Robert Alexander Wason
MY OLD PAL
I THE DIAMOND DOT II CONVINCING A COOK III UNDER FIRE IV PROFESSIONAL DUTY V JUST MONODY—A MAN VI THE RACE VII MENTAL TREATMENT FOR A BROKEN LEG VIII THE LETTER IX ADRIFT AGAIN X A WINTER AT SLOCUM'S LUCK XI DRESS REFORM AT THE DIAMOND DOT XII THE LASSOO DUEL XIII BUSINESS IS BUSINESS XIV THE CHINESE QUESTION XV THE DIAMOND DOT AGAIN XVI THE HIGHER EDUCATION OF WOMAN XVII IN RETIREMENT XVIII CUPID XIX BARBIE MAKES A DISCOVERY XX RICHARD WHITTINGTON ARRIVES XXI HAPPY MAKES A DISCOVERY XXII A FRIENDLY GAME XXIII CAST STEEL XXIV FEMININE LOGIC XXV THE WAYS OF WOMANKIND XXVI A MODERN KNIGHT-ERRANT XXVII THE CREOLE BELLE XXVIII THE DAY OF THE WEDDING XXIX THE FINAL RECKONING XXX THE AFTERGLOW
THE DIAMOND DOT
I wasn't really a Westerner an' that's why I'm so different from most of 'em. Take your regular bonie fide Westerner an' when he dies he don't turn to dust, he turns to alkali; but when it comes my turn to settle, I'll jest natchely become the good rich soil o' the Indiana cornbelt.
I was born in Indiana and I never left it till after I was ten years old. That's about the time boys generally start out to hunt Injuns; but I kept on goin' till I found mine—but I didn't kill him—nor him me neither, as far as that goes.
I allus did have the misfortune o' gettin' hungry at the most inconvenient times, an' after I 'd been gone about two weeks I got quite powerful hungry, so I natchely got a job waitin' on a lunch counter back in Omaha. The third day I was there I was all alone in the front room when in walked an Injun. He was about eight feet high, I reckon; and the fiercest Injun I ever see. I took one look at him a' then I dropped behind the counter and wiggled back to the kitchen where the boss was. I gasped out that the Injuns was upon us an' then I flew for my firearms.
When the boss discovered that the Injun and fourteen doughnuts, almost new, had vanished, he was some put out, and after we had discussed the matter, I acted on his advice and came farther West. That business experience lasted me a good long while. I don't like business an' I don't blame any one who has to follow it for a livin' for wantin' to have a vacation so he can get out where the air is fit to breathe.
Just imagine bein' hived up day after day with nothin' to see but walls an' nothin' to do but customers. You first got to be friendly with your visitors to make 'em feel at home, an' then you got to get as much of their money as you can in order to keep on bein' friendly with 'em in order to keep on gettin' as much of their money as you can.
Now out in the open a feller don't have to be a hypocrite: once I worked a whole year for a man who hated me so he wouldn't speak to me; but I didn't care, I liked the work and I did it an' he raised my wages twice an' gave me a pony when I quit.
He was the sourest tempered man I ever see; but it was good trainin' to live with him a spell. Lots of men has streaks of bein' unbearable; but this man was the only one I ever met up with who was solid that way, and didn't have one single streak of bein' likeable. He was the only man I ever see who wouldn't talk to me. I was a noticing sort of a kid an' I saw mighty early that what wins the hearts o' ninety-nine men out of a hundred is listenin' to 'em talk. That's why I don't talk much myself. But you couldn't listen to old Spike Williams, 'cause the' wasn't no opportunity—he didn't even cuss.
We was snowed up for two weeks one time an' I took a vow 'at I'd make him talk. I tried every subject I'd ever heard of; but he didn't even grunt. Just when things was clearin' off, I sez to him, usin' my biggest trump: "Spike," sez I, "do you know what they say about you?"
"No," sez he, "but you know what I say about them," an' he went on with his packin'.
I thought for a while 'at the year I'd spent with Spike Williams was a total loss; but jest the contrary. It had kept me studyin' an' schemin' an' analysin' until, after that year had been stored away to season, I discovered it was the best year I'd ever put in, an' while I hadn't got overly well acquainted with Spike, I had become mighty friendly with myself and was surprised to find out how much the' was to me.
Did you ever think of that? You start out an' a feller comes along an' throws an opinion around your off fore foot an' you go down in a heap an' that opinion holds you fast for some time. When you start on again another feller ropes you with a new opinion, an' the first thing you know you are all cluttered up an' loaded down with other fellers' opinions, an' the' ain't enough o' your own self left to tell what you're like; but after that winter with Spike I was pretty well able to dodge an opinion until I had time to learn what it meant.
But the main good I got out of Spike was learnin' how to take old Cast Steel Judson. It was some years after this before I met up with him; but the good effect hadn't worn off and me an' Cast Steel just merged together like butter an' a hot penny. I wasn't much more 'an a kid even then, but law! I wish I knew just half as much now as I thought I did then. My self respect was certainly a bulky article those days an' I wasn't in the habit of undervaluin' my own judgment—not to any great extent; but that habit o' study I'd formed with Spike was my balance wheel, an' I generally managed to keep my conceit from shuttin' out the entire landscape. The' wasn't a great deal escaped my eye, 'cause I begun to notice purty tol'able young that experience is consid'able like a bank account: takes a heap o' sweat to get her started, but she's comfortable to draw on in a pinch.
Ol' man Judson was a curious affair, had his own way o' doin' every blessed thing, an' whenever he hired a man he always went through the same rigamarole. "Now what I'm contractin' for," he'd say, "is just only your time an' whatever part o' your thinkin' apparatus as is needed in doin' YOUR share o' my business. If I detail you to sit in the shade an' count clouds, I don't want no argument, I want the clouds counted. When I don't specially express a hungerin' for any of your advice, that's the very time when you don't need to give any. Whenever you think you have a kick comin'—why think again. Then if you still see the kick, make it to the foreman. If that don't work make it to me; but when you make it to me, you want to be mighty sure it will hold water. Above all things I hate a liar, a coward, an' a sneak. Now get busy 'cause life is short an' time is fleetin'."
That was the way he used to talk, an' some used to set him down as a tyrant, an' some had him guessed in as a rough old codger with a soft heart,—everybody took a guess at him,—but the blood in the turnip was that ol' Jabez Judson was purty tol'able sizey when you carne to fence him in. Everybody called him Cast Steel Judson, an' you might work through the langwidge five times without adding much to the description. Hard he was an' stern an' no bend to him; but at the same time you could count on him acting up to his nature. He wa'n't no hypocrite, an' th''s a heap o' comfort jest in that. A feller ain't got no kick comin' when a rattler lands on him; but if a wood dove was to poison him, he'd have a fair right to be put out. The only child 'at Cast Steel had was one daughter; but that don't indicate that paternity was one long vacation for Jabez. Barbie—her full name was Barbara—was the sweetest an' the gamest an' the most surpriseable creature a human being ever met up with, an' ol' Jabez could 'a' got along handier with seven sons than he did with that one girl. Oh, the eyes of her were like the two stars over old Savage, snappin' an' twinklin' an' sparklin' in the clear winter nights, or soft an' shy an' tender when the hazy spring moon cuddles up to them. She wasn't afraid of anything 'at walks the face o' the earth, an' Jabez had a hard time gettin' used to this—'cause he thought she ought to be afraid o' him.
Still, he fair worshipped her, an' if he'd been given full charge o' the earth for jest one day, an' anything would 'a' pestered the girl durin' that day, why the map-maker would sure have had a job on the day follerin'; 'cause from his standpoint, that girl was what the sun shone for an' the rain rained for an' the blossoms blossomed for.
We was allus havin' a lot o' Easterners string along during the summer, an' they generally was easy to entice into makin' a little visit with us. Some of 'em would spend their time crackin' stones an' makin' up tales about their bein' speciments o' the Zelooic age or the Palazoric age or some such a fool thing. They was mostly heathens, an' it didn't do no good to spring the Bible on 'em—in fact after we got able to read their signs we never contraried 'em at all, but just let 'em heave out any tale they could think up an' pretend 'at we believed it; an' hanged if I don't begin to suspicion that the' 's a heap o' truth in some o' their nonsense.
Purty near every one of 'em insisted that at one time all those mountains, even old Savage, had been under water, an' they'd take us out an' show us the signs; but we couldn't stomach that until we found out that this was one o' the Injun traditions too, an' then we give in.
Well, one o' these strays was what they call an astronomer. His speciality was the stars, nothing less; an' he knew 'em by name an' could tell you how far off they are an' what they weigh an' how many moons they had an'—oh, he knew 'em the same as I know the home herd, an' he didn't only know what they had done—he knew what they was a-goin' to do, an' when he called the turn on 'em, why they up an' done it. Comets an' eclipses an' sech like miracles were jest the same to this feller as winter an' summer was to me, an' we fed him until he like to founder himself, tryin' to hold him through the winter; but at last he had to go, an' after he'd gone Cast Steel was purty down-hearted for quite a spell.
"It ain't fair, Happy," sez he to me one day after the astronomer had gone.
"No," sez I, "I reckon it will rain before mornin'."
"I mean it ain't a fair shake," sez he. "Jupiter has eight of 'em an' we ain't but one an' the' ain't nobody lives there, while—"
"What do you happen to be talkin' of?" sez I.
"Why moons," sez he. "It seems too doggone bad for that confounded planet to have eight moons an' no one to enjoy 'em while my little girl jest dotes on 'em an' we only have one—an' IT don't work more'n half the time."
That was Cast Steel: he didn't look on life or death, or wealth or poverty, or anything else except in the way it applied to Barbie—but she was worth it, she was worth it, an' I never blamed him none.
But you needn't get the idea that Jabez was one o' these fond an' lovin' parents what sez: "My child, right if perfectly convenient, but right or wrong, my child." Not on your future prospects! Jabez, he sez: "My child, right from the shoes up, if the Rocky Mountains has to be ground to powder to make her so."
I remember the day she was six year old; he hardly ever laid out the details for her conduct, he jest sort o' schemed out a general plan and left her free to adjust herself to it, like a feller does with a dog or a pony he expects to keep a long time an' don't want to turn into a machine. He had told Barbie he didn't want her to ride nothin' 'at wasn't safe. Well, on the mornin' she became a six-year-old he came out o' the side door an' saw her disappearin' in the distance on top a big pinto 'at he had sent over for Buck Harmon to bust; it havin' already pitched Spider Kelley an' dislocated his shoulder.
