Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher
Author: Gates, Eleanor, 1875-1951
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 "Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: "_And you can chalk down forty votes fer Miss Macie
Sewell_" (See p. 64)]



ALEC LLOYD

COWPUNCHER

Originally published under the title of

CUPID: THE COWPUNCH

BY

ELEANOR GATES

AUTHOR OF THE POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL, THE PLOW WOMAN, Etc.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALLEN TRUE

NEW YORK

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1907, by The McClure Company

Published, November, 1907

Copyright, 1905, 1906, 1907 by The Curtis Publishing Company

Copyright, 1906, 1907, by International Magazine Company



CONTENTS

  Chapter                                                     Page
       I. ROSE ANDREWS'S HAND AND DOCTOR BUGS'S GASOLINE
          BRONC                                                  3
      II. A THIRST-PARLOUR MIX-UP GIVES ME A NEW DEAL           31
     III. THE PRETTIEST GAL AND THE HOMELIEST MAN               52
      IV. CONCERNIN' THE SHERIFF AND ANOTHER LITTLE WIDDA       85
       V. THINGS GIT STARTED WRONG                             132
      VI. WHAT A LUNGER DONE                                   157
     VII. THE BOYS PUT THEY FOOT IN IT                         169
    VIII. ANOTHER SCHEME, AND HOW IT PANNED OUT                195
      IX. A ROUND-UP IN CENTRAL PARK                           234
       X. MACIE AND THE OP'RA GAME                             260
      XI. A BOOM THAT BUSTED                                   276
     XII. AND A BOOM AT BRIGGS                                 300



CHAPTER ONE

ROSE ANDREWS'S HAND AND DOCTOR BUGS'S GASOLINE BRONC


    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea;
    And dearer by f-a-a-ar----"

"Now, look a-here, Alec Lloyd," broke in Hairoil Johnson, throwin'
up one hand like as if to defend hisself, and givin' me a kinda scairt
look, "you shut you' bazoo right this minute--and git! Whenever you
begin singin' that song, I know you're a-figgerin' on how to marry
somebody off to somebody else. And I just won't have you _around!_"

We was a-settin' t'gether on the track side of the deepot platform at
Briggs City, him a-holdin' down one end of a truck, and me the other.
The mesquite lay in front of us, and it was all a sorta greenish brown
account of the pretty fair rain we'd been havin'. They's miles of it,
y' savvy, runnin' so far out towards the west line of Oklahomaw that
it plumb slices the sky. Through it, north and south, the telegraph
poles go straddlin'--in the _di_rection of Kansas City on the right
hand, and off past Rogers's Butte to Albuquerque on the left. Behind
us was little ole Briggs, with its one street of square-front buildin's
facin' the railroad, and a scatterin' of shacks and dugouts and
corrals and tin-can piles in behind.

Little ole Briggs! Sometimes, you bet you' life, I been pretty down on
my luck in Briggs, and sometimes I been turrible happy; also, I been just
so-so. But, no matter how things pan out, darned if I cain't allus say
truthful that she just about suits me--that ornery, little, jerkwater
town!

The par_ti_cular day I'm a-speakin' of was a jo-dandy--just cool enough
to make you want t' keep you' back aimed right up at the sun, and
without no more breeze than 'd help along a butterfly. Then, the air
was all nice and perfumey, like them advertisin' picture cards you git
at a drugstore. So, bein' as I was enjoyin' myself, and a-studyin'
out somethin' as I hummed that was _mighty_ important, why, I didn't
want t' mosey, no, ma'am.

But Hairoil was mad. I knowed it fer the reason that he'd called me
Alec 'stead of Cupid. Y' see, all the boys call me Cupid. And I ain't
ashamed of it, neither. _Some_body's got t' help out when it's a case
of two lovin' souls that's bein' kept apart.

"Now, pardner," I answers him, as coaxin' as I could, "don't you go
holler 'fore you're hit. It happens that I ain't a-figgerin' on no
hitch-up plans fer _you._"

Hairoil, he stood up--quick, so that I come nigh fallin' offen my end of
the truck. "But you are fer some _other_ pore cuss," he says. "You
as good as owned up."

"Yas," I answers, "I are. But the gent in question wouldn't want you
should worry about _him_. All that's a-keepin' _him_ anxious is that
mebbe he won't git his gal."

"Alec," Hairoil goes on,--turrible solemn, he was--"I have _de_cided
that this town has had just about it's fill of this Cupid business of
yourn--and I'm a-goin' t' stop it."

I snickered. "Y' are?" I ast. "Wal, how?"

"By marryin' you off. When you're hitched up you'self, you won't
be so all-fired anxious t' git other pore fellers into the traces."

"That good news," I says. "Who's the for-tu_nate_ gal you've picked
fer me?"

"Never you mind," answers Hairoil. "She's a new gal, and she'll be
along next week."

"Is she pretty?"

"Is she pretty! Say! Pretty ain't no name fer it! She's got big grey
eyes, with long, black, sassy winkers, and brown hair that's all kinda
curly over the ears. Then her cheeks is pink, and she's got the cutest
mouth a man 'most ever seen."

Wal, a-course, I thought he was foolin'. (And mebbe he was--_then_.)
A gal like that fer me!--a fine, pretty gal fer such a knock-kneed,
slab-sided son-of-a-gun as me? I just couldn't swaller _that_.

But, aw! if I only had 'a' knowed how that idear of hisn was a-goin'
t' grow!--that idear of him turnin' Cupid fer _me,_ y' savvy. And
if only I'd 'a' knowed what a turrible bust-up he'd fin'lly be
_re_sponsible fer 'twixt me and the same grey-eyed, sassy-winkered
gal! If I had, it's a cinch I'd 'a' sit on him _hard_--right then
and there.

I didn't, though. I switched back on to what was a-puzzlin' and
a-worryin' me. "Billy Trowbridge," I begun, "has waited too long
a'ready fer Rose Andrews. And if things don't come to a haid right
soon, he'll lose her."

Hairoil give a kinda jump. "The Widda Andrews," he says, "--Zach
Sewell's gal? So you're a-plannin' t' interfere in the doin's of ole
man Sewell's fambly."

"Yas."

He reached fer my hand and squz it, and pretended t' git mournful, like
as if he wasn't never goin' t' see me again. "My _pore_ friend!"
he says.

"Wal, what's eatin' you now?" I ast.

"Nothin'--only that pretty gal I tole you about, she's----"

Then he stopped short.

"She's what?"

He let go of my hand, shrug his shoulders, and started off. "Never
mind," he called back. "Let it drop. We'll just see. Mebbe, after
all, you'll git the very lesson you oughta have. Ole man Sewell!" And,
shakin' his haid, he turned the corner of the deepot.

Wal, who was Sewell anyhow?--no better'n any other man. I'd knowed
him since 'fore the Oklahomaw Rushes, and long 'fore he's wired-up
half this end of the Terrytory. And I'd knowed his oldest gal, Rose,
since she was knee-high to a hop-toad. Daisy gal, she allus was, by
thunder! And mighty sweet. Wal, when, after tyin' up t' that blamed
fool Andrews, she'd got her matreemonal hobbles off in less'n six
months--owin' t' Monkey Mike bein' a little sooner in the trigger
finger--why, d'you think I was a-goin' to stand by and see a tin-horn
proposition like that Noo York Simpson put a vent brand on her? _Nixey!_

It was ole man Sewell that bossed the first job and cut out Andrews
fer Rose's pardner. Sewell's that breed, y' know, hard-mouthed as a
mule, and if he cain't run things, why, he'll take a duck-fit. But
he shore put his foot in it _that_ time. Andrews was as low-down and
sneakin' as a coy_o_te, allus gittin' other folks into a fuss if he
could, but stayin' outen range hisself. The little gal didn't have no
easy go with him--we all knowed _that,_ and she wasn't happy. Wal,
Mike easied the sittywaytion. He took a gun with a' extra long carry
and put a lead pill where it'd do the most good; and the hull passel
of us was plumb tickled, that's all, just plumb tickled--even t' the
sheriff.

I said pill just now. Funny how I just fall into the habit of usin'
doctor words when I come to talk of this par_tic_ular mix-up. That's
'cause Simpson, the tin-horn gent I mentioned, is a doc. And so's
Billy Trowbridge--Billy Trowbridge is the best medicine-man we ever had
in these parts, if he _did_ git all his learnin' right here from his
paw. He ain't got the spondulix, and so he ain't what you'd call tony.
But he's got his doctor certifi_cate,_ O. K., and when it comes t'
curin', he can give cards and spades to _any_ of you' highfalutin'
college gezabas, and _then_ beat 'em out by a mile. That's _straight!_

Billy, he'd allus liked Rose. And Rose'd allus liked Billy. Wal, after
Andrews's s-a-d endin', you bet I made up my mind that Billy'd be
ole man Sewell's next son-in-law. Billy was smart as the dickens, and
young, and no drunk. He hadn't never wore no hard hat, neither, 'r
roached his mane pompydory, and he was one of the kind that takes a run
at they fingernails oncet in a while. Now, mebbe a puncher 'r a red
ain't par-_tic_ular about his hands; but a _pro_feshnal gent's _got_ to
be. And with a nice gal like Rose, it shore do stack up.

But it didn't stand the chanst of a snow-man in Yuma when it come to
ole man Sewell. Doc Simpson was new in town, and Sewell'd ast him out
to supper at the Bar Y ranch-house two 'r three times. And he was clean
stuck on him. To hear the ole man talk, Simpson was the cutest thing
that'd ever come into the mesquite. And Billy? Wal, he was the bad man
from Bodie.

Say! but all of us punchers was sore when we seen how Sewell was
haided!--not just the ole man's outfit at the Bar Y, y' savvy, but
the bunch of us at the Diamond O. None of us liked Simpson a _little_
bit. He wore fine clothes, and a dicer, and when it come to soothin'
the ladies and holdin' paws, he was there with both hoofs. Then, he
had all kinds of fool jiggers fer his business, and one of them toot
surreys that's got ingine haidlights and two seats all stuffed with
goose feathers and covered with leather--reg'lar Standard Sleeper.

It was that gasoline rig that done Billy damage, speakin' financial.
The minute folks knowed it was in Briggs City, why they got a misery
somewheres about 'em quick--just to have it come and stand out in
front, smellin' as all-fired nasty as a' Injun, but lookin' turrible
stylish. The men was bad enough about it, and when they had one of Doc
Simpson's drenches they haids was as big as Bill Williams's Mountain.
But the women! The _hull_ cavvieyard of 'em, exceptin' Rose, stampeded
over to him. And Billy got such a snow-under that they had him a-diggin'
fer his grass.

I was plumb crazy about it. "Billy," I says one day, when I met him
a-comin' from 'Pache Sam's hogan on his bi_cy_cle; "Billy, you got
to do somethin'." (Course, I didn't mention Rose.) "You goin' to
let any sawed-off, hammered-down runt like that Simpson drive you out?
Why, it's free grazin' here!"

Billy, he smiled kinda wistful and begun to brush the alkali offen that
ole Stetson of hisn, turnin' it 'round and 'round like he was worried.
"Aw, never mind, Cupid," he says; "--just keep on you' shirt."

But pretty soon things got a darned sight worse, and I couldn't hardly
hole in. Not satisfied with havin' the hull country on his trail account
of that surrey, Simpson tried a _new_ deal: He got to discoverin' bugs!

He found out that Bill Rawson had malaria bugs, and the Kelly kid
had diphtheria bugs, and Dutchy had typhoid bugs that didn't do
business owin' to the alcohol in his system. (_Too_ bad!) Why, it was
astonishin' how many kinds of newfangled critters we'd never heard of
was a-livin' in this Terrytory!

But all his bugs didn't split no shakes with _Rose_. She was _po_lite
to Simpson, and friendly, but nothin' worse. And it was plainer 'n the
nose on you' face that Billy was solid with her. But the ole man is
the hull show in that fambly, y' savvy; and all us fellers could do was
to hope like sixty that nothin' 'd happen to give Simpson a' extra
chanst. But, crimini! Somethin' _did_ happen: Rose's baby got sick.
Wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, kinda whined all the time, like a sick
purp, and begun to look peaked--pore little kid!

I was out at the Bar Y that same day, and when the news got over to the
bunk-house, we was all turrible _ex_cited. "Which'll the ole man send
after," we says, "--Simpson 'r Billy?"

It was that bug-doctor!

He come down the road two-forty, settin' up as stiff as if he had a
ramrod in his backbone. I just happened over towards the house as he
turned in at the gate. He staked out his surrey clost to the porch and
stepped down. My! such nice little button shoes!

"Aw, maw!" says Monkey Mike; "he's too rich fer _my_ blood!"

The ole man come out to say howdy. When Simpson seen him, he says,
"Mister Sewell, they's some hens 'round here, and I don't want 'em
to hop into my machine whilst I'm in the house." Then, he looks at
me. "Can you' hired man keep 'em shooed?" he says.

Hired man! I took a jump his _di_rection that come nigh to splittin' my
boots. "Back up, m' son," I says, reachin' to my britches pocket.
"_I_ ain't no hired man."

Sewell, he puts in quick. "No, no, Doc," he says; "this man's one
of the Diamond O cow-boys. Fer heaven's sake, Cupid! You're gittin'
to be as touchy as a cook!"

Simpson, he apologised, and I let her pass f er _that_ time. But,
a-course, far's him and _me_ was _con_cerned--wal, just wait. As I say,
he goes in,--the ole man follerin'--leavin' that gasoline rig snortin'
and sullin' and lookin' as if it was just achin' t' take a run at the
bunk-house and bust it wide open. I goes in, too,--just t' see the fun.

There was that Simpson examinin' the baby, and Rose standin' by,
lookin' awful scairt. He had a rain-gauge in his hand, and was
a-squintin' at it important. "High temper'ture," he says; "'way up
to hunderd and four." Then he jabbed a spoon jigger into her pore
little mouth. Then he made X brands acrosst her soft little back with his
fingers. Then he turned her plumb over and begun to tunk her like she
was a melon. And when he'd knocked the wind outen her, he _pro_-duced
a bi_cy_cle pump, stuck it agin her chest, and put his ear to the
other end. "Lungs all right," he says; "heart all right. Must
be----" Course, _you_ know--bugs!

"But--but, couldn't it be teeth?" ast Rose.

Simpson grinned like she was a' idjit, and he was sorry as the dickens
fer her. "Aw, a baby ain't _all_ teeth," he says.

Wal, he left some truck 'r other. Then he goes out, gits into his
Pullman section, blows his punkin whistle and _de_parts.

Next day, same thing. Temper'ture's still up. Medicine cain't be kept
down. Case turrible puzzlin'. Makes all kinds of guesses. Leaves some
hoss liniment. Toot! toot!

Day after, changes the pro_gram_. Sticks a needle into the kid and gits
first blood. Says somethin' about "Modern scientific idears," and
tracks back t' town.

Things run along that-a-way fer a week. Baby got sicker and sicker. Rose
got whiter and whiter, and thinned till she was about as hefty as a
shadda. Even the ole man begun t' look kinda pale 'round the gills.
But Simpson didn't miss a trick. And he come t' the ranch-house so
darned many times that his buckboard plumb oiled down the pike.

"Rose," I says oncet to her, when I stopped by, "cain't we give Billy
Trowbridge a chanst? That Simpson doc ain't worth a hill of beans."

Rose didn't say nothin'. She just turned and lent over the kid. Gee
whiz! I hate t' see a woman cry!

'Way early, next day, the kid had a _con_vul-sion, and ev'rybody was
shore she was goin' to kick the bucket. And whilst a bunch of us was
a-hangin' 'round the porch, pretty nigh luny about the pore little
son-of-a-gun, Bill Rawson come--and he had a story that plumb took the
last kink outen us.

I hunts up the boss. "Mister Sewell," I says, by way of beginnin',
"I'm feard we're goin' to lose the baby. Simpson ain't doin' much,
seems like. What y' say if I ride in fer Doc Trowbridge?"

"Trowbridge?" he says disgusted. "_No,_ ma'am! Simpson'll be here
in a jiffy!"

"I reckon Simpson'll be late," I says. "Bill Rawson seen him goin'
towards Goldstone just now in his thrashin'-machine with a feemale
settin' byside him. Bill says she was wearin' one of them fancy
collar-box hats, with a duck-wing hitched on to it, and her hair was
all mussy over her eyes--like a cow with a board on its horns--and
she had enough powder on her face t' make a biscuit."

The ole man begun t' chaw and spit like a bob-cat. "I ain't astin'
Bill's _ad_vice," he says. "When I want it, I'll let him know. If
Simpson's busy over t' Goldstone, we got to wait on him, that's all.
But Trowbridge? Not _no_-ways!"

I seen then that it was time somebody mixed in. I got onto my pinto bronc
and loped fer town. But all the way I couldn't think what t' do. So I
left Maud standin' outside of Dutchy's, and went over and sit down
next Hairoil on the truck. And that's where I was--a-hummin' to myself
and a-workin' my haid--when he give me that rakin' over about playin'
Cupid, and warned me agin monkeyin' with ole man Sewell.

Wal, when Hairoil up and left me, I kept right on a-studyin'. I knowed,
a-course, that I could go kick up a fuss when Simpson stopped by his
office on his trip back from Goldstone. But that didn't seem such a'
awful good plan. Also, I could----

Just then, I heerd my cow-pony kinda whinny. I glanced over towards
her. She was standin' right where I'd left her, lines on the ground,
eyes peeled my way. And _such_ a look as she was a-givin' me!--like
she knowed what I was a-worryin' about and was surprised I was so blamed
thick.

I jumped up and run over to her. "Maud," I says, "you got more savvy
'n any horse I know, bar _none_. _Danged if we don't do it!_"

First off, I sent word t' Billy that he was to show up at the Sewell
ranch-house about four o'clock. And when three come, me and Maud was
on the Bar Y road where it goes acrosst that crick-bottom. She was
moseyin' along, savin' herself, and I was settin' sideways like a
real lady so's I could keep a' eye towards town. Pretty soon, 'way
back down the road, 'twixt the barb-wire fences, I seen a cloud of
dust a-travellin'--a-travellin' so fast they couldn't be no mistake.
And in about a minute, the signs was complete--I heerd a toot. I put
my laig over then.

Here he come, that Simpson in his smelly Pullman, takin' the grade like
greased lightin'. "Now, Maud!" I whispers to the bronc. And, puttin'
my spurs into her, I begun t' whip-saw from one fence to the other.

He slowed up and blowed his whistle.

I hoed her down harder'n ever.

"You're a-skeerin' my hoss," I yells back.

"Pull t' one side," he answers. "I want to git by."

But Maud wouldn't pull. And everywheres Simpson was, she was just in
front, actin' as if she was scairt plumb outen her seven senses. The
worse she acted, a-course, the madder _I_ got! Fin'lly, just as Mister
Doc was managin' to pass, I got _turrible_ mad, and, cussin' blue
blazes, I took out my forty-five and let her fly.

One of them hind tires popped like the evenin' gun at Fort Wingate. Same
minute, that hidebound rig-a-ma-jig took a shy and come nigh buttin' her
fool nose agin a fence-post. But Simpson, he geed her quick and started
on. I put a hole in the other hind tire. She shied again--opp'site
_di_rection--snortin' like she was wind-broke. He hawed her back.
Then he went a-kitin' on, leavin' me a-eatin' his dust.

But I wasn't _done_ with him, no, ma'am.

Right there the road make a kinda horse-shoe turn--like this, y'
savvy--to git 'round a fence corner. I'd cal'lated on that. I just
give Maud a lick 'longside the haid, jumped her over the fence, quirted
her a-flyin' acrosst that bend, took the other fence, and landed about
a hunderd feet in front of him.

When he seen me through his goggles, he come on full-steam. I set Maud
a-runnin' the same _di_rection--and took up my little rope.

About two shakes of a lamb's tail, and it happened. He got nose and nose
with me. I throwed, ketchin' him low--'round his chest and arms. Maud
come short.

Say! talk about you' _flyin'_-machines! Simpson let go his holt and
took to the air, sailin' up right easy fer a spell, flappin' his wings
all the time; then, doublin' back somethin' amazin', and fin'lly
comin' down t' light.

And that gasoline bronc of hisn--minute she got the bit, she acted
plumb loco. She shassayed sideways fer a rod, buckin' at ev'ry jump.
Pretty soon, they was a turn, but she didn't see it. She left the
road and run agin the fence, cuttin' the wires as clean in two as a
pliers-man. Then, outen pure cussedness, seems like, she made towards a
cottonwood, riz up on her hind laigs, clumb it a ways, knocked her
wind out, pitched oncet 'r twicet, tumbled over on to her quarters, and
begun t' kick up her heels.

[Illustration: "_He lay the kid lookin' up and put his finger into
her mouth_"]

I looked at Simpson. He'd been settin' on the ground; but now he gits
up, pullin' at the rope gentle, like a lazy sucker. Say! but his face
was ornamented!

I give him a nod. "Wal, Young-Man-That-Flies-Like-A-Bird?" I says,
inquirin'.

He began to paw up the road like a mad bull. "I'll make you pay fer
this!" he bellered.

"You cain't git blood outen a turnip," I answers, sweet as sugar; and
Maud backed a step 'r two, so's the rope wouldn't slack.

"How _dast_ you do such a' in_fame_ous thing!" he goes on.

"You gasoline gents got t' have a lesson," I answers; "you let the
stuff go t' you' haids. Why, a _hired man_ ain't got a chanst fer his
life when you happen t' be travellin'."

He begun t' wiggle his arms. "You lemme go," he says.

"Go where?" I ast.

"T' my machine."

I looked over at her. She was quiet now, but sweatin' oil somethin'
awful. "How long'll it take you t' git her on to her laigs?" I ast.

"She's ruined!" he says, like he was goin' to bawl. "And I meant
t' go down to Goldstone t'night."

"That duck-wing lady'll have t' wait fer the train," I says. "But
never mind. I'll tell Rose Andrews you got the _en_gagement." Then
Maud slacked the rope and I rode up t' him, so's to let him loose. "So
long," I says.

"I ain't done with you!" he answers, gittin' purple; "I ain't done
with you!"

"Wal, you know where I live," I says, and loped off, hummin' the tune
the ole cow died on.

When I rid up to the Bar Y ranch-house, here was Billy, gittin' offen
that little bi_cy_cle of hisn.

"Cupid," he says, and he was whiter'n chalk-rock, "is the baby worse?
And Rose----"

I pulled him up on to the porch. "Now's you' chanst, Billy," I
answers. "_Do you' darnedest!_"

Rose opened the door, and her face was as white as hisn. "Aw, Billy!"
was all she says.

Then up come that ole fool paw of hern, totin' the kid. "What's
this?" he ast, mad as a hornet. "And where's Doc Simpson?"

It was me that spoke. "Doc Simpson's had a turrible accident," I
answers. "His gasoline plug got to misbehavin' down the road a piece,
and plumb tore her insides out. He got awful shook up, and couldn't
come no further, so--knowin' the baby was so sick--I went fer Bill."

"Bill!" says the ole man, disgusted. "_Thun-deration!_"

But Billy had his tools out a'ready and was a-reachin' fer the kid.
Sewell let him have her--cussin' like a mule-skinner.

"That's right," he says to Rose; "that's right,--let him massacree
her!"

Rose didn't take no notice. "Aw, Billy!" she kept sayin', and "Aw,
baby!"

Billy got to doin' things. He picked somethin' shiny outen his kit and
slipped it into a pocket. Next, he lay the kid lookin' up and put his
finger into her mouth.

"See here," he says to me.

I peeked in where he pointed and seen a reg'lar little hawg-back of gum,
red on the two slopes, but whitish in four spots along the ridge, like
they'd been a snowfall. Billy grinned, took out that shiny instrument,
and give each of them pore little gum buttes the double cross--zip-_zip,_
zip-_zip,_ zip-_zip,_ zip-_zip_. And, jumpin' buffaloes! _out pops
four of the prettiest teeth a man ever seen!_

Bugs?--rats!

"Now, a little Bella Donnie," says Bill, "and the baby'll be O. K."

"O. K.!" says Rose. "Aw, Billy!" And _such_ a kissin'!--the baby,
a-_course_.

Ole man Sewell stopped swearin' a minute. "What's the matter?" he ast.

"Teeth," says Billy.

Think of that! Why, the trouble was so clost to Simpson that if it'd
been a rattler, it'd 'a' bit him!

"_Teeth!_" says the ole man, like he didn't believe it.

"Come look," says Billy.

Sewell, he walked over to the baby and stooped down. Then all of a
suddent, I seen his jaw go open, and his eyes stick out so far you
could 'a' knocked 'em off with a stick. Then, he got red as a turkey
gobbler--and let out a reg'lar war-whoop.

"_Look_ at 'em!" he yelped. "Rose! Rose!--_look_ at 'em! Four all
to oncet!" And he give the doc such a wallop on the back that it come
nigh to knockin' him down.

"I know," I says sarcastic, "but, shucks! a baby ain't _all_ teeth.
This is a mighty puzzlin' case, and Simpson----"

"Close you' fly-trap," says the ole man, "and look at them teeth!
Four of a kind--can y' beat it?"

"Wa-a-al," I says, sniffin', "they's so, so, I reckon, but any
kid----"

"_Any_ kid!" yells the ole man, plumb aggervated. And he was just
turnin' round to give _me_ one when--in limps Simpson!

"Mister Sewell," he says, "I come to make a complaint"--he shook his
fist at me--"agin this here ruffian. He----"

"Wow!" roars Sewell. "Don't you trouble to make no complaints in
_this_ house. Here you been a-treatin' this baby fer bugs when it was
just teeth. Say! you ain't got sense enough to come in when it rains!"

That plumb rattled Simpson. He was gittin' a _re_ception he didn't
reckon on. But he tried t' keep up his game.

"This cow-boy here is _re_sponsible fer damages to my auto," he says.
"The dashboard's smashed into matches, the tumblin'-rods is broke,
the spark-condenser's kaflummuxed, and the hull blamed business is
skew-gee. This man was actin' in you' behalf, and if he don't pay,
I'll sue _you._"

"Sue?" says Sewell; "_sue?_ You go guess again! You send in you'
bill, that's what _you_ do. You ain't earned nothin'--but, by jingo,
it's worth money just to git shet of such a dog-goned shyster as you.
_Git._"

And with that, out goes Mister Bugs.

Then, grandpaw, he turns round to the baby again, plumb took up with
them four new nippers. "Cluck, cluck," he says like a chicken, and
pokes the kid under the chin. Over one shoulder, he says to Billy, "And,
Trowbridge, you can make out _you'_ bill, too."

Billy didn't answer nothin'. Just went over to a table, pulled out a
piece of paper and a pencil, and begun t' write. Pretty soon, he got
up and come back.

"Here, Mister Sewell," he says.

I was right byside the ole man, and--couldn't help it--I stretched to
read what Billy'd writ. And this was what it was:

    "Mister Zach Sewell, debtor to W. A. Trowbridge, fer medical
    services--the hand of one Rose Andrews in marriage."

Sewell, he read the paper over and over, turnin' all kinds of colours.
And Silly and me come blamed nigh chokin' from holdin' our breaths.
Rose was lookin' up at us, and at her paw, too, turrible anxious. As fer
that kid, it was a-kickin' its laigs into the air and gurglin' like a
bottle.

Fin'lly, the ole man handed the paper back. "Doc," he says, "Rose is
past twenty-one, and not a' idjit. Also, the kid is hern. So, bein'
this bill reads the way it does, mebbe you'd better hand it t' her.
If she don't think it's too steep a figger----"

Billy took the paper and give it over to Rose. When she read it, her face
got all blushy; and happy, too, I could see _that_.

"_Rose!_" says Billy, holdin' out his two arms to her.

I took a squint through the winda at the scenery--and heerd a sound like
a cow pullin' its foot outen the mud.

"Rose," goes on Billy, "I'll be as good as I know how to you."

When I turned round again, here was ole man Sewell standin' in the
middle of the floor, lookin' back and forth from Rose and Billy to
the kid--like it'd just struck him that he was goin' t' lose his gal
and the baby and all them teeth. And if ever a man showed that he was
helpless and jealous and plumb hurt, why, that was him. Next, here he
was a-gazin' at me with a queer shine in his eyes--almost savage. And
say! it got me some nervous.

"Seems Mister Cupid Lloyd is a-runnin' things 'round this here
ranch-house," he begun slow, like he was holdin' in his mad.

I--wal, I just kinda stood there, and swallered oncet 'r twicet, and
tried t' grin. (Didn't know nothin' t' say, y' savvy, that'd be
likely t' hit him just right.)

"So Cupid's gone and done it again!" he goes on. "How accommodatin'!
Haw!" And he give one of them short, sarcastic laughs.

"Wal, just let me tell you," he _con_tinues, steppin' closter, "that
I, fer one, ain't got _no_ use fer a feller that's allus a-stickin' in
his lip."

"Sewell," I says, "no feller _likes_ to--that's a cinch. But oncet
in a while it's plumb needful."

"It is, is it? And I s'pose _this_ is one of them cases. Wal, Mister
Cupid, all I can say is this: The feller that sticks in his lip _allus
gits into trouble._"

Sometimes, them words of hisn come back to me. Mebbe I'll be feelin'
awful good-natured, and be a-laughin' and talkin'. Of a suddent, up
them words'll pop, and the way he said 'em, and all. And even if
it's right warm weather, why, I _shiver,_ yas, ma'am. _The fetter
that sticks in his lip allus gits into trouble_--nothin' was ever said
truer'n that!

"And," the ole man goes on again, a little bit hoarse by now, "I can
feel you' trouble a-comin'. So far, you been lucky. But it cain't
last--it cain't last. You know what it says in the Bible? (Mebbe it
ain't in the Bible, but that don't matter.) It says, 'Give a fool a
rope and he'll hang hisself.' And one of these times you'll play Cupid
just oncet too many. What's more, the smarty that can allus bring other
folks t'gether cain't never manage t' hitch hisself."

I'd been keepin' still 'cause I didn't want they should be no hard
feelin's 'twixt us. But that last _re_mark of hisn kinda got my dander
up.

"Aw, I don't know," I answers; "when it comes my own time, I don't
figger t' have much trouble."

Wal, sir, the old man flew right up. His face got the colour of
sand-paper, and he brung his two hands t'gether clinched, so's
I thought he'd plumb crack the bones. "Haw!" (That laugh
again--bitter'n gall.) "Mister Cupid Lloyd, _you just wait._" And
out he goes.

"Cupid," says Billy, "I'm _turrible_ sorry. Seems, somehow, that
you've got Sewell down on y' account of me----"

"That's all right, Doc," I answers; "_I_ don't keer. It mocks nix
oudt, as Dutchy 'd say." And I shook hands with him and Rose, and
kissed the baby.

It mocks nix oudt--that's what I said. Wal, how was I t' know then,
that I'd made a' enemy of the _one_ man that, later on, I'd be
willin' t' give my _life_ t' please, almost?--_how_ was I t' know?



CHAPTER TWO

A THIRST-PARLOUR MIX-UP GIVES ME A NEW DEAL


AIN'T it funny what little bits of things can sorta change a feller's
life all 'round ev'ry which _di_rection--shuffle it up, you might
say, and throw him out a brand new deal? Now, take my case: If a sassy
greaser from the Lazy X ranch hadn't 'a' plugged Bud Hickok, Briggs
City 'd never 'a' got the parson; if the parson hadn't 'a' came,
I'd never 'a' gone to church; and mebbe if I hadn't never 'a' gone
to church, it wouldn't 'a' made two cents diff'rence whether ole man
Sewell was down on me 'r not--fer the reason that, likely, I'd never
'a' met up with Her.

Now, I ain't a-sayin' I'm a' almanac, ner one of them crazies that
can study the trails in the middle of you' hand and tell you that
you're a-goin' to have ham and aigs fer breakfast. No, ma'am, I
ain't neither one. But, just the same, the very first time I clapped
my lookers on the new parson, I knowed they was shore goin' to be
sev'ral things a-happenin' 'fore long in that par_tic_ular section of
Oklahomaw.

As I said, Bud was _re_sponsible fer the parson comin'. Bud tied
down his holster just oncet too many. The greaser called his bluff, and
pumped lead into his system some. That called fer a funeral. Now,
Mrs. Bud, she's Kansas City when it comes to bein' high-toned. And
nothin' would do but she must have a preacher. So the railroad agent
got Williams, Arizonaw, on his click-machine, and we got the parson.

He was a new breed, that parson, a genuwine no-two-alike,
come-one-in-a-box kind. He was big and young, with no hair on his face,
and brownish eyes that 'peared to look plumb through y' and out on the
other side. Good-natured, y' know, but actin' as if he meant ev'ry
word he said; foolin' a little with y', too, and friendly as the
devil. And he didn't wear parson duds--just a grey suit; not like us,
y' savvy--more like what the hotel clerk down to Albuquerque wears, 'r
one of them city fellers that comes here to run a game.

Wal, the way he talked over pore Bud was a caution. Say! they was no
"Yas, my brother," 'r "No, my brother," and no "Heaven's will be
done" outen _him_--nothin' like it! And you'd never 'a' smelt
gun-play. Mrs. Bud ner the greaser that done the shootin'-up (he was at
the buryin') didn't hear no word _they_ could kick at, _no,_ ma'am.
The parson read somethin' about the day you die bein' a darned sight
better 'n the day you was born. And his hull razoo was so plumb sensible
that, 'fore he got done, the passel of us was all a-feelin', somehow
'r other, that Bud Hickok had the drinks on us!

We planted Bud in city style. But the parson didn't shassay back to
Williams afterwards. We'd no more'n got our shaps on again, when
Hairoil blowed in from the post-office up the street and let it out
at the "Life Savin' Station," as Dutchy calls his thirst-parlour, that
the parson was goin' to squat in Briggs City fer a spell.

"Wal, of all the dog-goned propositions!" says Bill Rawson,
mule-skinner over to the Little Rattlesnake Mine. "What's he goin'
to do that fer, Hairoil?"

"Heerd we was goin' to have a polo team," answers Hairoil. "Reckon
he's kinda loco on polo. Anyhow, he's took my shack."

"Boys," I tole the crowd that was wettin' they whistles, "this
preachin' gent ain't none of you' ev'ry day, tenderfoot,
hell-tooters. Polo, hey? He's got _savvy_. Look a leedle oudt, as
Dutchy, here, 'd put it. Strikes me this feller'll hang on longer
'n any other parson that was ever in these parts ropin' souls."

Ole Dutch lay back his ears. "Better he do'n make no trubbles mit me,"
he says.

Say! that was like tellin' you' fortune. The next day but one, right
in front of the "Station," trouble popped. This is how:

The parson 'd had all his truck sent over from Williams. In the pile
they was one of them big, spotted dawgs--keerige dawgs, I think they
call 'em. This par_tic_ular dawg was so spotted you could 'a' come
blamed nigh playin' checkers on him. Wal, Dutchy had a dawg, too. It
wasn't much of anythin' fer fambly, I reckon,--just plain purp--but it
shore had a fine set of nippers, and could jerk off the stearin' gear of
a cow quicker 'n greazed lightnin'. Wal, the parson come down to the
post-office, drivin' a two-wheel thing-um-a-jig, all yalla and black.
'Twixt the wheels was trottin' his spotted dawg. A-course, the parson
'd no more'n stopped, when out comes that ornery purp of Dutchy's.
And such a set-to you never seen!

But it was all on one side, like a jug handle, and the keerige dawg got
the heavy end. He yelped bloody murder and tried to skedaddle. The other
just hung on, and bit sev'ral of them stylish spots clean offen him.

"Sir," says the parson to Dutchy, when he seen the damage, "call off
you' beast."

Dutchy, he just grinned. "Ock," he says, "it mocks nix oudt if dey
do sometinks. Here de street iss not brivate broperty."

At that, the parson clumb down and drug his dawg loose. Then he looked up
at the thirst-parlour. "What a name fer a _saloon,_" he says, "in a
civilised country!"

A-course, us fellers enjoyed the fun, all right. And we fixed it up
t'gether to kinda sic the Dutchman on. We seen that "Life Savin'
Station" stuck in the parson's craw, and we made out to Dutch that
like as not he 'd have to change his sign.

Dutch done a jig he was so mad. "Fer _dat?_" he ast, meanin' the
parson. "Nein! He iss not cross mit my sign. He vut like it, maype,
if I gif him some viskey on tick. I bet you he trinks, I bet. Maype he
trinks ret ink gocktails, like de Injuns; maype he trinks Florita Vater,
oder golone. Ya! Ya! Vunce I seen a feller--I hat some snakes here in
algohol--unt dat feller he trunk de algohol. _Ya_. Unt de minister iss
just so bat as dat."

Then, to show how he liked _us_, Dutchy set up the red-eye. And the
_next_ time the parson come along in his cart, they was a dawg fight in
front of that saloon that was worth two-bits fer admission.

Don't think the rest of us was agin the parson, though. We wasn't.
Fact it, we kinda liked him from the jump. We liked his riggin', we
liked the way he grabbed you' paw, and he was no quitter when it come
to a hoss. _Say!_ but he could ride! One day when he racked into the
post-office, his spur-chains a-rattlin' like a puncher's, and a quirt
in his fist, one of the Bar Y boys rounded him up agin the _meanest,
low_-down buckin' proposition that ever wore the hide of a bronc. But
the parson was game from his hay to his hoofs. He clumb into the saddle
and stayed there, and went a-hikin' off acrosst the prairie, independent
as a pig on ice, just like he was a-straddlin' some ole crow-bait!

So, when Sunday night come, and he preached in the school-house, he had
quite a bunch of punchers corralled there to hear him. And I was one
of 'em. (But, a-course, that first time, I didn't have no idear it
was a-goin' to mean a turrible lot to me, that goin' to church.) Wal,
I'm blamed if the parson wasn't wearin' the same outfit as he did
week days. We liked that. And he didn't open up by tellin' us that
we was all branded and ear-marked a' ready by the Ole Long-horn Gent.
No, ma'am. He didn't _mention_ everlastin' fire. And he didn't ramp
and pitch and claw his hair. Fact is, he didn't hell-toot!

A-course, that spoiled the fun fer us. But he talked so straight, and
kinda easy and honest, that he got us a-listenin' to what he _said_.

Cain't say we was stuck on his text, though. It run like this, that a
smart man sees when a row's a-comin' and makes fer the tall cat-tails
till the wind dies down. And he went on to say that a man oughta be
humble, and that if a feller gives you a lick on the jaw, why, you oughta
let him give you another to grow on. Think o' that! It may be O. K.
fer preachers, and fer women that ain't strong enough t' lam back.
But fer me, _nixey_.

But that hand-out didn't give the parson no black eye with _us_. _We_
knowed it was his duty t' talk that-a-way. And two 'r three of the
boys got t' proposin' him fer the polo team real serious--pervided,
a-course, that he'd stand fer a little cussin' when the 'casion
_re_quired. It was a cinch that he'd draw like wet rawhide.

Wal, the long and short of it is, he did. And Sunday nights, the Dutchman
lost money. He begun t' josh the boys about gittin' churchy. It
didn't do no good,--the boys didn't give a whoop fer his gass, and
they liked the parson. All Dutchy could do was to sic his purp on to
chawin' spots offen that keerige dawg.

But pretty soon he got plumb tired of just dawg-fightin'. He _pre_pared
to turn hisself loose. And he advertised a free supper fer the very next
Sunday night. When Sunday night come, they say he had a reg'lar Harvey
layout. You buy a drink, and you git a stuffed pickle, 'r a patty de
grass, 'r a wedge of pie druv into you' face.

No go. The boys was on to Dutchy. They knowed he was the stingiest gezaba
in these parts, and wouldn't give away a nickel if he didn't reckon on
gittin' six-bits back. So, more fer devilment 'n anythin' else, the
most of 'em fooled him some--just loped to the school-house.

