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The Long Shadow online

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I Charming Billy Has a Visitor

II Prune Pie and Coon-can

III Charming Billy Has a Fight

IV Canned

V The Man From Michigan

VI "That's My Dill Pickle!"

VII "Till Hell's a Skating-rink"

VIII Just a Day-dream

IX The "Double-Crank"

X The Day We Celebrate

XI "When I Lift My Eyebrows This Way"

XII Dilly Hires a Cook

XIII Billy Meets the Pilgrim

XIV A Winter at the Double-Crank

XV The Shadow Falls Lightly

XVI Self-Defense

XVII The Shadow Darkens

XVIII When the North Wind Blows

XIX "I'm Not Your Wife Yet!"

XX The Shadow Lies Long

XXI The End of the Double-Crank

XXII Settled In Full

XXIII "Oh, Where Have You Been, Charming Billy?"


"I'll leave you this, you'll feel safer if you have a gun"

"Hands off that long person! That there's _my_ dill pickle"

"We - we're 'up against it,' as fellows say"

For every sentence a stinging blow with the flat of his hand

A GUN." _Frontispiece_.]


_Charming Billy Has a Visitor._

The wind, rising again as the sun went down, mourned lonesomely at the
northwest corner of the cabin, as if it felt the desolateness of the
barren, icy hills and the black hollows between, and of the angry red
sky with its purple shadows lowering over the unhappy land - and would
make fickle friendship with some human thing. Charming Billy, hearing
the crooning wail of it, knew well the portent and sighed. Perhaps he,
too, felt something of the desolateness without and perhaps he, too,
longed for some human companionship.

He sent a glance of half-conscious disapproval around the untidy
cabin. He had been dreaming aimlessly of a place he had seen not so
long ago; a place where the stove was black and shining, with a fire
crackling cheeringly inside and a teakettle with straight, unmarred
spout and dependable handle singing placidly to itself and puffing
steam with an air of lazy comfort, as if it were smoking a cigarette.
The stove had stood in the southwest corner of the room, and the room
was warm with the heat of it; and the floor was white and had a strip
of rag carpet reaching from the table to a corner of the stove. There
was a red cloth with knotted fringe on the table, and a bed in another
corner had a red-and-white patchwork spread and puffy white pillows.
There had been a woman - but Charming Billy shut his eyes, mentally, to
the woman, because he was not accustomed to them and he was not at
all sure that he wanted to be accustomed; they did not fit in with the
life he lived. He felt dimly that, in a way, they were like the
heaven his mother had taught him - altogether perfect and altogether
unattainable and not to be thought of with any degree of familiarity.
So his memory of the woman was indistinct, as of something which did
not properly belong to the picture. He clung instead to the memory of
the warm stove, and the strip of carpet, and the table with the red
cloth, and to the puffy, white pillows on the bed.

The wind mourned again insistently at the corner. Billy lifted
his head and looked once more around the cabin. The reality was
depressing - doubly depressing in contrast to the memory of that other
room. A stove stood in the southwest corner, but it was not black
and shining; it was rust-red and ash-littered, and the ashes had
overflowed the hearth and spilled to the unswept floor. A dented
lard-pail without a handle did meagre duty as a teakettle, and
balanced upon a corner of the stove was a dirty frying pan. The fire
had gone dead and the room was chill with the rising of the wind.
The table was filled with empty cans and tin plates and cracked,
oven-stained bowls and iron-handled knives and forks, and the bunk in
the corner was a tumble of gray blankets and unpleasant, red-flowered
comforts - corner-wads, Charming Billy was used to calling them - and
for pillows there were two square, calico-covered cushions,
depressingly ugly in pattern and not over-clean.

Billy sighed again, threaded a needle with coarse, black thread and
attacked petulantly a long rent in his coat. "Darn this bushwhacking
all over God's earth after a horse a man can't stay with, nor even
hold by the bridle reins," he complained dispiritedly. "I could uh
cleaned the blamed shack up so it would look like folks was living
here - and I woulda, if I didn't have to set all day and toggle up the
places in my clothes" - Billy muttered incoherently over a knot in his
thread. "I've been plumb puzzled, all winter, to know whether it's man
or cattle I'm supposed to chappyrone. If it's man, this coat has sure
got the marks uh the trade, all right." He drew the needle spitefully
through the cloth.

