Into Which A Girl's Trouble Comes

: The Range Boss

Uncle Jepson and Aunt Martha had not seen Masten when he had visited

Ruth, for they had gone in the buckboard to Red Rock. And Masten had

departed when they reached home. Nor did they see Ruth after they

arrived, for she had gone to bed. But at the breakfast table Ruth told

them of the visit of Masten and of her plan to advance the date of the


Uncle Jepson and Aunt Martha received the news in si
ence. Aunt Martha

did manage to proffer a half-hearted congratulation, but Uncle Jepson

wrinkled his nose, as he did always when displeased, and said nothing;

and he ate lightly. Ruth did not notice that she had spoiled his

appetite, nor did she note with more than casual interest that he left

the table long before she or Aunt Martha. She did not see him, standing

at the corral fence, scowling, and she could not hear the old-fashioned

profanity that gushed from his lips.

"Aren't you glad?" Ruth asked Aunt Martha when they were alone, for she

had noted her relative's lack of enthusiasm.

"Why, yes, honey," Aunt Martha smiled at her, though it seemed forced.

"Only--" She hesitated eloquently.

"Only what, Aunt Martha?" Ruth's voice was a little sharp, as with all

persons who act in opposition to her better judgment and who resent

anyone understanding them.

"Only I was hoping it would be Randerson, my dear," said Aunt Martha


"Randerson!" Ruth's voice was scornful. But it sounded insincere to her,

and she would trust it no further.

"Honey!" Aunt Martha's arm was around her, and Aunt Martha's sympathetic

and knowing eyes were compelling hers; and her voice was ineffably

gentle. "Are you sure, honey, that you don't wish it were Randerson? It

is a great event in your life, dear, and once it is done, it can't be

undone. Don't be hasty."

"It can never be Randerson," Ruth said firmly--not, however, as firmly as

she had intended. "Randerson is a murderer--a reckless taker of human


"He had to shoot, they say," defended Aunt Martha. "I don't believe he

would harm a living thing except in defense of his own life. Defending

themselves is their way out here, girl--they know no other way. And he is

a man, dear. I don't know when I have met a man who has impressed me


"Please don't talk about it any more." Ruth's face was pale, her brows

contracted, for Aunt Martha's reference to Randerson had brought back

haunting sensations that, she thought, she had succeeded in putting out

of her life. She was ready to cry, and when she thought of Randerson--how

calmly he had accepted his dismissal, with what manliness he had borne

her insults, a chill of sympathy ran over her. She believed she would

never forget him as he had looked on the night he had ridden away after

telling her that he would leave the Flying W--riding into the darkness of

the plains, with his hopes blasted, bravely making no complaint.

She got her pony, after a while, and rode far and long, coming in to the

ranchhouse about noon. After she had turned the pony into the corral and

was coming toward the house, she saw Uncle Jepson sitting on the porch,

puffing furiously at his pipe. She spoke to him in greeting, and was

about to pass him to go into the house, when he called to her:

"I want to talk to you a minute, Ruth." He spoke rapidly, his voice dry

and light, and she could see his facial muscles twitching. Wonderingly,

she sank into a chair near him.

"You're sure thinkin' of marryin' Masten, girl?" he said.

"Yes," she declared firmly.

"Well, then I've got to tell you," said Uncle Jepson decisively. "I've

been puttin' it off, hopin' that you'd get shet of that imp of Satan, an'

I wouldn't have to say anything."

"Uncle Jep!" she protested indignantly.

"That's just what he is, Ruth--a durned imp of the devil. I've knowed it

from the first day I saw him. Since he's come out here, he's proved it."

He swung his chair around and faced her, and forgetting his pipe in his

excitement, he told her the story he had told Randerson: how he had gone

into the messhouse on the day of the killing of Pickett, for a rest and a

smoke, and how, while in there he had overheard Chavis and Pickett

plotting against Randerson, planning Pickett's attack on her, mentioning

Masten's connection with the scheme. She did not open her lips until

Uncle Jepson had concluded, and then she murmured a low "Oh!" and sat

rigid, gripping the arms of her chair.