The parson was plumb tickled.

But it didn't last. The next Sunday, the "Life Savin' Station" had
Pete Gans up from Apache to deal a little faro. And as it rained hard
enough t' keep the women folks away, why, the parson preached to ole
man Baker (he's deef), the globe and the chart and the map of South
Amuricaw. And almost ev'ry day of the next week, seems like, that
purp of Dutchy's everlastin'ly chawed the parson's. The spotted
dawg couldn't go past the thirst-parlour, 'r anywheres else. The
parson took to fastenin' him up. Then Dutchy'd mosey over towards
Hairoil's shack. Out'd come Mister Spots. And one, two, three, the
saloon dawg 'd sail into him.

Then a piece of news got 'round that must 'a' made the parson madder
'n a wet hen. Dutchy cleaned the barrels outen his hind room and put up
a notice that the next Sunday night he'd give a dance. To finish things,
the dawgs had a worse fight'n ever Friday mornin', and the parson's
lost two spots and a' ear.

I seen a change in the parson that evenin'. When he come down to the
post-office, them brown eyes of his'n was plumb black, and his face
was redder'n Sam Barnes's. "Things is goin' to happen," I says to
myself, "'r _I_ ain't no judge of beef."

Sunday night, you know, a-course, where the _boys_ went. But I drawed
lots with myself and moseyed over to the school-house to keep a bench
warm. And here is when that new deal was laid out on the table fer you'
little friend Cupid!

I slid in and sit down clost to the door. Church wasn't begun yet, and
the dozen 'r so of women was a-waitin' quieter'n mice, some of 'em
readin' a little, some of 'em leanin' they haids on the desks, and
some of 'em kinda peekin' through they fingers t' git the lay of the
land. Wal, _I_ stretched my neck,--and made out t' count more'n fifty
spit-balls on a life-size chalk drawin' of the school-ma'am.

Next thing, the parson was in and a-pumpin' away--all fours--at the
organ, and the bunch of us was on our feet a-singin'----

    "Yield not to tempta-a-ation,
      'Cause yieldin' is sin.
      Each vic'try----"

We'd got about that far when I shut off, all of a suddent, and cocked
my haid t' listen. Whose voice was that?--as clear, by thunder! as the
bugle up at the Reservation. Wal, sir, I just stood there, mouth wide
open.

    "Some other to win.
    Strive manfully onwards----"

Then, I begun t' look 'round. _Couldn't_ be the Kelly kid's maw (I'd
heerd her call the hawgs), ner the teacher, ner that tall lady next her,
ner----

Spotted the right one! Up clost to the organ was a gal I'd never saw
afore. So many was in the way that I wasn't able t' git more'n a
squint at her back hair. But, say! it was _mighty_ pretty hair--brown,
and all sorta curly over the ears.

When the song was over, ole lady Baker sit down just in front of me; and
as she's some chunky, she cut off nearly the hull of my view. "But,
Cupid," I says to myself, "I'll bet that wavy hair goes with a sweet
face."

Minute after, the parson begun t' speak. Wal, soon as ever he got his
first words out, I seen that the air was kinda blue and liftin', like
it is 'fore a thunder-shower. And his text? It was, "Lo, I am full of
fury, I am weary with holdin' it in."

Say! _that's_ the kind of preachin' a _puncher_ likes!

After he was done, and we was all ready t' go, I tried to get a better
look at that gal. But the women folks was movin' my _di_rection,
shakin' hands and gabblin' fast to make up fer lost time. Half a dozen
of 'em got 'round me. And when I got shet of the bunch, she was just
a-passin' out at the far door. My! such a slim, little figger and
such a pert, little haid!

I made fer the parson. "_Ex_cuse me," I says to him, "but wasn't
you talkin' to a young lady just now? and if it ain't too gally, can I
_in_-quire who she is?"

"Why, yas," answers the parson, smilin' and puttin' one hand on
my shoulder. (You know that cuss never oncet ast me if I was a
Christian? Aw! I tell y', he was a _gent_.) "That young lady is
Billy Trowbridge's sister-in-law."

"Sister-in-law!" I repeats. (She was married, then. Gee! I hated t'
hear that! 'Cause, just havin' helped Billy t' git his wife, y'
savvy, why----) "But, parson, I didn't know the Doc _had_ a brother."
(I felt kinda down on Billy all to oncet.)

"He ain't," says the parson. "(_Good_-night, Mrs. Baker.) This young
lady is Mrs. Trowbridge's sister."

"Mrs. _Trowbridge's_ sister?"

"Yas,--ole man Sewell's youngest gal. She's been up to St. Louis
goin' t' school." He turned out the bracket lamp.

Ole man Sewell's youngest gal! Shore enough, they _was_ another gal
in that fambly. But she was just a kid when she was in Briggs the last
time,--not more'n fourteen 'r fifteen, anyhow,--and I'd clean fergot
about her.

"Her name's Macie," goes on the parson.

"Macie--Macie Sewell--Macie." I said it over to myself two 'r three
times. I'd never liked the name Sewell afore. But now, somehow, along
with _Her_ name, it sounded awful fine. "Macie--Macie Sewell."

"Cupid, I wisht you'd walk home with me," says the parson. "I want
t' ast you about somethin'."

"Tickled t' death."

Whilst he locked up, I waited outside. "M' son," I says to myself,
"nothin' could be foolisher than fer you to git you' eye fixed on a
belongin' of ole man Sewell's. Just paste _that_ in you' sunbonnet."

Wal, I rid Shank's mare over t' Hairoil's. Whilst we was goin', the
parson opened up on the subject of Dutchy and that nasty, mean purp of
hisn. And I ketched on, pretty soon, to just what he was a-drivin' at.
I fell right in with him. I'd never liked Dutchy such a turrible lot
anyhow,--and I did want t' be a friend to the parson. So fer a hour
after we hit the shack, you might 'a' heerd me a-talkin' (if you'd
been outside) and him a-laughin' ev'ry minute 'r so like he'd split
his sides.

Monday was quiet. I spent the day at Silverstein's Gen'ral Merchandise
Store, which is next the post-office. (Y' see, She might come in
fer the Bar Y mail.) The parson got off a long letter to a feller at
Williams. And Dutchy was awful busy--fixin' up a fine shootin'-gallery
at the back of his "Life Savin' Station."

Tuesday, somethin' happened at the parson's. Right off after the
five-eight train come in from the south, Hairoil druv down to the deepot
and got a big, square box and rushed home with it. When he come into
the thirst-parlour about sun-set, the boys ast him what the parson
was gittin'. He just wunk.

"I bet _I_ knows," says Dutchy. "De preacher mans buys some viskey,
alretty."

Hairoil snickered. "Wal," he says, "what I carried over was nailed
up good and tight, all right, all right."

Wal, say! that made the boys suspicious, and made 'em wonder if they
wasn't a darned good _reason_ fer the parson not wearin' duds like
other religious gents, and fer his knowin' how to ride so good. And
they was _sore_--bein' that they'd stood up so strong fer him, y'
savvy.

"A cow-punch," says Monkey Mike, "'ll swaller almost _any_ ole
thing, long 's it's right out on the table. But he shore cain't go a
_hippy-crit._"

"You blamed idjits!" chips in Buckshot Millikin, him that owns such
a turrible big bunch of white-faces, and was run outen Arizonaw fer
rustlin' sheep, "what can y' expect of a preacher, that comes from
_Williams?_"

Dutchy seen how they all felt, and he was plumb happy. "Vot I tole
y'?" he ast. But pretty soon he begun to laugh on the other side of
his face. "If dat preacher goes to run a bar agin me," he says, "py
golly, I makes no more moneys!"

Fer a minute, he looked plumb scairt.

But the boys was plumb _disgusted_. "The parson's been playin' us
fer suckers," they says to each other; "he's been a-soft-soapin'
us, a-flimflammin' us. He thinks we's as blind as day-ole kittens."
And the way that Tom-fool of a Hairoil hung 'round, lookin' wise, got
under they collar. After they'd booted him outen the shebang, they all
sit down on the edge of the stoop, just sayin' nothin'--but sawin'
wood.

I sit down, too.

We wasn't there more'n ten minutes when one of the fellers jumped up.
"There comes the parson now," he says.

Shore enough. There come the parson in his fancy two-wheel Studebaker,
lookin' as perky as thunder. "Gall?" says Buckshot. "Wal, I should
smile!" Under his cart, runnin' 'twixt them yalla wheels, was his
spotted dawg.

I hollered in to Dutchy. "Where's you' purp, Dutch?" I ast. "The
parson's haided this way."

Dutchy was as tickled as a kid with a lookin'-glass and a hammer. He
dropped his bar-towel and hawled out his purp.

"Vatch me!" he says.

The parson was a good bit closter by now, settin' up straight as a
telegraph pole, and a-hummin' to hisself. He was wearin' one of them
caps with a cow-catcher 'hind and 'fore, knee britches, boots and a
sweater.

"A svetter, mind y'!" says Dutchy.

"Be a Mother Hubbard _next,_" says Bill Rawson.

Somehow, though, as the parson come 'longside the post-office, most
anybody wouldn't 'a' liked the way thinks looked. You could sorta
smell somethin' explodey. He was too all-fired songful to be natu'al.
And his dawg! That speckled critter was as diff'rent from usual as
the parson. His good ear was curled up way in, and he was kinda layin'
clost to the ground as he trotted along--layin' so clost he was plumb
_bow-legged_.

Wal, the parson pulled up. And he'd no more'n got offen his seat when,
first rattle outen the box, them dawgs mixed.

Gee whillikens! _such_ a mix! They wasn't much of the reg'lar ki-yin'.
Dutchy's purp yelped some; but the parson's? Not fer _him!_ He just
got a good holt--a shore enough diamond hitch--on that thirst-parlour
dawg, and chawed. _Say!_ And whilst he chawed, the dust riz up like they
was one of them big sand-twisters goin' through Briggs City. All of a
suddent, _how that spotted dawg could fight!_

Dutchy didn't know what 'd struck him. He runs out. "Come, hellup,"
he yells to the parson.

The parson shook his head. "This street is not my private property,"
he says.

Then Dutchy jumped in and begun t' kick the parson's dawg in the snoot.
The parson walks up and stops Dutchy.

That made the Dutchman turrible mad. He didn't have no gun on him, so
out he jerks his pig-sticker.

What happened next made our eyes plumb stick out. That parson
side-stepped, put out a hand and a foot, and with that highfalutin'
Jewie Jitsie you read about, tumbled corn-beef-and-cabbage on to his
back. Then he straddled him and slapped his face.

"Lieber!" screeched Dutchy.

"Goin' t' have any more Sunday night dances?" ast the parson. (_Bing,
bang_.)

"Nein! Nein!"

"Any more" (_bing, bang_) "free Sunday suppers?"

"Nein! Nein! Hellup!"

"Goin' to change this" (_biff, biff_) "saloon's name!"

"Ya! Ya! _Gott!_"

The parson got up. "_Amen!_" he says.

Then he runs into Silverstein's, grabs a pail of water, comes out again,
and throws it on to the dawgs.

The Dutchman's purp was done fer a'ready. And the other one was tired
enough to quit. So when the water splashed, Dutchy got his dawg by the
tail and drug him into the thirst-parlour.

But that critter of the parson's. Soon as the water touched him, them
spots of hisn _begun to run_. Y' see, he wasn't the stylish keerige
dawg at all! _He was a jimber-jawed bull!_

                    *       *       *       *       *

Wal, the next Sunday night, the school-house was chuck full. She
wasn't there--no, Monkey Mike tole me she was visitin' down to
Goldstone; but, a-course, all the _rest_ of the women folks was. And
about forty-'leven cow-punchers was on hand, and Buckshot, and Rawson
and Dutchy,--yas, ma'am, _Dutchy,_ we rounded _him_ up. Do y' think
after such a come-off we was goin' to let that limburger run any
compytition place agin our parson?

And that night the parson stands up on the platform, his face as shiny
as a milk-pan, and all smiles, and he looked over that cattle-town bunch
and says, "I take fer my text this evenin', 'And the calf, and the
young lion and the fatlin' shall lie down in peace t'gether.'"



CHAPTER THREE

THE PRETTIEST GAL AND THE HOMELIEST MAN


I'M just square enough to own _up_ it was one on me. But far's that
par_tic_ular mix-up goes, I can _afford_ to be honest, and let anybody
snicker that wants to--seein' the way the hull thing turned out. 'Cause
how about Doc Simpson? Didn't I git bulge Number Two on him? And how
about the little gal? Didn't it give me my first chanst? _Course,_ it
did! And now, sometimes, when I want to feel happier'n a frog in a
puddle, just a-thinkin' it all over, I lean back, shut my two eyes, and
say, "Ladies and gents, this is where you git the Blackfoot Injun
Root-ee, the Pain Balm, the Cough Balsam, the Magic Salve and the Worm
Destroyer--the fi-i-ive remedies fer two dollars!"

That medicine show follered the dawg fight. It hit Briggs City towards
sundown one day, in a prairie-schooner drawed by two big, white mules,
and druv up to the eatin'-house. Out got a smooth-faced, middle-aged
feller in a linen duster and half a' acre of hat--kinda part judge,
part scout, y' savvy; out got two youngish fellers in fancy vests and
grey dicers; next, a' Injun in a blanket, and a lady in a yalla-striped
shirtwaist. Wal, sir, it was just like they'd struck that town to start
things a-movin' fer me!

The show hired the hall over Silverstein's store. Then one of them fancy
vests walked up and down Front Street, givin' out hand-bills. The other
sent word to all the ranches clost by, and the Injun went 'round to
them scattered houses over where the parson and Doc Trowbridge lives.

Them hand-bills read somethin' like this: The _Re_nowned Blackfoot
Medicine Company Gives Its First Performance T'Night! Grand Open-Air
Band Concert. Come One, Come All. Free! Free! Free! 3--The Marvellous
Murrays--3. To-Ko, the Human Snake, The World Has Not His Equal. Miss
Vera de Mille In Bewitchin' Song and Dance. Amuricaw's Greatest Nigger
Impersynater. The Fav'rite Banjoist of the Sunny South. Injun Shadda
Pictures,--and a hull lot more I cain't just _re_call.

When I seen that such a big bunch was a-goin' to preform, I walked over
and peeked into that schooner. I figgered, y' savvy, that they was some
more people in it that hadn't come out yet. But they wasn't--only boxes
and boxes of bottles.

Right after supper, that medicine outfit played in front of
Silverstein's. The judge-lookin' feller beat the drum, the Injun
blowed a big brass dinguss, the gal a clari'net, and the other two
fellers some shiny instruments curlier'n a pig's tail. But it was
bully, that's all _I_ got to say, and drawed like a mustard plaster.
'Cause whilst in Oklahomaw a _Injun_ show don't count fer much, bein'
that we got more'n our fill of reds, all the same, with music
throwed in, Briggs City was there. And Silverstein's hall was just
jampacked.

The front seats was took up by the town kids, a-course. Then come the
women and gals,--a sprinklin' of men amongst 'em; behind _them,_ the
cow-punchers. And in the back end of the place a dozen 'r so of niggers
and cholos. Whilst all was a-waitin' fer the show to begin, the punchers
done a lot of laughin' and cat-callin' to each other, and made some
consider'ble noise. I was along with the rest, only up in one of the
side windas, settin' on the sill and swingin' my hoofs.

When the show opened, they was first a fine piece--a march, I reckon--by
the band. All the time, more people was a-comin' in. 'Mongst 'em was
Doc Trowbridge and Rose, and Up-State--he was that pore lunger that was
here from the East, y' savvy. Next, right after them three, that Doc
Simpson I was so all-fired stuck on. And, along with him, a gal.

Wal, who do you think it was! _I_ knowed to oncet. They wasn't no
mistakin' that slim, little figger and that pert little haid. It was
_Her!_

"Cupid," whispered Hairoil Johnson (he was settin' byside me), "it
looks to me like you didn't much discourage that Noo York doc who owns
what's left of a toot buggy. Failin' to git the oldest gal out at the
Bar Y, why, now he's a-sailin' 'round with the youngest one."

I didn't say nothin'. I was a-watchin' where _she_ was. I wanted t'
ketch sight of her face.

"I devilled ole man Sewell about kickin' him out and then takin' him
back," goes on Hairoil. "And Sewell said he was a punk doctor, but
awful good comp'ny. Huh! Comp'ny ain't what _that_ dude's after.
He's after a big ranch and a graded herd. It's a blamed pity you
didn't git _him_ sent up t' Kansas City fer _re_pairs."

The band was a-playin', but I didn't pay much attention to it. I kept
a-watchin' that slim, little figger a-settin' next Simpson--a-watchin'
till I plumb fergot where I was, almost. "Macie,--Macie Sewell."

Just then, I'm another if she didn't look round! And square at _me!_
She wasn't smilin', just sober, and sorta inquirin'. Her eyes looked
dark, and big. She had a square little chin, like the gals you see drawed
in pictures, and some soft, white, lacey stuff was a-restin' agin her
neck. They was two 'r three good-lookin' gals at the eatin'-house
them days, and Carlota Arnaz was awful pretty, too. But none of 'em
couldn't hole a candle t' _this_ one. Took in her cute little face
whilst she looked straight back at me. Say! them eyes of hern come
nigh pullin' me plumb outen that winda!

Then the Judge walked out onto the platform, and she faced for'ards
again. "Ladies and gents," says the ole feller, talkin' like his
mouth was full of mush, "we have come to give you' enterprisin' little
city a free show. A free show, ladies and gents,--it ain't a-goin'
to cost you a _nickel_ to come here and enjoy you'self ev'ry night.
More'n that, we plan to stay as long as you want us to. And we plan to
give you the very best talent in this hull United States."

All this time, the fancy-vest fellers was layin' a carpet and fixin' a
box and a table on the stage. The Judge, he turned and waved his hand.
"Our first number," he says, "will be the Murrays in they marvellous
act."

Wal, them fancy-vests and the lady was the Marvellous Murrays. And
they was all in pink circus-clothes. "Two brothers and a sister, I
guess," says Hairoil. I should _hope_ so! 'Cause the way they jerked
each other 'round was enough t' bring on a fight if they hadn't
'a' been relations. All three of 'em could walk on they hands nigh
as good as on they feet, and turn somersets quicker'n lightnin'. And
when the somersettin' and leap-froggin' come to oncet, it was grand!
First the big feller'd git down; then, the other'd step onto his
back. And as the big one bucked, his brother'd fly up,--all in a ball,
kinda--spin 'round two 'r three times, and light right side up. And
then they stood on each other's faces like they'd plumb flat 'em out!

When they was done, they all come to the edge of the platform, the lady
kissin' her hand. All the punchers kissed back!

Wal, ev'rybody laughed then, and clapped, and the Judge brought on the
Injun. That Injun was smart, all right. Wiggled his fingers behind a
sheet and made 'em look like animals, and like people that was walkin'
and bowin' and doin' jigs. I wondered if Macie Sewell liked it. Guess
she did! She was a-smilin' and leanin' for'ards to whisper to Billy
and Rose. But not much to Simpson, _I_ thought. Say! I was glad of that.
Wasn't _none_ of my business, a-course. _Course,_ it wasn't. But,
just the same, whenever I seen him put his haid clost to hern, it shore
got under my skin.

The Judge was out again. "Miss Vera de Mille," he says, "will sing
'Wait Till the Sun Shines, Maggie.'" Wal, if I hadn't 'a' had
reasons fer stayin', I wouldn't 'a' waited a _minute_--reg'lar
cow-bellerin' in place of a voice, y' savvy. What's more, she was
only that Marvellous Murray woman in diff'rent clothes! (No wonder
they wasn't no more people in that outfit!) But I didn't keer about
the show. I just never took my eyes offen----

She looked my way again!

Say! I was roped--right 'round my shoulders, like I'd roped Simpson!
And I was plumb helpless. That look of hern was a lasso, pullin' me to
her, steady and shore. "Macie--Macie Sewell," I whispered to myself,
and I reckon my lips moved.

"You blamed idjit!" says Hairoil, out loud almost, "what's the matter
with you? You'll have me outen this winda in a minute!"

The Judge was bowin' some more. "We have now come to the middle of our
pro_gram,_" he says. "But 'fore I begin announcin' the last half,
which is our best, I want to tell you all a story.

"Ladies and gents, I come t' Briggs to bring you a message--a message
which I feel bound to deliver. And I've gone through a turrible lot to
be able to stand here to-night and say to you what I'm a-goin' to say.

"Listen! Years ago, a little boy, about so high, with his father and
mother and 'leven sisters and brothers, started to cross the Plains
with a' ox-team. They reached the Blackfoot country safe. But there,
ladies and gents, a turrible thing happened to 'em. One day, more'n
four hunderd Injuns surrounded they wagon and showed fight. They fit 'em
back, ladies and gents,--the father and the mother and the children,
killin' a good many bucks and woundin' more. But the Injuns was too
many fer that pore fambly. And in a' hour, the reds had captured one
little boy--whilst the father and mother and the 'leven sisters and
brothers was no more!" (The Judge, he sniffled a little bit.)

"The little boy was carried to a big Injun camp," he goes on. "And it
was here, ladies and gents,--it was here he seen _won_-derful things.
He seen them Injuns that was wounded put some salve on they wounds and be
healed; he seen others, that was plumb tuckered with fightin', drink
a blackish medicine and git up like new men. Natu'lly, he wondered
what was _in_ that salve, and what was _in_ that medicine. Wal, he
made friends with a nice Injun boy. He ast him _questions_ about
that salve and that medicine. He learnt what plants was dug to make both
of 'em. Then, one dark night, he crawled outen his wigwam on his hands
and knees. Behind him come his little Injun friend. They went slow and
soft to where was the pony herd. They caught up two fast ponies, and
clumb onto 'em, dug in they spurs, and started eastwards as fast as
they could go. The white boy's heart was filled with joy, ladies and
gents. He had a secret in his bosom that meant health to ev'ry _man,
woman_ and _child_ of his own race. As he galloped along, he says to
hisself, 'I'll spend my _life_ givin' this priceless secret to the
world!'

"Wal, ladies and gents, that's what he begun to do--straight off.
And t'-night, my dear friends, that boy is in Briggs City!" (A-course,
ev'rybody begun to look 'round fer him.) "Prob-'bly," goes on the
Judge, "they's more'n a hunderd people in this town that'll thank
Providence he come: They's little children that won't be orphans;
they's wives that won't be widdas. Fer he is anxious to tell 'em of a
remedy that will cure a-a-all the ills of the body. And, ladies and
gents, _I_--am--that--boy!"

That got the punchers so excited and so tickled, that they hollered and
stamped and banged and done about twenty dollars' worth of damage to the
hall.

"My friends," goes on the Judge, "I have _pre_pared, aided by my dear
Injun comrade here, the sev'ral kinds of medicines discovered by the
Blackfeet." The fancy-vests, rigged out like Irishmen, was fixin' a
table and puttin' bottles on to it. "I have these wonderful medicines
with me, and I sell 'em at a figger that leaves only profit enough fer
the five of us to live on. I do _more'n_ that. Ev'rywheres I go, I
_pre_sent, as a soovneer of my visit, _a handsome, solid-gold watch and
chain._"

Out come that singin' lady, hoidin' the watch and chain in front of
her so's the crowd could see. My! what a lot of whisperin'!

"This elegant gift," _con_tinues the Judge, "is _a_warded by means of
a votin' contest. And it goes to the prettiest gal."

More whisperin', and I sees a brakeman git up and go over to talk to
another railroad feller. Wal, _I_ didn't have to be tole who was the
prettiest gal!

"Ladies and gents,"--the Judge again--"in this contest, _ev'ry_body
is allowed to vote. All a person has to do is to take two dollars'
worth of my medicine. Each two-dollar buy gives you ten votes fer the
prettiest gal; and just to add a little fun to the contest, it also
gives you ten votes fer the homeliest man. If you buy these medicines,
you'll never want to buy no others. Here's where you git the Blackfoot
Injun Rootee, my friends, the Pain Balm, the Cough Balsam, the Magic
Salve, and the Worm Destroyer--the fi-i-ive remedies fer two dollars!"

Then he drawed a good, long breath and begun again, tellin' us just
what the diff'rent medicines was good fer. When he was done, he
says,--playin' patty-cake with them fat hands of hisn--"Now, who'll
be the first to buy, and name a choice fer the prettiest gal?"

Up jumps that brakeman, "Gimme two dollars' worth of you' dope," he
says, "and drop ten votes in the box fer Miss Mollie Brown."

(Eatin'-house waitress, y' savvy.)

"And the ugliest man?" ast the Judge, whilst one of the fancy vests
took in the cash and handed over the medicine.

"Monkey Mike," answers the brakeman. And then the boys began t' josh
Mike.

"I'm a sucker, too," hollers the other railroad feller. "Here's ten
_more_ votes fer Miss Brown."

Just then, in she come,--pompydore stickin' up like a hay-stack. The
railroad bunch, they give a cheer. Huh!

I got outen that winda and onto my feet. "Judge," I calls, puttin'
up one hand to show him who was a-talkin', "here's _eight_ dollars
fer you' rat-pizen. And you can chalk down forty votes fer Miss Macie
Sewell."

Say! cain't you hear them Bar Y punchers?--"_Yip! yip! yip! yip!
yip! yip! ye-e-e!_" A-course all the _other_ punchers, they hollered,
too. And whilst we was yellin', that tenderfoot from Noo York was
a-jabberin' to Macie, mad like, and scowlin' over my way. And she?
Wal, she was laughin', and blushin', and shakin' that pretty haid of
hern--at _me!_

I was so _ex_cited I didn't know whether I was a-foot 'r a-hoss-back.
But I knowed enough to _buy,_ all right. Wal, that medicine went like
hotcakes! I blowed _my_self, and Hairoil blowed _his_-self, and the Bar Y
boys cleaned they pockets till the bottles was piled up knee-high
byside the benches. And whilst we shelled out, the Judge kept on
a-goin' like he'd been wound up--"Here's _another_ feller that wants
Root-ee! and here's another over on this side! And, lady, it'll be
good fer you, too, _yas,_ ma'am. The Blackfoot Injun Rootee, my
friends, the Pain Balm, the Cough Balsam, the Magic Salve, and the Worm
Destroyer,--the fi-i-ive remedies fer two dollars!"

When I come to, a little bit later on, the hall was just about empty,
and Hairoil was pullin' me by the arm to git me to move. I looked
'round fer Macie Sewell. She was gone, and so was the Doc and Billy
Trowbridge and Rose and Up-State. Outside, right under my window, I
ketched sight of a white dress a-goin' past. It was her. "Macie," I
whispers to myself; "Macie Sewell."

That night, I couldn't sleep. I was upset kinda, and just crazy with
thinkin' how I'd help her to win out. And I made up my mind t' this:
If more votes come in fer Mollie Brown than they did fer the gal that
_oughta_ have 'em, why, I'd just shove a gun under that Judge's
nose and tell him to "count 'em over and _count 'em right._"
'Cause, I figgered, no eatin'-house gal with a face like a flat-car was
a-goin' to be _e_lected the prettiest gal of Briggs. Not if _I_ seen
myself, _no,_ ma'am. 'Specially not whilst Sewell's little gal was
in the country. Anybody could pick _her_ fer the winner if they had
on blinders. "Cupid," I says, "you hump you'self!"

Next day, the Judge, he give consultin's in the eatin'-house
sample-room. I went over and had a talk with him, tellin' him just how I
wanted that votin' contest to go. He said he wisht me luck, but that if
the railroad boys felt they needed his medicine, he didn't believe
he had no right to keep 'em from buyin'. And, a-course, when a feller
made a buy, he wanted t' vote like he pleased. Said the best thing
was t' git holt of folks that 'd met Miss Sewell and liked her, 'r
wanted t' work fer her ole man, 'r 'd just as lief do _me_ a good turn.

I hunted up Billy. "Doc," I says, "I _hope_ Briggs ain't a-goin' to
name that Brown waitress fer its best sample. Now----"

"Aw, wal," says Billy, "think how it 'd tickle her!"

"Tickle some other gal just as much," I says.

"And the _prettiest_ gal ought to be choosed. Now, it could be
fixed--_easy._"

"Who do you think it oughta be?" ast Billy.

"Strikes me you' wife's little sister is the pick."

"Cupid," says Billy, lookin' anxious like, "don't you git you'self
too much inter_est_ed in Macie Sewell. You know how the ole man feels
towards you. And what can _I_ do? He ain't any too friendly with _me_
yet? So be keerful."

"Now, Doc," I goes on, "don't you go to worryin' about me. Just you
help by _prescribin' that medicine._"

"To folks that don't need none?" ast Billy. "Aw, I don't like to."
(Billy's awful white, Billy is.) "It won't do 'em no good."

"Wal," I says, "it won't do 'em no _harm._"

Billy said he'd see.

"You could let it out that somebody in town's been cured by the
stuff," I suggests.

"Only make them railroad fellers buy more."

"That's so. Wal, I guess the best thing fer me to do is to hunt up
people with a misery and tell 'em they'd better buy--and vote my way."

Billy throwed back his haid and haw-hawed.

"You're a _dickens_ of a feller!" he says. "When you want to
have you' own way, I never seen _any_-body that could think up more
gol-darned things."

"And," I _con_tinues, "if that Root-ee just had a lot of forty-rod
mixed in it, it 'd be easier'n all git out to talk fellers into takin'
it. If they'd try _one_ bottle, they'd shore take _another._"

"Now, Cupid," says Billy, like he was goin' to scolt me.

"'R if ole man Baker 'd take the stuff and git his hearin' back."

"No show. Nothin' but sproutin' a new ear'd help Baker."

Next person I seen was that Doc Simpson. He was a-settin' on
Silverstein's porch, teeterin' hisself in a chair. "Billy," I
says, "I'm goin' over to put that critter up to buyin'. He's got
money and he cain't do better'n spend it."

Wal, a-course, Simpson was turrible uppy when I first spoke to him. Said
he didn't want nothin' t' say to me--not a _word_. (He had sev'ral
risin's on his face yet.)

"Wal, Doc," I says, "I know you think I didn't treat you square,
_but_--has you city fellers any idear how mad you make us folks in the
country when you go a-shootin' 'round in them gasoline rigs of yourn?
Why, I think if you'll give this question some little study, you'll
see it has got two sides."

"Yas," says the Doc, "it _has_. But that ain't why you treated _me_
like you did. No, I ain't green enough to think _that._"

"You ain't green at _all,_" I says. "And I'm shore sorry you feel
the way you do. 'Cause I hoped mebbe you'd fergit our little trouble
and bury the hatchet--long as we're both workin' fer the same thing."

"What thing, I'd like t' know?"

"Why, gittin' Miss Macie Sewell elected the prettiest gal."

Fer a bit he didn't say nothin'. Then he made some _re_mark about a
gal's name bein' "handed 'round town," and that a votin' contest
was "vulgar."

Wal, he put it so slick that I didn't just git the hang of what he was
drivin' at. Just the same, I felt he was layin' it on to me, somehow.
And if I'd 'a' been _shore_ of it, I'd 'a' put some _more_ risin's
on to his face.

Wisht now I had--on gen'ral principles. 'Cause, thinkin' back, I know
_just_ what he done. If he didn't, why was him and that Root-ee Judge
talkin' t'gether so long at the door of Silverstein's Hall--talkin'
like they was thick, and laughin', and ev'ry oncet in a while
lookin' over at me?

I drummed up a lot of votes that afternoon. Got holt of Buckshot
Milliken, who wasn't feelin' more'n ordinary good. Ast him how he
was. He put his hand to his belt, screwed up his mug, and said he felt
plumb et up inside.

"Buckshot," I says, "anybody else 'd give you that ole sickenin'
story about it bein' the nose-paint you swallered last night. Reckon
you' wife's tole you that a'ready."

"That's what she has," growls Buckshot.

"Wal, _I_ knowed it! But is she _right?_ Now, _I_ think, Buckshot,--I
think you've got the bliggers." (Made it up on the spot.)

"The bliggers!" he says, turrible scairt-like.

"That's what I think. But all you need is that Root-ee they sell over
yonder."

He perked up. "Shore of it?" he ast.

"Buy a bottle and try. And leave off drinkin' anythin' else whilst
you're takin' the stuff, so's it can have a fair chanst. In a week,
you'll be a new man."

"I'll do it," he says, makin' fer that prairie-schooner.

I calls after him: "And say, Buckshot, ev'ry two dollars you spend
with them people, you git the right to put in ten votes fer the
prettiest gal. Now, most of us is votin' fer ole man Sewell's youngest
daughter." Then, like I was tryin' hard to recollect, "I _think_
her name is Macie."

"All right, Cupid. So long."

Seen Sewell a little bit later. And braced right up to him. 'Cause fer
two reasons: First, I wanted _him_ t' do some buyin' fer his gal; then,
I wanted t' find out if he didn't need another puncher out at the Bar
Y. (Ketch on t' my little game?)

The ole man was pretty short, and wouldn't do a livin' lick about
them votes. Said _he_ knowed his gal, Mace, was the prettiest gal in
Oklahomaw, and it didn't need no passel of breeds 'r quacks to cut her
out of the bunch of heifers and give her the brand.

Then, I says, "S'pose you ain't lookin' fer no extra punchers out at
the Bar Y? I'm thinkin' some of quittin' where I am." ('Twixt you
and me and the gate-post, I knowed from Hairoil that the Sewell outfit
was shy two men--just when men was wanted _bad_.)

Fer a minute, Sewell didn't answer anothin'. (Stiff-necked, y'
savvy,--see a feller dead first 'fore he'd give in a' inch.) Pretty
soon, he looked up, kinda sheepish. "I _could_ use another puncher," he
says, "t' ride line. Forty suit y'?"

"Shore, boss. Be out the first. So long."

I was goin' to the Bar Y, where _she_ was! Wal, mebbe I wasn't happy!
And mebbe I wasn't set worse'n ever on havin' the little gal win in
that contest! 'Fore night, I rounded up as many as five people that had
a bony fido grunt comin', and was glad to hear the grand things Doc
Trowbridge said about Root-ee!

When the show started up in the hall after supper, and I slid in to take
my seat in the winda, a lot of people,--women and kids and men--kinda
turned round towards me and whispered and grinned. "They know I'm fer
Macie Sewell," I says to myself, "but that don't bother _me_ none."

That Blackfoot Injun (he was turned into To-Ko, the Human Snake) was
a-throwin' squaw-hitches with hisself. The Judge come to the edge of
the platform and pointed over his shoulder to him. "Do you think he
could do that if he didn't rub his hinges with Pain Balm?" he says.
"Wal, he couldn't. Pain Balm makes a man as limber as a willa. Ladies
and gents, it's _won_derful what that remedy can do! It'll prolong
you' life, make you healthy, wealthy, happy, and wise. Here you get
the Blackfoot Injun Root-ee, the Pain Balm, the Cough Balsam, the Magic
Salve, and the Worm Destroyer,--the fi-i-ive remedies fer two dollars!"

Say! it made my jaw plumb tired t' listen to him.

"Hairoil," I says to Johnson, "they got the names of the prettiest
gals up on the blackboard, but where's the names of the homeliest men?"

Hairoil snickered a little. Then he pulled his face straight and said
that, bein' as Monkey Mike 'd kicked up a turrible fuss about the
votes that was cast fer _him,_ why, the Judge had _de_cided to keep
the homeliest-man contest a secret.

Wal, _I_ didn't keer. Was only a-botherin' my, haid over the way the
prettiest gal countin' 'd come out. I got holt of Dutchy, who 'd come
in from his thirst-parlour to look on a minute. "Buyin', Dutchy?" I
ast.

"Nix."

"But I reckon you need Root-ee, all the same. Do you ever feel kinda
full and stuffy after meals?"

"Yaw."

"Now, don't that show! Dutchy, I'm sorry, but it's a cinch you got
the bliggers!"

Wal, _he_ bit.

The station-agent was standin' right next me. "Cupid," he whispers,
"I hear you got a candi-_date_ in fer the prettiest gal. What you say
about runnin' as the homeliest man?"

"No," I answers, quick, "I don't hanker fer the honour. (That 'd
hurt me with _her,_ y' savvy.) Then, I begun chinnin' with Sparks, that
owns the corral.

"Great stuff, that Root-ee," I says. "Reckon the redskins knowed a
heap more about curin' than anybody's ever give 'em credit fer. Tried
the medicine yet, Sparks?"

Sparks said no, he didn't think he needed it.

"Wal, a man never knows," I goes on. "Now, mebbe, of a mornin', when
you wake up, you feel tired and sorta stretchy; wisht you could just
roll over and take another snooze."

"Bet I do!"

"That ain't right, Sparks." And I turned in and give him that bliggers
talk.

But he hung off till I tole him about the scheme of the railroad
bunch. Seems that Sparks had a grudge agin the eatin'-house 'cause it
wouldn't give him train-men's rates fer grub. So he fell right into
line.

Macie Sewell didn't come to the show that night, so I didn't stay
long. Over to the bunk-house, I got a piece of paper and some ink and
(ain't ashamed of it, _neither,_) writ down her name. Under it, I put
mine. Then, after crossin' out all the letters that was alike, and
countin' "Friendship, love, indiff'rence, hate, courtship, marriage,"
it looked like this:

    M[a][c][i][e] S[e]w[e][l][l]    friendship,
    [A][l][e][c] [L][l]oyd          marriage.

[Transcriber's note: letters in brackets were "crossed out"]

By jingo, I reckon it stood just about that way!

Next mornin', whilst I was standin' outside the post-office, she
come ridin' up! Say, all to oncet my heart got to goin' somethin'
turrible--I was feard she'd hear it, no josh. My hands felt weak, too,
so's I could hardly pull off my Stetson; and my ears got red; and my
tongue thick, like the time I got offen the trail in Arizonaw and din't
have no water fer two 'r three days.

She seen me, and smiled, sorta bashful.

"Miss Sewell," I says, "can I ast fer you' mail? Then you won't have
to git down."

"Yas, thank y'."

When I give it to her, I got my sand back a little. "I hope," I says,
"that you didn't mind my puttin' you' name up in that votin'
contest. Did y'?"

"Why,--why, no."

"I'm awful glad. And I'm a-comin' out to the Bar Y the first to ride
line."

"Are y'?" Them pink cheeks of hern got pinker'n ever, and when she
loped off, she smiled back at me!

Say! I never was so happy in all my life! I went to work gittin'
votes fer her, feelin' like ev'rybody was my friend--even ole
Skinflint Curry, that I'd had words with oncet. That railroad bunch
was a-workin', too, and a-talkin' up Mollie Brown. And I heerd that
they planned to hole back a lot of votes till Macie Sewell's count
was all in, and then spring 'em to elect the other gal. That got me
worried some.

About six o'clock, one of them fancy vests went 'round town, hollerin'
it out that the show 'd give its last performance that night. "What's
you sweat?" I ast him. Nothin', he says, only the Judge reckoned about
all the folks that intended to buy Root-ee had bought a'ready.

Wal, the show got a turrible big crowd--hall chuch full. And I tell y'
things was livelier'n they was at the dawg fight. The Mollie Brown
crowd was rushin' 'round and lookin' corkin' shore, and the punchers
holdin' up people as they come in, and the Marvellous Murray's doin'
anty-I-overs with theyselves plumb acrosst the stage.

All the time, the Judge was exercisin' that jaw of hisn. "Ladies and
gents," he says, (banjo goin' ev'ry minute) "here's where you git
cured whilst you stand--like buffalo grass. Don't you be scairt that
you'll buy me out--I got more down cellar in a teacup!"

Then _she_ come in, and I wouldn't 'a' pulled outen that place fer a
new dollar. She looked so cool and pretty, that little haid up, and
a wisp of hair blowin' agin her one cheek 'cause they was a breeze
from the windas. Simpson was with her. What did _I_ keer! She wasn't
noticin' _him_ much. Wal, I just never looked anywheres else but at
her. Aw, I hoped that pretty soon she'd look round at me!

