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´╗┐Title: Red Saunders
Author: Phillips, Henry Wallace, 1869-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Red Saunders" ***

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RED SAUNDERS

His Adventures West & East


By


Henry Wallace Phillips


1901



CONTENTS

A CHANCE SHOT
A RED-HAIRED CUPID
THE GOLDEN FORD
WHEN THE CHINOOK STRUCK FAIRFIELD



A Chance Shot

Reddy and I were alone at the Lake beds.  He sat outside the cabin,
braiding a leather hat-band--eight strands, and the "repeat"
figure--an art that I never could master.

I sat inside, with a one-pound package of smoking tobacco beside
me, and newspapers within reach, rolling the day's supply of
cigarettes.

Reddy stopped his story long enough to say: "Don't use the
'Princess' Slipper,' Kid--that paper burns my tongue--take the
'Granger'; there's plenty of it."


Well, as I was saying, I'd met a lot of the boys up in town this
day, and they threw as many as two drinks into me; I know that for
certain, because when we took the parting dose, I had a glass of
whisky in both my right hands, and had just twice as many friends
as when I started.

When I pulled out for home, I felt mighty good for myself--not
exactly looking for trouble, but not a-going to dodge it any,
either.  I was warbling "Idaho" for all I was worth--you know how
pretty I can sing?  Cock-eyed Peterson used to say it made him
forget all his troubles.  "Because," says he, "you don't notice
trifles when a man bats you over the head with a two-by-four."

Well, I was enjoying everything in sight, even a little drizzle of
rain that was driving by in rags of wetness, when a flat-faced
swatty at Fort Johnson halted me.

Now it's a dreadful thing to be butted to death by a nanny-goat,
but for a full-sized cowpuncher to be held up by a soldier is worse
yet.

To say that I was hot under the collar don't give you the right
idea of the way I felt.

"Why, you cross between the Last Rose of Summer and a bobtailed
flush!" says I, "what d'yer mean?  What's got into you?  Get out of
my daylight, you dog-robber, or I'll walk the little horse around
your neck like a three-ringed circus.  Come, pull your freight!"

It seems that this swatty had been chucked out of the third story
of Frenchy's dance emporium by Bronc. Thompson, which threw a great
respect for our profesh into him.  Consequently he wasn't fresh
like most soldiers, but answers me as polite as a tin-horn gambler
on pay-day.

Says he: "I just wanted to tell you that old Frosthead and forty
braves are some'ers between here and your outfit, with their war
paint on and blood in their eyes, cayoodling and whoopin' fit to
beat hell with the blower on, and if you get tangled up with them,
I reckon they'll give you a hair-cut and shampoo, to say nothing of
other trimmings.  They say they're after the Crows, but it's a
ten-dollar bill against a last year's bird's-nest that they'll take
on any kind of trouble that comes along.  Their hearts is mighty
bad, they state, and when an Injun's heart gets spoiled, the
disease is d--d catching.  You'd better stop awhile."

"Now, cuss old Frosthead, and you too!" says I.  "If he comes
crow-hopping on my reservation; I'll kick his pantalettes on top of
his scalp-lock."

"All right, pardner!" says he.  "It's your own funeral.  My orders
was to halt every one going through; but I ain't a whole company,
so you can have it your own way.  Only, if your friends have to
take you home in a coal-scuttle, don't blame me.  Pass, friend!"

So I went through the officers' quarters forty miles an hour,
letting out a string of yells you might have heard to the coast,
just to show my respect for the United States army.

Now this has always been my luck: Whenever I made a band-wagon
play, somebody's sure to strike me for my licence.  Or else the
team goes into the ditch a mile further on, and I come out about as
happy as a small yaller dog at a bob-cat's caucus.

Some fellers can run in a rhinecaboo that 'd make the hair stand up
on a buffeler robe, and get away with it just like a mice; but that
ain't me.  If I sing a little mite too high in the cellar, down
comes the roof a-top of me.  So it was this day.  Old Johnny
Hardluck socked it to me, same as usual.

Gosh a'mighty!  The liquor died in me after a while, and I went
sound asleep in the saddle, and woke up with a jar--to find myself
right in the middle of old Frosthead's gang; the drums
"_boom_-blipping" and those forty-odd red tigers "hyah-hayahing" in
a style that made my skin get up and walk all over me with cold
feet.

How in blazes I'd managed to slip through those Injuns I don't
know.  'Twould have been a wonderful piece of scouting if I'd meant
it.  You can 'most always do any darn thing you don't want to do.
Well, there I was, and, oh Doctor! but wasn't I in a lovely mess!
That war-song put a crimp into me that Jack Frost himself couldn't
take out.

It was as dark as dark by this time.  The moon just stuck one eye
over the edge of the prairie, and the rest of the sky was covered
with cloud.  A little light came from the Injuns' camp-fire, but
not enough to ride by, and, besides, I didn't know which way I
ought to go.

Says I to myself, "Billy Sanders, you are the champion all-around,
old-fashioned fool of the district.  You are a jackass from the
country where ears less'n three foot long are curiosities.  You
sassed that poor swatty that wanted to keep you out of this,
tooting your bazoo like a man peddling soap; but now it's up to
you.  What are you going to do about it?" and I didn't get any
answer, neither.

Well, it was no use asking myself conundrums out there in the dark
when time was so scarce.  So I wraps my hankercher around.  Laddy's
nose to keep him from talking horse to the Injun ponies, and
prepared to sneak to where I'd rather be.

Laddy was the quickest thing on legs in that part of the
country--out of a mighty spry little Pinto mare by our thoroughbred
Kentucky horse--and I knew if I could get to the open them Injuns
wouldn't have much of a chance to take out my stopper and examine
my works--not much.  A half-mile start, and I could show the whole
Sioux nation how I wore my hair.

I cut for the place where the Injuns seemed thinnest, lifting
myself up till I didn't weigh fifteen pound, and breathing only
when necessary.  We got along first-rate until we reached the edge
of 'em, and then Laddy had to stick his foot in a gopher-hole, and
walloped around there like a whale trying to climb a tree.

Some dam cuss of an Injun threw a handful of hay on the fire, and,
as it blazed up, the whole gang spotted me.

I unlimbered my gun, sent the irons into Laddy, and we began to
walk.

I didn't like to make for the ranch, as I knew the boys were
short-handed, so I pointed north, praying to the good Lord that I'd
hit some kind of settlement before I struck the North Pole.

Well, we left those Injuns so far behind that there wasn't any fun
in it.  I slacked up, patting myself on the back; and, as the
trouble seemed all over, I was just about to turn for the ranch,
when I heard horses galloping, and as the moon came out a little I
saw a whole raft of redskins a-boiling up a draw not half a mile
away.  That knocked me slab-sided.  It looked like I got the wrong
ticket every time the wheel turned.

I whooped it up again, swearing I wouldn't stop this deal short of
a dead sure thing.  We flew through space--Laddy pushing a hole in
the air like a scart kiyote making for home and mother.

A ways down the valley I spotted a little shack sitting all alone
by itself out in the moonlight.  I headed for it, hollering murder.

A man came to the door in his under-rigging.

"Hi, there!  What's eating you?" he yells.

"Injuns coming, pardner!  The country's just oozing Injuns!  Better
get a wiggle on you!"

"All right--slide along, I'll ketch up to you," says he.

I looked back and saw him hustling out with his saddle on his arm.
"He's a particular kind of cuss," I thought; "bareback would suit
most people."

Taking it a little easier for the next couple of miles, I gave him
a chance to pull up.

We pounded along without saying anything for a spell, when I
happened to notice that his teeth were chattering.

"Keep your nerve up, pardner!" says I.  "Don't you get
scared--we've got a good start on 'em."

He looked at me kind of reproachful.

"Scared be derned!" says he.  "I reckon if you was riding around
this nice cool night in your drawers, _your_ teeth 'ud rattle some,
too."

I took a look at him, and saw, sure enough, while he had hat, coat,
and boots on, the pants was missing.  Well, if it had been the last
act, I'd have had to laugh.

"Couldn't find 'em nohow," says he; "hunted high and low, jick,
Jack, and the game--Just comes to my mind now that I had 'em rolled
up and was sleeping on 'em.  I don't like to go around this way'--I
feel as if I was two men, and one of 'em hardly respectable."

"Did you bring a gun with you?"

He gave me another stare.  "Why, pardner, you must think I have got
a light and frivolous disposition," says he, and with that he
heaves up the great-grand-uncle of all the six-shooters I ever did
see.  It made my forty-five-long look like something for a kid to
cut its teeth on.  "That's the best gun in this country," he went
on.

"Looks as if it might be," says I.  "Has the foundry that cast it
gone out of business?  I'd like to have one like it, if it's as
dangerous as it looks."

"When I have any trouble with a man," says he, "I don't want to go
pecking at him with a putty-blower, just irritating him, and giving
him a little skin complaint here and there; I want something
that'll touch his conscience."

He had it, for a broadside from that battery would scatter an
elephant over a township.

We loped along quiet and easy until sun-up.  The Grindstone Buttes
lay about a mile ahead of us.  Looking back, we saw the Injuns
coming over a rise of ground 'way in the distance.

"Now," says my friend, "I know a short cut through those hills
that'll bring us out at Johnson's.  They've got enough punchers
there to do the United States army up--starched and blued.  Shall
we take it?"

"Sure!" says I.  "I'm only wandering around this part of the
country because this part of the country is here--if it was
anywheres else I'd be just as glad."

So in we went.  It was the steepest and narrowest kind of a canon,
looking as if it had been cut out of the rock with one crack of the
axe.  I was just thinking: "Gee whiz! but this would be a poor
place to get snagged in," when bang! says a rifle right in front of
us, and m-e-arr! goes the bullet over our heads.

We were off them horses and behind a, couple of chunks of rock
sooner than we hoped for, and that's saying a good deal.

"Cussed poor shot, whoever he is," says my friend.  "Some Injun
holding us here till the rest come up, I presume."

"That's about the size of it--and I'd like to make you a bet that
he does it, too, if I thought I'd have a chance to collect."

"Oh, you can't always tell--you might lose your money," says he,
kind of thoughtful.

"I wouldn't mind that half as much as winning," says I.  "But on
the square, do you think we can get out?  I'll jump him with you if
you say so, although I ain't got what you might call a passion for
suicide."

"Now you hold on a bit," says he.  "I don't know but what we'd have
done better to stick to the horses, and run for it, but it's too
late to think of that.  Jumping him is all foolishness; he'd sit
behind his little rock and pump lead into us till we wouldn't float
in brine--and we can't back out now."

He talked so calm it made me kind of mad.  "Well," says I, "in that
case, let's play 'Simon says thumbs up' till the rest of the crowd
comes."

"There you go!" says he.  "Just like all young fellers--gettin'
hosstyle right away if you don't fall in with their plans.  Now,
Sonny, you keep your temper, and watch me play cushion carroms with
our friend there."

"Meaning how?"

"You see that block of stone just this side of him with the square
face towards us?  Well, he's only covered in front, and I'm a-going
to shoot against that face and ketch him on the glance."

"Great, if you could work it!" says I.  "But Lord!"

"Well, watch!" says he.  Then he squinched down behind his cover,
so as not to give the Injun an opening, trained his cannon and
pulled the trigger.  The old gun opened her mouth and roared like
an earthquake, but I didn't see any dead Injun.  Then twice more
she spit fire, and still there weren't any desirable corpses to be
had.

"Say, pardner," says I, "you wouldn't make many cigars at this
game!"

"Now, don't you get oneasy," says he.  "Just watch!"

"_Biff_!" says the old gun, and this time, sure enough, the Injun
was knocked clear of the rock.  I felt all along that he wouldn't
be much of a comfort to his friends afterwards, if that gun did
land on him.

Still, he wasn't so awful dead, for as we jumped for the horses he
kind of hitched himself to the rock, and laying the rifle across
it, and working the lever with his left hand, he sent a hole plumb
through my hat.

"Bully boy!" says I.  I snapped at him, and smashed the lock of his
rifle to flinders.  Then, of course, he was our meat.

As we rode up to him, my pard held dead on him.  The Injun stood up
straight and tall, and looked us square in the eye--say, he was a
man, I tell you, red-skin or no red-skin.  The courage just stuck
out on him as he stood there, waiting to pass in his checks.

My pardner threw the muzzle of his gun up.  "D--n it!" says he, "I
can't do it--he's game from the heart out!  But the Lord have mercy
on his sinful soul if he and I run foul of each other on the
prairie again!"

Then we shacked along down to Johnson's and had breakfast.

"What became of Frosthead and his gang?"  Oh, they sent out a
regiment or two, and gathered him in--'bout twenty-five soldiers to
an Injun.  No, no harm was done.  Me and my pard were the only ones
that bucked up against them.  Chuck out a cigarette, Kid; my lungs
ache for want of a smoke.



A Red-Haired Cupid

"How did I come to get myself disliked down at the Chanta Seechee?
Well, I'll tell you," said Reddy, the cow-puncher.  "The play came
up like this.  First, they made the Chanta Seechee into a stock
company, then the stock company put all their brains in one think,
and says they, 'We'll make this man Jones superintendent, and the
ranch is all right at once.'  So out comes Jones from Boston,
Massachusetts, and what he didn't know about running a ranch was
common talk in the country, but what he thought he knew about
running a ranch was too much for one man to carry around.  He
wasn't a bad-hearted feller in some ways, yet on the whole he felt
it was an honour to a looking-glass to have the pleasure of
reflecting him.  Looking-glass?  I should say he had!  And a
bureau, and a boot-blacking jigger, and a feather bed, and
curtains, and truck in his room.  Strange fellers used to open
their eyes when they saw that room.  'Helloo-o!' they'd say, 'whose
little birdie have we here?'  And other remarks that hurt our
feelings considerable.  Jonesy, he said the fellers were a rank lot
of barbarians.  He said it to old Neighbour Case's face, and he and
the old man came together like a pair of hens, for Jonesy had sand
in spite of his faults, That was a fight worth travelling to see.
They covered at least an acre of ground; they tore the air with
upper swats and cross swipes; they hollered, they jumped and they
pitched, and when the difficulty was adjusted we found that
Jonesy's coat was painfully ripped up the back and Neighbour Case
had lost his false teeth.  One crowd of fellers patted Jones on the
back and said, 'Never mind your coat, old horse; you've licked a
man twice your age,' and the other comforted Neighbour, saying,
'Never mind, Case; you can ease your mind by thinking how you
headed up that rooster, and he fifty pounds lighter than you.'

"Jonesy put on airs after that.  He felt he was a hard citizen.
And then he had the misfortune to speak harshly to Arizona Jenkins
when Old Dry Belt was in liquor.  Then he got roped and dragged
through the slough.  He cried like a baby whilst I helped him
scrape the mud off, but not because he was scared!  No, sir!  That
little runt was full of blood and murder.

"'You mark me, now, Red,' says he, the tears making bad-land water
courses through the mud on his cheeks, 'I shall fire upon that man
the first time I see him--will you lend me your revolver?'

"'Lord, Jones, see here,' says I, 'don't you go making any such
billy-goat play as that--keep his wages until he apologizes; put
something harmful in his grub; but, as you have respect for the
Almighty's handiwork as represented by your person, don't pull a
gun on Arizona Jenkins--that's the one thing he won't take from
nobody.'

"'D-d-darn him!' snivels Jonesy, 'I ain't afraid o-o-of him;' and
the strange fact is that he wasn't.  Well, I saw he was in such a
taking that he might do something foolish and get hurt, so I goes
to Arizona and says I, 'You ought to apologize to Jones.'  What
Zony replied ain't worth repeating--'and you along with him,' he
winds up.

"'Now ain't that childish?' I says.  'A six-footer like you that
can shoot straight with either hand, and yet ain't got generosity
enough to ease the feelings of a poor little devil that's fair
busting with shame.'

"'Well, what did he want to tell me to shut up my mouth for?' cried
Old Dry Belt.  'Men have died of less than that.'

"'Aw, shucks, Zony,' I says, 'a great, big man like you oughtn't to
come down on a little cuss who's all thumb-hand-side and left feet.'

"'That be blowed,' says he--only he says it different.  'I'd like
to know what business such a sawed-off has to come and tell a
full-grown man like me to shut up his mouth?  He'd ought to stay in
a little man's place and talk sassy to people his own size.  When
he comes shooting off his bazoo to a man that could swaller him
whole without loosening his collar, it's impidence; that's what it
is.'

"'Well, as a favour to me?' I says.

"'Well, if you put it in that way--I don't want to be small about
it.'

"So Arizona goes up to Jones and sticks out his hand.  'There's my
hand, Jones,' he says.  'I'm mighty sorry you told me to shut up my
mouth,' says he.

"'So am I,' says Jones heartily, not taking in the sense of the
words, but feeling that it was all in good intention.  So that was
all right and I stood in with the management in great shape for
fixing up the fuss so pleasant.  But it didn't last.  They say
nothing lasts in this world.  There's some pretty solid rocks in
the Coeur d'Alene, however, and I should like to wait around and
see if they don't hold out, but I'll never make it.  I've been in
too much excitement.

"Well, the next thing after Jonesy got established was that his
niece must come out during vacation and pay him a visit.
'Jee-rusalem!' thinks I, 'Jonesy's niece!'  I had visions of a
thin, yaller, sour little piece, with mouse-coloured hair plastered
down on her head, and an unkind word for everybody.  Jonesy told me
about her being in college, and then I stuck a pair of them
nose-grabber specks on the picture.  I can stand 'most any kind of
a man, but if there's anything that makes the tears come to my eyes
it's a botch of a woman.  I know they may have good qualities and
all that, but I don't like 'em, and that's the whole of it.  We
gave three loud groans when we got the news in the bull-pen.  And I
cussed for ten minutes straight, without repeating myself once,
when it so fell out that the members of the board rolled out our
way the day the girl had to be sent for, and Jonesy couldn't break
loose, and your Uncle was elected to take the buckboard and drive
twenty miles to the railroad.  I didn't mind the going out, but
that twenty miles back with Jonesy's niece!  Say, I foamed like a
soda-water bottle when I got into the bull-pen and told the boys my
luck.

"'Well,' says Kyle Lambert, 'that's what you might expect; your
sins have found you out.'

"'No, they ain't; they've caught me at home as usual,' says I.
'Well, I'll give that Eastern blossom an idea of the quality of
this country anyhow.'  So I togs myself up in the awfullest rig I
could find; strapped two ca'tridge belts to me, every hole filled,
and a gun in every holster; put candle-grease on my mustache and
twisted the ends up to my eye-winkers; stuck a knife in my hatband
and another in my boot; threw a shotgun and a rifle in the
buckboard, and pulled out quick through the colt-pens before Jonesy
could get his peeps onto me.

"Well, sir, I was jarred witless when I laid my eyes on that young
woman.  I'd had my mind made up so thorough as to what she must be
that the facts knocked me cold.  She was the sweetest, handsomest,
healthiest female I ever see.  It would make you believe in fairy
stories again just to look at her.  She was all the things a man
ever wanted in this world rolled up in a prize package.  Tall,
round and soople, limber and springy in her action as a
thoroughbred, and with something modest yet kind of daring in her
face that would remind you of a good, honest boy.  Red, white, and
black were the colours she flew.  Hair and eyes black, cheeks and
lips red, and the rest of her white.  Now, there's a pile of
difference in them colours; when you say 'red,' for instance, you
ain't cleaned up the subject by a sight.  My top-knot's red, but
that wasn't the colour of Loy's cheeks.  No; that was a colour I
never saw before nor since.  A rose would look like a tomater
alongside of 'em.  Then, too, I've seen black eyes so hard and
shiny you could cut glass with 'em.  And again that wasn't her
style.  The only way you could get a notion of what them eyes were
like would be to look at 'em; you'd remember 'em all right if you
did.  Seems like the good Lord was kind of careless when he built
Jonesy, but when he turned that girl out he played square with the
fambly.

"I ain't what you might call a man that's easily disturbed in his
mind, but I know I says to myself that first day, 'If I was ten
year younger, young lady, they'd never lug you back East again.'
Gee, man!  There was a time when I'd have pulled the country up by
the roots but I'd have had that girl!  I notice I don't fall in
love so violent as the years roll on.  I can squint my eye over the
cards now and say, 'Yes, that's a beautiful hand, but I reckon I'd
better stay out,' and lay 'em down without a sigh; whereas, when I
was a young feller, it I had three aces in sight I'd raise the rest
of the gathering right out of their foot-leather--or get caught at
it.  Usually I got caught at it, for a man couldn't run the mint
long with the kind of luck I have.

"Well, I was plumb disgusted with the fool way I'd rigged myself
up, but, fortunately for me, Darragh, the station-man, came out
with the girl.  'There's Reddy, from your ranch now, ma'am,' says
he, and when he caught sight of me, 'What's the matter, Red; are
the Injuns up?'

"Darragh was a serious Irishman, and that's the mournfullest thing
on top of the globe; and besides, he believed anything you'd tell
him.  There ain't any George Washington strain in my stock, so I
proceeded to get out of trouble.

"'They ain't up exactly,' says I, 'but it looked as if they were a
leetle on the rise, and being as I had a lady to look out for, I
thought I'd play safe.'

"The colour kind of went out of the girl's cheeks.  Eastern folks
are scandalous afraid of Injuns.

"'Perhaps I'd better not start?' says she.

"'Don't you be scart, miss,' says Darragh.  'You're all right as
long as you're with Red--he's the toughest proposition we've got in
this part of the country.'

"'I'm obliged to you, Darragh,' says I.  He meant well, but hell's
full of them people.  I'd have given a month's wages for one lick
at him.  Nice reputation to give me before that girl!  She eyed me
mighty doubtful.

"I stepped up to her, with my hat in my hand.  'Miss Andree,' says
I (she was Jonesy's sisters child), 'if you come along with me I'll
guarantee you a safe journey.  If any harm reaches you it will be
after one of the liveliest times in the history of the Territory.'

"At this she laughed.  'Very well,' says she, 'I'll chance it, Mr.
Red.'

"'His name ain't Red,' puts in Darragh, solemn.  'His name's
Saunders.  We call him Red becus uf his hair.'

"'I'm sure I beg your pardon,' says Miss Loys, all of a fluster.

"'That's all right, ma'am; no damage done at all,' says I.  'It's
useless for me to try to conceal the fact that my hair is a little
on the auburn.  You mustn't mind what Darragh says.  We've had a
good deal of hot weather lately and his brains have gone wrong.
Now hop in and we'll touch the breeze,'  So I piled her trunk in
and away we flew.

"Bud and Dandy were a corking little team.  They'd run the whole
distance from the railway to the ranch if you'd let 'em--and I
never interfered.  A straight line and the keen jump hits me all
right when I'm going some place, although I can loaf with the next
man on occasion.  So we missed most of the gulleys.

"The ponies were snorting and pulling grass, the buckboard bouncing
behind 'em like a rubber ball, and we were crowding into the teeth
of the northwest wind, which made it seem as if we were travelling
100 per cent. better than a Dutch clock would show.

"'Goodness gracious!' says the girl, 'do you always go like this in
this country?  And aren't there any roads?'

