The Law Of The Primitive

: The Range Boss

Randerson continued his policy of not forcing himself upon Ruth. He went

his way, silent, thoughtful, attending strictly to business. To Ruth,

watching him when he least suspected it, it seemed that he had grown more

grim and stern-looking since his coming to the Flying W. She saw him,

sometimes, laughing quietly with Uncle Jepson; other times she heard him

talking gently to Aunt Martha--with an expression that set her to

/> wondering whether he were the same man that she had seen that day with

the pistol in hand, shooting the life out of a fellow being. There were

times when she wavered in her conviction of his heartlessness.

Since Ruth had announced her decision not to marry Masten until after the

fall round-up, she had not seen so much of him. He rode alone, sometimes

not even asking her to accompany him. These omissions worked no great

hardship on her, for the days had grown hot and the plains dry and dusty,

so that there was not so much enjoyment in riding as formerly. Besides,

she knew the country rather well now, and had no need to depend upon


Chavis had severed his connection with the Flying W. He had ridden in to

the ranchhouse some weeks ago, found Ruth sitting on the porch, announced

that he was "quittin'" and wanted his "time." She did not ask him why he

wanted to quit so pleased was she with his decision, but he advanced an

explanation while she counted the money due him.

"Things don't suit me here," he said venomously. "Randerson is too

fresh." He looked at her impudently. "Besides," he added, "he stands in

too well with the boss."

She flushed with indignation. "You wouldn't dare say that to him!" she


He reddened darkly. "Meanin' what he done to Pickett, I reckon," he

sneered. "Well, Randerson will be gettin' his'n some day, too!"

Ruth remembered this conversation, and on a day about a month later when

she had gone riding alone, she saw Randerson at a distance and rode

toward him to tell him, for she had meant to, many times.

Evidently Randerson had seen her, too, for he had already altered his

pony's course when she wheeled hers. When their ponies came to a halt

near each other it was Randerson who spoke first. He looked at her

unsmilingly over his pony's head.

"I was ridin' in to the house to see you, ma'am. I thought you ought to

know. This mornin' the boys found two cows with their hoofs burned, an'

their calves run off."

"Their hoofs burned!" she exclaimed. "Why, who would be so inhuman as to

do that? But I suppose there was a fire somewhere, and it happened that


"There was a fire, all right," he said grimly. "Some one built it, on

purpose. It was rustlers, ma'am. They burned the hoofs of the mothers so

the mothers couldn't follow when they drove their calves off--like any

mother would." He eyed her calmly. "I reckon it was Chavis, ma'am. He's

got a shack down the crick a ways. He's been there ever since you paid

him off. An' this mornin' two of the boys told me they wanted their time.

I was goin' in to get it for them. It's likely they're goin' to join


"Well, let them," she said indignantly. "If they are that kind of men, we

don't want them around!"

He smiled now for the first time. "I reckon there ain't no way to stop

them from goin', ma'am. An' we sure don't want them around. But when they

go with Chavis, it's mighty likely that we'll miss more cattle."

She stiffened. "Come with me," she ordered; "they shall have their money

right away."

She urged her pony on, and he fell in beside her, keeping his animal's

muzzle near her stirrup. For he was merely an employee and was filled

with respect for her.

"I suppose I could have Chavis charged with stealing those two calves?"

she asked, as they rode. She looked back over her shoulder at him and

slowed her pony down so that he came alongside.

"Why, yes, ma'am, I reckon you could. You could charge him with stealin'

them. But that wouldn't prove it. We ain't got any evidence, you see. We

found the cows, with the calves gone. We know that Chavis is in the

country, but we didn't see him doin' the stealin'; we only think he done


"If I should complain to the sheriff?"

"You could do that, ma'am. But I reckon it's a waste of time."


"Well, you see, ma'am, the sheriff in this county don't amount to a

heap--considered as a sheriff. He mostly draws his salary an' keeps out

of trouble, much as he can. There ain't no court in the county nearer

than Las Vegas, an' that's a hundred an' fifty miles from here. An',

mostly, the court don't want to be bothered with hearin' rustler

cases--there bein' no regular law governin' them, an' conviction bein'

hard to get. So the sheriff don't bother."

"But there must be some way to stop them from stealing!" she said


"I reckon there's a way, ma'am." And now she heard him laugh, quietly,

and again she turned and looked at him. His face grew grave again,

instantly. "But I reckon you wouldn't approve of it, ma'am," he added.

