- Download the EBook Music LessonsInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Realizing A Passion

From: The Range Boss

Ruth stood for a long time on the porch after Hagar's departure, gripped
by emotions, that had had no duplicates in all her days. Never before had
she thought herself capable of experiencing such emotions. For the man
she loved was in danger. She knew at this minute that she loved him, that
she had loved him all along. And she was not able to go to him; she could
not even learn, until Hagar returned, whether the girl had been in time,
or whether he had succumbed to the blind frenzy of the avenger. The
impotence of her position did much to aggravate her emotions, and they
surged through her, sapping her strength. It was hideous--the dread, the
uncertainty, the terrible suspense, the dragging minutes. She walked back
and forth on the porch, her hands clenched, her face drawn and white,
praying mutely, fervently, passionately, that Hagar might be in time.

Thinking to divert her mind, she at last went into the cabin and began to
walk about, looking at various objects, trying to force herself to take
an interest in them.

She saw, back of a curtain, a number of the dresses and other garments
she had given Hagar, and she could not disperse the thought that perhaps
if she had not given the clothing to Hagar, Masten might not have been
attracted to her. She drew the curtain over them with something near a
shudder, considering herself not entirely blameless.

She endeavored to interest herself in Catherson's pipe and tobacco, on a
shelf near the stove; wondering over the many hours that he had smoked in
this lonesome place, driving away the monotony of the hours. What a blow
this must be to him! She began to understand something of the terrible
emotions that must have seized him with the revelation. And she had
brought Masten here, too! Innocent, she was to blame there! And she
unconsciously did something, as she walked about, that she had never
before attempted to do--to put herself into other persons' positions, to
try to understand their emotions--the motives that moved them to do
things which she had considered vicious and inhuman. She had forced her
imagination to work, and she succeeded in getting partial glimpses of the
viewpoints of others, in experiencing flashes of the passions that moved
them. She wondered what she would do were Hagar her daughter, and for
an instant she was drunken with the intensity of the passion that gripped

Before her trip around the interior of the cabin was completed, she came
upon a six-shooter--heavy, cumbersome, like the weapon she had used the
day Randerson had taught her to shoot. It reposed on a shelf near the
door that led to the porch, and was almost concealed behind a box in
which were a number of miscellaneous articles, broken pipes, pieces of
hardware, buckles, a file, a wrench. She examined the weapon. It was
loaded, in excellent condition. She supposed it was left there for
Hagar's protection. She restored it to its place and continued her

She had grown more composed now, for she had had time to reflect.
Catherson had not had much of a start; he would not ride so fast as
Hagar; he did not know where, on the range, he might find Randerson.
Hagar was sure to catch him; she would catch him, because of her deep
affection for Randerson. And so, after all, there was nothing to worry

She was surprised to discover that she could think of Masten without the
slightest regret; to find that her contempt for him did not cause her the
slightest wonder. Had she always known, subconsciously, that he was a
scoundrel? Had that knowledge exerted its influence in making her
reluctant to marry him?

Standing at a rear window she looked out at the corral, and beyond it at
a dense wood. She had been there for about five minutes, her thoughts
placid, considering the excitement of the day, when at a stroke a change
came over her. At first a vague disquiet, which rapidly grew into a dread
fear, a conviction, that some danger lurked behind her.

She was afraid to turn. She did not turn, at once, listening instead for
any sound that might confirm her premonition. No sound came. The silence
that reigned in the cabin was every bit as intense as that which
surrounded it. But the dread grew upon her; a cold chill raced up her
spine, spreading to her arms and to her hands, making them cold and
clammy; to her head, whitening her face, making her temples throb. And
then, when it seemed that she must shriek in terror, she turned. In the
doorway, leaning against one of the jambs, regarding her with narrowed,
gleaming eyes, a pleased, appraising smile on his face, was Tom Chavis.

Her first sensation was one of relief. She did not know what she had
expected to see when she turned; certainly something more dire and
terrible than Tom Chavis. But when she thought of his past actions, of
his cynical, skeptical, and significant looks at her; of his manner at
this minute; and reflected upon the fact that she was alone, she realized
that chance could have sent nothing more terrible to her.

