B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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would be anywhere else. If a posse showed up, or we got wind of one
coming, there's plenty uh horses and saddles to make a getaway. We'd
just pick out a drifter and split the breeze. We can keep on the dodge
a long time, working on round-up, and earn a little money at the same
time, so when we do have to fly we won't be dead broke."

"Oh!" Pink looked properly impressed. "If it isn't too
personal - er - is there a - that is, are you - - "

"An outlaw?" Cal assisted. "I sure am - and then some. I'm wanted for
perjury in South Dakota, manslaughter in Texas, and bigamy in Utah.
I'm all bad."

"Oh, I hope not!" Pink looked distressed. "I'm very sorry," he added
simply, "and I hope the posses won't chase you."

Cal shook his head very, very gravely. "You can't most always tell,"
he declared gloomily. "I expect I'll have an invite to a
necktie-party some day."

"I've been to necktie-parties myself." Pink brightened visibly. "I
don't like them; you always get the wrong girl."

"I don't like 'em, either," agreed Cal. "I'm always afraid the wrong
necktie will be mine. Were you ever lynched?"

Pink moved uneasily. "I - I don't remember that I ever was," he
answered guardedly.

"I was. My gang come along and cut me down just as I was about all in.
I was leading a gang - - "

"Excuse me a minute," Pink interrupted hurriedly. "I think the
overseer is motioning for me."

He hastened over to where Chip was standing alone, and asked if he
should change his clothes and get ready to go to work.

Chip told him it wouldn't be a bad idea, and Pink, carrying his haughty
suit-case and another bulky bundle, disappeared precipitately into the
bed-tent.

"By golly!" spoke up Slim, "it looks good enough to eat."

"Where did yuh pluck that modest flower, Chip?" Jack Bates wanted to
know.

Chip calmly sifted some tobacco in a paper. "I picked it in town," he
told them. "I hired it to punch cows, and its name is - wait a minute."
He put away the tobacco sack, got out his book, and turned the leaves.
"Its name is Percival Cadwallader Perkins."

"Oh, mamma! Percival Cadwolloper - what?" Weary looked utterly at sea.

"Perkins," supplied Chip.

"Percival - Cad-wolloper - Perkins," Weary mused aloud. "Yuh want to
double the guard to-night, Chip; that name'll sure stampede the bunch."

"He's sure a sweet young thing - mamma's precious lamb broke out uh the
home corral!" said Jack Bates. "I'll bet yuh a tall, yellow-haired
mamma with flowing widow's weeds'll be out here hunting him up inside a
week. We got to be gentle with him, and not rub none uh the bloom uh
innocence off his rosy cheek. Mamma had a little lamb, his cheeks were
red and rosy. And everywhere that mamma went - er - everywhere - that
mamma - went - - "

"The lamb was sure to mosey," supplied Weary.

"By golly! yuh got that backward," Slim objected. "It ought uh be:
Everywhere the lambie went; his mamma was sure to mosey."

The reappearance of Pink cut short the discussion. Pink as he had
looked before was pretty as a poster. Pink as he reappeared would have
driven a matinee crowd wild with enthusiasm. On the stage he would be
in danger of being Hobsonized; in the Flying U camp the Happy Family
looked at him and drew a long breath. When his back was turned, they
shaded their eyes ostentatiously from the blaze of his splendor.

He still wore his panama, and the dainty pink-and-white striped silk
shirt, the gray trousers, and russet-leather belt with silver buckle.
But around his neck, nestling under his rounded chin, was a gorgeous
rose-pink silk handkerchief, of the hue that he always wore, and that
had given him the nickname of "Pink."

His white hands were hidden in a pair of wonderful silk-embroidered
buckskin gauntlets. His gray trousers were tucked into number four tan
riding-boots, high as to heel - so high that they looked two sizes
smaller - and gorgeous as to silk-stitched tops. A shiny, new pair of
silver-mounted spurs jingled from his heels.