"Who roped that pony for her?" yelled Cast Steel.
"I did," sez I. "She said 'at this was her birthday an' she was tired of actin' like a kid an' intended to ride a real ridin' hoss."
"If a hair of her head is injured, hell won't hide ya!" sez Cast Steel, an' his lip trembled an' his eyes fairly smoked.
"She's jest as safe as if she was in her bed," sez I, as gentle as I could. "I taught her how to ride, an' I ain't ashamed o' the job. She can give Spider Kelley cards an' spades an' beat him to it every time. But as far as that goes—"
I didn't get to finish because here she come, tearin' back on the pinto. Her hair was flyin', her eyes was dancin', an' she was laughin'—laughin' out loud. Light an' easy she pulled the pinto up beside us an' calls out: "Oh, daddy, this is lovely, this is mag-ni-fi-cent"—the little scamp used to pick up big words from the Easterners, an' when she had one to fit she never wasted time on a measly little ranch word—"oh, I'm never goin' to ride old Kate again."
"Git off that pony," sez Jabez, makin' a reach for the bit; but the pony shied, whirled, an' purty nigh kicked his head off. He stood still in a daze while Barbie was circling the pony an' gettin' him quiet again.
"How's she goin' to get off?" asked Jabez, turnin' to me.
"Simply climb down," sez I purty short. I had some temper those days, an' I hadn't got over his insinuations, an' I didn't intend to.
"She'll be killed!" sez Jabez. I never said a word.
"She'll be killed!" he repeated, an' his voice was filled with anguish.
"Get down off the pony, Barbie," sez I, an' she threw her little leg over the saddle an' hit the grass like an antelope. The pony never stirred. Ol' Jabez stood watchin' her with his eyes poppin' out. "Turn the brute loose!" he shouts. "What for?" sez she. "'Cause I say so!" he fairly roars.
Well, she walks up, pats the pinto on the nose, an' slips the bridle off his head. He just stands still an' watches her as mild as a pint o' cream.
"Rope that pony," sez Cast Steel to me.
"Get one o' your own men to rope it," sez I.
He looked into my eyes a moment an' then he called to George Hendricks to rope the pinto; but when George hove in sight with his rope the pinto took to his heels an' made for the horizon. "There goes a ninety-dollar saddle," sez Jabez to me, "an' it's all your damned nonsense."
"It ain't either," sez Barbie, as fierce as a wounded bear, "it's all your damned nonsense. Happy has been trainin' that pony nights for my birthday an'—"
"Barbara!" yells Jabez, "what do you mean by usin' such langwidge? I'll line you out for this. You know mighty well—"
"Now you play accordin' to the rule," sez Barbie. "You was teachin' me to play seven up last week an' you said that everybody had to play by the same rule. I reckon that goes in cussin' too."
Well, they looked into each other's eyes for quite some while, an' then Jabez sez: "Go into the house, Barbara, an' we'll both think it over, an' as soon as we get time we'll settle it."
"All right," sez Barbie, an' she turns around an' marches to the house, her little head held like a colonel's. Just before she reached the house she turned an' calls: "You'll get the pinto for me, won't you, Happy?" I sort o' half nodded my head, an' she went on into the house.
"Did you ever see such grit?" sez Cast Steel, "an' her only six. Kids oughtn't to act so grown up at six, had they, Happy?"
"I reckon 'at kids are pretty much like colts an' puppies an' other young things: give 'em dolls to play with an' they'll play like children, but start 'em out on cards an' ponies, an' range 'em off with nothin' but grown folks, an' they're bound to have ways like grown folks'."
Jabez fidgeted around a while, an' then he sez, "Are you goin' to try to catch the pinto?
"I am goin' to catch it," sez I, rollin' a cigarette.
He kind o' nervoused around a few minutes longer an' then he sez, "What did you mean a while ago?"
"Jest whatever I said," sez I. "I don't know what you're a-referrin' to, but if I said it, that's what I meant."
"When I asked you to rope the pinto you told me to git one o' my own men to rope it; what does that mean?"
"It means that when a man tells me that hell can't hide me from his wrath, I 'm free to consider myself foot loose. A man don't want to slaughter none of his own hands, an' if it should be that any one feels called upon to go after my hide, I don't want to feel that the time I 'm wastin' in takin' care o' that hide rightfully belongs to another man who is payin' for it. Therefore I have quit. I'm goin' to rope the pinto for Barbie, but I wouldn't do it for you, an' when I get back I'll call around for what's comin' to me."
"Well, go an' be hanged! You always was the most obstinate, high-headed, bull-intellected thin-skin 'at ever drew down top wages for punchin' cows. You're nothin' more than a kid, an' yet you swell around an' expect a man—"
"Well, I don't expect nothin' from you, ceptin' my wages," sez I.
"You go to Jericho, will you!" snaps Jabez. "You don't need to think that I'd try to argue any man on earth into workin' for me. I can get an army o' riders as good or better than you—but the gel likes you, Happy, an'—"
"An' that's why I 'm goin' after the pinto," sez I, an' I flopped onto a pony an' sailed out to a little glen in the foothills where I knew I 'd find him, an' as soon as I had towed him back to the corral I put my saddle on the old beast I had rode there an' set off.
Just as I rode around the edge o' the corral, ol' man Judson stood there grittin' his teeth. "What are you ridin' that old skin for?" sez he.
"'Cause it's the only pony I got," sez I.
"You leave it here an' take your pick out o' the five-year-olds," sez he.
"All I want out o' this ranch is what I have earned," sez I.
"If you don't get something 'at your pride'll earn some day, I'm the biggest fool this side o' the big ditch. Here's your pay. You've been a fair hand, but don't forget that I never hire a man twice, an' I've hired you once already."
"Now look here, Jabez," sez I, "I ain't so old as I'll get if I live as long as I may, but I'm old enough to know that it's just as easy, to find a good boss as it is to find a good man. I've done my work without fussin', an' you've seen me in a pinch or two; an' yet this very mornin' you intimated than I 'd risk Barbie on a pony she couldn't ride. The' ain't nothin' I wouldn't do for that child, but you don't understand her, an' if you go on in your high-handed way with her you 're in for the sorrow o' your life—mark my words."
"Here's your money. You ain't got sense enough to know your place an' I 'm glad to be shut of you." Jabez handed me my pay an' stamped over to the ranch house, while I kept on down the valley trail.
When I reached the turn I twisted about in my saddle an' looked at the cluster o' buildings. They looked soft an' gray with old Mount Savage standin' on guard back of 'em, an' the' was a bigger lump under my necktie than I generally wore. I didn't have mach call to go anywhere, an' I sat there on my old pony, wonderin' whether or not it paid to be game.
If my mother had been alive, jest at that point would have been where the West would have lost the benefit of my personal supervision—but then if my mother had lived I shouldn't never 'a' left home. I stood a stepmother six months out o' respect to my Dad, but I wouldn't 'a' stood that one a year—well, anyway, not unless I'd been chained an' muzzled.
It's a funny thing to me how a man can drink an' fight an' carry on for a year at a clip an' then all of a sudden feel a hurtin' somewhere inside that nothin' wouldn't help but a little pettin'. He knows doggone well 'at there ain't none comin' to him, so he hides it by cuttin' up a little worse than usual but it's there, an' Gee! but it does rest heavy when it comes. Why, take me even now when the' wouldn't nothin' but a grizzly bear have the nerve to coddle me, an' yet week before last I felt so blue an' solitary 'at I couldn't 'a' told to save me whether I was homesick or whether it was only 'cause the beans was a little sour.
I sat there on the old pony a good long time, an' then I heaved a sigh 'at made me swell out like an accordion, an' headed back to the valley trail. When I turned around, there, standin' in the trail before me with a streak down each cheek, stood Barbie.
"Ya ain't goin', are ya?" sez she.
"I got to go, honey," sez I.
"Ain't ya never comin' back?" asked she.
"Oh, I'll come back some day, ridin' a big black hoss with silver trimmed leather—an' what shall I bring little Barbie?" sez I, tryin' to be gay.
"Just bring me yourself, Happy, that's all the present I want. I love you because you're the handsomest man in the world"—yes, it was me she meant, only o' course that was some years ago an' the child was unthinkable young—"an' cause you tell me the nicest stories, an' train pintos, an'—an' I'm goin' to marry you when I grow up."
"Marry me, kitten?" sez I, laughin' free an' natural this time. "Why, bless your heart, where did you ever hear o' marriage?"
"My Daddy tells me of my mother, an' what a beautiful lady she was, an' how happy they were together—an' I'm goin' to marry you when you come back."
"Well, Barbie," sez I right soberly, "you be true to me an' I'll be true to you, an' now we'll kiss to bind the promise."
So I lifted her to my saddle an' kissed her. "How did you get here, child?" sez I.
She didn't answer for a minute. "I rode old Kate," said she at last, "but I didn't want you to know it. She's over behind that rock. And now, Happy, don't you dare to forget me. Good-bye."
I set her down in the road with her eyes misty an' her white teeth set in her lips, an' my own eyes were so hazy like that I couldn't see her when I looked back, an' then I rode away down the valley trail.
CONVINCING A COOK
I'm as wild as any comet when I first swing out o' my regular orbit, an' I rode on an' on, sometimes puttin' up for the night at a ranch house an' sometimes campin' out in the open, where I'd lay till dawn gazin' up at the stars an' wonderin' how things were goin', back at the Diamond Dot. I mooned on until at last I wound up in the Pan Handle without a red copper, an' my pony sore footed an' lookin' like what a crow gets when the coyotes invite him out to dinner.
I drew rein one night along side a most allurin' camp fire. I had noticed the herd when I came along in, an' they was dandies; big solid five-year-olds, hog fat, but they wasn't contented—kept fidgetin' around. When I struck the fire, a fair haired young feller was readin' a book, two Greasers an' a half blood Injun was playin' poker with an old bunch o' whiskers 'at wasn't a ridin' man at all while the cook had turned in without washin' the dishes.
"If anybody's at home," sez I, "I'd like to ask permission to set down an' rest."
"Why, certainly, make yourself at home," sez the fair hair. The balance o' the bunch only give me the side eye.
"Would you need any more help?" I asked, most respectful.
"No, thank you," sez the young feller, "I think we'll make it all right."
"You have a nice bunch here," sez I, "an' I thought perhaps you might want to get 'em to market in good shape. I am referrin' to the cows"—I continued, kind o' takin' the cover off my voice.
"We expect to get them to market in good shape," sez the fair-hair, uncoilin' his dignity. I rolled a cigarette.
