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Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 13103

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Jack Roberts did not leave town inconspicuously with his prisoner in the middle of the night. He made instead a public exit, for Captain Ellison wanted to show the Panhandle that the law could reach out and get the Dinsmores just as it could any other criminals. With his handcuffed captive on a horse beside him, the Ranger rode down to the post-office just before the stage left. Already the word had spread that one of the Dinsmores had been taken by an officer. Now the town gathered to see the notorious "bad-man" and his tamer.

Dinsmore faced the curious crowd with a defiant sneer, but he was burning with rage and humiliation. He and his crowd had carried things with a high hand. They were not only outlaws; they were "bad-men" in the frontier sense of the word. They had shot down turbulent citizens who disputed their sway. Pete and Homer especially had won reputations as killers, and game men sidestepped them rather than deny their claims. Yet twice within a month this smooth-faced boy had crossed their path and bested them. The pride of Homer Dinsmore was galled to the quick. He would have given all he had to "get a lick at" the Ranger now before all these people.

Tascosa watched the young officer and his captive from a distance. The townsfolk offered no audible comment on the situation, either by way of approval or disapproval. The fear of the outlaws had been too long over them. This was not the end of the matter. It was still a good betting proposition that some one of the gang would "get" this jaunty youth before he was much older.

But it is certain that the arrest he had made single-handed had its effect. It is inevitable that a frontier camp shall some day discard its wild youth and put on the sobriety of a settled community. Was this time at hand for the Panhandle?

A rider galloped out of town after the horsemen. The Ranger turned to face him and made sure that the rifle beneath his leg would slip easily from its scabbard. An attempt at a rescue was always a possibility on the cards.

The man drew his cow-pony up beside them.

"'Evenin', Mr. Man-in-a-Hurry. Lookin' for anybody in particular?" asked the red-haired Ranger, his chill eyes fixed on the stranger.

"For you. I want to help guard your prisoner to Mobeetie."

"Much obliged," answered Roberts dryly. "Am I needin' help?"

"You may. You've got to sleep. Let me ride with you."

The brain of Jack Roberts began to register a memory. This young fellow was in ragged jeans and a butternut shirt. His hair was long and unkempt. He looked haggard and ill-fed. But he was the same youth the Ranger had glimpsed for a moment in the bravery of fine clothes and gay address on the day of the bulldogging. Jack remembered his promise to Ramona Wadley.

"Fine! Come along. We'll take watch and watch through the night," he told the boy.

Homer Dinsmore's teeth drew back in a derisive snarl. "Want company again on the trip so's you won't be robbed, Mr. Ridley?"

The Easterner did not answer, but color flushed his face at the taunt.

Roberts offered a comment on his behalf:

"Ridley was young then. He's gettin' older every day. I notice he didn't ask for company when he flung himself down over Clint Wadley's body to protect it from the bullets of a killer."

All afternoon they followed the Canadian River as it wound to the east. They made camp beside it at night, cooking the coffee on a fire of buffalo chips. Jerked beef and hardtack, washed down with coffee, was their fare.

Dinsmore had fallen into a sullen silence, but the other two carried on desultory talk. The two young fellows were not very comfortable in each other's society; they did not understand the mental habits of each other. But Jack maintained a cheerful friendliness to which Arthur responded gratefully. Behind the curtain of their talk was a girl. The spell of her was on them both. Each of them could see her in the coals of the fire, light-footed and slim, with shy eyes tender and shining. But neither of them drew the curtain to their deeper thoughts.

After they had eaten, the Ranger handcuffed his prisoner and pegged him down loosely. He put out the fire, for he did not want the location of the camp to be betrayed by smoke. He gave Ridley the first watch-because it was the easier of the two. With a saddle for a pillow and a slicker for a blanket, he lay down beneath the stars and fell asleep. Once, in his dreams, he thought he heard the sound of beating drums. When he wakened at the time set, the night was still. The prisoner was sound asleep, and Ridley, propped against his saddle, was keeping vigilant watch.

Robert mentioned his fancy about the drums.

Arthur smiled. "Before Dinsmore turned over he was snoring like a far-away thunder-storm. I expect that's what you heard."

Jack roused the others as soon as the promise of day was in the sky. By sunup they were ready to travel.

There was a bluff back of the camp that gave an outlook over the country. The Ranger left his prisoner in the care of Arthur while he climbed to its summit for a glance up and down the river. He knew that the Mexican girl would get word to the friends of her sweetheart that he had been arrested. There was a chance that they might already be close. Anyhow, it would do no harm to see. If he had not taken that precaution undoubtedly all three of the party would have been dead inside of half an hour.

For the first sweeping glance of the Ranger showed him a tragedy. The valley was filled with Indians. Apparently as yet they did not know that any white men were in the neighborhood, for the smoke was beginning to rise from morning fires. In a little pocket, just off from the camp, their ponies were herded. At the opposite side were a dozen ox-wagons grouped together in a circle to form a corral. The tongue of the nearest wagon was propped up by a yoke, and across it was the naked body of a man who had been crucified and tortured. The other drivers of the freight outfit were nowhere in sight. Either they were lying dead behind the wagons, or they had escaped on horseback.

The Ranger drew back at once from the bluff. He knew that probably he had been seen by the Indian lookouts; if he and his party were going to get away, it must be done quickly. He ran down the hill to his companions.

