Happy Jack, who had been standing herd disconsolately with two aliens, stared open-mouthed at Pink's approach and rode hastily to camp, fair bursting with questions and comments.
The herd, twelve hundred range-fattened steers, grazed quietly on a side hill half a mile or more from camp. Pink ran a quick, appraising eye over the bunch estimating correctly the number, and noting their splendid condition.
"Never saw so many cattle in one bunch before, did yuh?" queried Cal, misinterpreting the glance.
Pink shook his head vaguely. "Does one man own all those cows?" he wanted to know, with just the proper amount of incredulous wonder.
"Yeah—and then some. This ain't any herd at all; just a few that we're shipping to get 'em out uh the way uh the real herds."
"About how many do you think there are here?" asked Pink.
Cal turned his back upon his conscience and winked at Weary. "Oh, there's only nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty-one," he lied boldly. "Last bunch we gathered was fifty-one thousand six hundred and twenty-nine and a half. Er—the half," he explained hastily in answer to Pink's look of unbelief, "was a calf that we let in by mistake. I caught it, after we counted, and took it back to its mother."
"I should think," Pink ventured hesitatingly, "it would be hard to find its mother. I don't see how you could tell."
"Well," said Cal gravely, sliding sidewise in the saddle, "it's this way. A calf is always just like its mother, hair for hair. This calf had white hind feet, one white ear, and the deuce uh diamonds on its left side. All I had to do was ride the range till I found the cow that matched."
"Oh!" Pink looked thoughtful and convinced.
Weary, smiling to himself, rode off to take his station at the other side of the herd. Even the Happy Family must place duty a pace before pleasure, and Cal, much as he would liked to have continued the conversation, resisted temptation and started down along the nearest edge of the bunch. Pink showed inclination to follow.
"You stay where you're at, sonny," Cal told him, over his shoulder.
"What must I do?" Pink straightened his tie and set his panama more firmly on his yellow curls, for a brisk wind was blowing.
Cal's voice came back to him faintly: "Just dub around here and don't do a darn thing; and don't bother the cattle."
"Good advice, that," Pink commented amusedly. "Hits day-herding off to a T." He prepared for a lazy afternoon, and enjoyed every minute.
On his way back to camp at suppertime, Pink rode close to Cal and looked as if he had something on his mind. Cal and Weary exchanged glances.
"I'd like to ask," Pink began timidly, "how you fed that calf—before you found his mother. Didn't he get pretty hungry?"
"Why, I carried a bottle uh milk along," Cal lied fluently. "When the bottle went empty I'd catch a cow and milk it."
"Would it stand without being tied?"
"Sure. All range cows'll gentle right down, if yuh know the right way to approach 'em, and the words to say. That's a secret that we don't tell anybody that hasn't been a cowboy for a year, and rode fourteen broncos straight up. Sorry I can't tell yuh."
Pink went diplomatically back to the calf. "Did you carry it in your arms, or—"
"The calf? Sure. How else would I carry it?" Cal's big, baby-blue eyes matched Pink's for innocence. "I carried that bossy in my arms for three days," he declared solemnly, "before I found a cow with white hind feet, one white ear, and the deuce uh—er—clubs——"
"Diamonds" corrected Pink, drinking in each word greedily.
"That's it: diamonds, on its right hind—er—shoulders——"
"The calf's was on its left side," reminded Pink reproachfully. "I don't believe you found the right mother, after all!"
"Yeah, I sure did, all right," contended Cal earnestly. "I know, 'cause she was that grateful, when she seen me heave in sight over a hill a mile away, she come up on the gallop, a-bawling, and—er—licked my hand!"
That settled it, of course. Pink dismounted stiffly and walked painfully to the cook-tent. Ten months out of saddle—with a new, unbroken one to begin on again—told, even upon Pink, and made for extreme discomfort.
When he had eaten, hungrily and in silence, responding to the mildly ironical sociability of his fellows with a brevity which only his soft voice saved from bruskness, he unrolled his new bed and lay down with not a thought for the part he was playing. He heard with absolute indifference Weary's remark outside, that "Cadwolloper's about all in; day-herding's too strenuous for him." The last that came to him, some one was chanting relishfully:
Mamma had a precious lamby his cheeks were red and rosy; And when he rode the festive bronk, he tumbled on his nosey.
There was more; but Pink had gone to sleep, and so missed it.
At sundown he awoke and went out to saddle the night horse Chip had caught for him, and then went to bed again. When shaken gently for middle guard, he dressed sleepily, added a pair of white Angora chaps to his afternoon attire, and stumbled out into the murky moonlight.
Guided and coached by Cal, he took his station and began that monotonous round which had been a part of the life he loved best. Though stiff and sore from unaccustomed riding, Pink felt quite content to be where he was; to watch the quiet land and the peaceful, slumbering herd; with the drifting gray clouds above, and the moon swimming, head under, in their midst. Twice in a complete round he met Cal, going in opposite direction. At the second round Cal stopped him.
"How yuh coming?" he queried cheerfully.
"All right, thank you," said Pink.
"Yuh want to watch out for a lop-horned critter over on the other side," Cal went on, in confidential tone. "He keeps trying to sneak out uh the bunch. Don't let him get away; if he goes, take after him and fog him back."
"He won't get away from me, if I can help it," Pink promised, and Cal rode on, with Pink smiling maliciously after him.
As he neared the opposite side, a dim shape angled slowly out before him, moving aimlessly away from the sleeping herd. Pink followed. Farther they went, and faster. Into a little hollow went the "critter", and circled. Pink took down his rope, let loose a good ten feet of it, and spurred unexpectedly close to it.
Whack! The rope landed with precision on the bowed shoulders of Cal. "Yuh will try to fool your betters, will yuh?" Whack! "I guess I can point out a critter that won't stray out uh the bunch again fer a spell!" Whack!
Cal straightened, gasping astonishment, in the saddle, pulled up with a jerk, and got off, in unlovely mood.
"And I can point to a little mamma's lamb that won't take down his rope to his betters again, either!" he cried angrily. "Climb down and get your ears cuffed proper, yuh darned, pink little smart Aleck; or them shiny heels'll break your pretty neck. Thump me with a rope, will yuh?"
Pink got down. Immediately after, to use a slang term, they "mixed." Presently Cal, stretched the long length of him in the grass, with Pink sitting comfortably upon his middle, looked up at the dizzying swim of the moon, saw new and uncharted stars, and nearer, dimly revealed in the half-light, the self-satisfied, cherubic face of Pink.
He essayed to rise and continue the discussion, and discovered a quite surprising state of affairs. He could scarcely move: and the more he tried the more painful became Pink's diabolical hold of him. He blinked and puzzled over the mystery.
"Of all the bone-headed, feeble-minded sons-uh-guns it's ever been my duty and pleasure to reconstruct," announced Pink melodiously, "you sure take the sour-dough biscuit. You're a song that's been tried on the cattle and failed t' connect. You're the last wail of a coyote dying in the dim distance. For a man that's been lynched and cut down and waiting for another yank, you certainly—are—mild! You're the tamest thing that ever happened. A lady could handle yuh with safety and ease. You're a children's playmate. For a deep-dyed desperado that's wanted for manslaughter in Texas, perjury in South Dakota, and bigamy in Utah, you're the last feeble whisper of a summer breeze. You cuff my ears proper? Oh, my! and oh, fudge! It is to laugh!"
Cat, battered as to features and bewildered as to mind, blinked again and grinned feebly.
"Yuh try an old gag that I wore out on humans of your ilk in Wyoming," went on Pink, warming to the subject. "Yuh load me with stuff that would bring the heehaw from a sheep-herder. Yuh can't even lie consistent to a pilgrim. You're a story that's been told and forgotten, a canto that won't rhyme, blank verse with club feet. You're the last, horrible example of a declining race. You're extinct."
"Say"—Pink's fists kneaded energetically Cal's suffering diaphragm.—"are yuh—all—ba-a-d?"
"Oh, Lord! No. I'm dead gentle. Lemme up."
"D'yuh think that critter will quit the bunch ag'in to-night?"
"He ain't liable to," Cal assured him meekly. "Say, who the devil are yuh anyhow?"
"I'm Percival Cadwallader Perkins. Do yuh like that name? Do yuh think it drips sweetness and poetry, like a card uh honey?"
"Ouch! It—it's swell!"
"You're a dam' liar," declared Pink, getting up. "Furthermore, yuh old chuckle-head, yuh ought t' know better than try t' run any ranikaboos on me. I've got your pedigree, right back to the Flood; and it's safe betting yuh got mine, and don't know it. Your best girl happens to be my cousin."
Cal scrambled slowly and painfully to his feet. "Then you're Milk River Pink. I might uh guessed it," he sighed.
"I cannot tell a lie," Pink averred. "Only, plain Pink'll do for me. Where d'yuh suppose the bunch is by this time?"
They mounted and rode back together. Cal was deeply thoughtful.
"Say," he said suddenly, just as they parted to ride their rounds, "the boys'll be tickled plumb to death. We've been wishing you'd blow in here ever since the Cross L quit the country."
Pink drew rein and looked back, resting one hand on the cantle. "My gentle friend," he warned, "yuh needn't break your neck spreading the glad tidings. Yuh better let them frivolous youths wise-up in their own playful way, same as you done."
"Sure," agreed Cal, passing his fingers gingerly over certain portions of his face. "I ain't a hog. I'm willing they should have some sport with yuh, too."
Next morning, when Cal appeared at breakfast with a slight limp and several inches of cuticle missing from his features, the Happy Family learned that his horse had fallen down with him as he was turning a stray back into the herd.
Chip looked up quizzically and then hid a smile behind his coffee-cup.