"What makes you think we won't get them to market in good shape?" sez he.
"'Cause your cook's got a sour temper, an' the' ain't no one bossin' the job—'at knows how," sez I, mild an' open-faced, an' lookin' into the fire. The fair-hair straightens up with a snort, while the pot-openers begin to cuss sort o' growly.
"Where are you from an' how long have you been making my business your own?" asked the fair-hair.
"Oh, I come from up no'th a ways; but I ain't ever made your business mine. I never saw your outfit until twenty minutes ago—but I've seen other outfits."
"Can you handle cattle?" sez he.
"Yes," sez I—"and men."
"Well, I think you can join us," sez he, kind o' slow. "The cattle don't seem to be as gentle as they did when we started. I think it is because we are short handed and have to be a little too rough with them." I didn't answer.
"Well, do you want the job?" sez he.
"Who's the foreman?" sez I.
"I am in charge," he answers stiff like.
"You're the owner, I know, but who's in charge o' the men?"
"I take full supervision," sez he.
"I don't want the job," sez I.
"All right," he snaps, "I don't recall havin' sent for you."
"No offense," sez I, "but up my way it's generally polite to inquire about the appetite. If any one was to ask me, I'd say I was hungry. If any one was to urge me, I'd be obliged to meet up with a little food." I looked him gently in the eyes. He dropped his an' looked put out.
"Tell you the truth, I'm havin' a dog's time of it with my cook. He's gone to bed an' I don't think there's a thing to eat."
"What'll the night riders do?" I asked.
"Oh, they'll raise Cain as usual, but that's all the good it'll do 'em."
"That ain't all they'll do," sez I. "Chances are they'll take it out on the cattle, an' they may—they may even go so far as to get the cattle to cut up until the day shift has to turn out an' help quiet 'em."
"Is that the reason?" he asked, his face lightin' up.
"I don't know for sure, but that's my first guess," sez I.
He looked down at his feet an' I looked him over. He was a nice lookin', well built boy, but he was up against it for about the first time, an' I saw his finish. "I would take the job o' foreman," I sez.
"I hire you—ten a month advance over regular wages, an' you to begin to-morrow."
"No," sez I, "me to begin to-night—with supper."
"All right," sez he, laughin', "help yourself."
I walked over to the cook wagon, as I hit the shadow I loosened my guns, an' the very minute they slipped in their holsters my lone-sickness rolled off like a cloud an' the hurtin' melted out o' my inwards. They was somethin' rolled up in a Navajo under the cook wagon an' I sized it up. It appeared to be seven feet long, but I kicked it in the ribs. Things began to happen at once. A huge creature of a man slid out on the opposite side of the cook wagon, an' when he came around the tail of it he was holdin' a bear gun so it would explode without much ceremony. He was usin' some language an' his speed was a thing to covet; but I just stood with my back to the fire, waitin' until I could get a chance to introduce myself. He was in the light, an' he was enough to make a man reform. Nigger, Greaser, Injun—oh, he was the hardest lookin' specimen I had ever seen, an' the think that occurred to me was that some time a woman had rocked him to sleep an'—kissed him. That's the queer thing about me. My face don't change, but I never got into a mess in my life without some outlandish, foreign idea poppin' into my head an' tryin' to hog my attention.
My attention wasn't much required just at that moment anyhow. He held the bear gun loose in his hand an' swore on like the roar of a mountain torrent. Once I glanced over my shoulder an' saw a pained look on the fair-hair's face, while the ante-up bunch was grinning wickedly an' waitin' for my finish. Me lookin' younger an' easier at that time than I really was, proved a big thing in my favor. Well, as soon as the mongrel cook had cussed himself clean an' dry, he yells at me, "Who in the hell are you an' what in the hell do you want?"
"I'm the new foreman," sez I in a school-girl voice, "an' I want my supper."
He wasn't prepared for it an' dropped his gun to his side while he began to narrate false an' profane eulogies about my breedin' an' past history. He took a few steps toward me so as I wouldn't lose none of his remarks, an' all of a sudden I swung half around an' kicked him in the jaw with my heel, which was a trick I had learned from a French sailor. It took me forty-five minutes to come to, after I received my first an' only lesson, an' I wasted a full year huntin' for that sailor. Any time durin' the first six months I'd have ventilated him completely, but after that I wanted to thank him, 'cause I had learned an' tried the trick by that time, an' it was worth all it cost.
But this cook was no wax figger, an' he only lay quiet a moment before he began to roll around an' groan. I picked up a neck yoke what was handy, an' I went for him. I hit him in the butt o' the ear an' on the back o' the neck an' in the center o' the forehead—I tried him out in all the most stylish places, until finally he dozed off.
"Bring me a lantern—you man with the whiskers," I called out.
He riz to his feet like a machine. "It ain't filled," he said.
"I don't know much about fillin' LANTERNS," I remarked to him kindly, "but I have had some experience in fillin' other things. Bring me the lantern, filled an' lighted—and don't keep me waitin'."
I then noticed two fellers a hoss back. "Do you belong to this outfit?" sez I.
"Yes, we're the night riders," answered one o' 'em stickin' up his hands, which plan seemed good to the other one also.
"What are you doin' here this time o' the evenin'?" I asked 'em.
"We heard the racket an' we—we thought something was wrong, an' we—we came in to see—"
"That's all right," sez I, "I'm the new foreman. You don't need to put your hands up every time we meet, but I want you to understand right now that I don't want those cows pestered any more. This outfit is going to run smoother from this on, an' as soon as the cook feels better he is going to cook my supper. I'll see that there is plenty o' coffee for your midnight lunch, an' I want you to enjoy yourselves—but I don't stand for no nonsense."
I made a motion with my eye an' they rode back to the herd, an' by that time the lantern had arrived, an' I poked around in the cook's belongings an' confiscated two shootin' irons an' a wicked Mexican knife. Then I threw a bucket o' water in his face an' he came out of it.
"How do you feel?" I asked him.
"Oh, hell," he moaned, an' he meant every word of it, an' more.
"Now see here, cook," sez I, in a mild voice, "I hate trouble, an' I don't intend to be pestered with it. Do you know how to cook?"
"Yes," he muttered.
"Speak out free an' easy," I sez; "no blood at all is better than bad blood, an' if you don't feel able to forgive me an' go about your work in a friendly way, why I'll feel compelled to remove you from our midst. You're not injured none, only bruised a bit, and I'm famished for my supper. I'm always quick tempered when I'm hungry an' I'm gettin' hungrier every minute. Are you ready to begin?"
He slowly got up to his feet an' looked at me. "Come over to the fire an' have a good look," I said, as though we were old friends.
He followed me over to the fire an' he sure gave me a lookover. "You're bigger'n I thought you was, an' you've been purty well seasoned. I ain't never yet been licked without a gun an' I didn't think it could be did. Will you fight me again—without weapons?" "I'll never fight you again but once," sez I, an' my lips were smiling, but all of a sudden a hatred of his cruel, evil eyes came over me, an' my lips curled back over my teeth. "If you had known I was your foreman an' had mixed with me I'd 'a' killed you a few moments ago. The very next time you cross me I'll kill you. I sleep light—when I do sleep. Are you goin' to cook my supper?"
"Yes, you blasted rattler," sez he, with a grin, "you're the killin' kind an' you're the killin' age, but I know when the jig's up. I know your name all right, but hanged if I can see through your game. I ain't goin' to try, either. As long as you choose to play at bein' foreman, I'll play at bein' cook, an' when you start on again, I'm willin' to join ya. I'll get your supper in a jiffey, Kid."
I sauntered over to the fair-hair, tryin' to act as if this was an every day occurrence. He had never changed his position all through it, although his hands were tremblin'.
I sat down beside him an' he chuckled softly—I liked that chuckle. It was boyish an' friendly, but most of all it showed a good foundation. He was new to the game, but he was the kind that learned.
"I suppose I'm purt nigh as old as you," he blurted out.
"In some things, mebbe—not in the cattle business," sez I.
"No," he grinned, "nor in the man-handlin' business, but I want to tell you right now that I have enjoyed this evenin's performance, no matter what happens from it. I ain't carryin' much cash with me," he added after a moment's thought.
"I ain't carryin' any," sez I.
He looked into my face again an' gave his chuckle. A feller couldn't help but echo when that fair-hair chuckled. "I heard the cook say he knew you an' he called you Kid—I suppose you are the Pan Handle Kid?" he asked.
"I didn't know the' was a Pan Handle Kid, but they're pretty common an' they're all a good bit alike. Forced to begin killin' before they're able to put the right value on life, an' once they begin, no way to stop. Now I'll tell you confidential that I'm not the Pan Handle, nor any other kind of a kid, although I once was the makin' of one. Still, it will make matters easier if this bunch thinks I am, so we'll just let it go at that. My name is Happy Hawkins; what might I call you?"
"Happy?"—he opens his eyes like saucers an' then he laughs like a boy. "Well, I watched you goin' after the cook with the neck yoke an' I never in the world would have called you Happy."
"Well, you'll see me trail in this bunch o' beef cattle, smooth an' contented an' with every man jack rollin' fat an' dimpled to the knuckles. They've had their last fuss. I'll feed 'em an' I'll work 'em from now on, an' you won't know 'em when we hit the market. Where you headin' for, K.C.?
"Yes. My name is Mister Jamison—James Jamison."
"This is a warm climate," sez I.
"Yes," he sez sort o' surprised, "it is."
"It has an awful meltin' effect on names," I continued.
He chuckled again. "I'm mighty glad you arrived, Happy," sez he. "What do you suppose'll happen to my name?"
"Well" I sez, "if you get yours before they learn to like you, it'll probably be James Jamison on the headboard, but if you make good, it'll be Jim Jimison on Sundays an' jest plain Jim for every day." "That suits me," sez he. "I'm entered for the whole race, an' I'm glad to get off as soon as possible."
"Supper's ready," called the cooks, an' when I gave a whoop an' bolted for it he giggled like a big fat mammy. I had turned up the side of his nature 'at would be most useful to our business. I took a sip o' the coffee while he kept his eyes glued on me. "Come over here, Jim," I called.
Jim came over lookin' a little anxious. "Taste that stuff," sez I.
He tasted it an' his face changed as though he had caught a vision of the better world, but I kept my face like the face of an angry bear. "What do you call this stuff?" I asked the cook, an' his face grew dark as a thunder cloud.
"That's coffee!" he roared.
"When was the pot cleaned?" I asked, with my brows drawn down to the bridge of my nose.