The wind gathered breath and swooped down upon the cabin so that
Billy felt the jar of it. "I don't see what's got the matter of the
weather," he grumbled. "Yuh just get a chinook that starts water
running down the coulées, and then the wind switches and she freezes
up solid - and that means tailing-up poor cows and calves by the
dozen - and for your side-partner yuh get dealt out to yuh a pilgrim
that don't know nothing and can't ride a wagon seat, hardly, and
that's bound to keep a _dawg_! And the Old Man stands for that kind uh
thing and has forbid accidents happening to it - oh, hell!"

This last was inspired by a wriggling movement under the bunk. A black
dog, of the apologetic drooping sort that always has its tail sagging
and matted with burrs, crawled out and sidled past Billy with a
deprecating wag or two when he caught his unfriendly glance, and
shambled over to the door that he might sniff suspiciously the cold
air coming in through the crack beneath.

Billy eyed him malevolently. "A dog in a line-camp is a plumb
disgrace! I don't see why the Old Man stands for it - or the Pilgrim,
either; it's a toss-up which is the worst. Yuh smell him coming, do
yuh?" he snarled. "It's about _time_ he was coming - me here eating
dried apricots and tapioca steady diet (nobody but a pilgrim would
fetch tapioca into a line-camp, and if he does it again you'll sure
be missing the only friend yuh got) and him gone four days when he'd
oughta been back the second. Get out and welcome him, darn yuh!"
He gathered the coat under one arm that he might open the door, and
hurried the dog outside with a threatening boot toe. The wind whipped
his brown cheeks so that he closed the door hastily and retired to the
cheerless shelter of the cabin.

"Another blizzard coming, if I know the signs. And if the Pilgrim
don't show up to-night with the grub and tobacco - But I reckon the
dawg smelt him coming, all right." He fingered uncertainly a very
flabby tobacco sack, grew suddenly reckless and made himself an
exceedingly thin cigarette with the remaining crumbs of tobacco
and what little he could glean from the pockets of the coat he was
mending. Surely, the Pilgrim would remember his tobacco! Incapable
as he was, he could scarcely forget that, after the extreme emphasis
Charming Billy had laid upon the getting, and the penalties attached
to its oversight.

Outside, the dog was barking spasmodically; but Billy, being a product
of the cattle industry pure and simple, knew not the way of dogs.
He took it for granted that the Pilgrim was arriving with the grub,
though he was too disgusted with his delay to go out and make sure.
Dogs always barked at everything impartially - when they were not
gnawing surreptitiously at bones or snooping in corners for scraps,
or planting themselves deliberately upon your clothes. Even when the
noise subsided to throaty growls he failed to recognize the symptoms;
he was taking long, rapturous mouthfuls of smoke and gazing dreamily
at his coat, for it was his first cigarette since yesterday.

When some one rapped lightly he jumped, although he was not a man who
owned unsteady nerves. It was very unusual, that light tapping. When
any one wanted to come in he always opened the door without further
ceremony. Still, there was no telling what strange freak might impel
the Pilgrim - he who insisted on keeping a dog in a line-camp! - so
Billy recovered himself and called out impatiently: "Aw, come on in!
Don't be a plumb fool," and never moved from his place.

The door opened queerly; slowly, and with a timidity not at all in
keeping with the blundering assertiveness of the Pilgrim. When a young
woman showed for a moment against the bleak twilight and then stepped
inside, Charming Billy caught at the table for support, and the coat
he was holding dropped to the floor. He did not say a word: he just

The girl closed the door behind her with something of defiance,
that did not in the least impose upon one. "Good evening," she said
briskly, though even in his chaotic state of mind Billy felt the
tremble in her voice. "It's rather late for making calls, but - " She
stopped and caught her breath nervously, as if she found it impossible
to go on being brisk and at ease. "I was riding, and my horse slipped
and hurt himself so he couldn't walk, and I saw this cabin from up on
the hill over there. So I came here, because it was so far home - and I
thought - maybe - " She looked with big, appealing brown eyes at Billy,
who felt himself a brute without in the least knowing why. "I'm Flora
Bridger; you know, my father has taken up a ranch over on Shell Creek,
and - "

"I'm very glad to meet you," said Charming Billy stammeringly. "Won't
you sit down? I - I wish I'd known company was coming." He smiled
reassuringly, and then glanced frowningly around the cabin. Even for
a line-camp, he told himself disgustedly, it was "pretty sousy." "You
must be cold," he added, seeing her glance toward the stove. "I'll
have a fire going right away; I've been pretty busy and just let
things slide." He threw the un-smoked half of his cigarette into the
ashes and felt not a quiver of regret. He knew who she was, now; she
was the daughter he had heard about, and who belonged to the place
where the stove was black and shining and the table had a red cloth
with knotted fringe. It must have been her mother whom he had seen
there - but she had looked very young to be mother of a young lady.

