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Title: Chip, of the Flying U
Author: Bower, B. M.
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 "Chip, of the Flying U" ***

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



CHIP, OF THE FLYING U

By B. M. Bower (B. M. Sinclair)


AUTHOR OF “The Lure of the Dim Trails,” “Her Prairie Knight,” “The
Lonesome Trail,” etc.

Illustrations by CHARLES M. RUSSELL



LIST OF CONTENTS


     I      The Old Man’s Sister
     II     Over the “Hog’s Back”
      III    Silver
     IV     An Ideal Picture
     V      In Silver’s Stall
     VI     The Hum of Preparation
     VII    Love and a Stomach Pump
     VIII   Prescriptions
     IX     Before the Round-up
     X      What Whizzer Did
     XI     Good Intentions
     XII    “The Last Stand”
      XIII   Art Critics
     XIV    Convalescence
     XV     The Spoils of Victory
     XVI    Weary Advises
     XVII   When a Maiden Wills
     XVIII  Dr Cecil Granthum
     XIX    Love Finds Its Hour


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Came down with not a joint in his legs and turned a somersault

“The Last Stand.”

Throwing herself from the saddle she slid precipitately into the
washout, just as Denver thundered up



CHAPTER I. -- The Old Man’s Sister.



The weekly mail had just arrived at the Flying U ranch. Shorty, who had
made the trip to Dry Lake on horseback that afternoon, tossed the bundle
to the “Old Man” and was halfway to the stable when he was called back
peremptorily.

“Shorty! O-h-h, Shorty! Hi!”

Shorty kicked his steaming horse in the ribs and swung round in the
path, bringing up before the porch with a jerk.

“Where’s this letter been?” demanded the Old Man, with some excitement.
James G. Whitmore, cattleman, would have been greatly surprised had
he known that his cowboys were in the habit of calling him the Old Man
behind his back. James G. Whitmore did not consider himself old, though
he was constrained to admit, after several hours in the saddle, that
rheumatism had searched him out--because of his fourteen years of
roughing it, he said. Also, there was a place on the crown of his head
where the hair was thin, and growing thinner every day of his life,
though he did not realize it. The thin spot showed now as he stood in
the path, waving a square envelope aloft before Shorty, who regarded it
with supreme indifference.

Not so Shorty’s horse. He rolled his eyes till the whites showed,
snorted and backed away from the fluttering, white object.

“Doggone it, where’s this been?” reiterated James G., accusingly.

“How the devil do I know?” retorted Shorty, forcing his horse nearer.
“In the office, most likely. I got it with the rest to-day.”

“It’s two weeks old,” stormed the Old Man. “I never knew it to fail--if
a letter says anybody’s coming, or you’re to hurry up and go somewhere
to meet somebody, that letter’s the one that monkeys around and comes
when the last dog’s hung. A letter asking yuh if yuh don’t want to get
rich in ten days sellin’ books, or something, ‘ll hike along out here in
no time. Doggone it!”

“You got a hurry-up order to go somewhere?” queried Shorty, mildly
sympathetic.

“Worse than that,” groaned James G. “My sister’s coming out to spend the
summer--t’-morrow. And no cook but Patsy--and she can’t eat in the mess
house--and the house like a junk shop!”

“It looks like you was up against it, all right,” grinned Shorty. Shorty
was a sort of foreman, and was allowed much freedom of speech.

“Somebody’s got to meet her--you have Chip catch up the creams so he can
go. And send some of the boys up here to help me hoe out a little. Dell
ain’t used to roughing it; she’s just out of a medical school--got her
diploma, she was telling me in the last letter before this. She’ll be
finding microbes by the million in this old shack. You tell Patsy I’ll
be late to supper--and tell him to brace up and cook something ladies
like--cake and stuff. Patsy’ll know. I’d give a dollar to get that
little runt in the office--”

But Shorty, having heard all that it was important to know, was
clattering down the long slope again to the stable. It was supper time,
and Shorty was hungry. Also, there was news to tell, and he was curious
to see how the boys would take it. He was just turning loose the horse
when supper was called. He hurried back up the hill to the mess house,
performed hasty ablutions in the tin wash basin on the bench beside the
door, scrubbed his face dry on the roller towel, and took his place at
the long table within.

“Any mail for me?” Jack Bates looked up from emptying the third spoon of
sugar into his coffee.

“Naw--she didn’t write this time, Jack.” Shorty reached a long arm for
the “Mulligan stew.”

“How’s the dance coming on?” asked Cal Emmett.

“I guess it’s a go, all right. They’ve got them coons engaged to play.
The hotel’s fixing for a big crowd, if the weather holds like this.
Chip, Old Man wants you to catch up the creams, after supper; you’ve got
to meet the train to-morrow.”

“Which train?” demanded Chip, looking up. “Is old Dunk coming?”

“The noon train. No, he didn’t say nothing about Dunk. He wants a bunch
of you fellows to go up and hoe out the White House and slick it up for
comp’ny--got to be done t’-night. And Patsy, Old Man says for you t’ git
a move on and cook something fit to eat; something that ain’t plum full
uh microbes.”

Shorty became suddenly engaged in cooling his coffee, enjoying the
varied emotions depicted on the faces of the boys.

“Who’s coming?”

“What’s up?”

Shorty took two leisurely gulps before he answered:

“Old Man’s sister’s coming out to stay all summer--and then some, maybe.
Be here to-morrow, he said.”

“Gee whiz! Is she pretty?” This from Cal Emmett.

“Hope she ain’t over fifty.” This from Jack Bates.

“Hope she ain’t one of them four-eyed school-ma’ams,” added Happy
Jack--so called to distinguish him from Jack Bates, and also because of
his dolorous visage.

“Why can’t some one else haul her out?” began Chip. “Cal would like that
job--and he’s sure welcome to it.”

“Cal’s too dangerous. He’d have the old girl dead in love before he got
her over the first ridge, with them blue eyes and that pretty smile of
his’n. It’s up to you, Splinter--Old Man said so.”

“She’ll be dead safe with Chip. HE won’t make love to her,” retorted
Cal.

“Wonder how old she is,” repeated Jack Bates, half emptying the syrup
pitcher into his plate. Patsy had hot biscuits for supper, and Jack’s
especial weakness was hot biscuits and maple syrup.

“As to her age,” remarked Shorty, “it’s a cinch she ain’t no spring
chicken, seeing she’s the Old Man’s sister.”

“Is she a schoolma’am?” Happy Jack’s distaste for schoolma’ams dated
from his tempestuous introduction to the A B C’s, with their daily
accompaniment of a long, thin ruler.

“No, she ain’t a schoolma’am. She’s a darn sight worse. She’s a doctor.”

“Aw, come off!” Cal Emmett was plainly incredulous.

“That’s right. Old Man said she’s just finished taking a course uh
medicine--what’d yuh call that?”

“Consumption, maybe--or snakes.” Weary smiled blandly across the table.

“She got a diploma, though. Now where do you get off at?”

“Yeah--that sure means she’s a doctor,” groaned Cal.

“By golly, she needn’t try t’ pour any dope down ME,” cried a short, fat
man who took life seriously--a man they called Slim, in fine irony.

“Gosh, I’d like to give her a real warm reception,” said Jack Bates, who
had a reputation for mischief. “I know them Eastern folks, down t’ the
ground. They think cow-punchers wear horns. Yes, they do. They think
we’re holy terrors that eat with our six-guns beside our plates--and
the like of that. They make me plum tired. I’d like to--wish we knew her
brand.”

“I can tell you that,” said Chip, cynically. “There’s just two bunches
to choose from. There’s the Sweet Young Things, that faint away at sight
of a six-shooter, and squawk and catch at your arm if they see a garter
snake, and blush if you happen to catch their eye suddenly, and cry if
you don’t take off your hat every time you see them a mile off.” Chip
held out his cup for Patsy to refill.

“Yeah--I’ve run up against that brand--and they’re sure all right. They
suit ME,” remarked Cal.

“That don’t seem to line up with the doctor’s diploma,” commented Weary.

“Well, she’s the other kind then--and if she is, the Lord have mercy on
the Flying U! She’ll buy her some spurs and try to rope and cut out and
help brand. Maybe she’ll wear double-barreled skirts and ride a man’s
saddle and smoke cigarettes. She’ll try to go the men one better in
everything, and wind up by making a darn fool of herself. Either kind’s
bad enough.”

“I’ll bet she don’t run in either bunch,” began Weary. “I’ll bet she’s
a skinny old maid with a peaked nose and glasses, that’ll round us up
every Sunday and read tracts at our heads, and come down on us with both
feet about tobacco hearts and whisky livers, and the evils and devils
wrapped up in a cigarette paper. I seen a woman doctor, once--she was
stopping at the T Down when I was line-riding for them--and say, she was
a holy fright! She had us fellows going South before a week. I stampeded
clean off the range, soon as my month was up.”

“Say,” interrupted Cal, “don’t yuh remember that picture the Old Man got
last fall, of his sister? She was the image of the Old Man--and mighty
near as old.”

Chip, thinking of the morrow’s drive, groaned in real anguish of spirit.

“You won’t dast t’ roll a cigarette comin’ home, Chip,” predicted Happy
Jack, mournfully. “Yuh want t’ smoke double goin’ in.”

“I don’t THINK I’ll smoke double going in,” returned Chip, dryly. “If
the old girl don’t like my style, why the walking isn’t all taken up.”

“Say, Chip,” suggested Jack Bates, “you size her up at the depot, and,
if she don’t look promising, just slack the lines on Antelope Hill. The
creams ‘ll do the rest. If they don’t, we’ll finish the job here.”

Shorty tactfully pushed back his chair and rose. “You fellows don’t
want to git too gay,” he warned. “The Old Man’s just beginning to forget
about the calf-shed deal.” Then he went out and shut the door after him.
The boys liked Shorty; he believed in the old adage about wisdom being
bliss at certain times, and the boys were all the better for his
living up to his belief. He knew the Happy Family would stop inside the
limit--at least, they always had, so far.

“What’s the game?” demanded Cal, when the door closed behind their
indulgent foreman.

“Why, it’s this. (Pass the syrup, Happy.) T’morrow’s Sunday, so we’ll
have time t’ burn. We’ll dig up all the guns we can find, and catch
up the orneriest cayuses in our strings, and have a real, old lynching
bee--sabe?”

“Who yuh goin’ t’ hang?” asked Slim, apprehensively. “Yuh needn’t think
I’LL stand for it.”

“Aw, don’t get nervous. There ain’t power enough on the ranch t’ pull
yuh clear of the ground. We ain’t going to build no derrick,” said Jack,
witheringly. “We’ll have a dummy rigged up in the bunk house. When Chip
and the doctor heave in sight on top of the grade, we’ll break loose
down here with our bronks and our guns, and smoke up the ranch in style.
We’ll drag out Mr. Strawman, and lynch him to the big gate before they
get along. We’ll be ‘riddling him with bullets’ when they arrive--and
by that time she’ll be so rattled she won’t know whether it’s a man or a
mule we’ve got strung up.”

“You’ll have to cut down your victim before I get there,” grinned Chip.
“I never could get the creams through the gate, with a man hung to the
frame; they’d spill us into the washout by the old shed, sure as fate.”

“That’d be all right. The old maid would sure know she was out West--we
need something to add to the excitement, anyway.”

“If the Old Man’s new buggy is piled in a heap, you’ll wish you had cut
out some of the excitement,” retorted Chip.

“All right, Splinter. We won’t hang him there at all. That old
cottonwood down by the creek would do fine. It’ll curdle her blood like
Dutch cheese to see us marching him down there--and she can’t see the
hay sticking out of his sleeves, that far off.”

“What if she wants to hold an autopsy?” bantered Chip.

“By golly, we’ll stake her to a hay knife and tell her to go after him!”
 cried Slim, suddenly waking up to the situation.

The noon train slid away from the little, red depot at Dry Lake and
curled out of sight around a hill. The only arrival looked expectantly
into the cheerless waiting room, gazed after the train, which seemed the
last link between her and civilization, and walked to the edge of the
platform with a distinct frown upon the bit of forehead visible under
her felt hat.

A fat young man threw the mail sack into a weather-beaten buggy and
drove leisurely down the track to the post office. The girl watched
him out of sight and sighed disconsolately. All about her stretched the
rolling grass land, faintly green in the hollows, brownly barren on the
hilltops. Save the water tank and depot, not a house was to be seen, and
the silence and loneliness oppressed her.

The agent was dragging some boxes off the platform. She turned and
walked determinedly up to him, and the agent became embarrassed under
her level look.

“Isn’t there anyone here to meet me?” she demanded, quite needlessly.
“I am Miss Whitmore, and my brother owns a ranch, somewhere near here.
I wrote him, two weeks ago, that I was coming, and I certainly expected
him to meet me.” She tucked a wind-blown lock of brown hair under her
hat crown and looked at the agent reproachfully, as if he were to blame,
and the agent, feeling suddenly that somehow the fault was his, blushed
guiltily and kicked at a box of oranges.

“Whitmore’s rig is in town,” he said, hastily. “I saw his man at dinner.
The train was reported late, but she made up time.” Grasping desperately
at his dignity, he swallowed an abject apology and retreated into the
office.

Miss Whitmore followed him a few steps, thought better of it, and paced
the platform self-pityingly for ten minutes, at the end of which the
Flying U rig whirled up in a cloud of dust, and the agent hurried out
to help with the two trunks, and the mandolin and guitar in their canvas
cases.

The creams circled fearsomely up to the platform and stood quivering
with eagerness to be off, their great eyes rolling nervously. Miss
Whitmore took her place beside Chip with some inward trepidation mingled
with her relief. When they were quite ready and the reins loosened
suggestively, Pet stood upon her hind feet with delight and Polly lunged
forward precipitately.

The girl caught her breath, and Chip eyed her sharply from the corner
of his eye. He hoped she was not going to scream--he detested screaming
women. She looked young to be a doctor, he decided, after that lightning
survey. He hoped to goodness she wasn’t of the Sweet Young Thing order;
he had no patience with that sort of woman. Truth to tell, he had no
patience with ANY sort of woman.

He spoke to the horses authoritatively, and they obeyed and settled to
a long, swinging trot that knew no weariness, and the girl’s heart
returned to its normal action.

Two miles were covered in swift silence, then Miss Whitmore brought
herself to think of the present and realized that the young man beside
her had not opened his lips except to speak once to his team. She turned
her head and regarded him curiously, and Chip, feeling the scrutiny,
grew inwardly defiant.

Miss Whitmore decided, after a close inspection, that she rather liked
his looks, though he did not strike her as a very amiable young man.
Perhaps she was a bit tired of amiable young men. His face was thin,
and refined, and strong--the strength of level brows, straight nose
and square chin, with a pair of paradoxical lips, which were curved
and womanish in their sensitiveness; the refinement was an intangible
expression which belonged to no particular feature but pervaded the
whole face. As to his eyes, she was left to speculate upon their color,
since she had not seen them, but she reflected that many a girl would
give a good deal to own his lashes.

Of a sudden he turned his eyes from the trail and met her look squarely.
If he meant to confuse her, he failed--for she only smiled and said to
herself: “They’re hazel.”

“Don’t you think we ought to introduce ourselves?” she asked,
composedly, when she was quite sure the eyes were not brown.

“Maybe.” Chip’s tone was neutrally polite.

Miss Whitmore had suspected that he was painfully bashful, after the
manner of country young men. She now decided that he was not; he was
passively antagonistic.

“Of course you know that I’m Della Whitmore,” she said.

Chip carefully brushed a fly off Polly’s flank with the whip.

“I took it for granted. I was sent to meet a Miss Whitmore at the train,
and I took the only lady in sight.”

“You took the right one--but I’m not--I haven’t the faintest idea who
you are.”

“My name is Claude Bennett, and I’m happy to make your acquaintance.”

“I don’t believe it--you don’t look happy,” said Miss Whitmore, inwardly
amused.

“That’s the proper thing to say when you’ve been introduced to a lady,”
 remarked Chip, noncommittally, though his lips twitched at the corners.

Miss Whitmore, finding no ready reply to this truthful statement,
remarked, after a pause, that it was windy. Chip agreed that it was, and
conversation languished.

Miss Whitmore sighed and took to studying the landscape, which had
become a succession of sharp ridges and narrow coulees, water-worn and
bleak, with a purplish line of mountains off to the left. After several
miles she spoke.

“What is that animal over there? Do dogs wander over this wilderness
alone?”

Chip’s eyes followed her pointing finger.

“That’s a coyote. I wish I could get a shot at him--they’re an awful
pest, out here, you know.” He looked longingly at the rifle under his
feet. “If I thought you could hold the horses a minute--”

“Oh, I can’t! I--I’m not accustomed to horses--but I can shoot a
little.”

Chip gave her a quick, measuring glance. The coyote had halted and was
squatting upon his haunches, his sharp nose pointed inquisitively toward
them. Chip slowed the creams to a walk, raised the gun and laid it
across his knees, threw a shell into position and adjusted the sight.

“Here, you can try, if you like,” he said. “Whenever you’re ready I’ll
stop. You had better stand up--I’ll watch that you don’t fall. Ready?
Whoa, Pet!”

Miss Whitmore did not much like the skepticism in his tone, but she
stood up, took quick, careful aim and fired.

Pet jumped her full length and reared, but Chip was watching for some
such performance and had them well under control, even though he was
compelled to catch Miss Whitmore from lurching backward upon her baggage
behind the seat--which would have been bad for the guitar and mandolin,
if not for the young woman.

The coyote had sprung high in air, whirled dizzily and darted over the
hill.

“You hit him,” cried Chip, forgetting his prejudice for a moment. He
turned the creams from the road, filled with the spirit of the chase.
Miss Whitmore will long remember that mad dash over the hilltops and
into the hollows, in which she could only cling to the rifle and to
the seat as best she might, and hope that the driver knew what he was
about--which he certainly did.

“There he goes, sneaking down that coulee! He’ll get into one of those
washouts and hide, if we don’t head him off. I’ll drive around so you
can get another shot at him,” cried Chip. He headed up the hill again
until the coyote, crouching low, was fully revealed.

“That’s a fine shot. Throw another shell in, quick! You better kneel on
the seat, this time--the horses know what’s coming. Steady, Polly, my
girl!”

Miss Whitmore glanced down the hill, and then, apprehensively, at the
creams, who were clanking their bits, wild-eyed and quivering. Only
their master’s familiar voice and firm grip on the reins held them there
at all. Chip saw and interpreted the glance, somewhat contemptuously.

“Oh, of course if you’re AFRAID--”

Miss Whitmore set her teeth savagely, knelt and fired, cutting the
sentence short in his teeth and forcing his undivided attention to the
horses, which showed a strong inclination to bolt.

“I think I got him that time,” said she, nonchalantly, setting her hat
straight--though Chip, with one of his quick glances, observed that she
was rather white around the mouth.

He brought the horses dexterously into the road and quieted them.

“Aren’t you going to get my coyote?” she ventured to ask.

“Certainly. The road swings back, down that same coulee, and we’ll
pass right by it. Then I’ll get out and pick him up, while you hold the
horses.”

“You’ll hold those horses yourself,” returned Miss Whitmore, with
considerable spirit. “I’d much rather pick up the coyote, thank you.”

Chip said nothing to this, whatever he may have thought. He drove up to
the coyote with much coaxing of Pet and Polly, who eyed the gray object
askance. Miss Whitmore sprang out and seized the animal by its coarse,
bushy tail.

“Gracious, he’s heavy!” she exclaimed, after one tug.

“He’s been fattening up on Flying U calves,” remarked Chip, his foot
upon the brake.

Miss Whitmore knelt and examined the cattle thief curiously.

“Look,” she said, “here’s where I hit him the first time; the bullet
took a diagonal course from the shoulder back to the other side. It must
have gone within an inch of his heart, and would have finished him in a
short time, without that other shot--that penetrated his brain, you see;
death was instantaneous.”

Chip had taken advantage of the halt to roll a cigarette, holding the
reins tightly between his knees while he did so. He passed the loose
edge of the paper across the tip of his tongue, eying the young woman
curiously the while.

“You seem to be pretty well onto your job,” he remarked, dryly.

“I ought to be,” she said, laughing a little. “I’ve been learning the
trade ever since I was sixteen.”

“Yes? You began early.”

“My Uncle John is a doctor. I helped him in the office till he got
me into the medical school. I was brought up in an atmosphere of
antiseptics and learned all the bones in Uncle John’s ‘Boneparte’--the
skeleton, you know--before I knew all my letters.” She dragged the
coyote close to the wheel.

“Let me get hold of the tail.” Chip carefully pinched out the blaze of
his match and threw it away before he leaned over to help. With a quick
lift he landed the animal, limp and bloody, squarely upon the top of
Miss Whitmore’s largest trunk. The pointed nose hung down the side, the
white fangs exposed in a sinister grin. The girl gazed upon him proudly
at first, then in dismay.

“Oh, he’s dripping blood all over my mandolin case--and I just know it
won’t come out!” She tugged frantically at the instrument.

“‘Out, damned spot!’” quoted Chip in a sepulchral tone before he turned
to assist her.

Miss Whitmore let go the mandolin and stared blankly up at him, and
Chip, offended at her frank surprise that he should quote Shakespeare,
shut his lips tightly and relapsed into silence.



CHAPTER II. -- Over the “Hog’s Back.”



“That’s Flying U ranch,” volunteered Chip, as they turned sharply to the
right and began to descend a long grade built into the side of a steep,
rocky bluff. Below them lay the ranch in a long, narrow coulee. Nearest
them sprawled the house, low, white and roomy, with broad porches and
wide windows; further down the coulee, at the base of a gentle slope,
were the sheds, the high, round corrals and the haystacks. Great, board
gates were distributed in seemingly useless profusion, while barbed wire
fences stretched away in all directions. A small creek, bordered with
cottonwoods and scraggly willows, wound aimlessly away down the coulee.

“J. G. doesn’t seem to have much method,” remarked Miss Whitmore, after
a critical survey. “What are all those log cabins scattered down the
hill for? They look as though J. G. had a handful that he didn’t want,
and just threw them down toward the stable and left them lying where
they happened to fall.”

“It does, all right,” conceded Chip. “They’re the bunk house--where
us fellows sleep--and the mess house, where we eat, and then come the
blacksmith shop and a shack we keep all kinds of truck in, and--”

“What--in--the world--”

A chorus of shouts and shots arose from below. A scurrying group of
horsemen burst over the hill behind the house, dashed half down the
slope, and surrounded the bunk house with blood-curdling yells. Chip
held the creams to a walk and furtively watched his companion. Miss
Whitmore’s eyes were very wide open; plainly, she was astonished beyond
measure at the uproar. Whether she was also frightened, Chip could not
determine.

The menacing yells increased in volume till the very hills seemed to
cower in fear. Miss Whitmore gasped when a limp form was dragged from
the cabin and lifted to the back of a snorting pony.

“They’ve got a rope around that man’s neck,” she breathed, in a
horrified half whisper. “Are--they--going to HANG him?”

“It kinda looks that way, from here,” said Chip, inwardly ashamed. All
at once it struck him as mean and cowardly to frighten a lady who had
traveled far among strangers and who had that tired droop to her mouth.
It wasn’t a fair game; it was cheating. Only for his promise to the
boys, he would have told her the truth then and there.

Miss Whitmore was not a stupid young woman; his very indifference told
her all that she needed to know. She tore her eyes from the confused
jumble of gesticulating men and restive steeds to look sharply at Chip.
He met her eyes squarely for an instant, and the horror oozed from her
and left only amused chagrin that they should try to trick her so.

“Hurry up,” she commanded, “so I can be in at the death. Remember, I’m a
doctor. They’re tying him to his horse--he looks half dead with fright.”

Inwardly she added: “He overacts the part dreadfully.”

The little cavalcade in the coulee fired a spectacular volley into the
air and swept down the slope like a dry-weather whirlwind across a patch
of alkali ground. Through the big gate and up the road past the stables
they thundered, the prisoner bound and helpless in their midst.

Then something happened. A wide-open River Press, flapping impotently in
the embrace of a willow, caught the eye of Banjo, a little blaze--faced
bay who bore the captive. He squatted, ducked backward so suddenly that
his reins slipped from Slim’s fingers and lowered his head between his
white front feet. His rider seemed stupid beyond any that Banjo had ever
known--and he had known many. Snorting and pitching, he was away
before the valiant band realized what was happening in their midst. The
prisoner swayed drunkenly in the saddle. At the third jump his hat flew
off, disclosing the jagged end of a two-by-four.

The Happy Family groaned as one man and gave chase.

Banjo, with almost human maliciousness, was heading up the road straight
toward Chip and the woman doctor--and she must be a poor doctor
indeed, and a badly frightened one, withal, if she failed to observe a
peculiarity in the horse thief’s cranium.

Cal Emmett dug his spurs into his horse and shot by Slim like a
locomotive, shouting profanity as he went.

“Head him into the creek,” yelled Happy Jack, and leaned low over the
neck of his sorrel.

Weary Willie stood up in his stirrups and fanned Glory with his hat.
“Yip, yee--e-e! Go to it, Banjo, old boy! Watch his nibs ride, would
yuh? He’s a broncho buster from away back.” Weary Willie was the only
man of them all who appeared to find any enjoyment in the situation.

“If Chip only had the sense to slow up and give us a chance--or spill
that old maid over the bank!” groaned Jack Bates, and plied whip and
spur to overtake the runaway.

Now the captive was riding dizzily, head downward, frightening Banjo
half out of his senses. What he had started as a grim jest, he now
continued in deadly earnest; what was this uncanny semblance of a
cow-puncher which he could not unseat, yet which clung so precariously
to the saddle? He had no thought now of bucking in pure devilment--he
was galloping madly, his eyes wild and staring.

Of a sudden, Chip saw danger lurking beneath the fun of it. He leaned
forward a little, got a fresh grip on the reins and took the whip.

“Hang tight, now--I’m going to beat that horse to the Hog’s Back.”

Miss Whitmore, laughing till the tears stood in her eyes, braced herself
mechanically. Chip had been laughing also--but that was before Banjo
struck into the hill road in his wild flight from the terror that rode
in the saddle.

A smart flick of the whip upon their glossy backs, and the creams sprang
forward at a run. The buggy was new and strong, and if they kept the
road all would be well--unless they met Banjo upon the narrow ridge
between two broad-topped knolls, known as the Hog’s Back. Another tap,
and the creams ran like deer. One wheel struck a cobble stone, and the
buggy lurched horribly.

“Stop! There goes my coyote!” cried Miss Whitmore, as a gray object slid
down under the hind wheel.

