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   Chapter 19 TRAPPED

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 10589

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The territory which Captain Ellison had to cover to find the Dinsmore gang was as large as Maine. Over this country the buffalo-hunter had come and gone; the cattleman was coming and intended to stay. Large stretches of it were entirely uninhabited; here and there sod or adobe houses marked where hardy ranchers had located on the creeks; and in a few places small settlements dotted the vast prairies.

There were in those days three towns in the Panhandle. If you draw a line due east from Tascosa, it will pass very close to Mobeetie, a hundred miles away. Clarendon is farther to the south. In the seventies Amarillo was only what Jumbo Wilkins would have called "a whistlin'-post in the desert," a place where team outfits camped because water was handy. The official capital of the Panhandle was Mobeetie, the seat of government of Wheeler County, to which were attached for judicial purposes more than a score of other counties not yet organized or even peopled.

To the towns of the Panhandle were drifting in cowboys, freighters, merchants, gamblers, cattle outfits, and a few rustlers from Colorado, New Mexico, and the more settled parts of Texas. They were the hardier sons of an adventurous race, for each man had to make good his footing by his own strength. At first there had been no law except that which lay in the good-will of men, and the holster by their side. The sheriff of Wheeler County had neither the deputies nor the financial backing to carry justice into the mesquite. Game gunmen served as marshals in the towns, but these had no authority on the plains. Until Captain Ellison and his little company of Rangers moved into the district there had been no way of taking law into the chaparral. The coming of these quiet men in buckskin was notice to the bad-man that murder and robbery were not merely pleasant pastimes.

Yet it would be easy to overstate the lawlessness of the Panhandle. There were bad men. Every frontier of civilization has them. But of all the great cattle country which stretched from Mexico to the Canadian line none had a finer or more orderly citizenry than this. The country was notably free of the bloodshed which drenched such places as Dodge City to the east or Lincoln County, New Mexico, to the west of the Panhandle.

Ellison wanted the Dinsmores, not because he believed he could yet hang any serious crime on them but for the moral effect upon them and the community. Clint Wadley had gone looking for trouble and had been wounded in consequence. No Texas jury would convict on that count. But it was not a conviction the fire-eating little Captain wanted just now. He intended to show that his boys could go out and arrest the Dinsmores or any other lawbreakers, whenever the occasion called for it. It might take them a week or a month or six months, but they would bag their game in the end. The rule of the Texas Rangers was to sleep on a man's trail until they found him.

The Captain stationed a man at each of the three towns. He sent two on a scouting-trip through No Man's Land, and two more to search Palo Duro Ca?on. He watched the stages as they went and came, questioned mule-skinners with freight outfits, kept an eye on tendejóns and feed-corrals. And at the end of three weeks he had no results whatever to show, except a sarcastic note from Pete Dinsmore complimenting him on his force of Rangers.

The Captain was furious, but not a whit discouraged.

"Dog it, we'll fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," he told Lieutenant Hawley, his second in command.

To them came Jack Roberts with a proposition. "I've found out that Homer Dinsmore has a girl in Tascosa. She's a Mexican. I know about her through Tony Alviro. It seems she's a cousin of Bonita, the girl Tony is going to marry. About once a week Dinsmore rides into town at night, ties his horse in the brush back of her house, and goes in to see her. If you say so, Chief, I'll make it my business to be there when he comes."

"Need any help, do you reckon?"

"No. I'll have to hide out in the mesquite. One man will be better on that job than two."

"All right, son. You know yore job. Get him."

That was all the warrant Jack wanted or needed. He returned to Tascosa and made his preparations.

Every night after dark he slipped out of town by the north road till he was on the open prairie, then swung round in a semicircle skirting the lights of the settlement. He had arranged a blind in the brush from which he could see the back of the Menendez "soddy." Occasionally he comforted himself with a cautiously smoked cigarette, but mostly he lay patiently watching the trap that was to lure his prey. At one o'clock each morning he rose, returned on his beat, went to bed, and fell instantly asleep.

On the fifth night there was a variation of the programme.

It was between nine and ten o'clock that Jack heard the hoot of an owl. He sat up instantly, eyes and ears keyed for action.

The back door of the sod-house opened, and through the night stillness floated the faint strumming of a guitar. Jack did not doubt that it was the answering signal to show that all was safe.

A man crept forward from the mesquite and disappeared inside the house.

Through the brush the Ranger snaked his way to the

point from which the hooting of the owl had come. A bronco was tethered to a bush. An examination showed that the horse had been ridden far, but not too fast.