Charming Billy brought himself rigidly to consider the duties of a
host; swept his arm across a bench to clear it of sundry man garments,
and asked her again to sit down. When she did so, he saw that her
fingers were clasped tightly to hold her from shivering, and he raved
inwardly at his shiftlessness the while he hurried to light a fire in
the stove.

"Too bad your horse fell," he remarked stupidly, gathering up the
handful of shavings he had whittled from a piece of pine board. "I
always hate to see a horse get hurt." It was not what he had wanted
to say, but he could not seem to put just the right thing into words.
What he wanted was to make her feel that there was nothing out of the
ordinary in her being there, and that he was helpful and sympathetic
without being in the least surprised. In all his life on the range he
had never had a young woman walk into a line-camp at dusk - a strange
young woman who tried pitifully to be at ease and whose eyes gave the
lie to her manner - and he groped confusedly for just the right way in
which to meet the situation.

"I know your father," he said, fanning a tiny blaze among the shavings
with his hat, which had been on his head until he remembered and
removed it in deference to her presence. "But I ain't a very good
neighbor, I guess; I never seem to have time to be sociable. It's
lucky your horse fell close enough so yuh could walk in to camp; I've
had that happen to me more than once, and it ain't never pleasant - but
it's worse when there ain't any camp to walk to. I've had that happen,

The fire was snapping by then, and manlike he swept the ashes to the
floor. The girl watched him, politely disapproving. "I don't want to
be a trouble," she said, with less of constraint; for Charming Billy,
whether he knew it or not, had reassured her immensely. "I know men
hate to cook, so when I get warm, and the water is hot, I'll cook
supper for you," she offered. "And then I won't mind having you help
me to get home."

"I guess it won't be any trouble - but I don't mind cooking. You - you
better set still and rest," murmured Charming Billy, quite red. Of
course, she would want supper - and there were dried apricots, and a
very little tapioca! He felt viciously that he could kill the Pilgrim
and be glad. The Pilgrim was already two days late with the supplies
he had been sent after because he was not to be trusted with the
duties pertaining to a line-camp - and Billy had not the wide charity
that could conjure excuses for the delinquent.

"I'll let you wash the dishes," promised Miss Bridger generously. "But
I'll cook the supper - really, I want to, you know. I won't say I'm
not hungry, because I am. This Western air does give one _such_ an
appetite, doesn't it? And then I walked miles, it seems to me; so that
ought to be an excuse, oughtn't it? Now, if you'll show me where the
coffee is - "

She had risen and was looking at him expectantly, with a half smile
that seemed to invite one to comradeship. Charming Billy looked at her
helplessly, and turned a shade less brown.

"The - there isn't any," he stammered guiltily. "The Pilgrim - I mean
Walland - Fred Walland - "

"It doesn't matter in the least," Miss Bridger assured him hastily.
"One can't keep everything in the house all the time, so far from any
town. We're often out of things, at home. Last week, only, I upset the
vanilla bottle, and then we were completely out of vanilla till just
yesterday." She smiled again confidingly, and Billy tried to seem very
sympathetic - though of a truth, to be out of vanilla did not at that
moment seem to him a serious catastrophe. "And really, I like tea
better, you know. I only said coffee because father told me cowboys
drink it a great deal. Tea is so much quicker and easier to make."

Billy dug his nails into his palms. "There - Miss Bridger," he blurted
desperately, "I've got to tell yuh - there isn't a thing in the shack
except some dried apricots - and maybe a spoonful or two of tapioca.
The Pilgrim - " He stopped to search his brain for words applicable to
the Pilgrim and still mild enough for the ears of a lady.