“Hang on or you’ll go next,” was all the comfort she got, as Chip braced
himself for the struggle before him. The Hog’s Back was reached, but
Banjo was pounding up the hill beyond, his nostrils red and flaring, his
sides reeking with perspiration. Behind him tore the Flying U boys in a
vain effort to head him back into the coulee before mischief was done.

Chip drew his breath sharply when the creams swerved out upon the broad
hilltop, just as Banjo thundered past with nothing left of his rider but
the legs, and with them shorn of their plumpness as the hay dribbled out
upon the road.

A fresh danger straightway forced itself upon Chip’s consciousness.
The creams, maddened by the excitement, were running away. He held
them sternly to the road and left the stopping of them to Providence,
inwardly thanking the Lord that Miss Whitmore did not seem to be the
screaming kind of woman.

The “vigilantes” drew hastily out of the road and scudded out of sight
down a gully as the creams lunged down the steep grade and across the
shallow creek bed. Fortunately the great gate by the stable swung wide
open and they galloped through and up the long slope to the house,
coming more under control at every leap, till, by a supreme effort, Chip
brought them, panting, to a stand before the porch where the Old Man
stood boiling over with anxiety and excitement. James G. Whitmore was
not a man who took things calmly; had he been a woman he would have been
called fussy.

“What in--what was you making a race track out of the grade for,” he
demanded, after he had bestowed a hasty kiss beside the nose of his
sister.

Chip dropped a heavy trunk upon the porch and reached for the guitar
before he answered.

“I was just trying those new springs on the buggy.”

“It was very exciting,” commented Miss Whitmore, airily. “I shot a
coyote, J. G., but we lost it coming down the hill. Your men were
playing a funny game--hare and hounds, it looked like. Or were they
breaking a new horse?”

The Old Man looked at Chip, intelligence dawning in his face. There was
something back of it all, he knew. He had been asleep when the uproar
began, and had reached the door only in time to see the creams come down
the grade like a daylight shooting star.

“I guess they was breaking a bronk,” he said, carelessly; “you’ve got
enough baggage for a trip round the world, Dell. I hope it ain’t all
dope for us poor devils. Tell Shorty I want t’ see him, Chip.”

Chip took the reins from the Old Man’s hands, sprang in and drove back
down the hill to the stables.


The “reception committee,” as Chip sarcastically christened them,
rounded up the runaway and sneaked back to the ranch by the coulee
trail. With much unseemly language, they stripped the saddle and a
flapping pair of overalls off poor, disgraced Banjo, and kicked him out
of the corral.

“That’s the way Jack’s schemes always pan out,” grumbled Slim. “By
golly, yuh don’t get me into another jackpot like that!”

“You might explain why you let that” (several kinds of) “cayuse get
away from you!” retorted Jack, fretfully. “If you’d been onto your job,
things would have been smooth as silk.”

“Wonder what the old maid thought,” broke in Weary, bent on preserving
peace in the Happy Family.

“I’ll bet she never saw us at all!” laughed Cal. “Old Splinter gave
her all she wanted to do, hanging to the rig. The way he came down that
grade wasn’t slow. He just missed running into Banjo on the Hog’s Back
by the skin of the teeth. If he had, it’d be good-by, doctor--and Chip,
too. Gee, that was a close shave!”

“Well,” said Happy Jack, mournfully, “if we don’t all get the bounce for
this, I miss my guess. It’s a little the worst we’ve done yet.”

“Except that time we tin-canned that stray steer, last winter,” amended
Weary, chuckling over the remembrance as he fastened the big gate behind
them.

“Yes, that was another of Jack’s fool schemes,” put in Slim. “Go and
tin-can a four-year-old steer and let him take after the Old Man and
put him on the calf shed, first pass he made. Old Man was sure hot about
that--by golly, it didn’t help his rheumatism none.”

“He’ll sure go straight in the air over this,” reiterated Happy Jack,
with mournful conviction.

“There’s old Splinter at the bunk house--drawing our pictures, I’ll bet
a dollar. Hey, Chip! How you vas, already yet?” sung out Weary, whose
sunny temper no calamity could sour.

Chip glanced at them and went on cutting the leaves of a late magazine
which he had purloined from the Dry Lake barber. Cal Emmett strode up
and grabbed the limp, gray hat from his head and began using it for a
football.

“Here! Give that back!” commanded Chip, laughing. “DON’T make a dish rag
of my new John B. Stetson, Cal. It won’t be fit for the dance.”

“Gee! It don’t lack much of being a dish rag, now, if I’m any
judge. Now! Great Scott!” He held it at arm’s length and regarded it
derisively.

“Well, it was new two years ago,” explained Chip, making an ineffectual
grab at it.

Cal threw it to him and came and sat down upon his heels to peer over
Chip’s arm at the magazine.

“How’s the old maid doctor?” asked Jack Bates, leaning against the door
while he rolled a cigarette.

“Scared plum to death. I left the remains in the Old Man’s arms.”

“Was she scared, honest?” Cal left off studying the “Types of Fair
Women.”

“What did she say when we broke loose?” Jack drew a match sharply along
a log.

“Nothing. Well, yes, she said ‘Are they going to H-A-N-G that man?’”
 Chip’s voice quavered the words in a shrill falsetto.

“The deuce she did!” Jack indulged in a gratified laugh.

“What did she say when you put the creams under the whip, up there? I
don’t suppose the old girl is wise to the fact that you saved her neck
right then--but you sure did. You done yourself proud, Splinter.” Cal
patted Chip’s knee approvingly.

Chip blushed under the praise and hastily answered the question.

“She hollered out: ‘Stop! There goes my COYOTE!’”

“Her COYOTE?”

“HER coyote?”

“What the devil was she doing with a COYOTE?”

The Happy Family stood transfixed, and Chip’s eyes were seen to laugh.

“HER COYOTE. Did any of you fellows happen to see a dead coyote up on
the grade? Because if you did, it’s the doctor’s.”

Weary Willie walked deliberately over and seized Chip by the shoulders,
bringing him to his feet with one powerful yank.

“Don’t you try throwing any loads into THIS crowd, young man. Answer me
truly-s’help yuh. How did that old maid come by a coyote--a dead one?”

Chip squirmed loose and reached for his cigarette book. “She shot it,”
 he said, calmly, but with twitching lips.

“Shot it!” Five voices made up the incredulous echo.

“What with?” demanded Weary when he got his breath.

“With my rifle. I brought it out from town today. Bert Rogers had left
it at the barber shop for me.”

“Gee whiz! And them creams hating a gun like poison! She didn’t shoot
from the rig, did she?”

“Yes,” said Chip, “she did. The first time she didn’t know any
better--and the second time she was hot at me for hinting she was
scared. She’s a spunky little devil, all right. She’s busy hating me
right now for running the grade--thinks I did it to scare her, I guess.
That’s all some fool women know.”

“She’s a howling sport, then!” groaned Cal, who much preferred the Sweet
Young Things.

“No--I sized her up as a maverick.”

“What does she look like?”

“How old is she?”

“I never asked her age,” replied Chip, his face lighting briefly in a
smile. “As to her looks, she isn’t cross-eyed, and she isn’t four-eyed.
That’s as much as I noticed.” After this bald lie he became busy with
his cigarette. “Give me that magazine, Cal. I didn’t finish cutting the
leaves.”



CHAPTER III. -- Silver.



Miss Della Whitmore gazed meditatively down the hill at the bunk house.
The boys were all at work, she knew. She had heard J. G. tell two of
them to “ride the sheep coulee fence,” and had been consumed with
amazed curiosity at the order. Wherefore should two sturdy young men be
commanded to ride a fence, when there were horses that assuredly needed
exercise--judging by their antics--and needed it badly? She resolved to
ask J. G. at the first opportunity.

The others were down at the corrals, branding a few calves which
belonged on the home ranch. She had announced her intention of going
to look on, and her brother, knowing how the boys would regard her
presence, had told her plainly that they did not want her. He said it
was no place for girls, anyway. Then he had put on a very dirty pair of
overalls and hurried down to help for he was not above lending a hand
when there was extra work to be done.

Miss Della Whitmore tidied the kitchen and dusted the sitting room,
and then, having a pair of mischievously idle hands and a very feminine
curiosity, conceived an irrepressible desire to inspect the bunk house.

J. G. would tell her that, also, was no place for girls, she supposed,
but J. G. was not present, so his opinion did not concern her. She had
been at the Flying U ranch a whole week, and was beginning to feel that
its resources for entertainment--aside from the masculine contingent,
which held some promising material--were about exhausted. She had
climbed the bluffs which hemmed the coulee on either side, had selected
her own private saddle horse, a little sorrel named Concho, and had made
friends with Patsy, the cook. She had dazzled Cal Emmett with her wiles
and had found occasion to show Chip how little she thought of him; a
highly unsatisfactory achievement, since Chip calmly over-looked her
whenever common politeness permitted him.

There yet remained the unexplored mystery of that little cabin down the
slope, from which sounded so much boylike laughter of an evening. She
watched and waited till she was positive the coast was clear, then
clapped an old hat of J. G.’s upon her head and ran lightly down the
hill.

With her hand upon the knob, she ran her eye critically along the outer
wall and decided that it had, at some remote date, been treated to a
coat of whitewash; gave the knob a sudden twist, with a backward
glance like a child stealing cookies, stepped in and came near falling
headlong. She had not expected that remoteness of floor common to cabins
built on a side hill.

“Well!” She pulled herself together and looked curiously about her. What
struck her at first was the total absence of bunks. There were a couple
of plain, iron bedsteads and two wooden ones made of rough planks. There
was a funny-looking table made of an inverted coffee box with legs of
two-by-four, and littered with a characteristic collection of bachelor
trinkets. There was a glass lamp with a badly smoked chimney, a pack of
cards, a sack of smoking tobacco and a box of matches. There was a tin
box with spools of very coarse thread, some equally coarse needles and a
pair of scissors. There was also--and Miss Whitmore gasped when she saw
it--a pile of much-read magazines with the latest number of her favorite
upon the top. She went closer and examined them, and glanced around
the room with doubting eyes. There were spurs, quirts, chaps and
queer-looking bits upon the walls; there were cigarette stubs and
burned matches innumerable upon the rough, board floor, and here in
her hand--she turned the pages of her favorite abstractedly and a paper
fluttered out and fell, face upward, on the floor. She stooped and
recovered it, glanced and gasped.

“Well!”

It was only a pencil sketch done on cheap, unruled tablet paper, but
her mind dissolved into a chaos of interrogation marks and exclamation
points--with the latter predominating more and more the longer she
looked.

It showed blunt-topped hills and a shallow coulee which she remembered
perfectly. In the foreground a young woman in a smart tailored costume,
the accuracy of which was something amazing, stood proudly surveying
a dead coyote at her feet. In a corner of the picture stood a
weather-beaten stump with a long, thin splinter beside it on the ground.
Underneath was written in characters beautifully symmetrical: “The old
maid’s credential card.”

There was no gainsaying the likeness; even the rakish tilt of the jaunty
felt hat, caused by the wind and that wild dash across country, was
painstakingly reproduced. And the fanciful tucks on the sleeve of the
gown--“and I didn’t suppose he had deigned so much as a glance!” was her
first coherent thought.

Miss Whitmore’s soul burned with resentment. No woman, even at
twenty-three, loves to be called “the old maid”--especially by a
keen-witted young man with square chin and lips with a pronounced curve
to them. And whoever supposed the fellow could draw like that--and
notice every tiny little detail without really looking once? Of course,
she knew her hat was crooked, with the wind blowing one’s head off,
almost, but he had no business: “The old maid’s credential card!”--“Old
maid,” indeed!

“The audacity of him!”

“Beg pardon?”

Miss Whitmore wheeled quickly, her heart in the upper part of her
throat, judging by the feel of it. Chip himself stood just inside the
door, eying her coldly.

“I was not speaking,” said Miss Whitmore, haughtily, in futile denial.

To this surprising statement Chip had nothing to say. He went to one of
the iron beds, stooped and drew out a bundle which, had Miss Whitmore
asked him what it was, he would probably have called his “war sack.” She
did not ask; she stood and watched him, though her conscience assured
her it was a dreadfully rude thing to do, and that her place was up at
the house. Miss Whitmore was frequently at odds with her conscience;
at this time she stood her ground, backed by her pride, which was her
chiefest ally in such emergencies.

When he drew a huge, murderous-looking revolver from its scabbard and
proceeded calmly to insert cartridge after cartridge, Miss Whitmore was
constrained to speech.

“Are you--going to--SHOOT something?”

The question struck them both as particularly inane, in view of his
actions.

“I am,” replied he, without looking up. He whirled the cylinder into
place, pushed the bundle back under the bed and rose, polishing the
barrel of the gun with a silk handkerchief.

Miss Whitmore hoped he wasn’t going to murder anyone; he looked keyed up
to almost any desperate deed.

“Who--what are you going to shoot?” Really, the question asked itself.

Chip raised his eyes for a fleeting glance which took in the pencil
sketch in her hand. Miss Whitmore observed that his eyes were much
darker than hazel; they were almost black. And there was, strangely
enough, not a particle of curve to his lips; they were thin, and
straight, and stern.

“Silver. He broke his leg.”

“Oh!” There was real horror in her tone. Miss Whitmore knew all about
Silver from garrulous Patsy. Chip had rescued a pretty, brown colt from
starving on the range, had bought him of the owner, petted and cared for
him until he was now one of the best saddle horses on the ranch. He was
a dark chestnut, with beautiful white, crinkly mane and tail and white
feet. Miss Whitmore had seen Chip riding him down the coulee trail only
yesterday, and now--Her heart ached with the pity of it.

“How did it happen?”

“I don’t know. He was in the little pasture. Got kicked, maybe.” Chip
jerked open the door with a force greatly in excess of the need of it.

Miss Whitmore started impulsively toward him. Her eyes were not quite
clear.

“Don’t--not yet! Let me go. If it’s a straight break I can set the bone
and save him.”

Chip, savage in his misery, regarded her over one square shoulder.

“Are you a veterinary surgeon, may I ask?”

Miss Whitmore felt her cheeks grow hot, but she stood her ground.

“I am not. But a broken bone is a broken bone, whether it belongs to a
man--or some OTHER beast!”

“Y--e-s?”

Chip’s way of saying yes was one of his chief weapons of annihilation.
He had a peculiar, taunting inflection which he could give to it, upon
occasion, which caused prickles of flesh upon the victim. To say that
Miss Whitmore was not utterly quenched argues well for her courage. She
only gasped, as though treated to an unexpected dash of cold water, and
went on.

“I’m sure I might save him if you’d let me try. Or are you really eager
to shoot him?”

Chip’s muscles shrank. Eager to shoot him--Silver, the only thing that
loved and understood him?

“You may come and look at him, if you like,” he said, after a breath or
two.

Miss Whitmore overlooked the tolerance of the tone and stepped to his
side, mechanically clutching the sketch in her fingers. It was Chip,
looking down at her from his extra foot of height, who called her
attention to it.

“Are you thinking of using that for a plaster?”

Miss Whitmore started and blushed, then, with an uptilt of chin:

“If I need a strong irritant, yes!” She calmly rolled the paper into a
tiny tube and thrust it into the front of her pink shirt-waist for want
of a pocket--and Chip, watching her surreptitiously, felt a queer grip
in his chest, which he thought it best to set down as anger.

Silently they hurried down where Silver lay, his beautiful, gleaming
mane brushing the tender green of the young grass blades. He lifted his
head when he heard Chip’s step, and neighed wistfully. Chip bent over
him, black agony in his eyes. Miss Whitmore, looking on, realized
for the first time that the suffering of the horse was a mere trifle
compared to that of his master. Her eyes wandered to the loaded revolver
which bulged his pocket behind, and she shuddered--but not for Silver.
She went closer and laid her hand upon the shimmery mane. The horse
snorted nervously and struggled to rise.

“He’s not used to a woman,” said Chip, with a certain accent of pride.
“I guess this is the closest he’s ever been to one. You see, he’s never
had any one handle him but me.”

“Then he certainly is no lady’s horse,” said Miss Whitmore,
good-naturedly. Somehow, in the last moment, her attitude toward Chip
had changed considerably. “Try and make him let me feel the break.”

With much coaxing and soothing words it was accomplished, and it did not
take long, for it was a front leg, broken straight across, just above
the fetlock. Miss Whitmore stood up and smiled into the young man’s
eyes, conscious of a desire to bring the curve back into his lips.

“It’s very simple,” she declared, cheerfully. “I know I can cure him. We
had a colt at home with his leg broken the same way, and he was entirely
cured--and doesn’t even limp. Of course,” she added, honestly, “Uncle
John doctored him--but I helped.”

Chip drew the back of his gloved hand quickly across his eyes and
swallowed.

“Miss Whitmore--if you could save old Silver--”

Miss Whitmore, the self-contained young medical graduate, blinked
rapidly and found urgent need of tucking in wind-blown, brown locks,
with her back to the tall cow-puncher who had unwittingly dropped his
mask for an instant. She took off J. G.’s old hat, turned it clean
around twice and put it back exactly as it was before; unless the tilt
over her left ear was a trifle more pronounced. Show me the woman who
can set a hat straight upon her head without aid of a mirror!

“We must get him up from there and into a box stall. There is one, isn’t
there?”

“Y--e-s--” Chip hesitated. “I wouldn’t ask the Old--your brother, for
the use of it, though; not even for Silver.”

“I will,” returned she, promptly. “I never feel any compunction about
asking for what I want--if I can’t get it any other way. I can’t
understand why you wanted to shoot--you must have known this bone could
be set.”

“I didn’t WANT to--” Chip bent over and drove a fly from Silver’s
shoulder. “When a horse belonging to the outfit gets crippled like that,
he makes coyote bait. A forty-dollar cow-puncher can’t expect any better
for his own horse.”

“He’ll GET better, whatever he may expect. I’m just spoiling for
something to practice on, anyway--and he’s such a beauty. If you can get
him up, lead him to the stable while I go and tell J. G. and get some
one to help.” She started away.

“Whom shall I get?” she called back.

“Weary, if you can--and Slim’s a good hand with horses, too.”

“Slim--is that the tall, lanky man?”

“No--he’s the short, fat one. That bean-pole is Shorty.”

Miss Whitmore fixed these facts firmly in her memory and ran swiftly to
where rose all the dust and noise from the further corral. She climbed
up until she could look conveniently over the top rail. The fence seemed
to her dreadfully high--a clear waste of straight, sturdy poles.

“J. G--e-e-e!”

“Baw--h-h-h!” came answer from a wholly unexpected source as a big,
red cow charged and struck the fence under her feet a blow which nearly
dislodged her from her perch. The cow recoiled a few steps and lowered
her head truculently.

“Scat! Shoo, there! Go on away, you horrid old thing you! Oh, J.
G--e-e-e!”

Weary, who was roping, had just dragged a calf up to the fire and was
making a loop to catch another when the cow made a second charge at the
fence. He dashed in ahead of her, his horse narrowly escaping an ugly
gash from her long, wicked horns. As he dodged he threw his rope with
the peculiar, back-hand twist of the practiced roper, catching her by
the head and one front foot. Straight across the corral he shot to
the end of a forty-foot rope tied fast to the saddle horn. The red cow
flopped with a thump which knocked all desire for trouble out of her for
the time. Shorty slipped the rope off and climbed the fence, but the cow
only shook her aching sides and limped sullenly away to the far side of
the corral. J. G. and the boys had shinned up the fence like scared cats
up a tree when the trouble began, and perched in a row upon the top. The
Old Man looked across and espied his sister, wide-eyed and undignified,
watching the outcome.

“Dell! What in thunder the YOU doing on that fence?” he shouted across
the corral.

“What in thunder are you doing on the fence, J. G.?” she flung back at
him.

The Old Man climbed shamefacedly down, followed by the others. “Is that
what you call ‘getting put in the clear’?” asked she, genially. “I see
now--it means clear on the top rail.”

“You go back to the house and stay there!” commanded J. G., wrathfully.
The boys were showing unmistakable symptoms of mirth, and the laugh was
plainly against the Old Man.

“Oh, no,” came her voice, honey-sweet and calm. “Shoo that cow this way
again, will you, Mr..Weary? I like to watch J. G. shin up the fence.
It’s good for him; it makes one supple, and J. G.’s actually getting
fat.”

“Hurry along with that calf!” shouted the Old Man, recovering the
branding iron and turning his back on his tormentor.

The boys, beyond grinning furtively at one another, behaved with quite
praiseworthy gravity. Miss Whitmore watched while Weary dragged a
spotted calf up to the fire and the boys threw it to the ground and held
it until the Old Man had stamped it artistically with a smoking U.

“Oh, J. G.!”

“Ain’t you gone yet? What d’yuh want?”

“Silver broke his leg.”

“Huh. I knew that long ago. Chip’s gone to shoot him. You go on to the
house, doggone it! You’ll have every cow in the corral on the fight.
That red waist of yours--”

“It isn’t red, it’s pink--a beautiful rose pink. If your cows don’t like
it, they’ll have to be educated up to it. Chip isn’t either going to
shoot that horse, J. G. I’m going to set his leg and cure him--and I’m
going to keep him in one of your box stalls. There, now!”

Cal Emmett took a sudden fit of coughing and leaned his forehead weakly
against a rail, and Weary got into some unnecessary argument with his
horse and bolted across to the gate, where his shoulders were seen to
shake--possibly with a nervous chill; the bravest riders are sometimes
so affected. Nobody laughed, however. Indeed, Slim seemed unusually
serious, even for him, while Happy Jack looked positively in pain.

“I want that short, fat man to help” (Slim squirmed at this blunt
identification of himself) “and Mr. Weary, also.” Miss Whitmore might
have spoken with a greater effect of dignity had she not been clinging
to the top of the fence with two dainty slipper toes thrust between the
rails not so very far below. Under the circumstances, she looked like a
pretty, spoiled little schoolgirl.

“Oh. You’ve turned horse doctor, have yuh?” J. G. leaned suddenly upon
his branding iron and laughed. “Doggone it, that ain’t a bad idea. I’ve
got two box stalls, and there’s an old gray horse in the pasture--the
same old gray horse that come out uh the wilderness--with a bad case uh
string-halt. I’ll have some uh the boys ketch him up and you can start a
horsepital!”

“Is that supposed to be a joke, J. G.? I never can tell YOUR jokes by
ear. If it is, I’ll laugh. I’m going to use whatever I need and you can
do without Mr.--er--those two men.”

“Oh, go ahead. The horse don’t belong to ME, so I’m willing you should
practice on him a while. Say! Dell! Give him that truck you’ve been
pouring down me for the last week. Maybe he’ll relish the taste of the
doggone stuff--I don’t.”

“I suppose you’ve labeled THAT a ‘Joke--please laugh here,’” sighed Miss
Whitmore, plaintively, climbing gingerly down.



CHAPTER IV. -- An Ideal Picture.



“I guess I’ll go down to Denson’s to-day,” said J. G. at the breakfast
table one morning. “Maybe we can get that grass widow to come and keep
house for us.”

“I don’t want any old grass widow to keep house,” protested Della. “I’m
getting along well enough, so long as Patsy bakes the bread, and meat,
and cake, and stuff. It’s just fun to keep house. The only trouble is,
there isn’t half enough to keep me busy. I’m going to get a license to
practice medicine, so if there’s any sickness around I can be of some
use. You say it’s fifty miles to the nearest doctor. But that needn’t
make a grass widow necessary. I can keep house--it looks better than
when I came, and you know it.” Which remark would have hurt the feelings
of several well-meaning cow-punchers, had they overheard it.

“Oh, I ain’t finding fault with your housekeeping--you do pretty well
for a green hand. But Patsy’ll have to go with the round-up when it
starts, and what men I keep on the ranch will have to eat with us.
That’s the way I’ve been used to fixing things; I was never so good I
couldn’t eat at the same table with my men; if they wasn’t fit for my
company I fired ‘em and got fellows that was. I’ve had this bunch a good
long while, now. You can do all right with just me, but you couldn’t
cook for two or three men; you can’t cook good enough, even if it wasn’t
too much work.” J. G. had a blunt way of stating disagreeable facts,
occasionally.

“Very well, get your grass widow by all means,” retorted she with much
wasted dignity.

“She’s a swell cook, and a fine housekeeper, and shell keep yuh from
getting lonesome. She’s good company, the Countess is.” He grinned when
he said it “I’ll have Chip ketch up the creams, and you get ready and go
along with us. It’ll give you a chance to size up the kind uh neighbors
yuh got.”

There was real pleasure in driving swiftly over the prairie land,
through the sweet, spring sunshine, and Miss Whitmore tingled with
enthusiasm till they drove headlong into a deep coulee which sheltered
the Denson family.

“This road is positively dangerous!” she exclaimed when they reached a
particularly steep place and Chip threw all his weight upon the brake.

“We’ll get the Countess in beside yuh, coming back, and then yuh won’t
rattle around in the seat so much. She’s good and solid--just hang onto
her and you’ll be all right,” said J. G.

“If I don’t like her looks--and I know I won’t--I’ll get into the front
seat and you can hang onto her yourself, Mr. J. G. Whitmore.”

Chip, who had been silent till now, glanced briefly over his shoulder.

“It’s a cinch you’ll take the front seat,” he remarked, laconically.

“J. G., if you hire a woman like that--”

“Like what? Doggone it, it takes a woman to jump at conclusions! The
Countess is all right. She talks some--”

“I’d tell a man she does!” broke in Chip, tersely.

“Well, show me the woman that don’t! Don’t you be bluffed so easy, Dell.
I never seen the woman yet that Chip had any time for. The Countess is
all right, and she certainly can cook! I admit she talks consider’ble--”

Chip laughed grimly, and the Old Man subsided.

At the house a small, ginger-whiskered man came down to the gate to
greet them.

“Why, how--de-do! I couldn’t make out who ‘t was comin’, but Mary, she
up an’ rek’nized the horses. Git right out an’ come on in! We’ve had our
dinner, but I guess the wimmin folks can scare ye up a bite uh suthin’.
This yer sister? We heard she was up t’ your place. She the one that
set one uh your horse’s leg? Bill, he was tellin’ about it. I dunno as
wimmin horse doctors is very common, but I dunno why not. I get a horse
with somethin’ the matter of his foot, and I dunno what. I’d like t’
have ye take a look at it, fore ye go. ‘Course, I expect t’ pay ye.”

The Old Man winked appreciatively at Chip before he came humanely to
the rescue and explained that his sister was not a horse doctor, and Mr.
Denson, looking very disappointed, reiterated his invitation to enter.

Mrs. Denson, a large woman who narrowly escaped being ginger-whiskered
like her husband, beamed upon them from the doorway.

