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   Chapter 27 CLINT FREES HIS MIND

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9715

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Wadley was sitting on the porch with Ramona. He was still a semi-invalid, and when he exercised too much his daughter scolded him like the little mother she was.

"Keep me here much longer, an' I'll turn into a regular old gossip in breeches," he complained. "I'll be Jumbo Wilkins Number Two, like as not."

"Is Jumbo a specialist in gossip?" asked Ramona. She liked to get her father at reminiscences. It helped to pass time that hung heavy on his hands.

"Is he? Girl, he could talk a hind leg off'n a buckskin mule, Jumbo could." He stopped to chuckle. "Oncet, when we were drivin' a bunch of yearlin's on the Brazos, one of the boys picked up an old skull. Prob'ly some poor fellow killed by the Indians. Anyhow, that night when Jumbo was wound up good, one of the lads pretended to discover that skull an' brought it into the camp-fire light. Some one had wrote on it: 'Talked to death by Jumbo Wilkins.'"

'Mona rather missed the point. She was watching a man slouching down the road toward them. He was heavy-set and unwieldy, and he wore a wrinkled suit of butternut jeans.

The eyes of the cattleman chilled. "You go into the house, 'Mona. That fellow's Pete Dinsmore. I don't want you to meet him."

"Don't you, Dad?" The heart of the girl fluttered at sight of this man who had nearly killed her father, but it was not fear but anger that burned in her eyes. "I'm going to sit right here. What does he want? He's not coming-to make trouble, is he?"

"No. We've got business to settle. You run along in."

"I know what your business is. It's-about Ford."

He looked at her in surprised dismay. "Who told you that, honey?"

"I'll tell you about that after he's gone. I want to stay, Dad, to show him that I know all about it, and that we're not going to let him carry out any blackmailing scheme against us."

Dinsmore nodded grouchily as he came up the walk to the house. Wadley did not ask him to sit down, and since there were no unoccupied chairs the rustler remained standing.

"I got to have a talk with you, Clint," the outlaw said. "Send yore girl into the house."

"She'll listen to anything you have to say, Dinsmore. Get through with it soon as you can, an' hit the trail," said the cattleman curtly.

The other man flushed darkly. "You talk mighty biggity these days. I remember when you wasn't nothin' but a busted line-rider."

"Mebbeso. And before that I was a soldier in the army while you was doin' guerrilla jayhawkin'."

"Go ahead. Say anything you've a mind to, Clint. I'll make you pay before I'm through with you," answered the bad-man venomously.

"You will if you can; I know that. You're a bad lot, Dinsmore, you an' yore whole outfit. I'm glad Ellison an' his Rangers are goin' to clear you out of the country. A sure-enough good riddance, if any one asks me."

The cattleman looked hard at him. He too had been a fighting man, but it was not his reputation for gameness that restrained the ruffian. Wadley was a notch too high for him. He could kill another bad-man or some drunken loafer and get away with it. But he had seen the sentiment of the country when his brother had wounded the cattleman. It would not do to go too far. Times were changing in the Panhandle. Henceforth lawlessness would have to travel by night and work under cover. With the coming of the Rangers, men who favored law were more outspoken. Dinsmore noticed that they deferred less to him, partly, no doubt, because of what that fool boy Roberts had done without having yet had to pay for it.

"That's what I've come to see you about, Wadley. I'm not lookin' for trouble, but I never ran away from it in my life. No livin' man can lay on me without hell poppin'. You know it."

"Is that what you came to tell me, Dinsmore?" asked the owner of the A T O, his mouth set grim and hard.

There was an ugly look on the face of the outlaw, a cold glitter of anger in his deep-set eyes. "I hear you set the world an' all by that girl of yours there. Better send her in, Wadley. I'm loaded with straight talk."

The girl leaned forward in the chair. She looked at him with a flash of disdainful eyes in which was a touch of feminine ferocity. But she let her father answer the man.

"Go on," said the old Texan. "Onload what you've got to say, an' then pull yore freight."

"Suits me, Clint. I'm here to make a bargain with you. Call Ellison off. Make him let me an' my friends alone. If you don't, we're goin' to talk-about yore boy Ford." The man's upper lip lifted in a grin. He looked first at the father, then at the daughter.

There was a tightening of the soft, round throat, but she met his look without wincing. The pallor of her face lent accent to the contemptuous loathing of the slender girl.

