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Rangeland Romances #5

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Rangeland Romances #5

  Her Phantom


  by Jane Hardey

  Radio Archives • 2012

  Copyright Page

  Originally published in the December 1943 issue of Rangeland Romances. Copyright © 1943 by Popular Publications, Inc. Copyright renewed © 1971 and assigned to Argosy Communications, Inc. “Rangeland Romances” and its distinctive logo and symbolism and all related elements are trademarks and are the property of Argosy Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 2012 RadioArchives.com. Reprinted and produced under license from Argosy Communications, Inc. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form.

  These pulp stories are a product of their time. The text is reprinted intact, unabridged, and may include ethnic and cultural stereotyping that was typical of the era.

  View all of our hundreds of exciting pulp eBooks at http://www.RadioArchives.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=128

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  Rangeland Romances

  Although romance novels can be traced back to the 1700s, there was a groundswell of the material beginning in the 1930s when magazines began to reach a wide audience of women who yearned to escape into a fantasy romantic setting. One of the most popular settings was the old west, where men were men and women were women. As many a swooning damsel could attest, "There's something about a cowboy."

  The western romance became one of the most popular types of magazines sold through the following three decades. Newsstands were filled to overflowing with titles like Western Love Romances, Romance Western, Western Romances, Western Romance Stories, Cowboy Romances, Ranch Romances, Far West Romances, Romantic Range, Romantic Western, Romance Round-Up, North West Romances, Rodeo Romances, Golden West Romances, Western Love Romances, Rangeland Love Stories, Real Western Romances, Fifteen Range Romances and yes, Rangeland Romances.

  By today's standards, these stories may be considered sweet and wholesome, but there’s still a thrill to them, the excitement of action and love waiting along the next trail. A beautiful woman thrown into the arms of a handsome cowboy. A desert sunset as two lovers' lips meet. The wide-open spaces where two lonely hearts find unexpected romance. Stories of untamed country and love make Western Romances extremely popular.

  This new series of Rangeland Romances brings back the best of those western romance stories. A short story — a quick read — and romance blooms among the tumbleweeds yet again.

  Her Phantom Heart-Throb

  By Jane Hardey

  Deep in her young heart, Liberty knew that only she was to blame — when Brit Farnum told her there’d be a slight change in their wedding plans... that he’d take another girl to the little rangeland church!

  STANDING on the Trinity River bridge with Brit Farnum’s arms around her, and Brit’s lips warm and sweet against hers, Liberty Bains thrilled anew at the miracle of their love. That he had chosen her, the shabby little granddaughter of old Jubal Bains who lived in the abandoned log cabin at the edge of town, was more wonderful, more unbelievable, than Cinderella’s coach.

  As she tipped her small head back to let her river-blue eyes take in his dear features, the summer sun, topping the eastern range, dusted her brown hair with live shining gold, and gilded the tips of her long curving lashes. A single moment of standing here with Brit was worth getting up at dawn a thousand times, to slip out while Grampa still snored and ride with Brit on his new freight-wagon as far as the bridge.

  His gray eyes, half merry, half serious, looked down into hers. “You must tell him today for sure, honey,” he insisted. “Tell Jubal the parson’s marryin’ us in church next Sunday, right after the sermon. Or else I’ll tell him —”

  “Oh, no, Brit!” Liberty exclaimed. “That wouldn’t do. You’d be sure to quarrel. He’s — threatened so many things.”

  Brit gave a short laugh. “Yeah, I know. Goin’ to make me throw a spotted shadow, goin’ to put me to bed with a spade. All that’s noise, honey, like a bee buzzin’ in an empty barrel. But I’m gettin’ plenty tired of bein’ put off on account of the old sidewinder that wants to keep you waitin’ on him all your life.”

  He framed the slim, sweet face in his hands and whispered in a voice as soft as that of the river flowing past primrose-lined banks, “For I love you so much, darlin’, and it goes against a man’s grain to wait forever. I’ve got the freightin’ contract now. I want to have my own home. You’ve promised a hundred times that you’d break it to Jubal — but you never have. Now I’m tellin’ you, don’t put me off any more — sweetheart.”

