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Whirligigs by O Henry

Part 6 out of 6

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The manager of the Rancho de las Sombras was no
dilettante. He was a "hustler." He was generally up,
mounted, and away of mornings before the rest of the
household were awake, making the rounds of the flocks
and camps. This was the duty of the majordomo, a
stately old Mexican with a princely air and manner, but
Teddy seemed to have a great deal of confidence in his
own eyesight. Except in the busy seasons, he nearly
always returned to the ranch to breakfast at eight o'clock,
with Octavia and Mrs. Maclntyre, at the little table set
in the central hallway, bringing with him a tonic and
breezy cheerfulness full of the health and flavour of the

A few days after Octavia's arrival he made her get out
one of her riding skirts, and curtail it to a shortness
demanded by the chaparral brakes.

With some misgivings she donned this and the pair of
buckskin leggings he prescribed in addition, and, mounted
upon a dancing pony, rode with him to view her posses-
sions. He showed her everything -- the flocks of ewes,
muttons and grazing lambs, the dipping vats, the shearing
pens, the uncouth merino rams in their little pasture, the
water-tanks I prepared against the summer drought --
giving account of his stewardship with a boyish enthus-
siasm that never flagged.

Where was the old Teddy that she knew so well? This
side of him was the same, and it was a side that pleased
her; but this was all she ever saw of him now. Where
was his sentimentality -- those old, varying moods of
impetuous love-making, of fanciful, quixotic devotion, of
heart-breaking gloom, of alternating, absurd tenderness
and haughty dignity? His nature had been a sensitive
one, his temperament bordering closely on the artistic.
She knew that, besides being a follower of fashion and its
fads and sports, he had cultivated tastes of a finer nature.
He had written things, he had tampered with colours, he
was something of a student in certain branches of art,
and once she had been admitted to all his aspirations and
thoughts. But now -- and she could not avoid the con-
clusion -- Teddy had barricaded against her every side
of himself except one -- the side that showed the manager
of the Rancho de las Sombras and a jolly chum who had
forgiven and forgotten. Queerly enough the words of
Mr. Bannister's description of her property came into
her mind -- "all inclosed within a strong barbed-wire

"Teddy's fenced, too," said Octavia to herself.

It was not difficult for her to reason out the cause of
his fortifications. It had originated one night at the
Hammersmiths' ball. It occurred at a time soon after
she had decided to accept Colonel Beaupree and his
million, which was no more than her looks and the entre
she held to the inner circles were worth. Teddy had
proposed with all his impetuosity and fire, and she looked
him straight in the eyes, an said, coldly and finally:
"Never let me hear any such silly nonsense from you
again." "You won't," said Teddy, with an expression
around his mouth, and -- now Teddy was inclosed
within a strong barbed-wire fence.

It was on this first ride of inspection that Teddy was
seized by the inspiration that suggested the name of
Mother Goose's heroine, and he at once bestowed it upon
Octavia. The idea, supported by both a similarity of
names and identity of occupations, seemed to strike him
as a peculiarly happy one, and he never tired of using it.
The Mexicans on the ranch also took up the name, adding
another syllable to accommodate their lingual incapacity
for the final "p," gravely referring to her as "La Madama
Bo-Peepy." Eventually it spread, and "Madame Bo-
Peep's ranch" was as often mentioned as the "Rancho
de las Sombras."

Came the long, hot season from May to September,
when work is scarce on the ranches. Octavia passed the
days in a kind of lotus-eater's dream. Books, hammocks,
correspondence with a few intimate friends, a renewed
interest in her old water-colour box and easel -- these
disposed of the sultry hours of daylight. The evenings
were always sure to bring enjoyment. Best of all were
the rapturous horseback rides with Teddy, when the moon
gave light over the wind-swept leagues, chaperoned by
the wheeling night-hawk and the startled owl. Often the
Mexicans would come up from their shacks with their
guitars and sing the weirdest of heart-breaking songs.
There were long, cosy chats on the breezy gallery, and an
interminable warfare of wits between Teddy and Mrs.
MacIntyre, whose abundant Scotch shrewdness often
more than overmatched the lighter humour in which she
was lacking.

And the nights came, one after another, and were filed
away by weeks and months -- nights soft and languorous
and fragrant, that should have driven Strephon to Chloe
over wires however barbed, that might have drawn Cupid
himself to hunt, lasso in hand, among those amorous
pastures -- but Teddy kept his fences up.

One July night Madame Bo-Peep and her ranch man-
ager were sitting on the east gallerv. Teddy had been
exhausting the science of prognostication as to the proba-
bilities of a price of twenty-four cents for the autumn clip,
and had then subsided into an anesthetic cloud of Havana
smoke. Only as incompetent a judge as a woman would
have failed to note long ago that at least a third of his
salary must have gone up in the fumes of those imported

"Teddy," said Octavia, suddenly, and rather sharply,
"what are you working down here on a ranch for?"

"One hundred per," said Teddy, glibly, "and found."

