The Boss of the Lazy Y - Charles Alden Seltzer - ebook

The Boss of the Lazy Y ebook

Charles Alden Seltzer



The story concerns a complicated, angry, daredevil son, Calumet Marston, who returns to his boyhood homestead to find his hated father dead and a stranger, a woman named Betty, in charge. Her family had aided his father, and now she is „"the boss"”. He also left a testimony which states that Calumet must give a practical demonstration of reform in character if he wants to inherit his father’s money, and Betty is the one to be the judge of that. Written in the style of the early writers of the modern western, this is a vivid story of the depths to which any person can sink without discipline, charity and love. A classic story that is considered to be Seltzer’s best work with action and romance trailing at every turn.

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Shuffling down the long slope, its tired legs moving automatically, the drooping pony swerved a little and then came to a halt, trembling with fright. Startled out of his unpleasant ruminations, his lips tensing over his teeth in a savage snarl, Calumet Marston swayed uncertainly in the saddle, caught himself, crouched, and swung a heavy pistol to a menacing poise.

For an instant he hesitated, searching the immediate vicinity with rapid, intolerant glances. When his gaze finally focused on the object which had frightened his pony, he showed no surprise. Many times during the past two days had this incident occurred, and at no time had Calumet allowed the pony to follow its inclination to bolt or swerve from the trail. He held it steady now, pulling with a vicious hand on the reins.

Ten feet in front of the pony and squarely in the center of the trail a gigantic diamond-back rattler swayed and warned, its venomous, lidless eyes gleaming with hate. Calumet’s snarl deepened, he dug a spur into the pony’s left flank, and pulled sharply on the left rein. The pony lunged, swerved, and presented its right shoulder to the swaying reptile, its flesh quivering from excitement. Then the heavy revolver in Calumet’s hand roared spitefully, there was a sudden threshing in the dust of the trail, and the huge rattler shuddered into a sinuous, twisting heap. For an instant Calumet watched it, and then, seeing that the wound he had inflicted was not mortal, he urged the pony forward and, leaning over a little, sent two more bullets into the body of the snake, severing its head from its body.

“Man’s size,” declared Calumet, his snarl relaxing. He sat erect and spoke to the pony:

“Get along, you damned fool! Scared of a side-winder!”

Relieved, deflating its lungs with a tremulous heave, and unmindful of Calumet’s scorn, the pony gingerly returned to the trail. In thirty seconds it had resumed its drooping shuffle, in thirty seconds Calumet had returned to his unpleasant ruminations.

A mile up in the shimmering white of the desert sky an eagle swam on slow wing, shaping his winding course toward the timber clump that fringed a river. Besides the eagle, the pony, and Calumet, no living thing stirred in the desert or above it. In the shade of a rock, perhaps, lurked a lizard, in the filmy mesquite that drooped and curled in the stifling heat slid a rattler, in the shelter of the sagebrush the sage hen might have nestled her eggs in the hot sand. But these were fixtures. Calumet, his pony, and the eagle, were not. The eagle was Mexican; it had swung its mile-wide circles many times to reach the point above the timber clump; it was migratory and alert with the hunger lust.

Calumet watched it with eyes that glowed bitterly and balefully. Half an hour later, when he reached the river and the pony clattered down the rocky slope, plunged its head deeply into the stream and drank with eager, silent draughts, Calumet swung himself crossways in the saddle, fumbled for a moment at his slicker, and drew out a battered tin cup. Leaning over, he filled the cup with water, tilted his head back and drank. The blur in the white sky caught his gaze and held it. His eyes mocked, his lips snarled.

“You damned greaser sneak!” he said. “Followed me fifty miles!” A flash of race hatred glinted his eyes. “I wouldn’t let no damned greaser eagle get me, anyway!”

The pony had drunk its fill. Calumet returned the tin cup to the slicker and swung back into the saddle. Refreshed, the pony took the opposite slope with a rush, emerging from the river upon a high plateau studded with fir balsam and pine. Bringing the pony to a halt, Calumet turned in the saddle and looked somberly behind him.

