The Ranchman - Charles Alden Seltzer - ebook

The Ranchman ebook

Charles Alden Seltzer

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In the style of the early writers of the modern western, the Charles Alden Seltzer paints a vivid story of the depths to which any person can sink without discipline, charity and love. This is one of the best Seltzer’s work. He wrote his westerns from the experience of living on his uncle’s ranch in New Mexico. Seltzer’s best works also include „The Two-Gun Man”, „The Boss of the Lazy Y”, etc. Many of his novels were turned into Hollywood movies. „The Ranchman” is a rootin’-tootin’ western love story. Non-stop action, good guys and bad guys, and no shortage of gun-fighting to keep you guessing until the end whether the hero will actually get the girl. A real page turner, with action and romance trailing at every turn.

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Liczba stron: 353

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Contents

CHAPTER I. CONCERNING DAWES

CHAPTER II. SLICK DUDS

CHAPTER III. THE SERPENT TRAIL

CHAPTER IV. THE HOLD-UP

CHAPTER V. THE UNEXPECTED

CHAPTER VI. A MAN MAKES PLANS

CHAPTER VII. THE SHADOW OF THE PAST

CHAPTER VIII. CONCERNING “SQUINT”

CHAPTER IX. A MAN LIES

CHAPTER X. THE FRAME-UP

CHAPTER XI. “NO FUN FOOLING HER”

CHAPTER XII. LIFTING THE MASK

CHAPTER XIII. THE SHADOW OF TROUBLE

CHAPTER XIV. THE FACE OF A FIGHTER

CHAPTER XV. GLOO. AND PLANS

CHAPTER XVI. A MAN BECOMES A BRUTE

CHAPTER XVII. THE WRONG ANKLE

CHAPTER XVIII. THE BEAST AGAIN

CHAPTER XIX. THE AMBUSH

CHAPTER XX. A FIGHT TO A FINISH

CHAPTER XXI. A MAN FACES DEATH

CHAPTER XXII. LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

CHAPTER XXIII. A WORLD-OLD LONGING

CHAPTER XXIV. A DEATH WARRANT

CHAPTER XXV. KEATS LOOKS FOR “SQUINT”

CHAPTER XXVI. KEATS FINDS “SQUINT”

CHAPTER XXVII. BESIEGED

CHAPTER XXVIII. THE FUGITIVE

CHAPTER XXIX. THE CAPTIVE

CHAPTER XXX. PARSONS HAS HUMAN INSTINCTS

CHAPTER XXXI. A RESCUE

CHAPTER XXXII. TAYLOR BECOMES RILED

CHAPTER XXXIII. RETRIBUTION

CHAPTER XXXIV. THE WILL OF THE MOB

CHAPTER XXXV. TRIUMPH AT LAST

CHAPTER I. CONCERNING DAWES

The air in the Pullman was hot and, despite the mechanical contrivances built into the coach to prevent such a contingency, the dust from the right-of-way persisted in filtering through crevices.

Even the electric fans futilely combated the heat; their droning hum bespoke terrific revolutions which did not materially lessen the discomfort of the occupants of the coach; and the dry, dead dust of the desert, the glare of a white-hot sun, the continuing panorama of waste land, rolling past the car windows, afforded not one cool vista to assuage the torture of travel.

For hours after leaving Kansas City, several of the passengers had diligently gazed out of the windows. But when they had passed the vast grass plains and had entered the desert, where their eyes met nothing but endless stretches of feathery alkali dust, beds of dead lava, and clumps of cacti with thorny spire and spatula blade defiantly upthrust as though in mockery of all life–the passengers drew the shades and settled down in their seats to endure the discomfort of it all.

A blasé tourist forward reclined in one seat and rested his legs on another. From under the peak of a cap pulled well down over his eyes he smiled cynically at his fellow-passengers, noting the various manifestations of their discomfort. The tourist was a transcontinental traveler of note and he had few expectations. It amused him to watch those who had.

A girl of about twenty, seated midway in the coach to the left of the tourist, had been an intent watcher of the desert. With the covert eye of the tourist upon her she stiffened, stared sharply out of the window, then drew back, shuddering, a queer pallor on her face.

“She’s seen something unpleasant,” mused the tourist. “A heap of bleached bones–which would be the skeleton of a steer; or a rattlesnake–or most anything. She’s got nerves.”

One passenger in the car had no nerves–of that the tourist was convinced. The tourist had observed him closely, and the tourist was a judge of men. The nerveless one was a young man who sat in a rear seat staring intently out into the inferno of heat and sand, apparently absorbed in his thoughts and unaware of any physical discomfort.

