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The range boss

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Title:TheRangeBoss
Author:CharlesAldenSeltzer
Illustrator:FrankE.Schoonover
ReleaseDate:June10,2008[EBook#25754]
Language:English

***STARTOFTHISPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKTHERANGEBOSS***

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ProofreadingTeamathttp://www.pgdp.net

Randersonwatchesthenewcomers[Page2]

THERANGEBOSS
BY


CHARLESALDENSELTZER


AUTHOROF

THEBOSSOFTHELAZYY,ETC.

ILLUSTRATEDBY

FRANKE.SCHOONOVER

NEWYORK

GROSSET&DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS

Copyright
A.C.McClurg&Co.
1916
PublishedSeptember,1916
CopyrightedinGreatBritain

CONTENTS
CHAPTER

I AtCalamityCrossing
II TheSympatheticRescuer
III AttheFlyingW
IV AMemoryoftheRider
V Lovevs.Business

PAGE

1
12
33
42
56



VI AManandHisJob
VII HowanInsultWasAvenged
VIII WhatUncleJepsonHeard
IX “Somethin’sGoneOutofThem”
X TheLawofthePrimitive
XI Hagar’sEyes
XII TheRustlers
XIII TheFight
XIV TheRockandtheMoonlight
XV TheRunawayComesHome
XVI TwoAreTaughtLessons
XVII TheTarget
XVIII TheGunfighter
XIX ReadyGunandCleanHeart
XX TheBubble—Dreams
XXI OneTooMany
XXII IntoWhichaGirl’sTroubleComes
XXIII BanishingaShadow
XXIV RealizingaPassion
XXV AManIsBornAgain
XXVI ADreamComesTrue

65
78
97
104
111
130
143
160
166
184
188
202
217
233
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254
265
278
291
313
328

ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE

Randersonwatchesthenewcomers
“IamRuthHarkness,thenewownerofthe
FlyingW”
Thetwilightwassplitbyaredstreak
Thegrim,relentlessfigurebehindhimgrew
grotesqueandgiganticinhisthoughts

Frontispiece
64
97
321


THERANGEBOSS


CHAPTERI
ATCALAMITYCROSSING
Getting up the shoulder of the mesa was no easy job, but judging from the
actions and appearance of wiry pony and rider it was a job that would be
accomplished. For part of the distance, it is true, the man thought it best to
dismount,drivetheponyaheadofhim,andfollowonfoot.Atlength,however,
they reached the top of the mesa, and after a breathing spell the man mounted
androdeacrossthetable-land.
A short lope brought pony and rider to a point where the mesa sloped down
again to meet a plain that stretched for miles, to merge into some foothills. A
fainttrailcamefromsomewherethroughthefoothills,woundovertheplain,and
followedaslopethatdescendedtoariverbelowtherider,crossedthestream,led
overalevel,upanotherslope,toanotherplain,andsoawayintothedistance.
Upanddowntheriverthewaterrandeeplyinacanyon,thepaintedbuttesthat
flankeditlendinganappearanceofconstrictiontoitscourse,butatthecrossing
it broadened formidably and swirled splashingly around numerous rocks that
littereditscourse.
Theman’sgazerestedbrieflyontheriverandthecrossing.
“She’s travelin’ some, this mornin’,” he said aloud, mentally referring to the
water. “I reckon that mud over there must be hub deep on a buckboard,” he
added, looking at the level on the opposite side of the crossing. “I’d say, if
anybodywastoaskme,thatlastnight’srainhasmadeCalamitysomeriskythis
mornin’—forabuckboard.”Hedrewoutasilvertimepieceandconsulteditwith
gravedeliberation.“It’seleven.They’dbedueaboutnow—iftheEightO’clock
wasontime—whichshe’sneverbeenknowedtobe.”Hereturnedthetimepiece
tothepocketandrodealongtheedgeofthemesaawayfromtheriver,hisgaze
concentratedatthepointwherethetrailontheplainsbelowhimvanishedinto
thedistantfoothills.Alittlelaterheagainhaltedthepony,swungcrosswaysin
thesaddleandrolledacigarette,andwhilesmokingandwatchingdrewouttwo


pistols,tookoutthecylinders,replacedthem,andwipedandpolishedthemetal
untilthegunsglitteredbrightlyintheswimmingsunlight. Heconsidered them
longbeforerestoringthemtotheirplaces,doubtinhisgaze.“Ireckonshe’sbeen
raisedalotdifferent,”washismentalconclusion.
“Butanyway,Ireckonthereain’tnothin’inPoughkeepsie’snametogiveanyone
comin’ from there any right to put on airs.” He tossed the butt of the cigarette
awayandfrowned,continuinghissoliloquy:“TheFlyin’Wain’tnoplacefora
lady.JimPickettan’TomChavisain’tfitfornoladytolookat—letalonetalkin’
tothem.There’sothers,too.Now,ifshewascomin’totheDiamondH—why,
shucks!Mebbeshewouldn’tthinkI’manybetterthanPickettan’Chavis!Ifshe
looksanythinglikeherpicture,though,she’sgotsense.An’—”
Hesawtheponyflickitsearserect,andhefolloweditsgazetoseeontheplain’s
trail, far over near where it melted into the foothills, a moving speck crawling
towardhim.
Heswungbackintothesaddleandsmilinglypattedthepony’sneck.
“You was expectin’ them too, wasn’t you, Patches? I reckon you’re a right
knowin’horse!”
Hewheeledtheponyandurgeditslowlybackoverthemesa,ridingalongnear
the edge until he reached a point behind a heavy post-oak thicket, where he
pulledtheponytoahalt.Fromherehewouldnotbeobservedfromthetrailon
theplains,andheagaintwistedinthesaddle,saggingagainstthehighpommel
and drawing the wide brim of his hat well over his eyes, shading them as he
peeredintentlyatthemovingspeck.
He watched for half an hour, while the speck grew larger in his vision, finally
assumingdefiniteshape.Herecognizedthebuckboardandtheblacksthatwere
pulling it; they had been inseparable during the past two years—for Bill
Harkness,theFlyingWowner,woulddrivenoothersafterhislastsicknesshad
seized him, the sickness which had finally finished him some months before.
The blacks were coming rapidly, shortening the distance with the tireless lope
that the plains’ animal uses so effectively, and as they neared the point on the
mesawheretheriderhadstationedhimself,thelatterpartedthebranchesofthe
thicket and peered between them, his eyes agleam, the color deepening in his
face.
“There’s four of them in the buckboard,” he said aloud, astonished, as the
vehiclecamenearer;“an’WesVickersain’twiththem!Now,whatdoyouthink
ofthat!Westoldmethere’dbeonlythegirlan’herauntan’uncle.It’saman,


