B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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storming - fierce. I got out, somehow, and crawled into the weeds.
Laying out in the rain - didn't help me none. It's - all off."

"There ought to be _something_ - " began Jack Bates helplessly.

"There is. If yuh'll just put me away - afterwards - and say
nothing, - I'll be - mighty grateful." He was looking at them sharply,
as if a great deal depended upon their answer.

The Happy Family was dazed. The very suddenness of this unlooked-for
glimpse into the somber eyes of Tragedy was unnerving. The world had
seemed such a jolly place; ten minutes ago - five minutes, even, their
greatest fear had been getting to the picnic too late for dinner.
And here was a man at their feet, calmly telling them that he was
about to die, and asking only a hurried burial and a silence after.
Happy Jack swallowed painfully and shifted his feet in the grass.

"Of course, if yuh'd feel better handing me over - "

"That'll be about enough on that subject," Pink interrupted with
decision. "Just because yuh happen to be down and out - for the time
being - is no reason why yuh should insult folks. You can take it for
granted we'll do what we can for yuh; the question is, _what_? Yuh
needn' go talking about cashing in - they's no sense in it. You'll be
all right. - "

"Huh. You wait and see." The fellow's mouth set grimly upon another
groan. "If you was shot through, and stuck to the saddle - and
rode - and then got pummeled - by a creek at flood, and if yuh laid out
in the rain - all night - Hell, boys! Yuh know I'm about all in.
I'm hard to kill, or I'd have been - dead - What I want to know - will
yuh do what I - said? Will yuh bury me - right here - and keep
it - quiet?"

The Happy Family moved uncomfortably. They hated to see him lying
that way, and talking in short, jerky sentences, and looking so
ghastly, and yet so cool - as if dying were quite an everyday affair.

"I don't see why yuh ask us to do it," spoke Cal Emmet bluntly.
"What we want to do is get yuh to help. The chances is you could
be - cured. We - "

"Look here." The fellow raised himself painfully to an elbow, and
fell back again. "I've got folks - and they don't know - about this
scrape. They're square - and stand at the top - And they don't - it
would just about - For God sake, boys! Can't yuh see - how I feel?
Nobody knows - about this. The sheriff didn't know - they came up on
me in the dusk - and I fought. I wouldn't be taken - And it's my first
bad break - because I got in with a bad - lot. They'll know
something - happened, when they find - my horse. But they'll
think - it's just drowning, if they don't find - me with a bullet or
two - Can't yuh _see_?"

The Happy Family looked away across the coulee, and there were eyes
that saw little of the yellow sunlight lying soft on the green
hillside beyond. The world was not a good place; it was a grim,
pitiless place, and - a man was dying, at their very feet.

"But what about the rest oh the bunch?" croaked Happy Jack, true to
his misanthropic nature, but exceeding husky as to voice. "They'll
likely tell - "

The dying man shook his head eagerly. "They won't; they're
both - dead. One was killed - last night. The other when we first
tried - to make a getaway. It - it's up to you, boys."

Pink swallowed twice, and knelt beside him; the others remained
standing, grouped like mourners around an open grave.

"Yuh needn't worry about us," Pink said softly, "You can count on us,
old boy. If you're dead sure a doctor - "

"Drop it!" the other broke in harshly. "I don't want to live. And
if I did, I couldn't. I ain't guessing - I know."

They said little, after that. The wounded man seemed apathetically
waiting for the end, and not inclined to further speech. Since they
had tacitly promised to do as he wished, he lay with eyes half
closed, watching idly the clouds drifting across to the skyline,
hardly moving.

The Happy Family sat listlessly around on convenient rocks, and
watched the clouds also, and the yellow patches of foam racing down
the muddy creek. Very quiet they were - so quiet that little, brown
birds hopped close, and sang from swaying weeds almost within reach
of them. The Happy Family listened dully to the songs, and waited.
They did not even think to make a cigarette.

The sun climbed higher and shone hotly down upon them. The dying man
blinked at the glare, and Happy Jack took off his hat and tilted it
over the face of the other, and asked him if he wouldn't like to be
moved into the shade.

"No matter - I'll be in the shade - soon enough," he returned quietly,
and something gripped their throats to aching. His voice, they
observed, was weaker than it had been.

Weary took a long breath, and moved closer. "I wish you'd let us get
help," he said, wistfully. It all seemed so horribly brutal, their
sitting around him like that, waiting passively for him to die.