“Young–about twenty-seven or twenty-eight–maybe thirty,” mused the tourist; “but an old-timer in this country. I wised up to him when he got aboard at Kansas City. Been a miner in his time–or a cow-puncher. I’d hate to cross him.”

Among the other passengers were two who attracted the attention of the tourist. They occupied the seat in front of the young man.

One of the two, who sat nearest the window, was not much older than the young man occupying the seat behind him. The tourist guessed his age to be around thirty-five or thirty-six. He was big, almost massive, and had lived well–as the slightly corpulent stomach revealed. Despite that, however, he was in good physical condition, for his cheeks glowed with good healthy color under the blue-black sheen of his fresh-shaved beard; there was a snapping twinkle in his black eyes, which were penetrating and steady; and there was a quiet confidence in his manner which told that he knew and appreciated himself. He was handsome in a heavy, sensuous fashion, and his coal-black hair, close-cropped and wavy, gave him an appearance of virility and importance that demanded a second look. The man seated beside him was undersized and ordinary-looking, with straight, iron-gray hair and a look of having taken orders all his life. The tourist set his age at fifty-five.

The girl was of the type that the tourist admired. He had seen her kind in the far corners of the world, on the thronged streets of cosmopolitan cities, in isolated sections of the world–the self-reliant, quietly confident American girl whose straight-in-the-eye glance always made a man feel impelled to respectfully remove his hat.

She was not beautiful, but she was undeniably good-looking. She was almost tall, and the ease and grace of her movements sufficed to convey to the tourist some conception of the symmetrical lines of her figure. If her features had been more regular, the girl would have been plain; but there was a slight uptilt to her nose that hinted of piquancy, denied by the quiet, steady eyes.

A brown mass of hair, which she had twisted into bulging coils and glistening waves, made the tourist wonder over her taste in that feminine art.

“She knows what becomes her,” he decided.

He knew the two men seated in front of the young man were traveling with her, for he had seen them together, with the older man patting her shoulder affectionately. But often she left them with their talk, which did not seem to interest her, while she withdrew to a distant seat to read or to gaze out of the window.

She had not seemed to notice either the man of colorless personality or the young man who occupied the seat behind her friends. If she had glanced at them at all it was with that impersonal interest one feels in the average traveler one meets anywhere.

But long ago–which, to be strictly accurate, was when he had entered the coach at Kansas City–Quinton Taylor had been interested in her. He was content, though, to conceal that interest, and not once when she chanced to look toward him did she catch him looking at her.

Taylor knew he was no man to excite the interest of women, not even when he looked his best. And he knew that in his present raiment he did not look his best. He was highly uncomfortable.

For one thing, the white, starched collar he wore irritated him, choked him, reddening his face and bulging his eyes. The starched shirt had a pernicious habit of tightly sticking to him, the seams chafing his skin.

The ready-made suit he had bought at Kansas City was too small, and he could feel his shoulders bulging through the arms of the coat, while the trousers–at the hips and the knees–were stretched until he feared the cloth would not stand the strain.

The shoes were tight, and the derby hat–he glowered humorously at it in the rack above his head and gazed longingly at the suitcase at his feet, into which he had crammed the clothing he had discarded and which he had replaced at the suggestion of his banker in Kansas City. Cowboy rigging was not uncommon to Kansas City, the banker had told him, but still–well, if a man was wealthy, and wished to make an impression, it might be wise to make the change.

Not in years had Taylor worn civilized clothing, and he was fully determined that before reaching his home town he would resume the clothing to which he was accustomed–and throw the new duds out of a window. He reddened over an imaginary picture of himself descending from the train in his newly acquired rigging to endure the humorous comments of his friends. Old Ben Mullarky, for instance, would think he had gone loco–and would tell him so. Yes, the new clothes were doomed; some ragged overland specimen of the genus “hobo” would probably find them or, if not, they would clutter up the right-of-way as the sad memento of a mistake he had made during a fit of momentary weakness.

As a matter of fact the girl had noticed Taylor. A girl will notice men, unconsciously. Sitting at her window even now, she was thinking of him.

She was not aware that she had studied him, or that she had even glanced at him. But despite her lack of interest in him she had a picture of him in mind, and her thoughts dwelt upon him.

She, too, had been aware that Taylor’s clothes did not fit him. She had noticed the bulging shoulders, the tight trousers, the shoes, squeaking with newness, when once he had passed through the car to go out upon the platform. She had noticed him screwing his neck around in the collar; she had seen him hunch his shoulders intolerantly; she had seen that the trousers were too short; that he looked like an awkward farmer or homesteader abroad on a pleasure trip, and decidedly uncomfortable in the unaccustomed attire.

