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   Chapter 36 HOMER DINSMORE ESCORTS RAMONA

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 7464

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"I'm lost!" cried Ramona.

"Where from?" asked Dinsmore.

"From the A T O."

"You're Clint Wadley's daughter, then?"

She nodded. "We met Indians. I ... got away."

The girl knelt beside the brook, put her hands on two stones that jutted up from the water, and drank till her thirst was assuaged.

"I'm hungry," she said simply, after she had risen.

He led her back to the camp-fire and on the way picked up the bird he had shot. 'Mona saw that he noticed her limp, though he said nothing about it.

"I had an accident," she explained. "Fell down a rock wall while I was getting away from the 'Paches."

"They're out again, are they-the devils?" He asked another question. "You said 'we.' Who was with you when the Indians took after you?"

"Quint Sullivan. I was on the other side of Crane Lake from him and heard shots. I saw Quint running for the horses with the 'Paches after him."

"Did he get away?"

She shuddered. "He reached the horses. They rode after him. I don't know whether...." Her voice thinned away.

The man at the camp-fire turned, and at sight of them dropped a sudden, startled oath.

Ramona looked at him, then at Dinsmore. A faint tremor passed through her slight body. She knew now who these men were.

"What's she doin' here?" demanded Gurley.

"She's lost. The 'Paches are out, Steve."

"Where are they?"

"Up at Crane Lake last night."

"Are they headed this way?"

"Don't know. She"-with a jerk of his thumb toward Ramona-"bumped into 'em an' got away."

"We'd better light a shuck out o' here," said Gurley, visibly disturbed.

"Why? They ain't liable to come this way more than any other. We'll have breakfast an' talk things over. Fix up this bird, Steve. Cook it in the skillet. She's hungry."

Ramona observed that both the men referred to her as she whenever any reference was made to her.

While they ate breakfast the girl told the story of her experience. Dinsmore watched her with a reluctant admiration. The lines of her figure drooped with weariness, but fatigue could not blot out the grace of her young vitality.

"When can we start for home?" Ramona asked after she had eaten.

"For the A T O?" asked the lank, sallow outlaw brutally. "What's ailin' you? Think we're goin' to take you home with the 'Paches between us an' there? We ain't plumb crazy."

"But I must get home right away. My father-he'll be frightened about me."

"Will he?" jeered Gurley. "If he knew you was in such good company he'd be real easy in his mind." The man flashed a look at her that made the girl burn with shame.

"We could go round an' miss the 'Paches," suggested Ramona timidly.

"Forget that notion," answered Gurley, and there was a flash of cruelty in his eyes. "Mebbe you misremember that I'm obligated to you, miss, for what that condemned Ranger Roberts did to me when I fell over the box in front of the store. We'll settle accounts whilst you're here, I reckon."

The girl appealed to Dinsmore. "You're not going to let him ... mistreat me, are you?"

The pathos of her situation, the slim, helpless, wonderful youth of the girl, touched the not very accessible heart of Dinsmore.

"You bet I'm not. He'll cut out that kind o' talk right now," he said.

The eyes of Ramona met his, and she knew she was safe. This man had the respect for a good woman that was characteristic of the turbulent West in its most lawless days. He might be a miscreant and a murderer, but he would fight at the drop of a hat in response to the appeal of any woman who was "straight."

"Playin' up to Clint, are you, Homer?" sneered the other man. "You better take her straight home like she wants, since you're so friendly to the family."

"That's

exactly what I'm goin' to do," retorted Dinsmore. "Any objections?"

Gurley dropped his sneer instantly. His alarm voiced itself in a wheedling apology. "I didn't go for to rile you, Homer. O' course you cayn't do that. We got to stick together. The Indians is one reason. An' there's another. No need for me to tell you what it is."

"You'll have to wait for me in the ca?on till I get back. It's not far from here to you-know-where. I'm goin' to take the horses an' see this girl back to her home."

"You're good," Ramona said simply.

"You're not figurin' on takin' my horse, are you?" Gurley burst out with an oath.

"You've done guessed it, Steve. You'll have to hoof it into the ca?on."

"Like hell I will. Take another think, my friend."

The eyes of the men clashed, one pair filled with impotent rage, the other cold and hard as polished steel on a frosty morning.

Gurley yielded sullenly. "It's no square deal, Homer. We didn't bring her here. Why cayn't she go along with us an' hole up till the 'Paches are gone an' till ... things kinda settle down?"

"Because she's got no business with folks like us. Her place is back at the A T O, an' that's where I aim to take her. She's had one hell of a time, if you ask me. What that kid needs is for her home folks to tuck her up in bed an' send her to sleep. She's had about all the trouble a li'l' trick like her can stand, I shouldn't wonder."

"You ain't her nurse," growled Gurley.

"That's why I'm goin' to take her home to those that are. 'Nuff said, Steve. What I say goes."

"You act mighty high-heeled," grumbled the other man.

"Mebbeso," replied Dinsmore curtly. "Saddle the horses, Steve."

"I dunno as I'm yore horse-rustler," mumbled Gurley, smothering his sullen rage. None the less he rose slowly and shuffled away toward the hobbled horses.

'Mona touched Dinsmore on the sleeve. Her soft eyes poured gratitude on him. "I'll remember this as long as I live. No matter what anybody says I'll always know that you're good."

The blood crept up beneath the tan of the outlaw's face. It had been many years since an innocent child had made so na?ve a confession of faith in him. He was a bad-man, and he knew it. But at the core of him was a dynamic spark of self-respect that had always remained alight. He had ridden crooked trails through all his gusty lifetime. His hand had been against every man's, but at least he had fought fair and been loyal to his pals. And there had never been a time when a good woman need be afraid to look him in the face.

"Sho! Nothin' to that. I gotta take you home so as you won't be in the way," he told her with a touch of embarrassed annoyance.

No man alive knew this country better than Homer Dinsmore. Every draw was like its neighbor, every rolling rise a replica of the next. But the outlaw rode as straight a course as if his road had been marked out for him by stakes across the plains. He knew that he might be riding directly toward a posse of Rangers headed for Palo Duro to round up the stage robbers. He could not help that. He would have to take his chance of an escape in case they met such a posse.

The sun climbed high in the heavens.

"How far do you think we are now from the ranch?" asked Ramona.

"Most twenty miles. We've been swingin' well to the left. I reckon we can cut in now."

They climbed at a walk a little hill and looked across a wide sweep of country before them. Ramona gave a startled cry and pointed an outstretched finger at some riders emerging from a dry wash.

"'Paches!" cried Dinsmore. "Back over the hill, girl."

They turned, but too late. On the breeze there came to them a yell that sent the blood from 'Mona's heart.

* * *

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