"I've a good mind to discharge you."

"Can't do it," said Teddy, with a grin.

"Why not?" demanded Octavia, with argumentative

"Under contract. Terms of sale respect all unexpired
contracts. Mine runs until 12 P. m., December thirty-first.
You might get up at midnight on that date and fire me.
if you try it sooner I'll be in a position to bring legal

Octavia seemed to be considering the prospects of

"But," continued Teddy cheerfully, "I've been think-
ing of resigning anyway."

Octavia's rocking-chair ceased its motion. There were
centipedes in this country, she felt sure; and Indians,
and vast, lonely, desolate, empty wastes; all within strong
barbed-wire fence. There was a Van Dresser pride, but
there was also a Van Dresser heart. She must know for
certain whether or not he had forgotten.

"Ah, well, Teddy," she said, with a fine assumption
of polite interest, "it's lonely down here; you're longing
to get back to the old life -- to polo and lobsters and
theatres and balls."

"Never cared much for balls," said Teddy virtuously.

"You're getting old, Teddy. Your memory is failing.
Nobody ever knew you to miss a dance, unless it occurred
on the same night with another one which you attended.
And you showed such shocking bad taste, too, in dancing
too often with the same partner. Let me see, what was
that Forbes girl's name -- the one with wall eyes --
Mabel, wasn't it?"

"No; Adle. Mabel was the one with the bony
elbows. That wasn't wall in Adle's eyes. It was soul.
We used to talk sonnets together, and Verlaine. Just
then I was trying to run a pipe from the Pierian spring."

"You were on the floor with her," said Octavia, unde-
flected, "five times at the Hammersmiths'."

"Hammersmiths' what? " questioned Teddy, vacuously.

"Ball -- ball," said Octavia, viciously. "What were
we talking of?"

"Eyes, I thought," said Teddy, after some reflection;
"and elbows."

"Those Hammersmiths," went on Octavia, in her
sweetest society prattle, after subduing an intense desire
to yank a handful of sunburnt, sandy hair from the head
lying back contentedly against the canvas of the steamer
chair, "had too much money. Mines, wasn't it? It was
something that paid something to the ton. You couldn't
get a glass of plain water in their house. Everything at
that ball was dreadfully overdone."

"It was," said Teddy.

"Such a crowd there was!" Octavia continued, con-
scious that she was talking the rapid drivel of a school-
girl describing her first dance. "The balconies were as
warm as the rooms. I -- lost -- something at that ball."
The last sentence was uttered in a tone calculated to
remove the barbs from miles of wire.

"So did I," confessed Teddy, in a lower voice.

"A glove," said Octavia, falling back as the enemy
approached her ditches.

"Caste," said Teddy, halting his firing line without
loss. "I hobnobbed, half the evening with one of
Hammersmith's miners, a fellow who kept his hands in
his pockets, and talked like an archangel about reduction
plants and drifts and levels and sluice-boxes."

"A pearl-gray glove, nearly new," sighed Octavia,

"A bang-up chap, that McArdle," maintained Teddy
approvingly. " A man who hated olives and elevators;
a man who handled mountains as croquettes, and built
tunnels in the air; a man who never uttered a word
of silly nonsense in his life. Did you sign those lease-
renewal applications yet, madama? They've got to be
on file in the land office by the thirty-first."

Teddy turned his head lazily. Octavia's chair was

A certain centipede, crawling along the lines marked
out by fate, expounded the situation. It was early one
morning while Octavia and Mrs. Maclntyre were trim-
ming the honeysuckle on the west gallery. Teddy had
risen and departed hastily before daylight in response
to word that a flock of ewes had been scattered from their
bedding ground during the night by a thunder-storm.

The centipede, driven by destiny, showed himself on
the floor of the gallery, and then, the screeches of the two
women giving him his cue, he scuttled with all his yellow
legs through the open door into the furthermost west
room, which was Teddy's. Arming themselves with
domestic utensils selected with regard to their length,
Octavia and Mrs. Maclntyre, with much clutching of
skirts and skirmishing for the position of rear guard in
the attacking force, followed.

Once outside, the centipede seemed to have disappeared,
and his prospective murderers began a thorough but
cautious search for their victim.

Even in the midst of such a dangerous and absorbing
adventure Octavia was conscious of an awed curiosity
on finding herself in Teddy's sanctum. In that room
he sat alone, silently communing with those secret thoughts
that he now shared with no one, dreamed there whatever
dreams he now called on no one to interpret.

It was the room of a Spartan or a soldier. In one
corner stood a wide, canvas-covered cot; in another, a
small bookcase; in another, a grim stand of Winchesters
and shotguns. An immense table, strewn with letters,
papers and documents and surmounted by a set of pigeon-
holes, occupied one side.