too,an’he’sdoin’thedrivin’!IreckonWesgotdrunkan’theylefthimbehind.”
He reflected a moment, watching with narrowed eyes, his brows in a frown.
“That guy doin’ the drivin’ is a stranger, Patches,” he said. “Why, it’s mighty
plain.Fourinthebuckboard,withthembagsan’trunksan’things,makesafull
house,an’therewasn’tnoroomforWes!”Hegrinned.
Thebuckboardswungclosetothefootoftheslopebelowhim,andheeagerly
scrutinizedtheoccupants,hisgazelingeringlongonthegirlontheseatbeside
the driver. She had looked for one flashing instant toward him, her attention
drawn,nodoubt,bythefringinggreen ofthe mesa, andhehadcaughtagood
glimpse of her face. It was just like the picture that Wes Vickers had
surreptitiouslybroughttohimonedaysomeweeksbefore,afterHarkness’death,
when,intalkingwithWesabouttheniecewhowasnowthesoleownerofthe
Flying W, and who was coming soon to manage her property, he had evinced
curiosity. He had kept the picture, in spite of Vickers’ remonstrances, and had
studieditmanytimes.Hestudieditnow,afterthepassageofthebuckboard,and
wassupremelypleased,forthelikenessdidnotflatterher.
Displeasurecameintohiseyes,though,whenhethoughtofthedriver.Hewas
strangely disturbed over the thought that the driver had accompanied her from
theEast.HeknewthedriverwasanEasterner,fornoWesternerwouldeverrig
himselfoutinsuchanabsurdfashion—thecream-coloredStetsonwiththehigh
pointed crown, extra wide brim with nickel spangles around the band, a white
shirtwithabroadturndowncollarandaflowingcoloredtie—blue;acartridge
beltthatfittedsnuglyaroundhiswaist,yellowwithnewness,sothatthemanon
the mesa almost imagined he could hear it creak when its owner moved;
corduroyriding-breeches,tightattheknees,andglisteningbootswithstifftops.
And—heretheobserver’seyesgleamedwithderision—asthebuckboardpassed,
he had caught a glimpse of a nickeled spur, with long rowels, on one of the
ridiculousboots.
Hechuckled,hisfacewreathinginsmilesasheurgedtheponyalongtheedgeof
themesa,followingthebuckboard. Hedrewup presently atapointjustabove
thebuckboard,keepingdiscreetlybehindsomebrushthathemightnotbeseen,
and gravely considered the vehicle and its occupants. The buckboard had
stopped at the edge of the water, and the blacks were drinking. The girl was
talking;thewatcherheardhervoicedistinctly.
“Whatarough,grimcountry!”shesaid.“Itisbeautiful,though.”
“She’saknowin’girl,”musedtherider,strangelypleasedthatsheshouldlikethe


worldhelivedin.Foritwashisworld;hehadbeenbornhere.
“Don’tyouthinkso,Willard?”addedthegirl.
Theriderstrainedhisearsfortheanswer.Itcame,grumblingly:
“Isupposeit’swellenough—fortheclodhoppersthatlivehere.”
Thegirllaughedtolerantly;therideronthemesasmiled.“IreckonIain’tgoin’
to like Willard a heap, Patches,” he said to the pony; “he’s runnin’ down our
country.”Heconsideredthegirlandthedrivergravely,andagainspoketothe
pony. “Do you reckon he’s her brother, Patches? I expect it ain’t possible—
they’resodifferent.”
“Do you think it is quite safe?” The girl’s voice reached him again; she was
lookingatthewaterofthecrossing.
“Vickers said it was,” the driver replied. “He ought to know.” His tone was
irritable.
“He’sherbrother,Ireckon,”reflectedthemanonthemesa;“noloverwouldtalk
thatwaytohisgirl.”Therewasreliefinhisvoice,forhehadbeenhopingthat
themanwasabrother.
“Vickerssaidtoswingsharplytotheleftafterpassingthemiddle,”declaredthe
driver sonorously, “but I don’t see any wagon tracks—that miserable rain last
nightmusthaveobliteratedthem.”
“I reckon the rain has obliterated them,” grinned the rider, laboring with the
word,“ifthatmeanswipin’themout.Leastways,theyain’tthereanymore.”
“I feel quite sure that Mr. Vickers said to turn to the right after passing the
middle,Willard,”camethegirl’svoice.
“Icertainlyoughttobeabletorememberthat,Ruth!”saidthedriver,gruffly.“I
heardhimdistinctly!”
“Well,” returned the girl with a nervous little laugh, “perhaps I was mistaken,
after all.” She placed a hand lightly on the driver’s arm. And the words she
spoke then were not audible to the rider, so softly were they uttered. And the
driver laughed with satisfaction. “You’ve said it!” he declared. “I’m certainly
abletopilotthisshiptosafety!”Hepulledonthereinsandspokesharplytothe
blacks. They responded with a jerk that threw the occupants of the buckboard
againstthebacksoftheseats.
The rider’s eyes gleamed. “Hush!” he said, addressing no one in particular.


