Read Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) Online

Authors: James J. Griffin

Tags: #coming of age, #series, #texas ranger, #ya fiction, #western adventure, #western action, #western classic, #painted pony books, #lone star ranger

Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404) (2 page)

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
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“Don’t let Ma hear you say that. She’s
determined to have a garden just like back in Delaware.”

“Wish we
were
back in Delaware.”

“You just gotta learn to be a cowboy like
me, that’s all.” Jonathan gave Nathaniel a playful backhanded slap
to his stomach. Nathaniel responded with a shove to his brother’s
ribs.

“You just asked for it,” Jonathan said, with
a grin. “And you’re sure gonna get it.” He shoved Nathaniel in the
chest, pushing him to the ground.

Jonathan being four years older was more
heavily muscled, but Nathaniel was quicker. When Jonathan dove at
him, Nathaniel easily rolled out of the way. Jonathan hit the
ground with a thud. Before he could recover, Nathaniel jumped on
his back, pinning him. The stronger Jonathan tossed Nathaniel off,
then wrapped his arms around him. The brothers rolled over and
over, raising a cloud of dust as they struggled.

Marcus stepped out of the cabin.

“Jonathan! Nathaniel! Both of you stop that
fighting, right now!” When the boys failed to respond, he grabbed a
pail of old dishwater from where it sat next to the door, walked up
to the brothers, and dumped it over them.

“Pa! What’d you do that for?” Jonathan
exclaimed. He and Nathaniel rolled onto their backs, chests heaving
as they gasped for breath.

“You two weren’t listening. How many times
have your mother and I told you not to fight?”

“We were just havin’ some fun, Pa,”
Nathaniel answered.

“That’s right. We were just wrestlin’ is
all,” Jonathan added.

“Well, you can burn off some of that energy
by cutting some more firewood after supper. Your mother’s certainly
not going to be happy I used the water for her garden to stop you
two,” Marcus said. “Meantime, our meal’s just about on the table.
You both wash up and get inside.”

“All right, Pa,” Jonathan said. He and
Nathaniel pulled themselves to their feet and headed for the pump
and wash bench behind the cabin.

Cleaning up was another thing Nathaniel
despised about his new home. Back in Delaware, he had a wash stand,
pitcher, and basin in his room. It was a simple matter to heat
water on the kitchen stove and carry some upstairs for bathing. The
house even had a bathtub in a separate room off the back. Here in
Texas, with water scarce, the entire family used water sparingly
from the pump to fill a shallow trough, then wash up as best they
could. Towels, soap, and washcloths were on the bench next to the
pump. A full bath involved dragging a zinc tub from the dogtrot
into the kitchen, then heating kettles of water. Filling and then
emptying the tub was a major chore, so a hot bath was a rare treat
indeed. More often, the boys would bathe in Wallace Creek, which
ran along the back boundary of the ranch.

Nathaniel and Jonathan pulled off their hats
and neckerchiefs, then peeled out of their sweat-soaked shirts.
Nathaniel pumped the trough full, then both ducked their heads into
the refreshing water. They turned at the sound of fast-approaching
horses.

“That looks like trouble,” Jonathan said.
Close to a dozen men were riding for the house at a gallop. All had
rifles or pistols in their hands. Jonathan pulled his Smith and
Wesson from the holster on his right hip. Marcus had also heard the
men’s approach. He came into the dogtrot holding an over and under
shotgun.

“What do you men want?” he called.

The foremost rider leveled his rifle and
fired once, his bullet knocking Marcus off his feet. He hit the
cabin wall and slid to the ground. The shotgun blasted its load of
buckshot harmlessly into the dogtrot roof when Marcus’ finger
tightened on its triggers as he died.

“Get down,” Jonathan shouted. He pushed
Nathaniel aside, then fired a snap shot at one of the raiders. The
bullet took the man in his stomach. He grunted, grabbed his middle
and slumped over his horse’s neck, then tumbled to the dirt.

Two of the men returned Jonathan’s fire.
Blood blossomed on his chest when their bullets tore into him. He
staggered and fell to his face. Nathaniel lunged from where his
brother had pushed him behind the trough, wrested the pistol from
Jonathan’s hand, rolled over twice, and shot. His bullet struck one
of the men in the left arm, then an impact like a sledgehammer’s
blow hit Nathaniel’s head. The last thing he remembered before
falling into a sea of whirling black was his mother, calling his
name.

