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Lone Star Ranger, The

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<SPAN name="link2HCH0016" id="link2HCH0016"> <!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN> </p> <div style="height: 4em;"> <br /><br /><br /><br /> </div> <h2> CHAPTER XVI </h2> <p> Duane followed the stage through the town, out into the open, on to a wide, hard-packed road showing years of travel. It headed northwest. To the left rose a range of low, bleak mountains he had noted yesterday, and to the right sloped the mesquite-patched sweep of ridge and flat. The driver pushed his team to a fast trot, which gait surely covered ground rapidly. </p> <p> The stage made three stops in the forenoon, one at a place where the horses could be watered, the second at a chuck-wagon belonging to cowboys who were riding after stock, and the third at a small cluster of adobe and stone houses constituting a hamlet the driver called Longstreth, named after the Colonel. From that point on to Fairdale there were only a few ranches, each one controlling great acreage. </p> <p> Early in the afternoon from a ridge-top Duane sighted Fairdale, a green patch in the mass of gray. For the barrens of Texas it was indeed a fair sight. But he was more concerned with its remoteness from civilization than its beauty. At that time, in the early seventies, when the vast western third of Texas was a wilderness, the pioneer had done wonders to settle there and establish places like Fairdale. </p> <p> It needed only a glance for Duane to pick out Colonel Longstreth's ranch. The house was situated on the only elevation around Fairdale, and it was not high, nor more than a few minutes' walk from the edge of the town. It was a low, flat-roofed structure made of red adobe bricks, and covered what appeared to be fully an acre of ground. All was green about it, except where the fenced corrals and numerous barns or sheds showed gray and red. </p> <p> Duane soon reached the shady outskirts of Fairdale, and entered the town with mingled feelings of curiosity, eagerness, and expectation. The street he rode down was a main one, and on both sides of the street was a solid row of saloons, resorts, hotels. Saddled horses stood hitched all along the sidewalk in two long lines, with a buckboard and team here and there breaking the continuity. This block was busy and noisy. </p> <p> From all outside appearances Fairdale was no different from other frontier towns, and Duane's expectations were scarcely realized. As the afternoon was waning he halted at a little inn. A boy took charge of his horse. Duane questioned the lad about Fairdale and gradually drew to the subject most in mind. </p> <p> "Colonel Longstreth has a big outfit, eh?" </p> <p> "Reckon he has," replied the lad. "Doan know how many cowboys. They're always comin' and goin'. I ain't acquainted with half of them." </p> <p> "Much movement of stock these days?" </p> <p> "Stock's always movin'," he replied, with a queer look. </p> <p> "Rustlers?" </p> <p> But he did not follow up that look with the affirmative Duane expected. </p> <p> "Lively place, I hear&mdash;Fairdale is?" </p> <p> "Ain't so lively as Sanderson, but it's bigger." </p> <p> "Yes, I heard it was. Fellow down there was talking about two cowboys who were arrested." </p> <p> "Sure. I heered all about that. Joe Bean an' Brick Higgins&mdash;they belong heah, but they ain't heah much. Longstreth's boys." </p> <p> Duane did not want to appear over-inquisitive, so he turned the talk into other channels. </p> <p> After getting supper Duane strolled up and down the main street. When darkness set in he went into a hotel, bought cigars, sat around, and watched. Then he passed out and went into the next place. This was of rough crude exterior, but the inside was comparatively pretentious and ablaze with lights. It was full of men coming and going&mdash;a dusty-booted crowd that smelled of horses and smoke. Duane sat down for a while, with wide eyes and open ears. Then he hunted up the bar, where most of the guests had been or were going. He found a great square room lighted by six huge lamps, a bar at one side, and all the floor-space taken up by tables and chairs. This was the only gambling place of any size in southern Texas in which he had noted the absence of Mexicans. There was some card-playing going on at this moment. Duane stayed in there for a while, and knew that strangers were too common in Fairdale to be conspicuous. Then he returned to the inn