Mary Jane's Diversion
by Charles Alden Seltzer
A Western Tale
Texas Rankin stood in the street in front of the
High Card Saloon, his lank body trembling with
surprise, indecision, and indignation; his face alight with
the fire of outraged dignity. Three long paces from him
stood Sheriff Webster, indifferently fondling an ivory-handled
The sheriff was nonchalantly deliberative in his actions,
betraying only a negative interest in Rankin's movements—for
Rankin's holster yawned with eloquent emptiness.
With his empty holster dragging on his desires,
it seemed to Rankin that to await the sheriff's pleasure
was his most logical course.
And so he waited.
The sheriff had come upon him, when, in an incautious
moment, he had emerged from the High Card Saloon, having
forgotten the very important fact that the sheriff was
looking for him. This forgetfulness had been the cause of
his undoing, for at the instant he had turned to go down the
street the sheriff had reached for his gun. The empty holster
was evidence of his success.
After that there was no use in getting excited. True, Texas
had flashed around in his tracks when he had felt the gun
leaving its holster, and had made a lightning movement
with his hand to prevent such a disgraceful occurrence.
But he might just as well have reached for a rainbow.
As he had faced about, rage-flushed and impotent, he saw
his gun swinging loosely in Webster's left hand, while in
Webster's right hand another big six-shooter had reached a
The distance between the two men approximated ten
feet; for Webster had wisely stepped back, knowing Rankin's
reluctance toward submission.
And now, over the ten feet of space, captive and captor
surveyed one another with that narrowing of the eyes which
denotes tension and warns of danger.
"I reckon I was too quick for you, Texas," said Webster,
with a gentleness that fell too softly to be genuine.
Rankin gazed dolefully at his empty holster. The skin
tensed over his teeth in a grinning sneer.
"I ain't sayin' that you took a mean advantage," he said,
raising his eyes and allowing them an expression of mild
innocence that contrasted strangely with his drawn lips,
"but you might have given me a chance to fight it out square.
I wouldn't have took your gun, Jim."
Knowing Texas less intimately, the sheriff might have
been misled by this crude sentiment; but the sheriff's fingers
only drew more closely around the ivory handle of his
.45. And there came a glint of humor into his eyes.
"I ain't sayin' you would, Texas. But as sheriff of
Socorro County I ain't takin' any chances. I wanted to
talk to you, an' I knew if I had your gun I'd feel easier."
"Which means that you didn't want me to have a
chance," complained Texas glumly. "Socorro's always
been meaner'n ——"
"'T ain't Socorro's fault," interrupted the sheriff with
a sudden coldness; "you've been cuttin' didoes in Socorro
for so long a time that you've disgraced yourself. You've
gambled an' shot yourself into disfavor with the élite.
You've been as ornery an' as compromisin' as it's possible
for any human maverick to get without havin' to requisition
the unwillin' mourners."
"Not that I'm sayin' you're naturally bad, Texas. It's
that you've got an overdose of what them modern brain
specialists call exaggerated ego; which us common critters
would call plain swell head. That there disease is listed
an' catalogued in the text books of the New York Medical
Institoot as bearin' a close relationship to the geni Loco;
which is a scientific way of sayin' that you've got buzzers
in your attic."
Texas smiled, showing his teeth in wan sarcasm.
"You wouldn't say that if I had my gun, Jim. It ain't
like you to pour out your blackguardisms on a man what
"I ain't blackguardin' you none," said Webster easily.
"It's the naked truth, an' you know it. Takin' your gun
was part of my official duty. Personally I could have talked
to you without trampling down any of the niceties of etiquette,
but officially I had to have your gun."
Rankin's face lengthened with a deep melancholy.
With this expression he intended to convey the impression
that he was suffering a martyrdom. But the sheriff's
acquaintance with Texas was not recent.
"An' now that you've got the gun," said Texas, after
an embarrassed silence, "what's the next thing on the
"Takin' your gun," said the sheriff heavily, "was a preliminary;
like they say in the sporting papers. The big
event is that you're goin' to say your adoos to Socorro without
bein' allowed to make any farewell announcement.
The reason is that you an' Socorro is incongruous—like a
side-saddle on a razor-back hog. Socorro won't stand for
you a minute longer. You're a Public Favorite which
has lost its popularity an' which has become heterogeneous
to the established order of things. In other words, you're
an outlaw; a soft-spoken, lazy, good-for-nothin' road-agent.