He noted her excitement, and his smile broadened. "Scared?" he said. "Oh,
don't be." His attitude toward her became one of easy assurance. He
stepped inside and walked to the rough table that stood near the center
of the room, placing his hands on it and looking at her craftily.

"Nobody here," he said, "but you--eh? Where's Catherson? Where's Hagar?"

"They've gone to the Flying W," she answered, trying to make her voice
even, but not succeeding. There was a quaver in it. "You must have seen
them," she added, with a hope that some one at the ranchhouse might have
seen him. She would have felt more secure if she had known that someone
had seen him.

"Nothin' doin'," he said, a queer leap in his voice. "I come straight
from the shack, by the Lazette trail. How does it come that you're here,
alone? What did Catherson an' Hagar go to the Flyin' W for? How long will
they be gone?"

"They will be back right away," she told him, with a devout hope that
they would.

"You're lyin', Ruth," he said familiarly. "You don't know when they'll be
back." He grinned, maliciously. "I reckon I c'n tell you why you're here
alone, too. Hagar's took your cayuse. Hagar's is in the corral. You see,"
he added triumphantly as he saw the start that she could not repress.
"I've been nosin' around a little before I come in. I wasn't figgerin' on
runnin' into Abe Catherson." He laughed thickly, as though some sort of
passion surged over him. "So you're all alone here--eh?"

She grew weak at the significance of his words, and leaned against the
window-sill for support. And then with the realization that she must not
seem to quail before him, she stood erect again and forced her voice to

"Yes," she said, "I am alone. Is there any need to repeat that? And being
alone, I am in charge, here, and I don't want you here for company."

He laughed, making no move to withdraw.

"I'm here on business."

"You can't have any business with me. Come when the Cathersons are here."

"The waitin's good," he grinned. He walked around to the side of the
table, and with one hand resting on its top, looked closely at her,
suspicion in his eyes. "Say," he said in a confidential whisper, "it
looks peculiar to me. Catherson an' Hagar both gone. Hagar's got your
cayuse, leavin' you here alone. Has ol' Catherson tumbled to Masten bein'
thick with Hagar?"

"I don't know," she said, flushing. "It is no affair of mine!"

"It ain't--eh?" he said with a laugh, low and derisive. "You don't care
what Masten does-eh? An' you're goin' to marry him, Monday. Masten's
lucky," he went on, giving her a look that made her shudder; "he's got
two girls. An' one of them don't care how much he loves the other." He
laughed as though the matter were one of high comedy.

His manner, the half-veiled, vulgar significance of his words and voice,
roused her to a cold fury. She took a step toward him and stood rigid,
her eyes flashing.

"You get out of this cabin, Tom Chavis!" she commanded. "Get
out--instantly!" No longer was she afraid of him; she was resolute,

But Chavis merely smiled--seemingly in huge enjoyment. And then, while he
looked at her, his expression changed to wonder. "Holy smoke!" he said.
"Where's Masten's eyes? He said you didn't have any spirit, Ruth, that
you was too cold an' distant. I reckon Masten don't know how to size up a
girl--a girl, that is, which is thoroughbred. Seems as though his kind is
more like Hagar!" He grinned cunningly and reached into a pocket, drawing
out a paper. He chuckled over it, reading it. Then, as though she were
certain to appreciate the joke, he held it out to her. "Read it, Ruth,"
he invited, "it's from Masten, askin' Hagar to meet him, tomorrow, down
the crick a ways. He's dead scared to come here any more, since
Randerson's aimin' to perforate him!"

Only one conscious emotion afflicted her at this minute: rage over
Chavis' inability to understand that she was not of the type of woman who
could discuss such matters with a man. Evidently, in his eyes, all women
were alike. She knew that such was his opinion when, refusing to take the
paper, she stepped back, coldly, and he looked at her in surprise, a
sneer following instantly.

