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   Chapter 28 ON A COLD TRAIL

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9344

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Dog it, Jack, we got to go after the Dinsmores," said Ellison, pounding the table with his fist. "I've just had a letter from the old man wantin' to know why we don't get results. It's not the Ranger policy to wait for outlaws to come to us. We go after 'em."

Tex smiled cheerfully. "Suits me fine. What are your instructions, Captain? Want me to arrest Homer Dinsmore again?"

"What would I do with him if you got him?" snapped the old-timer.

"You could turn him loose again," suggested Roberts, not entirely without sarcasm.

"If you boys were worth the powder to blow you-all up-!" exploded the veteran.

"Instead of bein' a jackpot bunch of triflin' no-account scalawags," murmured Jack.

"-You'd hustle out an' get evidence against 'em."

"Sounds reasonable." The Ranger lifted his heels to the seat of a second chair and rolled him a cigarette.

"You'd find out where they're hidin' the cattle they rustle."

"Are you givin' me an assignment, Captain?"

"You done said it, son. There's a bunch of rustled stock up in the rocks somewheres. You know it. Question is, can you find the cache?"

"I can try."

"Wasn't it you told me once about bumpin' into a rustler doin' business whilst you was ridin' the line?"

"At the mouth of Box Ca?on-yes."

"Well, wha's the matter with you scoutin' up Box Ca?on an' seein' what you find?"

"They're roostin' up there somewheres. I'll bet a hat on that."

"How many boys you want with you?"

Jack considered. "One. I'll take Ridley if you don't mind."

"He's a tenderfoot," suggested Ellison doubtfully. "Won't be of any help to you a-tall in cutting sign. If you leave him he's liable to get lost. Better take Moser, hadn't you?"

"Rather have Ridley. He doesn't claim to know it all. Besides, we've got to break him in sometime."

"Suits me if he does you. It's yore party."

"We'll start in the mo'nin'."

"The sooner the quicker," agreed the Captain. "I want the old man to know we're not spendin' our time settin' around a office. He's got no call to crawl my hump when you boys are doin' the best you can. Well, go to it, son. See if you-all can get evidence that will stand up so's we can collect that bunch of hawss-thieves."

Before daybreak the two Rangers were on their way. They drove a pack-horse, their supplies loaded on a sawbuck saddle with kyacks. Jack had been brought up in the Panhandle. He knew this country as a seventh-grade teacher does her geography. Therefore he cut across the desert to the cap-rock, thence to Dry Creek, and so by sunset to Box Ca?on. At the mouth of the gulch they slept under the stars. As soon as they had cooked their coffee and bacon Roberts stamped out the fire.

"We don't want to advertise we're here. I'm some particular about my health. I'd hate to get dry-gulched[7] on this job," said Jack.

"Would the Dinsmores shoot us if they found us?" asked Ridley, searching with his head for the softest spot in his saddle for a pillow.

"Would a calf milk its mother? They're sore as a toad at me, an' I expect that goes for any other Ranger too. Homer might give us an even break because we stayed with him on the island, but I'd hate to bet my head on that."

"If we get any evidence against them they can't afford to let us go," agreed Arthur.

"An' if they jump us up, how're they goin' to know how much we've seen? There's one safe way, an' they would ce'tainly take it."

"Dead men tell no tales, it's said."

"Some of 'em do an' some don't. I never met up with a proverb yet that wasn't 'way off about half the time. For instance, that one you quoted. Rutherford Wadley's body told me considerable. It said that he'd been killed on the bluff above an' flung down; that he'd been shot by a rifle in the hands of a man standin' about a hundred an' fifty yards away; that he'd been taken by surprise an' probably robbed."

"It wouldn't have told me all that."

"Not till you learn to read sign closer than you do. An outdoor education is like a school-book one. You can't learn it in a day or a week or a year."

"You're no Methuselah. There's still hope for me."

"Lots o' hope. It's mostly keepin' yore eyes open an' yore brain workin'. I'm still only in the A B C class, but a fellow learns somethin' every day if he's that kind."

"If it's a matter of brains, why do Indians make the best trailers? You wouldn't say their brains are as good as a white man's, would you?"