where he had engaged a room. </p> <p> Duane sat down on the steps of the dingy little restaurant. Two men were conversing inside, and they had not noticed Duane. </p> <p> "Laramie, what's the stranger's name?" asked one. </p> <p> "He didn't say," replied the other. </p> <p> "Sure was a strappin' big man. Struck me a little odd, he did. No cattleman, him. How'd you size him?" </p> <p> "Well, like one of them cool, easy, quiet Texans who's been lookin' for a man for years&mdash;to kill him when he found him." </p> <p> "Right you are, Laramie; and, between you an' me, I hope he's lookin' for Long&mdash;" </p> <p> "'S&mdash;sh!" interrupted Laramie. "You must be half drunk, to go talkie' that way." </p> <p> Thereafter they conversed in too low a tone for Duane to hear, and presently Laramie's visitor left. Duane went inside, and, making himself agreeable, began to ask casual questions about Fairdale. Laramie was not communicative. </p> <p> Duane went to his room in a thoughtful frame of mind. Had Laramie's visitor meant he hoped some one had come to kill Longstreth? Duane inferred just that from the interrupted remark. There was something wrong about the Mayor of Fairdale. Duane felt it. And he felt also, if there was a crooked and dangerous man, it was this Floyd Lawson. The innkeeper Laramie would be worth cultivating. And last in Duane's thoughts that night was Miss Longstreth. He could not help thinking of her&mdash;how strangely the meeting with her had affected him. It made him remember that long-past time when girls had been a part of his life. What a sad and dark and endless void lay between that past and the present! He had no right even to dream of a beautiful woman like Ray Longstreth. That conviction, however, did not dispel her; indeed, it seemed perversely to make her grow more fascinating. Duane grew conscious of a strange, unaccountable hunger, a something that was like a pang in his breast. </p> <p> Next day he lounged about the inn. He did not make any overtures to the taciturn proprietor. Duane had no need of hurry now. He contented himself with watching and listening. And at the close of that day he decided Fairdale was what MacNelly had claimed it to be, and that he was on the track of an unusual adventure. The following day he spent in much the same way, though on one occasion he told Laramie he was looking for a man. The innkeeper grew a little less furtive and reticent after that. He would answer casual queries, and it did not take Duane long to learn that Laramie had seen better days&mdash;that he was now broken, bitter, and hard. Some one had wronged him. </p> <p> Several days passed. Duane did not succeed in getting any closer to Laramie, but he found the idlers on the corners and in front of the stores unsuspicious and willing to talk. It did not take him long to find out that Fairdale stood parallel with Huntsville for gambling, drinking, and fighting. The street was always lined with dusty, saddled horses, the town full of strangers. Money appeared more abundant than in any place Duane had ever visited; and it was spent with the abandon that spoke forcibly of easy and crooked acquirement. Duane decided that Sanderson, Bradford, and Ord were but notorious outposts to this Fairdale, which was a secret center of rustlers and outlaws. And what struck Duane strangest of all was the fact that Longstreth was mayor here and held court daily. Duane knew intuitively, before a chance remark gave him proof, that this court was a sham, a farce. And he wondered if it were not a blind. This wonder of his was equivalent to suspicion of Colonel Longstreth, and Duane reproached himself. Then he realized that the reproach was because of the daughter. Inquiry had brought him the fact that Ray Longstreth had just come to live with her father. Longstreth had originally been a planter in Louisiana, where his family had remained after his advent in the West. He was a rich rancher; he owned half of Fairdale; he was a cattle-buyer on a large scale. Floyd Lawson was his lieutenant and associate in deals. </p> <p> On the afternoon of the fifth day of Duane's stay in Fairdale he returned to the inn from his usual stroll, and upon entering was amazed to have a rough-looking young fellow rush by him out of the door. Inside Laramie was lying on the floor, with a bloody bruise on his face. He did not appear to be dangerously hurt. </p> <p> "Bo Snecker! He hit me and went after the cash-drawer," said Laramie, laboring to his feet. </p> <p> "Are you hurt much?" queried