"Don't want to read it--eh? Not interested? Jealous, mebbe--eh?" He
grinned. "Sure--that's it, you're jealous." He laughed gleefully. "You
women are sure jokes. Masten can't wake you up--eh? Well, mebbe Masten--"
He paused and licked his lips. "I reckon I don't blame you, Ruth. Masten
ain't the sort of man. He's too cold-blooded, hisself to make a woman
sort of fan up to him. But there's other guys in this country, Ruth,

She had seized the first thing that came to her hands, a glass jar that
had set on the window sill behind her, and she hurled it furiously and
accurately. It struck him fairly on the forehead and broke into many
pieces, which clattered and rang on the bare board floor. The sound they
made, the smashing, dull impact as the jar had struck Chavis, caused her
heart to leap in wild applause--twanging a cord of latent savagery in her
that set her nerves singing to its music. It was the first belligerent
act of her life. It awakened in her the knowledge that she could defend
herself, that the courage for which she had prayed that night when on the
rock where Randerson had found her, was lurking deep, ready to answer her
summons. She laughed at Chavis, and when she saw him wipe the blood from
his face and look at her in bewilderment, she challenged him

"Go--now, you beast!"

His answer was a leering grin that made his face hideous. He looked like
a wounded animal, with nothing but concentrated passion in his eyes. Her
act had maddened him.

"I'll fix you, you hussy!" he sneered cursing.

She saw now that he was aroused past all restraint, and when he came
toward her, crouching, she knew that other missiles would not suffice,
that to be absolutely safe she must get possession of the big pistol that
reposed on the shelf near the door. So when he came toward her she
slipped behind the table. He grasped it by its edge and tried to swing it
out of the way, and when she held it he suddenly swooped down, seizing it
by the legs and overturning it. As it fell he made a lunge at her, but
she eluded him and bounded to the door. The box holding the miscellaneous
articles she knocked out of its place, so that it fell with a tinkling
crash, throwing its contents in all directions. Her fingers closed on the
stock of the pistol, and she faced Chavis, who was a few feet away,
leveling the big weapon at him. Her voice came firmly; she was surprised
at her own calmness:

"Don't move, Chavis, don't dare to take a step, or I'll kill you!"

Chavis halted, his face a dirty, chalkish white. Twice his lips opened,
in astonishment or fear, she could not tell which, but no sound came from
them. He stood silent, watching her, furtive-eyed, crouching.

In this interval her thoughts rioted in chaos, like dust before a
hurricane. But a question dominated all: could she carry out her threat
to kill Chavis, if he took the step?

She knew she would. For in this crisis she had discovered one of nature's
first laws. She had never understood, before, but in the last few minutes
knowledge had come to her like a burst of light in the darkness. And a
voice came to her also--Randerson's; she mentally repeated the words he
had spoken on the day he had told her about the rustlers: "I reckon you'd
fight like a tiger, ma'am, if the time ever come when you had to."

Yes, she would fight. Not as a tiger would fight, but as Randerson
himself had fought--not with a lust to do murder, but in self-protection.
And in this instant the spirit of Randerson seemed to stand beside her,
applauding her, seeming to whisper words of encouragement to her. And she
caught something of his manner when danger threatened; his cold
deliberation, his steadiness of hand and eye, his grim alertness. For she
had unconsciously studied him in the few minutes preceding the death of
Pickett, and she was as unconsciously imitating him now.

Her thoughts ceased, however, when she saw Chavis grin at her, mockingly.

"It's a bluff!" he said. "You couldn't hit the ground, if you had a-hold
of the gun with both hands!" He moved slightly, measuring the distance
between them.

Plainly, she saw from his actions, from his tensed muscles, her threat
would not stop him. She was very pale, and her breast heaved as though
from a hard run; Chavis could hear the sound of her breathing as he set
himself for a leap; but her lips were pressed tightly together, her eyes
glowed and widened as she followed the man's movements. She was going to
kill; she had steeled her mind to that. And when she saw the man's
muscles contract for the rush that he hoped would disconcert her, she

fired, coolly and deliberately.

With the deafening roar of the weapon in her ears, a revulsion, swift,
sickening, overcame her. The report reverberated hideously; she seemed to
hear a thousand of them. And the smoke billowed around her, strong,
pungent. Through it she saw Chavis stagger, clap one hand to his chest
and tumble headlong, face down, at her feet. The interior of the cabin
whirled in mad circles; the floor seemed to be rising to meet her, and
she sank to it, the six-shooter striking the bare boards with a thud that
sounded to her like a peal of thunder. And then oblivion, deep and

welcome, descended.