"I would approve of most any method of stopping them--within reason!" she

declared vindictively, nettled by his tone.

"We mostly hang them, ma'am," he said. "That's a sure way of stoppin'


She shuddered. "Do you mean that you hang them without a court

verdict--on your own responsibility?"

"That's the way, ma'am."

"But doesn't the sheriff punish men who hang others in that manner?" she

went on in tones of horror.

His voice was quietly humorous. "Them sort of hangin's ain't advertised a

heap. It's hard to find anybody that will admit he had a hand in it.

Nobody knows anything about it. But it's done, an' can't be undone. An'

the rustlin' stops mighty sudden."

"Oh," she exclaimed, "what a barbarous custom!"

"I reckon it ain't exactly barbarous, ma'am," he contended mildly. "Would

you have the rustlers go on stealin' forever, an' not try to stop them?"

"There are the courts," she insisted.

"Turnin' rustlers off scot-free, ma'am. They can't hold them. An' if a

rustler is hung, he don't get any more than is comin' to him. Do you

reckon there's a lot of difference between a half dozen men hangin' a man

for a crime he's done, than for one man, a judge for instance, orderin'

him to be hung? If, we'll say, a hundred men elect a judge to do certain

things, is it any more wrong for the hundred men to do them things than

for the man they've elected to do them? I reckon not, ma'am. Of course,

if the hundred men did somethin' that the judge hadn't been elected to

do, why then, it might make some difference."

"But you say there is no law that provides hanging for rustling." She

thought she had him.

"The men that elected the judge made the laws," he said. "They have a

right to make others, whenever they're needed."

"That's mob law," she said with a shiver. "What would become of the world

if that custom were followed everywhere?"

"I wouldn't say that it would be a good thing everywhere. Where there's

courts that can be got at easy, there'd be no sense to it. But out here

there's no other way for a man to protect his property. He's got to take

the law into his own hands."

"It is a crude and cold-blooded way."

She heard him laugh, and turned to see him looking at her in amusement.

"There ain't no refinement in punishment, ma'am. Either it's got to shock

some one or not get done at all. I reckon that back East you don't get to

see anyone punished, or hung. You hear about it, or you read about it,

an' it don't seem so near you, an' that kind of takes the edge off it.

Out here it comes closer, an' it seems a lot cruel. But whether a man's

punished by the law or by the men who make the law wouldn't make a lot of

difference to the man--he'd be punished anyway."

"We won't talk about it any further," she said. "But understand, if there

are any cattle thieves caught on the Flying W they must not be hanged.

You must capture them, if possible, and take them to the proper

officials, that they may have a fair trial. And we shall abide by the

court's decision. I don't care to have any more murders committed here."

His face paled. "Referrin' to Pickett, I reckon, ma'am?" he said.

"Yes." She flung the monosyllable back at him resentfully.

She felt him ride close to her, and she looked at him and saw that his

face was grimly serious.

"I ain't been thinkin' of the killin' of Pickett as murder, ma'am.

Pickett had it comin' to him. You was standin' on the porch, an' I reckon

you used your eyes. If you did, you saw Pickett try to pull his gun on me

when my back was turned. It was either him or me, ma'am."

"You anticipated that he would try to shoot you," she charged. "Your

actions showed that."

"Why, I reckon I did. You see, I've knowed Pickett for a long time."

"I was watching you from an upstairs window," she went on. "I saw you

when you struck Pickett with your fist. You drew your pistol while he was

on the ground. You had the advantage--you might have taken his pistol

away from him, and prevented any further trouble. Instead, you allowed

him to keep it. You expected he would try to shoot you, and you

deliberately gave him an opportunity, relying upon your quickness in

getting your own pistol out."

"I give him his chance, ma'am."

"His chance." There was derision in her voice. "I have talked to some of

the men about you. They say you are the cleverest of any man in this

vicinity with a weapon. You deliberately planned to kill him!"

He rode on, silently, a glint of cold humor in his eyes. He might now

have confounded her with the story of Masten's connection with the

affair, but he had no intention of telling her. Masten had struck the

blow at him--Masten it must be, who would be struck back.

However, he was disturbed over her attitude. He did not want her to think

that he had killed Pickett in pure wantonness, for he had not thought of

shooting the man until Uncle Jepson had warned him.

"I've got to tell you this, ma'am," he said, riding close to her. "One

man's life is as good as another's in this country. But it ain't any

better. The law's too far away to monkey with--law like you're used to.