2

 

Texas Ranger Lieutenant Robert Berkeley
ordered the column of seven men he led to a halt atop a low rise
which overlooked the San Saba River. The river had cut a small
valley through this mostly flat or gently rolling part of Texas.
Gazing at the horizon, he spoke to the man next to him. He pointed
to a column of thick black smoke rising into the otherwise clear
blue sky.

“I don’t like the looks of that smoke over
yonder. What do you think, Jeb?”

Ranger Jeb Rollins thumbed back his Stetson
and ran a hand across his sweaty forehead.

“Don’t like the looks of it either, Bob.
It’s way too much smoke for a campfire. But it’s not enough to be a
prairie fire, less’n it just got started. I reckon it’s someone’s
house or barn blazin’.”

“You recollect any ranches down that
way?”

Jeb thought for a minute.

“Only one near that spot is the old
Stillwell place, about six miles from here. Lies along Wallace
Creek as I recall. It was abandoned for quite a spell, but I heard
some Easterners name of Stewart bought the spread and moved in
there some months back. You think the men we’ve been trailin’ might
have hit the place? Those folks wouldn’t stand a chance if they
did.”

“I wouldn’t bet my hat against it,” Bob
answered. “We’d better get over there and find out. Men, let’s
ride!” He dug his spurs into his horse’s sides. Alongside him Jeb
did the same, spurring his paint into motion. Their horses broke
into a fast lope, the rest of the Rangers strung out behind them.
They maintained that pace for a good four miles then as they neared
the old Stillwell ranch, with a thin haze of smoke now drifting on
the breeze, urged them into a gallop. Once they were within a half
mile of the place, the smoke now thicker and making their eyes
water, they pushed their mounts into a dead run. As they neared the
ranch they pulled rifles from their scabbards or pistols from their
holsters. If those renegades were still looting the place, they
were about to receive a rude surprise. The Rangers would ride in
without warning, guns blazing, and ask questions once the smoke had
settled.

There was a thick screen of scrub brush
surrounding the Stewart ranch. The Rangers burst through that but
quickly pulled their horses to a halt, realizing they were too late
to help anyone. The cabin and barn had both collapsed and were now
little more than heaps of still-burning timbers. Three bodies lay
sprawled on the ground, a man and a woman near the burning cabin,
another man further out. A pair of boots could be seen protruding
from where the dogtrot’s roof had evidently fallen on another body
when it caved in.

“Kelly, Morton, you two check the area
around here. Make sure those renegades haven’t holed up nearby.
Don’t want them jumpin’ us,” Berkeley ordered. “The rest of you,
let’s do what we can for these folks. Harrison, Jennings, try’n
pull what’s left of the poor hombre under that roof outta there
before the flames get to him.”

“Don’t think it’ll make much difference to
him, Bob,” Ed Jennings answered.

“I know it won’t, but it wouldn’t be right
to let him burn up if we can give him a decent burial instead.

“All right.”

The men Bob had sent to look for the outlaws
headed back into the brush, while the others dismounted. Bob and
Jeb first went to the woman. She was clearly dead, having been shot
several times. Bob muttered a curse.

“Men who’d shoot down a woman like that are
the worst scum I can imagine, Bob,” Jeb said. “They deserve to be
killed like the rabid skunks they are.”

“They will be, soon as we catch up to ’em,”
Bob answered. “We’ve been gainin’ on ’em steady. It won’t be too
long now until we get ’em in our gunsights. And when we do…”

One of the other Rangers called from where
he had rolled a young man onto his back.

“This one’s done for too, Bob,” he called.
“Took a couple of slugs in his chest. Young kid, too. Couldn’t have
been more’n eighteen or nineteen years old. Real shame.”

For several weeks now, he and his men had
been chasing the gang of outlaws which had apparently attacked and
murdered this family. Every time they came close to capturing them,
somehow they managed to slip away. The leader of the bunch was
obviously a clever individual who knew the territory well. He
seemed to know every escape route for miles around.

“This man’s still alive,” another Ranger
called. He was hunkered alongside the man Jonathan had shot. “Dunno
for how long, though. He’s gut-shot, got plugged plumb in the
center of his belly. I figure he’s one of the men we’ve been
after.”

Bob and Jeb hurried over to the dying
outlaw. Bob looked down at the mortally wounded man. He had long
black hair, and whiskers stubbled his face and neck. Dust coating
his clothes indicated he had been riding long and hard.

