Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Alicia Williams, David King, and the
Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE LONG SHADOW
BY B.M. BOWER
WHO HAVE WATCHED THE SHADOW FALL
UPON THE RANGE.
I Charming Billy Has a Visitor
II Prune Pie and Coon-can
III Charming Billy Has a Fight
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
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?"
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"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
[Illustration: "I'LL LEAVE YOU THIS, YOU'LL FEEL SAFER IF YOU HAVE
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 coulees, 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,
"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
"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
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
"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
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 coulee 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
coulee 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 coulee 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.
"I lost the trail," he lied briefly and went over to the stove. He did
not look at Miss Bridger directly, but he heard the deep breath which
"Well, so did I," the Pilgrim began eagerly, with just the least
slurring of his syllables. "I'd have been here before dark, only one
of the horses slipped and lamed himself. It was much as ever I got
home at all. He come in on three legs, and toward the last them three
like to went back on him."
"Which hoss?" asked Billy, though he felt pessimistically that he knew
without being told. The Pilgrim's answer confirmed his pessimism. Of
course, it was the only gentle horse they had.
"Say, Billy, I forgot your tobacco," drawled the Pilgrim, after a very
short silence which Billy used for much rapid thinking.
Ordinarily, Billy would have considered the over sight as something of
a catastrophe, but he passed it up as an unpleasant detail and turned
to the girl. "It's storming something fierce," he told her in an
exceedingly matter-of-fact way, "but I think it'll let up by daylight
so we can tackle it. Right now it's out of the question; so we'll have
another supper--a regular blowout this time, with coffee and biscuits
and all those luxuries. How are yuh on making biscuits?"
So he got her out of the corner, where she had looked too much at bay
to please him, and in making the biscuits she lost the watchful look
from her eyes. But she was not the Flora Bridger who had laughed at
their makeshifts and helped cook the chicken, and Charming Billy,
raving inwardly at the change, in his heart damned fervently the
In the hours that followed, Billy showed the stuff he was made of. He
insisted upon cooking the things that would take the longest time to
prepare; boasted volubly of the prune pies he could make, and then
set about demonstrating his skill and did not hurry the prunes in the
stewing. He fished out a package of dried lima beans and cooked some
of them, changing the water three times and always adding cold water.
For all that, supper was eventually ready and eaten and the dishes
washed--with Miss Bridger wiping them and with the Pilgrim eying them
both in a way that set on edge the teeth of Charming Billy.
When there was absolutely nothing more to keep them busy, Billy got
the cards and asked Miss Bridger if she could play coon-can--which was
the only game he knew that was rigidly "two-handed." She did not
know the game and he insisted upon teaching her, though the Pilgrim
glowered and hinted strongly at seven-up or something else which they
could all play.
"I don't care for seven-up," Miss Bridger quelled, speaking to him
for the first time since Billy returned. "I want to learn this game
that--er--Billy knows." There was a slight hesitation on the name,
which was the only one she knew to call him by.
The Pilgrim grunted and retired to the stove, rattled the lids
ill-naturedly and smoked a vile cigar which he had brought from town.
After that he sat and glowered at the two.
Billy did the best he could to make the time pass quickly. He had
managed to seat Miss Bridger so that her back was toward the stove and
the Pilgrim, and he did it so unobtrusively that neither guessed his
reason. He taught her coon-can, two-handed whist and Chinese solitaire
before a gray lightening outside proclaimed that the night was over.
Miss Bridger, heavy-eyed and languid, turned her face to the window;
Billy swept the cards together and stacked them with an air of
"I guess we can hit the trail now without losing ourselves," he
remarked briskly. "Pilgrim, come on out and help me saddle up; we'll
see if that old skate of yours is able to travel."
The Pilgrim got up sullenly and went out, and Billy followed him
silently. His own horse had stood with the saddle on all night, and
the Pilgrim snorted when he saw it. But Billy only waited till the
Pilgrim had put his saddle on the gentlest mount they had, then took
the reins from him and led both horses to the door.
"All right," he called to the girl; helped her into the saddle and
started off, with not a word of farewell from Miss Bridger to the
The storm had passed and the air was still and biting cold. The
eastern sky was stained red and purple with the rising sun, and
beneath the feet of their horses the snow creaked frostily. So they
rode down the coulee and then up a long slope to the top, struck the
trail and headed straight north with a low line of hills for their
goal. And in the hour and a half of riding, neither spoke a dozen
At the door of her own home Billy left her, and gathered up the reins
of the Pilgrim's horse. "Well, good-by. Oh, that's all right--it
wasn't any trouble at all," he said huskily when she tried to thank
him, and galloped away.
_Charming Billy Has a Fight._
If Billy Boyle had any ideals he did not recognize them as such, and
he would not have known just how to answer you if you had asked him
what was his philosophy of life. He was range-bred--as purely Western
as were the cattle he tended--but he was not altogether ignorant of
the ways of the world, past or present. He had that smattering of
education which country schools and those of "the county seat" may
give a boy who loves a horse better than books, and who, sitting
hunched behind his geography, dreams of riding afar, of shooting wild
things and of sleeping under the stars.
From the time he was sixteen he had lived chiefly in tents and
line-camp cabins, his world the land of far horizons, of big sins, and
virtues bigger. One creed he owned: to live "square," fight square,
and to be loyal to his friends and his "outfit." Little things did
not count much with him, and for that reason he was the more enraged
against the Pilgrim, because he did not quite know what it was all
about. So far as he had heard or seen, the Pilgrim had offered no
insult to Miss Bridger--"the girl," as he called her simply in
his mind. Still, he had felt all along that the mere presence of the
Pilgrim was an offense to her, no less real because it was intangible
and not to be put into words; and for that offense the Pilgrim must
But for the presence of the Pilgrim, he told himself ill-temperedly,
they might have waited for breakfast; but he had been so anxious to
get her away from under the man's leering gaze that he had not thought
of eating. And if the Pilgrim had been a _man_, he might have sent him
over to Bridger's for her father and a horse. But the Pilgrim would
have lost himself, or have refused to go, and the latter possibility
would have caused a scene unfit for the eyes of a young woman.
So he rode slowly and thought of many things he might have done which
would have been better than what he did do; and wondered what the
girl thought about it and if she blamed him for not doing something
different. And for every mile of the way he cursed the Pilgrim anew.
In that unfriendly mood he opened the door of the cabin, stood a
minute just inside, then closed it after him with a slam. The cabin,
in contrast with the bright light of sun shining on new-fallen snow,
was dark and so utterly cheerless and chill that he shrugged shoulders
impatiently at its atmosphere, which was as intangibly offensive as
had been the conduct of the Pilgrim.
The Pilgrim was sprawled upon the bunk with his face in his arms,
snoring in a peculiarly rasping way that Billy, heavy-eyed as he was,
resented most unreasonably. Also, the untidy table showed that the
Pilgrim had eaten unstintedly--and Billy was exceedingly hungry.
He went over and lifted a snowy boot to the ribs of the sleeper and
commanded him bluntly to "Come alive."
"What-yuh-want?" mumbled the Pilgrim thickly, making one word of the
three and lifting his red-rimmed eyes to the other. He raised to an
elbow with a lazy doubling of his body and stared dully for a space
before he grinned unpleasantly. "Took 'er home all right, did yuh?" he
leered, as if they two were in possession of a huge joke of the kind
which may not be told in mixed company.
If Charming Billy Boyle had needed anything more to stir him to the
fighting point, that one sentence admirably supplied the lack. "Yuh
low-down skunk!" he cried, and struck him full upon the insulting,
smiling mouth. "If I was as rotten-minded as you are, I'd go drown
myself in the stalest alkali hole I could find. I dunno why I'm
dirtying my hands on yuh--yuh ain't fit to be clubbed to death with a
tent pole!" He was, however, using his hands freely and to very good
purpose, probably feeling that, since the Pilgrim was much bigger than
he, there was need of getting a good start.