For two days he had been fighting the desert, and now it lay in his rear, a mystic, dun-colored land of hot sandy waste and silence; brooding, menacing, holding out its threat of death–a vast natural basin breathing and pulsing with mystery, rimmed by remote mountains that seemed tenuous and thin behind the ever-changing misty films that spread from horizon to horizon.

The expression of Calumet’s face was as hard and inscrutable as the desert itself; the latter’s filmy haze did not more surely shut out the mysteries behind it than did Calumet’s expression veil the emotions of his heart. He turned from the desert to face the plateau, from whose edge dropped a wide, tawny valley, luxuriant with bunch grass–a golden brown sweep that nestled between some hills, inviting, alluring. So sharp was the contrast between the desert and the valley, and so potent was its appeal to him, that the hard calm of his face threatened to soften. It was as though he had ridden out of a desolate, ages-old world where death mocked at life, into a new one in which life reigned supreme.

There was no change in Calumet’s expression, however, though below him, spreading and dipping away into the interminable distance, slumbering in the glare of the afternoon sun, lay the land of his youth. He remembered it well and he sat for a long time looking at it, searching out familiar spots, reviving incidents with which those spots had been connected. During the days of his exile he had forgotten, but now it all came back to him; his brain was illumined and memories moved in it in orderly array–like a vast army passing in review. And he sat there on his pony, singling out the more important personages of the army–the officers, the guiding spirits of the invisible columns.

Five miles into the distance, at a point where the river doubled sharply, rose the roofs of several ranch buildings–his father’s ranch, the Lazy Y. Upon the buildings Calumet’s army of memories descended and he forgot the desert, the long ride, the bleak days of his exile, as he yielded to solemn introspection.

Yet, even now, the expression of his face did not change. A little longer he scanned the valley and then the army of memories marched out of his vision and he took up the reins and sent the pony forward. The little animal tossed its head impatiently, perhaps scenting food and companionship, but Calumet’s heavy hand on the reins discouraged haste.

For Calumet was in no hurry. He had not yet worked out an explanation for the strange whim that had sent him home after an absence of thirteen years and he wanted time to study over it. His lips took on a satiric curl as he meditated, riding slowly down into the valley. It was inexplicable, mysterious, this notion of his to return to a father who had never taken any interest in him. He could not account for it. He had not been sent for, he had not sent word; he did not know why he had come. He had been in the Durango country when the mood had struck him, and without waiting to debate the wisdom of the move he had ridden in to headquarters, secured his time, and–well, here he was. He had pondered much in an effort to account for the whim, carefully considering all its phases, and he was still uncertain.

He knew he would receive no welcome; he knew he was not wanted. Had he felt a longing to revisit the old place? Perhaps it had been that. And yet, perhaps not, for he was here now, looking at it, living over the life of his youth, riding again through the long bunch grass, over the barren alkali flats, roaming again in the timber that fringed the river–going over it all again and nothing stirred in his heart–no pleasure, no joy, no satisfaction, no emotion whatever. If he felt any curiosity he was entirely unconscious of it; it was dormant if it existed at all. As he was able to consider her dispassionately he knew that he had not come to look at his mother’s grave. She had been nothing to him, his heart did not beat a bit faster when he thought of her.

Then, why had he come? He did not know or care. Had he been a psychologist he might have attempted to frame reasons, building them from foundations of high-sounding phrases, but he was a materialist, and the science of mental phenomena had no place in his brain. Something had impelled him to come and here he was, and that was reason enough for him. And because he had no motive in coming he was taking his time. He figured on reaching the Lazy Y about dusk. He would see his father, perhaps quarrel with him, and then he would ride away, to return no more. Strange as it may seem, the prospect of a quarrel with his father brought him a thrill of joy, the first emotion he had felt since beginning his homeward journey.

When he reached the bottom of the valley he urged his pony on a little way, pulling it to a halt on the flat, rock-strewn top of an isolated excrescence of earth surrounded by a sea of sagebrush, dried bunch grass, and sand. Dismounting he stretched his legs to disperse the saddle weariness. He stifled a yawn, lazily plunged a hand into a pocket of his trousers, produced tobacco and paper and rolled a cigarette. Lighting it he puffed slowly and deeply at it, exhaling the smoke lingeringly through his nostrils. Then he sat down on a rock, leaned an elbow in the sand, pulled his hat brim well down over his eyes and with the cigarette held loosely between his lips, gave himself over to retrospection.