"'Why, no,' says I.  'Hike!' and I snapped the blacksnake over the
ponies' ears, and they strung themselves out like a brace of
coyotes, nearly pulling the buckboard out from under us.
'Sometimes we travel like _this_,' I says.  'And as for roads, I
despise 'em.  You're not afraid, are you?'

"'Indeed I'm not.  I think it's glorious.  Might I drive?'

"'If I can smoke,' says I, 'then _you_ can drive.'  I'd heard about
young women who'd been brought up so tender that tobacker smoke
would ruin their morals or something, and I kind of wondered if she
was that sort.

"'That's a bargain,' says she prompt.  'But how you're going to
light a cigar in this wind I don't see.'

"'Cigarette,' says I.  'And if you would kindly hold my hat until I
get one rolled I'll take it kind of you.'

"'But what about the horses?' says she.

"'Put your foot on the lines and they'll make.  That's the main and
only art of driving on the prairie--not to let the lines get under
the horses' feet--all the rest is just sit still and look at the
scenery.'

"She held my hat for a wind-break, and I got my paper pipe
together.  And then--not a match.  I searched every pocket.  Not a
lucifer.  That is more of what I got for being funny and changing
my clothes.  And then she happened to think of a box she had for
travelling, and fished it out of her grip.

"'Young lady,' I says, 'until it comes to be your bad luck--which I
hope won't ever happen--to be very much in love with a man who
won't play back, you'll never properly know the pangs of a man
that's got all the materials to smoke with except the fire.  Now,
if I have a chance to do as much for you sometime, I'm there.'

"She laughed and crinkled up her eyes at me.  'All right, Mr.
Saunders.  When that obdurate man disdains me, I'll call for your
help.'

"'The place for the man that would disdain you is an asylum,' says
I.  'And the only help I'd give you would be to put him there.'
She blushed real nice.  I like to see a woman blush.  It's a trick
they can't learn.

"But I see she was put out by my easy talk, so I gave her a pat on
the back and says, 'Don't mind me, little girl.  We fellers see an
eighteen-carat woman so seldom that it goes to our heads.  There
wasn't no offence meant, and you'll be foolish if you put it there.
Let's shake hands.'

"So she laughed again and shook.  I mean _shook_.  It wasn't like
handing you so much cold fish--the way some women shake hands.  And
Loys and me, we were full pards from date.

"I made one more bad break on the home trip.

"'Jonesy will be powerful glad to see you,' says I.

"'Jonesy!' says she, surprised.  'Jonesy!  Oh, is that what you
call Uncle Albert?'

"'Well, it does sometimes happen that way," says I.  And then my
anti-George Washington blood rose again.  'You see, he was kind of
lonesome out there at first, and we took to calling him Jonesy to
cheer him up and make him feel at home,' I says.

"'Oh!' says she.  And I reckon she didn't feel so horribly awful
about it, for after looking straight towards the Gulf of Mexico for
a minute, suddenly she bust right out and hollered.  It seems that
Jones cut a great deal of grass to a swipe when he was back home in
his own street.  It's astonishing how little of a man it takes to
do that in the East.  We had an argument once on the subject.
'It's intellect does it,' says Silver Tompkins.  'Oh, that's it,
eh?' says Wind-River Smith.  'Well, I'm glad I'm not troubled that
way.  I'd rather have a forty-four chest than a number eight head
any day you can find in the almanac.'  And I'm with Smithy.  This
knowing so much it makes you sick ain't any better than being so
healthy you don't know nothing, besides being square miles less
fun.  Another thing about the Eastern folks is they're so sot in
their views, and it don't matter to them whether the facts bear out
their idees or not.

"'Here, take a cigar,' says one of the Board of Directors to me--a
little fat old man, who had to draw in his breath before he could
cross his legs--'them cigarettes'll ruin your health,' says he.
Mind you, he was always kicking and roaring about his liver or
stummick, or some of his works.  I'm a little over six-foot-three
in my boots when I stand up straight, and I stood up straight as
the Lord would let me and gazed down at that little man.
'Pardner,' says I, 'I was raised on cigarettes.  When I was two
years old I used to have a pull at the bottle, and then my
cigarette to aid digestion.  It may be conceit on my part,' I says,
'but I'd rather be a wreck like me than a prize-fighter like you.'
They're queer; you'd think that that little fat man would have
noticed the difference without my pointing it out to him.

"Well, I don't have to mention that Loys stirred things up
considerable around the Chanta Seechee and vicinity.  Gee!  What a
diving into wannegans and a fetching out of good clothes there was.
And trading of useful coats and things for useless but decorating
silk handkerchers and things!  And what a hair cutting and whisker
trimming!

"But Kyle was the man from the go in.  And it was right it should
be so.  If ever two young people were born to make trouble for each
other it was Kyle and Loys.

"A nice, decent fellow was Kyle.  Nothing remarkable, you could
say, and that was one of his best points.  Howsomever, he had a
head that could do plain thinking, a pair of shoulders that
discouraged frivoling, and he was as square a piece of furniture as
ever came out of a factory.  More'n that; he had quite a little
education, saved his money, never got more than good-natured
loaded, and he could ride anything that had four legs, from a
sawhorse to old tiger Buck, who would kick your both feet out of
the sturrups and reach around and bite you in the small of the back
so quick that the boys would be pulling his front hoofs out of your
frame before you'd realize that the canter had begun.  Nice horse,
Buck.  He like to eat Jonesy up one morning before Sliver and me
could get to the corral.  Lord!  The sounds made my blood run cold!
Old Buck squealing like a boar-pig in a wolf trap, and Jonesy
yelling, 'Help!  Murder!  Police!' Even that did not cure Jones
from sticking his nose where it wasn't wanted.  Why, once--but
thunder!  It would take me a long while to tell you all that
happened to Jones.

"One thing that didn't hurt Kyle any in the campaign was that he
was 'most as good-looking for a man as she was for a woman.  They
made a pair to draw to, I tell you, loping over the prairie, full
of health and youngness!  You wouldn't want to see a prettier sight
than they made, and you could see it at any time, for they were
together whenever it was possible.  Loys was so happy it made you
feel like a boy again to see her.  She told me in private that it
was wonderful how the air out here agreed with her, and I said it
was considered mighty bracing, and never let on that they
proclaimed their state of mind every time they looked at each
other.  I reckon old smart-Aleck Jonesy was the only party in the
township who didn't understand.  Kyle used to put vinegar in his
coffee and things like that, and if you'd ask him, 'What's that
fellow's name that runs the clothing store in town?' he'd come out
of his trance and say 'Yes,' and smile very amiable, to show that
he thoroughly admitted you were right.

"Well, things went as smooth and easy as bob-sledding until it came
time for Loys to be moseying back to college again.

"Then Kyle took me into his confidence.  I never was less
astonished in my whole life, and I didn't tell him so.  'Well, what
are you going to do about it?' says I.

"He kind of groaned and shook his head.  'I dunno,' says he.  'Do
you think she likes me, Red?'  I felt like saying, 'Well, if you
ain't got all the traits but the long ears, I miss my guess,' but I
made allowances, and says I, 'Well, about that, I don't think I
ought to say anything; still, if I had only one eye left I could
see plain that her education's finished.  She don't want any more
college, that girl don't.'

"'Think not?' says he, bracing up.  And then, by-and-by, they went
out to ride, for Jonesy was good to the girl, I'll say that for
him.  He was willing to do anything for her in reason, according to
his views.  But Kyle wasn't in them views; he was out of the
picture as far as husbands went.

"They came back at sunset, when the whole world was glowing red the
same as they were.  I reached for the field glasses and took a
squint at them.  There was no harm in that, for they were
well-behaved young folks.  One look at their faces was enough.
There were three of us in the bull-pen--Bob, and Wind-River Smith,
and myself.  We'd brought up a herd of calves from Nanley's ranch,
and we were taking it easy.  'Boys,' says I, under my breath,
'they've made the riffle.'

"'No!' says they, and then everybody had to take a pull at the
glasses.

"'Well, I'm glad,' says Smithy.  And darn my buttons if that old
hardshell's voice didn't shake.  'They're two of as nice kids as
you'd find in many a weary day,' says he.  'And I wish 'em all the
luck in the world.'

"'So do I,' says I, 'and I really think the best we could do for
'em would be to shoot Jones.'

"'Man!  Won't he sizz!' says Bob.  And you can't blame us old
codgers if we had a laugh at that, although it was such a powerful
serious matter to the youngsters.

"'Let's go out and meet 'em,' says I.  And away we went.  They
weren't a particle surprised.  I suppose they thought the whole
universe had stopped to look on.  We pump-handled away and laughed,
and Loys she laughed kind of teary, and Kyle he looked red in the
face and proud and happy and ashamed of himself, and we all felt
loosened up considerable, but I told him on the quiet, 'Take that
fool grin off your face, unless you want Uncle Jones to drop the
moment he sees you.'

"Now they only had three days left to get an action on them, as
that was the time set for Loys to go back to college.

"Next day they held a council behind the big barn, and they called
in Uncle Red--otherwise known as Big Red Saunders, or Chanta
Seechee Red, which means 'Bad-heart Red' in Sioux language, and
doesn't explain me by a durn sight--to get the benefit of his
valuable advice.

"'Skip,' says I.  'Fly for town and get married, and come back and
tell Jonesy about it.  It's a pesky sight stronger argument to tell
him what you have done than what you're going to do.'

"They couldn't quite agree with that.  They thought it was sneaky.

"'So it is,' says I.  'The first art of war is understanding how to
make a grand sneak.  If you don't want to take my advice you can
wait.'  That didn't hit 'em just right either.

"'What will we wait for?' says Kyle.

"'Exercise--and the kind you won't take when you get as old and as
sensible as me.  You're taking long chances, both of you; but it's
just like playing cards, you might as well put all your money on
the first turn, win or lose, as to try and play system.  Systems
don't work in faro, nor love affairs, nor any other game of chance.
Be gone.  Put your marker on the grand raffle.  In other words take
the first horse to town and get married.  Ten chances to one Jonesy
will have the laugh on you before the year is out.'

"'I don't think you are a bit nice to-day, Red,' says Loys.

"'He's jealous,' says Kyle.

"'That's what I am, young man,' says I.  'If I had ten years off my
shoulders, and a little of the glow off my hair, I'd give you a run
for your alley that would leave you breathless at the wind-up.'

"'I think your hair is a beautiful color, Red,' says Loys.  'Many a
woman would like to have it.'

"'Of course they would,' I answered.  'But they don't get it.  I'm
foxy, I am.'  Still I was touched in a tender spot.  That young
woman knew Just the right thing to say, by nature.  'Well, what are
you young folks going to do?' I asked them.

"They decided that they'd think it over until next day, but that
turned out to be too late, for what must Kyle do but get chucked
from his horse and have his leg broke near the hip.  You don't want
to take any love affairs onto the back of a bad horse, now you mark
me!  There was no such thing as downing that boy when he was in his
right mind.

"Now here was a hurrah!  Loys, she dasn't cry, for fear of uncle,
and Kyle, he used the sinfullest language known to the tongue of
man.  'Twas the first time I'd ever heard him say anything much,
but he made it clear that it wasn't because he couldn't.

"'What will we do, Red?  What will we do?' says he.

"'Now,' says I, 'don't bile over like that, because it's bad for
your leg.'

"He cussed the leg.

"'Go on and tell me what we can do,' says he.

"'When you ask me that, you've pulled the right bell,' says I.
'I'll tell you exactly what we'll do.  I go for the doctor.  Savvy?
Well, I bring back the minister at the same time.  Angevine, he
loses the Jersey cow over in the cane-break, and uncle and Angevine
go hunting her, for not even Loys is ace high in uncle's mind
alongside that cow.  The rest is easy.'

"'Red, you're a brick--you're the best fellow alive,' says Kyle,
nearly squeezing the hand off me.

"'I've tried to conceal it all my life, but I knew it would be
discovered some day,' says I.  'Well, I suppose I'd better break
the news to Loys--'twouldn't be any more than polite.'

"'Oh, Lord!  I wonder if she'll be willing?' says he.

"'No reason I shouldn't turn an honest dollar on the
transaction--I'll bet you a month's wages she is,' says I.  He
wanted to do it, thinking I was in earnest, but I laughed at him.

"She was willing all right--even anxious.  There's some women, and
men, too, for that matter, who go through life like a cat through a
back alley, not caring a cuss for either end or the middle.  They
would have been content to wait.  Not so Loys.  She wanted her
Kyle, her poor Kyle, and she wanted him quick.  That's the kind of
people for me!  Your cautious folk are all the time falling down
wells because their eyes are up in the air, keeping tabs so that
they can dodge shooting stars.

"Now, I had a minister friend up in town, Father Slade by name.
No, he was not a Catholic, I think.  They called him 'Father'
because it fitted him.  His church had a steeple on it, anyhow, so
it was no maverick.  Just what particular kind of religion the old
man had I don't know, but I should say he was a homeopath on a
guess.  He looked it.  'Twas a comfort to see him coming down the
street, his old face shining in his white hair like a shrivelled
pink apple in a snowdrift, God-blessing everything in sight--good,
bad, or indifferent.  He had something pleasant to say to all.  We
was quite friends, and every once in a while we'd have a chin about
things.

"'Are you keeping straight, Red?' he'd ask when we parted.

"'Um,' I'd say, 'I'm afraid you'd notice a bend here and there, if
you Slid your eyes along the edge.'

"'Well, keep as straight as you can; don't give up trying, my boy,'
he'd tell me, mighty earnest, and I'd feel ashamed of myself clear
around the corner.

"I knew the old man would do me a favour if it could be done, so I
pulled out easy in my mind.

"First place, I stopped at the doctor's, because I felt they might
fix up the marrying business some other time, but if a leg that's
broke in the upper joint ain't set right, you can see a large
dark-complected hunk of trouble over the party's left shoulder for
the rest of his days.  The doctor was out, so I left word for him
what was wanted, and to be ready when I got back, and pulled for
Father Slade's.  The old gentleman had the rheumatism, and he
groaned when I come in.  Rheumatism's no disease for people who
can't swear.

"'How are you, my boy?' says he; 'I'm glad to see you.  Here am I,
an old man, nipped by the leg, and much wanting to talk to
somebody.'

"I passed the time of day to him, but felt kind of blue.  This
didn't look like keeping my word with the kids.  I really hated to
say anything to the old man, knowing his disposition; still I felt
I had to, and I out with my story.

"'Dear! dear!' says he.  'The hurry and skurry of young folks!  How
idle it seems when you get fifty years away from it, and see how
little anything counts!  For all that, I thank God,' says he, 'that
there's a little red left in my blood yet, which makes me
sympathise with them.  But the girl's people object you say?'

"I made that all clear to him.  The girl's _always_ all right,
Father,' says I, 'and as for the man in this case, my word for him.'

"Now it ain't just the right thing for me to say, but seeing as
I've never had anything in particular to be modest about, and I'm
proud of what the old gentleman told me, I'm going to repeat it.

"'Your word is good for me, Red,' says he.  'You're a mischievous
boy at times, but your heart and your head are both reliable; give
me your arm to the waggon.'

"Then I felt mighty sorry to think of lugging that poor old man all
that ways.

"'Here!' says I.  'Now you sit down again; don't you do anything of
the sort--you ain't fit.'

"He put his hand on my shoulder and hobbled his weight off the game
leg.

"'Reddy, I was sitting there thinking when you came in--thinking of
how comfortable it was to be in an easy-chair with my foot on a
stool, and then I thought, "If the Lord should send me some work to
do, would I be willing?"  Now, thanks be to Him!  I am willing, and
glad to find myself so, and I do not believe there's any work more
acceptable to Him than the union of young folk who love each other.
Ouch!' says he, as that foot touched the ground.  'Perhaps you'd
better pick me up and carry me bodily.'

"So I did it, the old housekeeper following us with an armful of
things and jawing the both of us--him for a fool and me for a
villain.  She was a strong-minded old lady, and I wish I could
remember some of her talk--it was great.

"We went around and got the doctor.

"'Hoo!' says he.  'Is it as bad as that?' I winked at Father Slade.

"'It's a plenty worse than that,' says I; 'you won't know the half
of it till you get down there.'

"But of course we had to tell him, and he was tickled.  Funny what
an interest everybody takes in these happenings.  He wanted all the
details.

"'By Jove!' says he, 'the man whose feelings ain't the least dimmed
by a broken leg--horse rolled on him, you said?  Splintered it,
probably--that man is one of the right sort.  He'll do to tie to.'

"When we reached the ranch the boys were lined up to meet us.
'Hurry along!' they called.  'Angey can't keep uncle amused all
day!'

"So we hustled.  Kyle was for being married first, and then having
his leg set, but I put my foot down flat.  It had gone long enough
now, and I wasn't going to have him cripping it all his life.  But
the doctor worked like a man who gets paid by the piece, and in
less than no time we were able to call Loys in.

"Wind-River Smith spoke to get to give the bride away, and we let
him have it.

"We'd just got settled to business when in comes Angevine, puffing
like a buffalo.  'For Heaven's sakes! Ain't you finished yet?' says
he; 'well, you want to be at it, for the old man ain't over two
minutes behind me, coming fast.  I took the distance in ten-foot
steps.  Just my luck!  Foot slipped when I was talking to him, and
I dropped a remark that made him suspicious--I wouldn't have done
it for a ton of money--but it's too late now.  I'll down him and
hold him out there if you say so.'

"Well, sir, at this old Father Slade stood right up, forgetting
that foot entirely.

"'Children, be ready,' says he, and he went over the line for a
record.

"'Hurry there!' hollers old Bob from the outside, where he was on
watch; 'here comes uncle up the long coulee!'

"'What are your names?' says Father Slade.  They told him, both
red'ning.

"'Do you, Kyle, take this woman, Loys, to have and keep track of,
come hell or high water, her heirs and assigns for ever?'--or such
a matter--says he, all in one breath, They both said they did.

"Things flew till we came to the ring.  There was a hitch.  We had
plumb forgotten that important article.  For a minute I felt
stingy; then I cussed myself for a mean old long-horn, and dived
into my box.

"'Here, take this!' I says.  'It was my mother's!'

"'Oh, Red! You mustn't part with that!' cried Loys, her eyes
filling up.

"'Don't waste time talking; I put through what I tackle.  Hurry,
please, Father.'

"'Has anybody any objections to these proceedings?' says he.

"'I have,' says I, 'but I won't mention 'em.  Give them the
verdict.'

"'I pronounce you man and wife.  Let us pray,' says he.

"'What's that?' screeches Uncle Jonesy from the doorway.  And then
he gave us the queerest prayer you ever heard in your life.  He
stood on one toe and clawed chunks out of the air while he
delivered it.

"He seemed to have it in for me in particular.  'You villain!  You
rascal!  You red-headed rascal!  You did this!  I know you did!'

"'Oh, uncle!' says I, 'forgive me!'  With that I hugged him right
up to me, and he filled my bosom full of smothered language.

"'Cheese it, you little cuss!' I whispered in his ear, 'or I'll
break every rib in your poor old chest!'  I came in on him a
trifle, Just to show him what I could do if I tried.

"'Nuff!' he wheezes.  'Quit.  'Nuff.'

"'Go up and congratulate 'em,' I whispered again.

"'I won't,' says he.  'Ouch!  Yes, I will!  I will!'  So up he
goes, grinding his teeth.

"'I wish you every happiness,' he grunts.

"'Won't you forgive me, uncle?' begs Loys.

"'Some other time; some other time!'  he hollers, and he pranced
out of the house like a hosstyle spider, the maddest little man in
the Territory.

"Loys had a hard time of it until Kyle got so he could travel, and
they went up to the Yellowstone with a team for a wedding trip.

"The rest of Loys's folks was in an unpleasant frame of mind, too.
They sent out her brother, and while I'd have took most anything
from Loys's brother, there comes a place where human nature is
human nature, and the upshot of it was I planked that young man
gently but firmly across my knees.  Suffering Ike!  But he was one
sassy young man!  Howsomever, the whole outfit came round in
time--all except uncle and me.  He used to grit his teeth together
till the sparks flew when he saw me.  I was afraid he'd bust a
blood-vessel in one of them fits, so I quit.  I hated to let go of
the old ranch, but I'm pretty well fixed--I'm superintendent here.
It's Kyle's ranch, you know.  That's his brand--the queer-looking
thing on the left hip of that critter, over the vented hash-knife.
Loys's invention, that is.  She says it's a cherublim, but we call
it the 'flying flap-jack.'  There's a right smart lot of beef
critters toting that signal around this part of the country.
Kyle's one of the fellers that rises like a setting of bread--quiet
and gentle, but steady and sure.  He's going to the State
Legislature next year.  'Twon't do no harm to have one honest man
in the outfit.

"Now, perhaps if I'd married some nice woman I might have had 1,000
steers of my own, and a chance to make rules and regulations for my
feller-citizens--and then again I might have took to gambling and
drinking and raising blazes, and broke my poor wife's broom-handle
with my hard head.  So I reckon we'll let it slide as it is.  Now
you straddle that cayuse of yours and come along with me and I'll
show you some rattling colts."



The Golden Ford

Reddy was on the station platform, walking up and down, looking
about him anxiously.  We caught sight of each other at the same
time.

"Hi, there!" said he and jumped for me.  "Gad-dog your little
hide!" he cried as he put my right hand in line for a pension.  "I
thought I was booked to go without saying good-bye to you--you got
the note I pinned on your shack?"

"Sure."

"Well, there's time for a chin before the choo-choo starts--thought
I'd be early, not savvying this kind of travelling a great deal.
Darned if you ain't growed since I saw you--getting fat, too!
Well, how's everything?  I didn't say nothing to the other boys
about pulling my freight, as I wanted to go sober for once.  You
explain to 'em that old Red's head ain't swelled, will you?  Seems
kind of dirty to go off that way, but I'm bound for God's country
and the old-time folks, and somehow I feel that I must cut the
budge out of it.  'Nother thing is I'm superstitious, as you may or
may not have noticed, and I believe if you try the same game twicet
you'll get just as different results as can be the second time--you
heard how I hit it in the mines, didn't you?  No?  Well, that's so;
you dint seen many people out on the flat, have you?  Hum.  I don't
know principally where to begin.  You remember Wind-River Smith's
pardner that the boys called Shadder, because he was so thin?  Nice
feller, always willing to do you a favour, or say something comical
when you least expected it--had kind of a style with him, too.
Yes, sir, that's the man.  Well him and me was out in the Bend one
day, holding a mess of Oregon half-breeds that was to be shipped by
train shortly, when old Smithy comes with the mail.  'Letter for
you, Shadder,' says Smith, and passes over a big envelope with wads
of sealing wax all over it.  Shadder reads his letter, and folds it
up.  Then he takes a look over the county--the kind of a look a man
gives when he's thinking hard.  Then says he, 'Red, take off your
hat.' I done it.  'Smithy, take off your hat.'  'All right,' says
Smith; 'but you tell me why, or I'll snake the shirt off you to
square things.'

"'Boys,' says Shadder, 'I'm Lord Walford.'

