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   Chapter 16 WADLEY GOES HOME IN A BUCKBOARD

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 11606

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Clint Wadley took his daughter to the end of the street where his sister lived, blowing her up like a Dutch uncle every foot of the way. The thing she had done had violated his sense of the proprieties and he did not hesitate to tell her so. He was the more unrestrained in his scolding because for a few moments his heart had stood still at the danger in which she had placed herself.

"If you was just a little younger I'd sure enough paddle you. Haven't you been brought up a-tall? Did you grow up like Topsy, without any folks? Don't you know better than to mix up in men's affairs an' git yoreself talked about?" he spluttered.

Ramona hung her head and accepted his reproaches humbly. It was easy for her to believe that she had been immodest and forward in her solicitude. Probably Mr. Roberts-and everybody else, for that matter-thought she could not be a nice girl, since she had been so silly.

"You go home an' stay there," continued Clint severely. "Don't you poke yore head outside the door till I come back. I'll not have you traipsing around this-a-way. Hear me, honey?"

"Yes, Dad," she murmured through the tears that were beginning to come.

"I reckon, when it comes to standin' off a crowd o' hoodlums, I don't need any help from a half-grown little squab like you. I been too easy on you. That's what ails you."

Ramona had not a word to say for herself. She crept into the house and up to her room, flung herself on the bed and burst into a passion of weeping. Why had she made such an exhibition of herself? She was ashamed in every fiber of her being. Not only had she disgraced herself, but also her father and her aunt.

Meanwhile her father was on his way back downtown. In spite of his years the cattleman was hot-headed. He had something to say to Pete Dinsmore. If it led to trouble Wadley would be more than content, for he believed now that the Dinsmore gang-or some one of them acting in behalf of all-had murdered his son, and he would not rest easy until he had avenged the boy.

The Dinsmores were not at the Silver Dollar nor at the Bird Cage. A lounger at the bar of the latter told the owner of the A T O that they had gone to the corral for their horses. He had heard them say they were going to leave town.

The cattleman followed them to the corral they frequented. Pete Dinsmore was saddling his horse in front of the stable. The others were not in sight, but a stable boy in ragged jeans was working over some harness near the door.

Dinsmore sulkily watched Wadley approach. He was in a sour and sullen rage. One of the privileges of a "bad-man" is to see others step softly and speak humbly in his presence. But to-day a young fellow scarcely out of his teens had made him look like a fool. Until he had killed Roberts, the chief of the outlaws would never be satisfied, nor would his prestige be what it had been. It had been the interference of Wadley and his crowd that had saved the Ranger from him, and he was ready to vent his anger on the cattleman if he found a good chance.

The outlaw knew well enough that he could not afford to quarrel with the owner of the A T O. There was nothing to gain by it and everything to lose, for even if the cattleman should be killed in a fair fight, the Rangers would eventually either shoot the Dinsmores or run them out of the country. But Pete was beyond reason just now. He was like a man with a toothache who grinds on his sore molar in the intensity of his pain.

"I've come to tell you somethin', Dinsmore," said Wadley harshly.

"Come to apologize for throwin' me down, I reckon. You needn't. I'm through with you."

"I'm not through with you. What I want to say is that you're a dog. No, you're worse than any hound I ever knew; you're a yellow wolf."

"What's that?" cried the bad-man, astounded. His uninjured hand crept to a revolver-butt.

"I believe in my soul that you murdered my boy."

"You're crazy, man-locoed sure enough. The Mexican-"

"Is a witness against you. When you heard that he had followed Ford that night, you got to worryin'. You didn't know how much he had seen. So you decided to play safe an' lynch him, you hellhound."

"Where did you dream that stuff, Wadley?" demanded Dinsmore, eyes narrowed wrathfully.

"I didn't dream it, any more than I dreamed that you followed Ford from the cap-rock where you hole up, an' shot him from behind at Battle Butte."

"That's war talk, Wadley. I've just got one word to say to it. You're a liar. Come a-shootin', soon as you're ready."

"That's now."

The cattleman reached for his forty-five, but before he could draw, a shot rang out from the corral. Wadley staggered forward a step or two and collapsed.

Pete did not relax his wariness. He knew that one of the gang had shot Wadley, but he did not yet know how badly the man was hurt. From his place behind the horse he took a couple of left-handed shots across the saddle at the helpless man. The cattleman raised himself on an elbow, but fell back with a grunt.

The position of Dinsmore was an awkward one to fire from. Without lifting his gaze from the victim, he edged slowly round the bronco.

There was a shout of terror, a sudden rush of hurried feet. The stableboy had flung himself down on Wadley in such a way as to protect the prostrate body with his own.

"Git away from there!" ordered the outlaw, his face distorted with the lust for blood that comes to the man-killer.

"No. You've done enough harm. Let him alone!" cried the boy wildly.

The young fellow was gaunt and ragged. A thin beard straggled over the boyish face. The lips were bloodless, and the eyes filled with fear. But he made no move to scramble for safety. It was plain that in spite of his paralyzing horror he meant to stick where he was.

Din

smore's lip curled cruelly. He hesitated. This boy was the only witness against him. Why not make a clean job of it and wipe him out too? He fired-and missed; Pete was not an expert left-hand shot.

