CHIP, OF THE FLYING U
B. M. BOWER (B. M. SINCLAIR)
AUTHOR OF "The Lure of the Dim Trails," "Her Prairie Knight," "The Lonesome Trail," etc.
Illustrations by CHARLES M. RUSSELL
CHAPTER I The Old Man's Sister II Over the "Hog's Back" III Silver IV An Ideal Picture V In Silver's Stall VI The Hum of Preparation VII Love and a Stomach Pump VIII Prescriptions IX Before the Round-up X What Whizzer Did XI Good Intentions XII "The Last Stand" XIII Art Critics XIV Convalescence XV The Spoils of Victory XVI Weary Advises XVII When a Maiden Wills XVIII Dr Cecil Granthum XIX Love Finds Its Hour
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Came down with not a joint in his legs and turned a somersault
"The Last Stand."
Throwing herself from the saddle she slid precipitately into the washout, just as Denver thundered up
CHAPTER I. The Old Man's Sister.
The weekly mail had just arrived at the Flying U ranch. Shorty, who had made the trip to Dry Lake on horseback that afternoon, tossed the bundle to the "Old Man" and was halfway to the stable when he was called back peremptorily.
"Shorty! O-h-h, Shorty! Hi!"
Shorty kicked his steaming horse in the ribs and swung round in the path, bringing up before the porch with a jerk.
"Where's this letter been?" demanded the Old Man, with some excitement. James G. Whitmore, cattleman, would have been greatly surprised had he known that his cowboys were in the habit of calling him the Old Man behind his back. James G. Whitmore did not consider himself old, though he was constrained to admit, after several hours in the saddle, that rheumatism had searched him out—because of his fourteen years of roughing it, he said. Also, there was a place on the crown of his head where the hair was thin, and growing thinner every day of his life, though he did not realize it. The thin spot showed now as he stood in the path, waving a square envelope aloft before Shorty, who regarded it with supreme indifference.
Not so Shorty's horse. He rolled his eyes till the whites showed, snorted and backed away from the fluttering, white object.
"Doggone it, where's this been?" reiterated James G., accusingly.
"How the devil do I know?" retorted Shorty, forcing his horse nearer. "In the office, most likely. I got it with the rest to-day."
"It's two weeks old," stormed the Old Man. "I never knew it to fail—if a letter says anybody's coming, or you're to hurry up and go somewhere to meet somebody, that letter's the one that monkeys around and comes when the last dog's hung. A letter asking yuh if yuh don't want to get rich in ten days sellin' books, or something, 'll hike along out here in no time. Doggone it!"
"You got a hurry-up order to go somewhere?" queried Shorty, mildly sympathetic.
"Worse than that," groaned James G. "My sister's coming out to spend the summer—t'-morrow. And no cook but Patsy—and she can't eat in the mess house—and the house like a junk shop!"
"It looks like you was up against it, all right," grinned Shorty. Shorty was a sort of foreman, and was allowed much freedom of speech.
"Somebody's got to meet her—you have Chip catch up the creams so he can go. And send some of the boys up here to help me hoe out a little. Dell ain't used to roughing it; she's just out of a medical school—got her diploma, she was telling me in the last letter before this. She'll be finding microbes by the million in this old shack. You tell Patsy I'll be late to supper—and tell him to brace up and cook something ladies like—cake and stuff. Patsy'll know. I'd give a dollar to get that little runt in the office—"
But Shorty, having heard all that it was important to know, was clattering down the long slope again to the stable. It was supper time, and Shorty was hungry. Also, there was news to tell, and he was curious to see how the boys would take it. He was just turning loose the horse when supper was called. He hurried back up the hill to the mess house, performed hasty ablutions in the tin wash basin on the bench beside the door, scrubbed his face dry on the roller towel, and took his place at the long table within.
"Any mail for me?" Jack Bates looked up from emptying the third spoon of sugar into his coffee.
"Naw—she didn't write this time, Jack." Shorty reached a long arm for the "Mulligan stew."
"How's the dance coming on?" asked Cal Emmett.
"I guess it's a go, all right. They've got them coons engaged to play. The hotel's fixing for a big crowd, if the weather holds like this. Chip, Old Man wants you to catch up the creams, after supper; you've got to meet the train to-morrow."
"Which train?" demanded Chip, looking up. "Is old Dunk coming?"
"The noon train. No, he didn't say nothing about Dunk. He wants a bunch of you fellows to go up and hoe out the White House and slick it up for comp'ny—got to be done t'-night. And Patsy, Old Man says for you t' git a move on and cook something fit to eat; something that ain't plum full uh microbes."
Shorty became suddenly engaged in cooling his coffee, enjoying the varied emotions depicted on the faces of the boys.
Shorty took two leisurely gulps before he answered:
"Old Man's sister's coming out to stay all summer—and then some, maybe. Be here to-morrow, he said."
"Gee whiz! Is she pretty?" This from Cal Emmett.
"Hope she ain't over fifty." This from Jack Bates.
"Hope she ain't one of them four-eyed school-ma'ams," added Happy Jack —so called to distinguish him from Jack Bates, and also because of his dolorous visage.
"Why can't some one else haul her out?" began Chip. "Cal would like that job—and he's sure welcome to it."
"Cal's too dangerous. He'd have the old girl dead in love before he got her over the first ridge, with them blue eyes and that pretty smile of his'n. It's up to you, Splinter—Old Man said so."
"She'll be dead safe with Chip. HE won't make love to her," retorted Cal.
"Wonder how old she is," repeated Jack Bates, half emptying the syrup pitcher into his plate. Patsy had hot biscuits for supper, and Jack's especial weakness was hot biscuits and maple syrup.
"As to her age," remarked Shorty, "it's a cinch she ain't no spring chicken, seeing she's the Old Man's sister."
"Is she a schoolma'am?" Happy Jack's distaste for schoolma'ams dated from his tempestuous introduction to the A B C's, with their daily accompaniment of a long, thin ruler.
"No, she ain't a schoolma'am. She's a darn sight worse. She's a doctor."
"Aw, come off!" Cal Emmett was plainly incredulous."
"That's right. Old Man said she's just finished taking a course uh medicine—what'd yuh call that?"
"Consumption, maybe—or snakes." Weary smiled blandly across the table.
"She got a diploma, though. Now where do you get off at?"
"Yeah—that sure means she's a doctor," groaned Cal.
"By golly, she needn't try t' pour any dope down ME," cried a short, fat man who took life seriously—a man they called Slim, in fine irony.
"Gosh, I'd like to give her a real warm reception," said Jack Bates, who had a reputation for mischief. "I know them Eastern folks, down t' the ground. They think cow-punchers wear horns. Yes, they do. They think we're holy terrors that eat with our six-guns beside our plates— and the like of that. They make me plum tired. I'd like to—wish we knew her brand."
"I can tell you that," said Chip, cynically. "There's just two bunches to choose from. There's the Sweet Young Things, that faint away at sight of a six-shooter, and squawk and catch at your arm if they see a garter snake, and blush if you happen to catch their eye suddenly, and cry if you don't take off your hat every time you see them a mile off." Chip held out his cup for Patsy to refill.
"Yeah—I've run up against that brand—and they're sure all right. They suit ME," remarked Cal.
"That don't seem to line up with the doctor's diploma," commented Weary.
"Well, she's the other kind then—and if she is, the Lord have mercy on the Flying U! She'll buy her some spurs and try to rope and cut out and help brand. Maybe she'll wear double-barreled skirts and ride a man's saddle and smoke cigarettes. She'll try to go the men one better in everything, and wind up by making a darn fool of herself. Either kind's bad enough."
"I'll bet she don't run in either bunch," began Weary. "I'll bet she's a skinny old maid with a peaked nose and glasses, that'll round us up every Sunday and read tracts at our heads, and come down on us with both feet about tobacco hearts and whisky livers, and the evils and devils wrapped up in a cigarette paper. I seen a woman doctor, once—she was stopping at the T Down when I was line-riding for them—and say, she was a holy fright! She had us fellows going South before a week. I stampeded clean off the range, soon as my month was up."
"Say," interrupted Cal, "don't yuh remember that picture the Old Man got last fall, of his sister? She was the image of the Old Man—and mighty near as old."
Chip, thinking of the morrow's drive, groaned in real anguish of spirit.
"You won't dast t' roll a cigarette comin' home, Chip," predicted Happy Jack, mournfully. "Yuh want t' smoke double goin' in."
"I don't THINK I'll smoke double going in," returned Chip, dryly. "If the old girl don't like my style, why the walking isn't all taken up."
"Say, Chip," suggested Jack Bates, "you size her up at the depot, and, if she don't look promising, just slack the lines on Antelope Hill. The creams 'll do the rest. If they don't, we'll finish the job here."
Shorty tactfully pushed back his chair and rose. "You fellows don't want to git too gay," he warned. "The Old Man's just beginning to forget about the calf-shed deal." Then he went out and shut the door after him. The boys liked Shorty; he believed in the old adage about wisdom being bliss at certain times, and the boys were all the better for his living up to his belief. He knew the Happy Family would stop inside the limit—at least, they always had, so far.
"What's the game?" demanded Cal, when the door closed behind their indulgent foreman.
"Why, it's this. (Pass the syrup, Happy.) T'morrow's Sunday, so we'll have time t' burn. We'll dig up all the guns we can find, and catch up the orneriest cayuses in our strings, and have a real, old lynching bee—sabe?"
"Who yuh goin' t' hang?" asked Slim, apprehensively. "Yuh needn't think I'LL stand for it."