But the Pilgrim was not the sort to lie on his bunk and take a
thrashing. He came up after the second blow, pushing Billy back with
the very weight of his body, and they were fighting all over the
little cabin, surging against the walls and the table and knocking the
coffee-pot off the stove as they lurched this way and that. Not much
was said after the first outburst of Billy's, save a panting curse now
and then between blows, a threat gasped while they wrestled.
It was the dog, sneaking panther-like behind Billy and setting
treacherous teeth viciously into his leathern chaps, that brought the
crisis. Billy tore loose and snatched his gun from the scabbard at his
hip, held the Pilgrim momentarily at bay with one hand while he took a
shot at the dog, missed, kicked him back from another rush, and turned
again on the Pilgrim.
"Get that dawg outdoors, then," he panted, "or I'll kill him sure."
The Pilgrim, for answer, struck a blow that staggered Billy, and tried
to grab the gun. Billy, hooking a foot around a table-leg, threw it
between them, swept the blood from his eyes and turned his gun once
more on the dog that was watching treacherously for another chance.
"That's the time I got him," he gritted through the smoke, holding
the Pilgrim quiet before him with the gun. "But I've got a heap more
respect for him than I have for you, yuh damn', low-down brute. I'd
ought to kill yuh like I would a coyote. Yuh throw your traps together
and light out uh here, before I forget and shoot yuh up. There ain't
room in this camp for you and me no more."
The Pilgrim backed, eying Billy malevolently. "I never done nothing,"
he defended sullenly. "The boss'll have something to say about
this--and I'll kill you first chance I get, for shooting my dog."
"It ain't what yuh done, it's what yuh woulda done if you'd had the
chance," answered Billy, for the first time finding words for what was
surging bitterly in the heart of him. "And I'm willing to take a whirl
with yuh any old time; any dawg that'll lick the boots of a man like
you had ought to be shot for not having more sense. I ain't saying
anything about him biting me--which I'd kill him for, anyhow. Now,
git! I want my breakfast, and I can't eat with any relish whilst
you're spoiling the air in here for me."
At heart the Pilgrim was a coward as well as a beast, and he packed
his few belongings hurriedly and started for the door.
"Come back here, and drag your dawg outside," commanded Billy, and the
"You'll hear about this later on," he snarled. "The boss won't stand
for anything like this. I never done a thing, and I'm going to tell
"Aw, go on and tell him, yuh--!" snapped Billy. "Only yuh don't want
to get absent-minded enough to come back--not whilst I'm here; things
unpleasant might happen." He stood in the doorway and watched while
the Pilgrim saddled his horse and rode away. When not even the
pluckety-pluck of his horse's feet came back to offend the ears of
him, Charming Billy put away his gun and went in and hoisted the
overturned table upon its legs again. A coarse, earthenware plate,
which the Pilgrim had used for his breakfast, lay unbroken at the feet
of him. Billy picked it up, went to the door and cast it violently
forth, watching with grim satisfaction the pieces when they scattered
over the frozen ground. "No white man'll ever have to eat after
_him_," he muttered. To ease his outraged feelings still farther,
he picked up the Pilgrim's knife and fork, and sent them after the
plate--and knives and forks were not numerous in that particular
camp, either. After that he felt better and picked up the coffee-pot,
lighted a fire and cooked himself some breakfast, which he ate
hungrily, his wrath cooling a bit with the cheer of warm food and
The routine work of the line-camp was performed in a hurried,
perfunctory manner that day. Charming Billy, riding the high-lines
to make sure the cattle had not drifted where they should not, was
vaguely ill at ease. He told himself it was the want of a smoke that
made him uncomfortable, and he planned a hurried trip to Hardup, if
the weather held good for another day, when he would lay in a supply
of tobacco and papers that would last till roundup. This running out
every two or three weeks, and living in hell till you got more, was
plumb wearisome and unnecessary.
On the way back, his trail crossed that of a breed wolfer on his way
into the Bad Lands. Billy immediately asked for tobacco, and the breed
somewhat reluctantly opened his pack and exchanged two small sacks for
a two-bit piece. Billy, rolling a cigarette with eager fingers,
felt for the moment a deep satisfaction with life. He even felt some
compunction about killing the Pilgrim's dog, when he passed the body
stiffening on the snow. "Poor devil! Yuh hadn't ought to expect much
from a dawg--and he was a heap more white-acting than what his owner
was," was his tribute to the dead.
It seemed as though, when he closed the cabin door behind him, he
somehow shut out his newborn satisfaction. "A shack with one window is
sure unpleasant when the sun is shining outside," he said fretfully
to himself. "This joint looks a heap like a cellar. I wonder what the
girl thought of it; I reckon it looked pretty sousy, to her--and them
with everything shining. Oh, hell!" He took off his chaps and his
spurs, rolled another cigarette and smoked it meditatively. When it
had burned down so that it came near scorching his lips, he lighted a
fire, carried water from the creek, filled the dishpan and set it
on the stove to heat. "Darn a dirty shack!" he muttered, half
apologetically, while he was taking the accumulation of ashes out of
For the rest of that day he was exceedingly busy, and he did not
attempt further explanations to himself. He overhauled the bunk
and spread the blankets out on the wild rose bushes to sun while
he cleaned the floor. Billy's way of cleaning the floor was
characteristic of the man, and calculated to be effectual in the main
without descending to petty details. All superfluous objects that
were small enough, he merely pushed as far as possible under the bunk.
Boxes and benches he piled on top; then he brought buckets of water
and sloshed it upon the worst places, sweeping and spreading it with
a broom. When the water grew quite black, he opened the door, swept
it outside and sloshed fresh water upon the grimy boards. While
he worked, his mind swung slowly back to normal, so that he sang
crooningly in an undertone; and the song was what he had sung for
months and years, until it was a part of him and had earned him his
"Oh, where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
I've been to see my wife,
She's the joy of my life,
She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother."
Certainly it was neither musical nor inspiring, but Billy had somehow
adopted the ditty and made it his own, so far as eternally singing
it could do so, and his comrades had found it not unpleasant; for
the voice of Billy was youthful, and had a melodious smoothness that
atoned for much in the way of imbecile words and monotonous tune.
He had washed all the dishes and had repeated the ditty fifteen times,
and was for the sixteenth time tunefully inquiring:
Can she make a punkin pie, charming Billy?
when he opened the door to throw out the dishwater, and narrowly escaped
landing it full upon the fur-coated form of his foreman.
The foreman came in, blinking at the sudden change from bright light
to half twilight, and Charming Billy took the opportunity to kick a
sardine can of stove-blacking under the stove where it would not be
seen. Some predecessor with domestic instincts had left behind
him half a package of "Rising Sun," and Billy had found it and was
intending to blacken the stove just as soon as he finished the dishes.
That he had left it as a crowning embellishment, rather than making it
the foundation of his house-cleaning, only proved his inexperience in
that line. Billy had "bached" a great deal, but he had never blacked a
stove in his life.
The foreman passed gloved fingers over his eyes, held them there
a moment, took them away and gazed in amazement; since he had been
foreman of the Double-Crank--and the years were many--Charming
Billy Boyle had been one of its "top-hands," and he had never before
caught him in the throes of "digging out."
"Fundamental furies!" swore he, in the unorthodox way he had. "Looks
like the Pilgrim was right--there's a lady took charge here."
Charming Billy turned red with embarrassment, and then quite pale with
rage. "The Pilgrim lied!" he denied sweepingly.
The foreman picked his way over the wet floor, in deference to its
comparative cleanliness stepping long so that he might leave as few
disfiguring tracks as possible, and unbuttoned his fur coat before the
heat of the stove.
"Well, maybe he did," he assented generously, gleaning a box from
the pile on the bunk and sitting down, "but it sure looks like
corroborative evidence, in here. How about it, Bill?"
"How about what?" countered Billy, his teeth close together.
"The girl, and the dawg, and the fight--but more especially the girl.
"_Damn_ the Pilgrim! I wisht I'd a-killed the lying ---- The girl's
a lady, and he ain't fit to speak her name. She come here last night
because her hoss fell and got crippled, and there wasn't a hoss I'd
trust at night with her, it was storming so hard, and slippery--and
at daylight I put her on the gentlest one we had, and took her home.