He smiled trustfully at Chip, and leaned, with the studiously graceful
pose of the stage, against a hind wheel of the mess-wagon. Then he got
papers and tobacco from a pocket of the silk shirt and began to roll a
cigarette. Inwardly he hoped that the act would not give him away to
the Happy Family, whom he felt in honor bound to deceive, and bewailed
the smoke-hunger that drove him to take the risk.

The Happy Family, however, was unsuspicious. His pink-and-white
prettiness, his clothes, and the baby innocence of his dimples and his
long-lashed blue eyes branded him unequivocally in their eyes as the
tenderest sort of tenderfoot.

"Get onto the way he rolls 'em - backward!" murmured Weary into Cal's
ear.

"If there's anything I hate," Cal remarked irrelevantly to the crowd,
"it's to see a girl chewing a tutti-frutti cud - or smoking a cigarette!"

Pink looked up from under his thick lashes and opened his lips to
speak, then thought better of it. The jingling of the cavvy coming in
cut short the incipient banter, and Pink turned and watched intently
the corralling process. To him the jangling bells were sweetest music,
for which ears and heart had hungered long, and which had come to him
often in dreams. His blood tingled as might a lover's when his
sweetheart approaches.

"Weary, you and Cal better relieve the boys on herd," Chip called.
"I'll get you a horse, P - Perkins" - he had almost said "Pink" - "and you
can go along. Then to-night you'll go on guard with Cal."

"Yes, sir," said Pink, with a docility that would have amazed any who
knew him well, and followed Chip out to the corral, where Cal and Weary
were already inside with their ropes, among the circling mass.

Chip led out a gentle little cow-pony that could almost day-herd
without a rider of any sort, and Pink bridled him before the covertly
watching crew. He did not do it as quickly as he might have done, for
he "played to the gallery" and deliberately fumbled the buckle and
pinned one ear of the pony down flat with the head-stall.

A new saddle, stiff and unbroken, is ever a vexation unto its proud
owner, and its proper adjustment requires time and much language. Pink
omitted the language, so that the process took longer than it would
naturally have done; but Cal and Weary, upon their mounts, made
cigarettes and waited, with an air of endurance, and gave Pink much
advice. Then he got somehow into the saddle and flapped elbows beside
them, looking like a gorgeous-hued canary with wings a-flutter.

Happy Jack, who had been standing herd disconsolately with two aliens,
stared open-mouthed at Pink's approach and rode hastily to camp, fair
bursting with questions and comments.

The herd, twelve hundred range-fattened steers, grazed quietly on a
side hill half a mile or more from camp. Pink ran a quick, appraising
eye over the bunch estimating correctly the number, and noting their
splendid condition.

"Never saw so many cattle in one bunch before, did yuh?" queried Cal,
misinterpreting the glance.

Pink shook his head vaguely. "Does one man own all those cows?" he
wanted to know, with just the proper amount of incredulous wonder.

"Yeah - and then some. This ain't any herd at all; just a few that
we're shipping to get 'em out uh the way uh the real herds."

"About how many do you think there are here?" asked Pink.

Cal turned his back upon his conscience and winked at Weary. "Oh,
there's only nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty-one," he lied
boldly. "Last bunch we gathered was fifty-one thousand six hundred and
twenty-nine and a half. Er - the half," he explained hastily in answer
to Pink's look of unbelief, "was a calf that we let in by mistake. I
caught it, after we counted, and took it back to its mother."

"I should think," Pink ventured hesitatingly, "it would be hard to find
its mother. I don't see how you could tell."

"Well," said Cal gravely, sliding sidewise in the saddle, "it's this
way. A calf is always just like its mother, hair for hair. This calf
had white hind feet, one white ear, and the deuce uh diamonds on its
left side. All I had to do was ride the range till I found the cow
that matched."

"Oh!" Pink looked thoughtful and convinced.