Duane. </p> <p> "I guess not. But Bo needn't to have soaked me. I've been robbed before without that." </p> <p> "Well, I'll take a look after Bo," replied Duane. </p> <p> He went out and glanced down the street toward the center of the town. He did not see any one he could take for the innkeeper's assailant. Then he looked up the street, and he saw the young fellow about a block away, hurrying along and gazing back. </p> <p> Duane yelled for him to stop and started to go after him. Snecker broke into a run. Then Duane set out to overhaul him. There were two motives in Duane's action&mdash;one of anger, and the other a desire to make a friend of this man Laramie, whom Duane believed could tell him much. </p> <p> Duane was light on his feet, and he had a giant stride. He gained rapidly upon Snecker, who, turning this way and that, could not get out of sight. Then he took to the open country and ran straight for the green hill where Longstreth's house stood. Duane had almost caught Snecker when he reached the shrubbery and trees and there eluded him. But Duane kept him in sight, in the shade, on the paths, and up the road into the courtyard, and he saw Snecker go straight for Longstreth's house. </p> <p> Duane was not to be turned back by that, singular as it was. He did not stop to consider. It seemed enough to know that fate had directed him to the path of this rancher Longstreth. Duane entered the first open door on that side of the court. It opened into a corridor which led into a plaza. It had wide, smooth stone porches, and flowers and shrubbery in the center. Duane hurried through to burst into the presence of Miss Longstreth and a number of young people. Evidently she was giving a little party. </p> <p> Lawson stood leaning against one of the pillars that supported the porch roof; at sight of Duane his face changed remarkably, expressing amazement, consternation, then fear. </p> <p> In the quick ensuing silence Miss Longstreth rose white as her dress. The young women present stared in astonishment, if they were not equally perturbed. There were cowboys present who suddenly grew intent and still. By these things Duane gathered that his appearance must be disconcerting. He was panting. He wore no hat or coat. His big gun-sheath showed plainly at his hip. </p> <p> Sight of Miss Longstreth had an unaccountable effect upon Duane. He was plunged into confusion. For the moment he saw no one but her. </p> <p> "Miss Longstreth&mdash;I came&mdash;to search&mdash;your house," panted Duane. </p> <p> He hardly knew what he was saying, yet the instant he spoke he realized that that should have been the last thing for him to say. He had blundered. But he was not used to women, and this dark-eyed girl made him thrill and his heart beat thickly and his wits go scattering. </p> <p> "Search my house!" exclaimed Miss Longstreth; and red succeeded the white in her cheeks. She appeared astonished and angry. "What for? Why, how dare you! This is unwarrantable!" </p> <p> "A man&mdash;Bo Snecker&mdash;assaulted and robbed Jim Laramie," replied Duane, hurriedly. "I chased Snecker here&mdash;saw him run into the house." </p> <p> "Here? Oh, sir, you must be mistaken. We have seen no one. In the absence of my father I'm mistress here. I'll not permit you to search." </p> <p> Lawson appeared to come out of his astonishment. He stepped forward. </p> <p> "Ray, don't be bothered now," he said, to his cousin. "This fellow's making a bluff. I'll settle him. See here, Mister, you clear out!" </p> <p> "I want Snecker. He's here, and I'm going to get him," replied Duane, quietly. </p> <p> "Bah! That's all a bluff," sneered Lawson. "I'm on to your game. You just wanted an excuse to break in here&mdash;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." </p> <p> 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 embarrassment. </p> <p> "Miss Longstreth, will you let me search the house?" he asked. </p> <p> "No." </p> <p> "Then&mdash;I regret to say&mdash;I'll do so without your permission." </p> <p> "You'll not dare!" she flashed. She stood erect, her bosom swelling. </p> <p> "Pardon me, yes, I will." </p> <p> "Who are you?" she demanded, suddenly. </p> <p> "I'm a Texas Ranger," replied Duane. </p> <p> "A TEXAS RANGER!" she echoed. </p> <p> Floyd Lawson's dark face turned pale. </p> <p> "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&mdash;in your father's house. He's hidden somewhere. May I look for him?" </p> <p> "If you are indeed a ranger." </p> <p> Duane produced his