  Liberty threw herself into his arms with a little sob. “I will, Brit. I’ll tell him today,” she promised, and pushed away a touch of fear as she remembered something. “I know. I’ll get the Widow Clanin to help me. She knows how to handle Grampa better than I do.”

  “That’s what, darlin’,” Brit exclaimed joyously. “And stick to it! Let him have all the catfits he wants. If he gets mad enough to pack up and pull out, like he threatens, it’ll be a blessing to the whole community. You meet me here when I come in from the county seat about six and tell me all about it.”

  But after Brit had kissed her again, after his matching bays had taken him into the western hills, Liberty felt strangely alone and desolate. All Brit had said about her grandfather was true. He avoided work, doing only enough odd jobs to keep them in food. He drank too much on scattered occasions, and hung around Dade’s Livery Stables when everyone knew that old man Dade and his two sons, Clem and Clell, were no good. And when they had fought Brit for the freighting contract Jubal had sided with them.

  Why did he hate Brit? She pondered the matter as she walked home, and had to smile as she remembered Jubal’s vain attempts to scare Brit away. Liberty hadn’t minded when he had chased other admiring young men away from his “little gal, Libby”. Brit had been different. His first glance had set her pulses racing like the Trinity in Spring freshet. And while dislike flourished like a well-fed brush-fire between the men, love bloomed for the young pair.

  But — her heart held a tender affection for the old man. He was her own blood kin, all she had, and — somehow — she must keep him from going away when she married Brit. She couldn’t be happy if she didn’t know Grampa was being looked after.

  She entered the big room, the cabin’s only room except a cubbyhole annex, which gave Jubal the privacy of a bedroom, to find him sitting in his rickety old rocker, now padded for his comfort with two of the Widow Clanin’s goose-feather pillows. His blue eyes fastened upon Liberty and he said, “Well, Libby, gal, I’m right ready for a bite of breakfast. Fry me some good thick slices of that fresh side meat the Widder brought over, and a couple of taters with a little onion amongst ’em. And make some spotted gravy.”

  LIBERTY was thoughtful as she brought the meat and took an iron skillet from a nail. Here was fresh proof of the Widow’s influence on Grampa. Yesterday she had made it plain that she did not hold with a man staying abed when there were needful chores to be done. Now, here was Jubal, up early, his vigorous thatch of iron-gray hair thoroughly combed, his weathered face scrubbed to a shine. The cookstove on its four brick legs was alive with fire and the teakettle sent up a spout of white steam. A managing female he had called her when she had moved into the neighborhood. When her managing added greatly to his comforts he hushed.

  As Liberty sliced the meat she said tactfully, “We’re taking a lot of things from the Widow without being able to pay her ba
ck. If she ever asks to do anything — anything, Grampa — we ought to do it. Don’t you think so?”

  “Pshaw. What’s a good turn between neighbors?” Jubal made retort. “Her boy’s got a big ranch. Him and his wife’ll see his ma has plenty of everything. So she’ll not want to come and live there.”

  Libby spun around. “Why Grampa Jubal Bains! You talk like they wouldn’t want her. I’ll bet they’d do anything to have their own mother live with them.”

  “Ain’t no house big enough for more’n two grownups,” Jubal stated flatly. “You bet the Widder knows that too. She don’t live within hollerin’ distance of her folks.”

  “But someday — maybe — I’ll be wanting to get married, Grampa,” Liberty protested. “I’d always want you with me.”

  Jubal’s face darkened. “It ain’t a fitten’ idee for a sixteen-year-old gal —”

  “I’m past seventeen. Nearly eighteen,” Liberty corrected.

  “Remember this, gal,” Jubal said sternly. “Your old grandad will be pushin’ on whenever you take up with some young scattermouth with a head full of beans instead of brains —”

  Liberty broke out hotly, “But he’s not like that! He’s — he’s —” Seeing the fire in the old eyes she stopped, realizing that a quarrel was the last thing she wanted. A wave of doubt swept over her. She didn’t believe even the Widow could move Grampa when he set his head like that. She wanted to flare out at him, to tell him how unreasonable he was, that she was going to marry Brit and he could do what he liked about it. But some innate gentle patience, a dread of hurting the old man, made her hold her tongue. There must be a way.

