Part 3 out of 3
He was glad in his heart when came the time to go. Maybe she would get
over her foolishness by the time he came in with the round-up. At any
rate, the combination at the ranch did not tempt him to neglect his
business, and he galloped down the trail without so much as looking
back to see if Flora would wave--possibly because he was afraid he
might catch the flutter of a handkerchief in fingers other than hers.
It was when the round-up was on its way in that Billy, stopping for an
hour in Hardup, met Dill in the post office.
"Why, hello, Dilly!" he cried, really glad to see the tall, lank form
come shambling in at the door. "I didn't expect to see yuh off your
own ranch. Anybody dead?" It struck him that Dill looked a shade more
melancholy than was usual, even for him.
"Why, no, William. Every one is well--very well indeed. I only rode
in after the mail and a few other things. I'm always anxious for my
papers and magazines, you know. If you will wait for half an hour--you
are going home, I take it?"
"That's where I'm sure headed, and we can ride out together, easy as
not. We're through for a couple uh weeks or so, and I'm hazing the
boys home to bust a few hosses before we strike out again. I guess
I'll just keep the camp running down by the creek. Going to be in town
long enough for me to play a game uh pool?"
"I was going right out again, but there's no particular hurry," said
Dill, looking over his letters. "Were you going to play with some one
"No--just the first gazabo I could rope and lead up to the table,"
Billy told him, sliding off the counter where he had been perched.
"I wouldn't mind a game myself," Dill observed, in his hesitating way.
In the end, however, they gave up the idea and started for home;
because two men were already playing at the only table in Hardup, and
they were in no mind to wait indefinitely.
Outside the town, Dill turned gravely to the other, "Did you say you
were intending to camp down by the creek, William?" he asked slowly.
"Why, yes. Anything against it?" Billy's eyes opened a bit wider that
Dill should question so trivial a thing.
"Oh, no--nothing at all." Dill cleared his throat raspingly. "Nothing
at all--so long as there is any creek to camp beside."
"I reckon you've got something to back that remark. Has the creek went
and run off somewhere?" Billy said, after a minute of staring.
"William, I have been feeling extremely ill at ease for the past week,
and I have been very anxious for a talk with you. Eight days ago the
creek suddenly ran dry--so dry that one could not fill a tin dipper
except in the holes. I observed it about noon, when I led my horse
down to water. I immediately saddled him and rode up the creek to
discover the cause." He stopped and looked at Billy steadily.
"Well, I reckon yuh found it," Billy prompted impatiently.
"I did. I followed the creek until I came to the ditch Mr. Brown has
been digging. I found that he had it finished and was filling it from
the creek in order to test it. I believe," he added dryly, "he found
the result very satisfying--to himself. The ditch carried the whole
creek without any trouble, and there was plenty of room at the top for
"Hell!" said Billy, just as Dill knew he would say. "But he can't take
out any more than his water-right calls for," he added. "Yuh got a
water right along with the ranch, didn't yuh say?"
"I got three--the third, fourth, and fifth. I have looked into the
matter very closely in the last week. I find that we can have all the
water there is--after Brown gets through. His rights are the first
and second, and will cover all the water the creek will carry, if he
chooses to use them to the limit. I suspect he was looking for some
sort of protest from me, for he had the papers in his pocket and
showed them to me. I afterward investigated, as I said, and found the
case to be exactly as I have stated."
Billy stared long at his horse's ears. "Well, he can't use the whole
creek," he said at last, "not unless he just turned it loose to be
mean, and I don't believe he can waste water even if he does hold the
rights. We can mighty quick put a stop to that. Do yuh know anything
about injunctions? If yuh don't, yuh better investigate 'em a
lot--because I don't know a damn' thing about the breed, and we're
liable to need 'em bad."
"I believe I may truthfully say that I understand the uses--and
misuses--of injunctions, William. In the East they largely take the
place of guns as fighting weapons, and I think I may say without
boasting that I can hit the bull's-eye with them as well as most men.
But suppose Mr. Brown _uses_ the water? Suppose there is none left to
turn back into the creek channel when he is through? He has a large
force of men at work running laterals from the main ditch, which
carries the water up and over the high land, and I took the liberty of
following his lines of stakes. As you would put it, William, he seems
about to irrigate the whole of northern Montana; certainly his stakes
cover the whole creek bottom, both above and below the main ditch, and
also the bench land above."
"Hell! Anything else?"
"I believe not--except that he has completed his fencing and has
turned in a large number of cattle. I say completed, though strictly
speaking he has not. He has completed the great field south of the
creek and east of us. But Mr. Walland was saying that Brown intends
to fence a tract to the north of us, either this fall or early in the
spring. I know to a certainty that he has a good many sections leased
there. I tried to obtain some of it last spring and could not." Into
the voice of Dill had crept a note of discouragement.
"Well, don't yuh worry none, Dilly. I'm here to see yuh pull out on
top, and you'll do it, too. You're a crackerjack when it comes to the
fine points uh business, and I sure savvy the range end uh the game,
so between us we ought to make good, don't yuh think? You just
keep your eye on Brown, and if yuh can slap him in the face with an
injunction or anything, don't yuh get a sudden attack uh politeness
and let him slide. I'll look after the cow brutes myself--and if I
ain't good for it, after all these years, I ought to be kicked plumb
off the earth. The time has gone by when we could ride over there and
haze his bunch clear out uh the country on a high lope, with our six
guns backing our argument. I kinda wish," he added pensively, "we
_hadn't_ got so damn' decent and law-abiding. We could get action a
heap more speedy and thorough with a dozen or fifteen buckaroos that
liked to fight and had lots uh shells and good hosses. Why, I could
have the old man's bunch shoveling dirt into that ditch to beat four
aces, in about fifteen minutes, if--"
"But, as you say," Dill cut in anxiously, "we are decent and
law-abiding, and such a procedure is quite out of the question."
"Aw, I ain't meditating no moonlight attack, Dilly--but the boys would
sure love to do it if I told 'em to get busy, and I reckon we could
make a better job of it than forty-nine injunctions and all kinds uh
"Careful, William. I used to be a 'law sharp' myself," protested Dill,
pulling his face into a smile. "And I must own I feel anxious over
this irrigation project of Brown's. He is going to work upon a large
scale--a _very_ large scale--for a private ranch. You have made it
plain to me, William, how vitally important a wide, unsettled country
is to successful cattle raising; and since then I have thought deeply
upon the subject. I feel sure that Mr. Brown is _not_ going to start a
"If he ain't, then what--"
"I am not prepared at present to make a statement, even to you,
William. I never enjoyed recanting. But one thing I may say. Mr. Brown
has so far kept well within his legal rights, and we have no possible
ground for protest. So you see, perhaps we would better turn our
entire attention to our own affairs."
"Sure. I got plenty uh troubles uh my own," Billy agreed, more
emphatically than he intended.
Dill looked at him hesitatingly. "Mrs. Bridger," he observed slowly,
"has received news that her husband is seriously ill. There will
not be another boat going north until spring, so that it will be
impossible for her to go to him. I am extremely sorry." Then, as if
that statement seemed to him too bald, in view of the fact that they
had never discussed Mama Joy, he added, "It is very hard for Flora.
The letter held out little hope of recovery."
Billy, though he turned a deep red and acquired three distinct creases
between his eyebrows, did not even make use of his favorite expletive.
After a while he said irritably that a man was a damn fool to go off
like that and leave a wife--and family--behind him. He ought either to
stay at home or take them with him.
He did not mean that he wished her father had taken Flora to Klondyke,
though he openly implied that he wished Mama Joy had gone. He knew he
was inconsistent, but he also knew--and there was comfort as well as
discomfort in the knowledge--that Dill understood him very well.
It seemed to Billy, in the short time that the round-up crew was
camped by the creek, that no situation could be more intolerable than
the one he must endure. He could not see Flora without having Mama
Joy present also--or if he did find Flora alone, Mama Joy was sure to
appear very shortly. If he went near the house there was no escaping
her. And when he once asked Flora to ride with him he straightway
discovered that Mama Joy had developed a passion for riding and went
along. Flora had only time to murmur a rapid sentence or two while
Mama Joy was hunting her gloves.
"Mama Joy has been taking the _Ladies' Home Journal_" she said
ironically, "and she has been converted to the idea that a girl must
never be trusted alone with a man. I've acquired a chaperon now! Have
you begun to study diplomacy yet, Billy Boy?"
"Does she chapyron yuh this fervent when the Pilgrim's the man?"
countered Billy resentfully.
He did not get an answer, because Mama Joy found her gloves too soon,
but he learned his lesson and did not ask Flora to ride with him
again. Nevertheless, he tried surreptitiously to let her know the
reason and so prevent any misunderstanding.
He knew that Flora was worrying over her father, and he would like to
have cheered her all he could; but he had no desire to cheer Mama Joy
as well--he would not even give her credit for needing cheer. So
he stayed away from them both and gave his time wholly to the
horse-breaking and to affairs in general, and ate and slept in camp to
make his avoidance of the house complete.
Sometimes, of a night when he could not sleep, he wondered why it
is that one never day-dreams unpleasant obstacles and disheartening
failures into one's air castles. Why was it that, just when it had
seemed to him that his dream was miraculously come true; when he found
himself complete master of the Double-Crank where for years he
had been merely one of the men; when the One Girl was also settled
indefinitely in the household he called his home; when he knew she
liked him, and had faith to believe he could win her to something
better than friendship--all these good things should be enmeshed in a
tangle of untoward circumstances?
Why must he be compelled to worry over the Double-Crank, that had
always seemed to him a synonym for success? Why must his first and
only love affair be hampered by an element so disturbing as Mama
Joy? Why, when he had hazed the Pilgrim out of his sight--and as he
supposed, out of his life--must the man hover always in the immediate
background, threating the peace of mind of Billy, who only wanted to
be left alone that he and his friends might live unmolested in the air
castle of his building?
One night, just before they were to start out again gathering beef
for the shipping season, Billy thought he had solved the
problem--philosophically, if not satisfactorily. "I guess maybe it's
just one uh the laws uh nature that you're always bumping into," he
decided. "It's a lot like draw-poker. Yah can't get dealt out to yuh
the cards yuh want, without getting some along with 'em that yuh don't
want. What gets me is, I don't see how in thunder I'm going to ditch
m' discard. If I could just turn 'em face down on the table and count
'em out uh the game--old Brown and his fences and his darn ditch, and
that dimply blonde person and the Pilgrim--oh, hell! Wouldn't we rake
in the stakes if I could?"
Straightway Billy found another element added to the list of
disagreeables--or, to follow his simile, another card was dealt him
which he would like to have discarded, but which he must keep in
his hand and play with what skill he might. He was not the care-free
Charming Billy Boyle who had made prune pie for Flora Bridger in the
line-camp. He looked older, and there were chronic creases between his
eyebrows, and it was seldom that he asked tunefully
"Can she make a punkin pie, Billy boy, Billy Boy?"
