B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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and Johnny was thrust unceremoniously forward to welcome his kind
friends and still the rising clamor.

Things went smoothly after that. It is true that Weary, as the
Japanese Dwarf, halted the Wax-works and glared glassily at the faces
staring back at him while the alarm clock buzzed unheeded against his
spine. _Mrs. Jarley_, however, was equal to the emergency. She
proceeded calmly to wind him up the second time, gave Weary an
admonitory kick and whispered, "Come alive, yuh chump," and turned to
the audience.

"This here Japanese Dwarf I got second-handed at a bargain sale for
three-forty-nine, marked down for one week only," she explained
blandly. "I got cheated like h - like I always do at them bargain
sales, for it's about wore out. I guess I can make the thing work well
enough to show yuh what it's meant to represent, though." She gave
Weary another kick, commanded him again to "Come out of it and get
busy," and the Dwarf obediently ate its allotted portion of poison.
And every one applauded Weary more enthusiastically than they had the
others, for they thought it was all his part. So much for justice.

"Our last selection will be a tableau entitled, 'Under the Mistletoe,'"
announced the schoolma'am's clear tones. Then she took up her guitar
and went down from the stage to where the Little Doctor waited with her
mandolin. While the tableau was being arranged they meant to play
together in lieu of a regular orchestra. The schoolma'am's brow was
smooth, for the entertainment had been a success so far; and the
tableau would be all right, she was sure - for Weary had charge of that.
She hoped that Happy Jack would not hate it so very much, and that it
would help to break the ice between him and Annie Pilgreen. So she
plucked the guitar strings tentatively and began to play.

Behind the curtain, Annie Pilgreen stood simpering in her place and
Happy Jack went reluctantly forward, resigned and deplorably
inefficient. Weary, himself again now that his torment was over, posed
him cheerfully. But Happy Jack did not get the idea. He stood, as
Weary told him disgustedly, looking like a hitching-post. Weary
labored with him desperately, his ear strained to keep in touch with
the music which would, at the proper time, die to a murmur which would
be a signal for the red fire and the tableau. Already the lamps were
being turned low, out there beyond the curtain.

Though it was primarily a scheme of torture for Happy Jack, Weary was
anxious that it should be technically perfect. He became impatient.
"Say, _don't_ stand there like a kink-necked horse, Happy!" he implored
under his breath. "Ain't there any joints in your arms?"

"I ain't never practised it," Happy Jack protested in a hoarse whisper.
"I never even seen a tableau in my life, even. If somebody'd show me
once, so's I could get the hang of it - "

"Oh, mamma! you're a peach, all right. Here, give me that sage brush!
Now, watch. We haven't got all night to make medicine over it. See?
Yuh want to hold it over her head and kinda bend down, like yuh were
daring yourself to kiss - "

Happy Jack backed off to get the effect; incidentally, he took the
curtain back with him; also incidentally - , Johnny dropped a match into
the red fire, which glowed beautifully. Weary caught his breath, but
he was game and never moved any eyelash.

The red glow faded and left an abominable smell behind it, and some
merciful hand drew the curtain - but it was not the hand of Happy Jack.
He had gone out through the window and was crouching beneath it
drinking in greedily the hand-clapping and the stamping of feet and the
whistling, with occasional shouts of mirth which he recognized as
coming from the rest of the Happy Family. It all sounded very sweet to
the great, red ears of Happy Jack.

When the clatter showed signs of abatement he stole away to where his
horse was tied, his sorrel coat gleaming with frost sparkles in the
moonlight. "It's you and me to hit the trail, Spider," he croaked to
the horse, and with his bare hand scraped the frost from the saddle.

A tall figure crept up from behind and grappled with him. Spider
danced away as far as the rope would permit and snorted, and two
struggling forms squirmed away from his untrustworthy heels.

"Aw, leggo!" cried Happy Jack when he could breathe again.

"I won't. You've got to come back and square yourself with Annie. How
do yuh reckon she's feeling at the trick yuh played on her, yuh
lop-eared - "

Happy Jack jerked loose and stood grinning in the moonlight. "Aw,
gwan. Annie knowed I was goin' to do it," he retorted, loftily.
"Annie and me's engaged." He got into the saddle and rode off,
shouting back taunts.

Weary stood bareheaded in the cold and stared after him blankly.




WHEN THE COOK FELL ILL

It was four o'clock, and there was consternation in the round-up camp
of the Flying U; when one eats breakfast before dawn - July dawn at
that - covers thirty miles of rough country before eleven o'clock dinner
and as many more after, supper seems, for the time being, the most
important thing in the life of a cowboy.

