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   Chapter 32 THE HOLD-UP

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 6625

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

When Wadley made to Jack Roberts the offer he had spoken of to his daughter, the face of that young man lighted up at once. But without hesitation he refused the chance to manage the A T O ranch.

"Sorry, but I can't work for you, Mr. Wadley."

The big Texan stiffened. "All right," he said huffily. "Just as you please. I'm not goin' to beg you on my knees to take the best job in the Panhandle. Plenty of good men want it."

The frank smile of the Ranger was disarming. "They don't want it any worse than I do, Mr. Wadley. I'm not a fool. Just because we had a difference oncet, I'm not standin' on my dignity. Nothin' like that. You're offerin' me a big chance-the biggest I'm ever likely to get. When you pick me to boss the A T O under yore orders, you pay me a sure-enough compliment, an' I'd be plumb glad to say yes."

"Well, why don't you?"

"Because the Rangers have got an unfinished job before them here, an' I'm not goin' to leave Captain Ellison in the lurch. I'll stick to my dollar a day till we've made a round-up."

The cattleman clapped him on the shoulder. "That's right, boy. That's the way to talk. Make yore clean-up, then come see me. I won't promise to hold this job open, but I want you to talk with me before you sign up with any one else."

But the weeks passed, and the Dinsmores still operated in the land. They worked under cover, less openly than in the old days, but still a storm-center of trouble. It was well known that they set the law at defiance, but no man who could prove it would produce evidence.

Meanwhile spring had made way for summer, and summer was beginning to burn into autumn. The little force of Rangers rode the land and watched for that false move which some day the Dinsmores would make to bring them within reach of the law.

On one of its trips in the early fall, the Clarendon stage left town almost half an hour late. It carried with it a secret, but everybody on board had heard a whisper of it. There was a gold shipment in the box consigned to Tascosa. A smooth-faced Ranger sat beside the driver with a rifle across his knees. He had lately been appointed to the force, and this was one of his first assignments. Perhaps that was why Arthur Ridley was a little conscious of his new buckskin suit and the importance of his job.

The passengers were three. One was a jolly Irish mule-skinner with a picturesque vocabulary and an inimitable brogue. The second wore the black suit and low-crowned hat of a clergyman, and yellow goggles to protect his eyes from the sun. He carried a roll of Scriptural charts such as are used in Sunday-Schools. The third was an angular and spectacled schoolmarm, for Tascosa was going to celebrate by starting a school.

Most of those on board were a trifle nervous. The driver was not quite at his ease; nor was the shotgun messenger. For somehow word had got out a day or two in advance of the gold shipment that it was to be sent on that date. The passengers, too, had faint doubts about the wisdom of going to Tascosa on that particular trip.

The first twenty miles of the journey were safely covered. The stage drew near to the place where now is located the famous Goodnight cattalo ranch.

From the farther side of a cut in the road came a sharp order to the driver. Two men had ridde

n out from the brush and were moving beside the stage. Each of them carried a rifle.

The driver leaned backward on the reins with a loud "Whoa!" It was an article of faith with him never to argue with a road-agent.

Ridley swung round to fire. From the opposite side of the road a shot rang out. Two more horsemen had appeared. The reins slid from the hands of the driver, and he himself from the seat. His body struck the wheel on the way to the ground. The bullet intended for the armed guard had passed through his head.

In the packed moments that followed, a dozen shots were fired, most of them by the outlaws, two by the man on the box. A bullet struck Arthur in the elbow, and the shock of it for a time paralyzed his arm. The rifle clattered against the singletree in its fall. But the shortest of the outlaws was sagging in his saddle and clutching at the pommel to support himself.

From an unexpected quarter there came a diversion. With one rapid gesture the man in the clergyman's garb had brushed aside his yellow goggles; with another he had stripped the outer cover of charts from his roll and revealed a sawed-off shotgun. As he stepped down to the road, he fired from his hip. The whole force of the load of buckshot took the nearest outlaw in the vitals and lifted him from his horse. Before he struck the ground he was dead.

In the flash of an eye the tide of battle had turned. The surprise of seeing the clergyman galvanized into action tipped the scale. One moment the treasure lay unguarded within reach of the outlaws; the next saw their leader struck down as by a bolt from heaven.

The lank bandit ripped out a sudden oath of alarm from behind the handkerchief he wore as a mask and turned his horse in its tracks. He dug home his spurs and galloped for the brow of the hill. The other unwounded robber backed away more deliberately, covering the retreat of his injured companion. Presently they, too, had passed over the top of the hill and disappeared.

The ex-clergyman turned to the treasure-guard. "How bad is it with you, Art?" he asked gently.

That young man grinned down a little wanly at Jack Roberts. He felt suddenly nauseated and ill. This business of shooting men and being shot at filled him with horror.

"Not so bad. I got it in the arm, Jack. Poor old Hank will never drive again."

The Ranger who had been camouflaged as a clergyman stooped to examine the driver. That old-timer's heart had stopped beating. "He's gone on his last long trip, Art."

"This schoolmarm lady has fainted," announced the mule-skinner.

"She's got every right in the world to faint. In Iowa, where she comes from, folks live in peace. Better sprinkle water on her face, Mike."

Jack moved over to the dead outlaw and lifted the bandana mask from the face. "Pete Dinsmore, just like I thought," he told Ridley. "Well, he had to have it-couldn't learn his lesson any other way."

Roberts drove the stage with its load of dead and wounded back to Clarendon. As quickly as possible he gathered a small posse to follow the bandits. Hampered as the outlaws were with a badly wounded man, there was a good chance of running them to earth at last. Before night he and his deputies were far out on the plains following a trail that led toward Palo Duro Ca?on.

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