He had too much on his mind for singing anything.
It was when he had gathered the first train load of big, rollicky
steers for market and was watching Jim Bleeker close the stockyard
gate on the tail of the herd at Tower, the nearest shipping point,
that the disagreeable element came in the person of Dill and the news
He rode up to where Billy, just inside the wing of the stockyards,
was sitting slouched over with one foot out of the stirrup, making a
cigarette. Dill did not look so much the tenderfoot, these days. He
sat his horse with more assurance, and his face was brown and had that
firm, hard look which outdoor living brings.
"I looked for you in yesterday or the day before, William," he said,
when Billy had greeted him with a friendly, "Hello, Dilly!" and one of
his illuminating smiles.
"I'm ready to gamble old Brown has been and gone and run the creek dry
on yuh again," bantered Billy, determined at that moment to turn his
back on trouble.
"No, William, you would lose. The creek is running almost its normal
volume of water. I dislike very much to interfere with your part of
the business, William, but under present conditions I feel justified
in telling you that you must not ship these cattle just now. I have
been watching the market with some uneasiness for a month. Beef
has been declining steadily until now it ranges from two-ninety to
three-sixty, and you will readily see, William, that we cannot afford
to ship at that figure. For various reasons I have not obtruded
business matters upon you, but I will now state that it is vitally
important that we realize enough from the beef shipments to make our
fall payment on the mortgage and pay the interest on the remainder. It
would be a great advantage if we could also clear enough for the next
year's running expenses. Have you any idea how much beef there will be
to ship this fall?"
"I figured on sixty or seventy cars," said Billy. Instinctively he had
pulled himself straight in the saddle to meet this fresh emergency.
Dill, with a pencil and an old letter from his pocket, was doing some
rapid figuring. "With beef so low, I fear I shall be obliged to ask
you to hold this herd for two or three weeks. The price is sure to
rise later. It is merely a juggling operation among the speculators
and is not justified by the condition of the stock, or of the market.
In a couple of weeks the price should be normal again."
"And in a couple uh weeks this bunch would bring the lowest figure
they name," Billy asserted firmly. "Beef shrinks on the hoof like
thunder when it's held up and close-herded on poor range. What
yuh better do, Dilly, is let me work this herd and ship just the
top-notchers--they're _all_ prime beef," he added regretfully,
glancing through the fence at the milling herd. "I can cut out ten of
twelve cars that'll bring top price, and throw the rest back on the
range till we gather again. Yuh won't lose as much that way as yuh
would by holding up the whole works."
"Well," Dill hesitated, "perhaps you are right. I don't pretend to
know anything about this side of the business. To put the case to you
plainly, we must clear forty thousand dollars on our beef this fall,
for the mortgage alone--putting it in round numbers. We should also
have ten thousand dollars for expenses, in order to run clear without
adding to our liabilities. I rely upon you to help manage it. If you
would postpone any more gathering of beef until--"
"It's just about a case uh now or never," Billy cut in. "There's only
about so long to gather beef before they begin to fall off in weight.
Then we've got to round up the calves and wean 'em, before cold
weather sets in. We can't work much after snow falls. We can pull
through the first storm, all right, but when winter sets in we're
done. We've got to wean and feed all the calves you've got hay for,
and I can save some loss by going careful and taking 'em away from the
poorest cows and leaving the fat ones to winter their calves. How much
hay yuh got put up?"
"A little over five hundred tons on our place," said Dill. "And I sent
a small crew over to the Bridger place; they have nearly a hundred
tons there. You said for me to gather every spear I could," he
reminded humorously, "and I obeyed to the best of my ability."
"Good shot, Dilly. I'll round up eight or nine hundred calves, then;
that'll help some. Well, shall I cut the top off this bunch uh beef,
or throw the whole business back on the range? You're the doctor."
Dill rode close to the high fence, stood in his stirrups and looked
down upon the mass of broad, sleek backs moving restlessly in and out
and around, with no aim but to seek some way of escape. The bawling
made speech difficult at any distance, and the dust sent him coughing
"I think, William," he said, when he was again beside Billy, "I shall
leave this matter to your own judgment. What I want is to get every
cent possible out of the beef we ship; the details I am content to
leave with you, for in my ignorance I should probably botch the job. I
suppose we can arrange it so that, in case the market rises suddenly,
you can rush in a trainload at short notice?"
"Give me two weeks to get action on the range stuff, and I can have a
trainload on the way to Chicago so quick it'll make your head whirl.
I'll make it a point to be ready on short notice. And before we pull
out I'll give yuh a kinda programme uh the next three or four weeks,
so yuh can send a man out and he'll have some show uh finding us. And
I won't bring in another herd till you send word--only yuh want to
bear in mind that I can't set out there on a pinnacle till snow flies,
waiting for prices to raise in Chicago. Yuh don't want to lose sight
uh them nine hundred calves we've got to gather yet."
It was all well enough for Billy to promise largely and confidently,
but he failed to take into account one small detail over which he
had no control. So perfect was his system of gathering beef--and he
gathered only the best, so as to catch the top price--that when Dill's
message came, short and hurried but punctiliously worded and perfectly
punctuated, that beef had raised to four-thirty and "Please rush
shipment as per agreement," Billy had his trainload of beef in
Tower, ready to load just three days after receiving notice. But
here interfered the detail over which he had no control. Dill had
remembered to order the cars, but shipping was heavy and cars were not
to be had.
Two long, heartrending weeks they waited just outside Tower, held
there within easy reach--and upon mighty short feed for the herd--by
the promises of the railroad management and the daily assurance of the
agent that the cars might be along at any time within four hours. (He
always said four hours, which was the schedule time for fast freight
between Tower and the division point.) Two long weeks, while from the
surrounding hills they watched long stock trains winding snakily over
the prairie toward Chicago. During those maddening days and nights
Billy added a fresh crease to the group between his eyebrows and
deepened the old ones, and Dill rode three horses thin galloping back
and forth between the ranch and the herd, in helpless anxiety.
At last the cars came and the beef, a good deal thinner than it had
been, was loaded and gone, and the two relaxed somewhat from the
strain. The market was lower when that beef reached its destination,
and they did not bring the "top" price which Billy had promised Dill.
So the shipping season passed and Dill made his payment on the
mortgage by borrowing twelve thousand dollars, using a little over two
thousand to make up the deficit in shipping returns and holding the
remainder for current expenses. Truly, the disagreeable element which
would creep in where Billy had least expected scored a point there,
and once more the castle he had builded for himself and Dill and one
other lay in shadow.
_When the North Wind Blows._
November came in with a blizzard; one of those sudden, sweeping whirls
of snow, with bitter cold and a wind that drove the fine snow-flour
through shack walls and around window casings, and made one look
speculatively at the supply of fuel. It was such a storm as brings an
aftermath of sheepherders reported missing with their bands scattered
and wandering aimlessly or else frozen, a huddled mass, in some
washout; such a storm as sends the range cattle drifting, heads down
and bodies hunched together, neither knowing nor caring where their
trail may end, so they need not face that bitter drive of wind and
It was the first storm of the season, and they told one another it
would be the worst. The Double-Crank wagons were on the way in with a
bunch of bawling calves and cows when it came, and they were forced to
camp hastily in the shelter of a coulee till it was over, and to walk
and lead their horses much of the time on guard that they might not
freeze in the saddle. But they pulled through it, and they got to the
ranch and the corrals with only a few calves left beside the trail
to mark their bitter passing. In the first days of cold and calm that
came after, the ranch was resonant day and night with that monotonous,
indescribable sound, like nothing else on earth unless it be the
beating of surf against a rocky shore--the bawling of nine hundred
calves penned in corrals, their uproar but the nucleus for the
protesting clamor of nine hundred cows circling outside or standing
with noses pressed close against the corral rails.
Not one day and night it lasted, nor two. For four days the uproar
showed no sign of ever lessening, and on the fifth the eighteen
hundred voices were so hoarse that the calves merely whispered their
plaint, gave over in disgust and began nosing the scattered piles
of hay. The cows, urged by hunger, strayed from the blackened circle
around the corrals and went to burrowing in the snow for the ripened
grass whereby they must live throughout the winter. They were driven
forth to the open range and left there, and the Double-Crank settled
down to comparative quiet and what peace they might attain. Half
the crew rolled their beds and rode elsewhere to spend the winter,
returning, like the meadowlarks, with the first hint of soft skies and
Jim Bleeker and a fellow they called Spikes moved over to the Bridger
place with as many calves as the hay there would feed, and two men
were sent down to the line-camp to winter. Two were kept at the
Double-Crank Ranch to feed the calves and make themselves generally
useful--the quietest, best boys of the lot they were, because they
must eat in the house and Billy was thoughtful of the women.
So the Double-Crank settled itself for the long winter and what it
might bring of good or ill.
Billy was troubled over more things than one. He could not help seeing
that Flora was worrying a great deal over her father, and that the
relations between herself and Mama Joy were, to put it mildly and
tritely, strained. With the shadow of what sorrow might be theirs,
hidden away from them in the frost-prisoned North, there was no
dancing to lighten the weeks as they passed, and the women of the
range land are not greatly given to "visiting" in winter. The miles
between ranches are too long and too cold and uncertain, so that
nothing less alluring than a dance may draw them from home. Billy
thought it a shame, and that Flora must be terribly lonesome.
It was a long time before he had more than five minutes at a stretch
in which to talk privately with her. Then one morning he came in to
breakfast and saw that the chair of Mama Joy was empty; and Flora,
when he went into the kitchen afterward, told him with almost a
relish in her tone that Mrs. Bridger--she called her that, also with a
relish--was in bed with toothache.
"Her face is swollen on one side till she couldn't raise a dimple to
save her life," she announced, glancing to see that the doors were
discreetly closed. "It's such a relief, when you've had to look
at them for four years. If _I_ had dimples," she added, spitefully
rattling a handful of knives and forks into the dishpan, "I'd plug the
things with beeswax or dough, or anything that I could get my hands
on. Heavens! How I hate them!"
"Same here," said Billy, with guilty fervor. It was treason to one of
his few principles to speak disparagingly of a woman, but it was in
this case a great relief. He had never before seen Flora in just this
explosive state, and he had never heard her say "Heavens!" Somehow,
it also seemed to him that he had never seen her so wholly lovable. He
went up to her, tilted her head back a little, and put a kiss on the
place where dimples were not. "That's one uh the reasons why I like
yuh so much," he murmured. "Yuh haven't got dimples or yellow hair or
blue eyes--thank the Lord! Some uh these days, girlie, I'm going t'
pick yuh up and run off with yuh."