It all came to him, as he sat there on the rock, his gaze on the basking valley, his thoughts centered on that youth which had been an abiding nightmare. The question was: What influence had made him a hardened, embittered, merciless demon of a man whose passions threatened always to wash away the dam of his self-control? A man whose evil nature caused other men to shun him; a man who scoffed at virtue; who saw no good in anything?

Not once during his voluntary exile had he applied his mind to the subject in the hope of stumbling on a solution. To be sure, he had had a slight glimmering of the truth; he had realized in a sort of vague, general way that he had not been treated fairly at home, but he had not been able to provide a definite and final explanation, perhaps because he had never considered it necessary. But his return home, the review of the army of memories, had brought him a solution–the solution. And he saw its ruthless logic.

He was what his parents had made him. Without being able to think it out in scientific terms he was able to expound the why of like. It was one of the inexorable rules of heredity. To his parents he owed everything and nothing. He reflected on this paradox until it became perfectly clear to him. They–his parents–had given him life, and that was all. He owed them thanks for that, or he would have owed them thanks if he considered his life to be worth anything. But he owed them nothing because they had spoiled the life they had given him, had spoiled it by depriving him of everything he had a right to expect from them–love, sympathy, decent treatment. They had given him instead, blows, kicks, curses, hatred. Hatred!

Yes, they had hated him; they had told him that; he was convinced of it. The reason for their hatred had always been a mystery to him and, for all he cared, would remain a mystery.

When he was fifteen his mother died. On the day when the neighbors laid her away in a quiet spot at the edge of the wood near the far end of the corral fence, he stood beside her body as it lay in the rough pine box which some of them had knocked together, looking at her for the last time. He was neither glad or sorry; he felt no emotion whatever. When one of the neighbors spoke to him, asking him if he felt no grief, he cursed and stormed out of the house. Later, after the neighbors departed, his father came upon him in the stable and beat him unmercifully. He came, dry-eyed, through the ordeal, raging inwardly, but silent. And that night, after his father had gone to bed, he stole stealthily out of the house, threw a saddle and bridle on his favorite pony and rode away. Such had been his youth.

That had been thirteen years ago. He was twenty-eight now and had changed a little–for the worse. During the days of his exile he had made no friends. He had found much experience, he had become self-reliant, sophisticated. There was about him an atmosphere of cold preparedness that discouraged encroachment on his privacy. Men did not trifle with him, because they feared him. Around Durango, where he had ridden for the Bar S outfit, it was known that he possessed Satanic cleverness with a six-shooter.

But if he was rapid with his weapons he made no boast of it. He was quiet in manner, unobtrusive. He was taciturn also, for he had been taught the value of silence by his parents, though in his narrowed glances men had been made to see a suggestion of action that was more eloquent than speech. He was a slumbering volcano of passion that might at any time become active and destroying.

Gazing now from under the brim of his hat at the desolate, silent world that swept away from the base of the hill on whose crest he sat, his lips curved with a slow, bitter sneer. During the time he had been on the hill he had lived over his life and he saw its bleakness, its emptiness, its mystery. This was his country. He had been born here; he had passed days, months, years, in this valley. He knew it, and hated it. He sneered as his gaze went out of the valley and sought the vast stretches of the flaming desert. He knew the desert, too; it had not changed. Riding through it yesterday and the day before he had been impressed with the somber grimness of it all, as he had been impressed many times before when watching it from this very hill. But it was no more somber than his own life had been; its brooding silence was no deeper than that which dwelt in his own heart; he reflected its spirit, its mystery was his. His life had been like–like the stretching waste of sky that yawned above the desert, as cold, hard, and unsympathetic.