"Not more'n ten minutes ago," he yelled; and I got up an' holding my cup in my hand I danced about twenty different dances, while that cook like to split his sides laughin'. He was a cook, the' was no gettin' around it, an' Jim, he turned in an' fed his face while first his cheeks would dimple with the gladness o' the moment, an' then his eyes would sadden as he thought of all the good eatin' he had missed by not knowin' the proper kind o' diplomacy to use in handlin' a cook. An' me!—say, I mowed away until my skin begun to creak under the strain an' I couldn't roll my eyes more'n two degrees. Then I got up an' I shook hands with the cook.
"Cook," I sez, "no matter how devilish wicked you've been in the past, an' no matter how faithful you live up to your inner nature in the future, you're sure of a number nine crown an' a spotless robe jest fer this one meal"; an' the cook, he fairly glistened in the firelight.
Well, this was about all they was to that expedition. We all got to be so friendly with one another that by the time we had trailed that bunch into the stock yards, we was like one big family of elder brothers, an' Jim, he teased me into goin' back to the Pan Handle with him.
Jim was an Englishman—a younger brother. Up to that time I had allus supposed 'at bein' a younger brother was somewhat in the nature of an accident, an' not a thing to be hurled in a feller's teeth; but over in England it's looked upon as a heinius crime, an' the only thing a younger brother can do to square himself is to get out o' sight. That's how Tim happened to be in the Texas Pan Handle with a tidy little fortune his aunt had left him, tucked away in a good-sized, well-stocked ranch.
I took a good deal o' pains with him, 'cause he didn't have nothin' but a book education, an' it wasn't altogether easy to get him to see the true value o' things. He used to talk about Eton an' Oxford purty solemn, until one night he helped me mill the herd durin' a Norther', an' after that he took more kindly to the vital things o' life, but he was a man, Jim was, an' he kept raisin' my wages right along until I got that opulent feelin'. I never could stand prosperity those days; just as soon as I had a weight o' money 'at I could notice, I begun to grow restless, an' nothin' 'at Jim could do or say had much effect.
If things hadn't run in oil, I'd a-stayed right along, I reckon; but it got so 'at the' wasn't a hitch from week to week, an' I couldn't stand it. I never had a better friend in the world'n that cook was after he'd saved my life.
Jim had a kid sort o' chorin' around the place an' keepin' us from gettin' old an' stupid. One nice bright winter's day the kid went out for a ride; his pony came lopin' in just at sun down in the face of a blizzard, an' I went out to look for the kid. I found him trudgin' toward home an' cussin' his luck somethin' terrible. I put him up behind me an' by that time the wind was shootin' needles o' sleet into my face 'till I couldn't see a yard ahead. The kid snuggled up to me an' went to sleep, an' I gave the pony his head an' trusted to luck—no, come to think about it, that night I trusted to somethin' higher than luck, 'cause it was a perfect demon of a night.
The pony dropped from a lope to a walk an' then he put his nose to the ground an' fairly shuffled along. I was wearin' sheepskin with the wool on, but after a time the needles began to creep in an' I grew numb as a stone, while my flesh seemed shook loose from my bones, an' it hurt me to breathe. Oh, Lord, but it was cold! If it hadn't 'a' been for the kid I'd have gotten down an' walked alongside the pony, but as it was, he was out o' the wind an' sleepin' peaceful, so I just sat an' took it.
At last I sort o' drowsed off myself. I didn't sleep, but I wasn't awake; I seemed to be back at the Diamond Dot an' playin' in a little sheltered dell with Barbie. She had made up a game called Fairy Princess; sometimes she was the Fairy Princess an' sometimes I was, an' it was a mighty amusin' sort of a game, but different from most o' the games I was familiar with.
Well, that night out in the Texas blizzard I was playin' that game with little Barbie, an' all of a sudden—smash! Before I knowed what had happened we had been run into an' knocked down a ravine an' both the kid an' the pony was lyin' on top o' me. The kid got up an' begun to cuss as usual, but the pony never moved. I'd a heap sight rather had the conditions reversed, 'cause the pony was on my right leg an' my right leg was on a sharp stone.
"Shut up, kid," sez I, "this ain't no time for such talk. Here, you curl up alongside the pony an' I'll spread part o' my coat over you."
That kid was a home-maker all right; nothin' ever surprised him, an' wherever he lit he made himself comfortable. In two minutes he was asleep, while I began to puzzle it out. We were in a sheltered spot an' the wind swept above us; but it was so dark that you couldn't see ten inches. The wind was from the no'th, an' I went over every bit o' landscape in the country until at last I figgered out the' was only one place in Texas that filled the bill. A path swung around a crag an' the' was a shelf of stone ten feet below it an' eight feet wide, then it cut off sheer, fifty feet to the rocky bank of a creek. I reached out with my hand an' felt the edge of it, an' it give me an awful chill. I don't like to come quite so close.
After a time the wind veered around a little more to the east an' then it sucked up through the cut an' I began to freeze. I didn't care a great deal 'cause it stopped the horrid hurtin' in my leg; but the dead pony began to cool, an' I knew it was only a question o' minutes. Finally I awoke the kid. "Where is your gun, kid?" I sez.
"I shot all my catridges tryin' to bring some one out on a pony," sez the kid, drowsily, an' then he dozes off again.
We were only a mile from the ranch house; it was again the wind an' it wasn't much use to waste ammunition, but I finally got out my gun an' begun to shoot at intervals.
"What the deuce you makin' that racket for?" grunted the kid at the third shot. I boxed his ears and went on shootin' until at last the cold went through sheepskin an' woolens an' hide an' flesh, an' I grew warm an' contented; an' the next I knew, the cook was rubbin' my wrists an' pourin' hot coffee into me. I was purty mad at bein' dragged back to earth an' grumbled about it free an' hearty, but the cook kept croonin' to me the same as if I'd been a baby: "Neveh mind, honey, neveh mind; ol' Monody'll bring ya around all right. Take another sip o' coffee, chile, that's right, that's right."
It took me quite a spell before I could tell whether I was alive or not, 'cause while the cook had changed a heap since I'd first met up with him, I'd never heard any such talk as this; but after a time I came out of it an' the anguish I underwent gettin' back to life wasn't nowise worth the experiment.
It had stopped blowin', but it was colder than ever, an' at last I began to take enough interest in things to want 'em to get settled one way or another. As soon as I was able to think along a straight line, the cook would give a heave to the pony an' I would give myself a jerk. The lantern shed a splash o' light on the shelf, but the jump-off looked like the mouth o' the pit, an' I jerked purty tol'able careful. At last I was out, an' if you'll believe it, my leg was only broke in two places. I thought it was broken clear off. I couldn't get back up the cliff to the trail any way we could figger, so the cook said I should roll up in the Navajos he'd brought an' he'd take the kid an' go back an' bring a couple o' the boys an' pack me in.
The kid had found the blankets all right an' had rolled himself up, an' we had to shake the stuffin' out of him to rouse him again. He complained most bitter when he found he had to go back to the ranch house; but at last they got started an' it wasn't long before they had me there too, an' next day Phil McLaughlin rode over an' brought out a doctor who lined up my bones as good as new, while Jim told me about the cook.
Old Monody was like a salamander for heat, an' you couldn't drag him away from the fire in the winter time; but when I didn't return he began to worry: "If the' was a man left in this outfit I reckon he'd go out an' get him," he'd say scornful. "Riders! you call yourselves riders? You're loafers an' eaters, that's what you are! I'm a cook, but if nobody else has the nerve to go an' git him, I'll go myself."
Jim started to go at last, but he wouldn't let him. "You got the grit, Jim, but you ain't got the night sense yet. You stay where you are or you'd be on our hands too." Well, he steamed up an' down makin' new hot coffee an' drinkin' it by the bowl. All of a sudden he give a scream: "Oh, oh! there he goes over the cliff! Get me a pony—get me a pony, while I wrap up some coffee an' pick out some blankets!" Well, the cook was so blame wild by this time 'at they was glad to get shut of him; so they rigged him out an' he rode a bee line right to me, an' what led him you can figger out for yourselves. He was a queer cook, but after that night he was different: he acted as though he had adopted me; he petted me an' spoiled me an' you can talk all you want to about the flesh-pots of Egypt—why, that cook could fix beans eleven different ways, an' each one better'n the other.
But while I was lyin' there waitin' for my leg to knit up, I kept thinkin' o' the little lass back at the Diamond Dot, an' when I got about again, I knew I was signed for a trip No'th.
The cook was mighty good to me while I was backin' it; he used to deal out fussy little fixin's 'at kept the appetite an' the fever both down, an' when they wasn't no one around he used to pat out my pillers an' oncet he smoothed back my hair. He cut out his cussin' too, an' he used to line up the kid for it.
"You're from the South, ain't ya, Happy?" sez he to me one day.
"Not so you could notice," sez I. "I reckon this is the southest I ever got before."
"Hu," sez the cook, "Texas ain't south. Texas is just the rubbish heap o' this whole country. Where did you hook up to that word 'reckon'?"
"I dunno," sez I, thinkin' back. "A feller just catches words like the mumps, I suppose; but my pap, he used to use it right often."
"Where did your folks come from?" sez the cook.
"Oh, they come from Kentucky, an' before that from Virginia an' No'th Carolina, an' before that they came from Scotch Irish an' English, an' go clear back to Adam an' you'll find us Hawkinses was a ramblin' crew, I reckon; but what on earth you drivin' at, Monody, an' where on earth did your line hail from?"
He sat there a moment with lights an' shades dartin' over his ugly face, which somehow wasn't ugly to me any more, an' at last he said: "I have the blood of an Injun chief an' an African king an' a Spanish nobleman in my veins, an'—"
"Lord, man, you ought to let some of it out," I interrupted. "You'll have an eruption in your in'ards some day 'at'll blow you into a million pieces."
"No, I got 'em all whipped out now, Happy, an' I reckon 'at you did it. You 're the only man I ever met 'at I ain't once felt like killin'."
"It's pleasant to think o' what a good neighbor you've been all your life, cook; but I'm glad you've turned over since I met up with you. Anyhow, you've been a heap o' comfort to me, an' anything I got is on your list too, don't you never forget it."
