Part 5 out of 7
"Bah! That's all a bluff," sneered Lawson. "I'm on to your
game. You just wanted an excuse to break in here--to see my
cousin again. When you saw the company you invented that
excuse. Now, be off, or it'll be the worse for you."
Duane felt his face burn with a tide of hot blood. Almost he
felt that he was guilty of such motive. Had he not been unable
to put this Ray Longstreth out of his mind? There seemed to be
scorn in her eyes now. And somehow that checked his
"Miss Longstreth, will you let me search the house?" he asked.
"Then--I regret to say--I'll do so without your permission."
"You'll not dare!" she flashed. She stood erect, her bosom
"Pardon me, yes, I will."
"Who are you?" she demanded, suddenly.
"I'm a Texas Ranger," replied Duane.
"A TEXAS RANGER!" she echoed.
Floyd Lawson's dark face turned pale.
"Miss Longstreth, I don't need warrants to search houses," said
Duane. "I'm sorry to annoy you. I'd prefer to have your
permission. A ruffian has taken refuge here--in your father's
house. He's hidden somewhere. May I look for him?"
"If you are indeed a ranger."
Duane produced his papers. Miss Longstreth haughtily refused to
look at them.
"Miss Longstreth, I've come to make Fairdale a safer, cleaner,
better place for women and children. I don't wonder at your
resentment. But to doubt me--insult me. Some day you may be
Floyd Lawson made a violent motion with his hands.
"All stuff! Cousin, go on with your party. I'll take a couple
of cowboys and go with this--this Texas Ranger."
"Thanks," said Duane, coolly, as he eyed Lawson. "Perhaps
you'll be able to find Snecker quicker than I could."
"What do you mean?" demanded Lawson, and now he grew livid.
Evidently he was a man of fierce quick passions.
"Don't quarrel," said Miss Longstreth. "Floyd, you go with him.
Please hurry. I'll be nervous till--the man's found or you're
sure there's not one."
They started with several cowboys to search the house. They
went through the rooms searching, calling out, peering into
dark places. It struck Duane more than forcibly that Lawson did
all the calling. He was hurried, too, tried to keep in the
lead. Duane wondered if he knew his voice would be recognized
by the hiding man. Be that as it might, it was Duane who peered
into a dark corner and then, with a gun leveled, said "Come
He came forth into the flare--a tall, slim, dark-faced youth,
wearing sombrero, blouse and trousers. Duane collared him
before any of the others could move and held the gun close
enough to make him shrink. But he did not impress Duane as
being frightened just then; nevertheless, he had a clammy face,
the pallid look of a man who had just gotten over a shock. He
peered into Duane's face, then into that of the cowboy next to
him, then into Lawson's, and if ever in Duane's life he beheld
relief it was then. That was all Duane needed to know, but he
meant to find out more if he could.
"Who're you?" asked Duane, quietly.
"Bo Snecker," he said.
"What'd you hide here for?"
He appeared to grow sullen.
"Reckoned I'd be as safe in Longstreth's as anywheres."
"Ranger, what'll you do with him?" Lawson queried, as if
uncertain, now the capture was made.
"I'll see to that," replied Duane, and he pushed Snecker in
front of him out into the court.
Duane had suddenly conceived the idea of taking Snecker before
Mayor Longstreth in the court.
When Duane arrived at the hall where court was held there were
other men there, a dozen or more, and all seemed excited;
evidently, news of Duane had preceded him. Longstreth sat at a
table up on a platform. Near him sat a thick-set grizzled man,
with deep eyes, and this was Hanford Owens, county judge. To
the right stood a tall, angular, yellow-faced fellow with a
drooping sandy mustache. Conspicuous on his vest was a huge
silver shield. This was Gorsech, one of Longstreth's sheriffs.
There were four other men whom Duane knew by sight, several
whose faces were familiar, and half a dozen strangers, all
Longstreth pounded hard on the table to be heard. Mayor or not,
he was unable at once to quell the excitement. Gradually,
however, it subsided, and from the last few utterances before
quiet was restored Duane gathered that he had intruded upon
some kind of a meeting in the hall.
"What'd you break in here for," demanded Longstreth.
"Isn't this the court? Aren't you the Mayor of Fairdale?"
interrogated Duane. His voice was clear and loud, almost
"Yes," replied Longstreth. Like flint he seemed, yet Duane felt
his intense interest.
"I've arrested a criminal," said Duane.
"Arrested a criminal!" ejaculated Longstreth. "You? Who're
"I'm a ranger," replied Duane.
A significant silence ensued.
"I charge Snecker with assault on Laramie and attempted
robbery--if not murder. He's had a shady past here, as this
court will know if it keeps a record."
"What's this I hear about you, Bo? Get up and speak for
yourself," said Longstreth, gruffly.
Snecker got up, not without a furtive glance at Duane, and he
had shuffled forward a few steps toward the Mayor. He had an
evil front, but not the boldness even of a rustler.
"It ain't so, Longstreth," he began, loudly. "I went in
Laramie's place fer grub. Some feller I never seen before come
in from the hall an' hit Laramie an' wrestled him on the floor.
I went out. Then this big ranger chased me an' fetched me
here. 1 didn't do nothin'. This ranger's hankerin' to arrest
somebody. Thet's my hunch, Longstreth."
Longstreth said something in an undertone to Judge Owens, and
that worthy nodded his great bushy head.
"Bo, you're discharged," said Longstreth, bluntly. "Now the
rest of you clear out of here."
He absolutely ignored the ranger. That was his rebuff to
Duane--his slap in the face to an interfering ranger service.
If Longstreth was crooked he certainly had magnificent nerve.
Duane almost decided he was above suspicion. But his
nonchalance, his air of finality, his authoritative
assurance--these to Duane's keen and practiced eyes were in
significant contrast to a certain tenseness of line about his
mouth and a slow paling of his olive skin. In that momentary
lull Duane's scrutiny of Longstreth gathered an impression of
the man's intense curiosity.
Then the prisoner, Snecker, with a cough that broke the spell
of silence, shuffled a couple of steps toward the door.
"Hold on!" called Duane. The call halted Snecker, as if it had
been a bullet.
"Longstreth, I saw Snecker attack Laramie," said Duane, his
voice still ringing. "What has the court to say to that?"
"The court has this to say. West of the Pecos we'll not aid any
ranger service. We don't want you out here. Fairdale doesn't
"That's a lie, Longstreth," retorted Duane. "I've letters from
Fairdale citizens all begging for ranger service."
Longstreth turned white. The veins corded at his temples. He
appeared about to burst into rage. He was at a loss for quick
Floyd Lawson rushed in and up to the table. The blood showed
black and thick in his face; his utterance was incoherent, his
uncontrollable outbreak of temper seemed out of all proportion
to any cause he should reasonably have had for anger.
Longstreth shoved him back with a curse and a warning glare.
"Where's your warrant to arrest Snecker?" shouted Longstreth.
"I don't need warrants to make arrests. Longstreth, you're
ignorant of the power of Texas Rangers."
"You'll come none of your damned ranger stunts out here. I'll
That passionate reply of Longstreth's was the signal Duane had
been waiting for. He had helped on the crisis. He wanted to
force Longstreth's hand and show the town his stand.
Duane backed clear of everybody.
"Men! I call on you all!" cried Duane, piercingly. "I call on
you to witness the arrest of a criminal prevented by
Longstreth, Mayor of Fairdale. It will be recorded in the
report to the Adjutant-General at Austin. Longstreth, you'll
never prevent another arrest."
Longstreth sat white with working jaw.
"Longstreth, you've shown your hand," said Duane, in a voice
that carried far and held those who heard. "Any honest citizen
of Fairdale can now see what's plain--yours is a damn poor
hand! You're going to hear me call a spade a spade. In the two
years you've been Mayor you've never arrested one rustler.
Strange, when Fairdale's a nest for rustlers! You've never sent
a prisoner to Del Rio, let alone to Austin. You have no jail.
There have been nine murders during your office--innumerable
street-fights and holdups. Not one arrest! But you have ordered
arrests for trivial offenses, and have punished these out of
all proportion. There have been lawsuits in your court-suits
over water-rights, cattle deals, property lines. Strange how in
these lawsuits you or Lawson or other men close to you were
always involved! Strange how it seems the law was stretched to
favor your interest!"
Duane paused in his cold, ringing speech. In the silence, both
outside and inside the hall, could be heard the deep breathing
of agitated men. Longstreth was indeed a study. Yet did he
betray anything but rage at this interloper?
"Longstreth, here's plain talk for you and Fairdale," went on
Duane. "I don't accuse you and your court of dishonesty. I say
STRANGE! Law here has been a farce. The motive behind all this
laxity isn't plain to me--yet. But I call your hand!"
Duane left the hall, elbowed his way through the crowd, and
went down the street. He was certain that on the faces of some
men he had seen ill-concealed wonder and satisfaction. He had
struck some kind of a hot trait, and he meant to see where it
led. It was by no means unlikely that Cheseldine might be at
the other end. Duane controlled a mounting eagerness. But ever
and anon it was shot through with a remembrance of Ray
Longstreth. He suspected her father of being not what he
pretended. He might, very probably would, bring sorrow and
shame to this young woman. The thought made him smart with
pain. She began to haunt him, and then he was thinking more of
her beauty and sweetness than of the disgrace he might bring
upon her. Some strange emotion, long locked inside Duane's
heart, knocked to be heard, to be let out. He was troubled.