"'Lord Hellford;' hollers Smithy.  'You'd better call somebody in
to look at your plumbing--what you been drinkin', Shadder?'

"'Read for yourself,' says Shadder, and he handed him the letter.

"Wish't you could have seen old Smithy's face as he read it!  He
thought his pardner had been cut out of his herd for ever.

"'It's the God's truth, Red,' says he slowly, and he had a sideways
smile on his face as he turned to Shadder.  'Well, sir,' says he,
'I suppose congratulations are in order?'

"Shadder's hand stopped short on its way to the cigarette, and he
looked at Smithy as if he couldn't believe what he saw.

"'To hell with 'em!' says he, as savage as a wildcat, and he jabbed
the irons in and whirled his cayuse about on one toe, heading for
the ranch.

"'Now you go after him, you jealous old sore-head,' says I.  'Go
on!' I says, as he started to argue the point, 'or I'll spread your
nose all the way down your spinal column!'  The only time to say
'no' to me is when I'm not meaning what I say, so away goes
Wind-River, and they made it up all right in no time.  Well,
Shadder had to pull for England to take a squint at the ancestral
estates, and all of us was right here at this station to see him
off--Lord! it seems as if that happened last world!--well, it took
a little bit the edge off any and all drunks a ranch as an
institution had ever seen before.  There was old Smithy crying
around, wiping his eyes on his sleeve, and explaining to a lot of
Eastern folks that it wasn't Shadder's fault--gad-hook it all!  He
was the best, hootin', tootin' son-of-a-sea-cook that ever hit a
prairie breeze, in spite of this dum foolishness.

"'They can't make no "lord" of Shadder!' hollers Smithy.  'That is,
not for long--he's a _man_, Shadder is--ain't cher, yer damned old
gangle-legged hide-rack?'

"And Shadder never lost his patience at all, though it must have
been kind of trying to be made into such a holy show before the
kind of people he used to be used to.  All he'd say was 'Bet your
life, old boy!'  Well, it was right enough too, as Smithy had
nursed him through small-pox one winter up in the Shoshonee
country, and mighty near starved himself to death feeding Shadder
out of the slim grub stock, when the boy was on the mend; still
some people would have forgot that.

"But did your uncle Red get under the influence of strong drink?
DID he?  Oh _my_!  Oh MY!  I wish I could make it clear to you.
The vigilantes put after a horse thief once in Montana, and they
landed on him in a butt-end canon, and there was all the stock with
the brands on 'em as big as a patent medicine sign, as the lad
hadn't had time to stop for alterations.

"'Well,' says they, 'what have you got to say for yourself?'  He
looked at them brands staring him in the face, and he bit off a
small hunk of chewing 'Ptt-chay!'  Says he, 'Gentlemen, I'm at a
loss for words!'  And they let him go, as a good joke is worth its
price in any man's country.  I'm in that lad's fix; I ain't got the
words to tell you how seriously drunk I was on that occasion.  I
remember putting for what I thought was the hotel, and settling
down, thinking there must be a lulu of a scrap in the barroom from
the noise; then somebody gave me a punch in the ribs and says,
'Where's your ticket?' and I don't know what I said nor what he
said after that, but it must have been all right.  Then it got
light and I met a lot of good friends I never saw before nor since;
then more noise and trouble and at last I woke up.--in a hotel
bedroom, all right, but not the one I was used to.  I went to the
window, heaved her open and looked out.  It was a bully morning and
I felt A1.  There was a nice range of mountains out in front of me
that must have come up during' the night.  'I'd like to know where
I am,' I thinks.  'But somebody will tell me before long, so there
is no use worrying about that--the main point is, have I been
touched?'  I dug down into my jeans and there wasn't a thing of any
kind to remember me by.  'No,' I says to myself, 'I ain't been
touched--I've been grabbed--they might have left me the price of a
breakfast!  Well, it's a nice looking country, anyhow!'  So down I
walks to the office.  A cheerful-seeming plump kind of a man was
sitting behind the desk.  'Hello!' says he, glancing up and smiling
as I came in.  'How do you open up this morning?'

"'Somebody saved me the trouble,' says I.  'I'm afraid I'll have to
give you the strong arm for breakfast.'

"He grinned wide.  'Oh, it ain't as bad as that, I hardly reckon,'
says he.  He dove into a safe and brought out a cigar-box.

"'When a gentleman's in the condition you was in last night,' he
says, 'I always make it a point to go through his clothes and take
out anything a stranger might find useful, trusting that there
won't be no offence the next morning.  Here's your watch and the
rest of your valuables, including the cash--count your money and
see if it's right.'

"Well, sir! I was one happy man, and I thanked that feller as I
thumbed over the bills, but when I got up to a hundred and seventy
I begun to feel queer.  Looked like I'd made good money on the trip.

"'What's the matter?' says he, seeing my face.  'Nothing wrong, I
hope!'

"'Why, the watch and the gun, and the other things is all right,'
says I.  'But I'm now fifty dollars to the good, even figuring that
I didn't spend a cent, which ain't in the least likely, and here's
ten-dollar bills enough to make a bed-spread left over.'

"'Pshaw!' says he.  'Blame it!  I've mixed your plunder up with the
mining gentleman that came in at the same time.  You and him was
bound to fight at first, and then you both turned to to lick me,
and what with keeping you apart and holding you off, and taking
your valuables away from you all at the same time, and me all alone
here as it was the night-man's day-off, I've made a blunder of it.
Just take your change out of the wad, and call for a drink on me
when you feel like it, will you?'

"I said I would do that, and moreover that he was an officer and a
gentleman, and that I'd stay at his hotel two weeks at least to
show my appreciation, no matter where it was, but to satisfy a
natural curiosity, I'd like to know what part of the country I was
at present inhabiting.

"'You're at Boise, Idaho,' says he, 'one of the best little towns
in the best little Territory in the United States of America,
including Alaska.'

"'Well . . .' says I.  'Well . . .' for again I was at a loss for
words.  I had no idea I'd gone so far from home.  'I believe what
you say,' says I.  'What do you do around these parts?'

"'Mining,' says he.  'You're just in time--big strike in the
Bob-cat district.  Poor man's mining.   Placer, and durned good
placer, right on the top of the ground.  The mining gentleman I
spoke about is having his breakfast now.  Suppose you go in and
have a talk with him?  Nice man, drunk or sober, although excitable
when he's had a little too much, or not quite enough.  He might put
you onto a good thing.  I'm not a mining person myself.'

"'Thanks,' says I, and in I went to the dining room.

There was a great, big, fine-looking man eating his ham and eggs
the way I like to see a man eat the next morning.  He had a black
beard that was so strong it fairly jumped out from his face.

"'Mornin',' says I.

"'Good morning', sir!' says he.  'A day of commingled lucent
clarity and vernal softness, ain't it?'

"'Well, I wouldn't care to bet on that without going a little
deeper into the subject,' says I; 'but it smells good at least--so
does that ham and eggs.  Mary, I'll take the same, with coffee
extra strong.'

"'You have doubtless been attracted to our small but growing city
from the reports--which are happily true--of the inexhaustible
mineral wealth of the surrounding region?' says he.

"'No-o--not exactly,' says I; 'but I do want to hear something
about mines.  Mr. Hotel-man out there (who's a gentleman of the old
school if ever there lived one) told me that you might put me on to
a good thing.'

"'Precisely,' says he.  'Now, sir, my name is Jones--Agamemnon G.
Jones--and my pardner, Mr. H. Smith, is on a business trip, selling
shares of our mine, which we have called "The Treasury" from
reasons which we can make obvious to any investor.  The shares, Mr.
------'

"'Saunders--Red Saunders--Chantay Seeche Red.'

"'Mr. Saunders, are fifty cents apiece, which price is really only
put upon them to avoid the offensive attitude of dealing them out
as charity.  As a matter of fact, this mine of ours contains a
store of gold which would upset the commercial world, were the bare
facts of its extent known.  There is neither sense nor amusement in
confining such enormous treasure in the hands of two people.
Consequently, my pardner and I are presenting an interest to the
public, putting the nominal figure of fifty cents a share upon it,
to save the feelings of our beneficiaries.'

"'What the devil do I care?' says I.  'I'm looking for a chance to
dig--could you tell a man where to go?'

"'Oh!' says he, 'when you come to that, that's different.  Strictly
speaking, my pardner Hy hasn't gone off on a business trip.  As a
matter of fact, he left town night before last with two-thirds of
the money we'd pulled out of a pocket up on Silver Creek, in the
company of two half-breed Injuns, a Chinaman, and four more
sons-of-guns not classified, all in such a state of beastly
intoxication that their purpose, route, and destination are matters
of the wildest conjecture.  I've been laying around town here
hating myself to death, thinking perhaps I could sell some shares
in a mine that we'll find yet, if we have good luck.  If you want
to go wild-catting over the hills and far away, I'm your
huckleberry.'

"'That hits me all right,' says I.  'For, what I don't know about
mining, nobody don't know.  When do we start?'

"'This, or any other minute,' says he, getting up from the table.

"'Wait till I finish up these eggs,' says I.  'And there's a matter
of one drink coming to me outside--I may as well put that where it
won't harm any one else before we start.'

"'All right!' says he, waving his hand.  'You'll find me
outside--at your pleasure, sir.'

"I swallered the rest of my breakfast whole and hustled out to the
bar, where my friend and the Hotel-man was waiting.  'Now I'll take
that drink that's coming, and rather than be small about it, I'll
buy one for you too, and then we're off,' says I.

"'You won't do no such thing,' says the Hotel-man.  'It's a horse
on me, and I'll supply the liquor.  Mr. Jones is in the play as
much as anybody.'

"So the Hotel-man set 'em up, and that made one drink.  Then Jones
said he'd never let a drink suffer from lonesomeness yet when he
had the price, and that made two drinks.  I had to uphold the
honour of the ranch, and that made three drinks.  Hotel-man said it
was up-sticks now, and he meant to pay his just debts like an
honest man, and that made four drinks, then Jones said--well, by
this time I see I needn't have hurried breakfast so much.  More
people came in.  I woke up the next morning in the same old
bedroom.  Every breakfast Aggy and me got ready to pull for the
mines, and every morning I woke up in the bedroom.  I should like
to draw a veil over the next two weeks, but it would have to be a
pretty strong veil to hold it.  I tried to keep level with Aggy,
but he'd spend three dollars to my one, and the consequence of that
was that we went broke within fifteen minutes of each other.

"Well, sir, we were a mournful pair to draw to that day.  We sat
there and cussed and said, 'Now, why didn't we do this, that, and
t'other thing instead of blowing our hard earned dough?'--till
bimeby we just dripped melancholy, you might say.   Howsomever, we
weren't booked for a dull time just yet.  That afternoon there was
a great popping of whips like an Injun skirmish and into town comes
a bull train half-a-mile long.  Twelve yoke of bulls to the team;
lead, swing, and trail waggons for each, as big as houses on
wheels.  You don't see the like of that in this country.  Down the
street they come, the dust flying, whips cracking and the lads
hollering 'Whoa haw, Mary--up there!  Wherp! whoa haw.'

"And those fellers had picked up dry throats, walking in the dust.
Also, they had a month's wages aching in their pockets.  We hadn't
much mor'n got the thump of their arrival out of our ears, when who
comes roaring into town but the Bengal Tiger gang, and they had
four months' wages.  Owner of the mine got on a bender and paid
everybody off by mistake.  You can hardly imagine how this livened
up things.  There ain't nobody less likely to play lame-duck than
me, but there was no dodging the hospitality.  The only idea
prevailing was to be rid of the money as soon as possible.  The
effects showed right off.  You could hear one man telling the folks
for their own good that he was the Old Missouri River, and when he
felt like swelling his banks, it was time for parties who couldn't
swim to hunt the high ground; whilst the gentleman on the next
corner let us know that he was a locomotive carrying three hundred
pounds of steam with the gauge still climbing and the blower on.
When he whistled three times, he said, any intelligent man would
know that there was danger around.

"Well, sir, I put the Old Missouri River to bed that night, and
he'd flattened out to a very small streamlet indeed, while the
locomotive went lame before supper, and had to be put in the
round-house by a couple of pushers.  That's the way with fine
ideas.  Cold facts comes and puts a crimp in them.  Once I knew a
small feller I could have stuck in my pocket and forgot about, but
when we went out and took several prescriptions together on a day,
he spoke to me like this.  'Red,' says he, 'put your little hand in
mine, and we'll go and take a bird's-eye view of the Universe.'
Astonishin' idea, wasn't it?  And him not weighing over a hundred
pound.  Howsomever, he didn't take any bird's-eye view of the
Universe--he only become strikingly indisposed.

"Well, to get back to Boise, you never in all your life saw so many
men and brothers as was gathered there that day, and old Aggy, he
was one of the centres of attraction.  That big voice and black
beard was always where the crowd was thickest, and the wet goods
flowing the freest.  'Gentlemen!' says he, 'Let's lift up our
voices in melody!'  That was one of Ag's delusions--he thought he
could sing.  So four of 'em got on top of a billiard table and
presented 'Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep' to the company, which
made me feel glad that I hadn't been brought up that way.  After Ag
had hip-locked the last low note, another song-bird volunteered.

"This was a little fat Dutchman, with pale blue eyes and a mustache
like two streaks of darning cotton.  He had come to town to sell a
pair of beef-steers, but got drawn into the general hilarity, and
now he didn't care a cuss whether he, she, or it ever sold another
steer.  He got himself on end and sung 'Leeb Fadderlont moxtrue
eckstein' in a style that made you wonder that the human nose could
stand the strain.

"'Aw, cheese that!' says a feller near the door.  'Come get your
steers, one of 'em's just chased the barber up a telegraph pole!'

"So then we all piled out into the street to see the steers.  Sure
enough, there was the barber, sitting on the cross-piece, and the
steer pawing dirt underneath.

"'He done made me come a fast heat from de cohner,' says the
barber.  'I kep' hollerin' "next!" but he ain't pay no 'tention--he
make it "next" fur me, shuah!  Yah, yah, yah!  You gents orter seen
me start at de bottom, an' slide all de way up disyer telegraft
pole!'

"One of the bull-whackers went out to rope the steers, and Ag gave
directions from the sidewalk.  He wasn't very handy with a riata,
and that's a fact, but the way Ag lit into him was scandalous.
When he'd missed about six casts of his rope, Ag opened up on him:

"'Put a stamp on it and send it to him by mail,' says Aggy, in his
sourcastic way.  'Address it, "Bay Steer, middle of Main St.,
Boise, Idaho.  If not delivered within ten days, return to owner,
who can use it to hang himself."  Blast my hide if I couldn't stand
here and throw a box-car nearer to the critter!  Well, _well_,
WELL!  How many left hands have you got, anyhow?  Do it up in a wad
and heave it at him for general results--he might get tangled in
it.'

"It rattled the bull-whacker, having so much attention drawn to
him, and he stepped on the rope and twisted himself up in it and
was flying light generally.

"'Say!' says Ag, appealing to the crowd, 'won't some kind friend
who's fond of puzzles go down and help that gentleman do himself?'

"That made the whacker mad.  He was as red in the face as a lobster.

"'You come down and show what _you_ can do," says he.  'You've got
gas enough for a balloon ascension, but that may be all there is to
you.'

"'Oh, I ain't so much,' says Aggy, 'although I'm as good a man
to-day as ever I was in my life--but I have a little friend here
who can rope, down, and ride that critter from here to the
brick-front in five minutes by the watch; and if you've got a
twenty-five dollar bill in your pocket, or its equivalent in dust,
you can observe the experiment.'

"'I'll go you, by gosh!' says the bull-whacker, slapping his hat on
the ground and digging for his pile.

"'Say, if you're referring to me, Ag,' I says, 'it's kind of a
sudden spring--I ain't what you might call in training, and that
steer is full of triple-extract of giant powder.'

"'G'wan!' says Ag.  'You can do it--and then we're twenty-five
ahead.'

"'But suppose we lose?'

"'Well . . .  It won't be such an awful loss.'

"'Now you look here, Agamemnon G. Jones,' says I, 'I ain't going to
stand for putting up a summer breeze ag'in' that feller's good
dough--that's a skin game, to speak it pleasantly.'

"Then Aggy argues the case with me, and when Aggy started to argue,
you might just as well 'moo' and chase yourself into the corral,
because he'd get you, sure.  Why, that man could sit in the cabin
and make roses bloom right in the middle of the floor; whilst he
was singing his little song you could see 'em and smell 'em; he
could talk a snowbank off a high divide in the middle of February.
Never see anybody with such a medicine tongue, and in a big man it
was all the stranger.  'Now,' he winds up, 'as for cheating that
feller, _you_ ought to know me better, Red--why, I'll give him my
note!'

"So, anyhow, I done it.  Up the street we went, steer bawling and
buck-jumping, my hair a-flying, and me as busy as the little bee
you read about keeping that steer underneath me, 'stead of on top
of me, where he'd ruther be, and after us the whole town, whoopin',
yellin', crackin' off six-shooters, and carryin' on wild.

"Then we had twenty-five dollars and was as good as anybody.  But
it didn't last long.  The tin-horns come out after pay-day, like
hop-toads after a rain.  'Twould puzzle the Government at
Washington to know where they hang out in the meantime.  There was
one lad had a face on him with about as much expression as a hotel
punkin pie.  He run an arrow game, and he talked right straight
along in a voice that had no more bends in it than a billiard cue.

"'Here's where you get your three for one any child may do it no
chance to lose make your bets while the arrow of fortune swings all
gents accommodated in amounts from two-bits to double-eagles and
bets paid on the nail,' says he.

"'Red,' says Aggy, 'I can double our pile right here--let me have
the money.  I know this game.'  You'd hardly believe it, but I dug
up.  'Double-or-quits?' says he to the dealer.

"'Let her go,' says the dealer; the arrow swung around.  'Quits,'
says the dealer, and raked in my dough.  It was all over in one
second.

"I grabbed Aggy by the shoulder and took him in the corner for a
private talk.  'I thought you knew this game?' says I.

"'I do,' says he.  'That's the way it always happens.'  And once
more in my life I experienced the peculiar feeling of being
altogether at a loss for words.

"'Aggy,' says I at last, 'I've got a good notion to lay two violent
hands on you, and wind you up like an eight-day clock, but rather
than make hard feelings between friends, I'll refrain.  Besides you
are a funny cuss, that's sure.  One thing, boy, you can mark down.
We leave here to-morrow morning.'

"'All right,' says Ag.  'This sporting life is the very devil.  I
like out doors as well as the next man, when I get there.'

"So the morrow morning, away we went.  All we had for kit was the
picks, shovels, and pans; the rest of our belongings was staying
with the Hotel-man until we made a rise.

"Ag said he'd be cussed if he'd walk.  A hundred and fifty miles of
a stroll was too many.

"'But we ain't got a cent to pay the stage fare,' says I.

"'Borrow it of Uncle Hotel-keep,' says he.

"'Not by a town site,' says I.  'We owe him all we're going to, at
this very minute--you'll have to hoof it, that's all.'

"'I tell you I won't.  I don't like to have anybody walk on my
feet, not even myself.  I can stand off that stage driver so easy,
that you'll wonder I don't take it up as a profession.  Now, don't
raise any more objections--please don't,' says he.  'I can't tell
you how nervous you make me, always finding some fault with
everything I try to do.  That's no way for a hired man to act, let
alone a pardner.'

"So, of course, he got the best of me as usual, and we climbed into
the stage when she come along.  Now, our bad luck seemed to hold,
because you wouldn't find many men in that country who wouldn't
stake two fellers to a waggon ride wherever they wanted to go, and
be pleasant about it, I'd have sure seen that the man got paid,
even if Aggy forgot it, but the man that drove us was the surliest
brute that ever growled.  When you'd speak to him, he'd say,
'Unh'--a style of thing that didn't go well in that part of the
country.  I kept my mouth shut, as knowing that I didn't have the
come-up-with weighed on my spirits; but Aggy gave him the jolly.
He only meant it in fun, and there was plenty of reason for it,
too, for you never seen such a game of driving as that feller put
up in all your life.  The Lord save us!  He cut around one corner
of a mountain, so that for the longest second I've lived through,
my left foot hung over about a thousand feet of fresh air.  I'd
have had time to write my will before I touched bottom if we'd gone
over.  I don't know as I turned pale, but my hair ain't been of the
same rosy complexion since.

"'Well!' says Aggy in a surprised tone of voice when we got all
four wheels on the ground again.  'Here we are!' says he.  'Who'd
have suspected it?  I thought he was going to take the short cut
down to the creek.'

"The driver turned round with one corner of his lip h'isted--a dead
ringer of a mean man--Says he to Aggy, 'Yer a funny bloke, ain't
yer?'

"'Why!' says Ag, 'that's for you to say--wouldn't look well coming
from me--but if you press me, I'll admit I give birth to a little
gem now and then.'

"Our bold buck puts on a great swagger.  'Well yer needn't be funny
in this waggon,' says he.  'The pair of yer spongin' a ride!  Yer
needn't be gay--yer hear me, don't cher?'

"'Why, I hear you as plain as though you set right next me,' says
Ag.  'Now, you listen and see if I'm audible at the same
range--You're a blasted chump!' he roars, in a tone of voice that
would have carried forty mile.  Did _you_ hear that, Red?' he asks
very innocent.  I was so hot at the driver's sass--the cussed
low-downness of doing a feller a favour and then heaving it at
him--that you could have lit a match on me anywheres, but to save
me I couldn't help laughing--Ag had the comicallest way!

"At that the driver begins to larrup the horses.  I ain't the kind
to feel faint when a cayuse gets what's coming to him for raising
the devil, but to see that lad whale his team because there wasn't
nothing else he dared hit, got me on my hind legs.  I nestled one
hand in his hair and twisted his ugly mug back.

"'Quit that!' says I.

"'You let me be--I ain't hurting _you_,' he hollers.

"'That ain't to say I won't be hurting you soon,' says I.  'You put
the bud on them horses again, and I'll boot the spine of your back
up through the top of your head till it stands out like a
flag-staff.  Just one more touch, and you get it!' says I.

"He didn't open his mouth again till we come to the river.  Then he
pulled up.  'This is about as far as I care to carry you two gents
for nothin',' he says.  'Of course you're two to one, and I can't
do nothing if you see fit to bull the thing through.  But I'll say
this: if either one or both of you roosters has got the least smell
of a gentleman about him, he won't have to be told his company
ain't wanted twice.'

"Now, mind you, Ag and me didn't have the first cussed thing--not
grub, nor blankets, nor gun, nor nothing; and this the feller well
knew.

"'Red,' says Aggy, 'what do you say to pulling this thing apart and
seeing what makes it act so?'

"'No,' says I, 'don't touch it--it might be catching.  Now, you
whelp!' says I to the driver, 'you tell us if there's a place where
we can get anything to eat around here?'  We'd expected to go
hungry until we hit the camp some forty mile further on, where we
knew there'd be plenty for anybody that wanted it.

"'Yes,' says he; 'there's a man running a shack two mile up the
river.'

"'All right,' says I.  'Drive on.  You've played us as dirty a
trick as one man can play another.  If we ever get a cinch on you,
you can expect we'll pull her till the latigoes snap.'