She did!--straighter'n a string. And the hull room got as misty and
full of roarin' as if a Santa Fee ingine was in there, a-leakin'
steam. I tried t' smile at her. But my face seemed hard, like a piece
of leather. I _couldn't_ smile.

Then, my eyes cleared. And I seen she was sad, like as if somethin' was
botherin' her mind. "She thinks she's a-goin' t' git beat," I says
to myself. "But she _ain't._" And I reached down to see if my pop-gun
was all right.

She turned back towards the stage. The Murray woman 'd just finished
one of them songs of hern, and the Judge was talkin' again. "Ladies
and gents," he says, "we shall not drag out our pro_gram_ too long. Fer
the reason that I know just what you-all want to hear _most_. And that
is, the _re_sult of the contest."

That railroad gang begun t' holler.

Don't know why,--wasn't no reason fer it, but my heart went plumb down
into my boots. "Aw, little Macie!" I says to myself; "aw, little
Macie!" Say! I come mighty nigh prayin' over it!

"The count fer the prettiest gal," goes on the Judge, "is complete.
Miss de Mille, kindly bring for'ard the watch. I shall have to ast some
gent to escort the fortu_nate_ young lady to the platform." (I seen a
brakeman start over to Mollie Brown.)

"I don't intend"--the Judge again--"to keep you in suspenders no
longer. And I reckon you'll all be glad to know" (here he give a bow)
"that the winner is--Miss Macie Sewell."

Wal, us punchers let out a yell that plumb cracked the ceiling. "Wow!
wow! _wow!_ Macie Sewell!" And we whistled, and kicked the floor, and
banged the benches, and whooped.

Doctor Bugs got to his feet, puttin' his stylish hat and gloves on his
chair, and crookin' a' elbow. Wal, I reckon _this_ part wasn't vulgar!

Then, _she_ stood up, took holt of his arm, and stepped out into the
aisle. She was smilin' a little, but kinda sober yet, I thought. She
went towards the Judge slow, and up the steps. He helt out his hand.
"With the compliments of the company," he says. She took the watch.
Then she turned.

Another cheer--a _whopper_.

She stood there, lookin' like a' angel, 'r a bird, 'r a little
bobbin' rose.

"Thank y', boys," she says; "thank y'."

If I'd 'a' knowed what was a-goin' to happen next, I'd 'a' slid
out then. But, a-course, I didn't.

"My friends," says the Judge, "I will now read the vote for the
homeliest man. Monkey Mike received the large count of twenty. But it
stands nineteen hunderd and sixty fer--Cupid Lloyd."

All of a suddent two 'r three fellers had holt of me. And they was a big
yell went up--"Cupid! Cupid! The homeliest man! Whee!" The next second,
I was goin' for'ards, but shovin' back. I _hated_ to have her see me
made a fool of. I seen red, I was so mad. I could 'a' kilt. But she
was lookin' at me, and I was as helpless as a little cat. I put down
my haid, and was just kinda dragged up the aisle and onto the platform.

She went down the steps to her seat then. But she didn't stop. She bent
over, picked up her jacket, whispered somethin' to Rose and, with that
Simpson trailin', went to the back of the hall. There she stopped,
kinda half turned, and waited.

I wisht fer a knot-hole that I could crawl through. I wisht a crack in
the floor 'd open and let me slip down, no matter if I tumbled into a
barrel of _mo_lasses below in Silverstein's. I wisht I was dead, and
I wisht the hull blamed bunch of punchers was--Wal, I felt something
_turrible_.

"Cupid!" "You blamed fool!" "Look at him, boys!" "Take his
picture!" "Say! he's a beauty!" Then they hollered like they'd
bust they sides, and stomped.

I laughed, a-course,--sickish, though.

The Judge, I reckon, felt kinda 'shamed of hisself. 'Cause I'd helped
to sell a heap of medicine, and he knowed it. "That's all right,
Lloyd," he says; "they ain't no present fer you. You can vamose--back
stairway."

"Whee-oop!" goes the boys.

I seen her start down then. Billy and his wife got up, too. So did the
crowd, still a-laughin' and a-hootin'.

I kinda backed a bit. When I reached the stairs, I went slower, feelin'
my way. Minute and I come out onto Silverstein's hind porch. Nobody was
there, so I went over to the edge and lent agin a' upright.

Right back of Silverstein's they's a line of hitchin'-posts. Two
hosses was fastened there when I come, but it was so dark, and I felt
so kinda bad, that I didn't notice the broncs par_tic_-ular. Till,
'round the corner, towards 'em, come that Simpson. Next, walkin'
slow and lookin' down--Macie.

But she got onto her hoss quick, and without no help. All the time,
Bugsey was a-fussin' with his mustang. But the critter was nervous, and
wasn't no easy job. Macie waited. She was nighest to me, and right
in line with the light from a winda. I could see her face plain. But I
couldn't tell how she was feelin',--put out, 'r quiet, 'r just kinda
tired.

Simpson got into the saddle then, his hoss rearin' and runnin'. He
could steer a gasoline wagon, but he couldn't handle a cayuse. He turned
to holler: "Comin', Miss Sewell?"

She said she was, but she started awful slow, and kinda peered back, and
up to the hall. At the same time, she must 'a' saw that they was a man
on the back porch, 'cause she pulled in a little, lookin' hard.

I felt that rope a-drawin' me then. I couldn't 'a' kept myself from
goin' to her. I started down. "Miss Macie!" I says; "Miss Macie!"

"Why,--why, Mister Lloyd!" She wheeled her hoss. "Is that you?"

I went acrosst the yard to where she was. "Yas,--it's me," I says.

She lent down towards me a little. "You been awful good to me," she
says. "_I_ know. It was _you_ got all them votes. Hairoil said so."

"Don't mention it."

"And--and"--I heerd her breath 'way deep, kinda like a sob--"you
_ain't_ the homeliest man! you _ain't!_ Aw, it was _mean_ of 'em! And
it hurt----"

"No, it didn't--please, _I_ don't mind."

"It hurt--me."

That put the cheek of ten men into me. I Straightened up, and I lifted
my chin. "Why, Gawd _bless_ you, little gal!" I says. "It's all
_right._"

Her one hand was a-restin' on the pommel. I reached up--only a
stay-chain could a' helt me back then--and took it into both of mine.
Say! did you ever holt a little, flutterin' bird 'twixt you' two palms?

"Macie," I says, "Macie Sewell." And I pressed her hand agin my face.

She lent towards me again. It wasn't more'n a soft breath, and I could
hardly hear. But nobody but me and that little ole bronc of hern'll ever
know what it was she said.



CHAPTER FOUR

CONCERIN' THE SHERIFF AND ANOTHER LITTLE WIDDA


AW! them first days out at the Bar Y ranch-house!--them first days!
_No_body could 'a' been happier'n I was then.

I hit the ranch on a Friday, about six in the evenin', it was, I
reckon,--in time fer supper, anyhow. The punchers et in a room acrosst
the kitchen from where the fambly et. And I recollect that sometimes
durin' that meal, as the Chink come outen the kitchen, totin' grub
to us, I just could ketch sight of Macie's haid in the far room,
bobbin' over her plate. And ev'ry time I'd see her, I'd git so blamed
flustered that my knife 'd miss my mouth and jab me in the jaw, 'r else
I'd spill somethin' 'r other on to Monkey Mike.

And after supper, when the sun was down, and they was just a kinda
half-light on the mesquite, and the ole man was on the east porch,
smokin', and the boys was all lined up along the front of the
bunk-house, clean outen sight of the far side of the yard, why, I just
sorta wandered over to the calf-corral, then 'round by the barn and
the Chink's shack, and landed up out to the west, where they's a row of
cottonwoods by the new irrigatin' ditch. Beyond, acrosst about a
hunderd mile of brown plain, here was the moon a-risin', bigger'n
a dish-pan, and a cold white. I stood agin a tree and watched it crawl
through the clouds. The frogs was a-watchin', too, I reckon, fer they
begun to holler like the dickens, some bass and some squeaky. And then,
from the other side of the ranch-house, struck up a mouth-organ:

    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea----"

A wait--ten seconds 'r so (it seemed longer); then, the same part of
the song, over again, and----

Outen the side door of the porch next me come a slim, little figger
in white. It stepped down where some sun-flowers was a-growin' agin
the wall. Say! it was just sunflower high! Then it come acrosst the
alfalfa--like a butterfly. And then----

"Don't you want a shawl 'round you' shoulders, honey? It's some
chilly."

"No." (Did you ever see a gal that'd own up she needed a wrap?)

"Wal, you got to have _somethin'_ 'round you." And so I helt her
clost, and put my hand under her chin t' tip it so's I could see her
face.

"You _mustn't,_ Alec!" (She was allus shy about bein' kissed.)

"I tole Mike to give me ten minutes' lee-way 'fore he played that
tune. But he must 'a' waited a hull hour." And then, with the
mouth-organ goin' at the bunk-house (t' keep the ole man listenin',
y' savvy, and make him fergit t' look fer Mace), we rambled north
byside the ditch, holdin' each other's hand as we walked, like two
kids. And the ole moon, it smiled down on us, awful friendly like, and
we smiled back at the moon.

Wal, when we figgered that Mike 'd blowed hisself plumb outen breath, we
started home again. And under the cottonwoods, the little gal reached
up her two arms t' me; and they wasn't nothin' but love in them sweet,
grey eyes.

"You ain't never liked nobody else, honey?"

"No--just you, Alec!--_dear_ Alec!"

"Same here, Macie,--and this is fer keeps."

Wal, 'most ev'ry night it was just like that. And the follerin' day,
mebbe I wouldn't know whether I was a-straddle of a hoss, drivin'
steers, 'r a-straddle of a steer, drivin' hosses. And it's a blamed
good thing my bronc savvied how t' tend to business without _me_ doin'
much!

Then, mebbe, I'd be ridin' line. Maud 'd go weavin' away up the long
fence that leads towards Kansas, and at sundown we'd reach the first
line-shack. And there, with the little bronc a-pickin', and my coffee
a-coolin' byside me on a bench, I'd sit out under the sky and watch
the moon--alone. Mebbe, when I got home, it 'd be ole man Sewell's
lodge-night, so he'd start fer town 'long about seven o'clock, and
Mace and me 'd have the porch to ourselves--the side-porch, where the
sun-flowers growed. But the next night, we'd meet by the ditch again,
and the next, and the next. Aw! them first happy days at the ole Bar Y!

And I reckon it was just _'cause_ we was so turrible happy that we got
inter_ested_ in Bergin's case--Mace and me both. (Next t' Hairoil,
Bergin's my best friend, y' savvy.) Figgerin' on how t' fix things
up fer him--speakin' matreemonal--brung us two closter t'gether, and
showed me what a _dandy_ little pardner she was a-goin' t' make.

But I want t' say right here that we wasn't _re_-sponsible fer the way
that case of hisn turned out--and neither was _no other livin' soul.
No,_ ma'am. The hull happenstance was the kind that a feller cain't
_ex_plain.

It begun when I'd been out at the Sewell ranch about two weeks. (I
disremember the exac' day, but _that_ don't matter.) I'd rid in
town fer somethin', and was a-crossin' by the deepot t' git it, when
I ketched sight of Bergin a-settin' on the end of a truck,--all by
hisself. Now, that was funny, 'cause they wasn't a man in Briggs
City but liked George Bergin and would 'a' hoofed it a mile to talk to
him. "What's skew-gee?" I says to myself, and looked at him clost;
then,--"Cæsar Augustus Philabustus Hennery Jinks!" I kinda gasped,
and brung up so suddent that I bit my cigareet clean in two and come
nigh turnin' a somerset over back'ards.

White as that paper, he was, and nervous, and so all-fired shaky and
caved-in that they couldn't be no question what was the matter. _The
sheriff was scairt._

First off, I wasn't hardly able to believe what I seen with my own
_eyes_. Next, I begun to think 'round fer the cause why. Didn't have
to think much. Knowed they wasn't a _pinch_ of 'fraid-cat in Bergin--no
crazy-drunk greaser 'r no passel of bad men, _red_ 'r white, could put
_him_ in a sweat, _no,_ sir-_ree_. They was just _one_ thing on earth
could stampede the sheriff. I kinda tip-toed over to him. "Bergin," I
says, "_who is she?_"

He looked up--slow. He's a six-footer, and about as heavy-set as the
bouncer over to the eatin'-house. Wal, I'm another if ev'ry square
inch of him wasn't tremblin', and his teeth was chatterin' so hard
I looked to see 'em fall out--that's _straight_. Them big, blue eyes
of hisn was sunk 'way back in his haid, too, and the rest of his face
looked like it 'd got in the way of the hose. "Cupid," he whispered,
"you've struck it! Here--read this."

It was a telegram. Say, you know I ain't got _no_ use fer telegrams.
The blamed things _allus_ give y' a dickens of a start, and, nine times
outen ten, they've got somethin' to say that no man wants to hear. But
I opened it up.

"sheriff george bergin," it read,--all little letters, y' savvy. (Say!
what's the matter that they cain't send no capitals over the wire?)
"briggs city oklahomaw meet mrs bridger number 201 friday phillips."

"Aw," I says, "Mrs. Bridger. Wal, Sheriff, who's this Mrs. Bridger?"

Pore Bergin just wagged his haid. "You'll have to give me a goose-aig
on that one," he answers.

"Wal, who's Phillips, then?" I _con_tinued.

"The Sante Fee deepot-master at Chicago."

"Which means you needn't to worry. Mrs. Bridger is likely comin' on
to boss the gals at the eatin'-house."

"If that's so, what 'd he telegraph to _me_ fer?"

"Don't know. Buck up, anyhow. I'll bet she's gone _'way_ past the
poll-tax age, and has got a face like a calf with a blab on its nose."

"Cupid," says the sheriff, standin' up, "thank y'. I feel better.
Was worried 'cause I've had bad luck lately, and bad luck most allus
runs in threes. Last week, my dawg died--remember that one with a buck
tooth? I was turrible fond of that dawg. And yesterday----"

He stopped then, and a new crop of drops come out on to his face.
"Look!" he says, hoarse like, and pointed.

'Way off to the north was a little, dark, puffy cloud. It was
a-travelin' our _di_rection. Number 201!

"Gosh!" says the sheriff, and sunk down on to the truck again.

I didn't leave him. I recollected what happened that time he captured
"Cud" and Andy Foster and brung 'em into town, his hat shot off and
his left arm a-hangin' floppy agin his laig. Y' see, next day, a
bunch of ladies--_ole_ ladies, they was, too,--tried to find him and
give him a vote of thanks. But when he seen 'em comin', he swore in a
deputy--_quick_--and vamosed. Day 'r two afterwards, here he come
outen that cellar back of Dutchy's thirst-parlour, his left arm in a
red bandaner, a rockin'-chair and a pilla under his right one, and a
lantern in his teeth!

But _this_ time, he wasn't a-goin' to _have_ no deputy. I made up my
mind to stay right byside him till he'd did his duty. Yas, ma'am.

"Cupid," he begun again, reachin' fer my fist, "Cupid, when it comes
to feemales----"

_Too-oo-oot! too-oo-oot!_ Couldn't make him hear, so I just slapped him
on the shoulder. Then I hauled him up, and we went down the platform to
where the crowd was.

When the train slowed down, the first thing I seen was the conductor
with a kid in his arms,--a cute kid, about four, I reckon,--a boy. Then
the cars stopped, and I seen a woman standin' just behind them. Next,
they was all out on to the platform, and the woman was holdin' the kid
by one hand.

The woman was cute, too. Mebbe thirty, mebbe less, light-complected,
yalla-haired, kinda plump, and about so high. Not pretty like Mace 'r
Carlota Arnaz, but _mighty_ good t' look at. Blabbed calf? Say! this
was _awful!_

"Ber-r-gin!" hollers the corn-doc.

"Bergin," I repeats, encouragin'. (Hope I never see a man look worse.
He was all blue and green!)

Bergin, he just kinda staggered up. He'd had _one_ look, y' savvy. Wal,
he didn't look no more. Pulled off his Stetson, though. Then he smoothed
the cow-lick over his one eye, and sorta studied the kid.

"Sheriff," goes on the corn-doc, "here's a lady that has been
_con_signed to you' care. Good-bye, ma'am, it's been a pleasure
to look out fer you. Good-bye, little feller," (this to the kid).
"Aw-aw-awl abroad!"

As Number 201 pulled out, you can bet you' little Cupid helt on to
that sheriff! "Bergin," I says, under my breath, "fer heaven's sake,
remember you' oath of office! And, _boys,_" (they was about a dozen
cow-punchers behind us, a-smilin' at Mrs. Bridger so hard that they
plumb laid they faces open) "you'll have us all shoved on to the tracks
in a minute!"

It was the kid that helped out. He'd been lookin' up at Bergin ever
since he hit the station. Now, all to oncet, he reached towards the
sheriff with both his little hands--as friendly as if he'd knowed him
all his life.

Y' know, Bergin's heart 's as big as a' ox. He's tender and _awful_
kind, and kids like him straight off. He likes kids. So, 'fore you could
say Jack Robinson, that Bridger young un was histed up. I nodded to
his maw, and the four of us went into the eatin'-house, where we all
had some dinner t'gether. Leastways, me and the kid and Mrs. Bridger
et. The sheriff, he just sit, not sayin' a word, but pullin' at that
cow-lick of hisn and orderin' things fer the baby. And whilst we
grubbed, Mrs. Bridger tole us about herself, and how she 'd happened to
come out Oklahomaw way.

Seems she 'd been livin' in Buffalo, where her husband was the boss of
a lumber-yard. Wal, when the kid was three years old, Bridger up and
died, not leavin' much in the way of cash fer the widda. Then she had
to begin plannin' how to git along, a-course. Chicken-ranchin' got into
her haid. Somebody said Oklahomaw was a good place. She got the name
of a land-owner in Briggs City and writ him. He tole her he had a nice
forty acres fer sale--hunderd down, the balance later on. She bit--and
here she was.

"Who's the man?" I ast.

The widda pulled a piece of paper outen her hand-satchel. "Frank
Curry," she answers.

Bergin give a jump that come nigh to tippin' the table over. (Ole
Skinflint Curry was the reason.)

"And where's the ranch?" I ast again.

"This is where." She handed me the paper.

I read. "Why, Bergin," I says, "it's that place right here below
town, back of the section-house--the Starvation Gap Ranch."

The sheriff throwed me a quick look.

"I hope," begun the widda, leanin' towards him, "--I hope they's
nothin' _agin_ the property."

Fer as much as half a minute, neither of us said nothin'. The sheriff,
a-course, was turrible flustered 'cause she 'd spoke _di_rect to him,
and he just jiggled his knee. _I_ was kinda bothered, too, and got some
coffee down my Sunday throat.

"Wal, as a _chicken_ ranch," I puts in fin'lly "it's O. K.,--shore
_thing_. On both sides of the house--see? like this," (I took a fork and
begun drawin' on the table-cloth) "is a stretch of low ground,--a
swale, like, that keeps green fer a week 'r so ev'ry year, and that'll
raise Kaffir-corn and such roughness. You git the tie-houses of the
section-gang plank in front--here. But behind, you' _po_ssessions
rise straight up in to the air like the side of a house. Rogers's
Butte, they call it. See it, out there? A person almost has to use a
ladder to climb it. On top, it's all piled with big rocks. Of a
mornin', the hens can take a trot up it fer exercise. The fine view
'll encourage 'em to lay."

"I'm _so_ glad," says the widda, kinda clappin' her hands. "I can
make enough to support Willie and me easy. And it'll seem awful fine
to have a little home all my own! I ain't never lived in the country
afore, but I know it'll be lovely to raise chickens. In pictures, the
little bits of ones is allus so cunnin'."

Wal, I didn't answer her. What could I 'a' _said?_ And Bergin?--he
come nigh pullin' his cow-lick clean out.

By this time, that little kid had his bread-basket full. So he clumb
down outen his chair and come 'round to the sheriff. Bergin took him on
to his lap. The kid lay back and shut his eyes. His maw smiled over at
Bergin. Bergin smiled down at the kid.

"Wal, folks," I begun, gittin' up, "I'm turrible sorry, but I got
to tear myself away. Promised to help the Bar Y boys work a herd."

"_Cupid!_" It was the sheriff, voice kinda croaky.

"Good-bye fer just now, Mrs. Bridger," (I pretended not t' hear
_him_.) "So long, Bergin."

And I skedaddled.

Two minutes afterwards here they come outen the eatin'-house, the widda
totin' a basket and the sheriff totin' the kid. I watched 'em through
the crack of Silverstein's front door, and I hummed that good ole song:

    "He never keers to wander from his own fireside;
    He never keers to ramble 'r to roam.
    With his baby on his knee,
    He's as happy as can be-e-e,
    Cause they's no-o-o place like home, sweet home."

When I got back to the Bar Y, I was dead leary about tellin' Mace that
I had half a mind t' git Bergin married off. 'Cause, y' see, I'd
been made fun of so much fer my Cupid business; and I hated t' think
of doin' somethin' she wouldn't like. But, fin'lly, I managed t'
spunk up sufficient, and _de_scribed Mrs. Bridger and the kid, and said
what I'd like t' do fer the sheriff.

"Alec," says the little gal, "I been tole (Rose tole me) how you like
t' help couples that's in love. It's what made me first like you."

"Honey! Then you'll help me?"

"_Shore,_ I will."

I give her a whoppin' smack right on that cute, little, square chin of
hern. "You darlin'!" I says. And then I put another where it'd do
the most good.

"Alec," she says, when she could git a word in edgeways, "this widda
comin' is mighty fortu-_nate_. Bergin's too ole fer the gals at the
eatin'-house. But Mrs. Bridger'll suit. Now, I'll lope down to the Gap
right soon t' visit her, and you go back t' town t' see how him goin'
home with her come out."

"Mace," I says, "if we _just_ can help such a fine feller t' git
settled. But it'll be a job--a' _awful_ job. She's a nice,
affection_ate_ little thing. Why, he'd be a _blamed_ sight happier.
And he likes the kid----"

"Let's not count our chickens 'fore they hatch," breaks in Mace.

Wal, I hiked fer town, and found the sheriff right where he was settin'
that mornin'. But, say! _he was a changed man!_ No shakin', no caved-in
look--_nothin'_ of that kind. He was gazin' thoughtful at a knot in
the deepot platform, his mouth was part way open, and they was a sorta
sickly grin spread all over them features of hisn.

I stopped byside him. "Wal, Sheriff," I says, inquirin'.

He sit up. "Aw--is that you, Cupid?" he ast. (I reckon I know a guilty
son-of-a-gun when I see one!)

I sit down on the other end of the truck. "Did Mrs. Bridger git settled
all right?" I begun.

"Yas," he answers; "I pulled the rags outen the windas, and put some
panes of glass in----"

"_Good_ fer you, Bergin! But, thunder! the idear of her thinkin' she
can raise chickens fer a livin'--'way out here. Why, a grasshopper
ranch ain't _no_ place fer that little woman." (And I watched sideways
to see how he'd take it.)

"You're right, Cupid," he says. Then, after swallerin' hard, "Did
you happen t' notice how soft and kinda pinky her hands is?"

Was that the _sheriff_ talkin'? Wal, you could 'a' knocked me down
with a feather!

"Yas, Sheriff," I answers, "I noticed her pretty par_tic_ular. And
it strikes me that we needn't to worry--she won't stay on that ranch
_long_. Out here in Oklahomaw, _any_ widda is in line fer another husband
if she'll take one. In Mrs. Bridger's case, it won't be just any
ole hobo that comes along. She'll be able to pick and choose from a
grea-a-at, bi-i-ig bunch. _I_ seen how the boys acted when she got offen
that train t'-day--and I knowed then that it wouldn't be _no_ time
till she'd marry."

The sheriff is tall, as I said afore. Wal, a kinda shiver went up and
down the hull length of him. Then, he sprung up, givin' the truck a
kick. "Marry! marry! marry!" he begun, grindin' his teeth t'gether.
"Cain't you talk nothin' _else_ but marry?"

"No-o-ow, Bergin," I says, "what diff'rence does it make t' _you?_
S'pose she marries, and s'pose she don't. _You_ don't give a bean.
Wal, _I_ look at it diff'rent. _I_ know that nice little kid of hern
needs the keer of a father--yas, Bergin, the keer of a _father._" And I
looked him square in the eye.

"It's _just_ like Hairoil says," he went on. "If Doc Simpson was
t' use a spy-glass on _you,_ he'd find you plumb alive with
_bugs_--_marryin'_ bugs. _Yas,_ sir. With you, it's a _disease._"

"_Wal,_" I answers, "don't git anxious that it's ketchin'. You?
Huh! If I had anythin' _agin_ the widda, I _might_ be a-figgerin' on
how t' hitch her up t' _you_--you ole _woman-hater!_"

"The best thing _you_ can do, Mister Cupid," growls Bergin (with a few
cuss words throwed in), "is to _mind-you'-own-business._"

"All right," I answers cheerful. "_I_ heerd y'. But, I never could
see why you fellers are so down on me when I _ad_vise marryin'. Take my
word fer it, Sheriff, _any_ man's a heap better off with a nice wife
to look after his shack, and keep it slicked up, and a nice baby 'r two
t' pull his whiskers, and I reckon----"

But Bergin was makin' fer the freight shed, two-forty.

When I tole Mace what'd passed 'twixt me and the sheriff, she says,
"Alec, leave him alone fer a while, and mebbe he'll look _you_ up. In
love affairs, don't never try t' drive _nobody._"

"But ain't it funny," I says (it was lodge night, and we had the porch
to ourselves), "--ain't it funny how dead set some fellers is agin
marryin'--the blamed fools! Y' see, they think that if they _don't_
hitch up t' some sweet gal, why, they git ahaid of somebody. It makes
me plumb sick!"

"But think of the lucky gal that don't marry such a yap," says Mace.
"If she _was_ to, by some hook 'r crook, why, he'd throw it up to
her fer the balance of his life that she'd ketched him like a rat in
a trap."

"_I_ never could git no such notion about you," I says; "aw, little
gal, we'll be _so_ happy, you and me, won't we, honey,----"

Wal, to _con_tinue with the Bridger story: You recollect what I said
about that kid needin' a father? Wal, say! if he'd 'a' wanted one,
he shore could 'a' picked from plenty of can_di_-dates. Why, 'fore
long, ev'ry bach in town had his cap set fer Mrs. Bridger--that's
_straight_. All other subjects of _po_lite conversation was fergot
byside the subject of the widda. Sam Barnes was in love with her, and
went 'round with that red face of hisn lookin' exac'ly like the
full moon when you see it through a sandstorm. Chub Flannagan was in
love with her, too, and 'd sit by the hour on Silverstein's front
porch, his pop eyes shut up tight, a-rockin' hisself back'ards and
for'ards, back'ards and for-'ards, and a-hummin'. Then, they was
Dutchy's brother, August. Aw, he had it _bad_. And took t' music, just
like Chub, yas, ma'am. Why, that feller spent _hours_ a-knockin' the
wind outen a' pore accordion. And next come Frank Curry--haid over
heels, too, _mean_ as he was, and to hear him talk you'd 'a' bet they
wasn't _nothin'_ he wouldn't 'a' done fer Mrs. Bridger. But big
talk's cheap, and he was small potatoes, _you_ bet, and few in the hill.

Wal, one after the other, them four fellers blacked they boots, wet they
hair down as nice and shiny as Hairoil's, and went to see the widda.
She ast 'em in, a-course, and was neighbourly; fed 'em, too, if it was
nigh meal-time, and acted, gen'ally speakin', as sweet as pie.

But she treated 'em all _alike_. And they knowed it. _Con_sequently, in
order so's all of 'em would git a' even chanst, and so's they
wouldn't be no gun-play account of one man tryin' to cut another out by
goin' to see her twicet to the other man's oncet, the aforesaid boys
fixed up a calendar. Sam got Monday, Curry, Wednesday, Dutch August,
Friday, and Chub, Sunday afternoons. That tickled Chub. He owns a
liv'ry-stable, y' savvy, and ev'ry week he hitched up a rig and took
the widda and her kid fer a buggy ride.

And, Bergin? Wal, I'd took Macie's _ad_vice and stayed away from him.
But--the stay-away plan hadn't worked worth a darn. The sheriff, he
kept to his shack pretty steady. And one mornin', when I seen him at
the post-office, he didn't have nothin' t' say to nobody, and looked
sorta down on creation.

That fin'lly riled Mace. "What's the _matter_ with him?" she says
one day. "Why, havin' saw the widda, how can he _help_ fallin' in love
with her! She's the _nicest_ little woman! And she's learned me a new
crochet stitch."

"Little gal," I answers, "you' idear has been carried out
faithful--and has gone fluey. Wal, let Cupid have a try. A-course, I
was sit on pretty hard in that confab I had with him, but, all the
same, I'll just happen 'round fer a little neighbourly call."

His shack was over behind the town cooler, and stood by itself,
kinda--a' ashes dump on one side of it and Sparks's hoss-corral on
the other. It had one room, just high enough so's Bergin wouldn't
crack his skull, and just wide enough so's when he laid down on his
bunk he wouldn't kick out the side of the house. And they was a
rusty stove with a dictionary toppin' it, and a saddle and a fryin'-pan
on the bed, and a big sack of flour a-spillin' into a pair of his boots.

I put the fryin'-pan on the floor, and sit down. "Wal, Sheriff,"
I begun (he had a skittle 'twixt his knees and was a-peelin' some
spuds fer his dinner), "I ain't come t' sponge offen you. Me and
Macie Sewell had our dinner down to Mrs. Bridger's t'-day."

He let slip the potato he was peelin', and it rolled under the stove.
"Yas?" he says; "that so?"

"And _such_ a dinner as she give us!" I goes on. "Had a white oilcloth
on the table,--white, with little blue vi'lets on it--and all her
dishes is white and blue. She brung 'em from Buffalo. And we had fried
chicken, and corn-dodgers, and prune somethin'-'r-other. Say! I--I
s'pose _you_ ain't been down."

"No,"--kinda wistful, and eyes on his peelin'--"no. How--how is she?"

"Aw, _fine!_ The kid, he ast after you."

"Did he?" He looked up, awful tickled. Then, "He's a nice, little
kid," he adds thoughtful.

"He _shore_ is." I riz. "Sorry," I says, "but I got to mosey now.
Promised Mrs. Bridger I'd take her some groceries down." I started out,
all business. But I stopped at the door. "Reckon I'll have to make two
trips of it--if I cain't git someone t' help me."

Say! it was plumb pitiful the way Bergin grabbed at the chanst. "Why,
_I_ don't mind takin' a stroll," he answers, gittin' some red. So
he put down the spuds and begun to curry that cowlick of hisn.

First part of the way, he walked as spry as me. But, as we come closter
to the widda's, he got to hangin' back. And when we reached a big pile
of sand that was out in front of the house--he balked!

"Guess I won't go in," he says.

"O. K.," I answers. (No use to cross him, y' savvy, it'd only 'a'
made him worse.)

When I knocked, and the widda opened the door, she seen him.

"Why, how d' you do!" she called out, lookin' mighty pleased.
"Willie, dear, here's Mister Bergin."

"How d' do," says the sheriff.

Willie come nigh havin' a duck-fit, he was so happy. And in about two
shakes of a lamb's tail, he was outen the house and a-climbin' the
sheriff.

Inside, I says to Mrs. Bridger, "Them chickens of yourn come, ma'am.
And Hairoil Johnson'll drive 'em down in a' hour 'r so. The most of
'em looked fat and sassy, but one 'r two has got the pip."

She didn't act like she'd heerd me. She was watchin' the sandpile.

"One 'r two has got the pip," I repeats.

"What?--how's that?" she ast.

"Don't worry about you' boy," I says. "Bergin'll look after him.
Y' know, Bergin is one of the whitest gents in Oklahomaw."

"_I_ ain't a-worryin'," answers the widda. "_I_ know Mister Bergin
is a fine man." And she kept on lookin' out.

"In this wild country," I begun, voice 'way down to my spurs, "--this
wild country, full of rattlesnakes and Injuns and tramps, ev'ry ranch
needs a good man 'round it."

She turned like lightnin'. "What you mean?" she ast, kinda short.
(Reckon she thought _I_ was tryin' t' spark her.)

"A man like Bergin," I _con_tinues.

"Aw," she says, plumb relieved.

And I left things that-a-way--t' sprout.

Walkin' up the track afterwards, I remarked, casual like, that they
wasn't _many_ women nicer 'n Mrs. Bridger.

"They's _one_ thing I like about her," says the sheriff, "--she's
got eyes like the kid."

(Dang the kid!)

Wal, me and Macie and them four sparkers wasn't the only folks that
thought the widda was mighty nice. She'd made lots of friends at the
section-house since she come. The section-boss's wife said they was
_no_body like her, and so did all the greaser women at the tie-camp.
She was so handy with a needle, and allus ready to cut out calico
dingusses that the peon gals could sew up. When they'd have one of
them everlastin' fiestas of theirn, she'd make a big cake and a keg
of lemonade, and pass it 'round. And when you _con_sider that a ten-cent
package of cigareets and a smile goes further with a Mexican than
fifty plunks and a cuss, why, you can git some idear of how that hull
outfit just _worshipped_ her.

Wal, they got in and done her a _lot_ of good turns. Put up a fine
chicken-coop, the section-boss overseein' the job; and, one Sunday,
cleaned out her cellar. _Think_ of it! (Say! fer a man to appreciate
that, he's got to know what lazy critters greasers is.) Last of all,
kinda to wind things up, the cholos went out into the mesquite and
come back with a present of a nice black-and-white Poland China hawg.

Wal, she _was_ tickled at that, and so was the kid. (Hairoil Johnson was
shy a pig that week, but you bet _he_ never let on!) The gang made a nice
little pen, usin' ties, and ev'ry day they packed over some feed in
the shape of the camp leavin's.

The widda was settled fine, had half a dozen hens a-settin' and some
castor beans a-growin' in the low spots next her house, when things
begun to come to a haid with the calendar gents. I got it straight from
her that in just one solitary week, she collected four pop-the-questions!

She handed out exac'ly that many pairs of mittens--handed 'em out
with such a sorry look in them kind eyes of hern, that the courtin'
quartette got worse in love with her 'n ever. Anybody could a' seen
_that_ with one eye. They all begun shavin' twicet a week, most ev'ry
one of 'em bought new things to wear, and--best sign of _any_--they
stopped drinkin'! Ev'ry day 'r so, back they'd track to visit the
widda.

She didn't like that fer a cent. Wasn't nary one of 'em that suited
her, and just when the chickens 'r the cholo gals needed her, here was
a Briggs City galoot a-crossin' the yard.

"Sorry," she says to Macie, "but I'll have to give them gents they
walkin'-papers. If I don't, I won't never git a lick done."

"Bully fer you!" Mace answers. "It'll be good riddance of bad
rubbish. They're too gally." (Somethin' like that, anyhow.) "Learn
'em to act like they was civylised. But, say, Mrs. Bridger, you--you
ain't a-goin' to give the rinky-dink to the Sheriff?"

"Mister Bergin," answers the widda, "ain't bothered me none." (Mace
was shore they was tears in her eyes.)

"Aw--_haw!_" I says, when the little gal tole me. _I_ savvied.

That same afternoon, whilst the widda was a-settin' on the shady side
of the house, sewin' on carpet-rags, up come Sam Barnes. (It was Monday.)

"Mrs. Bridger," he begun, "I'm a-goin' to ast you to think over what
I said to you last week. I don't want to be haidstrong, but I'd like
to git a 'yas' outen you."

"Mister Barnes," she says. "I'm feard I cain't say yas. I ain't
thinkin' of marryin'. But if I was, it'd be to a man that's--that's
big, and tall, and has blue eyes." And she looked out at the sand-pile,
and sighed.

"Wal," says Sam, "I reckon I don't fit specifications." And he hiked
fer town.

He was plumb huffy when he tole me about it. "Fer a woman," he says,
"that's got to look after herself, and has a kid on her hands to boot,
she's got more airs'n a windmill."

Next!

That was Chub.

Now, Chub, he knowed a heap about handlin' a gun, and I reckon he'd
pass as a liv'ry-stable keeper, but he didn't know much about _women_.
So, when he went down to ast the widda fer the second time, he put his
foot in it by bein' kinda short t' little Willie.

"Say, kid," he says, "you locate over in that rockin'-chair yonder.
Young uns of you' age should be saw and not heerd."

Mrs. Bridger, she sit right up, and her eye-winkers just snapped.
"Mister Flannagan," she Says, "I'm feard you're wastin' you'
time a-callin' here. If ever I marry again, it's goin' t' be a man
that's fond of childern."

Wal, ta-ta, Chub!

And, behind, there was the widda at the winda, all eyes fer that
sand-pile.

We never knowed what she said to Dutchy's brother, August. But he come
back to town lookin' madder'n a wet hen. "Huh!" he says, "I don't
vant her _no_how. _She_ couldn't vork. She's pretty fer _nice,_ all
right, but she's nichts fer stoudt."

When ole stingy Curry tried _his_ luck over, he took his lead from
Chub's _ex_perience. Seems he put one arm 'round the kid, and then he
said no man could kick about havin' to adopt Willie, and he knowed that
with Mrs. Bridger it was "love me, love my dawg." Then he tacked on
that the boy was a nice little feller, and likely didn't eat much.

"And long's I ain't a-goin' to marry you," says the widda, "why,
just think--you won't have to feed Willie at all!"

But the next day we laughed on the other side of our face. I went down
to Mrs. Bridger's, the sheriff trailin', (he balked half-way from the
sand-pile to the door, this time, and sit down on a bucket t' play he
was Willie's steam-injine), and I found that the little woman had been
cryin' turrible.

"What's the matter?" I ast.

"Nothin'," she says.

"Yas, they is. Didn't you git a dun t'-day?"

"Wal," she answers, blushin', "I bought this place on tick.
But," (brave as the dickens, she was) "I'll be able t' pay up all
right--what with my chickens and the pig."

I talked with her a good bit. Then me and the sheriff started back to
town. (Had to go slow at first; Bergin'd helt the ingineer on his knee
till his foot was asleep.) On the way, I mentioned that dun.

"_Curry,_" says the sheriff. And he come nigh rippin' up the railroad
tracks.

He made fer Curry's straight off. "What's the little balance due on
that Starvation Gap property?" he begun.

"What makes you ast?" says Curry, battin' them sneaky little eyes of
hisn.

"I'm _pre_pared t' settle it."

"But it happens I didn't sell to _you_. So, a-course, I cain't take
you' money. Anyhow, I don't think the widda is worryin' much. She
could git shet of that balance easy." And he moseyed off.

She could git shet of it by marryin' _him,_ y' savvy--the polecat!

The sheriff was boilin'. "Here, Cupid," he says, "is two hunderd.
Now, we'll go down to Mrs. Bridger's again, and you offer her as much
as she wants."

"Offer it you'self."

"No, _you_ do it, Cupid,--please. But don't you tell her whose money
it is."

"I won't. Here's where we git up The Ranchers' Loan Fund."

I coaxed Bergin as far as the front step _this_ time. Wasn't that fine?
But, say! Mrs. Bridger wouldn't touch a cent of that money, no ma'am.

"If I was to take it as a loan," she says, "I'd have interest to pay.
So I'd be worse off 'n I am now. And I couldn't take it in no other
way. Thank y', just the same. And how's Miss Sewell t'-day?"

It wasn't no use fer me to tell her that The Ranchers' Loan Fund
didn't want no interest. She was as set as Rogers's Butte.