"Aw, don't get nervous. There ain't power enough on the ranch t' pull yuh clear of the ground. We ain't going to build no derrick," said Jack, witheringly. "We'll have a dummy rigged up in the bunk house. When Chip and the doctor heave in sight on top of the grade, we'll break loose down here with our bronks and our guns, and smoke up the ranch in style. We'll drag out Mr. Strawman, and lynch him to the big gate before they get along. We'll be 'riddling him with bullets' when they arrive—and by that time she'll be so rattled she won't know whether it's a man or a mule we've got strung up."
"You'll have to cut down your victim before I get there," grinned Chip. "I never could get the creams through the gate, with a man hung to the frame; they'd spill us into the washout by the old shed, sure as fate."
"That'd be all right. The old maid would sure know she was out West— we need something to add to the excitement, anyway."
"If the Old Man's new buggy is piled in a heap, you'll wish you had cut out some of the excitement," retorted Chip.
"All right, Splinter. We won't hang him there at all. That old cottonwood down by the creek would do fine. It'll curdle her blood like Dutch cheese to see us marching him down there—and she can't see the hay sticking out of his sleeves, that far off."
"What if she wants to hold an autopsy?" bantered Chip.
"By golly, we'll stake her to a hay knife and tell her to go after him!" cried Slim, suddenly waking up to the situation.
The noon train slid away from the little, red depot at Dry Lake and curled out of sight around a hill. The only arrival looked expectantly into the cheerless waiting room, gazed after the train, which seemed the last link between her and civilization, and walked to the edge of the platform with a distinct frown upon the bit of forehead visible under her felt hat.
A fat young man threw the mail sack into a weather-beaten buggy and drove leisurely down the track to the post office. The girl watched him out of sight and sighed disconsolately. All about her stretched the rolling grass land, faintly green in the hollows, brownly barren on the hilltops. Save the water tank and depot, not a house was to be seen, and the silence and loneliness oppressed her.
The agent was dragging some boxes off the platform. She turned and walked determinedly up to him, and the agent became embarrassed under her level look.
"Isn't there anyone here to meet me?" she demanded, quite needlessly. "I am Miss Whitmore, and my brother owns a ranch, somewhere near here. I wrote him, two weeks ago, that I was coming, and I certainly expected him to meet me." She tucked a wind-blown lock of brown hair under her hat crown and looked at the agent reproachfully, as if he were to blame, and the agent, feeling suddenly that somehow the fault was his, blushed guiltily and kicked at a box of oranges.
"Whitmore's rig is in town," he said, hastily. "I saw his man at dinner. The train was reported late, but she made up time." Grasping desperately at his dignity, he swallowed an abject apology and retreated into the office.
Miss Whitmore followed him a few steps, thought better of it, and paced the platform self-pityingly for ten minutes, at the end of which the Flying U rig whirled up in a cloud of dust, and the agent hurried out to help with the two trunks, and the mandolin and guitar in their canvas cases.
The creams circled fearsomely up to the platform and stood quivering with eagerness to be off, their great eyes rolling nervously. Miss Whitmore took her place beside Chip with some inward trepidation mingled with her relief. When they were quite ready and the reins loosened suggestively, Pet stood upon her hind feet with delight and Polly lunged forward precipitately.
The girl caught her breath, and Chip eyed her sharply from the corner of his eye. He hoped she was not going to scream—he detested screaming women. She looked young to be a doctor, he decided, after that lightning survey. He hoped to goodness she wasn't of the Sweet Young Thing order; he had no patience with that sort of woman. Truth to tell, he had no patience with ANY sort of woman.
He spoke to the horses authoritatively, and they obeyed and settled to a long, swinging trot that knew no weariness, and the girl's heart returned to its normal action.
Two miles were covered in swift silence, then Miss Whitmore brought herself to think of the present and realized that the young man beside her had not opened his lips except to speak once to his team. She turned her head and regarded him curiously, and Chip, feeling the scrutiny, grew inwardly defiant.
Miss Whitmore decided, after a close inspection, that she rather liked his looks, though he did not strike her as a very amiable young man. Perhaps she was a bit tired of amiable young men. His face was thin, and refined, and strong—the strength of level brows, straight nose and square chin, with a pair of paradoxical lips, which were curved and womanish in their sensitiveness; the refinement was an intangible expression which belonged to no particular feature but pervaded the whole face. As to his eyes, she was left to speculate upon their color, since she had not seen them, but she reflected that many a girl would give a good deal to own his lashes.
Of a sudden he turned his eyes from the trail and met her look squarely. If he meant to confuse her, he failed—for she only smiled and said to herself: "They're hazel."
"Don't you think we ought to introduce ourselves?" she asked, composedly, when she was quite sure the eyes were not brown.
"Maybe." Chip's tone was neutrally polite.
Miss Whitmore had suspected that he was painfully bashful, after the manner of country young men. She now decided that he was not; he was passively antagonistic.
"Of course you know that I'm Della Whitmore," she said.
Chip carefully brushed a fly off Polly's flank with the whip.
"I took it for granted. I was sent to meet a Miss Whitmore at the train, and I took the only lady in sight."
"You took the right one—but I'm not—I haven't the faintest idea who you are."
"My name is Claude Bennett, and I'm happy to make your acquaintance."
"I don't believe it—you don't look happy," said Miss Whitmore, inwardly amused.
"That's the proper thing to say when you've been introduced to a lady," remarked Chip, noncommittally, though his lips twitched at the corners.
Miss Whitmore, finding no ready reply to this truthful statement, remarked, after a pause, that it was windy. Chip agreed that it was, and conversation languished.
Miss Whitmore sighed and took to studying the landscape, which had become a succession of sharp ridges and narrow coulees, water-worn and bleak, with a purplish line of mountains off to the left. After several miles she spoke.
"What is that animal over there? Do dogs wander over this wilderness alone?"
Chip's eyes followed her pointing finger.
"That's a coyote. I wish I could get a shot at him—they're an awful pest, out here, you know." He looked longingly at the rifle under his feet. "If I thought you could hold the horses a minute—"
"Oh, I can't! I—I'm not accustomed to horses—but I can shoot a little."
Chip gave her a quick, measuring glance. The coyote had halted and was squatting upon his haunches, his sharp nose pointed inquisitively toward them. Chip slowed the creams to a walk, raised the gun and laid it across his knees, threw a shell into position and adjusted the sight.
"Here, you can try, if you like," he said. "Whenever you're ready I'll stop. You had better stand up—I'll watch that you don't fall. Ready? Whoa, Pet!"
Miss Whitmore did not much like the skepticism in his tone, but she stood up, took quick, careful aim and fired.
Pet jumped her full length and reared, but Chip was watching for some such performance and had them well under control, even though he was compelled to catch Miss Whitmore from lurching backward upon her baggage behind the seat—which would have been bad for the guitar and mandolin, if not for the young woman.
The coyote had sprung high in air, whirled dizzily and darted over the hill.
"You hit him," cried Chip, forgetting his prejudice for a moment. He turned the creams from the road, filled with the spirit of the chase. Miss Whitmore will long remember that mad dash over the hilltops and into the hollows, in which she could only cling to the rifle and to the seat as best she might, and hope that the driver knew what he was about— which he certainly did.
"There he goes, sneaking down that coulee! He'll get into one of those washouts and hide, if we don't head him off. I'll drive around so you can get another shot at him," cried Chip. He headed up the hill again until the coyote, crouching low, was fully revealed.
"That's a fine shot. Throw another shell in, quick! You better kneel on the seat, this time—the horses know what's coming. Steady, Polly, my girl!"
Miss Whitmore glanced down the hill, and then, apprehensively, at the creams, who were clanking their bits, wild-eyed and quivering. Only their master's familiar voice and firm grip on the reins held them there at all. Chip saw and interpreted the glance, somewhat contemptuously.
"Oh, of course if you're AFRAID—"
Miss Whitmore set her teeth savagely, knelt and fired, cutting the sentence short in his teeth and forcing his undivided attention to the horses, which showed a strong inclination to bolt.
"I think I got him that time," said she, nonchalantly, setting her hat straight—though Chip, with one of his quick glances, observed that she was rather white around the mouth.
He brought the horses dexterously into the road and quieted them.
"Aren't you going to get my coyote?" she ventured to ask.
"Certainly. The road swings back, down that same coulee, and we'll pass right by it. Then I'll get out and pick him up, while you hold the horses."
"You'll hold those horses yourself," returned Miss Whitmore, with considerable spirit. "I'd much rather pick up the coyote, thank you."
Chip said nothing to this, whatever he may have thought. He drove up to the coyote with much coaxing of Pet and Polly, who eyed the gray object askance. Miss Whitmore sprang out and seized the animal by its coarse, bushy tail.
"Gracious, he's heavy!" she exclaimed, after one tug.
"He's been fattening up on Flying U calves," remarked Chip, his foot upon the brake.
Miss Whitmore knelt and examined the cattle thief curiously.
"Look," she said, "here's where I hit him the first time; the bullet took a diagonal course from the shoulder back to the other side. It must have gone within an inch of his heart, and would have finished him in a short time, without that other shot—that penetrated his brain, you see; death was instantaneous."
Chip had taken advantage of the halt to roll a cigarette, holding the reins tightly between his knees while he did so. He passed the loose edge of the paper across the tip of his tongue, eying the young woman curiously the while.
"You seem to be pretty well onto your job," he remarked, dryly.
"I ought to be," she said, laughing a little. "I've been learning the trade ever since I was sixteen."
"Yes? You began early."
"My Uncle John is a doctor. I helped him in the office till he got me into the medical school. I was brought up in an atmosphere of antiseptics and learned all the bones in Uncle John's 'Boneparte'— the skeleton, you know—before I knew all my letters." She dragged the coyote close to the wheel.