"What are you goin' to say-that you murdered him, shot him down from behind?" demanded Wadley.

"That's a lie, Clint. You know who killed him-an' why he did it. Ford couldn't let the girls alone. I warned him as a friend, but he was hell-bent on havin' his own way."

The voice of the cattleman trembled. "Some day-I'm goin' to hunt you down like a wolf for what you did to my boy."

A lump jumped to Ramona's throat. She slipped her little hand into the big one of her father, and with it went all her sympathy and all her love.

"You're 'way off, Wadley. The boy was our friend. Why should we shoot him?" asked the man from the chaparral.

"Because he interfered with you when you robbed my messenger."

The startled eyes of the outlaw jumped to meet those of the cattleman. For a fraction of a second he was caught off his guard. Then the film of wary craftiness covered them again.

"That's plumb foolishness, Clint. The Mexican-what's his name?-killed Ford because he was jealous, an' if it hadn't been for you, he'd 'a' paid for it long ago. But that ain't what I came to talk about. I'm here to tell you that I've got evidence to prove that Ford was a rustler an' a hold-up. If it comes to a showdown, we're goin' to tell what we know. Mebbe you want folks to know what kind of a brother yore girl had. That's up to you."

Wadley exploded in a sudden fury of passion. "I'll make no bargain with the murderer of my boy. Get out of here, you damned yellow wolf. I don't want any truck with you at all till I get a chance to stomp you down like I would a rattler."

The bad-man bared his fangs. For one moment of horror Ramona thought he was going to strike like the reptile to which her father had compared him. He glared at the cattleman, the impulse strong in him to kill and be done with it. But the other side of him-the caution that had made it possible for him to survive so long in a world of violent men-held his hand until the blood-lust passed from his brain.

"You've said a-plenty," he snarled thickly. "Me, I've made my last offer to you. It's war between me 'n' you from now on."

He turned away and went slouching down the path to the road.

The two on the porch watched him out of sight. The girl had slipped inside her father's arm and was sobbing softly on his shoulder.

"There, honeybug, now don't you-don't you," Clint comforted. "He cayn't do us any harm. Ellison's hot on his trail. I'll give him six months, an' then he's through. Don't you fret, sweetheart. Daddy will look out for you all right."

"I-I wasn't thinking about me," she whispered.

Both of them were thinking of the dead boy and the threat to blacken his memory, but neither of them confessed it to the other. Wadley cast about for something to divert her mind and found it in an unanswered question of his own.

"You was goin' to tell me how come you to know what he wanted to talk with me about," the father reminded her.

"You remember that day when Arthur Ridley brought me home?"

He nodded assent.

"One of the Dinsmore gang-the one they call Steve Gurley-met me on the street. He was drunk, an' he stopped me to tell me about-Ford. I tried to pass, an' he wouldn't let me. He frightened me. Then Arthur an' Mr. Roberts came round the corner. Arthur came home with me, an'-you know what happened in front of McGuffey's store."

The face of the girl had flushed a sudden scarlet. Her father stared at her in an amazement that gave way to understanding. Through his veins there crashed a wave of emotion. If he had held any secret grudge against Tex Roberts, it vanished forever that moment. This was the kind of son he would have liked to have himself.

"By ginger, that was what he beat Gurley up for! Nobody knows why, an' Roberts kept the real reason under his hat. He's a prince, Jack Roberts is. I did that boy a wrong, 'Mona, an' guessed it all the time, just because he had a mixup with Ford. He wasn't to blame for that, anyhow, I've been told."

Ramona felt herself unaccountably trembling. There was a queer little lump in her throat, but she knew it was born of gladness.

"He's been good to me," she said, and told of the experience with the traveling salesman on the stage.

Clint Wadley laughed. "I never saw that boy's beat. He's got everything a fellow needs to win. I can tell you one thing; he's goin' to get a chance to run the A T O for me before he's forty-eight hours older. He'll be a good buy, no matter what salary he sticks me for."

'Mona became aware that she was going to break down-and "make a little fool of herself," as she would have put it.

"I forgot to water my canary," she announced abruptly.

The girl jumped up, ran into the house and to her room. But if the canary was suffering from thirst, it remained neglected. Ramona's telltale face was buried in a pillow. She was not quite ready yet to look into her own eyes and read the message they told.

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