THE RANGE DWELLERS
B. M. BOWER (B. M. SINCLAIR)
Author of Chip of the Flying U, The Lonesome Trail, Her Prairie Knight, The Lure of the Dim Trails, The Happy Family, The Long Shadow, etc.
Illustrated By Charles M. Russell
New York; Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers
I. The Reward of Folly
II. The White Divide
III. The Quarrel Renewed
IV. Through King's Highway
V. Into the Lion's Mouth
VI. I ask Beryl King to Dance
VII. One Day Too Late
VIII. A Fight and a Race for Life
IX. The Old Life—and the New
X. I Shake Hands with Old Man King
XI. A Cable Snaps
XII. I Begin to Realize
XIII. We Meet Once More
XIV. Frosty Disappears
XV. The Broken Motor-car
XVI. One More Race
XVII. The Final Reckoning
The Reward of Folly.
I'm something like the old maid you read about—the one who always knows all about babies and just how to bring them up to righteous maturity; I've got a mighty strong conviction that I know heaps that my dad never thought of about the proper training for a healthy male human. I don't suppose I'll ever have a chance to demonstrate my wisdom, but, if I do, there are a few things that won't happen to my boy.
If I've got a comfortable wad of my own, the boy shall have his fun without any nagging, so long as he keeps clean and honest. He shall go to any college he may choose—and right here is where my wisdom will sit up and get busy. If I'm fool enough to let that kid have more money than is healthy for him, and if I go to sleep while he's wising up to the art of making it fade away without leaving anything behind to tell the tale, and learning a lot of habits that aren't doing him any good, I won't come down on him with both feet and tell him all the different brands of fool he's been, and mourn because the Lord in His mercy laid upon me this burden of an unregenerate son. I shall try and remember that he's the son of his father, and not expect too much of him. It's long odds I shall find points of resemblance a-plenty between us—and the more cussedness he develops, the more I shall see myself in him reflected.
I don't mean to be hard on dad. He was always good to me, in his way. He's got more things than a son to look after, and as that son is supposed to have a normal allowance of gray matter and is no physical weakling, he probably took it for granted that the son could look after himself—which the mines and railroads and ranches that represent his millions can't.
But it wasn't giving me a square deal. He gave me an allowance and paid my debts besides, and let me amble through school at my own gait—which wasn't exactly slow—and afterward let me go. If I do say it, I had lived a fairly decent sort of life. I belonged to some good clubs—athletic, mostly—and trained regularly, and was called a fair boxer among the amateurs. I could tell to a glass—after a lot of practise—just how much of 'steen different brands I could take without getting foolish, and I could play poker and win once in awhile. I had a steam-yacht and a motor of my own, and it was generally stripped to racing trim. And I wasn't tangled up with any women; actress-worship had never appealed to me. My tastes all went to the sporting side of life and left women to the fellows with less nerve and more sentiment.
So I had lived for twenty-five years—just having the best time a fellow with an unlimited resource can have, if he is healthy.
It was then, on my twenty-fifth birthday, that I walked into dad's private library with a sonly smile, ready for the good wishes and the check that I was in the habit of getting—I'd been unlucky, and Lord knows I needed it!—and what does the dear man do?
Instead of one check, he handed me a sheaf of them, each stamped in divers places by divers banks. I flipped the ends and looked them over a bit, because I saw that was what he expected of me; but the truth is, checks don't interest me much after they've been messed up with red and green stamps. They're about as enticing as a last year's popular song.
Dad crossed his legs, matched his finger-tips together, and looked at me over his glasses. Many a man knows that attitude and that look, and so many a man has been as uncomfortable as I began to be, and has felt as keen a sense of impending trouble. I began immediately searching my memory for some especial brand of devilment that I'd been sampling, but there was nothing doing. I had been losing some at poker lately, and I'd been away to the bad out at Ingleside; still, I looked him innocently in the eye and wondered what was coming.
"That last check is worthy of particular attention," he said dryly. "The others are remarkable only for their size and continuity of numbers; but that last one should be framed and hung upon the wall at the foot of your bed, though you would not see it often. I consider it a diploma of your qualification as Master Jackanapes." (Dad's vocabulary, when he is angry, contains some rather strengthy words of the old-fashioned type.)
I looked at the check and began to see light. I had been a bit rollicky that time. It wasn't drawn for very much, that check; I've lost more on one jack-pot, many a time, and thought nothing of it. And, though the events leading up to it were a bit rapid and undignified, perhaps, I couldn't see anything to get excited over, as I could see dad plainly was.
"For a young man twenty-five years old and with brains enough—supposedly—to keep out of the feeble-minded class, it strikes me you indulge in some damned poor pastimes," went on dad disagreeably. "Cracking champagne-bottles in front of the Cliff House—on a Sunday at that—may be diverting to the bystanders, but it can hardly be called dignified, and I fail to see how it is going to fit a man for any useful business."
Business? Lord! dad never had mentioned a useful business to me before. I felt my eyelids fly up; this was springing birthday surprises with a vengeance.
"Driving an automobile on forbidden roads, being arrested and fined—on Sunday, at that—"
"Now, look here, dad," I cut in, getting a bit hot under the collar myself, "by all the laws of nature, there must have been a time when you were twenty-five years old and cut a little swath of your own. And, seeing you're as big as your offspring—six-foot-one, and you can't deny it—and fairly husky for a man of your age, I'll bet all you dare that said swath was not of the narrow-gage variety. I've never heard of your teaching a class in any Sunday-school, and if you never drove your machine beyond the dead-line and cracked champagne-bottles on the wheels in front of the Cliff House, it's because automobiles weren't invented and Cliff House wasn't built. Begging your pardon, dad—I'll bet you were a pretty rollicky young blade, yourself."
Now dad is very old-fashioned in some of his notions; one of them is that a parent may hand out a roast that will frizzle the foliage for blocks around, and, guilty or innocent, the son must take it, as he'd take cod-liver oil—it's-nasty-but-good-for-what-ails-you. He snapped his mouth shut, and, being his son and having that habit myself, I recognized the symptoms and judged that things would presently grow interesting.
I was betting on a full-house. The atmosphere grew tense. I heard a lot of things in the next five minutes that no one but my dad could say without me trying mighty hard to make him swallow them. And I just sat there and looked at him and took it.
I couldn't agree with him that I'd committed a grievous crime. It wasn't much of a lark, as larks go: just an incident at the close of a rather full afternoon. Coming around up the beach front Ingleside House a few days before, in the Yellow Peril—my machine—we got to badgering each other about doing things not orthodox. At last Barney MacTague dared me to drive the Yellow Peril past the dead-line—down by the Pavilion—and on up the hill to Sutro Baths. Naturally, I couldn't take a dare like that, and went him one better; I told him I'd not only drive to the very top of the hill, but I'd stop at the Gift House and crack a bottle of champagne on each wheel of the Yellow Peril, in honor of the occasion; that would make a bottle apiece, for there were four of us along.
It was done, to the delight of the usual Sunday crowd of brides, grooms, tourists, and kids. A mounted policeman interviewed us, to the further delight of the crowd, and invited us to call upon a certain judge whom none of us knew. We did so, and dad was good enough to pay the fine, which, as I said before, was not much. I've had less fun for more money, often.
Dad didn't say anything at the time, so I was not looking for the roast I was getting. It appeared, from his view-point, that I was about as useless, imbecile, and utterly no-account a son as a man ever had, and if there was anything good in me it was not visible except under a strong magnifying-glass.
He said, among other things too painful to mention, that he was getting old—dad is about fifty-six—and that if I didn't buck up and amount to something soon, he didn't know what was to become of the business.
Then he delivered the knockout blow that he'd been working up to. He was going to see what there was in me, he said. He would pay my bills, and, as a birthday gift, he would present me with a through ticket to Osage, in Montana—where he owned a ranch called the Bay State—and a stock-saddle, spurs, chaps, and a hundred dollars. After that I must work out my own salvation—or the other thing. If I wanted more money inside a year or two, I would have to work for it just as if I were an orphan without a dad who writes checks on demand. He said that there was always something to do on the Bay State Ranch—which is one of dad's places. I could do as I pleased, he said, but he'd advise me to buckle down and learn something about cattle. It was plain I never would amount to anything in an office. He laid a yard or two of ticket on the table at my elbow, and on top of that a check for one hundred dollars, payable to one Ellis Carleton.
I took up the check and read every word on it twice—not because I needed to; I was playing for time to think. Then I twisted it up in a taper, held it to the blaze in the fireplace, and lighted a cigarette with it. Dad kept his finger-tips together and watched me without any expression whatsoever in his face. I took three deliberate puffs, picked up the ticket, and glanced along down its dirty green length. Dad never moved a muscle, and I remember the clock got to ticking louder than I'd ever heard it in my life before. I may as well be perfectly honest! That ticket did not appeal to me a little bit. I think he expected to see that go up in smoke, also. But, though I'm pretty much of a fool at times, I believe there are lucid intervals when I recognize certain objects—such as justice. I knew that, in the main, dad was right. I had been leading a rather reckless existence, and I was getting pretty old for such kid foolishness. He had measured out the dose, and I meant to swallow it without whining—but it was exceeding bitter to the palate!
"I see the ticket is dated twenty-four hours ahead," I said as calmly as I knew how, "which gives me time to have Rankin pack a few duds. I hope the outfit you furnish includes a red silk handkerchief and a Colt's .44 revolver, and a key to the proper method of slaying acquaintances in the West. I hate to start in with all white chips."
"You probably mean a Colt's .45," said dad, with a more convincing calmness than I could show. "It shall be provided. As to the key, you will no doubt find that on the ground when you arrive."