Her eyes, as she looked briefly up at him, were a shade less
turbulent. "You'd better watch out or _she_ will be running off with
_you_!" she said, and drew gently away from him. "There! That's a
horrid thing to say, Billy Boy, but it isn't half as horrid as--And
she watches me and wants to know everything we say to each other, and
is--" She stopped abruptly and turned to get hot water.
"I know it's tough, girlie." Charming Billy, considering his ignorance
of women, showed an instinct for just the sympathy she needed. "I
haven't had a chance to speak to yuh, hardly, for months--anything but
common remarks made in public. How long does the toothache last as a
general thing?" He took down the dish towel from its nail inside the
pantry door and prepared to help her. "She's good for to-day, ain't
"Oh, yes--and I suppose it _does_ hurt, and I ought to be sorry.
But I'm not. I'm glad of it. I wish her face would stay that way all
winter! She's so fussy about her looks she won't put her nose out of
her room till she's pretty again. Oh, Billy Boy, I wish I were a man!"
"Well, _I_ don't!" Billy disagreed. "If yuh was," he added soberly,
"and stayed as pretty as yuh are now, she'd--" But Billy could not
bring himself to finish the sentence.
"Do you think it's because you're so pretty that she--"
Flora smiled reluctantly. "If I were a man I could swear and _swear!_"
"Swear anyhow," suggested Billy encouragingly. "I'll show yuh how."
"And father away off in Klondyke," she said irrelevantly, passing over
his generous offer, "and--and dead, for all we know! And she doesn't
care--at _all!_ She--"
Sympathy is good, but it has a disagreeable way of bringing all one's
troubles to the front rather overwhelmingly. Flora suddenly dropped a
plate back into the pan, leaned her face against the wall by the sink
and began to cry in a tempestuous manner rather frightened Charming
Billy Boyle, who had never before seen a grown woman cry real tears
and sob like that.
He did what he could. He put his arms around her and held her close,
and patted her hair and called her girlie, and laid his brown cheek
against her wet one and told her to never mind and that it would be
all right anyway, and that her father was probably picking away in his
mine right then and wishing she was there to fry his bacon for him.
"I wish I was, too," she murmured, weaned from her weeping and talking
into his coat. "If I'd known how--_she_--really was, I wouldn't ever
have stayed. I'd have gone with father."
"And where would _I_ come in?" he demanded selfishly, and so turned
the conversation still farther from her trouble.
The water went stone cold in the dishpan and the fire died in the
stove so that the frost spread a film over the thawed centre of the
window panes. There is no telling when the dishes would have been
washed that day if Mama Joy had not begun to pound energetically upon
the floor--with the heel of a shoe, judging from the sound. Even that
might not have proved a serious interruption; but Dill put his head
in from the dining room and got as far as "That gray horse, William--"
before he caught the significance of Flora perched on the knee of
"William" and retreated hastily.
So Flora went to see what Mama Joy wanted, and Billy hurried somewhat
guiltily out to find what was the matter with the gray horse, and
practical affairs once more took control.
After that, Billy considered himself an engaged young man. He went
back to his ditty and inquired frequently:
"Can she make a punkin pie, Billy boy, Billy Boy?"
and was very nearly the old, care-free Charming Billy of the
line-camp. It is true that Mama Joy recovered disconcertingly that
afternoon, and became once more ubiquitous, but Billy felt that
nothing could cheat him of his joy, and remained cheerful under
difficulties. He could exchange glances of much secret understanding
with Flora, and he could snatch a hasty kiss, now and then, and when
the chaperonage was too unremitting she could slip into his hands a
hurriedly penciled note, filled with important nothings. Which made a
bright spot in his life and kept Flora from thinking altogether of her
father and fretting for some news of him.
Still, there were other things to worry him and to keep him from
forgetting that the law of nature, which he had before defined to his
own satisfaction, still governed the game. Storm followed storm with
a monotonous regularity that was, to say the least, depressing, though
to be sure there had been other winters like this, and not even Billy
could claim that Nature was especially malignant.
But with Brown's new fence stretching for miles to the south and east
of the open range near home, the drifting cattle brought up against it
during the blinding blizzards and huddled there, freezing in the open,
or else plodded stolidly along beside it until some washout or coulee
too deep for crossing barred their way, so that the huddling and
freezing was at best merely postponed. Billy, being quite alive to the
exigencies of the matter, rode and rode, and with him rode Dill and
the other two men when they had the leisure--which was not often,
since the storms made much "shoveling" of hay necessary if they would
keep the calves from dying by the dozen. They pushed the cattle away
from the fences--to speak figuratively and colloquially--and drove
them back to the open range until the next storm or cold north wind
came and compelled them to repeat the process.
If Billy had had unlimited opportunity for lovemaking, he would not
have had the time, for he spent hours in the saddle every day, unless
the storm was too bitter for even him to face. There was the line-camp
with which to keep in touch; he must ride often to the Bridger
place--or he thought he must--to see how they were getting on. It
worried him to see how large the "hospital bunch" was growing, and
to see how many dark little mounds dotted the hollows, except when
a new-fallen blanket of snow made them white--the carcasses of the
calves that had "laid 'em down" already.
"Yuh ain't feeding heavy enough, boys," he told them once, before he
quite realized how hard the weather was for stock.
"Yuh better ride around the hill and take a look at the stacks,"
suggested Jim Bleeker. "We're feeding heavy as we dare, Bill. If we
don't get a let-up early we're going to be plumb out uh hay. There
ain't been a week all together that the calves could feed away from
the sheds. _That's_ where the trouble lays."
Billy rode the long half-mile up the coulee to where the hay had
mostly been stacked, and came back looking sober. "There's no use
splitting the bunch and taking some to the Double-Crank," he said. "We
need all the hay we've got over there. Shove 'em out on the hills and
make 'em feed a little every day that's fit, and bank up them
sheds and make 'em warmer. This winter's going to be one of our old
steadies, the way she acts so far. It's sure a fright, the way this
weather eats up the hay."
It was such incidents as these which weaned him again from his singing
and his light-heartedness as the weeks passed coldly toward spring.
He did not say very much about it to Dill, because he had a
constitutional aversion to piling up agony ahead of him; besides, Dill
could see for himself that the loss would be heavy, though just how
heavy he hadn't the experience with which to estimate. As March came
in with a blizzard and went, a succession of bleak days, into April,
Billy knew more than he cared to admit even to himself. He would lie
awake at night when the wind and snow raved over the land, and picture
the bare open that he knew, with lean, Double-Crank stock drifting
tail to the wind. He could fancy them coming up against this fence and
that fence, which had not been there a year or two ago, and huddling
there, freezing, cut off from the sheltered coulees that would have
"Damn these nesters and their fences!" He would grit his teeth at his
helplessness, and then try to forget it all and think only of Flora.
_"I'm Not Your Wife Yet!"_
Billy, coming back from the biggest town in the country, where he had
gone to pick up another man or two for the round-up which was at hand,
met the Pilgrim face to face as he was crossing the creek to go to
the corrals. It was nearing sundown and it was Sunday, and those two
details, when used in connection with the Pilgrim, seemed unpleasantly
significant. Besides, Billy was freshly antagonistic because of
something he had heard while he was away; instead of returning the
Pilgrim's brazenly cheerful "Hello," he scowled and rode on without so
much as giving a downward tilt to his chin. For Charming Billy Boyle
was never inclined to diplomacy, or to hiding his feelings in any way
unless driven to it by absolute necessity.
When he went into the house he saw that Flora had her hair done in a
new way that was extremely pretty, and that she had on a soft, white
silk shirt-waist with lots of lace zigzagged across--a waist hitherto
kept sacred to dances and other glorious occasions--and a soft, pink
bow pinned in her hair; all these things he mentally connected with
the visit of the Pilgrim. When he turned to see a malicious light in
the round, blue eyes of Mama Joy and a spiteful satisfaction in her
very dimples, it suddenly occurred to him that he would certainly have
something to say to Miss Flora. It was no comfort to know that all
winter the Pilgrim had not been near, because all winter he had been
away somewhere--rumor had it that he spent his winters in Iowa. Like
the birds, he always returned with the spring.
Billy never suspected that Mama Joy read his face and left them
purposely together after supper, though he was surprised when she
arose from the table and said:
"Flora, you make Billy help you with the dishes. I've got a headache
and I'm going to lie down."
At any rate, it gave him the opportunity he wanted.
"Are yuh going to let the Pilgrim hang around here this summer?" he
demanded in his straight-from-the-shoulder fashion while he was drying
the first cup.
"You mean Mr. Walland? I didn't know he ever 'hung around'." Flora was
not meek, and Billy realized that, as he put it mentally, he had his
work cut out for him to pull through without a quarrel.
"I mean the Pilgrim. And I call it hanging around when a fellow keeps
running to see a girl that's got a loop on her already. I don't want
to lay down the law to yuh, Girlie, but that blamed Siwash has got to
keep away from here. He ain't fit for yuh to speak to--and I'd a told
yuh before, only I didn't have any right--"
"Are you sure you have a right now?" The tone of Flora was sweet and
calm and patient. "I'll tell you one thing, Charming Billy Boyle, Mr.
Walland has never spoken one word against _you_. He--he _likes_ you,
and I don't think it's nice for you--"
"Likes me! Like hell he does!" snorted Billy, not bothering to choose
nice words. "He'd plug me in the back like an Injun if he thought
he could get off with it. I remember him when I hazed him away from
line-camp, the morning after you stayed there, he promised faithful to
kill me. Uh course, he won't, because he's afraid, but--I don't reckon
yuh can call it liking--"
"_Why_ did you 'haze him away,' as you call it, Billy? And kill his
dog? It was a _nice_ dog; I love dogs, and I don't see how any man--"
Billy flushed hotly. "I hazed him away because he insulted you," he
said bluntly, not quite believing in her ignorance.
Flora, her hands buried deep in the soapsuds, looked at him
round-eyed. "I never heard of that before," she said slowly. "When,
Billy? And what did he--say?"
Billy stared at her. "_I_ don't know what he said! I wouldn't think
you'd need to ask. When I came in the cabin--I lied about getting lost
from the trail--I turned around and came back, because I was afraid
he might come before I could get back, and--when I came in, there was
_something_. I could tell, all right. Yuh sat there behind the table
looking like yuh was--well, kinda cornered. And he was--Flora, he
_did_ say something, or do something! He didn't act right to yuh. I
could tell. _Didn't_ he? Yuh needn't be afraid to tell me, Girlie. I
give him a thrashing for it. What was it? I want to know." He did not
realize how pugnacious was his pose, but he was leaning toward her
with his face quite close, and his eyes were blue points of intensity.