Coming down through the break in the canyon, riding slightly in advance
of Hagar, Randerson heard the report of a pistol, distant and muffled. He
turned in the saddle and looked at Hagar questioningly.

"That come from your shack!" he said shortly; "Ruth there alone?"

He caught the girl's quick affirmative, and Patches leaped high in the
air from pain and astonishment as the spurs pressed his flanks. When he
came down it was to plunge forward with furious bounds that sent him
through the water of the river, driving the spume high over his head. He
scrambled up the sloping further bank like a cat, gained the level and
straightened to his work. Twice that day had riders clattered the narrow
trail with remarkable speed, but Patches would have led them.

He was going his best when within fifty feet of the shack he heard
Randerson's voice and slowed down. Even then, so great was his impetus,
he slid a dozen feet when he felt the reins, rose to keep from turning a
somersault, and came down with a grunt.

In an instant Randerson was inside the cabin. Ruth lay prone, where she
had fallen. Randerson, pale, grim-lipped, leaned over her.

"Fainted!" he decided. He stepped to the man and turned him over roughly.

"Chavis," he ejaculated, his lips hardening. "Bored a-plenty!" he added,
with vindictive satisfaction. He saw Ruth's weapon, noted the gash in
Chavis' forehead, and smiled. "I reckon she fit like a tiger, all right!"
he commented admiringly. And now he stood erect and looked down at Ruth
compassionately. "She's killed him, but she'll die a-mournin' over it!"
Swift resolution made his eyes flash. He looked again at Ruth, saw that
she was still in a state of deep unconsciousness. Running out of the
cabin, he drew one of his six-shooters. When he had gone about
twenty-five feet from the edge of the porch, he wheeled, threw the gun to
a quick level, and aimed at the interior of the cabin. At the report he
ran toward the cabin again, to meet Hagar, just riding up, wide-eyed and

"What is goin' on?" she demanded. "What you doin'?"

"Killin' a man," he told her grimly. He seized her by the shoulders.
"Understand," he said sternly; "I killed him, no matter what happens.
I'd just got here."

With Hagar at his heels he entered the cabin again. While the girl worked
with Ruth, he went to the rear wall of the cabin and examined it. When
shooting from the outside he had aimed at the wall near a small mirror
that was affixed there, and his eyes gleamed with satisfaction when,
embedded in one of the logs that formed the wall, he found the bullet.

Five minutes later he and Hagar led Ruth out on the porch. The girl was
shaking and cringing, but trying hard to bear up under the recollection
of her terrible experience. She had looked, once, at Chavis, on the floor
of the cabin, when she had recovered, and her knees had sagged. But
Randerson had gone to her assistance. She had looked at him, too, in mute
agony of spirit, filled with a dull wonder over his presence, but gaining
nothing from his face, sternly sympathetic. Outside, in the brilliant
sunshine, a sense of time, place, and events came back to her, and for
the first time since her recovery she thought of Abe Catherson's note,
which Hagar had read.

"Oh," she said, looking at Randerson with luminous eyes, joy flashing in
them, "he didn't shoot you!"

"I reckon not, ma'am," he grinned. "I'm still able to keep on range
bossin' for the Flyin' W."

"Yes, yes!" she affirmed with a gulp of delight. And she leaned her head
a little toward him, so that it almost touched his arm. And he noted,
with a pulse of pleasure, that the grip of her hand on the arm tightened.

But her joy was brief; she had only put the tragedy out of her mind for
an instant. It returned, and her lips quavered.

"I killed Chavis, Randerson," she said, looking up at him with a pitiful
smile. "I have learned what it means to--to take--human life. I killed
him, Rex! I shot him down just as he was about to spring upon me! But I
had to do it--didn't I?" she pleaded. "I--I couldn't help it. I kept him
off as long as I could--and nobody came--and he looked so terrible--"

"I reckon you've got things mixed, ma'am." Randerson met her puzzled look
at him with a grave smile. "It was me, ma'am, killed him."

She drew a sharp breath, her cheeks suddenly flooded with color; she
shook Hagar's arm from around her waist, seized Randerson's shoulders,
gripping the sleeves of his shirt hard and staring at him, searching his
eyes with eager, anxious intensity.