"Very well," I replied, getting up and stretching my arms up as high as I could reach—which was beastly manners, of course, but a safe vent for my feelings, which cried out for something or somebody to punch. "You've called the turn, and I'll go. It may be many moons ere we two meet again—and when we do, the crime of cracking my own champagne—for I paid for it, you know—on my own automobile wheels may not seem the heinous thing it looks now. See you later, dad."
I walked out with my head high in the air and my spirits rather low, if the truth must be told. Dad was generally kind and wise and generous, but he certainly did break out in unexpected places sometimes. Going to the Bay State Ranch, just at that time, was not a cheerful prospect. San Francisco and Seattle were just starting a series of ballgames that promised to be rather swift, and I'd got a lot up on the result. I hated to go just then. And Montana has the reputation of being rather beastly in early March—I knew that much.
I caught a car down to the Olympic, hunted up Barney MacTague, and played poker with him till two o'clock that night, and never once mentioned the trip I was contemplating. Then I went home, routed up my man, and told him what to pack, and went to bed for a few hours; if there was anything pleasant in my surroundings that I failed to think of as I lay there, it must be very trivial indeed. I even went so far as to regret leaving Ethel Mapleton, whom I cared nothing for.
And above all and beneath all, hanging in the background of my mind and dodging forward insistently in spite of myself, was a deep resentment—a soreness against dad for the way he had served me. Granted I was wild and a useless cumberer of civilization; I was only what my environments had made me. Dad had let me run, and he had never kicked on the price of my folly, or tried to pull me up at the start. He had given his time to his mines and his cattle-ranches and railroads, and had left his only son to go to the devil if he chose and at his own pace. Then, because the son had come near making a thorough job of it, he had done—this. I felt hardly used and at odds with life, during those last few hours in the little old burgh.
All the next day I went the pace as usual with the gang, and at seven, after an early dinner, caught a down-town car and set off alone to the ferry. I had not seen dad since I left him in the library, and I did not particularly wish to see him, either. Possibly I had some unfilial notion of making him ashamed and sorry. It is even possible that I half-expected him to come and apologize, and offer to let things go on in the old way. In that event I was prepared to be chesty. I would look at him coldly and say: "You have seen fit to buy me a ticket to Osage, Montana. So be it; to Osage, Montana, am I bound." Oh, I had it all fixed!
Dad came into the ferry waiting-room just as the passengers were pouring off the boat, and sat down beside me as if nothing had happened. He did not look sad, or contrite, or ashamed—not, at least, enough to notice. He glanced at his watch, and then handed me a letter.
"There," he began briskly, "that is to Perry Potter, the Bay State foreman. I have wired him that you are on the way."
The gate went up at that moment, and he stood up and held out his hand. "Sorry I can't go over with you," he said. "I've an important meeting to attend. Take care of yourself, Ellie boy."
I gripped his hand warmly, though I had intended to give him a dead-fish sort of shake. After all, he was my dad, and there were just us two. I picked up my suit-case and started for the gate. I looked back once, and saw dad standing there gazing after me—and he did not look particularly brisk. Perhaps, after all, dad cared more than he let on. It's a way the Carletons have, I have heard.
The White Divide.
If a phrenologist should undertake to "read" my head, he would undoubtedly find my love of home—if that is what it is called—a sharply defined welt. I know that I watched the lights of old Frisco slip behind me with as virulent a case of the deeps as often comes to a man when his digestion is good. It wasn't that I could not bear the thought of hardship; I've taken hunting trips up into the mountains more times than I can remember, and ate ungodly messes of my own invention, and waded waist-deep in snow and slept under the stars, and enjoyed nearly every minute. So it wasn't the hardships that I had every reason to expect that got me down. I think it was the feeling that dad had turned me down; that I was in exile, and—in his eyes, at least—disgraced, it was knowing that he thought me pretty poor truck, without giving me a chance to be anything better. I humped over the rail at the stern, and watched the waves slap at us viciously, like an ill-tempered poodle, and felt for all the world like a dog that's been kicked out into the rain. Maybe the medicine was good for me, but it wasn't pleasant. It never occurred to me, that night, to wonder how dad felt about it; but I've often thought of it since.
I had a section to myself, so I could sulk undisturbed; dad was not small, at any rate, and, though he hadn't let me have his car, he meant me to be decently comfortable. That first night I slept without a break; the second I sat in the smoker till a most unrighteous hour, cultivating the acquaintance of a drummer for a rubber-goods outfit. I thought that, seeing I was about to mingle with the working classes, I couldn't begin too soon to study them. He was a pretty good sort, too.
The rubber-goods man left me at Seattle, and from there on I was at the tender mercies of my own thoughts and an elderly lady with a startlingly blond daughter, who sat directly opposite me and was frankly disposed to friendliness. I had never given much time to the study of women, and so had no alternative but to answer questions and smile fatuously upon the blond daughter, and wonder if I ought to warn the mother that "clothes do not make the man," and that I was a black sheep and not a desirable acquaintance. Before I had quite settled that point, they left the train. I am afraid I am not distinctly a chivalrous person; I hummed the Doxology after their retreating forms and retired into myself, with a feeling that my own society is at times desirable and greatly to be chosen.
After that I was shy, and nothing happened except that on the last evening of the trip, I gave up my sole remaining five dollars in the diner, and walked out whistling softly. I was utterly and unequivocally strapped. I went into the smoker to think it over; I knew I had started out with a hundred or so, and that I had considered that sufficient to see me through. Plainly, it was not sufficient; but it is a fact that I looked upon it as a joke, and went to sleep grinning idiotically at the thought of me, Ellis Carleton, heir to almost as many millions as I was years old, without the price of a breakfast in his pocket. It seemed novel and interesting, and I rather enjoyed the situation. I wasn't hungry, then!
Osage, Montana, failed to rouse any enthusiasm in me when I saw the place next day, except that it offered possibilities in the way of eating—at least, I fancied it did, until I stepped down upon the narrow platform and looked about me. It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and I had fasted since dinner the evening before. I was not happy.
I began to see where I might have economized a bit, and so have gone on eating regularly to the end of the journey. I reflected that stewed terrapin, for instance, might possibly be considered an extravagance under the circumstances; and a fellow sentenced to honest toil and exiled to the wilderness should not, it seemed to me then, cause his table to be sprinkled, quite so liberally as I had done, with tall glasses—nor need he tip the porter quite so often or so generously. A dollar looked bigger to me, just then, than a wheel of the Yellow Peril. I began to feel unkindly toward that porter! he had looked so abominably well-fed and sleek, and he had tips that I would be glad to feel in my own pocket again. I stood alone upon the platform and gazed wistfully after the retreating train; many people have done that before me, if one may believe those who write novels, and for once in my life I felt a bond of sympathy between us. It's safe betting that I did more solid thinking on frenzied finance in the five minutes I stood there watching that train slid off beyond the sky-line than I'd done in all my life before. I'd heard, of course, about fellows getting right down to cases, but I'd never personally experienced the sensation. I'd always had money—or, if I hadn't, I knew where to go. And dad had caught me when I'd all but overdrawn my account at the bank. I was always doing that, for dad paid the bills. That last night with Barney MacTague hadn't been my night to win, and I'd dropped quite a lot there. And—oh, what's the use? I was broke, all right enough, and I was hungry enough to eat the proverbial crust.
It seemed to me it might be a good idea to hunt up the gentleman named Perry Potter, whom dad called his foreman. I turned around and caught a tall, brown-faced native studying my back with grave interest. He didn't blush when I looked him in the eye, but smiled a tired smile and said he reckoned I was the chap he'd been sent to meet. There was no welcome in his voice, I noticed. I looked him over critically.
"Are you the gentleman with the alliterative cognomen?" I asked him airily, hoping he would be puzzled.
He was not, evidently. "Perry Potter? He's at the ranch." He was damnably tolerant, and I said nothing. I hate to make the same sort of fool of myself twice. So when he proposed that we "hit the trail," I followed meekly in his wake. He did not offer to take my suit-case, and I was about to remind him of the oversight when it occurred to me that possibly he was not a servant—he certainly didn't act like one. I carried my own suitcase—which was, I have thought since, the only wise move I had made since I left home.
A strong but unsightly spring-wagon, with mud six inches deep on the wheels, seemed the goal, and we trailed out to it, picking up layers of soil as we went. The ground did not look muddy, but it was; I have since learned that that particular phase of nature's hypocrisy is called "doby." I don't admire it, myself. I stopped by the wagon and scraped my shoes on the cleanest spoke I could find, and swore. My guide untied the horses, gathered up the reins, and sought a spoke on his side of the wagon; he looked across at me with a gleam of humanity in his eyes—the first I had seen there.
"It sure beats hell the way it hangs on," he remarked, and from that minute I liked him. It was the first crumb of sympathy that had fallen to me for days, and you can bet I appreciated it.
We got in, and he pulled a blanket over our knees and picked up the whip. It wasn't a stylish turnout—I had seen farmers driving along the railroad-track in rigs like it, and I was surprised at dad for keeping such a layout. Fact is, I didn't think much of dad, anyway, about that time.
"How far is it to the Bay State Ranch?" I asked.
"One hundred and forty miles, air-line," said he casually. "The train was late, so I reckon we better stop over till morning. There's a town over the hill, and a hotel that beats nothing a long way."
A hundred and forty miles from the station, "air-line," sounded to me like a pretty stiff proposition to go up against; also, how was a fellow going to put up at a hotel when he hadn't the coin? Would my mysterious guide be shocked to learn that John A. Carleton's son and heir had landed in a strange land without two-bits to his name? Jerusalem! I couldn't have paid street-car fare down-town; I couldn't even have bought a paper on the street. While I was remembering all the things a millionaire's son can't do if he happens to be without a nickel in his pocket, we pulled up before a place that, for the sake of propriety, I am willing to call a hotel; at the time, I remember, I had another name for it.