During the next week 'r two, the sheriff and me dropped down to the
widda's frequent. I'd talk to her--about chicken-raisin'
mostly--whilst Bergin 'd play with the kid. One day I got him to come
_as far as the door!_ But I never got him no further. There he stuck,
and 'd stand on the sill fer hours, lookin' out at Willie--like a
great, big, scairt, helpless calf.

At first the widda talked to him, pleasant and encouragin'. But when
he just said, "Yas, ma'am," and "No, ma'am," and nothin' else,
she changed. I figger ('cause women is right funny) that her pride
was some hurt. What if he _was_ bound up in the boy? Didn't he have
no interest in _her?_ It hurt her all the worse, mebbe, 'cause I was
there, and seen how he acted. 'Fore long she begun to git plumb outen
patience with him. And one day, when he was standin' gazin' out, she
flew up.

"George Bergin," she says, "a door is somethin' else 'cept a place
to scratch you back on." And she shut it--him outside, plumb squshed!

Wal, we'd did our best--both Mace and me--and fell down. But right here
is where somethin' better'n just good luck seemed to take a-holt
of things. In the first place, _con_siderin' what come of it, it shore
was fortu_nate_ that Pedro Garcia, one of them trashy section-gang
cholos, was just a-passin' the house as she done that. He heerd the
slam. He seen the look on Bergin's face, too. And he fixed up what
was the matter in that crazy haid of hisn.

In the second place, the very _next_ day, blamed if Curry didn't hunt
Bergin up. "Sheriff," he begun, "I ain't been able to collect what's
due me from Mrs. Bridger. She ain't doin' nothin' with the property,
neither. So I call on you to put her off." And he helt out a paper.

_Put her off!_ Say! You oughta saw Bergin's face!

"Curry," he says, "in Oklahomaw, a dis-_po_ssess notice agin a widda
ain't worth the ink it's drawed with."

"Ain't it?" says Curry. "You mean you won't act. All right. If you
won't, they's other folks that _will._"

"_Will_ they," answers the sheriff, quiet. But they was a fightin'
look in his eyes. "Curry, go slow. Don't fergit that the Gap property
ain't worth such a hull lot."

The next thing, them cholos in the section-gang 'd heerd what Bergin
was ordered to do. And, like a bunch of idjits, 'stead of gittin' down
on Curry, who was _re_sponsible, they begun makin' all kinds of brags
about what they'd do when next they seen the sheriff. And it looked to
me like gun-play was a-comin'.

But not just yet. Fer the reason that the sheriff, without sayin' "I,"
"Yas," 'r "No" to nobody, all of a suddent _disappeared_.

"What in the dickens has struck him!" I says t' Mace.

"Just you wait," she answers. "It's got t' do with Mrs. B. He ain't
down in a cellar _this_ time."

Wal, he wasn't. But we was in the dark as much as the rest of the town,
till one evenin' when the section-boss called me to one side. He had
somethin' t' tell me, he said. Could I keep a secret--cross my heart
t' die? Yas. Wal, then--what d' you think it was? _The sheriff was
camped right back of the widda's_--_on Rogers's Butte!_

"Pardner," I says, "don't you cheep that to another soul. Bergin is
up there t' keep Curry from puttin' the widda out."

The section-boss begun to haw-haw. "It'd take a hull regiment of
soldiers to put the widda out," he says, "--with them greasers of
mine so clost."

"I'll go down that way on a kinda scout," I says, and started off.
When I got clost to the widda's,--about as far as from here to that
hitchin'-post yonder--I seen a crowd of women and kids a-lookin' at
somethin' behind the house. I walked up and stretched _my_ neck. And
there in that tie-pen was a' even dozen of new little pigs!

"Ma'am," I says, "this _is_ good luck!"

"Good luck?" repeats the widda. "I reckon it's somethin' more'n
just good luck." (Them's _exac'ly_ her words--"Somethin' more'n
just good luck.")

"Wal," I goes on, "oncet in a while, a feller's got to _ad_mit that
somethin' better'n just or-d'nary good luck _does_ git in a whack.
Mebbe it'll be the case of a gezaba that ain't acted square; first
thing you know, _his_ hash is settled. Next time, it's exac'ly the
_other_ way 'round, and some nice lady 'r gent finds theyselves landed
not a' inch from where they wanted to be. But neither case cain't be
called just good _luck, no,_ ma'am. Fer the reason that the contrary
facts is plumb shoved in you' face.

"Now, take what happened to Burt Slade. Burt had a lot of potatoes
ready to plant--about six sacks of 'em, I reckon. The ground was ready,
and the sacks was in the field. Wal, that night, a blamed ornery thief
come 'long and stole all them potatoes. (This was in Nebraska, mind
y'. Took 'em fifty mile north and planted 'em clost to his house.
So far, you might call it just _bad_ luck. _But_--a wind come up, a
_turrible_ wind, and blowed all the dirt offen them potatoes; next, it
lifted 'em and sent 'em a-kitin' through the windas of that thief's
house--yas, ma'am, it took 'em in at the one side, and outen the
other, breakin' ev'ry blamed pane of glass; then--I'm another if it
ain't so!--it sailed 'em all that fifty mile back to Slade's and
druv 'em into the ground that he'd fixed fer 'em. And when they
sprouted, a little bit later on that spring, Slade seen _they'd been
planted in rows!_

"They ain't no doubt about this story bein' _true_. In the first
place, Slade ain't a man that'd lie; in the second place, ev'rybody
knows his potatoes was _stole,_ and ev'rybody knows that, just the
same, he had a powerful big crop that year; and, then, Slade can show
you his field any time you happen to be in that part of Nebraska. And no
man wants any better proof'n _that._"

"A-_course,_ he don't," says the widda. "And I'd call that potato
transaction plumb wonderful."

"It shore was."

She turned back to the hawgs. "I can almost see these little pigs
grow," she says, "and I'm right fond of 'em a'ready. I--I hope
nothin' bad'll happen to 'em. I'm a little nervous, though.
'Cause--have you noticed, Mister Lloyd?--_they's just thirteen pigs in
that pen._"

"Aw, thirteen ain't never hurt nobody in Oklahomaw," I says. And I
whistled, and knocked on wood.

"Anyhow, I'm happy," she goes on, "I'm better fixed than I been fer
a coon's age."

"The eatin'-house 'll buy ev'ry one of these pigs at a good price,"
I says, leanin' on the pen till I was well nigh broke in two, "they
bein' pen-fed, and not just _common_ razor-backs. That'll mean fifty
dollars--mebbe more. Why, it's like _findin'_ it!"

"These and the chickens," she says, "'ll pay that balance, and" (her
voice broke, kinda, and she looked over to where pore little Willie was
tryin' to play injine all by hisself) "without the help of _no_ man."

I looked up at the Butte. Was that black speck the sheriff? And wasn't
his heart a-bustin' fer her? Wal, it shore was a fool sittywaytion!

"The section-hands is turrible tickled about these pigs," _con_tinues
Mrs. Bridger. "They come over this mornin' t' see how the fambly was
doin', and they named the hull litter, beginnin' with Carmelita, and
ending' with Polky Dot."

You couldn't 'a' blamed _no_body fer bein' proud of them little
pigs. They was smarter 'n the dickens, playin' 'round, and kickin'
up they heels, and _squee-ee-eelin'_. All black and white they was,
too, and favoured they maw strong. Ev'ry blamed one had a pink snoot
and a kink in its tail, and reg'lar rolly buckshot eyes. And fat!--say,
no josh, them little pigs was so fat they had double chins--just one
chin right after another--from they noses plumb back to they hind laigs!

But you never can gamble on t'-morra. And the widda, countin' as she
did on them pigs, had to find that out. A-course, if she'd been a'
Irish lady, she'd 'a' just natu'lly _took_ to ownin' a bunch of
hawgs, and she'd 'a' likely penned 'em closter to the house. Then
nothin' would 'a' hurt 'em. Again, mebbe it _would_--if the hull
thing that happened next was accidentally a-purpose. And I reckon that
shore was the truth of it.

But I'm a-goin' too fast.

It was the mornin' after the Fourth of July. (That was why I was in
town.) I was in the Arnaz bunk-house, pullin' on my coat, just afore
daylight, when, all of a suddent, right over Rogers's Butte, somethin'
popped. Here, acrosst the sky, went a red ball, big, and as bright as if
it was on fire. As it come into sight, it had a tail of light a-hangin'
to it. It dropped at the foot of the butte.

First off, I says, "More celebratin'." Next, I says, "Curry!"--and
streaked it fer the widda's.

'Fore I was half-way, I heerd hollerin'--the scairt hollerin' of women
and kids. Then I heerd the grumble of men's voices. I yelled myself,
hopin' some of the boys 'd hear me, and foller. "Help! help!" I let
out at the top of my lungs, and brung up in Mrs. Bridger's yard.

It was just comin' day, and I could see that section-gang all collected
t'gether, some with picks, and the rest with heavy track tools. All
the greaser women was there, too, howlin' like a pack of coy_o_tes.
Whilst Mrs. Bridger had the kid in her arms, and her face hid in his
little dress.

"What's the matter?" I screeched--_had_ t' screech t' git _heerd_.

The cholos turned towards me. (Say! You talk about mean faces!)
"Diablo!" they says, shakin' them track tools.

Wal, it shore looked like the Ole Harry 'd done it! 'Cause right where
the pig-pen used to was, I could see the top of a grea-a-at, whoppin'
rock, half in and half outen the ground, and _smokin' hot_. Pretty
nigh as big as a box-car, it was. Wal, as big as a wagon, _any_how.
But neither hide 'r hair of them pigs!

I walked 'round that stone.

"My friend," I says to the section-boss, "the maw-pig made just
thirteen. It's a proposition you cain't beat."

Them cholos was all quiet now, and actin' as keerful as if that rock
was dynamite. Queer and shivery, they was, about it, and it kinda give
me the creeps.

Next, they begun pointin' up to the top of the Butte!

I seen what was comin'. So I used my haid--quick, so's to stave off
trouble. "Mebbe, boys," I says, lookin' the ground over some more,
"--mebbe they was a cyclone last night to the north of here, and this
blowed in from Kansas."

The section-boss walked 'round, studyin'. "I'm from Missoura," he
says, "and it strikes _me_ that this rock looks kinda familiar, like
it was part iron. Now, mebbe they's been a thunderin' big _ex_plosion
in the Ozark Mountains. But, Mrs. Bridger, as a native son of the ole
State, I don't want to _ad_vise you to sue fer da----"

I heerd them cholos smackin' they lips. I looked where they was
lookin', and here, a-comin' lickety-split, was the sheriff!

That section-boss was as good-natured a feller as ever lived, and never
liked t' think bad of _no_ man. But the minute he seen Bergin racin'
down offen that Butte, he believed like the peons did. He turned t' me.
"By George!" he says--just like that.

Wal, sir, that "By George" done it. Soon as the Mexicans heerd him
speak out what _they_ thought, they set up a Comanche yell, and, with the
whites of they eyes showin' like a nigger's, they made towards the
sheriff on the dead run.

He kept a-comin'. Most men, seein' a passel of locoed greasers makin'
towards 'em with pickaxes, would 'a' turned and run, figgerin' that
leg-bail was good enough fer _them_. But the sheriff, he wasn't scairt.

A second, and the Mexicans 'd made a surround. He pulled his gun. They
jerked it outen his hand. He throwed 'em off.

I drawed _my_ weapon.

Just then--"Sheriff! sheriff!" (It was the widda, one hand helt out
towards him.)

A great idear come to me then. I put my best friend back into my pocket.
"I won't interfere fer a while yet," I says to myself. "Mebbe this
is where they'll be a show-down."

"Cupid," says Bergin, "what's the matter?"

I fit my way to him. "They think you throwed this rock, here," I
answers.

"The low-down, ornery, lay-in-the-sun-and-snooze good-fer-nothin's is
likely t' think 'most _any_ ole thing," he says. "Pedro, let go my
arm."

Just then, one of the cholos come runnin' up with a rope!

The section-boss seen things was gittin' pretty serious. He begun to
wrastle with the feller that had the rope. Next, all the women and kids
set up another howlin', Mrs. Bridger cryin' the worst. But I wasn't
ready to play my last card. I stepped out in front of the gang and helt
up my hand.

"Boys," I says; "_boys! Give_ the man a chanst t' talk. Why, this
rock ain't like the rocks on the Butte."

"You blamed idjits!" yells Bergin. "Use you' haids! How could _I_
'a' hefted the darned thing?"

"Aw, he _couldn't_ 'a' done it!" (This from the widda, mind
y',--hands t'gether, and comin' clost.)

"Thank y', little woman," says the sheriff.

(Say! that was _better_.)

[Illustration: "_He pulled his gun, they jerked it outen his
hand_"]

But the cholos wasn't a-foolin'--they was in dead earnest. Next minute,
part of 'em grabbed Bergin, got that rope 'round him, and begun
draggin' him towards a telegraph pole.

I was some anxious, but I knowed enough to hole back a while more.

"Aw, boys," begged the widda, droppin' Willie and runnin' 'longside,
"don't hurt him! _don't!_ What does the pigs matter?"

"I'll discharge ev'ry one of you," says the section-boss.

"Boys," I begun again, "_why_ should this gent want to harm this lady.
Why, I can tell you----"

Pedro Garcia stuck his black fist into my face. "He lof her," he says,
"and she say no. So he iss revenge hisself." (Say! the grammar they
use is plumb fierce.)

"He iss revenge hisself!" yells the rest of the bunch. Then they all
looked at the widda.

"Boys," she sobs, "I ain't _never_ refused him. Fer a good reason--he
ain't never ast me."

(The cholos, they just growled.)

"_What?_" I ast, turnin' on Bergin like I was hoppin'. "You love
her, and yet you ain't never ast her to marry you? Wal, you blamed
bottle of ketchup, you _oughta_ die!"

"How _could_ I ast her?" begun the sheriff. "She plumb hates the sight
of me."

"I don't! I don't!" sobs the widda. "Mister Lloyd knows that ain't
so. Willie and me, we--we----"

"Y' _see?_" I turned to the Mexicans. "He loves her; she loves him.
We're a-goin' to have a weddin', not a hangin'."

"The stone--he iss revenge," says Pedro.

"The stone," I answers, "come outen the sky. It's a mete'rite."

"I felt it hit!" cries the widda.

Wal, you couldn't expect a Mexican t' swaller _that_. So we'd no
more'n got the words outen our mouths when they begun to dance 'round
Bergin again with the halter.

Wal, how do you think it come out?

Mebbe you figger that Mrs. Bridger drawed a knife and sa-a-aved him,
'r I pulled my gun and stood there, tellin' 'em they 'd only hang
the sheriff over my dead body. But that ain't the way it happened. No,
ma'am. _This_ is how:

'Round the bend from towards Albuquerque come the pay-car. Now, the
pay-car, she stops just one minute fer ev'ry section-hand, and them
section-hands was compelled to git into line and be quick about it, 'r
not git they money. So they didn't have no spare time. They let go of
Bergin's rope and run--the section-boss leadin'.

The sheriff, he slung the rope to one side--and the widda goes into his
arms. "Little woman," he says, lookin' down at her, "I'll--I'll
be a good father to the boy." Then he kissed her.

(Wal, that's about all you could reas'nably expect from _Bergin_.)

Next thing, he borraed my gun and just kinda happened over towards the
pay-car. And when a cholo got his time and left the line, he showed him
the way he was to go. And you bet he _minded!_

Wal, things come out _fine_. A big museum in Noo York bought that rock
(If you don't believe it, just go to that museum and you'll see it
a-settin' out in front--big as life.) A-course, Mrs. Bridger got a nice
little pile of money fer it, and paid Curry the balance she owed him.
Then, the sheriff got Mrs. Bridger!

And the bunch that didn't git her? Wal, the bunch that didn't git her
just natu'lly got _left!_



CHAPTER FIVE

THINGS GIT STARTED WRONG


UP to the day of the sheriff's weddin', I reckon I was about the
happiest feller that's ever been in these parts. Gee! but I was in
high spirits! It'd be Macie's and my turn next, I figgered, and if
the ole man didn't like it, he could just natu'lly lump it. So when
I walked through Briggs, why, I hit both sides of the street, exac'ly
as if I was three sheets in the wind.

But--this was one time when you' friend Cupid was just a little bit too
previous. And I want to say right here that _no_ feller needs to think
he's the hull shootin'-match with a gal, and has the right-a-way,
like a wild-cat ingine on a' open track, just 'cause she's ast him
to write in her autograph-album. It don't mean such a blamed lot,
neither, if his picture is stuck 'longside of hern on top of the
organ. Them signs is encouragin', a-course; but he'd best take his
coat off and _git to work_. Even when she's give all the others the
G. B., and has gone to church with him about forty Sunday evenin's,
hand runnin', and has allus saved him the grand march and the last waltz
at the Fireman's Ball, and mebbe six 'r seven others bysides, why,
even _then_ it's a toss-up. Yas, ma'am. It took hard knocks t' learn
me that they's nothin' dead certain short of the parson's "amen."

Y' see, you can plug a' Injun, and kick a dawg, and take a club to a
mule; but when it's a gal, and a feller thinks a turrible lot of her,
and she's so all-fired skittish he cain't manage her, and so eludin'
he cain't find her no two times in the same place, _what's he goin'
to do?_ Wal, they ain't no reg'lar way of proceedin'--ev'ry man has
got to blaze his own trail.

But I couldn't, and that was the hull trouble. I know now that when
it come to dealin' with Mace, I shore was a darned softy. That little
Muggins could twist me right 'round her finger--and me not know it!
One minute, she'd pallaver me fer further orders, whilst I'd look
into them sweet eyes of hern till I was plumb dizzy; the next, she'd
be cuttin' up some dido 'r other and leadin' me a' awful chase.

Then, mebbe, I'd git sore at her, and think mighty serious about
shakin' the Bar Y dust offen my boots fer good. "Cupid," I'd say to
myself, "git you' duds t'gether, and do you' blankets up in you'
poncho."

Just about then, here she come lopin' home from town, her hoss cuttin'
up like Sam Hill, and her a-settin' so straight and cute. She'd look
towards the bunk-house, see me, motion me over with her quirt, and--wal,
a-course, I'd go.

I made my _first_ big beefsteak at the very beginnin'. Somehow 'r
other, right from the minute we had our confidential talk t'gether back
of Silverstein's, that last night of the Medicine Show. I got it into my
fool haid that I as good as had her, and that all they was left to be
did was t' git 'round the ole man. Wal, this idear worked fine as
long as we was so busy with Bergin's courtin'. But when the sheriff
was hitched, and me and the little gal got a recess, my! _my!_ but a
heap of things begun t' happen!

They started off like this: The parson wanted money fer t' buy some
hymn-books with. So he planned a' ice-cream social and entertainment,
and ast Mace to go down on the pro_gram_ fer a song. She was willin'; I
was, _too_. So far, ev'ry-thin' smooth as glare-ice.

But fer a week afore that social, they was a turrible smell of gasoline
outside the sittin'-room of the Bar Y ranch-house. That's 'cause
Doctor Bugs come out ev'ry day--to fetch a Goldstone woman from the
up-train. (That blamed sulky of hisn 'd been stuck t'gether with flour
paste by now, y' savvy, and was in apple-pie order.) After the woman 'd
git to the ranch-house, why, the organ 'd strike up. Then you could
hear Macie's voice--doin', "_do, ray, me._" Next, she'd break loose
a-singin'. And pretty soon the doc and the woman 'd go.

Wal, I didn't like it. Y' see, I've allus noticed that if a city
feller puts hisself out fer you a hull lot, he expects you t' give
him a drink, 'r vote fer him, 'r loan him some money. And why was
Bugsey botherin' t' make so many trips to the Bar Y? _I_ knowed what
it was. It was just like Hairoil 'd said--he wanted my Macie.

One night, I says to her, "What's that Goldstone woman doin' out here
so much, honey?"

"Givin' me music lessons," she answers.

"I know," I says. "But you don't need no lessons. You sing good
enough t' suit me right now."

"Wal, I don't sing good enough t' suit myself. And bein' as I'm on
that pro_gram_----"

"Wal, just the same," I cut in, "I don't like that Simpson hangin'
'round here."

"Alec," she come back, stiffenin' right up, "it's my place to say
who comes into this ranch-house, and who don't."

"But, look a-here! Folks 'll think you like him better'n you do me."

"Aw, that's crazy."

"It ain't. And I won't have him 'round."

Then, she got _turrible po_lite. "I'm sorry, Mister Lloyd," she says,
"but I'm a-goin' t' take my lessons."

Wal, the long and short of it is, she did--right up t' the very day of
the social.

"All right," I says to myself; "but just wait till this shindig is
over." And when Mace and her paw started fer town that evenin', I
saddled up my bronc and follered 'em.

Simpson was kinda in charge of that social. He got up and made a'
openin' speech, sayin' they was lots of ice-cream and cake fer sale,
and he hoped we'd all shell out good. Then, he begun t' read off
the pro_gram_.

"We have with us t'night," he says, "one of the finest and best
trained voices in this hull United States--a voice that I wouldn't be
surprised if it 'd be celebrated some day."

I looked over at Mace. She was gittin' pink. Did he mean her?

"And," Simpson goes on, "the young lady that owns it is a-goin' t'
give us the first number." And he bowed--Shore enough!

Wal, she sung. It was somethin' about poppies, and it was awful sad,
and had love in it. I liked it pretty nigh as good as The Mohawk Vale.
But the ole man, he didn't. And when she was done, and settin' next him
again, he said out loud, so's a lot of people heerd him, "I'm not
stuck on havin' you singin' 'round 'fore ev'ry-body. And that Noo
York Doc is too blamed fresh."

"Paw!" she says, like she was ashamed of him.

"I _mean_ it," he says, and jerked his haid to one side.

Wal, y' know, Mace got her temper offen him, and never handed it back.
So all durin' the social, they had it--up and down. I couldn't ketch
all what they said--only little bits, now and then. "Cheek," I heard
the boss say oncet, and Mace come back with somethin' about not bein'
"a baby."

Afterwards, when the ole man was out gittin' the team, she come over t'
me, lookin' awful appealin'. "Alec," she says, like she expected I'd
shore sympathise with her, "did you hear what paw said? Wasn't it mean
of him?"

I looked down at my boots. Then, I looked straight at her. "Mace," I
says, "he's right. Mebbe you'll git mad at me, too, fer sayin' it.
But that Simpson's tryin' t' cut me out--and so he's givin' you all
this taffy about your voice."

"Taffy!" she says, fallin' back a step. "Then you didn't _like my
singin'._"

"Why, yas, I did," I answers, follerin' along after her. "I thought
it was _fine._"

But she only shook her haid--like she was hurt--and clumb into the
buckboard.

I worried a good deal that night. The more I turned over what Simpson 'd
said, the more I wondered if I knowed all they was to his game. What
was he drivin' at with that "celebrated" business? Then, too, it
wouldn't do Mace no good t' be puffed up so much. She'd been 'lected
the prettiest gal. Now she'd been tole she had a way-up voice. 'Fore
long, she'd git the big haid.

"Wal, I'll put a qui_e_tus on it," I says. And, next mornin', when I
seen her, I opened up like this: "Honey, I reckon we've waited just
about long enough. So we git married Sunday week."

"That's too soon," she answers. "We got t' git paw on our side. And
I ain't got no new clothes."

"We'll splice first and ast him about it afterwards. And when you're
Mrs. Alec, I'll git you all the clothes you want." (Here's where I
clean fergot the _ad_vice she give me that time in the sheriff's case:
"In love affairs," was what she said, "don't never try t' drive
_no_body.")

"But, Alec,----" she begun.

"Sunday week, Mace," I says. "We'll talk about it t'-night."

But that night Monkey Mike come nigh blowin' his lungs out; and I waited
under the cottonwoods till I was asleep standin'--and no Macie.

Wasn't it cal'lated t' make any man lose his temper? Wal, I lost mine.
And when we went in town to a party, a night 'r two afterwards, the hull
business come to a haid.

I was plumb sorry about the blamed mix-up. But _no_ feller wants t'
see his gal dance with a kettle-faced greaser. I knowed she was goin' to
fer the reason that I seen Mexic go over her way, showin' his teeth
like a badger and lettin' his cigareet singe the hair on his dirty
shaps--shaps, mind y', at a school-house dance! Then I seen her nod.

Our polka come next. And when we was about half done, I says, "They's
lemonade outside, honey. Let's git a swig." But outside I didn't talk
no lemonade. "Did Mexic ast you to dance with him?" I begun.

"Wal, he's one of our boys," she answers; "and I'm going to give
him a schottische."

"No, you _ain't,_" I come back. "I won't stand fer it."

"Yas, I _am,_ Alec Lloyd,"--she spoke determined,--"and please don't
try to boss me."

I shut up and walked in again. Mexic was talkin' to the
school-ma'am--aw, he's got _gall!_ I shassayed up and took him a little
one side. "Mexic," I says, soft as hair on a cotton-tail, "it's
gittin' on towards mornin' and, natu'lly, Macie Sewell ain't
feelin' just rested; so I wouldn't insist on that schottische, if I was
you."

"Why?" he ast.

"I tole you why," I says; "but I'll give you another reason: You'
boots is too tight."

We fussed a little then. Didn't amount to much, though, 'cause neither
of us had a gun. (Y' see, us punchers don't pack guns no more 'less
we're out ridin' herd and want t' pick off a coy_o_te; 'r 'less
we've had a little trouble and 're lookin' fer some one.) But I
managed to change that greaser's countenance consider'ble, and he bit
a chunk outen my hand. Then the boys pulled us separate.

They was all dead agin me when I tole 'em what was the matter. They said
the other gals danced with Mexic, and bein' Macie was the Bar Y gal,
she couldn't give him the go-by if she took the rest of the outfit fer
pardners.

Just the same, I made up my mind she wouldn't dance with that _greaser_.
And I says to myself, "This is where you show you're a-goin' to
run the Lloyd house. She'll like you all the better if you git the
upper hand." So when I got her coaxed outside again, I led her to
where my bronc was tied. She liked the little hoss, and whilst we was
chinnin', I put her into the saddle. Next minute, I was on behind
her, and the bronc was makin' quick tracks fer home.

Wal, sir, she was madder'n a hen in a thunder-shower. She tried to pull
in the bronc; she twisted and scolted and cried. Tole me she hated me
like arsenic.

"Alec Lloyd," she says, "after t'night, I'll never, never speak to
you again!"

When we rode up to the corral, I lifted her down, and she went tearin'
away to the house. The ole man heerd her comin', and thought she was
singin'. He slung open the door on the porch.

"Aw, give that calf more rope!" he calls out.

Say! she went by him like a streak of lightnin', almost knockin' him
down. And the door slammed so hard you could 'a' heerd it plumb t'
Galveston.

I hung 'round the corral fer as much as half a' hour, listenin' to the
pow-wow goin' on at the house. But nobody seemed to be a-hollerin' fer
me t' come in, so I made fer the straw. "Aw, wal," I says to myself,
"her dander 'll cool off t'-morra."

But the next day, she passed me by without speakin'. And I, like a
sap-head, didn't speak neither. I was on my high hoss,--wouldn't speak
till _she_ did. So off I had t' go to Hasty Creek fer three days--and
no good-bye t' the little gal.

I got back late one afternoon. At the bunk-house, I noticed a change
in the boys. They all seemed just about t' bust over somethin'--not
laughin', y' savvy, but anxious, kinda, and achin' to tell news.

Fin'lly, I went over to Hairoil. "Pardner," I says, "spit it out."

He looked up. "Cupid," he says, "us fellers don't like t' git you
stirred up, but we think it's about time someone oughta speak--and put
you next."

"Next about what?" I ast. The way he said it give me a kinda start.

"We've saw how things was a-goin', but we didn't say nothin' to you
'cause it wasn't none of our funeral. Quite a spell back, folks begun
to talk about how crazy Macie Sewell was gittin' to be on the singin'
question. It leaked out that she'd been tole she had a A1 voice----"

"It ain't no lie, neither."

"And that her warblin' come pretty clost to bein' as good as
Melba's."

"It's a heap _better'n_ Melba's."

"Also"--Hairoil fidgited some--"you know, a-course, that she's been
tackin' up photographs of op'ra singers and actresses in her room----"

"Wal, what's the harm?"

"And--and practicin' bows in front of a glass."

I begun t' see what he was drivin' at.

"And whilst you was away, she had a talk with the station-agent--about
rates East."

"Hairoil! You don't mean it!" I says. I tell y', it was just like
a red-hot iron 'd been stuck down my wind-pipe and was a-burnin' the
lower end offen my breast-bone!

"I'm sorry, ole man." He reached out a hand. "But we thought you
oughta know." And then he left me.

So _that_ was it! And she'd been keepin' me in the dark about it
all--whilst ev'ry fence post from the Bar Y t' Briggs knowed what
was happenin'! Wal, I was mad clean _through_.

Then I begun t' see that I'd been a blamed fool. A fine, high-strung
gal!--and I'd been orderin' her 'round like I owned her! And I'd gone
away on that ride without tryin' t' make up. Wal, I'd _druv_ her to it.

I started fer the house.

As I come clost, acrosst the curtains, back'ards and for'ards,
back'ards and for'ards, I could see her shadda pass. But when I rapped,
she pulled up; then, she opened the door.

"Honey," I says, "can I come in?"

Her eyes was red; she'd been cryin'. But, aw! she was just as nice and
sweet as she could be. "Yas, Alec, come in," she says.

"Little gal," I begun, "I want t' tell you I done wrong to kick
about that greaser, yas, I did. And fetchin' you home that-a-way wasn't
right."

"Never mind--I wanted t' come anyhow."

"Thank y' fer bein' so kind. And I ain't never goin' to try to run
you no more."

"I'm glad of that No gal likes t' be bossed."

"Just give me another chanst. Just fergive me this oncet."

She smiled, her eyes shinin' with tears. "I do," she says; "Alec,
I do."

The next second, I had her helt clost in my arms, and her pretty haid
was agin my breast. Aw, it was like them first days once more. And all
the hurt went of a suddent, and the air cleared kinda--as if a storm'd
just passed. My little gal!

Pretty soon, (I was settin' on the organ-stool, and she was standin' in
front of me, me holdin' her hands) I says, "They _is_ one thing--now
that I've tole you I was wrong--they is _just_ one thing I'm goin' to
ast you t' do as a favour. If you do it, things 'll go smooth with us
from now on. It's this, little gal: Cut out that Doctor Bugs."

"I know how you don't like him," she answers; "and you're right.
'Cause he shore played you a low-down trick at that Medicine Show. But,
Alec, he brings my music-teacher."

"Wal, honey, what you _want_ the teacher fer?"

She stopped, and up went that pert, little haid. "You recollect what
Doctor Simpson said about my voice that night at the social?" she begun.
"This teacher says _the same thing._"

Like a flash, I _re_called what _Hairoil_ 'd tole me. "Mace," I says,
"I want t' ast you about that. A-course, I know it ain't so. But
Hairoil says you got pictures of actresses and singers tacked up in
you' room--just one 'r two."

"Yas," she answers; "that's straight. What about it?"

"It's all right, I guess. But the ole son-of-a-gun got the idear,
kinda, that you was thinkin' some of--of the East."

"Alec," she says, frank as could be, "yesterday Doctor Simpson got
a letter from Noo York. He'd writ a big teacher there, inquirin' if I
had a chanst t' git into op'ra--_grand_ op'ra--and the teacher says
yas."

I couldn't answer nothin'. I just sit there, knocked plumb silly,
almost, and looked at a big rose in the carpet. _Noo York!_

She brung her hands t'gether. "Why not?" she answers. "It'll give
me the chanst I want. If I'm a success, you could come on too, Alec.
Then we'd marry, and you could go along with me as my manager."

I looked at her. I was hurt--hurt plumb t' the quick, and a little
mad, too. "I _see_ myself!" I says. "Travel along with you' poodle.
Huh! And you wearin' circus clothes like that Miss Marvellous Murray,
and lettin' some feller kiss you in the play. Macie,"--and I meant
what I said--"you can just put the hull thing right to one side.
I--won't--_have_--it!"

She set her lips tight, and her face got a deep red.

"So _this_ is the way you keep you' word!" she says. "A minute ago,
you said you wasn't goin' t' try to run me no more. Wal,--you wasn't
in earnest. I can see that. 'Cause here's the same thing over again."

The door into the ole man's bedroom opened then, and he come walkin'
out. "You two make a thunderin' lot of noise," he begun. "What in
the dickens is the matter?"

Mace turned to him, face still a-blazin'. "Alec's allus tryin' t'
run me," she answers, "and I'm gittin' plumb tired of it."

Sewell's mouth come open. "Run you," he says. "Wal, some while back
he done all the runnin' he's ever a-goin' t' do in _this_ house. And
he don't do no more of it. By what right is he a-interferin' now?"

I got to my feet. "_This_ right, boss:" I says, "I love Macie."

He begun to kinda swell--gradual. And if a look could 'a' kilt me, I'd
'a' keeled over that second.

"You--love--Macie!" he says slow. "Wal , I'll be darned if you
haven't got _cheek!_"

"Sorry you look at it that way, boss."

"And so you got the idear into that peanut haid of yourn"--he was
sarcastic now--"that you could marry my gal! Honest, I ain't met a
bigger idjit 'n you in ten years."

"No man but Mace's paw could say that t' me safe."

"Why," he goes on, "you could just about be President of the United
States as easy as you could be the husband of this gal. M' son, I think
I tole you on one occasion that you'd play Cupid just oncet too many."

"That's what you did."

"This is _it_. And, also, I tole you that the smarty who can allus bring
other folks t'gether never can hitch hisself."

"You got a good mem'ry, Sewell."

Mace broke in then--feard they'd be trouble, I reckon. "Please let's
cut this short," she says. "The only thing I want Alec to remember is
that I ain't a-goin' t' be bossed by _no_ man."

Sewell patted her on the shoulder. "That's my gal a-talkin'!" he
says. "Bully fer you!"

"All right, Mace," I says, "a-all _right._" And I took up my Stetson.

The ole man dropped into a chair and begun t' laugh. (Could laugh now,
thinkin' it was all up 'twixt Mace and me.) "Haw! haw! haw!" he
started off, slappin' one knee. "Mister Cupid cain't do nothin' fer
hisself!" Then he laid back and just _hollered,_ slingin' out his laig
with ev'ry cackle; and pawin' the air fin'lly, he got so short-winded.
"Aw, lawdy!" he yelled; "aw--I'll _bust_. Mister _Cupid! Whew!_"

I got hot. "You found a he-he's aig in a haw-haw's nest," I begun.
"Wal, I'll say back to you what you oncet said to me: _Just wait._"
Then I faced Macie. "All right, little gal," I says to her, "I s'pose
you know best. Pack you' duds and go East--and sing on the stage in Noo
York."

The ole man 'd stopped laughin' t' listen. Now he sit up straight, a
hand on each arm of the chair, knees spread, mouth wider open 'n ever,
eyes plumb crossed. "Go East!" he repeats, "--sing!--stage!--Noo
York!"

Mace showed her sand, all right. "Yas," she answers; "you got it
_exac'ly_ right, paw--Noo York."

He riz up, face as white as anythin' so sunbaked can look. "Git that
crazy idear outen you' brain this _minute!_" he begun. "I won't allow
you t' stir a _step!_ The stage! Lawd a-mighty! Why, _you_ ain't got
no voice fer the stage. You can only squawk."

It was mighty pretty t' see 'em--father and daughter--standin' out
agin each other. Alike in temper as two peas, y' savvy. And I knowed
somethin' was shore goin' to pop.

"Squawk!" repeats Mace. (_That_ was the finishin' touch.) "I'll just
show you! Some day when my voice's made me famous, you'll be sorry fer
that. And you, too, Alec Lloyd, if you _do_ think my voice is all taffy.
I'll show you _both!_"

"Wal," Sewell come back, "you don't use none of _my_ money fer t'
make you' show." He was pretty nigh screechin'.

"Wait till I _ast_ you fer it," she says, pert haid up again. "_Keep_
you' money. I can earn my own. _I_ ain't scairt of work."

And just like she was, in the little, white dress she used t' meet me
in--she up and walked out!

Now, it was the ole man's turn t' walk the floor. "Noo York!" he
begun, his eyes dartin' fire. "Did y' ever _hear_ such a blamed fool
proposition! Doc Simpson is _re_sponsible fer that."

"It's been goin' on fer quite a spell," I says. "But I didn't know
how far till just afore you come in. Simpson, a-course, is the man."

That second, _clickety_--_clickety_--_clickety_--_click!_--a hoss was
a-passin' the house on the dead run. We both looked. It was that
bald-faced bronc of Macie's, makin' fer the gate like a streak of
lightnin'. And the little gal was in the saddle.

"She's goin', boss," I says. (The bald-face was haided towards
Briggs.)

"_Let_ her go," says Sewell. "Let her ride off her mad."

"Boss," I says, "I'm t' blame fer this kick-up. Yas, I am."

And _I_ begun t' walk the floor.

"Wal, no use bellyachin' about it," he answers. "But you're allus
a-stickin' in that lip of yourn. And--you'll _re_call what I oncet said
concernin' the feller that sticks in his lip." (I could see it made
him feel better t' think he had the bulge on me.)

"She won't come back," I goes on. (I felt pretty bad, I can tell y'.)
"No, boss, she won't. I know that gal better'n you do. She's gone t'
Briggs, and she'll stay."

"She'll be back in a' hour. Rose cain't keep her, and----"

But I was outen the room and makin' fer the bunk-house. When I got
there, I begun t' change my clothes.

Hairoil was inside. (He'd been a-listenin' to the rumpus, likely.)
"Don't go off half-cocked," he says to me.

"Cupid's drunk," says Monkey Mike. "Somebody's hit him with a
bar-towel."

But I knowed what I was a-goin' to do. Two wags of a dawg's tail, and I
was in the house again, facin' the ole man. "Sewell," I says, "I want
my time."

"Where you goin', Cupid?" he ast, reachin' into his britches-pocket.

I took my little forty dollars and run it into my buckskin sack. "I'm
a-goin' into Briggs," I says, "t' see if I can talk some sense into
that gal's haid."

The ole man give a kinda sour laugh. "Mebbe you think you can bring her
home on hossback again," he says. "Wal, just remember, if she turns
loose one of her tantrums, that you poured out this drench you'self.
It's like that there feller in Kansas." And he give that laugh of hisn
again. "Ever heerd about him?"

"No," I says; "no, what about you' Kansas feller?"

"Wal,"--the boss pulled out a plug of t'bacca,--"he bought a house
and lot fer five hunderd dollars. The lot was guaranteed to raise
anythin', and the house was painted the prettiest kind of a green.
Natu'lly, he thought he owned 'em. Wal, things went smooth till one
night when he was away from home. Then a blamed cyclone come along.
Shore enough, that lot of hisn could raise. It raised plumb into the air,
house and all, and the hull business blowed into the neighbourin' State!

"'What goes up must come down,' says the feller. And knowin' which
way that cyclone travelled, he started in the same _di_rection, hotfoot.
He goes and goes. Fin'lly he comes to a ranch where they was a new barn
goin' up. It was a pinto proposition. Part of it wasn't painted, and
some of it was green. He stopped to demand portions of his late residence.

"The man he spoke to quit drivin' nails just long enough to answer.
'When you Kansas folks git up one of them baby cyclones of yourn,' he
says, 'fer Heaven's sake have sand enough to accept the hand-out it
gives y'.'"

"I savvy what you mean," I says to the ole man, "but you fergit that
in this case the moccasin don't fit. Another man's behind this, boss.
The little gal has ketched singin'-bugs. And when she gits enough
cash----"

"How can _she_ git cash?"

"The eatin'-house is short of, help, Sewell. She can git a job
easy--passin' fancy Mulligan to the pilgrims that go through."

Say! that knocked all the sarcastic laughin' outen him. A' awful
anxious look come into his face. "Why--why, Cupid," he begun. "You
don't reckon she'd go do that!"