It was Weary that afternoon on dayherd who indulged his mendacity for the benefit of Pink; and his remarks were but paving-stones for a scheme hatched overnight by the Happy Family.
Weary began by looking doleful and emptying his lungs in sighs deep and sorrowful. When Pink, rising obligingly to the bait, asked him if he felt bad. Weary only sighed the more. Then, growing confidential, he told how he had dreamed a dream the night before. With picturesque language, he detailed the horror of it. He was guilty of murder, he confessed, and the crime weighed heavily on his conscience.
"Not only that," he went on, "but I know that death is camping on my trail. That dream haunts me. I feel that my days are numbered in words uh one syllable. That dream'll come true; you see if it don't!"
"I—I wouldn't worry over just a bad dream, Mr. Weary," comforted Pink.
"But that ain't all. I woke up in a cold sweat, and went outside. And there in the clouds, perfect as life, I seen a posse uh men galloping up from the South. Down South," he explained sadly, "sleeps my victim—a white-headed, innocent old man. That posse is sure headed for me, Mr. Perkins."
"Still, it was only clouds."
"Wait till I tell yuh," persisted Weary, stubbornly refusing comfort. "When I got up this morning I put my boots on the wrong feet; that's a sure sign that your dream'll come true. At breakfast I upset the can uh salt; which is bad luck. Mr. Perkins, I'm a lost man."
Pink's eyes widened; he looked like a child listening to a story of goblins. "If I can help you, Mr. Weary, I will," he promised generously.
"Will yuh be my friend? Will yuh let me lean on yuh in my dark hours?" Weary's voice shook with emotion.
Pink said that he would, and he seemed very sympathetic and anxious for Weary's safety. Several times during their shift Weary rode around to where Pink was sitting uneasily his horse, and spoke feelingly of his crime and the black trouble that loomed so closer and told Pink how much comfort it was to be able to talk confidentially with a friend.
When Pink went out that night to stand his shift, he found Weary at his side instead of Cal. Weary explained that Cal was feeling pretty bum on account of that fall he had got, and, as Weary couldn't sleep, anyway, he had offered to stand in Cal's place. Pink scented mischief.
This night the moon shone brightly at intervals, with patches of silvery clouds racing before the wind and chasing black splotches of shadows over the sleeping land. For all that, the cattle lay quiet, and the monotony of circling the herd was often broken by Weary and Pink with little talks, as they turned and rode together.
"Mr. Perkins, fate's a-crowding me close," said Weary gloomily, when an hour had gone by. "I feel as if—what's that?"
Voices raised in excited talk came faintly and fitfully on the wind. Weary turned his horse, with a glance toward the cattle, and, beckoning Pink to follow, rode out to the right.
"It's the posse!" he hissed. "They'll go to the herd so look for me. Mr. Perkins, the time has come to fly. If only I had a horse that could drift!"
Pink thought he caught the meaning. "Is—is mine any good, Mr. Weary?" he quavered. "If he is, you—you can have him. I—I'll stay and—and fool them as—long as I can."
"Perkins," said Weary solemnly, "you're sure all right! Let that posse think you're the man they want for half an hour, and I'm safe. I'll never forget yuh!"
He had not thought of changing horses, but the temptation mastered him. He was riding a little sorrel, Glory by name, that could beat even the Happy Family itself for unexpected deviltry. Yielding to Pink's persuasions, he changed mounts, clasped Pink's hand affectionately, and sped away just as the posse appeared over a rise, riding furiously.
Pink, playing his part, started toward them, then wheeled and sped away in the direction that would lead them off Weary's trail. That is, he sped for ten rods or so. After that he seemed to revolve on an axis, and there was an astonishing number of revolutions to the minute.
The stirrups were down in the dark somewhere below the farthest reach of Pink's toes—he never once located them. But Pink was not known all over Northern Montana as a "bronco-peeler" for nothing. He surprised Glory even more than that deceitful bit of horseflesh had surprised Pink. While his quirt swung methodically, he looked often over his shoulder for the posse, and wondered that it did not appear.
The posse, however, was at that moment having troubles of its own. Happy Jack, not having a night horse saddled, had borrowed one not remarkable for its sure-footedness. No sooner had they sighted their quarry than Jack's horse stepped in a hole and went head-long—which was bad enough. When he got up he planted a foot hastily on Jack's diaphragm and then bolted straight for the peacefully slumbering herd—which was worse.
With stirrup-straps snapping like pistol-shots, he tore down through the dreaming cattle, with none to stop him or say him nay. The herd did not wait for explanations; as the posse afterward said, it quit the earth, while they gathered around the fallen Jack and tried to discover if it was a doctor or coroner that was needed.
When Jack came up sputtering sand and profane words, there was no herd, no horse and no Pink anywhere in that portion of Chouteau County. Weary came back, laughing at the joke and fully expecting to see Pink a prisoner. When he saw how things stood, he said "Mamma mine!" and headed for camp on a run. The others deployed to search the range for a beef-herd, strayed, and with no tag for its prompt delivery.
Weary crept into the bed-tent and got Chip by the shoulder. Chip sat up, instantly wide-awake. "What's the matter?" he demanded sharply.
"Chip, we—we've lost Cadwolloper!" Weary's voice was tragic.
"Hell!" snapped Chip, lying down again. "Don't let that worry yuh."
"And we've lost the herd, too," added Weary mildly.
Chip got up and stayed up, and some of his remarks, Weary afterward reported, were scandalous.
There was another scene at sunrise that the Happy Family voted scandalous—and that was when they rode into a little coulee and came upon the herd, quietly grazing, and Pink holding them, with each blue eye a volcano shooting wrath.
"Yuh knock-kneed bunch uh locoed sheep-herders!" he greeted spitefully, "if yuh think yuh can saw off on your foolery and hold this herd, I'll go and get something to eat. When I come to this outfit t' work, I naturally s'posed yuh was cow-punchers. Yuh ain't. Yuh couldn't hold a bunch uh sick lambs inside a high board corral with the gate shut and locked on the outside. When it comes t' cow-science, you're the limit. Yuh couldn't earn your board on a ten-acre farm in Maine, driving one milk-cow and a yearling calf t' pasture and back. You're a hot bunch uh rannies—I don't think! Up on Milk River they'd put bells on every dam' one uh yuh t' keep yuh from getting lost going from the mess-house t' the corral and back. And, Mr. Weary, next time yuh give a man a horse t' fall off from, for the Lord's sake don't put him on a gentle old skate that would be pickings for a two-year-old kid. I thought this here Glory'd give a man something to do, from all the yawping I've heard done about him. I heard uh him when I was on the Cross L; and I will say right now that he's the biggest disappointment I've met up with in many a long day. He's punk. Come and get him and let me have something alive. I'm weary uh trying to delude myself into thinking that this red image is a horse."
The Happy Family, huddled ten paces before him, stared. Pink slid out of the saddle and came forward, smiling, and dimpling. He held out a gloved hand to the first man he came to, which was Weary himself. "Are yuh happy to meet Milk River Pink?" he wanted to know.
The Happy Family, grinning sheepishly, crowded close to shake him by the hand.
THE SPIRIT OF THE RANGE
Cal Emmett straightened up with his gloved hand pressed tight against the small of his back, sighed "Hully Gee!" at the ache of his muscles and went over to the water bucket and poured a quart or so of cool, spring water down his parched throat. The sun blazed like a furnace with the blower on, though it was well over towards the west; the air was full of smoke, dust and strong animal odors, and the throaty bawling of many cattle close-held. For it was nearing the end of spring round-up, and many calves were learning, with great physical and mental distress, the feel of a hot iron properly applied. Cal shouted to the horse-wrangler that the well had gone dry—meaning the bucket—and went back to work.
"I betche we won't git through in time for no picnic," predicted Happy Jack gloomily, getting the proper hold on the hind leg of a three-months-old calf. "They's three hundred to decorate yet, if they's one; and it'll rain—"
"You're batty," Cal interrupted. "Uh course we'll get through—we've got to; what d'yuh suppose we've been tearing the bone out for the last three weeks for?"
Chip, with a foot braced against the calf's shoulder, ran a U on its ribs with artistic precision. Chip's Flying U's were the pride of the whole outfit; the Happy Family was willing at any time, to bet all you dare that Chip's brands never varied a quarter-inch in height, width or position. The Old Man and Shorty had been content to use a stamp, as prescribed by law; but Chip Bennett scorned so mechanical a device and went on imperturbably defying the law with his running iron—and the Happy Family gloated over his independence and declared that they would sure deal a bunch of misery to the man that reported him. His Flying U's were better than a stamp, anyhow, they said, and it was a treat to watch the way he slid them on, just where they'd do the most good.
"I'm going home, after supper," he said, giving just the proper width to the last curve of the two-hundredth U he had made that afternoon. "I promised Dell I'd try and get home to-night, and drive over to the picnic early to-morrow. She's head push on the grub-pile, I believe, and wants to make sure there's enough to go around. There's about two hundred and fifty calves left. If you can't finish up to-night, it'll be your funeral."
"Well, I betche it'll rain before we git through—it always does, when you don't want it to," gloomed Happy, seizing another calf.
"If it does," called Weary, who was branding—with a stamp—not far away, "if it does, Happy, we'll pack the bossies into the cook-tent and make Patsy heat the irons in the stove. Don't yuh cry, little boy—we'll sure manage somehow."
"Aw yes—you wouldn't see nothing to worry about, not if yuh was being paid for it. They's a storm coming—any fool can see that; and she's sure going to come down in large chunks. We ain't got this amatoor hell for nothing! Yuh won't want to do no branding in the cook-tent, nor no place else. I betche—"
"Please," spoke up Pink, coiling afresh the rope thrown off a calf he had just dragged up to Cal and Happy Jack, "won't somebody lend me a handkerchief? I want to gag Happy; he's working his hoodoo on us again."
