A Man Is Born Again

: The Range Boss

The meeting between Catherson and Randerson had taken the edge off

Catherson's frenzy, but it had not shaken his determination. He had been

in the grip of an insane wrath when he had gone to see the Flying W range

boss. His passions had ruled him, momentarily. He had subdued them,

checked them; they were held in the clutch of his will as he rode the

Lazette trail. He did not travel fast, but carefully. There was something

/> in the pony's gait that suggested the mood of his rider--a certain

doggedness of movement and demeanor which might have meant that the

animal knew his rider's thoughts and was in sympathy with them. They

traveled the trail that Randerson had taken on the night he had found

Ruth on the rock; they negotiated the plain that spread between the

ranchhouse and the ford where Randerson had just missed meeting Ruth that

day; they went steadily over the hilly country and passed through the

section of broken land where Ruth's pony had thrown her. Reaching the

hills and ridges beyond, Catherson halted and scrutinized the country

around him. When he observed that there was no sign of life within range

of his vision, he spoke to the pony and they went forward.

Catherson's lips were set in a heavy, ugly pout. His shaggy brows were

contracted; somber, baleful flashes, that betrayed something of those

passions that he was subduing, showed in his eyes as the pony skirted the

timber where Randerson had tied Ruth's horse. When he reached the

declivity where Ruth had overheard Chavis and Kester, he dismounted and

led his pony down it, using the utmost care. He was conserving the pony's

strength. For he knew nothing of what might be required of the animal,

and this thing which he had determined to do must not be bungled.

He was still in no hurry, but he grew cautious now, and secretive. He

made a wide circuit of the basin, keeping out of sight as much as

possible, behind some nondescript brush, riding in depressions; going a

mile out of his way to follow the sandy bed of a washout. His objective

was Chavis' shack, and he wanted to come upon it unnoticed. Or, if that

failed, he desired to make his visit appear casual.

* * * * *

But in Chavis' shack was a man who of late had formed the habit of

furtive watchfulness. He wore a heavy six-shooter at his waist, but he

knew better than to try to place any dependence upon his ability as a

marksman. A certain meeting with a grim-faced man on the Lazette trail

the night before, a vivid recollection of the grim-faced man's uncanny

cleverness with a weapon, demonstrated upon two occasions, worried him,

as did also some words that kept running through his mind, asleep or

awake, and would not be banished. He could even hear the intonations of

the voice that had uttered them: "This country is too crowded for both of


Masten was beginning to believe that. He had thought that very morning,

of leaving, of escaping, rather. But Chavis had reassured him, had

ridiculed him, in fact.

"Randerson's four-flushin'," Chavis had laughed. "He's took a shine to

Ruth, an' he's aimin' to scare you out. He'd sooner shoot a foot off than

bore you. 'Cause why? 'Cause if he bored you he'd never have no chance to

get next to Ruth. She's some opposed to him killin' folks promiscuous.

You lay low, that's all. An' I'll rustle up a guy one of these days which

will put a crimp in Randerson. If he comes snoopin' around here, why,

there's a rifle handy. Let him have it, sudden--before he can git set!"

Since he had sent Chavis with the note to Hagar, Masten had been uneasy.

He had not stayed inside the shack for more than a minute or two at a

time, standing much in the doorway, scanning the basin and the declivity

carefully and fearfully. And he had seen Catherson lead his pony down. He

went in and took the rifle from its pegs.

He had had a hope, at first, that it might be Kester or Linton. But when

he saw that the rider did not come directly toward the shack a cold sweat

broke out on his forehead and he fingered the rifle nervously. When he

saw the rider disappear in the washout, he got a chair from inside and,

standing on it, concentrated his gaze at the point where the rider must

emerge. And when, a little later, he caught a glimpse of the rider's

head, appearing for just an instant above the crest of a sand ridge,

noting the beard and the shaggy hair, his face turned ashen and the chair

rocked under him. For he knew but one man in this country who looked like


He got down from the chair and glared around, his eyes dilated.

Catherson's actions seemed innocent enough. But what could he be doing in

the basin? And, once here, what could he mean by prowling like that,

instead of coming directly to the cabin? What could he be looking for?

Why did he not show himself?

Masten slipped outside and crept along the wall of the shack to a corner,

from which, screened by some alder, he watched breathlessly, a nameless

disquiet oppressing him. Did Catherson know anything?

That question his conscience dinned in his ears. It was answered many

times, as he stood there--an insistent affirmative, suggested, proven by

Catherson's actions, supported by the fact that he had never seen

Catherson in the basin before.

As he watched, he saw Catherson again. He was closer, riding behind a

thicket of gnarled brush, which was not high enough entirely to conceal

him, and he was bending far over in the saddle as though he did not want

to be seen. But Masten could see him, and this last evidence of the man's

caution convinced Masten. Obeying a sudden impulse, he threw the rifle to

his shoulder. The muzzle wavered, describing wide circles, and before he

could steady it enough to be reasonably certain of hitting the target,

Catherson had vanished behind a low hill.