"Indians-Kiowas-hundreds of them," he explained. "They've captured a freight outfit and killed the drivers. We'll cross the river below their camp if we can." As he spoke, he was busy unlocking the handcuffs of th

e prisoner. To Dinsmore he gave a revolver.

It seemed to Ridley that his heart was pumping water. Death with torture was the punishment given captives by the plains Indians. He knew he must be ghastly white, but he said nothing.

The three men rode out of the ravine to the river. Already they could hear the yelling of the Kiowas a few hundred yards above. A moment later they caught sight of the savages pouring down the bank. Those in front were on foot. Others farther back, on the round-bellied Indian ponies, were galloping to catch up.

Half a mile farther down, there was a break in the river-bank which offered a better chance for crossing. The stream there broadened, cut in two by a little island. The three riders gained on their pursuers. Bullets whistled past them, but they did not stop to exchange shots. When they reached the place Jack had chosen to cross, they were four or five hundred yards ahead of the leading Indians.

They splashed into the water. Here it was shallow, but along the edge of the island the current was running swift. The Kiowas, following the fugitives down the bank, kept up a scattering fire. The bullets struck the water on all sides of the three moving targets. Arthur was on the right, closest to the Indians. A little ahead of him was Dinsmore. Farther over, the Ranger's horse was already breasting the deep water.

Roberts heard young Ridley cry: "He's hit!"

The Ranger turned his head. His prisoner was sagging in the saddle. Arthur was riding beside the wounded man and trying to support him.

Jack drew up his horse, holding it strongly against the current, until the others were abreast of him.

"We've got to swim for it," he called across to Ridley. "I'll get him if he slips out of the saddle before we reach shore."

The horses swam side by side. Roberts encouraged Dinsmore, riding knee to knee with him. "Just a little way now. Stick it out.... We're right close to the bank.... Grab the horn tight."

As Dinsmore slid into the water Jack caught him by the hair of the head. The swift water, racing fast round the shoulder of the island, tugged mightily at him. But the body of the Ranger's horse was a barrier to keep the unconscious man from being swept downstream, and the fingers of the rider clung to the thick black hair like steel clamps.

They reached shallow water. The Ranger swung from the saddle and carried Dinsmore up through the thicket that edged the bank. The horses clambered up without guidance, and Ridley drove them into the big rocks, where they would be better protected from the shots of the Indians.

The Ranger chose the best cover available near the head of the island and put the wounded man down gently on the ground. Already the Kiowas were halfway across the river. Jack counted twenty of them on horseback in the water.

"Can you shoot?" he asked his companion.

Ridley was behind a rock around which bushes grew thick. "B-better than I could." He was shaking with excitement.

"You can't miss 'em. We've got 'em right this time."

Jack fired. An Indian plunged headfirst into the water like a stone from a sling. A moment later his body could be seen swirling in the swift current. A second shot shook the death scream from the throat of another brave.

Twice Arthur missed.

"You've got buck-fever. Try for the horses," suggested the Texan. A moment later he gave a little whoop of encouragement. The naked shining body of a Kiowa had collapsed on the bare back of a pony. Ridley at last had scored.

Instantly the nervousness of the Easterner disappeared. His shooting had not the deadly accuracy of Roberts, but he was a good marksman, and at this close-range work his forty-five-seventy did clean work.

The Texan did not miss a shot. He picked the leaders and took his time. A third, a fourth, and a fifth brave went sliding from the backs of the swimming ponies.

The Kiowas broke under the deadly fire. Those not yet in the deep water turned and made for the shore from which they had come. The others gave with the current and drifted past the island, their bodies hanging from the far side of the ponies.

The whites on the island shot at the horses. More than one redskin, unable to get out of the current after his pony had been shot, floated down the river for miles before the body was found by his tribe.

"We got either nine or ten," said the Ranger. "They'll never try another attack from that bank. Probably they'll surround the island to starve us."

He put down his rifle and opened the shirt of the wounded man. Dinsmore had been shot in the back, above the heart. Jack washed out the wound and bound it up as best he could. The outlaw might live, or he might not-assuming that the party would escape from the savages.

Jack knew that this was an assumption not likely to be fulfilled. His guess was that there were four or five hundred of the Kiowas. They would immediately post a line of guards on both sides of the river. There was a chance that a man on a fast horse might make a get-away if he left at once. He proposed to Ridley that he try this.

"Will you go too?" asked Arthur.

The Ranger shook his head. "Got to stay with my prisoner."

"I'll stay too."

"If you were to make it, you could send me help."

"Think I could get away?"

The Westerner pointed to two Indians who were swimming the river below out of rifle-shot. "I doubt it. You might fight yore way through, but they'd likely get you."

"I'll stick it out here, then."

In his heart Arthur knew that he was not staying to face the danger with the Texan. When once he had got over his panic, he had fought coolly enough under the eye of his companion, but he lacked the stark courage to face the chances of that long ride alone for help.

"I reckon it's too late, anyhow," agreed Roberts. He shrugged his shoulders. "It's a toss-up, either way. But we'll sure send a few to their happy hunting-grounds before we take our long journey."

"You think-" Arthur let his fear-filled eyes finish the question.

The Ranger smiled wryly. "Yore guess is as good as mine. I'll say this: I've been in tight holes before an' came through O. K. I'll back my luck to stand up this time too."

Arthur looked into the brown face of this spare, clear-eyed youth and felt that he would give his hopes of heaven for such gameness. They had not one chance in ten thousand to escape, but the sheer nerve of the boy held him as cool and easy as though he were sauntering down the main street at Clarendon.

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