Happy Jack leered up at him, consciously immune—for there was no time for strife of a physical nature, and Happy knew it. Everyone was working his fastest.
"Hoodoo nothing! I guess maybe yuh can't see that bank uh thunderheads. I guess your sight's poor, straining your eyes towards the Fourth uh July ever since Christmas. If yuh think yuh can come Christian Science act on a storm, and bluff it down jest by sayin' it ain't there, you're away off. I ain't that big a fool; I—" he trailed into profane words, for the calf he was at that minute holding showed a strong inclination to plant a foot in Happy's stomach.
Cal Emmett glanced over his shoulder, grunted a comprehensive refutation of Happy Jack's fears and turned his whole attention to work. The branding proceeded steadily, with the hurry of skill that makes each motion count something done; for though not a man of them except Happy Jack would have admitted it, the Happy Family was anxious. With two hundred and fifty calves to be branded in the open before night, on the third day of July; with a blistering sun sapping the strength of them and a storm creeping blackly out of the southwest; with a picnic tugging their desires and twenty-five long prairie miles between them and the place appointed, one can scarce wonder that even Pink and Weary—born optimists, both of them—eyed the west anxiously when they thought no one observed them. Under such circumstances, Happy Jack's pessimism came near being unbearable; what the Happy Family needed most was encouragement.
The smoke hung thicker in the parched air and stung more sharply their bloodshot, aching eyeballs. The dust settled smotheringly upon them, filled nostrils and lungs and roughened their patience into peevishness. A calf bolted from the herd, and a "hold-up" man pursued it vindictively, swearing by several things that he would break its blamed neck—only his wording was more vehement. A cinder got in Slim's eye and one would think, from his language, that such a thing was absolutely beyond the limit of man's endurance, and a blot upon civilization. Even Weary, the sweet-tempered, grew irritable and heaped maledictions on the head of the horse-wrangler because he was slow about bringing a fresh supply of water. Taken altogether, the Happy Family was not in its sunniest mood.
When Patsy shouted that supper was ready, they left their work reluctantly and tarried just long enough to swallow what food was nearest. For the branding was not yet finished, and the storm threatened more malignantly.
Chip saddled Silver, his own particular "drifter," eyed the clouds appraisingly and swung into the saddle for a fifteen-mile ride to the home ranch and his wife, the Little Doctor. "You can make it, all right, if yuh half try," he encouraged. "It isn't going to cut loose before dark, if I know the signs. Better put your jaw in a sling, Happy—you're liable to step on it. Cheer up! to-morrow's the Day we Celebrate in letters a foot high. Come early and stay late, and bring your appetites along. Fare-you-well, my brothers." He rode away in the long lope that eats up the miles with an ease astonishing to alien eyes, and the Happy Family rolled a cigarette apiece and went back to work rather more cheerful than they had been.
Pleasure, the pleasure of wearing good clothes, dancing light-footedly to good music and saying nice things that bring smiles to the faces of girls in frilly dresses and with brown, wind-tanned faces and eyes ashine, comes not often to the veterans of the "Sagebrush Cavalry." They were wont to count the weeks and the days, and at last the hours until such pleasure should come to them. They did not grudge the long circles, short sleeps and sweltering hours at the branding, which made such pleasures possible—only so they were not, at the last, cheated of their reward.
Every man of them—save Pink—had secret thoughts of some particular girl. And more than one girl, no doubt, would be watching, at the picnic, for a certain lot of white hats and sun-browned faces to dodge into sight over a hill, and looking for one face among the group; would be listening for a certain well-known, well-beloved chorus of shouts borne faintly from a distance—the clear-toned, care-naught whooping that heralded the coming of Jim Whitmore's Happy Family.
To-morrow they would be simply a crowd of clean-hearted, clean-limbed cowboys, with eyes sunny and untroubled as a child's, and laughs that were good to hear and whispered words that were sweet to dream over until the next meeting. (If you ask the girls of the range-land, and believe their verdict, cowboys make the very best and most piquant of lovers.) Tomorrow there would be no hint of the long hours in the saddle, or the aching muscles and the tired, smarting eyes. They might, if pressed, own that they burnt the earth getting there, but the details of that particular conflagration would be far, far behind them—forgotten; no one could guess, to-morrow, that they were ever hot or thirsty or tired, or worried over a threatening storm, or that they ever swore at one another ill-naturedly from the sheer strain of anxiety and muscle-ache.
By sundown, so great was their industry, the last calf had scampered, blatting resentment, to seek his mother in the herd. Slim kicked the embers of the branding fire apart and emptied the water-bucket over them with a satisfied grunt.
"By golly, I ain't mourning because brandin's about over," he said. "I'm plumb tired uh the sight uh them blasted calves."
"And we got through ahead of the storm," Weary sweetly reminded Happy Jack.
Happy looked moodily up at the muttering black mass nearly over their heads and said nothing; Happy never did have anything to say when his gloomy predictions were brought to naught.
"I'm going to get on the bed-ground without any red tape or argument, if yuh ask me," volunteered Cal Emmett, rubbing his aching arms. "We want to get an early start in the morning."
"Meaning sun-up, I suppose," fleered Pink, who had no especial, feminine reason for looking forward with longing. With Pink, it was pleasure in the aggregate that lured him; there would be horse racing after dinner, and a dance in the school-house at night, and a season of general hilarity over a collection of rockets and Roman candles. These things appealed more directly to the heart of Pink than did the feminine element; for he had yet to see the girl who could disturb the normal serenity of his mind or fill his dreams with visions beautiful. Also, there was one thing about these girls that did not please him; they were prone to regard him as a sweet, amusing little boy whose dimples they might kiss with perfect composure (though of course they never did). They seemed to be forever taking the "Isn't he cunning!" attitude, and refused to regard him seriously, or treat him with the respect they accorded to the rest of the Happy Family. Weary's schoolma'am had offended him deeply, at a dance the winter before, by patting him indulgently on the shoulder and telling him to "Run along and find you a partner." Such things rankled, and he knew that the girls knew it, and that it amused them very much. Worse, the Happy Family knew it, and it amused them even more than it amused the girls. For this reason Pink would much prefer to sleep luxuriously late and ride over to the picnic barely in time for dinner and the races afterward. He did not want too long a time with the girls.
"Sure, we'll start at sun-up," Cal answered gravely. "We've got to be there by ten o'clock, so as to help the girls cut the cake and round up all the ham sandwiches; haven't we, Weary?"
"I should smile to remark," Weary assented emphatically. "Sun-up sure sees us on the road, Cadwolloper—and yuh want to be sure and wear that new pink silk handkerchief, that matches the roses in your cheeks so nice. My schoolma'am's got a friend visiting her, and she's been hearing a lot about yuh. She's plumb wild to meet yuh. Chip drawed your picture and I sent it over in my last letter, and the little friend has gone plumb batty over your dimples (Chip drawed yuh with a sweet smile drifting, like a rose-leaf with the dew on it, across your countenance, and your hat pushed back so the curls would show) and it sure done the business for Little Friend. Schoolma'am says she's a good-looker, herself, and that Joe Meeker has took to parting his hair on the dead center and wearing a four-inch, celluloid collar week days. But he's all to the bad—she just looks at your picture and smiles sad and longing."
"I hate to see a man impose on friendship," murmured Pink. "I don't want to spoil your face till after the Fourth, though that ain't saying yuh don't deserve it. But I will say this: You're a liar—you ain't had a letter for more than six weeks."
"Got anything yuh want to bet on that?" Weary reached challengingly toward an inner pocket of his vest.
"Nit. I don't give a darn, anyway yuh look at it. I'm going to bed." Pink unrolled his "sooguns" in their accustomed corner next to Weary's bed and went straightway to sleep.
Weary thumped his own battered pillow into some semblance of plumpness and gazed with suspicion at the thick fringe of curled lashes lying softly upon Pink's cheeks.
"If I was a girl," he said pensively to the others, "I'd sure be in love with Cadwolloper myself. He don't amount to nothing, but his face 'd cause me to lose my appetite and pine away like a wilted vi'let. It's straight, about that girl being stuck on his picture; I'd gamble she's counting the hours on her fingers, right now, till he'll stand before her. Schoolma'am says it'll be a plumb sin if he don't act pretty about it and let her love him." He eyed Pink sharply from the tail of his eye, but not a lash quivered; the breath came evenly and softly between Pink's half-closed lips—and if he heard there was nothing to betray the fact.
Weary sighed and tried again. "And that ain't the worst of it, either. Mame Beckman has got an attack; she told Schoolma'am she could die for Pink and never bat an eye. She said she never knowed what true love was till she seen him. She says he looks just like the cherubs—all but the wings—that she's been working in red thread on some pillow shams. She was making 'em for her sister a present, but she can't give 'em up, now; she calls all the cherubs 'Pink,' and kisses 'em night and morning, regular." He paused and watched anxiously Pink's untroubled face. "I tell yuh, boys, it's awful to have the fatal gift uh beauty, like Cadwolloper's got. He means all right, but he sure trifles a lot with girls' affections—which ain't right. Mamma! don't he look sweet, laying there so innocent? I'm sure sorry for Mame, though." He eyed him sidelong. But Pink slept peacefully on, except that, after a half minute, he stirred slightly and muttered something about "drive that darned cow back." Then Weary gave up in despair and went to sleep. When the tent became silent, save for the heavy breathing of tired men. Pink's long lashes lifted a bit, and he grinned maliciously up at the cloth roof.