Upon returning to the inn he found Laramie there, apparently
none the worse for his injury.
"How are you, Laramie?" he asked.
"Reckon I'm feelin' as well as could be expected," replied
Laramie. His head was circled by a bandage that did not conceal
the lump where he had been struck. He looked pale, but was
"That was a good crack Snecker gave you," remarked Duane.
"I ain't accusin' Bo," remonstrated Laramie, with eyes that
made Duane thoughtful.
"Well, I accuse him. I caught him--took him to Longstreth's
court. But they let him go."
Laramie appeared to be agitated by this intimation of
"See here, Laramie," went on Duane, "in some parts of Texas
it's policy to be close-mouthed. Policy and health-preserving!
Between ourselves, I want you to know I lean on your side of
Laramie gave a quick start. Presently Duane turned and frankly
met his gaze. He had startled Laramie out of his habitual set
taciturnity; but even as he looked the light that might have
been amaze and joy faded out of his face, leaving it the same
old mask. Still Duane had seen enough. Like a bloodhound he had
"Talking about work, Laramie, who'd you say Snecker worked
"I didn't say."
"Well, say so now, can't you? Laramie, you're powerful peevish
to-day. It's that bump on your head. Who does Snecker work
"When he works at all, which sure ain't often, he rides for
"Humph! Seems to me that Longstreth's the whole circus round
Fairdale. I was some sore the other day to find I was losing
good money at Longstreth's faro game. Sure if I'd won I
wouldn't have been sore--ha, ha! But I was surprised to hear
some one say Longstreth owned the Hope So joint."
"He owns considerable property hereabouts," replied Laramie,
"Humph again! Laramie, like every other fellow I meet in this
town, you're afraid to open your trap about Longstreth.Get me
straight, Laramie. I don't care a damn for Colonel Mayor
Longstreth. And for cause I'd throw a gun on him just as quick
as on any rustler in Pecos."
"Talk's cheap," replied Laramie, making light of his bluster,
but the red was deeper in his face.
"Sure. I know that," Duane said. "And usually I don't talk.
Then it's not well known that Longstreth owns the Hope So?"
"Reckon it's known in Pecos, all right. But Longstreth's name
isn't connected with the Hope So. Blandy runs the place."
"That Blandy. His faro game's crooked, or I'm a locoed bronch.
Not that we don't have lots of crooked faro-dealers. A fellow
can stand for them. But Blandy's mean, back-handed, never looks
you in the eyes. That Hope So place ought to be run by a good
fellow like you, Laramie."
"Thanks," replied he; and Duane imagined his voice a little
husky. "Didn't you hear I used to run it?"
"No. Did you?" Duane said, quickly.
"I reckon. I built the place, made additions twice, owned it
for eleven years."
"Well, I'll be doggoned." It was indeed Duane's turn to be
surprised, and with the surprise came a glimmering. "I'm sorry
you're not there now. Did you sell out?"
"No. Just lost the place."
Laramie was bursting for relief now--to talk, to tell. Sympathy
had made him soft.
"It was two years ago-two years last March," he went on. "I was
in a big cattle deal with Longstreth. We got the stock--an' my
share, eighteen hundred head, was rustled off. I owed
Longstreth. He pressed me. It come to a lawsuit--an' I--was
It hurt Duane to look at Laramie. He was white, and tears
rolled down his cheeks. Duane saw the bitterness, the defeat,
the agony of the man. He had failed to meet his obligations;
nevertheless, he had been swindled. All that he suppressed, all
that would have been passion had the man's spirit not been
broken, lay bare for Duane to see. He had now the secret of his
bitterness. But the reason he did not openly accuse Longstreth,
the secret of his reticence and fear--these Duane thought best
to try to learn at some later time.
"Hard luck! It certainly was tough," Duane said. "But you're a
good loser. And the wheel turns! Now, Laramie, here's what. I
need your advice. I've got a little money. But before I lose it
I want to invest some. Buy some stock, or buy an interest in
some rancher's herd. What I want you to steer me on is a good
square rancher. Or maybe a couple of ranchers, if there happen
to be two honest ones. Ha, ha! No deals with ranchers who ride
in the dark with rustlers! I've a hunch Fairdale is full of
them. Now, Laramie, you've been here for years. Sure you must
know a couple of men above suspicion."
"Thank God I do," he replied, feelingly. "Frank Morton an' Si
Zimmer, my friends an' neighbors all my prosperous days, an'
friends still. You can gamble on Frank and Si. But if you want
advice from me--don't invest money in stock now."
"Because any new feller buyin' stock these days will be rustled
quicker 'n he can say Jack Robinson. The pioneers, the new
cattlemen--these are easy pickin' for the rustlers. Lord knows
all the ranchers are easy enough pickin'. But the new fellers
have to learn the ropes. They don't know anythin' or anybody.
An' the old ranchers are wise an' sore. They'd fight if they--"
"What?" Duane put in, as he paused. "If they knew who was
rustling the stock?"
"If they had the nerve?"
"Not thet so much."
"What then? What'd make them fight?"
"Howdy thar, Jim," boomed a big voice.
A man of great bulk, with a ruddy, merry face, entered the
"Hello, Morton," replied Laramie. "I'd introduce you to my
guest here, but I don't know his name."
"Haw! Haw! Thet's all right. Few men out hyar go by their right
"Say, Morton," put in Duane, "Laramie gave me a hunch you'd be
a good man to tie to. Now, I've a little money and before I
lose it I'd like to invest it in stock."
Morton smiled broadly.
"I'm on the square," Duane said, bluntly. "If you fellows never
size up your neighbors any better than you have sized me--well,
you won't get any richer."
It was enjoyment for Duane to make his remarks to these men
pregnant with meaning. Morton showed his pleasure, his
interest, but his faith held aloof.
"I've got some money. Will you let me in on some kind of deal?
Will you start me up as a stockman with a little herd all my
"Wal, stranger, to come out flat-footed, you'd be foolish to
buy cattle now. I don't want to take your money an' see you
lose out. Better go back across the Pecos where the rustlers
ain't so strong. I haven't had more'n twenty-five hundred herd
of stock for ten years. The rustlers let me hang on to a
breedin' herd. Kind of them, ain't it?"
"Sort of kind. All I hear is rustlers, Morton," replied Duane,
with impatience. "You see, I haven't ever lived long in a
rustler-run county. Who heads the gang, anyway?"
Morton looked at Duane with a curiously amused smile, then
snapped his big jaw as if to shut in impulsive words.
"Look here, Morton. It stands to reason, no matter how strong
these rustlers are, how hidden their work, however involved
with supposedly honest men--they CAN"T last."
"They come with the pioneers, an' they'll last till thar's a
single steer left," he declared.
"Well, if you take that view of circumstances I just figure you
as one of the rustlers""
Morton looked as if he were about to brain Duane with the butt
of his whip. His anger flashed by then, evidently as unworthy
of him, and, something striking him as funny, he boomed out a
"It's not so funny," Duane went on. "If you're going to pretend
a yellow streak, what else will I think?"
"Pretend?" he repeated.
"Sure. I know men of nerve. And here they're not any different
from those in other places. I say if you show anything like a
lack of sand it's all bluff. By nature you've got nerve. There
are a lot of men around Fairdale who're afraid of their
shadows--afraid to be out after dark--afraid to open their
mouths. But you're not one. So I say if you claim these
rustlers will last you're pretending lack of nerve just to help
the popular idea along. For they CAN"T last. What you need out
here is some new blood. Savvy what I mean?"
"Wal, I reckon I do," he replied, looking as if a storm had
blown over him. "Stranger, I'll look you up the next time I
come to town."
Then he went out.
Laramie had eyes like flint striking fire.
He breathed a deep breath and looked around the room before his
gaze fixed again on Duane.
"Wal," he replied, speaking low. "You've picked the right men.
Now, who in the hell are you?"
Reaching into the inside pocket of his buckskin vest, Duane
turned the lining out. A star-shaped bright silver object
flashed as he shoved it, pocket and all, under Jim's hard eyes.
"RANGER!" he whispered, cracking the table with his fist. "You
sure rung true to me."
"Laramie, do you know who's boss of this secret gang of
rustlers hereabouts?" asked Duane, bluntly. It was
characteristic of him to come sharp to the point. His
voice--something deep, easy, cool about him--seemed to steady
"No," replied Laramie.
"Does anybody know?" went on Duane.
"Wal, I reckon there's not one honest native who KNOWS."
"But you have your suspicions?"
"Give me your idea about this crowd that hangs round the
"Jest a bad lot," replied Laramie, with the quick assurance of
knowledge. "Most of them have been here years. Others have
drifted in. Some of them work, odd times. They rustle a few
steers, steal, rob, anythin' for a little money to drink an'
gamble. Jest a bad lot!"
"Have you any idea whether Cheseldine and his gang are
associated with this gang here?"
