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   Chapter 42 A DIFFERENCE OF OPINION

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 10885

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Rescued and rescuers rode out of the ca?on as soon as the Apaches had been driven away. Nobody suggested that the Indians who had been killed in the surprise attack be buried. The bodies were left lying where they had fallen. For in those days no frontiersman ever buried a dead redskin. If the body happened to be inconveniently near a house, a mounted cowboy roped one foot and dragged it to a distance. Those were the years when all settlers agreed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. The Indian wars are over now, and a new generation can safely hold a more humane view; but old-timers in the Panhandle will tell you to-day that the saying was literally true.

The little group of riders drew out of the gorge and climbed the shale slide to the plain above. Roberts rode knee to knee with Dinsmore. On the other side of the outlaw was Jumbo. The man between them still carried his rifle and his revolver, but he understood without being told that he was a prisoner.

Wadley dropped back from his place beside Ramona and ranged up beside the officer.

"What are you aimin' to do with him, Jack?" he asked in a low voice.

"I'm goin' to turn him over to Cap Ellison."

The cattleman pondered that awhile before he continued. "'Mona has been tellin' me about you an' her, Jack. I ain't got a word to say-not a word. If you're the man she wants, you're sure the man she'll get. But I want to tell you that you're a lucky young scamp. You don't deserve her. I've got to see the man yet that does."

"We're not goin' to quarrel about that, Mr. Wadley," agreed Jack. "I'm nothin' but a rough cowboy, an' she's the salt of the earth. I don't see what she sees in me."

"H'm!" grunted the owner of the A T O, and looked at the lithe, brown, young fellow, supple as a whip and strong as tested steel. It was not hard to understand what a girl saw in him. "Glad you got sense enough to know that."

"I'm not a plumb fool, you know."

Clint changed the subject apparently. "Boy, I've been in hell ever since Sullivan rode in with the bad news. My God! how I suffered till I saw my little trick standing there alive and well."

The Ranger nodded. He thought he knew what Wadley was driving toward. But he was resolved to give him no help. He must make his own plea.

"You helped save her, Jack. That's all right. I reckon you care for her too. Any man would 'a' done what you did. But Dinsmore, he did a whole lot more 'n you. When he was hotfooting it to escape from you, he turned round an' started to bring her back to the ranch. Steve Gurley, he said to take 'Mona along with 'em to the ca?on. You know what that hellhound meant. But Dinsmore wouldn't stand for that. He said she was entitled to be took home. Well, you know how the 'Paches cut 'em off."

"Yes. That's how we figured it out," said Roberts.

"Her hawss stepped into a prairie-dog hole an' broke its leg. Dinsmore stopped an' swung her up behind him, the 'Paches gainin' every jump of the road. Oncet they reached Palo Duro he stood off the devils till she reached the ledge. Jack, we're lucky that a man like Homer Dinsmore was beside her yesterday, don't you reckon?"

"I reckon." Tiny beads of sweat stood on the forehead of the boy. He knew now what was coming.

"Good enough. Well, Jack, I reckon we cayn't take Dinsmore in to be hanged. That wouldn't be human, would it?"

The roof of the Ranger's mouth was dry. He looked away across the rolling waves of prairie while the cattleman waited for his answer. Every impulse of desire in him leaned toward the argument Wadley was making. His love for Ramona, his gratitude to Dinsmore, his keen desire to meet halfway the man who was to be his father-in-law and had accepted the prospect so generously, his boyish admiration for the thing that the outlaw had done, all tugged mightily at him.

"An' look a-here," went on the cattleman, "you got to keep in mind that you never would 'a' got Dinsmore this trip in kingdom come if he hadn't stopped to save 'Mona. He'd 'a' kep' right up the ca?on till he was sure enough lost. It would be a damned mean trick for you to take a man in to be hanged because he had risked his life to save the girl you claim to love."

"You make me feel like a yellow hound, Mr. Wadley," admitted Roberts. "But what am I to do? When I joined the Rangers I swore to enforce the law. You know how it is in the force. We've got no friends when we're sent out to get a man. I'd bring in my own brother if he was wanted. That's why the Texas Rangers stack up so high. They play no favorites an' they let no prisoners escape. You're askin' me to throw down Cap Ellison who trusts me, the State that pays me, the boys on the force that pal with me, an' my loyalty to the people. You want me to do it because I've got a personal reason to wish Dinsmore to get away. If I don't take him in to town I'm a traitor. That's the long an' the short of it."

"Hell's blazes!" broke in the cattleman. "I thought you was a man an' not a machine. You want to marry my li'l' girl, but you're not willin' to do a favor to the man who has just saved her from a hundred horrible deaths. Haven't you any guts in you a-tall?"

The muscles stood out on the lean, set face of the Ranger like rawhide ropes. "I can't lie down on my job. Ramona wouldn't ask it of me. I've got to go through. That's what I'm paid for."

"She's askin' it right now. Through me."

