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Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 10556

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"I'm going duck-hunting, Daddy," announced Ramona one evening at supper. "Quint Sullivan is going with me. We're to get up early in the morning and leave before daybreak."

They had been back at the ranch several weeks, and 'Mona was tired of practicing on the piano and reading Scott's novels after her work about the house was done. She was restless. Her father had noticed it and wondered why. He would have been amazed to learn that the longing to see or hear about a certain brindle-haired former line-rider of his had anything to do with her unrest. Indeed, Ramona did not confess this even to herself. She tried to think that she had been cooped up in the house too long. Hence the duck-hunting as an escape.

"All right, honey. I'll give Quint notice who his boss is to-morrow."

"I've already given him his orders, Dad," his daughter said, with a saucy little moue at her father.

Clint chuckled. "'Nough said. When you give orders I take a back seat. Every rider on the place knows that. I'm the most henpecked dad in Texas."

By daybreak Ramona and her escort were several miles from the ranch on their way to the nearest lake. Quint was a black-haired, good-looking youth who rode the range for the A T O outfit. Like most of the unmarried men about her between the ages of fifteen and fifty, he imagined himself in love with the daughter of the boss. He had no expectation whatever of marrying her. He would as soon have thought of asking Wadley to give him a deed to the ranch as he would of mentioning to Ramona the state of his feelings. But that young woman, in spite of her manner of frank innocence, knew quite accurately how matters stood, just as she knew that in due time Quint would transfer his misplaced affections to some more reciprocal object of them.

Her particular reason for selecting Quint as her companion of the day was that he happened to be a devoted admirer of Jack Roberts. All one needed to do was to mention the Ranger to set him off on a string of illustrative anecdotes, and Ramona was hungry for the very sound of his name. One advantage in talking to young Sullivan about his friend was that the ingenuous youth would never guess that the subject of their conversation had been chosen by her rather than by him.

"Did I ever tell you, Miss Ramona, about the time Texas an' me went to Denver? Gentlemen, hush! We ce'tainly had one large time."

"You boys ought not to spend your time in the saloons whenever you go to town. It isn't good for you," reproved the sage young woman who was "going-on seventeen."

She was speaking for a purpose, and Quint very innocently answered the question in her mind.

"No, ma'am. I reckon you're right. But we didn't infest the saloons none that time. Texas, he's one of these here good bad-men. He's one sure-enough tough nut, an' I'd hate to try to crack him, but the queer thing is he don't drink or chew or go hellin' around with the boys. But, say, he's some live lad, lemme tell you. What do you reckon he pulled off on me whilst we was in Denver?"

"Some foolishness, I suppose," said Ramona severely, but she was not missing a word.

"He meets up with a newspaper guy an' gets to fillin' him plumb full o' misinformation about me. To hear him tell it I was the white-haired guy from the Panhandle an' had come to Denver for to hunt a girl to marry. Well, that reporter he goes back an' writes a piece in his paper about how it was the chance of a lifetime for any onmarried fe-male, of even disposition an' pleasin' appearance, between the ages of twenty an' thirty-five, to marry a guaranteed Texas cowpuncher, warranted kind an' sound an' to run easy in double harness. An' would the ladies please come early to the St. Peter hotel an' inquire for Mr. Quint Sullivan."

"Did any of them come?" asked Ramona, her eyes dancing.

"Did they? Wow! They swarmed up the stairs an' crowded the elevators, while that doggoned Tex sicked 'em on me. Honest, I didn't know there was so many onmarried ladies in the world."

"How did you escape?" asked the girl, well aware that he was drawing the long bow.

"Ma'am, the fire department rescued me. But I ce'tainly did lie awake the balance of the trip tryin' to get even with Jack Roberts. But it's no manner of use. He lands right-side up every time."

After they had reached Crane Lake the cowpuncher tied the horses while Ramona started around to the far side, following the shore line and keeping her eyes open for ducks. The girl made a half-circuit of the lake without getting a shot. There were ducks enough to be seen, but as yet none of them were within range.

It might have been half an hour after Ramona left Sullivan that there came a shot from the other side of the lake. It was followed almost immediately by a second, a third, and a fourth. 'Mona caught sight of Quint running fast toward the horses. Her heart felt a sudden constriction as of an iron band tightening upon it, for half a dozen mounted Indians were in hot pursuit. She saw the boy reach the nearest bronco, jerk loose the bridle rein, vault to the saddle, and gallop away, lying low on the back of the horse. The Indians fired from their horses as they rode, but the man flying for his life did not take time to shoot.