Weary, smiling to himself, rode off to take his station at the other
side of the herd. Even the Happy Family must place duty a pace before
pleasure, and Cal, much as he would liked to have continued the
conversation, resisted temptation and started down along the nearest
edge of the bunch. Pink showed inclination to follow.

"You stay where you're at, sonny," Cal told him, over his shoulder.

"What must I do?" Pink straightened his tie and set his panama more
firmly on his yellow curls, for a brisk wind was blowing.

Cal's voice came back to him faintly: "Just dub around here and don't
do a darn thing; and don't bother the cattle."

"Good advice, that," Pink commented amusedly. "Hits day-herding off to
a T." He prepared for a lazy afternoon, and enjoyed every minute.

On his way back to camp at suppertime, Pink rode close to Cal and
looked as if he had something on his mind. Cal and Weary exchanged
glances.

"I'd like to ask," Pink began timidly, "how you fed that calf - before
you found his mother. Didn't he get pretty hungry?"

"Why, I carried a bottle uh milk along," Cal lied fluently. "When the
bottle went empty I'd catch a cow and milk it."

"Would it stand without being tied?"

"Sure. All range cows'll gentle right down, if yuh know the right way
to approach 'em, and the words to say. That's a secret that we don't
tell anybody that hasn't been a cowboy for a year, and rode fourteen
broncos straight up. Sorry I can't tell yuh."

Pink went diplomatically back to the calf. "Did you carry it in your
arms, or - "

"The calf? Sure. How else would I carry it?" Cal's big, baby-blue
eyes matched Pink's for innocence. "I carried that bossy in my arms
for three days," he declared solemnly, "before I found a cow with white
hind feet, one white ear, and the deuce uh - er - clubs - - "

"Diamonds" corrected Pink, drinking in each word greedily.

"That's it: diamonds, on its right hind - er - shoulders - - "

"The calf's was on its left side," reminded Pink reproachfully. "I
don't believe you found the right mother, after all!"

"Yeah, I sure did, all right," contended Cal earnestly. "I know,
'cause she was that grateful, when she seen me heave in sight over a
hill a mile away, she come up on the gallop, a-bawling, and - er - licked
my hand!"

That settled it, of course. Pink dismounted stiffly and walked
painfully to the cook-tent. Ten months out of saddle - with a new,
unbroken one to begin on again - told, even upon Pink, and made for
extreme discomfort.

When he had eaten, hungrily and in silence, responding to the mildly
ironical sociability of his fellows with a brevity which only his soft
voice saved from bruskness, he unrolled his new bed and lay down with
not a thought for the part he was playing. He heard with absolute
indifference Weary's remark outside, that "Cadwolloper's about all in;
day-herding's too strenuous for him." The last that came to him, some
one was chanting relishfully:

Mamma had a precious lamby his cheeks were red and rosy;
And when he rode the festive bronk, he tumbled on his nosey.

There was more; but Pink had gone to sleep, and so missed it.

At sundown he awoke and went out to saddle the night horse Chip had
caught for him, and then went to bed again. When shaken gently for
middle guard, he dressed sleepily, added a pair of white Angora chaps
to his afternoon attire, and stumbled out into the murky moonlight.

Guided and coached by Cal, he took his station and began that
monotonous round which had been a part of the life he loved best.
Though stiff and sore from unaccustomed riding, Pink felt quite content
to be where he was; to watch the quiet land and the peaceful,
slumbering herd; with the drifting gray clouds above, and the moon
swimming, head under, in their midst. Twice in a complete round he met
Cal, going in opposite direction. At the second round Cal stopped him.

"How yuh coming?" he queried cheerfully.

"All right, thank you," said Pink.

"Yuh want to watch out for a lop-horned critter over on the other
side," Cal went on, in confidential tone. "He keeps trying to sneak
out uh the bunch. Don't let him get away; if he goes, take after him
and fog him back."