Men stood about in various dejected attitudes, their thumbs tucked
inside their chap-belts, blank helplessness writ large upon their
perturbed countenances - they were the aliens, hired but to make a full
crew during round-up. Long-legged fellows with spurs a-jingle hurried
in and out of the cook-tent, colliding often, shouting futile
questions, commands and maledictions - they were the Happy Family:
loyal, first and last to the Flying U, feeling a certain degree of
proprietorship and a good deal of responsibility.

Happy Jack was fanning an incipient blaze in the sheet-iron stove with
his hat, his face red and gloomy at the prospect of having to satisfy
fifteen outdoor appetites with his amateur attempts at cooking. Behind
the stove, writhing bulkily upon a hastily unrolled bed, lay Patsy,
groaning most pitiably.

"What the devil's the matter with that hot water?" Cal Emmett yelled at
Happy Jack from the bedside, where he was kneeling sympathetically.

Happy Jack removed his somber gaze from the licking tongue of flame
which showed in the stove-front. "Fire ain't going good, yet," he said
in a matter-of-fact tone which contrasted sharply with Cal's
excitement. "Teakettle's dry, too. I sent a man to the crick for a
bucket uh water; he'll be back in a minute."

"Well, _move_! If it was you tied in a knot with cramp, yuh wouldn't
take it so serene."

"Aw, gwan. I got troubles enough, cooking chuck for this here layout.
I got to have some help - and lots of it. Patsy ain't got enough stuff
cooked up to feed a jack-rabbit. Somebody's got to mosey in here and
peel the spuds."

"That's your funeral," said Cal, unfeelingly.

Chip stuck his head under the lifted tent-flap. "Say, I can't find
that cussed Three-H bottle," he complained. "What went with it, Cal?"

"Ask Slim; he had it last. Ain't Shorty here, yet?" Cal turned again
to Patsy, whose outcries were not nice to listen to, "Stay with it,
old-timer; we'll have something hot to pour down yuh in a minute."

Patsy replied, but pain made him incoherent. Cal caught the word
"poison", and then "corn"; the rest of the sentence was merely a
succession of groans.

The face of Cal lengthened perceptibly. He got up and went out to
where the others were wrangling with Slim over the missing bottle of
liniment.

"I guess the old boy's up against it good and plenty," he announced
gravely. "He says he's poisoned; he says it was the corn."

"Well he had it coming to him," declared Jack Pates. "He's stuck that
darned canned corn under our noses every meal since round-up started.
He - "

"Oh, shut up," snarled Cal. "I guess it won't be so funny if he cashes
in on the strength of it. I've known two or three fellows that was
laid out cold with tin-can poison. It's sure fierce."

The Happy Family shifted uneasily before the impending tragedy, and
their faces paled a little; for nearly every man of the range dreads
ptomaine poisoning more than the bite of a rattler. One can kill a
rattler, and one is always warned of its presence; but one never can
tell what dire suffering may lurk beneath the gay labels of canned
goods. But since one must eat, and since canned vegetables are far and
away better than no vegetables at all, the Happy Family ate and took
their chance - only they did not eat canned corn, and they had discussed
the matter profanely and often with Patsy.

Patsy was a slave of precedent. Many seasons had he cooked beneath a
round-up tent, and never had he stocked the mess-wagon for a long trip
and left canned corn off the list. It was good to his palate and it
was easy to prepare, and no argument could wean him from imperturbably
opening can after can, eating plentifully of it himself and throwing
the rest to feed the gophers.

"Ain't there anything to give him?" asked Jack, relenting. "That
Three-H would fix him up all right - "

"Dig it up, then," snapped Cal. "There's sure something got to be
done, or we'll have a dead cook on our hands."

"Not even a drop uh whisky in camp!" mourned Weary. "Slim, you ought
to be killed for getting away with that liniment."

Slim was too downhearted to resent the tone. "By golly, I can't think
what I done with it after I used it on Banjo. Seems like I stood it on
that rock - "

"Oh, hell!" snorted Cal. "That's forty miles back."

"Say, it's sure a fright!" sympathized Jack Bates as a muffled shriek
came through the cloth wall of the tent. "What's good for tincaneetis,
I wonder?"

"A rattling good doctor," retorted Chip, throwing things recklessly
about, still searching. "There goes the damn butter - pick it up, Cal."