"Don't lie to me, Randerson," she pleaded. "Oh," she went on, reddening
as she thought of another occasion when she had accused him, "I know you
wouldn't--I know you never did! But I killed him; I know I did! For I
shot him, Randerson, just as he started to leap at me. And I shall never
forget the look of awful surprise and horror in his eyes! I shall never
get over it--I will never forgive myself!"

"Shucks, ma'am, you're plumb excited. An' I reckon you was more excited
then, or you'd know better than to say you did it. Me an' Hagar was just
gettin' off our horses here at the door--after comin' from the Flyin' W.
An' I saw Tom Chavis in the cabin. He was facin' the door, ma'am," he
said at a venture, and his eyes gleamed when he saw her start, "an' I saw
what he was up to. An' I perforated him, ma'am. From outside, here. Your
gun went off at the same time. But you ain't learned to shoot extra good
yet, an' your bullet didn't hit him. I'll show you where it's stuck, in
the wall."

He led her inside and showed her the bullet. And for a short space she
leaned her head against the wall and cried softly. And then, her eyes
filled with dread and doubt, she looked up at him.

"Are you sure that is my bullet?" she asked, slowly. She held her breath
while awaiting his answer.

It was accompanied by a short laugh, rich in grave humor:

"I reckon you wouldn't compare your shootin' with mine, ma'am. Me
havin' so much experience, an' you not bein' able to hit a soap-box

She bowed her head and murmured a fervent:

"Thank God!"

Randerson caught Hagar's gaze and looked significantly from Ruth to the
door. The girl accepted the hint, and coaxed Ruth to accompany her to the
door and thence across the porch to the clearing. Randerson watched them
until, still walking, they vanished among the trees. Then he took Chavis'
body out. Later, when Ruth and Hagar returned, he was sitting on the edge
of the porch, smoking a cigarette.

To Ruth's insistence that Hagar come with her to the house, the girl
shook her head firmly.

"Dad will be back, most any time. He'll feel a heap bad, I reckon. An'
I've got to be here."

A little later, riding back toward the Flying W--when they had reached
the timber-fringed level where, on another day, Masten had received his
thrashing, Ruth halted her pony and faced her escort.

"Randerson," she said, "today Uncle Jepson told me some things that I
never knew--about Masten's plots against you. I don't blame you for
killing those men. And I am sorry that I--I spoke to you as I did--that
day." She held out a hand to him.

He took it, smiling gravely. "Why, I reckoned you never meant it," he

"And," she added, blushing deeply; "you are not going to make it
necessary for me to find another range boss, are you?"

"I'd feel mighty bad if you was to ask me to quit now," he grinned. And
now he looked at her fairly, holding her gaze, his eyes glowing. "But as
for bein' range boss--" He paused, and a subtle gleam joined the glow in
his eyes. "There's a better job--that I'm goin' to ask you for--some day.
Don't you think that I ought to be promoted, ma'am?"

She wheeled her pony, blushing, and began to ride toward the ranchhouse.
But he urged Patches beside her, and, reaching out, he captured the hand
nearest him. And in this manner they rode on--he holding the hand, a
thrilling exultation in his heart, she with averted head and downcast
eyes, filled with a deep wonder over the new sensation that had come to

Uncle Jepson, in the doorway of the house, eagerly watching for the
girl's return, saw them coming. Stealthily he closed the door and slipped
out into the kitchen, where Aunt Martha was at work.

"Women is mighty uncertain critters, ain't they, Ma?" he said, shaking
his head as though puzzled over a feminine trait that had, heretofore,
escaped his notice. "I cal'late they never know what they're goin' to do

Aunt Martha looked at him over the rims of her spectacles, wonderment in
her gaze--perhaps a little belligerence.

"Jep Coakley," she said severely, "you're always runnin' down the women!
What on earth do you live with one for? What are the women doin' now,
that you are botherin' so much about?"

He gravely took her by the arm and pointed out of a window, from which
Ruth and Randerson could be seen.

Aunt Martha looked, long and intently. And when she finally turned to
Uncle Jepson, her face was radiant, and she opened her arms to him.

"Oh, Jep!" she exclaimed lowly, "ain't that wonderful!"

"I cal'late I've been expectin' it," he observed.

Next: A Man Is Born Again

Previous: Banishing A Shadow

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 244