B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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Myrt Forsyth drifted out here - the red-headed little devil!"

"Mr. Davidson!" cried the schoolma'am, truly shocked.

"Oh, I'm revealing some more low, brutal instincts, I expect I'm liable
to reveal a lot more if I hang around much longer." He stopped, as if
there was more he wanted to say, and was doubtful of the wisdom of
saying it.

"I came over to say something - something particular - but I've changed
my mind. I guess yuh haven't much time to listen, and I don't believe
it would interest yuh as much as I thought it would - a while back. You
just go ahead and make a bosom friend uh Myrt Forsyth, Schoolma'am, and
believe every blamed lie she tells yuh. I won't be here to argue the
point. Looks to me like I'm about due to drift."

Miss Satterly, dumb with fear of what his words might mean, sat stiffly
while Weary got up and mounted Glory in a business like manner that was
extremely disquieting.

"I wish you could a cared, Girlie," he said with a droop of his
unsmiling mouth and a gloom in his eyes when he looked at her. "I was
a chump, I reckon, to ever imagine yuh could. Good-bye - and be good
to - yourself." He leaned to one side, swung backward his feet and
Glory, obeying the signal, wheeled and bounded away.

Miss Satterly watched him gallop up the long slope and the pluckety
pluckety of Glory's fleeing feet struck heavy, numbing blows upon her
heart. She wondered why she had refused to ride with him, when she did
want to go - she did. And why had she been so utterly hateful, after
waiting and watching, night after night, for him to come?

And just how much did he mean by being due to drift? He couldn't be
really angry - and what was he going to say - the thing he changed his
mind about. Was it - Well, he would come again in a few days, and then -




PART FIVE

Weary did not go back. When the hurry of shipping was over he went to
Shorty and asked for his time, much to the foreman's astonishment and
disgust. The Happy Family was incensed and wasted profanity and
argument trying to make him give up the crazy notion of quitting.

It seemed to Weary that he warded off their curiosity and answered
their arguments very adroitly. He was sick of punching cows, he said,
and he wasn't hankering for a chance to shovel hay another winter to an
ungrateful bunch of bawling calves. He was going to drift, for a
change - but he didn't know where. It didn't much matter, so long as he
got a change uh scenery. He just merely wanted to knock around and get
the alkali dust out of his lungs and see something grow besides calves
and cactus. His eyes plumb ached for sight of an apple tree with real,
live apples on it - that weren't wrapped up in a paper napkin.

When was he coming back? Well, now, that was a question; he hadn't got
started yet, man. What he was figuring on wasn't the coming back part,
but the getting started.

The schoolma'am? Oh, he guessed she could get along without him, all
right. Seeing they mentioned her, would some of them tell her hello
for him - and so long?

This last was at the station, where they had ridden in a body to see
him off. Weary waved his hat as long as the town was in sight, and the
Happy Family ran their horses to keep pace with the train when it
pulled out, emptied their six-shooters into the air and yelled parting
words till the Pullman windows were filled with shocked, Eastern faces,
eager to see a real, wild cowboy on his native soil.

Then Weary went into the smoker, sought a place where he could stretch
the long legs of him over two seats, made him a cigarette and forgot to
smoke it while he watched the gray plains slide away behind him; till
something went wrong with his eyes. It was just four o'clock, and
school was out. The schoolma'am was looking down the trail, maybe -
At any rate she was a good many miles away from him now - so many that
even if he got off and had Glory right there and ran him every foot of
the way, he could not possibly get to her - and the way the train was
galloping over the rails, she was every minute getting farther off,
and - What a damn fool a man can make of himself, rushing off like
that when, maybe -

After that, a fellow who traveled for a San Francisco wine house spoke
to him pleasantly and Weary thrust vain longings from him and was
himself again.

For two months he wandered aimlessly and, then, not quite at the point
of going back and not being rich or an idler by nature, he started out,
one gloomy morning in late November, looking for work. He was in
Portland and the city was strange to him, for he had dropped off a
north-bound train the night before.

People hurried past without a glance in his direction, and even after
two months this made him lonesome, coming as he did from a place where
every man hailed him jovially by his adopted name.

There was little that he could do - or would do. He tried digging
ditches for the city, along with a motley collection of the sons of all
nations but his, seemingly.

The first day be blistered both hands and got a "crick" in his back.