“Calamity’s goin’ to claim another victim!” He raised one hand to his lips,
makingafunnelofit.Hewasabouttoshoutatthedriver,butthoughtbetterof
theideaandletthehanddrop.“Shucks,”hesaid,“Ireckonthereain’tanyreal
danger.ButIexpectthebossgasseroftheoutfitwillbegettin’his’nprettyquick
now.”Heleanedforwardandwatchedthebuckboard,hisleanunderjawthrown
forward, a grim smile on his lips. He noted with satisfaction that the elderly
coupleintherearseat,andthegirlinthefrontone,wereholdingontightly,and
thatthedriver,busywiththereins,wasswayingfromonesidetotheotherasthe
wagonbumpedovertheimpedingstonesoftheriverbed.
Theblacksreachedthemiddleofthestreamsafelyandwerecrowdingoftheir
own accord to the right, when the driver threw his weight on the left rein and
swungthemsharplyinthatdirection.Forafewfeettheytraveledevenlyenough
butwhentheywerestillsomedistancefromthebank,thehorseontheleftsank
quickly to his shoulders, lunged, stood on his hind legs and pawed the air
impotently,andthensettledback,snortingandtrembling.
Toolatethedriversawhiserror.Asthelefthorsesankhethrewhisweighton
therightreinasthoughtoremedytheaccident.Thismovementthrewhimoffhis
balance,andheslippedoffthe seat,clawingand scrambling; attheinstantthe
front of the buckboard dipped and sank, disappearing with a splash into the
muddywater.Ithadgonedownawry,thegirl’ssidehighoutofthe water,the
girlherselfclingingtotheedgeoftheseat,outofthewater’sreach,theelderly
coupleintherearalsosafeanddry,butplainlyfrightened.
Thegirldidnotscream;therideronthemesanotedthiswithsatisfaction.She
wastalking,though,tothedriver,whoatfirsthaddisappeared,onlytoreappear
aninstantlater,blowingandcursing,hisheadandshouldersoutofthewater,his
ridiculoushatfloatingserenelydownstream,thereinsstillinhishands.
“I reckon he’s discovered that Vickers told him to swing to the right,” grinned
theriderfromhiselevation.Hewatchedthedriveruntilhegainedthebankand
stood there, dripping, gesticulating, impotent rage consuming him. The
buckboard could not be moved without endangering the comfort of the
remaining occupants, and without assistance they must inevitably stay where
theywere.Andsotherideronthemesawheeledhisponyandsentittowardthe
edgeofthemesawhereagentleslopesweptdownwardtotheplains.
“I reckon I’ve sure got to rescue her,” he said, grinning with some
embarrassment,“thoughI’mmightysorrythatWillardhadtogethisnewclothes
wet.”


Hespokecoaxinglytothepony;itsteppedgingerlyovertheedgeofthemesa
andbeganthedescent,sendingstonesandsandhelter-skelterbeforeit,therider
sittingtallandlooseinthesaddle,thereinshanging,hetrustingentirelytothe
pony’swisdom.


CHAPTERII
THESYMPATHETICRESCUER
Halfwaydowntheslope,theriderturnedandsawthatWillardandtheoccupants
ofthebuckboardwerewatchinghim.Thecolorinhischeeksgrewdeeperand
hisembarrassmentincreased,forhenotedthatthegirlhadfacedsquarelyaround
toward him, had forgotten her precarious position; her hands were clasped as
thoughshewereprayingforhissafety.Theauntanduncle,too,weretwistedin
their seat, leaning toward him in rigid attitudes, and Willard, safe on his bank,
wasstandingwithclenchedhands.
“Doyoureckonwe’regoin’tobreakournecks,youpiebaldoutlaw,”therider
saidtothepony.“Well,”astheanimalwhinniedgentlyatthesoundofhisvoice,
“there’s some people that do, an’ if you’ve got any respect for them you’ll be
mightycareful.”
The descent was accomplished in a brief time, and then Patches and his rider
went forward toward the mired buckboard and its occupants, the pony
unconcernedly,itsrider,havingconqueredhisembarrassment,serene,steadyof
eye,inwardlyamused.
When he reached the water’s edge he halted Patches. Sitting motionless in the
saddle,hequietlycontemplatedtheoccupantsofthebuckboard.Hehadcometo
help them, but he was not going to proffer his services until he was sure they
wouldbewelcomed.Hehadheardstoriesofthesnobbishnessandindependence
ofsomeEasterners.
Andsohesattherelong,fortheoccupantsofthebuckboard,knowingnothingof
hisintentions,wereintheirturnawaitingsomewordfromhim.
No word came. He looked down, interestedly watching Patches drink. Then,
when the pony had finished, he looked up, straight at the girl. She was sitting
veryerect—aserectasshecouldinthecircumstances,tryinghardtorepressher


angeroverhisinaction.Shecouldseethathewasdeliberatelydelaying.Andshe
methisgazecoldly.
HelookedfromthegirltoWillard.TheEasternerwasexaminingasmallpistol
thathehaddrawnfromayellowholsterathiswaist,sohighonhiswaistthathe
hadbeencompelledtobendhiselbowinanacuteangletogetitout.Hishands
were trembling, whether from the wetting he had received or from doubt as to
the rider’s intentions, was a question that the rider did not bother with. He
looked again at the girl. Doubt had come into her eyes; she was looking half
fearfully at him, and he saw that she half suspected him of being a desperado,
intentondoingharm.Hegrinned,movedtomirth.
Shewasreassured;thatsmilehaddoneit.Shereturnedit,alittleruefully.And
shefeltthat,inviewofthecircumstances,shemightdispensewithformalities
and get right down to business. For her seat was uncomfortable, and Aunt
Martha and Uncle Jepson were anxious, to say nothing of Willard, who had
placed his pistol behind him, determined, if the man turned out to be a
highwayman,todefendhispartytothelast.
Butstilltheriderdidnotmove.Therewasnohurry;onlyWillardseemedtobe
reallysuffering,forthewinter’schillhadnotyetgoneoutoftheair.Butthen,
Willardhadearnedhisducking.
Thegirlclearedherthroat.“Wehavehadan accident,”she informedtherider,
hervoicealittlehusky.
Atthiswordheswepthishatfromhisheadandbowedtoher.“Why,Ireckon
youhave,ma’am,”hesaid.“Didn’tyouhavenodriver?”
“Why,yes,”returnedthegirlhesitatingly,forshethoughtshedetectedsarcasm
in his voice, and she had to look twice at him to make sure—and then she
couldn’thavetold.“Thegentlemanonthebank,there,isourdriver.”
“Thegentlemanonthebank,eh?”drawledtherider.Andnowforthefirsttime
he seemed to become aware of Willard’s presence, for he looked narrowly at
him.“Why,he’sallwet!”heexclaimed.“Iexpecthecomeprettyneardrownin’,
didn’the,ma’am?”Helookedagainatthegirl,astonishmentinhiseyes.“An’so
hedroveyouintothatsuck-hole,an’hegotthrowedout!Wasn’ttherenooneto
tellhimthatCalamityain’ttobetrusted?”
“Mr.Vickerstoldustokeeptotherightafterreachingthemiddle,”saidthegirl.
“Idistinctlyunderstoodhimtosaytheleft,Ruth,”growledWillard.