"In case I might get lost in this strange city," I said to my companion as I jumped out, "I'd like to know what people call you when they're in a good humor."
He grinned down at me. "Frosty Miller would hit me, all right," he informed me, and drove off somewhere down the street. So I went in and asked for a room, and got it.
This sounds sordid, I know, but the truth must be told, though the artistic sense be shocked. Barred from the track as I was, sent out to grass in disgrace while the little old world kept moving without me to help push, my mind passed up all the things I might naturally be supposed to dwell upon and stuck to three little no-account grievances that I hate to tell about now. They look small, for a fact, now that they're away out of sight, almost, in the past; but they were quite big enough at the time to give me a bad hour or two. The biggest one was the state of my appetite; next, and not more than a nose behind, was the state of my pockets; and the last was, had Rankin packed the gray tweed trousers that I had a liking for, or had he not? I tried to remember whether I had spoken to him about them, and I sat down on the edge of the bed in that little box of a room, took my head between my fists, and called Rankin several names he sometimes deserved and had frequently heard from my lips. I'd have given a good deal to have Rankin at my elbow just then.
They were not in the suit-case—or, if they were, I had not run across them. Rankin had a way of stowing things away so that even he had to do some tall searching, and he had another way of filling up my suit-cases with truck I'd no immediate use for. I yanked the case toward me, unlocked it, and turned it out on the bed, just to prove Rankin's general incapacity as valet to a fastidious fellow like me.
There was the suit I had worn on that memorable excursion to the Cliff House—I had told Rankin to pitch it into the street, for I had discovered Teddy Van Greve in one almost exactly like it, and—Hello! Rankin had certainly overlooked a bet. I never caught him at it before, that's certain. He had a way of coming to my left elbow, and, in a particularly virtuous tone, calling my attention to the fact that I had left several loose bills in my pockets. Rankin was that honest I often told him he would land behind the bars as an embezzler some day. But Rankin had done it this time, for fair; tucked away in a pocket of the waistcoat was money—real, legal, lawful tender—m-o-n-e-y! I don't suppose the time will ever come when it will look as good to me as it did right then. I held those bank-notes—there were two of them, double XX's—to my face and sniffed them like I'd never seen the like before and never expected to again. And the funny part was that I forgot all about wanting the gray trousers, and all about the faults of Rankin. My feet were on bottom again, and my head on top. I marched down-stairs, whistling, with my hands in my pockets and my chin in the air, and told the landlord to serve dinner an hour earlier than usual, and to make it a good one.
He looked at me with a curious mixture of wonder and amusement. "Dinner," he drawled calmly, "has been over for three hours; but I guess we can give yuh some supper any time after five."
I suppose he looked upon me as the rankest kind of a tenderfoot. I calculated the time of my torture till I might, without embarrassing explanations, partake of a much-needed repast, and went to the door; waiting was never my long suit, and I had thoughts of getting outside and taking a look around. At the second step I changed my mind—there was that deceptive mud to reckon with.
So from the doorway I surveyed all of Montana that lay between me and the sky-line, and decided that my bets would remain on California. The sky was a dull slate, tumbled into what looked like rain-clouds and depressing to the eye. The land was a dull yellowish-brown, with a purple line of hills off to the south, and with untidy snow-drifts crouching in the hollows. That was all, so far as I could see, and if dulness and an unpeopled wilderness make for the reformation of man, it struck me that I was in a fair way to become a saint if I stayed here long. I had heard the cattle-range called picturesque; I couldn't see the joke.
Frosty Miller sat opposite me at table when, in the course of human events, I ate again, and the way I made the biscuit and ham and boiled potatoes vanish filled him with astonishment, if one may judge a man's feelings by the size of his eyes. I told him that the ozone of the plains had given me an appetite, and he did not contradict me; he looked at my plate, and then smiled at his own, and said nothing—which was polite of him.
"Did you ever skip two meals and try to make it up on the third?" I asked him when we went out, and he said "Sure," and rolled a cigarette. In those first hours of our acquaintance Frosty was not what I'd call loquacious.
That night I took out the letter addressed to one Perry Potter, which dad had given me and which I had not had time to seal in his presence, and read it cold-bloodedly. I don't do such things as a rule, but I was getting a suspicion that I was being queered; that I'd got to start my exile under a handicap of the contempt of the natives. If dad had stacked the deck on me, I wanted to know it. But I misjudged him—or, perhaps, he knew I'd read it. All he had written wouldn't hurt the reputation of any one. It was:
The bearer, Ellis H. Carleton, is my son. He will probably be with you for some time, and will not try to assume any authority or usurp your position as foreman and overseer. You will treat him as you do the other boys, and if he wants to work, pay him the same wages—if he earns them.
It wasn't exactly throwing flowers in the path my young feet should tread, but it might have been worse. At least, he did not give Perry Potter his unbiased opinion of me, and it left me with a free hand to warp their judgment somewhat in my favor. But—"If he wants to work, pay him the same wages—if he earns them." Whew!
I might have saved him the trouble of writing that, if I had only known it. Dad could go too far in this thing, I told myself chestily. I had come, seeing that he insisted upon it, but I'd be damned if I'd work for any man with a circus-poster name, and have him lord it over me. I hadn't been brought up to appreciate that kind of joke. I meant to earn my living, but I did not mean to get out and slave for Perry Potter. There must be something respectable for a man to do in this country besides ranch work.
In the morning we started off, with my trunks in the wagon, toward the line of purple hills in the south. Frosty Miller told me, when I asked him, that they were forty-eight miles away, that they marked the Missouri River, and that we would stop there overnight. That, if I remember, was about the extent of our conversation that day. We smoked cigarettes—Frosty Miller made his, one by one, as he needed them—and thought our own thoughts. I rather suspect our thoughts were a good many miles apart, though our shoulders touched. When you think of it, people may rub elbows and still have an ocean or two between them. I don't know where Frosty was, all through that long day's ride; for me, I was back in little old Frisco, with Barney MacTague and the rest of the crowd; and part of the time, I know, I was telling dad what a mess he'd made of bringing up his only son.
That night we slept in a shack at the river—"Pochette Crossing" was the name it answered to—and shared the same bed. It was not remarkable for its comfort—that bed. I think the mattress was stuffed with potatoes; it felt that way.
Next morning we were off again, over the same bare, brown, unpeopled wilderness. Once we saw a badger zigzagging along a side-hill, and Frosty whipped out a big revolver—one of those "Colt 45's," I suppose—and shot it; he said in extenuation that they play the very devil with the range, digging holes for cow-punchers to break their necks over.
I was surprised at Frosty; there he had been armed, all the time, and I never guessed it. Even when we went to bed the night before, I had not glimpsed a weapon. Clearly, he could not be a cowboy, I reflected, else he would have worn a cartridge-belt sagging picturesquely down over one hip, and his gun dangling from it. He put the gun away, and I don't know where; somewhere out of sight it went, and Frosty turned off the trail and went driving wild across the prairie. I asked him why, and he said, "Short cut."
Then a wind crept out of the north, and with it the snow. We were climbing low ridges and dodging into hollows, and when the snow spread a white veil over the land, I looked at Frosty out of the tail of my eye, wondering if he did not wish he had kept to the road—trail, it is called in the rangeland.
If he did, he certainly kept it to himself; he went on climbing hills and setting the brake at the top, to slide into a hollow, and his face kept its inscrutable calm; whatever he thought was beyond guessing at.
When he had watered the horses at a little creek that was already skimmed with ice, and unwrapped a package of sandwiches on his knee and offered me one, I broke loose. Silence may be golden, but even old King Midas got too big a dose of gold, once upon a time, if one may believe tradition.
"I hate to butt into a man's meditations," I said, looking him straight in the eye, "but there's a limit to everything, and you've played right up to it. You've had time, my friend, to remember all your sins and plan enough more to keep you hustling the allotted span; you've been given an opportunity to reconstruct the universe and breed a new philosophy of life. For Heaven's sake, say something!"
Frosty eyed me for a minute, and the muscles at the corners of his mouth twitched. "Sure," he responded cheerfully. "I'm something like you; I hate to break into a man's meditations. It looks like snow."
"Do you think it's going to storm?" I retorted in the same tone; it had been snowing great guns for the last three hours. We both laughed, and Frosty unbent and told me a lot about Bay State Ranch and the country around it.
Part of the information was an eye-opener; I wished I had known it when dad was handing out that roast to me—I rather think I could have made him cry enough. I tagged the information and laid it away for future reference.
As I got the country mapped out in my mind, we were in a huge capital H. The eastern line, toward which we were angling, was a river they call the Midas—though I'll never tell you why, unless it's a term ironical. The western line is another river, the Joliette, and the cross-bar is a range of hills—they might almost be called mountains—which I had been facing all that morning till the snow came between and shut them off; White Divide, it is called, and we were creeping around the end, between them and the Midas. It seemed queer that there was no way of crossing, for the Bay State lies almost in a direct line south from Osage, Frosty told me, and the country we were traversing was rough as White Divide could be, and I said so to Frosty. Right here is where I got my first jolt.
"There's a fine pass cut through White Divide by old Mama Nature," Frosty said, in the sort of tone a man takes when he could say a lot more, but refrains.
"Then why in Heaven's name don't you travel it?"
"Because it isn't healthy for Ragged H folks to travel that way," he said, in the same eloquent tone.
"Who are the Ragged H folks, and what's the matter with them?" I wanted to know—for I smelled a mystery.
He looked at me sidelong. "If you didn't look just like the old man," he said, "I'd think yuh were a fake; the Ragged H is the brand your ranch is known by—the Bay State outfit. And it isn't healthy to travel King's Highway, because there's a large-sized feud between your father and old King. How does it happen yuh aren't wise to the family history?"