Jack was satisfied the man had come alone.

A faint trail wound in and out among the mesquite and the cactus to the house. Beside this trail, behind a clump of prickly pear, the Ranger sat down and waited. The hour-hand of his watch crept to ten, to eleven, to twelve. Roberts rose occasionally, stretched himself to avoid any chance of cramped muscles, and counted stars by way of entertainment. He had spent more diverting evenings, but there was a good chance that the fag end of this one would be lively enough to compensate.

Shortly after midnight a shaft of light reached out from the house into the desert. The back door had opened. A woman came out, took a few steps forward, peered about her, and called that all was clear. A man followed. The two stood talking for a minute in low tones; then the man kissed her and turned briskly toward the brush. According to the Ranger's programme the girl should have returned to the house, but instead she waited in the moonlight to see the last of her lover. When he waved an arm to her and cried "Buenos noches, chachita," she threw him a kiss across the starlit prairie.

Intent on his good-night, the man missed the ill-defined trail that led to his horse and zigzagged through the brush at another angle. The Ranger, light-footed as a cat, moved forward noiselessly to intercept him, crouching low and taking advantage of all the cover he could find. Luck was with him. Dinsmore strode within a yard of the kneeling man without a suspicion of danger.

A powerful forearm slid out from the brush. Sinewy fingers caught the far ankle of the moving man. One strong pull sent Dinsmore off his balance. The outlaw clutched wildly at the air and came crashing down. He fell into a bush of catclaw cactus.

The Ranger was on him like a wildcat. Before his victim could make a move to defend himself, Jack had the man handcuffed with his arms behind him.

Dinsmore, his face in the catclaw, gave a smothered cry for help. From where he was, the Ranger could not see the house, but he heard the excited voice of the woman, the sound of a commotion, and the beat of rapid footsteps.

An excited voice called: "Quién es?"

The trapped man wanted to explain, but his captor rubbed the face of the outlaw deeper into the torturing spines of the cactus.

"Don't ask any questions," advised Roberts. "Get back into the house pronto. The Rangers have taken Dinsmore. Unless you're lookin' for trouble, you'd better vamos."

Evidently two or three Mexicans had run out to the rescue. Jack could hear them discussing the situation in whispers. He had them at a double disadvantage. They did not know how many Rangers lay in the mesquite; nor did they want to fall foul of them in any case. The men drew back slowly, still in excited talk among themselves, and disappeared inside the house. The woman protested volubly and bitterly till the closing of the door stifled her voice.

Jack pulled his prisoner to a more comfortable position.

"Sorry you fell into the catclaw, Dinsmore," he said. "If you'll stand hitched, I'll draw the spine from your face."

The man cursed him savagely.

"All right," said the Ranger amiably. "If you want 'em as souvenirs, I'll not object. Suits me if it does you. We'll go now."

He tied to the handcuffs the end of the lariat which was attached to the saddle. The other end he fastened to the pommel.

"I'll not go a step with you," growled Dinsmore.

"Oh, yes, you'd better step along. I'd hate to have to drag you through this brush. It's some rough."

The Ranger swung to the saddle. The bronco answered the pressure of the rider's knee and began to move. The lariat jerked tight. Sullenly Dinsmore yielded.

But his spirit was unbroken. As he stumbled along in front of the horse, he filled the night with raucous oaths.

"Take these cuffs off'n me and come down from that horse," he stormed. "Do that, and I'll beat off yore head."

The man on horseback smiled. "You're the laziest fellow I ever did see, Dinsmore," he drawled. "The last fellow that licked me pulled me from the saddle."

"Just let me get a lick at you," pleaded the outlaw. "I'll give you that bronc you're ridin' if you'll stand up to me man to man."

"Can't do it. I'm here for business an' not for pleasure. Sorry."

"You've got no right to arrest me. What's the charge?"

"I've forgot whether it's brand-burning, highway robbery, murder, or mayhem-any old crime would fit you."

"You've got no evidence."

"Mebbeso, mebbe not," answered the Ranger lightly. "Cap Ellison said he'd like to have a squint at you, anyhow, so I said I'd fetch you along. No trouble a-tall to show goods."

The outlaw bared his tobacco-stained teeth in a sudden fury of rage. "Some day I'll gun you right for this."

The narrow-loined youth with the well-packed shoulders looked down at him, and the eyes of the officer were hard and steady as steel.

"Dinsmore," he said, "we're goin' to put you an' yore outfit out o' business in the Panhandle. Your day is done. You've run on the rope long enough. I'll live to see you hanged-an' soon."

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