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   Chapter 31 A PAIR OF DEUCES

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9088

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

From the lookout point among the rocks where he was stationed Overstreet shouted a warning to his companions below.

"Fellow with a white flag ridin' in. Looks like he might be a Ranger."

Pete Dinsmore dropped a coffee-pot and took three strides to his rifle. His brother Homer and Steve Gurley garnished themselves promptly with weapons. They joined the lookout, and from the big rocks could see without being seen.

The man coming to their hang-out had a handkerchief or a flour sack tied to the barrel of his rifle and was holding it in the air. He jogged along steadily without any haste and without any apparent hesitation. He was leading a saddled riderless horse.

A rifle cracked.

Pete Dinsmore whirled on Gurley angrily. "What you do that for?"

Malice, like some evil creature, writhed in Gurley's face. "It's that fellow Roberts. We got him right at last. Leggo my arm."

"I'll beat yore head off if you shoot again. Lucky for you you missed. Don't you see he comes here as a messenger. Ellison musta sent him."

"I don' care how he comes. He'll never go away except feet first." The man who had been horsewhipped by the Ranger was livid with rage.

Dinsmore swung him round by the shoulder savagely. "Who elected you boss of this outfit, Steve? Don't ride on the rope or you'll sure git a fall."

The eyes of Pete were blazing. Gurley gave way sullenly.

"Tha's all right. I ain't aimin' noways to cross you. I can wait to git this fellow if you say so."

The Ranger had pulled up his horse and was waving the improvised flag. Pete gave directions.

"Homer, you an' Dave go down an' find out what he wants. Don't bring him in unless you blindfold him first. We don't wanta introduce him to the place so as he can walk right in again any time."

The two men named walked out to meet the Ranger. They greeted him with grim little nods, which was exactly the salutation he gave them. The hard level eyes of the men met without yielding an eyebeat.

"Don't you know a flag of truce when you see it, Dinsmore?" demanded Roberts.

"Excuse that shot, Mr. Ranger," said Homer evenly. "It was a mistake."

"Gurley does make 'em," returned Jack, guessing shrewdly. "Some day he'll make one too many."

"I take it you came on business."

"Why, yes. Captain Ellison sent me with his compliments to get Ranger Ridley."

"Lost him, have you?"

"You can't exactly call him lost when we know where he is."

"Meanin' that he's here?"

"You ring the bell first shot."

Overstreet broke in, to mark time. "You think we've got him?"

"We do. Don't you?"

"And Ellison wants him, does he?"

"Wants him worse 'n a heifer cow does her calf." Roberts laughed softly, as though from some fund of inner mirth. "He's kinda hopin' you'll prove stubborn so as to give him a chance to come an' get him."

"Where is Ellison?"

The Ranger smiled. "He didn't give me any instructions about tellin' you where he is."

"H'mp! You can come in an' talk with Pete. We'll have to blindfold you," said Dinsmore.

The envoy made no objections. He dismounted. A bandana was tied across his eyes, and the men led him into the pocket of rock. The handkerchief was removed.

Jack told again what he had come for.

"How did you know we were here?" demanded Pete.

"It's our business to know such things." Jack did not think it wise to mention that he had been here once before, the same day he found Rutherford Wadley's body a few miles away at the foot of a bluff.

"Ridley told us he was alone-no Rangers a-tall with him, he said."

"Did he?" Jack showed amusement. "What did you expect him to tell you? He draws pay as a Ranger."

"What's Ellison's proposition?"

"Captain Ellison hasn't any proposition to make, if by that you mean compromise. You're to turn Ridley over to me. That's all."

"An' where do we get off?" snorted Pete. "What does that buy us?"

"It buys you six hours' time for a get-away. I've got no business to do it, but I'll promise to loaf around an' not report to Captain Ellison till after noon. I'll go that far."

"I don' know's we want to make any get-away. We could hold the fort right here against quite a few Rangers, I reckon."

"Suit yourself," said Jack indifferently.