For obvious reasons he was the only one of the lot who heard with no misgivings the vicious swoop of the storm; so long as the tent-pegs held he didn't care how hard it rained. But the others who woke to the roar of wind and the crash of thunder and to the swish and beat of much falling water, turned uneasily in their beds and hoped that it would not last long. To be late in starting for that particular scene of merry-making which had held their desires for so long would be a calamity they could not reflect upon calmly.
At three o'clock Pink, from long habit, opened his eyes to the dull gray of early morning. The air in the tent was clammy and chill and filled with the audible breathing of a dozen sleeping men; overhead the canvas was dull yellow and sodden with the steady drip, drip, drop of rain. There would be no starting out at sunrise—and perhaps there would be no starting at all, he thought with lazy disappointment, and turned on his side for another nap. His glance fell upon Weary's up-turned, slumber-blank face, and his memory reverted revengefully to the baiting of the night before. He would fix Weary for that, he told himself spitefully; mentally measured a perpendicular line from Weary's face to the roof, reached up and drew his finger firmly down along the canvas for a good ten inches—and if you don't know why, try it yourself some time in a tent with the rain pouring down upon the land. As if that were not enough he repeated the operation again and again, each time in a fresh place, until the rain came through beautifully all over the bed of Weary. Then he lay down, cuddled the blankets up to his ears, closed his eyes and composed himself to sleep, at peace with his conscience and the world—and it did not disturb his self-satisfaction when Weary presently awoke, moved sleepily away from one drip and directly under another, shifted again, swore a little in an undertone and at last was forced to take refuge under his tarpaulin. After that Pink went blissfully off to dreamland.
At four o'clock it still rained dismally—and the Happy Family, waking unhappily one after another, remembered that this was the Fourth that they had worked and waited for so long, "swore a prayer or two and slept again." At six the sun was shining, and Jack Bates, first realizing the blessed fact, called the others jubilantly.
Weary sat up and observed darkly that he wished he knew what son-of-a-gun got the tent to leaking over him, and eyed Pink suspiciously; but Pink only knuckled his eyes like a sleepy baby and asked if it rained in the night, and said he had been dead to the world. Happy Jack came blundering under the ban by asking Weary to remember that he told him it would rain. As he slept beside Weary, his guilt was certain and his punishment, Weary promised himself, would be sure.
Then they went out and faced the clean-washed prairie land, filled their lungs to the bottom with sweet, wine-like air, and asked one another why in the dickens the night-hawk wasn't on hand with the cavvy, so they could get ready to start.
At nine o'clock, had you wandered that way, you would have seen the Happy Family—a clean-shaven, holiday-garbed, resplendent Happy Family—roosting disconsolately wherever was a place clean enough to sit, looking wistfully away to the skyline.
They should, by now, have been at the picnic, and every man of them realized the fact keenly. They were ready, but they were afoot; the nighthawk had not put in an appearance with the saddle bunch, and there was not a horse in camp that they might go in search of him. With no herd to hold, they had not deemed it necessary to keep up any horses, and they were bewailing the fact that they had not forseen such an emergency—though Happy Jack did assert that he had all along expected it.
"By golly, I'll strike out afoot and hunt him up, if he don't heave in sight mighty suddent," threatened Slim passionately, after a long, dismal silence. "By golly, he'll wisht I hadn't, too."
Cal looked up from studying pensively his patent leathers. "Go on, Slim, and round him up. This is sure getting hilarious—a fine way to spend the Fourth!"
"Maybe that festive bunch that held up the Lewistown Bank, day before yesterday, came along and laid the hawk away on the hillside so they could help themselves to fresh horses," hazarded Jack Bates, in the hope that Happy Jack would seize the opening to prophesy a new disaster.
"I betche that's what's happened, all right," said Happy, rising to the bait. "I betche yuh won't see no horses t'day—ner no night-hawk, neither."
The Happy Family looked at one another and grinned.
"Who'll stir the lemonade and help pass the sandwiches?" asked Pink, sadly. "Who'll push, when the school-ma'am wants to swing? Or Len Adams? or—"
"Oh, saw off!" Weary implored. "We can think up troubles enough, Cadwolloper, without any help from you."
"Well, I guess your troubles are about over, cully—I can hear 'em coming." Pink picked up his rope and started for the horse corral as the belated cavvy came jingling around the nose of the nearest hill. The Happy Family brightened perceptibly; after all, they could be at the picnic by noon—if they hurried. Their thoughts flew to the crowd—and to the girls in frilly dresses—under the pine trees in a certain canyon just where the Bear Paws reach lazily out to shake hands with the prairie land.
Up on the high level, with the sun hot against their right cheeks and a lazy breeze flipping neckerchief ends against their smiling lips, the world seemed very good, and a jolly place to live in, and there was no such thing as trouble anywhere. Even Happy Jack was betrayed into expecting much pleasure and no misfortune, and whistled while he rode.
Five miles slipped behind them easily—so easily that their horses perked ears and tugged hard against the bits. The next five were rougher, for they had left the trail and struck out across a rough bit of barrenness on a short cut to the ford in Sheep Coulee. All the little gullies and washouts were swept clean and smooth with the storm, and the grass roots showed white where the soil had washed away. They hoped the rain had not reached to the mountains and spoiled the picnic grounds, and wondered what time the girls would have dinner ready.
So they rode down the steep trail into Sheep Coulee, galloped a quarter mile and stopped, amazed, at the ford. The creek was running bank full; more, it was churning along like a mill-race, yellow with the clay it carried and necked with great patches of dirty foam.
"I guess here's where we don't cross," said Weary, whistling mild dismay.
"Now, wouldn't that jostle yuh?" asked Pink, of no one in particular.
"By golly, the lemonade 'll be cold, and so'll the san'wiches, before we git there," put in Slim, with one of his sporadic efforts to be funny. "We got t' go back."
"Back nothing," chorused five outraged voices. "We'll hunt some other crossing."
"Down the creek a piece—yuh mind where that old sandbar runs half across? We'll try that." Weary's tone was hopeful, and they turned and followed him.
Half a mile along the raging little creek they galloped, with no place where they dared to cross. Then, loping around a willow-fringed bend, Weary and Pink, who were ahead, drew their horses back upon their haunches. They had all but run over a huddle of humanity lying in the fringe of weeds and tall grasses that grew next the willows.
"What in thunder—" began Cal, pulling up. They slid off their horses and bent curiously over the figure. Weary turned it investigatively by a shoulder. The figure stirred, and groaned. "It's somebody hurt; take a hand here, and help carry him out where the sun shines. He's wet to the skin," commanded Weary sharply.
When they lifted him he opened his eyes and looked at them; while they carried him tenderly out from the wet tangle and into the warmth of the sun, he set his teeth against the groans that would come. They stood around him uneasily and looked down at him. He was young, like themselves, and he was a stranger; also, he was dressed like a cowboy, in chaps, high-heeled boots and silver-mounted spurs. The chaps were sodden and heavy with water, as was the rest of his clothing.
"He must uh laid out in all that storm, last night," observed Cal, in a subdued voice. "He—"
"Somebody better ride back and have the bed wagon brought up, so we can haul him to a doctor," suggested Pink. "He's hurt."
The stranger's eyes swept the faces of the Happy Family anxiously. "Not on your life," he protested weakly. "I don't want any doctor—in mine, thank yuh. I—it's no use, anyhow."
"The hell it ain't!" Pink was drawing off his coat to make a pillow. "You're hurt, somehow, ain't yuh?"
"I'm—dying," the other said, laconically. "So yuh needn't go to any trouble, on my account. From the looks—yuh was headed for some—blowout. Go on, and let me be."
The Happy Family looked at one another incredulously; they were so likely to ride on!
"I guess you don't savvy this bunch, old-timer," said Weary calmly, speaking for the six. "We're going to do what we can. If yuh don't mind telling us where yuh got hurt—"
The lips of the other curled bitterly. "I was shot," he said distinctly, "by the sheriff and his bunch. But I got away. Last night I tried to cross the creek, and my horse went on down. It was storming—fierce. I got out, somehow, and crawled into the weeds. Laying out in the rain—didn't help me none. It's—all off."
"There ought to be something—" began Jack Bates helplessly.
"There is. If yuh'll just put me away—afterwards—and say nothing,—I'll be—mighty grateful." He was looking at them sharply, as if a great deal depended upon their answer.
The Happy Family was dazed. The very suddenness of this unlooked-for glimpse into the somber eyes of Tragedy was unnerving. The world had seemed such a jolly place; ten minutes ago—five minutes, even, their greatest fear had been getting to the picnic too late for dinner. And here was a man at their feet, calmly telling them that he was about to die, and asking only a hurried burial and a silence after. Happy Jack swallowed painfully and shifted his feet in the grass.
"Of course, if yuh'd feel better handing me over—"
"That'll be about enough on that subject," Pink interrupted with decision. "Just because yuh happen to be down and out—for the time being—is no reason why yuh should insult folks. You can take it for granted we'll do what we can for yuh; the question is, what? Yuh needn' go talking about cashing in—they's no sense in it. You'll be all right.—"
"Huh. You wait and see." The fellow's mouth set grimly upon another groan. "If you was shot through, and stuck to the saddle—and rode—and then got pummeled—by a creek at flood, and if yuh laid out in the rain—all night— Hell, boys! Yuh know I'm about all in. I'm hard to kill, or I'd have been—dead— What I want to know—will yuh do what I—said? Will yuh bury me—right here—and keep it—quiet?"
The Happy Family moved uncomfortably. They hated to see him lying that way, and talking in short, jerky sentences, and looking so ghastly, and yet so cool—as if dying were quite an everyday affair.
