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A Man And His Job








From: The Range Boss

Just what Ruth's sensations were the next morning she could not have
told. She could correctly analyze one emotion: it was eager anticipation.
Also, she could account for it--she wanted to see Randerson. But her
reason for wanting to see him was a mystery that she could not fathom,
though between the time of arising and the moment when she got downstairs
she devoted much thought to it. She knew she did not like Randerson well
enough to wish to see him merely on that account--that was ridiculous, in
spite of the vivid recollection of him that still lingered with her, for
she had met him only once, and she assured herself that she was too
practical-minded to fall in love with anyone at first sight. Yet by
afternoon Ruth had tired of waiting; she had no special reason for
certainty that Randerson would arrive that day, and so she went riding.
She went alone, for Masten seemed to have hidden himself--at least, she
could not find him. She rode to the break in the wall of the canyon that
he had told her about, found it, sent her pony through it and over a
shallow crossing, emerging at length in a tangle of undergrowth in a wood
through which wound a narrow bridle path. She followed this for some
distance, and after a while came to a clearing. A little adobe house
stood near the center of the clearing. Ruth halted her pony, and was
debating whether to call out or to ride boldly up, when a dog came out of
the door of the cabin, growling, its hair bristling belligerently. The
dog was big, black, and undoubtedly savage, for the pony instantly
wheeled, and when the dog came closer, lashed out with both hind hoofs at
it.

"Nig, you ol' duffer, git in hyeh where you b'long! Can't you see that
that there's a lady!" came a voice, unmistakably feminine. And the dog,
still growling, but submissive, drew off.

Ruth urged the pony on and rode the remaining distance to the door. A
girl, attired in a ragged underskirt and equally ragged waist of some
checkered material, and a faded house-apron that was many sizes too small
for her, stood in the open doorway, watching. She was bare-footed, her
hair was in tumbling disorder, though Ruth could tell that it had been
combed recently. But the legs, bare almost to the knees, were clean,
though brown from tan, and her face and arms glowed pink and spotless, in
spite of the rags. In her eyes, as she watched Ruth, was a strange
mixture of admiration and defiance.

"Dad ain't hyeh this mornin'," she volunteered as Ruth climbed off her
pony.

"I came to see you," said Ruth, smiling. She threw the reins over the
pony's head and advanced, holding out a hand. "I am Ruth Harkness," she
added, "the new owner of the Flying W. I have been here almost a month,
and I just heard that I had a neighbor. Wont you shake hands with me?"

"I reckon," said the girl. Reluctantly, it seemed, she allowed Ruth to
take her hand. But she drew it away immediately. "I've heard of you," she
said; "you're a niece of that ol' devil, Bill Harkness." She frowned. "He
was always sayin' dad was hookin' his doggoned cattle. Dad didn't steal
'em--ol' Bill Harkness was a liar!" Her eyes glowed fiercely. "I reckon
you'll be sayin' the same thing about dad."

"No indeed!" declared Ruth. "Your dad and I are going to be friends. I
want to be friends with you, too. I am not going to charge your dad with
stealing my cattle. We are going to be neighbors, and visit each other. I
want to know your dad, and I want you to come over to the Flying W and
get acquainted with my aunt and uncle. Aren't you going to invite me
inside? I would if you came to visit me, you know." She smiled winningly.

The girl flushed, and cast a glance at the interior of the cabin, which,
Ruth had already noted through the open door, was scantily furnished but
clean. Then the girl led the way in, motioned Ruth to a chair near a
rough-topped table, and stood over beside a cast-iron stove, her hands
hanging at her sides, the fingers crumpling the cloth of the ragged
apron. Her belligerence had departed; she seemed now to be beginning to
realize that this visit was really meant to honor her, and she grew
conscious of her rags, of the visible signs of poverty, of the visitor's
raiment, gorgeous in comparison with her own--though Ruth's was merely a
simple riding habit of brown corduroy.