The rider watched the girl’s face, saw the color come into it, and his lips
twitched with some inward emotion. “I reckon your brother’s right, ma’am.
Vickerswantedtodrowndyou-all.”
“Mr.Mastenisn’tmybrother,”deniedthegirl.Thecolorinherfaceheightened.
“Well,now,”saidtherider.Hebenthisheadandpattedthepony’smanetohide
hisdisappointment.Again,soitseemedtothegirl,hewasdeliberatelydelaying,
andshebitherlipswithvexation.
Willard also seemed to have the same thought, for he shouted angrily: “While
youaretalkingthere,myman,Iamfreezing.Isn’ttheresomewayforyoutoget
mypartyandthewagonoutofthere?”
“Why, I expect there’s a way,” drawled the rider, fixing Masten with a steady
eye;“I’vebeenwonderin’whyyoudidn’tmentionitbefore.”
“OhLord!”saidMastentothegirl,hisdisgustmakinghisvoicehusky,“canyou
imaginesuchstupidity?”
Butthegirldidnotanswer;shehadseenaglintintherider’seyeswhilehehad
beenlookingatMastenwhichhadmadeherdrawadeepbreath.Shehadseen
guileinhiseyes,andsubtlety,andmuchhumor.Stupidity!Shewonderedhow
Mastencouldbesodense!
Then she became aware that the rider was splashing toward her, and the next
instant she was looking straight at him, with not more than five feet of space
between them. His gaze was on her with frank curiosity, his lean, strong face
glowingwiththebloomofhealth;hismouthwasfirm,hiseyesserene,virility
andconfidenceineverymovementofhisbody.Andthenhewasspeakingtoher,
hisvoicelow,gentle,respectful,evendeferential.Heseemednottohavetaken
offenseatWillard,seemedtohaveforgottenhim.
“Ireckonyou-allwillhavetorideoutofhereonmyhorse,ma’am,”hesaid,“if
youreckonyou’dcareto.Why,yes,Iexpectthat’sright;I’doughttotakethe
oldladyan’gentlemanfirst,ma’am,”asthegirlindicatedthem.
HebackedhisponyandsmiledatAuntMartha,whowassmall,gray,andsweet
offace.Hegrinnedather—thegrinofagrownboyathisgrandmother.
“Ireckonyou’llgofirst,Aunty,”hesaidtoher.“I’llhaveyouhighan’dryina
jiffy.Youcouldn’tridethere,youknow,”headded,asAuntMarthaessayedto
climb on behind him. “This Patches of mine is considerable cantankerous an’
ain’tbeeneducatedtoit.It’slikelyhe’ddumpusboth,an’thenwe’dbefreezin’


too.”AndheglancedsidelongatWillard.
Aunt Martha was directed to step on the edge of the buckboard. Trembling a
little,thoughsmiling,shewasliftedbodilyandplacedsidewiseonthesaddlein
frontofhim,andinthismannerwascarriedtothebank,farupontheslopeout
ofthedeepmudthatspreadoverthelevelnearthewater’sedge,andsetdown
gently,voicingherthanks.
Then the rescuer returned for Uncle Jepson. On his way to join Aunt Martha,
UncleJepson,whohadwatchedtheridernarrowlyduringhistalkwithWillard,
foundtimetowhisper:
“Ihadamuleoncethatwasn’tanystubbornerthanWillardMasten.”
“Youdon’trecollecthowyoucuredhimofit?”
“Yes sir, I do. I thumped it out of him!” And Uncle Jepson’s eyes glowed
vindictively.
“I reckon you’ve got a heap of man in you, sir,” said the rider. He set Uncle
JepsondownbesideAuntMarthaandturnedhisponybacktowardtheriverto
gethisremainingpassenger.Mastenwavedauthoritativelytohim.
“Ifit’sjustthesametoyou,myman,I’llassistMissRuthtoland.Justrideover
here!”
The rider halted the pony and sat loosely in the saddle, gravely contemplating
thedriveracrosstheseaofmudthatseparatedthem.
“Why, you ain’t froze yet, are you!” he said in pretended astonishment. “Your
mouth is still able to work considerable smooth! An’ so you want to ride my
horse!” He sat, regarding the Easterner in deep, feigned amazement. “Why,
Willard,”hesaidwhenitseemedhehadquiterecovered,“Patcheswouldsurego
tosun-fishin’an’dumpyouoffintothatlittleol’suck-holeag’in!”Heurgedthe
ponyonthroughthewatertothebuckboardanddrewupbesidethegirl.
Herfacewascrimson,forshehadnotfailedtohearMasten,anditwasplainto
theriderthatshehaddivinedthatjealouslyhadimpelledMastentoinsistonthe
changeofriders.Feminineperverseness,orsomethingstronger,wasinhereyes
whentheridercaughtaglimpseofthemashebroughthisponytoahaltbeside
her.HemightnowhavemadethemistakeofreferringtoMastenandthushave
broughtfromheraquickrefusaltoaccompanyhim,forhehadmadehisexcuse
toMastenandtohavepermittedhertoknowtherealreasonwouldhavebeento
attack her loyalty. He strongly suspected that she was determined to make


