B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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a nice long talk with him. Happy Jack, sending a troubled glance after
Annie, who was leading Joe Meeker out to dance, sighed a bit and sat
down obediently - and thereby walked straight into the loop which the
schoolma'am had spread for his unwary feet.

The schoolma'am was sitting out an astonishing number of dances - for a
girl who could dance from dark to dawn and never turn a hair - and the
women were wondering why. If she had sat them out with Weary Davidson
they would have smiled knowingly and thought no more of it; but she did
not. For every dance she had a different companion, and in every case
it ended in that particular young man looking rather scared and
unhappy. After five minutes of low-toned monologue on the part of the
schoolma'am, Happy Jack went the way of his predecessors and also
became scared and unhappy.

"Aw, say! Miss Satterly, _I_ can't act," he protested in a panic.

"Oh, yes, you could," declared the schoolma'am, with sweet assurance,
"if you only thought so."

"Aw, I couldn't get up before a crowd and say a piece, not if - "

"I'm not sure I want you to. There are other things to an
entertainment besides reciting things. I only want you to promise that
you will help me out. You will, won't you?" The schoolma'am's eyes,
besides being pretty, were often disconcertingly direct in their gaze.

Happy Jack wriggled and looked toward the door, which suddenly seemed a
very long way off. "I - I've got to go up to the Falls, along about
Christmas," he stuttered feebly, avoiding her eyes. "I - I can't get
off any other time, and I've - I've got a tooth - "

"You're the fifth Flying-U man who has 'a tooth,'" the schoolma'am
interrupted impatiently. "A dentist ought to locate in Dry Lake; from
what I have heard confidentially to-night, there's a fortune to be made
off the teeth of the Happy Family alone."

Every drop of blood in Happy's body seemed to stand then in his face.
"I - I'll pull the curtain for yuh," he volunteered, meekly.

"You're the seventh applicant for that place." The schoolma'am was
crushingly calm. "Every fellow I've spoken to has evinced a morbid
craving for curtain-pulling."

Happy Jack crumpled under her sarcasm and perspired, and tried to think
of something, with his brain quite paralyzed and useless.

The schoolma'am continued inexorably; plainly, _her_ brain was not
paralyzed. "I've promised the neighborhood that I would give a
Christmas tree and entertainment - and when a school-teacher promises
anything to a neighborhood, nothing short of death or smallpox will be
accepted as an excuse for failing to keep the promise; and I've seven
tongue-tied kids to work with!" (The schoolma'am was only
spasmodically given to irreproachable English.) "Of course, I relied
upon my friends to help me out. But when I come to calling the roll,
I - I don't seem to _have_ any friends." The schoolma'am was twirling
the Montana sapphire ring which Weary had given her last spring, and
her voice was trembly and made Happy Jack feel vaguely that he was a
low-down cur and ought to be killed.

He swallowed twice. "Aw, yuh don't want to go and feel bad about it; I
never meant - I'll do anything yuh ask me to."

"Thank you. I knew I could count upon you, Jack."

The schoolma'am recovered her spirits with a promptness that was
suspicious; patted his arm and called him an awfully good fellow, which
reduced Happy Jack to a state just this side imbecility. Also, she
drew a little memorandum book from somewhere, and wrote Happy Jack's
name in clear, convincing characters that made him shiver. He saw
other names above his own on the page; quite a lot of them; seven in
fact. Miss Satterly, evidently, was not quite as destitute of friends
as her voice, awhile back, would lead one to believe. Happy Jack
wondered.

"I haven't quite decided what we will have," she remarked briskly.
"When I do, we'll all meet some evening in the school-house and talk it
over. There's lots of fun getting up an entertainment; you'll like it,
once you get started."

Happy did not agree with her, but he did not tell her so; he managed to
contort his face into something resembling a grin, and retreated to the
hotel, where he swallowed two glasses of whiskey to start his blood
moving again, and then sat down and played poker disasterously until
daylight made the lamps grow a sickly yellow and the air of the room
seem suddenly stale and dead. But Happy never thought of blaming the
schoolma'am for the eighteen dollars he lost.

Neither did he blame her for the nightmares which tormented his sleep
during the week that followed or the vague uneasiness that filled his
waking hour, even when he was not thinking directly of the ghost that
dogged him. For wherever he went, or whatever he did, Happy Jack was
conscious of the fact that his name was down on the schoolma'am's list
and he was definitely committed to do anything she asked him to do,
even to "speaking a piece" - which was in his eyes the acme of mental
torture.