"Let me get hold of the tail." Chip carefully pinched out the blaze of his match and threw it away before he leaned over to help. With a quick lift he landed the animal, limp and bloody, squarely upon the top of Miss Whitmore's largest trunk. The pointed nose hung down the side, the white fangs exposed in a sinister grin. The girl gazed upon him proudly at first, then in dismay.
"Oh, he's dripping blood all over my mandolin case—and I just know it won't come out!" She tugged frantically at the instrument.
"'Out, damned spot!'" quoted Chip in a sepulchral tone before he turned to assist her.
Miss Whitmore let go the mandolin and stared blankly up at him, and Chip, offended at her frank surprise that he should quote Shakespeare, shut his lips tightly and relapsed into silence.
CHAPTER II. Over the "Hog's Back."
"That's Flying U ranch," volunteered Chip, as they turned sharply to the right and began to descend a long grade built into the side of a steep, rocky bluff. Below them lay the ranch in a long, narrow coulee. Nearest them sprawled the house, low, white and roomy, with broad porches and wide windows; further down the coulee, at the base of a gentle slope, were the sheds, the high, round corrals and the haystacks. Great, board gates were distributed in seemingly useless profusion, while barbed wire fences stretched away in all directions. A small creek, bordered with cottonwoods and scraggly willows, wound aimlessly away down the coulee.
"J. G. doesn't seem to have much method," remarked Miss Whitmore, after a critical survey. "What are all those log cabins scattered down the hill for? They look as though J. G. had a handful that he didn't want, and just threw them down toward the stable and left them lying where they happened to fall."
"It does, all right," conceded Chip. "They're the bunk house—where us fellows sleep—and the mess house, where we eat, and then come the blacksmith shop and a shack we keep all kinds of truck in, and—"
A chorus of shouts and shots arose from below. A scurrying group of horsemen burst over the hill behind the house, dashed half down the slope, and surrounded the bunk house with blood-curdling yells. Chip held the creams to a walk and furtively watched his companion. Miss Whitmore's eyes were very wide open; plainly, she was astonished beyond measure at the uproar. Whether she was also frightened, Chip could not determine.
The menacing yells increased in volume till the very hills seemed to cower in fear. Miss Whitmore gasped when a limp form was dragged from the cabin and lifted to the back of a snorting pony.
"They've got a rope around that man's neck," she breathed, in a horrified half whisper. "Are—they—going to HANG him?"
"It kinda looks that way, from here," said Chip, inwardly ashamed. All at once it struck him as mean and cowardly to frighten a lady who had traveled far among strangers and who had that tired droop to her mouth. It wasn't a fair game; it was cheating. Only for his promise to the boys, he would have told her the truth then and there.
Miss Whitmore was not a stupid young woman; his very indifference told her all that she needed to know. She tore her eyes from the confused jumble of gesticulating men and restive steeds to look sharply at Chip. He met her eyes squarely for an instant, and the horror oozed from her and left only amused chagrin that they should try to trick her so.
"Hurry up," she commanded, "so I can be in at the death. Remember, I'm a doctor. They're tying him to his horse—he looks half dead with fright."
Inwardly she added: "He overacts the part dreadfully."
The little cavalcade in the coulee fired a spectacular volley into the air and swept down the slope like a dry-weather whirlwind across a patch of alkali ground. Through the big gate and up the road past the stables they thundered, the prisoner bound and helpless in their midst.
Then something happened. A wide-open River Press, flapping impotently in the embrace of a willow, caught the eye of Banjo, a little blaze— faced bay who bore the captive. He squatted, ducked backward so suddenly that his reins slipped from Slim's fingers and lowered his head between his white front feet. His rider seemed stupid beyond any that Banjo had ever known—and he had known many. Snorting and pitching, he was away before the valiant band realized what was happening in their midst. The prisoner swayed drunkenly in the saddle. At the third jump his hat flew off, disclosing the jagged end of a two-by-four.
The Happy Family groaned as one man and gave chase.
Banjo, with almost human maliciousness, was heading up the road straight toward Chip and the woman doctor—and she must be a poor doctor indeed, and a badly frightened one, withal, if she failed to observe a peculiarity in the horse thief's cranium.
Cal Emmett dug his spurs into his horse and shot by Slim like a locomotive, shouting profanity as he went.
"Head him into the creek," yelled Happy Jack, and leaned low over the neck of his sorrel.
Weary Willie stood up in his stirrups and fanned Glory with his hat. "Yip, yee—e-e! Go to it, Banjo, old boy! Watch his nibs ride, would yuh? He's a broncho buster from away back." Weary Willie was the only man of them all who appeared to find any enjoyment in the situation.
"If Chip only had the sense to slow up and give us a chance—or spill that old maid over the bank!" groaned Jack Bates, and plied whip and spur to overtake the runaway.
Now the captive was riding dizzily, head downward, frightening Banjo half out of his senses. What he had started as a grim jest, he now continued in deadly earnest; what was this uncanny semblance of a cow-puncher which he could not unseat, yet which clung so precariously to the saddle? He had no thought now of bucking in pure devilment—he was galloping madly, his eyes wild and staring.
Of a sudden, Chip saw danger lurking beneath the fun of it. He leaned forward a little, got a fresh grip on the reins and took the whip.
"Hang tight, now—I'm going to beat that horse to the Hog's Back."
Miss Whitmore, laughing till the tears stood in her eyes, braced herself mechanically. Chip had been laughing also—but that was before Banjo struck into the hill road in his wild flight from the terror that rode in the saddle.
A smart flick of the whip upon their glossy backs, and the creams sprang forward at a run. The buggy was new and strong, and if they kept the road all would be well—unless they met Banjo upon the narrow ridge between two broad-topped knolls, known as the Hog's Back. Another tap, and the creams ran like deer. One wheel struck a cobble stone, and the buggy lurched horribly.
"Stop! There goes my coyote!" cried Miss Whitmore, as a gray object slid down under the hind wheel.
"Hang on or you'll go next," was all the comfort she got, as Chip braced himself for the struggle before him. The Hog's Back was reached, but Banjo was pounding up the hill beyond, his nostrils red and flaring, his sides reeking with perspiration. Behind him tore the Flying U boys in a vain effort to head him back into the coulee before mischief was done.
Chip drew his breath sharply when the creams swerved out upon the broad hilltop, just as Banjo thundered past with nothing left of his rider but the legs, and with them shorn of their plumpness as the hay dribbled out upon the road.
A fresh danger straightway forced itself upon Chip's consciousness. The creams, maddened by the excitement, were running away. He held them sternly to the road and left the stopping of them to Providence, inwardly thanking the Lord that Miss Whitmore did not seem to be the screaming kind of woman.
The "vigilantes" drew hastily out of the road and scudded out of sight down a gully as the creams lunged down the steep grade and across the shallow creek bed. Fortunately the great gate by the stable swung wide open and they galloped through and up the long slope to the house, coming more under control at every leap, till, by a supreme effort, Chip brought them, panting, to a stand before the porch where the Old Man stood boiling over with anxiety and excitement. James G. Whitmore was not a man who took things calmly; had he been a woman he would have been called fussy.
"What in—what was you making a race track out of the grade for," he demanded, after he had bestowed a hasty kiss beside the nose of his sister.
Chip dropped a heavy trunk upon the porch and reached for the guitar before he answered.
"I was just trying those new springs on the buggy."
"It was very exciting," commented Miss Whitmore, airily. "I shot a coyote, J. G., but we lost it coming down the hill. Your men were playing a funny game—hare and hounds, it looked like. Or were they breaking a new horse?"
The Old Man looked at Chip, intelligence dawning in his face. There was something back of it all, he knew. He had been asleep when the uproar began, and had reached the door only in time to see the creams come down the grade like a daylight shooting star.
"I guess they was breaking a bronk," he said, carelessly; "you've got enough baggage for a trip round the world, Dell. I hope it ain't all dope for us poor devils. Tell Shorty I want t' see him, Chip."
Chip took the reins from the Old Man's hands, sprang in and drove back down the hill to the stables.
The "reception committee," as Chip sarcastically christened them, rounded up the runaway and sneaked back to the ranch by the coulee trail. With much unseemly language, they stripped the saddle and a flapping pair of overalls off poor, disgraced Banjo, and kicked him out of the corral.
"That's the way Jack's schemes always pan out," grumbled Slim. "By golly, yuh don't get me into another jackpot like that!"
"You might explain why you let that" (several kinds of) "cayuse get away from you!" retorted Jack, fretfully. "If you'd been onto your job, things would have been smooth as silk."
"Wonder what the old maid thought," broke in Weary, bent on preserving peace in the Happy Family.
"I'll bet she never saw us at all!" laughed Cal. "Old Splinter gave her all she wanted to do, hanging to the rig. The way he came down that grade wasn't slow. He just missed running into Banjo on the Hog's Back by the skin of the teeth. If he had, it'd be good-by, doctor—and Chip, too. Gee, that was a close shave!"
"Well," said Happy Jack, mournfully, "if we don't all get the bounce for this, I miss my guess. It's a little the worst we've done yet."
"Except that time we tin-canned that stray steer, last winter," amended Weary, chuckling over the remembrance as he fastened the big gate behind them.
"Yes, that was another of Jack's fool schemes," put in Slim. "Go and tin-can a four-year-old steer and let him take after the Old Man and put him on the calf shed, first pass he made. Old Man was sure hot about that—by golly, it didn't help his rheumatism none."
"He'll sure go straight in the air over this," reiterated Happy Jack, with mournful conviction.
"There's old Splinter at the bunk house—drawing our pictures, I'll bet a dollar. Hey, Chip! How you vas, already yet?" sung out Weary, whose sunny temper no calamity could sour.
