A Memory Of The Rider
: The Range Boss
A quiet satisfaction shone from Ruth's eyes when, accompanied by Aunt
Martha and Uncle Jepson, she completed her inspection of the ranchhouse.
"It isn't all that could be desired," she told Aunt Martha, "but it is
better than I expected."
"It's comfortable, dearie," mildly smiled Aunt Martha.
"An' big enough for a feller to stretch his legs in," added Uncle Jepson.
He was sitti
g in a big chair at one of the front windows of the
sitting-room, having already adjusted himself to his new surroundings,
and was smoking a short briar pipe and looking out of the window at the
bunkhouse, in front of which stood Pickett, Chavis, and Masten, talking
While Ruth and her relatives had been inspecting one of the upstairs
rooms, she had heard the men bringing the baggage in, had heard them
clumping up the stairs and setting the trunks down. Then they went out,
and a little later, peering from one of the windows upstairs, Ruth had
seen Masten and the other two walking toward the stable. They were
talking pleasantly; their liking for each other seemed to be mutual. Ruth
was delighted, but Uncle Jepson had frowned several times when looking at
"I cal'late them two critters'll bear a heap of watchin'," he said now.
"They don't look honest."
"Jep," said Aunt Martha before Ruth could speak, "you're always
"It's in their faces drat 'em," insisted Uncle Jepson. He turned a
vindictive eye on his niece. "If I'd have been fifty year younger I'd
have give that Chavis a durn good thrashin' for sayin' what he did to you
about pretty gals. Durn his hide, anyhow! That there Wil--"
"I felt that way myself, at first," smiled Ruth. "Afterwards, though, I
felt differently. I suppose they were glad to see the new owner. Perhaps
they haven't seen a lady in a long time."
"There's ways of showin' gladness," contended Uncle Jepson. "I cal'late
if I wanted to compliment a girl, I wouldn't look at her like I wanted to
carry her off to the mountains."
"Jep, they're only cowboys--they don't know any different," remonstrated
"They don't, eh?" sniffed Uncle Jepson. "I cal'late that feller, Rex
Randerson, is some different, ain't he? There's a gentleman, Ruth. You
didn't see him makin' no ox-eyes. An' I'll bet you wouldn't ketch him
gettin' thick with them two plug-uglies out there!"
Ruth turned away, smiling tolerantly, after having caught a glimpse of
Aunt Martha's brows, uplifted in resignation. She was as fully aware of
Uncle Jepson's dislike of Willard Masten as she was of Uncle Jepson's
testiness and of his habit of speaking his thoughts without reservation.
Also, she had always avoided opposing him. It did not seem to be worth
while. He had been left destitute, except for the little farm back near
Poughkeepsie which he had sold at her request to accompany her here, and
she felt that habits of thought and speech are firmly fixed at
sixty-nine, and argument cannot shake them.
That first day at the ranchhouse was the beginning of a new existence for
Ruth. Bound for years by the narrow restrictions and conventionality of
the Poughkeepsie countryside, she found the spaciousness and newness of
this life inviting and satisfying. Here there seemed to be no limit,
either to the space or to the flights that one's soul might take, and in
the solemn grandeur of the open she felt the omnipotence of God and the
spell of nature.
She had plenty of time after the first day to hold communion with the
Creator. Masten was rarely near her. His acquaintance with Pickett and
Chavis seemed destined to develop into friendship. He rode much with
them--"looking over the range," he told her--and only in the evening did
he find time to devote to her.
Wes Vickers returned from Red Rock on the morning following Ruth's
arrival. Apparently, in spite of Randerson's prediction, Vickers did not
get drunk in town. Through him Ruth learned much about the Flying W. He
gave her the fruit of his experience, and he had been with the Flying W
as range boss for nearly five years.
Vickers was forty. His hair was gray at the temples; he was slightly
stoop-shouldered from years in the saddle, and his legs were bowed from
the same cause. He was the driving force of the Flying W. Ruth's uncle
had written her to that effect the year before during his illness,
stating that without Vickers' help he would be compelled to sell the
ranch. The truth of this statement dawned upon Ruth very soon after her
acquaintance with Vickers. He was argus-eyed, omnipresent. It seemed that
he never slept. Mornings when she would arise with the dawn she would
find Vickers gone to visit some distant part of the range. She was seldom
awake at night when he returned.