Just then, _Clickety_--_clickety_--_clickety_--_click_ a hoss was comin'
along the road. We both got to a winda. It was that bald-faced bronc
of Macie's again, haid down and tail out. But the bridle-reins was
caught 'round the pommel t' keep 'em from gittin' under foot, and the
little gal's saddle--was empty!



CHAPTER SIX

WHAT A LUNGEE DONE


    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea--"

It was Macie Sewell singin'. Ole Number 201 'd just pulled outen
Briggs City, haided southwest with her freight of tenderfeet, and with
Ingineer Dave Reynolds stickin' in his spurs to make up lost time.
The passengers 'd had twenty-five minutes fer a good grubbin'-up at
the eatin'-house, and now the little gal was help-in' the balance of
the Harvey bunch to clear off the lunch-counter. Whilst she worked,
she was chirpin' away like she'd plumb bust her throat.

I was outside, settin' on a truck with Up-State. He was watchin'
acrosst the rails, straight afore him, and listenin', and I could see
he was swallerin' some, and his eyes looked kinda like he'd been
ridin' agin the wind. When I shifted my _po_sition, he turned the
other way quick, and coughed--that pore little gone-in cough of hisn.

Wal, I felt pretty bad myself; and I seen somethin' turrible was wrong
with Up-State--I couldn't just make out what. Pretty soon, I put my
hand on his arm, and I says, "I don't want t' worm anythin' outen
you, ole man; I just want t' say I'm you' friend."

"Cupid," he whispers back, "it's The Mohawk Vale."

(He allus whispered, y' savvy; couldn't talk out loud no more, bein'
so turrible shy on lung.)

"Is that a bony fido place?" I ast, "'r just made up a-purpose fer
the song?"

"It's _my_ country," he whispers, slow and husky, and begun gazin'
acrosst to the mesquite again. "And, Cupid, it's a _beau_tiful
country!"

"I reckon," I says. "It's likely got Oklahomaw skinned t' death."

Up-State, he didn't answer that--too _po_lite. Aw, he was a gent, too,
same as the parson.

Minute 'r so, Macie struck up again--

    "And dearer by far than all charms on earth byside,
    Is that bright, rollin' river to me."

Up-State lent over, elbows on his knees, face in his hands, and begun
tremblin'--Why, y' know, even a _hoss_ 'll git homesick. Now, I brung
a flea-bitten mare from down on the lower Cimarron oncet, and blamed if
that little son-of-a-gun didn't hoof it all the way back, straighter
'n a string! Yas, ma'am. And so, a-course, it's natu'al fer a _man_.
Wal, I ketched on to how things was with Up-State, and I moseyed.

I was at the deepot pretty frequent them days--waitin'. Macie hadn't
talked to me none yet, and mebbe she wouldn't. But I was on hand in case
the notion 'd strike her.

Her hangin' out agin me and her paw tickled them eatin'-house Mamies
turrible. They thought her idear of earnin' her own money, and then
goin' East to be a' op'ra singer, was just _grand_.

But the rest of the town felt diff'rent. And behind my back all the
women folks and the boys that knowed me was sayin' it was a darned
shame. They figgered that a gal gone loco on the stage proposition
wouldn't make _no_ kind of a wife fer a cow-punch. "Would _she_
camp down in Oklahomaw," they says, "and cook three meals a day,
and wash out blue shirts, when she's set on gittin' up afore a passel
of highflyers and yelpin' 'Marguerite'? _Nixey._"

Next thing, one day at Silverstein's, here come the parson to me,
lookin' worried. "Cupid," he says, "git on the good side of that
gal as quick as ever you can--and marry her. The stage is a' _awful_
place fer a decent gal. Keep her offen it if you love her soul. And if
I can help, just whistle."

I said thank y', but I was feard marryin' was a long way off.

"But, Alec," goes on the parson, "that Simpson has gone back t' Noo
York----"

"_What?_"

"Yas. He put all his doctor truck into his gasoline wagon last night
and choo-chooed outen town. If _he's_ there, and _she_ goes, wal,--I
don't like the looks of it."

"I don't neither, parson. He's crooked as a cow-path, that feller.
Have you tole her paw?"

"No, but I will," says the parson.

I went over to the deepot again. Havin' done a little thinkin', I
wasn't so scairt about Simpson by now. 'Cause why? Wal, y' see, I
knowed

Mace didn't have no money; ole Sewell wouldn't give her none; and she
wasn't the kind of a gal t' borra. So it was likely she'd be in Briggs
fer quite a spell.

I found Up-State settin' outside the eatin'-house. I sit down byside
him. Allus, them days, whenever I come in sight of the station, he was
a-hangin' 'round, y' savvy. He'd be on a truck, say, 'r mebbe on the
edge of the platform. If it was all quiet inside at the lunch-counter,
he'd be watchin' the mesquite, and sorta swingin' his shoes. But if
Macie was singin', he'd be all scrooched over with his face covered
up--and pretty quiet.

When Macie sung, it was The Mohawk Vale ev'ry time. Now, that seemed
funny, bein' she was mad at me and that was my fav'rite song. Then,
it didn't seem so funny. One of the eatin'-house gals tole me,
confidential, that Up-State had lots of little chins with Macie acrosst
the lunch-counter, and that The Mohawk Vale was "by request."

_I_ didn't keer. Let Up-State talk to her as much as he wanted to.
_He_ couldn't make me jealous--not on you' life! I wasn't the finest
lookin' man in Oklahomaw, and I wasn't on right good terms with Mace.
But Up-State--wal, Up-State was pretty clost t' crossin' the Big Divide.

All this time not a word 'd passed 'twixt Macie and her paw. The ole
man was too stiff-necked t' give in and go to her. (He was figgerin'
that she'd git tired and come home.) And Macie, she wasn't tired a
blamed bit, and she was too stiff-necked t' give in and go t' Sewell.

Wal, when the boss heerd about Up-State and Mace, you never _seen_ a man
so sore. He said Up-State was aigin' her on, and no white man 'd do
_that_.

Y' see, he had some reason fer not goin' shucks on the singin' and
actin' breed. We'd had two bunches of op'ra folks in Briggs at
diff'rent times. One come down from Wichita, and was called "The Way to
Ruin." (Wal, it shore looked its name!) The other was "The Wild West
Troupe" from Dallas. This last wasn't West--it was from Noo York
_di_rect--but you can bet you' boots it was _wild_ all right. By
thunder! you couldn't 'a' helt nary one of them young ladies with a
hoss-hair rope!

But fer a week of Sundays, he didn't say nothin' to Up-State. He just
boiled inside, kinda. Then one day--when he'd got enough steam up, I
reckon,--why, he opened wide and let her go.

"Up-State," he begun, "I'm sorry fer you, all right, but----"

Up-State looked at him. "Sewell," he whispers, "I don't want _no_
man's pity."

"Listen to me," says the boss. "Macie's my little gal--the only child
I got left now, and I warn you not to go talkin' actress to her."

"Don't holler 'fore you git hit," whispers Up-State, smilin'.

The boss got worse mad then. "Look a-here," he says, "don't give me
none of that. You know you lie----"

Up-State shook his haid. "I'm not a man any more, Sewell," he
whispers. "I'm just what's left of one. I didn't used to let
_no_body hand out things that flat to me."

I stuck in _my_ lip. (_One_ more time couldn't hurt.) "Now, Sewell,"
I says, "put on the brake."

He got a holt on hisself then. "This ain't no josh to me, Cupid," he
says. (He was tremblin', pore ole cuss!) "What you think I heerd this
mornin'? Mace ain't makin' enough money passin' slumgullion to them
passenger cattle all day, so she's a-goin' over to Silverstein's
ev'ry night after this to fix up his books. I wisht now I'd never
sent her t' business college."

Just then--

    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea--"

Up-State lent over, his elbows on his knees, and his face in his hands.

The boss looked at me. I give a jerk of my haid to show him he'd best
go. And he walked off, grindin' his teeth.

It seemed to me I could hear Up-State whisperin' into his fingers. I
stooped over. "What is it, pardner?" I ast.

"It's full of home," he says, "--it's full of home! Cupid! Cupid!"
(Darned if I don't wisht them lungers wouldn't come down here, anyhow.
They plumb give a feller the misery.)

Doc Trowbridge stopped by just then. "How you makin' it t'-day,
Up-State?" he ast.

Up-State got to his feet, slow though, and put a hand on Billy's
shoulder. "The next sandstorm, ole man," he says; "the next
sandstorm."

"Up-State," says Billy, "buck up. You got more lives'n a cat."

"No show," Up-State whispers back.

He was funny that-a-way. Now, most lungers fool theyselves. Allus
"goin' to git better," y' savvy. But Up-State--_he knew_.

"Come over to my tent t'-night," he goes on to Billy. "I got
somethin' I want to talk to you about."

"All right," says Billy. "Two haids is better 'n one, if one _is_
a sheep's haid."

After supper, I passed Silverstein's two 'r three times, and about
nine o'clock I seen Macie. She was 'way back towards the end of the
store, a lamp and a book in front of her; and she was a-workin' like a
steam-thrasher.

Somehow it come over me all to oncet then that she'd meant ev'ry
single word she said, and that, sooner 'r later--she was goin'.
_Goin'_. And I'd be stayin' behind. I looked 'round me. Say! Briggs
City didn't show up _much_. "Without _her,_" I says, (they was that
red-hot-iron feelin' inside of me again) "--without her, what is
it?--the jumpin'-off place!"

Beyond me, a piece, was Up-State's tent. A light was burnin' inside it,
too, and Doc Trowbridge was settin' in the moonlight by the openin'.
Behind him, I could see Up-State, writin'.

I trailed home to my bunk. But you can understand I didn't sleep good.
And 'way late, I had a dream. I dreamed the Bar Y herd broke fence
and stampeded through Briggs, and after 'em come about a hunderd
bull-whackers, all a-layin' it on to them steers with the flick of
they lashes _-zip, zip, zip, zip_.

Next mornin, I woke quick--with a jump, y' might say. I looked at my
nickel turnip. It was five-thirty. I got up. The sun was shinin', the
air was nice and clear and quiet and the larks was just singin' away.
But outside, along the winda-sill, was stretched _a' inch-wide trickle
of sand!_

In no time I was hoofin' it down the street. When I got to Up-State's
tent, Billy Trowbridge was inside it, movin' 'round, puttin' stuff
into a trunk, and--wipin' the sand outen his eyes.

"He was right?" I says, when I goes in, steppin' soft, and
whisperin'--like Up-State 'd allus whispered. Billy turned to me and
kinda smiled, fer all he felt so all-fired bad. "Yas, Cupid," he says,
"he was right. One more storm."

Just then, from the station--

    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea--"

Billy walked over to the bed and looked down. "Up-State, ole man," he
says, "you're a-goin' back to the Mohawk."

                    *       *       *       *       *

Up-State left two letters behind him--one fer me and one fer Billy. The
doc didn't show hisn; said it wouldn't be just _pro_feshnal--yet. But
mine he ast me to read to the boss.

    "Dear Cupid," it run, "ast Mister Sewell not to come down
    too hard on me account of what I'm goin' to do fer Macie. The
    little gal says she wants a singin' chanst more'n anythin'
    else. Wal, I'm goin' to give it to her. You'll find a'
    even five hunderd in green-backs over in Silverstein's safe.
    It's hern. Tell her I want she should use it to go to Noo
    York on and buck the op'ra game."

Wal, y' see, the ole man 'd been right all along--Up-State _was_
sidin' with Mace. Somehow though, _I_ couldn't feel hard agin him fer
it. I knowed that she'd go--help 'r _no_ help.

But Sewell, he didn't think like me, and I never _seen_ a man take
on the way he done. _Crazy_ mad, he was, swore blue blazes, and said
things that didn't sound so nice when a feller remembered that Up-State
was face up and flat on his back fer keeps--and goin' home in the
baggage-car.

I tell you, the boys was nice to me that day. "The little gal won't
fergit y', Cupid," they says, and "Never you mind, Cupid, it'll all
come out in the wash."

I thanked 'em, a-course. But with Macie fixed to go (far's money went),
and without makin' friends with me, neither, what under the shinin'
sun could chirk _me_ up? Wal, _nothin'_ could.



CHAPTER SEVEN

THE BOYS PUT THEY FOOT IN IT


"WAL, Hairoil," I says, "I shore am a' unlucky geezer! Why, d' you
know, I don't hardly dast go from one room to another these days fer
fear I'll git my lip pinched in the door."

Hairoil, he clawed thoughtful. "You and the boss had a talk oncet on
the marryin' question," he begun. "It was out at the Bar Y." (We
was settin' on a truck at the deepot again, same as that other time.)
"A-course, I don't want t' throw nothin' up, but--you tole him then
that when it come you' _own_ time, _you_ wouldn't have no trouble.
Recollect braggin' that-a-way?"

"Yas," I answers, meeker'n Moses. "But Hairoil, that was 'fore I
met Macie."

"So it was," he says. Then, after a minute, "I s'pose nothin' could
keep her in Briggs much longer."

I shook my haid. "The ole man won't let her fetch a dud offen the
ranch, and so she's havin' a couple of dresses made. I figger that
when _they_ git done, she'll--she'll go."

"How long from now?"

"About two weeks--accordin' to what Mollie Brown tole me."

"Um," says Hairoil, and went on chawin' his cud. Fin'lly, he begun
again, and kinda like he was feelin' 'round. "Don't you think Mace
Sewell is took up with the _ro_mance part of this singin' proposition?"
he ast. "That's _my_ idear. And _I_ think that if she was showed
that her and you was _also_ a _ro_mance, why, she'd give up goin'
to Noo York. Now, it _might_ be possible to--to git her t' see things
right--if they was a little scheme, say."

I got up. "No, Hairoil," I says, "no little scheme is a-goin'
t' be played on _Macie_. A-course, I done it fer Rose and Billy; but
Macie,--wal, Macie is diff'rent. I want t' win her in the open. And
I'll be jiggered if I stand fer any underhand work."

"It needn't t' _be_ what you'd call underhand," answers Hairoil.

"Pardner," I says, "don't talk about it no more. You make me plumb
nervous, like crumbs in the bed."

And so he shut up.

But now when I _re_call that conversation of ourn, and think back on
what begun t' happen right afterwards, it seemed _blamed_ funny that
I didn't suspicion somethin' was wrong. The parson was mixed up in
it, y' savvy, and the sheriff, and Billy Trowbridge--all them three I'd
helped out in one way 'r another. And Hairoil was in it, too--and he'd
said oncet that he was a-goin' t' marry me off. So _why_ didn't I
ketch on! Wal, I shore _was_ a yap!

Next day, Hairoil didn't even speak of Mace. I thought he'd clean
fergot about her. He was all _ex_cited over somethin' else--the
'lection of a sheriff. And 'fore he got done tellin' me about it,
I was some _ex_cited, too--fer all I was half sick account of my own
troubles.

The 'lection of a sheriff, y' savvy, means a' awful lot to a passel
of cow-punchers. We don't much keer who's President of the United
States. (We been plumb _covered_ with proud flesh these six years,
though, 'cause Roos'velt, _he's_ a puncher.) We don't much keer,
neither, who's Gov'ner of Oklahomaw. But you can bet you' bottom
dollar it makes a _heap_ of diff'rence who's our sheriff. If you
git a friend in office, you can breathe easy when you have a little
disagreement; if you don't, why, _you_ git 'lected--t' the calaboose!

Now, what Hairoil come and rep'esented to me was this: That Hank
Shackleton, editor of _The Briggs City Eye-Opener,_ 'd been lickerin'
up somethin' _turrible_ the last twenty-four hours.

"Hank?" I says to Hairoil, plumb surprised. "Why, I didn't know he
ever took more 'n a glass."

"A _glass!_" repeats Hairoil disgusted. "He ain't used no glass
_this_ time; he used a _funnel_. And you oughta see his paper that come
out this mornin'. It's full on the one side, where a story's allus
printed, but the opp'site page looks like somethin' 'd hit it--O. K.
far's advertisements go, but the news is as skurse as hen's teeth,
_and not a word about Bergin._"

"You don't say! But--what does that matter, Hairoil?"

"What does that _matter!_ Why, if Hank gits it into his haid to keep
on tankin' that-a-way (till he plumb spills over, by jingo!) the
_Eye-Opener_ won't show up again fer a month of Sundays. Now, we
need it, account of this 'lection, and the way Hank is actin' has
come home to roost with ev'ry _one_ of us. You been worried, Cupid, and
you ain't noticed how this sheriff sittywaytion is. The Goldstone
_Tarantula_ is behind the _Re_publican can_di_date, Walker----"

"_Walker! That_ critter up fer sheriff?"

"Yas. And, a-course, Hank's been behind Bergin t' git _him_ re'lected
fer the 'leventh time."

"_I_ know, and Bergin's got t' _win_. Why, Bergin's the only fit
man."

"Wal, now, if our paper cain't git in and crow the loudest, and tell
how many kinds of a swine the other feller is, _how's_ Bergin goin'
t' win?"

"I don't know."

"Neither do _I_. (You see how ticklish things is?) Wal, here's Hank
in _no_ shape to make any kind of a newspaper fight, but just achin' t'
use his gun on anybody that comes nigh him. Why, I never _seen_ such a
change in a man in all my born _life!_"

I was surprised some _more_. I didn't know Hank _packed_ a gun. He
was a darned nice cuss, and ev'rybody shore liked him, and he'd never
been laid up fer _re_pairs account of somethin' he'd put in his paper.
He was square, smart's a steel-trap, and white clean through. Had a
handshake that was hung on a hair-trigger, and a smile so winnin' that
he could coax the little prairie-dawgs right outen they holes.

Hairoil goes on. "I can see Briggs City eatin' the shucks when it
comes 'lection-day," he says, "and that Goldstone man cabbagin' the
sheriff's office. Buckshot Milliken tole me this mornin' that the
_Tarantula_ called Bergin 'a slouch' last week; 'so low-down he'd
eat sheep,' too, and 'such a blamed pore shot he couldn't hit the side
of a barn.'"

"That's goin' too far."

"So _I_ say. I wanted Bergin t' go over to Goldstone and give 'em
a sample of his gun-play that'd interfere with the printin' of they
one-hoss sheet. But Bergin said it was no use--the _Tarantula_ editor is
wearin' a sheet-iron thing-um-a-jig acrosst his back and his front, and
has to use a screw-driver t' take off his clothes."

"The idear of Hank actin' like a idjit when the 'lection depends on
him!" I says. "Wal, things _is_ outen kilter."

"Sh-sh-sh!" says Hairoil, lookin' round quick. "Be awful keerful what
you say about Hank. We don't want no shootin'-scrape _here._"

But I didn't give a continental _who_ heerd me. I was sore t' think
a reg'lar jay-hawk 'd been put up agin our man! Say, that Walker
didn't know beans when the bag was open. His name shore fit him,
'cause he couldn't ride a hoss fer cold potatoes. And he was the
kind that gals think is a looker, and allus stood ace-high at a dance.
Lately, he'd been more pop'lar than ever. When we had that little
set-to with Spain, Walker hiked out to the Coast; and didn't show up
again till after the California boys come home from Manila. Then, he hit
town, wearin' a' army hat, and chuck full of all kinds of stories
about the Philippines, and how he'd been in _turrible_ fights. That
got the girls travelin' after him two-forty. Why, at Goldstone, they
was _all_ a-goin' with him, seems like.

I didn't want _him_ fer sheriff, you bet you' boots. He wasn't no
friend to us Briggs City boys any more 'n we was to him. And then,
none of us believed that soldier hand-out. Y' know, we had a little
bunch of fellers from this section that went down t' Cuba with Colonel
Roos'velt and chased the Spanish some. Wal, y' never heerd _them_
crowin' 'round about what they done. And this Walker, he blowed too
much t' be genuwine.

"If he's 'lected sheriff, it's goin' t' be risky business gittin'
in to a' argyment with anybody," I says. "He'd just _like_ t' git
one of us jugged. Say, what's goin' to be did fer Hank?"

"Wal," answers Hairoil, mouth screwed up anxious, "we're in a right
serious fix. So they's to be a sorta convention this afternoon, and
we're a-goin' t' cut out whisky whilst the session lasts."

"I'll come. _Walker_ fer sheriff! _Huh!_"

"Good fer you! So long."

"So long."

We made fer the council-tent at three o'clock--the bunch of us. The
deepot waitin'-room was choosed, that bein', as the boys put it, "the
most _re_spectable public place in town that wouldn't want rent."
Wal, we worked our jaws a lot, goin' over the sittywaytion from start
to finish. "Gents let's hear what you-all got to say," begun Chub
Flannagan, standin' up. Doc Trowbridge was next. "_I ad_vise you to
rope Shackleton," he says, "and lemme give him some hoss liniment t'
put him on his laigs." (We was agreed that the hull business depended
on the _Eye-Opener_.) But the rest of us didn't favour Billy's plan.
So we ended by pickin' a 'lection committee. No dues, no by-laws, no
chairman. But ev'ry blamed one of us a sergeant-at-arms with orders t'
keep Hank Shackleton _outen the saloons_. 'Cause why? If he could buck
up, and _stay_ straight, and go t' gittin' out the _Eye-Opener,_
Bergin 'd shore win out.

"Gents," says Monkey Mike, "soon as ever Briggs hears of our
committee, we're a-goin' t' git pop'lar with the nice people, 'cause
we're tryin' t' help Hank. And we're also goin' t' git a black eye
with the licker men account of shuttin' off the Shackleton trade.
A-course, us punchers must try t' make it up t' the thirst-parlours
fer the loss, though I _ad_mit it 'll not be a' easy proposition.
But things is _desp_'rate. If Walker gits in, we'll have a nasty
deputy-sheriff sent up here t' cross us ev'ry time we make a move. We
got t' _work,_ gents. You know how _I_ feel. By thunder! Bergin treated
me square all right over that Andrews fuss." (Y' see, Mike's a
grateful little devil, if he _does_ ride like a fool Englishman.)

"Wal," says Buckshot Milliken, "who'll be the first sergeant? I call
fer a volunteer."

All the fellers just kept quiet--but they looked at each other, worried
like.

"Don't all speak to oncet," says Buckshot.

I got up. "_I'_m willin' t' try my hand," I says.

"_Thank_ y', Cupid." It was Buckshot, earnest as the dickens.
"But--but we hope you're goin' to go slow with Hank. Don't do
nothin' foolish."

"What in thunder 's got _into_ you fellers?" I ast, lookin' at 'em.
"Is Hank got the hydrophoby?"

"You ain't saw him since he begun t' drink, I reckon," says Chub.

"No."

"_Wal,_ then."

By this time, I was so all-fired et up with curiosity t' git a look at
Hank that I couldn't stand it no more. So I got a move on.

Hank is a turrible tall feller, and thin as a ramrod. He's got hair you
could flag a train with, and a face as speckled as a turkey aig. And when
I come on to him that day, here he was, stretched out on the floor of
Dutchy's back room, mouth wide open, and snorin' like a rip-saw.

I give his shoulder a jerk. "Here, Hank," I says, "wake up and pay
fer you' keep. What's got into you, anyhow. My goodness me!"

He opened his eyes--slow. Next, he sit up, and fixed a' awful ugly look
on me. "Wa-a-al?" he says.

"My friend," I begun, "Briggs City likes you, and in the present case
it's a-tryin' t' make 'lowances, and not chalk nothin' agin y',
but----"

"Blankety blank Briggs City!" growls Hank. "Ish had me shober and ish
had me drunk, and neither way don't shoot."

"Now, ole man, I reckon you're wrong," I says. "But never mind,
anyhow. Just try t' realise that they 's a 'lection comin', and
that you got t' help."

"Walkersh a friend of mine," says Hank, and laid down again.

Wal, I didn't want t' be there all day. I wanted t' have _some_ time
to myself, y' savvy, so 's I could keep track of Mace. So I grabbed
him again.

This whack, he got up, straddlin' his feet out like a mad tarantula,
and kinda clawin' the air. They wasn't no gun visible on him, but he
was loaded, all right. Had a revolver stuck under his belt in front, so
's the bottom of his vest hid it.

I jerked it out and kicked it clean acrosst the floor. Then I drug him
out and started fer the bunk-house with him. _Gosh!_ it was a job!

Wal, the pore cuss didn't git another swalla of forty-rod that day;
and by the next mornin' he was calm and had a' appetite. So three
of us sergeant-at-arms happened over to see him. Bill Rawson was there
a'ready, keepin' him comp'ny. And first thing y' know, I was handin'
that editor of ourn great big slathers of straight talk.

"_I_ know what you done fer me, Cupid," says Hank. "And I'm
grateful,--yas, I am. But let me tell you that when I git started
drinkin', I cain't _stop_--never do till I'm just wored out 'r
stone broke. And I git mean, and on the fight, and don't know what
I'm doin'. But," he _con_-tinues (his face was as long as you'
arm), "if you-all 'll fergive me, and let this spree pass, why, I'll
go back t' takin' water at the railroad tank with the Sante Fee
ingines."

"Hank," I says, "you needn't t' say nothin' further. But pack
no more loads, m' son, pack no more loads. And _try_ t' git out another
_EyeOpener_. Not only is this sheriff matter pressin', but the lit'rary
standin' of Briggs City is at stake."

"That's dead right," he says. "And I'll git up a' issue of the
_Opener_ pronto--only you boys 'll have t' help me out some on the
news part. I don't recollect much that's been happenin' lately."

Wal, things looked cheerfuller. So, 'fore long, I was back at the
deepot, settin' on a truck and watchin' the eatin'-house windas,
and the boys--Bergin and all--was lined up 'longside Dutchy's bar,
celebratin'.

But our work was a long, l-o-n-g way from bein' done. Hank kept
sober just five hours. Then he got loose from Hairoil and made fer a
thirst-parlour. And when Hairoil found him again, he was fuller'n a tick.

"I'm blue as all git out about what's happened," says Hairoil. "But
I couldn't help it; it was just rotten luck. And I hear that when the
_Tarantula_ come out yesterday it had a hull column about that Walker,
callin' him a brave ex-soldier and the next sheriff of Woodward County."

"And just ten days 'fore 'lection!" chips in Bill Rawson. "Cupid,
it's root hawg 'r die!"

"That's what it is," I says. "Wal, I'll go git after Hank again."

He was in Dutchy's, same as afore. But not so loaded, this time, and
a blamed sight uglier. Minute he _seen_ me, his back was up! "Here, you
snide puncher," he begun, "you tryin' to arrest _me?_ Wal, blankety
blank blank," (fill it in the worst you can think of--he was beefin'
somethin' _awful_) "I'll have you know that I ain't never 'lowed
_no_ man t' put the bracelets on me." And his hand went down and begun
feelin' fer the butt of a gun.

"Look oudt!" whispers Dutchy. "You vill git shooted!"

But I only just walked over and put a' arm 'round Hank. "Now, come on
home," I says, like I meant it. "'Cause y' know, day after t'-morra
another _Eye-Opener_ has _got_ to rise t' the top. Hank, think of
Bergin!"

He turned on me then, and give me such a push in the chest that I sit
down on the floor--right suddent, too. Wal, that rubbed me the wrong way.
And the next thing _he_ knowed, I had him by the back of the collar, and
was a-draggin' him out.

I was plumb wored out by the time I got him home, and so Chub, he stayed
t' watch. I went back to the deepot. And I was still a-settin' there,
feelin' lonesome, and kinda put out, too, when here come Buckshot
Milliken towards me.

"I think Hank oughta be 'shamed of hisself," he says, "fer the way
he talks about you. Course, we know why he does it, and that it ain't
true----"

"What's he got t' say about me?" I ast, huffy.

"He said you was a ornery hoodlum," answers Buckshot, "and a loafer,
and that he's a-goin' t' roast you in his paper. He'd put Oklahomaw
on to _you,_ he said."

"Huh!"

"And you been _such_ a good friend t' Hank," goes on Buckshot. "Wal,
don't it go to show!"

"If he puts on single _word_ about me in that paper of hisn," I says,
gittin' on my ear good and plenty, "I'll just natu'ally take him
acrosst my knee and give him a spankin'."

"And he'll put enough slugs in you t' make a sinker," answers
Buckshot. "Why, Cupid, Hank Shackleton can fight his weight in wildcats.
_You go slow._"

"But _he_ cain't shoot," I says.

"He cain't _shoot!_" repeats Buckshot. "Why, I hear he was a reg'lar
gun-fighter oncet, and so blamed fancy with his shootin' that he could
drive a two-penny nail into a plank at twenty yards ev'ry bit as good
as a carpenter."

"Wal," I says, "I'll be blasted if that's got _me_ scairt any."

Buckshot shook his haid. "I'm right sorry t' see any bad blood 'twixt
y'," he says.

Next thing, it was all over town that Hank was a-lookin' fer me.

Afterwards, I heerd that it was Hairoil tole Macie about it. "You
know," he says to her, "whenever Hank's loaded and in hollerin'
distance of a town, you can shore bet some one's goin' t' git hurt."

Mace, she looked a little bit nervous. But she just said, "I reckon
Alec can take keer of hisself." Then off she goes to pick out a trunk
at Silverstein's.

I reckon, though, that ole Silverstein 'd heerd about the trouble, too.
So when Mace come back to the eatin'-house, she sit down and writ me a
letter. "_Friend Alec,_" it said, "_I want to see you fer a minute
right after supper. Macie Sewell._"

It was four o'clock then. Supper was a good two hours off. Say! how them
two hours drug!

But all good things come to a' end--as the feller said when he was
strung up on a rope. And the hands of my watch loped into they places
when they couldn't hole back no longer. Then, outen the door on the
track side of the eatin'-house, here she come!

My little gal! I was hungry t' talk to her, and git holt of one of her
hands. But whilst I watched her walk toward me, I couldn't move, it
seemed like; and they was a lump as big as a baseball right where my
Adam's apple oughta be.

"Macie!"

She stopped and looked straight at me, and I seen she'd been cryin'.
"Alec," she says, "I didn't mean t' give in and see you 'fore I
went. But they tole me you and Hank 'd had words. And--and I couldn't
stay mad no longer."

"Aw, honey, thank y'!"

"I ain't a-goin' away t' stay," she says. "Leastways, I don't
_think_ so. But I want a try at singin', Alec,--a chanst. Paw's down
on me account of that. And he don't even come in town no more. Wal, I'm
sorry. But--_you_ understand, Alec, don't y'?"

"Yas, little gal. Go ahaid. I wouldn't hole you back. I _want_ you
should have a chanst."

"And if I win out, I want you t' come to Noo York and hear me sing.
Will y', Alec?"

"Ev'ry night, I'll go out under the cottonwoods, by the ditch, and
I'll say, 'Gawd, bless my little gal.'"

"I won't fergit y', Alec."

I turned my haid away. Off west they was just a little melon-rind of
moon in the sky. As I looked, it begun to dance, kinda, and change shape.
"I'll allus be waitin'," I says, after a little, "--if it's five
years, 'r fifty, 'r the end of my life."

"They won't never be no other man, Alec. Just you----"

"Macie!"

That second, we both heerd hollerin' acrosst the street. Then here come
Hairoil, runnin', and carryin' a gun.

"Cupid," he says, pantin', "take this." (He shoved the gun into my
hand.) "Miss Macie, git outen the way. It's Hank!"

Quick as I could, I moved to one side, so's she wouldn't be in range.

"_Ye-e-e-oop!_"

As Hank rounded the corner, he was staggerin' some, and wavin' his
shootin'-iron. "I'm a Texas bad man," he yelps; "I'm as ba-a-ad
as they make 'em, and tough as bull beef." Then, he went tearin'
back'ards and for'ards like he'd pull up the station platform.
"Hey!" he goes on. "I've put a _lot_ of fellers t' sleep with
they boots on! Come ahaid if you want t' git planted in my private
graveyard!"

Next, and whilst Mace was standin' not ten feet back of him, he seen
me. He spit on his pistol hand, and started my way.

"You blamed polecat," he hollered, "_I'll_ learn you t' shoot off
you' mouth when it ain't loaded! You' hands ain't mates and you'
feet don't track, and I'm a-goin' t' plumb lay you out!"

I just stayed where I was. "What's in you' craw, anyhow?" I called
back.

He didn't answer. He let fly!

Wal, sir, I doubled up like a jack-knife, and went down kerflop. The
boys got 'round me--say! talk about you' pale-faces!--and yelled to
Hank to stop. He drawed another gun, and, just as I got t' my feet, went
backin' off, coverin' the crowd all the time, and warnin' 'em not
t' mix in.

They didn't. But someone else did--Mace. Quick as a wink, she reached
into a buckboard fer a whip. Next, she run straight up to Hank--and give
him a _turrible_ lick!

He dropped his pistols and put his two arms acrosst his eyes. "Mace!
don't!" he hollered. (It'd sobered him, seemed like.) Then, he turned
and took to his heels.

That same second, I heerd a yell--Bergin's voice. Next, the sheriff come
tearin' 'round the corner and tackled Hank. The two hit the ground like
a thousand of brick.

Mace come runnin' towards me, then. But the boys haided her off, and
wouldn't let her git clost.

"Blood's runnin' all down this side of him," says Monkey Mike.

Shore enough, it was!

"Chub!" yells Buckshot, "git Billy Trowbridge!"

"Don't you cry, ner nothin'," says Hairoil t' Mace. And whilst he
helt her back, they packed me acrosst the platform and up-stairs into one
of them rooms over the lunch-counter. And then, 'fore I could say Jack
Robinson, they hauled my coat off, put a wet towel 'round my forrid,
and put me into bed. After that, they pulled down the curtains, and
bunched t'gether on either side of my pilla.

"Shucks!" I says. "I'm all right. Let me up, you blamed fools!"

Just then, Monkey Mike come runnin' in with the parson, and the parson
put out a hand t' make me be still. "My _dear_ friend," he says,
"I'm _sorry_ this happened." And he was so darned worried lookin'
that I begun t' think somethin' shore _was_ wrong with me, and I laid
quiet.

Next, the door opened and in come Mace!

The room was so dark she couldn't see much at first. So, she stepped
closter, walkin' soft, like she didn't want to jar nobody. "Alec!"
she says tearful.

"Macie!"

She stooped over me.

The boys turned they backs.

Aw, my dear little gal! Her lips was cold, and tremblin'.

Wal, then she turned to the bunch, speakin' awful anxious. "Is he hurt
bad?" she ast, low like.

"Naw," I begun, "I----"

Monkey Mike edged 'twixt me and her, puttin' one hand over my mouth so
's I couldn't talk. "We don't know exac'ly," he answers.

"Boys!" she says, like she was astin' 'em to fergive her; and,
"Alec!"

Buckshot said afterwards that it _shore_ was a solemn death-bed scene.
The parson was back agin the wall, his chin on his bosom; I was chawin'
the fingers offen Mike, and the rest of the fellers was standin'
t'gether, laughin' into they hats fit t' sprain they faces.

Billy come in then. "Doc," says Macie, "save him!"

"I'll do all I can," promises Billy. "Let's hope he'll pull
through."

"Aw, Alec!" says Mace, again.

Hairoil went up to her. "Mace," he says, "they's one thing you can do
that'd be a _mighty_ big comfort t' pore Cupid."

"What's that?" she ast, earnest as the devil. "I'll do _any_thin'
fer him."

"Marry him, Mace," he says, "and try to nuss him back t' health
again."

I was plumb amazed. "_Marry!_" I says.

But 'fore I could git any more out, Mike shut off my wind!

Dear little gal! She wasn't skittish no more: She was so tame she'd
'a' et right outen my hand. "Parson," she says, goin' towards him,
"will--will you marry Alec and me--now?"

"Dee-lighted," says the parson, "--if he is able t' go through the
ceremony."

"Parson," I begun, pullin' my face loose, "I want----"

Mike give me a dig.

I looked at him.

He wunk--_hard_.

And then, I tumbled!

Fer a minute, I just laid back, faint shore enough, thinkin' what a
all-fired sucker I was. And whilst I was stretched out that-a-way, Mace
come clost and give me her hand. The parson, he took out a little black
book.

"_Dearly beloved,_" he begun, "_we are gathered t'gether----_"

It was then I sit up. "Parson, stop!" I says. And to Mace, "Little
gal, I ain't a-goin' t' let 'em take no advantage of you. I _wasn't_
hit in the side. It's my arm, and it's only just creased a little."

Mace kinda blinked, not knowin' whether t' be glad 'r not, I reckon.

"And this hull bsuiness," I goes on, "is a trick."

Her haid went up, and her cheeks got plumb white. Then, she begun t'
back--slow. "A trick!" she repeats; "--it's a trick! Aw, how mean!
how _mean!_ I didn't think you was like that!"

"Me, Mace? It wasn't----"

"A trick!" she goes on. "But I'm glad I found it out--_yas_. This
afternoon when I was talkin' to y', I wanted t' stay right here in
Briggs--I wanted t' stay with you. If you'd just said you wisht I
would; if you'd just turned over you' hand, why, I'd 'a' give up the
trip. My heart was achin' t' think I was goin'. But now, _now--_" And
she choked up.

"Macie!" I says. "Aw, don't!" Somehow I was beginnin' t' feel
kinda dizzy and sick.

She faced the parson. "And you was in it, too!--_you!_" she says.

"I'd do anythin' t' keep you from goin' t' Noo York," he answers,
"and from bein' a' actress."

She looked at Billy next. "The hull _town_ was in it!" she went on.
"_Ev'ry_body was ready t' git me fooled; t' make me the josh of the
county!"

"No, _no,_ little gal," I answers, and got to my feet byside the bed.
"Not me, honey!"

She only just turned and opened the door. "I don't wonder the rest
of you ain't got nothin' t' say," she says. "Why, I ain't never
_heerd_ of anythin' so--so low." And haid down, and sobbin', she went
out.

I tried t' foller, but my laigs was sorta wobbley. I got just a step
'r two, and put a' arm on Billy's shoulder.

The boys went out then, too, not sayin' a word, but lookin' some sneaky.

"Bring her back," I called after 'em. "Aw, I've hurt my pore little
gal!" I started t' walk again, leanin' on the doc. "Boys!----"

Next thing, over I flopped into Billy's arms.

                    *       *       *       *       *

When I come to, a little later on, here was Billy settin' byside me, a'
awful sober look on his face.

"Billy," I says to him, "where is she?"

"Cupid--don't take it hard, ole man--she's--she's gone. Boarded the
East-bound not half a' hour ago. But, pardner----"

Gone!

I didn't answer him. I just rolled over onto my face.



CHAPTER EIGHT

ANOTHER SCHEME, AND HOW IT PANNED OUT


WAL, pore ole Sewell! _I_ wasn't feelin' dandy them days, you'd better
believe. But, Sewell, he took Macie's goin' _turrible_ bad. Whenever
he come in town, he was allus just as _qui-i-et_. Not a cheep about
the little gal; wouldn't 'a' laughed fer a nickel; and never'd go
anywheres nigh the lunch-counter. Then, he begun t' git peakeder'n the
dickens, and his eyes looked as big as saucers, and bloodshot. Pore ole
boss!

I kept outen his way. He'd heerd all about that Shackleton business,
y' savvy, and was awful down on me; helt me _re_sponsible fer the hull
thing, and tole the boys he never wanted t' set eyes on me again.
Hairoil went to him and said I'd been jobbed, and was innocenter'n
Mary's little lamb. But Sewell wouldn't listen even, and said I'd done
him dirt.

A-course, I couldn't go back t' my Bar Y job, then,--and me plumb crazy
t' git to work and make enough t' go to Noo York on! But I didn't do
no mournin'; I kept a stiff upper lip. "Cupid," I says to myself,
"allus remember that the gal that's hard t' ketch is the best kind
when oncet you've got her." And I sit down and writ the foreman of
the Mulhall outfit. (By now, my arm was all healed up fine.)