His hands, doubled and pressing hard on the table, showed white at the
Flora rattled the dishes in the pan and laughed unsteadily. "Go to
work, Billy Boy, and don't act stagey," she commanded lightly. "I'll
tell you the exact truth--and that isn't anything to get excited over.
Fred Walland came about three minutes before you did, and of course I
didn't know he belonged there. I was afraid. He pushed open the door,
and he was swearing a little at the ice there, where we threw out the
dish water. I knew it wasn't you, and I got back in the corner. He
came in and looked awfully stunned at seeing me and said, 'I beg your
pardon, fair one'." She blushed and did not look up. "He said, 'I
didn't know there was a lady present,' and put down the sack of stuff
and looked at me for a minute or two without saying a word. He was
just going to speak, I think, when you burst in. And that's all there
was to it, Billy Boy. I was frightened because I didn't know who he
was, and he _did_ stare--but, so did you, Billy Boy, when I opened
the door and walked in. You stared every bit as hard and long as Fred
"But I'll bet I didn't have the same look in my face. Yuh wasn't
scared of _me_," Billy asserted shrewdly.
"I was too! I was horribly scared--at first. So if you fought Fred
Walland and killed his dog" (the reproach of her tone, then!) "because
you imagined a lot that wasn't true, you ought to go straight and
"I don't _think_ I will! Good Lord! Flora, do yuh think I don't _know_
the stuff he's made of? He's a low-down, cowardly cur--the kind uh
man that is always bragging about--" (Billy stuck there. With her big,
innocent eyes looking up at him, he could not say "bragging about the
women he's ruined," so he changed weakly) "about all he's done. He's a
murderer that ought by rights t' be in the pen right now--"
"I think that will do, Billy!" she interrupted indignantly. "You know
he couldn't help killing that man."
"I kinda believed that, too, till I run onto Jim Johnson up in Tower.
You don't know Jim, but he's a straight man and wouldn't lie. Yuh
remember, Flora, the Pilgrim told me the Swede pulled a knife on
him. I stooped down and looked, and _I_ didn't see no knife--nor gun,
either. And I wasn't so blamed excited I'd be apt to pass up anything
like that; I've seen men shot before, and pass out with their boots
on, in more excitable ways than a little, plain, old killing. So I
didn't see anything in the shape of a weapon. But when I come back,
here lays a Colt forty-five right in plain sight, and the Pilgrim
saying, 'He pulled a _gun_ on me,' right on top uh telling me it was
a _knife_. I thought at the time there was something queer about that,
and about him not having a gun on him when I know he _always_ packed
one--like every other fool Pilgrim that comes West with the idea he's
got to fight his way along from breakfast to supper, and sleep with
his six-gun under his pillow!"
"And _I_ know you don't like him, and you'd think he had some ulterior
motive if he rolled his cigarette backward once! I don't see anything
but just your dislike trying to twist things--"
"Well, hold on a minute! I got to talking with Jim, and we're pretty
good friends. So he told me on the quiet that Gus Svenstrom gave him
his gun to keep, that night. Gus was drinking, and said he didn't want
to be packing it around for fear he might get foolish with it. Jim
had it--Jim was tending bar that time in that little log saloon, in
Hardup--when the Swede was killed. So it wasn't _the Swedes_ gun on
the ground--and if he borrowed one, which he wouldn't be apt to do,
why didn't the fellow he got it from claim it?"
"And if all this is true, why didn't your friend come and testify
at the hearing?" demanded Flora, her eyes glowing. "It sounds to me
exactly like a piece of spiteful old-woman gossip, and I don't believe
a word of it!"
"Jim ain't a gossip. He kept his mouth shut because he didn't want to
make trouble, and he was under the impression the Swede had borrowed
a gun somewhere. Being half drunk, he could easy forget what he'd done
with his own, and the Pilgrim put up such a straight story--"
"Fred told the truth. I know he did. I don't _believe_ he had a gun
that night, because--because I had asked him as a favor to please not
carry one to dances and places. There, now! He'd do what I asked him
to. I know he would. And I think you're just mean, to talk like this
about him; and, mind you, if he wants to come here he can. I don't
care if he comes _every day_!" She was so near to tears that her voice
broke and kept her from saying more that was foolish.
"And I tell yuh, if he comes around here any more I'll chase him off
the ranch with a club!" Billy's voice was not as loud as usual, but
it was harsh and angry. "He ain't going to come here hanging around
you--not while _I_ can help it, and I guess I can, all right!" He
threw down the dish towel, swept a cup off the table with his elbow
when he turned, and otherwise betrayed human, unromantic rage. "Damn
him, I wisht I'd chased him off long ago. Fred, eh? Hell! _I'll_ Fred
him! Yuh think I'm going to stand for him running after my girl? I'll
kick him off the place. He ain't fit to speak to yuh, or look at yuh;
his friendship's an insult to any decent woman. I'll mighty quick put
a stop to--"
"Will Boyle, you don't _dare_! I'm not your wife yet, remember! I'm
free to choose my own friends without asking leave of any one, and if
I want Fred Walland to come here, he'll _come_, and it will take more
than you to stop him. I--I'll write him a note, and ask him to dinner
next Sunday. I--I'll _marry_ him if I want to, Will Boyle, and you
can't stop me! He--he wants me to, badly enough, and if you--"
Billy was gone, and the kitchen was rattling with the slam of the door
behind him, before she had time to make any more declarations that
would bring repentance afterward. She stood a minute, listening to see
whether he would come back, and when he did not, she ran to the
door, opened it hastily and looked. She saw Billy just in the act
of swishing his quirt down on the flanks of Barney so that the horse
almost cleared the creek in one bound. Flora caught her breath and
gave a queer little sob. She watched him, wide-eyed and white, till
he was quite out of sight and then went in and shut the door upon the
quiet, early spring twilight.
As for Billy, he was gone to find the Pilgrim. Just what he would do
when he did find him was not quite plain, because he was promising
himself so many deeds of violence that no man could possibly perform
them all upon one victim. At the creek, he was going to "shoot him
like a coyote." A quarter of a mile farther, he would "beat his damn'
head off," and, as if those were not deaths sufficient, he was after
that determined to "take him by the heels and snap his measly head off
like yuh would a grass snake!"
Threatened as he was, the Pilgrim nevertheless escaped, because
Billy did not happen to come across him before his rage had cooled to
reason. He rode on to Hardup, spent the night there swallowing more
whisky than he had drunk before in six months, and after that playing
poker with a recklessness that found a bitter satisfaction in losing
and thus proving how vilely the world was using him, and went home
rather unsteadily at sunrise and slept heavily in the bunk-house all
that day. For Billy Boyle was distressingly human in his rages as in
his happier moods, and was not given to gentle, picturesque melancholy
and to wailing at the silent stars.
_The Shadow Lies Long_.
What time he was compelled to be in the house, in the few remaining
days before round-up, he avoided Flora or was punctiliously polite.
Only once did he address her directly by name, and then he called her
Miss Bridger with a stiff formality that made Mama Joy dimple with
spiteful satisfaction. Flora replied by calling him Mr. Boyle, and
would not look at him.
Then it was all in the past, and Billy was out on the range learning
afresh how sickeningly awry one's plans may go. As mile after mile
of smiling grass-land was covered by the sweep of the Double-Crank
circles, the disaster pressed more painfully upon him. When the wagons
had left the range the fall before, Billy had estimated roughly that
eight or nine thousand head of Double-Crank stock wandered at will in
the open. But with the gathering and the calf-branding he knew that
the number had shrunk woefully. Of the calves he had left with their
mothers in the fall, scarce one remained; of the cows themselves he
could find not half, and the calf-branding was becoming a grim joke
among the men.
"Eat hearty," they would sometimes banter one another. "We got to
buckle down and _work_ this afternoon. They's three calves milling
around out there waiting to be branded!"
"Aw, come off! There ain't but two," another would bellow.
If it were not quite as bad as that, it was in all conscience bad
enough, and when they swung up to the reservation line and found there
a fence in the making, and saw the Indian cowboys at work throwing out
all but reservation stock, Billy mentally threw up his hands and left
the outfit in Jim Bleeker's charge while he rode home to consult Dill.
For Billy Boyle, knowing well his range-lore, could see nothing before
the Double-Crank but black failure.
"It begins to look, Dilly," he began, "as though I've stuck yuh on
this game. Yuh staked the wrong player; yuh should uh backed the man
that stacked the deck on me. There's hell to pay on the range, Dilly.
Last winter sure put a crimp in the range-stuff--_that's_ what I come
to tell yuh. I knew it would cut into the bunch. I could tell by the
way things was going close around here--but I didn't look for it to
be as bad as it is. And they're fencing in the reservation this
spring--that cuts off a big chunk uh mighty good grazing and winter
shelter along all them creeks. And I see there's quite a bunch uh
grangers come in, since I was along east uh here. They've got cattle
turned on the range, and there's half a dozen shacks scattered--"
"Mr. Brown is selling off tracts of land with water-rights--under that
big ditch, you understand. He's working a sort of colonization scheme,
as near as I can find out. He is also fencing more land to the north
and west--toward Hardup, in fact. I believe they already have most of
the posts set. We'll soon be surrounded, William. And while we're upon
the subject of our calamities, I might state that we shall not be able
to do any irrigating this season. Mr. Brown is running his ditch half
full and has been for some little time. He kindly leaves enough for
our stock to drink, however!"
"Charitable old cuss--that same Brown! I was figuring on the hay to
kinda ease through next winter. Do yuh know, Dilly, the range is just
going t' be a death-trap, with all them damn fences for the stock to
drift into. Another winter half as bad as the last one was will sure
put the finishing touches to the Double-Crank--unless we get busy and
_do_ something." Billy, his face worn and his eyes holding that tired
look which comes of nights sleepless and of looking long upon trouble,
turned and began to pull absently at a splintered place in the
gatepost. He had stopped Dill at the corral to have a talk with him,
because to him the house was as desolate as if a dear one lay dead
inside. Flora was at home--trust his eyes to see her face appear
briefly at the window when he rode up!--but he could not yet quite
endure to face her and her cold greeting.
Dill, looking to Billy longer and lanker and mere melancholy than
ever, caressed his chin meditatively and regarded Billy in his
wistful, half-deprecating way. With the bitter knowledge that his
castle, and with it Dill's fortune, was toppling, Billy could hardly
bear to meet that look. And he had planned such great things, and had
meant to make Dilly a millionaire!
"What would you advise, William, under the present unfavorable
conditions?" asked Dill hesitatingly.