The gun a man carries is the only law anyone here pays any attention to.

Every man knows it. Nobody makes any mistakes about it, unless it's when

they don't get their gun out quick enough. An' that's the man's fault

that pulls the gun. There ain't no officials to do any guardin' out here;

you've got to do it yourself or it don't get done. A man can't take too

many chances--an' live to tell about it. When you know a man's lookin'

for you, yearnin' to perforate you, it's just a question of who can shoot

the quickest an' the straightest. In the case of Pickett, I happened to

be the one. It might have been Pickett. If he wasn't as fast as me in

slingin' his gun, why, he oughtn't to have taken no chance. He'd have

been plumb safe if he'd have forgot all about his gun. I don't reckon

that I'd have pined away with sorrow if I hadn't shot him."

She was much impressed with his earnestness, and she looked quickly at

him, nearly convinced. But again the memory of the tragic moment became

vivid in her thoughts, and she shuddered.

"It's too horrible to think of!" she declared.

"I reckon it's no picnic," he admitted. "I ain't never been stuck on

shootin' men. I reckon I didn't sleep a heap for three nights after I

shot Pickett. I kept seein' him, an' pityin' him. But I kept tellin'

myself that it had to be either him or me, an' I kind of got over it.

Pickett would have it, ma'am. When I turned my back to him I was hopin'

that he wouldn't try to play dirt on me. Do you reckon he oughtn't to

have been made to tell you that he had been wrong in tacklin' you? Why,

ma'am, I kind of liked Pickett. He wasn't all bad. He was one of them

kind that's easy led, an' he wasn't a heap responsible; he fell in with

the wrong kind of men--men like Chavis. I've took a lot from Pickett."

"You might have shown him in some other way that you liked him," she said

with unsmiling sarcasm. "It seems to me that men who go about thinking of

shooting each other must have a great deal of the brute in them."

"Meanin' that they ain't civilized, I reckon?"

"Yes. Mr. Masten had the right view. He refused to resort to the methods

you used in bringing Pickett to account. He is too much a gentleman to

act the savage."

For an instant Randerson's eyes lighted with a deep fire. And then he

smiled mirthlessly.

"I reckon Mr. Masten ain't never had anybody stir him up right proper,"

he said mildly. "It takes different things to get a man riled so's he'll

fight--or a woman, either. Either of 'em will fight when the right thing

gets them roused. I expect that deep down in everybody is a little of

that brute that you're talkin' about. I reckon you'd fight like a tiger,

ma'am, if the time ever come when you had to."

"I never expect to kill anybody," she declared, coldly.

"You don't know what you'll do when the time comes, ma'am. You've been

livin' in a part of the country where things are done accordin' to hard

an' fast rules. Out here things run loose, an' if you stay here long

enough some day you'll meet them an' recognize them for your own--an'

you'll wonder how you ever got along without them." He looked at her now

with a subtle grin. But his words were direct enough, and his voice rang

earnestly as he went on: "Why, I reckon you've never been tuned up to

nature, ma'am. Have you ever hated anybody real venomous?"

"I have been taught differently," she shot back at him. "I have never

hated anybody."

"Then you ain't never loved anybody, ma'am. You'd be jealous of the one

you loved, an' you'd hate anybody you saw makin' eyes at them."

"Well, of all the odd ideas!" she said. She was so astonished at the turn

his talk had taken that she halted her pony and faced him, her cheeks


"I don't reckon it's any odd idea, ma'am. Unless human nature is an odd

idea, an' I reckon it's about the oldest thing in the world, next to love

an' hate." He grinned at her unblushingly, and leaned against the saddle


"I reckon you ain't been a heap observin', ma'am," he said frankly, but

very respectfully. "You'd have seen that odd idea worked out many times,

if you was. With animals an' men it's the same. A kid--which you won't

claim don't love its mother--is jealous of a brother or a sister which it

thinks is bein' favored more than him, an' if the mother don't show that

she's pretty square in dealin' with the two, there's bound to be hate

born right there. What do you reckon made Cain kill his brother, Abel?