"He won't get away from me, if I can help it," Pink promised, and Cal
rode on, with Pink smiling maliciously after him.

As he neared the opposite side, a dim shape angled slowly out before
him, moving aimlessly away from the sleeping herd. Pink followed.
Farther they went, and faster. Into a little hollow went the
"critter", and circled. Pink took down his rope, let loose a good ten
feet of it, and spurred unexpectedly close to it.

Whack! The rope landed with precision on the bowed shoulders of Cal.
"Yuh will try to fool your betters, will yuh?" Whack! "I guess I can
point out a critter that won't stray out uh the bunch again fer a
spell!" Whack!

Cal straightened, gasping astonishment, in the saddle, pulled up with a
jerk, and got off, in unlovely mood.

"And I can point to a little mamma's lamb that won't take down his rope
to his betters again, either!" he cried angrily. "Climb down and get
your ears cuffed proper, yuh darned, pink little smart Aleck; or them
shiny heels'll break your pretty neck. Thump me with a rope, will yuh?"

Pink got down. Immediately after, to use a slang term, they "mixed."
Presently Cal, stretched the long length of him in the grass, with Pink
sitting comfortably upon his middle, looked up at the dizzying swim of
the moon, saw new and uncharted stars, and nearer, dimly revealed in
the half-light, the self-satisfied, cherubic face of Pink.

He essayed to rise and continue the discussion, and discovered a quite
surprising state of affairs. He could scarcely move: and the more he
tried the more painful became Pink's diabolical hold of him. He
blinked and puzzled over the mystery.

"Of all the bone-headed, feeble-minded sons-uh-guns it's ever been my
duty and pleasure to reconstruct," announced Pink melodiously, "you
sure take the sour-dough biscuit. You're a song that's been tried on
the cattle and failed t' connect. You're the last wail of a coyote
dying in the dim distance. For a man that's been lynched and cut down
and waiting for another yank, you certainly - are - mild! You're the
tamest thing that ever happened. A lady could handle yuh with safety
and ease. You're a children's playmate. For a deep-dyed desperado
that's wanted for manslaughter in Texas, perjury in South Dakota, and
bigamy in Utah, you're the last feeble whisper of a summer breeze.
_You_ cuff my ears proper? Oh, my! and oh, fudge! It is to laugh!"

Cat, battered as to features and bewildered as to mind, blinked again
and grinned feebly.

"Yuh try an old gag that I wore out on humans of your ilk in Wyoming,"
went on Pink, warming to the subject. "Yuh load me with stuff that
would bring the heehaw from a sheep-herder. Yuh can't even lie
consistent to a pilgrim. You're a story that's been told and
forgotten, a canto that won't rhyme, blank verse with club feet.
You're the last, horrible example of a declining race. You're extinct."

"Say" - Pink's fists kneaded energetically Cal's suffering
diaphragm. - "are yuh - all - ba-a-d?"

"Oh, Lord! No. I'm dead gentle. Lemme up."

"D'yuh think that critter will quit the bunch ag'in to-night?"

"He ain't liable to," Cal assured him meekly. "Say, who the devil are
yuh anyhow?"

"I'm Percival Cadwallader Perkins. Do yuh like that name? Do yuh
think it drips sweetness and poetry, like a card uh honey?"

"_Ouch_! It - it's _swell_!"

"You're a dam' liar," declared Pink, getting up. "Furthermore, yuh old
chuckle-head, yuh ought t' know better than try t' run any ranikaboos
on me. I've got your pedigree, right back to the Flood; and it's safe
betting yuh got mine, and don't know it. Your best girl happens to be
my cousin."

Cal scrambled slowly and painfully to his feet. "Then you're Milk
River Pink. I might uh guessed it," he sighed.

"I cannot tell a lie," Pink averred. "Only, plain Pink'll do for me.
Where d'yuh suppose the bunch is by this time?"

They mounted and rode back together. Cal was deeply thoughtful.