That's all there is to it. There's nothing to gabble about, and if the
Pilgrim goes around shooting off his face--" Billy clicked his teeth
"Well, that ain't _just_ the way he told it," commented the foreman,
stooping to expectorate into the hearth and stopping to regard
surprisedly its unwonted emptiness. "He said--"
"I don't give a damn what he said," snapped Billy. "He lied, the
"Uh-huh--he said something about you shooting that dawg of his. I saw
the carcass out there in the snow." The foreman spoke with careful
"I did. I wisht now I'd laid the two of 'em out together. The dawg
tried to feed offa my leg. I shot the blame thing." Charming Billy
sat down upon the edge of the table--sliding the dishpan out of his
way--and folded his arms, and pushed his hat farther back from his
forehead. His whole attitude spoke impenitent scorn.
"I also licked the Pilgrim and hazed him away from camp and told him
particular not to come back," he informed the other defiantly. He did
not add, "What are you going to do about it?" but his tone carried
unmistakably that sentiment.
"And the Pilgrim happens to be a stepbrother uh the widow the Old Man
is at present running after, and aiming to marry. I was sent over here
to put the can onto you, Billy. I hate like thunder to do it, but--"
The foreman waved a hand to signify his utter helplessness.
The face of Billy stiffened perceptibly; otherwise he moved not a
"The Old Man says for you to stay till he can put another man down
here in your place, though. He'll send Jim Bleeker soon as he comes
back from town--which ain't apt to be for two or three days unless
they're short on booze."
Billy caught his breath, hesitated, and reached for his smoking
material. It was not till he had licked his cigarette into shape and
was feeling in his pocket for a match that he spoke. "I've drawed
wages from the Double-Crank for quite a spell, and I always aimed
to act white with the outfit. It's more than they're doing by me,
but--I'll stay till Jim comes." He smoked moodily, and stared at his
boots. "Yuh ain't going back tonight, are yuh?"
The foreman said he must, and came back to the subject. "Yuh don't
want to think I'm firing yuh, Billy. If it was my say-so, I'd tell the
Pilgrim to go to hell. But he went straight to headquarters with his
tale uh woe, and the Old Man is kinda uncertain these days, on account
uh not being right sure uh the widow. He feels just about obliged to
keep the Pilgrim smoothed down; he ain't worth his grub, if you ask
"Oh, I ain't thinking nothing at all about it," Billy lied proudly.
"If the Old Man feels like canning me, that there's his funeral. I
reckon maybe he likes the Pilgrim's breed better for a change. And
I wouldn't be none surprised if I could get a job with some other
outfit, all right. I ain't aiming to starve--nor yet ride grub-line."
"When you analyze the thing right down to fundamentals," observed the
foreman, whom men called "Jawbreaker" for obvious reasons, "it's a
cussed shame. You're one of the oldest men with the outfit, and the
Pilgrim is the youngest--and the most inadequate. The Old Man oughta
waited till he heard both sides uh the case, and I told him so. But
he couldn't forget how the widow might feel if he canned her
stepbrother--and what's a man, more or less, in a case uh that kind?"
"Now look here, Jawbreaker," Billy protested cheerfully, "don't yuh go
oozing comfort and sympathy on my account. I don't know but what I'm
tickled to death. As yuh say, I've worked for this outfit a blame long
while--and it's maybe kinda hard on other outfits; they oughta have a
chance to use me for a spell. There's no reason why the Double-Crank
should be a hog and keep a good man forever."
The foreman studied keenly the face of Charming Billy, saw there an
immobility that somehow belied his cheerful view of the case, and
abruptly changed the subject.
"You've got things swept and garnished, all right," he remarked,
looking at the nearly clean floor with the tiny pools of dirty water
still standing in the worn places. "When did the fit take yuh? Did it
come on with fever-n'-chills, like most other breaking-outs? Or, did
"Aw, the darned dawg mussed up the floor, dying in here," Billy
apologized weakly. "I was plumb obliged to clean up after him." He
glanced somewhat shamefacedly at the floor. After all, it did not
look quite like the one where Miss Bridger lived; in his heart Billy
believed that was because he had no strip of carpet to spread before
the table. He permitted his glance to take in the bunk, nakedly
showing the hay it held for a softening influence and piled high with
many things--the things that would not go beneath.
"Your soogans are gathering frost to beat the band, Bill," the foreman
informed him, following his glance to the bunk. "Your inexperience
is something appalling, for a man that has fried his own bacon and
swabbed out his own frying-pan as many times as you have. Better go
bring 'em in. It was thinking about snowing again when I come."
Billy grinned a little and went after his bedding, brought it and
threw it with a fine disregard for order upon the accumulation of
boxes and benches in the bunk. "I'll go feed the hosses, and then I'll
cook yuh some supper," he told the foreman still humped comfortably
before the stove with his fur coat thrown open to the heat and his
spurred boots hoisted upon the hearth. "Better make up your mind to
stay till morning; it's getting mighty chilly, outside."
The foreman, at the critical stage of cigarette lighting, grunted
unintelligibly. Billy was just laying hand to the door-knob when the
foreman looked toward him in the manner of one about to speak. Billy
stood and waited inquiringly.
"Say, Bill," drawled Jawbreaker, "yuh never told me her name, yet."
The brows of Charming Billy pinched involuntarily together. "I thought
the Pilgrim had wised yuh up to all the details," he said coldly.
"The Pilgrim didn't know; he says yuh never introduced him. And seeing
it's serious enough to start yuh on the godly trail uh cleanliness,
I'm naturally taking a friendly interest in her, and--"
"Aw--go to hell!" snapped Charming Billy, and went out and slammed the
door behind him so that the cabin shook.
_The Man From Michigan._
"How old is she, Billy boy, Billy boy,
How old is she, charming Billy?
Twice six, twice seven,
Forty-nine and eleven--
She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother."
"C'm-awn, yuh lazy old skate! Think I want to sleep out to-night, when
town's so clost?" Charming Billy yanked his pack-pony awake and into
a shuffling trot over the trail, resettled his hat on his head, sagged
his shoulders again and went back to crooning his ditty.
"Can she make a punkin pie, Billy boy, Billy boy,
Can she make a punkin pie, charming Billy?
She can make a punkin pie
Quick's a cat can wink her eye--"
Out ahead, where the trail wound aimlessly around a low sand ridge
flecked with scrubby sage half buried in gray snowbanks, a horse
whinnied inquiringly; Barney, his own red-roan, perked his ears toward
the sound and sent shrill answer. In that land and at that season
travelers were never so numerous as to be met with indifference, and
Billy felt a slight thrill of expectation. All day--or as much of it
as was left after his late sleeping and later breakfast--he had ridden
without meeting a soul; now he unconsciously pressed lightly with his
spurs to meet the comer.
Around the first bend they went, and the trail was blank before them.
"Thought it sounded close," Billy muttered, "but with the wind where
it is and the air like this, sound travels farther. I wonder--"
Past the point before them poked a black head, followed slowly by
a shambling horse whose dragging hoofs proclaimed his weariness and
utter lack of ambition. The rider, Billy decided after one sharp
glance, he had never seen before in his life--and nothing lost by it,
either, he finished mentally when he came closer.
If the riders had not willed it so the horses would mutually have
agreed to stop when they met; that being the way of range horses after
carrying speech-hungry men for a season or two. If men meet out there
in the land of far horizons and do not stop for a word or two, it is
generally because there is bad feeling between them; and horses learn
quickly the ways of their masters.
"Hello," greeted Billy tentatively, eying the other measuringly
because he was a stranger. "Pretty soft going, ain't it?" He referred
to the half-thawed trail.
"Ye-es," hesitated the other, glancing diffidently down at the trail
and then up at the neighboring line of disconsolate, low hills.
"Ye-es, it is." His eyes came back and met Billy's deprecatingly,
almost like those of a woman who feels that her youth and her charm
have slipped behind her and who does not quite know whether she may
still be worthy your attention. "Are you acquainted with this--this
part of the country?"