"Dad never unbosomed himself to me, that's why," I told him. "He has labored for twenty-five years under the impression that I was a kid just able to toddle alone. He didn't think he needed to tell me things; I know we've got a place called the Bay State Ranch somewhere in this part of the world, and I have reason to think I'm headed for it. That's about the extent of my knowledge of our interest here. I never heard of the White Divide before, or of this particular King. I'm thirsting for information."
"Well, it strikes me you've got it coming," said Frosty. "I always had your father sized up as being closed-mouthed, but I didn't think he made such a thorough job of it as all that. Old King has sure got it in for the Ragged H—or Bay State, if yuh'd rather call us that; and the Ragged H boys don't sit up nights thinking kind and loving thoughts about him, either. Thirty years ago your father and old King started jangling over water-rights, and I guess they burned powder a-plenty; King goes lame to this day from a bullet your old man planted in his left leg."
I dropped the flag and started him off again. "It's news to me," I put in, "and you can't tell me too much about it."
"Well," he said, "your old man was in the right of it; he owns all the land along Honey Creek, right up to White Divide, where it heads; uh course, he overlooked a bet there; he should have got a cinch on that pass, and on the head uh the creek. But he let her slide, and first he knew old King had come in and staked a claim and built him a shack right in our end of the pass, and camped down to stay. Your dad wasn't joyful. The Bay State had used that pass to trail herds through and as the easiest and shortest trail to the railroad; and then old King takes it up, strings a five-wired fence across at both ends of his place, and warns us off. I've heard Potter tell what warm times there were. Your father stayed right here and had it out with him. The Bay State was all he had, then, and he ran it himself. Perry Potter worked for him, and knows all about it. Neither old King nor your dad was married, and it's a wonder they didn't kill each other off—Potter says they sure tried. The time King got it in the leg your father and his punchers were coming home from a breed dance, and they were feeling pretty nifty, I guess; Potter told me they started out with six bottles, and when they got to White Divide there wasn't enough left to talk about. They cut King's fence at the north end, and went right through, hell-bent-for-election. King and his men boiled out, and they mixed good and plenty. Your father went home with a hole in his shoulder, and old King had one in his leg to match, and since then it's been war. They tried to fight it out in court, and King got the best of it there. Then they got married and kind o' cooled off, and pretty soon they both got so much stuff to look after that they didn't have much time to take pot-shots at each other, and now we're enjoying what yuh might call armed peace. We go round about sixty miles, and King's Highway is bad medicine.
"King owns the stage-line from Osage to Laurel, where the Bay State gets its mail, and he owns Kenmore, a mining-camp in the west half uh White Divide. We can go around by Kenmore, if we want to—but King's Highway? Nit!"
I chuckled to myself to think of all the things I could twit dad about if ever he went after me again. It struck me that I hadn't been a circumstance, so far, to what dad must have been in his youth. At my worst, I'd never shot a man.
The Quarrel Renewed.
That night, by a close scratch, we made a little place Frosty said was one of the Bay State line-camps. I didn't know what a line-camp was, and it wasn't much for style, but it looked good to me, after riding nearly all day in a snow-storm. Frosty cooked dinner and I made the coffee, and we didn't have such a bad time of it, although the storm held us there for two days.
We sat by the little cook-stove and told yarns, and I pumped Frosty just about dry of all he'd ever heard about dad.
I hadn't intended to write to dad, but, after hearing all I did, I couldn't help handing out a gentle hint that I was on. When I'd been at the Bay State Ranch for a week, I wrote him a letter that, I felt, squared my account with him. It was so short that I can repeat every word now. I said:
DEAR DAD: I am here. Though you sent me out here to reform me, I find the opportunities for unadulterated deviltry away ahead of Frisco. I saw our old neighbor, King, whom you may possibly remember. He still walks with a limp. By the way, dad, it seems to me that when you were about twenty-five you "indulged in some damned poor pastimes," yourself. Your dutiful son, ELLIS.
Dad never answered that letter.
Montana, as viewed from the Bay State Ranch in March, struck me as being an unholy mixture of brown, sodden hills and valleys, chill winds that never condescended to blow less than a gale, and dull, scurrying clouds, with sometimes a day of sunshine that was bright as our own sun at home. (You can't make me believe that our California sun bothers with any other country.)
I'd been used to a green world; I never would go to New York in the winter, because I hate the cold—and here I was, with the cold of New York and with none of the ameliorations in the way of clubs and theaters and the like. There were the hills along Midas River shutting off the East, and hills to the south that Frosty told me went on for miles and miles, and on the north stretched White Divide—only it was brown, and bleak, and several other undesirable things. When I looked at it, I used to wonder at men fighting over it. I did a heap of wondering, those first few days.
Taken in a lump, it wasn't my style, and I wasn't particular to keep my opinions a secret. For the ranch itself, it looked to me like a village of corrals and sheds and stables, evidently built with an eye to usefulness, and with the idea that harmony of outline is a sin and not to be tolerated. The house was put up on the same plan, gave shelter to Perry Potter and the cook, had a big, bare dining-room where the men all ate together without napkins or other accessories of civilization, and a couple of bedrooms that were colder, if I remember correctly, than outdoors. I know that the water froze in my pitcher the first night, and that afterward I performed my ablutions in the kitchen, and dipped hot water out of a tank with a blue dipper.
That first week I spent adjusting myself to the simple life, and trying to form an unprejudiced opinion of my companions in exile. As for the said companions, they sort of stood back and sized up my points, good and bad—and I've a notion they laid heavy odds against me, and had me down in the Also Ran bunch. I overheard one of them remark, when I was coming up from the stables: "Here's the son and heir—come, let's kill him!" Another one drawled: "What's the use? The bounty's run out."
I was convinced that they regarded me as a frost.
The same with Perry Potter, a grizzled little man with long, ragged beard and gray eyes that looked through you and away beyond. I had a feeling that dad had told him to keep an eye on me and report any incipient growth of horse-sense. I may have wronged him and dad, but that is how I felt, and I didn't like him any better for it. He left me alone, and I raised the bet and left him alone so hard that I scarcely exchanged three sentences with him in a week. The first night he asked after dad's health, and I told him the doctor wasn't making regular calls at the house. A day or so after he said: "How do you like the country?" I said: "Damn the country!" and closed that conversation. I don't remember that we had any more for awhile.
The cowboys were breaking horses to the saddle most of the time, for it was too early for round-up, I gathered. When I sat on the corral fence and watched the fun, I observed that I usually had my rail all to myself and that the rest of the audience roosted somewhere else. Frosty Miller talked with me sometimes, without appearing to suffer any great pain, but Frosty was always the star actor when the curtain rose on a bronco-breaking act. As for the rest, they made it plain that I did not belong to their set, and I wasn't sending them my At Home cards, either. We were as haughty with each other as two society matrons when each aspires to be called leader.
Then a blizzard that lasted five days came ripping down over that desolation, and everybody stuck close to shelter, and amused themselves as they could. The cowboys played cards most of the time—seven-up, or pitch, or poker; they didn't ask me to take a hand, though; I fancy they were under the impression that I didn't know how to play.
I never was much for reading; it's too slow and tame. I'd much rather get out and live the story I like best. And there was nothing to read, anyway. I went rummaging in my trunks, and in the bottom of one I came across a punching-bag and a set of gloves. Right there I took off my hat to Rankin, and begged his pardon for the unflattering names he'd been in the habit of hearing from me. I carried the things down and put up the bag in an empty room at one end of the bunk-house, and got busy.
Frosty Miller came first to see what was up, and I got him to put on the gloves for awhile; he knew something of the manly art, I discovered, and we went at it fast and furious. I think I broke up a game in the next room. The boys came to the door, one by one, and stood watching, until we had the full dozen for audience. Before any one realized what was happening, we were playing together real pretty, with the chilly shoulder barred and the social ice gone the way of a dew-drop in the sun.
We boxed and wrestled, with much scientific discussion of "full Nelsons" and the like, and even fenced with sticks. I had them going there, and could teach them things; and they were the willingest pupils a man ever had—docile and filled with a deep respect for their teacher who knew all there was to know—or, if he didn't, he never let on. Before night we had smashed three window-panes, trimmed several faces down considerably, and got pretty well acquainted. I found out that they weren't so far behind the old gang at home for wanting all there is in the way of fun, and I believe they discovered that I was harmless. Before that storm let up they were dealing cards to me, and allowing me to get rid of the rest of the forty dollars Rankin had overlooked. I got some of it back.
I went down and bunked with them, because they had a stove and I didn't, and it was more sociable; Perry Potter and the cook were welcome to the house, I told them, except at meal-times. And, more than all the rest, I could keep out of range of Perry Potter's eyes. I never could get used to that watch-Willie-grow way he had, or rid myself of the notion that he was sending dad a daily report of my behavior.
The next thing, when the weather quit sifting snow and turned on the balmy breezes and the sunshine, I was down in the corrals in my chaps and spurs, learning things about horses that I never suspected before. When I did something unusually foolish, the boys were good enough to remember my boxing and fencing and such little accomplishments, and did not withdraw their favor; so I went on, butting into every new game that came up, and taking all bets regardless, and actually began to wise up a little and to forget a few of my grievances.
I was down in the corral one day, saddling Shylock—so named because he tried to exact a pound of flesh every time I turned my back or in other ways seemed off my guard—and when I was looping up the latigo I discovered that the alliterative Mr. Potter was roosting on the fence, watching me with those needle-pointed eyes of his. I wondered if he was about to prepare another report for dad.
"Do yuh want to be put on the pay-roll?" he asked, without any preamble, when he caught my glance.
"Yes, if I'm earning wages. 'The laborer is worthy of his hire,' I believe," I retorted loftily. The fact was, I was strapped again—and, though one did not need money on the Bay State Ranch, it's a good thing to have around.