"Lord knows. I've always suspected them the same gang. None of
us ever seen Cheseldine--an' thet's strange, when Knell,
Poggin, Panhandle Smith, Blossom Kane, and Fletcher, they all
ride here often. No, Poggin doesn't come often. But the others
do. For thet matter, they're around all over west of the
"Now I'm puzzled over this," said Duane. "Why do
men--apparently honest men--seem to be so close-mouthed here?
Is that. a fact, or only my impression?"
"It's a sure fact," replied Laramie, darkly. "Men have lost
cattle an' property in Fairdale--lost them honestly or
otherwise, as hasn't been proved. An' in some cases when they
talked--hinted a little--they was found dead. Apparently held
up an robbed. But dead. Dead men don't talk! Thet's why we're
Duane felt a dark, somber sternness. Rustling cattle was not
intolerable. Western Texas had gone on prospering, growing in
spite of the hordes of rustlers ranging its vast stretches; but
a cold, secret, murderous hold on a little struggling community
was something too strange, too terrible for men to stand long.
The ranger was about to speak again when the clatter of hoofs
interrupted him. Horses halted out in front, and one rider got
down. Floyd Lawson entered. He called for tobacco.
If his visit surprised Laramie he did not show any evidence.
But Lawson showed rage as he saw the ranger, and then a dark
glint flitted from the eyes that shifted from Duane to Laramie
and back again. Duane leaned easily against the counter.
"Say, that was a bad break of yours," Lawson said. "If you come
fooling round the ranch again there'll be hell."
It seemed strange that a man who had lived west of the Pecos
for ten years could not see in Duane something which forbade
that kind of talk. It certainly was not nerve Lawson showed;
men of courage were seldom intolerant. With the matchless nerve
that characterized the great gunmen of the day there was a
cool, unobtrusive manner, a speech brief, almost gentle,
certainly courteous. Lawson was a hot-headed Louisianian of
French extraction; a man, evidently, who had never been crossed
in anything, and who was strong, brutal, passionate, which
qualities in the face of a situation like this made him simply
"I'm saying again, you used your ranger bluff just to get near
Ray Longstreth," Lawson sneered. "Mind you, if you come up
there again there'll be hell."
"You're right. But not the kind you think," Duane retorted, his
voice sharp and cold.
"Ray Longstreth wouldn't stoop to know a dirty blood-tracker
like you," said Lawson, hotly. He did not seem to have a
deliberate intention to rouse Duane; the man was simply
rancorous, jealous. "I'll call you right. You cheap bluffer!
You four-flush! You damned interfering, conceited ranger!"
"Lawson, I'll not take offense, because you seem to be
championing your beautiful cousin," replied Duane, in slow
speech. "But let me return your compliment. You're a fine
Southerner! Why, you're only a cheap four-flush--damned,
Duane hissed the last word. Then for him there was the truth in
Lawson's working passion-blackened face.
Lawson jerked, moved, meant to draw. But how slow! Duane lunged
forward. His long arm swept up. And Lawson staggered backward,
knocking table and chairs, to fall hard, in a half-sitting
posture against the wall.
"Don't draw!" warned Duane.
"Lawson, git away from your gun!" yelled Laramie.
But Lawson was crazed with fury. He tugged at his hip, his face
corded with purple welts, malignant, murderous. Duane kicked
the gun out of his hand. Lawson got up, raging, and rushed out.
Laramie lifted his shaking hands.
"What'd you wing him for?" he wailed. "He was drawin' on you.
Kickin' men like him won't do out here."
"That bull-headed fool will roar and butt himself with all his
gang right into our hands. He's just the man I've needed to
meet. Besides, shooting him would have been murder."
"Murder!" exclaimed Laramie.
"Yes, for me," replied Duane.
"That may be true--whoever you are--but if Lawson's the man you
think he is he'll begin thet secret underground bizness. Why,
Lawson won't sleep of nights now. He an' Longstreth have always
been after me."
"Laramie, what are your eyes for?" demanded Duane. "Watch out.
And now here. See your friend Morton. Tell him this game grows
hot. Together you approach four or five men you know well and
can absolutely trust. I may need your help."
Then Duane went from place to place, corner to corner, bar to
bar, watching, listening, recording. The excitement had
preceded him, and speculation was rife. He thought best to keep
out of it. After dark he stole up to Longstreth's ranch. The
evening was warm; the doors were open; and in the twilight the
only lamps that had been lit were in Longstreth's big sitting-
room, at the far end of the house. When a buckboard drove up
and Longstreth and Lawson alighted, Duane was well hidden in
the bushes, so well screened that he could get but a fleeting
glimpse of Longstreth as he went in. For all Duane could see,
he appeared to be a calm and quiet man, intense beneath the
surface, with an air of dignity under insult. Duane's chance to
observe Lawson was lost. They went into the house without
speaking and closed the door.
At the other end of the porch, close under a window, was an
offset between step and wall, and there in the shadow Duane
hid. So Duane waited there in the darkness with patience born
of many hours of hiding.
Presently a lamp was lit; and Duane heard the swish of skirts.
"Something's happened surely, Ruth," he heard Miss Longstreth
say, anxiously. "Papa just met me in the hall and didn't speak.
He seemed pale, worried."
"Cousin Floyd looked like a thunder-cloud," said Ruth. "For
once he didn't try to kiss me. Something's happened. Well, Ray,
this had been a bad day."
"Oh, dear! Ruth, what can we do? These are wild men. Floyd
makes life miserable for me. And he teases you unmer--"
"I don't call it teasing. Floyd wants to spoon," declared Ruth,
emphatically. "He'd run after any woman."
"A fine compliment to me, Cousin Ruth," laughed Ray.
"I don't care," replied Ruth, stubbornly. "it's so. He's mushy.
And when he's been drinking and tries to kiss me--I hate him!"
There were steps on the hall floor.
"Hello, girls!" sounded out Lawson's voice, minus its usual
"Floyd, what's the matter?" asked Ray, presently. "I never saw
papa as he is to-night, nor you so--so worried. Tell me, what
"Well, Ray, we had a jar to-day," replied Lawson, with a blunt,
"Jar?" echoed both the girls, curiously.
"We had to submit to a damnable outrage," added Lawson,
passionately, as if the sound of his voice augmented his
feeling. "Listen, girls; I'll tell you-all about it." He
coughed, cleared his throat in a way that betrayed he had been
Duane sunk deeper into the shadow of his covert, and,
stiffening his muscles for a protected spell of rigidity,
prepared to listen with all acuteness and intensity. Just one
word from this Lawson, inadvertently uttered in a moment of
passion, might be the word Duane needed for his clue.
"It happened at the town hall," began Lawson, rapidly. "Your
father and Judge Owens and I were there in consultation with
three ranchers from out of town. Then that damned ranger
stalked in dragging Snecker, the fellow who hid here in the
house. He had arrested Snecker for alleged assault on a
restaurant-keeper named Laramie. Snecker being obviously
innocent, he was discharged. Then this ranger began shouting
his insults. Law was a farce in Fairdale. The court was a
farce. There was no law. Your father's office as mayor should
be impeached. He made arrests only for petty offenses. He was
afraid of the rustlers, highwaymen, murderers. He was afraid
or--he just let them alone. He used his office to cheat
ranchers and cattlemen in lawsuits. All this the ranger yelled
for every one to hear. A damnable outrage. Your father, Ray,
insulted in his own court by a rowdy ranger!"
"Oh!" cried Ray Longstreth, in mingled distress and anger.
"The ranger service wants to rule western Texas," went on
Lawson. "These rangers are all a low set, many of them worse
than the outlaws they hunt. Some of them were outlaws and
gun-fighters before they became rangers. This is one of the
worst of the lot. He's keen, intelligent, smooth, and that
makes him more to be feared. For he is to be feared. He wanted
to kill. He would kill. If your father had made the least move
he would have shot him. He's a cold-nerved devil--the born
gunman. My God, any instant I expected to see your father fall
dead at my feet!"
"Oh, Floyd! The unspeakable ruffian!" cried Ray Longstreth,
"You see, Ray, this fellow, like all rangers, seeks notoriety.
He made that play with Snecker just for a chance to rant
against your father. He tried to inflame all Fairdale against
him. That about the lawsuits was the worst! Damn him! He'll
make us enemies."
"What do you care for the insinuations of such a man?" said Ray
Longstreth, her voice now deep and rich with feeling. "After a
moment's thought no one will be influenced by them. Do not
worry, Floyd. Tell papa not to worry. Surely after all these
years he can't be injured in reputation by--by an adventurer."
"Yes, he can be injured," replied Floyd, quickly. "The frontier
is a queer place. There are many bitter men here--men who have
failed at ranching. And your father has been wonderfully
successful. The ranger has dropped poison, and it'll spread."
Strangers rode into Fairdale; and other hard-looking customers,
new to Duane if not to Fairdale, helped to create a charged and
waiting atmosphere. The saloons did unusual business and were
never closed. Respectable citizens of the town were awakened in
the early dawn by rowdies carousing in the streets.
Duane kept pretty close under cover during the day. He did not
entertain the opinion that the first time he walked down-street
he would be a target for guns. Things seldom happened that way;
and when they did happen so, it was more accident than design.