"Well," Billy had got out his smoking material, from force of the
habit with which a range-rider seizes every opportunity for a smoke,
and singled meditatively a leaf. "Well, I kinda know it by sight, all
right." And in his voice lurked a pride of knowledge inexplicable to
one who has not known and loved the range-land. "I guess you'd have
some trouble finding a square foot of it that I ain't been over," he
added, mildly boastful.
If one might judge anything from a face as blank as that of a china
doll, both the pride and the boastfulness were quite lost upon the
stranger. Only his eyes were wistfully melancholy.
"My name is Alexander P. Dill," he informed Billy quite unnecessarily.
"I was going to the Murton place. They told me it was only ten miles
from town and it seems as though I must have taken the wrong road,
somehow. Could you tell me about where it would be from here?"
Charming Billy's cupped hands hid his mouth, but his eyes laughed.
"Roads ain't so plenty around here that you've any call to take one
that don't belong to yuh," he reproved, when his cigarette was going
well. "If Hardup's the place yuh started from, and if they headed yah
right when they turned yuh loose, you've covered about eighteen miles
and bent 'em into a beautiful quarter-circle--and how yuh ever went
and done it undeliberate gets _me_. You are now seven miles from
Hardup and sixteen miles, more or less, from Murton's." He stopped to
watch the effect of his information.
Alexander P. Dill was a long man--an exceedingly long man, as Billy
had already observed--and now he drooped so that he reminded Billy
of shutting up a telescope. His mouth drooped, also, like that of a
disappointed child, and his eyes took to themselves more melancholy.
"I must have taken the wrong road," he repeated ineffectually.
"Yes," Billy agreed gravely, "I guess yuh must of; it does kinda look
that way." There was no reason why he should feel anything more than a
passing amusement at this wandering length of humanity, but Billy
felt an unaccountable stirring of pity and a feeling of indulgent
responsibility for the man.
"Could you--direct me to the right road?"
"Well, I reckon I could," Billy told him doubtfully, "but it would be
quite a contract under the circumstances. Anyway, your cayuse is too
near played; yuh better cut out your visit this time and come along
back to town with me. You're liable to do a lot more wandering around
till yuh find yourself plumb afoot." He did not know that he came near
using the tone one takes toward a lost child.
"Perhaps, seeing I've come out of my way, I might as well," Mr. Dill
decided hesitatingly. "That is, if you don't mind."
"Oh, I don't mind at all," Charming Billy assured him airily. "Uh
course, I own this trail, and the less it's tracked up right now in
its present state the better, but you're welcome to use it--if you're
particular to trod soft and don't step in the middle."
Alexander P. Dill looked at him uncertainly, as if his sense of humor
were weak and not to be trusted off-hand; turned his tired horse
awkwardly in a way that betrayed an unfamiliarity with "neck-reining,"
and began to retrace his steps beside Charming Billy. His stirrups
were too short, so that his knees were drawn up uncomfortably, and
Billy, glancing sidelong down at them, wondered how the man could ride
"You wasn't raised right around here, I reckon," Billy began amiably,
when they were well under way.
"No--oh, no. I am from Michigan. I only came out West two weeks ago.
I--I'm thinking some of raising wild cattle for the Eastern markets."
Alexander P. Dill still had the wistful look in his eyes, which were
unenthusiastically blue--just enough of the blue to make their color
Charming Billy came near laughing, but some impulse kept him
quiet-lipped and made his voice merely friendly. "Yes--this is a
pretty good place for that business," he observed quite seriously. "A
lot uh people are doing that same thing."
Mr. Dill warmed pitifully to the friendliness. "I was told that Mr.
Murton wanted to sell his far---- ranch and cattle, and I was going to
see him about it. I would like to buy a place outright, you see, with
the cattle all branded, and--everything."
Billy suddenly felt the instinct of the champion. "Well, somebody lied
to yuh a lot, then," he replied warmly. "Don't yuh never go near old
Murton. In the first place, he ain't a cowman--he's a sheepman, on a
small scale so far as sheep go but on a sure-enough big scale when
yuh count his feelin's. He runs about twelve hundred woollies, and is
about as unpolite a cuss as I ever met up with. He'd uh roasted yuh
brown just for saying cattle at him--and if yuh let out inadvertant
that yuh took him for a cowman, the chances is he'd a took a shot at
yuh. If yuh ask me, you was playin' big luck when yuh went and lost
"I can't see what would be their object in misinforming me on the
subject," Mr. Dill complained. "You don't suppose that they had any
grudge against Mr. Murton, do you?"
Charming Billy eyed him aslant and was merciful. "I can't say, not
knowing who they was that told yuh," he answered. "They're liable to
have a grudge agin' him, though; just about everybody has, that ever
bumped into him."
It would appear that Mr. Dill needed time to think this over, for he
said nothing more for a long while. Charming Billy half turned once or
twice to importune his pack-pony in language humorously querulous,
but beyond that he kept silence, wondering what freakish impulse drove
Alexander P. Dill to Montana "to raise wild cattle for the Eastern
markets." The very simplicity of his purpose and the unsophistication
of his outlook were irresistible and came near weaning Charming Billy
from considering his own personal grievances.
For a grievance it was to be turned adrift from the Double-Crank--he,
who had come to look upon the outfit almost with proprietorship; who
for years had said "my outfit" when speaking of it; who had set
the searing iron upon sucking calves and had watched them grow to
yearlings, then to sleek four-year-olds; who had at last helped prod
them up the chutes into the cars at shipping time and had seen them
take the long trail to Chicago--the trail from which, for them, there
was no return; who had thrown his rope on kicking, striking "bronks";
had worked, with the sweat streaming like tears down his cheeks, to
"gentle" them; had, with much patience, taught them the feel of saddle
and cinch and had ridden them with much stress until they accepted his
mastery and became the dependable, wise old "cow-horses" of the range;
who had followed, spring, summer and fall, the wide wandering of the
Double-Crank wagons, asking nothing better, secure in the knowledge
that he, Charming Billy Boyle, was conceded to be one of the
Double-Crank's "top-hands." It was bitter to be turned adrift--and for
such a cause! Because he had fought a man who was something less than
a man. It was bitter to feel that he had been condemned without a
hearing. He had not dreamed that the Old Man would be capable of such
an action, even with the latest and least-valued comer; he felt the
sting of it, the injustice and the ingratitude for all the years he
had given the Double-Crank. It seemed to him that he could never feel
quite the same toward another outfit, or be content riding horses
which bore some other brand.
"I suppose you are quite familiar with raising cattle under these
Western conditions," Alexander P. Dill ventured, after a season of
"Kinda," Billy confirmed briefly.
"There seems to be a certain class-prejudice against strangers, out
here. I can't understand it and I can't seem to get away from it. I
believe those men deliberately misinformed me, for the sole reason
that I am unfortunately a stranger and unfamiliar with the country.
They do not seem to realize that this country must eventually be more
fully developed, and that, in the very nature of things, strangers
are sure to come and take advantage of the natural resources and
aid materially in their development. I don't consider myself an
interloper; I came here with the intention of making this my future
home, and of putting every dollar of capital that I possess into this
country; I wish I had more. I like the country; it isn't as if I came
here to take something away. I came to add my mite; to help build up,
not to tear down. And I can't understand the attitude of men who would
"It's kinda got to be part uh the scenery to josh a pilgrim," Billy
took the trouble to explain. "We don't mean any harm. I reckon you'll
get along all right, once yuh get wised up."
"Do you expect to be in town for any length of time?" Mr. Dill's voice
was wistful, as well as his eyes. "Somehow, you don't seem to adopt
that semi-hostile attitude, and I--I'm very glad for the opportunity
of knowing you."
Charming Billy made a rapid mental calculation of his present
financial resources and of past experience in the rate of depletion.
"Well. I may last a week or so, and I might pull out to-morrow," he
decided candidly. "It all depends on the kinda luck I have."
Mr. Dill looked at him inquiringly, but he made no remark that would
betray curiosity. "I have rented a room in a little house in the
quietest part of town. The hotel isn't very clean and there is too
much noise and drinking going on at night. I couldn't sleep there.
I should be glad to have you share my room with me while you stay in
town, if you will. It is clean and quiet."