The second day, he quit.

On the third day, he brought up at the door of a livery stable. A man
with a slate-colored, silk waistcoat was standing aggressively in the
doorway, one hand deep in his pocket and the other energetically
punctuating the remarks he was making to a droop-shouldered hostler.
Some of the remarks were interesting in the extreme and Weary,
listening, drew a deep sigh of thankfulness that they were not directed
at himself, because his back was still lame and his hands sore, and in
Portland law-abiding citizens are not supposed to "pack" a gun.

The droop-shouldered man waited humbly for the climax - which reached so
high a tension that the speaker rose upon his toes to deliver it, and
drew his right hand from his pocket to aid in the punctuation - when he
pulled his hat down on his head and slunk away.

It was while the orator was gazing contemptuously after him that he
heard Weary cheerfully asking for work. For Weary was a straight
guesser; he knew when he stood in the presence of the Great and Only.
The man wheeled and measured Weary slowly with his eyes - and there
being a good deal of Weary if you measured lengthwise, he consumed
several seconds doing it.

"Humph!" when the survey was over. "What do _you_ know about horses?"
His tone was colored still by the oration he had just delivered, and it
was not encouraging.

Weary looked down upon him and smiled indulgence of the tone. "If you
aren't busy right now, I'll start in and tell yuh. Yuh better sit down
on that bucket whilst I'm doing it - if I'm thorough it'll take time."

"Humph!" said the man again and carefully pared the end of a fat, black
cigar. "You seem to think you know it all. What's your trade?"

"Punching cows - in Northern Montana," answered Weary, mildly.

The man took the trouble to look at him again, this time more
critically - and more favorably, perhaps. "Bronco-buster?" he demanded,
briefly.

"Some," grinned Weary, his thoughts whirling back to the dust and
uproar in the Flying U corrals - and to Glory.

The man seemed to read what was in his eyes. "You ought to know better
than to founder a three-hundred-dollar trotter, then," he remarked,
with some of the growl smoothed out of his voice.

"I sure had," agreed Weary, sympathetically.

"That's why I fired that four-or-five-kinds-of idiot just now,"
confided the other, rising to the sympathy in Weary's tone. "I need
men that know a little something about horses - the foreman can't always
be at a man's elbow. You can start right in - pay's good. Go tell the
foreman I've hired you; that's him back there in the office."

Then came the rain. Week after week of drab clouds and drizzle, and no
sun to hearten a man for his work. Week after week of bobbing
umbrellas, muddy crossings, sloppy pavements and dripping eaves - and a
cold that chilled the marrow in his bones.

Weary, after a week of poking along in the rain of an evening when his
work was done, threw up his hands, figuratively, and bought him an
umbrella, hoping devoutly they would never get to hear of it in Dry
Lake. He stood for two minutes in the deep doorway of the store before
he found nerve to open the awkward thing, and when he did so he glanced
sheepishly around him as if it were a weak thing to do and a
disgraceful.

Fog and rain and mud and mist, day after day through long months.
Feeding hungry horses their breakfast at five o'clock in the morning;
brushing, currying, combing till they shone satin-smooth. Harnessing,
unharnessing; washing mud from rigs that would be splashed and
plastered again before night. Driving to houses that were known by the
number over the door, giving the reins over to somebody and walking
back in the rain. Piling mangers with hay, strewing the stalls deep
with straw. Patting this horse as he passed, commanding the next to
move over, stopping to whisper caressing words into the ear of a
favorite. Sitting listlessly in the balcony of some theatre in the
evening while a mimic world lived its joys and sorrows below and an
orchestra played soft accompaniment to his vagrant thoughts. All this
was Weary's life in Portland.

Not exactly hilarious, that life. Not a homelike one to a man fresh
from eating, sleeping, working, reveling with fellows who would
cheerfully give him the coat upon their straight backs if he needed it;
fight for him, laugh at him, or laugh with him, tease him, bully him,
love him like a brother - in short, fresh from Jim Whitmore's Happy
Family.

No one hailed him as Weary; his fellow hostlers called him simply Bill.
No one knew the life he knew or loved the things he loved. His stories
of wild rides and hard drives must be explained as he went along and
fell even then upon barren soil; so he gave up telling them. Even his
speech, colored as it was with the West which lies East of the
Cascades, sounded strange in their ears and set him apart. They
referred to him as "the cowboy".