He grinned into his collar. "Well," he said, "you've been pretty busy the last three weeks, but I ain't had any orders to hire a boxing-master for the boys. I don't know as that'd rightly come under the head of legitimate expenses; boxing-masters come high, I've heard. Are yuh going on round-up?"
"Sure!" I answered, in an exact copy—as near as I could make it—of Frosty Miller's intonation. I was making Frosty my model those days.
He said: "All right—your pay starts on the fifteenth of next month"—which was April. Then he got down from the fence and went off, and I mounted Shylock and rode away to Laurel, after the mail. Not that I expected any, for no one but dad knew where I was, and I hadn't heard a word from him, though I knew he wrote to Perry Potter—or his secretary did—every week or so. Really, I don't think a father ought to be so chesty with the only son he's got, even if the son is a no-account young cub.
I was standing in the post-office, which was a store and saloon as well, when an old fellow with stubby whiskers and a jaw that looked as though it had been trimmed square with a rule, and a limp that made me know at once who he was, came in. He was standing at the little square window, talking to the postmaster and waving his pipe to emphasize what he said, when a horse went past the door on the dead run, with bridle-reins flying. A fellow rushed out past us—it was his horse—and hit old King's elbow a clip as he went by. The pipe went about ten feet and landed in a pickle-keg. I went after it and fished it out for the old fellow—not so much because I'm filled with a natural courtesy, as because I was curious to know the man that had got the best of dad.
He thanked me, and asked me across to the saloon side of the room to drink with him. "I don't know as I've met you before, young man," he said, eying me puzzled. "Your face is familiar, though; been in this country long?"
"No," I said; "a little over a month is all."
"Well, if you ever happen around my way—King's Highway, they call my place—stop and see me. Going to stay long out here?"
"I think so," I replied, motioning the waiter—"bar-slave," they call them in Montana—to refill our glasses. "And I'll be glad to call some day, when I happen in your neighborhood. And if you ever ride over toward the Bay State, be sure you stop."
Well, say! old King turned the color of a ripe prune; every hair in that stubble of beard stood straight out from his chin, and he looked as if murder would be a pleasant thing. He took the glass and deliberately emptied the whisky on the floor. "John Carleton's son, eh? I might 'a' known it—yuh look enough like him. Me drink with a son of John Carleton? That breed uh wolves had better not come howling around my door. I asked yuh to come t' King's Highway, young man, and I don't take it back. You can come, but you'll get the same sort uh welcome I'd give that—"
Right there I got my hand on his throttle. He was an old man, comparatively, and I didn't want to hurt him; but no man under heaven can call my dad the names he did, and I told him so. "I don't want to dig up that old quarrel, King," I said, shaking him a bit with one hand, just to emphasize my words, "but you've got to speak civilly of dad, or, by the Lord! I'll turn you across my knee and administer a stinging rebuke."
He tried to squirm loose, and to reach behind him with that suggestive movement that breeds trouble among men of the plains; but I held his arms so he couldn't move, the while I told him a lot of things about true politeness—things that I wasn't living up to worth mentioning. He yelled to the postmaster to grab me, and the fellow tried it. I backed into a corner and held old King in front of me as a bulwark, warranted bullet proof, and wondered what kind of a hornet's-nest I'd got into. The waiter and the postmaster were both looking for an opening, and I remembered that I was on old King's territory, and that they were after holding their jobs.
I don't know how it would have ended—I suppose they'd have got me, eventually—but Perry Potter walked in, and it didn't seem to take him all day to savvy the situation. He whipped out a gun and leveled it at the enemy, and told me to scoot and get on my horse.
"Scoot nothing!" I yelled back. "What about you in the meantime? Do you think I'm going to leave them to clean you up?"
He smiled sourly at me. "I've held my own with this bunch uh trouble-hunters for thirty years," he said dryly. "I guess yuh ain't got any reason t' be alarmed. Come out uh that corner and let 'em alone."
I don't, to this day, know why I did it, but I quit hugging old King, and the other two fell back and gave me a clear path to the door. "King was blackguarding dad, and I couldn't stand for it," I explained to Perry Potter as I went by. "If you're not going, I won't."
"I've got a letter to mail," he said, calm as if he were in his own corral. "You went off before I got a chance to give it to yuh. I'll be out in a minute."
He went and slipped the letter into the mail-box, turned his back on the three, and walked out as if nothing had happened; perhaps he knew that I was watching them, in a mood to do things if they offered to touch him. But they didn't, and we mounted our horses and rode away, and Perry Potter never mentioned the affair to me, then or after. I don't think we spoke on the way to the ranch; I was busy wishing I'd been around in that part of the world thirty years before, and thinking what a lot of fun I had missed by not being as old as dad. A quarrel thirty years old is either mighty stale and unprofitable, or else, like wine, it improves with age. I meant to ride over to King's Highway some day, and see how he would have welcomed dad thirty years before.
Through King's Highway.
It was a long time before I was in a position to gratify my curiosity, though; between the son and heir, with nothing to do but amuse himself, and a cowboy working for his daily wage, there is a great gulf fixed. After being put on the pay-roll, I couldn't do just as my fancy prompted. I had to get up at an ungodly hour, and eat breakfast in about two minutes, and saddle a horse and "ride circle" with the rest of them—which same is exceeding wearisome to man and beast. For the first time since I left school, I was under orders; and the foreman certainly tried to obey dad's mandate and treat me just as he would have treated any other stranger. I could give it up, of course—but I hope never to see the day when I can be justly called a quitter.
First, we were rounding up horses—saddlers that were to be ridden in the round-up proper. We were not more than two or three weeks at that, though we covered a good deal of country. Before it was over I knew a lot more than when we started out, and had got hard as nails; riding on round-up beats a gym for putting wire muscles under a man's skin, in my opinion. We worked all around White Divide—which was turning a pale, dainty green except where the sandstone cliffs stood up in all the shades of yellow and red. Montana, as viewed on "horse round-up," looks better than in the first bleak days of March, and I could gaze upon it without profanity. I even got to like tearing over the newborn grass on a good horse, with a cowboy or two galloping, keen-faced and calm, beside me. It was almost better than slithering along a hard road with a motor-car stripped to the running-gear.
When the real thing happened—the "calf round-up"—and thirty riders in white felt hats, chaps, spurs a-jingle, and handkerchief ends flying out in the wind, lined up of a morning for orders, the blood of me went a-jump, and my nerves were all tingly with the pure joy of being alive and atop a horse as eager as hounds in the leash and with the wind of the plains in my face and the grass-land lying all around, yelling come on, and the meadowlarks singing fit to split their throats. There's nothing like it—and I've tried nearly everything in the way of blood-tinglers. Skimming through the waves, alean to the wind in a racing-yacht, comes nearest, and even that takes second money when circle-riding on round-up is entered in the race. But this is getting away from my story.
We were working the country just north of White Divide, when the foreman started me home with a message for Perry Potter—and I was to get back as soon as possible with the answer. Now, here's where I got gay.
As I said, we were north of White Divide, and the home ranch was south, and to go around either end of that string of hills meant an extra sixty miles to cover each way—a hundred and twenty for the round trip. Directly in the way of the proverbial crow's flight lay King's Highway, which—if I got through—would put me at the ranch the first day, and back at camp the second; and I rather guessed that would surprise our worthy foreman not a little. I didn't see why it couldn't be done; surely old King wouldn't murder a man just for riding through that pass—that would be bloody-minded indeed!
And if I failed—why, I could go around, and no one would be wise to the fact that I had tried it. I headed straight for the pass, which yawned invitingly, with two bare peaks for the jaws, not over six miles away. It was against orders, for Perry Potter had given the boys to understand that they were not to go that way, and that they were to leave King and his stronghold strictly alone; but I didn't worry about that. When I was fairly in the mouth of the pass, I got down and looked to the cinch, and then rode boldly forward, like a soldier riding up to the cannon's mouth with a smile on his face. Oh, I wasted plenty of admiration on one Ellis Carleton about that time, and rehearsed the bold, biting speech I meant to deliver at old King's very door.
So far it was easy sailing. There was a hard-beaten road, and the hills seemed standing back and holding aside their skirts for a free passing. The sun lay warm on their green slopes, and one could fairly smell the grass growing. In the hollows were worlds of blue flowers, with patches here and there a royal purple. I stopped and gathered a handful and stuck them in my buttonhole and under my hatband. I don't know when I have felt so thoroughly satisfied with said Ellis Carleton—of whom I am overfond of speaking—I even mimicked the meadow-larks, until they watched me with heads tilted, not knowing what to make of such an impertinent fellow.
King's Highway was glorious; I didn't wonder that dad thought it worth fighting over, and as I went on, farther and farther down this lane made by nature for easy passing, I could see what an immense advantage it would be to take herds through that way. I could see why the Bay State men cursed King when they took the rough trail around the end of White Divide.
After an hour of undisputed riding on this forbidden trail, the pass narrowed rather abruptly till it was not more than a furlong in width; the hills stretched their heads still higher, as if they wanted to see the fun, and the shadow of the eastern rim laid clear across the narrow valley and touched the foot of the opposite slope. I hope I am not going to be called nervous if I tell the truth about things; when I rode into the shadow I stopped whistling a bad imitation of meadow-lark notes. A bit farther and I pulled up, looked all around, and got off and tightened the cinch a bit more. Shylock—I always rode him when I could—threw his head around and nearly took a chunk out of my arm, and in reproving him I forgot, for a minute, the ticklish game I was playing. Then I loosened my gun—I had learned to carry it inconspicuously under my coat, as did the other boys—made sure it could be pulled without embarrassing delay, and went on. Around the next turn a five-wired fence stretched across the trail, with a gate fastened by a chain and padlock. I whistled under my breath, and eyed the lock with extreme disfavor.