The centipede showed genius in concealing himself
in such bare quarters. Mrs. Maclntyre was poking a
broom-handle behind the bookcase. Octavia approached
Teddy's cot. The room was just as the manager had left
it in his hurry. The Mexican maid had not yet given it
her attention. There was his big pillow with the imprint
of his head still in the centre. She thought the horrid
beast might have climbed the cot and hidden itself to bite
Teddy. Centipedes were thus cruel and vindictive
toward managers.

She cautiously overturned the pillow, and then parted
her lips to give the signal for reinforcements at sight of a
long, slender, dark object lying there. But, repressing
it in time, she caught up a glove, a pearl-gray glove,
flattened -- it might be conceived -- by many, many
months of nightly pressure beneath the pillow of the man
who had forgotten the Hammersmiths' ball. Teddy
must have left so hurriedly that morning that he had, for
once, forgotten to transfer it to its resting-place by day.
Even managers, who are notoriously wily and cunning,
are sometimes caught up with.

Octavia slid the gray glove into the bosom of her sum-
mery morning gown. It was hers. Men who put them-
selves within a strong barbed-wire fence, and remember
Hammersmith balls only by the talk of miners about sluice-
boxes, should not be allowed to possess such articles.

After all, what a paradise this prairie country was!
How it blossomed like the rose when you found things
that were thought to be lost! How delicious was that
morning breeze coming in the windows, fresh and sweet
with the breath of the yellow ratama blooms! Might one
not stand, for a minute, with shining, far-gazing eyes, and
dream that mistakes might be corrected?

Why was Mrs. Maclntyre poking about so absurdly
with a broom?

"I've found it," said Mrs. MacIntyre, banging the door.
"Here it is."

"Did you lose something? asked Octavia, with sweetly
polite non-interest.

"The little devil!" said Mrs. Maclntyre, driven to
violence. "Ye've no forgotten him alretty?"

Between them they slew the centipede. Thus was he
rewarded for his agency toward the recovery of things
lost at the Hammersmiths' ball.

It seems that Teddy, in due course, remembered the
glove, and when he returned to the house at sunset made
a secret but exhaustive search for it. Not until evening,
upon the moonlit eastern gallery, did he find it. It was
upon the hand that he had thought lost to him forever,
and so he was moved to repeat certain nonsense that he
had been commanded never, never to utter again. Teddy's
fences were down.

This time there was no ambition to stand in the way,
and the wooing was as natural and successful as should
be between ardent shepherd and gentle shepherdess.

The prairies changed to a garden. The Rancho de las
Sombras became the Ranch of Light.

A few days later Octavia received a letter from Mr.
Bannister, in reply to one she had written to him asking
some questions about her business. A portion of the
letter ran as follows:

"I am at a loss to account for your references to the
sheep ranch. Two months after your departure to take
up your residence upon it, it was discovered that Colonel
Beaupree's title was worthless. A deed came to light
showing that he disposed of the property before his death.
The matter was reported to your manager, Mr. Westlake,
who at once repurchad the property. It is entirely
beyond my powers of conjecture to imagine how you have
remained in ignorance of this fact. I beg you that will
at once confer with that gentleman, who will, at least,
corroborate my statement."

Octavia sought Teddy, with battle in her eye.

"What are you working on this ranch for?" she asked
once more.

"One hundred -- " he began to repeat, but saw in her
face that she knew. She held Mr. Bannister's letter in
her hand. He knew that the game was up.

"It's my ranch," said Teddy, like a schoolboy detected
in evil. "It's a mighty poor manager that isn't able to
absorb the boss's business if you give him time."

"Why were you working down here?" pursued Octavia
still struggling after the key to the riddle of Teddy.

"To tell the truth, 'Tave," said Teddy, with quiet
candour, "it wasn't for the salary. That about kept me
in cigars and sunburn lotions. I was sent south by my
doctor. 'Twas that right lung that was going to the bad
on account of over-exercise and strain at polo and gym-
nastics. I needed climate and ozone and rest and things
of that sort."

In an instant Octavia was close against the vicinity
of the affected organ. Mr. Bannister's letter fluttered
to the floor.

"It's -- it's well now, isn't it, Teddy?"

"Sound as a mesquite chunk. I deceived you in one
thing. I paid fifty thousand for your ranch as soon as
I found you had no title. I had just about that much
income accumulated at my banker's while I've been
herding sheep down here, so it was almost like picking the
thing up on a bargain-counter for a penny. There's
another little surplus of unearned increment piling up
there, 'Tave. I've been thinking of a wedding trip in a
yacht with white ribbons tied to the mast, through the
Mediterranean, and then up among the Hebrides and
down Norway to the Zuyder Zee."

"And I was thinking," said Octavia, softly, "of a
wedding gallop with my manager among the flocks of
sheep and back to a wedding breakfast with Mrs. Mae-
Intyre on the gallery, with, maybe, a sprig of orange
blossom fastened to the red jar above the table."

Teddy laughed, and began to chant:

"Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And doesn't know where to find 'em.
Let 'em alone, and they'll come home,
And -- "

Octavia drew his head down, and whispered in his ear,
But that is one of the tales they brought behind them.

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