Sometimes, when the skies were leaden and the dead atmosphere pressed
his very soul to the dank earth, Weary would hoist his umbrella and
walk and walk and walk, till the streets grew empty around him and his
footsteps sounded hollow on the pavements. One Sunday when it was not
actually raining he hired a horse and rode into the country - and he
came back draggled and unhappy from plodding through the mud, and he
never repeated the experiment.

Sometimes he would sit all the evening in his damp-walled room and
smoke cigarettes and wonder what the boys were doing, down in the
bunk-house at home. He wondered if they kept Glory up - or if he was
rustling on the range, his sorrel back humped to the storms and the
deviltry gone out of him with the grim battle for mere life.

Perhaps there was a dance somewhere; it was a cinch they would all be
there - and Happy Jack would wear the same red necktie and the same
painful smile of embarrassment, and there would be a squabble over the
piece of bar mirror to shave by. And the schoolma'am - But here
Weary's thoughts would shy and stop abruptly, and if it were not too
late he would put on his hat and go to a show; one of those ten-cent
continuous-performance places, where the Swede and the Dutchman
flourish and the Boneless Man ties himself in knots.

A man will grow accustomed to anything, give him time enough. When
four months had passed in this fashion, Weary began insensibly to turn
more to the present and less often, to the past. His work was not
hard, the pay was good and he learned the ways of the town and got more
in touch with his acquaintances. They came to fill his life, so that
he thought less often of Chip and Cal and Happy Jack and Slim. Others
were gradually taking their places.

No one had as yet come to lift Miss Satterly's brown eyes from the deep
places of his heart, because he again shied at women; but he was able
to draw a veil before them so that they did not haunt him so much. He
began to whistle once more, as he went about his work; but he never
whistled "Good Old Summertime." There were other foolish songs become
popular; he rather fancied "Navajo" these days.

It was past April Fool's day, and Weary was singing "Nava, Nava, my
Navajo," melodiously while he spread the straw bedding with his fork.
It was a beastly day, even for that climate, but he was glad of it. He
had only to fill a dozen mangers and his morning's work was done, with
the prospect of an idle forenoon; for no one would want to drive,
today, unless it was absolutely necessary.

"I have a love for-r you that will grow-ow;
If you'll have a coon for a beau - "

trilled Weary, and snapped the wires off a bale of hay and tore it
open, in a hurry to finish.

A familiar, pungent odor smote his nostrils and he straightened. For a
minute he stood perfectly still; then his fingers groped tremblingly in
the hay, closed upon something, and every nerve in him quivered. He
held it fast in his shaking hands and sat down weakly upon the torn
bale.

It was a branch off a sage bush - dry, shapeless, bruised in the press,
but it carried its message bravely. Holding it close to his face,
drinking in the smell of it greedily, he closed his eyes involuntarily.

Great, gray plains closed in upon him - dear, familial plains, scarred
and broken with sharp-nosed hills and deep, water-worn coulees gleaming
barren and yellow in the sun. The blue, blue sky was bending down to
meet the hills, with feathery, white clouds trailing lazily across.
His cheeks felt the cool winds which flapped his hat-brim and tingled
his blood. His knees pressed the throb and life, the splendid, working
muscles of a galloping horse.

Weary's head went down upon his hands, with the bit of sage pressed
hard against his cheek.

Now he was racing over the springy sod which sent a sweet, grassy smell
up to meet him. Wild range cattle lumbered out of his way, ran a few
paces and stopped to gaze after him with big, curious eyes. Before him
stood the white-tented camp of the round-up, and the rope corral was
filled with circling horses half hidden by the veil of dust thrown
upward by their restless, trampling hoofs. Now he was in the midst of
them, a coil of rope in his left hand; his right swung the loop
circling over his head. And the choking dust was in his eyes and
throat, and in his nostrils the rank odor of many horses. Men were
shouting to one another above the confusion. Oaths were hurled after a
horse which warily dodged the rope. Saddles strewed the ground, bits
clanked, spurs jingled, care-free laughs brightened the clamor.