"Say," he said suddenly, just as they parted to ride their rounds, "the
boys'll be tickled plumb to death. We've been wishing you'd blow in
here ever since the Cross L quit the country."

Pink drew rein and looked back, resting one hand on the cantle. "My
gentle friend," he warned, "yuh needn't break your neck spreading the
glad tidings. Yuh better let them frivolous youths wise-up in their
own playful way, same as you done."

"Sure," agreed Cal, passing his fingers gingerly over certain portions
of his face. "I ain't a hog. I'm willing they should have some sport
with yuh, too."

Next morning, when Cal appeared at breakfast with a slight limp and
several inches of cuticle missing from his features, the Happy Family
learned that his horse had fallen down with him as he was turning a
stray back into the herd.

Chip looked up quizzically and then hid a smile behind his coffee-cup.

It was Weary that afternoon on dayherd who indulged his mendacity for
the benefit of Pink; and his remarks were but paving-stones for a
scheme hatched overnight by the Happy Family.

Weary began by looking doleful and emptying his lungs in sighs deep and
sorrowful. When Pink, rising obligingly to the bait, asked him if he
felt bad. Weary only sighed the more. Then, growing confidential, he
told how he had dreamed a dream the night before. With picturesque
language, he detailed the horror of it. He was guilty of murder, he
confessed, and the crime weighed heavily on his conscience.

"Not only that," he went on, "but I know that death is camping on my
trail. That dream haunts me. I feel that my days are numbered in
words uh one syllable. That dream'll come true; you see if it don't!"

"I - I wouldn't worry over just a bad dream, Mr. Weary," comforted Pink.

"But that ain't all. I woke up in a cold sweat, and went outside. And
there in the clouds, perfect as life, I seen a posse uh men galloping
up from the South. Down South," he explained sadly, "sleeps my
victim - a white-headed, innocent old man. That posse is sure headed
for me, Mr. Perkins."

"Still, it was only clouds."

"Wait till I tell yuh," persisted Weary, stubbornly refusing comfort.
"When I got up this morning I put my boots on the wrong feet; that's a
sure sign that your dream'll come true. At breakfast I upset the can
uh salt; which is bad luck. Mr. Perkins, I'm a lost man."

Pink's eyes widened; he looked like a child listening to a story of
goblins. "If I can help you, Mr. Weary, I will," he promised
generously.

"Will yuh be my friend? Will yuh let me lean on yuh in my dark hours?"
Weary's voice shook with emotion.

Pink said that he would, and he seemed very sympathetic and anxious for
Weary's safety. Several times during their shift Weary rode around to
where Pink was sitting uneasily his horse, and spoke feelingly of his
crime and the black trouble that loomed so closer and told Pink how
much comfort it was to be able to talk confidentially with a friend.

When Pink went out that night to stand his shift, he found Weary at his
side instead of Cal. Weary explained that Cal was feeling pretty bum
on account of that fall he had got, and, as Weary couldn't sleep,
anyway, he had offered to stand in Cal's place. Pink scented mischief.

This night the moon shone brightly at intervals, with patches of
silvery clouds racing before the wind and chasing black splotches of
shadows over the sleeping land. For all that, the cattle lay quiet,
and the monotony of circling the herd was often broken by Weary and
Pink with little talks, as they turned and rode together.

"Mr. Perkins, fate's a-crowding me close," said Weary gloomily, when an
hour had gone by. "I feel as if - what's that?"

Voices raised in excited talk came faintly and fitfully on the wind.
Weary turned his horse, with a glance toward the cattle, and, beckoning
Pink to follow, rode out to the right.

"It's the posse!" he hissed. "They'll go to the herd so look for me.
Mr. Perkins, the time has come to fly. If only I had a horse that
could drift!"

Pink thought he caught the meaning. "Is - is mine any good, Mr. Weary?"
he quavered. "If he is, you - you can have him. I - I'll stay and - and
fool them as - long as I can."