She had giggled to herself, then. For Taylor did make a ridiculous figure. But later–when he had reentered the car and she had looked fairly, though swiftly, at him as he advanced down the aisle–she had seen something about him that had impressed her. And that was what she was thinking about now. It was his face, she believed. It was red with self-consciousness and embarrassment, but she had seen and noted the strength of it–the lean, muscular jaw, the square, projecting chin, the firm, well-controlled mouth; the steady, steel-blue eyes, the broad forehead. It had seemed to her that he was humorously aware of the clothes, but that he was grimly determined to brazen the thing out.

Her mental picture now gave her the entire view of Taylor as he had come toward her. And she could see him in a different environment, in cowboy regalia, on a horse, perfectly at ease. He made a heroic figure. So real was the picture that she caught herself saying: “Clothes do make the man!” And then she smiled at her enthusiasm and looked out of the window.

Taylor had been thinking of her with the natural curiosity of the man who knows he has no chance and is not looking for one. But she had impressed him as resembling someone with whom he had been well acquainted. For an hour he puzzled his brain in an endeavor to associate hers with some face of his recollection, but elusive memory resisted his demands on it with the result that he gave it up and leaned back as restfully as he could with the consciousness of the physical torture he was undergoing.

And then he heard the younger of the two men in front of him speak to the other:

“We’ll make things hum in Dawes, once we get hold of the reins.”

“But there will be obstacles, Carrington.”

“Sure! Obstacles! Of course. That will make the thing all the more enjoyable.”

There was a ring in Carrington’s voice that struck a chord of sudden antagonism in Taylor, a note of cunning that acted upon Taylor instantly, as though the man had twanged discord somewhere in his nature.

Dawes was Taylor’s home; he had extensive and varied interests there; he had been largely responsible for Dawes’s growth and development; he had fought for the town and the interests of the town’s citizens against the aggressions of the railroad company and a grasping land company that had succeeded in clouding the titles to every foot of land owned by Dawes’s citizens–his own included.

And he had heard rumors of outside interests that were trying to gain a foothold in Dawes. He had paid little attention to these rumors, for he knew that capital was always trying to drive wedges that would admit it to the golden opportunities afforded by new towns, and he had ascribed the rumors to idle gossip, being aware that such things are talked of by irresponsibles.

But the words, “Get hold of the reins,” had a sound of craft and plotting. And there was something in Carrington’s manner and appearance that suggested guile and smooth cunning. Seething with interest, Taylor closed his eyes and leaned his head back upon the cushion behind him, simulating sleep.

He felt Carrington turn; he could feel the man’s eyes on him, and he knew that Carrington was speculating over him.

He heard the other man whisper, though he could not catch the words. However, he heard Carrington’s answer:

“Don’t be uneasy–I’m not ‘spilling’ anything. He wouldn’t know the difference if I did. A homesteader hitting town for the first time in a year, probably. Did you notice him? Lord, what an outfit!”

He laughed discordantly, resuming in a whisper which carried to Taylor:

“As I was saying, we’ll make things hum. The good folks in Dawes don’t know it, but we’ve been framing them for quite a spell–been feeding them Danforth. You don’t know Danforth, eh? He’s quite a hit with these rubes. Knows how to smear the soft stuff over them. He’s what we call a ‘mixer’ back in Chicago. Been in Dawes for about a year, working in the dark. Been going strong during the past few months. Running for mayor now–election is today. It’ll be over by the time we get there. He’ll win, of course; he wired me it was a cinch. Cost a lot, though, but it’s worth it. We’ll own Dawes before we get through!”

It was with an effort that Taylor kept his eyes closed. He heard nothing further, for the man’s voice had dropped lower and Taylor could not hear it above the roar of the train.

Still, he had heard enough to convince him that Carrington had designs on the future welfare of Dawes, and his muscles swelled until the tight-fitting coat was in dire danger of bursting.

Danforth he knew slightly. He had always disliked and distrusted the man. He remembered Danforth’s public début to the people of Dawes. It had been on the occasion of Dawes’s first anniversary and some public-spirited citizens had decided upon a celebration. They had selected Danforth as the speaker of the day because of his eloquence–for Danforth had seized every opportunity to publicly air his vigorous voice, and Taylor had been compelled to acknowledge that Danforth was a forceful and able speaker.

Thereafter, Danforth’s voice often found the public ear. He was a lawyer, and the sign he had erected over the front of the frame building adjoining the courthouse was as magnificent as Danforth was eloquent.