"He kept shut till he got across the river, where he felt safe.

"'It's all right about that cinch!' he hollers back, grinning.
'Only wait till you get it, yer suckers!  Sponges!  Beats!
Dead-heads!  Yah!'

"Well, a man can't catch a team of horses, and that's all there is
about it, but I want to tell you he was on the anxious seat for a
quarter of a mile.  We tried hard.

"When we got back to where we started and could breathe again, we
held a council of war.

"'Now Aggy,' says I, 'we're dumped--what shall we do?'

He sat there awhile looking around him, snapping pebbles with his
thumb.

"'Tell you what it is, Red,' he says at last, 'we might as well go
mining right here.  This is likely gravel, and there's a river.  If
that bar in front of you had been further in the mountains, it
would have been punched full of holes.  It's only because it's on
the road that nobody's taken the trouble to see what was in it.
This road was made by cattle ranchers, that didn't know nothing
about mining, and every miner that's gone over the trail had his
mouth set to get further along as quick as possible--just like us.
Do you see that little hollow running down to the river?  Well you
try your luck there.  I give you that place as it's the most
probable, and you as a tenderfoot in the business will have all the
luck.  I'll make a stab where I am.'

"Well, sir, it sounds queer to tell it, and it seems queerer still
to think of the doing of it, but I hadn't dug two feet before I
come to bed rock, and there was some heavy black chunks.

"'Aggy,' says I, 'what's these things?' throwing one over to him.
He caught it and Stared at it.

"'Where did you get that?' says he, in almost a whisper.

"'Why, out of the hole, of course!' says I, laughing.  'Come take a
look!'

"Aggy wasn't the kind of man to go off the handle over trifles, but
when he looked into that hole he turned perfectly green.  His knees
give out from under him and he sat on the ground like a man in a
trance, wiping the sweat off his face with a motion like a machine.

"'What the devil ails you?' says I astonished.  I thought maybe I'd
done something I hadn't ought to do, through ignorance of the rules
and regulations of mining.

"'Red,' says he dead solemn, 'I've mined for twenty year, and from
Old Mexico to Alaska, but I never saw anything that was ace-high to
that before.  Gold laying loose in chunks on top of the bed-rock is
too much for me--I wish Hy could see this.'

"'Gold!' says I.  'What you talking about?  What have those black
hunks to do with gold?'

"The only answer he made was to lay the one I had thrown to him on
top of a rock and hit her a crack with a pick.  Then he handed it
to me.  Sure enough!  There under the black was the yeller.  Of
course, it I'd known more about the business I could have told it
by the weight, but I'd never seen a piece of gold fresh off the
farm before in my life.  I hadn't the slightest idea what it looked
like, and I learned afterward it all looks different.  Some of it
shines up yaller in the start; some of it's red, and some is like
ours, coated black with iron-crust.

"So I looked at Ag, and Ag looked at me, neither one of us
believing anything at all for awhile.  I simply couldn't get hold
of the thing--I ain't yet, for that matter.  I expect to wake up
and find it a pipe dream, and in some ways I wouldn't mind if it
was.  I never was so completely two men as I was on that occasion.
One of 'em was hopping around and hollering with Ag, yelling
'hooray!' and the other didn't take much interest in the
proceedings at all.  And it wasn't until I thought, 'Now I can pay
that cussed cayote of a stage driver what I owe him!' that I got
any good out of it.  That brought it home to me.  When I spoke to
Ag about paying the driver, he says, 'That's so,' then he takes a
quick look around.  'We can pay him in full, too, old horse!' he
hollers, and there was a most joyful smile on his face.

"'Red,' say he, 'do you know this is the only ford on the river
for--I don't know how many miles--perhaps the whole length of her?'

"'Well?' says I.

"'Our little placer claim,' says Aggy slowly, rubbing his hands
together, 'covers that ford; and by a judicious taking up of claims
for various uncles and brothers and friends of ours along the creek
on the lowlands, we can fix it so they can't even bridge it.'

"'Do you mean they can't cross our claim if we say they can't?'

"'Sure thing!' says Aggy.  'There's you and me and the law to say
"no" to that--I wish I had a gun.'

"'You don't need any gun for that skunk of a driver.'

"'Of course not, but there'll be passengers, and there's no telling
how excited them passengers will be when they find they've got to
go over the hills ford-hunting.'

"'Are you going to send 'em all around, Ag?'

"'The whole bunch.  Anybody coming back from the diggings has gold
in his clothes, so it won't hurt 'em none, and I propose to give
that stage line an advertising that won't do it a bit of good.
Come along, Red; let's see that lad that has the shack up the
river.  We need something to eat, and maybe he's got a gun.  If
he's a decent feller, we'll let him in on a claim.  Never mind
about the hole!--it won't run away, and there's nobody to touch
anything--come on.'

"So we went up the river.  The man's name was White, and he was a
white man by nature, too.  He fed us well, and was just as hot as
us when we told him about the stage driver's trick.  Then we told
him about the find and let him in.

"'Now,' says Aggy, 'have you got a gun?'

"'I have _that_,' says the man.  'My dad used to be a duck-hunter
on Chesapeake bay.  When you say "gun," _I'll_ show you a gun.' He
dove in under his bunk and fetched out what I should say was a
number one bore shot gun, with barrels six foot long.

"'Gentlemen,' says he, holding the gun up and patting it lovingly,
'if you ram a quarter-pound of powder in each one of them barrels,
and a handful of buck-shot on top of that, you've got an argument
that couldn't be upset by the Supreme Court.  I'll guarantee that
when you point her anywheres within ten feet of a man not over a
hundred yards away, and let her do her duty, all the talent that
that man's fambly could employ couldn't gather enough of him to
recognise him by, and you won't be in bed more'n long enough to
heal a busted shoulder.'

"'I hope it ain't going to be my painful line of performance to
pull the trigger,' says Aggy.  'I think the sight of her would have
weight with most people.  When's the stage due back?'

"'Day after to-morrow, about noon.'

"'That gives us lots of time to stake, and to salt claims that
can't show cause their own selves,' says Aggy.  'I think we're all
right.'

"The next day we worked like the Old Harry.  We had everything
fixed up right by nightfall, and there was nothing to do but dig
and wait.

"Curious folks we all are, ain't we?  I should have said my own
self that if I'd found gold by the bucketful, I'd be more
interested in that, than I would be in getting even with a mut that
had done me dirt, but it wasn't so.  Perhaps it was because I
hadn't paid much attention to money all my life, and I had paid the
strictest attention to the way other people used me.  Living where
there's so few folks accounts for that, I suppose.

"Getting even on our esteemed friend the stage driver was right in
your Uncle Reddy's line, and Aggy and our new pard White seemed to
take kindly to it, also.

"If ever you saw three faces filled with innocent glee, it was when
we heard the wheels of that stage coming--why, the night before I
was woke up by somebody laughing.  There was Aggy sound asleep,
sitting up hugging himself in the moonlight.

"'Oh, my! Oh, MY!' says he.  'It's the only ford for four thousand
miles!'

"We planted a sign in the middle of the road with this wording on
it in big letters, made with the black end of a stick.


    NOTICE!!

  THIS AND ADJOINING CLAIMS ARE THE
  PROPERTY OF AGAMEMNON G. JONES,
  RED SAUNDERS, JOHN HENRY WHITE,
  ET AL.

  TRESPASSING DONE AT YOUR OWN
  RISK.  OWNERS WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE
  FOR THE REMAINS.


"There was a stretch of about a mile on the level before us.  When
the stage come in plain sight Aggy proceeds to load up 'Old Moral
Suasion,' as he called her, so that the folks could see there was
no attempt at deception.  They come pretty fairly slow after that.
At fifty yards, Ag hollers 'Halt!'  The team sat right down on
their tails.

"'Now, Mr. Snick'umfritz,' says Aggy, 'you that drives, I mean,
come here and read this little sign.'

"'Suppose I don't?' says the feller, trying to be smart before the
passengers.

"'It's a horrible supposition,' says Aggy, and the innocent will
have to suffer with the guilty.'  Then he cocks the gun.

"'God sakes!  Don't shoot!' yells one of the passengers.  'Man, you
ought to have more sense than to try and pick him out of a crowd
with a shot-gun!  Get down there, you fool, and make it quick!'

"So the driver walked our way, and read.  He never said a word.  I
reckon he realized it was the only ford for four thousand miles,
more or less, just as Aggy had remarked.  There he stood, with his
mouth and eyes wide open.

"'I'd like to have you other gentlemen come up and see our first
clean up, so you won't think we're running in a windy,' says Aggy.
They wanted to see bad, as you can imagine, and when they did see
about fifteen pound of gold in the bottom of my old hat, they
talked like people that hadn't had a Christian bringing up.

"'Oh Lord!' groans one man.  'Brigham Young and all the prophets of
the Mormon religion!  This is my tenth trip over this line, and me
and Pete Hendricks played a game of seven-up right on the spot
where that gent hit her, not over a month ago, when the stage broke
down!  Somebody just make a guess at the way I feel and give me one
small drink.' And he put his hand to his head.  'Say, boys!' he
goes on, 'you don't want the whole blamed creek, do you?  Let _us_
in!'

"'How's that, fellers?' says Ag to me and White.  We said we was
agreeable.

"'All right, in you come!' says Aggy.  'There ain't no hog about
our firm--but as for you,' says he, walking on his tip-toes up to
the driver, 'as for you, you cock-eyed whelp, around you go!
Around you go!' he hollers, jamming the end of Moral Suasion into
the driver's trap.  'Oh, and WON'T you go 'round, though!' says he.
'Listen to me, now: if any one of your ancestors for twenty-four
generations back had ever done anything as decent as robbing a
hen-coop, it would have conferred a kind of degree of nobility upon
him.  It wouldn't be possible to find an ornerier cuss than you, if
a man raked all hell with a fine-toothed comb.  Now, you
stare-coated, mangey, bandy-legged, misbegotten, out-law coyote,
fly!--fly!' whoops Aggy, jumping four foot in the air, 'before I
squirt enough lead into your system to make it a paying job to melt
you down!'

"The stage driver acted according to orders.  Three wide steps and
he was in the waggon, and with one screech like a p'izened bob-cat,
he fairly lifted the cayuses over the first ridge.  Nobody never
saw him any more, and nobody wanted to.

"So that's the way I hit my stake, son, just as I'd always
expected--by not knowing what I was doing any part of the time--and
now, there comes my iron-horse coughing up the track!  I'll write
you sure, boy, and you let old Reddy know what's going on--and on
your life, don't forget to give it to the lads straight why I
sneaked off on the quiet!  I've got ten years older in the last six
months.  Well, here we go quite fresh, and damned if I altogether
want to, neither--too late to argue though--by-bye, son!"



When the Chinook Struck Fairfield

I

Miss Mattie sat on her little front porch,  facing the setting sun.
Across the road, now ankle deep in June dust, was the wreck of the
Peters place: back-broken roof, crumbling chimneys, shutters
hanging down like broken wings, the old house had the pathetic
appeal of ship-wrecked gentility.  A house without people in it,
even when it is in repair, is as forlorn as a dog who has lost his
master.

Up the road were more houses of the nondescript village pattern,
made neither for comfort nor looks.  God knows why they built such
houses--perhaps it was in accordance with the old Puritan idea that
any kind of physical perfection is blasphemy.  Some of these were
kept in paint and window glass, but there were enough poor
relations to spoil the effect.

Down the road, between the arches of the weeping willows, came
first the brook, with the stone bridge--this broken as to coping
and threadbare in general--then on the hither side of the way some
three or four neighbour's houses, and opposite, the blacksmith's
shop and post-office, the latter, of course, in a store, where you
could buy anything from stale groceries to shingles.

In short, Fairfield was an Eastern village whose cause had
departed.  A community drained of the male principle, leaving only
a few queer men, the blacksmith, and some halfling boys, to give
tone to the background of dozens of old maids.

An unsympathetic stranger would have felt that nothing was left to
the Fairfieldians but memory, and the sooner they lost that, the
better.

Take a wineglassful of raspberry vinegar, two tablespoonsful of
sugar, half a cup each of boneset and rhubarb, a good full cup of
the milk of human kindness, dilute in a gallon of water, and you
have the flavor of Fairfield.  There was just enough of each
ingredient to spoil the taste of all the rest.

Miss Mattie rested her elbow on the railing, her chin in her hand,
and gazed thoughtfully about her.  As a matter of fact, she was the
most inspiring thing in view.  At a distance of fifty yards she was
still a tall, slender girl.  Her body retained the habit, as well
as the lines of youth; a trick of gliding into unexpected, pleasing
attitudes, which would have been awkward but for the suppleness of
limb to which they testified, and the unconsciousness and ease of
their irregularity.

Her face was a child's face in the ennobling sense of the word.
The record of the years written upon it seemed a masquerade--the
face of a clear-eyed girl of fourteen made up to represent her own
aunt at a fancy dress party.  A face drawn a trifle fine, a little
ascetic, but balanced by the humour of the large, shapely mouth,
and really beautiful in bone and contour.  The beauty of
mignonette, and doves, and gentle things.

You could see that she was thirty-five, in the blatant candor of
noon, but now, blushed with the pink of the setting sun, she was
still in the days of the fairy prince.

Miss Mattie's revery idled over the year upon year of respectable
stupidity that represented life in Fairfield, while her eyes and
soul were in the boiling gold of the sky-glory.  She sighed.

A panorama of life minced before Miss Mattie's mind about as vivid
and full of red corpuscles as a Greek frieze.  Her affectionate
nature was starved.  They visited each other, the ladies of
Fairfield--these women who had rolled on the floor together as
babies--in their best black, or green or whatever it might be, and
gloves!  This, though the summer sun might be hammering down with
all his might.  And then they sat in a closed room and talked in a
reserved fashion which was entirely the property of the call.  Of
course, one could have a moment's real talk by chance meeting, and
there were the natural griefs of life to break the corsets of this
etiquette, although in general, the griefs seemed to be long drawn
out and conventional affairs, as if nature herself at last yielded
to the system, conquered by the invincible conventionality and
stubbornness of the ladies of Fairfield.  It was the unspoken but
firm belief of each of these women, that a person of their circle
who had no more idea of respectability than to drop dead on the
public road would never go to Heaven.

Poor Miss Mattie!  Small wonder she dropped her hands, sat back and
wondered, with another sigh, if it were for this she was born?  She
did not rebel--there was no violence in her--but she regretted
exceedingly.  In spite of her slenderness, it was a wide,
mother-lap in which her hands rested, an obvious cradle for little
children.  And instinctively it would come to you as you looked at
her, that there could be no more comfortable place for a tired man
to come home to, than a household presided over by this
slow-moving, gentle woman.  There was nothing old-maidish about
Miss Mattie but the tale of her years.  She had had offers, such as
Fairfield and vicinity could boast, and declined them with tact,
and the utmost gratitude to the suitor for the compliment; but her
"no" though mild was firm, for there lay within her a certain quiet
valiant spirit, which would rather endure the fatigue and
loneliness of old age in her little house, than to take a larger
life from any but the man who was all.  A commonplace in fiction;
in real life sometimes quite a strain.

The sun distorted himself into a Rugby football, and hurried down
as though to be through with Fairfield as soon as possible.  It was
a most magnificent sun-set; flaming, gorgeous, wild--beyond the
management of the women of Fairfield--and Miss Mattie stared into
the heart of it with a longing for something to happen.  Then the
thought came, "What could happen?" she sighed again, and, with eyes
blinded by Heaven-shine, glanced down the village street.

She thought she saw--she rubbed her eyes and looked again--she did
see, and surely never a stranger sight was beheld on Fairfield's
street!  Had a Royal Bengal tiger come slouching through the dust
it could not have been more unusual.  The spectacle was a man; a
very large and mighty shouldered man, who looked about him with a
bold, imperious, keep-the-change regard.  There was something in
the swing of him that suggested the Bengal tiger.  He wore
high-heeled boots outside of his trousers, a flannel shirt with a
yellow silk kerchief around his neck, and on his head sat a white
hat which seemed to Miss Mattie to be at least a yard in diameter.
Under the hat was a remarkable head of hair.  It hung below the
man's shoulders in a silky mass of dark scarlet, flecked with brown
gold.  Miss Mattie had seen red hair, but she remembered no such
color as this, nor could she recall ever having seen hair a
foot-and-a-half long on a man.  That hair would have made a fortune
on the head of an actress, but Miss Mattie was ignorant of the
possibilities of the profession.

The face of the man was a fine tan, against which eyes, teeth, and
moustache came out in brisk relief.  The moustache avoided the
tropical tint of the upper hair and was content with a modest
brown.  The owner came right along, walking with a stiff, strong,
straddling gait, like a man not used to that way of travelling.

Miss Mattie eyed him in some fear.  He would be by her house
directly, and it was hardly modest to sit aggressively on one's
front porch, while a strange man went by--particularly, such a very
strange man as this!  Yet a thrill of curiosity held her for the
moment, and then it was too late, for the man stopped and asked
little Eddie Newell, who was playing placidly in the dust--all the
children played placidly in Fairfield--asked Eddie, in a voice
which reached Miss Mattie plainly, although the owner evidently
made no attempt to raise it, if he knew where Miss Mattie Saunders
lived?

Eddie had not noticed the large man's approach, and nearly fell
over in a fright; but seeing, with a child's intuition, that there
was no danger in this fierce-looking person, he piped up instantly.

"Y-y-yessir!--I kin tell yer where she lives--Yessir!  She lives
right down there in that little house--I kin go down with you jes'
swell 's not!  Why, there she is now, on the stoop!"

"Thankee sonny," said the big voice.  "Here's for miggles," and
Miss Mattie caught the sparkle of a coin as it flew into the grimy
fists of Eddie.

"Much obliged!" yelled Eddie and vanished up the street.

Miss Mattie sat transfixed.  Her breath came in swallows and her
heart beat irregularly.  Here was novelty with a vengeance!  The
big man turned and fastened his eyes upon her.  There was no
retreat.  She noticed with some reassurance that his eyes were
grave and kindly.

As he advanced Miss Mattie rose in agitation, unconsciously putting
her hand on her throat--what could it mean?

The gate was opened and the stranger strode up the cinder walk to
the porch.  He stopped a whole minute and looked at her.  At last.

"Well, Mattie!" he said, "don't you know me?"

A flood of the wildest hypotheses flashed through Miss Mattie's
mind without enlightening her.  Who was this picturesque giant who
stepped out of the past with so familiar a salutation?  Although
the porch was a foot high, and Miss Mattie a fairly tall woman,
their eyes were almost on a level, as she looked at him in wonder.

Then he laughed and showed his white teeth.  "No use to bother and
worry you, Mattie," said he, "you couldn't call it in ten years.
Well, I'm your half-uncle Fred's boy Bill--and I hope you're a
quarter as glad to see me as I am to see you."

"What!" she cried.  "Not little Willy who ran away!"

"The same little Willy," he replied in a tone that made Miss Mattie
laugh a little, nervously, "and what I want to know is, are you
glad to see me?"

"Why, of course!  But, Will--I suppose I should call you Will?  I
am so flustered--not expecting you--and it's been so warm to-day.
Won't you come in and take a chair?" wound up Miss Mattie in
desperation, and fury at herself for saying things so different
from what she meant to say.

There was a twinkle in the man's eye as he replied in an injured
tone:

"Why, good Lord, Mattie! I've come two thousand miles or more to
see you, and you ask me to take a chair.  Just as if I'd stepped in
from across the way!  Can't you give a man a little warmer welcome
than that?"

"What shall I do?" asked poor Miss Mattie.

"Well, you might kiss me, for a start," said he.

Miss Mattie was all abroad--still one's half-cousin, who has come
such a distance, and been received so very oddly, is entitled to
consideration.  She raised her agitated face, and for the first
time in her life realised the pleasure of wearing a moustache.

Then Red Saunders, late of the Chanta Seeche Ranch, North Dakota,
sat him down.

"I'm obliged to you, Mattie," he said in all seriousness.  "To tell
you the truth, I felt in need of a little comforting--here I've
come all this distance--and, of course, I _heard_ about father and
mother--but I couldn't believe it was true.  Seemed as if they
_must_ be waiting at the old place for me to come back, and when I
saw it all gone to ruin--Well, then I set out to find somebody, and
do you know, of all the family, there's only you and me left?
That's all, Mattie, just us two!--whilst I was growing up out West,
I kind of expected things to be standing still back here, and be
just the same as I left them--hum--Well, how are you anyhow?"

"I'm well, Will, and"--laying her hand upon his, "_don't_ think I'm
not glad to see you--_please_ don't.  I'm so glad, Will, I can't
tell you--but I'm all confused--so little happens here."

"I shouldn't guess it was the liveliest place in the world, by the
look of it," said Red.  "And as far as that's concerned, I kinder
don't know what to say myself.  There's such a heap to talk about
it's hard to tell where to begin--but we've got to be friends
though, Mattie--we've just _got_ to be friends.  Good Lord!  We're
all there's left!  Funny, I never thought of such a thing!  Well,
blast it!  That's enough of such talk!  I've brought you a present,
Mattie."  He stretched out a leg that reached beyond the limits of
the front porch, and dove into his trousers pocket, bringing out a
buck-skin sack.  He fumbled at the knot a minute and then passed it
over saying, "You untie it--your fingers are soopler than mine,"
Miss Mattie's fingers were shaking, but the knots finally came
undone, and from the sack she brought forth a chain of rich, dull
yellow lumps, fashioned into a necklace.  It weighed a pound.  She
spread it out and looked at it astounded.  "Gracious, Will!  Is
that _gold_?" she asked.

"That's what," he replied.  "The real article, just as it came out
of the ground: I dug it myself.  That's the reason I'm here.  I'd
never got money enough to go anywheres further than a horse could
carry me if I hadn't taken a fly at placer mining and hit her to
beat h--er--the very mischief."

Miss Mattie looked first at the barbaric, splendid necklace and
then at the barbaric, splendid man.  Things grew confused before
her in trying to realise that it was real.  What two planets so
separated in their orbits as her world and his?  She had the
imagination that is usually lacking in small communities, and the
feeling of a fairy story come true, possessed her.

"And now, Mattie," said he, "I don't know what's manners in this
part of the country, but I'll make free enough on the cousin part
of it to tell you that I could look at some supper without
flinching.  I've walked a heap to-day, and I ain't used to walking."

Miss Mattie sprang up, herself again at the chance to offer
hospitality.

"Why, you poor man!" said she.  "Of course you're starved!  It must
be nearly eight o'clock!  I almost forget about eating, living here
alone.  You shall have supper directly.  Will you come in or sit a
spell outside?"

"Reckon I'll come in," said Red.  "Don't want to lose sight of you
now that I've found you."

It was some time since Miss Mattie had felt that anyone had cared
enough for her not to want to lose sight of her, and a delicate
warm bloom went over her cheeks.  She hurried into the little
kitchen.

"Mattie!" called Red.

"What is it, Will?" she answered, coming to the door.

"Can I smoke in this little house?"

"Cer--tainly! Sit right down and make yourself comfortable.  Don't
you remember what a smoker father was?"