But at night he was not idle. He met Laramie, Morton, Zimmer,
and others of like character; a secret club had been formed;
and all the members were ready for action. Duane spent hours at
night watching the house where Floyd Lawson stayed when he was
not up at Longstreth's. At night he was visited, or at least
the house was, by strange men who were swift, stealthy,
mysterious--all that kindly disposed friends or neighbors would
not have been. Duane had not been able to recognize any of
these night visitors; and he did not think the time was ripe
for a bold holding-up of one of them. Nevertheless, he was sure
such an event would discover Lawson, or some one in that house,
to be in touch with crooked men.
Laramie was right. Not twenty-four hours after his last talk
with Duane, in which he advised quick action, he was found
behind the little bar of his restaurant with a bullet-hole in
his breast, dead. No one could be found who had heard a shot.
It had been deliberate murder, for upon the bar had been left
a piece of paper rudely scrawled with a pencil: "All friends of
rangers look for the same."
This roused Duane. His first move, however, was to bury
Laramie. None of Laramie's neighbors evinced any interest in
the dead man or the unfortunate family he had left. Duane saw
that these neighbors were held in check by fear. Mrs. Laramie
was ill; the shock of her husband's death was hard on her; and
she had been left almost destitute with five children. Duane
rented a small adobe house on the outskirts of town and moved
the family into it. Then he played the part of provider and
nurse and friend.
After several days Duane went boldly into town and showed that
he meant business. It was his opinion that there were men in
Fairdale secretly glad of a ranger's presence. What he intended
to do was food for great speculation. A company of militia
could not have had the effect upon the wild element of Fairdale
that Duane's presence had. It got out that he was a gunman
lightning swift on the draw. It was death to face him. He had
killed thirty men--wildest rumor of all. lt was actually said
of him he had the gun-skill of Buck Duane or of Poggin.
At first there had not only been great conjecture among the
vicious element, but also a very decided checking of all kinds
of action calculated to be conspicuous to a keen-eyed ranger.
At the tables, at the bars and lounging-places Duane heard the
remarks: "Who's thet ranger after? What'll he do fust off? Is
he waitin' fer somebody? Who's goin' to draw on him fust--an'
go to hell? Jest about how soon will he be found somewheres
full of lead?"
When it came out somewhere that Duane was openly cultivating
the honest stay-at-home citizens to array them in time against
the other element, then Fairdale showed its wolf-teeth. Several
times Duane was shot at in the dark and once slightly injured.
Rumor had it that Poggin, the gunman, was coming to meet him.
But the lawless element did not rise up in a mass to slay Duane
on sight. It was not so much that the enemies of the law
awaited his next move, but just a slowness peculiar to the
frontier. The ranger was in their midst. He was interesting, if
formidable. He would have been welcomed at card-tables, at the
bars, to play and drink with the men who knew they were under
suspicion. There was a rude kind of good humor even in their
Besides, one ranger or a company of rangers could not have held
the undivided attention of these men from their games and
drinks and quarrels except by some decided move. Excitement,
greed, appetite were rife in them. Duane marked, however, a
striking exception to the usual run of strangers he had been in
the habit of seeing. Snecker had gone or was under cover. Again
Duane caught a vague rumor of the coming of Poggin, yet he
never seemed to arrive. Moreover, the goings-on among the
habitues of the resorts and the cowboys who came in to drink
and gamble were unusually mild in comparison with former
conduct. This lull, however, did not deceive Duane. It could
not last. The wonder was that it had lasted so long.
Duane went often to see Mrs. Laramie and her children. One
afternoon while he was there he saw Miss Longstreth and Ruth
ride up to the door. They carried a basket. Evidently they had
heard of Mrs. Laramie's trouble. Duane felt strangely glad, but
he went into an adjoining room rather than meet them.
"Mrs. Laramie, I've come to see you," said Miss Longstreth,
The little room was not very light, there being only one window
and the doors, but Duane could see plainly enough. Mrs. Laramie
lay, hollow-checked and haggard, on a bed. Once she had
evidently been a woman of some comeliness. The ravages of
trouble and grief were there to read in her worn face; it had
not, however, any of the hard and bitter lines that had
characterized her husband's.
Duane wondered, considering that Longstreth had ruined Laramie,
how Mrs. Laramie was going to regard the daughter of an enemy.
"So you're Granger Longstreth's girl?" queried the woman, with
her bright, black eyes fixed on her visitor.
"Yes," replied Miss Longstreth, simply. "This is my cousin,
Ruth Herbert. We've come to nurse you, take care of the
children, help you in any way you'll let us."
There was a long silence.
"Well, you look a little like Longstreth," finally said Mrs.
Laramie, "but you're not at ALL like him. You must take after
your mother. Miss Longstreth, I don't know if I can--if I ought
accept anything from you. Your father ruined my husband."
"Yes, I know," replied the girl, sadly. "That's all the more
reason you should let me help you. Pray don't refuse. It will--
mean so much to me."
If this poor, stricken woman had any resentment it speedily
melted in the warmth and sweetness of Miss Longstreth's manner.
Duane's idea was that the impression of Ray Longstreth's beauty
was always swiftly succeeded by that of her generosity and
nobility. At any rate, she had started well with Mrs. Laramie,
and no sooner had she begun to talk to the children than both
they and the mother were won. The opening of that big basket
was an event. Poor, starved little beggars! Duane's feelings
seemed too easily roused. Hard indeed would it have gone with
Jim Laramie's slayer if he could have laid eyes on him then.
However, Miss Longstreth and Ruth, after the nature of tender
and practical girls, did not appear to take the sad situation
to heart. The havoc was wrought in that household.
The needs now were cheerfulness, kindness, help, action--and
these the girls furnished with a spirit that did Duane good.
"Mrs. Laramie, who dressed this baby?" presently asked Miss
Longstreth. Duane peeped in to see a dilapidated youngster on
her knee. That sight, if any other was needed, completed his
full and splendid estimate of Ray Longstreth and wrought
strangely upon his heart.
"The ranger," replied Mrs. Laramie.
"The ranger!" exclaimed Miss Longstreth.
"Yes, he's taken care of us all since--since--" Mrs. Laramie
"Oh! So you've had no help but his," replied Miss Longstreth,
hastily. "No women. Too bad! I'll send some one, Mrs. Laramie,
and I'll come myself."
"It'll be good of you," went on the older woman. "You see, Jim
had few friends--that is, right in town. And they've been
afraid to help us--afraid they'd get what poor Jim--"
"That's awful!" burst out Miss Longstreth, passionately. "A
brave lot of friends! Mrs. Laramie, don't you worry any more.
We'll take care of you. Here, Ruth, help me. Whatever is the
matter with baby's dress?"
Manifestly Miss Longstreth had some difficulty in subduing her
"Why, it's on hind side before," declared Ruth. "I guess Mr.
Ranger hasn't dressed many babies."
"He did the best he could," said Mrs. Laramie. "Lord only knows
what would have become of us!"
"Then he is--is something more than a ranger?" queried Miss
Longstreth, with a little break in her voice.
"He's more than I can tell," replied Mrs. Laramie. "He buried
Jim. He paid our debts. He fetched us here. He bought food for
us. He cooked for us and fed us. He washed and dressed the
baby. He sat with me the first two nights after Jim's death,
when I thought I'd die myself. He's so kind, so gentle, so
patient. He has kept me up just by being near. Sometimes I'd
wake from a doze, an', seeing him there, I'd know how false
were all these tales Jim heard about him and believed at first.
Why, he plays with the children just--just like any good man
might. When he has the baby up I just can't believe he's a
bloody gunman, as they say. He's good, but he isn't happy. He
has such sad eyes. He looks far off sometimes when the children
climb round him. They love him. His life is sad. Nobody need
tell me--he sees the good in things. Once he said somebody had
to be a ranger. Well, I say, 'Thank God for a ranger like him!'
Duane did not want to hear more, so he walked into the room.
"It was thoughtful of you," Duane said. "Womankind are needed
here. I could do so little. Mrs. Laramie, you look better
already. I'm glad. And here's baby, all clean and white. Baby,
what a time I had trying to puzzle out the way your clothes
went on! Well, Mrs. Laramie, didn't I tell you--friends would
come? So will the brighter side."
"Yes, I've more faith than I had," replied Mrs. Laramie.
"Granger Longstreth's daughter has come to me. There for a
while after Jim's death I thought I'd sink. We have nothing.
How could I ever take care of my little ones? But I'm gaining
"Mrs. Laramie, do not distress yourself any more," said Miss
Longstreth. "I shall see you are well cared for. I promise
"Miss Longstreth, that's fine!" exclaimed Duane. "It's what I'd
have--expected of you."
It must have been sweet praise to her, for the whiteness of her
face burned out in a beautiful blush.
"And it's good of you, too, Miss Herbert, to come," added
Duane. "Let me thank you both. I'm glad I have you girls as
allies in part of my lonely task here. More than glad for the
sake of this good woman and the little ones. But both of you be
careful about coming here alone. There's risk. And now I'll be
going. Good-by, Mrs. Laramie. I'll drop in again to-night.