"I know - yuh hate it. But it's - all yuh can do. It's all I want."
He took his eyes from the drifting, white clouds, and looked from
face to face. "You're the whitest bunch - I'd like to know - who yuh
are. Maybe I can put in - a good word for yuh - on the new
range - where I'm going. I'd sure like to do - something - "

"Then for the Lord's sake, don't say such things!" cried Pink,
shakily. "You'll have us - so damn broke up - "

"All right - I won't. So long, - boys. See yuh later - "

"Mamma!" whispered Weary, and got up hastily and walked away. Slim
followed him a few paces, then turned resolutely and went back. It
seemed cowardly to leave the rest to bear it - and somebody had to.
They were breathing quickly, and they were staring across the coulee
with eyes that saw nothing; their lips were shut very tightly
together. Weary came back and stood with his back turned. Pink
moved a bit, glanced furtively at the long, quiet figure beside him,
and dropped his face into his gloved hands.

Glory threw up his head, glanced across the coulee at a band of range
horses trooping down a gully to drink at the river, and whinnied
shrilly. The Happy Family started and awoke to the stern necessities
of life. They stood up, and walked a little way from the spot,
avoiding one another's eyes.

"Somebody'll have to go back to camp," said Cal Emmett, in the hushed
tone that death ever compels from the living. "We've got to have a
spade - "

"It better be the handiest liar, then," Jack Bates put in hastily.
"If that old loose-tongued Patsy ever gets next - "

"Weary better go - and Pink. They're the best liars in the bunch,"
said Cal, trying unsuccessfully to get back his everyday manner.

Pink and Weary went over and took the dragging bridle-reins of their
mounts, caught a stirrup and swung up into the saddles silently.

"And say!" Happy Jack called softly, as they were going down the
slope. "Yuh better bring - a blanket."

Weary nodded, and they rode away, their horses stepping softly in the
thick grasses. When they were passed quite out of the presence of
the dead, they spurred their horses into a gallop.

The sun marked mid-afternoon when they returned, and the four who had
waited drew long breaths of relief at sight of them.

"We told Patsy we'd run onto a - den - "

"Oh, shut up, can't yuh?" Jack Bates interrupted shortly. "Yuh'll
have plenty uh time to tell us afterwards."

"We've got a place picked out," said Cal, and led them a little
distance up the slope, to a level spot in the shadow of a huge, gray
bowlder. "That's his headstone," he said, soberly. "The poor devil
won't be cheated out uh that, if we _can't_ mark it with his name.
It'll last as long as he'll need it."

Only in the West, perhaps, may one find a funeral like that. No
minister stood at the head of the grave and read, "Dust to dust" and
all the heartbreaking rest of it. There was no singing but from a
meadowlark that perched on a nearby rock and rippled his brief song
when, with their ropes, they lowered the blanket wrapped form. They
stood, with bare heads bowed, while the meadow lark sang. When he
had flown, Pink, looking a choir-boy in disguise, repeated softly and
incorrectly the Lord's prayer.

The Happy Family did not feel that there was any incongruity in what
they did. When Pink, gulping a little over the unfamiliar words,

"Thine be power and glory - Amen;" five clear, youthful voices added
the Amen quite simply. Then they filled the grave and stood silent a
minute before they went down to where their horse stood waiting
patiently, with now and then a curious glance up the hill to where
their masters grouped.

The Happy Family mounted and without a backward glance rode soberly
away; and the trail they took led, not to the picnic, but to camp.


Happy Jack, coming from Dry Lake where he had been sent for the mail,
rode up to the Flying U camp just at dinner time and dismounted
gloomily and in silence. His horse looked fagged - which was unusual in
Happy's mounts unless there was urgent need of haste or he was out with
the rest of the Family and constrained to adopt their pace, which was
rapid. Happy, when riding alone, loved best to hump forward over the
horn and jog along slowly, half asleep.

"Something's hurting Happy," was Cal Emmett's verdict when he saw the
condition of the horse.

"He's got a burden on his mind as big as a haystack," grinned Jack
Bates. "Watch the way his jaw hangs down, will yuh? Bet yuh
somebody's dead."

"Most likely it's something he thinks is _going_ to happen," said Pink.
"Happy always makes me think of a play I seen when I was back home; it
starts out with a melancholy cuss coming out and giving a sigh that
near lifts him off his feet, and he says: 'In _soo-ooth_ I know not
_why_ I am so sa-ad.' That's Happy all over."

The Happy Family giggled and went on with their dinner, for Happy Jack
was too close for further comments not intended for his ears. They
waited demurely, but in secret mirth, for him to unburden his mind.
They knew that they would not have long to wait; Happy, bird of ill
omen that he was, enjoyed much the telling of bad news.