"I don't see why yuh ask us to do it," spoke Cal Emmet bluntly. "What we want to do is get yuh to help. The chances is you could be—cured. We—"
"Look here." The fellow raised himself painfully to an elbow, and fell back again. "I've got folks—and they don't know—about this scrape. They're square—and stand at the top—And they don't—it would just about— For God sake, boys! Can't yuh see—how I feel? Nobody knows—about this. The sheriff didn't know—they came up on me in the dusk—and I fought. I wouldn't be taken—And it's my first bad break—because I got in with a bad—lot. They'll know something—happened, when they find—my horse. But they'll think—it's just drowning, if they don't find—me with a bullet or two— Can't yuh see?"
The Happy Family looked away across the coulee, and there were eyes that saw little of the yellow sunlight lying soft on the green hillside beyond. The world was not a good place; it was a grim, pitiless place, and—a man was dying, at their very feet.
"But what about the rest oh the bunch?" croaked Happy Jack, true to his misanthropic nature, but exceeding husky as to voice. "They'll likely tell—"
The dying man shook his head eagerly. "They won't; they're both—dead. One was killed—last night. The other when we first tried—to make a getaway. It—it's up to you, boys."
Pink swallowed twice, and knelt beside him; the others remained standing, grouped like mourners around an open grave.
"Yuh needn't worry about us," Pink said softly, "You can count on us, old boy. If you're dead sure a doctor—"
"Drop it!" the other broke in harshly. "I don't want to live. And if I did, I couldn't. I ain't guessing—I know."
They said little, after that. The wounded man seemed apathetically waiting for the end, and not inclined to further speech. Since they had tacitly promised to do as he wished, he lay with eyes half closed, watching idly the clouds drifting across to the skyline, hardly moving.
The Happy Family sat listlessly around on convenient rocks, and watched the clouds also, and the yellow patches of foam racing down the muddy creek. Very quiet they were—so quiet that little, brown birds hopped close, and sang from swaying weeds almost within reach of them. The Happy Family listened dully to the songs, and waited. They did not even think to make a cigarette.
The sun climbed higher and shone hotly down upon them. The dying man blinked at the glare, and Happy Jack took off his hat and tilted it over the face of the other, and asked him if he wouldn't like to be moved into the shade.
"No matter—I'll be in the shade—soon enough," he returned quietly, and something gripped their throats to aching. His voice, they observed, was weaker than it had been.
Weary took a long breath, and moved closer. "I wish you'd let us get help," he said, wistfully. It all seemed so horribly brutal, their sitting around him like that, waiting passively for him to die.
"I know—yuh hate it. But it's—all yuh can do. It's all I want." He took his eyes from the drifting, white clouds, and looked from face to face. "You're the whitest bunch—I'd like to know—who yuh are. Maybe I can put in—a good word for yuh—on the new range—where I'm going. I'd sure like to do—something—"
"Then for the Lord's sake, don't say such things!" cried Pink, shakily. "You'll have us—so damn broke up—"
"All right—I won't. So long,—boys. See yuh later—"
"Mamma!" whispered Weary, and got up hastily and walked away. Slim followed him a few paces, then turned resolutely and went back. It seemed cowardly to leave the rest to bear it—and somebody had to. They were breathing quickly, and they were staring across the coulee with eyes that saw nothing; their lips were shut very tightly together. Weary came back and stood with his back turned. Pink moved a bit, glanced furtively at the long, quiet figure beside him, and dropped his face into his gloved hands.
Glory threw up his head, glanced across the coulee at a band of range horses trooping down a gully to drink at the river, and whinnied shrilly. The Happy Family started and awoke to the stern necessities of life. They stood up, and walked a little way from the spot, avoiding one another's eyes.
"Somebody'll have to go back to camp," said Cal Emmett, in the hushed tone that death ever compels from the living. "We've got to have a spade—"
"It better be the handiest liar, then," Jack Bates put in hastily. "If that old loose-tongued Patsy ever gets next—"
"Weary better go—and Pink. They're the best liars in the bunch," said Cal, trying unsuccessfully to get back his everyday manner.
Pink and Weary went over and took the dragging bridle-reins of their mounts, caught a stirrup and swung up into the saddles silently.
"And say!" Happy Jack called softly, as they were going down the slope. "Yuh better bring—a blanket."
Weary nodded, and they rode away, their horses stepping softly in the thick grasses. When they were passed quite out of the presence of the dead, they spurred their horses into a gallop.
The sun marked mid-afternoon when they returned, and the four who had waited drew long breaths of relief at sight of them.
"We told Patsy we'd run onto a—den—"
"Oh, shut up, can't yuh?" Jack Bates interrupted shortly. "Yuh'll have plenty uh time to tell us afterwards."
"We've got a place picked out," said Cal, and led them a little distance up the slope, to a level spot in the shadow of a huge, gray bowlder. "That's his headstone," he said, soberly. "The poor devil won't be cheated out uh that, if we can't mark it with his name. It'll last as long as he'll need it."
Only in the West, perhaps, may one find a funeral like that. No minister stood at the head of the grave and read, "Dust to dust" and all the heartbreaking rest of it. There was no singing but from a meadowlark that perched on a nearby rock and rippled his brief song when, with their ropes, they lowered the blanket wrapped form. They stood, with bare heads bowed, while the meadow lark sang. When he had flown, Pink, looking a choir-boy in disguise, repeated softly and incorrectly the Lord's prayer.
The Happy Family did not feel that there was any incongruity in what they did. When Pink, gulping a little over the unfamiliar words, said:
"Thine be power and glory—Amen;" five clear, youthful voices added the Amen quite simply. Then they filled the grave and stood silent a minute before they went down to where their horse stood waiting patiently, with now and then a curious glance up the hill to where their masters grouped.
The Happy Family mounted and without a backward glance rode soberly away; and the trail they took led, not to the picnic, but to camp.
Happy Jack, coming from Dry Lake where he had been sent for the mail, rode up to the Flying U camp just at dinner time and dismounted gloomily and in silence. His horse looked fagged—which was unusual in Happy's mounts unless there was urgent need of haste or he was out with the rest of the Family and constrained to adopt their pace, which was rapid. Happy, when riding alone, loved best to hump forward over the horn and jog along slowly, half asleep.
"Something's hurting Happy," was Cal Emmett's verdict when he saw the condition of the horse.
"He's got a burden on his mind as big as a haystack," grinned Jack Bates. "Watch the way his jaw hangs down, will yuh? Bet yuh somebody's dead."
"Most likely it's something he thinks is going to happen," said Pink. "Happy always makes me think of a play I seen when I was back home; it starts out with a melancholy cuss coming out and giving a sigh that near lifts him off his feet, and he says: 'In soo-ooth I know not why I am so sa-ad.' That's Happy all over."
The Happy Family giggled and went on with their dinner, for Happy Jack was too close for further comments not intended for his ears. They waited demurely, but in secret mirth, for him to unburden his mind. They knew that they would not have long to wait; Happy, bird of ill omen that he was, enjoyed much the telling of bad news.
"Weary's in town," he announced heavily, coming over and getting himself a plate and cup.
The Happy Family were secretly a bit disappointed; this promised, after all, to be tame.
"Did he bring the horses?" asked Chip, glancing up over the brim of his cup.
"I dunno," Happy responded from the stove, where he was trying how much of everything he could possibly pile upon his plate without spilling anything. "I didn't see no horses—but the one he was ridin'."
Weary had been sent, two weeks ago, to the upper Marias country after three saddle horses that had strayed from the home range, and which had been seen near Shelby. It was quite time for him to return, if he expected to catch the Flying U wagon before it pulled out on the beef roundup. That he should be in town and not ride out with Happy Jack was a bit strange.
"Why don't yuh throw it out uh yuh, yuh big, long-jawed croaker?" demanded Pink in a voice queerly soft and girlish. It had been a real grievance to him that he had not been permitted to go with Weary, who was his particular chum. "What's the matter? Is Weary sick?"
"No," said Happy Jack deliberately, "I guess he ain't what yuh could call sick."
"Why didn't he come out with you, then?" asked Chip, sharply. Happy did get on one's nerves so.
"Well, I ast him t' come—and he took a shot at me for it."
There was an instant's dead silence. Then Jack Bates laughed uneasily.
"Happy, how many horses did yuh ride out to camp?"
Happy Jack had, upon one occasion, looked too long upon the wine—or whisky, to be more explicit. Afterward, he had insisted that he was riding two horses home, instead of one. He was not permitted to forget that defection. The Happy Family had an unpleasant habit of recalling the incident whenever Happy Jack made a statement which they felt disinclined to credit—as this last statement was.
Happy Jack whirled on the speaker. "Aw, shut up! I never kidnaped no girl off'n no train, and—"
Jack Bates colored and got belligerently to his feet. That hit him in an exceedingly tender place.
"Happy, look here," Chip cut in authoritatively. "What's wrong with Weary? If he took a shot at you, it's a cinch he had some reason for it."
Weary was even dearer to the heart of Chip than to Pink.
"Ah—he never! He's takin' shots permisc'us, lemme tell yuh. And he ain't troublin' about no reason fer what he's doin'. He's plumb oary-eyed—that's what. He's on a limb that beats any I ever seen. He's drunk—drunk as a boiled owl, and he don't give a damn. He's lost his hat, and he's swapped cayuses with somebody—a measly old bench—and he's shootin' up the town t' beat hell!"
The Happy Family looked at one another dazedly. Weary drunk? Weary? It was unbelieveable. Such a thing had never been heard of before in the history of the Happy Family. Even Chip, who had known Weary before either had known the Flying U, could not remember anything of the sort. The Happy Family were often hilarious; they had even, on certain occasions, shot up the town; but they had done it as a family and they had done it sober. It was an unwritten law among the Flying U boys, that all riotous conduct should occur when they were together and when the Family could, as a unit, assume the consequences—if consequences there were to be.