The scene shifted. He was sitting, helpless, in the saddle while Glory
carried him wantonly over the hills, shaking his head to make the
broken bridle rattle. Now he was stopping in front of a vine-covered
porch, where a girl lay sleeping in a hammock - a girl with soft, dark
hair falling down to the floor in a heavy braid. Again, he was sitting
on the school-house steps, holding a smoking gun in his hand, and the
schoolma'am was standing, flushed and reproving, before him. The wind
came and fluttered her skirts -

"What's the matter, Bill? Yuh sick?"

Weary raised a white, haggard face. The plains, the blue sky, the
sunshine, the wind, the girl - were gone. He was sitting upon a torn
bale of hay in a livery stable in Portland. Through the wide, open
door he could see the muddy street. Gray water-needles darted
incessantly up from the pavement where the straight lines of rain
struck. On the roof the rain was drumming a monotone. In his fingers
was a crumpled bit of gray sage-brush.

"Sick, Bill?" repeated the foreman, sympathetically.

"Oh, go to hell!" said Weary, ungratefully. He felt tired, and weak
and old. He wanted to be left alone. He wanted - God, how he wanted
the dream to come back to him, and to come back to him true! To close
about him and wrap him in its sunny folds; to steep his senses in the
light and the life, the sound and the smell of the plains; to hear the
wind rushing over the treeless hills; to see the wild range cattle
nosing the crisp, prairie grass.

He got unsteadily upon his legs and went slowly to his room; dropped
wearily upon the bed, and buried his face in the pillow like a hurt
child. In his fingers he clutched a pungent, gray weed.




PART SIX

Late that night Weary, his belongings stuffed hurriedly into the
suit-case he called his "war-bag," started home; so impatient he had a
childish desire to ride upon the engine so that he might arrive the
sooner, and failing that he spent much of his time lurching between
smoking car and tourist sleeper, unable to sit quietly in any place for
longer than ten minutes or so. In his coat pocket, where his fingers
touched it often, was a crumpled bit of sage-brush. Dry it was, and the
gray leaves were crumbling under the touch of his homesick fingers, but
the smell of it, aromatic and fresh and strong, breathed of the plains he
loved.

At Kalispell he went out on the platform and filled his lungs again and
again with Montana air, that was clean of fog and had a nip to it. The
sun shone, the sky was blue and the clouds reminded him of a band of
new-washed sheep scattered and feeding quietly. The wind blew keen in
his face and set his blood a-dance, his blood, which for long months had
moved sluggishly in his veins.

At Shelby, a half-dozen cowboys galloped briefly into view as the train
whizzed by down the valley, and Weary raised the car window and leaned
far out to gaze after them with hungry eyes. He wanted to swing his hat
and give a whoop that would get the last wisps of fog and gray murk out
of his system - but there were other passengers already shivering and
eyeing him in unfriendly fashion because of the open window. He wanted
to get out and run and run bareheaded, over the bleak, brown hills; but
he closed the window and behaved as well as he could.

The stars came out and winked at him just as they used to do when he sat
on Meeker's front porch and listened to the schoolma'am singing softly in
the hammock, her guitar tinkling a mellow undertone. It was too early
now for the hammock to be swinging in the porch. School must be started
again, though, and seeing the schoolma'am lived right there with her aunt
Meeker, they weren't likely to hire another teacher.

He hoped Myrt Forsyth had gone back to Chadville where she belonged. He
wished now that he had written to some of the boys and kept posted on
what was happening. He had never sent back so much as a picture postal,
and he had consequently not heard a word. But Weary's nature was ever
hopeful except when he was extremely angry, and then he did not care much
about anything. So now, he took it for granted things had gone along
smoothly and that nothing would be changed.

* * * * *

Miss Satterly had just finished listlessly hearing the last spelling
class recite, when she glanced through the window and saw Glory, bearing
a familiar figure, race down the hill and whip into the school-house
path. Her heart gave a flop, so that she caught at the desk to steady
her and she felt the color go out of her face. Then her presence of mind
returned so that she said "School's dismissed" - without going through the
form of "Attention, turn, stand, pass."

The children eyed her curiously, hesitated and then rushed noisily out,
and she sank down upon a bench and covered her face with her hands. It
was queer that she could not seem to get hold of herself and be calm; it
was disgraceful that she should tremble so. Outside she could hear them
shouting, "Hello, Weary!" in a dozen different keys, and each time her
blood jumped. Her eyes had not tricked her, then - though it was not the
first time she had trembled to see a sorrel horse gallop down that hill,
and then turned numb when came disillusionment. Would those children
never start home? By degrees their shrill voices sounded further away,
and the place grew still. But the schoolma'am kept her face covered.