"Then she doesn't

understand what she's askin'. Let me talk with her. Let me explain-"

"We don't want any of yore damned explanations," interrupted Wadley roughly. "Talk turkey. Will you or won't you? Me, I ain't plumb crazy about law. It's justice I want done. I'll be doggoned if I'm goin' to stand by an' let any harm come to Dinsmore-not this here year of our Lord."

"I'll do all I can for him-"

"Except that you're bound an' determined to see him hanged. You sure beat my time. I'd think you would be right anxious to tell him to cut his stick-kinda slide out inconspicuous when we ain't watchin'. Be reasonable, Roberts. That's all I ask. I want to be yore friend if you'll let me. My bank's behind you to back any business proposition you want to start. Or that job I offered you before is open to you. After a little we can fix up some kind of a partnership."

The dark color burned under the tan of the Ranger's face. His lips were like a steel trap, and in his eyes there was a cold glitter. "It doesn't get you anywhere to talk that-a-way to me, Mr. Wadley. I'd want to marry Miss Ramona just the same if she was the poorest girl in the Panhandle. Offer me a deed to the A T O an' it wouldn't make any difference to me. I'm not goin' to turn Dinsmore loose because it's to my advantage."

"Don't get on the prod, young fellow. I wasn't tryin' to bribe you. I was showin' you how I felt. But you're so damned high-headed a plain man can't talk sense to you." The impulsive anger of the old Texan suddenly ripped out. "Hell, I'm not goin' to beg you to do what yore own decency ought to tell you right away. But I'll say this right off the reel: neither 'Mona nor I want to have a thing to do with a man who's so selfish he can't yield the first favor she ever asked of him. We're through with you."

The two men had fallen back of the others and were riding alone. Now the young Texan looked hard at the old-timer. The eyes of neither of them gave way even for a beat of the lashes.

"I'll have to hear Miss Ramona say that before it goes with me," answered Roberts steadily.

"All right. You can hear it right this minute." The cattleman touched his horse with the spur and cantered forward.

The Ranger was with him when they drew up beside Ramona. The smile in the eyes of the girl died away as she looked first at one and then at the other of them. She was sensitive to atmospheres, and if she had not been the harsh surface of both of them would have been evidence enough of a clash.

"Ramona," began her father, "this fellow here is a Ranger first an' a human bein' afterward. He's hell-bent on takin' Dinsmore to prison so as to make a big name for himself. I've told him how we feel, an' he says that doesn't make any difference a-tall, that Dinsmore's got to hang."

"That isn't what I meant a-tall," explained Jack. "I've been tryin' to tell yore father that I'd give an arm to turn him loose. But I can't. It wouldn't be right."

The soft eyes of the girl pleaded with her lover. "I think we ought to free him, Jack. He saved my life. He fought for me. Nobody could have done more for me. He ... he was so good to me." Her voice broke on the last sentence.

The young man swallowed a lump in his throat. "I wish I could. But don't you see I can't? I'm not Jack Roberts, the man who ... who cares for you. I'm an officer of the State sent out to bring in this man wanted for a crime. I've got to take him in."

"But he saved my life," she said gently, puzzled at his queer point of view. "He stayed with me when he could easily have escaped. You wouldn't ... take advantage of that, Jack?"

"I'll give every dollar I've got in the world to clear him, 'Mona. I'll fight for him to a finish. But I've got to take him to town an' put him in jail. If I don't I can't ever hold up my head again," he told her desperately.

"I thought you loved me, Jack," she murmured, through gathering tears.

"What kind of a man would I be for you to marry if I threw down on what was right just because you asked me to an' I wanted to do it?" he demanded.

"He's got his neck bowed, 'Mona. I told him how we felt, but he wouldn't believe me. I reckon he knows now," her father said.

"You're not goin' to throw me over because I've got to do what I think right, 'Mona?" asked Jack miserably.

"I ... I'm not throwing you over. It's you. You're throwing me over. Don't you see that we've got to help Mr. Dinsmore because he did so much for me?"

"Certainly I see that. I'll resign from the Rangers, and then we'll all pull together for him, 'Mona."

"After you've pulled on the rope that hangs him," added Clint angrily. "Nothin' to that, 'Mona. He's for us or he's against us. Let him say which right now."

The girl nodded, white to the lips.

"Do you mean that you'll give me up unless I let Dinsmore escape before we reach town?" asked the young man.

"I ... I've got to save him as he did me. If you won't help, it's because you don't love me enough," she faltered.

"I can't," the boy cried.

"'Nough said," cut in Wadley. "You've got yore answer, 'Mona, an' he's got his."

Jack stiffened in the saddle. His hard eyes bored straight into those of his sweetheart. "Have I?" he asked of her.

The girl nodded and turned her head away with a weak, little gesture of despair. Her heart was bleeding woe.

The Ranger wheeled on his horse and galloped back to his place beside Dinsmore.

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