  A picture of Brit, standing tall and purposeful, on the Trinity bridge, came to her clearly. This morning she had seen only his love, his desire for her. Now behind his words she read a warning.

  Tears stung her eyes and spattered into the hot frying grease. If she didn’t marry Brit Farnum Sunday she might never marry him. And life without Brit — wouldn’t be life at all. If only she had the spunk to turn on Grampa! But if she did, and he packed a pitiful little bundle and started out across the hills — she couldn’t be happy, even with Brit.

  Jubal ate with gusto, filled the water bucket and the wood box and made off for town. He was hardly out of sight when the Widow Clanin came across lots to the back door.

  “Here’s a fresh pie, Liberty,” she offered, her pretty face as pink and white as any girls. Modestly the Widow gave credit for her good complexion to her Alabaster Skin Glow, a bleach which she made herself and applied regularly every night.

  “Huckleberry pie!” Liberty exclaimed. “It’s Grampa’s favorite. He’ll be so pleased. Do sit down, Mrs. Clanin.”

  Soon she was telling her troubles to her friend. The Widow listened attentively, then smiled. “Now dry your eyes, honey,” she comforted gently. “Though I guess a woman’s love and tears sort of go together. You’re to meet your Brit this evening and tell him everything is going to be all right.”

  Liberty’s puzzled eyes were full upon her. “But how can I tell him that? Nothing has changed. Grampa hasn’t —”

  “I think,” the Widow broke in, complacently, “that I can manage Jubal Bains. Tonight I’ll come over for a game of checkers and let him win. While he’s in extra good humor we’ll break the news. I’ll put it as a special, personal favor. He might not be so surprised. I’d never call Jubal a dumb man by any means.”

  She took the girl’s small shaking hands in hers fondly. “This is a promise, dear. You’re going to stand there in the meeting house Sunday and wed Brit Farnum, like you want.”

  Her confidence flowed into Liberty. She believed the Widow. A picture flashed before her. Brit and her — repeating their solemn vows. It was more beautiful than thoughts of heaven itself. But swiftly, like a falling sword, came another blasting realization. It was nothing new. She had always known of this other problem, greater even than Grampa. She had pushed it away. Now it had to be faced — she didn’t know how.

  “There’s no use,” she whispered dismally. “Even if Grampa wanted me to marry I couldn’t. I — I’ve only old, faded dresses. I couldn’t shame Brit — there in church, before everyone.”

  The Widow leaned forward eagerly. “Let me give you a dress, child. It would make me so happy. I’ve never had a girl — and I always wanted one, to get pretty things for. Please, Liberty.”

  In unconscious pride the young head went up. “No. I — I thank you, Mrs. Clanin. Oh, you’re so good to me! But a wedding dress should come from a girl’s own family. I’ve been fooling myself, hoping Grampa might — If — if there was was some way I could earn, the money for a dress myself —”

  Suddenly a breathtaking idea dawned. Her bright eyes were upon the Widow’s smooth, fair cheeks. “Mrs. Clanin! Mrs. Clanin! You offered me the formula for your Alabaster Glow! You said it could sell for a dollar a bottle. Do you think — would you —?”

  “Why, it’s the very answer, Liberty Bains,” she cried. “We’ll get a batch going this very morning. I’ll bring the ingredients from my house. You can pay me for them afterwards,” she said to the girl’s protests. “I know a lot of women that’ll jump at a chance to get it.”

  THE day fell into a busy whirl of happy plans and preparations that left no time for misgivings. Carefully they blended finely scraped Windsor soap, oil of bergamont and rosemary, the bleach and smarting astringent for the Alabaster Glow. Boiled to the proper second, it was placed in a gallon crock to set. Later, if it proved to be all right, it would be reheated and placed in small jars.