"Mr. Ranger, wait!" called Miss Longstreth, as he went out. She
was white and wonderful. She stepped out of the door close to
"I have wronged your" she said, impulsively.
"Miss Longstreth! How can you say that?" he returned.
"I believed what my father and Floyd Lawson said about you. Now
I see--I wronged you."
"You make me very glad. But, Miss Longstreth, please don't
speak of wronging me. I have been a--a gunman, I am a ranger--
and much said of me is true. My duty is hard on
others--sometimes on those who are innocent, alas! But God
knows that duty is hard, too, on me."
"I did wrong you. If you entered my home again I would think it
an honor. I--"
"Please--please don't, Miss Longstreth," interrupted Duane.
"But, sir, my conscience flays me," she went on. There was no
other sound like her voice. "Will you take my hand? Will you
She gave it royally, while the other was there pressing at her
breast. Duane took the proffered hand. He did not know what
else to do.
Then it seemed to dawn upon him that there was more behind this
white, sweet, noble intensity of her than just the making
amends for a fancied or real wrong. Duane thought the man did
not live on earth who could have resisted her then.
"I honor you for your goodness to this unfortunate woman," she
said, and now her speech came swiftly. "When she was all alone
and helpless you were her friend. It was the deed of a man. But
Mrs. Laramie isn't the only unfortunate woman in the world. I,
too, am unfortunate. Ah, how I may soon need a friend! Will you
be my friend? I'm so alone. I'm terribly worried. I fear--I
fear--Oh, surely I'll need a friend soon--soon. Oh, I'm afraid
of what you'll find out sooner or later. I want to help you.
Let us save life if not honor. Must I stand alone--all alone?
Will you--will you be--" Her voice failed.
It seemed to Duane that she must have discovered what he had
begun to suspect--that her father and Lawson were not the
honest ranchers they pretended to be. Perhaps she knew more!
Her appeal to Duane shook him deeply. He wanted to help her
more than he had ever wanted anything. And with the meaning of
the tumultuous sweetness she stirred in him there came
realization of a dangerous situation.
"I must be true to my duty," he said, hoarsely.
"If you knew me you'd know I could never ask you to be false to
"Well, then--I'll do anything for you."
"Oh, thank you! I'm ashamed that I believed my cousin Floyd! He
lied--he lied. I'm all in the dark, strangely distressed. My
father wants me to go back home. Floyd is trying to keep me
here. They've quarreled. Oh, I know something dreadful will
happen. I know I'll need you if--if--Will you help me?"
"Yes," replied Duane, and his look brought the blood to her
After supper Duane stole out for his usual evening's spying.
The night was dark, without starlight, and a stiff wind rustled
the leaves. Duane bent his steps toward the Longstreth's
ranchhouse. He had so much to think about that he never knew
where the time went. This night when he reached the edge of the
shrubbery he heard Lawson's well-known footsteps and saw
Longstreth's door open, flashing a broad bar of light in the
darkness. Lawson crossed the threshold, the door closed, and
all was dark again outside. Not a ray of light escaped from the
Little doubt there was that his talk with Longstreth would be
interesting to Duane. He tiptoed to the door and listened, but
could hear only a murmur of voices. Besides, that position was
too risky. He went round the corner of the house.
This side of the big adobe house was of much older construction
than the back and larger part. There was a narrow passage
between the houses, leading from the outside through to the
This passage now afforded Duane an opportunity, and he decided
to avail himself of it in spite of the very great danger.
Crawling on very stealthily, he got under the shrubbery to the
entrance of the passage. In the blackness a faint streak of
light showed the location of a crack in the wall. He had to
slip in sidewise. It was a tight squeeze, but he entered
without the slightest noise. As he progressed the passage grew
a very little wider in that direction, and that fact gave rise
to the thought that in case of a necessary and hurried exit he
would do best by working toward the patio. It seemed a good
deal of time was consumed in reaching a vantage-point. When he
did get there the crack he had marked was a foot over his head.
There was nothing to do but find toe-holes in the crumbling
walls, and by bracing knees on one side, back against the
other, hold himself up Once with his eye there he did not care
what risk he ran. Longstreth appeared disturbed; he sat
stroking his mustache; his brow was clouded. Lawson's face
seemed darker, more sullen, yet lighted by some indomitable
"We'll settle both deals to-night," Lawson was saying. "That's
what I came for."
"But suppose I don't choose to talk here?" protested
Longstreth, impatiently. "I never before made my house a place
"We've waited long enough. This place's as good as any. You've
lost your nerve since that ranger hit the town. First now, will
you give Ray to me?"
"Floyd; you talk like a spoiled boy. Give Ray to you! Why,
she's a woman, and I'm finding out that she's got a mind of her
own. I told you I was willing for her to marry you. I tried to
persuade her. But Ray hasn't any use for you now. She liked you
at first. But now she doesn't. So what can I do?"
"You can make her marry me," replied Lawson.
"Make that girl do what she doesn't want to? It couldn't be
done even if I tried. And I don't believe I'll try. I haven't
the highest opinion of you as a prospective son-in-law, Floyd.
But if Ray loved you I would consent. We'd all go away together
before this damned miserable business is out. Then she'd never
know. And maybe you might be more like you used to be before
the West ruined you. But as matters stand, you fight your own
game with her. And I'll tell you now you'll lose."
"What'd you want to let her come out here for?" demanded
Lawson, hotly. "It was a dead mistake. I've lost my head over
her. I'll have her or die. Don't you think if she was my wife
I'd soon pull myself together? Since she came we've none of us
been right. And the gang has put up a holler. No, Longstreth,
we've got to settle things to-night."
"Well, we can settle what Ray's concerned in, right now,"
replied Longstreth, rising. "Come on; we'll ask her. See where
They went out, leaving the door open. Duane dropped down to
rest himself and to wait. He would have liked to hear Miss
Longstreth's answer. But he could guess what it would be.
Lawson appeared to be all Duane had thought him, and he
believed he was going to find out presently that he was worse.
The men seemed to be absent a good while, though that feeling
might have been occasioned by Duane's thrilling interest and
anxiety. Finally he heard heavy steps. Lawson came in alone. He
was leaden-faced, humiliated. Then something abject in him gave
place to rage. He strode the room; he cursed. Then Longstreth
returned, now appreciably calmer. Duane could not but decide
that he felt relief at the evident rejection of Lawson's
"Don't fuss about it, Floyd," he said. "You see I can't help
it. We're pretty wild out here, but I can't rope my daughter
and give her to you as I would an unruly steer."
"Longstreth, I can MAKE her marry me," declared Lawson,
"You know the hold I got on you--the deal that made you boss of
this rustler gang?"
"It isn't likely I'd forget," replied Longstreth, grimly.
"I can go to Ray, tell her that, make her believe I'd tell it
broadcast--tell this ranger--unless she'd marry me."
Lawson spoke breathlessly, with haggard face and shadowed eyes.
He had no shame. He was simply in the grip of passion.
Longstreth gazed with dark, controlled fury at this relative.
In that look Duane saw a strong, unscrupulous man fallen into
evil ways, but still a man. It betrayed Lawson to be the wild
and passionate weakling. Duane seemed to see also how during
all the years of association this strong man had upheld the
weak one. But that time had gone for ever, both in intent on
Longstreth's part and in possibility. Lawson, like the great
majority of evil and unrestrained men on the border, had
reached a point where influence was futile. Reason had
degenerated. He saw only himself.
"But, Floyd, Ray's the one person on earth who must never know
I'm a rustler, a thief, a red-handed ruler of the worst gang on
the border," replied Longstreth, impressively.
Floyd bowed his head at that, as if the significance had just
occurred to him. But he was not long at a loss.
"She's going to find it out sooner or later. I tell you she
knows now there's something wrong out here. She's got eyes.
Mark what I say."
"Ray has changed, I know. But she hasn't any idea yet that her
daddy's a boss rustler. Ray's concerned about what she calls my
duty as mayor. Also I think she's not satisfied with my
explanations in regard to certain property."
Lawson halted in his restless walk and leaned against the stone
mantelpiece. He had his hands in his pockets. He squared
himself as if this was his last stand. He looked desperate, but
on the moment showed an absence of his usual nervous
"Longstreth, that may well be true," he said. "No doubt all you
say is true. But it doesn't help me. I want the girl. If I
don't get her--I reckon we'll all go to hell!"
He might have meant anything, probably meant the worst. He
certainly had something more in mind. Longstreth gave a slight
start, barely perceptible, like the switch of an awakening
tiger. He sat there, head down, stroking his mustache. Almost
Duane saw his thought. He had long experience in reading men
under stress of such emotion. He had no means to vindicate his
judgment, but his conviction was that Longstreth right then and
there decided that the thing to do was to kill Lawson. For
Duane's part he wondered that Longstreth had not come to such a
conclusion before. Not improbably the advent of his daughter
had put Longstreth in conflict with himself.
Suddenly he threw off a somber cast of countenance, and he
began to talk. He talked swiftly, persuasively, yet Duane
imagined he was talking to smooth Lawson's passion for the
moment. Lawson no more caught the fateful significance of a
line crossed, a limit reached, a decree decided than if he had
not been present. He was obsessed with himself. How, Duane
wondered, had a man of his mind ever lived so long and gone so
far among the exacting conditions of the Southwest? The answer
was, perhaps, that Longstreth had guided him, upheld him,
protected him. The coming of Ray Longstreth had been the
entering-wedge of dissension.