Chip glanced at them and went on cutting the leaves of a late magazine which he had purloined from the Dry Lake barber. Cal Emmett strode up and grabbed the limp, gray hat from his head and began using it for a football.
"Here! Give that back!" commanded Chip, laughing. "DON'T make a dish rag of my new John B. Stetson, Cal. It won't be fit for the dance."
"Gee! It don't lack much of being a dish rag, now, if I'm any judge. Now! Great Scott!" He held it at arm's length and regarded it derisively.
"Well, it was new two years ago," explained Chip, making an ineffectual grab at it.
Cal threw it to him and came and sat down upon his heels to peer over Chip's arm at the magazine.
"How's the old maid doctor?" asked Jack Bates, leaning against the door while he rolled a cigarette.
"Scared plum to death. I left the remains in the Old Man's arms."
"Was she scared, honest?" Cal left off studying the "Types of Fair Women."
"What did she say when we broke loose?" Jack drew a match sharply along a log.
"Nothing. Well, yes, she said 'Are they going to H-A-N-G that man ?'" Chip's voice quavered the words in a shrill falsetto.
"The deuce she did!" Jack indulged in a gratified laugh.
"What did she say when you put the creams under the whip, up there? I don't suppose the old girl is wise to the fact that you saved her neck right then—but you sure did. You done yourself proud, Splinter." Cal patted Chip's knee approvingly.
Chip blushed under the praise and hastily answered the question.
"She hollered out: 'Stop! There goes my COYOTE!'"
"What the devil was she doing with a COYOTE?"
The Happy Family stood transfixed, and Chip's eyes were seen to laugh.
"HER COYOTE. Did any of you fellows happen to see a dead coyote up on the grade? Because if you did, it's the doctor's."
Weary Willie walked deliberately over and seized Chip by the shoulders, bringing him to his feet with one powerful yank.
"Don't you try throwing any loads into THIS crowd, young man. Answer me truly-s'help yuh. How did that old maid come by a coyote—a dead one?"
Chip squirmed loose and reached for his cigarette book. "She shot it," he said, calmly, but with twitching lips.
"Shot it!" Five voices made up the incredulous echo.
"What with?" demanded Weary when he got his breath.
"With my rifle. I brought it out from town today. Bert Rogers had left it at the barber shop for me."
"Gee whiz! And them creams hating a gun like poison! She didn't shoot from the rig, did she?"
"Yes," said Chip, "she did. The first time she didn't know any better— and the second time she was hot at me for hinting she was scared. She's a spunky little devil, all right. She's busy hating me right now for running the grade—thinks I did it to scare her, I guess. That's all some fool women know."
"She's a howling sport, then!" groaned Cal, who much preferred the Sweet Young Things.
"No—I sized her up as a maverick."
"What does she look like?"
"How old is she?"
"I never asked her age," replied Chip, his face lighting briefly in a smile. "As to her looks, she isn't cross-eyed, and she isn't four-eyed. That's as much as I noticed." After this bald lie he became busy with his cigarette. "Give me that magazine, Cal. I didn't finish cutting the leaves."
CHAPTER III. Silver.
Miss Della Whitmore gazed meditatively down the hill at the bunk house. The boys were all at work, she knew. She had heard J. G. tell two of them to "ride the sheep coulee fence," and had been consumed with amazed curiosity at the order. Wherefore should two sturdy young men be commanded to ride a fence, when there were horses that assuredly needed exercise—judging by their antics—and needed it badly? She resolved to ask J. G. at the first opportunity.
The others were down at the corrals, branding a few calves which belonged on the home ranch. She had announced her intention of going to look on, and her brother, knowing how the boys would regard her presence, had told her plainly that they did not want her. He said it was no place for girls, anyway. Then he had put on a very dirty pair of overalls and hurried down to help for he was not above lending a hand when there was extra work to be done.
Miss Della Whitmore tidied the kitchen and dusted the sitting room, and then, having a pair of mischievously idle hands and a very feminine curiosity, conceived an irrepressible desire to inspect the bunk house.
J. G. would tell her that, also, was no place for girls, she supposed, but J. G. was not present, so his opinion did not concern her. She had been at the Flying U ranch a whole week, and was beginning to feel that its resources for entertainment—aside from the masculine contingent, which held some promising material—were about exhausted. She had climbed the bluffs which hemmed the coulee on either side, had selected her own private saddle horse, a little sorrel named Concho, and had made friends with Patsy, the cook. She had dazzled Cal Emmett with her wiles and had found occasion to show Chip how little she thought of him; a highly unsatisfactory achievement, since Chip calmly over-looked her whenever common politeness permitted him.
There yet remained the unexplored mystery of that little cabin down the slope, from which sounded so much boylike laughter of an evening. She watched and waited till she was positive the coast was clear, then clapped an old hat of J. G.'s upon her head and ran lightly down the hill.
With her hand upon the knob, she ran her eye critically along the outer wall and decided that it had, at some remote date, been treated to a coat of whitewash; gave the knob a sudden twist, with a backward glance like a child stealing cookies, stepped in and came near falling headlong. She had not expected that remoteness of floor common to cabins built on a side hill.
"Well!" She pulled herself together and looked curiously about her. What struck her at first was the total absence of bunks. There were a couple of plain, iron bedsteads and two wooden ones made of rough planks. There was a funny-looking table made of an inverted coffee box with legs of two-by-four, and littered with a charactertistic collection of bachelor trinkets. There was a glass lamp with a badly smoked chimney, a pack of cards, a sack of smoking tobacco and a box of matches. There was a tin box with spools of very coarse thread, some equally coarse needles and a pair of scissors. There was also— and Miss Whitmore gasped when she saw it—a pile of much-read magazines with the latest number of her favorite upon the top. She went closer and examined them, and glanced around the room with doubting eyes. There were spurs, quirts, chaps and queer-looking bits upon the walls; there were cigarette stubs and burned matches innumerable upon the rough, board floor, and here in her hand—she turned the pages of her favorite abstractedly and a paper fluttered out and fell, face upward, on the floor. She stooped and recovered it, glanced and gasped.
It was only a pencil sketch done on cheap, unruled tablet paper, but her mind dissolved into a chaos of interrogation marks and exclamation points—with the latter predominating more and more the longer she looked.
It showed blunt-topped hills and a shallow coulee which she remembered perfectly. In the foreground a young woman in a smart tailored costume, the accuracy of which was something amazing, stood proudly surveying a dead coyote at her feet. In a corner of the picture stood a weather- beaten stump with a long, thin splinter beside it on the ground. Underneath was written in characters beautifully symmetrical: "The old maid's credential card."
There was no gainsaying the likeness; even the rakish tilt of the jaunty felt hat, caused by the wind and that wild dash across country, was painstakingly reproduced. And the fanciful tucks on the sleeve of the gown—"and I didn't suppose he had deigned so much as a glance!" was her first coherent thought.
Miss Whitmore's soul burned with resentment. No woman, even at twenty- three, loves to be called "the old maid"—especially by a keen-witted young man with square chin and lips with a pronounced curve to them. And whoever supposed the fellow could draw like that—and notice every tiny little detail without really looking once? Of course, she knew her hat was crooked, with the wind blowing one's head off, almost, but he had no business: "The old maid's credential card!"—"Old maid," indeed!
"The audacity of him!"
Miss Whitmore wheeled quickly, her heart in the upper part of her throat, judging by the feel of it. Chip himself stood just inside the door, eying her coldly.
"I was not speaking," said Miss Whitmore, haughtily, in futile denial.
To this surprising statement Chip had nothing to say. He went to one of the iron beds, stooped and drew out a bundle which, had Miss Whitmore asked him what it was, he would probably have called his "war sack." She did not ask; she stood and watched him, though her conscience assured her it was a dreadfully rude thing to do, and that her place was up at the house. Miss Whitmore was frequently at odds with her conscience; at this time she stood her ground, backed by her pride, which was her chiefest ally in such emergencies.
When he drew a huge, murderous-looking revolver from its scabbard and proceeded calmly to insert cartridge after cartridge, Miss Whitmore was constrained to speech.
"Are you—going to—SHOOT something?"
The question struck them both as particularly inane, in view of his actions.
"I am," replied he, without looking up. He whirled the cylinder into place, pushed the bundle back under the bed and rose, polishing the barrel of the gun with a silk handkerchief.
Miss Whitmore hoped he wasn't going to murder anyone; he looked keyed up to almost any desperate deed.
"Who—what are you going to shoot?" Really, the question asked itself.
Chip raised his eyes for a fleeting glance which took in the pencil sketch in her hand. Miss Whitmore observed that his eyes were much darker than hazel; they were almost black. And there was, strangely enough, not a particle of curve to his lips; they were thin, and straight, and stern.
"Silver. He broke his leg."
"Oh!" There was real horror in her tone. Miss Whitmore knew all about Silver from garrulous Patsy. Chip had rescued a pretty, brown colt from starving on the range, had bought him of the owner, petted and cared for him until he was now one of the best saddle horses on the ranch. He was a dark chestnut, with beautiful white, crinkly mane and tail and white feet. Miss Whitmore had seen Chip riding him down the coulee trail only yesterday, and now—Her heart ached with the pity of it.
"How did it happen?"
"I don't know. He was in the little pasture. Got kicked, maybe." Chip jerked open the door with a force greatly in excess of the need of it.
Miss Whitmore started impulsively toward him. Her eyes were not quite clear.
"Don't—not yet! Let me go. If it's a straight break I can set the bone and save him."
Chip, savage in his misery, regarded her over one square shoulder.
"Are you a veterinary surgeon, may I ask ?"
Miss Whitmore felt her cheeks grow hot, but she stood her ground.
"I am not. But a broken bone is a broken bone, whether it belongs to a man—or some OTHER beast!"