  A careful list of materials and trimmings, of buckram and lace, was made out to be sent to the county seat the next morning.

  “Brit Farnum won’t know that the package he brings out tomorrow night will be the wedding dress for his own bride,” the Widow laughed. “We’ll have to work like beavers, but we’ll get it done.”

  Liberty arrived early at the bridge that evening. She wanted to stand there and watch the clear, flowing waters of the Trinity and dream a while. This place was a symbol to her, like a rainbow promise of happiness ahead. Her heart was free of worry. Every thing had been done — except telling Jubal tonight — and her faith in the Widow left no doubt as to that outcome.

  When she heard the bays, and saw them start the downgrade run for the bridge, she climbed quickly to the high rock that was her stepping stone, and felt that a chariot with milky-white steeds was coming to sweep her away into the clouds.

  But it was the bays that thundered across the bridge, making the boards drum under their dancing feet, and it was Brit’s steady hand that helped her, as her small foot touched the wheel. Then she was on the seat beside him, his arms were crushing her and his lips were hard and sweet against her own.

  “Darlin’!” Brit whispered huskily. “Everything’s all right. I can read it in your face. You look so — so happy.”

  “Happy! Oh, Brit, I’m the happiest girl alive!”

  Brit sighed deeply. “I’m glad you’ve told him,” he said soberly. “I’m glad to have it out in the open. You know, honey, all day I’ve reproached myself that I didn’t go to Jubal long ago. Maybe you’re right and it’s turned out best this way.” He gave a soft throaty chuckle. “Sometimes I’ve thought he might be bluffin’ us. What did the old badger say, anyway?”

  Liberty gave a strangled little gasp. “Oh! Brit, I did try. But he — he wouldn’t even listen —”

  His arm was suddenly withdrawn. “Liberty,” his hard, brittle voice demanded. “Have you broken your promise again? You said —”

  “I know, dear,” she insisted eagerly. Then she murmured, “I am going to tell him — tonight!”

  The long whip exploded over the bay’s ears. The wagon lurched forward. “So we’re right back where we’ve been all summer,” he mocked. “And I — was fool enough to believe you this time. Well, I suppose I ought to say much obliged for savin’ me from marryin’ a girl that’s got no more spunk than a ragweed!”

  Liberty t
ouched his arm with cold trembling fingers. “But, Brit, please — I’m sure this time —”

  He cut in: “You’ll be sayin’ that ten years from now! As long as that old skunk lives we’ll never be married. And I’ll bet he lives to be a hundred!”

  All the light faded from her blue eyes. She had been trained to patience all her young life. But Jubal at his worst had never been harsh with her. Never had she heard such words of hatred as Brit uttered, and directed against the queer old man she loved.

  Her small head lifted high. “I hope my Grampa lives to be two hundred,” she retorted. “And that I’ll always be near to care for him, like he’s done for me so long.”

  Brit’s laugh was sarcastic. “Fine carin’ for you he’s done,” he scoffed cruelly. “I’ll bet you never had a new dress in your life.”

  The truth of his words made them sting like a salted wound. But she would rather her tongue would wither than admit it. Now she couldn’t tell him about selling Alabaster Glow. And somewhere in the depths of her leaden heart she knew she wasn’t going to need a wedding dress. The Brit she had loved was gone — or had never been. She didn’t want to marry this cold, sneering stranger.

  His metallic tones went on: “I said I was gettin’ married Sunday and I am. I’ve already invited folks out to the weddin’. So, since you prefer your darlin’ grandfather to me, I’ll bring me out a bride from the county seat tomorrow night. I’ll put her up at the hotel so she’ll have time to get acquainted with some of the nicest women —”

  He didn’t look at her, or the misery in her eyes must have stopped him. So — he went on, deliberately making plans, and every word was a nail in Libby’s heart. She hoped she might lie in her shroud before he married that other girl. For she knew he was grimly, deadly, serious. He must have given thought to these details before. Perhaps he had been seeing the girl he spoke of so surely — “Stop the wagon, please,” She ordered when she could speak.

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