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Banishing A Shadow








From: The Range Boss

Randerson could not adjust his principles to his purpose to do Masten to
death while working for Ruth, and so, in the morning following his
meeting with the Easterner on the trail leading to Chavis' shack, he
announced to the men of the outfit that he was going to quit. He told Red
Owen to take charge until Ruth could see him.

Glum looks followed his announcement. They tried to dissuade him, for
they did not know his thoughts, and perhaps would not have given him
credit for them if they had.

"Don't the outfit suit you?" asked one gently. "If it don't, we'll try to
do better!"

"Your conduct has been amazin' good--considerin'," grinned Randerson,
light-hearted for the time; for this mark of affection was not lost upon
him.

"If there's anybody in the outfit that's disagreeable to you, why, say
the word an' we'll make him look mighty scarce!" declared another,
glancing belligerently around him.

"Shucks, this outfit'll be a blamed funeral!" said Blair. "We'll be
gettin' to think that we don't grade up, nohow. First Vickers packs his
little war-bag an' goes hittin' the breeze out; an' now you've got some
fool notion that you ought to pull your freight. If it's anything
botherin' you, why, open your yap, an' we'll sure salivate that thing!"

"I ain't mentionin'," said Randerson. "But it ain't you boys. You've
suited me mighty well. I'm sure disturbed in my mind over leavin' you."

"Then why leave at all?" said Owen, his face long.

But Randerson evaded this direct question. "An' you standin' in line for
my job?" he said in pretended astonishment. "Why, I reckon you ought to
be the most tickled because I'm goin'!"

"Well, if it's a go, I reckon we'll have to stand for it," said Blair a
little later, as Randerson mounted his pony. Their parting words were
short, but eloquent in the sentiment left unsaid.

"So long," Randerson told them as he rode away. And "so long" came the
chorus behind him, not a man omitting the courtesy.

They stood in a group, watching him as he faded into the distance toward
the ranchhouse.

"Somethin' is botherin' him mighty bad," said Owen, frowning.

"He's made the outfit feel like a lost doggie," grumbled Blair. "The
blamed cuss is grievin' over somethin'." And they went disconsolately to
their work.

Randerson rode on his way. He felt a little relieved. No longer was he
bound by his job; he was now a free agent and could do as he pleased. And
it would please him to settle his differences with Masten. He would "go
gunnin' for him" with a vengeance.

It was about noon when he rode in to the ranchhouse. He did not turn his
pony into the corral, but hitched it to one of the columns of the porch,
for he intended to go on to the Diamond H as soon as he could get his
belongings packed. If his old job was still open (he had heard that it
was) he would take it, or another in case the old one had been filled. In
any event, he would leave the Flying W.

Dejection was heavy in his heart when he crossed the porch to go to his
room, for he had liked it here; it had been more like the home of his
ideals than any he had yet seen. For his imagination and affection had
been at work, and in Aunt Martha he had seen a mother--such a mother as
he could have wished his own to be, had she lived. And Uncle Jepson! The
direct-talking old gentleman had captivated him; between them was
respect, understanding, and admiration that could hardly have been deeper
between father and son.

But he felt reluctant to tell them of his decision to go, he wanted to
delay it--if possible, he did not want to let them know at all, for he
could come here, sometimes, to see them, when Ruth had gone. And so he
was much pleased when, entering the house, he did not see them. But he
looked for them, to be certain, going into all the rooms. And finally
from a kitchen window he saw them out in the cottonwood back of the
house, walking arm in arm, away, deeper into the wood. He turned with a
gentle smile, and went upstairs to his room.

* * * * *

Shortly after Abe Catherson's departure from the cabin, Ruth came to the
door and looked out. Her face was whiter than it had been when she had
reached the cabin, she was more composed, and her eyes were alight with
mingled resignation and thankfulness. For Hagar had yielded her secret,
and Ruth had realized how near she had come to linking her life with that
of the despicable creature who had preyed on her friend. The son of this
great waste of world loomed big in her thoughts as she stood in the
doorway; she saw now that those outward graces which had charmed her, in
Masten, had been made to seem mockeries in contrast to the inward
cleanness and manliness of the man that she had condemned for merely
defending himself when attacked.