An' though Socorro ain't never had anything on you before,
it knows you had a hand in robbin' the express office last
night. An' it's——"
"You're a damn ——"
"——like playin' a king-full against three deuces that
you done the trick. You was seen goin' toward the station
about an hour before Budd Tucker found Ridgely, the
agent, stretched out on the floor of the office, a bullet
from a .45 clean through him. An' there's five thousand
dollars in gold gone, an' no trace of it. An' there's been
no strangers in town. An' here's your gun, showin' plain
that it's been shot off lately, for there's the powder smudge
on the cylinder an' the barrel. That's a pay streak of
circumstantial evidence or I ain't sheriff of Socorro!"
Rankin's eyes had flashed with an unusual brilliancy as
the sheriff had spoken of him being seen going toward the
station previous to the finding of the agent's body, but they
glazed over with unconcern during the rest of the recital.
And as the sheriff concluded, Rankin gazed scornfully at
him, sneering mildly:
"I couldn't add nothin' to what you've just said." He
idly kicked the gray dust that was mounded at his feet, standing
loose and inert, as though he cared little what might
be the outcome of this impromptu interview. And then,
suddenly, his blue eyes twinkled humorously as he raised
them to meet the sheriff's.
"Give you time you might tell me where I spent the
money," he said drily. "There's no tellin' where your
theorizin' might end."
The sheriff ignored this, but he eyed his prisoner
"There's been a rumor," he said coldly, "that you've
got cracked on my daughter, Mary Jane. But I ain't never
been able to properly confirm it. I meant to tell you some
time ago that while I ain't had no objection to livin' in the
same town with you, I'm some opposed to havin' you
for a son-in-law. But now, since the express robbery, it
won't be necessary for me to tell you not to nose around
my house, for you're goin' to ride straight out of Socorro
County, an' you ain't comin' back any more. If you
do, I reckon you'll discover that Socorro's present leniency
ain't elastic enough to be stretched to cover your home-comin'."
"I ain't sayin' nothin'," said Texas, glancing with pensive
eyes to a point far up the sun-baked street where his
gaze rested upon a pretentious house in a neatly-fenced
yard where there were green things that gave a restful
impression. "Circumstantial evidence is sure convincin'."
he sighed deeply. "I reckon you knowed all along that I
thought a heap of Mary Jane. That's the reason you picked
me out for the express job."
He scowled as his eyes took in the meagre details of
Socorro's one street. Because of long association these
details had become mental fixtures. Socorro had been his
home for ten years, and in ten years things grow into a man's
heart. And civic pride had been his one great virtue. If
in the summer the alkali dust of the street formed into miniature
hills of grayish white which sifted into surrounding
hollows under the whipping tread of the cow-pony's hoofs,
Texas likened it unto ruffled waters that seek a level. The
same condition in another town would have drawn a curse
from him. If in the winter the huge windrows of caked
mud stretched across the street in unlovely phalanx, Texas
was reminded of itinerant mountain ranges. The stranger
who would be so unwary as to take issue with him on this
point would regret—if he lived. The unpainted shanties,
the huddled, tottering dives, the tumble-down express
station—all, even the maudlin masquerade of the High
Card Saloon—were institutions inseparable from his
thoughts, inviolable and sacred in the measure of his love
And now! Something caught in his throat and gave
forth a choking sound.
"But I reckon it's just as well," he said resignedly. "I
sure ain't of much account." He hesitated and smiled
weakly at the sheriff. "I ain't croakin'," he said apologetically;
"there's the circumstantial evidence." He hesitated
again, evidently battling a ponderous question. "You
didn't happen to hear Mary Jane say anything about the
express job?" he questioned with an expression of dog-like
hopefulness. "Anything that would lead you to believe she
knowed about it?"
"I don't see what——"
"No, of course!" He shuffled his feet awkwardly. "An'
so she don't know anything. Didn't mention me at all?"
The hopefulness was gone from his eyes, and in its place
was the dull glaze of puzzled wonder. "Not that it makes
any difference," he added quickly, as he caught a sudden
sharp glance from the sheriff's eyes.
"An' so I'm to leave Socorro." He looked dully at
the sheriff. "Why, of course, there's the circumstantial
evidence." His eyes swept the shanties, the street, the
timber-dotted sides of the mountains that rose above the
town—familiar landmarks of his long sojourn; landmarks
that brought pleasant memories.