"Oh, I dunno. I've laid awake nights tryin' to pick a winning card. If
it was me, and me alone, I'd pull stakes and hunt another range--and
I'd go gunning after the first damn' man that stuck up a post to hang
barb-wire on. But after me making such a rotten-poor job uh running
the Double-Crank, I don't feel called on to lay down the law to
"If you will permit me to pass judgment, William, I will say that you
have shown an ability for managing men and affairs which I consider
remarkable; _quite_ remarkable. You, perhaps, do not go deep enough in
searching for the cause of our misfortunes. It is not bad management
or the hard winter, or Mr. Brown, even--and I blame myself bitterly
for failing to read aright the 'handwriting on the wall,' to quote
scripture, which I seldom do. If you have ever read history, William,
you must know--even if you have _not_ read history you should know
from observation--how irresistible is the march of progress; how
utterly futile it is for individuals to attempt to defy it. I should
have known that the shadow of a great change has fallen on the
West--the West of the wide, open ranges and the cattle and the cowboy
who tends them. I should have seen it, but I did not. I was culpably
"Brown saw it, and that, William, is why he sold the Double-Crank to
me. _He_ saw that the range was doomed, and instead of being swallowed
with the open range he very wisely changed his business; he became
allied with Progress, and he was in the front rank. While we are
being 'broken' on the wheel of evolutionary change, he will make his
"Damn him!" gritted Billy savagely, under his breath.
"He is to be admired, William. Such a man is bound in the very nature
of things to succeed. It is the range and--and you, William, and those
like you, that must go. It is hard--no doubt it is _extremely_
hard, but it is as irresistible as--as death itself. Civilization is
compelled to crush the old order of things that it may fertilize the
soil out of which grows the new. It is so in plant life, and in the
life of humans, also.
"I am explaining at length, William, so that you will quite understand
why I do not think it wise to follow your suggestion. As I say, it is
not Brown, or the fences, or anything of that sort--taken in a large
sense--which is forcing us to the wall. It is the press of natural
progress, the pushing farther and farther of civilization. We might
move to a more unsettled portion of the country and delay for a time
the ultimate crushing. We could not avoid it entirely; we might, at
best, merely postpone it.
"My idea is to gather everything and sell for as high a price as
possible. Then--perhaps it would be well to follow Mr. Brown's
example, and turn this place into a farm; or sell it, also, and try
something else. What do you think, William?"
But Billy, his very soul sickening under the crushing truth of what
Dill in his prim grammatical way was saying, did not answer at all. He
was picking blindly, mechanically at the splinter, his face shaded by
his worn, gray hat; and he was thinking irrelevantly how a condemned
man must feel when they come to him in his cell and in formal words
read aloud his death-warrant. One sentence was beating monotonously
in his brain: "It is the range--and you, William, and those like
you--that must go." It was not a mere loss of dollars or of cattle or
even of hopes; it was the rending, the tearing from him of a life
he loved; it was the taking of the range--land--the wide, beautiful,
weather-worn land--big and grand in its freedom of all that was
narrow and sordid, and it was cutting and scarring it, harnessing it
to the petty uses of a class he despised with all the frank egotism
of a man who loves his own outlook; giving it over to the "nester"
and the "rube" and burying the sweet-smelling grasses with plows. It
was--he could not, even in the eloquence of his utter despair, find
words for all it meant to him.
"I should, of course, leave the details to you, so far as getting the
most out of the stock is concerned. I have been thinking of this for
some little time, and your report of range conditions merely confirms
my own judgment. If you think we would better sell at once--"
"I'd let 'em go till fall," said Billy lifelessly, snapping the
splinter back into place and reaching absently for his tobacco and
papers. "They're bound to pick up a lot--and what's left is mostly
big, husky steers that'll make prime beef. With decent prices yuh
ought to pull clear uh what yuh owe Brown, and have a little left. I
didn't make anything like a count; they was so thin I handled 'em as
light as I could and get the calves branded--what few there was. But I
feel tolerable safe in saying you can round up six--well, between six
and seven thousand head. At a fair price yuh ought to pull clear."
"Well, after dinner--"
"I can't stay for dinner, Dilly. I--there's--I've got to ride over
here a piece--I'll catch up a fresh hoss and start right off. I--" He
went rather hurriedly after his rope, as hurriedly caught the horse
that was handiest and rode away at a lope. But he did not go so very
far. He just galloped over the open range to a place where, look where
he might, he could not see a fence or sign of habitation (and it
wrung the heart of him that he must ride into a coulee to find such
a place), got down from his horse and lay a long, long while in the
grass with his hat pulled over his face.
* * * * *
For the first time in years the Fourth of July saw Billy in camp and
in his old clothes. He had not hurried the round-up--on the contrary
he had been guilty of dragging it out unnecessarily by all sorts of
delays and leisurely methods--simply because he hated to return to the
ranch and be near Flora. The Pilgrim he meant to settle with, but he
felt that he could wait; he hadn't much enthusiasm even for a fight,
But, after all, he could not consistently keep the wagons forever on
the range, so he camped them just outside the pasture fence; which
was far enough from the house to give him some chance of not being
tormented every day by the sight of her, and yet was close enough
for all practical purposes. And here it was that Dill came with fresh
"Beef is falling again, William," he announced when he had Billy quite
to himself. "Judging from present indications, it will go quite as low
as last fall--even lower, perhaps. If it does, I fail to see how we
can ship with any but disastrous financial results."
"Well, what yuh going to do, then?" Billy spoke more irritably than
would have been possible a year ago. "Yuh can't winter again and come
out with anything but another big loss. Yuh haven't even got hay to
feed what few calves there is. And, as I told yuh, the way the fences
are strung from hell to breakfast, the stock's bound to die off like
poisoned flies every storm that comes."
"I have kept that in mind, William. I saw that I should be quite
unable to make a payment this fall, so I went to Mr. Brown to make
what arrangements I could. To be brief, William, Brown has offered to
buy back this place and the stock, on much the same terms he offered
me. I believe he wants to put this section of land under irrigation
from his ditch and exploit it with the rest; the cattle he can
turn into his immense fields until they can be shipped at a profit.
However, that is not our affair and need not concern us.
"He will take the stock as they run, at twenty-one dollars a head.
If, as you estimate, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of
six thousand, that will dear me of all indebtedness and leave a few
thousands with which to start again--at something more abreast of the
times, I hope. I am rather inclined to take the offer. What do you
think of it, William?"
"I guess yuh can't do any better. Twenty-one dollars a head as they
run--and everything else thrown in, uh course?"
"That is the way I bought it, yes," said Dill.
"Well, we ought to scare up six thousand, if we count close. I know
old Brown fine; he'll hold yuh right down t' what yuh turn over, and
he'll tally so close he'll want to dock yuh if a critter's shy one
horn--damn him. That's why I was wishing you'd bought that way,
instead uh lumping the price and taking chances. Only, uh course, I
knew just about what was on the range."
"Then I will accept the offer. I have been merely considering it until
I saw you. And perhaps it will be as well to go about it immediately."
"It's plenty early," objected Billy. "I was going to break some more
hosses for the saddle-bunch--but I reckon I'll leave 'em now for Brown
to bust. And for _God_-sake, Dilly, once yuh get wound up here, go
on back where yuh come from. If the range is going--and they's no use
saying it ain't--this ain't going to be no place for any white man."
Which was merely Billy's prejudice speaking.
_The End of the Double-Crank._
Dill himself rode on that last round-up. Considering that it was all
new to him, he made a remarkably good record for himself among the
men, who were more than once heard to remark that "Dill-pickle's sure
making a hand!" Wherever Billy went--and in those weeks Billy rode
and worked with a feverish intensity that was merely a fight against
bitter thinking--Dill's stirrup clacked close alongside. He was
silent, for the most part, but sometimes he talked reminiscently
of Michigan and his earlier life there. Seldom did he refer to the
unhappy end of the Double-Crank, or to the reason why they were riding
from dawn to dusk, sweeping together all the cattle within the wide
circle of riders and later cutting out every Double-Crank animal and
holding them under careful herd.
Even when they went with the first twelve hundred and turned them over
to Brown and watched his careful counting, Dill made no comment upon
the reason for it beyond one sentence. He read the receipt over slowly
before laying it methodically in the proper compartment of his long
red-leather book, and drew his features into his puckered imitation of
a smile. "Mr. Brown has counted just twenty-one dollars more into my
pocket than I expected," he remarked. "He tallied one more than you
did, William. I ought to hold that out of your wages, young man."
Rare as were Dill's efforts at joking, even this failed to bring more
than a slight smile to the face of Charming Billy Boyle. He was trying
to look upon it all as a mere incident, a business matter, pure and
simple, but he could not. While he rode the wide open reaches, there
rode with him the keen realization that it was the end. For him the
old life on the range was dead--for had not Dill made him see it so?
And did not every raw-red fencepost proclaim anew its death? For
every hill and every coulee he buried something of his past and wept
secretly beside the grave. For every whiff of breakfast that mingled
with the smell of clean air in the morning came a pang of homesickness
for what would soon be only a memory.
He was at heart a dreamer--was Charming Billy Boyle; perhaps an
idealist--possibly a sentimentalist. He had never tried to find a name
for the side of his life that struck deepest. He knew that the
ripple of a meadow-lark swinging on a weed against the sunrise, with
diamond-sparkles all on the grass around, gripped him and hurt him
vaguely with its very sweetness. He knew that he loved to sit alone
and look away to a far skyline and day-dream. He had always known
that, for it had been as much a part of his life as sleeping.
So now it was as if a real, tangible shadow lay on the range. He could
see it always lengthening before him, and always he must ride within
its shade. After a while it would grow quite black, and the range and
the cattle and the riding over hills and into coulees untamed would
all be blotted out; dead and buried deep in the past, and with the
careless, plodding feet of the plowman trampling unthinkingly upon
the grave. It was a tragedy to Charming Billy Boyle; it was as if the
range-land were a woman he loved well, and as if civilization were the
despoiler, against whom he had no means of defense.
All this--and besides, Flora. He had not spoken to her for two months.
He had not seen her even, save for a passing glimpse now and then at
a distance. He had not named her to any man, or asked how she did--and
yet there had not been an hour when he had not longed for her. She
had told him she would marry the Pilgrim (she had _not_ said that, but
Billy in his rage had so understood her) and that he could not stop
her. He wouldn't _try_ to stop her. But he would one day settle with
the Pilgrim--settle to the full. And he wanted her--_wanted_ her!
They had taken the third herd in to Brown, and were back on the range;
Billy meaning to make a last sweep around the outer edges and gather
in what was left--the stragglers that had been missed before. There
would not be many, he knew from experience; probably not more than a
hundred or two all told, even with Billy anxious to make the count as
large as possible.
He was thinking about it uneasily and staring out across the wide
coulee to the red tumble of clouds, that had strange purples and grays
and dainty violet shades here and there. Down at the creek Dill was
trying to get a trout or two more before it grew too dark for them
to rise to the raw beef he was swishing through the riffle, and an
impulse to have the worst over at once and be done drove Billy down to
"Yuh won't get any more there," he said, by way of making speech.