She went back into the cabin and sat beside Hagar, a queer sensation of
joy possessing her, despite her pity for Hagar and her disgust for
Masten, for she knew in this instant that she would never allow Randerson
to quit the Flying W. Her joy was infectious; it brought a fugitive smile
to the face of the nester's daughter, and as Ruth led her out upon the
porch, her arms around her, Hagar looked at her worshipfully.

Out at the edge of the porch, Hagar shot a dreading glance around. She
started, and her eyes filled with anxiety as her gaze rested on the
corral. She seized Ruth's arm tightly.

"Dad's gone!" she said gulpingly.

"Well, perhaps it is all for the best, Hagar," consoled Ruth. "He will
ride for a while, and he will come back to forgive you."

But the girl's eyes grew wide with fear. "Oh, I'm afraid he'll do
somethin' terrible!" she faltered. "Before you came, he asked me if--if
it had been Randerson. I told him no, but he didn't seem satisfied, an'
when I wouldn't tell him who it was, he went out, cursin' Rex. I'm
afraid, Ruth--I'm afraid!" She glanced wildly around, and her gaze rested
on the piece of paper that Catherson had left on the edge of the porch.
In an instant she had pounced upon it.

"He's gone to kill Randerson!" she screamed shrilly. She did not seem to
see Ruth; the madness of hysterical fear was upon her; her eyes were
brilliant, wide and glaring. She was in her bare feet, but she darted
past Ruth, disregarding the rocks and miscellaneous litter that stretched
before her, reached Ruth's pony and flung herself into the saddle, her
lips moving soundlessly as she set the animal's head toward the path.

"You stay here!" she shouted to Ruth as the Flying W girl, stunned to
inaction by the other's manner, watched her. "I'm goin' to ketch dad. Oh,
durn him, the mis'able hot head!"

She hit the pony a vicious slap with a bare hand. It lunged, as the reins
loosened, reaching its best speed within a hundred yards, but urged to
increasing effort by voice and hand and heel, the girl leaning far over
its mane, riding as she had never ridden before. But up at the Flying W
ranchhouse, a tall, grim, bearded giant of a horseman was just
dismounting, his pony trembling because of heart-breaking effort.

* * * * *

Randerson had not seen Ruth, of course. But he had wondered much over her
whereabouts when he had been looking through the house for Uncle Jepson
and Aunt Martha. And when he had seen them out in the cottonwoods, back
of the house, he had supposed her to be with them. He was glad she was
not here, to make these last moments embarrassing. He would not disturb
her.

He found pencil and paper and wrote his resignation, sitting long over
it, but making it brief. It read:

"I'm going, ma'am. I've left Red Owen in charge. I'm wishing you luck."

"There, that's settled," he said, rising. "But I was hopin' it would be
different. Dreams are silly things--when they don't come true. I'll be
soured on girls, hereafter," he told himself, morosely.

He packed his war-bag. While engaged in this work he heard the sound of
hoofbeats, but he paid no attention, though he colored uncomfortably, for
he thought he had been wrong in thinking that Ruth had been in the
cottonwood grove, and that she had been away and was just returning. And
when he heard a soft tread downstairs he was certain that it was she, and
he reddened again. He stopped his work and sat silent, then he caught the
sound of footsteps on the stairs, for now he would have to face her. When
he saw the door of his room begin to swing slowly back, he got up, his
face grave, ready to deliver his resignation in person. And when the door
swung almost open, and he saw Abe Catherson standing in the opening, his
heavy pistol in hand, cocked, a finger on the trigger, he stiffened,
standing silent, looking at the intruder.

Abe's eyes still wore the frenzy that had been in them when he had been
speaking with Ruth. If anything, the frenzy was intensified. His legs
were trembling, the big finger on the trigger of his weapon was
twitching; his lips, almost hidden by the beard, were writhing. He was
like a man who had been seized by some terrible illness fighting it,
resolved to conquer it through sheer effort. His voice stuck in his
throat, issuing spasmodically:

"I've got you, Randerson," he said, "where--I want you! I'm goin' to kill
you, empty my gun in you! You mis'able whelp!" He took two steps into the
room and then halted, tearing at the collar of his shirt with his free
hand, as though to aid his laboring lungs to get the air they demanded.