"Look out, Pete. Men comin' down the road," called the other Dinsmore from the gate of the corral.

Pete looked and saw two riders approaching. It was too late now to make sure of Wadley or to silence the wrangler. He shoved his revolver back into its place and swung to the saddle.

"Was it you shot Wadley?" he asked his brother.

"Yep, an none too soon. He was reachin' for his six-shooter."

"The fool would have it. Come, let's burn the wind out of here before a crowd gathers."

Gurley and a fourth man joined them. The four galloped down the road and disappeared in a cloud of white dust.

A moment later Jumbo Wilkins descended heavily from his horse. Quint Sullivan, another rider for the A T O, was with him.

The big line-rider knelt beside his employer and examined the wound. "Hit once-in the side," he pronounced.

"Will-will he live?" asked the white-faced stableboy.

"Don't know. But he's a tough nut, Clint is. He's liable to be cussin' out the boys again in a month or two."

Wadley opened his eyes. "You're damn' whistlin', Jumbo. Get me to my sister's."

Quint, a black-haired youth of twenty, gave a repressed whoop. "One li'l' bit of a lead pill can't faze the boss. They took four or five cracks at him an' didn't hit but once. That's plumb lucky."

"It would 'a' been luckier if they hadn't hit him at all, Quint," answered Jumbo dryly. "You fork yore hawss, son, an' go git Doc Bridgman. An' you-whatever they call you, Mr. Hawss-rustler-harness a team to that buckboard."

Jumbo, with the expertness of an old-timer who had faced emergencies of this kind before, bound up the wound temporarily. The stable-rustler hitched a team, covered the bottom of the buckboard with hay, and helped Wilkins lift the wounded man to it.

Clint grinned faintly at the white-faced boy beside him. A flicker of recognition lighted his eyes. "You look like you'd seen a ghost, Ridley. Close call for both of us, eh? Lucky that Ranger plugged Dinsmore in the shootin' arm. Pete's no two-gun man. Can't shoot for sour apples with his left hand. Kicked up dust all around us, an' didn't score once."

"Quit yore talkin', Clint," ordered Jumbo.

"All right, Doc." The cattleman turned to Ridley. "Run ahead, boy, an' prepare' Mona so's she won't be scared plumb to death. Tell her it's only a triflin' flesh-wound. Keep her busy fixin' up a bed for me-an' bandages. Don't let her worry. See?"

Ridley had come to town only two days before. Ever since the robbery he had kept a lone camp on Turkey Creek. There was plenty of game for the shooting, and in that vast emptiness of space he could nurse his wounded self-respect. But he had run out of flour and salt. Because Tascosa was farther from the A T O ranch than Clarendon he had chosen it as a point to buy supplies. The owner of the corral had offered him a job, and he had taken it. He had not supposed that Ramona was within a hundred miles of the spot. The last thing in the world he wanted was to meet her, but there was no help for it now.

Her aunt carried to Ramona the word that a man was waiting outside with a message from her father. When she came down the porch steps, there were still traces of tear-stains on her cheeks. In the gathering dusk she did not at first recognize the man at the gate. She moved forward doubtfully, a slip of a slender-limbed girl, full of the unstudied charm and grace of youth.

Halfway down the path she stopped, her heart beating a little faster. Could this wan and ragged man with the unkempt beard be Art Ridley, always so careful of his clothes and his personal appearance? She was a child of impulse. Her sympathy went out to him with a rush, and she streamed down the path to meet him. A strong, warm little hand pressed his. A flash of soft eyes irradiated him. On her lips was the tender smile that told him she was still his friend.

"Where in the world have you been?" she cried. "And what have you been doing to yourself?"

His blood glowed at the sweetness of her generosity.

"I've been-camping."

With the shyness and the boldness of a child she pushed home her friendliness. "Why don't you ever come to see a fellow any more?"

He did not answer that, but plunged at his mission. "Miss Ramona, I've got bad news for you. Your father has been hurt-not very badly, I think. He told me to tell you that the wound was only a slight one."

'Mona went white to the lips. "How?" she whispered.

"The Dinsmores shot him. The men are bringing him here."

He caught her in his arms as she reeled. For a moment her little head lay against his shoulder and her heart beat against his.

"A trifling flesh-wound, your father called it," went on Ridley. "He said you were to get a bed ready for him, and fix bandages."

She steadied herself and beat back the wave of weakness that had swept over her.

"Yes," she said. "I'll tell Aunt. Have they sent for the doctor?"

"Quint Sullivan went."

A wagon creaked. 'Mona flew into the house to tell her aunt, and out again to meet her father. Her little ankles flashed down the road. Agile as a boy, she climbed into the back of the buckboard.

"Oh, Dad!" she cried in a broken little voice, and her arms went round him in a passion of love.

He was hurt worse than he was willing to admit to her.

"It's all right, honeybug. Doc Bridgman will fix me up fine. Yore old dad is a mighty live sinner yet."

Ridley helped Jumbo carry the cattleman into the house. As he came out, the doctor passed him going in.

Ridley slipped away in the gathering darkness and disappeared.

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