"If old Dock was sober, he could do something," suggested Weary. "I
guess I'd better go after him; what do yuh think?"

"He could send out some stuff - if he was sober enough; he's sure wise
on medicine."

Weary made him a cigarette. "Well, it's me for Dry Lake," he said,
crisply. "I reckon Patsy can hang on till I get back; can poison
doesn't do the business inside several hours, and he hasn't been sick
long. He was all right when Happy Jack hit camp about two o'clock.
I'll be back by dark - I'll ride Glory." He swung up on the nearest
horse, which happened to be Chip's and raced out to the saddle bunch a
quarter of a mile away. The Happy Family watched him go and called
after him, urging him unnecessarily to speed.

Weary did not waste time having the bunch corralled but rode in among
the horses, his rope down and ready for business. Glory stared
curiously, tossed his crimpled, silver mane, dodged a second too late
and found himself caught.

It was unusual, this interruption just when he was busy cropping sweet
grasses and taking his ease, but he supposed there was some good reason
for it; at any rate he submitted quietly to being saddled and merely
nipped Weary's shoulder once and struck out twice with an ivory-white,
daintily rounded hoof - and Weary was grateful for the docile mood he
showed.

He mounted hurriedly without a word of praise or condemnation, and his
silence was to Glory more unusual than being roped and saddled on the
range. He seemed to understand that the stress was great, and fairly
bolted up the long, western slope of the creek bottom straight toward
the slant of the sun.

For two miles he kept the pace unbroken, though the way was not of the
smoothest and there was no trail to follow. Straight away to the west,
with fifteen miles of hills and coulees between, lay Dry Lake; and in
Dry Lake lived the one man in the country who might save Patsy.

"Old Dock" was a land-mark among old-timers. The oldest pioneer found
Dock before him among the Indians and buffalo that ran riot over the
wind-brushed prairie where now the nation's beef feeds quietly. Why he
was there no man could tell; he was a fresh-faced young Frenchman with
much knowledge of medicine and many theories, and a reticence
un-French. From the Indians he learned to use strange herbs that
healed almost magically the ills of man; from the rough out-croppings
of civilization he learned to swallow vile whiskey in great gulps, and
to thirst always for more.

So he grew old while the West was yet young, until Dry Lake, which grew
up around him, could not remember him as any but a white-bearded,
stooped, shuffling old man who spoke a queer jargon and was always just
getting drunk or sober. When he was sober his medicines never failed
to cure; when he was drunk he could not be induced to prescribe, so
that men trusted his wisdom at all times and tolerated his infirmities,
and looked upon him with amused proprietorship.

When Weary galloped up the trail which, because a few habitations are
strewn with fine contempt of regularity upon either side, is called by
courtesy a street, his eyes sought impatiently for the familiar,
patriarchal figure of Old Dock. He felt that minutes were worth much
and that if he would save Patsy he must cut out all superfluities, so
he resolutely declined to remember that cold, foamy beer refreshes one
amazingly after a long, hot ride in the dust and the wind.

Upon the porch of Rusty Brown's place men were gathered, and it was
evident even at a distance that they were mightily amused. Weary
headed for the spot and stopped beside the hitching pole. Old Dock
stood in the center of the group and his bent old figure was trembling
with rage. With both hands he waved aloft his coat, on which was
plastered a sheet of "tangle-foot" fly-paper.

"Das wass de mean treeck!" he was shouting. "I don'd do de harm wis no
mans. I tend mine business, I buy me mine clothes. De mans wass do
dees treeck, he buy me new clothes - you bet you! Dass wass de mean - "

"Say, Dock," broke in Weary, towering over him, "you dig up some dope
for tin-can poison, and do it quick. Patsy's took bad."

Old Dock looked up at him and shook his shaggy, white beard. "Das wass
de mean treeck," he repeated, waving the coat at Weary. "You see dass?
Mine coat, she ruint; dass was new coat!"

"All right - I'll take your word for it, Dock. Tell me what's good for
tin - "

"Aw, I knows you fellers. You t'inke Ole Dock, she Dock, she don'd
know nothings! You t'ink - "

Weary sighed and turned to the crowd. "Which end of a jag is this?" he
wanted to know. "I've got to get some uh that dope-wisdom out uh him,
somehow. Patsy's a goner, sure, if I don't connect with some medicine."

The men crowded close and asked questions which Weary felt bound to
answer; everyone knew Patsy, who was almost as much a part of Dry Lake
scenery as was Old Dock, and it was gratifying to a Flying-U man to see
the sympathy in their faces. But Patsy needed something more potent
than sympathy, and the minutes were passing.