Mastensufferforhisobstinacy,andherejoicedinherspirit.
“We’rereadyforyounow,ma’am.”
“AreyoupositivelycertainthatPatcheswon’tgoto‘sunfishing’withme?”she
demanded, as she poised herself on the edge of the buckboard. He flashed a
pleased grin at her, noting with a quickening pulse the deep, rich color in her
cheeks,thesoftwhiteskin,herdancingeyes—allframedinthehoodoftherain
cloakshewore.
Hereachedouthishandstoher,claspedheraroundthewaistandswungherto
theplaceonthesaddleformerlyoccupiedbyAuntMartha.Ifheheldhertohim
alittlemoretightlythanhehadheldAuntMarthathewindmighthavebeento
blame,foritwasblowingsomestraywispsofherhairintohisfaceandhefelta
strangeintoxicationthathecouldscarcelycontrol.
Andnow,whenshewassafeonhishorseandtherewasnofurtherdangerthat
shewouldrefusetoridewithhim,hegavehertheanswertoherquestion:
“Patcheswouldn’tbeunpolitetoalady,ma’am,”hesaidquietly,intoherhair;
“hewouldn’tthrowyou.”
Hecouldnotseeherface—itwastooclosetohimandhischinwashigherthan
thetopofherhead.Buthecouldnotfailtocatchthemirthinhervoice:
“ThenyouliedtoWillard!”
“Why,yes,ma’am;IreckonIdid.Yousee,Ididn’twanttoletPatchesgetall
muddiedup,ridin’overtoWillard.”
“Butyouareridinghimintothemudnow!”shedeclaredinastrangelymuffled
voice.
“Why,soIam,ma’am,”hesaidgleefully;“IreckonI’msureabox-head!”
Hehandedherdownaminutelater,besideUncleJepsonandAuntMartha,and
helingeredanothermomentnearher,forhisproximitytoherhadsethisblood
tingling,andtherewasan unnamableyearninginhis breasttobenearher.He
had passed hours in looking upon her picture, dreaming of this minute, or
anotherlikeit,andnowthathisdreamhadcometrueherealizedthatfulfilment
wassweeterthananticipation.Hewashugelypleasedwithher.
“She’salotbetterlookin’thanherpicture,”hetoldhimselfashewatchedher.
Shehadherbacktohim,talkingwithherrelatives,butshedidnotneedtoface
himto arouse hisworship.“Didn’tIknowshewaslittle,”hechargedhimself,


estimatingherheight,“shewon’tcomeanywherenearreachin’myshoulder.”
He had not forgotten Masten. And a humorous devil sported in his eye as he
wheeledhisponyandfixedhisgazeonthatgentleman.
“Speciments travel around most anywheres,” he reflected. “This here’s a swell
head with a grouch. I reckon he ain’t a serious friend of hers, or she wouldn’t
have stood for me rescuin’ her when he offered himself that generous.” The
recollectionconvulsedhim,andhebowedhisheadoverthepony’snecktohide
the laugh. When he looked up, it was to see Masten standing rigid, watching
him,wrathonhisface.
“IsupposeI’mtostandhereandfreezewhileyousitoverthereandlaughyour
foolheadoff!”shoutedtheEasterner.“I’vegotsomedryclothinginmytrunkon
thewagon,whichImightputon,ifIcouldinduceyoutohurryalittle.”
“Why,shucks.Icomemightynearforgettin’you,Willard,”saidtherider.“An’
so you’ve got other clothes! Only they’re in your trunk on the buckboard, an’
youcan’tget’em.An’you’refreezin’an’I’mlaughin’atyou.You’vegotaheap
oftrouble,ain’tyou,Willard.An’allbecauseyouwasdeadsetongoin’tothe
leftwhenyououghttohavegonetotheright.”
“Dohurry!Wontyou,please?”saidthegirl’svoice,closetohisstirrup.
Helookedguiltilyather,forhehad beenabouttosaysomevitriolicthingsto
Masten, having almost lost patience with him. But at her words his slow good
naturereturned.
“I’msuregoin’tohurry,ma’am.”
Heurgedtheponyintothewateragain,rodetothebuckboard,steppedoff,and
kneelingintheseatreachedintothewaterandworkedwiththeharness.Then,
walkingalongthewagontongue,whichwasslightlyoutofthewater,heagain
reached into the water and fumbled with the harness. Then he stepped back,
slappedtheblacksandurgedthemwithhisvoice,andtheyflounderedoutofthe
water and gained the bank, where they stood shaking the water from their
glisteningbodies.
He mounted his pony again and rode to the rear of the buckboard. Taking the
braided hair rope that hung from the pommel of his saddle he made a hitch
aroundthecenteroftherearaxle.Thenhewheeledhisponyuntilitfacedaway
from the buckboard, rode the length of the rope carefully, halted when it was
taut, and then slowly, with his end of the rope fastened securely to the saddle
horn,pulledthebuckboardtoalevelontheriverbottom.


Returningtotherearofthebuckboardheunfastenedtherope,coiledit,androde
tothebank,catchingtheblacksandleadingthemuptheslopebeyondwherethe
girl,herauntandunclestood.HegentlyaskedUncleJepsontoholdtheblacks,
forfeartheymightstray,andthenwithasmileatthegirlandAuntMartha,he
returned to the buckboard. There he uncoiled his rope again and attached one
endofittothetongueofthewagon,again,asbefore,ridingawayuntiltherope
grew taut. Then, with a word to the pony, the wagon was drawn through the
watertotheedgeoftheseaofmud.
Thismudlookedtreacherous,butitwastheonlywayout;andso,afterapause
for rest, he urged the pony on again. The buckboard traveled its length—then
lurchedintoarutandrefusedtomoveanotherfoot,inspiteofthestrainingof
theponyanditsrider’surgings.
Theriderpaused,turnedinthesaddleandscratchedhisheadinperplexity.
“Ireckonwe’verunag’inasnag,Patches,”hesaid.Hescrutinizedtheslopes.“I
expectwe’llhavetotryoneofthem,afterall,”hedecided.
“You were foolish to try to draw the wagon out with that thing, in the first
place,” loudly criticized Masten. “If you had hitched the horses to the wagon
afteryouhadpulleditoutofthehole,why—”
Theriderlookedatthefault-finder,hiseyesnarrowed.
“Why,ifitain’tWillard!”hesaid,amazed.“Standin’there,workin’hislittleold
jawag’in!An’a-mournin’becauseIain’tgoin’togetmyfeetwet!Well,shucks.
Ireckonthereain’tnothin’todonowbuttogettheblacksan’hitch’emontothe
wagon.There’saheapofmudthere,ofcourse,butIexpectsomemudonthem
rightprettybootsofyourswouldn’tspoil’em.I’llleadtheblacksoveran’you
canworkyourjawon’em.”
“Thanks,”saidMasten,sneering,“I’vehadenoughwettingsforoneday.Ihave
nodoubtthatyoucangetthewagonout,byyourowncrudemethods.Ishallnot
interfere,youmaybesure.”
Hestalkedawayfromthewater’sedgeandascendedtheslopetoapointseveral
feet in advance of the wagon. Standing there, he looked across the mud at the
girl and the others, as though disdaining to exchange further words with the
rider.
Thelattergazedathim,sidelong,withhumorousmaliceinhisglance.Thenhe
wheeled his pony, rode back toward the wagon, veered when almost to it and
forcedtheponytoclimbtheslope,thusgettingMastenbetweentheropeandthe


