forward. The Dinsmores stood fast, but the crowd sagged. As the Ranger got closer there was a sudden break. Men began to scramble for safety.

"Look out, Dinsmore," an excited voice cried. It belonged to Jumbo Wilkins. "He'll blow you to hell an' back."

Both of the Dinsmores had a reputation for gameness in a country where the ordinary citizen was of proved courage. With revolvers or rifles they would have fought against odds, had done it more than once. But dynamite was a weapon to which they were not used. It carried with it the terror of an instant death which would leave them no chance to strike back. Very slowly at first, a step at a time, they gave ground.

Roberts, as he moved with his prisoner, edged toward Wadley and his group. He knew he had won, that the big cattleman and his friends would close behind him in apparent slow pursuit, so adroitly as to form a shi

eld between him and the mob and thus prevent a rifle-shot from cutting him down. The horses were in sight scarce half a hundred yards away.

And in the moment of victory he shaved disaster. From the right there came the pad of light, running feet and the rustle of skirts.

"Goddlemighty, it's 'Mona!" cried Wadley, aghast.

It was. Ramona had known that something was in the air when the Ranger and her father held their conference in front of the house. Her aunt had commented on the fact that Clint had taken from the wall a sawed-off shotgun he sometimes carried by his saddle. The girl had waited, desperately anxious, until she could stand suspense no longer. Bareheaded, she had slipped out of the house and hurried toward the jail in time to see the Ranger facing alone an angry mob. Without thought of danger to herself she had run forward to join him.

Homer Dinsmore gave a whoop of triumph and rushed forward. The Ranger could not play with dynamite when the life of Wadley's daughter was at stake. His brother, Gurley, a dozen others, came close at his heels, just behind Ramona.

The Ranger dropped the black sticks into his pocket and backed away, screening his prisoner as he did so. The ex-Confederate who had come up on the stage was standing beside Wadley. He let out the old yell of his war days and plunged forward.

The Dinsmores bumped into the surprise of their lives. Somehow the man upon whom they had almost laid clutches was out of reach. Between him and them was a line of tough old-timers with drawn guns.

The owner of the A T O handed his sawed-off shotgun to Jumbo Wilkins, caught Ramona round the shoulders with one arm, and ran her hurriedly out of the danger-zone.

Joe Johnston's old trooper pushed the end of his rifle urgently against Homer Dinsmore's ribs. "Doggone it, don't be so rampageous! Keep back ther! This gun's liable to go off."

"What's ailin' you?" snarled Gurley. "Ain't you goin' to help us string up the Mexican?"

"No, Steve. Our intentions is otherwise," replied Jumbo with a grin. "An' don't any of you-all come closeter. This sawed-off shotgun of Clint's is loaded with buckshot, an' she spatters all over the State of Texas."

The little posse round the prisoner backed steadily to the left. Not till they were almost at the horses did Dinsmore's mob guess the intentions of the Ranger.

Pete gave a howl of rage and let fly a bullet at Alviro. Before the sound of the shot had died away, the outlaw dropped his revolver with an oath. The accurate answering fire of Roberts had broken his wrist.

"No use, Pete," growled his brother. "They've got the deadwood on us to-day. But I reckon there are other days comin'."

Homer Dinsmore was right. The mob had melted away like a small snowbank in a hot sun. It was one thing to help lynch a defenseless Mexican; it was quite another to face nine or ten determined men backing the law. Scarce a score of the vigilantes remained, and most of them were looking for a chance to save their faces "without starting anything," as Jumbo put it later.

The lynching-party stood sullenly at a distance and watched the Ranger, his prisoner, and three other men mount the horses. The rest of the posse covered the retreat of the horsemen.

Just before the riders left, Jumbo asked a question that had been disturbing him. "Say, Tex, honest Injun, would you 'a' fired off that dynamite if it had come to a showdown?"

Roberts laughed. He drew from his pocket the sticks, tossed them into the air, and took a quick shot with his revolver.

For a moment not a soul in the posse nor one of Dinsmore's watching vigilantes drew a breath. Not one had time to move in self-defense.

The bullet hit its mark. All present saw the little spasmodic jerk of the bundle in the air. But there was no explosion. The dynamite fell harmlessly to the ground.

The old Confederate stepped forward and picked up the bundle. He examined it curiously, then let out a whoop of joyous mirth.

"Nothin' but painted sticks! Son, you're sure a jim-dandy! Take off yore hats, boys, to the man that ran a bluff on the Dinsmore outfit an' made a pair of deuces stick against a royal flush."

He tossed the bits of wood across to Pete Dinsmore, who caught the bundle and looked down at it with a sinister face of evil. This boy had out-maneuvered, outgamed, and outshot him. Dinsmore was a terror in the land, a bad-man known and feared widely. Mothers, when they wanted to frighten their children, warned them to behave, or the Dinsmore gang would get them. Law officers let these outlaws alone on one pretext or another. But lately a company of the Texas Rangers had moved up into the Panhandle. This young cub had not only thrown down the gauntlet to him; he had wounded him, thwarted him, laughed at him, and made a fool of him. The prestige he had built up so carefully was shaken.

The black eyes of the outlaw blazed in their deep sockets. "By God, young fellow, it's you or me next time we meet. I'll learn you that no scrub Ranger can cross Pete Dinsmore an' get away with it. This ain't the first time you've run on the rope with me. I've had more 'n plenty of you."

The riders were moving away, but Jack Roberts turned in the saddle, one hand on the rump of the bronco.

"It won't be the last time either, Dinsmore. You look like any other cheap cow-thief to me. The Rangers are going to bring law to this country. Tell yore friends they'll live longer if they turn honest men."

The Ranger put spurs to his horse and galloped after his posse.

In the early days in Texas a revolver was sometimes called a "cutter." [4]

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