"Well, never mind. We can rough it - it will be lots of fun!" the girl
laughed so readily as almost to deceive Billy, standing there in his
misery. That a woman should come to him for help, and he not even able
to give her food, was almost unbearable. It were well for the Pilgrim
that Charming Billy Boyle could not at that moment lay hands upon him.

"It will be fun," she laughed again in his face. "If the - the
grubstake is down to a whisper (that's the way you say it, isn't it?)
there will be all the more credit coming to the cook when you see all
the things she can do with dried apricots and tapioca. May I rummage?"

"Sure," assented Billy, dazedly moving aside so that she might reach
the corner where three boxes were nailed by their bottoms to the wall,
curtained with gayly flowered calico and used for a cupboard. "The
Pilgrim," he began for the third time to explain, "went after grub
and is taking his time about getting back. He'd oughta been here day
before yesterday. We might eat his dawg," he suggested, gathering
spirit now that her back was toward him.

Her face appeared at one side of the calico curtain. "I know something
better than eating the dog," she announced triumphantly. "Down there
in the willows where I crossed the creek - I came down that low, saggy
place in the hill - I saw a lot of chickens or something - partridges,
maybe you call them - roosting in a tree with their feathers all puffed
out. It's nearly dark, but they're worth trying for, don't you think?
That is, if you have a gun," she added, as if she had begun to realize
how meagre were his possessions. "If you don't happen to have one, we
can do all right with what there is here, you know."

Billy flushed a little, and for answer took down his gun and belt from
where they hung upon the wall, buckled the belt around his slim middle
and picked up his hat. "If they're there yet, I'll get some, sure,"
he promised. "You just keep the fire going till I come back, and I'll
wash the dishes. Here, I'll shut the dawg in the house; he's always
plumb crazy with ambition to do just what yuh don't want him to do,
and I don't want him following." He smiled upon her again (he was
finding that rather easy to do) and closed the door lingeringly behind
him. Having never tried to analyze his feelings, he did not wonder why
he stepped so softly along the frozen path that led to the stable, or
why he felt that glow of elation which comes to a man only when he has
found something precious in his sight.

"I wish I hadn't eat the last uh the flour this morning," he regretted
anxiously. "I coulda made some bread; there's a little yeast powder
left in the can. Darn the Pilgrim!"


_Prune Pie and Coon-can._

Of a truth, Charming Billy Boyle, living his life in the wide land
that is too big and too far removed from the man-made world for any
but the strong of heart, knew little indeed of women - her kind of
women. When he returned with two chickens and found that the floor had
been swept so thoroughly as to look strange to him, and that all his
scattered belongings were laid in a neat pile upon the foot of the
bunk which was unfamiliar under straightened blankets and pitifully
plumped pillows, he was filled with astonishment. Miss Bridger smiled
a little and went on washing the dishes.

"It's beginning to storm, isn't it?" she remarked. "But we'll eat
chicken stew before we - before I start home. If you have a horse that
I can borrow till morning, father will bring it back."

Billy scattered a handful of feathers on the floor and gained a little
time by stooping to pick them up one by one. "I've been wondering
about that," he said reluctantly. "It's just my luck not to have a
gentle hoss in camp. I've got two, but they ain't safe for women. The
Pilgrim's got one hoss that might uh done if it was here, which it

She looked disturbed, though she tried to hide it. "I can ride pretty
well," she ventured.

Without glancing at her, Charming Billy shook his head. "You're all
right here" - he stopped to pick up more feathers - "and it wouldn't be
safe for yuh to try it. One hoss is mean about mounting; yuh couldn't
get within a rod of him. The other one is a holy terror to pitch when
anything strange gets near him. I wouldn't let yuh try it." Charming
Billy was sorry - that showed in his voice - but he was also firm.

Miss Bridger thoughtfully wiped a tin spoon. Billy gave her a furtive
look and dropped his head at the way the brightness had gone out of
her face. "They'll be worried, at home," she said quietly.

"A little worry beats a funeral," Billy retorted sententiously,
instinctively mastering the situation because she was a woman and he
must take care of her. "I reckon I could - " He stopped abruptly and
plucked savagely at a stubborn wing feather.

"Of course! You could ride over and bring back a horse!" She caught
eagerly at his half-spoken offer. "It's a lot of bother for you, but
I - I'll be very much obliged." Her face was bright again.