"Weary's in town," he announced heavily, coming over and getting
himself a plate and cup.

The Happy Family were secretly a bit disappointed; this promised, after
all, to be tame.

"Did he bring the horses?" asked Chip, glancing up over the brim of his

"I dunno," Happy responded from the stove, where he was trying how much
of everything he could possibly pile upon his plate without spilling
anything. "I didn't see no horses - but the one he was ridin'."

Weary had been sent, two weeks ago, to the upper Marias country after
three saddle horses that had strayed from the home range, and which had
been seen near Shelby. It was quite time for him to return, if he
expected to catch the Flying U wagon before it pulled out on the beef
roundup. That he should be in town and not ride out with Happy Jack
was a bit strange.

"Why don't yuh throw it out uh yuh, yuh big, long-jawed croaker?"
demanded Pink in a voice queerly soft and girlish. It had been a real
grievance to him that he had not been permitted to go with Weary, who
was his particular chum. "What's the matter? Is Weary sick?"

"No," said Happy Jack deliberately, "I guess he ain't what yuh could
call _sick_."

"Why didn't he come out with you, then?" asked Chip, sharply. Happy
did get on one's nerves so.

"Well, I ast him t' come - and he took a shot at me for it."

There was an instant's dead silence. Then Jack Bates laughed uneasily.

"Happy, how many horses did yuh ride out to camp?"

Happy Jack had, upon one occasion, looked too long upon the wine - or
whisky, to be more explicit. Afterward, he had insisted that he was
riding two horses home, instead of one. He was not permitted to forget
that defection. The Happy Family had an unpleasant habit of recalling
the incident whenever Happy Jack made a statement which they felt
disinclined to credit - as this last statement was.

Happy Jack whirled on the speaker. "Aw, shut up! I never kidnaped no
girl off'n no train, and - "

Jack Bates colored and got belligerently to his feet. That hit him in
an exceedingly tender place.

"Happy, look here," Chip cut in authoritatively. "What's wrong with
Weary? If he took a shot at you, it's a cinch he had some reason for

Weary was even dearer to the heart of Chip than to Pink.

"Ah - he never! He's takin' shots permisc'us, lemme tell yuh. And he
ain't troublin' about no _reason_ fer what he's doin'. He's plumb
oary-eyed - that's what. He's on a limb that beats any I ever seen.
He's drunk - drunk as a boiled owl, and he don't give a damn. He's lost
his hat, and he's swapped cayuses with somebody - a measly old
bench - and he's shootin' up the town t' beat hell!"

The Happy Family looked at one another dazedly. Weary drunk? _Weary_?
It was unbelieveable. Such a thing had never been heard of before in
the history of the Happy Family. Even Chip, who had known Weary before
either had known the Flying U, could not remember anything of the sort.
The Happy Family were often hilarious; they had even, on certain
occasions, shot up the town; but they had done it as a family and they
had done it sober. It was an unwritten law among the Flying U boys,
that all riotous conduct should occur when they were together and when
the Family could, as a unit, assume the consequences - if consequences
there were to be.

"I guess Happy must a rode the whole blame saddle-bunch home, this
time," Cal remarked, with stinging sarcasm.

"Ah, yuh can go and see fer yourselves; yuh don't need t' take _my_
word fer nothing" cried Happy Jack, much grieved that they should doubt
him. "I hain't had but one drink t'day - and that wasn't nothin' but
beer. It's straight goods: Weary's as full as he can git and top a
horse. He's sure enjoyin' himself, too. Dry Lake is all hisn - and the
way he's misusin' the rights uh ownership is plumb scand'l'us. He
makes me think of a cow on the fight in a forty-foot corral; nobody
dast show their noses outside; Dry Lake's holed up in their sullers,
till he quits camp.

"I seen him cut down on the hotel China-cook jest for tryin' t' make a
sneak out t' the ice-house after some meat fer dinner. He like t' got
him, too. Chink dodged behind the board-pile in the back yard, an'
laid down. He was still there when I left town, and the chances is
somebody else 'll have t' cook dinner t'day. Weary was so busy
close-herdin' the Chinaman that I got a chanst t' sneak out the back
door uh Rusty's place, climb on m' horse and take a shoot up around by
the stockyards and pull fer camp. I couldn't git t' the store, so I
didn't bring out no mail."

The Happy Family drew a long breath. This was getting beyond a joke.

"Looks t 'me like you fellows 'd come alive and do something about it,"
hinted Happy, with his mouth full. "Weary'll shoot somebody, er git
shot, if he ain't took care of mighty quick."