Old Dock still discoursed whimperingly upon the subject of his ruined
coat and the meanness of mankind, and there was no weaning his interest
for a moment, try as Weary would. And fifteen miles away in a
picturesque creek-bottom a man lay dying in great pain for want of one
little part of the wisdom stored uselessly away in the brain of this
drunken, doddering old man.

Weary's gloved hand dropped in despair from Old Dock's bent shoulder.
"Damn a drunkard!" he said bitterly, and got into the saddle. "Rusty,
I'll want to borrow that calico cayuse uh yours. Have him saddled up
right away, will yuh? I'll be back in a little bit."

He jerked his hat down to his eyebrows and struck Glory with the quirt;
but the trail he took was strange to Glory and he felt impelled to stop
and argue - as only Glory could argue - with his master. Minutes passed
tumultuously, with nothing accomplished save some weird hoof-prints in
the sod. Eventually, however, Glory gave over trying to stand upon his
head and his hind feet at one and the same instant, and permitted
himself to be guided toward a certain tiny, low-eaved cabin in a meadow
just over the hill from the town.

Weary was not by nature given to burglary, but he wrenched open the
door of the cabin and went in with not a whisper of conscience to say
him nay. It was close and ill-smelling and very dirty inside, but
after the first whiff Weary did not notice it. He went over and
stopped before a little, old-fashioned chest; it was padlocked, so he
left that as a last resort and searched elsewhere for what he
wanted - medicine. Under the bed he found a flat, black case, such as
old-fashioned doctors carried. He drew it out and examined if
critically. This, also, was locked, but he shook it tentatively and
heard the faintest possible jingle inside.

"Bottles," he said briefly, and grinned satisfaction. Something
brushed against his hat and he looked up into a very dusty bunch of
herbs. "You too," he told them, breaking the string with one yank.
"For all I know, yuh might stand ace-high in this game. Lord! if I
could trade brains with the old devil, just for to-night!"

He took a last look around, decided that he had found all he wanted,
and went out and pulled the door shut. Then he tied the black medicine
case to the saddle in a way that would give it the least jar, stuffed
the bunch of dried herbs into his pocket and mounted for the homeward
race. As he did so the sun threw a red beam into his eyes as though
reminding him of the passing hours, and ducked behind the ridge which
bounds Lonesome Prairie on the east.

The afterglow filled sky and earth with a soft, departing radiance when
he stopped again in front of the saloon. Old Doc was still
gesticulating wildly, and the sheet of fly-paper still clung to the
back of his coat. The crowd had thinned somewhat and displayed less
interest; otherwise the situation had not changed, except that a pinto
pony stood meekly, with head drooping, at the hitching-pole.

"There's your horse," Rusty Brown called to Weary. "Yours played out?"

"Not on your life," Weary denied proudly. "When yuh see Glory played
out, you'll see him with four feet in the air."

"I seen him that way half an hour ago, all right," bantered Bert Rogers.

Weary passed over the joke. "Mamma! Has it been that long?" he cried
uneasily. "I've got to be moving some. Here, Dock, you put on that
coat - and never mind the label; it's got to go - and so have you."

"Aw, he's no good to yuh, Weary," they protested. "He's too drunk to
tell chloroform from dried apricots."

"That'll be all right," Weary assured them confidently. "I guess he'll
be some sober by the time we hit camp. I went and dug up his dope-box,
so he can get right to work when he arrives. Send him out here."

"Say, he can't never top off Powderface, Weary. I thought yuh was
going to ride him yourself. It's plumb wicked to put that old
centurion on him. He wouldn't be able to stay with him a mile."

"That's a heap farther than he could get with Glory," said Weary,
unmoved. "Yuh don't seem to realize that Patsy's just next thing to a
dead man, and Dock has got the name of what'll cure him sloshing around
amongst all that whiskey in his head. I can't wait for him to sober
up - I'm just plumb obliged to take him along, jag and all. Come on,
Dock; this is a lovely evening for a ride."

Dock objected emphatically with head, arms, legs and much mixed
dialect. But Weary climbed down and, with the help of Bert Rogers,
carried him bodily and lifted him into the saddle. When the pinto
began to offer some objections, strong hands seized his bridle and held
him angrily submissive.

"He'll tumble off, sure as yuh live," predicted Bert; but Weary never
did things by halves; he shook his head and untied his coiled rope.

