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- A Texas Ranger - 1/47 -


A Texas Ranger

By William MacLeod Raine, 1910

FOREWORD TO YE GENTLE READER.

Within the memory of those of us still on the sunny side of forty the more remote West has passed from rollicking boyhood to its responsible majority. The frontier has gone to join the good Indian. In place of the ranger who patrolled the border for "bad men" has come the forest ranger, type of the forward lapping tide of civilization. The place where I write this-- Tucson, Arizona-- is now essentially more civilized than New York. Only at the moving picture shows can the old West, melodramatically overpainted, be shown to the manicured sons and daughters of those, still living, who brought law and order to the mesquite.

As Arthur Chapman, the Western poet, has written:

No loopholes now are framing Lean faces, grim and brown; No more keen eyes are aiming To bring the redskin down. The plough team's trappings jingle Across the furrowed field, And sounds domestic mingle Where valor hung its shield. But every wind careering Seems here to breathe a song-- A song of brave frontiering-- A saga of the strong.

Part I

(In Which Steve Plays Second Fiddle)

THE MAN FROM THE PANHANDLE

CHAPTER I

A DESERT MEETING

As she lay crouched in the bear-grass there came to the girl clearly the crunch of wheels over disintegrated granite. The trap had dipped into a draw, but she knew that presently it would reappear on the winding road. The knowledge smote her like a blast of winter, sent chills racing down her spine, and shook her as with an ague. Only the desperation of her plight spurred her flagging courage.

Round the bend came a pair of bays hitched to a single-seated open rig. They were driven by a young man, and as he reached the summit he drew up opposite her and looked down into the valley.

It lay in a golden glow at their feet, a basin of pure light and silence stretching mile on mile to the distant edge of jagged mountain-line which formed its lip. Sunlight strong as wine flooded a clean world, an amber Eden slumbering in an unbroken, hazy dream primeval.

"Don't move!"

At the summons the driver swung his head sharply to a picture he will never forget. A young woman was standing on the bank at the edge of the road covering him with a revolver, having apparently just stepped from behind the trunk of the cottonwood beside her. The color had fled her cheeks even to the edge of the dull red-copper waves of hair, but he could detect in her slim young suppleness no doubt or uncertainty. On the contrary, despite her girlish freshness, she looked very much like business. She was like some young wild creature of the forest cornered and brought to bay, but the very terror in her soul rendered her more dangerous. Of the heart beating like a trip-hammer the gray unwinking eyes that looked into hers read nothing. She had schooled her taut nerves to obedience, and they answered her resolute will steadily despite fluttering pulses.

"Don't move!" she said again.

"What do you want?" he asked harshly.

"I want your team," she panted.

"What for?"

"Never mind. I want it."

The rigor of his gaze slowly softened to a smile compound both of humor and grimness. He was a man to appreciate a piquant situation, none the less because it was at his expense. The spark that gleamed in his bold eye held some spice of the devil.

"All right. This is your hold-up, ma'am. I'll not move," he said, almost genially.

She was uneasily aware that his surrender had been too tame. Strength lay in that close-gripped salient jaw, in every line of the reckless sardonic face, in the set of the lean muscular shoulders. She had nerved herself to meet resistance, and instead he was yielding with complacent good nature.

"Get out!" she commanded.

He stepped from the rig and offered her the reins. As she reached for them his right hand shot out and caught the wrist that held the weapon, his left encircled her waist and drew her to him. She gave a little cry of fear and strained from him, fighting with all her lissom strength to free herself.

For all the impression she made the girdle round her waist might have been of steel. Without moving, he held her as she struggled, his brown muscular fingers slowly tightening round her wrist. Her stifled cry was of pain this time, and before it had died the revolver fell to the ground from her paralyzed grip.

But her exclamation had been involuntary and born of the soft tender flesh. The wild eyes that flamed into his asked for no quarter and received none. He drew her slowly down toward him, inch by inch, till she lay crushed and panting against him, but still unconquered. Though he held the stiff resistant figure motionless she still flashed battle at him.

He looked into the storm and fury of her face, hiding he knew not what of terror, and laughed in insolent delight. Then, very deliberately, he kissed her lips.

"You-- coward!" came instantly her choking defiance.

"Another for that," he laughed, kissing her again.

Her little fist beat against his face and he captured it, but as he looked at her something that had come into the girl's face moved his not very accessible heart. The salt of the adventure was gone, his victory worse than a barren one. For stark fear stared at him, naked and unconcealed, and back of that he glimpsed a subtle something that he dimly recognized for the outraged maidenly modesty he had so ruthlessly trampled upon. His hands fell to his side reluctantly.

She stumbled back against the tree trunk, watching him with fascinated eyes that searched him anxiously. They found their answer, and with a long ragged breath the girl turned and burst into hysterical tears.

The man was amazed. A moment since the fury of a tigress had possessed her. Now she was all weak womanish despair. She leaned against the cottonwood and buried her face in her arm, the while uneven sobs shook her slender body. He frowned resentfully at this change of front, and because his calloused conscience was disturbed he began to justify himself. Why didn't she play it out instead of coming the baby act on him? She had undertaken to hold him up and he had made her pay forfeit. He didn't see that she had any kick coming. If she was this kind of a boarding-school kid she ought not to have monkeyed with the buzz-saw. She was lucky he didn't take her to El Paso with him and have her jailed.

"I reckon we'll listen to explanations now," he said grimly after a minute of silence interrupted only by her sobs.

The little fist that had struck at his face now bruised itself in unconscious blows at the bark of the tree. He waited till the staccato breaths had subsided, then took her by the shoulders and swung her round.

"You have the floor, ma'am. What does this gun-play business mean?"

Through the tears her angry eyes flashed starlike.

"I sha'n't tell you," she flamed. "You had no right to-- How dared you insult me as you have?"

"Did I insult you?" he asked, with suave gentleness. "Then if you feel insulted I expect you lay claim to being a lady. But I reckon that don't fit in with holding up strangers at the end of a gun. If I've insulted you I'll ce'tainly apologize, but you'll have to show me I have. We're in Texas, which is next door but one to Missouri, ma'am."

"I don't want your apologies. I detest and hate you," she cried,

"That's your privilege, ma'am, and it's mine to know whyfor I'm held up with a gun when I'm traveling peaceably along the road," he answered evenly.

"I'll not tell you."

He spoke softly as if to himself. "That's too bad. I kinder hate to take her to jail, but I reckon I must."

She shrank back, aghast and white.

"No, no! You don't understand. I didn't mean to-- I only wanted-- Why, I meant to pay you for the team."

"I'll understand when you tell me," he said placidly.

"I've told you. I needed the team. I was going to let you have one of our horses and seventy-five dollars. It's all I have with me."

"One of your horses, you say? With seventy-five dollars to boot? And you was intending to arrange the trade from behind that gun. I expect you needed a team right bad."

His steady eyes rested on her, searched her, appraised her, while he


A Texas Ranger - 1/47

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