“Come right on in! Louise, here’s comp’ny! The house is all tore up--we
been tryin’ t’ clean house a little. Lay off yer things an’ I’ll git yuh
some dinner right away. I’m awful glad yuh come over--I do hate t’ see
folks stand on cer’mony out here where neighbors is so skurce. I guess
yuh think we ain’t been very neighborly, but we been tryin’ t’ clean
house, an’ me an’ Louise ain’t had a minute we could dast call our own,
er we’d a been over t’ seen yuh before now. Yuh must git awful lonesome,
comin’ right out from the East where neighbors is thick. Do lay off yer
things!”

Della looked appealingly at J. G., who again came to the rescue. Somehow
he made himself heard long enough to explain their errand, and to
emphasize the fact that they were in a great hurry, and had eaten dinner
before they started from home. In his sister’s opinion he made one
exceedingly rash statement. He said that he wished to hire Mrs. Denson’s
sister for the summer. Mrs. Denson immediately sent a shrill call for
Louise.

Then appeared the Countess, tall, gaunt and muscular, with sallow skin
and a nervous manner.

“The front seat or walk!” declared Miss Whitmore, mentally, after a
brief scrutiny and began storing up a scathing rebuke for J. G.

“Louise, this is Miss Whitmore,” began Mrs. Denson, cheerfully,
fortified by a fresh lungful of air. “They’re after yuh t’ go an’
keep house for ‘em, an’ I guess yuh better go, seein’ we got the house
cleaned all but whitewashin’ the cellar an’ milk room an’ kals’minin’
the upstairs, an’ I’ll make Bill do that, an’ ‘t won’t hurt him a mite.
They’ll give yuh twenty-five dollars a month an’ keep yuh all summer,
an’ as much longer as his sister stays. I guess yuh might as well go,
fer they can’t git anybody else that’ll keep things up in shape an’ be
comp’ny fer his sister, an’ I b’lieve in helpin’ a neighbor out when yuh
can. You go right an’ pack up yer trunk, an’ don’t worry about me--I’ll
git along somehow, now the house-cleanin’s most done.”

Louise had been talking also, but her sister seemed to have a stronger
pair of lungs, for her voice drowned that of the Countess, who retreated
to “pack up.”

The minutes dragged by, to the tune of several chapters of family
history as voluminously interpreted by Mrs. Denson. Miss Whitmore had
always boasted the best-behaved of nerves, but this day she developed a
genuine case of “fidgets.” Once she saw Chip’s face turned inquiringly
toward the window, and telegraphed her state of mind--while Mrs.
Denson’s back was turned--so eloquently that Chip was swept at once into
sympathetic good-fellowship. He arranged the cushion on the front seat
significantly, and was rewarded by an emphatic, though furtive, nod
and smile. Whereupon he leaned comfortably back, rolled a cigarette and
smoked contentedly, at peace with himself and the world--though he did
not in the least know why.

“An’ as I told Louise, folks has got t’ put up with things an’ not be
huntin’ trouble with a club all the time, if they expect t’ git any
comfort out uh this life. We ain’t had the best uh luck, seems t’ me,
but we always git along somehow, an’ we ain’t had no sickness except
when--”

A confused uproar arose in the room above them, followed, immediately by
a humpety bump and a crash as a small, pink object burst open a door and
rolled precipitately into their midst. It proved to be one of the little
Densons, who kicked feebly with both feet and then lay still.

“Mercy upon us! Ellen, who pushed Sary down them stairs? She’s kilt!”

Della sprang up and lifted the child in her arms, passing her hand
quickly over the head and plump body.

“Bring a little cold water, Mrs. Denson. She’s only stunned, I think.”

“Well, it does beat all how handy you go t’ work. Anybody c’d see t’ you
know your business. I’m awful glad you was here--there, darlin’, don’t
cry--Ellen, an’ Josephine, an’ Sybilly, an’ Margreet, you come down here
t’ me!”

The quartet, snuffling and reluctant, was dragged ignominiously to
the middle of the floor and there confessed, ‘mid tears and much
recrimination, that they had been peeping down at the “comp’ny” through
various knot-holes in the chamber floor; that, as Sary’s knot-hole was
next the wall, her range of vision was restricted to the thin spot upon
the crown of J. G.’s head, and the back of his neck. Sary longed for
sight of the woman horse doctor, and when she essayed to crowd in and
usurp Ellen’s point of vantage, there ensued a war of extermination
which ended in the literal downfall of Sary.

By the time this checked-apron court of inquiry adjourned, Louise
appeared and said she believed she was ready, and Miss Whitmore escaped
from the house far in advance of the others--and such were Chip’s
telepathic powers that he sprang down voluntarily and assisted her to
the front seat without a word being said by either.

Followed a week of dullness at the ranch, with the Countess scrubbing
and dusting and cleaning from morning till night. The Little Doctor, as
the bunk house had christened her, was away attending the State Medical
Examination at Helena.

“Gee-whiz!” sighed Cal on Sunday afternoon. “It seems mighty queer
without the Little Doctor around here, sassing the Old Man and putting
the hull bunch of us on the fence about once a day. If it wasn’t for Len
Adams--”

“It wouldn’t do you any good to throw a nasty loop at the Little
Doctor,” broke in Weary, “‘cause she’s spoken for, by all signs and
tokens. There’s some fellow back East got a long rope on her.”

“You got the papers for that?” jeered Cal. “The Little Doctor don’t
act the way I’d want my girl t’ act, supposin’ I was some thousand or
fifteen hundred miles off her range. She ain’t doing no pining, I tell
yuh those.”

“She’s doing a lot of writing, though. I’ll bet money, if we called
the roll right here, you’d see there’s been a letter a week hittin’ the
trail to one Dr. Cecil Granthum, Gilroy, Ohio.”

“That’s what,” agreed Jack Bates. “I packed one last week, myself.”

“I done worse than that,” said Weary, blandly. “I up and fired a shot at
her, after the second one she handed me. I says, as innocent: ‘I s’pose,
if I lost this, there’d be a fellow out on the next train with blood in
his eye and a six-gun in both hands, demanding explanations’--and she
flashed them dimples on me and twinkled them big, gray eyes of hers, and
says: ‘It’s up to you to carry it safe, then,’ or words to that effect.
I took notice she didn’t deny but what he would.”

“Two doctors in one family--gee whiz!” mused Cal. “If I hadn’t got
the only girl God ever made right, I’d give one Dr. Cecil Granthum, of
Gilroy, Ohio, a run for his money, I tell yuh those. I’d impress it upon
him that a man’s taking long chances when he stands and lets his best
girl stampede out here among us cow-punchers for a change uh grass. That
fellow needs looking after; he ain’t finished his education. Jacky, you
ain’t got a female girl yanking your heart around, sail in and show us
what yuh can do in that line.”

“Nit,” said Jack Bates, briefly. “My heart’s doing business at the old
stand and doing it satisfactory and proper. I don’t want to set it to
bucking--over a girl that wouldn’t have me at any price. Let Slim. The
Little Doctor’s half stuck on him, anyhow.”

While the boys amused themselves in serious debate with Slim, Chip put
away his magazine and went down to visit Silver in the box stall. He was
glad they had not attempted to draw him into the banter--they had never
once thought to do so, probably, though he had been thrown into the
company of the Little Doctor more than any of the others, for several
good reasons. He had broken the creams to harness, and always drove
them, for the Old Man found them more than he cared to tackle. And there
was Silver, with frequent discussions over his progress toward recovery
and some argument over his treatment--for Chip had certain ideas of his
own concerning horses, and was not backward about expressing them upon
occasion.

That the Little Doctor should write frequent letters to a man in the
East did not concern him--why should it? Still, a fellow without a
home and without some woman who cares for him, cannot escape having his
loneliness thrust upon him at times. He wondered why he should care.
Surely, ten years of living his life alone ought to kill that latent
homesickness which used to hold him awake at nights. Sometimes even of
late years, when he stood guard over the cattle at night, and got to
thinking--oh, it was hell to be all alone in the world!

There were Cal and Weary, they had girls who loved them--and they were
sure welcome to them. And Jack Bates and Happy Jack had sisters and
mothers--and even Slim had an old maid aunt who always knit him a red
and green pair of wristlets for Christmas. Chip, smoothing mechanically
the shimmery, white mane of his pet, thought he might be contented if he
had even an old maid aunt--but he would see that she made his wristlets
of some other color than those bestowed every year upon Slim.

As for the Little Doctor, it would be something strange if she had gone
through life without having some fellow in love with her. Probably, if
the truth was known, there had been more than Dr. Cecil Granthum--bah,
what a sickening name! Cecil! It might as well be Adolphus or Regie
or--what does a man want to pack around a name like that for? Probably
he was the kind of man that the name sounded like; a dude with pink
cheeks.

Chip knew just how he looked. Inspiration suddenly seizing upon him, he
sat down upon the manger, drew his memorandum book out of his inner
coat pocket, carefully sharpened a bit of lead pencil which he found in
another pocket, tore a leaf from the book, and, with Silver looking over
his shoulder, drew a graphic, ideal picture of Dr. Cecil Granthum.



CHAPTER V. -- In Silver’s Stall.



“Oh, are YOU here? It’s a wonder you don’t have your bed brought down
here, so you can sleep near Silver. How has he been doing since I left?”

Chip simply sat still upon the edge of the manger and stared. His gray
hat was pushed far back upon his head and his dark hair waved and curled
upon his forehead, very much as a girl’s might have done. He did not
know that he was a very good-looking young man, but perhaps the Little
Doctor did. She smiled and came up and patted Silver, who had forgotten
that he ever had objected to her nearness. He nickered a soft welcome
and laid his nose on her shoulder.

“You’ve been drawing a picture. Who’s the victim of your satirical
pencil this time?” The Little Doctor, reaching out quickly, calmly
appropriated the sketch before Chip had time to withdraw it, even if he
had cared to do so. He was busy wondering how the Little Doctor came to
be there at that particular time, and had forgotten the picture, which
he had not quite finished labeling.

“Dr. Cecil--” Miss Whitmore turned red at first, then broke into
laughter. “Oh--h, ha! ha! ha! Silver, you don’t know how funny this
master of yours can be! Ha! ha!” She raised her head from Silver’s neck,
where it had rested, and wiped her eyes.

“How did you know about Cecil?” she demanded of a very discomfited young
man upon the manger.

“I didn’t know--and I didn’t WANT to know. I heard the boys talking and
joshing about him, and I just drew--their own conclusions.” Chip grinned
a little and whittled at his pencil, and wondered how much of the
statement was a lie.

Miss Whitmore tamed red again, and ended by laughing even more heartily
than at first.

“Their conclusions aren’t very complimentary,” she said. “I don’t
believe Dr. Cecil would feel flattered at this. Why those bowed legs,
may I ask, and wherefore that long, lean, dyspeptic visage? Dr. Cecil,
let me inform you, has a digestion that quails not at deviled crabs and
chafing-dish horrors at midnight, as I have abundant reason to know. I
have seen Dr. Cecil prepare a welsh rabbit and--eat it, also, with much
relish, apparently. Oh, no, their conclusions weren’t quite correct.
There are other details I might mention--that cane, for instance--but
let it pass. I shall keep this, I think, as a companion to ‘The old
maid’s credential card.’”

“Are you in the habit of keeping other folk’s property?” inquired Chip,
with some acerbity.

“Nothing but personal caricatures--and hearts, perhaps,” returned the
Little Doctor, sweetly.

“I hardly think your collection of the last named article is very
large,” retorted Chip.

“Still, I added to the collection to-day,” pursued Miss Whitmore,
calmly. “I shared my seat in the train with J. G.’s silent partner (I
did not find him silent, however), Mr. Duncan Whitaker. He hired a
team in Dry Lake and we came out together, and I believe--please don’t
mention Dr. Cecil Granthum to him, will you?”

Chip wished, quite savagely, that she wouldn’t let those dimples dodge
into her cheeks, and the laugh dodge into her eyes, like that. It made a
fellow uncomfortable. He was thoroughly disgusted with her--or he would
be, if she would only stop looking like that. He was in that state of
mind where his only salvation, seemingly, lay in quarreling with some
one immediately.

“So old Dunk’s come back? If you’ve got his heart, you must have gone
hunting it with a microscope, for it’s a mighty small one--almost as
small as his soul. No one else even knew he had one. You ought to have
it set in a ring, so you won’t lose it.”

“I don’t wear phony jewelry, thank you,” said Miss Whitmore, and Chip
thought dimples weren’t so bad after all.

The Little Doctor was weaving Silver’s mane about her white fingers and
meditating deeply. Chip wondered if she were thinking of Dr. Cecil.

“Where did you learn to draw like that?” she asked, suddenly, turning
toward him. “You do much better than I, and I’ve always been learning
from good teachers. Did you ever try painting?”

Chip blushed and looked away from her. This was treading close to his
deep-hidden, inner self.

“I don’t know where I learned. I never took a lesson in my life, except
from watching people and horses and the country, and remembering the
lines they made, you know. I always made pictures, ever since I can
remember--but I never tried colors very much. I never had a chance,
working around cow-camps and on ranches.”

“I’d like to have you look over some of my sketches and things--and I’ve
paints and canvas, if you ever care to try that. Come up to the house
some evening and I’ll show you my daubs. They’re none of them as good as
‘The Old Maid.’”

“I wish you’d tear that thing up!” said Chip, vehemently.

“Why? The likeness is perfect. One would think you were designer for a
fashion paper, the way you got the tucks in my sleeve and the braid on
my collar--and you might have had the kindness to TELL me my hat was on
crooked, I think!”

There was a rustle in the loose straw, a distant slam of the stable
door, and Chip sat alone with his horse, whittling abstractedly at his
pencil till his knife blade grated upon the metal which held the eraser.



CHAPTER VI. -- The Hum of Preparation.



Miss Whitmore ran down to the blacksmith shop, waving an
official-looking paper in her hand.

“I’ve got it, J. G.!”

“Got what--smallpox?” J. G. did not even look up from the iron he was
welding.

“No, my license. I’m a really, truly doctor now, and you needn’t laugh,
either. You said you’d give a dance if I passed, and I did. Happy Jack
brought it just now.”

“Brought the dance?” The Old Man gave the bellows a pull which sent a
shower of sparks toward the really, truly doctor.

“Brought the license,” she explained, patiently. “You can see for
yourself. They were awfully nice to me--they seemed to think a girl
doctor is some kind of joke out here. They didn’t make it any easier,
though; they acted as if they didn’t expect me to pass--but I did!”

The Old Man rubbed one smutty hand down his trousers leg and extended it
for the precious document. “Let me have a look at it,” he said, trying
to hide his pride in her.

“Well, but I’ll hold it. Your hands are dirty.” Dr. Whitmore eyed the
hands disapprovingly.

The Old Man read it slowly through, growing prouder every line.

“You’re all right, Dell--I’ll be doggoned if you ain’t. Don’t you worry
about the dance--I’ll see’t yuh get it. You go tell the Countess to bake
up a lot of cake and truck, and I’ll send some uh the boys around t’
tell the neighbors. Better have it Friday night, I guess--I’m goin t’
start the round-up out early next week. Doggone it! I’ve gone and burned
that weldin’. Go on and stop your botherin’ me!”

In two minutes the Little Doctor was back, breathless.

“What about the music, J. G.? We want GOOD music.”

“Well, I’ll tend t’ that part. Say! You can rig up that room off the
dining room for your office--I s’pose you’ll have to have one. You make
out a list of what dope you want--and be sure yuh get a-plenty. I look
for an unhealthy summer among the cow-punchers. If I ain’t mistook in
the symptoms, Dunk’s got palpitation uh the heart right now--an’ got it
serious.”

The Old Man chuckled to himself and went back to his welding.

“Oh, Louise!” The Little Doctor hurried to where the Countess was
scrubbing the kitchen steps with soft soap and sand and considerable
energy. “J. G. says I may have a dance next Friday night, so we must
hurry and fix the house--only I don’t see much fixing to be done;
everything is SO clean.”

“Oh, there ain’t a room in the house fit fer comp’ny t’ walk into,”
 expostulated the Countess while she scrubbed. “I do like t’ see a house
clean when folks is expected that only come t’ be critical an’ make
remarks behind yer back the minit they git away. If folks got anything
t’ say I’d a good deal ruther they said it t’ my face an’ be done with
it. ‘Yuh can know a man’s face but yuh can’t know his heart,’ as the
sayin’ is, an’ it’s the same way with women--anyway, it’s the same way
with Mis’ Beckman. You can know her face a mile off, but yuh never know
who she’s goin’ t’ rake over the coals next. As the sayin’ is: ‘The
tongue of a woman, at last it biteth like a serpent an’ it stingeth
like an addle,’ an’ I guess it’s so. Anyway, Mis’ Beckman’s does. I do
b’lieve on my soul--what’s the matter, Dell? What yuh laughin’ at?”

The Little Doctor was past speech for the moment, and the Countess stood
up and looked curiously around her. It never occurred to her that she
might be the cause of that convulsive outburst.

“Oh--he--never mind--he’s gone, now.”

“Who’s gone?” persisted the Countess.

“What kinds of cake do you think we ought to have?” asked the Little
Doctor, diplomatically.

The Countess sank to her knees and dipped a handful of amber, jelly-like
soap from a tin butter can.

“Well, I don’t know. I s’pose folks will look for something fancy,
seein’ you’re givin’ the dance. Mis’ Beckman sets herself up as a
shinin’ example on cake, and she’ll come just t’ be critical an’ find
fault, if she can. If I can’t bake all around her the best day she ever
seen, I’ll give up cookin’ anything but spuds. She had the soggiest kind
uh jelly roll t’ the su’prise on Mary last winter. I know it was hern,
fer I seen her bring it in, an’ I went straight an’ ondone it. I guess
it was kinda mean uh me, but I don’t care--as the sayin’ is: ‘What’s
sass fer the goose is good enough sass fer anybody’--an’ she done the
same trick by me, at the su’prise at Adamses last fall. But she couldn’t
find no kick about MY cake, an’ hers--yuh c’d of knocked a cow down with
it left-handed! If that’s the best she c’n do on cake I’d advise ‘er to
keep the next batch t’ home where they’re used to it. They say’t ‘What’s
one man’s meat ‘s pizen t’ the other feller,’ and I guess it’s so
enough. Maybe Mame an’ the rest uh them Beckman kids can eat sech truck
without comin’ down in a bunch with gastakutus, but I’d hate t’ tackle
it myself.”

The Little Doctor gurgled. This was a malady which had not been
mentioned at the medical college.

“Where shall we set the tables, if we dance in the dining room?” she
asked, having heard enough of the Beckmans for the present.

“Why, we won’t set any tables. Folks always have a lap supper at ranch
dances. At the su’prise on Mary--”

“What is a lap supper?”

“Well, my stars alive! Where under the shinin’ sun was you brought up if
yuh never heard of a lap supper? A lap supper is where folks set around
the walls--or any place they can find--and take the plates on their laps
and yuh pass ‘em stuff. The san’wiches--”

“You do make such beautiful bread!” interrupted the Little Doctor, very
sincerely.

“Well, I ain’t had the best uh luck, lately, but I guess it does taste
good after that bread yuh had when I come. Soggy was no name for--”

“Patsy made that bread,” interposed Miss Whitmore, hastily. “He had bad
luck, and--”

“I guess he did!” sniffed the Countess, contemptuously. “As I told Mary
when I come--”

“I wonder how many cakes we’ll need?” Miss Whitmore, you will observe,
had learned to interrupt when she had anything to say. It was the only
course to pursue with anyone from Denson coulee.

The Countess, having finished her scrubbing, rose jerkily and upset the
soap can, which rolled over and over down the steps, leaving a yellow
trail as it went.

“Well, there, if that wasn’t a bright trick uh mine? They say the more
yuh hurry the less yuh’ll git along, an’ that’s a sample. We’d ought t’
have five kinds, an’ about four uh each kind. It wouldn’t do t’ run out,
er Mis’ Beckman never would let anybody hear the last of it. Down t’
Mary’s--”

“Twenty cakes! Good gracious! I’ll have to order my stock of medicine,
for I’ll surely have a houseful of patients if the guests eat twenty
cakes.”

“Well, as the sayin’ is: ‘Patience an’ perseverance can git away with
most anything,’” observed the Countess, naively.

The Little Doctor retired behind her handkerchief.

“My stars alive, I do b’lieve my bread’s beginnin’ t’ scorch!” cried the
Countess, and ran to see. The Little Doctor followed her inside and sat
down.

“We must make a list of the things we’ll need, Louise. You--”

“Dell! Oh-h. Dell!” The voice of the Old Man resounded from the parlor.

“I’m in the kitchen!” called she, remaining where she was. He tramped
heavily through the house to her.

“I’ll send the rig in, t’morrow, if there’s anything yuh want,” he
remarked. “And if you’ll make out a list uh dope, I’ll send the order
in t’ the Falls. We’ve got plenty uh saws an’ cold chisels down in the
blacksmith shop--you can pick out what yuh want.” He dodged and grinned.
“Got any cake, Countess?”

“Well, there ain’t a thing cooked, hardly. I’m going t’ bake up
something right after dinner. Here’s some sponge cake--but it ain’t fit
t’ eat, hardly. I let Dell look in the oven, ‘cause my han’s was all
over flour, an’ she slammed the door an’ it fell. But yuh can’t expect
one person t’ know everything--an’ too many han’s can’t make decent
soup, as the sayin’ is, an’ it’s the same way with cake.”

The Old Man winked at the Little Doctor over a great wedge of feathery
delight. “I don’t see nothing the matter with this--only it goes down
too easy,” he assured the Countess between mouthfuls. “Fix up your list,
Dell, and don’t be afraid t’ order everything yuh need. I’ll foot the--”

The Old Man, thinking to go back to his work, stepped into the puddle of
soft soap and sat emphatically down upon the top step, coasting rapidly
to the bottom. A carpet slipper shot through the open door and landed
in the dishpan; the other slipper disappeared mysteriously. The wedge of
cake was immediately pounced upon by an investigative hen and carried in
triumph to her brood.

“Good Lord!” J. G. struggled painfully to his feet. “Dell, who in
thunder put that stuff there? You’re a little too doggoned anxious for
somebody t’ practice on, seems t’ me.” A tiny trickle of blood showed in
the thin spot on his head.

“Are you hurt, J. G.? We--I spilled the soap.” The Little Doctor gazed
solicitous, from the doorway.

“Huh! I see yuh spilled the soap, all right enough. I’m willin’ to
believe yuh did without no affidavit. Doggone it, a bachelor never has
any such a man-trap around in a fellow’s road. I’ve lived in Montana
fourteen years, an’ I never slipped up on my own doorstep till you got
here. It takes a woman t’ leave things around--where’s my cake?”

“Old Specie took it down by the bunk house. Shall I go after it?”

“No, you needn’t. Doggone it, this wading through ponds uh soft soap
has got t’ stop right here. I never had t’ do it when I was baching,
I notice.” He essayed, with the aid of a large splinter, to scrape the
offending soap from his trousers.

“Certainly, you didn’t. Bachelors never use soap,” retorted Della.

“Oh, they don’t, hey? That’s all you know about it. They don’t use
this doggoned, slimy truck, let me tell yuh. What d’yuh want, Chip? Oh,
you’ve got t’ grin, too! Dell, why don’t yuh do something fer my head?
What’s your license good f er, I’d like t’ know? You didn’t see Dell’s
license, did yuh, Chip? Go and get it an’ show it to him, Dell. It’s
good fer everything but gitting married--there ain’t any cure for that
complaint.”



CHAPTER VII. -- Love and a Stomach Pump.



An electrical undercurrent of expectation pervaded the very atmosphere
of Flying U ranch. The musicians, two supercilious but undeniably
efficient young men from Great Falls, had arrived two hours before and
were being graciously entertained by the Little Doctor up at the house.
The sandwiches stood waiting, the coffee was ready for the boiling
water, and the dining-room floor was smooth as wax could make it.

For some reason unknown to himself, Chip was “in the deeps.” He even
threatened to stop in the bunk house and said he didn’t feel like
dancing, but was brought into line by weight of numbers. He hated Dick
Brown, anyway, for his cute, little yellow mustache that curled up at
the ends like the tail of a drake. He had snubbed him all the way out
from town and handled Dick’s guitar with a recklessness that invited
disaster. And the way Dick smirked when the Old Man introduced him to
the Little Doctor--a girl with a fellow in the East oughtn’t to let her
eyes smile that way at a pin-headed little dude like Dick Brown, anyway.
And he--Chip--had given, her a letter postmarked blatantly: “Gilroy,
Ohio, 10:30 P. M.”--and she had been so taken up with those cussed
musicians that she couldn’t even thank him, and only just glanced at the
letter before she stuck it inside her belt. Probably she wouldn’t
even read it till after the dance. He wondered if Dr. Cecil Granthum
cared--oh, hell! Of COURSE he cared--that is, if he had any sense at
all. But the Little Doctor--she wasn’t above flirting, he noticed. If HE
ever fell in love with a girl--which the Lord forbid--he’d take mighty
good care she didn’t get time to make dimples and smiles for some other
fellow to go to heaven looking at.

There, that was her, laughing like she always laughed--it reminded him
of pines nodding in a canyon and looking wise and whispering things
they’d seen and heard before you were born, and of water falling over
rocks, somehow. Queer, maybe--but it did. He wondered if Dick Brown had
been trying to say something funny. He didn’t see, for the life of him,
how the Little Doctor could laugh at that little imitation man. Girls
are--well, they’re easy pleased, most of them.

Down in the bunk house the boys were hurrying into their “war
togs”--which is, being interpreted, their best clothes. There was a
nervous scramble over the cracked piece of a bar mirror--which had a
history--and cries of “Get out!” “Let me there a minute, can’t yuh?” and
“Get up off my coat!” were painfully frequent.

Happy Jack struggled blindly with a refractory red tie, which his face
rivaled in hue and sheen--for he had been generous of soap.

Weary had possessed himself of the glass and was shaving as leisurely as
though four restive cow-punchers were not waiting anxiously their turn.

“For the Lord’s sake, Weary!” spluttered Jack Bates. “Your whiskers grow
faster’n you can shave ‘em off, at that gait. Get a move on, can’t yuh?”

Weary turned his belathered face sweetly upon Jack. “Getting in a hurry,
Jacky? YOUR girl won’t be there, and nobody else’s girl is going to have
time to see whether you shaved to-day or last Christmas. You don’t want
to worry so much about your looks, none of you. I hate to say it, but
you act vain, all of you kids. Honest, I’m ashamed. Look at that gaudy
countenance Happy’s got on--and his necktie’s most as bad.” He stropped
his razor with exasperating nicety, stopping now and then to test its
edge upon a hair from his own brown head.