Ruth had set out for this visit with a definite intention: she wanted to
discover just how the girl and her father lived, and if conditions were
as she suspected she was determined to help them. Conditions were worse
than she had expected, but her face gave no indication. Perhaps Ruth's
wisdom was not remarkable where men were concerned, but she had a wealth
of delicacy, understanding and sympathy where her own sex was in
question. She stayed at the cabin for more than an hour and at the end of
that time she emerged, smiling happily, her arm around the girl, with the
girl's pledge to visit her soon and an earnest invitation to come again.
Best of all, she had cleverly played upon the feminine instinct for fine
raiment, slyly mentioned a trunk that she had brought with her from the
East, packed to the top with substantial finery which was not in the
least needed by her--an incumbrance, rather--and which, she hinted, might
become the property of another, if suitable in size.

The girl followed her to the edge of the clearing, walking beside the
pony. There they took leave of each other, a glow in the eyes of both
that gave promise of future sincere friendship.

"Good-bye, Hagar," said the Flying W girl.

"Good-bye, lady," said the girl. "Ruth," she changed, as the Flying W
girl held up an admonishing finger. And then, with a last smile, Ruth
rode down the bridle path homeward, pleasure and pity mingling in her
eyes.

Randerson reached the Flying W ranchhouse late in the afternoon. He rode
first to the bunkhouse, and seeing nobody there he made a round of the
buildings. Still seeing no one, he urged Patches toward the house, halted
him at the edge of the front porch and sat in the saddle, looking at the
front door. He was about to call, when the door opened and Uncle Jepson
came out. There was a broad grin on Uncle Jepson's face.

"I cal'late you've got here," he said.

"Looks mighty like it," returned the horseman. "You reckon my new boss is
anywheres around?"

"She's gone off ridin'," Uncle Jepson told him. "It's likely she'll be
back shortly."

"I reckon I'd better wait," said Randerson. He wheeled Patches.

"There's plenty of sittin' room on the porch here," invited Uncle Jepson,
indicating the chairs.

"Thank you--reckon the bunkhouse will be my quarters."

He spoke to the pony. Uncle Jepson spoke at the same instant, and Patches
halted:

"I cal'late you'd better wait here."

"If you insist," said Randerson. He swung off and walked to the edge of
the porch, grinning mildly at Uncle Jepson. The handclasp between them
was warm, for Uncle Jepson had been strongly attracted to this son of the
plains; and the twinkle in Randerson's eyes as his met Uncle Jepson's was
not to be mistaken.

"So Vickers has gone," said Randerson as he dropped into a chair. "He's a
mighty fine man."

"Willard wanted Chavis to have his job," whispered Uncle Jepson.

"You don't say!" Randerson's eyes gleamed. "An' Miss Ruth didn't want
him, I reckon." He caught Uncle Jepson's nod. "She's allowin' that she's
goin' to be boss. But of course she would," he added. He stood up, for
Aunt Martha had opened the door and was standing in it, looking at him.
He removed his hat and bowed to her, his eyes gleaming with something
near affection, for Aunt Martha had found a place in his heart. He
stepped forward, took her hand, and escorted her to the largest and most
comfortable of the rockers on the porch, and when she sat down she looked
up at him and smiled.

"I reckon you like it here?" he said gently to Aunt Martha.

"I like it very much. But there are differences--after Poughkeepsie. One
doesn't notice them so much at first."

"I expect you find it sort of rough here," he said, looking at her. "They
tell me that in the East folks live pretty close together--that there's
conveniences. There ain't a heap of conveniences here." He pronounced the
word slowly and laboriously. It was plain that he was trying to put on
his best manners.

"No--no conveniences," said Aunt Martha. "But it's a wonderful country,
my boy--wonderful!"

A pulse of something shot through him at the word, "boy."

"I'm glad you like it," he said gravely.

Aunt Martha folded her hands in her lap and looked long at him over the
rims of her glasses. There was interest in her eyes, and kindliness. For
she saw something in this figure of a new type that sat before
her--something that the two big guns, at his hips did not hint at--nor
his leather chaps, the cartridge belt, the broad hat, the spurs, the
high-heeled boots, the colored scarf at his throat. These things were the
badges of his calling, and were, of course, indispensable, but she saw
them not. But the virile manhood of him; the indomitability; the quiet
fearlessness, indicated by his steady, serene eyes; the rugged, sterling
honesty that radiated from him, she saw--and admired. But above all she
saw the boy in him--the generous impulses that lay behind his mask of
grimness, the love of fun that she had seen him exhibit at Calamity.

"You were born here?" she asked.