"You're too impatient," concluded Longstreth. "You'll ruin any
chance of happiness if you rush Ray. She might be won. If you
told her who I am she'd hate you for ever. She might marry you
to save me, but she'd hate you. That isn't the way. Wait. Play
for time. Be different with her. Cut out your drinking. She
despises that. Let's plan to sell out here--stock, ranch,
property--and leave the country. Then you'd have a show with
"I told you we've got to stick," growled Lawson. "The gang
won't stand for our going. It can't be done unless you want to
"You mean double-cross the men? Go without their knowing? Leave
them here to face whatever comes?"
"I mean just that."
"I'm bad enough, but not that bad," returned Longstreth. "If I
can't get the gang to let me off, I'll stay and face the music.
All the same, Lawson, did it ever strike you that most of the
deals the last few years have been YOURS?"
"Yes. If I hadn't rung them in there wouldn't have been any.
You've had cold feet, and especially since this ranger has been
"Well, call it cold feet if you like. But I call it sense. We
reached our limit long ago. We began by rustling a few cattle--
at a time when rustling was laughed at. But as our greed grew
so did our boldness. Then came the gang, the regular trips, the
one thing and another till, before we knew it--before I knew
it--we had shady deals, holdups, and MURDERS on our record.
Then we HAD to go on. Too late to turn back!"
"I reckon we've all said that. None of the gang wants to quit.
They all think, and I think, we can't be touched. We may be
blamed, but nothing can be proved. We're too strong."
"There's where you're dead wrong," rejoined Longstreth,
emphatically. "I imagined that once, not long ago. I was
bullheaded. Who would ever connect Granger Longstreth with a
rustler gang? I've changed my mind. I've begun to think. I've
reasoned out things. We're crooked, and we can't last. It's the
nature of life, even here, for conditions to grow better. The
wise deal for us would be to divide equally and leave the
country, all of us."
"But you and I have all the stock--all the gain," protested
"I'll split mine."
"I won't--that settles that," added Lawson, instantly.
Longstreth spread wide his hands as if it was useless to try to
convince this man. Talking had not increased his calmness, and
he now showed more than impatience. A dull glint gleamed deep
in his eyes.
"Your stock and property will last a long time--do you lots of
good when this ranger--"
"Bah!" hoarsely croaked Lawson. The ranger's name was a match
applied to powder. "Haven't I told you he'd be dead soon--any
time--same as Laramie is?"
"Yes, you mentioned the--the supposition," replied Longstreth,
sarcastically. "I inquired, too, just how that very desired
event was to be brought about."
"The gang will lay him out."
"Bah!" retorted Longstreth, in turn. He laughed contemptuously.
"Floyd, don't be a fool. You've been on the border for ten
years. You've packed a gun and you've used it. You've been with
rustlers when they killed their men. You've been present at
many fights. But you never in all that time saw a man like this
ranger. You haven't got sense enough to see him right if you
had a chance. Neither have any of you. The only way to get rid
of him is for the gang to draw on him, all at once. Then he's
going to drop some of them."
"Longstreth, you say that like a man who wouldn't care much if
he did drop some of them," declared Lawson; and now he was
"To tell you the truth, I wouldn't," returned the other,
bluntly. "I'm pretty sick of this mess."
Lawson cursed in amazement. His emotions were all out of
proportion to his intelligence. He was not at all quick-witted.
Duane had never seen a vainer or more arrogant man.
"Longstreth, I don't like your talk," he said.
"If you don't like the way I talk you know what you can do,"
replied Longstreth, quickly. He stood up then, cool and quiet,
with flash of eyes and set of lips that told Duane he was
"Well, after all, that's neither here nor there," went on
Lawson, unconsciously cowed by the other. "The thing is, do I
get the girl?"
"Not by any means except her consent."
"You'll not make her marry me?"
"No. No," replied Longstreth, his voice still cold,
"All right. Then I'll make her."
Evidently Longstreth understood the man before him so well that
he wasted no more words. Duane knew what Lawson never dreamed
of, and that was that Longstreth had a gun somewhere within
reach and meant to use it. Then heavy footsteps sounded outside
tramping upon the porch. Duane might have been mistaken, but he
believed those footsteps saved Lawson's life.
"There they are," said Lawson, and he opened the door.
Five masked men entered. They all wore coats hiding any
weapons. A big man with burly shoulders shook hands with
Longstreth, and the others stood back.
The atmosphere of that room had changed. Lawson might have been
a nonentity for all he counted. Longstreth was another man--a
stranger to Duane. If he had entertained a hope of freeing
himself from this band, of getting away to a safer country, he
abandoned it at the very sight of these men. There was power
here, and he was bound.
The big man spoke in low, hoarse whispers, and at this all the
others gathered around him close to the table. There were
evidently some signs of membership not plain to Duane. Then all
the heads were bent over the table. Low voices spoke, queried,
answered, argued. By straining his ears Duane caught a word
here and there. They were planning, and they were brief. Duane
gathered they were to have a rendezvous at or near Ord.
Then the big man, who evidently was the leader of the present
convention, got up to depart. He went as swiftly as he had
come, and was followed by his comrades. Longstreth prepared for
a quiet smoke. Lawson seemed uncommunicative and unsociable. He
smoked fiercely and drank continually. All at once he
straightened up as if listening.
"What's that?" he called, suddenly.
Duane's strained ears were pervaded by a slight rustling sound.
"Must be a rat," replied Longstreth.
The rustle became a rattle.
"Sounds like a rattlesnake to me," said Lawson.
Longstreth got up from the table and peered round the room.
Just at that instant Duane felt an almost inappreciable
movement of the adobe wall which supported him. He could
scarcely credit his senses. But the rattle inside Longstreth's
room was mingling with little dull thuds of falling dirt. The
adobe wall, merely dried mud, was crumbling. Duane distinctly
felt a tremor pass through it. Then the blood gushed back to
"What in the hell!" exclaimed Longstreth.
"I smell dust," said Lawson, sharply.
That was the signal for Duane to drop down from his perch, yet
despite his care he made a noise.
"Did you hear a step?" queried Longstreth.
No one answered. But a heavy piece of the adobe wall fell with
a thud. Duane heard it crack, felt it shake.
"There's somebody between the walls!" thundered Longstreth.
Then a section of the wall fell inward with a crash. Duane
began to squeeze his body through the narrow passage toward the
"Hear him!" yelled Lawson. "This side!"
"No, he's going that way," yelled Longstreth.
The tramp of heavy boots lent Duane the strength of
desperation. He was not shirking a fight, but to be cornered
like a trapped coyote was another matter. He almost tore his
clothes off in that passage. The dust nearly stifled him. When
he burst into the patio it was not a single instant too soon.
But one deep gasp of breath revived him and he was up, gun in
hand, running for the outlet into the court. Thumping footsteps
turned him back. While there was a chance to get away he did
not want to fight. He thought he heard someone running into the
patio from the other end. He stole along, and coming to a door,
without any idea of where it might lead, he softly pushed it
open a little way and slipped in.
A low cry greeted Duane. The room was light. He saw Ray
Longstreth sitting on her bed in her dressing-gown. With a
warning gesture to her to be silent he turned to close the
door. It was a heavy door without bolt or bar, and when Duane
had shut it he felt safe only for the moment. Then he gazed
around the room. There was one window with blind closely drawn.
He listened and seemed to hear footsteps retreating, dying
Then Duane turned to Miss Longstreth. She had slipped off the
bed, half to her knees, and was holding out trembling hands.
She was as white as the pillow on her bed. She was terribly
frightened. Again with warning hand commanding silence, Duane
stepped softly forward, meaning to reassure her.
"Oh!" she whispered, wildly; and Duane thought she was going to
faint. When he got close and looked into her eyes he understood
the strange, dark expression in them. She was terrified because
she believed he meant to kill her, or do worse, probably worse.
Duane realized he must have looked pretty hard and fierce
bursting into her room with that big gun in hand.
The way she searched Duane's face with doubtful, fearful eyes
"Listen. I didn't know this was your room. I came here to get
away--to save my life. I was pursued. I was spying on--on your
father and his men. They heard me, but did not see me. They
don't know who was listening. They're after me now."
Her eyes changed from blank gulfs to dilating, shadowing.
quickening windows of thought.
Then she stood up and faced Duane with the fire and
intelligence of a woman in her eyes.
"Tell me now. You were spying on my father?"
Briefly Duane told her what had happened before he entered her
room, not omitting a terse word as to the character of the men
he had watched.
"My God! So it's that? I knew something was terribly wrong
here--with him--with the place--the people. And right off I
hated Floyd Lawson. Oh, it'll kill me if--if--It's so much
worse than I dreamed. What shall I do?"
The sound of soft steps somewhere near distracted Duane's
attention, reminded him of her peril, and now, what counted
more with him, made clear the probability of being discovered
in her room.
"I'll have to get out of here," whispered Duane.
"Wait," she replied. "Didn't you say they were hunting for
"They sure are," he returned, grimly.