But just the same, as soon as I got up an' around again, I had a terrible tuggin' from the no'th an' I couldn't resist it. I'd be makin' plans for the summer an' then all of a sudden I'd find myself sayin, "What in the world do you reckon 'at that child is doin' now. She'll be eight years old shortly, an' I simply have to see her on her next birthday, even if she don't see me." At last I couldn't stand it no longer, so I told the boys I had to cut, an' it fell like a stone on a lamp chimney; but the cook, he took it harder'n any one else. I liked the boys an' I liked Jim an' I liked the job; but there was that tuggin' allus at my heart, an' in the end I set a day. Jim, he made me all kinds of offers, 'cause things were gettin' easy with him; but when I made it clear to him, he saw how it was an' he sez: "I know 'at you'll come back to me some day, Happy, an' if you'll settle down, you can be a rich man. I've kept back five hundred dollars for you 'at I haven't mentioned in your wages, an' you can take your pick o' the colts an' just as soon as you've had your little flier I want you back; we all want you back."
It's a comfortin' feelin' to know 'at you're goin' to be missed; but I couldn't savvy that cook. He had one big tearin' time of it an' sluiced himself out with gin an' dug up his old profanity, an' then he simmered down an' just cooked himself into a new record. Gee! it was hard to separate from that mess table; but I had set my day an' the' was no goin' back.
Jim had a black Arabian stallion an' a couple o' high grade mares an' he was showin' up something fancy in the hoss line. He raised the colts just like range ponies, an' while they wasn't quite so tough when it came to livin' on sage brush an' pleasant memories, they could eat up the ground like a prairie fire, an' they was gentle. I bought a silver trimmed bridle an' some Mexican didoes, an' then I said good-bye to all of 'em except the cook—he wasn't there.
I hunted for him an hour; but he had so many peculiar ways 'at I just let it go at that an' finally gave him up; so I left him a nifty present an' pulled out with about a thousand yellow ones in my belt an' the best mount in the West.
I hadn't gone more than two miles before I turned a corner an' came face to face with ol' Monody. He was settin' on a big bald-faced roan, an' he had a serious look on his face. "Well, I wondered if you was goin' to let me go away without sayin' good-bye," sez I, tryin' to talk light an' easy.
"I'd be apt to," sez he. "Why, I've been peacefuller since you been here'n ever I was in my life before, an' it ain't likely I'd let you scoot out an' leave me. I'm goin' along."
Well, what do you think of that! Me startin' up to where I wasn't sure of a welcome an' takin' such a tow as ol' Monody along with me. I argued with him for an hour, an' then I got hot an' told him that merely savin' my life didn't give him no mortgage on me an' that he couldn't nowise keep up with me, an' by the time he reached the Diamond Dot, the chances were 'at I'd be on my way back to the Lion Head. He didn't waste no time in words, just sat sour an' moody, an' every tine I'd stop he'd growl out, "I don't care where you go or how fast you go or nothin' at all about it. I'm goin' along, an' I'll catch up with you sometime."
I sure gave him a chase; I wanted the black hoss to show up well when I landed, but I sent him along pretty steady an' took extra care of him. Ol' Monody had picked out the toughest pony at the Lion Head, an' he had good hands, but he never sighted me till the night I reached the ranch and was busy wipin' Starlight's legs. "I got some news for ya," sez ol' Monody, gettin' down slow from his leg-weary roan. "I'll tell it to ya while you 're eatin supper,"—an' I was sure glad to see him—an' glad to eat food again.
As soon as I finished takin' care o' Starlight, I give Monody's mount a look-over. The old bald-face was whipcord an' steel; but he looked purty near ready to own up.
"Monody, confound you," I sez. "What the deuce did you hammer this old skin over the road like this for?"
"That's my pony," he growled.
"Since I bought him, that's since when."
"When did you buy him?"
"It ain't none o' your business when I bought him. I bought him the mo'nin' you pulled out."
"What did you pay for him?"
"Are you goin' to talk about that ol' cayuse all night?" he snorts, gettin' wrought up.
"I'm goin' to talk about him until I find out about him," sez I, "an' you might as well come out of it an' tell what the' is to tell."
"I don't have to tell nothin' about him. He neveh belonged to you. Jim, he owed me some money on my wages so I just took the pony for the money. An' now I hope you're through pesterin' me."
"How much did he owe ya?" sez I.
"Now you gone about far enough with this!" yells Monody. "I don't know how much he owed me, an' I don't care. I reckon he owed me more'n the pony's worth, 'n if he didn't he can just pertend he raised my wages last month."
"Why didn't you let him raise your wages a little more, an' bring along a bunch o' five-year-olds too?" sez I, grinning. I was mighty glad to see the old scamp, an' I knew he had drawed the worst end o' the bargain; but I wanted him to understand that it was embarrassin' to go again my wishes without my consent. He had the pot o' coffee just ready to set on the rock where we was goin' to eat, an' all of a sudden he straightened up an' shot a scowl into me. "Look here, Happy." sez he, "I don't care a sky blue flap doodle for the whole Jim Jimison outfit! I told you I was comin' along, an' I come. I tells you again that I'm goin' wherever you go; but if you don't shet up about that royally sequestered ol' ball faced camel, I'll dash this scaldin' hot coffee—right on the ground!"
Well, I fell on my knees an' begged him to spare me, an' I kept it up until he was gigglin' with laughter—he had a funny way o' laughin'—an' then we sat on the stone an'—well, the' never was a human mortal 'at was qualified to carry water for ol' Monody's cookin'.
"What's your news, Monody?" I sez, after I 'd satisfied myself that I couldn't swaller another crumb.
"You're headin' for the Diamond Dot, ain't ya?" sez he.
"This is a corner o' the Diamond Dot range," sez I, lollin' back an' puffin' slow an' comfortable at my pipe.
"The pony corral stands at the mouth of a little canon, don't it?"
"Yes," sez I.
"An' the cook house is to the right of it?"
"Yes," sez I.
"An' the ranch house is kind o' sprawly with—"
"Look here, Monody," sez I, interruptin', "this ain't no news. What are you gettin' at?"
"You got friends there, ain't ya?" sez he.
"I got one friend anyhow," sez I, "but as long as you've insisted on taggin' along after me, you'll see the place an' you'll see my friend; though I somehow doubt if you'll be invited in for a meal."
"Is your friend a lady?" sez Monody.
"Oh, no," sez I, sarcastic, "she 's a two-year-old heifer. I wouldn't think o' goin' this distance just to call on a lady."
"How old is she?" asked Monody.
"Now you look here, you old pest," sez I, "if you're just tryin' to get even with me about the bald-faced roan, why cut it; but if you've got anything to tell, why tell it, 'cause I'm gettin' sleepy. She'll be eight years old to-morrow."
Old Monody shook with silent laughter for a moment. "A lady!" sez he. Then he sobered an' sez, "Is it your child?"
I heaved a rock at him which he dodged, an' then I sez, "You wicked of beast you, do I look old enough to have an eight-year-old daughter?"
"Sometimes you do an' sometimes you don't. You're one o' these fellers 'at ain't got no age o' their own, but just age up accordin' to what's goin' on,"—an' ol' Monody stumbled on a bit o' truth when he said this, an' it's still true.
"Well, what are you gettin' at?" sez I.
"The Diamond Dot is goin' to be raided to-night," sez he.
I jumped to my feet. "Who by?" I sez.
"You're fifteen years older right now than you was two minutes ago," sez Monody. "I stumbled onto Bill Brophy's gang last night. Bill has seven o' the lowest grade wolves 'at ever wore man-hide—I—I used to know Bill down in the Territory, an' Bill he thought I was still on the grab. He put me on. I'm supposed to be at the pony corral at midnight to turn the ponies loose an' bottle up the house gang in their shack. Brophy's bad medicine; you'd better pass up your eight-year-old lady friend an' come on back to the Lion Head with ol' Monody."
I walked up an' down a time or two, thinkin' it over. "We can ride right into the ravine 'at leads to the pony corral from here," sez I. "It's a good average four hours' ride. Now I can do it in three on Starlight; the old bald-face couldn't do it at all to-night—"
"Look at him now," sez Monody. There he was eatin' grass as lively as a cricket. "Well, you follow as you can, only you'd better lay low unless I whistle the Lion Head signal. If I get time to break you gentle to the home gang, it'll be all right; but you ain't apt to be due for a cordial welcome, not when strangers to you are lookin' for hold-ups."
He had tossed the saddles an' bridles on the hosses by this time, an' we left our outfit lyin' on the rocks. We hit the saddles in the same tick an' settled into a swing. Big an' heavy as ol' Monody was, he was a light rider, an' the bald-face hung at my cinch for the best part of an hour an' then we slowly oozed away from him. The stars were all full power that night, an' a feller could see most as plain as if the'd been a moon.
It smelt good to be back at the old place again, an' my blood was racin' through my veins till I fair tingled. Finally I reached the canon an' began to ride careful. It was only about eleven; but I didn't want any o' Brophy's gang to take a pot shot at me. All of a sudden something moved on a little grassy shelf on the side of the cliff. Starlight shied off to the left an' my gun flew up over my head, ready to drop on whatever it happened to be. My eyes were drillin' into the gloom when a mite of a creature with her hands clasped rose up an' said, "Oh, Happy, Happy! is it really you? an' ridin' on the black hoss with the silver trimmed leather!"
"Barbie, child!" I cried, "what on earth you doin' out here this time o' night an' all by your lone?"
"I just couldn't sleep, Happy," she said, comin' to the edge o' the shelf an' sittin' down with her little bare feet swingin' over; "I got to wonderin' how it would feel just when the birthday was a-comin' on; so I sneaked out here, an' I was just beginnin' to feel it when you hove into sight. I been thinkin' o' you lots lately, Happy."
"You little minx, you," sez I, "I doubt if you've thought of me twice since I been away, while I've been thinkin' of you every minute. But come, jump down behind me an' we'll hurry on. I want you to go in an' wake Daddy up an' tell him I've got something mighty important to say to him, while I scurry over an' wake up the home gang."
"The home gang ain't here," sez Barbie. "The ponies vamoosed this afternoon—they nearly always do the days I turn Mr. H. Hawkins with them,—that's what I call the pinto. He's an awful scamp; but the best pony on the place."
"Then I reckon they'll bring 'em around the twist an' down this canon. Now you get down here an' sneak into the house while I stake out Starlight in the big cathedral—see how well I remember everything."
I set the child down, rode Starlight into a big open nook with a narrow mouth, an' then hustled into the house. Old Cast Steel was standin' in the dining room in his stockin'-feet with a gun in each hand an' a question in his eyes. "Get ready for a raid, Jabez," sez I. "Who from?" sez he.
"From the Brophy gang," sez I.
"How do you know?" sez he. "They are due to arrive here at midnight, Jabez," sez I. "I don't know why; but I think we'd better get ready for 'em now an' argue about it to-morrow."
