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   Chapter 24 TEX BORROWS A BLACKSNAKE

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 8193

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Dinsmore recovered from his wound and was held prisoner by Captain Ellison for a month after he was well. Then the ranger captain dismissed the man with a warning.

"Skedaddle, you damn jayhawker," was his cavalier farewell. "But listen. If ever I get the deadwood on you an' yore outfit, I'll sure put you through. You know me, Dinsmore. I went through the war. For two years I took the hides off'n 'em.[5] I'm one of the lads that knocked the bark off this country. An' I've got the best bunch of man-hunters you ever did see. I'm not braggin'. I'm tellin' you that my boys will make you look like a plugged nickel if you don't get shet of yore meanness. They're a hell-poppin' bunch of jim-dandies, an' don't you ever forget it."

Homer Dinsmore spat tobacco-juice on the floor by way of expressing his contempt. "Hell!" he sneered. "We were doin' business in this neck of the woods before ever you come, an' we'll be here after you've gone."

The Ranger Captain gave a little shrug to his shoulders. "Some folks ain't got any more sense than that hog rootin' under the pecan tree, Dinsmore. I've seen this country when you could swap a buffalo-bull hide for a box of cartridges or a plug o' tobacco. You cayn't do it now, can you? I had thirty wagons full of bales of hides at old Fort Griffin two years ago. Now I couldn't fill one with the best of luck. In five years the buffaloes will be gone absolutely-mebbe in less time. The Indians are goin' with the buffaloes-an' the bad-men are a-goin' to travel the same trail. Inside of three years they'll sure be hard to find outside of jails. But you got to go yore own way. You're hard to curry, an' you wear 'em low. Suits me if it does you. We'll plant you with yore boots on, one of these days."

Dinsmore swaggered from the jail and presently rode out of town to join his companions. Three days later an acquaintance stopped Jack Roberts on the street.

"Seen Cap Ellison this mo'nin'? He was down at the shippin'-pen an' wanted to see you. The old man's hot as a ginger-mill about somethin'."

The Ranger strolled down toward the cattle-yards. On the way he met Arthur Ridley. They had come to be pretty good friends in the past month. The standards of the Texan were undergoing revision. He had been brought up in an outdoor school which taught that the rock-bottom factor of a man's character is gameness. Without it nothing else counted. This was as vital for a man as virtue for a woman. But it had begun to reach him that pluck is largely a matter of training. Arthur had lived soft, and his nerve, like his muscles, needed toughening. Were his gayety, his loyalty, his fundamental decency, the affectionate sweetness of his disposition, to count for nothing? He had a dozen advantages that Jack had not, and the cowboy admired him even though he was not hard as a rock.

"Have you spoken to Captain Ellison yet?" asked Ridley eagerly.

"Says he's thinkin' about it, Art. There's goin' to be a vacancy on the force soon. My notion is that you'll get the appointment."

It was a part of Ridley's charm for the Texan that he would not give up to his timidity. The young fellow meant to fight it out to a finish. That was one of the reasons why he wanted to join the Rangers, to be put in places that would force him to go through to a fighting finish. He had one other reason. Arthur wanted to settle a score with the Dinsmores.

Captain Ellison was listening to the complaint of a drover.

"I aim to drive a clean herd, Cap, but you know how it is yore own self. I start to drive in the spring when the hair's long an' the brand's hard to read. By the time I get here, the old hair is fallin' out an' the brand is plain. But what's a fellow to do? I cayn't drop those off-brands by the way, can I? The inspector-"

"That's all right, Steel. The inspector knows you're on the level. Hello, Jack! I been lookin' for you."

The Captain drew his man to one side. "Steve Gurley's in town. He came as a spokesman for the Dinsmores an' went to see Clint Wadley. The damn scoundrel served notice on Clint that the g

ang had written evidence which tied Ford up with their deviltry. He said if Clint didn't call me off so's I'd let 'em alone, they would disgrace his son's memory. Of course Wadley is all broke up about it. But he's no quitter. He knows I'm goin' through, an' he wouldn't expect me not to do the work I'm paid for."

"Do you want me to arrest Gurley?"

"Wouldn't do any good. No; just keep tabs on the coyote till he leaves town. He ought to be black-snaked, but that's not our business, I reckon."

Ridley walked back with the Ranger toward the main street of the town. From round a corner there came to them a strident voice.

"You stay right here, missy, till I'm through. I'm tellin' you about yore high-heeled brother. See? He was a rustler. That's what he was-a low-down thief and brand-blotter."

"Let me pass. I won't listen to you." The clear young voice was expressive of both indignation and fear.

"Not a step till I'm through tellin' you. Me, I'm Steve Gurley, the curly-haired terror of the Panhandle. When I talk, you listen. Un'erstand?"

The speech of the man was thick with drink. He had spent the night at the Bird Cage and was now on his way to the corral for his horse.

"You take Miss Ramona home. I'll tend to Gurley," said Roberts curtly to his friend. Into his eyes had come a cold rage Arthur had never before seen there.

At sight of them the bully's brutal insolence vanished. He tried to pass on his way, but the Ranger stopped him.

"Just a moment, Gurley. You're goin' with me," said Jack, ominously quiet.

White and shaken, 'Mona bit her lip to keep from weeping. She flashed one look of gratitude at her father's former line-rider, and with a little sob of relief took Ridley's offered arm.

"You got a warrant for me?" bluffed the outlaw.

At short range there is no weapon more deadly than the human eye. Jack Roberts looked at the bully and said: "Give me yore gun."

Steve Gurley shot his slant look at the Ranger, considered possibilities-and did as he was told.

"Now right about face and back-track uptown," ordered the officer.

At McGuffey's store Jack stopped his prisoner. A dozen punchers and cattlemen were hanging about. Among them was Jumbo Wilkins. He had a blacksnake whip in his hand and was teasing a pup with it. The Ranger handed over to Jumbo his guns and borrowed the whip.

Gurley backed off in a sudden alarm. "Don't you touch me! Don't you dass touch me! I'll cut yore heart out if you do."

The lash whistled through the air and wound itself cruelly round the legs of the bully. The man gave a yell of rage and pain. He lunged forward to close with Roberts, and met a driving left that caught him between the eyes and flung him back. Before he could recover the Ranger had him by the collar at arm's length and the torture of the whip was maddening him. He cursed, struggled, raved, threatened, begged for mercy. He tried to fling himself to the ground. He wept tears of agony. But there was no escape from the deadly blacksnake that was cutting his flesh to ribbons.

Roberts, sick at the thing he had been doing, flung the shrieking man aside and leaned up against the wall of the store.

Jumbo came across to him and offered his friend a drink.

"You'll feel better if you take a swallow of old forty-rod," he promised.

The younger man shook his head. "Much obliged, old-timer. I'm all right now. It was a kind of sickenin' job, but I had to do it or kill him."

"What was it all about?" asked Jumbo eagerly. The fat line-rider was a good deal of a gossip and loved to know the inside of every story.

Jack cast about for a reason. "He-he said I had red hair."

"Well, you old son of a mule-skinner, what's the matter with that? You have, ain't you?" demanded the amazed Wilkins.

"Mebbe I have, but he can't tell me so."

That was all the satisfaction the public ever got. It did a good deal of guessing, however, and none of it came near the truth.

To "take the hides off'n 'em" was the expressive phraseology in which the buffalo-hunter described his business. [5]

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