Wal, when I went over to the post-office a little bit later on, the
post-master tole me that Sewell'd just got a letter from Macie!--but it
hadn't seemed t' chirp the ole man up any. And they was one fer Mrs.
Trowbridge, too, he says; did I want to look at it?

"I don't mind," I answers.

It was from her--I'd know her little dinky l's _anywheres_. I helt it
fer a minute--'twixt my two hands. It was like I had her fingers, kinda.
Then, "S'pose they ain't nothin' fer me t'day," I says.

"No, Cupid,--sorry. Next time, I reckon."

"Wal," I goes on "would you mind lettin' me take this over t' Rose?"

"Why, no,--go ahaid."

I went, quick as ever my laigs could carry me, the letter tucked inside
my shirt.

Rose read it out loud t' me, whilst I helt the kid. It wasn't a long
letter, but, somehow, I never could recollect afterwards just the
exac' words that was in it. I drawed, though, that Mace was havin'
a _way_-up time. She was seein' all the shows, she said, meetin'
slathers of folks, and had a room with a nice, sorta middle-aged lady,
in a place where a lot of young fellers and gals hung out t' study all
kinds of fool business. Some of 'em she liked, and some she didn't.
Some took her fer a greeney, and some was fresh. But she was learnin' a
pile--and 'd heerd Susy's Band!

"Is that all?" I ast when Rose was done.

"Yas, Cupid."

"Nothin' about me?"

"No."

"Does she give her _ad_dress?"

"Just Gen'ral Deliv'ry."

"Thank y', Rose."

"Stay t' dinner, Cupid. I'm goin' t' have chicken fricassee."

But I didn't feel like eatin'. I put the kid down and come away.

I made towards Dutchy's--pretty blue, I was, a-course. "Cupid," I
says, "bad luck runs in you' fambly like the wooden laig."

But, mind y', I wasn't goin' with the idear of boozin' up, _no,_
ma'am. _I_ figger that if a gal's worth stewin' over any, she's a
hull lot _too_ good fer a man that gits _drunk_. I went 'cause I knowed
the boys was there; and them days the boys was _mighty_ nice to me.

Wal, this day, I'm powerful glad I went. If I hadn't, it's likely I'd
never 'a' got that bully _po_-sition, 'r played Cupid again (without
knowin' it)--and so got the one chanst I was a-prayin' fer.

Now, this is what happened:

I'd just got inside Dutchy's, and was a-standin' behind Buckshot
Milliken, watchin' him bluff the station-agent with two little pair,
when I heerd Hairoil a-talkin' to hisself, kinda. "Dear me suz!" he
says (he was peerin' acrosst the street towards the deepot), "what
blamed funny things I see when I ain't got no gun!"

A-course, we all stampeded over and took a squint. "Wal, when did _that_
blow in?" says Bill Rawson. And, "Say! ketch me whilst I faint!"
goes on one of the Lazy X boys, making believe as if he was weak in
the laigs. The rest of just haw-hawed.

A young feller we'd never seen afore was comin' cater-corners from the
station. He was a slim-Jim, sorta salla complected, jaw clean scraped,
and he had on a pair of them tony pinchbug spectacles. He was rigged
out fit t' kill--grey store clothes, dicer same colour as the suit,
sky-blue shirt, socks tatooed green, and gloves. He passed clost, not
lookin' our _di_rection, and made fer the Arnaz rest'rant.

Just as he got right in front of it, he come short and begun readin'
the sign that's over the door--

                                Meals 25c
                        Start in and It's a Habit
                            You cain't Quit.

Then we seen him grin like he was _turrible_ tickled, and take out a
piece of paper t' set somethin' down. Next, in he slides.

We all dropped back and lined up again.

"Not a sewin'-machine agent, 'r he'd 'a' wore a duster," says
Hairoil.

"And a patent medicine man would 'a' had on a stove-pipe," adds
Bergin.

"Maype he iss a preacher," puts in Dutchy, lookin' scairt as the
dickens.

"Nixey," I says. "But if he was a drummer, he'd 'a' steered
straight fer a thirst-parlour."

Missed it a mile--the hull of us. Minute, and in run Sam Barnes, face
redder'n a danger-signal.

"Boys," he says, all up in the air, "did y' see It? Wal, what d'
you think? It's from Boston, and It writes. I was at the Arnaz feed
shop, gassin' Carlota, when It shassayed in. Said It was down here fer
the first time in a-a-all Its life, and figgers t' work this town fer
book mawterial. Gents, It's a liter'toor sharp!"

"Of all the _gall!_" growls Chub Flannagan, gittin' hot. "Goin' t'
take a shy outen us!" And I seen that some of the other boys felt like
_he_ did.

Buckshot Milliken spit in his hands. "I'll go over," he says, "and
just natu'lly settle that dude's hash. I'd _admire_ t' do it."

I haided him off quick. Then I faced the bunch. "Gents," I begun,
"ain't you just a little bit hasty? Now, don't git in a sweat.
_Con_-sider this subject a little 'fore you act. Sam, I thought you
_liked_ t' read liter'toor books."

Sam hauled out "Stealthy Steve"--a fav'-rite of hisn. "Shore I do,"
he answers. "But, as I tole this Boston feller, no liter'toor's been
happenin' in Briggs lately--no killin's, 'r train hole-ups."

"_That's_ right, Sam," I says, sarcastic; "go and switch him over
t' Goldstone,--when they won't be another book writer stray down this
way fer a coon's age. Say! You got a haid like a tack!"

Sam dried up. I come back at the boys. "Gents," I _con_tinues, "don't
you see this is Briggs City's one big chanst?--the chanst t' git
put in red letters on the railroad maps! T' git five square mile of
this mesquite staked out into town lots! You all know how we've had t'
take the slack of them jay-hawk farmers over Cestos way; and they ain't
such a _much,_ and cain't raise nothin' but shin-oak and peanuts and
chiggers. But they tell how _we_ git all the cyclones and rattlesnakes.

"Now, we'll curl they hair. Listen, gents,--Oklahomaw City's got
element streets, Guthrie's got a Carniggie lib'rary, and Bliss's
got the Hunderd-One Ranch. _And we're a-goin' t' cabbage this book!_"

"Wal, that's a hoss of another colour," admits Chub.

"Yas," says Buckshot, "Cupid's right. We certainly got to attend to
this visitor that's come to our enterprisin' city, and give him a fair
shake."

"_But,_" puts in Sam, "we're up a tree. Where's his mawterial?"

"Mawterial," I says, "--I don't just savvy what he means by that.
But, boys, whatever it is, we got t' see that he _gits_ it. Now,
s'posin' I go find him, and sorta feel 'round a little, and draw
him out."

They was agreed, and I split fer the rest'rant. Boston was there, all
right, talkin' to ole lady Arnaz (but keepin' a' eye peeled towards
Carlota), and pickin' the shucks offen a tamale. I sit down and ast fer
flapjacks. And whilst I was waitin' I sized him up.

Clost to, I liked his looks. And from the jump, I seen one thing--they
wasn't _no_ showin' off to him, and no extra dawg ('r he wouldn't
'a' come to a joint where meals is only two-bits). He was a
book-writer, but when he talked he didn't use no ten-dollar-a-dozen
words. And, in place of seegars, he smoked cigareets--and rolled 'em
hisself with _one_ hand, by jingo!

Wal, we had a nice, long parley-voo, me gittin' the hull sittywaytion
as _re_gards his book, and tellin' him we'd shore lay ourselves out
t' help him--if we didn't, it wouldn't be white; him, settin' down
things ev'ry oncet in a while, 'r whittlin' a stick with one of them
self-cockin' jackknives.

We chinned fer the best part of a' hour. Then, he made me a proposition.
This was it: "Mister Lloyd," he says, "I'd like t' have you with
me all the time I'm down here,--that'll be three weeks, anyhow. You
could _ex_plain things, and--and be a kinda bodyguard."

"Why, my friend," I says, "_you_ don't need no bodyguard in
Oklahomaw. But I'll be glad t' _ex_plain anythin' I can."

"Course, I want t' pay you," he goes on; "'cause I'd be takin'
you' time----"

"I couldn't take no pay," I breaks in. "And if I was t' have to go,
why any one of the bunch could help you just as good."

"Let's talk business," he says. "I like you, and I don't _want_ you
t' go. Now, what's you' time worth?"

"I git forty a month."

"Wal, that suits me. And you' job won't be a hard one."

"Just as you say."

So, then, we shook hands. But, a-course, I didn't swaller that bodyguard
story,--I figgered that what he wanted was t' git in with the boys
through me.

Wal, when I got back t' the thirst-parlour, I acted like I was loco.
"Boys! boys! _boys!_" I hollered, "I got a job!" And I give 'em all
a whack on the back, and I done a jig.

Pretty soon, I was calmer. Then, I says, "I ain't a-goin' t' ride fer
Mulhall,--not _this_ month, anyhow. This liter'toor gent's hired me
as his book foreman. As I understand it, they's some things he wants,
and I'm to help corral 'em. He says that just now most folks seem
t' be takin' a lot of interest in the West. He don't reckon the
fashion'll keep up, but, a-course a book-writer has t' git on to the
band-wagon. So, it's up t' me, boys, to give him what's got to be
had 'fore the _ex_citement dies down."

Hairoil come over t' me. "Cupid," he says, "the hull kit and boodle
of us'll come in on this. We want t' help, that's the reason. We _owe_
it to y', Cupid."

"Boys," I answers, "I appreciate what you mean, and I _ac_cept you'
offer. Thank y'."

"What does this feller want?" ast Sam.

"Wal," I says, "he spoke a good bit about colour----"

"They's shore colour at the Arnaz feed shop," puts in Monkey Mike;
"--them strings of red peppers that the ole lady keeps hung on the
walls. And we can git blue shirts over to Silverstein's."

"No, Mike," I says, "that ain't the idear. Colour is _Briggs,_ and
_us._"

"Aw, punk!" says Sam. "What kind of a book is it goin' t' be,
anyhow, with us punchers in it!"

"Wait till you hear what I got t' _do,_" I answers. "To _con_tinue:
He mentioned char_ac_ters. Course, I had to _ad_mit we're kinda shy on
_them._"

"Wisht we had a few Injuns," says Hairoil. "A scalpin' makes _mighty_
fine readin'. Now, mebbe, 'Pache Sam'd pass,--if he was lickered up
proper."

"Funny," I says, "but he didn't bring up Injuns. Reckon they ain't
stylish no more. But he put it plain that he'd got to have a bad man.
Said in a Western book you _allus_ got t' have a bad man."

"Since we strung up them two Foster boys." says Bergin, "Briggs
ain't had what you'd call a bad man. In view of this writin' feller
comin', I don't know, gents, but what we was a little _hasty_ in
the Foster matter."

"Wal," I says, "we got t' do our best with what's left. This
findin' mawterial fer a book ain't no dead open-and-shut proposition.
'Cause Briggs ain't big, and it ain't what you'd call bad. That'll
hole us back. But let's dig in and make up fer what's lackin'."

Wal, we rustled 'round. First off, we togged ourselves out the way
punchers allus look in magazines. (I knowed that was how he wanted
us.) We rounded up all the shaps in town, with orders to wear 'em
constant--and made Dutchy keep 'em on, too! Then, guns: Each of us
carried six, kinda like a front fringe, y' savvy. Next, one of the boys
loped out t' the Lazy X and brung in a young college feller that'd
come t' Oklahomaw a while back fer his health. It 'pears that he'd
been readin' a Western book that was writ by a' Eastern gent somewheres
in Noo Jersey. And, say! he was the wildest lookin' cow-punch that's
ever been saw in these parts!

We'd no more'n got all fixed up nice when, "Ssh!" says Buckshot,
"here he comes!"

"Quick, boys!" I says, "we got t' sing. It's expected."

The sheriff, he struck up----

    "Paddy went to the Chinaman with only one shirt.
      How's that?"

"_That's tough!_" we hollers, loud enough to lift the shakes.

    "He lost of his ticket, says, 'Divvil the worse',
      How's that?"

"_That's tough!_"

Mister Boston stopped byside the door. The sheriff goes on----

    "Aw, Pat fer his shirt, he begged hard and plead,
    But, 'No tickee, no washee', the Chinaman said.
    Now Paddy's in jail, and the Chinaman's dead!
      How's that?"

"_That's tough!_"

It brung him. He looked in, kinda edged through the door, took a bench,
and _sur_veyed them shaps, and them guns till his eyes plumb _pro_truded.
"Rippin'!" I heerd him say.

"'That's tough,'" repeats Monkey Mike, winkin' to the boys. "Wal,
I should _re_mark it was!--to go t' jail just fer pluggin' a Chink.
Irish must 'a' felt like two-bits."

Boston lent over towards me. "What's two bits?" he ast.

"What's two bits," says Rawson. "Don't you know? Wal, _one_ bit is
what you can take outen the other feller's hide at one mouthful. _Two_
bits, a-course, is two of 'em."

"And," says that college feller from the Lazy X, "go fer the cheek
allus--the best eatin'." (He was smart, all right.)

"Not a Chinaman's cheek--too tough," says the sheriff.

Boston begun to kinda talk to hisself. "Horrible!" he says. "Shy
Locks, by Heaven!" Then to me again, speakin' low and pointin' at the
sheriff, "Mister Lloyd, what kind of a fambly did that man come from?"

"Don't know a hull lot about him," I answers, "but his mother was
a squaw, and his father was found on a doorstep."

"A _squaw,_" he says. "That accounts fer it." And he begun to watch
the sheriff clost.

"Gents, what you want fer you' supper?" ast the Arnaz boy, comin'
our _di_rection.

"I feel awful caved in," answers Buckshot. "I'll take a dozen aigs."

"How'll you have 'em?"

"Boil 'em hard, so's I can hole 'em in my fingers. And say, cool 'em
off 'fore you dish 'em up. I got blistered _bad_ the last time I et
aigs."

"Rawson, what'll _you_ have?"

Rawson, he kinda cocked one ear. "Wal," he says, easy like, "give me
rattlesnake on toast."

Nobody cheeped fer a minute, 'cause the boys was stumped fer somethin'
to go on with. But just as I was gittin' nervous that the conversation
was peterin' out, Boston speaks up.

"Rattlesnake?" he says; "did he say _rattlesnake?_"

Like a shot, Rawson turned towards him, wrinklin' his forrid and
wigglin' his moustache awful fierce. "_That's_ what I said," he
answers, voice plumb down to his number 'levens.

It give me my show. I drug Boston away. "Gee!" I says, "on _this_ side
of the Mississippi, you got to be _keerful_ how you go shoot off you'
mouth! And when you _re_mark on folks's eatin', you don't want t'
look tickled."

Wal, that was all the colour he got till night, when I had somethin'
more _pre_pared. We took up a collection fer winda-glass, and Chub
Flannagan, who can roll a gun the _prettiest_ you ever seen, walked up
and down nigh Boston's stoppin'-place, invitin' the fellers t' come
out and "git et up," makin' one 'r two of us dance the heel-and-toe
when we showed ourselves, and shootin' up the town gen'ally.

Then, fer a week, nothin' happened.

It was just about then that Rose got another letter from Macie. And it
seemed t' me that the little gal 'd changed her tune some. She said
Noo York took a _turrible_ lot of money--clothes, and grub, and so forth
and so on. Said they was so blamed little oxygen in the town that a lamp
wouldn't burn, and they'd got to use 'lectricity. And--that was all
fer _this_ time, 'cause she had t' write her paw.

"I s'pose," I says to Rose, "that it'd be wastin' my breath t'
ast----"

"Yas, Cupid," she answers, "but it'll be O. K. when she sees you."

"_I_ reckon," I says hopeful. And I hunted up my new boss.

He didn't give me such a lot t' do them days--except t' show up at the
feed-shop three times reg'lar. That struck me as kinda funny--'cause
he was as flush as a' Osage chief.

"Why don't you grub over to the eatin'-house oncet in a while?" I
ast him. "They got all _kinds_ of tony things--tomatoes and cucumbers
and as-paragrass, and them little toadstool things."

"And out here in the desert!" says Boston. "I s'pose they bring 'em
from other places."

"Not on you' life!" I answers. "They grow 'em right here--in flower
pots."

Out come a pencil. "How pictureskew!" Boston says,--and put it down.

End of that first week, when I stopped in at the Arnaz place fer supper,
I says to him, "Wal," I says, "book about done?"

He was layin' back lazy in a chair,--_as_ usual--watchin' Carlota trot
the crock'ry in. He batted his eyes. "Done!" he repeats. "_No_.
Why, I ain't got only a few notes."

"Notes?" I says; "notes?" I was _turrible_ disappointed. (I reckon I
was worryin' over the book worse'n _he_ was.) "Why, say, couldn't
you make nothin' outen that bad man who was a-paintin' the town the
other night?"

"Just a bad man don't make a book," says Boston; "leastways, only
a yalla-back. But take a bad man, and a _gal,_ and you git a story of
_ad_-venture."

A gal. Yas, you need a gal fer a book. And you need _the_ gal if you want
t' be right happy. I knowed that. Pretty soon, I ast, "Have you picked
on a gal?"

"Here's Carlota," he says. "_She'd_ make a figger fer a book."

Carlota!--the little skeezicks! Y' see, she's _aw-ful_ pretty. Hair
blacker'n a stack of black cats. Black eyes, too,--big and friendly
lookin'. (That's where you git fooled--Carlota's a blend of tiger-cat
and bronc; she can purr 'r pitch--take you' choice.) Her face is just
snow white, with a little bit of pink--now y' see it, now y' don't
see it--on her cheeks, and a little spot of blazin' red fer a mouth.

"But what I'm after most now," he goes on, "is a plot."

A plot, y' savvy, is a story, and I got him the best I could find. This
was Buckshot's:

"Boston, this is a _blamed_ enterprisin' country,--almost _any_ ole
thing can happen out here. Did you ever hear tell how Nick Erickson
got his stone fence? No? You could put _that_ in a book. Wal, you
know, Erickson lives east of here. Nice hunderd and sixty acres he's
got--level, no stones. Wanted t' fence it. Couldn't buy lumber 'r
wire. Figgered on haulin' stone, only stone was so blamed far t'
haul. Then,--Nature was accommodatin'. Come a' earthquake that shook
and shook the ranch. Shook all the stones to the top. Erickson picked
'em up--and built the fence."

But Boston was hard t' satisfy. So I tried to tell him about Rose and
Billy.

"No," he says; "if they's _one_ thing them printin' fellers won't
stand fer it's a hero_ine_ that's hitched."

So, then, I branched off on to pore Bud Hickok.

"No," says Boston, again; "_that_ won't do. It's got to end up
happy."

Wal, it looked as if that book was goin' fluey. To make things worse,
the boys begun kickin' about havin' t' pack so many guns. And I had
to git up a notice, signed by the sheriff, which said that more'n two
shootin'-irons on any one man wouldn't be 'lowed no more, and that
cityzens was t' "shed forthwith."

I seen somethin' had got t' be done pronto. "Cupid," I says to
myself, "you _must con_sider that there book of Boston's some more.
'Pears that Boston ain't gittin' all he come after. Nothin' ain't
happenin' that he can put into a book. Wal, it's _got_ t' happen.
Just chaw on _that._"

Next, I hunted up the boys. "Gents," I says to 'em, "help me find a
bad man that'll fit into a story with a gal."

"Gal?" they repeats.

"Yas; every book has got t' have a gal."

"I s'pose," says Rawson. "Just like ev'ry herd had got t' have a
case of staggers. But--who's the gal?"

The boys all lent towards me, fly-traps wide open.

"Carlota Arnaz," I answers.

Some looked plumb eased in they minds--and some didn't. Carlota, she's
ace-high with quite a bunch--all ready t' snub her up and marry her.

"The Senorita'll do," says Rawson. "She gen'ally makes out t' keep
_some_ man mis'rable."

And fer the bad man, we picked out Pedro Garcia, the cholo that was mixed
up in that mete'rite business. Drunk 'r sober, fer a hard-looker Pedro
shore fills the bill.

Next, we hunted ev'ry which way fer a plot. "I'll tell y'," says
Californy Jim, that ole prospector that hangs 'round here; "if the
lit'rary lead has pinched out, why don't you _salt_--_and pretend to
make a strike?_"

Hairoil pricked up his ears. "Wouldn't that be somethin' like a--a
scheme?" he ast; "somethin' like that we planned out fer Cupid here?"

"Yas."

The hull bunch got plumb pale. Then they made fer the door.,

"Wait, boys!" I hollered. "_Hole_ on! Remember this is a scheme
that's been _ast_ fer."

They stopped.

"And," I says, "it looks pretty good t' _me._"

They turned back--shakin' they haids, though. "Just as you say,
Cupid," says Rawson. And, "Long's it's fer _you,_" adds the sheriff.
"But schemes is some dangerous."

"I'll tell y'!" begins Sam Barnes. "We'll hole up the dust wagon
from the Little Rattlesnake Mine, all of us got up like Jesse James!"

Bill Rawson jumped nigh four feet. "You go soak you' haid!" he
begun, mad's a hornet. "Hole up the dust wagon! And whichever of us
mule-skinners happens t' be bringin' it in'll git the G. B. from
that high-falutin' gent in the States that owns the shootin'-match.
No, _ma'am!_ And if _that's_ the kind of plot you-all 're hankerin'
after, you can just count me _outen_ this hawg-tyin'!"

"That's right--sic 'em, Towser; git t' fightin'," I says. "Now,
Bill, _work_ you' hole-back straps. I cain't say as Sam's plan hit
the right spot with me, neither. 'Cause how could _Carlota_ figger in
that pow-wow? Won't do."

Wal, after some more pullin' and haulin', we fixed it up this way:
Pedro'd grab Carlota and take her away on a hoss whilst Boston and the
passel of us was in the Arnaz place. He was t' hike north, and drop
her at the Johnson shack on the edge of town--then go on, takin' a dummy
in her place, and totin' a brace of guns filled with blanks. We'd
foller with plenty of blanks, too--and Boston. How's that fer high!

If you want to ast me, I think the hull idear was just _O. K.,_ and
no mistake. Beautiful gal kidnapped--bra-a-ave posse of punchers--hard
ride--hot fight--rescue of a pilla stuffed with the best alfalfa on
the market. _Pro_cession files back, all sand and smiles.

"Why," I says to Bergin, "them Eastern printin' fellers'll set 'em
up fer Boston so fast that he'll plumb float."

And the sheriff agreed.

But it couldn't happen straight off. Pedro had t' be tole about it, and
give his orders. Carlota, the same. I managed this part of the shindig,
the boys gittin' the blanks, the hosses and the hay lady.

Wal, I rode down to the section-house and ast fer Pedro. He come out,
about ten pounds of railroad ballast--more 'r less--spread on to them
features of hisn. (_That_'d 'a' been colour fer Boston, all right.) I
tole him what we was goin' t' do, _why_ we was a-doin' it, and laid
out _his_ share of the job. Then I tacked on that the gal he'd steal
was Carlota.

Now, as I think about it, I _re_call that he looked _mighty_ tickled.
Grinned all over and said, "Me gusta mucho" more'n a dozen times.
But _then_ I didn't pay no 'tention to how he acted. I was so glad
he'd fall in with me. (The Ole Nick take the greasers! A' out-and-out,
low-down lot of sneakin' coyotes, anyhow! And I might 'a' _knowed_----)

"Pedro," I says, "they's no rush about this. We'll kinda work it up
slow. T' make the hull thing seem dead real, you come to town ev'ry
evenin' fer a while, and hang 'round the rest'rant. Spend a little
spondulix with the ole woman so's she won't kick you out, and shine
up t' Carlota when Boston's on the premises. Ketch on?"

Pedro said he did, and I loped back to town t' meet up with Carlota and
have it out with her--and that was a job fer a caution!

Carlota was all bronc that day--stubborn, pawin', and takin' the bit.
And if I kept up with her, and come out in the lead, it was 'cause
I'd had some _ex_perience with Macie, and I'd learned when t' leave a
rambunctious young lady have her haid.

"Carlota," I says, "us fellers has fixed up a mighty nice scheme t'
help out Boston with that book he's goin' to write."

"So?" She was all awake--quicker'n scat.

"Yas," I goes on. "Y' know, he's been wantin' somethin'
_ex_citin' t' put in it. We figger t' give it to him."

"Como?" she ast.

"With a case of kidnappin'. Man steals gal--we foller with Boston--lots
of shootin'--save the gal----"

"What gal?"

"It's a big honour--and we choosed you."

"So-o-o!"

Say! that hit her right, _I_ tell y'! But I had to go put my foot in it,
a-course. "Yas, _you,_" I goes on. "Mebbe you noticed Boston's here
pretty frequent?"

"Si! si! si! señor!"

"That's 'cause he's been studyin' you--so's he could use you fer
a book char_ac_ter."

"So!" she said. "_That_ is it! _that_ is why!" Mad? Golly! Them black
eyes of hern just snapped, and she grabbed a hunk of bread and begun
knifin' it.

"Wal," I says, "you don't seem t' ketch on to the fact that you
been handed out a blamed big compliment. A person in a _book_ is _some
potatoes._"

"No! _no!_ señor!"

Pride hurt, I says to myself. "Now, Carlota," I begun, "don't cut
off you' nose t' spite you' face. Pedro Garcia is turrible tickled
that we ast _him._"

"Pedro--puf!"

"In the book," I goes on, "he's the bad man that loves you so much
he cain't help stealin' you."

"I _hate_ Pedro," she says. "He is like that--bad."

"But we ain't astin' you t' _like_ him, and he don't _git_ you. He
drops you off at Johnson's and takes a dummy the rest of the way. We
want t' make Boston _think_ they's danger."

"So?" All of a suddent, she didn't seem nigh as mad--and she looked
like she'd just thought of somethin'.

I seen my chanst. "That was the way we fixed it up," I goes on.
"A-course, now you don't want t' be the hero_ine,_ I'll ast one
of the eatin'-house gals. I reckon _they_ won't turn me down." And I
moseyed towards the door.

"Cupid," she calls, "come back. You say, he will think another man
loves me so much that he carries me away?"

"You got it," I answers.

She showed them little nippers of hern. "Good!" she says. "I do it!"

"But, Carlota, listen. Boston ain't to be next that this is a put-up
job. He's to think it's genuwine. Savvy? And he'll git all the
feelin's of a real kidnap. Now, to fool him right, you got to do one
thing: Be nice t' Pedro when Boston's 'round."

Little nippers again. "I do it," she says.

I started t' go, but she called me back. "He will think another man
loves me so much that he carries me away?" she repeats.

"_Shore,_" I says. And she let me go.

Y' know, _flirtin'_ was Carlota's strong suit. And that very
evenin' I seen her talkin' acrosst the counter to Pedro sweeter'n
panocha,--with a takin' smile on the south end of that cute little
face of hern. But her _eyes_ wasn't smilin'--and a Spanish gal's
eyes don't lie.

But supper was late, and Boston and me was at a table clost by,--him
lookin' ugly tempered. So ole lady Arnaz tole Carlota t' jar loose. And
pretty soon we was wrastlin' our corn-beef, and Pedro was gone.

Rawson sit down nigh us. "Cupid," he says solemn, "reckon we won't
git to play that game of draw t'-night." And he give my foot a kick.

"Why?" I ast.

"Account of Pedro bein' in town. I figger t' stay clost to the
bunk-house."

"So 'll _I_," I says, and begun examinin' my shootin'-iron mighty
anxious.

"Who's this Pedro?" ast Boston.

"Didn't y' see him?" I says. "He's a greaser, and a' awful bad
cuss t' monkey with. If you happen t' go past him and so much as wiggle
a finger, it's like takin' you' life in you' hands. Look at this."
And I showed him a piece that me and Hairoil 'd fixed up fer the last
_EyeOpener_.

"_Pedro Garcia,_" it read, "_was found not guilty by Judge Freeman fer
perforatin' Nick Trotmann's sombrero in a street row last Saturday
night week. Proved that Nick got into Pedro's way and sassed him. Pedro
'd come to town consider'ble the worse fer booze and, as is allus
the case_--" Then they was a inch 'r two without no writin'. Under
that was this: "_As a matter of extreme precaution, we have lifted the
last half of the above article, havin' got word that Garcia is due
in town again. Subscribers will please excuse the gap. I didn't git no
time t' fill it in. Editor._"

"And what's he doin' in _here?_" says Boston, "--talkin' to a young
gal!"

"Half cracked about her," puts in Bill. "And if she won't have him,
'r her maw interferes, I'm feared they'll be a tragedy."

"Low ruffian!" says Boston.

Later on, about ten o'clock, say, I was passin' the rest'rant, and
I heerd a man singin'----

    "Luz de mi alma!
       Luz de mi vida!"

and that somethin' was "despedosin'" his heart. (I savvy the lingo
pretty good.)

Wal, it was that dog-goned cholo,--under Carlota's winda, and he had a
guitar. Thunderation! that wasn't in our pro_gram!_

"Say, you!" I hollered.

He shut up and come over, lookin' kinda as if he'd been ketched
stealin' sheep, but grinnin' so hard his eyes was plumb closed--the
mean, little, wall-eyed, bow-laigged swine!

"Pedro," I says, "you' boss likely wants you. Hit the ties."
'Cause, mebbe Carlota 'd git mad at his yelpin,' and knock the hull
scheme galley-west.

Talk about you' cheek! Next night, that greaser and his guitar was
doin' business at the ole stand. I let him alone. Carlota seemed t'
like it. Anyhow, she didn't hand him out no hot soap suds through the
winda, 'r no chairs and tables.

I was glad things was goin' so nice. 'Cause lately I'd had t' worry
about Mace a good deal. Her letters had eased up a hull lot. Seems she'd
been under the weather fer a few days.

When she writ again though, she said she was O. K., but a-course Noo York
_was_ lonesome when a person was sick. Op'ra prospects? Aw, they was
_fine!_

Next thing, I was nervouser'n a cow with the heel-fly. _No_ letters
come from the little gal!--leastways, none to Rose. And ev'ry day ole
man Sewell snooped 'round the post-office, lookin' more and more down
in the mouth.

"How's Mace?" Rawson ast him oncet.

"Tol'rable," he answers, glum as all git out.

That kidnappin' was fixed on fer Saturday. We didn't tell Carlota
that was the day. Her maw might git wind of the job; 'r the gal 'd go
dress up, which 'd spoil the real look of the hull thing. Then, on
a Saturday, after five, Pedro was free to come in town--and most allus
showed up with some more of the cholos, pumpin' a hand-car.

This Saturday he come, all right, and went over to Sparks's corral fer a
couple of hosses. (Us punchers 'd tied our broncs over in the corral
too, so's we'd have to run fer 'em when Pedro lit out with the gal.
And I'd picked that strawberry roan of Sparks's fer Boston. It was
the fastest critter on four laigs in the hull country. Y' see, I wanted
Boston t' lead the posse.)

Six o'clock was the time named. It 'd give us more 'n two hours of day
fer the chase, and then they'd be a nice long stretch of dusk--just the
kind of light fer circlin' a' outlaw and capturin' him, dead 'r alive!

Wal, just afore the battle, mother, all us cow-punchers happened into the
Arnaz place. And a-course, Boston was there. Me and him was settin'
'way back towards the kitchen-end of the room. Pretty soon, we seen
Pedro pass the front winda, ridin' a hoss and leadin' another. His
loaded quirt was a-hangin' to his one wrist, and on his right laig
was the gun filled with blanks that we'd left at Sparks's fer him.
He stopped at the far corner of the house, droppin' the bridle over
the broncs' haids so they'd stand. Then he came to the side door,
opened it about a' inch, peeked in at Carlota,--she was behind the
counter--and whistled.

She walked straight over to him, smilin'--the little cut-up!--and outen
the door! Fer a minute, no sound. Then, the signal--a screech.

That screech was so blamed genuwine I almost fergot to stick out my laig
and trip Boston as he come by me. Down he sprawled, them spectacles of
hisn flyin' off and bustin' to smithereens. The boys bunched at the
doors t' cut off the Arnaz boy and the ole lady. Past 'em, I could see
them two broncs, with Pedro and Carlota aboard, makin' quick tracks
up the street.

"Alas! yon villain has stole her!" says Sam Barnes, throwin' up his
arms like they do in one of them the_ay_ter plays.

"Come," yells Rawson. "We will foller and sa-a-ave her." Then he
split fer the corral,--us after him.

When we got to it, we found somethin' funny: Our hosses was saddled and
bridled all right--_but ev'ry cinch was cut!_

Wal, you could 'a' knocked me down with a feather!

That same minute, up come Hank Shackleton on a dead run. "Boys!" he
says, "that greaser was half shot when he hit town. Got six more jolts
at Dutchy's."

Fast as we could, we got some other saddles and clumb on--Bill and
Sam and me and Shackleton, Monkey Mike, Buckshot Milliken and the
sheriff--and made fer Hairoil's shack.

_No Carlota_--but that blamed straw feemale, keeled over woeful, and a
cow eatin' her hair.

Shiverin' snakes! but we was a sick-lookin' bunch!

But we didn't lose no time. A good way ahaid, some dust was travellin'.
We spurred towards it, cussin' ourselves, wonderin' why Carlota
didn't turn her hoss, 'r stop, 'r jump, 'r put up one of her
tiger-cat fights.

"What's his idear?" says Monkey Mike. "Where's he takin' her?"

"Bee line fer the reservation," says Buckshot.

"Spanish church there. Makin' her _e_lope."

"Wo-o-ow!" It was Sheriff Bergin. We'd got beyond the Bar Y
ranch-house, and 'd gone down a slope into a kinda draw, like, and
then up the far side. This 'd brung us out on to pretty high ground,
and we could see, about a mile off, two hosses gallopin' side by
side. "The gal's bronc is lame!" says the sheriff. "And Pedro's
lickin' it. We _got_ him! Pull you' guns."

_Guns_. I got weaker'n a cat. And, all at the same time, the other
fellers remembered--and _such_ a howl. We had guns, _a-course_--_but
they was filled with blanks!_

We slacked a little.

"Is that greaser loaded?" ast Bergin.

"Give him blanks myself," says Bill.

Ahaid again, faster 'n ever. Carlota's hoss was shore givin'
out--goin' on three feet, in little jumps like a jackrabbit. Pedro
wasn't able t' git her on to _his_ bronc, 'r else he was feard the
critter wouldn't carry double. Anyhow, he was behind her, everlastin'ly
usin' his quirt--and losin' ground.

Pretty soon, we was so nigh we made out t' hear him. And when he looked
back, we seen his face was white, fer all he's a greaser. Then, of a
suddent, he come short, half wheeled, waited till we was closter, and
fired.

Somethin' whistled 'twixt me and the sheriff--_ping-ng-ng!_ It was
lead, all right!

And just then, whilst he was pullin' t' right and left, scatterin'
quick, but shootin' off blanks (we was so _ex_cited), that strawberry
roan of Sparks's come past us like a streak of lightnin'. And on her,
with his dicer gone, no glasses, a ca'tridge-belt 'round his neck, and
a pistol in one hand, was Boston!

"Hi, you fool," yells the sheriff, "You'll git killed!"

(Tire Pedro out and then draw his fire was the best plan, y' savvy.)

Boston didn't answer--kept right on.

But the run was up. Pedro 'd reached that ole dobe house that Clay
Peters lived in oncet, pulled the door open, and makin' Carlota lay
flat on her saddle (_she was tied on!_) druv in her hoss. Then, he begun
t' lead in hisn--when Boston brung up his hand and let her go--bang.

Say! that greaser got a surprise. He give a yell, and drawed back,
lettin' go his hoss. Then, he shut the door to, and we seen his weasel
face at the winda.

Boston's gun come up again.

"Look out," I hollered. "You'll hurt the gal."

He didn't shoot then, but just kept goin'. Pedro fired and missed.
Next minute, Boston was outen range on the side of the house where they
wasn't no winda, and offen his hoss; and the cholo was poppin' at us
as we come on, and yellin' like he was luny.

But Boston, it seems, could hear Carlota sobbin' and cryin' and
prayin'. And it got in to his collar. So darned if he didn't run
right 'round to that winda and smash it in!

Pedro shot at him, missed; shot again, still yellin' bloody murder.

Boston wasn't doin' no yellin'. He was actin' like a blamed
jack-in-the-box. Stand up, fire through the winda, duck--stand up,
duck----

He got it. Stayed up a second too long oncet--then tumbled back'ards,
kinda half runnin' as he goes down, and laid quiet.

Pedro didn't lean out t' finish him; didn't even take a shot at us
as we pulled up byside him and got off.

But the gal was callin' to us. I picked up Boston's gun and looked in.

Pedro was on the dirt floor, holdin' his right hand with his left. (No
more shovelin' fer _him_.)

Wal, we opened the door, led Carlota's hoss out, set the little gal
loose, and lifted her down.

At first, she didn't say nothin'--just looked to where Boston was. Then
she found her feet and went towards him, totterin' unsteady.

"Querido!" she calls; "querido!"

Boston heerd her, and begun crawlin' t' meet her. "All right,
sweetheart," he says, "--all right. I ain't hurt much."

Then they kissed--and we got _another_ surprise party!

                    *       *       *       *       *

That night, as I was a-settin' on a truck at the deepot, thinkin' to
myself, and watchin' acrosst the tracks to the mesquite, here come
Boston 'round the corner, and he set down byside me.

"Wal, Cupid?" he says, takin' holt of my arm.

"Boston," I begun. "I--I reckon _you_ don't need me no more."

"No," says Boston, "I don't. And I want t' square with y'. Now,
the boys say you're plannin' t' go to Noo York later on--t' take the
town t' pieces and see what's the matter with it, eh?" And he dug me
in the ribs.

"Wal," I answers, "I've _talked_ about it--some."

"It's a good idear," he goes on. "But about my bill--I hope you'll
think a hunderd and fifty is fair, fer these three weeks."

"Boston!" I got kinda weak all to oncet. "I cain't take it. It
wasn't worth that."

"I got a plot," he says, "and colour, and a bad man, and"--smilin'
awful happy--"a gal. So you get you' trip right away. And don't you
come back _alone._"



CHAPTER NINE

A ROUND-UP IN CENTRAL PARK


The boys was a-settin' 'long the edge of the freight platform,
Bergin at the one end of the line, Hairoil at the other, and all of
'em either a-chawin' 'r a-smokin'. I was down in front, doin' a
promynade back'ards and for'ards, (I was itchin' so to git started)
and keepin' one eye peeled through the dark towards the southwest--fer
the haidlight of ole 202.

"And, Cupid," Sam Barnes was sayin', "you'll find a quart of
tanglefoot in that satchel of yourn. Now, you might go eat somethin'
that wouldn't agree with you in one of them Eye-talian rest'rants. Wal,
a swaller of that firewater 'll straighten you out pronto."

"Sam, that shore _is_ thoughtful. Use my bronc whenever you want
to--she's over in Sparks's corral. Allus speak t' her 'fore you go
up to her, though. She's some skittish."

"And keep you' money in you' boot-laig," begun the sheriff. "I've
heerd that in Noo York they's a hull lot of people that plumb wear
theyselves out figgerin' how t' git holt of cash without workin'
fer it."

"We'll miss y' _turrible,_ Cupid," breaks in Hairoil. "I don't
hardly know what Briggs 'll do with you gone. Somehow you allus manage
t' keep the _ex_citement up."

"But if things don't go good in Noo York," adds Hank Shackleton,
"why, just holler."

"Thank y', Hank,--thank y'."

A little spot was comin' and goin' 'way down the track. The bunch
looked that _di_rection silent. Pretty soon, we heerd a rumblin', and
the spot got bigger, and steady.

The boys got down offen the platform and we moseyed over t' where the
end car allus stopped.

_Too-oo-oot!_

Shackleton reached out fer my hand. "Good-bye, Cupid, you ole
son-of-a-gun," he says almost squeezin' the paw offen me.