"I just then had a bite, William," reproved Dill, and swung the bait
in a wide circle for another awkward cast. He was a persistent soul,
was Dill, when once he got started in a given direction.
Billy, dodging the red morsel of meat, sat down on a grassy hummock.
"Aw, come and set down, Dilly," he urged wearily. "I want to tell yuh
"If it's about the cook being out of evaporated cream, William, I have
already been informed twice. Ah-h! I almost had one then!"
"Aw, thunder! yuh think I'm worrying over canned cream? What I want
to say may not be more important, but when yuh get fishing enough I'll
say it anyhow." He watched Dill moodily, and then lifted his eyes to
stare at the gorgeous sky--as though there would be no more sunsets
when the range-life was gone, and he must needs fill well his memory
for the barren years ahead.
When Dill flopped a six-inch trout against his ear, so steeped was he
in bitterness that he merely said, "Aw, hell!" wearily and hunched
farther along on the hummock.
"I really beg your pardon, William. From the vicious strike he made, I
was convinced that he weighed at least half a pound, and exerted more
muscular force than was quite necessary. When one hasn't a reel it is
impossible to play them properly, and it is the first quick pull that
one must depend upon. I'm very sorry--"
"Sure. Don't mention it, Dilly. Say, how many cattle have yuh got
receipts for, to date--if it ain't too much trouble?"
"No trouble at all, William. I have an excellent memory for figures.
Four thousand, three hundred and fifteen. Ah-h! See how instinct
inspires him to flop always toward the water! Did you ever--"
"Well, yes, I've saw a fish flop toward the water once or twicet
before now. It sure is a great sight, Dilly!" He did not understand
Dill these days, and wondered a good deal at his manifest indifference
to business cares. It never occurred to him that Dill, knowing quite
well how hard the trouble pressed upon his foreman, was only trying
in his awkward way to lighten it by not seeming to think it worth
"I hate to mention trifles at such a time, Dilly, but I thought maybe
yuh ought to know that we won't be able to scare up more than a couple
uh hundred more cattle, best we can do. We're bound to fall a lot
short uh what I estimated--and I ain't saying nothing about the
fine job uh guessing I done! If we bring the total up to forty-five
hundred, we'll do well."
Dill took plenty of time to wind the line around his willow pole. "To
use your own expressive phraseology, William," he said, when he had
quite finished and had laid the pole down on the bank, "that will
leave me in one hell-of-a-hole!"
"That's what I thought," Billy returned apathetically.
"Well, I must take these up to the cook." Dill held up the four fish
he had caught. "I'll think the matter over, William, and I thank you
for telling me. Of course you will go on and gather what there are."
"Sure," agreed Billy tonelessly, and followed Dill back to camp and
went to bed.
At daybreak it was raining, and Billy after the manner of cowboys
slept late; for there would be no riding until the weather cleared,
and there being no herd to hold, there would be none working save the
horse-wrangler, the night-hawk and cook. It was the cook who handed
him a folded paper and a sealed envelope when he did finally appear
for a cup of coffee. "Dill-pickle left 'em for yuh," he said.
Billy read the note--just a few lines, with a frown of puzzlement.
Dear William: Business compels my absence for a time. I hope you will
go on with your plans exactly as if I were with you. I am leaving a
power-of-attorney which will enable you to turn over the stock and
transact any other business that may demand immediate attention, in
case I am detained.
Alexander P. Dill
It was queer, but Billy did not waste much time in wondering. He
rounded up the last of the Double-Cranks, drove them to Brown's
place and turned them over, with the home ranch, the horses, and camp
outfit--"made a clean sweep uh the whole damn', hoodooed works," was
the way he afterward put it. He had expected that Dill would be there
to attend to the last legal forms, but there was no sign of him or
from him. He had been seen to take the eastbound train at Tower, and
the rest was left to guessing.
"He must uh known them two-hundred odd wouldn't square the deal,"
argued Billy loyally to himself. "So uh course he'll come back and fix
it up. But what I'm to do about payin' off the boys gets me." For two
hours he worried, mentally in the dark. Then he hit upon an expedient
that pleased him. He told Brown he would need to keep a few of the
saddle-horses for a few days, and he sent the boys--those of them
who did not transfer their valuable services to Brown upon the
asking--over to the Bridger place to wait there until further orders.
Also, he rode reluctantly to the Double-Crank ranch, wondering, as he
had often done in the past few weeks, what would become of Flora and
Mama Joy. So far as he knew, they had not heard a word as to whether
Bridger was alive or dead, and if they had friends or family to whom
they might turn, he had never heard either mention them. If Dill had
been there he would have left it to him; but Dill was gone, and there
was no knowing when he would be back, and it devolved upon Billy
to make some arrangements for the women, or at the least offer
his services--and it was, under the circumstances, quite the most
unpleasant duty thus far laid upon him.
He knew they had been left there at the ranch when round-up started,
because Dill had said something about leaving a gentle horse or two
for them to ride. Whether they were still there he did not know,
although he could easily have asked Spikes, who had been given charge
of the ranch while Dill was away on the range. He supposed the Pilgrim
would be hanging around, as usual--not that it made much difference,
though, except that he hated the thought of a disagreeable scene
before the women.
He rode slowly up to the corral gate, turned his horse inside and
fastened the chain just as he had done a thousand times before--only
this would be the last time. His tired eyes went from one familiar
object to another, listlessly aware of the regret he should feel but
too utterly wearied of sorrow to feel much of anything. No one seemed
to be about, and the whole place had an atmosphere of desolation that
almost stirred him to a heartache--almost.
He went on to the house. There were some signs of life there, and some
sound. In the very doorway he met old Bridger himself, but he could
not even feel much surprise at seeing him there. He said hello, and
when he saw the other's hand stretching out to meet him, he clasped it
indifferently. Behind her husband, Mama Joy flashed at him a look he
did not try to interpret--of a truth it was rather complex, with a
little of several emotions--and he lifted his hat a half-inch from his
forehead in deference to her sex. Flora, he thanked God dully, he did
not see at all.
He stayed perhaps ten minutes listening impersonally to Bridger, who
talked loudly and enthusiastically of his plans. At the time they did
not seem to concern him at all, though they involved taking Flora and
Mama Joy away to Seattle to spend the winter, and in the spring moving
them on to some place in the North--a place that sounded strange in
the ears of Billy, and was straightway forgotten.
After that he went to his room and packed what few things he wanted;
and they were not many, because in his present mood nothing mattered
and nothing seemed to him of much value--not even life. He was more
careful of Dill's belongings, and packed everything he could find that
was his. They were not scattered, for Dill was a methodical man and
kept things in their places instinctively.
He paused over but one object--"The Essays of Elia," which had somehow
fallen behind a trunk. Standing there in the middle of Dill's room, he
turned the little blue book absently in his hand. There was dust upon
the other side, and he wiped it off, manlike, with a sweep of his
forearm. He looked at the trunk; he had just locked it with much
straining of muscles and he hated to open it again. He looked at the
book again. He seemed to see Dill slumped loosely down in the old
rocker, a slippered foot dangling before him, reading solemnly from
this same little blue book, the day he came to tell him about the
ditch, and that he must lease all the land he could--the day when the
shadow of passing first touched the range-land. At least, the day when
he had first seen it there. He turned a few leaves thoughtfully, heard
Flora's voice asking a question in the kitchen, and thrust the book
hastily into his pocket. "Dilly'll want it, I expect," he muttered. He
glanced quickly, comprehensively around him to make sure that he
had missed nothing, turned toward the open front door and went out
hurriedly, because he thought he heard a woman's step in the dining
room and he did not want to see anybody, not even Flora--least of all,
"I'll send a rig out from town for the stuff that's ours," he called
back to Bridger, who came to the kitchen door and called after
him that he better wait and have some supper. "You'll be here till
to-morrow or next day; it ain't likely I'll be back; yuh say Dill
settled up with the--women, so--there's nothing left to do."
If he had known--but how could he know that Flora was watching him
wistfully from the front porch, when he never once looked toward the
house after he reached the stable?
_Settled In Full_.
On a lonely part of the trail to town--queerly, it was when he was
rounding the low, barren hill where he and Dill had first met--he took
out his brand-book and went over the situation. It was Barney he rode,
and Barney could be trusted to pace along decorously with the reins
twisted twice around the saddle-horn, so Billy gave no thought to his
horse but put his whole mind on the figures. He was not much used
to these things; beyond keeping tally of the stock at branding and
shipping time and putting down what details of his business he dared
not trust to memory, a pencil was strange to his fingers. But the
legal phrases in the paper left by Dill and signed by the cook and
night-hawk as witnesses gave him a heavy sense of responsibility that
everything should be settled exactly right. So now he went over the
figures slowly, adding them from the top down and from the bottom up,
to make sure he had the totals correct. He wished they were wrong;
they might then be not quite so depressing.
"Lemme see, now. I turned over 4,523 head uh stock, all told (hell
of a fine job uh guessing I done! Me saying there'd be over six
thousand!) That made $94,983. And accordin' to old Brown--and I guess
he had it framed up correct--Dilly owes him $2,217 yet, instead uh
coming out with enough to start some other business. It's sure queer,
the way figures always come out little when yuh want 'em big, and big
when yuh want 'em little! Them debts now--they could stand a lot uh
shavin' down. Twelve thousand dollars and interest, to the bank--I
can't do a darn thing about them twelve thousand. If Dilly hadn't gone
and made a cast-iron agreement I coulda held old Brown up for a few
thousand more, on account uh the increase in saddle-stock. I'd worked
that bunch up till it sure was a dandy lot uh hosses--but what yuh
going to do?"
He stared dispiritedly out across the brown prairie. "I'd oughta put
Dilly next to that, only I never thought about it at the time, and
I was so dead sure the range-stuff--And there's the men, got to have
their money right away quick, so's they can hurry up and blow it in!
If Dilly ain't back to-night, or I don't hear from him, I reckon
I'll have to draw m' little old wad out uh the bank and pay the
sons-uh-guns. I sure ain't going to need it to buy dishes and rocking
chairs and pictures--and I was going t' git her a piano--oh, hell!"
He still rode slowly, after that, but he did not bother over
the figures that stood for Dilly's debts. He sat humped over the
saddle-horn like an old man and stared at the trail and at the
forefeet of Barney coming down _pluck, pluck_ with leisurely
regularity in the dust. Just so was Charming Billy Boyle trampling
down the dreams that had been so sweet in the dreaming, and leveling
ruthlessly the very foundations of the fair castle he had builded
in the air for Dill and himself--and one other, with the fairest,
highest, most secret chambers for that Other. And as he rode, the
face of him was worn and the blue eyes of him sombre and dull; and
his mouth, that had lost utterly the humorous, care-free quirk at the
corners, was bitter, and straight, and hard.