"An' that ain't all, it ain't half of it!" pursued Uncle Jepson

vindictively. "Do you know that Masten set that Watt Kelso, the

gunfighter, on Randerson?" He looked at Ruth, saw her start and draw a

long breath, and he grinned triumphantly. "Course you don't know; I

cal'late Randerson would never make a peep about it. He's all man--that

feller. But it's a fact. Blair told me. There'd been bad blood between

Randerson an' Kelso, an' Masten took advantage of it. He paid Kelso five

hundred dollars in cold cash to kill Randerson!"

"Oh, it can't be!" moaned the girl, covering her face with her hands and

shrinking into her chair.

"Shucks!" said Uncle Jepson derisively, but more gently now, for he saw

that the girl was badly hurt. "The whole country is talkin' about it,

Ruth, an' wonderin' why Randerson don't salivate that durned dude! An'

the country expects him to do it, girl! They'll fun him out of here, if

he don't! Why, girl," he went on, "you don't know how much of a sneak a

man can be when he's got it in him!"

She was shuddering as though he had struck her, and he was on the edge of

his chair, looking at her pityingly, when Aunt Martha came to the door

and saw them. She was out on the porch instantly, flushing with


"Jep Coakley, you're up to your tricks again, ain't you? You quit

devilin' that girl, now, an' go on about your business!"

"I've got some things to say, an' I cal'late to say them!" declared Uncle

Jepson determinedly. "I've kept still about it long enough. I ain't

wantin' to hurt her," he added apologetically, as Aunt Martha slipped to

her knees beside Ruth and put an arm around her, "but that durned Masten

has been doin' some things that she's got to know about, right now. An'

then, if she's set on marryin' him, why, I cal'late it's her business. It

was Masten who was behind Pickett kissin' her--he tellin' Pickett to do

it. An' he hired Kelso to kill Randerson."

"Oh, Ruth!" said Aunt Martha, her voice shaky, as she nestled her head

close to the girl's. But her eyes shone with satisfaction.

"There's another thing," went on Uncle Jepson to Ruth. "Did you notice

Randerson's face, the night he come to hunt you, when you hurt your

ankle? Marked up, kind of, it was, wasn't it? An' do you know what Masten

went to Las Vegas for? Business, shucks! He went there to get his face

nursed up, Ruth--because Randerson had smashed it for him! They'd had a

fight; I saw them, both comin' from the same direction, that night. I

reckon Randerson had pretty nigh killed him. What for?" he asked as Ruth

turned wide, questioning eyes on him. "Well, I don't rightly know. But

I've got suspicions. I've seen Masten goin' day after day through that

break in the canyon over there. A hundred times, I cal'late. An' I've

seen him here, when you wasn't lookin', kissin' that Catherson girl. I

cal'late, if you was to ask her, she'd be able to tell you a heap more

about Masten, Ruth."

Ruth got up, pale and terribly calm, disengaging herself from Aunt Martha

and standing before Uncle Jepson. He too got to his feet.

Ruth's voice quavered. "You wouldn't, oh, you couldn't lie to me, Uncle,

because you like Rex Randerson? Is it true?" She put her hands on his

shoulders and shook him, excitedly.

"True? Why, Ruth, girl; it's as true as there's a Supreme Bein' above us.


But she waited to hear no more, turning from him and putting out her

hands to keep Aunt Martha away as she passed her. She went out to the

corral, got her pony, saddled it, mounted, and rode over the plains

toward the break in the canyon wall. Uncle Jepson had one quick glimpse

of her eyes as she turned from him, and he knew there would be no Monday

for Willard Masten.

Ruth had no feelings as she rode. The news had stunned her. She had only

one thought--to see Hagar Catherson, to confirm or disprove Uncle

Jepson's story. She could not have told whether the sun was shining, or

whether it was afternoon or morning. But she must see Hagar Catherson at

once, no matter what the time or the difficulties. She came to the break

in the canyon after an age, and rode through it, down across the bed of

the river, over the narrow bridle path that led to the Catherson cabin.