"Happy," said Chip bluntly, "I don't grab that yarn. Weary may be in
town, and he _may_ be having a little fun with Dry Lake, but he isn't
drunk. When you try to run a whizzer like that, you can put me down as
being from Missouri."

"Same here," put in Pink, ominously soft as to voice. "Anybody that
tries to make me believe Weary's performing that way has sure got his
work cut out for him. If it was Happy, now - "

"Gee!" cried Jack Bates, laughing as a possible solution came to him.
"I'm willing to bet money he was just stringing Happy. I'll bet he
done it deliberate and with malice aforethought, just to _make_ Happy
sneak out uh town and burn the earth getting here so he could tell it
scarey to the rest of us."

"Yeah, that's about the size of it," assented Cal.

The Family felt that they had a new one on Happy Jack, and showed it in
the smiles they sent toward him.

"By golly, yes!" broke out Slim. "Weary's been layin' for Happy for a
long while to pay off making the tent leak on him, that night; he's
sure played a good one, this time!"

Happy carefully balanced his plate on the wagon-tongue near the
doubletrees, and stood glaring down upon his tormentors.

"Aw, look here!" he began, with his voice very near to tears. Then he
gulped and took a more warlike tone. "I don't set m'self up t' be a
know-it-all - but I guess I can tell when a man's full uh booze. And I
ain't claimin' t' be no Jiujitsu sharp" (with a meaning glance at Pink)
"and I know the chances I'm takin' when I stand up agin the bunch - but
I'm ready, here and now, t' fight any damn man that says I'm a liar, er
that Weary was jest throwin' a load into me. Two or three uh yuh have
licked me mor'n once - but that's all right. I'm willing t' back up
anything I've said, and yuh can wade right in a soon as you're a mind

"I don't back down a darn inch. Weary's in Dry Lake. He _is_ drunk.
And he _is_ shootin' up the town. If yuh don't want t' believe it, I
guess they's no law t' make yuh - but if yuh got any sense, and are any
friends uh Weary's, yuh'll mosey in and fetch him out here if yuh have
t' bring him the way he brung ole Dock that time Patsy took cramps. Go
on in and see fer yourselves, darn yuh! But don't go shootin' off your
faces to me till yuh got a license to."

This, if unassuring, was convincing. The Happy Family stopped smiling,
and looked at one another uncertainly.

"I guess two or three of you better ride in and see what there is to
it," announced Chip, dryly. "If Happy is romancing - " His look was

But Happy Jack, though he stood a good deal in awe of Chip and his
sarcasm, never flinched. He looked him straight in the eye and
maintained the calm of conscious innocence.

"I'll go," said Pink, getting up and throwing his plate and cup into
the dishpan. "Mind yuh, I don't believe a word of it; Happy, if this
is just a sell, so help me Josephine, you'll learn some brand new
Jiujitsu right away quick."

"I'll go along too," Happy boldly retorted, "so if yuh want anything uh
_me_, after you've saw Weary, yuh won't need t' wait till yuh strike
camp t' git it. Weary loadin' me, was he? Yuh'll find out, all uh
yuh, that it's _him_ that's loaded."

They caught fresh horses and started - Cal, Pink, Jack Bates and Happy
Jack. And Happy stood their jeers throughout the ten-mile ride with an
equanimity that was new to them. For the most part he rode in silence,
and grinned knowingly when they laughed too loudly at the joke Weary
was playing.

"All right - maybe he is," he flung back, once. "But he sure looks the
part well enough t' keep all Dry Lake indoors - and I never knowed Weary
t' terrorize a hull town before. And where'd he git that horse? and
where's Glory at? and why ain't he comin' on t' camp t' help you chumps
giggle? Ain't he had plenty uh time t' foller me out and enjoy his
little joke? And another thing, he was hard at it when I struck town.
Now, where'd yuh get off at?"

To this argument they offered several explanations - at all of which
Happy grunted in great disdain.

They clattered nonchalantly into Dry Lake, still unconvinced and still
jeering at Happy Jack. The town was very quiet, even for Dry Lake. As
they rounded the blacksmith shop, from where they could see the whole
length of the one street which the place boasted, a yell, shrill,
exultant, familiar, greeted them. A long-legged figure they knew well
dashed down the street to them, a waving six-shooter in one hand, the
reins held aloft in the other. His horse gave evidence of hard usage,
and it was a horse none of them had ever seen before.

"It's him, all right," Jack Bates admitted reluctantly.