"I know why," sez lie. "One of 'em stole one o' my ponies an' started to run off a bunch o' my own cows with it. I strung him up an' he said 'at Bill Brophy'd get even with me for it. That was two months ago, an' the' hasn't been a minute since 'at I was so bad prepared for 'em. How many's in the gang?"
"Bill an' seven others. I found out through the meanest lookin' mortal you ever set eyes on. He's a giant, nearly black, an' the ugliest critter you ever set eyes on; but he's white inside. He'll be along as soon as he can get here—don't shoot him."
"I ain't apt to shoot any help this night," grins Jabez.
"If it wasn't for the little girl, Happy, I'd be right satisfied to have it out with Bill; but I hate to think of what may happen to her. How'll we fix for 'em?"
"Get in the dug-out cellar," sez I, for I'd been plannin' it all along.
"I reckon they'll burn the house down," sez Jabez; "but I'd rather they destroyed the whole blame outfit than to have anything happen to the little lass."
"Where's Melisse?" sez I. "She left," sez Jabez; an' I hadn't time to learn particulars.
By this time we had everything barricaded, an' gettin' Barbie we made a run for the dug-out. It was only two hundred yards; but we hadn't left the shadow of the house before a rifle sings out followed by two revolver shots. The' was a big pile o' winter wood in the L of the ranch house, an' without sayin' a word I swung Jabez with little Barbie in his arms back of the wood pile.
We didn't shoot much, although the gang kept pepperin' at the wood pile purty frequent from behind the cook house. "They'll fire the house purty soon," mutters Jabez, after we'd beat'em off on their second rush. "We'll have to try for the dug-out sooner or later."
Just at this minute the six notes o' the Lion Head signal floated in. "There's ol' Monody," sez I. "I wish Barbie was safe an' we'd show'em a merry time of it." I answered the call an' the' was silence for a long time. Presently we heard a rattlin' volley, an' the cook rolled around the corner o' the house an' joined us.
"The next time they rush," sez Jabez, "we'll charge out after 'em an' try for the dug-out. They won't monkey much longer."
They didn't monkey at all. Two of 'em had broke into the house from in front, an' the next we knew a window had been flung open at our back an' we would a-got it right then, but Monody heard 'em, an' as soon as the window shutter flew back he emptied his gun inside. At the same time the remainin' six charged in a body, an' for the next few minutes we was some busy. But we beat'em off, an' as they scurried for shelter to load, we made for the dug-out; me in front, ol' Jabez in the center, an' Monody closin' up the rear.
Just before we reached it, a revolver cracked in the doorway o' the dug-out, I felt a sting in the left shoulder, spun around and fell, but jumped up just as Jabez changed directions for the cook shack. It was only a step from the dug-out an' we rushed in, slammed the door, dropped in the bar, an' turned to face a man with two guns on us. Monody dropped on him, an' I was about to shoot from the hip when of Jabez sez, "By George, Jim, I'd forgot all about you—we can sure fix'em now. These is friends, Jim." Jim was a savage lookin' brute an' I eyed him purty close. "This feller is cookin' while Flapjack is on his bender, Happy," sez Jabez.
The cook shack was built out o' pine logs at the bottom, an' fixed so the upper sides'd swing out like awnings in hot weather. We felt purty comfortable. The' was a square window at each end an' one on the side facin' the house; the stove was on the other side. We made little Barbie sit in the corner behind the stove. Jabez took the window facin' the house, me the one facin' the dug-out, an' the sub-cook facin' the corral. I could shoot cleaner'n Monody, so he stood by to do my loadin', an' we proceeded to waste ammunition. It's enough to make the oldest man the' is reckless, when you think of the weight o' lead good aimers can throw without spillin' any blood.
After a bit things grew quiet, an' then we saw a small freight-wagon backin' down to the door with a lot o' wood across the back of it. Jabez came over to my window an' we shot into an' under the wagon; but it still backed up. The' was a little grade down to the cook shack, an' after they got it started the' wasn't much to do but guide. They had fixed a stick o' wood pointin' straight back from the rear axle, an' when it hit the door the bar broke an' the door flew off its hinges an' clear across the room.
But gettin' the wagon away for their rush was a different matter, an' we all shot at one another purty regardless. Once I reached back my hand for a fresh gun an' failed to get any. I turned around, an' there was Monody holdin' the sub-cook's right wrist with his left hand an' grippin' at his throat with his right. The' was a horrid look on the sub-cook's face, an' just as I turned to interfere, Monody gave a wrench which tore out the cook's wind-pipe, gave him a sling which landed him under the table, an' handed me a fresh gun. I was some bothered about this; but that wa'n't no time to hold an investigation, so I begun shootin' at flashes again.
"How's your catridges holdin' out?" sez Jabez.
"Ain't many left," sez Monody.
"I'm about cleaned myself," sez Jabez. "Where's Jim?"
"I think he's about once through," sez I, an' we proceeded to shoot more economical.
Purty soon they quit firin' again an' then the freight wagon started up the hill. They had put their ropes on the tongue an' were draggin' it out with ponies. We knew what that meant an' took a brace.
The lull what followed was the hardest part o' the whole business. Ther' wasn't a blasted thing we could do, an' it seemed hours before the neat volley came from the corner o' the dug-out. We didn't reply to it, which was most uncommon lucky for us; 'cause first thing we knew, they came rompin' around each corner an' poured in on top of us. They was used to fightin' against odds, an' it irritated 'em consid'able to take so long at a job with the odds in their favor. Outside, the starlight give us a purty fair aim, while they couldn't do more than guess at us—so we beat 'em off once more.
"The's only three shots in this gun," sez Monody, cheerfully, as he handed my iron back to me.
"What's that?" sez Jabez.
"We're about out o' fuel, Jabez," sez I.
I heard him grit his teeth in the darkness. "Where is she, Happy?" sez he.
"She's still in her corner back of the stove with the shack door in front of her. They won't hurt her, Jabez—no matter what happens, an' the' 's a good fight in us yet. Ol' Monody here don't begin to fight till the ammunition has give out; so keep your mind easy for the next rush," sez I.
Next moment they surged down on us, shootin' as fast as they could fan. We didn't explode a catridge until they was bunched in the door an' then we emptied out. They cussed an' groaned consid'able; but they surged on into the cabin, just the same. The smoke was like a cloud inside, an' a newcomer couldn't see an inch; so I backed into my corner with my left arm danglin' at my side an' holdin' my gun by the barrel.
The shootin' stopped in a flash an' the silence hurt a feller's ears. The' was a sloppy, floppin' sound over under the table an' now an' again a low groan. "Fetch the lantern out o' the freight wagon, an' let's chalk up." said a deep, heavy voice. In about a minute a light ripped its way into darkness an' I never saw a worse sight. Jabez was lyin' face down with a hairy viper on top of him face up. The feller'd been pinked in the bridge o' the nose an' it was most horrid ghastly. Two others lay still with their bodies inside the shack an' their legs outside; while another was lyin' just at my feet. Some one had swatted him in the temple with a revolver butt; but the sight that just about made me homesick was Jim, the deputy cook.
Monody hadn't broken the windpipe, an' he wasn't dead yet. It was him 'at made the floppin' sound. Oh, it was sickening! Brophy was a fine lookin' man—I recognized him from his description right at once—an' he hadn't been even grazed. He looked around cool but quick, an' just about took it all in, in the snap of a finger. Then he loaded both his guns before us an' made the feller with the lantern do the same. After which he looked into Monody's eyes—looked into 'em until Monody's ugly black face turned ashy; but Brophy hadn't even a scowl, an' when he spoke, his deep voice was steady an' calm. "How did that happen, Monody?" sez he, pointin' to the sub-cook.
"I—I reckon one o' the boys mistook him in the dark," sez Monody.
"I reckon you lie," sez Brophy. "The' ain't no white man would be beast enough. It's one o' your own heathen tricks."
I was surprised at the way Brophy talked. I'd allus heard 'at he was a rip-snortin' screamer, an' here he was talkin' low an' level like, as if he was conversin' about the weather; but when I looked into Monody's face an' saw it gray an' quivery, I knew 'at Brophy wasn't no bluffer, whether he yelled or whether he whispered.
I moved about an inch 'cause my leg was strainin', an' three guns dropped on me. "Don't try nothin'," sez Brophy. I didn't—I stood mighty still.
The man under the table give a gaspy squawk, Brophy dropped on one knee to look at him, an' I could see him shudder as he looked at the torn throat. "My God!" he muttered, an' then he started to git up, his voice fairly snarlin' with rage. "Monody, you beast!" he yelled, snap-pin' back the hammer of his gun, "I'll—"
He never finished it. With a queer, guttural cry Monody took a step forward with his left foot an' kicked him under the chin, lifted him clear from the ground, an' rolled him over, a crumpled an' broken thing, on top o' the sub-cook The man with the lantern began to fan-shoot into Monody, an' I jumped for him an' hit him in the temple with the butt, o' my gun. He went down with a crash an' the lantern went out.
"Monody!" I called. "Monody, are you hurt?" The' wasn't no answer; the' wasn't a sound. I felt like the last man on earth. Then I thought of the girl. I waited a moment to quiet my voice, an' then I sez, "Are you all right, little Barbie?" Still the' wasn't no answer, an' I fairly yelled to her.
"Yes, I'm all right, Happy, but I want to get out. Are you all right?" Her voice was steady, but it sounded a long ways off.
"Yes, Honey Bird, I'm all right," I sez.
"And is my Daddy all right?" she asked.
My! but it was a world o' comfort to hear the child's voice again, an' some way I felt unreasonable tickled to think 'at she had asked about me first. "Your Daddy ain't here just now, Barbie," I sez. "You'd better just stay where you are until we make sure 'at they're all gone."
"Well, all right," she said in the same muffled voice; "but I'd like to get out."
I hunted through my pockets for a match, but I couldn't find one, an' what I wanted just then was light—Lord, how I did want a light!
And then I heard a tramplin' an' a poundin' as the herd swept down the ravine an' into the corral, an' next minute I heard George Hendricks give the yell he allus give when a job was done, an' I yelled back—yelled till my voice cracked; an' it was the biggest relief I ever had.
I kept on yellin' until they got to the cook shack. "What the bloomin' blue blasted blazes is the matter?" sez Spider Kelley. "An' who the fiber fingered flub-dub are ya?"
"Get a light, get a light an' see!" I yells, hatin' to move.
"It's Happy Hawkins!" yells the whole bunch, an' the tone they used was all-fired welcome.