"Oh, then you mustn't go. They might shoot you before you got
away. Stay. If we hear them you can hide. I'll turn out the
light. I'll meet them at the door. You can trust me. Wait till
all quiets down, if we have to wait till morning. Then you can
"I oughtn't to stay. I don't want to--I won't," Duane replied,
perplexed and stubborn.
"But you must. It's the only safe way. They won't come here."
"Suppose they should? It's an even chance Longstreth'll search
every room and corner in this old house. If they found me here
I couldn't start a fight. You might be hurt. Then--the fact of
my being here--"
Duane did not finish what he meant, but instead made a step
toward the door. White of face and dark of eye, she took hold
of him to detain him. She was as strong and supple as a
panther. But she need not have been either resolute or strong,
for the clasp of her hand was enough to make Duane weak.
"Up yet, Ray?" came Longstreth's clear voice, too strained, too
eager to be natural.
"No. I'm in bed reading. Good night," instantly replied Miss
Longstreth, so calmly and naturally that Duane marveled at the
difference between man and woman. Then she motioned for Duane
to hide in the closet. He slipped in, but the door would not
"Are you alone?" went on Longstreth's penetrating voice.
"Yes," she replied. "Ruth went to bed."
The door swung inward with a swift scrape and jar. Longstreth
half entered, haggard, flaming-eyed. Behind him Duane saw
Lawson, and indistinctly another man.
Longstreth barred Lawson from entering, which action showed
control as well as distrust. He wanted to see into the room.
When he had glanced around he went out and closed the door.
Then what seemed a long interval ensued. The house grew silent
once more. Duane could not see Miss Longstreth, but he heard
her quick breathing. How long did she mean to let him stay
hidden there? Hard and perilous as his life had been, this was
a new kind of adventure. He had divined the strange softness of
his feeling as something due to the magnetism of this beautiful
woman. It hardly seemed possible that he, who had been outside
the pale for so many years, could have fallen in love. Yet that
must be the secret of his agitation.
Presently he pushed open the closet door and stepped forth.
Miss Longstreth had her head lowered upon her arms and appeared
to be in distress. At his touch she raised a quivering face.
"I think I can go now--safely," he whispered.
"Go then, if you must, but you may stay till you're safe," she
"I--I couldn't thank you enough. It's been hard on me--this
finding out--and you his daughter. I feel strange. I don't
understand myself well. But I want you to know--if I were not
an outlaw--a ranger--I'd lay my life at your feet."
"Oh! You have seen so--so little of me," she faltered.
"All the same it's true. And that makes me feel more the
trouble my coming caused you."
"You will not fight my father?"
"Not if I can help it. I'm trying to get out of his way.'
"But you spied upon him."
"I am a ranger, Miss Longstreth."
"And oh! I am a rustler's daughter," she cried. "That's so much
more terrible than I'd suspected. It was tricky cattle deals I
imagined he was engaged in. But only to-night I had strong
"How? Tell me."
"I overheard Floyd say that men were coming to-night to arrange
a meeting for my father at a rendezvous near Ord. Father did
not want to go. Floyd taunted him with a name."
"What name?" queried Duane.
"It was Cheseldine."
"CHESELDINE! My God! Miss Longstreth, why did you tell me
"What difference does that make?"
"Your father and Cheseldine are one and the same," whispered
"I gathered so much myself," she replied, miserably. "But
Longstreth is father's real name."
Duane felt so stunned he could not speak at once. It was the
girl's part in this tragedy that weakened him. The instant she
betrayed the secret Duane realized perfectly that he did love
her. The emotion was like a great flood.
"Miss Longstreth, all this seems so unbelievable," he
whispered. "Cheseldine is the rustler chief I've come out here
to get. He's only a name. Your father is the real man. I've
sworn to get him. I'm bound by more than law or oaths. I can't
break what binds me. And I must disgrace you--wreck your lifer
Why, Miss Longstreth, I believe I--I love you. It's all come in
a rush. I'd die for you if I could. How fatal--terrible--this
is! How things work out!"
She slipped to her knees, with her hands on his.
"You won't kill him?" she implored. "If you care for me--you
won't kill him?"
"No. That I promise you."
With a low moan she dropped her head upon the bed.
Duane opened the door and stealthily stole out through the
corridor to the court.
When Duane got out into the dark, where his hot face cooled in
the wind, his relief equaled his other feelings.
The night was dark, windy, stormy, yet there was no rain. Duane
hoped as soon as he got clear of the ranch to lose something of
the pain he felt. But long after he had tramped out into the
open there was a lump in his throat and an ache in his breast.
All his thought centered around Ray Longstreth. What a woman
she had turned out to be! He seemed to have a vague, hopeless
hope that there might be, there must be, some way he could save
Before going to sleep that night Duane had decided to go to Ord
and try to find the rendezvous where Longstreth was to meet his
men. These men Duane wanted even more than their leader. If
Longstreth, or Cheseldine, was the brains of that gang, Poggin
was the executor. It was Poggin who needed to be found and
stopped. Poggin and his right-hand men! Duane experienced a
strange, tigerish thrill. It was thought of Poggin more than
thought of success for MacNelly's plan. Duane felt dubious over
Next day he set out for Bradford. He was glad to get away from
Fairdale for a while. But the hours and the miles in no wise
changed the new pain in his heart. The only way he could forget
Miss Longstreth was to let his mind dwell upon Poggin, and even
this was not always effective.
He avoided Sanderson, and at the end of the day and a half he
arrived at Bradford.
The night of the day before he reached Bradford, No. 6, the
mail and express train going east, was held up by
train-robbers, the Wells-Fargo messenger killed over his safe,
the mail-clerk wounded, the bags carried away. The engine of
No. 6 came into town minus even a tender, and engineer and
fireman told conflicting stories. A posse of railroad men and
citizens, led by a sheriff Duane suspected was crooked, was
made up before the engine steamed back to pick up the rest of
the train. Duane had the sudden inspiration that he had been
cudgeling his mind to find; and, acting upon it, he mounted his
horse again and left Bradford unobserved. As he rode out into
the night, over a dark trail in the direction of Ord, he
uttered a short, grim, sardonic laugh at the hope that he might
be taken for a train-robber.
He rode at an easy trot most of the night, and when the black
peak of Ord Mountain loomed up against the stars he halted,
tied his horse, and slept until dawn. He had brought a small
pack, and now he took his time cooking breakfast. When the sun
was well up he saddled Bullet, and, leaving the trail where his
tracks showed plain in the ground, he put his horse to the
rocks and brush. He selected an exceedingly rough, roundabout,
and difficult course to Ord, hid his tracks with the skill of a
long-hunted fugitive, and arrived there with his horse winded
and covered with lather. It added considerable to his arrival
that the man Duane remembered as Fletcher and several others
saw him come in the back way through the lots and jump a fence
into the road.
Duane led Bullet up to the porch where Fletcher stood wiping
his beard. He was hatless, vestless, and evidently had just
enjoyed a morning drink.
"Howdy, Dodge," said Fletcher, laconically.
Duane replied, and the other man returned the greeting with
"Jim, my hoss 's done up. I want to hide him from any chance
tourists as might happen to ride up curious-like."
"Haw! haw! haw!"
Duane gathered encouragement from that chorus of coarse
"Wal, if them tourists ain't too durned snooky the hoss'll be
safe in the 'dobe shack back of Bill's here. Feed thar, too,
but you'll hev to rustle water."
Duane led Bullet to the place indicated, had care of his
welfare, and left him there. Upon returning to the tavern porch
Duane saw the group of men had been added to by others, some of
whom he had seen before. Without comment Duane walked along the
edge of the road, and wherever one of the tracks of his horse
showed he carefully obliterated it. This procedure was
attentively watched by Fletcher and his companions.
"Wal, Dodge," remarked Fletcher, as Duane returned, "thet's
safer 'n prayin' fer rain."
Duanes reply was a remark as loquacious as Fletcher's, to the
effect that a long, slow, monotonous ride was conducive to
thirst. They all joined him, unmistakably friendly. But Knell
was not there, and most assuredly not Poggin. Fletcher was no
common outlaw, but, whatever his ability, it probably lay in
execution of orders. Apparently at that time these men had
nothing to do but drink and lounge around the tavern. Evidently
they were poorly supplied with money, though Duane observed
they could borrow a peso occasionally from the bartender. Duane
set out to make himself agreeable and succeeded. There was
card-playing for small stakes, idle jests of coarse nature,
much bantering among the younger fellows, and occasionally a
mild quarrel. All morning men came and went, until, all told,
Duane calculated he had seen at least fifty. Toward the middle
of the afternoon a young fellow burst into the saloon and
yelled one word:
From the scramble to get outdoors Duane judged that word and
the ensuing action was rare in Ord.
"What the hell!" muttered Fletcher, as he gazed down the road
at a dark, compact bunch of horses and riders. "Fust time I
ever seen thet in Ord! We're gettin' popular like them camps
out of Valentine. Wish Phil was here or Poggy. Now all you
gents keep quiet. I'll do the talkin'."