"By the Lord! I hate to see a man ride into town and pack off the only
heirloom we got," complained Rusty Brown. "Dock's been handed down
from generation to Genesis, and there ain't hardly a scratch on him.
If yuh don't bring him back in good order Weary Davidson, there'll be
things doing."

Weary looked up from taking the last half-hitch around the saddle horn.
"Yuh needn't worry," he said. "This medical monstrosity is more
valuable to me than he is to you, right now. I'll handle him careful."

"Das wass de mean treeck!" cried Dock, for all the world like a parrot.

"It sure is, old boy," assented Weary cheerfully, and tied the pinto's
bridle-reins into a hard knot at the end. With the reins in his hand
he mounted Glory. "Your pinto'll lead, won't he?" he asked Rusty then.
It was like Weary to take a thing for granted first, and ask questions
about it afterward.

"Maybe he will - he never did, so far," grinned Rusty. "It's plumb
insulting to a self-respecting cow-pony to make a pack-horse out uh
him. I wouldn't be none surprised if yuh heard his views on the
subjects before yuh git there."

"It's an honor to pack heirlooms," retorted Weary. "So-long, boys."

Old Dock made a last, futile effort to free himself and then settled
down in the saddle and eyed the world sullenly from under frost-white
eyebrows heavy as a military mustache. He did not at that time look
particularly patriarchal; more nearly he resembled a humbled, entrapped
Santa Claus.

They started off quite tamely. The pinto leaned far back upon the
bridle-reins and trotted with stiff, reluctant legs that did not
promise speed; but still h went, and Weary drew a relieved breath. His
arm was like to ache frightfully before they covered a quarter of the
fifteen miles, but he did not mind that much; besides, he guessed
shrewdly that the pinto would travel better once they were well out of
town.

The soft, warm dusk of a July evening crept over the land and a few
stars winked at them facetiously. Over by the reedy creek, frogs
_cr-ek-ek-ekked_ in a tuneless medley and night-hawks flapped silently
through the still air, swooping suddenly with a queer, whooing rush
like wind blowing through a cavern. Familiar sounds they were to
Weary - so familiar that he scarce heard them; though he would have felt
a vague, uneasy sense of something lost had they stilled unexpectedly.
Out in the lane which leads to the open range-land between wide reaches
of rank, blue-joint meadows, a new sound met them - the faint, insistent
humming of millions of mosquitoes. Weary dug Glory with his spurs and
came near having his arm jerked from its socket before he could pull
him in again. He swore a little and swung round in the saddle.

"Can't yuh dig a little speed into that cayuse with your heels, Dock?"
he cried to the resentful heirloom. "We're going to be naturally
chewed up if we don't fan the breeze along here."

"Ah don'd care - das wass de mean treeck!" growled Dock into his beard.

Weary opened his mouth, came near swallowing a dozen mosquitoes alive,
and closed it again. What would it profit him to argue with a drunken
man? He slowed till the pinto, still moving with stiff, reluctant
knees, came alongside, and struck him sharply with his quirt; the pinto
sidled and Dock lurched over as far as Weary's rope would permit.

"Come along, then!" admonished Weary, under his breath.

The pinto snorted and ran backward until Weary wished he had been
content with the pace of a snail. Then the mosquitoes swooped down
upon them in a cloud and Glory struck out, fighting and kicking
viciously. Presently Weary found himself with part of the pinto's
bridle-rein in his hand, and the memory of a pale object disappearing
into the darkness ahead.

For the time being he was wholly occupied with his own horse; but when
Glory was minded to go straight ahead instead of in a circle, he gave
thought to his mission and thanked the Lord that Dock was headed in the
right direction. He gave chase joyfully; for every mile covered in
that fleet fashion meant an added chance for Patsy's life. Even the
mosquitoes found themselves hopelessly out of the race and beat up
harmlessly in the rear. So he galloped steadily upon the homeward
trail; and a new discomfort forced itself upon his consciousness - the
discomfort of swift riding while a sharp-cornered medicine-case of
generous proportions thumped regularly against his leg. At first he
did not mind it so much, but after ten minutes of riding so, the thing
grew monotonously painful and disquieting to the nerves.

Five miles from the town he sighted the pinto; it was just disappearing
up a coulee which led nowhere - much less to camp. Weary's
self-congratulatory mood changed to impatience; he followed after. Two
miles, and he reached the unclimbable head of the coulee - and no pinto.
He pulled up and gazed incredulously at the blank, sandstone walls;


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