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Love Vs Business








From: The Range Boss

On Sunday afternoon Ruth, Masten, Aunt Martha, and Uncle Jepson were
sitting on the front porch of the Flying W ranchhouse. Ruth was reading
and thinking--thinking most of the time, the book lying open in her lap.
Masten was smoking a cigar--one of the many that he had brought with
him--and which he selfishly kept exclusively for his own use. Masten
seemed to be doing a great deal of thinking, too, for he was silent
during long periods, reclining easily in a big rocker, well-groomed and
immaculate as usual, looking decidedly out of place in this country,
where extravagant personal adornment was considered an indication of
effeminacy.

Yet it was this immaculateness that had attracted Ruth to Masten in the
first place when a year and a half before she had met him at a party in
Poughkeepsie. Fresh from a big city near by, he had outshone the country
gallants at the party as he had outshone the cowboys that Ruth had seen
since coming to the Flying W. His courtship had been gallant, too; he had
quite captivated her, and after their engagement--which had been a rather
matter-of-fact affair--she had not found it possible to refuse him
permission to accompany her to the West.

"Have you visited your neighbor yet, Ruth?" Masten inquired at last.

"Neighbor!" Ruth showed astonishment by letting her book close and losing
her place. "Why, I didn't know we had a neighbor nearer than the Diamond
H!"

Masten's lips curled. Her reference to the Diamond H recalled unpleasant
memories.

"A nester," he said, and then added after a pause--"and his daughter.
Only two miles from here, across the river. There's a trail, through a
break in the canyon, leading to their ranch on the other side of the
river. The man's name is Catherson--Abe Catherson. Chavis tells me he was
something of a bother to your uncle, because of his propensity to steal
Flying W cattle. He's an old savage."

"And the daughter?" inquired Ruth, her eyes alight with interest.

"Half wild, bare-footed, ragged. She's pretty, though."

"How old is she, Willard?"

"A mere child. Fifteen, I should judge."

"I shall visit them tomorrow," declared Ruth.

"Sakes alive! Half wild? I should think she would be--living in that
wilderness!" said Aunt Martha, looking up from her knitting, over the
tops of her glasses.

"Everything is wild in this country," said Masten, a slight sneer in his
voice. "The people are repulsive, in dress, manner, and speech." He
delicately flecked some cigar ash from a coat sleeve.

Uncle Jepson wrinkled his nose belligerently. He sniffed in eloquent
preparation for speech, but Aunt Martha averted the imminent clash by
saying sharply:

"Jep, you hop in there and get that ball of yarn off the dining-room
table!"

So potent is habit that Uncle Jepson started to obey automatically, Ruth
interjected a word, speaking to Masten, and Uncle Jepson's opportunity
was lost.

Silence reigned again until Ruth, who was facing the Calamity Trail,
suddenly exclaimed:

"Some one is coming!"

During the silence she had again been thinking of Rex Randerson, and
seeing the figure on the trail she had leaped to the conclusion that it
was he. Her face had flushed. Masten noticed it, for he looked narrowly
at her and, though he said nothing, there was that in his eyes which told
he had divined what was in her mind.

It was not Randerson, however, but Vickers, who was coming. They all
recognized him when he came closer, and they watched him with that
peculiar concertedness which seizes upon an expectant company, until he
dismounted at the corral gates and came toward them.

Plainly there was something on Vickers' mind, for he smiled mechanically
as he stepped upon the porch and looked at them.

"Well, I'm back," he said. He looked at Ruth. "There's somethin' I'd like
to say to you. It's business. If you'd rather hear it private--"

"I think there is nothing--" she began.

"Well," he said, "I've got to leave here."

Ruth's face grew long. Uncle Jepson gagged on a mouthful of smoke. Aunt
Martha ceased knitting. Masten alone seemed unmoved, but an elated gleam
was in his eyes.

"Isn't that a rather sudden decision, Mr. Vickers?" questioned Ruth after
a silence.

"Well, mebbe it is, to you," said Vickers, with some embarrassment. "But
the fact is, I've been thinkin' of goin' for a long time--about a year to
be exact. I was goin' before your uncle died, but I kept holdin' on
because he wanted me to. You see, ma'am, I've got a mother back East.
She's been poorly for quite a while now, an' has been wantin' me to come.
I've been puttin' it off, but it's got to the point where it can't be put
off any longer. I got a letter from her doctor the other day, an' he says
that she can't last a heap longer. So--I'm goin'."

"That's too bad," sympathized Ruth. "You ought to go, and go quickly."