"I guess Happy must a rode the whole blame saddle-bunch home, this time," Cal remarked, with stinging sarcasm.
"Ah, yuh can go and see fer yourselves; yuh don't need t' take my word fer nothing" cried Happy Jack, much grieved that they should doubt him. "I hain't had but one drink t'day—and that wasn't nothin' but beer. It's straight goods: Weary's as full as he can git and top a horse. He's sure enjoyin' himself, too. Dry Lake is all hisn—and the way he's misusin' the rights uh ownership is plumb scand'l'us. He makes me think of a cow on the fight in a forty-foot corral; nobody dast show their noses outside; Dry Lake's holed up in their sullers, till he quits camp.
"I seen him cut down on the hotel China-cook jest for tryin' t' make a sneak out t' the ice-house after some meat fer dinner. He like t' got him, too. Chink dodged behind the board-pile in the back yard, an' laid down. He was still there when I left town, and the chances is somebody else 'll have t' cook dinner t'day. Weary was so busy close-herdin' the Chinaman that I got a chanst t' sneak out the back door uh Rusty's place, climb on m' horse and take a shoot up around by the stockyards and pull fer camp. I couldn't git t' the store, so I didn't bring out no mail."
The Happy Family drew a long breath. This was getting beyond a joke.
"Looks t 'me like you fellows 'd come alive and do something about it," hinted Happy, with his mouth full. "Weary'll shoot somebody, er git shot, if he ain't took care of mighty quick."
"Happy," said Chip bluntly, "I don't grab that yarn. Weary may be in town, and he may be having a little fun with Dry Lake, but he isn't drunk. When you try to run a whizzer like that, you can put me down as being from Missouri."
"Same here," put in Pink, ominously soft as to voice. "Anybody that tries to make me believe Weary's performing that way has sure got his work cut out for him. If it was Happy, now—"
"Gee!" cried Jack Bates, laughing as a possible solution came to him. "I'm willing to bet money he was just stringing Happy. I'll bet he done it deliberate and with malice aforethought, just to make Happy sneak out uh town and burn the earth getting here so he could tell it scarey to the rest of us."
"Yeah, that's about the size of it," assented Cal.
The Family felt that they had a new one on Happy Jack, and showed it in the smiles they sent toward him.
"By golly, yes!" broke out Slim. "Weary's been layin' for Happy for a long while to pay off making the tent leak on him, that night; he's sure played a good one, this time!"
Happy carefully balanced his plate on the wagon-tongue near the doubletrees, and stood glaring down upon his tormentors.
"Aw, look here!" he began, with his voice very near to tears. Then he gulped and took a more warlike tone. "I don't set m'self up t' be a know-it-all—but I guess I can tell when a man's full uh booze. And I ain't claimin' t' be no Jiujitsu sharp" (with a meaning glance at Pink) "and I know the chances I'm takin' when I stand up agin the bunch—but I'm ready, here and now, t' fight any damn man that says I'm a liar, er that Weary was jest throwin' a load into me. Two or three uh yuh have licked me mor'n once—but that's all right. I'm willing t' back up anything I've said, and yuh can wade right in a soon as you're a mind to.
"I don't back down a darn inch. Weary's in Dry Lake. He is drunk. And he is shootin' up the town. If yuh don't want t' believe it, I guess they's no law t' make yuh—but if yuh got any sense, and are any friends uh Weary's, yuh'll mosey in and fetch him out here if yuh have t' bring him the way he brung ole Dock that time Patsy took cramps. Go on in and see fer yourselves, darn yuh! But don't go shootin' off your faces to me till yuh got a license to."
This, if unassuring, was convincing. The Happy Family stopped smiling, and looked at one another uncertainly.
"I guess two or three of you better ride in and see what there is to it," announced Chip, dryly. "If Happy is romancing—" His look was eloquent.
But Happy Jack, though he stood a good deal in awe of Chip and his sarcasm, never flinched. He looked him straight in the eye and maintained the calm of conscious innocence.
"I'll go," said Pink, getting up and throwing his plate and cup into the dishpan. "Mind yuh, I don't believe a word of it; Happy, if this is just a sell, so help me Josephine, you'll learn some brand new Jiujitsu right away quick."
"I'll go along too," Happy boldly retorted, "so if yuh want anything uh me, after you've saw Weary, yuh won't need t' wait till yuh strike camp t' git it. Weary loadin' me, was he? Yuh'll find out, all uh yuh, that it's him that's loaded."
They caught fresh horses and started—Cal, Pink, Jack Bates and Happy Jack. And Happy stood their jeers throughout the ten-mile ride with an equanimity that was new to them. For the most part he rode in silence, and grinned knowingly when they laughed too loudly at the joke Weary was playing.
"All right—maybe he is," he flung back, once. "But he sure looks the part well enough t' keep all Dry Lake indoors—and I never knowed Weary t' terrorize a hull town before. And where'd he git that horse? and where's Glory at? and why ain't he comin' on t' camp t' help you chumps giggle? Ain't he had plenty uh time t' foller me out and enjoy his little joke? And another thing, he was hard at it when I struck town. Now, where'd yuh get off at?"
To this argument they offered several explanations—at all of which Happy grunted in great disdain.
They clattered nonchalantly into Dry Lake, still unconvinced and still jeering at Happy Jack. The town was very quiet, even for Dry Lake. As they rounded the blacksmith shop, from where they could see the whole length of the one street which the place boasted, a yell, shrill, exultant, familiar, greeted them. A long-legged figure they knew well dashed down the street to them, a waving six-shooter in one hand, the reins held aloft in the other. His horse gave evidence of hard usage, and it was a horse none of them had ever seen before.
"It's him, all right," Jack Bates admitted reluctantly.
"Yip! Cowboys in town!" rang the slogan of the range land. "Come on and—wake 'em up! OO-oop-ee!" He pulled up so suddenly that his horse almost sat down in the dust, and reined in beside Pink.
They eyed him in amaze, and avoided meeting one another's eyes. Truly, he was a strange-looking Weary. His head was bare and disheveled, his eyes bloodshot and glaring, his cheeks flushed hotly. His neck-kerchief covered his chest like a bib and he wore no coat; one shirtsleeve was rent from shoulder to cuff, telling eloquently that violent hands had sought to lay hold on him. His long legs, clad in Angora chaps, swung limp to the stirrup. By all these signs and tokens, they knew that he was drunk—-joyously, unequivocally, vociferously drunk!
Joe Meeker peered cautiously out of the window of Rusty Brown's place when they rode up, and Cal Emmett swore aloud at sight of him. Joe Meeker was the most indefatigable male gossip for fifty miles around, and the story of Weary's spree would spread far and fast. Worse, it would reach first of all the ears of Weary's School-ma'am, who lived at Meeker's.
Cal started to get down; he wanted to go in and reason with Joe Meeker. At all events, Ruby Satterlee must not hear of Weary's defection. It was all right, maybe, for some men to make fools of themselves in this fashion; some women would look upon it with lenience. But this was different; Weary was different, and so was Ruby Satterlee. Cal meditated upon just what would the most effectually close the mouth of Joe Meeker.
But Weary spied him as his foot touched the ground. "Oh, yuh can't sneak off like that, old-timer. Yuh stay right outside and help wake 'em up!" he shouted hoarsely.
Cal turned and looked at him keenly; looked also at the erratic movements of the gun, and reconsidered his decision. Joe Meeker could wait.
"Better come on out to camp, Weary," he said persuasively. "We're all of us going, right away. Yuh can ride out with us."
Weary had not yet extracted all the joy there was in the situation. He did not want to ride out to camp; more, he had no intention of doing so. He stood up in the stirrups and declaimed loudly his views upon the subject, and his opinion of any man who proposed such a move, and punctuated his remarks freely with profanity and bullets.
Under cover of Weary's elocution Pink did a bit of jockeying and got his horse sidling up against Cal. He leaned carelessly upon the saddle-horn and fixed his big, innocent eyes upon Weary's flushed face.
"He's pretty cute, if he is full," he murmured discreetly to Cal. "He won't let his gun get empty—see? Loads after every third shot, regular. We've got to get him so excited he forgets that little ceremony. Once his gun's empty, he's all to the bad—we can take him into camp. We'll try and rush him out uh town anyway, and shoot as we go. It's our only show—unless we can get him inside and lay him out."
"Yeah, that's what we'll have to do," Cal assented guardedly. "He's sure tearing it off in large chunks, ain't he? I never knew—"
"Here! What you two gazabos making medicine about?" cried Weary suspiciously. "Break away, there. I won't stand for no side-talks—"
"We're just wondering if we hadn't all better adjourn and have something to drink," said Pink musically, straightening up in the saddle. "Come on—I'm almighty dry."
"Same here," said Jack Bates promptly taking the cue, and threw one leg over the cantle. He got no further than that.
"You stay right up on your old bench!" Weary commanded threateningly. "We're the kings uh the prairie, and we'll drink on our thrones. That so-many-kinds-of-bar-slave can pack out the dope to us. It's what he's there for."
That settled Pink's little plan to get him inside where, lined up to the bar, they might—if they were quick enough—get his gun away from him; or, failing that, the warm room and another drink or two would "lay him out" and render him harmless.
Weary, shoving three cartridges dexterously into the chambers in place of those just emptied, shouted to Rusty to bring out the "sheepdip." The four drew together and attempted further consultation, separated hastily when his eye fell upon them, and waited meekly his further pleasure. They knew better than to rouse his anger against them.
Weary, displeased because Rusty did not immediately respond to his call, sent a shot or two through the window by way of hurrying him.