papers. Miss Longstreth haughtily refused to look at them. </p> <p> "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&mdash;insult me. Some day you may be sorry." </p> <p> Floyd Lawson made a violent motion with his hands. </p> <p> "All stuff! Cousin, go on with your party. I'll take a couple of cowboys and go with this&mdash;this Texas Ranger." </p> <p> "Thanks," said Duane, coolly, as he eyed Lawson. "Perhaps you'll be able to find Snecker quicker than I could." </p> <p> "What do you mean?" demanded Lawson, and now he grew livid. Evidently he was a man of fierce quick passions. </p> <p> "Don't quarrel," said Miss Longstreth. "Floyd, you go with him. Please hurry. I'll be nervous till&mdash;the man's found or you're sure there's not one." </p> <p> 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 out!" </p> <p> He came forth into the flare&mdash;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. </p> <p> "Who're you?" asked Duane, quietly. </p> <p> "Bo Snecker," he said. </p> <p> "What'd you hide here for?" </p> <p> He appeared to grow sullen. </p> <p> "Reckoned I'd be as safe in Longstreth's as anywheres." </p> <p> "Ranger, what'll you do with him?" Lawson queried, as if uncertain, now the capture was made. </p> <p> "I'll see to that," replied Duane, and he pushed Snecker in front of him out into the court. </p> <p> Duane had suddenly conceived the idea of taking Snecker before Mayor Longstreth in the court. </p> <p> 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 dusty horsemen. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "What'd you break in here for," demanded Longstreth. </p> <p> "Isn't this the court? Aren't you the Mayor of Fairdale?" interrogated Duane. His voice was clear and loud, almost piercing. </p> <p> "Yes," replied Longstreth. Like flint he seemed, yet Duane felt his intense interest. </p> <p> "I've arrested a criminal," said Duane. </p> <p> "Arrested a criminal!" ejaculated Longstreth. "You? Who're you?" </p> <p> "I'm a ranger," replied Duane. </p> <p> A significant silence ensued. </p> <p> "I charge Snecker with assault on Laramie and attempted robbery&mdash;if not murder. He's had a shady past here, as this court will know if it keeps a record." </p> <p> "What's this I hear about you, Bo? Get up and speak for yourself," said Longstreth, gruffly. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "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. I didn't do nothin'. This ranger's hankerin' to arrest somebody. Thet's my hunch, Longstreth." </p> <p> Longstreth said something in an undertone to Judge Owens, and that worthy nodded his great bushy head. </p> <p> "Bo, you're discharged," said Longstreth, bluntly. "Now the rest of you clear out of here." </p> <p> He absolutely ignored the ranger. That was his rebuff to Duane&mdash;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&mdash;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. </p> <p> Then the prisoner, Snecker, with a cough that broke the spell of silence, shuffled a couple of steps toward the door. </p> <p> "Hold on!" called Duane. The call halted Snecker, as if it had been a bullet. </p> <p> "Longstreth, I saw Snecker attack Laramie," said Duane, his voice still ringing. "What has the court to say to that?" </p> <p> "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 need you." </p> <p> "That's a lie, Longstreth," retorted Duane. "I've letters from Fairdale citizens all begging for ranger service." </p> <p> Longstreth turned white. The veins corded at his temples. He appeared about to burst into rage. He was at a loss for quick reply. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "Where's your warrant to arrest Snecker?" shouted Longstreth. </p> <p> "I don't need warrants to make arrests. Longstreth, you're ignorant of the power of Texas Rangers." </p> <p> "You'll come none of your damned ranger stunts out here. I'll block you." </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> Duane backed clear of everybody. </p> <p> "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." </p> <p> Longstreth sat white with working jaw. </p> <p> "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&mdash;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&mdash;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!" </p> <p> 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? </p> <p> "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&mdash;yet. But I call your hand!" </p> <p>
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