"I've lived here a long time," he said, with abrupt melancholy,
his voice grating with suppressed regret. "I won't
There ensued a silence which lasted long. It brought
a suspicious lump into the sheriff's throat.
"I wouldn't take it so hard, Texas," he said gently.
"Mebbe it'll be the best for you in the long run. If you
get away from here mebbe you make a man——"
"Quit your damn croakin'!" flashed back Texas. "I
ain't askin' for none of your mushy sentiment!" He
straightened up suddenly and smiled with set lips. "I
guess I've been a fool. If you'll hand over that six-shooter
I'll be goin'. I've got business in San Marcial."
"I'll walk up to the station platform an' lay the gun
there," said the sheriff coldly; for Texas was less dangerous
at a distance; "an' when you see me start away from
the platform you can start for the gun. I'm takin' your
word that you'll leave peaceable."
And so, with his gun again in its holster, Texas threw
himself astride his Pinto pony and loped down toward the
sloping banks of the Rio Grande del Norte.
A quarter of a mile from town he halted on the bare
knob of a low hill and took a lingering look at the pretentious
house amid the green surroundings.
Near the house was something he had not seen when
he had looked before—the flutter of a white dress against the
background of green. As he looked the white figure moved
rapidly through the garden and disappeared behind the house.
"She didn't say a word," said Texas chokingly.
Ten hours out of Socorro Texas Rankin rode morosely
into San Marcial. Into San Marcial the unbeautiful, with
its vista of unpainted shanties and lurid dives. For in
San Marcial foregathered the men of the mines and the
ranges; men of forgotten morals, but of brawn and muscle,
whose hearts beat not with a yearning for high ideals, but
with a lust for wealth and gain—white, Indian, Mexican,
half-breed; predatory spirits of many nations, opposed in
the struggle for existence.
For ten hours Texas had ridden the river trail, and for ten
hours his ears had been burdened with the dull beat of his
pony's hoofs on the matted mesquite grass, and the rattle
of his wooden stirrups against the chaparral growth. And
for ten hours his mind had been confused with a multitude
of perplexities and resentments.
But all mental confusions reach a culminating point when
the mind finally throws aside the useless chaff of thought
and considers only the questions that have to do with the
heart. Wherefore, Texas Rankin's mind dwelt on Mary Jane.
Subconsciously his mind harbored rebellion against her
father, who had judged him; against Socorro, which had
misunderstood him; against Fate, which had been unjust.
All these atoms of personal interest were elements of a primitive
emotion that finally evolved into one great concrete
determination that he would show Jim Webster, Socorro,
Mary Jane—the world, that he was not the creature they
had thought him. Tearing aside all mental superfluities,
there was revealed a new structure of thought:
"I am goin' to be a man again!"
And so Texas rode his tired pony in the gathering dusk;
down the wide street that was beginning to flicker with the
shafts of light from grimy windows; down to the hitching
rail in front of the Top Notch Saloon—where he dismounted
and stood stiffly beside his beast while he planned
Half an hour later Texas sat opposite a man at a card
table in the rear of the Top Notch Saloon.
The man conversed easily, but it was noticeable that he
watched Texas with cat-like vigilance, and that he poured
his whiskey with his left hand.
Ordinarily Texas would have noticed this departure from
the polite rules, but laboring under the excitement that
his new determination brought him he was careless. For
he had planned his regeneration, and his talk with the
man was the beginning.
"You lifted the express box at Socorro, Buck!" said Texas,
so earnestly that the table trembled.
Buck Reible, gambler, outlaw, murderer, pushed back
his broad-brimmed hat with his hand—always he used his
left—and gazed with level, menacing eyes at Texas. His
lips parted with a half-sneer.
"If a man does a job nowadays, there's always some
one wants in on it!" he declared, voicing his suspicion of
Rankin's motive in bringing up the subject. "Because
you was lucky in bein' close when the game come off is the
reason you want a share of the cash," he added satirically.
"Go easy, Buck," said Texas. "I ain't no angel, but I
never played your style. I ain't askin' for a share."
"Then what in——"
"It's a new deal," declared Texas heavily. "A square
deal. You took five thousand dollars out of Socorro, an'
you salivated the agent doin' it. Jim Webster thought it
was me, an' I was invited to a farewell performance in which
I done the starrin'. Some night-prowler saw me down
near the station just before you made your grand entrée,
"Serves you right for spoonin' with a female so close to
where gentlemen has business," said Buck. "I saw her
when you come toward me shootin'."