Chip's way of saying yes was one of his chief weapons of annihilation. He had a peculiar, taunting inflection which he could give to it, upon occasion, which caused prickles of flesh upon the victim. To say that Miss Whitmore was not utterly quenched argues well for her courage. She only gasped, as though treated to an unexpected dash of cold water, and went on.
"I'm sure I might save him if you'd let me try. Or are you really eager to shoot him?"
Chip's muscles shrank. Eager to shoot him—Silver, the only thing that loved and understood him?
"You may come and look at him, if you like," he said, after a breath or two.
Miss Whitmore overlooked the tolerance of the tone and stepped to his side, mechanically clutching the sketch in her fingers. It was Chip, looking down at her from his extra foot of height, who called her attention to it.
"Are you thinking of using that for a plaster?"
Miss Whitmore started and blushed, then, with an uptilt of chin:
"If I need a strong irritant, yes!" She calmly rolled the paper into a tiny tube and thrust it into the front of her pink shirt-waist for want of a pocket—and Chip, watching her surreptitiously, felt a queer grip in his chest, which he thought it best to set down as anger.
Silently they hurried down where Silver lay, his beautiful, gleaming mane brushing the tender green of the young grass blades. He lifted his head when he heard Chip's step, and neighed wistfully. Chip bent over him, black agony in his eyes. Miss Whitmore, looking on, realized for the first time that the suffering of the horse was a mere trifle compared to that of his master. Her eyes wandered to the loaded revolver which bulged his pocket behind, and she shuddered—but not for Silver. She went closer and laid her hand upon the shimmery mane. The horse snorted nervously and struggled to rise.
"He's not used to a woman," said Chip, with a certain accent of pride. "I guess this is the closest he's ever been to one. You see, he's never had any one handle him but me."
"Then he certainly is no lady's horse," said Miss Whitmore, good- naturedly. Somehow, in the last moment, her attitude toward Chip had changed considerably. "Try and make him let me feel the break."
With much coaxing and soothing words it was accomplished, and it did not take long, for it was a front leg, broken straight across, just above the fetlock. Miss Whitmore stood up and smiled into the young man's eyes, conscious of a desire to bring the curve back into his lips.
"It's very simple," she declared, cheerfully. "I know I can cure him. We had a colt at home with his leg broken the same way, and he was entirely cured—and doesn't even limp. Of course," she added, honestly, "Uncle John doctored him—but I helped."
Chip drew the back of his gloved hand quickly across his eyes and swallowed.
"Miss Whitmore—if you could save old Silver—"
Miss Whitmore, the self-contained young medical graduate, blinked rapidly and found urgent need of tucking in wind-blown, brown locks, with her back to the tall cow-puncher who had unwittingly dropped his mask for an instant. She took off J. G.'s old hat, turned it clean around twice and put it back exactly as it was before; unless the tilt over her left ear was a trifle more pronounced. Show me the woman who can set a hat straight upon her head without aid of a mirror!
"We must get him up from there and into a box stall. There is one, isn't there?"
"Y—e-s—" Chip hesitated. "I wouldn't ask the Old—your brother, for the use of it, though; not even for Silver."
"I will," returned she, promptly. "I never feel any compunction about asking for what I want—if I can't get it any other way. I can't understand why you wanted to shoot—you must have known this bone could be set."
"I didn't WANT to—" Chip bent over and drove a fly from Silver's shoulder. "When a horse belonging to the outfit gets crippled like that, he makes coyote bait. A forty-dollar cow-puncher can't expect any better for his own horse."
"He'll GET better, whatever he may expect. I'm just spoiling for something to practice on, anyway—and he's such a beauty. If you can get him up, lead him to the stable while I go and tell J. G. and get some one to help." She started away.
"Whom shall I get?" she called back.
"Weary, if you can—and Slim's a good hand with horses, too."
"Slim—is that the tall, lanky man?"
"No—he's the short, fat one. That bean-pole is Shorty."
Miss Whitmore fixed these facts firmly in her memory and ran swiftly to where rose all the dust and noise from the further corral. She climbed up until she could look conveniently over the top rail. The fence seemed to her dreadfully high—a clear waste of straight, sturdy poles.
"Baw—h-h-h!" came answer from a wholly unexpected source as a big, red cow charged and struck the fence under her feet a blow which nearly dislodged her from her perch. The cow recoiled a few steps and lowered her head truculently.
"Scat! Shoo, there! Go on away, you horrid old thing you! Oh, J. G—e-e-e!"
Weary, who was roping, had just dragged a calf up to the fire and was making a loop to catch another when the cow made a second charge at the fence. He dashed in ahead of her, his horse narrowly escaping an ugly gash from her long, wicked horns. As he dodged he threw his rope with the peculiar, back-hand twist of the practiced roper, catching her by the head and one front foot. Straight across the corral he shot to the end of a forty-foot rope tied fast to the saddle horn. The red cow flopped with a thump which knocked all desire for trouble out of her for the time. Shorty slipped the rope off and climbed the fence, but the cow only shook her aching sides and limped sullenly away to the far side of the corral. J. G. and the boys had shinned up the fence like scared cats up a tree when the trouble began, and perched in a row upon the top. The Old Man looked across and espied his sister, wide- eyed and undignified, watching the outcome.
"Dell! What in thunder the YOU doing on that fence?" he shouted across the corral.
"What in thunder are you doing on the fence, J. G. ?" she flung back at him.
The Old Man climbed shamefacedly down, followed by the others. "Is that what you call 'getting put in the clear'?" asked she, genially. "I see now—it means clear on the top rail."
"You go back to the house and stay there!" commanded J. G., wrathfully. The boys were showing unmistakable symptoms of mirth, and the laugh was plainly against the Old Man.
"Oh, no," came her voice, honey-sweet and calm. "Shoo that cow this way again, will you, Mr. .Weary? I like to watch J. G. shin up the fence. It's good for him; it makes one supple, and J. G.'s actually getting fat."
"Hurry along with that calf!" shouted the Old Man, recovering the branding iron and turning his back on his tormentor.
The boys, beyond grinning furtively at one another, behaved with quite praiseworthy gravity. Miss Whitmore watched while Weary dragged a spotted calf up to the fire and the boys threw it to the ground and held it until the Old Man had stamped it artistically with a smoking U.
"Oh, J. G.!"
"Ain't you gone yet? What d'yuh want?"
"Silver broke his leg."
"Huh. I knew that long ago. Chip's gone to shoot him. You go on to the house, doggone it! You'll have every cow in the corral on the fight. That red waist of yours—"
"It isn't red, it's pink—a beautiful rose pink. If your cows don't like it, they'll have to be educated up to it. Chip isn't either going to shoot that horse, J. G. I'm going to set his leg and cure him—and I'm going to keep him in one of your box stalls. There, now!"
Cal Emmett took a sudden fit of coughing and leaned his forehead weakly against a rail, and Weary got into some unnecessary argument with his horse and bolted across to the gate, where his shoulders were seen to shake—possibly with a nervous chill; the bravest riders are sometimes so affected. Nobody laughed, however. Indeed, Slim seemed unusually serious, even for him, while Happy Jack looked positively in pain.
"I want that short, fat man to help" (Slim squirmed at this blunt identification of himself) "and Mr. Weary, also." Miss Whitmore might have spoken with a greater effect of dignity had she not been clinging to the top of the fence with two dainty slipper toes thrust between the rails not so very far below. Under the circumstances, she looked like a pretty, spoiled little schoolgirl.
"Oh. You've turned horse doctor, have yuh?" J. G. leaned suddenly upon his branding iron and laughed. "Doggone it, that ain't a bad idea. I've got two box stalls, and there's an old gray horse in the pasture— the same old gray horse that come out uh the wilderness—with a bad case uh string-halt. I'll have some uh the boys ketch him up and you can start a horsepital!"
"Is that supposed to be a joke, J. G.? I never can tell YOUR jokes by ear. If it is, I'll laugh. I'm going to use whatever I need and you can do without Mr.—er—those two men."
"Oh, go ahead. The horse don't belong to ME, so I'm willing you should practice on him a while. Say! Dell! Give him that truck you've been pouring down me for the last week. Maybe he'll relish the taste of the doggone stuff—I don't."
"I suppose you've labeled THAT a 'Joke—please laugh here,'" sighed Miss Whitmore, plaintively, climbing gingerly down.
CHAPTER IV. An Ideal Picture.
"I guess I'll go down to Denson's to-day," said J. G. at the breakfast table one morning. "Maybe we can get that grass widow to come and keep house for us."
"I don't want any old grass widow to keep house," protested Della. "I'm getting along well enough, so long as Patsy bakes the bread, and meat, and cake, and stuff. It's just fun to keep house. The only trouble is, there isn't half enough to keep me busy. I'm going to get a license to practice medicine, so if there's any sickness around I can be of some use. You say it's fifty miles to the nearest doctor. But that needn't make a grass widow necessary. I can keep house—it looks better than when I came, and you know it." Which remark would have hurt the feelings of several well-meaning cow- punchers, had they overheard it.
"Oh, I ain't finding fault with your housekeeping—you do pretty well for a green hand. But Patsy'll have to go with the round-up when it starts, and what men I keep on the ranch will have to eat with us. That's the way I've been used to fixing things; I was never so good I couldn't eat at the same table with my men; if they wasn't fit for my company I fired 'em and got fellows that was. I've had this bunch a good long while, now. You can do all right with just me, but you couldn't cook for two or three men; you can't cook good enough, even if it wasn't too much work." J. G. had a blunt way of stating disagreeable facts, occasionally.
"Very well, get your grass widow by all means," retorted she with much wasted dignity.