For a momen

t 'Mona stood in plain view by the lake shore. Then she dropped among the rushes, her heart fluttering wildly like that of a forest bird held captive in the hand. She was alone, at the mercy of twoscore of hostile Indians. They would know that the cowboy had a companion because of the second bronco, and as soon as they returned from the pursuit they would begin a search for her. Perhaps they might not even wait till then. 'Mona lay there in despair while one might have counted a hundred. During that time she gave herself up for lost. She could neither move nor think. But presently there flowed back into her heart a faint hope. Perhaps she had not yet been seen. There was a little arroyo farther to the left. If she could reach it, still unnoticed, at least she could then run for her life.

She crept through the rushes on hands and knees, sinking sometimes wrist-deep in water. There was one stretch of perhaps thirty yards at the end of the rushes that had to be taken without cover. She flew across the open, a miracle of supple lightness, reached the safety of the little gulch, and ran as she had never run before. Every moment she expected to hear the crash of the pursuers breaking through the brush.

On the ranch she had lived largely an outdoor life, and in spite of her slenderness was lithe and agile. Beneath her soft flesh hard muscles flowed, for she had known the sting of sleet and the splash of sun. But the rapid climb had set her heart pumping fast. Her speed began to slacken.

Near the summit was a long, uptilted stratum of rock which led to the left and dipped over the ridge. She followed this because no tracks would here betray where she had escaped. For almost a quarter of a mile she descended on the outcropping quartz, flying in an ecstasy of terror from the deadly danger that might at any instant appear on the crest of the divide behind her.

Ramona came to a cleft in the huge boulder, a deep, narrow gash that looked as if it might have been made by a sword stroke of the gods. She peered into the shadowy gulf, but could not see the bottom of the fissure. A pebble dropped by her took so long to strike that she knew the chasm must be deep.

If she could get down into it, perhaps she might hide from the savages. It was her one possible chance of escape. The girl moved along the edge of the precipice trying to find a way down that was not sheer. An arrowweed thicket had struggled up from a jutting spar of rock. Below this was a ridge where her foot might find a support. Beyond was a rock wall that disappeared into empty space. But 'Mona could not choose. She must take this or nothing.

By means of the arrowweed she lowered herself over the edge while her foot groped for the spar of quartz. Her last look up the hill showed Indians pouring across the ridge in pursuit. Without hesitation she chose the chances of death in the cavern to the certainty of the torture waiting for her outside. Foot by foot she lowered herself, making the most of every irregularity in the rock wall that offered a grip for hand or foot. The distance down seemed interminable. She worked herself into a position where she could move neither up nor down. While her foot was searching for a brace one of her hands slipped and she went the rest of the way with a rush.

For a time she lay there in the darkness, shaken and bruised by the fall, a sharp pain shooting through one of her legs just above the ankle. During those minutes of daze voices came to her from the slit of light above. The painted face of an Apache leaned over the edge of the wall and looked into the gulf.

The girl made not the least movement. She did not stir to relieve the pain of her leg. Scarcely did she dare breathe lest the sound of it might reach those above.

The Apaches began to fire into the fissure. Ramona noiselessly dragged herself close to the overhanging wall. Shot after shot was flung into the cavern at random. Fortunately for Ramona the strain of the situation relaxed abruptly. A wave of light-headedness seemed to carry her floating into space. She fainted.

When she came to herself no sound reached the girl from above. The Indians had no doubt concluded that their victim was not in the cavern and taken up the pursuit again. But she knew the cunning of the Apache. Probably one or two braves had been left to watch the cleft. She lay quite still and listened. All she could hear was the fearful beating of her heart.

For hours she lay there without making a sound. The patience of the Apache is proverbial. It was possible they knew where she was and were waiting for her to deliver herself to them.

'Mona had one ghastly comfort. The little revolver she had brought along with which to shoot rattlesnakes was still in its scabbard by her side. If they would give her only a moment or two of warning, she would never fall alive into the hands of the redskins.

Time was unmarked for her in the darkness of the cavern. She could not tell whether it was still morning or whether the afternoon was nearing an end. Such a day, so full of dreadful horrors, so long from morning till night, she had never before passed. It seemed to her that a week of hours had come and gone before the light above began to fade.

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