He had said little to her regarding the men. "They 'tend to business,"
was his invariable response when she sought to question him. "It's a
pretty wild life," he told her when one day about two weeks after her
coming she had pressed him; "an' the boys just can't help kickin' over
the traces once in a while."
"Chavis and Pickett good men?" she asked.
"You saw anything to show you they ain't?" he said, with a queer look at
"Why, no," she returned. But her cheeks reddened.
He looked at her with a peculiar squint. "Seems like Masten runnin' with
them shows that they ain't nothin' wrong with them," he said.
She had no reply to make to this, but she was vaguely disturbed over the
expression in Vickers' eyes; that look seemed to indicate that her own
first impression of the two men, and Uncle Jepson's later condemnation of
them, might be correct. However, they did not bother her, and she felt
certain that Masten could care for himself.
With Masten absent with Chavis and Pickett nearly every day, Ruth had
much time to herself. The river attracted her, and she rode to it many
times, on a slant-eyed pony that Vickers had selected for her, and which
had been gentled by a young cowpuncher brought in from an outlying camp
solely for that purpose by the range boss. The young puncher had been
reluctant to come, and he was equally reluctant to go.
"This here cayuse," he said to Vickers, when the latter instructed him to
return to his outfit, saying that Miss Ruth thought she could now ride
the pony without trouble, "is got a heap of devilment in him, yet--which
ought to come out."
"Miss Ruth's got a fellow," said the range boss, in seeming irrelevance.
But the young puncher sneered a malignant denial and rode away to his
There were fourteen other men employed by the Flying W. Ruth met them at
various times. Invariably they were looking for strays. They seemed--some
of them--content to look at her; others, bolder, manufactured ingenuous
pretexts to talk; but--all were gentlemen.
She arose one morning during the third week of her stay at the ranch, to
be greeted by one of those perfect days that late spring brings. It had
been dry for a week, with a hint of receding chill in the air, and the
comfort of a wrap was still felt. But on this morning the sun was showing
his power, and a balmy south breeze that entered her window was burdened
with the aroma of sage, strong and delicious. She got out of bed and
looked out of the window. It was a changed world. Summer had come
overnight. No morning in the East had ever made her feel quite like this.
Out on the front porch later in the morning, with Chavis and Pickett
standing near, she asked Masten to ride with her.
He seemed annoyed, but spoke persuasively.
"Put it off a day, won't you, Ruth? There's a good girl. I've promised to
go to Lazette with the boys this morning, and I don't want to disappoint
them." Then, seeing the disappointment in her eyes, he added: "Where did
you want to ride?"
"Why," she said, hoping that, after all, he might change his mind, "I'm
only going to the box canyon, down the river. There's such a pretty
stretch of timber there."
He smiled indulgently. "I'll try to meet you there, this afternoon about
three, if I can make it. But don't wait longer." He turned his back to
her and presently went away with Chavis and Pickett.
She stood for a little time, watching them as they mounted down near the
corral gate and rode away, and then she turned and observed Uncle Jepson
standing near a corner of the house, smoking, and watching her. She
forced a smile and went into the house.
A little after noon she saddled her pony and rode away toward the river.
She had decided that perhaps Masten might keep his appointment in spite
of the obvious insincerity that had been expressed on his face during
It was fully five miles to the grove at the head of the box canyon, and
she made a leisurely ride of it, so that it must have been nearly two
o'clock when she dismounted and hitched the pony to a tree. Seating
herself on a flat rock near the canyon edge, she settled herself to wait.
It seemed a long time. Twice after half-past two she looked at her watch,
impatiently. At three she looked again; and, disappointed, she was about
to rise to go to her pony, when she heard the rapid drumming of hoofs
With leaping heart and flushed face she turned her back to the direction
from which the sounds seemed to come and waited listening, trying to
appear unconcerned. She would make him believe she had not heard him. He
did care, after all, enough to part with his companions--for her sake.
She had misjudged him, and she was sincerely repentant. And when she
heard his pony come to a halt near her she had to clench her hands to
keep from turning to face him.
She heard him dismount, heard the rustle and crackling of twigs under his
feet as he approached, and then, feeling that it would be futile to
dissemble further, she turned, a smile on her lips.