Red tried the different chairs with his hand.  They were not a
stalwart lot.  Finally he spied the home-made rocker in the corner.
"There's the lad for me," he said, drawing it out.  "Got to be
kinder careful how you throw two-hundred-fifty pounds around."

"Mercy!" cried Miss Mattie, pan in hand.  "Do you weigh as much as
that, Will?"

"I do," returned Red, with much satisfaction.  "And there isn't
over two pounds of it fat at that."

"What a great man you have grown up to be, Will!"

Red took in a deep draught of tobacco and sent the vapor clear
across the little room.

"On the hay-scales, yes," he answered, with a sort of joking
earnestness--"but otherwise, I don't know."

The return to the old home had touched the big man deeply, and as
he leaned back in his chair there was a shade of melancholy on his
face that became it well.

Miss Mattie took in the mass of him stretched out at his ease, his
legs crossed, and the patrician cut of his face, to which the
upturned moustache gave a cavalier touch.  They were good stock,
the Saunders, and the breed had not declined in the only two extant.

"He's my own cousin!" she whispered to herself, in the safety of
the kitchen.  "And such a splendid looking man!"  She felt a pride
of possession she had never known before.  Nobody in Fairfield or
vicinity had such a cousin as that.  And Miss Mattie went on
joyfully fulfilling an inherited instinct to minister to the wants
of some man.  She said to herself there was some satisfaction in
cooking for somebody else.  But alack-a-day, Miss Mattie's ideas of
the wants of somebody else had suffered a Fairfield change.
Nothing was done on a large scale in Fairfield.  But she sat the
little cakes--lucky that she had made them yesterday--and the fried
mush, and the small pitcher of milk, and the cold ham, and the cold
biscuit on the table with a pride in the appearance of the feast.

"Supper's ready, Will," said she.

Red responded instanter.  Took a look at the board and understood.
He ate the little cakes and biscuit, and said they were the durned
best he ever tasted.  He also took some pot-cheese under a
misapprehension; swallowed it, and said to himself that he had been
through worse things than that.  Then, when his appetite had just
begun to develop, the inroads on the provisions warned him that it
was time to stop.  Meanwhile they had ranged the fields of old
times at random, and as Red took in Miss Mattie, pink with
excitement and sparkling as to eyes, he thought, "Blast the supper!
It's a square meal just to look at her.  If she ain't pretty good
people, I miss my guess."

It was a merry meal.  He had such a way of telling things!  Miss
Mattie hadn't laughed so much for years, and she felt that there
was no one that she had known so long and so well as Cousin Will.
There was only one jarring note.  Red spoke of the vigorous
celebration that had been followed by the finding of gold.  It was
certainly well told, but Miss Mattie asked in soft horror when he
had finished, "You didn't get--_intoxicated_--Will?"

"DID I?" said he, lost in memory, and not noticing the tone.
"Well, I put my hand down the throat of that man's town, and turned
her inside out!  It was like as if Christmas and Fourth of July had
happened on the same day."

"Oh, Will!" cried Miss Mattie, "I can't think of you like
that--rolling in the gutter." Her voice shook and broke off.  Her
knowledge of the effect of stimulants was limited to Fairfield's
one drunkard--old Tommy McKee, a disreputable old Irishman--but
drunkenness was the worst vice in her world.

"Rolling in the gutter!" cried Red, in astonishment.  "Why girl!
What for would I roll in the gutter?  What's the fun in that?
Jiminy Christmas!  I wanted to walk on the telegraph wires--there
wasn't anything in that town high enough for me--what put gutters
into your head?"

"I--I supposed people did that when they were--like that."

"I wouldn't waste my money on whisky, if that's all the inspiration
I got out of it," replied Red.

"Well, of course I don't know about those things, but I wish you'd
promise me one thing."

"Done!" cried Red.  "What is it?"

"I wish you'd promise me not to touch whisky again!"

"Phew!  That's a pretty big order!"  He stopped and thought a
minute.  "If you'll make that 'never touch it when it ain't
needed,' leaving when it's needed to what's my idea of the square
thing on a promise, I'll go you, Mattie--there's my hand."

"Oh, I shouldn't have said anything at all, Will!  I have no right.
But it seemed such a pity such a splendid man--I mean--I think--.
You mustn't promise me anything, Will," stammered Miss Mattie,
shocked at her own daring.

"Here!" he cried, "I'm no little kid!  When I promise I mean it!
As for your not having any right, ain't we all there is?  You've
got to be mother and sister and aunt and everything to me.  I ain't
as young as I have been, Mattie, and I miss she-ways terrible at
times.  Now put out your fin like a good pardner, and here goes for
no more rhinecaboos for Chantay Seeche Red--time I quit drinking,
anyhow," he slipped a ring off his little finger.  "Here, hold out
your hand," said he, "I'll put this on for luck, and the sake of
the promise--by the same token, I've got a noose on you now, and
you're my property."

This, of course, was only Cousin Will's joking, but Miss Mattie
noticed with a sudden hot flush, that he had chosen the engagement
finger--in all ignorance, she felt sure.  The last thing she could
do would be to call his attention to the fact, or run the risk of
hurting his feelings by transferring the ring; besides, it was a
pretty ring--a rough ruby in a plain gold band--and looked very
well where it was.

Then they settled down for what Red called a good medicine talk.
Miss Mattie found herself boldly speaking of little fancies and
notions that had remained in the inner shrine of her soul for
years, shrinking from the matter-of-fact eye of Fairfield; yet this
big, ferocious looking Cousin Will seemed to find them both sane
and interesting, and as her self-respect went up in the
arithmetical, her admiration for Cousin Will went up in the
geometrical ratio.  He frankly admitted weaknesses and fears that
the males of Fairfield would have rejected scornfully.

Miss Mattie spoke of sleeping upstairs, because she could not rid
herself of the fear of somebody coming in.

"I know just how you feel about that," said Red.  "My hair used to
be on its feet most of the time when we were in the hay camp at the
lake beds.  Gee whizz!  The rattlers!  We put hair ropes
around--but them rattlers liked to squirm over hair ropes for
exercise.  One morning I woke up and there was a crawler on my
chest.  'For God's sake, Pete!' says I to Antelope Pete, who was
rolled up next me, 'come take my friend away!' and I didn't holler
very loud, neither.  Pete was chain lightning in pants, and he
grabs Mr. Rattler by the tail and snaps his neck, but I felt
lonesome in my inside till dinner time.  You bet!  I know just how
you feel, exactly.  I didn't have a man's sized night's rest whilst
we was in that part of the country."

It struck Miss Mattie that the cases were hardly parallel.  "A
rattlesnake on your chest, Will!" she cried, with her hands clasped
in terror.

"Oh! it wasn't as bad as it sounds--he was asleep--coiled up there
to get warm--sharpish nights on the prairie in August--but darn it!
Mattie!" wrinkling up his nose in disgust, "I hate the sight of the
brutes!"

"But you wouldn't be afraid of a man, Will!"

"Well, no," admitted he.  "I've never been troubled much that way.
You see, everybody has a different fear to throw a crimp in them.
Mine's rattlesnakes and these little bugs with forty million pairs
of legs.  I pass right out when I see one of them things.  They
give me a feeling as if my stummick had melted."

"Weren't the Indians terrible out there, too?" asked Miss Mattie.
"I'm sure they must have been."

"Oh, they ain't bad people if you use 'em right," said Red.  "Not
that I like 'em any better on the ground, than in it," he added
hastily, fearful of betraying the sentiment of his country, "but I
never had but one real argument, man to man.  Black Wolf and I come
together over a matter of who owned my cayuse, and from words we
backed off and got to shooting.  He raked me from knee to hip, as I
was kneeling down, doing the best I could by him, and wasting
ammunition because I was in a hurry.  Still, I did bust his ankle.
In the middle of the fuss a stray shot hit the cayuse in the head
and he croaked without a remark, so there we were, a pair of fools
miles from home with nothing left to quarrel about!  You could have
fried an egg on a rock that day, and it always makes you thirsty to
get shot anyways serious, thinking of which I hollered peace to old
Black Wolf and told him I'd pull straws with him to see who took my
canteen down to the creek and got some fresh water.  He was
agreeable and we hunched up to each other.  It ain't to my credit
to say it, but I was worse hurt than that Injun, so I worked him.
He got the short straw, and had to crawl a mile through cactus,
while I sat comfortable on the cause of the disagreement and yelled
to him that he looked like a badger, and other things that an Injun
wouldn't feel was a compliment."  Red leaned back and roared.  "I
can see him now putting his hands down so careful, and turning back
every once in awhile to cuss me.  Turned out that it was his
cayuse, too.  Feller that sold it to me had stole it from him.  I
oughtn't to laugh over it, but I can't help but snicker when I
think how I did that Injun."

Generally speaking, Miss Mattie had a lively sense of humour, but
the joke of this was lost on her.  Her education had been that
getting shot was far from funny.

"Why, I should have thought you would have died, Will!"

"What!  For a little crack in the leg!" cried Red, with some
impatience.  "You people must quit easy in this country.  Die
nothin'.  One of our boys came along and took us to camp, and we
was up and doing again in no time.  'Course, Black Wolf has a game
leg for good, but the worst that's stuck to me is a yank or two of
rheumatism in the rainy season.  I paid Wolf for his cayuse," he
finished shamefacedly.  "I had the laugh on him anyhow."

Miss Mattie told him she thought that was noble of him, which
tribute Red took as medicine, and shifted the subject with speed,
to practical affairs.  He asked Miss Mattie how much money she had
and how she managed to make out.  Now, it was one of the canons of
good manners in Fairfield not to speak of material matters--perhaps
because there was so little material matter in the community, but
Miss Mattie, doomed to a thousand irksome petty economies, had
often longed for a sympathetic ear, to pour into it a good honest
complaint of hating to do this and that.  She could not exactly go
this far with Cousin Will, but she could say that it was pretty
hard to get along, and give some details.  She felt that she knew
him so very well, in those few hours!  Red heard with nods of
assent.  He had scented the conditions at once.

"It ain't any fun, skidding on the thin ice," said he, when they
had concluded the talk.  "I've had to count the beans I put in the
pot, and it made me hate arithmetic worse than when I went over
yonder to school.  Well, them days have gone by for you, Mattie."
He reached down and pulling out a green roll, slapped it on the
centre table.  "Blow that in, and limber up, and remember that
there's more behind it."

Miss Mattie's pride rose at a leap.

"Will!" she said, "I hope you don't think I've told you this to get
money from you?"

He leaned forward, put his hand on her shoulder and held her eyes
with a sudden access of sternness and authority.

"And I hope, Mattie," said he, "that you don't think that I think
anything of the kind?"

The cousins stared into each other's eyes for a full minute.  Then
Miss Mattie spoke.  "No, Will," said she, "I don't believe you do."

"I shouldn't think I did," retorted Red.  "What in thunder would I
do with all that money?  Why, good Lord, girl, I could paper your
house with ten-dollar bills--now you try to fly them green kites,
like I tell you."

Miss Mattie broke down, the not fully realised strain of fifteen
years had made itself felt when the cord snapped.  "I don't know
how to thank you.  I don't know what to say.  Oh, William! it seems
too good to be true."

"What you crying about, Mattie?" said he in sore distress.  "Now
hold on!  Listen to me a minute!  There's something I want you to
do for me."

"What is it?" she asked, drying her eyes.  "For dinner to-morrow,"
he replied, "let's have a roast of beef about that size,"
indicating a wash-tub.

The diversion was complete.

"Why, Will!  What would we ever do with it?" said she.

"Do with it?  Why, eat it!"

"But we couldn't eat all that!"

"Then throw what's left to the cats.  You ain't going to fall down
on me the first favour I ask?" with mock seriousness.

"You shall have the roast of beef.  'Pears to me that you're fond
of your stomach, Will," said Miss Mattie, with a recovering smile.

"I have a good stomach, that's always done the right thing by me,
when I've done the right thing by _it_," said Red.  "And moreover,
just look at the constitution I have to support.  But say, old
lady, look at that!" pointing to the clock.  "Eleven-thirty; time
decent people were putting up for the night."

The words brought to an acute stage a wandering fear which had
passed through Miss Mattie's mind at intervals during the evening.
Where was she to look for sleeping accommodations for a man?  She
revolted against the convention, that, in her own mind, as well as
the rest of Fairfield, forbade the use of her house for the
purpose.  Long habit of thought had made these niceties
constitutional.  It was almost as difficult for Miss Mattie to say
"I'll fix up your bed right there on the sofa" as it would have
been for Red to pick a man's pocket, yet, when she thought of his
instant and open generosity and what a dismal return therefor it
would be to thrust him out for reasons which she divined would have
no meaning for him, she heroically resolved to throw custom to the
winds, and speak.

But the difficulty was cut in another fashion.

"There's a little barn in the back-yard that caught my eye," said
Red, "and if you'll lend me a blanket I'll roll it out there."

"Sleep in the barn!  You'll not do any such thing!" cried Miss
Mattie.  "You'll sleep right here on the sofa, or upstairs in my
bed, just as you choose."

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not.  So help me Bob!  I'd
smother in here.  Had the darnedest time coming on that ever
was--hotels.  Little white rooms with the walls coming in on you.
Worse than rattlesnakes for keeping a man awake.  Reminds me of the
hospital.  Horse fell on me once and smashed me up so that I had to
be sent to get puttied up again, and I never struck such a month as
that since I was born.  The doc. told me I mustn't move, but I told
him I'd chuck him out of the window if he tried to stop me, and up
I got.  I'd have gone dead sure if they'd held me a week more.  I
speak for the barn, Mattie, and I speak real loud; that is, I mean
to say I'm going to sleep in the barn, unless there's somebody a
heap larger than you on the premises.  Now, there's no use for you
to talk--I'm going to do just as I say."

"Well, I think that's just dreadful!" said Miss Mattie.  "I'd like
to know what folks will think of me to hear I turned my own cousin
out in the barn."  Her voice trailed off a little at the end as the
gist of what they might say if he stayed in the house, occurred to
her.  "Well," she continued, "if you're set, I suppose I can't
object."  Miss Mattie was not a good hand at playing a part.

"I'm set," said Red.  "Get me a blanket." As she came in with this,
he added, "Say, Mattie, could you let me have a loaf of bread?
I've got a habit of wanting something to eat in the middle of the
night."

"Certainly!  Don't you want some butter with it?  Here, I'll fix it
for you on a plate."

"No, don't waste dish-washing--I'll show you how to fix it."  He
cut the loaf of bread in half, pulled out a portion of the soft
part and filled the hole with butter.  "There we are, and nothing
to bother with afterwards."

"That's a right smart notion, Will--but you'll want a knife."

In answer he drew out a leather case from his breast pocket and
opened it.  Within was knife, fork, spoon and two flat boxes for
salt and pepper.  "You see I'm fixed," said he.

"Isn't that a cute trick!" she cried admiringly.  "You're ready for
most anything."

"Sure," said Red.  "Now, good night, old lady!"  He bent down in so
natural a fashion that Miss Mattie had kissed him before she knew
what she was going to do.

Down to the barn, through the soft June evening, went Red,
whistling a Mexican love song most melodiously.

Miss Mattie stood in the half-opened door and listened.  Without
was balm and starlight and the spirit of flowers, breathed out in
odours.  The quaint and pretty tune rose and fell, quavered, lilted
along as it listed without regard for law and order.  It struck
Miss Mattie to the heart.  Her girlhood, with its misty dreams of
happiness, came back to her on the wings of music.

"Isn't that a sweet tune," she said, with a lump in her throat.

She went up into her room and sat down a moment in confusion,
trying to grasp the reality of all that had happened.  In the
middle of the belief that these things were not so, came the regret
of a sensitive mind for errors committed.  She remembered with a
sudden sinking, that she had not thanked him for the necklace--and
the money lay even now on the parlor table, where he had cast it!
This added the physical fear of thieves.  Down she went and got the
money, counted out, to her unmitigated astonishment, five hundred
dollars and thrust it beneath her pillow with a shiver.  She wished
she had thought to tell him to take care of it--but suppose the
thieves were to fall on him as he slept?  Red's friends would have
spent their sympathy on the thieves.  She rejoiced that the money
was where it was.  Then she tried to remember what she had said
throughout the evening.

"Well, I suppose I must have acted like a ninny," she concluded.
"But isn't he just splendid!" and as Cousin Will's handsome face,
with its daring, kind eyes, came to her vision she felt comforted.
"I don't believe but what he'll make every allowance for how
excited I was," said she.  "He seems to understand those things,
for all he's such a large man.  Well, it doesn't seem as if it
could be true."  With a half sigh Miss Mattie knelt and sent up her
modest petition to her Maker and got into her little white bed.

In the meantime Red's actions would have awakened suspicion.  He
hunted around until he found a tin can, then lit a match and
rummaged the barn, amid terror-stricken squawks from the
inhabitants, the hens.

"One, two, three, four," he counted.  "Reckon I can last out till
morning on that.  Mattie, she's white people--just the nicest I
ever saw, but she ain't used to providing for a full-grown man."

He stepped to the back of the barn and looked about him.  "Nobody
can see me from here," he said, in satisfaction.  Then he scraped
together a pile of chips and sticks and built a fire, filled the
tin can at the brook, sat it on two stones over the fire, rolled
himself a cigarette and waited.  A large, yellow tom-cat came out
of the brush and threw his green headlights on him, meaowing
tentatively.

"Hello, pussy!" said Red.  "You hungry too?  Well, just wait a
minute, and we'll help that feeling--like bread, pussy?"  The cat
gobbled the morsel greedily, came closer and begged for more.  The
tin can boiled over.  Red popped the eggs in, puffed his cigarette
to a bright coal, and looked at his watch by the light.  "Gee! Ten
minutes more, now!" said he.  "Hardly seems to me as if I could
wait."  He pulled the watch out several times.  "What's the matter
with the damn thing?  I believe it's stopped," he growled.  But at
last "Time!" he shouted gleefully, kicked the can over and gathered
up its treasures in his handkerchief.

"Now, Mr. Cat, we're going to do some real eating," said he.  "Just
sit right down and make yourself at home--this is kind of fun, by
Jinks!"  Down went the eggs and down went the loaf of bread in
generous slices, never forgetting a fair share for the cat.

"Woosh! I feel better!" cried Red, "and now for some sleep."  He
swung up into the hay-loft, spread the blanket on the still
fragrant old hay, and rolled himself up in a trice.

"I did a good turn when I came on here," he mused.  "If I have got
only one relation, she's a dandy--so pretty and quiet and nice.
She's a marker for all I've got, is Mattie."

The cat came up, purring and "making bread."  He sniffed feline
fashion at Red's face.

"Foo!  Shoo!  Go 'way, pussy!  Settle yourself down and we'll pound
our ear for another forty miles.  I like you first rate when you
don't walk on my face." He stretched and yawned enormously.  "Yes
sir! Mattie's all right," said he.  "A-a-a-ll ri-" and Chantay
Seeche Red was in the land of dreams.  Here, back in God's country,
within twenty miles of the place where he was born, the wanderer
laid him down again, and in spite of raid and foray, whisky and
poker-cards, wear-and-tear, hard times, and hardest test of all,
sudden fortune, he was much the same impulsive, honest, generous,
devil-may-care boy who had left there twenty-four years ago.



II

The next morning when Red awoke,
arrows of gold were shooting through
the holes in the old barn, and outside, the bird
life, the twittering and chirping, the fluent
whistle and the warble, the cackle and the
pompous crow, were in full chorus.

"Where am I at, this time?" said he, as
he took in the view.  "Oh, I remember!" and
his heart leapt.  "I'm in my own home, by
the Lord!"

He went down to the brook and washed,
drying hands and face on the silk neckerchief,
which is meant for use as well as for decoration.

In the meantime, Miss Mattie had
awakened, with a sense of something delightful at
hand, the meaning of which escaped her for
the time.  And then she remembered, and
sprang out of bed like a girl.  She went to
the window, threw open the shutters and let
the stirring morning air flow in.  This had
been her habit for a long time.  The window
faced away from the road, and no one could
see who was not on Miss Mattie's own premises.

But this morning Red had wandered
around.  Stopping at the rose bushes he
picked a bud.

"That has the real old-time smell," he said,
as he held it to his nose.  "Sweetbriars are
good, and I don't go back on 'em, but they
ain't got the fram these fellers have."

Bud in hand he walked beneath Miss
Mattie's windows, and he was the first thing her
eye fell upon.

Her startled exclamation made him look up
before she had time to withdraw.

"Hello there!" he called joyfully.  "How
do you open up this day?  You look pretty
well!" he added with a note of admiration.
Miss Mattie had the wavy hair which is never
in better order than when left to its own
devices.  Her idea of coiffure was not the most
becoming that could have been selected, as
she felt that a "young" style of hair dressing
was foolish for a single woman of her years.
Now, with the pretty soft hair flying, her
eyes still humid with sleep, and a touch of
color in her face from the surprise, relieved
against the fleecy shawl she had thrown about
her shoulders, she was incontestably both a
discreet and pretty picture.  Yet Miss Mattie
could not forget the bare feet and night-gown,
although they were hidden from masculine
eyes by wood and plaster, and she was
embarrassed.  Still, with all the super-sensitive
fancies, Miss Mattie had a strong back-bone
of New England common-sense.   She
answered that she felt very well indeed, and, to
cover any awkwardness, inquired what he had
in his hand.

"Good old rose," replied Red.  "Old-time
smeller--better suited to you than to me--ketch!"

At the word he tossed it, and Miss Mattie
caught it dexterously.  Red had an
exceedingly keen eye for some things, and he noticed
the certainty of the action.  He hated
fumblers.  "A person can do things right if they've
got minds that work," was one of his pet
sayings.  "'Taint the muscles at all--it's in the
head, and I like the kind of head that's in use
all the time."  Therefore this small affair made
an impression on him.

"Why, you could be a baseball player," said he.

"I used to play with Joe, when I was a
girl," said Miss Mattie, smiling.  "I always
liked boy's play better than I did girl's.  Joe
taught me how to throw a ball, too.  He said
he wouldn't play with me unless I learned not
to 'scoop it,' girl fashion.  I suppose you will
be wanting breakfast?"  There was a hint of
sarcasm in the doubt of the inquiry.

"That's what I do!" said Red.  "You
must just hustle down and get things to
boiling, or I'll throw bricks through the windows.
I've been up for the last two hours."

"Why!  I don't believe it!" said Miss Mattie.

"No more do I, but it seems like it,"
replied Red.  "Don't you want the fire started?
Come down and open up the house."

When Miss Mattie appeared at the door, in
he strode with an armful of wood, dropping
it man-fashion, crash! on the floor.

"Skip out of the way!" said he.  "I'll show
you how to build a fire!"

The early morning had been the most
desolate time to Miss Mattie.  As the day warmed
up the feeling of loneliness vanished, perhaps
to return at evening, but not then with the
same absoluteness as when she walked about
the kitchen to the echo of her own footsteps
in the morning.

Now the slamming and the banging which
accompanied Red's energetic actions rang in
her ears most cheerily.  She even found a
relish in the smothered oath that heralded
the thrust of a splinter in his finger.  It
was very wicked, but it was also very much
alive.