Purty soon they come in with a lantern, an' then they stopped askin' questions. For a moment we all just looked at that floor, an' it was sure a hideous sight. I put my finger on my lips an' pointed to the corner back of the stove where I'd put the shack door in front o' little Barbie, an' then I motioned for 'em to drag the bodies out. Monody was alive an' he had a satisfied grin on his face when I helped to carry him out in the air. Jabez never moved, an' the boys lifted him mighty tender—he'd been a good man to work for, spite of his queer ways. The two men in the doorway were still gaspin', but the rest of Brophy's gang had passed on as they had a right to expect, wearin' their boots an' their guns hot in their hands. Brophy himself had his neck broken, but his face didn't look bad. It was peaceful under the lantern light.
As soon as they was all lined up on the side porch I took the shack door down, but Barbie wasn't there. "Barbie!" I called. "Barbie, child! where are you?"
"Here I am, Happy," answered a muted voice. "I'm in the oven. Can't I come out now?" I opened the door to the big oven an' there she was, wrapped in a coat an' all rumpled up as if she'd been sleepin'. "Who put you in there, child?" I asked.
"A woman," she answered. "A woman with a soft, kind voice. She put me in here an' she told me to go to sleep, an' I did sleep most o' the time. When you'd all shoot together it would wake me up; but then after a minute I'd doze off again, an' now it's gettin' daylight an' I'm eight years old, an' I didn't get to see how it felt comin' on. Where's my Daddy, an' are all the robbers gone?"
"A woman!" sez I.
"Yes, an' she had the kindest voice," sez Barbie. "Ain't she here now? I want to talk to her. I've missed ol' Melisse something fierce—but I never let on to Daddy. Where is Daddy, Happy?"
"You ask more questions'n an almanac, Barbie," sez I, tryin' to speak easy. "I'm goin' to carry you in an' put you to bed, an' you can go on dreamin' about your beautiful lady, an' then in the mornin' I'll tell you all about what's happened."
My heart weighed about a ton in my breast as I carried the child into the house with the gray dawn light drippin' over her an' the still form of her father lyin' around on the side porch. I thought o' the mother she hadn't never seen, an' I hoped that things was fixed so 'at that mother could keep on comin' back now an' again to put a dream into her lonely little heart like she'd already done that night; but I carried her into her little white bedroom hummin' a dance-tune, took off her shoes an' stockin's, covered her up warm, an' told her she could sleep late, as we wasn't goin' to have an early breakfast. The big lids closed down over her bright little eyes, an' purty soon she was breathin' soft an' quiet, an' then I left her. I stopped in the doorway an' looked back, an' my heart ached when I thought of her havin' to wake up an' face it all. It ain't just killin' a man that's so bad, it's the awful hole most of 'em makes in some innocent woman's heart.
When I got back to the side porch my breath liked to 'a' stopped, for there was Jabez sittin' up an' complainin' most bitter because he had an achin' in the back of his neck. I stopped in my tracks gappin' at him, an' purty soon he noticed me an' sez, "Well, what are YOU starin' at? Remember 'at I ain't no chicken heart, an' remember 'at what I hate worse'n anything else is a liar. Now where is my child?"
"She's in bed and asleep, an' if you're sure you 're alive you've lifted a ton off my heart. I thought you was dead," sez I.
"This whole pack of idiots thinks so yet," he yells, "an' they won't let me get up. I got to see her, Happy, I got to touch her an' make sure for myself that she's all right."
"Where was you hit, Jabez?" I sez.
"I was creased—I was creased the same as they crease a mustang" he sez. "I was just touched in the back o' the neck an' it paralyzed me. These blame pin-heads are crazy to strip me an' see if I ain't shot all to pieces, but I won't stand for it." He tried to get up, but his legs wouldn't work, an' he sank back again.
"You just set an' rest a bit, Jabez," I sez. "I want to see how old Monody is."
The boys hadn't paid much attention to him, thinkin' him one o' Brophy's gang, an' not carin' much whether or not he was comfortable, 'cause he was the most bloodthirsty lookin' of the whole bunch. "Are you hurt bad, Monody" I said. His face lit up with a smile. "I don't hurt at all, Happy, but I reckon I 'm done for—the' ain't no feelin' in me from the waist down."
I got three o' the boys to help me, an' we put him on the shack door an' packed him into the house an' put him into one o' the spare beds. He was shot three times in the left shoulder, an' it wasn't till I noticed it that I recalled my own fix. Monody's shoulder was all shattered to smash, but still, it wasn't no reason for him to die, so I begun to kid him about it. He grinned an' said he didn't intend to die on purpose, but he reckoned it was his turn, an' he didn't intend to side step. He was most unreasonable an' wouldn't let us bandage him nor nothin', said he had a salve 'at beat anything a doctor had, an' we got it for him out of his coat which was the one wrapped around Barbie. He examined my shoulder with his right hand, an' his fingers worked around inside my bones clear and true, but some way without hurtin' me much. "It ain't broke," sez he, "just grooved a bit. You got bones like a grizzly."
When his salve came he rubbed it on me an' then he rubbed it on himself, an' then he told us to clear out so he could sleep. We all left him after a little, an' I sent Spider Kelley after the doctor. The' was only one member of Brophy's gang alive when I got back to the side porch, an' he was sinkin' fast. He had told Jabez 'at then intended to clean him out completely, an' that Jim, the sub-cook, was one o' the gang an' had let the ridin' ponies loose so 'at the' was no choice but to walk after the herd when they stampeded. He said that if he hadn't 'a' had that chance he would 'a' put knock-out drops in the coffee that night, which made all the men madder'n ever. Knock-out drops ain't no fair way o' fightin'.
Well, this feller had been with Brophy a long time, an' he gave us a purty complete list of his doin's an' his ways. As a rule a man only lasted about a year with the gang, an' when it was possible Brophy tried to get boys to fill up the vacancies,—boys likin' the game an' not carin' much for the consequences. He tried to tell us where Brophy had a lot o' gold salted down in Nevada, but it was hard to understand him, an' before he made it clear he tuckered out.
We sent out word to the neighbors, an' that evening about forty of 'em rode over to the buryin', and they made a good bit of a fuss over us, 'cause the gang had been worse'n a plague an' a famine. You can judge o' their nerve when they made war on the Diamond Dot, we havin' one o' the biggest outfits in the territory, an' all patriotic toward the old man. Jabez give me more credit'n was due me, but he sure tried to do the fair thing by of Monody too. Monody had saved us all, an' that was the simple truth. It seemed odd to think of how that kick I had in the jaw won me a friend in Monody, an' then, when it was passed on, saved the Diamond Dot. I 'd like to know what it did for the French sailor an' the feller what handed it to him. Funny thing, life.
We tried to get Monody to take his clothes off an' be comfortable; the boys fairly pestered the life out of him tryin' to do somethin' for him, but he was obstinate, said 'at his clothes was clean, an' he didn't intend to take 'em off till they got dirty. They bothered him so that finally he made me bring him one of his guns, an' he swore he'd use it before they got his clothes off. "I want to be buried in 'em, Happy," he said to me, most earnest. "If I die with 'em on you won't let 'em take 'em off, will ya?" He had a lot o' fever, so I humored him; but I wished, myself, he wasn't so set in his ways. His salve was the bulliest stuff I ever used on a bullet hole, an' my arm begun to mend right from the start. His shoulder was splintered purty bad, but still, it didn't seem as if it ought to have bothered his legs none. The next day he was a little wobbly in his head, an' it seemed to rest him to hold my hand. He didn't want no one else in the room, so I just sat an' talked nonsense to him, an' twice Barbie came in to see him.
In spite of his ugly face the child wasn't a mite afraid of him, an' she would smooth back his black, coarse hair; but she didn't talk to him much—just looked into his eyes an' smiled.
"I wish Melisse was here," she said to me once when Monody was dozin', "she'd cook somethin' nice an' tasty, an' she's such a good nurse."
"Melisse?" sez Monody comein' to, "who's Melisse?"
"She's my old nurse," sez Barbie. "I told her a story—just a little one—an' she wouldn't whip me for it, so Daddy told her to clear out until she was willin' to do her duty. He thinks she's gone for good, but I know where she is."
"Melisse, Melisse," muttered Monody. "Well, after all, it might be. The' ain't nothin' too strange to happen."
I see 'at he was a bit out of his head, so I didn't question him none. "Where is she, Barbie?" I asked in a low tone.
"I don't know just exactly where she is or I'd go bring her back, of course," she sez; "but I know 'at she's somewhere hereabouts, 'cause the day before my birthday—why, it was only day before yesterday, wasn't it? It seems years ago. Well, day before yesterday I found a big pan o' cakes in my playhouse, an' no one can't bake 'em but Melisse."
Monody didn't say anything more until after Barbie'd gone from the room, and then he made me tell him all I knew of Jabez, which was mighty little. He lay there a long time without speakin', an' then he sez: "O' course the' may not be anything in it, but if ever you an' this Jabez lock horns, you just ask him about the Creole Belle, an' if he's the man I mean—an' he sure favors him—it'll most likely unnerve him. Now I want to sleep."
Spider Kelley an' the doctor got back about ten that night, an' ol' Monody was in a ragin' fever an' some out of his head, but he kept his gun handy an' wouldn't stand for any one startin' to undress him.
"The''s somethin' worse'n that shoulder," sez the doctor, "though that's bad enough, goodness knows. He's hurt somewhere in the spine, an' I'll have to examine him. Take that fool gun away from him."
I put my hand on Monody's an' he loosened his hold on the gun an' took hold of my hand, his face lightin' up contented. Then I handed the gun to one o' the boys an' took tight hold of his right arm while the doctor started to unbutton his shirt. Ol' Monody's eyes opened with a jerk, an' the fever had left 'em. "Happy, Happy!" he pleaded. "You know 'at I'd give my life for ya! You won't let 'em bother me, will ya? I'm done for, I know it; an' the' ain't nothin' to do. Happy, Happy, let me go in peace, won't ya? Let me die like a man!"
The' wa'n't no fever in his eyes, an' he was sure earnest about it. I knew 'at if things was changed an' I was in his place he'd give me my way, so I sez to the doctor, "Dock, ol' Monody here is a cure-all himself; he give me the best salve ever I see for my own shoulder, an' when he sez it's all up with him, he ain't bluffin'. I reckon you'd better just let him alone." I hadn't never seen this doctor before; he was a youngish buck with sharp features an' an obstinate chin. "No," sez he, "it wouldn't be professional. I got to make an examination. Now some o' you boys hold his feet an' some o' you hold his good hands an'—"
"Some o' you go to hell!" sez I. "If ol' Monody here wants to die with his clothes on he's sure goin' to do it or else the' 's goin' to be consid'able more funerals on this place than we've already had. Now you git!"