Masten wiped the cold moisture from his forehead. For an instant he stood

irresolute, trembling. And then, panic-stricken over a picture that his

imagination drew for him, he dropped the rifle and ran, crouching, to the

corral. With frenzied haste, urged by the horrible conviction that had

seized him, he threw saddle and bridle on his pony, and clambered,

mumbling incoherently, into the saddle. Twice the reins escaped his wild

clutches, but finally he caught them and sat erect looking fearfully for


The nester was not visible to him. Gulping hard, Masten sent the pony

cautiously forward. He skirted the corral fence, keeping the shack

between him and the point at which he divined Catherson was then riding,

and loped the pony into some sparse timber near the river.

His panic had grown. He had yielded to it, and it had mastered him. His

lips were twitching; he cringed and shivered as, getting deeper into the

timber, he drove the spurs into the pony's flanks and raced it away from

the shack.

He rode for perhaps a mile at break-neck speed. And then, unable to fight

off the fascination that gripped him, doubting, almost ridiculing himself

for yielding to the wild impulse to get away from Catherson, for now that

he was away his action seemed senseless, he halted the pony and turned in

the saddle, peering back through the trees. He had followed a narrow

trail, and its arching green stretched behind him, peaceful, inviting,

silent. So calm did it all seem to him now, so distant from that dread

danger he had anticipated, that he smiled and sat debating an impulse to

return and face Catherson. The man's intentions could not be what he had

suspected them to be; clearly, his conscience had played him a trick.

But he did not wheel his pony. For as he sat there in the silence he

heard the rapid drumming of hoofs on the path. Distant they were, but

unmistakable. For a moment Masten listened to them, the cold damp

breaking out on his forehead again. Then he cursed, drove the spurs deep

into the pony and leaning forward, rode frantically away.

Coming out of the timber to a sand plain that stretched in seeming

endlessness toward a horizon that was dimming in the growing twilight,

Masten halted the pony again, but only for an instant. In the next he was

urging it on furiously. For looking back fearfully, he saw Catherson

bestriding his pony, a dread apparition, big, rigid, grim, just breaking

through the timber edge, not more than two or three hundred feet distant.

Masten had hoped he had distanced his pursuer, for he had ridden at least

five miles at a pace that he had never before attempted. There had been

no way for him to judge the pony's speed, of course, but when he had

halted momentarily he had noted that the animal was quivering all over,

that it caught its breath shrilly in the brief interval of rest, and now

as he rode, bending far over its mane, he saw that the billowing foam on

its muzzle was flecked with blood. The animal was not equal to the

demands he had made upon it.

But he forced it on, with spur and voice and hand, muttering, pleading

with it incoherently, his own breath coughing in his throat, the muscles

of his back cringing and rippling in momentary expectation of a flying

missile that would burn and tear its way through them. But no bullet

came. There was no sound behind him except, occasionally, the ring of

hoofs. At other times silence engulfed him. For in the deep sand of the

level the laboring ponies of pursued and pursuer made no noise. Masten

could hear a sodden squish at times, as his own animal whipped its hoofs

out of a miniature sand hill.

grotesque and gigantic in his thoughts]

He did not look around again for a long time. Long ago had he lost all

sense of direction, for twilight had come and gone, and blank darkness,

except for the stars, stretched on all sides. He had never seen this sand

level; he knew it must be far off the Lazette trail. And he knew, too,

before he had ridden far into it, that it was a desert. For as twilight

had come on he had scrutinized it hopefully in search of timber, bushes,

a gorge, a gully--anything that might afford him an opportunity for

concealment, for escape from the big, grim pursuer. He had seen nothing

of that character. Barren, level, vast, this waste of world stretched

before him, with no verdure save the repulsive cactus, the scraggy yucca,

the grease-wood, and occasional splotches of mesquite.