"She's a swell cook, and a fine housekeeper, and shell keep yuh from getting lonesome. She's good company, the Countess is." He grinned when he said it "I'll have Chip ketch up the creams, and you get ready and go along with us. It'll give you a chance to size up the kind uh neighbors yuh got."
There was real pleasure in driving swiftly over the prairie land, through the sweet, spring sunshine, and Miss Whitmore tingled with enthusiasm till they drove headlong into a deep coulee which sheltered the Denson family.
"This road is positively dangerous!" she exclaimed when they reached a particularly steep place and Chip threw all his weight upon the brake.
"We'll get the Countess in beside yuh, coming back, and then yuh won't rattle around in the seat so much. She's good and solid—just hang onto her and you'll be all right," said J. G.
"If I don't like her looks—and I know I won't—I'll get into the front seat and you can hang onto her yourself, Mr. J. G. Whitmore."
Chip, who had been silent till now, glanced briefly over his shoulder.
"It's a cinch you'll take the front seat," he remarked, laconically.
"J. G., if you hire a woman like that—"
"Like what? Doggone it, it takes a woman to jump at conclusions! The Countess is all right. She talks some—"
"I'd tell a man she does!" broke in Chip, tersely.
"Well, show me the woman that don't! Don't you be bluffed so easy, Dell. I never seen the woman yet that Chip had any time for. The Countess is all right, and she certainly can cook! I admit she talks consider'ble—"
Chip laughed grimly, and the Old Man subsided.
At the house a small, ginger-whiskered man came down to the gate to greet them.
"Why, how—de-do! I couldn't make out who 't was comin', but Mary, she up an' rek'nized the horses. Git right out an' come on in! We've had our dinner, but I guess the wimmin folks can scare ye up a bite uh suthin'. This yer sister? We heard she was up t' your place. She the one that set one uh your horse's leg? Bill, he was tellin' about it. I dunno as wimmin horse doctors is very common, but I dunno why not. I get a horse with somethin' the matter of his foot, and I dunno what. I'd like t' have ye take a look at it, fore ye go. 'Course, I expect t' pay ye."
The Old Man winked appreciatively at Chip before he came humanely to the rescue and explained that his sister was not a horse doctor, and Mr. Denson, looking very disappointed, reiterated his invitation to enter.
Mrs. Denson, a large woman who narrowly escaped being ginger-whiskered like her husband, beamed upon them from the doorway.
"Come right on in! Louise, here's comp'ny! The house is all tore up— we been tryin' t' clean house a little. Lay off yer things an' I'll git yuh some dinner right away. I'm awful glad yuh come over—I do hate t' see folks stand on cer'mony out here where neighbors is so skurce. I guess yuh think we ain't been very neighborly, but we been tryin' t' clean house, an' me an' Louise ain't had a minute we could dast call our own, er we'd a been over t' seen yuh before now. Yuh must git awful lonesome, comin' right out from the East where neighbors is thick. Do lay off yer things!"
Della looked appealingly at J. G., who again came to the rescue. Somehow he made himself heard long enough to explain their errand, and to emphasize the fact that they were in a great hurry, and had eaten dinner before they started from home. In his sister's opinion he made one exceedingly rash statement. He said that he wished to hire Mrs. Denson's sister for the summer. Mrs. Denson immediately sent a shrill call for Louise.
Then appeared the Countess, tall, gaunt and muscular, with sallow skin and a nervous manner.
"The front seat or walk!" declared Miss Whitmore, mentally, after a brief scrutiny and began storing up a scathing rebuke for J. G.
"Louise, this is Miss Whitmore," began Mrs. Denson, cheerfully, fortified by a fresh lungful of air. "They're after yuh t' go an' keep house for 'em, an' I guess yuh better go, seein' we got the house cleaned all but whitewashin' the cellar an' milk room an' kals'minin' the upstairs, an' I'll make Bill do that, an' 't won't hurt him a mite. They'll give yuh twenty-five dollars a month an' keep yuh all summer, an' as much longer as his sister stays. I guess yuh might as well go, fer they can't git anybody else that'll keep things up in shape an' be comp'ny fer his sister, an' I b'lieve in helpin' a neighbor out when yuh can. You go right an' pack up yer trunk, an' don't worry about me—I'll git along somehow, now the house-cleanin's most done."
Louise had been talking also, but her sister seemed to have a stronger pair of lungs, for her voice drowned that of the Countess, who retreated to "pack up."
The minutes dragged by, to the tune of several chapters of family history as voluminously interpreted by Mrs. Denson. Miss Whitmore had always boasted the best-behaved of nerves, but this day she developed a genuine case of "fidgets." Once she saw Chip's face turned inquiringly toward the window, and telegraphed her state of mind—while Mrs. Denson's back was turned—so eloquently that Chip was swept at once into sympathetic good-fellowship. He arranged the cushion on the front seat significantly, and was rewarded by an emphatic, though furtive, nod and smile. Whereupon he leaned comfortably back, rolled a cigarette and smoked contentedly, at peace with himself and the world—though he did not in the least know why.
"An' as I told Louise, folks has got t' put up with things an' not be huntin' trouble with a club all the time, if they expect t' git any comfort out uh this life. We ain't had the best uh luck, seems t' me, but we always git along somehow, an' we ain't had no sickness except when—"
A confused uproar arose in the room above them, followed, immediately by a humpety bump and a crash as a small, pink object burst open a door and rolled precipitately into their midst. It proved to be one of the little Densons, who kicked feebly with both feet and then lay still.
"Mercy upon us! Ellen, who pushed Sary down them stairs? She's kilt!"
Della sprang up and lifted the child in her arms, passing her hand quickly over the head and plump body.
"Bring a little cold water, Mrs. Denson. She's only stunned, I think."
"Well, it does beat all how handy you go t' work. Anybody c'd see t' you know your business. I'm awful glad you was here—there, darlin', don't cry—Ellen, an' Josephine, an' Sybilly, an' Margreet, you come down here t' me!"
The quartet, snuffling and reluctant, was dragged ignominously to the middle of the floor and there confessed, 'mid tears and much recrimination, that they had been peeping down at the "comp'ny" through various knot-holes in the chamber floor; that, as Sary's knot-hole was next the wall, her range of vision was restricted to the thin spot upon the crown of J. G.'s head, and the back of his neck. Sary longed for sight of the woman horse doctor, and when she essayed to crowd in and usurp Ellen's point of vantage, there ensued a war of extermination which ended in the literal downfall of Sary.
By the time this checked-apron court of inquiry adjourned, Louise appeared and said she believed she was ready, and Miss Whitmore escaped from the house far in advance of the others—and such were Chip's telepathic powers that he sprang down voluntarily and assisted her to the front seat without a word being said by either.
Followed a week of dullness at the ranch, with the Countess scrubbing and dusting and cleaning from morning till night. The Little Doctor, as the bunk house had christened her, was away attending the State Medical Examination at Helena.
"Gee-whiz!" sighed Cal on Sunday afternoon. "It seems mighty queer without the Little Doctor around here, sassing the Old Man and putting the hull bunch of us on the fence about once a day. If it wasn't for Len Adams—"
"It wouldn't do you any good to throw a nasty loop at the Little Doctor," broke in Weary, "'cause she's spoken for, by all signs and tokens. There's some fellow back East got a long rope on her."
"You got the papers for that?" jeered Cal. "The Little Doctor don't act the way I'd want my girl t' act, supposin' I was some thousand or fifteen hundred miles off her range. She ain't doing no pining, I tell yuh those."
"She's doing a lot of writing, though. I'll bet money, if we called the roll right here, you'd see there's been a letter a week hittin' the trail to one Dr. Cecil Granthum, Gilroy, Ohio."
"That's what," agreed Jack Bates. "I packed one last week, myself."
"I done worse than that," said Weary, blandly. "I up and fired a shot at her, after the second one she handed me. I says, as innocent: 'I s'pose, if I lost this, there'd be a fellow out on the next train with blood in his eye and a six-gun in both hands, demanding explanations'— and she flashed them dimples on me and twinkled them big, gray eyes of hers, and says: 'It's up to you to carry it safe, then,' or words to that effect. I took notice she didn't deny but what he would."
"Two doctors in one family—gee whiz!" mused Cal. "If I hadn't got the only girl God ever made right, I'd give one Dr. Cecil Granthum, of Gilroy, Ohio, a run for his money, I tell yuh those. I'd impress it upon him that a man's taking long chances when he stands and lets his best girl stampede out here among us cow-punchers for a change uh grass. That fellow needs looking after; he ain't finished his education. Jacky, you ain't got a female girl yanking your heart around, sail in and show us what yuh can do in that line."
"Nit," said Jack Bates, briefly. "My heart's doing business at the old stand and doing it satisfactory and proper. I don't want to set it to bucking—over a girl that wouldn't have me at any price. Let Slim. The Little Doctor's half stuck on him, anyhow."
While the boys amused themselves in serious debate with Slim, Chip put away his magazine and went down to visit Silver in the box stall. He was glad they had not attempted to draw him into the banter—they had never once thought to do so, probably, though he had been thrown into the company of the Little Doctor more than any of the others, for several good reasons. He had broken the creams to harness, and always drove them, for the Old Man found them more than he cared to tackle. And there was Silver, with frequent discussions over his progress toward recovery and some argument over his treatment—for Chip had certain ideas of his own concerning horses, and was not backward about expressing them upon occasion.
That the Little Doctor should write frequent letters to a man in the East did not concern him—why should it? Still, a fellow without a home and without some woman who cares for him, cannot escape having his loneliness thrust upon him at times. He wondered why he should care. Surely, ten years of living his life alone ought to kill that latent homesickness which used to hold him awake at nights. Sometimes even of late years, when he stood guard over the cattle at night, and got to thinking—oh, it was hell to be all alone in the world!
