The Range Boss - Charles Alden Seltzer - ebook

The Range Boss ebook

Charles Alden Seltzer



In this 1916 western by American writer Charles Alden Seltzer, Ruth Harkness inherits a western ranch from her uncle. Rex Randerson plays the central role as her range boss and rescuer. Randerson meets her on her arrival, rescues her from a mired buckboard and is devotedly in love with her from that moment. Ruth however is engaged to Willard Masten who comes west as a member of her party. Masten who is a double dyed villain finds companions of his own caliber in Chavis and Pickett two typical „bad men” and there is much gun play before the story comes to an end with Ruth and her range boss happy in their mutual love and understanding. Seltzer’s Western novels are jam-packed with action, adventure, and romance.

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Getting up the shoulder of the mesa was no easy job, but judging from the actions and appearance of wiry pony and rider it was a job that would be accomplished. For part of the distance, it is true, the man thought it best to dismount, drive the pony ahead of him, and follow on foot. At length, however, they reached the top of the mesa, and after a breathing spell the man mounted and rode across the table-land.

A short lope brought pony and rider to a point where the mesa sloped down again to meet a plain that stretched for miles, to merge into some foothills. A faint trail came from somewhere through the foothills, wound over the plain, and followed a slope that descended to a river below the rider, crossed the stream, led over a level, up another slope, to another plain, and so away into the distance.

Up and down the river the water ran deeply in a canyon, the painted buttes that flanked it lending an appearance of constriction to its course, but at the crossing it broadened formidably and swirled splashingly around numerous rocks that littered its course.

The man’s gaze rested briefly on the river and the crossing.

“She’s travelin’ some, this mornin’,” he said aloud, mentally referring to the water. “I reckon that mud over there must be hub deep on a buckboard,” he added, looking at the level on the opposite side of the crossing. “I’d say, if anybody was to ask me, that last night’s rain has made Calamity some risky this mornin’–for a buckboard.” He drew out a silver timepiece and consulted it with grave deliberation. “It’s eleven. They’d be due about now–if the Eight O’clock was on time–which she’s never been knowed to be.” He returned the timepiece to the pocket and rode along the edge of the mesa away from the river, his gaze concentrated at the point where the trail on the plains below him vanished into the distant foothills. A little later he again halted the pony, swung crossways in the saddle and rolled a cigarette, and while smoking and watching drew out two pistols, took out the cylinders, replaced them, and wiped and polished the metal until the guns glittered brightly in the swimming sunlight. He considered them long before restoring them to their places, doubt in his gaze. “I reckon she’s been raised a lot different,” was his mental conclusion.

“But anyway, I reckon there ain’t nothin’ in Poughkeepsie’s name to give anyone comin’ from there any right to put on airs.” He tossed the butt of the cigarette away and frowned, continuing his soliloquy: “The Flyin’ W ain’t no place for a lady. Jim Pickett an’ Tom Chavis ain’t fit for no lady to look at–let alone talkin’ to them. There’s others, too. Now, if she was comin’ to the Diamond H–why, shucks! Mebbe she wouldn’t think I’m any better than Pickett an’ Chavis! If she looks anything like her picture, though, she’s got sense. An’–”

He saw the pony flick its ears erect, and he followed its gaze to see on the plain’s trail, far over near where it melted into the foothills, a moving speck crawling toward him.

He swung back into the saddle and smilingly patted the pony’s neck.

“You was expectin’ them too, wasn’t you, Patches? I reckon you’re a right knowin’ horse!”

He wheeled the pony and urged it slowly back over the mesa, riding along near the edge until he reached a point behind a heavy post-oak thicket, where he pulled the pony to a halt. From here he would not be observed from the trail on the plains, and he again twisted in the saddle, sagging against the high pommel and drawing the wide brim of his hat well over his eyes, shading them as he peered intently at the moving speck.

He watched for half an hour, while the speck grew larger in his vision, finally assuming definite shape. He recognized the buckboard and the blacks that were pulling it; they had been inseparable during the past two years–for Bill Harkness, the Flying W owner, would drive no others after his last sickness had seized him, the sickness which had finally finished him some months before. The blacks were coming rapidly, shortening the distance with the tireless lope that the plains’ animal uses so effectively, and as they neared the point on the mesa where the rider had stationed himself, the latter parted the branches of the thicket and peered between them, his eyes agleam, the color deepening in his face.

“There’s four of them in the buckboard,” he said aloud, astonished, as the vehicle came nearer; “an’ Wes Vickers ain’t with them! Now, what do you think of that! Wes told me there’d be only the girl an’ her aunt an’ uncle. It’s a man, too, an’ he’s doin’ the drivin’! I reckon Wes got drunk an’ they left him behind.” He reflected a moment, watching with narrowed eyes, his brows in a frown. “That guy doin’ the drivin’ is a stranger, Patches,” he said. “Why, it’s mighty plain. Four in the buckboard, with them bags an’ trunks an’ things, makes a full house, an’ there wasn’t no room for Wes!” He grinned.