The Dock, he was the first to go, an' then the rest o' the boys filed out.
"You're square, Happy," sez Monody, after they'd gone. "You're square, an' I knew it the first time I looked into your eyes. If I'd fell in with square ones at the start it would 'a' been a heap easier—a heap easier."
Cast Steel hadn't hardly taken his eyes off Barbie since lie 'd got up an' around again, but right after the Dock had left, in he popped. "What's this I hear, Happy?" he sez, excited.
"I don't know, Jabez," I replied.
"Dock Wilson sez 'at you chased hire out o' the room with a gun an' wouldn't let him examine this man."
"Well," sez I, "as far as that goes, this man has a right to judge for himself. He saved your life an' your outfit an' your daughter, an' I don't reckon you're goin' to tie him into a knot so as a doctor can go pokin' around in him when he don't want it."
"You're as obstinate as ever!" shouts Jabez. "He 's probably out of his head."
"No, he ain't out of his head," sez Monody, in a low, soft voice, but without openin' his eyes more'n a crack.
"He ain't out of his head an' he ain't forgot nothin' he ever knew, an' it'll be better all around if he's allowed to go in peace."
Jabez looked at him in surprise, and Monody scowled up his face till he looked like a wounded Silver Tip, but the' came a queer hunted look into Jabez' eyes for a moment, an' then he muttered, "Well, this is a free country an' I reckon lie has the right to decide. He has sure saved us, an' if the' 's anything on earth I can give him, all lie has to do is to ask for it, an' I hope he pulls through in his own way."
Jabez fidgeted around a minute or two longer an' then he oozed out o' the room. When he'd gone of Monody chuckled a wicked, contented chuckle, an' after a bit he sez, "It's him all right, it's him, but he never did me any harm, an' I wouldn't worry the child, not for worlds. She ought to have a woman around her though. You get old Melisse back, Happy, an' remember—if it ever comes to a question of you or him—just call him George Jordan an' say 'at Jack Whitman wasn't killed "—Monody chuckled again, an' then sobered—"but don't spring it except as a last resort, 'cause the little girl couldn't help nothin' about the Creole Belle, an' she ain't no call to be worried by it. Jim Jimison, he's white, Happy, but he 'd 'a' been killed that trip if you hadn't taken bolt when you did. He's learned the game purty well now, though, an' I reckon he'll make good."
Poor old Monody kept on talkin' disconnected until about midnight, first tellin' some devilish deed he'd seen or took part in, an' then tellin' o' some joke or some act o' kindness. Just at midnight he took my hand, an' the' came a look into his eyes like as if he was about overcome by some beautiful vision; but in a moment he cohered down an' he gripped my hand till it hurt. "Happy," he gasped, "I allus loved ya, Happy. You won't let—you won't let 'em—" an' it was all over with ol' Monody.
I sat by the bed a long time thinkin' it over, an' then I went out into the settin' room. Jabez an' a couple o' the boys was there an' I told 'em it was over. I went out into the night to have a look at the stars. Whenever somethin' has happened in my little wobbly life down here I like to get out an' see the same old stars in their same old places, calm an' steady an' true. That was one thing which allus drew me to the child Barbie,—she was a star-worshiper too, same as me.
When I got back I see the little doctor explainin' somethin' to Jabez. I thought he had gone long ago, but the hooked-nosed buzzard couldn't leave without satisfyin' his curiosity. "What do you reckon was the reason your friend wouldn't let himself be examined?" sez he, with a leer.
"It wasn't nowise my business," sez I, "so I didn't think about it at all."
"Well, it was because he wasn't a man at all—he was a woman."
For a moment I stood an' looked at him, while a lot o' things became clear as day to me. A woman—ol' Monody was a woman! When I thought of what a girl is, an' what it must have took to make one want to really be a man, I felt plumb ashamed o' my sex; but here was another creature in man's clothes standin' an' grinnin' into my face as though he had done somethin' smart.
"How do you know?" I sez soft an' steady.
"I went in an' examined—it was my professional duty. She had been shot in the abdomen and the bullet had lodged in the spine. She had stuffed a rag into the hole an' all the bleedin' was internal. I found that—"
"Who was with you?" I asked him.
"Nobody," he said with pride; "I went in alone an' I found—"
"I'm obliged to ya, Boys," sez I, "an' I'll be obliged to you still more if you'll just stand to one side an' watch me make an examination. I only got one arm, so it's perfectly fair. It seems to be the fashion now days to examine human beings who wear men's clothes—but who ain't men—so I feel it my PROFESSIONAL DUTY to examine this here speciment before us."
The grin kind o' left his face when I started for him. He wasn't near my size, but me only havin' one workin' arm made it fair. He looked to the boys to help him, but they was unusual placid. I reached out an' grabbed him by the collar an' put my knee in his stomach as a brace; he struck me in the face an' in my wounded shoulder, but in about one minute I had his clothes off him, an' there he stood the shamedest thing I ever see. "Now you get out o' here an' ride home," sez I, "an' I believe if I was you I'd pick myself out a new home—one 'at would take about six weeks to ride to. You won't be popular around here from this on."
"Can't I put my clothes on," he sez.
"Not these," sez I. "If you have any more where you've been livin' you can put them on; but I hope in my heart the sun peels your back before you arrive, an' I hope when you do arrive the' 'll be enough women awake to give you a raw-hidin' for bein' indecent. Now git."
He looked into the boys' faces again, but they wasn't friendly—they wasn't even smilin', an' then he went outside, got his pony, an' rode away. He rode clear out o' the West I reckon, 'cause while I heard of the story purty much everywhere I went after that, I ain't never heard o' the buzzard himself since that day long, long ago.
It was dawn by the time he'd rode out o' sight with his white skin shinin' on his hunched up form, an' then I went in to set with ol' Monody a while.
JUST MONODY—A MAN
He looked mighty peaceful, did ol' Monody. Curious thing about death, is the way it seems to beautify a person. In life Monody was the homeliest human I ever see, an' yet the' was something so kindly, an' gentle, an'—an' satisfied in his face there under the lamplight, that I reached out an' patted his hand, almost envious—even though my fool eyes was a-winkin' mighty fast.
We all of us would give the first ten years of our life to know what it's like out yonder; when he was here, ol' Monody would 'a' done anything he could for me,—well, he lay down his life an' I reckon that's about skinnin' the deck,—but here I was achin' to know how it was with him, an' there he was with all his guesses answered, an' him not able to pass back a single tip to me.
It wasn't him that I was lookin' down at, it was just the shell of him, scarred and battered and bruised, but all his life—or at least most of it—he had twisted up his face to make it as ugly as possible, so 'at no one wouldn't take him for a woman. Now it could relax an' give a sort of a hint as to what it might have been if he'd had a chance to live. Oh, it's sure a crime the way we torture some o' the white souls 'at drift to this Sorrowful Star, as I once heard a feller call it.
Injun, Nigger, an' Greaser—why, such a combination as that ain't entitled to trial in a civilized nation—it's guilty on sight. Any one would know 'at such a bein' would be cruel an' treacherous an' thievin' an' everything else 'at was bad—but yet the' come a good streak into Monody some way or other. All in the world I had ever done for him was to beat him over the head when he acted like a beast, an' then to treat hint like a human when he acted like one. The' wasn't nothin' especially kind nor thoughtful in it, just simple justice as you might say, an' yet in spite of his treacherous mixture he wasn't askin' no favors; all he wanted was a square deal, an' when he got it he was square clear to the finish. It's a funny thing, life.
In spite of all he'd done to kill it the' was a mother streak in him which made him fair hungry for somethin' to pet an' fondle. He was allus good to any kind of an animal, an' though I didn't notice it at the time, he was allus motherin' me; an' look at the way he had soothed little Barbie with a touch that night in the cook shack! O' course I ain't questioning the judgment o' the Almighty, but for the life o' me the I can't see why it was necessary to make a woman as big an' as tall as ol' Monody was, an' yet perhaps if I just knew the story from the beginnin', I 'd see it was a mercy, after all.
Anyhow, it made it easy enough for him to work out his scheme.
The' ain't no rules for women anyhow, 'cause their hearts won't never surrender to their heads; when they do, they ain't all woman. Well, yes, there is one rule 'at 's safe for a man to foller In dealin with woman, an' that is that when a woman's in love, she 's in love all over. Sometimes a man's in love up to his pocket-book, sometimes up to his appetite, an' sometimes up to his heart, but he's mighty seldom in love all over. If nothin' else stays dry he's generally able to take care of his head, but with a woman everything goes; so I'm purty tol'able sure that away back at the beginnin' it was love 'at drove ol' Monody out of her own sex down into ours.
When the news spread abroad 'at the man who had killed Bill Brophy without a weapon had cashed in, the neighbors gathered from ninety miles around, and we sure gave Monody the rip-snortin'est funeral ever seen in those parts. We didn't say nothin' about him not really bein' a man, an' though I reckon 'at every feller there knew of it, the' wasn't a single one of 'em spoke of it—so we didn't have no trouble at all.
He lies on a little knoll about a mile to the north of the ranch house. Up back of him ol' Mount Savage stands guard an' fights off the roughest of the storms; while the soft winds from the south steal gently up a little cut in the rocks an' seem to circle about him, whisperin' secrets of countries far away. If the' 's a single bird in Wyoming, you can find it hoppin' about his narrow bed or singin' in the oak tree 'at stands above him, spreadin' out its branches like a priest givin' the blessin'. Winter or summer, Monody's grave is the quietest, peacefullest, purtiest spot 'at lies outdoors, as if the old Earth had repented of the way it had treated him, and was tryin' to make it up to him now.
Take it in winter when the' 's a clean sheet o' soft, white snow over everything, an' I like to go out an' stand on another little knoll about a half mile this side. The last speck of light in the valley comes through a narrow cleft an' falls on Monody's grave. As the sun sinks lower an' lower the crimson glory on the soft fleecy snow seems to come up out of the grave an' climb the black shadow of the mountain, like—but pshaw, I reckon it'd be a mighty tame sight to ol' Monody himself.
I never speak of him, an' I never think of him, as anything but a man. He lived like a man, God knows he died like a man; and on the little stone at his head the' ain't nothin' carved except just—Monody, a Man.