Happy Jack, grown desperate over his tie and purple over Weary’s
remarks, craned his neck over the shoulder of that gentleman and leered
into the mirror. When Happy liked, he could contort his naturally plain
features into a diabolical grin which sent prickly waves creeping along
the spine of the beholder.

Weary looked, stared, half rose from his chair.

“Holy smithereens! Quit it, Happy! You look like the devil by
lightning.”

Happy, watching, seized the hand that held the razor; Cal, like a cat,
pounced upon the mirror, and Jack Bates deftly wrenched the razor from
Weary’s fingers.

“Whoopee, boys! Some of you tie Weary down and set on him while I
shave,” cried Cal, jubilant over the mutiny. “We’ll make short work of
this toilet business.”

Whereupon Weary was borne to the floor, bound hand and foot with silk
handkerchiefs, carried bodily and laid upon his bed.

“Oh, the things I won’t do to you for this!” he asserted, darkly.
“There won’t nary a son-of-a-gun uh yuh get a dance from my little
schoolma’am--you’ll see!” He grinned prophetically, closed his eyes and
murmured: “Call me early, mother dear,” and straightway fell away into
slumber and peaceful snoring, while the lather dried upon his face.

“Better turn Weary loose and wake him up, Chip,” suggested Jack Bates,
half an hour later, shoving the stopper into his cologne bottle and
making for the door. “At the rate the rigs are rolling in, it’ll take
us all to put up the teams.” The door slammed behind him as it had done
behind the others as they hurried away.

“Here!” Chip untied Weary’s hands and feet and took him by the shoulder.
“Wake up, Willie, if you want to be Queen o’ the May.”

Weary sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Confound them two Jacks! What time is
it?”

“A little after eight. YOUR crowd hasn’t, come yet, so you needn’t
worry. I’m not going up yet for a while, myself.”

“You’re off your feed. Brace up and take all there is going, my son.”
 Weary prepared to finish his interrupted beautification.

“I’m going to--all the bottles, that is. If that Dry Lake gang comes
loaded down with whisky, like they generally do, we ought to get hold of
it and cache every drop, Weary.”

Weary turned clear around to stare his astonishment.

“When did the W. C. T. U. get you by the collar?” he demanded.

“Aw, don’t be a fool, Weary,” retorted Chip. “You can see it wouldn’t
look right for us to let any of the boys get full, or even half shot,
seeing this is the Little Doctor’s dance.”

Weary meditatively scraped his left jaw and wiped the lather from the
razor upon a fragment of newspaper.

“Splinter, we’ve throwed in together ever since we drifted onto the
same range, and I’m with you, uh course. But--don’t overlook Dr. Cecil
Granthum. I’d hate like the devil to see you git throwed down, because
it’d hurt you worse than anybody I know.”

Chip calmly sifted some tobacco into a cigarette paper. His mouth was
very straight and his brows very close together.

“It’s a devilish good thing it was YOU said that, Weary. If it had been
anyone else I’d punch his face for him.”

“Why, yes--an’ I’d help you, too.” Weary, his mouth very much on one
side of his face that he might the easier shave the other, spoke in
fragments. “You don’t take it amiss from--me, though. I can see--”

The door slammed with extreme violence, and Weary slashed his chin
unbecomingly in consequence, but he felt no resentment toward Chip.
He calmly stuck a bit of paper on the cut to stop the bleeding and
continued to shave.


A short time after, the Little Doctor came across Chip glaring at Dick
Brown, who was strumming his guitar with ostentatious ease upon an
inverted dry-goods box at one end of the long dining room.

“I came to ask a favor of you,” she said, “but my courage oozed at the
first glance.”

“It’s hard to believe your courage would ooze at anything. What’s the
favor?”

The Little Doctor bent her head and lowered her voice to a confidential
undertone which caught at Chip’s blood and set it leaping.

“I want you to come and help me turn my drug store around with its face
to the wall. All the later editions of Denson, Pilgreen and Beckman have
taken possession of my office--and as the Countess says: ‘Them Beckman
kids is holy terrors--an’ it’s savin’ the rod an’ spoilin’ the kid that
makes ‘em so!’”

Chip laughed outright. “The Denson kids are a heap worse, if she only
knew it,” he said, and followed her willingly.

The Little Doctor’s “office” was a homey little room, with a couch, a
well-worn Morris rocker, two willow chairs and a small table for the not
imposing furnishing, dignified by a formidable stack of medical books
in one corner, and the “drug store,” which was simply a roomy bookcase
filled with jars, bottles, boxes and packages, all labeled in a neat
vertical hand.

The room fairly swarmed with children, who seemed, for the most part, to
be enjoying themselves very much. Charlotte May Pilgreen and Sary Denson
were hunched amicably over one of the books, shuddering beatifically
over a pictured skeleton. A swarm surrounded the drug store, the glass
door of which stood open.

The Little Doctor flew across to the group, horror white.

“Sybilly got the key an’ unlocked it, an’ she give us this candy, too!”
 tattled a Pilgreen with very red hair and a very snub nose.

“I didn’t, either! It was Jos’phine!”

“Aw, you big story-teller! I never tetched it!”

The Little Doctor clutched the nearest arm till the owner of it
squealed.

“How many of you have eaten some of these? Tell the truth, now.” They
quailed before her sternness--quailed and confessed. All told, seven
had swallowed the sweet pellets, in numbers ranging from two to a dozen
more.

“Is it poison?” Chip whispered the question in the ear of the perturbed
Little Doctor.

“No--but it will make them exceedingly uncomfortable for a time--I’m
going to pump them out.”

“Good shot! Serves ‘em right, the little--”

“All of you who have eaten this--er--candy, must come with me. The rest
of you may stay here and play, but you must NOT touch this case.”

“Yuh going t’ give ‘em a lickin’?” Sary Denson wetted a finger copiously
before turning a leaf upon the beautiful skeleton.

“Never mind what I’m going to do to them--you had better keep out of
mischief yourself, however. Mr. Bennett, I wish you would get some
fellow you can trust--some one who won’t talk about this afterward--turn
this case around so that it will be safe, and then come to the back
bedroom--the one off the kitchen. And tell Louise I want her, will you,
please?”

“I’ll get old Weary. Yes, I’ll send the Countess--but don’t you think
she’s a mighty poor hand to keep a secret?”

“I can’t help it--I need her. Hurry, please.”

Awed by the look in her big, gray eyes and the mysterious summoning of
help, the luckless seven were marched silently through the outer door,
around the house, through the coal shed and so into the back bedroom,
without being observed by the merrymakers, who shook the house to its
foundation to the cheerful command: “Gran’ right ‘n’ left with a double
ELBOW-W!” “Chasse by yer pardner--balance--SWING!”

“What under the shinin’ sun’s the matter, Dell?” The Countess,
breathless from dancing, burst in upon the little group.

“Nothing very serious, Louise, though it’s rather uncomfortable to be
called from dancing to administer heroic remedies by wholesale. Can you
hold Josephine--whichever one that is? She ate the most, as nearly as I
can find out.”

“She ain’t gone an’ took pizen, has she? What was it--strychnine?
I’ll bet them Beckman kids put ‘er up to it. Yuh goin’ t’ give ‘er an
anticdote?”

“I’m going to use this.” The Little Doctor held up a fearsome thing to
view. “Open your mouth, Josephine.”

Josephine refused; her refusal was emphatic and unequivocal, punctuated
by sundry kicks directed at whoever came within range of her stout
little shoes.

“It ain’t no use t’ call Mary in--Mary can’t handle her no better’n I
can--an’ not so good. Jos’phine, yuh got--”

“Here’s where we shine,” broke in a cheery voice which was sweet to the
ears, just then. “Chip and I ain’t wrassled with bronks all our lives
for nothing. This is dead easy--all same branding calves. Ketch hold of
her heels, Splinter--that’s the talk. Countess, you better set your back
against that door--some of these dogies is thinking of taking a sneak on
us--and we’d have t’ go some, to cut ‘em out uh that bunch out there and
corral ‘em again. There yuh are, Doctor--sail in.”

Upheld mentally by the unfailing sunniness of Weary and the calm
determination of Chip, to whom flying heels and squirming bodies were as
nothing, or at most a mere trifle, the Little Doctor set to work with
a thoroughness and dispatch which struck terror to the hearts of the
guilty seven.

It did not take long--as Weary had said, it was very much like branding
calves. No sooner was one child made to disgorge and laid, limp and
subdued, upon the bed, than Chip and Weary seized another dexterously
by heels and head. The Countess did nothing beyond guarding the door and
acting as chaperon to the undaunted Little Doctor; but she did her duty
and held her tongue afterward--which was a great deal for her to do.

The Little Doctor sat down in a chair, when it was all over, looking
rather white. Chip moved nearer, though there was really nothing that
he could do beyond handing her a glass of water, which she accepted
gratefully.

Weary held a little paper trough of tobacco in his fingers and drew the
tobacco sack shut with his teeth. His eyes were fixed reflectively upon
the bed. He placed the sack absently in his pocket, still meditating
other things.

“She answered: ‘We are seven,’” he quoted softly and solemnly, and the
Little Doctor forgot her faintness in a hearty laugh.

“You two go back to your dancing now,” she commanded, letting the
dimples stand in her cheeks in a way that Chip dreamed about afterward.
“I don’t know what I should have done without you--a cow-puncher seems
born to meet emergencies in just the right way. PLEASE don’t tell
anyone, will you?”

“Never. Don’t you worry about us, Doctor. Chip and I don’t set up nights
emptying our brains out our mouths. We don’t tell our secrets to nobody
but our horses--and they’re dead safe.”

“You needn’t think I’ll tell, either,” said the Countess, earnestly.
“I ain’t forgot how you took the blame uh that sof’ soap, Dell. As the
sayin’ is--”

Weary closed the door then, so they did not hear the saying which seemed
to apply to this particular case. His arm hooked into Chip’s, he led the
way through the kitchen and down the hill to the hay corral. Once safe
from observation, he threw himself into the sweetly pungent “blue-joint”
 and laughed and laughed.

Chip’s nervous system did not demand the relief of cachinnation. He
went away to Silver’s stall and groped blindly to the place where two
luminous, green moons shone upon him in the darkness. He rubbed the
delicate nose gently and tangled his fingers in the dimly gleaming mane,
as he had seen HER do. Such pink little fingers they were! He laid his
brown cheek against the place where he remembered them to have rested.

“Silver horse,” he whispered, “if I ever fall in love with a girl--which
isn’t likely!--I’ll want her to have dimples and big, gray eyes and a
laugh like--”



CHAPTER VIII. -- Prescriptions.



It was Sunday, the second day after the dance. The boys were scattered,
for the day was delicious--one of those sweet, soft days which come to
us early in May. Down in the blacksmith shop Chip was putting new rowels
into his spurs and whistling softly to himself while he worked.

The Little Doctor had gone with him to visit Silver that morning, and
had not hurried away, but had leaned against the manger and listened
while he told her of the time Silver, swimming the river when it was
“up,” had followed him to the Shonkin camp when Chip had thought to
leave him at home. And they had laughed together over the juvenile seven
and the subsequent indignation of the mothers who, with the exception of
“Mary,” had bundled up their offspring and gone home mad. True, they
had none of them thoroughly understood the situation, having only the
version of the children, who accused the Little Doctor of trying to make
them eat rubber--“just cause she was mad about some little old candy.”
 The mystification of the others among the Happy Family, who scented a
secret with a joke to it but despaired of wringing the truth from either
Weary or Chip, was dwelt upon with much enjoyment by the Little Doctor.

It was a good old world and a pleasant, and Chip had no present quarrel
with fate--or with anybody else. That was why he whistled.

Then voices reached him through the open door, and a laugh--HER laugh.
Chip smiled sympathetically, though he had not the faintest notion of
the cause of her mirth. As the voices drew nearer, the soft, smooth,
hated tones of Dunk Whitaker untangled from the Little Doctor’s laugh,
and Chip stopped whistling. Dunk was making a good, long stay of it this
time; usually he came one day and went the next, and no one grieved at
his departure.

“You find them an entirely new species, of course. How do you get on
with them?” said Dunk.

And the Little Doctor answered him frankly and distinctly: “Oh, very
well, considering all things. They furnish me with some amusement, and I
give them something quite new to talk about, so we are quits. They are a
good-hearted lot, you know--but SO ignorant! I don’t suppose--”

The words trailed into an indistinct murmur, punctuated by Dunk’s
jarring cackle.

Chip did not resume his whistling, though he might have done so if he
had heard a little more, or a little less. As a matter of fact, it
was the Densons, and the Pilgreens, and the Beckmans that were under
discussion, and not the Flying U cowboys, as Chip believed. He no longer
smiled sympathetically.

“We furnish her with some amusement, do we? That’s good! We’re a
good-hearted lot, but SO ignorant! The devil we are!” He struck the
rivet such a blow that he snapped one shank of his spur short off.
This meant ten or twelve dollars for a new pair--though the cost of it
troubled him little, just then. It was something tangible upon which
to pour profanity, however, and the atmosphere grew sulphurous in the
vicinity of the blacksmith shop and remained so for several minutes,
after which a tall, irate cow-puncher with his hat pulled low over angry
eyes left the shop and strode up the path to the deserted bunk house.

He did not emerge till the Old Man called to him to ride down to
Benson’s after one of the Flying U horses which had broken out of the
pasture.

Della was looking from the window when Chip rode up the hill upon the
“coulee trail,” which passed close by the house. She was tired of the
platitudes of Dunk, who, trying to be both original and polished,
fell far short of being either and only succeeded in being extremely
tiresome.

“Where’s Chip going, J. G.?” she demanded, in a proprietary tone.

“Down t’ Benson’s after a horse.” J. G. spoke lazily, without taking his
pipe from his mouth.

“Oh, I wish I could go--I wonder if he’d care.” The Little Doctor spoke
impulsively as was her habit.

“‘Course he wouldn’t. Hey, Chip! Hold on a minute!” The Old Man stood
waving his pipe in the doorway.

Chip jerked his horse to a stand-still and half turned in the saddle.

“What?”

“Dell wants t’ go along. Will yuh saddle up Concho for ‘er? There’s no
hurry, anyhow, you’ve got plenty uh time. Dell’s afraid one uh the kids
might fall downstairs ag’in, and she’d miss the case.”

“I’m not, either,” said the Little Doctor, coming to stand by her
brother; “it’s too nice a day to stay inside, and my muscles ache for a
gallop over the hills.”

Chip did not look up at her; he did not dare. He felt that, if he met
her eyes--with the laugh in them--he should do one of two undesirable
things: he should either smile back at her, weakly overlooking the
hypocrisy of her friendliness, or sneer in answer to her smile, which
would be very rude and ungentlemanly.

“If you had mentioned wanting a ride I should have been glad to
accompany you,” remarked Dunk, reproachfully, when Chip had ridden,
somewhat sullenly, back to the stable.

“I didn’t think of it before--thank you,” said the Little Doctor,
lightly, and hurried away to put on her blue riding habit with its
cunning little jockey cap which she found the only headgear that would
stay upon her head in the teeth of Montana wind, and which made her
look-well, kissable. She was standing on the porch drawing on her
gauntlets when Chip returned, leading Concho by the bridle.

“Let me help you,” begged Dunk, at her elbow, hoping till the last that
she would invite him to go with them.

The Little Doctor, not averse to hiding the bitter of her medicine under
a coating of sugar, smiled sweetly upon him, to the delectation of Dunk
and the added bitterness of Chip, who was rapidly nearing that state of
mind which is locally described as being “strictly on the fight.”

“I expect she thinks I’ll amuse her some more!” he thought, savagely, as
they galloped away through the quivering sunlight.

For the first two miles the road was level, and Chip set the pace--which
was, as he intended it should be, too swift for much speech. After that
the trail climbed abruptly out of Flying U coulee, and the horses
were compelled to walk. Then it was that Chip’s native chivalry and
self-mastery were put to test.

He was hungry for a solitary ride such as had, before now, drawn much of
the lonely ache out of his heart and keyed him up to the life which
he must live and which chafed his spirit more than even he realized.
Instead of such slender comfort, he was forced to ride beside the
girl who had hurt him--so close that his knee sometimes brushed her
horse--and to listen to her friendly chatter and make answer, at times,
with at least some show of civility.

She was talking reminiscently of the dance.

“J. G. showed splendid judgment in his choice of musicians, didn’t he?”

Chip looked straight ahead. This was touching a sore place in his
memory. A vision of Dick Brown’s vapid smile and curled up mustache rose
before him.

“I’d tell a man,” he said, with faint irony.

The Little Doctor gave him a quick, surprised look and went on.

“I liked their playing so much. Mr. Brown was especially good upon the
guitar.”

“Y--e-s?”

“Yes, of course. You know yourself, he plays beautifully.”

“Cow-punchers aren’t expected to know all these things.” Chip hated
himself for replying so, but the temptation mastered him.

“Aren’t they? I can’t see why not.”

Chip closed his lips tightly to keep in something impolite.

The Little Doctor, puzzled as well as piqued, went straight to the
point.

“Why didn’t you like Mr. Brown’s playing?”

“Did I say I didn’t like it?”

“Well, you--not exactly, but you implied that you did not.”

“Y--e-s?”

The Little Doctor gave the reins an impatient twitch.

“Yes, yes--YES!”

No answer from Chip. He could think of nothing to say that was not more
or less profane.

“I think he’s a very nice, amiable young man”--strong emphasis upon the
second adjective. “I like amiable young men.”

Silence.

“He’s going to come down here hunting next fall. J. G. invited him.”

“Yes? What does he expect to find?”

“Why, whatever there is to hunt. Chickens and--er--deer--”

“Exactly.”

By this they reached the level and the horses broke, of their own
accord, into a gallop which somewhat relieved the strain upon the mental
atmosphere. At the next hill the Little Doctor looked her companion over
critically.

“Mr. Bennett, you look positively bilious. Shall I prescribe for you?”

“I can’t see how that would add to your amusement.”

“I’m not trying to add to my amusement.”

“No?”

“If I were, there’s no material at hand. Bad-tempered young men are
never amusing, to me. I like--”

“Amiable young men. Such as Dick Brown.”

“I think you need a change of air, Mr. Bennett.”

“Yes? I’ve felt, lately, that Eastern airs don’t agree with my
constitution.”

Miss Whitmore grew red as to cheeks and bright as to eyes.

“I think a few small doses of Eastern manners would improve you very
much,” she said, pointedly.

“Y--e-s? They’d have to be small, because the supply is very limited.”

The Little Doctor grew white around the mouth. She held Concho’s rein so
tight he almost stopped.

“If you didn’t want me to come, why in the world didn’t you have the
courage to say so at the start? I must say I don’t admire people whose
tempers--and manners--are so unstable. I’m sorry I forced my presence
upon you, and I promise you it won’t occur again.” She hesitated, and
then fired a parting shot which certainly was spiteful in the extreme.
“There’s one good thing about it,” she smiled, tartly, “I shall have
something interesting to write to Dr. Cecil.”

With that she turned astonished Concho short around in the trail--and as
Chip gave Blazes a vicious jab with his spurs at the same instant, the
distance between them widened rapidly.

As Chip raced away over the prairie, he discovered a new and puzzling
kink in his temper. He had been angry with the Little Doctor for coming,
but it was nothing to the rage he felt when she turned back! He did not
own to himself that he wanted her beside him to taunt and to hurt with
his rudeness, but it was a fact, for all that. And it was a very surly
young man who rode into the Denson corral and threw a loop over the head
of the runaway.



CHAPTER IX. -- Before the Round-up.



“The Little Doctor wants us all to come up t’ the White House this
evening and have some music,” announced Cal, bursting into the bunk
house where the boys were sorting and packing their belongings ready to
start with the round-up wagon in the morning.

Jack Bates hurriedly stuffed a miscellaneous collection of socks and
handkerchiefs into his war bag and made for the wash basin.

“I’ll just call her bluff,” he said, determinedly.

“It ain’t any bluff; she wants us t’ come, er you bet she wouldn’t say
so. I’ve learned that much about her. Say, you’d a died to seen old
Dunk look down his nose! I’ll bet money she done it just t’ rasp his
feelin’s--and she sure succeeded. I’d go anyway, now, just t’ watch him
squirm.”

“I notice it grinds him consider’ble to see the Little Doctor treat us
fellows like white folks. He’s workin’ for a stand-in there himself. I
bet he gets throwed down good and hard,” commented Weary, cheerfully.

“It’s a cinch he don’t know about that pill-thrower back in Ohio,” added
Cal. “Any of you fellows going to take her bid? I’ll go alone, in a
minute.”

“I don’t think you’ll go alone,” asserted Jack Bates, grabbing his hat.

Slim made a few hasty passes at his hair and said he was ready. Shorty,
who had just come in from riding, unbuckled his spurs and kicked them
under his bed.

“It’ll be many a day b’fore we listen t’ the Little Doctor’s mandolin
ag’in,” croaked Happy Jack.

“Aw, shut up!” admonished Cal.

“Come on, Chip,” sang out Weary. “You can spoil good paper when you
can’t do anything else. Come and size up the look on Dunk’s face when
we take possession of all the best chairs and get t’ pouring our incense
and admiration on the Little Doctor.”

Chip took the cigarette from his lips and emptied his lungs of smoke.
“You fellows go on. I’m not going.” He bent again to his eternal
drawing.

“The dickens you ain’t!” Weary was too astounded to say more.

Chip said nothing. His gray hat-brim shielded his face from view, save
for the thin, curved lips and firm chin. Weary studied chin and lips
curiously, and whatever he read there, he refrained from further
argument. He knew Chip so much better than did anyone else.

“Aw, what’s the matter with yuh, Splinter! Come on; don’t be a chump,”
 cried Cal, from the doorway.

“I guess you’ll let a fellow do as he likes about it, won’t you?”
 queried Chip, without looking up. He was very busy, just then, shading
the shoulders of a high-pitching horse so that one might see the tense
muscles.

“What’s the matter? You and the Little Doctor have a falling out?”

“Not very bad,” Chip’s tone was open to several interpretations. Cal
interpreted it as a denial.

“Sick?” He asked next.

“Yes!” said Chip, shortly and falsely.

“We’ll call the doctor in, then,” volunteered Jack Bates.

“I don’t think you will. When I’m sick enough for that I’ll let you
know. I’m going to bed.”

“Aw, come on and let him alone. Chip’s able t’ take care of himself, I
guess,” said Weary, mercifully, holding open the door.

They trooped out, and the last heard of them was Cal, remarking:

“Gee whiz! I’d have t’ be ready t’ croak before I’d miss this chance uh
dealing old Dunk misery.”

Chip sat where they had left him, staring unseeingly down at the
uncompleted sketch. His cigarette went out, but he did not roll a fresh
one and held the half-burned stub abstractedly between his lips, set in
bitter lines.

Why should he care what a slip of a girl thought of him? He didn’t
care; he only--that thought he did not follow to the end, but started
immediately on a new one. He supposed he was ignorant, according to
Eastern standards. Lined up alongside Dr. Cecil Granthum--damn him!--he
would cut a sorry figure, no doubt. He had never seen the outside of a
college, let alone imbibing learning within one. He had learned some of
the wisdom which nature teaches those who can read her language, and he
had read much, lying on his stomach under a summer sky, while the cattle
grazed all around him and his horse cropped the sweet grasses within
reach of his hand. He could repeat whole pages of Shakespeare, and of
Scott, and Bobbie Burns--he’d like to try Dr. Cecil on some of them and
see who came out ahead. Still, he was ignorant--and none realized it
more keenly and bitterly than did Chip.

He rested his chin in his hand and brooded over his comfortless past and
cheerless future. He could just remember his mother--and he preferred
not to remember his father, who was less kind to him than were
strangers. That was his past. And the future--always to be a
cow-puncher? There was his knack for drawing; if he could study and
practice, perhaps even the Little Doctor would not dare call him
ignorant then. Not that he cared for what she might say or might not
say, but a fellow can’t help hating to be reminded of something that he
knows better than anyone else--and that is not pleasant, however you may
try to cover up the unsightliness of it.

If Dr. Cecil Granthum--damn him!--had been kicked into the world
and made to fight fate with tender, childish little fists but lately
outgrown their baby dimples, as had been HIS lot, would he have amounted
to anything, either? Maybe Dr. Cecil would have grown up just common and
ignorant and fit for nothing better than to furnish amusement to girl
doctors with dimples and big, gray eyes and a way of laughing. He’d like
to show that little woman that she didn’t know all about him yet. It
wasn’t too late--he was only twenty-four--he would study, and work, and
climb to where she must look up, not down, to him--if she cared enough
to look at all. It wasn’t too late. He would quit gambling and save his
money, and by next winter he’d have enough to go somewhere and learn to
make pictures that amounted to something. He’d show her!

After reiterating this resolve in several emphatic forms, Chip’s spirits
grew perceptibly lighter--so much so that he rolled a fresh cigarette
and finished the drawing in his hands, which demonstrated the manner in
which a particularly snaky broncho had taken a fall out of Jack Bates in
the corral that morning.


Next day, early in the afternoon, the round-up climbed the grade and
started on its long trip over the range, and, after they had gone,
the ranch seemed very quiet and very lonely to the Little Doctor, who
revenged herself by snubbing Dunk so unmercifully that he announced
his intention of taking the next train for Butte, where he lived in the
luxury of rich bachelorhood. As the Little Doctor showed no symptoms of
repenting, he rode sullenly away to Dry Lake, and she employed the rest
of the afternoon writing a full and decidedly prejudiced account to Dr.
Cecil of her quarrel with Chip, whom, she said, she quite hated.



CHAPTER X. -- What Whizzer Did.



“I guess Happy lost some of his horses, las’ night,” said Slim at the
breakfast table next morning. Slim had been kept at the ranch to look
after the fences and the ditches, and was doing full justice to the
expert cookery of the Countess.

“What makes yuh think that?” The Old Man poised a bit of tender, broiled
steak upon the end of his fork.

“They’s a bunch hangin’ around the upper fence, an’ Whizzer’s among ‘em.
I’d know that long-legged snake ten miles away.”

The Little Doctor looked up quickly. She had never before heard of a
“long-legged snake”--but then, she had not yet made the acquaintance of
Whizzer.

“Well, maybe you better run ‘em into the corral and hold ‘em till Shorty
sends some one after ‘em,” suggested the Old Man.

“I never c’d run ‘em in alone, not with Whizzer in the bunch,” objected
Slim. “He’s the orneriest cayuse in Chouteau County.”