The buckboard swung close to the foot of the slope below him, and he eagerly scrutinized the occupants, his gaze lingering long on the girl on the seat beside the driver. She had looked for one flashing instant toward him, her attention drawn, no doubt, by the fringing green of the mesa, and he had caught a good glimpse of her face. It was just like the picture that Wes Vickers had surreptitiously brought to him one day some weeks before, after Harkness’ death, when, in talking with Wes about the niece who was now the sole owner of the Flying W, and who was coming soon to manage her property, he had evinced curiosity. He had kept the picture, in spite of Vickers’ remonstrances, and had studied it many times. He studied it now, after the passage of the buckboard, and was supremely pleased, for the likeness did not flatter her.

Displeasure came into his eyes, though, when he thought of the driver. He was strangely disturbed over the thought that the driver had accompanied her from the East. He knew the driver was an Easterner, for no Westerner would ever rig himself out in such an absurd fashion–the cream-colored Stetson with the high pointed crown, extra wide brim with nickel spangles around the band, a white shirt with a broad turndown collar and a flowing colored tie–blue; a cartridge belt that fitted snugly around his waist, yellow with newness, so that the man on the mesa almost imagined he could hear it creak when its owner moved; corduroy riding-breeches, tight at the knees, and glistening boots with stiff tops. And–here the observer’s eyes gleamed with derision–as the buckboard passed, he had caught a glimpse of a nickeled spur, with long rowels, on one of the ridiculous boots.

He chuckled, his face wreathing in smiles as he urged the pony along the edge of the mesa, following the buckboard. He drew up presently at a point just above the buckboard, keeping discreetly behind some brush that he might not be seen, and gravely considered the vehicle and its occupants. The buckboard had stopped at the edge of the water, and the blacks were drinking. The girl was talking; the watcher heard her voice distinctly.

“What a rough, grim country!” she said. “It is beautiful, though.”

“She’s a knowin’ girl,” mused the rider, strangely pleased that she should like the world he lived in. For it was his world; he had been born here.

“Don’t you think so, Willard?” added the girl.

The rider strained his ears for the answer. It came, grumblingly:

“I suppose it’s well enough–for the clodhoppers that live here.”

The girl laughed tolerantly; the rider on the mesa smiled. “I reckon I ain’t goin’ to like Willard a heap, Patches,” he said to the pony; “he’s runnin’ down our country.” He considered the girl and the driver gravely, and again spoke to the pony. “Do you reckon he’s her brother, Patches? I expect it ain’t possible–they’re so different.”

“Do you think it is quite safe?” The girl’s voice reached him again; she was looking at the water of the crossing.

“Vickers said it was,” the driver replied. “He ought to know.” His tone was irritable.

“He’s her brother, I reckon,” reflected the man on the mesa; “no lover would talk that way to his girl.” There was relief in his voice, for he had been hoping that the man was a brother.

“Vickers said to swing sharply to the left after passing the middle,” declared the driver sonorously, “but I don’t see any wagon tracks–that miserable rain last night must have obliterated them.”

“I reckon the rain has obliterated them,” grinned the rider, laboring with the word, “if that means wipin’ them out. Leastways, they ain’t there any more.”

“I feel quite sure that Mr. Vickers said to turn to the right after passing the middle, Willard,” came the girl’s voice.

“I certainly ought to be able to remember that, Ruth!” said the driver, gruffly. “I heard him distinctly!”

“Well,” returned the girl with a nervous little laugh, “perhaps I was mistaken, after all.” She placed a hand lightly on the driver’s arm. And the words she spoke then were not audible to the rider, so softly were they uttered. And the driver laughed with satisfaction. “You’ve said it!” he declared. “I’m certainly able to pilot this ship to safety!” He pulled on the reins and spoke sharply to the blacks. They responded with a jerk that threw the occupants of the buckboard against the backs of the seats.

The rider’s eyes gleamed. “Hush!” he said, addressing no one in particular. “Calamity’s goin’ to claim another victim!” He raised one hand to his lips, making a funnel of it. He was about to shout at the driver, but thought better of the idea and let the hand drop. “Shucks,” he said, “I reckon there ain’t any real danger. But I expect the boss gasser of the outfit will be gettin’ his’n pretty quick now.” He leaned forward and watched the buckboard, his lean under jaw thrown forward, a grim smile on his lips. He noted with satisfaction that the elderly couple in the rear seat, and the girl in the front one, were holding on tightly, and that the driver, busy with the reins, was swaying from one side to the other as the wagon bumped over the impeding stones of the river bed.

The blacks reached the middle of the stream safely and were crowding of their own accord to the right, when the driver threw his weight on the left rein and swung them sharply in that direction. For a few feet they traveled evenly enough but when they were still some distance from the bank, the horse on the left sank quickly to his shoulders, lunged, stood on his hind legs and pawed the air impotently, and then settled back, snorting and trembling.