mud. He pulled the rope taut again, swinging wagon tongue and wheels at a
sharpangletowardhim,drovethespursintotheflanksoftheponyandheadedit
towardthemudlevel,swingingsothattheropedescribedaquartercircle.Itwas
atime-honoredexpedientwhich,heexpected,wouldproducethejerkreleasing
thewagon.
If he expected the action would produce other results, the rider gave no
indicationofit.Onlythegirl,watchinghimcloselyandseeingahardgleamin
hiseyes,sensedthathewasdeterminedtoachieveadoubleresult,andshecried
outtoMasten.Thewarningcametoolate.Thetautrope,makingitswideswing,
struckMasteninthesmalloftheback,liftedhim,andborehimresistlesslyout
into the mud level, where he landed, face down, while the wagon, released,
swishedpasthimonitswaytofreedom.
Theridertookthewagonfaruptheslopingtrailbeforehebroughtittoahalt.
Then,swingingitsidewayssothatitwouldnotrollbackintothemud,heturned
and looked back at Masten. The latter had got to his feet, mud-bespattered,
furious.
The rider looked from Masten to the girl, his expression one of hypocritical
gravity.Thegirl’sfacewasflushedwithindignationovertheaffrontofferedher
friend.Shehadpunishedhimforhisjealousy,shehadtakenherpartinmildly
ridiculinghim.Butitwasplaintotheriderwhenheturnedandsawherface,that
sheresentedtheindignityshehadjustwitnessed.Shewasrigid;herhandswere
clenched,herarmsstiffathersides;hervoicewasicy,even,thoughhuskywith
suppressedpassion.
“IsupposeImustthankyouforgettingthewagonout,”shesaid.“Butthat—that
despicable trick—” Her self-control deserted her. “I wish I were a man; you
wouldnotgounpunished!”
Therewascontritioninhiseyes.Foraninfinitesimalspaceheregrettedthedeed,
andhisactivemindwasalreadyframinganexcuse.Andthenoutofthetailof
hiseyehesawUncleJepsonwinkingviolentapplauseathim,andabroadgrin
suffused his face. He made some effort to suppress it, but deepening wrinkles
aroundhiseyescontradictedthegravityofhislips.
“Why,Iwasn’treckonin’tohurthim,ma’am,”hesaid.“Yousee,hewasrightin
theway,an’IreckonIwasfeelin’abitwildrightatthatminute,an’—”Hisgaze
went to Masten, who was scraping mud from his garments with a small flat
stone.Therider’seyesgrewwide;morewrinklesappearedaroundthem.
“Why, I’ve spoiled his white shirt,” he said as though speaking to himself, his


voicefreightedwithawe.Andthen,asMastenshookathreateningfistathim,he
suddenlyyieldedtothemirththatwasconsuminghimandhebowedhishead.
ItwasUncleJepson’swarningshoutthatimpelledhimtoraisehishead.Hesaw
Mastencomingtowardhim,clawingatthefoolishholsterathiswaist,hiseyes
flashingmurder,histeethbaredinasnarl.
“You,Patches!”saidtherider,hisvoicecomingwithacold,quicksnap.Andthe
piebald pony, his muscles and thews alive with energy in an instant, lunged in
answertothequickknee-press,throughthemud,straightatMasten.
SoitwasagrimandformidablefigurethatMastenlookedupatbeforehecould
gethisweaponoutofhisholster.Theleanfaceoftheriderwasclosetohisown,
therider’seyesweresteady,blue,andsocoldthattheymadeMastenforgetthe
chillintheair.Andoneoftheheavypistolsthattheridercarriedwascloseto
Masten’shead,itsbigmuzzlegapingforebodinglyathim,andtherider’svoice,
asheleanedfromthesaddle,cametenseandlow.Thegirlcouldnothear:
“Listen to this gospel, you mud-wallowin’ swine,” he said. “This is a man’s
country, an’ you play a man’s game or you lose out so quick it’ll make you
dizzy!Youbeenplayin’kidallthroughthisdeal.You’regrumblin’an’whinin’
ever since I set eyes on you from the edge of the mesa, there. That little girl
thinksyou’reallwoolan’ayardwide.Youcomeacross,clean—youhearme!
Youshapeuptoman’ssizeorI’llhuntyouupan’tearthegizzardoutofyou!
Youjamthattherecap-shooterbackwhereitbelongsorI’lltakeitawayfrom
youan’makeyoueatit!Youhearme!”
Thepistolwentback;Masten’sfacewasashenbeneaththemudonit.
“Nowgrin,yousufferin’shorthorn!”cametherider’svoiceagain,lowasbefore.
“Grinlikeyou’djustdiscoveredthatI’myourrichunclecomefromFriscowith
a platter full of gold nuggets which I’m set on you spendin’ for white shirts.
Grin,orI’llsalivateyou!”
ItwasagrinthatwreathedMasten’slips—ashallow,forcedone.Butitsufficed
fortherider.Hesaterect,hissix-shooterdisappearingmagically,andthesmile
onhisfacewhenhelookedatthegirl,hadgenuinemirthinit.
“I’veapologizedtoWillard,ma’am,”hesaid.“Weain’tgoin’tobecrosstoeach
othernomore.Ireckonyouc’nforgiveme,now,ma’am.Isuredidn’tthinkof
bein’mean.”
ThegirllookeddoubtfullyatMasten,butbecauseofthemudonhisfacecould
seenoexpression.