“Whizzer’ll make a rattlin’ good saddle horse some day, when he’s broke
gentle,” argued the Old Man.

“Huh! I don’t envy Chip the job uh breakin’ him, though,” grunted Slim,
as he went out of the door.

After breakfast the Little Doctor visited Silver and fed him his
customary ration of lump sugar, helped the Countess tidy the house, and
then found herself at a loss for something to do. She stood looking out
into the hazy sunlight which lay warm on hill and coulee.

“I think I’ll go up above the grade and make a sketch of the ranch,” she
said to the Countess, and hastily collected her materials.

Down by the creek a “cotton-tail” sprang out of her way and kicked
itself out of sight beneath a bowlder. The Little Doctor stood and
watched till he disappeared, before going on again. Further up the bluff
a striped snake gave her a shivery surprise before he glided sinuously
away under a sagebush. She crossed the grade and climbed the steep bluff
beyond, searching for a comfortable place to work.

A little higher, she took possession of a great, gray bowlder jutting
like a giant table from the gravelly soil. She walked out upon it and
looked down--a sheer drop of ten or twelve feet to the barren, yellow
slope below.

“I suppose it is perfectly solid,” she soliloquized and stamped one
stout, little boot, to see if the rock would tremble. If human emotions
are possible to a heart of stone, the rock must have been greatly amused
at the test. It stood firm as the hills around it.

Della sat down and looked below at the house--a doll’s house; at the toy
corrals and tiny sheds and stables. Slim, walking down the hill, was
a mere pigmy--a short, waddling insect. At least, to a girl unused to
gazing from a height, each object seemed absurdly small. Flying U
coulee stretched away to the west, with a silver ribbon drawn carelessly
through it with many a twist and loop, fringed with a tender green of
young leaves. Away and beyond stood the Bear Paws, hazily blue, with
splotches of purple shadows.

“I don’t blame J. G. for loving this place,” thought the Little Doctor,
drinking in the intoxication of the West with every breath she drew.

She had just become absorbed in her work when a clatter arose from the
grade below, and a dozen horses, headed by a tall, rangy sorrel she
surmised was Whizzer, dashed down the hill. Weary and Chip galloped
close behind. They did not look up, and so passed without seeing her.
They were talking and laughing in very good spirits--which the Little
Doctor resented, for some inexplicable reason. She heard them call to
Slim to open the corral gate, and saw Slim run to do their bidding. She
forgot her sketching and watched Whizzer dodge and bolt back, and Chip
tear through the creek bed after him at peril of life and limb.

Back and forth, round and round went Whizzer, running almost through
the corral gate, then swerving suddenly and evading his pursuers with an
ease which bordered closely on the marvelous. Slim saddled a horse and
joined in the chase, and the Old Man climbed upon the fence and shouted
advice which no one heard and would not have heeded if they had.

As the chase grew in earnestness and excitement, the sympathies of
the Little Doctor were given unreservedly to Whizzer. Whenever a
particularly clever maneuver of his set the men to swearing, she clapped
her hands in sincere, though unheard and unappreciated, applause.

“Good boy!” she cried, approvingly, when he dodged Chip and whirled
through the big gate which the Old Man had unwittingly left open. J.
G. leaned perilously forward and shook his fist unavailingly. Whizzer
tossed head and heels alternately and scurried up the path to the very
door of the kitchen, where he swung round and looked back down the hill
snorting triumph.

“Shoo, there!” shrilled the Countess, shaking her dish towel at him.

“Who--oo-oof-f,” snorted he disdainfully and trotted leisurely round the
corner.

Chip galloped up the hill, his horse running heavily. After him came
Weary, liberally applying quirt and mild invective. At the house they
parted and headed the fugitive toward the stables. He shot through
the big gate, lifting his heels viciously at the Old Man as he passed,
whirled around the stable and trotted haughtily past Slim into the
corral of his own accord, quite as if he had meant to do so all along.

“Did you ever!” exclaimed the Little Doctor, disgustedly, from her
perch. “Whizzer, I’m ashamed of you! I wouldn’t have given in like
that--but you gave them a chase, didn’t you, my beauty?”

The boys flung themselves off their tired horses and went up to the
house to beg the Countess for a lunch, and Della turned resolutely to
her sketching again.

She was just beginning to forget that the world held aught but soft
shadows, mellow glow and hazy perspective, when a subdued uproar reached
her from below. She drew an uncertain line or two, frowned and laid her
pencil resignedly in her lap.

“It’s of no use. I can’t do a thing till those cow-punchers take
themselves and their bronchos off the ranch--and may it be soon!” she
told herself, disconsolately and not oversincerely. The best of us are
not above trying to pull the wool over our own eyes, at times.

In reality their brief presence made the near future seem very flat and
insipid to the Little Doctor. It was washing all the color out of the
picture, and leaving it a dirty gray. She gazed moodily down at the
whirl of dust in the corral, where Whizzer was struggling to free
himself from the loop Chip had thrown with his accustomed, calm
precision. Whatever Chip did he did thoroughly, with no slurring of
detail. Whizzer was fain to own himself fairly caught.

“Oh, he’s got you fast, my beauty!” sighed the Little Doctor, woefully.
“Why didn’t you jump over the fence--I think you COULD--and run, run, to
freedom?” She grew quite melodramatic over the humiliation of the horse
she had chosen to champion, and glared resentfully when Chip threw
his saddle, with no gentle hand, upon the sleek back and tightened the
cinches with a few strong, relentless yanks.

“Chip, you’re an ugly, mean-tempered--that’s right, Whizzer! Kick him if
you can--I’ll stand by you!” This assertion, you understand, was
purely figurative; the Little Doctor would have hesitated long before
attempting to carry it out literally.

“Now, Whizzer, when he tries to ride you, don’t you let him! Throw him
clear-over-the STABLE--so there!”

Perhaps Whizzer understood the command in some mysterious, telepathic
manner. At any rate, he set himself straightway to obey it, and there
was not a shadow of doubt but that he did his best--but Chip did not
choose to go over the stable. Instead of doing so, he remained in the
saddle and changed ends with his quirt, to the intense rage of the
Little Doctor, who nearly cried.

“Oh, you brute! You fiend! I’ll never speak to you again as long as I
live! Oh, Whizzer, you poor fellow, why do you let him abuse you so? Why
DON’T you throw him clean off the ranch?”

This is exactly what Whizzer was trying his best to do, and Whizzer’s
best was exceedingly bad for his rider, as a general thing. But Chip
calmly refused to be thrown, and Whizzer, who was no fool, suddenly
changed his tactics and became so meek that his champion on the bluff
felt tempted to despise him for such servile submission to a tyrant in
brown chaps and gray hat--I am transcribing the facts according to the
Little Doctor’s interpretation.

She watched gloomily while Whizzer, in whose brain lurked no thought
of submission, galloped steadily along behind the bunch which Slim made
haste to liberate, and bided his time. She had expected better--rather,
worse--of him than that. She had not dreamed he would surrender so
tamely. As they crossed the Hog’s Back and climbed the steep grade just
below her, she eyed him reproachfully and said again:

“Whizzer, I’m ashamed of you!”

It did certainly seem that Whizzer heard and felt the pricking of pride
at the reproof. He made a feint at being frightened by a jack rabbit
which sprang out from the shade of a rock and bounced down the hill like
a rubber ball. As if Whizzer had never seen a jack rabbit before!--he
who had been born and reared upon the range among them! It was a feeble
excuse at the best, but he made the most of it and lost no time seeking
a better.

He stopped short, sidled against Weary’s horse and snorted. Chip, in
none the best humor with him, jerked the reins savagely and dug him with
his spurs, and Whizzer, resenting the affront, whirled and bounded
high in the air. Back down the grade he bucked with the high, rocking,
crooked jumps which none but a Western cayuse can make, while Weary
turned in his saddle and watched with sharp-drawn breaths. There was
nothing else that he could do.

Chip was by no means passive. For every jump that Whizzer made the
rawhide quirt landed across his flaring nostrils, and the locked rowels
of Chip’s spurs raked the sorrel sides from cinch to flank, leaving
crimson streams behind them.

Wild with rage at this clinging cow-puncher whom he could not dislodge,
who stung his sides and head like the hornets in the meadow, Whizzer
gathered himself for a mighty leap as he reached the Hog’s Back. Like a
wire spring released, he shot into the air, shook himself in one last,
desperate hope of victory, and, failing, came down with not a joint in
his legs and turned a somersault.

A moment, and he struggled to his feet and limped painfully away,
crushed and beaten in spirit.

Chip did not struggle. He lay, a long length of brown chaps,
pink-and-white shirt and gray hat, just where he had fallen.

The Little Doctor never could remember getting down that bluff, and her
sketching materials went to amuse the jack rabbits and the birds. Fast
as she flew, Weary was before her and had raised Chip’s head upon one
arm. She knelt beside him in the dust, hovering over the white face
and still form like a pitying, little gray angel. Weary looked at her
impersonally, but neither of them spoke in those first, breathless
moments.

The Old Man, who had witnessed the accident, came puffing laboriously up
the hill, taking the short cut straight across from the stable.

“Is he--DEAD?” he yelled while he scrambled.

Weary turned his head long enough to look down at him, with the same
impersonal gaze he had bestowed upon the Little Doctor, but he did
not answer the question. He could not, for he did not know. The Little
Doctor seemed not to have heard.

The Old Man redoubled his exertions and reached them very much out of
breath.

“Is he dead, Dell?” he repeated in an awestruck tone. He feared she
would say yes.

The Little Doctor had taken possession of the brown head. She looked up
at her brother, a very unprofessional pallor upon her face, and down at
the long, brown lashes and at the curved, sensitive lips which held no
hint of red. She pressed the face closer to her breast and shook her
head. She could not speak, just then, for the griping ache that was in
her throat.

“One of the best men on the ranch gone under, just when we need help the
worst!” complained the Old Man. “Is he hurt bad?”

“J. G.,” began the Little Doctor in a voice all the fiercer for being
suppressed, “I want you to kill that horse. Do you hear? If you don’t do
it, I will!”

“You won’t have to, if old Splinter goes down and out,” said Weary, with
quiet meaning, and the Little Doctor gave him a grateful flash of gray
eyes.

“How bad is he hurt?” repeated the Old Man, impatiently. “You’re
supposed t’ be a doctor--don’t you know?”

“He has a scalp wound which does not seem serious,” said she in an
attempt to be matter-of-fact, “and his left collar bone is broken.”

“Doggone it! A broken collar bone ain’t mended overnight.”

“No,” acquiesced the Little Doctor, “it isn’t.”

These last two remarks Chip heard. He opened his eyes and looked
straight up into the gray ones above--a long, questioning, rebellious
look. He tried then to rise, to free himself from the bitter ecstasy of
those soft, enfolding arms. Only a broken collar bone! Good thing it was
no worse! Ugh! A spasm of pain contracted his features and drew beads
of moisture to his forehead. The spurned arms once more felt the dead
weight of him.

“What is it?” The Little Doctor’s voice called to him from afar.

Must he answer? He wanted to drift on and on--“Can you tell me where
the pain is?”

Pain? Oh, yes, there had been pain--but he wanted to drift. He opened
his eyes again reluctantly; again the pain clutched him.

“It’s--my--foot.”

For the first time the eyes of the Little Doctor left his face and
traveled downward to the spurred boots. One was twisted in a horrible
unnatural position that told the agonizing truth--a badly dislocated
ankle. They returned quickly to the face, and swam full of blinding
tears--such as a doctor should not succumb to. He was not drifting into
oblivion now; his teeth were not digging into his lower lip for nothing,
she knew.

“Weary,” she said, forgetting to call him properly by name, “ride to
the house and get my medicine case--the little black one. The Countess
knows--and have Slim bring something to carry him home on. And--RIDE!”

Weary was gone before she had finished, and he certainly “rode.”

“You’ll have another crippled cow-puncher on yer hands, first thing
yuh know,” grumbled the Old Man, anxiously, as he watched Weary race
recklessly down the hill.

The Little Doctor did not answer. She scarcely heard him. She was
stroking the hair back from Chip’s forehead softly, unconsciously,
wondering why she had never before noticed the wave in it--but then, she
had scarcely seen him with his hat off. How silky and soft it felt!
And she had called him all sorts of mean names, and had wanted Whizzer
to--she shuddered and turned sick at the memory of the thud when they
struck the hard road together.

“Dell!” exclaimed the Old Man, “you’re white’s a rag. Doggone it, don’t
throw up yer hands at yer first case--brace up!”

Chip looked up at her curiously, forgetting the pain long enough
to wonder at her whiteness. Did she have a heart, then, or was it a
feminine trait to turn pale in every emergency? She had not turned so
very white when those kids--he felt inclined to laugh, only for that
cussed foot. Instead he relaxed his vigilance and a groan slipped out
before he knew.

“Just a minute more and I’ll ease the pain for you,” murmured the girl,
compassionately.

“All right--so long as you--don’t--use--the stomach pump,” he retorted,
with a miserable makeshift of a laugh.

“What’s that?” asked the Old Man, but no one explained.

The Little Doctor was struggling with the lump in her throat that he
should try to joke about it.

Then Weary was back and holding the little, black case out to her. She
seized it eagerly, slipping Chip’s head to her knees that she might use
her hands freely. There was no halting over the tiny vials, for she had
decided just what she must do.

She laid something against Chip’s closed lips.

“Swallow these,” she said, and he obeyed her. “Weary--oh, you knew what
to do, I see. There, lay the coat down there for a pillow.”

Relieved of her burden, she rose and went to the poor, twisted foot.

Weary and the Old Man watched her go to work systematically and disclose
the swollen, purpling ankle. Very gently she did it, and when she had
administered a merciful anaesthetic, the enthusiasm of the Old Man
demanded speech.

“Well, I’ll be eternally doggoned! You’re onto your job, Dell, doggoned
if yuh ain’t. I won’t ever josh yuh again about yer doctorin’!”

“I wish you’d been around the time I smashed MY ankle,” commented Weary,
fishing for his cigarette book; he was beginning to feel the need of a
quieting smoke. “They hauled me forty miles, to Benton.”

“That must have been torture!” shuddered the Little Doctor. “A
dislocated ankle is a most agonizing thing.”

“Yes,” assented Weary, striking a match, “it sure is, all right.”



CHAPTER XI. -- Good Intentions.



“Mr. Davidson, have you nerve enough to help me replace this ankle? The
Countess is too nervous, and J. G. is too awkward.”

Chip was lying oblivious to his surroundings or his hurt in the sunny,
south room which Dunk Whitaker chose to call his.

“I’ve never been accused of wanting nerve,” grinned Weary. “I guess
I can stand it if you can.” And a very efficient assistant he proved
himself to be.

When the question of a nurse arose, when all had been done that could be
done and Weary had gone, the Little Doctor found herself involved in an
argument with the Countess. The Countess wanted them to send for Bill.
Bill just thought the world and all of Chip, she declared, and would
just love to come. She was positive that Bill was the very one they
needed, and the Little Doctor, who had conceived a violent dislike for
Bill, a smirky, self-satisfied youth addicted to chewing tobacco, red
neckties and a perennial grin, was equally positive he was the very
one they did not want. In despair she retrenched herself behind the
assertion that Chip should choose for himself.

“I just know he’ll choose Bill,” crowed the Countess after the flicker
of the doctor’s skirts.

Chip turned his head rebelliously upon the pillow and looked up at
her. Something in his eyes brought to mind certain stormy crises in the
headstrong childhood of the Little Doctor-crises in which she was forced
to submission very much against her will. It was the same mutinous
surrender to overwhelming strength, the same futile defiance of fate.

“I came to ask you who you would rather have to nurse you,” she said,
trying to keep the erratic color from crimsoning her cheeks. You see,
she had never had a patient of her very own before, and there were
certain embarrassing complications in having this particular young man
in charge.

Chip’s eyes wandered wistfully to the window, where a warm, spring
breeze flapped the curtains in and out.

“How long have I got to lie here?” he asked, reluctantly.

“A month, at the least--more likely six weeks,” she said with kind
bluntness. It was best he should know the worst at once.

Chip turned his face bitterly to the wall for a minute and traced an
impossible vine to its breaking point where the paper had not been
properly matched. Twenty miles away the boys were hurrying through their
early dinner that they might catch up their horses for the afternoon’s
work. And they had two good feet to walk on, two sound arms to subdue
restless horseflesh and he was not there! He could fairly smell the
sweet, trampled sod as the horses circled endlessly inside the rope
corral, and hear them snort when a noose swished close. He wondered who
would get his string to ride, and what they would do with his bed.

He didn’t need it, now; he would lie on wire springs, instead of on the
crisp, prairie grass. He would be waited on like a yearling baby and--
“The Countess just knows you will choose Bill,” interrupted a whimsical
girl voice.

Chip said something which the Little Doctor did not try to hear
distinctly. “Don’t she think I’ve had enough misery dealt me for once?”
 he asked, without taking his eyes from the poor, broken vine. He rather
pitied the vine--it seemed to have been badly used by fate, just as
he had been. He was sure it had not wanted to stop right there on that
line, as it had been forced to do. HE had not wanted to stop, either.
He--“She says Bill would just love to come,” said the voice, with a bit
of a laugh in it.

Chip, turning his head back suddenly, looked into the gray eyes and felt
inexplicably cheered. He almost believed she understood something of
what it all meant to him. And she mercifully refrained from spoken pity,
which he felt he could not have borne just then. His lips took back some
of their curve.

“You tell her I wouldn’t just love to have him,” he said, grimly.

“I’d never dare. She dotes on Bill. Whom DO you want?”

“When it comes to that, I don’t want anybody. But if you could get
Johnny Beckman to come--”

“Oh, I will--I’ll go myself, to make sure of him. Which one is Johnny?”

“Johnny’s the red-headed one,” said Chip.

“But--they’re ALL--”

“Yes, but his head is several shades redder than any of the others,”
 interrupted he, quite cheerfully.

The Little Doctor, observing the twinkle in his eyes, felt her spirits
rise wonderfully. She could not bear that hurt, rebellious, lonely look
which they had worn.

“I’ll bring him--but I may have to chloroform the Countess to get
him into the house. You must try to sleep, while I’m gone--and don’t
fret--will you? You’ll get well all the quicker for taking things
easily.”

Chip smiled faintly at this wholesome advice, and the Little Doctor laid
her hand shyly upon his forehead to test its temperature, drew down the
shade over the south window, and left him in dim, shadowy coolness to
sleep.

She came again before she started for Johnny, and found him wide awake
and staring hungrily at the patch of blue sky visible through the window
which faced the East.

“You’ll have to learn to obey orders better than this,” she said,
severely, and took quiet possession of his wrist. “I told you not to
fret about being hurt. I know you hate it--”

Chip flushed a little under her touch and the tone in which she spoke
the last words. It seemed to mean that she hated it even more than he
did, having him helpless in the house with her. It hadn’t been so long
since she had told him plainly how little she liked him. He was not
going to forget, in a hurry!

“Why don’t you send me to the hospital?” he demanded, brusquely. “I
could stand the trip, all right.”

The Little Doctor, the color coming and going in her cheeks, pressed her
cool fingers against his forehead.

“Because I want you here to practice on. Do you think I’d let such a
chance escape?”

After she was gone, Chip found some things to puzzle over. He felt that
he was no match for the Little Doctor, and for the first time in his
life he deeply regretted his ignorance of woman nature.

When the dishes were done, the Countess put her resentment behind her
and went in to sit with Chip, with the best of intentions. The most
disagreeable trait of some disagreeable people is that their intentions
are invariably good. She had her “crochy work,” and Chip groaned
inwardly when he saw her settle herself comfortably in a rocking-chair
and unwind her thread. The Countess had worked hard all her life, and
her hands were red and big-jointed. There was no pleasure in watching
their clever manipulation of the little, steel hook. If it had been the
Little Doctor’s hands, now--Chip turned again to the decapitated, pale
blue vine with its pink flowers and no leaves. The Countess counted
off “chain ‘leven” and began in a constrained tone, such as some
well-meaning people employ against helpless sick folk.

“How’re yuh feelin’ now? Yuh want a drink, or anything?”

Chip did not want a drink, and he felt all right, he guessed.

The Countess thought to cheer him a little.

“Well, I do think it’s too bad yuh got t’ lay here all through this
purty spring weather. If it had been in the winter, when it’s cold and
stormy outside, a person wouldn’t mind it s’ much. I know yuh must feel
purty blew over it, fer yuh was always sech a hand t’ be tearin’ around
the country on the dead run, seems like. I always told Mary ‘t you’n
Weary always rode like the sheriff wa’nt more’n a mile b’hind yuh. An’
I s’pose you feel it all the more, seein’ the round-up’s jest startin’
out. Weary said yuh was playin’ big luck, if yuh only knew enough t’
cash in yer chips at the right time, but he’s afraid yuh wouldn’t be
watching the game close enough an’ ud lose yer pile. I don’t know what
he was drivin’ at, an’ I guess he didn’t neither. It’s too bad, anyway.
I guess yuh didn’t expect t’ wind up in bed when yuh rode off up the
hill. But as the sayin’ is: ‘Man plans an’ God displans,’ an’ I guess
it’s so. Here yuh are, laid up fer the summer, Dell says--the las’ thing
on earth, I guess, that yuh was lookin’ fer. An’ yuh rode buckin’ bronks
right along, too. I never looked fer Whizzer t’ buck yuh off, I must
say--yuh got the name uh bein’ sech a good rider, too. But they say
‘t the pitcher ‘t’s always goin’ t’ the well is bound t’ git busted
sometime, an’ I guess your turn come t’ git busted. Anyway--”

“I didn’t get bucked off,” broke in Chip, angrily. A “bronch fighter” is
not more jealous of his sweetheart than of his reputation as a rider. “A
fellow can’t very well make a pretty ride while his horse is turning a
somersault.”

“Oh, well, I didn’t happen t’ se it--I thought Weary said ‘t yuh got
throwed off on the Hog’s Back. Anyway, I don’t know’s it makes much
difference how yuh happened t’ hit the ground--”

“I guess it does make a difference,” cried Chip, hotly. His eyes took on
the glitter of fever. “It makes a whole heap of difference, let me tell
you! I’d like to hear Weary or anybody else stand up and tell me that
I got bucked off. I may be pretty badly smashed up, but I’d come pretty
near showing him where he stood.”

“Oh, well, yuh needn’t go t’ work an’ git mad about it,” remonstrated
the Countess, dropping her thread in her perturbation at his excitement.
The spool rolled under the bed and she was obliged to get down upon her
knees and claw it back, and she jarred the bed and set Chip’s foot to
hurting again something awful.

When she finally secured the spool and resumed her chair, Chip’s eyes
were tightly closed, but the look of his mouth and the flush in his
cheeks, together with his quick breathing, precluded the belief that
he was asleep. The Countess was not a fool--she saw at once that fever,
which the Little Doctor had feared, was fast taking hold of him. She
rolled her half yard of “edging” around the spool of thread, jabbed the
hook through the lump and went out and told the Old Man that Chip was
getting worse every minute--which was the truth.

The Old Map knocked the ashes out of his pipe and went in to look at
him.

“Did Weary say I got bucked off?” demanded the sick man before the Old
Man was fairly in the room. “If he did, he lied, that’s all. I didn’t
think Weary’d do me dirt like that--I thought he’d stand by me if
anybody would. He knows I wasn’t throwed. I--”

“Here, young fellow,” put in the Old Man, calmly, “don’t yuh git t’
rampagin’ around over nothin’! You turn over there an’ go t’ sleep.”

“I’ll be hanged if I will!” retorted Chip. “If Weary’s taken to lying
about me I’ll have it out with him if I break all the rest of my bones
doing it. Do you think I’m going to stand a thing like that? I’ll see--”

“Easy there, doggone it. I never heard Weary say’t yuh got bucked off.
Whizzer turned over on his head, ‘s near as I c’d make out fer dust. I
took it he turned a summerset.”

Chip’s befogged brain caught at the last word.

“Yes, that’s just what he did. It beats me how Weary could say, or even
think, that I--it was the jack rabbit first--and I told her the supply
was limited--and if we do furnish lots of amusement--but I guess I made
her understand I wasn’t so easy as she took me to be. She--”

“Hey?” The Old Man could hardly be blamed for losing the drift of Chip’s
rapid utterances.

“If we want to get them rounded up before the dance, I’ll--it’s a good
thing it wasn’t poison, for seven dead kids at once--”

The Old Man knew something about sickness himself. He hurried out,
returning in a moment with a bowl of cool water and a fringed napkin
which he pilfered from the dining-room table, wisely intending to bathe
Chip’s head.

But Chip would have none of him or his wise intentions. He jerked the
wet napkin from the Old Man’s fingers and threw it down behind the bed,
knocked up the bowl of water into the Old Man’s face and called him
some very bad names. The Countess came and looked in, and Chip hurled a
pillow at her and called her a bad name also, so that she retreated to
the kitchen with her feelings very much hurt. After that Chip had the
south room to himself until the Little Doctor returned with Johnny.

The Old Man, looking rather scared, met her on the porch. The Little
Doctor read his face before she was off her horse.

“What’s the matter? Is he worse?” she demanded, abruptly.

“That’s fer you t’ find out. I ain’t no doctor. He got on the fight, a
while back, an’ took t’ throwin’ things an’ usin’ langwidge. He can’t
git out uh bed, thank the Lord, or we’d be takin’ t’ the hills by now.”

“Then somebody has it to answer for. He was all right when I left him,
two hours ago, with not a sign of fever. Has the Countess been pestering
him?”

“No,” said the Countess, popping her head out of the kitchen window and
speaking in an aggrieved tone, “I hope I never pester anybody. I went
an’ done all I could t’ cheer ‘im up, an’ that’s all the thanks I
git fer it. I must say some folks ain’t overburdened with gratitude,
anyhow.”

The Little Doctor did not wait to hear her out. She went straight to the
south room, pulling off her gloves on the way. The pillow on the floor
told her an eloquent tale, and she sighed as she picked it up and patted
some shape back into it. Chip stared at her with wide, bright eyes from
the bed.

“I don’t suppose Dr. Cecil Granthum would throw pillows at anybody!” he
remarked, sarcastically, as she placed it very gently under his head.

“Perhaps, if the provocation was great enough. What have they been doing
to you?”

“Did Weary say I got bucked off?” he demanded, excitedly.

The Little Doctor was counting his pulse, and waited till she had
finished. It was a high number--much higher than she liked.