"In Colfax, ma'am."

"Is that a city?"

"Bless yu', ma'am, no. It's a county."

"And you were born on a ranch, then."

"Yes, ma'am."

She was asking questions that a man would not have dared to ask him, and
he was answering them as a boy might have answered. It did not seem an
impertinence to him or to her, so great was her interest in him, so deep
was his admiration of her.

"And your parents?"

"Both dead, ma'am." A shadow crossed his face, a look of wistfulness, and
she abruptly ceased questioning. And when, a little later, they saw Ruth
coming across the plains toward them, Aunt Martha got up. He held the
screen door open for her, and she paused on the threshold and patted his
bare head.

"If I had had a son, I could have wished he would be like you," she said.

He blushed crimson. "Why, ma'am--" he began. But Aunt Martha had gone in,
and he turned to face Ruth, who was dismounting at the edge of the porch.

"Oh!" she said, as though his appearance had surprised her, though she
had seen him from afar, "you are here already!"

"I expect it's me, ma'am," he said gravely. "You see, Wes Vickers stopped
at the Diamond H last evenin', an' I come right over."

It was quite evident that he would not attempt to be familiar. No longer
was he the free lance rider of the plains who had been at liberty to
exchange words with her as suited his whim; here was the man who had been
given a job, and there stood his employer; he would not be likely to step
over that line, and his manner showed it.

"Well," she said, "I am glad you decided to come right away; we miss
Vickers already, and I have no doubt, according to his recommendation,
that you will be able to fill his place acceptably."

"Thank you, ma'am. I reckon I'm to take up my quarters in the bunkhouse?"
He paused. "Or mebbe the foreman's shanty?"

"Why," she said, looking at him and noting his grave earnestness, so
strikingly in contrast to his wild frolicksomeness at Calamity that day.
"Why, I don't know about that. Vickers stayed at the ranchhouse, and I
suppose you will stay here too."

"All right, ma'am; I'll be takin' my war-bag in." He was evidently
feeling a slight embarrassment, and would have been glad to retreat. He
got his war-bag from its place behind the saddle, on Patches, shouldered
it, and crossed the porch. He was opening the door when Ruth's voice
stopped him.

"Oh," she said, "your room. I forgot to tell you; it is the one in the
northwest corner."

"Thank you, ma'am." He went in.

"Come down when you have straightened around," she called to him, "I want
to talk with you about some things."

"I'll have to put Patches away, ma'am," he said, "I'd sure have to come
down, anyway."

That talk was held with Uncle Jepson looking on and listening and smoking
his pipe. And when it was over, Randerson took the saddle and bridle off
Patches, turned him loose in the corral and returned to the porch to talk
and smoke with Uncle Jepson.

While they sat the darkness came on, the kerosene lamp inside was
lighted, delicious odors floated out to them through the screen door.
Presently a horseman rode to the corral fence and dismounted.

"One of the boys, I reckon," said Randerson.

Uncle Jepson chuckled. "It's Willard," he said. He peered into
Randerson's face for some signs of emotion. There were none.

"I'd clean forgot him," said Randerson.

Masten came in a few minutes later. He spoke a few words to Uncle Jepson,
but ignored Randerson.

Supper was announced soon after Masten's entrance, and Uncle Jepson led
Randerson around to the rear porch, where he introduced him to a tin
washbasin and a roller towel. Uncle Jepson also partook of this luxury,
and then led the new range boss inside.

If Ruth had any secret dread over the inevitable meeting between Masten
and the new range boss, it must have been dispelled by Randerson's
manner, for he was perfectly polite to Masten, and by no word or sign did
he indicate that he remembered the incident of Calamity.

Ruth watched him covertly during the meal, and was delighted to find his
conduct faultless. He had not Masten's polish, of course, that was not to
be expected. But she noticed this--it was quickly impressed upon her--he
was not self-conscious, but entirely natural, possessing the easy grace
of movement that comes of perfect muscular and mental control. He seemed
to relegate self to the background; he was considerate, quiet, serene.
And last--the knowledge pleased her more than anything else--he continued
to keep between himself and the others the bars of deference; he made
them see plainly that there would be no overstepping his position. It was
his job to be here, and he had no illusions.





Next: How An Insult Was Avenged

Previous: Love Vs Business



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