The posse entered the town, trotted up on dusty horses, and
halted in a bunch before the tavern. The party consisted of
about twenty men, all heavily armed, and evidently in charge of
a clean-cut, lean-limbed cowboy. Duane experienced considerable
satisfaction at the absence of the sheriff who he had
understood was to lead the posse. Perhaps he was out in another
direction with a different force.
"Hello, Jim Fletcher," called the cowboy.
"Howdy," replied Fletcher.
At his short, dry response and the way he strode leisurely out
before the posse Duane found himself modifying his contempt for
Fletcher. The outlaw was different now.
"Fletcher, we've tracked a man to all but three miles of this
place. Tracks as plain as the nose on your face. Found his
camp. Then he hit into the brush, an' we lost the trail. Didn't
have no tracker with us. Think he went into the mountains. But
we took a chance an' rid over the rest of the way, seein' Ord
was so close. Anybody come in here late last night or early
"Nope," replied Fletcher.
His response was what Duane had expected from his manner, and
evidently the cowboy took it as a matter of course. He turned
to the others of the posse, entering into a low consultation.
Evidently there was difference of opinion, if not real
dissension, in that posse.
"Didn't I tell ye this was a wild-goose chase, comin' way out
here?" protested an old hawk-faced rancher. "Them hoss tracks
we follored ain't like any of them we seen at the water-tank
where the train was held up."
"I'm not so sure of that," replied the leader.
"Wal, Guthrie, I've follored tracks all my life--'
"But you couldn't keep to the trail this feller made in the
"Gimme time, an' I could. Thet takes time. An' heah you go
hell-bent fer election! But it's a wrong lead out this way. If
you're right this road-agent, after he killed his pals, would
hev rid back right through town. An' with them mail-bags!
Supposin' they was greasers? Some greasers has sense, an' when
it comes to thievin' they're shore cute."
"But we sent got any reason to believe this robber who murdered
the greasers is a greaser himself. I tell you it was a slick
job done by no ordinary sneak. Didn't you hear the facts? One
greaser hopped the engine an' covered the engineer an' fireman.
Another greaser kept flashin' his gun outside the train. The
big man who shoved back the car-door an' did the killin'--he
was the real gent, an' don't you forget it."
Some of the posse sided with the cowboy leader and some with
the old cattleman. Finally the young leader disgustedly
gathered up his bridle.
"Aw, hell! Thet sheriff shoved you off this trail. Mebbe he hed
reasons Savvy thet? If I hed a bunch of cowboys with me--I tell
you what--I'd take a chance an' clean up this hole!"
All the while Jim Fletcher stood quietly with his hands in his
"Guthrie, I'm shore treasurin' up your friendly talk," he said.
The menace was in the tone, not the content of his speech.
"You can--an' be damned to you, Fletcher!" called Guthrie, as
the horses started.
Fletcher, standing out alone before the others of his clan,
watched the posse out of sight.
"Luck fer you-all thet Poggy wasn't here," he said, as they
disappeared. Then with a thoughtful mien he strode up on the
porch and led Duane away from the others into the bar-room.
When he looked into Duane's face it was somehow an entirely
"Dodge, where'd you hide the stuff? I reckon I git in on this
deal, seein' I staved off Guthrie."
Duane played his part. Here was his a tiger after prey he
seized it. First he coolly eyed the outlaw and then disclaimed
any knowledge whatever of the train-robbery other than Fletcher
had heard himself. Then at Fletcher's persistence and
admiration and increasing show of friendliness he laughed
occasionally and allowed himself to swell with pride, though
still denying. Next he feigned a lack of consistent will-power
and seemed to be wavering under Fletcher's persuasion and grew
silent, then surly. Fletcher, evidently sure of ultimate
victory, desisted for the time being; however, in his
solicitous regard and close companionship for the rest of that
day he betrayed the bent of his mind.
Later, when Duane started up announcing his intention to get
his horse and make for camp out in the brush, Fletcher seemed
"Why don't you stay with me? I've got a comfortable 'dobe over
here. Didn't I stick by you when Guthrie an' his bunch come up?
Supposin' I hedn't showed down a cold hand to him? You'd be
swingin' somewheres now. I tell you, Dodge, it ain't square."
"I'll square it. I pay my debts," replied Duane. "But I can't
put up here all night. If I belonged to the gang it 'd be
"What gang?" asked Fletcher, bluntly.
Fletcher's beard nodded as his jaw dropped.
Duane laughed. "I run into him the other day. Knowed him on
sight. Sure, he's the king-pin rustler. When he seen me an'
asked me what reason I had for bein' on earth or some such
like--why, I up an' told him."
Fletcher appeared staggered.
"Who in all-fired hell air you talkin' about?"
"Didn't I tell you once? Cheseldine. He calls himself
Longstreth over there."
All of Fletcher's face not covered by hair turned a dirty
white. "Cheseldine--Longstreth!" he whispered, hoarsely. "Gord
Almighty! You braced the--" Then a remarkable transformation
came over the outlaw. He gulped; he straightened his face; he
controlled his agitation. But he could not send the healthy
brown back to his face. Duane, watching this rude man, marveled
at the change in him, the sudden checking movement, the proof
of a wonderful fear and loyalty. It all meant Cheseldine, a
master of men!
"WHO AIR YOU?" queried Fletcher, in a queer, strained voice.
"You gave me a handle, didn't you? Dodge. Thet's as good as
any. Shore it hits me hard. Jim, I've been pretty lonely for
years, an' I'm gettin' in need of pals. Think it over, will
you? See you manana."
The outlaw watched Duane go off after his horse, watched him as
he returned to the tavern, watched him ride out into the
darkness--all without a word.
Duane left the town, threaded a quiet passage through cactus
and mesquite to a spot he had marked before, and made ready for
the night. His mind was so full that he found sleep aloof. Luck
at last was playing his game. He sensed the first slow heave of
a mighty crisis. The end, always haunting, had to be sternly
blotted from thought. It was the approach that needed all his
He passed the night there, and late in the morning, after
watching trail and road from a ridge, he returned to Ord. If
Jim Fletcher tried to disguise his surprise the effort was a
failure. Certainly he had not expected to see Duane again.
Duane allowed himself a little freedom with Fletcher, an
attitude hitherto lacking.
That afternoon a horseman rode in from Bradford, an outlaw
evidently well known and liked by his fellows, and Duane beard
him say, before he could possibly have been told the
train-robber was in Ord, that the loss of money in the holdup
was slight. Like a flash Duane saw the luck of this report. He
pretended not to have heard.
In the early twilight at an opportune moment he called Fletcher
to him, and, linking his arm within the outlaw's, he drew him
off in a stroll to a log bridge spanning a little gully. Here
after gazing around, he took out a roll of bills, spread it
out, split it equally, and without a word handed one half to
Fletcher. With clumsy fingers Fletcher ran through the roll.
"Five hundred!" he exclaimed. "Dodge, thet's damn handsome of
you, considerin' the job wasn't--"
"Considerin' nothin'," interrupted Duane. "I'm makin' no
reference to a job here or there. You did me a good turn. I
split my pile. If thet doesn't make us pards, good turns an'
money ain't no use in this country."
Fletcher was won.
The two men spent much time together. Duane made up a short
fictitious history about himself that satisfied the outlaw,
only it drew forth a laughing jest upon Duane's modesty. For
Fletcher did not hide his belief that this new partner was a
man of achievements. Knell and Poggin, and then Cheseldine
himself, would be persuaded of this fact, so Fletcher boasted.
He had influence. He would use it. He thought he pulled a
stroke with Knell. But nobody on earth, not even the boss, had
any influence on Poggin. Poggin was concentrated ice part of
the time; all the rest he was bursting hell. But Poggin loved a
horse. He never loved anything else. He could be won with that
black horse Bullet. Cheseldine was already won by Duane's
monumental nerve; otherwise he would have killed Duane.
Little by little the next few days Duane learned the points he
longed to know; and how indelibly they etched themselves in his
memory! Cheseldine's hiding-place was on the far slope of Mount
Ord, in a deep, high-walled valley. He always went there just
before a contemplated job, where he met and planned with his
lieutenants. Then while they executed he basked in the sunshine
before one or another of the public places he owned. He was
there in the Ord den now, getting ready to plan the biggest job
yet. It was a bank-robbery; but where, Fletcher had not as yet
Then when Duane had pumped the now amenable outlaw of all
details pertaining to the present he gathered data and facts
and places covering a period of ten years Fletcher had been
with Cheseldine. And herewith was unfolded a history so dark in
its bloody regime, so incredible in its brazen daring, so
appalling in its proof of the outlaw's sweep and grasp of the
country from Pecos to Rio Grande, that Duane was stunned.
Compared to this Cheseldine of the Big Bend, to this rancher,
stock-buyer, cattle-speculator, property-holder, all the
outlaws Duane had ever known sank into insignificance. The
power of the man stunned Duane; the strange fidelity given him
stunned Duane; the intricate inside working of his great system
was equally stunning. But when Duane recovered from that the
old terrible passion to kill consumed him, and it raged
fiercely and it could not be checked. If that red-handed
Poggin, if that cold-eyed, dead-faced Knell had only been at
Ord! But they were not, and Duane with help of time got what he
hoped was the upper hand of himself.