He had started out with such naive assurance to succeed, and--he had
failed so utterly, so hopelessly, with not even a spectacular crash
to make the failing picturesque. He had done the best that was in
him, and even now that it was over he could not quite understand how
everything, _everything_ could go like that; how the Double-Crank and
Flora--how the range, even, had slipped from him. And now Dill was
gone, too, and he did not even know where, or if he would ever come
He would pay the men; he had, with a surprising thrift, saved nearly
a thousand dollars in the bank at Tower. That, to be sure, was when he
had Flora to save for; since then he had not had time or opportunity
to spend it foolishly. It would take nearly every dollar; the way
he had figured it, he would have just twenty-three dollars left for
himself--and he would have the little bunch of horses he had in his
prosperity acquired for the pure love of owning a good horse. He would
sell the horses, except Barney and one to pack his bed, and he would
drift--drift just as do the range-cattle when a blizzard strikes
them in the open. Billy felt like a stray. His range was gone--gone
utterly. He would roll his bed and drift; and perhaps, somewhere, he
could find a stretch of earth as God had left it, unscarred by fence
and plow, undefiled by cabbages and sugar-beets (Brown's new settlers
were going strong on sugar-beets).
"Well, it's all over but the shouting," he summed up grimly when
Hardup came in sight. "I'll pay off the men and turn 'em loose--all
but Jim. Somebody's got to stay with the Bridger place till Dilly
shows up, seeing that's all he's got left after the clean-up. The rest
uh the debts can wait. Brown's mortgage ain't due yet" (Billy had his
own way of looking at financial matters) "and the old Siwash ain't got
any kick comin' if he never gets another cent out uh Dilly. The bank
ain't got the cards to call Dilly now, for his note ain't due till
near Christmas. So I reckon all I got to do after I pay the boys is
take m' little old twenty-three plunks, and my hosses--if I can't
sell 'em right off--and pull out for God-knows-where-and-I-don't-care-
* * * * *
Charming Billy Boyle had done all that he had planned to do,
except that he had not yet pulled out for the place he had named
picturesquely for himself. Much as at the beginning, he was leaning
heavily upon the bar in the Hardup Saloon, and his hat was pushed back
on his head; but he was not hilarious to the point of singing about
"the young thing," and he was not, to any appreciable extent, enjoying
himself. He was merely adding what he considered the proper finishing
touch to his calamities. He was spinning silver dollars, one by one,
across the bar to the man with the near-white apron, and he was
endeavoring to get the worth of them down his throat. To be sure,
he was being assisted, now and then, by several acquaintances; but
considering the fact that a man's stomach has certain well-defined
limitations, he was doing very well, indeed.
When he had spun the twenty-third dollar to the bartender, Billy meant
to quit drinking for the present; after that, he was not quite clear
as to his intentions, farther than "forking his hoss and pulling out"
when there was no more to be done. He felt uneasily that between his
present occupation and the pulling-out process lay a duty unperformed,
but until the door swung open just as he was crying, "Come on,
fellows," he had not been able to name it.
The Pilgrim it was who entered jauntily; the Pilgrim, who had not
chanced to meet Billy once during the summer, and so was not aware
that the truce between them was ended for good and all. He knew that
Billy had not at any time been what one might call cordial, but
that last stare of displeasure when they met in the creek at
the Double-Crank, he had set down to a peevish mood. Under the
circumstances, it was natural that he should walk up to the bar with
the rest. Under the circumstances, it was also natural that Billy
should object to this unexpected and unwelcome guest, and that the
vague, unperformed duty should suddenly flash into his mind clear, and
well-defined, and urgent.
"Back up, Pilgrim," was his quiet way of making known his purpose.
"Yuh can't drink on _my_ money, old-timer, nor use a room that I'm
honoring with my presence. Just right now, I'm _here_. It's up to you
to back out--_away_ out--clean outside and across the street."
The Pilgrim did not move.
Billy had been drinking, but his brain was not of the stuff that
fuddles easily, and he was not, as the Pilgrim believed, drunk.
His eyes when he stared hard at the Pilgrim were sober eyes, sane
eyes--and something besides.
"I said it," he reminded softly, when men had quit shuffling their
feet and the room was very still.
"I don't reckon yuh know what yuh said," the Pilgrim retorted,
laughing uneasily and shifting his gaze a bit. "What they been doping
yuh with, Bill? There ain't any quarrel between you and me no more."
His tone was abominably, condescendingly tolerant, and his look was
the look which a mastiff turns wearily upon a hysterical toy-terrier
yapping foolishly at his knees. For the Pilgrim had changed much in
the past year and more during which men had respected him because
he was not considered quite safe to trifle with. According to the
reputation they gave him, he had killed a man who had tried to kill
him, and he could therefore afford to be pacific upon occasion.
Billy stared at him while he drew a long breath; a breath which seemed
to press back a tangible weight of hatred and utter contempt for the
Pilgrim; a breath while it seemed that he must kill him there and
stamp out the very semblance of humanity from his mocking face.
"Yuh don't know of any quarrel between you and me? Yuh say yuh don't?"
Billy's voice trembled a little, because of the murder-lust that
gripped him. "Well, pretty soon, I'll start in and tell yuh all about
it--maybe. Right now, I'm going t' give a new one--one that yuh can
easy name and do what yuh damn' please about." Whereupon he did as
he had done once before when the offender had been a sheepherder.
He stepped quickly to one side of the Pilgrim, emptied a glass down
inside his collar, struck him sharply across his grinning mouth, and
stepped back--back until there were eight or ten feet between them.
"That's the only way _my_ whisky can go down _your_ neck!" he said.
Men gasped and moved hastily out of range, never doubting what would
happen next. Billy himself knew--or thought he knew--and his hand was
on his gun, ready to pull it and shoot; hungry--waiting for an excuse
The Pilgrim had given a bellow that was no word at all, and whirled
to come at Billy; met his eyes, wavered and hesitated, his gun in his
hand and half-raised to fire.
Billy, bent on giving the Pilgrim a fair chance, waited another
second; waited and saw fear creep into the bold eyes of the Pilgrim;
waited and saw the inward cringing of the man. It was like striking a
dog and waiting for the spring at your throat promised by his snarling
defiance, and then seeing the fire go from his eyes as he grovels,
cringingly confessing you his master, himself a cur.
What had been hate in the eyes of Billy changed slowly to incredulous
contempt. "Ain't that enough?" he cried disgustedly. "My God, ain't
yuh _man_ enough--Have I got to take yuh by the ear and slit your
gullet like they stick pigs--or else let yuh _go_? What _are_ yuh,
anyhow? Shall I give my gun to the bar-keep and go out where it's
dark? Will yuh be scared to tackle me then?" He laughed and watched
the yellow terror creep over the face of the Pilgrim at the taunt.
"What's wrong with your gun? Ain't it working good to-night? Ain't it
"Heavens and earth! What else have I got to do before you'll come
alive? You've been living on your rep as a bad man to monkey with, and
pushing out your wishbone over it for quite a spell, now--why don't
yuh get busy and collect another bunch uh admiration from these
fellows? _I_ ain't no lightning-shot man! Papa Death don't roost on
the end uh my six-gun--or I never suspicioned before that he did; but
from the save-me-quick look on yuh, I believe yuh'd faint plumb away
if I let yuh take a look at the end uh my gun, with the butt-end
"Honest t' God, Pilgrim, I won't try to get in ahead uh yuh! I
couldn't if I tried, because mine's at m' belt yet and I ain't so
swift. Come on! Please--_purty_ please!" Billy looked around the room
and laughed. He pointed his finger mockingly "Ain't he a peach of a
Bad Man, boys? Ain't yuh proud uh his acquaintance? I reckon I'll have
to turn my back before he'll cut loose. Yuh know, he's just aching t'
kill me--only he don't want me to know it when he does! He's afraid he
might hurt m' feelings!"
He swung back to the Pilgrim, went close, and looked at him
impertinently, his head on one side. He reached out deliberately with
his hand, and the Pilgrim ducked and cringed away. "Aw, look here!" he
whined. "_I_ ain't done nothing to yuh, Bill!"
Billy's hand dropped slowly and hung at his side.
"Yuh--damned--coward!" he gritted. "Yuh know yuh wouldn't get any
more than an even break with me, and that ain't enough for yuh. You're
afraid to take a chance. You're afraid--God!" he cried suddenly, swept
out of his mockery by the rage within. "And I can't kill yuh! Yuh
won't show nerve enough to give me a chance! Yuh won't even _fight_,
He leaned and struck the Pilgrim savagely. "Get out uh my sight,
then! Get out uh town! Get clean out uh the country! Get out among the
coyotes--they're nearer your breed than men!" For every sentence there
was a stinging blow--a blow with the flat of his hand, driving the
Pilgrim back, step by step, to the door. The Pilgrim, shielding his
head with an uplifted arm, turned then and bolted out into the night.
[Illustration: FOR EVERY SENTENCE A STINGING BLOW WITH THE FLAT OF HIS
Behind him were men who stood ashamed for their manhood, not caring to
look straight at one another with so sickening an example before them
of the craven coward a man may be. In the doorway, Billy stood framed
against the yellow lamplight, a hand pressing hard against the casings
while he leaned and hurled curses in a voice half-sobbing with rage.
It was so that Dill found him when he came looking. When he reached
out and laid a big-knuckled hand gently on his arm, Billy shivered and
stared at him in a queer, dazed fashion for a minute.
"Why--hello, Dilly!" he said then, and his voice was hoarse and
broken. "Where the dickens did _you_ come from?"
Without a word Dill, still holding him by the arm, led him unresisting
_Oh, Where Have You Been, Charming Billy?_
Presently they were in the little room which Dill had kept for himself
by the simple method of buying the shack that held it, and Billy was
drinking something which Dill poured out for him and which steadied
"If you are not feeling quite yourself, William, perhaps we would do
better to postpone our conversation until morning," Dill was saying
while he rocked awkwardly, his hands folded loosely together, his
elbows on the rocker--arms and his round, melancholy eyes regarding
Billy solemnly. "I wanted to ask how you came out--with the
"Go ahead; I'm all right," said Billy. "I aim to hit the trail by
sun-up, so we'll have our little say now." He made him a cigarette and
looked wistfully at Dill, while he felt for a match. "Go ahead. What
do yuh want to know the worst?"
"Well, I did not see Brown, and it occurred to me that after I left
you must have gathered more stock than you anticipated. I discovered
from the men that you have paid them off. I rode out there to-day, you
know. I arrived about two hours after you had left."