Red arose and dusted off his knees.  "Now
we're off!" he said as the fire began to roar.
"What's next?"

"If you'd grind the coffee, Will?" she suggested.

"Sure! Where's the hand organ?"

He put the mill between his knees, and
converted the beans to powder, to the tune of
"Old dog Tray" through his nose, which Miss
Mattie found very amusing.

She measured out the coffee, one spoonful
for each cup, and one for the pot.  Red
watched her patiently, and when she had
finished, he threw in the rest of the contents of
the mill-drawer.  "I like it fairly strong," said
he in explanation.

"Now, Will!" protested Miss Mattie.
"Look at you!  That will be as bitter as boneset!"

"Thin her up with milk and she'll be all
right," replied Red.

"Well, such wasteful ways I never did see.
Nobody'd think you were a day over fifteen."

"I'm not," said Red stoutly, "and,"
catching her chin in his hand and turning her face
up toward him--"Nobody'd put your score
much higher than that neither, if they trusted
to their eyes this morning."

The compliment hit so tender a place that
Miss Mattie lacked the resolution to tear it
out, besides, it was so honest that it sounded
much less like a compliment than a plain
statement of fact.  She bent hastily over the fire.
"I'm glad I look young, Will," she said softly.

"So'm I!" he assented heartily.  "What's
the sense in being old, anyhow?  I'm as
limber and good for myself as ever I was, in spite
of my forty years."

"You're not _forty_ years old!" exclaimed
Miss Mattie.  "You're joking!"

"Nary joke--forty round trips from flying
snow to roses since I hit land, Mattie--why,
you were only a little girl when I left
here--don't you remember?  You and your folks
came to see us the week before I left.  I got
a thrashing for taking you and Joe to the
millpond, and helping you to get good and wet.
The thrashing was one of the things that gave
me a hankering for the West.  Very liberal
man with the hickory, father.  Spare the
clothes and spoil the skin was his motto.  He
used to make me strip to the waist--phee-hew!
Even a light breeze rested heavy on my back
when dad got through with me--say, Mattie,
perhaps I oughtn't to say so, now that he's
gone, but I don't think that's the proper way
to use a boy, do you?"

"No, I don't," said Miss Mattie.  "Your
father meant well, but his way was useless and
cruel."

"I've forgiven him the whole sweep," said
Red.  "But damn me!  If I had a boy I
wouldn't club the life out of him--I'd try to
reason with him first, anyhow.  Makes a boy
as ugly as anybody else to get the hide whaled
off his back for nothing--once in a while he
needs it.  Boy that's got any life in him gets
to be too much occasionally and then a
warming is healthful and nourishing.  Lord!
You'd think I was the father of my country
to hear me talk, wouldn't you? If somebody'd
write a book, 'What Red Saunders don't
know about raising children' it would be full
of valuable information--how's that breakfast
coming on?"

"All ready--sit right down, Will."

"Go you!" cried Red, and incautiously
flung himself upon one of the kitchen chairs,
which collapsed instantly and dropped him to
the floor.

"Mercy on us!  Are you hurt?" cried Miss
Mattie, rushing forward.

"Hurt?" said Red.  "Try it!--Just jump
up in the air and sit on the floor where you
are now, and see if you get hurt!  Oh, no!
I'm not hurt, but I'm astonished beyond
measure, like the man that tickled the mule.
I'll take my breakfast right here--shouldn't
wonder a bit if the floor went back on me and
landed me in the cellar--no sir!  I won't get
up!  Hand me the supplies, I know when I'm
well off.  If you want to eat breakfast with
me come sit on the floor.  I'm not going to
have my spine pushed through the top of my
head twice in the same day."

"Will!  You are the most ridiculous
person I ever did see!" said Miss Mattie, and
she laughed till she cried in sheer
light-heartedness.  "But there's a chair you can
trust--come on now."

"Well, if you'll take your solemn oath that
this one has no moustache to deceive me,"
said Red doubtfully.  "It looks husky--well,
I'll try it--Hooray!  She didn't give an inch.
This kind of reminds me of the time Jimmy
Hendricks came back from town and walked
off the edge of the bluff in the dark.  It just
happened that Old Scotty Ferguson's cabin
was underneath him.  Jim took most of the
roof off with him as he went in.  He sat
awhile to figure out what was trumps, having
come a hundred and fifty feet too fast to do
much thinking.  Then, 'Hello!' he yells.
Old Scotty was a sleeper from 'way back, but
this woke him up.

"'Hello!' says he.  'Was'er matter?'

"Jim saw he wasn't more than half awake
yet, so he says, 'Why, I was up on the bluff
there, Scotty, and seeing it was such a short
distance I thought I'd drop in!'

"'Aw ri',' grunted Scotty.  'Make y'self t'
home,' and with that he rolls over.

"Jim couldn't wait for morning, and though
his leg was pretty badly sprained, he made the
trip all the way round the trail and woke us
up to tell us how he'd gone through
Ferguson's roof and the old man asked him to make
himself at home.  Next morning there was
Scotty out in front of his cabin, his thumbs in
his vest holes, looking up.

"'What's the matter, Scotty?' says I.

"'Well, I wisht you'd tell me what in the
name of God went through that roof!' says he.

"I swallered a laugh cross-ways and put on
a serious face.  'Must have been a rock,' says I.

"'Rock nothin'!' says he.  'If it had been
a rock 'twould have stayed in the cabin,
wouldn't it!  Well, there ain't the first blasted
thing of any shape nor description in there but
the hole--you can go in and look for yourself.'

"It cost Scotty one case of rye to make us
forget those circumstances."

"I should have thought the man would be
killed, striking on the roof that way," said
Miss Mattie.

"Oh, no!  Roof was made of quaking-asp
saplings, just about strong enough to break
his fall.  Scotty was the sleeper, though!  It
wasn't hardly natural the way that man could
pound his ear through thick and thin.  He
had quite a surprising time of it once.  He'd
been prospecting 'round the Ruby refractory
ore district and he came out at Hank Cutter's
saw-mill, just at sun-down.  Hank's place was
full of gold rushers, so Old Scotty thought
he'd sleep out-doors in peace and quiet.  He
discovered some big boxes, that Hank was
making for ore bins for the new mill, and as
the ground was kind of damp from a
thunder-shower they had that day, he spreads his
blanket inside the box and goes to sleep; ore
bins have to be smooth and dust tight, so it
wasn't a bad shanty.

"Well, there came a jar and waked him up.
The box was rolling a little, and going along,
going along forty mile an hour.  Scotty lit a
match and found he was in a kind of big
tunnel but the wall was flying by so fast, he
couldn't make out just what kind of a tunnel
it was.  Now, he'd gone to sleep in peace and
quiet on a side hill, and to wake up and find
himself boat-riding in a tunnel was enough
to surprise anybody.  First he pinched
himself to see if it was Hank's pie, or a cold fact,
found it was a fact, then he lit another match
and leaned over and looked at the black water
underneath, but this made the box tip so it
scart him and he settled down in the bottom
again.  He didn't try to think--what was the
use?  No man living could have figured things
out with the few facts Scotty had before him.
All of a sudden the box made a rush and shot
out into the air, and Scotty felt they were
falling.   'God sakes!' he says to himself.
'What's next, I wonder?'  Then they hit the
water below with a ker-flap that nearly
telescoped Scotty and sent the spray flying.  After
that they went along smooth again.  'Well,'
says Scotty, 'I don't know where I am, nor
who I am, nor what's happened, nor who's it,
nor nothing about this game.  So far I ain't
been hurt, though, and I might just as well
lie down and get a little more rest.'

"It was broad daylight when he woke up
again, and a man was looking into the box.
'Hello, pardner!' he says.  'I hope you've
had a pleasant journey--do you always travel
this way?'

"Scotty raised up and found his craft was
aground--high and dry--no water within a
hundred feet of it.  On one side was quite a
little town.

"'Say,' says he, 'could I trouble you to tell
me where I am, friend?'

"'You're at Placerville,' answers the other.

"'Placerville!' yells Scotty, 'and I went to
sleep at Cutter's Mill, sixty-five miles from
here!--what are you giving us, man?'

"'I'm putting it to you straight,' says the
stranger.  'Take a look around you.'

"Scotty looked and there was all kinds of
wreckage, from a dead beef critter to a wheel
barrow.

"'What in nation's all this?' says he.

"'Washout,' says the man.  'Cloud burst
up on the divide--worst we've ever
had--your box is about high water mark--you see
there was water enough for awhile--I reckon
you're about the only thing that came through
alive.'

"'Well, wouldn't that knock you?' says Scotty.

--"Whilst the rest of the folk at the mill
was taking to the high ground for their lives,
with the water roaring and tearing through
the gulch, Scotty had peacefully gone off in
his little boat, down the creek, and instead of
going over the rapids, where he'd have been
done, for all his luck, the box ambles through
the flume they was building for the new mill.
Of course there was the jounce over the tail
race, but that hadn't hurt him much, and after,
he rocked in the cradle of the deep, until he
got beached at Placerville.

"'Come along, friend,' says Scotty to the
feller, 'you and me are going to have a little
drink on this, if it is the last act.'  And I
reckon probably they made it two, for when
Scotty got back again he was in a condition
that made everybody believe that he'd only
guessed at the story he told.  But they found
out afterward it was a solemn fact.  Mattie,
give us some more coffee."

Thus abruptly recalled to Fairfield, Miss
Mattie started up.

"Well, Will, it does seem as if that was a
dangerous country to live in," said she.

"Oh, not so awful!" said Red.  "Just as
many people die here as they do there--this
world's a dangerous place to live in, wherever
you strike it, Mattie."

"That's so," said she, thoughtfully.

"And now," said Red, pushing back his
chair, "it's time I got to work and left you to
do the housework undisturbed."

"What are you going to do, Will?"

"First place, there's fences and things to
be tinkered up, I see.  I suppose a millionaire
like me ought to hire those things done, but
I'd have measles of the mind if I sat around
doing nothing."

"I have been wanting to get the place in
good order for some time," said Miss Mattie,
"but what with the money I had to spend for
this and that, and not being able to get
Mr. Joyce to come in for a day's work when I
wanted him, it's gone on, until there is a good
deal of wrack to it."

"We'll wrack it t'other way round in no
time--got any tools here?"

"Out in the barn is what's left of father's
tools--people have borrowed 'em and forgot
to return 'em, and they've rusted or been
lost until I'm afraid there ain't many of 'em
left."

"Well, I'll get along to-day somehow, and
later on we'll stock up--want any help around
the house?"

"Thank you, no, Will."

"Then I'm off."

It was almost with a feeling of terror that
Miss Mattie beheld him root up the fence.
Her idea of repairing was to put in a picket
here and there where it was most needed;
Red's was to knock it all flat first, and set it
up in A1 condition afterward.  So, in two
hours' time he straightened up and snapped
the sweat from his brow, beholding the slain
pickets prone on the grass with thorough
satisfaction.  Yet he felt tired, for the day was
already hot with a moist and soaking
sea-coast heat, to which the plainsman was
unaccustomed.  A three-quarter-grown boy passed
by, lounging on the seat of a farm waggon.

"Hey!" hailed Red.  The boy stopped and
turned slowly around.

"Yes, sir," he answered courteously enough.

"Want a job?" said Red.

"Well, I dunno," replied the boy.  He was
much astonished at the appearance of his
interrogator, and he was a cautious New
England boy to boot.

"_You_ don't know?" retorted Red.  "Well,"
with some sarcasm, "d'ye suppose I could
find out at the post-office?"

The boy looked at Red with a twinkle in his
eye, and a comical drawing of his long mouth.

"I calc'late if you cud fin' out anyweres,
'twould be there," said he.

Red laughed.  He had noticed the busy
post-mistress rushing out of her store to
waylay anyone likely to have information on any
subject, a stream of questions proceeding from
her through the door.

"Say, you got anything particular to do?"

"No, sir--leastways th'ain't no hurry about it."

"Can I buy stuff to make a fence with,
around here?"

"Yes, sir--Mister Pettigrew's got all kinds
of buildin' material at his store--two mile over
yonder," pointing with the whip.

"You drive over there for me, and get
some--just like this here--pickets and posts
and whatever you call them long pieces, and
I'll make it right with you."

"Yes, sir--how much will I get?"

"Oh, tell him to fill the waggon up with
it, and I'll send back what I don't
want--hustle, now, like a good boy; I want to get
shut of this job; I liked it better before I begun."

When his Mercury had speeded on the
journey at a faster gait than Red would have
given him credit for, the architect strode
down to the blacksmith's shop.  There was a
larger crowd than usual around the forge, as
the advent of the stranger had gotten into
the wind, and the village Vulcan was a person
who not only looked the whole world in the
face, but no one of the maiden ladies of
Fairfield could have excelled his interest in
looking the whole world as much in the inside
pocket as possible.  The blacksmith was
emphatically a gossip, as well as a hardworking,
God-fearing man.

"Say, there he comes now, Mr. Tuttle!"
cried one of the loungers, and nudged the
smith to look.

"Well, let him come!" retorted the smith,
testily, jamming a shoe in the fire with
unnecessary force; as a matter of fact, he was
embarrassed.  The loungers huddled together
for moral support, as the big cow-man loomed
through the doorway.

"Good morning, friends!" said he.

"Good morning, sir!" replied the
blacksmith, rubbing his hands on his apron.  "Nice
day, sir?"

"For the sake of good fellowship, I'll say
'yes' to that," responded Red.  "But if you
want my honest opinion on the subject, it's
damn hot."

"'Tis that," assented the smith, and a
silence followed.

"Say, who's your crack fence-builder
around here?" asked Red.  "The man that
can make two pickets grow where only one
grew before and do it so easy that it's a
pleasure to sit and look at him?"

"Hey?" inquired the smith, not precisely
getting the meaning of the address.

"Why, I've got a fence to build," exclaimed
Red.  "And now I want some help--want it
so bad, I'll produce to the extent of three a
day and call it a day from now 'till six
o'clock--any takers here?  Make your bets while the
little ball rolls."

The loungers understood the general drift
of this and pricked up their ears, as did the
blacksmith.  "Guess one of the boys will help
you," said the latter.

"Well, who's it?" asked Red, glancing at
the circle of faces.  Three dollars a day was
enormous wages in that part of the country.
Nobody knew just what to say.

"Oh, well!" cried Red, "let's everybody
run--I reckon I can find something to do for
the five of you--are you with me?"

"Yes, sir," they said promptly.

"Can I borrow a hammer or so off you, old
man?" questioned Red of the smith.

"Certainly, sir," returned the latter heartily.
"Take what you want."

"Much obliged--and the gate hinges are
out of whack--Miss Saunders' place, you
know--come over and take a squint at 'em
in the near by-and-by, will you?  May as well
fix it up all at once--come on, boys!"

It was thus that the greatest enterprise that
Fairfield had seen in many a day was
undertaken.  Miss Mattie was simply astounded as
the army bore down upon the house.

"Whatever in the world is Cousin Will
doing?" said she; but resting strong in the faith
that it was necessarily all right, she was
content to wait for dinner and an explanation.
Not so the post-mistress.  The agonies of
unrequited curiosity the worthy woman
suffered that morning until she at last summoned
up her resolution and asked the smith plump
out and out what it all meant, would have to
be experienced to be appreciated.  And the
smith kept her hanging for a while, too,
saying to himself in justification, that it wasn't
right the way that old gal had to get into
everybody's business.  The smith was like
some of the rest of us; he could see through
a beam if it was in his own eye.



III

There was a great din of whacking and hammering that morning.  Red
worked like a horse, now that he had company.  A sudden thought
struck him and he went into the house.

"Mattie," said he.

"Well, Will?"

"I see a use for the rest of that nice big roast of beef I smell in
the oven--let's have all these fellers stay to dinner, and give 'em
one good feed--what do you say?"

"Why, I'd like to.  Will--but I don't know--where'll I set them?"

"Couple of boards outside for a table--let them sit on boxes or
something--got plates and things enough?"

"My, yes! Plenty of such things, Will."

"Then if it ain't too much trouble for you, we'll let it go."

"No trouble at all, Will--it will be a regular picnic."

"Boys, you'll eat with me this day," said Red.

They spread the board table beneath an old apple tree, and cleaned
up for the repast in the kitchen storm-shed with an apologetic,
"Sorry to trouble you, Miss Saunders," or such a matter as each
went in.

Just as Miss Mattie was withdrawing the meat from the oven, there
came a knock at the door.

"Goodness, gracious!" she exclaimed.  "Who can that be now?  Will,
will you see who that is?  I can't go."

"Sure!" said Red, and went to the door.  There stood two women of
that indefinite period between forty and sixty, very decently
dressed and with some agitation visible in the way they fussily
adjusted various parts of their attire.

They started at the sudden spectacle of the huge man who said
pleasantly, "Howderdo, ladies!"

"Why, how do you do?" replied the taller instantly, and in a voice
she had never heard before.  "I hope you're well, sir?"  A remark
which filled her with surprise.

"Thanks--I'm able to assume the perpendicular, as you can see,"
responded Red with a handsome smile of welcome.  "How do you find
yourself?"

"I'm pretty well," said the flustered lady.  "How do you do?"

"Durned if we ain't right back where we started from," mourned Red
to himself.  "If it's one of the customs of this country saying
'howderdo' an hour at a stretch, I pass it up." Aloud, he said,
"Coming along fine--how's your father?"  "Cuss me if I don't shift
the cut a little, anyhow," he added mentally.

"Why, he's very well indeed!" exclaimed the lady with fervor.
"How--"  She got no further on the query, for the other woman
interrupted in a tone of scandal.  "Mary Ann Demilt!  How can you
talk like that!  Your father's been dead this five year last
August!"

The horror of the moment was broken by the appearance of Miss
Mattie, crying hospitably on seeing the visitors, "Why, Mary and
Pauline!  How do you do?"

The shorter one--Pauline--looked up and said sharply, "We're well
enough, Mattie." She was weary of the form.

"Come right in," said Miss Mattie.  "You're just in time for
dinner."

There was a great protest at this.  They "hadn't a moment to
spare," they were "just going down to the corner, and had stopped
to say," etc., etc.

"You've got to help me," said Miss Mattie.  "Will here has invited
the boys who are working for him to stay to dinner, and it won't be
any more than Christian for you to help me out."

"Ladies!" said Red.  "If you don't want to starve a man who's
deserving of a better fate, take off your fixings and come out to
dinner.  No," he continued to their protests, which he observed
were growing weaker.  "It's no trouble at all: there's plenty for
everybody--come one, come all, this house shall fly, clean off its
base as soon as I--Now for Heaven's sake, ladies, it's all
settled--come on."

Whereat they laughed nervously, and took off their hats.

It was a jolly dinner party.  The young fellows Red had picked up
in the blacksmith's shop were not the ordinary quality of loungers.
They were boys of good country parentage, with a common school
education, who, unfortunately, could find nothing to do but the
occasional odd job.  Of course it would not take long to transform
them into common n'er-do-wells, but now they were merely
thoughtless boys.

The whole affair had an _al fresco_ flavor which stoppered
convention.  The two women visitors pitched in and had as good a
time as anybody.

In the middle of the festivities a young man walked past the front
fence; a stranger evidently, for-his clothes wore the cut of a
city, and a cosmopolitan, up-to-date city at that.  He stopped and
looked at the house, hesitated a moment and then walked in, back to
where the folk were eating.

"Excuse me," said he, as they looked up at him, "but isn't this Mr.
Demilt's house?"

A momentary silence followed, as it was not clear whose turn it was
to answer.  Miss Mattie glanced around and finding Red's eye on
her, replied, "No sir--Mr. Demilt's house is about a mile further
up the road."

"Dear me!" said the young man ruefully.  He was a spic-and-span,
intelligent looking man, with less of the dandy about him than the
air of a man who had never worn anything but clothes of the proper
trim, and become quite used to it.  Nevertheless the sweat stood
out in drops on his forehead, for Fairfield's front "street"
savoured of a less moral region than it really was, on a broiling
summer day.

The young man sighed frankly and wiped his head.  "Well, that's too
bad," he said.  "I'm a stranger here--would you kindly tell me
where I could get some dinner?"

"What's the matter with that?" inquired Red, pointing to the roast,
which still preserved an air of fallen greatness.  He had liked the
look of the other instantly.

The stranger looked first at Red and then at the roast.  "The only
thing I can see the matter with that," he answered, "is that it is
a slice too thick."

"Keno!" cried Red, "you get it.  Mattie, another plate and weapons
to fit.  Sit down, sir, and rest your fevered feet.  It you don't
like walking any better than I do, you've probably strewn fragments
of one of the commandments all the way from where the stage dropped
you to this apple tree."

"It seems to me that I did make some remarks that I never learned
at my mother's knee," returned the other laughing.  "And I'm
exceedingly obliged for the invitation, as there doesn't seem to be
a hotel here, and I am but a degree south of starvation."

"Red or black?" asked the host, with a quick glance at his guest.

The other caught the allusion.  "I haven't followed the deal," he
replied, "but I'll chance it on the red."

Somehow he felt instantly at home and at ease; it was a quality
that Red Saunders dispersed wherever he went.

"There you are, sir," said Red, forwarding a plate full of juicy
meat.  "The ladies will supply the decorations."

"Do you like rice as a vegetable, sir?" inquired Miss Mattie.

"No--he doesn't," interrupted Red.  "He likes it as an
animal--never saw anyone who looked less like a vegetable than our
friend," The young man's laugh rang out above the others.

Poor Miss Mattie was confused.  "It's too bad of you, Will, to put
such a meaning on my words," she said.

"The strange part of it is," spoke the young man, seeing an
opportunity for a joke, and to deal courteously with his
entertainers at the same time.  "The peculiar fact is, that my name
is Lettis."

"Lettuce?" cried Red.  "Mattie, I apologise--he is a vegetable."

At which they all laughed again.

"And now," said Red, "I'm Red Saunders, late of the Chantay Seeche
Ranch, Territory of Dakota--State of North Dakota, I mean, can't
get used to the State business; there's a Bill and a Dick on this
side of me and two Johns and a Sammy on the other.  Foot of the
table is Miss Mattie Saunders, next to her--just as they run--Miss
Pauline Doolittle and Miss Mary Ann Demilt, who may be kin to the
gentleman you're seeking."

"Mr. Thomas F. Demilt?" asked the stranger.

"He's my sister," responded Miss Mary Ann.  Whereat the youths
buried their faces in the plates, as Mr. Thomas F., in spite of
many excellent qualities, bore a pathetic resemblance to the title.

"I mean," continued the lady hurriedly, "that I'm his brother."

"By Jimmy, ma'am!" exclaimed Red.  "But yours is a strange family!"

"What Miss Demilt wishes to say," cut in Miss Doolittle with some
asperity, "is that Mr. Thomas Faulkenstone Demilt is her brother."
She did not add, as extreme candour would have urged, "And I have
some hope--remote, alas! but there--of becoming sister to Miss
Demilt myself."

"Thank you!" said Lettis.  "Shall I be able to see him this
afternoon?"