They raced on, the distance between them lessening gradually. Masten

could feel his pony failing. It tried bravely, but the times when it

spurted grew less frequent; it made increasingly harder work of pulling

its hoofs out of the deep sand; it staggered and lurched on the hard


Masten looked back frequently now. The grim, relentless figure behind him

grew grotesque and gigantic in his thoughts, and once, when he felt the

pony beneath him go to its knees, he screamed hysterically. But the pony

clambered to its feet again and staggered on, to fall again a minute

later. Catherson's pony, its strength conserved for this ordeal, came on

steadily, its rider carefully avoiding the soft sand, profiting by

Masten's experiences with it. It was not until he saw Catherson within

fifty feet of him that Masten divined that he was not to be shot. For at

that distance he made a fair target, and Catherson made no movement

toward his gun. The nester was still silent; he had spoken no word. He

spoke none now, as he hung relentlessly to his prey, seeming, to Masten's

distorted mind and vision, a hideous, unnatural and ghastly figure of


Catherson had drawn nearer. He was not more than thirty feet away when

Masten's pony went down again. It fell with a looseness and finality that

told Masten of the end. And Masten slipped his feet out of the stirrups,

throwing himself free and alighting on his hands and knees in front of

the exhausted animal. He got up, and started to run, desperately,

sobbing, his lips slavering from terror. But he turned, after running a

few feet, to see Catherson coming after him. The nester was uncoiling a

rope from his saddle horn, and at this sight Masten shrieked and went to

his knees. He heard an answering laugh from Catherson, short, malevolent.

And then the rope swished out, its loop widening and writhing. Masten

shrieked again, and threw up his hands impotently.

* * * * *

Later, Catherson brought his pony to a halt, far from where the rope had

been cast, and looked grimly down at his fellow being, prone and

motionless in the deep sand at his feet.

Unmoved, remorseless, Catherson had cut short the pleadings, the

screaming, the promises. He had not bungled his work, and it had been

done. But as he looked down now, the muscles of his face quivered. And

now he spoke the first word that had passed his lips since he had left

the Flying W ranchhouse:

"I reckon you've got what's been comin' to you!"

He got down, unfastened the rope, deliberately re-coiled it and looped it

around the saddle horn. Then he mounted and rode away. Grim, indistinct,

fading into the blackness of the desert night, he went, half a mile,

perhaps. And then, halting the pony, he turned in the saddle and looked

back, his head bent in a listening attitude. To his ears came the sharp

bark of a coyote, very near. It was answered, faintly, from the vast,

yawning distance, by another. Catherson stiffened, and lines of remorse

came into his face.

"Hell!" he exclaimed gruffly.

He wheeled the pony and sent it scampering back. A little later he was

kneeling at Masten's side, and still later he helped Masten to the saddle

in front of him and set out again into the desert blackness toward the

timber from which they both had burst some time before.

Many hours afterward they came to the river, at the point where the

Lazette trail intersected. There, in the shallow water of the ford,

Masten washed from his body the signs of his experience, Catherson

helping him. Outwardly, when they had finished, there were few marks on

Masten. But inwardly his experience had left an ineffaceable impression.

After washing, he staggered to a rock and sat on it, his head in his

hands, shivers running over him. For a time Catherson paid no attention

to him, busying himself with his pony, jaded from the night's work. But

after half an hour, just as the first faint shafts of dawn began to steal

up over the horizon, Catherson walked close, and stood looking down at

his victim.

"Well," he said, slowly and passionlessly, "I've got you this far. I'm

quittin' you. I reckon I've deviled you enough. I was goin' to kill you.

But killin' you wouldn't have made things right. I expect you've learned

somethin', anyway. You'll know enough to play square, after this. An'

wherever you go--"

Masten looked up at him, his face haggard, his eyes brimming, but

flashing earnestly.

"I'm going back to Hagar," he said. He shivered again. "You're right,

Catherson," he added, his voice quavering; "I learned a lot tonight. I've

learned--" His voice broke, and he sat there grim and white, shuddering

as a child shudders when awakened from a nightmare. He almost collapsed

when Catherson's huge hands fell to his shoulders, but the hands held

him, the fingers gripping deeply into the flesh. There was a leap in

Catherson's voice:

"You're almost a man, after all!" he said.

They got on the pony after a while, riding as before, Masten in front,

Catherson behind him, steadying him. And in this manner they rode on

toward Catherson's shack, miles down the river.

It was late in the morning when they came in sight of the shack, and

seeing them from afar Hagar ran to them. She stopped when she saw Masten,

her eyes wide with wonder and astonishment that changed quickly to joy as

she saw a smile gathering on Catherson's face.

"I've brought you your husband, Hagar," he told her.

Hagar did not move. Her hands were pressing her breast; her eyes were

eloquent with doubt and hope. They sought Masten's, searchingly,

defiantly. And she spoke directly to him, proudly, her head erect:

"If you've come ag'in your will--If dad had to bring you--" She paused,

her lips trembling.

"Shucks," said Catherson gently; "he's come on his own hook, Hagar. Why,

he asked me to bring him--didn't you, Masten?"

And then he dismounted and helped Masten down, leading his pony forward

toward the shack, but turning when he reached the porch, to look back at

Masten and Hagar, standing together in the shade of the trees, the girl's

head resting on the man's shoulder.

Catherson pulled the saddle and bridle from the pony, turned him into the

corral, and then went into the house. A little later he came out again,

smoking a pipe. Masten and Hagar were sitting close together on a fallen

tree near where he had left them. Catherson smiled mildly at them and

peacefully pulled at his pipe.