Randerson's face was white and set, now. He was facing death at the hands
of a man whom he had befriended many times. He did not know Catherson's
motive in coming here, but he knew that the slightest insincere word; a
tone too light or too gruff, the most insignificant hostile movement,
would bring about a quick pressure of the trigger of Catherson's pistol.
Diplomacy would not answer; it must be a battle of the spirit; naked
courage alone could save him, could keep that big finger on the trigger
from movement until he could discover Catherson's motive in coming to
kill him.

He had faced death many times, but never had he faced it at the hands of
a friend, with the strong drag of regard to keep his fingers from his own
weapons. Had Catherson been an enemy, he would have watched him with
different feelings; he would have taken a desperate chance of getting one
of his own pistols to work. But he could not kill Catherson, knowing
there was no reason for it.

He had no difficulty in getting genuine curiosity into his voice, and he
kept it to just the pitch necessary to show his surprise over Catherson's
threat and manner:

"What you reckonin' to kill me for, Abe?"

"For what you done to my Hagar!" The convulsive play of Catherson's
features betrayed his nearness to action. His gun arm stiffened. He spoke
in great gasps, like a man in delirium. "I want you to know--what for.
You come--sneakin'--around--givin' me--money--"

"Steady, there, Abe!"

Randerson's sharp, cold voice acted with the effect of a dash of water in
Catherson's face. He started, his big hand trembling, for though he had
come to kill, he unknowingly wanted to hear some word from Randerson's
lips in proof of his innocence. Had Randerson flinched, he would have
taken that as a sign of guilt, as he now took the man's sternness as an
indication of his innocence. He stepped forward until he was no more than
a foot from Randerson, and searched his face with wild intentness. And
then, suddenly, the weapon in his hand sank down, his legs wavered, he
leaned against the wall while his chin dropped to his chest.

"You didn't do it, Rex, you couldn't do it!" he muttered hoarsely. "No
man who'd done a thing like that could look back at me like you looked.
But I'm goin' to git--" He stopped, for there was a rapid patter of feet
on the stairs, and a breathless voice, crying wildly:

"Dad! Dad! Dad!"

And while both men stood, their muscles tensed to leap into action in
response to the voice, Hagar burst into the room, looked at them both;
saw Catherson's drawn pistol, and then threw herself upon her father, hid
her face on his breast and sobbed: "It wasn't Rex, dad; it was Masten!"

Catherson's excitement was over. The first terrible rage had expended
itself on Randerson, and after a violent start at Hagar's words he grew
cold and deliberate. Also, the confession seemed to make his resentment
against his child less poignant, for he rested his hand on her head and
spoke gently to her:

"It's all right, Hagar--it's all right. Your old dad ain't goin' to hold
it ag'in you too hard. We all make mistakes. Why, I was just goin' to
make a mighty whopper myself, by killing Rex, here. You leave this to
me." He pushed her toward Randerson. "You take her back to the shack,
Rex. I reckon it won't take me long to do what I'm goin' to do. I'll be
back afore dark, mebbe."

The girl clung to him for an instant. "Dad," she said. "What are you
goin' to do?"

"If you was a good guesser--" said Catherson coldly. And then he grinned
felinely at Randerson and went out. They could hear him going down the
stairs. They followed presently, Hagar shrinking and shuddering under
Randerson's arm on her shoulders, and from the porch they saw Catherson,
on his pony, riding the trail that Ruth had taken on the day she had gone
to see Chavis' shack.

Randerson got Hagar into the saddle, recognizing the pony and speaking
about it. When she told him that Ruth was at her cabin, his face lighted.
He thought about the written resignation lying in his room, and he
smiled.

"I come mighty near not havin' to use it," he said to himself.





Next: Realizing A Passion

Previous: Into Which A Girl's Trouble Comes



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