“No, Weary didn’t. How could he? You didn’t, you know. I saw it all from
the bluff, and I know the horse turned over upon you. It’s a wonder you
weren’t killed outright. Now, don’t worry about it any more--I expect it
was the Countess told you that. Weary hated dreadfully to leave you. I
wonder if you know how much he thinks of you? I didn’t, till I saw how
he looked when you--here, drink this, all of it. You’ve got to sleep,
you see.”


There was a week when the house was kept very still, and the south
room very cool and shadowy, and Chip did not much care who it was that
ministered to him--only that the hands of the Little Doctor were always
soft and soothing on his head and he wished she would keep them there
always, when he was himself enough to wish anything coherently.



CHAPTER XII. -- “The Last Stand.”



To use a trite expression and say that Chip “fought his way back to
health” would be simply stating a fact and stating it mildly. He went
about it much as he would go about gentling a refractory broncho, and
with nearly the same results.

His ankle, however, simply could not be hurried or bluffed into
premature soundness, and the Little Doctor was at her wits’ end to keep
Chip from fretting himself back into fever, once he was safely pulled
out of it. She made haste to explain the bit of overheard conversation,
which he harped on more than he dreamed, when his head went light in
that first week, and so established a more friendly feeling between
them.

Still, there was a certain aloofness about him which she could not
conquer, try as she might. Just so far they were comrades--beyond, Chip
walked moodily alone. The Little Doctor did not like that overmuch.
She preferred to know that she fairly understood her friends and was
admitted, sometimes, to their full confidence. She did not relish
bumping her head against a blank wall that was too high to look over or
to climb, and in which there seemed to be no door.

To be sure, he talked freely, and amusingly, of his adventures and of
the places he had known, but it was always an impersonal recital, and
told little of his real self or his real feelings. Still, when she
asked him, he told her exactly what he thought about things, whether his
opinion pleased her or not.

There were times when he would sit in the old Morris chair and smoke
and watch her make lacey stuff in a little, round frame. Battenberg, she
said it was. He loved to see her fingers manipulate the needle and the
thread, and take wonderful pains with her work--but once she showed him
a butterfly whose wings did not quite match, and he pointed it out to
her. She had been listening to him tell a story of Indians and cowboys
and with some wild riding mixed into it, and--well, she used the wrong
stitch, but no one would notice it in a thousand years. This, her
argument.

“You’ll always know the mistake’s there, and you won’t get the
satisfaction out of it you would if it was perfect, would you?” argued
Chip, letting his eyes dwell on her face more than was good for him.

The Little Doctor pouted her lips in a way to tempt a man all he could
stand, and snipped out the wing with her scissors and did it over.

So with her painting. She started a scene in the edge of the Bad Lands
down the river. Chip knew the place well. There was a heated discussion
over the foreground, for the Little Doctor wanted him to sketch in some
Indian tepees and some squaws for her, and Chip absolutely refused to
do so. He said there were no Indians in that country, and it would spoil
the whole picture, anyway. The Little Doctor threatened to sketch them
herself, drawing on her imagination and what little she knew of Indians,
but something in his eyes stayed her hand. She left the easel in disgust
and refused to touch it again for a week.

She was to spend a long day with Miss Satterly, the schoolma’am, and
started off soon after breakfast one morning.

“I hope you’ll find something to keep you out of mischief while I’m
gone,” she remarked, with a pretty, authoritative air. “Make him take
his medicine, Johnny, and don’t let him have the crutches. Well, I think
I shall hide them to make sure.”

“I wish to goodness you had that picture done,” grumbled Chip. “It
seems to me you’re doing a heap of running around, lately. Why don’t you
finish it up? Those lonesome hills are getting on my nerves.”

“I’ll cover it up,” said she.

“Let it be. I like to look at them.” Chip leaned back in his chair and
watched her, a hunger greater than he knew in his eyes. It was most
awfully lonesome when she was gone all day, and last night she had been
writing all the evening to Dr. Cecil Granthum--damn him! Chip always
hitched that invective to the unknown doctor’s name, for some reason he
saw fit not to explain to himself. He didn’t see what she could find to
write about so much, for his part. And he did hate a long day with no
one but Johnny to talk to.

He craned his neck to keep her in view as long as possible, drew a long,
discontented breath and settled himself more comfortably in the chair
where he spent the greater part of his waking hours.

“Hand me the tobacco, will you, kid?”

He fished his cigarette book from his pocket. “Thanks!” He tore a narrow
strip from the paper and sifted in a little tobacco.

“Now a match, kid, and then you’re done.”

Johnny placed the matches within easy reach, shoved a few magazines
close to Chip’s elbow, and stretched himself upon the floor with a book.

Chip lay back against the cushions and smoked lazily, his eyes half
closed, dreaming rather than thinking. The unfinished painting stood
facing him upon its easel, and his eyes idly fixed upon it. He knew
the place so well. Jagged pinnacles, dotted here and there with scrubby
pines, hemmed in a tiny basin below--where was blank canvas. He went
mentally over the argument again, and from that drifted to a scene he
had witnessed in that same basin, one day--but that was in the winter.
Dirty gray snow drifts, where a chinook had cut them, and icy side hills
made the place still drearier. And the foreground--if the Little Doctor
could get that, now, she would be doing something!--ah! that foreground.
A poor, half-starved range cow with her calf which the round-up had
overlooked in the fall, stood at bay against a steep cut bank. Before
them squatted five great, gaunt wolves intent upon fresh beef for their
supper. But the cow’s horns were long, and sharp, and threatening, and
the calf snuggled close to her side, shivering with the cold and the
fear of death. The wolves licked their cruel lips and their eyes gleamed
hungrily--but the eyes of the cow answered them, gleam for gleam. If it
could be put upon canvas just as he had seen it, with the bitter, biting
cold of a frozen chinook showing gray and sinister in the slaty sky--
“Kid!”

“Huh?” Johnny struggled reluctantly back to Montana.

“Get me the Little Doctor’s paint and truck, over on that table, and
slide that easel up here.”

Johnny stared, opened his mouth to speak, then wisely closed it and did
as he was bidden. Philosophically he told himself it was Chip’s funeral,
if the Little Doctor made a kick.

“All right, kid.” Chip tossed the cigarette stub out of the window. “You
can go ahead and read, now. Lock the door first, and don’t you bother
me--not on your life.”

Then Chip plunged headlong into the Bad Lands, so to speak.

A few dabs of dirty white, here and there, a wholly original
manipulation of the sky--what mattered the method, so he attained the
result? Half an hour, and the hills were clutched in the chill embrace
of a “frozen chinook” such as the Little Doctor had never seen in her
life. But Johnny, peeping surreptitiously over Chip’s shoulder, stared
at the change; then, feeling the spirit of it, shivered in sympathy with
the barren hills.

“Hully gee,” he muttered under his breath, “he’s sure a corker t’
paint cold that fair makes yer nose sting.” And he curled up in a chair
behind, where he could steal a look, now and then, without fear of
detection.

But Chip was dead to all save that tiny basin in the Bad Lands--to the
wolves and their quarry. His eyes burned as they did when the fever held
him; each cheek bone glowed flaming red.

As wolf after wolf appeared with what, to Johnny, seemed uncanny
swiftness, and squatted, grinning and sinister, in a relentless half
circle, the book slipped unheeded to the floor with a clatter that
failed to rouse the painter, whose ears were dulled to all else than the
pitiful blat of a shivering, panic-stricken calf whose nose sought his
mother’s side for her comforting warmth and protection.

The Countess rapped on the door for dinner, and Johnny rose softly and
tiptoed out to quiet her. May he be forgiven the lies he told that
day, of how Chip’s head ached and he wanted to sleep and must not be
disturbed, by strict orders of the Little Doctor. The Countess, to whom
the very name of the Little Doctor was a fetich, closed all intervening
doors and walked on her toes in the kitchen, and Johnny rejoiced at the
funeral quiet which rested upon the house.

Faster flew the brush. Now the eyes of the cow glared desperate
defiance. One might almost see her bony side, ruffled by the cutting
north wind, heave with her breathing. She was fighting death for herself
and her baby--but for how long? Already the nose of one great, gray
beast was straight uplifted, sniffing, impatient. Would they risk a
charge upon those lowered horns? The dark pines shook their feathery
heads hopelessly. A little while perhaps, and then--Chip laid down the
brush and sank back in the chair. Was the sun so low? He could do no
more--yes, he took up a brush and added the title: “The Last Stand.”

He was very white, and his hand shook. Johnny leaned over the back of
the chair, his eyes glued to the picture.

“Gee,” he muttered, huskily, “I’d like t’ git a whack at them wolves
once.”

Chip turned his head until he could look at the lad’s face. “What do you
think of it, kid?” he asked, shakily.

Johnny did not answer for a moment. It was hard to put what he felt into
words. “I dunno just how t’ say it,” he said, gropingly, at last, “but
it makes me want t’ go gunnin’ fer them wolves b’fore they hamstring
her. It--well--it don’t seem t’ me like it was a pitcher, somehow. It
seems like the reel thing, kinda.”

Chip moved his head languidly upon the cushion.

“I’m dead tired, kid. No, I’m not hungry, nor I don’t want any
coffee, or anything. Just roll this chair over to the bed, will you?
I’m--dead-tired.”

Johnny was worried. He did not know what the Little Doctor would say,
for Chip had not eaten his dinner, or taken his medicine. Somehow there
had been that in his face that had made Johnny afraid to speak to him.
He went back to the easel and looked long at the picture, his heart
bursting with rage that he could not take his rifle and shoot those
merciless, grinning brutes. Even after he had drawn the curtain before
it and stood the easel in its accustomed place, he kept lifting the
curtain to take another look at that wordless tragedy of the West.



CHAPTER XIII. -- Art Critics.



It was late the next forenoon when the Little Doctor, feeling the spirit
of artistic achievement within her, gathered up brushes and paints for
a couple hours’ work. Chip, sitting by the window smoking a cigarette,
watched her uneasily from the tail of his eye. Looking back to
yesterday’s “spasm,” as he dubbed it mentally, he was filled with a
great and unaccountable shyness. What had seemed so real to him then he
feared to-day to face, as trivial and weak.

He wanted to cry “Stop!” when she laid hand to the curtain, but he
looked, instead, out across the coulee to the hills beyond, the blood
surging unevenly through his veins. He felt when she drew the cloth
aside; she stopped short off in the middle of telling him something Miss
Satterly had said--some whimsical thing--and he could hear his heart
pounding in the silence which followed. The little, nickel alarm clock
tick-tick-ticked with such maddening precision and speed that Chip
wanted to shy a book at it, but his eyes never left the rocky bluff
opposite, and the clock ticked merrily on.

One minute--two--the silence was getting unbearable. He could not
endure another second. He looked toward her; she stood, one hand full of
brushes, gazing, white-faced, at “The Last Stand.” As he looked, a tear
rolled down the cheek nearest him and compelled him to speech.

“What’s the matter?” His voice seemed to him rough and brutal, but he
did not mean it so.

The Little Doctor drew a long, quivering breath.

“Oh, the poor, brave thing!” she said, in a hushed tone. She turned
sharply away and sat down.

“I expect I spoiled your picture, all right--but I told you I’d get into
mischief if you went gadding around and left me alone.”

The Little Doctor stealthily wiped her eyes, hoping to goodness Chip had
not seen that they had need of wiping.

“Why didn’t you tell me you could paint like that?” She turned upon him
fiercely. “Here you’ve sat and looked on at me daubing things up--and
if I’d known you could do better than--” Looking again at the canvas she
forgot to finish. The fascination of it held her.

“I’m not in the habit of going around the country shouting what I don’t
know,” said Chip, defensively. “You’ve taken heaps of lessons, and I
never did. I just noticed the color of everything, and--oh, I don’t
know--it’s in me to do those things. I can’t help trying to paint and
draw.”

“I suppose old Von Heim would have something to say of your way of doing
clouds--but you got the effect, though--better than he did, sometimes.
And that cow--I can see her breathe, I tell you! And the wolves--oh,
don’t sit there and smoke your everlasting cigarettes and look so
stoical over it! What are you made of, anyway? Can’t you feel proud? Oh,
don’t you know what you’ve done? I--I’d like to shake you--so now!”

“Well, I don’t much blame you. I knew I’d no business to meddle. Maybe,
if you’ll touch it up a little--”

“I’ll not touch a brush to THAT. I--I’m afraid I might kill the cow.”
 She gave a little, hysterical laugh.

“Don’t you think you’re rather excitable--for a doctor?” scoffed Chip,
and her chin went up for a minute.

“I’d like t’ kill them wolves,” said Johnny, coming in just then.

“Turn the thing around, kid, so I can see it,” commanded Chip, suddenly.
“I worked at it yesterday till the colors all ran together and I
couldn’t tell much about it.”

Johnny turned the easel, and Chip, looking, fell silent. Had HIS hand
guided the brush while that scene grew from blank canvas to palpitating
reality? Verily, he had “builded better than he knew.” Something in his
throat gripped, achingly and dry.

“Did anybody see it yesterday?” asked the Little Doctor.

“No--not unless the kid--” “I never said a word about it,” denied
Johnny, hastily and vehemently. “I lied like the dickens. I said you had
headache an’ was tryin’ t’ sleep it off. I kep’ the Countess teeterin’
around on her toes all afternoon.” Johnny giggled at the memory of it.

“Well, I’m going to call them all in and see what they say,” declared
she, starting for the door.

“I don’t THINK you will,” began Chip, rebelliously, blushing over his
achievement like a girl over her graduation essay. “I don’t want to
be--”

“Well, we needn’t tell them you did it,” suggested she.

“Oh, if you’re willing to shoulder the blame,” compromised Chip, much
relieved. He hated to be fussed over.

The Little Doctor regarded him attentively a moment, smiled queerly to
herself and stood back to get a better view of the painting.

“I’ll shoulder the blame--and maybe claim the glory. It was mine in the
first place, you know.” She watched him from under her lashes.

“Yes, it’s yours, all right,” said Chip, readily, but something went
out of his face and lodged rather painfully in the deepest corner of his
heart. He ignored it proudly and smiled back at her.

“Do such things really happen, out here?” she asked, hurriedly.

“I’d tell a man!” said Chip, his eyes returning to the picture. “I was
riding through that country last winter, and I came upon that very cow,
just as you see her there, in that same basin. That’s how I came
to paint it into your foreground; I got to thinking about it, and I
couldn’t help trying to put it on canvas. Only, I opened up on the
wolves with my six-shooter, and I got two; that big fellow ready to
howl, there, and that one next the cut-bank. The rest broke out down the
coulee and made for the breaks, where I couldn’t follow. They--”

“Say? Old Dunk’s comin’,” announced Johnny, hurrying in. “Why don’t yuh
let ‘im see the pitcher an’ think all the time the Little Doctor done
it? Gee, it’d be great t’ hear ‘im go on an’ praise it up, like he
always does, an’ not know the diffrunce.”

“Johnny, you’re a genius,” cried she, effusively. “Don’t tell a soul
that Chip had a brush in his hand yesterday, will you? He--he’d rather
not have anyone know he did anything to the painting, you see.”

“Aw, I won’t tell,” interrupted Johnny, gruffly, eying his divinity with
distrust for the first time in his short acquaintance with her. Was she
mean enough to claim it really? Just at first, as a joke, it would be
fun, but afterward, oh, she wouldn’t do a thing like that!

“Don’t you bring Dunk in here,” warned Chip, “or things might happen.
I don’t want to run up against him again till I’ve got two good feet to
stand on.”

Their relation was a thing to be watched over tenderly, since Chip’s
month of invalidism. Dunk had notions concerning master and servant, and
concerning Chip as an individual. He did not fancy occupying the back
bedroom while Chip reigned in his sunny south room, waited on, petted
(Dunk applied the term petted) and amused indefatigably by the Little
Doctor. And there had been a scene, short but exceeding “strenuous,”
 over a pencil sketch which graphically portrayed an incident Dunk fain
would forget--the incident of himself as a would-be broncho fighter,
with Banjo, of vigilante fame, as the means of his downfall--physical,
mental and spiritual. Dunk might, in time, have forgiven the crippled
ankle, and the consequent appropriation of his room, but never would he
forgive the merciless detail of that sketch.

“I’ll carry easel and all into the parlor, and leave the door open so
you can hear what they all say,” said the Little Doctor, cheerfully.
“I wish Cecil could be here to-day. I always miss Cecil when there’s
anything especial going on in the way of fun.”

“Yes?” answered Chip, and made himself another cigarette. He would be
glad when he could hobble out to some lonely spot and empty his soul
of the profane language stored away opposite the name of Dr. Cecil
Granthum. There is so little comfort in swearing all inside, when one
feels deeply upon a subject.

“It’s a wonder you wouldn’t send for him if you miss him that bad,”
 he remarked, after a minute, hoping the Little Doctor would not find
anything amiss with his tone, which he meant should be cordial and
interested--and which evinced plenty of interest, of a kind, but was
curiously lacking in cordiality.

“I did beg, and tease, and entreat--but Cecil’s in a hospital--as a
physician, you understand, not as a patient, and can’t get off just yet.
In a month or two, perhaps--”

Dinner, called shrilly by the Countess, interrupted her, and she flitted
out of the room looking as little like a lovelorn maiden as she did like
a doctor--which was little indeed.

“She begged, and teased, and entreated,” repeated Chip, savagely to
himself when the door closed upon her, and fell into gloomy meditation,
which left him feeling that there was no good thing in this wicked
world--no, not one--that was not appropriated by some one with not sense
enough to understand and appreciate his blessing.

After dinner the Little Doctor spoke to the unsuspecting critics.

“That picture which I started a couple of weeks ago is finished at last,
and I want you good people to come and tell me what you think of it.
I want you all--you, Slim, and Louise, you are to come and give your
opinion.”

“Well, I don’t know the first thing about paintin’,” remonstrated the
Countess, coming in from the kitchen.

The Old Man lighted his pipe and followed her into the parlor with the
others, and Slim rolled a cigarette to hide his embarrassment, for the
role of art critic was new to him.

There was some nervousness in the Little Doctor’s manner as she set the
easel to her liking and drew aside the curtain. She did not mean to be
theatrical about it, but Chip, watching through the open door, fancied
so, and let his lip curl a trifle. He was not in a happy frame of mind
just then.

A silence fell upon the group. The Old Man took his pipe from his mouth
and stared.

The cheeks of the Little Doctor paled and grew pink again. She laughed a
bit, as though she would much rather cry.

“Say something, somebody, quick!” she cried, when her nerves would bear
no more.

“Well, I do think it’s awfully good, Dell,” began the Countess.

“By golly, I don’t see how you done that without seein’ it happen,”
 exclaimed Slim, looking very dazed and mystified.

“That’s a Diamond Bar cow,” remarked J. G., abstractedly. “That outfit
never does git half their calves. I remember the last time I rode
through there last winter, that cow--doggone it, Dell, how the dickens
did you get that cow an’ calf in? You must a had a photograph t’ work
from.”

“By golly, that’s right,” chimed in Slim. “That there’s the cow I had
sech a time chasin’ out uh the bunch down on the bottom. I run her
till I was plum sick, an’ so was she, by golly. I’d know her among a
thousand. Yuh got her complete--all but the beller, an’, by golly, yuh
come blame near gittin’ that, too!” Slim, always slow and very much in
earnest, gradually became infused with the spirit of the scene. “Jest
look at that ole gray sinner with his nose r’ared straight up in the air
over there! By golly, he’s callin’ all his wife’s relations t’ come an’
help ‘em out. He’s thinkin’ the ole Diamon’ Bar’s goin’ t’ be one too
many fer ‘em. She shore looks fighty, with ‘er head down an’ ‘er eyes
rollin’ all ways t’ oncet, ready fer the first darn cuss that makes a
crooked move! An’ they know it, too, by golly, er they wouldn’t hang
back like they’re a-doin’. I’d shore like t’ be cached behind that ole
pine stub with a thirty--thirty an’ a fist full uh shells--I’d shore
make a scatteration among ‘em! A feller could easy--”

“But, Slim, they’re nothing but paint!” The Little Doctor’s eyes were
shining.

Slim turned red and grinned sheepishly at the others.

“I kinda fergot it wasn’t nothin’ but a pitcher,” he stammered,
apologetically.

“That is the gist of the whole matter,” said Dunk. “You couldn’t ask
for a greater compliment, or higher praise, than that, Miss Della. One
forgets that it is a picture. One only feels a deep longing for a good
rifle. You must let me take it with me to Butte. That picture will make
you famous among cattlemen, at least. That is to say, out West, here.
And if you will sell it I am positive I can get you a high price for
it.”

The eyes of the Little Doctor involuntarily sought the Morris chair in
the next room; but Chip was looking out across the coulee, as he had a
habit of doing lately, and seemed not to hear what was going on in the
parlor. He was indifference personified, if one might judge from his
outward appearance. The Little Doctor turned her glance resentfully to
her brother’s partner.

“Do you mean all that?” she demanded of him.

“I certainly do. It is great, Miss Della. I admit that it is not
quite like your other work; the treatment seems different, in places,
and--er--stronger. It is the best picture of the kind that I have ever
seen, I think. It holds one, in a way--”

“By golly, I bet Chip took a pitcher uh that!” exclaimed Slim, who had
been doing some hard thinking. “He was tellin’ us last winter about
ridin’ up on that ole Diamon’ Bar cow with a pack uh wolves around her,
an’ her a-standin’ ‘em off, an’ he shot two uh the wolves. Yes, sir;
Chip jest about got a snap shot of ‘em.”

“Well, doggone it! what if he did?” The Old Man turned jealously upon
him. “It ain’t everyone that kin paint like that, with nothin’ but a
little kodak picture t’ go by. Doggone it! I don’t care if Dell had a
hull apurn full uh kodak pictures that Chip took--it’s a rattlin’ good
piece uh work, all the same.”

“I ain’t sayin’ anything agin’ the pitcher,” retorted Slim. “I was jest
wonderin’ how she happened t’ git that cow down s’ fine, brand ‘n all,
without some kind uh pattern t’ go by. S’ fur ‘s the pitcher goes,
it’s about as good ‘s kin be did with paint, I guess. I ain’t ever seen
anything in the pitcher line that looked any natcherler.”

“Well, I do think it’s just splendid!” gurgled the Countess. “It’s
every bit as good ‘s the one Mary got with a year’s subscription t’ the
Household Treasure fer fifty cents. That one’s got some hounds chasin’
a deer and a man hidin’ in ‘the bushes, sost yuh kin jest see his head.
It’s an awful purty pitcher, but this one’s jest as good. I do b’lieve
it’s a little bit better, if anything. Mary’s has got some awful nice,
green grass, an’ the sky’s an awful purty blue--jest about the color uh
my blue silk waist. But yuh can’t expect t’ have grass an’ sky like that
in the winter, an’ this is more of a winter pitcher. It looks awful cold
an’ lonesome, somehow, an’ it makes yuh want t’ cry, if yuh look at it
long enough.”

The critics stampeded, as they always did when the Countess began to
talk.

“You better let Dunk take it with him, Dell,” was the parting advice of
the Old Man.



CHAPTER XIV. -- Convalescence.



“You don’t mind, do you?” The Little Doctor was visibly uneasy.

“Mind what?” Chip’s tone was one of elaborate unconsciousness. “Mind
Dunk’s selling the picture for you? Why should I? It’s yours, you know.”

“I think you have some interest in it yourself,” she said, without
looking at him. “You don’t think I mean to--to--”

“I don’t think anything, except that it’s your picture, and I put in a
little time meddling with your property for want of something else to
do. All I painted doesn’t cover one quarter of the canvas, and I guess
you’ve done enough for me to more than make up. I guess you needn’t
worry over that cow and calf--you’re welcome to them both; and if you
can get a bounty on those five wolves, I’ll be glad to have you. Just
keep still about my part of it.”

Chip really felt that way about it, after the first dash of wounded
pride. He could never begin to square accounts with the Little Doctor,
anyhow, and he was proud that he could do something for her, even if it
was nothing more than fixing up a picture so that it rose considerably
above mediocrity. He had meant it that way all along, but the suspicion
that she was quite ready to appropriate his work rather shocked him,
just at first. No one likes having a gift we joy in bestowing calmly
taken from our hands before it has been offered. He wanted her to
have the picture for her very own--but--but--He had not thought of
the possibility of her selling it, or of Dunk as her agent. It was
all right, of course, if she wanted to do that with it, but--There was
something about it that hurt, and the hurt of it was not less, simply
because he could not locate the pain.

His mind fidgeted with the subject. If he could have saddled Silver and
gone for a long gallop over the prairie land, he could have grappled
with his rebellious inner self and choked to death several unwelcome
emotions, he thought. But there was Silver, crippled and swung
uncomfortably in canvas wrappings in the box stall, and here
was himself, crippled and held day after day in one room and one
chair--albeit a very pleasant room and a very comfortable chair--and a
gallop as impossible to one of them as to the other.

“I do wish--” The Little Doctor checked herself abruptly, and hummed a
bit of coon song.

“What do you wish?” Chip pushed his thoughts behind him, and tried to
speak in his usual manner.

“Nothing much. I was just wishing Cecil could see ‘The Last Stand.’”

Chip said absolutely nothing for five minutes, and for an excellent
reason. There was not a single thought during that time which would
sound pretty if put into words, and he had no wish to shock the Little
Doctor.

After that day a constraint fell upon them both, which each felt
keenly and neither cared to explain away. “The Last Stand” was tacitly
dismissed from their conversation, of which there grew less and less as
the days passed.

Then came a time when Chip strongly resented being looked upon as an
invalid, and Johnny was sent home, greatly to his sorrow.

Chip hobbled about the house on crutches, and chafed and fretted, and
managed to be very miserable indeed because he could not get out and
ride and clear his brain and heart of some of their hurt--for it had
come to just that; he had been compelled to own that there was a hurt
which would not heal in a hurry.

It was a very bitter young man who, lounging in the big chair by the
window one day, suddenly snorted contempt at a Western story he had been
reading and cast the magazine--one of the Six Leading--clean into the
parlor where it sprawled its artistic leaves in the middle of the floor.
The Little Doctor was somewhere--he never seemed to know just where,
nowadays--and the house was lonesome as an isolated peak in the Bad
Lands.