"Take keer of you'self," says the sheriff.

"Don't let them fly Noo York dudes git you scairt none" (this was
Chub).

"_That_ ain't you' satchel, Cupid, that's the mail-bag."

"Wal, we'd rattle _any_body."

"Here's Boston, _he_ wants t' say good-bye."

"Wave t' the eatin'-house gals,--cain't you see 'em at that upper
winda?"

"Cupid,"--it was Hairoil, and he put a' arm acrosst my
shoulder--"_hope_ you fergive me fer puttin' up that shootin'-scrape."

"Why, a-_course,_ I do."

Then, whisperin', "_She_ was the gal I tole you about that time, Cupid:
The one I _said_ I'd marry you off to."

"You don't mean it!"

"I do. So--the best _kind_ of luck, ole socks!"

"Aw, _thank_ y', Hairoil."

Next, pushin' his way through the bunch, I seen Billy Trowbridge,
somethin' white in his hand. "Cupid," he says,--into my ear, so's
the others couldn't ketch it--"if the time ever comes when the little
gal makes a big success back there in Noo York, 'r if the time comes
when she's thinkin' some of startin' home t' Oklahomaw again, open
this. It's that other letter of Up-State's."

"I will, Doc--I will."

I clumb the steps of the end car and looked round me. On the one side was
the mesquite, all black now, and quiet. Say! I hated t' think it
didn't stretch all the way East! Here, on the other side was the
deepot, and Dutchy's, and the bunk-house, and the feed-shop, and
Silverstein's, and the post-office----

"So long, Cupid!"--it was all-t'gether, gals and fellers, too. Then,
"Yee-ee-ee-oop!"--the ole cow-punch yell.

"So long, boys!" I waved my Stetson.

Next thing, Briggs City begun t' slip back'ards--slow at first, then
faster and faster. The hollerin' of the bunch got sorta fadey; the
deepot lights got littler and littler. Off t' the right, a new light
sprung up--it was the lamp in the sittin'-room at the Bar Y.

"Boss," I says out loud, "they's a little, empty rockin'-chair
byside yourn t'-night. Wal, I'll never come back this way no more
'less you' baby gal is home at the ranch-house again t' fill it."

Then, I picked up my satchel and hunted the day-coach.

A-course, when I reached Chicago, the first thing I done was to take a
fly at that railroad on stilts. Next, I had t' go over and turn my
lanterns on the lake. Pretty soon I was so all-fired broke-in that I
could stand on a street corner without bein' hitched. But people was
a-takin' me fer Bill Cody, and the kids had a notion to fall in behind
when I walked any. So I made myself look cityfied. I got a suit--a nice,
kinda brownish-reddish colour. I done my sombrero up in a newspaper
and pur_chased_ a round hat, black and turrible tony. I bought me some
sateen shirts,--black, too, with turn-down collars and little bits of
white stripes. A white satin tie last of all, and, say! I was fixed!

Wal, after seein' Chicago, it stands t' reason that Noo York cain't
git a feller scairt so awful much. Anyhow, it didn't _me_. The minute
I got offen the train at the Grand Central, I got my boots greased
and my clothes breshed; then I looked up one of them Fourth of July
hitchin'-posts and had my jaw scraped and my mane cut.

"Pardner," I says t' the barber feller, "I want t' rent a cheap
room."

"Look in the papers," he _ad_vises.

'Twixt him and me, we located a place afore long, and he showed me how
t' git to it. Wal, sir, I was settled in a jiffy. The room wasn't
bigger 'n a two-spot, and the bed was one of them jack-knife kind.
But I liked the looks of the shebang. The lady that run it, she almost
fell over when I tole her I was a cow-punch.

"Why!" she says, "are y' shore? You're tall enough, but you're a
little thick-set. I thought all cow-boys was very slender."

"No, ma'am," I says; "we're slender in books, I reckon. But out in
Oklahomaw we come in all styles."

"Wal," she goes on, "they's something _else_ I want to ast. Now, you
ain't a-goin' to shoot 'round here, are y'? Would you just as lief
put you' pistols away whilst you're in my house?"

I got serious then. "Ma'am," I says, "sorry I cain't oblige y'.
But the boys tole me a gun is plumb needful in Noo York. When it comes
to killin' and robbin', the West has got to back outen the lead."

You oughta saw her face!

But I didn't want to look fer no other room, so I pretended t' knuckle.
"I promise not to blow out the gas with my forty-five," I says, "and
I won't rope no trolley cars--if you'll please tell me where folks
go in this town when they want t' ride a hoss?"

"Why, in Central Park," she answers, "on the bridle path."

"Thank y', ma'am," I says, and lit out.

A-course, 'most any person 'd wonder what I'd ast the boardin'-house
lady _that_ fer. Wal, I ast it 'cause I knowed Macie Sewell good enough
to lay my money on _one_ thing: She was too all-fired gone on hosses to
stay offen a saddle more'n twenty-four hours at a stretch.

I passed a right peaceful afternoon, a-settin' at the bottom of a statue
of a man ridin' a big bronc, with a tall lady runnin' ahaid and wavin'
a feather. It was at the beginnin' of the park, and I expected t'
see Mace come lopin' by any minute. Sev'ral gals _did_ show up, and
one 'r two of 'em rid off on bob-tailed hosses, follered by gezabas in
white pants and doctor's hats. Heerd afterwards they was grooms, and
bein' the gals' broncs was bob-tailed, they had to go 'long to keep
off the flies.

But Mace, she didn't show up. Next day, I waited same way. Day after,
ditto. Seemed t' me ev'ry blamed man, woman and child in the hull
city passed me but her. And I didn't know a _one_ of 'em. A Chink
come by oncet, and when I seen his pig-tail swingin', I felt like I
wanted to shake his fist. About that time I begun to git worried, too.
"If she ain't ridin'," I says to myself, "how 'm I ever goin'
to locate her?"

Another day, when I was settin' amongst the kids, watchin', I seen a
feller steerin' my way. "What's this?" I says, 'cause he didn't
have the spurs of a decent man.

Wal, when he came clost, he begun to smile kinda sloppy, like he'd
just had two 'r three. "Why, hello, ole boy," he says, puttin' out
a bread-hooker; "I met you out West, didn't I? How are y'?"

I had the sittywaytion in both gauntlets.

"Why, yas," I answers, "and I'm tickled to sight a familiar face.
Fer by jingo! I'm busted. Can you loan me a dollar?"

He got kinda sick 'round the gills. "Wal, the fact is," he says,
swallerin' two 'r three times, "I'm clean broke myself."

Just then a gal with a pink cinch comes walkin' along. She was one
of them Butte-belle lookin' ladies, with blazin' cheeks, and hair
that's a cross 'twixt _mo_lasses candy and the pelt of a kit-fox.
She was leadin' a dog that looked plumb ashamed of hisself.

"Pretty gal," says the mealy-mouthed gent, grinnin' some more. "And
I know her. Like t' be interdooced?"

"Don't bother," I says. (Her hay was a little too weathered fer _me_.)

"Nice red cheeks," he says, rubbin' his paws t'gether.

"Ya-a-as," I says, "_mighty nice_. But you oughta see the squaws out
in Oklahomaw. They varies it with yalla and black."

He give me a kinda keen look. Then he moseyed.

It wasn't more 'n a' hour afterwards when somebody passed that I
knowed--in one of them dinky, little buggies that ain't got no cover.
Who d' you think it was?--that Doctor Bugs!

I was at his hoss's haid 'fore ever he seen me. "Hole up, Simpson,"
I says, "I want t' talk to you."

"Why, Alec Lloyd!" he says.

"That's my name."

"How 'd _you_ git here?" He stuck out one of them soft paws of hisn.

"Wal, I got turned this way, and then I just follered my nose." (I
didn't take his hand. I'd as soon 'a' touched a snake.)

"Wal, I'm glad t' see you." (That was a whopper.) "How's ev'rybody
in Briggs?"

"Never you mind about Briggs. I want t' ast _you_ somethin': Where's
Macie Sewell?"

"I don't know."

"Don't tell me that," I come back. "I know you're lyin'. When you
talked that gal into the op'ra business, you had 'a' ax t' grind,
yas, you did. Now, _where is she?_"

He looked plumb nervous. "I tell y', I don't know," he answers;
"_honest,_ I don't. I've saw her just oncet--the day after she got
here. I offered t' do anythin' I could fer her, but she didn't seem
t' appreciate my kindness."

"All right," I says. "But, Simpson, listen: If you've said a word
t' that gal that you oughtn't to, 'r if you've follered 'round after
her any when she didn't want you should, you'll hear from _me_. Salt
_that_ down." And I let him go.

Meetin' _him_ that-a-way, made me feel a heap better. If I could run
into the only man I knowed in the city of Noo York, then, sometime, I'd
shore come acrosst _her_.

That was the last day I set on the steps of the statue. About sundown,
I ast a police feller if anybody could ride in the park without me
seein' 'em from where I was. "Why, yas," he says, "they's plenty
of entrances, all right. This is just where a few comes in and out.
The best way to see the riders is to go ride you'self."

Don't know why I didn't think of that _afore_. But I didn't lose
no time. Next mornin', I was up turrible early and makin' fer a barn
clost to the park. I found one easy--pretty frequent thereabouts, y'
savvy,--and begun t' dicker on rentin' a hoss. Prices was high, but I
done my best, and they led out a nag. And what do you think? It had on
one of them saddles with no horn,--a shore enough _muley_.

Say! that was a hard proposition. "I ast fer a saddle," I says, "not
a postage stamp." But the stable-keeper didn't have no other. So I got
on and rode slow. When I struck the timber, I felt better, and I started
my bronc up. She was one of them kind that can go all day on a shingle.
And her front legs acted plumb funny--jerked up and down. I figgered it
was the spring halt. But pretty soon I seen other hosses goin' the same
way. So I swallered it, like I done the saddle.

But they was one thing about my cayuse made me hot. She wouldn't lope.
No, ma'am, it was trot, trot, trot, trot, till the roots of my hair was
loose, and the lights was near shook outen me. You bet I was mighty glad
none of the outfit could see me!

But if they'd 'a' thought _I_ was funny, they'd 'a' had a duck-fit
at what I seen. First a passel of men come by, all in bloomers, humpin'
fast,--_up_ and down, _up_ and down--Monkey Mike, shore's you live!
None of 'em looked joyful, and you could pretty nigh hear they knees
squeak! Then 'long come a gal, humpin' just the same, and hangin'
on to the side of her cayuse fer dear life, lookin' ev'ry step like
she was goin' to avalanche. And oncet in a while I passed a feller that
was runnin' a cultivator down the trail,--to keep it nice and soft,
I reckon, fer the ladies and gents t' fall on.

But whilst I was gettin' kinda used to things, I didn't stop keepin'
a' eye out. I went clean 'round the track twicet. No Macie. I tell y',
I begun to feel sorta caved-in. Then, all of a suddent, just as I was
toppin' a little rise of ground, I seen her!

_She_ wasn't hangin' on to the side of her hoss, no, ma'am! She was
ridin' the prettiest _kind_ of a bronc, fat and sassy. And she was
settin' a-straddle, straight and graceful, in a spick-and-span new suit,
and a three-cornered hat like George Washington.

I let out a yell that would 'a' raised the hair of a reservation Injun.
"Macie Sewell!" I says--just like that. I give my blamed little nag a
hit that put her into her jerky trot. And I come 'longside, humpin'
like Sam Hill.

She pulled her hoss down to a standstill; and them long eye-winkers of
hern lifted straight up into the air, she was so surprised. "Alec!"
she says.

"Yas, Alec," I answers. "Aw, dear little gal, is y' glad t' see me?"

"Wal, what 're _you_ doin' here!" she goes on. "I cain't hardly
believe what I see."

I was so blamed flustered, and so happy, and so--so scairt, that I had
t' go say the _one_ thing that was plumb foolish. "I'm on hand t'
take you back home if you're ready," I answers. (Hole on till I give
myself another good, ten-hoss-power kick!)

Up till now, her look 'd been all friendly enough. But now of a suddent
it got cold and offish. "Take me home!" she begun; "_home!_ Wal, I
like that! Why, I'm just about t' make a great, big success, _yas_. And
I'll thank you not t' spoil my chanst with any more of you' tricks."
She swung her bronc round into the trail.

"Macie! Spoil you' chanst!" I answers. "Why, honey, I wouldn't do
that. I only want t' be friends----"

Her eyes can give out fire just like her paw's. And when I said that,
she give me one turrible mad stare. Then, she throwed up her chin,
spurred her bronc, and went trottin' off, a-humpin' the same as the
rest of the ladies.

I follered after her as fast as I could. "Macie," I says, "talk ain't
goin' t' show you how I feel. And I'll not speak to you again till you
want me to. But I'll allus be clost by. And if ever you need me----"

She set her hoss into a run then. So I fell behind--and come nigh
pullin' the mouth plumb outen that crow-bait I was on. "Wal, Mister
Cupid," I says to myself, "that Kansas cyclone the boss talked about
seems t' be still a-movin'."

I wasn't discouraged, though,--I wasn't discouraged.

"One of these times," I says, "she'll come t' know that I only want
t' help her."

Next mornin', I started my jumpin'-jack business again. And _that_
whack, I shore got a rough layout: 'Round and 'round that blamed park,
two hunderd and forty-'leven times, without grub, 'r a drink, 'r even
water! And me a-hirin' that hoss _by the hour!_

Just afore sundown, she showed up, and passed me with her eyes fixed on
a spot about two miles further on. A little huffy, yet, y' might say!

I joked to that three-card-monte feller, you recollect, about bein'
busted. Wal, it was beginnin' t' look like no joke. 'Cause that very
next day I took some stuff acrosst the street to a pawnbroker gent's,
and hocked it. Then I sit down and writ a postal card t' the boys.
"_Pass 'round the hat,_" I says on the postal card, "_and send
me the collection. Bar that Mexic. Particulars later on._"

Wal, fer a week, things run smooth. When Mace seen it was no use to
change the time fer her ride, she kept to the mornin'. It saved me a
pile. But she wouldn't so much as look at me. Aw, I felt fewey, just
_fewey_.

One thing I didn't figger on, though--that was the _po_lice. They're
white, all right (I mean the _po_lice that ride 'round the park).
Pretty soon, they noticed I was allus ridin' behind Macie. I guess they
thought I was tryin' to bother her. Anyhow, one of 'em stopped me
one mornin'. "Young feller," he says, "you'd better ride along
Riverside oncet in a while. Ketch on?"

"Yas, sir," I says, salutin'.

Wal, I _was_ up a stump. If I was to be druv out of the park, how was I
ever goin' to be on hand when Macie 'd take a notion t' speak.

But I hit on a plan that was somethin' _won_-derful. I follered her
out and found where she stalled her hoss. Next day, I borraed a'
outfit and waited nigh her barn till she come in sight. Then, I fell
in behind--_dressed like one of them blamed grooms._

I thought I was slick, and I _was_--fer a week. But them park _po_lice is
rapid on faces. And the first one that got a good square look at me and
my togs knowed me instant. He didn't say nothin' to me, but loped off.
Pretty soon, another one come back--a moustached gent, a right dudey
one, with yalla tucks on his sleeves.

He rides square up to me. "Say," he says, "are you acquainted with
that young lady on ahaid?"

I tried to look as sad and innocent as a stray maverick. But it was no
go. "Wal," I answers, "our hosses nicker to each other."

He pulled at his moustache fer a while. "_You_ ain't no groom," he
says fin'lly. "Where you from?"

"I'm from the Bar Y Ranch, Oklahomaw."

"That so!" It seemed to plumb relieve him. All of a suddent, he got
as friendly as the devil. "Wal, how's the stock business?" he ast.
And I says, "Cows is O. K." "And how's the climate down you' way?
And how's prospects of the country openin' up fer farmers?"

After that, I shed the groom duds, and not a _po_lice gent ever more 'n
nodded at me. That Bar Y news seemed to make 'em shore easy in they
conscience.

But that didn't help me any with _her_. She was just as offish as ever.
Why, one day when it rained, and we got under the same bridge, she just
talked to her hoss all the time.

I went home desp'rate. The boys 'd sent me some cash, but I was shy
again. And I'd been to the pawnbroker feller's so many times that I
couldn't look a Jew in the face without takin' out my watch.

That night I mailed postal number two. "Take up a collection," I says
again; and added, "Pull that greaser's laig."

I knowed it couldn't allus go on like that. And, by jingo! seems as
if things come my way again. Fer one mornin', when I was settin' in a
caffy eatin' slap-jacks, I heerd some fellers talkin' about a herd of
Texas hosses that had stampeded in the streets the night back. Wal, I
ast 'em a question 'r two, and then I lit out fer Sixty-four Street,
my eyes plumb sore fer a look at a Western hoss with a' ingrowin' lope.

When I got to the corral, what do you think? Right in front of my eyes,
a-lookin' at the herd, and a-pointin' out her pick, was--Macie Sewell!

I didn't let her see me. I just started fer a harness shop, and I bought
a pair of spurs. "_Pre_pare, m' son," I says to myself; "it'll all
be over soon. They's goin' to be trouble, Cupid, trouble, when Mace
tries to ride a Texas bronc with a city edication that ain't complete."

She didn't show up in the park that day. I jigged 'round, just the
same, workin' them spurs. But early next mornin', as I done time on
my postage stamp, here Mace huv in sight.

Shore enough, she was on a new hoss. It was one of them blue roans, with
a long tail, and a roached mane. Gen'ally that breed can go like greased
lightnin', and outlast any other critter on four laigs. But this one
didn't put up much speed that trip. She'd been car-bound seventeen days.

Clost behind her, I come, practicin' a knee grip.

Nothin' happened that mornin'. Ev'ry time she got where the trail
runs 'longside the wagon-road, none of them locoed bull's-eye Simpson
vehicles was a-passin'. When she went to go into her stable, Mace slowed
her down till the street cars was gone by. The blue roan was meeker 'n
a blind purp.

But I knowed it couldn't _last_.

The next afternoon the roan come good and ready. She done a fancy gait
into the park. Say! a J. I. C. bit couldn't a' helt her! 'Twixt
Fifty-nine and the resservoyer, she lit just _four times;_ and ev'ry
time she touched, she kicked dirt into the eyes of the stylish _po_lice
gent that was keepin' in handy reach. A little further north, where
they's a hotel, she stood on her hind laigs t' look at the scenery.

I begun to git scairt. "Speak 'r _no_ speak," I says to myself, "I'm
goin' to move up."

That very minute, things come to a haid!

We was all three turned south, when 'long come a goggle-eyed smarty
in one of them snortin' Studebakers. The second the smarty seen Mace
was pretty, he blowed his horn to make her look at him. Wal! that roan
turned tail and come nigh t' doin' a leap-frog over me. The skunk in
the buzz-wagon tooted again. And we was off!

We took the return trip short cut. First we hit the brush, Mace's
hoss breakin' trail, mine a clost second, the _po_lice gent number
three. Then we hit open country, where they's allus a lot of young
fellers and gals battin' balls over fly-nets. The crowd scattered, and
we sailed by, takin' them nets like claim-jumpers. I heerd a whistle
ahaid oncet, and seen a fat _po_liceman runnin' our way, wavin' his
arms. Then we went tearin' on,--no stops fer stations--'round the
lake, down a road that was thick with keerages,--beatin' ev'rybody in
sight--then into timber again.

It was that takin' to the woods the second time that done it. In Central
Park is a place where they have ducks and geese (keep the Mayor in
aigs, I heerd). Wal, just to east, like, of that place, is a butte, all
rocks and wash-outs. The blue roan made that butte slick as a Rocky
Mountain goat. (We'd shook off the _po_lice gent.) At the top, she
pitched plumb over, losin' Mace so neat it didn't more 'n jar her.
My hoss got down on his knees, and I come offen _my_ perch. Then both
broncs went on.

I was winded, so I didn't speak up fer a bit. Fact is, I didn't
exac'ly know what to _re_mark. Oncet I thought I'd say, "You ridin'
a diff'rent hoss t'day, Mace?" 'r "That roan of yourn can lope
some." But both bein' kinda personal, I kept still.

But pretty soon, I got a hunch. "I just _knowed_ that blamed muley
saddle 'd butt me off some day," I says. "It was shore accomodatin',
though, to let me down right here."

She didn't say nothin'. She was settin agin a tree, another of them
two-mile looks in her eyes, and she was gazin' off west.

I lent her way just a little. "What you watchin', honey?" I ast.

She blushed, awful cute.

I could feel my heart movin' like a circular saw--two ways fer Sunday.
"Honey, what you watchin'?" This time I kinda whispered it.

She reached fer her George Washington, and begun fixin' to go. "The
sky," she says, some short.

I sighed, and pretended t' watch the sky, too. It looked yalla, like
somebody 'd hit it with a aig.

After while, I couldn't stand it no longer--I started in again. "Give
me a fair shake, Macie," I says. I was lookin' at her. Say! they
wasn't no squaw paint on _her_ cheeks, and no do-funny, drug-store
stuff in that pretty hair of hern. And them grey eyes----!

But she seemed a hull county off from me, and they was a right cold
current blowin' in my _di_rection.

"Mace," I begun again, "since you come t' Noo York you ain't got
you'self promised, 'r nothin' like that, have you? If you have, I'll
go back and make that Briggs City bunch look like a lot of colanders."

She shook her haid.

"Aw, Mace!" I says, turrible easied in my mind. "And--and, little gal,
has that bug doc been a-holdin' down a chair at you' house of Sunday
nights?"

"No,--he come just oncet."

"Why just oncet, honey?"

"I didn't want him t' come no more."

"He said somethin' insultin.' _I_ know. And when I see him again----"

She looked at me square then, and I seen a shine in them sweet eyes.
"Alec," she says, "you ast me oncet t' cut that man out. Wal, when
I got here, it was the only thing I could do fer--fer you."

"My little gal!--and nobody else ain't been visitin' you. Aw! I'm a
jealous critter!"

"Nobody else. People ain't very sociable here." Her lip kinda trembled.

That hurt me, and I run outen talk, fer all I had a heap t' say. They
was a lot of twitterin' goin' on overhaid, and she was peekin' up and
'round, showing a chin that was enough t' coop the little birds right
outen the trees.

I lent closter. "Say, Mace," I begun again, "ain't this park O. K.
fer green grass? I reckon the Bar Y cows 'd like to be turned loose
here."

She smiled a little, awful tender. "Bar Y!" she says, pullin' at her
gauntlets.

It give me spunk. "Mace," I says again, "if I'd 'a' been mean, I'd
'a' let the parson go on marryin' us, wouldn't I? Did you ever think
of that, little gal?"

She looked down, blinkin'.

I reached over and got holt of one of her hands. I was breathin' like
pore Up-State. "Honey," I says, "honey, dear."

She looked square at me. "Alec," she says, "you didn't understand me.
I ain't the kind of a gal that can be roped and hobbled and led on a
hackamore."

"And you ain't the kind t' dance with greasers," I says, "--if
you're thinkin' back to our first little fuss. _No,_ you _ain't_.
You're too darned nice fer such cattle."

By then, I was shakin' like I had the buck-fever. "Macie," I goes on,
"ain't you goin' t' let me come and see you?"

"Wal--wal----"

I got holt of her other hand. "Aw, little gal," I says, "nobody wants
you t' win out more 'n I do. _I'_m no dawg-in-the-manger, Macie.
You got a' _awful_ fine voice. Go ahaid--and be the biggest singer in
Amuricaw. But, honey,--that needn't t' keep you from likin' me--from
likin' ole Alec, that cain't live without his dear little gal----"

"I _do_ like y'! And didn't I allus say you was t' come on when I
made a success?"

She come into my arms then. And, aw! I knowed _just_ how lonesome she'd
been, pore little sweetheart! by the way she clung t' me.

"Alec!--my Alec!"

"Never mind! honey dear, never mind! I'm here t' take keer of y'."

Pretty soon, I says, "Macie, I bought somethin' fer you a while back."
(I felt in my vest pocket.) "Here it is. Will you look at it?"

She looked. And her pretty face got all smiles and blushes, and her
eyes tearful. "Alec!" she whispered. "Aint it _beau_tiful!" And she
reached out her left hand t' me.

I took it in both of mine--clost, fer a second. Then I sorted out that
slim third finger of hern,--and slipped on my little brandin'-iron.



CHAPTER TEN

MACIE AND THE OP'RA GAME


THE street Mace lived on was turrible narra. Why, if a long-horn had
'a' been druv through it, he could 'a' just give a wiggle of his
haid and busted all the windas in the block. And her house! It was nigh
as dark as the inside of a cow, and I _judged_ they was a last-year's
cabbage a-wanderin' 'round somewheres. Wal, never mind. Two shakes
of a lamb's tail, and I'd clumb about a hunderd steps and--

"How are y', little gal?"

"Alive and kickin', Alec."

She ast me in. A kinda ole lady was over to one side, cookin'. At a
table was two gents, the one young, with a complexion like the
bottom-side of a watermelon; the other about fifty, with a long
coat, a vest all over coffee, and no more chin'n a gopher.

"Mrs. Whipple," says Macie, "Mister Lloyd."

"Ma'am, I'm tickled t' death."

"Hair Von" (somethin'-r'-other), "Mister Lloyd." (Don't wonder she
called him "_Hair._" By thunder! he had a mane two feet long!) "And
Mister Jones." (I ketched _that_ name O. K.)

"Mister Lloyd," says the ole lady, "will you have some breakfast?"

I felt like sayin' they 'd likely be blamed little fer _me,_ 'cause
them two gezabas was just a-_hoppin'_ it in to 'em. But I only answers,
"Thank y', I just et in one of them bong-tong rest'rants that's down
in a cellar, and so, ma'am, my breadbasket's plumb full."

I sit down on a trunk (it had a tidy over it, but I knowed it was a
_trunk_ all right), and Macie, she sit down byside me.

"Alec," she begun,--say! she looked mighty sweet!--"t'-night is
a' awful important night in my life. I been a-studyin' with Hair
Von" (you know), "and now I'm a-goin' to have a _re_cital. And what
d' you think? Seenyer" (I fergit who, this minute), "the grea-a-at
impressyroa, is comin' to hear me. And he's goin' to put me into
grand op'ra."

"You don't say!"

"Yas," says Long-hair, swellin' up. "The Seenyer is my friend, and
any favour----"

I turned and looked clost at Macie. Her face was all alive, she was so
happy, and her eyes was dancin'. "You're a-goin' t' make you' big
stab t'-night," I says. "Wal, I shore wish you luck."

Then I took another look at that Perfessor--and of a suddent I begun to
wonder _if all the cards was on the table._ 'Cause he was too oily to be
genuwine. And I'd saw his stripe afore--"even up on the red and white,
five to one on the blue, and ten to one on the numbers."

"She'll be a second Patty," he says, puttin' out a bread-hooker fer
more feed.

"I'll take another slice of toast," says Melon-face, "and a' aig
and a third cup--it's _so_ good, Miss Sewell, I'm really _ashamed,_
yas, I _am._"

After that, I didn't say much--just plumb petryfied watchin' them two
gents shovel. Talk about you' grizzly in the springtime! And you bet
they was no gittin' shet of 'em till they couldn't hole no more.

But, fin'lly, they moseyed, and me and Macie and the ole lady had a
chin. It come out that Long-hair (_and_ his friend) showed up ev'ry
mornin'.

"And allus gits his breakfast," I says.

"Wal, in Noo York, folks drop 'round that--a-way," she answers.
"It's Bohemia."

"Bohemia--you mean a kinda free hand-out."

"Alec! _No!_ Bohemians divvy with each other."

"Seem's t' me Macie Sewell does _most_ of the divvyin'."

"You don't understand," she says. "People with artistic temper'ments
don't think about such--such common things."

"No? Just the same, that artistic team of yourn was shore stuck on
boiled aigs."

That ruffled her up some. "Alec," she says, "you mustn't run down
the Perfessor. He's a big musician."

"Wal," I answers, "if hair makes a big musician, 'Pache Sam oughta
lead the band."

"And he's been awful good to me. Why, he's let go dozens and _dozens_
of rich pupils to come here ev'ry day and give me my lesson."

"Fer how much?"

"What?" She got red.

"Fer how much?" I ast again.

"Five dollars," she answers.

I snickered.

"But he charges all the others _ten,_" she puts in quick. "He come
down in the price 'cause he was so wrapped up in my _ca_reer."

"Money lastin'?" I ast, and looked at the ole lady.

She give me the high sign.

But Macie answered cheerful. "It's carried me good so far," she says;
"and after t'-night I can stand on my own feet."

"Reckon you won't mind my comin' t' hear you," I says. ('Cause I'd
got a' idear what I was goin' to do.) She said come ahaid. Then I skun
out.

First off, I hunted one of them sun-bonnet keeriges. The feller that
owned it was h'isted 'way up on top, and he had a face like a cured
ham. I tole him who I was goin' t' visit, and ast him what 'd be the
damage if he carted me that far. He said a two spot 'd do the trick, so
I clumb in, he give his broomtail a lick, and we was off in a bunch.

Wal, fer the balance of that day, you can bet I didn't let no grass
sprout under _my_ moccasins. And when I turned up, 'twixt eight and
nine o'clock at that _re_cital, I was a-smilin' like Teddy--and loaded
fer bear!

It was at Long-Hair's shebang. He took me into a big room where they was
about a dozen ladies and gents. But I couldn't hardly see 'em. They was
plenty of gas fixin's, only he had 'em turned 'way down, and little
red parasol-jiggers over 'em. And they was some punk-sticks a-burnin'
in a corner.

If you want t' ast _me,_ I think I hit the funny spot of that bunch
right good and hard. The women kinda giggled at each other, and the men
cocked they eyes at the ceilin' and put they hands to they mouths. But I
wasn't nigh as big a freak to them as they was t' _me!_

"Say!" I says to Macie, 'way low, "where 'd you round up this passel
of what-is-its?"

"Ssh!" she whispers back. "They'll hear you! Most of 'em is big
artists."

"No!" I got turrible solemn. "Have they brought they temper'ments
with 'em?"

She laughed.

"Now, don't devil me, Alec," she says. "But honest, ain't this
Bohemian atmosphere just grand?"

"Wal," I says, sniffin' it, "it reminds _me_ of a Chinee wash-house."

That wasn't the worst of it. The men was tankin' up like the Ole
Harry--right in front of the women! And on beer! What d' you think!
_Beer!_

And the ladies--say! if they was t' wear them kind of dresses out our
way (not more'n a pocket-handkerchief of cloth in the waist, that's
straight), why, they 'd git run in to the cooler _shore_. And, by
thunder! some of 'em was smokin'! _Smokin'!_ And they wasn't a
greaser gal amongst 'em, neither.

"What kind of a place I got in to?" I ast Macie. Gee! I felt turrible.

"Ssh! Long-hair is goin' to play a pyano piece he made up a-a-all by
hisself."

And he done it. First, he goes soft, fingerin' up and down, and movin'
from side t' side like his chair was hot. Then, he took a runnin'
jump at hisself and worked harder. But they wasn't the sign of a
tune--just jiggles. Next, by jingo! it was help you'self to the gravy!
He everlastin'ly lambasted them keys, and knocked the lights plumb
outen that pore instrument.

Jumpin' buffalo! I got t' laughin' so I kinda tipped over again a'
iron thing that was set clost to the wall, and come blamed nigh burnin'
the hand offen me.

When I come to, he was done and down, and a bleached lady, so whitewashed
and painted she was plumb disguised, was settin' afore the pyano. Then
up gits a tall gal, skinny, long neck, forrid like a fish, hair that
hadn't been curried since week a-fore last.

She begun t' sing like a dyin' calf--eyes shut, and makin' faces.
But pretty soon, she took a _new_ holt, and got to goin' uphill and
down, faster 'n Sam Hill; then 'round and 'round, like a dawg after
its tail; then hiccupin'; then--she kinda shook herself--and let out a
last whoppin' beller.

"Macie," I says, "do you have t' herd with this outfit _reg'lar?_
Why, say, _all_ the wild Injuns ain't out West."

She didn't say nothin'. Pore little gal, she was watchin' the door.
And Mister Long-hair? He was wanderin' 'round, lookin' powerful
oneasy. (He'd 'a' better, the scale-haid!) 'Fore long, he goes
outside.

Up gits a short, stumpy feller with a fiddle. All the rest begun t'
holler and clap. Stumpy, he bowed and flopped his ears, and then he went
at that little, ole fiddle of hisn like he'd snatch it bald-haided.
Wal, _that_ was bully!

And now it was Macie they wanted.

"But _he_ ain't here yet," she says.

Long-hair come back just then. "I _re_gret to say, Miss Sewell," he
begun, "that Seenyer" (the impressyroa) "cain't run over t'-night.
But he'll be to my next little _re_cital a month from now."

"A _month,_" repeats Macie. Her face fell a mile, and she got as white
as chalk-rock.

"It's all right," says the Perfessor, rubbin' his hands. "Go ahaid
and sing anyhow."

So she stood up, tremblin' a little. Long-hair sit down to the pyano,
and this was it!

    "Oh,
       oh,
         oh,
               sweet
          sing       bird,
    Oh,
        oh,
               sweet
          sing       bird,
                           ety
                     plump    plump----"
                  plump
               plump
            Plump

It was a shame. But Macie done her best. When she ended up, they hollered
fer more, and Long-hair like to break hisself in two, bowin'.

She just stood there--like she'd been run to ground. The Perfessor waved
his hand. "The Jew's song from Fowst," he calls out.

I couldn't stand it no longer. I lent towards her. "The Mohawk Vale,"
I says; "_please_ sing The Mohawk Vale."

The crowd giggled. The Perfessor, he started to laugh, too--but ketched
my eye, and coughed.

Macie turned towards him. "A' ole friend; I'd like to," she says. And
sit down to play fer herself.

    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea----"

She helt herself straight, and tried t' stick it out. But she couldn't.
I seen her shake a little, her voice got husky,--and she bent 'way over,
her face in her hands.

"Why, Miss Sewell!" they exclaims, "why, what's the _matter?_"

Then, I gits up. "_Ex_cuse me," I says, "fer puttin' a kibosh on
you' party. But I just want to say that this
Bohemia-artistic-temper'ment fandango stands _ad_journed. Ev'rybody
please vamose--'ceptin' the Perfessor."

My goodness! the pow-wow! But they skedaddled just the same. Then I
turned to Long-hair.

"You' little game is over," I begun. "You don't flimflam this gal
another minute. You don't bum offen her fer another meal. You don't
give her no more of that Patty song-and-dance."

Macie come at me. "Alec! that's insultin'," she says.

The Perfessor starts a-gabblin'.

"Hole you' hosses," I says. "You knowed _all_ the time that the
impressyroa wasn't goin' to show up."

"Miss Sewell, this is _too_ much," says Long-hair, clawin' at his mane.

"They's more a-comin'," I says. "Macie, I was shore somethin' was
skew-gee about this mealy-mouth here, so I had a talk with that Seenyer
this afternoon."

That give Long-hair a jolt. "Impossible!" he yells; "the
secretaries----"

"They _was_ about eight, not to mention some office kids," I says;
"but when I give 'em some straight ole Oklahomaw, I went in O. K."

Long-hair backed off, plumb kaflummuxed.

"The Seenyer said he'd heerd of this gent," I goes on, "and wouldn't
let him learn a _cow_ of hisn to sing. Friend? any little favour? come
here? _Nixey._"

I walks over to him. "Acknowledge the corn, you polecat," I says.

He seen the jig was up. But he made his bluff.

"Miss Sewell, this coarse feller----"

Macie cut in. "It's all so," she says. "You've put me off and _put_
me off. All my money's gone. I'd banked on t'-night. And now--what am
I goin' to do!" She dropped on to a chair, her face in her hands again.

"My pore little gal!"

She sit up. "No, Alec," she says, "I _ain't_ pore. I've got you,
and the best paw a gal _ever_ had, and my home--aw, the _dear_ ole Bar
Y! And, Alec, I'm goin'."

"Goin' where, little gal?"

She come over and stood in front of me, and put her two hands on my arm.
"Alec," she says, tears and smiles all to oncet, "I'm goin' t'
start home to Oklahomaw."

"Start home to Oklahomaw"--them words made me think, of a suddent,
about what Billy 'd said t' me at the train. I reached into my inside
coat-pocket. "Wait, little gal," I says, "we must read _this_ first.
It's that other letter of Up-State's."

She opened it, her fingers all thumbs, she was so _ex_cited. And
standin' there byside me, with the Perfessor a-watchin' us from a
corner, she begun:

"_'Dear Alec Lloyd----_'Why, it ain't fer _me,_ Alec."

"Go right on, honey."

    "Dear Alec Lloyd, you'll git this after Macie's gone to Noo
    York. Alec, you know now the trip was needful. Do you think
    you could 'a' helt her if she didn't have her try? Mebbe.
    But you wouldn't 'a' been happy. All her life she 'd 'a
    felt sore about that career she give up, and been longin' and
    longin'.

    "And, Macie, 'cause you'll read this, too--now you know
    they was somethin' else you wanted more 'n a singin'
    chanst, and you won't hole it agin me fer sayin' I knowed
    you wouldn't make no go of it. The op'ra game at its best
    is a five-hunderd-to-one shot. A turrible big herd plays
    it, the foreigners git the main prizes, and the hull thing's
    fixed crooked by all kinds of inside pull.

    "'Sides, you' voice don't match with crowded streets and
    sapped-out air. It fits the open desert. Mebbe so many won't
    listen to it out here, but they'll even things up by the way
    they'll feel. And this letter is to tell you how I thank
    y' fer singin' The Mohawk Vale. Gawd bless y', little gal!

    "And, Alec, all kinds of good luck to you. What's in this
    letter ain't much, but it'll be a nest-aig."

Mace peeked inside the envelope. "Why, here's a bill!" she says.
"Alec!" And she drawed it out.

"A bill?" I turned it over. "Why--why, it's fer five hunderd dollars!
Macie!"

Long-Hair got up and started our way, grinnin'.

"But _you_ don't git a cent of it," I says, turnin' on him quick.

He dodged.

"You'd _better_ be keerful," I says. Then, to Macie, "Honey, here's
another chanst t' make a try. You can git a _good_ teacher, _this_
time--yas, that's what I said, Perfessor, _a good teacher_--and you'll
be the biggest singer in Amuricaw _yet._" And I helt the bill out to her.

The only answer she give was t' run to the door and pull at one of them
round thing-um-a-jigs that brings a telegraph kid. Next, she come back
to a table, found a piece of paper and writ somethin' on it.

"Here, Alec," she says, "here. Read this."

It said:

    "Manager Harvey Eatin'-House, Briggs City, Oklahomaw. Please
    telephone paw that I'm comin' home, and Alec wants back his
    job."



CHAPTER ELEVEN

A BOOM THAT BUSTED


SAY! wouldn't you 'a' figgered, after I'd brung Mace back t' the
ole Bar Y, and made her paw so happy that the hull ranch couldn't hole
him, and he had t' go streak up t' town and telephone Kansas City fer
a grand pyano and a talkin'-machine--now _wouldn't_ you 'a' figgered
that he'd 'a' treated me A1 when I come to ast him fer the little gal?

Wal,--listen t' this!

'Fore ever I spoke to him, I says to myself, "It ain't no use, when
you want to start up a mule, to git behind and push 'r git in front and
pull. No, ma'am. The only way is to hunt a pan of feed 'r a pick-axe.

"Now, Sewell's shore one of them long-eared critters--hardmouthed, and
goin' ahaid like blazes whenever you wanted him to come short; then,
again, balkin' till it's a case of grandfather's clock, and you git
to thinkin' that 'fore he'll move on he'll plumb drop in his tracks.
So no drivin'. Coaxin' is good enough fer you' friend Cupid."