Spurred heels clanked on the threshold, stopped there, and the door shut
with a slam. But she did not look up; she did not dare.

Steps came down the room toward her - long, hurrying steps, determined
steps. Close beside her they stopped, and for a space that seemed to her
long minutes there was no sound.

"Say hello to me - won't you, Girlie?" said a wistful voice that thrilled
to the tips of the schoolma'am's shaking fingers. She dropped her hands
then, reluctantly. Her lips quivered as Weary had never before seen them
do.

"Hello," she obeyed, faintly.

He stood for a moment, studying her face.

"Look up here, Schoolma'am," he commanded at last. "I hate to have my
feet get so much attention. I've come back to fight it out - to a finish,
this time. Yuh can't stampede me again - look up here. I've been plumb
sick for a sight of those big eyes of yours."

Miss Satterly persisted in gazing at the boots of Weary.

"Well, are yuh going to?" There was a new, masterful note in Weary's
voice, that the schoolma'am felt but did not quite understand - then. She
did not, perhaps, realize how plainly her whole attitude spoke surrender.

Weary waited what seemed to him a reasonable time, but her lashes drooped
lower, if anything. Then he made one of the quick, unlooked-for moves
which made him a master of horses. Before she quite knew what was
occurring, the schoolma'am was upon her feet and snuggled close in
Weary's eager arms. More, he had a hand under her chin, her face was
tilted back and he was smiling down into her wide, startled eyes.

"I didn't burn a streak a thousand miles long in the atmosphere, getting
back here, to be scared out now by a little woman like you," he remarked,
and tucked a stray, brown lock solicitously behind her ear. Then he bent
and kissed her deliberately upon the mouth.

"Now, say you're my little schoolma'am. Quick, before I do it again." He
threatened with his lips, and he looked as if he were quite anxious to
carry out his threat.

"I'm your - " the schoolma'am hid her face from him. "Oh, Will! Whatever
made you go off like that, and I - I nearly died wanting to see you - "

Weary laid his cheek very tenderly against hers, and held her close. No
words came to either, just then.

"What if I'd kept on being a fool - and hadn't come back at all, Girlie?"
he asked softly, after a while.

The schoolma'am shuddered eloquently in his arms.

"It was sure lonesome - it was _hell_ out there alone," he observed,
reminiscently.

"It was sure - h-hell back here alone, too," murmured a smothered voice
which did not sound much like the clear, self-assertive tones of Miss
Satterly.

"Well, it come near serving you right," Weary told her, relishfully
grinning over the word she used.

"What made yuh chase me off?"

"I - don't know; I - "

"I guess yuh don't, all right," agreed Weary, giving a little squeeze by
way of making quite sure he had her there. "Say, what was that yarn Myrt
Forsyth told yuh about me?"

"I - I don't know. She - she hinted a lot - "

"I expect she did - that's Myrt, every rattle uh the box," Weary cut in
dryly.

"And she - she said you had to leave home - in the night - "

"Oh, she did, eh? Well, Girlie, if the time-table hasn't changed, Miss
Myrt Forsyth sneaked off the same way. The train west leaves - or did
leave - Chadville along about midnight, so - Say, it feels good to be back,
little schoolma'am. You don't know how good - "

"I guess I do," cried the schoolma'am very emphatically. "I just guess I
know something about that, myself. Oh you dear, great, tall - "

Something happened just then to the schoolma'am's lips, so that she could
not finish the sentence.




FIRST AID TO CUPID

The floor manager had just called out that it was "ladies' choice," and
Happy Jack, his eyes glued in rapturous apprehension upon the thin,
expressionless face of Annie Pilgreen, backed diffidently into a
corner. He hoped and he feared that she would discover him and lead
him out to dance; she had done that once, at the Labor Day ball, and he
had not slept soundly for several nights after.

Someone laid proprietary hand upon his cinnamon-brown coat sleeve, and
he jumped and blushed; it was only the schoolma'am, however, smiling up
at him ingratiatingly in a manner wholly bewildering to a simple minded
fellow like Happy Jack. She led him into another corner, plumped
gracefully and with much decision down upon a bench, drew her skirts
aside to make room for him and announced that she was tired and wanted


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