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Lone Star Ranger, The

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<SPAN name="link2HCH0020" id="link2HCH0020"> <!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN> </p> <div style="height: 4em;"> <br /><br /><br /><br /> </div> <h2> CHAPTER XX </h2> <p> 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 away. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "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. </p> <p> The way she searched Duane's face with doubtful, fearful eyes hurt him. </p> <p> "Listen. I didn't know this was your room. I came here to get away&mdash;to save my life. I was pursued. I was spying on&mdash;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." </p> <p> Her eyes changed from blank gulfs to dilating, shadowing, quickening windows of thought. </p> <p> Then she stood up and faced Duane with the fire and intelligence of a woman in her eyes. </p> <p> "Tell me now. You were spying on my father?" </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "My God! So it's that? I knew something was terribly wrong here&mdash;with him&mdash;with the place&mdash;the people. And right off I hated Floyd Lawson. Oh, it'll kill me if&mdash;if&mdash;It's so much worse than I dreamed. What shall I do?" </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "I'll have to get out of here," whispered Duane. </p> <p> "Wait," she replied. "Didn't you say they were hunting for you?" </p> <p> "They sure are," he returned, grimly. </p> <p> "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 slip out." </p> <p> "I oughtn't to stay. I don't want to&mdash;I won't," Duane replied, perplexed and stubborn. </p> <p> "But you must. It's the only safe way. They won't come here." </p> <p> "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&mdash;the fact of my being here&mdash;" </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "Up yet, Ray?" came Longstreth's clear voice, too strained, too eager to be natural. </p> <p> "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 close altogether. </p> <p> "Are you alone?" went on Longstreth's penetrating voice. </p> <p> "Yes," she replied. "Ruth went to bed." </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "I think I can go now&mdash;safely," he whispered. </p> <p> "Go then, if you must, but you may stay till you're safe," she replied. </p> <p> "I&mdash;I couldn't thank you enough. It's been hard on me&mdash;this finding out&mdash;and you his daughter. I feel strange. I don't understand myself well. But I want you to know&mdash;if I were not an outlaw&mdash;a ranger&mdash;I'd lay my life at your feet." </p> <p> "Oh! You have seen so&mdash;so little of me," she faltered. </p> <p> "All the same it's true. And that makes me feel more the trouble my coming caused you." </p> <p> "You will not fight my father?" </p> <p> "Not if I can help it. I'm trying to get out of his way.' </p> <p> "But you spied upon him." </p> <p> "I am a ranger, Miss Longstreth." </p> <p> "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 suspicions aroused." </p> <p> "How? Tell me." </p> <p> "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." </p> <p> "What name?" queried Duane. </p> <p> "It was Cheseldine." </p> <p> "CHESELDINE! My God! Miss Longstreth, why did you tell me that?" </p> <p> "What difference does that make?" </p> <p> "Your father and Cheseldine are one and the same," whispered Duane, hoarsely. </p> <p> "I gathered so much myself," she replied, miserably. "But Longstreth is father's real name." </p> <p> 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. </p> <p> "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&mdash;wreck your lifer Why, Miss Longstreth, I believe I&mdash;I love you. It's all come in a rush. I'd die for you if I could. How fatal&mdash;terrible&mdash;this is! How things work out!" </p> <p> She slipped to her knees, with her hands on his. </p> <p> "You won't kill him?" she implored. "If you care for me&mdash;you won't kill him?" </p> <p> "No. That I promise you." </p> <p> With a low moan she dropped her head upon the bed. </p> <p> Duane opened the door and stealthily stole out through the corridor to the court. </p> <p> When Duane got out into the dark, where his hot face cooled in the wind, his relief equaled his other feelings. </p> <p> 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 her. </p> <p>
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