Charming Billy turned his head and looked at him queerly; at his
sloping shoulders, melancholy face and round, wistful eyes, and
finally at the awkward, hunched-up knees of him. Billy did not mind
night noises and drinking--to be truthful, they were two of the
allurements which had brought him townward--and whether a room were
clean or not troubled him little; he would not see much of it. His
usual procedure while in town would, he suspected, seem very loose to
Alexander P. Dill. It consisted chiefly of spending the nights
where the noise clamored loudest and of sleeping during the
day--sometimes--where was the most convenient spot to lay the length
of him. He smiled whimsically at the contrast between them and their
habits of living.
"Much obliged," he said. "I expect to be some busy, but maybe I'll
drop in and bed down with yuh; once I hit town, it's hard to tell what
I may do."
"I hope you'll feel perfectly free to come at any time and make
yourself at home," Mr. Dill urged lonesomely.
"Sure. There's the old burg--I do plumb enjoy seeing the sun making
gold on a lot uh town windows, like that over there. It sure looks
good, when you've been living by your high lonesome and not seeing any
window shine but your own little six-by-eight. Huh?"
"I--I must admit I like better to see the sunset turn my own windows
to gold," observed Mr. Dill softly. "I haven't any, now; I sold the
old farm when mother died. I was born and raised there. The woods
pasture was west of the house, and every evening when I drove up the
cows, and the sun was setting, the kitchen windows--"
Alexander P. Dill stopped very abruptly, and Billy, stealing a glance
at his face, turned his own quickly away and gazed studiously at a
bald hilltop off to the left. So finely tuned was his sympathy that
for one fleeting moment he saw a homely, hilly farm in Michigan, with
rail fences and a squat old house with wide porch and hard-beaten path
from the kitchen door to the well and on to the stables; and down a
long slope that was topped with great old trees, Alexander P.
Dill shambling contentedly, driving with a crooked stick three
mild-mannered old cows. "The blamed chump--what did he go and pull
out for?" he asked himself fretfully. Then aloud: "I'm going to have
a heart-to-heart talk with the cook at the hotel, and if he don't give
us a real old round-up beefsteak, flopped over on the bare stovelids,
there'll be things happen I'd hate to name over. He can sure do the
business, all right; he used to cook for the Double-Crank. And you,"
he turned, elaborately cheerful, to Mr. Dill, "you are my guest."
"Thank you," smiled Mr. Dill, recovering himself and never guessing
how strange was the last sentence to the lips of Charming Billy Boyle.
"I shall be very glad to be the guest of somebody--once more."
"Yuh poor old devil, yuh sure drifted a long ways off your home
range," mused Billy. Out loud he only emphasized the arrangement with:
"_That's My Dill Pickle!_"
Charming Billy Boyle was, to put it mildly, enjoying his enforced
vacation very much. To tell the plain truth and tell it without the
polish of fiction, he was hilariously moistened as to his gullet and
he was not thinking of quitting yet; he had only just begun.
He was sitting on an end of the bar in the Hardtip Saloon, his hat as
far back on his head as it could possibly be pushed with any hope of
its staying there at all. He had a glass in one hand, a cigarette in
the other, and he was raking his rowels rhythmically up and down the
erstwhile varnished bar in buzzing accompaniment, the while he chanted
with much enthusiasm:
"How old is she, Billy boy, Billy boy?
How old is she, charming Billy?
Twice six, twice seven,
Forty-nine and eleven--"
The bartender, wiping the bar after an unsteady sheepherder, was
careful to leave a generous margin around the person of Charming Billy
who was at that moment asserting with much emphasis:
"She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother."
"Twice-six's-twelve, 'n' twice-seven's-four-r-teen, 'n' twelve 'n'
fourteen's--er--twelve--'n'--fourteen--" The unsteady sheepherder was
laboring earnestly with the problem. "She ain't no spring chicken, she
ain't!" He laughed tipsily, and winked up at the singer, but Billy was
not observing him and his mathematical struggles. He refreshed himself
from the glass, leaving the contents perceptibly lower--it was a
large, thick glass with a handle, and it had flecks of foam down the
inside--took a pull at the cigarette and inquired plaintively:
"Can she brew, can she bake, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Can she brew, can she bake, charming Billy?"
Another long pull at the cigarette, and then the triumphant
"She can brew n' she can bake,
She can sew n' she can make--
She's a young thing, and cannot leave her mother."
"She ain't s' young!" bawled the sheepherder, who was taking it all
very seriously. "Say them numbers over again, onc't. Twelve-'n'-fourteen--"
"Aw, go off and lay down!" advised Charming Billy, in a tone of deep
disgust. He was about to pursue still farther his inquiry into the
housewifely qualifications of the mysterious "young thing," and he
"Can she make a punkin pie, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Can she make a punkin pie, charming Billy?"
The door opened timidly and closed again, but he did not see who
entered. He was not looking; he was holding the empty, foam-flecked
glass behind him imperatively, and he was watching over his shoulder
to see that the bartender did not skimp the filling and make it
two-thirds foam. The bartender was punctiliously lavish, so that a
crest of foam threatened to deluge the hand of Charming Billy and
quite occupied him for the moment. When he squared himself again and
buzzed his spurs against the bar, his mind was wholly given to the
proper execution of the musical gem.
"She can make a punkin pie,
Quick's a cat can wink her eye--"
Something was going on, over in the dimly lighted corner near the
door. Half a dozen men had grouped themselves there with their backs
to Billy and they were talking and laughing; but the speech of them
was an unintelligible clamor and their laughter a commingling roar.
Billy gravely inspected his cigarette, which had gone cold, set down
the glass and sought diligently for a match.
"Aw, come on an' have one on me!" bawled a voice peremptorily. "Yuh
can't raise no wild cattle around _this_ joint, lessen yuh wet up good
with whisky. Why, a feller as long as you be needs a good jolt for
every foot of yuh--and that's about fifteen when you're lengthened
out good. Come on--don't be a damn' chubber! Yuh got to sample m'
hospitality. Hey, Tom! set out about a quart uh your _mildest_ for
Daffy-down-Dilly. He's dry, clean down to his hand-made socks."
Charming Billy, having found a match, held it unlighted in his fingers
and watched the commotion from his perch on the bar. In the very midst
of the clamor towered the melancholy Alexander P. Dill, and he was
endeavoring to explain, in his quiet, grammatical fashion. A lull
that must have been an accident carried the words clearly across to
"Thank you, gentlemen. I really don't care for anything in the way
of refreshment. I merely came in to find a friend who has promised to
spend the night with me. It is getting along toward bedtime. Have your
fun, gentlemen, if you must--but I am really too tired to join you."
"Make 'im dance!" yelled the sheepherder, giving over the attempt to
find the sum of twelve and fourteen. "By gosh, yuh made _me_ dance
when I struck town. Make 'im dance!"
"You go off and lay down!" commanded Billy again, and to emphasize his
words leaned and emptied the contents of his glass neatly inside the
collar of the sheepherder. "Cool down, yuh Ba-ba-black-sheep!"
The herder forgot everything after that--everything but the desire to
tear limb from limb one Charming Billy Boyle, who sat and raked his
spurs up and down the marred front of the bar and grinned maliciously
down at him. "Go-awn off, before I take yuh all to pieces," he urged
wearily, already regretting the unjustifiable waste of good beer.
"Quit your buzzing; I wanta listen over there."
"Come on 'n' have a drink!" vociferated the hospitable one. "Yuh got
to be sociable, or yuh can't stop in _this_ man's town." So insistent
was he that he laid violent hold of Mr. Dill and tried to pull him
bodily to the bar.
"Gentlemen, this passes a joke!" protested Mr. Dill, looking around
him in his blankly melancholy way. "I do not drink liquor. I must
insist upon your stopping this horseplay immediately!"
"Oh, it ain't no _play_," asserted the insistent one darkly. "I mean
it, by thunder."
It was at this point that Charming Billy decided to have a word.
"Here, break away, there!" he yelled, pushing the belligerent
sheepherder to one side. "Hands off that long person! That there's
_my_ dill pickle!"