But I had learned a trick of the cowboys. I pulled the wire off a couple of posts at one side of the gate, laid them flat on the ground, and led Shylock over them. Then I found a rock, pounded the staples back in place, and went on; only for the tracks, one could not notice that any had passed that way. Still, it was a bit ticklish, riding down King's Highway alone and with no idea of what lay farther on. But dad had dared go that way, and to fight at the far end; and what dad had not been afraid to tackle, it did not behoove his son to back down from. I made Shylock walk the next half-mile, with some notion of saving his wind for an emergency run.
Of a sudden I rounded a sharp nose of hill and came plump on the palace of the King. It looked a good deal like the Bay State Ranch—big corrals and sheds and stables, and little place for man to dwell. The house, though, was bigger than ours, and looked more comfortable to live in. And the thing that struck me most was the head which King displayed for strategy. The trail wound between those same sheds and corrals, a gantlet two hundred yards long that one must run or turn back. On either side the bluffs rose sheer, with the buildings crowding close against their base. I didn't wonder Frosty called King's Highway "bad medicine." It certainly did look like it.
I went softly along that trail, turning sharp corners around a shed here, circling a corral there, with my hand within an inch of my gun, and my heart within an inch of my teeth, and you may laugh all you like.
No one seemed to be about; the sheds were deserted, and a few horses dozed in a corral that I passed; but human being I saw none. It was evident that King did not consider his enemy worth watching. I passed the last shed and found myself headed straight for the house; I had still to get through its very dooryard before I was in any position to crow, and beyond the house was another fence; I hoped the gate was not locked. Shylock pricked up his ears, then laid them back along his neck as if he did not approve the layout, either. But we ambled right along, like a deacon headed for prayer-meeting, and I tried to look in four different directions at one and the same time.
For that reason, I didn't see her till she stood right in front of me; and when I did, I stared like an idiot. It was a girl, and she was coming down a path to the trail, with her hands full of flowers, for all the world like a Duchess novel. Another minute, and I'd have run over her, I guess. She stopped and looked at me from under lashes so thick and heavy they seemed almost pulling her lids shut, and there was something in her eyes that made me go hot and cold, like I was coming down with grippe; when she spoke my symptoms grew worse.
"Did you wish to see father?" she asked, as if she were telling me to leave the place.
"I believe," I rallied enough to answer, "that 'father' would give a good deal to see me." Then that seemed to shut off our conversation too abruptly to suit me; there are occasions when prickly chills have a horrible fascination for a fellow; this was one of the times.
"He's not at home, I'm very sorry to say," she retorted in the same liquid-air voice as before, and turned to go back to the house.
I thanked the Lord for that, in a whisper, and kept pace with her. It was plain she hated the sight of me, but I counted on her being enough like her dad not to run away.
"May I trouble you for a drink of water?" I asked, in the orthodox tone of humility.
"There is no need to trouble me; there is the creek, beyond the house; you are welcome to all you want."
"Thanks." I watched the pink curve of her cheek, and knew she was dying for a chance to snub me still more maliciously. We were at the steps of the veranda now, but still she would not hurry; she seemed to hate even the semblance of running away.
"Can you direct me to the Bay State Ranch?" I hazarded. It was my last card, and I let it go with a sigh.
She pointed a slim, scornful finger at the brand on Shylock's shoulder.
"If you are in doubt of the way, Mr. Carleton, your horse will take you home—if you give him his head."
That put a crimp in me worse than the look of her eyes, even. I stared at her a minute, and then laughed right out. "The game's yours, Miss King, and I take off my hat to you for hitting straight and hard," I said. "Must the feud descend even to the second generation? Is it a fight to the finish, and no quarter asked or given?"
I had her going then. She blushed—and when I saw the red creep into her cheeks my heart was hardened to repentance. I'd have done it again for the pleasure of seeing her that way.
"You are taking a good deal for granted, sir," she said, in her loftiest tone. "We Kings scarcely consider the Carletons worthy our weapons."
"You don't, eh? Then, why did you begin it?" I wanted to know. "If you permit me, you started the row before I spoke, even."
"I do not permit you." Clearly, my lady could be haughty enough to satisfy the most fastidious.
"Well," I sighed, "I will go my way. I'm a lover of peace, myself; but since you proclaim war, war it must be. I'm not so ungallant as to oppose a lady's wishes. Is that gate down there locked?"
"Figuratively, it's always locked against the Carletons," she said.
"But I want to go through it literally," I retorted. And she just looked at me from under those lashes, and never answered.
"Well, the air grows chill in King's Highway," I shivered mockingly. "If ever I find you on Bay State soil, Miss King, I shall take much pleasure in teaching you the proper way to treat an enemy."
"I shall be greatly diverted, no doubt," was the scornful reply of her—and just then an old lady came to the door, and I lifted my hand grandly in a precise military salute and rode away, wondering which of us had had the best of it.
The gate wasn't locked, and as for taking a drink at the creek, I forgot that I was thirsty. I jogged along toward home, and wondered why Frosty had not told me that King had a daughter. Also, I wondered at her animosity. It never occurred to me that her father, unlike my dad, had probably harped on the Carletons until she had come to think we were in league with the Old Boy himself. Her dad's game leg would no doubt argue strongly against us, and keep the feud green in her heart—supposing she had one.
On the whole, I was glad I had traveled King's Highway. I had discovered a brand-new enemy—and so far in my life enemies had been so scarce as to be a positive diversion. And it was novel and interesting to be so thoroughly hated by a girl. No reason to dodge her net. I rather congratulated myself on knowing one girl who positively refused to smile on demand. She hadn't, once. I got to wondering, that night, if she had dimples. I meant to find out.
Into the Lion's Mouth.
Perry Potter, when he had read the foreman's note, asked how long since I left camp; when I told him that I was there at daylight, he looked at me queerly and walked off without a word. I didn't say anything, either.
I stayed at the ranch overnight, intending to start back the next morning. The round-up would be west of where I had left them, according to the foreman—or wagon-boss, as he is called. Logically, then, I should take the trail that led through Kenmore, the mining-camp owned by King, and which lay in the heart of White Divide ten miles west of King's Highway. That, I say, was the logical route—but I wasn't going to take it. I wasn't a bit stuck on that huddle of corrals and sheds, with the trail winding blindly between, and I wasn't in love with the girl or with old King; but, all the same, I meant to go back the way I came, just for my own private satisfaction.
While I was saddling Shylock, in the opal-tinted sunrise, Potter came down and gave me the letter to the wagon-boss, an answer to the one I had brought.
"Here's some chuck the cook put up for yuh," he remarked, handing me a bundle tied up in a flour-sack. "You'll need it 'fore yuh get through to camp; you'll likely be longer going than yuh was comin'."
"Think so?" I smiled knowingly to myself and left him staring disapprovingly after me. I could easily give a straight guess at what he was thinking.
I jogged along as leisurely as I could without fretting Shylock, and, once clear of the home field, headed straight for King's Highway. It wasn't the wisest course I could take, perhaps, but it was like to prove the most exciting, and I never was remarkable for my wisdom. It seemed to me that it was necessary to my self-respect to return the way I came—and I may as well confess that I hoped Miss King was an early riser. As it was, I killed what time I could, and so spent a couple of hours where one would have sufficed.
Half a mile out from the mouth of the pass, I observed a human form crowning the peak of a sharp-pointed little butte that rose up out of the prairie; since the form seemed to be in skirts, I made for the spot. Shylock puffed up the steep slope, and at last stopped still and looked back at me in utter disgust; so I took the hint and got off, and led him up the rest of the way.
"Good morning. We meet on neutral ground," I greeted when I was close behind her. "I propose a truce."
She jumped a bit, and looked very much astonished to see me there so close. If it had been some other girl—say Ethel Mapleton—I'd have suspected the genuineness of that surprise; as it was, I could only think she had been very much absorbed not to hear me scrambling up there.
"You're an early bird," she said dryly, "to be so far from home." She glanced toward the pass, as though she would like to cut and run, but hated to give me the satisfaction.
"Well," I told her with inane complacency, "you will remember that 'it's the early bird that catches the worm.'"
"What a pretty speech!" she commented, and I saw what I'd done, and felt myself turn a beautiful purple. Compare her to a worm!
But she laughed when she saw how uncomfortable I was, and after that I was almost glad I'd said it; she did have dimples—two of them—and—
The laugh, however, was no sign of incipient amiability, as I very soon discovered. She turned her back on me and went imperturbably on with her sketching; she was trying to put on paper the lights and shades of White Divide—and even a desire to be chivalrous will not permit me to lie and say that she was making any great success of it. I don't believe the Lord ever intended her for an artist.
"Aren't you giving King's Highway a much wider mouth than it's entitled to?" I asked mildly, after watching her for a minute.
"I should not be surprised," she told me haughtily, "if you some day wished it still wider."
"There wouldn't be the chance for fighting, if it was; and I take great pleasure in keeping the feud going."
"I thought you were anxious for a truce," she said recklessly, shading a slope so that it looked like the peak of a roof.
"I am," I retorted shamelessly. "I'm anxious for anything under the sun that will keep you talking to me. People might call that a flirtatious remark, but I plead not guilty; I wouldn't know how to flirt, even if I wanted to do so."
She turned her head and looked at me in a way that I could not misunderstand; it was plain, unvarnished scorn, and a ladylike anger, and a few other unpleasant things.
It made me think of a certain star in "The Taming of the Shrew."
"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening, unkind brow, And dart not scornful glances from those eyes, To wound thy neighbor and thine enemy,"
I declaimed, with rather a free adaptation to my own need.
Her brow positively refused to unknit. "Have you nothing to do but spout bad quotations from Shakespeare on a hilltop?" she wanted to know, in a particularly disagreeable tone.