He saw a shadow; looked upward to see the Mexican eagle winging its slow way overhead, and the sneer on his lips grew. It was a prophecy, perhaps. At least the sight of the bird gave him an opportunity to draw a swift and bitter comparison. He was like the eagle. Both he and the bird he detested were beset with a constitutional predisposition to rend and destroy. There was this difference between them: The bird feasted on carrion, while he spent his life stifling generous impulses and tearing from his heart the noble ideals which his latent manhood persisted in erecting.

For two hours he sat on the hill, watching. He saw the sun sink slowly toward the remote mountains, saw it hang a golden rim on a barren peak; watched the shadows steal out over the foothills and stretch swiftly over the valley toward him. Mystery seemed to awaken and fill the world. The sky blazed with color–orange and gold and violet; a veil of rose and amethyst descended and stretched to the horizons, enveloping the mountains in a misty haze; purple shafts shot from distant canyons, mingling with the brighter colors–gleaming, shimmering, ever-changing. Over the desert the colors were even more wonderful, the mystery deeper, the lure more appealing. But Calumet made a grimace at it all, it seemed to mock him.

He rose from the rock, mounted his pony, and rode slowly down into the valley toward the Lazy Y ranch buildings.

He had been so busy with his thoughts that he had not noticed the absence of cattle in the valley–the valley had been a grazing ground for the Lazy Y stock during the days of his youth–and now, with a start, he noted it and halted his pony after reaching the level to look about him.

There was no sign of any cattle. But he reflected that perhaps a new range had been opened. Thirteen years is a long time, and many changes could have come during his absence.

He was about to urge his pony on again, when some impulse moved him to turn in the saddle and glance at the hill he had just vacated. At about the spot where he had sat–perhaps two hundred yards distant–he saw a man on a horse, sitting motionless in the saddle, looking at him.

Calumet wheeled his own pony and faced the man. The vari-colored glow from the distant mountains fell full upon the horseman, and with the instinct for attention to detail which had become habitual with Calumet, he noted that the rider was a big man; that he wore a cream-colored Stetson and a scarlet neckerchief. Even at that distance, so clear was the light, Calumet caught a vague impression of his features–his nose, especially, which was big, hawk-like.

Calumet yielded to a sudden wonder over the rider’s appearance on the hill. He had not seen him; had not heard him before. Still, that was not strange, for he had become so absorbed in his thoughts while on the hill that he had paid very little attention to his surroundings except to associate them with his past.

The man, evidently, was a cowpuncher in the employ of his father; had probably seen him from the level of the valley and had ridden to the crest of the hill out of curiosity.

Another impulse moved Calumet. He decided to have a talk with the man in order to learn, if possible, something of the life his father had led during his absence. He kicked his pony in the ribs and rode toward the man, the animal traveling at a slow chop-trot.

For a moment the man watched him, still motionless. Then, as Calumet continued to approach him the man wheeled his horse and sent it clattering down the opposite side of the hill.

Calumet sneered, surprised, for the instant, at the man’s action.

“Shy cuss,” he said, grinning contemptuously. In the next instant, however, he yielded to a quick rage and sent his pony scurrying up the slope toward the crest of the hill.

When he reached the top the man was on the level, racing across a barren alkali flat at a speed which indicated that he was afflicted with something more than shyness.

Calumet halted on the crest of the hill and waved a hand derisively at the man, who was looking back over his shoulder as he rode.

“Slope, you locoed son-of-a-gun!” he yelled; “I didn’t want to talk to you, anyway!”

The rider’s answer was a strange one. He brought his horse to a dizzying stop, wheeled, drew a rifle from his saddle holster, raised it to his shoulder and took a snap shot at Calumet.

The latter, however, had observed the hostile movement, and had thrown himself out of the saddle. He struck the hard sand of the hill on all fours and stretched out flat, his face to the ground. He heard the bullet sing futilely past him; heard the sharp crack of the rifle, and peered down to see the man again running his horse across the level.

Calumet drew his pistol, but saw that the distance was too great for effective shooting, and savagely jammed the weapon back into the holster. He was in a black rage, but was aware of the absurdity of attempting to wage a battle in which the advantage lay entirely with the rifle, and so, with a grim smile on his face, he watched the progress of the man as he rode through the long grass and across the barren stretches of the level toward the hills that rimmed the southern horizon.