[Illustration: "HANDS OFF THAT LONG PERSON! THAT THERE'S _MY_ DILL
Mr. Dill was released, and Billy fancied hazily that it was because
he so ordered; as a matter of fact, Mr. Dill, catching sight of him
there, had thrown the men and their importunities off as though they
had been rough-mannered boys. He literally plowed his way through them
and stopped deprecatingly before Billy.
"It is getting late," he observed, mildly reproachful. "I thought I
would show you the way to my room, if you don't mind."
Billy stared down at him. "Well, I'm going to be busy for a while
yet," he demurred. "I've got to lick this misguided son-of-a-gun
that's blatting around wanting to eat me alive--and I got my eyes on
your friend in the rear, there, that's saying words about you, Dilly.
Looks to me like I'm going to be some occupied for quite a spell. You
run along to bed and don't yuh bother none about _me_."
"The matter is not so urgent but what I can wait until you are ready,"
Mr. Dill told him quietly, but with decision. He folded his long arms
and ranged himself patiently alongside Billy. And Billy, regarding him
uneasily, felt convinced that though he tarried until the sun
returned Mr. Dill would stand right there and wait--like a well-broken
range-horse when the reins are dropped to the ground. Charming Billy
did not know why it made him uncomfortable, but it did and he took
immediate measures to relieve the sensation.
He turned fretfully and cuffed the clamorous sheepherder, who
seemed to lack the heart for actual hostilities but indulged in much
recrimination and was almost in tears. "Aw, shut up!" growled Billy.
"A little more uh that war-talk and I'll start in and learn yuh some
manners. I don't want any more of it. Yuh hear?"
It is a fact that trifles sometimes breed large events. Billy, to make
good his threat, jumped off the bar. In doing so he came down upon
the toes of Jack Morgan, the hospitable soul who had insisted upon
treating Mr. Dill and who had just come up to renew the argument. Jack
Morgan was a man of uncertain temper and he also had toes exceedingly
tender. He struck out, missed Billy, who was thinking only of the
herder, and it looked quite as though the blow was meant for Mr. Dill.
After that, things happened quickly and with some confusion. Others
became active, one way or the other, and the clamor was great, so
that it was easily heard down the street and nearly emptied the other
When the worst of it was over and one could tell for a certainty what
was taking place, Charming Billy was holding a man's face tightly
against the bar and was occasionally beating it with his fist none too
gently. Mr. Dill, an arm's length away, had Jack Morgan and one other
offender clutched by the neck in either hand and he was solemnly and
systematically butting their heads together until they howled. The
bartender had just succeeded in throwing the sheepherder out through
the back door, and he was wiping his hands and feeling very well
satisfied with himself.
"I'd oughta fired him long ago, when he first commenced building
trouble," he remarked, to no one in particular. "The darned
lamb-licker--he's broke and has been all evening. I don't know what
made me stand for 'im long as I did."
Billy, moved perhaps by weariness rather than mercy, let go his man
and straightened up, feeling mechanically for his hat. His eyes met
those of the melancholy Mr. Dill.
"If you're quite through"--bang! went the heads--"perhaps we may as
well"--bang!--"leave this unruly crowd"--bang!!--"and go to our room.
It is after eleven o'clock." Mr. Dill looked as though his present
occupation was unpleasant but necessary and as though, to please
Billy, he could keep it up indefinitely.
Charming Billy stood quite still, staring at the other and at what he
was doing; and while he stared and wondered, something came into the
heart of him and quite changed his destiny. He did not know what it
was, or why it was so; at the time he realized only a deep amazement
that Mr. Dill, mild of manner, correct of speech and wistful-eyed,
should be standing there banging the heads of two men who were
considered rather hard to handle. Certainly Jack Morgan was reputed a
"bad actor" when it came to giving blows. And while Alexander P. Dill
was a big man--an enormous man, one might say--he had none of the
earmarks of a fighting man. It was, perhaps, his very calmness that
won Billy for good and all. Before, Charming Billy had felt toward him
a certain amused pity; his instinct had been to protect Mr. Dill. He
would never feel just that way again; Mr. Dill, it would seem, was
perfectly well able to protect himself.
"Shall we go?" Mr. Dill poised the two heads for another bang and held
them so. By this time every one in the room was watching, but he had
eyes only for Billy.
"Just as you say," Billy assented submissively.
Mr. Dill shook the two with their faces close together, led them to a
couple of chairs and set them emphatically down. "Now, see if you can
behave yourselves," he advised, in the tone a father would have
used toward two refractory boys. "You have been acting boorishly and
disgracefully all evening. It was you who directed me wrong, to-day.
You have not, at any time since I first met you, acted like gentlemen;
I should be sorry to think this country held many such brainless
louts." He turned inquiringly toward Charming Billy and nodded his
head toward the door. Billy, stooping unsteadily for his hat which he
discovered under his feet, followed him meekly out.
"_Till Hell's a Skating-rink._"
Charming Billy opened his eyes slowly, but with every sense at the
normal degree of alertness; which was a way he had, born of light
sleeping and night-watching. He had slept heavily, from the feel of
his head, and he remembered the unwisdom of drinking four glasses of
whisky and then changing irresponsibly to beer. He had not undressed,
it would seem, and he was lying across the middle of a bed with his
spurred boots hanging over the edge. A red comforter had been thrown
across him, and he wondered why. He looked around the room and
discovered Mr. Dill seated in a large, cane rocker--which was
unquestionably not big enough for his huge person--his feet upon
another chair and his hands folded inertly on his drawn-up knees. He
was asleep, with his head lying against the chair-back and his face
more melancholy than ever and more wistful. His eyes, Billy observed,
were deep-sunk and dark-ringed. He sat up suddenly--did Billy, and
threw off the cover with some vehemence. "Darn me for a drunken
chump!" he exclaimed, and clanked over to the chair.
"Here, Dilly"--to save the life of him he could not refrain from
addressing him so--"why in thunder didn't yuh kick me awake, and make
me get off your bed? What did yuh let me do it for--and you setting up
all night--oh, this is sure a hell of a note!"
Mr. Dill opened his eyes, stared blankly and came back from his
dreaming. "You were so--so impatient when I tried to get you up," he
explained in a tired voice. "And you had a way of laying your hands on
your revolver when I insisted. It seems you took me for a shepherd
and were very unfriendly; so I thought it best to let you stay as you
were, but I'm afraid you were not very comfortable. One can rest so
much better between sheets. You would not," he added plaintively,
"even permit me to take your boots off for you."
Charming Billy sat down upon the edge of the bed, all tousled as he
was, and stared abstractedly at Mr. Dill. Perhaps he had never before
felt so utterly disgusted with himself, or realized so keenly his
shortcomings. Not even the girl had humbled him so completely as had
this long, lank, sinfully grammatical man from Michigan.
"You've sure got me where I live, Dilly," he said slowly and
haltingly, feeling mechanically for the makings of a smoke. "Charming
Billy Boyle ain't got a word to say for himself. But if yuh ain't
plumb sick and disgusted with the spectacle I've made uh myself, yuh
can count on me till hell's a skating-rink. I ain't always thisaway. I
do have spells when I'm some lucid."
It was not much, but such as it was it stood for his oath of
Alexander P. Dill sat up straight, his long, bony fingers--which
Billy could still mentally see gripping the necks of those two in
the saloon--lying loosely upon the chair-arms. "I hope you will
not mention the matter again," he said. "I realize that this is not
Michigan, and that the temptations are--But we will not discuss it. I
shall be very grateful for your friendship, and--"
"Grateful!" snorted Billy, spilling tobacco on the strip of faded
ingrain carpet before the bed. "Grateful--hell!"
Mr. Dill looked at him a moment and there was a certain keen
man-measuring behind the wistfulness. But he said no more about the
friendship of Charming Billy Boyle, which was as well.
That is why the two of them later sat apart on the sunny side of the
hotel "office"--which was also a saloon--and talked of many things,
but chiefly of the cattle industry as Montana knows it and of the
hopes and the aims of Alexander P. Dill. Perhaps, also, that is why
Billy breathed clean of whisky and had the bulk of his winter wages
still unspent in his pocket.