The first time I got a good chanst, I took in my belt, spit on my hands,
shassayed up to the ole man, and sailed in--dead centre.

"Boss," I begun, "some fellers marry 'cause they git plumb sick
and tired of fastenin' they suspenders with a nail, and some fellers
marry----"

"Wal? wal? wal?" breaks in Sewell, offish all of a suddent, and them
little eyes of hisn lookin' like two burnt holes in a blanket. "What
you drivin' at? Git it out. Time's skurse."

"Puttin' it flat-footed, then," I says, "I come to speak to you about
my marryin' Macie."

He throwed up his haid--same as a long-horn'll do when she's
scairt--and wrinkled his forrid. Next, he begun to jingle his cash
(_ba-a-ad_ sign). "So _that's_ what?" (He'd guessed as much
a'ready, I reckon.) "Wal,--I'm a-listenin'."

Then I got a _turrible_ rush of words to the mouth, and put the case up
to him right strong. Said they was no question how I felt about Mace, and
that this shore was a life-sentence fer me, 'cause I wasn't the kind
of a man to want to ever slip my matreemonal hobbles. And I tacked on
that the little gal reckoned _she_ knowed her own mind.

"No gal ever _lived_ that knowed her own mind," puts in Sewell, snappy
as the dickens, and actin' powerful oneasy.

"But Mace ain't the usual brand," I says. "She's got a good haid--a
_fine_ haid. She's like _you,_ Sewell."

"You can keep you' compliments to home," says the boss. Then, after a
little bit, "S'pose you been plannin' a'ready where you'd settle."
(This sorta inquirin'.)

"Ya-a-as," I says, "we've talked some of that little house in Briggs
City which Doc Trowbridge lets--the one over to the left of the tracks."

That second, I seen a look come over his face that made me plumb
goose-flesh. It was the sorta look that a' ole bear gives you when
you've got him hurt and into a corner--some appealin', y' savvy, and
a hull lot mad.

"Gosh!" I says to myself, "I put my foot in it when I brung up
Billy's name. Sewell recollects the time I stuck in my lip."

"You plan t' live in Briggs," he says. He squz his lips t'gether,
and turned his face towards the ranch-house. Mace was inside, goin'
back'ards and for'ards 'twixt the dinin'-room and the kitchen.
She looked awful cute and pretty from where we was, and was callin'
sassy things to the Chinaman. Sewell watched her and watched her, and I
_re_called later on (when I wasn't so all-fired anxious and _ex_cited),
that the ole man's face was some white, and he was kinda all lent over.

"Ya-a-as," I continues (some trembley, though), "that place of
Billy's 'd suit."

Two seconds, and Sewell come round on me like as if he'd chaw me into
bits. "What you goin' to rent on?" he ast. "What you goin' to live
on?"

"Wal," I answers, sorta took back, "I got about three hunderd dollars
left of the money Up-State give me. Wal, that's my nest-aig. And I can
make my little forty a month--_and_ grub--_any_ ole day in the week."

Sewell drawed his breath in, deep. (Look out when a man takes up air
that-a-way: Somethin's shore a-comin'!) "Forty a month!" he says.
"Forty a month! That just about keeps you in ca'tridges! Forty a
month!--and you without a square foot of land, 'r a single, solitary
horned critter, 'r more'n a' Injun's soogin' 'twixt you and the
floor! Do y' think you can take that little baby gal of mine into a
blank shack that ain't got a stick of anythin' in it, and turn her
loose of a Monday, like a Chink, to do the wash?"

"Now, ease up, boss," I says. "I reckon I think _al_most as much of
Mace as you do. And I'm figgerin' to make her life just as happy as I
_can._"

Wal, then he walked up and down, up and down (this all happened out by
the calf-corral), and blowed and blowed and blowed. Said that him and
his daughters had allus made the Bar Y ranch-house seem like home to the
Sewell punchers, and they was men in the outfit just low-down mean enough
to take advantage of it. Said he'd raised his gal like a lady--and now
she was goin' to be treated like a squaw.

If it'd 'a' been any other ole man but Mace's, I'd 'a' made him
swaller ev'ry one of them words 'fore ever he got 'em out. As it
stood, a-course, I couldn't. So I just helt my lip till he was over his
holler. (By now, y' savvy, I'd went through enough--from sayin' the
wrong thing back when Paw Sewell 'r his daughter was a-talkin'--t'
learn me that the best _I_ could do was just t' keep my blamed mouth
shut.)

Pretty soon, I says, "You spoke of land, Mister Sewell," I says,
politer'n pie, and as cool as if I had the hull of Oklahomaw up my
sleeve. (Been a beefsteak, y' savvy, fer him to git the idear he had
me anxious any.) "Wal, how much land do you figger out that you'
next son-in-law oughta have?"

He looked oneasy again, got red some, and begun workin' his nose up
and down like a rabbit. "Aw, thunder!" he says, "what you astin'
_that_ fer? A man--_any_ man--when he marries, oughta have a place
big enough so's his chickens can kick up the dirt 'round his house
without its fallin' into somebody else's yard. Out here, where the
hull blamed country's land--just land fer miles--a man oughta have a
piece, say--wal, as big as--as that Andrews chunk of mine." (When Billy
married Rose, Sewell bought over the Andrews' ranch, y' savvy. Wanted
it 'cause it laid 'twixt hisn and town, and had a fine water-hole
fer the stock. But a good share of the hunderd acres in it wasn't
much to brag on--just crick-bottom.)

"The Andrews place?" I says, smooth and easy. "Wal, Sewell, I'll keep
that in mind. And, now, you spoke of cows----"

"Fifty 'r so," puts in the ole man, quick, like as if he was 'shamed
of hisself. (His ranges is plumb _alive_ with cattle.) "A start,
Cupid,--just a start."

Wal, a-course, whatever he said went with _me_. If he'd 'a' _ad_vised
walkin' on my hands as far as Albuquerque, you'd 'a' saw me
a-startin', spurs in the air!

"So long," I says then, and walked off. When I turned round, a little
bit later, Sewell was standin' there yet, haid down, shoulders hunched
over, arms a-hangin' loose at his sides, and all his fingers twitchin'.
As I clumb on to that pinto bronc of mine and steered her outen the
gate, I couldn't help but think that, all of a suddent, seems like,
the boss looked a mighty lot _older_.

"Maud," I says, as I loped fer town, "Maud, I'm shore feazed! I been
believin', since I got back from Noo York, that it was settled I was
to marry Mace. And here, if I don't watch out, that Injun-giver'll
take her back. I was a blamed idjit to give him any love-talk. The only
thing he cares fer is money--money!" Wal, some men 're like that--and
tighter'n a wood-tick. When they go to pay out a dollar, they hole on
to it so hard they plumb pull it outen shape, yas, ma'am. Why, I can
recollect seein' dollars that looked like the handle of a jack-knife.

But if I was brash in front of Sewell, I caved in all right when I got
to Briggs City. Say! did you ever have the blues--so bad you didn't want
to eat, and you didn't want to talk, and you didn't want to drink,
but just wanted to lay, nose in the pilla, and think and think and think?
Wal, fer three days, that was me!

And I was still sullin' when Sheriff Bergin come stompin' in with a
copy of the Goldstone _Tarantula_. "Here's bum luck!" he growls.
"A-course _Briggs_ couldn't hump herself none; but that jay town down
the line has to go have a boom."

"A boom?" I says, settin' up.

"Reg'lar rip-snorter of a Kansas boom. Some Chicago fellers with a lot
of cash has turned up and is a-buyin' in all the sand. Wouldn't it make
y' _sick?_"

I reached fer that paper with both fists. Yas, there it was--a piece
about so long. "_Goldstone offers the chanst of a lifetime,_" it read.
"_Now is when a little money'll make a pile. Land is cheap t'-day,
but later on it'll bring a big price._"

I got on to my feet. They was about a quarter of a' inch of stubble
on my face, and I was as shaky as a quakin' asp. But I had my spunk up
again. "Ain't I got a little money," I says, "--that nest-aig? Wal,
I'll just drop down to Goldstone, and, if that boom is bony fido, and
growin', _I'll git in on it._"

Next mornin', I went over to the deepot, borraed some paper from the
agent, and writ Mace a note. "_Little gal,_" I says in the letter,
"_don't you go back on me. I'm prepared to work my fingers down to
the first knuckle fer you, and it's only right you' paw should want
you took care of good._"

Then Number 201 come in and I hopped abroad. "It's land 'r no lady,"
I says to myself, puttin' my little post-card photo of Macie into my
pocket as the train pulled out; "--land 'r no lady."

But when I hit Goldstone, I plumb got the heart-disease. The same ole
long street was facin' the track; the same scatterin' houses was
standin' to the north and south; and the same bunch of dobe shacks
was over towards the east, where the greasers lived. The town wasn't
changed none!

Another minute, and I felt more chipper. West of town, two 'r three
fellers was walkin' 'round, stakin' out the mesquite. And nigh the
station, 'twixt them and me, was a brand-new, hip-roofed shanty with a
long black-and-white sign acrosst it. The sign said "Real Estate."
Wal, _that_ looked like _business!_

I bulged in. They was a' awful dudey feller inside, settin' at a table
and makin' chicken-tracks on a big sheet of blue paper. "Howdy," I
says, "you must be one of them Chicago gents?"

He jumped up and shook hands. "Yas, I am," he says; "but only a
land-agent, y' savvy. They's three others in town that's got
_capital_. The one that lives over yonder at the hotel is a millionaire.
Then they's a doctor (left a _fine_ practice to come), and a preacher.
But the preacher ain't just one of you' _ord'nary_ pulpit pounders."

I stooped over to git a look at that sheet of blue paper. It had lines
all criss-cross on it, same as a checker-board, and little, square, white
spots showin' now and again.

"_Ex_cuse me fer astin'," I says, "but what's this?"

"This is the new map of Goldstone," he says, "and drawed two mile
square. Here"--pointin' to a white spot--"'ll be the Normal College,
and here"--pointin' to another--"the Merchants' _Ex_change. Then,
a-course, the Pavilion fer Indus'tral _Ex_hibitions----"

"Pardner," I broke in, "if Goldstone was in the middle 'r east part
of Oklahomaw, where crops is allus fine, this boom wouldn't surprise me
a _little_ bit. But out _this_ way, where they's only a show fer cattle,
I cain't just understand it. Now, they must be some _reason._"

The real estate agent, he smiled awful sly like, and wunk. "Mebbe,"
he says.

Later on, I seen the gent that was stoppin' at the hotel. He was
tonier'n the other. Wore one of them knee coats that's got a wedge
outen it, right in front, and two buttons fastened in the small of the
back. He was walkin' up and down the porch and smokin' a seegar. Rich?
Wal, I guess! Had the finest room in the house, and et three six-bit
meals a day! About fifty, he was, and kinda porky; not a tub, y'
savvy, but plenty fat.

That same day, a new _Tarantula_ come out. In it was a piece haided
"_More Capital Fer Goldstone._" It went on like this: "_Our City
has lately acquired four new citizens whose confidence and belief in
her future 'd put some of the old hangers-on and whiners to the blush
if they faces wasn't made of brass, and didn't know how to blush.
Wake up,_" goes on the _Tarantula, "wake up, Goldstone, and shake
you'self. And gents, here's a hearty welcome! Give us you' paw!_"

Goldstone was woke up, all right, all right. She was as lively and
_ex_cited as a chicken with its haid cut off. That real-estate feller
'd bought up two big tracts just north of town, gittin' 'em cheap
a-course; _awful_ cheap, in fact, 'cause no one 'd smelt a boom when
he first showed up. (Wal, _first_ come, first _served_.) Porky 'd
bought, too, and owned some lots 'twixt them tracts and the post-office.
To the east, right where the nicest houses is, the parson was plannin'
to import his fambly. More'n that, them four gun-shy gents stood ready
to buy all the time. And Goldstone fellers that would 'a' swapped
they lots fer a yalla dawg, and then shot the dawg, was holdin' out
fer fifty plunks.

Wal, I had that three hunderd. But I helt back. What I wanted to know
was _the why behind the boom._

I just kinda happened past that real-estate corn-crib. The land-agent
was to home, and I ast him to come over and have one with me. He said
O. K., that suited _him_. So we greased our hollers a few times. And,
when he was feelin' so good that he could make out to talk, I drawed
from him that Goldstone was likely to stand 'way up yonder at the haid
of her class account of "natu'al developments."

"Natu'al developments," I says. "Wal, pardner, when it comes to them
big, dictionary words, I shore am a slouch. And you got me all twisted
up in my picket-rope."

But I had to spend another dollar 'fore he'd talk some more. Then he
begun, _turrible_ confidential: "I been sayin' nothin' and sawin'
wood, Lloyd. I ain't let _no_ man git information outen _me_. But I like
you, Lloyd, and, say! I'm a-goin' to tell you. Natu'al developments
is _coal_ and _oil_ and _gas._"

Same as the Tusla country! Wal, I was plumb crazy. "Blamed if it ain't
_likely,_" I says to myself. "Wal, that settles things fer _me._"

I got shet of that real-estate feller quick as I could (didn't want
him to remember that he'd talked in his sleep), and hunted up the
post-master. The postmaster was one of the china-eyed, corn-silk Swedes,
and he owned quite a bit of Goldstone. I tole him I wanted to buy a
couple of lots 'cause I was goin' to be married, and figgered to
build. (That wasn't no lie, neither.) Said I didn't want to live in the
part of town where the greasers was fer the reason that I'd rather
settle down in a Sioux Camp in August _any_ day than amongst a crowd of
blamed _cholos_.

The postmaster wasn't anxious to sell. Said he didn't have more'n a
block left, and he wanted a big price fer that. "'Cause this boom is
_solid,_"--he kinda half whispered it. "How do I know? Wal, I pumped
one of them suspender-cityzens this mornin'."

That showed me I'd got to hump myself. If that real-estate feller
blabbed any more, I wouldn't be able to buy. The station-agent owned
some lots. I hiked fer the deepot.

When I looked into the ticket-office through the little winda, I seen
that agent--one hand on the tick-machine, other holdin' his haid--with
his mouth wide open, like a hungry wall-eye.

"Lloyd," he says, pantin' hard, "I ain't got no right to tell, but I
can't hole it in. Them Chicago fellers, Lloyd, are a Standard Oil bunch.
Look a-here!" And he pushed out a telegram.

I wouldn't 'a' believed it if I hadn't saw it writ down in black and
white. But there it was, haided Chicago, addressed to Porky, and as plain
as day: "_Buy up all that's possible. Price no object. Rockafeller._"

Say! I come nigh lettin' out a yell. Then, knowin' they was no use to
ast the agent to sell, I split fer the liv'ry-stable. And when I got
back into town late that night, I'd been down to a ranch below Goldstone
and handed over my nest-aig fer a quarter-section just south of town.

Next mornin', they was a nice pile of stakes throwed out on to that
sand patch of mine, all them stakes white on the one end and sharp on
the other. And they was a big sign onloaded, too. Yas, ma'am. It said,
"The Lloyd Addition."

And that _same_ noon, Number 201 brung me a letter from little Macie!

I didn't cut up my quarter into lots straight off. Made up my mind it'd
be best to see that real-estate feller first, ast his _ad_vice, and see
if he'd handle the property. So I made fer his office in a _turrible_
sweat.

Heerd awful loud talkin' as I come nigh, and seen they was a big crowd
'round the door. And here was Porky and the parson, just _havin'_
it--up and down!

"The idear!" the parson was sayin', "--the idear of you' thinkin'
you can go stick a pavilion where licker'll be sold right next to the
Cathedral!" (He was madder 'n all git out!)

Porky shrug his shoulders. "My dear _sir,_" he says, "I got to use
my own _land_ in my own _way._"

"Aw!" answers the parson, solemn, "--aw! my friend, give you' heart
a housecleanin'. Think not so muchly about worldly _po_ssessions, but
_see_cure a lot in the New Jerusalem!"

Then Porky flew up. Said the parson 'd insulted him. "And," he almost
yelled, "this is how it stands. Either you got to buy the block where
the pavilion's goin' to be, 'r I'll buy the Cathedral property."

"I ain't got you' means at my command," says the parson.

"Never mind. I'll take the church lots. Name you' figger."

"Three thousand."

Porky pulled out his check-book and begun to scribble with one of them
squirt-gun pens. "The matter is settled," he says.

Say! the feller who'd sole that property to the parson fer a hunderd--we
had to prop him up!

Just afterwards, I had my chin with the real-estate dude, and I tell you
it made me pretty blue. "Sorry, Lloyd," he says; "you know _I_ never
tole you to buy _south_ of town. And I don't keer to bother with you'
Addition. 'Cause Goldstone is goin' to grow to the north and east."

Porky was there, and he said the very same thing. And a few minutes later
on, when the doc come in, I couldn't git him to even _con_sider lookin'
over my buy. But fer a lot on the north side, belongin' to the parson,
he put down the good, hard _coin_.

North and east was the hull talk now, and them Goldstone fellers who'd
sole out cheap in that end of town felt some pale. But the Chicago
gents was as pert as prairie-dawgs, and doin' a thunderin' lot of
buyin'. Now, the doc owned sev'ral lots east of Porky's tract. "New
drug-store here," he says, "and a fine town hall over it. I'll put
ten thousand into the buildin'." And the parson bought next to the site
fer the Normal College. "The city," he says, "'ll want a spot fer
its High School."

All the time this was goin' on, I was livin' on nothin', you might
say, and not even spendin' a cent fer a shave. My haid had a crop of
hay on it that would 'a' filled a pilla; I had a Santy Claus beard,
and if I couldn't afford to grub at the hotel, I wasn't mean enough
to use they soap. So, far as looks goes, I was some changed.

Then--the _Tarantula_ showed up with the hull story about coal and oil
and gas! Say! the cat was outen the bag. And Goldstone come nigh havin'
a fit and fallin' in. Here it'd been over a gold-mine, and didn't know
it! And here it'd gone and sole itself out to a passel of strange ducks!

"_Feller citizens,_" says the paper, "_this beautiful city of yourn is
destined to rival South McAlester and Colgate._"

That was on a Thursday, if I recollect right. Wal, say! fer the next two
days, more things happened in that there town than'd ever happened in
the hull _county_ afore. Ev'rybody that could rake, scrape, beg 'r
borra was a-doin' it--so's they could buy. Friday, the postmaster
got a big block from the real-estate gent; same day, kinda as a favour,
the doc sold the ticket-agent two 'r three lots. I felt blamed sore
'cause _I_ didn't have no money to git in on some good deals. But I
hung on to the "Lloyd Addition"--I wouldn't let _that_ git outen
my hands. Aw, I ain't a-goin' to lie--I had the boom-fever bad as
_any_body. Fact is, I had it _worse_. And who wouldn't--when gettin'
that little gal depended on it?

Saturday, Goldstone went plumb crazy. They was buyin' and sellin'
back'ards and for'ards, this way and that way, in circles and
cater-corners. From sun-up on, that real-estate shanty had half a dozen
fellers in it all the time; more was over to the hotel, dickerin'
with Porky; and a lot of others trailed up the parson and the doc.
Nobody et 'cause they was too blamed _ex_cited. Nobody drunk 'cause
they wouldn't spare the cash. The sun went down, and they kept on
a-buyin'. And at midnight, the town went to bed--_rich!_

The day afterwards was Sunday. And I hope I may die if I ever fergit that
Sunday!

When the sun come up, as a story-book'd put it, Goldstone lay as calm
and peaceful as a babe, 'cept where some poor devil of a cow-punch was
gittin' along towards his bunk when he oughta been comin' outen it. But
all else was O. K. Weather fine, ev'rybody well, thank y', and land
so high it's a wonder the temper'ture wasn't gittin' low.

But ain't it funny how quick things can change?

First off, some of us boys went over to that real-estate hogan--and found
the door open and the place stripped. Yas, ma'am; duds gone, pictures
gone. Only the bench and the table left.

"What struck _him?_" ast the postmaster, who was comin' by.

"I guess," says a feller, careless, "--I guess he's moved into a
better office, mebbe."

"I reckon," agrees the postmaster. Then, his voice gittin' holler,
like, "But ain't that the map of Goldstone, with a rip in it?"

It was--tore clean in two!

We wasn't anxious any. Just the same, we drifted over to the hotel.
When we got to the door, we met the clerk comin' out. "Where's you'
millionaire friend this mornin'?" we ast him.

"Started fer Chicago last night."

"What--what's that?"

"Gone to raise more capital, I guess," says the clerk. "'Cause he
didn't settle--is comin' back right off."

Without nobody sayin' nothin' more, we all made up the street to the
doctor's, the crowd growin' as we went along. Even after bein' knocked
plumb flat with a sledge-hammer, we didn't know _yet_ what'd bit us.
But they was another whopper a-comin'--the _doc_ wasn't to be found.

"I think," says the postmaster, swallerin' hard, "that if we ast the
parson----"

Up pipes a kid. "The parson wasn't to Sunday school this mornin'."

Fer a spell, we all just looked at each other. Then, the _pro_cession
formed and moved east--towards the parson's.

A square table was inside. On it was a lot of bottles and glasses and a
pack of cards--nothin' more.

Ole sin-killer, too!

I spoke up: "They's gone, boys,--but what about they _land?_"

"Wal," answers one feller, "I don't think the doc _had_ none. 'Cause
I bought the Merchants' _Ex_change site offen him yesterday."

"And I bought the Normal School block offen the parson," says Number
Two.

"And what I got from the real-estate feller last night," adds the hotel
clerk, "must 'a' come nigh to cleanin' _him_ out."

Another spell of quiet. Then----

"I wonder," _re_marks the station-agent, "if that Rockafeller telegram
was _genuwine._"

The postmaster throwed up his hands. "We're it!" he says. "We sole
our sand fer a song, and we bought it back at a steep figger."

"With all that money," adds the hotel clerk, "they must 'a' had to
walk bow-laigged."

"My friends," says the station-agent, "the drinks is on us!"

                    *       *       *       *       *

And me? Wal, I wandered 'round fer a while--like I was plumb loco. When
I landed up at last, I seen somethin' white in front of me. It was a
sign, and it said, "The Lloyd Addition."

I sit down on my little pile of stakes, and pulled out the last letter
I'd got from Macie.

    "Dear Alec," it begun, "I'm so glad you got you' land----"

I didn't read no further. I looked off acrosst the mesquite in the
_di_rection of Briggs City. "The land ain't no good," I says. "And
all my money's gone." And I laid my haid down on my arms.

Just then, outen a bunch of grass not far off, I heerd the spunky little
song of a lark!

I riz up.

"Anyhow," I says, "I'm goin' home. Mebbe I look like a bum; but I'm
goin' back where I got some friends! I'm goin' back where they call
me Cupid!"



CHAPTER TWELVE

AND A BOOM AT BRIGGS


I GOT back all right. It takes two dollars and six-bits to git from
Goldstone to Briggs City on the Local. But if you happen to have a little
flat bottle in you' back pocket, you ride in the freight caboose fer
nothin'. I _had_ a flat bottle. I swapped "The Lloyd Addition" fer it.

When I hit ole Briggs City, she looked all right t' _me,_ I can tell
y'. And so did the boys. And by noon I was plumb wored out, I'd gassed
so much.

Wal, I went over and sit down on the edge of Silverstein's porch to
rest my face and hands. Pretty soon, I heerd a hoss a-comin' up the
street--_clickety, clickety, clickety, click._ It stopped at the
post-office, right next me. I looked up--and here was Macie!

Say! I felt turrible, 'cause I hadn't slicked up any yet. But she
didn't seem to notice. She knowed they was somethin' gone wrong though,
'fore ever I said a word. She just helt out one soft little hand.
"Never you mind, Alec," she says; "never you mind."

My little gal!

"It means punchin' cows fer four years at forty per, Macie," I says
to her.

"I'll wait fer you, Alec," she answers.

She'd gone, and I was turnin' back towards Silverstein's, when--I'm
a son-of-a-gun if I didn't see, a-comin' acrosst from the deepot, one
of them land-sharks! It was Porky, with that wedge-coat of hisn, and a
seegar as big as a corn-cob!

Say! I duv under the porch so quick that I clean scairt the life outen
six razorbacks and seventeen hens that was diggin' 'round under it. And
when I come out where the back door is, I skun fer Hairoil Johnson's
shack to borra a dif-f'rent suit of clothes offen the parson. Next, I
had my Santy Claus mowed at the barber-shop.

But, when I looked in the glass, I wasn't satisfied, 'cause I wasn't
changed enough. "What'll I _do?_" I ast the barber.

"Wash," he says.

Wal, I'll be dog-goned!--the _dis_guise was complete!

Just then, in come Hank Shackleton. "Hank," I says, "what do y'
think?--that fat Chicago millionaire I was a-tellin' you of is _here!_"

"You don't say so!" he answers, beginnin' to grin. "That shore _is_
luck!"

"How so?" ast the barber.

"Why," I says, "just think what we can _do_ to him!"

Hank just lent back and haw-hawed like he'd bust his buttons off. "Aw,
_don't_ make me laugh," he says; "my lip's cracked!"

They ain't no use talkin'--we fixed up a proposition that was a _daisy_.

"And it'll work like yeast," says Shackleton. "A-course, whatever
_I_ make outen it, Cupid, you git a draw-down on--yas, you do."

"Nobody from Goldstone'll speak up and spoil the fun, neither," I
says. "Not by a jugful! That passel of yaps down there is jealous of
Briggs, and 'd just _like_ to see her done. What's more, they got a
heap of little, mean pride, and 'd never own up _they_ been sold."

It was shore funny, but from that _very_ minute, and all by _itself_
kinda, Briggs City begun to boom! Billy Trowbridge put a barb-wire fence
'round a couple of vacant lots next his house. Bergin dug a big hole
behind that ole vacant shack of hisn, and buried about a ton of tin cans.
Hairoil turned some shoats into a rock patch he owned and cleaned out
the rattlesnakes. And all over town, sand got five times as high as
it'd ever been afore.

So when my dudey friend, the real-estate feller, struck our flourishin'
city, and hired a' empty shanty fer his office, he didn't find no one
anxious to sell him a slice of land. "Say! property's up here," he
_re_marked, whilst he put down the stiff price that Bill Rawson 'd ast
fer a lot. He seemed sorta bothered in his mind. (But he had to have
land--to start his game on.)

"And _climbin',_" says Bill, pocketin' the spondulix. (Later on, Bill
says to _me,_ "I ain't a-goin' to do another lick of hard work this
year!")

Same day, here was Sam Barnes, walkin' up and down on that acre of hisn
and holdin' to a forked stick. Wouldn't tell Porky _why,_ though he
hinted that whenever a forked stick dipped _three_ times, _it meant
somethin' more 'n water._

"But I ain't got the cash to do no investigatin'," says Sam, sad-like.

Porky got turrible inter_est_ed. "Say," he says t' Shackleton, "what
you think of that land of Barnes's?"

"Wal," answers Hank, "I'll tell y': Oncet I seen another strip
that looked _just_ like hisn on top. And it was rich in gold. It was so
blamed rich in the colour that when the feller who owned it (he was as
lazy as a government mule)--when that feller wanted more t'bacca, 'r
some spuds, 'r a piece of pig, why, he'd just go out into the yard and
roll. Then he'd hike to town, and when he'd get into the bank, he'd
shake hisself--good--pick up what fell to the floor, git it weighed,
and the payin'-teller would hand him out what was comin' t' him."

Porky peeled his eyes. (It was plain he didn't swaller it all.) But,
after talkin' with that real-estate feller, he hunted up Sam and bought
ev'ry square inch he had. "'Cause it's dollars to doughnuts," he
says, "that Briggs City'll grow this way."

"Wal, I don't know," says Sam. "Bergin is powerful strong in
pollytics, and he figgers to git the Court House _er_ected on the
other side of town--where his wife's got some land."

The new parson and the doc showed up that same afternoon. And I reckon
they liked that Court House idear, 'cause they took the north half of
the Starvation Gap property straight off.

"The City Park," they says, "should allus be next the public
buildin's."

"The City Park," says Buckshot Milliken, "will likely be further
north, right agin the University. I _know_--fer the reason that they was
a meetin' of the University _di_rectors last night. Then, the Farmers'
and Merchants' Bank is goin' to be located facin' the Park, and so
is the Grand Op'ra House."

Porky gave Buckshot a' awful sharp look. But Buckshot's a' Injun when
it comes to actin' innocenter'n a kitten. So then the millionaire gent
looked _tickled_ ('cause, just think!--if we was _ex_cited a'ready
about a boom, what a pile of trouble it'd save him and his pardners!)
Wal, he waddled off and hunted 'em up. And that night they pur_chased_
'most all of them north lots--payin' good.

It was the next mornin' that they got holt of ole man Sewell and bought
the Andrews place. Sewell wasn't _on_--he hadn't been into town since I
come from Goldstone. But the real-estate gent was used to puttin' up a
good figger by now, and the boss made a fair haul.

Right off, the Andrews chunk was laid out in fifty-foot lots. It was
just rows and _rows_ of white stakes, and when the West-bound was stopped
at the deepot fer grub, I seen Bill Rawson pointin' them stakes out
to two poor ole white-haired women. "Ladies," he says, "that's the
battlefield where Crook fit the Kiowas. Ev'ry stake's a stiff."

As the train pulled out, she was tipped all to one side kinda, and
runnin' on her off wheels, 'cause the pass'ngers was herded along
the west side of the cars, lookin' at that big graveyard.

When Hank's next _Eye-Opener_ come out, one hull side of it was covered
with a map of Briggs City--drawed three mile square, so's to take
in what Mrs. Bergin had left. Under the map it said, "_The left-hand
cross marks the position of the West Oklahomaw Observatory, which is
to be built on top of Rogers's Butte, and the cross in the Andrews
Addition marks the spot where the great Sanatarium'll stand._" (Say!
it was gittin' to be a cold day in Briggs when somebody didn't start
a grand, new institootion!) "_Why,_" goes on Shackleton, in that
piece of hisn, "_breathin' that fine crick-bottom air, and on a plain
diet--say, of bread and clabbered milk, a sick person oughta git cured
up easy, and a healthy person oughta live more'n a hunderd years._"
(Wal, as far as _I'_m concerned, if I had to eat clabbered milk a
hunderd years, I'd ruther _die!_)

Next thing, two 'r three of the boys got into a reg'lar jawin'-match
over some property. Chub Flannagan wanted to start a new paper called
the _Rip-Saw_. Shackleton, a-course, didn't want he should. Right in
front of that real-estate feller's, Chub drawed a gun on Hank. And
Monkey Mike had to interfere 'twixt them.

"I got a right to do what I please on my own land," yells Chub.

"Wal, I'll buy you' blamed lots," says Shackleton, "but I don't
stand fer compytition. Here, agent, what's Chub's block worth?"

The dude reckoned it was worth five hunderd. And Shackleton dug down like
a man!

The rest of us done a turrible lot of buyin' and sellin' right after
that--one to the other. The sheriff sold to Sam Barnes (fer a chaw of
t'bacca); Bill Rawson, he sold to me (on tick); Hairoil Johnson to
Dutchy, and so forth. 'R, it'd be like this: "Bet you a lot I can
jump the furth'est." "Bet you cain't." Then real estate 'd change
hands, and the _Tarantula_ 'd talk about "a lively market."

A-course, the dude and Porky, and the doc and the new parson was
doin' some buyin', too. 'Fore long, they owned all Bergin had, and
Shackleton's, and Chub's, and Rawson's, and Johnson's, and mine. And
they picked out a place fer the Deef, Dumb, and Blind Asylum; and named
ole man Sewell fer President of the Briggs City Pott'ry works.

[Illustration: "_I'll buy you blamed lots, but I don't stand fer
compytition_"]

Pretty soon, havin' all the land they wanted, they begun, steady by
jerks, to sell each other, notice of them sales appearin' in the
_Eye-Opener_ at two-bits apiece. Next, they got to sellin' faster.
Then, it was dawg eat dawg. Lickin' things into a' _ex_citin' pass,
them lots of theirn flew back'ards and for'ards till the air was
plumb full of sand. When the sun went down that never-to-be-fergot
evenin' (as the speaker allus says at a _po_litical pow-wow), ole
Briggs City was the colour of mesquite. But the pockets of the punchers
was so chuck full that, as the hours drug by, our growin' city got
redder 'n a section-house, 'cause the boys was busy paintin' it. (But
count _me_ out--I had my draw-down, and I was a-hangin' _on_ to it.)
Whilst over at the real-estate shack, them gun-shy gents was havin'
a quiet, little business talk, gittin' ready fer they onloadin'
campaign next day.

About ten o'clock, I stopped by they shebang and knocked. When the door
was opened, here they all sit, makin' out more deeds 'n you could
shake a stick at. I didn't go in. I figgered I'd be gittin' married
soon; and no feller wants his face spotted up like a Sioux chief's on
his weddin' day.

"Gents," I says, "the boys sent me over to thank you all fer
pur_chasin'_ property hereabouts in such a blamed gen'rous way. And
it's shore too bad that _they_ feel they cain't invest. But they plan
to wait a year, and buy in what you got fer taxes."

Fer as long as you could count ten, not a' one of 'em said a word. Then
the doc stood up. "Who in thunder are _you?_" he ast, voice like a frog.

"Why," I answers, "don't you recollect _me?_ I'm Cupid here; but,
down at Goldstone, I was the owner of the Lloyd Addition."

They jumped like they'd been stuck with a pin. "The Lloyd Addition!"
they kinda hisses.

"Yas," I goes on. "So I reckon you realise that it wouldn't be no
use fer Mister Real-Estate Agent, here, to git three-sheets-in-the-wind,
and then let out his grand natu'al development secret; 'r fer our
millionaire friend to go send hisself a telegram from Rockafeller.
Gent's you' little Briggs City boom is busted."

Say! next minute the hull quartette of 'em was a-swearin' to oncet,
so's it sounded like a tune--nigger chords and all.

Next, Porky begun a solo. Said if they hadn't all been plumb crazy,
they'd 'a' knowed they was a screw loose in Briggs. And now here they
was stripped cleaner'n a whistle by a set of ornery cow-punchers----

I cut him short. "We know how to cure a dawg of suckin' aigs," I says.
"We give him all he wants of 'em--red hot. Wal, you gents had the boom
disease, and you had it bad. But I reckon now you've got just about all
the land you can hole."

They nodded they haids. It was a show-down, and no mistake, and they
was plumb offen they high hoss. Blamed if I didn't come nigh feelin'
sorry fer 'em! But I goes on, "I'm feard you-all're _just_ a little
bit ongrateful to me--_con_sider-in' that I come here t'-night to help
y'."

"Help?" they says. (Quartette again.)

"Why, yas. Don't you think, about this time, that Chicago 'd look
pretty good to you?"

"Chicago!" says Porky, low and wistful, like he didn't never expect
to see the place again.

"And hittin' the ties, fer two dudes like the agent, here, and the
parson----"

"Parson be hanged!" says the last named gent, ugly as the dickens.

"I hope not," I goes on, "but you never can tell what the boys'll
do."

The doc was standin' up. As I said that, he come down kerplunk onto a
bench, like as if a spring 'd give way in his laigs.

"Lloyd," he says, "we--we--we're willin' to go, but we ain't got
no money."

"You're what I'd call land-poor," I says.

"You need four tickets--wal, now, you own that Andrews chunk, don't
y'?"

"Lloyd," says the real-estate feller, "you've got the dead wood on
us, ole man." He picked up one of them deeds from the table. "Git us
the tickets," he says, "and here's the Andrews property."

"A up-freight goes by in twenty minutes," I says. And started fer the
station.

"Lloyd!" calls Porky after me, "think you could spare us a' extra
twenty fer grub?--_you_ don't want us to starve, Lloyd. And--and mebbe
you could use the rest of these deeds."

I come back.

"Twenty?" I says; "I'll make it fifty fer luck."

They was tears in that fake parson's eyes. "Lloyd," he says, "if I
really _was_ a preacher, I'd pick you fer a saved man."

Later on, when I walked into Dutchy's thirst-parlour, the boys was on
hand, waitin' patient. As they ketched sight of me, they hollered some.

"My friends," I says, "this is where I stand treat. But it ain't
licker this tune, _no,_ ma'am; I'm presentin' hunderd-foot lots."
So out I drawed my little bunch of deeds and handed one to each feller.
Bergin got the Observatory site and the City Park; Rawson, the University
grounds; Hairoil, the Farmers' and Merchants' Bank block; Chub, the
Court House; Sam Barnes, the spot fer the Grand Op'ra House, and Billy
Trowbridge, the land fer the Deef, Dumb and Blind Asylum. Then I slid.

Ten minutes, and my pinto bronc was a-kitin' fer the Bar Y ranch-house.
Turnin' in at the gate, I seen a light in the sittin'-room winda. I
dropped the reins over Maud's haid and hoofed it up onto the porch.
And inside, there was Macie, a-settin' in her rocker in front of the
fire. On the other side was the President of the Briggs City Pott'ry
Works.

"Boss," I says, as I shook hands with him, "Boss, I've come fer you'
little gal." Say! it took him quick, like a stitch in the side. "Fer
my gal?" he kinda stammers.

"Why--why, Alec,----" she whispers to me.

"Sewell," I goes on, "when I ast you fer her, a while back, you said,
'Git a piece of land as big as the Andrews chunk.' Wal," (I handed
out my deed) "would you mind lookin' at this?"

"It's yourn!" The ole man put his hands to his haid.

"Also," I says, rattlin' the little stack of twenties in my right-hand
britches pocket, "I'm fixed t' git some cows; fifty 'r so--a start,
boss, just a start."

"How'd you do it! Why, I'm plumb knocked silly!"

"But you' ain't the man to go back on you' word, Sewell. I can take
good keer of Mace now--and I want to be friends with the man that's
goin' to be my paw."

He begun to look at me, awful steady and sober, and he looked and he
looked--like as if he hadn't just savvied. Next, he sorta talked to
hisself. "My little Macie," he kept sayin'; "my little Macie."

She put her arms 'round him then, and he clean broke down. "Aw, I
_cain't_ lose my little gal," he says. "I don't keer anythin' about
land 'r cattle. But Macie--she's all I got left. _Don't_ take her
away from me!"

So _that_ was it! (And I'd said that all Sewell keered fer was money.)
"Boss," I says, "you mean you'd like us to live here--with you?"

He come over to me, tremblin' like he had the ague. "Would y',
Cupid?" he ast. "I'd never interfere with you two none. _Would_ y'?"

"Aw, daddy!" says Mace, holdin' to him tight.

"Why, bless you' heart, Sewell," I answers, "what do I want to live
any _other_ place fer? _Mace_ is what I want--just Mace. And, say! you
take back you' little ole crick-bottom."

"Got more land'n I want _now._"

"Boss,"--I helt out my hand--"here's where you git a new son-in-law,
and a foreman fer keeps on cow-punch pay. Shake!"

He give one hand to Mace, and he give me the other. "Not by a long shot,
Cupid!" he says. "Here's where I git a half-_pardner._"

                    *       *       *       *       *

So here I am--settled down at the ole Bar Y. And it'd take a twenty-mule
team t' pull me offen it. Of a evenin', like this, the boss, he sits
on the east porch, smokin'; the boys 're strung along the side of
the bunk-house t' rest and gass and laugh; and, out yonder, is the
cottonwoods, same as ever, and the ditch, and the mesquite, leveler'n a
floor; and--up over it all--the moon, white and smilin'.

Then, outen the door nigh where the sun-flowers 're growin', mebbe
she'll come--a slim, little figger in white. And, if it's plenty warm,
and not too late, why, she'll be totin' the smartest, cutest----

Listen! y' hear that?

    "Sweet is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides
    On its fair, windin' way to the sea----"

That's my little wife,--that's Macie, now--a-singin' to the kid!

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Alec Lloyd, Cowpuncher" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home