Standing within five feet of her, grinning with amusement, was Tom
Chavis. Curiously enough, despite her former fear of the man she did not
fear him now, and after the first shock of surprise she looked at him
composedly, for she half suspected that Masten had sent him, fearing that
she would wait in spite of his admonition not to do so. She got up and
"Mr. Masten couldn't come, I suppose?" she said.
"That's right," he said, looking at her oddly; "he couldn't come. You
see, he's sort of taken a shine to a biscuit shooter in Crogan's, over in
Lazette, an' he couldn't very well break away."
"A biscuit shooter!" she said, uncomprehendingly.
"Sure. I reckon that back East you'd call her a waitress, or somethin'. I
ain't admirin' his taste none. She ain't nowheres near as good-lookin' as
Her first emotion was one of sickening, maddening jealousy. It made her
physically weak, and she trembled as she fought it down. But the
sensation passed and, though she felt that her face was hot and flushed,
the cold calm of righteous resentment was slowly seizing her.
"Did Mr. Masten send you here to tell me this?" she asked icily.
"Why, no. I did it on my own hook. I knowed you'd be waitin'--I heard you
makin' the date with Willard, this mornin'. An' I figgered that what was
fair for one was fair for another. So I sneaked away from Willard an'
come here. I've taken quite a shine to you, ma'am; you've sure got me
some flustered. An' I reckon--" here he took a step toward her and
grinned significantly "that I'll make a rattlin' good substitute for
She struck at him, blindly, savagely. She felt her open hand strike his
cheek, heard him curse, and then, in a daze she was running toward her
pony. She did not turn, but furiously raced the animal across the plains
toward the ranchhouse.
She was calmer when she reached the house, but went directly to her room,
where she changed her clothes and sat for a long time at one of the
windows, looking toward the river--and toward Lazette.
Downstairs, Uncle Jepson, who from a window of the bunkhouse had seen her
come in, had followed her into the house, to remark grumblingly to Aunt
"Willard didn't meet her, drat him!"
Ruth passed a miserable night, thinking over Chavis' words. The man might
have been lying. Obviously, common fairness demanded that she tell Masten
of the circumstance. On one thing she was determined: that Chavis should
leave the ranch, whether he had lied to her or not. She would have
instructed Vickers to attend to that, but Vickers had gone again to Red
Rock on business, and would not return for two or three days. She would
wait until Vickers returned to discharge Chavis, but she must tell Masten
of the insult, for she yearned to see Chavis punished.
She waited until after breakfast the following morning, and then she
induced Masten to walk with her, under pretext of examining the flower
beds. Reaching them, she faced him fairly.
"Willard," she said, her lips white and stiff, "there must be no
double-dealing between you and me. Tom Chavis told me yesterday that you
are interested in a waitress in Lazette. Is that true?"
He started, flushed darkly, and then smiled blandly.
"Tom Chavis is romancing, my dear. If there is a waitress in Lazette I
have not seen her." He seized her by the shoulders and spoke earnestly.
"I am interested in Ruth Harkness, my dear. You surely don't believe such
a story, do you, Ruth?"
He looked at her so frankly that her jealousy took wings, and she blushed
and lowered her eyes. She raised them again, almost instantly, however;
they were glowing vindictively.
"Tom Chavis came to the box canyon at three yesterday afternoon," she
said firmly. "He insulted me. I want you to discharge him; Vickers is not
here to do it. And I do not want to see him again."
He pressed his lips together and avoided her gaze, and a slow red stole
into his face. Then he laughed mirthlessly.
"Tom Chavis is a valuable man here, Ruth," he said. "If the insult was
one that can be overlooked, you would do well to let the matter rest. But
be assured that I shall have a talk with Chavis, and you may believe that
he will not repeat the offense." He patted her shoulder. "In the
meantime," he said, with a hurt expression in his eyes, "do have some
faith in me."
Reassured, convinced that she had done him an injustice in believing Chavis,
she passed the remainder of the day in comparative light-heartedness.
But when the awesome darkness of the West settled over the country, and
deep, stirring thoughts came to her on her pillow, she found herself
thinking of the rider of the river. He grew very vivid in her thoughts,
and she found herself wondering,--remembering the stern manliness of his
face,--whether he, listening to the story of Chavis' insult from her lips,
would have sought to find excuses for her insulter.