Whereupon Rusty cautiously opened the door, shoved a tray with bottle and glasses ostentatiously out into the sunlight for a peace offering, and finding that hostilities ceased, came forth in much fear and served them.
They drank solemnly.
"Take another one, darn yuh," commanded Weary.
They drank again, more solemnly.
The sun beat harshly down upon the deserted street, and upon the bare, tousled, brown head of Weary. The four stared at him uneasily; they had never seen him like this before, and it gave him an odd, unfamiliar air that worried them more than they would have cared to own.
Only Pink refused to lose heart. "Well, come on—let's wake up these dead ones," he shouted, drawing his gun and firing into the air. "Get busy, you sleepers! Yip! Cowboys in town!" He wheeled and darted off down the street, shooting and yelling, and the others, with Weary in their midst, followed. At the blacksmith shop, Pink, tacitly the leader of the rescuers, would have gone straight on out of town. But Weary whirled and galloped back, firing merrily into the air. A bit chagrined, Pink wheeled and galloped at his heels, fuming inwardly at the methodical reloading after every third shot. Cal, on the other side, glanced across at Pink, shook his head ruefully and shoved more shells into his smoking gun.
Back and forth from the store at one end of the street to the blacksmith shop at the other they rode, yelling till their throats ached and shooting till their gun-barrels were hot; and Weary kept pace with them and out-yelled and out-shot the most energetic, and never once forgot the little ceremony of shoving in fresh shells after the third shot. Drunk, Weary appeared much more cautious than when sober. Pink grew hot and hoarse, and counted the shots, one, two, three, over and over till his brain grew sick.
On the seventh trip down the street, a sleek, black head appeared for an instant over the top of the board-pile in the hotel yard. A pair of frightened, slant eyes peered out at them. Weary, just about to reload, caught sight of him and gave a whoop of pure joy.
"Lord, how I do hate a Chink!" he cried, and dropped to the ground the three shells in his hand that he might fire the two in his gun.
Pink yelled also. "Nab him, Cal!" and caught his gun arm the instant Weary's last bullet left the barrel.
Cal leaned and caught Weary round the neck in a close hug. Jack Bates and Happy Jack crowded close, eager to help but finding no place to take hold.
"Now, you blame fool, come along home and quit disgracing the whole community!" cried Cal, half angrily. "Ain't yuh got any sense at all?"
Weary protested; he swore; he threatened. He was not in the least like his old, sweet-tempered self. He mourned openly because he had no longer a gun that he might slay and spare not. He insisted that he would take much pleasure in killing them all off—especially Pink. He felt that Pink was the greatest traitor in the lot, and said that it would be a special joy to him to see Pink expire slowly and in great pain. He remarked that they would be sorry, before they were through with him, and repeated, many times, the hint that he never forgot a friend or forgave an enemy—and looked darkly at Pink.
"You're batty," Pink told him sorrowfully, the while they led him out through the lane. "We're the best friends yuh got—only yuh don't appreciate us."
Weary glared at him through a tangle of brown hair, and remarked further, in tones that one could hear a mile, upon the subject of Pink's treachery and the particular kind of death he deserved to die.
Pink shrugged his shoulder and grew sulky; then, old friendship growing strong within him, he sought to soothe him.
But Weary absolutely declined to be soothed. Cal, serene in his fancied favoritism, attempted the impossible, and was greeted with language which no man living had ever before heard from the lips of Weary the sunny. Jack Bates and Happy Jack, profiting by his experience, wisely kept silence.
For this, the homeward ride was not the companionable gallop it usually was. They tried to learn from Weary what he had done with Glory, and whence came the mud-colored cayuse with the dim, blotched brand, that he bestrode. They asked also where were the horses he had been sent to bring.
In return, Weary began viciously to dissect their pedigree and general moral characters.
After that, they gave over trying to question or to reason, and the last two miles they rode in utter silence. Weary, tiring of venom that brought no results, subsided gradually into mutterings, and then into sullen silence, so that, save for his personal appearance, they reached camp quite decorously.
Chip met them at the bed wagon, where they slipped dispiritedly off their horses and began to unsaddle—all save Weary; he stared around him, got cautiously to the ground and walked, with that painfully circumspect stride sometimes affected by the intoxicated, over to the cook-tent.
"Well," snapped Chip to the others, "For once in his life, Happy was right."
Weary, still planting his feet primly upon the trampled grass, went smiling up to the stupefied Patsy.
"Lord, how I do love a big, fat, shiny Dutch cook!" he murmured, and flung his long arms around him in a hug that caused Patsy to grunt. "How yuh was, already, Dutchy? Got any pie in this man's cow-camp?"
Patsy scowled and drew haughtily away from his embrace; there was one thing he would not endure, even from Weary: it was having his nationality too lightly mentioned. To call him Dutchy was a direct insult, and the Happy Family never did it to his face—unless the provocation was very great. To call him Dutchy and in the same breath to ask for pie—that, indeed, went far beyond the limits of decency.
"Py cosh, you not ged any pie, Weary Davidson. Py cosh, I learns you not to call names py sober peoples. You not get no grub whiles you iss too drunk to be decend mit folks."
"Hey? Yuh won't feed a man when he's hungry? Yuh darn Dutch—" Weary went into details in a way that was surprising.
The Happy Family rushed up and pulled him off Patsy before he had done any real harm, and held him till the cook had got into the shelter of his tent and armed himself with a frying pan. Weary was certainly outdoing himself today. The Happy Family resolved into a peace committee.
"Aw, dig up some pie for him, Patsy," pleaded Cal. "Yuh don't want to mind anything he says while he's like this; yuh know Weary's a good friend to yuh when he's sober. Get some strong coffee—that'll straighten him out."
"Py cosh, I not feed no drunk fools. I not care if it iss Weary. He hit mine jaw—"
"Aw, gwan! I guess yuh never get that way yourself," put in Happy Jack, ponderously sarcastic. "I guess yuh never tanked up in roundup, one time, and left me cook chuck fer the hull outfit—and I guess Weary never rode all night, and had the dickens of a time, tryin' t' get yuh a doctor—yuh old heathen. Yuh sure are an ungrateful cuss."
"Give him some good, hot coffee, Patsy, and anything he wants to eat," commanded Chip, more sharply than was his habit. "And don't be all day about it, either."
That settled it, of course; Chip, being foreman, was to be obeyed—unless Patsy would rather roll his blankets and hunt a new job. He took to muttering weird German sentences the while he brought out two pies and poured black coffee into a cup. The reveler drank the coffee—three cups of it—ate a whole blueberry pie, and was consoled. He even wanted to embrace Patsy again, but was restrained by the others. After that he went over and laid down in the shade of the bed-wagon, and straightway began to snore with much energy and enthusiasm.
Chip watched him a minute and then went and sat down on the shady side of the bed-tent and began gloomily to roll a cigarette. The rest of the Happy Family silently followed his example; for a long while no one said a word.
It certainly was a shock to see Weary like that. Not because it is unusual for a man of the range to get in that condition—for on the contrary, it is rather commonplace. And the Happy Family had lived the life too long to judge a man harshly because of an occasional indiscreet departure from the path virtuous; they knew that the man might be a good fellow, after all. In the West grows Charity sturdily, with branches quite broad enough to cover certain defections on the part of such men as Weary Davidson.
For that, the real shock came in the utter unexpectedness of the thing—and from the fact that a man, even though prone to indulge in such riotous conduct, is supposed to forswear such indulgence when he has other and more important things to do. Weary had been sent afar on a matter of business; he had ridden Glory, a horse belonging to the Flying U. His arrival without the strays he had been sent after; without even the horse he had ridden away—that was the real disaster. He had broken a trust; he had, apparently, appropriated a horse that did not belong to him, which was worse. But the Happy Family were loyal, to a man. They did not condemn him; they were only waiting for him to sleep himself into a condition to explain the mystery.
"Somebody's doped him," said Pink with decision, after three hours of shying around the subject. "You'll see; somebody's doped him and likely took Glory away when they'd got him batty enough not to know the difference. Yuh mind the queer look in his eyes? And he acts queer. So help me Josephine! I'd sure like to get next to the man that traded horses with him."
The Happy Family breathed deeply; they were all, apparently, thinking the same thing.
"By golly, that's what," spoke Slim, with decision. "He does act like a man that had been doped."
"Whisky straight wouldn't make that much difference in a man," averred Jack Bates. "Yuh can't get Weary on the fight, hardly, when he's sober; and look at the way he was in town—hot to slaughter that Chinaman that wasn't doing a thing to him, and saying how he hated Chinks. Weary don't; he always says, when Patsy don't make enough pie to go round, that if he was running the outfit he'd have a Chink to cook."
"Aw, look at the way he acted t' Rusty—and he thinks a lot uh Rusty, too," put in Happy Jack, who felt the importance of discovery and was in an unusually complacent mood. "And he was going t' hang Pink up by the heels and—"
Pink turned round and looked at him fixedly, and Happy Jack became suddenly interested in his cigarette.
"Say, he'll sure be sore when he comes to himself, though," observed Cal. "I don't know how he's going to square himself with his school-ma'am. Joe Meeker was into Rusty's place while the big setting comes off; I would uh given him a gentle hint about keeping his face closed, only Weary wouldn't let me off my horse. Joe'll sure give a high-colored picture uh the performance."
"Well, if he does, he'll regret it a lot," prophesied Pink. "And anyway, something sure got wrong with Weary; do yuh suppose he'd give up Glory deliberately? Not on your life! Glory comes next to the Schoolma'am in his affections."
"Wonder where he got that dirt-colored cayuse, anyhow," mused Cal.
"I was studying out the brand, a while ago," Pink answered. "It's blotched pretty bad, but I made it out. It's the Rocking R—they range down along Milk River, next to the reservation. I've never had anything to do with the outfit, but I'd gamble on the brand, all right."