"Looks to me," he was saying between puffs, "like you'd uh stayed back
where yuh knew the lay uh the land, instead uh drifting out here where
it's all plumb strange to yuh."
"Well, several incidents influenced my actions," Mr. Dill explained
quietly. "I had always lived within twenty miles of my birthplace.
I owned a general store in a little place near the old farm, and did
well. The farm paid well, also. Then mother died and the place did
not seem quite the same. A railroad was built through the town and the
land I owned there rose enormously in value. I had a splendid location
for a modern store but I could not seem to make up my mind to change.
So I sold out everything--store, land, the home farm and all, and
received a good figure--a _very_ good figure. I was very fortunate in
owning practically the whole townsite--the new townsite, that is. I
do not like these so-called booms, however, and so I left to begin
somewhere else. I did not care to enter the mercantile business again,
and our doctor advised me to live as much as possible in the open air.
Mother died of consumption. So I decided to come West and buy a cattle
ranch. I believed I should like it. I always liked animals."
"Uh-huh--so do I." It was not just what Charming Billy most wanted to
say, but that much was perfectly safe, and noncommittal to say.
Mr. Dill was silent a minute, looking speculatively across to
the Hardup Saloon which was practically empty and therefore quite
peaceful. Billy, because long living on the range made silence easy,
smoked and said nothing.
"Mr. Boyle," began Dill at last, in the hesitating way that he had
used when Billy first met him, "you say you know this country, and
have worked at cattle-raising for a good many years--"
"Twelve," supplemented Charming Billy. "Turned my first cow when I was
"So you must be perfectly familiar with the business. I frankly admit
that I am not familiar with it. You say you are at present out of
employment and so I am thinking seriously of offering you a position
myself, as confidential adviser if you like. I really need some
one who can accompany me about the country and keep me from such
deplorable blunders as was yesterday's experience. After I have bought
a place, I shall need some one who is familiar with the business and
will honestly work for my interests and assist me in the details until
I have myself gained a practical working-knowledge of it. I think I
can make such an arrangement to your advantage as well as my own. From
the start the salary would be what is usually paid to a foreman. What
do you say?"
For an appreciable space Charming Billy Boyle did not say a word. He
was not stupid and he saw in a flash all the possibilities that lay in
the offer. To be next the very top--to have his say in the running of
a model cow-outfit--and it should be a model outfit if he took charge,
for he had ideas of his own about how these things should be
done--to be foreman, with the right to "hire and fire" at his own
discretion--He turned, flushed and bright-eyed, to Dill.
"God knows why yuh cut _me_ out for the job," he said in a rather
astonished voice. "What you've seen uh me, so far, ain't been what
I'd call a gilt-edge recommend. But if you're fool enough to mean it
serious, it's as I told yuh a while back: Yuh can count on me till
they're cutting figure-eights all over hell."
"That, according to the scientists who are willing to concede the
existence of such a place, will be quite as long as I shall be likely
to have need of your loyalty," observed Mr. Dill, puckering his long
face into the first smile Billy had seen him attempt.
He did not intimate the fact that he had inquired very closely into
the record and the general range qualifications of Charming Billy
Boyle, sounding, for that purpose, every responsible man in Hardup.
With the new-born respect for him bred by his peculiarly efficacious
way of handling those who annoyed him beyond the limit, he was told
the truth and recognized it as such. So he was not really as rash and
as given over to his impulses as Billy, in his ignorance of the man,
The modesty of Billy would probably have been shocked if he had heard
the testimony of his fellows concerning him. As it was, he was rather
dazed and a good deal inclined to wonder how Alexander P. Dill had
ever managed to accumulate enough capital to start anything--let
alone a cow-outfit--if he took on trust every man he met. He privately
believed that Dill had taken a long chance, and that he should
consider himself very lucky because he had accidentally picked a man
who would not "steal him blind."
* * * * *
After that there were many days of riding to and fro, canvassing all
northern Montana in search of a location and an outfit that suited
them and that could be bought. And in the riding, Mr. Dill became
under the earnest tutelage of Charming Billy a shade less ignorant of
range ways and of the business of "raising wild cattle for the Eastern
He even came to speak quite easily of "outfits" in all the nice shades
of meaning which are attached to that hard-worked term. He could lay
the saddle-blanket smooth and unwrinkled, slap the saddle on and cinch
it without fixing it either upon the withers or upon the rump of his
long-suffering mount. He could swing his quirt without damaging his
own person, and he rode with his stirrups where they should be to
accommodate the length of him--all of which speaks eloquently of the
honest intentions of Dill's confidential adviser.
_Just a Day-dream._
Charming Billy rode humped over the saddle-horn, as rides one whose
mind feels the weight of unpleasant thoughts. Twice he had glanced
uncertainly at his companion, opening his lips for speech; twice he
had closed them silently and turned again to the uneven trail.
Mr. Dill also was humped forward in the saddle, but if one might judge
from his face it was because he was cold. The wind blew chill from out
the north and they were facing it; the trail they followed was frozen
hard and the gray clouds above promised snow. The cheek-bones of Dill
were purple and the point of his long nose was very red. Tears stood
in his eyes, whipped there by the biting wind.
"How far are we now from town?" he asked dispiritedly.
"Only about five miles," Billy cheered. Then, as if trivial speech had
made easier what he had in mind to say, he turned resolutely toward
the other. "Yuh expect to meet old man Robinson there, don't yuh?"
"That was the arrangement, as I understood it"
"And you're thinking strong of buying him out?"
"His place appeals to me more than any of the others, and--yes, it
seems to me that I can't do better." Mr. Dill turned the collar of his
coat up a bit farther--or fancied he did so--and looked questioningly
"Yuh gave me leave to advise yuh where yuh needed it," Billy said
almost challengingly, "and I'm going to call yuh, right here and now.
If yuh take my advice yuh won't go making medicine with old Robinson
any more. He'll do yuh, sure. He's asking yuh double what the outfit's
worth. They _all_ are. It looks to me like they think you're just out
here to get rid of your pile and the bigger chunk they can pry loose
from yuh the better. I was going to put yuh next before this, only yuh
didn't seem to take to any uh the places real serious, so it wasn't
"I realize that one cannot buy land and cattle for nothing," Dill
chuckled. "It seemed to me that, compared with the prices others have
asked, Mr. Robinson's offer was very reasonable."
"It may be lower than Jacobs and Wilter, but that don't make it
"Well, there were the Two Sevens"--he meant the Seventy-Seven, but
that was a mere detail--"I didn't get to see the owner, you know. I
have written East, however, and should hear from him in a few days."
"Yuh ain't likely to do business with _that_ layout, because I don't
believe they'd sell at any price. Old Robinson is the washout yuh want
to ride around at present; I ain't worrying about the rest, right now.
He's a smooth old devil, and he'll do yuh sure."
To this Mr. Dill made no reply whatever. He fumbled the fastenings on
his coon-skin coat, tried to pull his cap lower and looked altogether
unhappy. And Charming Billy, not at ail sure that his advice would be
taken or his warning heeded, stuck the spurs into his horse and set a
faster pace reflecting gloomily upon the trials of being confidential
adviser to one who, in a perfectly mild and good-mannered fashion,
goes right along doing pretty much as he pleases.
It made him think, somehow, of Miss Bridger and the way she had forced
him to take his gun with him when he had meant to leave it. She was
like Dill in that respect: nice and good-natured and smiling--only
Dill smiled but seldom--and yet always managing to make you give up
your own wishes. He wished vaguely that the wanderings of Dill would
bring them back to the Double-Crank country, instead of leading them
always farther afield. He did not, however, admit openly to himself
that he wanted to see Miss Bridger again; yet he did permit himself
to wonder if she ever played coon-can with any one else, or if she had
already forgotten the game. Probably she had, and--well, a good many
other things that he remembered quite distinctly.
Later, when they had reached town, were warmed and fed and when even
Billy was thinking seriously of sleep, Dill came over and sat down
beside him solemnly, folded his bony hands upon knees quite as bony,
regarded pensively the generously formed foot dangling some distance
before him and smiled his puckered smile.