“Well, I’m glad of that,” she said, reddening with embarrassment. “I certainly
would not like to think that anyone who had been so accommodating as you
could be so mean as to deliberately upset anyone in the mud.” She looked
downward.“I’msorryIspoketoyouasIdid,”sheadded.
“Why, I’m sorry too, ma’am,” he said gravely. He urged his pony through the
mudandbroughtittoahaltbesideher.“Ifyou’dshakehandsonthat,ma’am,
I’dbemightytickled.”
Her hand went out to him. He took it and pressed it warmly, looking at it,
marveling at it, for the glove on it could not conceal its shapeliness or its
smallness.Hedroppeditpresently,andtakingoffhishat,bowedtoher.
“Thankyou,ma’am,”hesaid;“I’llbeseein’youag’insometime.Ihopeyou’ll
likeithere.”
“IamsureIshall.”
Hegrinnedandturnedaway.Hervoicehaltedhim.
“MayIknowwhohasbeensokindtousinourtrouble?”
Hereddenedtotherootsofhishair,butfacedher.
“Why, I reckon you’ll know, ma’am. I’m King Randerson, foreman of the
DiamondH,upthecrickaways.Thatis,”headded,hisblushdeepening,“Iwas
christened‘King.’Butawhileagoadagoprofessorwhostayedovernightatthe
DiamondHtippedtheboysoffthat‘King’was RexinLatinlingo.An’so it’s
been Rex Randerson since then, though mostly they write it ‘W-r-e-c-k-s.’
There’snoaccountin’fornotionshereabouts,ma’am.”
“Well,Ishouldthinknot!”saidthelady,makingmentalnoteofthebluenessof
hiseyes.“ButIamsuretheboysmakeamistakeinspellingyourname.Judging
fromyourrecentactionsitshouldbespelled‘R-e-c-k-l-e-s-s.’Anyway,wethank
you.”
“Thesametoyou,ma’am.Solong.”
HeflashedasmileatAuntMartha;itbroadenedashemetUncleJepson’seyes;
itturnedtoagrinofderisionashelookedatMasten.Andthenhewassplashing
hisponyacrosstheriver.
Theywatchedhimasherodeuptheslopeontheoppositeside;theyheldtheir
breath as pony and rider climbed the steeper slope to the mesa. They saw him
haltwhenhereachedthemesa,sawhimwavehishattothem.Buttheydidnot


seehimhalttheponyafterhehadriddenalittleway,andkissthepalmofthe
handthathadheldhers.


CHAPTERIII
ATTHEFLYINGW
ItfelltoUncleJepsontohitchtheblackstothebuckboard—inafrigidsilence
Mastenhadfoundhistrunk,openeditanddrawnoutsomeverynecessarydry
clothing;thenmarchingbehindathickclumpofalder,heproceededtomakethe
change.Afterthisheclimbeddowntotheriverandwashedthemudfromvisible
portions of his body. Then he returned to the buckboard, to find the others
waitingforhim.InastrainedsilenceheclimbeduptotheseatbesideRuth,took
upthereins,andsenttheblacksforward.
ItwastenmilestotheFlyingWranchhouse,andduringtheridethesilencewas
brokenonlyonce.Thatwaswhen,ataboutthefifthmile,Ruthplacedahandon
Masten’sarmandsmiledathim.
“IreallythinkMr.Randersonwassorrythatheupsetyouinthemud,Willard,”
shesaidgently.“Idon’tthinkhedidittobemean.Anditwassomanlyofhim
to apologizeto you.” Shelaughed,thinkingthattimehadalreadyremoved the
sting.“Andyoureallydidlookfunny,Willard,withthemudalloveryou.I—I
couldhavelaughed,myself,ifIhadn’tfeltsoindignant.”
“I’llthankyoutonotrefertoitagain,Ruth,”hesaidcrossly.
She flushed and looked straight ahead of her at the unfolding vistas that their
passagerevealed:attheundulatingplains,greenwithbunch-grassthattherain
ofthenightbeforehadwashedandreinvigorated;intogullieswhereweedsgrew
thick; peering into arroyos—visible memories of washouts and cloudbursts;
glimpsingbarrancasastheyflashedby;wonderingatthedepthofdrawsthrough
which the trail led; shivering at the cacti—a brilliant green after the rain—for
somehow they seemed to symbolize the spirit of the country—they looked so
grim, hardy, and mysterious with their ugly thorns that seemed to threaten and
mock. She shrank, too, when the buckboard passed the skeleton of a steer, its
bleached bones ghastly in the sunlight, but she smiled when she saw a sea of


soap-weed with yellow blossoms already unfolding, and she looked long at a
mile-wide section of mesquite, dark and inviting in the distance. She saw a
rattlercrossthetrailinfrontofthebuckboardanddrawitsloathsomelengthinto
a coil at the base of some crabbed yucca, and thereafter she made grimaces at
each of the ugly plants they passed. It was new to her, and wonderful.
Everything,weirdorugly,possessedastrangefascinationforher,andwhenthey
lurchedoverthecrestofahillandshesaw,loomingsomberlyinthedistancein
front of her, a great cottonwood grove, with some mountains behind it, their
peaksgleamingintheshimmeringsunlight,thrustingabove somefleecy white
clouds against a background of deep-blue sky, her eyes glistened and she sat
very erect, thrilled. Itwasinsucha country thatshehadlongedtolive all the
daysofherlife.
Somehow, it gave her a different viewpoint. The man who had accommodated
them back at the river seemed to fit very well here. The spirit of the young,
unfettered country was in his eyes, in his serene manner; he was as hardy and
ruggedasthislandfromwhichhehadsprung.
When the buckboard came to a halt in the Flying W ranchhouse yard, Ruth
Harkness’ first emotion was one of a great happiness that the Harknesses had
alwaysbeenthriftyandneat,andalsothatUncleWilliamhadpersistedinthese
habits.Shehadgreatlyfeared,forduringthelastdayofherrideonthetrainshe
hadpassedmanyranchhousesandshehadbeenappalledanddepressedbythe
dilapidated appearance of their exteriors, and by the general atmosphere of
disorderandshiftlessnessthatseemedtosurroundthem.Somanyofthemhad
reminded her of the dwelling places of careless farmers on her own familiar
countryside,andshehadassuredherselfthatiftheFlyingWwereanythinglike
thoseothersshewouldimmediatelytrytofindabuyer,muchasshewishedto
stay.
But the first glance at the Flying W convinced her that her fears had been
groundless.Theranchhousewasabigtwo-storystructurebuiltofheavytimber,
withporchesinfrontandrear,andwidecornices,allpaintedwhiteandsetona
solid foundation of stone. It looked spacious and comfortable. The other
buildings—stables,bunkhouse,messhouse,blacksmithshop,andseveralothers
—didnotdiscredittheranchhouse.Theyallwereingoodrepair.Shehadalready
noted that the fences were well kept; she had seen chickens and pigs, flowers
and a small garden; and behind the stable, in an enclosure of barbed wire, she
hadobservedsomecows—milkers,shewascertain.