“I wish I had the making of the laws. I’d put a bounty on all the darn
fools that think they can write cowboy stories just because they rode
past a roundup once, on a fast train,” he growled, reaching for his
tobacco sack. “Huh! I’d like to meet up with the yahoo that wrote that
rank yarn! I’d ask him where he got his lack of information. Huh! A
cow-puncher togged up like he was going after the snakiest bronk in the
country, when he was only going to drive to town in a buckboard! ‘His
pistol belt and dirk and leathern chaps’--oh, Lord; oh, Lord! And spurs!
I wonder if he thinks it takes spurs to ride a buckboard? Do they think,
back East, that spurs grow on a man’s heels out here and won’t come off?
Do they think we SLEEP in ‘em, I wonder?” He drew a match along the
arm of the chair where the varnish was worn off. “They think all a
cow-puncher has to do is eat and sleep and ride fat horses. I’d like to
tell some of them a few things that they don’t--”

“I’ve brought you a caller, Chip. Aren’t you glad to see him?” It was
the Little Doctor at the window, and the laugh he loved was in her voice
and in her eyes, that it hurt him to meet, lately.

The color surged to his face, and he leaned from the window, his thin,
white hand outstretched caressingly.

“I’d tell a man!” he said, and choked a little over it. “Silver, old
boy!”

Silver, nickering softly, limped forward and nestled his nose in the
palm of his master.

“He’s been out in the corral for several days, but I didn’t tell you--I
wanted it for a surprise,” said the Little Doctor. “This is his longest
trip, but he’ll soon be well now.”

“Yes; I’d give a good deal if I could walk as well as he can,” said
Chip, gloomily.

“He wasn’t hurt as badly as you were. You ought to be thankful you can
walk at all, and that you won’t limp all your life. I was afraid for a
while, just at first--”

“You were? Why didn’t you tell me?” Chip’s eyes were fixed sternly upon
her.

“Because I didn’t want to. It would only have made matters worse,
anyway. And you won’t limp, you know, if you’re careful for a while
longer. I’m going to get Silver his sugar. He has sugar every day.”

Silver lifted his head and looked after her inquiringly, whinnied
complainingly, and prepared to follow as best he could.

“Silver--oh, Silver!” Chip snapped his fingers to attract his attention.
“Hang the luck, come back here! Would you throw down your best friend
for that girl? Has she got to have you, too?” His voice grew wistfully
rebellious. “You’re mine. Come back here, you little fool--she doesn’t
care.”

Silver stopped at the corner, swung his head and looked back at Chip,
beckoning, coaxing, swearing under his breath. His eyes sought for sign
of his goddess, who had disappeared most mysteriously. Throwing up his
head, he sent a protest shrilling through the air, and looked no more at
Chip.

“I’m coming, now be still. Oh, don’t you dare paw with your lame leg!
Why didn’t you stay with your master?”

“He’s no use for his master, any more,” said Chip, with a hurt laugh. “A
woman always does play the--mischief, somehow. I wonder why? They look
innocent enough.”

“Wait till your turn comes, and perhaps you’ll learn why,” retorted she.

Chip, knowing that his turn had come, and come to tarry, found nothing
to say.

“Beside,” continued the Little Doctor, “Silver didn’t want me so
much--it was the sugar. I hope you aren’t jealous of me, because I know
his heart is big enough to hold us both.”

She stayed a long half hour, and was so gay that it seemed like old
times to listen to her laugh and watch her dimples while she talked.
Chip forgot that he had a quarrel with fate, and he also forgot Dr.
Cecil Granthum, of Gilroy, Ohio--until Slim rode up and handed the
Little Doctor a letter addressed in that bold, up-and-down writing that
Chip considered a little the ugliest specimen of chirography he had ever
seen in his life.

“It’s from Cecil,” said the Little Doctor, simply and unnecessarily, and
led Silver back down the hill.

Chip, gazing at that tiresome bluff across the coulee, renewed his
quarrel with fate.



CHAPTER XV. -- The Spoils of Victory.



“I wish, while I’m gone, you’d paint me another picture. Will you,
PLEASE?”

When a girl has big, gray eyes that half convince you they are not gray
at all, but brown, or blue, at times, and a way of using them that makes
a fellow heady, like champagne, and a couple of dimples that will
dodge into her cheeks just when a fellow is least prepared to resist
them--why, what can a fellow do but knuckle under and say yes,
especially when she lets her head tip to one side a little and says
“please” like that?

Chip tried not to look at her, but he couldn’t help himself very well
while she stood directly in front of him. He compromised weakly instead
of refusing point-blank, as he told himself he wanted to do.

“I don’t know--maybe I can’t, again.”

“Maybe you can, though. Here’s an eighteen by twenty-four canvas, and
here are all the paints I have in the house, and the brushes. I’ll
expect to see something worth while, when I return.”

“Well, but if I can’t--”

“Look here. Straight in the eye, if you please! Now, will you TRY?”

Chip, looking into her eyes that were laughing, but with a certain
earnestness behind the laugh, threw up his hands--mentally, you know.

“Yes, I’ll try. How long are you going to be gone?”

“Oh, perhaps a week,” she said, lightly, and Chip’s heart went heavy.

“You may paint any kind of picture you like, but I’d rather you did
something like ‘The Last Stand’--only better. And put your brand, as you
call it, in one corner.”

“You won’t sell it, will you?” The words slipped out before he knew.

“No--no, I won’t sell it, for it won’t be mine. It’s for yourself this
time.”

“Then there won’t be any picture,” said Chip, shortly.

“Oh, yes, there will,” smiled the Little Doctor, sweetly, and went away
before he could contradict her.

Perhaps a week! Heavens, that was seven days, and every day had at least
sixteen waking hours. How would it be when it was years, then? When
Dr. Cecil Granthum--(er--no, I won’t. The invective attached to that
gentleman’s name was something not to be repeated here.) At any rate, a
week was a long, long time to put in without any gray eyes or any laugh,
or any dimples, or, in short, without the Little Doctor. He could not
see, for his part, why she wanted to go gadding off to the Falls with
Len Adams and the schoolma’am, anyway. Couldn’t they get along without
her? They always had, before she came to the country; but, for that
matter, so had he. The problem was, how was he going to get along
without her for the rest of his life? What did they want to stay a week
for? Couldn’t they buy everything they wanted in a day or so? And the
Giant Spring wasn’t such great shakes, nor the Rainbow Falls, that
they need to hang around town a week just to look at them. And the
picture--what was he such a fool for? Couldn’t he say no with a pair of
gray eyes staring into his? It seemed not. He supposed he must think up
something to daub on there--the poorer the better.

That first day Chip smoked something like two dozen cigarettes, gazed
out across the coulee till his eyes ached, glared morosely at the canvas
on the easel, which stared back at him till the dull blankness of it
stamped itself upon his brain and he could see nothing else, look where
he might. Whereupon he gathered up hat and crutches, and hobbled slowly
down the hill to tell Silver his troubles.

The second day threatened to be like the first. Chip sat by the window
and smoked; but, little by little, the smoke took form and substance
until, when he turned his eyes to the easel, a picture looked back at
him--even though to other eyes the canvas was yet blank and waiting.

There was no Johnny this time to run at his beckoning. He limped about
on his crutches, collected all things needful, and sat down to work.

As he sketched and painted, with a characteristic rapidity that was
impatient of the slightest interruption yet patient in its perfectness
of detail, the picture born of the smoke grew steadily upon the canvas.

It seemed, at first, that “The Last Stand” was to be repeated. There
were the same jagged pinnacles and scrubby pines, held in the fierce
grip of the frozen chinook. The same? But there was a difference, not
to be explained, perhaps, but certainly to be felt. The Little Doctor’s
hills were jagged, barren hills; her pines were very nice pines indeed.
Chip’s hills were jagged, they were barren--they--were desolate; his
pines were shuddering, lonely pines; for he had wandered alone among
them and had caught the Message of the Wilderness. His sky was the cold,
sinister sky of “The Last Stand”--but it was colder, more sinister, for
it was night. A young moon hung low in the west, its face half hidden
behind a rift of scurrying snow clouds. The tiny basin was shadowy and
vague, the cut-bank a black wall touched here and there by a quivering
shaft of light.

There was no threatening cow with lowered horns and watchful eye; there
was no panic-stricken calf to whip up her flagging courage with its
trust in her.

The wolves? Yes, there were the wolves--but there were more of them.
They were not sitting in a waiting half circle--they were scattered,
unwatchful. Two of them in the immediate foreground were wrangling over
a half-gnawed bone. The rest of the pack were nosing a heap pitifully
eloquent.

As before, so now they tricked the eye into a fancy that they lived.
One could all but hear the snarls of the two standing boldly in the
moonlight, the hair all bristly along the necks, the white fangs
gleaming between tense-drawn lips. One felt tempted to brace oneself for
the rush that was to come.

For two days Chip shut himself in his room and worked through the long
hours of daylight, jealous of the minutes darkness stole from him.

He clothed the feast in a merciful shade which hid the repugnance
and left only the pathos--two long, sharp horns which gleamed in the
moonlight but were no longer threatening.

He centered his energy upon the two wolves in the foreground, grimly
determined that Slim should pray for a Gatling gun when he saw them.

The third day, when he was touching up the shoulders of one of the
combatants, a puff of wind blew open the door which led to the parlor.
He did not notice it and kept steadily at work, painting his “brand”
 into a corner. Beneath the stump and its splinter he lettered his
name--a thing he had never done before.

“Well--I’ll be--doggoned!”

Chip jumped half out of his chair, giving his lame ankle a jolt which
made him grind his teeth.

“Darn it, Chip, did YOU do that?”

“It kind of looks that way, don’t it?” Chip was plainly disconcerted,
and his ankle hurt.

“H--m-m.” The Old Man eyed it sharply a minute. “It’s a wonder you
wouldn’t paint in a howl or two, while you’re about it. I suppose that’s
a mate to--doggone you, Chip, why didn’t yuh tell us you painted that
other one?”

“I didn’t,” said Chip, getting red and uncomfortable, “except the cow
and--”

“Yes, except the part that makes the picture worth the paint it’s done
with!” snorted the Old Man. “I must say I never thought that uh Dell!”

“Thought what?” flared Chip, hotly, forgetting everything but that the
Little Doctor was being censured. “It was her picture, she started it
and intended to finish it. I painted on it one day when she was gone,
and she didn’t know it. I told her not to tell anyone I had anything to
do with it. It wasn’t her fault.”

“Huh!” grunted the Old Man, as if he had his own opinion on that matter.
“Well, it’s a rattling good picture--but this one’s better. Poor ole
Diamond Bar--she couldn’t come through with it, after all. She put up a
good fight, out there alone, but she had t’ go under--her an’ her calf.”
 He stood quiet a minute, gazing and gazing. “Doggone them measly wolves!
Why in thunder can’t a feller pump lead into ‘em like he wants t’?”

Chip’s heart glowed within him. His technique was faulty, his colors
daring, perhaps--but his triumph was for that the greater. If men could
FEEL his pictures--and they did! That was the joy of it--they did!

“Darn them snarlin’ brutes, anyway! I thought it was doggone queer if
Dell could dab away all her life at nice, common things that you only
think is purty, an’ then blossom out, all of a sudden, with one like
that other was--that yuh felt all up an’ down yer back. The little
cheat, she’d no business t’ take the glory uh that’n like she done. I’ll
give her thunder when she gits back.”

“You won’t do anything of the kind,” said Chip, quietly--too quietly not
to be menacing. “I tell you that was my fault--I gave her all I did to
the picture, and I told her not to say anything. Do you think I don’t
know what I owe to her? Do you think I don’t know she saved Silver’s
life--and maybe mine? Forty pictures wouldn’t square me with the Little
Doctor--not if they were a heap better than they are, and she claimed
every darned one. I’m doing this, and I’ll thank you not to buy in where
you’re not wanted. This picture is for her, too--but I don’t want the
thing shouted from the housetops. When you go out, I wish you’d shut the
door.”

The Old Man, thoroughly subdued, took the hint. He went out, and he shut
the door.



CHAPTER XVI. -- Weary Advises.



“I have a short article here which may interest you, Miss Della,” said
Dunk, coming out on the porch a few days later with a Butte paper in his
hand. The Little Doctor was swinging leisurely in the hammock.

“It’s about the picture,” he added, smiling.

“The picture? Oh, let me see!” The Little Doctor stopped the hammock
with her toe and sat up. The wind had tumbled her hair about her face
and drawn extra color to her cheeks, and she looked very sweet, Dunk
thought. He held out the paper, pointing a well-kept finger at the place
he wished her to read. There was a rather large headline, for news was
scarce just then and every little thing was made the most of. The eyes
of the Little Doctor clung greedily to the lines.

“It is reported that ‘The Last Stand’ has been sold. The painting, which
has been on exhibition in the lobby of the Summit Hotel, has attracted
much attention among art lovers, and many people have viewed it in
the last week. Duncan Gray Whitaker, the well-known mine owner and
cattleman, who brought the picture to Butte, is said to have received an
offer which the artist will probably accept. Mr. Whitaker still declines
to give the artist’s name, but whoever he is, he certainly has a
brilliant future before him, and Montana can justly feel proud of him.
It has been rumored that the artist is a woman, but the best critics are
slow to believe this, claiming that the work has been done with a power
and boldness undoubtedly masculine. Those who have seen ‘The Last Stand’
will not easily forget it, and the price offered for it is said to be
a large one. Mr. Whitaker will leave the city to-morrow to consult the
unknown artist, and promises, upon his return, to reveal the name of the
modest genius who can so infuse a bit of canvas with palpitating life.”

“What do you think of that? Isn’t the ‘modest genius’ rather proud of
the hit she has made? I wish you could have seen the old stockmen stand
around it and tell wolf stories to one another by the hour. The women
came and cried over it--they were so sorry for the cow. Really, Miss
Della, she’s the most famous cow in Butte, just now. I had plenty of
smaller offers, but I waited till Senator Blake came home; he’s a crank
on Western pictures, and he has a long pocketbook and won’t haggle over
prices. He took it, just as I expected, but he insists that the artist’s
name must be attached to it; and if you take his offer, he may bring the
picture down himself--for he’s quite anxious to meet you. I am to wire
your decision at once.”

The Little Doctor watched a pale green “measuring worm” loop its way
hurriedly along the floor of the porch. She was breathing rather quickly
and unevenly, and she seemed to be thinking very fast. When the worm,
reaching the end, doubled out of sight, she started the hammock swinging
and leaned back upon her cushions.

“You may tell him to come--I should like very much to see him,” she
said. “And I am very much obliged to you for the service you have
performed.” She became very much interested in a magazine, and seemed to
dismiss Dunk and the picture entirely from her mind. Dunk, after waiting
till he was convinced she had no intention of saying more, went off to
the stables to find a messenger for the telegram, telling himself on the
way that Miss Della Whitmore was a very cool young person, and not as
grateful as he would like her to be.

The Little Doctor went immediately to find Chip, but that young man,
who had been just inside the window and had heard every word, was not so
easily found. He was down in the bunk house, thinking things. And when
she did find him, near supper time, he was so utterly unapproachable
that her courage and her patience failed together, and she did not
mention the picture at all.


“Hello, Doctor!” It was a heartening voice, sounding very sweet to the
ears of the Little Doctor just then. She turned eagerly, her arms still
clasping Silver’s neck. She had come down to the corral to feed him
sugar and tell him what a very difficult young man his master was, and
how he held her at arm’s length with his manner, and yet was nice and
friendly and sunny enough--like the sun shining on an iceberg. But human
sympathy was within reach of her hand, and it was much more satisfying
than the mute sympathy of a horse.

“Weary Willy Davidson, you don’t know how glad I am to see you! As the
sayin’ is: ‘Yuh think of angels an’ their opposets ain’t fur off.’ I AM
glad to see you.”

“Dirt and all?” grinned Weary, for he had ridden far in the heat, and
was dust-grimed and travelworn. He pulled the saddle off Glory, also,
travelworn and sweat-grimed, and gave him an affectionate slap of
dismissal.

“I’d chance money you wasn’t thinking of me,” he said, pointedly. “How
is the old ranch, anyhow? Splinter up, yet?”

“You must think I’m a feeble excuse for a doctor,” retorted she. “Of
course he’s up. He walks all around the house and yard with a cane; I
promoted him from crutches yesterday.”

“Good shot! That was sure a bad foot he had on him, and I didn’t
know--What’s he been putting in the time at? Making pictures--or love?”

“Pictures,” said the Little Doctor, hastily, laying her cheek against
Silver’s mane. “I’d like to see him making love!”

“Yuh would?” said Weary, innocently, disregarding the irony of her tone.
“Well, if yuh ever do, I tell yuh right now you’ll see the real thing.
If he makes love like he does other things, there won’t any female girl
dodge his loop, that’s straight. What about the pictures?”

“Well, he drew a picture of J. G. sliding down the kitchen steps, before
he was out of bed. And he made a picture of Dunk, that time Banjo bucked
him off--you saw that happen, I suppose--and it was great! Dunk was
standing on his head in front of his horse, but I can’t show you it,
because it blew out of the window and landed at Dunk’s feet in the path,
and he picked it up and tore it into little bits. And he doesn’t play in
Chip’s yard any more.”

“He never did,” grinned Weary. “Dunk’s a great hand to go around
shooting off his mouth about things he’s no business to buy into, and
old Splinter let him down on his face once or twice. Chip can sure give
a man a hard fall when he wants to, and not use many words, either. What
little he does say generally counts.”

The Little Doctor’s memory squirmed assentingly. “It’s the tone he
uses,” she said, reflectively. “The way he can say ‘yes,’ sometimes--”

“You’ve bumped into that, huh? Bert Rogers lit into him with a tent peg
once, for saying yes at him. They sure was busy for a few minutes. I
just sat in the shade of a wagon wheel and laughed till I near cracked a
rib. When they got through they laughed, too, and they played ten
games uh pool together that night, and got--” Weary caught himself up
suddenly. “Pool ain’t any gambling game,” he hastened to explain. “It’s
just knocking balls into the pockets, innocent like, yuh see.”

“Mr. Davidson, there’s something I’d like to tell you about. Will you
wait a few minutes more for your supper?”

“Sure,” said Weary; wonderingly, and sat down upon the edge of the
watering trough.

The Little Doctor, her arms still around Silver’s neck, told him all
about “The Last Stand,” and “The Spoils of Victory,” and Chip, and Dunk,
and herself. And Weary listened silently, digging little trenches in
the hard soil with the rowels of his spurs, and, knowing Chip as he did,
understanding the matter much better than did the Little Doctor.

“And he doesn’t seem to know that I never meant to claim the picture as
my work, and I can’t explain while he acts so--oh, you know how he
can act. And Dunk wouldn’t have sold the picture if he had known Chip
painted it, and it was wrong, of course, but I did so want Chip to have
some real encouragement so he would make that his life work. YOU know
he is fitted for something better than cow-punching. And now the picture
has made a hit and brought a good price, and he must own it. Dunk will
be furious, of course, but that doesn’t matter to me--it’s Chip that I
can’t seem to manage.”

Weary smiled queerly down at his spurs.

“It’s a cinch you could manage him, easy enough, if you took the right
way to do it,” he said, quietly.

“Probably the right way would be too much trouble,” said the Little
Doctor, with her chin well up. “Once I get this picture deal settled
satisfactorily, I’m quite willing to resign and let him manage himself.
Senator Blake is coming to-morrow, and I’m so glad you will be here to
help me.”

“I’d sure like to see yuh through with the deal. Old Blake won’t be hard
to throw--I know him, and so does Chip. Didn’t he tell yuh about it?”

“Tell me!” flashed the Little Doctor. “I told him Senator Blake was
coming, and that he wanted to buy the picture, and he just made him
a cigarette and said, ‘Ye--e-es?’ And after that there wasn’t any
conversation of any description!”

Weary threw back his head and laughed.

“That sure sounds just like him,” he said, and at that minute Chip
himself hobbled into the corral, and the Little Doctor hastened to leave
it and retreat to the house.



CHAPTER XVII. -- When a Maiden Wills.



It was Dunk who drove to meet the train, next day, and it was an
extremely nervous young woman who met Senator Blake upon the porch. Chip
sprawled in the hammock on the east porch, out of sight.

The senator was a little man whose coat did not fit, and whose hair was
sandy and sparse, and who had keen, twinkling blue eyes which managed to
see a great deal more than one would suspect from the rest of his face.
He pumped the Little Doctor’s hand up and down three times and called
her “My dear young lady.” After the first ten minutes, the Little
Doctor’s spirits rose considerably and her heart stopped thumping so she
could hear it. She remembered what Weary had told her--that “Old Blake
won’t be hard to throw.” She no longer feared the senator, but
she refused to speculate upon what Chip might do. He seemed more
approachable to-day, but that did not count--probably he was only
reflecting Weary’s sunshine, and would freeze solid the minute--“And
so you are the mysterious genius who has set the Butte critics by the
ears!” chuckled the senator. “They say your cloud treatment is all
wrong, and that your coloring is too bold--but directly they forget all
that and wonder which wolf will make the first dash, and how many the
cow will put out of business before she goes under herself. Don’t be
offended if I say that you look more capable of portraying woolly white
lambs at play than ravening wolves measuring the strength of their
quarry. I must confess I was looking for the--er MAN behind that brush.”

“I told the senator coming out that it was a lady he would have to make
terms with. He would hardly believe it,” smiled Dunk.

“He needn’t believe it,” said the Little Doctor, much more calmly
than she felt. “I don’t remember ever saying that I painted ‘The Last
Stand.’”

Dunk threw up his head and looked at her sharply.

“Genius is certainly modest,” he said, with a laugh that was not nice to
hear.

“In this case, the genius is unusually modest,” assented she, getting
rather white. “Unfortunately for myself, senator, I did not paint the
‘ravening wolves’ which caught your fancy. It would be utterly beyond my
brush.”

A glimmering of the truth came to Dunk, and his eyes narrowed.

“Who did paint it for you? Your friend, Chip?”

The Little Doctor caught her breath at the venomous accent he employed,
and the Old Man half rose from his chair. But Della could fight her own
battles. She stood up and faced Dunk, tight-lipped and proud.

“Yes, Mr. Whitaker, my friend, Mr. Bennett, of whose friendship I am
rather proud, painted the best part of ‘The Last Stand.’”

“Senator Blake must forgive my being misled by your previous statement
that the picture was yours,” sneered Dunk.

“I made no previous statement, Mr. Whitaker.” The Little Doctor’s tone
was sweetly freezing. “I said that the picture which I had begun was
finished, and I invited you all to look at it. It was your misfortune
that you took too much for granted.”

“It’s a mistake to take anything for granted where a woman is concerned.
At the same time I shouldn’t be blamed if I take it for granted Chip--”

“Suppose you say the rest to me, Dunk,” suggested Chip from the doorway,
where he leaned heavily upon his cane. “It begins to look as though I
held a hand in this game.”

Dunk wheeled furiously upon him.

“You’re playing a high hand for a forty-dollar man,” he grated, “and
you’ve about reached your limit. The stakes are beyond your reach, my
friend.”

Chip went white with anger at the thrust, which struck deeper than Dunk
knew. But he stood his ground.

“Ye--es? Wait till the cards are all turned.” It turned him sick,
though, the emptiness of the boast. It was such a pitiful, ghastly
bluff--for the cards were all against him, and he knew it. A man in
Gilroy, Ohio, would take the trick which decided the game. Hearts were
trumps, and Dr. Cecil Granthum had the ace.

The little senator got out of his chair and faced Chip tactfully.

“Kid Bennett, you rascal, aren’t you going to shake hands?” His own was
outstretched, waiting.

Chip crowded several hot words off his tongue, and gave up his hand for
a temporary pump handle.

“How do you do, Blake? I didn’t think you’d remember me.”

“You didn’t? How could I help it? I can feel the cold of the water yet,
and your rope settling over my shoulders. You never gave me a chance to
say ‘God bless you’ for that; you just coiled up your rope--swearing all
the time you did it, because it was wet--and rode off, dripping like a
muskrat. What did you do it for?”

“I was in a hurry to get back to camp,” grinned Chip, sinking into a
chair. “And you weren’t a senator then.”

“It would have been all the same if I had been, I reckon,” responded
the senator, shaking Chip’s hand again. “Well, well! So you are the
genius--that sounds more likely. No offense, Miss Whitmore. Do you
remember that picture you drew with charcoal on a piece of pine board?
It stands on the mantel in my library, and I always point it out to my
friends as the work of a young man with a future. And you painted ‘The
Last Stand!’ Well, well! I think I’ll have to send the price up another
notch, just to get even with you for swearing at me when my lungs were
so full of water I couldn’t swear back!”

While he talked he was busy unwrapping the picture which he had brought
with him, and he reminded the Little Doctor of a loquacious peddler
opening his pack. He was much more genial and unpretentious since Chip
entered the room, and she wondered why. She wanted to ask about that
reference to the water, but he stood the painting against the wall, just
then, and she forgot everything but that.

Chip’s eyes clung to the scene greedily. After all, it was his--and he
knew in his heart that it was good. After a minute he limped into his
room and brought “The Spoils of Victory,” and stood it beside “The Last
Stand.”

“A--h-h!” The senator breathed the word deep in his throat and fell
silent. Even the Old Man leaned forward in his chair that he might see
the better. The Little Doctor could not see anything, just then, but no
one noticed anything wrong with her eyes, for they were all down in the
Bad Lands, watching an old range cow defend her calf.

“Bennett, do the two go together?” asked the senator, at last.

“I don’t know--I painted it for Miss Whitmore,” said Chip, a dull glow
in his cheeks.

The Little Doctor glanced at him quickly, rather startled, if the truth
be known.

“Oh, that was just a joke, Mr. Bennett. I would much rather have you
paint me another one--this one makes me want to cry--and a doctor must
forego the luxury of tears. I have no claim upon either of them, Mr.
Blake. It was like this. I started ‘The Last Stand,’ but I only had the
background painted, and one day while I was gone Mr. Bennett finished it
up--and it is his work that makes the picture worth anything. I let
it pass as mine, for the time, but I never intended to wear the laurel
crown, really. I only borrowed it for a little while. I hope you can
make Mr. Bennett behave himself and put his brand on it, for if he
doesn’t it will go down to posterity unsigned. This other--‘The Spoils
of Victory’--he cannot attempt to disown, for I was away at Great Falls
when he painted it, and he was here alone, so far as help of any kind is
concerned. Now do make him be sensible!”

The senator looked at Chip, then at the Little Doctor, chuckled and sat
down on the couch.

“Well, well! Kid Bennett hasn’t changed, I see. He’s just as ornery as
he ever was. And you’re the mysterious, modest genius! How did you come
out after that dip into the old Missouri?” he asked, abruptly. “You
didn’t take cold, riding in those wet clothes, I hope?”

“I? No, I was all right. I stopped at that sheep camp and borrowed some
dry clothes.” Chip was very uncomfortable. He wished Blake wouldn’t keep
bringing up that affair, which was four years old and quite trivial, in
his opinion. It was a good thing Dunk pulled out when he saw he’d got
the worst of it, or there’d have been trouble, most likely. And Blake--
The senator went on, addressing the others.