When Cal Emmett, probably thinking of Miss Satterly's little book,
pensively warbled in his ear:

Is your name written there,
On the page white and fair?

Happy Jack made no reply, though he suddenly felt chilly along the
spinal column. It was.

"Schoolma'am wants us all to go over to the schoolhouse
tonight - seven-thirty, sharp - to help make medicine over this Santa
Claus round-up. Slim, she says you've got to be Santy and come down
the stovepipe and give the kids fits and popcorn strung on a string.
She says you've got the figure." Weary splashed into the wash basin
like a startled muskrat.

The Happy Family looked at one another distressfully.

"By golly," Slim gulped, "you can just tell the schoolma'am to go
plumb - " (Weary faced him suddenly, his brown hair running rivulets)
"and ask the Old Man," finished Slim hurriedly. "He's fifteen pounds
fatter'n I be."

"Go tell her yourself," said Weary, appeased. "I promised her you'd
all be there on time, if I had to hog-tie the whole bunch and haul yuh
over in the hayrack." He dried his face and hands leisurely and
regarded the solemn group. "Oh, mamma! you're sure a nervy-looking
bunch uh dogies. Yuh look like - "

"Maybe you'll hog-tie the whole bunch," Jack Bates observed irritably,
"but if yuh do, you'll sure be late to meeting, sonny!"

The Happy Family laughed feeble acquiescence.

"I won't need to," Weary told them blandly. "You all gave the
schoolma'am leave to put down your names, and its up to you to make
good. If yuh haven't got nerve enough to stay in the game till the
deck's shuffled yuh hadn't any right to buy a stack uh chips."

"Yeah - that's right," Cal Emmett admitted frankly, because shyness and
Cal were strangers. "The Happy Family sure ought to put this thing
through a-whirling. We'll give 'em vaudeville till their eyes water
and their hands are plumb blistered applauding the show. Happy, you're
it. You've got to do a toe dance."

Happy Jack grinned in sickly fashion and sought out his red necktie.

"Say, Weary," spoke up Jack Bates, "ain't there going to be any female
girls in this opera troupe?"

"Sure. The Little Doctor's going to help run the thing, and Rena
Jackson and Lea Adams are in it - and Annie Pilgreen. Her and Happy are
down on the program for 'Under the Mistletoe', a tableau - the red fire,
kiss-me-quick brand."

"Aw gwan!" cried Happy Jack, much distressed and not observing Weary's
lowered eyelid.

His perturbed face and manner gave the Happy Family an idea. An idea,
when entertained by the Happy Family, was a synonym for great mental
agony on the part of the object of the thought, and great enjoyment on
the part of the Family.

"That's right," Weary assured him sweetly, urged to further deceit by
the manifest approval of his friends. "Annie's ready and willing to do
her part, but she's afraid you haven't got the nerve to go through with
it; but the schoolma'am says you'll have to anyhow, because your name's
down and you told her distinct you'd do anything she asked yuh to.
Annie likes yuh a heap, Happy; she said so. Only she don't like the
way yuh hang back on the halter. She told me, private, that she wished
yuh wasn't so bashful."

"Aw, gwan!" adjured Happy Jack again, because that was his only form of
repartee.

"If I had a girl like Annie - "

"Aw, I never said I had a girl!"

"It wouldn't take me more than two minutes to convince her I wasn't as
scared as I looked. You can gamble I'd go through with that living
picture, and I'd sure kiss - "

"Aw, gwan! I ain't stampeding clear to salt water 'cause she said
'Boo!' at me - and I don't need no cayuse t' show me the trail to a
girl's house - "

At this point, Weary succeeded in getting a strangle-hold and the
discussion ended rather abruptly - as they had a way of doing in the
Flying U bunk-house.

Over at the school-house that night, when Miss Satterly's little, gold
watch told her it was seven-thirty, she came out of the corner where
she had been whispering with the Little Doctor and faced a select,
anxious-eyed audience. Even Weary was not as much at ease as he would
have one believe, and for the others - they were limp and miserable.

She went straight at her subject. They all knew what they were there
for, she told them, and her audience looked her unwinkingly in the eye.
They did _not_ know what they were there for, but they felt that they
were prepared for the worst. Cal Emmett went mentally over the only
"piece" he knew, which he thought he might be called upon to speak. It
was the one beginning, according to Cal's version:

Twinkle, Twinkle little star,
What in thunder are you at?

There were thirteen verses, and it was not particularly adapted to a
Christmas entertainment.