"I'm aimin' to, ma'am. But I've got to tell you somethin' before I go. Me
an' your uncle was pretty thick; he trusted me a heap."

"Yes," said Ruth; "he told me that he liked and trusted you."

"Well, you'll understand then. A couple of months before he cashed in, we
was talkin' of him goin'. He knowed it, ma'am. We was talkin' about the
ranch. He knowed I wanted to leave. 'What'll I do for a range boss when
you're gone?' he asked me. 'I won't go till you ain't here any more,' I
tells him. An' he grinned. 'I'm goin' to leave the Flyin' W to my niece,
Ruth Harkness of Poughkeepsie,' he says. 'I'd like her to stay an' run
it--if she likes it here. You'll be gone then, an' who in Sam Hill will
be range boss then?' I told him I didn't have no thoughts on the subject,
an' he continues: 'Rex Randerson, Vickers--he'll be range boss. Do you
understand? If you was to pull your freight right now, Rex Randerson
would be range boss as soon as I could get word over to him. An' if
you've got any say-so after I'm gone, an' Ruth wants to keep the ranch,
you tell her that--that Bill Harkness wants Rex Randerson to be range
boss after Wes Vickers don't want it any more.' That's what he said,
ma'am; them's his very words."

Ruth looked at Masten. He was staring stonily out into the plains. Ruth's
cheeks reddened, for she felt that she knew his thoughts. But still,
Randerson hadn't really used him ill at the river, and besides, he had
apologized, and it seemed to her that that should end the incident. Also,
she still felt rather resentful toward Masten for his attitude toward Tom
Chavis after she had complained. And also, lurking deep in her
unsophisticated mind was a most feminine impulse to sting Masten to
jealousy. She looked up to meet Vickers' gaze, fixed curiously upon her.

"Could you recommend this man--Randerson?" she asked.

"Why, ma'am, he's got the best reputation of any man in these parts!"

"But is he efficient?"

"Meanin' does he know his business? Well, I reckon. He's got the best
head for range work of any man in the country! He's square, ma'am. An'
there ain't no man monkeyin' with him. I've knowed him for five years,
an' I ain't ever knowed him to do a crooked trick, exceptin'"--and here
he scratched his head and grinned reminiscently--"when he gets the devil
in him which he does occasionally, ma'am--an' goes to jokin', ma'am. But
they're mostly harmless jokes, ma'am; he's never hurt nobody, bad. But he
got a level head--a heap leveler than a lot of folks that--"

"I think Tom Chavis would make a good range boss, Ruth," said Masten. He
did not look at her, and his words were expressionless.

"Mister man," said Vickers evenly, "what do you know about Tom Chavis?"

Masten looked quickly at Vickers, and as quickly looked away, his face
slowly reddening.

"He's foreman now, isn't he?" he said. "It seems that Harkness trusted
him that much."

"There's a first time for every man to go wrong, Mister," said Vickers.

Masten's voice was almost a sneer.

"Why don't you tell Chavis that?"

"I've told him, Mister--to his face." Vickers' own face was growing dark
with wrath.

"You were range boss after Harkness' death," persisted Masten. "Why
didn't you discharge Chavis?"

"I'm askin' the new boss for permission to do it now," declared Vickers.
"It'll be a good wind-up for my stay here."

"We shall keep Chavis for the present," said Ruth. "However," she added
firmly, "he shall not be range boss. I do not like him."

Vickers grinned silent applause. And again Uncle Jepson had trouble with
his pipe. Aunt Martha worked her knitting needles a little faster.
Masten's face paled, and the hand that held the cigar quickly clenched,
so that smoking embers fell to the porch floor. Whatever his feelings,
however, he retained his self-control.

"Of course, it is your affair, Ruth," he said. "I beg your pardon for
offering the suggestion."

But he left them shortly afterward, lighting a fresh cigar and walking
toward the bunkhouse, which was deserted, for Chavis and Pickett had gone
to a distant part of the range.

Thus Masten did not see Vickers, when a little later he came out on the
porch with his war-bag. He said good-bye to Aunt Martha and Uncle Jepson,
and then he took Ruth's hand and held it long.

"You'll never go a heap wrong when you use your own judgment, girl," he
said. "I'm ridin' over to the Diamond H to tell Randerson about his new
job. Don't make no mistake, girl. Rex Randerson is square. An' if any
trouble comes sneakin' around you, take it to Rex; he'll stick on the
right side till hell freezes over."





Next: A Man And His Job

Previous: A Memory Of The Rider



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