"An' what makes it more aggravatin'," continued Texas,
unmoved by the interruption; "is that the lady was Jim
Webster's daughter, an' we was thinkin' of gettin' married.
But we didn't want Jim to know just then, an' she told
me to keep mum, seein' that Jim was opposed. She said
we'd keep it secret until——"
"I admire the lady's choice," said Buck, sneering ironically.
"——until I braced up an' was a man again," went on
Texas, with bull-dog persistency.
"Then you wasn't thinkin' of gettin' married soon,"
"I reckon we was," returned Texas coldly; "that's why
I came here. I'm goin' to take that five thousand back
to Socorro with me!"
And now Buck used his right hand. But quick as he
was, he was late. Rankin's gun gaped at him across the
table the while his own weapon lagged tardily half-way in
"I'm goin' to be a man again," said Texas. There
was a positiveness in his voice that awoke thoughts of death
"You damn——" began Buck.
"I'll count ten," said Texas frigidly. "If the money
ain't on the table then I reckon you won't care what becomes
With a snarl of rage and hate Buck rose from his chair
and sprang clear, his gun flashing to a level with the movement,
its savage roar shattering the silence.
Texas did not wince as the heavy bullet struck him, but
his face went white. He had been a principal in more
than one shooting affray, and experience had taught him
the value of instantaneous action. And so, even with the
stinging pain in his left shoulder, his hand swept his gun
lightly upward, and before it had reached a level he had
begun to pull the trigger. But to his astonishment only
the metallic click, click of the hammer striking the steel
of the cylinder rewarded his efforts. Once, twice, thrice;
so rapidly that the metallic clicks blended.
And now he saw why he was to meet his death at the
muzzle of Buck's gun. Fearing him, Jim Webster had
removed the cartridges from his weapon before returning
it to him that morning. He had committed a fatal error
in not examining it after he had received it from Webster's
hand. The Law, in judging him, had removed his chance
But he smiled with bitter irony into Buck's eyes as the
latter, still snarling and relentless, deliberately shot again;
According to the ancient custom—which has many
champions—and to the conventions—which are not to
be violated with impunity—Texas should have recovered
from his wounds to return to Mary Jane and Socorro. No
narrative is complete without the entire vindication of the
brave and the triumph of the honorable. But to the chronicler
belongs only the simple task of true and conscientious
Therefore is the end written thus:
Came to Jim Webster's home in Socorro a week later a
babbler from San Marcial, who told a tale:
"There was a man by the name of Texas Rankin came
down to San Marcial last week an' went gunnin' for Buck
Reible. Quickest thing you ever saw. Buck peppered him
so fast you couldn't count; an' I'm told Texas wasn't no
slouch with a gun, either."
"Dead?" questioned Webster.
"As a door nail," returned the babbler.
"Socorro's bad man," said Webster, sententiously.
"Wasn't a bit of good in him. Gamblin', shootin', outlaw.
Best job Buck ever done."
He found Mary Jane in the kitchen, singing over the supper
"Texas Rankin is dead over at San Marcial," he said,
with the importance of one communicating delectable news.
Mary Jane continued with her dishes, looking at her
father over her shoulder with a mild unconcern.
"At San Marcial?" she said wonderingly. "I didn't
know he had left Socorro!"
"A week now," returned Webster with much complacence.
"Fired him from Socorro for doin' that express job. Socorro's
bad enough without Texas——"
His mouth opened with dumb astonishment as Mary
Jane whirled around on him with a laugh on her lips.
"Why, dad! Texas Rankin didn't do that job! It was
Buck Reible. Texas told me the night it happened. We
were walking down near the station and we heard some
shooting. I wasn't close enough to see plainly, but Texas
said he could recognize Buck by the flash of his gun. And
so Texas is dead!"
"I thought," said Webster feebly, "that you was pretty
sweet on Texas."
"Sweet!" said Mary Jane, blushing with maidenly modesty.
"Socorro is so dull. A young lady must have some diversion."
"Then you don't care——"
"Why, dad! You old sobersides. To think—why I
was only fooling with him. It was fun to see how serious——"
"In that case——" began Webster. And then he went out
and sat on the front stoop.
Far into the night he sat, and always he stared in the
direction of San Marcial.