The schoolma'am went on explaining. There would be tableaux, she said
(whereat Happy Jack came near swallowing his tongue) and the Jarley
Wax-works.

"What're them?" Slim, leaning awkwardly forward and blinking up at her,
interrupted stolidly. Everyone took advantage of the break and
breathed deeply.

The schoolma'am told them what were the Jarley Wax-works, and even
reverted to Dickens and gave a vivid sketch of the original _Mrs.
Jarley_. The audience finally understood that they would represent wax
figures of noted characters, would stand still and let _Mrs. Jarley_
talk about them - without the satisfaction of talking back - and that
they would be wound up at the psychological moment, when they would be
expected to go through a certain set of motions alleged to portray the
last conscious acts of the characters they represented.

The schoolma'am sat down sidewise upon a desk, swung a neat little foot
unconventionally and grew confidential, and the Happy Family knew they
were in for it.

"Will Davidson" (which was Weary) "is the tallest fellow in the lot, so
he must be the Japanese Dwarf and eat poisoned rice out of a chopping
bowl, with a wooden spoon - the biggest we can find," she announced
authoritatively, and they grinned at Weary.

"Mr. Bennett," (which was Chip) "you can assume a most murderous
expression, so we'll allow you to be Captain Kidd and threaten to slay
your Little Doctor with a wooden sword - if we can't get hold of a real
one."

"Thanks," said Chip, with doubtful gratitude.

"Mr. Emmett, we'll ask you to be _Mrs. Jarley_ and deliver the
lectures."

When they heard that the Happy Family howled derision at Cal, who got
red in the face in spite of himself. The worst was over. The victims
scented fun in the thing and perked up, and the schoolma'am breathed
relief, for she knew the crowd. Things would go with a swing, after
this, and success was, barring accidents, a foregone conclusion.

Through all the clatter and cross-fire of jibes Happy Jack sat, nervous
and distrait, in the seat nearest the door and farthest from Annie
Pilgreen. The pot-bellied stove yawned red-mouthed at him, a scant
three feet away. Someone coming in chilled with the nipping night air
had shoveled in coal with lavish hand, so that the stove door had to be
thrown open as the readiest method of keeping the stove from melting
where it stood. Its body, swelling out corpulently below the iron
belt, glowed red; and Happy Jack's wolf-skin overcoat was beginning to
exhale a rank, animal odor. It never occurred to him that he might
change his seat; he unbuttoned the coat absently and perspired.

He was waiting to see if the schoolma'am said anything about "Under the
Mistletoe" with red fire - and Annie Pilgreen. If she did, Happy Jack
meant to get out of the house with the least possible delay, for he
knew well that no man might face the schoolma'am's direct gaze and
refuse to do her bidding,

So far the Jarley Wax-works held the undivided attention of all save
Happy Jack; to him there were other things more important. Even when
he was informed that he must be the Chinese Giant and stand upon a
coal-oil box for added height, arrayed in one of the big-flowered
calico curtains which Annie Pilgreen said she could bring, he was
apathetic. He would be required to swing his head slowly from side to
side when wound up - very well, it looked easy enough. He would not
have to say a word, and he supposed he might shut his eyes if he felt
like it.

"As for the tableaux" - Happy Jack felt a prickling of the scalp and
measured mentally the distance to the door - "We can arrange them later,
for they will not require any rehearsing. The Wax-works we must get to
work on as soon as possible. How often can you come and rehearse?"

"Every night and all day Sundays," Weary drawled.

Miss Satterly frowned him into good behavior and said twice a week
would do.

Happy Jack slipped out and went home feeling like a reprieved criminal;
he even tried to argue himself into the belief that Weary was only
loading him and didn't mean a word he said. Still, the schoolma'am had
said there would be tableaux, and it was a cinch she would tell Weary
all about it - seeing they were engaged. Weary was the kind that found
out things, anyway.

What worried Happy Jack most was trying to discover how the dickens
Weary found out he liked Annie Pilgreen; that was a secret which Happy
Jack had almost succeeded in keeping from himself, even. He would have
bet money no one else suspected it - and yet here was Weary grinning and
telling him he and Annie were cut out for a tableau together. Happy
Jack pondered till he got a headache, and he did not come to any
satisfactory conclusion with himself, even then.

The rest of the Happy Family stayed late at the school-house, and Weary
and Chip discussed something enthusiastically in a corner with the
Little Doctor and the schoolma'am. The Little Doctor said that
something was a shame, and that it was mean, to tease a fellow as
bashful as Happy Jack.