Too late the driver saw his error. As the left horse sank he threw his weight on the right rein as though to remedy the accident. This movement threw him off his balance, and he slipped off the seat, clawing and scrambling; at the instant the front of the buckboard dipped and sank, disappearing with a splash into the muddy water. It had gone down awry, the girl’s side high out of the water, the girl herself clinging to the edge of the seat, out of the water’s reach, the elderly couple in the rear also safe and dry, but plainly frightened.

The girl did not scream; the rider on the mesa noted this with satisfaction. She was talking, though, to the driver, who at first had disappeared, only to reappear an instant later, blowing and cursing, his head and shoulders out of the water, his ridiculous hat floating serenely down stream, the reins still in his hands.

“I reckon he’s discovered that Vickers told him to swing to the right,” grinned the rider from his elevation. He watched the driver until he gained the bank and stood there, dripping, gesticulating, impotent rage consuming him. The buckboard could not be moved without endangering the comfort of the remaining occupants, and without assistance they must inevitably stay where they were. And so the rider on the mesa wheeled his pony and sent it toward the edge of the mesa where a gentle slope swept downward to the plains.

“I reckon I’ve sure got to rescue her,” he said, grinning with some embarrassment, “though I’m mighty sorry that Willard had to get his new clothes wet.”

He spoke coaxingly to the pony; it stepped gingerly over the edge of the mesa and began the descent, sending stones and sand helter-skelter before it, the rider sitting tall and loose in the saddle, the reins hanging, he trusting entirely to the pony’s wisdom.



Halfway down the slope, the rider turned and saw that Willard and the occupants of the buckboard were watching him. The color in his cheeks grew deeper and his embarrassment increased, for he noted that the girl had faced squarely around toward him, had forgotten her precarious position; her hands were clasped as though she were praying for his safety. The aunt and uncle, too, were twisted in their seat, leaning toward him in rigid attitudes, and Willard, safe on his bank, was standing with clenched hands.

“Do you reckon we’re goin’ to break our necks, you piebald outlaw,” the rider said to the pony. “Well,” as the animal whinnied gently at the sound of his voice, “there’s some people that do, an’ if you’ve got any respect for them you’ll be mighty careful.”

The descent was accomplished in a brief time, and then Patches and his rider went forward toward the mired buckboard and its occupants, the pony unconcernedly, its rider, having conquered his embarrassment, serene, steady of eye, inwardly amused.

When he reached the water’s edge he halted Patches. Sitting motionless in the saddle, he quietly contemplated the occupants of the buckboard. He had come to help them, but he was not going to proffer his services until he was sure they would be welcomed. He had heard stories of the snobbishness and independence of some Easterners.

And so he sat there long, for the occupants of the buckboard, knowing nothing of his intentions, were in their turn awaiting some word from him.

No word came. He looked down, interestedly watching Patches drink. Then, when the pony had finished, he looked up, straight at the girl. She was sitting very erect–as erect as she could in the circumstances, trying hard to repress her anger over his inaction. She could see that he was deliberately delaying. And she met his gaze coldly.

He looked from the girl to Willard. The Easterner was examining a small pistol that he had drawn from a yellow holster at his waist, so high on his waist that he had been compelled to bend his elbow in an acute angle to get it out. His hands were trembling, whether from the wetting he had received or from doubt as to the rider’s intentions, was a question that the rider did not bother with. He looked again at the girl. Doubt had come into her eyes; she was looking half fearfully at him, and he saw that she half suspected him of being a desperado, intent on doing harm. He grinned, moved to mirth.

She was reassured; that smile had done it. She returned it, a little ruefully. And she felt that, in view of the circumstances, she might dispense with formalities and get right down to business. For her seat was uncomfortable, and Aunt Martha and Uncle Jepson were anxious, to say nothing of Willard, who had placed his pistol behind him, determined, if the man turned out to be a highwayman, to defend his party to the last.

But still the rider did not move. There was no hurry; only Willard seemed to be really suffering, for the winter’s chill had not yet gone out of the air. But then, Willard had earned his ducking.

The girl cleared her throat. “We have had an accident,” she informed the rider, her voice a little husky.

At this word he swept his hat from his head and bowed to her. “Why, I reckon you have, ma’am,” he said. “Didn’t you have no driver?”

“Why, yes,” returned the girl hesitatingly, for she thought she detected sarcasm in his voice, and she had to look twice at him to make sure–and then she couldn’t have told. “The gentleman on the bank, there, is our driver.”

“The gentleman on the bank, eh?” drawled the rider. And now for the first time he seemed to become aware of Willard’s presence, for he looked narrowly at him. “Why, he’s all wet!” he exclaimed. “I expect he come pretty near drownin’, didn’t he, ma’am?” He looked again at the girl, astonishment in his eyes. “An’ so he drove you into that suck-hole, an’ he got throwed out! Wasn’t there no one to tell him that Calamity ain’t to be trusted?”

“Mr. Vickers told us to keep to the right after reaching the middle,” said the girl.

“I distinctly understood him to say the left, Ruth,” growled Willard.

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