"I have been wondering, William, if you had not some plan of your own
concerning this cattle-raising business, which you think is better
than mine but which you hesitate to express. If you have, I hope you
will feel quite free to--er--lay it before the head of the firm. It
may interest you to know that I have, as you would put it, 'failed to
connect' with Mr. Robinson. So, if you have any ideas--"
"Oh, I'm burning up with 'em," Charming Billy retorted in a way he
meant to be sarcastic, but which Mr. Dill took quite seriously.
"Then I hope you won't hesitate--"
"Now look here, Dilly," expostulated he, between puffs. "Recollect,
it's _your_ money that's going to feed the birds--and it's your
privilege to throw it out to suit yourself. Uh course, I might
day-dream about the way I'd start into the cow-business if I was a
"I'm not a millionaire," Mr. Dill hastened to correct. "A couple of
hundred thousand or so, is about all--"
"Well, a fellow don't have to pin himself down to just so many dollars
and cents--not when he's building himself a pet dream. And if a fellow
dreams about starting up an outfit of his own, it don't prove he'd
make it stick in reality." The tone of Billy, however, did not express
Mr. Dill untangled his legs, crossed them the other way and regarded
the other dangling foot. "I should like very much," he hinted mildly,
"to have you tell me this--er--day-dream, as you call it."
So Charming Billy, tilted back in his chair and watching with
half-shut eyes the intangible smoke-wreath from his cigarette, found
words for his own particular air-castle which he had builded on sunny
days when the Double-Crank herds grazed peacefully around him; or on
stormy nights when he sat alone in the line-camp and played solitaire
with the mourning wind crooning accompaniment; or on long rides alone,
when the trail was plain before him and the grassland stretched away
and away to a far sky-line, and the white clouds sailed sleepily over
his head and about him the meadowlarks sang. And while he found the
words, he somehow forgot Dill, long and lean and lank, listening
beside him, and spoke more freely than he had meant to do when Dill
first opened the subject a few minutes before.
"Recollect, this is just a day-dream," he began. "But, if I was a
millionaire, or if I had two hundred thousand dollars--and to me they
don't sound much different--I'd sure start a cow-outfit right away
immediately at once. But I wouldn't buy out nobody; I'd go right back
and start like they did--if they're real old-timers. I'd go down south
into Texas and I'd buy me a bunch uh two-year-olds and bring 'em up
here, and turn 'em loose on the best piece of open range I know--and
I know a peach. In a year or so I'd go back and do the same again, and
I'd keep it up whilst my money held out I'd build me a home ranch back
somewheres in a draw in the hills, where there's lots uh water and
lots uh shelter, and I'd get a bunch uh men that savvied cow-brutes,
put 'em on horses that wouldn't trim down their self-respect every
time they straddled 'em, and then I'd just ride around and watch
myself get rich. And--" He stopped and dreamed silently over his
"And then?" urged Mr. Dill, after a moment.
"And then--I'd likely get married, and raise a bunch uh boys to carry
on the business when I got old and fat, and too damn' lazy to ride off
Mr. Dill took three minutes to weigh the matter. Then, musingly: "I'm
not sure about the boys. I'm not a marrying man, myself--but just
giving a snap judgment on the other part of it, I will say it
The weeks that followed immediately after bulged big with the things
which Billy must do or have done. For to lie on one's back in the sun
with one's hat pulled low, dreaming lazily and with minute detail the
perfect supervision of a model cow-outfit from its very inception
up through the buying of stock and the building of corrals and the
breaking of horses to the final shipping of great trainloads of sleek
beef, is one thing; to start out in reality to do all that, with
the hundred little annoyances and hindrances which come not to one's
dreaming in the sun, is something quite different.
But with all the perplexities born of his changed condition and the
responsibility it brought him, Billy rejoiced in the work and airily
planned the years to come--years in which he would lead Alexander P.
Dill straight into the ranks of the Western millionaires; years when
the sun of prosperity would stand always straight overhead, himself
a Joshua who would, by his uplifted hands, keep it there with never a
cloud to dim the glory of its light.
For the first time in his life he rode over Texas prairies and lost
thereby some ideals and learned many things, the while he spent
more money than he had ever owned--or ever expected to own--as the
preliminary to making his pet dream come true; truth to tell, it
mattered little to Billy Boyle whether his dream came true for himself
or for another, so long as he himself were the chief magician.
So it was with a light heart that he swung down from the train
at Tower, after his homing flight, and saw Dill, conspicuous as a
flagstaff, waiting for him on the platform, his face puckered into a
smile of welcome and his bony fingers extended ready to grip painfully
the hand of Charming Billy.
"I'm very glad to see you back, William," he greeted earnestly. "I
hope you are well, and that you met with no misfortune while you were
away. I have been very anxious for your return, as I need your advice
upon a matter which seems to me of prime importance. I did not wish
to make any decisive move until I had consulted with you, and time is
pressing. Did you--er--buy as many cattle as you expected to get?" It
seemed to Billy that there was an anxious note in his voice. "Your
letters were too few and too brief to keep me perfectly informed of
"Why, everything was lovely at my end uh the trail, Dilly--only I fell
down on them four thousand two-year-olds. Parts uh the country was
quarantined for scab, and I went way around them places. And I was
too late to see the cattlemen in a bunch when they was at the
Association--only you ain't likely to savvy that part uh the
business--and had to chase 'em all over the country. Uh course it was
my luck to have 'em stick their prices up on the end of a pole, where
I didn't feel like climbing after 'em. So I only contracted for a
couple uh thousand to be laid down in Billings somewhere between the
first and the tenth of June, at twenty-one dollars a head. It was
the best I could do this year--but next winter I can go down earlier,
before the other buyers beat me to it, and do a lot better. Don't yuh
worry, Dilly; it ain't serious."
On the contrary, Dill looked relieved, and Billy could not help
noticing it. His own face clouded a little. Perhaps Dill had lost his
money, or the bulk of it, and they couldn't do all the things they
had meant to do, after all; how else, thought Billy uneasily, could
he look like that over what should ordinarily be something of a
disappointment? He remembered that Dill, after the workings of
the cattle business from the very beginning had been painstakingly
explained to him just before Billy started south, had been anxious
to get at least four thousand head of young stock on the range that
spring. Something must have gone wrong. Maybe a bank had gone
busted or something like that. Billy stole a glance up at the other,
shambling silently along beside him, and decided that something had
certainly happened--and on the heels of that he remembered oddly that
he had felt almost exactly like this when Miss Bridger had asked him
to show her where was the coffee, and there _wasn't_ any coffee. There
was the same heavy feeling in his chest, and the same--
"I wrote you a letter three or four days ago--on the third, to be
exact," Dill was saying. "I don't suppose it reached you, however. I
was going to have you meet me in Hardup; but then your telegram was
forwarded to me there and I came on here at once. I only arrived this
morning. I think that after we have something to eat we would better
start out immediately, unless you have other plans. I drove over in
a rig, and as the horses have rested several hours and are none the
worse for the drive, I think we can easily make the return trip this
"You're the doctor," assented Billy briefly, more uneasy than
before and yet not quite at the point of asking questions. In his
acquaintance with Dill he had learned that it was not always wise to
question too closely; where Dill wished to give his confidence he gave
it freely, but beyond the limit he had fixed for himself was a stone
wall, masked by the flowers, so to speak, of his unfailing courtesy.
Billy had once or twice inadvertently located that wall.
A great depression seized upon him and made him quite indifferent
to the little pleasures of homecoming; of seeing the grass green and
velvety and hearing the familiar notes of the meadow-larks and the
curlews. The birds had not returned when he went away, and now the air
was musical with them. Driving over the prairies seemed fairly certain
of being anything but pleasant to-day, with Dill doubled awkwardly in
the seat beside him, carrying on an intermittent monologue of trivial
stuff to which Billy scarcely listened. He could feel that there
was something at the back of it all, and that was enough for him at
present. He was not even anxious now to hear just what was the form of
the disaster which had overtaken them.