Pete chewed tobacco slowly and looked down sullenly at a flat rock without seeing it. Anger burned in him like a smouldering fire in peat. He hated this man Roberts, and Ellison he regarded as a natural enemy. Nothing would have pleased him more than to settle his feud with the Ranger

on the spot with a six-shooter. But that meant a hurried exit from the Panhandle at a sacrifice of his accumulated profits. This did not suit Dinsmore's plans. His purpose was to leave Texas with enough money to set him up in business in Colorado or Wyoming. It would not do to gratify his revenge just now. Nor did he dare to carry out his threat and let the Rangers attack him. His policy was to avoid any conflict if possible.

"Have to talk it over with the other boys," he said abruptly. "You wait here."

Jack sat down on a rock while the rustlers retired and discussed the situation. There was not room for much difference of opinion. The Rangers had forced their hand. All they could do was to slip out of the rim-rock and make for another zone of safety. This would involve losing the stock they had rustled, but their option was a choice of two evils and this was decidedly the lesser.

Pete announced their decision truculently, his chin thrust out.

"One of these days we'll tangle, you 'n' me, young fellow. But not to-day. Take Ridley an' git out pronto before I change my mind. For a plug of tobacco I'd go to foggin' the air right now."

The prisoner was brought forward. His weapons were restored to him. With the long strain of fear lifted at last from his mind, it was hard for him to keep down a touch of hysterical joy. But he managed to return Jack's casual greeting with one as careless to all appearance.

He had caught the drift of the talk and he played up to his friend promptly. "I was rather lookin' for you or one of the other boys about now, Jack," he said. "Mighty careless of me to get nabbed asleep."

Ten minutes later the two Rangers were outside the pocket riding across the plain.

"Hope Pete won't change his mind an' plump a few bullets at us. He's a right explosive proposition," said Roberts.

It was all Arthur could do to keep from quickening the pace. His mind wouldn't be easy until several miles lay between him and his late captors.

"Where's Captain Ellison waiting?" asked Ridley.

"He's probably at Tascosa or Mobeetie. I haven't seen him since you have."

"Didn't he send you to the Dinsmores after me?"

"Why, no."

Arthur drew a deep breath of relief. If he had weakened in his story that he was alone and had told the truth, he would have brought ruin upon both himself and his friend.

"You mean you went in there on a pure bluff, knowing how they hated you and what a big chance there was that they would murder you?"

"I took a chance, I reckon. But it looked good to me."

"If I had told them you and I were alone-"

"I figured you wouldn't do that. I had a notion my bluff would stick. They wouldn't think I'd come to them unless I had strong backin'. The bigger the bluff the better the chance of its workin'."

"Unless I had told that there were only two of us."

"That was one of the risks I had to gamble on, but I felt easy in my mind about that. You'll notice one thing if you stay with the Rangers, Art. They can get away with a lot of things they couldn't pull off as private citizens. The law is back of us, and back of the law is the State of Texas. When it comes to a showdown, mighty few citizens want to get us after them good and hard. We always win in the end. The bad-men all know that."

"Just the same, for cold nerve I never saw the beat of what you did now."

"Sho! Nothin' to that. A pair of deuces is good as a full house when your hand ain't called. We'll swing over to the left here an' gather up that bunch of rustled stock, Art."

Late that afternoon, as they were following the dust of the drive, Ridley voiced a doubt in his heart.

"Isn't there a chance that the Dinsmores will follow us and find out we're alone?"

"Quite a chance," agreed Jack cheerfully. "If so, we're liable to swap bullets yet. But I don't reckon they'll do that hardly. More likely they're hittin' the trail for Palo Duro to hole up."

The outlaws did not molest them during the drive. Four days later they reached town with their thirsty, travel-worn herd.

Captain Ellison was at the hotel and Jack reported to him at once.

The eyes of the little Ranger Chief gleamed. "Good boys, both of you. By dog, the old man won't write me any more sassy letters when he reads what you done. I always did say that my boys-"

"-Were a bunch of triflin' scalawags," Jack reminded him.

The Captain fired up, peppery as ever. "You light outa here and see if a square meal won't help some, you blamed impudent young rascal."

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