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Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 13104

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

With a heart that pounded queerly Arthur watched his friend cross the valley and work his way to the ridge beyond. Even after Jack had disappeared, he waited, nerves jumpy, for the crack of a rifle to carry news of death in the mesquite.

No tidings of tragedy came. The minutes fulfilled the hour. The many small sounds of the desert were shattered by no report. At last, drowsing in the warmth of the sunlit land, the Ranger's eyes closed, opened, and shut again. He nodded, fell asleep.

When he awakened it was with a shock of dread. His heart died. Four men were watching him. Two of them had him covered with revolvers. A third was just removing noiselessly his rifle and six-shooter from reach of his hand.

He jumped to his feet. The consternation in his eyes showed how completely he had been caught napping.

One of the men-a long, lank, cross-eyed fellow-laughed mockingly, and the sound of his mirth was evil.

"Whatta you doin' here?" demanded one whom he recognized as Pete Dinsmore.

For a moment the Ranger's mind was a blank. He could not make it serve his needs. Words were out of reach of his tongue. Then, "I'm lost," he stammered.

"Are you alone?"

"Yes." Out of his confusion one idea stood up imperatively. He must not betray Jack.

"Where's yore hawss?"

"It-it got away from me."


"Last night." It seemed to him that he could keep just one jump ahead of this dominant man's menacing questions.

"Howcome that?"

"I shot a prairie-hen, and when I got down to get it-I don't know-my horse got frightened and jerked away. I tried to catch it. The brute wouldn't let me. Then night came."

"What were you doin' so far from town?" cut in one of the two who were covering him. He was a short, heavy-set man.

"That's right, Dave. Looks funny to me." Gurley seemed fairly to ooze malice. "Just happened to drift here to this herd, I reckon. It sure was yore unlucky day."

Arthur looked from one to another despairingly. He found no hope anywhere, not even in the expressionless face of Homer Dinsmore, who as yet had not spoken a word. There came over the boy what he afterward described as a "gone" feeling. It was the sensation, intensified many times, felt when an elevator drops from under one in swift descent.

"I-don't know what you mean," he faltered.

"You will," said Gurley brutally.

"Been across the valley to the herd yet?" asked Overstreet, elaborately careless.

Here was one question Ridley could answer with the truth. He spoke swiftly, eagerly. "No."

His questioner exchanged looks with Homer Dinsmore and laughed. The Ranger had betrayed himself. He had been so quick to deny that he had been near the herd that his anxiety gave him away. They knew he suspected them of having rustled the stock grazing on the slope. Very likely he had already verified his doubts as to burnt brands.

Homer Dinsmore spoke for the first time. His voice was harsh. "Why don't you tell the truth? You came to get evidence against us."

"Evidence?" repeated Arthur dully.

"To prove we're rustlin' stock. You know damn well."

"Why, I-I-"

"And you didn't come alone. Ellison never sent a tenderfoot like you out except with others. Where are the rest of yore party? Come through."

"I'm alone." Arthur stuck to that doggedly.

"If he's got a bunch of Rangers back of him we better burn the wind outa here," suggested Gurley, looking around uneasily.

Overstreet looked at him with scorn and chewed tobacco imperturbably. "Keep yore shirt on, Steve. Time enough to holler when you're hurt."

"I haven't got a bunch of Rangers with me," cried Ridley desperately, beads of sweat on his brow. It had come to him that if he persuaded these men he had no companions with him he would be sealing his doom. They could murder him with impunity. But he could not betray Jack. He must set his teeth to meet the worst before he did that. "I tell you I'm alone. I don't know what you mean about the cattle. I haven't been across the valley. I came here, and I hadn't slept all night. So I was all worn out. And somehow I fell asleep."