There were Cal and Weary, they had girls who loved them—and they were sure welcome to them. And Jack Bates and Happy Jack had sisters and mothers—and even Slim had an old maid aunt who always knit him a red and green pair of wristlets for Christmas. Chip, smoothing mechanically the shimmery, white mane of his pet, thought he might be contented if he had even an old maid aunt—but he would see that she made his wristlets of some other color than those bestowed every year upon Slim.
As for the Little Doctor, it would be something strange if she had gone through life without having some fellow in love with her. Probably, if the truth was known, there had been more than Dr. Cecil Granthum—bah, what a sickening name! Cecil! It might as well be Adolphus or Regie or—what does a man want to pack around a name like that for? Probably he was the kind of man that the name sounded like; a dude with pink cheeks.
Chip knew just how he looked. Inspiration suddenly seizing upon him, he sat down upon the manger, drew his memorandum book out of his inner coat pocket, carefully sharpened a bit of lead pencil which he found in another pocket, tore a leaf from the book, and, with Silver looking over his shoulder, drew a graphic, ideal picture of Dr. Cecil Granthum.
CHAPTER V. In Silver's Stall.
"Oh, are YOU here? It's a wonder you don't have your bed brought down here, so you can sleep near Silver. How has he been doing since I left?"
Chip simply sat still upon the edge of the manger and stared. His gray hat was pushed far back upon his head and his dark hair waved and curled upon his forehead, very much as a girl's might have done. He did not know that he was a very good-looking young man, but perhaps the Little Doctor did. She smiled and came up and patted Silver, who had forgotten that he ever had objected to her nearness. He nickered a soft welcome and laid his nose on her shoulder.
"You've been drawing a picture. Who's the victim of your satirical pencil this time?" The Little Doctor, reaching out quickly, calmly appropriated the sketch before Chip had time to withdraw it, even if he had cared to do so. He was busy wondering how the Little Doctor came to be there at that particular time, and had forgotten the picture, which he had not quite finished labeling.
"Dr. Cecil—" Miss Whitmore turned red at first, then broke into laughter. "Oh—h, ha! ha! ha! Silver, you don't know how funny this master of yours can be! Ha! ha!" She raised her head from Silver's neck, where it had rested, and wiped her eyes.
"How did you know about Cecil?" she demanded of a very discomfited young man upon the manger.
"I didn't know—and I didn't WANT to know. I heard the boys talking and joshing about him, and I just drew—their own conclusions." Chip grinned a little and whittled at his pencil, and wondered how much of the statement was a lie.
Miss Whitmore tamed red again, and ended by laughing even more heartily than at first.
"Their conclusions aren't very complimentary," she said. "I don't believe Dr. Cecil would feel flattered at this. Why those bowed legs, may I ask, and wherefore that long, lean, dyspeptic visage? Dr. Cecil, let me inform you, has a digestion that quails not at deviled crabs and chafing-dish horrors at midnight, as I have abundant reason to know. I have seen Dr. Cecil prepare a welsh rabbit and—eat it, also, with much relish, apparently. Oh, no, their conclusions weren't quite correct. There are other details I might mention—that cane, for instance—but let it pass. I shall keep this, I think, as a companion to 'The old maid's credential card.'"
"Are you in the habit of keeping other folk's property?" inquired Chip, with some acerbity.
"Nothing but personal caricatures—and hearts, perhaps," returned the Little Doctor, sweetly.
"I hardly think your collection of the last named article is very large," retorted Chip.
"Still, I added to the collection to-day," pursued Miss Whitmore, calmly. "I shared my seat in the train with J. G.'s silent partner (I did not find him silent, however), Mr. Duncan Whitaker. He hired a team in Dry Lake and we came out together, and I believe—please don't mention Dr. Cecil Granthum to him, will you ?"
Chip wished, quite savagely, that she wouldn't let those dimples dodge into her cheeks, and the laugh dodge into her eyes, like that. It made a fellow uncomfortable. He was thoroughly disgusted with her—or he would be, if she would only stop looking like that. He was in that state of mind where his only salvation, seemingly, lay in quarreling with some one immediately.
"So old Dunk's come back? If you've got his heart, you must have gone hunting it with a microscope, for it's a mighty small one—almost as small as his soul. No one else even knew he had one. You ought to have it set in a ring, so you won't lose it."
"I don't wear phony jewelry, thank you," said Miss Whitmore, and Chip thought dimples weren't so bad after all.
The Little Doctor was weaving Silver's mane about her white fingers and meditating deeply. Chip wondered if she were thinking of Dr. Cecil.
"Where did you learn to draw like that?" she asked, suddenly, turning toward him. "You do much better than I, and I've always been learning from good teachers. Did you ever try painting?"
Chip blushed and looked away from her. This was treading close to his deep-hidden, inner self.
"I don't know where I learned. I never took a lesson in my life, except from watching people and horses and the country, and remembering the lines they made, you know. I always made pictures, ever since I can remember—but I never tried colors very much. I never had a chance, working around cow-camps and on ranches."
"I'd like to have you look over some of my sketches and things—and I've paints and canvas, if you ever care to try that. Come up to the house some evening and I'll show you my daubs. They're none of them as good as 'The Old Maid.'"
"I wish you'd tear that thing up!" said Chip, vehemently.
"Why? The likeness is perfect. One would think you were designer for a fashion paper, the way you got the tucks in my sleeve and the braid on my collar—and you might have had the kindness to TELL me my hat was on crooked, I think!"
There was a rustle in the loose straw, a distant slam of the stable door, and Chip sat alone with his horse, whittling abstractedly at his pencil till his knife blade grated upon the metal which held the eraser.
CHAPTER VI. The Hum of Preparation.
Miss Whitmore ran down to the blacksmith shop, waving an official- looking paper in her hand.
"I've got it, J. G.!"
"Got what—smallpox?" J. G. did not even look up from the iron he was welding.
"No, my license. I'm a really, truly doctor now, and you needn't laugh, either. You said you'd give a dance if I passed, and I did. Happy Jack brought it just now."
"Brought the dance?" The Old Man gave the bellows a pull which sent a shower of sparks toward the really, truly doctor.
"Brought the license," she explained, patiently. "You can see for yourself. They were awfully nice to me—they seemed to think a girl doctor is some kind of joke out here. They didn't make it any easier, though; they acted as if they didn't expect me to pass—but I did!"
The Old Man rubbed one smutty hand down his trousers leg and extended it for the precious document. "Let me have a look at it," he said, trying to hide his pride in her.
"Well, but I'll hold it. Your hands are dirty." Dr. Whitmore eyed the hands disapprovingly.
The Old Man read it slowly through, growing prouder every line.
"You're all right, Dell—I'll be doggoned if you ain't. Don't you worry about the dance—I'll see't yuh get it. You go tell the Countess to bake up a lot of cake and truck, and I'll send some uh the boys around t' tell the neighbors. Better have it Friday night, I guess—I'm goin t' start the round-up out early next week. Doggone it! I've gone and burned that weldin'. Go on and stop your botherin' me!"
In two minutes the Little Doctor was back, breathless.
"What about the music, J. G.? We want GOOD music."
"Well, I'll tend t' that part. Say! You can rig up that room off the dining room for your office—I s'pose you'll have to have one. You make out a list of what dope you want—and be sure yuh get a-plenty. I look for an unhealthy summer among the cow-punchers. If I ain't mistook in the symptoms, Dunk's got palpitation uh the heart right now—an' got it serious."
The Old Man chuckled to himself and went back to his welding.
"Oh, Louise!" The Little Doctor hurried to where the Countess was scrubbing the kitchen steps with soft soap and sand and considerable energy. "J. G. says I may have a dance next Friday night, so we must hurry and fix the house—only I don't see much fixing to be done; everything is SO clean."
"Oh, there ain't a room in the house fit fer comp'ny t' walk into," expostulated the Countess while she scrubbed. "I do like t' see a house clean when folks is expected that only come t' be critical an' make remarks behind yer back the minit they git away. If folks got anything t' say I'd a good deal ruther they said it t' my face an' be done with it. 'Yuh can know a man's face but yuh can't know his heart,' as the sayin' is, an' it's the same way with women—anyway, it's the same way with Mis' Beckman. You can know her face a mile off, but yuh never know who she's goin' t' rake over the coals next. As the sayin' is: 'The tongue of a woman, at last it biteth like a serpent an' it stingeth like an addle,' an' I guess it's so. Anyway, Mis' Beckman's does. I do b'lieve on my soul—what's the matter, Dell? What yuh laughin' at?"
The Little Doctor was past speech for the moment, and the Countess stood up and looked curiously around her. It never occurred to her that she might be the cause of that convulsive outburst.
"Oh—he—never mind—he's gone, now."
"Who's gone?" persisted the Countess.
"What kinds of cake do you think we ought to have?" asked the Little Doctor, diplomatically.
The Countess sank to her knees and dipped a handful of amber, jelly-like soap from a tin butter can.
"Well, I don't know. I s'pose folks will look for something fancy, seein' you're givin' the dance. Mis' Beckman sets herself up as a shinin' example on cake, and she'll come just t' be critical an' find fault, if she can. If I can't bake all around her the best day she ever seen, I'll give up cookin' anything but spuds. She had the soggiest kind uh jelly roll t' the su'prise on Mary last winter. I know it was hern, fer I seen her bring it in, an' I went straight an' ondone it. I guess it was kinda mean uh me, but I don't care—as the sayin' is: 'What's sass fer the goose is good enough sass fer anybody'—an' she done the same trick by me, at the su'prise at Adamses last fall. But she couldn't find no kick about MY cake, an' hers—yuh c'd of knocked a cow down with it left-handed! If that's the best she c'n do on cake I'd advise 'er to keep the next batch t' home where they're used to it. They say't 'What's one man's meat 's pizen t' the other feller,' and I guess it's so enough. Maybe Mame an' the rest uh them Beckman kids can eat sech truck without comin' down in a bunch with gastakutus, but I'd hate t' tackle it myself."