"You're still in the hole on the cow-business," Billy stated flatly,
as if there were no use in trying to soften the telling. "Yuh owe
Brown two thousand odd dollars. I turned in a few over two hundred
head--I've got it all down here, and yuh can see the exact figure
yourself. Yuh didn't show up, and I didn't want to hold the men and
let their time run on and nothing doing to make it pay, so I give 'em
their money and let 'em off--all but Jim Bleeker. I didn't pay him,
because I wanted him to look after things at the Bridger place till
yuh got back, and I knew if I give him any money he'd burn the earth
getting to where he could spend it. He's a fine fellow when he's
"But I owed the men for several months' work. Where did you raise the
amount, William?" Dill cleared his throat raspingly.
"Me? Oh, I had some uh my wages saved up. I used that." It never
occurred to Billy that he had done anything out of the ordinary.
"_H-m-m!_" Dill cleared his throat again and rocked, his eyes on
Billy's moody face. "I observe, William, that--er--they are not
shipping any skates to--er--hell, yet!"
"Huh?" Billy had not been listening.
"I was saying, William, that I appreciate your fidelity to my
"Oh, that's all right," Billy cut in carelessly.
"--And I should like to have you with me on a new venture I have in
mind. You probably have not heard of it here, but it is an assured
fact that the railroad company are about to build a cut-off that will
shut out Tower completely and put Hardup on the main line. In fact,
they have actually started work at the other end, and though they
are always very secretive about a thing like that, I happen to have a
friend on the inside, so that my information is absolutely authentic.
I have raised fifty thousand dollars among my good friends in
Michigan, and I intend to start a first-class general store here. I
have already bargained for ten acres of land over there on the creek,
where I feel sure the main part of the town will be situated. If you
will come in with me we will form a partnership, equal shares. It
is borrowed capital," he added hastily, "so that I am not giving you
anything, William. You will take the same risk I take, and--"
"Sorry, Dilly, but I couldn't come through. Fine counter-jumper I'd
make! Thank yuh all the same, Dilly."
"But there is the Bridger place. I shall keep that and go into
thoroughbred stock--good, middle-weight horses, I think, that will
find a ready sale among the settlers who are going to flock in here.
You could take charge there and--"
"No, Dilly, I couldn't. I--I'm thinking uh drifting down into New
Mexico. I--I want to see that country, bad."
Dill crossed his long legs the other way, let his hands drop loosely,
and stared wistfully at Billy. "I really wish I could induce you to
stay, William," he murmured.
"Well, yuh can't. I hope yuh come through better than yuh did with the
Double-Crank--but I guess it'll be some considerable time before the
towns and the gentle farmer (damn him!) are crowded to the wall by
your damn' Progress." It was the first direct protest against changing
conditions which Billy had so far put into words, and he looked sorry
for having said so much. "Oh, here's your little blue book," he added,
feeling it in his pocket. "I found it behind the trunk when everything
else was packed."
"You saw--er--you saw Bridger, then? He is going to take his wife and
Flora up North with him in the spring. It seems he has done well."
"I know--he told me."
Dill turned the leaves of the book slowly, and consciously refrained
from looking at Billy. "They were about to leave when I was there. It
is a shame. I am very sorry for Flora--she does not want to go. If--"
He cleared his throat again and guiltily pretended to be reading
a bit, here and there, and to be speaking casually. "If I were
a marrying man, I am not sure but I should make love to
Flora--h-m-m!--this 'Bachelor's Complaint' here--have you read it,
William? It is very--here, for instance--'Nothing is to me more
distasteful than the entire complacency and satisfaction which beam in
the countenances of a new-married couple'--and so on. I feel tempted
sometimes when I look at Flora--only she looks upon me as a--er--piece
of furniture--the kind that sticks out in the way and you have to feel
your way around it in the dark--awkward, but necessary. Poor girl,
she cried in the most heartbroken way when I told her we would not be
likely to see her again, and--I wonder what is the trouble between her
and Walland? They used to be quite friendly, in a way, but she has not
spoken to him, to my certain knowledge, since last spring. Whenever
he came to the ranch she would go to her room and refuse to come out
until he had left. H-m-m! Did she ever tell you, William?"
"No," snapped William huskily, smoking with his head bent and turned
"I know positively that she cut him dead, as they say, at the last
Fourth-of-July dance. He asked her to dance, and she refused
almost rudely and immediately got up and danced with that boy of
Gunderson's--the one with the hair-lip. She could not have been taken
with the hair-lipped fellow--at least, I should scarcely think so.
Should you, William?"
This time William did not answer at all. Dill, watching his bent head
tenderly, puckered his face into his peculiar smile.
"H-m-m! They stopped at the hotel to-night--Bridgers, I mean. Drove
in after dark from the ranch. They mean to catch the noon train from
Tower to-morrow, Bridger told me. It will be an immense benefit,
William, when those big through-trains get to running through Hardup.
There is some talk among the powers-that-be of making this a division
point. It will develop the country wonderfully. I really feel tempted
to cut down my investment in a store for the present, and buy more
land. What do you think, William?"
"Oh, I dunno," said Billy in a let-me-alone kind of tone.
"Well, it's very late. Everybody who lays any claim to respectability
should be in his bed," Dill remarked placidly. "You say you start at
sunrise? H-m-m! You will have to call me so that I can go over to the
hotel and get the money to refund what you used of your own. I left
my cash in the hotel safe. But they will be stirring early--they will
have to get the Bridgers off, you know."
It was Dill who lay and smiled quizzically into the dark and listened
to the wide-awake breathing of the man beside him--breathing which
betrayed deep emotion held rigidly in check so far as outward movement
went. He fell asleep knowing well that the other was lying there
wide-eyed and would probably stay so until day. He had had a hard day
and had done many things, but what he had done last pleased him best.
Now this is a bald, unpolished record of the morning: Billy saw the
dawn come, and rose in the perfect silence he had learned from years
of sleeping in a tent with tired men, and of having to get up at all
hours and take his turn at night-guarding; for tired, sleeping cowboys
do not like to be disturbed unnecessarily, and so they one and all
learn speedily the Golden Rule and how to apply it. That is why Dill,
always a light sleeper, did not hear Billy go out.
Billy did not quite know what he was going to do, but habit bade him
first feed and water his horse. After that--well, he did not know.
Dill might not have things straight, or he might just be trying to
jolly him up a little, or he might be a meddlesome old granny-gossip.
What had looked dear and straight, say at three o'clock in the
morning, was at day-dawn hazy with doubt. So he led Barney down to
the creek behind the hotel, where in that primitive little place they
watered their horses.
The sun was rising redly, and the hurrying ripples were all tipped
with gold, and the sky above a bewildering, tumbled fabric of barbaric
coloring. Would the sun rise like that in New Mexico? Billy wondered,
and watched the coming of his last day here, where he had lived, had
loved, had dreamed dreams and builded castles--and had seen the dreams
change to bitterness, and the castles go toppling to ruins. He would
like to stay with Dill, for he had grown fond of the lank, whimsical
man who was like no one Billy had ever known. He would have stayed
even in the face of the change that had come to the range-land--but he
could not bear to see the familiar line of low hills which marked the
Double-Crank and, farther down, the line-camp, and know that Flora was
gone quite away from him into the North.
He caught himself back from brooding, and gave a pull at the halter
by way of hinting to Barney that he need not drink the creek entirely
dry--when suddenly he quivered and stood so still that he scarcely
"Oh, where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?"
Some one at the top of the creek-bank was singing it; some one with an
exceedingly small, shaky little voice that was trying to be daring and
mocking and indifferent, and that was none of these things--but only
wistful and a bit pathetic.
Charming Billy, his face quite pale, turned his head cautiously as
though he feared too abrupt a glance would drive her away, and looked
at her standing there with her gray felt hat tilted against the sun,
flipping her gloves nervously against her skirt. She was obviously
trying to seem perfectly at ease, but her eyes were giving the lie to
Billy tried to smile, but instead his lips quivered and his eyes
"I have been to see my wife--"
he began to sing gamely, and stuck there, because something came up
in his throat and squeezed his voice to a whisper. By main strength
he pulled Barney away from the gold-tipped ripples, and came stumbling
over the loose rocks.
She watched him warily, half-turned, ready to run away. "We--I--aren't
you going to be nice and say good-by to me?"
He came on, staring at her and saying nothing.
"Well, if you still want to sulk--I wouldn't be as nasty as that,
and--and hold a grudge the way you do--and I was going to be nice and
forgiving; but if you don't care, and don't want--"
By this time he was close--quite close. "Yuh know I care! And yuh know
I want--_you_. Oh, girlie, girlie!"
* * * * *
The colors had all left the sky, save blue and silver-gray, and the
sun was a commonplace, dazzling ball of yellow. Charming Billy Boyle,
his hat set back upon his head at a most eloquent angle, led Barney
from the creek up to the stable. His eyes were alight and his brow was
unwrinkled. His lips had quite lost their bitter lines, and once more
had the humorous, care-free quirk at the corners.
He slammed the stable-door behind him and went off down the street,
"--I have been to see my-wife,
She's the joy of my life--"
He jerked open the door of the shack, gave a whoop to raise the dead,
and took Dill ungently by the shoulder.
"Come alive, yuh seven-foot Dill-pickle! What yuh want to lay here
snoring for at this time uh day? Don't yuh know it's morning?"
Dill sat up and blinked, much like an owl in the sunshine. He puckered
his face into a smile. "Aren't you rather uproarious--for so early
in the day, William? I was under the impression that one usually grew
"Oh, there's other things besides whisky to make a man feel good,"
grinned Billy, his cheeks showing a tinge of red. "I'm in a hurry,
Dilly. I've got to hit the trail immediate--and if it ain't too much
trouble to let me have that money yuh spoke about--"
Dill got out of bed, eying him shrewdly. "Have you been gambling,
Billy ran the green shade up from the window so energetically that
it slipped from his fingers and buzzed noisily at file top. He craned
his neck, trying to see the hotel. "Maybe yuh'd call it that--an old
bachelor like you! Yuh see, Dilly, I've got business over in Tower.
I've got to be there before noon, and I need--aw, thunder! How's a man
going to get married when he's only got six dollars in his jeans?"
"I should say that would be scarcely feasible, William." Dill was
smiling down at the lacing of his shoes. "We can soon remedy that,
however. I'm--I'm very glad, William."
The cheeks of Charming Billy Boyle grew quite red. "And, by the way,
Dilly," he said hurriedly, as if he shied at the subject of his love
and his marriage, "I've changed my mind about going to New Mexico.
I--we'll settle down on the Bridger place, if yuh still want me to.
She says she'd rather stay here in this country."
Dill settled himself into his clothes, went over, and laid a hand
awkwardly upon Billy's arm, "I am very glad, William," he said simply.