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The Fight

From: The Range Boss

At about the time that Chavis and Kester had discovered Ruth's pony and
had clambered up the slope in search of the girl, the two figures on the
timber-fringed level near the break in the canyon wall were making
grotesque shadows as they danced about in the dying sunlight.

Masten's science had served him well. He had been able, so far, to evade
many of Randerson's heavy blows, but some of them had landed. They had
hurt, too, and had taken some of the vigor out of their target, though
Masten was still elusive as he circled, with feet that dragged a little,
feinting and probing for openings through which he might drive his fists.

A great many of his blows had reached their mark also. Randerson's face
was covered with livid lumps and welts. But he seemed not to mind them,
to be unconscious of them, for on his lips was still the dogged smile
that had reached them soon after the fight had started, and in his eyes
was the same look of cold deliberation and unrelenting purpose.

He had spoken no word since the fight began; he had taken Masten's
heaviest punches without sign or sound to indicate that they had landed,
always crowding forward, carrying the battle to his adversary, refusing
to yield a step when to yield meant to evade punishment. Passion, deep
and gripping, had made him for the moment an insensate automaton; he was
devoid of any feeling except a consuming desire to punish the despoiler
of his "kid."

But he was holding this passion in check; he was its master--it had not
mastered him; he had made it a vassal to his deliberation. To have
unleashed it all at once would have made him too eager, would have
weakened him. He had chosen this punishment for Masten, and he would see
that it was sufficient.

But, as Randerson had well known, Masten was no mean opponent. He stepped
in and out rapidly, his blows lacking something in force through his
inability to set himself. But he landed more often than Randerson; he
blocked and covered cleverly; he ducked blows that would have ended the
fight had they struck him with their full force.

Masten had been full of confidence when the fight started. Some of that
confidence had gone now. He was beginning to realize that he could not
beat Randerson with jabs and stinging counters that hurt without
deadening the flesh where they struck; nor could he hope to wear the
Westerner down and finally finish him. And with this realization came a
pulse of fear. He began to take more risks, to set himself more firmly on
his feet in order to give his blows greater force when they landed. For
he felt his own strength waning, and he knew what the end would be,
should he no longer be able to hold Randerson off.

He went in now with a left jab, and instead of dancing back to avoid
Randerson's counter, he covered with the left, swiftly drawn back from
the jab, and hooked his right to Randerson's face. The blow landed
heavily on Randerson's jaw, shaking him from head to foot. But he shook
his head as though to dissipate the effect of it, and came after Masten
grimly. Again Masten tried the maneuver, and the jab went home
accurately, with force. But when he essayed to drive in the right, it was
blocked, and Randerson's right, crooked, rigid, sent with the force of a
battering ram, landed fairly on Masten's mouth, with deadening, crushing

It staggered Masten, sent him back several feet, and his legs shook under
him, sagging limply. His lips, where the blow had landed, were smashed,
gaping hideously, red-stained. Randerson was after him relentlessly.
Masten dared not clinch, for no rules of boxing governed this fight, and
he knew that if he accepted rough and tumble tactics he would be beaten
quickly. So he trusted to his agility, which, though waning, answered
well until he recovered from the effects of the blow.

And then, with the realization that he was weakening, that the last blow
had hurt him badly, came to Masten the sickening knowledge that Randerson
was fighting harder than ever. He paid no attention to Masten's blows,
not even attempting to fend them off, but bored in, swinging viciously.
His blows were landing now; they left deadened flesh and paralyzed
muscles as marks of their force.

Masten began to give way. Half a dozen times he broke ground, or slipped
to one side or the other. It was unavailing. Blows were coming at him now
from all angles, ripping, tearing, crashing blows that seemed to increase
in force as the fight went on. One of them caught Masten just below the
ear on the right side. He reeled and went to his haunches, and dizzy,
nauseated, he sat for an instant, trying to fix the world correctly in
his vision, for it was all awry--trees, the plains, himself--all were
dancing. Dimly he sensed the form of Randerson looming over him. He still
was able to grasp the danger that menaced him, and reeling, he threw
himself headlong, to escape Randerson, landing on his side on the ground,
and with an inarticulate shriek of fury, he pulled the small caliber
pistol from his hip pocket, aimed it at the shadowy form of his adversary
and pressed the trigger.

And then it seemed that an avalanche had struck him; that he was whirled
along by it, then buried under it.

Evidently he had been buried for a long time, for when he opened his eyes
the dense blackness of the Western night had descended. He felt a dull,
heavy pain in his right wrist, and he raised it--it seemed to have been
crushed. He laid the hand down again, with a groan, and then he heard a
voice. Looking up, he saw the shadowy figure of his conqueror standing
over him.

"I reckon I've handed it to you pretty bad," said Randerson. "But you had
it comin' to you. If you hadn't tried to play the skunk at the last
minute, you'd have got off easier. I reckon your hand ain't so active as
it's been--I had to pretty near stamp it off of you--you would keep
pullin' the trigger of that pop-gun. Do you reckon you c'n get up now,
an' get on your horse?"

Masten felt himself lifted; he did not resist. Then he felt the saddle
under him; he made an effort and steadied himself. Then, still only half
conscious he rode, reeling in the saddle, toward a light that he saw in
the distance, which, he dimly felt, must come from the Flying W

Next: The Rock And The Moonlight

Previous: The Rustlers

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