Theranchhousewaswellshelteredbytimber.Thegreatcottonwoodgrovethat
shehadseenfromtheplainswasclosetothehouseonthesouth;itextendedeast
andwestforperhapshalfamile,andagroveoffirsrosetothenorth,backofthe
pasturefence.Thegeneralcharacterofthelandsurroundingthehousewasasort
ofrollinglevel.Thefoothillsbelongingtothemountainsthatshehadseenwhile
approaching the ranchhouse were behind the cottonwood grove. She had seen,
too, that the river they had crossed at the ford which Wes Vickers had called
“Calamity” was not more than a mile from the house, and therefore she
concluded that it doubled widely. Later, she learned from Vickers that her
conclusionwascorrect,andthattheriverwascalled“RabbitEar.”Whyitwas
calledthatshewasneverabletodiscover.
When the buckboard came to a halt, two men who had been seated in the
doorway of one of the buildings—she discovered, later, that it was the
bunkhouse—gotup,lazily,andapproachedthebuckboard.Ruthfeltapulseof
trepidation as they sauntered close to the wagon. Vickers had told her nothing
directly concerning the character of the men at the ranch, but during their
conversation at Red Rock that morning he had mentioned that the “boys are a
good lot, taken together, but they’s some that don’t measure up.” And she
wondered whether these two came under that final vague, though significant
classification.
Their appearance was against them. The one in advance, a man of medium
height,lookedpositivelyvillainouswithhislong,droopingblackmustacheand
heavy-thatched eyebrows. He eyed the occupants of the buckboard with an
insolent half-smile, which the girl thought he tried—in vain—to make
welcoming.
The other was a man of about thirty; tall, slender, lithe, swarthy, with thin,
expressive lips that were twisted upward at one corner in an insincere smirk.
This taller man came close to the wagon and paused in an attitude of quiet
impudence.
“Ireckonyou’reRuthHarkness—theol’man’sniece?”hesaid.
“Yes,”returnedthegirl,smiling.Perhapsshehadmisjudgedthesemen.
“Well,”saidtheman,lookingatherwithaboldglancethatmadeherpulseskip
abeat,“you’reastunnerforlooks,anyway.”Hereachedouthishand.Shetook
it,feelingthatitwastheproperthingtodo,althoughwiththeactionshehearda
grumblefromMasten.
“You’rewelcometotheFlyin’W,”saidtheman,breakinganawkwardsilence.


“TomChavisisspecialgladtoseeaprettywomanaroundtheseparts.”
Shefelt,inhiseyesmorethanhiswords,aveiledsignificance.Shereddeneda
little,butmethisgazefairly,hereyesunwavering.
“WhoisTomChavis?”sheasked.
“I’m reckonin’ to be Tom Chavis,” he said, studying her. He waved a hand
toward the other man, not looking at him. “This is my friend Jim Pickett. We
wasforemanan’strawboss,respective,underBillHarkness.”
Shecouldnothelpwishingthatherunclehaddischargedthetwomenbeforehis
death. She was wondering a little at Masten’s silence; it seemed to her that he
mustseeherembarrassment,andthathemightrelieveheroftheburdenofthis
conversation. She looked quickly at him; he appeared to be unconcernedly
inspectingtheranchhouse.Perhaps,afterall,therewasnothingwrongwiththese
men.Certainly,beingamanhimself,Mastenshouldbeabletotell.
Andsoshefeltalittlemoreatease.
“I’mgladtomeetyou,Mr.Chavis,”shesaid.“YourfriendMr.Picketttoo.”She
indicated Masten with a nod of her head toward him. “This is Mr. Willard
Masten, a very dear friend of mine.” The color in her face deepened with the
words.
Chavis had looked twice at Masten before Ruth spoke. He looked again now,
meetingtheEasterner’seyes.ChavishadbeenreadytosneeratMastenbecause
ofhisgarments—theywereduplicatesofthosehehadwornbeforetheducking,
andquiteasimmaculate—butsomethingintheEasterner’seyeskeptthesneer
back;hisowneyesgleamedwithaquick,comprehensivefire,andhesmiled.In
thebuckboard,freshfromthatcivilizationwhichChaviswasreadytoscorn,he
had recognized a kindred spirit. There was exultation in his voice when he
spoke,andhereachedoverRuthtograspMasten’shand.
“An’sothisisWillard,averydearfriendofyourn,eh?Well,now,I’msureglad,
an’Ireckonhiman’mewillgeton.”HeurgedPickettforwardandintroduced
him, and Pickett gave Masten one quick, appraising glance. Then he, too,
grinned.
Ruthwasgratified.Thesemenwererough,buttheyhadbeenquicktorecognize
and appreciate Masten’s good qualities. They had gone more than half way in
welcominghim.Ofcourse,therewasChavis’boldallusiontoa“prettywoman,”
buttheveryuncouthnessofthemenmustbetheexplanationforthatbreachof
etiquette.Shewasmuchrelieved.


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