"Take a woman--a wife. Some box-heads, when their wife falls in love with

another man, give her up like they was takin' off an old shoe, sayin'

they love her so much that they want to see her happy--which she can't

be, she says, unless she gets the other man. But don't you go to

believin' that kind of fairy romance, ma'am. When a man is so willin' to

give up his wife to another man he's sure got a heap tired of her an'

don't want her any more. He's got his eye peeled for Number Two, an' he's

thankin' his wife's lover for makin' the trail clear for the matrimonial

wagon. But givin' up Number One to the other man gives him a chance to

pose a lot, an' mebbe it's got a heap of effect on Number Two, who sort

of thinks that if she gets tied up to such a sucker she'll be able to

wrap him around her finger. But if he loves Number Two, he'll be mighty

grumpy to the next fellow that goes to makin' sheeps eyes at her."

"That is a highly original view," she said, laughing, feeling that she

ought to be offended, but disarmed by his ingenuousness. "And so you

think that love and hate are inseparable passions."

"I reckon you can't know what real love is unless you have hated, ma'am.

Some folks say they get through life without hatin' anybody, but if

you'll look around an' watch them, you'll find they're mostly an

unfeelin' kind. You ain't one of them kind, ma'am. I've watched you, an'

I've seen that you've got a heap of spirit. Some of these days you're

goin' to wake up. An' when you do, you'll find out what love is."

"Don't you think I love Mr. Masten?" she said, looking at him


He looked as fairly back at her. "I don't reckon you do, ma'am. Mebbe you

think so, but you don't."

"What makes you think so?" she demanded, defiantly.

"Why, the way you look at him, ma'am. If I was engaged to a girl an' she

looked at me as critical as you look at him, sometimes, I'd sure feel

certain that I'd drawed the wrong card."

Still her eyes did not waver. She began to sense his object in

introducing this subject, and she was determined to make him feel that

his conclusions were incorrect--as she knew they were.

"That is an example of your wonderful power of observation," she said,

"the kind you were telling me about, which makes you able to make such

remarkable deductions. But if you are no more correct in the others than

you are in trying to determine the state of my feelings toward Mr.

Masten, you are entirely wrong. I do love Mr. Masten!"

She spoke vehemently, for she thought herself very much in earnest.

But he grinned. "You're true blue," he said, "an' you've got the grit to

tell where you stand. But you're mistaken. You couldn't love Masten."

"Why?" she said, so intensely curious that she entirely forgot to think

of his impertinence in talking thus to her. "Why can't I love Mr.


He laughed, and reddened. "Because you're goin' to love me, ma'am," he

said, gently.

She would have laughed if she had not felt so indignant. She would have

struck him as she had struck Chavis had she not been positive that behind

his words was the utmost respect--that he did not intend to be

impertinent--that he seemed as natural as he had been all along. She

would have exhibited scorn if she could have summoned it. She did nothing

but stare at him in genuine amazement. She was going to be severe with

him, but the mild humor of his smile brought confusion upon her.

"You don't lack conceit, whatever your other shortcomings," she managed,

her face rosy.

"Well now, I'm thankin' you, ma'am, for lettin' me off so easy," he said.

"I was expectin' you'd be pretty hard on me for talkin' that way. I've

been wonderin' what made me say it. I expect it's because I've been

thinkin' it so strong. Anyway, it's said, an' I can't take it back. I

wouldn't want to, for I was bound to tell you some time, anyway. I reckon

it ain't conceit that made me say it. I've liked you a heap ever since I

got hold of your picture."

"So that is where the picture went!" she said. "I have been hunting high

and low for it. Who gave it to you?"

"Wes Vickers, ma'am." There was disgust in his eyes. "I never meant to

mention it, ma'am; that was a slip of the tongue. But when I saw the

picture, I knowed I was goin' to love you. There ain't nothin' happened

yet to show that you won't think a lot of me, some day."

"You frighten me," she mocked.

"I reckon you ain't none frightened," he laughed. "But I expect you're

some disturbed--me sayin' what I've said while you're engaged to Masten.

I'm apologizing ma'am. You be loyal to Masten--as I know you'd be,

anyway. An' some day, when you've broke off with him, I'll come


"So you're sure that I'm going to break my engagement with Masten, are

you?" she queried, trying her best to be scornful, but not succeeding

very well. "How do you know that?"

"There's somethin' that you don't see that's been tellin' me, ma'am.

Mebbe some day that thing will be tellin' you the same stuff, an' then

you'll understand," he said enigmatically.

"Well," she said, pressing her lips together as though this were to be

her last word on the subject; "I have heard that the wilderness sometimes

makes people dream strange dreams, and I suppose yours is one of them."

She wheeled her pony and sent it scampering onward toward the ranchhouse.

He followed, light of heart, for while she had taunted him, she had also

listened to him, and he felt that progress had been made.