Promising himself that he would make a special effort to return the shot, Calumet finally wheeled his pony and rode down the hill toward the Lazy Y.



An emotion which he did not trouble himself to define impelled Calumet to wheel his pony when he reached the far end of the corral fence and ride into the cottonwood where, thirteen years before, he had seen the last of his mother. No emotion moved him as he rode toward it, but when he came upon the grave he experienced a savage satisfaction because it had been sadly neglected. There was no headboard to mark the spot, no familiar mound of earth; only a sunken stretch, a pitiful little patch of sand, with a few weeds thrusting up out of it, nodding to the slight breeze and casting grotesque shadows in the somber twilight.

Calumet was not surprised. It was all as he had pictured it during those brief moments when he had allowed his mind to dwell on his past; its condition vindicated his previous conviction that his father would neglect it. Therefore, his satisfaction was not in finding the grave as it was, but in the knowledge that he had not misjudged his father. And though he had not loved his mother, the condition of the grave served to infuse him with a newer and more bitter hatred for the surviving parent. A deep rage and contempt slumbered within him as he urged his pony out of the wood toward the ranchhouse.

He was still in no hurry, and soon after leaving the edge of the wood he halted his pony and sat loosely in the saddle, gazing about him. When he observed that he might be seen from the ranchhouse he moved deep into the cottonwood and there, screened behind some nondescript brush, continued his examination.

The place was in a state of dilapidation, of approaching ruin. Desolation had set a heavy hand over it all. The buildings no more resembled those he had known than daylight resembles darkness. The stable, wherein he had received his last thrashing from his father, had sagged to one side, its roof seeming to bow to him in derision; the corral fence was down in several places, its rails in a state of decay, and within, two gaunt ponies drooped, seeming to lack the energy necessary to move them to take advantage of the opportunity for freedom so close at hand. They appeared to watch Calumet incuriously, apathetically.

Calumet felt strangely jubilant. A vindictive satisfaction and delight forced the blood through his veins a little faster, for, judging from the appearance of the buildings, misfortune must have descended upon his father. The thought brought a great peace to his soul; he even smiled when he saw that the bunkhouse, which had sheltered the many cowboys whom he had hated, seemed ready to topple to destruction. The smile grew when his gaze went to the windmill, to see its long arms motionless in the breeze, indicating its uselessness.

When he had concluded his examination he did not ride boldly toward the ranchhouse, but made a wide circuit through the wood, for he wanted to come upon his father in his own way and in his own time; wanted to surprise him. There was no use of turning his pony into the corral, for the animal had more life in him than the two forlorn beasts that were already there and would not stay in the corral when a breach in the fence offered freedom. Therefore, when Calumet reached the edge of the wood near the front of the house he dismounted and tied his pony to a tree.

A moment later he stood at the front door, filled with satisfaction to find it unbarred. Swinging it slowly open he entered, silently closing it behind him. He stood, a hand on the fastenings, gazing about him. He was in the room which his father had always used as an office. As he peered about in the gray dusk that had fallen, distinguishing familiar articles of furniture–a roll-top desk, several chairs, a sofa, some cheap prints on the wall–a nameless emotion smote him and his face paled a little, his jaws locked, his hands clenched. For again the army of memories was passing in review.

For a long time he stood at the door. Then he left it and walked to the desk, placing a hand on its top and hesitating. Doubtless his father was in another part of the house, possibly eating supper. He decided not to bother him at this moment and seated himself in a chair before the desk. There was plenty of time. His father would be as disagreeably surprised to meet him five minutes from now as he would were he to stalk into his presence at this moment.

Once in the chair, Calumet realized that he was tired, and he leaned back luxuriously, stretching his legs. The five minutes to which he had limited himself grew to ten and he still sat motionless, looking out of the window at the deepening dusk. The shadows in the wood near the house grew darker, and to Calumet’s ears came the long-drawn, plaintive whine of a coyote, the croaking of frogs from the river, the hoot of an owl nearby. Other noises of the night reached him, but he did not hear them, for he had become lost in meditation.

What a home-coming!

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