"Oh, mercy, yes!" said Miss Mary Ann.  "Tom is home all day."

"I can thank the kind fates for that," said Lettis.  "I had begun
to think he was a myth," and he fell in upon the tender meat with
the vigorous appetite of youth and a good digestion.

Nathaniel Lettis was by no means a fool, and he had experience in
business, but the mainspring of the young fellow was frankness, and
in the course of the dinner he told his errand.  Mr. Demilt had
written to his firm explaining the advantages of starting a
straw-board factory in Fairfield.  It was too small a thing for the
firm to be interested in, but Lettis had a small capital which he
wished to invest in an enterprise of his own handling, and it had
struck him that there might be a chance for independence; therefore
he had come to find out the lay of the land.

     *     *     *     *     *

Red Saunders' first-glance liking of the stranger deepened as he
told of his business.  The cowman did not blame people who took
devious ways and dealt in ambiguities, for his experience in the
world, which was pretty fairly complete, had told him that craft
was a necessity for weak natures; nevertheless he cared not for
those who used it.

In his part of the West, a man would no more think of giving a
false impression of his financial standing to alter his position in
one's regard, than he would wear corsets.  Money was of small
consequence; its sequelae of less.  Men spoke openly of how much
they made; how they liked the job; how their claims were paying;
such matters were neutral ground of chance conversation, as the
weather is in the East.  The rapid and unpredictable changes of
fortune gave a tendency to make light of one's present condition.
A man would say "I'm busted" without any more feeling than he would
say "I have a cold."  Now, in Fairfield, that is not likely
lonesome in that respect, one of the principal objects in life was
to conceal the poverty which would persist in sticking its gaunt
elbows through the cloth of words spread over it.  Red asked
straight-forward questions--shrewd ones, too--seeing that the other
was one of his own kind and would not resent it.

Lettis wanted nothing better than a chance to expand on the
subject.  It was close to his heart.  He had been a subordinate
about as long as a proud and masterful young fellow ought to be.
Now he was quivering to try his own strength, and seeing, for his
part, that his host was inspired with a genuine interest and not
curiosity, he gave him all the information in his power.

"But a plant like that is going to cost some money, ain't it?"
asked Red.

"Too much for me, I'm afraid," replied Lettis.  "I have five
thousand to put in, and I suppose I could borrow the rest, but
that's saddling the business with too heavy charges right in the
beginning.  Still, it may not be as bad as I fancy."

Red drummed on the table, thinking.  "I wouldn't mind getting into
a business of some kind, as long as it was making things," he said.
"I don't hanker to keep store much--suppose I go along with you,
when you look up how much straw is raised and the rest of it?"

"Would you?" cried the young fellow, eagerly.  "By George, sir, I
wish you could see your way clear to take hold of it.  Could you
stand ten thousand, for instance?  Excuse the question, but I'm so
anxious over this----"

"Lord! What's the harm of asking facts?" said Red.  Then with a
gleam of genial pride, "Ten thousand wouldn't break me by a durn
sight".

Lettis' boyish face fairly glowed.  "It was my good angel made me
stop in front of your fence," he said.  "I saw you all eating in
here and you looked so jolly, that I thought I'd stop, on the
chance you might be the man I was looking for; now I'll go right on
and see Mr. Demilt and find out what he wants to do in the matter."

"Wait for the waggon and you can ride," said Red.  "Boy's gone home
to see his dad about working for me this afternoon; in the
meantime, it you're not too proud to take hold and help us with
this dod-ratted fence, I'll be obliged to you."

"Bring on your fence! I'm ready," said Lettis.

"Come on, boys!" said Red, and the party rose from the table.
Later the waggon came up.

"Well, good day, Lettis," said Red.  "If you can't get quarters
anywhere else, come on and help me hold the barn down."

"Do you sleep in the barn?  Then I'll come back sure.  Tell you how
it is, Mr. Saunders.  I've been stuck up in a three-by-nine office
for four years--nose held to 'A to M, Western branch,' and if I'm
not sick of it there's no such thing as sickness; to get out and
breathe the fresh air, to see the country, to be my own master!
Well, sir, it just makes me tremble to think of it.  I hope you
find the straw-board what you want to take up."

"I shouldn't wonder if it would be," answered Red.  "We'll make a
corking team to do business, Lettis, I can see that--so cautious
and full of tricks, and all that."

The young man laughed and then sobered down.  "Of course, I know
the whole thing would look insane to most people," he said
sturdily, "but I've been in business long enough to see sharp
gentlemen come to grief in spite of their funny work.  I don't
believe a man'll come to any more harm by believing people mean
well by him than he would by working on the other tack."

"Good boy!" said Red, slapping him on the back.  "You stick to that
and you'll get a satisfaction out of it that money couldn't buy
you.  Another thing, you'd never get a cent out of me in this world
it you were one of these smooth young men.  My eye teeth are cut,
son, for all I may seem easy.  The man that does me a trick has a
chance for bad luck, and you can bet on that."

"Lord!  I believe you!" replied Lettis, taking in the dimensions of
his new friend.  "Well, good-bye for the present, Mr.
Saunders--thank you for the dinner and still more for the heart you
have put into me."

At six o'clock the fence was not quite finished.

"If you'll stay with me until the thing's done, I'll stand another
dollar all around," said Red.  "I don't want it to stare me in the
face to-morrow."

The eldest spoke up.  "We'll stay with you, Mr. Saunders, but we
don't want any money for it, do we, fellers?"

"No," they replied in chorus, well meaning what they said.

"Why, you're perfectly welcome to the cash!" said Red.

"And you're welcome to the work," retorted the boy.  "We're paid
plenty as it is."

"If that's the way you look at it, I'm much obliged to you," said
Red, who would not have discouraged such a feeling for anything.
He said to himself, "This don't seem much like the kind of people
I've heard inhabited these parts.  Those boys are all right.
Reckon it you use people decent they'll play up to your lead, no
matter what country it is."

At seven thirty the fence was done, gorgeous in a coat of fresh red
paint, and the hands departed, each with a slice of Miss Mattie's
chocolate cake, a thing to make the heathen gods feel contemptuous
of ambrosia.

They went straight to the blacksmith's shop, where they were
anxiously expected.

"Good Lord!" he said a little later, "it you fellers will talk one
at a time, p'r'aps I can make out what's happened.  Now, Sammy,
sp'ose you do the speaking?"

Whereupon Sammy faithfully chronicled the events of the day.  The
boys had behaved themselves as if there was nothing out of the
common happening while they were with Red, being held up by a sense
of pride, but naturally, the splendid physique of the cowman, his
picturesque attire, his abandoned way of scattering money around
and the air of a frolic he had managed to impart to a day's hard
work, all had effect on imagination, and the boys were very much
excited.

"I'd like to know how many Injuns that feller's killed!" piped up
the youngest.  "My!  he could grab hold of a man and wring his neck
like a chicken."

"Aw, tst!" remonstrated the blacksmith.  But the elders stood by
the younker this time.

"Yes, he could, Mr. Farrel!" said they.  "You ought to seen him
when he rolled up his sleeves!  He's got an arm on him like the
hind leg of a horse, and he uses an ax like a tack-hammer.  He got
mad once when he pounded his thumb, and busted the post square in
two with one crack."

"Well, he looks like a husky man," admitted the blacksmith.  "But
why didn't you boys take the extry dollar when he made the offer?
He 'pears to know what he was about and looks kind of foolish to
say 'no' to it."

There was a moment's silence.  "We wanted to show him we were just
as good as the folks he knew," explained the eldest, somewhat
shame-facedly.

The  blacksmith  straightened  himself.  "Quite right, too," said
he.  "We _air_, when you come to that."  A little pride is a
wonderful tonic.  Each unit of that gathering felt himself the
better for the display of it.

     *     *     *     *     *

In the meantime, Red was repairing the ravages of the day opposite
Miss Mattie at a supper table which was bountifully spread.  Miss
Mattie put two and two together, and found they meant a larger sum
of eatables than she had hitherto felt sufficient, and with a
little pang at the thought of the inadequacy of her first offering
to her cousin, provided such fatness as the land of Fairfield
boasted.

They discussed the events of the day with satisfaction.

"My!" said Miss Mattie.  "You do things wholesale while you are
about it, Will, don't you?"

Red smiled in pleased acknowledgment.  "I'm no peanut stand, old
lady," said he.  "I like to see things move."

Then Miss Mattie broached the question she had been hovering around
ever since her guests had taken their leave.

"Do you think you'll really go into business with that young man
who was here to dinner?" she asked.

"Why, I think it's kinder likely," said Red.

"But you don't know anything about him, Will," she continued,
putting the weak side of her desire forward, in order to rest more
securely if that stood the test.

"No, I don't," agreed Red.  "But here's the way I feel about that:
I want to be doing something according to my size; besides that, it
would be a good thing for this place if some kind of a live doings
was to start here.  All right, that's my side of it.  Now, as far
as not knowing that young feller's concerned, I might think I knew
him from cyclone-cellar to roof-tree, and he might do me to a
crowded house.  My idea is that life's a good deal like faro--you
know how that is."

"I remember about his not letting the people go, but I'm afraid I
don't know my Bible as well as I ought to, Will," apologised Miss
Mattie, rather astonished at his allusion.

"Let the people go?  Bible?" cried Red, laying down his knife and
fork, still more astonished at her allusion.  "Will you kindly tell
me what that has to do with faro-bank?  Girl, one of us is full of
ghost songs, and far, far off the reservation.  What in the name of
Brigham Young's off-ox are you talking about?"

"Why, you spoke of Pharaoh, Will, and I can remember about his
holding the children of Israel captive, and the plagues, but I
really don't see just how it applies."

"Oh!" said Red, as a great light broke upon him.  "Oh, I see what
you're thinking about.  The old boy who corralled the Jews, and
made 'em work for the first and last time in their history, and
they filled him full of fleas, and darkness, and all kinds of
unpleasant experiences to break even?  Well, I was not talking
about him at all.  My faro is a game played with a lay-out and a
pack of cards and a little tin box that you ought to look at
carefully before you put any money on the board, to see that it
ain't arranged for dealing seconds; and there's a lookout and a
case keeper and--well, I don't believe I could tell you just how it
works, but some day I'll make a layout and we'll have some fun.
It's a bully game, but I say, it's a great deal like life--the
splits go to the dealer; that is to say, that if the king comes out
to win and lose at the same time, you lose anyhow, see?"

"No," said Miss Mattie, truthfully.

Red thrust his fingers through his hair and sighed.  "I'm afraid I
know too much about it to explain it clearly," he replied.   "But
what I mean is this: some people try to play system at faro, and
they last about as quick as those that don't.  I always put the
limit on the card that's handiest, and the game don't owe me a
cent; as a matter of fact, some of the tin-horns used to wear a
pained expression when they saw me coming across the room.  I've
split 'cm from stem to keelson more than once, and never used a
copper in my life--played 'em wide open, all the time.  Now," and
he brought his fist down on the table, "I'm going to play that
young man wide open, and I'll bet you I don't lose by him neither.
He looks as honest as a mastiff pup, for all he dresses kind of
nice.  I might just as well try him on the fly, as to go
lunk-heading around and get stuck anyhow, with the unsatisfactory
addition of feeling that I was a fool, as well as confiding."

Most of the argument had been ancient Aryan to Miss Mattie, but the
ring of the voice and the little she understood made the tenor
plain.  A sudden moisture gathered in her eyes as she said, "You're
too good and honest and generous a man to distrust anybody: that's
what I think, Will."

"Mattie, I wish you wouldn't talk like that," said he, in an
injured voice.  "It ain't hardly respectable."

After which there was a silence for a short time.  Then said Miss
Mattie, "Do you think you could content yourself here, Will, after
all the things you've seen?"

Red brightened at the change of topic.  "I'll tell you how that is:
if I hadn't any capital, and had to work here as a poor man, I
don't believe I'd take the trouble to try and live--I'd smother;
but having that pleasant little crop of long greens securely
planted in the bank where the wild time doesn't grow, and thusly
being able to cavort around as it sweetly pleases me, why, I like
the country.  It's sport to take hold of a place like this, that's
only held together by its suspenders, and try to make a real live
man's town out of it."

Miss Mattie drew a deep breath of relief.  "You came like the hero
in a fairy story, Will, and I was afraid you'd go away like one,"
she said.

He reached across the table and patted her hand.  "You'd have had
to gone, too," said he.  "The family'll stick together."

She thanked him in a soft little voice.  "Dear me!" she murmured.
"It does seem that you've been here a year, Will."

"Never was told that I was such slow company before."

"You know perfectly well that that isn't what I mean."

"Well, you'll have to put up with me for a while, whatever I am;
insomuch as I'm to be a manufacturer and the Lord knows what.  Then
some day I'm going to have an awful hankering for the land where
the breeze blows, and then we'll take a shute for open prairie.
It's cruelty to animals for me to straddle a horse now, yet there's
where I'm at home, and I'm going to buy me a cayuse of some
kind--say, I ought to get at that; if I'm going around with Lettis
I want to ride a horse--know anybody that's got a real live horse
for sale, Mattie?  No?  Well, I'll stop in and see the lady that
deals the mail--I'll bet you what that woman doesn't know about
what's going on in this camp will never get into history--be back
right away."

Said he to the post-mistress, "My name's Saunders, ma'am--cousin to
Miss Mattie.  I just stopped in to find out if you knew anyone that
had a riding horse for sale; horse with four good legs that'll
carry me all day, and about the rest I don't care a frolicsome
cuss."

The post-mistress replied at such length, and with such velocity
that Red was amazed.  He gathered from her remarks that a certain
Mr. Upton had an animal, purchased of a chance horse dealer, which
it was altogether likely he would dispose of, as the first time he
had tried the brute it went up into the air all sorts of ways, and
caused the owner to perform such tricks before high Heaven as made
the angels weep.

"Where does this man live?" asked Red, with a kindling eye.

"He lives about three miles out on the Peterville road, but he's in
town to-night visitin' Miss Alders--Johnny!" to a small boy who had
been following the conversation, his wide-open eyes bent on Red,
and his mouth and wiggling bare toes expressing their delight in
vigorous contortions, "Johnny, you run tell Mr. Upton there's a
gentleman in here wants to see him about buying a horse."

"Don't disturb him if he's visiting," remonstrated Red.

"He won't call that disturbing him," replied the post-mistress,
with a shrill laugh.  "He'll be here in no time."

She was a true prophet.  It seemed as if the boy had barely left
the store when he returned with a stoop-shouldered, solemn-faced
man, who had a brush-heap of chin-whisker decorating the lower part
of his face.  After greetings and the explanation of the errand,
Mr. Upton stroked his chin-whisker regretfully.  "Young man," said
he, "I'm in a pecooliar and onpleasant position; there's mighty
feyew things I wouldn't do in a hawse trade, but I draw the line on
murder.  That there hawse'll kill you, just's sure as you're fool
enough to put yerself on his back.  I'll sell you a real hawse
mighty reasonable--"

"I'll risk him," cut in Red.  "Could you lead him down here in the
morning?"

"Yes, indeedy--he's a perfect lady of a horse to lead---you can
pick up airy foot--climb all over him in fac', s'long's you don't
try to ride him or hitch him up.  If you do that--well, young man,
you'll get a pretty fair idee of what is meant by one of the demons
of hell."

"What kind of saddle have you got?"

"One of them outlandish Western affairs that the scamp threw in
with the animal--you see, I thought I'd take up horse-back riding
for my health; I was in bed three weeks after my fust try."

"I'll go you seventy-five dollars for the outfit, just as you got
it--chaps, taps, and latigo straps, if you'll have it in front of
my house at nine o'clock to-morrow."

"All right, young man--all right sir--now don't blame me if you air
took home shoes fust."

"Nary," said Red.  "Come and see the fun."

"I shorely will," replied the old gentleman.



IV

At nine the next morning there was a crowd in front of the house.

"What have you been doing now, Will?" asked Miss Mattie with
prescience.

"Only buying a horse, Mattie," returned Red soberly.  "Seems to be
quite an event here."

"Is that all?"

"That's all, so help me Bob!" Red had a suspicion that there would
be objections if she knew what kind of a horse it was.

Lettis, who had roomed with Red overnight, was in the secret.

The horse arrived, leading very quietly, as Mr. Upton had said.  It
was a buckskin, fat and hearty from long resting.  Nothing could be
more docile than the pensive lower lip, and the meek curve of the
neck; nothing could be more contradictory than the light of its
eye; a brooding, baleful fire, quietly biding its time.

"Scatter, friends!" cried Red, as he put his foot in the stirrup.
"Don't be too proud to take to timber!"

He swung over as lightly as a trapeze performer, deftly catching
his other stirrup.  The horse groaned and shivered.

"Don't let him get his head down!  Gol-ding it!  Don't you!"
screamed Mr.   Upton in wild excitement.

Red threw the bridle over the horn of the saddle.  "Go it, you
devil!" cried he.  And they went.  Six feet straight in the air,
first pass.  The crowd scattered, as requested.  They hurried at
that.  Red gave the brute the benefit of his two hundred and a half
as they touched earth, and his opponent grunted when he felt the
jar of it.  They rocketted and ricochetted; they were here, they
were there, they were everywhere, the buckskin squealing like a
pig, and fighting with every ounce of the strength that lay in his
steel strung legs; the dust rose in clouds; Red's hat flew in no
time; he was yelling like a maniac, and the crowd was yelling like
more maniacs.  Now and then a glimpse of the rider's face could be
caught, transported with joy of the struggle; then the dust would
roll up and hide everything.  No one was more pleased at the
spectacle than the blacksmith.  He was capering in the middle of
the road, waving a hand-hammer and shouting "Hold him _down_!  Hold
him DOWN!  Why do you let him jump up like that?  If _I_ was on
that horse I'd show you!  Aw, there it is again--Stop him!  _Stop_
him!"

At this point the buckskin made three enormous leaps for the
blacksmith, as though he had understood.  The smith cast dignity to
the winds and went over the nearest fence in the style that little
boys, when coasting, call "stomach-whopper"--or words to that
effect--and took his next breath two minutes later.  He might have
saved the labour, as the horse wheeled on one foot, and pulled
fairly for the picket fence opposite.  Red regretted the absence of
herders as the sharp pickets loomed near.  It was no time for
regrets.  The horse was over with but little damage--a slight
scratch, enough to rouse his temper, however, for he whaled away
with both hind feet, and parts of the fence landed a hundred feet
off.  Then a dash through an ancient grape arbor, and they were
lost to view of the road.  Some reckless small boys scampered
after, but the majority preferred to trace the progress of the
conflict by the aboriginal "Yerwhoops" that came from somewhere in
behind the old houses.

"There they go!" piped up a shrill voice of the small-boy brigade.
"Right through Mis' Davisses hen coops!--you _ought_ to see them
hens FLY!" The triumphant glee is beyond the reach of words.
Simultaneous squawking verified the remark, as well as a feminine
voice, urging a violent protest, cut short by a scream of terror,
and the slam of a door.  The inhabitants of "Mis' Davisses" house
instantly appeared through the front door, seeking the street.

To show the erraticalness of fate, no sooner had they reached the
road, than Red's mount cleared the parapet of the bridge in a
single leap--a beautiful leap--and came down upon them in the road.

All got out of the way but a three-year-old, forgotten in the
excitement.  Upon this small lad, fallen flat in the road, bore the
powerful man and horse.  Then there were frantic cries of warning.
Fifty feet between the youngster and those mangling
hoofs--twenty--five! the crowd gasped--they were blotted together!
Not so.  A mighty hand had snatched the boy away in that instant of
time.  He was safe and very indignant in a howling, huddled heap in
the ditch by the roadside, but alas, for horse and rider!  The
buckskin was not used to such feats, and when Red's weight was
thrown to the side for the reach he missed his stride, struck his
feet together, and down they went, while the foot-deep dust sprang
into the air like an explosion.

Miss Mattie rushed to the scene of the accident, followed by
everybody.  Young Lettis, equally frightened, was close beside her.

"Oh, Will! Are you killed?" she cried.

And then a voice devoid of any signs of weakness, but loaded to the
breaking point with wrath, told in such language as had never been
heard in Fairfield that the owner was still much alive.

"Run away, Mattie!  Run away and let me cuss!" shrieked Red.  Miss
Mattie collapsed into the arms of Lettis.

The dust settled enough so that the anxious villagers could see
horse and man; the former resting easily, as if he had had enough
athletics for one day, and the latter sitting in the road.  Neither
showed any intention of rising.

"What's the matter, Mr. Saunders, are you hurt?" inquired the fussy
post-mistress.

"Please go 'way, ma'am," said Red, waving his arm.

"I'm sure you're hurt--I'm perfectly sure you're hurt," she
persisted, holding her ground.  "Now, do tell us what can possibly
be the matter with you?"

"Very well," returned the exasperated cow-puncher, "I will.  My
pants, ma'am, have suffered in this turn-up, and they're now in a
condition to make my appearance in polite society difficult, if not
impossible; now please go 'way and somebody fetch me a horse
blanket."

It is regrettable that the discomfiture of the post-mistress was
received with undisguised hilarity.  The blanket was produced, and
Red stalked off in Indian dignity, marred by a limp in his left
leg, for he had come upon Mother Earth with a force which made
itself felt through all that foot of soft dust.

"Bring that durn-fool horse along," he called over his shoulder.
Buckskin rose and followed his owner.  There was no light in his
eye now; he looked thoughtful.  He, too, limped, and there was a
trickle of blood down his nose.  Verily it had been a hard fought
field.

     *     *     *     *     *

As both men were anxious to see the lay of the land as soon as
possible.  Red took his place in the waggon that day, after the
damages were repaired, content to wait until his leg was less sore
for horseback riding.

There followed a busy two weeks for them.  Mr. Demilt had some
money he wished to put into the enterprise, but his most valuable
assistance was, of course, his thorough knowledge of the resources
of the country.

They found an admirable site for the mill, in an old stone barn,
which had stood the ravages of desolation almost unimpaired.  Red's
mining experience told him that the creek could easily be flumed to
the barn, and as that was the only objection of the others to this
location, they wrote the owner of the property for a price.  They
were astonished when they received the figures.  It had come by
inheritance to a man to whom it was a white elephant of the most
exasperating sort, and he was glad to get rid of it for almost a
song.  They were a jubilant three at the news.  It saved the cost
of building a mill, and including that, the price was as low per
acre as any land they could have obtained.  Red closed the bargain
instantly.

Lettis' part of the business was chiefly to arrange for the
disposal of their product, and when he explained to his partners
what he could reasonably hope to do in that line, the affair lost
its last tint of unreality, and became a good proposition, for
Lettis had an excellent business acquaintance, who would be glad to
deal with the straightforward young fellow.

The night after the signing of the deeds, Red said to Miss Mattie,
"We ought to have a stockholders' dinner to-morrow night, Mattie.
If you could hire that scow-built girl, who wears her hair
scrambled, to come in and give you a lift, would you feel equal to
it?"

"You always put it that I'm doing you a great favour in such
things, Will, but you know perfectly well there's nothing I'd
rather do," replied Miss Mattie, with a dimpling smile.  "However,
it adds to the pleasure of it to have it put in that way, so I
won't complain.  I'll just have my supper first, and then you men
can talk over your business undisturbed."