“Do you know what this young fellow did, four years ago this last
spring? I tried to cross the river near my place in a little boat, while
the water was high. Bennett, here, came along and swore that a man with
no more sense than I had ought to drown--which was very true, I admit.
I had just got out a nice little distance for drowning properly, when a
tree came bobbing along and upset my boat, and Kid Bennett, as we called
him then, rode in as far as he could--which was a great deal further
than was safe for him--and roped me, just as he would have roped a
yearling. Ha! ha! I can see him yet, scowling at me and whirling the
loop over his head ready to throw. A picture of THAT, now! When he had
dragged me to the bank he used some rather strong language--a cowboy
does hate to wet his rope--and rode off before I had a chance to thank
him. This is the first time I’ve seen him since then.”

Chip got very red.

“I was young and foolish, those days, and you weren’t a senator,” he
repeated, apologetically.

“My being a senator wouldn’t have mattered at all. They’ve been changing
your name, over this side the river, I see. How did that happen?”

Again Chip was uncomfortable.

“We’ve got a cook that is out of sight when it comes to Saratoga chips,
and I’m a fiend for them, you see. The boys got to calling me Saratoga
Chip, and then they cut it down to Chip and stuck to it.”

“I see. There was a fellow with you over there--Davidson. What has
become of him?”

“Weary? He works here, too. He’s down in the bunk house now, I guess.”

“Well, well! Let’s go and hunt him up--and we can settle about the
pictures at the same time. You seem to be crippled. How did that happen?
Some dare-devil performance, I expect.”

The senator smiled reassuringly at the Little Doctor and got Chip out of
the house and down in the bunk house with Weary, and whatever means he
used to make Chip “behave himself,” they certainly were a success. For
when he left, the next day, he left behind him a check of generous size,
and Chip was not so aloof as he had been with the Little Doctor, and
planned with her at least a dozen pictures which he meant to paint some
time.

There was one which he did paint at once, however--though no one saw it
but Della. It was the picture of a slim young woman with gray eyes and
an old felt hat on her head, standing with her fingers tangled in the
mane of a chestnut horse.

If there was a heartache in the work, if the brush touched the slim
figure caressingly and lingered wistfully upon the face, no one knew but
Chip, and Chip had learned long ago to keep his own counsel. There were
some thoughts which he could not whisper into even Silver’s ear.



CHAPTER XVIII. -- Dr. Cecil Granthum.



The Little Doctor leaned from the window and called down the hill to her
recovered patient--more properly, her nearly recovered patient; for Chip
still walked with the aid of a cane, though by making use of only one
stirrup he could ride very well. He limped up the hill to her, and sat
down on the top step of the porch.

“What’s the excitement now?” he asked, banteringly.

“I’ve got the best, the most SPLENDID news--you couldn’t guess what in a
thousand years!”

“Then I won’t try. It’s too hot.” Chip took off his hat and fanned
himself with it.

“Well, can’t you LOOK a little bit excited? Try and look the way I feel!
Anybody as cool as you are shouldn’t suffer with the heat.”

“I don’t know--I get pretty hot, sometimes. Well, what is the most
splendid news? Can’t you tell a fellow, after calling him up here in the
hot sun?”

“Well, listen. The Gilroy hospital--you know, where Cecil is”--Chip
knew--“has a case of blighted love and shattered hopes”--Chip’s foolish,
man-heart nearly turned a somersault. Was it possible?--“and it’s the
luckiest thing ever happened.”

“Yes?” Chip wished to goodness she would get to the point. She could be
direct enough in her statements when what she said was going to hurt a
fellow. His heart was thumping so it hurt him.

“Yes. A doctor there was planning to get married and go away on his
honeymoon, you know--”

Chip nodded, half suffocated with crowding, incredulous hopes.

“Well, and now he isn’t. His ladylove was faithless and loves another,
and his honeymoon is indefinitely postponed. Do you see now where the
good news comes in?”

Chip shook his head once and looked away up the grade. Funny, but
something had gone wrong with his throat. He was half choked.

“Well, you ARE dull! Now that fellow isn’t going to have any vacation,
so Cecil can come out, right away! Next week! Think of it!”

Chip tried to think of it, but he couldn’t think of anything, just then.
He was only conscious of wishing Whizzer had made a finish of the job,
up there on the Hog’s Back that day. His heart no longer thumped--it was
throbbing in a tired, listless fashion.

“Why can’t you look a little bit pleased?” smiled the torturer from the
window. “You sit there like a--an Indian before a cigar store. You’ve
just about the same expression.”

“I can’t help it. I never was fierce to meet strangers, somehow.”

“Judging from my own experience, I think you are uncommonly fierce at
meeting strangers. I haven’t forgotten how unmercifully you snubbed me
when I came to the ranch, or how you risked my neck on the grade, up
there, trying to make me scared enough to scream. I didn’t, though! I
wanted to, I’ll admit, when you made the horses run down the steepest
part--but I didn’t, and so I could easily forgive you.”

“Could you?” said Chip, in a colorless tone.

“If you had gained your object, I couldn’t have,” remarked she.

“I did, though.”

“You did? Didn’t you do it just to frighten me?”

Chip gave her a glance of weary tolerance. “You must think I’ve about
as much sense as a jack rabbit; I was taking long chances to run that
hill.”

“Well, for pity’s sake, what did you do it for?”

“It was the only thing to do. How do you think we’d have come out of the
mix-up if we had met Banjo on the Hog’s Back, where there isn’t room to
pass? Don’t you think we’d have been pretty well smashed up, both of us,
by the time we got to the bottom of that gully, there? A runaway horse
is a nasty thing to meet, let me tell you--especially when it’s as
scared as Banjo was. They won’t turn out; they just go straight ahead,
and let the other fellow get out of the way if he can.”

“I--I thought you did it just for a joke,” said the Little Doctor,
weakly. “I told Cecil you did it to frighten me, and Cecil said--”

“I don’t think you need to tell me what Cecil said,” Chip remarked, with
the quiet tone that made one very uncomfortable.

“It wasn’t anything so dreadful, you know--”

“I don’t want to know. When is he coming, did you say?”

“Next Wednesday--and this is Friday. I know you’ll like Cecil.”

Chip made him a cigarette, but he hadn’t heart enough to light it. He
held it absently in his fingers.

“Everybody likes Cecil.”

“Yes?” Secretly, Chip had his doubts. He knew one that didn’t--and
wouldn’t.

“We’ll have all kinds of fun, and go everywhere and do everything.
As soon as the round-up is over, I think I’ll make J. G. give another
dance, but I’ll take care that the drug store is safely locked away.
And some day we’ll take a lunch and go prowling around down in the Bad
Lands--you’ll have to go, so we won’t get lost--and we’ll have Len Adams
and Rena and the schoolma’am over here often, and--oh, my brain
just buzzes with plans. I’m so anxious for Cecil to see the Countess
and--well, everybody around here. You, too.”

“I’m sure a curiosity,” said Chip, getting on his feet again. “I’ve
always had the name of being something of a freak--I don’t wonder you
want to exhibit me to your--friends.” He went down the hill to the bunk
house, holding the unlighted cigarette still in his fingers.

When Slim opened the door to tell him supper was ready, he found Chip
lying on his bed, his face buried in his arms.

If Chip never had understood before how a man can stand up straight on
the gallows, throw back his shoulders and smile at his executioner, he
learned the secret during that twenty-two mile drive to Dry Lake with
the Little Doctor. He would have shirked the ordeal gladly, and laid
awake o’ nights planning subterfuges that would relieve him, but
the Little Doctor seemed almost malignantly innocent and managed to
checkmate every turn. She could not trust anyone else to manage the
creams; she was afraid Slim might get drunk while they waited for the
train, or forget his duties in a game. She hated J. G.’s way of fussing
over trifles, and wouldn’t have him along. Chip was not able to help
much with the ranch work, and she knew he could manage the horses so
much better than anyone else--and Cecil had been in a runaway once, and
so was dreadfully nervous behind a strange team--which last declaration
set Chip’s lips a-curl.

The woman usually does have her own way in the end, and so Chip marched
to the gallows with his chin well up, smiling at his executioner.

The train was late. The Little Doctor waited in the hotel parlor, and
Chip waited in the hotel saloon, longing to turn a deluge of whisky
down his throat to deaden that unbearable, heavy ache in his heart--but
instead he played pool with Bert Rogers, who happened to be in town that
day, and took cigars after each game instead of whiskey, varying the
monotony occasionally by lemon soda, till he was fairly sick.

Then the station agent telephoned up that the train was coming, and Chip
threw down his billiard cue, swallowed another glass of lemon soda and
gagged over it, sent Bert Rogers to tell the Little Doctor the train was
coming, and went after the team.

He let the creams lope in the harness all the way to the depot, excusing
himself on the plea that the time was short; the fact was, Chip wanted
the agony over as soon as possible; nothing so wears a man’s patients
as to have a disagreeable duty drag. At the depot he drove around to the
back where freight was unloaded, with the explanation that the creams
were afraid of the train--and the fact of that matter was, that Chip was
afraid Dr. Cecil might greet the Little Doctor with a kiss--he’d be a
fool if he didn’t--and Chip did not want to witness the salute.

Sitting with his well foot in the brake, he pictured the scene on the
other side of the building when the train pulled in and stopped. He
could not hear much, on account of the noise the engine made pumping
air, but he could guess about what was taking place. Now, the fellow
was on the platform, probably, and he had a suit case in one hand and a
light tan overcoat over the other arm, and now he was advancing
toward the Little Doctor, who would have grown shy and remained by the
waiting-room door. Now he had changed his suit case to the other hand,
and was bending down over--oh, hell! He’d settle up with the Old Man and
pull out, back across the river. Old Blake would give him work on his
ranch over there, that was a cinch. And the Little Doctor could have her
Cecil and be hanged to him. He would go to-morrow--er--no, he’d have to
wait till Silver was able to make the trip, for he wouldn’t leave him
behind. No, he couldn’t go just yet--he’d have to stay with the deal
another month. He wouldn’t stay a day longer than he had to, thought you
could gamble on that.

There--the train was sliding out--say, what if the fellow hadn’t come,
though? Such a possibility had not before occurred to Chip--wouldn’t
the Little Doctor be fighty, though? Serve her right, the little
flirt--er--no, he couldn’t think anything against the Little Doctor, no
matter what she did. No, he’d sure hate to see her disappointed--still,
if the fellow HADN’T come, Chip wouldn’t be to blame for that, and Dr.
Cecil--“Can’t you drive around to the platform now, to load in the
trunk?”

“Sure,” said Chip, with deceitful cheerfulness, and took his foot off
the brake, while the Little Doctor went back to her Cecil.

The agent had the trunk on the baggage truck and trundled it along
the platform, and Chip’s eyes searched for his enemy. They were in the
waiting room; he could hear that laugh of the Little Doctor’s--Lord, how
he hated to hear it--directed at some other fellow, that is. Yes, there
was the suit case--it looked just as he had expected it would--and there
was a glimpse of tan cloth just inside the door. Chip turned to help the
agent push the suit case under the seat, where it was an exceeding tight
fit getting it there, with the trunk taking up so much room.

When he straightened up the Little Doctor stood ready to get into the
buggy, and behind her stood Dr. Cecil Granthum, smiling in a way that
disclosed some very nice teeth.

“Cecil, this is Mr. Bennett--the ‘Chip’ that I have mentioned as being
at the ranch. Chip, allow me to present Dr. Cecil Granthum.”

Dr. Cecil advanced with hand out invitingly. “I’ve heard so much about
Chip that I feel very well acquainted. I hope you won’t expect me to
call you Mr. Bennett, for I shan’t, you know.”

Too utterly at sea to make reply, Chip took the offered hand in his.
Hate Dr. Cecil? How could he hate this big, breezy, blue-eyed young
woman? She shook his hand heartily and smiled deep into his troubled
eyes, and drew the poison from his wounds in that one glance.

The Little Doctor plumped into the seat and made room for Cecil, like
the spoiled little girl that she was, compared with the other.

“I’m going to sit in the middle. Cecil, you’re the biggest and you can
easily hang on--and, beside, this young man is so fierce with strangers
that he’d snub you something awful if we’d give him a chance. He’s been
scheming, ever since I told him you were coming, to get out of driving
in to meet you. He tried to make me take Slim. Slim!”

Dr. Cecil smiled at Chip behind the Little Doctor’s back, and Chip
could have hugged her then and there, for he knew, somehow, that she
understood and was his friend.

I should like very much to say that it seemed to Chip that the sun shone
brighter, and that the grass was greener, and the sky several shades
bluer, on that homeward drive--but I must record the facts, which are
these:

Chip did not know whether the sun shone or the moon, and he didn’t
care--just so there was light to see the hair blowing about the Little
Doctor’s face, and to watch the dimple come and go in the cheek next
him. And whether the grass was green and the sky blue, or whether the
reverse was the case, he didn’t know; and if you had asked him, he might
have said tersely that he didn’t care a darn about the grass--that is,
if he gave you sufficient attention to reply at all.



CHAPTER XIX. -- Love Finds Its Hour.



“Bay Denver’s broke out uh the little pasture,” announced the Old Man,
putting his head in at the door of the blacksmith shop where Chip was
hammering gayly upon a bent branding iron, for want of a better way to
kill time and give vent to his surplus energy. “I wish you’d saddle
up an’ go after him, Chip, if yuh can. I just seen him takin’ down the
coulee trail like a scared coyote.”

“Sure, I’ll go. Darn that old villain, he’d jump a fence forty feet high
if he took a notion that way.” Chip threw down the hammer and reached
for his coat.

“I guess the fence must be down som’ers. I’ll go take a look. Say! Dell
ain’t come back from Denson’s yit. Yuh want t’ watch out Denver don’t
meet her--he’d scare the liver out uh her.”

Chip was well aware that the Little Doctor had not returned from
Denson’s, where she had been summoned to attend one of the children, who
had run a rusty nail into her foot. She had gone alone, for Dr. Cecil
was learning to make bread, and had refused to budge from the kitchen
till her first batch was safely baked.

Chip limped hurriedly to the corral, and two minutes later was
clattering down the coulee upon Blazes, after the runaway.

Denver was a beautiful bay stallion, the pride and terror of the
ranch. He was noted for his speed and his vindictive hatred of the more
plebeian horses, scarcely one of which but had, at some time, felt his
teeth in their flesh--and he was hated and feared by them all.

He stopped at the place where the trail forked, tossed his crinkly mane
triumphantly and looked back. Freedom was sweet to him--sweet as it
was rare. His world was a roomy box stall with a small, high corral
adjoining it for exercise, with an occasional day in the little pasture
as a great treat. Two miles was a long, long way from home, it seemed to
him. He watched the hill behind a moment, threw up his head and trotted
off up the trail to Denson’s.

Chip, galloping madly, caught a glimpse of the fugitive a mile away, set
his teeth together, and swung Blazes sharply off the trail into a bypath
which intersected the road further on. He hoped the Little Doctor was
safe at Denson’s, but at that very moment he saw her ride slowly over a
distant ridge.

Now there was a race; Denver, cantering gleefully down the trail, Chip
spurring desperately across the prairie.

The Little Doctor had disappeared into a hollow with Concho pacing
slowly, half asleep, the reins drooping low on his neck. The Little
Doctor loved to dream along the road, and Concho had learned to do
likewise--and to enjoy it very much.

At the crest of the next hill she looked up, saw herself the apex of a
rapidly shortening triangle, and grasped instantly the situation; she
had peeped admiringly and fearsomely between the stout rails of the
little, round corral too often not to know Denver when she saw him, and
in a panic turned from the trail toward Chip. Concho was rudely
awakened by a stinging blow from her whip--a blow which filled him
with astonishment and reproach. He laid back his ears and galloped
angrily--not in the path--the Little Doctor was too frightened for
that--but straight as a hawk would fly. Denver, marking Concho for his
prey and not to be easily cheated, turned and followed.

Chip swore inwardly and kept straight ahead, leaving the path himself
to do so. He knew a deep washout lay now between himself and the Little
Doctor, and his only hope was to get within speaking distance before she
was overtaken.

Concho fled to the very brink of the washout and stopped so suddenly
that his forefeet plowed a furrow in the grass, and the Little Doctor
came near going clean over his head. She recovered her balance, and cast
a frightened glance over her shoulder; Denver was rushing down upon them
like an express train.

“Get off--your--H-O-R-S-E!” shouted Chip, making a trumpet of his hands.
“Fight Denver off--with--your whip!”

The last command the Little Doctor did not hear distinctly. The first
she made haste to obey. Throwing herself from the saddle, she slid
precipitately into the washout just as Denver thundered up, snorting a
challenge. Concho, scared out of his wits, turned and tore off down the
washout, whipped around the end of it and made for home, his enemy at
his heels and Chip after the two of them, leaning low over his horse
as Blazes, catching the excitement and urged by the spurs, ran like an
antelope.

The Little Doctor, climbing the steep bank to level ground, gazed after
the fleeing group with consternation. Here was she a long four miles
from home--five, if she followed the windings of the trail--and it
looked very much as if her two feet must take her there. The prospect
was not an enlivening one, but she started off across the prairie very
philosophically at first, very dejectedly later on, and very angrily at
last. The sun was scorching, and it was dinner time, and she was hungry,
and hot, and tired, and--“mad.” She did not bless her rescuer; she
heaped maledictions upon his head--mild ones at first, but growing
perceptibly more forcible and less genteel as the way grew rougher, and
her feet grew wearier, and her stomach emptier. Then, as if her troubles
were all to come in a lump--as they have a way of doing--she stepped
squarely into a bunch of “pincushion” cactus.

“I just HATE Montana!” she burst out, vehemently, blinking back some
tears. “I don’t care if Cecil did just come day before yesterday--I
shall pack up and go back home. She can stay if she wants to, but I
won’t live here another day. I hate Chip Bennett, too, and I’ll tell him
so if I ever get home. I don’t see what J. G.’s thinking of, to live in
such a God-forgotten hole, where there’s nothing but miles upon miles
of cactuses--” The downfall of Eastern up-bringing! To deliberately say
“cactuses”--but the provocation was great, I admit. If any man doubts,
let him tread thin-shod upon a healthy little “pincushion” and be
convinced. I think he will confess that “cactuses” is an exceedingly
conservative epithet, and all too mild for the occasion.

Half an hour later, Chip, leading Concho by the bridle rein, rode over
the brow of a hill and came suddenly upon the Little Doctor, sitting
disconsolately upon a rock. She had one shoe off, and was striving
petulantly to extract a cactus thorn from the leather with a hat pin.
Chip rode close and stopped, regarding her with satisfaction from the
saddle. It was the first time he had succeeded in finding the Little
Doctor alone since the arrival of Dr. Cecil Granthum--God bless her!

“Hello! What you trying to do?”

No answer. The Little Doctor refused even to lift her lashes, which
were wet and clung together in little groups of two or three. Chip also
observed that there were suggestive streaks upon her cheeks--and not a
sign of a dimple anywhere. He lifted one leg over the horn of the saddle
to ease his ankle, which still pained him a little after a ride, and
watched her a moment.

“What’s the matter, Doctor? Step on a cactus?”

“Oh, no,” snapped the Doctor in a tone to take one’s head off, “I didn’t
step on a cactus--I just walked all over acres and acres of them!”

There was a suspicious gurgle from somewhere. The Little Doctor looked
up.

“Don’t hesitate to laugh, Mr. Bennett, if you happen to feel that way!”

Mr. Bennett evidently felt that way. He rocked in the saddle, and
shouted with laughter. The Little Doctor stood this for as much as a
minute.

“Oh, no doubt it’s very funny to set me afoot away off from
everywhere--” Her voice quivered and broke from self-pity; her head bent
lower over her shoe.

Chip made haste to stifle his mirth, in fear that she was going to cry.
He couldn’t have endured that. He reached for his tobacco and began to
make a cigarette.

“I didn’t set you afoot,” he said. “That was a bad break you made
yourself. Why didn’t you do as I told you--hang to the bridle and fight
Denver off with your whip? You had one.”

“Yes--and let him gnaw me!”

Chip gurgled again, and drew the tobacco sack shut with his teeth. “He
wouldn’t ‘gnaw’ you--he wouldn’t have come near you. He’s whip trained.
And I’d have been there myself in another minute.”

“I didn’t want you there! And I don’t pretend to be a horse-trainer, Mr.
Bennett. There’s several things about your old ranch life that I don’t
know--and don’t want to know! I’m going back to Ohio to-morrow, so
there!”

“Yes?” He drew a match sharply along his stamped saddle-skirt and
applied it to the cigarette, pinched out the blaze with extreme care,
and tossed the match-end facetiously against Concho’s nose. He did not
seem particularly alarmed at her threat--or, perhaps, he did not care.
The Little Doctor prodded savagely at her shoe, too angry to see the
thorn, and Chip drove another nail into his coffin with apparent relish,
and watched her. After a little, he slid to the ground and limped over
to her.

“Here, give me that shoe; you’ll have it all picked to pieces and not
get the thorn, either. Where is it?”

“IT?” sniffed the Little Doctor, surrendering the shoe with hypocritical
reluctance. “It? There’s a dozen, at the very least!”

Chip emptied his lungs of smoke, and turned the shoe in his hands.

“Oh, I guess not--there isn’t room in this little bit of leather for a
dozen. Two would be crowded.”

“I detest flattery above all things!” But, being a woman, the brow of
the Little Doctor cleared perceptibly.

“Yes? You’re just like me in that respect. I love the truth.”

Thinking of Dr. Cecil, the Little Doctor grew guiltily red. But she had
never said Cecil was a man, she reflected, with what comfort she could.
The boys, like Dunk, had simply made the mistake of taking too much for
granted.

Chip opened the smallest blade of his knife deliberately, sat down upon
a neighboring rock and finished his cigarette, still turning the shoe
reflectively--and caressingly--in his hand.

“I’d smile to see the Countess try to put that shoe on,” he remarked,
holding the cigarette in some mysterious manner on his lip. “I’ll bet
she couldn’t get one toe in it.”

“I don’t see that it matters, whether she could or not,” snapped the
Little Doctor. “For goodness sake, hurry!”

“You’re pretty mad, aren’t you?” inquired he, shoving his hat back off
his forehead, and looking at her as though he enjoyed doing so.

“Do I look mad?” asked she, tartly.

“I’d tell a man you do!”

“Well--my appearance doesn’t half express the state of my mind!”

“Your mind must be in an awful state.”

“It is.”

Two minutes passed silently.

“Dr. Cecil’s bread is done--she gave me a slice as big as your hat, with
butter and jelly on it. It was out of sight.”

The Little Doctor groaned, and rallied.

“Butter and jelly on my hat, did you say?”

“Not on your hat--on the bread. I ate it coming back down the
coulee--and I sure had my hands full, leading Concho, too.”

The Little Doctor held back the question trembling on her hungry,
parched lips as long as she could, but it would come.

“Was it good?”

“I’d tell a man!” said Chip, briefly and eloquently.

The Little Doctor sighed.

“Dr. Cecil Granthum’s a mighty good fellow--I’m stuck on him,
myself--and if I haven’t got the symptoms sized up wrong, the Old Man’s
GOING to be.”

“That’s all the good it will do him. Cecil and I are going somewhere
and practice medicine together--and we aren’t either of us going to get
married, ever!”

“Have you got the papers for that?” grinned Chip, utterly unmoved.

“I have my license,” said the Little Doctor, coldly.

“You’re ahead of me there, for I haven’t--yet. I can soon get one,
though.”

“I wish to goodness you’d hurry up with that shoe! I’m half starved.”

“Well, show me a dimple and you can have it. My, you are cranky!”

The Little Doctor showed him two, and Chip laid the shoe in her
lap--after he had surprised himself, and the doctor, by planting a
daring little kiss upon the toe.

“The idea!” exclaimed she, with a feeble show of indignation, and
slipped her foot hurriedly into its orthodox covering. Feeling his
inscrutable, hazel eyes upon her, she blushed uncomfortably and fumbled
the laces.

“You better let me lace that shoe--you won’t have it done in a thousand
years, at that gait.”

“If you’re in a hurry,” said she, without looking at him, “you can ride
on ahead. It would please me better if you did.”

“Yes? You’ve been pleased all summer--at my expense. I’m going to please
myself, this time. It’s my deal, Little Doctor. Do you want to know
what’s trumps?”

“No, I don’t!” Still without looking at him, she tied her shoelaces with
an impatient twitch that came near breaking them, and walked haughtily
to where Concho stood dutifully waiting. With an impulsive movement, she
threw her arms around his neck, and hid her hot face against his scanty
mane.

A pair of arms clad in pink-and-white striped sleeves went suddenly
about her. Her clasp on Concho loosened and she threw back her head,
startled--to be still more startled at the touch of lips that were
curved and thin and masterful. The arms whirled her about and held her
against a heart which her trained senses knew at once was beating very
irregularly.

“You--you ought to be ashamed!” she asserted feebly, at last.

“I’m not, though.” The arms tightened their clasp a little.

“You--you don’t SEEM to be,” admitted the Little Doctor, meekly.

For answer he kissed her hungrily--not once, but many times.

“Aren’t you going to let me go?” she demanded, afterward, but very
faintly.

“No,” said he, boldly. “I’m going to keep you--always.” There was
conviction in the tone.

She stood silent a minute, listening to his heart and her own, and
digesting this bit of news.

“Are you--quite sure about--that?” she asked at length.

“I’d tell a man! Unless”--he held her off and looked at her--“you don’t
like me. But you do, don’t you?” His eyes were searching her face.

The Little Doctor struggled to release herself from the arms which held
her unyieldingly and tenderly. Failing this, she raised her eyes to the
white silk handkerchief knotted around his throat; to the chin; to the
lips, wistful with their well defined curve; to the eyes, where they
lingered shyly a moment, and then looked away to the horizon.

“Don’t you like me? Say!” He gave her a gentle shake.

“Ye--er-it doesn’t seem to matter, whether I do or not,” she retorted
with growing spirit--witness the dimple dodging into her cheek.

“Yes, it does--it matters a whole heap. You’ve dealt me misery ever
since I first set eyes on you--and I believe, on my soul, you liked to
watch me squirm! But you do like me, don’t you?”

“I--I’d tell a man!” said she, and immediately hid a very red face from
sight of him.

Concho turned his head and gazed wonderingly upon the two. What amazed
him was to see Chip kissing his mistress again and again, and to hear
the idolatrous tone in which he was saying “MY Little Doctor!”

THE END.





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