But though Taylor had distrusted Danforth, he had found no evidence–until now–that the lawyer intended to betray his fellow-citizens. Before leaving Dawes the week before he had heard some talk, linking Danforth’s name with politics, but he had discredited the talk. His own selection had been Neil Norton, and he had asked his friends to consider Norton.

Taylor listened intently, with the hope of hearing more of the conversation being carried on between the two men in front of him. But he heard no more on the subject broached by Carrington. Later, however, his eyes still closed, still pretending to be asleep, he saw through veiled eyelids the girl rise from her seat and come toward the two men in front of him.

For the first time he got a clear, full view of her face and a deep, disturbing emotion thrilled him. For now, looking fairly at her, he was more than ever convinced that he had seen her before, or that her resemblance to someone he had known was more startling than he had thought.

Then he heard Carrington speak to her.

“Getting tired, Miss Harlan?” said Carrington. “Well, it will soon be ended, now. One more night on the train–and then Dawes.”

The older man laughed, and touched the girl’s arm playfully. “You don’t mind it, do you, Marion?”

The older man said more, but Taylor did not hear him. For at his mention of the girl’s given name, so soon after Carrington’s pronouncement of “Harlan,” Taylor’s eyes popped open, and he sat erect, staring straight at the girl.

Whether her gaze had been drawn by his, or whether her woman’s curiosity had moved her to look at him, Taylor never knew. But she met his wide gaze fairly, and returned his stare with one equally wide. Only, he was certain, there was a glint of mocking accusation in her eyes–to remind him, he supposed, that she had caught him eavesdropping.

And then she smiled, looking at Carrington.

“One is recompensed for the inconveniences of travel by the interesting characters one chances to meet.”

And she found opportunity, with Carrington looking full at her, to throw a swift, significant glance at Taylor.

Taylor flushed scarlet. Not, however, because of any embarrassment he felt over her words, but because at that instant was borne overwhelmingly upon him the knowledge that the girl, and the man, Carrington, who accompanied her–even the older man–were persons with whom Fate had insisted that he play–or fight. They were to choose. And that they had chosen to fight was apparent by the girl’s glance, and by Carrington’s words, “We’ll own Dawes before we get through.”

Taylor got up and went to the smoking-room, where he sat for a long time, staring out of the window, his eyes on the vast sea of sagebrush that stretched before him, his mental vision fixed on an earlier day and upon a tragedy that was linked with the three persons in the coach–who seemed desirous of antagonizing him.

CHAPTER II. SLICK DUDS

After a time Taylor’s lips wreathed into a smile. He searched in his pockets–he had transferred all his effects from the clothing in the suitcase to his present uncomfortable raiment–and produced a long, faded envelope in danger of imminent disintegration.

The smile faded from his lips as he drew out the contents of the envelope, and a certain grim pity filled his eyes. He read:

Squint:

That rock falling on me has fixed me. There is no use in me trying to fool myself. I’m going out. There’s things a man can’t say, even to a friend like you. So I’m writing this. You won’t read it until after I’m gone, and then you can’t tell me what you think of me for shoving this responsibility on you. But you’ll accept, I know; you’ll do it for me, won’t you?

I’ve had a lot of trouble–family trouble. It wouldn’t interest you. But it made me come West. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. I don’t know; but it seemed best.

You’ve been a mighty persevering friend, and I know you from the ground up. You never inquired about my past, but I know you’ve wondered. Once I mentioned my daughter, and I saw you look sharp at me. Yes, there is a daughter. Her name is Marion. There was a wife and her brother, Elam Parsons. But only Marion counts. The others were too selfish and sneaking.

You won’t be interested in that. But I want Marion taken care of. She was fifteen when I saw her last. She looked just like me; thank God for that! She won’t have any of the characteristics of the others!

Squint, I want you to take care of her. You’ll find her in Westwood, Illinois. You and me have talked of selling the mine. Sell it; take my share and for it give Marion a half-interest in your ranch, the Arrow. If there is any left, put it in land in Dawes–that town is going to boom. Guard it for her, and marry her, Squint; she’ll make you a good wife. Tell her I want her to marry you; she’ll do it, for she always liked her “dad.”

There was more, but Taylor read no further. He stuffed the envelope into a pocket and sat looking out of the window, regarding morosely the featureless landscape. After a time he grinned saturninely:

“Looks to me like a long chance, Larry,” he mused. “Considered as a marrying proposition she don’t seem to be enthusiastic over me. Now what in thunder is she doing out here, and why is that man Carrington with her–and where did she pick him up?”

There came no answer to these questions.

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