The Little Doctor gurgled. This was a malady which had not been mentioned at the medical college.
"Where shall we set the tables, if we dance in the dining room?" she asked, having heard enough of the Beckmans for the present.
"Why, we won't set any tables. Folks always have a lap supper at ranch dances. At the su'prise on Mary—"
"What is a lap supper?"
"Well, my stars alive! Where under the shinin' sun was you brought up if yuh never heard of a lap supper? A lap supper is where folks set around the walls—or any place they can find—and take the plates on their laps and yuh pass 'em stuff. The san'wiches—"
"You do make such beautiful bread!" interrupted the Little Doctor, very sincerely.
"Well, I ain't had the best uh luck, lately, but I guess it does taste good after that bread yuh had when I come. Soggy was no name for—"
"Patsy made that bread," interposed Miss Whitmore, hastily. "He had bad luck, and—"
"I guess he did!" sniffed the Countess, contemptuously. "As I told Mary when I come—"
"I wonder how many cakes we'll need?" Miss Whitmore, you will observe, had learned to interrupt when she had anything to say. It was the only course to pursue with anyone from Denson coulee.
The Countess, having finished her scrubbing, rose jerkily and upset the soap can, which rolled over and over down the steps, leaving a yellow trail as it went.
"Well, there, if that wasn't a bright trick uh mine? They say the more yuh hurry the less yuh'll git along, an' that's a sample. We'd ought t' have five kinds, an' about four uh each kind. It wouldn't do t' run out, er Mis' Beckman never would let anybody hear the last of it. Down t' Mary's—"
"Twenty cakes! Good gracious! I'll have to order my stock of medicine, for I'll surely have a houseful of patients if the guests eat twenty cakes."
"Well, as the sayin' is: 'Patience an' perseverance can git away with most anything,'" observed the Countess, naively.
The Little Doctor retired behind her handkerchief.
"My stars alive, I do b'lieve my bread's beginnin' t' scorch!" cried the Countess, and ran to see. The Little Doctor followed her inside and sat down.
"We must make a list of the things we'll need, Louise. You—"
"Dell! Oh-h. Dell!" The voice of the Old Man resounded from the parlor.
"I'm in the kitchen!" called she, remaining where she was. He tramped heavily through the house to her.
"I'll send the rig in, t'morrow, if there's anything yuh want," he remarked. "And if you'll make out a list uh dope, I'll send the order in t' the Falls. We've got plenty uh saws an' cold chisels down in the blacksmith shop—you can pick out what yuh want." He dodged and grinned. "Got any cake, Countess?"
"Well, there ain't a thing cooked, hardly. I'm going t' bake up something right after dinner. Here's some sponge cake—but it ain't fit t' eat, hardly. I let Dell look in the oven, 'cause my han's was all over flour, an' she slammed the door an' it fell. But yuh can't expect one person t' know everything—an' too many han's can't make decent soup, as the sayin' is, an' it's the same way with cake."
The Old Man winked at the Little Doctor over a great wedge of feathery delight. "I don't see nothing the matter with this—only it goes down too easy," he assured the Countess between mouthfuls. "Fix up your list, Dell, and don't be afraid t' order everything yuh need. I'll foot the—"
The Old Man, thinking to go back to his work, stepped into the puddle of soft soap and sat emphatically down upon the top step, coasting rapidly to the bottom. A carpet slipper shot through the open door and landed in the dishpan; the other slipper disappeared mysteriously. The wedge of cake was immediately pounced upon by an investigative hen and carried in triumph to her brood.
"Good Lord!" J. G. struggled painfully to his feet. "Dell, who in thunder put that stuff there? You're a little too doggoned anxious for somebody t' practice on, seems t' me." A tiny trickle of blood showed in the thin spot on his head.
"Are you hurt, J. G.? We—I spilled the soap." The Little Doctor gazed solicitous, from the doorway.
"Huh! I see yuh spilled the soap, all right enough. I'm willin' to believe yuh did without no affidavit. Doggone it, a bachelor never has any such a man-trap around in a fellow's road. I've lived in Montana fourteen years, an' I never slipped up on my own doorstep till you got here. It takes a woman t' leave things around—where's my cake ?"
"Old Specie took it down by the bunk house. Shall I go after it?"
"No, you needn't. Doggone it, this wading through ponds uh soft soap has got t' stop right here. I never had t' do it when I was baching, I notice." He essayed, with the aid of a large splinter, to scrape the offending soap from his trousers.
"Certainly, you didn't. Bachelors never use soap," retorted Della.
"Oh, they don't, hey? That's all you know about it. They don't use this doggoned, slimy truck, let me tell yuh. What d'yuh want, Chip? Oh, you've got t' grin, too! Dell, why don't yuh do something fer my head? What's your license good f er, I'd like t' know? You didn't see Dell's license, did yuh, Chip? Go and get it an' show it to him, Dell. It's good fer everything but gitting married—there ain't any cure for that complaint."
CHAPTER VII. Love and a Stomach Pump.
An electrical undercurrent of expectation pervaded the very atmosphere of Flying U ranch. The musicians, two supercilious but undeniably efficient young men from Great Falls, had arrived two hours before and were being graciously entertained by the Little Doctor up at the house. The sandwiches stood waiting, the coffee was ready for the boiling water, and the dining-room floor was smooth as wax could make it.
For some reason unknown to himself, Chip was "in the deeps." He even threatened to stop in the bunk house and said he didn't feel like dancing, but was brought into line by weight of numbers. He hated Dick Brown, anyway, for his cute, little yellow mustache that curled up at the ends like the tail of a drake. He had snubbed him all the way out from town and handled Dick's guitar with a recklessness that invited disaster. And the way Dick smirked when the Old Man introduced him to the Little Doctor—a girl with a fellow in the East oughtn't to let her eyes smile that way at a pin-headed little dude like Dick Brown, anyway. And he—Chip—had given, her a letter postmarked blatantly: "Gilroy, Ohio, 10:30 P. M."—and she had been so taken up with those cussed musicians that she couldn't even thank him, and only just glanced at the letter before she stuck it inside her belt. Probably she wouldn't even read it till after the dance. He wondered if Dr. Cecil Granthum cared—oh, hell! Of COURSE he cared—that is, if he had any sense at all. But the Little Doctor—she wasn't above flirting, he noticed. If HE ever fell in love with a girl—which the Lord forbid—he'd take mighty good care she didn't get time to make dimples and smiles for some other fellow to go to heaven looking at.
There, that was her, laughing like she always laughed—it reminded him of pines nodding in a canyon and looking wise and whispering things they'd seen and heard before you were born, and of water falling over rocks, somehow. Queer, maybe—but it did. He wondered if Dick Brown had been trying to say something funny. He didn't see, for the life of him, how the Little Doctor could laugh at that little imitation man. Girls are— well, they're easy pleased, most of them.
Down in the bunk house the boys were hurrying into their "war togs"— which is, being interpreted, their best clothes. There was a nervous scramble over the cracked piece of a bar mirror—which had a history— and cries of "Get out!" "Let me there a minute, can't yuh?" and "Get up off my coat!" were painfully frequent.
Happy Jack struggled blindly with a refractory red tie, which his face rivaled in hue and sheen—for he had been generous of soap.
Weary had possessed himself of the glass and was shaving as leisurely as though four restive cow-punchers were not waiting anxiously their turn.
"For the Lord's sake, Weary!" spluttered Jack Bates. "Your whiskers grow faster'n you can shave 'em off, at that gait. Get a move on, can't yuh?"
Weary turned his belathered face sweetly upon Jack. "Getting in a hurry, Jacky? YOUR girl won't be there, and nobody else's girl is going to have time to see whether you shaved to-day or last Christmas. You don't want to worry so much about your looks, none of you. I hate to say it, but you act vain, all of you kids. Honest, I'm ashamed. Look at that gaudy countenance Happy's got on—and his necktie's most as bad." He stropped his razor with exasperating nicety, stopping now and then to test its edge upon a hair from his own brown head.
Happy Jack, grown desperate over his tie and purple over Weary's remarks, craned his neck over the shoulder of that gentleman and leered into the mirror. When Happy liked, he could contort his naturally plain features into a diabolical grin which sent prickly waves creeping along the spine of the beholder.
Weary looked, stared, half rose from his chair.
"Holy smithereens! Quit it, Happy! You look like the devil by lightning."
Happy, watching, seized the hand that held the razor; Cal, like a cat, pounced upon the mirror, and Jack Bates deftly wrenched the razor from Weary's fingers.
"Whoopee, boys! Some of you tie Weary down and set on him while I shave," cried Cal, jubilant over the mutiny. "We'll make short work of this toilet business."
Whereupon Weary was borne to the floor, bound hand and foot with silk handkerchiefs, carried bodily and laid upon his bed.
"Oh, the things I won't do to you for this!" he asserted, darkly. "There won't nary a son-of-a-gun uh yuh get a dance from my little schoolma'am—you'll see!" He grinned prophetically, closed his eyes and murmured: "Call me early, mother dear," and straightway fell away into slumber and peaceful snoring, while the lather dried upon his face.
"Better turn Weary loose and wake him up, Chip," suggested Jack Bates, half an hour later, shoving the stopper into his cologne bottle and making for the door. "At the rate the rigs are rolling in, it'll take us all to put up the teams." The door slammed behind him as it had done behind the others as they hurried away.