Weary urged that sometimes Cupid needed a helping hand, and that it
would really be doing Happy a big favor, even if he didn't appreciate
it at the time. So in the end the girls agreed and the thing was
settled.

The Happy Family rode home in the crisp starlight gurgling and leaning
over their saddle-horns in spasmodic fits of laughter. But when they
trooped into the bunk-house they might have been deacons returning from
prayer meeting so far as their decorous behavior was concerned. Happy
Jack was in bed, covered to his ears and he had his face to the wall.
They cast covert glances at his carroty top-knot and went silently to
bed - which was contrary to habit.

At the third rehearsal, just as the Chinese Giant stepped off the
coal-oil box - thereby robbing himself miraculously of two feet of
stature - the schoolma'am approached him with a look in her big eyes
that set him shivering. When she laid a finger mysteriously upon his
arm and drew him into the corner sacred to secret consultations, the
forehead of Happy Jack resembled the outside of a stone water-jar in
hot weather. He knew beforehand just about what she would say. It was
the tableau that had tormented his sleep and made his days a misery for
the last ten days - the tableau with red fire and Annie Pilgreen.

Miss Satterly told him that she had already spoken to Annie, and that
Annie was willing if Happy Jack had no objections. Happy Jack had, but
he could not bring himself to mention the fact.

The schoolma'am had not quoted Annie's reply verbatim, but that was
mere detail. When she had asked Annie if she would take part in a
tableau with Happy Jack, Annie had dropped her pale eyelids and said:
"Yes, ma'am." Still it was as much as the schoolma'am, knowing Annie,
could justly expect.

Annie Pilgreen was an anaemic sort of creature with pale eyes,
ash-colored hair that clung damply to her head, and a colorless
complexion; her conversational powers were limited to "Yes, sir" and
"No, sir" (or Ma'am if sex demanded and Annie remembered in time). But
Happy Jack loved her; and when a woman loves and is loved, her
existence surely is justified for all time.

Happy Jack sent a despairing glance of appeal at the Happy Family; but
the Family was very much engaged, down by the stove. Cal Emmett was
fanning himself with _Mrs. Jarley's_ poppy-loaded bonnet and refreshing
his halting memory of the lecture with sundry promptings from Len Adams
who held the book. Chip Bennett was whittling his sword into shape and
Weary was drumming a tattoo in the great wooden bowl with the spoon he
used to devour poisoned rice upon the stage. The others were variously
engaged; not one of them appeared conscious of the fact that Happy Jack
was facing the tragedy of his bashful life.

Before he realized it, Miss Satterly had somehow managed to worm from
him a promise, and after that nothing mattered. The Wax-works, the
tree, the whole entertainment dissolved into a blurred background,
against which he was to stand with Annie Pilgreen, for the amusement of
his neighbors, who would stamp their feet and shout derisive things at
him. Very likely he would be subjected to the agony of an encore, and
he knew, beyond all doubt, that he would never be permitted to forget
the figure he should cut; for Happy Jack knew he was as unbeautiful as
a hippopotamus and as awkward. He wondered why he, of all the fellows
who were to take part, should be chosen for that tableau; it seemed to
him they ought to pick out someone who was at least passably
good-looking and hadn't such big, red hands and such immense feet. His
plodding brain revolved the mystery slowly and persistently.

When he remounted his wooden pedestal, thereby transforming himself
into a Chinese Giant of wax, he looked the part. Where the other
statues broke into giggles, to the detriment of their mechanical
perfection, or squirmed visibly when the broken alarm clock whirred its
signal against the small of their backs, Happy Jack stood immovably
upright, a gigantic figure with features inhumanly stolid. The
schoolma'am pointed him out as an example to the others, and pronounced
him enthusiastically the best actor in the lot.

"Happy's swallowed his medicine - that's what ails him," the Japanese
Dwarf whispered to Captain Kidd, and grinned.

The Captain turned his head and studied the brooding features of the
giant. "He's doing some thinking," he decided. "When he gets the
thing figured out, in six months or a year, and savvies it was a put-up
job from the start, somebody'll have it coming."

"He can't pulverize the whole bunch, and he'll never wise up to who's
the real sinner," Weary comforted himself.

"Don't you believe it. Happy doesn't think very often; when he does
though, he can ring the bell - give him time enough."

"Here, you statues over there want to let up on the chin-whacking or
I'll hand yuh a few with this," commanded _Mrs. Jarley_, and shook the
stove-poker threateningly.