"Perkins," said Weary solemnly, "you're sure all right! Let that posse
think you're the man they want for half an hour, and I'm safe. I'll
never forget yuh!"

He had not thought of changing horses, but the temptation mastered him.
He was riding a little sorrel, Glory by name, that could beat even the
Happy Family itself for unexpected deviltry. Yielding to Pink's
persuasions, he changed mounts, clasped Pink's hand affectionately, and
sped away just as the posse appeared over a rise, riding furiously.

Pink, playing his part, started toward them, then wheeled and sped away
in the direction that would lead them off Weary's trail. That is, he
sped for ten rods or so. After that he seemed to revolve on an axis,
and there was an astonishing number of revolutions to the minute.

The stirrups were down in the dark somewhere below the farthest reach
of Pink's toes - he never once located them. But Pink was not known all
over Northern Montana as a "bronco-peeler" for nothing. He surprised
Glory even more than that deceitful bit of horseflesh had surprised
Pink. While his quirt swung methodically, he looked often over his
shoulder for the posse, and wondered that it did not appear.

The posse, however, was at that moment having troubles of its own.
Happy Jack, not having a night horse saddled, had borrowed one not
remarkable for its sure-footedness. No sooner had they sighted their
quarry than Jack's horse stepped in a hole and went head-long - which
was bad enough. When he got up he planted a foot hastily on Jack's
diaphragm and then bolted straight for the peacefully slumbering
herd - which was worse.

With stirrup-straps snapping like pistol-shots, he tore down through
the dreaming cattle, with none to stop him or say him nay. The herd
did not wait for explanations; as the posse afterward said, it quit the
earth, while they gathered around the fallen Jack and tried to discover
if it was a doctor or coroner that was needed.

When Jack came up sputtering sand and profane words, there was no herd,
no horse and no Pink anywhere in that portion of Chouteau County.
Weary came back, laughing at the joke and fully expecting to see Pink a
prisoner. When he saw how things stood, he said "Mamma mine!" and
headed for camp on a run. The others deployed to search the range for
a beef-herd, strayed, and with no tag for its prompt delivery.

Weary crept into the bed-tent and got Chip by the shoulder. Chip sat
up, instantly wide-awake. "What's the matter?" he demanded sharply.

"Chip, we - we've lost Cadwolloper!" Weary's voice was tragic.

"Hell!" snapped Chip, lying down again. "Don't let that worry yuh."

"And we've lost the herd, too," added Weary mildly.

Chip got up and stayed up, and some of his remarks, Weary afterward
reported, were scandalous.

There was another scene at sunrise that the Happy Family voted
scandalous - and that was when they rode into a little coulee and came
upon the herd, quietly grazing, and Pink holding them, with each blue
eye a volcano shooting wrath.

"Yuh knock-kneed bunch uh locoed sheep-herders!" he greeted spitefully,
"if yuh think yuh can saw off on your foolery and hold this herd, I'll
go and get something to eat. When I come to this outfit t' work, I
naturally s'posed yuh was cow-punchers. Yuh ain't. Yuh couldn't hold
a bunch uh sick lambs inside a high board corral with the gate shut and
locked on the outside. When it comes t' cow-science, you're the limit.
Yuh couldn't earn your board on a ten-acre farm in Maine, driving one
milk-cow and a yearling calf t' pasture and back. You're a hot bunch
uh rannies - I don't think! Up on Milk River they'd put bells on every
dam' one uh yuh t' keep yuh from getting lost going from the mess-house
t' the corral and back. And, Mr. Weary, next time yuh give a man a
horse t' fall off from, for the Lord's sake don't put him on a gentle
old skate that would be pickings for a two-year-old kid. I thought
this here Glory'd give a man something to do, from all the yawping I've


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Online LibraryB.M. BowerThe Lonesome Trail and Other Stories → online text (page 8 of 12)