"All alone, eh?" Pete Dinsmore murmured it suavely. His crafty mind was weighing the difference this made in the problem before the outlaws-the question as to what to do with this man. They could not let him go back with his evidence. It would not be safe to kill him if he had merely strayed from a band of Rangers. But assuming he told the truth, that he had no companions, then there was a very easy and simple way out for the rustlers. The Ranger could not tell what he knew-however much or little that might be-if he never returned to town.

"I keep telling you that I'm alone, that I got lost," Arthur insisted. "What would I be doing here without a horse if I had friends?"

"Tha's right," agreed Gurley. "I reckon he got lost like he said."

He, too, by the same process of reasoning as Pete Dinsmore, had come to a similar conclusion. He reflected craftily that Ridley was probably telling the truth. Why should he persist in the claim that he was alone if he had friends in the neighborhood, since to persuade his captors of this was to put himself wholly in their power?

"You're easily fooled, Steve," sneered Homer. "I've camped with this bird, an' I tell you he's got a passel of Rangers with him somewheres. We're standin' here jawin' waitin' for them to round us up, I reckon."

Overstreet looked at Homer. His eyebrows lifted in a slight surprise. He and the younger Dinsmore had been side partners for years. Homer was a cool customer. It wasn't like him to scare. There was something in this he did not understand. Anyhow, he would back his pal's play till he found out.

"I expect you're right. We can easy enough prove it. Let's light out for the cap-rock an' hole up for a coupla days. Then one of us will slip out an' see if the herd's still here an' no Rangers in sight. We'll keep this gent a prisoner till we know where we're at? How's that?"

"You talk like we was the United States Army, Dave," growled Pete Dinsmore. "We got no way to take care o' prisoners. I'm for settlin' this thing right here."

The outlaws drew closer together and farther from Ridley. He was unarmed and wholly in their power. If he tried to run he could not get twenty yards. The voices of the men fell.

Arthur began to tremble. His face grew gray, his lips bloodless. On the issue of that conference his life hung. The easiest thing to do would be to make an end of him now. Would they choose that way out of t

he difficulty? He could see that Gurley had, for the moment at least, joined forces with Homer and Dave Overstreet against Pete, but he could hear none of the arguments.

"You're wrong, Pete. We're playin' safe. That's all. My notion is this guy's tellin' the truth. There's only one thing to do. I don't reckon any of us want him to go back to town. But if we do anything with him here, the Rangers are liable to find his body. Oncet up in the cap-rock we can dry-gulch him."

The older Dinsmore gave way with an oath. "All right. Have yore own way, boys. Majority rules. We'll postpone this discussion till later."

Gurley brought the horses. Arthur was mounted behind him, his feet tied beneath the belly of the horse. The rustlers rode in pairs, Homer Dinsmore and Overstreet in the rear.

"What makes you think this fellow has friends near, Homer?" asked his companion.

"He doesn't know enough to ride alone. But I don't care whether he's alone or not. I'm not goin' to have the boy killed. He stood by me on the island to a finish. Of course that wouldn't go with Steve an' Pete, so I put it on the other ground."

"Want to turn him loose, do you?"

"I'd swear him first to padlock his mouth. He'd do it, too, if he said so."

"Some risk that, old-timer."

"I got to do it, Dave. Can't throw him down, can I?"

"Don't see as you can. Well, make yore play when you get ready. I'll shove my chips in beside yours. I never yet killed a man except in a fight an' I've got no fancy for beginnin' now."

"Much obliged, Dave."

"How far do you 'low to go? If Pete gets ugly like he sometimes does, he'll be onreasonable."

"I'll manage him. If he does get set there'll be a pair of us. Mebbe I'm just about as stubborn as he is."

"I believe you. Well, I'll be with you at every jump of the road," Overstreet promised.

The discussion renewed itself as soon as the outlaws had hidden themselves in a pocket of the cap-rock. Again they drew apart from their prisoner and talked in excited but reduced voices.