"Well, how the deuce would he come by a Rocking R horse? He never got it around here, anywheres. He must uh got it up on the Marias."
"Then that must be a good long jag he's had—which I don't believe," interjected Cal.
"Somebody," said Pink meaningly, "ought to have gone along with him; this thing wouldn't uh happened, then."
"Ye-e-s?" Chip felt that the remark applied to him as a foreman, rather than as one of the Family, and he resented it. "If I'd sent somebody else with him, the outfit would probably be out two horses, instead of one—and there'd be two men under the bed-wagon with their hats and coats missing."
Pink's eyes, under their heavy fringe of curled lashes, turned ominously purple. "With all due respect to you, Mr. Bennett, I'd like to have you explain—"
A horseman rode quietly up to them from behind a thicket of choke-cherry bushes. Pink, catching sight of him first, stopped short off and stared.
"Hello, boys," greeted the new-comer gaily. "How's everything? Mamma! it's good to get amongst white folks again."
The Happy Family rose up as one man and stared fixedly; not one of them spoke, or moved. Pink was the first to recover.
"Yuh sure will, Cadwolloper, if yuh don't let down them pretty lashes and quit gawping. What the dickens ails you fellows, anyhow? Is—is my hat on crooked, or—or anything?"
"Weary, by all that's good!" murmured Chip, dazedly.
Weary swung a long leg over the back of Glory and came to earth. "Say," he began in the sunny, drawly voice that was good to hear, "what's the joke?"
The Happy Family sat down again and looked queerly at one another.
Happy Jack glanced furtively at a long figure in the grass near by, and then, unhappily, at Weary.
"It's him, all right," he blurted solemnly. "They're both him!"
The Happy Family snickered hysterically.
Weary took a long step and confronted Happy Jack. "I'm both him, am I?" he repeated mockingly. "Mamma, but you're a lucid cuss!" He turned and regarded the stunned Family judicially.
"If there's any of it left," he hinted sweetly, "I wouldn't mind taking a jolt myself; but from the looks, and the actions, yuh must have got away with at least two gallons!"
"Oh, we can give you a jolt, I guess," Chip retorted dryly. "Just step this way."
Weary, wondering a bit at the tone of him, followed; at his heels came the perturbed Happy Family. Chip stooped and turned the sleeping one over on his back; the sleeper opened his eyes and blinked questioningly up at the huddle of bent faces.
The astonished, blue eyes of Weary met the quizzical blue eyes of his other self. He leaned against the wagon wheel.
"Oh, mamma!" he said, weakly.
His other self sat up and looked around, felt for his hat, saw that it was gone, and reached mechanically for his cigarette material.
"By the Lord! Are punchers so damn scarce in this neck uh the woods, that yuh've got to shanghai a man in order to make a full crew?" he demanded of the Happy Family, in the voice of Weary—minus the drawl. "I've got a string uh cayuses in that darn stockyards, back in town—and a damn poor town it is!—and I've also got a date with the Circle roundup for tomorrow night. What yuh going to do about it? Speak up, for I'm in a hurry to know."
The Happy Family looked at one another and said nothing.
"Say," began Weary, mildly. "Did yuh say your name was Ira Mallory, and do yuh mind how they used to mix us up in school, when we were both kids? 'Cause I've got a hunch you're the same irrepressible that has the honor to be my cousin."
"I didn't say it," retorted his other self, pugnaciously. "But I don't know as it's worth while denying it. If you're Will Davidson, shake. What the devil d'yuh want to look so much like me, for? Ain't yuh got any manners? Yuh always was imitating your betters." He grinned and got slowly to his feet. "Boys, I don't know yuh, but I've a hazy recollection that we had one hell of a time shooting up that little townerine, back there. I don't go on a limb very often, but when I do, folks are apt to find it out right away."
The Happy Family laughed.
"By golly," said Slim slowly, "that cousin story 's all right—but I bet yuh you two fellows are twins, at the very least!"
"Guess again, Slim," cried Weary, already in the clutch of old times. "Run away and play, you kids. Irish and me have got steen things to talk about, and mustn't be bothered."
THE UNHEAVENLY TWINS
There was a dead man's estate to be settled, over beyond the Bear Paws, and several hundred head of cattle and horses had been sold to the highest bidder, who was Chip Bennett, of the Flying U. Later, there were the cattle and horses to be gathered and brought to the home range; and Weary, always Chip's choice when came need of a trusted man, was sent to bring them. He was to hire what men he needed down there, work the range with the Rocking R, and bring home the stock—when his men could take the train and go back whence they had come.
The Happy Family was disappointed. Pink and Irish, especially, had hoped to be sent along; for both knew well the range north of the Bear Paws, and both would like to have made the trip with Weary. But men were scarce and the Happy Family worked well together—so well that Chip grudged every man of them that ever had to be sent afar. So Weary went alone, and Pink and Irish watched him wistfully when he rode away and were extremely unpleasant companions for the rest of that day, at least.
Over beyond the Bear Paws men seemed scarcer even than around the Flying U range. Weary scouted fruitlessly for help, wasted two days in the search, and then rode to Bullhook and sent this wire—collect—to Chip, and grinned as he wondered how much it would cost. He, too, had rather resented being sent off down there alone.
"C. BENNETT, Dry Lake: Can't get a man here for love or money. Have tried both, and held one up with a gun. No use. Couldn't top a saw horse. For the Lord's sake, send somebody I know. I want Irish and Pink and Happy—and I want them bad. Get a move on. W. DAVIDSON."
Chip grinned when he read it, paid the bill, and told the three to get ready to hit the trail. And the three grinned answer and immediately became very busy; hitting the trail, in this case, meant catching the next train out of Dry Lake, for there were horses bought with the cattle, and much time would be saved by making up an outfit down there.
Weary rode dispiritedly into Sleepy Trail (which Irish usually spoke of as Camas, because it had but lately been rechristened to avoid conflictions with another Camas farther up on Milk River). Weary thought, as he dismounted from Glory, which he had brought with him from home, that Sleepy Trail fitted the place exactly, and that whenever he heard Irish refer to it as Camas, he would call him down and make him use this other and more appropriate title.
Sleepy it was, in that hazy sunshine of mid fore-noon, and apparently deserted. He tied Glory to the long hitching pole where a mild-eyed gray stood dozing on three legs, and went striding, rowels a-clank, into the saloon. He had not had any answer to his telegram, and the world did not look so very good to him. He did not know that Pink and Irish and Happy Jack were even then speeding over the prairies on the eastbound train from Dry Lake, to meet him. He had come to Sleepy Trail to wait for the next stage, on a mere hope of some message from the Flying U.
The bartender looked up, gave a little, welcoming whoop and leaned half over the bar, hand extended. "Hello, Irish! Lord! When did you get back?"
Weary smiled and shook the hand with much emphasis. Irish had once created a sensation in Dry Lake by being taken for Weary; Weary wondered if, in the guise of Irish, there might not be some diversion for him here in Sleepy Trail. He remembered the maxim "Turn about is fair play," and immediately acted thereon.
"I just came down from the Flying U the other day," he said.
The bartender half turned, reached a tall, ribbed bottle and two glasses, and set them on the bar before Weary. "Go to it," he invited cordially. "I'll gamble yuh brought your thirst right along with yuh—and that's your pet brand. Back to stay?"
Weary poured himself a modest "two fingers," and wondered if he had better claim to have reformed; Irish could—and did—drink long and deep, where Weary indulged but moderately.
"No," he said, setting the glass down without refilling. "They sent me back on business. How's everything?"
The bartender spoke his wonder at the empty glass, listened while Weary explained how he had cut down his liquid refreshments "just to see how it would go, and which was boss," and then told much unmeaning gossip about men and women Weary had never heard of before.
Weary listened with exaggerated interest, and wondered what the fellow would do if he told him he was not Irish Mallory at all. He reflected, with some amusement, that he did not even know what to call the bartender, and tried to remember if Irish had ever mentioned him. He was about to state quietly that he had never met him before, and watch the surprise of the other, when the bartender grew more interesting.
"And say! yuh'd best keep your gun strapped on yuh, whilst you're down here," he told Weary, with some earnestness. "Spikes Weber is in this country—come just after yuh left; fact is, he's got it into his block that you left because he come. Brought his wife along—say! I feel sorry for that little woman—and when he ain't bowling up and singing his war-song about you, and all he'll do when he meets up with yuh, he's dealing her misery and keeping cases that nobody runs off with her. Why, at dances, he won't let her dance with nobody but him! Goes plumb wild, sometimes, when it's 'change partners' in a square dance, and he sees her swingin' with somebody he thinks looks good to her. I've saw him raising hell with her, off in some corner between dances, and her trying not to let on she's cryin'. He's dead sure you're still crazy over her, and ready to steal her away from him first chance, only you're afraid uh him. He never gits full but he reads out your pedigree to the crowd. So I just thought I'd tell you, and let yuh be on your guard."
"Thanks," said Weary, getting out papers and tobacco. "And whereabouts will I find this lovely specimen uh manhood?"
"They're stopping over to Bill Mason's; but yuh better not go hunting trouble, Irish. That's the worst about putting yuh next to the lay. You sure do love a fight. But I thought I'd let yuh know, as a friend, so he wouldn't take you unawares. Don't be a fool and go out looking for him, though; he ain't worth the trouble."
"I won't," Weary promised generously. "I haven't lost nobody that looks like Spikes-er-" he searched his memory frantically for the other name, failed to get it, and busied himself with his cigarette, looking mean and bloodthirsty to make up. "Still," he added darkly, "if I should happen to meet up with him, yuh couldn't blame me—"