“Texas Rangers, mister,” Bob said. “Looks
like you don’t have much time left. Who were you ridin’ with, and
where’s your outfit hole up?”

The wounded outlaw groaned, then shook his
head.

“I ain’t gonna tell you nothin’, Ranger,” he
muttered.

“Listen to me,” Bob urged. “You’ve been part
of a bunch that’s been killin’ and robbin’ folks all over this part
of Texas. You’ve even killed a woman and a young kid here. You
might want to make peace with your Maker before you cash in your
chips.”

“I didn’t kill that woman or kid. Caught a
slug before I could even get off a shot. Far as makin’ peace with
God, I reckon it’s too late for that. Besides, I’ve been headed to
meet the Devil since the day I was born. My pappy kept tellin’ me
that. Looks like I made certain he was gonna be right. And I sure
ain’t gonna give up my pards to any lawman.”

“They weren’t worried about you,” Jeb said.
“Seems to me they left you here to die, rather’n tryin’ to find a
doc and get you some help. Dunno about you, but I sure wouldn’t
protect anyone who left me alone with a bullet in my guts.”

“Just my bad luck, is all,” the man replied.
“Knew I’d catch a slug, sooner or later.” He coughed, and blood
trickled from the corner of his mouth. His breathing was becoming
more shallow and ragged.

“You mind at least givin’ us your name,
mister?” Bob asked.

“What difference does it make what my name
is?”

“We can let your kinfolks know what happened
to you.”

The outlaw gave a weak laugh.

“Sure. Tell ’em their boy died an outlaw.
That’d make ’em real happy. Besides, I’ve got no kin left.”

“Mister, you don’t have long, probably only
a few minutes,” Jeb said. “Why not do one thing right in your life
and tell us where to find your pardners? Help us stop ’em from
killin’ anyone else.”

“Not gonna do that. But I reckon it won’t
hurt to tell you my name. It’s Lance. Lance Ches…”

The outlaw shuddered, sighed, and breathed
his last.

“He’s gone, Bob,” Jeb said. “Took whatever
he knew with him, even his full name.”

“Don’t matter. We’ll catch up to those men,
and real soon. Meantime, let’s try’n see if we can salvage anything
out of what’s left of this place. These folks might have some kin
we can track down and get whatever possessions we can find to ’em.
They’d appreciate that. And maybe we’ll come up with some grub
those outlaws might’ve missed. Almost feels like we’re stealin’
from the dead ourselves, but it’d be a shame to let any supplies we
can use go to waste.”

“All right, Bob.”

Hoot Harrison and Ed Jennings had pulled the
older man’s body free of the burning cabin. The Easterner was still
clutching his shotgun. They moved him away from the flames, then
rejoined Berkeley and Rollins.

“That man was dead before the roof fell on
him,” Hoot explained. “He took a bullet square in the center of his
chest. Got off both barrels of his shotgun before he died, though.
I doubt he managed to hit any of those renegades.”

Jim Kelly and Dan Morton returned from
scouting the area surrounding the ranch.

“Those hombres didn’t stick around, Bob,”
Jim reported. “Must’ve driven the stock off from this ranch. Tracks
of a whole passel of cattle headed southeast, and bein’ driven
hard. We could probably catch up with ’em without too much trouble.
Couldn’t be more’n an hour or two since they hit.”

Bob looked at the lowering sun, which was
nearing the western horizon. Clouds were also building to the
northwest. He shook his head.

“Much as I’d like to try, we’d never find
’em before dark. It’s a new moon tonight, plus it looks like it
might rain a bit, so even trailin’ a herd of cattle would be real
tough. We’ll spend the night here, bury these folks, then go after
those renegades right after sunup. They’re probably not gonna drive
that herd all night, and even if they do, they can’t keep pushin’
’em too hard. We should find ’em without too much trouble.
Meantime, help the rest of the boys try’n douse those fires and see
if there’s anything we can save. Looks to me like the wind’s gonna
pick up soon, and we don’t need any embers blowin’ around and
startin’ a wildfire. I don’t think there’s enough rain in those
clouds to stop one if it gets a good start. Once the fires are out
cover the bodies so the scavengers can’t get at ’em.”

“All right, Bob.”

Jim and Dan dismounted and joined two of the
men who were pulling buckets of water from the well and tossing
them on the barn, while Bob and Jeb headed for what was left of the
cabin. They began poking through the still smoldering ruins.

BOOK: Lone Star Ranger : A Ranger to Ride With (9781310568404)
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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