"You'd be alone here - "

"I'm not the least bit afraid to stay alone. I wouldn't mind that at

Billy hesitated, met a look in her eyes that he did not like to see
there, and yielded. Obviously, from her viewpoint that was the only
thing to do. A cowpuncher who has ridden the range since he was
sixteen should not shirk a night ride in a blizzard, or fear losing
the trail. It was not storming so hard a man might not ride ten
miles - that is, a man like Charming Billy Boyle.

After that he was in great haste to be gone, and would scarcely wait
until Miss Bridger, proudly occupying the position of cook, told him
that the chicken stew was ready. Indeed, he would have gone without
eating it if she had not protested in a way that made Billy foolishly
glad to submit; as it was, he saddled his horse while he waited, and
reached for his sheepskin-lined, "sour-dough" coat before the last
mouthful was fairly swallowed. At the last minute he unbuckled his gun
belt and held it out to her.

"I'll leave you this," he remarked, with an awkward attempt to appear
careless. "You'll feel safer if you have a gun, and - and if you're
scared at anything, shoot it." He finished with another smile that
lighted wonderfully his face and his eyes.

She shook her head. "I've often stayed alone. There's nothing in the
world to be afraid of - and anyway, I'll have the dog. Thank you, all
the same."

Charming Billy looked at her, opened his mouth and closed it without
speaking. He laid the gun down on the table and turned to go. "If
anything scares yuh," he repeated stubbornly, "shoot it. Yuh don't
want to count too much on that dawg."

He discovered then that Flora Bridger was an exceedingly willful young
woman. She picked up the gun, overtook him, and fairly forced it into
his hands. "Don't be silly; I don't want it. I'm not such a coward as
all that. You must have a very poor opinion of women. I - I'm deadly
afraid of a gun!"

Billy was not particularly impressed by the last statement, but he
felt himself at the end of his resources and buckled the belt around
him without more argument. After all, he told himself, it was not
likely that she would have cause for alarm in the few hours that
he would be gone, and those hours he meant to trim down as much as

Out of the coulée where the high wall broke the force of the storm, he
faced the snow and wind and pushed on doggedly. It was bitter riding,
that night, but he had seen worse and the discomfort of it troubled
him little; it was not the first time he had bent head to snow and
driving wind and had kept on so for hours. What harassed him most were
the icy hills where the chinook had melted the snow, and the north
wind, sweeping over, had frozen it all solid again. He could not ride
as fast as he had counted upon riding, and he realized that it would
be long hours before he could get back to the cabin with a horse from

Billy could not tell when first came the impulse to turn back. It
might have been while he was working his way cautiously up a slippery
coulée side, or it might have come suddenly just when he stopped; for
stop he did (just when he should logically have ridden faster because
the way was smoother) and turned his horse's head downhill.

"If she'd kept the gun - " he muttered, apologizing to himself for
the impulse, and flayed his horse with his _romal_ because he did not
quite understand himself and so was ill at ease. Afterward, when he
was loping steadily down the coulée bottom with his fresh-made tracks
pointing the way before him, he broke out irrelevantly and viciously:
"A real, old range rider yuh can bank on, one way or the other - but
damn a pilgrim!"

The wind and the snow troubled him not so much now that his face was
not turned to meet them, but it seemed to him that the way was rougher
and that the icy spots were more dangerous to the bones of himself and
his horse than when he had come that way before. He did not know why
he need rage at the pace he must at times keep, and it did strike him
as being a foolish thing to do - this turning back when he was almost
halfway to his destination; but for every time he thought that, he
urged his horse more.

The light from the cabin window, twinkling through the storm, cheered
him a little, which was quite as unreasonable as his uneasiness. It
did not, however, cause him to linger at turning his horse into the
stable and shutting the door upon him. When he passed the cabin window
he glanced anxiously in and saw dimly through the half-frosted
glass that Miss Bridger was sitting against the wall by the table,
tight-lipped and watchful. He hurried to the door and pushed it open.

"Why, hello," greeted the Pilgrim uncertainly, The Pilgrim was
standing in the centre of the room, and he did not look particularly
pleased. Charming Billy, every nerve on edge, took in the situation at
a glance, kicked the Pilgrim's dog and shook the snow from his hat.

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