"You _will_ not--you'll eat with the rest of us."

"Yes, but you stockholders--"  The word had an import to Miss
Mattie; a something, if not regal, at least a kinship to the king.
Under her democracy lay a respect for the founded institution;
impersonal; an integral part of the law of the State; in fact, a
minor sovereignty within an empire.

"Stockholder yourself!" retorted Red.  "Don't you call me names."

"What do you mean, Will?" asked Miss Mattie, with wide-opened eyes.

"I mean you're a stockholder as good as anybody--you've got half my
stack.  Now, hold on!  Just listen!  This is a queer run, Mattie,
from the regulation point of view, this company of ours; I know
enough about fillin' and backin' to know that--you ought to have
seen the pryin', and pokin', and nosin' around them Boston men did
before they took holt of the Chantay Seeche and made it a stock
company!  One feller was the ablest durn fool I ever come acrosst.
I used to let on I didn't savvey anything about it.  'Now, explain
to me,' says I to him.  'You say you have so many shares of them
stock,' waving my hand to a bunch of critters in the distance.
'What part do you take?  I mean, what's your share of each animal,
and does the last man get the hoofs and the tail?' 'Oh! you don't
understand,' says he.  'I'll explain it to you.'  So he starts in
to tell me that 'stock didn't necessarily mean beef critters,' and
a lot more things, whilst old man Ferguson, who was putting the
deal through, stood listening and chewing his teeth, thinking I was
going to give our friend the frolicsome hee-hee at the wind-up.
But I stood solemn, and never even drew a smile, for fear of
queering Ferguson.  Well.  That's the proper way to start a
company; make it as dreary and long-winded as possible.  We ain't
done that, and perhaps we'll go broke for breaking the rules, and
then your stock won't be worth a cuss; so don't you get excited
about it.  I wanted the Saunders family to be represented.  Pretty
soon the old lad with the nose will be around, and you'll have a
chance to read about the 'parties of the first part,' and 'second
parts of the party' and 'aforesaids' and 'behindsaids' and the rest
of the yappi them lawyers swing so that honest men won't know what
the devil they're up to."

"Oh, Will! How can I ever thank you!" cried Miss Mattie, her eyes
filling.  It seemed a great and responsible position to the gentle
lady to be a stockholder in the corporation.  It wasn't the
monetary value of the thing; it was the pride of place.

"If you don't know how, don't try," returned Red.  "You give the
other three stockholders a good feed to-morrow and the thanks will
be up to you.  Hello!  There's the old lad now!" as a trumpet blast
rang out from the front porch.  "It must take some practise to blow
your nose like that.  I've heard Jackasses that could not bray in
the same class with that little old gent--come in.  Come in!  You
needn't sound the rally again."

Thus adjured the lawyer made his entrance, and Miss Mattie became
in due and involved course of law a stockholder in the Fairfield
Strawboard Mfg. Co.

Fairfield rose to activity like a very small giant refreshed.
Teams and their heavy loads kept the respectable dust in constant
commotion.  A grist mill was added to the intended plant, thus
offering an inducement to the farmer to raise grain, and
incidentally straw, "So we can ketch 'em on both ends, too," as Red
put it.

The time seemed like enchantment to Miss Mattie.  As a bringer of
the tidings, and a stockholder in the company, she had risen to be
a person of importance, with the result that she was even more
modestly shy than before, although in her heart she liked it; but
more delightful yet was the spirit of holiday activity which
inspired and pervaded the place.

Red had insisted on operating on the lines that are laid down with
railroad spikes in the Western communities; to patronise home
industries as much as possible.  Therefore the machinery orders
went through Mr. Farrel, the blacksmith, initiating that worthy man
into the mysteries of making money without doing anything for it,
which seemed little less than a miracle to him.  Everything that
could be bought through local people was obtained in that way.  It
cost a trifle more, but it brought more money into the place, and
enabled the villagers to partake of the enlivenment, without the
feeling that it was a Barmecide feast.  The post-mistress furnished
the paint, and it is painful to add that she tried to furnish a
number three paint for a number one price, arguing that she was a
poor, lone woman, struggling through an uncharitable world and that
the increased profit would do her considerable good--a view which
Red did not share.  He would willingly have made her a present of
the difference, but he did not in the least intend to be choused
out of it by man nor woman.  They had a very funny debate in
private, wherein the feminine tried to dominate the masculine
principle by sheer volubility and found to its disgust that the
method didn't work.  Red listened most respectfully and always
replied, "Yes ma'am, but we don't want that paint.  Get us some
good paint--bully old paint with stick'um in it--this stuff is like
whitewash, only feebler.  We're going to put on a swell front up at
the mill, and we've got to have the right thing." And at last the
post-mistress said that she would, her respect for the
ex-cowpuncher having risen noticeably in the meantime.



V

The work on the mill was pushed, and in spite of the usual amount
of unforeseen delays, it was ready for work by the latter part of
September.  The official opening was set for the
twenty-seventh--Miss Mattie's birthday--and the village of
Fairfield was invited to a picnic to be held at the mill in honor
of the occasion.  It is needless to say that the Fairfield
Strawboard Mfg. Co.  did the thing up in shape.  Waggons loaded
with straw, and drawn by four-horse teams, went the rounds of the
village, collecting the guests.  It is doubtful if Fairfield was
ever more surprised than at the realisation of how much there was
of her--using the pronoun out of respect to the majority--"when she
was bunched," as Red said.  You would not have believed that
straggling, lonesome-looking place held so many people.  As Red
could discover no means in the town's resources to provide a meal
for three hundred people it was necessarily a basket party, which
struck Mr. Saunders as being grievously like a Swede treat.  He
made up for it in a measure by having barrels of lemonade and cider
on tap at the grounds--stronger beverages being barred--and by
hiring a quartette of strings "clear from town."

At half-past two on a resplendent but hot September afternoon the
caravan started for the mill grounds, the women dressed in the most
un-picnicky costumes imaginable, and the men ostentatiously at ease
in their store clothes.  Everyone was in the best of spirits, keen
for the excitement and pleasure that was sure to mark the occasion.

Red rode old Buckskin, who had succumbed to the inevitable, and
only "jumped around a little," as Red put it, on being mounted.  It
was pretty lively "jumping around," but perhaps Mr. Saunders found
some satisfaction in sitting perfectly at his ease, smoking his
cigarette, while Buck jumped and Fairfield admired.  And, at any
rate, Buck had legs of iron, and the wind of a locomotive, carrying
Red all day, and willing to kick at anything which bothered him
when night came.  He was a splendid beast through and through, from
forelock to tail-tip, but he had learned who was his master and
obeyed him accordingly.

It was a five mile ride, mostly under the shade of fine old trees.
The road wound around the hills; here and there a break in the
arboreal border showed views of rolling country, well-shaped and
pleasing, winding up grassy slopes in groves of verdure.  Of course
most of the freshness of leaf was past, yet the modest gray-green
gave a silvery sheen to the landscape that brought it into unity.

One member of the party felt that his heart was very full as he
looked at it.  That was Lettis.  "Blast the old office!" he kept
saying to himself.  "Blast its six dingy windows, and the clock at
the end!  Doesn't this look good, and doesn't it smell good, dust
and all?" and then he'd howl at the horses in sheer exuberance of
good feeling, making the mild old brutes put a better foot of it to
the front.

Red cantered up beside his waggon.  "Well, Lettis," he said, "here
we go for the opening overture, with the full strength of the
company--we're great people this day, ain't we?"  And the big man
smiled like a pleased big boy.

"Oh, what a bully old fellow you are!" thought Lettis as he looked
at him.  Lettis was thinking of other qualities than flesh, but the
physical Red Saunders on horseback was deserving of a glance from
anybody; the massive figure so well poised; the clear cut, proud
profile; the shapely head with its crown of red-gold hair; the easy
grace of him by virtue of his strength--it would be a remarkable
crowd in which Chanta Seechee Red couldn't pass for a man.  He was
every inch of that from the ground up.

Lettis had come to bow down to him in adoration, with all an
affectionate boy's worship.  To those eyes Red was just right, in
every particular.  Likewise to Miss Mattie, who even now was
filling her eyes with him, from behind the vantage of a
broad-brimmed straw hat.

At last the whole party disembarked at the flat before the mill,
and made ready for the official starting of the machinery.  The big
doors were thrown open, so that the company could see within while
resting outside in the shade, and under the cooling influence of
what breeze there was.  The mill was officially started.  Red
climbed the bank to the flume, and raised the gate.  The crowd
cheered as the imprisoned waters leapt to freedom with a hollow
roar, raising in pitch as the penstock filled and the wheels began
to go round.  Speech was called for, and the vigorously protesting
Red forced to the front by his former friends, Demilt and Lettis.
Thus betrayed by those he trusted, Red made the best of it.

"Ladies and gentlemen, fellow citizens!" said he.  "The mill is now
open to all comers.  We hope to make this thing a success; we hope
to see every horny-handed, hump-backed farmer in the country rosin
the soles of his moccasins, and shove his plough through twice as
much ground as he ever did before, and if he comes here with his
plunder, we'll give him a square shake.  We'll pay him as much as
we dast, and not let him in on the ground floor, so he can crawl
out through the coal-hole, as is sometimes done.  Now, everybody
run away and have a good time, for I don't like to talk this yappi
any more than you like to hear it.  Kola geus!  By-bye!"

It was a very successful picnic.  They spent the afternoon in
wandering around in the usual picnic fashion, developing appetites,
until it occurred to Red to liven the performance by showing them
the art of roping, as practiced upon an old cow found in the woods.
As a spectacle it was a failure.  The combined efforts of all the
hooting small boys could not make that cow run; she even stretched
her neck toward Red, as though saying, "Hurry up with your
foolishness.  I have a cud to chew and can't stand here idle all
day."  So Red galloped by and threw the noose over her head as an
exhibition of how the thing was done, rather than how it ought to
be done.  Nevertheless, picnic parties are not hypercritical in the
matter of amusement, and the feat received three encores.  The last
time he missed his cast through overconfidence.  Whereat the old
cow tossed her head and tail in the air, and tore off at an
elephantine gallop, with a bawl that sounded to Red mightily like
derision.

"Durned if she ain't laughing at me!" he cried.  But as a matter of
fact, it was a hornet and its unmistakable sting that injected this
activity into her system.

It was all very pleasant to Miss Mattie, as one's first picnic in
many years should be.  She enjoyed the crisp green sod, the great
trees standing around, park-like, with the sunlight falling between
their shade like brilliant tatters of cloth-of-gold; while from the
near distance came the tiny shouting of cool waters.  They had a
camp-fire at night, making the moonlight still more mysterious and
remote by contrast.  The quartette of strings played for the ears
of those who cared to listen and for the legs of those who chose to
take chances on tripping their light fantastic toes over tree roots
in the grass.

Red loved music, and he loved the night.  The poetic side of his
memories of watching the Dipper swing around Polaris, while he sung
the cows to sleep, came back to him.  In his mind he saw the vast
prairie roll on to infinity; saw the mountains stand out, a world
of white peaks, rising from a sea of darkness.  Again he heard the
plaintive shrilling of an Indian whistle, or the song of the lad
down creek made tuneful and airy by the charm of distance.

"Having a good time, Mattie?" he asked, with a smile.

"The best I ever had, Will," she answered, smiling back unsteadily.
Poor lady!  The size of an occasion is so many standards, whether
the standard be inches or feet, or miles.  Miss Mattie's events had
been measured in hundredths of an inch, and it took a good many of
them to cover so small an action as a successful picnic on a
beautiful night.  Her eyes were humid; her mouth smiled and drooped
at the corners alternately.  Red felt her happiness with a keen
sympathy, and as he looked at her, suddenly she changed in his
eyes.  Just what the difference was he could not have told; nor
whether it was in her or in him.  A sudden access of feeling,
undefinable, unplaceable, but strong, possessed him.  There is a
critical temperature in the life of a man, when no amount of
pressure can ever make the more expansive emotions assume the
calmer form of friendship.  There was something in Miss Mattie's
eye which had warmed Red to that degree, but he didn't know it.  He
only knew that he wanted to sit rather unnecessarily close beside
her, and that he would be sorry when it came time to go home.  And
he was very silent.

During the drive back to the house he spoke in monosyllables; he
went straight to the barn with Lettis afterward, and made no
attempt to take the usual frank and hearty good-night kiss.

"You're as glum as an oyster!" said Lettis, when they reached their
quarters.  "What's the matter, old man?"

"I don't know, Let; I feel kind of quiet, somehow."

"Sick?  Or something go wrong?"

"No; nothing of the kind; it's just sort of an attack of stillness,
but I feel durn good."

Lettis laughed.  "If it wasn't you, Red, I'd say you were in love,"
he said.

It was well the barn was dark; or he would have seen a change
wonderful to behold come over the ex-puncher's face.  "The lad has
hit it," he said to himself in astonishment; aloud he grunted
"hunh" scornfully, and aroused himself for an unnecessary joke or
two.

Miss Mattie had noticed the "attack of stillness" and immediately
tried to fasten the blame upon herself.  What had she done?  She
couldn't recall anything.  She remembered she had said something
about the way his hair looked with the moon shining on it; perhaps
he had taken offence at that; the remark was entirely
complimentary, but sometimes people are touchy about such things;
still that was not the least like Cousin Will.  She must have said
or done something though--what could it be?  Oh what a pitiful
memory that could not recollect an injury done to one's best
friend!  She tossed and wondered over it for a long time before at
length she tell asleep.

Red also looked up at the roof, and took account of stock.  His
face was radiant in the dark.  "If I could only pull that off!" he
thought.  "I must seem an awful rough cuss to her, though; all
right for a cousin, but it's different when you come to the other
proposition.  My Jiminy!  I'll take a chance in the morning and
find out anyhow!" said he, and, eased in mind by the decision of
action, he too shook hands with Morpheus and was presently dreaming.

It had never occurred to Red Saunders that he was afraid of
anybody.  He even chuckled, when he got Lettis out of the way with
a plausible excuse the next morning.  Then he strode briskly into
the house, his question on his lips in a plump out-and-out form.

Miss Mattie looked at him with her slow smile.  "What is it?" she
asked.

Red swallowed his question whole.  "I--I wanted a little hot water
to shave with," said he.  Then a fury took hold of him.  "What the
devil am I lying like this for?" he thought.  He exhorted himself
to go on and say what he had to say like a man; but the other Red
Saunders refused to do anything of the sort.  He took the cup of
hot water most abjectly and fled from the house.  He had to shave
then, and in his hurry and indignation he turned the operation into
a clinic.  "Oh Jiminy!  Look at that!" he cried, as the razor
opened up another part of the subject.  "There's a slit an inch
long!  If I keep on at this gait, I won't have face enough to say
good morning, let alone what I want to do.  What ails me?  What
ails me?  Why should I be scart of the nicest woman God ever built?
Now by all the Mormon Gods!  I'll post right into the house and say
my little say as soon as these cuts stop bleeding!"

Cob-webs stopped the cuts, and other cob-webs stopped Red Saunders,
late of the Chanta Seechee ranch; two hundred and fifty pounds of
the very finest bone and muscle.  And the cob-webs held him,
foaming and boiling with rage and disgust, calling himself all the
yaller pups he could think of, but staying strictly within the safe
limits of the barn.  It was a revelation to the big man, and not a
pleasant one.  How was he to know that the most salient point of
his apparent cowardice was nothing less worthy than respect for the
woman's purity?  That if he would stop swearing long enough to get
at the springs of his action, he would find that he hesitated
because the new light on the matter made huge shadows of the slips
in the career of a strong, lawless, untrained but sorely tempted
man?  He knew nothing of the sort, and the funniest of comedies
took place in the barn.  He would reach the sensible stage.  "Pah!
All foolishness.  Go?  Of course he'd go, and this very minute, and
have the thing done with, good or bad"; he was quite amused at his
former conduct--until he reached the door.  Then he'd skip nimbly
back again, with a hot feeling that somebody was watching him,
although a careful inspection through the crack of the door
revealed no one.

Red discovered another thing that afternoon, which was that the
more nervous you are the more nervous you get.  He groaned in
perfect misery: "Ohoho!  That I should have seen the day when I was
afraid to ask anybody anything.  What's come over me anyhow?  It's
this darn country, I believe--'tain't me," then he stopped short.
"What you saying, Red?" he queried.  "Why don't you own up like a
man!"  The fact that it had a funny side struck him, and he
laughed, half forlornly, and half in thorough enjoyment.  He
suddenly sobered down.  "She's worth it, anyway," said he.  "She's
the best there is, and I ought to feel kind of leery of the
outcome--Well--Now, I guess I won't say anything till there's a
downright good chance.  I see I didn't savvy this kind of business
like I thought I did.  'Twouldn't be no kind of manners to step up
to a lady and shout, 'I'd like to have you marry me, if you feel
you've got the time!'  That don't go no more than a Chinaman on
roller-skates.  Your work is good, Red, but it's a little lumpy in
spots; them two left feet bother you; you're good in your place,
but you'd better build a fence around the place--damn the luck!
Smotheration!  I think she likes me, all right, but when it comes
to more'n that--oh, blast it, I'll just have to wait for a real
good chance; now come, old man, get four feet on the ground and
don't roll your eyes, take it easy till the chance comes."

Little he knew the chance was coming up the street at that moment.
He only saw Miss Mattie step out into the bed of flowers, her face
looking unusually pretty and youthful under the big straw hat, and
start to reduce the weeds to order.  She glanced around as though
in search of some one, and Red felt intuitively that the one was
himself.

"Here's where I ought to act as if I wore long pants," said he;
"now, what's to hinder me from going out there and get a-talking?"
And then he sat down hastily, more disgusted than ever, and smote
the air with his fist.  "You'd think the nicest, quietest woman
that ever lived was a wild beast, the way I act; yes sir, you
would!"

Meantime the chance drew nearer.  It was not a pleasant looking
opportunity.  Its eyes, full of dread and dreadful, peeped out from
beneath a brush of matted hair; a tough, ropy foam hung from its
mouth.  If you put as much of that foam as would go on the point of
a pin in an open cut, you would have an end that your worst enemy
would shudder at.  For this was the most horrifying of dangerous
animals--a mad dog.  Poor brute!  As he came shambling down the
road, he was the grisly mask of tragedy.

It was near noon, intensely hot, and the street of Fairfield was
deserted.   No one saw the dog, and if his occasional rattling,
strangling howl reached any ears, they were dead to its meaning.
He was unheeded until he lurched through the gate which Lettis had
left open, as usual, and spinning around in a circle gave voice to
his cry.

It brought Miss Mattie to her feet in an unknown terror; it brought
Red from the barn in a full cognizance--he had heard that sound
before, when a mad coyote landed in a cabin-full of fairly strong
nerved cowmen, and set them screeching like hysterical women before
a chance shot ended him.

Red saw the brute jump toward Miss Mattie.  Instantly his hand flew
to his hip, and as instantly he remembered there was nothing there.
Then with great, uneven leaps he sprang forward.  "Keep your hands
up, Mattie, and don't move!" he screamed.  "Let him chew the dress!
For God's sake, don't move!"

She turned her white face toward his, and through the dimness of
sight from his straining efforts, he saw her try to smile, as she
obeyed him to the letter, and without a sound.  "O, brave girl!" he
thought, and threw the ground behind him desperately.

At twenty feet distance he dove like a base-runner, and his hands
closed around the dog's neck.  Over they went with the shock of the
onset, and before they were still, the hands had finished their
work.  A clutch, and a snap, and it was done.

The dog lay quivering.  Red rose to his knees wondering at the
humming in his head.  His wits came back to him sharply.

"Did he bite you, Mattie?" he cried.  But she had already caught
his hands and was looking at them, with a savage eagerness one
would not have believed to be in her.

"There is no mark," she said, suddenly weak, "he didn't touch you?"

"Answer me when I speak to you!" shouted Red, beside himself.  "Did
he bite you?"

She answered him with a sob "No."  And then his question asked
itself, and answered itself, although, again, he did not know it.
He gathered her up in his arms, kissed her like one raised from the
dead, and swore and prayed and thanked God all in the same breath.

His old imperious nature came back with the relief.  "Here!" said
he, putting her away for a moment.  "Take off that dress--that
slime on there's enough to kill a hundred men--take it right off."

Miss Mattie started blindly to obey, then stopped.  "Not here,
Will--I'll go in the house," she said.

"You'll take it off right here and now," said Red, "and I'll burn
it up on the spot.  I'd ruther have forty rattlesnakes around than
that stuff--off with it.  This is no child's play, and I don't care
a damn what the old lady next door thinks."

Miss Mattie slipped off her outer skirt, and stood a second,
confused and dainty.  She took flight to the house, running as
lithely as a greyhound.

"By Jingo!" said Red in admiration.

"Let's see you bring another woman that can run like that!"

He gathered some hay and piled it on the dress, firing the heap.

Then he turned to his antagonist.  "Poor old boy!  Hard luck, eh?
But I had to do it," he said, and gave him decent interment at the
end of the garden; washed his hands carefully and went into the
house on pleasanter duties.

"I'll ask her now, by the great horn spoon!" said he, valiantly.

Miss Mattie was in a curious state of mind.  There was an after
effect from the fright, which made her tremble, and a remembrance
of Cousin Will's actions which made her tremble more yet.  When she
heard him coming she started to fly, although now clothed beyond
reproach, but her knees deserted her, and she was forced to sink
back in her chair.  Red came in whistling blithely--vainglorious
man!

He had _his_ suspicions, generated by the peculiar fervour Miss
Mattie had shown in regard to his hands.

"Mattie," quoth he, "I'm tired of living out there in the barn--I
want a respectable house of my own."

"Yes, Will," replied Miss Mattie, astonished that he should choose
such a subject at such a time.

"Yes," he continued, "and I want a wife, too.  You often said you'd
like to do something for me, Mattie; suppose you take the job?"

How much of glancing at a thing in one's mind as a beautiful
improbability will ever make such a cold fact less astonishing?
Miss Mattie eyed him with eyes that saw not; speech was stricken
from her.

Red caught fright.  He sprang forward and took her hand.  "Couldn't
you do it, Mattie?" said he.  There was a world of pleading in the
tone.  Miss Mattie looked up, her own honest self; all the little
feminine shrinkings left her immediately.

"Ah, but I _could_, Will!" she said.  Lettis came up on the stoop
unheard.  He stopped, then gingerly turned and made his way back on
tip-toe, holding his arms like wings.

"Well, by George!" he murmured, "I'll come back in a little while,
when I'll be more welcome."

He spoke to Red in strong reproach that night, in the barn.  "You
never told me a word, you old sinner!" said he.

"Tell you the honest truth, Let," replied Red earnestly, looking up
from drawing off a boot, "I didn't know it myself till you told me
about it."

They talked it all over a long time before blowing out the light,
but then the little window shut its bright eye, and the only life
the mid-night stars saw in Fairfield was Miss Mattie, her elbow on
the casement, looking far, far out into the tranquil night, and
thinking mistily.


THE END



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