The Japanese Dwarf returned to his poisoned rice and Captain Kidd
apologized to his victim, who was frowning reproof at him, and the
rehearsal proceeded haltingly.

That night, Weary rode home beside Happy Jack and tried to lift him out
of the slough of despond. But Happy refused to budge, mentally, an
inch. He rode humped in the saddle like a calf in its first blizzard,
and he was discouragingly unresponsive; except once, when Weary
reminded him that the tableau would need no rehearsing and that it
would only last a minute, anyway, and wouldn't hurt. Whereupon Happy
Jack straightened and eyed him meditatively and finally growled, "Aw
gwan; I betche you put her up to it, yuh darned chump."

After that Weary galloped ahead and overtook the others and told them
Happy Jack was thinking and mustn't be disturbed, and that he thought
it would not be fatal to anyone, though it was kinda hard on Happy.

From that night till Christmas eve, Happy Jack continued to think. It
was not, however, till the night of the entertainment, when he was
riding gloomily alone on his way to the school-house, that Happy Jack
really felt that his brain had struck pay dirt. He took off his hat,
slapped his horse affectionately over the ears with it and grinned for
the first time since the Thanksgiving dance. "Yes sir," he said
emphatically aloud, "I betche that's how it is, all right and I
betche - "

The schoolma'am, her cheeks becomingly pink from excitement, fluttered
behind the curtain for a last, flurried survey of stage properties and
actors. "Isn't Johnny here, yet?" she asked of Annie Pilgreen who had
just come and still bore about her a whiff of frosty, night air.
Johnny was first upon the program, with a ready-made address beginning,
"Kind friends, we bid you welcome on this gladsome day," and the time
for its delivery was overdue.

Out beyond the curtain the Kind Friends were waxing impatient and the
juvenile contingent was showing violent symptoms of descending
prematurely upon the glittering little fir tree which stood in a corner
next the stage. Back near the door, feet were scuffling audibly upon
the bare floor and a suppressed whistle occasionally cut into the hum
of subdued voices. Miss Satterly was growing nervous at the delay, and
she repeated her question impatiently to Annie, who was staring at
nothing very intently, as she had a fashion of doing.

"Yes, ma'am," she answered absently. Then, as an afterthought, "He's
outside, talking to Happy Jack."

Annie was mistaken; Happy Jack was talking to Johnny. The schoolma'am
tried to look through a frosted window.

"I do wish they'd hurry in; it's getting late, and everybody's here and
waiting." She looked at her watch. The suppressed whistle back near
the door was gaining volume and insistence.

"Can't we turn her loose, Girlie?" Weary came up and laid a hand
caressingly upon her shoulder.

"Johnny isn't here, yet, and he's to give the address of welcome.
_Why_ must people whistle and make a fuss like that, Will?"

"They're just mad because they aren't in the show," said Weary. "Say,
can't we cut out the welcome and sail in anyway? I'm getting kinda
shaky, dreading it."

The schoolma'am shook her head. It would not do to leave out
Johnny - and besides, country entertainments demanded the usual Address
of Welcome. It is never pleasant to trifle with an unwritten law like
that. She looked again at her watch and waited; the audience, being
perfectly helpless, waited also.

Weary, listening to the whistling and the shuffling of feet, felt a
queer, qualmy feeling in the region of his diaphragm, and he yielded to
a hunger for consolation and company in his misery. He edged over to
where Chip and Cal were amusing themselves by peeping at the audience
from behind the tree.

"Say, how do yuh stack up, Cal?" he whispered, forlornly.

"Pretty lucky," Cal told him inattentively, and the cheerfulness of his
whole aspect grieved Weary sorely. But then, he explained to himself,
Cal always did have the nerve of a mule.

Weary sighed and wondered what in thunder ailed him, anyway; he was
uncertain whether he was sick, or just plain scared. "Feel all right,
Chip?" he pursued; anxiously.

"Sure," said Chip, with characteristic brevity. "I wonder who those
silver-mounted spurs are for, there on the tree? They've been put on
since this afternoon - can't yuh stretch your neck enough to read the
name, Cal? They're the real thing, all right."

Weary's dejection became more pronounced. "Oh, mamma! am I the only
knock-kneed son-of-a-gun in this crowd?" he murmured, and turned
disconsolately away. His spine was creepy cold with stage fright; he
listened to the sounds beyond the shielding curtain and shivered.

Just then Johnny and Happy Jack appeared looking rather red and guilty,


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