"The Rangers have got no evidence we collected this fellow," argued Gurley. "Say he disappears off'n the earth. Mebbe he died of thirst lost on the plains. Mebbe a buffalo bull killed him. Mebbe-"

"Mebbe he went to heaven in a chariot of fire," drawled Overstreet, to help out the other's imagination.

"The point is, why should we be held responsible? Nobody knows we were within fifty miles of him, doggone it."

"That's where you're wrong. The Rangers know it. They're right on our heels, I tell you," differed Homer Dinsmore.

"We'll get the blame. No manner o' doubt about that," said Overstreet.

"Say we do. They can't prove a thing-not a thing."

"You talk plumb foolish, Steve. Why don't you use yore brains?" answered Homer impatiently. "We can go just so far. If we overstep the limit this country will get too hot for us. There'll be a grand round-up, an' we'd get ours without any judge or jury. The folks of this country are law-abidin', but there's a line we can't cross."

"That's all right," agreed Pete. "But there's somethin' in what Steve says. If this tenderfoot wandered off an' got lost, nobody's goin' to hold us responsible for him."

"He didn't no such thing get lost. Listen. Tex Roberts was with him the day Steve-fell over the box. Tex was with him when we had the rumpus with the Kiowas on the Canadian. Those lads hunt together. Is it likely this Ridley, who don't know sic' 'em, got so far away from the beaten trails alone? Not in a thousand years. There's a bunch of Rangers somewheres near. We got to play our hands close, Pete."

"We're millin' around in circles, Homer. Why does this fellow Ridley claim he's alone? He must know it's up to him to persuade us his friends are about two jumps behind us."

"One guess is as good as another. Here's mine," said Overstreet. "He wants to throw us off our guard. He's hopin' we'll pull some fool break an' the Rangers will make a gather of our whole bunch."

"Good enough," said Homer, nodding agreement. "Another thing. This lad Ridley's not game. But he's a long way from bein' yellow. He's not gonna queer the campaign of the Rangers by tellin' what he knows."

"Betcha I can make him talk," boasted Gurley. "Put a coupla sticks between the roots of his fingers an' press-"

"Think we're a bunch of 'Paches, Steve?" demanded Homer roughly. "Come to that, I'll say plain that I'm no murderer, let alone torture. I've killed when I had to, but the other fellow had a run for his money. If I beat him to the draw that was his lookout. He had no holler comin'. But this kid-not for me."

"Different here," said Pete evenly. "He knew what he was up against when he started. If it was us or him that had to go, I wouldn't hesitate a minute. Question is, what's safest for us?"

"The most dangerous thing for us is to harm him. Do that, an' we won't last a month in this country."

"What's yore idea, then, Homer? We can't hold him till Christmas. Soon as we let him go, he'll trot back an' tell all he knows," protested his brother irritably.

"What does he know? Nothin' except that we found him when he claimed to be lost an' that we looked after him an' showed him how to get home. Even if he's seen those cattle he can't prove we burned the brands, can he?"


"In a day or two we'll take the trail. I'll put it to Ridley that we haven't time to take him back to town an' that he'd sure get lost if we turned him loose here. We'll drop him somewheres on the trail after we've crossed the line."

"Fine an' dandy," jeered Gurley. "We'll introduce him to the herd an' take him along so's he'll be sure we're the rustlers."

They wrangled back and forth, covering the same ground time and again. At last they agreed to postpone a decision till next day.

Homer reported the issue of their debate, colored to suit his purpose, to the white-faced Ranger. "I reckon we'll have to look out for you, Ridley. It wouldn't do to turn you loose. You'd get lost sure. Mebbe in a day or two some of us will be driftin' in to town an' can take you along."

"If you'd start me in the right direction I think I could find my way back," Arthur said timidly.

"No chance, young fellow. You'll stay right here till we get good an' ready for you to go. See?"

The Ranger did not push the point. He knew very well it would not be of the least use. His fears were temporarily allayed. He felt sure that Homer Dinsmore would put up a stiff argument before he would let him be sacrificed.

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