"_Yip! Cowboys in town_!" rang the slogan of the range land. "Come
on and - _wake 'em up_! _OO-oop-ee_!" He pulled up so suddenly that
his horse almost sat down in the dust, and reined in beside Pink.

They eyed him in amaze, and avoided meeting one another's eyes. Truly,
he was a strange-looking Weary. His head was bare and disheveled, his
eyes bloodshot and glaring, his cheeks flushed hotly. His
neck-kerchief covered his chest like a bib and he wore no coat; one
shirtsleeve was rent from shoulder to cuff, telling eloquently that
violent hands had sought to lay hold on him. His long legs, clad in
Angora chaps, swung limp to the stirrup. By all these signs and
tokens, they knew that he was drunk - -joyously, unequivocally,
vociferously drunk!

Joe Meeker peered cautiously out of the window of Rusty Brown's place
when they rode up, and Cal Emmett swore aloud at sight of him. Joe
Meeker was the most indefatigable male gossip for fifty miles around,
and the story of Weary's spree would spread far and fast. Worse, it
would reach first of all the ears of Weary's School-ma'am, who lived at

Cal started to get down; he wanted to go in and reason with Joe Meeker.
At all events, Ruby Satterlee must not hear of Weary's defection. It
was all right, maybe, for some men to make fools of themselves in this
fashion; some women would look upon it with lenience. But this was
different; Weary was different, and so was Ruby Satterlee. Cal
meditated upon just what would the most effectually close the mouth of
Joe Meeker.

But Weary spied him as his foot touched the ground. "Oh, yuh can't
sneak off like that, old-timer. Yuh stay right outside and help wake
'em up!" he shouted hoarsely.

Cal turned and looked at him keenly; looked also at the erratic
movements of the gun, and reconsidered his decision. Joe Meeker could

"Better come on out to camp, Weary," he said persuasively. "We're all
of us going, right away. Yuh can ride out with us."

Weary had not yet extracted all the joy there was in the situation. He
did not want to ride out to camp; more, he had no intention of doing
so. He stood up in the stirrups and declaimed loudly his views upon
the subject, and his opinion of any man who proposed such a move, and
punctuated his remarks freely with profanity and bullets.

Under cover of Weary's elocution Pink did a bit of jockeying and got
his horse sidling up against Cal. He leaned carelessly upon the
saddle-horn and fixed his big, innocent eyes upon Weary's flushed face.

"He's pretty cute, if he is full," he murmured discreetly to Cal. "He
won't let his gun get empty - see? Loads after every third shot,
regular. We've got to get him so excited he forgets that little
ceremony. Once his gun's empty, he's all to the bad - we can take him
into camp. We'll try and rush him out uh town anyway, and shoot as we
go. It's our only show - unless we can get him inside and lay him out."

"Yeah, that's what we'll have to do," Cal assented guardedly. "He's
sure tearing it off in large chunks, ain't he? I never knew - "

"Here! What you two gazabos making medicine about?" cried Weary
suspiciously. "Break away, there. I won't stand for no side-talks - "

"We're just wondering if we hadn't all better adjourn and have
something to drink," said Pink musically, straightening up in the
saddle. "Come on - I'm almighty dry."

"Same here," said Jack Bates promptly taking the cue, and threw one leg
over the cantle. He got no further than that.

"You stay right up on your old bench!" Weary commanded threateningly.
"We're the kings uh the prairie, and we'll drink on our thrones. That
so-many-kinds-of-bar-slave can pack out the dope to us. It's what he's
there for."

That settled Pink's little plan to get him inside where, lined up to
the bar, they might - if they were quick enough - get his gun away from
him; or, failing that, the warm room and another drink or two would
"lay him out" and render him harmless.

Weary, shoving three cartridges dexterously into the chambers in place
of those just emptied, shouted to Rusty to bring out the "sheepdip."
The four drew together and attempted further consultation, separated
hastily when his eye fell upon them, and waited meekly his further
pleasure. They knew better than to rouse his anger against them.

Weary, displeased because Rusty did not immediately respond to his
call, sent a shot or two through the window by way of hurrying him.

Whereupon Rusty cautiously opened the door, shoved a tray with bottle
and glasses ostentatiously out into the sunlight for a peace offering,
and finding that hostilities ceased, came forth in much fear and served

They drank solemnly.

"Take another one, darn yuh," commanded Weary.

They drank again, more solemnly.

The sun beat harshly down upon the deserted street, and upon the bare,
tousled, brown head of Weary. The four stared at him uneasily; they
had never seen him like this before, and it gave him an odd, unfamiliar

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Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Lonesome Trail and Other Stories → online text (page 10 of 12)