"Plenty; I have yet to win that narrow pass," I said.
"Hardly to-day," she told me, with more than a shade of triumph. "Father is at home, and he heard of your trip yesterday."
If she expected to scare me by that! "Must our feud include your father? When I met him a month ago, he gave me a cordial invitation to stop, if I ever happened this way."
She lifted those heavy lashes, and her eyes plainly spoke unbelief.
"It's a fact," I assured her calmly. "I met him one day in Laurel, and was fortunate enough to perform a service which earned his gratitude. As I say, he invited me to come and see him; I told him I should be glad to have him visit me at the Bay State Ranch, and we embraced each other with much fervor."
"Indeed!" I could see that she persisted in doubting my veracity.
"Ask your father if we didn't," I said, much injured. I knew she wouldn't, though.
A scrambling behind us made me turn, and there was Perry Potter climbing up to us, his eyes sharper than ever, and his face so absolutely devoid of expression that it told me a good deal. I'll lay all I own he was a good bit astonished at what he saw! As for me, I could have kicked him back to the bottom of the hill—and I probably looked it.
"There was something I forgot to put in that note," he said evenly, just touching the brim of his hat in acknowledgment of the girl's presence. "I wrote another one. I'd like Ballard to get it as soon as you can make camp—conveniently." His eyes looked through me almost as if I weren't there.
My desire to kick him grew almost into mania. I took the note, saw at a glance that it was addressed to me, and said: "All right," in a tone quite different from the one I had been using to tease Miss King.
He gave me another sharp look, and went back the way he had come, leaving me standing there glaring after him. Miss King, I noticed, was sketching for dear life, and her cheeks were crimson.
When Potter had got to the bottom and was riding away, I unfolded the note and read:
Don't be a fool. For God's sake, have some sense and keep away from King's Highway.
I laughed, and Miss King looked up inquiringly. Following an impulse I've never yet been able to classify, I showed her the note.
She read it calmly—I might say indifferently. "He is quite right," she said coldly. "I, too—if I cared enough—would advise you to keep away from King's Highway."
"But you don't care enough to advise me, and so I shall go," I said—and I had the satisfaction of seeing her teeth come down sharply on her lower lip. I waited a minute, watching her.
"You're very foolish," she said icily, and went at her sketching again.
I waited another minute; during that time she succeeded in making the pass look weird indeed, and a fearsome place to enter. I got reckless.
"You've spoiled that sketch," I said, stooping and taking it gently from her. "Give it to me, and it shall be a flag of truce with which I shall win my way through unscathed."
She started to her feet then, and her anger was worth facing for the glow it brought to eyes and cheeks, and the tremble that came to her lips.
"Mr. Carleton, you are perfectly detestable!" she cried.
"Miss King, you are perfectly adorable!" I returned, folding the sketch very carefully, so that it would slip easily into my pocket. "With so authentic a map of the enemy's stronghold, what need I fear? I go—but, on my honor, I shall shortly return."
She stood with her fingers clasped tightly in front of her, and watched me lead Shylock down that butte—on the side toward the pass, if you are still in doubt of my intentions. When I say she watched me, I am making a guess; but I felt that she was, and it would be hard to disabuse my mind of that belief. And when I started, her fingers had been clinging tightly together. At the bottom I turned and waved my hat—and I know she saw that, for she immediately whirled and took to studying the southern sky-line. So I left her and galloped straight into the lion's den—to use an old simile.
I passed through the gate and up to the house, Shylock pacing easily along as though we both felt assured of a welcome. Old King met me at his door as I was going by; I pulled up and gave him my very cheeriest good morning. He looked at me from under shaggy, gray eyebrows.
"You've got your gall, young man, to come this way twice in twenty-four hours," he said grimly.
"You can turn around and go back the way you came in."
"You asked me to call," I reminded him mildly. "You were not at home yesterday, so I came again."
He glanced uneasily over his shoulder, and drew the door shut between himself and whoever was within. "You damn' cur," he growled, "yuh know yuh ain't no friend uh the Kings."
"I know you're all mighty unneighborly," I said, making me a cigarette in the way that cowboys do. "I asked a young lady—your daughter, I suppose—for a drink of water. She told me to go to the creek."
He laughed at that; evidently he approved of his daughter's attitude. "Beryl knows how to deal with the likes uh you," he muttered relishfully. "And she hates the Carletons bad as I do. Get off my place, young man, and do it quick!"
"Sure!" I assented cheerfully, and jabbed the spurs into Shylock—taking good care that he was beaded north instead of south. And it's a fact that, ticklish as was the situation, my first thought was: "So her name's Beryl, is it? Mighty pretty name, and fits her, too."
King wasn't thinking anything so sentimental, I'll wager. He yelled to two or three fellows, as I shot by them near the first corral: "Round up that thus-and-how"—I hate to say the words right out—"and bring him back here!" Then he sent a bullet zipping past my ear, and from the house came a high, nasal squawk which, I gathered, came from the old party I had seen the day before.
I went clippety-clip around those sheds and corrals, till I like to have snapped my head off; I knew Shylock could take first money over any ordinary cayuse, and I let him out; but, for all that, I heard them coming, and it sounded as if they were about to ride all over me, they were so close.
Past the last shed I went streaking it, and my heart remembered what it was made for, and went to work. I don't feel that, under the circumstances, it's any disgrace to own that I was scared. I didn't hear any more little singing birds fly past, so I straightened up enough to look around and see what was doing in the way of pursuit.
One glance convinced me that my pursuers weren't going to sleep in their saddles. One of them, on a little buckskin that was running with his ears laid so flat it looked as if he hadn't any, was widening the loop in his rope, and yelling unfriendly things as he spurred after me; the others were a length behind, and I mentally put them out of the race. The gentleman with the businesslike air was all I wanted to see, and I laid low as I could and slapped Shylock along the neck, and told him to bestir himself.
He did. We skimmed up that trail like a winner on the home—stretch, and before I had time to think of what lay ahead, I saw that fence with the high, board gate that was padlocked. Right there I swore abominably—but it didn't loosen the gate. I looked back and decided that this was no occasion for pulling wires loose and leading my horse over them. It was no occasion for anything that required more than a second; my friend of the rope was not more than five long jumps behind, and he was swinging that loop suggestively over his head.
I reined Shylock sharply out of the trail, saw a place where the fence looked a bit lower than the average, and put him straight at it with quirt and spurs. He would have swung off, but I've ridden to hounds, and I had seen hunters go over worse places; I held him to it without mercy. He laid back his ears, then, and went over—and his hind feet caught the top wire and snapped it like thread. I heard it hum through the air, and I heard those behind me shout as though something unlooked-for had happened. I turned, saw them gathered on the other side looking after me blankly, and I waved my hat airily in farewell and went on about my business.
I felt that they would scarcely chase me the whole twelve or fifteen miles of the pass, and I was right; after I turned the first bend I saw them no more.
At camp I was received with much astonishment, particularly when Ballard saw that I had brought an answer to his note.
"Yuh must 'a' rode King's Highway," he said, looking at me much as Perry Potter had done the night before.
I told him I did, and the boys gathered round and wanted to know how I did it. I told them about jumping the fence, and my conceit got a hard blow there; with one accord they made it plain that I had done a very foolish thing. Range horses, they assured me, are not much at jumping, as a rule; and wire-fences are their special abhorrence. Frosty Miller told me, in confidence, that he didn't know which was the bigger fool, Shylock or me, and he hoped I'd never be guilty of another trick like that.
That rather took the bloom off my adventure, and I decided, after much thought, that I agreed with Frosty: King's Highway was bad medicine. I amended that a bit, and excepted Beryl King; I did not think she was "bad medicine," however acid might be her flavor.
I ask Beryl King to Dance.
If I were just yarning for the fun there is in it, I should say that I was back in King's Highway, helping Beryl King gather posies and brush up her repartee, the very next morning—or the second, at the very latest. As a matter of fact, though, I steered clear of that pass, and behaved myself and stuck to work for six long weeks; that isn't saying I never thought about her, though.
On the very last day of June, as nearly as I could estimate, Frosty rode into Kenmore for something, and came back with that in his eyes that boded mischief; his words, however, were innocent enough for the most straight-laced.
"There's things doing in Kenmore," he remarked to a lot of us. "Old King has a party of aristocrats out from New York, visiting—Terence Weaver, half-owner in the mines, and some women; they're fixing to celebrate the Fourth with a dance. The women, it seems, are crazy to see a real Montana dance, and watch the cowboys chasse around the room in their chaps and spurs and big hats, and with two or three six-guns festooned around their middles, the way you see them in pictures. They think, as near as I could find out, that cowboys always go to dances in full war-paint like that—and they'll be disappointed if said cowboys don't punctuate the performance by shooting out the lights, every so often." He looked across at me, and then is when I observed the mischief brewing in his eyes.
"We'll have to take it in," I said promptly. "I'm anxious to see a Montana dance, myself."
"We aren't in their set," gloomed Frosty, with diplomatic caution. "I won't swear they're sending out engraved invitations, but, all the same, we won't be expected."
"We'll go, anyhow," I answered boldly. "If they want to see cow-punchers, it seems to me the Ragged H can enter a bunch that will take first prize."
Frosty looked at me, and permitted himself to smile. "Uh course, if you're bound to go, Ellis, I guess there's no stopping yuh—and some of us will naturally have to go along to see yuh through. King's minions would sure do things to yuh if yuh went without a body-guard." He shook his head, and cupped his hands around a match-blaze and a cigarette, so that no one could tell much about his expression.
"I'm bound to go," I declared, taking the cue. "And I think I do need some of you to back me up. I think," I added judicially, "I shall need the whole bunch."