"No; an' I'd say there's nothin' on earth an Indian can do as well as a white man, given the same chance to learn it. Indians know the outdoors because they have to know it to live. The desert's no prodigal mother. Her sons

have to rustle right smart to keep their tummies satisfied. If the 'Paches and the Kiowas didn't know how to cut sign an' read it, how to hunt an' fish an' follow a trail, they'd all be in their happy huntin' grounds long ago. They're what old Nature has made 'em. But I'll tell you this. When a white man gives his mind to it he understands the life of the plains better than any Indian does. His brains are better, an' he goes back an' looks for causes. The best trailers in the world are whites, not redskins."

"I didn't know that," Arthur said.

"Ask any old-timer if it ain't so."

They were eating breakfast when the light on the horizon announced a new day on the way. Already this light was saturating the atmosphere and dissolving shadows. The vegetation of the plains, the wave rolls of the land, the distant horizon line, became more distinct. By the time the sun pushed into sight the Rangers were in the saddle.

Roberts led through the polecat brush to the summit of a little mesa which overlooked the gulch. Along the edge of the ravine he rode, preferring the bluff to the sandy wash below because the ground was less likely to tell the Dinsmores a story of two travelers riding up Box Ca?on. At the head of the gorge a faint trail dipped to the left. Painted on a rock was a sign that Jack had seen before.

THIS IS PETE DINSMORE'S ROAD-

TAKE ANOTHER.

He grinned reminiscently. "I did last time. I took the back trail under orders."

"Whose orders?" asked Ridley.

"Pete's, I reckon."

"If there's a story goes with that grin-" suggested Arthur.

"No story a-tall. I caught a fellow brandin' a calf below the ca?on. He waved me around. Some curious to see who the guy was that didn't want to say 'How?' to me, I followed him into Box."

That seemed to be the end of the yarn. At any rate, Jack stopped.

"Well, did you find out who he was?"

"No, but I found this sign, an' above it a rifle slantin' down at me, an' back of the rifle a masked face. The fellow that owned the face advised me about my health."

"What about it?"

"Why, that this rough country wasn't suited to my disposition, temperament, an' general proclivities. So I p'inted back to where I had come from."

"And you never satisfied your curiosity about who the rustler was?"

"Didn't I?" drawled Jack.

"Did you?"

"Mebbe I did. I'm not tellin' that yarn-not to-day."

The country was rougher and hillier. The trail they had been following died away in the hills, but they crossed and recrossed others, made by buffaloes, antelopes, and coyotes driven by the spur of their needs in the years that had passed. Countless generations of desert life had come and gone before even the Indians drifted in to live on the buffalo.

"Why is it that there's more warfare on the desert than there is back East? The cactus has spines. The rattlesnake, the centipede, the Gila monster, the tarantula, all carry poison. Even the toad has a horn. Everywhere it is a fight to survive. The vegetation, as well as the animal life, fights all the time against drought. It's a regular hell on earth," Arthur concluded.

Jack eased himself in the saddle. "Looks kinda like Nature made the desert an' grinned at life, much as to say, 'I defy you to live there,' don't it? Sure there's warfare, but I reckon there's always war between different forms of life. If there wasn't, the world would be rank with all sorts of things crowdin' each other. The war would have to come then after all. Me, I like it. I like the way life came back with an answer to the challenge. It equipped itself with spines an' stings an' horns an' tough hides because it had to have 'em. It developed pores an' stomachs that could get along without much water. Who wants to live in a land where you don't have to rustle for a livin'?"

"You belong to the West. You're of it," Ridley said. "If you'd seen the fine grasslands of the East, the beautiful, well-kept farms and the fat stock, you'd understand what I mean. A fellow gets homesick for them."

Roberts nodded. "I've seen 'em an' I understand. Oncet I went back East an' spent three months there. I couldn't stand it. I got sick for the whinin' of a rope, wanted to hump over the hills after cows' tails. The nice little farms an' the nice little people with their nice little ways kinda cramped me. I reckon in this ol' world it's every one to his own taste." His eye swept the landscape. "Looks like there's water down there. If so, we'll fall off for a spell an' rest the hawsses."

A man is said to be "dry-gulched" when he mysteriously disappears,-killed by his enemies and buried under a pile of rocks. [7]

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