The dog Nig did not greet her this time; he was stretched out on his

belly, his hind legs gathered under him, his forelegs stuck out in front,

his long muzzle extending along them, while he watched in apparent

anxiety the face of his master, Abe Catherson, who was sitting on the

edge of the porch, his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, in an

attitude of deep dejection. The dog's concern was for Catherson's future

actions, for just a few minutes before he had witnessed a scene that had

made his hair bristle, had brought ugly growls out of him, had plunged

him into such a state of fury that he had, for one wild instant,

meditated a leap at his master's throat. He had seen his master leap upon

his mistress and raise his hand to strike her. If the blow had been

struck--Nig would have leaped, then, no matter what the consequences.

Catherson had not struck. But one great, dominating passion was in his

mind at this moment--the yearning to slay! The dog had seen him, twice

during the last half hour, draw out his heavy six-shooter and examine it,

and each time the dog had growled his disapproval of the action. And on

both occasions Catherson had muttered thickly: "I wish I knowed, for

sure. A man can't do nothin' if he don't know. But I reckon it was him!"

He looked up to see Ruth coming toward him. The girl had seen him

twice--had spoken to him. He was a bearded giant, grizzled, unkempt, with

hairy arms, massive and muscled superbly, and great hands, burned brown

by the sun, that were just now clenched, forming two big fists. There had

been a humorous, tolerant twinkle in his eyes on the other occasions that

Ruth had seen him; it was as though he secretly sympathized with her

efforts to do something for his girl, though he would not openly approve.

But now she saw that his eyes were blazing with an insane frenzy, that

his lips were working, and that the muscles of his neck stood out like

great cords, strained to the bursting point.

He got up when he saw Ruth, and stood on the sand at the edge of the

porch, swaying back and forth, and Ruth's first thought was that he had

been drinking. But his first words to her revealed her mistake. It was

the light, dry voice of a violent passion that greeted her, a passion

that was almost too great for words. He ran to her pony and seized it by

the bridle:

"You know, ma'am. Tell me who treated my li'l gal like that?" His great

hands writhed in the reins. "I'll twist his buzzard's head off his


"What do you mean?" Ruth's own voice startled her, for the spirit of a

lie had issued from her mouth; she knew what he meant; she realized that

Uncle Jepson had told the truth.

"Don't you know, ma'am?" There was wild derision in his voice, insane

mirth. "You've been comin' here; she's been goin' to your place! An' you

don't know! You're blinder than me--an' I couldn't see at all!" He went

off into a gale of frenzied laughter, at which the dog began to bark.

Then Catherson's eyes glared cunningly. "But you've seen who's been

comin' here; you know the man's name, ma'am; an' you're goin' to tell me,

ain't you? So's I c'n talk to him--eh?"

"I don't know, Mr. Catherson." Ruth got a firm grip on herself before she

answered, and it was to save a life that she lied again, for she saw

murder in Catherson's eyes. "Where is Hagar?" she asked.

At his jerk of the head toward the cabin door Ruth got down from her

pony. She was trembling all over, but at Catherson's words all thought of

self had been banished. The effect of Masten's deed on her own life, his

duplicity, his crimes--all were forgotten. Here was her friend who had

been sinned against, needing the comfort of her presence. And in an

instant she was inside the cabin, leaning over the little figure that was

curled up in a bunk in a corner, speaking low words of cheer and


Outside, Catherson paced back and forth, his lips forming soundless

words, his big hands working as though the fingers were at the throat of

the thief that had stolen into his home. His mind was going over certain

words that Hagar had answered to his questions, just before Ruth's

coming. He dwelt upon every slight circumstance that had occurred during

the past few months. There were the tracks of horse's hoofs about the

cabin, in the paths and trails leading to it. Hagar had refused to tell

him. But he figured it all out for himself, as he walked. When had this

thing started? At about the time that Randerson had taken Vickers' place

at the Flying W! Why had not there been trouble between him and the

Flying W, as under previous range bosses? What had Randerson given him

money for, many times? Ah, he knew now!

"The black-hearted hound!" he gritted.

He reeled, and held to a corner of the cabin to steady himself, for this

last access of rage came near to paralyzing him. When he recovered he

drew back out of sight, and leaning against the wall of the cabin, with a

pencil and a small piece of paper taken from a note book in a pocket, he

wrote. He laid the piece of paper on the edge of the porch, ran to the

corral and caught his pony, mounted, and rode drunkenly down the narrow

path toward the break in the canyon.