The "bunch" looked at one another gravely and sighed. "We'll have t' go, I reckon," they said, just as though they weren't dying to play the unexpected guest. So that was decided, and there was much whispering among groups when they thought the wagon-boss was near, and much unobtrusive preparation.
It happened that the wagons pulled in close to the ranch the day before the Fourth, intending to lay over for a day or so. We were mighty glad of it, and hurried through our work. I don't know why the rest were so anxious to attend that dance, but for me, I'm willing to own that I wanted to see Beryl King. I knew she'd be there—and if I didn't manage, by fair means or foul, to make her dance with me, I should be very much surprised and disappointed. I couldn't remember ever giving so much thought to a girl; but I suppose it was because she was so frankly antagonistic that there was nothing tame about our intercourse. I can't like girls who invariably say just what you expect them to say.
When we came to get ready, there was a dress-discussion that a lot of women would find it hard to beat. Some of the boys wanted to play up to, the aristocrats' expectations, and wear their gaudiest neckerchiefs, their chaps, spurs, and all the guns they could get their hands on; but I had an idea I thought beat theirs, and proselyted for all I was worth. Rankin had packed a lot of dress suits in one of my trunks—evidently he thought Montana was some sort of house-party—and I wanted to build a surprise for the good people at King's. I wanted the boys to use those suits to the best advantage.
At first they hung back. They didn't much like the idea of wearing borrowed clothes—which attitude I respected, but felt bound to overrule. I told them it was no worse than borrowing guns, which a lot of them were doing. In the end my oratory was rewarded as it deserved; it was decided that, as even my capacious trunks couldn't be expected to hold thirty dress suits, part of the crowd should ride in full regalia. I might "tog up" as many as possible, and said "togged" men must lend their guns to the others; for every man of the "reals" insisted on wearing a gun dangling over each hip.
So I went down into my trunks, and disinterred four dress suits and three Tuxedos, together with all the appurtenances thereto. Oh, Rankin was certainly a wonder! There was a gay-colored smoking-jacket and cap that one of the boys took a fancy to and insisted on wearing, but I drew the line at that. We nearly had a fight over it, right there.
When we were dressed—and I had to valet the whole lot of them, except Frosty, who seemed wise to polite apparel—we were certainly a bunch of winners. Modesty forbids explaining just how I appear in a dress suit. I will only say that my tailor knew his business—but the others were fearful and wonderful to look upon. To begin with, not all of them stand six-feet-one in their stocking-feet, or tip the scales at a hundred and eighty odd; likewise their shoulders lacked the breadth that goes with the other measurements. Hence my tailor would doubtless have wept at the sight; shoulders drooping spiritlessly, and sleeves turned up, and trousers likewise. Frosty Miller, though, was like a man with his mask off; he stood there looking the gentleman born, and I couldn't help staring at him.
"You've been broken to society harness, old man, and are bridle-wise," I said, slapping him on the shoulder. He whirled on me savagely, and his face was paler than I'd ever seen it.
"And if I have—what the hell is it to you?" he asked unpleasantly, and I stammered out some kind of apology. Far be it from me to pry into a man's past.
I straightened Sandy Johnson's tie, turned up his sleeves another inch, and we started out. And I will say we were a quaint-looking outfit. Perhaps my meaning will be clearer when I say that every one of us wore the soft, white "Stetson" of the range-land, and a silk handkerchief knotted loosely around the throat, and spurs and riding-gloves. I've often wondered if the range has ever seen just that wedding of the East and the West before in man's apparel.
We'd scarcely got started when the wind caught Frosty's coat-tails and slapped them down along the flanks of his horse—an incident that the horse met with stern disapproval. He went straight up into the air, and then bucked as long as his wind held out, the while Frosty's quirt kept time with the tails of his coat.
When the two had calmed down a bit, the other boys profited by Frosty's experience, and tucked the coat-tails snugly under them—and those who wore the Tuxedos congratulated themselves on their foresight. We were a merry party, and we were willing to publish the fact.
When we had overtaken the others we were still merrier, for the spectacular contingent plumed themselves like peacocks on their fearsomeness, and guyed us conventionally garbed fellows unmercifully.
When the thirty of us filed into the long, barn-like hall where they were having the dance, I believe I can truthfully say that we created a sensation. That "ripple of excitement" which we read about so often in connection with belles and balls went round the room. Frosty and I led the way, and the rest of the "biscuit-shooter brigade," as the others called us, followed two by two. Then came the real Wild West show, with their hats tilted far back on their heads and brazen faces which it pained me to contemplate. We arrived during that humming hash which comes just after a number, and every one stared impolitely, and some of them not overcordially. I began to wonder if we hadn't done a rather ill-bred thing, to hurl ourselves so unceremoniously into the merrymakings of the enemy; but I comforted myself with the thought that the dance was given as a public affair, so that we were acting within our technical rights—though I own that, as I looked around upon our crowd, ranged solemnly along the wall, it struck me that we were a bit spectacular.
She was there, chatting with some other women, at the far end of the hall, and if she saw me enter the room she did not show any disquietude; from where I stood, she seemed perfectly at ease, and unconscious of anything unusual having occurred. Old King I could not see.
A waltz was announced—rather, bellowed—and the boys drifted away from me. It was evident that they did not intend to become wall flowers. For myself, it occurred to me that, except my somewhat debatable acquaintance with Miss King, I did not know a woman in the room. I called up all my courage and fortitude, and started toward her. I was determined to ask her to dance, and I got some chilly comfort out of the reflection that she couldn't do any worse than refuse; still, that would be quite bad enough, and I will not say that I crossed that room, with three or four hundred eyes upon me, in any oh-be-joyful frame of mind. I rather suspect that my face resembled that plebeian and oft-mentioned vegetable, the beet. I was within ten feet of her, and I was thinking that she couldn't possibly hold that cool, unconscious look much longer, when a hand feminine was extended from the row of silent watchers and caught at my sleeve.
"Ellie Carleton, it's never you!" chirped a familiar voice.
I turned, a bit dazed with the unexpected interruption, and saw that it was Edith Loroman, whom I had last seen in the East the summer before, when I was gyrating through Newport and all those places, with Barney MacTague for chaperon, and whom I had known for long. Edith had chosen to be very friendly always, and I liked her—only, I suspected her of being a bit too worldly to suit me.
"And why isn't it I? I can't see that my identity is more surprising than yours," I retorted, pulling myself together. It did certainly give me a start to see her there, and looking so exactly as she had always looked. I couldn't think of anything more to say, so, as the music had started, I asked her if she had any dances saved for me. I couldn't decently leave her and carry out my original plan, you see.
She laughed at my ignorance, and told me that this was a "frontier" dance, and there were no programs.
"You just promise one or two dances ahead," she explained. "As many as you can remember. Beryl told me all about how they do here; Beryl King is my cousin, you know."
I didn't know, but I was content to take her word for it, and asked her for that dance and got it, and she chattered on about everything under the sun, and told all about how they happened to be in Montana, and how long they were going to stay, and that Mr. Weaver had brought his auto, and another fellow—I forget his name—had intended to bring his, but didn't, and that they were going to tour through to Helena, on their way home, and it would be such fun, and that if I didn't come over right away to call upon her, she would never forgive me.
"There's a drawback," I told her. "I'm not on your cousin's visiting-list; I've never even been introduced to her."
"That," said Miss Edith complacently, "is easily remedied. You know mama well enough, I should think. Aunt Lodema—funny name, isn't it?—is stopping here all summer, with Beryl. Beryl has the strangest tastes. She will spend every summer out here with her father, and if any of us poor mortals want a glimpse of her between seasons, we must come where she is. She's a dear, and you must know her, even if you do hold yourself superior to us women. She's almost as much a crank on athletics as you are; you ought to see her on the links, once! That's why I can't understand her running away off here every summer. And, by the way, Ellie, what are you doing here—a stranger?"
"I'm earning my bread by the sweat of my brow," I told her plainly. "I'm a cowboy—a would-be, I suppose I should say."
She looked up at me horrified. "Have you—lost—your millions?" she wanted to know. Edith Loroman was always a straightforward questioner, at any rate.
"The millions," I told her, laughing, "are all right, I believe. Dad has a cattle-ranch in this part of the world, and he sent me out here to reform me. He meant it as a punishment, but at present I'm getting rather the best of the deal, I think."
"And where's Barney?" she asked. "One reason I came near not recognizing you was because you hadn't your shadow along."
"Barney is luxuriating in idleness somewhere," I answered lightly. "One couldn't expect him to turn savage, just because I did. I can't imagine Barney working for his daily bread."
"I can," retorted Miss Edith, "every bit as easily as I can imagine you! And, if you'll pardon me, I don't believe a word of it, either."
On the whole, I could hardly blame her. As she had always known me, I must have appeared to her somewhat like Solomon's lilies. But I did not try to convince her; there were other things more important.
I went and made my bow to Mrs. Loroman, and answered sundry questions—more conventional, I may say, than were those of her daughter. Mrs. Loroman was one of the best type of society dames, and I will own that I was a bit surprised to find that she was Beryl King's aunt. In spite of that indefinable little air of breeding that I had felt in my two meetings with Miss King, I had thought of her as distinctly a daughter of the range-land.
"I'll introduce you to my cousin and aunt now, if you like," Edith offered generously, in an undertone—for the two were not ten feet from us, although Miss King had not yet seen fit to know that I was in the room. How a woman can act so deuced innocent, beats me.
Miss King lowered her chin as much as half an inch, and looked at me as if I were an exceeding commonplace, inanimate object that could not possibly interest her. Her aunt, Lodema King, was almost as bad, I think; I didn't notice particularly. But Miss King's I-do-not-know-you-sir air could not save her; I hadn't schemed like a villain for a week, and ridden twenty-five miles at a good fast clip after a stiff day's work, just to be presented and walk away. I asked her for the next waltz.